June 16, 2012

At the Invalid Argument Café...

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... we're having a colorful conversation.

62 comments:

Unknown said...

In computer science, parameter and argument are synonyms. So it's redundant to talk about the parameters of the argument.

Ann Althouse said...

Is there anyway to get past that invalid argument?

It's an old computer, but it's got my stuff on it, so I can't just toss it out.

I'm 4 desktop computers past that one, but I can't dispose of it!

CWJ said...

Not the Monty Python routine again.

EDH said...

Another kind of invalid (n.) argument.

Paco Wové said...

What are you trying to do, exactly? You're typing the names of system files, but you aren't telling the shell what you want to do with/to those files.

Ann Althouse said...

@Paco This is what happens when I turn on this computer.

I haven't tried to do anything on it for years.

I'd just like to get to the point of being able to wipe it clean so I can get rid of it.

Ann Althouse said...

That is, I turn it on and it doesn't act anything like a Macintosh.

Patrick said...

I'm "cleaning" old computers today also. One, I bought in 1991. It's a Mac Classic. Still black and white. The other is a Dell from about 10 years ago. I'm probably just going to remove the hard drive, I've got everything copied onto an external hard drive.

The Mac has this game called Crystal Quest that I really used to like to play. All black and white (to fit with the Althouse painting theme), but pretty cool, if relatively simple graphics. Pretty much the only video game I've ever spent time on. Kept my Mac for years in anticipation of playing it again, but no time for that.

Ann Althouse said...

I have so many old computers that I need to clean out.

I've been putting off this work for... 20+ years... going all the way back to the first computer with a hard drive that I got. I Mac Classic.

The 40 MB hard drive was enough to save everything I would ever need to save.

Now, the task is just overwhelming. I really don't know how to do it right.... and the old computers don't necessarily work.

Ann Althouse said...

Not "I Mac Classic."

"A Mac Classic."

Like Patrick's, it's from 1991.

The year I turned 40!

Paco Wové said...

Ouch. To be honest, my exposure to Macs is limited, and primarily command-line oriented. I don't know why the graphical interface isn't starting up, but it looks like possibly the system is trying to find those two files and they aren't there, which would be very bad, I think.

If you type
ls -l /etc
do you get a list of files back?

Paco Wové said...

That said, it sounds like you may need to hire in some professional help on this one.

Unknown said...

http://hintsforums.macworld.com/showthread.php?t=74760

cubanbob said...

If its important enough then you are going to have to hire a Mac geek to get it to work. From the screenshot it looks like some sort of terminal Unix root admin thing.

Sorun said...

Google that first line: "etc/master.passwd invalid argument"

It returns a lot of results. Sift through enough of them and there might be something use can use.

Kylos said...

Looks like a lamp-arm iMac. I think it should have a FireWire port. You should be able to boot up in FireWire disk mode by holding down the 'T' key when booting allowing you to access the files from another Mac connected with a FireWire cable (the Air probably won't work for this).

If you don't have any use for the iMac, I'd love to buy it off you. I've been looking to pick up a lamp-arm iMac.

Robert G. said...

Put your OS installation disc in the drive and try booting from the CD drive (I think you hold the C key on a Mac while turning it on). If you can do that, you may be able to get to your hard drive and delete/transfer files. If you just want to wipe the hard drive, there's a program called Darik's Boot and Nuke that can be run from a bootable CD or USB drive which will do a military grade hard drive wipe. If you can't get it to boot to a CD, you'll probably have to pull the hard drive out and attach it to another computer to work with it.

Kylos said...

To add a bit more info, it looks like a script used in the boot process is corrupted, but the rest of the data may be fine. If you're only interested in the data FireWire disk mode will let you copy it to another drive and the erase the drive. If you have the OS CDs laying around you could even try reinstalling the OS. Otherwise you'll need to find a computer repair technician to help.

Ann Althouse said...

"If you type
ls -l /etc
do you get a list of files back?"

No, I get: "no such file or directory"

ndspinelli said...

Calling all geeks!!

Ann Althouse said...

"Looks like a lamp-arm iMac. I think it should have a FireWire port. You should be able to boot up in FireWire disk mode by holding down the 'T' key when booting allowing you to access the files from another Mac connected with a FireWire cable (the Air probably won't work for this). If you don't have any use for the iMac, I'd love to buy it off you. I've been looking to pick up a lamp-arm iMac."

It's not my personal property. It was bought through work for my job.

I really only want to get my info off it. I'm not looking for a way to get it to work.

I did like this computer a lot for a long time. I thought the design was really nice.

ndspinelli said...

Would someone from India please logon and help the poor woman.

Ann Althouse said...

@Robert G and Kylos

I'll see if I can follow this information.

I've got to find an installation disc that might go with this (and/or a firewire cable).

traditionalguy said...

Try a sledge hammer. They say that's the only way to wipe out a hard drive for sure.

OK, That's not an argument, but it is the use of force, which is a man's thing.

Ann Althouse said...

I don't know how to open the drawer to put the CD in. That's kind of a problem!

jess1wichita said...

@Althouse

If you need to retrieve the info on it, try the advice above. But if you just need to make sure nobody else can retrieve it, you can just remove the hard drive, discard the rest, and destroy the drive. A strong magnetic field will degauss it, OR, you can just beat on it with a sledgehammer until it's more or less flat. :)

traditionalguy said...

You could try selling hammer blows to the frustrated geeks over at the Computer Sciences building. If they get emotional (Man's only known emotion called anger) then they may pay you enough to buy a new one.

Kylos said...

Hold down the mouse button while starting up to open the cd tray.

Kylos said...

This apple support article may be related to your issue. It's a little technical, but if you were able to follow paco's instructions you may be able to try it on your own.

Mark said...

If all you want to do is make sure no one has access to your old data, there's always the remove-the-hard-drive-and-smash-it-with-a-sledgehammer-until-it's-in-tiny-little-pieces trick.

Sure, the NSA might be able to salvage some of the data after that, but frankly I don't think your average dumpster diver would bother trying.

Mark said...

I see sledgehammer is winning the thread.

pm317 said...

If it is univ. property, don't you have IT help from the guys there?

edutcher said...

Kylos is right. If all you need is to access the info, you can remove the hard drive, assuming such is possible on a Mac (never having worked with one).

I also agree with Kylos about a script. The message looks as if someone booted from a floppy which had a user ID and password on it.

Is it possible to get into the BIOS and bypass the usual start up? That way, you might be able to delete the script.

But, yeah, this sounds like it's going to the shop.

Having troubleshot The Blonde's tech problems, I feel your pain.

Ann Althouse said...

If you type
ls -l /etc
do you get a list of files back?


No, I get: "no such file or directory"


Sounds like an OS problem. Do Macs use the Unix command set?

Mark said...

It's not my personal property. It was bought through work for my job.

You'd have to talk to your IT department, but I strongly doubt anyone cares much about an ancient mac, except possibly for aesthetic/historical value. Nuke the hard drive, and if you feel guilty about destroying the property, purchase the cheapest hard drive you can to put back into the machine. (Whatever you put in will be about 1000% better than what you took out.)

Rabel said...

In an earlier post about hitting 50 million visitors (congratulations), sitemeter showed that 25% of Althouse visitors were running Mac software. Today it's 39%, probably due to this post.

As a dedicated PC Gatesboi, I have to attribute those oddly high percentages to the blog's frequent emphasis on transgender sexuality.

Not that there's anything ...

Jose_K said...

"woman" athlete charged with rape http://www.indianexpress.com/news/athlete-pinky-pramanik-arrested-on-rape-charges/961938/

YoungHegelian said...

Prof Althouse,

Type in the command pwd at the command prompt and press the enter key.

What comes back?

The try the command

cd /

and see if that works.

wyo sis said...

This reminds me of the old Perry Mason objection. "Incopetent, irrelevant and immaterial."

Paco Wové said...

"it looks like a script used in the boot process is corrupted, but the rest of the data may be fine."

Given that /etc does not appear to exist, I would suspect the integrity of the disk and/or filesystem rather than specific boot scripts. Just the fact that the machine looks like it booted into single-user mode makes me think there's a big filesystem problem.

That link that Kylos posted (and the links contained therein) are probably your best bet.

Kylos said...

With /etc missing, Paco may be right that there is something significantly wrong with the file system, but it did get as far as the prompt so that gives some hope that the data is recoverable.

Successful data recovery is most likely if the support doc does fix your computer.

YoungHegelian said...

@Kylos,

The file systems might be still uncorrupted, but simply just not yet mounted.

It doesn't look good, though, does it?

cubanbob said...

Ann as long as the machine is not physically damaged it is possible to fix it so you can delete the files or copy them. There is an application called Disk Warrior that you load into the CD drive it has Mac OS on it. Once it runs, and it can take a very long time to run, sometimes over 24 hours, it will bring the Mac back to life.

The lampshade Mac is probably an original OS X machine built using the Power PC chipset. You will need a version of Disk Warrior that is compatible with a Power PC chip Mac and OSX. Maybe some local Apple Fix it shop has a copy or perhaps you can buy the application online.
I have clustered a few macs in my time and Disk Warrior brought them back to life.

You can always contact their support to see if by chance the current version is sufficiently backwards compatible to revive that machine in which case you will have the tool for you current machines and be able to solve the issue with the old Mac.

paminwi said...

Call Chris at Geek World here in Madison. He's a whiz at this sort of thing and he comes to you rather than you taking stuff to him. Just a thought if you don't get if figured out by the end of the weekend.

Ann Althouse said...

Okay, I found a fire wire cord in the house, and I have connected it to an old power book, so I can see all my files.

Thanks!

Nobody talked about the exterior paint job test!

Rabel said...

"Okay, I found a fire wire cord in the house, and I have connected it to an old power book, so I can see all my files."

Althouse, you do OK for a girl.

And that's a very nice photo of you in the yellow scarf on flickr.

Ann Althouse said...

"And that's a very nice photo of you in the yellow scarf on flickr."

Thanks.

That was way back in January, down in Austin.

Something I dug out of my laptop over the weekend when I was traveling (and therefore back on the laptop).

Ann Althouse said...

Now, I've progressed to the point where I've got all the old documents visible on the old powerbook I'm using to see into the broken "desk lamp" computer, and I've added a big external drive to the laptop and am copying all my old files onto that.

This is great!

Kylos said...

Glad to help! Be sure to do a full wipe when deleting the files. I don't recall the easiest way to do this with whatever version of Mac OS X on the PowerBook, but you may be able to to use the "Secure Empty Trash" option in the Finder menu once you've deleted the contents on the iMacs drive. This will overwrite your data rather than simply "forgetting" where it is, which is what happens when you use the standard empty trash feature. This will will take a while though.

Dust Bunny Queen said...


Nobody talked about the exterior paint job test!


OK I think it is too stark and cold. The black may work but the white seems to be too icy. You may not like it in a large piece. Perhaps just a bit warmer tone to the white.

Paint several tones of white and black (if that is what you are going to do)on a board and put it up against the house in several locations to see what it looks like in different lighting situations and different times of the day. We did this when deciding what colors to paint our house, trim and doors. It was surprising how different the colors looked in those situations and the color we thought would work for the doors looked really bad.

You should have a third color as well to relieve the monochromatic selection.

rhhardin said...

I don't wipe old drives, when they're failing or old and too small; just take them out and put them in a drawer.

Put a label on them. You might want to try to copy something someday.

If it's not your machine and you want to return it, tag it "missing the HD." The bare HD isn't worth enough to worry about.

Sweetbriar said...

How is it you speak of my little old "lamp arm" iMac like it's ancient history? I just took it off my desk this week! Of course, I've never done a command line anything, so y'all may be a bit more uptown than me. This new 27" iMac rocks, tho, all purty like.

Anne, watch your undertones on the greys. As someone mentioned, one of them looks green or teal. Paint a whole wall with it and it will be teal, no matter the grey nomenclature. Also, the paint a board sampling method will let you take it on every side of the house to see how it holds up in the lights of day. Poster board works fine for that, do two coats so you don't have any white contaminating the sample.

Ann Althouse said...

"I don't wipe old drives, when they're failing or old and too small; just take them out and put them in a drawer. Put a label on them. You might want to try to copy something someday. If it's not your machine and you want to return it, tag it "missing the HD." The bare HD isn't worth enough to worry about."

I've never opened up the computer. But that would be the easiest approach, especially if the computer is broken and I can't get it to erase.

There really is no need to sledgehammer them, is there? It's not like there's evidence of a crime on them. It's more like a big stack of papers that contains some person letters, and I've forgotten what is in the letters.

rhhardin said...

Somewhere online there's a tech manual for the thing that covers replacing the HD. Just don't put a new HD in.

Use high quality philips screwdrivers (not old ones!) that fit any screws exactly (start big and work down in size until it fits), press enough so that the screwdriver won't auger out of the screw head.

Some makers put glue on the threads that you have to overcome without damaging the tiny screw head in doing so.

A screw extractor in the end can recover from screwups, probably a philips #0 one. You just want to avoid that additional hassle.

Did you know that philips screws were designed to auger out? It was so that Chevrolet windshield mouldings could be automatically screwed in and the machine would auger out at the right torque. That was in the WSJ somewhere long ago, explaining why the damn things are so hard to avoid damaging. It didn't explain why the heads weren't damaged.

Paddy O said...

"There really is no need to sledgehammer them, is there? It's not like there's evidence of a crime on them. It's more like a big stack of papers that contains some person letters, and I've forgotten what is in the letters."

For the sake of history, don't trash the drive!

It has long struck me how we're really living in a new form of the Dark Ages, which weren't really dark just lacking in written evidence about the goings on. All our correspondence is on email or on computer stored files. Which is great for our convenience but which, sadly, impoverishes future generations. Not just for history making folks, but for families. No more will we have love letters stored and shared. No more documented interactions that seem mundane to us now but utterly fascinating to those who come much later.

So much of our present existence is going to be lost, leaving only a very sterile record of our eras.

It's sad, and there's really nothing anybody is going to do about it. We might as well be illiterate as far as future history is concerned.

Mr. Forward said...

Marcus Aurelius, tech guy:

* If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this that disturbs thee, but thy own judgment about it. And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgment now.

* A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, “And why were such things made in the world?”

* Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good.

Paco Wové said...

Do Macs use the Unix command set?

More or less (Wikipedia alert!):

"Certain parts from FreeBSD's and NetBSD's implementation of Unix were incorporated in NeXTSTEP, the core of Mac OS X."

JAL said...

When you get done going through your old 9 computers can you come to my house please?

I have a boneyard in my basement.

David said...

Althouse finally goes damsel, and it's not a pretty sight.

Petunia said...

Could you take them to the DoIT center over by Union South? As faculty you might be entitled to have them worked on free, if you aren't sure you've wiped all the memories.

A group of Wisconsin Pearl Harbor vets is currently in Hawaii on a special Honor Flight. Sadly one of them, Mark Schaitel, 89, passed away from a heart attack on the flight out. RIP. Very sad.

Biff said...

The professor wrote: "I've never opened up the computer. But [physically removing the hard drive] would be the easiest approach, especially if the computer is broken and I can't get it to erase."

That would work, but, if you haven't done it before, it can be very tricky to crack open certain Macs to access the physical drives. If you really want to try it, there are some nice "how to" guides for most models (with photos) at ifixit.com.

However, since you already can get at the files using the Firewire cable trick, you almost certainly have easier options. When a computer is in "Firewire Target Mode," it becomes nothing more than a fancy hard disk. As you saw when you were able to copy files from a computer in Firewire Target Mode to another computer, you can work with the Firewire Mode computer's files as if they were just sitting on an old floppy disk. In other words, you can delete those files, or you can erase the whole Firewire Mode disk from the other computer.

If you like, just drag the files from the old drive (the one that is in Firewire Mode) into the Trash on your newer computer (the one that is not in Firewire Mode) and choose "Secure Empty Trash" from the File menu. Alternatively, you can completely erase the old, Firewire Mode hard drive using the "Disk Utility" program. It's in your newer computer's "Utilities" folder, which is in the "Applications" folder, which is at the top level of your hard disk. Open it up, click on the disk you want to erase, and then click on the "Erase" tab to see your options. Use one of the "secure" options if you are worried about people potentially using forensic techniques to get at your files. The "one pass" method should be fine. The "seven pass" method is okay, but it takes a while. The "thirty something" pass is overkill and takes forever.

By the way, did you try to open the CD tray on the old mac by hitting the eject button on the keyboard? If that doesn't work, you can try either holding down the mouse button while restarting or following the instructions at http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?path=Mac/10.4/en/mh1750.html

Biff said...

While we're on the subject of erasing files, here is something that most people don't know (but is very important to know):

On most computers, whether Mac or PC, deleting a file or erasing a disk doesn't actually do either thing. Unless "secure" options are selected, the default behavior on most computers is simply to remove the record of a file from the computer disk's directory, while leaving the actual file on the disk. Back in the old days of floppy disks and slow hard drives, it was much, much faster to edit a directory entry than it was to shred every last bit of a file, so that's why we did things this way.

In practice, this wasn't such a big deal, since removing the record of the old file from the directory would make the computer treat the old file's space as being free, so sooner or later, the computer would overwrite the old file's bits with a new file. Unfortunately, if that old file was never overwritten, someone with very modest forensic skills and the correct software tools could come along and find the old file by reading through every single address on the disk, even if the directory said the address was empty.

The "Secure Empty Trash" and "Secure Erase" options go ahead and overwrite the old files with a bunch of zeros or semi-random bits, destroying the old files in the process. People who are very security conscious will choose options that overwrite disks multiple times, but, generally speaking, once is usually good enough.

Brent said...

Absolutely fascinating thread

Informative and practical on two different subjects. Wife and I are exterior paint color shopping today.
Thanks for the board recommendation.

Happy Fathers Day!