2083: Laptop Issues

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Laptop Issues
Hang on, we got a call from the feds. They say we can do whatever with him, but the EPA doesn't want that laptop in the ocean. They're sending a team.
Title text: Hang on, we got a call from the feds. They say we can do whatever with him, but the EPA doesn't want that laptop in the ocean. They're sending a team.


Cueball goes to tech support with his laptop. Hairy and Ponytail are waiting behind the counter; one has dealt with Cueball's bizarre tech issues before, and warns the other. Sure enough, Cueball sets the computer down and offers a detailed list of the arcane problems his computer is giving him.

"My laptop's battery won't hold a charge."
A common problem; most laptops use lithium ion batteries due to their high power to weight ratio. Whilst the charge storage capacity of all batteries decreases over repeated charging and discharging cycles, lithium ion batteries are particularly prone to degradation over time. This is because charge is stored by lithium ions intercalated between layers of a 2D metal oxide material. When the battery is discharged the lithium ions move out of the metal oxide layers, allowing the material to contract, and it is this mechanical expansion and contraction of the material over repeated charging cycles that damages the battery, reducing storage capacity. However...
"Tried [replacing the battery]. Now the new ones won't either."
...the problem persisting despite the battery's replacement fails to make any significant sense. It may be a problem with his laptop's charging port, but his comment that the "new ones" now fail to hold a charge seems to imply it is persisting despite the replacement batteries being used elsewhere after attempting to use them for his laptop and failing... Many modern batteries have firmware built in now that reports their charge level. It is possible that his laptop is installing a faulty firmware to any batteries that get connected. Alternatively, an electrical fault within the laptop may be shorting the battery, leading to high currents which damage the battery.
"Also, random files get corrupted on the first of every month."
Some devices may be scheduled to do a "disk cleanup" on the first of every month. Somehow, this task is corrupting random files.
"Factory reset didn't help."
A factory reset of a device deletes all files, undoes all customizations, and generally puts the system back to square one. Under normal circumstances, this is an effective last-resort measure for dealing with glitches, viruses, and malware, so the fact that it doesn't offer any help suggests that the device's factory settings were already corrupt when they were first made or that the problem is hardware-related, although the typical hardware issues would tend to occur at random times and not be dependent on the calendar. External factors are likely here, such as visiting somewhere highly magnetic monthly. That or the people who coded the factory reset made improper assumptions about what is unchangeable and should not be checked; most Android factory resets won't fix a botched rooting, for instance, because low-level binary executables shouldn't need resetting, right? Nobody should be able to knacker that deep (although Cueball apparently just did).
"When it's plugged in, I get static shocks from my plumbing."
Static discharge from a portable device while it's charging is common. Static charge on other items in the building is not. However, plumbing systems on older houses were often used to provide a ground instead of using grounding rods, which are now the accepted norm. This could imply that Cueball's house is old, and for some reason his laptop is pumping a large amount of charge directly to ground.
"And it reboots if someone uses an arc welder nearby."
The high power draw of an arc welder will occasionally cause less devoted power supplies to flicker. Coupled with the bad battery that cannot keep the computer running when the power dips, this might cause his laptop to reboot. This could also be just because the arc welder is causing a large amount of electromagnetic interference.
"Transitions® lenses go dark when exposed to the screen,"
Photochromic lenses (commonly known by the brand name Transitions® lenses) in prescription glasses darken when exposed directly to UV rays; this is to avoid the wearer any hassle of needing prescription sunglasses. This seems to indicate that the screen of Cueball's laptop is emitting UV radiation. Whilst Cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors can emit small amounts of UV light and X-rays, most laptops use either Liquid-crystal or OLED displays which do not emit significant amounts of UV-light, and would not be expected to cause photochromic lenses to darken. Most displays would also be expected to contain a filter to block any harmful UV-light from damaging the eyes of the user. Since UV-light is very damaging to the eyes, a screen that emits sufficient UV-light to darken sunglasses would be hazardous to look at.
Film fogging due to x-rays
"and when I open too many tabs, it fogs nearby photographic film."
Photographic film used in old analogue (not digital) cameras contains light-sensitive chemicals which change from transparent to opaque when exposed to light. The photographic film 'negatives' are then printed onto paper, inverting the colors (i.e. areas that appear dark on the film appear bright on the print, as they do in real life). If photographic film is exposed to light, either intentionally or unintentionally (such as by accidentally opening the back of the camera whilst the film is unwound) then the film will become over-exposed, leading to a bright 'fog' that obscures the image. Fogging can also occur as a result of chemical degradation of the film or by exposure to radiation sources including X-rays. In order to cause fogging, the screen would have to be emitting X-rays that can pass through the film's container and expose the film. It is unclear why this should only occur when too many tabs are opened. Combined with the previous statement this indicates that a worrying range of light being emitted by the screen.

The sheer incongruity of everything Cueball has reported, in combination with past issues, leads Hairy to report that his manager has authorized Cueball and his laptop be thrown into the ocean. Cueball accepts this without objection. This is a reference to 1912: Thermostat, where Cueball has an issue with his thermostat, and the Tech support employee asks him if he has tried walking into the sea. It seems this suggestion has evolved into forcefully throwing him into the sea, for lack of a better idea. It could also be that this is a reference back to the first of the series of comics on Cueball's many computer problems, 349: Success, where he ended up in the ocean. Alternatively, it seems very similar to the account of Jonah in the Bible, who was thrown overboard into the ocean during a violent storm after which the storm ceased.

The title text contains mention of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a part of the United States government responsible for preventing pollution. In real life, most of a laptop computer's components are considered toxic waste, and the EPA, as part of their mission, would not want it dumped in the ocean. More to the point, it's implied that whatever Cueball did to it renders it far more dangerous than an ordinary laptop, and the EPA really doesn't want his cursed possessions in the ocean; thus they are sending a hazmat team to collect the laptop and safely dispose of it. However, in the comic, the EPA do not seem to be bothered with Cueball himself being thrown into the ocean.


[Cueball, carrying a laptop, is walking past a sign with a right-pointing arrow reading "Tech Support".]
Off panel voice #1: Oh no.
Off panel voice #2: What?
Off panel voice #1: This guy. He has the worst tech problems.
[Cueball standing at a tech support desk with an open laptop facing Hairy and Ponytail on the other side of the desk.]
Cueball: My laptop's battery won't hold a charge.
Hairy: We can replace it.
Cueball: Tried that. Now the new ones won't either.
[Close-up of Cueball gesturing with left hand]
Cueball: Also, random files get corrupted on the first day of every month. Factory reset didn't help.
Off panel voice: You weren't kidding.
[Close-up of Cueball with right hand on chin, gesturing with left hand]
Cueball: When it's plugged in, I get static shocks from my plumbing.
Off panel voice: What the...
Cueball: And it reboots if someone uses an arc welder nearby.
[Same tableau as second panel except that the laptop is slightly closed now.]
Cueball: Transitions® lenses go dark when exposed to the screen, and when I open too many tabs, it fogs nearby photographic film.
Hairy: We don't usually do this, but I've gotten permission from my manager to have you and the laptop hurled into the ocean.
Cueball: That's probably for the best.

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Please provide links to https://xkcd.com/1084/ and https://xkcd.com/1586/ (unsigned by IP

Perhaps also 1760: TV Problems and 1739: Fixing Problems and 806: Tech Support? Quiddity (talk) 05:17, 12 December 2018 (UTC)

I would recommend an exorcism for the laptop. 19:28, 10 December 2018 (UTC)

Has Randall been reading Charles Stross's "The Laundry Files"? 19:57, 10 December 2018 (UTC)

Or his neighbor is Harry Dresden.

We had a few people like this at my last job. In addition to all their problems they refused to let us give them a new laptop and insisted we keep trying to fix the ghosts in their current laptop 21:18, 10 December 2018 (UTC)

Might this be inspired by the recent revelation that Apple Store employees are not allowed to to use the word "problem": https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/dec/03/claps-and-cheers-apple-stores-carefully-managed-drama 22:05, 10 December 2018 (UTC)

Closer reference to https://xkcd.com/349/ than 1912 was to 349 -- 22:53, 10 December 2018 (UTC)

It is possible (if rather rare) that there's an error on a computers logic board, that causes it to fry batteries extremely fast

"(...) and safely dispose of it." - Is there a truly safe way to dispose of this laptop? I can't think of one.-- 09:41, 11 December 2018 (UTC)

This laptop can only be destroyed by throwing it into the fires of Mount Doom 10:39, 11 December 2018 (UTC)

--Shouldn't that be "...the fires of Mount Dell, from which it was forged?" 16:52, 11 December 2018 (UTC)

Andromeda Galaxy is on collision course with ours. It has black hole in it's center. I think that throwing the laptop there should be safe enough. I mean, maybe it will solve the problem with collision ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 00:42, 12 December 2018 (UTC)
No, we need to put it in quarantine WITH a black hole and mount Doom/Dell. Nyx goddess (talk) 01:54, 12 December 2018 (UTC)

Could the glasses be a refence to the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy? [1] 09:43, 14 December 2018 (UTC)

Is it just me or when they said photographic i thought they said pornographic?