A couple years ago I needed a new computer. I tried to avoid past mistakes and get the smallest, simplest machine I could. I wound up with a 12-inch Apple iBook; the operating system and user interface seemed more straightforward than the latest version of Windows, and I was pretty tired of computer crashes as a daily fact of life. I’ve liked the iBook and have never regretted paying the premium that goes along with buying an Apple product (working on a Windows XP laptop now, which is so damned helpful you just want to slap it, reinforces the feeling). I don’t do anything complicated on it — glorified word processing and a ton of Web research mostly, along with some photo processing. Until the past few weeks, it worked flawlessly.

Then it started hiccupping a little, at one point simply not responding to any keyboard commands any more. It came back to life, went weird again once or twice, and then late last week really stopped working. No big deal; we’re not talking about a person here. But the computer is just two years old, and if I’d paid an equal amount for a bicycle or a used car — not necessarily less complicated machines — I’d have been disappointed to have them go dead after so short a time. In a rare example of foresight, though, I bought a three-year product guarantee when I got the iBook. That meant I could call Apple’s customer support phone line and bend their ear as long about the problem for as long as I wanted and maybe even get it fixed for free.

I phoned and got a very patient and helpful guy somewhere in Canada who walked me through the problem and all the troubleshooting stuff he could, most of which I had tried already. After about an hour, he said he’d done what he could and that I ought to bring the computer into an Apple Store. We’ve got one of the outlets just a few miles away, so that wasn’t a problem. On Monday morning, I went online — on Kate’s Windows PC — and booked a 10:50 a.m. appointment at the Emeryville store.

If you’ve experienced an Apple Store, you know the deal: You’re not going into a retail store, you’re entering a boutique. And instead of dealing with a customer service desk or repair department, you’re dealing with a Genius Bar. Fine. I suppose I don’t care what they call it as long as I can get my problem taken care of — and I did, sort of. When I walked into the store at 10:48, my name was first up on the Genius Bar monitor. At 10:56, the harried Genius working the bar, a guy named Carlos, called my name, then asked what my problem was. Within about 15 minutes, he’d determined my hard drive was failing. Since I had the three-year "AppleCare" plan, I won’t have to pay for it. Of course, since I resolutely ignored common sense and hardly ever backed up the machine, I may lose everything on the drive; some writing, but worse, two years’ worth of pictures.

So: No backup — that’s my bad. The hard drive dying after two years — well, that’s digital life, I guess. It’s just a little hard to swallow from a company that insists on telling me how much smarter they are than everyone else.

Steve Jobs: Marketing Megagenius

Earlier this week, the San Francisco Chronicle (and other sources) reported that

Apple’s Steve Jobs, in a display of his master-of-the-universe clout, had directed his company’s stores to get rid of books from a publisher that’s coming out with a Jobs biography in May.

Today, The New York Times gets around to the story. Much is made of the book’s title, “iCon: Steve Jobs, the Greatest Second Act in the History of Business.” Call me obtuse, but when I saw that the other day, I thought it sounded like hagiography. The Times points out that many read “iCon” as a double entrendre — that the title intends to convey the notion Jobs is a con man. In the article, the book’s co-author, Jeffrey S. Young, is kind of confusing on that point, saying both that rendering “icon” the way he did was meant only as a play on popular Apple product names: iMac, iBook, iPod, and iTunes, for instance. Later in the piece, though, Young is quoted as saying Jobs “has an amazing ability to con people.”

But Young’s real offense isn’t the title — it’s that he tried to breach Jobs’s self-crafted image as creator and savior of the personal computer revolution, product visionary, anti-Microsoft guru, movie-animation mogul, and all-around superstar. Handsome as all get out, too. From what you read about this “iCon” book, that’s how he’s portrayed. But when you’ve risen to the Olympian heights Jobs has — and he’s just one of a growing circle of tech supergeniuses who have all somehow singlehandedly saved the world — you can’t just let some schlub try to tell the public how great you are.

Fair enough. This kind of thin-skinned, hyper-controlling egocentrism among corporate titans is an old story.

What’s not so easy to resign one’s self to is that Jobs, in his pique, feels it’s necessary to punish all the other authors who’ve had Apple-related works put out by John Wiley & Sons, the publisher of “iCon.” For the unauthorized biographizing of one, all must be banned from Apple’s stores. Wiley says sales at Apple’s stores don’t make up a significant fraction of overall trade for the books in question. Still, it’s the nastiness of Jobs’s gesture that counts.

Maybe the best part of the story is that, except for its subject’s meddling, “iCon” likely would have gone unnoticed except among the most devoted Apple acolytes. Thanks to Jobs’s megagenius marketing move, it’s guaranteed a much bigger audience.

The Mini Is Not ‘Miniscule’

Apple just announced the Mac mini (which, thinking about it for a minute is bound to draw cracks about Mini-Me). Although I’m not given to copious salivation over tech devices, this machine seems very cool: It’s only 6.5 by 6.5 by 2 inches, it’s a fully loaded computer (basic model comes with a 1.25-gigahertz G4 processor, 40-gigabyte hard drive, Ethernet connectivity, and USB and Firewire ports) and is going for $499. Monitor, keyboard, mouse, and wireless capability extra. Even with all that, I’m sure you can get away with a full system for less than $1,000.

But the real reason I’m writing about this has nothing to do the interesting little Mac box. It has to do with this sentence from the Mac mini page: “And it boasts a miniscule price to match: Mac mini starts at $499.”

No: That’s m-i-n-u-s-c-u-l-e. With a “u.” (Pre-emptively, I reject the suggestion that it’s OK to misspell the word to stay consistent with or highlight the product name.)

Thank you.