I recently suffered a digital disaster. In January, my PC stopped booting up. I thought I had a virus or a corrupted file. I had something worse. The diligent help of some technical folks and friends helped me survive this ordeal.
A paean of gratitude to Debbie Hepper, for good referrals and a lot of help. Debbie is a tech par excellence, interesting conversationalist, witty movie reviewer and a great photographer. She co-edits an online motorsports magazine and you can see some of her Nascar work here.
Thanks with chocolate sauce on top to Andrew and the support group at Sonic.net, my ISP. As well as being a local company with a great origin story (two Santa Rosa Junior College students started the company) Sonic.net is one of the most helpful and patient internet service providers ever. More on them in a bit.
I’d like to give Best Buy’s Geek Squad a big shout-out too. I’d like to, but I can’t. I have no complaints about their technical expertise. I have plenty to say about their communication, and not much of it is good.
The original problem was this; I’d power up and the laptop would try to launch Windows. The Blue Screen of Death would flash past for about a nano-second and then a black screen with a flashing cursor would appear. That screen gave me a lot of text choices about how to bring Windows up (safe mode, last best configuration, etc). No matter which one I chose, the same circular dance would occur. I took the machine to the Geek Squad, where a tech named Kevin helped me. He suggested a data recovery process and then repair/cleaning of the hard-drive, because he thought I had a virus. He quoted me a price that included the cost of an external hard-drive for the recovered data. The price was not cheap but it was reasonable especially including the external drive, and it didn’t seem like I had any other good choices. He also said it would be about three days before they would get to my PC. In fact, it was five days before they called me. I went down after work on a blustery twilight with stinging rain hurtling out of the northeast. I waited in line. After about 20 minutes a guy I will call Nameless Guy called me over. He looked at my receipt and read some notes that were “in the system.” Then he went away for about five minutes. I amused myself by studying the store and comparing it the fictional Buy More from the TV show Chuck. He came back with my laptop and a box that had the external hard-drive in it. “Here you go,” he said.
“Can we boot it up to see if it works?” I said.
He powered it up and around we went; Blue Screen of Death, black screen with flashing cursor. “It’s not fixed,” I said.
“Hmm.” He fiddled with his paper file for a minute. “Oh. Here it is. We never agreed to fix it, just to do data recovery.”
“That’s not what you told me you were going to do.”
“I’m sorry you’re unhappy,” he said. “You have your data.”
“I don’t have a computer.”
“I think there is something we can do. We have a super-diagnostic program and we can run it to see what’s wrong with your drive.”
Several words in that sentence, such as “we,” “diagnostic program,” and “a” were probably true and accurate words. None of them was true in relation to me, though.
I waited again while he scurried around doing something. I think I was probably drumming my fingers on the counter by that time, because he flashed me a nervous smile and said, “How’s the rest of your day going?” When I didn’t answer, he said, “I hope we can make this right for you.”
“I hope so too. How long will this take?”
“About three days. If it can be fixed.”
“Okay. How much is it?”
He gave me the quote, which I was expected to pay right then. Including the previous charge, we were edging toward the border of Unreasonable, but I wrote him a check and requested my receipt.
“I’m sorry you’re angry,” he said. Well, of course he was. I was making him feel uncomfortable. His “sorry” had nothing to do with my feelings.
I got my receipt, left the laptop (again) and drove home through the rain. When I got home I had a phone message, from much earlier in the day. It went sort of like this: “Hi, Marion, this is Kevin at the Geek Squad. I have bad news. We attempted data recovery on your PC but you have a dead hard-drive. Basically it’s toast. Please call me so we can discuss alternatives. Okay. Have a nice day.”
Hmm. Nothing about super-diagnostic programs or data already being on the external drive I purchased. I called Kevin back.
Kevin said the PC’s hard-drive was DOA. He recommended purchasing a new hard-drive, bringing in my CDs and having them reinstall the software. As an alternative, for an additional $300, they could send the dead drive out to another lab that could try to pull data from it. That seemed excessive and unnecessary. I asked Kevin if he thought I should just get a new computer. His answer surprised me. “No,” he said. “Your PC’s in good shape, you just need a hard-drive.” We agreed to go forward with this. He told me I would need to call HP and order a Recovery Kit from them, since they do not provide back-up CDs for their systems.
After we had agreed to all this, I told him I had been in his store less than an hour earlier, and been given very different information. I explained about the data recovery, and the super-diagnostic thingie. There were several seconds of silence. Then Kevin said, “Well, I don’t think that’s possible. Do you have the external drive there? Has the box been opened?”
I pulled it out and looked it at. It hadn’t even been unsealed. I told him that. More silence, presumably while Kevin read through the notes on the system. “I, aah, I see that one of our clericals was working the counter, and maybe he just got confused,” he said, because really, when in doubt, blame clerical staff.
The next day I called HP and ordered the recovery kit. I got it three days later, and took it to Geek Squad yet again, and left it along with my other software disks, and four days after that, my PC was ready to collect. They also refunded me some money on the second (imaginary) transaction I had paid for, and I kept the external drive. So except for that whole part in the middle where Nameless Guy was just making stuff up, it went pretty well, if we factor out the three weeks with no computer.
Terrible service? Not really. A nightmarish experience? Hell, yes.
When I finally picked up my rehabilitated machine, the guy behind the counter read the system notes. His eyebrows went up. “Wow, what a siege,” he said. I responded with something witty like, “Um, yeah.”
Then, the first day my PC was back and operational, an evil, evil Trojan horse virus hi-jacked my blog. I didn’t know what this meant until I saw it happen. Here’s how it worked; I would open my blog and try to navigate within it. Instead of getting the Site Admin page, or a previous posting (whatever I was clicking on) I’d get a page that said, “To read further, Click Here.” If I Clicked Here, I did not get taken to anyplace in my blog, but to some commercial site. These seemed to rotate; once it was for a Motorola mobile phone application, once for something like “Doctoredu.com.” I frantically called Sonic.net (see, I told you they’d come back into the story). Andrew checked it out while I was on the phone. He said an “exploitive” application had found a vulnerability in my WordPress software. He tried to fix it, then put me on hold while his supervisor tried to fix it. He came back on the line, apologized, and said it was going to take them longer to correct the problem. They would call me the next day. Based on my recent experience, I thought, “Yeah, right.”
They did call me the next day, to tell me that WordPress was fixed, and the evil exploitive hijacking application gone. They followed it up with an e-mail to confirm. I was a happy camper.
To sum up; rainbows and unicorns for Sonic.net and Debbie H. And for Geek Squad? Perhaps a pretty cloud and a show mule. They need to work on that communication thing. And guys? If you don’t know something, don’t just make things up. It makes us angry. And you won’t like us when we’re angry.