A special interlude as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant
With heart-felt thanks to ifixit and J at the office, a true wizard.
There is a saying in Tibetan, “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.” No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.
― Dalai Lama XIV
My saga in Bethlehem, Occupied Palestinian Territories began about one week into my 10-week photographic journey to this troubled region. I noticed my computer, groaning toward its 6th year anniversary, slow down, crawl, and then emit grinding noises. I tried rebooting which didn’t help. And when I tried once more to restart, it refused—it had comatosely quit. I suspected a broken hard drive. I tell this story because of what it might reveal about living in a region illegally and unjustly occupied by a foreign power while most of the international community, especially governments, do nothing.
First question and step of this saga: what is the problem? J at the office offered to put the computer thru some sort of diagnostic. Couldn’t do it, computer wouldn’t run, no surprise. I considered some options (short of calling my entire project a bust and go home early, 9 weeks out the window):
- Replace the hard drive, J would install new software, all that I needed for my photographic work, and conceivably I’d have an improved computer. Software could be expensive and my entire investment in the initial software would be lost. What about pirated software?
- Rent a laptop, probably a Windows since I’m in Windows land. This was JV’s recommendation. He doesn’t condone software theft. I located a basic level PC in Ramallah with all the software I needed for $100 monthly, not bad I suppose.
- Buy a new computer here, either Mac or Windows, either new or used. However the markup in Israel and Palestine is about 1.7 because of taxes and shipping. I priced a few at the new Mac store in Ramallah, sorely tempted but why waste my money?
- Ask M to buy and ship a new MacBook, or as she suggested buy one thru Amazon or some other company that ships internationally. But the same probable extra costs as indicated in #3 holds. I am grateful that she was willing to do this and regularly asks how the resurrection is going.
- Do without, use whatever computers I can scrounge where I work. The office has offered me superb facilities. But after that ends what?
Maybe there were more options, I forget. I have followed option #1 because I’m curious about whether I can resurrect the computer, and I look forward to my old buddy with a new outlook on life. My friend and neighbor Johnny is impressed with my sumud (steadfastness, a characteristic of many Palestinians) in the face of disaster—the will to survive, even succeed, fortitude, doggedness.
I backed up everything before I left home, I have a new iMac waiting for me upon my return (once I successfully migrate everything, altho now there is probably nothing to migrate, except maybe off my backup drive.)
And what about data retrieval? J tried that and failed.
Inspired by the Dalai Lama’s legendary love for taking stuff apart to see if he can fix it (I’m not sure he’s applied his acumen to a laptop), here’s my story:
All repair images courtesy of ifixit, others from the internet
1. buy a hard drive. best if in Israel because of availability and price, so I ordered one from BUG, an electronics chain in Jewish Jerusalem. J had advised a different place but I couldn’t find it. Gilat helped me locate this one, everyone was helpful and efficient. Price was 500 NIS or roughly $120 for a 500 gig Seagate. This required 2 Sunday trips, one to order and one to pick up, but since I was in Ramallah anyway for Quaker activities, Jerusalem was not hard to reach.2. to install it I needed a special tool to remove special screws. The tool is called star or torx, pronounced torks. Following various leads from various people I finally found one at a Bethlehem hardware store, thanks to J and B. Cost 24 NIS (about $6)
3. remove the old hard drive from its holder plate by removing the torx screws, only to discover the new hard drive wouldn’t go all the way in. Research this online and learn often such a problem is caused by rubber gaskets slipping out of position and jamming the hard drive.
4. bring a flashlight to the office to confirm this hunch. It’s confirmed. Decide after more research that I need to remove the entire upper case to reach the gasket.
5. to remove the case I need to remove the tiny Phillips head screws. Can’t find a tool for this in the office, despite the preponderance of video equipment and corresponding tools. Try one large hardware store in Bethlehem on my way home. No luck.
6. scout Bethlehem hardware stores, first the store that had the torx driver (on the way to the Israeli checkpoint which I might try to reach anyway so I can walk from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, reversing the walk I made 5 years ago). Hope they have a tiny enough Phillips screwdriver, #00. No luck again.
7. Ask Johnny if he knows where I might find one to borrow in Bethlehem, maybe a jeweler or mobile phone repairer or computer repairer in Bethlehem, anyone dealing with tiny screws.
When I told Johnny about my current phase of computer repair he lambasted me for not purchasing a new computer before I began this trip. He said, Look Skip, I’m a craftsman, I use the latest tools even if I have to borrow money to buy them. It pays off. You’re a craftsman and need the best tools, the latest. I explained to him that before I left home I’d considered a new laptop but decided not to buy one because carrying such expensive equipment would make me nervous about loss or breakage, plus I wanted to use my Harvard discount so M could save a little money buying hers (only one per year).
And later when I told Johnny about my current obstacle—the tiny Phillips head screws I need so I can remove the rubber gasket—he said, no problem Skip, me or my brother Robert can find the tool. Bring your computer home tomorrow, we’ll fix it. He was adamant about this, laid it on me as a mandate. Bring your computer to us and we’ll see that it’s fixed!
8. Finally I found the tool in a southern suburb of Jerusalem to which I walked from Bethlehem. I removed the screws (one seems stripped), opened the case, refitted the rubber lining that blocks the hard drive, inserted the new hard drive, closed everything up, tested it—ureka!—and now wonder how to install the new operating system and software.
Ideally I’ll have the essential portion of my computer back. Not the original files which I can live without on this trip. Assuming proper installation of software, I’ll still have to reconfigure the system—install passwords and other data to make software like Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Office, iMovie, Lightroom, and the like work.
I am very grateful for my iPad which has not (yet) failed me, despite a scare with the battery that for a moment wouldn’t charge. I swore at my iPad, it began charging (since kissing and thanking my laptop shortly before it quit proved useless, I thought I’d try a different technique). With the iPad I write my journal, do basic email and web work, check my blogs and do some limited work on them, make videos, Skype (very important), and otherwise, in conjunction with the desktop computer at the office, I manage. I’ve also been forced to more fully explore the iPad, see what apps are available, experiment.
I could have survived without my laptop, merely limp along and improvise, if needed. All because of a little piece of hardware. Ruminating on this problem I wonder if I’d have been smart to install a new hard drive at home. The other one experienced years of rough service. Maybe, who knows? Or bought the new MacBook before leaving, which would have denied M her chance at a computer with my discount, and I’d fear breaking or losing my new $1300 plus piece of gear.
Coming soon, how people who live in a poverty-stricken, imprisoned zone such as Palestine can acquire software.
If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.
― Dalai Lama XIV