There was a time when

Found at: ymodem.org:70/phlog/2018/techoops.txt

There was a time when I thought I might go into business for myself building,
installing, and supporting computers to people and small businesses. After
taking on a few clients, though, it turned out that I'm not really suited to
running that kind of business. Or, at least, I wasn't at the time. 

My first opportunity came from my employer at the time. It was the early 2000's
and they only had a couple of computers in the whole company. One of them, an
ancient whitebox computer from Who-knows-where (a subsidiary of Fly-By-Night
Inc.) had developed some issues with its hard drive and it needed replaced. The
company was cheap, and they didn't want to hire a 'professional' to do it, and
since I was already on the payroll and I knew a thing or two about computers,
they asked if I could fix it. 

"Of course!" I told them. It seemed like a pretty easy job: replace the hard
drive, reinstall Windows 3.11, install Corel DRAW! v.ancient, install the
printer, watch bank account explode.

I quoted them a price and went to source the hard drive. I ended up on some
sketchy tech auction site that I don't remember the name of any more. I found a
listing for a 'generic' hard drive of the right size for the right price and
placed my order. Now, I figured that when the listing said that it was a
'generic' hard drive that it wouldn't be a name brand, or it would be a knockoff
like Eastern Digital or Airgate or something like that.


When I got the drive, it had a white label with the word GENERIC printed on it
in all caps. No manufacturer, no anything else. But, at least the drive worked
when I put it in the computer, so I installed it, got it configured, and
reinstalled it in the business, cashed the check for $75 or whatever (plus the
overtime pay, yippee!) and continued on my way.

Then about two weeks later I got a call. The computer was acting funny and had
been since I left. Thay had been working around it, but today the computer
wouldn't boot, and the operator had lots of work that he needed to get done
right away. Could I come in and fix it? 

So, I came in and took a look, and the hard drive was completely dead. It wasn't
detected by anything and wouldn't spin up. It was a goner. So I had to take my
profits (which I had already spent) and go buy a new drive at the store (a
more reputable brand this time), then spend another whole day (free of charge)
putting everything back again. I didn't keep track of exactly how much money I
lost on that transaction, but I chalked it up to a learning experience and moved

A few years later, I was working for the same company, but in a different
branch, when my conversation with one of the managers turned to computers. His
daughter was getting ready to go to college and it would be nice if she had a
computer to do her work on. I had lots of excess computer gear at the time (it
kind of comes with the territory), and I told him that I could probably build
her a decent one out of the spare parts I had, plus a couple more things like a
hard drive and some RAM. I gave him a price, he jumped at it, and I went to

I got the pieces I needed and built a respectable Windows 98-ish computer. I
took it to my manager's house to install it, and was treated to a very nice
dinner with the family, all of whom I'd never met before, and we got the
computer installed. Once he was satisfied and paid me, I took the check to the
bank and started to think of all the things I could buy with all my shiny new

Except, something didn't seem right.

I started crunching the numbers. Counting that I got some parts for free, and
then the stuff that I had to buy... I ended up losing $10 on the whole deal. 

It's very difficult to spend negative profits.

It was about that time that I decided that I would get out of the custom
computer game, at least for other people. I still assemble them for myself from
time to time, and they mostly seem to work properly. But if you want me to build
you one... I suggest you look elsewhere.

Last updated 17 Jan 2018