March 5th, 2017- CRAZY COMPUTER CUSTOMERS-LEAVE A COMMENT
CRAZY COMPUTER CUSTOMERS AND TECHNICIANS
ADVENTURES AND MISADVENTURES OF A COMPUTER STORE
I got sick of getting fired from jobs I hated so I started a computer company out of my house in Rohnert Park in 1983. I knew nothing about computers and began selling computer components, hard drive, memory and printers.I began learning about hardware but knew little about the software end. I began upgrading IBM PCs and XTs adding 10mb hard drives and some ram memory.That was DOS 1.0.As the business grew I had to hire computer techs that could repair and troubleshoot hardware, printers, software and go out on onsite service calls. Often I found computer techs to be a breed of their own.Some were really great techs and were horrible with customers. Others the opposite.I when through my filing cabinet and counted how many technicians I hired since 1989 and there were 75 of them.
I often let the customers talk and I listened. Some were eager to tell me what happened to their computer, what they were doing and working on when the problem began. Others went into far more detail about their miserable wives, husbands or kids.Some felt really stupid for letting the fake Microsoft technician with the Indian accent take control of their computer and lock it up, then demanding money.
In this blog I will relate stories about my experiences with customers and technicians.
A few months ago, a lady in her 40s brought her desktop computer into the store for repair. She lived in a rural area of Sonoma County and she described her computer problem to me, as I was writing up the repair service tag. Her computer was shutting down for no apparent reason. She also described a smell coming from the desktop computer. I took a sniff and expected a burnt electronic smell, but it was more of a rotten smell. When I stood behind my technician, who opened the computer case up, there was a mouse stuck in the blades of the cooling fan. You could tell the fan was jammed and not working and the computer was overheating and shutting down, due to lack of cooling. The cpu was overheating. The tail was hanging out into the interior of the case, and was hitting the metal before the fan jammed. We tested the computer and the fan and it worked perfectly. We put the dead mouse in a zip lock bag for her, like a defective part.
Recently a male customer in his 50s came into the store with a virus problem. He was hit by the WannaCry ransomware on his laptop computer. Once again the slime balls wanted $300.00 to release his files. We were able to remove the malware and he was a happy customer. Fortunately his files were not encrypted. We spent many hours performing updates on Microsoft updates to Window patches for customers.
The latest word is this virus came from the NSA. If the NSA was hacked by the Shadow Brokers hackers none of us are safe. It was the NSA hacking tool “Eternal Blue” that affected a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows servers. Microsoft blames the NSA for this attack. The major target for this worm was hospitals. For the slime balls to release the encryption on the data they wanted Bitcoins, supposedly untraceable. I hope they catch these criminals in North Korea or Russia. How low can you get hospitals?
It not the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love but the summer of worms.
In the past several month customers have been dragging their computers into the store Computers and More, with virus problems. I had a lady drive up in this Mercedes-Benz who was an artist and glued each one of these pens to her car. She said she got a call from Microsoft telling her that they detected a virus on her computer. The caller who stated he was from Microsoft had an east Indian accent. She gave the caller permission to take control of her computer and get rid of the virus. The fake techs run diagnostics that inevitably discover the existence of grave problems that need to be fixed immediately at the cost of $200.00 to $300.00. On top of that they are encouraged to spend another $200.00 to $500.00 to replace their existing antivirus software, which they are told are outdated and worthless. Most of the time this antivirus software is a free download. The lady customer had her computer held for ransom until she paid the sum of money of about $900.00. The scammers can secretly track anything you do on the computer, waiting for you to enter passwords or payment information they can steal. They also try to enroll you into a worthless computer maintenance or warranty program. They ask for credit card information so they can bill you for phony services.
Unfortunately this is a common problem. We get customers in that have gotten messages on their screen “Microsoft Critical Alert”. Their computer is locked down. It then asked you to call a listed support number immediately to help with the problem. Most of the time you computer is not locked down, but the message is intended to scare you into giving the scammers access to your computer. Then they ask for $200.00 to $300.00 to fix it. They are not in any way related to working for Microsoft.
It reminds me of the 50 call I have received on my landline from the IRS saying if I do not contact them within 2 hours the sheriff will be at my door to arrest me. They usually have an Indian accent. They say they are from the IRS fraud department. Recently they raided some call centers and arrested many scammers, but it is very lucrative, so more just pop up.
Yesterday I came around the corner of the outside of the computer store toward my car and some guy with a cigarette hanging from his lips, was unloading plastic bags of garbage into the huge green recycling bin. He had cardboard in his arms dumping the stuff in the bin. People were always dumping things into the bin, chairs, beer bottles, breast pumps and shoes. I stood there and looked at the guy and he says “do I know you”. I said “I work here” He says ” so do I”. I said where, thinking it possible be a new employee of one of the stores. He says “I’m not going to tell you where I live. He says he is a customer of the fish and chips and pet store. He never stopped dumping his garbage. I said sarcastically ” “well since you’re a customer just keep dumping your crap into the bin” He says thank you. Next time I will take a picture of his license plate. If that makes any difference.
I felt like taking the aluminum baseball bat out of my trunk and hitting a home run. I hope I never see him again.
The last 5 to 6 years have been going great. The store is doing well, we are selling desktops and laptops sometimes two a day. The repair work is steady and we are getting sales from the repair work, hard drives, memory, lcd screens for laptops, data transfers and lots of virus removal. The two techs I have now are superb, great customer skills, excellent tech support and hardware and software skills. One tech only does on-site service and tutoring. They are a huge asset to the company and I treat them well. We have expanded into Mac sales and repairs. One tech fixed a large screen TV and several Play station units. They are always on time. I am very grateful to them as I now work about 6 hours a week.
One day a tech I use to have brought his young children into the store, to pick something up. This was several years ago. The kids were about 4 and 6 years old. One boy and one girl. The tech said ” Cary I want you to meet my kids, Indica and Sativa”. I later asked him about their names as I had not heard these names before. He said that they were the two strains of weed. One strain is an upper and makes you more lively and the other is more a calmer or downer. I learn something new every day. I have a feeling those kids are going to get teased growing up.
My son grew up having a great interest in computers, fixing them,taking them apart and upgrading them. He started this at an early age. As he got older he did some tech work for me. We got along fine. When he was a young adult I wanted to give him a job in the store, but he said he was not interested and really did not like computers that much. He also did not want to be told what to do. He majored in Kinesiology at college and wanted to be a physical therapist. This interest in Kinesiology was from all the mountain bike injuries he sustained. He was seven years old when we rode Northstar at Tahoe, taking the chair lifts. He raced for a short period of time downhill. Northstar, Downeville, Sea Otter classic in Monterey were some of the many races. I became very religious the times I watched him race. He never injured himself racing, just all the other times he thought he was youthfully invincible, but he sustained a number of injuries and surgeries for that thrill seeking behavior .The funny thing, now he works for an ISP in the bay area doing tech support. He still didn’t want his Dad to be his boss. I get it. He still plans on being a PT in the future.
I was at work in the store and got a call :Hi, “this is Dominic the blind guy”. This is how he always introduced himself on the phone. He was blind and we repaired his voice recognition software. His computer was in the shop and he wanted to know if it was ready for pick up. I could not locate it immediately and without thinking I asked him what color his computers was. He said “I don’t know I’m blind”. I finally found it.
We took in a used desktop computer we bought from a customer. I asked the tech to wipe the hard drive and reinstall windows. We always wipe the hard drive and overwrite it with software designed so you cannot retrieve any customer data. It gets overwritten with 0s and 1s. The tech put this refurbished computer on the sales floor ready for purchase. I sold this computer to a nice old lady. I figure she was pushing 80 years old. A few days later she brings it back into the store and says there is a ton of porn on it. I did not ask what type of porn, but it was very embarrassing. The tech had not done his job or mixed this computer up with another one. We fixed the problem and the elderly lady was happy. I extended her warranty another couple of months for the shock she endured.
Steve was hired in the early 1990’s as a salesman for computers. He was one of a two computer salesman team when we were located at 3rd and Dutton Avenue. He was a lanky 6 ft 2 inch fellow in his early 40s. He grew up in LA. He was friendly, personable and seemed like he would be a good fit for the job of selling desktops and laptop computers. I liked Steve. We were advertising on the web about the laptops we were offering. He was actually doing a good job and closing sales each week. We were on good terms and friendly.
One day during a slow time he related to me how he dealt coke in LA and got busted. I don’t mean Coca Cola. He was doing quite well dealing in the 1980s. He said that his attorney told him to put $40,000 in a brown paper bag and he would give it to the judge. Steve said this is justice in this country. All charges were dropped and he walked.
Things started to change. He did not show up for 3 days. He had an argument with his girlfriend and pushed her or scrapped her with a key while arguing. She called 911 and he ended up in jail for 3 days for domestic abuse. He went to anger management counseling with a therapist. His therapist happened to be my neighbor who lived down the street from my family. She had been in the store several times and knew he was my employee.We never spoke of his issues, but she gave me a non verbal look, that said it all.
Items started missing in the shop. I had 5 employees at the time. One day an employee came to me and told me Steve was helping himself to cash at the cash drawer. A few days later on a Friday I took Steve aside and said “this is your last day here”. I said it nicely and with an even tone. I never said “your fired”. The first time I let someone go, it took me an hour to talk with him and say “this your last day”. I learned that it was difficult for me and I made it as short as possible. There was one other computer tech in the store at the time. Steve did not take this well. He said ” what kind of person are you’? I thought to myself, “the person who is firing you”, but did not say it. Steve was like a Jekyll and Hyde and he was very angry. I asked for the key to the store back and he got in my face and said “I am going to cram this key up your a__. We were nose to nose. It seemed like a long time looking at each other. I was waiting for him to take a swing at me. If so I was going to drop him on the spot. At that time I was still training in Shotokan Karate, never had to use it, and was hoping this was not going to be the time. I had a good reverse punch, front kick, round and side kick. I finally said to the only other tech in the store, call 911. The cops came and defused the situation. Approximately 6 months later I got a letter from Steve and it was a letter of apology. It seemed like a letter from a 12 step program that was probably an important step in saying he was sorry for being a jerk to his employer. I hope he continued his recovery.
In the early 90s the computer store was located at 3rd and Dutton in Santa Rosa. I was directing an electrician to do some work in the store. We had too many surge protectors daisy chained to each other and the fire department inspection said no-no. The power was off and I heard a walky talky or some type of communication radio and approached the front door only to look down at a policeman’s 9mm gun. He said someone reported a possible burglary in progress. I held out my hands to my side so that he could see I did not have a weapon and said I was the owner. He finally believed me and wanted ID. He followed me to my minivan and I told him I was reaching between the seats for my wallet. After I showed him my ID and business card he relaxed. As we walked back to the store, I looked at him and he laughed. My look was you just scared the s— out of me. I’m glad he did not have his extra espresso that day.
We had a coffee pot near the front door. A few days a week a homeless guy would come and help himself to the coffee. One day it was empty. He looked at me like I was a slacker. He turned away in a disgust and was very disappointed with me.
An older customer who lived in Oakmont came in as I was writing up a service tag. He said his last name was Barrett. He said “you might know my son he is Craig Barrett VP at Intel”. I said yes, and he proceeded to tell me about Craig and his rise at Intel. This man knew Andy Grove well. This is the most enjoyable part of the owning a computer store, meeting different people and many times they share their history with me. Another time an assistant to John Lassiter from Sonoma came in and I talked to her about Pixar and what Lassiter was up to and his next film. I had a nurse come in who worked at Memorial Hospital intensive care unit and she proceeded to tell me how the heart unit was one of the best in the country and how they could crack you open right there, if you had a heart problem.
It is interesting watching parents and their children coming into the store. You can observe different parenting skills. Sometimes the mothers yell at their kids, others let them terrorize the store and touch everything, take things apart, and interrupt and ask questions while their mother is speaking. At times it feels like a bunch of wild animals came through.
Occasionally I get customers into the store that obviously speak a foreign language. I can tell by their accent. I enjoy speaking German to them and finding out their history. Most are elderly and come from Switzerland, Germany, Austria or Czechoslovakia. I enjoy talking to customers from Italy, Russia, and Sweden, in English, because they speak fluent English have interesting accents and a rich history of growing up in their country.
For a period of time we seemed to get a lot of women and occasionally men who are divorced or going through a divorce and they were absolutely convinced that their ex was spying on them. Not only spying on them but listening into every conversation on the phone. They thought that every email and letter was being spied on . We diagnosed their computers and never found anything, key loggers or spy programs. Some men and women were convinced they were being spied on because they found very suspicious files hidden in their computer registry. They had x and o on them. They were part of the Windows operating system.
Nate was living in the back of the computer store for a few weeks. It was evident he was not moving anytime soon. I worried about my lease since no one is supposed to live there. I asked him to move the mattress out and gave him one week. I reminded him a few days before the week was up. On the eighth-day I called the Salvation Army and they came and pickup the mattress. When Nate saw it was gone he was dumbstruck. Where is my mattress. He drove over to Lytton Springs Salvation Army and retrieved his mattress. He did not bring the mattress back to the store. Maybe it had some sentimental value. I found several bottles of one litre beer bottles under the tech bench and threw them out. One day I came in and there was some hard foam packing material glued to the second tier of the tech bench. I asked what it was for and he said ” when I screw my girlfriend on the tech bench the back of bench won’t hurt her back”. I guess he was multitasking. I ended up firing him. He applied for unemployment compensation and when I had a conversation with the EDD, he was denied because he had written a check on my account and signed my name. He did pay me back.
Next tech up was Nick a 32-year-old. He was a very enthusiastic fellow, maybe too enthusiastic. He would start to sweat when it was not that warm in the store. He would nod off in the afternoon. I found out he was trading my computer parts for drugs. His friends found out where he worked. I had him do some cleanup work in the my backyard and he broke all the handles of the rakes, brooms and pruning shears. He was a full speed maniacal guy. Nick had a girlfriend who made S&M whips. I said really. He brought me one as a gift. She went nuts and wrote thousands of lines of wisdom on the walls of her house in felt markers. Nick ended up in rehab that his father paid for at about 6k a month. Oh I ended up firing him too.