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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Training" Wednesday - Fixing My Computer

In case you're wondering about the musical radio silence from last week's FM episode up until today, it's because I had to fix my laptop. Yes, self-repair is a growing trend and I'm embracing it.  It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. While I still have no clue what I'm going to do after the FM stint's up, computer magic may be in the works for this young magician. This isn't my very first foray into building computers. My first build was a desktop with my 6th grade computer science teacher. (It's been 10 years since I've done that and I heard it still works like new. :) ) So I thought my laptop fix would not be too difficult since the principles were similar albeit smaller.

I was right but boy was I wrong on a few major levels.

I had a laundry list of repair and I was nervous about so many things that can go wrong, mostly in the software department. I think I still have some residual trauma for when I accidentally deleted the Classic* capability from my family's Mac so the physical construction looked like a cakewalk.

Things I needed to fix -
  • Increase space on my internal hard drive - #1 reason why I couldn't do recordings plus I have a hard time deleting things. You never know if some material's going to be future gold!
  • Backup materials in a physically secure and portable location - The majority of my backups are wireless (via Dropbox, iCloud, and Google Drive) but they can only hold so much for free.
  • Replace missing screws and feet - It's astounding how much of an influence the bottom of your laptop can influence your top systems. It contributed to my next problem.
  • Fix CD drive - My theory was the bottom connection was not secure enough to keep the disk player stable. It tended to glitch when it got to the last few minutes of a film or an installation.
  • Replace batteries and charger - easy fix. It was about time for an update anyway.
  • Upgrade to El Capitan - a given considering programs are becoming El Capitan dependent.
My dad suggested to tackle the top problem, I should get a bigger SSD**. I decided to make the hard drive my final priority and tackle the simpler fixes first and replaced my battery and charger, dusted the mainframe and fans before replacing it with my new screws and feet, and I got an external 1TB hard drive. I could start backing up some items and delete some of them from the internal hard drive so that the major things got supported (I also installed an emulator which only works on El Capitan - more on that later). I cleared up enough space to upgrade Yosemite into El Capitan so I did the installation before backing up my data again.

This was the first mistake I did in my upgrade - jumping into a new system before getting familiar with it. My second mistake kicked in when I attempted to switch my system to a new hard drive and it took nearly two more days of work to figure it out. (My family's smart but they also encourage me to figure out things on my own.) I remembered my dad's biannual RAM upgrades so I made sure to wear nitrile gloves while within the mainframe even though I was already grounded. An electrical discharge from your body or a non-grounded surface can easily render your computer useless so you can never be too careful. The physical swap was the easy part. This is where the software trauma pretty much kicked in.

I tried starting up the usual way by just pressing the power button. It didn't do anything. So then I thought maybe plugging in my TB hard drive would be the catalyst for the upgrade. (I was partially right - my computer recognized it.) But because it didn't have the startup software for El Capitan on it, it had a flashing folder with a question mark. So then I switched my hard drives back in place and I saw in a YouTube video that dragging my user profile would be enough to reinitialize my system. NOPE! I even tried installing wirelessly with the option-R keystroke. What do you expect would happen with no data except NOTHING! I realized later on that my hard drive was not being recognized and I had to format my new hard drive before installing anything new to it. I didn't have the adequate supplies to do the job and I didn't feel like removing my new hard drive again just to do an elaborate restoration process. So I had to wait for two days for my USB to SATA cable to arrive before I could do anything.

Most of instructions I received on YouTube were from people who still had Yosemite and then upgraded later, which is a smarter way to do it. However, if you're rather lazy like me or new to these sorts of installations, here's my version of the upgrade. Hopefully this will be helpful for Mac newcomers or worker-bees.

You'll need:
- your old hard drive externally & your new one already installed in your laptop
- a USB to SATA cord
- a hard drive containing your most recent Time Machine backup
- An iCloud account (then again, it is REQUIRED for most Apple items anyway)
- OPTIONAL - nitrile gloves

  1. Plug in your old hard drive to your laptop, using the USB to SATA cable. Use the same precautions as you would in the mainframe because the simplest shock can render your hard drive unreadable.
  2. Turn on your computer. Your system should recognize your hard drive right away and start up as usual, except it'll recognize your old internal hard drive as an external hard drive (which technically, it is.)
  3. Go onto Disk Utility. Chances are your internal hard drive still holds the brand name. Go under your hard drive, then press the Erase button. The Erase function tends to happen quickly (anywhere between 2 seconds to under a minute).
  4. The formatting and partitioning happens automatically. No need to worry about naming your partition since it'll go back to its original name when you restore it from your backup. Make sure you choose the GUID Partition Map. There's no need to press the partition button unless you want to create more than one.
  5. Go to the App Store and download OS X El Capitan. If you already have this upgrade, it'll ask you if you want to reinstall the system. Accept the decision. Change the save point to your new hard drive. This installation takes about 15-20 minutes. If you tend to keep your external sound on mute, turn on the sound before the next step because it's critical!
  6. Restart your computer after the installation is complete. Your connection indication light will shut off on your drive for a few seconds. Detach your old hard drive BEFORE the startup chime rings and store it carefully. Attach your backup drive if you haven't done so already. The new drive will warm up for a couple of minutes before installing the new El Capitan files. Expect multiple restarts.
  7. Follow the instructions on screen. Log into your iCloud account and make sure the save point is in your new hard drive. Installation will take 15 minutes. [If you don't see the El Capitan installer and the screen's grey sans the Apple logo, hold down the option button and it will list the connected hard drives. Click on your new hard drive and it will go straight to the installer. Follow the same instructions as above]
  8. After the El Capitan installation is complete, it'll ask if you want to restore your computer from a previous backup. If you have a Time Machine backup, go ahead and do this process and make sure you grab the latest file. It'll take a couple of hours (3 tops) for the installation to complete so it may be good to grab a bite or a movie during this process. After that's all done, go ahead and use your computer.
Congratulations! You have a new computer again or at least your digital home just got a lot bigger. :)  

A simpler way to do the install is to put El Capitan on a reserved memory stick or hard drive and then follow steps 6 through 8. Then again, that's human nature - we don't expect Murphy's Law 24/7 unless we're novelizing or in the movies! Still, it's not a bad thing to have, especially if the unthinkable happens and you have to repeat the process again.

Now I pretty much fixed everything and it's all going smoothly so it looks like I'll be broadcasting again soon. I've been expanding some of my other channels too. I'm currently updating my YouTube account. The recent copyright strike experiences have made me a little wary but I'm not completely daunted. I'm also planning out a weekly live stream (whether on YouTube or Twitch, I'm still deciding) and my first few broadcasts will cover wuxia MMOs and classic gaming so I'm excited to share that with you all. Finally, I'm making strides in my Assassin's Creed fanfic. I don't know how soon I'll be able to post it on Wattpad. But if I wasn't daunted by a challenging laptop repair, I certainly won't let the Templars wipe out my mental Guild!

Until all that happens, enjoy my broadcasts on Mixlr (updated frequently on my Twitter feed @djmk4life) and my Friday broadcasts on the FM. My final winter special is this Friday @ 9-11am on the Basement. My hours for next semester will be about the same minus 1/2 hour. Any topic requests, suggestions, and media can easily be tweeted to me. Phew this is a long post. I came in with a story and came out with a tech lecture!

If you made it this far, you deserve a piece of really good cake. (not a lie either!)

<3 DJ MK

PS - For those who are curious about what I use, here's the basic specs.
  • I use a 2012 15" MacBook Pro. It was a college freshman/New Year's present. :)
  • I switched from 180GB Intel hard drive to a 480GB Crucial drive (both SSDs - I heard Seagate's a good switch too).
  • My 1TB hard drive is from Seagate. I got the light version so that it's easier to carry. I do many writing and visual projects so those tend to take up a lot of space.
  • The charger was not Apple-licensed but it gets the job done (plus it comes with a USB port for charging my other devices too!).
  • My USB 3.0 to SATA cable and battery is by an American USB company called Anker. (Their instruction manuals are simple and have the best sense of humor!)
  • The CD repair technically could've been rendered optional. Current MacBook Pros have rendered the CD drive obsolete by making the space available for a second HD for extra hard drive space (losing speed's no longer an issue today) or an invisible Time Machine backup.
*For those younger millennials, Classic is known as Mac OS 9 and when OS X (specifically Cheetah) came in, Apple made the equivalent of backwards compatibility for any software that supports 9, which made it possible for me to play the majority of educational games like these:
Interactive Math Journey (The Learning Company - also created Reader Rabbit. Apparently they revived RR for the Wii in 2011.)

Math Blaster Ages 9-12 (Davidson - played a lot of their games growing up. They really knew what they were doing when it came to intellectual gaming. My elementary school teachers used to pretend to be Ike and Rita from Reading Blaster. They got the Rita voice spot on!)

Living Books (I had the Berestein Bears Afraid of the Dark, the Arthur spelling one, and a number of others. Brutalmoose describes some other ones here.)

Disney Interactive (AKA the games that made my childhood! I had the Lion King, Hercules, Winnie the Pooh & Pocahontas. I got a Toy Story 2 game on the Dreamcast.)

And tons of other ones that are in the back of my brain... There should be a gaming database where people try to recall their pre-OS X/Windows 9 days.

My deletion of the system = the loss of using most of my computer gaming library. But thankfully the elementary school I attended to was a Mac campus (a rarity in the 90s and 00s!) so I was able to fill in the void until the later cat upgrades came in. The Classic capability was dropped after OS X Panther. Apparently there are a lot of classic emulators out there...

**SSD = Solid State Drive. Upgrade from the disk drives (the ones that make the "whirr" sound when they boot up).
A major downside when it came to past physical upgrades was you had to choose between having a good capacity for your files and rapid processing power for gaming and practical usage. A bigger disk drive would give you more space but the processor would be at its limit. With the solid state drive however, it's compromise free. There are still purpose-devoted computers out there. But a lot of them are capable of multitasking now. I use my laptop for three purposes now thanks to the upgrade - school, broadcasting, and gaming. :)

There you go. Information that didn't need a search engine and was fun to write. My job here's done! Plus if you made it THIS far, make that an entire cake!

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