The Funniest Computer Problem I’ve Ever Had; OR, It Could Have Been a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

by Aug 30, 2011Personal

This story comes in two acts.

ACT ONE: Last week I went on a professional development trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Because I love my iMac so, I carefully shut it down and even unplugged it before I left.

I returned a week later in a flurry of activity. I had run back and forth four times between two concourses at the Atlanta airport trying to get on an earlier flight so I could pick up my wife and baby when they arrived in Greenville instead of arriving at the same time (I had forgotten to drive the car with the car seat in it…). After several polite “nos” from the gate attendant in Atlanta, at the last moment someone at the Delta service desk gave me permission to get on the earlier flight. I raced over to Concourse D just in time. I was the last person on a completely full plane. They gave me seat 23D, and the guy in that seat got to go to first class. Go figure.

But coming down the gangway into the plane I realized, “Oh no! My keys are in my suitcase because there is a knife on the key ring and I couldn’t get through security with it!” That suitcase was certainly not on the same plane I was; it would come on the later flight. But there was nothing I could do. I got on the early flight.

Then I realized that about two years ago I put—or I thought I put—one of those magnetic key holders underneath my car. Maybe it would still be there!

I landed at GSP and raced out to the lot where my car was parked. I lay on the ground, reached up, grabbed the key holder, and shook it. Jingle, jingle! Yes! I uttered a prayer of thanks to God!

But then the key wouldn’t open the door. Or the passenger door. It did, however, open the hatch. I crawled in, unlocked the doors, grabbed my stuff, and took off for home.

ACT TWO: I took a shower, then went out to my office. I plugged in and turned on my iMac. I watched the familiar gray screen and the Apple logo come up. I went inside to grab some Nutella for a snack.

I came back out a minute later, and the computer was off. Oh no… My mind raced: will I have to get a new computer? Should I get a Mac Mini? How can I sell an iMac that doesn’t work? What do I do with my design files?

Another try, and I watched the start-up sequence all the way this time. The computer came on just fine, and I even saw my desktop, but then it immediately went into the shutdown sequence.

Several more tries. Reset the P-RAM. Still couldn’t get it to work.

I used my iPod Touch to search for answers. One site suggested accessing Mac OS X Lion’s recovery utility on a special read-only partition. Looked promising, but I had to go pick up my family at the airport.

Somewhere that evening it hit me what was likely happening: Mac OS X Lion has this new feature which restores whatever apps you had open the last time you shut down. It just so happens that I shut down the computer with a shut-down app from Dockables. The app’s sole purpose and function is to shut down the computer.

But when Lion came back up, it started that app—and shut down my computer immediately. I tried force quitting open applications, but I was never fast enough. The app is so simple that it takes no time at all to load.

The next morning I used Terminal in the recovery partition to tunnel into the Shutdown app and delete some of its entrails so it couldn’t function.

Success. And the funniest computer problem I’ve ever experienced.

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