Burning Down The Mouse


Since I wrote my last article the whole flaming laptop battery issue hit the headlines. It received significant press coverage in publications ranging from IT magazines, down (or up depending on your persuasion) to ABC’s “The Chaser’s War On Everything”.

Initially the story revolved around some Sony-supplied battery cells sold in Dell and Apple laptops catching fire. Dell and Apple blamed Sony, Sony attempted to shift part of the blame down its supply chain because of the way Dell and Apple “configure” its batteries.

Within a short space of time, nearly every major laptop manufacturer (including Sony’s own laptop division) became embroiled in the fiasco and the total number of recalled batteries is tipped to exceed 10 million (the largest recall in electronics history).

The root cause of the problem has been attributed to a crimping production process that left metal fragments loose in the battery cells. As a result, the affected batteries have a propensity to short-circuit, converting their stored energy to heat with spectacular results.

While the chance of a recalled battery combusting is statistically tiny, getting a free replacement battery is probably a worthwhile exercise anyway. Laptop batteries degrade over time resulting in diminished run time. Given the age of many of the recalled batteries, it’s likely that a new unit will provide up to an additional hour of portable use.

Have you checked that your machine is not one of the affected ones? Worth doing I would think!

In the lingering wake of this debacle, several leading laptop manufacturers including Apple, Dell, HP and Lenovo have committed to develop standards for lithium ion battery design, performance and safety. Given the fallout from the current recall, a standard is expected to be ratified quickly.

Come Fly With Me

I was on a plane recently thinking about the possibility of a laptop catching fire during flight - it was a sobering thought.

Australia’s major airlines have also considered the possibility and issued statements indicating that passengers with affected laptop batteries would not be allowed to charge them during flight (an interesting proposition in itself).

It’s not just dodgy batteries in laptops that you need to be mindful of. I have dealt with a couple of laptops where the sleep mode has not kicked in properly when the laptop lid had been shut. Once it was a software configuration error and the other time it was a faulty closing switch.

In both cases the laptops happily powered up and proceeded to cook themselves in the confined space of their carry bags. One of them was mine, and I can tell you that when I got it out of the boot after driving for a couple of hours, it was so hot I was amazed that it hadn’t actually ignited!


As eluded to in my previous article, heat issues are not restricted to laptops. Just after the summer holidays this year I had a call from a clinic that had had weird failures and commotion on their server. No one fessed up to doing anything to the machine, and I was a bit nonplussed as the machine had been very reliable until then.

As I was sitting there pondering, the receptionist mentioned in passing that “you should have heard that black box when we came back from holidays. It sounded like a jumbo jet! And the room was sweltering!”

All the pieces fell into place. The room was not overly tiny, but being totally closed up for a couple of weeks with the server quietly humming away was enough to gradually heat the room to the point where the computer was struggling to cool itself. (The jumbo like noise was the server fans working overtime).

While I seriously doubt the computer or surrounding paraphernalia could have caught fire, it isn’t outside the realms of possibility. In any case, the server required quite a spruce up to set it right again and I wouldn’t vouch for the long term prospects of that machine (or more importantly, its hard drives, where the digital practice lives).

Modern server hardware is designed for unattended continuous operation, however the environments they are placed in don’t always share the same qualities. If your practice closes for an extended break this summer, perhaps it would be worth giving your computers a holiday also?

Posted in Australian eHealth

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