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Category — technology

Troubleshooting hardware/software interaction

When you’re trying to figure out what when wrong, you have to look at all the variables, not just the obvious ones.

I rebooted my hackintosh a few days ago, and instead of booting to the Chameleon boot loader screen, it hung on the spinner. I decided to leave it to the weekend to fix. I hadn’t performed any updates to important system software so I figured it was going to be small nightmare to track down whatever minuscule change had broken the system. I had been making a back up image of the boot partition on a daily basis, but I stopped a few weeks ago when I swapped in an old hard drive that was giving me problems so that I could recover some files from it.

This morning I began the recovery process by removing that old drive and plugging the recovery image drive in. But, dang it, the recovery drive wouldn’t get past the “recovering DMI pool data” message, which means the BIOS couldn’t pass drive information to the boot loader. On a hunch I tried rebooting from the main drive again, and this time it worked with no issues. So I conclude that the old, scratch drive I had been using finally gave up the ghost and Chameleon was choking on trying to read the disk to see if it contained a bootable partition. Possibly if I had let it try long enough, it would have past the problem drive.

March 26, 2011   Comments Off

Corrupting your Preferences

There is nothing more insidious than having your preferences corrupted. Of course I’m talking about the file that stores your configuration information from an application running in Mac OS X becoming unreadable to the computer, causing unpredictable results.

Every application stores information about itself in something known as a property list file, or plist file for short. Any well-behaved application will create it for you if it is missing. This happens, for example, the first time you run the program. If this configuration file gets corrupted—for example, if there was a crash while it was being updated—then the program may not be able to read it the next time it starts up. Rather, it may be able to read it, but only partially, yielding strange, incomplete, or undefined options controlling the behavior of your application.

This happened to me recently when iChat refused to start up with the video camera enabled. It would tell me that the computer did not support video conferencing. However, it was able to turn the indicator light for the camera on, and all other programs using the camera worked fine. A bit of Google searching revealed that iChat is particularly susceptible to having its plist file corrupted in a way that has this effect.

Even if you don’t have a reason to suspect the preferences file, it is not a bad troubleshooting technique, when you are up against the wall and everything else has failed. So it’s a good technique to remember.

Most plists will live somewhere in your Home folder’s Library. In my case, I found the .plist for iChat in Home/Library/Preferences. It’s name was com.apple.ichat.plist. Quitting iChat, deleting the file, and restarting iChat solved the problem.

February 25, 2010   Comments Off

Walking WMD

Thanks to my job I am now “walking WMD” as @tefft puts it. Smallpox, anthrax and a hepatitis cocktail.

Standing in line all day thanks to my decision to revisit every aspect of my will, insurance and powers of attorney, I came to the firm decision to buy some sort of e-reader. I was previously merely strongly inclined. I’ve pretty much ruled out the Kindle, because of the DRM, lack of support for other formats without crazy service-based conversion, clunky design and general antipathy for the company.

I was fortunate enough to have Napolean’s Pyramids with me to read. It’s not great but easy enough to read in a loud room while standing in line for eight hours.

June 3, 2009   Comments Off