Mac Contacts weirdness following Time Machine restore

One of the strange new entries polluting my address book. Click image for full-size version.

One of the strange new entries polluting my address book. Click image for full-size version.

Something weird is happening with my contacts list on my mac laptop and iPhone.

Background: Last week, my Macbook Pro’s hard drive crashed during a Snow Leopard install. The Apple Store replaced my drive, installed Snow Leopard, and told me to restore my data from my Time Machine backup. But Snow Leopard wouldn’t let me specify the correct Time Machine backup to restore from, so I had to bring it back to the Apple Store a total of three times (including my staying in the store for over seven hours to make sure my repair was handled correctly) to get them to restore my data. Yeah, the ordeal sucked, and deeply shook my confidence in Apple technology. Here are my tips to avoid a similar crisis.

What’s weird now: After this, my mac’s address book (“contacts” app on the iPhone) contained dozens of duplicate entries. I was able to merge these via the Card –> Look for Duplicates command on my laptop’s address book.

BUT…  I’ve discovered that dozens of new entries (maybe more than 100) have been mysteriously and inexplicably added to my database! Each of these are random collections of 10 or so e-mail addresses. (See picture) As far as I can tell, I have to delete these manually.

WTF? Has anyone else seen this happen? I’m hoping this is just some weird artifact from the grueling restore process, and that after I clean up the random e-mail entries the problem will go away. But it’s just weird…

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Thinking of updating your mac to Snow Leopard? Do this FIRST!

While I’m here on my 3rd Apple Store visit in as many days to try to recover from a disaster triggered by my attempt to upgrade my Mac to the Snow Leopard OS X, here are some tips that might save other Mac users similar pain and frustration.

1. Back up your entire machine onto TWO EXTERNAL DRIVES. It’s a good idea to run Time Machine backup as often as possible. But when you’re running the risk of having to hand over your mac AND your backup drive to a technician (which is always the case when attempting a significant operating system update), it’s a good idea to have a separate copy of your backup in your own possession.

2. Verify the condition of your hard drive. Apple is marketing Snow Leopard chiefly as a way to enhance performance. However, if your hard drive is developing problems (as mine apparently was), that will impair performance. Installing Snow Leopard won’t fix HD problems, and it may even cause your drive to fail during installation (as mine did)

So Verify your disk using your Mac’s Disk Utility before you upgrade. That can indicate HD problems. It’s not a perfect predictor of problems, but it’s at least some help. Had I thought to do this, I might not have lost 3 workdays and be freezing my ass off in an over-air conditioned Apple Store right now.

If your disk verification process indicates problems, and if you’re experiencing decreasing performance, it’s probably a safer bet to get your HD replaced and data restored correctly BEFORE attempting to upgrade your operating system. If you have to go to the Apple Store to do this, make sure they put in the work order that you do NOT want the OS upgraded yet.

3. Check your warranty coverage. I purchased Apple Care when I bought my mac a couple of years ago, and it’s still in effect. So Apple replaced my HD for free. I’m not sure whether the warranty covers drives that are having problems (rather than have already failed), but it’s worth asking about.

4. Line up a backup computer. If, like me, you work or life could get seriously screwed if you lose your computer for a few days or more, make sure you have handy access to a functional backup machine BEFORE doing a significant system update. Load it up with all the software & data you’ll need to do what you need to do, and test it.

Personally, I’m getting a Linux netbook ASAP.

5. Check your ProCare staus. ProCare is Apple’s preferred service program. It costs about $100/yr, and it’s worth it if you depend in your Mac. If you need a speedy repair, make sure you have current ProCare coverage. You van buy it on the spot at the Apple Store if you need it.

6. Don’t leave the Apple Store without your computer the way you need it. If your OS X update goes dreadfully wrong (as mine did), required them to wipe your drive, have the Apple Store staff restore your operating system and data from your Time Machine backup. Don’t do all of that yourself.

My experience shows that this installation/restore process is trickier than Apple claims. It’s surprisingly easy for the Time Machine restoration to not work right with a freshly installed OS. Make them do everything you need do your machine is up and running. Bring this blog post with you if they balk, and stick to your guns.

This means bringing your external HD with your current Time Machine backup to the Apple Store with you, of course. And before you leave, sync your iPhone and make sure it works. My iPhone sync is not yet working, so I’m staying put in this store for now.

7. Check the “Lemon Law” in your state. The details if this federal consumer protection law are defined by each state. In many states, including CA, lemon laws cover not just vehicles but also consumer products. This may give you recourse if you get screwed by Apple on mac-related issues, like a disastrous OS update you paid for.

Also have the phone number of the local Better Business Bureau handy, and be willing to file a complaint if necessary.

8. Don’t attempt a major system update a couple of weeks after having knee surgery. I’m just saying, it makes everything that much more difficult, aggravating, and risky.

My Snow Leopard Disaster: live updates from 3rd Apple Store visit

I’m sitting in the Apple Store at 5656 Bay St., Emeryville, CA. It’s the third time I’ve been here in as many days, thanks to a series of unfortunate events spawned by my misguided effort to upgrade my Macbook Pro to the latest OS X, Snow Leopard.

I’ve been here about 3 hours so far.

THE HIGHLIGHTS:

  1. My mac was increasingly having performance problems, and Snow Leopard is marketed mainly as a performance enhancer.
  2. When I tried installing SL, it failed because my hard drive crashed. HD problems were most likely the cause of my performance problems.
  3. Apple replaced my HD, installed SL, and told me to restore from my Time Machine backup. The TM restore failed in a weird way.
  4. On my 2nd Apple Store trip, they wiped my HD, installed SL, and gave me new instructions for restoring from TM. Last night that failed too.

For more details on exactly what went wrong, see my posts from yesterday and this morning.

So today, on my third visit, my goals are:

  1. Get my HD wiped again. Tech reports this was done.
  2. Get the regular Leopard OS X installed, NOT Snow Leopard. Really, screw SL at this point! Tech reports this was done.
  3. Restore my apps and data from the CORRECT TM backup, something the SL installer would not let me do.
  4. Avoid unnecessary walking. I had knee surgery Aug. 13, & doc says I must avoid unnecessary walking until my leg is much stronger, to avoid developing a hard-to-correct limp. Trouble is I don’t own a car, so had to take bus to Apple store, which involved walking a few blocks. I’m staying put in the Apple Store (they gave me a chair) until my mac is fixed. Been here nearly three hours so far.
  5. Check everything out BEFORE I sign off on this repair & leave. And if it’s not fixed, they’re getting a big ‘ol dose of NJ loud ‘n pissed, plus possible action under CA’s lemon law. (Been doing sone research, and it applies to consumer products, not just cars.)
  6. Get a refund for Snow Leopard. Yeah. Seriously.
  7. Try to avoid homicides. Just on general principles. Especially at the Apple Store. Too many witnesses.

If all goes well, my mac will emerge from brain surgery in the next hour. I hope so, because I’m getting hungry.

It’s cold in here. Glad I brought my goodie.

So far I’ve lost 3 days to this. Most of my work-related data is in the cloud, but not having a backup computer leaves me outta that loop. So I’m researching which Linux netbook to purchase. I’ve been wanting one for travel & portability, but now I see having a backup machine running Firefox with all my plugins and that I can actually type on makes the difference to keep me in business.

Because writing on an iPhone truly sucks. I loathe this #^*+%# touch keyboard. Good thing I remembered to charge up & bring my backup battery.

I’ll post again when I know more. Stay tuned.

My Snow Leopard disaster continues

It’s the third day since I lost the use of my only computer, a Macbook pro, and I’m about to head off to the Bay St. Apple Store in Emeryville, CA for the third time to try to get it working again.

Please see my post yesterday explaining how a failed update to the much-heralded Snow Leopard OS X left me macless.

Last night, after the Apple Store wiped my brand-new hard drive, I went home and followed their instructions for installing SL again and restoring from my Time Machine backup. The SL install worked; the TM restore failed because the Snow Leopard installer does not allow you to specify WHICH TM backup you want to restore from!

That’s right: SL automatically grabs the most recent backup — which in this case was a backup of the lobotomized virgin system captured after my first SL install.

Tom worked hard for several hours last night via iChat screen share to try to manually restore the correct TM backup. Below are his notes

Right now I’m en route to the Apple Store. I plan to be there when they open and stay there until they fix this. I’ll be updating on this blog and via Twitter” throughout the day.

…BTW, I’m having to run all these errands at a time when my orthopedist has cautioned me to walk as little as possible. I had knee surgery Aug. 13 to repair a torn ACL. I have a leg brace for getting around during recovery, but walking too much now impairs my recovery. So managing this Apple ordeal is putting my physical well being at risk. No exaggeration.

Anyway, here’s Tom’s account of what happened with my mac last night and what I’m trying to achieve today….

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3G iPhone Coming June 9 (Look Out, Nokia!)

Open Democracy, via Flickr (CC license)
Can Nokia move fast enough to keep competing with the iPhone in the US? Time’s running out!

I’ve been hearing the rumor, and Gizmodo claims it’s true: Apple is supposed to debut the next-generation iPhone on June 9, during the keynote address of its Worldwide Developers Conference. I would expect it to go on sale in the US pretty soon after that. (But of course, you never really know with Apple.)

Apparently this new iPhone will include 3G network compatibility. That’s really important for people who want a true multimedia content creation and distribution tool, not just a phone. It’s also likely to have real GPS — which is far more accurate and useful than the crappy fake GPS the current iPhone uses (based on cell phone tower triangulation). That’s important if you want to accurately geocode the content you create (photos, video, etc.).

BUT… the new iPhone is not likely to be the complete Max Headroom device that journalists and mobloggers really need. Because it’s not likely to get a much better camera (currently just 2.0 megapixels). And it’s not likely to support a Bluetooth keyboard. And it’s not likely to get a built-in video editor. So it’s still meant mainly for mobile content consumers, not creators.

In other words, the new iPhone still won’t be as good a product as Nokia’s N95 already is — at least not as far as journalists and mobloggers are concerned.

Nevertheless, I might soon end up settling for an iPhone — unless Nokia pulls its US service act together damn quick. (Specifically, before the new iPhone goes on sale in the US.)

Why? Because the new iPhone might be barely good enough for much of what I need a mobile device to do. More importantly, Apple has proven, through its service practices, that it stands behind its products and cares about customers’ experience after they buy. Apple understands and respects that users of high-end phones run their lives on those devices, and thus cannot tolerate being without them for more than a few days at a time.

Meanwhile Nokia’s dearth of US local service centers, requirement that customers ship damaged or dead phones to Nokia at their own expense, and warranty that allows Nokia up to 30 days to return a phone — plus its risky, clunky, PC-only firmware update process — convey the message that Nokia doesn’t really care much about its US customers. (At least, not after they fork over $500-$700 for an N-Series phone.)

And when it comes to must-have, multi-use mobile devices, service quality is at least as important as product quality. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, service is more important — since evidently I am willing to compromise (within reason) on the product I want in order to get the service I need. I doubt I’m the only journalist/moblogger willing to make that tradeoff.

That said, I know that Nokia has recently woken up to the fact that its US customers are so very displeased with their service, and they are starting to try to make amends. Here’s where that’s at so far…
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Nokia Talks More (Much More) About US Service Problems

Nokia Conversations Blog
Nokia’s Conversation Blog has launched an extended discussion on its myriad US service problems.

I’m happy to report that there has been some progress (small, but real) from Nokia in terms of addressing it US service problems, which I’ve written about extensively.

First, here’s their most concrete step forward so far: Today, Nokia announced that the long-awaited firmware update for the US N95-3 should be available by early June.

Note that this does not mean Nokia has improved its firmware update process — which (as Beth Kanter, Robert Day, and I noted) is PC-only and very cumbersome, confusing, and annoying. And, in my experience, Nokia’s firmware update process is also risky — it’s what bricked my N95 in April.

…But still, a lot of US N95-3 users have been waiting (and waiting) for this firmware update. News that it’s coming soon appears quite welcome in that community, judging by the initial comments to the announcement.

Also, I’m encouraged to see that Nokia’s Conversations Blog yesterday launched a series of posts on its myriad US service problems. So far, there’s been:

I think the fact that Nokia has made this discussion so public, and is respecting and addressing concerns raised by users, is a very positive step. Frankly, this is far more than most major companies are willing to do. Nokia is willing to publicly acknowledge its significant problems, and doesn’t seem to consider this inherently risky or bad for business. Many, many companies and organizations could take a lesson from Nokia on this front.

That said, Nokia’s blog does try (understandably) to put as positive a spin as possible on its US service problems. As far as I can tell, they’re not painting a specifically inaccurate rosy picture — but so far they haven’t directly tackled the hardest issues.

Therefore, it’s still up to current and would-be US users of Nokia N-Series phones to keep pushing for clear answers to our most pressing questions and concerns. This is going to take time, folks.

Here’s what I mean…

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My weird iCal/Leopard problems: Help!

I love iCal, but it’s driving me crazy lately. Help!

As you might have guessed, I’m a pretty busy person. If I didn’t have a good electronic calendar program, with alerts and reliable backup, I’d be totally lost. That’s why I’ve been a devoted user of Apple’s iCal program for about 10 years.

A few months ago, when I upgraded to a Macbook Pro with the Leopard OS (original install, not a Leopard upgrade), iCal started getting weird on me. I’ve been to the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store twice about it, and have yet to find a problem. But I’m getting concerned, because I depend so heavily on this program. If it totally flames out on me, moving to a new solution will be a big hassle.

So I’m hoping some of my readers, or someone in the iCal support forums, is smarter or luckier than me and the folks at my local Apple Genius Bar.

Here are the iCal problems I’m experiencing, and what I’ve tried (unsuccessfully, so far) to diagnose and fix it. Your ideas and suggestions for further measures are most welcome…
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Barcelona is great, my Macbook is not

Just a quick update — I’m greatly enjoying my brief vacation in Barcelona. Last night a friend and I enjoyed tapas, tempranillo, and an AWESOME flamenco fusion trio in the courtyard of a Catalonian cafe. Here are some photos I took in Barcelona and at the seaside town of Vilanova i la Geltru.

However, my Macbook is not doing so well. Something went wrong with the power system and I can’t charge it. Most likely the electrical outlet adaptor I’d been using fried out and took with it either my laptop’s power adaptor or battery. I don’t think the hard drive or motherboard is fried because the machine worked until the charge ran out completely. But I cannot charge my machine at all right now, that’ll have to wait until I’m stateside. Sunday or Monday I’ll be visiting an Apple store in the states to diagnose the problem, replace the components, or replace the machine.

I’m just accepting this as a backhand blessing from the Goddess of Serendipity, who continues to smile upon me (or laugh at me, I’m not sure which sometimes). It’s good for me to take an enforced online vacation. I’ll live.

Anyway, Barcelona ROCKS! Come here if you can. Meanwhile I’m off to tour a Gothic Cathedral, followed by more tapas. I could live like this, I think — although I would need a functioning computer as some point or my head might implode.