Saturday, December 26, 2015

With the help of the Empire, I strike back

I slid onto my perch and looked Kitchen Mac straight in the screen. I was focused. Reestablishing order and control over whatever was slowly going wrong among the wayward applications in my digital domain was mission critical. Keeping my collection of music and art out of harm's way was an objective I would reach.

I knew I would never prevail alone.

I summoned Apple support. I had been here before. Unfortunately, I withdrew my forces before having achieved a decisive victory. Julius Caesar, Lord Mountbatten, Alexander the Great, Kenghis Khan, Winston Churchill, George Patton, they understood decisive victory. They overcame. I would overcome.

I was in no mood to Google around, fuss with forums, or blunder with blogs. I wanted help!

"Oh yeah baby! Yes indeed!! This it it! Here we go! IT'S ON!!"

Oh... before carrying on with this riveting narrative, forgive me as I digress. This always amazes me. You type your phone number into the Apple support website, and a genius actually calls you! Like right away! It's quasi-instantaneous. Well... maybe just a really nice person calls you pretending to be a genius... but I mean right away.

Sorry. Back to the story of how I fared in the digital jungle. In spite of more than sixty years living on this planet, and more disappointments than I care to remember, I remain a serious optimist. That explains why I eagerly explained the incipient Kitchen Mac rebellion, and the risk to my pods, my pads, my art, my music, my muses, my life, to the Apple staffer who called me. To her credit, my 'genius' listened to me patiently.

I made the newbie mistake of thinking I had reached the special operations branch on the first try. In fact, I was in triage. Like I had shown up at the E.R. with a persistent nosebleed (I was six the last time that happened).

Here I was in battle mode, bloodied but fiercely combative, a man on an urgent mission with a crisis on his hands, and here they were in business-as-usual-talk-soothingly-to-the-nice-Apple-customer mode.  The triage team resisted my offer to send them a screen shot of the offending incomprehensible Kitchen Mac message, preferring instead to type it into their console where it could be parsed, analyzed, dissected, probed, and cross-referenced. In no time at all, I was sitting quietly, patiently, hopefully, all by myself, listening to music designed to take the edge off my murderous intentions. In retrospect I must have seemed to them more like the cowardly lion than Luke Skywalker "... where are they, where are they, let me at'em, let me at'em!! Put'em up! PUUUUT'EM UP!!!"

In fairness to Apple, I got to the Han Solo I desperately needed pretty quickly, with only one slight musical sidestep after leaving triage. Ryan was relaxed, affable, confident, but not arrogantly so, a guy who has seen the dark, swampy, oozy, fetid edges of the Apple eco-system, beaten back the darkness, wiped off some slime, and won more battles than he had lost.

"So what's happening, David?"

I tackled the proximate photos problem, leaving the iTunes music mess to be sneaked in later on into our foray, once Ryan was well into the skirmish, in too deep, too committed, to consider retreating.

"Hmmmm... " Ryan said thoughtfully, after listening intently to my photos synch story. I sensed that he was scanning the jungle at the edge of the rice paddy, squinting into the gloom, choosing where we would infiltrate. We needed weapons, which I assume Ryan kept in a locker close by, and we needed military-grade comms. "Is it all right if you give me access to your screen?" As the light of the late December day dimmed, Ryan's big red arrow flickered onto Kitchen Mac's screen. It looked like a spear. We were going to go in stealth mode, taking no prisoners, prepared to slay any digital thing bent on mayhem that crossed our path.

Ryan quickly eliminated the pods and pads as the source of the troubles and we focused our attention on the inner workings of Kitchen Mac.  After close to two hours wandering and dodging through the overgrown flora, jabbing Ryan's lance into bushes and dark crevasses, clicking here, force-quitting there, suffering through endless boring, crawling re-syncs, and at least one reboot, the symptom we were hunting was gone, the incomprehensible message-warning-threat had slunk away, unobserved, leaving no trace. If I didn't have the screen shot, I might start believing the whole scary episode was just a phantom menace. A digital abominable Sasquatch. Nothing we found seemed wrong or broken, no parameter was mis-checked or mis-selected. As mysteriously as the malaise had come, unaccountably, now it was gone.

During the campaign, Ryan and I became brothers in arms. We chatted during the lulls in the action. It was during one such chat that I ventured to mention the far more troubling mystery of the disappearing music. I expected that Ryan might not want to tackle that one because the Empire had officially thrown in the towel so recently.

I think now that the past history of failure on that score made the music kidnappings even more appealing to Ryan than the digital bug that seemed to have vanished, slipping by us, and now possibly lurking deeper in the netherworld, perhaps one day to return. Ryan soon enough suggested all on his own that we tackle the pernicious music conundrum.

In no time at all, we were exploring deep in the hard drive, tracking down the missing tunes, running system checks. At length, Ryan thought he had found the cure, if not the cause, which he chalked up, not unreasonably, to corruption. If money is the root of all evil, corruption is the weed that sprouts from the root. He suggested rebuilding the music library. Like abandoning an ancient village weakened by an earthquake to rebuild on more stable ground.

All we needed to do was to quit iTunes, hold down the option key while clicking on the iTunes icon in the dock, click on the 'create new library' link, and then click on the link to 'scan for media'. Sounded like a good, simple, elegant plan. And that, my friends, very shortly brought us to an impasse.

No amount of holding down the option key and clicking on the iTunes icon summoned the secret menu. Ryan finally threw up his hands in exasperation.

Did he quit? No sir! Not Ryan! "Something is wrong with your keyboard, I think" Ryan said. "Do you have a wired keyboard, it might be a Bluetooth thing." Nope. I have a wired mouse, for Bluetooth emergencies, but no wired keyboard of any kind. "The only thing to do... is to take your Mac to an Apple store... How about the Ste-Catherine street location?" How about the Fairview store, I countered. "I can book you in at 5:40 today, is that OK?" I was committed to solving this problem once and for freaking all. Absolutely, I said.

Ryan and I said our goodbyes. I grabbed a clean white trashbag, snuck up behind Kitchen Mac, and slipped it over its head before it knew what had happened. I stashed the uncooperative computer into the back seat of my Civic, and headed out in the darkness and pouring rain to the mall.

Lugging the inert Kitchen Mac through the mall was a pain. His sharp sleek edges were cutting off the circulation to my fingers. Nothing he did was going to deter me this far into the mission. I entered the brilliant whiteness of the Apple store and trudged straight over to the 'genius' bar, right past the 'genius' greeters armed with iPads and pocket scanners. The determined grim look on my face startled them so much, they forgot to stammer their usual imperial greeting.

Kitchen Mac glided onto a diagnostic bay, I slipped off the cloaking device, and a helper 'genius' reached for the power cable, tethered the computer and hit the power button, waking Kitchen Mac from its medically-induced coma. As it slowly came to, instinctively joining the Apple WiFi network, it must have thought "Holy crap, I'm in the death star!!"

Eventually a special forces 'genius' (Vito) came over and sized up the situation. Painfully, I repeated the symptoms, and told of Ryan, who had mapped out a brilliant battle plan that was stymied by the wireless keyboard. Vito was unimpressed. He scowled and marched off to get the 'genius' bar's wireless keyboard and attempted to pair it. No dice. He changed the batteries after cursing softly under his breath. Still no dice. He fetched another wireless keyboard. More fresh batteries. Still no love. I thought to myself, without daring to let a single word actually slip by my lips "... if they can't pair a freaking keyboard, how in the name of Ryan are they going to solve the iTunes problem? ...". They finally gave up and went off to fetch a wired keyboard. Vito came back with it and skeptically plugged it into a port on Kitchen Mac's back side, like a disgruntled nurse jabbing in a needle without any regard for the patient's discomfort. The keyboard was in rough shape, missing three or four keys, and stained by the travails of countless sweaty-fingered missions.

Finally the option-key-while-clicking routine worked, and the re-build menu appeared. I tried hard to relay Ryan's instructions, as best I remembered them, but Vito, and the more senior 'genius' bar main operative, were borderline distracted, and barely listening. It turned out it was close to a shift change. They had never heard of a 'scan for media' option, and seemed to think I had mis-heard, or dreamed the whole sordid solution up. So they persisted on a track of their own. The music library re-build was launched. The computer began sorting through media files and chucking them into a new music library at the pace that a Massey-Ferguson combine threshes grain in Saskatchewan. I thought that the 'geniuses' had unaccountably triggered the right solution. Thousands of media files later the job concluded, to the none-too-smug satisfaction of the repair detail.

"Bombs over Baghdad" I said. Whaaat?? came the puzzled response. "I have to find Bombs over Baghdad" I repeated. That's one of the lost tunes. If I can find that song, then you've solved the problem, I said, my fingers dancing on the beat-up keyboard.

Nada, nothing, zip, bupkis! The Outkast track was nowhere to be found in the new library.

Vito shrugged, pulled on his jacket and headed out the door. "Later..." was his parting word. The shift supervisor smiled faintly and signed goodbye with an absent-minded wave of his hand. It was now 7:30, and I wished that I was heading out the door too. As I waited for Vito's replacement to log in to my music mystery, I figured I would summon my memory of Ryan's solution. I held the option key and was about to click on the iTunes icon, when the new guy showed up, all fresh and helpful. He took over the controls (after all, I was no 'genius', just another baffled hapless customer), and began the process again, but this time, he was taking that whole 'scan for media' option slightly more seriously. That's how he missed it. But I didn't. The screen flashed by in the wink of an eye, but I was sure I saw 'media', or 'scan' or something. I took back the controls firmly, but nicely, and invited new guy (I never got his name) to let me just try something.

I quit iTunes. Waited a moment. Held the option key. Clicked on iTunes. Clicked on the 'create new library' option, and then... there it was!!! A brand-spanking-new El Capitan iTunes menu option, the likes of which the Fairview 'geniuses' had never beheld: Scan for media!!! "Well I'll be..." was kind of the bewildered reaction from the tech crew. "A horse's ass..." I thought, a little ungraciously, not uttering a word of my disparaging thought, and thanking Ryan with an inward smile.

An hour later, after more copious threshing of media files, there it was in all its glory: a brand new iTunes library with all, and I mean all, my music in one place, all accounted for, all in my digital corral, all playable at the click of a mouse.

And so this saga ends as it should have. A decisive victory over the forces of digital mayhem.

I was tired, but deeply pleased. I was even in a whistling mood as I slapped the vinyl cloak back over Kitchen Mac's comatose head, bid the 'geniuses' goodnight, and marched into the mall, a full ten minutes before closing time. 5:40 p.m. to 8:50 p.m., plus the close to two hours spent in the virtual company of Ryan over the phone. No easy task, but the victory was so sweet, that I didn't even care.


Steve Williams said...

A frustrating read David. Makes a person long for 8 track tapes and photos glued to album pages. I have to confess that I no longer see these battles because a quick note to our IT support group at work dispatches an assault team. And I've been lucky that most of my issues have been minor.

It is sweet though to win when computers are involved isn't it!

SonjaM said...

Your persistence and your strategy, plus teaming up with the right partners won the battle. Good for you! I envy you for your patience. I would have thrown it out long before or coming to think of it, I likely would have asked my hubby to take care of the issue, and walked out ;-)

Ken said...

What a problem with a Apple product? But the marketing and by default brainwashing the user into paying high prices says what happened to you is impossible. Maybe it is your great prose that made it seem so. A fun read this morning.

However, conquests over technology is almost as satisfying as, but not really, a good scooter ride. Recently my TV quit, went on line and researched, bought the part for $16, took out the 500 screws holding it together, installed the new part and it works great. In a throw away society, this, for me, was a great conquest.

Trobairitz said...

Wow, I don't know as if I'd have the patience to work 5 hours on something to fix my iMac or deal with anyone at the "genius" bar. I am glad you managed to get it all sorted.

My favorite line was you sneaking up on the Mac and slipping the trash bag over its head. Made me smile.

RichardM said...

Both Photos and the new Music apps should have been released as beta. Just about everyone with large libraries, photo or music, seemed to have suffered the same problems. Add to this the fact that Apple seems to not do cloud services very well especially right out of the gate.

A very entertaining story...

David Masse said...

If someone had predicted that I would become a sysadmin in my own home, I would have thought it was a cruel joke and funny only because it was beyond impossible as an outcome.

Now that I am the techie of last resort, I have to say it's not a lot of fun.

Oddly, before I retired I worked for a global IT firm, and I was still more competent than our IT guys.

I think it's because I taught myself to program years and years ago when I was afraid that computer-savvy young'uns were going to destroy my legal career.

David Masse said...

We hubbies have a lot riding on our shoulders, it's true.

David Masse said...

Ken, you fixed a flat screen TV??? Now that is impressive.

Now if it was an old CRT model, I'm even more impressed. That means you had to find a pharmacy with one of those old vacuum tube testers and tube selling stations. That would be even more impressive.

David Masse said...

Thanks Brandy. I put a lot of effort into these long posts. No matter how I try, there are always typos once I click 'publish'. They are the bane of my blogging.

You know, while the Mac is not perfect, my experience is that there are far, far fewer issues to deal with than when we were running a PC in the house, and what problems there are, are much, much easier to solve.

That said, this one was a doozie and I am so glad I got it sorted out. It was so worthwhile.

If you Google the issues I was having, you'll find plenty of people having the same issues, what you won't find are the solutions that solved the problem and that I described here.

David Masse said...

It's frustrating to be an unwitting beta-tester, and you are so right about the Apple cloud. It was already difficult to know where your data was when you had a Mac and some network disks. Throw the cloud in, and it becomes bewildering. Sometimes it works, more often it's just a mystery. I spend altogether too much time trying to figure out what the 'other' data is on my iOS devices, or why when I go out of my way to avoid having photos synced to my phone, I still end up with an unwanted photostream and all kinds of 'events'.

Still, I have to say that I wouldn't go back to the pre-Apple days.

RichardM said...

My "master library" for photos is on my Macbook Pro sitting in my office. On that one, I also have Google Photos sync turned on so that all of my photos are somewhere else besides iCloud and my photo and music directories are being synced to Microsoft courtesy of my Office 365 subscription. And you're right about things being worse before.

Unknown said...

So, David, have you received a golden offer from the Fairview Apple Store to be one of their geniuses--maybe their head genius? Or--better yet--have you experienced any Obi-Wan-like visitations from Jobs Kenobe himself talking about the "force" and how you have it, the power to resolve the sourest of Apple issues?

Oh, and one more thing... Did you, um, get any really weird looks for hollering for, of all things, OutKast's Bombs over Baghdad? ;)

David Masse said...

Ha ha ha ha... I didn't holler, only the techies helping me heard, but the look they gave me was priceless! Bombs over Baghdad. I didn't make that up. Ryan the Apple tech in Pennsylvania chose that song to test tracking media. I don't even know how it ended up in my library, doubtless one my kids is responsible. It's wonderful that it added punch to the story. If I had said 'It's not easy being green' or 'The hills are alive (with the sounds of music)' it would have just been so freaking lame. There was no chance of that because my music library is a Julie Andrews-free zone, and the kiddie tunes are all on audio cassettes buried either in the basement or a land fill.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.