All posts filed under “Apple

What to do when a drive won’t mount (hint: nothing)

tl;dr version: An external disk wouldn’t mount; I panicked and tried to fix it, then I just gave up and it fixed itself – specifically, the fsck_hfs daemon fixed it for me.

Yesterday, I rebooted my the Mac mini in my office into Windows to play some games, then when I rebooted back into OS X, my Drobo wouldn’t mount.

The status lights on it were all normal, and the Drobo Dashboard (which coincidentally I think failed with ‘missing components’ necessitating reinstalling) reported it was healthy too, but while the drive showed in System Information and in the Disk Utility tree, if I tried to mount it it just reported that it couldn’t, and suggested that I should try to repair it.

I was a little nervous of doing this since a Drobo uses an unusual disk structure, but its own support documents say you should indeed try repairing the disk if it fails to mount. (It’s not actually surprising, since the Drobo’s unusual system should be entirely hidden from the Mac; so far as the Mac is concerned, it should be just like any other disk.)

Disk Utility, however, reported that the disk was unrepairable. Now, I tried connecting it using USB 2.0 (rather than FireWire 800), and connecting it to another Mac, but still, no dice. I was beginning to resign myself to buying Disk Warrior to laboriously reconstruct the directory structures, but I wasn’t quite done troubleshooting yet.

My next step was to connect it to yet another Mac, and now I got a faint glimmer of hope. This was my wife’s MacBook Air, which is still running OS X 10.9; both my Macs had been upgraded to 10.10. Clicking on iStat Menus, I saw that the fsck_hfs process was running, taking up a lot of the CPU. This is a background process that checks and repairs disks, so with nothing to lose — and knowing that a Drobo support document I read earlier said that if fsck is running, let it complete — I just left it and went to watch telly.

I came back a couple of hours later, and boom; the Drobo was mounted on the desktop of my wife’s Mac. Now, one detail I omitted earlier was I had noticed that when the Drobo was connected to either of my Yosemite Macs, a process called diskarbitrationd grabbed a whole chunk of the CPU. Googling it suggested it’s a process just concerned with mounting disks, so I had thought it was getting stuck because it couldn’t mount the Drobo. I can’t find information to suggest diskarbitrationd is a successor to or incorporates the repair elements of fsck, but it’s possible that had I just left the Drobo connected to the Mac mini when I first noticed the problem that it would have repaired itself there too. I’m a little annoyed that the Mac apparently had the ability to repair the disk, but loading Disk Utility and clicking Repair – the obvious troubleshooting process – failed with no hint that an invisible, background process was actually capable of doing it, not least because if you know less than I do, you’d just assume that your data was gone, and either start a lengthy restore process or start spending money on new disks.

(The data on the Drobo – mostly our iTunes Library – was backed up, online, to Livedrive, but the idea of downloading 4TB data, even on a fibre connection, wasn’t one to fill me with delight.)

I’m pretty paranoid about backup and data security, but this episode was a reminder that however you protect your data it’s never absolutely safe; all you’re doing is reducing the risk. The Drobo system allows for a single disk (or, depending on your configuration, two disks) to fail mechanically without losing any data – just pop out the duff disk and slot in a new one, something I’ve done in the past – but as I was reminded even this doesn’t ensure the data is secure, since it only protects against one particular (albeit major) source of data loss.

It’s important to point out that I believe the Drobo system itself was entirely blameless in all of this; I think the fault was one that could have affected a simple single-disk USB drive, and would have been fixed in the same way.

Apple eMate in a café

On finding and protecting the things you like to do (and what to do next)

I’m having a terrific time writing and doing photography for my Think Retro column at Macworld. My latest is on how computers, austere and anodyne today, used to be much chirpier – literally.

The thing I always forget I love till I pick up my eMate again is the noises it makes. As you use the stylus to select things on the screen, little confirmatory noises sound, and the joyous thing is that they’re not the same sound. The effect, as you tap about the screen to format a document and send it by fax, say, is that you get a cheery burble of “beek,” “bik,” “bok” rather than the same “click,” “click,” “click” as you’d expect on other systems. It’s emblematic of a much more human, much friendlier approach to operating systems than any other I can think of.

You can read the whole thing at

It’s a funny thing; life seems inevitably and inexorably to lead to the present when you look back at it, but you had no idea where it was heading at the time. I just used to like old Apple stuff, and so bought it if it was cheap and I wanted it – with the result that now even I’m surprised by how much stuff I have from which I can draw for Think Retro.

Today, then, I have a regular writing gig sharing an enthusiasm with others who seem to be enjoying it. I’ve always struggled to know what I want to do with my career, and you often hear the advice that you should identify the things you enjoy doing, then work out how you can turn them into a job. I suspect I rejected that at some subconscious level for two reasons. First, it seemed too easy; surely a job was a necessary evil to be endured? It should be arduous; it’s called ‘work’. Worse, I had come to dislike the Confucian quote ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’ because experience suggested to me there was no surer way to leech the delight out of a hobby than to bury it under a thick layer of work apparatus and office life.

I think I probably got it wrong – thrice. I was slow to recognise the things I actually enjoyed doing, had a deep-seated and unhealthy attitude to work, and needed to get much, much better at translating my curiosity and aptitude for a broad range of subjects into money. Let’s see if I can get better at learning from my mistakes in 2015.

➚ Think Retro: The craziest-looking keyboard Apple ever made

Fun piece to write for Macworld, on the Apple Adjustable Keyboard, ergonomics and touch typing:

Apple Adjustable keyboard

So few of us type “properly” these days that you might never have done this before, and you’ll notice that while your arms stretch towards the keyboard at about 45 degrees, your hands have to splay outwards uncomfortably. This can lead to some terrible carpal tunnel syndrome, severely damaging your hands. Ergonomic keyboards, then, attempt to solve this by allowing you to rest your fingers on the home keys while keeping your wrists straight.

Taking that photo was a challenge for a works-on-his-own freelancer! Pile of books, iPhone resting on top held in place with Blu-Tack, timer.

➚ Think Retro: a box that sells itself

My new Think Retro column for Macworld is live, all about the box – yes, the box – one of my Newton MessagePad came in.


For a child of the ’80s like me, that style of photography—moody, low-lit, with shafts of light picking out form and texture—is still desperately exciting. And even as a kid, I was excited about the idea of working, of business, of being productive, so the kind of language and lifestyle you see in the pictures was terribly beguiling. (I’d like to blame the ’80s for this too, with its emphasis on self-improvement and free market economies, but maybe I was just a weird kid.)

Maybe everyone knows about the historical context in which packaging took on a marketing role, but I didn’t when I researched it for an essay when I was at university, and it still fascinates me today.

➚ Think Retro: Find and open your old ClarisWorks documents

For my second Think Retro column, a guide to opening ClarisWorks documents (after I’ve fanboy’d about it for a while) – and why you might want to.

No matter how much nostalgia we have for ClarisWorks, mind you, often what we value are the things we produced using it rather than the software itself. Happily, all your work and fun stuff isn’t lost, so long as you can mount whatever discs or disks you have it stored on. When I did this I found, amongst countless other things I didn’t even know I’d forgotten, my wedding vows, the start of a long-abandoned novel, and this, a letter from when I was at college, written to Macworld.

Such a fanboy.

On cameras in mobile phones

I took most of the photos for the first instalment of my new Think Retro Macworld column on my iPhone 6. They would be better with an SLR and a good bit of macro glass, but on a technical level they’re perfectly good enough, especially with a little tweaking in ACR.

The last shot though was taken with a Sony Ericsson W800i in 2006; it replaced the K700i I’d had before that, and I eventually replaced it with the K800i, my last featurephone/dumbphone before I got the original iPhone. The first three generations of iPhone had a camera that was essentially just another input sensor – acceptable for documenting stuff but certainly not a creative tool. They were a big step back from my Sony Ericssons.

It’s become clear over the years that the camera is the most important hardware feature to me in a carry-anywhere device like a smartphone, so it’s a testament to the allure and novelty of the iPhone that I allowed myself to suffer a worse camera for three years.

Here are some shots from my Sony Ericssons that I uploaded to Flickr; remember, some of these are shots from a phone nearly 10 years old. (The soft-focus in the second is artificial!)

➚ Think Retro: A love letter to the Apple logo

I’ve long-admired Macworld in the US, so I’m honoured now to have a byline there for a new regular column, Think Retro. For my first, an indulgent pean to the rainbow Apple logo.

There’s something intensely pleasing, isn’t there, about how it’s glossy and smooth, nestled in that sea of roughly textured black plastic—a wave-polished pebble on a sandy beach.

How to stop ‘friends’ looking at all your iPhone’s photos

I read someone a while ago complaining that if they handed their phone to a friend to show them a photo, it would be a matter of seconds before said friend was scrolling through all of their photos and seeing stuff they’d rather they didn’t. (There is a temptation here to think that I’m referring to saucy pictures of our protagonist and his or her funtimes sex friend, but it could as easily be snaps of a damp patch our hero has documented in order to bring to the attention of the landlord, and which he or she doesn’t especially want friends asking about.)

Happily, iOS 6 or later has a feature that can help: Guided Access. All you have to do, once you’ve configured it, is to triple-click the Home button as you pass your iPhone to your friend – an action so subtle that they might not even realise you’re doing it (until they try and fail to swipe and find photos of your damp patches, as it were). If you don’t know how to enable it, here’s a quick-and-dirty (though not that kind of dirty) guide with appalling audio and diction: