The Frisky Ghost in Your Computer

by Barrett

I’ve got a ghost in my iMac. This little digital demon likes to make my screen go black, especially when I’m writing this blog. It’s making my life feel a tad jaggy. Time for a trip to the Genius Bar…

I’ve got a ghost in my iMac. This little digital demon likes to make my screen go black, especially when I’m writing this blog. It’s making my life feel a tad jaggy. Time for a trip to the Genius Bar…

If you’re reading this, your computer or mobile device powered up today.

It’s healthy.
I hope you’re healthy.
(Friends and family too.)
Happy New Year.

What more is there, really?

That said, you shouldn’t take note of such cheerful matters only once a year. Especially when it comes to your precious technology…

Tech goes bad. Sometimes you can fix it. Often it’s down for the count. The important thing is to always keep an open mind throughout the stress of any repair process.

My Mac Fell Asleep… and Wouldn’t Wake Up.
So my iMac went ‘black’ a little over a week ago.
It didn’t exactly die… the screen just popped off. I heard the computer’s guts still whirring in the background. It was like the iMac prematurely began its sleep process, but got stuck.

However, I couldn’t shake this near slumber via my Apple wireless keyboard. Nor with my Magic Trackpad. All I could do was tap the power button in the back to fully settle my computer into sleep mode. And then when I clicked it back to life, the screen popped on as if nothing had happened.

But then the ghost in my machine acted up again five minutes later.
And again… one minute later.

Houston, we have a problem!

It’s Not the Computer
So I brought my iMac to the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store.
(You may recall from my last post, I had also brought it there in search of more RAM.)

The Genius plugged in her power cable and USB keyboard and started running a bunch of diagnostics.
Thirty minutes later, my computer was issued a clean bill of health.

It wasn’t misbehaving in the slightest. The screen shone bright and constant.

The Genius hypothesized that one of my peripheral connections (USB hub) was causing the problem and suggested I connect one at a time to identify the culprit.

Uh huh.

The Cinderella Syndrome
So I brought my iMac home, put it back on my desk, plugged in the power cord, and powered it up. Nothing else was connected.

The screen began to glow.
And thirty seconds letter, my screen transitioned immediately back to its Cinderella mode!

Somehow, I was not surprised.

Sleep-Deprived Ghost
So I boxed up my inscrutable monolith and drove it back to the Genius Bar.

The next Apple Genius immediately acknowledged the problem. In fact, it had happened to him on his own iMac!
(What luck!)

He explained it was a ‘corrupt sleep image,’ which had developed in the OS software. And this bad sleep image simply needed to be deleted.
(He told me it was a ‘known’ problem since Mountain Lion, but Apple has never officially acknowledged it.)

He talked about how they are not quite sure why this particular digital elixir works. It just does.
(How comforting.)

This fix required typing in some ‘dangerous’ commands like ‘sudo’ that can destroy your computer if you don’t know what you’re doing.
(Apparently, ‘sudo’ renders your computer helpless to protect itself against any request… amateur, evil, or otherwise.)

The only safe way to use ‘sudo’ for someone like me is to mention the word in conversation at a party.
(Anyone who works in IT will immediately react and assume you’re one of them… if that’s what you want.)

You’re also not supposed to activate a program called ‘Terminal.’ My Genius looked at me when I asked him about it, and he said with a serious look, “Stay away from Terminal.”
(As he kept staring, I nodded and said, “This is not the droid I’m looking for.”)

And speaking of “Star Wars,” this ‘simple’ correction was so complicated, my Genius had to call over the Obi-Wan Genius to execute it properly.


Roll the Credits?
And the bad sleep image was terminated.

Next, my Genius asked me to do ten minutes of work on my iMac to demonstrate a clean bill of health, and then he sent me on my way.

As I boxed up my machine, he explained my computer would rebuild a new sleep image as I kept using it. All will be good again…

Well, that seemed easy.

At Home without Tech
Too easy…

I settled my ‘sleepless’ iMac back in at home and began working on it.
One hour passed. Then two…
As the third hour approached, I turned away from the screen… for just a moment.
When my gaze came back…. All I saw was black.

My frisky ghost was back.


Trip #3 to the Genius Bar
The next Genius listened to my frustrated tale of woe as we powered up my machine. As I explained the past two ‘fixes,’ apparently my phantom menace got bored playing its little game.
My screen went black in front of everyone at the Apple Store.

I raised my hands high and did a little hop as if the home team had scored the winning touchdown. I looked around for some kind of affirmation from the crowd. All I got was a bunch of confused stares.

I turned back and saw that this Genius also did not share my enthusiasm.

He said, “I think it could be a bad graphics card. We’re going to have to take it in and see.”

I asked him how long the fix would take.

“Three to five business days.”

I was okay with that. I had prepared myself for this possibility and would use my old MacBook Pro laptop as my back-up computer.
(It’s good to have access to another computer for times like these.)

And how much would the repair be?
“We’ll call you when we confirm what the problem is…”

And then I went home.
Sans iMac.

That was last Monday…

The Cliffhanger Continues
Tuesday, I waited for the phone to ring. At 4pm, I gave Apple a call to see how the fix was going. The repair shop hadn’t gotten to it yet, but the Genius I spoke with confirmed Apple would mend my iMac in the three to five business days…
(assuming I approved the cost)

His subtext was clear.
(Don’t call us. We’ll call you…)

Wednesday passed.

And the next day.
(That was New Year’s… so I guess I can’t count it as a business day.)

Friday evaporated.
(though not without an amazing experience watching my four year old son learn how to ice skate)

And the weekend, of course doesn’t qualify as a business interval.

Time to Make a Hard Decision
But on Saturday, the call came.

It wasn’t good news…
The graphics card wasn’t the problem… It was the LCD display.
It had to be replaced!

So I had a choice to make, and it wasn’t an easy one…
The new screen install vs. a completely new iMac

You can make a good argument for either choice.
Which means there’s pain to each one…
(Fixing an older machine at an expensive price point or dropping a pretty penny on the latest and greatest)

After some soul searching, I went with the fix, hoping to get a little more life out of my current iMac.
(and also considering I had just spent $$$ putting more RAM into it!)

The Genius then said she needed to order the replacement LCD. I asked if the repair would still be completed in the promised three to five business days.

She answered it wouldn’t be.

I paused.

Finally she admitted the delay existed because Apple had been counting on the graphics card fix… they had even ordered and received the part.
(But I think too many days had passed before the Genius doctors finally got to the patient and then realized they needed to change their diagnosis.)

So the repair won’t be done till sometime next week.
(I’ll survive.)

Stay Tuned…
And you know what that means?
This story is now officially a cliffhanger.
(I hope there’s a happy ending.)

We’ll see how my little tech adventure concludes next week!