Blue. Plastic. Hot.



Growing up, there was a special reverence paid to technology. Rituals included reading resistors by their striped bands and analyzing circuit diagrams to divine their roots as either parallel or series. Our sacrament was the familiar grip of an anti-static bracelet, and after receiving it (just to be sure) we invoked the spirits by compulsively touching and re-touching bright metal surfaces. Totems included bins of gravely marked vacuum tubes, a fleet of 3 Intellivisions rescued from the bargain bin, a beautiful circa-1960s oscilloscope, a Merlin game, and a bright blue plastic soldering set.

I remember vividly, kneeling at the foot of the master, my father, and being taught how to touch the business end of that soldering iron to the circuit board, not the flux (“Never the flux!”), and to gently ease said flux into the gap in the board. Victory was a puff of smoke brought on, I was told, by the liquid that inhabited the center of the flux itself. Magic: mysterious and awesome. It was a cluttered and gloriously curious way to live.

I vaguely remember several miracles that my father performed on my AT&T PC 6300, particularly the time when he exposed her dusty daughter board and pressed an Ad Lib card safely into her vacant socket. Praise be to EggHead that she lived!

The main tenet of our faith was self-reliance. It seemed that there was nothing my father could not fix. But there were also disasters—trials and tribulations that tested our faith. There is the story of the Apple II, whose power supply burped, smoking a few of the unique chips on her board. Delicate silver probes told us where the problem lay. Under magnification, we found telling signs of the chip’s origin, and orders were placed. But we were never able to restore her to her former glory. She still rests in an unmarked box, high in the attic. We did our best to save her on our own, but we were not good enough.

Somehow, over the years, I seem to have wandered from the faith. I had more pressing things to do. Time was fleeting, and there were football games and fraternity parties to attend. I entered the working world, and the years of working in retail polluted my mind. As I came of age, I found what I thought was a better way.

I became a devotee of the tech-support line.

As a salesman, I learned what it took to please a customer, and how to manage conversations between a company and customer. I knew how each side thought. I learned the secret of setting the terms for the argument. I learned to form a firm resolve and slowly bend a writhing company to my will. The thought of sullying myself with the cold touch of real electronics, of spending the time to study the structure of a thing to find the problem, drifted from my mind.

And I used my powers for evil again and again. I began to prize my triumphs over Southeast Asians claiming to be from Peoria. There was the week where I spent 11 hours over four days with my BlackBerry service provider—I now have a personal consultant, Jennifer, who allows me to text her whenever I have billing questions. My 2-lines of data are unlimited, our nights and weekend start at five, all for the $65 a month I agreed to when I was sold the wrong plan.

There are the dozens of calls I made to Microsoft one September evening regarding my RROD on an out-of-warranty launch 360. 5 hours later, “Samuel” had relented. My coffin arrived, free of charge, with a hand-written note of apology.

I stubbornly ground down the resistance I found on these 800 numbers. I was relentless in the pursuit of my vision, alternately charismatic and demeaning as required. I was both good cop and bad, with a simple code of conduct: If at first you don’t succeed, escalate.

But it couldn't last forever. I ran into a brick wall—an entrenched opponent whose own clever schemes are no match for my own; whose gambit has cost me both time and treasure. Here now I will admit my folly, publicly admit my shame.

I recently called a tech-support line for out-of-warranty support. I paid a man $50 so that he could, within 15 minutes of money changing hands, tell me there was nothing he could do.

Why did I pay him? Family photos were involved. Tax records were involved. Money is tight, but memories and financial records are priceless. I still think I did the right thing, but it was nonetheless a low point in my relationship with technology. And it was then and there that I hit rock bottom, and I vowed to change my ways.

I now set back to reclaiming the path my father had set me on. I clutch to two key beliefs: First, nothing of importance will ever fail to be backed up twice; second, the next box I buy I will build myself.

Never again will I be savaged by the need to purchase manufacturer’s compatible components. Never again will I be held in torpor, unable to move beyond compatibility issues found in the firmware. I will not stand before a display device and be unable to find the appropriate resolution and aspect ratio with which to project my whims! Fie, I say! Fie! Damn your trouble tickets, and blast them into the nine hells! If your component fails me, it will be exiled. The next $50 I spend will be on a new device, not on a new excuse.

Like a god, I form the system in my chosen image. I select the motherboard. I define the number of cores. I choose how many and which graphics cards I want to feed from the pulsing stream of electrons emanating from the power source I elected to buy. And with a little help from the internet,

I can find a way to soldier on. I can find a way to do it myself.


Welcome back to the fold Brother.

And that's why you don't yell!, that's why you back things up. If you'll allow me to preach from the pulpit for a moment, that's why I run Linux on a PC of my choosing built by my own hands. My documents are stored in ODF or plain text, and my music is Ogg Vorbis or FLAC.

Sounds like you have a failed hard drive. You might want to look into Spinrite.


Yeah, take the lemons!

It was actually a blown mobo, something about the bus. I got everything back, save a corrupted video from our honeymoon. This was years ago, but thanks for the help. See what I mean about the internet?

hidannik wrote:

Sounds like you have a failed hard drive. You might want to look into Spinrite.


True, had 2 family members with crashed hard drives which Spinrite managed to save. Anyway, nice article!

Prozac wrote:

Welcome back to the fold Brother.


Countdown to *Legion* appearing to yell at you for not doing regular backups.....

Backed up in triplicate now. 1 portable at home, 1 in the safety deposit box, and volominous catalogued DVDs of the pics.

This story is why I keep three copies of my files at all times. The first is on my main computer, the second is a backup on my HTPC, and the third is a backup on my external eSata drive. I do daily small backups of only the files that have changed (usually a few save game files in the Documents folder) and a weekly full backup. Even with all of that, I am still considering investing in an online backup solution.


You should probably also back it up in a good ol' fashioned album, too. Just in case.

Spinrite still lives? I remember using it a couple of times c. 1994, when it was the tool of last resort because a full diagnostic could take over a day. On hard drives which are unimaginably small by present-day standards.

Yes, and the author - Steve Gibson - has a weekly podcast called Security Now! where he discusses computer security issues (such as the recent PSN breach, tools like LastPass, and topics like how cryptographically strong random number generators work). is his website, where you can buy the latest version of Spinrite and download/use a number of free computer security tools (such as Shields Up, which scans your PC for open ports, and Perfect Passwords, which generates strong passwords for you to use).

I have no dog in this fight, other than being a happy user of Spinrite and a listener to Security Now!