What happened was, my Black Mac frapped out last December and I had to rebuild it from scratch, with no help from Apple. The new disk I’d put in only lasted seven months; it died about ten minutes after I got off the stage at OSCON (I bow in the direction of blind good luck).

Getting back on the air ended up involving quite a bit of laughing at T. Bray, and considerable credit due to Apple Computer.

There was this amusing scene in the speaker’s room at the conference with me sitting there, having booted the Mac in single-user mode, watching fsck emit thousands of error messages. There are few places in the world with that concentration of Unix expertise, and one by one they wandered by, looked at my screen, shook their heads, and said “Doesn’t look good”.

I landed in Vancouver at 4:30 and managed to get over to NCIX and score a 7200-RPM 200G Seagate before dinner.

The only thing I stood to lose were my conference photos and I was just delighted when I managed to force-mount the damaged disk in FireWire mode on another Mac and dig ’em out of the wreckage.

The nice thing about MacBooks is that replacing the hard drive is a snap, a moron could do it. So I did, and unfortunately the Disk Utility couldn’t see the new disk so I couldn’t format it so I was pretty well hosed.

It dawned one me that the problem could be upstream of the disk, so I made a Genius-bar date at Apple’s new Vancouver store, and got one the same afternoon. The place was jam-packed, I get the feeling it could be three times its size and still busy.

I was a little worried that they might be unhelpful because this was after all an aftermarket disk, and it was marginally possible I’d broken something in inserting it. It occurred to me that if store staff included avid readers of Apple-oriented blogs, someone might recognize my name and cut me some slack.

Damn, the Genius-bar guy was efficient. He plugged in a FireWire drive and booted it and poked around, said “hmm”, then opened up the computer and pulled out the disk, while I made conversation about how easy it was to replace. He got this oddly-blank look on his face and said “This disk is upside-down; hold on while I step into the back room.”

I’m pretty sure that the howls of laughter I heard from the back room were the product of an overheated imagination. Did I say something about how any moron can replace a MacBook disk?

Anyhow, the guy was back in like ten minutes and the system seems fine and I’m in the middle of a hundredG-plus Time Capsule restore. Good on ya, Apple.

[Update: It took about six hours but seems to have worked perfectly. Stand by for some OSCON picture-blogging.]


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Russ (Jul 26 2008, at 23:47)

I don't want to be an Ubuntu zealot - okay, yes I do and it's a Saturday night and I'm bored... But I fail to see where Apple played any role in this story besides being such a crap system as to fry a second brand new hard drive after only 7 months of use... and now you're out how much time and money? And this is good somehow?

We've all put in drives upside down (though in PCs it's usually clear that this has happened because the BIOS doesn't even see it) but again, I don't see how a guy at the Genius Bar is any sort of genius for helping you see your common mistake.

Time Capsule, I'll admit is nice, though it seems Macs need it more than other systems from the amount of "my Mac died" stories I see out there.

(Ubuntu makes my computer smell like daisies too, you should try it!)



From: Jonathan M. Hollin (Jul 27 2008, at 00:49)

Oh that's hilarious. I laughed out loud and woke up the girlfriend (I'm probably gonna fry for that later).

But how on earth did you manage to mount the disk upside down, I didn't think it was possible?

Good luck changing that light-bulb when it pops man! ;-)


From: Pedro Melo (Jul 27 2008, at 01:02)


if you can, please update your post with the result of the Time Machine restore. Did it work?



From: Ian King (Jul 27 2008, at 01:38)

Good to read about this -- I'm about to head to the Genius Bar (but for the love of Pete, the name makes my skin crawl) at that very store. In my case, it's from my 'Book refusing to recognize the battery after I let it discharge. But I'll take hardware support for stuff like this any way I can get it -- and I think that's Tim's point. If they resolve it without denting my wallet, I'll be a happy camper. Might even make my next laptop a Mac.

I'm saying this as one of those annoying people who run Ubuntu at home and just love it. Maybe it'll power my next laptop, if at the time there's some Ubuntu-friendly hardware that hits the same size-performance-battery life sweet spot that the MacBook has occupied for a while now.

For what it's worth, when my old Ubuntu box croaked, I just bought a new machine as I couldn't be bothered to diagnose a machine that was worth less (aside from the drive that contained /home) than a day's wages. Recover the data, put it on a shiny new box and keep on truckin'


From: JHH (Jul 27 2008, at 02:28)

At least Mac OS X supports Sudden Motion Sensors to protect hard drives from sudden movements. My HP has support for this sort of technology in Windows but unfortunately I have not heard this is supported in Linux. (Zenwalk is my distribution of choice on my HP for the moment, not that it is relevant thought.)


From: J. King (Jul 27 2008, at 04:58)

Are notebook SATA disks not keyed? Or was it a PATA disk? The one time I replaced one of those for a friend I quickly noticed that the pins were not keyed, so I made a note of the original orientation in case I forgot while we were out shopping for a replacement. Bad design, that.


From: casper kuijjer (Jul 27 2008, at 05:18)

I have done that twice. Putting back the harddrive upside down simply looks more right. Fortunately I was not able to put the screws back as that requires quite some strength.


From: Dennis Doubleday (Jul 27 2008, at 09:40)

I agree with Russ--just how much Kool-Aid do you have to drink before you're willing to THANK Apple for putting you through this after 7 months of ownership? :-)


From: Ron (Jul 27 2008, at 09:46)

this exact same thing happened to me. hard drive failed catastrophically, thankfully I had backups of everything, so I head down to the local hardware shop and get a shiny new 120gb seagate and run home and, with great enthusiasm, slide it in the bay. only (as I would realize later) I put the darn thing in upside down. and tore the rubber guide rail/grommets out of the bay. only after two weeks of extreme frustration did I realize what I had done.

I'm guessing this is a pretty common story.


From: Phil (Jul 27 2008, at 11:03)

Thanks Tim, I'm planning to do this today and you probably just saved me a trip to the GB. I wonder if there's a reason why they didn't make the SATA interface so it could only be plugged in one way?


From: Stuart Marks (Jul 27 2008, at 14:12)

To those who have asked why Tim should give credit to Apple, they could very easily have said "You're on your own" instead of fixing it for him. This seems an all too common customer service refrain. So, perhaps credit the rest of the industry for reducing expectations, or credit Apple for resisting the tide.


From: fiskhall@labyrinth.net.au (Jul 27 2008, at 17:11)

Well, apart from the pleasure derived from knowing that isn't just me who does dumb things at times, I would have to ask how difficult a design issue it is to make sure the drive can't be put in upside down?


From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Jul 27 2008, at 20:43)

I'd assume this is not an Apple-only problem; this is a design problem from the hard-drive manufacturer. Why design something which can be put in, in anything other than the proper orientation?


From: Dave Eshleman (Aug 02 2008, at 23:58)

I had a PC computer, use cycles went like this, use 3-4 months it crashed. Got it fixed use 3-4 months it crashed again.

Got it fixed again 2 months of use it started slowing down due to something "picked up from my email" unusable midway into month 3. got it fixed again, used it for 1 month the powerbox fried.

Each "fix" cost between 40-125 dollars.

I got tired and got an apple.

No more problems in the first year.


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