The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Talk Tech To Me

At Christmas of 2003, the BeowulfParents attempted to get me out of my severe depression by bribing me with high end electronics. They bought me a state-of-the-art computer system, which I loved and adored. At the time, I also switched my Internet Provider, and because I live out in the sticks, I was unable to get DSL.

This changed a few weeks ago when Verizon sent me a mailing saying they now had DSL available in my area. Thoroughly pumped, I called them up and ordered it.

And the nightmare began.

On Friday, as appointed, a tech from Verizon named Frank showed up at my house to install my DSL. Frank was a young, happy-go-lucky fat guy with a small moustache and a crew cut. He brought an impressive array of tools in with him and headed for my basement.

Once there, Frank messed with the phone jack, ran some wires and lines, did something with the phone box, went outside and crawled under the house, and generally wired the hell out of the basement. Because BeowulfMom doesn’t trust anyone, she made BeowulfDad follow him around, thinking that he would try to steal something.

Finally, it was time for Frank to install the Verizon software. I was mere seconds away from having the DSL of my dreams. I went down to my office with Frank to watch (and to make sure he didn’t stuff any of my things into his pants).

Frank installed the software, and the computer cheerfully told him it was time to reboot. So, we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The problem seemed to be that the computer was permanantly stuck on the opening screen for Windows ME. I didn’t even get to the icon screen. It just froze there, drives whirring and gears grinding. Frank began to look nervous.

We turned everything off and turned it back on again. Nothing.

We unplugged everything and tried that. Nothing.

Nervously, Frank got out his cell phone and called Verizon. He got on with someone named Gary and described what was happening. Gary didn’t seem to know anything, but he told Frank that it sounded like a “computer problem” and not a “Verizon problem.”

Relieved that he seemed to be off the hook, Frank hung up and told me to call the manufacturer, which was Compaq. I had no idea what Compaq's number was—up until six months ago, the computer had been on warranty, and whenever I needed repairs I just took it back to Radio Shack where I had bought it.

I got out the phone book and looked up Radio Shack’s number. When I got them, I asked for the tech support number for Compaq. They told me it was 1-800-GO-COMPAQ.

I dialed as Frank watched. There were several clicks and tones. Finally, a sultry pre-recorded female voice said: “Do you want to talk to me? If so, please enter your credit card number.”

Horrified, I slammed the phone down. I called Radio Shack back.

“Um, hello? That number you just gave me for Compaq tech support? Yeah, that. It’s phone sex.”

“What?” they asked, horrified.

“It’s phone sex,” I said again.

There were several moments of laughing (though not by me) and they finally dug around in their paperwork and told me that the correct number was 1-800-OK-COMPAQ. Fine.

I called the number and got an electronic menu (what a shock). It asked me to state the name of my product. “Compaq Presario 5000,” I said, confidently.

I was then cheerfully informed by the robot voice: “We’re sorry, but Compaq no longer offers technical support for that product.” CLICK.

I just stared at the phone. Frank backed wisely away.

I called Radio Shack for a third time and told them what had happened. The girl I spoke to, named Brenda, said that she had no idea how to help me, but there was, apparently, a guy who worked there named Matt who “fixed computers on the side.” Great. Matt was due to be in at 1:30. It was 1:15 at the time.

I hung up kind of helplessly. Frank said, “I know…why don’t you call Geek Squad?”

Well, why not? I got their number from Information and called them. After navigating their electronic menu (which was horrifying) I finally got hooked up with a nice British lady who asked me a ton of questions and typed furiously. I kept asking repeatedly, “how much is this going to cost me?” and she kept finding ways to avoid the question.

Finally she said, a little hesitantly, that to have a Geek Squad tech come to the house and diagnose the problem, it would cost me two hundred and fifty dollars. And that’s just to diagnose the problem. If I needed any actual work done (which I clearly would), it would be even more.

“I don’t have that kind of money,” I said, and hung up.

By this time it was 1:30, when the mysterious Matt was due to show up at Radio Shack. I called back and asked to speak with him. He was a very soft-spoken man with an accent I couldn’t quite place. I told him who I was and what had happened to my computer. He didn’t seem to understand why I was calling him. When I told him that Brenda had told me that he “fixes computers on the side,” he got very upset and told me that she had no right to give out that information.

Once I had calmed him down, I explained what had happened and that Geek Squad wanted two hundred and fifty dollars. Matt got uppity and said that he charges even more. Thoroughly disgusted, I hung up.

Frank, who had been watching all this, decided to call a friend of his named Tony who “knew all about these things.” I was patient while he dialed. He explained my problem to Tony and said: “Really? That’s all?” He then looked at me. “I don’t suppose you have the Recovery disk that came with this computer?”

Of course I did. I save everything. I dug it out of my desk and handed it to him. He loaded it and we looked at the screen. Tony (who was still on the phone) tried to talk us through it, but we couldn’t see a single option that wouldn’t erase everything on my hard drive and restore it to the factory presets.

“Look, Frank,” I said, nervously. “I’m an English professor and a writer. I have about fifty short stories and three novels on that thing. I can’t lose them. I have no hard copies.” Frank relayed all this to Tony, who then had a brainstorm.

According to Tony, since the problem had occurred directly after the installation of the Verizon software, it was entirely possible that the software had maxed out my memory and thus wouldn’t load Windows properly. I agreed that this was possible, since I have five years worth of crap on there, including several enormous programs. Frank asked Tony what I should do, and Tony recommended going to Best Buy and purchasing more memory.

I called Best Buy and spoke to a guy named Brian in the computers department. I told him my problem and what Tony had said. Brian agreed with Tony and said to bring my computer in and he’d hook me up.

Frank left. He was now two hours late for his second customer. I felt bad.

The following day, BeowulfDad and I unhooked the computer tower and loaded it into the car and headed off to Best Buy. I was very optimistic—soon I’d have my memory upgrade (which was only supposed to cost forty bucks) and my beloved DSL. I schlepped the computer to the computers department and asked for Brian. He wasn’t working, but another sales associate said he could help me.

He couldn’t find the model number on my computer. “Do me a favor,” he said. “Go over to the Geek Squad window and ask them for the model number.” (I was still kind of annoyed at Geek Squad, but since they seemed to have the answers, I thought I’d have to deal with them.)

I dumped the computer on the Geek Squad counter and asked the designated geek what the model number was. He just blinked at me. “Why do you want to know?” he asked.

I told him that I was in for a memory upgrade. The geek looked dubious and plugged the computer into a monitor. The hated Windows ME screen glowed ominously. The geek shook his head and said, “this isn’t a memory problem, it’s a mechanical problem. Who told you it was a memory problem?”

“Brian,” I said.

“Well, he’s an idiot. You need to reinstall Windows ME, which they don’t even make anymore, and erase your hard drive.”

I just blinked at him. “Um…that can’t happen,” I said. I was very close to freaking out.

“We can try to recover your data,” he said, not sounding as if he believed it.

“And how much is all this going to cost me?” I asked, gritting my teeth.

“About four hundred dollars. Provided you don’t need any parts.”

That was it. I freaked out. “I don’t have four hundred dollars,” I said, “can’t you just uninstall the Verizon software? Everything was fine before he installed it. I know that’s what the problem is!”

“It’ll be about four hundred dollars,” said the geek.

“Well,” I said, drolly, “isn’t that just fucking fantastic?” And I grabbed the computer and hauled ass out of there.

Back in the car, BeowulfDad kept muttering about how he always thought the whole DSL thing was a bad idea and how he just knew I was going to mess it up. We argued and bickered our way down the highway. I decided, just for kicks, to go to Radio Shack. Even if I was no longer under warranty, they might still agree to fix it, hopefully for less than four hundred dollars.

When I got there, a strange, ancient foreign man took all of my information and the rest of the sales associates had a good laugh at how old my computer was. The ancient salesman told me (in an almost indecipherable accent) that it would be fixed in “four to six weeks.”

I almost had a heart attack. “No,” I said, “absolutely not. I need it this week. I’m a professor and a writer. I have to have access to a computer.”

“Sorry, four to six weeks,” he muttered.

“And do you have any idea how much it would cost?” I asked, through clenched teeth.
“No,” he said. “They’ll call you with an estimate.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” I muttered.

“Oh, and you’ll have to go to the UPS store, buy a box and some Styrofoam, pack up the computer and pay for shipping,” said the man. “Both ways.”

This was too much for BeowulfDad. “Forget it,” he said, disgusted, and picked up the computer and marched out.

We went home. I was almost in tears. (In the meantime, I’m being billed by Verizon for the DSL service I’m not using yet.) I looked in the yellow pages for computer repair people, but as it was now the weekend, no one was open.

It wasn't until today, in the middle of lecture, that I realized that I know a few people in the Computer Science department. Hopefully, one of them will be able to diagnose and fix the problem--I'd much rather pay them than some guy I don't even know.

The upshot of all this is...God only knows when I'll be able to make another blog entry. I'll try to get them in during the times I'm here at Very Serious University, but I can't promise anything fantastic.

Pray for me.


  • At 11:56 AM, Blogger Gagata said…

    I want to add a few notes, which may or may not be helpful.

    SInce the fault occured at the exact same time as installing a new program, it is extremely likely (95%) to be a software problem. (And something Verizon should have taken responsibility for!)

    In this case:
    A) Saving the data will be rather easy. Just plugging the harddrive into another computer and copying it over should be a breeze.

    B) Fixing it should not require any new parts.

    C) You may be able to just boot into safe mode
    (, which may let you at least save some data.

    I am afraid I am in another computer science department, but hopefully you can scrounge up a friendly geek.

    A note of warning, for many of us it is a conditioned reflex to deny any knowledge of how to fix your computer. This reflex may be supressed for friends (or if we really really want to know everything about the world of theater).


  • At 11:07 PM, Blogger Wes said…

    BG that sucks. I hope you get this fixed and it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg. Sounds to me like everyone was jerking you around because you were a woman. *HUGS* to you and ((VIBES)) to your comp.

  • At 8:14 AM, Blogger Tom said…

    For the money they are quoting you, and considering the vintage of your system, it would be cheaper for you to buy a new system, NOT from a local ripoff store, but someone like Dell, or... Dell.

    Make SURE if you go this route you get one that can handle IDE drives. Because, once you get it, you will put your drive out of the old computer in the new computer, and voila! all your stuff will be there. Of course, you will have to reinstall any software, but that's the way it goes, and you will be set for many more years.

    Oh, try to get XP, not Vista. ME has to go!

  • At 3:48 PM, Blogger Michael said…

    You probably need to upgrade to XP (but not Vista, don't go near Vista until the first Service Pack comes out). Windows ME is what the cavemen used when they were debugging fire. It's entirely possible that there's a software conflict between ME and the Verizon program.

  • At 7:06 AM, Blogger Grape said…

    When all is sorted, it's well worth the money to get a DVD/CD writer and back all your stuff up once a week or so.

    It's always worth considering, what we in the trade called plan B. It involves your PC case and a 5lb lump hammer. Doesn't fix anything but you do feel a lot better afterwards.

  • At 3:01 PM, Blogger Starla said…

    That sucks. :( I know it hasn't been that long, but I am really missing seeing a new blog. The masses must be entertained! Where can we rush with pitchforks and torches to force someone to fix your computer?

  • At 9:37 PM, Blogger Noemi said…

    Oh man, that sucks. I wish you lived closer because I have a resident geek I could talk into at least looking at your computer.


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