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MIT student blogger Chris S. '11

Days Without a Laptop… by Chris S. '11

i need laptop-rehab

Today is Day 5, after my laptop refused to boot after turning on early last Wednesday morning.

In these last five days, I feel like I’ve experienced the five stages of grief (one of the few things I managed to retain from high school Health) –

DENIAL: “No this CANNOT be happening to a Mac. I have a Macbook Pro for goodness’ sakes!!”

ANGER: “What do you mean you can’t fix it? Do you really work for the Apple Store?”

BARGAINING: “What do you mean I need to pay $1,200 to fix it? I’m still covered under AppleCare!”

DEPRESSION: After sending the Mac to a third-party Apple Authorized Repair person. I don’t think I’ve been physically separated from my computer for so long (except non-working vacations or trips).

ACCEPTANCE: Well, I guess I might have to look into a new computer. I’ll hear back from them about the status of my computer tomorrow, but if it costs more than $300 to fix (I think it may be a motherboard issue), I’ll probably just get a new computer. I hope I at least get all my files (five semester’s worth of essays – and music!!) back though!! :(

Haha – so this is what happens after your laptop dies at MIT. I feel like this is almost a side-effect from being here for so long – you become tethered to your computer through your daily life.

Case in point – walk into any common lounge at MIT where a group of people are clustered watching a movie on TV, and you’ll see open laptops although their owners are still very much engaged in watching the movie. Walk into any communal psetting area, and you’ll see laptops dispersed throughout the sea of papers.

Although it says somewhere that MIT students can theoretically get by without owning a laptop, I have to say that that probably takes great moral fortitude in its own way. MIT probably has a higher number of computer labs dispersed throughout campus (we call them “Athena clusters” – based on the name of the computing system that the computers run) than any other college, and clusters also exist likewise in all MIT dorms. However, I feel except for diehard Course VI majors, personal laptops have really taken over the scene and is most definitely the norm now for most MIT students after its wide availability in the previous decade. (wow I sound so old after writing that word)

That, and factor in the incredible wireless network that MIT has (i read somewhere that we have the fastest, broadest-coverage wireless network in any university in the US – perhaps even the world. i usually can get MIT signal in even peripheral buildings in Cambridge like the Marriott Hotel in Kendall Square).

Anywhoo, for me personally, the only inconvenience that I can (or cannot, really) whine about is physical proximity. I’m the odd pure science + humanities major in a school full of engineers, so I never had to sit down in a Athena cluster chugging away at Matlab, Maple, Python, or the like (fact: in my 5 semesters here at MIT so far, I have only used Matlab for assignments twice, and the only regular Athena commands that I know how to do is pine (to check email), zephyr (to IM, once in a blue moon), tellme combo (to figure out the darned code to the Athena clusters every time it changes), and lpq (to check printer status)). All of the other times I spent in Athena clusters involve using OpenOffice Word Processor (we don’t have Microsoft Word on Athena) and Firefox. Haha. I’m probably a terrible “MIT student.” You can laugh at me now. (the irony is I used to be quite proficient in Python back in my junior year of high school because of SSP. kids, it’s a great program, apply to it!!!!)

But in all seriousness, I’m taking four history classes this term and I’ve never really realized the convenience of being able to type an essay in the comfort of one’s own room or research the Russian Land Decree of 1917 in the common lounge rather than being holed away in a barren Athena cluster (although I must say this GREATLY helps with productivity, since there are no speakers on these computers so you can’t get distracted with music or youtube).

So far, I’ve spent six or seven hours in the New House Athena cluster these last few days drafting summer internship applications and writing essays for my history classes. I must admit this had been a really new experience, but I’m still feeling some withdrawal effects….

So if you’re a MIT student and doesn’t own a laptop, I commend you from the bottom of my heart.

ps. Valentines Day pictures will have to wait till I figure out the status of my laptop…
pps. No pretty pictures this time :(

26 responses to “Days Without a Laptop…”

  1. @Armin: Thanks so much. Hopefully this page will be of use to me after Pi day smile

  2. Banerjee says:

    Chris, you should seriously consider yourself lucky. My laptop burnt the other day. Yes, burnt. There was smelly smoke coming out of it and stuff. Evidently, it overheated. Although, on my defence, I live in Singapore.

  3. I remember when the screen on my laptop got spoilt! Worst period ever!! Strangely, I was more worried about my music than anything else… :D Hope you recover your documents though…. smile

  4. jamesmgg says:

    Ouch. The worst part is the risk of losing all your documents. This happened to me and trust me I felt the same way. This is why it’s recommendable to have an external hard drive to back up everything. Save and save often! Hopefully you’ll get everything back and be ready in case it ever happens again.

  5. Ammar says:

    I definitely feel with you, I’ve had my share of data disasters this month. Life is soo different when your laptop can’t boot.

    I really can’t describe how lost I felt without my system ;_;

  6. Ayat ('15?) says:

    My heart completely goes out for u, my lap top broke down too (probably exhausted from me!!!) and my school work came crashing. I can only imagine how having that happen at mit might cause.

  7. Troll '12 says:

    Windows > Mac raspberry

    Let the flamewars begin!

    Anyways, if its a motherboard issue, tell them to send back the hard drive then put the hard drive into a sata->usb enclosure and you’ll turn it into an external drive.

  8. Jenny'13 says:

    Awww chris :(
    Wish you luck on this one.

    But great point – the inseparability between my computer and i is ridiculous. :/

  9. oasis '11 says:

    ^ it’s 3:52, go to sleep! :p

  10. oasis '11 says:

    ^ oh for the other commenters,

    I’m actually more concerned about losing the 10,000+ photos and hours of dorm footage that I’ve made since coming to MIT, actually, since they’ve become a “memory box” for me of sorts. It’s actually a good thing since I ran out of HD space last semester and had to move the bulk of it to an external drive, so actually I don’t have many pictures on the machine, actually.

    So yeah, I backed up my photos and the videos, but not my documents and music raspberry ah well, music can always be re-downloaded, and maybe I’m not going to care so much about what I wrote as my final paper in 7.02 so much after I graduate from MIT wink (but all those hours that I put into it!!! hahaha)

  11. Just curious: Do MITers favor certain brands / OS for laptops?

  12. oasis '11 says:

    So I heard back from the guys fixing the computers today and it appears that the Apple Store wouldn’t recognize my warranty (I have 5 months left on it) because I have dents and scratches on my computer (it isn’t that bad) and they think those dents and scratches caused my computer to malfunction, but then I took it to another Apple Authorized Service center and they would recognize the warranty and repair my computer for free (!).

    Anywhoo, it turns out to be a logic board problem. Apparently a line of 2007 MBPs have faulty logic boards/video cards and Apple recognized this problem last year, so my computer was one that was “under recall,” according to the tech that I spoke to.

    But anyway, the good news is that I’ll get all the data back since the HD isn’t damaged, and I won’t have to buy another computer for the time being.

    The bad news is that I’ll probably still be computer-less for another 2-3 weeks, depending on when the parts come in, but hey, I’m not complaining too much. smile

  13. Piper '12 says:

    Huzzah for free computer fixing! Though yeah, being without a computer for a couple of weeks would be hard on me O.O The solution is to have several computers! (I’ve managed to accumulate many. One for high school, a new one for college, a free Mac partway through college, then a netbook because my dad got a cheap 2-for-1 deal.)

    Are you saying that only course 6ers use the Athena clusters? I’ve seen plenty of non-course-6ers in Athena clusters! (I’d say “myself included”… but I just submitted the forms today to switch to course 6, so…)

  14. neongreen says:

    best prank: set someone’s screen to BSOD +make all the icons invisible and the start bar hidden :]
    works every time

    I haven’t been on my laptop for weeks. Since it is Vista, it got trapped in an infinite loop when a powered it off accidentally during updates. I command prompted into the directories (win) and deleted the pending.xml which I believed to be the source of the problem. It worked, I logged in, until everything windows-related started crashing. XP Microsoft hasn’t announced an official solution to the loop either. X[

  15. @neongreen: I did this before too. Not exactly the same, but similar. I used a flash video of the WinXP loading screen.

    ReCaptcha: remained hollow

  16. Ammar'14 says:

    I wrote a program once that actually causes a BSOD on an XP system, not that there’s a bug with the program but its purpose is to do that.

    For a more effective prank, try the BSOD screen saver over at Sysinternals.
    It accurately simulates Blue Screens and simulated reboots as well (complete with CHKDSK).

  17. Hey Chris, readers

    Just a headsup, MIT IS&T has hardware and software repair for our supported systems (Apple, Dell, Lenovo), and we can handle many of these repair procedures right from campus! —

    For those who aren’t in a position to have a laptop of their own when they come to campus, MIT IS&T does have a laptop loaner program for those who need machines for their academic work. Check out details here —

    Just an FYI!

    -Jared ’10

  18. This caught my eye because I recently had to part with my Macbook after a coffee-related, spark-inducing accident. Out of pity, I try to keep my shiny new MacBook Pro out of sight of its ruined, plastic-y ancestor. Anyway, you’re a pure science and humanities major? I love pure science, but I’m so intimidated by all the engineering/programming rumors I hear about MIT. Any insight? Also, I was thinking about applying to SSP! Can you tell me anything about it?


  19. This caught my eye because I recently had to part with my Macbook after a coffee-related, spark-inducing accident. Out of pity, I try to keep my shiny new MacBook Pro out of sight of its ruined, plastic-y ancestor. Anyway, you’re a pure science and humanities major? I love pure science, but I’m so intimidated by all the intense engineering/programming rumors I hear about MIT! Any insight? Also, I was thinking about applying to SSP. Can you tell me anything about it?


  20. oasis '11 says:

    ^ That was a great resource. Thanks Jared.

  21. '12 says:

    IS&T service rocks. Like, I’ve had my computer borked on me twice and both times I got my laptop back after a business day with new hardware replacements.

  22. CHRIS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I confess to reading your blog, haha.

    I had NO IDEA you went to SSP (or maybe you told me and I forgot??) I did it as well and I’m going to be TAing there this summer!! XD

  23. Canadian says:

    nuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu canada LOST to the US :(

    we just beat the slovaks! :D

    also, athena sounds amazingly cool. i think it’s awfully exciting to learn a new operating system. i run linux, so it (or at least the kernel) is not much different, is it?

  24. Anonymous says:

    You can actually listen to music on the Athena computers if you have headphones. smile