You ever have one of those days when you’re by yourself and suddenly your computer locks or your phone locks? What do you do? Do you go to the Mac store? Do you call technical support? Or your phone provider? Or is a situation that you can solve yourself? Our president Winn Schwartau was just in this situation! Here’s his first-hand account of what he did:

I’m not used to getting major crashes. Our network collisions were caused by animals gnawing on the crawl space wiring. Good thing Tom the Network Guy likes to get dirty.

But today, my Mac Air suddenly (and I mean SUDDENLY) during normal use crashed. More accurately ‘Froze’. Sometimes an app will cause a memory problem, and a Force Stop will solve it 95+% of the time. Not today. Reboot.

Nope. Safe Boot. Nope. OK, sure, I am supposed to be a computer security expert, but I don’t get into the command-line-universe very often any more, and I need to do a little Googling to get the best advice.

OOOH! That’s what we tell our users, eh? When in doubt… Ask! So, I was asking Google about the recent best advice on my particular issue. I had already gone through the first two myself to no avail, and my research showed that those were correct.

But I also noticed the ‘WARNINGS’ throughout the docs on blogs and on “Did you back up? All data will be erased.” Appropriate warnings, technically on the money but still… what will the casual, generally non-technical user do? Will s/he be scared off from self-diagnostics and potential repair due to the warnings? It got me to thinking as I pursued my repairs.

First of all, I had two machines and a couple of tablets so I could look up and scour at will. Second, my last backup was just before I retired last night. Not that I wanted to go that route, but at least I had a worst-case fallback.

My next foray was into the command-line universe. I am not scared in the least; but I do not have thousands of them in my head… so I refer to tech manuals to see what to do, and then my paranoia sometimes says to sanity-check myself before entering anything and hitting <Return>.

I went through the first three steps tree times. (Yes, I wanted to avoid a restore, if possible at this point.) Putting on a casual user hat, I realized… this could be very intimidating for non-technically inclined.

I spent about 1.5 hours checking and double-checking. I was asking Google lots of questions, and the Apple blogs and forums were chocked-full of info and clearly defined steps. But still…for the uninitiated?

Maybe that’s why we always say, “Ask for help…” “Find a friend (or a teen) who is more technical…” and always at work, “Call Security ASAP!”

So, there are now two possibilities. The Mac OS X got corrupted (I know not how) or the SSD died (I know not how either… but that’s the fun with computers!). I can install the OS into a protected partition and save my data. Let’s see what happens.

OS X reinstalled itself. (Yay, me!) All is well with my world.

Again, I ask, and I do NOT have the answer… how do we distinguish and recommend what non-technical users should do on their own… before calling for help.

Your thoughts?



Winn Schwartau

President & Founder at SAC
Winn Schwartau is one of the world's top recognized experts on security, privacy, infowar, cyber-terrorism, and related topics. Winn is gifted at making highly technical security subjects understandable and entertaining & has authored more than 12 security books.