Best Coin Video Ever: Rick Mercer at Canadian Royal Mint

Found this courtesy of

Rick Mercer, Canadian satirist and TV personality, throws his brand of humor into the mix as he tours the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa.

Watch Rick as he walks through the Mint’s gold vault, checks out the gold refinery process, the Mint’s rolling room and finishes the tour by handling several gold coin blanks and striking some special coins.

Best coin video… ever.  🙂

Mac Pro Crash Recovery: A Tale of 36 Hours

Yeah, it was that kind of weekend.

I went to check email Saturday morning, and was greeted with quite a shock.  My Mac Pro was locked in some sort of grey screen.  No icon, no progress, nothing.

A quick press of the power button confirmed it – simple power down.  No real OS boot.

On Friday night, before bed, I had shutdown the machine.  Some apps had been misbehaving, and I thought a full shut down & reboot was in order.  Apparently that reboot had failed.

I don’t know how “normal people” deal with problems like this.  When I say “normal”, I mean people who haven’t actually developed software on the Mac, who haven’t worked repairing Macs, and who haven’t spent countless hours futzing with their own machines.

Just in case its useful, here’s what I did.  The good news is that it proves out the benefit of using backup software, like Time Machine.  The bad news is that it also proves that this stuff is still way too hard:

1) Tried to reboot. Yes, I know, not rocket science.  But there is always that hope that just rebooting will magically “fix” the problem.  In this case, rebooting went into an endless loop.  Grey screen, Apple logo, spin icon… then grey screen and reboot.  Kept repeating.  Bad news.

The lack of either the blinking folder or the regular boot sequence told me I was on dangerous ground.  It was either a hardware issue, or the system was corrupted.  In either case, the machine was not getting to the normal boot sequence.

2) Tried to boot of DVD. For those “Dodgeball” movie fans, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”  For Macs, “If you can boot of a DVD, then your hardware can boot anything.”  It’s not totally true, but true enough.  In my case, it proved harder than you might think.   The machine wasn’t getting far enough in the boot sequence to load Bluetooth, so my wireless keyboard was useless.  Fortunately, I keep a USB keyboard around.  Plugged in, holding down the “C” key (nostalgia: the “C” is for CD, and they never migrated to “D” for DVD.)  In any case, if there is no DVD in the drive with a bootable OS, it opens the tray.  Got the tray opened, popped in the Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard DVD, and began to boot.  Total time spent: 20 minutes.

3) Diagnose the boot drive. On the Mac OS DVD, a little known trick is that while the installer is running, you can go to the Menu Bar, and select “Disk Utility” to run diagnostics on your disk.  I did so, and discovered some bad news.  My main system drive, a 300GB Western Digital, had problems.  Worse, Disk Utility basically told me that I was crazy if I thought it could fix them.  Drat.  Time spent: 10 minutes.

4) Get Mac OS X installed on another hard drive. Running the system off DVD is slow, and you are limited in options without a full Finder.  Fortunately, my iTunes HD had a few hundred GB free.  Installed OS X on that drive and rebooted.  While that happened, I went to have breakfast and actually get productive chores done.  Time spent: 30+ minutes.  Who knows, I didn’t come back to the machine for several hours.

5) Assess whether the system drive is lost cause.  I was ready to run down to Fry’s to get a new HD (or better yet, a new SSD.  Why not turn tragedy into opportunity?)  Unfortunately, the disk mounted.  Interesting.  I did get a strange system warning that I’d never seen before, telling me the disk had problems and that I should reformat it.  Never waste access to a dying disk.  I immediately tried to use Disk Utility to create a disk image of the disk, but it failed.  (You do this by dragging the hard drive icon from the desktop over the Disk Utility application).  Some cryptic error.  Fortunately, a Finder copy of my user directory worked, providing an extra backup of files, just in case.  Time spent: 20 minutes.

6) Reformat system drive. Well, Mac OS X told me to, right?  I was surprised, but I tried it.  Disk Utility was able to reformat the drive – I noticed the old formatting was Mac OS X, without journaling enabled.  Wow.  Was the drive that old?  In any case, I reformatted with the appropriate GUID setting for booting Intel macs, and with journaling enabled.  Afterward, a quick Disk Verify confirmed a shocking outcome… the drive was fine.  Time spent: 10 minutes.

7) Reinstalled Mac OS X on System Drive. Tempt fate?  Sure, why not.  This was the first time I had a hard drive crash after using Time Machine, and I was eager to try it out.  When you install Mac OS X 10.5 now, it asks you if you are migrating from another machine.  You can specify a Time Machine backup.  I was pleased to see the last one was from 10:59pm on Friday… less than 1/2 hour before the “great crash of 2009”.  Unfortunately, this process seems to take hours.  160GB of material for some reason took over 3 hours.  No way I’m sitting around for this!  Time spent: 3 hours+

8) Get everything up to date. I came back to the machine that evening.  It booted, seemed fine.  Even had my old accounts on the login screen.  I signed in, and everything looked normal.  All files/folders in the right places… except iPhoto failed to launch, and iTunes complained that it didn’t understand my library.  Whoops.  The DVD installed Mac OS 10.5… but we’re on 10.5.6 these days, and my apps and files had been upgraded.

Brief rant: I’m really wondering why Apple hasn’t tied the update logs from it’s automatic updates to the restore from Time Machine.  It’s pretty obvious that the Time Machine backup has a system on it that has a series of updates installed – would not be hard to boot the OS with instructions to download and install those updates.

In any case, Apple Mail tried to “import” my Mail folder.  I cancelled that and quit.  iTunes offered to create a new library, and I declined.  Phew.  Hope I’m safe.   Ran the System Update system preference, and discovered about 10 updates waiting for me.  Downloading them and installing would take… 2 hours!   Let it run over night.  Time spent: 2 hours + one nights sleep.

9) Get everything up to date… again. In the morning, after breakfast, checked on the machine.  Was booted, looked fine… except now Apple Mail had lost all of my old mail, and iPhoto still wouldn’t boot.  iTunes was fine, though.   Ran System Update again… and there were another 8 updates, clearly waiting for the last 10 to run.  Great.  Fine, let’s update some more.  Time spent: 1 hour + me leaving for the morning.

10) Restore Mail. Thank goodness I’m paranoid.  I copied the “Mail” folder in my “User > adamnash > Library” folder from the “extra” backup I had made to my System drive.  3GB to copy, but hard drive to hard drive over internal SATA 2 bus is wicked fast.  Time spent: 15 minutes.

11) Everyone lived happily ever after. It was about 11:30am on Sunday, literally about 36 hours since the crash happened.  And everything was back to normal.  Seriously, I doubt you could have easily figured out anything had happened.  Even little details like my browser history were there.  Firefox re-opened with the same 20 tabs I had open on Friday.  It was if the last 36 hours had been a test, and since I had kept calm and walked through the steps, I had passed.

So, what did I learn from this?  A few things:

  • Keep a Mac OS X boot DVD handy. Most people lose track of this, because it came with their Mac when they bought it.  Don’t lose it.  I prefer the retail disc myself – it’s worth the cost to have one.
  • Disk Utility is your friend. There was a time when Apple utility software sucked, and you had to go third party.  There are still superior third party tools out there (and for serious hard drive crashes, you need them.)  But these days, starting with the standard Apple software is a good bet.
  • Migration Assistant has come into its own. I’ve used it now for work and home.  It’s very good.  Not perfect, but better than hand-crafting system restores.  Very impressed with the Time Machine integration.  If it was smart enough to handle Apple Update history, I’d be truly happy with it.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of an extra hard drive. The reason my restore was relatively painless is that I had another hard drive that I could boot the system off of.  Without that, you have to depend on the DVD.  Ouch.  If you have a tower, and extra hard drive is cheap insurance (and extra storage).   If not, consider a cheap firewire external drive.
  • Time Machine is good. Look, if you care about your files, you should backup.  Period.  Time Machine makes it painless.  I’m really impressed – backup systems are only really tested when you need them, and I needed Time Machine today.  It came through.
  • Beward of hard reboots.  The reason my system had problems is likely due to a software conflict I had been ignoring – XTorrent and my .Mac screensaver.   I would come home to a locked up machine, and would be forced to hard reboot the system.  Hard reboots = increased risk of file system damage.  I played Russian roulette one too many times, and paid the price.  36 hours of it.

Mostly, however, I discovered that after 18 years of fixing/restoring Macs, it’s still stressful dealing with a crash like this.  I just can’t imagine why any normal human being would know or care about all the steps above, or how they would be expected to keep multiple backups, hard drives, and techniques handy to manage this type of issue.  It’s 2009 for goodness sake.  By now the computers should be taking care of themselves.

In any case, I hope the above proves useful to a reader or two.  If not, maybe the story will prove either entertaining or depressing, depending on your perspective.

A Moment of Silence for the F-22 Raptor

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended ending the the long-standing drama surrounding the F-22 (nee, the F-22A) supersonic fighter, capping the program with a purchase of four more planes in 2009, bringing the total number to 183.


A pair of F-22 Raptors during an Air Force training flight.
(Thomas Meneguin — U.s. Air Force Via Associated Press)

A bit of a sad day for me, really.

There is a nice column in the Washington Post today from the Air Force explaining why they support the decision to end the program, 60 planes shy of the 243 total they had originally estimated to be needed in a post-cold war world, and almost 600 shy of the pre-1989 estimate.

We are often asked: How many F-22s does the Air Force need? The answer, of course, depends on what we are being asked to do. When the program began, late in the Cold War, it was estimated that 740 would be needed. Since then, the Defense Department has constantly reassessed how many major combat operations we might be challenged to conduct, where such conflicts might arise, whether or how much they might overlap, what are the strategies and capabilities of potential opponents, and U.S. objectives.

These assessments have concluded that, over time, a progressively more sophisticated mix of aircraft, weapons and networking capabilities will enable us to produce needed combat power with fewer platforms. As requirements for fighter inventories have declined and F-22 program costs have risen, the department imposed a funding cap and in December 2004 approved a program of 183 aircraft.

Much has been made of the cost over-runs in the F-22 program, and there is some truth to those complaints.  Of course, they have been exaggerated in recent years since manufacturing planes is a volume business, and the average cost per plane drops significantly as you increase volume and speed delivery.

It may seem strange to wax nostalgic for a super-sonic aircraft, but I remember the F-22 fondly.  When I was in high school, I read Aviation Weekly regularly as one of the requirements for my high school debate research (the topic for the year was space exploration).  I remember at the time the race between the F-21 and F-22: competing prototypes for a new air superiority fighter that would line up against the latest generation MiG fighters from the USSR, and which would be able to deliver Mach 2.0+ speeds without afterburners and with low radar reflection.

It was post-1987, so already the era of disillusionment with the ridiculous mediocrity of the US space program had set in.  But warplanes were still an area of rapid technological advancement, and raw engineering wonder.  It was pre-1991, so the cold war was still there to propel investment in military technology.

The F-22 won the contest, of course.  As fate would have it, about the same time, the USSR lost the contest.  Almost immediately, the plane and the program were caught in an ongoing battle for existence – a battle that lasted almost twenty years.

There are good arguments by better informed people on the merits and liabilities of the F-22 program.  Right now, I’m not really interested in discussing them.

Instead, I want to take a moment to contemplate the wonder and excitement that aerospace used to hold for me and a generation of kids.  A time when the space program was filled with the best and the brightest, and when the best engineers devoted themselves to conquering air and space.

In truth, that time pre-dated me.  But I still felt the echoes of it in the late 1980s.  I was an intern at NASA Ames in 1990-1.  I dreamed of a robust space program, and limitless advancement in aerospace.

The F-22 was my desktop picture for the better part of the 1990s for goodness sake.

Of course, the much less impressive F-35 joint strike fighter program will continue.  And spurred by Space-X and the private sector, there may even be some signs of life in the US Space Program, particularly once we get rid of the generational vacuum that was the Space Shuttle.  The Orion may yet fly, and we may yet have a base on the moon, and land men on Mars.  Twenty years later than I had hoped, but better late than never, I suppose.

A moment of silence tonight, however, for the F-22.  A truly beautiful aircraft.

Help for the Class of 2009: LinkedIn ’09 Grad Guide

It’s a tough job market this year, particularly for newly graduating college students and graduate students.

At LinkedIn, we work every day to help professionals leverage their two most important assets, their reputation and their relationships, to make them more productive.  Getting that first full time position can be hard, so we’ve put together a new mini-site for new graduates called the ’09 Grad Guide.

Check it out, we have a version for college grads and graduate students.

Please feel free to forward to friends and family who are graduating this year.  We’re hoping it will help the hundreds of thousands of new graudates this year find their first dream job, and begin their careers.