Priorities, and Why Yours Probably Suck

These days, practically everybody is dependent on motorized transportation. The lucky handful who aren’t are either city-dwellers or people who actually thought Thoreau lived as a hermit for years and was onto something.

Chances are, if you have a driver’s license, you at least know something about cars, or you did at some point (say, between the ages of 16 and 21). Most people retain their knowledge of cars for their whole lives. Some people even learn as they get older.

The point is, if you depend on your car to get from A to B on a regular basis, you probably also have to take care of it on a regular basis. It’s one thing to have mommy and daddy pay for your gas, but it’s another to have them go get it for you because you can’t work a fuel pump without bringing about a situation of clear and present danger.

What if you get a flat tire? Instead of waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for whatever “Roadside Assistance” program you happen to have been grandfathered into, wouldn’t you rather sacrifice your “dignity” for just a moment and change the tire yourself? It certainly doesn’t take between 30 and 60 minutes to do so.

Other things you can and should probably do yourself include changing a taillight (or headlight, or fogcutter) bulb, provided your car still has bulbs and not LEDS, changing spark plugs, and putting air in the tires. Some people even change their own oil, which is admittedly something a professional does faster and less messily 95% of the time. Hell, some people even go filling in dents and dings and touching up scratches!

Do you know how to jump-start a car? Hmm…and yet people look down on the inner-city kids who know how to start a car without keys.

That all said, people who depend on their cars daily know how important it is to keep them in good (or at least passably legal) running condition. That kind of upkeep involves a certain degree of knowledge readily available. A lawyer with a BMW and a plumber with an F-150 are both licensed drivers, and they became licensed drivers in pretty much the same exact way!

SO then…

Why not computers? Why not smartphones? Why not technology?

You can’t seriously expect to get by without adopting some technological knowledge. It’s called “moving forward.” If you think about it, it’s the same kind of pseudo-logic used by people who stubbornly refuse to use terms like “black” instead of “negro,” or “Asian” instead of “Oriental,” simply because that’s the way they were brought up. Also, PSA: the word “queer” is not an insult, nor is “homo” or “gay.” Technically, neither is “colored,” although I believe the preferred term is “people of color.” Yeah, I know, so many more damn syllables.

Fact: You cannot escape technology. Sorry. You can’t.

How can people still get away with not knowing really, really basic computer stuff? How can someone with a Ph.D still have to pay someone to install an anti-virus program because they can’t do it themselves?

“But there’s no CD drive in my computer!” So? Have you realized how much cheaper certain software is now? That’s because there’s no cost overhead of shit like plastic cases for the plastic discs and plastic wrap for the plastic cases and labor costs for the people who drive the trucks powered by fossil fuels and loaded with nothing but copies of a software program that are actually entirely worthless and of absolutely no use until you “purchase” a string of random alphanumeric characters to make it work.

Hence you now get Microsoft Office the same way you get a few bucks from the lottery if you’re super lucky.

And your home internet connection should be fast enough to download the average *insert category here* program.

Yet…it’s too much to ask. Why?

If it’s so important to you, why can’t you take care of it? These days, many computers ship with utilities that either hold your hand through the “preventative maintenance” process, or else do it for you entirely. And yet people still don’t know what they’re doing.

So they come to me, and don’t like what I say, or how much it will cost, so naturally I don’t know what I’m doing.

So I said “Sorry, I guess I can’t help you. My co-worker will take a look as well, but he’ll probably tell you the same thing.”

“Oh, you want to speak to a manager? Get in line. But since you seem to think so little of my / my co-workers’ knowledge, I doubt you’ll find my manager’s input very helpful, considering he hired us, and he’ll say the same thing I said anyway,” is what I should have said.

Or I should have said something like “The utter lack of respect you’re showing me, a complete stranger, in a public place and in front of your young children is the exact reason people don’t want to allow us to adopt or raise children.” It would have taken a bit to sink in, but it’d work. I’d get fired, but whatever.

You don’t want my services, or don’t want to pay for them, fine. Shut up and leave so I can help the next clueless jerk in line.

Oh…and if you don’t have a warranty, protection plan, or indeed any support plan whatsoever, do yourself a favor and don’t follow up with “this is our only computer and we need it fixed ASAP.” Congratulations, you now look like even more of an ignorant, reactionary twit.

We don’t sell $200/year hardware protection plans because we’re out to leech your money. We do that so that when we have to send your computer to the service center because you dropped it off your bed (again), we only get five minutes of “but why will it take so long?” instead of twenty minutes of “this is unbelieveable, I’m not paying that much.”

Okay. Fix the screen yourself. It’ll take about five minutes for you to realize the amount of time and (skilled) labor involved in doing so, and maybe then you’ll begin to think that it might also not be something that should be rushed, and finally it’ll dawn on you that going to people who are professionals styled as experts and acting like you know better makes you look extraordinarily dumb.

You rely on lights to see, so you know how to change a bulb. You (hopefully) can reset a circuit breaker, replace a fuse, unclog a toilet, temporarily patch a leaky pipe, and so on. Hell, people decide to have babies, and learning to take care of those is like four years of college in nine months.

You rely on cell phones, smartphones, iPhones, laptops, ultrabooks, tablets, desktops, netbooks, and GPS units every day, whether you know it or not. Even if you aren’t car-dependent, your walk or bike ride to work would be much more difficult if the data-driven, sensor-based, dynamically scaled computer systems running the traffic lights stopped working.

It’s kinda sad that there are people who, without a smartphone or tablet or something else to keep them constantly connected (or tethered, or plugged in, or whatever you prefer) would have no idea of the time, date, day of the week, weather, or, really, anything at all. There are probably people who feel like distant strangers to others, no matter what, unless they are Facebook friends.

And yet, even those of my generation who grew up with this technology evolving and maturing as they did themselves are sometimes completely and totally clueless as to how to keep their computers safe, up-to-date, physically clean, and running well. People who wonder why their hard drive is so full but have no idea how to delete things like Firefox Setup 3.5.3 and its two dozen copies because they want to have two windows open at once. People who don’t understand that they don’t have to keep all of their downloaded mp3s in the Downloads folder once they drag them to iTunes, provided they know how to do so. People who don’t understand that the Recycle Bin is not a folder and not a good place to store stuff. People who don’t understand that their anti-virus won’t work unless it and the system on which it’s running are up-to-date. People who don’t understand that Windows Update is not annoying, but often critical even if they “don’t notice any changes.” People who don’t understand that having only one copy of your family photos is as careless as developing them and then discarding the negatives. People who don’t understand that “” is not a better choice than Hulu or NetFlix “because it’s free.” People who don’t understand that the fact that “toolbar” has the word “tool” in it doesn’t mean it’s useful at all. People who don’t understand that “sponsored” downloads aren’t actually ten times faster than what your ISP provides, or that if “trusted” downloads were actually safe, you wouldn’t need a “free trial” to access them. People who doesn’t understand that “DoctorWinRegFixer.exe” is neither a doctor nor a registry fixer, provided they have any idea what a “registry” is. People who don’t understand that if the program you downloaded is trying to install another program you didn’t ask for, you should probably select “No,” as though you invited only Steve to your party and he shows up with some random guys and about five girls of questionable occupation and you happily let them all into your house and are shocked when you wake up to an empty liquor cabinet, an utterly destroyed bathroom, and possibly a subpoena.

You get it?

It’s not acceptable to say you know nothing about computers or technology. It’s even worse when you say things like “omg i just got this iPhone and like i have no idea how to use it lolz,” because then not only do I know you somehow find ignorance entertaining and humorous, but I also have more than adequate reason to question your spending habits, impulsiveness, and self-confidence.

It’s not “cool” to be stupid, and it never was. It never will be, either, contrary to what the creators of Idiocracy humorously envisioned. I understand why it happens, though. People think that if they continuously emphasize their lack of knowledge, or even basic understanding, two things will happen. One – others will be reassured and reminded constantly that you aren’t smarter than they are, heaven forbid, and they don’t want to sound arrogant or *gasp* smart. Two – you’ll ultimately feel bad for them, solve whatever issue for them, and send them on their way with a repaired computer and absolutely no understanding of what broke it, what fixed it, and how to avoid it happening again – just a receipt and a link to a survey to rate the person who helped you because you’re so “technologically retarded.”

Fun fact: Using that particular phrase when opening a conversation with a repair technician who is, in fact, autistic is not starting off on the right foot. You’re not retarded, you’re just lazy. I’m emotionally retarded, if you think about it, but at least I make conscious effort to understand. I make the effort to process your facial expressions, tone of voice, and so on in order to better understand you and communicate like a normal person. You see the phrases “Microsoft account” and “product key” on the same screen and instantly declare you have no idea what you’re doing.

Fuck off. Seriously. The worst part about you people is that we can’t just sigh and tell you to look it up, because you probably can’t use the internet, at least not without crapping up your system with thirty-five different well-known adware and phishing programs. But if we try to teach you, even just basic stuff, then we’re instantly arrogant, know-it-all, smart-ass “kids” (even my one co-worker who is thirty gets called a kid) who are just trying to confuse you with all this technical jargon mumbo-jumbo.

“I’m a lawyer, but I wouldn’t drown you in legalese to make a point!” Okay, that’s nice and all, but what if I asked a specific question? Sure, you could just say “yes, that’s fine,” but you could just as easily say “yes, the right to do/say XYZ is guaranteed under the ABC act, and if someone tried to restrict that, they’d be violating the 56.5th Amendment and you’d be able to sue them for three million dollars.” I’d feel a lot better than if you just said “yes.”

So, what if you follow the instructions in the little pamphlet about Windows 8 instead of whining about “there’s no start button omg wtf how do i open google” and complaining that you can’t use the computer and demand a refund because we won’t just instantly downgrade it (and we would charge you $140 for Windows 7, which by the way we don’t actually sell)?

Or…read the README file of your anti-virus program…or, actually, any program. Microsoft, for example, has about three terabytes of online help documentation, and chances are you can search for your question instead of coming to complain to us about it and then telling us we’re useless, because clearly we are the same thing as Microsoft.

And stop asking why you can’t run *insert program or game* on your Mac even though you downloaded it from the publisher (the “legit” version, if you will) when that *insert program or game* is an EXE and you are using a Mac. And please don’t ask why you can’t use Office on your iPad. Please don’t ask if we can recover data from your SD card because you thought “format” meant “clean.”

And for the love of all that is digital, please please please stop finding excuses to rely on technology you don’t care to understand.


Those Damn Teen Agents!

It really irks me when people say things along the lines of:

The technicians are barely out of high school! How could they know what they’re doing?

I’m sorry, you brought your computer to us why? Could it be because you don’t know what you’re doing?

Shock horror, we (the present 18-24 demographic) grew up with this technology.

Ageism is a two-way street, y’know.

That all aside, I’ve heard far too many people articulate the double standard that goes something like this:

I don’t know anything about computers / phones / technology.

I don’t trust teenagers / college kids / young(er) people with my expensive stuff!

Like the person who said, verbatim, “I want to buy an iPad. I’m kind of in kindergarten when it comes to technology, though.” You don’t need an iPad. I can tell you that right now. What you need is responsible spending habits, and buying something you already know you cannot use is not at all responsible.

For the record, this customer then asked about our training sessions (which are expensive,) and it turns out she also fancies herself a fast learner. Hope that’s working out for her. To be fair, she had a PhD and I’m a dropout – but sssh!

You don’t go to Geek Squad, a company that uses the phrase “computer experts” liberally in their customer-facing literature, say you don’t know technology well, and then argue with our diagnoses.

Really? It’s not like we’re car mechanics who’re going to set it up such that it’ll break again and you’re forced to come back. In addition to being conniving and sneaky, tampering with a client’s computer or any internet-connected device (or any device that could contain personal information) breaks about twenty laws, probably more.

So if, as people say, we’re “just kids,” one would sincerely hope we’d have some degree of respect for authority and privacy, especially considering that we’re the most vocal demographic against things like “copyright laws” and government regulation of the internet.

Plus, if you actually have really really sensitive information on your hard drive that you absolutely need, and the hard drive (or the operating system or other files on it) isn’t / aren’t the problem…remove it! We can do that, you know. Sure, it’s $10 for us to do it for you, usually, but it’s nowhere in our policy that we have to offer you data backup (starting at $150) and if you decline, well, your hard drive is now officially nobody’s responsibility whatsoever. That doesn’t make any sense.

I do still tinker with computer repair business locally, I admit. In keeping with policy, I do not advertise or otherwise promote it in any way. “NullCoding Computer Services” is no more.

But it’s really NOT taking away any of our business, potential or otherwise, for me to offer various off-site computer repair services to people who, in fact, did not purchase their computer at Best Buy and/or do not have any kind of Geek Squad-issued warranty or support plan. Especially when those people don’t actually live within reasonable distance of a Best Buy in the first place. And when I offer services that we don’t actually do in-store anyway.

Fact: The average cost of sending a laptop to service under our standard protection plan is $85,25. Note that I said sending a laptop to service, not “repairing it.” That $85 is the average shipping charge! Granted, that’s UPS™ Next-Day Air™ to Kentucky, but still. Oh also, they ship it back to us (or to the client, which is a lot cheaper actually).

What happens...?
So, let’s say a $600 laptop needs its screen replaced because it was dropped. Yes, that’s covered under a specific protection plan, really. We check it in and mark it for shipment. I take it soon as it’s checked in, copy the necessary paperwork, and enter it into our system for shipping. That communicates with UPS through some corporate-partnership-interweb kinda thing, I guess, and spits out a tracking number, then prints a label that I put in a sticky plastic sleeve (that sounds gross, actually) on the box after I have packed the laptop in a special mailing cradle and sealed the box with tape that says “Inspected by Best Buy” to relieve us of any liability for damage in shipping. That box goes in a pile with the other UPS outgoing stuff from Geek Squad. At the end of the day, or the end of my shift, or when the pile exceeds the space available for it, I put the UPS stuff in a cart and take it to the warehouse, where it will await processing and shipment. My personal involvement ends there.

Officially, the computer is “shipped” as soon as I click “Print UPS Shipping Label.” Seriously.

Now, the kicker is that even though I may have selected “Overnight” (aka Next-Day Air™), unless that package gets taken to the warehouse by closing time that day, it’s probably not going out the next day. And since shipping is technically only my responsibility (on paper), my co-workers aren’t necessarily paying attention to the stack of UPS boxes, instead directing their attention to things like, you know, customers and their broken computers.

That $600 laptop, meanwhile, goes out to our service center the next day at, let’s say, $85. Once there, it is received and assigned to a technician. That technician usually performs their evaluation very quickly, since I included a copy of the paperwork with the laptop (obviously). Provided the paperwork includes a detailed description of the problem, they can get right to work. In this case, it’s really not too hard. We said the screen was busted. The technician is going to assume that is correct, although they will probably also test to make sure it’s actually the LCD screen and not a motherboard component.

The part is ordered if it’s not easily available on-hand. Given that our protection plans apply to machines stocked by Best Buy, and that the service center deals with those same models, and that our plans extend the benefits of the manufacturer’s warranty, well…they better have the parts for those models available to the service center!

But the parts still cost money. A replacement screen for a relatively new $600 laptop is likely about $100. Could be $80. Could be $150. We’ll say $100, which brings our total repair cost up to approximately $185 at this point.

The technician replaces the LCD screen after verifying things like the machine’s eligibility and the part’s compatibility. That’s actually the easiest part. Replacing a screen isn’t exactly simple, but it’s a lot easier than all the paperwork and logistics and behind-the-scenes crap!

But remember, this technician is getting paid, and paid well, considering they have to be certified in a number of applicable fields and adhere to a lot of standards in every case. Oh and also, they’re working in America, which means they’re paid American wages, not the outsourced kind (just an observation), and if I’m making almost twice minimum wage, you can bet technicians at the service center are making at least what I make – hopefully much more, as they’re mostly full-time, from what I understand.

Then the newly repaired laptop goes through testing and double-checking, after which the technician(s) involved sign off on it and send it off to their shipping department, who process it similarly to me except they a) have the option to ship it to the store or directly to the client and b) will probably not send it via Next Day Air™ unless we explicitly ask them to. I think. Not really sure.

Either way, let’s say that’s another $60 in shipping, because after all, it IS a laptop, and it’s not ours, and now it’s worth more because it’s fixed, and also our work is guaranteed. Really.

That makes a total of about $245 to replace a laptop screen at no up-front charge to the client, less any taxes that may apply, and excluding the wages of all the people involved in that process!

Considering that $245 is just about what a 2-year protection plan might cost to begin with…not too shabby.


Moral of the story: If you don’t wish to provide compensation for services rendered, don’t ask for said services in the first place.

Also, if you don’t know what you’re doing, take it to somebody who does. Sure, you can just assume that every 18-year-old with a smartphone and a MacBook Pro “knows what they’re doing,” but then you might end up with your computer broken even more. Or, you know, stolen. But if that kid is working for a company that requires him to actually know what he’s doing (and demonstrate it in regularly administered assessments), and the company bills itself as “computer experts,” well, I think that’s just a bit more trustworthy…don’t you?