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Getting Gouged by Geeks

CowboyNeal posted more than 6 years ago | from the broken-trowlfaz-inhibitor dept.

Businesses 581

dottyslashdottydot writes "CBC Marketplace recently ran a sting operation and discovered that most home computer repair technicians failed miserably at diagnosing a simple RAM failure. Many techs tried to sell unneccessary software or upgrades. (or even a new computer!) However, the worst offender was one guy who claimed that the hard drive had failed, and that the only remedy was to pay $2,000 to have a special facility with a clean room recover the data."

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581 comments

getting gouged by whom? (5, Insightful)

yagu (721525) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860087)

I have to take a little umbrage at the inflammatory headline, though I suppose the choice of words generates traffic. These people were not being gouged by geeks. They were being gouged by assholes. These are the same assholes who'd sell you a re-built carbeurator to fix a low-transmission fluid problem (it's true, I stopped this guy from doing just that to a good friend).

Most "geeks" I've ever known or met often may suffer social ineptitude, but across the broad spectrum, geeks, IMO, seem the least likely to be the type to pull these ripoffs. Quite the contrary, my experience has been geeks, true geeks who really know technology are the ones far more likely to shrug and take no money for helping someone with technology. That's not to say they're not willing to make a living at it... just that they're not ripoff artists.

Also the story is long on anecdotal "sting" evidence, and short on statistically significant information to substantiate the claim. My advice, ask around, ask a friend you trust, not necessarily to do the work but to give a "yea" or "nay" on any recommendations. Also, if it's a company like "geeks.com", stay away... any company pedalling technicians en-masse on the cheap is suspect... the market doesn't sustain that kind of business model... fixing technology is hard, and not cheap.

Anyway, back to my thesis, this is ripoff by assholes, not geeks.

I always provide a detailed bill (5, Funny)

xkr (786629) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860101)

... that includes a "Muffler Throw-Out Bearing."

Everyone knows that Microsoft operating systems require this for stable operation.

Re:I always provide a detailed bill (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20860203)

Check the wiper oil, too, while you're at it.

Re:getting gouged by whom? (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860173)

Also the story is long on anecdotal "sting" evidence, and short on statistically significant information to substantiate the claim.


Welcome to the post-Dateline world, where every news agency now wants to set up stings to bust the bad guy. I'd like to set up a sting to expose shitty journalists. I think modern journalism is the one area that seriously needs to be looked in to.

We can start with science journalism, which is now at nearly tabloid levels of accuracy.

Re:getting gouged by whom? (1)

d0rp (888607) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860253)

I'd like to set up a sting to expose shitty journalists.
Now, that is the best idea I've heard in a very long time.

Well done, sir!

Re:getting gouged by whom? (3, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860437)

That's not a very nice thing to say about tabloids.

Zing!

Re:getting gouged by whom? (4, Interesting)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860603)

CBC has done this sort of stuff for a LONG time, usually on mechanics. They do an annual report where they loosen the battery cable on a minivan and send it around to a bunch of big-chain mechanics in different cities then grade them by how much the repair costs.

It's useful. Canadian Tire finished last one year and they improved a LOT after that. Not that I'd take a car to Canadian Tire anyway, but still.

Re:getting gouged by whom? (4, Informative)

cloricus (691063) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860909)

We have that in Australia. It's called 'The Chasers WAR on Everything' and you can check it out on YouTube, abc.net.au/chaser, or your favourite BT network. One of the better segments is 'What have we learnt from current affairs this week?' in which they make a mockery of Australia's nightly rubbish news shows. Have a look at it, get a group of crazies in your country to start up a similar show. If it doesn't clean up the trash on those sorts of shows at least it will let you laugh at the sorry state of affairs.

We also have a semi-funny-semi-serious show called MediaWatch which is a 15 minute show that goes over all of the illegal, stupid, dangerous, and bad things the media did that week. You can also find copies of it at abc.net.au/mediawatch.

Here, Here! (4, Insightful)

eepok (545733) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860371)

In every situation I have ever worked and with every person I have ever lived, I have been the go-to geek. I tell it like it is because I personally care about solving problems and making other peoples' lives easier. As the parent post said, most true geeks will shrug their shoulders and charge nothing. Personally, when fixing friends' computers (or their parents', or their friends') I refuse monetary compensation, but in college required the person to barter a home-cooked meal (hey, that meant a lot in undergrad!).

As the parent poster said, it's not that "geeks" in general are untrustworthy. It's assholes that seek to make money off their geekdom that inspire spite. If I had a dollar for every time someone brought me a computer and said "The Guy at Best Buy said the motherboard is dead and it will cost $400 to replace" only for me to go into safemode and remove spyware/virus bloat and fix the computer, I'd be paying someone to make my Slashdot posts for me!

In short, everyone should befriend a geek. If you know a nice geek, you're set. If you don't, then ask around for someone who does. Rarely does hardware need to be replaced, but when it does, you needn't pay sky-high prices to have it done.

A kiss, a chesty hug, a 6-pack, or a warm meal is usually enough.

Re:getting gouged by whom? (3, Interesting)

jotok (728554) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860401)

Totally disagree. Geeks are the most likely out of anyone I know to have a superiority complex and lord it over people who know less than they do. Now stick that geek in a shitty, low-paying job where people who can shit out $1000 for an overpriced Dell come in saying "My internet is broken," and every once in a while they'll dick someone over.

I also don't know what you mean about companies peddling geeks on the cheap. Geek Squad, for example, are not cheap. If you want cheap, in my area, you go to the Mom & Pop store (we actually are lucky enough to have a genuine independently run computer sales & service store, run by a genuine mom and pop) and they fix stuff on the cheap. They solder and go way, way down into the physical layer...when was the last time geeks.com checked your power supply with a multimeter? They also do great training, which you'd think would torpedo their business, but no.

Oddly enough, they don't consider themselves "geeks." They are retirees and grandparents who like to tinker. Weird, but true.

Re:getting gouged by whom? (2, Informative)

WaXHeLL (452463) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860479)

Geeks.com is Computer Geeks, an online store. Different from Geek Squad. One actually provides reliable parts, the other is run by Best Buy (enough said).

Re:getting gouged by whom? (2, Funny)

jotok (728554) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860717)

That sounded like you could spin it into a lawyer joke.

Q: What's the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?
A: One is a scum-sucking bottom-feeder, and the other is a fish.

Re:getting gouged by whom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20860677)

You're confused. Geek Squad isn't meant to fix stuff, they're meant to sell shit. Do you know any competent IT people who would work for $8.50 an hour? Probably not. And definitely not for long. Geek Squad people may have slightly more computer expertise than your average Best Buy employee, but that's not saying much.

It's really no surprise that their "solution" is usually to buy a new one. I wonder if they know a place? Maybe Best Buy?

Re:getting gouged by whom? (4, Insightful)

adminstring (608310) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860741)

I have found that power supplies that look good to a multimeter may not look so good to a computer and may still cause problems. It might be putting out 5 volts, but how clean is that 5 volts? An oscilloscope could give you a better picture of how the power supply is working, or there's always my favorite method... swapping in a different power supply and seeing if the problem goes away.

I'm glad that Mom and Pop are out there doing a good job at a good price for people in your area, though. More power to them!

Re:getting gouged by whom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20860489)

These people were not being gouged by geeks. They were being gouged by MBAs. There FTFY.

Re:getting gouged by whom? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20860583)

These are the same assholes who'd sell you a re-built carbeurator to fix a low-transmission fluid problem (it's true, I stopped this guy from doing just that to a good friend).
Wow, how old is your friend's car that it even has a carbeurator? Maybe it would have been even better advice to tell him he needed a new car. Unless it's one of those new-fangled carbeurators that sits right next to the blinker fluid reservoir...

Re:getting gouged by whom? (1)

justin12345 (846440) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860591)

Are they talking about the Best Buy "Geek Squad"? If not I would really like to know how they qualify "geeks". After reading TFA I kinda doubt they do, they might as well said "Most random people we asked to fix a computer we intentionally broke" could not quickly discover that we were screwing with them.

Re:getting gouged by whom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20860635)

I have to take a little umbrage at the inflammatory headline, though I suppose the choice of words generates traffic. These people were not being gouged by geeks. They were being gouged by assholes.

Also, if it's a company like "geeks.com", stay away... any company pedalling technicians en-masse on the cheap is suspect... the market doesn't sustain that kind of business model... fixing technology is hard, and not cheap.
I think you answered your own question about the choice of headline. The article is referring to companies like "geeks.com" and "Geek Squad." Though I agree that lowercase geeks, in general, don't like to gauge people. Heck, they usually do the work for free for friends, family, and that cute girl they don't stand a chance of getting.

Re:getting gouged by whom? (4, Insightful)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860661)

Oh for gods sake. They were getting gouged by the Geek Squad. It's an alliterative headline, a grand tradition of hundreds of years. This is just righteous touchiness, and no one is going to say "gosh, anyone who says they're a geek can't be trusted, some guy on the news said they'll rip me off". Honestly, pick your battles.

Re:getting gouged by whom? (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860703)

*Some* Geeks are assholes. Not all are saints. Redefining their title does not change who they are. We can't just redefine everyone that does something wrong as evil, or an asshole. People do things that are evil or assholish, but are not of themselves evil or assholes.

"Getting Gouged by Geeks" (4, Funny)

QMalcolm (1094433) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860097)

Sounds like a good porn movie title.

it's not unnecessary. (5, Funny)

User 956 (568564) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860105)

Many techs tried to sell unneccessary software or upgrades.

Look, maintaining a proper level of Hard Disk fluid is extremely important in order to keep the tachyon flux of the read/write heads within normal operating parameters.

Re:it's not unnecessary. (4, Funny)

heptapod (243146) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860477)

B-b-but how do I replace the smoke? Ever since the smoke was released it doesn't work anymore!

Re:it's not unnecessary. (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860579)

Look, maintaining a proper level of Hard Disk fluid is extremely important in order to keep the tachyon flux of the read/write heads within normal operating parameters.

If the audiophiles are willing to pay $66 for a tiny bottle of oil made especially for record player ball bearings, I expect no less from computer aficionados.

Heck, I'm surprised that the Geek Squad or whoever it was didn't recommend a $200 Shakti stone [shakti-innovations.com], which the creators do recommend you place close to your CPU.

They're not geeks (0)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860107)

They are some know nothing people who think there smart because there in the 'Computer' industry.

Re:They're not geeks (4, Funny)

winkydink (650484) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860139)

However, they probably know the difference between "there" and "they're".

Re:They're not geeks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20860197)

Though dry to the point of near undetectability, I'm fairly certain that post that you've chosen to criticize is simply missing a </sarcasm> tag.

Re:They're not geeks (1)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860233)

After the Dot Crash you thoguht all those idgits who IPOed a idea to sell kitty litter with built in USB, then spent their VC candy on Nose candy just went away? NOOOO! they now wear tan slacks and blue shirts...

I blame windows (-1, Troll)

ror (1068652) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860115)

End of the day, half the time when stuff like that goes wrong, windows makes sure it will not let you find out the real reason Bad Stuff is happening. If you don't have a memtest tool on you, you just have to make your best guess. $2000 for HDD recovery is a con tho for sure!

Re:I blame windows (1, Interesting)

Carnildo (712617) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860181)

$2000 for HDD recovery is a con tho for sure!


True. Unless the hard drive has been through a fire or has otherwise suffered significant physical damage, clean-room recovery shouldn't cost more than $1000 or so.

Re:I blame windows (1)

Ajehals (947354) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860487)

Assuming the drive contains data with a value that exceeds $2000*

*Although family photographs, home videos etc.. are probably easily worth that

Also on the price I have seen a hardware failure render a RAID'ed SCSI disk array *very* broken, leading to some rather bad writes, cost to recover? $64k at the current exchange rate, at least they implemented a backup system fairly rapidly thereafter.

Re:I blame windows (4, Insightful)

Mr. Sketch (111112) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860227)

If you don't have a memtest tool on you, you just have to make your best guess.
Of course, if you don't have a memtest tool on you, you shouldn't really be calling yourself a diagnostic tech. A memtest tool is a staple of any computer tech, and at the very least, you shouldn't be saying the problem is memory without using the correct tool to diagnose it. That would be like a doctor saying you have a heart murmur without using a stethoscope to listen to your heart.

Re:I blame windows (1)

Poromenos1 (830658) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860267)

Well, he WASN'T saying that the problem is memory. A better analogy would be him saying that you have a broken rib without a stethoscope.

Re:I blame windows (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20860429)

Right - new hard drive $200, then restore your backup. Oh, no backup - well then you didn't really give a darn about your data anyway, right? Shoot - honestly, who trusts their data to a single spinning hard drive with no backup?

You can blame M$. Re:I blame windows (-1, Flamebait)

Erris (531066) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860831)

when stuff like that goes wrong, windows makes sure it will not let you find out the real reason Bad Stuff is happening

Yes, keeping secrets from the user is bad and that's what non free software is all about. Users should not be exposed to complexity as a matter of course, but the workings of a system should be explained to those who would like to know. Windoze will never come with good diagnostic tools. M$ get's angry when users actually provide something of value to fellow users [slashdot.org]. They keep users helpless and divided to rob them the same way these hapless bottom feeders do.

This is what happens when you let making a buck be an excuse to screw people. The tone has been set by M$ and the rest of the supply chain has followed along. People don't need to buy new computers every three years, but businesses do and have to replace all of their software at the same time. The intentional waste caused by non free software vendors both dwarfs and drives the equally repulsive behavior of techs at every level. Their excuse can always be, "If I don't take this person's money, someone else will." It's a rip off from the start.

huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20860119)

I fail to see how detecting a RAM failure can be "simple". Memtest86 isn't 100% foolproof.

Re:huh? (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860241)

If a system doesn't boot you're better off replacing parts.

The guy who think the hard drive is dead could simply be incompetent. My brothers computer recently died and his supposedly tech savvy friend told him that the hard drive died. I had to tell my brother to unplug the hard drive and see if it would POST successful as it would normally without a hard drive and it didn't. Really you repeat the same process for video/memory/CPU.

Re:huh? (1)

Ajehals (947354) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860555)

Hold on, are you suggesting systematic trouble shooting and diagnosis?

Heathen,

I use the 'WAG' method myself.

Re:huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20860783)

Really you repeat the same process for video/memory/CPU.
What the fuck? You can't POST without any of these components. Are you stoned?

Depends... (3, Insightful)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860243)

If it was a simple matter of semi-unseating a DIMM, then yeah, I agree with TFA - a simple check of cards, sticks, etc. would've revealed it to be busted, and a quickie re-seat would've been enough. If it were a simple POST-test failure, again, the beeps help t-shoot it if the guy is at least A+ certified (or knows enough to have one)

If however it was a matter of having a RAM stick with a subtle fault that kicked off only during extremely heavy RAM usage, then you may have had a point there.

Here's the trick, though... most of the 'expose' type stories like this usually involve something incredibly stupid, like loosening a cable or card (Hell, I used to drive students crazy when they were forced to troubleshoot a system I induced failure on with clear cellophane tape on the NIC card contacts).

Much like tweaking the distributor timing a bit on an other3wise perfectly running old car can out the fakes and the incompetents in the auto industry, there are some damned drop-simple ways of outing the scammers and dumbasses in the IT field.

/P

Re:Depends... (2, Interesting)

Glonoinha (587375) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860439)

Regarding the tape on the NIC card contacts - there's the rub, odds are I would never have caught it either. It's not a normally occuring fault that a 'real world' tech would ever experience in his lifetime. Any NIC that has been in use (successfully) long enough to gather dust has survived the infant mortality period and because they plug into only one other device (switch, generally) - if the device on the other end doesn't explode due to a crazy electrical storm, it isn't going to send a bad enough spike to smoke the NIC. IMHO, once a network card has been proven good, it never dies. Well almost never, assuming high quality NICs in the first place - I've installed somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 SMC/3COM network cards and have never had a failure once a NIC passed the first few weeks successfully.

Of course if it wasn't talking to the network and wasn't showing up in the device manager, I would have popped out the NIC to replace it (thinking it was bad) and when I saw the scotch tape on it, I probably would have whacked someone over the head with it.

Re:Depends... (1)

greenbird (859670) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860609)

It's not a normally occuring fault that a 'real world' tech would ever experience in his lifetime.

Strange, I've never worked as a tech although I've supported groups in IT operations and I've encountered contact problems with both RJ-45 and RJ-15 jacks so many times that I couldn't put a real number to them. So I guess "real world" techs must have a real short lifetime since I'm not THAT old. I'm guessing here, but I would say that you encountered this before but as you predicted you didn't find it.

Re:Depends... (1)

planckscale (579258) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860557)

I watched it and at no point did the computer produce POST codes. It seemed like the techs would hit the power button and nothing would happen. Perhaps a fan went on, and that's about it. Also, it appears that there was only one 256mb SDRAM module in the machine. So unless a tech had the correct memory replacement on hand, it would have been difficult to diagnose. Should every mobile tech carry PCI diagnostic cards? Additionally, one tech offered a 1GB module for $120, which is not unreasonable - Compusa would easily charge that much. The "expert" tech from the school was an idiot and probably scoured the net for the cheapest 1GB module on the market - not taking into account tax and shipping charges. Not to mention the time it would take to go and get it or have it shipped. The second heavy lady who was an "Expert tech" mentioned that all that was needed for the failed laptop/system file problem was for the operating system to be re-installed. No backup was necessary. I thing a backup, if possible should always be recommended.

Re:huh? (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860711)

Nothing is foolproof. However, Memtest86+ comes pretty damn close to it. If you're getting error events while running the program, it's %99.999 (BS made up number, don't hold me to it) certain you have bad memory, incorrect timing and/or voltage settings, or a failing north bridge chip (Intel systems). I've also seen error thrown because of an overheating CPU or one with faulty cache on-die. Either way, if you have a hardware program regarding memory read/writes, this program is sure to expose them.

Now if Memtest86+ would test hard drive cache and the south bridge chip, THAT would be the "cats meow"!

Just goes to show... (5, Insightful)

Starteck81 (917280) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860129)

It's just as hard to find a good, read competent and honest, IT tech as it is to find a good car mechanic.

Re:Just goes to show... (1)

webmaster404 (1148909) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860369)

Which is why people need to learn how to at least do simple repairs themselves. This is whats happening in the "Computers for everyone" world, those who know how to do simple things can make a ton of money ripping off those that don't know how. It doesn't help that for a simple error Windows locks up in a scary blue screen that for those who only know how to check E-Mail and watch videos on YouTube. MS could take a good step by having a diagnostic tool with Windows built in (and no "safe mode" doesn't count) that has Memtest and other utilities to let people know whats wrong with their computer rather then some useless hex codes. But I guess with MS now having anti-virus/spyware utilities they have no reason to change Windows, just to make people pay more.

Re:Just goes to show... (1)

evil_aar0n (1001515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860407)

Can I get an "Amen, Brother!" I don't freelance anymore - I'm content to suckle the teat of a fat corporate overlord - but I just got a call the other day from a former client-through-a-client looking to see if I would be willing to service them directly instead of working through my former client. I said I don't do that type of thing - freelance work, or stab former clients in the back - and suggested they work out whatever miscommunication they had.

Without tooting my horn, it suggests that it must be tough to find someone you can trust to work on your tech.

Re:Just goes to show... (1)

flappinbooger (574405) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860665)

Both usually don't have to do any advertising either, word-of-mouth is usually sufficient. They also both tend to be well compensated.

Re:Just goes to show... (1)

xtracto (837672) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860903)

Of course it is. But then again, one of the comments in the story was about the low payment for the repairing industry and I concur with it. I watched all the video, and there were 3 persons who diagnosed the problem correctly, but they were charging more. The video kept telling you that the problem could be fixed by $25 bucks (I suppose it is the price of the 256MB DIMM).

  Coincidentally just some days ago I read a story which of a man charging $1,000,000 to fix a mainframe by turning a screw, and when he was asked to justify the cost, he wrote in the bill:

Turning one screw................. $1
Knowing what screw to turn ..$999,999

And that is the problem, people believe that it is so easy and, of course it is easy if you KNOW what you are doing... And that will of course cost more, whether it is reflexed int he price of the item or in the price of the visit.

I believe the best way to solve this kind of problems (for non techies) is to look for a techie friend and ask him to look at you computer FOR A FEE!, and that is very important, instead of paying an unknown person who might take your personal data, you could ask a cousin, neighbor or any other person you know and trust a bit to have a look at your computer and fix it.

In other news... (4, Insightful)

Sloppyjoes7 (556803) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860135)

In other news, some business people are shady and try to rip off consumers! See the groundbreaking report tonight, at 7!

Is it Planned, or is it Ignorance? (4, Insightful)

Irish_Samurai (224931) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860147)

I have to ask the question, is this type of behavior exhibited by ripoff artists, or inexperienced "technical" people trying to be entrepreneurial?

The end result may manifest itself in the same form, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's malicious. Incompetent? Yes. Scam? Maybe not.

Re:Is it Planned, or is it Ignorance? (1)

AresTheImpaler (570208) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860459)

I'll say it's both. I've met a lot of people with the mindset of:
"I don't know shit, but I IM, browse the web and play video games.. therefore I should be an IT worker"

Then I've seen a lot of techs that will charge for everything and anything they can. They know the client doesnt know shit and will believe almost everything they say...

Re:Is it Planned, or is it Ignorance? (1)

Jherek Carnelian (831679) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860545)

I have to ask the question, is this type of behavior exhibited by ripoff artists, or inexperienced "technical" people trying to be entrepreneurial?

The end result may manifest itself in the same form, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's malicious. Incompetent? Yes. Scam? Maybe not.
Q: What's the difference between a used-car salesman and a computer salesman?
A: The used-car salesman knows when he is lying.

Re:Is it Planned, or is it Ignorance? (4, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860633)

If you're incompetent and selling your services then you are a ripoff artist.

Re:Is it Planned, or is it Ignorance? (4, Insightful)

Irish_Samurai (224931) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860881)

That statement assumes you know you are incompetent. Which, if you are incompetent, you don't have the skills to accurately judge your incompetence.

Those who don't know what they don't know aren't rip off artists. A rip off artist knows what they are doing.

Anyone surprised? (1)

fumanchu32 (671324) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860281)

I'm mean really, who would think this is new or unique to a field or industry? If you do think this is unique, I have some very small packages of dehydrated water that I can let you have for a special price.

Person x has limited knowledge in an area of expertise, so goes to person y. Person y attempts to up sell at best, and a ripoff at worse.

Seems rather dumb to be surprised by such behavior in really any field of service oriented work.

Re:Anyone surprised? (1)

evil_aar0n (1001515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860493)

True, but it's disappointing to realize that our industry has now reached that level. I'm sure there has been some degree of this all throughout computing history, but that it's now being reported in the "mainstream press" means we've achieved some measure that I'd hoped we'd avoid. Welcome to "Bob's Transmission & 'Puter Fix-It Shop."

On the other hand, it makes those of us in the field that are recognized for being honest that much more dear to our clients. Of course, since we're honest, we won't take advantage of our clients. Damn this rotten conscience of mine...

damn it.... (3, Funny)

AresTheImpaler (570208) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860307)

I read the title as "Getting Cougars by Geeks." I thought it was a book review written by Geeks...

bah.. I was seriously impressed at first

Re:damn it.... (3, Funny)

Ajehals (947354) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860611)

I read "getting gouged by greeks", mental image was of some sort of amphitheatre and gladiators with tridents.

Not sure why.

See? Geeks are stupid... (4, Insightful)

Brickwall (985910) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860309)

If they were really smart, they'd have been spending the last few years creating collaterized mortgage obligations (a not very difficult matrix algebra equation), and recomputing risks for sub-prime mortgages, again easy to do if you don't mind fudging some assumptions and outright lying about some others (hi, AGW fans!). Then they would have made billions, and once the scam was revealed, they'd be bailed out by Ben Bernanke, the Fed, and every European central bank. Manipulation of financial assets beats manipulation of physical assets every time.

Re:See? Geeks are stupid... (1)

Bluesman (104513) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860921)

Unfortunately there are about three journalists who would understand what you just said.

Diagnosing memory failures is hard (5, Informative)

DaleGlass (1068434) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860319)

Memory affects pretty much everything, so it's hard to isolate it from everything else. Bad RAM can result in disk corruption, making it hard to determine it's the memory and not the disk that's broken.

For example, take Nero, burn a CD, then verify it. If the RAM is bad it may well happen that a few bits you read from the CD got flipped, and now the verification fails. Obvious conclusion: The CD-R was bad. After a few of those, obvious conclusion: the drive is bad. That the computer crashes ocasionally can be attributed to spyware or viruses. A tech working for cheap isn't going to spend hours to test every possible case.

RAM is also one of the most annoying things to try to diagnose. Disks at least have SMART, so if it got to the point where it's really broken, SMART will tell you about that quickly. And once it breaks it tends to do so very obviously. Now memory can pass tests and still be bad, and be marginal enough to work most of the time.

I had several problems with RAM that firmly convinced me to always buy ECC.

First one was when my Linux firewall, which ran for months without a hitch suddenly had a kernel panic. I thought it was strange, but oh well, nothing is perfect. Rebooted it, expecting that the new kernel installed weeks ago probably has a fix for that. A couple days later it crashed again. Rebooted it again making a note to investigate later. A day later it crashed yet again, but didn't boot this time due to disk corruption. Turns out the RAM was loose in the slot, and somehow stopped making proper contact. The module itself was good and passed memtest86 just fine when I set up the box.

Second one was when I was buying a new shiny box, and started having strange crashes. This took me quite a while to diagnose, because memtest86 passed perfectly fine. Yet "memtester", an userspace tool did catch it finally, after running for 8 hours straight, and even then with about 50% accuracy. On repeated 8 hour runs sometimes it'd catch it, and sometimes not, while testing the whole memory several times during that period.

Something like that probably won't be diagnosed correctly by tech support. Even if they do test the memory they're almost certainly not going to bother running it for a day straight, just to make really sure it's not a marginal case.

Re:Diagnosing memory failures is hard (2, Insightful)

linzeal (197905) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860481)

That is the reason all of my recovery disks have some sort of memory testing program and it is the first thing I use. Is there a memory checking program for video cards out there?

Re:Diagnosing memory failures is hard (1)

Ajehals (947354) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860683)

I haven't seen one, but I cant quite see how useful it would be, after all you can swap out a card to ensure that the problem is with the card, but generally cannot swap out the memory on the card (well you can on the MGA cards that I have on the shelf but they are a little old....) so identifying the actual failure beyond the fact that it is on the card probably wouldn't help (except in a small number of fairly specialised circumstances). It may be useful if you were seeing a performance degradation I suppose, but every graphics card failure I have seen has been either terminal or rendered the card unstable (artefacts on screen and regular crashes, that one was memory apparently). Still it would certainly be interesting.

Re:Diagnosing memory failures is hard (1)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860737)

This is absolutely true. These kinds of fix-it cheap shops are served by low-skilled people who obviously dont have the skills to move to a corporate 9-5 IT position. You get a lot of students and well-meaning but inexperienced techs, as well as your occasional scammer. Considering how rare RAM goes bad, I wouldnt be surprised if none of these techs have ever witnessed it. Bad ram often leads to non-obvious symptoms like data corruption, crashing apps, etc. FWIW, out of the last 5 times ive tested bad ram with memtest it only caught it once.

Re:Diagnosing memory failures is hard (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860835)

When I added some memory to my computer, it was really picky about the order of the sticks. I apparently did it wrong and ended up with timing problems, causing random memory corruption.

The symptoms were fairly easy to diagnose as being memory related:

  1. Windows wouldn't boot up most of the time but instead freeze... but it wasn't consistent. Sometimes it would boot.
  2. When it did boot, programs randomly crashed.
  3. Microsoft programs would throw Data Execution Prevention Errors (which has never happened to me outside of memory problems...). Those of you with hardware DEP would probably notice this more as every program would be affected. Of course some third party programs can't work without executing data (or they're just buggy) but for this purpose I assume you'd notice programs throwing DEP errors that normally don't.

These are pretty good indications you should boot from a linux partition or live CD and run memtest. I eventually fixed my specific problem by moving memory sticks around until memtest made it through a test cycle with no errors.

Re:Diagnosing memory failures is hard (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860875)

I suppose I need to add on that since my problem affected something like the upper 67% of my memory, it turned out to be easy to spot. I guess if the failure is limited to like... 8 bytes out of 512M... it's going to be a bit more difficult.

Even still, you'd still see a similar random pattern of unreprodicable errors.

A good thing.... (1)

Speed Pour (1051122) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860321)

Good thing this news is coming out on a site frequented almost exclusively by people that already know better than to call up a repairman.

Geek Squad anyone? (1)

Maestro485 (1166937) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860335)

I'm pretty sure that's Geek Squad's whole business model. A family friend once told me (after the fact) that they charged her $90 to back up all of her data to a CD, which consisted of a couple dozen family photos and a few papers. (This was a few years ago, so the prices might not be quite so crazy now). A buddy of mine who worked at Best Buy (but not for the Geek Squad) used to explain to inquiring customers that their problem was most likely due to a faulty flux-capacitor. Kind of mean, I know, but still funny as hell.

somewhat misleading (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860339)

In one of the tests they corrupt some files on windows and suggest a simple reinstall will fix it. With windows updates reinstalling windows on top of a pre existing installation can often make it unbootable and/or leave the user with other problems. So, simple in hindsight but before the problem is solved there's more than one possibility as to what will leave the system in a usable state.

"Simple"? (5, Insightful)

Kris_J (10111) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860345)

A RAM failure, depending on severity, is a right PITA to diagnose. Unless the PC suddenly has less RAM than it's supposed to the errors resulting from a RAM problem look a lot like a whole bunch of other problems. The people likely to find a RAM problem are the ones that start with something like a boot-from-CD hardware diagnostics run, which can take hours. In which case if it isn't a hardware fault they just "gouged" you for a couple of hours of useless diagnostics.

Re:"Simple"? (2, Insightful)

Gideon Fubar (833343) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860731)

Which is why, when you freelance, you don't charge people unreasonably for what is the equivalent of 5 minutes work for you. Especially since the bulk of the work was done by Chris Brady (who gives his software away for free, mind you). You simply start memtest86 running, walk away, tell them to call you if anything turns red. Simple.

Re:"Simple"? (2, Informative)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860841)

I am one of these self-employed geeks. Whenever I run in to a hardware issue that doesn't manifest a simple solution quickly, I ask to take the computer with me overnight. That way I can run memtest without actually siting at their office wasting my time and my clients. Swapping out known good components is a quick way to find out what is going on if you've detected hardware problems. Before that, knoppix like boot operating systems can quickly remove the hard drive as part of the malfunction.

Most of my clients don't realize that I spend a good portion of my time waiting on there computer. Installing AV/anti-spam/rookit scanner then waiting for them to finish is time consuming. Most of the actual fixes take a short period of time (repairing the registry, replacing hardware, replacing corrupt files, etc). The biggest issue I have with most computer people is they don't even try to teach the user what went wrong and how to keep it from occurring again, in the case of viruses and such, not much a person can do about hardware failure other then keeping the case free of dust.

Re:"Simple"? (2)

Ajehals (947354) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860865)

My laptop has a definite RAM issue, it doesn't appear to be too serious as it only very infrequently suffers any major crashes or hangs, but on boot it repeatedly reports that the 'system memory has changed' quoting the new value as something between 618Mb and the real value of 768Mb. I really should swap the 'stick' out, but I hardly use the damn thing.

(all right it has 2 'sticks' of RAM, I was going to write stick and see if anyone called me on it, to assess how altruistic the Slashdot community may be compared to the gouging geeks but then realised it may make me look a little stupid... not hard,. but still. (damn peer pressure))

And sometimes (4, Insightful)

Kazrath (822492) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860353)

you just don't know the cause. Few years back at a friends LAN party some non techy guy brought his computer and everytime it booted it BSOD'ed (Win2k). I was like "heh anyone got a Win2k CD" and a few ppl tossed me them. I then proceeded to reformat his box. Everything went fine during the install. On first boot we hit the windows splash screen and BSOD.

Now I am thinking WTH this does not make alot of sense. So we canabalized a different computer starting with a different HDD. Same problem. Then the Power supply. Then the RAM. And wallah it started working right. We stuck back in his old components with different RAM and everythign was fine. This took several "geeks" a couple of hours to fix and it was not a by the book type fix. We litterally had to use a process of elimination and had to have extra hardware available.

Alot of people will take the easy road. Especially with older crappy hardware. If somone is running an old Win 98 box and it appears it is a hardware issue.. They are just plainly better off buying a new computer then looking for antiquated parts. Or if it is going to take "days" to fix it may be cost effective to not pay a "tech" to fix it.

Some of the "Geeks" in the parent article may have been ripoff artists.. others may have in the long run been providing the correct response to the situation.

Re:And sometimes (2, Informative)

Hell O'World (88678) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860469)

I have fooled around with debugging borked boxes a lot over the years, and the time I had RAM problems was the most perplexing. I found it very hard to diagnose. Even after having gone through that, I am not clear what symptoms would point to bad RAM. Anybody have any light to shed?

Re:And sometimes (1)

evil_aar0n (1001515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860599)

Some systems have beep codes or diagnostic lights, but they're far from infallible, and, unfortunately, they don't cover every situation.

I don't want to watch a video. (2, Informative)

Seor Jojoba (519752) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860359)

Could you give some indication in the teaser that the content is actually inside of a video? Ideally, I could filter out the video content. Can't watch it at work due to IT constraints and videos usually take much longer than text to consume.

Is $2K for data recovery unreasonable? (1)

maynard (3337) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860387)

It depends on how critical that data was to the client. If the drive failed, and the customer made no backups, then hiring a firm to extract data using a clean room or STM electron microscope might not be a bad idea.

Which doesn't excuse the incompetent who overcharge.

Re:Is $2K for data recovery unreasonable? (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860541)

Well the guy in the video was retarded. He backed up the data from the hard drive while at the same time suggesting she send it in for special data retrieval. If he managed to access the data and it seemed to be intact it makes no sense to do that.

Re:Is $2K for data recovery unreasonable? (1)

evil_aar0n (1001515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860687)

Oh, I had to pay that much, and more, to Drive Savers, once, when a one-of-a-kind system bit it - hard. And, somehow, the backup tapes couldn't be found (I wasn't a daily on-site tech; they called me in when needed, and they _knew_ they were supposed to change tapes. "What tapes...?"). Anyway, because this software was so critical, and we had absolutely nothing else to recover with, we sent it off to Drive Savers - and they were worth every penny. They didn't get every file back, but they got enough of it so that I was able to piece it back together. That was a 29-hours-straight call; I drove home seeing flying hippos. After that, we got news tapes, made a master backup, and I set up a separate spare drive in the system for redundant backups. I'm not going through that again.

I've had the opposite happen (1)

taustin (171655) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860389)

I had a workgroup sized laser printer, a few years ago, that had some RAM soldered on to the motherboard - not replaceable (at least, not for less than the board cost). It even provided a cryptic error message on the front display panel. So I called the only factory authorized service center in the county. They sent a technician out. He ignored the error code, changes the serial cable to the PC, printed a test page from the control panel on the printer, and left. (And sent us a bill, including trip charge, of something like $200.)

We deal with another shop now.

Was it a trick test or a realistic one? (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860411)

If there's a RAM error that's manifesting itself as a disk error, I'm very likely going to go with the KISS principle and declare it a disk error rather than do an exhaustive diagnostics. Unless, of course, I was charging enough to cover the cost of such a diagnostics.

How would a RAM error manifest itself as a disk error?

If the disk-test programs I use deterministically hit the bad spot in RAM in such a way that they consistently reported "sector x is bad," that's how.

A "trick test" is configuring a system with one error that the "customer" knows good and well will look like something else AND that this particular "fool the expert" situation is rare enough that most technicians won't specifically test for the real cause.

A realistic test is one that is more representative of the real world. Take 4 machines, a pile of bad RAM sticks, and a pile of hard drives with bad spots. Put 2 random bad RAM sticks in two random machines. Put 1 bad hard drive in 1 of the bad-ram machines and 1 in one of the good-ram machines. Tell the tech "my friend is getting ready to donate these to charity and he wants to make sure there is nothing wrong with them. Here's $your_usual_fee to test all 4."

Sure, the tech may get unlucky and get a fake-out "trick test" situation like I described above, but at least it will be a fluke and not by design.

Yeesh (1)

SpectreBlofeld (886224) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860445)

Every time I have random strange errors, the very next step after doing a standard malware/AV scan is popping in memtest86. I've had three sticks of RAM go bad in the last three or four years. A monkey could do it and it should be one of the first steps in the Idiot's Guide to Hardware Failure Diagnosis. Is it a lack of training?

Good techs get business from these guys (5, Insightful)

grapeape (137008) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860467)

I have about 2/3 of potential clients balk at my rates, but of those over half usually end up calling me after making a costly mistake. I charge around the same as Geek Squad but there are tons of little "computer guys" charging nearly half around here. My newest client figured out you get what you pay for when troublshooting a network file server problem, one of the local guys spend 12 hours working on the problem and half-ass worked around the issue after being unable to find the real problem. I showed up monday morning, found the problem in 15 minutes and had things working properly in about an hour and a half total. What matters most isnt the rate they charge upfront but what your going to be charged when the work is done, an incompetent tech is going to cost more nearly every time regarless of their rate.

RAM Failures.. (2, Insightful)

Qyouth101 (546913) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860571)

RAM failures are some of the hardest things to diagnose, because they do not present consistent symptoms, its not unexpected that people can/would get confused by it.

Nice (1)

Malicious (567158) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860617)

$25 to change out the RAM? First: You have to buy RAM, which they probably bought with them (which means it's fair for them to jack the price, unless you want to buy it yourself, without any knowledge). Second, you have to pay for their time , on-site service, and expertise. $25 is unrealistic. $60 to re-install Windows? Easy to fix? Clearly the host doesn't know a whole lot about Computers in general. $60/hour for most shops isn't unheard of, plus re-installing drivers and software, which customers are sure to bitch about later.

a system that is not makeing it past POST it not.. (2)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860637)

a system that is not making it past POST it not that easy to fix and bad ram can make it look like a bad MB, cpu, bad pci / pci-e card, or some other part I one worked on a system with a bad HD that was stopping the system from booting / powering on And without a lot of spare parts it is hard to test in some ones house and with ram will need a lot of different types of ram to

Also the big box store over charge on ram and other parts and some times it is good idea to pay for more ram when you old ram is bad.

Also a system with messed up system file can be from a Virus / spyware and just doing a windows repair install is not a 100% fix in the case that you will need run a scan and If am working on system with bad system files I will run a scan As I have fixed a system that had so much virus and spyware on it that windows blue screen at boot.

Everybody is gouged by everybody_Knowledke is powe (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20860699)

Computer Technicians gouge plummers, plummers gouge medical doctors, doctors gouge auto mechanics, auto mechanics gouge computer technicians, etc. That is OK because eventually a balance is settled, you gouge some other professional and other professionals gouge you.

Comnclusion: Knowledge is power, makes it possibe to gouge peolpe who do not have it.

I just did a job on a few laptops (5, Interesting)

pair-a-noyd (594371) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860779)

for a lady. Laptop #1 is a Compaq. She bangs it around over and over and keep breaking the power jack from the motherboard. The power plug acts like a crowbar and prys it loose.

Laptop #2 is a Dell. The hard drive started acting up. I diagnosed it as a bad HDD.
She purchased a new hdd through Dell and had it shipped to her. She brought me the laptop and the drive.
The new drive refused to install, the mobo insisted the drive was password locked.
I spent about 4 hours on the phone with dell (someone reading a que card in India) and after much agony it was determined that the mobo was bad.
I called the lady and asked her what she wanted to do. She said that was it, end of the line, trash the PC she wasn't going to spend another penny on it and was buying a new desktop. She asked me how much she owed me for what work I had done.
I told her "No charge. I didn't repair it so there's no charge. You pay for what you get and nothing more."
She was flabbergasted and insisted on paying me for my time and trouble. I told her no, don't worry about it.
She insisted though and after almost getting into an argument with her I told her that if she felt she had to pay me then she could pay me a gratuity in whatever amount made her happy. Her husband suggested $25. She asked me if that was enough. I told her it was more than enough so she wrote me a check for $25.

I treat people fairly and honestly. I'm not out to get rich and you will never get anywhere by screwing people over. I have a small circle of loyal customers that like me because I treat them well, I treat them with respect and I always deliver on my promises. I LIKE my customers. And I think they like me. I assume they do because they keep calling me back over and over.

Treat people the way you would want to be treated.

Memtest86+ (2, Informative)

Zymergy (803632) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860811)

http://www.memtest.org/#downiso [memtest.org] Bootable from USB Drive, CD, or Floppy... ...A standard troubleshooting tool in my TS kit. Sure, it takes some time, but it eliminates instability/random software/OS issues and verifies the RAM is 100% IN SITU.

Does anyone really think (3, Insightful)

Wapiti-eater (759089) | more than 6 years ago | (#20860873)

Shows/videos/articles like this are made to help anyone - other than the producers?

They exist to sensationalize and already existing fear. capitalize on it and sell air time.

If "the market" was really pissed about poor service, believe me, the market would make things change.
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