24-Hour Non-Halloween Scare-A-Thon

Macbook Pro
9pm on Tuesday, my home-time after a long day at work. After quickly checking my email, I packed my laptop into its bag as I have done thousands of times before, and I neatly tucked the mouse and power adapter away, as I have done a hundred-or-so times in the past. Knowing I would be going straight home and getting it all out again to do some more work, I closed the lid of the laptop and allowed it to snooze for a while as I drove away from the city.

Arriving at home, I threw some food in the oven, curled up on the sofa and pulled my laptop from its bag. Popped open the display and fired up Firefox. It was as I was checking the headline news items on the BBC website when the screen went funny. It froze and looked as though I had set the resolution incorrectly (despite not touching a thing). The mouse and trackpad didn’t work and it seemed as though a gremlin had snuck into the computer while it was resting on the back seat of my car.

Unable to do anything, I resorted to pressing and holding the power button to turn it off. I waited a few seconds and pressed the button again to turn it back on. It chimed, the blue/grey screen appeared and then the Apple logo with spinning wheel.

Phew, must have been a funny five minutes as it seemed to be okay now.

Alas not, the Macbook Pro got no further than the logo and spinning wheel before showing a multi-lingual message explaining I had to power down the laptop and restart. Each time I tried to reboot it, the same thing happened. I tried with the USB mouse plugged in, and without the USB mouse plugged in. I plugged it into my monitor, and without plugging it into my monitor. With keybord, without. With Mac OS DVD, without. No joy.

Without any real access to the Internet, I decided to let the laptop sleep while I did the same.

This morning I tried again and still no joy. When I got to a working computer I hurriedly started reading up on the Apple site and other forums. I finally learned how to start the machine up in Safe Mode, and also how to reset various things (PRAM and NVRAM). The PRAM worked, because the volume had been reset to default, but it didn’t work because the machine was still getting stuck at the logo and spinning wheel.

Feeling exhausted, I booked an appointment with the Genius Bar at my local Apple store. I also researched the price and installation of a new hard drive, thinking that maybe it had decided to give up on me. Thankfully, I have a recent backup and wasn’t bothered about losing any of yesterday’s data – I think this helped tremendously in keeping my stress levels down. The most annoying thing about what happened today, the one thing that plagued me the most, was this weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix, and the fact I may have been unable to cover it.

Anyway, about an hour before my appointment with the guys and gals at Apple, I tried one last time and pressed the power button on the MacBook Pro. I looked away because I had already decided it wasn’t going to work and allowed myself to be distracted by something else. When I returned my eyes to the screen, I was looking at my desktop. Everything seemed to be in it’s right place. The wallpaper was even right, telling me that “Design is about scoring chicks and getting wasted. Oh wait, that’s rock n’ roll.” I decided to cancel my Apple appointment but may make another later in the week just ask somebody knowledgeable about what happened.

The machine hasn’t been turned off since then (a couple of hours ago) as I am about to do a full back-up of everything and ensure that the back-up is good. Then, I shall turn it off and turn it back on again. Probably with my eyes closed.

If it all works, I will likely take advantage of a complete and thorough back-up and format the drive and reinstall Mac OS etc…

I have no real idea why this happened, only that the system had some kind of kernal panic* that thankfully appears to have resolved itself (or been resolved by me, getting confused and not rebooting after changing something).

Either way, my non-Halloween scare-a-thon highlights one thing that I did right and it probably saved me a whole lot of stress over the past twenty-four hours: make regular back-ups, check that your back-ups work and keep the back-up data in a safe place. Knowing I have two external hard drives full up with old (archived) and new (recent) data in two different locations (one is at work, one is at home) meant that although my computer may have completely failed on me, the most important thing – the data/information/work held on it – was safe.

It was still frickin’ scary though.

*Which is totally what happens to KFC staff when they run out of chicken.

I’ll add some links to the Apple support site later, and also a list of keys that enable safe mode etc…