This month has been a bad one for me and computers. First my MacBook Pro died (due to a video card that had been recalled), and then my desktop PC decided to fall over dead.

The Mac failure was another study in why I love Apple service: The video just died one day, no screen, external monitor wouldn’t work. Since a Mac has a real operating system (Mac OS X – a Unix variant), I was able to determine that the machine was actually still working by connecting from my desktop PC using ssh.

I did a bit of system administration black magic, and turned on the remote desktop service (see http://support.apple.com/kb/HT2370 or http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=2081446&tstart=1 for a writeup of how), and was able to connect to my MBP using VNC. That allowed me to validate things were working, and to make sure I had a current backup before doing anything else.

A quick call to Apple’s support desk, and the helpful tech looked up the problem, found there was a recall on the video logic board for certain MBP systems, and walked me through a few things to validate it wasn’t just user error. He gave me a case number, told me to go to the Apple store, and have them check for the recall.

So I made an appointment at the store, got there a little early, and waited for that piece. In a reasonably short time, my “Genius” was testing my MBP for the recall issue, and sure enough that was the problem. Next a few minutes as he got the RMA set up, inspected the machine (noting that there was a small ding on the case), and asked me if I wanted it shipped back to my home address. The usual disclaimer about “if we can’t fix it, we might charge you $100 for looking at it”, and it was off to the races.

A couple of days later, I get a call from the Apple Repair Center. The guy on the phone tells me that yes, the recall is covered, but it appears the machine was dropped (which it was many moons ago), and there are all sorts of things that need to be replaced to bring the machine back to factory specs. This all comes with a price tag of $1,200 … Once I recovered my breath, I tell him “but at the store they said all I needed was the recall”. He tells me that, yes that would give me a working machine, and they could probably have fixed it at the store, but since it’s at the repair center they have to apply quality to it.

I tell the guy I’m not in a position to come up with the $1,200 right now, so can he ship it back to the store and let them do the repair. At this point, he tells me, that since I’ve been nice, and since I’m a good customer, he’s going to waive the fee. So Apple basically solidifies my glowing opinion of their service, and I get what for all intents and purposes is a brand new MacBook Pro.

I’m so relieved that this didn’t happen with my wife’s PC …..

Murphy’s law bites me again …

…. But while my MBP was off for service, I revived an old laptop I have for backup purposes. I had it almost completely configured when I got my MBP back. Then, a few days ago, my desktop PC (a Sony) crashed.

I go to the Sony web site, and do one of those instant chat sessions, and through a little back and forth, the chat agent tells me it is either a bad video card, or my memory has gone bad. In either case, it will require service. Now the wheels start spinning, because I know how much video cards cost, and I know I’ll have to pay a few hundred bucks just to get somebody to look at the machine (no Genius bar to bring my Sony to).

In the old days I would have just replaced the video card and memory with spares, but since I’m greener (and don’t really work on hardware any more) these days, I don’t keep things like that around. So now I have a useless desktop, with an unknown problem, with 500Gb of data that I can’t get to. Worse, the Sony has a RAID card, so I’m not sure the disks will be readable  except in that machine (it’s really 2x250Gb).

So I’m still trying to figure out what to do to recover the PC, but I’m guessing that will wait for a while …

Restoring my wife’s PC

Luckily for me, I had rebuilt my spare laptop, so I’m able to get the most important files onto my spare laptop, and within a few hours, it’s happily driving my big Gateway monitor (with Quicken and email files restored).

This is possible because of two backup strategies: Quicken online backup (which is a remarket of Connected Backup), and Microsoft Live Mesh.

I’ve used the Connected product ever since I learned about it while working at Cisco. They use the enterprise version, and it does a great incremental backup of your PC, that helped me recover accidental deleted files more than once. For a few bucks a month, the home version does the same thing for a few gig of data.

Live Mesh on the other hand, is a synchronization tool, that is a bit like the old Microsoft Briefcase on steroids. You mark a folder as being a Live Mesh folder, and it gets replicated to the Microsoft cloud. You can then synchronize that folder across systems, and even share it with other users. I created Live Mesh folders for all of my web site work as a way to share files with my clients, and to keep data on my Mac and PC in synch.

What I hadn’t really realized was that I was in effect getting a backup with this as well. I simply shared the folders to my backup laptop, and voila, I had all of my important data back and ready to update. For me, this is one more bit of evidence that there will continue to be interesting applications brought about by the cloud: I hadn’t really thought of Live Mesh as a backup strategy, and it lacks the versioning piece, but in a pinch it’ll do.