Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.

Macbook + Coffee = Bad

Everybody knows that you shouldn’t keep beverages too close to the computer, right? The reason is because eventually, your toddler is going to run up to give you a big hug before she leaves for daycare, and is going to bump your leg. Your leg, in turn, is going to bump the TV tray where you set your coffee cup. The cup is going to tip over and spill several ounces of coffee directly onto the keyboard of your Macbook. And as a consequence, the Macbook is going to cease to function.

Yes, that’s what happened here at Castle Campbell last Friday morning. I tried to disconnect power and battery as quickly as possible, tried using a blowdryer on it, sat it out in direct sunlight for about an hour, and continued to let it air out for quite a while after that. But it still would not power up. I scheduled repair with Apple Care, figuring I’d end up eating just about the full cost of a refurb laptop.

Fortunately, I tried booting once more today, with the power supply connected, and it did boot. It still won’t boot under battery power, but at least I know now that it didn’t fry the entire motherboard. And I can get one last Time Machine backup before I send it off. Hopefully it will be back to normal after Apple cleans up the innards (keyboard, CD drive, etc).

Without the Macbook to work on, I had to fire up my old Sony VAIO laptop. It’s really not a bad machine, despite its age. It’s got a 2.4GHz P4 with 1GB of RAM (the maximum that this model can have, unfortunately). Its biggest problem, hardware-wise, is that the battery won’t hold much of a charge anymore, so I have to stay tethered to the wall. But I do that when I work anyways.

I booted it up, let it install a bazillion updates for Ubuntu 8.04, and restarted. And it ran as slow as molasses. What the? After doing some diagnostics, I discovered that I was running a bunch of services that I didn’t really need. Samba? Netatalk? Winbind? Turn those off, I’m not using them on a regular basis. MT-DAAP, Tomcat, avahi-daemon, tor, and even apache and mysql — not needed right now. Turning all of those off helped a lot.

But the performance still seemed sluggish, especially once I had Thunderbird and Firefox running. My final tweak was to switch from the default GNOME/metacity setup to xfce4. Once I got that configured, the system became much more useable. Even now, with Thunderbird, Firefox, Pidgin, Tomboy, a terminal, and several xfce panel plugins running, almost half of my RAM is still free.

Still, I’ll be glad to have the Mac back. It’s got more screen resolution, a slightly bigger hard drive, and several newer CDs of ours in iTunes that I don’t have ripped on the VAIO. And I’m getting antsy about the fact that I can’t sync my iPhone at the moment. Not that I have anything terribly important that needs to be synced, but it’s the principle of the thing.

So, anyways, let my mistake serve as a lesson to you all. Really keep your beverages faaar away from your equipment. It’s not just the repair cost you have to worry about. For me, the time I’ve wasted in getting another machine set up as my working environment was at least as valuable as what I’ll be paying for repairs. I don’t know about you, but time is something that I can’t spare much of.

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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16 Responses to Macbook + Coffee = Bad

  1. You have reminded me why my new desk is going to have recessed cupholders.

  2. Wunderkind says:

    Get a Thinkpad T61 and you will be sorted for ages.

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  4. john says:

    My brother in law recently bricked his mac book in a similar matter – vase of flowers in the middle of the table, huge wind rips through the house and dumps said vase across the table into his mac book. Water and computers don’t mix.

  5. And my wife wonders why I freak out anytime she comes into my office with her cup of water or tea, acting so nonchalantly about it…

    I’ve come close a couple times. Geof, the recessed cup holder is a smooth idea. I might have to consider drilling into my IKEA desk to do just that…hmmm…

    But definitely, I have an unofficial 1 ft. policy with beverages, so that if it tips over, it’s got clearance to run UNDER the equipment when spillage occurs.

  6. Badxp says:

    I offer you condolence on your mishaps. Ubuntu is one of the resource hogging linux distro that I’ve come accross, beside Fedora. I prefer slackware, though a bit hard to configure, it provide the best performance to me so far.

  7. Stefan says:

    Thank you very much for the reminder :-) I “lost” a laptop about 5 years ago during a flight from Munich to Berlin when – due to turbulences – the stewardess threw their cups of water and orange juice on my laptop. You cant’t emagine how long it took until the airline was paying for a new laptop.

  8. Luke says:

    Aw man, that’s crazy. I have a large, tall, tipsy cup that I drink coffee out of. I should maybe stop using that, thanks for the reminder!

  9. adw says:

    I had something similar happen in college – I spilled can of coke on my keyboard. What a mess! I got it sort of working for a while by soaking it over night, then letting it dry for a few days – but eventually had to replace it totally. Thankfully it was just the keyboard, be even more of a hassle on a laptop!

  10. Hosting says:

    I learned my lesson a long time ago on a slightly cheaper piece of equipment. I had a glass of milk sitting on top of my monitor and my cat jumped up there and knocked all the milk into my monitor. Im talking like half a glass just spilling directly INTO the monitor. Luckily I was quick and turned my monitor off just about as soon as the cup fell. I just let it dry for a couple days and it turned on fine!

    Maybe you need to go through your laptop inch by inch and clean up each stain/look for drops of liquid that may remain

  11. Kreuzfahrten says:

    Things like this happen may happen or already happened to everyone. Hmmm, thinking over, what´s really the crucial factor on those situations? Is it that the coffee is fluid? Is it because Apple still doesn´t produce coffee resistent Macbooks? Or is it rather the fact that we men aren´t up with multitasking, since we have to work, keep an eye on the coffee and in addition a much bigger one on our wifes and girls. It´s just like Brian mentioned…:D

  12. Sei whange says:

    Thank you very much for the reminder :-) I “lost” a laptop about 5 years ago during a flight from Munich to Berlin when – due to turbulences – the stewardess threw their cups of water and orange juice on my laptop.Maybe you need to go through your laptop inch by inch and clean up each stain/look for drops of liquid that may remain.

  13. wow. quite a horror story. it’s just one of those things, that you know can happen, but it’s hard to conceive of it happening to one’s self. :O

  14. Used Macbook says:

    My friend recently spilled a whole glassof red wine on her laptop couttesy of her cat, Chloe. A week inside a warm cupboard sans battery and a few prayers later the laptop fired to life.
    Unbelievable!

    She claims that placing a bible on the keyboard before hitting the power button made all the difference…

  15. Stephen says:

    Reading your post reminded me of a time I was in college, and had just gotten a brand new Compaq computer for Christmas. Well I hadn’t been given it as a present as much as I begged my Mother to let me use her computer she never used. Anyways, no more than about a week into using it I was eating a fruit cup over the keyboard when it dropped and instantly seeped all the syrup into the inner workings of the computer. I certainly did not have the luck you did, and had to get a completely new refurbished computer that I had to pay for and then give back to my mom. I feel your pain man, feel your pain!!!

  16. Isaac says:

    I think you should consider getting one of those keyboard skins. They look neat and also protect your keyboard from spills….

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