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Another day, another crapped up computer

I guess I'm just too nice.

A woman at work was having trouble with her computer. When she goes to a website, Facebook for example, the mouse pointer freezes. No clicks, no nothing. The machine needs to be reset.

So somehow or other, this machine is now in my possession. I don't really know the specs, only had a quick look at it last Saturday between thunderstorms, but it runs Vista and it is dead slow. That she uses Internet Explorer doesn't help either. I have MSIE8 on my EeePC and it runs so slowly that I just don't use it at all any more. I wanted to give this machine a once-over booting from a USB stick to run a malware check outside of Windows, because if a rootkit has taken hold, they're pretty good about lying about their existence. But, no, the machine is too dumb to manage that. It'll boot from a harddisc or a CD-ROM.
I'm not going to burn a CD as it involves a heap of trouble (my USB DVD writer is "read only" as the supplied software crashes while trying to install itself, thank god I didn't buy that retail!) and I don't plan to attach a hard disc of unknown provenance to any of my computers. That I don't have an easily accessible SATA interface is another reason.

So I whacked on my own keyboard and mouse, USB ones, and fired up the machine. Eternities later I was looking at RISC OS Open in a browser on the Vista box and on my eeePC, side by side, without any freezing up of the Vista box - asides from it responding in a jerky manner due to general lethargy.

The other day I asked the woman - I didn't see the Avast! spinning ball or the AVG icon. What antivirus are you using (please don't say Norton...).

The reply? I could have cried, I really could have.

Thankfully I have an iPad, because for the time being I need to run the Vista box in the future with no other PC active on the home side of the NAT. This is to curb anything in that machine affecting my machines. It appears that nothing affected the short test on Saturday, but I'm considering myself lucky.

I tried a different USB mouse, and an ancient PS/2 keyboard and I asked for her mouse which she brought. Nope. The machine is slow like honey over ice, but it doesn't hang up. Even when I go to

I installed Avast! and Firefox. The machine had a quick pass with the anti-virus, but not a full scan as I started it off and two hours later it reported 2% complete. Wow, I'll leave them to do that. There were some dubious toolbars and plugins so they were nuked. Above and beyond that, there probably isn't much I could do. The husband apparently has documents and stuff on this machine so a reformat and reinstall (probably what it needs) is out of the question.

It works better than it did, and they have a more capable browser. I'll call it quits at this point. Still got my own box to deal with when I have some desk space!


Rates for computer work

This leads me on to the following thought. I have been, from time to time, called upon to fix ex-pat computers, being a multilingual geek.

Unfortunately I tend to get thought of after Bob's cousin's second brother's children have "had a look" as well as Jim "across the way" and "Teddy who knows a thing or two about computers" (no, he bloody well doesn't!). This means that whatever problem might have been around is buried under several layers of other people trying random stuff to hope to make the problem go away, which makes my job a lot more difficult as a large part of it is trying to work out what has been done and undoing all of that to uncover the real issue that needs fixing; sometimes the system ends up messed up so badly by the inept fiddling that it is close to being a nightmare.

Accordingly, as of now, here follows my repair policy. I shall instruct my mother to send people here to this page if they want to know my rates and stuff.

  • All maintenance jobs are to be carried out on site. That means in your home, I will no longer take computers back home to look at them.
  • I expect you to have some sort of broadband internet connection, and to know how to authorise my Netbook to use this connection (if you are unsure, I can help you here but you will need to know your WiFi password (hint - it is probably printed on a label stuck to the back or bottom of the router)).
  • My hourly rate is eighty five euros. Yes, I said €85. You are not paying for having your computer fixed, you are paying me for my time. As I have a full time job that takes a huge amount of my time, that which is left I value dearly. The charge is by the hour, so twenty minutes and fifty nine minutes will both cost €85.
  • You are welcome to talk to me, ask me questions, socialise, etc. It's your buck, if you wish to spend it talking to me, go for it.
  • Tea and cookies are optional. You don't need to provide either, depends upon your concept of hospitality.
  • You will be expected to verify that the reported problem no longer occurs, and to sign a paper stating this. The reason for this is because I'm sick of people thinking they can get me to fix a completely unrelated issue months later "for free" because I "broke something" and it was clearly be because I was "the last one to touch it" (haha, that would be funny if it wasn't insulting). To give you a hint, every update applied (whether by you or automatic) and every program/screensaver/etc you or your children install can make a good number of changes to your machine. The "last person to touch it" was probably the last person that used it.
  • NOTE WELL: I will not entertain repairing a machine that is connected to the internet but does not run any anti-virus. I also expect your anti-virus to be kept up to date (this is usually done automatically). If you call me out for such a machine, I will present you with a bill for €25 and then leave.
    Seriously. I'm no longer going to waste my valuable time on people that won't take basic measures.
If you are okay with those terms, then you probably know how to contact me if you were referred to read this document.

If you disagree, that's okay too, just find somebody else. Maybe Bob's cousin's second brother's children's sister in law can have a crack at it...


Ways to help yourself

Here are a few random hints to help you have less need for geeky intervention.

  • There is a shutdown option. Use it. In most versions of Windows, it is lurking in the Start menu, either saying "Shut down" or "Switch off" or an icon that is usually red with a white logo that looks like an I in an O. You'll probably see the same logo on the on/off button of your DVD player.
    This is important because your computer has a complicated file system that needs to be properly shut down. I will skip technical descriptions and instead say that just pulling the plug on the computer can trash the hard disc so the machine won't work any more. Don't take my word for it, ask around. I've fixed this enough times that I'm sure you will know somebody who has their computer boot up to show a blue screen full of gibberish and nothing more.
    It is fixable, but it isn't something you will be able to do (and if you doubt this, tell me the geometry of your hard disc - it's okay, this is a web page, we can wait while you go look up that phrase).
  • Run a well known anti-virus package. Popular ones are Avast! and AVG (Google will find these).
    Let me put it to you like this - if you don't use an anti-virus package, YOU ARE A MORON. Sorry if that seems rude, but there is really no other way of saying it. And don't come back with the excuses like "I'm too old" or the generic "I don't understand this technical stuff". I've heard it all before. Your computer, when connected to the internet, is no longer sitting in isolation. There are a scary amount of hack attempts going on all the time, any decent router will block most of these. The other way to try to break into your machine is to poison web sites and files you may download, photos you may view, and so on. Operating systems are incredibly complicated, so there are numerous weaknesses. This is where an anti-virus package comes in. Yes, it does slow your computer down. It is checking everything is okay.
    To use an analogy that might be easier to understand: Imagine your teenage daughter put an invitation on Facebook and posted it publicly. Not having antivirus is like having two thousand bored teenagers crash the party and trash the house. This actually happens, it gets reported in the newspapers. Having anti-virus is like having an army of bouncers armed with machine guns patrolling around your house roughing up anybody your daughter doesn't actually know. You see the difference?
  • That cute girl you met in that chat room (funny how people who don't know about anti-virus seem adept at chat rooms and buying stuff off eBay) is probably male, and probably working for some Eastern European crime syndicate. Go meet a real person.
  • Just assume that anything good you see on the internet is a bare faced lie and is trying to fleece you. Might sound paranoid, but this is Web2.0. This is the web now the shysters, pushers, and sleazy creeps have moved in and set up shop.
  • Don't give your credit/debit card details to unknown websites. In fact, don't give it at all if you can help it. Some banks (such as the Crédit Mutuel) offer a scheme where you can have a virtual MasterCard. You specify a amount, and a card number (and check number) will be generated for you. You can then use this virtual card to make payments up to the authorised amount and free from association from your bank account. It might be an additional hassle with PayPal to enter a new card for each transaction, however if this card number should end up in the hands of criminals, it will be useless. Other banks may require an authorisation code sent by SMS. The remote site will have your card details (not good) but payment will not be possible without the code (better, but not as good as a virtual card).
  • Your bank does NOT need your bank account details. You do NOT need to confirm any information with them in a manner that won't be handled in person. Specifically, never EVER fill out any form on the internet that asks for your bank account details. No matter how convincing the threat (if you do not respond immediately, your banking facilities will be suspended), it is not real and it is not your bank. If you should be in a situation where your bank does want to close your account, you will be notified in writing, not by an email.
    If you are still unsure (if you are dumb enough to believe a threat out of the blue rather than some common sense), then fine, go confirm your private details with the bank, yourself, in person.
    Oh, and print off a copy of this part of this document to show them. If there is somebody at the bank that speaks English, it'll be much quicker for them to point at this and say "what he said".
  • For what it is worth, I ignore any and all "important official" stuff sent by email. If it is important enough to elicit a response from me, it can be stuck on headed paper and put in the mail. I absolutely do not consider an email to be any form of notification. In fact, most "official" emails are deleted without even being read. It might be the tax office saying I am eligible for a windfall payment of a million euros, or it might be a Nigerian pretending to be the tax office. I get a lot of official email from Barclay's bank, which is interesting considering I never had an account with them. Funny, that...
  • Don't install everything you can download. Your computer might have a big hard disc, that doesn't mean you need to fill it. Oh, and untick all the junk about installing toolbars. You do NOT need OpenCandy, you do NOT need Ask toolbar, or any other of the dozens and dozens of dodgy add-ons that are "recommended" for you.
    It's a lie. You wanna know why something recommends and includes a totally unrelated browser add-on? Simple. They get paid to "recommend" it. They don't care about you or what you might need, they're just hoping to cash in if you are dumb enough to install this rubbish.
  • It ought to go without saying but stay away from the dirtier corners of the internet. Yes, there is pornography - and it will no doubt cover every sort of sick fettish from toddlers to grannies, with spark plugs and donkeys in between. That's no reason why you should go anywhere near it. Leave that sort of thing to lazy Daily Mail journos. And remember, there are very few normal people who would consider stripping and putting their photos on the internet. It's a much sicker sadder story than that. One you would do well to stay very few away from. If you are the sort of person that enjoys that sort of thing, just go buy Playboy or something of that ilk. It might be written in French, but we all know guys don't buy Playboy for the quality of the prose...
  • You get what you pay for. This counts double on eBay. You might pick up a real bargain, and you can find some stuff quite cheap (or, the way I like to look at it, how much it would cost before local retailers add their hundreds of percent markup). However, you should never buy anything off eBay with the expectation of it actually working. Be happy when it does, and when it doesn't, say "that figures". Certainly, don't bid (or pay) more than you are willing to discard. A rule of thumb that I use is to never spend more on eBay than I do on lottery tickets...
    Oh, and assume that most of what you will be buying on eBay is a cheap Chinese fake. Some of them are okay and work, some of them...less so.
  • Never EVER buy a mobile phone charger from eBay. I know, the prices in the shops are high. There is a reason for this. Some of the cheap power bricks you can get shipped over from China are so poor that it is really a surprise that the output doesn't destroy the equipment that is plugged in to it.
    To give you an example, the picture below is from an oscilloscope screen - a clever device that shows you what electricity looks like. On the left is a decent power brick. It is giving out 9V DC unladen, which will drop to the rated 6V when connected to the device that it is intended for. On the right? Running unladen, this is supposed to be a 5V USB charger. Not only does it swing negative, but if every square represents 5V, it spews everything between negative and 20V, peaking higher even than 20V. I don't even want to know how they managed to make a PSU this bad. It may register 5V under load and using a swing-needle multimeter, but on balance the only thing to do with this power pack is to throw it away. Preferably after hitting it with a large hammer so it won't affect anybody else's hardware, should somebody attempt to rescue it.
    For further details on why cheap chargers are a really bad idea, read this, and enjoy this, and finally note that it is a real problem.



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VinceH, 3rd November 2014, 16:54
Heh! It's not just me, then. 
That's pretty much a rant I've wanted to have for such a long time - though I would have included a bullet point on "email forwards".
Rick, 3rd November 2014, 22:44
What Vince said... 
Don't forward every interesting looking story and message to *EVERYBODY* in your address book. Most of them are not that interested.
The IT Guy, 4th November 2014, 23:59
The horror story above is why I no longer provide IT services for friends. I would extend that to family, but that would be too harsh. 
In a business environment I can make sure all PCs (and laptops) are running Windows 7 Ultimate Edition, are joined to the domain controller, have the appropriate group policy settings applied and are locked down tighter than, well, something very tight. 
I also have a strict policy for all my business customers: You do not connect anything to the network (wired or wireless) without my approval. If you do, I will charge you at least 100 to put it right. No, you may not have the WPA2 passcode. No, you may not have the administrator passwords. 
One particular company were such a problem that I reconfigured dhcpd not to have a dynamic pool, and only to allocate IPs to known MAC addresses. People were bringing their own virus-ridden laptops into the office and connecting them up, connecting to the server and infecting all the files on it. 
Nowadays I also use smart switches with port security, which also stops that kind of chaos. 
They'll find another way to screw things up though, I guarantee it.
joe, 9th November 2014, 03:07
I got rid of my antivirus, it was Avira, became so very annoying lately. Now I am only relaying on Windows Defender on my Windows 8.1 laptop. 
I do help work colleagues, with their computer problems, 
never charge them, they usually have families and have low income in now-days standards. 
Imagine this, some poor guy's daughter, uni student, spilled her tea on the table and the fluid was sucked in by the fan of her laptop, luckily it was only hard disk and she had all the latest back-ups, smart girl. 
I got a bottle of very nice red wine.
Rick, 7th January 2024, 21:29
Just come here from a ROOL posting mentioning this. 
As expected, way back when a few people baulked at my prices and nobody took me up on them...which was entirely the intended effect. 
These days? "Sorry, when I say computer I'm talking about microcontrollers and MMUs with FPGAs and PLCs and low latency vector chains in multi stage interrupt structures, you know like in industrial equipment. So I have no idea about your iMac or whatever, that's something entirely different." 
Yes, I'm well aware that it's obvious bollocks, but they don't, and the whole thing is alien enough to the "e means internet, right?" crowd that they'll get the idea that what I call a computer isn't what they'd call a computer. 

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