Month: August 2012

Dead. Dead. Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.

Before going on vacation to Maui, I was working on backing up all the data from Cindy’s 1st-gen MacBook Air, after her hard disk started flaking out. That effort was thankfully, a success!

Once the backup was done, I booted up my Lion recovery disk, and reinstalled the OS. Surprisingly this worked too, so I copied Cindy’s user folder back over to the machine, and gave it back to her. Then we went on vacation, and we only wanted to bring one laptop, so I added her user folder to my machine.

I had planned on findi ng a utility to sector-test the disk, and hopefully lock out bad sectors, but alas, before I got that the drive seems to have flaked out again. So now my laptop is living at home until I can get a new drive for hers, and get it up and running again.

KingSpec 128GB ZIF SSDWe decided to upgrade with an SSD drive, since slow storage is usually the biggest performance bottleneck for most things normal people do with their computers. I’ll be ordering one today as soon as I figure out which has the best controller and longest expected life. The machine had a 64GB 4200RPM drive before, so we’ll double the capacity to 128GB for what looks like about $200.

Update: After a bunch of research, I decided to go with the Super Talent 128GB DuraDrive ZT2 for about $245 shipped. It’s a little more expensive than the King Spec, but should be both faster, and more heat/battery efficient.

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Steve Blank on quitting his first job as an electronics tech at the nuclear reactor at U-Mich:

Lessons Learned

  • Things you can’t see can hurt you (microwaves, gamma rays, toxic bosses.)
  • No job is worth your health.
  • If it seems dangerous or stupid it probably is.
  • Rules and regulations won’t stop all possible mistakes.
  • No one but you will tell you it’s time to quit.

My personal favorite is the last one.

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For a couple of years, Cindy has been doing her computing on a first-gen MacBook Air that we bought used from a Microsoft developer. (He joked that his boss got sick of him doing presentations with a big glowing Apple logo facing the audience.)

While she was away on vacation, the machine decided to stop booting up. I initially suspected some serious filesystem corruption, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with some command-line mojo in single-user mode (fsck_hfs apparently has options that aren’t available directly via fsck).

But I wanted to make sure I had a viable backup of her data before mucking around with anything while not in read-only mode. Sadly that turned out to be lots harder than it should have been…

The MacBook Air doesn’t have a Firewire or Thunderbolt port, so there’s no target-disk mode – strike one. (Target disk makes the machine act like an external drive that you can hook to another computer.)

Realizing this might be harder than I thought, I tried booting into the OS X install disc, with a mind to find a way to copy files over the network onto my NAS. Unfortunately this won’t fly because the install disc doesn’t have the required tools – no Finder, no  mountsmb, no  rsync, no filesharing, and though I could mount the internal disk easily enough in read-only mode, I couldn’t actually make the data go anywhere meaningful.

My next thought was to copy files onto one of the many external USB drives or thumb-drives I’ve got hanging around. I figured this would be easy once I got the install disc booted, and launched into Disk Tools. But the machine only has one USB port, and that was being used by the external DVD drive. I had a USB hub, but the external drive didn’t seem to be recognized on the hub. (Maybe it’s not supported on Mac for some reason.)

So I figured I’d set up the install disc as a remote DVD. That’ll work – then I’ll have the USB port free for a hard disk, and I can copy the files no problem. Problem: Once I set this up, I couldn’t get the Air to see the network-shared disc. I think this is an issue with network discovery on my wireless router, since I’ve had some similar issues with AirPlay not working in some cases.

Ok… What next? Well, let’s try getting networking working in single-user mode and  rsync the files to my NAS. After all,  rsync was sitting right there on the boot disk – all I had to do was get the network up. Whoops – this isn’t as easy as it might be either.

Turns out you have to start up the kernel extension daemon and some services in order to get either the network or the external USB drive support working. It took an hour or two to find the right incantations in order to make this happen.

But I kept getting a “ Socket not connected” error every time I tried to start anything with  launchctl. Humph.

After beating my head on this one for a while, I figured I had to try putting the filesystem into read-write mode or else none of Apple’s services will work.

That got me through getting all the  launchctl commands to work. Phew! Now back to the network.

The machine has WiFi obviously, and I’d already figured out that I could theoretically get that working.

But wouldn’t this be a lot faster with Ethernet instead? I happened to have a gigabit USB/Ethernet adaptor for my other machine, so I plugged that in. It only took a minute to figure out that this is  en7, and I got about half-way through figuring out how to bring it up when I realized something…

Maybe now that  kextd etc are running, I can get my USB 3.0 drive working. That will be way faster than Ethernet. Sure enough I plugged in the drive and then looked at available devices…

And there was  disk1s1 through  disk1s3. Yay! I wonder…

Hey – there it is. Now let’s copy some stuff…

And wait… Well, we’ll see what happens…

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Mat writes:

I went to connect it to my computer and restore from that backup—which I had just happened to do the other day. When I opened my laptop, an iCal message popped up telling me that my Gmail account information was wrong. Then the screen went gray, and asked for a four digit pin.

I didn’t have a four digit pin. 

By now, I knew something was very, very wrong. I walked to the hallway to grab my iPad from my work bag. It had been reset too. I couldn’t turn on my computer, my iPad, or iPhone.

Mat’s full explanation of how he was hacked is on Wired. This is pretty scary. Basically the hacker was able to hijack Mat’s iCloud account and remote-wipe all of his devices, using the last four digits of a credit card from his Amazon account, to “prove” to a customer support representative at Apple that he was Mat, and have them issue a password reset.

Immediately after reading this, I enabled two-factor authentication on my Google account (even though I don’t use Gmail), but both Apple and Amazon need to take action here to make their users more secure. Apple needs to both stop accepting the last four digits of a credit card as proof of identity and require correct answers to security questions, and Amazon needs to stop displaying these digits on their account page. (They can let users name their stored payment methods instead.)

It turns out that Apple is suspending password resets over the phone (temporarily?), but this isn’t the right way to address the issue in the long term. Apple needs to realize that security trumps usability more generally, and ensure that their systems and support procedures reflect this. They also need to start teaching their users how to protect themselves. For too long Apple touted the falsity that Mac OS and iOS were somehow inherently safer than Windows, but that’s not the case. For a very long time, they were much smaller targets because of the relatively small user-base, but that’s no longer the case. And just as online retailers have come to realize that iPad users are more likely to make more and larger online purchases, the hackers are coming to realize that these are high-value users, which makes them targets.

Suspending over the phone password resets is a start, but it sounds like if you have the serial number of a device, you can still get them to do this. So if your iPhone or MacBook are stolen, you’re still at risk.

(Via Marco Arment.)

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