Road Trip Report: Pete vs. the Computers of Gettysburg

After weeks on the road, averaging more than four hundred miles a day, it was a relief to pull in my folks’ driveway in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for a record-breaking 4-day stay. The highlight of all this (and indeed the excuse for the whole trip) was being able to spend Neil’s birthday with his grandparents.

For the past four days, my Mom and Dad have showed us a grand time in Gettysburg: amazing battlefield tours, gorgeous Pennsylvania scenery, and enough fabulous, home-cooked meals to leave us all several pounds heavier as we prepare to hit the road.

But all of this hospitality came with a price—one familiar to anyone who’s the geekiest member of their family. Suddenly, I was Pete the Tech Guy, troubleshooter of everything from wonky printers to the labrynthine connections of their living room entertainment system.

And, as it turned out, I had become a serial killer, preying on my parents’ old computers.

My first victim was an old eMachines tower which had once been “The New Computer” back when my folks first moved to Las Vegas the better part of decade ago. Now, it was hopelessly glitchy and outdated, wheezing when asked to do even basic email and web browsing. For the past year or so, it had been gathering dust in my parents’ study next to the computer which had replaced it, but with nobody daring to send it on to the great beyond, for fear that perhaps some crucial file had not been copied from its ancient hard drive. Having had some recent experience in dispatching machines that had fallen on hard times, I gutted the old beast, stripped its hard drive for safety’s sake, then dragged the rest of My Computer to the Trash—the real trash—and emptied it.

Victim #2 was an old PowerBook 140: a computer that had been cool during the first Bush administration. Now it was cooling its heels in the back of my Mom’s closet. The 16 MHz processor emitted an unearthly scream when we attempted to boot it up, but Its black and white screen never showed us that famous smiling Mac startup icon. After a few more bizarre electronic shrieks, it joined the eMachine in the garbage bin.

By now, I’d managed to kill fully half the computers in my parent’s home, but my worst was yet to come. At last night’s dinner, my Dad has been desirous of a newer machine to replace the old Compaq laptop I’d loaned him as a replacement to his now-dead eMachine. Without even USB 2.0 support, the Compaq was decidedly long in the tooth, but my frugal father had decided to wait a while longer before replacing it. The wait ended just a few hours later when, after attaching a portable drive to it in an attempt to get it backed up—the machine stalled out during startup and wouldn’t allow for even a forced power shutdown. I eventually had to turn the machine on its side, press in a hidden reset button, then restart it. it came up again, but failed on the next reboot when the backup drive was attached. Another press of the reset button followed… and then it refused to do anything except blink for a moment when the power came on, then immediately shut off again. And nothing would set it to right. Ever.

A rattling sound from within the long-suffering laptop told the tale: the laptop literally had a screw loose — one which shifted from its previous, innocuous location to a new one which direct shorted out part of the motherboard when I had turned the machine over to press the reset button. Yes, I’d actually managed to kill a machine simply by flipping it over.

Three computers down; only my Mom’s “cheese grater” G5 PowerMac remains. And my Mom had been complaining that that one was getting a bit old…

…perhaps it’s best that we’re moving on tomorrow…

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