Adventures in Mac Repairs

I have a 15-inch MacBook Pro from 2017. It’s in perfect working order, except the battery was past its best. ‘Service recommended,’ it always said when I checked. But it was fine, I could get a couple of hours out of it, and I rarely use the computer away from somewhere I can plug in. Especially this last couple of years. {.has-dropcap}

But the screen had developed a problem. There were marks on it that I couldn’t remove. They were kind of hard to photograph, but you can see them here:

MacBook screen with delamination marks
MacBook screen with delamination marks

I discovered there was a known defect in models of that era called ‘screen delamination.’ The top layer of the screen’s coating was becoming detached from the underlying one.

People had solutions, which involved careful cleaning with various solvents or mild abrasives: isopropyl alcohol, or, I don’t know, toothpaste, maybe.1

Inevitably, the whole affair has a ‘gate’ name: Staingate. Perhaps less inevitably, but unsurprisingly since it’s a manufacturing defect, Apple have long since acknowledged the problem and offered a free repair programme. As long as your machine was no more than four years old.

I discovered these facts back in the summer. Dug out my receipt. I bought the laptop four years and four days ago. Damn!

At the time I was deep in working towards my dissertation, so I wasn’t going to spend any more time on it. In September, though, I thought it would be worth contacting Apple support and seeing what could be done. I couldn’t get a Genius Bar appointment, but I could take it to an Apple Authorised Service Provider called MR in Shoreditch. They had a look at it and said, yes it’s the delamination thing, you’re outside the free programme, we can fix it: 800 quid. {.has-dropcap}

Too much. But! they also said that it would be worth taking it in to Apple. They might, depending on who you saw, do it for free anyway.

I was slightly sceptical, and we were getting ready for a trip to Scotland at the time, so I left it. Eventually, though, I booked it into the Genius Bar.

You’re outside the programme, they said. But we’ll fix it under consumer law. No charge.

The Sale of Goods Act (or its successors) for the win again: a laptop screen should last longer than four years.

During the tests they run, the guy noticed that the battery was poorly, and offered a replacement. £199 seems steep, so I said no thanks.

Yesterday I got an email to say it was ready to pick up, so I toddled off to Westfield. The staff member who brought it out to me asked me to wait while she checked something. Came back and said, ‘You know how you rejected the battery replacement? Well it seems they did it anyway. We won’t charge you.’ {.has-dropcap}

So that was weird. The work note that came with it said ‘Battery won’t charge at all,’ which was not true when I took it in. But here I am with a good-as-new battery. Well, actually new.

All of this required what they call a ‘Top case replacement.’ ‘Top case with battery,’ in fact, which suggests the battery is in the screen part of the laptop, not the keyboard part, which seems weird.

The big downside – but one that had been prepared for – is that I lost all my stickers. I had heard of this kind of thing happening, so I took photographs.

The stickers on my MacBook
The stickers on my MacBook

The questions now are how and whether to replace them.


  1. Don’t clean your computer screen with toothpaste. ↩︎


Creative Selection by Ken Kocienda (Books 2018, 31)

Hey, I made it to 31, by reading the last chapter of this on the last day of the year.

This book, subtitled “Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs,” is written by the software engineer who worked on the original version of the iPhone’s software keyboard. It’s an interesting view into how things were for someone working at Apple at the time.

That’s not something we often get, with the company’s noted dedication to secrecy, so it’s good for that. But while I did get a sense of what it was like, I feel that there’s an awful lot more he could tell, especially about the people. We do get a sense of some of them, but not much insight. And especially not about he author himself. We learn next to nothing about him outside of his work.

Maybe that’s the way you have to be when you work at somewhere as high-pressure as Apple. Worth a read if you’re interested in Apple and their products.


I received one of the stranger pieces of spam or phishing I’ve ever seen. Not because of what it’s trying to do — obviously it wants me to click on a dodgy link — but because of the weird, almost surreal ineptness of the content. Take a look:

Phishing spam screengrab

Isn’t that its own special thing? Almost poetry, in a disturbed, fractured way.


Great New Phone; All the Wrong Reasons

My iPhone 6 was getting slow, and its battery was poor. I have been thinking of replacing it. But September is approaching, and Apple will announcing new iPhones (three new ones, according to rumours). So I had more or less set my mind on waiting till then.

That would also be consistent with my iPhone buying history: 3G, 4S, 6… the next in the sequence is 7S.

Friday changed my plans. I was standing at a bus stop on Old Street, just replying to a WhatsApp message. Something touched my hand, and for half a second I thought someone was bumping into me. Then there was a firm grip on my phone and it was gone. Pulled right out of my hand and off down the road on a moped — which must have come across the pavement from behind me.

I should have been more aware. I knew this kind of theft was a thing. We’ve been hearing about them for a few months. But you don’t always think about it, and you never think it’s going to happen to you. And, yes, OK, drink had been taken. But not that much.

The bus arrived a few seconds later, so there was nothing I could do but get on and head home. There was another guy at the stop who witnessed it, and he very kindly set up a hotspot on his phone and let me use it from my iPad. The Find My iPhone app didn’t find it, so the thief had probably turned it off right away. But I was able to request a remote wipe in case it’s ever turned back on, and I got an email from Apple saying all the card details had been removed from Apple Pay.

All of which meant I had to make a trip to the Apple Store on Saturday. And to the Three store, where it was alarmingly easy to get a replacement SIM. I just had to tell them my phone number and give them a payment card. No questions asked. Not even my name and address.

So I now have jet black 256 GB iPhone 7. Which is lovely. I’m late to all the new features, obviously, but here’s a quick rundown:

  • TouchID: it’s now insanely fast to unlock my phone. Seems like it’s almost before I touch the home button sometimes.
  • 3D Touch: people on podcasts seem to be saying they’ve stopped using this, but I’m loving it. Especially the edge-press for activating the app switcher (a feature which seems to be going away in iOS 11, I hear, so I probably shouldn’t get too used to it).
  • The haptic feedback generally. Little clicks that tell you when you’ve activated something. Just makes the whole experience much nicer.
  • The “taptic” home button. When I’ve tried this in the shop before now I wasn’t too sure about it. But a couple of days using it for real and I think maybe I prefer it to the feel of the old real button.

Plus, it’s black. Really, really black.

Even the box was black.

The cables are still white, of course. Which reminds me, I’ve always disliked Apple’s ear buds, and passed all my past ones on to my kids. But I thought I’d give these a try, not least because I wouldn’t mind trying the AirPods if they’re ever in stock anywhere,1 and they have the same form factor.

And I don’t hate them. I thought I always had trouble getting them to stay in, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now. The main problem is they don’t give enough sound isolation, so you can hear the traffic and people talking even with music or a podcast playing. I’ve always preferred the kind with rubbery tips, which form a seal. But aside from that, these are better than I expected. Which bodes well for AirPods.

Downside: the battery life doesn’t seem dramatically better than my old one, weirdly. For the first couple of days it was busy downloading updates and restoring things (and getting hot), but that should be over now. I’m assuming that I just have to give it a few full cycles till it beds in and the measurement gets more accurate.

And all the things you have to set up again. That’s not the fault of the phone, though, so much as the way it came to me. If had planned this I would have done an encrypted iTunes backup, which would have meant more things were restored to the new phone.

Anyway, that was a lot of words and no links about not very much.


  1. I asked in the shop if they had them in, and of course they didn’t. ↩︎


Big Mac News

No, that’s nothing to do with hamburgers. Apple today announced that they’re working on a redesign of the Mac Pro. This is huge news. Not least because many people in the tech blogosphere and podcastosphere1 have been preparing for its death for some time.

My biggest question: will John Siracusa buy one of the revamped placeholder ones now, or will he wait till “not this year” for the redesigned version?


  1. Of course it’s a word. I just made it up. ↩︎


Podcast Ads and Pricing

Podcast adverts are the least offensive of all types of advertising. Because even though they’re in your ears, they’re not in your face.

I’m talking, here, about the sponsorship kind, wherein the podcast host reads some ad copy in their own voice. Sometimes copy supplied by the company, sometimes their own words. Sometimes they just read plainly, sometimes it’s more entertaining.

But it’s always relevant and vetted. I’m more likely to look at the product or service mentioned in a podcast that I listen to regularly than any that’s advertised on a website. Especially if the website uses a popup.

And if you don’t want to listen to the sponsor’s message, podcast players make it very easy to skip forward.1

One organisation that has been sponsoring a lot lately is Away Travel. They make a range of modern, four-wheel, hardshell suitcases. Their carry-on versions have the innovation of including a battery and a couple of USB ports, so you can charge your phone, iPad, etc, while you’re at the airport.2

They seem like they make a pretty good product. But the strange thing is that the podcast hosts all stress how inexpensive the cases are. But they’re not. The biggest one is nearly £300. John Lewis sells a similar Samsonite model for £179, for example.

It’s possible that the Away one is tougher, of course. Impossible to tell without seeing them side by side. But I don’t think Away should be trying to sell themselves on cheapness when they’re significantly more expensive than a high-end brand. Embrace the expense; go for the luxury market. Or something.

It works for Apple.


  1. Unless you’re using AirPods, I guess. ↩︎

  2. Or elsewhere, obviously. But airports, with the long time you spend waiting around in them, are notorious burners of batteries. ↩︎


I Upgraded my MacBook

And it's like having a new machine.

I have a 13-inch MacBook Pro, mid 2010 model. I bought it in about September or October 2010. Which means it’s getting quite long in the tooth. The MacBooks have come on a long way in what they offer since then. Mine had 4GB of memory and a 320 GB hard drive. Nowadays they have solid-state drives by default and start from 16GB of memory, I think.

Thing is, it was still fine in most ways, but it was getting very, very slow. It wasn’t too bad once everything was up and running, but waking it from sleep meant I’d be seeing what Ginger out of The Wildhearts called the “spinning fucking rainbow” (and everyone else calls the beachball) for a long time.

Even when it was up, just switching apps could trigger the slowness. So I was thinking about upgrading. But I figured there was life in the old beast yet. I took inspiration from Jason Snell who writes of upgrading a 2009 model.

According to Apple, the most memory this model can support is 8GB. But according to Other World Computing, this particular model, though no others from around then, can actually take more – up to 16GB.

I went to Crucial, which is noted as the best site for Mac upgrades in the UK (OWC is only in the US). Its tool said it could only take 8GB. But I looked around various forums and decided that there was enough evidence that OWC were right. Plus memory is so cheap these days that the difference in price between 8 and 16 was very small.

So I took a chance and ordered 16GB, plus a 500GB SSD.

Installing the memory was trivially easy. You don’t need more than a small Phillips screwdriver to open the case, and the memory modules themselves pop out and slot in very easily.

But with the two 8GB modules in, it wouldn’t boot up. I just got series of three beeps, repeated every few seconds.

A bit of googling told me that means “bad memory,” essentially.

I tried taking it out an putting it back in, swapping round which module was in which slot, and so on, but to no avail. I put the old memory back just to check that I hadn’t damaged something, and it started up like before.

So it looked like OWC were wrong, and I was restricted to 8GB. I was considering sending the memory back to Crucial and hoping I could get I refund. But then I tried one more thing. One of the new 8GB sticks along with one of the old 2GB ones.

And it booted up, smooth as a cliche.

Of course I tried swapping out one 8GB stick for the other, to check for the possibility that one of them actually was bad. But both of them worked. So it seems that this MacBook can take more than 8GB, but not as much as 16. Which is strange, but never mind.

I’d have to say, though, that the difference in performance wasn’t obvious. But I didn’t spend lot of time with it like that, because I still had the SSD to install. That’s very slightly more involved, needing as it does a Torx screwdriver. But it’s very easy.

Before all that I had made sure my old hard drive was thoroughly backed up, you won’t be surprised to hear.

I booted up in the new configuration and told the Mac to set itself up as a new installation. It downloaded El Capitan over the air and installed away.

There was one slight glitch in this process. Something went wrong with the installation and I started getting a kernel panic on bootup. I don’t quite recall the details now, but I just reformatted the SSD and installed again, and it all went fine.

And the difference… The difference is astonishing. Even with many apps open (I currently have twelve), and a whole stack of tabs in Safari, using it is effortless. Apps switch without the slightest lag. I can start anything up with only a few bounces. I’ve hardly even seen the rainbow.

Even Lightroom, which is the heaviest-weight app I use on here, starts in under ten seconds.

In short, this is the way a computer should be.


The Circle by Dave Eggers (Books 2014, 16)

This is interesting. Seems to have got a lot of attention when it came out, but somehow I wasn't aware of it. It's very much a novel of now, though probably set slightly into the future -- five minutes or so, probably.

Our hero, Mae Holland, is a young woman, not long out of college, who is just starting a job at the Circle. The Circle is GooTwitBook, essentially: a massive internet company that has gobbled up all the previous incumbents (it owns 90% of search, for example) and redefined interaction on the net via its TrueYou identity technology. Real names are not just encouraged; they are required.

Internet trolling disappeared overnight, it seems.Unbelievable enough. Perhaps more so: no-one (almost no-one) seems to be in the least bit bothered by the reductions in privacy, the spread of The Circle into every aspect of life (putting chips in kids to prevent kidnapping; nobody complains; is kidnapping that much of a problem in the US?)

I thoroughly enjoyed it, I should say, before I tear into it too much. Eggers keeps the pages turning, which is always a plus. On the other hand, it takes a long time before anything significant happens. Mae starts her job, learns the ropes, meets people, gets more and more involved in the social-networking aspects of the circle… we know things are going to take a turn for the dramatic, because the blurb tells us so ("… the closer she comes to discovering a sinister truth…")

But it must be 200-odd pages in (of nearly 500) before we get much more than scene-setting.

And ultimately, while I can see how someone like Mae could be drawn further and further in after starting out with the best intentions, I find it very hard to believe that the entire rest of the world would go along with the extremities of the Circle’s plans. It’s set in essentially our world: where are the EFF? Where are the ACLU? Where are the voices from other countries that aren’t keen on an American corporation’s hegemony?

Where, even, are the corporations that stand up for privacy? I’ve just got a new iPhone 6 as I write this, and I can’t help but think that Apple’s pro-privacy stance – their assertion that no-one can get at our data stored in iCloud – not even them, not even if there’s a court order – is antithetical to everything that the Circle represents.

Which is one of the reasons why the Circle looks most like Google (it has three guys at the top, known as “the Three Wise Men”).

Of course, these criticisms might be just symptomatic of what can happen when you approach a “mainstream”, “literary” book with a science-fiction head: you question the worldbuilding, of course.

Ultimately it’s a shame: the Circle the organisation is completely believable and convincing in itself. It’s just hard to believe that it could expand in quite as unchecked a fashion as it does. And I found Mae to be partly endearing, partly annoying, which could be a realistic portrayal, and a good example of characterisation. In truth, though, she has no character. And possibly less believable than the growth of the Circle is the extent to which Mae gives herself to it, to its beliefs; even when they break her best friend, Annie, who got her the job in the first place.

So all in all, something of a wasted opportunity.


Aye, (Head)Phones

I’m not in the market for a new pair of headphones. My venerable Sennheiser HD450s are still doing fine for over-the-head use, and the same brand have provided me with a series of earbuds for mobile use. But I tried a pair of Beats by Dre phones in an HMV the other day, just to see what all the fuss was about.

They looked pretty good, felt comfortable, and sounded great. But the price!

Apparently Apple bought Beats more for the streaming service than the phones. That makes sense: if they’d wanted a headphone company they’d have gone for Sennheiser, obviously (and if they cared about earphones in general they wouldn’t have made horrible ones for years).

But you’d think that if they wanted a streaming service, they’d have gone for Spotify, which is surely more established.

So I suspect the truth may include a combination of the two, plus a degree of cool cachet, in what is perhaps a demographic that they don’t currently reach.

Either way, if the next iPhone or Mac comes with a cool pair of phones (unlikely though that may be) I won’t be unhappy.


Maccetty Mac

So, I've had this here new MacBook for a couple of weeks, and I've yet to post anything from it. I am, not surprisingly, loving it.

The initial weirdnesses (I’ve never used a Mac before, apart from once very briefly, before OS/X) include the absence of a hash-key (though you can get the character using Alt+3: #); the plethora of modifier keys: Ctrl and Alt, of course, but also Cmd and Fn. Though actually, most laptops have Fn, so it’s really just one extra. But they get a lot of use.

The nicest thing is probably the multitouch trackpad: scroll with two fingers, navigate with three, do some other weird navigation thing (Exposé, I think it’s called) with four. Pure dead brilliant, in the vernacular of my homeland.

Most annoying thing is the American positioning of the @ and " keys. I’d like to remap those back to where my muscle-memory says they should be, but haven’t worked out how to do that yet.

I’ve installed various pieces of software on trial or demo options. I’m typing this entry using MarsEdit. I’m gathering notes for the the thing I intend to write for NaNoWriMo using Scrivener. And so on.

All in all, it’s the beginning of a big adventure.

And now, let’s see how this posts.