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Friday, 26 June 2020

Recovering Data For Free From a Mac (HFS+) Partition That Won't Mount in macOS Catalina And Later

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Despite me nearly writing an entire article just now about the folly of storing data anywhere, I'm going to try and keep focused on this one problem that can be solved relatively simply. In fact, I'll keep it super simple for those that know what they're doing:

TL;DR if your Mac hard drive won't mount and Disk Utility can't fix it, grab a PC and boot it into Parted Magic from the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD). Attach the problem drive and try to mount it using the drive icon in the bottom left corner of the desktop. If it does, copy the files onto a different drive. There. Done.

Don't Trust Hard Drives

That's the title of the article I wanted to write but here it's just a heading.

Although there is a massive list of potential failures that a hard drive is prone to, developing an error that results in the data being there but inaccessible is one of the least fatal, but most frustrating, problems. This article deals specifically with problems on Mac OS X, but also applies to other operating systems and can be adapted quite easily.

When you attach a storage device to a computer, the operating system takes a look at the file system in use. If it's recognised, the file system will be 'mounted' by the OS and you will be able to interact with the file system. Ideally you would have read & write access to the drive but in some cases you will have read-only access i.e. you can open and copy files, but you can't make any changes to the files. For example, Windows does not recognise Mac drives at all without installing additional (non-free) software. Windows drives, however, can be at least read on Macs. This depends on what file systems are in use. For Windows it's usually NTFS and for Mac it's usually HFS+ because these are their 'native' file systems, but there are many others available just to make things more complicated for you: FAT, FAT32, NTFS, APFS, HFS, HFS+, EXT, VFS, XFS, NFS, exFAT, ReFS, JFS, WBFS are just some of them.

Some drives have multiple 'partitions' on them and each can have a different file system. If you've ever installed a USB loader on a Wii console, you might have a drive with a FAT partition and a WBFS partition. Without extra software, you'll usually only be able to see the FAT partition.

Anyway, if you insert a disk with an unrecognised file system, you'll usually get a message explaining this. Most of the time you will simple be asked if you want to format the disk. Unless you've just installed a new, blank drive, you don't want to do this. You might even think that 'formatting' the drive will mean you can access the drive. No. Be cautious at all times because...

You are only ever one click away from losing your data!

Explaining all of the pitfalls involved requires me to write the whole other article I'm not currently writing. Trust me though, I'm an expert because I've made all the mistakes at some point in the past. Luckily I've also recovered from nearly all of them. Think of fire: it's pretty dangerous and it's very easy to start one. It takes a lot more effort to put one out, unless you have all the necessary safety equipment to hand. Think the same when it comes to data: easy to destroy, much harder to recover.

Mounting (Or Not)

So it's normal for an operating system to not mount a partition that's unsupported, but there are occasions where a filesystem that would normally be recognised becomes unrecognisable. This is usually due to the header data on the drive becoming corrupted in some way. If the metadata (data about the data) cannot be found, this results in an error state. You won't normally get a message telling you this though - all that will happen is that, when you plug the drive in, it doesn't show up.

This happened with me recently. I don't know what specifically caused the problem with this drive, but it was behaving weirdly before anyway. SMART data for the drive also indicated it was failing, so that's nice.

Background is that I have a MacBook Pro with a 256GB SSD as its internal drive (an upgrade I installed after the performance of the original drive tanked - featured in this video on YouTube). This doesn't leave me with much space left for data storage, so I've been using a 1TB external hard drive in a caddy connected via USB. One day it unplugged by accident while it was rendering a video and didn't mount when I plugged it back in. The first thing to do on a Mac when this happens is to open the Disk Utility that comes with Mac OS.

On the left you can see the list of physical drives attached to the computer.

- The Samsung at the top is the SSD, with partitions for the system and data within it. This is labelled as 'internal' so that the user knows what is what. Labelling your various partitions is important in this regard as it saves a bunch of confusion and avoids potentially embarrassing mistakes, too.
- The 'Mass Storage Device' is a hard drive that's connected externally and has a 'Restore' partition in it, which is mounted so I can access it from the Finder.
- The last drive shows a 'Time Machine' partition, but it's greyed out. This means it's not mounted. This is the problem drive.

At this point the first thing to try is to select the problem partition and then click the First Aid button.

More often than not, this process will fix the problem. In this instance it did not. If it doesn't, this usually implies a deeper problem with the drive. If the file system is having issues then you need to get the files off, as getting them fixed usually requires reformatting the drive. The specific errors I got were:

File system check exit code is 8.
File system verify or repair failed. : (-69845)

The first message is a general status thing meaning that the file system could not be checked and is corrupted somehow. The second error is amusing because, if you type it verbatim into Google with the minus sign attached, you're telling it NOT to include 69845, so search without minus signs unless you want to exclude it. You may have read elsewhere that booting into single user mode and running FSCK (Unix 'File System Check' utility) manually can fix it, but macOS Catalina won't let you do that. You could try it on another Mac with an older OS because external volumes in macOS and OS X tend to be HFS+, which has been supported in OS X forever. But let's say that didn't work. If you happen to own one of the (not free) file recovery tools available for Mac OS such as Disk Drill, DiskWarrior, Stellar, Data Rescue or TechTool Pro, then you're in luck. Paying upwards of $80 for such a piece of software, however, is a bit of a risk, especially if it doesn't even work in the end - these apps have a specific 'no refunds' policy for that reason.

The Ultimate Boot CD

Instead there are a number of free tools we can use but for this specific problem we're interested in Parted Magic in particular. This is an operating system in itself. More specifically it's a version of Linux which is designed with data recovery and diagnosis in mind. It's jam-packed with every free and open-source tool out there and it's really, really useful. It doesn't run on a Mac, however, so you're going to need a PC and if you on't own one it's time to call on one of your not-so-cool friends and hopefully you're on good terms with them. Although the latest version of Parted Magic itself costs (not very much) money, the free version included with the Ultimate Boot CD works just as well for most purposes. You're going to need to download it, install it on a USB thumb drive (or CD if you're into pain and time wasting), and boot your computer with it.

There are many other sources of information out there telling you how this is done so I'm not going there. Here's the link to the UBCD website. Come back when you're ready to boot a PC with it.

Parted Magic

I used a PC laptop to run the UBCD. I also removed the internal hard drive from said laptop and replaced it with the drive I'm having problems with because a) it eliminates the risk of me messing up anything on the PC laptop and b) it means the problem drive is hooked up directly to the SATA bus, which is quicker than USB in most cases. You're also going to need a spare hard drive of the same or larger capacity for recovering any data onto. I attached this via a USB caddy but, if you're using a desktop PC, this can also be attached internally.

Some PCs are fussy about UBCD and I've had situations where it just won't boot. All you can really do in this situation is to try another PC. Sorry.

Once you're on the desktop, click on the drive icon which is second from the bottom-left. This will open a window showing physical drives and their mountable file systems. Yes, Linux can mount Mac partitions. Even better, it can mount them with read and write access. In this specific case, /dev/sda3 is the internal drive and this is indicated by the icon on the left. It's the only internal drive on this computer so I know it's the right one.

Make things as simple for yourself as possible when working with multiple drives.

You also want to mount the drive you're recovering to. I had already purchased a nearly identical drive to replace the problem one because I think it's got a mechanical issue, too. I also partitioned it on my Mac laptop before plugging it into the PC.

Now open the File Manager from the desktop and you will see your mounted partitions on the left. Choose 'New Window' from the 'File' menu to give you two side-by-side and then it's a simple case of drag-and-drop.

I couldn't quite believe it was this simple but, if it's a file system error rather than a mechanical or electrical error then this could save you a bunch of time and a bunch of money. For other more complicated problems, there's another article in the works.

I hope this helps.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Every Mobile Phone I Ever Owned (Well, Almost)

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The iconic Motorola RAZR V3, brandished by Dr. Wilson ('All In', Season 2, House M.D.). ©Fox.

I was watching House M.D. earlier. One episode (featuring a female teenage stalker of celebrities) reminded me of one of my all-time favourite phones: the Motorola V3 RAZR.

Mobile phones are much like computers for me in the sense that they conjure up a level of nostalgia unlike almost anything else. But that's me and technology all over: reading articles on Engadget about the latest slabs of technology, spending my hard-earned cash and picking up (or, more recently, having delivered) a shiny box with all sorts of goodies inside - ah, the unboxing experience! Phones have had this down for decades now.

After watching the aforementioned episode, I trawled eBay for at least thirty minutes looking to establish a collection of all my previous phones. I still possess a few but even those that are missing could be acquired for between £10-£20 in acceptable condition. Considering that the first phone I acquired was in 1998, my experiences represent 'a brief history of mobile phones', as I've upgraded almost every single year since then, and pored over every option available on an annual basis. I only ever bought the newest, most exciting shit.

Something that will make this exercise particularly interesting is that I kept a diary from 2005 until about 2010. During that time, I recorded my impressions of each new phone the day I upgraded, so I'll be able to include these insights.

Where It Started

Owning a mobile phone in 1998 was no mean feat. They were very much still considered a business tool rather than a consumer necessity, mostly because the use of one required a credit agreement. This came at a cost of around £40 a month for the most basic call plan, which covered instalments for the phone hardware and line rental, and usually included free weekend and evening calls to local landlines. The need to be a legal adult (18-years-old in the UK) to sign this contract put 'mobiles' out of many people's reach, unless you could talk mummy and daddy into getting one for you.

I had just left school after A-Levels and started working full-time in a local computer store - the Upminster branch of catalogue computer retailer Special Reserve (another story for another time). For the first year or two that I possessed a mobile, only one of my mates had one - the rest of the numbers I had on my SIM were land lines. Yes, this was a time when even those with a mobile had to endure the humbling experience of speaking to a girl's parents when they answered the phone instead. Texting (or SMSing as it was clumsily called by most people at the time) was also something of a novelty: one- or two-line screens on phones and a numerical keypad weren't well-suited for typing messages and, as it was no more convenient or expensive than making a phone call, why would you bother with the faff? How things have changed...

It was the introduction of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) that caused the explosion in mobile phone popularity. Suddenly anyone, anywhere could get a mobile phone. You bought yourself a phone (usually a bad, cheap one), and you bought 'credit' that enabled you to make calls and send messages, usually at a higher rate than contract phones. Mobiles were no longer targeted at just business. The limitless customer base led to increased sales, which led to more investment in the network meaning increased coverage, reliability and quality of service.  This also made more money available for R&D budgets and handsets improved rapidly almost overnight. Just look at the difference between my first and second phones to see what I mean.

Almost as soon as I started the aforementioned job I was straight down the one2one store (formerly Muercury) in Romford. Having chosen my first phone, I was able to choose my mobile number and, amazingly, I've had the same one ever since!

Ericsson PF768

Source: Wikimedia
Year: 1998. I don't even remember what the other phone choices were at the time and, to be honest, I don't think I cared - I was just happy to have a mobile phone! It's also the only phone I've owned that had an antenna.

Advantages: small, lightweight.

Best feature: the 'flip', which covered the keys. It had a spring, making the action looked quite flash at the time.

Worst feature: the 'flip', which eventually broke as it was so flimsy. Without it, the phone had a habit of turning itself off in your pocket.

Fate: it broke. I binned it when I upgraded. I don't think I was even curious enough to bother with dismantling it.

Nokia 3210

Source: Wikimedia
Year: 1999. This phone is an absolute legend. At the time, I simply needed to replace the old phone but didn't know about 'upgrades' at the time. It was a nice surprise to get this as my first 'free' phone. It felt like I'd won the lottery! Obviously I was paying for it through my contract, plus the salesperson did a great job of talking me into purchasing insurance ("it's got a bigger screen - makes it more at risk of breaking..."). That was the last time I fell for that con.

Advantages: bigger screen for texting, and changeable covers! I had a bunch of different covers for mine, ending up with translucent blue. It looked amazing with the case all lit up and was a very cool phone at the time. I think everyone had one.

Best feature: the legendary game; Snake!

Worst feature: it was a bit big.

Fate: was stolen from my jacket pocket in a club. Remains the only phone I've owned to be nicked.

Nokia 8210

Source: author
Year: 2000. Although it was upgrade time I seem to remember this phone costing me something like £200 as it wasn't free with the contract. This is easily the most I've ever paid for a phone, but that's how desirable it was at the time.

Advantages: did everything the 3210 did but was much smaller and incredibly light. It remains the smallest, lightest phone I've ever owned. I think it's also the first phone I used as a modem with a laptop in order to connect to the Internet, thanks to its infrared port. I also used this to sync my contacts with my Psion Revo. GPRS didn't exist yet, however, so it was like dial-up but mobile.

Best feature: aside from its form it would be the changeable covers again, so I never got bored of it. Black looked quite good.

Worst feature: towards the end of its life the screen started to fail which made it pretty useless.

Fate: I've still got it and it works pretty well, surprisingly.

Ericsson T68

Source: coolsmartphone
Year: 2001: I remember that the choice of phones at the time was pretty poor - nothing stood out in terms of looks or features. I think this was the first time I went to get a new phone not knowing which one to get. This one turned out to be a nice surprise.

Advantages: very gadgety. Could do MMS, had a colour screen and bluetooth for contacts sync and GPRS Internet, and could send and receive photos. There was also a camera add-on you could get but it was expensive and hard to find. Plus the quality was appalling. Still, it was a technological first.

Best feature: the WAP browser. London Underground had a WAP page - living in London and being able to look up train times and sports results on the move was a Godsend.

Worst feature: it was a pretty ugly phone, I thought, and when the vibration failed it became annoying.

Fate: I've still got this one too, but the back of it is turning to goo.

Sony Ericsson T610

Source: snupps
Year: 2002. Perhaps the first time I got really excited in anticipation of a phone being released. I hounded the carphonewarehouse salesman for about a week so I could get hold of it the day it came out.

Advantages: did everything the T68 could, plus had a bigger, better screen and built-in camera. In fact I believe it was the first consumer mobile phone to have this feature and at the time it raised many questions over privacy. It was therefore the first phone you could take a pic of yourself doing something and send it to a friend immediately (if their phone was compatible).

Best feature: definitely the camera. I've still got all the photos I took with it (sorry, no nudes). This is the genesis of modern mobile phones.

Worst feature: nothing springs to mind. I could gripe about the passive-matrix display but that wouldn't even make sense to most people.

Fate: I fell asleep on the train one night coming back from London and overshot my station by a few stops. woke up with a jolt, jumped off the train, forgot my phone.

Sony Ericsson T630

Year: 2003. I don't remember getting this phone. Obviously it was out of necessity and must have been near enough to upgrade time because it was released Q4, apparently.

Advantages: it was essentially a (slightly) improved version of the T610, and still seemed to be the best thing going at the time. I continued taking photos and it was pretty much the peak of the consumer phone experience at the time.

Best feature: the improved active matrix LCD.

Worst feature: didn't improve much on its predecessor so it was actually quite boring as upgrades go. I dearly wanted the P900 at the time, but I'd just bought a house, so I was limited to a free upgrade.

Fate: I left this one in a taxi. Oops.

Motorola RAZR V3

Source: spiria
Year: 2004. I have always had two basic tenets when it came to choosing mobile phones: 1) never buy a flip phone, 2) never buy Motorola. The RAZR broke both these rules because another rule I tend to abide by is to get the latest, hottest, generally bestest phone available, and the RAZR V3 was most certainly that.

Advantages: big, pretty screen; second, smaller screen to identify callers; very thin and very stylish; could record video; had a (relatively) high resolution camera. It was also the first phone I was able to load videos and music on from elsewhere (mp3 ringtones).

Best feature: recording video. It was a brand new feature for a phone as far as I remember, but it didn't support it initially. I had to hack the damn thing (another first) to enable it but that was fun in itself.

Worst feature: can't think of one - I liked this phone A LOT.

Fate: I dropped it and the glass protecting the secondary screen cracked. Fortunately this was toward the end of its tenure.

Sony Ericsson W810i

Source: author
Year: 2005. Another phone I got as soon as it was available on the high street. It was definitely the best thing going at the time. The W800 has established the Walkman brand on mobiles and this took it to the next level.

Advantages: memory stick storage, 2 megapixel camera with flash and autofocus, it's a walkman, FM radio, web browser, changeable themes, email - just such an amazing gadget!

Best feature: undoubtedly the camera. Having such a good quality camera in your pocket is great when you've got kids because it's easy to get high quality pics anytime, anywhere. Prior to this I would have to carry a separate camera with me for even basic shots but this thing was so good I really didn't need to. I've taken some of my best photos on this.

Worst feature: really I can't think of one this phone rocked. I was even able to upgrade the software and unlock it so it could be used on other networks.

Fate: I've still got it. dropped it a million times but the build quality is great.

T-Mobile MDA Compact III

Source: GSM Arena
Year: 2006. Also known as the HTC P3300 (codename: Artemis), this was my first 'smartphone'. This is a weird, accidental, 'parallel phone' because I actually used this purely for business (I needed a proper calendar for work that I could sync with Outlook) and continued to use the W810i for personal stuff. I used an upgrade cycle to get it for free and only it was the best one my network provider (T-Mobile) offered. There were better alternatives out there.

Advantages: touchscreen, albeit resistive so nearly impossible to use with finger touch. Lots of apps.

Best feature: actually I don't know. It was a good personal organiser but I actually hated this as a phone.

Worst feature: the full-fat HTC version of this had GPS and WiFi but the T-Mobile version had these disabled for some maddening reason. Also the camera is really quite woeful to the point of being unusable. Plus it's a brick. I cracked the screen once when it was in my pocket, but it was easy and cheap to repair.

Fate: I've still got this and recently hacked it, upgrading it to Windows Mobile 6.5 which is supposed to be better geared towards finger use. Unfortunately the screen has such a low resolution and lacks sensitivity that it doesn't in any way enhance the user experience on this hardware. Worst 'phone' I've ever had.

Blackberry Curve 8320

Source: Amazon
Year: 2007. With the W810i I found myself using the Internet and instant messaging (like Yahoo chat) increasingly, given its improved web browsing capabilities and, with the dawn of genuinely affordable always-on internet tariffs, my focus on this upgrade was specific: mobile internet. The iPhone had literally just become widely available, but wasn't available on my network. So I went into an independent mobile retailer and asked what the best mobile was for Internet. Hilariously the salesman dismissed the iPhone as "a gimmick"! His scorn was palpable. So, despite being something of an Apple fan but never having actually used the iPhone, I tended to agree. He recommended the Blackberry based on my needs (big screen, Wi-Fi, physical QWERTY keyboard) and, as a result, I changed networks from T-Mobile (formerly one2one) to Orange to achieve this.

Advantages: built-in camera (of passable quality) with flash; expandable memory via MMC; Wi-Fi; 'proper' Internet browser; SMS, email and MMS delivered to the same inbox; instant messaging; customisable themes; app store; Apple iTunes synchronisation; updatable operating system.

Best feature: push email was the big innovation that owning a Blackberry brought i.e. email that arrives immediately rather than only when a send & receive happens. Oh, and Wi-Fi Internet access on the move - fantastic.

Worst feature: the web browser. While the browsing experience was much better than on the W810i, it still couldn't render any site as was intended - it was very much 'mobile internet' rather than 'desktop internet'. Disappointing. It also came with an 18 month contract so I got really bored of it towards the end.

Fate: its plasticky build quality resulted in it eventually disintegrating. Good riddance. 2nd worst phone.

Nokia N900

Source: author
Year: 2009. This phone (and I use the term loosely) piqued my interest during September when I still had 3 months to run on my contract. I saw it on Engadget in a video that demonstrated the phone's ability to run a Super Nintendo emulator, hook it up to a television to see the action, and use a Wiimote as the controller. Genius. Absolute genius. If there's one thing I like about gadgets it's the ability to make them do stuff they're not supposed to. The N900 is basically a computer in your hand so anything a computer can do, this can. plus a lot more. It's so hacky it can run Android, OSX and whatever else the lunatics that own these things have managed to get working.

Advantages: high resolution screen, physical keyboard, Wi-Fi and 3G for data, infrared, FM receiver and transmitter (listen to your music collection in the car), 32GB internal storage (expandable via MMC), Linux-based operating system (Maemo 5 / MeeGo), many applications, can play music and videos of all formats (I watched Lost on it in glorious 720p while I had my hand stitched up in hospital), GPS, 5 megapixel camera with autofocus and flash, front-facing camera for video calls, touchscreen, instant messaging (Yahoo, MSN, Skype, Google Talk, ICQ, etc.), email. Oh and it's a phone.
Best feature: the web browsing experience. This device finally fulfils the promise I was seeking when I bought the Blackberry. It comes with a proper desktop Web browser. It could watch YouTube videos, listen to radio stations (FM and Internet), watch TV via iPlayer and such, access my bank account, play Flash games, everything. best of all though is that because it's 'open source' anyone can write programs for it and it came with the pledge of being improved on a regular basis via software updates.

Worst feature: it doesn't do MMS, oddly, which is absurd for a phone and, okay, it's a bit of a brick but when you consider it's an mp3 player, games console, radio, laptop, phone and camera all rolled into one it was a price worth paying imho.

Fate: I used this phone passionately for 2 years until I was bought a Samsung Galaxy SII, my first Android phone (I'm actually in the process of writing a dedicated article about the N900 because of its historical significance to Nokia's downfall).

2011 Onwards

That's it. That's the history of my phones. Of course I continued with the upgrades after the N900 but it's all very boring after this point. Once you've gone Android or iOS you're simply upgrading to the best available phone at the upgrade point. Sure you get a shiner screen, more storage, a faster CPU, the newest version of Android and a better camera but it's all quite uneventful. Unboxing is still great in its own way, but phones are boring now and very little research needs to be done. They can all do the same things with very little variation. The N900 maintains its crown as the best phone I ever owned.

Currently I'm rocking a Huawei Mate 20 Pro, which has the most incredible camera I've ever used. The super macro mode is fantastic and I make all my YouTube videos with it. I'm never without it and it's the digital umbilicus that keeps me connected to social media. If you wanna get in touch you'll find me on Twitter @brassicGamer. Thanks for reading.