Miscellaneous Ramblings

Short Takes

Charles W. Moore - 28 Dec. 1999

The Horror and Heartbreak of ESD

Over the Christmas weekend, I watched a scary video. No, it wasn't the latest horror thriller from Stephen King - it was an old Apple Technology & Troubleshooting library tape entitled "ESD: The Shocking Truth."

ESD stands for electrostatic discharge, and according to the video, which features Steve Wozniak and David Cram, the ESD hazard to your expensive computer chips is a lot more worrisome than I had previously thought.

Back when I first started tentatively poking around inside computers, say to install some extra RAM, I went by the book - hooking myself up to a grounded wrist strap, making sure to keep one hand touching the computer chassis while I worked with the other one, and so on. However, as I became more accustomed to working around computer guts, and watched others who knew more than I did handling SIMMs and boards with casual regard for ESD caution, I developed a greater sense of security about the issue.

According to the video, I was wrong. It is distinctly unsettling to watch chips and transistors being fried simply by being touched for an instant, or having a Styrofoam coffee cup set down beside them. In one demo., Mr. Cram damages a transistor by simply waving a sheet of plastic film near it - never even touching it. The damage is verified onscreen using test equipment.

Another false sense of security I had was the conventional wisdom that if you work in an uncarpeted area, you're relatively safe from static discharge problems. Wrong! Antistatic spray on your work area is not the solution either, and carpeted workbenches are a big no-no, even if you liberally use antistatic spray.

This video is obviously oriented toward scaring computer tech people who may have developed lackadaisical attitudes toward taking ESD precautions into adopting more responsible work habits. While some of these people will doubtless protest that they have been handling computer components in a more casual manner for years and have not noticed any problems, Mr. Cram emphasizes that ESD damage will often just "wound" a chip circuit rather than killing it, leaving it to eventually fail weeks or months later.

The prescribed precautions for preventing ESD damage include:

I know I'm going to be a lot more cautious the next time I open up a CPU.

LCDtest Helps You Find Dead (Or "Sleeping") Pixels

Mike Bailey's LCDtest is a freeware diagnostic utility that helps you test your LCD screen for bad or stuck pixels. Unfortunately, "dead" pixels on an LCD computer screen are not an unusual phenomenon. Each pixel in the LCD is actually made up of 3 transistors - on each for red, green, and blue. With thousands of pixels making up the screen and 3 transistors per pixel, it isn't difficult to imagine how problems can crop up.

Using LCDtest is simplicity itself. Just start the program and cycle through the 5 basic colors (black, red, green, blue, and white), watching the screen to see if any bad ones show up. Happily, the 12.1" TFT display on my Wall Street PowerBook was free of any dead pixels.

If you do happen to find a bad pixel, sometimes they are not really dead but just having a nap. Mike suggests that you gently "massage" it to try and wake it up. Sounds weird, but reportedly it sometimes works.

LCDtest Version 1.0.1 for the Mac, released last week, now hides the cursor unless you use the command key to display the menu bar.

Tri-BACKUP 2 Backup Software

Here's another backup utility from Tri-Edre.

Tri-BACKUP 2.01 offers several backup modes:

I haven't tried Tri-BACKUP yet, but if you would like to check it out, you can download a free, 30-day demo from then Tri-Edre Website.

The registration fee for Tri-BACKUP 2 is US$49.

For more information, visit the Tri-Edre site.