Anatomy of a crash and recovery

So I’ve been struggling, the last several days, through the consequences of a hard disk crash on my trusty, but five-year-old, iMac. Application of the standard tools (Apple’s Disk Utility, and Disk Warrior) maintained access for a while but the machine now simply refuses to boot MacOS, and the tools won’t recover it. It just hangs. So I’m on Plan B, with a hairy workload making the timing as inopportune as it could be.

The tendency is to assume that if you have backups (and I have – Time Machine is fantastic!) then everything’s ok. Well, it is, but I thought it might be instructive to catalogue some of the issues and problems.

I’ve bitten the bullet and ordered a new machine. I daresay that if I cleared the old one, reformatted the disk and re-installed everything it might be able to mark the bad blocks, or whatever’s the problem. But that’s not much different from re-installing to a new machine, and this one is indeed five years old and won’t be capable of running the latest OSX upgrades. So, a new iMac is on its way.

And that was the first frustration, I’m not far from an Apple Store, and hoped I’d just be able to hike over there and order what I needed. But they only stock the basic models, and won’t do in-store upgrades (memory etc) so it’s had to be online and wait ten days.

Hence, my mainstream work has to transfer to the laptop. The Bootcamp partition on the iMac is still fine, so I can boot the machine in Windows and I’m using it in that version right now to write this. Anything through a browser is fine, so my Open University email and online work just transfers over; and I can do bits in Open Office. But I don’t have most of my software on Windows.

I don’t, in any case, want to end up with work spread between two machines; and the Windows partition isn’t backed up as I haven’t, hitherto, used it for anything permanent. And I haven’t been able to get the wireless keyboard to work with it, ever (see later) so I’m on my old Apple wired keyboard with a coffee spill which has debilitated the left hand Shift and CTRL keys (which I use more than the right hand ones, wouldn’t you just know). So it’s the Macbook for most of the work.

Well, everything’s on the Time Machine backup. Simple, surely, to just haul files onto the Macbook (overnight, perhaps) and away we go.

Well, no. I haven’t figured out why, but a proportion of the files on the backup give trouble. Quite a lot transfer fine. But a high proportion flag up that I don’t have permission to write to a folder somewhere down the chain. So, initially, I’m going down the chains and copying collections of individual files, at which point I get a prompt for a password and it’s ok. I don’t figure this, as I’m an Administrator on the machine. According to the permissions I have full read/write access. And there doesn’t seem much difference between the files that transfer and the ones that won’t. But there we are.

Weird work-around coming up. I’ve got the backup disk connected to the Macbook: I can’t make the Windows iMac see it on Firewire, but I can see Windows on the network. So I use the Macbook to copy directly from the backup to the shared drive on Windows, and then copy back from Windows to the Macbook’s own hard drive. No permission problems or password prompts. Ho, hum! I now have an almost complete rebuild. I’ve had to do it in limited batches because the Windows partition is not all that big, but I can leave the copy jobs running and it works.

There’s some software I won’t reinstall until I have the new machine, and that’s going to be a pain because some of it’s licensed and I may need to get new licence keys (things like Classic Menu and Graphic Converter, not to mention Office and my Bootcamp Windows). And of course, there will be masses of updates to re-apply.

I have quite a lot of aliases, to provide alternative paths to some files and folders: while these appear in the right places on the rebuild, they don’t “work” until they’ve been re-assigned.

And there is, of course, a lot of information that’s in places other than my well-defined data area. Mail was ok; I moved the Office Identities folder across, and it worked. I use Apple’s Address Book and Calendar, not Microsoft’s, so I can replicate with the mobile phone using iSync. Find and copy the Address Book files across, and everything works. Calendar, not so good; I had to carefully re-import data into the Macbook calendar, one Calendar Group at a time, to maintain the structure. Websites, on the Web Server: find and copy; that’s fine. Microsoft Office templates: I know where those are so that’s ok. There’ll be more; but that’s where I am right now.

Remember the wireless keyboard? I’ve switched it to working with the Macbook. And of course I’ve now connected the Time Machine drive to the Macbook too so I’m still being backed up.

Shifting to the new machine, when it arrives, will no doubt throw up new issues. But for the moment, I’ve got work to do!

Links: none, this time