|Care and Feeding of Jaguar
and Feeding of Jaguar
OS X Drive Maintenance
article first appeared on www.kenstone.net and is reprinted here
Aside from recent switch ad influxes, most
video editors on the Macintosh platform have been here for a
while now. We are used to tooling our Macs, keeping them so tight
the hinges squeak. But with the leap to OSX, many have been left
in complete confusion about how to keep their Mac OS in shape.
No Desktop rebuilding? No inits to troubleshoot? A brave new
world to be sure.
Of course, we all KNOW better than
to believe that we should no longer worry about periodic maintenance.
It is after all a computer, and computers, like cats, tend to
bite you when you refuse to pay attention to them. No matter
how much buzz you hear about systems that never have to be shut
down and that never fail, you just KNOW that your experience
won't be like that. It won't unless you regularly follow some
maintenance procedures to make sure the computer is keeping its
But what to do? Mac OSX Jaguar
doesn't look or act like the so-called "old world"
Mac OS's, OS9.x.x and previous. It is built on a UNIX system
that administrates itself. That UNIX core gives it the ability
to repair and maintain itself to a limited degree. It also hides
many of the files that are actually doing a lot of the work,
so that you can't "see" them in the GUI even if you
could figure out what to do with them in the first place (short
answer is absolutely NOTHING). And to make matters more confusing,
OSX uses file permissions, essentially only allowing certain
users access to files.
So what do you do? You guessed
it. Ya still have to do a regular maintenance routine to keep
things in order. The good news is that this is very simple stuff
and much of it can be automated, except in the most extreme situations.
What follows is a good system to follow on a weekly basis to
make your editor bullet-proof, or at least easy to restore in
case of disaster.
1) Repair Permissions: UNIX ushers in a whole new idea for old
school Mac users: Permissions. The nearest neighbor in the old
OS would have been locking a file. With UNIX, all files and folder
have access permissions determining whether a user can read and
or modify a file or folder. This is very secure, and is one of
the reasons that Multi-user in OSX actually works as opposed
to the semi-useless mess that OS9 Multi-User functionality was.
Enter the confusion for us. Users
aren't always your weird friend who uses the same machine you
do. The system itself in fact is a user. A whole host of Users
and groups is acting in the background to make sure that any
part of the system that needs access to any file can get at it
when necessary. Unfortunately for us, this stuff is all transparent.
When permissions start to go south, the machine doesn't die,
it just gets weird. It may begin to operate very slowly. You
may hear your hard drive flying when the machine is doing nothing.
You may suddenly be locked out of hard drive directories or be
unable to start certain applications, then tomorrow have access
to them again. Most importantly, your machine WILL slow down.
So what do you do? Repair permissions.
Go to Disk Utility, select your OSX partition and choose Repair
Permissions on the First Aid tab (I've never understood why you'd
want to know about bad permissions but not fix them). You can
repair permissions not only on your boot partition, but also
on any Mac OSX partition. Get some coffee, walk the dog, daydream
about winged monkeys, this process takes a long time (well, 10-15
minutes, give or take). Repeat it until you are only getting
the initial repair report that ends in "new permissions
are 33261", this will always appear even if there is nothing
wrong with the permissions on the partition.
Obviously, you can't repair them on an
OS9-only or non-system partition, since permissions affected
by this tool only exist on a Mac OSX partition. Although files
on removable and other drives in your machine can have permissions,
Repair Permissions ONLY works on Apple-installed or configured
files; it doesn't touch files or folders it didn't create, so
you don't have to worry about it messing up permissions of your
While we're on that note, it is a good
idea to eliminate the option of permissions on extra media volumes
you are using for storage rather than system/applications. This
is easily accomplished by selecting a volume or partition and
doing Command-I, Get Info. Open the Ownership and Permissions
tab and look to the bottom for the "Ignore Ownership on
this volume" checkbox. Check it and now all files created
there will always be read-and-write accessible to anyone. This
is particularly important for Firewire hard drives that you may
be using on several different systems with different users accessing
the same media
Do Repair Permissions at least once a
week if you use your machine a lot (like 5+ hours per day). You
will likely see a tremendous speed boost the first time you do
this and that speed will stay consistent if you regularly repair
them. Also, it's a good idea to Repair them anytime you install
any applications, since apparently that's a time when permissions
get screwed up and mis-assigned. Either way, you can't do damage
repairing permissions, so once a week is a good idea.
2) Single User Mode: The way Jaguar's file system works, you can't
actually run any sort of disk utility on a disk partition while
booted up to that partition (sort of like the way you couldn't
repair most of the important stuff in pre-OSX while booted to
the disk you were trying to repair). If you open up Disk Utility,
your drives and partitions will list over to the left of the
window. If you select your boot partition and then click on the
First Aid tab, you'll see that the Verify and Repair Disk tabs
are grayed. Although you can Verify and Repair Disk for any partitions
or volumes that are not the current boot partition, ya can't
repair a partition you are running from. That's pretty difficult
if you only have one boot partition with both OSX and OS9 installed
there. And booting from a CD is SO painfully slow with OSX...
So, Apple allows you to enter what is
called Single User Mode. Reboot your machine and as soon as you
hear the 'bong', hold down the Command-S keys. Continue holding
them down until you see some rather obnoxious looking old ASCII
text go streaming down the screen. This means you are booted
up outside the Jaguar User GUI and can directly perform file
system repairs. Once you get to a cursor prompt (a solid white
box that doesn't blink), type in the following without quotes,
"fsck -y" (note the blank space before the "-y").
All this means in code is "File System Check, yes to all"
It will immediately start running through your boot partition
and looking for and correcting any problems. This can take a
while; the Mac OSX file system has tens and tens of thousands
When it is finished checking the disk,
it will give you a one-line report. If it found problems, it
will state "Disk X has been modified." If no problems
were found, it will state "Disk X appears to be OK."
If you get the "...modified" statement, run "fsck
-y" again repeatedly until you get the "...OK"
statement. I have seen this process take up to four times in
a system with serious problems.
When you get the "...OK" message,
type without quotes, 'Reboot -n.' This will restart your machine
(the '-n' is to tell the system not to perform a certain memory
operation) and return you to the User GUI interface you know
and love. Perform this once a week, or whenever you smell trouble.
It can't hurt you and it might help catch a problem before the
problem catches you.
3) When Single User Mode Doesn't Fix
It: On rare occasions, your system
may be so messed up that fsck -y won't clear the problem even
after repeated doses. In that case, you want to get out your
Jag installer CD and boot up from it in the time-honored method
of rebooting and holding down the C key. Under the Apple Menu,
access the Run Disk Utility option. When Disk Utility opens,
run the First Aid tab for Repair Disk and Repair Permissions
for all volumes and partitions until they come clean. Then reboot
and see if the problems are cleared up.
This is usually going to be a last resort,
because it involves running an OSX boot partition from a CD,
which is unbearably slow and painful, and it may not be able
to do anything that Single User Mode couldn't do. But then again,
in a bad situation, as the Chinese used to say "Even flatulence
is more air..."
As a further last resort, consider picking
up a license of Disk
Warrior. Although the current version (as of this writing)
still must be run natively in OS9, it is VERY adept at correcting
directory level problems in OSX partitions. I have seen this
application pull OSX boot partitions back from the dead and recognize
missing partitions that Norton and Disk first Aid couldn't even
see. If you do use Disk Warrior, make sure you read the instructions
and use it correctly or you will waste a lot of time.
4) Cleaning House: UNIX is also unique in that it performs its
own system maintenance on a regular basis without prompting.
Although it isn't going to fix any disk-related trouble for you,
it does do things like dump temporary cache files and logs that
can get bloated when the system doesn't throw them out as it
should. But there's a catch, of course. UNIX only performs these
activities in the wee hours of the morning (when it assumes all
the IT people are home and no one needs the processor or the
files it will be messing with. There are daily, weekly and monthly
tasks that UNIX schedules for these early morning hours.
Now, many folks, especially those from
pre-OSX days, shut their systems down when they are finished
working. OS9 liked a regular reboot anyway, and not everyone
is willing to leave a machine on 24/7. I'm not going to discuss
those merits here; that's your choice as a machine owner. But
you have to know that the auto-cleaning thing isn't going to
happen if your machine is off or asleep.
There is a way to beat this. Although
you could figure out the command line code to perform these actions,
its easier to find one of the nice shareware apps out there that
give you a GUI interface to accomplish the same thing. You want
to edit, not learn command line code. Mac
Janitor, by Brian Hill, is such an app (freeware). All it
does is provide you a button interface to perform any or all
of those daily, weekly or monthly tasks at will. I do this about
once a week or so on the machines like my PowerBook that must
at least go to sleep if not get shut down regularly.
5) Backing Up Your Stuff: Gone are the days of the draggable System Folder.
It hurts to say that. Used to be you could back up your system
with a single drag and drop. You could create a bootable backup
CD by dragging one group of folders into Toast. Gone. Sayonara.
Jaguar has many little invisible files and structures that don't
copy over when you drag a volume's contents. This means you can
back up data with no problems, but you can't just duplicate your
drive by dragging anymore.
But there is thankfully at least one
way to safely back up a partition these days, one of the coolest
shareware apps out there today: Carbon
Copy Cloner. CCC is an application created by Mike Bombich
that actually Clones one partition onto another partition. The
clone carries all those invisible files and makes a perfect duplicate
of the original partition that is bootable. It's very handy;
you will use it more than once if you try it. If you download
the thing, pay the man. We have saved a lot of gray hairs with
this simple GUI interface application.
Here's the method I use for a bulletproof
regular backup. Get a small cheap dedicated Firewire drive and
hook it up to your system use it with Carbon Copy Cloner for
a regular portable high speed backup. In the CCC Preferences,
you can actually set the thing to schedule this process to occur
when you are sleeping and to perform sync actions that don't
overwrite data you want to keep continuous on your backup drive.
Once a week, run CCC and make a perfect bootable backup of your
boot partition. If your system ever goes south at a bad time,
you can just boot to the backup Firewire drive and get your work
done until such a time as you can watch paint dry while Disk
Repair and Single User Mode do their jobs.
If you have several systems like I do,
you can partition this backup Firewire drive such that there
is a different backup partition for each machine. When you want
to back up a machine, pop the Firewire drive on, start up CCC
and leave. Since you are Cloning to a single partition on the
drive, you won't affect the other backup partitions. This is
a good regimen; it will keep downtime to a minimum even if you
DO run into problems. This is also a MUCH better way of returning
to an earlier version of QuickTime if you accidentally Software
Updated at some point when you shouldn't have!
This is not the absolute last word in Mac maintenance, but it's
enough to keep your system in good working order and at its best
performance level. Do these things consistently and regularly
and if you do run into problems, at least they won't hurt you
as badly. Schedule your maintenance so that it happens while
you are sleeping or otherwise occupied, so that you don't waste
half your workday doing something the machine can do by itself
just as well. You want to keep the thing working without sacrificing
editing time, so be realistic, schedule your maintenance and
then actually do it.
copyright © Charles
Charles Roberts teaches Video and Digital Media in the Communications
Media Department at Fitchburg State College in Fitchburg, MA,
and is the author of "Final
Cut Pro 2 for Firewire DV Editing", published by Focal
Press. He spends what little free time he has coming up with
ways to eliminate the little free time he has left.
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