Jan
06
2009
3

How to Buy a New Computer: Part I: Balancing Want and Need

Broken Laptop

Old Laptop

Out With The Old…

Unfortunately, its that time again.  When my laptop died for the first time I got it repaired.  When it died again, it had the good manners to at least do so within the repair warranty.

My trusty sidekick died for the third and final time on December 31, 2008.1

…And In With The New!

Now its time to get a new laptop.  I’m reluctant to buy another Dell.  Dell installed nVidia graphics chips on the motherboard.  Those nVidia chips have  a critical flaw in that they overheat and pull away from the motherboard.  Sound familiar?  Well, this was the exact problem I was having with my laptop.  Apparently this problem has spawned a lawsuit against nVidia.

New Laptop

New Laptop

I’m undecided what kind of laptop I want/need.  A netbook?  A basic laptop?  A high-end laptop?2

Figure out what you need, then figure out what you want

Needs

Its all about what you want and what you need.  I need a laptop that will let me program, surf the web, listen to music, and send e-mail.  This accounts for roughly 98% of my computer usage.

The last 2% of computer usage is comprised of processor intensive activities such as watching DVD’s, video games, video editing, DVD and CD burning, and manipulating large amounts of programming code.  For instance, the WCAB legacy number to EAMS number converter involved more than 4.6 million lines of code. 3 My previous laptop struggled with that one. I probably only do these things once every six months or so.

For what I need, a netbook would actually work very well for me.

Wants

As any computer user knows, its very frustrating to have a computer that will not do what you want or takes to long to do it.  My wants are a super slim, light-weight, battery efficient, computer that has the processing power to deal with large amounts of data and the ability to burn DVD’s and CD’s.

A netbook fulfills the wants of a slim, light-weight, and battery efficient computer.  A basic laptop would suffice for the processing power and CD/DVD burning capabilities.

Having it all

When it comes to laptops, sometimes you can have it all – it just depends how you’re going to compromise.

  • If money were no object, this would be a no-brainer: buy a high-end light and powerful laptop.  These cost $1500 and start climbing steeply after that.
  • The other compromise is not so intuitive.  A very decent external CD/DVD burner combo drive would probably only cost $75 or so.  If I’m only burning discs 2% of the time, this is a very reasonable solution.  The bigger problem is the underpowered processors in netbooks.  They simply do not have the ability to play new games, handle large amounts of data, or deal with too many simultaneous tasks.  The only possible work around here is where you use your underpowered laptop to remotely control a more powerful computer and use that more powerful computer to crunch numbers.4 However, this won’t help with video games.  ;)

Decision Time

What am I going to get?  I’m going to run down the pro’s and con’s of netbooks, basic laptops, and high-end laptops next time.  Stay tuned!

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3 []
  2. Photo courtesy of Ciccio Pizzettaro []
  3. Seriously.  4.6 million. []
  4. Scroll down to the part about TightVNC. []
Dec
17
2008
2

How to Repair A Laptop: Option 3 – Dedicated Repair Facility

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.1

So, you’ve done the math and decided that it is more cost-effective to repair your non-functional and out-of-warranty laptop.  You know that having the manufacturer or a big box store like Best Buy, Circuit City2 and Fry’s is a very bad idea.3  About the best you can hope for is that it will only cost you much more money than your computer is actually worth.  The worst you can expect is to pay for your computer to be returned to you in worse condition.4

Option 3: Dedicated Repair Facility

Since I use my laptop constantly, it was extremely important to me that I took it someone who I could trust to do a good job.  Unfortunately, this is the kind of decision I agonize over.  Weighing the various pro’s and con’s, relative merits, creating formulas or spreadsheets to help me synthesize and digest the data.

I over-analyze, in part, because I want to make sure I spend my money well.  However, its far more important to me that I make sure that whatever item I am researching is the most perfect fit for me.  I spent my free time for the better part of the week Googling for local laptop repair places.  Once I had a list of places, I started to par it down.

My criteria included: location, accreditation, apparent familiarity with my problem, initial diagnosis based upon my description over the phone, whether they performed a free diagnosis, whether I could locate any review or complaints, and price.  You know, that’s all.

I first created a list of every laptop repair facility in my area and then tossed out the ones with bad reviews.

Question 1: Can you repair laptops?

This is a really good question even if you’re looking to have your desktop computer repaired.  Repairing a desktop is dead simple.  If a part stops working, you open it up, pull it out, slap in a new one and “rock on completely, with some brand new components“. 5 Repairing a laptop is far more involved.

If they couldn’t repair a laptop, I would not have any confidence they’d be able to repair a desktop and would move on.

Question 2: Can you repair components?

There are a lot of “computer repair” places, but most of them either only deal with software problems or only replace large whole computer parts.  Their solution to a laptop problem is to replace the motherboard or tell you to buy a new computer.  That’s like a mechanic telling you that you need to either replace the entire engine or buy a new car because spark plugs are just not their thing.

The good thing about a repair facility that does “component level repair” is that they will actually look for what caused the problem.  Then they will need to try and replace just that little part.  Depending upon your computer’s symptoms, you might need a new power jack, new chip on the motherboard, or even have the solder on the board around a chip melted and re-applied to the motherboard6 .

If the repair facility couldn’t repair a component level problem, I moved on.

Question 3: Can you diagnose the problem over the phone?

When calling a repair facility, ask for a technician and describe the problem for them.  Obviously, you can’t expect them to actually know what’s wrong, so don’t hold them to it.  On the other hand, they should be have some inkling as to the cause.

A small aside about workers’ compensation defense, and then back to laptop repair:

Sometimes during a doctor’s deposition I need to ask a question that deals with legal issues.  Invariably, the other attorney present has a different take on the applicable medicine or, more likely, the law.  In these situations, I state my position about the medical-legal issue in terms of, “Doctor, its my understanding that…”  Then, I say, “Doctor, for the purposes of this question, assume that my understanding about the applicable law is correct.  Now… [insert insightful question here]?”

This keeps objections and interruptions to a minimum and allows the doctor to focus on my question.  If the other attorney is correct in their legal position, my question and the corresponding answer are irrelevant.  Posing the question in this fashion completely removes any basis for objection since the doctor’s response becomes entirely dependent upon whether or not a given legal position is correct.

When describing my computer problems over the phone and getting a snap diagnosis from the technician, I ask them the following, “Assuming the problem is [the problem you’ve just diagnosed], are you capable of making this repair and how long would it take?”

If the repair facility technician had no idea what the problem was or would refuse to venture a guess based on what I was saying, I moved on.

Question 4: Who will be doing the diagnosis and repair?

I located a surprising number of local people who represented via their website or a posting on CraigsList.org that they were able to repair a variety of laptop problems.  Some of these were just people who did the work out of their home.  They may very well do a good job and certainly charged less – but they weren’t for me.  I had a little more confidence7 in a repair facility employing a repair technician than I did in a some guy who put up an ad or website.

Occasionally, a local repair facility will actually out-source the diagnosis and repair.  This, of course, begs the question – why do I need you?

As I mentioned above, I wanted to talk to a technician – preferably the one who would be performing the job themselves.

Question 5: How did you treat me on the phone?

Some technicians can’t help feeling superior to the their clients. 8  If the technician was the least bit rude or condescending, I hung up and moved on.  Repair facilities are in the customer service industry as much as they’re in the computer repair industry.  All it takes is one unfriendly or  unknowledgeable person answering the phones for you to lose a potential client.

If you follow the above criteria to create a list of local computer repair facilities and ask the above questions, you’re going to stand a decent chance of finding the best place to get your laptop repaired.  Good luck!

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3. []
  2. They’re bankrupt, so don’t bother []
  3. For those of you who just can’t wait to find out: I think a dedicated computer facility is best. []
  4. Or, in my case, have Dell ship your laptop to a construction site in Oakland.  Yay. []
  5. Thank you Cake! []
  6. This is called a “re-flow,” since the original solder is melted and made to flow back around the chip or connections.  If your computer gets heated and cooled a lot, this might be your problem. []
  7. And, perhaps wrongly so.  This is just a gut feeling. []
  8. Unfortunately, this is also true of some attorneys. []
Dec
15
2008
1

300 Registered Users!

Tonight, we dine in HELL!

He's really excited about so many users!

Just this last Saturday we reached 300 registered users – and King Leonidas couldn’t be happier.1

On August 20, 2008 the 100th person registered for this site since its re-launch on July 6, 2008.  On October 20, 2008 the 200th person registered.  In the time since this website’s relaunch, I’ve:

  1. You know, King Leonidas from the movie 300.  The really happy looking guy to the right. []
  2. I’ve got at least two or three more checklists planned. []
  3. More laptop advice on the way. []
Dec
05
2008
0

How To Bootstrap A Business

Bootstrapping 101

Bootstrapping 101

Everyone has heard the phrase, “pull oneself up by the bootstraps.”1 It basically refers to using your current resources to reach the next step.

In a prior post I talked about “How to Start a Business: Plan B,” which was mainly about fund raising.  Fund raising is the exact opposite of bootstrapping.  If you can’t raise funding for your business and you’re really committed to it, you’ve got to find another way.  That would be “Plan B.”  In hindsight I would have entitled that post, “B is for Bootstrapping” or “Starting A Business On A Budget.”

For a very nuts-and-bolts look at starting a business, look to Guy Kawasaki‘s “The Art of Bootstrapping.”  This is an excerpt from his new book, “Reality Check.”  My understanding is that this book is a distillation of his prior books and blog posts.  Its on my Christmas wish list, so I’ll look forward to reading it in about a month.

I used many of these bootstrapping techniques while building this website.  Using the bullet points from Guy’s post, here’s some of the things I used to start this business:

  • Ship then test.”  To be more exact, I tested the calculators rigorously but didn’t spend nearly as much time testing how the earliest versions of this website looked in different web browsers.  Once I got it to work in Internet Explorer, I started marketing it.
  • Start a service business.”  In the first few months of building this website I worked as a technology consultant and part-time programmer.  In addition to being a nice change from my day job as an attorney and earning a little extra, it also gave me the chance to learn some new programming languages and techniques.
  • Go direct.”  I schlepped my laptop to every appearance and showed off the website to every single attorney that was foolish enough to sit still and listen to me.  Besides not having the resources to hire people to sell for me, it also allowed me to learn more about what my customers wanted.  Keeping in touch with my clients/customers has lead to a LOT of new developments on this site.

As to “how” I started this business, here was my process:

  1. I wanted to build my own online rating calculators.2
  2. I bought a book about starting a business.  “The Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki.  $17.00 or so.
  3. I bought some books about web based programming languages.  $55.00 or so for two books.
  4. I bought a few website domain names.  $10.00 each.
  5. I wrote a “prototype” of the 1997 and 2005 permanent disability rating calculatorsIt wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
  6. Once I had a working prototype, I bought some web space.  $180.00 for two years.
  7. Market the website.
  8. Make a sale.
  9. Develop more features and/or improve the site.
  10. Lather, rinse, repeat steps 6 – 8.
  1. Photo courtesy of Jarl van Hoother []
  2. The exact reasons why are the topic of an entirely different blog post altogether. []
Dec
03
2008
1

How to Repair A Laptop: Option 2 – Big Box Stores

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.

You’ve done the math and decided that it is a better use of your resources to repair your non-functional and out-of-warranty laptop.1 You know that sending an out of warranty laptop to the manufacturer is a bad idea.  But, what about a big box store like Best Buy, Circuit City2 , and Fry’s?3

Option 2:  Big Box Stores

When I’m not buying computer or electronics components online, I like Best Buy for products and Fry’s for components.  However, I would never have a computer diagnosed or repaired by either place.

First, let’s recognize that a big box store has certain priorities.  As such, their staff are trained to sell, not to diagnose or repair.  I imagine their priorities are, in order: (1) Sell you things, (2) sell you warranties for things, (3) sell you new things, and (4) sell you warranties for those new things, (5) LLR. 4 From a capitalistic perspective, its hard to argue with a business plan like this.

A little burned out component on the motherboard takes very special equipment and skill to replace.  When faced with such a problem you can replace the entire computer, the motherboard5 , or just that one component.

From calling numerous computer repair facilities, I know very few of them have the special equipment and skill required to replace a single tiny component on a motherboard.  If dedicated repair facilities do not typically have this equipment, I doubt big box stores would be up to the task.

I think everyone’s heard the horror stories or seen the TV investigations of big box computer store repair services scamming unwary or uninformed consumers.  I have friends who hired Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” and still didn’t have their problems fixed.

If I were a very cynical person6 I’d suggest that big box stores hire untrained staff who have a vested interest in charging a diagnostic fee to tell you that your computer and all your data is beyond recovery.

Luckily, I believe the third option, finding a reliable dedicated computer repair shop, is your best bet.

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3. []
  2. They’re bankrupt, so don’t bother []
  3. For those of you who just can’t wait to find out: I think a dedicated computer facility is best. []
  4. LLR – Lather, rinse, repeat. []
  5. Which, by the time you need it, costs as much as your computer is worth. []
  6. And, I am. []

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