Computer Woes (Again)

My computer’s hard drive starts forgetting where it put things. Important things.

In the 20-20 vision of hindsight, I guess I can say that the problem started a while ago. The most obvious symptom was programs “unexpectedly quitting” a lot more frequently than they should have. Mail was especially lazy; it would quit several times a day. Word and Dreamweaver weren’t doing their best either.

But I was in denial. The problem wasn’t on my computer. It was something in the operating system. It was Apple’s fault.

Yeah, right.

The next symptom was the spinning beachball. If you’ve used a Mac for a while, you know that a spinning ball appears when you need to wait for the computer to do something. (Macs are a bit more sophisticated than PCs, which still use hourglasses to mark time.) The problem is, my computer has dual G5 processors and I don’t run much software that puts a strain on them. The ball shouldn’t appear as often as it was or for as long.

Then, on Monday, I had the big problem. The computer seemed to lock up. I did a Command-Option-Esc (like a Control-Alt-Delete on a PC) and saw in the rather long list of running applications that the Finder was not responding. So I clicked the button to restart the Finder. It evidently decided that it wanted to permanently quit because it never came back. And, with the Finder gone, nothing else wanted to work either.

Dang!

I held the power button in until the computer shut down. I waited, then powered it back up. While it was starting up, I made lunch: chicken salad with dried cranberries and nuts. I put it in the fridge for later and looked up at my computer. All I saw was a white screen with an Apple logo. And that’s all that had been showing since I started making lunch.

Uh-oh.

I tried restarting again. Same result.

I managed to get the DVD drive door open. I shoved my Tiger DVD into it — after spending ten minutes locating it in the mess that’s my office. I restarted with the C key held down. The DVD drive spun and the computer started up.

Whew! At least it wasn’t the motherboard again.

The Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger installer appeared. I used the menu to choose Disk Utility. That’s the software you use to check and repair hard disk problems. The program launched, then attempted to read my hard disk. Three minutes later, it was still trying. It had been at it for about six minutes when I decided to restart again.

Bad idea. I was back to the white screen with the Apple logo.

Sh*t.

I disconnected everything except the power and monitor and tried again. No go. So I disconnected the power and the monitor, got my stuff together, and lugged the computer down to the car. I had my Honda at work and I don’t mind driving that down to Phoenix. But I was wearing my glasses so I couldn’t wear sunglasses and the day was very bright. To make matters worse, I was wearing my chili pepper pants, which are very loud and tend to make me stand out — in a bad way — in a crowd. But surely that didn’t matter. I didn’t want to go home to change. So I took off down the Phoenix Highway, heading for the Biltmore Apple Store.

I won’t go into a lot of detail here. It’s boring and you’ll think I’m whining. But I will say that the Apple Store was mobbed and that the waiting list for the Genius Bar was full. I could get an appointment for 6:40 PM. It was just before noon. When I told an employee I had just driven 70 miles from Wickenburg, his response was “So?” I couldn’t believe his rudeness. He then told me that if I spent $99 to buy a Pro Care membership, I’d go right to the front of the line. Of course, there were about 20 people on line to buy things and, by that time, I was fuming with anger. So I decided to try my luck at the Chandler Apple Store.

That was another 20 or so miles farther away, off the Loop 101. Same story, but I could get an appointment for 7:30 there. And someone explained that a Pro membership wouldn’t help me if the line was already filled up. The creep at Biltmore had lied to me.

I was very annoyed. Put yourself in my shoes. I’ve spent the past sixteen or so years writing about Macintosh computers. Dozens of books. I have purchased, with my own money, more than a dozen Macs during that time: Mac IIcx, SE/30 (2 of them; don’t ask), PowerMac 6100, PowerMac 8500, G3 beige, G4 (my current Web server), G5 dual (the patient), PowerBook 2400c, iBook SE, PowerBook G4 (my faithful 12″ laptop), Strawberry iMac, eMac (my current test mule), and 20th Anniversary Mac. I’ve spent more money on Apple hardware than anyone else I know. And no, I don’t still have all those computers. But I do have most of them.

I also bought a Newton, a QuickTake (which I sold) and 3 iPods.

Hell, I’m even a stockholder. (But I’m not complaining about that. The 200 shares I own have a basis of less than $4 per share. Last I looked, Apple was trading at $71 per share.)

And here I am with a dead computer, unable to write the three book proposals I need to get to my editor (I’m trying to line up my spring workload), and I can’t even get service at an Apple Store — a store, by the way, that I’ve done three presentations at over the past two years.

I spoke to the manager. I told him about the rudeness I’d experienced at the Biltmore store. He was fair but firm. The best they could do was “check in” my computer and try to get to it today or early tomorrow.

I had no other choice so I left it there.

They sent a guy out to my car with a dolly. G5s are very heavy computers. I think there’s lead in there. He pulled the computer out of my trunk, put it on the dolly, and wheeled it in. He was friendly and sympathetic. Not rude.

I gave my information to a girl who printed up a receipt for the computer. She promised to call sometime the next day.

I left the store, grabbed a sandwich from Paradise Bakery in the mall, and headed out to the car. I drove home, top down, stopping at the Desert Ridge Mall to pick up a new fish filter and a bunch of feeder fish for my big fish to eat.

I hit traffic, of course. I don’t know how anyone can live down there. You can’t drive anywhere in the valley without running into some traffic jam that doesn’t appear to be caused by anything other than driver stupidity.

Jeep TourThe next day, I had to do a Jeep tour with the local Jeep tour company. Whenever they have a big group, they ask me to drive. I take the doors off my Jeep, put a saddle blanket over the dog hair on the back seat, and join in for a slow drive in the desert with vacationers. This group was farmers from Indiana. I guess they can’t farm when the place is covered with blowing snow. I thought the tour was 2 hours, but it worked out to be nearly 3-1/2 hours. Didn’t matter much. My computer was on a bench in Chandler.

I went home and played with my PowerBook. I installed a random header image on wickenburg-az.com. It’s a cool feature with 12 images appearing randomly at the top of each page.

I got a message on my cell phone. The computer was fixed. I could pick it up. But I might want to back everything up as soon as possible, the guy added.

Hmm.

Mike works down near there and I called him up. He went to Chandler and picked it up. He dropped it off in the office this morning. I plugged everything in and fired it up.

It worked.

But it worked just like it worked before it died. I don’t think they did much to it. Maybe a little smelling salts.

I think it needs its hard disk reformatted and all the software reinstalled. I used to do that to all my computers once a year. That was in the days when all my documents could fit on a single CD. Not today, when my documents take up 25 GB of my hard disk (I archive old books and other work onto CD when they’re done). I know that’s nothing compared to the folks that do multimedia work, but it’s still a lot. And reformatting my hard drive annually would be a royal pain in the butt.

Just like it will be next week, when I do it.

I have to wait until next week. The folks at Apple gave Mike the computer, but they didn’t give him the Tiger DVD that was stuck in its drive. I don’t have operating system software to install. So I have to wait until they mail the disc to me. I should get it by Friday, Saturday at the latest.

So you know what I’m doing on Monday morning.

And today I ordered DiskWarror and TechTools. Next time this happens, I’ll stay home and avoid the traffic.

What do you think?