Adventures in Computer Recovery

For reasons that still elude me, a couple weeks ago my Mac had the computer equivalent of a seizure while updating its operating system (iOS). This was a bit of a heart stopper, given how much of my life is tied up in it. Today I’ll share some of the “lessons learned” from this computer crisis.

The Problem

When I went to “wake up” the machine, I saw that I’d left my browser open and wondered if that might’ve held up the previous night’s software update. I started typing or clicking something and the machine shut down. Then it rebooted, starting loading software, shut down, and repeated. This was not good.

The Service Phone Call

I called Apple’s technical support line after jumping through a few hoops (how does one locate the serial number from your computer if your computer is inaccessible? –no need to answer, I figured it out). The agent on the phone was patient with me as i explained what I had tried that didn’t work. The best I could do to stop the reboot-shut down cycle was to hold the power button down to force shut down, but powering up resulted in the cycle repeating. The agent had me try a couple of different reboot-button combinations. After the third attempt to restart the computer in Safe Mode or Restore Mode, she admitted defeat and started directing me to a repair shop. However, she also noted that I might have to buy a new computer soon.

The only thing that kept me from freaking out completely was that I had all my data backed up on a four-terabyte external hard drive. Otherwise, I was still stressed out because I needed the computer to do my work, among other things.

The Apple Store Visit

I went to the Apple Store intending to buy a new computer. I had a general idea what I wanted, but the best the store had was one with the same amount of desktop RAM and less memory than my current computer. I was then told that I could order a computer online and it would take 5-6 weeks to deliver. (The world’s supply chain is still screwed up by COVID.) Given the critical need for a computer to do my work, I had three choices:

  1. Try to fix the current computer.
  2. Buy a computer from the store with less capability than my current equipment.
  3. Buy a computer online with higher capability, but wait 5-6 weeks.

Obviously I tried for option #1 first. I say obviously because a repair would get me up and running that day, hopefully giving me time to go online and order the machine I wanted. I wasn’t thrilled with option 2, though that was becoming increasingly likely, and it would get me a new computer that day.

As it turned out, the Apple Store Genius Bar tech could not fix the problem. My machine was caught in an endless and inescapable do-loop. Requiescat in pace.

He’s dead, Jim.

Given that the computer was unrecoverable, I had to accept what was available in the store. I accepted that unhappily until the Genius Bar sales host told me (unlike the first one I spoke with) that they had a laptop with the same amount of RAM and memory as my current machine. Huzzah!

Getting Back to Business

Returning to “normal” still took a bit of work. I had to transfer my “time machine” file/backup data from the backup drive to the new computer. That took a ridiculous 18 hours due to my older-generation USB socket. Sigh. Then I had to reinstall Microsoft Office. Microsoft kept wanting to sell me Office 365, which is an awful product. After going in circles with the online help, I found the page I needed to reinstall the desktop version of Office, and I was back in business.


Lessons Learned

Have Backup Systems in Place in Case of Emergency

The primary lesson I learned was that this situation could have been a LOT worse. A few of my “backup systems” saved me from freaking out completely:

  • I had an up-to-date copy of my data saved to an external hard drive. Consider this an essential part of your business inventory!
  • I had a credit card capable of making a purchase that day. (Mind you, I did have to call Wells Fargo from the Apple Store to assure the Fraud Division that yes, indeed, I was spending nearly $3,000 on a computer.)
  • Once I was back online, I could re-access my email, Microsoft Office products, this blog, and other aspects of my business that resided on the internet.

Get a Second Opinion

While the agent on the phone seemed to think the machine was dead, she indicated that it would take a hands-on look at it to be certain. While I was accepting that I might have to buy a new computer, there was a chance that someone could fix the computer before I needlessly wasted $3K. The computer turned out to be dead, but the repair time also gave me a chance to work with a different Genius Bar employee who was able to locate a new computer with capabilities close to what I needed.

Be Willing to Make Reasonable Tradeoffs

Before the Apple Store host managed to find a laptop in their inventory with memory equivalent to what I already head, I was willing to accept one with less memory because a) I had the backup drive storing all my files and b) I couldn’t be without a computer for 5-6 weeks. More memory would be nice–and I’m sure this new machine has a zippier hard drive than was available in 2015–but on a practical level, waiting for better would not substitute for acceptable now.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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