Monday, February 25, 2008

Computing misadventures: Leopard & this geek wannabe

Well I had an adventure with my macbook this week.  While I have had a spate of problems with the new operating system Leopard - Apple has released a lot of updates which appear to have settled it down a bit once you get them installed. Of course releasing a 180 to 340 meg update, when one of the difficulties it corrects is connection problems, is a sure method to user frustration.
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After crashing software update twice - I did get this gigantic monster downloaded and installed.  Then the unthinkable happened --- yes, the dreaded USER STUPIDITY. This stupid user attack occurred this past Saturday afternoon (it's Monday now) as I was blissfully exploring. I highlighted my hard drive icon, and brought up the GET INFO box to check how much free space I had left on the drive.  In this info box, I noted  that I had permission to read and write my drive but was STUNNED to see that EVERYBODY had permission to read it!   I was really indignant - why should everybody have the right to read my hard drive! I changed it to "no access."   No sooner had I closed the box when suddenly everything started hanging up - the rolling beach ball  on every save.(the proper mechamisms to keep other PEOPLE off your drive are the Sharing and the Security preferences panes in system preferences)

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As usual my simple answer to most things is to either relaunch finder or reboot. So I rebooted.  BUT now my machine wouldn't even start up.  The blue screen would appear,  the spinning star like icon would appear, then the screen would flash like finder was about to start  - but instead of the familiar desktop - the blue screen was back, then the spinning star, the flash, then the blue screen again.  It only took six or seven cycles for the "Loop" light bulb to go off in my head.  Looks like it can't find the startup disk I thought. Hmmm.   Could I have done this?  I wondered.  DUHHH.

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I hooked up the machine to my old G5 and started it in Target mode. (I attached the machines together via their firewire ports with the macbook off.  I started the mac while holding down the T key.)  This went very well. I dragged all my dated onto the old G5, anything and everything I might need including the domain.2site file from iWeb which contains all the data on your sites, and the iphoto and itune libraries.  while they are large - things cook along very fast on a firewire.

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I shut everybody down and went to the Apple store at the mall. NO I DID NOT BRING MY MACBOOK. I have to confess that I have not ever consulted with the Genuses at the  Genus bar. I am way too stubborn for that.  What I did when I got there was saunter around reading the boxes of every disk and repair utility they had in stock. I have a copy of TechTool but on before Intel macs.  I read the cover on a new box of Techtool pro.  But it only listed Tiger on the cover.  None of them seemed to address my problem or to cover the latest version of Leopard.  I also thought the disk must be working just fine, since I was able to read it from the G5.

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As I stood in my perplexity - I spied  "Mac OS X - The Missing Manuel, Leopard edition" by David Pogue.   This is the best $30 I have ever spent.  I would kiss the ground this guy walks on - he saved me zillions of bucks and weeks of delay.  In one weekend I have learned so much about my operating system from this book! IF YOU OWN A MAC WITH LEOPARD AND you are not a very excellent geek - you will find this book very helpful.

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First I looked up safe mode in the index. As a converted windows user, I am familiar with this mechanism which loads a stripped down version of the operating system from its last successful boot - so you can get in there and undo what ever you or the latest download did that caused the problem....  Pogue notes that APPLE has one of these modes too - you boot while holding the shift key. Valuable info - but it didn't help me this time.  Next under startup problems, the book reminded me I could start via the Leopard install disk while pressing the C key - and then use Disk Utility.  I did so, and it declared my hard drive to be OK.  BUT then I tried to verify the permissions - and this crashed immediately. I  tried to repair the permissions. This crashed immediately too.
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Hmmmm I thought. It can test at a low level - at the level of ones and zeros perhaps -- but it can't read the files headers or the files themselves...... hmmmmm I was pretty sure at this point the culprit was me....  I thought about all the other users who appear in Activity Monitor - like ROOT....

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I tried throwing away my sys preferences file in target mode but this didn't help either. Finally I was pretty sure a reinstall was my only option. Or at least the only one that wouldn't requirea large a tech support bill and enduring scornful looks and snickers too...

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First I tried the install option which preserves the users and files.  This install attempt crashed. When I read the log  - I could see the judge in his white wig pounding down his gavel _"YOU _ YOU idiot YOU Did this to your machine..." The log repeatedly noted it could not open the hard drive directory -- didn't didn't have authority. SIGH.

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At this point I knew I was going to have to make yet another clean erase and  install of leopard. but at least I could laugh because I HAD ALL MY DATA.......   I did the install which in Apple land only takes a two hours - and which chugs away without asking for obscure driver CDs like a window's install does.  Once I had completed the install, before reinstalling any programs or moving back any data,  I used Software update repeatedly and did something Mr. Pogue suggested in his book  there is a menu option in software update to download and SAVE the Package. This avoids another gigantic download in the event of further trouble.

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Anyway the lesson for all you tinkerers out there is - don't ever make this particular mistake.... With luck, logic and a book from the Pogue -  I am back though, happily posting this from my macbook which has all its data in place including the iphoto, itunes, and iweb files, documents etc.  Five stars for David Pogue!!!!

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