Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Frankenstein's Laptop

The Monster Begins

I pulled a good one not long back. I went out drinking and ended up coming home semi lucid. The next day I realized I didn't have my laptop nor my backpack. The last place I could remember having it was at the Taco Bell about two blocks from the bar. I evidently left it on the bench inside the restaurant. I called the next day with little hope of finding it. And of course I was right. I checked with the bar in case I was not remembering things correctly; nobody had seen either here as well. I expected as much.

So I broke out my old desktop someone gave me and fired it up. It had only one 64MB RAM stick working, the other had died. It had a small 40 or so GB Hard Drive and Win 98 on it. I decided to erase the drive and put on a lite version of Linux as I prefer using Linux anyway. The only thing I could find that would run on it was DSL--otherwise known as Damn Small Linux. It's only 50 MB in size once installed and it is amazing how much software it comes with! I really liked using it, but I could not do too much because of memory limits.

When I returned to the bar about two weeks later a friend there who I had helped with his computer, said he had an old laptop he'd give me. He said the screen was "detached" so I figured that was why I was getting a free one. He brought it to me the next day and sure enough, the screen was dangling by wires! I was desperate though so I took it home and got to work on it.

I set about removing the screen by opening up the case and pulling the plug. I cleaned up the internals and as I removed the CD caddy I noticed a bug scurrying around. Then another, and another. I went and grabbed the bug spray and gave the empty cavity where the CD module had been, then got to removing old dead roach carcasses and the freshly dead ones as well. There were about eight all told. Yuck!

I had bought a special "Y" adapter some time before through a Hong Kong mail order company that allows you to hook up both a serial mouse and keyboard into one USB slot. My intentions had been to hook up the now lost laptop to my flat screen TV and then surf the 'Net and play World of Warcraft from the comfort of my Capt. Kirk Swedish leather command chair (it really does look like the chair Capt. Kirk from Star Trek used). But this was not to be.

I also had the 15" flat screen monitor I was using for the sluggish desktop so I set out to hook up these items to the laptop. I crossed my fingers and booted up the system. It had Ubuntu on it and I considered just leaving that system on there, but I had used Ubuntu and switched to Fedora, so I decided after messing around with this one for about half an hour that I was going to completely clean the Hard Drive and start fresh.

I did something I had always wanted to try, I downloaded the newest version of Fedora from the Internet and did a network install. It worked great and several hours later I had a squeaky new Linux system on a freshly erased HD to play with. But all was not well as I soon found out.

One problem was, after about 20-45 minutes the laptop would just shut off. Not sure why, I would restart it and do things online and so on and it would do it again. I thought the system must be overheating and since I had been lazy and not reassembled the laptop case I simply propped up the keyboard and set a fan in front of it, blowing air over the CPU and everything else. It seemed to work but eventually it began to shut off irregularly over the next few days.

It finally occurred to me that perhaps the power button was to blame. The entire case, even before I disassembled it was a bit woggy to begin with. I poked around the housing surrounding the power switch and I concluded that must be it. So I found something to wedge between the case edges next the the switch--in this case the "handle ends" of a small alligator clip and poked them in. It has never shut down by itself since then and I no longer place the fan behind the system.

I have told some people about it, especially my son and he wanted a photo of "my command center" and "Frankensteined" laptop, so I snapped some photos and put together a photo tour of it all. That is it below. I hope this might inspire someone when they think they can't do anything with a crippled system. It is working great so far and I play Lord of Ultima every day, post and chat on G+, watch films on Hulu, just like a normal "pretty" laptop/desktop.

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