Upsetting the Apple-Cart (and the Warrior that Fixed it)

A temporary excursion outside normal parameters

By Graham K. Rogers

People like me learn how to write about our computers through the process of "been there, done that"; or in my case, "Been there, broke that."

I had just been congratulating myself about the stability of OSX on the iMac. It had been running without a shutdown or crash for 6 months, when I did a really stupid thing late one night. Normally, rather than shutdown, I just put the computer to sleep. Inevitably, as soon as it is sleeping - after that last little, soft clunk -- I remember that I left the printer on, or forgot to take out the Bluetooth adapter. Turning off the printer, or removing the adapter immediately brings the computer back to life and I have to send it off to sleep again.

I pulled the adapter before the clunk.

Nothing happened but I knew there was a problem as the brightness of the iMac's power light did not fluctuate. Just a steady, dead, shine.

Step One, reset. It started OK; but despite all the hard-disk action, nothing came on the screen. I waited until this ended and went for Step Two, a forced "power off" stage: holding in the power button for about 5 seconds. When there was silence, I counted to 10 and pressed the button again. All was well and we had our computer back.

Although my Computer Engineering students believe in binary, I believe that luck and magic control computers. With my fingers crossed, I started up in single-user mode (command + s) and faced the blank stare of UNIX to run fsck -y for a file and system check. The "y" is to agree to anything it wants to fix. Just say "Yes".

There was obviously a problem beyond this normally-quick fix. Apart from other file errors, checking the catalog file reported the number of folders was 722774 instead of 722777, so fixed it. But a check of the volume information insisted that the folder number should be 722777 and not 722774, so fixed it back again. I completed this cycle about 5 times before deciding that I would be better off in bed.

Back home from work the next day, I had brought my OSX installation disks with me (I keep them in my office for safety). I booted up with the disk and ran Disk First Aid but the result was the same. Norton Disk Doctor has been banished from my computers. Not that it did not do sterling service in the past, but I have read so many OSX horror stories about those who have trusted their luck (and computers) to NDD, that I am not willing to become another statistic. I am unwilling to use this.

One utility available is Disk Warrior. When I first started writing eXtensions, the Editor, Tony Waltham, forwarded me a news story about one man's disastrous weekend that was pulled out of the fire by this program; and I was getting nowhere fast.

I cranked up the modem, accessed the website, unstuck the credit card from the wallet and downloaded the software, having clicked the option of a real CDROM in the mail as well. This, of course, adds to the cost but also adds to the luck factor: if you have it, you will not need it.

Disk Warrior is a program that operates in System 9 and I must admit to being a little rusty. I am much happier in OSX. Once booted into 9 the installation was simply click and wait; and when it was complete I started the program.

Problem One: I need the registration number. This was in the e-mail, which is on OSX; so a couple more restarts were needed to find the data and to return to System 9.

Problem Two: I have to "personalise" the application, with my name, company and the registration number. I found that one must enter all details, even if you do not have a company. Just entering one letter is enough. I was tempted to put something rude, but compromised with "Personal".

Problem Three: I tried to run the program. To do any maintenance, the disk repaired cannot be the boot disk; and nor can Disk Warrior be on the disk it is checking. With no boot disk at that time, I was condemned to wait a week (or more) for the postman. I retreated to OSX for a think.

With no floppy disk drive, I can only run a CDROM. Is it possible to make a bootable CDROM? An odd thing about the Apple is that the Mac Help files are sometimes helpful; plus they are all consolidated into one area, so if I am searching, the answer could come from any application installed.

Search: "boot disk". There were over 50 results; but Roxio Toast came up trumps. I dedcided, however, to return to System 9, to use the 9 version of the disk burner as I wanted to boot up in 9 for Disk Warrior.

When Toast was running, I put in a new CDROM and named it. I then dragged the correct System folder to the panel and that data was copied. I also copied the installed Disk Warrior folder then burned the disk. Within a few minutes I had a (very) hot boot disk in my hands. But would it work? It is in situations like these that I am so glad I do not smoke: I just sat close to the edge of panic.

Ye Gods, it was painfully slow. In my haste, I had loaded it up with everything, including a 5MB desktop image; but who cares? I was getting somewhere.

Disk Warrior politely told me what it was going to do, then took over the computer. The clock stopped at 7:40 PM and for a while I thought the luck had run out but, almost imperceptibly, the blue progress bar moved. I went and made some tea and sandwiches.

The bar had moved again and the panel told me that we were 30% through Step 6 of 11. I went and watched one of those delightful French movies on TV5.

With tears coursing down my face, I came back at 9.28 pm as it was writing the report about all I had done wrong and what it had done to fix it.

My only major problem came when I wanted to boot back onto the hard disk. The CDROM did not want to let go, so I forced a shut down. On rebooting, I held down the Option key to give me a choice of systems and selected OSX.

Not willing to trust anything, I restarted into single-user mode and ran the file system check. It reported that the hard disk appeared to be OK. Magic.

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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