Shopping for a Mac (4): A Kernel Panic

Okay, it had been three weeks since I got myself a 20-inch iMac as a birthday gift for myself. I was done moving data from my old Dell desktop, which I still kept on the bookshelf next to my desk, just in case. I had barely touched it, though, since the arrival of the iMac and I was getting tired of the sight of an ugly black box and numerous cords sticking out of it collecting dust. What should I do with the old computer? Should I get rid of it in light of the price of real estate it occupies (though it's been quickly dropping), or should I hold onto it until I am 100 percent sure about than my new iMac?

Then two things happened.

Earlier in the week, we had heavy thunderstorms in our neighborhood, and lightening struck alarmingly close to our home. We checked all the appliances right away, and discovered one of the air conditioners and a hot water supply machine had stopped working properly. And my old Dell. It had been dying a slow death for some time (that was why I bought an iMac to begin with), and I wasn't unhappy that I no longer needed to debate what to do with it.

"I'm so glad it's the Dell," I told a friend. "I would have been devastated if it was the iMac."

Talk about speaking too soon.

A few days later, it was Friday night, I got home, went into my home office, and started the iMac. Only, it wouldn't start. I would turn on the machine, and after a couple of seconds, a black box with a message "You need to restart the computer. Hold down the Power Button for several seconds or press the Restart button" in English, Japanese and a couple other languages popped up.

So I held down the Power Button to turn off the computer, counted to 10, and pushed the button again to restart.

It wouldn't. The same message came up.

I held down the Power Button again, counted to 10, and pushed the button again.

It wouldn't start. The same thing.

And where the XXXX is the Restart button? What is the Restart button? What am I supposed to do?

Fortunately, I have another computer -- a 4-year-old Sharp notebook, which was the thinnest computer in the world until MacBook Air came around -- it's my travel computer. I turned it on. After getting used to iMac's quick start, starting up the Windows XP felt like eternal.

Always one to prepare for the worst case scenario, I started to think about having my practically brand-new iMac replaced. I'd just moved the majority of my data to the new computer, and wasn't thinking of making backup files. It was too new for that. And the old computer had just died on me, so I could not make another set of backup files!

Turns out Apple gives a new buyer the right to call their customer service for free for 90 days. So I called a toll-free number only to hear a recorded voice tell me I have to call back in the morning.

I wasn't going to sit around; I Googled. I learned the annoying message about restarting the computer is prompted by an action called a "kernel panic." An operating system takes this action upon detecting an internal fatal error from which it cannot safely recover, according to Wikipedia.

Well. It sounds like all Mac users should know about this, but nobody told me. How annoying.

I Googled some more, both in Japanese and English. Actually lots of people talk about it. Many frustrated Mac users post questions about it on the online forums, and nobody seems to have met a satisfactory answer.

Googling "kernel panic apple mac" in Japanese, I got to this page on support.apple.com (Japanese), titled "Mac OS X: 起動時の「壊れたフォルダ」アイコン、禁止サイン、カーネルパニック" (Mac OS X: "Broken folder" Icon, prohibitory sign, or kernel panic when computer starts).

Apparently translated from an English Apple site (http://support.apple.com/kb/TS1892?locale=ja_JP), this was one of the most irritating support pages I've ever seen. At the top, there's a section called "Preventing the issue," which basically tells you not to do this and that, because if you did any of these things, you may not be able to start your computer. Now, is this not the most useless piece of information when you are already having trouble starting your computer?

Then it says, "The symptoms described above can occur even when these files and folders are in their correct place."


I will spare you all the details of what I did the rest of the Friday night before I gave up.

I'll tell you, however, that I checked the availability of geniuses at the genius bar at Apple Store Ginza for the following day. Since before I bought an iMac, I have been wanting to challenge one of the geniuses. (I wanted to bring the Dell there to ask them to move the data to new iMac, but an Apple Store guy -- not a genius, but a concierge -- was very discouraging. He suggested it would be so easy I shouldn't bother one of their geniuses.)

It is pretty darn arrogant for a company to force customers to call their employee "a genius." If you ask me, a genius is somebody with an extremely rare talent, surely too special to be employed -- even by Steve Jobs. I mean, did van Gogh work for a corporation? I was so ready to confront one of their geniuses.

(To be continued)

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