Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Technological Disasters

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The world is full of technological disasters. And by that I don’t mean crashing planes or exploding petrol stations but simply software. On my desk. On some days things just conspire against me and many things go wrong with no fixes in sight.


I hoped this problem was solved by Apple’s2007-004 Airport software update. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case the problem persists in both Mac OS X.4.11 (10.4 Tiger) and the newly released Mac OS X.5 (10.5 Leopard).

For a while now I have had problems with my computer’s wireless network connection. From time to time it just becomes extremely slow and unreliable. I first thought that this was related to the new Core 2 Duo MacBook, but what I read on the internet suggests that it may be a problem with Mac OS X.4.10 and that it affects a wider range of hardware than just current generation MacBooks.

Of course I filed a bug report with Apple against this around the second time I ran into the problem and offered help to track the problem down when it occurs again, but I haven’t heard back. Not that I blame them for that. For sure they’ll have many of such reports and the fact that the problem remains a complete mystery to most doesn’t help there. A mystery in the sense that I have no idea what causes it or how it can be reliably reproduced. I’m just fairly sure that by Murphy’s Law it will bite me when I quickly need to look something up on the internet.

So – just in case anybody can make sense of that – I’ll note a few things I observed while having this problem. This is in the hope to understand what makes it happen.

And no, all that doesn’t make much sense to me either. But luckily other people have found a hack/workaround which may solve the problem in the meantime (I haven’t tried yet and because of the problem’s irregular occurrences, I’d find it hard to check.)


Of course we are all making backups. And being one of the people who actually does so, I obviously hadn’t had any hard-drive failures so far. But one thing that always strikes me as odd is the amount of disk space consumed by a backup. Even after making sure that caches and trashes are no backed up, I always end up having at least 300MB of ‘changed’ data even after just a day in which I just created a few KB of data.

A closer look revealed what should have been obvious: Just my iTunes Library files and – even worse – iPhoto’s thumbnail files easily account for 250MB of that. And those large files tend to change quite frequently. Let’s hope that Apple deal with this in a smart way when Time Machine comes. This problem also makes the mere existence of those strange XML files Apple like to duplicate my libraries in questionable.


It has been pointed out over and over again that Spotlight is a sweet technology but that it is quite deficient. And that’s not just in the I make all your applications which try to use the Spotlight API – including requests for the last changed time needed for column modes – stall for half a minute before writing ‘Can’t checkin with server named com.apple.metadata.mdserver, error 0x10000004’ to the console-way which I have been suffering from for half a year by now; against which no re-indexing helps more than temporarily; and which means that I frequently have to kill the mds process just so I can unmount volumes without the system being rude to me.

No, I mean the obvious design deficiencies which require applications to create a separate file for every item they want to have indexed – we create more than 30000 files, with UnicodeChecker if you have the Unihan database installed, but as this index doesn’t change the problem is conceptually more problematic for other applications, I think – or its broken graphical interface. And mostly the fact that it doesn’t index my whole drive. That’s a sad thing because it means that my high-tech indexing engine won’t even find the System’s own Finder or any other file outside Apple-approved folders. And no invisible files either if I’m not mistaken.

Which is a good reason to keep the stone-age locate tool’s database updated regularly, because it can do what its high-tech cousin Spotlight fails at: find files. Even invisible ones. Like all those ancient and superfluous .FBCIndex files I discovered when sifting through the crap in my backup. (My impression being that generally those had been removed – possibly by the Migration Assistant? – but they were still present in folders I copied to the computer from old CDs.

Text Editing

It’s a bit sad that I have to say that but Cocoa’s text system still sucks big time when you open large files with it. Just a few MB, say one of the aforementioned XML files, will do to stall applications for a while. A while which sometimes seems eternal and which ended up with me having to kill Coda after that unfortunate drag (luckily no other files were harmed in that process, having to kill the app later after it had used 100% CPU time for 20 minutes on a quite possibly broken regexp I entered was much more worrisome and highlights a real drawback of multi-document applications and multi-tab documents)

And I am tempted to bet that sufficiently old people will be able to confirm my suspicion that similar text editing tasks weren’t a problem in vi on a PDP-11 decades ago. Or so.


Brightening up my day, however, was that I got mail and William sent me a remote control to replace my lost one. Thanks for that! And goodbye… going to watch a film now.

July 25, 2007, 0:01

Tagged as Mac OS X.


Comment by Fred: User icon

The NSTextView problems are completely fixed in Leopard, You can open a 100mb file in TextEdit.app, and it’s fully responsive. No climbing croll widget, no problems at all.

July 25, 2007, 1:11

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