Mourning the Death of a Monitor

It seems silly to be attached to equipment, but I was very fond of my external monitor, which was attached to a G4 tower, then a Tibook, and then a Macbook Air. It was bi-hemispheric, having gone to and from Australia with me. It lived to be the ripe old age of over 13 years and died right before my eyes as I hit “publish” on the DC meetup post of this evening.

Aside from being an old Yankee who believes in using things as long as they function at least adequately, for writers, the old monitor aspect ratio of 4:3 is greatly preferable to the current 16:9, since vertical space is much more useful than horizontal, at least within reasonable bounds. The need for as much vertical space as I can get forces me into getting a 27″ monitor to get the same vertical territory as I had with my now deceased 20″ monitor. Moreover, I despise shopping and resent the tax on my time of having to figure out what to buy, unpacking a new device, plugging it in, and dealing with the usual hassle of devices that are not plug and play (the ridiculous premium for Mac external monitors virtually forces anyone who is at all price sensitive into buying a non-Apple product and dealing with the compatibility issues).

Here is a picture of my old monitor. Apple cognoscenti might recognize how antique it was. But it was still a fine antique! You can rest assured the monitor I will have to buy will not last remotely as long as my old workhorse.


For the curious, the black, red and yellow flag in the photo is the Aboriginal flag.

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  1. Clive

    Not silly at all. Many of my Japanese friends hold a “ceremony” to mark the passing away of a piece of equipment to thank it for its service and performing its duty. A short prayer is said and the deceased machinery is covered with a cloth and allowed to rest for a day or so (I think so its spirit can depart, the people concerned come over all embarrassed when a foreigner questions such things so my exact knowledge is incomplete).

    It must be catching, when my trusty 2008 Lenovo ThinkPad X200 — with an excellent pen input that even makes sense of my “misspelt” kanji characters — had a near-death experience due to a fan which stopped working and resulted in overheating (luckily it came back to life again) I planned to do the same.

    Perhaps if we all had more belief in animism (which in the west is seen to be the most primitive and disparaged of belief systems) we wouldn’t be quite so wasteful and quick to discard perfectly decent things which just happen to be getting a bit old.

    1. Mark Alexander

      I have a couple of ThinkPad X200s laptops — close relatives of yours. The good news is that ThinkPads have excellent service manuals and they are repairable at the large component level. I’ve replaced the motherboard in one of them, and the fan is easily replaced as well. So you shouldn’t need to have a funeral if your X200 has another near-death experience — maybe it’ll just need a stay in a hospital, or some in-home care.

      And I agree with Yves about these newfangled widescreen monitors. I love vertical space and am hanging on to some even older monster ThinkPads with big 4×3 (1600×1200) screens for this reason. (Alas, the X200 was one of the early victims of widescreen-itis, but everything else about it is great.)

      1. ian

        I have a T61p that I am still using that has had all kinds of things replaced – keyboard, wristpad, cooling fan/heat pipe, etc… If you have a DIY mentality they are great – parts are dirt cheap on ebay and there is really good documentation on repairing them.

        As for the monitor that died (the main story) – the odds are it was the power supply capacitors. I had a monitor that was gifted to me that died and after replacing about $5 worth of caps, it was as good as new.

    2. different clue

      I read somewhere that in Japan everything that is born or grown or made attracts into itself some energy
      from the Great Energy Field Behind All ( or something) and organizes that attracted energy into the particular guiding spirit of the particular object under consideration. So every truck made would “create” or “be assigned” for itself its own little truck god, for example. Of course, I read this many years ago.

    1. jgordon

      I was about to mention that. An appropriate stand that you can rotate along with an IPS panel and matte screen could be great. I’d go 4k too. As long as the scaling is right high resolution text look fantastic.

      1. Cujo359

        As was I. Plus, if your monitor has a standard VESA mount, you can probably find an after market stand that you can mount the monitor onto that will swivel 90 degrees.

  2. ambrit

    It is rationality at work. I distinctly remember making bicycles to ride out of parts scrounged from the local dump. The older I get, the more I realize how much our “belief” systems serve non rational ends. Consumerism is one of those non rational dispensations. As Clive observes, the Japanese resort to a more understandable and responsible form of “non-rational” world view. What ‘power’ justifies holding sacred one set of quasi mystical beliefs, such as Quantitative Easing, or “Markets,” and not other, indeed, older and more benign beliefs, Animism and the Supernatural in general?
    The Cult of the New has at its’ heart, a neurotic desire to be seen as being exceptional.
    Clives comment that “..[we] discard perfectly decent things which just happen to be getting a bit old..” is also a warning. People get old decently as well. Present trends in American society raise the spectre of old people being viewed as ‘disposable.’ Make fun of “Soylent Green” as you will, it was only one generation ago that a major western nation state embarked on a program that put eugenics to work.
    ‘Lambert’ quotes the Neo-Liberal Credo as being: Rule 1- Markets, Rule 2- Go die, to which I would add, Rule 3- Consumerism!

      1. ambrit

        Ha!!! Ice Moons are white too. (Although the case can be made for Plutonian moons being Ice Nine.)
        “Ia! Ia! I’ll race you to class!”

    1. James Levy

      It IS rational to mourn the loss of something that has served you well. Judaism once held that there were spirits in the world (that’s why Yahweh tells the Jews to have no other gods but him, implying pretty strongly that the men who wrote that believed there were other gods) but that belief was suppressed and forgotten as the monomania of monotheism took hold. The Christians and the Moslems simply took a bad system and made it all much worse, killing the living spirit in everything, even animals. I choose more and more to see the vital essence in things. It grants a certain nobility to the mundane, and a humbleness before the world.

      If St. Francis came back, they’d stick him on thorazine, but, preaching to the birds, he may have been the last Western thinker to completely get it.

      1. ambrit

        Mourning implies a relationship between the parties of a more than strictly utilitarian nature. The history of the Old Testament alone is a lifetimes work. I’ve read about Yahweh once having a female co-deity, which was suppressed as later monotheism developed. Any movement that diminishes the power of raw ego is all right in my Book.

      2. Michael

        The Enlightenment destroyed the belief that animals have souls not Christianity, Islam or Judaism. There are records of animal trials in Europe prior to the Enlightenment. I remember reading about one in France about a pig. I believe they ate the body of a dead person.

        I can not remember who did this but one of the philosophers of the Enlightenment would slaughter animals for study. They discounted the screams made by the animals as simply noises made out of instinct and that the animals felt no pain or distress since only humans are capable of this response.

    2. susan the other

      I liked Clive’s point about animism too. I’m a pagan through and through. So I also identify with Yves’ hatred of having to figure out all the stuff to do with buying new technology. Was there ever a god of the New? Besides Shiva he destroyer? Besides capitalism? New is such a pain in the neck. But I also want to note how nice Yves’ hair is pulled back. She is beautiful. Long live the most ancient hair style. Other that this non sequitur comment, I have nothing to say about new technology – I’ll only learn it when I absolutely have to.

  3. kimyo

    re: vertical space

    in the linux/windows world, it is (usually) quite easy to rotate a monitor by 90 degrees. i’m sure that your local mac genius can arrange the same thing. mounting a monitor in ‘portrait’ is easy, too, as the mounting screws on the back are equidistant.

    all you have to do is say ‘make it so’, this particular problem was addressed a long time ago. it is much nicer to read certain types of content this way.

    ps: i hold steve jobs personally responsible for the 99 gabillion i-phone/i-pad videos shot in portrait instead of landscape. couldn’t he have thought to pop up a little warning suggesting that the i-phans rotate their i-gear 90 degrees?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I am about to cry. I wasted the better part of the afternoon running to two stores to find monitors corresponding to reader recommendations. I wound up with a cheap 24″ Acer since it has as much height as my old monitor did and I don’t need HDMI, particularly since the monitor has higher resolution than my computer supports.

      I get it home. It will not turn on. I got a spark when I plugged it in, so I suspect something shorted out.

      I spent $40 in cabfare on this so far and it’s at least another $20 to return this fiasco. And I still don’t have a monitor.

      And this almost without exception is my experience with technology. I find major bugs in software in features that are important to me within 15 minutes of using the program, for instance. As a result, I despise technology and stick with what I have as long as humanely possible precisely because I experience a high failure rate every time I upgrade.

      1. Ned Ludd

        I find major bugs in software in features that are important to me within 15 minutes of using the program, for instance.

        I was surprised when I found out that software products are shipped with known bugs that will crash the program and lose your work. The triage process takes into account how “common” a scenario is; unless a feature crashes every time, often times research to fix a bug is delayed for some “future” release that never comes.

        A one-time manager at Microsoft told me that research revealed users avoid most features in software once they discover it is such a unpredictable minefield of defects and bugs.

      2. Clive

        I’m starting to think your building is like the one in Ghostbusters (the Ground Zero of poltergeist activity). Either that, or the wiring is thoroughly disreputable. If there aren’t dedicated circuits for heavy loads like three phase motors such as in (maybe) a rooftop chiller or something similar, it can wreak havoc on domestic equipment which is nowadays poorly protected from surges and spikes in voltage (surge protection is seemingly the first thing to get “value engineered” out of modern electronic equipment). But then again, I’ve bought stuff and it’s failed straight out the box too just because it is a pile of crap.

      3. ilpalazzo


        If you can get out of the Acer deal and want something of good quality and lasting, make sure about your connectivity requirements and get something from Dell. Look for IPS panel.

  4. steviefinn

    I will miss my old jamjar which has A to B’d me over 120,000 or so miles. I am fingers to a glove in it & the engine ( touchwood ) is still doing very nicely, although the rest of it is falling apart, as in the boot ( trunk ) has become very contrary & will only open when it feels like it, the glove compartment has been stuck shut for about 5 years & I think she will be needing another new back axle – 2 years of driving around county Kerry mountains took it’s toll.
    I don’t want to go into debt for a new one, & unlike ‘ Bessie ‘ a 2nd hand one could be trouble – might consider moving into town & then just hiring a car for trips. I shall also be very sad when my Technics Hi-Fi of 17 years, gives up the ghost, but it’s still belting out the bass despite, like the car, various functions which I fortunately don’t use having already packed in. – People like us ruining the world’s economy ?

    1. ambrit

      Don’t you worry a bit about the Economy. The Government has that task processing. Besides, most of us have much better things to do with our money than sacrifice it on the Altar of Mammon.
      We tend, out of necessity once, and by habit now, to keep things running as long as possible. Our neigbhour has recently pulled into his garage a 1964 Impala two door with the big 409 c.i. engine to restore. He had a beat up one when he was a teenager. He’s combining both good and bad tendencies in this project. Who says Dualism can’t be fun?

      1. steviefinn

        Mines a 1.4 HDI 2004 citroen xsara so it ain’t so bad, it’s starting to smell like my Grandad’s old wreck from the 70’s which is nostalgically nice.

        1. ambrit

          OOOOH! You lucky so and so. The last ‘project’ car my Dad worked on was an early ’60s Citroen 2.0 l DS 19.

          1. steviefinn

            Now you are talking class – coincidentally I was admiring one the other night in a film just before ‘ Betty Blue ‘ threw a gallon of paint over it.

            1. ambrit

              Dad used to work in City Hall, and, just to have some fun, one Saturday, he drove it up and down in front of the main Police Station with only three wheels on the car. (They had incredible hydraulic compensating suspension systems.) It took him stopping and waving for one of his mates to notice.
              His previous car was a late sixties Fury 3 Interceptor. Gasoline was cheap, even when figured as a percentage of the average wage. Every man a king!

      2. ian

        May not be so bad. The car is used, so all the environmental bad stuff involved in making it has already happened. People don’t think much about how much environmental damage goes into the batteries in a new Tesla for example.

  5. Ian

    HI Yves,

    As some other people have pointed out- certain monitors will rotate 90 degrees to give you a portrait mode that is ideal for reading. I’ve always had very good luck with Dell’s Premium Ultrasharp monitors and their U2412M is very highly regarded. In fact, it’s The Wirecutter’s current monitor recommendation and it has this feature. It also includes extra USB ports, which is handy.

    You will probably have to buy display cables or adapters. Most all Macs use Mini Display Port/Thunderbolt so a Mini Display Port to DVI cable should be all you need :)

    1. Lune

      I second the Dell recommendation. I also use widescreen monitors in portrait orientation (to look at CT scans and MRIs) and it works well (they’re cheap enough to consider buying two if you really want a lot of screen real estate :-).

      Although I use Windows, so I can’t guarantee compatibility with your Mac. But HDMI and VGA ports are pretty standardized and have been for years, so I’d be very surprised if a Dell screen didn’t work properly with your Mac.

  6. Howard Beale IV

    I saw more Abyssinian than monitor…..

    I think you’ll find that CDW has the best inventory stock of 4:3 monitors.

  7. casino implosion

    By strange coincidence, I also lost a piece of beloved old school tech yesterday when my battle scarred tiny LG flip phone (which was old when I got it in 2007) finally gave up the ghost after 8 years of faithful service. It did nothing but text and talk, it was so small as to be barely noticed in the pocket, and it had an egglike shape which fit the palm nicely. The only comparable phones today seem twice as big and loaded with crap I don’t want.

    It’s not often that one’s mental image of a person is confirmed with exactitude, but Yves is exactly the WASP ice queen I always imagined!

  8. Hyssop

    But, seriously, I think ‘we’, i.e., consumers in the industrialized world, need to establish a widespread movement, of the order of BDS, to pressure manufacturers of electronic instruments to produce products which are durable and repairable. Obviously the purchase price of renewable equipment will be much higher, but few grasp the mind-boggling environmental damage done between resource extraction and toxic discarded electronic devices [among other] which are dumped on so-called ‘poor countries’, at the rate of hundreds of tons per year.

    It is estimated that an average French family discards between 15-20 kilos of electronic devices, not to mention kitchen equipment, etc, annually, which, for a population of 63-some million people represents close to a million kilos per year. That’s France, alone …

    We simply cannot continue wasting precious resources and polluting the environment this way. Time to put an end to the trend, and it is no other than we, consumers, who can change the paradigm.

    1. jrs

      Definitely. Just thinking about the waste stream, among other things, makes me want to give up the electronic world. It’s so wonderful and all, but it’s simply crazy what it creates at the disposal end. Of course, while not a gadget freak, I haven’t done that and neither are many others likely to probably. But if it’s possible to get most people to recycle and even dispose of electronic waste at a disposal site, it’s definitely possible to get them to think about this at the point of purchase, although the cost might be a problem for many.

      So do we know what products are more durable or more easily fixed. Durable is the easier thing there, there’s *some* information on that (but a comprehensive database … not really?). FIxable there’s no info easily available in one place to most people, when buying a product of what is fixable. And I don’t mean one has to fix everything themselves, geeks may insist, but given time constants and other things to do in life, it’s like getting H&R Block to do your taxes, I mean can be fixed by a repair shop easily.

    2. different clue

      Perhaps one way to start reducing computer consumption would be to rely more on computer centers at libraries and other places. As to torturing companies into making long-lasting fixable computers . . . that somehow looks impossible to me. Isn’t their whole bussiness based on getting the buyer to step into the hamster wheel and then keep running to buy ever newer machines and programs? So many people would have to boycott the digital device industry for so long that the whole field would have to realize it faces extinction
      unless it builds non-obsolescing non-upgrading machines and programs to sell to people who would rather stay analog than step on the hamster wheel. And how many people have that choice?

  9. Mark Arthur

    I have a 70-pound Sony broadcast-monitor CRT sitting in my hallway waiting to be shipped for repair. It’s ’cause I don’t like flat screens all that much (too contrasty and vivid) and ’cause the machine was literally state of the art for CRTs at the time (2003). It seems a literal sin to discard the product of so much work, perhaps because I’m a Yankee tightwad also.

    1. Stephen Liss

      On the other hand, the LCD displays use much less power than the equivalent size of CRT, so your repairing it is likely a false economy.

      1. different clue

        How much power was used in every step of building the LCD monitor? How long would the LCD monitor have to be used to use enough “less power” than the CRT monitor to cancel out the power not
        having been used to not make the LCD which was not bought because the CRT was repaired instead?

  10. Jeremy Grimm

    My first job after college I installed radio station automation equipment. After installing a system and checking it out I taught people at the station how to program and use the equipment. I always taught them to think of the system as female rather than male. I explained that a male system might be mistreated and still work all right or be treated very nicely and completely stop working for no apparent reason.

    But a female system, when treated badly would surely fail at first opportunity. Treated well and well maintained a female system will keep running and fail gracefully when it does fail. That’s how I feel about my cars. Every one of them is a female. I never use harsh words or swear at my computers or appliances. I suppose someone might argue I’m being sexist but I adhere to the French view: “vive la difference.”

    There is one downside to overmuch belief in fixing and reusing old things. I have a terrible time getting rid of things that don’t work that I think I might be able to tweak to work for a different purpose. I also compulsively dismantle broken computers and electronics to scavenge motors, gears, screws, axles, belts and even just pretty circuit cards. This is a problem for someone who lives in a small apartment.

    1. hunkerdown

      One of the nice things about Amazon is that they get lots of small boxes of various form factors into the wild and into the reuse stream. My old Samsung laser printer, the reason why I don’t buy Samsung at the low low end anymore, has been stripped for its goodies, all of which fit into the space of 1000 sheets of copier paper, and the bones have been recycled. If you sort things well, you could have a warehouse of parts you’ve used well instead of the usual elite totem of books you’ve never read.

  11. mundanomaniac

    I was touched by Clives “Ceremony”, my soul felt peace, when I de-lined my canon printer, dusted it, which has served me 7 Years and put a blanket over it to it’s rest, before we have to part tomorrow.
    Together with the Good by of this servant, in the end of March I suffered a stroke, with thank God a very happy outcome. So the servant disappeared under the same stars like my pre- stroke- existence. To me as an astrologer, this was a self-evidence to give the constellation of that event:
    And when I read Lambert Strethers “Mud season” I waited for the crankiness of the Zeitgeist, but could not find it … maybe a certain blindness of me – anyway my 2 cents to this subject: when everything is gray and welt and brown there might be something promising just coming around the corner in the sky:it’s not too cranky what I found in my first after-stroke mundane reading of the sky:

    and funny, before the stroke I had Amazon-ordered Marie Louise v. Franz, Traum und Tod (“Dream and Death”) and , after the stroke started to read it – and realize, it helps living.

  12. cripes

    Yves, this is easy. All PC/windows monitors anyway can be rotated by pressing crtl-alt and then the respective arrow buttons that will produce the orientation you desire. then all you need is the right stand, preferably rotating. Since graphic designers routinely do this, Macs must have similar feature.

    You could google it, I’m on the train ruturning from a.shift enriching the job creators!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I was told by the Apple person that this will not work with the Dell recommended above, so I’m not sure whether this will work with every monitor.

  13. cripes


    In mac and windows systems, this is a function of the display properties inherent in the operating systems, and should not be affected by the make of monitor. If that’s true about the dell, its not a monitor you should own. Maybe talk to another “customer” service person.

    In any case, macintosh has long been the choice of desktop publishing / graphic professionals where countless portrait / vertical monitors can be seen.

    BTW, it is a whole new experience having a portrait-oriented monitor and much superior for laying out copy. Be aware of your seating arrangement and seat height in relation to the monitor, so that you are not looking upwards at the taller screen. It should be level or slightly below eye-level. Makes a big difference.

  14. Jack

    I guess I’m going to be the lone voice of dissent here then. I’ve been using computers since the early 90’s, the first one I had was an IBM Aptiva with a 166 Mhz Pentium. Things are much, much better today, both hardware and software. That first piece of garbage had an Mwave soundcard/modem. That’s right, it could do one job or the other, but not both at the same time. What a piece of crap. It’s taken them decades for the industry to adopt near universal standards (HDMI, PCI and PCI-E, SATA, the USBs are some examples) and get rid of the nightmare of manufacturer specific components.

    This site talks a lot about neoliberal crapification, but in my time system building, which is only slightly less than my time spent with computers period, build quality has not only not gone down, it’s gone up, often quite substantially. Two decades and I’ve only had a handful of component failures, one of which was a super cheapie 50 dollar motherboard I knew was a bad bet, and even then I still got 18 months of use out of it. Even in just the last 5 years or so there have been tangible improvements, such as power-supplies now being predominately modular so you can pick and choose only the wires you actually need.

    On the issue of not wanting to learn about changing technology, it’s largely been a straightforward progression. AGP to PCI-E, PS/2 to USB, IDE to SATA. The standards change (improve) but the function fulfilled is the same as it was 20 years ago. This stuff seriously isn’t complicated. Can you build a Lego set? You can build a computer, and learn the basics of all the parts.

    I well remember the bad old days, with issues ranging from having to manually configure soundcard nonsense to get any audio at all to lugging around 40 pound CRTs. Things are better now, full stop.

    Note that none of this is a defense of mobile and net 2.0 nonsense. I hate that crap as much as anyone.

    Oh, and in the end these things are all merely tools. The Japanese having little animist prayer ceremonies for their electronics is silly. No wonder they get embarrassed when you ask about it, it’s one of those absurd little cultural practices that takes an outsider drawing attention to to really make you notice how ridiculous it is.

  15. Russell Scott Day

    I attempted to advise a bit about this via your Twitter. The G4 was a fantastic machine. I am grateful for my MacBook Pro that was given me when I was most ill, along with the service plan.
    What I remember reading is that the building is old and uses fuses. I imagine the basement and cobwebs and dust. It can be deadly for what we did, tying in live to get power for whatever movie, or commercial we were making.
    At any rate it is extremely important that the power of your building is well grounded. Making sure that all is grounded well however it can be accomplished if you have to lay a 6 foot long spike in a coffin box with 3 feet by 2 foot of good dirt in it will aid the continuity of your mechanisms.
    Further the number one reason for building fires is electrical faults. Ground Fault Interrupter Circuit plugs are fantastic little things. I want to give you the number of an electrician I know in the city who loves to do this sort of thing. Transcendian on Twitter, Russell Scott Day, Russell Scott Day on FB and let me know if you want really to have me send someone over. I also referred you to CR4, the Engineers site, though many of my friends have abandoned the place, it is still a good place to ask for technical help. AC electricity is great stuff, but unless there is good neutral, and good ground, you will stress things.

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