Monday: Cable modem seems back to normal, but Internet access is rerouted to a Comcast internal site that tells us to download an installer. Cancel service call. Try to run installer. Go home to get cable bill for account code to placate installer. Successfully run installer, and find that... Internet access is rerouted to Comcast internal site that tells us to download an installer. Give up sometime after midnight and call tech support, who says the signal from the cable modem is crappy. Reschedule service call for Thursday.
Wednesday: Marsha's Mac won't boot -- makes the normal "pling" sound when it's turned on, hangs for a long time, shows the Apple logo, hangs for a long time, shows a circle with a line through it. Cancel Comcast service call. Bring TV from home to replace EyeTV Mac program. Marsha won't be able to listen to music, read e-books, or change channels, but it's better than nothing. Take Marsha's Mac with me.
Thursday: Same behavior when I plug in the Mac mini at work. Work is quiet enough to hear the disk head clicking as it seeks, which is mildly promising. Decide to take Mac to Apple Store; but first re-install GPS software and maps (which I use to compensate for my lack of driving experience) on my Palm handheld (which crashed last week). This task takes several hours, for reasons I won't bore you with; by the time I'm done, the Apple Store is closed.
Friday: Tropical Storm Ernesto chimes in with a impressive contribution to the pathetic fallacy. (Fallacy!?). Here it's mostly rain, rain and more rain, but a falling tree takes out Inter- and intranet access from the building where eighty percent of our tech staff have been centralized for efficiency's sake. Take off in the driving rain with my Sony Vaio notebook, the Macbook Pro from work, and Marsha's Mac mini, to find a place with wireless access. Find another restaurant with wireless access when the first place closes.
After work, head out to the Apple Store through rain that seems stronger than ever. Explain to the young man who greets me (after a long silent stare) that I have a sick Mac mini, and no I don't have an appointment. Appointments can only be made over the Internet -- to which the Macs in store are connected, at least. Attempt to schedule an appointment, only to find that none are available today. Not surprising since the day is almost over. The screen gives the helpful information that people with Procare can schedule appointments up to 7 days in advance. (Big whoop!) Leave, go back through the rain to the place with wireless. Find out that Procare is $99/year. Decide that it's worth it, to be able to give Marsha a definite date when I'll be able to take the Mac in for repair. Find no way to purchase Procare on line. Call Apple Store. There is no way to purchase Procare on line. Drive back in the rain (which for a wonder seems to be finally slowing down) to the Apple Store. Get there two minutes before they close, but they loosen up a bit and give me time to log on to Procare and make an appointment while I'm in the store -- a good thing, since they've written my email address down wrong, and it's needed to log in.
Head to Marsha's to tell her the news. Find that Ernesto has knocked out cable for the entire nursing home, so the TV I brought isn't much use. Go home for my iPod, set it up with some of Marsha's music (last backed up in February, alas). Get cheap drugstore headphones since ones Marsha was using are USB and only work with computers.
Saturday: Arrive for my appointment at the Genius Bar. Tell my tale of woe to the genius behind the bar, who tells me it sounds like the Mac is looking for a boot ROM and can't find one. (Presumably he means a boot sector on the disk; a computer that can't find its ROM doesn't get to the point of playing chords, displaying logos, and doing disk seeks.) He boots up the Mac mini with the boot log displaying on the screen. (By pressing Command-V on boot, he says. Remember that for future use.) The mini announces it is checking the disk, waits a long time -- proceeds to finish the boot.
(I've seen "problem goes away in the face of designated expert" before, but usually I'm the expert in question.)
Genius reboots from an external FireWire disk and runs Apple's Disk Utility. We expect reports about bad disk sectors, but the program finds no errors. Presumably the vibration of riding around in the car for a couple of days did something. Our genius chooses the Disk Utility option to repair file permissions, and dutifully finds and changes some incorrect permissions. He believes that must have been the problem. I'm skeptical, myself-- if permissions were the problem, why did it boot before they were fixed? --but having been in his shoes, I can understand the impulse to give the customer (and yourself) some explanation for weird computer behavior.
Buy an external FireWire disk, with enough room to back up Marsha's entire disk, small enough to fit in with all the other equipment on her over-the-bed table, powered via the FireWire cable so it doesn't need a precious socket in the power strip. Try rsync, which runs but has some error messages. Switch to the give-away backup utility that comes with the disk, which if it encounters any errors doesn't mention them. Set up a automatic backup schedule and hope it works.
Saturday evening: Cable is working at Marsha's again. After setting up her computer, check broadband. Still not working, won't respond to DHCP lease request. Call Comcast again. The person who answers asks me to check the local cable channels, seems surprised they're working, and gives relieved agreement to my suggestion that I'd better call back after Comcast has cleared out the backlog of Ernesto damage.