IT Confidential: Three Bright Ideas For Those Blazing Batteries - InformationWeek
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John Soat
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IT Confidential: Three Bright Ideas For Those Blazing Batteries

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Flaming laptops? Easy: Just add sticks and some marshmallows.

To: Dell, Round Rock, Texas
From: John Soat

Dear Dell Battery-Recall Dudes:

First, let me express how sorry I am about what happened with those notebook batteries. A little heat in the lap never hurt anybody, but who would have thought they'd actually burst into flames? And that manufacturing partner of yours? Whatever happened to "Sony: The One And Only"? How the mighty have melted down.

I'm writing to you with what I hope is a solution to your problem. The first order of business is this: DON'T THROW AWAY THOSE BATTERIES! I think I might have a good use for those babies. Let me explain.

There was a study released two weeks ago by researchers in the United Kingdom and Australia concerning used and discarded hard drives ("Second-Hand Drives Yield First-Class Data"). These researchers purchased used computers at auctions or computer fairs in Australia, Germany, North America, and the United Kingdom. When they examined the hard drives in those computers, they found a surprising amount of sensitive data still intact, including payroll information, IP addresses, cell phone numbers, and bank and credit card information.

In another study released last week, this one by the Ponemon Institute, a corporate privacy consulting firm, and Vontu, a data security vendor,

81% of the companies surveyed reported having lost one or more laptops containing sensitive information in the past 12 months. Laptops and PDAs ranked highest as corporate data security risks, followed by USB memory sticks, desktop systems, and shared file servers.

You might see where I'm going with this. What if there were a way to rig those combustible batteries to heat up and explode on cue? An internal clock could trigger combustion after a laptop reached the end of its corporate-viability cycle. And in terms of security, an internal sensor, like a fingerprint reader or iris scanner, could trigger combustion if the wrong person handled a corporate laptop. It would be like that smoking tape recorder in Mission: Impossible (the TV show, not the movies with Tom Cruise). You might look into licensing the Mission: Impossible theme music--"Dum, dum, da-da, dum, dum, da-da..."--as a promotion. Just a thought.

It may not be necessary to incinerate every corporate laptop. Heat alone, at the proper level, would force a would-be thief to drop a purloined computer. But you'd have to be careful not to apply that heat indiscriminately, which, come to think of it, is what got you in trouble in the first place.

Here's another idea. My son is starting college and, fortunately for us, we bought him an Apple iMac. (Sorry, I didn't mean to be insensitive.) The point is, college students can always use a good excuse for not completing assignments ("the dog ate my homework," etc.). What better excuse than, "My laptop battery overheated and incinerated my hard drive"? Think of the marketing potential!

Remember, when one door closes, another opens. And if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Got any more ideas for the blazing batteries? Or any industry tips? Send them to, or phone 516-562-5326.

Got film of a flaming laptop? "The News Show" wants it. Watch the show, at noon EDT every weekday, at or on, then send us an E-mail.

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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