Having yesterday abused you with the sad saga of my IBM ThinkPad T30, I feel compelled, in fairness, to tell you the rest of the story.

It came!

FedEx delivered it exactly as expected (as FedEx generally does).

I grabbed the wi-fi chip that had been delivered weeks ago (no installation instructions) and the extra 256MB of memory I had ordered (shipped with the computer, but for $3,100, IBM can’t be expected to install it for you), and set to work.

Step #1 – Being sure that nothing is plugged into the computer and the battery is not inserted, open the little place that the memory goes and install it. Check.

Step #2 – Open the only other openable compartment where – yes! – the wi-fi chip seems to fit and install it. Check. (Well, no one said anything about the two impossibly small cables hidden under a vinyl flap, and IBM tech support didn’t mention them, either, so I installed it wrong, but later figured it out from the CD wi-fi installation disk. Or at least I hope I did.)

Step #3 – Take a moment to marvel at all the little Part Number bar codes from around the world stuck all over the computer and its chips. Check.

Step #4 – Insert the battery. Check.

Step #5 – Plug the power cord into the wall outlet (being careful in 34 languages not to insert wet thumb instead). Check.

Step #6 – Press the Power button so Windows XP can lead me through setup. Check.

Step #7 – Watch delightedly as the screen bursts into color and begins its initial launch (‘please wait while we initialize the volume . . . ‘) and then goes black.

Step #8 – It’s still black?

Step #9 – Still?

Step #10 – Press a few keys to try to wake it up. Black. Press the power button again to try to turn it off or on. Nothing. Try control-alt-delete. Still black. Try removing the power cord – a chirp – and then plugging it back in – another chirp. Still black. Try the power button for 5 seconds. Black. Try it again – success! It seems to come to life and start all over again, running through the same early start-up screens preparing to load Windows XP and – black again.

Step #11 – So maybe it was doing something? I waited a while longer. Patience, jackass, patience. (This is the punch line to a very long, very old joke my brother told the family at dinner one night in 1954, when I was 7 and he was 11. It left us, though not our parents, convulsed. ‘Patience, jackass, patience.’) Still black.

Step #12 – Call IBM support again at 800-772-2227, a telephone number that, once I found it (they don’t exactly print it in bold) came back to me, from ThinkPads of yore, like an old nemesis. Listen to the messages, punch in the model number, listen to the messages . . . and fairly soon I am on the line with, in this case, Carlton. He asked me some more questions – I have already memorized my IBM model and serial numbers – and then he let me tell him the problem.

‘Try removing the battery,’ he said.

And sure enough, with the battery removed, I got all the way into the Windows setup.

‘You probably have a bad battery,’ he said. ‘We’ll ship you out a new one.’

‘OK,’ I said, grateful for the support. (You can’t really expect IBM to test any of this stuff before they ship it.) ‘But actually – come to think of it – I paid a bunch of money for next-day on-site service. Is this something that would be covered? Could someone actually bring me a new battery and make sure that fixes the problem?’

‘Why, yes!’ said Carlton, looking at my record and seeing that I qualified.

‘Great!’ I said.

‘Call 800-IBM-SERV for that,’ he said. (To serve you better, IBM has kept these departments separate, and the service reps in the first department can’t connect you to the reps in the second.)

‘Thanks!’ I said, and dialed 800-IBM-SERV.

More messages, saying or keying in the model number, and so on, and I got a nice young guy who, upon hearing my by-now-memorized serial number, told me he was sorry, but that number didn’t seem to be coming up in his system. Was I sure I had signed up for the on-site service?

I was sure. I had gotten eight identical e-mails from IBM two days earlier announcing that the system had shipped, at last, and detailing its contents – including (in all eight identical e-mails) this item:


I don’t know why I got this e-mail from IBM eight times in rapid succession. Maybe someone’s ‘send’ key stuck. Maybe IBM was becoming as frustrated with me as I was with them. Maybe it was someone’s substitute for eight exclamation marks.

I read the nice young guy this e-mail and asked whether my IBM order number would help him track down my service contract.

‘We don’t have access to those records,’ he said.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘one thing that could be great is for you guys at IBM all to standardize on a single system. You know – instead of using Macs in one department, Linux in another, and so on, why not have everyone using the same stuff – maybe connect it all with a network – and give everyone access to the data they need. Would that be a good idea?’

Yes, he said, his careful chuckle suggesting that he totally agreed, but also that he knew he had a guy on the end of the phone this close to going postal.

‘I will transfer you over to Entitlement,’ he cheerfully concluded, ‘and they will straighten it out.’

This is how I got to meet Kim, and how I got to tell my story again and read her the eight e-mail confirmations of the ‘parts’ they had shipped me, including 30L9190, 2YR ONSITE REPAIR 9X5 NEXT DAY.

Kim asked if it would be OK to put me on a music hold for a couple of minutes – ‘of course,’ I said (Serenity now! Serenity now!) – and then came back to ask if I could wait another couple of minutes – ‘Not a problem,’ I said – and then came back to suggest that, as more research would be required, it would be better if she could call me back.

An hour or so later, with the sun now firmly set, my caller ID flashed IBM.

‘Kim!’ I answered with enthusiasm. ‘How’d we do?’

‘Is Andrew Tobias there?’ asked a man named Nana. Nana, like everyone else I’ve spoken with at IBM, was truly a nice fellow.

Entitlement had okayed me, he said, so what was the problem and how could he help?

I explained the battery situation, and also that, while I had been waiting on music hold, I had discovered that the cursor moved backwards. Push the TrackPoint to the right and the cursor moved left. Push it to the left and it moved right. ‘Is that the way it’s supposed to work?’ I asked.

‘No,’ he said, and – two points for Nana Owusu – by getting me to restart the machine in BIOS mode, or whatever it’s called, and having me re-set the factory defaults, the cursor started going where it was supposed to.

‘Do they ever test these machines before they ship them?’ I asked while we were waiting for mine to reboot.

‘They’re supposed to,’ said Nana.

Now, in fairness, it may be that IBM was so keen on finally getting my replacement ThinkPad that someone decided to skip the testing phase, in the interest of time. I might have made the same call myself. But whatever happened, the battery seemed to be no good.

Nana said it was now too late to set up a service call for tomorrow (today, as you read this) and also too late to overnight me a battery. But he could do it for Wednesday. Well, Wednesday I’ll be in transit, so rather than ask for a human to deliver the battery and check out the machine, I asked Nana to just send the battery . . . maybe we’d get lucky and that would solve the problem.

Nana took down my SHIPPING ADDRESS very carefully and, after putting me on hold, came back to announce that these batteries, made in Japan, are currently out of stock.

To his credit, he didn’t announce this with even a trace of glee or, for that matter, frosty defensiveness. I felt him feel my pain. He would check with management and try to expedite the battery somehow.

Which is where it now stands. I can use the laptop; just not without a power outlet.

Perhaps the most annoying part of all this is how this situation has distracted me from what might otherwise have filled this column. E.g., Senate Majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi saying the United States would have been better off if then-segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948. (‘When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him,’ Lott proclaimed at Strom’s 100th birthday party. ‘We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.’) Or Texas Governor Rick Perry sticking with support for the Texas sodomy law that his predecessor, George W. Bush, had also supported. (The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 1986 that consenting gay adults had no right to private sex. Now the Court has agreed to hear a Texas case that revisits this issue. Should it in fact be criminal for two guys or gals to be intimate in the privacy of their own bedroom? Yes, says the newly elected Republican Governor of Texas: ‘I think our law is appropriate.’) Or the Bush administration’s favoring drug companies over consumers. (‘Drug companies have repeatedly disseminated misleading advertisements, even after being cited for violations, and millions of people see the deceptive ads before the government tries to halt them, Congressional investigators said,’ reported the New York Times last Wednesday. ‘The General Accounting Office criticized delays in enforcing standards for the accuracy of drug advertising and attributed much of the delay to a recent change by the Bush administration that lengthens the review process.’) And that merely scratches the surface. (How about not extending the unemployment benefits that are running out for 780,000 folks just in time for Christmas? How about double-crossing John McCain on campaign finance reform?)

I also feel rotten for IBM, because if they can’t get this right, who can? (Dell! I hear you shout. Compaq! Winbook! Apple!) As recounted yesterday, IBM is a national – yea, verily, a global – treasure. I hate to see the brilliance of their research scientists foiled by the dispatcher at UPS or the woman who blocks shipment to an alternative address.

The one silver lining is that my original shipment, which went awry and may actually have been stolen (well, where else can it be?), will probably not work right out of the box, either. So my hope is that the thief will call in for tech support, will be asked for his ThinkPad serial number . . . and faster than you can say, ‘may I place you on hold?’ red lights will start flashing at IBM and federal agents will be at his door.

Now I’m going to see if the DVD drive will play a movie.


[Hey: the DVD works! Cool! So does the earphone jack! And . . . get a load of this Pinball Game! Unbelievably lifelike and spectacular – and I got over 1,000,000 points on my first ball. Serenity indeed! My old pinball machine – a real one – cost substantially less than $3,100 and was very cool. (‘The … Black … Knight … will … play … you,” it would bellow when you pressed its start button.) But it took up a lot of space and the ball sometimes got stuck. Could my ThinkPad have been worth the aggravation after all? Am I seeing light at the end of the laptop tunnel? I know it would have been easier with a Macintosh, but I am keeping a positive attitude. Serenity now.]


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