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  1. Science & Tech
18 June 2015updated 01 Jul 2021 11:40am

I chose a laptop that even Nasa couldn’t break. Somehow, I have managed to break it

Nasa only has to worry about the fiery immolation of its crew, should anything go wrong. They do not have to take into account the treatment you give your machines.

By Nicholas Lezard

Everything is decaying. A few weeks ago, my laptop screen suddenly developed a horrible black blot in the upper right-hand corner. This was unsightly and unsettling at once: like an electronic canker. It signalled the end times for my trusty Lenovo, a machine that has suffered much unintentional abuse at my hands. My friend Toby-who-is-not-Toby-Young is also my computer guru and he chose the model for me: he thought I would like the keyboard (and I do; everyone else’s is rubbish compared to it) and he also knew it was going to take a pounding – these are the machines that were used on the Space Shuttle (and, I think, in the International Space Station).

As he pointed out, although they are not the lightest of computers, and every ounce added to a payload that needs to reach escape velocity has to be considered, their durability and fixability – you can fossick around in its innards in a way that Apple won’t tolerate – made them Nasa’s laptop of choice.

“However,” he added, “Nasa only has to worry about the fiery immolation of its crew, should anything go wrong. They do not have to take into account the treatment you give your machines.”

This is quite true, and sobering. I don’t know quite how I do what I do to my laptops, because it’s not as if I take them on country walks or anything, but they do tend to attract a lot of detritus. The last time Toby had to take it apart to fix something he looked, mesmerised, at the exposed circuitry. Or rather, that which could be seen beneath the layers of tobacco ash, foodstuffs and other unknown and unknowable oomska (to use Uncle Monty’s excellent word from Withnail and I). Some of the more filthy-minded of you may be speculating about any bodily secretions that might be in there, but all that there would be is saliva – when I read something funny, I snort and a fine spray of spit dashes against the screen, which means that every so often I have to dampen a tissue with gin or something and give it a thorough wipe.

It may have been this that contributed to the screen’s ongoing demise. Things have developed since that first ugly blot: another one, and then the sudden appearance of an interesting cross-hatching of lines which rendered, at first, a fifth of the screen unusable; it is now two-fifths. The blots have now made friends and joined up, and their pattern is exactly like something you’d expect to see in an abandoned factory in a pane of glass through which a stone had been thrown, but, interestingly, in one of those ways that computers use the visual tropes of a world they have replaced (such as the stylised envelope denoting mail), there is no actual hole in the screen; it just looks like one. Spreading lines indicate that the process of decay in the screen has not yet come to a halt.

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This machine has its tricks: sometimes a key will stop working, unless you jab at it again and again, making my texts look like Oulipan exercises, like Georges Perec’s novel La disparition, written without the letter “e”, but then the toast crumb or whatever it is dislodges itself and all works again. I did have an external monitor the size and weight of a television screen and I used that for a bit, until it decided it didn’t want to speak to my computer any more; so I am back now to a reduced screen.

It is not so bad. I can’t watch films any more, which is a pain, but the tiny screen YouTube offers squeezes in OK; and although I have to do a lot of fiddly stuff to be able to see the whole screen, for the main part what goes on the right-hand two-fifths, as you will know, is a selection of miserably second-guessed adverts, post-horse-bolting suggestions to buy a book on Amazon that have already been looked up, and offers to meet and marry women from entirely unsuitable demographics.

Also, a new computer would cost me money, which I do not have to spare, as I mention from time to time. However, I do realise I am on borrowed time with this machine. This is a lesson that life teaches you fairly comprehensively about itself as you get older, and in case you were missing the point, you get to watch others around you, who were older to start with, get even older than you. Things in you and in them fall apart, and yet, while there is still some life, some functionality, you don’t want to chuck them out, or see them go. I’m not talking about computers now. 

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