Archive for category Problems

My bumpy road to iOS5

It’s funny when you get an error message and you start to Google it and see the undercurrent of comments and posts about how other people have been having similar errors. It’s almost like an underground movement of fellow victims, trying to help each other out. Anyway, when I tried to update my iPhone 3GS and iPad (v.1) to iOS5, I quickly encountered an error during the backup step of the upgrade (when iTunes backs up all your info and media so that it can restore it after it’s wiped out your device and put on the new OS).

An error occured while backing up this iPad (-5000).  Would you like to continue to update this iPad? Continuing will result in the loss of all contents on this iPad.

Don’t you just love those scary parts at the end? “Oh, BTW, you can click continue if you like, but you’ll mostly likely be screwed if you do. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!” So, I didn’t click. I started to Google instead. Apparently this problem has been around for a while, going back to several updates, and has happened with iPhones, iPod Touch, etc. Since it was happening with both my devices, I figured that it wasn’t my device’s fault, but something more general.

The help on the boards was not great. There were people who found that retrying the process did the trick (but others tried it over 30 times with no joy). Some people said that turning off their Microsoft antivirus did the trick (which was useless for me, as I had no Microsoft anything). There was also some suggestion that just using the Restore to factory default would give you iOS5 as well and you could just use one of your backups to restore the rest afterward. Some people found that to be the solution, however there was a whole conversation string devoted to people complaining how backup errors wipe out your previous backups so there is no way to restore once you encounter the backup error.

Hilariously, there are often people on these boards who have too much time on their hands and like to deride others with real problems. One guy complained at having lost all his years of tweaking and customization done to his iPhone. I totally get that as my number one priority was not to lose my Angry Birds progress! So another guy responded to the first post by expressing disbelief at the amount of tweaking the first guy had done, suggesting that he’s just being a whiner. Have some sympathy, man! Don’t kick us when we’re down. We have the right to have all our tweaks (no matter how trivial) preserved if they can be.

Finally, after weeks without any luck (even waited for 5.0.1 to see if that version was any better), my plan was to do normal backups (which I could do for some reason) and copy the backups out of the backup folder (\Library\Application Support\MobileSync\Backups) into another folder. Then when the upgrade process wiped out my backup I could still copy them back after I clicked the Continue button to install iOS5, wiping out my device. Then I could restore my files and tweaks from a backup of the backup. However, in the process of backing up the backups, I discovered that the backup folders were protected (at least for me). I could only copy them, not move. And even after copying, I had to log in as administrator to rename them. This turned a light on in my brain. [Cue flashback dissolve effect] When I got my new MBP and restored my folders from Carbonite online backup, I unwittingly changed the name of my admin account from my previous iMac and so the folders that I copied over were protected in this odd way. I needed to log in to make changes to them.

Realizing the problem, I didn’t need this backup of my backup anymore. I decided to try an experiment and I renamed the original backup folders in the original location, and made a new folder called “Backups” in the same location (new folders are not protected in the same way as the other ones were). Then I went to run the update in iTunes, and voila! It worked!

Now I am happily using Notifications, enjoying the multi-touch gestures on my iPad, and trying to manage the confusion that is iCloud. Plus, ironically, I’ll be able to do future updates through the cloud, and avoid these same problems. (I wrote this post not because it’s likely that any casual reader would be having this problem, but since I found no one out there posting this exact same solution to their -5000 problem, I wanted to put my story into the ether and hopefully in future if someone else does, they will Google my blog and find this solution. Here’s to you, future backup error sufferers!)

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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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Alvin & iMac: The End of an Era?

2006-08-26 Mourning kid, carrying

Lately my beloved 19″ white iMac is not doing so good. I know my computer is just an object, but it’s amazing how intimate some of us can become with our machines, how emotionally invested in them we can become. Frankly, it’s because of an emotional incident that led me to become a Mac owner to begin with (no, I was not swayed by charming commercials featuring Justin Long and John Hodgeman) but it was when I had a virus attack on my old Windows PC on Christmas Day. I was so frustrated and annoyed (beyond annoyed, downright panicked) by it that the idea of a computer/operating system without viruses was like a lifeboat to a drowning man. Now, almost six years later, I’ve been an Apple convert (some would say fanatic) since day one, but my first Mac is showing some signs of its age.

First there was the freezing

So, I’d be working on my computer (maybe I’m doing a few things at once, but that’s normal, right) and then suddenly I’d click on Firefox, or Quicklook, or any darned thing, and I’d get the spinning beachball of death, then eventually that would go back to the arrow pointer, but I couldn’t click on anything, and the clincher was that the clock in my menu bar stayed frozen as well. There was no response from anything. I might have preferred to believe that time had stopped in the universe at large, but I quickly admitted to myself that I needed to do a super-hard reboot by pressing the power button until it shut down my computer, then power on again. Sad.

Then there was the blackouts

Now, I’d already had black screen of death experiences a few years back when my Mac’s logic board died, but I got it replaced and had no problem since then. This problem was different. The screen would go dark all of a sudden, but I could still tell that the computer was on and running (I’m not sure how). It’s like I’m on the other side of a closed door, and even though I can’t hear any footsteps or sounds of movement, I know that there are people on the other side. Anyway, without the screen, I couldn’t do anything. Reboot. So sad.

Then there was the progress bar

At first the reboots just were like normal, but then one time I started to notice that the grey startup screen with the Apple logo had a new little grey progress bar (isn’t it cool that even when the computer’s breaking down, everything looks nice and matches? I’m clearly an unrepentant fan-boy). I didn’t know what the progress bar was for, but it made the startup a lot longer. Sometimes taking 5, 10 minutes. Googling the problem led me to learn that while people don’t really know what the problem is, there is general agreement that it’s a hardware problem. Booo! Super sad.

In the mean time, I ran Disk Utility and it told me that there were some misreported bytes or something. So, I had to even boot off my Snow Leopard DVD and run Disk Utility again and the problem was fixed (not my real problems — see above — but the misreported bytes were fixed). Disk Utility told me that my hard drive was just fine. Great.

Now my preferences panes don’t work

The latest thing to fail is that when I go into System Preferences, some of them don’t work. When I click on Security, I get the message that it needs to restart System Preferences to run. Then I restart and click again and it tells me that the preference pane failed to load. Sadder than sad.

Nevertheless, given how emotionally invested I am in my computers, I am surprisingly un-sad. It’s about time for me to get a new computer. When I bought my iMac, I told myself that 24″ was too big. 19 was enough. But now when I see the 27″ iMacs in the Apple Store I think, “Yes, I deserve one of those.” However, I’m still going to wait things out. Rumours abound of an imminent refresh of the iMacs (they finally announced the Macbook Pros being refreshed so the iMacs can’t be far behind), plus I want to have Mac OS X Lion pre-installed on my new computer (and that’s supposed to be coming in the summer), so I am going to bide my time, and sit next to the sickbed of my dying iMac. Maybe I’ll bring him some soup or a nice hot cup of tea now and then. I’ll pat his hand soothingly or sing soft lullabies when he’s sleepy. I just want my iMac to rest and enjoy his last days in relative peace.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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Can’t you feel it f—in’ tingle?!

Is there an app for proving that you are not insane? And why should I have to prove that I’m not insane? Isn’t the customer always right? Apparently not when it comes to iPhones.

So, my brand new 3-week old iPhone kind of sucks. Well, not really, but it does something that not only really bothers me, it contributes to the appearance of my insanity (or at least senility). The darn thing tingles. No, it’s not the vibration mode of the ringer — god! if I had an iPhone for every time someone thinks it’s as simple as that. It gives of a kind of charged tingle, when I hold it in my hands. Most notably down my leg when I keep it in my pocket. It’s so bad that I eventually want to take it out of my pocket. And when I hold it in my hand, before long (i.e. 10 minutes) it tingles up my arm and after about 15 minutes my knuckles will even start to ache a bit, like I have the flu or something. The iPhone flu.

So, being so naive as I am, I bring it in to the store. Of course, there’s no one to help me. I have to make an appointment with the “genius” and come back in two days. Whatever. So I wait and come back at my assigned time. Of course, I have to wait 15 minutes for that assigned genius, and in that time, the phone has tingled my hand like crazy. Speaking of “crazy”, when I tell the guy, he can’t feel it! He looks at me like I’m crazy. I know how it sounds, but I’m not crazy. Why do I have to prove that? After I keep insisting, he hands it to some other genius who’s busy doing something on the computer. She tries to feel it, but she doesn’t. Of course not! It’s not exactly quiet in the store, and I don’t think they are really focused on the feeling (which is subtle at first). They’re busy thinking of how many customers they need to see or when they’re done for the day. Plus they are probably thinking it’s something like the vibrating ringer so they don’t think it’s anything softer than that — it’s not the vibrating ringer, OK? So he takes the phone back to check “inside”. He comes back and tells me that there’s no sound, nothing audible, and he put it on something to feel vibration and it didn’t register any. Of course not! It’s not frakkin’ vibrating. It’s tingling!!

So, he looks at me and says that he can’t replace it because he can’t find anything wrong with it. Why the hell not?! When you buy a shirt and you take it home to wear and it’s scratchy, you can return it or exchange it. When you buy a CD player and you don’t like the sound, you can bring it back to the store. What is so special about the iPhone that I can’t get it replaced? “What’s wrong with it?”! I paid mucho bucks for a phone that I’m stuck with for 3 long years and I don’t even want to touch it! That’s what’s wrong with it! If they suspect me of some phone exchanging scam, what on earth do I have to gain by coming in and exchanging my phone. It’s not like it’s damaged or anything, it’s good as new. I just want one that doesn’t give me the shivers. Is that too much to ask, Apple?!

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Alvin Meets iPhone (not!) – part 1

Having only been a pay-as-you-go customer up until now, I had never really sank my feet into the tar pits of frustration known as cellular providers up until now (actually, my brief glimpse into that was when they switched me onto a monthly plan without telling me all the charges that I would be incurring. I got them to switch me back, but stil…). Now, I am planning to replace both my iPod touch (which has been lost to some French vagrants) and my home phone with a brand spanking new iPhone 3GS (Yay!).

I’d pass by the Fido store (Fido is one of the Canadian iPhone carriers) numerous times in my consideration process and went in a few times, but they’re so dang busy that I ended up leaving with only a brochure. Finally, hearing about how Fido stores had no stock of 3GSes, I got tipped on going directly to the Apple store instead. So, that’s what I did. At the Apple store, I was greeted by a pleasant enough customer service person, but he told me that new activations would take a long long time and so I had to make a personal shopping appointment. He rebuffed my outrage at the delayed gratification by saying that they get a lot of people in the store looking for iPhones and if they spent all their time on activating iPhones, then they’d never have any time.. blah blah blah… so, I made the appointment for 5 days later — yes, that’s five whole days to wait for something that they actually already had in stock. I guess when you have customers coming out of your ears, trying to shove money at you for a new iPhone, you don’t need to be nice to someone like me.

So, like a good boy, I wait patiently until Sunday for my appointment and with their good customer service, Apple phones me and confirms that I’m coming for my appointment and they have the phone in stock. Easy peasy, right? See, I’ve learned that the paradox of Apple is that everything is coated in that easy-looking, clean, white, friendliness that is in their ads, in the attitudes of their service people. It’s a kind of mellow, “We’re sorry things aren’t working out, but smile anyway” kind of demeanor. I guess it’s better than the Windows/PC world, often fraught with a “too-bad-so-sad, figure it out yourself” demeanor, but still …

I go in for my appointment, all ready to leave with (as they promised) my iPhone working as I exit the store. Yeah right. After trying to sort out who talk to about my appointment (there’s no indication of what a person is supposed to do when the arrive for an appointment to announce themselves, but apparently the orange shirt guy is the concierge). Finally, when I sit down with the person who is helping me activate my new iPhone, the Fido system is down (@#$@!%!). The lady helping me is super friendly, trying to put me into the system at least 3 times, but still no go. So, she pleasantly turns to me and lays out my options of either leaving the store with the phone outright (i.e. pay $800 for the damned thing) or come back maybe tomorrow when the system is up again (possibly). I guess I’m supposed to be made of time. I guess I don’t have to go to work on Monday or anything like that. I guess I don’t deserve some special arrangement after having waited almost a week for my appointed waste-of-time.

As I leave the store, I am struck by the intricate web of ironies in my situation. If Apple had been willing to activate the phone for me when I came in on Tuesday, I would have already had my phone. Instead, they made me wait all week until the system was down to NOT give me the phone. Add to that the horribly elaborate way that cell companies need to make sure that they cannot let you get away without squeezing all your money out of you (that’s the part about the subsidies and how I couldn’t even leave with the phone at the normal, non-inflated price without an activation). I’m sure I’m not appreciating the nuances of the technology and business model that probably makes clear sense to someone, but after my annoyances of today, I have very little patience or compassion for Big Cellular.

So when will I finally get my iPhone? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ll keep you posted. Sucks to be me, eh? (I know there are so so many worse problems than these, but at this moment it sure doesn’t feel like it.)

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