January 23, 2005

iPod: handy startup and rescue disk

Erk - I installed a dodgy piece of software on my Powerbook and it bit me right on the butt - when it recommended I reboot I did just that, and the damn thing just kernel panic'd even before the spinning Grey Wheel of Anticipation. This would have been a royal PITA at the best of times, but it was exacerbated by two factors, one psychological, one logistical.

The psychological nail in the neck was that I had read on some forums before trying this software that it caused kernel panics. My response was one of pure, undiluted hubris ("The fools with their poorly configured machines! It won't happen to me."), which did indeed precede nemesis. The logistical problem was disk space: with only 438MB free on my 60GB disk, how was I supposed to reinstall Mac OS X? The options the installer gave were:

  1. Archive and install: copy the old system files to a new location and install a new instance of Mac OS X alongside. This option was greyed out due to lack of space.
  2. Erase volume and install: no thanks. I'd lose months of digital photos, have to reinstall all the extra apps and so on.

So what to do? The answer sprang into my head at 4am this morning. Macs can boot from external firewire hard drives easily. And I happen to have an external 60GB hard drive: it's small and white and also plays music. My Photo iPod, a technological white elephant in other respects, was to be my saviour. Had I bought a normal 40GB iPod (the largest non-photo iPod) I would not have had enough space to perform this trick, but Mammon was on my side.

I simply plugged the iPod into my laptop, put on Mac OS X from the install disc, rebooted the laptop (holding down 'f' as it started to select a firewire startup disk) and then removed enough crud from the main hard disk to let me reinstall OS X. A very Apple solution. Now I think I'll keep a stripped down OS on the iPod as a rescue disk in case this ever happens again.

Posted by Oxygenik at January 23, 2005 1:52 PM