Last Week, My Laptop Failed To Boot

Generally, this is a prelude explaining the dearth of posting, gentle reader, but this story is unrelated to the dearth of posting. That particular ennui stems from not being particularly interested in posting political hot takes because I’m not convincing anyone and venting my spleen is not actually letting any fresh air into my spleen and because I’m looking for work and a front page of political wrongthink can hinder that. Although most employers and hiring managers don’t bother to look at my LinkedIn profile, much less do a Web search for me (Googling a person is so 2002), I did get a blog post attached to my job application once and might have led demerits. True story: On one of those barrage interview situations, none of the senior people looked for me on the Internet, but a junior developer participating in the interviews, did, and he mentioned my reading a Star Trek book. Afterwards, I got a hit to the blog from Greenhouse on the previous post which indicated that Chinese cat food products might have suspect ingredients. As I interviewed with two Chinese-Americans, I presume this labeled me as a xenophobe (although you, gentle reader, know that if I am not truly a Sinophile, at least I have read some history and watched some native films). I’ve not been posting a lot of humorous anecdotes about life because, well, how is life going? That’s another story, maybe, but I am looking for work. Enough said for now.

So when I say My laptop failed to boot, I meant my nearly thirty-year-old Thinkpad.

I bought this old Thinkpad with its 20 MB hard drive in 1997 from a company that leased laptops to business for a couple of years and then when the companies returned them, wiped them and sold the slightly out-of-date laptops. Which explains why this unit still had Windows 3.11 on it. Although Windows had released Windows 95 a year or so prior, a lot of companies were even then slow to adopt. Especially if they were low-end specs on the computers which might not support Windows 95.

I paid probably $300 for it, about a week’s take home pay from the print shop where I worked at the time. But I hoped that I would take it to coffee shops and to Milwaukee with me (I was still traveling back home frequently in those days, although hotel stays were also eating up a week’s pay per trip) to write, hopefully on the novels I started right after college. I’d been writing on legal pads at the coffee shops and then coming home and typing the results into my sainted mother’s old 486, and I hoped to maybe complete some of those novels. I was going to be a writer, you know.

I tapped a little on various things–I remember opening the laptop up on the desk(s) in the Hyatt Regency and staring out the window at people going into and out of the Milwaukee Bucks game below, but then (as now, unfortunately) I was not a disciplined writer, awaiting the inspiration to carry me, and it didn’t. I only felt restless, so maybe I played a game of Popstar, a freeware game I downloaded from a BBS back in the day, before closing it up.

In the intervening years, I have cracked it open a couple of times, probably played a game of Popstar, before packing it into the closet.

But last week, someone on at work (I am still currently employed, but the future of my role and position are in question, gentle reader) joked about logging in on a Windows 95 machine to freak out the security guy. And I thought, “I wonder if that Thinkpad will still boot up?”

Sometime early in its career, the battery stopped taking a charge, so it only worked when plugged in, so I had to work with it plugged in. I knew where it was in the closet, but I didn’t know where the power adapter was–I’d had the idea a time or two over the last decade to try it out, but the power cord wasn’t in the same bin as it was.

This time, though, since obscure bragging rights on the corporate Slack were on the line, I had a project. I dug through the dusty bin of power cords in the store room, unearthing a number of obscure power cords, including a power cord for a later model of ThinkPad (most of which had the more modern barrel connectors) and including what looks to be the power cord for an ancient Oster slow cooker (just in case we ever get another?). It wasn’t amongst them. I tore through the bins and boxes of less scrupulously organized cords and miscellania in my closet and removed the boxes of overflow books and personal ephemera looking for the power cord. I found the car adapter, but not the wall adapter–and in those days, apparently, the transformers were hard-wired, so you could not swap a standard power cord into the car adapter.

I went out to the automobile and plugged it in, but the laptop did not boot. The transformer on the car adapter said 12v, and the back of the laptop said 20v, so perhaps the car adapter was just for trickly charging the battery. Which does not charge now.

I researched on the Internet, and I learned that this particular model of ThinkPad lists for $50-80 not working and north of $300 working. I did find third-party power adapters that would fit, theoretically, for $60 (and none of the originals on Ebay).

So I had a dilemma. Do I just decommission the laptop for a laptop mirror? Do I find an equivalent wall outlet transformer and splice it into the car adapter’s connector? Or (more likely) do I put it back in the closet for another decade?

Well, gentle reader, I went halfsies, sort of: I ordered a $9 outlet-to-car-port adapter which has the car lighter female connection on the end opposite the wall plug (surprised that I did not already own one, and if I do, it’s misfiled somewhere). But I still started planning to do some work with Electricity: The Helpful Friend That Can Kill You.

But, as with the Triticale’s Commodore 128, it did not require splicing, soldering, welding, and/or a heart restart. The transformer on the car adapter actually says 12-20v. So when I plugged it in and probably slid the little power switch the correct way (the switch is centered in its position; apparently, sliding it forward, the easy way, does not start the machine–to do that, you have to slide it towards the back, past the hard click, which I might not have done in the car, or maybe the car port indeed was only 12v for charging the battery).

But after typing entering the date/time and listening to a POST (Power On Self Test) failure probably indicating a CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) battery was dead, I was looking at the Windows 3.11 desktop.

I took the picture for Slack bragging rights (and a LinkedIn post), and I looked into the awriting directory to see the old novels and whatnot that I still have not completed. I didn’t actually play a game of Popstar–perhaps some day I’ll take out the 3.5″ disc containing it and see if it will run on my current machine (of course I have a USB 3.5″ floppy drive). But the project turned out to be less of a project than I thought, which are the types of projects that I actually complete. So I felt a little joy at its completion, but now it’s back into the closet with this device.

The Lutheran school that my boys attended has a special event each spring where people display their collections or hobbies in essentially a craft fair booth kind of format and answer questions about their collections. I keep thinking about volunteering my collection of old computers and whatnot, but it would depend upon how many suitable video connections we could find–I have a lot of adapters, but connecting them to modern monitors or televisions requires some work. Plus, how interested would elementary school children be in old computers? Back when we did Atari parties, nobody (adults in the IT field mostly) wanted to play Castle Wolfenstein on the Commodore 64 because it took a number of seconds to load the next screen from disk. So maybe it would be more trouble than it’s worth.

Also, in rooting through the bins in my closet, I have laden my desk with things that I wanted to put elsewhere but will probably just jam back into the closet when I’m tired of them being on my desk. I have an almost 18-year-old digital photo frame probably still laden with infant pictures of my almost-18-year-old son that I had on my desk in my last in-office job (almost 18 years ago). A number of empty notebooks, steno and multi-subject varieties. A wireless router that we probably never used. And a spare DVD player. I also found a couple of portable CD players that I could use to listen to an audiobook for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge and a pair of headphones that would fit them. Of course, the original Sony Walkman is in the closet. And I moved an old Zenith transistor radio to my desk hutch (where I am pretty sure I stored it for some years some years ago before I cleaned the office hutch and put the radio into the closet).

So it’s a project leading to other projects. And it’s a little neat to have a laptop older than some of my co-workers.

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