Snow Leopard Nightmare: 3rd times the Charm!

There’s been a growing number of users claiming have issues installing Apple’s new Snow Leopard operating system that was released yesterday, and as I was one of those users, I thought I’d share my experience. I purchased the Family pack of Snow Leopard to install on 3 Mac’s in my home, all Intel-based, relatively new computers. Snow Leopard installed fine on two of the computers, but the third computer, an early 2009 Unibody MacBook, took all day. This is the story of that MacBook installation.

Attempt #1: The never-ending boot screen

First, I installed Snow Leopard over the existing 10.5 system and everything seemed to go fine. The MacBook finished the installation and afterward restarted. At which point the following screen “loading” appeared on reboot and stayed for over an hour:

I waited and I waited. Finally, I decided to shutdown and restart the computer only to see this screen again. I waited and I waited again, another hour passed, no change. At this point I decided to call Apple. I paid for AppleCare, after all.

The Apple Store was booked up for appointments for 4 days. The phone support was actually decent and they told me try a number of things such as resetting the PRAM (hold down command-option-p-r on bootup), pulling out the battery, etc. They also instructed me to boot from the install DVD and run Disk Utility to check for errors. Unfortunately, no errors on the hard drive came up. Even attempting to start in safe mode (hold shift on bootup) left me with the screen above. At this point the only logical choice that the AppleCare representative and I could think of was to boot off the install DVD and reinstall. So they wished me luck and we said our goodbyes.

Attempt #2: I don’t need no stinking input device

Since booting off the install DVD was possible, I ran the install again. Fast forward another hour, and the computer asked to be restarted at the end of installation. Holding my breadth, I pressed the restart the key. Patiently I waited as the previous “loading” appeared, but with some luck, it disappeared and the screen turned blue. Snow Leopard was finally starting! A prompt came up showing my username and asking for my password – it had saved my account settings! (my username, anyway) Then, as I moved my mouse toward the blinking cursor I noticed something odd. My mouse wouldn’t move. In fact, my keyboard was not responding either. Both the built-in MacBook keyboard and mouse were completely non-responsive.

Despite being tempted to throw the computer out a window, I went through the usual recovery ideas: plug in a USB mouse/keyboard, restart in safe mode, reset the PRAM, etc. None of them worked. The external USB devices were as inactive as the built-in ones. Safe mode had the same problem as regular mode, with no response from the built-in devices. Resetting the PRAM, even pulling the battery… no change.

At that point, I called AppleCare again. They were pleased that the ‘previous solution’ had ‘resolved’ the issue and requested I close the AppleCare incident and open a new one. Not really interested in their paperwork and increasing their ‘success’ statistics, I obliged. Since I was able to boot from the install DVD with an active keyboard and mouse, they determined it was not a hardware problem and it must be software.

The only solution they offered me, though, was to format the hard drive completely and reinstall a third time. I suggested doing one more installation on top of the existing system in order to preserve all of my settings, to which the representative responded, and I’ll never forget this, “Reformatting the drive is your best bet. Reinstalling a third time on the existing system is not likely to fix the issue, although I didn’t expect reinstalling a second time to do too much”.

Attempt #3: Success

Against the opinion of the AppleCare representative, I decided to do one more install off the DVD without formatting the hard drive. Before I’m ready to wipe a disc, I like to know I’ve accomplished all possible courses of action. And the result? All issues resolved. For whatever reason, Snow Leopard required 3 installations to work on this MacBook.

Aftermath: Ring! Ring! Doesn’t Apple know it’s 10pm?

While all this was going on, I detailed my experience as it happened on Apple’s Discussion Forum, hoping someone might have a good suggestion. As I saw in the responses, others experienced the infinite boot screen as well as the keyboard/mouse failures. Fast forward to 10pm later that night, when Apple representatives called me personally. Not so much to see how I was doing, but saying they had seen my posts on the forums and were eager to access my log and system files. While they had contacted a number of people with these types of issues, I was one of the few (perhaps only) one they could find who hadn’t yet formatted their harddrive. In other words, the logs were still fresh.

I offered up my install logs, somewhat truncated to the last install, in the hopes of isolating and resolving these issues for the community. But before I got off the phone with the representative, I did get one last laugh. I indicated that, had the third install failed, I planned to wipe the hard drive and reinstall. The reason being, “Well, if three install attempts failed, it’s never going to work”. He responded “I see no reason you could not keep reinstalling indefinitely!”. Apparently, Apple representatives have a lot more time on their hands than me.

UPDATE: It appears I am far from alone in having issues: Information Week: Snow Leopard Causes ‘Spinning Wheel Of Death’

SCJP Java Programmer Plus Certification delayed

What happened to the SCJP Java Programmer Plus Certification?
It got delayed.  As Campbell noted late this year is likely overly optimistic.

Announcement e-mail follows:

Sun Java Programmer Plus Certification Beta

Dear Jeanne,

Thank you for your interest in the Sun Java Programmer Plus Certification – Sun’s first performance based Java Certification exam.

We wanted to inform you that the full beta for the new Sun Java Programmer Plus Certification has been delayed to later in this year based on the results from initial beta testing and to align more closely with the upcoming release of JDK 7. We will get back in touch with you as soon as we have revised dates for the full beta test.

If you have any questions or feedback, please send a message to

Thank you,
Sun Microsystems

Which Database to Start With?

When people ask me how to learn to use a database or how to write SQL queries, I tell them to pick a database system and immerse themselves in it. In fact that advice goes for a lot of software technologies: just immerse yourself in a language, as programming tutorials are easy to come by these days. On the other hand, when people ask me which database software to use, I tend to give pause. Most of the time, I recommend MySQL for beginners since it tends to be the most light-weight system to install and use, but I know it’s not often the easiest to understand. With the advent of new light-weight database editions of often heavier products, perhaps it’s time I reconsider the issue.

1. MySQL: Free, lightweight, and readily available

MySQL stands out as the easiest for users to start with, in part because most people can get access to a MySQL database without having to setup anything. Most, if not all, hosting companies that offer database support do so in the form of a MySQL database. The only disadvantage with hosting solutions is that users lose the ability to run local applications on the database, often relying on phpMyAdmin for all database changes. I recommend anyone serious about learning MySQL download and install it themselves, as there are plenty of installation platforms supported.

The good: Free. Easy to download and/or find an existing database to work with. Somewhat easy to install. Lots of free tools available. Good documentation.
The bad: If the installation or auto-configuration breaks, user is left spending hours diagnosing the problems. The MySQL GUI tools, while nice, have to be downloaded separately from the server. Limited support. Clustering and support of large transaction systems is not uncommon. Also, it can be buggy and unpredictable at times, as I’ve seen in practice.

2. Oracle: Heavy and Powerful

Oracle is one of the oldest database systems and stands out as a powerhouse among databases given its vast support for advanced clustering, memory management, and query optimization. If you need something robust, powerful, and able to support millions or billions of transactions a day, it’s the best there is. Oracle needs to be licensed for a production environment, although developers can download a free limited-use version which is good for building an application.

The good: Powerful. Can do some really cool things for those that appreciate it. Extremely scalable.
The bad: Often large and time-consuming installation. Least user friendly of all the database systems, although it’s gotten better over the last few years. Not free. Not a wide variety of tools, free or otherwise, to manipulate the database.

3. Microsoft SQL Server: Easy to use administration interface, often powerful

Microsoft SQL Server has matured greatly over the last 10 years into a decent rival of Oracle. I like MS SQL Server in that it hides a lot of the underlying configuration information from the user. On the other hand, I dislike MS SQL server in that it hides a lot of the underlying configuration information from the user. Double-edged sword, I know. Like Oracle, you need a license if you want to use it in a production environment.

The good: Easy to set up new databases and administer them. Best for those who have no idea how to administer a database. New express editions can be used for free.
The bad: Over-simplifies a lot for advanced users, making it harder to optimize. Not free. Developer edition has nominal cost, although it probably should be free.

Other Databases

This article is not meant to be the end-all for database software discussion, but a beginning guide of the big three database systems for those who are not well-versed in the area. To cover every possible database software, such as PostgreSQL or DB2, as well as countless others, would take a book or two. Most students starting out just need to find a single database and start ‘playing’ with it until they get the hang of it, rather than an exhaustive discussion of which database is best.

Non-standard Databases

Some of you may be more familiar with embedded databases such HSQLDB, SQLite, or Derby than the ones I have mentioned. Rarely do I see beginners using embedded databases, so perhaps I’ll write an article about such systems down the road. Also, I have not purposely not mentioned Microsoft Access as a learning database, simply because I don’t consider it standard database software, but rather a glorified Excel spreadsheet. Most of teaching someone how to use a regular database after using Access, is convincing them all databases are not like Access.

My favorite database? If I’m teaching or writing a relatively simple web-application, MySQL. If someone else is paying for the license and the application is large enough, Oracle.