Curse of the Zeldman Curse

I HAVEN’T GRIPED about a run of bad luck with Apple products for some time, because I haven’t experienced such a run in years. So I was due. So pretty much all the Apple products I own are now malfunctioning, each in its own special way—a way that interacts cunningly with the malfunction in another Apple product I own to prevent me from, say, accessing internet content, or getting photos out of my camera and onto a device where I can view and edit them.

The interlocking details of these curiously synchronous malfunctions are of little general interest, but the cultural assumptions surrounding their discussion may merit some small call on your attention.

People used to talk about the Zeldman Curse, meaning things went wrong with my Apple software or hardware that didn’t go wrong with anyone else’s. But that was never true, of course. Google any problem I wrote about back then, and you’d find lots of other people having the same problem, usually quietly, on an out-of-the-way Apple message board, which only rarely contained an actual, working solution.

Media-wise, Apple was always mum on these subjects—the one exception being 2010’s notorious iPhone 4 antenna problem which supposedly doomed Apple and the iPhone and of course did neither because it wasn’t really a big problem and it was easy to fix.

But those other things that sometimes went wildly wrong for some users of some Apple products? Those things, nice people didn’t talk about. As a community, Apple fans were Victorians when it came to malfunctions of the hardware or software body, and those who complained—like Victorians seeking sexual information—were to be shunned.

This ban on complaint never stopped me because my filters are different from yours, and because I needed the psychological release that came with writing more than I needed your approval.

The real meaning of Apple design

Now, we all know Apple is smart. Their sales pitch is design, but not in the “pretty” sense people who don’t know what design is think I mean when I say the word “design.”

Their stuff is pretty, but that surface prettiness is merely an objective correlative—an indicator, if you will—for the beauty and emotional satisfaction of a generally seamless computing experience. It’s the comparative ease of creating and managing a music library, not the attractiveness of the surrounding chrome, that makes people connect personally with iTunes. Like the best websites, Apple products anticipate what you will need to do, and make it easy for you to do it, thereby enabling you to focus your attention on the content with which you are engaged, instead of on the interface that facilitates your interaction. Interaction design. Experience design. That’s what Apple is brilliant at.

And even when the hardware is visually gorgeous—like the MacBook Air, my road machine as a frequent speaker—the real selling point isn’t that visual beauty; it’s the fact that this powerful computer weighs little more than a pad of paper. You can toss it in your handbag or backpack and run out the door. That whole deskbound computing experience? The Air freed you from it even before the iPad came along.


If a brand’s whole essence is bound up with good experience, it makes sense for the brand to handle bad experiences quietly and with skill. This Apple does in its stores. If something goes wrong with a piece of hardware, or if an individual piece of software is malfunctioning in ways you can’t fix after fifteen minutes with the Googles, you walk into the Apple store, and a smiling initiate fixes the software for you, or replaces your bum iPhone with a free new one. Walking out with a free new iPhone kind of makes you forget that you were angry at Apple for the problems of the iPhone you walked in with.

The house that Jack wired

But you can’t lug your apartment or your whole network routing setup to the Apple store when your MacBook Air says it can’t connect to the internet because another device is using its IP address (even though no device is). And you can’t plug into ethernet because the Air doesn’t support it. And if you bought that ethernet converter enabling you to plug an ethernet cable into your Air, that’s when you find out that most ethernet cables don’t actually fit into that thing Apple sold you for $50. You can’t bring the Air into the Apple store to be diagnosed and fixed because it connects beautifully to the internet over Wi-Fi everywhere but in your home. And that happened suddenly, after you hadn’t changed anything about your network.

And it’s not just you, because your colleague gets the same error message on his Apple computer in the design studio you share. And it isn’t the way you configured your networks, because you hired a guy to configure the one in your studio, while you configured the home one yourself, using only Apple hardware and software. And the guy you hired to wire your studio is competent, because that is what he does for a living, and has done for 20 years, as his bald head attests.

And you want the Air to connect to the internet because you want to get photos off your camera, and you can’t do that with your desktop Apple computer (an iMac) because iPhoto will not open in that computer. iPhoto will not open in that computer because your iPhoto library is corrupted, and the usual secret fixes for that problem (Command-Option open) do not work. Besides, the iPhoto library on your MacBook Air is also corrupted.

Your iMac is set to open Aperture when you connect your camera to it, but Aperture shares iPhoto’s library, so if you plug your camera into your iMac, Aperture spins uselessly and stops responding, just like iPhoto does.

You can sometimes force iPhoto to open on the Air by holding down Command-Option on launch, but if you did that, the photos would just sit there, because the Air cannot connect to the internet in your home. So you couldn’t share the photos on Flickr or Instagram or Facebook, and what would be the point of having taken them? And besides, the Air has no room for photos because the Air has no room on its little bitty drive. And you can’t edit photos on your Air because it’s a “light” computer by design. So even if iPhoto wasn’t broken on your Air, and even if it had room on its itty bitty drive, the best you could hope to do would be dump a bunch of photos into it and then not edit or share them.

The iMac has internet access, but neither Aperture nor iPhoto will work on it because of the aforesaid corruption problem.

So I’ve bought iPhoto Library Manager to fix the corruption in my library, and I believe it will do that, but it’s been working on the problem for fourteen hours so far and it is not even halfway finished. Yes, I have a large library. By tomorrow night, if the software has worked, I may be able to access my photos—although there is the very strong possibility that when I connect the camera, Aperture will open, and will freeze, because it doesn’t know that iPhoto Library Manager has built an entirely new photo library, because that’s how iPhoto Library Manager solves the problem. So tomorrow night, when iPhoto Library Manager finally stops grinding away at my corrupted photo library, I may need to uninstall Aperture just to get the photos off my camera.

I also can’t access internet content outside my living room because my walls are thick and my network no longer recognizes my Airport Extreme (so I’m waiting for Apple to deliver another one) but that would be a third kvetch in the same post, and two is all you get.

So I think maybe Apple is telling me to go out and spend time with my friends on this cold but sunny morning, and to only use computers in my studio, where they and the internet magically work. Only, why would Apple tell me that? How does that message get me to buy more of their stuff? It doesn’t, logically. And yet I know I will buy more and more of their stuff. I’m probably buying some right now.

I should acquire an unfaithful mistress and lavish her with jewelry I can’t afford. At least then people would understand.

27 thoughts on “Curse of the Zeldman Curse

  1. I don’t feel like it’s a Victorian silence, it’s the inevitable trolling from geeky fanboys of other platforms. “OH I THOUGHT IT WAS SUPPOSED TO JUST WORK.” Meanwhile they can spend countless hours diddling with their electronics to make them work with impunity. It’s like using Apple products gives you “too rich to complain” status.

  2. @Pixie: Thanks. Yes, I definitely have my eye on Lightroom. My photographer friends seem to prefer it. (But before I buy anything else I need to get the stuff I already own working again.) :)

  3. @Lincoln Russell: There is definitely some of that, and I won’t be surprised to see comments like that show up here soon enough. But I also used to get flak from Apple fans—our people. Because nice people didn’t talk about such things. Because if I was having problems with something made by Apple, I must be doing something wrong. It must be my fault. If I didn’t want to be assaulted, I shouldn’t have been wearing that dress. ;) There was an unwillingness among our own people to admit that Apple was anything less than a magical provider of constant perfect happiness. It was inappropriate to express frustration when frustrated.

  4. I’m an Apple fan and I feel your pain.

    In December, I upgraded both my 5+ yr old Apple computers. iMac => iMac and heavy 17″ MBP to 13″ Air. Love them both.


    In Jan. 2012 I invested in my comfort: sit/stand desk, ergonomic chair, and heavy duty arm mount for the iMac. The mount required a Vesa mount adapter (from Apple). My setup has been awesome. My back has been pleased.

    Flash forward to Jan. 2013 as my husband and I remove the old iMac from mount, reinstall its stand (so our daughter can have the still-working old iMac), and TRY to install the mount adapter on shiny new skinny curvy iMac. No go. The mount is for flat-back iMacs, not curved ones.

    But that’s not the problem–really, I’m totally willing to shell out more money for the right mount adapter. Nope, the REAL problem is that the new 27″ iMac is ‘not Vesa mount compatible’. WTF.

    So Apple just ‘designed’ my workstation. And boy, did they get it wrong.

  5. I am feeling it too. So many problems coming to me from Apple products more and more. And I am still buying.

    In one case I upgraded iPhoto to really take advantage of the app. A week later I ditched it and never looked back.

    I also feel that the iPhone synchronization interface/features are limiting like a walled up castle.

    Not to mention the limitations should I decide to go non-wireless, which I do because to much wireless stuff makes me dizzy.

    … and much more, but I am still buying … !

  6. my imac 27 hummed and buzzed and vibrated weirdly until apple sent out the third one which fixed it (lugging it to a genius wasnt a pretty scene) and of course the 1TB HDD crashed abt 4 months prior to them sending out a public acknowlegement and replacement plan, that i couldnt use because I had my HDD swapped with an OWC SSD.

    I love my mac, but I have had many problems with it. right now, weird wifi issues very similar to yours… i think apple makes great products that work, but they could do better…. i think apple does want me to go out and look for other options…

  7. You are right on the spot. Here, my husband and I have three Mac Pros (two from 2008 and one, the server, from 2009). The two machines we use every day, all day, are powerful and pleasant machines. We love them. They are both using the latest system software and the latest version of all the applications on them. But… for some time now, they stop working in various ways two or three times a day. They need to be rebooted, not just restarted, because sometimes they just won’t. We are quite savvy on all things Mac, because we have been using them for almost thirty years and have read the manuals. We know from experience that most of the time, if we can’t find a solution easily or after a quick googling, we won’t find it at all. A few times we have called AppleCare for something that we were sure was a hardware problem. Every time, after a long struggle and escalation to senior techs, it was finally confirmed that is really was a hardware problem. Which was of course fixed quite rapidly.

    So we think we know what we are doing. In fact, many of our friends come to us for help when they have problems and we usually can steer them in the right direction.

    Although we have checked everything checkable, we haven’t found why our old, out of AppleCare machines die on us a few times every day. So we just reboot and then go on with our work. We hope that if Tim Cook comes through with his promise, we will be able to purchase new shiny Mac Pros (or their replacement) soon. And we hope that then, with new hardware, we will stop having daily failures.

    Sometimes we think about what will happen if there are no new machines, or if the new ones keep on pestering us. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to go. We have also used Windows and Linux for some things and for some reasons. So we know that there is nowhere to go.

  8. The DHCP IP settings in Mac OS X have always seemed “sticky.” Hence, when the Mac tries to use the IP that was handed to it by DHCP at some point — but some other client stole your IP away in the dead of night — you get the error that your IP is in use. Sometimes, renewing the DHCP lease in the network settings will fix that. “Forgetting” the network will also sometimes also fix this problem, as will creating a new network location and rejoining the network. Your local Airports can also be restarted, so that they, too, start the whole Dynamic Host Control Protocol business all over again.

  9. On Apple in general, something has happened, and not all it has to do with Apple. People say, “SNL is no longer funny.” I say, “No, SNL was always sometimes funny and sometimes not so funny.” People say, “Apple is screwing up now.” I say, “No, Apple has always been simultaneously doing great things and making some mistakes.” That’s the reality. Things are imperfect. It’s been that way ever since Adam took that first bite, eh?

  10. I’ve had a few Apple hardware issues over the last year. First was my rMBP 15, it shipped with the ghosting display from LG, dropped it of at a local Apple authorized ma and pa shop as they opened, picked it up right after lunch the next day with the awesome Samsung Retina display. #Win

    Switched to Verizon when the iPhone 5 launched, a few days later the proximity sensor wasn’t working. Took it to Best Buy where I bought it and they sent me to the Apple Store. The genius bar (*cough* dunce bar) and was told that it was within hardware limitations, even after he admitted that he could see where it was a little annoying… Ya Think! #SadPanda

    Now my wife on the other had, she’s had a flawless run with ever one of her Apple products. Wish I could have said the same :P

  11. Technology is complex. In fact, we now carry a supercomputer in our back pockets which is more powerful than the one bringing us up to the moon.
    Mega Corp’s Engineering and Marketing – wether it’s  or Microsoft or anyone else makes no difference – totally hides the complexity from us, as if it doesn’t exist. That is the problem. It’s a lie. The simplicity is just camouflage, the complexity inside the system didn’t change as much as the shell would make us believe.
    Remember how many engineers sat there in those Apollo Mission Control Centers?

  12. Related:

    You’re not alone Jeffrey and it seems the Victorian times are drawing to a close. Let’s hope.

    I’ve been a Windows user for many years (since Windows 3.0) and a DOS user before that. I’ve owned one Mac – a laptop of some sort (Powerbook?) – which was lovely and ran System 7 point something. I’m fairly well stuck on Windows now because critical software I use is Windows-only. Given half a chance, I would have purchased a Mac because they look and feel better and, honestly, the do evoke in my device envy. I’m so weak. So, you know, I’m not a fan of Windows, but I make do. It’s okay.

    But in recent months, my faith in Apple quality has been rocked by articles such as yours, the MPG article linked, and an experience helping a colleague who had run into trouble with his iMac recently. The story is long and the details don’t matter, but I remember thinking to myself, “this is terrible, this is like… Windows.” It was a mess and my colleague didn’t know how to fix it. I fixed the problem, but was left feeling a sense of grief. The grass wasn’t any greener.

    So maybe stories such as yours won’t make any Mac faithful switch to an alternative (a few super-geeks will, no doubt), but perhaps fence-sitters such as myself will now think twice. I will. In fact, plans for a dabble with the Air have been put on hold and I’m looking instead at a tough, light and powerful Lenovo X1 Carbon. It runs Windows, but you know, so what? It runs the software I need, I can get shit done on it, Windows is reliable these days (the massive amount of customer-complaining about earlier Windows did some good, and MS have at least made the guts sturdy, if not the still-slightly-awkward and derivative UI). My goal in coming years is to wean myself off platform reliance and use only multi-platform software, enabling me to switch if I need to. Like I can switch my browser (thanks Jeffrey). I’m 90% of the way there. The last 10% is tough.

    So Apple customers: complain! Kvetch. Multiple times. In the same post. Make your voices heard. Apple are no longer the underdog in need of your loyal defence. Apple are the biggest corp. in the world (or they were until Exxon took the crown again this year) and they don’t deserve your silence any more.

  13. I would suggest buying a cheap netbook that runs Linux / Ubuntu. That would fix you up in the meantime while your Apple products are on strike.

  14. Interesting, @Dustin. My iPad no longer lets me download Archer episodes I’ve subscribed to. They’re supposed to download to all my devices. Instead they download only to my home iMac. If I try to download them to my iPad, I get a message saying “You’re not allowed to re-download this.” Simultaneously I see a button inviting me to subscribe to the series (to which I am already subscribed, of course). As Apple’s ecosystem of connected devices, services, and content offerings grow, I suppose more UX FAILs are inevitable.

  15. If the iPhoto repair fails, you can always right-click over the iPhoto Library file and select “Open package contents”. Then you can at least resurrect the original jpegs and start over. At least it’s not really one big huge database like it would appear.

  16. Hello,

    as an avid iPhoto user your post made me more than a little worried. I’d love an update if the iPhoto Library manager solved that problem.

    I have years of family photos stored in iPhoto and I have been meaning to export them and put them on an external drive (or two) but as with many other things it’s a work in progress.

    I have looked into buying the manger software but I never got around to it…

    I hope things worked out for you.

  17. Apple fails badly hurt exactly because so many things go well with Apple stuff. So, when something goes amok, you just feel it wrong.
    Other systems love to offer small challenges every other day and, if something really fails, you just feel it like something more failing.

    A word on Wi-Fi: I spent endless hours to configure wireless network in innumerable homes, offices, exhibitions, halls. When things don’t work, it’s either hardware faults or interference. Tertium non datur.

  18. I was a real Apple fan boy. I own more than 15k $ of Apple stuff at home and in my office.

    I had to format my €2700,00 MacBook Pro because it was behaving like a Commodore 64.

    In one of the 6/7 calls to Apple customer care (as an AppleCare subscriber) I had this reply “Did you try to run Photoshop on a BootCamp partition running Windows?”.
    No comment.

    My iPhone started to behave like a GameBoy six months ago.

    Then I broke my faith and bought a Nexus 4. Happy. Cool interface, the iPhone looks like Flintstones in comparison.

    But how can I replace my MacBook Pro?

    They still are the best computer out there, in my opinion.
    But if Apple guys fail to renew OsX I fear Microsoft and/or Google will outdo them.

  19. “People used to talk about the Zeldman Curse, meaning things went wrong with my Apple software or hardware that didn’t go wrong with anyone else’s.”

    Some people use the term “the Zeldman curse” that way, primarily in this comment section, but many of the rest of us have never thought of it that way and instead use the phrase in this quite different way: “If something is going to go wrong with an Apple product, it will go wrong with Jeffrey’s.” I have been teased about this being true for me, as well. It’s not because they think you and I are the only ones having these problems. It’s because it’s so often true that you and I have problems: you, because you are a power user and me, likely because I am not only technically inept but also have bad luck with any company’s computer stuff. The term is used endearingly and empathetically among the people I know. Also, you are, within the web world, famous. That’s the main reason why it’s not called the Wood Curse. (Or maybe I mainly know nice people on the web and they don’t ever speak ill of you or think bad things only happen to you. Your fame has its dark side, attracting asshats who like to Lord things over you any chance they get.) Today and tomorrow, you are likely feeling the way I do when something goes wrong: an emotional soup made of grief, frustration, and violence. But I hope after things are sailing along again, you’ll remember the distinction I’ve pointed to and regain the sense of humor that is very difficult to summon up right now. You’re highly respected; you aren’t seen as the only one having problems with Apple products; you are not only vocal but also have a large following—and you or some hardware mega-genius or Apple itself often figures out the answer for you that would never be figured out for many of the rest of us no matter how many cries for help we sent out to the world. Are you screaming? I usually end up screaming at some point during the process. Meanwhile, my sincere condolences.

  20. I’ve run into the same IP problem you describe,

    “[…] it can’t connect to the internet because another device is using its IP address […]”

    and it seems related to the way my main Wi-Fi network is extended by an Airport Extreme. This started to occur after Apple’s latest Airport update (7.6.3). It got so bad that I stripped my network down to only the main Airport Extreme.

    It turns out that everything works okay when only the main Airport Extreme is running. When I add an Airport Express and run the setup wizard to extend my network, things go haywire.

    First, the Airport Express wireless settings are set to “Create a network” eventhough it should be “Extending a network”. Selecting the latter only seems to make things worse. Next, my bandwidth drops by 50% as measured by and my MacBook Pro drops off the network with the above formentioned message.

    Not sure I’m helping anybody here, but it might be a direction in which to look.

  21. I had really big problems with my Macbook Pro Retina screen and its performance in general. Note that it costs $3310 in Croatia.
    Also, my previous Macbook Pro had problems with trackpad and my iPhone 4 had problems with a home button. The only Apple device I own working fine is the iPad, but I gave it to my parents. :D
    And, one other little thing I noticed – Magic Mouse battery lid is extremely sharp and can hurt you or other things like, for example, the aluminium unibody case of your Macbook Pro. :/

    But, stop for a second and think about having all those hardware and software problems in a country without an Apple Store and Apple Care. Reading about people going to Apple Store and getting great customer service experience and having their devices replaced with new ones sounds like a sci-fi movie here. :(

Comments are closed.