Used Oats

An Essay by Smiley

Copyright © 1986, 2001 by Smiley. All Rights Reserved, permission to reprint must be received in writing from the author ( and is usually granted considering proper acknowledgement is given the author.

My Grandfather was the fourth son of four children born to Nels and Hannah Youngberg (Swedish Immigrants to Carlton, Oregon) in 1896 and the only child born on their homestead farm which is still in my family. Pop died in 1985 on that same farm, but not before he celebrated a 60th Wedding Anniversary with his wife Louise (born in Yamhill, Oregon in 1901).

Gram followed him in death a couple of years ago, but not before she was able to celebrate the homestead making "Honor Farm" status (a full Century in the same family) which is a distinction that Oregonians rightfully consider with a LOT of pride. The only reason I'm giving you this bit of family history is so you'll understand the background that helped shape my opinions on the following subject which is first and foremost about value and pride.

The title of my essay is a farmer's cartoon that probably dates back to the first printing press. The picture is a farmer leaning on a fence or pitchfork talking to his customer. "Yes, Mr. Customer that is a lot to pay for my Oats, but the price is fair. I'll tell you what though, if you're willing to accept oats that have already been through my mule, I'll give you a 90% discount."

That's my favorite "Value" Sermon. What level of value are you willing to accept? How much pride do you incorporate in your decisions in our marketplace today? Do you buy used oats, or do you insist upon oats harvested by a farmer with a proud reputation for honesty and fair value? Are you aware that your purchasing patterns are a major influence in shaping our marketplace and that your willingness to buy used oats takes away the energy to perpetuate the farmers with pride?
In other words, if the farmers of pride can't sell enough product to replace a mule or plow blade, they won't be selling quality oats next year, and before you know it, there won't be any choice but to buy used oats because the used oats merchants will be all that's left. This is a fundamental law of capitalism which is my economic model of choice and this is a VERY contemporary issue in the computer industry which is my vocation of choice.
Approved Hardware List
I founded PMA Consulting in 1988 on the cornerstone of an "Approved Hardware List" compiled of vendors and products that displayed at least a semblance of the same policies that I employ in my business dealings with clients. If we need warranty replacements they have to be as close to instant as is inhumanly possible and we'd better not need much more than about 5% warranty replacements too! Seagate hard drives fell off our list in 1989 with the ST236 model and hasn't made it back onto the list today despite their position as the industry leader in hard drive sales.
The same fate was suffered by 3Com in 1996 when we got 4 bad network interface cards out of a 5pack and it took almost three weeks to get replacements.
EFA motherboards went by the wayside in 1996 when their Triton2 chipset Pentium boards suddenly lost all ability to do input/output and required us to replace 15 boards in the field within the same six months and almost bankrupted the company along with losing our biggest client at the time.
We're still here after 10 years I'm sure in major part because our Approved Hardware List requires very little maintenance once implemented. Since we don't spend much time replacing "used oats" with quality parts AFTER we've sold the "used oats", we have a lot of energy remaining for all the rest of the problems our clients seem to take a perverse pleasure in finding for us to cure.

Unfortunately, it is getting increasingly difficult to maintain this list because even the "farmers of pride" are now getting pushed closer to the "used oats" syndrome. When we fired Seagate in '89, we sold only MiniScribe hard drives and Archive Tape Backup Units until MiniScribe went bankrupt and Archive was bought by Maynard. Then it was Control Data Corp's drives and Conner's (after they slurped Irwin which had absorbed Maynard) Tape Backup Units, we were also willing to sell Conner's hard drives which stood up well and passed the RMA (Return Material Authorization) acid test. Our only modem was the USRobotics Courier or Sportster lines until the recent purchase of USR by 3Com . . .

Can you see where this is going?

Today, the only guarantee you can rely upon that you aren't getting a "WinModemTM" when you buy is to insist on an external. WinModems have never and will never be on our approved hardware list because they use the computer's CPU to pretend that they've got the hardware error correction architecture that has been a part of quality modems since the 2400 baud days (circa 1984). The ONLY reason for this "technological breakthrough" is to make the component cheaper to produce and therefore, cheaper to sell. This "breakthrough" results in poorer connections over the phone lines, increased processor overhead, slower throughput and more lost connections which only detracts from your on-line experience. This development in particular has caused me to coin the phrase "Always remember, if it starts with the letters W I N, it's crap".
We've noticed now with the 3Com/USR buyout that what was once among the finest modems you could buy, the internal Sportster line is almost all WinModems now and their quality has slipped to the point that we now only sell MultiTech for connectivity. We converted to Asus motherboards after the EFA fiasco mostly on recommendation of the Comp.OS.OS2.Misc newsgroup denizens and have been extremely happy with that choice for two years now. But I am starting to see a trend in the industry that is forcing me down a dead end alley. It is called the ATX style motherboard. ATX is another "breakthrough technology" whose only purpose is to make parts cheaper. This board has all the I/O built in to the main board, including video, sound, serial ports, IDE controller, printer port, USB, IR port, and in some cases, even network interface cards. The interface ports are soldered right onto the main board and fit into a case that has ports along the bottom edge of the back to let them be exposed for your use.
This technology saves about 15% on a manufacturer's (that's me) cost, and can make a HUGE difference in the profit margin when selling systems. The downside, however, is that it leaves us with NO CHOICE as to what peripherals to sell with our systems. What you see on the mobo is what you get. And I do mean period. Once upon a time, this technology was employed exclusively by the Mail Order houses, Packard Bell, Gateway, Compaq, IBM, Dell, (my personal list in ascending order of quality) etc., while independent clone manufacturers stuck with the older AT style mobo and installed the other parts from our own Approved Hardware Lists. The forces behind this trend are the same folks that gave us WinNT and the 640K limit. This new style of hardware shores up Intel and Micro$lop's dominance because the newer integrated video cards will use Intel's Pent3 and Celeron MMX architecture and their new 810 chip. Happily enough, this whole scheme only works well on a Win* operating system too! Oh joy! At this point, the only solution I can think of is a boycott.

Just say NO to bad products

Our votes in the marketplace are cast with money. And our votes really do shape the direction in which the market moves. There is a lot of voting occurring on commodity computers today, enough so that every major manufacturer has a commodity line and a commercial line that they sell.
I like the word commodity because it reminds me of commode (or toilet) which is the proper recepticle for the "commodity" lines produced by Packard Bell, Gateway, Compaq, IBM and Dell as well as the systems being produced today by the formerly quality conscious independents of yesterday.
Now it is up to you to insist on good products, before I get backed into a corner of "I can't buy quality components with which to build quality systems" because no one is willing to pay for quality systems anymore. We've already lost the Operating System War folks but it isn't too late to head off the Used Oats merchants at the pass. Support the Men and Women of Goodwill and we'll all win in the end. It's even possible we could fend off the end for another couple of years.
Nebeaux Nerdinski BBS

rev 960424dh 990714dh 010612dh PMAco975seSandyBv gotcha

PMA Consulting Home Page
The Net's version of the Golden Rule
Notify Webmaster
HTML checked with
page built with HomePage Publisher
Copyright © 1996-2001 by PMA Consulting. All Rights Reserved