Sunday, July 29, 2007

Surviving A Lightening Strike

I got an e-mail recently from a person who could not manage to leave a comment here, for some reason. My guess is that they did not have the ever evil JavaScript enabled. However, in the e-mail, they asked about my experiences following my recent lightening strike, that I mentioned here. As this has been a somewhat instructive experience, I think that it is worth a little bit of discussion.

When my house was hit by lightening, there were a number of less than good consequences: My TV was fried, my Tivo became a glorified paper weight, my laptop power supply was toast, along with the Ethernet card on the motherboard and finally, my wireless hub went the way of all flesh. Basically, it was a bit of a mess. I have now recovered from all this and, in an odd way, things have not turned out too badly. Hopefully, what happened to me may be instructive to others faced with a similar situation.

Computer Issues
The most immediate and obvious problem concerned my laptop. Without my computer, work had to be put on hold. I was also worried that my unbacked up data might also have been gone. As I was out of the house when the strike occurred, the fried power supply was the first concern. While I was away, the batteries on the laptop had run out. Without power, there was no way to assess the rest of the damage.

So, my first action was to call Dell and ask for a replacement power unit. At the time, I had not figured out that the problem was caused by lightening. However, as my machine is still under warranty, they sent me the new power supply in a couple of days. I really like the fact that their support is '24/7'.

By the time the new power supply arrived, I had realised that the problem was not just a faulty unit, but more serious. Once the machine had power again, I was happy to know that the entire motherboard was not gone, but the Ethernet card was dead. My unbacked up data was also intact, to my great relief. So, I called Dell again and they sent me new parts to make the machine work properly again. Although actual events were a little more involved than this description makes it sound, once again Dell deserve credit for getting my machine back up and running. I am now a big fan of warranty programs.

When the guy showed up to fit the new motherboard (the Ethernet card is built onto the motherboard), I shared with him my suspicion that the cause was a lightening strike. He was kind enough to tell me that, although there were all new parts, the machine should not be trusted -- it could become unreliable any time. I also talked to our head University hardware tech. He confirmed this judgement. Thus, I was able to make an application for a new laptop. This application has been successful. Thus, I should be getting a new machine soon. It will be much better than my current machine -- a faster processor, with multiple cores, a bigger hard drive, even a better kind (for Dell experts, it will be a Latitude, rather than an Inspiron). This was the first plus from getting hit by Thor's bolt from the sky. However, it was not the last.

Television
My TV was a total loss. However, as I do not have a huge mega-screen horror, for about one hundred and fifty bucks, I was able to get a replacement. The new TV is also much more up to date and will not have to quit when things go all digital. It also is stereo and has better connections for the satellite box, Tivo and all that stuff, so it is certainly better than the last one. It turns out this was the only major expense from this whole experience, for reasons that will become clear (hopefully) below.

Tivo
The issue of the Tivo was a little more tricky. This was a gift from someone who is technically challenged. Thus, it was never too good a fit, but I had still got used to having it. I was glad to be rid of the original in some ways, as the gift giver had become a thorn in my side, due to their mental illness issues. However, when I called Tivo to ask about warranty issues, they were not helpful. They told me that they could replace my unit, but it would cost me one hundred and fifty dollars. I was not too happy about this. After some thought, I decided to write the unit off and cancel my subscription. When I called Tivo to tell them this, things changed (this is a point to pay attention to). The Tivo people decided that, when threatened with cancellation, they could in fact replace my machine for free. All I had to do was send them back the old one (cost, just twenty dollars).

This turned out to be the second big win from the lightening strike. When the new Tivo arrived, it was the same model as the original, but had several fancier features, like dual tuners and a proper Ethernet connection, rather than just a dubious wireless one that had been on the original. As they say in Soccer "Score!".

Wireless Hub
I had not really paid too much attention to the wireless hub. I do not really use it too often. For the most part, I directly connect to my modem, via an RJ-45 lead. As the modem survived the lightening, I assumed that the hub had as well. In addition, all the blinky lights seemed to be working OK. However, with the new Tivo, with an RJ-45 connection on it, I needed to use the hub to give me multiple net connections, in addition to the single one on the back of the modem. It was when exploring this that I figured that the hub was dead. The folks at Linksys were very helpful in diagnosing the problem. When they had deduced that the unit was a goner, they immediately offered to replace it, for free. All I had to do was send them the old one. I was especially surprised about this, as I could not find the original receipt. This did not phase them in the slightest.

Putting it all together
Now, I have the new hub, I can connect to the network either by cable, or wirelessly. This is great. Better yet, I now have my Tivo attached to the network. This means that I have a whole bunch of additional features enabled, which I did not have on the old unit. The other thing which is really cool is that using a neat bit of software that I was able to download from the Tivo website, I can now transfer recorded programs onto my laptop for viewing there. This is going to be really useful when travelling overseas, especially. Unfortunately, the software only seems to work under Windoze, which is a shame (I prefer my Linux partition), but this is a small price to pay for the additional functionality.

Conclusions
Basically, the only major cost from the lightening strike was to replace the TV. As the old one would have stopped working when everything goes digital, this is not really too bad a hi9t. In addition, the new TV has many more features than the old one, and is generally more up to date, despite costing about the same amount.

There are some pluses too. I will be getting a new laptop, as a result of the lightening. This is a very big plus indeed. It can be quite tricky getting a new machine, as equipment money is tight. I was provided with a perfect excuse and so will end up ahead of the game. Also, my Tivo is now much fancier than it was. So, overall, I think that I have come out pretty well from the lightening strike. It seems that being prepared to play a little bit of hard ball at times can pay dividends (especially with Tivo). So, although it has taken a bit of effort, overall, getting hit by lightening has ended up being quite a positive experience, in an odd kind of way. This is certainly not the outcome I would have predicted. It also shows the benefits of having good warranty programs on all one's kit.

The CP

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