The Big Mac Rescue

I thought I’d share a story of how one of my Mac’s got screwed up and how it was saved. This story has a happy ending (for me anyway). Are you listening Alice Sebold?

From time to time my Mac would get the spinning beach ball of death. If you have a Mac and don’t know what this is, count your blessings. Basically the Mac’s wait cursor, affectionately called a beach ball or spinning pizza, shows up and the entire desktop is unresponsive. I mean, you can’t even get the Force Quit dialog up! You Windows users don’t need to snicker – you have the same problem and it’s not even as pretty.

When this happens I never really know how long to wait before doing something scary like turning off the power. Well two weeks or so ago that’s exactly what I had to do. I had waited about 20 minutes for the Mac to clear up whatever the problem was and I came to believe that it just wasn’t going to happen. So I reached for the power switch and kneecapped that baby.

When I turned the power back on the machine booted and everything seemed fine. Awesome. I went on my merry computing way. A few days after this happened, with still no signs of ill effects, I tried to print an email I had received in Thunderbird. The application promptly crashed and I was given a dialog that let me report the problem to Apple. I reported it and restarted the application but every attempt to print was met with the same results. So I’m thinking, “Thunderbird, you piece of crap!“. But I won’t be foiled that easily. I copied the email in question to the clipboard and pasted it into Microsoft Word, clicked on the print button and was allowed to lodge another problem with Apple when Word crashed. WTF is going on here?

Next I pasted the email into my trusty copy of TextMate. As an aside – if you are using a Mac and you don’t have TextMate rush to the Macro Mates site and get a copy. TextMate is, quite simply, the best text editor I have ever used! Ok, end commercial – TextMate will surely print this sucker. No such luck – my pride and joy text editor crashed just like everything else I’d tried.

My next stop was to search the Internet to find people who had this problem and reported a fix. I found tons of print related problems but nothing that matched this modus operandi.

Finally I decided to run a verification on the drive using Disk Utility. Following is the report I received:

Verifying volume “Macintosh HD”
Checking HFS Plus volume.
Checking Extents Overflow file.
Checking Catalog file.
Invalid sibling link
The volume Macintosh HD needs to be repaired.

Error: The underlying task reported failure on exit

1 HFS volume checked
Volume needs repair

Ah ha! All I need to do is boot the system from my Tiger install disk and use Disk Utility to repair the hard drive. Viola! I did that and the repair tool reported this same error and advised me that it could not repair the problem. Oh my God – now what?

Well after spending more than a little time researching options I decided to back up my hard drive to a bootable external USB drive, boot from that drive and attempt to repair the problem using Disk Warrior.

For the backup I used the excellent SuperDuper! from Shirt Pocket Software. This took me about two and a half hours but luckily I had other things to do. When the backup finished I restarted my Mac and held down the Option key. When offered a selection of boot drives I chose the external USB containing the backup. I then ran Disk Warrior from this drive and had it rebuild the directory structure on my main hard drive.

After Disk Warrior finished analyzing my drive it reported a bunch of errors which meant nothing to me (not that I know what a sibling link is) and asked if I wanted to perform repairs. I figured I had nothing to lose. If the repair failed I’d have to reinstall OS X but at least I had a good backup to restore.

Well long story short – Disk Warrior completely repaired the drive. After the repair I ran a Disk Utility verification and got a clean bill of health. I then booted from the internal drive and was madly, and quite successfully, printing in no time.

Yea for Disk Warrior.

I am now looking for a new USB thumb drive on which I can install a bootable OS X with Disk Warrior so that I never have to be without this safety net.


2 Responses to The Big Mac Rescue

  1. icedmocha says:

    Having computer problems is frustrating, but there’s a certain sense of victory and accomplishment when you’re able to work through it yourself, don’t you think?

  2. bwithers says:

    I do indeed but I can’t take much credit for this one. I poured through blogs and forum posts to glean enough information to learn how to proceed. It just show how valuable the Internet really is.

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