endless Alienware customers
Wednesday, January 18 2006
In any class of products, there are always a subclass of budget items and another of expensive items. Both kinds of subclasses will always have customers. People without much money naturally gravitate to the cheap stuff, while another breed of customer is looking to buy whatever costs the most, figuring that it must be of the highest quality. I myself fell victim to the latter phenomenon yesterday when I was at Bed Bath and Beyond buying a blender as a birthday bestowal for my beloved. I got the $100 Kitchenaid model because I assumed it was three times better than the no-name $30 Korean blender.
It isn't always the case, though, that the most expensive products are actually the best, and whether or not people choose to buy them anyway has a lot to do with the level of understanding the customer has of the product. It's difficult to snow someone with a blender or a step ladder, but something as complicated as a computer can be hyped in all sorts of ways, many of which don't have to make any sense at all. The average computer buyer doesn't know what the prefix "giga" means, let alone what a byte is or the difference between memory, hard drive space, and the clutter that accumulates on a desktop. While profit margins for commodity computers such as those from Dell and Gateway have been cut to the bone, one company has figured out a way to sell high-profit "premium" computers to the clueless rich. That company is called Alienware. They are to Dell what Bose is to Panasonic. I was on a subcontracted housecall today to fix an ailing Alienware machine that supposedly cost $6000. I have no idea how one could cram $6000 worth of equipment into a modern computer, so I'm guessing the bulk of that money was raw profit for Alienware stockholders. Though the computer had two processors and two hard drives, I'm sure I could build a computer of equal quality for less than fifteen hundred dollars. I know for a fact that very little of the retail price of an Alienware computer flows to the company's tech support staff, with whom I've spoken on the phone. They're all located in one of the poorer regions of India and speak a particularly incomprehensible dialect of cue-card English.
The extended warranty for an Alienware computer runs something like $400. It was in response to just such a warranty that sent me out on today's housecall. In the end, I think the computer's problems were more the result of ignorant ownership than anything bad Alienware had done; I was able to restore it to full functionality just by reinstalling Windows. The goofy prescription of reflashing the firmware and replacing both hard drives (which I'd been provided) proved unnecessary.
The guy who was there as I did my thing wasn't the computer's owner; it belonged to one of his (spoiled) kids and he'd had no role in its purchase. He himself was a Macintosh man and completely agreed with me that Alienware and extended warrantees are always ripoffs.
A second opinion on Eleanor's torn armpit resulted in her going to the vet this morning. She spent some hours there getting her flap debrided and reattached to an approximation of where it had once been, a procedure that cost us about a quarter of a thousand dollars. When I returned from my Woodstock errands this afternoon Eleanor was already back home with her wound all stitched up. She'd managed to wriggle out of the broad "Elizabethan collar" she'd been made to wear (an effort to keep her from licking and chewing on her stitches).
I filled the new heat exchanger plumbing (including the two gallons of the heat exchanger itself) with antifreeze and then, for the first time ever, gave the system a test run. The way I'd designed it, the primary loop from the boiler could heat the secondary using convection alone, meaning that the only pump I needed to run was on the secondary loop, the one that went around through the slab. During the test I ran this evening I was able to raise the temperature of the slab about a half a degree per hour with very little firing of the boiler. I considered this result a runaway success. The final serious design flaw of the household heating system had been eliminated!
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