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Saturday October 22 2005

Earlier in the week I reestablished contact with Mark Rousell, who is now, again, my computer GP.  I missed him.  He was unavoidably engaged otherwise.

I am often frustrated, not so much by computer experts as such (although I do emit the occasional howl of impotent misery), as by my dependence upon them.  And what frustrates – actually, the word is “scares” - me about most of these guys is that they can each of them tell me something very important and clever, but usually can’t, for one reason or another, either because they can’t, or just as likely, because they are too busy sorting out a similar aspect of some other person’s problems, help me with what I really want help with.  Which is: everything. Yes, that’s it, that’s what a lot of us want sorted out with our computers.  Everything.

After I have had the help of one of these other experts, I then have another dozen things that I have to remember.  I’m out of my depth, and now I have to swim with few more little weights attached to my brain.  And the knowledge that I will not remember all these things is what scares me, and makes me reluctant, as it were, to commit, even to a casual date.  These experts tend to be specialists.  They sort out some of your problems.  But that still leaves all the others, which they are understandably reluctant to get involved in.  They just want to help you, and then get out of there and get back to their real stuff.  Each specialist has his own preferences and sorts out things according to his own little ways and likes and dislikes, and everything still works, but remembering it all is nearly impossible.  The more help you get from such people, the harder it gets.

Mark is different.  Mark is what we call in Britain a General Practioner, but of personal computers.  A GP.  He has recently visited me twice.  First, he did a general sort out of my email difficulties, did a bit of scanning for spybots (whatever a spybot is), reassured me about certain strange emails based on hijacking my email address, suggested a printer-cum-scanner that sounds just right for me, and helped out with several other things that I have already forgotten about.  This means, by the way, that where it says contact at the top left, you can now actually contact me.  This will be a mixed blessing, I expect, but, I can now report that does now get to me.

Then, last night, my computer simply stopped.  I rang Mark at once, and described the symptoms.  He made a ninety percent certain diagnosis, which turned out to be right, that it was the power unit, and immediately came round (i.e. this afternoon) with another power unit, which he installed, on his hands and knees, with his box of tools, and had it working straight away.  The coincidence of him getting back in touch, and then me needing him for an emergency fix like this is still making me sweat.  What I would have done without him, I dare not even speculate.

I know people who know most of the things that Mark knows separately, but I know no one else who knows all the things he knows, and who is willing to place all his knowledge, of everything, at my service, for a very reasonable fee.  Plus, his attitude is so good.  He doesn’t radiate even the faintest whiff of that geek-vibe that says you are stupid for not knowing personal computers as well as he knows them.  He gets what being a non-geek is like.  In other words, he is not himself actually a geek.

The reason I am telling you all this, instead of just thanking the guy personally, is that Mark is now engaged in getting a business going in which he offers the kind of stuff he is now doing for me to several dozen other similar persons.  He will soon, almost certainly, be pulling together into one set-up my email, webhosting, web-back-up, etc. etc., thereby replacing and rationalising all my current and chaotic and hopeless uncoordinated arrangements – and he could do the same for you, if you are the sort who needs such an everything service.  And if anything then malfunctions, he can sort it out for you.  I could ramble on further but by now you surely get the idea.  I really recommend this guy.

Not everyone needs someone like Mark.  Many computer users are, as it were, their own computer GPs.  They can keep track of everything, and revel in being good at that, and in coordinating the various experts they sometimes call in for particular matters.  But for a person like me, who lost the plot of what goes on under the bonnet about two weeks after I bought my first computer, Mark is just the sort of ally I need.

Not, however, if you live in Alaska.  Not yet.  Since Mark is an expert in such things as teleconferencing, communications and such like, he is well placed in due course to run a stable of globe-trotting trouble-shooters and advise them about what to do, rather the way photocopier service engineers are always in mobile phone contact with each other and with their bosses now, only cleverer, with cameras involved for instance.  However, Mark said a number of things this afternoon in favour of this attitude, to the effect that face-to-face on-the-spotness is often necessary with computers, because you can do only so much on the phone, or even though a magic programme he has that he can use to take over your computer from a distance and sort it all out for you.  He could not, for instance, have replaced my power unit today by any other method than actually coming here, and then checking that everything worked.  So what I am saying is, if you like the sound of this service, and live in or around London, he could be your man.  But London would probably be best, for the time being.

The one thing that Mark has not tended to bother with is blogs and blogging, which, since I am immersed in it so much, and actually am starting to understand and to understand the workings of, I will continue to draw in other specialist help.

Blogs are not the answer to all information-spreading problems, Mark says, and I agree.  However, I did very tentatively suggest to Mark that a blog might help him with his specific business problem.  He is great at what he does, but finds it hard to put the word out about what that is.  There are, in this life, those that do most of it, and there are those that get most of the credit for doing it, the overlap being incomplete.  Mark is definitely in the doers column, and he now relies on word of mouth, without quite knowing how to stir it up sufficiently.  Yet he does not lack verbal fluency.  He just can’t afford expensive advertising.  So, I suggested that it might make sense to include a blog as part of his – at present somewhat antiseptic and impersonal – web presence.  That is not intended as a criticism.  This website is only at a very early stage of its existence, and Mark is the first to admit that he needs to do lots more to it.  At least he has a website.  But, a blog might help to get him past that “Who is this guy anyway?” barrier.  He would explain things like his typical customer problems, and typical answers.  Satisfied customers like me could comment, and link to him, and ask things and be told things.  He would come across as a real person, and a real person who could be on your side too.

In a way, Mark is a lot like this bespoke tailor who, I believe, did wonders for his marketing by setting up his blog.  Mark, to switch metaphors yet again, is like a bespoke personal computer guy.

From your description Mark does sound like a rare and valuable find.  Many computer “GPs” (which is a good description by the way) are either not very good or arrogant and condescending geeks, sometimes both.

Another big problem with computer experts is the way they foist their own biases upon people to the detriment of their clients (e.g. avoiding Microsoft products, even when they would be the most appropriate choice).

Posted by Charles Pooter on 22 October 2005

I have been using Mark for a lot of years now and he is the most patient person I know. 

He puts up with my ineptitude without any complaint and always sorts out my problems for me.

As my hardware beomes obsolete he replaces it for me and his aftercare is second to none. 

He is also a great shoulder to cry on, at times, but that’s something not everyone is likely to need! 

And all this over the telephone, too, because the last time we actually met must be - let me see now - about four years ago!

Posted by Kate Struthers on 26 October 2005


Many thanks for that.  Aside from being glad that you share my high opinion of Mark, on the basis of far longer experience than I have of his work, I think you also illustrate why a blog might be so very helpful in building up Mark’s business.

The point about the telephone is especially interesting.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 26 October 2005
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