Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Fire Inside

By Cornelia

This has been a week of fires. First all kinds of wild fires, around the Bay Area. And then, the night before last, a monitor fire.

"What is a monitor fire?" you may well ask.

It is a fire that occurs inside one's monitor, I may well answer.

In this case, the groovy 2001-looking monitor that came with the Mac Cube computer I bought off craigslist, back in 2000.

I was just sitting there at the keyboard, minding my own business, when all of a sudden the screen went dark. I tried restarting, and there was a little "pop!" noise. And then a couple of minutes later everything smelled like old televisions,

followed by a small upward trickle of smoke coming out of the vent holes at the top of the thing, accompanied by a slight orange glow inside it. I could see inside it, because the shell of the thing is made of clear plastic.

"Dude!" I exclaimed.

The others in the living room were busy ignoring both So You Think You Can Dance and, apparently, me and my exclamation.


That got their attention.

We hustled to unplug all the cables and everything, and then I hoisted the entire thing up and shlepped it outside. And there it rests, on top of an old bench, screen-down.

I think I should give it a nice Viking funeral by putting it on a flaming boat and shoving it out to sea or something.

We've had a good run. I wrote two novels on the thing, despite the fact that my daughter Lila scraped swirls of the reflective coating off the screen with the point of a broken pencil, somewhere circa mid-2003, and the hard disk crapped out last summer.

We survived the "surprise" update to OS X my husband and brother perpetrated while I was in Paris, two years ago. They meant well, but managed to lose over 1200 songs I'd downloaded from Napster.

We met through craiglist, as I mentioned earlier. I responded to an ad that read something like "Must sell brand-new Mac Cube! Emergency! Loaded with Software!" (ah yes, also "lost" during that "surprise" upgrade). The guy selling it was a freshman at UC Berkeley. I met him in a parking garage, just off campus, with my kids in the back seat of my then-car, a Porsche. We had to take the components out of their boxes because they wouldn't fit in the car while packed up. I put the monitor in the front seat and wrapped the belt around it, and put everything else in the trunk up front.

As I closed the passenger door, I turned to the kid who was selling it.

"So what was the emergency?" I asked, hoping he wasn't going to say "I need my leg amputated, but don't have health insurance" or something.

"Oh, right," he said. "I need a down payment for a Corvette. My parents wouldn't co-sign the loan."

And out of his moral laxity, a great techno-love was born.

I've been writing book three on this laptop, and haven't figured out how to use the mousepad thingie to copy images, so no pictures this week either. I had to tear myself away from the Cube to get anything done. The siren call of the blogs was too strong to resist, and before this I didn't set up the internet access on this thing so I couldn't check email or anything when I left the house to write.

I just got an extension on my deadline until July 1st, and it looks like things will be in shape to send in by then. But I'll miss the old Cube, damn it. Leave it to a long-faithful computer like that to go out in a blaze of glory.

Have you ever loved a computer? Fess up...


  1. Cornelia,
    I'd post more, but I'm too torn up over Robin Williams doing Elmer Fudd doing the Boss. Oh. My. God. I think I've wet my pants.

  2. Any post that has Robert Duvall's napalm line and Fred & Ginger - well, you've done it again.

    And I always love my current Mac, but have fond memories of my first one, a Mac Classic. It had about 4 mgs of memory, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.


  3. So sorry about your monitor, Ms. C! And I hate change, including computer upgrades. I first fell in love with MACs at work. It was one of those little boxy jobs with a 6-8 inch monitor. I loved being able to drag a file into the trash. Made me laugh. A good thing.

  4. So glad you liked Robin/Elmer/Bruce, Debby, and Rae, I love the smell of Fred and Ginger in the morning.

    Ah, the Mac Classics--did they all have that little space ship game that made the little bleeps and bloops? My friend Sue's Mac did, and it was a lot of fun to play. Hundreds of hours frittered on that...

  5. I love all computers.


  6. sorry about your loss, cornelia!
    and thanks for the 45 most entertaining minutes of my day. someone should put robin, elmer and bruce onto stage together as the twirping twiplets.


  7. Snork!! Love the Elmer Fudd thing. :-D The other clips rocked too. You got impeccable taste, Miss C.

    My old computer which was the first that was wholly mine, is dying by degrees and I'm going to miss it terribly when it gets retired in the next month or so. My new one which my husband used to pat every time he passed it for the first month, glows blue in the dark and has a big X alien face on the front of it. Love my flatscreen monitor too. Had to go and buy hubby a monitor and keyboard just like it and get rid of his 40 lb monitor monstrosity. He's much happier now, and I don't have to repeatedly wipe his drool marks off of mine. :-D

    Have a glass of champagne and toast your old monitor for its years and novels of service.


  8. In general, people are passionate about Macs and people who use a PC are not.

    I've had both and I prefer the Mac.

    But I own a PC.

    Now, if you'd ask if I ever loved a typewriter, I'd have told you about the Olivetti my girlfriend tossed three floors down to the sidewalk on East 84th.

    That was the end of a real, true love. With the typewriter, not the girlfriend.

  9. For some reason I keep hearing Talking Heads singing "BURNING DOWN THE MAC"


    Have I ever loved a computer?

    Lordy, woman-- I've been all-Mac, only-Mac since 1985. I've loved EVERY computer I've ever owned.

    There was the old Mac Plus I bought used from a former employer. She was my first and God she was beautiful, all beigey-yellow and stained and had a loose video connector in her that sometimes required a gentle yet firm open palmed bang on the right side of the case to get the little 8-inch screen to display. I nursed her along through three hard drives, three RAM upgrades/swaps, and even had to crack her open to re-solder a bad resistor on her circuit board. She ended her time with me donated to a local cash-starved charity where she toddled on as a membership database terminal for a few years before she finally slipped this mortal coil on one final puff of ozone smelling smoke.

    Then there was the Mac Classic. Newer, faster, whiter than the Plus but otherwise pretty similar. She lasted me through the early 90s with no major bumps or bruises. She still sits safely stored in her padded maroon Targus travel case, and once every 18 months or so I still find I have to fire her up to look for some cool forgotten typeface (I had something like 6000 fonts acquired from ahem various sources). She has basically zero value as a productive work machine, yet I refuse to send her packing.

    There was the IIci who chugged happily along for me through years of graphic design freelancing and thousands of pages of writing. She was lovably boring in her dependability-- just power up every morning and she'd plod along with no complaint or squirelliness. Well, until OS9, when all sorts of extension conflicts became de rigeur for us MacHeads in the Dark Times. She still sits in her original packing materials in the garage, her box tightly bagged against dust.

    Then there was the 8500. A worthy successor to the stalwart IIci, she chugged through tens of thousands of emails and board postings and got me back into writing as a serious business. Never the fastest or most glitzy Mac of her time, she was instead just a solid dependable member of the team, and she sits besiode me still, sleeping for long months at a stretch until I fire her up to retrieve some near-forgotten address or file or graphic.

    And now there's the "half-dome" iMac 17". She's been the most dependable and most used one of the bunch, serving with nary a complaint for years, often running 24/7 for months between even the mildest hiccup or software burp. She's now starting to feel a bit long in the tooth, as more and more new release software calls for more club than the old girl can bring to the teebox, yet it's hard to send her to the bench when she still does everything I ever need a computer to do, and never gives me the slightest reason to even think about reliability or dependability. And she's as beautiful today as the first time I ever saw her.

    Have I ever loved a computer? The one time I ever said goodbye to a Mac of mine, I literally felt sick to my stomach, like I was leaving a favorite pet at the pound to be euthanized and she was just looking at me with her head cocked and a confused look-- "you're coming back, right? Right?"

    Don't try to convince me these things are just wires and plastic. I know better.

  10. It wasn't a computer, per se, but I shed a little tear when I heard that Apple had retired the little Happy Mac that showed up every time I booted up every computer I ever owned. (My family were Mac loyalists from the beginning. Most of my childhood artistic endeavors involved manipulating pixels in MacDraw. I still have my dad's old Berkeley Macintosh Users Group (BMUG) t-shirt, "tie-died in Berkeley by deadheads." But I digress.) Anyway, I found a picture of my smiling buddy and made him my startup screen on my ipod, so he wasn't lost after all.

    To copy an image on the laptop, just grab it with the mouse and drag it to the desktop (or whatever file you want it in). Works like a charm.

  11. My laptop developed a glitch where the hinge links the screen to the guts and had to go in the shop for over a week.

    I was a petulant kid the entire time. It was pathetic.

    She's home and safe (and fixed completely free even though she's a year past warranty), and I keep petting the lid when I walk by.

    Love my computer? Nawwww....