Archive for category Macbook Pro

Where’s the logic, Apple?

If you’ve been following my little saga, you’ll know that my new MacBook Pro is around three months old. You’d expect that it should be humming along perfectly, right? Me too. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago I was plugging in my old 7 port USB hub for the first time on this computer when it quickly started to smell like something was burning. The computer itself had a hard time waking up from sleep (I later learned that a white frosted-over screen with little white markers at the bottom counting up the boot up progress is actually the computer waking from deeper than normal sleep).

Anyway, when I shut down and unplugged everything and retried, I found that my USB ports were no longer functioning. In a typical error-induced panic, I proceeded to back up my data files to my Drobo. Then I quickly made an appointment online to have my computer looked at by the local Apple store genius bar.

Genius Appointment Day arrives

A few days later, when I got to the store for my appointment, the place was packed! It was like there was a sale on or something (btw, this was before the back to school sale had begun). It was hot in the store and they had multiple mega-fans blowing around the Genius Bar area at the back of the store. I went up to the greeter-genius and told him of my appointment. He told me that while shifting my status to “late” (I was less than five minutes over my appointment time) he had accidentally deleted my appointment. So he reinstated me and told me that there would be a 15 minute wait.

Cut to me 45 minutes later, feeling a bit ticked that I’m still waiting for my appointment in the steam room that is the Genius Bar. Ahead of me was a humorous pair of buttheads who wanted to exchange their busted iPods. I was very impressed by the patience of the Genius, who nicely informed one of the guys that he would have to buy a new iPod as his had no screen and clearly looked like it had been run over by a car. (Some companies just don’t stand behind their products, eh?)

Anyway, the dramatic moment came when I finally got my audience with the Genius, and I have to say that they make you wait for it, but the geniuses definitely deliver. He was friendly, patient, and clearly knew his stuff. He quickly ran all kinds of diagnostics on my computer. It wasn’t hard for him to tell that the USB port wasn’t working.

Surprisingly, he also listened to me talk about all kinds of other quirks about my computer booting slow, or running hot. We even hooked it up to the network for another set of tests only to find out that the only thing wrong was the logic board. Its failure had caused my USB ports to fail and it needed to be replaced. (When he told me that, I laughed a bit in my own mind because if you read my posts from a few years ago you’ll notice that my only other Apple computer — the beloved white iMac — also had to have the logic board replaced!) What’s up with that, Apple?

Anyway, the evening at the Apple Store concluded with my leaving the computer behind for them to send off for repairs. I left the store with an empty MacBook Pro box in hand and, humorously, another clueless greeter perked up as I exited, congratulating me on my “new” computer: “Yay!” she ignorantly proclaimed. (O, the irony!)

Cut to me…

Cut again to a week later and I get a call that they are ordering the parts (and warn me in a voicemail that it may take up to 3 more weeks to fix. I call back to double-check, and it turns out to be more like a week.) Cut once more to another week later, and I’m again in the same mega-fan cooled Apple Store waiting to receive my newly-repaired computer. A different genius than the guy who first helped me brings out my computer, and I sign some papers. However, I want to check that it works before I leave the store.

As I turn it on, I get the white screen with the spinning ring of dots that keeps spinning and spinning. The lady genius who helped me has long moved on to another customer, but I finally flag someone else down to tell him that it’s not booting up. He takes the computer to the back room to have someone else look at it. A few minutes later he comes out and asks me if I’ve backed up my hard drive. That’s not the kind of thing a computer owner wants to hear, buddy! I stammer out that most of my files are backed up, but I want to know why he’s asking. He tells me that the technician wants to reformat my hard drive. I am extremely flustered now. Then he reassures me that they will try to reinstall the operating system first. Slightly relieved, I respond more pleasantly when he tells me to return in 45 minutes. Happy endings in 45 when I leave the store with a fully working MacBook Pro. Phew! That wasn’t easy was it?

Cut to me a couple weeks later when I discover that there’s a permanent white line across my screen. I’ve decided to wait a bit before taking my computer in for another hospital visit. Ironically, I am starting another night school program (which I was also doing the last time I had to get my Mac logic board replaced) and I may need my computer for a while. Sigh! I still love you, Apple, but you really testing that love, aren’t you?

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Help, I’m frozen in Carbonite!

As I’ve said already, for the last while, my venerable white iMac had been acting up. Fearing the inevitable, I decided to listen to all that advice out there about backing up my data. One of the solutions I chose was to sign up for Carbonite. Carbonite is a backup service that I’d heard about on the Macbreak Weekly podcast with Leo Laporte. You pay a fee (a relatively reasonable one at that) and download the software onto your computer (Mac or PC) and Carbonite goes to work backing up essentially your entire computer (minus apps and videos). It sounds like a great idea, right? Yes. It’s probably still a good idea, but I want to share a few lessons from my experience so far that they don’t tell you about on the podcasts.

A long long time (… ago, in a galaxy far far away)

If you’re anything like me, with a modern computer and modern computer needs, over time you gather more than your fair share of files. After several years, you end up with a nest egg of more than just a few itty bitty text files. I didn’t really realize how much stuff I had on my computer until I started my initial backup. It was going to take days and days to upload these files to Carbonite’s servers. Thankfully, one of the features of the software is that you can make exceptions, to choose which folders (the ones with large, expendable files) you could leave out of the backup. So I started cutting out large folders, especially stuff that I had backed up elsewhere. Eventually, I shaved the upload time down a bit, but it was still no blink of an eye. Just so you know, in the end I had a total of 60GB of files — so I’m not blaming Carbonite for taking its sweet time, but it’s not how I thought things would go.

Do, or do not. There is no try.

So since I was slightly selective about my backup, I fully expected to be selective about my restoration now that I’ve got my new computer. Carbonite is also equipped with a feature allowing you to browse through your backup files and folders. You can choose what you want to restore: keep one file and discard another. At first I intended to do that very thing, but do you have any idea how many files there are in 60GB? Over 315,000 in my case. Not about to spend my 40s going through that huge haystack, I decided to use the automatic restore mode on Carbonite, where all I had to do was match the user account on my backup against a user account on my computer and Carbonite would take care of the rest.

A long time ago (the sequel)

I have now been waiting on my restoration for 4 whole days. The computer and the software have not stopped running in that time. I am just glad I have unlimited Internet access!

I should tell you about my first experiences with Carbonite. There’s a little progress bar, and a countdown telling you how many files (out of the total) have been restored. Sometimes the numbers don’t move. When I woke up the next morning to check my progress I was amazed that several thousand files had been restored. However the count seemed to have stopped. I thought the software had frozen (oh me of little faith!) and I restarted the preference pane. When the preference pane started up, the progress bar was all swirly and the message indicated that it was still calculating the file count. This went on for at least 15 minutes, at which point I gave up and hit cancel. Y’see, I was under the false impression that once I restarted the restoration, progress would continue from where it left off. When I saw it start from the beginning again, my jaw dropped. There’s one day of solid computing that I won’t get back.

Next time round I did not hit the cancel button no matter how much I doubted the progress. My faith was rewarded as the numbers slowly crept towards the finish line. I even had a Carbonite miracle when I woke one morning to find that almost 100,000 files had been restored overnight. Unfortunately, that was a bit of a tease as the pace has now slowed down to parity with a dying snail. Now I just hope that I can get this done by the end of the week, so my computer can move on with its new life.

As for me, I still don’t doubt that it’s a good service, and it’s not as if another service can really do any better, but this has been an eye-opening ordeal. Now that I’m in the home stretch I just hope that nothing bad happens to disrupt the process before it’s done. If that happens, just look at Han Solo’s expression in the image above to know how happy I will be about that!

Update: A New Hope

After almost a week of solid restoring, I got home from work and found that the Carbonite pref pane was not displaying anymore on my screen, replaced with a pop up warning message about how Carbonite encountered some errors restoring some of my files. There was, unfortunately, no confirmation that my long restoration was complete. I looked at some of my folders and found that they appeared to be full of restored files. It took me a while to find the error log, but it was actually just sitting on my desktop. I opened the file, much to my shock, there were hundreds of files listed, which couldn’t be restored. I panicked a bit and immediately clicked on the button for Carbonite Support that was on the pref pane. I submitted an email form with my problems and clicked submit, but never really felt like the message actually got through.

There was also an option to go with live chat support. There was even the status message saying that there was someone available to receive my chat, so I clicked the link. A friendly support guy came up on the other end of the chat window and I asked about whether my restoration was complete, and what the error log meant. He was very helpful to confirm that the process had completed, but he wasn’t quite clear about the error log. He asked me a few questions about it, and eventually I uploaded the log to him. He recommended seeing the files on my computer by taking remote control. I have always been wary of situations where support folks have to take control of your computer. I feel kind of powerless, but I’d done it before at work, so I figured it’d be OK. Eventually he was combing through the folders on my computer, looking to see if the error log files were indeed restored. They weren’t, but as I looked through the log as well, I saw that the missing files were simply non-essential files, or files that I had already backed up to my Drobo drive. I quickly told the support guy that we could stop the remote control process because I didn’t need the files restored. He also told me that if I needed those files back, I could always come back to my backup and manually transfer them to my computer.

In the end, he wasn’t super helpful, but at least he was very nice about it. Carbonite’s support seems pretty good, but I think it would have been preferable if the software and web site were built with more newbies in mind, who may not know everything that’s going on. Plus, when someone loses their computer, it’s a very stressful time and people are very attached to their files, so there should be a whole lot more handholding within the restoration process.

All in all, I can’t say that I’d recommend Carbonite as a backup solution, but it’s alright. There may be better, more user-friendly ones out there. Hopefully there are also some quicker ones out there.

In the end, between my Drobo drive and Carbonite, I think I’ve got everything back that I needed, so I guess that was the point all along.

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Mac is dead, long live Mac!

So it finally happened. After months of long startup times, of not knowing when it might shut itself down with little warning, and of my Address Book menus mysteriously appearing in Danish (yes, that really happened), my iMac finally faded to white (it was mid-startup when it would not go beyond the white screen — oddly symbolic, actually) and gave up the ghost.

At first I was just waiting out the refresh on the iMacs and that came. The new iMacs got upgraded to Sandy Bridge processors and to Thunderbolt for peripherals. However, after my brother and my friends all got MacBook Pros, I started to think about getting one instead.

On one hand, the iMac has that huge, gorgeous screen. Every time I go to Best Buy or the Apple Store to try it out, I am mesmerized by that screen. On the other hand, I live in a tiny condo and for years I have given up my dining table to my iMac (content to eat on the coffee table in front of the tv instead). Also, I’ve long been eyeing the Boxee Box because I want to enjoy its fun little interface on my big tv. When I had my iMac I could run Boxee there, but it was always on my immovable desktop. It felt ridiculous to watch tv on my computer when I was only a few feet away from the tv. With the laptop, I can simply hook up my computer to the tv and get the best of both worlds.

Finally, there’s much to be said for portability. I think it still hasn’t sunk in for me yet, but it’s hard for me to really fathom that my whole, powerful computer will be able to travel with me wherever I go rather than having to sit down at home before I can do some serious computing.

My new Mac arrived the day before my birthday, and I’ve enjoyed it so far. I think my favourite thing is the nice hi-res screen. I hardly feel the loss of inches (it’s as if my iMac were just a bit further away). Plus, the keyboard that I wasn’t sure I’d like (y’see I loved the old white iMac keyboards a lot!) is actually pretty comfortable. Who knows? I think I still might pick up a nice big monitor (maybe not from Apple, since the beautiful 27″ cinema display still costs a pretty penny), but it’s definitely nice to have the flexibility.

So so long, iMac. We’ve been through a lot together, but I’m a MacBook Pro guy now. It’s all good so long as we keep it in the family, right Steve Jobs?

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