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COMPUTER HOUSE CALLS : Increasing Number of Household Computers in Orange County Has Created a Demand for Repair Like That of the Business Community

November 27, 1987|STEVE EMMONS | Times Staff Writer

It's nine in the morning on a workday, the kids have gone to school and you're all alone at home, still barefoot and in your grubbies.

No need to worry about dressing and getting to work on time. Now that you have your personal computer there on the kitchen counter, you can do your work at home anytime you want. Even while you're having breakfast.

This is the Good Life that Technology promised you. Welcome to the Computer Age.

You put down your coffee cup, lay aside your sugar doughnut, light up a cigarette, clear the kids' toys off the computer keyboard and turn on the computer.

Nothing happens.

You wait. Still nothing happens. You jiggle it and nothing happens--and you realize nothing is going to happen.

Welcome to the Computer Breakdown Age.

That scenario is the basis for a small but growing part of the computer industry--computer "doctors" willing to make house calls.

Calling an outside technician to revive a sick computer is nothing new in the business community, but the increasing number of household computers in Orange County is creating a demand for the same service at home.

And those who are providing the service say fixing a computer at home is an experience unlike anything encountered at the office.

"If you're dealing with a major company, you've got a guy there who knows computers," says Kevin MacConnell, account manager for ICON Computer Corp. of Tustin, which claims the largest share of the home PC repair market.

"But at home, you can have someone who doesn't know a keyboard from a monitor. They call and tell you, 'The typewriter part isn't working but the television is.'

"They're not used to computers, and they treat them like microwave ovens or dishwashers. Every time they move them to get into the fridge, they're jarring the computer. And computers don't like that.

"And, you know, it doesn't say in the manual to keep the cat off the machine, so they let Fluffy lie over the vents. Fluffy loves the warmth."

But the computer hates Fluffy, mainly because of Fluffy's fur trickling down through the ventilation screens and settling onto the microcircuits inside.

"What happens is, it can either fry the (electronic circuit) boards, and then you have to replace them, or you have to use compressed air and blow out what's in there," MacConnell says. "You'd be surprised what we blow out of these things."

Crumbs and sugar from doughnuts. M&Ms. Dried puddles of cola and coffee. All of which attract ants, and only one ant is easily capable of spanning a circuit and killing both itself and the computer.

Computer doctors also find bits of erasers, paper clips, stamps, parts of children's toys, hot sauce. On the outside -of one portable computer was a footprint.

How do they get in there? "I don't know," MacConnell says. "You know how it is when you move your refrigerator? When you put a PC in a home environment, I guess it's the same thing."

Kent Leonardson, ICON's service manager, says the reason for working at home--avoiding office stress--is probably the reason home computers suffer more stress.

"People at home are so much more relaxed," he says. "They're not worried about the boss looking over their shoulder. They do things a lot differently.

"Like, there's a ridge above the keys to put your pencil on, right? It keeps the pencil from rolling off. People at home put their cigarettes there, and the ash falls down into the keyboard.

"You see cigarette burns all over the keyboard, so you ask them, 'Do you smoke while you're using the computer?'

" 'No,' they say. 'Never.' "

MacConnell insists that most PC owners "love their computers. They're attached to them. But they don't understand them.

"You can't talk tech-ese to them. You just have to explain things: 'This is the memory, OK? The sugar doughnut does not belong here.' "

Despite house calls being a small part of ICON's business, the firm believes "there's a real future in this," MacConnell says. "The machines are not getting any younger, and the older they get, the more service they need, especially in the home environment."

Derek Mendel, who advertises his one-man repair business as "P.C. Doctor," says profits are not great at present but agrees that growth is certain. After more than two years of repairing computers part time, he devoted himself full time eight months ago.

"I feel there's a tremendous potential. So many warranties are due to expire on so much equipment. They'll run for only so long, and then they'll die."

As long as there are jelly doughnuts.

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