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Dr. Mac: Rants & Raves

Kernel Panics On A Sunday
September 12th, 2003
Episode #1

Sunday will never be the same...

I woke up Sunday morning thinking about taking the day off. I got up extra early, read the paper, and drank copious amounts of strong coffee. I had just a few things I needed to do in the office, and that would be the end of it. I hoped to be gone in under an hour. All I had on my list was to check my e-mail, pay some bills, burn 3 CDs, and sign and mail a bunch of paperwork. After that I would be free to play Neverwinter Nights, or play with my newest toy, an Olympus C-740 digital camera, which is the one with the phenomenal 10X optical zoom.

Ha. I walked into my office and knew immediately it wasn't going to be quite so easy. What I saw on my Cinema display stopped me as dead in my tracks as it had stopped my Mac. It was... (cue spooky music) ...a kernel panic.

The dreaded Kernel Panic
All Photos, credit: Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus

Oh NO! I hate when that happens!

Fortunately, kernel panics don't happen all that often. In fact, it occurs to me that some of you may never have even seen one in the wild. So, if you're fortunate enough to be one of those, here it is again, in a tighter shot:

Note the four languages, and that great power logo


I had a feeling I wasn't going to be checking mail or paying bills any time soon.

Or not. You know how sometimes these things go away by themselves when you reboot your Mac? I was hoping this was one of those times. I pressed the power button for a few seconds, powered down all the external devices, and let my Mac compose itself for a moment or two, then, with fingers crossed, I powered everything back up.

The chime sounded fine and everything was looking just peachy until the login window appeared. Then things got really scary...

Again, the Kernel Panic

My Mac may have been in a panic but I was not. I calmly restarted again, but this time held down the Command and S keys, so I'd boot into Single User command line mode.

I did, and when the prompt appeared, I typed "fsck -f" to run the file system check program, which found and repaired numerous problem files.

"F" is for fsck

Because it modified the file system, I ran fsck again as is recommended. This time it gave my disk a clean bill of health, telling me my boot disk appeared to be OK:

"Booty II" is cleared

So I once again restarted. This time I got to the login window but before I could type the first letter of my password, that nasty little kernel panic reared its ugly head again.

I deduced that at this point a Safe Boot might be enlightening, so I rebooted the Mac and immediately jammed a nickel into my keyboard to keep the Shift key depressed, and went off for more coffee. The nickel-in-the-Shift-key did the trick and resulted in a nice, Safe Boot.

The "Safe Boot" startup

The login window appeared. I held my breath as I removed the nickel and logged in. The Finder began to load, but as it did, the panic came back to haunt me again.

I restarted again, but this time I jammed the nickel so it held down the Option key, causing the Startup Manager to appear.

The Startup Manager

I booted from my second bootable hard disk (a handy thing to have, by the way) and, on a hunch, moved everything in my main boot disk's /Library/Startup Items folder to the desktop.

I rebooted. It seemed to work. I was able to log in and begin working. So far so good, and still no panic.

Less than 5 minutes later, the panic returned.

I decided to run AlSoft's DiskWarrior while I pondered this bizarre set of circumstances and how I might work around them with the least possible down time. I figured it couldn't hurt and I needed a break.

DiskWarrior hummed and whirred, and so did my wetware. After a few minutes, DiskWarrior concluded that my disk had big problems and offered to fix them, an offer I gladly accepted. Meanwhile, my aching brain had concluded that the next step would be to reinstall Mac OS X using the Archive and Install and Preserve User Settings options. It would be faster than a full restore from one of my Retrospect backup sets, and had less risk of my misplacing a file or files.

When I rebooted (for about the hundredth time), however, I didn't have to do anything of the sort. It seems that DiskWarrior had fixed whatever the problem was. DW fixed more than a dozen items (in less than 15 minutes, by the way) and I'm still not sure which one was the culprit, but frankly, I don’t care. Whatever was causing my panic attacks seemed to be gone and everything worked perfectly again.

I uttered silent thanks to Zulch, the deity of data integrity as I rebooted one more time, just to be sure. Sure enough, everything continued to work perfectly.

That is, until I launched Quicken 2004 and watched in horror as it dive-bombed into an endless loop of Quitting Unexpectedly. But I'll save that for another time.

The moral of this story is that DiskWarrior saved my bacon (and hours of my time) yet again. I own and use a lot of Mac utilities; DiskWarrior has proved its value to me time after time over the years.

I wouldn't dream of operating my Mac without my DiskWarrior CD close at hand.

Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit

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