Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When a MacBook goes bad: the Case of the Calamitous Clamshell


My MacBook Pro [MBP] has a problem.

Closing a MacBook's lid is supposed to every-so-gently ease the MacBook into a light sleep. Instead, this very act bludgeons my poor workhorse into hibernation.

On a healthy MBP, after its restful nap, opening the lid is tantamount to a gentle, but purposeful caress while whispering, "Rise and shine, Sugar." The MBP glows to life almost immediately, happy to be of service!

For my bludgeoned MBP, however, opening the lid is on par with securely tying its limbs to the bedposts before arousing it from unconsciousness with smelling salts and lighting the room on fire. The MBP awakes, but it doesn't know what happened. It knows it has to get moving, but it's tied down by ropes. The heat is rising, the fire at its toes --- there's no time! The MBP manages to break free and get to safety. But it's sluggish. It feels drunk. There are all these open apps, but why? "What was I doing last night? How did I get here?"

Some Details
(1) This problem only happens on battery power: when the laptop is plugged in to an outlet, there is no problem.
(2) This issue does not have to do with sleep itself: only closing the lid when unplugged induces the issue (e.g., I can type "pmset sleepnow" from the command line, have the computer go to sleep, and arouse it with no issue.)

I've reset the PRAM and the SMC . I've looked at the power management settings and logs in the Terminal (e.g., pmset -g custom, pmset -g pslog), and have messed with various parameters as suggested by some posts on the Mac Forums (e.g., hibernatemode, standbydelay, autopoweroff). I've logged in from the Guest Account, deleted my login items, run the computer in Safe Mode, verified and repaired disk permissions. Still the problem persists!

I've run the Apple Hardware Test (or, for an early 2011 MBP) and have tried recalibrating the battery. Nothing. I checked my battery's health. To my quantum superposition of chagrin and triumph, the battery was healthy.

Hours of googling and finagling later, I simply ran out of ideas. That is, besides those my brother provided concerning a faulty cable and/or taking my MBP to Mac Genius.

To the Apple Store!

The Mac Genius immediately knew what to do: upon learning that I had backed up my MBP before coming in, hearing about all that I'd already tried, and re-trying a thing or two himself to no avail, the Mac Genius re-installed the operating system on my computer. The idea was that the MBP might behave properly now that it had a clean slate --- that maybe there was some piece of offending software causing the problem that we now hopefully got rid of.

Plot twist: It didn't work.

To ease my worried mind, the Genius kindly offered to let me pay a $300 flat fee to send my computer away so that---maybe---someone who actually knew wtf they were doing could figure something out. "It is very likely the sleep indicator cable," he said, "But just in case it's not, the fee covers whatever they have to do." To be clear, this was the same as saying, "If you have $280 to pay for your own laziness, leave the computer here."

Inconclusive Clamshell Conclusion: I declined the offer and, as of 25-Nov-2014, have not figured it out yet. There is a cable or two I've been told to check, which I will when I get time. Any advice? Please leave a comment.

Software Issues
When I got home that day, I re-installed everything via my latest Time Machine back-up. I then attempted to work on my dissertation proposal, which is a set of LaTeX documents I edit using MacVim (with the help of TeX-9), and do some data analysis in IDL. I sensed something was awry --- probably because neither MacVim or IDL would respond to my call.

"Uh-oh," my analytical brain assessed as I continued seeking out how doomed I might be. Almost anything I'd ever brew-installed didn't work, e.g., FFMPEG and ImageMagick.

In all fairness, this might not have been the fault of the Mac Genius who wiped my hard drive clean: indeed, it could have been my fault. At the Apple Store, when we re-installed the operating system, I whimsically decided to change the user name from a previous user's name to my own... Was this the cause of all my headaches? (Google that for me.)


On the next episode of "When a MacBook goes bad": Kevin bumbles through solving his software issues like a blindfolded man in a forest.

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