OK, I stipulate that I’ve been doing this for far too long

to have any illusions but still I recently agreed to buy a computer for a


If all goes well (and it seldom does,) they will think it

was no big deal. If it doesn’t, and there are a million ways it can go south,

then they will blame you.

Nevertheless, I agreed, as a friend, to help my farrier (the

person who cares for the feet of my miniature horses and donkeys) buy the least

expensive computer possible to meet her needs.

I always tell people that the ONLY way I will do this is if

they set a specific amount they want to spend and I will hit that on the dollar

– otherwise the number of options is simply too bewildering to contemplate.

Although it took three hours of arguing and demonstrating

the number of options available to get her to agree, she was the first person

who actually set a fixed price – in this instance $320.

I had already decided to give her an old monitor of mine

(which was worth more than the entire computer she could afford) which saved on

shipping too.

So, first I went to Dell and ordered a closeout model which

cost $335 – I was going to eat the delivery cost as an xmas present. I

got a confirmation email from Dell complete with the invoice and exact

configuration I had ordered online.

This and that, yada, yada, yada, two weeks later Dell

finally confirmed (after the 5th or 6th email back and

forth), not only that it was NOT on it’s way, but that it was an “improper”

configuration and the computer wasn’t available any more, mind you, that was

two weeks AFTER I got my first confirmation from Dell that the order went


So, not being a complete dummy, I also cancelled the order,

just to be sure (my computer CYA instinct is very strong), even though Dell had already told me in two emails that the

order hadn’t gone through in the first place.

 Now it was a week before Xmas, so I turned to WalMart.com

and found a PC, without monitor, but apparently with everything else, including

XP Home, DVD, and CD-R, for $328.95 including shipping.

The WalMart computer arrived in three days. It had taken me all of five minutes to order it online.

 I hooked it up, loaded in some essential software

including OpenOffice and Firefox, and, to safeguard my

reputation and sanity, a complete Norton/Symantec security suite.

 Great! It booted a half dozen times and ran for 24 hours

here so I called Blu and she took it home at noon, along with a free trial to

PeoplePC on a CD-ROM.

 By 7 p.m. she had called, leaving a message that, not only

couldn’t the software  locate the modem, it was now refusing to boot – on the day before Xmas

eve, the computer was back at my place.


Only then did I discover that WalMart had sold what may be the

ONLY home PC in the Western world which didn’t include a modem. Blu had somehow

plugged an RJ-11 phone cord into a 10/100 Ethernet port – this PC came with

powered speakers, but not the phone connection advertised (the listing was

brief and didn’t specifically say there was a modem but did say there was a

phone jack which I foolishly assumed meant it had a Windows modem built into

the motherboard).

So I ran GoBack to before I had gotten the PC (strangely the

software I installed was still there, but it booted fine now),

installed a USR modem I had recently pulled from a

computer that was now on a wireless network.

Everything was fine, but my good deed had still turned

around and bitten me on the A**, despite having taken every precaution I could

reasonably think of, and, despite having experience buying personal computers going

back to a Tandy terminal which predated the Tandy CoCo, which predated the

first IBM PC.

This has actually restored my faith in the computer industry

– as I near retirement age, if not actual retirement, I can see that I will

always be able to find a job for the next thirty years or so of my golden years

– helping people buy and keep their computers running!

Oh, BTW, guess what happened the day AFTER I ordered the WalMart PC?

Yep! I got a

build/ship notice from Dell for the PC which they had told me multiple

times  I hadn’t actually ordered –  and a full three days

after I cancelled it just to be sure.

 It only took five more emails to get the shipment stopped!

AHH the joys of online shopping and how the mighty have fallen

– I actually got FAR better customer service from WalMart, spent FAR

less time placing the order, got delivery FAR faster, and even saved


To be fair, only a week before I had

ordered Dell’s fantastic 24-inch LCD monitor and it arrived in perfect

condition, in only a few days, and at a great discounted price (there

was a sale available to everyone, they didn’t know I was a journalist).

So, based on two orders Dell gets a 50% rating from me for last year on electronic purchases.
Based on three purchases WalMart gets a 100% rating (I also bought some Linksys and USR hardware in the local store.)