Do Computers Have an Expiration Date?

Clients ask us why computers fail.  Their first computer lasted a decade and now computers are lasting 3-5 years.  What gives?


This video has a great explanation of why this happens.   The main reasons are

  • Heat
  • Electromigration (video explains what that is!)
  • Wear and tear
  • General user error

There is that theory of “planned obsolescence”  whereby companies set computers to fail.  I think that gives them too much credit!  I think it’s more about lack of testing on older systems.  They don’t have an incentive to make sure newer software and hardware works on a three-year-old laptop, so they don’t.  You do some software update to your anti-virus and then your computer screams to a halt.
We can usually help you backtrack updates to get your computer running faster, but physics is always in the way.  Moving parts, heat and that fancy word electromigration, all mean your computer won’t last for more than a few years.

Photo by Judith E. Bell

What are the best kind of references?

We’re very particular about the people we let repair client computers.  I’ve written about hiring before, but it’s shocking how few businesses check references.  The only thing worse than not checking references is the terrible references we get when we check them for technicians.

Blue Rider needs a phone call

This article from hiring site explains some key points. The obvious one (although not obvious to people I talk with) is make sure you know what the reference will say.

The most common responses I get from a reference check are

I can’t reach the reference.

The technician gave me a generic number for the business.  For example, the reference given was a manager at a big box retail store.  When I called the number and asked for that manager, I was told he hadn’t worked there for five years.  They didn’t know where he was transferred to or if he even worked for the company.

A quality technician does research and finds out where the reference is working.  Most techs just give up, which is why we don’t want them to work on your computer.

The reference doesn’t remember the technician.

You’d think if someone puts down a reference, that reference will remember them.  Nope.  When I reach a reference, they don’t remember the technician.  They might be able to confirm the technician worked at the company.  The reference can’t give too many details.  Sometimes it’s company policy, but most of the time the reference is just stale.

The reference has bad things to say.

We tend to remember negative experiences over positive ones, so this makes sense.  When someone leaves a lasting impression, it isn’t always the best.  You’d think in these situations the applicant would recognize this.  Nope.  These technicians get rejected right away.  It isn’t just because of what the reference says, but the lack of verification by the technician.  We like technicians who follow-up and follow-through.

How to Prevent Reference Check Problems.

The article mentioned earlier explains some tips, but I’d say just call the reference before and after an interview.  Before the interview remind them of who you are and verify you can reach them.  If you can’t, then remove them from your reference list.

After the interview, let them know how it went.  The reference can fill in gaps that seemed to be lacking in the interview.  Maybe you misspoke or emphasised the wrong thing.  Don’t put words in the reference’s mouth, but let them know what the potential employer was interested in.

Again, we check references of everyone working on your computer as well as doing an extensive background check with a private investigator.  We want to make sure anyone who touches your technology is top notch!

Photo by Fabio Sola Penna

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WiFi Router Security is More Than Passwords

Wifi internet routers are rather easy to setup. The directions walk novices through the process.  We still help clients with it, but we’re doing this less and less.  Apps on your smartphone make it easy.  However, they miss a critical step we always check for.

Router Lights

Recently, popular routers from Netgear were found to be unsecure out of the box.  This wasn’t an issue of the password or anything like that.  This was a flaw in the design of the product. The software to setup the router doesn’t always check for these firmware updates.

Fortunately, we always check for that.  Every time we’re out at a client we check for firmware updates.  That prevents hackers from getting into your system and compromising your security.  We recommend checking at least every six months for firmware updates at the manufacturer’s website.

Photo by Ross Catrow

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Why Does Someone Want to Hack Your Computer

Clients sometimes take a casual approach to computer security. Their rationale is “I have nothing important on there.”  They don’t do banking or finances.  They’re just casually surfing and interacting with friends.


This article explains some of the details why you’re hacked. In a nutshell, they’re not looking to steal anything from you.  The goal is to use your identity and resources to hack others.  It’s like when the airlines remind you “don’t take bags you didn’t pack yourself.”  They don’t want you unknowingly assisting a terrorist or a thief.  The fact you exist and are going on that flight, makes you a target.

Computer security is everyone’s responsibility.  When you run an out-of-date antivirus or an insecure operating system like Vista or XP, you hurt other people.  You might have nothing of value, but you wouldn’t want to assist a hacker either.

If you aren’t sure if you’re up-to-date, we can help!  Our remote checkups take just a few minutes. You don’t even have to leave home.

Photo by Katy Levinson

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We’re Open Christmas Eve, Christmas Day

To celebrate, here’s something I wrote in 2010, publishing it again:

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…

not a creature was stirring, except for a mouse!

The web was searched with thought and care,

but not a company could get gifts there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

while panic and mayhem danced in your head.

But DoctorDave ™ in his gloves and cap,

refused to settle for a long winter’s nap.

His inkjet printer makes such a clatter

because last minute gift certificates are really what matter!

Out to the car he went like a flash,

turn on the car and give it some gas.

On Christmas Eve it started to snow

No matter, because he had places to go!

Out on the doorstep, what should appear?

Not Santa, not Rudolph or other reindeer..

But rather DoctorDave™, who no longer resembles St. Nick.

gift certificate in hand…boy that was quick!

One night a request at 3am came,

no problem, no worry, just give him a name

and he’ll print a gift certificate, for whatever needs fixin’.

So happy holidays from all of us here,

and last minute gift certificates always bring cheer!

Gives us a call, Christmas Eve or day,

and we’ll email a gift certificate without delay!

Thanks for being a client of the famous DoctorDave™.

Santa Mouse
Photo by Tigglywinkle

Beware of Browsers That Fill Stuff In

A few years back, companies realized we often fill out the same things over again on webforms.  They thought “Hey, why don’t we keep track of that stuff for you?”  That idea was great, but hackers have exploited it.

Keys on Keyboard

As this article points out,  hackers have taken advantage of the idea.  They can trick Safari and Google Chrome into releasing confidential information.  Ouch.  We stopped recommending auto-fill years ago.

Instead, we recommend a password manager like LastPass or 1Password. These are less susceptible to hackers.  They’ll track your passwords for you, which is nice instead of using the same password on multiple websites. They’ll also create new passwords when needed, so no trying some variant of your old one.  Best of all, they’ll fill in your contact information on a website.  I love that feature.  You can even set up those fill-ins for multiple people.  One for you, and one for your significant other.

Here’s a little tip I use when filling out paper forms (like at the doctor’s office).  I keep a few pre-addressed mailing labels with me.  When filling out forms, I just put the sticker on the name/address field.  Saves me some time, especially since I have horrible handwriting.

Photo by IntelFreePress

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Tech Support is Wrong Half the Time

We’ve known this all along as computer repair people, but you may not know this as a consumer.  Tech Support often gets it wrong.

Call centre worker

According to a recent study by Laptop Magazine, contacting a manufacturer will result in the wrong answer 44% of the time.  Ouch.   They’re the company that makes the stuff – they get it wrong!

The article explains some of the reasons.  Usually it’s due to lack of training but it’s also poor documentation or policies.  This isn’t just articles or chat answers, but even when they remote into the computer.

I think the reason is a lack of experience.  There’s the theoretical and then there is the practical.  Computer technicians need to understand how computers are used by consumers. Fortunately, all our techs have a ton of experience doing computer repair on-site and in-shop.

This line sums up the story:

“If you contact laptop tech support, be prepared for difficulty, and plan accordingly”

Or you can just call DoctorDave Computer Repair of Lawrence, Kansas City and Topeka and get the job done right, the first time!

Photo by alanclarkdesign

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Computer Repair, Insurance and Honesty

Last year, a controversial study suggested that computer repair shops scam people that have insurance.  If you mention you have insurance, on average, you’ll get charged more for the repair.  Guess what…so do we.  Our rationale is different though.

Computer on Fire

The computer repair shops in the study clearly took advantage of customers.  They billed for work and repairs there weren’t done.  That’s wrong.  The theory from the study was the shops weren’t hurting the customers because the customers weren’t paying, insurance was.  The big, bad insurance company was getting hurt.  The shops didn’t think this through though. Insurance scams raise rates and hurt everyone.

So why do we charge clients with insurance more on average?  It isn’t about scamming, but it’s about making a client whole.  The goal of insurance is to return everything to where it was, as if it didn’t happen.  That’s a very high standard.  We don’t want clients to live with a problem.

Since we do a ton of on-site computer repairs in Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City, I’m in my car often.  Accidents are inevitable.  My car was completely totaled during one service call, but other times it’s just scratches and dents.  The insurance company writes me a check for the estimated damage. It’s my choice to repair it or not.

With clients we take the same approach, we don’t want clients to live with a problem.  Take, for example, a lightning strike.  That often damage the networking port inside the computer.  If the client is insured, we recommend replacing the internal system board.  That’s often worth more than the computer.  That’s what’s wrong though and insurance covers what’s wrong.

Computer on Fire 1

If for some reason the client doesn’t have insurance for this (or the deductible is too high), we suggest creating a wireless network.   Our goal isn’t to return the computer to pre-lightning condition; our goal is to get the client up and running.  Adding an external wireless adapter fixes the problem, but doesn’t fix the computer.

We take the same approach with data recovery.  If a client has a failed hard drive, we have software and procedures to recovery the data.  We don’t have the tools you see on TV shows like CSI or the movies.  We don’t have a special clean room with people in bunny suits.  That’s stuff professional companies like DriveSavers use.  They can completely rebuild a hard drive from scratch.

If a computer’s insured, we refer the client to DriveSavers and decline the recovery work.  Although we might be able to get the data back, DriveSavers has the best chance for success.  The goal is the return the computer to pre-damaged state, and DriveSavers will do a better job then we do.  Yes, we’re suggesting something that costs more because of insurance.  So be it!  I want the client’s problem resolved in the best way possible.

Without insurance, it’s a decision for the client to determine how much a repair is worth rather than replacement or workarounds.  For my car, I’m more likely to accept a few dents or some duct tape instead of fixing something. If it’s covered by insurance though, I expect them to pay to get my car fixed.

Our goal is always to do what’s best for the client and advocate for them.  We do insurance evaluations all the time.  It could be after a computer’s dropped, water spilled on it, or hit by lightning.  We’ve got a great reputation with adjusters in town for this and never had a claim denied.  You’d actually be surprised how often problems are covered by homeowners, renters, or business insurance.

Photo by cibomahto

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Local Tech Support Scam Victim On the Hook for $10,000

Until we got the third call in one week for this scam, I couldn’t believe it was true.  Sadly one client was taken for almost $10,000.  She needs to take out a loan so that she can pay her living expenses.  How this all came about is interesting, but more important,  anyone who’s been a previous victim of a tech support scam could be scammed again.

Throwing Money Away

This scam actually started months ago.  It starts with someone who has been taken in by a previous tech support scam.  I’ve written about it before, but in a nutshell a scammer convinces you to pay to fix a fake problem on your computer.  It’s usually a yearly cost of anywhere between $250 and $800.  They’ll keep asking for more money until you stop.

Re Victimizing the Victim

The new wrinkle is the scammers call the client back and apologize.  Yup.  They own up to it being a scam and offer a refund.  Cool!  At this point the victim is caught off guard.  Then instead of just refunding the money on the victim’s credit card, the scammer needs bank information.  They’ll offer to remotely connect to the computer to help out.  That’s not the scam though.  The goal is to obtain banking information to transfer the money in.  Sounds good so far right?

Here’s the scam:  they claim to have transferred too much.  Maybe it was an error, maybe it was the exchange rate, but they get the victim to believe they need to refund about $10,000.  If you refuse, they’ll call the police and try to freeze your account.  They’ll insist on this.  To fix the problem, they need gift cards.  This tactic is a variation of a fake check and advance fee scam.

How the Money Got Lost

In fact, the scammers never sent the money.  They won’t do anything to your bank account.  However, they’ve scared the victim at this point.  The victim is led to believe they’re stealing money from the kind scammers who tried to refund the money.  The scammers tell the victim to take out the $10,000 in cash from the bank.  Then they’re instructed to buy gift cards to places like Target or Wal-mart.  All the victim needs to do is read the numbers to the scammer over the phone and that will act as a refund.  Except of course for some reason the scammer will probably say the cards don’t work.  They’ll want more money.  The scam stops when the victim runs out of money.

Our most recent client was saved because her mobile phone ran out of power.  The scammers stayed on the phone with her the entire time, threatening to lock her account if she hung up.  So she went from the bank, then to Target, and then to Walmart all while the scammers were on the phone.

Financial Protection Policies Failed

Department stores and banks are instructed to ask people questions when making such a large withdrawal.  Our client wasn’t asked at the bank.  They just let her take out the $10,000.  She’s never made a cash withdrawal at the bank.  I’ve later found out the bank apologized for not following procedures. Although they won’t take responsibility, they’ll let her take out a loan to restore the money.  Translation:  they’ll make money off her loss instead of being responsible.  Sickening.

Target asked her why she wanted a $10,000 gift card.  Store policy says they can only create gift cards up to $3,000.  Target did ask, and she said they were for grandchildren.  The problem is sending gift cards to grandchildren is a type of scam department stores are warned against.  Here’s a great story about how Target followed policy and saved victims from the scam.  Two of our victims this week were stopped by Wal-Mart or Target from buying gift cards.  However, again one was not and is out the $10,000.

Unfortunately our client was not covered by insurance for the loss.  Some clients have been able to use their insurance as victims of tech support scams.  In all cases, the Lawrence Police department refused to take a report.  That directly contradicts statements made by the LPD in this article.  When I was a victim of credit card theft, they refused to take a report as well.  I was told that I couldn’t confirm the theft was local.

Here’s what everyone needs to know about this type of scam:

Computer owners

(whether someone calls you or you call them based on message on your computer or phone)

  1. Never allow someone to remote control your computer that you don’t know, regardless of the circumstance.  The only exception is us of course, but we will never initiate a call to you and always give you the option for an on-site computer repair.    If you’re unsure, check with us.
  1. Never give out passwords or other identifying information to people you don’t know.   If you’re unsure, check with us. This includes stuff like your birthday, mother’s maiden name, and social security number.
  1. Nothing is urgent.  Your computer won’t self-destruct or lock if you fail to take action immediately.  Give us a call first.

Banks and Department Store Employees

Please follow your policies.  Realize these scams happen right here in #LFK.  Ask people point blank “Are you being told to send this money by a company?”  Train yourself and your staff on common scams.


Get a real job.  Use your skills to help people instead of steal from people.

As a reminder, please gives us a call if you’re unsure about a message on your computer.  We’ll help you at no charge over the phone.  Whatever you do, don’t allow someone to control your computer and do stuff to it unless you’ve properly vetted them.


Photo by Tax Credits

Here’s how to Prepare for a Computer Repair Appointment

I’ll often read medical blogs because what we do in computer repair isn’t that much different than patient care.  I came across this great article about preparing for a medical appointment.  That article got me thinking about how to prepare for a computer repair appointment on-site or at our office in Lawrence or Kansas City.

Doctors Office Waiting

You’re Not a Computer Person (But Don’t Need to Be)

One of the first statements we get during a client intake is “I don’t know, I’m not a computer person.”  Of course you’re not, that’s why you’re calling us!

Although the business name is DoctorDave Computer Repair, I didn’t go to medical school (I went to law school).  That doesn’t mean I can’t go to the doctor.  A good doctor does a careful intake and listens to symptoms.  I don’t tell the doctor I have otitis media, I say my ear hurts.  I can’t however go to the doctor and say “I’m sick” and leave it there.  They’re stuck starting with “Does your left toe hurt” and move up to the top of your head.  Obviously that doesn’t happen in real life.  They’ll ask probing questions like “Are you in pain?” and “Where does it hurt?”

Tell Us What It’s Doing (Or Not Doing)

Nothing technical.  It’s the computer equivalent of “Where does it hurt?”  We need to know your symptoms.  Instead of saying “I have a virus,” tell us about the strange message you get everytime you turn on your computer.

Take Detailed Notes

Doctors of all kinds like symptom tracking.  We even have a symptom tracking worksheet we developed from a client who kept a food diary.  Things that seem unimportant sometimes are vital.  Anyone who’s watched House knows that.  The more details we have, the better diagnosis we can make.

Have a Chief Complaint

Doctors use that term for the answer to the question “What brings you in today?”  If you say “everything”, you’ll never get what you want.  Go in with one key issue you’re facing and then any other issues rank ordered.  When I go to my medical doctor, I’m always complaining about my shoulder, even if I’m just in for an ear infection.  Correction.  I don’t know if I have an ear infection, I just have pain in my ear.  My shoulder’s unrelated, but it’s a nagging pain. Too often I leave the MD’s office with my complaints unresolved.  That’s because I’m not organized and threw too much at her at once.

Use An App To Keep Track (Even if it’s email)

We tend to have our phones with us at all time.  When a problem develops on your computer, record it on your phone.  We’ve got a DoctorDave App to make it easy to do this on an iPhone.  If you have an Android phone or just don’t want to download our app (why not?), use your camera and your email.

True story.  I was having problems with my stomach and there is an app that will track and rate your poop.  Seriously!  For computer problems, you don’t need anything that fancy.  Just take a picture and send us an email.  No poop emails please.

Don’t Let Problems Linger

If you wait until your yearly check and dump all the problems on your physician, he might get a little overwhelmed.  Don’t let small problems become big ones.  Train yourself on self-examination techniques so you’ll see the first sign of trouble.

With the computer, a small virus becomes a big one over time.  A hard drive that clicks or glitches once eventually fails to boot and you lose your data.

Photo by justgrimes

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