Archive for June, 2011

June 16th, 2011

How you like them Apples?

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.

But still. It sucks when they’re broken and sucks to realize how much it seems to matter.


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.

Stay tuned.

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.

June 14th, 2011

Going Mobile

It took me long enough, but I’m happy to say that both and now feature mobile-web-enabled versions. You won’t see ’em unless you load the site on an iPhone, BlackBerry, or other such device. But they’re there, and they work.

Thanks to the folks at Brave New Code for their WPTouch “plugin” that makes all this work so easily.

While you’re at it, and regardless of which device you’re using to browse, go check out my latest posts on the other side.

June 12th, 2011

2 Short, 1 Long

With the acquisition of my iPad has come an exploration of the world of ebooks and Kindle software. I had resisted previously–I do enough digital reading as it is, and I like the certainty and feel of printed words on bound pages–but in adding the large screen to the smaller one of my phone, my defenses against at least trying it out started to crumble. I can say now that I’m not sorry; at least, not entirely.

First I discovered Barry Eisler’s first short story “The Lost Coast,” featuring Daniel Larison, a wayward special ops agent from his most recent novel, “Inside Out.” Eisler has become even more famous recently for walking away from a big, traditional publishing deal in order to pursue the world of self-publishing aggressively. “The Lost Coast” was a good read, and Eisler clearly has a talent for story telling that works just as well in a short format.

Larison, on the run from his former bosses, is skulking around the quieter bits of California, keeping his own company as much as possible. In “Inside Out,” Eisler cast Larison is gay, an element one might not have imagined or predicted–but also one that he makes seem as natural and normal for a special ops agent as … well, as it probably is in real life. Here this is the twist on which the plot turns, and the story again marries Eisler’s traditional strengths of combat strategy and martial arts with his liberal politics. However, where “Inside Out” got preachy, “Lost Coast” just knuckles down, literally and figuratively. A couple bits were more gruesome than expected, but this story was so gripping that I wound up installing the Kindle app on my iPhone just so I could keep reading.

That led me to “Paris is a Bitch,” Eisler’s next short story, which picks up the tale of the half-Japanese / half-American assassin John Rain and his Mossad-agent girlfriend Delilah. Rain is the focus of an extended (and terrific) series by Eisler, and it is one of the author’s singular skills that he has made Rain a sympathetic figure: one cannot help but cheer him on, despite his deadly assignments. Here we find John Rain employing his traditionally well-tuned antennae to resist an attack, and deploying his own martial arts and combat strategies right on time. We also gain insight on aspects of Rain’s emotional side that Eisler has been slowly teasing out over the last couple of books. If slightly less visceral than “The Lost Coast,” it is nonetheless entertaining and a must-read for Rain fans.

Both ebooks include chapters from Eisler’s new novel-in-process, “The Detachment,” which will bring Rain and Larison together with a few other characters and, already from the first three chapters, it’s clear it will be a killer thriller, all puns intended. My only regret is about the ebook format: as digital short stories, I don’t have them available to put on my shelf next to the other Eisler novels. If that sounds like a small complaint in this context well, yes, it is. But as a collector of books, I like having more than a mere virtual possession of the things I read. Perhaps some day Eisler will release an actual book of his short stories.


Print isn’t the issue with the longer book I read on my iPad, Lee Goldberg’s entertaining story “The Man With The Iron On Badge.” For any fan of John D. MacDonald’s series of novels with Travis McGee, or any devout followers of 70s-era detective TV shows, this story (also available in print) is a must. But I will say that one character that came to mind repeatedly (though unreferenced by Goldberg) was Lawrence Block’s delightful Chip Harrison. Goldberg seems to be channeling a similar kind of late-adolescent delight in watching his detective-obsessed Harvey Mapes become a man. No matter what format you choose, this story is fun.