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The Black Curtain of Doom

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Greetings, Earthlings.

I am writing you from Planet Laptop Failure. I have been living here for three weeks now and I'm getting used to it. The food is pretty good, but I can't access my photo library or have email. One fine morning in late June I woke up, turned on my 15" Mac PowerBook Pro, launched my email program, Eudora, and watched as an inky black Curtain of Doom fell down over my desktop. Frantic clicking and cursor dragging revealed small, polka-dotted windows of desktop which then closed again. The computer was running but the display was shot.

On July 6, I sent the computer off to Apple to be repaired under my Apple Care extended warranty. This, after probably five hours on the phone with three different technicians, troubleshooting, holding down keys and taking out batteries and finally reinstalling the operating system from the discs that had come with the laptop. Just so you know, I hate, hate, hate being walked through scary things like that with someone on the other end of the phone telling me what to do. It is the ninth ring of Hell. The last technician I spoke to reassured me, when we had done every dumb combination of restarting and holding down multiple keys, and finally agreed that it had to be sent in to be repaired. "If they have to wipe your hard drive to repair it, they'll keep a backup copy."

Ohhh-kaayyy. This didn't sound good, this "wipe your hard drive" talk.

I did a final backup before sending the laptop off. I grabbed a few files, put them on a flash drive, just the essential stuff. Good thing.

The computer was back in two days. A bunch of bad keys had been replaced and the hinges had been replaced and the screen was no longer dark down the left side and it was silky smooth and running cool, not hot as a durn firecracker, hot as asphalt at the beach...And when I fired it up I got some jiggy electronic music and a screen saying WELCOME! in about ten languages. Enjoy your new Mac! Wha??? Where's my desktop? Where are my files? Where are my 25,000 photos? WHERE'S MY DATA??!!!

It was gone. Everything was gone. They'd wiped my hard drive out without so much as a howdedoo. The first technician I spoke with (make that croaked to), when I asked him where my data was, responded,

"They probably had to wipe your hard drive to fix it. "

"OK, well, did they keep a backup? I was told that if they have to "wipe my hard drive" they'd keep a backup."

"Who told you THAT?"


"Hold on, please." Ten minutes of megahold later, he said, "That's not the case."

Apple had my phone number. They had my email. They had my cell number. Heck, I'd bonded with three different technicians in the course of the week. And they still erased my hard drive without telling me. Niiiice. Wait. Is this the same company that has cute lil' Justin Long as its ultrahip pitchman? It's acting more like the company behind the nerd with too-tight Dockers. What kind of thing is that to do, to erase a loyal customer's hard drive? Someone who's been staring at your apple with a bite out of it since 1992? Who panics when forced to use a PC at the library?

Another frantic, lengthy call to a fourth technician at Apple. Lengthy walking through of attempting to locate a backup program so I could try to recover my data off my external hard drive. Whoops! They'd erased my backup application. "You'll have to take your computer in to your nearest Apple store." At that point I was swallowing tears. I barely managed to squeak, "Okay."

"Goodbye, Julie," he responded. We hung up. He seemed remorseful, but the words "I'm sorry" never passed his lips.

My "nearest Apple store" is 2 1/2 hours away. Do I have a day, maybe two, to kill? No. I don't. I put in three calls to my Apple store, where one Genius had assured me, "If you EVER have a problem, call me!" Well, I did, and I have a very big problem, and he didn't call me back. I think, this kind person excepted, Geniuses probably get very used to fending off weepy people who've lost everything through no fault of their own. Who leave long, tragic messages about lost data and halted careers. And besides, they're busy. They've got truckloads of new iPhones to sell. So I turned to My Own Personal Genius, Bill of the Birds, who said, "Let's install a backup program ourselves, and try to get that data."

Correction: I just got a message on my cell phone this evening, a very sweet, cheery message, saying that my weepy message had been posted somewhere he didn't see me then we'd already waded through the problem ourselves.

And we did. It took eight hours, but we did it. The Phantom external hard drive ground away and the computer hummed away and they talked to each other and did data trophallaxis and by God it worked! It is good to have a Genius in one's home. As each month's files popped up on my desktop, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. At last I had my July work back, and I was almost in business again. I BELIEVE IN BACKUP.

And then the time came to download Eudora again, to try to reactivate my email. We did that, went online and got the latest version. Installed it. And the moment we launched it, the Black Curtain of Doom fell back across the screen of my computer, with its brand new logic board and its brand new video card and its brand new thermal core and its brand new hinges. We were right back to Square One. Unless...

Genius Bill frantically started de-installing Eudora. "ZICK! It's EUDORA that's doing it!" he shouted. Through what bits of the desktop he could still see, he threw out bits and pieces of Eudora until he got it the h-ll off my hard drive. And we shut down, and when we restarted, it was OK again.

Just FYI, Eudora is an outdated email program that is no longer supported by its parent, Quaalcom. So if you have a problem, you're on your own. Like, if your screen goes completely black when you launch the program, and then gets jazzy polka dots and snow and diagonal lines...and then goes black... And my computer-savvy friends tell me that this sounds like a compatability problem. Whatever it is, dread Asian virus or compatability issue, I can tell you you do not want to see a Black Curtain of Doom on your desktop, ever, ever, ever. It is not nice. I'm getting out of Eudora. And wondering if .mac is where I need to be. My head hurts.

My laptop seems fine, now that Eudora's off it. Except that I have no email, and I can't access my photo library. I've updated iPhoto just this evening and it still tells me to get the latest update before I can see my photos. !@#$#$#!! I'm working on both of those issues. Now I have to call my Genius back. I'm about out of tricks.

Having no photo library, my friends, is a major buzzkill for a blogger. I mean, doing this five days a week for almost four years is hard enough when you CAN access your photo library.

Mercury has been in retrograde for awhile. Murphy's Law seems to be the only one in force here. Late June was an a-skicker: First the kitchen sink, then both lawnmowers, then the air conditioner/furnace broke down. Then my laptop. Then the email (Eudora again!) on my Old Slow Computer froze up. I'm reduced to reading my messages off SquirrelMail online. No address book, nuthin'. I can only react to incoming emails; I have no correspondence to refer to, no way to reach out. I'm tired, but I'm clawing my way through it. I've learned a lot about computers and hard drives and I've learned a lot about Apple. I appreciate my resourceful husband even more than ever. And I've learned about backup. If you're not backing up weekly, you stand to lose everything. And trust me, you don't want to lose everything. Buy that external hard drive, get a backup program and learn how to use it.

So. I'm taking a break. Not because I want to, although when I think about it, I really need to. Maybe this is just Mercury's way of slowing me down. Trying to be grateful for that.

From Planet Laptop Failure, I remain

Your faithful but hog-tied



While I've never used Eudora, I've been using the .mac mail system - you can set it up to pull your AOL, gmail, yahoo.mail, etc. You can sort mail into folders or have it automatically go to folders . . .

Sorry you've had so much problems with your laptop.

BTW - almost all of my photo files reside on hard drives that are backed up automatically on the Drobo. The ones that aren't on the Drobo exist in at least two places either on two hard drives or on DVD's.

I'm glad you didn't lose any data . . . but what a nightmare to go through . . .

Wasn't Eudora the name of the evil mother-in-law on "Bewitched?"

Sooooo Sorrrrry JZ; I know many 'feel your pain.' I often think about how dependent we become on these little machines on our desktop, and when they go haywire what incredible havoc it plays on our daily lives, and even on our psyche and emotions! NOT good!!
Anyway, take as long a break as you need (SOMEhow we'll survive the lapse of Baker fixes), and as they say, 'this too shall pass.'
(the scariest part is, I've had Eudora on my Mac forever!)

I am so sorry about all your computer problems. I switched from a PC to a Mac to avoid such catastrophes, so I can imagine how devastated I would be if my Mac crashed. Here's hoping this is the end of the mechanical failures.

Bummer on the file loss. You might want to try Boomerang or Stellar Phoenix to see if the photos can be recovered. I've not personally used either, only read about them in Mac forums. They are expensive but there are free demos. I don't know if the demo offers full functionality.

After I picked up my external HD I become a regular user of Time Machine. No problems so far.

With no where near 25K photos or the massive amount of data you have, I fear a catastrophic loss - there's so much that could not be recreated! You've just convinced me to call Dr. Backup and get started with an automatic backup system because I tend to go 2 or 3 weeks before I remember to do it. (Shudder!) Here's hoping you are able to recoup both all the computer files and your sanity and sparkling wit. We do indeed feel your pain!

So sorry for your file losses. That really stinks.

And that's why I use a PC, LOL!

Actually, I have no real preference..I've used both Apple and Microsoft, and they both have their pros and cons. I use PC's because they're what I can afford to have. Apple is prohibitively expensive.

I hope you will keep posting despite the lack of photographs. You tell a story so well that the photos are just icing on the cake. After all, we never see anything on NPR and we love your every word.

I got a new computer last month and have been kicking myself for not getting a MAC. Hmm...maybe a PC isn't so bad after all.


I've had nothing but trouble from apple's service department mainly the same issue of you need to go to your nearest apple store (in my case a 4 hour flight away) - its amazing how long it took me to get past the (apparently vital but patently ridiculous) question "what US state is your caribbean island nation in?" only to be followed up with "ah - you should be speaking to apple australia'! Needless to say at that point I gave a terse explanation of the definition of the word genius and their incorrect use thereof.

I have no technical advice, because I'm far stupider than you are. But my Sympathetic Nervous System flies into overdrive now for just these calamities with all the verve our ancestors had for leaping tigers. On top of that, they're the only thing that can reliably reduce me to a bog of tears. Here's what I CAN suggest: take a damn break. Your public will check in with you when you come back. Give yourself permission to be off the grid for a month. We'll love you all the more.

First, I have been told that "Apple Mail is probably the best e-mail application on the planet." Never used it, or anything much apple, but it might be worth looking at.

Second, I had to look trophyllaxis up. Interesting word! However, it appears that the more accepted spelling is trophallaxis

I'm getting nervous. My PC is old and running down and my son-in-law has just about talked me into buying a Mac. Like any day now! Makes me wonder what I'm getting myself into (other than bad servicing).

Oh, Martha.

Let me make it clear that these are the words of a jilted lover. Of someone who believes Macs are the be-all and end-all computer. Someone who has had a run of really, really crappy luck that has dropped a curtain of doom over everything from lawnmowers to laptops to kitchen sinks. I hope my experience isn't typical; I hope Apple doesn't routinely wipe out hard drives without checking to see that the customer is braced for getting a computer back that's fixed, but as blank as a baby's bottom.

You should still get a Mac. A Mac on a bad, I won't go there. Just get one. You won't be sorry. There's a lot of joy before the storm.

If you send a computer to be fixed you can NEVER be certain the data will be there when it returns. Painful to contemplate, but that is how it is. Even if your computer is kept safe in your own hands, you can not be certain the hard drive will not die - and with it all your precious data. That is why you make backups. In an ideal world backups is plural, and at least one copy is not home with your computer where they can both be lost in a common disaster. An external disk drive is a great tool for backups, but it is also worth noting that you can fit a LOT of photos on a burnable DVD, and it is very cheap to make several copies to be stashed elsewhere.

May I suggest Dropbox and/or Backblaze? The former is more of a syncing solution, the latter a backup solution, but both will do online backups of whatever data you like. Dropbox at least has a free option. I use both, and while I haven't yet had a computer crash, it's very reassuring.

Ugh! But thank goodness for Genius Bill! We fans of JZ (and Chet) are not a fickle lot and will faithfully await your return to the blogosphere.

I used Eudora. I loved Eudora. But when I got a new Mac a couple years ago, Eudora wouldn't work on it. I had to abandon Eudora.
Now I use Gmail. I LOVE Gmail. I recommend Gmail for you, Julie. I send my deep sympathies.

Oh (((Julie))).... my heart ached for you as I read about your adventure. We do take them for granted until we get a black curtain of doom. So glad you and Bill at least figured out how to get access to the hard drive stuff. Take a deep breath and give yourself a big hug from all of us.

I've experienced the black (or was it blue on my PC) screen of death. Never fun and I think I gained 4 pounds those two days eating through my depression and anxiety :)

I back up every day through Mozy Pro. Which sends my data to a remote location should I need to retrieve it. It brings me peace knowing I have it.

Best of luck getting the photos back. I'll say a prayer.

Yowza. Glad this finally worked out, but the thought of all those photos lost ... that was a close one.

You know, I've only used PC's and have never had one crash. My 6 year old Dell upstairs just keeps going and going ... and I use ol'free hotmail for email ... and never have issues.

I know Macophiles are fiercely loyal, but in the blogging world, I am constantly reading posts similar to yours where their beloved Mac just quit.
Yet the loyalty continues.

I don't have any loyalty one way or the other, I just started with PC's and Macs were always pretty pricey, so I've stayed with PC's out of satisfaction and a tight wallet.

Aw, man! i don't understand half of what all of you tech-savvy peeps are sharing, but it sounds like a big wave of helpful empathy. Hang in there and enjoy the vacation, Julie. Listen to Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

Oh, and the fantastically 'evil' mother on Bewitched was ENdora :)

Sorry about your computer problems. Eudora is a a very oooooooold program (I used to teach Eudora classes at Stanford back in the day). The mail program that comes with your Mac operation system is wonderful. Use it. Time Machine which comes with your Mac operation system is wonderful. Use it. Hang in there!!!

Our PC has shown us the Blue Screen of Death, too! Howl of Frustration shared.

ARRRGH ! A Garden Way cart full of sympathy is sent your way. Know that your Blog fans will be right here whenever you return.

Mountainwoman is right that photos, while wonderful, are "icing on the cake" for your delicious writing.

Where should I send the bill for Personal Genius consulting and the calm caravan of Zen provided during the recent unpleasantness?

Julie that was a JOKE! Put down the rolling pin and fry pan. Please.

As a helpless tech-no-ramus who has a seen the Black Curtain of Doom, my heart was in my mouth as I read your post.

Murr and I must share a distant relative--my Sympathetic Nervous System responds to modern day glitches as though they were large carnivores poised to jump.

Hope the planets realign and all is restored.

In everything, there is a flaw.
With the best, it just takes us longer to stumble upon it.

I'm glad you are painting.
I can think of no purer joy than to see images come to life from a blob of paint.
Technology aside, your gift will go on.

Oh, loads of sympathy!

Second the recommendation of gmail. Excellent spam filtering, easy filtering etc., and you can access it anywhere. I like the google calendar too.

Now go lie down for a week or three.

Clay Lady:
exactly, exactly, exactly. Computer failures push all my helplessness buttons at once. However this has been a kiln to harden the softest clay. It's less of a mystery now, and having worked through the time-consuming solutions to failure, less scary. Not less annoying, just less scary.cals

I had precisely the same experience with my McBk Pro. After much reassurance that it would be returned, hard drive intact, that was dumped at some service center in Niagara Falls, NY of all places. All those photos, emails, addresses over the external hard drive is the way to go for photo back-up. I'm using the Mac mail program now and like it. Good luck with getting back to "whole".

Kind of ironic isn't it. We enjoy the natural world as observers, try to convey that sense of enjoyment and relazation to others by writing, and we use a technology that is anything but relaxing and enjoyable!

I lost all my data two years ago in a lightning strike. My backup was in the DVD tray and was destroyed too. Everything melted. Not too bright on my part.

Hope your future days go much better!


Julie, while I'm not sure how the Mac gods would feel about a PC heretic offering them burnt offerings, I'll be glad to sacrifice a programmer or two if it'll help any. (We've got a couple of extra ones lying around the office doing nothing important.)

Sure hope things clear up soon with the photo library and such. And make sure you hug that resident Genius of yours whenever you get the chance. That's always a better motivation than rolling pins and frying pans, at least in the long term...

I thought software conflicts were a PC thing. Now AI have an iMac and I know better.
Back up or die seems to be a standard with computers.
I have backed up all my photos, multi thousands, to dvd's.

See you in September... that would be a good name for a song.

It is now time for everyone to turn off their puters and pick up their copies of Letters From Eden A year at Home, in the Woods for a really good Zick fix.

Some of the most traumatic moments of my life were spent on the phone with a computer tech. There have been marathon phone calls lasting more than 3 hours that resulted in my cell phone dying and losing the connection... freaking nightmares, let me tell you!!!! I understand. Been there.

I can't think of another person more deserving of a blogging break than you, dear Julie. I'm addicted to your blog but I'll be fine :o) Enjoy. I'm on a break, too.

Love ya,

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