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Like most unix systems, Mac OS X is very sturdy, it’s easy to take it for granted. The powerbook I’m typing on hasn’t been rebooted for more than three weeks. In fact it’s been up since it was last backed up, an embarrassing admission. And it’s busy: Photoshop, Dreamweaver, iPhoto, text editors, compilers, iTunes, Mail, dozens of windows in three different browsers. Every now and again some application crashes, usually a browser on some bizarre page. But the protected memory manager and the windowing system sail right through that. So I was not prepared for what happened last night….

I was trying to put stuff up on eBay, but safari was having trouble loading pages. Then I thought the whole WWW was screwed up because I couldn’t load Google, Yahoo, nuttin… But I could get mail so that wasn’t it… So I quit safari, quit mail, quit this, quit that. Started Safari back up, It starts like it’s doing a first run, offers to load bookmarks etc. Strange, so I log out of my account entirely. Log back in, now the finder’s lost it’s settings, the Dock’s in the wrong place. I’m more spooked.

I’d been doing a lot of photo work, and realize I’d completely filled the disk, figure it could be a problem… Empty trash, toss some music, clear some caches, etc. Start up mail… All My Mail Accounts Have Disappeared, except the first!

Now I’m terrified! So, calm down girl, walk away, don’t touch the machine, think…

Hmmm… mail uses a mail folder, peek in it? All the separate folders for the accounts are still there. Maybe mail keeps an account list in it’s prefs file? (On X most prefs files are plaintext xml.) Yep, there’s one listed, but nothing else….

Let’s see, the last thing a program does before quitting is re-write its preferences files. What if the disk is so full it can’t? Whaddya know! Trashed prefs files, they’d get re-built next time the program starts.

Well that’s nice, but I had, like maybe 17 active and inactive mail accounts set up in that file….

I did backup 22 days ago, and the mail folders are still there on the powerbook, I’d not lost any mail. The trashed prefs just keep all the silly trivia for the mail accounts, like pop and smtp host names. I just need to copy the right prefs file from a backup onto the powerbook and I’m back in business mostly.

So I slept on it, figuring I was probably too frazzled to trust myself fussing in the guts of mail by then.

Stopping mail, copying the backup prefs file over the empty one and restarting mail. recovered everything, but for one new mail account that I had to recreate. But recreating one is a picnic, No mail was lost.

The morals of the story…
If a program acts up, don’t just quit it until you’ve checked disk usage.
Maybe Mac programs shouldn’t try to rewrite their prefs, ‘till they’ve checked free disk space.
And I thought BSD unix (which is what X really is) had some highwater monitor scheme that should have seen this coming…hmmm… I’ll check on that.

Just thinking about this again and my heart is racing. How can non-geeks stand using computers when they’re such completely mysterious black boxes?

Maybe there’s something about faith that I just don’t get. I remember how freaked my partner was when her mail went to hell last month. And I was just like, “Oh la-de-da, we’ll fix it honey.” And of course in the back of every geeks mind is this nasty little thought, “Oh, a user… Must have been random mouse clicking again and broke it.”

But of course, even the smartest geek still gets bit in the ass by technology sooner or later. Then it’s time to remember, “Oh, this is an incredibly complicated and mysterious system, even to a digital goddess. I don’t have clue what just happened, but I have a sinking feeling I’m completely f—ked!” And there’s NO ONE who’s gonna say to me, “Oh la-de-da, we’ll fix it honey.”, Geeze I’m in big trouble!