September 2, 2018

don't make me get my screwdriver

(WARNING:  If you're not a techie, this will probably be boring, but I'd prefer that it's you reading it, because if you are a techie, I'll be mortified that you're reading it because you'll know I'm really just a bone-headed idiot who doesn't belong in your ranks.  Anyone who has never waved a screwdriver at his or her laptop in a menacing fashion, however, may continue reading.)

It wasn't noticeable when I was seven and they had trouble prying my friend's Speak 'n' Spell out of my hands.  Nor could it be detected when I hogged the Apple IIe at school and at the public library on a regular basis.  It only became apparent when I got a Tandy 1000 for my sixteenth birthday, complete with a dot matrix printer, so I could do work on our school newspaper at home in WordPerfect 5.1.  One day the printer jammed in a way that didn't involve the guide-hole edges of the paper, and after several perfunctory attempts to un-jam it, I got curious and experienced the first manifestation of a "what the hell have I got to lose" mentality concerning technology-oriented objects.  I found my daddy's screwdriver in the back of a drawer and took the printer apart.  Completely apart.  There were plastic gear wheels and long metal things and bits of casing strewn about my bedroom floor.  I found what I decided was the problem, bent something, and put it all back together.

The bitch of it is, the printer worked fine after that.

The next year, at college, I put my first modem into a computer.  The Tandy received a 2400 baud rate modem, bought for seven bucks from a classmate.  I dialed up a local BBS and played online trivia.  I hold a teensie crumb of pride that my online presence slightly pre-dates the take-off of non-ARPA consumer-friendly Internet access.

The printer was still working then, too.

I was in my very late twenties before what was plainly set before me in those early days finally clubbed me over the head to get my attention.  I sort of accidentally melted a plastic report cover around the drum of a brand new Toshiba copier at work (still under warranty) in an attempt to make a transparency, and rather than call in the warranty repair person and admit to my boss the stupidity of what I had done, I checked the clock and saw that I had an hour, and grabbed yet another screwdriver from the back of a drawer and took the entire copier apart, all the way down to the part where I could peel the cover off neatly without exposing the drum to light.  I put it all back together and - shit - I had one screw left (which I would later learn is standard operating procedure for an amateur technician).  But after flagrantly voiding the warranty, I tested the copier and it worked fine, and showed no sign of having been violated in such fashion.  The screw must have been unimportant.  I hid it in my desk drawer and I did not try to make more transparencies.  My boss walked back in a few moments later, sipping a cup McDonald's tea, and all was well because nothing had happened.  Do you hear me?  Nothing.

As far as I know, the copier is still running, too.

My thirst to dismantle things quickly spread from that day forward to laptops, our big-screen TV, computer mice, and just about anything else that pissed me off in the moment.  I started rehabbing broken things, buying two of the same model with differing problems and Frankensteining them together (yes, that's a verb) to make one working machine, which I would then sell.  I spent years teaching myself to do this and, on the whole, I'm certain I lost money, no matter how entrepreneurial I tried to be about it all.

I don't so much have a penchant or knack for tech repair as I do an insatiable need to rise above my low frustration threshold and fuck with things and have something to show for it.  It's a combination of a love of healing and my own response to the voice of the Universe saying, "You really shouldn't mess with that, you could break something."  We all know that if anyone says I shouldn't or can't do a thing, that thing is precisely what I set about doing.

Hence, I've replaced iPhone screens (including the parts I ruined in the process of disassembly) and rebuilt a Nintendo 3DS (which only worked for a day).  I've baked motherboards in the oven to re-flow solder (which worked rather well, actually).  I take mice apart to try to make them click more quietly.  This usually fails, but I still do it.  I suck at most of what I do.  I'm forever snapping off bezel clips and crimping delicate ribbon cables and forgetting to put screws back in.  I'm an expert in disposing of backlights in an environmentally harmful fashion.

A couple of months ago, my Toshiba laptop pissed me off for the last time.  Here is a picture of it lying in state later that afternoon:

I sold most of the parts on eBay to people across the world.  It's like scattering ashes, but completely different.

Earlier this week, though, I got close to the point of hitting myself, though I think the trigger was the need to issue a sensible reprimand against abject stupidity rather than any form of mental pathology.  P.J. has limped along for a few years with an Asus T100 tablet that she uses as a secondary machine for our dragon game.  The charging port got croggled and she bought another one, but this time with Windows 8 on it and some behavioral problems, as well the absence of a working keyboard.

I decided to upgrade it to Windows 10.

There ensued a comedy of errors wherein I got a USB to mini-USB adapter, made the installation media, and then realized that I couldn't reach a boot menu because of not having a keyboard (yeah, I know, it didn't occur to me to hook one up by USB at that point in time), so in my infinite tech wisdom, I changed the boot settings to Safe Mode in Windows, then restarted.  And when it booted, it didn't load the touch screen drivers, so I had absolutely no way to communicate with the computer, save for turning it on and off.  I figured I had bricked it.  That's when I almost had one of my little Episodes.

I did eventually figure out the keyboard hookup and the tablet is okay now, but I walked around for a full day considering the probability that I've gone into the wrong field after all, in spite of thinking that I'd found my way at last, and that I might consider other job opportunities because even though I have my A+ cert, I know deep down that I'm a fraud.

It took remembering the dot matrix printer to bring me back to my senses.  Of course I'm in the right field.

I don't belong among "real" repair techs, but I can't stop doing it because it's what I do.  My name is Lille, and I take things apart and put them back together.


  1. They have anonymous meetings for people like you! Dismantlers Anonymous! NAH! Those of us who can only threaten with a screwdriver, hatchet or flamethrower, while our wayward machines just chuckle and dare us, are in awe and pay good money to people who can do what you do!

    1. DA never meets ... we're always too busy sitting at our kitchen tables saying, 'Hang on, let me just try this one last thing!'

  2. Dissemblers R' Us as is Reassemblers with Spare Parts Left Over. I have very fond memories of my first photocopier assembling. Although I still dream of the day I can fire a heavy computer through an open window AND hit the person who is the current focus of the 'Where are the deep Road Repairs happening 'cause I want to bury a body' AT THE SAME TIME!!