Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Dork Squad

(DISCLAIMER: Any resemblance to real characters or thoughts or emotions in the story build up is purely coincidental. Figments of imagination are greatly exaggerated. All rights reserved)

JULY 2003

Another equinox. I should get the hell out of grad school and earn some real world experience. I convince myself that this is absolutely the right step to take. The PhD spans in front of me as a sheet of virgin snow, bereft of any treads. The view aft, in sharp relief, is witness to aimless wanderings in search of meaning, a Master’s thesis topic, interesting courses and a general purpose of fun. Only no Master’s in hand yet. Fuck.

I need to graduate. I am late to even make a resolution. Fuck. I need a thesis. Slackerny comes to mind. Well, not that late, I tell myself. And fortunately I have enough credits. Way too fucking many credits. I still need to finish my independent studies and work on submitting papers. Fortunately, I’ve dabbled in a bunch of stuff and the current research is rich enough; I think I can cobble together a couple of papers and with the way the project is going I should have some interesting results in a few months, thanks to DARPA’s strict adherence to schedules and pressure from my research advisor. At least my resume will look interesting; probably saleable as “multi-faceted” instead of “aimless”, “aggressively experimental” in lieu of “clueless”, “generalist” over “specialist”. “Knock ‘em Dead” spin kicks in. “Be Positive” is my motto (and my blood group, so it is literally “in my blood”).

It is 3:00 A.M. Fuck. What I need to do is increase my productivity. Be able to work from home as well. And the library. Yes, the lib is quieter than home. My outgoing room-mate is a dick. The less I see of him and the lesser I hear of his forked, gossiping tongue the better. Never saw myself as the Jerry Springer crowd. Roomie, however, would do extremely well. Perhaps should consider exploring a career in tabloids and general gossip mongering. Computer science needs brains and the department/ tax-payers can do without the deadweight.

What I need is a laptop. Oh Amazon, Amazon (.com) show me the fairest (deal) of them all. Epinions show me favorable reviews. Customer Reports advise me.

Toshiba, yes, Toshiba sounds good. A few negatives, but generally positive. What about Sony? Trusted, established brand. Nah, over priced. Too much pandering of the brand, not much gain in value. Dell? Flimsy, flaky. HP/Compaq? Crap. And full of craplets. Gateway? Hah! Acer? E-machines? REALLY? Toshiba it is.

It is 3:30 A.M. I need to be productive right away. If I hustle, I can graduate by January. Well, okay I’ll make the April deadline. Really, I can. Only if I get started, like, tomorrow. Damn the college gals and their ubiquitous and pervasive abuse of “like”. Whatever. I need a laptop ASAP. ASAP. I don’t mind paying a $300 more if it lets me graduate 2 months sooner.


Ka Ching! “Sir, that’s an excellent machine. Have you considered a bag for your laptop? How about a 256MB USB drive? Or a 100MB Iomega Zip drive to backup your interesting pictures and videos and other useless data?”

“No thanks, I just want the machine.”

“Ok. No problem. That’ll be an arm and a leg. Would you like to pay for that in flesh or blood?”


“Would you consider an extended warranty and insurance for your new toy? If you sell your soul and sign up for our Credit card, the warranty works out to be free. Well, zero interest for a year. Then we bleed the life out of you. Or you simply have to miss the unusually small payment window. Once. Would you be interested?”

“I’ll have just the extended warranty. Thanks. None of the other stuff. Sounds very tempting but I think I’ll pass.”

“Excellent choice. The warranty is da bomb. All you have to do is guard this receipt and insurance document with your life. You can walk up to any customer service desk at any Worst Buy and get immediate service.”

“Thanks. Sounds good.”

NEARLY 3 YEARS LATER (MS done, 2.5+ years of real world experience gained).

Clickety clak, type type, space-bar, clickety-clack, scroll, click… BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH. Auto-restart. FUCK. 20 minutes of work. No CTRL + S.

“Huh! XP’s never done that to me before (on this laptop). What just happened? Virus? Trojan? Bad drivers? What did I install last?”

“Welcome. Please enter your password.”
Clickety-clack, typety-type. ENTER


Clickety-clack, typety… BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH (BSOD).

Restart. Windows XP, Welcome. BSOD. Restart, Windows XP. BSOD. Restart, Micrsoft, BSOD. BSOD. BSOD. BSOD.

Fucking Windows.

Decompressing vmlinuz…
bringing up lo…
bringing up etho…
user settings…
Log on.
BLACK SCREEN. Restart. Toshiba BIOS screen.

“Crap! Hardware issue. Heat? Well it’s too late to look at it now.”

Next night cold start. 1 hour of work. BSOD.

“Hmmn… seems like a heat issue. Fan was full on. Lappie was warm. This thing still has warranty. Don’t want to void it by disassembling it. Paid for warranty should use it when needed. What’s the point otherwise?”


Me: “Machine BSODs.”

Dork: “Ok. Let’s turn it on. Oh wait, it’s got Linux. Sorry this is a software issue.”

Me: “Huh?? It’s been dual booting fine for years!”

Dork: “Sorry but you changed the hard drive bootup process. We don’t deal with that.”

Me: “It is a hardware issue!”

Meanwhile, the machine boots into Windows.

Dork: “Ok let’s take a look at your logs. Oh here we go: wireless network not found. Incorrect configuration. This is a user configuration issue.”

Me: “Huh?? I’ve had the same configuration for years! It works. Period. Nothing has changed. Could it be that the built-in wireless card is failing? Flaky connection to motherboard?”

Dork: “Maybe. But generally it is a configuration issue.”

Me: “I’m sure it is not a software / configuration issue.”

Dork: “Look, we’ll run tests on it and let you know.”

Me: “That sounds good. When would I know?”

Dork: “Next week.”

Me: “No kidding! What tests take that long?”

Dork: “We run 125 point CarMax specified tests on it. Stress test memory, drive and stuff.”

Me: “Can it be done quicker?”

Dork: “How’s next Thursday?”

Me: “It is Thursday today. That’s still one week.”

Dork: “Um, Yeah. Alright Tuesday then.”

Me: “Is there a number I can call?”

Dork: “Yeah, it’s on your file”


Me: “Hi I was supposed to get a call regarding my machine’s stress test. Is it done?”

Dork on phone: “Um, you can pick it on Friday.”

Me: “What? It was supposed to be done Tuesday.”

Phone-dork: “Um, yeah you can pick it on Friday.”



Dork: “Machine ran all tests. It is a configuration / software issue.”

Me: “What? You didn’t get it to BSOD even once?”

Dork: “Not according to this sheet.”

Me: “I don’t believe it, let’s start it and see.”

Microsoft. Windows XP…. BSOD.

Me: “There! It didn’t even get done booting! What were your stress tests? Did you stare at it real hard? Or ask it leading questions??”

Dork: “Huh! The sheet says you’ve got a dual-boot system. It’s a linux dual-boot/ software / configuration issue.”

Me: “I know it isn’t, but can you fix it?”

Dork: “Yes, we’ll do a system restore for you. But that will cost you $69.99.”

Me: “It is NOT a system install issue. I scrubbed my drive clean and restored the windows partition before bringing it to you. It still BSODs.”
Dork: “We can still work on this for you, but we will format the entire drive and remove all partitions and restore the machine to factory defaults. We would advise you to backup your data before you bring it back to us.”

#@!$^%$#%@&# $%^#^%M


Google: “Toshiba laptop blue screen”
1. heat issue
2. dirty heat sink
3. clogged fan
4. cleaning instructions

Canned air. Intense spraying. Gunk on the other side. Laptop works. Heat issue confirmed. Dorks!

One week of trouble free working later, BSOD. Canned air, intense spraying, no gunk, still BSOD.
Dork squad counter

Me: “cleaned it first. Seemed to work. Now BSODs again. Seems like a heat / thermal venting issue.”
Dork: “ok let’s see. Oh it’s got linux on here. It’s a dual boot issue. It sometimes corrupts the MBR”
@#$@%^@$#%#@^Y $@%@$%%M


Red eyes. Stupid laptop.
Screw driver.
Canned air.

Remove battery
Remove screws
Remove back panels
Remove heat sink baffle
No dirt
No dirt on fan


Lots of thermal grease on the side of on-processor heat sink
Unscrew heat sink on processor
Very little thermal grease on the chip
Grease bundled up on sides!!


1 Butter knife
Gentle spreading motion to give even thick coat
Replace heat sink
Replace baffle
Replace panels
Replace screws
Insert battery

Power on. Welcome to windows.

3 days later, still no BSOD.
3 months on, still no BSOD

Linux, Windows, Linux, Windows, no BSOD. Conclusion: Overheating due to thermal grease slippage. Hardware issue.

So much for Best Buy Dork Squad and excellent service.