Amazing how much you can do in safe mode if you have to

So I’m down here in Alexandria, VA for our annual strategic staff retreat. I’m sitting in my room last night, enjoying the peace and quiet when I notice that Mac OS X 10.4.11 is out. I’ve never had a problem with an update before, so I think, “why not?” There were other software updates in the list, and without thinking, “should I really do this from a hotel room?” I start the download/install going. I leave the computer alone to do its thing.

An hour or so later, I notice that it’s done and I hit the button to restart. Grey Apple logo comes up with spinning progress bar. And it spins. And spins. And spins. And spins. Nearly 25 minutes later and still no blue screen with login window (and no disk activity), and I know something’s wrong. I force a shutdown (holding down the power button), knowing this won’t end well.

Try normal restart, and I get a black screen with some sort of mDNSresponder error in white. Not good. Not good at all. Force another shutdown and restart in safe mode (holding down the shift key). Eventually it starts up. Good. “About this Mac” shows I’m running 10.4.11. Good. Now I restart again, this time in verbose mode (command-v) to see exactly where things are going south in the boot. Not going to start blindly troubleshooting until I know what I’m dealing with. I see flashes of errors having to do with vmware (which I just started using last week and 10.4.11 had some fixes for), mDNSresponder and netboot. It then gets stuck in a loop of trying to do something with mDNSresponder and cycles down, trying again and again until it’s just sitting there occasionally spitting out an error message. Not good.

I have my Mac OS X install CD with me, and I know I can now boot from it and try running disk utility. But I’ve had the situation in the past where things got bad and trying to repair it did more harm than good.

The closest Apple Store is Pentagon City, Virginia. I made a Genius Bar reservation for tomorrow afternoon. I’m in a meeting all day today and can’t take it in or even call support. I have AppleCare. Let them look at what’s happening at startup and tell me what, if anything, I can do to save the situation.

And here’s the funny thing. I’m not freaking out. I’m not thrilled, of course. It has gotten to the point that my entire professional life (and most of my personal life) is on a server somewhere. The rest is safely backed up to external drives back in my home office. I logged into my Box.net account and uploaded about 30 MB of files that I’m concerned I can’t recreate easily. That’s it. All my email is sitting on an IMAP server. My calendar is in Google. I backed up my Address Book and keychain to Box.net. Word and Excel files that matter are either in Salesforce, Box, Google Docs or Basecamp.Worst case is that the Genius tells me that my System is hosed, and I have to start over. Time consuming for the weekend, but not terrible.

In the meantime, I can get online and use Safari well enough in safe mode with the hotel’s wired Ethernet (Airport is nonexistent…don’t know if that’s a safe mode thing or part of what’s messed up on my machine). I have a feeling it’s not a good idea to try Firefox in this state.

If all you had was a browser, an Internet connection and a few basic fonts, could you get your work done? I’m quite surprised that for me, I’m 90% functional this way.

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3 thoughts on “Amazing how much you can do in safe mode if you have to

  1. Judi,

    I’m with you 100 percent on everything being on a server somewhere. JungleDisk is my new jump drive and with Exchange and Apple Mail, IMAP for my wine domaine email, and GMAIL for the rest, I’m no longer worried about MY data. Sure the APPS are the key, but the more we can get from online services that offer downloads, or the more we use web based apps with thin client on the desktop/laptop, the better we’re all going to be.

    One issue I’m still having though is I can’t use Mac Mail 3.0 with my Exchange server in Exchange mode. Sure I have it in IMAP mode (finally working due to an Apple Update this week) but even my hosting guys at LanLogic are stumped.

    Apple is closed next week so it looks like December before that bug is fixed. As a result I just finished a clean install this past week, which at least has Entourage working right without too many “hang ups.”

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