Mac OS

Adding weather to Calendar in Mac or iOS

Weather in your iOS and macOS Calendars

I use Apple’s native Calendar application in Mac OS on my MacBook Pro as well as in iOS on my iPhone 6s and iPad Air II. I’ve used other calendars but there’s something about the simplicity and integration of Apple’s native apps that appeals to me.

I think the reason I didn’t think to attempt to include a weather forecast in my calendar on my Mac before was that I was used to using both the weather widget and a third party widget called Radar in Motion in Mac OS’ Dashboard.

Radar in Motion stopped working a while back and while I have weather set up in my Mac Notification Center (off the right side of the screen), I thought it would be more useful to attempt to integrate a weather forecast into Calendar so I could see both events and weather in the same place.

A few minutes of searching and I found Chris Short’s post above which covers adding a Weather Underground ICS calendar subscription file to almost any calendar, including Mac OS’s Calendar. Note, I’ve not tried this directly on an iPhone or iPad but it should work.

I copied this sample URL into my browser:

https://ical.wunderground.com/auto/ical/NY/NYC.ics

and changed the state and city:

https://ical.wunderground.com/auto/ical/CT/WARREN.ics

Note, before you go and do this, please read the following:

I’ve made numerous categories (calendars) in my Calendar: Home, To Do, Event, Hiking and I’m subscribed to Holidays. I color code each of these calendars and it helps me quickly look at my Calendar and see what’s what. I’ve been doing this for many years, since iCal first appeared.

If you don’t make a new category/calendar called something like Warren Weather” and you go too fast through pasting the URL in your browser, downloading the ICS file and adding it to your Calendar, you may accidentally add the weather subscription to one of your existing categories. I did this by mistake and could not, for the life of me, figure out how to undo it. Couple that with the fact that my Calendar is connected to iCloud and immediately synced with my iPhone and iPad and you have a potential issue if you make a mistake.

I recommend creating a new category/calendar called “Weather” or better, “Warren Weather” (substitute your town/city) and when you download the ICS file add it to that category/calendar and give it a unique color.

calendar detail

The last thing to consider is that this ICS file is for a particular place and it will not change if you travel from, for example, Warren, Connecticut to Chicago, Illinois. If you can figure out how to modify the ICS file to make it GPS aware, please let me know. But, short of that, if you find yourself in another city, make a new weather category/calendar for that city and click the X off in front of your home city to hide it temporarily.

calendar

Looks like we’re going to have some snow on Tuesday and I’ve got an appointment I might have to move. Brilliant.

Thoughts on the new MacBook

Apple is coming out with a new MacBook computer and it looks fantastic. I’m guessing this computer will be a very big success although it hasn’t been without controversy and the various tech blogs are going nuts with all kinds of speculation about why Apple did this.

I think many are making the mistake of attempting to fit it logically into Apple’s current portable computer lineup and that may be the wrong way to think about it. Maybe an easier way to understand Apple’s engineering and design tradeoffs is to think of it being as portable as an iPad Air with a keyboard running Mac OS X. It’s an extremely light weight, small computer that has numerous design and engineering tradeoffs to support its size and weight. It may not be as powerful as a 13″ MacBook Air or Pro, but it’s more portable than either and portability is what it’s all about.

Having an even more portable Macintosh appeals to me because while my iPad Air 2 is a wonderful device for browsing the web and running apps, I dislike text editing in iOS and almost always pass those tasks back to my MacBook Pro from my iPad when I’m in a situation that makes that possible. And, I like using a mouse with my computers and use Apple’s less than wonderful wireless mouse, which I like better than a trackpad for text and photo editing. So, for me, the MacBook would be a more portable adjunct to an iPad.

The very same engineering tradeoffs that are bugging many appeal to me, discussion below.

Fan-less

This is the first Macintosh portable that’s fan-less and Apple was able to do this because they’re using a lower power and slower processor, they’ve miniaturized the logic board, and like all Apple portables now, it’s got an SSD and not a spinning disk. Fan-less is a great thing in that the machine will be as quiet as an iPad.

But, to make it fan-less, which no doubt was an important design goal the machine had to be lower power than a MacBook Air or Pro with a tilt towards a larger battery relative to it’s size and weight. This computer is all battery which allows it to be used all day on a single charge and that’s the way Apple sees it being used: unplugged, only plugging it in when not in use.

One USB-C Port

The single (new) USB-C port has been one of the most talked about features of the new MacBook; this computer has a single port that’s used for charging and I/O. USB-C is a new protocol (designed by Apple and Intel) and it’s considerably faster than USB 2 and 3 and backward compatible with both.

No longer will the computer have a MagSafe power connection (that’s held in place magnetically), the USB-C port will supply both power and I/O. MagSafe was Apple’s invention to prevent pulling your computer off your desk if you tripped over its power cable. Brilliant invention and it’s saved many a computer.

Glenn Fleishman at Macworld posted a long piece on the physics of whether a cable connection like this could detach, MagSafe-like, saving the computer in case of a trip over its power cable: Will your new MacBook crash to the ground without MagSafe? (Yes.).

I think almost everyone who’s been concerned about this doesn’t understand what this computer is all about. I’m writing this with my MacBook Pro sitting on my desk plugged in. When my computer is on my desk I see no reason not to plug it in and I’m guessing that most people use their MacBook Airs and Pros like I do: while on the desk, plugged in, while off the desk, on battery.

The new MacBook is positioned as an iPad and when is the last time you used your iPad plugged in? Rarely if ever do people do this. They charge them overnight, then unplug them and carry them around and use them. That’s the way Apple has designed this new MacBook to be used. It’s interesting that it’s Apple’s first portable Macintosh designed this way and because of this, for many, it’s a hard concept to digest. It doesn’t bother me at all and frankly, Apple’s latest incarnation of MagSafe (on my Retina MacBook Pro) hasn’t seemed like an advancement to me, it feels cheap compared with the older versions.

The single port is giving people fits because of connectivity concerns as well. But, if you charge your computer at night that port won’t be filled with a power cable during the day when you’re using the computer.

But, what might you want to attach during the day when you’re out and about? It’s not like you’re going to walk around with an ethernet cable hanging out of it, or even a CD/DVD burner. This computer is built to connect to the world wirelessly and while not everything can be connected this way, the few things we need wires for Apple has built dongles for. Again, think iPad: iPads have a single Lightning port and various attachments that can connect to it if one needs video out or to read an SD card.

For me, the lack of multiple ports would not be a problem even though I routinely connect a USB 3 hub to my computer with a LabelWriter and my Epson Stylus Pro 3880 photo printer connected to it (I connect to my laser printer wirelessly though our Airport Extreme), I don’t leave it plugged in all the time as I might go for days without using it.

So, the single port doesn’t throw me at all.

Screen Size

There has been a lot written about Apple’s new MacBook but as usual, it’s Dr. Drang that got me thinking about it from a slightly different perspective.

The importance and unimportance of ports

I’ve been uncomfortable with the screen real estate on my Retina MacBook Pro because before it, I had the 2011 MacBook Pro with the slightly higher resolution matte HD screen (a non-glossy screen) and that screen, while tougher to read because of text size, gave me more space to work in. It wasn’t a huge difference but I do notice it when, for instance, I’m looking at my blog and make Safari’s window big enough to show the background a bit. My old 2011 MBP showed this fine with the window taking up only slightly more than half the width of the screen. The new 2014 MBP’s different resolution makes that window take up close to 3/4 of the screen. This is exactly what Dr. Drang is concerned about with the 12″ screen on the MacBook except he’s concerned with height, not width.

The reason I buy 15″ computers instead of 13″ is that I like to have multiple windows open at the same time and have them positioned so I can see them simultaneously.

If I had an external monitor or iMac (which I’ll probably get soon) then the need to have a larger screen in a portable computer would be diminished, but like Dr. Drang, I see a even a small difference in screen height as a potential problem in reading long web pages (more scrolling) or seeing enough stuff on the screen at one time to get my work done.

This is a tradeoff: portability vs screen size.

The other piece of this influencing me is that I’ve been a one computer guy for a long time: I’ve been using Macintosh portables since there were Macintosh portables and while cloud services now make a multiple computer setup a lot easier to deal with than ever before, I feel myself resisting, wanting to keep things familiar.

I’ve been resisting buying an external monitor for this computer because an iMac is a better investment and the new retina 5K screen iMac is incredible. If I had an iMac and a MacBook Air or the new MacBook it would change the way I work and while this might not be a bad thing, knowing me, it would take me a while to get used to it. Honestly, that kind of change scares me and my computer is such an important part of my life, I don’t consider changes like this lightly.

I think the new MacBook is fantastic and when one changes the way one thinks about it (more iPad running Mac OS with a keyboard, less low power MacBook Air) it makes a lot of sense for many people, including me.

I’m working on my brain to get it a bit more ready for a possible change and for me, the first step is to write about it.

Apple is taking Maps in the wrong direction

Apple hopes ‘real-time’ maps will be a Google beater

It won’t.

Simply, Apple is trying to look good without being good. Watching Big Ben and the London Eye turn is a fun party trick but it won’t help you get around London. Click on a London Underground station and you get no information on which lines run through it.

Apple needs to put a lot more energy into deep and accurate metadata in cities rather than eye-candy like this. There are still no subway line listings on subway stops in New York City. That should have been part of Apple Maps from day 1.

Here is a screen shot of Apple Maps around Grand Central Station in New York. Note that Grand Central is listed but not the two MTA subway lines that run under it: The 4, 5, and 6 (green) lines and the Shuttle:

applemaps_subway

Here is what Apple Maps shows when you click on a subway stop (the only one shown):

applemaps_subway2

If you’re trying to figure out how to get around New York on the subway, Apple Maps is useless.

Here is what Google Maps shows around Grand Central Station when you click on a subway stop:

googlemaps_subway

New York is a major world city. One would think Apple would have this kind of information for the most popular form of transportation but in fact, they don’t. Nothing in London either.

I want Apple to stop putting so much energy into the way things look, a bit more energy into the way things work (or don’t).

Apple updates Yosemite and iOS 8

For those of you who are Mac OS Yosemite and/or iOS 8 users, the two software updates that Apple posted yesterday seem (to me) to have fixed many if not all of the problems I was having with both my computer and my iPhone 5S and iPad Air 2.

Mac OS X version 10.10.2 is the update and it can be gotten through the App store and software update.

My computer wasn’t re-connecting to my network after sleeping and I was restarting it multiple times a day to remain connected. That problem is gone now; wake from sleep is faster and the network connection is solid.

iOS 8.1.3 seems to have fixed the networking problems I was having with both my iPhone and my iPad and I’m remaining connected to iCloud (so far). I had random disconnects on my iPhone. Time will tell if that got fixed.

I’m delighted that Apple released the Mac OS update given the fact that they sold 74 million iPhones last quarter and the iPhone made up 69% of Apple amazing revenue, it’s a wonder anyone at Apple is paying attention to the Mac anymore but they are and I’m delighted as I’m a Mac user first and foremost, an iOS user second. Of course, no matter how much revenue an Apple device brings in, it should work as well as possible at all times and software updates to get rid of bugs are important. Thank you Apple.

For more on Apple’s fiscal Q1 statement, see this amazing list at 9to5Mac. Wow.

Messages beta

Apple has finally started to unify their instant messaging universe. Many of us have been using iChatAV for years and have come to depend on it. Not everyone signed up and had an AIM account in the early days (AOL was and remains disdained by the power user types) although in time Apple allowed the use of a .mac address to use iChatAV and it worked and works well to this day.

In the iOS world Apple has had texting via cellular networks on the iPhone and with iOS 5 they’ve combined texting over cellular with an iChatAV-like application called Messages that unifies both cellular texting and IP-chatting. It works extremely well on both the iPhone and the iPad saving a considerable amount of money when one is on a wifi network by not using cellular minutes during that time.

There was no way to connect iChatAV on the Mac and Messages on iOS devices until now. Apple has finally released a beta of Messages for Mac OS X Lion that will ship for real with the next Lion update called “Mountain Lion.”

I’m using the beta now and it’s a wonderful improvement over the old iChatAV. I’m connected to my iPhone, my AIM buddy list, and all my cellular contacts. Very cool.

[via Zapong]

MacBook Pro SSD sleep issue

As some of you know, almost a year ago I did an SSD upgrade on a MacBook Pro. And, if you’ve been following along, you know that I recently purchased a new MacBook Pro with Apple-supplied SSD.

I have two machines sitting here, one with an OWC SSD that I put in myself, one with an SSD that came from Apple.

On the older machine I had issues with sleep: the screen goes to sleep but the next phase of sleep where the motherboard, hard disk and radios go to sleep would not kick in unless I actively chose sleep from the Apple menu or closed the lid (screen). If I walk away from the machine, lid up the LED light by the latch is on but does not pulse. Close the lid, it pulses.

Pulsing = sleep.

On the brand new machine with Apple-supplied SSD the exact same thing happens: the machine does not go into deep sleep on its own without me doing one of many things to force it: Apple menu, power button, etc.

This makes sense, there is no spinning hard disk to spin down. One thing many considering SSD or talking about MacBook Airs don’t seem to realize is that an SSD (as opposed to the soldered on flash memory of a MacBook Air) is mimicking a hard disk: it’s in the same packaging and is a replacement for a hard disk in a computer. So, until the system knows the difference, there might be issues like this.

However, there are other things that get turned off when a machine goes to sleep and you can test this yourself if you have a wireless (bluetooth) mouse.

Leave the lid up but use the Apple menu to put the machine to sleep. Move a bluetooth mouse and the machine doesn’t wake up. This means the bluetooth radio is turned off. Same with wifi: deep sleep turns the radio off. Wake the machine up by hitting the keyboard and the wifi menu (the bars) may actually search for the network. You know the machine was sleeping if this happens.

On either of my machines: the old MacBook Pro with OWC SSD or new MacBook Pro with Apple-supplied SSD if the machine is left on its own, lid up, moving a bluetooth (magic) mouse will wake the screen up and the wifi menu is all lit up, it never turned off.

So, in case you’re thinking that it’s only third party SSD upgrades that are messing with the out of the box sleep modes on MacBook Pros, it’s not, Apple’s SSDs are doing it too.

And, “real” sleep is meaningful in that it turns the computer’s radios off and in so doing saves battery life.

I’m going to be calling AppleCare next week, less to complain, more to find out of they’re aware of this and what they’re doing about it. My guess is Lion will fix this although if enough people report about it maybe it will be fixed in a Snow Leopard update.

Anyone out there with a new MacBook Air who cares to comment I’d love to hear from you. The next time I’m in an Apple store I’ll test a MacBook Air to see about this, it’s an easy experiment to do.

This is definitely not a deal breaker on SSDs and it supports attempting to save money with SSD suppliers other than Apple. But, those using machines with SSDs and possibly MacBook Airs with soldered on flash memory, make sure your machine is really sleeping when you think its sleeping.

How OS X Lion leads to the next computing revolution

How OS X Lion Leads to the Next Computing Revolution

This is an excellent overview of how the next Mac OS X update, OS 10.7 “Lion” is moving Mac OS a bit closer to some of what users enjoy about the iOS (iPad and iPhone) experience.

This evolution in operating system hasn’t really affected Apple’s computer hardware yet and the new MacBook Pros Apple released yesterday are examples of that but the MacBook Air with its smaller solid state storage and less emphasis on raw processor horsepower is an example of it. Many (me included) were hoping for a bit more MacBook Air influence on the new MacBook Pros but no doubt that will come a bit later after Mac OS 10.7 is out for a while.

[via Steve Splonskowski]

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade notes, a month in

About a month ago I put a 240 gig SSD drive in my 3 year old 2.5 ghz MacBook Pro and documented the installation process here. I thought I’d report on how it’s working and whether it’s a worthwhile upgrade to consider.

Speed
There are many factors that affect the speed of a computer and one of them is how full the hard disk is relative to its size. I’ve heard from many people who have hard disks with less than 10% free that their computers have slowed to a snail’s pace. OS X writes temporary files to the hard disk and you need to always have enough free space to accommodate these files.

I didn’t and don’t have this problem; I’m using about 170 gigs out of 240 so have enough extra space for the temporary files. But, this issue is something to keep in mind and just buying a new, larger hard disk (not an SSD) might solve the speed problem for many. Same installation as an SSD.

For me the SSD speeds up booting the computer, launching applications, and almost every process that used to slow me down. It has made working with this computer much like working with an iPad or an iPhone 4 with their fast A4 processors. While the speed increase is not earth shattering and some with unrealistic expectations might be disappointed, I notice it and it’s significant enough to make me feel the upgrade is worthwhile.

My friend Edward, who has a current generation 15″ MacBook Pro with i7 processor and plenty of memory and a 7200 rpm hard disk came down for a visit and we did some informal comparisons with our two computers side by side. My SSD equipped computer booted faster than his every time although booting applications was about as fast on his computer. No doubt the newer processor and graphics chips in his computer would run circles around mine given certain processes but in fact, my computer fared quite well running the kinds of things we both run: Pages, Lightroom, Safari, Reeder and other small and modern OS X applications. Both of us were amazed that a simple upgrade could boost performance that much but in fact it did and does.

Sleep
There is only one issue I have with this upgrade and it may be a deal killer for some because it may affect battery life. It may be that I need to change something on my computer to make this work right but so far I’ve not found it.

Even with the Energy Saver system preference pane set to put the computer to sleep in 10 minutes and the “Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible” if I walk away from the computer with the screen up the display will sleep but the rest of the computer never goes into sleep mode. I can force it into sleep mode by closing the lid/screen or choosing “Sleep” from the Apple menu or hitting the power button and choosing “Sleep” but it will not sleep on its own with the lid up.

I’ve reset the power manager and the parameter ram and done about everything I can to wipe out whatever old settings were stored in the computer about sleep but so far nothing has helped here.

This may be of no significance anyway because, of course, there is no hard disk to spin down, but my guess is that the computer uses power differently in sleep/hibernation mode than it does when its awake.

I was curious about this early on and posted about it here. I got a comment from a MacBook Air user who said that his Energy Saver screen remained the same; talked about hard disks when in fact, there are no hard disks installed on the Air. Still, the Air is using flash memory differently and no doubt has hibernation/sleep routines built into its ROMs that a MacBook Pro with an SSD upgrade doesn’t have. I wonder if a MacBook Air has a fan? Anyone care to comment.

No doubt this issue has an affect on battery life if you walk away from a “running” machine with the lid up. Our house is dusty enough (wood stove) that I tend to close the lid on this computer when I’m not using it putting it to sleep properly (LED pulsing, etc.). The bottom line is that while it’s an issue, it’s not a deal killer for me because I’m starting to use an iPad to read my feeds with Reeder (excellent) and this computer, while still being used as a portable doesn’t have to have killer battery life on planes because I have an iPad for that.

Battery life
The ads say that an SSD improves battery life (other than this sleep issue) and while my report is only anecdotal, I do think its true. The battery life in my normal use of the computer is certainly better if I stay away from Flash sites, don’t watch video, and refrain from pushing the computer by running Lightroom and a few other applications simultaneously. These days normal use of a computer involves all sorts of things including running the occasional video. Even if battery life is the same for me its not a deal killer because I use my iPad on long distance flights and because I use this computer plugged in on my desk as much as I do unplugged away from it (as I am now). I’ve been sitting here in the living room for about 2 hours and I have 54% battery left. That’s not too bad actually and no doubt more than I’d have had left pre SSD upgrade.

Quiet and fans
Without a hard disk spinning the computer is a lot quieter and this is meaningful to me. However, my computer’s fans now seems to be running all the time (related no doubt to the sleep issue). The fans make almost no noise but you can hear them if you put your ear up to the keyboard. When I first heard this and wasn’t sure what it was I installed the iStat Pro dashboard widget to track what was happening and lo and behold, both right and left fans are running at between 1500 and 2000 rpm almost all the time. This is nothing compared with what they do when the machine is overloaded with processes and they make a lot of noise but it’s something and may be responsible for the sleep and battery issue I’m having.

While my friend Edward was here with his current i7 MacBook Pro we checked out the fan noise on his machine and in fact, his fans were running all the time too. His machine is newer so the bearings on the fans made less noise but iStat Pro (which I found out about from Edward) showed that both of his fans ran continuously.

This made me curious and I installed iStat Pro on my wife’s MacBook which seemed to be running silently at times and in fact her fans are running all the time too, more quietly than mine but they’re running.

Just to be clear, the fans don’t run during sleep but on my computer, since I have to put it to sleep manually the fans will continue to run as long as the lid is up and I’ve not forced it to sleep. This is no doubt the cause of battery drain and maybe the reason my computer won’t sleep properly.

Bottom line
Even if I never solve the fan/sleep issue I still think this SSD upgrade is very worthwhile. The performance increase from the SSD has allowed me to put off buying a new computer for a year and has made this machine fun to work with again. That’s worth the $500 price to me and I recommend the upgrade to anyone who’s in a similar position.

Apple’s new MacBook Air

The new MacBook Air

Marco Arment has a great post on Apple’s new computers and how they might be used by a variety of people. This post is exactly what I needed to read although it got me no closer to figuring out if I want one of these new computers. Scratch that. I want one of these new computers. I’m not sure exactly how it would fit into my life yet.

Here’s The new MacBook Air at Apple’s site.

If I got one it would be instead of an iPad because I want an iPad-like device with a built in keyboard.

Also, as Marco says, the Air isn’t powerful enough to be a sole computer for many people, especially those of us who need to run applications like Lightroom, Aperture, or Photoshop. It just doesn’t have the horsepower for that kind of work. So, do you go with a two computer setup: one for desktop use like an iMac or a 15″ MacBook Pro with a big screen and use the Air for travel, or, might you go with a 13″ MacBook Pro maxed out connected to a big screen that you can also travel more easily with.

The big screen is going to sit on your desk anyway so why not save some money and make that screen the actual computer (iMac). Makes sense and the iMac is cheaper, runs faster, and is more reliable than a portable computer because it’s got bigger faster components. AppleCare on an iMac is half the price of a MacBook Pro. However, doing this means that one’s workhorse computer is in one place and can’t easily move if one wants to do a lot of work in another room or another country. One needs a MacBook Pro for this and preferably, a 15″ model with a screen big enough to do real work on.

I flip flop on this daily: the iMac makes great sense, then I think about sitting in LA as I am now and whether I’d want an iPad or an Air here without all of my tools installed with an iMac at home. I do like having my now 2.5 year old 15″ MacBook Pro here with me. Still works quite well.

There is something very satisfying about having a portable computer as one’s main computer; being able to take it anywhere knowing that your entire setup is with you. I’ve worked like this for many years and a change from this would be tough for me.

And, one more thing… I am now using my iPhone4 for a lot of on the road reading of RSS feeds and emails and it’s working very well for that. So, the iPhone takes some of the pressure off of the need for an iPad or an Air. Not all the pressure, I’d still like to have this ultra portable Air with a full size keyboard, but I’m not absolutely sure I’d make great use of it.

Guess I’ll have to get over to an Apple store and do some serious playing and drooling. Stay tuned.

[via Daring Fireball]

AppleCare

I’ve written about AppleCare and related issues before at this site and no doubt some think I’m an insurance salesman. I’m not. I just think AppleCare a good idea. Here’s why.

I have a 2.5 GHz, Intel Core 2 Duo, 15″ MacBook Pro that I bought in 2008. At the time, this machine was near the top of the line on 15″ models (there was a 2.6 GHz option I didn’t go for). I bought it with 4 gigs of memory installed and a 250 gig 5400 RPM hard disk. I also bought AppleCare which I’ve bought on each of my Macs since Apple first started offering it.

Apple has a one year warranty on their computers and they’re quite good about fixing things at no cost within that year. They also have a 14 day store return policy: if you think you got a lemon you can return it to the store (including the online store) and exchange it for another computer. AppleCare extends the one year warranty to two years. Here’s what they say about it in their online store:

AppleCare Protection Plan
For up to three years from your computer’s original purchase date, the AppleCare Protection Plan gives you direct, one-stop access to Apple’s award-winning telephone technical support for questions about Apple hardware, Mac OS X, iLife, and iWork. And you get global repair coverage for your Mac — both parts and labor — through convenient service options.

When you purchase the AppleCare Protection Plan and your computer at the same time, you’ll be automatically registered in the plan.

Currently, for all flavors of 15″ MacBook Pro AppleCare costs $350 and I’m pretty sure it was about that price when I bought it for this computer in 2008. Portables have the highest AppleCare cost, probably because they get the most abuse. AppleCare on a current 27″ iMac is $169.

Here’s a tidbit many people don’t know: when you buy AppleCare for a computer, it covers everything connected to that computer purchased with that computer including displays, AirPort base stations, Time Capsules, etc. And, it covers all Apple software installed on the computer (you can call and get tech support for software issues).

Buying AppleCare (or not) is sort of like backing up your computer (or not): people who buy AppleCare know what it’s like to have something go wrong out of warranty and not have it. People who back up their computers know what it’s like to have something go wrong and not have a backup. I realize that I’m thinking about this and posting it during the great health insurance re-think (or just plain think) where many of us, whether we have health insurance or not might be thinking about what might happen if we got really sick without any insurance.

Case #1: Texas
Many years ago when I did a lot of travel and presentations for a living, I found myself on one of my many extended trips to Texas. in Governor Ann Richards’ day Texas was at the leading edge of assistive technology integration in classrooms and because they had dozens of well connected and financed educational service centers, if I did something in one part of the state another part of the state heard about it fast and wanted me to do something over there. Unlike Connecticut Texas is a big state so it was easy to spend a week there.

I had an early model of PowerBook back then, no doubt running the incredible new System 7.

Even back then I was a fanatic about backing up which in those days was a simple matter of drag/copying the contents of one hard disk to another. As a presenter, I always carried an external hard disk which was a complete clone of my computer (not just a backup of my presentation materials). I’m not sure when I started this but I’ve been doing it for a long time and continue it to this day.

During my first presentation something happened to the PowerBook’s video card and the machine’s screen went blank and it lost video output to the projector. This was rather embarrassing in front of 500 teachers, especially since part of my message to them was that Macs were the best machines for education in part because of their reliability.

The folks at the service center brought out another computer and I started it from my hard disk and continued the presentation. During lunch I called AppleCare, even back then there was a single phone number which if memory serves was something like 800-SOS-APPL.

I told the folks at AppleCare what my situation and itinerary was (they did not know that I was a consultant for Apple corporate and on their education advisory board).

Amazingly, there was a FedEx box at my hotel that night and the FedEx person waited while I packed up the PowerBook. I had my external backup hard disk and had called ahead to my next stop to make sure they had a computer I could use with it. All was well although if the backup hard disk failed I was in trouble; I had no backup of my backup (I do now, by the way).

The next morning I got on a plane for another part of the state, arrived there and checked into the hotel. That evening the local tech person and I set up their computer with my external hard disk and got things working. I went to sleep that night not knowing when my PowerBook might make it back although AppleCare had said it would be no more than 36 hours (which was a rush).

The next morning when I woke up I had a message on the hotel’s phone and FedEx had delivered the repaired computer early that morning.

I swapped out the service center’s computer, got mine set up and I was back in business for the rest of the trip.

That single incident made me a believer. AppleCare saved my bacon and I’ve never bought a Macintosh computer for myself or my wife without it. Had that not happened I might have eventually stopped buying it for lack of use. Why buy insurance if you never use it?

Case #2, the present
About a year ago my current computer started acting a bit odd: I was getting double key strokes at times and occasionally a key seemed to get stuck and I’d get a whole bunch of the last letter typedddddddddddd.

This problem was intermittent and I was worried that if I sent the machine to Apple they might not be able to reproduce it. However, I did call AppleCare and we went through everything I could do short of sending it in: clear PRAM, clear the power manager, new user, clean install of the system, etc.

Because the problem was intermittent when I tried a fix and it seemed to go away I thought it was solved but then, a while later it would reappear. This went on for close to a year.

Also in the last year the fan on this machine has been running a lot and the hard disk didn’t seem to be spinning down when it should have been. I thought the problem might be Safari and Flash but making a new user and keeping flash out of the mix didn’t solve it. Then I thought the problem might be Snow Leopard although I wasn’t about to go back to Leopard.

I back my computer up onto two small, portable external drives usingSuperDuper. My drives have lots of ports on them: USB 2, Firewire 400, Firewire 800, eSATA so in theory I could connect my backups to any current or even older Macs that would boot an Intel system. I do it this way so that in case my machine is stolen or fails I can connect to a new one and be back in business immediately (shades of my Texas experience).

Given that this is my only computer and these days, while I don’t travel and present for a living anymore (thank god) this computer is the center of my life. I feel even more protective about sending it off to AppleCare than I did ten years ago. However, the problem wasn’t going away and was making everyday work near impossible.

I decided to attempt to boot my wife’s unibody MacBook with one of my backups. For those of you who don’t know, the MacBook lacks Firewire so I had to boot the machine with the backup drive and a USB cable. Note, the drive comes with an AC brick and it’s needed when connecting via USB so the combination of MacBook and external is not completely portable as it would be with Firewire.

I did some tests booting my wife’s computer and things worked surprisingly well so I decided to do the AppleCare repair while she was visiting her father in Indiana during her spring break from school so as not to get in her way with her computer.

I called AppleCare, arranged for my MacBook Pro to go in for repair, they sent a box which arrived on a Tuesday. I backed my computer up on Wednesday night (on two different drives), deleted the documents folder on my user account, made a new user account for apple (admin, password 0) and packed up the machine. I included a note with a history of the problem including everything I’d done to solve it although I knew AppleCare had my case number and would refer to their notes as well.

I dropped the boxed computer off at a FedEx pickup point on Thursday as I was driving my wife to the airport. While she was gone I used her machine, booting off my backup extensively and I have to say it worked fine. I even got sort of used to the glossy screen (that’s another post).

I tracked my computer’s progress on Apple’s repair web site and I don’t think it got to the repair facility until Sunday. On Monday the repair tracking page showed that my computer had finally made it to repair. The next time I checked later Monday it was on its way back to me. I had it in hand at 9:30 am on Tuesday morning, the day my wife came home.

The included repair report said that they’d replaced the keypad, the entire top deck including trackpad, the fan and the thermostat. The computer booted perfectly, the keypad worked perfectly, the fan stays off, and all was and is well.

I disconnected the backup drive from my wife’s computer and started this computer up from it, then completely erased this computer’s internal hard disk and used SuperDuper to copy my backup drive onto this drive. I booted this computer and was back in business.

My wife’s MacBook was back on her desk like it was never used (I cleaned the keypad and screen) and this computer was back in my hands completely repaired in a reasonable amount of time.

The only hiccup which I noticed while running from the backup is that iChat/AIM isn’t holding onto my password between restarts but I know I’ll get that sorted at some point.

Is AppleCare worth it? It is to me. I’ve only used it maybe four times in the many years I’ve had it but the alternative in Texas was disaster, the alternative last week was an out of warranty repair which if done by either TekServe, The PowerBook Guy, or Apple would have cost a lot more than the $350 AppleCare cost me.

These days, many of us rely on our computers for a lot more than we did five or ten years ago and as computers and phones merge into iPads and netBooks I think having an extended warranty will be even more important.

Or, you can roll the dice and hope for the best.

I don’t gamble.