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Getting Gouged by Geeks 581

dottyslashdottydot writes "CBC Marketplace recently ran a sting operation and discovered that most home computer repair technicians failed miserably at diagnosing a simple RAM failure. Many techs tried to sell unneccessary software or upgrades. (or even a new computer!) However, the worst offender was one guy who claimed that the hard drive had failed, and that the only remedy was to pay $2,000 to have a special facility with a clean room recover the data."
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Getting Gouged by Geeks

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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <<moc.liamg> <ta> <ugayay>> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:22PM (#20860087) Journal

    I have to take a little umbrage at the inflammatory headline, though I suppose the choice of words generates traffic. These people were not being gouged by geeks. They were being gouged by assholes. These are the same assholes who'd sell you a re-built carbeurator to fix a low-transmission fluid problem (it's true, I stopped this guy from doing just that to a good friend).

    Most "geeks" I've ever known or met often may suffer social ineptitude, but across the broad spectrum, geeks, IMO, seem the least likely to be the type to pull these ripoffs. Quite the contrary, my experience has been geeks, true geeks who really know technology are the ones far more likely to shrug and take no money for helping someone with technology. That's not to say they're not willing to make a living at it... just that they're not ripoff artists.

    Also the story is long on anecdotal "sting" evidence, and short on statistically significant information to substantiate the claim. My advice, ask around, ask a friend you trust, not necessarily to do the work but to give a "yea" or "nay" on any recommendations. Also, if it's a company like "", stay away... any company pedalling technicians en-masse on the cheap is suspect... the market doesn't sustain that kind of business model... fixing technology is hard, and not cheap.

    Anyway, back to my thesis, this is ripoff by assholes, not geeks.

    • by xkr ( 786629 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:24PM (#20860101)
      ... that includes a "Muffler Throw-Out Bearing."

      Everyone knows that Microsoft operating systems require this for stable operation.

    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:29PM (#20860173) Journal

      Also the story is long on anecdotal "sting" evidence, and short on statistically significant information to substantiate the claim.

      Welcome to the post-Dateline world, where every news agency now wants to set up stings to bust the bad guy. I'd like to set up a sting to expose shitty journalists. I think modern journalism is the one area that seriously needs to be looked in to.

      We can start with science journalism, which is now at nearly tabloid levels of accuracy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by maxume ( 22995 )
        That's not a very nice thing to say about tabloids.

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:04PM (#20860603)
        CBC has done this sort of stuff for a LONG time, usually on mechanics. They do an annual report where they loosen the battery cable on a minivan and send it around to a bunch of big-chain mechanics in different cities then grade them by how much the repair costs.

        It's useful. Canadian Tire finished last one year and they improved a LOT after that. Not that I'd take a car to Canadian Tire anyway, but still.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gvc ( 167165 )
          Canadian Tire is a franchise operation. While the corporation has, I'm sure, overall guidelines and standards, the quality of service you get will depend a fair amount on how the franchise is run.

          Personally, I find that their parts are 1/2 the price of the competition and just as good, and the quality of work has about the same mean and variance as elsewhere. I like the service manager at my local franchise and any time I've had problems with the work they have fixed it with no hassle and no charge.

          That s
        • by phantomlord ( 38815 ) <(moc.hcetwrk) (ta) (todhsals)> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @09:02PM (#20861321) Journal
          Along these lines, I broke a front end part on my truck and took it to a local service shop to get repaired since I don't have handy access to an alignment machine (I generally do all my mechanic work myself, barring the need for cost-prohibitive specialized machinery like the aforementioned alignment machine). After pulling my truck in to do the alignment, the shop came back telling me that they tested my various fluids and found dirt in my oil (which I had just changed a week earlier but they asked if I'd like a lube job at $25) and metallic compounds in my power steering fluid (which they recommended flushing at a cost of $90). Mind you, all I asked for was to have the part replaced and an alignment done. Fortunately, I generally know what I'm doing when it comes to mechanical repairs so I know better than to fall for that kind of stuff... however, I have friends and family who don't have a mechanical BS detector and have been swindled.

          It isn't just mechanics who do it... I've seen electricians, plumbers, computer geeks, home improvement store employees, etc try to swindle people. It seems like almost anyone who works on commission (or something similar like staying employed based on how many extended warranties they sell) will try to BS you into something you don't need. Now, I don't think all commissioned people do it. I know that I didn't when I used to work in a home improvement store - I'd sell the product that would best suit the customer's needs rather than what might line my (or the store I worked at) pockets a little more. Building honesty and trust are important to me and I believe they are vital to the long term health of your business/work. Much like CEOs though, a lot of people just care about what puts money in their pocket today and I don't think you can tie those type of people to (or from) any given profession.

          PS - that alignment? Six or seven months later, I had to get it redone since the inside edges of my tires were wearing unevenly. Needless to say, I took it to a different place and that one didn't get pushy about what I wanted done. At least I know where I won't be taking my vehicle in the future if I need similar work.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
            I was shopping with a female friend and she commented on how cheap much cheaper guy's clothes are. I told her it's because we're too cheap to pay more, women aren't. Women also pay more for haircuts, car repairs and probably any number of other things.
          • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @09:38PM (#20861695) Journal
            My mother is the type of person like your friends that would get caught up in stuff like that. She purchased some coupon book for a school fund raiser and there was an oil change and lube cupon at a local joint for something like $20. It was set to expire in a couple weeks so she decided to take advantage of it.

            My brother and I, or my father usualy do the maintenance work on here car so when she got back, she told us she couldn't believe how much stuff was wrong with her car. The got here for a rear end fluid change (in a front wheel drive car), told her the air cleaner was bad/dirty (it had less then 1000 miles on it), and flushed the automatic transmission fluid for here because it looked burnt (in a standard). There was a few other things like a coolant flush and fill (with the green ethyl glycol antifreeze instead of the 150,000 mile organic acid tech sealed system stuff that came with it).

            All in all, her $20 oil change and lube coupon trip turned into a $250 excursion. They kept saying "this is bad, do you want it fixed" and she kept saying "I don't want to break down somewhere so you better fix it". And when we went back to question them about it, they claimed our invoice must have gotten mixed up with someone else's. They assured us that nothing was done that didn't need to be done but couldn't find the invoice detailing a $250 expense for her car. They eventually refunded the differenced to a $20 fee plus tax. Lol.. Yep, there are people like that.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Thaelon ( 250687 )
            It boggles my mind that people still think that there should be some difference between different professions and their ethics. People behave the same no matter what work they do. That is, people will do anything they can get away with if it's advantageous to them in some way. That one sentence is all you need to explain most things humans do. And indeed most things living beings do. It's nature's code of conduct. The sooner you accept it the sooner you'll stop being surprised by the behavior of livin
      • by cloricus ( 691063 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:27PM (#20860909)
        We have that in Australia. It's called 'The Chasers WAR on Everything' and you can check it out on YouTube,, or your favourite BT network. One of the better segments is 'What have we learnt from current affairs this week?' in which they make a mockery of Australia's nightly rubbish news shows. Have a look at it, get a group of crazies in your country to start up a similar show. If it doesn't clean up the trash on those sorts of shows at least it will let you laugh at the sorry state of affairs.

        We also have a semi-funny-semi-serious show called MediaWatch which is a 15 minute show that goes over all of the illegal, stupid, dangerous, and bad things the media did that week. You can also find copies of it at
      • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:05PM (#20862485)

        Welcome to the post-Dateline world, where every news agency now wants to set up stings to bust the bad guy. I'd like to set up a sting to expose shitty journalists.
        Is this story somehow an example of bad journalism? I think it's good journalism. Computer repair (just like car repair and health care) are problems that free markets just don't solve very well. There's no way for consumers to make informed decisions since diagnosing the problem is the job. Most people not only can't diagnose these problems themselves, but don't make this type of purchase very often, and have little or no objective data to go by. It's a tough problem.
        • by DamnStupidElf ( 649844 ) <> on Friday October 05, 2007 @12:01AM (#20862981)
          Is this story somehow an example of bad journalism? I think it's good journalism. Computer repair (just like car repair and health care) are problems that free markets just don't solve very well. There's no way for consumers to make informed decisions since diagnosing the problem is the job. Most people not only can't diagnose these problems themselves, but don't make this type of purchase very often, and have little or no objective data to go by. It's a tough problem.

          What do you propose? The Department of Auto Mechanics and the Computer Repair Agency? We'll need the Senate Hairdressers Oversight Committee and the Federal Landscaping Commission, too. Don't forget the government watchdogs to keep track of wayward newspaper boys who can't land it on the porch.

          Seriously, that's what consumer reports and the Internet are for.
    • Here, Here! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eepok ( 545733 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:45PM (#20860371) Homepage
      In every situation I have ever worked and with every person I have ever lived, I have been the go-to geek. I tell it like it is because I personally care about solving problems and making other peoples' lives easier. As the parent post said, most true geeks will shrug their shoulders and charge nothing. Personally, when fixing friends' computers (or their parents', or their friends') I refuse monetary compensation, but in college required the person to barter a home-cooked meal (hey, that meant a lot in undergrad!).

      As the parent poster said, it's not that "geeks" in general are untrustworthy. It's assholes that seek to make money off their geekdom that inspire spite. If I had a dollar for every time someone brought me a computer and said "The Guy at Best Buy said the motherboard is dead and it will cost $400 to replace" only for me to go into safemode and remove spyware/virus bloat and fix the computer, I'd be paying someone to make my Slashdot posts for me!

      In short, everyone should befriend a geek. If you know a nice geek, you're set. If you don't, then ask around for someone who does. Rarely does hardware need to be replaced, but when it does, you needn't pay sky-high prices to have it done.

      A kiss, a chesty hug, a 6-pack, or a warm meal is usually enough.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        this is fucking non-sense. here's a hard dose of reality.

        if you're good. i mean really good at home/desktop windows troubleshooting.

        you will in no short order have 3 months of "free" as in not being paid, work queued up.

        -you'll have to take time off from work, to actually start catching up
        -whenever your phone rings, they take 2 seconds to say "hi how are you", then "my xp won't boot"
        -they offer a meal, a 6 pack, a chesty hug. sure. how about helping stock my fridge, pay my rent, cover my dogs shots, help
        • Absolutely right (Score:3, Interesting)

          by FoamingToad ( 904595 )
          I posted a while ago [] because my free/low-cost repair sideline was getting out of hand. In particular, one family who were endemically clueless had turned into complete time sinks. This was affecting the time I had available to meet family commitments, and was severely affecting my social life.

          The situations in the article may be extreme, but balancing those situations with the idea that "geeks often provide free / cheap resources" (quoted from several posts above, not parent's) also leads to problems. Pe
    • by jotok ( 728554 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:47PM (#20860401)
      Totally disagree. Geeks are the most likely out of anyone I know to have a superiority complex and lord it over people who know less than they do. Now stick that geek in a shitty, low-paying job where people who can shit out $1000 for an overpriced Dell come in saying "My internet is broken," and every once in a while they'll dick someone over.

      I also don't know what you mean about companies peddling geeks on the cheap. Geek Squad, for example, are not cheap. If you want cheap, in my area, you go to the Mom & Pop store (we actually are lucky enough to have a genuine independently run computer sales & service store, run by a genuine mom and pop) and they fix stuff on the cheap. They solder and go way, way down into the physical layer...when was the last time checked your power supply with a multimeter? They also do great training, which you'd think would torpedo their business, but no.

      Oddly enough, they don't consider themselves "geeks." They are retirees and grandparents who like to tinker. Weird, but true.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by WaXHeLL ( 452463 ) is Computer Geeks, an online store. Different from Geek Squad. One actually provides reliable parts, the other is run by Best Buy (enough said).
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by jotok ( 728554 )
          That sounded like you could spin it into a lawyer joke.

          Q: What's the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?
          A: One is a scum-sucking bottom-feeder, and the other is a fish.
      • by adminstring ( 608310 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:16PM (#20860741)
        I have found that power supplies that look good to a multimeter may not look so good to a computer and may still cause problems. It might be putting out 5 volts, but how clean is that 5 volts? An oscilloscope could give you a better picture of how the power supply is working, or there's always my favorite method... swapping in a different power supply and seeing if the problem goes away.

        I'm glad that Mom and Pop are out there doing a good job at a good price for people in your area, though. More power to them!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      These are the same assholes who'd sell you a re-built carbeurator to fix a low-transmission fluid problem (it's true, I stopped this guy from doing just that to a good friend).
      Wow, how old is your friend's car that it even has a carbeurator? Maybe it would have been even better advice to tell him he needed a new car. Unless it's one of those new-fangled carbeurators that sits right next to the blinker fluid reservoir...
    • Are they talking about the Best Buy "Geek Squad"? If not I would really like to know how they qualify "geeks". After reading TFA I kinda doubt they do, they might as well said "Most random people we asked to fix a computer we intentionally broke" could not quickly discover that we were screwing with them.
    • by nuzak ( 959558 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:09PM (#20860661) Journal
      Oh for gods sake. They were getting gouged by the Geek Squad. It's an alliterative headline, a grand tradition of hundreds of years. This is just righteous touchiness, and no one is going to say "gosh, anyone who says they're a geek can't be trusted, some guy on the news said they'll rip me off". Honestly, pick your battles.

    • *Some* Geeks are assholes. Not all are saints. Redefining their title does not change who they are. We can't just redefine everyone that does something wrong as evil, or an asshole. People do things that are evil or assholish, but are not of themselves evil or assholes.
    • by Cprossu ( 736997 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <2ussorpc>> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:59PM (#20861297)
      A big well said to the parent thread.

      I've had to personally clean up messes that were made by a company that rhymes with "Geek Squad" and quite a few others as well, and can tell you that they push everything that makes them money and that a fair amount of them don't know what the hell they are doing (my buddy who worked there got fired for not selling enough product and not charging a few people for really simple problems). I have seen them and others totally miss easy problems on systems (a cpu cooling fan that is so caked up with so much dust that it doesn't spin), screw up perfectly functioning systems (install a floppy cable backwards, install ram backwards(!), forget to connect little things back up like the hard drive's data cable), and setup networks so badly it's a wonder they even work (Then again the ones I visit are because they don't work and I think it's terrible that they already gave up an arm, leg, and first born to a company which screwed everything up). The specific BSOD's that the bait system should have been putting up (if it is like the one they showed in a little blip in one of the segments) should have been a dead giveaway to anybody with the power of google that the ram, or at the very least some piece of hardware was at fault (not sure how that one fellow suggested the video card, or that other dude the cpu!), although I will say that I would have been a little confused had the customer said it 'just happened' that day, as ram is usually bad from the factory, I would have probably gone into questioning about if the comp had done anything like that previously before I run a memtest)

      I personally always find out if a system is under warranty before even breathing upon any hardware inside the machine, never charge anything if I don't or cannot fix it (which although rare does happen ), and I always charge simple cheap fees for things like spyware and viruses, (ei $15-$20) on easily removed stuff (like an hour or so actually spent on it onsite), and involve the customer in any purchasing of parts directly if I can.

      My motivation as a tech has always been to teach customers that there is no "magic box", that it is decently easy to maintain, they are not going to break it by looking at it, the internals are nothing to be afraid of (no they won't get shocked adding ram), they can live a happy online computer life by staying away from bad sites, not using IE or Outlook in most cases is the best, updating AV and spyware defs is a good thing running windows, using something called "google" to find answers to questions can prevent hair loss, and I also go the extra step and teach them methods of searching forums for answers to any given computer problem(also how NOT to use the caps lock key if they do post).

      so I generally tell them anything they want to learn. Companies, and freelancers who are thieves, or don't know how to fix things give our trade a terrible name, and as long as there is money to be made, they will be with us making everyones lifes slightly worse off. Computer repair is tedious, and you have to really love or enjoy it to make your customers happy. I know nothing feels better to me than rescuing someone's vacation pictures from a hard drive that is on it's last legs with the dreaded "click of death" in fornt of their eyes, take em to the store to get another hdd, load everything back and be done and have them running in less than an hour and less than $100.)

      I should probably say more about the actual video now, because I derailed my train and went into a rant.

      Nothing on that tape surprised me sadly, there have always been bad techs around, and there have always been good techs who are told to 'add' something to the bottom line by their bosses at risk of loosing their jobs. I never have thought that the so called "formal training" or certs give you the ability to troubleshoot any given machine. If someone is gonna slack off and not pay attention, they will, and retain enough of it that they can pass a multiple choice test. I guess I didn't get my rant completed.. oh well, take it easy everyone.
  • by QMalcolm ( 1094433 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:23PM (#20860097)
    Sounds like a good porn movie title.
  • by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:25PM (#20860105) Homepage
    Many techs tried to sell unneccessary software or upgrades.

    Look, maintaining a proper level of Hard Disk fluid is extremely important in order to keep the tachyon flux of the read/write heads within normal operating parameters.
    • by heptapod ( 243146 ) <> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:54PM (#20860477) Journal
      B-b-but how do I replace the smoke? Ever since the smoke was released it doesn't work anymore!
    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      Look, maintaining a proper level of Hard Disk fluid is extremely important in order to keep the tachyon flux of the read/write heads within normal operating parameters.

      If the audiophiles are willing to pay $66 for a tiny bottle of oil made especially for record player ball bearings, I expect no less from computer aficionados.

      Heck, I'm surprised that the Geek Squad or whoever it was didn't recommend a $200 Shakti stone [], which the creators do recommend you place close to your CPU.

  • by Starteck81 ( 917280 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:26PM (#20860129)
    It's just as hard to find a good, read competent and honest, IT tech as it is to find a good car mechanic.
    • Both usually don't have to do any advertising either, word-of-mouth is usually sufficient. They also both tend to be well compensated.
  • In other news... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sloppyjoes7 ( 556803 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:26PM (#20860135)
    In other news, some business people are shady and try to rip off consumers! See the groundbreaking report tonight, at 7!
  • by Irish_Samurai ( 224931 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:28PM (#20860147)
    I have to ask the question, is this type of behavior exhibited by ripoff artists, or inexperienced "technical" people trying to be entrepreneurial?

    The end result may manifest itself in the same form, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's malicious. Incompetent? Yes. Scam? Maybe not.
  • damn it.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by AresTheImpaler ( 570208 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:40PM (#20860307)
    I read the title as "Getting Cougars by Geeks." I thought it was a book review written by Geeks...

    bah.. I was seriously impressed at first
  • by Brickwall ( 985910 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:40PM (#20860309)
    If they were really smart, they'd have been spending the last few years creating collaterized mortgage obligations (a not very difficult matrix algebra equation), and recomputing risks for sub-prime mortgages, again easy to do if you don't mind fudging some assumptions and outright lying about some others (hi, AGW fans!). Then they would have made billions, and once the scam was revealed, they'd be bailed out by Ben Bernanke, the Fed, and every European central bank. Manipulation of financial assets beats manipulation of physical assets every time.
  • by DaleGlass ( 1068434 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:41PM (#20860319) Homepage
    Memory affects pretty much everything, so it's hard to isolate it from everything else. Bad RAM can result in disk corruption, making it hard to determine it's the memory and not the disk that's broken.

    For example, take Nero, burn a CD, then verify it. If the RAM is bad it may well happen that a few bits you read from the CD got flipped, and now the verification fails. Obvious conclusion: The CD-R was bad. After a few of those, obvious conclusion: the drive is bad. That the computer crashes ocasionally can be attributed to spyware or viruses. A tech working for cheap isn't going to spend hours to test every possible case.

    RAM is also one of the most annoying things to try to diagnose. Disks at least have SMART, so if it got to the point where it's really broken, SMART will tell you about that quickly. And once it breaks it tends to do so very obviously. Now memory can pass tests and still be bad, and be marginal enough to work most of the time.

    I had several problems with RAM that firmly convinced me to always buy ECC.

    First one was when my Linux firewall, which ran for months without a hitch suddenly had a kernel panic. I thought it was strange, but oh well, nothing is perfect. Rebooted it, expecting that the new kernel installed weeks ago probably has a fix for that. A couple days later it crashed again. Rebooted it again making a note to investigate later. A day later it crashed yet again, but didn't boot this time due to disk corruption. Turns out the RAM was loose in the slot, and somehow stopped making proper contact. The module itself was good and passed memtest86 just fine when I set up the box.

    Second one was when I was buying a new shiny box, and started having strange crashes. This took me quite a while to diagnose, because memtest86 passed perfectly fine. Yet "memtester", an userspace tool did catch it finally, after running for 8 hours straight, and even then with about 50% accuracy. On repeated 8 hour runs sometimes it'd catch it, and sometimes not, while testing the whole memory several times during that period.

    Something like that probably won't be diagnosed correctly by tech support. Even if they do test the memory they're almost certainly not going to bother running it for a day straight, just to make really sure it's not a marginal case.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by linzeal ( 197905 )
      That is the reason all of my recovery disks have some sort of memory testing program and it is the first thing I use. Is there a memory checking program for video cards out there?
      • by Ajehals ( 947354 )
        I haven't seen one, but I cant quite see how useful it would be, after all you can swap out a card to ensure that the problem is with the card, but generally cannot swap out the memory on the card (well you can on the MGA cards that I have on the shelf but they are a little old....) so identifying the actual failure beyond the fact that it is on the card probably wouldn't help (except in a small number of fairly specialised circumstances). It may be useful if you were seeing a performance degradation I sup
    • This is absolutely true. These kinds of fix-it cheap shops are served by low-skilled people who obviously dont have the skills to move to a corporate 9-5 IT position. You get a lot of students and well-meaning but inexperienced techs, as well as your occasional scammer. Considering how rare RAM goes bad, I wouldnt be surprised if none of these techs have ever witnessed it. Bad ram often leads to non-obvious symptoms like data corruption, crashing apps, etc. FWIW, out of the last 5 times ive tested bad ram
    • by Vainglorious Coward ( 267452 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:41PM (#20861083) Journal
      You can't have seen the show - they inserted RAM that had been "blown" (I think they'd dropped a blob of solder on some crucial area) so the machine wouldn't even POST. It's not hard to diagnose why a machine won't even get to post - RAM or motherboard or CPU or an external card. (Indeed all four of those reasons were given by various different techs).
    • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:11PM (#20862525)

      Memory affects pretty much everything, so it's hard to isolate it from everything else. Bad RAM can result in disk corruption, making it hard to determine it's the memory and not the disk that's broken.

      For example, take Nero, burn a CD, then verify it. If the RAM is bad it may well happen that a few bits you read from the CD got flipped, and now the verification fails. Obvious conclusion: The CD-R was bad. After a few of those, obvious conclusion: the drive is bad. That the computer crashes ocasionally can be attributed to spyware or viruses. A tech working for cheap isn't going to spend hours to test every possible case.

      RAM is also one of the most annoying things to try to diagnose. Disks at least have SMART, so if it got to the point where it's really broken, SMART will tell you about that quickly. And once it breaks it tends to do so very obviously. Now memory can pass tests and still be bad, and be marginal enough to work most of the time.

      I had several problems with RAM that firmly convinced me to always buy ECC.
      Have you ever used Memtest386? [] At my job I've only ever encountered two or three instances of bad ram and this is the tool that's done it. Replace the ram, perfect functionality. I've had very good luck with it. For servers everyone says don't dick around, make sure you get ECC, so that seems like smart advice.
  • Good thing this news is coming out on a site frequented almost exclusively by people that already know better than to call up a repairman.
  • "Simple"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kris_J ( 10111 ) * on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:43PM (#20860345) Homepage Journal
    A RAM failure, depending on severity, is a right PITA to diagnose. Unless the PC suddenly has less RAM than it's supposed to the errors resulting from a RAM problem look a lot like a whole bunch of other problems. The people likely to find a RAM problem are the ones that start with something like a boot-from-CD hardware diagnostics run, which can take hours. In which case if it isn't a hardware fault they just "gouged" you for a couple of hours of useless diagnostics.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Which is why, when you freelance, you don't charge people unreasonably for what is the equivalent of 5 minutes work for you. Especially since the bulk of the work was done by Chris Brady (who gives his software away for free, mind you). You simply start memtest86 running, walk away, tell them to call you if anything turns red. Simple.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I am one of these self-employed geeks. Whenever I run in to a hardware issue that doesn't manifest a simple solution quickly, I ask to take the computer with me overnight. That way I can run memtest without actually siting at their office wasting my time and my clients. Swapping out known good components is a quick way to find out what is going on if you've detected hardware problems. Before that, knoppix like boot operating systems can quickly remove the hard drive as part of the malfunction.

      Most of my cli
    • by Ajehals ( 947354 )
      My laptop has a definite RAM issue, it doesn't appear to be too serious as it only very infrequently suffers any major crashes or hangs, but on boot it repeatedly reports that the 'system memory has changed' quoting the new value as something between 618Mb and the real value of 768Mb. I really should swap the 'stick' out, but I hardly use the damn thing.

      (all right it has 2 'sticks' of RAM, I was going to write stick and see if anyone called me on it, to assess how altruistic the Slashdot community may be c
  • And sometimes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kazrath ( 822492 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:43PM (#20860353)
    you just don't know the cause. Few years back at a friends LAN party some non techy guy brought his computer and everytime it booted it BSOD'ed (Win2k). I was like "heh anyone got a Win2k CD" and a few ppl tossed me them. I then proceeded to reformat his box. Everything went fine during the install. On first boot we hit the windows splash screen and BSOD.

    Now I am thinking WTH this does not make alot of sense. So we canabalized a different computer starting with a different HDD. Same problem. Then the Power supply. Then the RAM. And wallah it started working right. We stuck back in his old components with different RAM and everythign was fine. This took several "geeks" a couple of hours to fix and it was not a by the book type fix. We litterally had to use a process of elimination and had to have extra hardware available.

    Alot of people will take the easy road. Especially with older crappy hardware. If somone is running an old Win 98 box and it appears it is a hardware issue.. They are just plainly better off buying a new computer then looking for antiquated parts. Or if it is going to take "days" to fix it may be cost effective to not pay a "tech" to fix it.

    Some of the "Geeks" in the parent article may have been ripoff artists.. others may have in the long run been providing the correct response to the situation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hell O'World ( 88678 )
      I have fooled around with debugging borked boxes a lot over the years, and the time I had RAM problems was the most perplexing. I found it very hard to diagnose. Even after having gone through that, I am not clear what symptoms would point to bad RAM. Anybody have any light to shed?
  • Could you give some indication in the teaser that the content is actually inside of a video? Ideally, I could filter out the video content. Can't watch it at work due to IT constraints and videos usually take much longer than text to consume.
  • I had a workgroup sized laser printer, a few years ago, that had some RAM soldered on to the motherboard - not replaceable (at least, not for less than the board cost). It even provided a cryptic error message on the front display panel. So I called the only factory authorized service center in the county. They sent a technician out. He ignored the error code, changes the serial cable to the PC, printed a test page from the control panel on the printer, and left. (And sent us a bill, including trip charge,
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Solra Bizna ( 716281 )

      Serial cable, $10.

      Knowing to replace the serial cable...

      (blatantly stolen from a previous post, which was stolen from a famous quote, blah blah)


  • Every time I have random strange errors, the very next step after doing a standard malware/AV scan is popping in memtest86. I've had three sticks of RAM go bad in the last three or four years. A monkey could do it and it should be one of the first steps in the Idiot's Guide to Hardware Failure Diagnosis. Is it a lack of training?
  • by grapeape ( 137008 ) <mpope7 @ k c . r r . c om> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:53PM (#20860467) Homepage
    I have about 2/3 of potential clients balk at my rates, but of those over half usually end up calling me after making a costly mistake. I charge around the same as Geek Squad but there are tons of little "computer guys" charging nearly half around here. My newest client figured out you get what you pay for when troublshooting a network file server problem, one of the local guys spend 12 hours working on the problem and half-ass worked around the issue after being unable to find the real problem. I showed up monday morning, found the problem in 15 minutes and had things working properly in about an hour and a half total. What matters most isnt the rate they charge upfront but what your going to be charged when the work is done, an incompetent tech is going to cost more nearly every time regarless of their rate.
  • RAM Failures.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Qyouth101 ( 546913 )
    RAM failures are some of the hardest things to diagnose, because they do not present consistent symptoms, its not unexpected that people can/would get confused by it.
  • ... They didn't catch them stealing porn [] and filming their customers in the shower. []
  • $25 to change out the RAM? First: You have to buy RAM, which they probably bought with them (which means it's fair for them to jack the price, unless you want to buy it yourself, without any knowledge). Second, you have to pay for their time , on-site service, and expertise. $25 is unrealistic. $60 to re-install Windows? Easy to fix? Clearly the host doesn't know a whole lot about Computers in general. $60/hour for most shops isn't unheard of, plus re-installing drivers and software, which customers a
  • a system that is not making it past POST it not that easy to fix and bad ram can make it look like a bad MB, cpu, bad pci / pci-e card, or some other part I one worked on a system with a bad HD that was stopping the system from booting / powering on And without a lot of spare parts it is hard to test in some ones house and with ram will need a lot of different types of ram to

    Also the big box store over charge on ram and other parts and some times it is good idea to pay for more ram when you old ram is bad.

    Also a system with messed up system file can be from a Virus / spyware and just doing a windows repair install is not a 100% fix in the case that you will need run a scan and If am working on system with bad system files I will run a scan As I have fixed a system that had so much virus and spyware on it that windows blue screen at boot.
  • by pair-a-noyd ( 594371 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:18PM (#20860779)
    for a lady. Laptop #1 is a Compaq. She bangs it around over and over and keep breaking the power jack from the motherboard. The power plug acts like a crowbar and prys it loose.

    Laptop #2 is a Dell. The hard drive started acting up. I diagnosed it as a bad HDD.
    She purchased a new hdd through Dell and had it shipped to her. She brought me the laptop and the drive.
    The new drive refused to install, the mobo insisted the drive was password locked.
    I spent about 4 hours on the phone with dell (someone reading a que card in India) and after much agony it was determined that the mobo was bad.
    I called the lady and asked her what she wanted to do. She said that was it, end of the line, trash the PC she wasn't going to spend another penny on it and was buying a new desktop. She asked me how much she owed me for what work I had done.
    I told her "No charge. I didn't repair it so there's no charge. You pay for what you get and nothing more."
    She was flabbergasted and insisted on paying me for my time and trouble. I told her no, don't worry about it.
    She insisted though and after almost getting into an argument with her I told her that if she felt she had to pay me then she could pay me a gratuity in whatever amount made her happy. Her husband suggested $25. She asked me if that was enough. I told her it was more than enough so she wrote me a check for $25.

    I treat people fairly and honestly. I'm not out to get rich and you will never get anywhere by screwing people over. I have a small circle of loyal customers that like me because I treat them well, I treat them with respect and I always deliver on my promises. I LIKE my customers. And I think they like me. I assume they do because they keep calling me back over and over.

    Treat people the way you would want to be treated.
    • by garompeta ( 1068578 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:52PM (#20861211)
      Wrong!, very wrong. You are clearly thinking like a technician, not a businessman.
      There is a golden rule in business: time is money.

      It is nothing unethical to charge for the time that took you to diagnose the problem.
      Not charging the diagnose is actually a "free service" provided by technicians to attract customers, but not clearly it is not the normal thing.

      Charging ridiculous amounts is unethical, but charging for the time it consumed YOU (whatever it was) is perfectly ok.

      In the service business (private teacher, schools, colleges, sky diving lessons, transportation, whatever), whatever service that requires scheduling most of the times they charge you a time slot, if you don't come or come late, they don't refund you the money.
      In the Industrial/Goods Business, the product is money.
      In the Service Business, Time is money. Much more critically than the goods industry, since it is your only limited and not renewable "raw material" from which you can generate revenues.

      Charge for your time.
  • Memtest86+ (Score:2, Informative)

    by Zymergy ( 803632 ) * [] Bootable from USB Drive, CD, or Floppy... ...A standard troubleshooting tool in my TS kit. Sure, it takes some time, but it eliminates instability/random software/OS issues and verifies the RAM is 100% IN SITU.
  • by Wapiti-eater ( 759089 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:24PM (#20860873)
    Shows/videos/articles like this are made to help anyone - other than the producers?

    They exist to sensationalize and already existing fear. capitalize on it and sell air time.

    If "the market" was really pissed about poor service, believe me, the market would make things change.
  • by Dr Kool, PhD ( 173800 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:35PM (#20861027) Homepage Journal
    They set out to do a story on how much techs suck no matter the facts. Memory failure causing the system not to boot is very uncommon. Motherboards and power supplies dying happens far more so it's no surprise that this was misdiagnosed by the noob techs. Then they delete a bunch of system files and are OUTRAGED that people tell them they have a virus. If I saw missing system files I'd probably assume a virus too. Then they claim that a reformat was unnecessary, all that was needed was a Windows reinstall? If there were system files missing I'd just assume virus and do a reformat.

    What pisses me off most about this video is the crap they give the guy who diagnosed the memory problem correctly, yet "gouged" them on replacement memory. This guy installed a 1GB DIMM for $120 and they say they were GOUGED because they went on Newegg and found the same memory for $65. Never mind that $65 doesn't include shipping. Never mind that $65 doesn't include tax. Never mind there is NO B&M STORE IN THE WORLD where you can get goods cheaper than you can get them online. If this lady went to Circuit City I bet the same memory would be at least $120. Yet this guy gets called a crook for doing his job well and charging a reasonable price (not even close to gouging).

    This isn't journalism, it's a hit piece.
  • by GaryOlson ( 737642 ) <slashdot&garyolson,org> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @09:33PM (#20861655) Journal
    $150 for a courier fee?
    $1000 per "point" of processor speed?
    $350 document transfer fee?
    $650 document research fee?
    $350 document copying fee?
    $75 long distance phone calls?

    If the customers were lawyers and mortgage bankers, I think they did not charge enough. I suggest investigative reporting spend more effort investigating lawyers and financial service companies first.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:00PM (#20862435)
    Well I'm in the computer repair business AND in Toronto and my mom called yesterday to tell me this was on, so I tuned in, as an 'expert' as it were. Watching the show and then rewatching the first part I missed from the web, it becomes obvious that parts of the recorded sessions with their tech help were edited to make it seem over the top.

    Here's a bunch of points and the text from the show:

    The presenter says that blown ram is a "simple problem" ?? WTF ... Also the price they quote for the 512MB DDR ram at $25 really lowballing it. 512MB of DDR-184 may be $29 to $35 at the "in store" for good cheap parts in Toronto, but where any average person would shop at it's $79.92... And of course there is installation, and more importantly diagnosing which can be nasty, so stating $25 gives the viewer the impression that A) it's easy, and B) total cost _should_ be $25... (see end for URLs)

    They show three of the in-home techs at work, again just snippits.

    "Grade A Students": he supposedly, remember the video is heavily edited, tells them they need a new motherboard. Well with an older computer, the chances are just about even that its the ram or the motherboard. The guy may not be the best repair tech in the world, but it's not over the top to suggest that. The one fault I find with him is telling the customer to "go buy a motherboard" as there's no way an average user could do that. The show points out A) he charged $80 which seems fair for in-home visit to diagnose something, and B) reiterating it's a motherboard "don't need" thus making the diagnosis seem rediculous.

    "Nerds On Site": this is the fellow they make to look the worst, but from the few edits they do have of him, he seems to ask some good questions off the bat, "Is the hard drive making different sort of sounds?" That is the best question to ask a user since the CLICK CLICK CLICK of a bad drive most people do hear and they know "it didn't sound like that before". So this guy guesses it's the HD before he opens the case, which is actually a bad diagnosis since we can only assume the box didn't even POST with the bad ram (if it did POST with flakey RAM well it could be anything right?). Their expert tells the viewers, "you can't make any kind of diagnosis that quickly", when in fact yes you can with a bad HD or even bad ram/mb...

    "Geek Squad": So they show the guy saying "My professional advice is the motherboard. You have to have it taken in and you have to replace the motherboard", which is perfectly reasonable. On-site it's almost impossible to figure out if it's the mb or not, and if you don't carry spare ram, figuring out if its the ram is also best done in the shop. At this point the show states "Remember the problem's a broken ram part. So far we've heard it was the motherboard, the cpu, and the hard drive. All wrong." But those are their guesses and all are reasonable for being in the field guesses, so they're not wrong, save the HD guess, but that guy is not necessarily the most adept diagnostician... Continuing, "Out of 10 techs we call in, only these 3 can figure out what the problem is." So these three guys try pulling out the ram and try one at a time. Again, since it's an old system, guessing that's the the MB is not that off base, though not trying the ram is a shame but not over the top.

    Taking Advantage of "most of us"

    "we track down 3 techs who used to work for big name retailers, Rob, Macolm, and Shawn confess that taking advantage of most of us is easy"... um 'taking advantage' of most people who often don't know much more than 10 things about using the computer, when a seasoned pro may know and encounterd say 1,000 to even 10,000 things. Well how easy would be for a doctor to say to a patient, "look's like you've got a dwarf living in your belly" and that person believe them??

    On the average customer

    Presenter: "When people come in with a crashed computer, how much do they actually know about what was wrong

  • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:06PM (#20862493) Homepage
    Perhaps a "simple RAM failure" isn't so simple to diagnose?

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.