AMITIAE - Thursday 1 January 2015

Cassandra: Pernicious Processes Possible Explanation for Persisten Kernel Panics

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Over the last month, I had a number of kernel panics on my 13" MacBook Pro that defied all attempts when I tried to track the cause down. After a visit to an Apple service center in Bangkok, it appeared to be fixed and had been stable for two weeks. The annoyance increased when the fortnight's stability ended the eve before I wrote about the fix in the Bangkok Post.

There is something frustrating about a repeating problem that defies the normal rules and keeps reappearing like a pernicious dose of the clap. If simple analysis does not reveal the cause, then a deeper look, supported by observation needs to be carried out. As soon as the latest KP appeared and the computer restarted (after startup checks), I opened Activity Monitor and looked closely. Along with the expected processes there were a number of items, shown as plugins, with unusual filenames - :, ... - while similar plugin types indicated URLs that had reloaded when Safari restarted.

While the search feature of Activity Monitor would show those URL-related processes, entering the unusual names gave no result. Similarly, using Spotlight failed to reveal any files or other documents that were connected.

If I quit Safari, all the processes disappeared. I was also able to make the processes disappear temporarily by using the Quit Process button in Activity Monitor. On restarting Safari (or the computer), those processes and the others that are identifiable as related to sites reappeared.


As had happened before, I put the computer to sleep, turned off Wi-Fi and went to work. On my return a few hours later, the computer had restarted, but indicated that there was no Wi-Fi hardware installed. I had seen this on one of the previous KP situations, so restarted the computer (the Wi-Fi router was on) and the Wi-Fi appeared.

Quitting Safari, then restarting did not change the processes shown in Activity Monitor. I found that I had had 32 pages open, which is rather a lot and that may be pushing the resources at times.

I did not clear history so when Safari restarted, all the pages reopened: not what I wanted. I tried again: clear history and restart Safari. All the pages opened again. I tried again, but first closed each of the pages one by one. This time only one, blank browser page opened.

I copied the URLs of all pages open into a text file. I cleared the cache and cookies in the Safari menu and quit Safari. I noted that all the items that displayed plugin icons in Activity Monitor (the ones showing recognisable URLs as well as the mystery items) had gone from the listing as I had expected.


I restarted Safari and began by entering a URL for Jean-Louis Gassée's Monday note. A URL plugin appeared in Activity Monitor but not one of the mystery ones. So far, so good. One by one I entered 6 URLs for Seeking Alpha articles. I like to see how wrong the investment advising industry is: experts on Apple, they are not. Activity Monitor showed nothing amiss. There was a similar lack of odd activity with two AppleInsider links.

I was down to 20 sites entered with not even a sniff of a suspect plugin. I had a sneaking suspicion where this might be going. I was of course pleased to see that my own site (and its statistics page) did not show any questionable activity, although I had wondered whether the Google Ads might be suspect.

That left me with two sites: Facebook and Flickr. I had had two pages open on each of these sites. I tried Flickr. Neither my Photostream page nor the Nikon D7000 group I access caused Activity Monitor to show problematic plugins.

If I was expecting an "Aha!" moment with the Facebook pages, I was disappointed. Not one of the links I had copied caused the odd plugin processes to appear, so I can only presume it was cookies that I had picked up when viewing other sites: I look at scores each day, but only keep a few pages. I also checked iTunes and App Store in case these processes included odd activity.

Despite the non-appearance of the suspect plugins, I kept monitoring Activity Monitor, in case these made a late appearance: I have no idea what might trigger them. My plan then would be a reverse process of closing the pages one by one until the item (or items) disappeared. In addition I have now reinstalled Little Snitch which will help me monitor if any process tried to call home.

As before, I am on a bit of a knife edge hoping that there is to be no repeat KP, but half-expecting this may indeed happen again. However, with Activity Monitor running and avoiding activity on sites that are heavy with Flash video (which is what I was doing the last time), I am hoping that the stability of the last 36 hours will remain.

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All content copyright © G. K. Rogers 2015