Strong opinions, weakly held

A true story about my Mac

It just so happens that this week, both Robert Scoble and I had problems with our Macs. I’m not sure what was wrong with his Mac, but in my case, I tried to install the OS X 10.4.11 update on my MacBook, and it didn’t take. When the installer was done, the Software Update application showed a little red X instead of a little green check, and then bad things started happening. Not knowing what to do, I restarted the Mac and found that it wouldn’t boot. Some Googling revealed that holding down Command-V while the machine rebooted would turn on the Unix boot console. I did that, and found that there was some kind of problem with “launchd.” A bit more Googling revealed that my machine was basically hosed. I could either try to manually apply the software update or I could reinstall OS X.

I went home, rummaged around until I found the DVDs that came with my computer, and then booted up from the Install DVD. I told it to reinstall using the “Archive and Install” option and to keep my user account and all of my settings. I’d never done any of this before. The install took a couple of hours, but once it was done, everything just worked. The only thing I’ve had to do to get my machine back to the state it was in before the operating system was hosed was reinstall Growl.

One thing I know for sure is that had one of my Windows machines gotten similarly corrupted, I would have been in real trouble. I would have wound up copying all of the personal data off of my hard drive and reinstalling Windows from scratch. I’d still be tweaking my machine to get it back into a usable state right now.

I don’t want to pick on Robert, but I guess I don’t get the angst over something going wrong with your computer. The fact that the install blew up (I still have no idea why) sucked, but Apple made it relatively easy to recover and start working again. I didn’t feel stupid because my computer broke, and I didn’t feel stupid because I had to use Google to figure out how to get it to work again.

My computer is a tool. It broke, I fixed it, and the only thing I lost is a few hours that I would have preferred to spend writing some code that I really need to finish up.

Robert says this is why some Silicon Valley movers and shakers he was having dinner with wouldn’t go on the record with problems they’ve had with their Macs:

It was because they all blamed themselves for the problems of their Macs and I think they also bought into the “Apple cult” which says that if you use a Mac you must be cool.

If that’s really true, it’s amazing that anything gets done at all out there. I don’t care whose software you’re using, if you believe that it will never break unless you do something wrong, you are a practitioner of faith-based computing.


  1. Sorry bout the problem but you seem to have handled it well, searched Google and found your answers and a solution. My brother had the same identical thing happen and he recovered in the same way without any help. It was the only glitch in the 10-12 installs I’ve been around. Completely confounds as to why Robert wouldn’t do the same thing(be proactive) but he never seems to no matter the problem. Even my novice sister-in-law takes a few proactive steps before calling me. I personally think it’s Roberts way of getting a good hit on Techmeme and/or Digg. And it probably just bugs the heck out of him that Apple doesn’t blog or tow ho to the blogsphere or anyone else.

    Yours is a much better, more reasoned, calm approach.

  2. With all due respect, I beg to differ with your statement that “Apple made it relatively easy to recover and start working again.” Apple did nothing to help you. The average non technically inclined person would be making a trip to the ‘Genius Bar’ at their local Apple store for help. If you had not spent time on Google, and then performed a procedure based on instructions from web forum posts, your Mac would still be a door stop. If Apple truly had helped you: a) The upgrade would not have been hosed, or b)upon rebooting after the upgrade, there would have been instructions provided on screen on how to recover. Now Windows is no better, but it is also no worse based on my experience. I have been using PC’s since before DOS, (CPM on a Z80) as well as most versions of Windows thru XP SP2. Windows XP can be re-installed over itself without loosing your settings or applications also. Windows also provides an option to repair a damaged OS install upon booting from the install disk. It sees that you have windows already installed and offers up that option. Now when Windows gets hosed, there is no ‘Geneius Bar’ to go to for help. Aside from the install disk option mentioned above, you are pretty much on your own if your Windows machine breaks. Mac owners have a much better chance of getting support from Apple as both the hardware and software came from the same company, than a PC owner with hardware and software coming from many sources. Unfortunately, based on what I have heard directly from several Macbook Pro owners as well as what I have read on numerous Blogs, has been a rather high rate of hardware failure on Macbook Pro’s in the first year of ownership. As well as multiple upgrade and software functionality problems with Leopard. I have never experienced any ‘bricking’ hardware or OS problems with any of the the many Toshiba, Compaq, or Dell laptops I have owned over the years.

    You made a curious statement above. You said “It broke, I fixed it”. From your article, the machine broke after attempting to install an OS update you downloaded from Apple’s site. How can you blame yourself for your machine getting hosed? This is exactly the point the Robert Scoble made in his Blog post. People tend to blame themselves when their Mac’s break even if it is not their fault.

  3. @JeffH Figuring out who to “blame” doesn’t get your computer running again, no matter what OS you run. Also, anecdotal stories about software/hardware failures do little to actually shed light on the situation.

    The whole Blogger Triumphalism crowd is having fun with Apple right now, but I’m not really sure what they expect. Scoble wants PR help? Winer wants Apple to stop telling us their products work better because something didn’t work for him? Really?

  4. I honestly think that some people simply are simply what can be described as “complainers” and Scoble is among this crowd. Instead of rationally figuring out what was wrong with his Mac he launched into a very public complaint about Apple. Instead of asking a knowledgeable friend (someone who knows OS X more than he does) about the issue he decided to use his incident as a public tirade against Apple.

    Why? I think Scoble is complaining just because he can and realizes that his notoriety in the tech world will stir up debate — all of which will simply drive traffic to his blog. Is he complaining because he really wants to start an honest debate about Apple’s technology or is he complaining because he just wants the traffic?

  5. @JeffH: Right, I said “it broke,” not “I broke it”. See the difference. I have no idea why the installer broke.

    As far as laptop reliability goes, there are companies that track that stuff on a systematic basis. Apple’s hardware has generally proven to be pretty reliable over time, but I haven’t seen the latest numbers. In any case, there’s no need to rely on anecdotal evidence for that kind of stuff.

    I’ve never heard of any laptop being “bricked”. I’ve heard of hardware components failing (and have, of course, seen it), and seen software problems, but “bricking” seems to be a phenomenon associated with closed platforms like the iPhone, not with general purpose computers.

  6. Have you noticed how many anti-Mac tirades sound eerily similar to racist or homophobic rants?

    They depend on stereotypes and straw-man arguments with a tiny bit of anecdotal evidence that supports their pre-conceived hatred.

    They seem particularly offended by the “militant” members of the group. Those that are tired of turning the other cheek and having stereotypes used as means of persecution are called “zealots” for expressing the fact that they are satisfied with their purchase.

    They live in a binary world where Macs must either be 100% perfect in every way or else they are “just as bad as Windows”; and everyone knows they aren’t 100% perfect, so if you think it’s better than Windows you are just blind or stupid.

    Many of the ranters behave as if they’re under attack, having our Macness “rubbed in their face” simply by not hiding in the closet where we belong.

    They act as if defending the notion that the Mac is a viable and useful platform is an attack on their way of life. And if you have the nerve to suggest that they may find your brand of tool useful then you are “recruiting” them into your “cult”.

    The “lemming” commercial from 22 years ago is proof of our arrogance (I guess Wendy’s is arrogant because they have the same ad), as is “I’m a Mac” ads. It makes you wonder if they get bent out of shape any time a car commercial mentions that they have more legroom than a Camary or more towing capacity than an F150.

  7. Scoble is naive if he actually buys into the marketing machine. Apple over the years has built reliable and customer friendly computers that in fact do tend to just work–please not I’m not mentioning Windows in any light at all in this discussion. There are plenty of sources out their that are not anecdotal to that support the fact that Macs are very good computers: Customer service tracking, reliability tracking, etc. However, anyone that’s been around the block knows that computers, even Macs, can have problems from time to time. That Scoble had a problem is neither statistically significant nor particularly important to anyone but him. The problem with Scoble and people like him are that their opinions–idiotic in this case–carry more weight than they are worth. I am shocked and surprised that someone with as much supposed computer experience as Scoble is such a noob.

    The author of this article hits it right on the mark. You encounter a problem and you fix it. You don’t whine about it in the blogosphere, acting as if someone personally assaulted you. Scoble needs to pull up his big boy panties and fix his problems.

  8. Quote: One thing I know for sure is that had one of my Windows machines gotten similarly corrupted, I would have been in real trouble. I would have wound up copying all of the personal data off of my hard drive and reinstalling Windows from scratch.

    Windows also has a recovery console, and a recovery installation option which preserves installed programs, data, and profiles. It works very well. I often use it when moving OS images from one machine to another with different hard disk controller types (i.e. RAID to ATA).

  9. As a long time Mac user I admit that I have updated more machines without first backing up than I should have. However, the number of times an update has nuked one of my Macs (I’ve managed two dozen Macs for the past 11 years) was with a 10.4.3(?) update. Before that I had a benign error with my own computer’s disk filling with I/O errors due to a game controller driver. Before that I really cannot even remember such a failure.

    I do backup the first few systems before a major upgrade and take my chances on those that have less critical info on their disks. Is that smart? No. Do I have a right to complain if it fails? No. I have had three laptop drives fail and even that should have been no issue. Drives fail. Do I have a right to complain? No. It was my decision not to backup those drives more than once every few months. The same laptops could just as easily have been stolen from an employee’s trunk. And I would face the same issues.

    In over 11 years of Mac server use only the last three were on Xserves—the rest were desktop Macs. In 11 years I have only had 3.75 hours of unplanned downtime. 45 minutes of that was due to a power failure and another 45 minutes was due to a stupid error (I booted a copy of our production Filemaker database on my laptop and it took me awhile to figure this out!). With only 2.25 hours of my database being offline in 11 years I guess that I can take a hassle or two from upgrading a Mac now and then. From what I read 10.5 is more problematic than most OS X upgrades. For this reason, I have not moved as quickly, but I must say that the three systems I have upgraded so far have been pretty reliable and I have experienced only minor issues.

  10. Computers are designed by humans, software is written by humans, prone to error, prone to failure. I don’t trust that Scoble is technical enough to troubleshoot his own computer problems, so I ignored these rants like everything else he writes.

  11. Hi Rafe,

    My friend’s MacBook Pro failed to apply the 10.4.11 update two nights ago. He had the good sense to call me to ask for advice, and since I had read your post I suggested he do an archive and install. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough free space to do that so we mounted his MBP on my wife’s PowerBook G4 using FireWire and moved his home folder onto an external USB drive. Then we removed his home folder from the MBP’s disk and did the archive and install. It worked, we moved his user folder back and everything just worked.

    The only thing we had to do was move his Developer folder from the Previous Systems folder back to the root of the drive. We were impressed it moved his apps and other user folders back to the appropriate places and that all his network settings were retained.

    So, two near-disasters turn into happy endings.

    My friend was really impressed with how smoothly things went. It felt good because I tried to convince him for years to use Mac OS X. He finally did when he moved to a new job that gave him one, and now he’s survived his first big Mac blowup without a scratch. I think it gave him even more confidence in the platform.

  12. The world would be a better place without the complainers. If you don’t like something and can change it, then change it. If you don’t like something and can’t change it, change your attitude. 🙂

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