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Before you go to the Apple Store

Before you go to the Apple Store

I have used a Mac for years. I made the switch when I started to write software for iphones many years ago. And, despite being an Android guy for much of that time, I have never gone back to a PC for my "daily driver". I also run Windows via VM Ware Fusion. By the time you add all of this up, my lappy is a pricey tool.

For the most part, these devices have served me well over the years, however, that doesn't mean they don't have problems. In fact, my most recent device had the new, "we know better than you" keyboard that simply stinks. Not only did the keyboard take a lot of getting used to, it has some genetic defects. Worse, my college-age son had the same generation laptop as well. I have a mac so I can write apps for iphones. He has one so he can do cool audio-engineering stuff at Belmont University where he is training to help artists make awesome music. Both laptops had the bad keyboards.

He recently needed to visit the Apple Store to get the keyboard problem addressed. Due to Covid scheduling challenges and some summer college class logistics, he didn't actually get the lappy into the store until a few days before he was destined to go back to school.

When chatting with the Genius Bar, he got the usual question before handing over his laptop for a depot warranty service -- "You have a good back-up, correct?"

Yep, of course he does. It's there on the multi TB Western Digital My Book. We're good, take the lappy and send it back when it doesn't have a sucky keyboard, please.

Next day, he packs up the car and plans to head out of town.

Looking at the car with its strained tires, and thinking we'd probably get the laptop back with the data still on it, we decided to hold back on putting the Western Digital drive into the Jetta. No room for it, and what would happen if he had a Jetta-Malfunction along the way? His only copy of the data would be at risk. So, the backup drive stayed home in New Jersey while the Jetta, the bike and what seems like a small country were packed up and taken to Nashville.


Great news! A few days later, the laptop shows up in Nashville with a brand new keyboard!

Not so welcome news! The laptop came back with a brand new hard drive because the logic board was replaced and with it, the integrated hard disk. 

"OK, dad, ship the hard disk, please."

As I was preparing the Fed Ex label to ship the hard drive to fame and fortune in Nashville, it occurred to me that not every package handed to Fedex actually makes it safely to the end-destination. And if this package did not arrive, there would be some serious weeping and gnashing of teeth.

No worries, we'll just make a copy of the hard drive before shipping it.

Well, that was not the easiest exercise as there are a number of "safeguards" to prevent that sort of thing. Thanks, Apple. Who knew? I should have, but didn't.

We wound up restoring the contents of the time machine backup to another mac that we were able to cobble together. It took a few iterations before we could get the process to work cleanly. The rationale is that with this copy of the data, if FedEx loses the hard drive, we have at least one good copy that we can work with.

After a number of failed restore attempts, we proved out one of my favorite lines, "Failure Cannot Cope With Persistence."

Here is what we did [ Starting with a Mac that you can delete all fhe data from ]:

  • Go into the macOS Recovery Tool by holding CMD-R on boot.
  • Go to the Disk Utility program.
  • Erase the Macintosh-HD and the Macintosh-HD Data drives.
  • Reinstall the Operating System.
  • Boot into the newly installed Catalina OS.
  • Hey, we're getting the prompt to load data from a Time Machine drive, cool!
  • Restore the files.

Awesome, we have the data! Now we can ship the drive with a little more peace of mind.

But wait, this story just won't end.

While doing a small victory dance, we decided to check on a couple of things, just to "make sure" the data was there.

While clicking through various "restored" files, it was quickly apparent that not all of the data restored to this other laptop.

Turns out the some of the folders had some non-traditional characters in their names and the content of those folders did not make the restore journey.

Uh Oh.

Luckily the contents of those folders were accessible by browsing the Time Machine folders and dragging the files to the other laptop. And, after all that, he remembered that there was a good cloud backup that contained all of the data. You know that feeling when you're both relieved and, well relieved?

Going to FedEx tomorrow with the time machine drive to send it on to fame and fortune.

To avoid some of this drama, here is what I recommend you do if you've got a Mac and think you want to take a trip to the Apple Store:

Make sure your files and folders have nice, clean file names. No special characters because they look cool or just because you can do it.

Make sure you have a remote backup like iCloud, or a professional-grade remote backup like Acronis.

Have two Time Machine drives. Yes, if you can afford to run a Mac, you can afford a second My Book to store your data -- "just in case".

This way when the Apple Store Genius Bar team member says, "You have a good backup?", you can confidently hand over your computer and either restore your data from home, or send a copy of it in the Jetta.

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