The key to tea on t: a cautionary tale

The key to tea on t: a cautionary tale

Yesterday morning I was desperately finishing a piece for the London Evening Standard. Just as I wrote the last sentence (and my mobile phone rang — call from the Features Editor wondering where the hell was my copy), the dreaded warning about coming to the end of my iBook’s battery charge appeared. Desperate to ensure that my machine kept going, I reached over to find the power lead — and upset a cup of cold tea onto the machine.

A feeling of utter panic ensued, but I had sufficient presence of mind to e-mail the article before shutting down the machine. Then a frantic period of wiping and drying and praying. Switched the machine on and it refused to boot, displaying instead something that looked like a screensaver from the nuclear industry. Booted OS X from the cd-rom (one of the lovely things you can do with Macs and not with PCs) and found that I still had my beloved machine and its data. Phew! But then discovered that I couldn’t access email and other programs because my password was continually rejected.

On closer examination, it turned out that the offending passwords all contain the letter ‘t’ and this was not registering when I hit the key. Confirmed this by opening Text Edit and trying to type some text — came out as “rying o ype some ex.

Hmmm. The tea must have damaged the keyboard, despite my remedial efforts. Phoned supplier: did they have a spare in stock that I could try? Nope: but as the machine was still under warranty I could phone Apple tech support and they could ship me a ‘customer installable part’.

Phoned Apple and had series of charming conversations with my fellow countrymen in Cork. Described problem and then had long and fruitless diagnostic conversation with support guy who was clearly trying to determine whether my missing ‘t’ was due to a hardware fault. In the end I ran out of time (life has to go on, iBook or no iBook) and rang off.

Brooded on problem all day and then phoned my friend and Lead Superuser Quentin. He immediately recognised my curious radioactive-warning, boot-refusing screensaver as a sign that the machine was convinced it was a Firewire drive — which is something you engineer by holding down the ‘t’ key. Ergo there must be some liquid residue under the key which was convincing the system that the key was being continually depressed. Got a fine watercolour brush, dipped it in filtered water, and gingerly washed the underside of the key. Replaced the kepboard and pressed the ‘on’ button, heart in mouth. Bingo! What a thing it is to have ingenious and knowledgeable friends.

But how did Q know about this? I’ve just ransacked OS X — the missing manual and can find no mention of this vital snippet of information. Just goes to show, I suppose, that computing is, at heart, a craft industry.