I Have A Computer Problem That No One Seems To Be Able To Solve. Maybe You Can?

imgresI Did This To Myself.

The problem goes back to 2007 or so, in the final days of my dedication to file sharing and downloading, but even my history with that goes back to 2000, when I started having a continuous Inter-Web-A-Tron connection.  As soon a it was possible, I got into Audiogalaxy, and spent ages collecting albums and tunes that I could not find anywhere else.  This continued through Limewire and, finally, Soulseek, but when school began to ramp up and I needed to focus more on other projects, the time spent downloading was not worth the time trade-off.  Before long I had given up, and had moved on to actually listening to my music, which was quite nice.  Without an external drive to help me out, I burned off everything I had collected up to that point, put the discs in the basement, and forgot about them entirely.

Flash-forward, and I’m getting rid of the rotting discs in my basement.  These days, I do have a few external drives offloading files, and I decide it is better to consolidate these CDRs into a massive, digital archive, and toss the discs.  And the process has been fun.  I’m rediscovering music I’d forgotten about.  But I finally came across my .mp3 discs, and therein lies the problem.

When I was collecting music via downloading, I got very systematic about things I was searching for, and largely pursued things I couldn’t find in stores.  (I was at the tail end of my $200 a month record store habit in these days, so spending money on music was never the problem.)  To that end, I went after the Killed By Death series, which follows in the Nuggets tradition, and collects rare punk 45s of every variety.  Some of the Killed By Death records are really amazing, and it was incredible to hear this music that I had only read about.  Of course, getting these songs from various users, a number of files came from a variety of sources, too.  A few files contained the “␀” character, as the source of these files was from a Windows machine.  In 2007, iTunes seemed to have no issue reading those, playing them for me, and letting me load them on various devices.  I was even able to burn all the .mp3s to a disc.

Now, the state of Mac products in 2015 is fairly stable, and fairly high-end.  I rarely run into a problem I can’t easily troubleshoot, and furthermore, anything that is really complicated is easily Google-able.  And, Mac systems are pretty intuitive, for me.  So, imagine my confusion when I tried to load the files on this .mp3 disc into iTunes, only to find that they wouldn’t copy.  I opened the disc in Finder, and could not only preview the files, but could copy them to the Desktop.  But they still wouldn’t load into iTunes.  I did notice that I could open the files in Audacity, and decided that I would attempt to convert the files to another audio format that iTunes could also read.  And, while I was at it, I’ll save these new files with a better name.

So far, so good.  These newly converted files read and load just fine, and iTunes likes them great.  So, I put everything where it goes, and get ready to delete the files I had copied to my Desktop, the ones with the “␀” character at the end of each name.  These, for some reason, would not delete.  As a consequence, this has sent me down a rabbit hole of problems that I still have not resolved.  And not being able to delete things is only the beginning.


9599059_75eb70edf3_bWhat I Think Is Happening.

Let me be clear: I have no real idea why these files won’t delete.  I’m not an expert, I didn’t get a CS Degree, and I have focused my energies into other areas outside of computing.  I just don’t have the background to full understand exactly what is happening.  As I have pieced together from random Googling is:

There is a different range of characters that are available for use in many Windows-based file systems, and because of that, Mac OS systems have trouble interpreting those characters, and rendering them in a way that makes sense.  This results in a problem with the way the file is created: the “␀” isn’t really there in the eyes of a Mac, and yet because it can’t render that character, it can’t sufficiently name the problem in order to get rid of it.

This makes sense to me in a sort of 19th Century Psychiatry sort of way, but it is merely speculation on my part when it comes to what the real problem might actually be.  I would love to understand why this is happening on a more granular level, and what causes this, but now I would also just like it to be solved so I can move on.  If there is anyone with a more technical background who knows why a file like this won’t delete, please contact me.  I would love to chat.


The Thick Plottens

If you have stuck with me this far, then you must really want the gory details, and for that I thank you for going on what is has to be a techno-slog through a music hoarding problem.  Here’s what keeps happening:

I am running El Capitan.  (Perhaps this is relevant?)  I put the files in the Trash.  These files are originally located on the Desktop, having originated from an .mp3 CDR I made on my Mac laptop in 2007.  I empty the trash.  And I get the following message:

“The operation can’t be completed because an unexpected error occurred (error code -50).”  

Being a diligent user, I Googled the error code, and found a lot of message board posts that relate to errors involving saving to (or deleting from) an External Hard Drive.  I guess that might track – perhaps the system thinks the files are still “on” the disc, and not the Desktop?  Regardless, I had such a hard time finding a single other user who experienced a similar error code when the files went from the Desktop to the Trash.

At this point I decided it was time to use the Terminal, which I’m quite rusty at, but again, can use Google fairly well.  I found a number of pages that suggested I try to use “sudo rm -f” to force the file to delete, which was unsuccessful, returning “invalid argument” in response.  I found a number of people online who did encounter files that would not delete because of a character out of place, and in all the cases I found online, using the Terminal and this command worked.  However, after trying a number of variants and hitting dead ends on forums, I only ever got “invalid argument.”  Just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy, I decided to test other files, to make sure it wasn’t my entire system.  But I could easily remove, delete and copy other files with normal characters in their name.  Just not these “␀” files.

I found a few pages (like that one) that were dedicated to utilities that claimed they could rename files, and force documents to remove these characters that are causing the error.  However, none of them have worked for me yet.  Name Mangler and OnyX were ineffective.  I’m sure there are others I can try, but I’m starting to think that I have a fairly unique problem that 3rd party apps might not be able to fix.  I suspect it may take something bespoke.  Using the Terminal, and using some basic commands to force the Trash to empty, should work.  And yet it does not on my machine.


As If That Weren’t Enough.broken_computer

The problem has also developed in Audacity, in another way.  I have been a strong supporter of Audacity since the early 2000s, and it is an incredible audio editing / mixing / producing utility that continues to impress me with how simple it is.  One feature that has saved my ass a number of times is the Project Recovery utility.  If Audacity crashes, it captures everything as best as it could from the temp files, and keeps them until you try to load the program again, when it will ask you if you would like to restore the Project.  Much of the time Audacity can save almost everything, and most things are not lost when using that program.

Since I used Audacity (ver. 2.1.1) to load the pernicious .mp3s (to convert them), Audacity has developed a hiccup whenever I try to load the program.  Because of this “␀” character, Audacity was unable to close properly when I was done converting those files, and crashed.  I didn’t think of it at the time, but now when I try to reload Audacity, I get the Recovery Screen, asking to recover all these files with “␀” characters.  And, of course, I can’t.  So it churns through all eight of these non-existent files, trying to load them, and failing, before it finally gives up, and sputters to life.  There eight open files with no recovered data, all of which need to be closed.  And, when I’m done using Audacity, it cannot “close,” but merely “crashes,” causing this recovery screen to pop up again every time I load Audacity.  This adds at least 60 seconds to the loading process, as it cycles through these eight files that can’t be recovered.

At first I thought I could just delete, reboot, and reinstall Audacity to fix the problem, but even after that, Audacity would go through the same cycle.  Naively, I thought I could navigate to a temp directory and find a file that Audacity was trying to restore, but there was no such file, anywhere that I could find.  (I did have to use the Terminal to turn on hidden files to do this, and even then, I imagine I’m not seeing everything.  But I gave up after an hour of searching directories and trying to Spotlight something.)  As a last resort, I rolled back a few versions of Audacity, hoping that an older one would point to a different tempt folder, and not try to restore these files.  But every version I can get successfully loaded onto this machine keeps trying to restore.

When Audacity is loaded onto a computer, it is clearly putting meta-data somewhere, that it then refers to with nearly every version of the software, that contains the information about restoring projects during a crash scenario.  But how I can clear that cache, and where that meta-data is stored, is beyond this user to figure out at this stage in the game.  I should add that Audacity is not entirely useless to me.  If I am willing to wait through the process of it trying to recover everything, a cycle that takes a good minute, I can use Audacity – eventually – provided I’m willing to put up with it being more unstable and crash-prone while using it.

In other words: I can’t get attached to my editing on this machine anymore.  Half the time, I don’t get very far.


Now.  Deep Breath.  

I have not yet exhausted the possibilities.  There is, very likely, a solution out there somewhere, and with enough patience and Googling I could get to the bottom of that.  Part of the problem is how to define it.  Searching for the error code brings up problems that are like mine, but not the same.  Searching for “␀” characters issues gets at some of the problem, but not entirely.  Searching for files that won’t delete gets me part of the way there again, but these “invalid arguments” that I keep encountering are driving me up the wall.  There is a taxonomy to this problem I have yet to learn, and because of that, I have a “␀” character in my own understanding of the issue.  I can’t even get at it until I learn what that is, and that is not going to come with a few minutes Googling here and there when I have free time, but with a deep-dive into how these things work on a very granular level.

I’m not computer illiterate.  If I have a set of instructions I can follow them, and I usually have no problems fixing basic problems with easily understood symptoms.  But this problem very quickly escalated to well outside of my expertise.  I would love to be able to spend a few years learning this stuff in and out, and I have some ideas for Apps and software that I could make if I were to ever go down that road, and I could leverage that into an item I could offer in conjunction with my writing and radio projects.  But that’s not the hobby I signed up for.  I want to write, not learn computer science, as interesting as it is.

My hope is that someone out there reads this, knows the solution, and would be able to get in touch with me.  I would like to have Audacity back, and I’d like to be rid of these files (short of a Nuke & Repave, which I am considering).  I don’t have much to offer as a way of saying thanks, but I would gladly send you some home made granola if you could fix my problem, and I would immortalize you in a blog post as a means of thanks.


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