Friday, October 21, 2011

The Case of the Smoking Computer...

Charlie was a customer care technician at a small computer store. One afternoon, a frazzled-looking lady—my 62-year-old aunt—came in with a large box. Inside, she said was a broken computer that she had brought in from her office at work. She claimed that the computer was under warranty and produced a receipt from Charlie’s store dated four months prior. “You need to fix this,” she stated.

Before Charlie could even lift the flaps and get a glimpse of the computer, he smelled it. The stench of cigarettes clung to the once-beige tower case and every component of the entire computer system, which she had been so considerate as to bring along with her. Yellow tar and nicotine stains covered the keyboard, mouse, and liquid crystal display monitor. Unable to contain his stunned curiosity, Charlie blurted out, “What have you been doing to this poor computer?".

My frazzled aunt disclosed that the computer was a service machine for a taxi company. She was a smoker; the other dispatchers were smokers; all of the cabbies were smokers, and the office for the taxi company was less than 12 feet square. Smoking was a part of everyday life in the cab service, it seemed, and the computer was taking a lot of second-hand abuse. Charlie watched my mother's older sister as she spoke and noticed that she, too, was wearing signs of such a toxic environment.

Yellow clung to her teeth and fingers, and Charlie began to suspect that she might be quite a few years younger than she appeared.
She explained to Charlie that the keyboard and mouse were sticking, and she had trouble opening the compact disk drive. The computer was “unusually quiet” and would occasionally reboot itself unprompted. Charlie nodded, swallowed hard, and opened the case. The inside of the tower case, along with every card and wire within it, was covered in visible deposits of gummy brown tar.

“This is the problem,” Charlie began. He explained to her that a computer produces a lot of heat while operating, but it cannot work unless there is sufficient cooling – much like a taxi’s engine.
He showed her how the heatsink draws the heat from the processing unit to the fan and that the fan draws cool air from outside of the tower case to blow the heat away.
“The heatsink and cooling fan are loaded with cigarette tar, ma'am. Your computer is having trouble processing the heat through this thick layer of soot."

Charlie eyed her, wondering if she was equating her computer’s difficulty “breathing” with her own lungs. She certainly did not seem to be. He went on to explain that the same tar was causing her keys, mouse and compact disk drive to stick. The computer that she had been sold was beige and had been turned brown in only four months due to their excessive smoking, he explained.

Charlie told the woman that he would not be able to help her repair the computer. She indignantly reminded Charlie that the computer was under warranty, and demanded service.
Charlie insisted. “I’m sorry, miss. This computer has died from second-hand cigarette smoke, and smoking isn't covered on the warranty."


This article was contributed by Holly Miller, who writes for Coupon Croc. Shopping online for the latest computers and technology? Visit us for discounts on all the latest electronics.

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