Dealing with the Curse

My Power Mac is dead and will stay that way. It would cost about $1,000 to get a new logic board installed, which is at the high end of what I could hope to sell the whole system for in perfect working condition today, never mind when I want to replace it in a month or two, when the new line of Mac Pros comes out. So I eventually picked it up from the hard-to-reach (on the phone) repair shop, and it’s sitting in my storage locker as a very heavy and attractive source of spare parts for Marc’s own tower should anything (other than the logic board) fail on him.

I found a way to limp along without it, though. I have temporarily repurposed the Mac Mini I had been using as a voice mail system in my comm closet. By adding a 500 GiB external hard drive (which I scored for $80 at Target, hurrah), partitioning that drive to boot Intel Macs, and installing Leopard on it, I was able to boot into the migration assistant, and pull over the environment from my Power Mac’s SATA boot drive. There was some hassle with software that I wasn’t able to deactivate on the old machine before it died (not knowing said death was imminent), so I had to contact support at Adobe and Mark/Space to get my registrations moved over, and jump through a few other hoops, but now I have access to my important media libraries and other such things while I wait for Apple’s exciting announcements next year.

The Mini actually does a surprisingly good job of filling in for the PowerMac and driving my Cinema Display, although it is way short on memory by comparison having just 1 GiB shared with an on-board video controller; the tower had 5 GiB and a screaming video card. I won’t be doing any video encoding projects for a while, and if I get sick of virtual memory paging lag, I may spend $30 and some effort prying open the case to double the RAM. But I can definitely get by for a few months and save the $1,000 repair cost towards buying a new screaming machine when the Nehalem Xeon models debut.

The TiVo is back to full capability, with a Seagate-mechanism 750 GiB eSATA external drive from WeaKnees working just great. I expect it to last much longer than the officially-supported Western Digital drive did, and even though this enclosure has fans (which is a good thing for longevity), you can’t hear them. The drive mechanism itself is more audible, but it’s not an unpleasant sound. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the very bright blue LEDs on the front of the enclosure, but a couple of pieces of electrical tape calmed them right down. I may find a more aesthetically sophisticated solution someday, but from normal viewing distance this looks fine for now. And the TiVo Series 3 did warn me it was uncertified, but was quite happy to go ahead and use it anyway, as expected.

Curse Update

Now that I am back from a great visit to friends and family in New York City and Connecticut, I finally had time to make some progress in diagnosing the TiVo. I called back to discuss my trouble ticket last night, and to report that things had degraded significantly, to the point where I could not watch or record anything. No programs had been recorded since Monday, November 24.

The friendly TiVo tech walked me through various troubleshooting steps, leading up to a “Kickstart 54” which performed hard drive diagnostics once we got it to launch successfully. Even doing that required letting the external drive power off for a while first.

It turned out that, as I suspected, the external drive was garbage. It had started to fail days after its warranty timer ran out, and was now unable to pass any of the tests other than the “initial state” which seems to just say “are you there?”

The silver lining is that the internal drive, which would be much more of a pain to replace, is just fine. So I ended up biting the bullet and severing the TiVo’s connection to the external drive. Of course that meant irrevocably losing almost a terabyte worth of the TV programs and movies I had saved, many of which I hoped to watch or burn to DVD. One advantage of the seasonally-imposed delays in getting to this point is that I had already mentally prepared myself for this outcome.

Now my TiVo is working fine again, with a quarter of the space it had before. It snagged an episode of The Venture Brothers last night, and let me watch some spooled Good Morning America while I got ready for work this morning.

I’ve ordered a replacement drive from WeaKnees. I am giving up on the “TiVo Certified” route, since they still only officially support Western Digital drives, and my experience with the last one lived down to my expectations. Happily my Series 3 will let me use an unsupported drive, and WeaKnees has a nice Seagate mechanism that is designed for DVR use, in a quiet enclosure. And I already know how to run the hard drive diagnostics if it ever comes to this again in the future, so good-bye to supported but low-quality hardware.

On the other major front, I am having less luck. It turns out that The MacXprts were not out of business, they were just having problems with their phone line (and still are). They can get calls from some places, but not my office in Fitchburg. If I call on my cell phone I can at least reach their voice mail. When I stopped in (without time to do so, really) on Wednesday, they told me that the original person who took my Mac had misspoken when he quoted two business days for me to hear a diagnosis and repair plan; the real figure was a much less satisfactory five business days.

Well, even that has more than elapsed now, and I have received no communication from them whatsoever. I left a message expressing concern and dissatisfaction yesterday, and they have not called me back. So, I have to report that their customer service, speed, and general business is leaving me highly unimpressed. I should not have tried to support a local business, it seems. At least not this one.

Now that it is clear I will be without my Mac for several weeks, I am being forced to find ways to cope without it. Last night I dealt with the most pressing issue, migrating Quicken, my data files, and the Treo syncing software over to my laptop. I needed to do this in order to record the past few weeks of transactions, adjust balances, and pay some bills that were very nearly coming due.

At some point I may well conclude I can limp along without the desktop machine until Apple’s new line next year. But there are some things I won’t have space to migrate over to the laptop, and some that will be hard to deal with. So I hope it doesn’t come to that.

If I don’t start hearing from the folks at The MacXperts soon, I am going to go and demand my hardware back and dispute their charge on my credit card. Very disappointing.

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