Dave Winer and Mac crashes

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Technology
August 16th, 2006 • 2:21 pm

Dave Winer might be one of those prominent bloggers that everybody reads, but that doesn’t give him permission to be an idiot, which is something he tends to be on a regular basis.

I personally suffered through several months of trying to use Radio UserLand as my blogging tool way back. I also remember his extremely puerile behaviour back in 2003.

So basically I don’t read him at all. But from time to time I see a link on Mac web sites to something he has written about Apple or the Mac. He was at it again yesterday with a post titled “Yes Virginia, Macs crash too,” taking Apple to task for claiming in their advertising that Macs don’t crash when he has first-hand experience that they too do crash.

According to him, his own Mac crashes on a regular basis, “about once a week, sometimes every other day.

He doesn’t explain exactly what he means by “crashes” here, but does provide a link to a screen shot of the alert box he sees when this happens. It’s an alert box that says:

The computer was restarted after Mac OS X quit unexpectedly.

I don’t doubt that the screen shot is real and that he does indeed see this alert box. But I must admit that I find it quite strange that, in my many years of using Mac OS X myself on a daily basis on several machines and providing troubleshooting services to a variety of Mac OS X users in my community, I have never seen this particular alert box.

I have experienced kernel panics, of course, and I still get one from time to time (probably once every other month on average), usually because of some weird USB or FireWire or audio voodoo. But I have never seen this particular alert box. It seems rather strange to me. It’s not the “This computer was not shut down properly.” that can pop up after a hard reset, precisely because of a kernel panic. It’s a message that makes it sound like the entire Mac OS X system is just an application and it can sometimes “quit unexpectedly” and then it automatically relaunches itself, like the Dock does when it crashes, because it’s an essential part of the system that cannot actually be quit.

But as far as I am aware, if the entire system crashes, it’s a kernel panic, and then the computer doesn’t restart itself. You have to manually shut it off and then restart it yourself. Are there actually situations where Mac OS X doesn’t suffer a kernel panic, but a slightly less serious form of “crashing” that causes it to restart the computer automatically? Maybe it’s related to the “Energy Saver” option to “Restart automatically after a power failure“? I don’t know, because I don’t use this option on my computers.

Again, I am not saying that the alert box doesn’t exist. But I find it rather strange that Dave Winer’s Mac would exhibit this behaviour on a regular basis. It certainly does not square with my own experience with Mac OS X, both on my own machines and on the machines of people that I do troubleshooting for.

The problem I have here with this post by Dave Winer is that it essentially provides no valuable information. Dave Winer’s own personal experience is not, without a proper troubleshooting investigation and explanation, evidence that “Macs crash too.” It just shows that his own particular Mac, for some reason, has some kind of recurring problem. But it’s not normal behaviour. It’s not standard behaviour. And there is certainly no evidence, in Dave Winer’s post, that this particular problem affects a lot of Mac users and warrant a sweeping generalization about Macs being computers that “crash too.”

Of course Macs can also “crash.” I don’t think that there is one computer on this planet that can be said to be 100% crash proof. But the essence of Apple’s message in its ads is that crashes are not part of the normal computing experience with a Mac running Mac OS X, that indeed you will often use your Mac for weeks without experiencing a single application crash, let alone an actual system crash (i.e. something that brings your entire system down, which is normally a kernel panic).

Dave Winer completely fails to acknowledge this, of course, because it’s not his own personal experience and that his own personal experience is enough for him to make sweeping assertions without proper evidence to back them up. If a “high profile” blogger such a Dave Winer is so utterly incapable of doing some investigative work before writing about something, it is no wonder that blogging is getting such a bad reputation as “pseudo journalism.”

There is no indication in Dave Winer’s post that he’s made any effort to try and solve his problem with his Mac. He is just assuming that the crashing behaviour is normal and is part of the standard Mac computing experience, without any evidence beyond his own personal experience.

Does he really think he has proven anything here?


6 Responses to “Dave Winer and Mac crashes”

  1. skylarp says:

    FWIW, I have recently seen this window pop up following an experience where I had to force my PowerBook to shut down by holding down the power key. Upon starting her up again and logging into my account, the window popped up. It’s very similar to the window that (usually) comes up when an application quits unexpectedly, right down to the ability to send a copy of the crash log to Apple.

    I believe that it was added in a recent system update (10.4.7, perhaps?), because prior to last week I had never seen it before and I do occasionally have to force my Mac to shut down (though certainly not every day!) — most often when I forget to eject a SMB share before sleeping it and unplugging it from the network at school.

    Anyway, Winer still comes off as a whiner. But he certainly didn’t make up the warning box, and I’m not surprised that you’ve never seen it before. I expect you’ll see it eventually.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I have 10.4.7 on this machine and I actually had a kernel panic not long ago, with 10.4.7. I still didn’t see this alert box. So maybe it’s laptop-specific, or only occurs if you have some kind of option to restart the machine automatically after a failure.

    Anyway, like I said, I am sure the alert exists. I still don’t think it’s evidence of a widespread problem with Macs crashing on a regular basis. :)

  3. skylarp says:

    Hmph… well, then I have no idea where the box came from because I don’t use the “restart automatically” options either. Though it wasn’t actually a kernel panic, strictly speaking. (No dark shading of doom and friendly message in several languages.)

    Anyway, my Macs also certainly don’t crash on a regular basis. Now, my girlfriend’s Dell, on the other hand… ;)

  4. ssp says:

    The box has been around for a while. It’s like the ‘this application unexpectedly quit’ dialogue just for system crashes. Clicking that extra button will let you easily send a panic.log to Apple, just like crash logs get sent by the application crash dialogue.

    It may be that you need to have the Crash Reporter Preferences set to Developer mode to get the extra button… but I’m not sure. After all kernel panics seem to be an area that Apple actually make an effort to fix, so they may try to get everybody to send those reports in.

    I haven’t had a proper kernel panic for a while, so I can’t really test this, but I think there are crashes as well which will not general a panic.log. And in those cases perhaps the dialogue doesn’t come up as there is no information to send away anyway.

  5. Pierre Igot says:

    I seem to remember seeing a different dialog a few times in the past after I had a kernel panic and had to do a hard reset. That would be a dialog that would say something like, “The computer was not shut down properly,” and invite me to send a log/report. But I don’t remember the dialog being phrased that way (“Mac OS X has unexpectedly quit.”). And I certainly haven’t seen this dialog recently. But then I really don’t get a kernel panic very often…

  6. Fed’s Bolsoblog » Blog Archive » Dave Winer e i supposti Mac crash says:

    [...] Una bella risposta su Betalogue alle lamentele di Dave. [...]

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