Running Mac OS from a USB drive - a cautionary tale

A few months ago the SSD in my ancient MacBook Air began to falter. The sensor that told my Mac the SSD existed was intermittently failing, so I could use it for a while, then it would freeze as if the system drive had been unplugged.

I wasn’t keen buying a new one until Apple sorted out its keyboard woes, and the prospect of installing a new SSD myself was rather daunting, so my brain came up with what seemed like a brilliant and cheap stop-gap workaround — install the OS onto a USB drive and run the system from that. My thinking (if it can be called that) was that a USB drive is basically a kind of SSD anyway. I knew it would be slower because it would be limited by the speed of the USB bus, but I figured it’d be worth a shot and would keep me going until Apple got its act together.

My idea turned out to be neither brilliant nor cheap. I was able to get it up and running after a lot of futzing about, but I was plagued by spinning beachballs, freezes and random crashes multiple times a day, even when I was running just a text editor. After a month of putting up with that, I ended up ordering a new SSD from for about $150, which is about three times more than I spent on the USB drive, but the SSD was twice as big and, more importantly, actually works. Installing it was a doddle and took no more about twenty minutes.

I’d thought I’d learnt my lesson from past cheapskate shenanigans, but it seems not. On the bright side, it seems that Apple has a new keyboard ready to be introduced sometime next year, so when this MacBook Air finally gives up the ghost, I hope I’ll feel less trepidation about getting a new one.

Kindle Page Turn Buttons

I agree wholeheartedly with Jason Snell’s comment on page-turn buttons in his review of the latest Kindle Oasis —

People will tell you that it’s just fine to find a grip that lets you slide a finger over to the screen, tap, and then slide back every single time you turn the page. Sure, it’s fine. But this is way better.

When my Paperwhite broke, I started using my old Kindle again — it’s so old it has a physical keyboard — and immediately appreciated how much better buttons work to change pages. It sounds trivial, but it really makes a difference. Another benefit is that because the screen is completely inert, you can pick the Kindle up and put it down without worrying about inadvertently causing it to jump to another page, close the book or do anything at all. The buttons plus the inert screen really do make it a superior — and calmer — reading experience, even if I do have to have a lamp on in the evenings. It’s a pity Amazon reserves what was once a standard feature for its priciest offering.

The warm front-lighting on the new Oasis sounds nice, but I find it hard to imagine I’ll feel comfortable parting with AUD$400 for a book reading machine any time in the near future.