Death of a ‘Toughbook’

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(update: after two days of nothing, the device is now booting again and Panasonic have offered to take a closer look at it and tell me what happened.)

My faith in my Panasonic Toughbook took a bath today when a waitress poured coffee all over it (and me.) It’s that absurd thing that waiters do of having to put coffee and food down right next to you when you’re clearly in the middle of a key discussion/interview/meeting/nap. It was bound to happen.

Still, I held out hope the Toughbook would be up to it. After all, the videos show guys doing stuff to their Toughbook we wouldn’t do to our partners (unless they asked us to.) I splashed the coffee off under a tap, knowing the damage coffee can wreak. To no avail: within minutes the screen went blank and the thing died.

Now I know why they call them ‘drop- and spill- resistant”. If it’s a spill, you might be ok, so long as it’s purified water. And “resistant”? It resists it, like Niles would Maris.

I bought a new one and am charging the hotel for it; they’ve agreed but I’ll send the lawyers home when I see the money. I happen to have a recording of the point when the coffee is spilt. It goes something like this:

Interviewee: in a fast growth  economy like India. Bangladesh, meanwhile.. [sound of crockery slipping, liquid spilling] oo shit!

Flaks (in chorus): oh no!

Me: (bizarrely quietly) Interesting…

Flaks (in chorus): oh dear!

Me: (still bizarrely quietly) OK…

[Sound of waitress disemboweling self with sugar spoon]

Lessons from all this?

  • Don’t order coffee in five star hotel lobbies when you’ve got a laptop in the area.
  • Don’t believe any waterproof claims from laptop manufacturers. Turns out that spillage only applies to the keyboard. You can see the waitress managed to get the latte everywhere except the keyboard.
  • Don’t settle for less from those responsible than full replacement immediately. I made it clear to the phalanx of hotel management that they would face serious claims if I did not check and rehouse the hard drive as quickly as possible and that meant buying a replacement computer immediately (it helped I was down the road from the place I bought it at the time. Singapore is like that.) It’s not about the computer: it’s really about the data, but it’s also about your day. You’re a working stiff and you don’t deserve to sit on your hands while they try to wriggle out of a full refund.
  • Back up your data regularly. I was lucky; the hard drive was safe. But I bet a lot wouldn’t be.

This, by the way, is what Panasonic say at the bottom of the page on spillage:

Furthermore, if you spill coffee, soft drinks, or similar liquids on the computer, the keyboard or other parts of the unit may become stained. Sugar and other substances may also cause corrosion, so liquids other than water are more problematic. Deal with such spills in the same way as directed for water and then have the unit checked.

Be aware that the spill resistance of these products in no way guarantees that liquids will not harm them or cause breakdowns.

Tight Angles at 30,000 Feet

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I’m sure I’m not the first person to think that economy class seats are getting smaller. This is me trying to do some writing on my ThinkPad when the person in front had her seat in recline mode. Forget about it. It’s impossible to lift the screen any higher than this (it’s a Malaysian Airlines plane.)

So what’s the answer? I want something I can type on when the muse strikes wherever I am, without worrying about space or whether I’m going to be told by attendants I can’t use the device because it’s really a phone.

I’m trying to get a new iGo ThinkOutside keyboard (spilt coffee over the last one) and was wondering whether a Palm LifeDrive might be the answer. Any thoughts? I’d like to have something with a bit of space on the screen and on the drive itself.

Vista: Preloaded With Gunk

My colleague Walt Mossberg writes a scathing piece about preloaded Vista machines; definitely worth a read. I’m trying installing Vista on a virgin machine, and the experience isn’t much better so far.

clipped from ptech.wsj.com

I have set up many computers over the years, so I wasn’t shocked that the out-of-box experience was less than ideal. Still, I was struck by just how irritating it was to get going with the new Sony Vaio SZ laptop I bought about 10 days ago. It was the first new Windows machine I’d bought in a few years, because I had been waiting for Microsoft’s new Windows Vista operating system. I was amazed that the initial experience is still a big hassle.

ThinkPad Joins the Exploding Laptop Parade?

Looks like the days of the laptop (and perhaps other gizmos) on airlines are numbered. First, Virgin becomes the third airline [CNET news] to place restrictions on Apple and Dell laptops, allowing them on planes only if the battery [Virgin site] has been removed, wrapped and stored in carry-on luggage. (Qantas and Korean Air have already placed restrictions [CNET news].) You can use the laptops from a power source in some instances on these airlines.

But this story doesn’t seem to be going away. A person posted a story on the Awful Forums (the account is also posted on Gizmodo.) alleging that an “IBM laptop” (presumably a ThinkPad, now owned by Lenovo) caught fire on a United plane boarding at Los Angeles airport. The passenger reportedly ran up the gangway from the plane dropping his laptop on the floor of the departure lounge where “the thing immediately flares up like a giant firework for about 15 seconds, then catches fire”. The owner, apparently, had checked his battery against a list of those of these being recalled, and it wasn’t on it.

Notebook Review has this to say: “An incident like this makes you wonder how long it is before in flight laptop use when running on batteries is just banned altogether.  Which would be a black eye to both the airline and notebook industry.” I’d tend to agree.

IBM. It’s About the Service, Stoopid

I’m no great fan of big companies. They’re rarely innovative, their products are lousy, and unless you know how to get around them, they don’t like talking to customers. But some get it. Or at least, they used to.

When I came out to Indonesia a second time, in 1998, I did two things. I got an IBM ThinkPad, and I signed up for IBM.net, a dial-up service. I did this because I knew that IBM had first-rate customer support out here (across Asia, actually). I didn’t care I had to pay a little more for both; I knew that if anything went wrong with my computer, there would be some cool, good-humored, sartorially challenged techie guy to help me out. And if I couldn’t get my modem to connect, someone would walk me through it, helped by some simple but effective dialer software.)

Well, first off, IBM.net is now AT&TGlobal, and has been since late 1998. AT&T have been pretty good at maintaining standards, actually, although I noticed on a recent trip that they still don’t have any local number in Thailand or Cambodia, and when I tried to dial a number in the Philippines, I got some weird error message that the help desk couldn’t decipher either. Or I couldn’t decipher the help desk’s explanation; I have a sneaky suspicion you don’t get local support anymore. In fact, I still don’t understand the message:

 NOTE: Due to Network Restrictions, if you are not a user who is registered for the service in this country, please contact this country´s helpdesk for access authorization. The helpdesk number for this Country can be found by visiting our Contact Us page.

What does that mean? Network Restrictions? Huh? Bleurrgh. (In fact, come to think of it, for a ‘Global’ service, AT&TGlobal’s not that global: couldn’t find numbers for 11 out of 20 Asian countries. Is this a sign of WiFi’s dominance, or just that places like Laos and Brunei don’t matter?).

Anyway, now with Lenovo owning ThinkPad, are we going to see declining service there? David Weinberger recently explained Why I’m taking my Thinkpad, not my Powerbook, with me on the road only to add at the end:

But wait! The Mac has a late surge! IBM received my broken ThinkPad on Nov. 17 but has to wait until Nov 30 to get in a newhard drive. So I’m taking my Mac with me to Europe after all. That is totally sucky service from IBM. It used to be actually good. Is this an isolated incident or are they headed the way of Dell?

Well, I must here put in a good word for the IBM guys here in Jakarta. One guy called Halim in particular is always there way after everyone else has gone home, smiling past a sea of monitors and disemboweled ThinkPads. I have to take one in again to him tomorrow which seems to have suddenly lost all its networking skills. I know the feeling.

Anyway, my point (there’s always a point) is that IBM understood — past tense, but judgement suspended — that you keep the customer happy by keeping the customer happy. It doesn’t necessarily mean a perfect product, but it does mean making them feel that if something goes wrong, their panic attacks will be taken seriously. It’s customer service plain and simple and in this big networked world it’s still possible, because I remember IBM doing it. Once.

RAMming Home An Old Point

For many of you this is a no-brainer but maybe some folk might find it helpful. I had to switch laptop the other day while one was being fixed and was horrifed to find how slow the replacement was. Every program, every file, every function loaded slowly and the hard drive was stuttering along despite being well-defragged and with plenty of spare space.

Of course, it was the RAM (computer memory, where programs operate, rather than hard drive storage, where they hang out between bouts of action). Why IBM ThinkPads com come with only 256 MB of RAM as standard baffles me. Unless you’re running absolutely nothing, my experience has been that it’s just not enough to get you into Windows, let alone do any serious work.

The good news is that it’s really, really easy to add another 256 MB, just by unscrewing the bottom and slotting it in. Do it. Given it’ll cost you less than $100 it’s worth it. Now I’m back to 512 MB and I’m very, very grateful. Now the question is: Is it worth adding another wodge of RAM? My technical advisor says not.

Hardware: Notebook Chillout

 A problem I keep having with my notebook is that it catches fire a lot. Well, not actually on fire, but it gets very, very hot. Here’s a possible solution: Antec’s new Notebook Cooler.
 

 
Designed to draw a continual flow of cool air across the computer’s hottest surface, Antec’s Notebook Cooler fits underneath a laptop. Its aluminum surface helps conduct heat away from the system and its 388 ventilation holes keep a steady distribution of airflow from two 70mm fans. Cost? $39.95.