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The Powerbook! The Powerbook! The Powerbook’s on Fire!

[With title apologies to the Bloodhound Gang]

My Mac burst into flames under my bed while I was asleep. Awoke to the sound of “FFFffffff,” which I thought was something tearing. I heard it again. And again. Then I smelled something acrid and wrong.

Jimm's Laptop

Jimm’s burst laptop and flamed piece of carpet.

Jimm's Laptop

Detail.

So I am not Friday night drunk anymore, because it is 1:30 am Saturday and my nose grabs me and we go looking for where that smell is coming from. Because it was not the smell of a ripping poster. And I do not own any bunnies which would be eating the wallpaper. My nose goes to the kitchen first. Maybe I left on the stove. Maybe I was in the middle of making some drunken spaghetti when I decided it was time to go to sleep. Maybe. Maybe not. And then I heard it call me again.

“FFFFfffff!”

Oh man. Is it the fan? What is it?

This time my ear pulls me towards that sound. Back into my bedroom.

E-mailing from bed. It’s a nasty habit. So I usually slip my computer near my bed before I go to sleep. I keep my Mac on a thin cutting board on my carpeted floor, under my bed. I got the free cutting board when I visited the big grocery store on Roosevelt Island two years ago (another story in itself). The butcher offered it to me because she put the wrong cheese on my turkey sandwich. I have used it ever since as a mouse pad, a computer pad, and a moth killer. Never as a cutting board.

So on this night it was playing the role of computer pad. But on this night I had not put it too straight onto the pad. In fact, the hot hot battery part of the G4 Powerbook was a bit out on to the bare carpet, which doesn’t give much space for the fan to breathe.

And so tonight while me and the computer slept, both of us charging, it decides to speak to me in a language I have not yet heard before.

“FFFFFffffffff!”

Oh, it’s louder now. I reach under the bed and slide the Mac out quickly. The computer is white hot. My fingers get a little numb from touching it. As I pull it out smoke starts to come out.

“FFFFFfffffffff!”

More smoke. Oh shit. 911.

“Is it on fire?”

“I don’t know. Smoke is coming out like one of those smoke machines they use at Bar Mitzvahs or when the Miami Hurricanes run out onto the field.”

“FFFFFfffffffff!”

Here I am talking on my cell phone while my Mac is spitting out toxic upon toxic into my room. Casually talking while I am being gassed to death.

“FFFFFFFFF!”

And then, while 911 was on the phone, it went up into flames.

“Oh wait, yep. It’s on fire. Yeah, I think you should come over.”

Fire extinguisher and out. That stuff is everywhere. All over my room.

Then the surreal scene of giant firemen in my apartment.

“Never seen that before.”

They take the battery out of my Mac. It needs to be deposed of professionally. They cut out the toxic part of my carpet where the fire happened. They let loose an industrial fan to blow out all the smoke through the window. I get interviewed for the fire report. They leave. I get a hotel.

The next day was an all day of cleaning my entire apartment.

The melted, dusty shell of my Mac was left behind.

And I was never that angry.

I was so grateful to be alive that I really treated it like one of those things. Most of my stuff was backed up. Not everything, but most. the music and the client files. Like I said, most.

And I call Mac.

“Customer service, how can I help you?”

“Hi, my G4 Powerbook burst into flames last night while it, and I, were asleep. I was wondering who I could talk to about this?”

“What is your serial number, sir?”

(sounds of scraping)

“Hold on….”

“Sir?”

“Hold on, I am trying to scrape away all the burned metal to see if I can read it.”

Soon enough, I think he got it and he put me on the line with a nice guy named Geoff. I had an interview for over an hour about everything. And then he had some requests: the fire report, my serial number and the computer.

Now I could have certainly been angry and all lawsuity. I want justice. I want a new G4.

But I was mellow. Geoff was mellow. All was mellow.

And I just really wanted another Mac. Because, they are not cheap and I am not rich. I didn’t even want to be reimbursed for my hotel or the cleaning supplies. My apartment was already a mess and in need of a good cleaning, and I needed a tiny vacation. (Man, some lawyer I would have been.)

So I decided to cooperate. Because somehow, someway I still truly believed in the Apple brand.

Under all the white space and dancing silhouettes occupying our cities, I know Apple is one of those companies that takes these things seriously. They care about the Apple people. I believed Geoff when he told me he wanted as much information as he could gather to help the engineers figure out why other Macs would say “FFFFFFFffffffff” in the middle of the night. And if Geoff was from Dell or IBM or Sony I really don’t think I would have believed him. For some reason, with Apple, I felt part of the family, helping to make sure this didn’t happen again.

For some reason I thought I would be treated fairly.

And I was.

I got Geoff what he wanted. The fire report. My serial number (from the dealer I bought it from). The machine itself.

And then, a few days later, I got the very Mac Book Pro I am typing on.

The funny thing is, a Mac almost killed me, and I came out of the whole experience feeling more strongly about Apple as a company.

It is like we had a fight, with knives and foreign objects and the authorities involved, but in the end, right before the credits roll, right before we look at each other covered in dirt and blood and soot and ripped clothes, we see eye to eye, human to human, me and the brand, and we shrug it off, make it even, manage a hug and keep walking together.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 3941 FILED UNDER Show and Tell
PUBLISHED ON Oct.09.2007 BY Jimm Lasser
WITH 58 COMMENTS
Comments
Prescott Perez-Fox’s comment is:

Wow. I don't know what to tell you. I have a Powerbook as well and I don't leave the battery in — I'm sure that will be your tactic from now on. Did you lose your hard drive and all the data as well?

On Oct.09.2007 at 09:34 AM
Doug B’s comment is:

...good think it wasn't in your pocket.

On Oct.09.2007 at 09:48 AM
Jarrett’s comment is:

Shouldn't we expect computers, which generally have a temperature sensor on the processor, to shut down, and stop charging themselves, somewhere around the temperature they ignite at?

On Oct.09.2007 at 10:01 AM
Jon Dascola’s comment is:

Maybe my 4gb iPhone that I paid an extra $100 for will catch on fire so I can get the now standard 8gb model. Somehow the $100 Apple store (not itunes) credit doesnt feel that humane. Do you have Geoff's direct number?

On Oct.09.2007 at 11:13 AM
Richard’s comment is:

Brilliant story Jimm, nicely written. Glad you survived to post it.

On Oct.09.2007 at 11:34 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Congrats. You have spawned a success story that will lead to users lighting their PowerBooks on fire in order to get new MacBook Pro machines.

On Oct.09.2007 at 12:35 PM
Static Sucks’s comment is:

Charging Electronic Device + Carpet = Dummy

Glad you got it replaced. Don't do it again. :)

On Oct.09.2007 at 01:27 PM
Ruben’s comment is:

dead pixels / broken / flawed displays.
drives that die.
exploding batteries...

... this kind of stuff is happening all too much...
shame apple... shame...

customer service... apple genius... apple care... pro care... poo pah...

this shit shouldn't happen as often as it does.

On Oct.09.2007 at 01:34 PM
felix’s comment is:

serves you right... e mail?

more like porn... man on dog porn.

for shame.

On Oct.09.2007 at 01:45 PM
Doug B’s comment is:

this shit shouldn't happen as often as it does.

I don't think this kind of thing happens all that often, it's just we seem to hear about it EVERY time it does nowadays.

blogs = mad consumer power.

On Oct.09.2007 at 02:04 PM
Deniece’s comment is:

This would be great copy for an Apple ad.

On Oct.09.2007 at 02:47 PM
darrel’s comment is:

I often leave my laptop plugged in on a coffee table while I go to work all day.

I definitely need to stop doing that.

And invest in a stainless steal desk.

On Oct.09.2007 at 03:32 PM
Tanner Christensen’s comment is:

It's like, after spending a few minutes digging around in the dirt and discovering every valuable, shiny object you had to offer me, I have a lot more knowledge about life than I did when I started reading.

Well, at least I tried describing how I felt after reading your brilliant post in similar poetic fashion.

On Oct.09.2007 at 04:06 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

I was so expecting Apple to offer you a $100 Apple store credit and wish you well! Glad they (and you) responded appropriately.

On Oct.09.2007 at 04:06 PM
ryan’s comment is:

I recently had renewed faith in Apple as well. My G5 tower one day freaked out, the fan went crazy, and then all would get was a chime, no image, no nothing.

Turned out the coolant for the processors leaked everywhere, frying many of the components inside, new motherboard, new everything, but a hard drive (it was still good).

The extended warranty had expired, yet apple paid for all of the repairs. I was pleased.

On Oct.09.2007 at 06:33 PM
Fiona Clark’s comment is:

I have a Powerbook G4. My third one actually.

Number 1 died the 3rd day I had it...broken battery charger...so Apple gave me a new one.

Number 2 died a month later....the hard drive was clicking then crash....so Apple gave me a new one.

Number 3 is still with me and currently sitting on a cooling pad from Best Buy. The thing sure does heat up quickly though.

On Oct.09.2007 at 09:45 PM
Kyle Hildebrant’s comment is:

Great post. Thank you for sharing that.

On Oct.09.2007 at 10:12 PM
Michelle French’s comment is:

Ooooo Darryl,

I had a stainless steel desk. Unfortunately, it conducts electricity. Does weird things. Try glass.

On Oct.09.2007 at 10:35 PM
James Moening’s comment is:

I know this little time bomb gets hot, too. Curiously hot. But greater is my concern, not with alerting EMS, but with long term studies. What happens to my "goods" when electromagnetic waves and dying isotopes shoot through my jeans for a couple, nay, innumerable, years?

On Oct.09.2007 at 11:21 PM
Colin Morton’s comment is:

"Dying isotopes?" You have a nuclear-powered iPod?!? Dude, I want one.

On Oct.10.2007 at 12:08 AM
Daniel Tucker’s comment is:

amazingly well written! I've never had an apple product burst into flames on me but I've had the occasional error and it has yet to bring out that monitor punching rage that so manages to pull from my depths.

On Oct.10.2007 at 12:20 AM
Sal’s comment is:

(re: Deniece writes: "This would be great copy for an Apple ad.")


Survivors love our products even more. 

On Oct.10.2007 at 12:34 AM
Allister’s comment is:

"I was writing an email on my bed, and it was, like, FFFFFfffffffff!, FFFFFfffffffff!, FFFFFfffffffff!, FFFFFfffffffff!, FFFFFfffffffff! And then, like, half of my G4 Macbook was gone. And I was, like, heh? It devoured my carpet. It was a really good carpet. And then I had to get a new square of carpet but it wasn't as good. It's kind of a bummer."

On Oct.10.2007 at 12:36 AM
Pecos Bill’s comment is:

Um, Apple (Sony) owes you more than that! The MBPro is minimum as an apology for the inconvenience. They owe you carpet repairs/replacement (that room only), the hotel room, and any other related (honest) costs.

I do worry that my MacBook will go supernova while it's charging. I'm not sleeping with it ;-) so I won't hear it go FFFffffffft.

On Oct.10.2007 at 02:05 AM
D Fitzgerald’s comment is:

I very nearly had this experience. I left my laptop asleep at my desk while I was in the lab at work about two months back, and when I returned, I nearly scorched my hands on the keyboard trying to log back in. Of course, I shut down the system immediately. That evening, I decided to chance things and bring it back up long enough to get a more recent backup of the disk, but it refused to turn on. I dropped it off at the Apple Store and had it back a few days later. Apparently, one of the thermal sensors stopped functioning properly, so the cooling systems didn't kick in when the heat built up. I ended up needing new virtually everything but the hard drive.

On Oct.10.2007 at 02:20 AM
Rene Fournier’s comment is:

Panini or toast?

www.gpspolice.net/blog/2007/05/24/i-loved-my-macbook-pro-part-1/

On Oct.10.2007 at 02:21 AM
Rene Fournier’s comment is:

Panini or toast?

On Oct.10.2007 at 02:23 AM
Pecos Bill’s comment is:

Oh, should have asked: did you check to see if your PowerBook battery was recalled way back then? I'm guessing you did and it wasn't covered. I presume it was a factory battery and not third party (likely covered in your hour long chat with Geoff).

Hope you still have 8 lives left.

On Oct.10.2007 at 02:51 AM
Florian’s comment is:

I understand that you love Apple but you should have talked to a lawyer first. I would say it's a clear cut case and they should have paid all repairs and something on top of it. Of course you are in the US so that on top of it ...

On Oct.10.2007 at 03:21 AM
SiR GadaBout’s comment is:

@Florian: Lawyers exist to help us find satisfaction after being a victim. Jimm was satisfied with the response he received from Apple - why should he seek more?

On Oct.10.2007 at 06:09 AM
Martin’s comment is:

@Florian: Lawyers exist to help us find satisfaction after being a victim. Jimm was satisfied with the response he received from Apple - why should he seek more?

Lawers exist to seek and defend the truth by following and respecting the laws. In the US of A, the amount of hypocrisy that the people has is insane. North American citizens will sue anybody over anything. Sometimes it's way hillarious.

The US of A has one of the best (if not the best) economies of the world, yet the people seem to be lurking for an oportunity to become rich at the expense of somebody else.

Anyways, good to hear that you've got your box replaced :)

On Oct.10.2007 at 06:26 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> I understand that you love Apple but you should have talked to a lawyer first.

Let's not forget that Jimm was meant to be a lawyer in a past life...

Hence Jimm's offhanded comment, "Man, some lawyer I would have been."

On Oct.10.2007 at 08:25 AM
Geo’s comment is:

I am very sorry this happened to you. That said, placing a powered-on laptop (even if it was asleep) under a bed on a carpet was a bonehead move. Most thinking, well-informed people would have anticipated that this could happen, given all the publicity on laptop batteries and fire danger during the past couple of years.

You're very lucky to be alive, and fortunate Apple picked up the tab for your mistake.

On Oct.10.2007 at 09:33 AM
John Whittet’s comment is:

My sister's MacBook pretty much completely died: battery, motherboard, the works. The cost to repair the machine would have been about $200 less than a brand new laptop. Oh, and this happened a week after the year warranty expired.

She called Apple, who repaired it for free. And people whine about iPhone credit...

On Oct.10.2007 at 10:35 AM
DH.’s comment is:

Hi, Jimm--

I'm glad you didn't die. Thanks for the good story.

DH. (in St. Paul now)

On Oct.10.2007 at 11:06 AM
Manas’s comment is:

Hi Jimm, so in the interest of preventing this from happening to the rest of us, was this a recalled and replaced battery, or was it the original that came with your PBG4?

On Oct.10.2007 at 11:42 AM
Jenn’s comment is:

Yikes, glad you're ok. Now I'm as paranoid to go out and leave my powerbook at home sleeping as I am about leaving the coffee maker on.

On Oct.10.2007 at 12:37 PM
kevin’s comment is:

Oh, man. If I wasn't at work, I'd probably start crying. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

On Oct.10.2007 at 01:50 PM
Alexander Weiss’s comment is:

Well, my MBP got really really hot (it usually ran between 80 and 90 degrees Celsius) And it became very slow, Aperture began to demolish my Libraries etc. After half a year the downside of the battery even bagan to come off! So in 2 days a new battery was delivered, but the problems were still there, so I called and they said I should take it to an Apple Store, so there I lost it for a week and they replaced the motherboard (and repaired something that had to do with the HD) and they wanted to replace the cover (they had scratched it), but I was going on holiday very soon, so I wanted it back. So when I got it back the whole laptop looked bent (it was) and there was enormous tension on the outside (the thin part above the opening button even broke after two weeks), because it didn't fit the inside anymore which had been bent by all the heat. So we called and sent pictures, and we got an all new MBP (newer version, so faster, larger HD, brighter screen etc.)!

On Oct.10.2007 at 02:58 PM
FuturDreamz’s comment is:

The US of A has one of the best (if not the best) economies of the world,
Aside from the fact that the government is kinda in debt and that the Loonie had reached parity with the US dollar a while ago?

On Oct.10.2007 at 02:58 PM
Jarrett’s comment is:

"Oh, it exploded, ok, let me give you another one." - why do we consider that exceptional customer service?

On Oct.10.2007 at 03:10 PM
Mathue’s comment is:

Personally I find acting like an adult gets me so much farther than acting like a 5 year old. Most companies, not just Apple have employees that want to do right. Many companies have their employees strangled so that can't do these kind of things or have policies that restrict what they can do. When all is said and done Apple did the right thing and Jimm acted like a sane, rational, psychologically stable adult. The long and short of it is to be aware of how your electronic devices are behaving. Changes in charge times or irregular behavior often precede these types of events.

On Oct.10.2007 at 03:15 PM
Brent’s comment is:

Geoff does rock... and he is a pretty mellow fellow. Glad to hear that everything worked out for ya bud.

On Oct.10.2007 at 07:23 PM
Mike’s comment is:

Wow. Besides enjoying the thorough explanation of the event, I have to say that it is great to hear about Apple coming through for their customers. Being a die-hard Mac groupie myself, I can only hope that the same attention would be given to me if I were ever nearly lit on fire by one of my Apple products.

On Oct.10.2007 at 07:39 PM
stevebert’s comment is:

Jarrett writes:
Shouldn't we expect computers, which generally have a temperature sensor on the processor, to shut down, and stop charging themselves, somewhere around the temperature they ignite at?

The way I understand it, the problem here is not the computer, it's the battery. The lithium ion battery pack really is just a bunch of individual cells (like your flashlight batteries) wired together and packed into a plastic enclosure, but with a lot bigger energy capacity. When lithium ion batteries fail it's usually an internal short, followed by a runaway chemical reaction as the (normally separate) chemicals and caustic metals come in contact and release energy as heat (lots of it!!). At that point, there's nothing that the computer circuitry can do about it and all you can do is stand clear and try not to get burnt. One theory is that contaminants in the factory can cause this to happen months or years after the battery has been in use.

Wikipedia: Lithium-ion Battery Controversy

Apple Battery Exchange Program iBook G4 and PowerBook G4

On Oct.10.2007 at 10:24 PM
christapher’s comment is:

when my father's vaio caught on fire while on the road in a hotel room, sony said 'without the serial number from the battery we cant prove it wasnt a third party battery. we're [not very] sorry'

no new computer, no help with cost for the hotel damages, nothing.

ive been trying to get him to switch and i might just send him this link :)

On Oct.10.2007 at 10:34 PM
Dick Davies’s comment is:

Glad you're OK, but did you not try to take the laptop outside *before* it burst into flames?

On Oct.11.2007 at 12:59 AM
juan Cespedes’s comment is:

that is a master piece of literature.

On Oct.11.2007 at 01:40 AM
Ben’s comment is:

Ah, Apple is adding some kitchen device functions lateley. You can have fried eggs on Mac, pancakes, coffee...

Thanks for the good story.

On Oct.11.2007 at 12:37 PM
Ben M’s comment is:

Glad you survived the whole ordeal. Loved Allister's comment. That would be a great commercial.

On Oct.11.2007 at 01:45 PM
Techgoose’s comment is:

Any idea if the battery of the PBG4 was one of the ones recalled because of their propensity to burst into flames? There was an industry-wide recall last year; Sony-made battery innards were to blame and many top-name laptop-makers had to issue recalls; Apple issued recalls for many PowerBook G4 batteries, among others, to prevent this situation.

It would be interesting to know if your battery was one that should have been replaced (as mine was), or if it was outside of the recall. If it was outside the recall, this is especially a scary anecdote. If it was among those recalled, it is more ammunition for why we need to take such recalls seriously.

On Oct.11.2007 at 02:02 PM
Jim’s comment is:

Bummer about the flaming battery incident.

But I'm impressed that you're paraphrasing a song by Bomshel for your article title. Wow. Mac country geeks!

On Oct.11.2007 at 02:35 PM
Michael’s comment is:

You're very lucky to be alive, and fortunate Apple picked up the tab for your mistake.

His mistake ?? !! Do you work for Apple Legal by any chance ? Apple sold him a battery that turned into a smoke bomb. That makes it Apple's mistake.

Did you try taking the hard disk out and getting the data off ? Looking at the photo I would have thought there was a good chance the hard disk would be OK.

Michael

On Oct.12.2007 at 02:18 AM
Joe J.’s comment is:

Wow, good thing you are a light sleeper. Apple is a company I believe in too. My 2004 eMac (USB 2.0) had some serious issues like freezing and video noise (snow-like pixelations.) Luckily, no fire though.

I'm not rich either, so I was so relieved when my local reseller stepped in and replaced the logic board and got me up and running in two days. My machine has never run better! Thank goodness (read, Apple) for AppleCare.

This was my first repair in 16 years and 10 different models. (SE, Classic, Classic II, LC III, LC III+, Performas 636, 660AV, 6400, G3 slot-load iMac and the eMac.


Go Apple!

On Oct.15.2007 at 11:07 AM
Joe’s comment is:

I did not read all the comments so this may be a repeat but, it bears mentioning that almost certainly Apple did not make the battery. Indeed, if this was one of the batteries that was recalled, that same "battery" was also recalled by Dell and other manufacturers for bursting into flames.
So probably Apple and others will go after the battery maker - I think it was Sony - for the cost to replace fried Powerbooks and other brands of laptops that had the batteries in them.
Apple makes a nice target but, the world wide tech economy crosses over many brands and serial numbers.

On Oct.19.2007 at 12:22 PM
Alexandra’s comment is:

Tip! I have put little plastic knobs on the underneath of my computer so that it ventilates. I thought it was so annoying when the fan would go into über-mode so I raised it.
Of course it wouldn't work on a carpet...but on any hard surface.

On Nov.04.2007 at 11:11 PM
soul.cielo’s comment is:

A nicely written article indeed! I can definitely relate to you about the Apple company and how even through the many 'mishaps' with these computers, at the end, you just end up with another replacement. The same thing happened to me and my G5 tower. It died 2 times. The first time it was gutted and replaced with new parts, but by the second time, I came home with a brand new G5 and was upgraded!

On Nov.05.2007 at 01:47 AM
Traycee’s comment is:

Geoff sounds hot. Could you get his number for me?

On Mar.12.2008 at 11:11 AM