Every once in a while you fall down one of those random trapdoors that the gremlins of modern technology build into our connected world. They can lead to very, very strange places.
I found myself in one of these dark corners a few days ago as I stared at the screen of my MacBook Pro, which was under the mistaken impression that its display measured a whopping 1×1 pixels! There was my poor cursor, dead center on the screen, but completely unable to go anywhere. I try to move left, I'm at the left edge. I try to move right, I'm at the right edge. Up and down were just as limiting. Beneath it all was a perfectly functional computer that I didn't want to accidentally screw up by trying to escape my pixel prison.
How did I end up in this unenviable position? I've been using a pair of very cool Diamond BVU195 HD USB Display Adapters to give my MacBook Pro two external displays (in addition to the built-in display). They rock. I completely overhauled my desk setup at home last Monday when these babies arrived. I've been experimenting with the way I put it all together, then last Thursday I tried shifting the Mac menu bar and dock to one of the external displays. It worked fine. When the time came to pack up and head out for a few days, I unplugged all the USB stuff, watched all the open apps and windows pop back into the built-in display, then put the computer to sleep and headed out.
That's when the gremlins dropped the trap door! When I raised the lid at my destination I saw the standard password screen, logged in, and found myself staring at my desktop background, with nothing else showing. No menu bar. No dock. No icons. Uh oh. I opened up the display preferences and immediately spotted something bizarre. The computer still thought it had a second display…. with 1×1 pixel dimensions…. set as the main display. The "Detect Displays" button failed to fix the issue. If you've ever used a Mac, you know that if you want to move the menu bar to a different display, you just grab it and drag it from one to the other. Guess what? You can't grab it if the display it's on is just a sliver on the screen!
At this point, my mind was racing trying to come up with a good solution. I didn't want to force a restart (the bad way) if I didn't have to. So I had a brilliant idea (the kind usually rewarded in the Darwin Awards). I decided to try clicking the "Mirror Displays" button. Ahhh… Gotcha!! Silly person that I am, I thought this would bring everything onto my main display. Instead, my main display gained the magical screen resolution of 1×1. Doh!!
Can I describe that feeling? The closest I can get is to point to all those movies when the character on screen hears the door click shut behind him and realizes he's fallen into the trap of the sadistic maniac. There was my poor cursor, imprisoned in its tiny box.
There is a happy ending. I managed to find an external DVI->HDMI adapter and plugged it into an HDTV and the Macbook. That was enough to jolt the OS into realizing that the display setup had changed, and I was able to get everything back where it belonged without any forced reboot or PRAM-zapping. I think the chance of someone else stumbling into the same trap are pretty slim, so I'd say this post is more for entertainment than education. Still, if you do ever find yourself trapped in a pixel, remain calm, don't do anything hasty, and try to find another display out.