Greg's bite: Apple's strange screw conspiracy
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Greg's bite: Apple's strange screw conspiracy

By Greg Mills

I never cease to be amazed by the jaded reaction of the PC tech press to the neutral things Apple does. Mis-representing motives and incorrect conclusions that tend to cast a slightly evil cast on Apple sell high tech stories. It's like putting Jesus on the cover of a magazine with some outlandish story. The most recent trashing of Apple is over, of all things, the design of some unique tiny screws that hold iPhones together.

The variety of screw heads used in technology these days is amazing. First there was the flat screw head with one notch. Then there was the Philips head screw that revolutionized machine installation of screws in all sorts of applications. Having used drywall screws for countless applications far beyond drywall installation, I am of the opinion the inventor of the Philips screw head deserves the Noble prize for innovation in physics.  

As certainly as Moore's Law regarding microchip development is true, Murphy's law is totally proven beyond the possibility of randomness when, seeking a Philips head screw driver, you find 10 flathead screwdrivers first. The opposite is also true.  

Some people have more blind luck than I do perhaps, but everyone knows it requires an incredible assortment of screwdrivers to do things. Add torx, hex head and other odd screw heads to the mix and, like me, you're scrambling to find just the right tool to remove a pesky screw.  Even more insidious, there are numerous sizes of all the different flavors of screw heads.  Someone should put an exhibit together of all the screwdriver types known to man.

Jason D. O'Grady reports for "ZDNet" that Apple has since 2009 used a special screw head called a Pentalobe screw for evil purposes. You will notice that it looks like a five-leaf clover hole on the top of the screw. Which means a flathead, Philips, torx, hex or any other known screwdriver has no chance in heck of turning the darn screws out. You have to have a special screwdriver (which his company happens to sell in a kit used to jailbreak iPhones). To me that revelation is the lynch pin of the story. 

Instead of figuring Apple simply didn't want consumers opening the devices sealed with such odd fasteners, O'Grady has concocted a conspiracy theory that Apple intended to create obsolescence by restricting access to getting into some products to exchange batteries and the like. Never mind that there are warranty -- and even extended warranties -- available on all Apple products. The notion that the delicate innards of modern electronics are serviceable by the typical consumer is clearly nuts. Now it is time for a true and embarrassing confession.

I am an Extra Class Ham Radio operator, have fooled with electronics my whole life and have even had patents issued for a device I invented that has electrical components. Yet I recently ruined a MacBook Pro. I figured that I could replace a fan myself instead of paying someone to do it. My old faithful MacBook Pro was getting long in the tooth anyway, but it could have lasted a good bit longer had I not pried my way into it. It was long out of warranty so I figured what the heck, let's try to fix it myself. Hey, what could go wrong?

The left fan was making a horrible noise part of the time, and the poor old laptop couldn't sleep without waking up and the fan groaning in the middle of the night. I also had a red line running down the left side of the screen due to a display issue regarding a faulty graphics card. The laptop had also been baptized in coffee the second day I owned it. But for two years of hard use, it was a powerful computer, and I really liked it.  

I bought a pair of new fans on eBay and watched a video on how to do it. I bought the required screwdrivers. I waited until my wife was gone and dove in. Everything was going just fine until the tiny black plastic electrical connector for the wires that powered the left fan broke off the motherboard instead of disconnecting.  

I pried on it wrong, and it popped off. I figured I could just strip the tips and solder the wires to the board. That is when a drop of solder dripped off the hot soldering iron unnoticed and shorted out some components on the mother board. I didn't notice the splatter of melted solder until after I fired it up. Actually, it never got beyond ding, ding ding, black screen. Oops....  

I lasted two days writing articles on an iPad before I picked up a replacement MacBook Pro on sale at a local Apple distributor. The moral of the story is that those not actually trained to do so have no business opening Apple products. I would rather have waited until the new MacBook Pros came out this spring, but went ahead and bought one mid-cycle, and it wasn't a mistake.  The current hard body MacBook Pros are awesome.

If you try to find a snake under every rock, as O'Grady does, you will find one. But for my money, Apple has pretty good reasons to do most of what they do. I have resolved to submit my repairs to people who have already made their mistakes and are professional about working on my Apple products.  

Strange screws or not, I can't blame Apple for tying to keep me out of harm's way. I never told my wife exactly how my laptop went south. We will have our 20th anniversary soon. I hate to admit it, but she would have freaked out if she had caught me opening my laptop. I guess its a right brain, left brain sort of thing or just special hormones, but she is dead right about practical things, a lot of the time.  Don't open devices Apple wants to keep you out of.

Thats's Greg's Bite for today.

(Greg Mills, is a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup, using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's art web site at ; His email is )


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