They Caught the Unabomber, Why Can’t They Stop The Design Guy?

I’ll get to the smoke detector in a minute. First I have to tell you about my recent re-encounter with a Design Guy device that is so old it proves that he’s been around mucking stuff up far longer than the Unabomber. This evil technology is called the TORX screw.

Some time last week, the cable that supports the tailgate on My Queen’s ’95 Bronco broke. She was taking her Mustang in to Ford for a handful of repairs that only the dealer can make (I felt a great disturbance in the force, it was as if thousands of dollar bills cried out in agony and then were silenced into someone else’s bank account.) and she asked me if I wanted to let them fix this. Hell no I said, it’s 4 bolts and I don’t even have to do any kind of contortion to reach them.

After buying the cables for 44 bucks EACH (It’s an 18 inch piece of 3/16 galvanized aircraft cable with a couple of crimped on eyes, I was expecting it to be high priced at around 15 bucks…) I was DAMN sure that I didn’t want Ford to make this repair. So I buy the cables.

Friday afternoon, I go out to make what I figure will be a fifteen minute repair. An hour and a half later, sweating, and feeling like I deserve the fucking Gold Medal in Olympic Car Repair, I was done. Let’s add this up, that’s 90 minutes for 4 bolts. To break that down for you, that’s 2 minutes each for 3 bolts and whatever the fuck else on that 4th bolt now that yet ANOTHER T-50 bit dies. I actually got the bolt about 2 threads out before that bit rounded off and I ended up with a big pair of vice grips and a mallet to take it the rest of the way out.

According to this was invented in 1965 by Carcam and “drivers greatly outlast similar hex head drivers.” I have a bin in my ratchet box full of cammed out T-50 bits that would disagree. And similarly, in the 40 or so years since I first pulled a wrench handle, I have had exactly two hex drivers break, both of them well worn 3/4″. One of the T-50 bits is actually twisted from attempting to remove the screw on the brake caliper of my old Pontiac 6000. I remember laying there under my car on jack stands with both hands on the pull bar beating, screaming and kicking to get that one bolt out. I was so ready to die I’m surprised I didn’t knock the car off the jack stands.

Now I know what you home mechanics (at least the ones who’ve never encountered the T-50…) are thinking, “He let the driver slip and that’s why it rounded.” Well, according to Wikipedia, TORX is very popular in the automotive and electronic industries for “reduced operator fatigue by minimizing the need to bear down on the drive tool to prevent cam out.” If the guy who wrote this had been here Friday I would have whacked him with the tool. Don’t worry, I’m sure the bit would have safely turned to powder on impact, he probably would get a bruise. By the way, my fave mechanic of the time, Earl Springs, showed me a secret when I told him about the Pontiac, he put the bit in the bolt and took a hammer to drive it into the slot. Yeah, minimal fatigue…

Electronics industry… that reminds me. A few years ago My Queen’s laptop hard drive died. It was a Compaq laptop. I’m reminded of this because of the TORX screws on it. The ones that were recessed about 2 feet deep in a tiny little hole so you can’t tell what kind of driver you need. The ones you expect to be a Phillips head… After discovering that it was not, in fact, any kind of screw for which I had a driver, I knew immediately that it was a TORX.

Ok, so I’m off to buy a new TORX driver. I go to the auto parts stores first. I find a pack of tiny bits and buy them, the smallest of which was a T-10. I get home. I find that the driver bit is wider than the recess hole, so I can’t get it in there to the screw. Back to the store. I find after visiting several places a set of drivers, again, the smallest being a T-10. I get home, and yes, the driver will reach the screw. It, however, will not turn it, it’s too big. So I’m on the phone. No one, not even Sears has a driver. Several have a T-8 bit, but no driver. So I go get the bit. You guessed it, I can’t get it in the hole. I give up.

A couple of days later I was in a Walmart store. Since the T-8 is on the hardware list I decide to see if I can find it. AMAZING, for 15 bucks I can buy a set of tools I don’t want, which has in it, the T-8 driver that I do want. Do you see the work of The Design Guy here? So, I buy the tool set.

Now, I’ve got to get a little off topic here. Compaq at the time had The Design Guy’s henchmen working for them, again, think Fembots. My Queen’s computer, of course, didn’t come with an actual OS disk, one of the many practices that cause me to use Linux. The “recovery” disks will only work with the hidden partition with the re-installation tools. Since that partition was on the hard drive that died, these disks are useless. So I call Compaq and they helpfully send me out something called “Quick Restore” disks.

These disks apparently have the Windows 98 OS installation on them in encrypted form. To use them, you have to have a password. They did not give me said password. So, I’m on the phone to the Fembot again.

I say, “Hi, you sent me Quick Restore disks, but you didn’t send me the password needed to unpack the files and install them.”

Fembot says, “You don’t need the password, they should be unpacked automatically by the system.” I might be misquoting now that I think about it, the word might not have been automatically, but rather magically…

I say, “What system?”

She says, “I see. You cannot boot your computer?”

I think, “No duh, new hard drives are generally blank.” I actually say, being diplomatic, “No, I can’t.”

She says, “Well, you need to insert your original recovery disk that came with the computer and reboot so it can re-install the base system.”

“I tried that. It doesn’t work cause it apparently needs some software I don’t have, which is why you guys sent me the Quick Restore disks.”

Fembot says, which tellingly lets me know she’s clueless here, “Well, there is a hidden partition on the disk that came with the system, you need to make a small partition on the new disk and copy the files from there to the new disk, then you’ll be able to use the Restore disks that originally came with the computer to restore your system.”

I say, “Copy the files from the disk in the garbage can to the new drive? If the drive is not readable, can you tell me how I do that.”

“I see, ok, for that you need a set of Quick Restore disks.”

Diplomacy is fading on me here, “You mean like the ONES I HAVE IN MY HAND? The ones I need you to give me the password for?”

“Yes, sir.” I’m guessing the use of “sir” was to help me find my missing diplomacy.

“Good, well, as I said, I have those. What I need is the password to open them up.”

Obviously not getting that I can actually be pushed into a homicidal rage, “Well, sir, we only give those passwords out to our OEM partners.”

Considering for the moment that I don’t know where to aim my shotgun at yet, I reply fairly calmly, “So, why did you send me the Quick Restore disks?”

“Well, sir, they really shouldn’t have.”

“So, what you’re telling me is that I, a person who’s been using computers since before you were born, who is fully capable installing an operating system, having done it many times, is not allowed to re-install the operating system on my existing computer? I have to take it to a dealer? Because if that is the case, I will buy another laptop and you can bet I won’t be buying a Compaq. What was your name again? Cause I want to write a letter to Compaq explaining why I won’t be buying another Compaq computer and who helped me make that decision.”

I got the password.


By the way, The Design Guy is not perfect. That 15 buck toolkit that had the one T-8 driver I needed has been one of the most useful tool kits I’ve ever had. I’ve used it so much that the case is actually worn on it. It’s so handy I keep it right here under the desk behind me, except for some of the tools I use a lot out of it, like the magnifying glass and the tiny needlenose pliers. I keep those on the desk.