Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Stability

874 words

Let me say something good about MacOS X for a change: it’s quite stable. Sure, that’s exactly what people told us the benefit of having a Unixoid operating system would be and what they claimed would be worth the steps backward in UI goodness. While I’m not totally convinced about the tradeoff being worth it, they do have a point.

Yet, when reading what the standard Mac tips are, they suggest that to get the best experience from it you should restart the machine once a day and probably do the mysterious ‘repair permissions’ thing every other hour. When hearing about those people, I shrug and think impolite words. Personally I simply try to restart as rarely as possible and have the aim of never running ‘repair permissions’ again (it once fucked up some strange Unix thing that took me a while to figure out… and it’s completely unclear to me why it should be necessary at all).

And with that attitude – which may be considered as extremely dangerous by some the machine has been running happily for a number of weeks. I connected and disconnected a variety of USB and FireWire devices in that time period. Naturally without properly unmounting some of the drives a couple of times because OS X is too stupid to tell you which application is using which file on the mysteriously ‘busy’ drive. I changed networks dozens of times. I cycled through the (surprisingly small) set of process numbers a few times – which is quite inconvenient as it makes it hard to see the recently launched processes. I went to virtual memory hell and back with it – where buggy memory hogs used 1GB of memory at times, happily along all the other memory hogs that live on the system regularly. I did gazillions of different things from reading e-mail, to editing images, from programming, compiling and debugging to doing web design, from transferring files to managing my photos, from installing Movable Type and running all the blog traffic on the machine to trying out Dashboard widgets and so on.

And with all that use and abuse the worst the machine did to me was to tell me my hard drive was almost full (and that I unplugged a hard drive without having been allowed to do so). And while many flaws remain, I appreciate that stability. It completely changes the way I can use the machine. I can open a PDF file today and just leave it open in Preview, knowing it will still be there next week when I need it again (thus allowing me to avoid things like the Finder or Spotlight to locate it again…) I don’t need to close and re-open files all the time, everything just remains on screen until I’m done with it.

And this kind of usage of course changes your attitude towards logging out or restarting the machine. Both become major inconveniences as OS X doesn’t have proper session management where your work area is exactly restored once you log in again. That’s a shame. Perhaps we’ll see that in OS X.7 Lion in 2012. And if it doesn’t work then, it should be fine in X.7.5…

The only thing that keeps bugging me is the virtual memory situation. As my hard drive tends to be rather full, I’m quite sensitive when it comes to that. And I wasn’t too pleased to discover this today:

Screenshot of swapfile folder

Isn’t that overdoing it a little? After closing some of the memory hog applications I managed to bring the number down to 24, but that’s still a big number which is far beyond the memory requirements everything running on the machine had at the time. Questions I have with regard to this are: 1. Why are lower numbered swap files only deleted once their higher numbered brothers are gone? And 2. Is there a way to streamline those files? Some fancy Unix command perhaps, which tells the system to fill all the unused space in the swapfiles and thereby making other swapfiles superfluous.

Other stats: around 3 million swapins and swapouts (sounds like a big number but I think I’ve seen much worse), well over 100GB data read and written from and to disks (huh?), around 4GB of network traffic sent and received, and for some strange reasons a console log of 60MB (i.e. too large for any OSX text editor to display it reasonably and see what’s going on there). And despite all those big numbers the machine is working just fine.

Of course that shouldn’t be remarkable as sending the millionth network packet is just as trivial as receiving the first for the machine. But somehow experience has taught us to expect things to degrade rather quickly and leaves us pleasantly surprised if they don’t.

So I’ll finish with some degradation that X.4.4 brought us: Monaco 10pt non-anti-aliased is broken. In some situations – but not all! – it just looks ugly and wrong (to different degrees depending on where and when you look). As this doesn’t happen immediately after restarts and mostly affects non-American characters, not many people will notice it. But it’s a shame as that very font has served us well and reliably even on much less stable OS versions…

Monaco 10pt non-antialiased with many characters looking broken

February 1, 2006, 8:20

Comments

Comment by d.w.: User icon

It looks like one of your applications or libraries is leaking memory, most likely one you have open all the time (I see this happen on my Linux box too, if, for example, I’ve left Firefox open over the weekend and one of the tabs has a Flash animation [i.e. an ad] looping, when I come in on Monday morning the machine will be sluggish and swapping like mad and the browser will be using hundreds of megabytes of RAM.)

I wish I understood Darwin’s VM internals better.

February 2, 2006, 2:39

Comment by cpx: User icon

You have probably already noticed that Daring Fireball has a possible fix for the Monaco problem:

http://daringfireball.net/linked/2006/january#fri-27-mangledmonacoglyphs

February 3, 2006, 0:24

Comment by ssp: User icon

Has anybody actually used that ‘fix’ in a way that improved the situation permanently? It doesn’t do so here.

February 3, 2006, 14:43

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