If It Ain’t Broke…

I relearn something I’ve been telling people for years.

My production Mac, a dual processor G5, started acting up yesterday. It decided, out of the blue, that it would either restart or shut down whenever it felt like it. It seemed particularly fond of doing this right after I’d revised a page of my manuscript but before I’d saved that page to disk. At least that’s how it seemed. It got to the point that I stopped using it. I’d just let it run and start up programs, one-by-one, to see which of them would trigger the problem.

But I think I caused (and then resolved) this problem. I’d been playing with Nicecast (covered elsewhere in these blogs) and had discovered, by looking at the Console log, that some piece of software was unsuccessfully searching for a piece of hardware, in the background, while I worked. It wrote an entry to the log file once per second. That couldn’t be good. It must be using processor power. So I had to make it stop.

I began my witch hunt with a few messages to programming types like Dave Mark (author of a great C book) and the makers of Nicecast. They are obviously better with Google than I am, because they both came up with a Web page that pointed to my problem: a Canon scanner driver. It seems that when you install the driver for the LiDE scanner, two drivers are installed. One driver runs the scanner. The other driver spends all its time looking for a scanner that isn’t attached. Now what rocket scientist at Canon thought that up? So I attempted to delete the drivers, just to see if I could get the log messages to go away.

That’s where I screwed up. I somehow managed to drag a driver from its folder without disabling it. Every time I tried to drag it to the trash, I got a message saying that it couldn’t be dragged to the trash because it was open. I tried restarting my Mac. I tried renaming the file. The damn file couldn’t be deleted. In the old days of Mac computing, you’d occasionally get a folder like that. We called them “folders from hell.” This was a file from hell.

Eventually, I gave up and went back to work. And that’s when the computer started acting up. The first time it shut down, I’d stepped away from my desk to retrieve something from the printer. I thought I’d somehow used the shut down command. I mean, who expects their computer to just shut down by itself? But when it started doing it while I was working, I suspected a problem. It was a windy day and I thought that maybe the wind was causing power problems. Although the computer is attached to a UPS to prevent power problems from shutting it down, I thought the UPS might be dead. They don’t live forever, you know. Of course, nothing else was shutting down and not everything in my office is attached to a UPS.

After fiddling around with the UPS for a while, I started to suspect a hardware problem. Not what I needed. The G5 is less than two years old. None of my other Macs have had serious problems, and I’ve owned at least ten of them since 1989.

Then I started thinking about that file from hell. Perhaps it was triggering something really nasty in my computer, something that would bring everything down. I became determined to get rid of it.

I tried starting the computer with the Mac OS X 10.3 Panther install disc. I used Disk Utility to repair the disk (no problems) and permissions. Of course, there’s no access to the Finder when you start from that disc, so I couldn’t just drag the nasty file to the trash. When I restarted from my hard disk, the file still couldn’t be trashed. So I opened Activity Monitor, found the file’s process, and terminated it. Then I dragged it to the trash, emptied the trash, and restarted.

The computer behaved itself after that. I’d like to think that that was the problem and that I’d solved it.

So let’s review this: I find an error message in my Console log, which I really shouldn’t be looking at in the first place. I act on what I’ve seen and cause a problem that causes spurious restarting. I lose about three hours of work time causing and then resolving the problem. And now I can’t use my scanner until I reinstall the driver(s). The moral of this story: don’t look in the Console log. Or, better yet, the golden rule of computing: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

What do you think?