Friday, May 01, 2009
Apparently I have a hidden talent for wrecking my laptop computers in unique and spectacular ways. In late 2007 I reversed the polarity on a universal power adapter, frying my ancient Dell Inspiron. It turned out to be a good excuse for buying myself a new MacBook, which I fell in love with. My Mac has been rock-solid reliable for the year and a half I've owned it; my only complaint is how easy the edge of the plastic case chips, a common problem Apple subsequently solved with the new aluminum unibody MacBooks (for a $300 premium over the plastic versions!).
On the morning of my birthday a few weeks ago, I woke up at 7am in my Pittsburgh hotel room to a faint crackling sound. I thought I was imagining things so I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. Then I heard it again; I sat upright and caught an acrid whiff of electrical smoke. That got my attention very quickly; I jumped out of bed and followed the crackling sound. To my horror, it was coming from my MacBook, which was sitting in a pool of clear liquid on an ottoman next to the bed. I snatched the laptop out of the puddle, took out the battery, and ran into the bathroom to towel it off as well as I could. Then I tried to figure out where the liquid came from.
My lunch box was sitting on the same ottoman and was at the very epicenter of the puddle. My first thought was that an ice pack burst. When I investigated, though, all ice packs were accounted for and intact, and there was no moisture inside the cooler.
I decided to touch and smell the mystery liquid that was now quickly drying. As near as I could tell, it was just plain water with a slight twinge of burnt silicone to it. I checked the ceiling for any sign of leakage and asked the hotel's maintenance guy about it. He agreed that it didn't look like there was any water damage to the ceiling, and pointed out that it hadn't rained and there were no water pipes near that location.
I still have absolutely no idea where the water came from. It crossed my mind that, having enjoyed a number of adult beverages the night before in celebration of my birthday, I might have risen half-awake in the night and mistaken my MacBook for a commode. There was none of the smell you'd expect to accompany any such event, though. One of my flight attendants helpfully suggested that since I'd neglected to deadbolt my door, perhaps a mischievous cleaning lady had opened it and lobbed in a water balloon. When I rolled my eyes she quite correctly pointed out that I don't have a better answer. The Apple techs couldn't come up with any hardware-related explanation.
I left the battery out of my computer for the rest of the trip. When I got home, I let the computer sit in a pan of uncooked rice for a few days. It's possible that this is merely an old wives' tale, but I've heard that doing so will draw moisture out of waterlogged electronics. Amazingly enough, the computer booted up on AC power! Reinserting the battery, however, led to smoke and imminent destruction by fire. My local tech suggested that perhaps only the battery-to-logic board cable was damaged, but closer inspection revealed widespread damage to the logic board itself, making repair uneconomical. Since then I've been using the computer on AC power only, and it's been shutting down unexpectedly with greater and greater frequency. This morning it shut down and refused to boot back up. The mystery liquid's path of destruction had finally run its course.
The bottom line is that I'm typing this on a brand new 13" MacBook - yes, still the plain-jane white version rather than the snazzy unibody. I picked it up this morning from MicroCenter with a $200 rebate, making this the cheapest new MacBook I've ever seen and easing the pain just a little bit. My next purchase? A waterproof case, in which my computer will spend every instant that it's not in use. You never know when a puddle of water will appear out of thin air and turn your $1000 computer into sizzling, smoking garbage.