A craigslist story

In the summer of 2003, I stupidly destroyed a laptop (by accidently spilling water on it). A water bottle emptied directly into the keyboard of the laptop (a dell Inspiron 600 M), utterly wrecking it.
Fortunately the laptop was under warrantee. Unfortunately, it had a months worth of work on it, some really first-rate code that I had written and neglected to back up.
I really really wanted that data back. And so I turned to craigslist.

Now there’s a whole subculture of people that fix computers full-time on craigslist. After conversing with a few specialists in data recovery, I found one that suited my unique budgetary constraints, and drove over to visit.
Dave lived in a filthy apartment in the Marina that had an insanely great view of the bay. There were several cats, and several computers. After spending three hours with Dave and his cats, we determined that the circuit board of the hard drive was fried. Procuring a replacement would be tricky but doable. I left the broken hard drive and 100$ deposit to pay for procuring the circuit board, and left.
Dave promptly became unreachable by phone or email: I had clearly been scammed. After a month went by, I had rewritten the lost code, but I needed the broken hard drive so I could ship the laptop back to dell to get the replacement that was due to me from the warrantee. That broken hard drive was literally worth a new laptop to me! After almost a month of attempts to communicate, I posted a message on the services->computer services board of bay area craigslist.
Where are you? You have $100 of my money and my hard drive. I have not been able to get in touch with you. Please respond.

Within 10 minutes, I got an email. It was not from Dave. It was Craig. An email from Craig! The email was curt and to the point.
to: jonathanboutelleATfoobar.com
subject:your posting
Can you tell me more about this?

Tens of thousands of messages a day were being posted on craigslist (I’m sure the number has since increased several-fold). That Craig would respond to an individual posting showed an comittment to customer service bordering on obsession. How many emails a day could he possibly send? Apparently a lot. Anyway, I proceeded to recount my story (with full orchestration and five part harmony) in an email to Craig. His response was swift.
to: jonathanboutelleATfoobar.com
subject: re:re:your posting
Thanks. I’m looking into this. Other people have complained as well.

Later that day, I received another email. This time from Bob, a fellow sucker. Bob was animated, to say the least. Two years of baby pictures had been on his hard drive, and his wife was going to kill him if he didn’t get the hard drive back. Did I have Dave’s address?
I gave Bob the address of Dave and asked him to keep me informed of any developments.
Two months passed, and in my mind I wrote the whole thing off to experience. Then, out of the blue, I got another email from Bob. He had just called Dave on a whim. Dave had, for once, picked up the phone! Bob had gone to Dave’s house and recovered the broken hard drive and half the money.
Inspired by Bob’s success, I called Dave, and (wonder of wonders) he answered the phone! We made arrangements, and I went to his Marina apartment. He gave me my (still broken) hard drive, 50$, and a cock-and-bull story about how he would give me the rest of the money next week. I got exactly half my money back, exactly as Bob had predicted.
To this day I have always wondered if, behind the scenes, Craig was somehow working the strings. Had he banned Dave’s ip address and only allowed him back on the site if he made good with his earlier dealings? Or had Dave simply had an awakening that ripping people off in a society as inter-networked as craigslist was not sustainable? Had Dave’s medication simply kicked in? Maybe he was briefly in jail? I didn’t know and I didn’t care.
I had the broken hard drive, which I promptly put into the laptop and returned to Dell. I got a new laptop that I’ve used to this day.
What were my key learnings? Here’s the executive summary.
1)Always, ALWAYS back up your data.
2)Always, ALWAYS check the references of anybody you hire through the internet.
3)The dell warrantee department can not detect water stains on motherboards. Coffee stains may be another story.