The danger of ‘quiet’ periods.

March is usually a quiet time, budgets are used up and people tend to begin sorting out the admin tasks they’ve been putting off when the work was full-on. There’s no exception to that rule here at Scribbleworks and last week was the first real period of downtime we’ve had where we could look to tidying up the piles of paper and filing things away. All positive, yes? Well, no it wasn’t because I got a bit bored and started tinkering with hard drives and archives, leading to a near fatal system crash which resulted in me being slightly greyer than I was at the start of the week! (along with an ever-present thousand yard stare, like a shell shocked soldier).

What I’d done was to begin a system check and permissions repair on the main Mac’s hard drive and then get fed up because it was taking ages to complete and a job came in which was needed pretty urgently. So I cancelled the repair. The system didn’t like it and told me so – and I ignored it, as you do. Result? Programmes failing left, right and centre and the Mac freezing at the most crucial moments, forcing me to reboot. Not good.

Why am I blogging this? Because if you are your own I.T. man (like me) and it ever happens to you, you might be interested in how I got myself out of the mess and why I feel a lot safer now.

How bad was it, then?

Bad. Nothing was running smoothly and when I investigated the condition of the hard drive, the result was “drive damaged and cannot repair: erase, reformat and re-load system software”. Which would mean losing everything which was located on that drive and then having to re-install all the programmes from scratch and go through all the updates which had been done over the course of the previous year or so. I was running Apple’s Time Machine, thinking I was safe, but that wouldn’t help me because the hard drive was kaput – all Time Machine would do would be to put all the surface stuff back to a day or so before the crash, the drive would still be broken.

So what did I do?

There’s no hint of me being a hero here – the first thing I did was panic … a lot. Then, when sanity returned, I fished out the Apple software installation disc and booted the Mac up from that (restart whilst holding ‘C’). From there it’s possible to set disk utility to work trying to repair the hard drive – a bit like using a watertight boat to tow a leaking boat into dock. This worked to some extent, enough to get the hard drive back to being capable of booting up. There were lots of problems with the drive’s structure, though, it was only limping along and wouldn’t let me update the OS to the latest version via the Mac menu’s ‘software update’ saying the drive was damaged. It was a temporary fix though, and allowed me to shift a lot of files over to an external hard drive via USB – once they were safe it was just the programmes to worry about. I didn’t want to have to go back and re-install everything, so I did some internet research to see what my options were. Which is where I discovered Carbon Copy Cloner, what a find that was!

CCC is a back up utility programme which downloads from the ‘net with a 30 day free trial. It lets you create a multitude of custom backup tasks including a bootable system backup on any drive you choose to connect to your Mac. Basically you carry out a full backup via CCC, store it elsewhere and then if your Mac ever fails you can connect the drive and boot from it – keeping you working whilst you deal with the internal drive which has failed. I installed it, did a full bootable backup and then, with my heart in my mouth, I erased and re-formatted my Mac’s hard drive. Once it was ‘clean’ I set disk utility to work to verify that the drive was healthy and ready to go – it was so it was time to reboot from the CCC backup and transfer all my stuff back onto the internal drive.

It was a doddle: CCC has a really easy interface, you have a ‘source’ box and a ‘destination’ box – just drag the mounted drives into the boxes you want and tell it to clone the backup onto the newly re-formatted drive. Everything went back where it should have been and, after a quick health check to make sure the drive was still happy, I could go ahead and update the OS to the latest version again. That done, I re-made the original bootable backup (because the one I had was from my damaged disk, remember) and created the recommended HD Recovery partition: all suggested and carried out by CCC.

And that was it. Everything is now better than it was before the crash and I am so much wiser. I’ve since backed up my laptop in just the same way and feel much better for it. When the trial period for CCC expires I shan’t hesitate to pay the price for the license (about £30) and I can’t recommend it enough to Mac users. It’s a genuine ace up your sleeve.

It’ll start getting busy again soon, thank goodness. It’ll stop me from tinkering.

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