Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Computer karma

There was a time long ago when, in identical circumstances, I probably never would have learned that a distant acquaintance from high school who is also a writer but lives in New York caused irreversible computer damage yesterday morning by spilling coffee -- with milk -- on her keyboard.

But that long-ago time was before Facebook. And I didn't spend long on Facebook yesterday morning, honest. I spent three hours drafting a story about a food writer who just published a book about lobsters. A quick glimpse at Facebook before breaking for lunch was supposed to be my reward for my diligence.

I read the post with, frankly, little interest. "A little coffee on the keyboard? How bad can that be?" I shrugged to myself. "If keyboards couldn't withstand the occasional coffee spill, you wouldn't see them on every single table in Starbucks, right? I'm sure it will fix itself in no time."

Well, anyone who agrees with my that the goddess Fate has a sharp sense of irony can guess what happened next. I reached over to close my laptop and knocked over my water bottle. Right onto my keyboard.

But I grabbed it and righted it in no time. Two, maybe three tablespoons of water at the most had actually landed on the computer. "No problem," I reassured myself. "It's just lucky I drink nice clean water rather than milky sugary coffee, and it's lucky I have reasonably fast reflexes."

Wrong, of course. When I returned to my desk after lunch, my keyboard was utterly unresponsive. No vowels. No consonants. No space bar. No hard return. No numbers or symbols or shortcut keys. Nothing.

I put out the cry for help every way I knew: on Facebook, on Twitter, via email (to a friend who is an IT expert), by phone (to my husband, who I already knew probably wouldn't have time to help me with a computer fix until approximately halfway through Labor Day weekend).

Responses and advice poured in. I followed it all. I wiped the computer thoroughly with a chamois cloth. Then I borrowed a hair dryer from my mother-in-law and ran the hair dryer over the keyboard for about twenty minutes. Then I put the computer next to a pedestal fan and ran cool air over it for another ten minutes. Then I submerged my computer in a pan full of uncooked rice. (Apparently this is a great trick to deploy if your cell phone gets submerged in water. The dried rice absorbs the moisture. I've repeated the adjective "dried" preceding "rice" here in hopes of lowering the inevitable odds that someone will think I said to do this with cooked rice.)

Then I did another hair dryer treatment. After that, the whole body of the computer seemed overheated to me, so I wrapped it in a cool damp towel. It really would have made more sense to just send my laptop to a day spa and ask for "The Works," with hot stone massage and apricot facial most definitely included.

Now I'm letting my computer rest. We'll reevaluate later today. I have a different computer to work on in the meantime, and if I may indulge in a brief moment of self-righteousness, there is nothing on my regular laptop that I had neglected to back up -- yes, I learned that lesson the hard way and won't make that mistake again -- so I'm not worried about any particular files. I just want to be able to use the computer itself again sometime soon.

So in the end, lots of lessons learned. Don't snicker at your friends -- or your distant acquaintances -- when bad luck befalls them even in the form of a knocked-over coffee cup: you'll probably be next. Keep files backed up. Have plenty of uncooked (did I mention it has to be uncooked?) rice on hand. If you care about your computer, be prepared to indulge it with a full spa treatment at any time.

And, of course, no more full water bottles near the keyboard. The goddess of Fate might just catch me being dismissive of other people's computer problems once again, and this time the repair could be a lot more complicated than A Day at the Spa.

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