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Alan Cox's Exploding Laptop 339

Posted by Zonk
from the a-famous-exploding-laptop dept.
Bowie J. Poag writes to mention a page put up to commemorate the explosion of Alan Cox's laptop. From the article: "Alan was on the other side of the room from the laptop. I was elsewhere. He yelled out, I ambled towards the room in my own good time, and then I heard 'Fire! Real fire! Call the fire brigade, now!' and I speeded up a bit. From Alan subsequently, I gather there was an explosion and flying pieces of laptop, and a fireball, and a couple of fires started where (presumably) boiling battery landed, and one fragment smashed an LCD monitor. And then there was smoke and smell (there is still smell) and smoke alarm wailing and firemen and sirens and paramedics (happily unneeded) and police and a man with a notebook asking questions for the fire report.'"
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Alan Cox's Exploding Laptop

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  • by Pink Tinkletini (978889) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @02:31AM (#16172801) Homepage
    ...for buying an IBM ThinkPad, notorious for their unreliability. Perhaps he should have considered an Apple or Dell instead.
    • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Sunday September 24, 2006 @02:47AM (#16172871) Homepage Journal
      Perhaps he should have considered an Apple or Dell instead.

      Or perhaps he should have bought his battery in shrinkwrap from a reputable dealer rather than getting an after-market battery off of eBay? Even if it's a "genuine" IBM, for all he knows he ended up with a recall unit that somehow (*cough*) got resold on the open market.

      There are some things you DO NOT trust after-market vendors for. One of those things happens to be a highly explosive Lithium Ion battery pack. There are enough problems with the first party units to give pause to anyone even considering third party units. Getting off of eBay? Now that's just asking for trouble. :-/
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:32AM (#16173035)
        The problem is that the "reputable dealers" have ridiculous markups on replacement parts. You can get a digital camera battery for $40 or for $4. For most people the $4 batteries work just the same and don't fail. Actually I am under the impression that more name brand batteries have been the cause of laptop fires than others, perhaps because they are supposed to be the best performing batteries, so they have to cut more corners than generics. One thing which could really help the situation is standardization: It would bring prices down by enabling competition and reducing the number of different battery packs a manufacturer needs to support. That would pretty much eliminate the need or desire to buy off-brand batteries.
        • ya know why? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by way2trivial (601132)
          'cause the reputable merchants have to have enough margin the accept returns, and recalls, and make things right.

          that's also the difference between the world of walmart, and the world of macys....
      • Re:His own fault... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by toQDuj (806112) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @04:00AM (#16173131) Homepage Journal
        Hmm, yes, quite like the Exploding Nokia batteries, indistinguishable from genuine Nokia batteries (according to Nokia), but fake batteries nonetheless (according to Nokia again).

        Here's my thoughts: Nokia bought a batch of faulty batteries bud didn't want to admit it. Therefore they said the batteries weren't theirs, even though they coulod not make the distinction.

        The real reason you should be buying laptop batteries directly from the manufacturer (or in this case, the vendor: Apple, Dell or IBM) and not a reseller, is that the Li-ion batteries start degrading as soon as they're manufactured due to stresses in the crystal matrix. It does not matter much, therefore, how the batteries are used, for they will only last up to three years before cells will break. Thus, you want the batteries as fresh from the factory as possible, which is why you buy them from the vendor and not a reseller, because the turnover speed at the vendor is greater.

        Explosions are quite common to high-capacity batteries. It's the energy, you see.

        B.
      • by johansalk (818687)
        Can someone please tell me if this applies to AA and AAA batteries too? Or are those ones just unlikely to explode?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by mpcooke3 (306161)
        "That man has a point" he says whilst carefully taking his nokia-phone/ebay-battery out of his pocket and further away from his valuable parts.
    • "for buying an IBM ThinkPad, notorious for their unreliability. Perhaps he should have considered an Apple or Dell instead."

      What are you smoking??? The Thinkpad is one of the most reliable laptops in the market, even since the brand got bought by Lenovo. His own fault, yes. For putting an unreliable battery in. Even a Panasonic Toughbook (arguably the most reliable laptop out there) would explode if the battery you attach to it explodes.

      Dell just recalled a ton of their batteries for this very reason,
      • "What are you smoking???"

        Yeah... now that I read your post again, looks like I may have missed a little sarcasm... it's 3 AM and I tend to get a little preachy this time of night. Off to bed for me, before I say anything else I can't edit :)
      • by dangitman (862676)
        Dell just recalled a ton of their batteries for this very reason, and Apple laptops are generally not business machines.

        I'm not sure why you say that. If Apple laptops are not "business machines," then why is it so common to see them being used for business? What quality are you referring to that makes them not suitable for business?

    • by pchan- (118053) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @05:06AM (#16173321) Journal
      Think of this as a learning experience If Linux had implemented BeOS's is_computer_on_fire() [tycomsystems.com]* system call, he would have been able to log the situation, send an email to his friend to alert the authorities, and shut down cleanly.

      *Yes, it's actually in the OS.
    • Re:His own fault... (Score:4, Informative)

      by arivanov (12034) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @08:32AM (#16174035) Homepage
      RTFA: he bought the battery off eBay. Nuff said, no need to say more, move along.
    • I can see it now........ you're on the phone to Dell/IBM/Whoever, and they're offering you all the crap they always want to sell you

      D/I/W : "Also, sir we'd like to offer you our disaster recovery blanket for the low, low price of $24.95, including shipping"

      Customer : "Disaster recovery blanket..... what exactly do you mean by that"

      D/I/W : "Well, sir..... it's a fold up fire blanket, you know just in case........."

      Customer : "Just.... just in case of what, exactly?"

      D/I/W : "In case of fi
  • by creimer (824291) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @02:31AM (#16172805) Homepage
    "What? Exploding laptop and you're running linux? Oh, we don't cover that."
    • by Almost-Retired (637760) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:21AM (#16172993)
      "What? Exploding laptop and you're running linux? Oh, we don't cover that."

      Sorry, but I believe HP has a trademark on that phrase, as I was so exquisitly told by the circuit city folks when I indicated that the HP5320dv I'd just bought would probably have linux on it in less than 48 hours. I picked up the warranty form and said, well, I just guess the lawyers will have to sort that out now won't we? It did get FC5 installed as soon as I could make backups to dvd's, and works great with FC5 on it except for the broadcom radio in it.

      In any event, this, because its Alan Cox's machine, may well be the most famous blowup yet.

      I don't know what type of battery is in my HP, but its been very well behaved so far. That knocking sound? Thats me, knocking on the wood of the tabletop here. :-)

      --
      Cheers, Gene
    • But he doesn't need to worry, it is already covered by Slashdot.
  • Alan Cox... (Score:2, Informative)

    by in2mind (988476)
    Alan Cox (born 1968) is a programmer heavily involved in the development of the Linux kernel since its early days (1991). Whilst employed on the campus of University of Wales, Swansea, he installed a very early version of Linux on one of the machines belonging to the university computer society. This was one of the first Linux installations on a busy network, and revealed many bugs in the networking code. Cox fixed many of these bugs, and went on to rewrite much of the networking subsystem. He then became o
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This is Slashdot. We know who he is.
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by phorm (591458)
        Actually, not everyone does. See, this is a "news for nerds" site... which happens to include science-nerds, politico-nerds, book-nerds, game-nerds, anime-nerds and others.

        If you're a linux-nerd, you might know it (I happen to fall in that category as well as a few others), but it's actually helpful for many to know who Mr. Cox is, especially since the exploding laptop might be of interest to nerds of other genre's (say, hardware-nerds or politico-nerds for the lawsuit area of things).

        Whomever modded th
        • by houghi (78078)
          Actually, not everyone does. See, this is a "news for nerds" site... which happens to include science-nerds, politico-nerds, book-nerds, game-nerds, anime-nerds and others.


          It is the 'and others' that is of interest. Everybody is a nerd in some field. That would mean that no subject is off-topic.

          Figure-scating nerds, golf-nerds, opera-nerds, they finaly have a place to post. HERE [slashdot.org].
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Millenniumman (924859)
          But everyone on /. does have the Wikipedia reflex for unknown things. Or is that just me?
    • by rsborg (111459) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:21AM (#16172995) Homepage
      ...Whilst employed on the campus of University of Wales...

      Now where have I read that phrase before? *googles* oh yeah...

      Dude, at least site the source of your data (and more complete information at that): wikipedia page for Alan Cox [wikipedia.org].

    • by ozmanjusri (601766) <[aussie_bob] [at] [hotmail.com]> on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:42AM (#16173075) Journal
      Just to continue the karma-whoring trend, I'll post a transcript of the actual conversation so you don't have to RTFA

      Cox: What happen ?
      Telsa: Somebody set up us the bomb.

      Telsa: We get fire.
      Cox: What !
      Telsa: Main screen lit up.
      Cox: It's you !!
      MS: How are you gentlemen !!
      MS: All your codebase are belong to us.
  • Now this would be worth it, to see just how good those data recover people are, if you ever really need to recover something from a fried laptop. Folks should chip in for the project.
    • Re:Data Recover (Score:5, Informative)

      by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:00AM (#16172911) Homepage Journal
      They handle fire- and smoke-damaged equipment all the time.

      At the risk of being arrested and taken to a home for the criminally obvious, don't breathe any of the smoke from an exploding battery. Some formulations burn into chemicals that you don't want anywhere near you, such as hydrofluoric acid [internatio...eryinc.com]. It's not that strong an acid but it's remarkably destructive to flesh. If you do get a whiff of smoke go to the emergency room even if you feel OK.
  • Most business that use laptops, will leave them plugged in and charging 24/7. The only thing that surprises me is that we don't have more cases of exploding laptops given the heat generated by a laptop under load and the constant charging of batteries. (Yes, I know, the batteries stop charging when they're full. But you lose a trickle of power here, recharge a few minutes later...)

    Maybe this will convince more people to take the battery out of the computer unless they need it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Maybe somebody will build a laptop that doesn't require you to "take the battery out of the computer unless they need it." I have a UPS battery backup for my desktop system, and I don't have to pull the battery out of it when I'm not expecting to need to use the battery. That would defeat the whole point of having the thing. I think a lot of people are using their laptops like that, it's their main computer and they like the fact that it has a battery too so they can survive without it plugged in for an hou
  • by WoTG (610710) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @02:57AM (#16172903) Homepage Journal
    I got curious about how much better Lithium Ion batteries were than Nickel Metal Hydride. So, here are a few numbers I quickly grabbed from the Wikipedia.

    Li-Ion:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_ion_battery [wikipedia.org]
    Energy/weight ~150 Wh/kg
    Energy/size ~250 Wh/L

    NiMH:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel_metal_hydride_ battery [wikipedia.org]
    Energy/weight 60-?? Wh/kg
    Energy/size 100 Wh/L

    My laptop gets a couple hours of battery life with Li-Ion. It looks like I'd get about 40% of that with NiMH -- not that appealing. I don't think we'll be turning back any time soon.

    I just hope that the next generation of battery technolgy is inherently less likely to explode.
    • I just hope that the next generation of battery technolgy is inherently less likely to explode.

      We can but hope. Batteries are devices that concentrate chemical energy in a form that can be easily (and quickly, for high current applications) released as useful work.

      On the other hand, explosives are devices that concentrate chemical energy in a form that can be easily and quickly released as useful work.

      Why do you think the control electronics are so important to a laptop battery? Because if you short

      • by sethstorm (512897) *
        Why do you think the control electronics are so important to a laptop battery? Because if you shortcircuit any laptop battery the only thing stopping it from detonating in a spectacular manner is the control electronics.

        Apparently those control electronics [slashdot.org] werent so good in the first place, and the first thing that *should* be done on a 600 series is to get a good battery with it. Trusting the previous batteries on these things is a cointoss now.
    • For one, keep in mind that it's not a laptop, it's a notebook. Laptop is an unfortunate consumer-ism which the makers don't really bother correcting that usage, they just bury a warning in the manual that it's not designed for use on laps.

      The current standard notebooks have the power consumption of consumer desktops that were made a decade ago, so it's not hard to imagine that battery technology had to change to keep up with the power hungry notebooks. If you are willing to take a somewhat slower notebook
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SEE (7681)
        For one, keep in mind that it's not a laptop, it's a notebook.

        So it's roughly 8.5" x 11" (A4 for the metric world)? Because, you see, the term "notebook" was specifically inaugurated for the subclass of laptops the approximate size of -- get this -- a notebook. With the ones even smalled than that being "subnotebooks".

        Laptop is an unfortunate consumer-ism

        No, it's a manufacturer-coined name for the class of machine small enought to fit on the lap and powered by batteries, going back to the advertising for
    • I just hope that the next generation of battery technolgy is inherently less likely to explode.

      I'm not a chemist, but I don't think that's possible. The battery stores its energy in the chemical bonds of its components (electrolyte and possibly the electrodes?). Batteries with larger capacity in the same space == more reactive chemicals. These recent fires demonstrate just how much energy is locked up in these modern batteries.

    • by zensonic (82242)

      I just hope that the next generation of battery technolgy is inherently less likely to explode.

      Not going to happend. The majority of a battery is chemical substance that will release its stored energy if asked to do so. The only thing preventing these chemicals from releasing energy too fast is the onboard control logic in the battery and on the mainboard.

      Throw in companies that tries to save a dime for each produced unit and are willing to sacrifice security for money and you get a deadly mix of ingredienc

  • Laptop? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RKBA (622932) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @02:58AM (#16172905)
    Good thing no one actually puts Laptop computers in their lap.
    • If you pay close attention, you probably won't find any documentation, or sales and marketing information for any of these calling them "laptops". They are very, very careful to not call them laptops. A lot of notebooks have air intakes in places off the center enough where clothing or skin would block them, which I think is almost malicious because they practically know that people will use them on their laps and block those intakes. Apple's notebooks don't have an intake at the bottom but those still r
    • Cuz these days you get fried eggs and bacon...
  • by Juggler9 (653684) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:00AM (#16172915)
    Question: With all of the exploding batteries lately (Apple, Dell, Toshiba, IBM/Lenovo (possibly), etc. Have you seen any reports of Sony laptops exploding?

    Does Sony "cherry-pick" the A-grade batteries for their own use and send the B-grade and lower ones to their clients?

    If so, what kind of liability issues does that raise. Sony HAS done some questionable things in the past knowingly. ;)
    • by Detritus (11846)
      It isn't just the batteries, there is a battery charge controller in the laptop. Improper charging can also cause a battery failure, as can physical abuse of the battery.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bluephone (200451)
      "Sony HAS done some questionable things in the past knowingly. ;)"

      Riiiiiiiight, sure they have. Do you expect me to believe a multibulliondollar international corporation would be so stupid as to do something as underhanded like distribute under-tested batteries or stealth-installer-rootkits on music CDs? Pfeh. Next thing you'll try and tell me Ford made exploding cars...

    • by Megane (129182)

      Question: With all of the exploding batteries lately (Apple, Dell, Toshiba, IBM/Lenovo (possibly), etc. Have you seen any reports of Sony laptops exploding?

      Yes. Back in August, a 5+ year old Sony Vaio caught fire [go4go.net] at this year's US Go Congress [gocongress06.org], it was in the strong player (dan-level) room, and disrupted play for some time due to the need for evacuation from the fumes. Fortunately, at the time nobody was playing at that particular table when it went off.

  • by Greg Lindahl (37568) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:12AM (#16172961) Homepage
    Good thing we don't make Beowulf Clusters out of laptops, or then I could say...
    • by eclectro (227083)
      Good thing we don't make Beowulf Clusters out of laptops, or then I could say...

      It's a bomb big enough to blow off your Beowulf?? oh..wait..cluster
  • by junk (33527) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:20AM (#16172985)
    With the current trend in battery explosions for laptops, I wonder how long until all laptops are considered explosive devices and aren't allowed to be used on planes. Perhaps we should start using things that are more stable. Like radioactive material or internal combustion engines. Ooh! Or we could all get neat little hand cranks!

    What am I going to do on my flight to Germany now?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by LiquidCoooled (634315)
      Instead of a hand crank, some kind of foot powered rig would be good for aircraft (like the old sweing machines).
      It would also have the benfit of getting you active and would help to prevent a DVT on a long haul flight.
    • by walt-sjc (145127)
      It would not be reasonable for the FAA to ban Li-ion batteries in devices, that toses iPods, phones, cameras, portable DVD players, etc. in the modern world. It would kill air travel. Furthermore, I'm not sure you would want these things in checked baggage either (not that checking laptops and other expensive tech is an option anyway due to the massive mishandling / theft that occurs.)

      I'm still waiting for airlines to install power sockets. I've flown hundreds of flights around the US on several airlines in
    • by dangitman (862676)
      I am a crank, you insensitive clod!
  • by RevRigel (90335) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:25AM (#16173013)
    Alan Cox is an important leader and resource in the Linux community. On behalf of all Linux users, I hope that, for the sake of our collective Cox, manufacturers can sort out these battery issues.
  • by spoonboy42 (146048) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:30AM (#16173027)
    We regret to inform you, Mr. Cox, that since you were operating with an unsupported software configuration (i.e. Linux) we can not offer you support in regards to your issue (spontaneous incendiary explosion). Thank you for purchasing an IBM thinkpad.

    Sincerely,
    IBM Tech Support
  • Heh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Square Snow Man (985909) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:44AM (#16173081)
    Coming Soon Laptops On A Plane!
  • by YetAnotherLogin (534226) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:56AM (#16173109)
    Great! Sounds like Alan Cox has finally added support for the RJE and EOI opcodes [kettering.edu] to the Linux kernel.
  • by D4C5CE (578304) on Sunday September 24, 2006 @03:57AM (#16173117)
    I also took the other two unexploded battery cells out
    Now that's one nice word they've come up with, to distinguish the two categories of battery found in laptops. ;-)
    • It also describes Scotsmen who fail to detonate on impact...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      "Now that's one nice word they've come up with, to distinguish the two categories of battery found in laptops. ;-)"

      When they fix this problem, laptop batteries will have a warning sticker that says 'inexplodable'.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by noidentity (188756)
      It's a useful word, too:

      FS: Two unexploded laptop batteries cheap!
  • The sentient web-consciousness has detected us humans, and is trying to kill us!

    Well, the geeks, anyway. Quit buggering with computers, you guys!
  • Maybe there was no fire, maybe AC just had a really good screensaver running?
  • "Take that, Open Source!"
  • how long? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mennucc1 (568756) <d3@tonelli.sns.it> on Sunday September 24, 2006 @05:19AM (#16173359) Homepage Journal
    If a battery is defective and may explode, how long would it take ? For example, suppose you buy one replacement lithium battery nowadays; and you use it for X months; may you say "I have used it for X months, it did not explode, so it is not defective" ? Or, otherwise, is it a defect that may show up in a random moment in the future? Does anyone here at /. know?
  • These defective batteries are exploding a lot now, and it would seem like being directly near one of these would be a source of serious injury or even death. If no one is mamed or killed by this, it will be out of sheer luck. Hopefully this will be a wakeup call to battery manufacturers that, you know, they have to be conservative with battery production. People barely tolerate cars with defects that emerge during accidents; they are not going to appreciate having laptops that are bombs, carried around by t
  • It will be a green LED bar just under the monitor that will fill up with green as you get closer to lift off. Of course it turns yellow then red when you get close to critical levels. With a nice loud Spaceballs-esque countdown to detonation narrator, that way everyone can evacuate from your vicinity prior to the climax. "Have a nice day." If you happen to see any orangutangs after exploding, run for cover.
  • by caluml (551744) <slashdotNO@SPAMspamgoeshere.calum.org> on Sunday September 24, 2006 @08:48AM (#16174099) Homepage
    Is his diary still in Welsh?
    That's the silliest thing I ever knew. I used to read it, but now he's effectively cut it off for the non-Welsh speaking world.

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