Editor's note: This is the fifth in a regular series called "On the Porch," which will feature interesting people throughout the area.
I found "The Computer Guy" here in The Inter-Mountain seven years ago. Mark Stroud advertised regularly which impressed me, and I thought he must be doing well.
We met seven years ago, when Stroud transferred the research for my book the "Pioneer Index of Randolph County" to my then brand new HP laptop.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Lauren D. Ragland
‘Computer Guy’ Mark Stroud works on a laptop in his shop recently.
This time, I was in an emergency situation. The Computer Guy said cheerfully, "I remember you, how's it going? Come on down first thing tomorrow and we'll find out what is going on."
The answer to what was going on was that I was actually 100 percent the cause of the computer's breakdown. I created huge problems by deciding that I could fix my screaming and whistling computer all by myself.
After a thorough Internet education on this subject, I decided I could take it apart by myself and clean out the dust that was blocking the fan.
I did successfully and delicately remove the mess that was causing the noise - seven years of black dust and beagle hair. But I didn't stop when I should have, and I loosened a springed screw holding firmly the small light green square that turns out to be the central processing unit. I had taken apart the actual brain of the laptop.
Even in my ignorance, I knew immediately that what I held looked very important. I did my best to put it back very carefully, and closed it up. However, I totally ruined the CPU and the unit had to be replaced.
Also, because I kept checking the computer to see if it was miraculously working again, I truly hurt my hard drive. Because of my repeated attempts to start a computer that could not possibly start, I caused files to become corrupt, some are lost forever. As of this writing, I don't know if my book, "Written in Red," is intact or not.
So I went to Stroud, who carefully went to work. He transferred my hard drive, file by file to another computer, to be later transferred back to my laptop after my new hard drive arrives. He offered to email me anything I needed and forwarded my research and son's school work that first day.
As you realize, I am a freelance writer and photographer for The Inter-Mountain, and also I am writing a book on the New Testament. This laptop communication situation is potentially a huge hassle for me. But it has not been because of the service I received from The Computer Guy. Thanks to him, I was going to make my deadlines!
Like I felt seven years ago, my livelihood was in very competent hands. I learned so much hanging out with Stroud for a couple of hours while we figured out the damage I had created.
We had a lively discussion of how little I understood about the workings of my computer. He shared gems of information that helped me understand my limits in computer repair and what is really going on inside that black case.
First of all, I hope my readers learn from my grave error and never, ever, ever take apart anything that does not come out easily. That should be the first important sign that you should stop.
Dust removal is important for heat dispersion and fan operation, and it is easy to do yourself without any fancy equipment. As long as your laptop is positively unplugged, Stroud said that I could have used tweezers safely to pull out the dust plug.
What looked like a piece of black felt was squished between the copper cooling unit and the fan. You can unscrew the copper plate and clean out debris using a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. But, please do not remove the little square CPU brain like I did. It can potentially cause huge damage to the operating status, meaning that there is none.
For the first time ever, I feel that I understand my computer. Speed depends on memory size. "Try to think of this as your workers. Increasing the hard drive space gives you more room to save the work created by your workers," The Computer Guy explained.
"It is like having 10 people working in a small shed. They would definitely be more productive if they had more space to work in. Your computer is exactly the same. The more workers you have (files, etc.), the more space you need. The hard drive is space - the workers need more memory, which equals speed.
"People misunderstand and think that they need more hard drive space to speed their computer up, so they start deleting files and programs, but they just need more memory - workers for the space they already have."
What about the warning that my virtual memory is low? I keep deleting and transferring files to a flash drive but nothing seems to change. Gently he explained that I have this issue practically backward, like most do.
"It means that for optimum speed and in order for your workers to do more work, your computer knows before you do that increasing the virtual memory makes that possible. It is announcing that more space is being created for you to use. It has nothing to do with disk cleanup or defragging like most people think.
"Common mistakes are made by people deleting programs to make more space that are required for proper operation. Unless you really know what you are doing, I do not recommend deleting any programs ending in '.exe' and any Windows components.
He strongly suggests investing in an external drive to back up your computer regularly.
Stroud receives an average of 40 telephone calls a day, and he would be a rich man if he charged and received payment for his free advice he gives frantic computer owners.
"I listen - they go on and on; I tell them how to fix it themselves. We might be talking for half an hour, or more. Yes, I am losing money, but I want to make my customers happy," he said with a laugh. "If that is what it takes, I do it. Every day."
Be understanding if he does not call you back immediately - you might want to drop by. He cares deeply about customer satisfaction. He bragged that in 10 years of operating a very busy computer repair business, he can count on one hand the customers who left his shop unhappy.
Grateful customers often surprise Stroud with homemade goodies including blueberry bread, banana bread, gift cards and even homemade brews!
The Computer Guy's shop is now located in an office through the back door of the Goodwill in Elkins. He is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. He is closed for lunch from 1 to 2 p.m. so that he can assist his wife, Chrystal, with dialysis.
Rough times have been part of life for three years for him and his family of four. In 2011, he practically closed his business because of the twice weekly trips to Morgantown for his wife's dialysis.
"You can't make money in the repair business if you are not open and answering the phone," he said.
He shares his wisdom with a student interested in the computer field, and she covers the phone during his lunch period.
Student Kimyona Warren spends 10 hours a week absorbing the technical side of the computer world with her mentor. Just last week, she was excited to not just know the answers, but be able to explain them so that they were understood.
She said about a customer, "Everything I said made sense to her! She fixed her malware problem basically on her own, it was great!"
Warren also has an interested senior project - she is building a completely submerged computer in a fish tank of 99.9 percent mineral oil. Not only will it be super fast, but there will be bubbles, lights and possibly fish!
Like Warren, Stroud loves his work, and calls it a puzzle that he enjoys figuring out each day.
"I've got it made, in my opinion," he said. "I work by myself and for myself, and everyone who comes here leaves satisfied. That is important to me. Then my weekends are mine with my family. All is well."
He is a hardworking family man, and a gentleman dedicated to super service, always aiming to please.
I hope you join me next week and sit "On the Porch." I will continue to share interesting stories about interesting people - you might be next!