Tech Tips
My Mac Magazine #32, Dec. ’97

With the upcoming holiday season, it dawns upon me that disaster recovery is an excellent topic. This is not to scare you into not installing that cool new game or nifty application upgrade that you received for Christmas, but to help keep the “season” more relaxing for you and your computer.

First, I would like to follow up on last month’s column (hard disk driver updates). In Apple’s tech notes, it’s recommended that any Macintosh computer (genuine Apple, as clones would normally have a third party driver) that has an 68LC040 processor or higher, i.e., PowerPC, should be updated with Drive Setup 1.3.1, and especially any 54xx/64xx/65xx system. If you haven’t or have a friend that hasn’t updated, I recommend you do so asap. (Editor’s Note: Believe him and do it! See my column this month for further information)

Disaster recovery. Just what do I mean by using such an ominous phrase? In this article’s context, I’m referring to general steps that you can do to keep your Mac running in a not-so-healthy situation. If I were referring to a LAN with mission critical applications or situations, the topic would lean towards habitual backups (full and incremental), redundant file and print servers, hot swappable drive arrays/network modules and other critters that put the minds of IS Professionals at ease. One of the reasons that the subject of backups is being written for this December issue is that previously I’ve been called to help people on Christmas Day when the installation of some funky new game had toasted their machine and threatened their sanity. I’d like to prevent that from occurring in the future.

If you flip back to issue 22, you can read all about backups, including the who/why/what, and I really suggest you do so. If you’re expecting to add new hardware or software to that wonderful Mac, it’s very important to take a few minutes and, at the very least, backup the most important files. Of course, you won’t need that backup, but just think of the peace of mind that comes from knowing that no matter what happens, you won’t lose anything.

Another important note is to double check the “compatibility list”; it’s usually in the Read Me files that accompany the new application. Why run into a crash when you could have taken 30 seconds to find out that Wombatz 9.8 will freeze your computer if the moon is blue that month? (In Issue 25, this topic was covered in Tech Tips.)

Ok, let’s suppose that you ran that fancy new game and the machine suddenly stopped responding (mouse moves, though). Now what? Try to force-quit the program (hold down the Command and Option keys while pressing the Escape key). With any luck, the program will politely terminate and you can restart your machine the proper way. But if you’re still stuck, you’ll just have to restart the machine (try holding down Command and Control while pressing the power key). This is where you hold your breath while the machine restarts and scolds you for not shutting down properly. By the way, I’ve run into a couple of situations that required the AC cord to be pulled from the wall to force the machine to restart (specifically, machines such as the 630 series that don’t have a power or reset switch).

What follows is the ‘trickier’ section and should only concern you if the machine tried to restart but came up with the flashing question mark. The first trick is to shut the computer off, wait 30 seconds and turn it back on (heck, try this a couple of times). If that doesn’t help, you’re left with two options, both of which depend on the outcome of this next step:

Locate your boot (startup) CD-ROM or floppy disk, and then start the computer off of it.

Now, when the computer finally completes its startup, does the hard drive icon appear on the desktop?

Yes: Great! Now verify that the System Folder is still blessed (that is, it has the Finder icon on it) Now test your Mac with a restart. If all goes well, you’ve done the trick. However, if trouble persists, you probably will have to reinstall your system software.

No: Click-choose CANCEL to any messages about initializing you may see. Run Disk First Aid (or Norton Disk Doctor) and have it repair any problems it may find. If Disk First Aid or Norton can’t fix the problem then try running HDSC Setup or Drive Setup and update the hard disk driver.

If these steps don’t work, I suggest calling a technician. You could reformat your hard disk and reinstall everything, but keep in mind you will lose everything on your hard drive by doing so.

In parting, keep in mind the most important rule: Keep calm! A qualified tech can get you out of almost any difficult situation. Happy Holidays!

Real World Experience

The system: PowerMac 6115.
The problem: Flashing disk with the question mark.
The solution: Updated disk driver.
The explanation:
What sounded like a very easy fix via the phone turned out to be a real time consumer (for what it should have been). The client had experienced a system error in AOL which in turn corrupted files on the HD and lead to severe directory problems on the disk. The quick fix was to reinstall the disk driver, back up the client’s data (locating and leaving the damaged cache files), reformat the drive and copy all the the information back to the machine.

Jeramey R. Valley (

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