More on Mac OS X troubles

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
August 6th, 2003 • 1:43 am

My problems in Mac OS X yesterday, which I described in a previous item, continued later on in the afternoon, with a weird sequence of events that almost led me to reset the computer, although I was finally able to bring things back to normal.

The first problem occurred when I tried to launch a Classic application from the Finder. It simply didn’t do anything. I went to System Preferences and launched Classic itself manually, and then went back to the Finder to try and launch the Classic application itself. It still wasn’t working. I went back to System Preferences and clicked on “Show All”. The window started resizing itself, and then… it froze, and I got the spinning pizza.

My system had suddenly become totally unresponsive. It wasn’t completely frozen. I was still able to move the mouse pointer and to switch applications by clicking on their windows, when their windows had any part that was visible on the screen. But I wasn’t able to do anything in any application. Everywhere I would get the spinning pizza. The Dock itself was no longer working, and neither was the cmd-tab shortcut to switch between applications.

Force-quitting didn’t work either. Cmd-opt-esc produced nothing. I started suspecting a hardware problem with external devices and unplugged a few USB and FireWire devices at random, hoping that the unplugging itself might trigger an error that would somehow “shake” the system out of its semi-frozen state. No such luck.

Then, out of desperation, I pressed my computer’s Power button — but only for a second, not for the five seconds or so that it takes to do a hard reset. To my surprise, after a few seconds, the computer went to sleep! This is normal behavior when you press the Power button briefly, of course — but I thought the computer was frozen and wouldn’t respond to such an action.

After a few seconds, I tried waking the computer by pressing a keyboard key. Again, to my surprise, it worked — and when the monitor came back on, the Force Quit window was visible, windows had been moved around — but things were working right again. Obviously my actions during the semi-frozen stage had been stored somewhere in some kind of “buffer” and were now being executed.

Being the masochistic kind, I went straight back to System Preferences, which was no longer frozen, but had returned to the last preference pane that I had been using. I clicked on “Show All” again, and… the exact same problems started happening again. The System Preferences resized itself and froze in a blank state. I got the spinning pizza. And nothing was responding again, except for mouse clicks to switch from window to window.

I tried force-quitting again, which didn’t work. I went back to my computer’s Power button, and hoped that the same “trick” would work again. It didn’t at first. I waited a few seconds after pressing the button, and nothing happened. I pressed again. Then, after more waiting, the computer went to sleep again!

And when I woke it up, again the Force Quit window was up, and things were back to normal. This time, I did force-quit System Preferences without attempting to “Show All” again. Other than that, things appeared to be normal again, except for the Classic application involved in the beginning, which still wasn’t working. I trashed it and reinstalled an earlier version of the application from the original CD. That version was working fine. (In case you are wondering, the Classic application in question was Ferazel’s Wand, and the version that didn’t work was the 1.0.3 UPDATE I had downloaded and installed earlier on.)

So, what to make of all this? It could be that the problem with the Classic application was completely unrelated. It could also be that the computer was never really “frozen”, but simply stuck on some process, which it was able to get out of after a few minutes. This would EXPLAIN the “buffer” effect mentioned above, and the fact that putting the computer to sleep the first time worked immediately, while it took longer the second time. (Maybe I had waited longer before pressing the Power button the first time, and the fact that it worked right away was just because my pressing the button more or less coincided with the computer resuming normal operations.)

I then remembered an odd problem with the sleep process and the identification of the iChatAgent background application as the potential culprit, based on the Console log. After that problem, I had sent a report to Apple via Bug Reporter and had received a reply asking me to activate a couple of logging features for iChat and iChatAgent (via a Terminal command) and to send the more detailed Console log the next time it would happen.

So I took a look at the Console log again this time, and noticed many lines involving iChatAgent again around the time the semi-freezing problem happened. This prompted me to send a follow-up report to Apple with the Console log and an explanation. Of course, it could be that the iChatAgent-related stuff in the Console log is perfectly normal, and just happens when the computer is put to sleep. But Apple replied with a thank-you note and said that my new report had been sent to the appropriate team of engineers. So who knows?

Apple’s form-based email messages do say that they will send you an UPDATE message once the problem is fixed (if ever) — but I don’t think that part of the process works all that reliably. No big deal. The important thing is for the problems to be fixed. Letting the person who first reported it know that it’s been fixed is secondary.

So we’ll see.

4 Responses to “More on Mac OS X troubles”

  1. Clint MacDonald says:

    Mr. Igot:

    Though you may have found the culprit with iChat (which I have not used, yet), some of your symptoms seem like those I have read about on forums when one’s hard drive is full. Mac OS X very much needs a great deal of free space for its happy operation — at least 1-GB, preferably contiguous (I know this seems like an ungodly amount of hard drive space). Is this a possibility for you?

    Best wishes,

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I don’t think so :). I have over 30 GB available on my Mac OS X partition.

  3. Clint MacDonald says:

    “I donít think so :). I have over 30 GB available on my Mac OS X partition.”

    Okay — so, I’m an idiot! ;-)

    Well, have you tried creating a new, virgin user, and seeing if that new user has any of the same issues? If you have no problems with the new user, the problem is with one of your installed programs or utilities.

    Best wishes,

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    No no, your suggestion was valid. It just isn’t applicable in my case :).

    As for creating a new user and trying to reproduce the problem again, I’m sure you can imagine it’s nearly impossible. This is not a problem that occurs every day. It’s a rather rare event and I cannot afford to be several weeks without all my programs & utilities, waiting for it to happen again. I don’t have that much disposable income to do several weeks of troubleshooting for Apple for free :).

    IMO the “create a new user” approach is valid for problems that occur on a very regular basis and are easy to reproduce. Otherwise, it’s mostly a waste of time.


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