The Apple Retail “Experience”

On Wednesday of last week I was forced into another Apple Store visit. I have never, EVER had a pleasant “experience” at an Apple Store. I buy all my stuff online. I hate “shopping”… I have both an X AND a Y chromosome, so therefore I don’t “shop”… I just buy. I don’t wait until I’m at a store to decide. By the time I arrive at a store I have already decided what I want and all I want to do is just pay, and LEAVE. I hate retail establishments. I hate dealing with salespeople. Car Dealerships are my worst nightmare (but I have my secret weapon: a wife who is a lawyer, which is most car salesman’s worst nightmare… I pick the car, she tortures the salesman) but any store in a Mall comes in a close second.

Please understand all of the above before you read this post.

Tragically Hip

We needed a new laptop at work, something of an emergency. The perfect weapon for the task at hand was an Air. The problem was, we needed it that day, which meant our ONLY option was the Apple Store down the hill from us at the mall.

I tasked one of my staff with it, since I would rather get my teeth cleaned with a Dremel wire brush than subject myself to the “Apple Retail Experience” again (after my PowerBook repair from hell) and I had a very important meeting with our CEO that was going to consume a large part of my morning. I come out of the meeting 90+ minutes later and we have no Air. He’s called and made sure they have them in stock, but balked at expensing it on his CC. I asked him if they would take a phone order, so I could run down there and just pick it up… “no phone sales” Grrrr. I was stuck… FORCED into an actual visit to the damn store. 🙁

I hopped in my car for the run to the mall, park, and walk in. I enter the Apple Store and it appears that staff outnumber customers by at least 1.5:1. I head for the desk in the back and am waylaid by a pair of Hip Chicks: Perpetually Grinning Bobblehead Asian Girl With Skunk Stripe Hair and Groovy Greener With Hip Rectangular Glasses And A Diamond In Her Nostril. The latter asks me if I need help.

“Yes,” I say, “I’d like to buy a MacBook Air and an external optical drive.”

She cocks her head diagonally (must be the weight of the rock in her nose) and says: “Do you want the one with the solid sta…”

“No, the one with the hard disk drive please.”


A creeping feeling of dread is overtaking me like a gamma ray pulse eradicating all known life on a planet.

Instead of grabbing said item for me to buy, she steps to her left and gets the attention of some other Apple Store staffer, Non-threatening Hip African-American Dude (NHAAD). Groovy Greener (GGWHRGAADIHN) flashes her sparkling schnozz-rock at NHAAD and says “This gentleman would like to buy a MacBook Air with the 80gb and an external Superdrive. Could you help him out?”

Well, at least she nailed the order, maybe this will be easy after all.

NHAAD walks over to me and says: “Hello sir, You’re interested in the MacBook Air…”

I could tell that he was accustomed to selling, that is, throwing the pitch at a reticent customer, soothing them with his knowledge of the product line, and explaining how it would enrich their lives. I didn’t need to be sold. I wanted to BUY. I wanted to BUY NOW, and LEAVE. I delivered a curt “Yes” to cut him off at that pass.

“Would that be the one with the solid stat…”

My brain is saying “JESUS H. CHRIST ON A POGOSTICK, what does it take to just buy a goddamn computer and walk out of here! Is ANYONE listening?” My impulse control is starting to slip and despite my attempts to maintain a calm demeanor I’m sure my eyes are rolling and NHAAD can tell I want to throttle every Apple Store employee within reach, which would be easy since this store is the size of a dorm room and all these hipsters like to stand so damn close to you that my 44 year old eyes can’t read their nametags but I can still divine what they’ve had for breakfast.

Needless to say, if I had eight arms 16 eyes would be bulging out of eight tragically hip skulls at that moment.

“No, the one with the hard disk drive.” I say … an absolute pinnacle of self-control.

NHADD pours a drum of gasoline on the smolding embers of my ire by replying “Well technically it is a hard drive…”

Perhaps the reflexive jerk of my hands inside my coat pockets and the sudden shrinking of my pupils lead him to swiftly turn towards the stock room and retrieve the objects that would distract me from killing him slowly while explaining the history of the Winchester Hard Disk Drive Mechanism and the fact that there is no ” hard disk” inside that solid state “drive”…

Groovy Greener Diamond Nose Chick, who had been standing within easy strangulation range throughout this exchange shouted to NHAAD’s back as he ventured towards the stock room “…and the superdrive too!” Sensing my impatience she pretends to see another customer and scurries away. I back towards the wall to put some distance between myself and the malingering hipsters all just standing around aimlessly looking for all the world like baristas who find themselves suddenly dematerialized out of a Starbucks and unexpectedly clothed in black t-shirts and surrounded by brushed metal, but without their tip jar. The smell of overpriced hair care products was overwhelming.

I longed for a Molotov cocktail.

Scratch that, I would gladly call in an airstrike with a Daisy Cutter. “Affirmative! ON MY LOCATION!” DO IT!!!!!

After what seemed like several lifetimes, but in all likelihood was about 5 minutes NHAAD emerges from the back with the little fashionable purse that doubles as a case for the Air. He’s holding it up in the air, stiff-armed at head height with his thumb and forefinger like a new husband holding his very first dirty diaper. He asks me to come over to the brushed metal wall that serves as a counter-less checkout … um… counter. It is so stylish as to be completely useless. I’m reminded of the bent metal rod “chair” in the movie “Sleeper” that Woody Allen’s character falls out of every time he tries to sit in it.

At this point, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m going to hand this guy a credit card, grab the merchandise, and exit. Escape! YESSSS!!!

Just as I’m starting to feel a sense of relief, a 36-car locomotive mows me down.

“Sir you would like AppleCare with th..”


“AppleCare is a…”

No, really, I’m fine.”

“You have…”

“No, really… we operate as a self-service Apple repair shop…”

My brain is saying “STFU and ring up the damn purchase already!” But no, the train has 36 cars, and I’m going to get rolled over by each and every one, in series. K-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk!

“Do you work for the State?” (k-thunk!)


“The Computer Stores Northwest??” (k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk)

I point to my logo’ed cap “I work for digital.forest. We mostly deal in Xserves, but we’ll be fine without Applecare, really.” (was that the caboose?)

“What printer do you want with your computer today?” (k-thunk, k-thunk! No cabooses anymore pal!)


“It is free…” (k-thunk, k-thunk)

I stare at NHAAD blankly. (k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk)

“…well, $99 but with a rebate.” (k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk)

“No. I really. All I want is the computer.”


(k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk)

NHAAD kept talking. I think he was asking about other accessories or iPods or something. I didn’t hear him because my brain was smiling while it watched imaginary security cam coverage of my murderous rampage. k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk.

NHAAD breaks me from my reverie with the magic words:

“blah, blah, blah CREDIT CARD?”

In milliseconds my Visa is out. But (k-thunk, k-thunk) he needs to see my photo ID, and (k-thunk) I sign on some odd and distinctly non-Apple PDA thing, and (k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk) NHAAD asks if I want my receipt emailed to me… or (k-thunk) printed out? (k-thunk… was that the last car?)

I grab the receipt and exit as swiftly as possible. Why is this so difficult?

PowerBook repair wrap-up & epilogue

I doubt I’ll ever walk into that store again.. or ANY Apple Store for that matter. I have been into two of them in search of assistance so far, and I can say without hesitation that I have had dental work that was a far more pleasurable experience. Root canal? Sure. Apple Store? Not unless they let me suck on Nitrous Oxide at the Genius Bar.

I never did post a post-repair summary with Apple when it finished in February. Today something happened that prompted me to finally write it up. Basically my conclusion is that Apple has seriously dropped the ball with regards to the repair process at their retail stores.

From start to finish it was a BAD experience for me. Things that should take minutes stretched into HOURS. Today I found out I am not alone in that experience. So let me summarize the wait/queue/loiter times for you here, then I’ll follow up with a rant from a friend of mine (also a digital.forest client) who just had a similar experience as my own with repair at an Apple Store.

1. Diagnosis and Drop off: ~30 minutes wait time.
I walked into the store, with a known recall issue, complete with a printout of the Apple web page outlining the recall. I had to turn away from the counter, and make a reservation at another computer. It said I had a 15 minute wait to see the “Genius”.
The Genius wasn’t helping anyone at that moment. A few minutes later he called some names. Mine wasn’t one of them. None of the people were there who had reservations. Then he vanished into the back room for some time. Five minutes AFTER my assigned time, he re-appeared and called SOMEBODY ELSE’S name… who also wasn’t there. He fiddles some on a computer, then called my name. We then went through diagnosis/etc… documented elsewhere.

He was about to take the computer away when he asked if I had a backup of my data. I did, but it was a day old, so I decided to take it back to my office, make a new one, and bring it back the next day. Since all the paperwork was done, I assumed that the drop off would be easy. It wasn’t.

2. Drop off, take two: ~90 minute wait time(!)
OK, so I return the next night to drop off my powerbook. For some reason I thought that since I had been through the entire process of diagnosis and filling out the paperwork/repair work order/etc that I could just walk in and hand it to them. Boy was I wrong. I walked in and just like the night before they would not even talk to me until after I had made reservation. I went ahead and checked in on their computer reservation system only to find out it they were booked for another 70+ minutes. I grabbed the next open slot, walked out to my car, grabbed a book and went off to find something to eat elsewhere in the mall. I grab a meal from Taco Time, sit and read my book for an hour, then amble back to the Apple Store. Unlike an hour before, when the store was literally empty, it was now stuffed with humans. This is one of Apple’s “Mini stores” so it was unimaginably chaotic with that many people. My time reservation time comes and goes, and I’m still loitering. FINALLY they call my name, I walk up, hand them the powerbook, confirm the name, turn around and walk out.
Summary: A 30 second transaction which took an hour and a half due to an inane process.

3. Repair Wait Time: Two Weeks. (documented elsewhere)

4. Pick-up: ~120 minutes wait time. The Icing on the Cake of Bad Customer Experience.
They called me to let me know it was ready to pick up. I could not get there for almost 24 hours due to being 70+ miles away, so I show up the next night. The store is moderately busy. I walk up to a store employee, and tell them that I received a call to pick up my repaired powerbook. Did they walk back and grab it? No. Her answer, as if she were an automoton: “You need to make a reservation.” “Just to pick it up?” I ask. “Yes sir.” she replied. Frustrated, I spun around, and once again, entered my name into the queue and found that I was destined to wait at least 45 minutes. Sigh. I amble out to the car and listen to music for a while… to soothe my savage breast I guess. 30 minutes go by and I head back into the store.

It is a literal mob scene. There are at least 15 people loitering about the counter in the back of the store. Two people are being assisted, one with an iPod, another with a G5. There is a display on the back wall which alternates between “Mac Hints” and a status board. The status board is obviously broken since it just repeats the same thing over and over:

Next Customers:
Next open slot at about:

No data mind you JUST the text above, so I was ignorant of how many of these people were ahead of me. In the end it turned out to be ALL of them. I waited, and waited, and waited. I waited some more. They helped everyone in their turn. The crowded store slowly became less crowded. They called lots of names. Easily 90% of those people were not there. They would call a name and wait… it was like an 80’s replay: “Bueller? Bueller? …Bueller?” Then there would be a pause, and another name… and a pause, and another name. At one point I started counting the names without bodies… there were over 15 called, while at least four actual humans just stood there waiting to be called. I waited and waited and waited right along with them.

So in the end, I waited through everyone who was there when I arrived, and a whole bunch of people who weren’t even there(!), and it was down to me and one other person… and they called her name. Sigh. I had been standing around now for well over an hour. All this time I have made direct eye contact with every single Apple store employee on several occasions. Not a single one of them asked me if I needed help, or anything.

They finish up with the woman, and then call several other names(!) I’m the ONLY person in the whole damn store other than staff. This is beyond absurd. It is surreal. Why the guy didn’t just speak directly to me is something I’ll never know.

The Genius (I guess they must call them that for their deductive reasoning skills!) finally says “Then you must be Chuck.” I affirmed his less-than-brilliant deduction, and told him I was there to pick up my repaired powerbook.

There are times I wish I could capture a moment and hold it… spin it in my hand, carry it away, to be replayed for another person. This moment was one of them. It was obvious that this “Genius” felt a profound sense of embarrassment at that very moment. He knew how long I had been waiting. He had seen me patiently waiting, standing in the very same spot, for well over an hour. In fact he had seen me walk into the store almost two hours before and seen me get turned away. The whole surreal absurdity of this stupid reservation system and forcing people to queue like soup-kitchen panhandlers or Soviet-Era bread lines finally collided with his retail reality. I wish I could have captured that moment so that I could transport it down to Cupertino and reveal it to the pinheads who thought up this insanity and provide them with clue on why this is antithetical to what a good service organization does for and with their customers. Unfortunately I couldn’t capture that moment… and these words can not do it justice.

He vanished into the back, and returned with my powerbook, and the store Manager, who apologized for having me wait so long, thanked me for being so patient, (yes… he was among the store staff who I had looked right in the eye many times over the past two+ hours, and no… he never had said anything to me up until this very moment) and handed me a 10% discount coupon good for anything in the store.

I was happy to have my PowerBook back. I’m still dismayed at how difficult it had been to just drop it off and pick it up though. As I said earlier, it pales in comparison to my previous experience of Apple Repair, which despite being in the “bad old days” was a fantastic customer service experience. Especially in light of this recent experience, with an Apple Computer that is supposedly so much better than before. To sum it up:

1996 PowerBook Repair Time & Effort:
* 5 minutes of my time
* 2 days of Apple’s time

2006 PowerBook Repair Time & Effort:
* 4+ hours of my time (largely spent being actively ignored while in close proximity to Apple Store staff)
* 14 days of Apple’s time

The insult to injury: A 10% Discount, should I decide to reward this bizarre treatment with my money.

I suspect the store Manager was sincere in his belief that he was somehow giving me something valuable in exchange for my time. I can’t fault him for that, but honestly I doubt I’ll ever walk into that store again.. or ANY Apple Store for that matter. I have been into two of them in search of assistance so far, and I can say without hesitation that I have had dental work that was a far more pleasurable experience. Root canal? Sure. Apple Store? Not unless they let me suck on Nitrous Oxide at the Genius Bar.

It took me almost two months to get around to write the above. Mostly because, like my other rants about bad experiences, I wanted to have the time to cool off and look back without any raw emotion to cloud my judgement and have me end up sounding like a raving lunatic. I work in a service business myself and I know how tough it is to take a raving lunatic seriously. I’m a patient guy… probably too patient for my own good, as I probably could have created a scene at virtually any point in the above situations and accelerated the outcome. In hindsight perhaps I should have started being a squeaky wheel… I’m just not that kind of guy though.

Today however, I heard from that friend and client of mine, Sam Crutsinger, who related a tale very similar to my experience with getting repair service from an Apple store. Unlike me, he wasn’t patient, and in fact gave up on dealing with Apple and found service elsewhere. Here is his story as told to the Your Mac Life mailing list:

Date: Sat, 25 Mar 2006 18:42:52 -0600
From: Sam Crutsinger
To: Your Mac Life
Subject: Crap Service at Apple Store

Riddle me this Batman... I have a Mac that won't boot up. It's drives never
spin up. I've hit the mobo reset button, I've pulled the extra RAM and HD
and everything else but it's still not coming up. It lights up the power
light and the fans spin, but there's no startup chime, no HD whir, no caps
lock wink or anything that says "I'm alive!"

So I take it down to the Austin Apple Store at Barton Creek Mall to drop it
off. It's only a couple of months old but old enough that I'm cool with
repair instead of replace.

I get down there and say, "I need to drop this one off for repair. It's
won't come up." to which I'm met with "Do you have an appointment?"


Could someone please tell me what nimrod corporate weasel came up with that

At first I thought it was cute. It was like they were trying to make
computer repair seem like a shi-shi experience. Now it's gotten out of hand.
Today the system is so NOT cute that I very nearly made a very loud scene in
the middle of the Apple Store about it. The only thing that kept me from
going off was the fact that before things reached "absurd," I'd already put
in my name and email address to see when the next available reservation slot
was open. If I could have gotten out of there anonymously I would have made
a speech to the masses.

The funny thing was that there were so many store employees in the room that
the floor manager had just instructed the sales kiddies to spread out evenly
so they could be more effective at standing there with nobody asking them
any questions. That was just before I engaged him with a rousing game of
"Take it!" "No" "Take it!" "No."

I told him that I just wanted to leave the computer. "It's dead.
[troubleshooting play by play] So there's nothing to diagnose. I just want
to drop it off and get a warranty repair going."

"The geniuses are the only ones who can check in the computer for repair."

That's when my blood hit about 212°F (That's 100°C for you people with your
fancy metrics.)

"So let me get this straight. I have to come back in FOUR HOURS just to drop
this computer off for repair?"

"Yes sir. The computer has to be entered into the system and that has to be
done by one of the people at the bar."

"NONE of all these people standing around can type the numbers into the
system for a broken computer?! You're telling me that you, the MANAGER,
can't just put it in?"

"No, it has to be the Geniuses."

"So I can't just drop this off and you'll fix it later."

He went off on some justification about how they found that this system
worked better because somehow having a "genius" do data entry prevented
Apple from losing systems so some such crap.

I said that I don't want to talk to a genius. I don't want to wait for 4
hours. I don't want to waste my time going through all this BS. I just
wanted to drop off the computer.

He actually said something along the lines of "This is the way it works
everywhere. Where can you just walk into a store and drop off a computer?"

My friend and I listed off several choices off the top of our heads which
seemed to genuinely surprise this guy.

After pushing a bit more the guy started getting cute and telling me that I
was welcome to leave the computer sitting by the bar and leave but anybody
could just walk off with it and they wouldn't be held responsible for
it...and I'd still have to come back in 4 hours to fill out the paperwork.

What the hell is wrong with Apple support these days? There's no reason for
this sort of thing to be going down. I can understand where it could be good
for dealing with the riff raff just trying to set up their email or learn
how to make their iPod reset, but to lump all of it together is absurd.
Apple needs to have a fast track drop off where you can just leave your
contact info and leave the computer and they can get to it when they get to
it. I don't need a hand job from a "Genius" just to drop off a computer. All
you need is a high school drop-out with a computer who can read and maybe
operate a barcode scanner. Actually, the literacy bit is probably optional.

Oh, and don't get me started on the ProCare that they brought up more than
once. If there's nobody to help your clients then there's nobody to help
your clients. Are you saying that if I had a card, a space would suddenly
open up?

So after getting all pissed off and feeling like I'd just been bounced from
some trendy night club, I went to CompUSA, an authorized Apple service
center, and dropped off the computer. I walked straight up to the counter,
waited as the one guy ahead of me was showing the tech his problem for a
couple of minutes, and then the tech said "Let me get someone for you." and
he called for backup. Another tech came out and took my info and then handed
me some paper work and I left. How screwed up is the world when **COMPUSA**,
the company with possibly the worst Mac track record in history, can just
take in a broken computer and send me on my way without a reservation?

A part of me would love to just find someone to make a reservation bot that
could go in and fill all their time slots every day with randomly generated
names and phone numbers. The reservation system needs to be either fixed or

Sam Crutsinger
Media Kingpin, TackyShirt
Training and Fun are NOT mutually exclusive

Ditto. Sam is right. Apple needs to have a look at their repair program inside the Apple Stores and fix it. The retail angle might be working for them in terms of sales, but in terms of SERVICE, it is just plain awful if this is par for the course. Technical Support is a channel into repair, but not ALL repair requires a “Genius” and an appointment. If CompUSA can figure it out, Apple should too.

Ironically, I used to have all service work (except for the specific PowerBook 5300 issue mentioned earlier) on my Apple gear done by a local reseller (Westwind Computing) who unfortunately went out of business last year. The reason for their demise? Apple going into retail of course. I could have walked in, dropped it off, had it fixed within days, and picked it up without delay. Their owner might have even taken me to lunch.

I don’t expect a lunch from the Apple Store, but I would hope that they would at least have their feces amalgamated.

Making do

OK, I’m beyond a full week now without my PowerBook.

You know the last time I had a powerbook repaired was back in the “bad old days” of a “beleaguered Apple” (remember those?) This was during the rampant fiasco that was the PowerBook 5300. No, I never used one of those, I was a Duo/2400c kind of guy, but I managed a fleet of laptops at my then employer… mostly PowerBooks, but also Toshibas and IBM ThinkPads. The 5300 was Apple’s best sales tool for selling Toshibas and ThinkPads… gawd it was awful. I think I saw more users switch to Windows 95 due to the 5300 than any other cause. Apple, to its credit did have several repair programs in place for that model though. Based on that experience, the current one is horrible… it is making me yearn for the “bad old days! of 1996!

How? Well back then Apple didn’t have retail stores. You didn’t have to schedule yourself to see the “genius”, or wait for days or even weeks to get your laptop fixed. You called an 800 number, the next day a shipping box would arrive, all ready for your laptop. You would drop your powerbook into the foam container, seal the box and hand it back to the FedEx guy. Literally no more than THREE days later, you had your PowerBook 5300 back. Mind you, it was still a PowerBook 5300, which means it still sucked, but at least you had it back!

I’m now 8 days into my life without my laptop and there is no end in sight.

In the meantime, I’m living with the wheezing old TiBook, which clings to life by the skin of its titanium, um… skin. As I said before, it really can’t be called a laptop anymore since it refuses to run on battery power. It also sits on the verge of meltdown due to badly overheating. I have removed the keyboard from it in an attempt to keep it cool (and running!) Yesterday I found a big heat sink off an Intel server and greased it onto the CPU.

Above: My battered, wheezing, old TiBook, sporting a server-sized heat sink. Resting on it you can see my “Genius Bar Work Authorization.”

Today I am experimenting with using the parts scavenged from my old XK engine rebuild as heat sinks. The camshafts are too heavy, but the valves are doing an excellent job of maintaining CPU temps below 115° F. Plus they look cool. Maybe I’ll shoot a pic for a future entry.

If this were 1996, I’d have had my PowerBook back at least 4 days ago. As it is 10 years later, It looks like it could be another week.

Above: My repair status page at “On Hold, part on Order.

Let’s hope the TiBook doesn’t spontaneously combust before its replacement gets back. It damn well better get back before mid-February when I go on vacation! I would rather not bring a wheezing, overheated TiBook and external firewire drive with me. Not to mention a few pounds of metal to act as heat sinks. 😛

Separation Anxiety

I dropped my ailing laptop off at the Apple Store in Southcenter today at lunch. Last night I imaged the HDD onto an external drive, and was pleasantly surprised that it booted my old, wheezing, battered Titanium G4 PowerBook. If you recall, this laptop isn’t really a “laptop” anymore, since it will not run on anything but AC power. It also has several broken ports (USB and power mostly) and frequently fails to function. Let’s hope it survives long enough for my 15″ “AlBook” to return home.

I must admit, I felt a significant wave of anxiety wash over me as I left the mall and headed to my car. I’m usually not a very anxious guy, but this particular machine is what allows me to do my work, and I admit to being somewhat attached to it. Odd feeling really.

The drop-off experience was less than perfect, but I think that Apple didn’t really think out the whole after-sales support part of the Retail game… least of all with these “mini stores.” What should have taken 15 minutes dragged out into 90 minutes. Can’t fault the staff at the store for that though… they were fine.

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.