Mac infrared remote weirdness
December 30, 2007 3:25 AM   Subscribe

My problem with my Apple remote is just getting weirder

Previously: Apple remote malfunctioning, How do I escalate my AppleCare problem?

After 5 weeks at the repair shop, who tells me they were unable to recreate the problem, I've brought the Mac Mini back home. Within a day, after being on for a couple of hours, the problem came back. I moved the Mini at least 30cm away from any other objects for several days, but the problem kept reoccuring.

Then yesterday, I found a simply bizarre "solution": I cover up the IR receiver (the black square at the end of the DVD slot.) When I do this, the problem instantly disappears and the remote functions as normal. What baffles me is that it functions at all. How sensitive are IR receivers? To put it to the test, I tried wrapping the Mini completely in a thick blanket, and only after about 8 layers of wrapping does the remote stop working. I can hold a thick hardcover book right in front of the Mini, and the remote immediately behind it, and it still works. And any of these tricks cure the remote repeating problem. Right now, I'm using the Mini with a tiny strip of paper covering the IR receiver.

Besides a possible diagnosis, what I'd like to know is whether I should pursue the matter further with Apple. This is obviously not how a new computer is supposed to act, and as unobtrusive as the little strip of paper is, it's still not the designer minimalist look Apple (and I) intended. And if I'm going to pursue this further, where should I take it?
posted by snarfois to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: That is a weird one. Do you have anything that might be emitting IR frequencies all of the time? Wireless IR headphones, thermometers, etc. Special heat lamps? IR retransmitters? If you do turn them off and see if the problem continues.

Also turn off any CFL bulbs you might have. My main remote can't learn another remote if a CFL bulb is on in the same room.
posted by aerotive at 7:17 AM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: Now that is a useful clue. There is a floor-standing lamp with a CFL bulb on the opposite side of the room from the Mac. And I see GE's FAQs mention this:
Many electronic devices, such as radios, televisions, wireless telephones, and remote controls, use infrared light to transmit signals. Infrequently, these types of electronic devices accidentally interpret the infrared light coming from a compact fluorescent bulb as a signal, causing the electronic device to temporarily malfunction or stop working. (For example, your television might suddenly change channels.) Fortunately, this only happens when light is produced at the same wavelength as the electronic device signals, which is rare.
So an explanation might be that a very weak barrier is enough to block the CFL's rays, while letting the far stronger rays from the remote through. I'll investigate this further and report back. There are no other always-on IR sources in the room. Thanks!
posted by snarfois at 7:44 AM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: Another article mentioning it.
posted by snarfois at 7:46 AM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: That's it. I just tested it conclusively. Turn the lamp on: problem returns. Turn it off: problem's gone.

I'll mention it to the repair shop, and suggest they mention it to AppleCare central, if there is such a thing.
posted by snarfois at 7:51 AM on December 30, 2007

I had a TV that turned on at 3pm every day... then a week later 3:03pm... then 3:07pm...

Turned out to be a VERY specific angle of sunbeam through a very certain window pane, which at a very particular moment, hit the IR sensor.
posted by rokusan at 10:53 PM on December 31, 2007

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