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May 5, 2013

First aid for a wet mobile phone: ten top tips

After being careless enough to leave my mobile lying out of doors overnight, I was surprised to discover how commonly this happens. A 2011 survey of 2000 phone users found that 31% had damaged their phones with liquids. An amazing 47% of these dropped them down the toilet, which underlines that there are liquids worse than rain!


Online, I found lots of people offering "how I fixed mine" advice and others wanting to sell you repair kits - but what would you do with your phone while awaiting the delivery? YouTube features some of the worst-made, most frustratingly repetitive and incoherent videos that I've ever watched.

Here is a summary of what I learned:

  1. Stay calm: if the liquid is plain water and the phone hasn't been exposed for too long, act fast and your chances of complete recovery are good. (If too much water is already inside the phone, the damage done is probably beyond economic repair, but what follows may be worth trying anyway.)
  2. Do NOT switch the phone on to test it, however tempting this seems! If it was already on, don't press any buttons except the off switch. Get the battery out as fast as you can. Recharging comes later: your first priority is to avoid a short-circuit leading to sparks and fried electronics.
  3. Remove any bumper or other cover, and take out anything that you easily can (battery, SIM card etc). Shake out and mop up as much moisture as you can (I used kitchen paper), and try to dry in and around sockets.
  4. Do NOT be tempted to use direct heat (avoid the oven or even a hairdryer on low setting): patience is your best ally in the drying out process. You need to draw moisture away from the electronics slowly using a desiccant, not to risk moving the dampness around, let alone melting the plastic. If a friend suggests using a microwave or freezer, they either know no physics or they aren't your friend.
  5. Some people advise immersing it in isopropyl alcohol, but how many people who have just dunked their phone have a bottle of that handy? Also, if it isn't at least 99% pure, there's a risk of impurities doing further damage, so I didn't pursue this. 
  6. Most people can easily get hold of uncooked white rice: burying the phone in plenty of rice inside a ziplock bag will draw out the moisture eventually. But it can take several days, and there are many stories of people taking it out too soon in order to try it, only having to put it back for another 24 or 48 hours. And the rice flour/dust tends to get everywhere, which can't be ideal.
  7. Silica gel works much faster than rice. Even if the shops are closed when disaster strikes, have you a few little sachets marked "Do not eat. Throw away." lying around? (I assume you have followed the first instruction but maybe not the second.) Check cartons from anything electronic - TVs, cameras, computer stuff. Put the phone inside a ziplock bag or plastic box, and be patient. Ideally, leave it overnight before testing. It's natural to be in a hurry to see if your cure has worked, but patience pays.
  8. Prevention is better than cure, obviously, both for keeping the phone dry and for damage limitation. Start collecting silica gel sachets now: even if you never get your mobile wet, they may be a godsend to a friend!
  9. Most mobile companies won't cover water damage under warranty, and inside your phone there is probably a cheatproof Liquid Contact Indicator, so don't be tempted to economise with the truth. Apple won't repair, they will replace. Water damage may lead to latent faults which are near-impossible to diagnose and uneconomic to fix; and for sure, replacing wet iPhones is very profitable for Apple.
  10. Having pondered the above, I suspect that many folk (even if successful in the short term) may mistrust the phone after a soaking, and perhaps put it on eBay before too long. (I won't be doing that, but I also won't be buying a used cellphone on eBay, ever.)  

Although it was very careless of me to have left my phone outside, I don't think I'll ever do it again.  I just hope that anybody reading this will, if they are unlucky/daft enough to get their phone wet, be more likely to remember what to do and what to avoid!

When I found my phone I was too busy drying it off to think of photographing it. Credit for the photo above belongs to Liquipel - a Californian company that offers a waterproofing service - at $59 plus shipping!

May 28, 2013

Societas Regalis Edinburgi


Keir has become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh which was created by Royal Charter at the height of the Enlightenment in 1783. Above he is being formally admitted by its President, Sir John Arbuthnott on 20 May (photo courtesy of the RSE). The RSE is Scotland's national academy, with strong leanings towards science and technology. It stands in a beautiful domed building in George Street where we enjoyed mingling with other Fellows and families after the formal ceremony: the language level of the smalltalk was impressive, but plenty of wine helped to lubricate the proceedings. 

For the 47 Fellows admitted last week, the vocabulary level involved in the citations was challenging. Honorary Fellows included Sir David Cox (Nuffield College), one of the world's leading statisticians, Robbert Dijkgraaf (Princeton) who "has uncovered new structures in topological string theory, quantum states of black holes and supersymmetric gauge theories" and Jean Tirole (University of Toulouse) whose research covers applications of game theory to corporate finance, banking and currency crises (!). So it was a relief to read Michel Virlogeux's citation, which included the design of the Millau Viaduct whose elegance is more easily appreciated (courtesy fotopedia.com).


Given the average number of higher degrees and academic honours of his fellow Fellows, some might think that Keir (who has only a first degree) is lacking in credentials. Of course I am biased, but I believe that his lifelong work at the leading edge in Scottish education means that his participation in the RSE will reflect well on the Society, albeit vice versa, the RSE has certainly honoured him. Furthermore he was the only Fellow to mention his family in his biographical note. I can't resist sharing a clipping from his certificate.


May 29, 2013

Rare mammals at Landrick Lodge


Yesterday morning's sensational sighting in our garden was of the handsome mammal above: a pine marten (Martes martes). We had great viewings as it moved calmly through our shrubs, seemingly on the prowl for baby birds.  We had plenty of time to view her (?) through binoculars, but they were barely needed - she was less than ten metres from the house. We felt sad for the infant dunnocks, whose parents were agitated but powerless when their nest was raided, but we felt so privileged to have such a clear sighting of this elusive predator. It belongs to the carnivorous family Mustelidae that also includes weasels, badgers and otters.

Persecuted nearly to extinction and confined by loss of habitat, by a century ago pine martens were found only in remote parts of the north-west Highlands. They were unknown south of the Border. They gained full legal protection in 1988, and according to Scottish Natural Heritage they are making a comeback and recolonising their former haunts in Scotland. The SNH methodology involved "DNA analysis on possible scats gathered along 1-km transects"; our methodology was to open our eyes and rub them in disbelief (it was about 7.30 am).

We were delighted to have our friends Nick and Margaret as house-guests and witnesses to this. And today we have been treated to a second daytime sighting of this amazing animal - agile enough to catch a squirrel. Previously we have seen a wild boar (once, in the adjacent field), a dog otter (twice - both times in the garden) and, of course, roe deer are regular visitors. Here is the handsome young buck whom we see often in these early, light mornings:


Truly this is a remarkable place to live, and having decided with regret that after 20+ years we need to downsize and move on, we will miss these jaw-dropping sightings perhaps more than anything else about Landrick Lodge.

I was too excited to grab a camera for the pine marten, so the image at the top is courtesy of Country Diary, theguardian. And because trees are so important in the pine marten's ecosystem, and because they remain mercifully stationary while I pick up a camera, here is a closing shot of what IMO may be the finest birch tree in Scotland, captured in our back garden at sunset (about 10 pm).


About May 2013

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