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If you're gonna fail, fail big

So I installed Mac OS 10.2 on our machines a few days ago, and for a while everything was hunkie dory. Then, the G3 downstairs started having problems; random crashing, or, even more baffling, getting logged out for no apparent reason. So I backed everything up to my external FireWire drive (80 Gb), cleared and the disk, and tried again. Nope, still bad.

After some research with Google, it turned out that the disk controller I was using (Sonnet Tempo ATA 100) had old firmware (thank the gods for VersionTracker). I bought this piece of hardware so I could take advantage of bigger, faster drives, since the original one was only 8 Gb or so. In fact, as it turns out, I'd been using a relatively old version for quite a while, so in some ways I should have been seeing problems even with OS 10.1. But no, in fact that machine was up for over three weeks in August and the only reason it didn't run longer was that I shut it down for vacation !

Evidently, whatever borderline deficiencies the old firmware had with 10.1 were more obvious in 10.2; and sure enough, when I examined the system log, there were all kinds of alarming error messages about disk operations once the OS flicked on virtual memory. And then it was a good thing that I have another Mac in the house, because I had get the firmware updater program, put it on something that the G3 could read (I decided to burn a CD along with some other stuff to help the rebuild), and boot in OS 9 off another CD and run the updaters. It didn't take that long, but it just seemed... wrong. If I didn't have another machine, I would have had to reinstall OS 9.

Now, at least Sonnet bothered to update their products. I'm sure any of you who have added non-standard stuff (or even bought a standard system whose builder used "OEM"-only versions of components) have encountered a problem where a component vendor was slow in updating for a new OS or even worse, didn't bother.

But what I'm really looking for is transparency when it comes down the laying the blame. The symptoms I was having could have been due to a bad disk, bad memory, or any number of things. Apple's tradition of innard-hiding works most of the time, but in this case I want to see all the guts. Lord knows how I could have figured this out if the problem was happening under OS 9. Better yet, software does sanity checks on its assumptions (like the hardware is in good shape) and summarizes the problem in a meaningful way would be a good idea. Especially since, nowadays, it is not often the hardware itself that fails, but the software inside the hardware that may be at fault — lots of peripherals (CD/DVD burners, hard drives, scanners), boards, and even modems are running their own software, and that means bugs, bugs that need to be fixed.

Another thing: how in the world are you supposed to back things up these days ? I've got a 40 Gb internal drive and an 80 Gb external drive. I can back up my entire machine in an hour or two (internal to external), but what if I had unique stuff on the external drive ? The obvious solutions (like tape) seem to be expensive and slow. DVDs are slow and already not big enough for a full backup. And the use of any removable storage format with the exception of CD/DVD is an invitation to obsolesence. Even with a cable modem, backing up over the net is going to be slow and I'd think that paying for the storage would be pricey. Seems like it's just better to get the enormous external drive and just consider that to be the backup &mdash just turn if off when you're not using it.



into battle
Daddy-O à Go-Go

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