Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
October 20th, 2007


Kernel panic

The other day, as I was finishing up my homework, a curtain crept down my Mac’s display, silently obscuring my problem set behind a veil that, like all things Mac, was gray and slightly translucent. After more than 14 months of daily abuse – and the occasional reboot – the computer finally succumbed to a kernel panic, akin to a Blue Screen of Death in the blissful Windows world. (This, compared to the two days it took for my computer’s Windows partition to BSOD.)

Despite the obvious inconvenience of getting a kernel panic, there’s a lot I like about Mac OS X’s critical error handling, at least compared to Windows. The system takes pains to merely dim the work you had open, rather than wash it out in blue. Powerless to lift the veil, I was at least able to quickly jot down my work before rebooting.

Unlike critical errors on other systems, the Mac kernel panic doesn’t dump a load of hexadecimal gibberish onto the screen. (In fact, the only thing incomprehensible are the error message’s translations into French, German, and Japanese.) The requisite memory dump is only revealed in a “report this error” dialog box that appears once you restart successfully. Though memory addresses in hexadecimal may be of some use to figuring out what’s wrong with the computer, frankly I prefer salvaging a tiny bit of the problem set – due in a matter of minutes – to debugging my computer.

Not surprisingly, the cause of the crash was the OpenAFS component of Stanford Desktop Tools. It hangs Finder on a regular basis, but I still haven’t learned my lesson and switched to SFTP, mainly because AFS fits into the Macintosh Experience™ so well. At least on the few occasions that it works.

To head off the ensuing Windows vs. Mac debate, lemme just say I fondly remember many a “bomb” error message while working with the Classic Macintoshes in third grade. Classic Macs could screw up like nobody’s business.


  1. "The system takes pains to merely dim the work you had open, rather than wash it out in blue. "
    Sounds more like an aesthetic appeal...

    "The Mac kernel panic doesn’t dump a load of hexadecimal gibberish onto the screen."
    That sort of information is extremely useful for troubleshooting. Quite frankly, its important that its displayed on all OS level errors. Why cant you just read the error report? Half the major errors you get wont be able to display the error report. Most OS related issues that display any BSOD start when your computer starts up. Thats before the desktop loads, or the Finder/Explorer programs load. And a memory address, quick description, and any additional information will be what you have to work off.
    (For the most part, the memory address doesnt help anyone...)

    1. Well, sure, it’s an aesthetic appeal, but a usefulness one at that: I was able to salvage my homework, which was quite literally due in minutes. It’s not a foolproof feature, of course, but still better than nothing.

      So far, despite the constant abuse I put my computer through, the only thing that’s given me stability issues has been AFS. It loads only after Finder does. As far as I can tell, no third-party software really loads on my computer before Finder does. So to clarify, the kernel panic in this case wasn’t really an OS issue.