Effective Computer Maintenance: The Three-Beers Rule

Chances are good that you know at least one person who seems to know more than your average Joe about what makes computers tick. This person might work in IT or be an engineer in a related field, or maybe they are just self-proclaimed subject experts. Since you are reading HotHardware, chances are excepionally good that YOU are that guy/gal, in which case, bare with me.

Chances are also good that when something goes wrong, you'll turn to this person for help, either directly with a favor request, or passive aggressively by complaining in their presence and hoping they'll take pity on you so you'll shut up and stop interrupting their lunch. Perhaps your particular personal techie happens to be very nice and generous. You might even consider them a good friend. However, I have some shocking news. They hate you.

Ohh, and also they probably think it's annoying you keep turning to them for computer assistance.


I know it's hard to believe. But they were so kind and helpful when you got that virus, again, last week, you say. You might also bring up that time when they didn't even hesitate to get you out of that sure-fire deal, gone sour, with that nice Nigerian man who contacted you through email with a proposition. However, the truth of it is, unless you are compensating them for their trouble in some way, they probably hate you, they just don't realize it yet.

Now you may be thinking, "but Mike, you're just being a cynical ***", and you'd be correct, but I thought we were talking about fixing computers. Let's stay on task here.

Frankly, computers are insanely complicated machines and fixing them isn't always a simple task of mashing some random buttons and clicking on some menus (though you'd be surprised how often that works). A competent technician can charge well into the region of $50/hour to troubleshoot technical issues on-site, and in many cases even more than that. There is a reason why they charge so much, it's something to do with the job generally sucking and nobody wanting to do it. And now you expect them to offer their services to you, on a semi-regular basis, for free.  A service the average techie wouldn't do for anything less than a fat hourly fee, or at least some sexual favors.

Think of it this way, do you expect your contractor friend to fix your leaky roof, then remodel your kitchen the next week. All for free? Especially as you sit idly by, yapping about how you really try to take care of your house but for some reason it keeps falling apart. Sure they might do it once out of good will, or twice because they're dumb, but three times? Really?

Now I'm not proposing that you should try to pay your good techie with cash, to bribe them into doing your dirty work. That would be demeaning. How could you ever consider such a thing, you terrible husk of a person. Rather, I suspect your techie buddy will greatly appreciate small gestures of thanks, like a cold beer, and be much more likely to help you in the future. They'll also reconsider when they next hover over your bed at night with a jackknife, but probably to no avail.


The system of bartering goods for services is centuries old and generally works pretty damned well. They fix your computer, you provide them with cold, delicious beer. Everyone wins. However, don't think a single beer is enough. If you got your computer royaly screwed up and it needs some serious lovin', you're going to need more than a half-pint for compensation.

The system that I have developed to handle these situations is lovingly referred to as the three-beers rule. It's quite simple. While they fix your computer, you feed them a continuous stream of beer. If they can't figure out your problem after 3 beers, you are SOL. At this point it is best for your relationship that you thank them for their attempt, and just take your seriously screwed up computer to the shop. Or you could try a different techie friend with 3 more beers, if you haven't driven them all insane by now.

Perhaps the real beauty of the three-beers rule is that it is self-enforcing. After three beers, your friend probably won't be much more adept or motivated than you at fixing computers. This is to ensure pushy bastards like yourself don't back out of the deal at the last second and try to squeeze another beer or two of work out of your poor techie.

Pro-Tip: if YOU are the techie friend, and you're a heavy-weight who's unfazed by a measly 3 beers. Double-up and use the Six-Pack Rule instead. Or consider the natural corollary, the Three-Vodkas Rule.

So in closing, remember that your techie friends hate you, and beer is delicious.