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"Genius" vs. simple problem

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Stopped by Apple Store this morning to get MacBook fan repaired or replaced.

Was told that it would take them 3-5 business days after they got the part in.

Gave up, went to work meeting. Realized that I hadn't explicitly said out loud "I have ProCare," just assumed the guy could see the ProCare card in my hand.

So at lunch I went back and said "I have ProCare."

Guy said they could do the repair within 24-48 hours. Nifty! He got me to a Genius within five minutes even though they have no non-ProCare appointments open 'til Friday.

The following is the gist (nowhere near verbatim) of the ensuing conversation (I had already explained that I was only in town for two more days):

Genius: What's the problem?

Me: The fan seems to have gone dead.

Genius: Oh, look, your camera light is on. [Restarts MacBook several times in rapid succession. Camera light remains on.]

Me: I'm pretty sure the fan is the problem. The computer just suddenly goes completely dead. Last time this happened, it was because it was overheating. The fan wasn't working, so they replaced it.

Genius: [opens up Photo Booth to see if he can get the camera to turn off] Might be a logic board problem.

Me: [repeats previous statement about fan.]

Genius: Is your firmware up to date? [checks.]

Me: [repeats previous statement about fan.]

Genius: You said it had been shutting down. How often? Once a week?

Me: Every ten minutes.

Genius: [opens Console app, looks at logs.] Oh! [walks away. Returns a minute later.]

Me: What does that "Previous Shutdown Cause: -82" mean? [edited a few hours after posting to correct the error number and error message]

Genius: Overheating. Mind if I install a free Dashboard app?

Me: No.

Genius: [downloads and installs iStat] Oh, look. That's interesting.

Me: What?

Genius: The fan doesn't appear to be running at all.

Me: [looks for desk to headdesk on]

Genius: It might be the logic board or the temperature sensor. I'm afraid we can't fix this.

Me: Can't you just replace the fan now, and when I get home next week I'll get the rest of it looked at?

Genius [disapprovingly]: No, we can't just change something and hope it works.

Me: Even though a year ago, when this exact same problem happened, they replaced the fan, and everything was fine for a year?

Genius: Nope.

Me: So there's nothing I can do.

Genius: There's nothing we can do. You could take it somewhere else, like Tekserve [and no, he didn't spell it, and yes, I did have some trouble figuring out the spelling when I tried to Google it]--they could fix it under warranty, and give you a loaner.

Me: I guess that's what I'll have to do. [stalks out of store]

I've done tech support, more or less, and I totally understand that sometimes people come in with completely wrong diagnoses of their problems. And I didn't think to do the geek handshake (whereby you say something at the start of the tech-support conversation that establishes your geek credentials, which sometimes makes tech support treat you like less of an idiot). But jeez, someone comes in telling you exactly what the problem is, tells you symptoms that exactly match the problem, and tells you that the same problem was treated a year earlier--shouldn't your first thought be that maybe the problem is what they think it is? Shouldn't it take you less than ten minutes before you even try to corroborate the problem? Shouldn't you be less than surprised when you discover that in fact the customer was right in their diagnosis? And shouldn't you be willing to consider the possibility that a fix that worked before might work again, at least for a few days?

I do understand that they need to do diagnostics, and that they don't want to do a partial repair that'll break down again. I understand all that. But this was still not the right way for them to handle it.

...Tekserve says no dice--takes them 3-4 business days for warranty repairs like this. Grr.

...Hey, I have my work MacBook with me; I guess I could try and port over my data. If my home machine doesn't die in mid-transfer. Worth a try.

8 Comments

Do Google's NY offices have tech support?

The Apple Store here keeps the needed screwdrivers at the Genius bar to remove the hard drive, and has a bare drive interface/sled/dock you can borrow to hook up the drive to get files off. At least with the black and white MacBooks, it's pretty quick to physically remove the hard drive.

If you want to leave the drive in place, you may have more time between crashes if you boot in target disk mode.


In 1998, my car battery died. I got a recharge at a garage, but then it died again a few hours later, and I wound up getting a new battery. A month later under similar circumstances, that battery died. Turns out it was my alternator, and continuing to recharge or replace the battery would have never actually solved anything (and any such battery-repair or -replacement might last a month, or only an hour). So to some extent, I can see the Apple Genius's reluctance to "just change something and hope it works" since making it work might just complicate actually diagnosing and dealing with the real problem later on...

... but on the other hand, you're absolutely right that treating you like an idiot was terrible customer service and tech support on Apple's part. Doesn't matter if you have geek cred or not--they shouldn't have treated you like that.

At the least, the Genius really should have looked at your fan--if it's as simple as running a thirty-second diagnostic, fercryinoutloud!--and said something like "yup, you're right: your fan's not working ... but even though replacing it might make things work for now, I can't do that right now for reasons x, y, and z; meanwhile, I can do some other quick diagnostic tests so we can at least file a trouble ticket that you can pull up when you have more time to handle this at home, or if we're lucky we might find an underlying problem with an easy solution". But that involves "breaking the script", which a lot of Geniuses are extremely reluctant to do :( AppleCare is pretty good (and ProCare may be even better), but sometimes Apple is really stubborn and annoying.


(See SWAPA ~188 for details about the car battery saga, BTW :) )


I am barely computer literate...and have a sneaking suspicion that Ted Stevens was right...that the internet is actually a series of tubes. And it still seems miraculous that Jed created and programmed a video game that actually worked on our PET (Commodore?) computer using BASIC in sometime around 1984.

So with that as background, I recently went to my neighborhood Apple store seeking a cord that I can run from my Apple laptop to a TV, that would convey the sound and the pictures from a slideshow on the computer to the TV. I even brought in my laptop, figuring their first question would be "what model do you have" and instead of saying "I dunno" I would just hand over the computer.

The two guys at the Apple store who insisted on both trying to help me at the same time finally agreed with each other and said they didn't have such a cord and I should go to Best Buy. At Best Buy, the guy looked at my computer, laughed at my story, and happily sold me two cords and an adapter that he *promised* would do the trick. Upon getting home, nothing physically fit, let alone worked.

When I took it all back to Best Buy the next day, I spoke to a different sales guy, told him the story and showed him the stuff I had purchased. He laughed at the first sales guy, implying that his colleague was a blithering idiot who knew nothing about Macs, TV's, connector cords, or adapters. He tried to sell me a couple more adapters and a couple more cords...but fool me once, shame on Best Buy, shame me twice and fool on shaming. Or something like that.

So, I gave up, and I will watch all future slide shows on my Mac, not on a TV, and I will like it.


Sorry to hear you are having problems. I'm tempted to say one of my usual snarky anti-Apple things here, but I won't. Just credit me as though I did.

Once I had an overheating computer that I needed to copy the hard drive off of, so I bought a can of compressed air, which on expansion is very cold, and a thermistor and whenever the thermistor ramped up, I gave the fan slots (and other case holes) a shot of air. Kept the system online long enough to copy the drive.

BTW--I know I have been out of LJ/Blogs for a bit but when did you lose the LJ login button?


I suppose this is a bit simplistic, but have you considered using an exterior fan, like a desk fan or something, to blow on the macbook, or maybe refrigerating one of those "blue ice" packs (since freezing it might make for too much of a temperature gradient) and setting the laptop on that?

It might help it stay cool long enough for you to transfer your files, at least.


I forgot to say: Thanks again to Anna F.D.D. for telling me about the broken fan last summer. That was indeed the problem last time, and it certainly appears to be the problem this time, but even last time, the Apple Store people were really really reluctant to believe that that was the problem; it certainly didn't occur to them that it could be the problem until I relayed your suggestion. I don't know why they seem to think the MacBook fans are indestructible.

Michael: Thanks for the suggestions! I didn't end up doing those things, but you got me started thinking in useful directions, and I ended up hooking up the two MacBooks via an Ethernet cable, and turning down the screen on the overheating one, and managed to copy files across.

Wayman: Good points. But I think a lot of the problem was the Genius's certainty that the fan itself couldn't be the problem--I'm pretty sure that a temporary fix to the fan wouldn't have hurt anything, at least not in the short term.

Jay: Argh! That sounds really annoying. I will try to remember to acquire a Mac-to-TV cable for you that'll actually work with your Mac and your TV.

Matt: To be fair, Apple is generally really good to me, and the Geniuses usually are as well. They just seem to be blind to this fan issue. Thanks for the compressed-air idea! I ended up not needing it, but it was a good idea, and I'll keep it in mind for next time.

Cat: Yeah, when I'm at home I have ice packs that I've used for that; unfortunately, I didn't have anything like that (nor a freezer) in NYC. I did end up getting some ice from the ice machine (someone else suggested this, but I forget who) and putting it in a plastic bag under the computer, which may or may not have helped.


Hmm.. It seems that if they have a handy app to tell if the fan is running, that it would be useful to have that app query the thermal sensor(s) and fan logic and determine if the fan state matches the current environmental conditions.

It would also be useful to be able to tickle the fan logic to force an override of the fan state.

do the thermal sensor(s) say the machine is cool? (bad sensor),
hot, but fan run not called? (firmware/logic),
hot, fan run called but fan not running? (fan)


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