I’ve got a Dell Inspiron 546 desktop in my office, a room with a view of the chestnut tree and a door that closes for privacy. This computer has the ultimate firewall—I’ve never put it on the Internet. It’s attached to a high-volume black-and-white printer, has a great monitor and keyboard, and works fine with Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat. The machine is solid as a rock. I only use it for creating content and the hard drive is, after numerous books and stories, still only 10 percent filled. I don’t need to update the operating system because the machine isn’t on the Internet and works just fine with its word-processing software. It’s also five years old. I love it.

When I want to bring graphics to the tower, I scan them on my graphics center in a more public area of our house, burn the files to a DVD and bring them over. The graphics center is a terrific Dell laptop, also five years old, that I had to take off the Internet when the poor little thing got seriously hacked two years ago. The lap is compatible with a five-year-old HP OfficeJet that scans beautifully, prints low volume in color, and is simple and fast to use.

Then there’s the computer I’m sending this blog on now to the Internet, another Dell 2020, pretty new, attached to a high-speed modem and an overly complex Pixma scanner/printer (I still haven’t read the whole user’s manual). Any files I want to transfer online, I burn to a DVD from the other computers and load ‘em up.

It’s a nice system.

So I was dismayed when the desktop failed to start up. The power light started blinking amber and the machine emitted three beeps. I dug out the scanty user’s manual and the invoice. The user’s manual said that the signs I was seeing were the code for the fact that the motherboard had burned out.

I went at once to Dell’s website on the Internet and searched for the product number of the motherboard, which I found on the invoice. The search yielded no results and, of course, the machine is way off the warranty. I called the Tech Support number (this was fairly late at night) and got bounced around three times to different reps, who confirmed that Dell’s online products database didn’t stock the motherboard made to fit the 546 (“That machine is over five years old,” one rep said. Well, yes. So?). I finally got a rep who took pity on me. He told me the brand of another motherboard that might be compatible with the 546, but he couldn’t provide a specific model number. (Later, I searched online for that brand of motherboard—there are hundreds of them in all kinds of configurations.) The last rep also gave me the phone number of The Spare Parts Department (sounds like an SF story waiting to happen, doesn’t it? I’ve got first dibs on the title). “They’ll be able to look up what you need,” he said. I asked him to repeat the phone number and to email it to me. “Oh, no, I can’t email it,” he said. “That’s Inside Information.”

Hah.

I called The Spare Parts Department bright and early the next morning and spoke with Kumar in India (he says it’s unseasonably cold there). He found the motherboard manufactured specifically for the 546 in about sixty seconds, placed my order, and sent it to me by FedEx Express mail, free shipping.

When the package arrived a day later, Tom and I unplugged the tower, put it in a large L.L. Bean canvas tote bag, put the motherboard in a medium-sized L.L. Bean bag, and drove over to our local computer repair shop. I’ve dealt with Steve, one of the techs there, for years. He once organized a book fair and likes writers. When my 2020 recently inexplicably froze after an update, he gave me the keystroke that unfroze it over the phone.

So we rolled in there and, though Steve had a number of jobs stacked up, he turned his attention right to it. He shooed us out of the shop (another tech there said they don’t like customers watching while they fix stuff because it makes them nervous). When we returned in an hour, the tower was done.

I went to pay the bill for an hour’s labor with the owner of the shop. As he was processing my credit card, he began plying me with questions. “Where did you get this part? How much did you pay for it?” and so on. I innocently told him the story of The Spare Parts Department and he clucked his tongue. “So much trouble for you. We could have found you a compatible motherboard.” I told him it was no trouble at all and, anyway, I have an account with Dell and got the right Dell motherboard, not a compatible. As I turned to go, Steve and the other techs were grinning at me like Cheshire cats.

When we walked out the door, Tom was laughing. “You got the boss.” I said, “Huh?” Tom said, “He was not happy with you. He would’ve charged you for three hours’ labor to run a diagnostic and make the same calls you made and charged three times the price you paid for the motherboard. He’s a small businessman, you know.”

Oh. Well, I’m running a small business, too. It never even occurred to me to delegate to someone else what I could research and do myself. The only task beyond my skill set was opening up the tower’s housing, taking out and plugging in the motherboard. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that’s nearly as fast and easy as changing a light bulb. That’s probably why they shooed us out of the shop. But it’s okay. I’d rather leave a task like that to Steve who works around open computers every day and has all the right tools.

So there you have it, my friends. If you’ve got a sturdy old Dell, and the machine starts to beep strangely, get out your user’s manual—always, always save your user’s manual, minimal though it is—and look up the code for the number of beeps you hear. Yes, there is a Spare Parts Department and you don’t need to be a retailer or a repair shop to order merchandise. Get the part yourself, then take it to your local computer repair shop. You’ll be glad you did!

I’m hoping to get another five years from my beloved desktop. It’s working like a charm!

From the author of Summer Of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo.
Summer of Love, A Time Travel is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Australia.

The Gilded Age, A Time Travel on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.
The Gilded Age, A Time Travel is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series, “Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy,” on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.
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Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) includes all four books. On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo;
Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

Strange Ladies: 7 Stories, five-star rated, “A fantastic collection,” on Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony.
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My Charlotte: Patty’s Story on Barnes and Noble, US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo;
My Charlotte: Patty’s Story is also on Amazon.com worldwide in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico.

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