Skip to Content
Skip to Table of Contents

← Previous Article Next Article →

ATPM 4.09
September 1998




How To


Download ATPM 4.09

Choose a format:

Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,

Silly Little Mac Issues

Word of warning: For those Macintosh users who believe that absolutely nothing can go wrong on a Macintosh, and even the mere thought of the Mac OS causing anyone trouble, you may be offended by this month’s offering of Apple Cider.

Oh, yeah. This one’s a doozie!

Believe it or not, the true story I am about to tell is replete with near cursing outs of Steve Jobs and the Cupertino gang, threats to go to the PC side, and a very important reminder to backup your data. All of this from someone who has used a Mac since 1988.

It all started a few months ago when, at work, I started to make noise that the Performa 6116 I was using just didn’t cut the mustard. Graphics file sizes had increased from the low KB range in 1995 to the high end of MB, and the computer was struggling to keep pace with the increasing file sizes. What I needed was a G3 machine.

Well, there was one big problem. I work for a government office. Here, perception is everything, and if the taxpayers see that I was getting a gee-whiz super-fast computer, they may question if the purchase was absolutely necessary. And, since perception is everything, that’s not good.

Never mind that all of the graphics and layout of the office’s Internet site were done on the Mac and that the site is freely accessible to anyone who can get to the Internet.

Some folks even get edgy when they see their tax dollars buying new pencils.

So, the powers that be decided that rather than getting a whole new box, they would spring for an upgrade card. Hey, if you can’t get a new box, get a new engine for it! Plus, I would have the benefit of not having to copy things from one drive to another, re-taping all of the witty saying I cut out of the local newspapers to the new computer case, etc.

The office went through a mail order outfit and our purchasing people ordered a brand spankin’ new G3 upgrade card. Sweet.

I initially thought that I’d be cruising along at G3 speed in a day or two, max. Nope. No where even close. These cards are so popular, we had to wait six weeks to have the order filled. Never mind. All the while, I waited patiently for the card to arrive. And, while I sat in front of the monitor, the 60 MHz 601 chip coughing and wheezing through enormous graphics files, I kept repeating to myself, “soon.”

Then it happened. I came back from lunch one afternoon to find that things were launching a lot faster than I remembered. And the windows sprung open with more enthusiasm. The hardware guys in the office had received the card and installed it. This was great—

Until the screen froze. Reboot. Freeze. Reboot.

I figured that some of the standard fixes would clear the problem up. I rebuilt the desktop and zapped the PRAM. Still froze. “Must be an extension issue,” I thought as I left for home that night. “I’ll just tackle it in the morning.”

Before I go any further, I will tell you that indeed, the problem was caused by the board itself. Some sort of hardware glitch. But, the pain and suffering it caused me on the way to that conclusion was enormous.

The next morning, coffee in hand, I sat down to tackle the freezing issue. It seems these boards work by installing an extension which tells the system to look for the new processor. Easy enough. Well, the extension that runs the new processor is supposed to be the one that loads first. If not, it’s sort of like the your teacher telling you a class is going to be given in English, then proceed to speak Spanish the entire time after. It’s just not gonna work.

And, on my computer, the Built-in Ethernet extension loaded before the new G3 extension.

OK, restart with extensions off. Open the extensions folder. Place some spaces before the name of the G3 extension. Restart.

No good. Same result.

Repeat multiple times while changing the names of just about every extension. No dice. Built-in Ethernet wanted to be the first.

So, I thought that I could solve the problem by disabling some extensions.

Here’s where I’m going to jump up on my soap box. Why is it that really powerful, older programs such as Marathon 1.2 (an old standby) and Freehand 5.5 (remember, government office—upgrades happen very infrequently) can load without adding any extensions to the system, but other developers—and you know who you are—insist on tacking multiple extensions to their installation? And not just for big professional graphics or Internet applications, mind you. But for utilities as well. And often these little utilities place more than one extension into the system.

There should be some sort of penalty to developers who insist on cramming extension after extension into the system folder just to run their program. This leads only to extension conflicts, probably one of the biggest sources of heartbreak to Mac users everywhere.

So, here I was, mucking around in the extensions folder with the help of Extension Overload and InformINIT looking for the dead wood to cut out of the system.

Reboot. Hang. Reboot. Hang. Crap.

I called for help from the computer operations folks. They laughed. They scoffed. “You see, three years ago, we could have gotten you a PC. If you did, we could have given you some help. Oh, well. Too bad for you. Maybe we can take one of those loose PC’s floating around the office and finally get rid of that silly Mac of yours.”

For a brief moment, I considered it. I mean, hey, I was already out a day and a half at this point. Wouldn’t it be great to just go get myself a cup of coffee, sit back, and have the professionals take a crack at fixing up the computer? I even looked into getting some cross-platform upgrades for the software I use and just porting over the files which represented the past five years of my efforts here.

But then I realized that I had only been down now for about 2 days out of the past 3 years of having this Mac on my desk. This was only the second time the Mac had been so far out of whack that I had to leave my office and seek help from the big guns back in computer operations. Not a bad track record for this office. And, indications were pointing to my current problems being due to a defective card.

So, I got back to work. The tech support person, Steve, from the card manufacturer was very helpful over the phone. He suggested a clean install of the system software. So, I did that. And things worked. But then when I reinstalled the extension that drove the new board, the Mac crapped out again.

Monkey with extensions. Reboot. No dice.

Now what? One of the programmers at our office suggested that I completely reinitialize the hard drive, reinstall system 8.1 from scratch, and give it one more try.

This is why I am happy that I used Dantz Software’s DiskFit Direct from my Zip Tools disk. A complete backup later (I only had to save the past four day’s worth of work—the time which had elapsed since the board was installed) and re-initialized.

Nothing is scarier than the warning that reads that all of the data on your disk will be erased. Did everything get saved? Will I be able to retrieve everything when we get back on line? Will the Lunar Module’s engine be enough to get me and my fellow Apollo 13 astronauts back to Earth before time runs out? Oops, different movie. Soon, I had an untitled, generically iconed disk on my desktop. I reinstalled OS 8.1 from the CD. I crossed my fingers and rebooted.

The Mac sprung to life just as it had every day for the past three years. Everything worked again. Sweet. I installed the G3 extension, and the computer crashed again. At last, I knew now that the problem was all hardware, not the Mac! Whew!

So, we popped out the defective card, sent it back to the nice people who manufactured it, and I got back to the task of reinstalling all of my applications and restoring all of the files from the old set up.

Now, I wait again for the return of the G3 upgrade card. I have a system folder completely purged of any legacy files which may have been around from as far back as the office’s IIcx running system 6.0.5 which I inherited from my predecessor (I just copied everything to the new drive on the 6116 when we took delivery on it—I know, use the clean install feature).

And I dread the day three years down the road when I will have another catastrophe with my Macintosh.

[apple graphic] “Apple Cider” is © 1998 by Tom Iovino,

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (0)

Add A Comment

 E-mail me new comments on this article