Computer dreams

by John Holbo on July 12, 2008

I just experienced a peculiar computer problem. My mac is peacefully sleeping when suddenly its fan starts whirring at perilously high speed. Obviously the poor thing is having a nightmare, I thinks to me. I’ll wake it up and tell it everything is all right. So I hammer on the keyboard and eventually command-q has the desired effect. But now my mouse does not work. Diagnostics (that’s fancy talk for: trying stuff) indicate it is not the mouse. Rather, both USB ports on the keyboard have died. So now I get to plug my mouse into the back of the machine itself forevermore. Oh joy.

What could my computer have been dreaming about that was frightening enough to fry two USB ports in its sleep?

Oh wait. Restarting it did nothing to fix the problem. But shutting down, then starting up, has allowed me to plug my mouse back into the keyboard, with effect.

Thank you for your interest and attention. This has been a test of the my minor emergency network. Had there been an emergency involving you, you would have had to figure out what to do.



thompsaj 07.12.08 at 10:46 am

electric sheep?


riffle 07.12.08 at 11:01 am

“Restarting it did nothing to fix the problem. But shutting down, then starting up, has allowed me to…”

Odd, this is exactly the process my heart surgeon relies on when my heart fails. After we’ve tried “Jiggle the handle” without success.

[Enjoyed the EBS line, must say.]


ronbailey 07.12.08 at 11:32 am

@thompsaj – Dammit, I logged in to say exactly the same thing…


Barry 07.12.08 at 11:54 am

I’m sorry, John, but it’s too tempting:

“Get a PC!”


abb1 07.12.08 at 12:29 pm

Hopefully it’s a dream inside a dream. Wake up.


a 07.12.08 at 12:35 pm

Time to make sure you’ve backupped all your files.


bob mcmanus 07.12.08 at 2:12 pm

My USB ports have been doing that for years. Takes a power down, which on my Wintel usually means hibernate, to bring them back.


novakant 07.12.08 at 2:28 pm

It’s probably not related to the HD but it might be affected, so the first thing I would do is back up the whole system to an external drive.

I’m not a Mac expert, though I have two, but generally it would be helpful if you could list your system specs: type and age of hardware, OS version (fully updated?) etc.

Also, the first question I always ask when friends and family have problems is: have you made any changes to the software/hardware shortly before the problem started to occur?


christian h. 07.12.08 at 2:54 pm

But I seem to recall Macs are perfect, or so I’ve been told repeatedly. You must be making this up.


novakant 07.12.08 at 3:04 pm

And from the top of my head:

Update OS, firmware and drivers via software update. If that doesn’t help, unplug all USB peripheral devices and cables except for the mouse and keyboard. If you are connecting those through a hub, connect them directly. If the problem persists, try switching to other USB ports.

You could do a search or ask at these forums:



abb1 07.12.08 at 3:09 pm

Macs are perfect

Now, that’s a bit unfair, as USB is a creature introduced by Intel/Microsoft. Apple’s own equivalent is firewire.


Ignalina 07.12.08 at 3:11 pm

Or, even better:


Ignalina 07.12.08 at 3:12 pm


Watson Aname 07.12.08 at 3:30 pm

But I seem to recall Macs are perfect, or so I’ve been told repeatedly. You must be making this up.

Don’t be ridiculous. They’re just better, on average.


Rich Puchalsky 07.12.08 at 11:54 pm

I have gotten the same behavior on my Mac. Shut down, then start up, appears to fix it.

I’ve never bothered to investigate further. I figure that if I chase down every mysterious computer problem that occurs over the course of my life, I’ll be wasting like a year of my expected lifespan.


Danny Yee 07.13.08 at 1:27 am

USB is a creature introduced by Intel/Microsoft. Apple’s own equivalent is firewire

My memory is that Apple was the first major computer manufacturer to deploy USB. And Firewire wasn’t intended as an alternative to USB – I’ve never seen a Firewire mouse or keyboard!


bdbd 07.13.08 at 1:52 am

temporarily fried a couple of USB ports while dreaming? Wet dreams, obviously!


c.l. ball 07.13.08 at 5:37 pm

Sleep-mode makes Macs do weird things. So
etimes my MBP reboots on sleep/hibernate.


David 07.13.08 at 6:04 pm

Intel developed USB and it was supposed to be the next big thing. That state of supposed to be lanquished for several years, going exactly nowhere, until Apple dumped the floppy and introduced USB on the first iMac and made USB.


novakant 07.13.08 at 6:51 pm

USB is wonderful, and it’s not the fault of the USB standard that software/firmware developers mess up sometimes.

For file transfer, Firewire does exceed USB speeds, but then it’s a bit like Betamax vs. VHS.


Henry (not the famous one) 07.14.08 at 3:50 am

Two anecdotes (one true, one uncertain):

1. Maytag repairmen used to get calls from washing machine owners who could not get the appliance to start. If nothing else seemed to work, then they would advise the caller that there was sometimes a problem with negative polarity and that the solution would be to pull the plug out of the socket and reinsert it in the opposite configuration. The caller would discover, of course, when he went to unplug the machine that it was not plugged in.

2. While hiking up in the Sierras some years ago (too smoky to take that hike this year) I saw a bumper sticker that said “Life is a test. If this were a real life you would be told where to go and what to do.”


Sseziwa Mukasa 07.14.08 at 3:07 pm

This seems to be a relatively common problem with Macs, although I haven’t personally seen it. You can find another example
and the last message in this discussion actually tries to diagnose the root cause of the problem.
Long story short, you have to unplug everything from the machine except the keyboard and mouse, and start plugging them in one by one until the problem resurfaces. If that fails you probably have a bad connection to your front USB ports. In the latter case the reboot may not actually have solved anything but the physical jiggling of the machine may have.

and the last


John Holbo 07.14.08 at 4:11 pm

thanks sseziwa, but your first link is dead. I’d actually be curious to see the live one.


Gray Lensman 07.15.08 at 10:20 pm

Take two aspirin. Those are for you. Then do this for the Mac:

First, unplug everything from the Mac except the keyboard and mouse (printers, etc.)

Next, Restart (under the Apple Menu) and quickly grab these four keys all at once: command(apple key), option, P and R. Hold these down for three restarts (bongs).

Let up the keys. This is a Parameter Ram reset or PRAM Dump. It resets the chip which keeps up with all the outside connections such as printers, etc.Plug everything back in. This also works if the Mac stops talking to the printer, scanner, etc. USB is the usual culprit. Also be sure to do all the Apple updates even you don’t use the software it talks about. Apple is taking care of your baby.

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