Fixing Stuff






First World Rural

April 19 · Issue #5 · View online

First World (Rural) Problems - Bringing the 21st century past city limits.

The cost of bringing a technician out to our house dwarfs the cost of actually fixing the thing…

Error Code 5E = Good Luck!
Error Code 5E = Good Luck!
Living out of town changes the calculus for a lot of home maintenance jobs. We bought this shiny stainless steel dishwasher when we found a good deal (at DirectBuy) but it stayed wrapped in plastic well past the warranty date. When we finally got to finishing the kitchen, we installed the dishwasher ourselves and felt quite proud of ourselves.
Imagine our consternation when the beautiful machine stopped working (as opposed to the hand-me-down dishwasher we put into our temporary kitchen in the basement, which has never given us a moment of trouble).
My wife has now taken this machine apart several times, to the point where it is almost routine (if annoying). We also have the PDF user manual in an easy-to-find location on our computers, since we need to look up the cryptic error codes.
When the dishwasher stops working, we would normally call up our friend who knows dishwashers and feed him or her a good meal in exchange for some guidance, or for an actual fix. In the unfortunate circumstance that we have no such friend, we would reluctantly call a maintenance service and pay for an expert to fix the appliance.
But a couple of things happened when we moved to an acreage:
1) We now live an hour’s drive from our friend who knows dishwashers, making it a significant favour to ask, and
2) Technicians charge for mileage.
Fixing the dishwasher might cost $150. But getting the technician to come out to our house is going to cost $150 whether or not the dishwasher gets fixed. If a part is needed, you’re talking $300 for two visits on top of parts and labour.
Suddenly we go to the 21st Century’s greatest contribution to home repair, YouTube.
((It turns out that parts from the Samsung trays break off, get ground to the exact size of the outlet hose by the food grinder, then get sucked into the outlet up to a filter, then block all outgoing water from the dishwasher, causing the “5E” error code. Thanks, random Samsung handyman from Iowa!))
The 21st Century has produced some interesting quandaries for people like me.
I get phone calls from family members, not to talk about interesting events or family milestones, but to walk them through perplexing failures of their technology. For all you family reading, I don’t mind! But when I come to visit, don’t let the turkey get cold while I’m rebooting your router!
Tech support can often be done over the phone. (Although when the email icon is hiding *behind* the dock on an iMac, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been placed there instead of *in* the dock. And yes, I did get a call asking me to restore the email program because it was gone.)
Distance affects appliance repair in that we are afraid of opening panels and taking apart hoses and wires, unsure that we will be able to put things back together again. That fear is similar to looking at a computer that doesn’t work when you rely on it just working, and imagining all the things you could break by hitting the wrong key. To experienced repairpersons, that fear is groundless, but it is paralyzing when you hit it in a realm outside of your experience.
Distance multiplies the cost of fixing things, and not everyone has a tech-savvy relative to call to walk them through the problem.
Living in the city means you are closer to more people, including helpful friends and possibly an inexpensive repair depot. Living out in the country means you need to get to know which of your neighbours can do what.
I was introduced to a local mechanic who has done miracles keeping my old cars on the road. Before I was given his number, I was grilled by his friend who unearthed all the ways we were connected socially and let me know that if I stiffed his friend the mechanic, my friends would know about it. Only after I convinced him that I was a member in good standing of the local social graph was I given the mechanic’s contact information.
When you don’t have that many neighbours, trust is an important part of the equation!
I had an idea which almost got off the ground, which uses my experience to solve this problem in one realm for my neighbours: LaptopSubscription.
After paying monthly for a phone as part of a contract that gives me phone service, and after buying cheap, good-enough laptops for my children, I figured that most people who have laptops are not gamers and don’t need the latest and greatest. They would like laptops to just work. When it doesn’t work, they would like to get it fixed without having to go to YouTube and follow some random techie’s directions.
Here’s the business model:
1) Buy laptops in bulk (from Dell or HP or some other respected brand) for slightly less than retail.
2) Buy a group subscription to a reputable anti-malware package and install it in all the laptops.
3) Install a LogMeIn-type screen-sharing program that is secured so that I can easily take over the screen when needed (in such a way that hackers don’t have open access).
4) Set up the Windows Settings (assuming these are Windows laptops) so that the laptop is always up-to-date.
5) Set up a cloud backup solution so user data is consistently stored in encrypted form in the cloud.
6) Lease the laptops to neighbours with a 2-year fixed term, an option to keep paying a reduced rate for tech support after the laptop cost has been recovered, or the option to upgrade to a new laptop every 2 years.
$0 down, $50/month forever gets you a laptop that is new every 2 years, with local tech support and an exchange option if there is a hardware problem. Getting a new laptop would not be a wrenching exercise since your data would be simply re-downloaded from the cloud.
Application packages could be added, but many of them are now subscription based, so the cost of an Office or Adobe Creative Cloud subscription could be spread across a year of payments (with a small financing surcharge).
Obviously, more expensive laptops would cost more, but the primary target market would be consumers who use their laptop for media, basic document creation and editing, and browsing the internet.
If you are interested, reply to this email! If I get 10 responses I’ll resurrect the concept. If you want to build a similar concept in another realm, let me know that as well. The first time around, I wasn’t sure how to bootstrap the process, and didn’t want to put a bunch of laptops on my credit card without any guaranteed customers. Now, if you think this is a good idea for your relatives, forward them this email and let me know you want to get out of those tech-support holiday visits!
Discussion of this and other business model ideas is welcome in the forum.
The ISP Survey is still up and accepting responses. We have a decent cluster of data around Onoway. If you want to start another cluster in your neighbourhood, feel free! Lac Ste. Anne residents, keep your pins coming in!
If you want more of these musings about living both on the internet and out in the real, rural world, feel free to subscribe. I am sending these out every Friday, and I’m going to keep sharing my business ideas in hopes they will resonate with some of you.
Thanks for reading! Talk to you next week.
Dave Block
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David Block RR 1 Site 1 Comp 271, Onoway, Alberta, Canada T0E 1V0