MacBook Pro survives fall, sort of

Two mornings ago while carrying a cup of coffee and my relatively new 15″ MacBook Pro, I tripped over a box and went flying. I wish someone had been there to take a picture as I know it was a spectacular fall. The sound of the computer hitting the wooden floor was so loud that Anne thought a bookshelf had fallen over. I’m pretty sure I was completely airborne and parallel to the floor before I crashed down.

We drink our morning (Peet’s) coffee out of large Starbucks tumblers with closed tops so only a bit of coffee spilled but the computer hit hard. Very hard. Worse than a mere drop from 4 feet, it had much of my weight attached to it. Oh god.

I survived physically although my 55 year old psyche is definitely battered. “Old people fall down but you’re not an old person… uh… you fell down…”

Right, let’s not go there. The computer, which was sleeping (HD heads park in sleep) got some dings and the case is warped but the screen did not shatter and when I opened it it woke up like nothing had happened. Lucky me, or so I thought.

Portable Computing
I’ve had PowerBooks as long as Apple has made them and one or another has traveled all over the world with me and until two mornings ago I’d never dropped one, spilled coffee on a keyboard, or done a thing to cause these important parts of my life any distress. Since I got involved with computers in the late 1970s, whatever computer I’ve had has been the center of my life and once I moved from desktops to laptops the computer has become even more entwined in my life. I like it this way and my wife likes it this way. With a desktop computer I’d be in the office most of the time; with this computer I can sit in the living room with her reading Salon or google news while she reads or knits. This computer is not a second, portable computer, it is my only computer, and as such, the absolute center of many aspects of my life. I know how valuable it is, I treat it well and back it up and love it “up one side and down the other.”

Fit and Finish
Another complicating factor in this situation is that the case on this MacBook Pro has been slowly coming apart at the seams. Nothing huge but the fit and finish on the top edges/corners where the sides intersect with the top of the keypad area has been a problem ever since I got it and it was getting worse. This is the second MacBook Pro I’ve had; the first one was returned in less than a week and exchanged for this one for the same reason: the fit and finish on the case was just not right. I decided to live with this one as exchanges and data movement is a drag and there had been a “bump” in dealing with our local retail store that Apple corporate had to step in and make right (they did and they were wonderful).

AppleCare
So, now that I’ve dropped the computer whatever issue I had with the case is pretty much blown as there is now a lot more case damage than there was “naturally” before. I repeat, it amazes me that the entire thing didn’t shatter so while I am less than enthused about the fit and finish of the case, I am delighted that it withstood this fall.

Given that this is my only computer, it’s not like I can just send it off for repair. And, I have AppleCare which I love as it’s been very useful to me over the years, but, a fall like this is not something they cover so a repair is gonna cost me. However, the case is just cosmetic so what the heck, I can live with a beat up case.

Backing up is not hard to do
I have two external hard disks that I use for back up and I’m religious about backing up. I use SuperDuper! which is a great product and I back up daily, rotating the hard disks so I always have two successive days. When I travel I take one external hard disk with me and leave the other at home and I continue to back up onto the one with me on the road. I’m serious about backup, my computer and my data is important to me and as they say, shit happens.

Bootable backups and Intel considerations
I had backed up the night before the fall so had the computer not started up I could have used that backup to run this computer, or any new Intel-driven computer. Right, the PowerPC to intel transition has a small speed bump: when you initialize external hard disks for backup you have to make a choice about which kind of machine you want to be able to boot from. You see, I don’t just make backups, I make bootable backups. I don’t just want my data, I want my entire work environment. The idea of having to reinstall a system on a new or on any machine is intolerable to me, so, I make a complete, bootable mirror of my working computer. That way I have an external drive that’s a complete work environment. I’ve done it this way for years and when OS X came along which took away the ability to just drag files (permissions, etc.) SuperDuper! kept me going.

Now, with this Intel transition, there is no more universal bootable backup on any Mac until all Macs are driven by Intel processors. One has to decide if one wants an external drive to boot a Mac running a PowerPC processor (G3, G4, G5) or an Intel processor. Given that I’m now running Intel, I formatted my externals to boot Intel. All of this is a long winded way of saying that my backup hard disk will not boot Anne’s G4 iBook. So, if my computer goes in for repair, I’m offline.

But, none of this mattered as my MacBook Pro’s internal hard disk seemed fine and I had a working backup. Lucky me.

Everything was fine, or so I thought
So, back to our story. I started working on this machine and everything was fine. I went through my normal morning email, checking the back ends of my weblogs for moderated comments and spam, looking at flickr, my normal morning routine. Then I needed to open a document that was done with the AppleWorks spreadsheet and AppleWorks, being the ancient program that it is, does not run native on Intel so an invisible part of OS X gets used to run it. That invisible part, called Rosetta, emulates the PowerPC processor so programs written for it can run on Intel. This is a transparent process and unlike “Classic” running in OS X it works quite well. This particular morning, however, the AppleWorks icon in the dock got a triangle under it as I launched the document and then, after too long a delay, nothing. I tried other programs I knew used Rosetta and nothing. Uh oh, something was up.

I quit everything and restarted from the most recent backup to see if I could launch programs that used Rosetta and on the backup hard disk everything worked fine. So, while running from that hard disk I used Disk Tools to test the internal hard disk on this machine and it found nothing. Now I wasn’t sure where the problem was but since I had a working backup I made a plan to update it with the email and other new things from the internal hard disk manually, then, starting up from the backup hard disk, initialize the internal hard disk and use SuperDuper! to copy the backup back over to the internal.

I did that yesterday morning and it worked like a dream, no problems with any part of it and I spent all day yesterday catching up on work that had been sitting around waiting. I did a lot of work, and while I was at it I tested lots of documents and opened every app on the computer to make sure it ran. All was well, or so I thought.

As I got ready to stop working for the day yesterday I decided that I should back up the now, seemingly good internal hard disk so I connected my second backup drive, the one that was now out of date although contained a working backup from now 4 days earlier. I started the backup process and went down to cook dinner. A little while later I went up to check on things and found that SuperDuper! had “choked” on a read from the internal HD. It was an old image inside iPhoto. I quit SuperDuper! and ran iPhoto and searched for the image. It was there but it would not open. I restarted with the good working backup hard disk, opened iPhoto, searched for the same image and it opened no problem.

This problem that I thought I’d solved was not quite as simple as I’d thought. Something was up with the hard disk and I have enough experience with these things so that I knew it was time to get the backup hard disk updated and boot and work from it. That’s where I am right now.

Today I’ll order a new internal hard disk for this computer and until it comes, I’ll run from my backup and (hopefully) back up onto backup hard disk #2. My larger plan is to keep using this computer, as banged up as it is, as long as I can. As long as it works reliably I can tolerate the cosmetic stuff. Stay tuned…

Here’s the post on replacing the internal hard disk of my MacBook Pro: MacBook Pro hard disk replacement.

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