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Everything is broken: Why you shouldn't beat yourself up when troubleshooting

Glenn Fleishman | May 19, 2015
I've made a decent to large part of my living for more than 20 years learning about how to fix problems and then trying to tell others how to follow suit. And this last week has been among my highest in terms of frustration in using computers in my entire life. But, per my modus operandi, I have truth born from a bloody fight to share with you.

I've made a decent to large part of my living for more than 20 years learning about how to fix problems and then trying to tell others how to follow suit. And this last week has been among my highest in terms of frustration in using computers in my entire life. But, per my modus operandi, I have truth born from a bloody fight to share with you.

A few weeks ago, I tried to deal with the mystery of my 2011 Mac mini taking forever to start up and be ready to use by switching to an external SSD drive with both FireWire 800 and USB 3.0 built in. I documented that here, and people have a lot of good opinions about my choice. Some thought I should have cracked open the Mac mini and put in a new drive; others thought that I should've used Thunderbolt; and others that I should have bought a new computer.

(My answers: The USB 3.0 was futureproofing, so I could use this drive as a boot volume or backup. Thunderbolt was too expensive relative to the remaining value in the mini. A new computer seemed too expensive. The mini is four years old and has a 40-step procedure for swapping an internal drive.)

Nonetheless, I had more than three weeks of blissful performance with a computer that felt newly rejuvenated. I'm still unable to explain why an SSD using FireWire 800 has led to less memory usage, too, but it has.

Then the honeymoon was over this week. This story should help those of you who think that these things only happen to you. Have a little schadenfreude with my permission. (Spoiler: it was the butler.)

Crashy with a chance of meathead

Monday morning, and I'm ready to tape this week's Macworld podcast, and the machine is sluggish. Eventually, I have to reboot. We wind up rescheduling with the redoubtable Kyle Wiens of iFixit because I can't keep the system working reliably. This is partly because, after a restart and despite the settings in Photos, iCloud Photo Library began uploading again, flooding my network. Kyle and I taped our segment later, but our excellent audio engineer, Jim Metzendorf, discovered that my side of the conversation with Susie and separately with Kyle was cutting in and out. He made do and patched it up (thanks, Jim! sorry, listeners!), but something was terribly wrong.

I tried my usual array of troubleshooting:

  • What did top -u show in Terminal and Activity Monitor under CPU reveal when slowdowns occurred?
  • Was there unusual disk activity and was memory under pressure, both viewable through Activity Monitor?
  • Did the Console app (Applications > Console) reveal log entries that showed something was churning like mad? I've had that happen before with outdated scanner drivers that remained loaded.
  • What does Disk Utility think? Better yet, restart, hold down Command-R, and run Disk Utility from the Recovery HD so I can check the startup partition.

 

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