[I should preface this by confessing that 99% of what I know about the Tibetan Book of the Dead comes from the wild movie Enter the Void, a film that makes Melancholia or a Quentin Tarantino nonlinear crime caper look like an episode of M*A*S*H. So caveat emptor.]
I've spent the last day dealing with a dying computer. After about 24 hours of episodically working on it, I'm no closer to figuring out what's actually wrong with it, and whether it can be fixed.
This may be one of the most compelling reasons to have something like contemplative computing: being able to remain calm and reflective when your systems stop behaving the way they do in the ads, and start going haywire for mysterious, and perhaps unknowable reasons.
I've got an old 15" Macbook Pro, which I bought secondhand, and have upgraded a couple times. It's got more RAM and a 1 TB hard drive, and until recently was working pretty well. Recently, though, I've had some reasonably serious issues: programs freeze (often in a cascade where one freezes, then the next, and finally the Finder goes nuts), it takes forever for Time Machine to back up, and it has trouble going to sleep and shutting down. Most recently, the Finder has started crashing spontaneously, and presumably Mac-friendly programs like Safari have been crashing on startup. Clearly something pretty serious is going on here.
I first tried zapping the PRAM, resetting the battery, running Disk Utility, and doing all the other little obvious things you're always supposed to try first. (I also backed up all my important files, and my music and movies, to a hard drive.) Nothing.
I then reinstalled Mac OS X, rebuilding the whole system, but leaving the rest of my files untouched. The Finder still crashes.
I tried running a hardware test, but those no longer seem to work for my older Mac. And once you get into this kind of testing, the documentation starts getting wiggy, which introduces a NEW challenge into an already confusing situation. You're supposed to be able to put the hardware test on a jump drive and run it when you boot up your computer, but: 1) Apple changed the commands that guide booting up from utility disks or diagnostic tools in the latest release of OS X; 2) the hardware diagnostic tools can't be copied to jump drives; and 3) the new online diagnostic tools don't seem accessible to this Mac. The online documentation, however, never makes clear whether I ought to be able to get to those tools or not, and with several years' support documents, discussions, etc. online now, it's hard to know if the advice or manual you're reading is still relevant.
I've made an appointment for the Genius Bar for tomorrow afternoon, and we'll see if they can figure out what's going on. In the meantime, I'm trying one more time to make Time Machine work, but after half an hour, it's still "preparing backup." (There are various suggestions on different forums about to speed these up: files you can delete if you go into Terminal mode, functionalities you can turn off that mirror your desktop in case of a battery failure, Time Machine log files you can hunt down and kill off. Who knows if they work, or if they used to work but don't any more...) We shall see what happens.