Monday, May 19, 2008

This will be a long one, so, if you actually read this stuff, relax, get your favorite beverage and continue.

All I want is what I'm worth.

Since I can't get that (nobody wants to pay it), what I'll take is what we agree on.

How this comes up...

I am a computer geek. I am not the kid that hacks the pentagon. I am not the game player that will hit the 100th level in the first sitting. I am the guy that will build your computer such that it runs now, will run tomorrow, will run next year, and probably the year after that, with all the stuff you want on it, with very little maintenance or worries about hackers.

I used to think that this was an easy thing to do, and was always surprised when other people seemed to be having so much trouble doing this. It's only in recent years that I've come to realise that this is a fairly unique talent, and most people just don't get it. What I've discovered is that it really isn't a trick, it's just having enough patience in all the right places. AND being smart enough to know that I'm not going to out-guess 5000 Microsoft software writers and engineers.

I discovered this skill in a state job, took a look at it, and figured out the only place it had any actual value was in that job. So here I am.

Why doesn't it have value anywhere else? Well, new computer folks, like Dell and Gateway don't want an OS that doesn't die. They want turn-over. If a poorly installed OS makes people think they need a new computer, that's bread and butter if you're selling new computers. And it's always easy to blame the OS for problems, regardless of what the OS is, i.e. any flavor of Windows, or any variety of Unix.

Business doesn't particularly care for this, because it causes too many problems in the controllers or auditors department. It's sort of like having an on button with no off button, like most cheap calculators. You know the powers going off eventually, but unless you're a total obsessive you have no idea when, so there's no way to plan around it. If computers work too well in a business, there's no incentive to upgrade, no incentive to grow. So if things work too well, the business usually becomes stagnant, and will fall behind in the market. If there's no known obsolesense, how can you plan for the future?

Most computer technicians hate the concept of an OS that doesn't fail, of the idea that a computer could go on working without professional intervention. Why would geek squad need to exist if things didn't break down? Hardware still fails, but that's actual work, and usually too easily diagnosed and fixed. Unless there's some root cause based in the OS, customers feel cheated at having to spend all that money, just to replace the hard drive or the CD reader and usually having it only take 5 or 10 minutes to do it.

Back to my skill.

One of the odd side-affects of building a computer well (i.e. installing the OS and software) is that if people don't have problems, they will make them up. For instance, users will complain their computer is "slowing down". When this complaint started coming in several years ago, I started keeping track of how long things took, and, for the most part, that doesn't change much. From my informal observations, most systems will only slow down 5 or 10 percent over the course of a year or so, but that seems enough to trigger a request for a major over-haul.

The biggest problem in the speed area is user installed software. Folks will install something because their cousine told them it was the best thing since sliced bread, or they'll read some business article and download 8 pieces of shareware to install, and then wonder why the new "good" things don't work for them. I usually end up telling them that 1. They actually need to read the installation instructions, or 2. This actually won't work on your computer since you're not a fifteen year old teeny bopper and this is a place of business, or 3. Take a painful five minutes explaining social engineering, and how they've been duped into hacking their own computer.

We'll get to the point eventually here. More in the next.

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