Critical Analysis: Getting Gouged by Geeks

From time to time, I have thought about doing PC repair work as a side business. Recently, I saw a link from Consumerist to an undercover story on Getting Gouged by Geeks (alterative link). The whole episode is available on their web site. After watching it, I have to say that I am disappointed by the spin given by CBC. It’s a bit frightening to think what other stories the media are editing to make a good story.

Let’s look at the first setup: shove a bad DIMM into a PC so that it doesn’t boot. CBC lists this as a “small, common problem“. Then, call out the nerd herd to your house, tape it with your hidden video camera and have a good laugh when they misdiagnose the problem. There’s a few problems with this setup: namely that this is not a common problem. I’ve worked at two companies with various PC hardware manufacturers (and 700+ PCs onsite) and never had a PC not boot with bad memory being the cause. That’s not to say it never happens, but it is rare in my experience. I have, however, encountered memory that has gone bad in a PC. This causes the operating system to crash and the PC to act strangely. Diagnosing this type of problem is usually simple as running a memory test from a boot CD or switching the memory with known good memory.

PCs can take many types of memory and I’m guessing that these technicians do not carry each speed of memory and every capacity: it’s just not practical. The correct way of trying to diagnose it, of course, is to listen to the beeps at POST. The CBC makes fun of one technician who is repeating the beeps, saying [sic] he’s talking to the computer, lol! The joke, however, is on CBC. Repeating the beeps is perfectly logical: he’s probably trying to distinguish which beeps are long and which are short.

Example from here:

  • No Beeps: Short, No power, Bad CPU/MB, Loose Peripherals
  • One Beep: Everything is normal and Computer POSTed fine
  • Two Beeps: POST/CMOS Error
  • One Long Beep, One Short Beep: Motherboard Problem
  • One Long Beep, Two Short Beeps: Video Problem
  • One Long Beep, Three Short Beeps: Video Problem
  • Three Long Beeps: Keyboard Error
  • Repeated Long Beeps: Memory Error
  • Continuous Hi-Lo Beeps: CPU Overheating

As you can see, there are two types of “3 beeps”: one for a keyboard error and one for a memory error. One uses a series of “long” beeps; the other “short” beeps. This tech that “talks to the computer” is actually one of the techs that correctly identifies the problem. Of course, this tech cannot be let off the hook: he’s charging $120 for a 1 GB DIMM! CBC detects a ripoff!

Our little nerd friend Steve Gazo from Humber College checks online and proclaims $64.99 for the 1GB, PC3200 DIMM. It’s unclear, however, whether he’s looking at the price in Canadian dollars or US dollars. Take a look at a Google search I ran:

The US prices are lower and the Canadian prices higher. Going on the Internet and looking up a price proves nothing in terms of whether the tech is overcharging or not. Depending on where you go for pricing, you can manipulate the pricing up and down as this article shows:

I can say Vista Ultimate is $179 (OEM version at Newegg), $399 or $602. Someone selling Windows Vista Ultimate at $602 is not necessarily ripping anyone off: you have to put things in context.

CBC states that 4 of the 10 companies suggest to buy a new PC and it was only a $25 part that needed to be replaced. Wrong! Their own tech found the part for $65. An honest mistake by the CBC? Probably.

Next case: laptop with corrupt operating system files. Supposedly, this is causing the wireless card not to work as one of the techs says the wireless card may have to be replaced. CBC goes off to stay “there’s nothing wrong with the wireless card“. In the end, the wireless card is not replaced: the charge is $113 for an OS reload. The tech is simply giving some reasons what may be wrong with the laptop: creative editing at work.

Some shops say the laptop had malware and the CBC eagerly protests that it did not. The common causes for corrupt operating system files are either bad memory, bad harddrive or viruses/malware. Since it isn’t the first two, the technicians claim the laptop had malware. This is a perfectly logical conclusion. The customer may have already tried to clean it off, but perhaps cleaned off too much and deleted critical files in the process. Operating systems files do not corrupt on their own: there has to be some type of explanation. In this case, the malware is our nerd friend Steve Gazo.

The same Steve Gazo places fake files on the laptop named “nice pose.jpg” among others to encourage technicians to check them out. CBC takes the laptop in for service and then brings back the laptop to Gazo. He claims that two of the pictures were opened based on the date accessed field. Fact number #1: Date Accessed is not reliable. If the technician ran an antivirus scan on the machine, it could update this field. This field also wouldn’t update on the files I tried accessing on my Windows Vista Ultimate box.

Fact number #2: Dates can be manipulated as shown by this utility. This information is stored in the NTFS metadata of the file. Date Accessed means absolutely nothing. However, there’s no excuse for a technician to be snooping through people’s hard drives (if it truly happened). One would be naive to think that they don’t. However, it is the responsibility of the user to secure THEIR data by means of either moving the data to a flash drive and keeping it at home or encrypting it. If you walked around your house naked would you not expect the neighbors to peek in on you? You would likely pull the blinds before doing such an act.

Half the show is dedicated to a nerd from “Nerds On Site”. They finally find a golden nugget for their show. This guy is truly clueless and deserves to be fired for his conduct. He claims that her hard drive is bad without even opening the case! Of course, we know it’s just the DIMM.

It would have been interesting to see the two cases reserved: taking the desktop in with bad memory problem into the brick and mortar store, and leaving the laptop at home. My guess would be a lot more correct repairs then what is given in the video. A more interesting case would be to put a failing hard drive into the computer in the house and see what the techs would do in terms of being able to recover the data.

The only honest part I found with this video was the interview of the 3 tech guys sitting on the stools.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Case of the Crashing Excel 2003

One of my users had an interesting cases of Excel crashing when opening certain files. Excel would restart 3 times and finally on the 3rd time, it would open the file without any formatting. The file opened file on other PCs I tried. Removing and reinstalling Microsoft Office 2003 made no difference. Neither did any of the suggestions at support.microsoft.com/kb/280504. Interestingly enough, when I logged in as myself using a different profile, Excel worked fine!

After setting up a new profile for the user, the problem returned. I pulled out my trusty Process Monitor program from Sysinternals. It appears when Excel is first started, the default printer is initialized. When I changed the default printer to another printer, Excel started fine. Deleting and recreating the default printer fixed the problem.

– Soli Deo Gloria