Distractions, reflections

David Ing, at large … Sometimes, my mind wanders


Machine (man) down

Posted on May 05, 2006 by daviding

After a week in Austria, but before my trip through the UK, my Thinkpad died in Finland!

Minna had picked me up from the airport on Thursday night (April 27), and I had a chance to plug in the Internet connection at her home to catch up. On Friday morning, I lectured at the class at Stadia and then went out for lunch and shopping in Hakaniemi with Ritva. I took the bus back to Minna’s house, plugged in my laptop … and the machine wouldn’t boot. My experience (as a former IBM systems engineer!) suggested that this was system board failure, and definitely a hardware problem. While I was puzzling through options, I made dinner.

After dinner, I got Minna’s permission to try an experiment. (This really made Petri uncomfortable, but I’ve done this dozens of times!) Since Nokia also uses Thinkpads, she happened to have the model similar to mine — a T41. I removed the hard drive from my Thinkpad, and put it into her machine. Success! Although her T41 came with a Finnish keyboard and better screen resolution, my hard drive started up as normal. I connected to the network, tunnelled into IBM, and started some Sametime chats with various internal support people. I finally connected by Mary Penner, in the IBM Canada CIO’s office. The solution was, it appears, to put the Thinkpad Emergency Replacement Program (TERP) into effect. This is a great program, designed a decade ago, when it was realized that IBM consultants can’t effectively do client work when they don’t have a working Thinkpad. The distribution centre maintains an inventory of identical model units, so that a replacement can be sent out, working parts (e.g. hard drives, memory) can be swapped as required, and the non-working machine is returned for repair. This works well in Canada, and the IBM consultant is back in business in about 24 hours. Maintenance facilities typically don’t keep system boards on hand, so getting local service isn’t an option.

Working abroad, however, is a bigger challenge. Since I was going to be in Finland for another week, Mary initiated a shipment for me — starting with ordering inventory pulled down in the distribution centre on Friday’s third shift — so that the appropriate customs paperwork could be done on Monday morning. On this schedule, the replacement Thinkpad was to arrive in Finland on Thursday.

I wrapped up as much work as I could on Friday night, and went to Porvoo on Saturday. The rest of the weekend — while Minna and Petri celebrated Vappu (May Eve and May Day) with friends, I worked on Minna’s Thinkpad, knowing that I’d have to return it when the work week began. I transferred some of the content to a memory stick, and stashed away various files on the Internet at daviding.com, because getting Internet access is easy.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I was at Stadia and HUT, where Internet access on library computers worked well. I tracked the shipment of my replacement Thinkpad on the FedEx web site, and noted that it had arrived at the airport distribution centre on Thursday. On Friday morning, at IBM, Jyrgi Koskinen and Taina Gunay phoned FedEx for me. There was a bit of confusion about the customs status for the Thinkpad — it seemed like we were importing a computer from Canada — but they straightened that out. The computer was to arrive by lunchtime. I gave my scheduled presentations at IBM.

At lunchtime, Jyrgi phoned FedEx and they said that they would deliver by 2 p.m. We went down to the mailroom, and asked the clerks to watch for us. Around 2 p.m., Jyrgi phoned FedEx again, and they said that the shipment would definitely arrive by 4 p.m. The mailroom closes at 4 p.m., and this was a Friday afternoon! Coming up to 4 p.m., Jyrgi phoned FedEx again, and the dispatcher gave him the mobile phone number for the driver. The driver said that she was tangled in traffic, and would arrive soon. Jyrgi gave her directions to deliver to the front reception desk, so the mailroom employees could go home. I went downstairs to wait. An unmarked van pulled up around 4:30 p.m., and a woman rushed out with the package. Finally!

I took the Thinkpad upstairs, swapped the hard drives, and started up the computer. I was back in business. I found Mary Penner online in Toronto and thanked her, and asked about the return. She replied that she actually hadn’t initiated a formal TERP, but had assigned me a second Thinkpad. She said that the last time that she did a TERP to an IBMer in France, it took her six months to track the return through shipping and customs! I meant that I not only got to carry one Thinkpad in my hand luggage through the UK before coming home, but two! (More physical exercise than I really needed!).

Still, the process worked, and I would have a functional computer with me for my final week in the UK. That evening, it was a scramble between getting caught up on urgent e-mails, and packing up for a flight to Manchester in the morning ….

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