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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Man, can't you see I'm trying to help you here?!

Posted on June 17, 2011 at 12:52 PM

This couple just came into the store. And I could tell before they even arrived that the guy member of the spousal team was going to be a difficult character to work with. I knew this because he calls me and he is all over the map with his direction asking skills.

“Your store, is it on business or bypass?”

“We’re on the bypass.”

“Which side, north or south?”

“Well, neither. Since the bypass runs north and south we are on the east side, the ocean side.”

“So is that the right or the left?”

“Well, that depends. Where are you coming from?”


“Then as you’re driving north, we’ll be on your right. Where are you right now?”

“The Home Depot.”

“The Home Depot? Like in Murrells Inlet?”

“Yeah. The Home Depot.”

“Well, then you already passed us. We’re south of there.”

“So I turn out of home depot, go north and make a U-turn.”

“Just go out of Home Depot and turn right onto the bypass. Heading south. We’ll be on the LEFT side of the road about 3 miles down...”

“OK. I see you soon.”

So, I gathered my wits about me and prepared for this impending visit. The couple walks in and the wife is almost invisible she is so shy and quiet and three feet back from her man. Fortunately, my man George has enough personality for everyone in the room, including me. Turns out that George wants to do some retro. He got himself a Bose surround system -- why must it always be Bose? Why?! -- and he wants it installed. I start to ask what he would like for us to do and George cuts me off.

“Show him the picture. A picture is worth many words.”

So wife unit pulls out a camera that looks fairly battered and worn and yet STILL has the plastic protector on the back panel of the screen. (Reminding me, oh so briefly, of my own mom’s suggestion that I cover my new iPad with Saran Wrap to keep from getting fingerprints on the screen. “Saran Wrap? On the iPad?” “Yes, it does a great job of keeping fingerprints off. Your father and I really like it. You should try it.” “Yeah, but then I’d have Saran Wrap. On my iPad...” Ah, parents.) The picture shows a brick fireplace with a mantle with two windows crammed in off to either side.

“We want to mount a TV onto brick and lower mantle by six inches. And then mount speakers here and here above windows.”

So we start discussing the logistics of it all and I start asking my man questions like: is it a real wood burning fireplace, is that fireplace solid brick on the sides or just the front, do you have an attic, what is the siding of your house, do you have a crawl space, what is your flooring like… Blah-blah, you know the installer-ey questions that give me a peaky into the possibilities of making my man George’s job a reality and how much time and effort is he going to be in for.

So George starts explaining to me all the ways that I should be able to do the retro work. “You run wire here...there’s six inches. Plenty of room for your thin wire. And this on side of fireplace; that sheetrock, not brick.”

But I point out that it could just be sheetrock ON TOP of brick. And that that is going to change the ballgame in a whole new way and that six inches of sheet rock between a window and a wall is proably not six usable inches. But old George, he doesn't want to hear any of it. So I ask him, “Sir, have you ever done any construction work?”

“No.” (I'm not sure why kind of font or italic or bold combo I could use that would be able to fully relate the utter-ridiculousness and borderline contempt that was expressed in that simple two letter answer.)

“OK, you see this spot that you’re pointing to? That is going to be stacked out with 2 x 4s. So they can mount the window frame in place. And you see this spot here right above the window below the ceiling? That is going to have a solid header beam. And where you want to put the TV? If you have a solid brick fireplace, we can’t just drill through the brick because we’ll end up in the chimney area. Where the fire is. Which is not going to work with the wiring. None of those things are going to be conducive to retrofitting wire in your house.”

“OK. Let’s forget about the front of room. How about surround speakers?” (I try and tell George that without the front of the room there IS no surround speakers, but my man has moved on. This whole "I think your job is going to be a real bear of a retro" is all just a trivial problem to be solved at a later, more convenient date. But George is ready to press on so press we do.)

“Well, since you have a slab, and hardwood flooring, and vaulted ceilings with no attic, and the outside of your house is brick, and a giant open room with no crown molding, I just don’t see a way that this can...”

“What about up over the ceiling? You just go up the wall, then over the slope of the roof and back down. Should be easy. The electrician put lights up there. Why can’t you do that?”

“Well, I'll tell you. You see, the big GIANT difference is that the electrician did all of that work while the house was under construction.  When the walls and ceilings were all open. No sheetrock, no insulation, no finished paint. Just bare studs. Had we done it then, I probably could have wired your whole room in an hour.”

Finally I have to tell George that LOOK! I’m not saying your job is IMPOSSIBLE, because well, EVERYTHING is possible in a "let's just tear the whole thing down and redo it" kind of way, but it is going to quickly boil down to his financial commitment and fortitude to this project. If you have an unlimited labor budget and don’t mind us cutting multiple holes in your sheetrock so we can drill and probe and fish wire from the front of the room to the back, then have all of those holes patched and repaired and the entire room repainted, then, hey, no problem! We’re totally on it! But if you think this is going to be a $200 Best Buy theater-in-a-box install, then, we need to seriously realign your perspective.

So then George moves on to phase two of his problems. “My phones aren’t working. Well, not my phones, but my computer.”

Turns out George’s house was wired DAISY CHAIN! And it is only three years old. Seriously? Daisy chaining phones? In the 21st Century? Electricians are you honestly still that slack? I mean, Cat5 wire is cheap, what do you save by doing that, like $25 in materials and maybe an hour or two in labor? And at what expense? That if one link breaks, the entire chain is busted and, oh yeah, virtually no bandwidth and usability for a network! But, hey! At least you saved a couple of bucks. Another contractor told him that it was perfectly legal to do so, so no problem. Uhh, yeah, maybe, we aren't talking about what is legal or not but just what is right and decent and should be considered the bare minimum of acceptable.

So George is describing his dilemma and I’m listening and I tell him that we can definitely come out and tone out and trace all of his phone wiring and why we can’t totally CORRECT his problem – which could only be done by home-running entirely new wire throughout which would just not be cost feasible – we can FIX it to the best of its ability by properly terminating and creating the straightest run possible from modem to router. But I tell him that isn’t going to be fast; the toning process isn’t complicated but it is time consuming. It involves removing wall plugs, unwiring whatever mess the electrician did, then slowly and methodically tracing each line and location and then putting it all back together correctly. George nods. He understands. He gets me 5 by 5 on my time equating to his money.

So we talk further and I’m starting to think that maybe a giant part of the problem is George’s wireless router. It sounds weak in pants. His wife, spurred on by having to endure the low quality of the WiFi Internets even decides to jump in. “Why should I get my neighbor’s signal stronger than my own? That doesn’t seem right, does it?” Well, what do I know about their neighbor and his WiFis? Maybe he’s got some kind of Cisco of Luxul WiFi antenna cannon that is beaming barely legal levels of 802.11s into the neighborhood like a SETI station. But George says that even with it right under his desk, he barely gets a signal.

“Sounds like you might need a new router. Even if the incoming signal is poor, the outgoing signal should be strong.”

“But my router is only a year old, not like 3 or even 5.”

“Well, I’d say go buy a new one and try that. The model we sell-- and that I use myself -- is really good, and you might find that totally fixes your problem.”

“How much is it?”

“Like $175.”

“$175?! That’s crazy! I paid $50 for mine!”

“Yeah. And it’s not working. You buy a $50 router, you get a $50 router that is, respectfully, a piece of junk. There’s a reason why the Cisco Enterprise grade stuff is $1000 and more. It’s because it works. $50 routers generally just have problems.”

He hems-and-haws for awhile about what is clearly the world’s most egregiously overpriced router and I finally say, “George...just a minute ago you were willing to have me send my guys over for what we figured would be at least a 3 hour service call. So, you were going to spend around $375 in labor for us to try and figure out your wiring. Now I’m telling you that for HALF of that, you might totally fix your Internet issues. And if it doesn't work, you just take it back and are out what? A couple of trips to the store. Why would you not be willing to even try that?”

Oy vey! If anyone can explain the decision making process of the Georges of the world, I would welcome the feedback. Consider it pro-bono therapy.



Categories: June 2011, CTA, Rants

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1 Comment

Reply Rob Robinson
6:44 PM on June 21, 2011 
Perhaps a variation on my brother-in-law's favorite quote (You can't fix stupid) is in order here?

You can't fix clueless!