I was thinking of the question Paul Burkhouse had asked in
the phone interview. He had inquired about my mechanical inclinations and to
clarify, had asked: “if you turned on your computer and nothing happened, what
would you do?” “If it did absolutely nothing?” I had responded. “Oh, that would
be really bad. I’d have to take it apart.”
And so, now, I was staring incredulously at my computer
sitting there on the table – a computer that did absolutely nothing when I hit
the ON switch. And I was thinking about Paul’s question, and about my response.
I sighed and went to collect a screwdriver from the toolbox.
Thankfully, removing the cover was nothing like the iMac,
which I had partially disassembled less than a week ago. On that day, I had
gone to work with my sister, Kirsten, who runs the technology program for a K-8
school. It was her one day that she didn’t teach a computer class, and so she
spent much of the day on maintenance, fighting with a (broken) server, and
answering students’ questions as they ambled by between classes or at lunch.
She had given me a tour around the school, and introduced me to the other
teachers and administrators. When she showed me one of the Kindergarten rooms,
the teacher there had us take away one of the classroom’s iMacs to fix.
Apparently two CDs had been stuck in the drive, and now no one could get either
out. It had sounded like an easy enough project, so I got to work disassembling
the computer to get to the CD drive to remove the offending CDs. I was wrong about
the ease. It took me over an hour just to get the case off, and in doing so I
accidentally dropped a screw into the rest of the machinery. It was another
half-hour fishing the screw out. I finally got to the CD drive and removed the
two offending CDs – plus a plastic coin – and then reassembled the contraption.
Now I was thinking about that iMac, and while it had taken
forever to disassemble, at least I knew what the problem was. I pulled the side
off my case. It was very dusty inside, but otherwise looked unharmed. A corner
chip of the outside case had been broken off in transporting the machine from
Germany back to the States, but I could tell looking inside that it was merely
cosmetic damage. Hmm. Maybe the mechanical switch was broken. I pried off the
front of the case, and encountered a wall of gray felt. This was no ordinary
dust bunny. It was the dust bunny’s entire extended family. In just pulling off
the major masses of dust, I was able to form a tennis-ball-sized wad. Hmm.
Maybe the computer’s just too dirty to run. It seemed like a stretch, but worth
trying. I carefully removed dust from cracks and crevices and wiped down flat
plastic surfaces. I plugged in the computer and hit the ON switch. Nothing.
I turned my attention to the mechanics of the switch itself.
It seemed intact and as functional as ever. For lack of other ideas, I decided
to track the connection from the switch to the motherboard. I loosened up the
front box that holds the hard and floppy drives to get a better look. The small
card that converts the mechanical switch into a digital signal was undamaged.
But wait! The wire connecting that card to the motherboard was loose on the
motherboard end. I pushed the connector in, securing it. “Ah-ha!” I thought.
“Just a loose connection, probably jiggled loose by the transport across the
ocean.” With optimism, I plugged the computer in and hit the ON switch.
Nothing. Deflated, I unplugged the computer once again, thinking about what to
try next. And I heard a little sigh from the back of the computer. It was very
soft, but unmistakable, like the sound of a motor coming to rest. I plugged the
computer in again and listened. Nothing. I unplugged it. The sigh repeated.
Okay! So the computer was getting some power, just not
enough to get going, apparently. I decided to check out the battery. I examined
the case to determine how best to remove the battery. In doing so, I checked
out the back of the machine, and my eyes wandered over to a familiar, yet
forgotten, switch. It was red and read: “230”. Oh no. I felt both chagrinned
and ecstatic. I flipped the switch so that it read “115”, plugged the
electrical cord in, and hit the ON button. Whir. Click. Whirrrr. The LED on the
front of the case lit up and the drives started spinning. The computer was on.
And I thought about Paul and his question. And I
realized that though he had hired me, I had answered the question all wrong.
The correct answer should have been: “first, I would check that the computer is
securely plugged in, that the outlet works, and that the little red voltage
switch in the back is set correctly for the current country’s electrical
standard. If that didn’t work, then I would take apart the machine.”