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Day 2008.01.09

Voodoo, by definition, does not work

Our production machine is still out of commission, so we’re doing this by hand; please forgive any typos or formatting errors.

More than two months after we were compelled to call out MacFixIt’s despicable fear-mongering, the site has continued to fight back by picking even the most ludicrous and remote justifications for its ridiculous rituals and passing them off as “evidence” that everyone who knows how Mac OS X works is wrong, and only MacFixIt’s “do it this way or suffer the consequences” advice can keep you from certain doom.

As before, the true sentiments seem hidden in the RSS summaries rather than presented on the main page. Such is the case with Tuesday’s entry, “Cannot copy and paste in Leopard: repair permissions.” The RSS summary for this item is just two words:

Voodoo works.

Well, no, it doesn’t. Here’s the text in question:

If repairing permissions with Disk Utility (located in /Applications/Utilities) is a useless ritual, don’t tell the group of users who have been able to reverse an inability to cut/copy and paste under Mac OS X 10.5.x (Leopard) via the process.

For some users, installation of the software for Logitech’s Harmony universal remote has broken the ability to cut/copy and paste under Leopard. Repairing permissions resoles [sic] the issue.

Guess what? Repairing permissions is a “useless ritual” when it’s a ritual. We have pointed out repeatedly in MDJ and MWJ that repairing permissions is a completely valid troubleshooting technique. These people had trouble, they wanted to fix it, and they tried an easy troubleshooting step that resolved the problem. Hooray! The system works!

What’s “useless” is to repair permissions as if it were some form of necessary system maintenance. It’s not, or Apple would have set up the daily, weekly, or monthly automatic launchd tasks to do it for you. In fact, Panther and Tiger both had to add extra code to undo the damage caused by people repairing permissions frequently for no reason at all. Nothing in the Mac OS X rules required that installer receipts have the correct and final permissions for all files installed—a post-installation script could have, and sometimes did, set permissions depending on the configuration of your system. But if you “repair permissions” every day (or hourly) “just to be safe,” you undo that work and leave permissions incorrect. Apple had to add mechanisms in the Installer and Disk Utility to work around this unanticipated problem.

No one, except maybe Artie MacStrawman, argued that you should never repair disk permissions. If you’re having trouble, especially if you suspect it’s permissions related, you should by all means repair permissions and see if that fixes the problem. You just shouldn’t imagine that performing this task at other times is doing you any good, because it’s not.

You do not need to repair permissions regularly.

You do not need to avoid repairing permissions if you’re troubleshooting.

What a happy day it will be for us, and for all the Mac users in the land, when whoever is writing MacFixIt these days stops trying to mend a bruised ego by repeatedly misconstruing the words of critics. Since being called out for fear-mongering, the site seems obsessed with proving the criticisms wrong, no matter how many facts it has to twist in the process.

Another egregious example: when the site discovered that using Mac OS X 10.4’s “repair permissions” functionality causes problems on Mac OS X 10.5 startup disks (because the installer receipts are stored in a different way on Leopard than on Tiger), MacFixIt twisted the story to imply that Alsoft, makers of DiskWarrior, had somehow hidden this from customers.

The clearer version of the article? “Repairing permissions when started from Mac OS X 10.4 causes problems on Mac OS X 10.5 startup disks, even if you boot 10.4 from something like the DiskWarrior CD, and even though that’s exactly what Alsoft just said, we’re going to pretend otherwise so we can pretend that our October fear-mongering about DiskWarrior 4, whose main ‘rebuild directory’ functions does absolutely no damage to Leopard disks, is somehow dangerous because we said so and everyone who says otherwise is a poopy-head.”

To the MacFixIt writers:

You were wrong, and you libeled a long-time and dedicated Mac developer in the process. Now, rather than admitting it, apologizing, and moving on, you’re bound and determined to flush your entire site down the crapper by pretending that your obvious mistakes were somehow correct. Stop it. Apologize and move on. You can do important work if you’ll get your bruised egos out of the way and focus on troubleshooting, and supporting every word you write with solid factual evidence. Not “a reader saw it so we think it works this way,” not “it worked for us so it probably works for everyone,” but facts.

If you don’t understand what’s going on with a particular issue, say so. Say what you know and what you don’t know clearly and precisely. Stop guessing. Last month, you said that when people see a QuickTime logo with a question mark in it instead of a Flash movie in a Web browser window:

In most cases the issue has to do with a conflict between QuickTime Player attempting to playback Flash content, and Adobe’s own Flash plug-in attempting to playback the same content.

This is not true. This was never true. More than one browser plug-in can register for the same MIME type, but the browser only calls on one of them to play it. It makes absolutely no sense for a browser to call upon multiple plug-ins to draw the same content, and that’s why no browser has ever done that. The problem is that QuickTime is attempting to play Flash content and it’s not very good at it. The “note” on your “Fix #1”:

(Note: Before going through the process below, try simply deleting the file ~/Library/com.apple.quicktime.plugin.preferences.plist then restarting your browser).

…would be the simplest correct solution if you had gotten the pathname right. It’s ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.quicktime.plugin.preferences.plist. You have this habit of leaving Preferences/ out of that path in lots of articles.

The point is, you said something that could not possibly be true. You didn’t know the true cause of the conflict so you guessed at it. Stop doing that. Stop trying to rehabilitate your mistakes. Stop writing for your egos. If you get something wrong, fix it and move on. Write what you’re sure of, and let people know what you don’t know.

You don’t have to try to scare people into following your superstitions. Make MacFixIt a must-read again: don’t write a single word you can’t support with documentation. When you don’t know, say “we don’t know.” Be honest and the world will be patient. You do lots of good work, and coordinate lots of information, and yet none of that’s going to matter. Keep making stuff up to salve your egos and your days are numbered, and we’re not talking triple-digit numbers. Focus on the facts and the good work and you’ll have a devoted audience for as long as you want them, without even trying.

We’re just sayin’. You’re MacFixIt, for cryin’ out loud. Fix it.