Posts tagged ‘Software’

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.

October 7th, 2010

Are You Ubuntu Experienced?

Ever used Linux? Well, I have. Thanks to Ubuntu, I have rescued two old laptops from the clutches of Windows. Of the two machines, one is a virtual miracle, the other a solid improvement.

A few years ago, my brother bought a small (10″) Sony Vaio to use for travel and keep around the house for easy internet access. It was a popular model machine for many years, in the ultralight laptop category before the full-on arrival of the “netbook.” Except that it also came with one built-in deficit: Windows Vista. This brand new machine took several minutes to boot-up each time it was used, to say nothing of the other hassles with that now-discontinued operating system. Less than a year after buying it, he gave it to my mother. Because of it size, my mother found it great for traveling, except if she actually had to use it. It wound up with me.

My initial thought was: perhaps I can find a way to make this work. In short order, I discovered that the answer was no. Despite different system tweaks, stripping the machine of unnecessary programs, and the installation of newer, faster firewall and anti-virus software, it only got slower and slower: it took close to 10 minutes to boot up, only 18 months after purchase. The Vaio sat in the corner for a while, until one day I had an idea.

A little research (thanks, Lifehacker!) directed me to Ubuntu as an easy-to-install, easy-to-use version of Linux. The installation process was simple, and once it was up and running the Ubuntu interface felt very familiar, like an inverted, slightly more organized version of Windows. I discovered that Ubuntu has, by default, many of the same tools that Apple includes on their Macs, and of which I have become quite fond—such as the ability to use multiple desktops. I copied over a number of word processing templates, and that all worked fine: Ubuntu comes loaded with, the same office suite I have been using for years. I moved a selection of music over, and the built-in Rhythmbox music player lined them up and played them back perfectly. Firefox browser? Pre-installed. DropBox, for file syncing? Available and easy to load. XMind, for mind- and process-mapping? Available and easy to load. In fact, the only things I haven’t been able to do are install Evernote (because there’s no Linux version) and figure out how to get the VPN to work, for a better connection to my office’s server—and that is hardly a deal breaker.

Best of all: it’s fast, light, and trouble-free. The Vaio now takes under 30 seconds to boot-up fully, including login time. Ubuntu runs very efficiently in terms of memory demands, which means it not only loads fast but continues to run fast when I’m using it—and makes efficient use of the machine’s power systems, with the battery running for for more than 6 hours. And it has never crashed on me, not once.

Given the stellar example of the Vaio, I decided to apply the same approach to my old Fujitsu P5020 “Lifebook.” This computer, running Windows XP, had served me very well for more than 6 years—but with each new Windows service pack release, and the bulking-up of Norton’s antivirus and firewall programs, began to run ever more slowly. Something about one of the updates also affected the wireless card, so the computer would periodically crash whenever the WiFi was on. It is too old to run Ubuntu’s current release, but I installed Ubuntu’s 9.10 release—and now this computer also works like new.

I am still a Mac person; I love my MacBook Pro and have no plans to leave it behind. No do I have any intention of going back to PC land. But these ultra-small, ultra-light machines are useful in a number of situations where I don’t need to bring the MacBook with me. And there is definitely value in having recycled and saved two old computers. If you have an old machine lying around, dead as a result of impenetrable operating system failures, let Linux save the day: try Ubuntu.