After hauling the machine over to the local PC Club and testing another AC adapter (a process which took until Monday morning), I was forced to conclude that the problem was not in the adapter itself, but in the internal connection between the socket for the power supply and the CPU and battery. <
Worse, PC Club, like most places, doesn’t do what they call “board-level” repairs on laptops. In fact, hardly anybody does repairs on laptops, because they have such nonstandard innards. As someone who has used exclusively laptops since 1994, naturally I have had to make it my business to know someone who does repair laptops. So I called Charles at McTek Systems in Berkeley and asked him what he thought about my problem. The answer: probably half an hour’s work and $195.
My cash flow has been a bit constrained lately, so I couldn’t just drive down to Berkeley and get the repair done on the spot. Fortunately, I was able to run the computer for long enough on Monday morning to back up all the files I’d been working on Sunday to my handy external hard drive. That meant that as long as I could get hold of a computer with the appropriate software, I’d have access to all my files and be able to work.
A geek friend of the hardware-collecting variety offered to let me use his Windows 98 notebook for the week, and that’s what I’m typing this on. Like most machines of its vintage, it’s a bit slow. The screen is smaller than mine, even though the laptop itself is the same size. Most of the software installed is at least one version behind what I have on my own machine, meaning that I couldn’t open many of my files even if I could get it to recognize my external drive. (There’s no FireWire port, and the USB drivers I downloaded don’t appear to have had any effect.) I did at least manage to download and install drivers for my tablet. It’s bad enough having the cat sitting on your hands without trying to do all your drag-and-drop or drawing work with a trackpad.
I can also use my housemate’s WinXP computer when she doesn’t need it, and at least I can see the files on my XHD from there. On the other hand, I had to install several programs yesterday in order to accomplish things that I could normally do quite easily on my own machine. And I can’t connect it directly to my wide-format printer, because I don’t have a long enough cable. Backing up the contents of your computer is one thing. Anyone can duplicate files and even clone entire hard drives. Keeping a duplicate computer around is something else.
I have a friend who always buys at least two of any item of clothing that she really likes. That way, when the first one gets worn out, faded, stained, or snagged, she can start wearing the second one. The logic is simple: by the time the first item wears out, something completely different will be on the shelves in the store where she bought it.
New models of computers and computer components replace old ones in much the same way. But how many of us are going to buy two computers and keep one in storage against the time we need it? Even a laptop is going to take up space as it sits pristine in its box—and if it isn’t well-packed, it’s going to be more vulnerable to dust and other hazards. <
A large corporation might have a contract with a major manufacturer to supply thousands of machines that are exactly alike and to run software from a central server. Getting a replacement indistinguishable from the original might be fairly easy in those circumstances. Most independent professionals aren’t in that kind of position, though. There might be a home and an office computer, or a desktop and a laptop. The point of having more than one computer is usually to have them serve different purposes. One is often newer than the other, and there are almost always some differences between them. A machine customized for one family member may be completely baffling to another. So when a computer has to be repaired and we’re left without one for a while, it’s very inconvenient.
My problems this week are nothing that a decent-sized contingency fund wouldn’t have solved. As long as you’ve got the wherewithal, hardware can be replaced. But we all have data that no amount of money can replace, and my data, at least, is safe. <
The check I was waiting for has now come in, so I can finally get my laptop fixed. Next week, I’ll be writing this on my own machine.