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#732: RotW: MacBook Screen Backlight, TotW: Custom Keyboard Shortcuts, Interconnects, Garage Sale


Happy Tuesday,

I’m in Manchester, NH today interviewing candidates for the technician positions still open. As the team comes together, it’s going to be very exciting to get everyone up to speed with our systems and with Apple’s so we can provide the extraordinary customer service we’re known for right off the bat.

The retail sales team, led by Retail Experience Visionary Katie Wilhite, is coming together well. They’ve been in training for over a week at this point, and we look forward to welcoming these new employees to our Vermont facilities for continued training.

The newest iPods announced recently are arriving in our stores, and our existing Vermont stores are now authorized to sell iPhone. We’re very proud to be among a very small handful of Apple Specialists to become iPhone-authorized, and it’s great to finally be able to offer the complete Apple solution to our customers. It was was a drag all these years to explain to customers that we couldn’t sell iPhone, but that makes it even sweeter that we finally can. Swing by and experience this wonderful device for yourself!

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  Repair of the Week: MacBook Screen Backlight  

This week’s repair involves a first-generation black MacBook whose display mysteriously started flickering and then went dim a few days afterwards. Usually this is just a failure of the inverter, which is fairly common; this case, however, was unusual in that the failure disappeared whenever the computer was lifted in just the right way.

Whenever we see a flickering screen or a screen that has a very faint picture, the main component we consider is the inverter. If you can see a very faint image on your screen, odds are it needs a new inverter. In this case though, we had to look elsewhere due to the unusual intermittent nature of the failure. If the MacBook was picked up with my left hand, squeezing around the MagSafe port, the screen would light up just fine. This made some sense because the inverter plugs into the main logic board right in that area. I reseated that cable and reassembled the machine to find the symptom persisted.

I took the machine apart again and found that I could apply pressure to the inverter connection to the logic board to get the backlight to stay on reliably. But there had to be a fair amount of pressure applied—not enough to just use nonconductive, heat-resistant, residue-free tape to hold it down. I switched out the inverter cable to see if it would make a better connection, but it was down to the connector on the logic board itself. It had somehow deformed, perhaps as a result of expansion and contraction from heating and cooling. I ordered up the logic board and the problem was solved. AppleCare on this nearly three-year old computer saved the customer about $400!

  Tip of the Week: Custom Keyboard Shortcuts  

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of keyboard shortcuts. If I can keep my hands on the keyboard, and not on a trackpad or mouse, to issue commands, I’m saving myself time and being more productive. Most of the time I navigate the Finder and many dialog boxes without the mouse at all; it’s just too 1980s to navigate with a mouse when you don’t need to! (I’m expecting reactions to this statement; my email is

I was pretty sure I already wrote about the ability to create custom keyboard shortcuts, but my search came up empty. So, without further adieu, here’s is how to do it.

Start by going to System Preferences from the Apple menu, and select the Keyboard preference pane. Under the keyboard shortcuts tab, click “Application Shortcuts” at the bottom of the list, at left.

Click on the plus (+) button to create a new shortcut, then choose the Application you’d like a new shortcut for from the Application drop-down menu, and select the menu item to receive the shortcut. Type the name of the command into the Menu Title field, then choose your preferred keyboard shortcut.

You will notice that many menu bar items have an ellipsis (…) appended to them. These menu items always require confirmation in a dialog box after they’re selected. If you type the name of a command into the Menu Title field that normally has this ellipsis, you can prevent the dialog box confirmation by simply not entering the ellipsis in the Menu Title field. By extension, you can bypass that requirement by selecting a menu bar item while holding down the option key. I use this every day when I log out of my computer, or empty the trash. To log out without warning, press command-option-shift-q; and to empty the trash without warning, press command-option-shift-delete.

  Interconnects: Often Diagnostically Important  

It is our job as a repair shop to find the exact component or components responsible for a computer’s failure. Sometimes, it can seem that a major (and costly) component is responsible for a failure, but we always take the additional steps necessary to conform that a less costly part is not actually to blame.

This is often the case with hard drives, optical drives, and inverters. Before we arrive at a final diagnosis, we test a good interconnect/cable from the suspected module and the main logic board after we see if a simple re-seating fixes the problem. Jon Spaulding, the most senior member of our technical services team, mentioned to me that he’d found several faulty interconnects for unibody MacBook and MacBook Pro in the past few weeks, so he’s now especially careful in diagnosing suspected hard drive failures.

I remember an Xserve that came into the shop a few years ago because its optical drive wasn’t working. The server had been in storage for about a year, and needed a fresh install of Mac OS X server, but the administrator couldn’t perform the installation without a good drive. I’d suggested he put his laptop into “Target Disk Mode“ and essentially turn it into an external disk drive, but she preferred a fully functioning server complete with optical drive.

We don’t service too many Xserves, so I didn’t have a spare known-good optical drive to swap in for testing, so I went ahead and ordered one up. It didn’t fix the issue, so I marked the drive as dead on arrival, and its replacement arrived the next day. When that didn’t help, I ordered up the interconnect, and the issue was solved. The repair ended up costing about $200 less than I’d originally anticipated.

So, for those of you out there who do self diagnosis on problematic computers, keep cables in mind. Odd as it seems that a simple cable can fail, rest assured that they do!

  Garage Sale: Ends Next Friday, 9/24  

Over the next week and a half, we are adding items and dropping prices in our Famous Garage Sale as we prepare for our end-of-year inventory!

We have limited Apple items, including a 16GB Pink nano, 17-inch Apple batteries, an AirPort Extreme Base Station and more (they’ll go fast!). Plus, lots of ink cartridges, cases for iPhone 3G, nano 4Gs and 5Gs (from Incipio, Speck, Simplism and more), and overall, dozens of iPod accessories at over 50% – 90% off most items (and lots under our cost), with many items under $5!

Orders will be taken online only via our website, and there are no phone orders permitted. Get ‘em while they’re hot.

See the Garage Sale page here.

  TT SPECIALS | 9/14/10 - 9/21/10  
   iMac 27in 3.20GHz i3 4GB/1TB, FREE $50 gift card, AppleCare Protection Plan!
   Introducing Apple TV (2010), AppleCare, FREE 6-foot HDMI Cable, FREE Optical Audio Cable!
   CinemaView 24-inch Mini DisplayPort LCD Monitor with Free Shipping!
   Chill Pill Mobile Speakers (black), Free Shipping!
   Save $10 on MobileMe for iPhone, Get a FREE Speck HD PixelSkin Case for iPhone 4!
   Verso Leather iPad Case (Black), FREE Anti-Glare Screen Protector ($15 value!)