by Dennis Dalman
With a smile and a chuckle, Blake Thoennes describes himself as a nerd.
“I don’t have a pocket protector,” he said. “But I’ve wrecked a lot of shirts from ink pens.”
Thoennes, 26, thrives on his “nerdiness.” It’s what made him a computer expert and what brought about his successful business, Computer Repair Unlimited, located at 24 Birch St. W. near downtown St. Joseph.
Besides his computer savvy, intense dedication and very hard work has defined the course of his life. Born in Alexandria, Thoennes’s family moved to Sartell when he was 10. He went to Sartell Middle School and graduated from Sartell High School and St. Cloud Technical College at the same time during the same month. He managed to earn his two-year computer networking technical degree while taking a full load of high-school courses. As if school work weren’t enough, Thoennes had a series of jobs at food-service places during and after his school years. He worked at McDonald’s, Subway, Mongo’s Grill and more. In the meantime, he was fixing and fine-tuning computers for family, friends and neighbors.
Thoennes also attended St. Cloud State University, where he earned a computer-business degree in 2010, specializing in design and implementation, as well as documentation.
One day, four years ago, he decided to quit his food-service “day job” and open his own business, the one in St. Joseph. He’s never looked back and never regretted it. That’s because computers are his passionate hobby, his life’s blood, and going to work is like going to a place to have even more fun. He and his one assistant, Dustin Pede, have an astonishing number of customers – 1,500 of them. They live in places all the way from the Twin Cities to Alexandria. Eight percent of them are at-home customers (about 900 homes), and the rest are business clients (about 200 of them).
Thoennes and Pede are experts at what they offer: computer networking, all forms of computer-related business services, servers, data recovery, wireless networking, mobile devices, tune-ups, virus removal and virtually any other problems having to do with computers. Their most common service is tune-ups and virus removals, mainly for at-home customers and students.
Computer viruses are a modern curse, according to Thoennes. He has seen several women burst into tears because they lost stored photos of their loved ones due to some devious cyber virus.
“It’s infuriating,” he said. “They (virus creators) are hurting innocent people. I feel so bad for those people.
The culprits, he said, are mostly Russians and Chinese who steal data from computers worldwide.They then sell the data to marketers and others and make money while those who buy the data use it for damaging purposes. Mostly, they don’t want ordinary household computer data, but when putting out their viruses they cast a “wide net” that includes at-home computers, too, he explained.
Thoennes has spent so much time studying and tracking down viruses and how they work, he and Pede know instantly what to do when they come across one in some hapless victim’s computer.
“It takes me at most an hour or two to get rid of them,” he said.
Computer gaming is one of Thoennes’s hobbies. It combines fun, detective work and learning. He loves to go to Las Vegas – not to gamble at casinos – but to participate in the annual Consumer Electronics Show where he learns the latest in cutting-edge technologies – his stock-in-trade.
“I do play some video poker there, but that’s because I understand the odds,” he said. “I’d never play games like black jack or roulette. They’re losers.”
Thoennes is constantly giving preventive tips to not just customers but to anyone who will listen.
“My major tip of the day,” he said, “has to do with computers overheating when people do not keep them free of dust. That’s the number-one failure of laptops. It affects many desktop computers, too.”
Apple computers, Thoennes said, are notorious for breakdowns caused by overheating.
“They have just a tiny fan in them,” he explained. “Keep them clean and they’ll last twice as long.”
The best way to clean computers is to use canned air to blow the dust out of areas where it could clog and “suffocate” cooling fans.
Major tip number-two is to use an external hard drive to backup computer data. Many people, Thoennes noted, use “flash drives” (sometimes called “thumb drives”) to store data. The devices are tiny and very inexpensive, but they are also unreliable, he added, because factors such as heat or magnetic exposure can completely erase anything that is on them. An external hard drive, available at any electronics-computer store, is available from anywhere from about $60 to $100 or so – more expensive than thumb drives and larger (about the size of a large cell phone) but worth it, Thoennes said.
Thoennes’s tip number-three is an anti-virus program dubbed “AVAST,” which can be downloaded free on the Internet. There is a version that costs money, but the free one, Thoennes said, is perfectly good. It is, he added, the very best anti-virus program and protects against all viruses. To download “AVAST,” go to www.avast.com and follow instructions.
Thoennes said he and his assistant are more than willing to give free information to people on the telephone. Call 320-492-2814.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.