At the Genius Bar – an Odyssey

BUMMER!!! One day couple of weeks ago, my beloved 700MHz iBook (16 VRAM) became suddenly ill.

On waking from sleep, it would freeze up completely – no cursor, no nothin’. I would shut it down the only way I could, by holding down the power button, and then when I restarted, the poor thing could see its own hard disk. After several tries, it would start up successfully, but the frequency of the failure and the number of tries required to start up again both increased rapidly over the next 48 hours or so. At some point I did have the wit to back it up onto my trusty 200GB LaCie FireWire drive. At one point I was able to boot in Target mode, and ran Disk Utility from another machine, but it saw no problems.

I tried all the voodoo I could think of. I booted from the hardware test CD that came with the iBook, and that worked fine and reported no problems. I booted from an install disk, and the Installer ran fine but didn’t see the hard disk. So finally I headed for the Apple Store.

It was a Sunday morning, and the Genius Bar was jumping. But as soon as one of the two Geniuses on duty saw me, he directed me to go to any Mac in the store and click the “Genius” icon on the desktop, and get in the queue by filling in a form. “Oh, but don’t use any of the Macs in the kids’ area. The kids get real mad if you do that.”

So I went over to a G5 with 23″ Cinema Display, started the Genius application, and filled in the form, giving my name and a very brief note about the problem. The application told me I was third in the queue and the expected wait was 30 minutes. It even told me what time to show up at the Genius Bar.

I spent the half hour browsing around the store, occasionally checking the display over the Genius Bar, which showed the status of the queue every minute or so. I must say this automation of the queue is pretty slick; I hadn’t seen it in action before. When you have to wait, it’s nice to have constantly updated information on how long you’ll be waiting.

When my turn came, the Genius heard my sad story and tried booting the iBook. He saw what I had seen. Then he booted from his iPod, which had Panther installed. Boy, those iPods are handy. This worked fine, but the hard disk was nowhere to be seen. He ran DiskWarrior, and it couldn’t see the disk either. So he got on line, checked my serial number, and told me just what I had been hoping for: my iBook is in the series covered by Apple’s iBook Logic Board Repair Program ( He would send it in and it would be repaired for free. I could have it shipped to my house, and it would take about five days.

On the fifth day, the iBook arrived on my doorstep. I quickly started it up, wondering if they had left the hard disk intact so I wouldn’t have to restore everything. They had! It was as if the whole nightmare had never happened.

BUMMER!!! Two days later it failed again in exactly the same way as before.

Back to the Apple Store. Again it was a Sunday, and the same Genius was there. He remembered me, so there was less explaining to do. He verified that the iBook was busted, and got on line to look at the repair records. He said “They saw some corruption of the hard disk,” and this prompted me to ask “But they fixed the logic board, didn’t they?” He rooted around on line a little more – their screens are set up so you can’t look over their shoulders – and I thought he looked a little embarrassed when he answered, “No, they didn’t actually do anything at all.”

So he took it from me again, to be sent back with, he said, “a lot more comments on the need for repair.” It would take about five days….

Sure enough, on the fifth day, there it was again on my doorstep. This time, the letter in the box specified that Apple had replaced both the logic board and the hard drive. OK. I started the iBook. It started up just great. But it was running Jaguar, not Panther, so I decided the first thing to do was install Panther. I got out my trusty Panther install CDs, which are a souvenir from when I worked at Apple, and booted “Install 1.”

It booted just fine, and then the Installer started up.

BUMMER!!! The video went crazy.

The screen was overlaid with a shifting pattern of narrow, vertical bars in various colors. I shut down toot sweet with the power button, and as it was too late to head for the Apple Store Again, I fixed a Martini.

Next morning, you guessed it; I’m back at the Genius Bar. It’s Friday, so there’s a different Genius. I tell him the whole story, which by now are not only a sad one but also a long one. He listens attentively. Then he boots the iBook from his iPod, which has Panther on it. This is really a great trick. Panther starts up on my iBook just fine, and looks perfect. Then we try installing Panther. Yup, same thing I saw at home. “Wrong video drivers,” says the Genius. He mentions that the new logic board Apple installed is a later version than the original one. No surprise. And the new board wants later video drivers.

Well, we shilly-shallied around trying this and that, without learning much, and the Genius says, “OK, let’s just go ahead and install, even if it looks funny. Can’t hurt anything, can it?” So it’s barely possible to work with the screen, since the text is obscured by the color bars and the position of the cursor is somewhat mysterious, but we get it going. This is pretty good: the Genius is not just trying stuff, he’s actually working with me, and hey, maybe when Panther is actually installed, the right video drivers will be in place and everything will work. Flowers and bunny rabbits.

BUMMER!!! When Panther starts up, the video is still hosed.

At this point the Genius figures out what he and I both should have figured out in the first place. When he booted from his iPod he was booting 10.3.3, the latest, and it worked fine. But when we installed Panther, it was only 10.3.0, older than my new logic board. Like I said, we both should have figured this out – but he figured it out first. I am definitively outGeniused.

So (says the Genius) let’s run Software Update and get up to 10.3.3. And, again squinting through the crazy video, I get Software Update going. Let me tell you at this point that I spent four hours at the Apple Store that day, with my car in a two-hour parking spot. But guess what, with another brand of computer (or without easy access to an Apple Store) I might have spent twice as long on the phone with some guy with two weeks of training, in Chechnya or Haiti.

FLOWERS AND BUNNY RABBITS!!! Once I was running 10.3.3, everything just Worked.

Finally, I asked the Genius “Suppose I wanted to purchase a copy of Panther to install on this machine?” And he answered, “I guess you’d have to wait for the next set of boxes with Panther 10.3.3 in them.”

I give Apple an A- on this. I give the Geniuses, both of them, A+. I give the Genius Bar system the Nobel Prize.

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