atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#4198: That hurt a lot more than it should have.

All the bending and cutting and pulling yesterday left my legs in quite a state. At least the yard looks good.

After the yardwork, as advertised I went and got a haircut. Mrs. Fungus wasn't happy with the quality of it so we had to go back and get it corrected, but we did that after going to Walmart and Sam's for sundry necessities, like Xanax, Pepsi, paper towels, and cat litter.

Dinner was XXL tacos from Taco Bell--those things are delicious and if regular Taco Bell tacos tasted like that, Taco Bell would own the fast food industry.

* * *

Karl Denninger is right. An average new car price of $32,000 is face-rippingly insane.

In 1992, when I was shopping for a new car following the wreck of Escort #1 (the electric blue one), I test drove a Mustang LX with the 5.0 package before deciding on a Thunderbird LX. They were both about the same price, but after driving the Mustang around the block and getting on the gas hard at each corner I realized, "If I buy this car, I'm going to end up killing myself," and went with the T-bird and its much more sedate four liter V6.

That car cost me $16,000. It came with climate control, power windows, power locks, power driver's seat, AM/FM cassette, automatic transmission, AC, courtesy lights, remote trunk release, and a rear defroster. For a 1993 car it was not a "stripper", considering that a CD player was a high-dollar option at the time and I already had nearly all the amenities one could want in a car. (Okay, it didn't have a sunroof--that cost a couple hundred more than the CD player would have.)

22 years on, $16,000 won't even buy me an economy car--a new one--not unless I buy a "stripper special" like a Chevy Aveo with no options.

Compare that to the price of computers. In 1992, I could not buy the computing power I now have under my desk without spending literal millions of dollars. (Tens of millions, in fact.) The approximate 1992 equivalent to my current computer would have run me perhaps $2,000. Yet in 2007, I bought this computer for about $550.

Technology does that: it makes things less expensive to manufacture as the state of the art improves. How much did a pair of socks cost before someone invented a machine to knit them? You certainly couldn't buy a dozen pairs for less than an hour's worth of a poor man's wages; these days you can go to Walmart and buy a bag of socks for less than a dollar a pair.

Why has the price of cars not decreased?

There are really two reasons. The main one is, as Denninger attests, the financialization of auto sales. Because there are companies eager to loan you the money you need to buy a car--many owned by the same companies manufacturing the cars themselves--there's no dearth of buyers. The dealers have stopped talking total price and started talking monthly payments ("So what kind of monthly payment are you looking at?") and the lenders keep offering longer terms. In the 1980s, 60-month loans were the distressing new reality, but these days 60 months is typical and 72 or 84 month terms are common.

There's a lot of credit available for financing cars, and because of that the prices have necessarily risen. Automakers poor-mouth it all day long, but if you honestly believe that they sell any car at a loss (such as Ford's Fiesta or Chevy's Aveo) you are sadly mistaken. These cars simply don't carry the hefty profit margins of their more expensive cars. Just remember that Ford's huge-ass SUV in the 1990s--the one they discontinued after gas hit $3 a gallon--garnered $15,000 worth of profit for each unit sold. That was profit to Ford from selling the truck to the dealer, not the final sale to the customer.

We see the same sort of mechanic at work in the cell phone market. Does it really cost so much to manufacture a Samsung Galaxy 4G that they can only make a profit when they sell it for $700? Somehow I doubt it, particularly not when Samsung sells a tablet with 90% of the hardware in their phones and only charges $200 for the thing. (Only thing missing: the cellular phone part, which is a few chips and an antenna. I doubt that comes to $500.)

The reason cell phones don't drop in price? Because they don't have to: the cost of the phone is folded into the owner's monthly bill, that's why, usually at a high enough markup that the carrier makes another 80% profit on the price of the phone over and above its MSRP.

And people keep buying them. Desperate for the latest and greatest cell phone, they don't think anything of paying $40 a month for the thing for two years, even though they end up paying nearly a thousand dollars for a phone that retails for $600...and probably costs about $200 to manufacture.

If people had to fork over the full price of the phone when they signed up for a cellular contract, you can bet your ass that the price of the phones would be far lower than they are now, because nearly no one would pay a lump sum of $700 out-of-pocket for a phone.

No one thinks twice about borrowing money these days, and that's a bad thing.

* * *

Here are some handy hints which will make your retail service experience go a lot smoother.

1) Budget plenty of time to go to the service counter. If you have to be at work in twenty minutes, now is not a good time to drop off your product for servicing. Especially not if your computer runs very slowly.

2) The guy behind the counter is usually not the one fixing your unit. Yelling at him isn't going to do you any good. If he tells you, "I really can't tell you when it will be done," you might want to consider listening to him. I've actually had people try to trap me into promising them their machine would be fixed within 24 hours right after I've told them that it'll be 5-7 days.

Further: I understand that sometimes a person can't be without his computer for days at a time. That's why we offer rush service. For an extra $99 we will move your repair to the front of the line, and most of the time it will take less than 48 hours to complete. If you're unwilling to pay an extra $99 for an emergency repair, then you don't really need it that much, do you?

3) If your computer has a power brick or a special power cord bring it with you. Although I shouldn't have to say this, you especially need to bring it with when your laptop's battery isn't charging or your unit isn't powering up. Because I am sadly lacking in various forms of psychokinesis, I cannot tell you what's wrong with your unit unless I can turn the freaking thing on. (And no we do not have a spare one laying around.) We don't need keyboards or mice because those are universal, but power cords are not.

4) Laptop screens cost hundreds of dollars to replace. $200-$300 is what I quote people, and I'm lowballing it; the part is usually about $150 or so and the labor is another $100 at least. If your laptop is more than three years old and you break the screen, buy a new one. The only possible exception to this is if you have a high-zoot laptop that would cost thousands of dollars to replace. We'll be happy to send it off for repair and charge you for it, but in all liklihood you'd be better served by buying a new laptop and paying us $100 to move your data to the new one. Seriously.

5) Nine times out of ten your problem cannot be fixed in fifteen minutes. At our store we won't charge you if we can do a repair at the counter in fifteen minutes or less. But if you insist on having the only guy on counter duty help you for an hour with other people waiting, expect to be charged for it.

6) If you want your computer fixed, expect to pay for it to be fixed. We're not standing here because we enjoy it; we're doing this to make money. That applies to the corporation, the store, and the employee. You don't work for free; why do you expect me to? Why do you expect the store to give away a service? Look: we charge you $200 for a year's worth of technical service, meaning that you can bring three different computers in as many times as you want during that year for various services without having to pay so much as one more cent. That's a bargain, considering that the typical hourly rate for computer support was upwards of $80 in 1997 and it certainly hasn't gotten cheaper since then. Related:

7) Yes, you can buy most of a new computer for the price of a technical support contract. Why don't you, then?

8) It's going to cost a lot of money to upgrade your computer to run Windows 8. If you bring me a computer which left the factory with XP on its hard drive, I am going to tell you that while it is possible to upgrade the computer's OS, it is not worth doing so. We'll gleefully charge you $120 for the OS and $130 to install it, plus $100 for RAM and $50 to install that, but chances are you don't have enough processor for Win 8 and you'll have spent $400 trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

* * *

I'm not kidding. Today I had to deal with a guy whose computer had 1 GB of RAM in it, and he'd installed Win7 on it. It ran dead slow, of course.

Microsoft says that Win7 only needs 1GB of RAM. Sure. And Vista only needs 512 MB of RAM, too. You can't really do anything with the minimum configuration, at least nothing more complicated than e-mail, but it will work.

Know what else worked? In 1992 I was able to install Windows 3.1 on my NEC MultiSpeed laptop with the 20-megabyte external parallel port hard drive. Win 3.1 wanted 1 MB of RAM and the MultiSpeed had 640k. It was dead slow, and I couldn't do much more than run Notepad or Solitaire, but it worked.

Just because something works doesn't mean it's desirable.

Back when I was an on-site tech and the big switch to Win 95 was taking place, I don't remember having to tell people that their computers couldn't handle the new OS. One reason must be that Win 95's hardware requirements weren't dramatically different than those of Win 3.11, but that's not the whole reason. The other reason was that most of the time my boss handled those idiot questions. "No, ma'am, I'm afraid we can't upgrade a turbo XT to Win 95." (For one thing, 8086 processors didn't have protected mode like 386 processors did.) Besides, the clients I dealt with were typically office managers and had a leg up on the average computer consumer, knowledge-wise.

So, yeah: XP is not going to be supported any longer, but you can't upgrade your XP machine to Win 8, not without spending a hell of a lot more money than the machine is worth.

* * *

Today I just about hit my fill line for nonsense, let me tell you. I end up getting to the point that I want to tell people, "You know, there already aren't enough hours in the day for me to do what I need to do here, and you want me to do more?" I have my hands full at the counter, and now I'm supposed to run to the appointment scheduler whenever someone else walks up?

I talk a good game about people paying for services, but how can I justify charging someone when I didn't do anything for them? "Yeah, I didn't actually do anything useful, but I spent half an hour looking at your computer, so fork over $30!" The people around me are very quick to criticize how I handle things, and it leads me to feel completely helpess and inept, like I can't do anything right. If I do A, that's wrong; but if I do B, that's also wrong. And these self-same people who routinely criticize me for not doing A and B and C frequently ignore B and C and just do A, themselves.

The case at hand: a woman wanting to burn a video DVD of a slideshow, so that it can be played on any DVD player. The program that came with Windows won't do it. She bought Roxio, and Roxio won't import the files. "How do I burn a video DVD with this?"

WTF, what makes you think I know? You're doing something that not even 1% of PC users do, and I'm not even sure you're using either program correctly. So it's going to take time for me to figure out what you're trying to do, whether or not the program you're using can do what you want, and why the other program (which certainly should do what you want) refuses to do it.

I should like very much to see how my critical coworker would deal with that situation. Would she just say, "Well, your 15 minutes are up, so even though I haven't answered your question you can fuck off now..."? Somehow I doubt it. I also doubt that she'd say, "Okay, the best answer I could give you was that you'll have to re-create your slideshow in Roxio, but it took me half an hour to arrive at that conclusion so you owe us $30."

I didn't dawdle over the thing and I'm not slow; it was a complex issue and it takes time to figure these things out. But of course it's very easy for someone standing on the sidelines to say, "You should have done that faster and charged them for it!"

Then people wonder why I don't go into business for myself doing this stuff. I don't because I've done this for most of my career and IT SUCKS and the only thing that makes it tolerable is having someone to act as a backstop.

Being a computer technician isn't like being a carpenter or a plumber. Okay, a typical journeyman plumber isn't going to have to figure out why installing a new toilet in the upper floor bathroom of a house is preventing the toilet in the lower floor bathroom from flushing sometimes. ("See, I have to push the handle three or four times before it will flush, but sometimes I only have to push twice, and others just one time. It's not always like this.") Generally speaking, plumbing either works or it does not, and when it does not the failure mode is fairly obvious. A plumber is a highly skilled practical engineer, but the variables he has to contend with are usually limited in scope.

A computer, on the other hand, is a fantastically complex machine and there are literally thousands of very complex programs out there for them; no one can know everything about every piece of software. There are millions--trillions--of variables to contend with and any one of them can be a source of trouble. (Most of the time, most of them are not. That is a testament to good design.) A good PC technician learns the logic and theory behind their operation, and is able to synthesize solutions to problems.

Do I look like a software expert to you? 90% of the time that I sit down at a computer and solve your software issue it's because I know how the software is supposed to work. I may never have seen that program before, but because of the programming standards for Windows and the intrinsic nature of the system I can usually figure out how to make it do what you want it to do.

That's going to take time, though. Get used to it.

* * *

Well, no one said it would be easy.

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