August 30th, 2007 • 1:43 pm
That was strange…
Last Saturday, I was editing a bunch of MP3 files with Media Rage. Then all of a sudden instead of launching quickly like it normally does, Media Rage started taking an extremely long time to launch. The application’s icon would bounce endlessly in the Dock, then stop bouncing without acquiring the black triangle indicating that it was running. Activity Viewer would report that the application was “not responding.”
Then a couple of minutes later the black triangle would finally appear. The application was now running properly and I could use it to edit MP3 files as much as I wanted. But as soon as I tried to quit and relaunch the application, the same problem would occur again.
I thought it was a specific problem with Media Rage and didn’t really bother to investigate any further at the time.
Then on Monday, for the first time since Friday, I was in Mail and I had to attach a file to an e-mail message that I was composing. I used command-shift-A to bring up the dialog box to attach a file. As soon as the dialog box appeared, Mail stopped responding, with the Spinning Beach Ball of Death.
I force-quit Mail, relaunched it, and try to compose a new e-mail. As soon as I tried to attach a file, the same thing happened again.
I force-quit again, relaunched, and then tried to attach the file via drag-and-drop instead of the dialog box. Mail locked up again. The lock-up would occur right when I dropped the file onto the message window (i.e. released the mouse button), with the mouse pointer staying stuck on the state where it displays a “+” sign inside a green blob.
I checked Activity Viewer and saw that, while Mail was listed as “not responding,” it was actually still moving up and down the list due to variations in CPU usage, which tends to indicate an application that is not completely and hopelessly frozen, but rather an application that is misbehaving in a way that makes it fail to respond properly in the Mac OS X environment, even though it is not frozen and might become responsive again later on. (You can see this frequently in various applications when the Spinning Beach Ball of Death appears for a few seconds and then disappears. Sometimes at the same time the application is listed as “not responding” in Activity Viewer, but that is just temporary and ultimately no harm is done.)
I then force-quit, and relaunched once more, composed yet another message and tried to attach a file via drag-and-drop. Then I left the machine the way it was (with Mail not responding and the mouse pointer stuck on the “+” icon) and went for a walk.
When I came back, Mail was responding again, and the attachment had been inserted where I had attempted to drop it in the message. So I tried again, but this time I stayed at the computer to see how long it would take. When I dragged and dropped the file, Mail became unresponsive for about 3-4 minutes, and then it became responsive again and the file icon appeared in the e-mail.
That’s when I made the connection with the Media Rage situation. In both cases, there was something that made the application unresponsive for several minutes, but then the application became responsive again and everything worked as expected. The difference was that, in Media Rage, this occurred while launching the application, whereas in Mail, it only occurred when trying to attach a file to a message.
I tried a bunch of other applications and so did not encounter any similar problems elsewhere.
I tried a number of troubleshooting steps to try and eliminate the problem, without success.
The first step was to try to do the same things in another user environment, without any third-party stuff installed and with clean caches. The same problem occurred with attachments, with Mail locking up as soon as I tried to drop a file. So I figured that the problem was not with my regular user environment.
I then trashed a number of cache files in the main library folder and rebooted the machine. This didn’t fix the problem either.
I then thought that it might be a hard drive problem, and used my perennial favourite DiskWarrior to replace all the directories on all my hard drive partitions. DiskWarrior only found a handful of minor errors on some partitions. I also used DiskWarrior’s more recent feature that checks for corruption in plist files, repairs permissions, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary was reported.
After the work with DiskWarrior, I rebooted and the problem was still there.
I then decided I had no option but to reinstall the system. I figured that it had to be some damaged system file somewhere. I booted from my system disc and did an “Archive and Install” installation, with the option to preserve user and network settings.
It was, of course, a rather time-consuming activity, especially since a number of things need to be rebuilt/reinstalled after such a procedure (Adobe files need to be transferred from the archived library to the new one, some software using system extensions needs to be reinstalled, etc.). But to my relief, after the system installation, I saw that the problem was gone. Mail was able to attach files pretty much instantly. (Sometimes there was a lag of a couple of seconds after dropping the file, but this has been occurring with all versions of Mail 2.0 on my machine since the very first Tiger build. I submitted a bug report about it to Apple, but they never responded. I have always suspected that it might have to do with my less than optimal Internet connection.)
And Media Rage launched properly after a few bounces in the Dock. So I thought all was well. I finished rebuilding my user environment and went back to work. Then a short while later I tried attaching a file to an e-mail and… the same problem was back! I tried launching Media Rage, and sure enough, it took forever again.
At this stage I was getting quite frustrated. Then I had to leave my machine for a while, and when I came back and tried to attach a file in Mail, things worked normally again. But Media Rage was still taking forever to launch properly.
So I switched to another user environment and tried launching Media Rage there. There was no preference file for Media Rage in that environment, so I got the generic startup screen, and then it asked for my serial number. But otherwise it was running OK, launching in a couple of seconds, as it should!
I switched back to my regular user environment, and trashed the preference file for Media Rage. Sure enough, the application launched properly, with the startup screen and the dialog asking for the serial number. I reentered the serial number. (I guess I should have tried this much earlier, but since I assumed that the Mail problem and the Media Rage were related, I didn’t bother to try this as long as the Mail problem was still occurring.)
And everything has been working just fine ever since!
I have had to reboot my machine a few times because of various other software installations, and things are still working as expected, with drag-and-drop attaching working properly in Mail and Media Rage launching promptly.
So essentially I have no idea what happened, and I have no idea what to do to prevent it from happening again. It’s not exactly a very satisfying troubleshooting experience, but the bottom-line is that things are working fine now.
I really do not know what the causes of these problems might have been. I really do not see any connection between file attaching in Mail and Media Rage. I know that Media Rage is an application developed in AppleScript Studio, and I am not sure I have any other applications that were also developed in that environment, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with anything.
I have always felt that Mail 2.0 (Tiger’s version) was somewhat flaky, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that, sometimes, it does take a few seconds for the attaching process to complete. But whether this is in any way related to the problem at hand, I do not know. Since I can no longer reproduce it, there’s not much I can do about it or with it. I know (from being part of the AppleSeed project for Mac OS X) how to take a “sample” of a frozen application using the Feedback Tools utility, so I can do that the next time it happens—if there is a next time. But since I have no idea how to read such “samples” and interpret them, I am not sure this would be of much help. And I don’t suspect that submitting a bug report with the “sample” via Bug Reporter would bring a response before the next decade.
I guess all I can do is hope that the problem never occurs again! It’s not exactly the most reassuring thing, but short of completely wiping out my startup volume and rebuilding everything from scratch, I do not see what other options I would have.