Good timing for a bad event

My 15″ Powerbook, which I bought in September, chose the morning of the day I was to speak at Macworld Expo to die.

Well, not die really, but have what most would consider to be a “near death experience.”

I was in my hotel room, checking email when it sort of half-kernel panicked. Sort of? Let me explain… When you Kernel Panic, the MacOS kind of greys your screen then pops a multi-lingual error message that basically says: “Reboot your computer, sorry.” This time it greyed, but never asked for the reboot. I’ve never seen it do that before. I power cycled it, but it just chimed and blinked at me. GREAT. A few hours prior to my session and my laptop is dead.

Being a somewhat competent network geek, I always have backups, but of course they were a thousand miles away in my Seattle office, and I was in a hotel in San Francisco, scheduled to speak at the MacIT conference in a few hours. Even if I could get my data, and I needed a functional machine to put it on.

Of course I created this situation. How? I usually travel with a backup hard drive, a burned CD of my preso, repair utilities, a full mobile repair kit, etc. My sturdy computer/messenger bag is almost always stuffed with handy “save my ass” stuff. Except that I never use them so I left them behind this year. Bad move obviously!

So I found the local Apple Store and walked over from my hotel, hoping to get it diagnosed. I walk in, and go up to the “Genius Bar”… only to find out they are booked through to the following afternoon! (sigh) So I walk towards Moscone, stop at a drugstore and buy a set of jewelers’ screwdrivers, and figure I’ll be doing it myself. Once in the speaker’s lounge I am of course surrounded by Mac geeks who as soon as they hear the chime identify it as a RAM issue. (digital.forest client Schoun Regan was the first to offer that diagnosis actually, thanks Schoun!)

It turns out this is a fairly common issue: The infamous “empty lower slot” error in 15″ aluminum G4 powerbooks. Some Googling revealed this to be a terrifyingly common problem. It seems there are a lot of folks who have this (all with 15″, 1.5 Ghz G4 powerbooks), and Apple has not acknowledged it as a defect (yet.) I moved my RAM chip from the lower to the upper slot and instead of chimes of death, I was greeted with the familiar happy chord that a Mac makes when booting. So at least I could continue, deliver my session, and get on with life… though with a non-functional memory slot.

The irony, besides the day-of-session timing, was that the day before I bought another 512mb of RAM for the laptop and was looking forward to installing it upon my return to Seattle. So until I get this fixed I can’t use this RAM. =\ I considered returning the RAM for a 1GB SODIMM, but never had the time to get out around to it.

fast-forward two weeks

Another MacIT speaker who was at the table when I was fixing the powerbook, Dave Pooser iChatted me yesterday that Apple has finally copped to the problem and has created a repair extension program for the issue. I printed out that page and went over to the Apple Store near my office tonight. The “Genius” there only had a one-hour wait, so I signed up and hung out until he had a moment to look at my powerbook. True to every “intermittent” issue, when we moved the DIMM to the lower slot, the damn thing booted just fine… five times in a row. He sort of shrugged and said “if it happens again, bring it in.” Thankfully about 10 minutes later as I was still sitting there talking with him, the powerbook just turned itself off at random, then refused to boot, giving the same chimes. Convinced, he created a work order for it and was preparing to ship it off for repair. He asked me if I had a backup, and I said “at my office, sure.” I asked how long it would take, and he speculates a week or so. I told him my office was very close, so why don’t I go over there, make sure I have a good clone of the machine and something I can work from in the meantime, and bring it back tomorrow. He agreed, so here I am about to clone my drive and make an attempt to run on my battered old “titanium” powerbook for a week or so. It died last summer with a complete loss of power… won’t run off battery, and only occasionally runs of AC power. Should be an entertaining week.

I’ll let you know when the repaired G4 comes back.