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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.

Pulling that drive off the FireWire chain and swapping the original Mac mini back in brought me back to functional, speedy bliss.

For a day at least.

Defaulting to the wrong version

During my transition on Wednesday morning, I discovered I was missing some email. I chalked it up to transient crashes, and contacted people I knew had been in touch. I didn't give it enough thought. Then on Thursday morning, I found other anomalies when trying to restart cloning my SSD to the internal mini drive.

SuperDuper had grayed out the internal drive. With some tech support help from SuperDuper's Dave Nanian, I ran Disk Utility and tried to repair the interior drive. It told me that it couldn't be repaired because the current user's Home directory was on the drive.

I nearly lost it at this point. What had I done?! Why has my computer forsaken me?

I checked in Disk Utility and via System Profiler that the SSD was, indeed, the boot drive. Then I used Users & Groups to find out where OS X thought the home directory was located. When you unlock the padlock for that preference pane, you can then Control-click a user name and select the Advanced option. This reveals Unix details that can be changed at your peril.

In the Home Directory field it did, indeed, say /Users/glenn, the path that I thought it should have. I clicked Choose, and the directory the folder homed in on was the internal drive's path. Not good. (Dave hadn't seen this before, either.)

I switched the directory to the SSD's path, restarted, confirmed the right path was in place (and painstakingly merged a day's worth of out-of-sync mail), but the system remained funky. Disk Utility now could run a repair operation on the internal drive, and while it checked out, it took a long, long time with a number of pauses. Perhaps the internal drive is also about to join the choir invisible? I unmounted it.

Finally, I thought, I can get back to business. But it wasn't to be. While the system remained overall zippy, I was having pauses while typing in any program every 10 to 30 seconds and a rainbow spinning cursor. Here we go again.

After much more investigation and hoping that I wasn't facing a defect in my new SSD, I looked into third-party software I have installed that might relate to input. Yosemite had caused some true inexplicable problems for some people with outdated software, including our own Ted Landau, who had horrible problems because an outdated audio component. (I had the same issue and debugged it with help from Twitter colleagues before finding Ted's article!)


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