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Spectacular product failure of the month

crybabyYou may have noticed that as our quality of technology improves, things work less. For instance, I have an LG phone that quite stupidly has no input for a headset. Perhaps it’s not stupidity or their part or mine. Perhaps it was just optimism and irrational belief in Bluetooth. Whatever. That faith was ill-founded in this case. The Bluetooth never really worked. The phone goes from two bars to dead in a matter of minutes. I’m getting a new one this week. So it goes.

I’m sure you have your own stories of crashes, intermittent meltdowns, inexplicable corruptions in underlying code, abrupt failures of exciting, leading-edge hardware over time. But you rarely run into a product that immediately, spectacularly, flamboyantly, doesn’t do what it was supposed to do right out of the box. You have to take your hat off to that kind of thing, really.  There’s something pure about it.

So yesterday morning I was in San Francisco airport. They have a very good store there called Techshowcase. It’s what you think it is. Headphones. Protective gear for IPods, IPhones, laptops. Cables up the yinyang. Nice sales people who always say, “No problem,” when you say, “Thank you.”

Last year I purchased a cable/plug thang for my Macbook Pro there, so that I could keep my battery charged in flight. It looked simple. Plug the unit into the cigarette-lighter outlet in the seat. Plug the regular Mac power cable into the unit. Presto. Worked for a while. Then it didn’t. Turns out that it wasn’t the proper voltage for a Mac. Okay, they should have told me when I bought it, but I think they didn’t know either and honestly, no harm, no foul, we tried. Time to try again.

This time I asked specifically: What do you have to power a Mac in flight? And there it was — the Cobra Microport. Elegant little leather carrying case. Mac compatibility promised on the packaging. Equally simple. Plug the Cobra into the seat, plug the Mac into the Cobra. What could go wrong?

I got to my seat with that wonderful sense of anticipation that precedes the first use of any new piece of technology, no matter how simple. We got to 10,000 feet. The little bell went off that signals the point where electrical items can be turned on. The Captain made the announcement to that effect.

I unwrapped my little Cobra Microport. How neat, I thought.  A cigarette-lighter style plug. A cable. A little box with two inputs, a USB port, and a fuse. I carefully plugged the cigarette lighter plug into the provided cable. I respectfully introduced the other end of the cable into the jack on the Cobra Microport. I then plugged the unit into the DC jack in the seat.  In short succession, the following things happened:

  • There was a loud popping sound;
  • There was a large puff of smoke;
  • A dramatic blue light flashed from the Cobra Microport;
  • An acrid scent of burning rubber and metal rose about me;
  • The little box glowed with the intensity of the blaze that raged within it;
  • The Power light, which had shone a friendly green for about two seconds, turned red.
  • That was that.

I had a car once that lost its transmission on the Mass Pike. Just dropped right out of it. Vehicle had only 6000 miles on it. That was disappointing, not to mention dangerous. I’ve had milk that was sour right out of the carton. I even had a blender that threw Margarita mix all over my kitchen once. But I’ve never had an piece of electronics quite literally explode the moment I plugged it in. Once I realized that my seat was not going melt with me in it, I have to say it was kind of funny, actually.

Of course, my computer ran out somewhere over St. Louis and I had to watch the movie. Race to Witch Mountain. Not bad, especially with the sound off.

This morning I begin the next phase of this interesting tale. The documentation on the Cobra Microport says I should send the object in and wait four to six weeks while they repair it. I don’t think so. I mean, we’ll just see about that.

How about you? Got any similar tales to tell? If so, start your engines. That is, if they do start. These days you never know.