House Calls

Ugh, February is here. Draft pile still growing, but I’m behind on my publishing commitment. Today I’m writing about me doing computer repairs.

Background Doing Repairs #

I’ve told the story a few times, but when I was in grade school we had a computer class (as most schools do). One day in third grade I saw a system open and was interested in how it worked, so the teacher demonstrated it and invited me to work on some of the systems. My school was a small private one, and the equipment they had was hand-me-downs from local businesses, so we were around 5 years behind public and components broke a lot. To give you an idea, we were running Windows 3.11 on a Tokenring network (a predecessor to Ethernet) in 1997.

Before long, anytime a printer didn’t work or a system crashed and needed a new drive (and clone), I could work on it. The computer department gave me a hall pass I could use between classes and during recess, which was good because I fought nonstop with a bully and the school’s administration was not siding with me. If I didn’t have the pass to go work on computers, I likely would have been facing suspension. My bedroom started to look like an early 90’s computer store because I was allowed to take home computers to fix, basically any of the surplus I had free reign on.

I didn’t work a job in high school, so I didn’t have money to buy software. I ran Linux and when I needed to I figured out how to pirate anything commercial. This came with the added benefit of infecting my own systems a bunch of times and learning how to spot fake things, debug system issues, etc. I basically hung out on IRC and

Kept doing it #

At a home-run web consultancy, I worked to build and maintain around 50 websites. We had 5 workstations in the office and my boss at the time really didn’t understand basic security protocol. We built things fast and only spent time maintaining sites if they frequently broke or the client complained enough. This meant that not only were sites getting infected, but the office workstations would get things like Vundo and TDSS, and I had to figure out how they worked and how to clean them up.

I kept working on reviving dead equipment and making systems work that people tossed as I moved into working at a startup. We wanted to limit expenditures that weren’t necessary to app development, so we cobbled together all sorts of systems for use as dev servers and workstations. It helped that I would occasionally contract in with a small MSP to do new system deploys. The companies getting new workstations would want the old systems to be disposed of, so we donated a ton to an internet cafe in Columbia and kept a bunch for our office.

Finally in 2015, I co-founded a MSP and worked to help develop and implement the initial processes for data management, disaster recovery, and customer support. I would leave the company in 2017, but still occasionally consult for difficult jobs. So, understanding how to make things work and how to provide for customer’s needs is something I am well versed in.

Brings Me To Today #

I took a house call for a computer repair today. This isn’t a service I have advertised much of because it was never really something I intended to do fulltime. I take a few a year, generally for people really in need or ‘botched-job recoveries’. The job I took on today was for my childhood neighbors across the street. They were always cool to me, so I wanted to help them out.

In short, they had a system infection and called the first computer repair business they saw in the phone book.

Bad move. This was a sketchy nationwide franchise that fielded out local techs.

The guy showed up, did no assessment of what data needed to be saved. (for example: new techs assume cloud backups of things like email, but plenty of elder users rely on Outlook for management of old emails and their address book, it is critical this gets backed up). He then initiated a system reinstall from the factory disks, reformatted, and clean installed the system. My former neighbors had a secondary drive with ample space for an quarantined backup, he didn’t even save the Documents folder.

For this “service” he charged nearly $500, did not provide any details of the service he performed, and left them trying to pick up the pieces of their deleted digital existence. I have Piraform’s Recuva running overnight and hopefully I’ll be able to recover more than the handful of documents I was able to find before. I’m not feeling very confident it will find their pst file for Outlook or their address book. The entire thing leaves a real sour taste in my mouth because I don’t like to tell people ‘it’s unlikely I can help much’, but them’s the breaks I suppose. I’ll update this part tomorrow with how successful I was. **UPDATE 2/2/2018: Recovery was not successful. Fortunately they had their old computer in a closet, so I was able to recover their files up to December 2016.

A tech should inform the client whether the files were not recoverable (cryptolockers can cause this situation), their options. Some clients are totally cool with a ‘quick and dirty’ wipe system and reinstall. Others have irreplaceable family pictures and will pay the additional cost of a meticulous backup and data recovery. In all cases, I wouldn’t leave without at least implementing a backup strategy (ideally one offsite and one onsite). In my old neighbor’s case, they have a spare HDD in the system that everything could be set to backup to. I usually recommend OneDrive as a supplement for documents just in case they get hit with a cryptolocker (or house burns down).

Anyways, there are a lot of garbage techs out there that border on running scams. It’s decent money doing house calls and running MSP’s, I know. I’ve done it. But I’ve also interviewed a lot of really shitty people that talk about sleeping with their clients and actively setting up systems to fail. I’ve also seen what large brands charge for a ‘do everything for me’ service. Most aren’t willing to pay that. If possible, deal with someone local that has a storefront and either isn’t a franchise or is a localized one. Don’t hire randos from the phone book.

Oh well, until next time I guess.


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