12 August 2009

No magic dry rice

Filed under: death, E71, Nokia, twitter, Uncategorized — David Wood @ 10:28 pm

Rice potHere’s a tale of my personal naivety.  Hopefully others can learn from my errors.

Last Thursday, at about 6pm, I bent forward.  When I’m not looking at it, my Nokia E71 smartphone usually resides in my shirt pocket.  But because I was bending forwards, it slid out, and started crashing towards the floor.

I was disconcerted, but not too much.  The same thing had happened several times before.  I had learned that the E71 has incredible engineering, and it usually survives falling onto the floor, without even a dent or scratch to show for the experience.  It’s a solid piece of work.

But this time was different.

I was in a toilet, and the E71 landed straight in the water closet.

Things were bad, but they could have been worse.

Thankfully, I had flushed the toilet a few minutes earlier, so the bowl was clean.  (Well, as clean as toilets get.)

Without any conscious thought that I can remember, my hand shot into the water after the E71, and pulled it out.  Immediately.

I shook some water off the phone, and looked at the screen.  Everything seemed fine.  The phone was still switched on, the home screen was still live, and when I pressed up or down, the highlight moved up and down the display.  “What a great device”, I thought to myself.

There was still some water dripping off the device, so I thought I’d better dry it out.  I took off the back, removed the battery, and dabbed every visible area with paper towels.  A few seconds later, I put everything back together again, and pressed the On key.

In retrospect, that was my first big mistake.

The E71 seemed to boot up as normal.  The screen lit up, and the apps started.

Then I saw that there was no signal.  No problem, I thought, there’s poor signal strength in this hotel.  (I was in The Bingham, in Richmond upon Thames, for a work leadership team offsite meeting.  It’s a fine hotel, but we had been remarking all day that the cellular signal strength was poor in the rooms we were using.)

I rejoined my colleagues, and for a while forgot about my phone’s big escapade.  After all, there were plenty of other things to discuss.  (And I felt too embarrassed to mention that I had just thrust my hand into a water closet.)

That was probably my second mistake.

About 15 minutes later, I pulled out the phone again, curious to see if the signal had returned.  This time I noticed some fading at the bottom of the screen.  The two pieces of text for the soft buttons were illegible.  Water vapour had clearly got in behind the screen.  Woops.  So I separated all the parts of the phone again.

When I finally got home, I tried drying everything again, putting everything back together, and switching on.  This time things looked much worse.  The phone still gave the little vibrate immediately after the On button was pushed, and the screen and keyboard lit up.  But nothing else happened.  After around 30 seconds, the screen and keyboard switched off again.

I tried a different battery, and I tried plugging in a mains lead.  The result remained the same.

Then I thought of something different to try.  Twitter.  At 1.22 in the morning I tweeted:

dw2 wonders how long it will take his Nokia E71 to start working again, after dropping it in a basin of (clean) water yesterday

Twitter produced results.  Lots of them.

The first was at 1.23 in the morning:

kevinmcintyre09 @dw2 Would suggest leaving it in the airing cupboard for a few days to dry out

The next came at 1.27:

croozeus @dw2 It took my Nokia N95 a week before it dried out completely! Still it doesn’t charge but works properly…

Then at 1.28:

jomtwi Heh 🙂 RT @OscarB: Everytime I write “Symbian Foundation” I think of @dw2 as Hari Seldon

Then at 1.42:

dan_mcneil @dw2 http://bit.ly/83A1 may have some clues…

Then at 1.54:

jebbrilliant @dw2 Have you tried putting the E71 in a bag of DRY white rice?

And so the stream of tweets continued…

[I confess: one of the above tweets is irrelevant to this particular tale – but it’s so funny I left it in.]

Whoever said “the Internet never sleeps” has a point.  However, I was tired.  I put the E71 in the airing cupboard and retired to bed.

The next morning, I started reading some of the links, and a dawning realisation set in.

The above bit.ly link resolves to “How to Save a Wet Cell Phone” which contains the elementary advice (which I had failed to consider):

  1. Get it out of the water as soon as possible. The plastic covers on cell phones are fairly tight, but water can enter the phone in a short period of time, perhaps only 20 seconds or less. So grab your phone quickly! If you can’t get to it in time, your best bet is to remove the battery while it is still under water. Water helps dissipate heat from shorts that can damage the phone, so most damage occurs when the inside of the phone is merely wet and there is a power source. This can go both ways. Being under water is more likely to short the battery to even more sensitive contacts, so be careful.
  2. Don’t panic. Your phone will probably not be too damaged if you right away take it out of the water. While it’s in the water, immediately take it out.
  3. Remove the battery. This is one of the most important steps. Don’t take time to think about it; electricity and water do not mix. Cutting power to your phone is a crucial first step in saving it. Many circuits inside the phone will survive immersion in water provided they are not attached to a power source when wet.

To repeat: “most damage occurs when the inside of the phone is merely wet and there is a power source … electricity and water do not mix … Cutting power to your phone is a crucial first step in saving it”.

There’s not much more to say, except that I left the E71 in the airing cupboard for several days, with no luck, then I put it in a bowl of dry white rice for several more days, with no luck either.  There are certain kinds of damage that no amount of embalming will fix.

To be philosophical, there are points I could make about the need for prompt and skillful action following an accident to ensure good chances of survival, but I’ll save that for my next blog post.

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