and Feeding of Panther
and Feeding of Panther
OS X Drive Maintenance
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 Panther
doesn't look or act like the so-called "old world"
Mac OS's, OS9.x.x and previous. And its subtly different from
the 10.2 Jaguar we just upgraded from. 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 (graphic
user interface-the colorful screens you think of as the Mac OS)
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 get the all clear
with no corrections necessary.
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. NEVER NEVER NEVER select "Ignore Permissions"
for a Mac OS X System volume!
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) No more Single User Mode: SAFE
BOOT! The way Mac OS X's file
system works, you can't actually run any sort of disk utility
on a disk partition while booted up from 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 out. 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...
In Jaguar, the previous version, you
could use Single User Mode to run a File System Check. Apple
allowed you to enter what is called Single User Mode. If you
reboot your machine and hold down the Command-S keys, you would
see some rather obnoxious looking old ASCII text go streaming
down the screen. This means you are booted up outside the Mac
OS X User GUI where you can access all the files and folders
on your system.
Under Jaguar, you could run an FSCK from
here to manually fix system problems (see the earlier article
and Feeding of Jaguar) if you are running any of the various
iterations of Jaguar 10.2.x). Unfortunately, with the introduction
of Panther, Apple included a feature called 'Journaling.' Journaling
is a system that keeps track of your file and directory information.
If something goes wrong, your system might be able to be reconstructed
from the 'journaled' information collected prior to the crash.
It's actually a pretty cool feature, and it may keep you from
ever even noticing that your system had severe problems and fixed
The unfortunate part is that this journaling
behavior also makes the old Single User Mode FSCK maneuver unworkable.
You can force the FSCK in Single User Mode with a little extra
code, but you are quite likely to encounter erroneous error messages
such that the system seems to have problems but really doesn't.
The FSCK routine may not give you a clear idea of whether or
not your system is actually fixed.
Luckily, there's a better way to do this.
If you reboot your system into what is called a 'Safe Boot' (by
holding down the Shift key after the 'bong' like the old Disable
Extensions in OS 9), you will see the words Safe Boot in the
loading box. When you boot into Safe Boot, Panther automatically
runs a complete FSCK during the load process. It may be a slow
boot into Safe Boot, because the FSCK running in the process
takes quite a long time. It may even be necessary to reboot and
run Safe Boot a couple of times, since FSCK may fix one thing
one time and then find yet another thing the second time.
It's particularly important to run this
Safe Boot FSCK process if your system has had a total lockout
like a ten-minute spinning pizza. If you have had to force re-boot
your system without shutting it down properly, it is quite likely
that certain temp files have gotten corrupted. This may not show
up as a problem today, but a week from now, you could get really
nasty behavior and even unexplained crashing. Save yourself a
little trouble and quickly run Safe Boot if this happens to you.
As a final note, if you boot into Safe
Boot, you need to reboot back into a normal boot before you can
work with FCP and other apps. Safe Boot disables some pieces
that are necessary for capture and output, very similar to the
way Disabling Extensions in OS 9 made certain functions unavailable.
Simply reboot your system and away you go.
3) When Safe Boot Doesn't Fix It: On rare occasions, your system may be so messed
up that Safe Boot, even repeated doses of it, won't clear the
problem. In that case, you want to get out your Panther 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. Disk Warrior 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. The newest
version is much faster than what you may have seen in previous
versions. I highly recommend it!
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 log files 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.
Panther 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
(as of this writing, 'psync' the thing that makes this work is
broken in Panther; you can Clone as I describe here, but you
just can't schedule or sync it, Apple will likely address the
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.
There is an article on Ken
Stone's site that walks you through the process!
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.
Charles Roberts teaches Video and Digital Media in the
Communications Media Department at Fitchburg State College in
Fitchburg, MA, and is the author of 'Editing with Final Cut
Pro 4' and 'Editing
with Final Cut Express', 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.
copyright © Charles Roberts 2004
This article first appeared on www.kenstone.net and is reprinted here
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