Tag: advice

Camera advice: don’t cheap out

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I often see two forms of advice in response to “what camera should I buy for video?” Some push buying expensive full-frame DSLRs with rigs, but more often the advice is to use what you already own (usually a phone) or get the cheapest thing that can possibly work. I think the latter is good advice, but I also think that it can be bad for the beginner to cheap out too hard on their first camera.

In this video, I ramble about why it makes sense to buy something a little more expensive.

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Using Gimp on a netbook

That’s right, I am officially crazy enough to try to use Gimp on a netbook. While they may be small and underpowered, the ability to use an advanced image editor can come in handy at the most unexpected times (and often does!) There are a few tricks needed to make Gimp’s tools fit on the screen of a netbook, though, particularly a 7″ netbook like my Sylvania G, and I shall reveal them now.

How was the first day with minimal telephony?

GREAT.  I was able to contact T-mobile and get my phone to ring for much longer, giving me more time to answer a call in lieu of the now-disabled voicemail system picking up.  That alone has already come in handy, as I have been able to pick up calls from my wife and my techs long after it would have kicked over to voicemail, inevitably leading to phone tag and wasted time.  I’ve instructed my technicians that calls asking for me are to be screened aggressively, and only those which they are completely unable to assist should make it to my desk (as in one customer today who inquired about a custom computer and needed to discuss the options for getting that custom computer.)

Because I am being interrupted less often today, I have managed to mostly finish converting a multi-language website for one of my long-time business clients to a PHP-based and easily managed layout, including langauge-coded folders and more standardization across the board.  This has been difficult to work on for days now because of all of the unnecessary interruptions that customer service matters have caused.  Now that only essential issues reach my ears and break my concentration, my productivity is already seeing a significant boost.

This is the way it should be.  A business owner needs to focus on one thing only: the business and making it better.  Customer-oriented approaches to doing business are as crucial to success as ever, but the best advice I can give to a small business owner starting out is this: learn the value of making the people you supervise handle things; that’s what they’re there for, and you can’t do your job of supporting their efforts if you’re too busy doing theirs. A business relies not only on good personnel who know what they’re doing and have enough authority to help customers sufficiently, but also on good managers who can coordinate and support the creative and assistive forces of those personnel to ensure that they work together optimally.  Put another way, it seems impossible to coordinate and supervise your workers if you spend too much time doing their job and not enough doing your own.

Separating myself from customers and letting my people shine, both on the phone as well as in person, is proving to be crucial to my ability to do my job.  My techs can’t be expected to do work if I’m not out there revamping the website or performing SEO or passing out flyers or hitting up local businesses or whatever else I have to do as the most important manager in the business.

I can’t emphasize enough that this doesn’t mean I won’t ever talk to customers or do tech work myself.  It’s important for a manager of any kind to be “in touch” with what’s going on amongst the managed, and to provide guidance and assistance when it is seriously needed.

The problem is that many of us want our business to succeed so badly that we forget about the high-level management stuff as we worry over minutiae.  I’d say that as of today, I’ve learned that lesson, and I hope that this post helps others to do the same.

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The Angie’s List Saga wraps up. *Update: …and yet they still suck!

UPDATE BELOW.

You might be wondering where all my “Angie’s List Sucks” commentary has gone.  Here’s the explanation that I emailed to a reader, which turned out to also be a perfect blog post waiting to happen:

I talked to the COO (Chief Operations Officer, the manager of all other lower managers) of Angie’s List and everything has been resolved to my satisfaction.  Apparently the review also had zero effect on how Angie’s List rates my company because the person indicated no work was ever performed, so it wasn’t as big of a deal as I may have made it out to be.  In life one must pick their battles; I got to the top of Angie’s List, said my piece, and while we obviously don’t agree on everything, I accomplished enough to satisfy me.  The problem wasn’t the review so much as the fact that after the review was “reconfirmed” Angie’s List’s employees essentially ignored me thereafter.  Had someone simply explained to me that the review doesn’t even count and that I am the only computer company in my geographical area of the list in the first place, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so royally pissed off about it, but when I perceive that someone is ignoring me entirely, it only serves to inflame my annoyance to higher and higher levels.

The problem is a customer service problem.  He said that he’s re-examining how the staff at the company handle things because of this problem.  I still believe that Angie’s List’s business model is flawed and possesses conflicts of interest, but at the same time I realize that Angie’s List is likely incapable of changing their business model at this point due to massive venture capital infusions and the resultant control imposed by the interests of the VC firm(s) involved.

Angie’s List is not my business, and I have raised some issues at Angie’s List that may help them to fix some of the problems in how their staff members handle customers.  My opinion of their business model has not changed, but now that I have issued my input directly to the top operations officer at the corporation, they could change in the future and at least become a more customer-conscientious operation.

I removed all of the previous “Angie’s List Sucks” content from this blog as a show of good faith, and because my problems have been addressed adequately.  I regret that I had to be such a jerk to them and force an escalation to the top officers, but sometimes a consumer advocate such as myself has to be willing to do such things in order to exact necessary change.  When a business grows, there is an increasing disconnect between the lowest level staff and the highest officials.  I have seen previews of this disconnect in my own business; this is also the reason that huge companies such as Verizon often don’t seem to have higher-ups who care about the individual.  It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that the digestion (and suppression) of information between layers of management means information is lost on the way up the totem pole.

I have other battles to contend with in life that are far more problematic for my business, and Angie’s List has become insignificant in its effect on my business.  Because of this fact, I’m not going to bother with any further chatter on Angie’s List without additional provocation.  I will, however, caution anyone that deals with any business on issues such as trademark and copyright infringement (which Angie’s List falsely claimed I was engaging in) to take the time to understand the truth about “fair use” doctrines in said laws.  Even if Angie’s List sued me for copyright infringement over posting a brief 3-4 line review about my business on a personal blog, they would never have stood a fat chance in hell of winning such a case because of the four tests that determine if a use of copyrighted material falls under the fair use exemption.  The noncommercial nature of my blog, the lack of any kind of profit from my personal blog, the lack of originality of the work in question (a mere collection or summarization of facts is not copyrightable in general), and the purpose (criticism of said material) of my use all play a part in reinforcing exemption under fair use.  As for trademark infringement, that can only happen if I use someone’s trademark in a way that confuses consumers about my affiliation with that business, and if anyone read my blog and thought I was somehow commercially affiliated with Angie’s List, they probably need to go back to elementary school and learn to read better.

Indeed, Angie’s List still wants me to sign off on that form that admits a violation of their copyrights, and Angie’s List will never receive any such paperwork, particularly since my business did not post the information in question and they sent the notice directly to me at my business, as the business owner.  They misinterpreted the nature of my blog and asserted rights which my posts did not violate, so why on earth would I ever sign and return a form admitting that my business committed a violation of someone else’s rights when no such thing happened?

The consequence for not returning that form is essentially “suspension from Angie’s List for a year and revocation of current outstanding awards.”  Angie’s List has so far had a net negative impact on my business since one of my kind-hearted pre-existing customers put me on it in the first place, and all I want is to be permanently removed from the list anyway.  It seems to me that I get a sweeter deal if I DON’T return the letter.  Thus, it will remain scanned in my computer for eternity but otherwise totally unused.

Wherever Angie’s List goes from here, it will do so without bothering me or my business, especially since we STILL will not accept Angie’s List referrals due to my past experience with the type of customers they seem to attract.  Stay tuned for my next post and you’ll read about something that is far more idiotic and disgusting than this whole Angie’s List deal has been–and one that directly hurts my potential earnings in my business.

UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 18, 2009:

This post was originally created in April 2009, and since then, I myself have reconfirmed that Angie’s List does, yet again, indeed, suck.  My prior posts about Angie’s List’s business model, which I deleted without a way to “undelete,” are still partially valid in that the way Angie’s List works is more of a “money funnel” for the owners than a review site that works.  I’ll make a separate update post to cover the entire update, but if you’ve read the above message and think I no longer have an issue with Angie’s List, think again.  More bad customers have surfaced, and I have come up with a more general criticism of the service than I had before.  It seems that the users of Angie’s List are a worse problem than Angie’s List the company itself!  Search the blog for posts tagged “angieslist” and you’ll find the new version of “Angie’s List Sucks.”

UPDATE 2, DECEMBER 1, 2010:

I was reading some things about the Lamebook trademark dilution case with Facebook which reminded me of the Angie’s List situation, and I thought it would be a good idea to tack on some additional thoughts for anyone who happens upon this page. I didn’t post this before, but feel that for completeness it should be discussed. Angie’s List sent me a five-page letter to try to coerce me into doing what they wanted, and when I informed them that I would publish that five-page letter as well if they continued to threaten me with bogus trademark and copyright infringement lawsuits, they claimed that publishing a copy of the legal threat for the world to see would also constitute copyright infringement! Once again, there is simply no way that not-for-profit republishing of a letter received in the mail for the purposes of criticism and fact-reporting will be seriously considered by any court as copyright infringement. If that were the case, freedom of the press in this country would slow to a crawl. Companies whose memos were leaked could assert copyright protection over the memos and sue anyone who published them, for example.

Granted, I’ve not interacted with Angie’s List since the ridiculous fiasco 1.5 years ago, and I can’t complain any further. My desire is to be as complete as possible in detailing what happened to me so that others may learn from it. Angie’s List have certainly earned a reputation as trademark and copyright bullies with me, and I continue to this day to advise others to steer clear of them.  Come to think of it, does anyone even take them seriously anymore?  I’ve not heard nor read a single thing about them (not even a television commercial) for quite some time. Perhaps their era has gone “over the hill” and is on the decline.

That’s what happens to flawed business models that don’t adapt.

UPDATE 3:

I just wanted to add that if you buy an Angie’s List membership, you’ve been suckered and should get your money back ASAP. What a load of garbage that site is! Every customer that I knew was using Angie’s List has long since cancelled their membership and agrees that Angie’s List sucks hard.

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STOP 0x0000007E after upgrading to an AMD platform?

Greetings! This article has been moved to the Tritech Computer Solutions page called Fix for STOP 0x0000007E Blue Screen on AMD Platforms. Please update your links and bookmarks to reflect this change.

(If you get a STOP 0x0000007E error after upgrading to an AMD platform from an Intel platform, i.e. replacing an Intel-chipset motherboard with something like a VIA or AMD or nForce or ATI chipset for an Athlon64, here’s a little hint that’ll help you avoid a complete reinstall from scratch: It’s the “intelppm.sys” driver.)

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Blocking access to MySpace without buying special software

IF THIS POST HELPS YOU, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT!

Usually, I have to advise people to purchase special software to block certain classes of content on the Internet, but here’s a quick tip to make your kids really, really angry by blocking a pesky social networking time-wasting annoyance of a website.  This trick works on Windows 2000 and XP and blocks all installed browsers; I’m not really sure about Vista.

  1. Go to [Start] and click on “Run…”
  2. Copy and paste in the following text (without the quotes):  “notepad %systemroot%\system32\drivers\etc\hosts”
  3. Add the lines below to the end of this file, save the file, and close Notepad.  Laugh at your kids, then lock them into a “Limited” account to keep them from undoing the changes.

— Copy the text below this line —

0.0.0.0 myspace.com
0.0.0.0 www.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 images.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 browseusers.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 search.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 forums.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 music.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 vids.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 classifieds.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 events.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 forums.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 blog.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 collect.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 ksolo.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 games.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 signup.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 latino.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 about.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 faq.myspace.com
0.0.0.0 signups.myspace.com

— Copy the text above this line —

To undo this, simply open the file again and delete these lines from the bottom, save, and close.

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Why I don’t take credit cards. Also, rude customers!

Yesterday, we had a customer call up to get an external hard drive from us for $88.  I even offered to write him a quick backup script that would back his Windows user profile up to his external hard drive for no extra charge if he brought his computer with him.  Apparently he was coming from almost half an hour worth of driving distance, and at no point in the TWO telephone calls he made to my store did he ask about payment methods.  He liked our prices and I added further value to the service by offering to integrate the items he was purchasing for no additional cost.

When this man arrived at the store, he noticed my large green sign posted prominently on the front door stating that “we do not accept credit cards (but there’s an ATM next door!)”

The first words that myself, my wife, and one of my customers heard from this man were “I drove 25 minutes down here and was going to buy $160 worth of stuff, but you don’t take credit cards!”  His tone of voice was clearly hostile, as if I had insulted his mother.  He then said something which I cannot recall the exact wording of, but the gist of it was that “we just lost a sale because we didn’t tell him.”  My response to his poorly chosen attitude and words was “You didn’t ask, sir!”  That irked him enough to make him turn back around and say, “I’m not the one in business here, you are!” and subsequently storm out of the front door.

After an experience like this, you might be as perplexed as I was.  I did some thinking over the remainder of the day while my wife and customer issued some negative comments on this man’s handling of the situation, and felt that this topic was certainly important enough to deserve a very big blog post, explaining why this experience will NOT result in me taking credit cards.

I will openly admit that I am not blameless: I could have informed all customers on the telephone from the very beginning that we do not accept credit cards and prevented this scenario from occurring.  However, at the same time, this individual was dealing with a business which he knew nothing about, and made an (erroneous) assumption that “all businesses take credit cards.”  Common sense dictates that if one is dealing with a business that one has no experience with, the payment policy at that business is part of the information gathering process that a responsible consumer must engage in; while it’s safe to assume that Best Buy or Wal-Mart take credit cards, a lesser-known business such as mine is a great big question mark.  If you change auto mechanics, for example, and you’re calling a shop you don’t know anything about, do you ask the shop if they take credit cards, or do you make an assumption that they do and get flaming mad when they don’t?  It’s your payment method of choice, so it’s your responsibility to ensure that it’s accepted where you want to use it BEFORE you drive 25 minutes away.  While I am not blameless for failing to proactively inform potential customers, the customer is, at a minimum, equally at fault for the misunderstanding.

On to the main reasons why a very small business like mine does not take (and cannot afford to take) credit cards.  You need to understand how profit works, so let me explain it in brief.  Profit is easy: it’s just the price I charge a customer minus the price someone else charged me.  Let’s pretend that I purchase an item from a supplier for $60 each and resell the same item for $70 each.  On each item, I have made a profit of $10, because my price to a walk-in customer is $10 more than the raw amount I paid for it.  This would also be called a 17% markup.  (Cosmetics have markups as high as over 100%, but grocery markups are usually low single-digits.)  The bottom line:  my total profit on the $70 retail sale of an item is NOT $70, it’s $10.  The other $60 is just recovering the original cost of the item.  I’d have to sell $700 worth of those items just to make $100 in actual money for the business.

You also need to understand that credit card merchant services take a cut out of the total amount charged to the card before giving me my money.  As an example, this would usually be around 1.9% of the item’s cost plus $0.30.  I use 2% as an easy number to work with.  On a $100 item charged to a credit card, the card company takes a $2 cut, meaning I get $98 instead of $100.

Now, let’s explain how credit cards have affected my business so far.  This man refused to buy $88 of equipment, on which my profit would have been about $13, because we don’t accept credit cards.  We have been open for a little over one month so far, and out of all other credit card requests, this has been the only one that actively refused to make a purchase; the others walked to the bank immediately next door and pulled cash from the ATM, or wrote a check.  Therefore we are currently losing one sale per month due to our refusal to take credit cards.

The true problem lies in the ~2% cut that the credit card companies take.  For taking credit cards to not be worth that one lost sale’s potential $13 profit, I have to make enough credit card (a.k.a. “CC”) sales that I lose $13 to the CC company cut.

[Math Alert!]….If the $13 I lost is 2%, then 1% is $6.50, meaning 100% is $650.00 in sales on credit cards instead of cash that I have to make per month to lose money by taking cards.  If that sounds confusing, let me say it another way:  if I sell $650.00 a month or in merchandise on CCs instead of cash simply because I made CCs available, then I’ve paid that $13 I would have earned to CC companies anyway!  $650 a month is roughly equivalent to 11 hours of PC service before I pay a contract technician $20 for each hour of labor! If you consider that my business only yields $40 per billable hour, yet I’d be charged the 2% rate on $60 instead, that’s $1.20 per billable hour and represents a 3% cut instead of 2%.  In other words, once you stop looking at a credit card fee as a percentage of the cost to the customer and start looking at it after some expenses are paid out, that “little” 2% fee starts to grow pretty huge.

Let’s take all this stuff and expand it out a bit more with a (simplified) hypothetical situation.  If you were to examine CC cuts in terms of my net profit (actual money made after all obligations paid) instead of gross profit (money earned beyond the original cost of the item or sale, meaning services are usually pure gross profit), the picture gets worse: supposing I sell two hours of service a day, about 25 days a month, and half of those hours are charged on a credit card.  That’s $3,300 in a month for services, half of which I lose a 2% cut on, which is $33.  Now, $33 out of $3,300 total sounds awful small…until you pull out the double-whammy:  expenses.  The power company ain’t givin’ us no free powah!  You think the plaza space is as cheap as your apartment, too?  No, sir!  Cut out $1,000 a month for the retail space, $120 a month for power, $30 a month for water/sewer, $120 for business DSL, and a random figure of perhaps $100 in consumables such as paper and toner.  Then, after that $1,370 or so is deducted, don’t forget that the tech got 1/3 of the labor charges, so $1,100 was paid out to the tech for his work as well!  (All that ignores my initial startup costs and interest on the small business loan for SIMPLICITY, so this is an UNDERESTIMATE!)

In such a simple example, we took in $3,300 total from customers for services.  By the time expenses were taken into account, $2,470 of the $3,300 was gone.  Before the CC fees, this example yields $830 in net profits.

Anyone who’s been in school knows that percentages are easy:  “part over whole, times 100.”  So take the CC fees of $33 and do the math:  (33/830) x 100 = 3.976% of my actual earnings lost to the credit card companies.

This assumes that no one uses a stolen credit card and issues a chargeback, which could potentially cost me hundreds or even thousands of dollars; for example, if someone buys a $750 computer with a stolen card and the card’s owner issues a chargeback because they (honestly) didn’t purchase the computer and shouldn’t be out that $750, the CC COMPANY TAKES THAT MONEY AWAY FROM ME WITH ALMOST NO RECOURSE.  One fraudulent purchase of a new computer could wipe out an entire month’s net profits.

How do bigger businesses deal with these issues?  There’s only one answer:  everything is more expensive.  Period.  I can give a 4GB flash drive to a customer for $17 while my small but established competitor sells them for $40 because these “costs of doing business” are not rolled into the price of my products and services.  I don’t have 4% or more of my actual earned income being eaten by CC fees.  I don’t have the threat of CC fraud and subsequent chargebacks.  Add to that the fact that my margins and rates are already quite low and my customer service and turn-around are a million times better, and there’s no way even an established competitor can actually compete.

(Granted, a check could do about the same thing to me, so adding cards to the mix makes the risk significantly greater, and CC fraud is far more prevalent and easily executed than check fraud.)

The point is that the cost of taking credit cards isn’t exactly worth it, and the risk of chargebacks is too hazardous.  If the customer wants to use cards so badly, they can always step next door and withdraw a cash advance from the ATM, and eat the CC fees themselves that way.  So far, I have yet to have that happen to my knowledge.

If the customer doesn’t want to eat the CC fees, why in the heck would I?

If it wasn’t against CC merchant agreements for me to charge an extra fee for taking cards, I’d take them without too much hesitation.  The only way I can charge customers extra for taking cards and not run afoul of merchant agreements is to price all my items and services with the CC fee increase included, then offer a “cash discount” for non-CC buyers.  It’s the same thing as charging a fee to the card user, but also causes all my stated prices to increase, decreasing my competitiveness.  Completely unacceptable.

When the CC companies learn and change their merchant agreements, I’ll probably take cards.  Until then, it’s too risky and expensive, especially to such a small business as mine.

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Why I love my (original) Sylvania G netbook (and how to fix its “issues” easily)

UPDATE: THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE UNDER-$200 NETBOOK WITH WINDOWS CE, WHICH IS A TOTAL PIECE OF JUNK. Please don’t ask me about those. They’re junk.

My Sylvania G netbook.
My Sylvania G netbook.

If the tips in this entry help you, please send me an E-mail message letting me know!  I GREATLY appreciate feedback!

A lot of professional reviewers out there seem to have nothing but bad comments on the original (non-Meso) Sylvania G netbook.  I bought one of these puppies for $300 and felt like I was getting quite the steal.  Then again, I’m a Linux user, so I feel more “at home” with a Linux laptop (though my primary line of work is obviously fixing all the problems under Microsoft’s OS every day of my life).  I love my Sylvania G.  It’s tiny, light, the battery lasts forever, people look at it and think I’m watching a DVD on a portable DVD player rather than computing, its wireless actually works far better than I expected…the list goes on.  Granted, it lacks some software that I’d like, but for its primary purposes (Internet browsing, light office apps, maybe an MP3 here and there), it does the job beautifully.  I wish it had all the shortcuts to all the control panels available, but they’re not there because the 800×480 WVGA screen can’t handle them vertically; I’ll tell you how to bypass the vertical issue in a minute.

The main reason I’m writing this is not to explain why my G is so awesome, but rather how to make it that way.  The number one complaint about the G is its postage-stamp sized mouse trackpad, and believe it or not, the laptop comes with the tools needed to fix the insane acceleration that it comes with by default (no more “buy a USB mouse if you’re going to buy this laptop” complaints!)  The biggest advantage of the G over the practically identical Everex Cloudbook (which the G is basically a rebranded version of) is that unlike the Cloudbook, with its moronic “mouse buttons on the left side of the unit, mouse trackpad on the right” layout, the G has the touchpad assembly below the keyboard, WITH THE BUTTONS IMMEDIATELY BESIDE THE PAD.  That leaves the excessive tracking speed (where you can just lift your finger off the pad and the mouse moves two inches across the seven-inch LCD) as the only remaining issue, and HERE IS HOW TO FIX THE SYLVANIA G NETBOOK POINTER TRACKING SPEED, STEP BY STEP!

(This section has been moved to the Tritech Computer Solutions page called Sylvania G Netbook Tips and Tricks.)

For $300, and with my tips above, the original Sylvania G is an absolute gem.  You simply can’t beat its value unless you drop another $100 on an Acer Aspire One (what I originally wanted but couldn’t justify purchasing.)  Once you slow down the mouse and add some launchers for some helpful applications, the G starts to look far better than it may have on display in the store.  I don’t know about the Meso, but I don’t care, because I’ve found the perfect laptop for my needs and that’s the end of the story!  I absolutely LOVE my G!

Once again, please send me feedback if this helps you out!

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Why you shouldn’t trust big box store clerks…

UPDATE: The TigerDirect store being referenced is under new management.  I have spoken with the management about this issue; he already took care of it.  Turns out their commissioning model before the new manager arrived was causing employees to reach return rates of 30%-40%, which is egregiously high, because they would up-sell too much garbage to make the commission.  He also fired half the staff there; the people that I have worked with recently have proven to be a delight.  The store in Durham, North Carolina is the one I was previously referencing, and I’d encourage anyone in the NC Triangle proper to visit there, because good management means a good business.  The salespeople know they make some kind of minimal commission on their sales, but they aren’t made privy to the details and so they don’t know what to “push,” meaning they just do their jobs right and they make more money–as it should be!

I received the following E-mail today, and it bothered me enough to bring about a nifty little anecdote about why clerks at major chains generally can’t be trusted.  Note that I frequently shop at TigerDirect and send clients there quite often as well (with a warning to be careful about the advice from the salespeople), but one can’t deny problematic business models, and this irked me enough to open my big fat mouth.

————————

Hey Jody.

Everything seems to be working well. I was able to return the CA software to Tiger Direct, but they gave me a big hassle.

The guy said CA is better than Avast. Is that true?

Thanks,

[CENSORED]

————————

My response (true story):

————————

A little hint…

I overheard some TigerDirect employees in the [CENSORED] store talking one night before they closed up.  They were discussing how successful each of them had been making sales that day, and they discussed it in terms of how many COMMISSIONED ITEMS they sold, along with some “best of” stories from their sales history as well.

Guess what they get commissions for selling?

You got it:

* CA products
* PC Pitstop Optimize
* WaCa extended warranty/service plans

All three of which I strongly discourage the purchase of.  If you know of Clark Howard (consumer advocate and personal finance radio host), you know how much he hates extended service plans, too.

I have literally hundreds (as in triple-digits, probably to the tune of at least 200) customers on Avast as their only virus protection.  Most of these customers have been repeat customers for at least one additional session, and it has served all of them well enough that I have had single-digit rejections of Avast long-term in favor of other products–usually because of the customer’s bias (I am thinking of one specific customer who MUST have Norton or bust, in fact) rather than the product itself.  It does better than Norton, and unlike Norton it does not do so at the expense of your machine’s performance and stability.

Yes, CA is better than Avast.

If you’re making a commission selling it.

————————

If a representative from TigerDirect corporate wishes, they may contact me and I will gladly explain and elaborate.  Having commissioned salespeople is a great way to chase off customers, primarily because when they discover that they’ve been played like a fiddle and up-sold one too many times, they don’t typically stick around.  In all honestly, I only send customers there because they have great prices.  If they want to go somewhere where the staff is much more knowledgeable and the salespeople are not commissioned, I send them over to Intrex instead.  (I don’t worry about either store taking away my service/repair clientele–I overhear pretty long turn-around estimates from their repair counters measured in weeks, whereas my business is measured in hours or days at the worst!)

While I’m poking at specific players in the computer field, I have to say what every other computer technician already seems to know:  Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” is the worst computer service provider in existence on all counts.  Extremely high prices, a plethora of customer complaints, duplicating customers’ private data for personal purposes, disastrous complaint handling (as seen in the hateful remarks of a certain “Agent Orange“), and if you don’t believe a word of it, check out the ten-page confession from a former employee that resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the company.  Or two.

Oh, and don’t let me start talking about Circuit City’s “Firedog.”  They have their own insider employee confessionals as well.

This is what happens when you engage in a race to the bottom, hiring salespeople that are morphed into “computer technicians” that will accept the lowest pay imaginable in a skilled trade while still getting the job done just barely good enough to shut the customer up, and if they get a few of the customer’s private nude photos to add to their collection (or a video of the customer showering), so much the better.  I guess the notions of “privacy” and “paying people what they’re worth” and “hiring experienced employees” and “making the customer happy” don’t matter when it’s all about the quarterlies, baby!

Honestly, I’m surprised that those two big box stores stay in the computer service business at all, given the horrible track records they’re developing.  I used to debate starting yet another computer service business until I came to the realization that these stores aren’t even close to being called my “competitors.”  After all, how much competing does Tritech really have to do when the biggest and best-known “competitors” are in the process of self-destruction?  It’s half depressing and half exciting, but one thing is for sure:  because of their failures, the door has been opened wide for the success of companies like mine that haven’t developed a disconnect from the customer’s needs in favor of the almighty dollar.

The ultimate irony?  Geek Squad and Firedog, in their attempts to gain as much money as possible while paying out as little as possible, actually lose more money to their poor customer service than they would to hiring good people and paying them what they’re worth.

If you are from Best Buy and would like to hire me as V.P. of customer relations while simultaneously preventing me from slowly eroding your business due to my superior philosophies on customer service and strict ethics enforcement, please email jody@nctritech.com with what you have to offer.  Thanks!

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How to Fix/Rebuild a Very Corrupt Outlook .PST File

This content is originally from the Tritech Computer Solutions article called How to Fix/Rebuild a Very Corrupt Outlook .PST File.

There’s a very well-hidden program called “scanpst.exe” stuffed in an obscure folder (For Outlook 2000, Outlook XP, Outlook 2003, and older, it’s at “C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\MAPI\1033”) that will check and repair a damaged .pst file, and sometimes save your bacon when Outlook complains about a busted .pst file and won’t start. However, in one case we received at Tritech, the scanpst.exe tool detected no issues, yet Outlook XP continued to report “2,847 unknown errors sending” for one item in the outbox that, strangely enough, could not be moved, sent, or deleted. When something like this happens, it’s good evidence that there’s something screwy with the .pst file and you might need to move to a new one. But how to accomplish this feat?

  • Step 1: Close Outlook. Completely. That means it has to be 100% NOT open; sometimes Outlook actually takes a little while to close after it disappears. If in doubt, press Control+Alt+Delete to pull up Task Manager, hit the Processes tab, click on every “OUTLOOK.EXE” listed and hit [End Process] for each.
  • Step 2: Open the “Mail” control panel. Click on “Data files.” You will see a list of Outlook data files that are currently loaded into the mail subsystem in Windows. You need to create a new data file, and be sure to give it a name other than “Personal Folders” at the top, so you won’t get confused in the next steps. The other options you pick really don’t matter; you can accept the defaults for everything and it’ll be fine. Don’t set a password for the .pst file unless you want to make your life painful, though!
  • Step 3: After you see your new data file appear in the list, hit OK or Close to return to the Mail control panel. HIt the first button (it should say something about E-mail accounts), and if you get another screen asking what it is you want to do with E-mail accounts rather than just getting the list, hit the button for managing existing accounts and click Next. At the bottom, under the list of mail accounts, there is a drop-down box for the “default mail delivery location.” CHANGE THIS to match the name of the new file that you created earlier. (If you have two “Personal Folders” entries, you didn’t name it earlier, so choose the LAST file in the list and it should be the correct one.) Then click OK or Close.
  • Step 4: Click on [Data files] again, and the new data file should have an indication that it is now the “default mail delivery location.” This will then allow you to remove the old data file from the list, which is safe to do, so go ahead and toss it now to prevent possible confusion later. Click OK or Close after you’ve removed the old file from the list.
  • Step 5: Close the Mail control panel. Open Outlook again. You may receive warnings about the things you’ve just changed; this is normal and you can simply click through them. You should now have a new, empty set of folders, with no contacts or mail whatsoever. The last step is to bring all of your old mail, contacts, tasks, etc. into the shiny new empty folders file. Go to File, then Import and Export. Choose to import from another program or file, and click Next. In the list, choose to import an Outlook personal folders file (.pst), and click Next again. If you are asked about how to import duplicates, choose to “replace duplicates with items imported” (though technically it shouldn’t matter which you pick). When you finally receive a blank in which to specify the file to import, click Browse.

If you don’t immediately see a file or set of files called something like “Outlook,” “Archive,” “outlook.pst,” “archive.pst,” or similar, you’ll need to manually specify where the file is located, but in my experience you are usually placed in the correct folder without having to fish for it. Choose the original file (highly likely to be “outlook” or “outlook.pst” as that is the default) and click OK. Once you click Next, you’ll get a list of folders and some more import options; the defaults are OK, so click Next (or Import or OK). Voila! You’ve successfully moved your mail from the damaged .pst file to a new one! You could say that you’ve rebuilt the PST database from scratch.

If you need help locating the Outlook folder where these .pst files are stored, it is located in the following path on a typical installation: “X:\Documents and Settings\your_user_name\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook” where X: is replaced with your system drive letter (98% of the time it’s “C:”) and your_user_name is replaced with your Windows login name. Local Settings is a hidden folder, so when you browse to your user name folder, you may have to type (with the quotes included) “Local Settings” into the File blank to proceed further. It can be tricky, but if you are persistent, you should be able to locate it. The Windows search tool in the Start menu may also be helpful; just be sure to set the option “search hidden files and folders” if you use it.

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