Is your computer old? Replace it before it dies.

Things work until they don’t.” A doorman at my building offered that consolation when I was chiding myself for not replacing my ancient desktop computer before it died last week. I appreciated his sympathy, but it would have been better to replace the computer before it didn’t function. You can wait to buy a dishwasher, but a computer holds irreplaceable contents. 

No, I didn’t lose all my files, but there were enough complications for me to think about becoming more tech savvy. As I set up a computer by myself for the first time in my life, I regretted taking technology for granted when it works.  

Actually, computer shopping had been on my mind for a while, since the iMac was at least a decade old, but the machine kept soldiering on, giving me no warning of its imminent demise. 

Sitting in the living room one evening, I heard the familiar Apple chimes. Either the computer itself or a ghost had done a reboot. The iMac was caught in an endless reboot loop. I grabbed my cellphone and trudged down to the building’s business center to use Wi-Fi (more on Wi-Fi to come) to google a fix, but none of the recommendations worked. 

Since I had intended to replace the iMac, what did it matter that I couldn’t revive it? The big problem, which I still need to tackle (advice welcome), is how to wipe clean the hard drive before the machine is recycled. 

Also, not being able to get into the old machine, I couldn’t transfer files from it. I can retrieve files stored in iCloud. But I’ve discovered that I neglected to back up contacts, so now I’m lacking everyone’s postal address. Plus, all the sticky notes with messages to myself are gone because backing up the desktop did not include backing up sticky notes on it.

I still have to investigate how to copy all the files from the cloud to my hard drive, but I’d bet it can’t be done in one fell swoop. For the time being I’m telling myself that the cloud is the safest place for them.

How nice it was in my working days to have an IT person. Adam set up my old computer, which I bought when I retired. As I unplugged it last weekend, a black box connected to it by a USB cable entered my consciousness as if I were seeing it for the first time, even though I’ve dusted it for years. I suspect it’s an external hard drive. If my files are in it and not in the iMac, I don’t have to worry about wiping clean the computer hard drive. I’d better find out, and while I’m at it, learn how to retrieve the files. 

If it weren’t for my knowledgeable niece Sarah, who had advised me on the computer purchase, I wouldn’t know that I don’t need to buy a new printer. The MacBook Air recognizes the old HP’s print software but not its scan software. “You can scan with your cellphone,” Sarah informed me. 

You think tech obliviousness is excusable in a 72-year-old? Then here’s another example: I didn’t realize I’ve had Wi-Fi for years because RCN’s cable installer had connected the modem to the iMac with a cord. I’ve been trekking down to the business office every time I didn’t want to use cellphone data. When I called RCN last week to ask about getting a different modem for a laptop, I was surprised to hear that I have a Wi-Fi modem. 

How do people know these things? I wonder. I doubt they read user manuals from cover to cover. Paying attention might help; I could have wondered what that black box was for when I dusted it. 

Most likely I’ll fall back into obliviousness soon enough. But while I’m excited about the new computer, maybe I will read the user manual.



Today is the last day to switch your Medicare Advantage or supplement plan for 2021. When open enrollment began, I was debating whether to stay with the top-rated Humana Gold Plus Medicare Advantage plan that has served me well for seven years or to switch to a plan accepted at a nationally ranked hospital.

I was relieved to find out that I can have both Humana Gold Plus and a nationally ranked hospital: both Northwestern and Rush are joining the Humana Gold Plus network on January 1. Better yet, Rush recently opened, a quarter-mile from me, a state-of-the-art clinic with primary care physicians, specialists, lab services, and imaging tests.

Some people prefer to pay the higher price for Traditional Medicare so that their choices aren’t limited to a plan’s network providers. In Chicago, where you can be in the network of a top-20 hospital and its physicians, I don’t anticipate any reason to go out of network.


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    Hi Marianne! See if your old iMac can be rebootd while holding down the T key ... that puts it into 'target mode' and appear as an external hard drive. The screen will have a symbol that looks like a Y moving across it. If that works, connect with a Firewire or USB cable (you will have to check the connection types on your computers) then you can use the Migration Assistant on your new laptop to import your old data from the old machine. Good luck! (And make regular backups using Time Machine!)

  • Thanks for the advice, Gary. I was able to get the moving Y and connected the two computers, but Migration Assistant couldn't "find" the old Mac -- it kept looking for sources. I think I have most of what I need in iCloud, although retrieving and organizing things from the cloud isn't as simple as I would have liked. If you see this, would you mind advising me about how concerned I need to be that I can't wipe the hard drive clean. Thanks for your interest. I didn't find the advice about the t key anywhere online -- you are a genius!

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    Hi again Marianne! It looks like you made some progress. I did some more checking (it's been a while since I did this) and you will need a Thunderbolt and/or Firewire cable, not a USB. Using a USB cable may be why you were not seeing the old iMac in "target mode". Apple is a headache sometimes for using different connectors than the PC world does. Please note that there are two types of Firewire connector, 1.0 is flat rectangular with one end round (!) while 2.0 is square. Here is an article that you can read for reference ... good luck!

    (P.S.: despite that iCloud backs up a lot of our files now, a Time Machine backup on an external hard drive is recommended for peace of mind!)

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    P.S.: if you are confused about the right cable, note the model number of your old iMac, it's a number on the back starting with A such as A14352 ... take that number along with your new laptop to the Apple Store (or deal with them online) to find the right cable especially if it has different ends. It's worth a couple of bucks extra to get a good cable from Apple; for example, Amazon has been having problems with their house label cables and a couple of years ago, a Google engineer did tests on brand name vs. house label cables to determine that, yes, there is sometimes a difference! (Google lets their people pursue projects on occasional Fridays, a few interesting products have arisen from that.)

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    P.P.S.: I will have to get back to you about wiping the hard drive especially if you can't log into the computer anymore. Sometimes the best thing is a fresh reinstall of macOS (formerly known as OS X) which reformats the old drive. In fact, the old computer could wind up working again as a fresh machine that you can use as a second screen (e.g., run YouTube videos or a DVD movie, etc.) while working on the new laptop! (or to sell, donate, give away) You can do that with the original discs which came with the old iMac. But be sure that you have gotten the data that you want off of it! :)

    The other possibility, which I have never tried, is to connect the old iMac in "target mode" where it's just any old external hard drive, and reformat it. It will be a dead/zombie until someone reinstalls macOS (OS X) again.

    My favorite trick is the swap drives between Apple and Windows computers, upgrading to a bigger/faster but used drive, because they have different layouts and reformatting obliterates the old data completely.

  • Gary, thanks so much for your lengthy advice. I found a place near me (AVA Recycling) that would destroy the hard drive for $10. I'm thinking of doing that rather than going through the trouble of trying to revive it, although I hate to destroy something that might still be usable. I would be happy to give it to you if you want it. Please let me know. And thanks again for all your input.

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    You're welcome! And depending on how they will "destroy" your old computer's hard drive, the machine might still be eligible for donation. There is/was a north side branch of Free Geek from Portland, Oregon that might take it. Or the schools. A refreshed ten year old iMac may still run a recent macOS (OS X) but like not the newest ones. Good luck and all the best!

  • Gary, I just looked up Free Geek. It will be reopening Dec. 2. I can take the computer there. They will wipe it with Secure Erase / Nwipe software. If that doesn't work, then they'll destroy it for $10. It makes me feel good that it might find a use still. Thanks so much. Marianne

  • What covid does to our brains! I forgot what month it is. I can take it to Free Geek already.

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    Wait, it's only late, late April ... :)

    Good to hear that Free Geek Chicago is still running, I go to the thrift shop at their Portland, Oregon HQ whenever I'm in Stumptown for old parts and cables with connectors no longer available retail.

    All the best and happy holidays!

  • Same to you, Gary.

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