Since joining Microsoft, I have been hardware challenged, putting it lightly.
I joined Microsoft 2 years ago, and was greeted with an already outdated laptop and a first-edition TabletPC. I quickly found that the TabletPC (a Toshiba Protege) was woefully underpowered for running VirtualPC images, let alone running Visual Studio + SQL Server. I tried to use it as my “primary” machine for emails and such, but what a pain… carrying TWO laptops around: 1 for demos, 1 for email? Blech.
My other laptop was a Compaq Evo 610c. 1 GB RAM is OK, but I was running most of my demos using VirtualPC. Try running Team Foundation Server and Visual Studio during a demo with only 600 MB RAM available… it can be done, you just have to wait awhile between mouse clicks.
The wireless card for an Evo sits on top of the machine, held on by 1 tiny little screw. Didn’t take many plane flights to bust that one little screw and lose wireless. Most hotels have wireless and don’t have a wired connection. So, I would go without email for a few days while traveling.
One of those times, while wireless was busted and I was waiting on a part, I was asked to do a demo on Compact Framework development for a customer. I blew off the dust on my TabletPC and installed Visual Studio onto it, deciding I would like to catch up on emails while I was traveling. The Portege didn’t have a DVD drive, so I used an external DVD drive. I plugged the drive into my PCMCIA slot, and plugged the power cord into the external DVD.
The Portege died. Zap… gone, wouldn’t turn back on. Turns out the secondhand external DVD that I was given had a small little problem that would send a full surge of electricity into the connected computer via the PCMCIA slot.
While I was waiting on the Portege to come back from the shop, the battery on my Compaq died. I had to keep the Compaq plugged in or else the machine would suddenly shut off. Turns out that if the battery is bad enough, it will prevent the machine from booting.
In the middle of another customer presentation (using VirtualPC, which takes awhile to warm up), I pulled the power cord just a little too much… and the machine turned off.
I got the TabletPC back. About a month later, I was going through the TSA line at the airport. You have to take the laptop out of the bag to get through the screens. When I went to pick it up out of the bin, I grabbed it with my thumb on the wireless card just a little too much… popped the darned piece of plastic again. No wireless.
I borrowed a friend’s Compaq and put my harddrive into it while mine was getting fixed. I put the laptop into my bag along with a big thick geeky book on .NET for some light reading. Wouldn’t ya know it… I put the thing into my laptop bag, pulled it out when I got off the plane at the customer site… I busted his wireless card as well.
I mentioned that I use Virtual PC alot. The files are typically around 6 GB. With only 40GB of harddrive space, that didn’t leave much for the VPC images. I swapped them out constantly, and ended up with a very colorful image of my fragmented harddrive almost daily.
I had a crappy old clamshell phone, and I kept begging for a real phone, one that would help me at least check emails while I was on the road with a laptop that didn’t have wireless. I almost dare not mention it, as it is the only piece of hardware that I have that has not suffered in my hands yet.
After getting the wireless cards fixed, I found out that VirtualPC images will run a lot faster if you use an external drive. I got a USB drive, and became addicted to putting everything on it. So easy, I can share huge files between laptops and always have my Virtual PC images available for any computer. My laptop was only USB 1.0 capable, so it was painfully slow to push and pull those huge files. Took me awhile to figure out you could buy a card that enables USB 2.0. Took even longer to find out that I needed to format the thing as NTFS to read and write huge files.
Customers started asking a lot for Visual Studio Team System demos, so to make that happen I needed to keep as much juice for the client tools as I could push the Team Foundation stuff off to another machine. So I tried to network the two machines together. Worked OK for awhile, until my Compaq mysteriously started dying. By dying, I mean the Blue Screen of Death. In front of customers. In front of customers who really like Java and are questioning how I talked them into sitting through a Microsoft presentation.
I have a personal Dell Insipiron 8000 that has been tried and true for me for awhile. I decided to use it for some demos. During one customer demo, the surge protector puffed up a little whiff of smoke. that’s when I found out the battery was dead on that machine as well.. end of that customer demo. I replaced the cord, but the battery price was a little steep, and I typically only use that machine at home. It doesn’t come with a wireless card, so I had to use a PCMCIA card, one of the ones that sticks out proud of the machine about 3/4 inch. Stupid me, I was in a rush and tossed the machine into my bag. When I pulled it out, the wirelss card had been face down and was now bent and split apart. I can replace the card… but it jammed into the machine, and now that PCMCIA slot no longer works.
At my house, I use wireless. The cable modem comes through the basement, and it was easier to put it down there. When I do presentations over the web using my nifty VirtualPC images on an external drive, I needed to use the USB 2.0 card… but I can’t use wireless AND the USB 2.0 card together, since one of the slots is now dead.
I got a new motherboard for the Compaq. That lasted about a week, and it happened again during a customer presentation. There’s a small surge regulator on the motherboard (or so the tech told me). The fan on the laptop went bad, which killed the surge regulator, which would cause small fluctuations to zap my machine. Great, they fixed it.
If I only had an up to date computer, I kept thinking… this stuff would stop. I begged my boss, please get me a real laptop that doesn’t mysteriously die!
Be careful what you wish for… I got a Toshiba Tecra M4.
2 GB of RAM! Yeehaw! I can get past the TabletPC thing, this machine really zips. I loaded up a couple VPC images, was loving how fast it was.
Then I got onto a plane. It was my son’s first plane ride, and we were watching Shrek 2 on DVD on my shiny new laptop. He bumped a Sprite when we hit an airpocket, and like a fly to a bugzapper, the Sprite went right into the keyboard. The machine turned off instantly.
The board got replaced, but there was still Sprite on the keyboard, making some of the keys stick. I tried to pull the keyboard off to clean it… and popped the smallest little clip I have ever seen that held the ribbon cable to the motherboard. I tried to tape it on, but that didn’t work.. had to get a new motherboard.
Back to the Compaq Evo. Oh yeah, did I mention that the mysterious and sudden crashes started occuring again, but this time with greater frequency?
I got the Tecra M4 back. Perfect, I am ready for business, after several weeks waiting for a replacement board. Did a couple presentations.. then tried to VPN into the network. To VPN in from home, you need a smart card, which requires a smart card reader, which slips into the PCMCIA slot… which was nonfunctional. I work from home a lot, and we have to VPN in to do things like expenses and reserve travel. That’s a must-have for me.
I returned the board for a new one (yeah, Toshiba doesn’t apparently have a lot of these lying around, each one takes a couple weeks). Seemed minor, right?
While I am waiting on the replacement, I am using the Evo again with my USB drive. The USB drive crashed.
I get my Toshiba back, just in time for a customer visit to show off Workflow. I am all set with some of the coolest demos… but the projector won’t recognize the machine.
Here I sit, at 12:24 am EST in the office on a Friday night, rebuilding my machine because the help desk swears that it must be something that I DID! I rebuild the machine, get all the drivers installed correctly… and you guessed it, it still can’t show on a projector, and a monitor won’t recognize it. What good is a laptop to a technical Evangelist if you can’t show the thing on a projector?
I got an email that the warranty on my new Tecra M4 was not warranted because of misuse. You haven’t seen misuse, I have dreamed of watching this thing get crushed by the Finalizer.
Just now, I submitted another help desk request to get… yep… another motherboard for the Tecra M4. It’s 12:43 am on a Friday night, and I am just now leaving the office.