Back on the Keyboard

by wjw on September 24, 2020

I haven’t been visible on social media in the last week because my MacBook Pro was off in the shop.  The keyboard had (mostly) held together through the completion of Lord Quillifer, but was clearly on its last legs, so off to the Genius Bar I went.

Fortunately the butterfly-switch keyboard on my machine had generated such outrage in the Apple community that Apple announced they will fix the problem for free.

When I asked how long the repair would take, the Genius said “Usually three to five days, but they’re telling us to say two weeks because of the situation with the Post Office.”

So Trump’s attempt to sabotage the elections is interfering with business deliveries.  Great.  I wonder if I’ll be getting my prescriptions.

So for five days I worked on my iPad with a portable keyboard.  I liked this portable keyboard.  If I could figure out a way to make it work with my MacBook I would, but currently that seems highly unlikely.

Apple cleverly did an end run around the Trump PO by using FedEx, and my machine was returned to me on Wednesday morning, after only five days away from home.  Kudos for fast work.

When I opened the box I thought, “Whee!  Shiny!  They sent me a new computer!”  Because it really looked shiny spanking new.  But when I booted it up, it had my name on it and everything, and so I figured they just cleaned the heck out of my machine, and buffed out the scars on the case.

But my happiness did not go very far, because I soon realized that none of my data was on the machine.  And none of my programs, including my word processor.  The drive had been wiped clean.

Of course I’m not an idiot.  I had backed up everything.  But still.

So I prepared to upload everything from my backup drive, and behold!  My MacBook could not even find the backup file.  That would be eight years of work, email, etc., which could not be accessed, plus a whole lot of my old Windows files.

I called Apple Support and spend a couple hours on the phone with a helpful gentleman down in Cupertino, who taught me all sorts of tricks for accessing remote disk files, none of which worked.  So he kicked me upstairs to a software specialist, and he also taught me some tricks that didn’t work.

“What OS is your computer running?” he asked finally.

I checked.  “Sierra,” I said.

“And when you backed it up last week, what OS did you use?”


“Well there you go.  Sierra won’t read Catalina files.”

Because Sierra is a 32-bit program and Catalina is a 64-bit program, FYI.

“Why did they wipe my drive and install an old operating system?”

“They always wipe the drive.  Then they install a stable program to determine whether your problem was a hardware problem or a software problem.”

You’d think the fact that the keyboard was spitting keys might have been a clue that I had a hardware problem, but bear in mind that if it turned out to be software after all, they could charge me for the repair, whereas a keyboard repair is free.

“So what I need to do is upgrade to Catalina?” asked I.

“No.  You need to upgrade to the final iteration of Sierra, and then upgrade to Catalina.”

Which I did, though it took hours.

Then— guess what?— Catalina had no more success at reading the backup file than Sierra had!  But then I employed some of the tricks that my first customer support guy had taught me, and— success!— I was able to start the upload.

The computer informed me that the upload would take 56 hours, 38 minutes.  Which in the event turned out to be around 12 hours.

So far everything’s working.

But here’s the capper.  I felt the need to vent about all this, so I called Daniel, who used to work Customer Service himself, and I figured he could fake the empathy even if he wasn’t feeling it.  When I gave him the story about how they had to wipe my drive and load Sierra, he started laughing.

“They totally lied to you, dude!” he said. “It was too much trouble to fix your keyboard, so they sent you a new computer!”

Which is what I had thought when I first opened the box.  And if the new computer had been on the shelf for a while, it would have been running Sierra.

So the cost of getting a spanking new computer was about 12 hours of screaming anxiety, in which I contemplated eight years of work gone up in smoke and cursed out everyone at Apple, beginning with Steve Jobs.  “It was your obsession with aesthetics that produced this fucking awful keyboard!” I shrieked, in a voice that should reach him in the afterlife.

Next time this happens, I’m checking the serial number on the computer before and after, just so I can know what’s going on.

Etaoin Shrdlu September 25, 2020 at 5:51 am

So, “three to five days,” got it in five, and it’s Trump’s fault that there’s nothing wrong with the Post Office (any more than usual, anyway), then? Two scoops, five days, and six Supreme Court picks!

Sympathies about the screaming anxiety. For the last week I’ve been trying to get into an archive file created with K7.7.1 on a machine running K7.6 (because 7.7.1 won’t work with the video setup on it). Apparently the archive software I use embeds links to the libraries that manage the filesystem within the backup container. Who knew?! Guess what isn’t backwards-compatible?!

Etaoin Shrdlu September 25, 2020 at 6:10 am

Oops, I missed the key word “FedEx”. Nevermind!

At least you can take comfort in your prescription drug prices being lower (on average) thanks to President Trump’s executive orders earlier this year. 🙂

Mark Wise September 25, 2020 at 8:31 am

Yay, shiny new laptop. BIG BOO for lies and data shenanigans.

And it was most likely Jony Ives’ love of super thin things that got us the butterfly keyboard. Jobs was out of the picture.

Reno September 25, 2020 at 3:11 pm

Surprised you don’t have a NAS at home where you hold all your files; just remember to hold tight to your data spike and no C matrix wielding intruder will be a threat to your data integrity 🙂

Jim Janney September 29, 2020 at 2:47 pm

For what it’s worth, pretty much any Bluetooth keyboard should be usable with a MacBook. The layout won’t be the same and the Command and Option keys won’t be labeled as such, but you can remap those in System Preferences. See

Anyway, congrats on the new shiny.

bookworm1398 October 6, 2020 at 9:10 pm

Etaoin- Trump’s July executive order on prescription drug prices has not yet been implemented since HHS has not developed the specific guidelines needed for implementation. So no reduction in drug prices.

Last time I switched to a new computer, the backup drive quit transferring data halfway through and tech support couldn’t fix it. Fortunately it had gotten to the most critical stuff. But now I backup in iCloud not a physical hard drive.

Derek October 11, 2020 at 12:35 pm

Walter, just caught up with your MacBook saga–I happen to work at Apple, though on microprocessor design, so am not familiar with policies on the retail side of things. At any rate, my apologies on behalf of the Apple collective.
If I can help with troubleshooting something in the future, please feel free to write.

wjw October 11, 2020 at 6:14 pm

Derek, many thanks for the offer. So far I’ve only encountered one piece of software that I’m unable to run, and I’ll tackle that as soon as I’ve got some time. If my efforts fail, I’ll get in touch.

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