I've had the same Dell Inspiron 1100 laptop computer for the last four years. It goes with me on almost every trip, and sees a fair amount of use at home as well. It was a budget laptop when I got it (Celeron 2GHz, 256mb ram) and has long since been left behind by technological progress, but it's still pretty adequate for web surfing, blogging, chatting, and word processing usage. For more processor-intensive computing I use our home desktop machine.
Four years of heavy usage have taken a toll on my laptop. The case has a chip out of a corner, the screen has a crack on its edge, and there are scratches aplenty. It never had internal wifi capability, so when the PCMIA slot stopped working two years ago I had to swap out my PCMIA wifi adapter for a USB version. About the same time the power supply module went bad so that the computer would revert to battery power and refuse to accept the AC power adapter if I let the battery fully charge. I adapted by taking the battery out of the computer once it reached a 99% charge and then not using it until I really needed battery power. A year ago the power supply cord also went on the fritz, so I got a replacement.
A few days ago, that power supply cord started going bad exactly like its predecessor did: intermittent power that could be made continuous by holding the cord just so in a certain spot, apparently due to broken wires within. I ended up getting a universal power supply at Radio Shack, figuring I could still use it after the Dell passed the point of usefulness. Before hooking it up, I made sure that the input power specs matched and that output DC voltage and amperage (20V @ 4.5A) was correct. Great. I found the correct Dell adapter plug and attached it, and then plugged it into my computer.
Immediately I caught a whiff of the acrid smell of burning electrical wires. I unplugged the adapter right away and plugged in my old adapter. The computer didn't respond when I pressed the "on" button. I put in the battery: the yellow "fault" light illuminated and the computer refused to turn on. Worse yet, the burning smell came back. I double-checked the output voltage, amperage, and wattage of the new adapter. Everything matched the old one. I plugged it in again, and got the nasty smell again. I wasn't sure what was happening, but it was obvious that I'd just fried my computer.
Suddenly I realized why: the power supply output is DC, meaning it's critical that the polarity be correct, but the design of the adapters allowed them to very easily be attached backwards so that the positive wire went to negative and vise-versa. I inspected the power supply side of the plug: sure enough, there was a small imprinted word, "tip," that was apparently supposed to be matched up with the equally small imprinted "tip" on the adapter side of the plug in order to keep the polarity correct. I'd had the polarity reversed.
So here's what I've concluded from this little episode: I'm just tech-savvy enough to be dangerous. To a smarter, geekier techie, this would've been a painfully obvious mistake. The computer-illiterate would've read the manual and alligned the "tip" imprints without ever knowing why they had to do so. I'm the computer version of the 600 hour CFI who's been instructing for six months and thinks they have this flying thing figured out.
Anyways, the end result is that there is a MacBook in my near future. I've toyed with the idea of making the jump to a Mac for years, but the price difference versus PCs of similar performance plus the compatibility issues always held me back. With the newest generation of Intel-based MacBooks, though, Apple has brought the price within spitting distance of comparable PC laptops. I also considered the Dell Inspiron 1520. Built to the same specifications as the base model MacBook (2GHz Core 2 Duo w/4mb cache, 800Mhz fsb, 1Gb ram, 80Gb hdd, 802.11n wifi), the Dell is only $150 cheaper and the Mac comes with better default software. Actually, I know someone who works at an Apple store; with their employee discount it's the same price. The coup de grâce is that Apple has reportedly worked the bugs out of their BootCamp software and bundled it with the newest version of mac os x, Leopard, making it fairly painless to run Windows when you need it to run your "PC-only" software. I'm pretty sold.
By the way, my Systems & Procedures Validation ("the oral") was on Saturday and it went well. There was a pretty strong emphasis on FMS usage, apparently because some previous trainees had made it into the simulator without a good grasp on the FMS. It's a rather easy box to use once you get used to it, though. I start sim training on Thursday.