The X-Files (created by Chris Carter – 1993–2018) arguably marked the Sci-Fi landscape forever. It is expected for a good science fiction TV show or movie. But when you become a cultural reference in various fields, I guess you can say that you made it! The X-Files made it into the super-niche ring of pocket computer collectors. Indeed, in Tunguska (S8:E4, directed by Kim Manners, written by Chris and Frank Spotnitz), we make the acquaintance of the Black Oil, an alien virus that laid dormant in a meteorite for a while. In this episode, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) gets infected by the virus, and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) gets very close to the same faith in an old-school Russian gulag – where he was lured by Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea).
Ok, but how is this related to pocket computers? Well, as I mentioned it here a few years ago, early Sharp made LCDs don’t age well (the Yellow as well as the Grey ones). A euphemism for die on you. The symptom is similar to the X-Files’ black oil: black spots crawls into the display from the edges. It always ends the same way: the LDC turns completely black, rendered unreadable. Logically, we often call this phenomenon the black oil.
For years, we suspected a chemical root cause. It was thought that a bad seal and oxidation are causing these stains. I am planning to replace the dying LCD of my Sharp PC-1211 pocket computer with a modern replacement soon, so I decided to use my microscope to have a closer look. I attached several pictures and videos for your attention (note, I also uploaded to YouTube the raw videos). What I found very interesting is that it seems that the issue could also be mechanical related (tear and wear). Applying the polarizer – which allows us to see the liquid crystal leakage – long vertical lines are visible, almost like fatigue fracture lines.
Once I replaced the screen of my computer, I will dig deeper, literally. Note that I’ve contacted Sharp and didn’t obtain an answer. Every time I’ve discussed with LCD experts, after the usual, why do you even care, they all pointed toward a chemical issue in the process. One day, we’ll know more about the black oil. The truth is out there…