Monday, July 25, 2011


For those of you who know me, and know me well, you'll know that I hate failure with a passion. I use the word "hate" sparingly, and I can honestly say that failure is one of the things that truly boils my blood. Due to this fact, I avoid failure at all costs, sometimes pushing myself beyond reasonable means to achieve success. Some call it crazy; I call it driven. At any rate, knowing and recalling that piece of information about me will help you understand this post all the better.

Saturday morning rolled around all too early, and I awoke to the 'ding' of my phone going off. I had received a text message. "Woo!" I thought to myself, "maybe someone's asking if I'm free today! If so, the answer is yes!" I half begrudgingly, half excitedly rolled over to grab my phone off the nightstand. I opened up the text message and read: "Laptop has hardware error! Crap!" The message was from my mother. At this point, I was a little peeved. She hadn't texted me in days, much less called to check in on me. And then, she wakes me up on Saturday morning, before my alarm, with a problem? Ugh. Trying to lighten the mood, I sent her a message back saying "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

Not minutes later, I had a response back that read: "Call me on house phone!" Yes, ma'am? I'm sorry, I don't take orders pre-wake up on Saturdays! I slowly returned her message, asking for a minute to wake up before I called. I quickly got up, used the bathroom, and grabbed a glass of water. I headed back to my room, where the temperature is much more bearable, and dialed the age-old number. The phone rang once; on the second ring, my mother answered it. "Hellowehaveaproblem" was how I was greeted. I had her talk me through it, and assumed she was getting the "black screen of death" (similar to the blue screen of death).

She described the problem as "a white screen turning into black, with a blob that grows." Now, I'm not sure how you, reader, describe computer problems, but in case you were curious: this is not an effective way to describe a problem. Again, this pointed to black screen of death. I have in my possession a Windows Vista install CD, as well as Microsoft Office 2007. It's not the newest software, but it is what my mom's computer has installed currently.

I looked at my options.

This upcoming week is my mom's last week of school. She needs her computer to finish up her class work; as a college student, I understand this better than anyone. I could a) be a bitch, and say "wow, how unfortunate! That really sucks, and good luck getting your work done. Or, I could pick option b) I could quickly dress, head out to the suburbs (via train), and wipe the computer clean--reinstalling all of the programs and such. I offered her the latter, and she agreed. I could tell she was desperate.

At the time, the following phrase flashed through my mind: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I've never really liked this phrase, and so in my life, I've often substituted it with "Do unto others as you see fit; let everything you do reflect the most you can do." Ok, so it doesn't sound quite as good as the original, but it reflects my views on how I treat others a lot better than the original phrase does.

I boarded the Metra just over an hour later, and by early afternoon I was eating lunch in a south suburb. After lunch, I decided to take a look at the computer. This is what I saw:

Uh oh. Not quite what I had expected. If you remember the description from earlier, the one I had criticized so harshly...well, it fit the bill, that's for sure! Clearly, this was not the typical "Uh oh, Windows broke..." error. I did a double, triple, and then quadruple take. Then, I began what every good computer technician does when he or she is in above his or her head...I started to google.

I found out that nVidia made the video chip residing in the laptop. I also read up on the million dollar suits against nVidia for manufacturing faulty chips! Uh oh, I thought, I might be in over my head. I decided that my next step would be to clean out the fan. Maybe the computer was just overheating, and that's what was causing the faulty monitor. I popped open the back of the computer, and found a load of dust, dirt and lint! Ew! I got out the vacuum (haha!) and my dad helped me vacuum out the computer. This is some of what we pulled out:

I put everything back together, plugged everything in and...voila! Not a thing happened. I sighed deeply. I consulted with a computer-science friend, and he said that my problem was one of two things:

1. The video chip malfunctioned.

2. The monitor malfunctioned.

To test this, I took an external monitor, from the old desktop, and plugged it into the computer. I expected it to do one of two things. Either it would show me Windows starting up (indicating just the monitor on the laptop was bad), or it would show me the same white/black screen (indicating the video chip was bad). Unfortunately, neither of those things happened. Ugh! What the hell was going on? I wondered. The external monitor didn't even seem to pick up a signal from the laptop.

I talked to yet another computer-science friend (how lucky I am to have smart friends!) and he said it was likely the video chip, and nothing could be done.

However, the first friend recommended a process called "tealighting." I thought this sounded sketchy, and it is! Basically, what you do is find the video card/chip in your computer, and then light a tealight candle (the kind that sits in a small metal cup). Then, you put the candle on top of the video card, and let it burn all the way through, until all the wax is melted. This is supposed to reflow the chip and has worked for some people to get the video card to work.

Well, last ditch effort, here it is! I performed a google search (several, actually) to find tear downs of my mom's laptop, and located the video-board. Getting to this item required a complete tear down of the computer...much past what most tutorials recommended. However, I accepted the challenge. Here are a few of the steps I remembered to photograph:

Finally, I found that for which I was looking! Here it is!

Finally! It had taken me nearly two (if not more) hours to tear down the computer, and I was very relieved to finally have the correct piece exposed so I could begin the tealighting process. I found a candle (thank goodness my mother has a ton of them!) and set it up. I told my mom and brother that I felt like I was in church, lighting a candle for the computer, and I should probably say a prayer. I made the sign of the cross backwards, and with my left hand (a sign if irreverence if ever there were one) and everyone laughed. We lit the candle, and then waited. Here's what we were looking at!

I sent the above picture to my friend, who had recommended the tealighting process, and all of a sudden got a frantic instant message back that said "Uhmmm Lana, I think you have it in the wrong place!"

Oh. Shit.

You see, I had completely flubbed up. I successfully located the S-Video board. This is NOT the same thing as the video chip/card, which runs the graphics on your computer. The S-Video board is for the connector cable that can run from your TV to your computer. You know, the one that we've never used? Yep, that one. I tore down an entire computer only to find the wrong thing.

Begrudgingly, I blew out the candle, and asked where exactly the correct video chip would be. I found it here:

Of the three "squares" that you can see in that image, the video card is the one all the way to the right. It was actually right under the fan, this thing:

I had removed this hours before, and it's very easy to access. This was the video card the candle must affect.

How could I be so stupid? I spent hours tearing apart an entire computer, only to find out that the part I was looking for was near the top all along! I have never felt so stupid. I mean, I recognized the fact that I have never taken any formal computer classes, and quite a few people would have probably said "fuck it" and not even attempted to fix it; however, I'm not one of those people. Great, I thought, now even if the tealighting does work, I likely won't be able to get it back together!

I sat in fury while I watched the candle burn. The candle almost represented how I felt. I had started out a strong, solid candle, and working on this computer consumed me (as the fire was consuming the wick and wax of the candle) and I was burning down to the bottom. My solid confidence had melted and liquified, and was in great danger of spilling out at the slightest provocation. I was furious with myself; I had only myself to blame for the error, and took full responsibility for it.

At last, the candle burned out, and I removed it from the video chip. I began the reassembly of the rest of the computer, reconnecting wires and the like, until I had everything placed in nearly the same fashion in which it started. I crossed my fingers the entire time (figuratively, of course--crossing them literally would have made my already impossible job even more impossible!) and hoped for the best.

I had to wait until later on Sunday to put the rest back together, because I needed to go buy thermal paste to go between the video chip (and cpu and the other "square") and the heatsink. I act like I actually know what I'm talking about--I don't. I do know that silver conducts heat, and we wanted to put silver in between those two things so that the heat could successfully be vented out of the computer. Beyond that, I'm clueless.

I think the worst part about this not working is that my mom, and the rest of my family, put their faith in me; I proceeded to let them down. The part that's "even worse" is that I put my faith in myself...and I still failed.

After we went to Radioshack (woo!), I came home, applied the silver paste, and finished up the final touches on getting the computer back together. Surprisingly (sort of), it looked like ... a computer! Ta-daa! I had it all put back together. I turned it on (and breathed a deep sigh of relief that all of the LED lights aligned...) and waited with bated breath.

The "engine" whirred, and the fans came on. The "doot doot doot" sounded aaaaand...the screen turned white.

Then, slowly, the screen faded to black.

I had successfully restored the computer back to the condition in which I found it.

Sigh. Deep sigh. Bite tongue. Don't cry. Blink blink blink. Clench teeth. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Lick lips. Go back to clenching teeth cause here come the tears. Blink blink. Don't look at them or you'll burst into tears. Try ctrl+alt+del and see if it changes anything. It doesn't. You knew it wouldn't. Lick the roof of your mouth. Swallow. They're waiting for you. You have to tell them everything. What do you say? You're the one looking at the screen stupid. They're figuring it out.

"What's going on, Lana? Does it work? It's okay if it doesn't, you tried your best..."

Yeah. My best. But what happens when your best isn't good enough? I tried and I failed. And, because I couldn't fix the computer, now my family is basically computer-less, and they watched me try and fail. My family is not used to seeing me fail--they're used to success, and being able to celebrate me. And, in cases like this, they're used to benefiting from my success.

But that didn't happen.

I looked up to my mom with the most deeply apologetic eyes I could muster. "I'm sorry, Mom. I couldn' just didn't... It's not fixed."

"It's ok, Lana. You tried, I saw you try. You didn't give up, when a lot of others would have. And, you saved me a lot of money by looking at this at home rather than having me take it into a shop. I appreciate all of your time and hard work."


I saw Harry Potter 7.2 on Sunday with my brother. One of the lines that I wanted to share here, I can't remember, but another one I can. Dumbledore said this to Harry during Harry's dream sequence/trippy moment. He said something to the effect of "It is our choices, not our abilities, that define us."

Wow. Stop. Take a step back. I finally got what my mom said (and always has said) about "trying your best." It's poorly worded, as it is: trying your best. But, I finally understood that making the choice to try is what defines you, not the ability to succeed in whatever you decide to do.

Talk about being hit with a ton of bricks.

All my life I've depended on success in carrying out my decisions. I pride myself on being decisive, knowing what I want, and knowing how to succeed. I do my best for both others and myself. And just then, for a quick moment, with this computer in front of me and my family encircling me, I realized that making the choice to help meant far more to them than any functional computer I could have given them.

This is what I learned this weekend. I hope I can keep this thought alive in the back of my mind in the future. :) I guess sometimes it is true, what "they" say: you learn the most from your failure.

Peace, until next time.

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