Unicode WTF?
September 30, 2012 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Why does my macbook wig out? More details within.

I work at a bar, and when I have a slow shift, I take my macbook to work and do some non-bar work. After I've been working for a while, my computer will often glitch out in a very weird way. Suddenly I'll stop being able to use any of the menu functions in my programs and all the text starts appearing in unicode. When I reboot, my computer is fine. The only place this ever happens is at the bar I work at. It has an iron countertop, so I'm wondering if that has something to do with it. Or could it be something to do with the power outlet? Any ideas?
posted by outlandishmarxist to Technology (7 answers total)
Since it's a MacBook, the power outlet shouldn't be affecting anything. (I say "shouldn't" because lots of strange things happen, but you have a battery which should be powering the MacBook, and the power outlet would be keeping the battery charged.)

It sounds to me like one of a couple of things:
* overheating. Is the MacBook unusually hot to touch when this happens?
* bad graphics hardware. You could look for the Apple Hardware Test for your MacBook if you can't find the discs which came with the machine.
* Check that you have the latest firmware updates for your model.
* a bad font. Run the Font Book utility in /Applications. Select all the fonts in the column listing the fonts, then choose "Validate Fonts" from the File menu
* if you have any software which modifies system behavior (such as Growl) be sure you are running the latest version of that software. I find the System Profiler/System Information application from /Applications/Utilities to be helpful in listing all that software, although you have to dig a little into the output.

I wouldn't suspect either the iron bar nor the power outlet, from my experience. But stranger things have happened...
posted by blob at 8:35 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to test the overheating theory, try installing smcFanControl and see if the temperature increases drastically when you're at work. I don't really see how that could be happening unless you're doing something particularly CPU-intensive while you're there, but it might help to rule it out anyway.
posted by anaximander at 10:07 AM on September 30, 2012

This event only happens at work. My computer gets hot other places, as well. If it were just a bad graphics card or a firmware issue, shouldn't it happen at other times.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 1:00 PM on September 30, 2012

I'm not sure what you mean by "all the text starts appearing in unicode." All the text is already encoded in unicode, which is what the Mac OS uses for text encoding. Do you mean in a different font, or as unicode character codes (e.g. 0041 instead of A)?

Blob's advice is good. Another thing to consider: Are there any programs that you use only at the bar? If so, one of them might have a bug that's causing the behavior you describe.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:02 PM on September 30, 2012

Which version of Mac OS are you using?
posted by 4ster at 1:04 PM on September 30, 2012

not unicode, i guess, but the rectangles that appear when, e.g., your computer doesn't have the font to translate the text.

OSX 10.7.5
posted by outlandishmarxist at 1:09 PM on September 30, 2012

OK, that sounds like a font problem. Try using Font Book's Edit > Look for Enabled Duplicates... command. Duplicate fonts can cause all sorts of problems. You might also try using OnyX to clear your font cache; that can also be a source of font rendering problems.
posted by brianogilvie at 5:40 PM on September 30, 2012

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