What To Do When Your Mac Needs Repair – MyMac.com Help Desk #1

Hopefully this column won’t stink and disappear like Amanda’s first Rocketboom episode. I think her replacement is a poor imitation (that’s the worst Connecticut accent I’ve ever heard), and I can’t wait for Amanda’s big comeback. Anyway, we’re already off topic and we’ve just begun!

Welcome to the first edition of the MyMac.com Help Desk. This column will be along the lines of the Mac 911 and Ask Us columns in Macworld and MacAddict, not providing tech support but answering some of those nagging questions from readers. Unlike those columns, we’ll stray a bit from the letters from time to time. Tips, hints, ramblings, other stuff. You can send your questions to tom@mymac.com. I keep saying we instead of I because this is our column, not mine. Your letters will shape it. I will try to answer as many as I can (Obviously if I get hundreds some will be ignored. Sorry.), and put some in each column.

You can find out more about me in my MyMac.com bio, but for the better part of 20 years I have been fixing Macs in one way or another. One of the most frustrating things about my job is when I have to call someone to tell them I don’t have what I need to give them the help they’re looking for. Here are some tips for you to help you get the best service experience when your Mac needs repair.

1. Find the best place to bring it. – The best place for this is not the obvious place. Apple’s Find Service (US) search page will locate the 24 closest Apple Authorized Service Providers to you within the search radius you specify, but it won’t tell you what type of resellers they are. In The US, there are generally 3 types: Apple’s retail stores, an Apple Reseller, and an Apple Specialist.

Apple’s retail stores offer service, but once your computer is out of warranty they have a tendency to urge replacement and they will not work on older Macs. Apple Specialists are not run by Apple and are held to higher standards than an Apple Reseller. An Apple Specialist can sell PCs, but Macs are required to be the main focus of their business. Some prominent examples of Apple Specialists are Tekserve in New York, First Tech Computer in Minneapolis, and Crywolf in San Diego. And also, of course, Small Dog Electronics in Vermont. Apple Resellers are allowed to mainly focus on PCs. CompUSA is an example of an Apple Reseller. An Apple Specialist, if there is one in your area, is the best place to go. In the US, you can find your nearest Apple Specialist at the Apple Specialist Marketing Co-op web site. Apple has similar dealer classifications around the world.

2. Make sure the problem description says what’s wrong. – Try to describe the problem in some detail. If you can’t that’s okay, but “It crashes randomly” or “It freezes every time I open Mail” or “It’s slow when I’m running Word” is more helpful than “Crashes a lot” or “It’s slow”.  The repair tech needs to know what to look for, and the less guessing he or she needs to do will make it that much easier to solve your problem. Leaving a descriptive note with written error messages you’ve seen on screen is a good idea, especially if someone will be bringing it in for you. Your friend probably won’t be able to describe what’s wrong.

3. Give the shop your password. – Most people are running Mac OS X by now, and that means there is a password. You may never see it if automatic login is on (this is Mac OS X’s default) and you never install any software, but it’s there. You created it when you first set up Mac OS X. The shop can reset it to anything you want if you can’t remember it.

Sometimes the tests that are run require the password to be entered, or if the solution involves installing or upgrading software the tech will need your password. Some people worry about giving their password. Where I work we have a privacy policy to cover this. Personally, I don’t care what the password is. I just want to get your computer back to you as quickly as possible, and If I need the password the whole repair just stops.

4. Make sure you can be reached. – Your tech may have questions for you, and phone tag slows things down. If possible, leave multiple phone numbers, or keep your cell phone on and carry it with you all day.

5. If you’re having trouble using something connected to or installed on your Mac, bring that in too. – This will most often be your printer, but it could be another peripheral or even software. If you don’t bring your printer, or other peripheral, the tech won’t be able to try it. With a printer, the problem could be the Mac but it’s more likely to be the printer or software.

If it’s software that’s giving you trouble, be sure to bring your install CD and any serial number or key needed for installation. If Microsoft Office needs to be reinstalled, they’ll need your disc & CD Key. If you’re having internet connectivity issues, be sure to bring all your internet setup info. Dial up can always be tested in shop, and if you have cable or DSL the configuration is usually close enough to test the things that don’t require you to be on your provider’s network, such as sending email.

Following these guidelines will help you help your tech get the repair done faster & more accurately.


AppleWorks dictionary trouble

In my “Check Document Spelling” function (under Edit), the program is not allowing me to use the “Learn” function. The button itself does not highlight. It stays faded, unlike the active buttons.

I’m wondering if it is possible that the User Dictionary is full. I use this feature regularly and extensively, and it would be nice to have the Learn function work the way it’s designed to. Wondering if there’s a way I can check this. Thanks!

Rex in Andover, MN

Dear Rex,

The Learn button being dimmed either means that AppleWorks has lost track of your User Dictionary (assuming you are using AppleWorks 6 & Mac OS X it’s at /Applications/AppleWorks 6/AppleWorks Essentials/Dictionaries/User Dictionary) or that it is full.  The AppleWorks 6 User Dictionary has a limit of 2883 words.  If yours is full, deleting a word or two & trying again will reveal that.

You can have multiple User Dictionaries to choose from to work around the 2883 word limit.  To find a lost User Dictionary or create a new one, select Edit > Writing Tools > Select Dictionaries…  Select User Dictionary in the dialog box that appears, and then either Choose or New based on what you need to do.

AirPort Extreme loses network

Back in May my old iMac display failed. You can hear the display’s power supply making a buzzing sound. I purchased a nifty iMac 20″ with the maxed out video memory (256 MB) and the Apple Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I enjoy it very much. Very fast comparing the old G3 to this new Intel processor. At the same time I decided to get the AirPort Extreme wireless router. Very slick and simple to program, however I frequently have to reset it because I lose the network. This is happening every 5 to 10 days on average. I  hear in your podcasts that the AirPort Extreme is completely stable. I am wondering if the router is defective or is there someone hacking into the system.

I am using WPA2 personal and I renamed the router and the network so it is not the default settings.

I haven’t called Apple yet because I have been able to regain access but it such a pain to have to reset it every few days!

Dan in Ottawa, ON

Dear Dan,

There are two types of resets: a soft reset and a hard reset. A soft reset temporarily disables the password, and a hard reset deletes the base station’s setup and restores the defaults. It sounds like you’ve followed the procedures in Apple’s Resetting the AirPort Extreme Base Station document and reconfigured your base station multiple times. If so, your base station is likely defective. iService Depot or The Mac Group in Ottawa should be able to help you with warranty replacement.


Send your questions to tom@mymac.com.

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