The old coffee-in-the-keyboard trick

It was early Sunday morning, I was sipping my morning coffee while working on a post for today when the telephone rang. I was surprised.

It was early Sunday morning, I was sipping my morning coffee while working on a post for today when the telephone rang. I was surprised. Why was someone calling at 6:30 AM on a Sunday morning? I grabbed for the phone so that my wife wouldn't be disturbed and the coffee sloshed.

The small amount of coffee flying through the air didn't head for the floor or the papers on my desk. No, it headed straight for the keyboard of my new Dell laptop computer. Bullseye! The machine immediately shut down. While I was telling the caller that I would call back in a few moments, I used up a whole box of tissues blotting up the mess.

I then took the laptop over to the kitchen sink and held it upside down to allow the coffee to seep out. I put the laptop upside down on a kitchen towel so that any final drops of coffee would go back out through the keyboard rather than down into the laptop.

Then, using my other computer, I immedately connected to Dell's online support. At that moment, I wasn't all that upset because 1) all of my work is backed up to a file server several times a day and 2) I had purchased an extended, on-site, 1-business day support contract with the machine and was holding on the the vision of a tech visiting sometime on Monday to set things right once again.

As an aside, I have experienced other hardware issues over the years and having an on-site, next-business-day contract meant that the pain was short lived. So, I was expecting to only have to engage in a short online conversation with a company representative, present my customer ID, my support contract number and then be told that a tech would come out to my office the next day.

Nice dream but, this time something else happened.

The tech came into the chat room quickly and was very knowledgeable. After a quick conversation, he wanted me to send the machine to the depot to be repaired or replaced. When I asked how long that would take, he said it typically took 5 business days but, could take up to 15 if the depot was very busy.

I told him that I purchased a next-day, on-site contract just so that I would have, at most, one day of downtime regardless of the reason for a failure. I then politely asked him for another choice since sending the machine to the depot wasn't an acceptable option for my production machine. What followed next was a complete surprise.

Before we continue with Dan's adventure in Dell-land, let me bring up an old joke. "How many software engineers from (name your favorite hardware company here) does it take to change a light bulb?

"None, they'd call a service tech because that's a hardware problem."

Well, that's me. I don't touch the hardware because I always honor the guideline "don't touch it, you'll break it."

Back to our story. Our intreped hero is still connected to Dell's chat line.

The tech told me the only way to expedite things was to do the diagnoses ourselves. This meant dissasembling the machine to see how far the coffee had gone. So, he led me through the process of removing the optical and hard drive, the keyboard and the wireless card!

My trembling hands worked through the process of disassembly and guess what? I was able to do as he asked. It became clear that only the keyboard took high-caffeine bath. Everything else in the laptop appeared to be dry.

The tech told me that he ordered a new keyboard and a new motherboard (just in case the power surge damaged it) and that a tech would come out to my office to install it.

In the past, I've had problems with Compaq, Dell, Gateway, IBM and Lenovo machines. In each case, I had an extended, on-site service contract. This is the first time, I was expected to either ship the machine somewhere for up to ½ a month or partially disassemble it to diagnose the problem. What's happened to customer service?

I guess that the new rules of the game mean extended service contracts that specify on-site support no longer really mean having on-site support.

Have you experienced anything like this? What did you do?

As this interesting adventure in hardware land unfolds, I'll keep you informed. [See Day 2]