Sep
09
2010
0

One Bad Mother – shut your mouth!

Youd have to know the theme song to really get it...

You'd have to know the theme song to really get it...

You’ll understand the title in just a moment…

For the last few months my laptop has been in bad shape.  Such bad shape I’ve been using a backup laptop. [1]  Something on my laptop’s motherboard went bad and killed the battery. [2][3]  I could still use it – but I had to keep it plugged in all the time.  If I needed to move it, I had to shut it down all the way, move it, then boot it up – since it had no battery life at all.

Well, Dell’s kick ass incredible customer service took care of me – once again.  I can’t thank these guys enough for going above and beyond.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my next laptop is going to be a Dell. Thanks to Lionel my laptop is sporting a totally brand-spanking new motherboard and power cord.  I’ve also just slapped in a totally new battery as well.

Anyhow, I’m beyond happy. [4]

  1. Trust me, the back up laptop is nothing to brag about. []
  2. You see, the motherboard – it went bad.  It was one bad mother…  Oh, forget it. []
  3. The photo does not belong to me and is probably the property of MGM. []
  4. Yes, yes, I’m a nerd – whatever. []
Feb
18
2009
1

Road Warrior Checklist – Bad Weather

A Road Warrior is prepared for bad weather

A Road Warrior is prepared for bad weather

Here’s what my fortune cookie on Saturday night said:

My fortune

I rather enjoy putting my imaginative skills to work with these little doodles.  ANYhow, now that that’s out of the way…

The last few days I’ve had several appearances in less than ideal weather.  With no further ado, my Road Warrior Checklist for traveling in bad weather:

  • Timing. My rule of thumb is to leave 15 minutes earlier for every hour of a planned trip in bad weather.
  • Speed. Speeding will make you feel good about your pace, but will never save you a significant amount of time.
  • Pick the correct lane. There are a lot of factors involved in choosing the correct traveling lane.  Driving in the path of other vehicles ensures your tires are touching more of the road and less of the water.  Stay out of the fast lane if possible.  Get out of other people’s way when they want to pass.
  • Stay in the correct lane. Try not to change lanes.   There is a lot more water between lanes and more chances to hydroplane.
  • No Cruise Control! There is an urban myth that if your car is on cruise control and you start to hydroplane your vehicle will accelerate to make up for the loss in traction.  The reason the highway patrol recommends against the use of cruise control in wet weather is that you only have moments to react to hydroplaning by reducing speed and maintaining control of your vehicle.  Cruise control in these situations will deprive you of a few moments of a potential speed decrease (where you would take your foot off the gas) by maintaining your current speed.
  • Following distance. Other people are going to be driving like maniacs.  Always make sure you have plenty of following distance.
  • Brakes. If your brakes are squeaking, they’re already in bad shape.  Get them checked out and replaced regularly.
  • Tires. Get your tires rotated regularly, make sure they have plenty of tread, and make sure they are properly inflated.  Remember the penny test: if you stick a penny into the tread and can see the top of Lincoln’s head you need to replace your tires.
  • Windshield wiper blades. Worn blades will just smudge.  Just plan on replacing your windshield blades every year.  Don’t forget your rear windshield wipers!

Prior “Road Warrior Checklists

Dec
01
2008
1

How to Repair A Laptop: Option 1 – The Manufacturer

Broken Laptop

Broken Laptop

Before I start talking computer repair, I offer three caveats.  First, I have no formal training in diagnosing, repairing, or even using computers.  Second, I have no experience with repairing an Apple or Mac computer.  Third, all of the below only applies to laptop repair.  Its incredibly easy to swap out components on a desktop.

So, your laptop has stopped working and you’ve decided it makes sense to repair it.[1] The big question is: How do you repair it?[2]

When my laptop died back I Googled and called around trying to find and decide upon someone to repair my laptop.  There are several possible options when it comes to choosing a laptop repairer.  When your laptop is still under warranty, its a no-brainer to send it back to the manufacturer. [3] But, what about a computer that’s either no longer in warranty or with no warranty?

Option 1:  Manufacturer

I’ve owned three laptops – a Compaq, a Dell, and then another Dell.  On the one hand, I never had to call Compaq for technical support.  On the other hand, by the time the laptop was three years old it was in pretty bad shape.

I called Dell first.  Sure, I’d had truly terrible experiences with Dell tech support in the past.[4] I figured it couldn’t possibly have gotten worse, right?[5]

Dell offered a three stop process to fix the problem:

  1. Phone diagnostic.  $50.00.
  2. Selling me new parts[6] and walking me through the repair over the phone.  $200.00 – $300.00.
  3. Sending in the laptop to Dell for repair.  $300.00 – $500.00.

There are several problems with Dell’s repair process.  First, its tremendously time consuming.  Second, most of Dell’s processes are developed with the idea that the user is the most common problem.  Third, if you have an actual problem you are all but guarrantted to spend more money than the computer is worth.  Fourth, Dell tech support is just about the worst ever.

Time Consuming

Dell tech support is nothing if not standardized.  Their tech support staff all have binders[7] which list tons of symptoms, diagnostic tests, and possible fixes.  But, before you even start such a scenario you will be asked to check all cables, that everything is plugged in, and restart your computer several times.  Even if you eliminate all time you spend on hold, that’s half an hour right there.

By the time you’ve run through a few diagnostic programs, you’ve easily spent two hours on the phone.

Computer Users Are The Problem

As best as I can tell, Dell’s tech support binder has them verify that the problem is not the user, then not software, then not user-replaceable hardware, then not Dell-replaceable hardware.  Obviously, their goal is to minimize tech support time by ruling out simple issues, and thereby minimizing costs.

I’m not saying this is a bad system.  But, if the problem is obviously a hardware problem, restarting the computer or dimming the monitor isn’t going to help.  I have sent in two Dell laptops becuase the left mouse click button stopped springing back up.  After fully describing the problem several times, they still asked me to fiddle with the battery, check that the laptop was plugged in, etc.

The problem is that by requiring you go through the Dell checklist of basic problems with their tech support staff, they are guarranting that every single call, no matter how trivial, will require a minimum of 30-45 minutes.

My former “left mouse button won’t pop back up” problem is really a 5 minute phone call that should go something like this:

  • Jay calls Dell.
  • “Hi, my name is Roger, please state the nature of your technical emergency.”[8]
  • Jay: “Hi Roger, I have a Dell XPS 1210 and the left mouse button won’t pop back up.”
  • Roger:  “Hmm.  Well, try tapping the button.  Does that work?”
  • Jay:  “No, that doesn’t seem to work.”
  • Roger:  “Hmm.  Can you see anything jammed in there?”
  • Jay:  “Nope.”
  • Roger:  “Yeah, that was a longshot.  Okay, well, I’ll send you a box and a shipping label.”
  • Jay gives Roger his information and is happy with Dell service.

Ideally, Dell would have a way to jump past certain steps.  Perhaps by answering a computer trivia question or by hitting “3” for “I have performed all basic rudimentary tests and diagnostics and know what I’m doing.”

Or, more likely: “I have checked all cables, restarted the computer, removed the battery, reinserted the battery, restarted again, booted into Safe Mode, restarted, booted into the command prompt, booted back in Safe Mode, restarted, booted from a recovery disk, restarted, restarted, booted from a Linux CD, restarted, wished on a falling star, and my brand new laptop still arrived with a giant gaping hole in the middle of the screen.”[9]

Dell’s Guaranteed Expensive Fix

If your computer has an actual hardware problem, and you’re trying to get Dell to fix it, you’re all but guaranteed to spend more money than the computer is worth.  If your laptop is out of warranty, then its probably more than a year old.  If you go through Dell’s repair process above (phone diagnostic, user-repair, Dell repair), you’re going to spend a minimum of $550.00.  This is a losing proposition.  Unless you have a high end gaming rig, it probably cost between $750.00 to $1,500.00.

If you’re spending more than one-third to one-half the cost of the original laptop after one year, that money would be better spent towards a new laptop.  That’s just a rule-of-thumb; you should really try my[10] scientific formula for deciding whether you should invest in a repair or buy a new computer.

Dell’s Tech Support Is Bad

Dell’s tech support is the opposite of helpful.  Their tech support personnel are trained to read from their scripts, repeat what you say as if they understood the problem, and then simply do the next thing on the script.  Any request for deviation from the script results in a denial or, best case scenario, holding for ten minutes while they find out from their supervisor the reason for denying your request.

You can eventually get what you want from Dell’s technical support, but you better be prepared to fight like hell for it.  You will need to argue and haggle with two layers of technical support grunts and as many supervisors as it takes to reach a technical support person located in the United States.

Even if Dell agrees to repair your laptop in an acceptable fashion, you’ve probably 10 hours in the process.  Add this to the actual cost of the repair and its a losing proposition.

Look, I’m Indian and I hate Dell’s Indian tech support.

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3. []
  2. Since I can tell the suspense is killing you, I think a dedicated computer facility is best. []
  3. Tech support in this circumstance isn’t so much free as it is pre-paid. []
  4. A long story for another day. []
  5. I was sooo naive. []
  6. At cost, supposedly. []
  7. Or the digital equivalent of binders.  Decision tree programs, if you will. []
  8. Thank you Robert Picardo! []
  9. I had a scarily similar experience to the one I just described with a friend’s Dell laptop that arrived with a non-functional CD-burner. []
  10. Mostly []

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