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Bugs & Fixes: Turning power off turns trouble on

Sometimes, you can't win. The very thing you do to prevent potential trouble winds up causing you grief instead. Such was the case for me in today's episode of Bugs & Fixes. It's a story that also features a surprise ending.

Whenever I leave on a trip, I turn off almost all the equipment in my office. Computers, printers, scanners, and most other peripherals... they all get powered down.

The main reason for doing this is to save energy. I see no need to run all of my computer equipment 24 hours a day while no one is home to use it. Yes, this means I won't be able to use the remote software on my iPad to check in with my Mac, but I almost never need to do this anyway.

The other rationale for the shut down is that it could help avoid disasters that might otherwise occur. What if one of my hard drives started to fail while I was gone? What if its data became corrupted? What if my backup software then backed up the corrupted data to my backup drive, leaving me with no valid copy of the data anywhere? This and other admittedly unlikely scenarios spin in my head as I prepare for my trip. In the end, it seems safer to leave everything shut down while I'm gone.

When I return, I flip the switch to get everything up and running again. In most cases, that's the end of the story. All the equipment functions the same as it did before I left--and I am back in business.

Occasionally, a problem pops up immediately after powering up, something that was not present before I left. I try to think of this in a positive light: Rather than assume that the toggling of power somehow caused the trouble, I go with the notion that the problem was there all along, but was being masked somehow. The act of turning the power off and back on unmasked the symptom, allowing me to fix it before the situation got worse. As the trouble is usually minor and easily fixable, it's a comforting postscript to the saga.

Sadly, such was not the case on the return from my most recent trip. This time, it appeared that a curse had been placed upon my office while I was gone. After turning the power back on, almost every piece of equipment in the room was failing in some manner.

When I tried to print to my laser printer, a "communication error" appeared. When I tried to print to my inkjet printer, the Mac could not locate the printer. One of my external hard drives would not mount, precipitating another error alert. Despite the fact that my local network seemed fully functional and my cable modem seemed to be working fine, none of the Macs in the room could get online. And then there was the coup de grâce....

When the Cinema Display connected to my Mac Pro went to sleep, a loud static-like buzzing sound began to emanate from within the bowels of the Mac Pro. I woke up the display and the sound immediately stopped. This led me to experiment with the brightness level of the display. Using the function keys on my keyboard, I raised and lowered the brightness. When the level fell below "six squares" (as indicated in the visual that appears after pressing a key), the sound returned. If I bumped up the brightness one notch, the sound vanished. Totally weird. I had never heard of anything quite like this before.

It took me the better part of the next 24 hours to get everything working again. But I eventually succeeded. Internet connection restored. Check! Printers responding. Check! Hard drive mounted. Check! The brightness-related sound bug, however, remained invulnerable to my troubleshooting efforts. Nothing I tried had any effect. Suggestions that I found online were to no avail.

Nearly at the end of my rope, a glimmer of an idea appeared. When I first turned everything back on, the surge protector to which most of my devices are connected briefly made a crackling sound. It had never done this before. I had already decided this meant I should get a new surge protector. But it was not at the top of my to-do list at the moment, as I gave a higher priority to the other hassles I was having. Having now exhausted my efforts, I drove to my local Staples and purchased a new surge protector.

After replacing the old protector with new one, I turned everything back on again and... voilà... the sound bug was gone! I'm still not certain what the linkage is between a surge protector, the brightness level of my display, and a weird sound inside my Mac Pro. But at this point, I don't intend to pursue it further. I'm just glad to have everything working again.

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