From the Mind of Mike
My thoughts on music, technology for making it, info I think you might want to share when I think of it or run across something interest, the usual kind of bloggy stuff.
Loving and Hating the Technology We Serve
I sit here for the third day in a row seeing what I hope is the last time I will have to again watch over 400GB of my data, apps and life in general slowly trickle across my network back to my MacBook Pro's backup drive. I kept the MacBook Pro synchronized with a dedicated drive on my recording studio system, a now vintage Mac Pro Intel Quad 3 GHz sporting four terabytes of storage, 16GB of fairly reliable RAM, two video cards running four LCD monitors, all powering 30 inputs and outputs of 24/96 audio channels and a 24 channel control surface for mixing, and a weighted-action 88 key digital piano MIDI workstation along with other assorted doodads that make music and audio production relatively easy for anyone with a penchant for rocket science. I guess the good news here is that I've been smart enough to make backups regularly, so this is not a tale of woe over the loss of data and a cautionary lesson on backing up your computer. If you're reading this, you already know that's a must for anyone who works with and relies upon a computer in their personal and business lives.
Computers make our lives better. They make a musician's life seemingly magical, when they work. At times, these magical boxes, they make our lives miserable. You can go from light-speed creativity and productivity to a grinding halt in a nanosecond. We are living in an age where its hard to tell sometimes if these machines serve us, or if we serve them. Of late, its become the later for me. I'm empowered by these tools to work from home, to be productive whenever the need or mood strikes, but of late I've found myself seriously considering taking a shotgun or hammer or just my bare fists to these simultaneously angelic and devilish tools.
Whether its simply emails piling up like flies at a fish house on the docks of Florida's fishing villages, or the finicky printer that doesn't want to connect and jams up at the worst possible moment, or the worst, the dreaded clean reinstall of your operating system, its easy to list the reasons why we enjoy this love/hate relationship with technology that the 21st century person is now inevitably married to, joined at the finger tips with, and utterly dependent upon.
Technician Heal Thyself
As an avowed computer nerd and modern-age musician, and an evangelistically zealous convert to OS X's "Mactholicism" just short of a decade ago now, I am completely dependent on my Mac. As a home-bound worker of the self-employed variety, I am also my own IT department, responsible for making a menagerie of computers and related peripherals work together.
It all came to a screeching halt for me over the past weekend, when I got the big idea to re-arrange my home office into a corner of my over-sized home recording studio, so I could work from one room. This was done with the intention of creating more efficiency and convenience.
So far, I've enjoyed neither.
Servers with a Smile
It started simply enough with a Mac Mini. I installed Lion Server onto the Mac Mini. It was simple and easy to configure. Next, I moved an aging but still rock-solid vintage Apple LaserWriter 8500 printer capable of full duplex printing in black and white, with both 8 x 11 and 11 x 17 paper trays, and built-in networking via IP address. In its day, this printer with all of those features, maxed out at a whopping 48MB of RAM, would have run about $8000US. I paid $25 for it from somebody on Craigslist getting out of the desktop publishing business who wanted this gigantic but still mightily-performing behemoth out of his home office. Next to it, I have a color laser printer, an HP Color LaserJet 3500N, which cost me about $1000 in 2004, and which taught me to never, ever use non-original toner cartridges in a printer, because in the interest of saving money when I balked at spending $650 to replace the three color toner cartridges, I bought "compatible" non-original ones from a seller on eBay for $300, which ended up actually destroying the printer's ability to print color images without mass over saturation. Even when I threw good money after bad and went out and bought the original HP cartridges it was too late, the damage was done. I'd by then spent nearly as much as the printer cost when new, on two sets of three toner cartridges, half of which I had to toss out because the chips on them screwed up the printer. Oh well, I keep it around, all 70lbs of it, because it prints quickly, and for color jobs that don't have photos, it still works well. This machine, unlike the Apple LaserWriter 8500, is connected via a USB hub to the Mac Mini Lion Server.
Still following me? I had one more machine I needed to connect to the server, and that was the Epson WorkForce 600 All-in-One color inkjet printer/scanner/copier combo which also is capable of being a fax machine, that is, if I still had a landline in this age of cell phones. The Apple printer connected easily enough as long as the IP address of the network matched the IP setup on the printer, back when there was software for OS 9 and Windows 95, that would interface with it. Since I can't change the IP address of the printer from its 126.96.36.199 settings, I had to reconfigure the network and my business class cable modem to use the 198 prefix vs the 10.0.1.1. it had been serving up via DHCP prior to my re-enlisting the trusty LaserWriter. The Mac Mini Lion Server easily found and setup the other two printers via USB. I opened the System Preferences and set the two USB printers to be shared on the network. Simple enough so far.
However, the first thing to go south was my Apple Time Capsule, which was in service along with an Apple Airport Extreme, to create my LAN and WAN system for my home, studio and home office. Its power supply was going out. Thankfully, to make a long story short, it was covered under the AppleCare I have for my MacBook Pro, which I should mention, expires on April 12, 2012. This meant I couldn't finish configuring the network completely until I drove into Nashville to the Apple Store on Monday and exchanged it, which I did. Prior to that, my ability to get the other Macs and network devices in my home, studio and office configured wasn't completely on hold. I got each Apple TV reconfigured to the new IP prefixes easily enough, and then went to each Mac in our home, of which there are at least six, not counting my MacBook Pro. Each of them was easily able to see the two USB shared printers using Apple's "Bonjour" protocol, which is supposed to make printing to a network printer a snap. Adding the Apple LaserWriter as an IP printer was easily done as well for each of the other Macs.
To Print or Not to Print...
Then it came time to install the printers on my MacBook Pro. Once again, the LaserWriter via IP installed with ease. However, my MacBook Pro was not able to see anything over the Bonjour system except for the Epson WorkForce, and even then it only saw it as a scanner, not as a printer. I scoured the Internet for forum postings and advice, and I got nothing but bad news. People had the same problem, nobody had a good solution other than wiping one's drive and reinstalling the OS. I didn't like that. I knew it would rob me of days of time and productivity. I called AppleCare. A senior technician couldn't help me. We tried everything he suggested, nothing worked. This was on a Sunday, last Sunday to be exact. I stayed up late using Google, looking for an answer. I found some suggestions that involved "Sudo commands" in Terminal. If you don't already know, using Terminal is not for the novice, nor the faint of heart. But rock star geek that I am, I started digging into Terminal commands, at "root" level, certain I was going to outsmart the genius senior AppleCare technician and be printing from those two shared Bonjour printers in mere minutes after entering the cryptic terminal commands.
I wasn't. I didn't. I bricked my OS X Lion install in minutes instead of printing. It was 3AM by then, and my MacBook Pro would not re-boot past the white boot screen with the Apple logo and its spinning gear thingie underneath it. UGH! I couldn't even boot into Safe Boot mode by holding down the Shift Key when powering up. I tired "zapping the P-RAM" by holding down Command, Option, P and R while booting. Nope. No go. I tried deleting my preference settings. Nope. No go. I tried quite literally every fix-it trick in the Mac playbook that I know by heart, as that sinking feeling of having completely screwed up my OS install began to sink into my aching head.
Day One of the Bitstream Boogie
Monday morning, first thing, on the phone with AppleCare. I'm serving myself a hot, steaming bowl of Crow Soup, as I explain what I've done to am AppleCare tech, who then gets me over to a senior AppleCare tech, to whom I had to repeat the story. I was hoping they knew some tricks to get my system to boot. They did not. Solution? Reinstall OS X Lion, first over the existing OS install, but if that didn't work, I had to wipe the drive and start from scratch. By then, its about 12PM, and knowing an install of the OS takes just about an hour, I busily got on it. It successfully installed, but it wouldn't boot up. Well, it would boot, but only into Safe Boot mode. That was no help. I had a meeting to go to at 3:30, so I had to be on the road by 3PM, so I knew what I had to do, which was get a clone started of my MacBook Pro hard drive, and get it started fast. I have over 400GB of apps, data, etc on my MacBook Pro. At an average of 11-12Mbps in Target Disk (or Firewire) mode, that takes close to ten hours to clone to another drive. That all had to happen to insure the safety of all my data before I could even do a clean install. So, I went to my meeting, finished up, went to the Apple Store to exchange my Time Capsule, and then took a call with TI:ME's president from my car, pulled over in a parking lot with my iPad tethered to my iPhone during the call, knowing there was no use in rushing to get home because in all likelihood, my drive was still being cloned. When I got home, it was still cloning.
Send in the Clones!
It finally finished, so I immediately wiped the MacBook Pro's hard drive, and installed a shiny new OS X Lion installation. This takes longer than it should because Apple makes you download the 4GB install from its AppStore instead of supporting it installing from an already downloaded copy from a previous installation. You might not know this about Lion, but it self-destructs its 4GB installer after its done installing. Why? Uh, to save room, I'm told. Over Wi-Fi, even with my zippy business-class cable Internet, this still adds a good hour to the process. Its now about 1AM Tuesday morning, I've gotten no real work done since the previous Thursday before the three-day weekend, other than rearranging all of my office furniture, supplies, etc, and doing what I've listed above. No emails answered, nothing done on a computer, that's for sure. Its not for lack of desire, but my MacBook Pro had me by the throat at that point. Finally, I have a clean, working, updated install of OS X Lion on my MacBook Pro, so I connected it via Firewire using Target Disk Mode, and I used the Migration Assistant to transfer the data, settings, files, apps, etc from the cloned drive on my studio Mac, back to my clean install of Lion. Knowing it would take up to ten hours, I went to bed, hoping that in the morning, before noon, I'd be back in the saddle.
Day Two Watching the Bitstream Boogie
Tuesday morning, I get up, get my coffee in me, pop some Excedrin, check the progress of the Migration Assistant, and eventually it finished. Everything looked to be back in place and in order. I was even able to see the machine on the Bonjour network and add those USB printers! Confident the worst is behind me and now I just need to catch up on the piling up emails and honey-dos in my inbox sent by people that must surely think I'm being lazy, inattentive or not following through in a timely basis, I reboot the MacBook Pro and get ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.
It doesn't boot up!
I call AppleCare back, tell the whole story again to somebody who again then transfers me to a senior person, to whom i have to re-tell the story. His advice, wipe the drive again, do yet another clean install of OS X Lion, running the Migration Assistant and this time do not choose to transfer settings, just transfer my apps, data, etc. So I follow his advice, first thing that morning, knowing that its going to be after 8PM before all of the data is transferred back to my MacBook Pro after another clean install. I reinstall OS X it all goes fine, run the updates, same drill, rebooting the Mac Pro this time into Target Disk Mode (which of course renders it unusable as a computer), and I run the Migration Assistant making sure to follow the senior AppleCare technician's suggestions to a "T."
It's Gotta Work THIS Time, Right?
That evening at 7PM CST, I enjoyed a rather spirited conference call with the officers of TI:ME to discuss the agenda and other items for our upcoming bi-annual meeting of the board of directors. During this call, I am watching the progress bar of the migration assistant get nearer and nearer to the end of its job of transferring the data. Towards the end of the call, those on the line with me heard the "Bong" sound of my MacBook Pro re-booting. Having carefully followed the instructions for this second install, and third time of having to watching 400GB of data move at 11.9Mbps from one drive to the other, I was certain that I would see my MacBook Pro boot up without incident. It didn't.
My stomach ached. My heart sunk. Some folks on the call asked if that sound they heard was my Mac rebooting, and if everything was working now. I felt ill. All I could say was, "Yes, that was my machine, but I don't want to talk about it. No, I really just don't want to talk about it." I knew right then and there what my next day would look like, and it was going to suck.
Day Three Watching the Bitstream Boogie
First thing this morning, Wednesday, now day three of not being able to use my apps, my data, get most of my email accounts, or do much of anything other than play IT geek guy again, I call AppleCare back. Mind you, I've got only a could of days of support left here. Same drill. Tell my story to somebody who then has to transfer me to somebody senior to them, where I get to tell my story again. Again, I'm told, do another clean install. What comes out of somebody's mouth so quickly and sounds so simple in reality means another lost day of productivity, without my data, without my apps, without my workflow, focused solely on getting this #*%_@5 MacBook Pro to install, get its data back, and get me back in the saddle. I've got people upset at not hearing from me, thinking I'm ignoring them, or worse, and all I can do is watch the bitstream boogie across the progress bar again. I got through with AppleCare about 10:30AM, and set about on my third clean install of Mac OS X Lion 10.7.3. That was completed around 2PM today. Its now just about midnight, and I'm hedging my bet for getting this machine up and running again now by doing what I should have done to begin with, what I knew I should have done, and what I didn't do because it was the biggest pain to do and "took the longest" even though doing it the way I was advised to do has cost me three days.
I am not using the Migration Assistant. Nope. Not gonna do it. Once bitten twice shy. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, well you know. No, this time I am manually moving across the Firewire Connection, one folder at a time, all of my data, and periodically re-booting to make sure it still boots. Then I get to reinstall my apps, one at a time, rather than risk using the Migration Assistant to move them and find myself in an unbeatable situation. At least this way i can prioritize the apps I install first so I can get to my email, get to my programming apps, my design tools, and other work software, etc.
Seriously? Sometimes its Better to Just Call Me.
Putting apps in one at a time will allow me to knock out the squeakiest wheels first squealing in my inbox from far away wondering why if it took just a few minutes to send me an email it takes days to hear back. Like I said, if you email and I don't get back quickly, pick up the phone, 615-870-9333. I haven't started the app installs yet. Most of my data will be moved by 2AM or so, if all goes as steady as its been going so far today.
Thus is the life of the self-employed home office worker. Its not all pajamas and sleeping in and working when you feel like it, as we all imagine it could and should be. When errands need running, its you who gets to do them, and when your infrastructure craps out, its you who gets to either fix it or pay somebody to fix it, or both sometimes. Me, I'm happy I know enough to be dangerous to my network and Macs, but pretty tired of dealing with this at the moment.
So, what have I learned from this whole experience?
- Apple has outstanding warranty and support services, overall, and I'm really going to miss having AppleCare.
- You're on your own, especially when it comes to your office technology all working.
- Downtime is inevitable, and its always a bad thing for everyone concerned with your productivity or communications.
- Always have your data backed up. Always. Period. You're never too busy to at the very least protect your operational data!
- Redundancy is essential to keeping productivity from being lost. However, redundancy is expensive. It costs time and money. Time to manage and keep it in the state of readiness, and money to replicate the devices needed to allow the redundancy to be created.
- Know where your apps and various serial numbers and license codes are at all times. If you don't you'll lose more time when you inevitably go through something like this yourself. Fortunately, I have my serial numbers and install apps all on another drive on my Mac Pro.
- Go with your first instinct, even if it seems like it will take longer, if your first instinct tells you it will work correctly if you do.
- If something doesn't work right the first time you don't go with your first instinct, don't try something else again that will "take less time!"
- Shortcuts sometimes become painfully deep cuts!
- Seconds pass like hours while watching data transfer, but minutes pass like nano seconds when you're facing a deadline and hitting a bottle-neck.
- Be understanding that people are wondering where you are, why you've dropped off the face of the earth, aren't getting something done or back to them.
- Get used to the fact that sometimes #*$% happens and you can't make a bitstream boogie faster than its capable of doing, nobody how much you want it to move more quickly.
- Breath. Chill out. No sense in panicking. It is what it is.
- It will take twice as long as you first think, or longer if you try a short cut.
- You will probably not get it right the first time.
- Under no circumstances will a hammer, shotgun, first or loud angry words assist you in restoring your non-working computer