i came home from my first day back to work after my son
Carter was born and discovered that my laptop was courting death. It started leaving me suicide notes, message boxes that appeared every fifteen minutes to say, "Status check indicates imminent hard disk failure." This from my Mac, the better-behaved of the two computers I used daily. This was the one that was never supposed to break, the self-healing, virus-resistant, sleek, sexy sibling of the blocky and brutish Compaq that I used to design software at work. I expected that one to give me trouble; in fact, I had just spent most of my work day restoring files that had mysteriously disappeared during my two-week paternity leave. Now the Mac's hard drive was making a low, growling sound, punctuated by a higher-pitched warbling when I started applications or tilted it just so. I risked going online and ordered a new drive, then started backing up my most important files.
The new drive arrived a week later. But with a new baby and a full-time job, I knew it might be months before I found the time to install it. My wife, Debbie, had just returned to her job as a Realtor, and since we hadn't yet arranged a permanent babysitting schedule, she'd been hauling Carter to her appointments. I decided to take him off her hands for a day and call in sick so I could stay home and resuscitate my computer. This turned out to be a good idea: What I expected to be sixty minutes of work turned into a four-hour ordeal. Apparently, the drawback to having an ultra-compact Apple PowerBook is that its internal organs are packed in tighter than commuters on a rush-hour subway car. I had to loosen two-dozen screws, remove protective foil tape, unfasten wires, and detach the keyboard and mouse conduits before I even caught a glimpse of the ailing drive. One of the final steps was to detach the wire connecting the external power button—the button on the surface of the computer—to the drive. The wire was attached to the drive by a tiny plastic rectangular plug that clipped into a metal connector on the motherboard. I reached through a square-inch gap in the guts of the machine, grasped the plastic plug with my thumb and forefinger, and wiggled it free.
But when I pulled the wire out of the case, the entire connector came with it. I peered into the hole and realized I'd snapped the whole assembly off of the motherboard. There was no obvious means to reattach it; on the bottom of the broken connector were simply two flat metal pieces that looked like they needed to touch two matching pieces on the board. I took the metal portion of the connector off of the end of the wire and tried pressing it back down onto the surface, irrationally hoping it might snap into place, but it fell off and disappeared inside the case. Arggghhh. I had to turn the whole computer upside down and shake it like an Etch A Sketch before the piece finally fell out on the table.
I can be very stubborn, especially when it comes to admitting I don't know what I'm doing with a computer. But this time I knew I had messed up, badly. I had no IT department at home, no handy supply of spare parts. And repairing circuit boards was far beyond my abilities.
I was about to start calling around to get quotes on repair costs when I had an idea—a simple, potentially beautiful idea. If I could somehow position the plastic portion of the connector in such a way that those little metal pieces touched, maybe I could fix it. Could I just Krazy Glue the plastic piece to the board? I rummaged through our junk drawer, looking for that magic adhesive, but we didn't have any. So I bundled up Carter and headed to Walgreens. I paced the aisles of the store, carrying my three-week-old baby in his car seat, a look of grim determination on my sleep-deprived face. The other customers looked at me with pity—what they saw was a delirious new father stumbling around the store, looking for formula and diapers. But I found what I needed in the hardware aisle.
I returned home and arranged my instruments on the operating/kitchen table. Using a pair of tweezers, I glued the plastic portion of the broken connector onto the motherboard just so, so that the metal portion of the connector touched the metal pieces on the board. Then I reassembled the case, held my breath, and pressed the power button. Amazingly, it worked! With all my sophisticated training as a software designer, with three computer-related college degrees and years of trouble shooting experience, I fixed a two thousand dollar computer with a two-dollar bottle of glue, a pair of tweezers, and one very sleepy baby.
A month after the events in this story occurred, Matt Wood quit his job so he could stay home with Carter and break stuff full-time. He and his family live in Chicago.
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