June 9th, Thursday
I’m sitting at home, working on my computer–a late-2008 edition MacBook Pro, all appropriately up-to-date on its software, etc.–when the cursor starts going haywire. My hands are not on the trackpad, yet it’s jumping all over, it’s right-clicking, it’s opening windows and files; it’s possessed. Every attempt I make to control it is like Ouija Board combat, it just doesn’t want to do what I want it to do.
I closed the lid and let the machine sit. Ten minutes later, I try again. It works, briefly, and then is possessed again.
I forcibly quit all open programs and turn off the machine. Time for bed.
June 10th, Friday
On the iPad, I search for a range of related terms like “possessed MacBook trackpad,” and get lots of results with a range of inconclusive answers. One suggests resetting the “PRAM,” wherein you unplug the computer, take out the battery, and then press the power button to clear all electrical charges. Another suggests the problem is caused by swollen batteries. I open up the machine, reset the “PRAM,” and in the process check my battery. Doesn’t seem swollen.
I reboot, and I get about 15 minutes of time before … the Possessed Trackpad takes over. Mere seconds after that, it has shrunk the icons of the items on my desktop to miniscule items of something like 8×8 pixels, while also opening 20+ PDFs in a folder.
I reboot, switch batteries. I get another 15 minutes in, but not more. I manage to get TimeMachine connected and get a back-up process going–and then effectively lock the cursor out by switching on the screen saver.
The back-up completes, I turn off the computer, and I go to work. Over the weekend, I hardly touch it.
June 12th, Sunday
It’s still not working. I check my AppleCare status–good through November!–and make a date for Thursday with the Genius Bar folks.
I try running the computer with no battery. I have no evidence that the battery is the issue, but I wonder whether it’s too hot and affecting the trackpad. This technique works for the standard 15 minutes, before the Deus in Machina takes over again.
June 13-15, Monday – Wednesday
I give a lot of thought to cloud computing, which sounds fairly attractive right about now. The idea of being only moderately dependent on a single computer is alluring at times like this. (I’m writing this on a 10″ Sony Vaio running Ubuntu Linux. I try to run a Microsoft-free home.) I have my iPhone and my iPad, plus the Vaio, and aside from my files all locked up on the Mac, things aren’t so bad. Normally, I don’t like the “cloud” idea, because internet access can be so unreliable (not to mention slow); I don’t want every interaction with my files to be dependent on an external connection of some kind, a point echoed by David Pogue in his review of the new Google Chromebook.
I also give a lot of thought to how dependent I am on all this tech shit. How miserable it makes me when it’s not working. How obscenely addicted we are to something that’s been with us less than a half-century, yet feels as integral as food. Granted, I *work* on a computer; my job would be harder without one. Granted, I got my first computer in 1981, when I was 10, and I have been working with computers for the majority of my life.
June 16, Thursday
The good folks at the Genius Bar are kind and comforting. A trackpad issue, clearly; it can be replaced, free of charge and in under an hour. We’ll call you.
They call me. Actually, it seems like the display isn’t working properly either; with your permission, we’d like to replace it. Free of charge, and it’ll take another hour. Ok, sure, great. Thanks!
They call me. Actually … well, we’re sorry. We’re sorry it’s escalated like this. We’d like to send it out to our diagnostic repair shop, off-site. There seems to be an additional problem, maybe an electrical issue, can’t tell–but they can sort it out, and any part that needs replacing will be replaced. Free of charge. It takes five days, starting today. Did you back up recently, because if they replace the harddrive… (Yes, I backed everything up.)
And there we are. The MacBook Pro is in the shop, in the care of AppleCare. I remain impressed with the quality of service Apple provides, and feel good about the likelihood my computer will be fixed. Not to mention that I’m still left with more computing power than most people.
And yet feel naked without my “core” machine. Services like Evernote and GoogleDocs help keep me going–yay, “cloud”–while not entirely diminishing my sense that all is not right with the universe. There’s been a disturbance in the Force. I just want my damn computer to work.
UPDATE, 29 June 2011
Apple called me on June 25th to tell me my computer was ready, a few days later than originally estimated, but it’s hard to complain in this situation. I picked up my MacBook Pro on Sunday, June 26th, and they walked me through the servicing as I booted up the computer. It had been given a new TrackPad and display, as mentioned previously–and also a new motherboard, new hard drive, and a new cover. (I’m not sure why it needed a new cover, but perhaps the original was damaged in the process of repair…) The motherboard alone costs north of $500, and all told it was probably $1,000 in new parts and who knows how much more in labor. In theory, Apple is sending me an itemized invoice–but all costs were covered by AppleCare. I usually pass on extended warranty programs, but I definitely got my $350 of value out of this one.
This story would not be complete without the tale of renewal that goes with it. Once the machine was booted up, the third screen asked me if I wanted to restore my computer from a TimeMachine backup. I closed it up right at that spot, and went home. At home, I connected the external hard drive that is my TimeMachine backup, and hit the option for restore.
I have had to do this once before, and it is always a nerve-wracking few seconds: everything depends on whether the backup itself has worked. But it had, like a charm–and 90 minutes later, my computer had been returned to it’s original state, with all my files and all my settings intact. (First thing I did after that? Update it with all the files that had been in holding since the repair process started … And then I ran another backup.)
Back when I had a Dell, I had one of the worst computer repair experiences ever. The man who came to fix my computer (after making me sit at home all day) spoke virtually no English, and didn’t have the right part. When he came back the second time, he had the part, but because of his language deficiency wasn’t in a position to tell me what was wrong with the computer when it still didn’t work. In the International Herald Tribune recently there was an article about design and functional items, and how good design can help users with even complicated tasks. I think Apple products sometimes need more descriptive support than people think, at least for some users. But the author is dead on in describing the ease of use issue as central to Apple’s strengths. This experience just proves it, on a few fronts, from service and repair to restoration. Apple products may not be infallible, but few are. What matters, though, is how the systems manage the fallibility, and whether it’s designed to protect and help the user.