The story of how I ended up with my very own college computer after years of sharing one at home is a long one that begins with my brother winning an athletic prize and buying a computer. It then immediately ends with him joining the Air Force. Exactly one twist and turn later, it passed on to me.
Hey. I didn’t say it was a very interesting story.
The story of how that same computer ended up exploding, if nothing else, is more interesting by virtue of it having at least one more explosion than the one just before it.
I’d like to begin that story by saying that the events that transpired were in large part not due to my actions and ineptitude. Any rational person who was very impatient and not all that aware of how to fix computers would have very likely probably made similar decisions to the one I had. I really can’t stress that enough, especially given that this is a super weak defense in the first place.
Allow me to set the scene…
The first thing you have to know, aside from the fact that this definitely wasn’t my fault, is that this was back in a time when people used to turn their computers off when they weren’t using them. The current system of just leaving them on indefinitely so we could hop on and off the Internet hadn’t yet been invented, mostly due to neither Facebook nor YouTube having existed yet.
I came home from a day of classes eager to peruse one of the seven or eight decent websites that existed at the time. So, as I had hundreds of times before, I pressed the big green button on the front of the computer. And like exactly zero times before, literally nothing happened.
(Note: I realize you were probably expecting an explosion there, but trust me. As much as you think you see it coming now, you’ll know when it’s coming later.)
I was flabbergasted. In fact, my state of mind was so intense that I was forced to run downstairs, find a computer in the library and look up a word that summed up how I felt. The word, if it wasn’t entirely clear, was flabbergasted.
(Though “flummoxed” came in a close second.)
From there, I went through my mental checklist of potential solutions. I don’t claim that it’s a great list, but it’s probably more than 90% of people would have done before calling the IT help desk. Then again, it loses some points for being the same checklist I use for cars that won’t start, printers that won’t print and boring conversations.
- Try turning it off and on again, on the off chance that you missed the button with your first attempt.
- Try turning the power strip off and on again.
- Plug something else into the power strip and turn it off and on again after forgetting which way is the “off” position.
- Remove all cords from your computer. Reattach all cords. Try turning the computer off and on again.
- Remove all cords from your computer again. This time, take each cord aside and offer it immunity from prosecution if it reveals the identity of the faulty connection.
- Give the computer a hard smack. Repeat several times. Begin saying, “Whatsamatteryou!?” every time you smack it. Lament that casual racism has become a part of your everyday life.
- Try turning it off and on again, seeing as this is the last possible thing you can do that won’t involve talking to a human being about how inept you are with technology.
Snap. It was on this, the ninth or tenth time I’d tried pressing the power button that I heard the telltale sound of rigid plastic breaking. Naturally curious, I went to work removing the front face of my computer using the saddest collection of tools any human being has ever assembled for the purpose of computer repair.
I made surprisingly quick work of the front face, exposing it – likely permanently, as I’d broken quite a few more pieces of plastic in the process – for a better look at the inner workings of the power button.
I can’t adequately describe what I saw there in any sort of useful detail. It wasn’t complicated, but I should be clear that my knowledge of computers at the time was leaps and bounds beyond my understanding of electrical circuits. And that wasn’t a good thing.
The short version, however, is that the power button used a tiny sliver of metal to connect two other pieces of metal together. Unfortunately, the power button had broken in such a way that it could no longer achieve said function. And, with the day quickly passing me by and nothing even resembling foresight entering my mind, I pressed a metal coin against both bits.
Crackle. I was, to the surprise of no electrical engineer anywhere, given quite a nasty shock for my efforts. This is probably why circuits are rarely connected with a coin clutched between one’s bare fingers. In fact, I’m sure this is exactly why circuits are never connected with a coin clutched between one’s bare fingers.
On the other hand (the one I hadn’t used to complete a live electrical circuit), my computer had actually started.
I went about my business for some time after this rather blissfully unaware of the small doom cloud hovering just slightly above my computer from then on. The second worst thing that can happen to someone is for their bad idea to actually work, since it gives them ample incentive to try it again. The first is the constant wave of movie reboots. That’s not related to this story. I’m just sayin’…
That said, my life went on surprisingly normally for the next seven days or so.
Sure, my computer had been running a week straight without rest. Sure, its front panel was so broken that it was impossible to reattach. And sure, it’s private parts were on display for the whole world to see, like some two-bit hussy.
(Or thirty-two-bit hussy. I’ll…see myself out.)
But, aside from the fact that I’d been completely unwilling to risk shutting down my system, things were going smoothly. Of course, even I was aware that leaving the computer on indefinitely was a problem that was going to need to be addressed at some point. Then again, I figured that by the time it became a real issue, I’d need to buy a new computer anyway.
I mean, in my defense, I was technically right about needing to buy a new one.
For whatever reason, my computer had gone off while I was at class. I’m still not sure why. Maybe it was part of the existing problem. Maybe it had just gotten overworked and overheated. For whatever reason, though, I found myself once again clutching a coin in a questionable attempt to “hot-wire” my personal computer.
“This is a really good idea,” I noted, mere inches from duplicating my previous electrocution. “When I turn on the computer I’m going to write a list of all the things I don’t regret about doing this.”
The computer hummed to life. And, in a moment of surprise that would almost immediately be topped, the coin wedged into place. As a stream of sparks discouraged me from pulling it out of place (which was a brief moment of intelligent thought in a veritable stormy sea of stupidity), I absentmindedly noticed the hum grow louder and louder until it closely resembled a circular saw. To the surprise of absolutely no one, this turned out not to be a good sign.
Pop. To this day, I have no better word to describe it. There was a sound like stepping on a full bag of cooked microwave popcorn. Then my computer case deformed into a piece of outsider art.
I watched a cloud of dense black smoke rise lazily to the ceiling where it (mercifully) never found a smoke detector. Small mercies, I suppose.
After the initial shock wore off, I surveyed the damage without much optimism. As it turned out, I’d managed to turn my computer’s power supply into a small bomb. The only saving grace was that I was as good at accidentally making bombs as I was at fixing computers, meaning that there was surprisingly minimal damage to the area immediately surrounding the computer. It was, for lack of a better description, a 100% unintended precision strike.
The computer itself, of course, had been reduced to a paperweight. Its outer casing had stretched into odd shapes while its innards became a mixture of blackened confetti. It was more or less the computer equivalent of eating at Arby’s.
I still remember spending the rest of that day gaping at the destruction. I’d never seen a piece of technology fail so badly. And it brought back the bitter taste of every time I’d insulted an older relative for not being able to find the proper input on their television or set the clock on their microwave. At least they hadn’t turned their television or microwave into something that might land them on a government watch list.
When it was all said and done, I simply replaced the front plate as best as I could, sighed and turned off the power button.
Better safe than sorry.