Thursday, August 29, 2013

Horror Stories From A Computer Tech - A Book In Under 8 Hours

Last week on Friday and Saturday I decided to accept J.A. Konrath's challenge to create an entire book in under 8 hours (obviously it isn't very long.) He told the story of how he created four new shorts in four hours while drunk. He wrote them, made the covers in Paint, edited them, and published under a pen name. Those four titles are pulling in ten dollars a week. That's $520 a year that he can just sit back and collect. I didn't expect whatever I wrote to have much success but writing Minor Demons (as fun as it is) is taking forever. I kind of wanted a short break to play around with another title. That's how Horror Stories From A Computer Tech by: Geekus Maximus was born.

1. The Cover

Once the idea for the book hit me, I started on the cover. I didn't want to go the Konrath route and do the whole thing in Paint, but I'm also not much of an artist. While I made the covers for all of my history articles and for Explanations and Advice for the Tech Illiterate, those only required me to take a picture, modify the size, and add text. They look awesome, but not much required. For this, I started drawing. At first, I was going to draw a zombie saying things like "add more terraflops" and "defrag the RAMs and the motherboards." I honestly thought I had deleted this scan, but apparently it's still in my Pictures library. Might as well reveal it.

Once I gave up on the zombie, I sketched some ideas that featured an evil computer. The one in the bottom right is the one that I used. Once I threw that in Paint and gave it a black background, I added some white text in one of my favorite custom fonts.

Total Time: 2 hours

2. The Writing

I knew what I wanted to write. I wanted to write a short collection of stories about the craziest, funniest, and strangest customers I ever had as an in-home computer tech. I made sure to keep all identifying information out. I started with six stories:

-Attack of the Mailer Daemon
-Power from the WiFis
-Patient Zero
-CAT5 Prevents Cancer
-Unlimited Data Transfer
-The Shaman

That was about 2,500 words and it took me about two hours to put together. Part of that time was spent thinking about stories and hoping I hadn't missed any good ones. In the end, I did miss at least one great story. As I was talking about this project with a buddy at work, he reminded me about the time I had customers modify an Ethernet port on their printer so they could fit a USB cable into it and then called us to troubleshoot why it wasn't printing. I added that story a few days later and called it "Custom USB Port." If you include the additional time I spent adding the seventh story, I'm in this another two hours and fifteen minutes for the writing.

Total Time: 4 hours 15 minutes

3. The Editing

I made sure to edit and look for typos, better word choice, etc. while I was writing. I also spent about half an hour after I had finished going over everything again. There may still be typos in it. It's only about 2,900 words, but it's hard to edit your own stuff. Much harder than editing the work of someone else. Add another half an hour.

Total Time: 4 hours 45 minutes

4. Publish on Amazon

I hit publish on Horror Stories From A Computer Tech about 4 hours and 45 minutes spent on the project. Here's a link if you want to check it out (click on the cover image):

Horror Stories From A Computer Tech

Just under 5 hours, about 2,900 words, good for a few laughs, and I published it with a price of $0.99 without expecting much. Now I know I sold one of these copies to my mom, but this has sold 6 copies in under a week. It's not a ton, but considering this month hasn't been a great sales month for my e-books (the past few months actually), I'll take it. It has made it to the Top 20 in one of it's categories and sat at #1 on the Hot New Releases in the same category for several days. It should be featured on J.A. Konrath's blog tomorrow which should draw more attention to it as well.

Overall, this was a pretty fun process. I don't get to share the entire process of creating a book on my blog very often because it generally requires a lot more work than I spent on this one. I recommend you grab a copy if you're looking for a few good laughs and a little bit of creepy mixed with the right amount of "what the hell?"

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Things To Remember When You Upgrade Your Computer

A large part of my new job involves replacing old dual-core Windows XP computers with new i5 quad-cores with Windows 7. We get a new batch of these each month and we have to swap over 2,000 computers in the next year or two. Many of the people that receive new computers are stoked. They take the right attitude about the whole thing. Occasionally I get someone who will fight me every step of the way since they are comfortable with their current computer (even though it's slow, dying, and ridiculously outdated.) I decided to write some things to remember when you upgrade since I still have the flu and I'm going to be resting (and writing) most of the day. This will focus mostly on Windows PCs, but feel free to apply the advice beyond that.


1. Your new computer will not work exactly the same as your old one.

This is the thing that makes most people mad. You can approach this in two ways. You can either realize that moving to a better, faster computer with more overall options is a good thing and weigh that against how things are going to change or you can complain that you're comfortable with the way things are and you don't want to upgrade.

I'm not a fan of upgrading just for the sake of upgrading. There needs to be a good reason to upgrade. I'm of the mindset, though, that even if a program that I really like won't work on my new computer, I can still find a way to get what I want done. After I familiarize myself with the new computer and operating system, I'll eventually become faster at things I normally need to do.

A lot of people fight me when they have to move from Windows XP to Windows 7. Let me give you some facts from Wikipedia (
-Windows XP was released on August 24, 2001. It is currently August 8, 2013. That means Windows XP has been out for just shy of 12 years.
-Windows XP is actually the second most popular Windows operating system. I know this shocks a lot of people, but Windows 7 surpassed Windows XP as the most popular Windows operating system in August of 2012.
-Microsoft has announced that they will pull support for Windows XP in April of 2014. It would have been sooner than that if most people didn't cling to XP following the release of Windows Vista.

So what does that tell us? Here's the main point: Windows XP is not the best version of Windows. If you are being forced to upgrade, moving to Windows 7 isn't so bad. There's a reason Windows 7 is now on more machines than Windows XP. I could say similar things about the Mac OS, but I think my point has been made.

2. A data transfer doesn't mean all of your old programs will move over.

Here's a concept some people don't seem to grasp even after I explain it to them. A data transfer means moving your data over to the new computer. You'll likely get to keep your documents, pictures, music, videos, and any other specific data files that you request. If you're using a computer tech for this, please make it easy on them and tell them what specifically you would like moved over. I get really sick of conversations that go like this:
"So what data would you like moved over to your new computer?"
"All of it."
"What specifically? The documents? The music?"
"Can't you just transfer the whole hard drive?"

This is where I facepalm. Yes I can transfer the whole hard drive. That would be stupid. Should I transfer the Windows XP operating system folder on to your new computer? It won't function. It won't do anything but take up space. Would you like me to transfer all of your temp files? Again... that's dumb. Transferring an entire hard drive wastes a lot of time and a large portion of the files on that hard drive will be useless on a new computer. Things I like to transfer that end up making most people content would include: documents, pictures, music, videos, Outlook files, QuickBooks and Quicken data, AppData, and Favorites.

Here's another thing that may be hard to accept: not all of your programs that work in Windows XP will work in a newer operating system. Yes, there are workarounds for this but I suggest you don't use them. Your energy would be better spent finding a way to do what that program did using Windows 7. Giving your old program a crutch to limp along with in Windows 7 will eventually end up being a bad idea (in most of the cases I've seen, it causes all sorts of weird problems that I will refuse to support as a computer tech.)

3. You've put it off for far too long and it's time.

I understand that people get comfortable with their computers. They like how things work, they put up with the slow speed, and they just don't want to upgrade. I use my phone as a bench mark. If I can do more, faster, on my phone than you can on your computer, it's time to upgrade.

I really don't understand people that say, "But I've only had it for seven years." Seven years? That's a great run for a computer. I've seen computers DIE much sooner than seven years.

Here's my advice. If you're scared and worried that it will take a while to get comfortable, go hang out with some people that can show you what new computers can do. When you get a new computer, explore. You won't break anything beyond the point of fixing unless you throw the computer out the window.

4. If you use a tech or friend for help, don't get mad at them.

I understand that upgrading is a difficult process for some. You want things to work a certain way. Yelling at your computer tech will not help you get your way. It just pisses them off.

I want everyone to understand something as well. I was not born knowing tons of things about computers. I wasn't born with some crazy gene that old people think seems to exist in the younger generation. I learned about computers through trial and error. I've broken things and fixed them. I've messed up programs and then made them functional again. The reason I'm good with computers and so many people aren't is that I am not afraid of them. Whatever error I cause or problem I create, I can backtrack and fix it. That's what Google is for. That's what recovery points are for. That's why you back up your data.

So I worked hard to become good with computers. I don't mind getting people set up, but I don't appreciate it when people complain, yell at me, or make light of all the things I know about computers (which, again, I learned on my own.) If you yell enough at a computer tech, one of the following will happen:
-your computer tech (or friend) will leave
-your computer tech will try to help you as best as they can and then will never help you again
-you will be blacklisted

There are literally people who would threaten Geek Squad techs. That's a very stupid thing to do. You will make your way to the blacklist and will never have the option of calling the Geek Squad again. As a computer geek, I have my own personal blacklist as well. There are some people that I simply won't help ever again because the last time I helped, they were assholes. Don't be an asshole if you want help... especially when you're going to need help with your new computer.

5. People are more prone to help you if you try to help yourself

I occasionally run into a problem that I haven't seen before. I google it. I try everything that has solved the problem for other people. I try a few things of my own. Before I go ask for help, I try everything I can think of and everything Google tells me to try. When I consult with another computer tech, I explain the problem and then tell them everything I've already tried.

When people approach me in the way I've just described, I'm a lot happier to help them. It's a lot nicer to go up to someone and say, "I've tried this, this, and this. I still can't get it to work. Would you mind helping me out or giving me some more ideas?"

I remember a time that my little sister came to me for help because her DVD drive stopped working. I ended up having to delete the upper and lower pass filters to get it working again. It was a problem that I wouldn't expect her to know how to fix. When she told me the problem, however, she told me that she Googled it and had already taken her computer back to a restore point. That didn't fix it, but at least she tried. She also told me exactly what her specific problem was. That sounds a lot better than, "Hey, Randy. I broke my iTunes. Will you fix it?"


Well this was a lot longer than I was planning. Maybe I'm just a frustrated computer tech. :-P A lot of this is really just common sense. Don't get so comfortable that you never improve. Don't treat other people like shit. Stuff like that. I promise that there's a feeling of accomplishment when you learn to solve computer problems on your own. I'm at the point now where I charge to do computer work on the side. At least a little money will keep most people away. I don't like being the only option people run to when they break their stuff. While some people are cool about just needing your help every once in a while, the majority of people will totally shut off their brains when it comes to technology if they think they can use mine instead. My brain stays pretty busy. It no longer has time to fix other people's problems unless cash is involved. :-P

So today, August 10th, is computer geek appreciation day. It isn't really, but you should be nice to your computer tech anyways. Today is the last day of Geek Appreciation week on YouTube, so I guess that's close enough. So thank a geek. Tell them they are smart and awesome. Even Jesus said something to the effect of "the geek shall inherit the earth." We're in the year 2013 and the geek is in the process of inheriting the earth right now. :-P