Technology Trauma

It may seem ridiculous to be traumatized by losing a battle with technology, but that is how I feel after yet another miserable encounter.

I was self-indulgent yesterday and told readers about the death of my faithful, long-lived Apple monitor. Many were sympathetic both about my attachment to devices that do their job reliably and my aversion to new technology, since the upgrades entail at least some hassle, and too often, outright failure or some form of degradation of the functionality (the most common being feature bloat making it harder and more cumbersome to operate a program). Both in comments and via e-mail, readers offered suggestions about the sort of replacement monitor I should consider.

Since yesterday was one of the days when I have Lambert partially covering the site, I had some time off which I had planned to use to make a filing (more on this in due course) and perhaps also prep for my panel this week (topic: jump starting the economy, and as you can imagine, I object to the very premise!). Instead I diverted that to the monitor mission. I took two recommendations, did some more poking around on the Web regarding price and availability, and went off to Best Buy to have a look.

The selection on the floor was meager and none of the models I had flagged were on display. The store clerks were not terribly knowledgeable either. One of the monitors readers had recommended was at B&H, which was logistically not so hot but doable. At B&H, after a wait, I got a salesman who seemed helpful. We established that I’d be OK with a 24″ monitor (still more viewing height than my deceased monitor had) and I got a cheap Acer plus the needed adapter cable.

I get home and assemble the monitor. The adapter cable is wrong, so I have to run to the Best Buy to get the right one. I assemble everything. I get a spark when I plug in the power, which also sometimes happens when I plug in my Macbook Air (note I run it off the power on a routine basis, and this happens on a surge protector). But this spark seems to have killed the monitor, or else it was defective to begin with.

Clive, having read the shorter version of this sorry tale in comments yesterday, noted:

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.

I had forgotten how bad my wiring is, precisely because I now have equipment that can handle it. Or more accurately, had, since one of the survivors had been the old Apple Studio monitor.

I live in the oldest residential elevator building in Manhattan. It has grandfathered power, meaning it is not up to modern code. For instance, half of the circuit breakers for my apartment are fuses. The practical effect, from what I can infer, is that the power is spikier, as in it fluctuates much more, than “modern” power.

Some of the consequences:

Light bulbs, including halogens certified to last two years, die all the time

I don’t have any wireless routers or modems because when I tried getting a wireless DSL modem/router early on, all three that Verizon sent failed within a week.

Every LCD monitor I had except for the recently deceased Apple (all of two, admittedly, aside from the Acer that fell over) has had an extremely short life. One was an IBM (and fabulously expensive) and I think it lasted at most 6 months. The other was a cheap TV monitor. Since I never watch TV (only the Triple Crown and C-Span a couple of times before I concluded I did just as well on my computer), I turned it at most 20 times. For a monitor to die with under 30 hours of use seems awfully premature.

When I had a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) it would turn off and on all time. I mean ALL THE TIME, as in it was making those clicking/alarm noises way more than 60 times a minute during the summer when air conditioners were in use. It was very aggravating and distracting (and if memory serves me right, I did try using some of the devices that were power-sensitve, like those wireless routers, with the UPS. Didn’t help). Remember, the purpose of a UPS is NOT to smooth unstable power, it is to turn on fast enough when power drops in an outage to prevent devices from tuning off (which means getting a UPS doesn’t solve the problem, it only at best alleviates it. And yes, all my electronics sit on surge protectors).

So I am now worried that no LCD monitor will work for any decent length of time, save maybe the horribly costly Apple monitors. I recall in my days of having a NeXT that Steve Jobs insisted on having much better power controls on his devices than was normal. That was true of my 2002 monitor. But even if I were to pay the insane premium for a Mac monitor, I’m not sure that this is still true (in other words, I could be buying the Apple product under false premises). And since I’ve been hit with a raft of unexpected expenses, this isn’t the best time to throw money at a problem casually.

So that is a very long-winded way of saying if readers have any insight into which LCD monitor manufacturers are known for having robust power systems, I’m all ears. Otherwise, I have no idea how to proceed. I can’t afford the upset of wasting 6 hours (which is where I will be after I return the non-working monitor) a second time.

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  1. Howard Beale IV

    You may need to get a power line conditioner installed in front of your monitor. Usually you should be able to use the non-battery backed up side of the UPS, which should smooth out the nasties.

  2. kimyo

    it sounds as if some of your circuits are not properly grounded (fuses instead of circuit breakers, sparks). this is probably much more of an issue than fluctuating current. surge protectors are ineffective when they are not grounded.

    unfortunately, only an electrician will be able to address this. and worse, once onsite, he or she may determine that you have no viable options. (maybe a neighbor has already gone down this road?)

    some manufacturers do make ‘robust’ equipment for field use, but the cost will likely be prohibitive and it’s quite possible that such an item will fail as well.

  3. Fazal Majid

    You’ll need to put power conditioning (surge suppression) or better yet an online UPS in front of your electronics, preferably from a good brand like Isobar (Tripp-Lite) or MGE. The metal-oxide varistors in surge suppressors wear out, so if yours is more than a couple years old, you should definitely replace it. I would recommend an Isobar ULTRA given your assessment of your building’s electrical system.

    Not all UPS are equal. What you want is an “online”, “continuous” or “Active PFC” UPS, which will supply much cleaner power for your electronics.

    As for your problem of maximizing vertical space, most current Macs are perfectly capable of rotating the video signal, so if your monitor has a rotatable mount like my 27″ HP ZR2740w at work, you can rotate it by 90 degrees and get a portrait display like the old Radius models. Just disable font smoothing, as it is designed for a monitor in its normal orientation and will yield wonky results when the screen is rotated.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I had a very pricey continuous UPS before. That’s why it kept making noise all the time.

      It didn’t help. The IBM monitor that died sat behind it.

      Bob says that the fact that I get sparks even with a surge protector (along with other information we exchanged at 3 PM about wiring/electrical incidents in my apt). suggests I have a “hot” ground. That’s a huge safety issue. A careless electrician could electrocute himself. And the answer is….rewiring, which is something my building will not do without being massively pressured to do it.

      I can get a cheap device to test my outlets. That seems to be the next step.

  4. sd

    Your monitor sounds like it was extremely reliable. So out of curiosity, did you try looking online (eBay, etc) for the exact same model? Used or refurbished it seems like it might be worth a try.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      It was from 2002. I guarantee no one has 13 year old monitors on eBay or Craigslist. They’d assume no one would want something that antique and would have disposed of it long ago (assuming it was still working).

      1. Molly

        I just took my old Studio Display to the county electronics recycle drop off. Wish I’d known, I could have sent it to you.

      2. flora

        Your original monitor looks like it was an Apple Cinema Display, probably a 22″ ?
        Older hardware, in general, was more robust and built to last longer than most of today’s equivalents. The constant improvement in speed, resolution, number of signals processed, etc has created a “disposable commodity” approach in hardware manufacturing in my opinion.
        But back to the monitor dilemma.
        There are still sites that sell refurbished Mac monitors and other hardware, including Apple Cinema displays. Not too expensive, generally. Put “refurbished Mac monitor” in the search line of your search engine..

        1. flora

          Or use the phrase “refurbished Apple Cinema Display” in the search engine, if that is the monitor type.
          As Molly noted above, there are recycle places where people can dispose of unwanted electronics, usually for free. A lot of these free recycle places go on to sell the old hardware to sites that sell refurbished hardware and/or parts. Those sites turn around and sell to the public. I’ve managed to resurrect some very old hardware by buying no-longer-made parts from a couple of these places.

  5. Dr. Luny

    I’m no expert on the wiring issues, but you clearly need to put some protection between your apartment’s wiring and your system. This shouldn’t cost much, I think the functionality you need is found in many power strips. I’ve run a laptop + external monitor setup for some time, but I find myself longing for a decent desktop and permission to use my laptop as a mobile device as intended. You can find a cheap refurbished desktop that can do everything you need it to do(assuming you’re doing mostly web browsing and WordPress editing in your browser), for a couple hundred bucks. These will often have the ability to interface with more monitors than your MacBook Air. Monitors can be found for very affordable prices as well if you’re willing to settle for older standard format monitors. The ones I use are quite reliable, even though I got them(for free) because they had minor defects. If you found the right reseller you could spend $300 on a decent dual monitor setup with a computer that is more than capable of handling the tasks you need it to. Since your editing work is done on WordPress you could still use your MacBook Air when you’re away from your desk. If you have other work to do and files to save there are plenty of solutions depending on what mix of $/time you’re looking for, many of them free. If you’re running a cheap desktop it won’t be an Apple, and if you’re not a Windows person anyway you might as well load Linux on it(it’s mostly free and open-source, and there is very little malware written for it). Ubuntu’s a user-friendly, widely supported distribution of Linux, but there are a ton of options out there. If you’re at all interested in choosing from a variety of user interfaces, or customizing your own, and you’re willing to do some googling to sort out the occasional problem, Linux will open up a whole new world of computing to you. Regardless of whether you’re interested in free software or not, having a desktop will open up some more options for you. Your Macbook Air has a single storage drive that’s prone to failure. You could buy a pair of small, yet adequate hard drives for a desktop at a low price and set up RAID1 which will duplicate all of the data you save and increase the read speed. We’re at a point where the computational power required to handle most common tasks has been around for nearly a decade. Inferior and used equipment is now appropriate for most use-cases. I’m not suggesting you go out and buy a 10-year old computer, but a 3-year old computer would serve your needs well, and protecting yourself against device failure is affordable as well.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks but I said at several points in the post that all my electronics, and I mean all, already use surge protectors. A surge protector does not protect a device from the ill effect of power dips, which is hard on some equipment but not on other types.

      I am not willing to be a two operating system household. I’ve never liked PCs and they are much more trouble-prone (confirmed by the fact that help desks in offices that use PCs are 10X as large relative to the number of users as ones that use Macs. PCs are basically a full employment program for techies). I also vastly prefer working on one machine. Even going between a Mac desktop and a Mac laptop leads to fragmentation of information, which is a big tax on my time. And the Macs have never had trouble with my power. Never. Moreover, solid state storage (which is what my Macbook Air has) is far more stable and reliable than hard disks, and the Mac backs up automagically if you attach an external hard disk, so I am set there.

      Reader bob adds:

      Most of the symptoms you describe sound like “bad ground” and heavy load draw by *something* at the same time.

      AC power is weird in that it’s *only* 120 volts, but in reality, with bad wiring, you can get potentials above 240, via a perfectly out of phase ground, which is caused by- not having a ground.

      Sparks is an over voltage.

      Bob also says a surge protector will not fix a problem with the ground.

      1. Dr. Luny

        I’d certainly defer to the others on your power issue.

        Just a nit to pick about your solid-state drive claims. Generally they’ve been considered to be far less reliable than hard disks, but they’ve been making rapid strides in reliability. When it comes to light-weight mobile devices that experience a lot of sudden movements during use SSD’s may actually provide a benefit, but the perception is still that the old technology is more mature, reliable, and far cheaper.

        Your point about the single device is valid. It simplifies things a great deal. Using a Mac is paying a premium to somewhat limit your control over your device and software, but I’ve known several serious developers who use macs(and not for front-end development) and they work quite well for them. It’s generally quality hardware. I would just hope in your case that you have an adequate desk setup to protect your wrists, back, and neck. I’ve seen some tiny laptops power some pretty nice desktop setups.

        Familiarity is of course a major factor, just know that for most consumers today, new hardware offers only marginal benefits for productivity and old hardware can be extremely cheap. I suppose on the whole I’d rather you keep maintaining this excellent blog than take the time to learn a new operating system and set up a new desktop. It doesn’t seem like a drive failure resulting in data loss would be particularly crippling for you, but if you feel like it would be you should have a backup solution. What that is will depend on what kind of time, money, and security priorities you have.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Sorry, the tech magazines I read disagree with you on current gen SSD reliability. The HDD manufacturers fudge their numbers by including under warranty disk replacements in the HDD life. Strip those out and SSD wins.

      2. guest

        Moreover, solid state storage […] is far more stable and reliable than hard disks

        My understanding is that SSD are more prone to failure caused by the kind of trouble with electric current you have (unstable current, surges, interruptions) than HDD, which can cause everything from fried circuits (surges) to intractable inconsistencies in stored data (widely varying current).

        The symptoms you describe with UPS, sparks, devices dying prematurely, etc make me wonder whether you have not observed related troubles with your household appliances (if the cause is bad grounding, then an electric oven becomes dangerous). If so, then you would be well advised to let a competent electrician check your installation.

        How come your building has not had fires because of short-circuits in that crumbling electric wiring?

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I have a gas oven, so the highest power pulling device in my apartment is the air conditioner. The window socket where the A/C goes is a single socket and they may have redone those (would still have been a very long time ago).

          The building has been slowly upgrading the power, I think, but ONLY when apartments turn over and they can jack up the rent. Its position has long been that my power is grandfathered and they don’t have to do squat about it.

      3. JustAnObserver


        You could buy a PC desktop and then get your favorite techie to wipe the ‘Doze installation and install Linux instead (which distribution to choose ?). Since both Linux and MacOSX are Unix derived you should have no trouble moving files back & forth between them; even use one as a file server for the other. Yes there’s be a learning curve but I’ve found that searching the web for any Linux thing I don’t understand gives me whatever answers I need (usually at GeekLevel but the translation’s not too hard).
        The win is that you now have access to all the desktop h/w tech you need and still avoid having anything to do with Microsoft-world.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I have no time and am not running multiple devices. I blog and do e-mails at the same time and want everything on the same device. My time is my most valuable commodity. I can’t afford complexity.

  6. vlade


    I’d concur with kimyo above that having an electrician to have a look at your apartment re wiring would be a best start. IIRC, there’s equipment that can smooth electric current, but it’s generally used in professional studios and suchlikes, so tend to be fairly expensive. On the other side, you could turn out to be very lucky, and an electrician could discover that there’s just a dangling wire somewhere where it shouldn’t – but if that’s not a trivial problem like that that’s fixable in your apartment, I suspect any solution may be very expensive (unless a reader volunteers to build you a purpose-made current stabilizer)

  7. Ned Ludd

    Remember, the purpose of a UPS is NOT to smooth unstable power…

    Some expensive UPS’s will handle line fluctuations. APC calls their technology “Boost and Trim Automatic Voltage Regulation (AVR)”. The one we had at our office worked well, but I had to configure it to turn off the frequent and annoying beeps. You can get a lower-end “Stepped approximation to a sinewave” for $240 or the higher-end “Sine wave” for $640 – which will probably cost more than your monitor.

    If you do, at some point, buy a new UPS; check that it meets both “UL 1449” and “UL 1778”. APC used to offer knock-off models of its own products through retail stores; the model number was one character different, and the retail models did not meet UL 1449. The better APC products would cost the same, but you could only buy them on-line through stores like Newegg.

  8. grayslady

    I used to live in an older home in which I needed to upgrade the electrical panel and most of the wiring before moving in. Unfortunately, Commonwealth Edison never upgraded the ancient transformer that served our area, so we had constant brown-outs and black-outs, not to mention the accompanying power surges. After a very expensive service call for a fried television, I consulted with a local audio-visual store and was introduced to the concept of line conditioners. I invested in several Tripp Lite Isobars and haven’t had any damaged equipment in almost 20 years. I swear by them, but I understand that APC products are also very good. I also think it would be worth your piece of mind to have an electrician examine your individual outlets and make sure each is capable of carrying the required load and that you aren’t overloading any one particular circuit.

  9. scott

    Or you could take your computer and DSL off the grid entirely. A couple of lead-acid batteries, a good 300W pure sine wave inverter, and a good battery charger can give you clean power that won’t go out for a few hours if the grid goes down. Ideally you could recharge the batteries with solar, but that’s probably not practical in your situation. I have a single-battery setup like this and it will run my small laptop and DSL modem for 8 hours.

  10. Sumin

    Hello Yves, we cannot have you computer-less. I believe that Kimyo is entirely correct. If you don’t have a good ground (that’s the round pin in a three-pin connector) you will not be able to prevent the “sparks”. An electrician should be able to give you one grounded circuit, maybe by connecting it to the building plumbing, and that should solve your problem. Good luck. Sumin (non-practicing EE).

  11. Steve

    Hi Yves,
    While I think it very likely you have bad grounds and spiky power, I don’t think anyone has mentioned measuring the line voltage. If your voltage is outside of spec, it will cause all kinds of trouble. Very easy check. You can also get a little box (hardware store) that plugs into your power socket and will tell you if the wires are in the right places.
    We had a loose neutral at one point. When we used the microwave, the lights over the table got *brighter* (classic symptom). I measured 135V, which will fry electronics and light bulbs in short order. We had an electrician come out who told me “the problem could be anywhere, we might have to rewire the house” and recommended waiting a couple of weeks, it should go away, then he left. His boss very promptly came out after I complained, and fixed the problem.

    If you try a voltage regulation box like Ned suggests, don’t go with the stepped approximation, you will get lots of interference and your computers probably will not like it. Bite the bullet and go with a sin wave converter. We have a CyberPower 850VA ($113 on A) unit on our Mac, they gets good reviews and it has worked well. This sort of box converts varying AC power into DC, then back to regulated AC. It also eliminates spikes.

  12. Mbuna

    Yves, the better UPS’s out there have built in line conditioners that smooth out your power and that is what you need. HOWEVER the line conditioner part will be clicking a lot if your power is not smooth and that will annoy you. Maybe have some kind of little wooden or plastic box you can cover it with to reduce the noise? FYI I’m a former Intel and Microsoft OEM and used to sell a lot UPS’s….

  13. Steven Greenberg

    Did you ever think that it might be time to move? Obviously the place where you are living is not serving your needs. What disaster would have to happen before you finally realized the need to move?

    Is it worth risking your life to live amongst totally inadequate electrical infrastructure in your building?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      My apartment is substantially below market and I’ve spent a good bit of time and energy making it habitable.

      Moving means no blogging for over a month, minimum. That will kill this site.

      I’ve been fine (my old NeXT lasted over 10 years, my old laptop 8.5 and my old monitor, over 13 years). It is only some equipment that can’t tolerate this power.

  14. Ralph K

    Your laptop already has a battery, so if it’s the only piece of equipment that needs battery backup, skip the UPS and invest the difference in a better line conditioner.

    I’ve got a little doohickey that’s about the size of a 3-prong adapter that plugs into an outlet and tests the wiring. Interestingly, almost every apartment I’ve lived in, new or old, has had at least some faulty wiring.

  15. Steven Greenberg


    Battery backup doesn’t mean a device to backup your battery. It means a device that has a battery to back up your electricity from the utility company.

    Perhaps, your comment was meant as a joke? In that case, I am sorry I didn’t get the joke.

    1. Ralph K

      The “battery” “backs up” a device by providing at least enough power to shut down cleanly. Hence the term, “battery backup.” The laptop already has one of these “batteries.” Adding another would be redundant and expensive if the laptop is the only device that needs to be “backed up.”

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      There are devices that just condition power that are not battery backups. A UPS is designed to supply power, often for hours in the event of a power failure. A power conditioner is not designed to do that.

      1. Ralph K

        Apropos of very little, anyone ever notice how an American outlet looks like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man with a concussion?

  16. Stephen

    Lot’s of good advice already to which I’d add, from my experience troubleshooting in general and electrical in particular:
    Beware extrapolating from your experience with one “cheap Acer monitor” which as you note may well be bad from the get-go. At least take it next door (if your neighbors are willing) and see if it works there. It’s unlikely that your wiring or building are so defective that they would “fry” a monitor instantly.

    Do you tend to get a “spark” when plugging things into ALL your outlets or just one or two? The problem may be in the wall outlet if it’s the latter and maybe all your outlets are old and have loose connections inside or only loosely grip the plug prongs which can cause a spark. It could also be static buildup causing a spark, due to bad grounding or (multiple) other reasons.
    It’s very unlikely the power coming into your breaker/fuse box is completely ungrounded (in fact it’s pretty much impossible) and/or as unstable as the power coming out the receptacles.
    I’d get an electrician to run a brand new circuit from the box. He/she can run a surface wired circuit to avoid drilling and fishing wire through walls. That new circuit will be as well grounded and conditioned as the power coming into your breaker box, especially if it only goes to one outlet box. Then use only that outlet for your computer and monitors. The best power in your building (and most of manhattan) will be poorly conditioned by server-farm standards but should be fine for monitors and laptops.
    As several people above already stated, an (albeit expensive) power conditioning unit would be a sure fire cure since a good one can take pretty much any crummy supply and then buffer and condition it to whatever standard you’re willing to pay for. But I’m betting a new, dedicated circuit from the breaker box would do what you need (though surge protectors will still be a good idea)

    good luck!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      An electrician said the ground and negative were reversed in my kitchen. That’s functionally equivalent, I gather to having no ground. I do need to test the power and the device to do so is cheap, so I am ordering one and starting from there.

      I do not have any friendly neighbors and am too frustrated to deal with this flat panel. The experience was draining and I an returning it. If it does not work at my desk when the previous flat panel did, that is reason to return it. It is fussier or less stable in some dimension I do not have the time and energy to understand that and it is not a good use of my time to debug that device (my most valuable asset is my time and the upset this has caused me is huge).

      1. Stephen

        I assume the electrician fixed the neutral/ground reversal. Hopefully he/she also tested other circuits because that could be your problem with the fried monitor. Reversed ground/neutral can go undetected because many appliances can function fine with ground/neutral reversed, but electronic equipment can’t take any current in the exterior casing, which is what you’ll get if ground/neutral reversed. Ditto if there’s a ground to neutral short somewhere.

  17. MarkJ

    A few thoughts.

    The power going to your computer equipment is without a good ground circuit that is paramount in allowing built-in surge devices to work properly. The ground circuit (wire) shunts a power spike to ground via the surge circuitry instead of allowing the high voltage spike to enter the power supply and internal circuitry of the component (computer, monitor and printer etc) which will damage the equipment much like a lightning strike does. Often these power spikes will be many times larger than the input operating voltage (120 VAC normally) to the device and can be initiated on the circuit when a motor starts or a light is switched on.

    In the old days of fused power panels, it was common for power wall receptacles (two prong) to be connected to a light (fluorescent) or other circuit (electric motor, microwave oven) and these devices always feed power spikes back to anything that is plugged into the receptacle (computer, monitor and printer). Also, the power supply surge components on older devices were much more capable of rejecting power spikes for device operation than newer devices that are much less expensive to produce.

    My suggestions are that you have an electrician install a dedicated 120VAC power circuit (three prong) with a true earth ground to power all your computerized electronic equipment which will provide a path to shunt power spikes. As stated elsewhere, it may be that the existing circuit may require repair by a qualified electrician. Additionally, install a good heavy duty power surge protector (< 1500 joules) to provide extra surge protection to your equipment after the installation or repair has been accomplished.
    If the installation of the dedicated power circuit is not feasible then I would have the old G4 computer repaired and use it for another few years.

  18. human

    Wow. Lots of good advice. The first things to go, in your situation, is the electrolytic capacitors in the power supply circuitry of the monitor. Typically under rated in cheaper monitors (15 volt in a 19 volt circuit), I recently replaced them with 50 volt devices in the wifes monitor ($3.50 at Radio Shack). Should be good ’till the backlight gives out!

    Fluctuating and intermittent power will destroy all but the hardiest equipment.

  19. John Candlish

    Let me guess. The elevator in your building is driven from a DC motor, and the wiring within your flat does not separate neutral from ground.

    When the elevator stops and starts no consumer grade filter has a chance in hell of protecting against surges. Without proper grounding that is not just a technological problem. It is a safety problem. With neutral tied to ground you can have current flowing though the ground leg, and that is a very bad thing.

    Find a proper electrician, somebody that knows why and not just how, and have a correct subpanel installed in your flat. Not cheap but maybe tax deductible, and then its fixed until you move.

    1. grayslady

      An intriguing concept, except that ConEd stopped supplying electricity for DC motors back in 2007, according to news articles. Any building that had a DC motor-operated elevator would have had to convert at that time. According to NYC electrical code, subpanels are allowed (not all municipalities allow subpanels), but that’s a very expensive way to tackle the problem. I prefer Stephen’s suggestion of running a separate circuit that is reliable from the start–including making sure that the receptacles it serves are replaced with newer, reliable receptacles. (I once had a 4-year old GFCI receptacle that went bad and fried my toaster oven. The new one I replaced it with has been going strong for 10 years now.) Receptacles are cheap.

      Yves, if you do decide to go the new circuit route, consider having a data line added for where you’ll be plugging in your modem. I had one installed where I live now and it really makes a difference in terms of reliability.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I am in a rental. I can’t legally rewire my apartment. Anything that is done has to be done by the building. If I try bringing in my own electrician, I give them the perfect excuse to evict me which is what they’d love to do. All I can have an electrician do is diagnose and very very minor stuff, and even then only with written approval (like attach light fixtures). So if I find trouble with a cheap socket tester, I could have him firm that up and write a letter. But the building probably won’t act. Their position is that my power is grandfathered and does not have to be up to current code.

      1. Stephen

        that’s probably right, and they don’t want to work on it because THEN they do have to bring it up to code.
        An electrician you trust might still might be able to get you a new single outlet from the box without tripping the need for code upgrading. Something that could be removed easily if and when you move out. It would have to be close to the main box and surface wired, but it can be done IF there’s an empty space for a new fuse or breaker at the box.

        Also , depending on how many circuits you have (you can tell by how many circuit breakers and/or fuses are in the main breaker/fuse box) you could ask an electrician (or savvy handyman) to figure out which circuit feeds your computer room, then bring that circuit as close to “perfect” as they can by replacing receptacles and cleaning up the connections in the breaker box.
        Then simply decommission ALL the outlets on that circuit (tape over them so you don’t forget) except the one you’ll use for the computer and monitor. You could even have the handyman/electrician disconnect all the outlets “downstream” from the computer outlet to take them out of the circuit and thus render them incapable of causing mischief through shorts or induced voltages etc.
        This won’t be practical IF for instance all your outlets are on one circuit, or if the outlet in the computer room is on the same circuit as the kitchen outlets or any other outlets you can’t live without but worth a try.
        But then, you’ve lived with this electrical system for a while without it destroying monitors or computers so I’m still betting it was a bum Acer monitor to begin with OR it failed co-incedentally, unrelated to your wiring. Another Acer, or another Apple, might work just fine for another decade.

        1. j7915

          My Mom lives in a hundred year old NYC apt building. Check your circuit breaker/fuse box. She touched hers while walking by, it was hot, some of the connections had come loose from the vibration of up-stairs downstairs remodelling.

          So yes checking all connections and outlets might just clean current up.

  20. Tom Goltz

    Your best bet on cleaning up your power is to purchase a “line-interactive” or “double-conversion” UPS. I personally run several older Liebert GXT2 models that can deliver 100% clean power even when being charged by a cheap generator. They aren’t inexpensive, but constantly buying new equipment isn’t cheap either.

    Current model from Liebert

    You may also want to disable the audible alarm on power failure/quality issues….that can be done permanently through the USB interface.

  21. Stephen

    sorry, didn’t read you closely enough . . . . you need building approval for ANY electrical work. . . . still, getting one circuit up to speed, then not using it for anything other than computers, might be possible.

  22. kevinearick

    Space Timing: Horton Hears A Who

    Power is the rate of work over time. NPV feudalism, contract codependence mimicking marriage to replicate sociopathic behavior, employs machines to separate the feudalists from the violence of poverty that they create, to feed the actuarial middle class ponzi, but it doesn’t work. You have a universe full of resistors, capacitors and inductors. Why create more?

    From the perspective of labor, capital is historical overhead. From the perspective of capital, labor is present overhead. The net is marginal utility. The middle class, with artificial monetary and fiscal feedback from capital, increasingly leans toward capital over time, loading the spring. Capital, regardless of how you define it, is a legacy convention. Upon which side do you suppose Nature finds itself?

    RE inflation, systematically eliminating economic mobility, is the solution for capital, and a problem for the middle class, voting itself fiscal control, but is merely a problemsolution for labor. Why would you adjust the artificial spikes of PWM when you can simply build a bridge? Why would you throw away an appliance, like a car, just because the manufacturer hid the failing resistors? What is the psychographic of Ford Explorer owners?

    Feudal control is a function of psychology, peer pressure, which is entirely dependent upon the stupidity passing for public education, under the law, which rewards bankrupt behavior with arbitrary credit, at the cost of penalizing individuals who do not comply, with arbitrary debt.

    What is the counterweight of a horizontal elevator? What is the counterweight for an elevator on a slope? What determines the spacetime between gravitational bodies? Why does the universe appear elastic? Looking back, how much of your ‘work’ at an empire entitlement job has benefitted your family’s future, versus the noise of empire, which hasn’t changed in thousands of years, regardless of parachute color or the rotation employed to keep it going?

    Feudalism, civil marriage, is held together by fear of change, up to environmental threshold. Why can’t you adjust the counterweight to eliminate the load locally, in real time? How might you employ multidimensional regeneration to do so? What would change? What is the threat to capital? What is the effect of empire noise, the voltage drop across the psychological event horizons, on your work product, V/Hz, relative to momentum?

    Government replaces parental judgment with herd judgment, which is easily swayed by sociopaths, offering something for nothing, your children as economic slaves, and voting to rotate the sociopaths, along with their crackpot theories, changes nothing, because G, and its derivatives in GDP, is the counterweight.

    Creating a job by printing money, creating a training program to propagate the associated propaganda, and training people to populate it, long after the money has vanished, into real estate inflation and its derivative food inflation, is a stupid back-a-ward system, but that’s communism, and why the Chinese stock market has doubled in a year, as yet another rigged lottery, for a new reserve currency, dead on arrival. An equal right to abortion, creating and protesting war, that’s government thinking for you.

    Certification is designed to pull the rug out from under you on a regular basis, at increasing extortion cost, and give the feudalists a pre-punched card; public education is geared to implement the communism, with test questions written by bureaucrats at central planning accordingly; and the critters are migrating behind Chinese communism as the future, surprise. The empire is welcome to move its headquarters back to China. We don’t need shiny metals, oil or any other empire hoarded resource to raise the load.

    Have some faith. Everyone is not quite as stupid as Internet TV would have you presume. Don’t fight the system; jump from the counterweight to an elevator, of your choice. With love, you don’t need a script. Without love, no script will save you. The false prophet will tell you what he/she thinks you want to hear, in return for control, expecting confirmation. Someone who loves you will tell you what you don’t want to hear, when no one else will.

    The counterweight attracts divide and conquer politicians from birth, and some parents choose to be unpopular, in a process of discovery, in which the politicians are represented by the politicians they deserve. Who do you suppose that elevator is lifting? “A person is a person, no matter how small,” and an automaton is an automaton.

    Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein were a few thousand years late to the party, and their peers still didn’t understand what they stole from the patent office. You will not find me working in the basement at 3am, and having a double in the coffee shop at 10am, by accident. If you listen, the majority opens it mouth and assumptions fall to the ground.

    Funny, Dr Seuss had a train in his yard, what you see when you look.

  23. words

    I get a spark when I plug in the power.

    Indeed you do, despite the fact that millions were forced (at least in the Silicon Valley, California area) to update their homes, if they were selling them in the nineties, with those one larger prong fitting electrical outlets for safer plugs. ‘Magically,’ none of the computer/printer/techno gadgetry manufacturers were apparently even required to manufacture those safer, one larger pronged, plugs.

    When I bought my last laptop (the other one lasted over a decade, even when it was an admitted nasty lemon), I complained loudly about That Spark! to the Silicon Valley entity I purchased it from. In my case, and perhaps yours, I’m guessing it could have to do with that gap which resulted from the requirement for one metal plug prong being larger than the other which surge strips allow for- and which, none of the computers, printers, and related gadgetry I’ve seen, were forced to comply with.

    I was smugly informed that it was not only normal, but that if I returned my shabby ass Toshiba Laptop, Silicon Valley/California LAW would allow them to charge me a significant Restocking Fee.

  24. words

    I should clarify that the shabby ass, previous [Compaq] laptop (Hewlett Packard [HP] ate Compaq) also had that same funky plug, as did Hewlett Packard’s shabby, worthless ‘consumer [affordable!]’ printers (HP was forced to recall some of those printer connecters), but I will say that the fckiin plug didn’t spark every single time I plugged it in.

  25. words

    And, now, upon fully recollecting that ugly experience (there are those incidents one really does not want to remember when they are totally unable to do a thing about them), I also complained loudly to Toshiba itself, which also informed me: it is normal for laptop plugs to spark when you plug them in!

  26. Harry Shearer

    Lots of expert-sounding advice, I’ll just weigh in with this, Yves: every recording studio I’ve ever worked in has had Furman Power Conditioners to protect everything from the old 32-track tape machines to the desktop computers running Pro Tools and all the auxiliary audio equipment, including EQ, compressors, etc. Not being too technically minded, I’d suggest that they know how to protect expensive and valuable equipment from the vagaries of the electricity in their buildings.–Furman–Power_Conditioners

  27. words

    @Harry Shearer April 20, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Are you able to correct that spark that happens (which should not happen at all), at an affordable price to most humans, when computers, printers, and all other techno gadgetry is plugged into a new surge strip (let alone that wall)?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The spark happens when I plug into a surge protector. This is why bob thinks the problem is a bad ground. If the ground is “hot”, apparently more power can come through the line than a surge protector is designed to handle.

      1. Stephen

        If the ground is “hot” you and/or the entire building have way bigger problems than can be solved here. Ground wires can read something other than 0 volts on occasion, due to conditions way to complicated to go into, but we’re talking micro volts to perhaps a few volts, not anything that could be described as “hot”. Problem is more likely absence of grounding (among other things) rather that “hot” ground.

  28. optimader


    Before you throw out your apple monitor, it may be as simple as a blown fusible link for the backlighting. Search the model number and fusible link.

    The fact that this legacy monitor croaked and then the out of box replacement gave that unsatisfying blue spark of ozone, and the history your describe are all good clues. For all the bad things we can say about new consumer appliances, it would be unusual IMO for a monitor to cough up a blue spark out of the box, due to internal defect. That said, like MikeJ points out, probably better signal conditioning on an older monitor. All 120VAC line-in gets converted to (probably 12 or 24VDC), some getting stepped back up for the backlighting powersupply.

    1.) As advised above, on general principles get one of these –
    Receptacle Testers
    (nice to have in a tool box for what it cost, it’s basically free if it confirms a continuity problem)
    – or a guy that has one –survey all your outlets. I don’t necessarily buy into the notion that a known mis-wired electrical hazard is a grandfathered code feature of the building, but hey I’m not from NYC.

    2.) It would be no surprise if it is a simply a 1940’s vintage two prong outlet that has finally given it up.. Personally I would pull the fuse, confirm no power at outlet (plug in a lamp) and replace the damn outlet. It’s a five minute job. Wire green screw w/a wire pigtail to a screw on the conduit box (ground). Replace fuse, test w/ your continuity tester again, green light everything is happy.

    3.) Good advice to reiterate, get a serious surge protector

    4.) the annoying clicking UPS was just trying to do it’s job.

    5.) For grins, you might check the local audiophile gear shop, probably one pretty close to you, explain your power problem, they might have some insights for you, or recommend a good electrician that is savvy to the challenges of the local 3rd world power you have.

    It goes without saying, you should not be frying electrical components every six months.

    Regarding mis-wired outlets, spikes ect, it would be nice to get a written confirmation from the building ownership that they feel these are bone-fide grandfathered features of the buildings electrical system.. I would be amazed if their attorney would consul you to not correct known hazards. Bottom line, correct the outlets that are incorrectly wired o in r questionable condition whether or not that is the root cause of your problem. Basic health and safety stuff.

  29. John Hemington


    I haven’t read the stream of comments, but there is one affordable surge suppressor I have used for years that actually works. Most MOV based suppressors will fail rather quickly when exposed to the type of environment you describe — and when they fail it can either be in a “hot” mode (they can catch fire; or, in a “cold” mode in which they will not work and you will not know it. The one I have used for years with great success is called Zero Surge” (see Link: It works on a different principle than most others. However, it (and most others) will not protect your equipment from low voltage events which can be just as damaging as spikes.

  30. grayslady

    I know this won’t solve your problem within the next few days, if you need a monitor that quickly, but I have a beautiful Viewsonic VP930B-3 (19″, but close enough to the 20″ you’ve been used to) that I purchased new in 2008 for $339.00. It has the vertical 4:3 aspect ratio that you (and I) like, moves up and down, tilts back, and rotates from side to side. The unit was manufactured in April, 2007, but it has been sitting in my study for the past three years since, like you, I needed a new monitor ASAP and had to settle for a cheap, horizontal aspect ASUS. Naturally, the Viewsonic failed on me right after the three-year warranty period expired! Anyway, according to information around the web, these are fantastic machines with the exception that almost all of them have the cheap, Chinese capacitors fail at some point. I’m pretty certain that is the issue with my monitor, but I’ve just never gotten around to replacing the capacitors with the better, Japanese models.

    I’m pretty certain that I could have it repaired locally for much less than you could in NYC (the repair kits sell on eBay for $9.00, and the YouTube tutorials show people replacing their own capacitors in about 15 minutes, so I don’t think even outside repair would be all that expensive). I would supply a male-male DVI-D cord, but you would need either an MB203G or MB570Z WW adapter, depending on when your Mac Air was manufactured. I would pay the shipping (think of it as a contribution to NC) if you would pay the repair costs. Naturally, I will investigate repair costs, if you think you might be interested, prior to you making a decision. Depending on the repair cost (the Mac adapters run about $25.00, so that would be extra for you) it may make sense to have a really nice monitor in reserve given your electrical situation.

    Let me know if this is something that interests you.

  31. words

    dear ‘Yves,’ re:

    Yves Smith Post authorApril 20, 2015 at 7:26 pm
    The spark happens when I plug into a surge protector. This is why bob thinks the problem is a bad ground. If the ground is “hot”, apparently more power can come through the line than a surge protector is designed to handle.

    Yep honey, That’s when that spark occurs for me also (and it is not noticeably “blue”, nor regarding a moniter, optimader?????),: every single time I have to replug into that ‘surge strip,’ in my case, to re-energize my laptop battery.

    And, as I noted in my prior, above comments (which, yeah, absolutely revolve around grounding issues which I didn’t mention (grounding issues), as I know you are of an age where you understand the relevance of GROUNDED ELECTRICAL CIRCUITS (now I could slap myself for not adding that word grounding, in my prior comments).)

  32. peeeb

    Yeah… you need smth to absorb the spikes. Industryal snubber circuit. Or maybe a fully mechanical phase generator. Basically a mechanical motor, heavy flywheel, and generator to re make your 110ac.

  33. peeeb

    Oh here’s a nasty trick to try…. get one of those cheap hardware store adapters which convert 2 prong into 3 prong outlet. The ground on the output, rather than going into the non-existent ground, will go to this little metal tab. Get an alligator clip and car jumper cables, and connect the tab to a metal faucet. Ideally you have copper pipes for this to work. Make sure the pipe is full of water…. this allowed me to charge an electric car in an ancient 2 prong outlet house…

  34. words

    Too complicated to bother to understand, when the plug sparks and a person is told it is absolutely normal?:

    Stephen April 20, 2015 at 9:23 pm :

    If the ground is “hot” you and/or the entire building have way bigger problems than can be solved here. Ground wires can read something other than 0 volts on occasion, due to conditions way to complicated to go into, but we’re talking micro volts to perhaps a few volts, not anything that could be described as “hot”. Problem is more likely absence of grounding (among other things) rather that “hot” ground.


    Welp, that was certainly helpful (and thoroughly insulting to billions of non electricians), since you are not actually verifying that the wire is not hot, Stephen. Am I mistaken that you have not provided a solution that is understood by those billions who are not Engineers, for plugs which oddly spark (when they should not) every time they are plugged into a socket?

    1. Stephen

      no intention to insult anyone. “way too complicated” just meant there’s no reason to go into theory of multiple ways some voltage (phantom, induced or otherwise) can be measured “in” a ground wire i.e between a putative “ground” wire and true ground (literal ground, the earth) or between neutral wire and ground wire.
      Not sure who told who that a sparking plug is “absolutely normal” but it all depends on what degree of sparking and from exactly where and exactly when. Plugs shouldn’t spark when plugging them in, ideally, but many do, occasionally, and it’s not always a problem you have to fix. A large spark every single time is something needing to be diagnosed and fixed.
      A ground wire that is “hot” is a major problem IF by “hot” one means a measured voltage of 120 v between said ground wire and another verified “ground” or possibly between ground and neutral IF the neutral itself isn’t “hot”.
      I was saying the above definition of “hot” ground was unlikely to pertain here since all kinds of other problems would be observed if so. An open ground is more likely, that’s all, but there’s the question of reversed ground and neutral that is also one of many confounding factors here. I’m not diagnosing anything. Way too many unknowns.

  35. peeeb

    Also, and this is just a guess, but maybe the old elevator in the building is putting spikes on your house ground when the elevator motor starts. If you have a say in the buildings management, have an electrician throw a scope on it…. spike issues are best fixed at the source.

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