Hard News by Russell Brown


The Flashing Question Mark

You would expect you'd have to do something bad to unleash the Flashing Question Mark -- or least actually be in the house. So it was with surprise as well as disappointment that I briefly popped back home from recording some things for the radio show to find the dreaded glyph winking from the screen of my iMac.

I did the proper thing and restarted with the Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard installation DVD, and ran Disk Utility. As far as Disk Utility was concerned, there was no internal hard drive to repair. System Profiler, likewise, could see nothing there. I restarted, and the Question Mark reappeared, endlessly, pathetically, winking.

It appeared to be a case of a dead disc. Had this happened to me 18 months ago, I might have been screwed. But because Steve commanded thus, I began taking advantage of Leopard's incremental backup utility, Time Machine.

I've been thinking of Time Machine as a PITA lately -- all that disk activity is noisy, and it sometimes slows down the rest of the system. But it was gonna come through for me this time. Probably. It's not like I'd actually used it: just occasionally clicked on it for the eye candy …

I decided I'd turn off the iMac off and disconnect the power lead while I was out at a meeting. Hey: it's worth a try. In the car, waiting to collect the people I was meeting, I called Ubertec and the service guy agreed that it was probably either a failed drive or one that had come unseated. Either way, I'd need to bring it in. I tried to put it out of my mind through two meetings.

When I got home, Leo hadn't got the memo. His brother hadn't told him the computer was off for a reason, and he'd plugged it back in, powered up, and tried to play World of Warcraft. It had frozen, and gone to Question Mark mode when he tried to restart. He was relieved to find he hadn't caused it -- and I was cheered to hear that it had started up at all.

And sure enough, Disk Utility saw the drive on restart. Booya! Disk Repair couldn't find a problem with the directories, but Repair Permissions -- so often the pointless voodoo of Mac maintenance -- came through. It fixed what looked to me like a disk permissions problem. I drew breath and restarted. My life came back up on screen, only snappier.

I thought about going hard and doing a system Archive and Install, but I really wasn't game for the small chance that bringing it up to the just-released 10.5.6 with the Combo installer might hose things all over again.

Meanwhile, no more Steve: Jobs will not give a keynote at this year's Macworld Expo in San Francisco, and Apple will not turn up at Macworld in 2010, or any time thereafter.

There's been a lot of fevered talk (in the Guardian, even) that this is all about Steve's health -- Apple stock closed down 4% on the day the announcement was made. But the big single-denominational trade show doesn't really pay off for Apple any more (or the vendors -- next month both Adobe and Belkin will be absent from Macworld). I suspect the withdrawal has been in the works for a long time.

I'm not saying it's not a shame: I was in the room at Macworld New York in 1999 when Steve unveiled the original clamshell iBook (more importantly, the "one more thing" was the first first mainstream implementation of what was later called Wi-Fi) and it was a memorable experience. I think Steve Jobs' triumphant return to Apple is one of the great business stories. But the company can't rely forever on two-hour stage shows from Steve Jobs . A man who has fought off pancreatic cancer deserves a rest, if nothing else.

Apple doesn't always get it right. Apple TV could have been the insanely great device that made it easy for people to watch any internet video on their TVs, but the company was (as its critics often contend) too far up it own ass to do that. OTOH, I like mobile phones a lot better since the iPhone. I played with a Google phone on Wednesday night. It was … Google-ish.

Anyway, my iMac seems stable again, although I'll probably reinstall the system and bring it back up to date when I have a spare hour and no deadlines looming. Roll on the Christmas break …

And meanwhile, I still don't know whether Time Machine really works …


Some friends from Wellington (no, no one remotely involved in politics) generously invited us to dinner on Tuesday night, and asked me to choose a restaurant. I said that people had been raving about the revamped Kermadec (and such praise does not lightly flow from the keyboard of Graham Reid) and perhaps we should go there.

We did, and it was excellent. The food was classy and imaginative (sautéed scampi with cubes of pork belly, granny smith apple and mustard; roasted hapuka with a venison jus; modish alchemical desserts, their features set with liquid nitrogen) and Hans the waiter was on the money when he suggested I look at a pinot noir for my hapuka. It was a very, very good meal.

Only complaint? Too much space. Eight of us were placed a little distantly around the long table that had been set for us (the restaurant's large room was less than a quarter full on a Tuesday night). But there's always Prego if you want to sit intimately amid a hubbub. I personally will look forward to a special occasion back at Kermadec some time.


The Creative Freedom Foundation website was launched today by a group of artists to advocate a more reasonable view of copyright -- and, in the first instance, to kick off a "Not in My Name" campaign against Section 92 of the copyright amendment bill. The whole site is published under a New Zealand Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike licence. Go look.

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