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Rant: We’re Going to Effing Stimulate the Economy

Fair warning, this is a rant. It has been edited for language.

I can’t take it anymore. Micah’s computer is a stupid Effing piece of crap. Thank God the economic stimulus is coming because it gives a clearer answer to what we’re going to do about it. We’re going to buy a new computer, maybe it’ll actually work.

Micah’s had this laptop for about 4 years and in that time it’s given him nothing but trouble.

No, trouble is too nice a word for it. Doesn’t convey the full meaning. This computer has taken him to hell and back.

As many of you know, Micah’s trying to write a dissertation. Trying being the operative word. I am shocked by what a piece of crap this computer is. If he tries to put in 4 hours of dissertation work, he spends 2 to 3 hours of that with the computer in “I’m sorry but I’m frozen and unresponsive even if you push the power button” mode.

It will take him until we’re on social security just to get the thing written.

Every once in a while this even reduces him to tears….maybe being depressive he’s prone to it, but I attribute it to extreme frustration and feeling completely blocked.

I can’t take it anymore. A computer is an asset in getting his PhD finished and becoming a full-time professor instead of a part-time professor/part-time student. He’s ABD, which means that all he’s got left is this dissertation.

I was looking around for a simple desktop computer (after all, he’ll mostly only need Word) and was trying to figure out how we’d pay for it. Maybe pare down the budget…hell I’d be willing to pay half and finance the rest just to have a computer that works (maybe this shows how desperate I’m feeling.

Then I remembered the economic stimulus. How about that, we’re going to stimulate the economy with it. Our tax return will still go towards debt and a little for the Roth IRA (except for $50-100 for a nice dinner). But the stimulus, which was going to be split between debt and Roth IRA will be going first to the computer. I expect there’ll be some left over for debt and the IRA anyway…I calculated that we should get $600 at the least (perhaps at the most).

Is buying a new computer the most responsible thing to do? Almost any way you spin it, I think yes. It’ll save his sanity. It’ll let him actually finish the dissertation. Therefore we will earn more faster because he will be eligible for higher paying-jobs sooner. And yes, we won’t spend our refund before it hatches.

OK, that’s enough rant. Now to comparison shop for a desktop that does what we want but doesn’t cost too much.

Any suggestions on good brands or places to buy or comparison shopping? Micah’s highly prejudiced against HP, since the evil one is HP. (His laptop is actually the one in this picture, I think. Anyone else have to deal with it?)

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A.J. April 19, 2008 at 11:40 am

I know they’re more expensive than the alternatives, but I really like my Apple Powerbook (now called MacBook Pro). The one time it caused me trouble, Apple repaired it for free (out of warranty) AND gave me a new battery. And no blue-screens of death! More money, but worth it to me, personally. There’s also the lower end MacBook laptops and pretty sweet iMac desktops.

SavingDiva April 19, 2008 at 11:59 am

Good luck! I’m also considering purchasing a new computer…not because I need one (like Micah), but because mine is crappy and really old…

Vered - MomGrind April 19, 2008 at 12:00 pm

I’m happy with my Dell computer.

You can get good deals on Ebay.

Hang in there… and yes, a computer is a necessity, not a luxury. It is absolutely the right thing to do.

Ryan [email protected] April 19, 2008 at 12:09 pm

I only buy Apple. I do computer troubleshooting for people and will absolutely not touch a Windows machine under any circumstances unless it’s to nuke the hard drive and install Linux. πŸ™‚

stacking pennies April 19, 2008 at 12:17 pm

Apples (I hear) are nice but they are typically a lot more expensive. And apple users are snobs πŸ˜‰

Desktops in general are a lot more reliable than laptops.

You should look at sites like and watch for sales. Or fatwallet, slickdeals, they probably can point you to some bargains.

Amanda April 19, 2008 at 12:36 pm

Tim votes for a Mac.

And apple users are not snobs, but connoisseurs! πŸ™‚ I’m using a MacBook Pro now! πŸ˜‰

Margaret April 19, 2008 at 12:38 pm

I recently purchased a Toshiba laptop for $700 that has turned out to be very reliable and a workhorse of a computer. I also have a Dell desktop which is all we buy at work and the ones I’ve had have been great.

Stay away from Gateway and Compaq My husband has had one of each and trouble with both. Not major stuff but irritating stuff if you know what I mean.

A lot of people will boo-hoo Vista, but I have it on both computers (which are both dual core 68’s) and have no issues with it at all.


Four Pillars April 19, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Great post.

I think this is one time where you can justify going into debt (if needed) since it’s for professional development. Of course the stimulus check will do the trick as well.

Good luck with it!


jim April 19, 2008 at 1:06 pm

My HP is just ooooold, but there’s no sense retiring it if it can still surf the web. πŸ™‚

Christine April 19, 2008 at 1:42 pm

You might want to throw an email in my father’s direction. He knows things like this.

Megan April 19, 2008 at 1:54 pm

I’ve used Dells for years, and in grad school, I “splurged” and got the 3 year upgraded warranty. The kind where if anything went wrong, they would overnight me a new part or send someone out to fix it. I was SO hard on this laptop, and anytime I cracked something or broke something, Dell was right there to fix it for free. I regularly destroyed keyboards, either by overuse (I am hard on keyboards) or by spilling things on it (I am also a klutz when I’m working). Quick e-mail to Dell and a new keyboard would show up for me to install within 2 business days.

SingleGuyMoney April 19, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Sounds like it is time for a new laptop. If he needs the computer for completing a dissertation, I think that is more than enough of a reason to buy a new laptop. It’s not like your buying a new plasma TV. Go ahead and get the laptop so Micah can get his work done. πŸ™‚

Mrs. Nathan April 19, 2008 at 2:51 pm


We were surprised by how affordable ours was (we got a sweet student discount on the computer and an extended warranty, which I always buy), and it’s been completely worth the investment. Apple also sells refurbished computers through their website, which is how I bought my ipod a few years back.

Chief Family Officer April 19, 2008 at 2:52 pm

It sounds like you are feeling very frustrated. But from a neutral, third-party perspective, I think a new computer makes complete sense – especially since Micah’s career somewhat depends on it – and is a perfectly good use for your stimulus rebate. I think it’s unrealistic (not to mention miserable) to expect yourselves to sacrifice everything in order to live frugally, even if it’s achieve commendable financial goals.

Lee April 19, 2008 at 4:52 pm

I got my current Toshiba laptop for $450. after a 150. rebate at Office Depot. It’s nine months old and has been great, no problems at all. My previous computer was a Compaq, and it was always giving me trouble.

I think it’s a good decision to get a new one for Micah. It’s hard enough doing all the work for a dissertation without adding computer problems to the mix. Hope you find a good deal.

heartbeat April 19, 2008 at 5:24 pm

alot of desertations were written before computers…on those old dinosaurs called typewriters…bet ya could find one of those for real cheap these days. i still have one of those electric typewriters that has a memory and does really neat things. even have extra ribbons for it. knew it was gonna become obsolete so thought it might come in handy if my computer does bad things. sorry about your problems with your laptop computer..

moneyloveandchange April 19, 2008 at 7:51 pm

ok, here’s my dissertation story…

My boss did his on a PC, lost it, and had to rewrite it. Sucks to be him.

I had a Dell that was getting beyond ancient. Trying to get Word and Endnote (for references) to work together was practically impossible.

I picked up a job working for Apple for a bit, and got a MacBook for a discount.

“Yippee!”, I thought. “Now I can write my dissertation without any problems.”

Had the thing for less than a month, and the hard drive crashed. Everything was completely wiped out. I made backups every couple of days, but got a little overconfident since Macs were the holy grail of laptops (supposedly) – I still lost a lot of valuable work, and ended up handing in a half-$%# thesis.

I guess my point is to not feel pressured to get a top of the line computer, or even a Mac. I would highly recommend spending the money on some sort of backup – either an external hard drive or maybe even a thumb drive (my dissertation had too many images to fit on a thumb drive).

On another note, could you possibly reinstall the OS or maybe add some memory for cheap? I did this with my Dell, and although it is unreliable (overheats a lot), when it is running, it works well now with the OS reinstalled.

If you do go for a new one, you might want to check out getting a machine with XP vs. Vista.

In any case, best of luck to your husband with the dissertation. It is a huge burden lifted off the shoulders when it is done!

Fabulously Broke April 19, 2008 at 8:57 pm

I too vote for MacBook

πŸ™ but other than that.. I’d say most PCs are pretty much the same unless you shell out about $1k-$2k for better quality laptops because the $600 – $1k range usually means crap

Sarah April 19, 2008 at 9:04 pm

I’m new to your blog but I had a heck of a time with an HP and my Master’s thesis, and scrimped and saved for the laptop for my Ph.D. A desktop is more reliable, but is impractical for traveling to meetings on the other side of the country and for bringing along on visits for postdoc/industry/government interviews.

I chose a Dell Latitude. It is a 620 model and it’s designed more for business, so when I go to meetings I don’t have to feel like a 18-22 year old college student with the flashy shiney silver/red/blingy consumer end model. I’ve had no issues, and wish I had done it sooner. (the speakers are not great, but I use headphones if I listen to music). Best of all, it still worked with all of my old software and science-type programs. I’ve heard that the battery life for the extended batteries is lousy, but I just got the standard and have no complaints.

Why did I choose a PC? Unfortunately, a mac hasn’t gotten there yet for certain programs I use regularly. Also, I hate seeing colleagues get to a conference and realize that the Mac needs a special connector to work with the projector that is onsite. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t always seem to be the same one for each Mac model either.

Good luck!

Jessica April 19, 2008 at 9:09 pm

Try the build your own option on (the brand is systemax)
It’s less expensive than name brands and you can get what you want (and less of what you don’t need)

My husband happens to be a software engineer and we’ve used this option several times for ourselves and family to get a laptop. He’s our tech support, and I haven’t had any major problems (or really any at all) using these computers.

Also, here’s my thesis story made short: house was burglarized, laptop was stolen along with the hard copies and back up drive because the jerk took my backback to haul away my stuff.

Thus, I’d also say spring for an extra back-up drive and/or a safe deposit box while he works on it. Or at least store a secondary copy at a friend/family’s house. Or back it up online. Because nothing sucks more than writing a dissertation or thesis than having to do it twice….ugh.

Funny about Money April 19, 2008 at 9:50 pm

Dang, what a frustration.

I’m a semi-demi-Mac snob: Got a beautiful Mac desktop and a Dell laptop (which belongs to the Great Desert University). The Mac is fun, but if I were in your situation, I’d go for a PC for the time being. There’s a learning curve, and if Mr. Micah uses a lot of keyboard commands and macros, Word for Mac is passing annoying (point-click point-click…gimme a break!). The keyboard commands for the most commonly used MS Word macros are SYSTEM COMMANDS IN MAC!!!!! Argha! So resign yourself to lots of pointing and clicking.

On the other hand, the Mac is pretty reliable and doesn’t evince the Dell’s enthusiasm for crashing and for refusing to recognize the rodent.

Check with your university: usually students and staff can get a break on computer prices. Have him ask some of his committee members–they may be able to order one for him.

BTW, this is not an indulgence. Writing a dissertation is torture enough without having to fight a computer every inch of the way.

Lily April 19, 2008 at 11:30 pm

I vote for Lenovo ThinkPads. (IBM spun off its laptop business to Lenovo, a Chinese company.)

I’ve had 2 ThinkPads. The first was a 4-year-old used laptop that lived 4 more years and carried me through college. The second is the laptop I’ve had since I graduated (in 2006). They’re quiet, portable, and virtually indestructible.

James April 20, 2008 at 12:06 am

Hi Guys,

Probably you’ve thought of this already, but I think you can deduct the cost of the computer as a student/school expense!



Shanti @ Antishay April 20, 2008 at 2:29 am

APPLE!!!! I have had Macintosh computers since I was six. Yes, six. I love them.

I know that the new ones are expensive, but you can get a “regular” new one for around $1200 with all the stuff you need. Mine cost me $2800 and I’ve put another $2000 into it, but as a professional computer nerd, this was all reasonable to me.

I have never had a problem with a Mac in my LIFE, with the exception of the first year the iMac was released (in 1998?); we had a beta model and it was quirky, but expected to be so.

You should get a Mac πŸ˜€

Deamiter April 20, 2008 at 7:33 am

Step back for just a second and consider what is actually wrong with the computer. Is the hard drive failing? Is the motherboard bad? Well, possibly, but from what you’ve described, the computer is just fine, it’s the SOFTWARE that’s messing up and causing it to crash like crazy.

First thing — don’t blame the computer just because you’re frustrated! You don’t NEED a new computer, you just need to re-format the hard drive!

So here’s what you do.
1. Back up everything you need in multiple places (two CDs or multiple computers etc…) You’re wiping the data off your current computer and starting over, so don’t miss anything — especially not the dissertation!

2. Find a friend who’s good with computers and offer $100 to reinstall Windows. They should jump at the offer. If they don’t (or you have not nerdy friends) look into computer places like Geek Squad (at Best Buy) where it’ll cost a little more.

3. Enjoy your fixed computer!

Seriously, from what you’ve described there is NOTHING wrong with your computer, you’ve just had so many viruses/spyware or just installed incompatible programs that the SOFTWARE is getting buggy.

Don’t splurge on a new computer just for MS Word! If you need a faster machine, fine, but it doesn’t sound like speed or hardware are remotely related to your computer problems.

mrsmicah April 20, 2008 at 9:23 am

Wow, so much advice from everyone! πŸ™‚ Thanks. Another person e-mailed to suggest we check whether companies like Dell have student programs which would allow us to get a discount.

While Deamiter has a good point…the computer problems aren’t always the computer’s fault…I really wish it were just that. I was having problems with my computer a while back and reinstallation worked like a charm.

I know that he reinstalled the Windows OS a couple years back and it made no improvement on how things were working. This wasn’t as much an issue when the computer was only for the internet and 20-page papers, but now it’s much more important.

Plus, Micah has a degree in computer science and he’s pretty sure there’s something wrong with the computer itself. I know less about these things but am inclined to agree. Reinstalling the OS is something we’re both experienced with and could do for free (I still have my installation disk). *sigh*

David April 20, 2008 at 10:56 am

Buy a used Mac laptop.
It pays to be 1 or 2 steps behind.

Dad April 20, 2008 at 3:35 pm

From all I’ve heard, the problem is probably with the computer itself. Many computers are fixed by reloads but I wouldn’t count on it with his.

I’ve heard a lot of good about Apple but I agree that the learning curve may be an issue at his stage of work.

Student / school discounts may be helpful.

XP vs Vista. I’ve heard a lot of bad about Vista but then I’ve heard some real good. The big thing with Vista is that the computer needs to be powerful enough to handle it. Pre-installed is no guarantee that it will work well. Check out actual user experience and look not for enthusiasm over its slickness so much as how well it gets work done. XP is still available and there is a lot of user pressure to continue it for a while.

Good luck and I do think doing something is the right choice given what is at stake.

Holly April 21, 2008 at 10:07 am

I bought a refurbished Dell laptop (that was less than 18 months old) over a year ago for less than $600 and haven’t had any trouble. It is worth taking a look at the Dell outlet online. (I also decided to use OpenOffice software instead of MS — despite a few quirks, I like it and it is a LOT cheaper, like $00.00!

Jeff April 21, 2008 at 11:26 am

@ Mrs. Micha.. the computer you showed has had lots of problems. I used to work at HP and had two of those similar notebooks, what a piece of crap. However I have also only bought HP notebooks, the DV lines specifically and really they are great machines. What happened when HP and Compaq merged was a few of the old HP crappy machines were left around, however the Compaq machines were, and still are, very solid machines.

If you are looking for a really cheap machine, walmart sells a 100.00 machine that basically just runs google apps, and the open office software I believe.

But if you want another PC to actually work, get one of the better HP notebooks. (As a side I would stay away from Dell, they are having some big problems as a company.)

L@spillingbuckets April 21, 2008 at 11:55 am

R actually had the same laptop in the photo and it also stopped working last year after 4 years. Anyways, we switched to a Gateway tablet laptop and it’s great. I also had a laptop from school, an IBM that I loved, but it also crapped out and now I have a dell desktop. I really love the new computers. I don’t like MAC’s (use them at work), I find them slow, harder to work with if you need to customize or troubleshoot, and overall just not as nice, but a lot of people love them. I’d vote for Dell, you can get some good deals with them.

Deborah April 21, 2008 at 8:41 pm

I found a Dell Vostro laptop last December for much cheaper than I expectd to buy. The Vostro is on their “small business” side, not their “home” side – but it’s as good as anything on the home side, and $100+ cheaper. I’ve recommended to everyone I know I’ve had 2 Dell laptops and 1 desktop, and have always been more than happy with both the systems and their customer service (when i had a friend … spill something on my keyboard).

Good luck with the dissertation! My husband’s a professor and I have nothing but sympathy for you both!

deepali April 22, 2008 at 8:58 am

I have yet to find a good computer that works more than 10 days without a problem. It’s not just the computer, it’s also the software, but really, I can’t work the computer without the software, so the point is moot. My inclination is towards a Mac, but only because the software/OS is supposedly better. You can get the kind that will boot up as a Windows machine, and have the best of all worlds. Good luck!

cybele April 22, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Feeling a little guilty after so many years working with/for IBM, but…for me, as for many of your other writers, Mac is the answer. I’d always loved the look and now I love the quality..and thanks to Open Office and it’s friends compatibility is not an issue and it’s so much easier. We still have a thinkpad (IBM/now Lenovo) and it’s wonderful, too, but…it’s much less reliable and because it’s dependent on Microsoft, it’s usually either crashing or restoring itself. Not good. We set up my mac in less than an hour and it’s worked ever since….and that was, what?, at least 5 years ago. If mrmicah needs help, I can coach him. Backup is always a good idea, of course…even though i have yet to do it.
And writing documents/creating complex formats…omigod…so easy! If only I’d had it years ago. Try a Mac, you’ll never go back! (as someone once famously said)

Miss Thrifty September 15, 2008 at 1:06 pm

I think you were very restrained with your language! At least it sounds like you found a good solution.

I am surprised to see so many people recommending Apple. I know they look great and all, but they’re so darned expensive! And I’m not convinced that they are that robust, if my iPod is anything to go by.

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