Friday, October 19, 2007

Alive, Alive, It's Alive!

I may have mentioned in passing a while ago that my elder brother-in-law, Bil the Elder, had asked me to look at his Mac, taken the news of its need for a new power supply under advisement and then made himself scarce.

I may also have alluded to my being more than a little fed up with having this expensive piece of junk, bricked for weeks for want of an overpriced1 power supply that Bil the Elder was too scared to buy, and hinted at my shortening tolerance for brothers in law and Apple products, with special reference to broken Apple products left in my basement by brothers in law.

I finally had had it up to here with the damn thing and its owner, and I went out on eBay and bought a compatible power supply for it from a dealer for about half the price a replacement would cost new. Hey, if it was my machine I wouldn't begrudge the cost, but it ain't and I do. All I knew was that the bloody machine wouldn't work without a power supply, and that power rating aside, there appeared to be two basic choices in the G4 power supply market: the 20-pin type which was selling for about 50 bux, and the 22-pin type, selling for about 80 bux 2. I could guess what the story would be anyway, but a quick check showed that the iBrik had a 22-pin motherboard.

Of course.

Anyway, I ponied up the money on Monday and last night a new-looking unit arrived in the mail.

It wasn't the same unit, I could see at a glance. The bracket for fixing it was very different for a start, but that was easily removable. The unit was the right overall size, but was missing the second power outlet on the back. Oh well. Tough titty. I removed the bracket from it and installed the power supply temporarily in the case for a power-up test. The dealer had a so-called DOA3 guarantee and would replace the unit if I returned it as dead in three days so delay in testing it was unwise.

The fit in the case is quite tight owing to various bulges, catches and nodules projecting down from the (unseen) inside top of the case. These must be negotiated by twisting the power supply through a path best described as a 5 dimensional hypertorroid mapped onto a standard 4 dimensional manifold. For those who do not possess the skills to visualise this mathematical abstraction fully, it is a ten-to-twelve swear word job. Once in place, I could connect it to the various places it needed to be connected via the integral cable cluster, which was thicker than my thumb. In the middle of connecting it up, it fell out of the case and I only just caught it before it smashed down onto the motherboard4. I replaced it, at first attempting fruitlessly to reverse the path it took on its way out, but finding that impossible, by means of the original convoluted method.

It promptly fell out again.

And again.

I eventually wedged it in place with a cardboard box that originally held my cell phone5. Then I connected the plugs to the various discs (the super apple design places the primary (and in this case, only) hard-drive so low on the case that the plug fouls a blister in the chassis base. Another win for Apple design there. When I was done, I was confronted by a four pin plug that had no socket to attach it to.

As luck would have it, Shamus Young was discussing an identical plug only a few days ago over at 20-sided and the consensus was that it was only needed for Intel chipsets unless you had AMD in which case it was needed for something else. No help there then.

I could not find the keyboard and mouse, or the power cord. They had been underfoot for eight weeks and sometime around week 6 I had "dealt" with the problem without making any special note of the new location of the items. The power cord was no problem but (of course) I couldn't simply swap in one of the six or seven PC-style keyboards I have because my Brother in Law bought a fbleeping Mac!

No matter. I had a power cord that would work, I had the (special, not replaceable by any of my collection) monitor and all I wanted was to see it boot and have done with the blasted thing.

I powered it up and there was an immediate CRACK!, a small yet bright spark and the fragrant odour of fried electrolyte filled the air, heady with hints of arsenic, germanium, selenium and silicon. I know that smell from of old. Redolent and toxic in relatively small amounts, it presages the death of any semiconductor or polarised capacitor due to overvoltage incompetence.


I had fried the motherboard now!

This called for Finesse. I was reaching for it6 when Mrs Stevie announced the serving of her delicious tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, the perfect spirit-raiser when events are conspiring to give you a headache.

Over my snack I contemplated my options. I would test the power supply and see if it was still in the land of the living. If so, it could be eBayed off that night. I would tell Bil the Elder that his computer had more problems and urge him to sell it and buy one that worked, preferably a PC. I would finish my soup.

Upon returning to the scene of the crime, I tested the power supply and determined that it was indeed still working7. I was about to pack it into a box when I thought I might try connecting it again. I had nothing to lose really8.

So I did.

Upon connecting the power cord an pressing the "on" switch9 I was horrified to hear a noise blurt out of the case while the monitor erupted with the most awful patterns imaginable. "That must be what few components I didn't fry giving out" I thought, but then the truth dawned: The noise was Apple's version of a greeting jingle and the visual scribble on the screen was the much-vaunted "better" Apple GUI firing up! The computer was working again! A fiasco was become Great Triumph! Man that's an ugly GUI!

Yes, Mac OS 9 was manifesting like some hideous Lovecraftian horror rising from the primeval ooze to stalk amongst humanity in a World Gone Mad!

I have to say, just looking at it, I can't see what the fuss is about. It looks like a washed-out version of Windows for Workgroups, which ranks as the worst interface I've had to use in over thirty years of computing. Marginally better for the non-computer savvy than a console, but very non-intuitive and cluttered worse than my workbench. Oh well.

I powered the thing down and got down to the business of fastening the power supply down properly. The supplied bracket was for one of the umpty-tump case/component variations that obviously plague Apple as badly as Dell and Gateway10. I got to work with Messrs Dremel and Drill and in some time at all had the bracket and case agreeing as to the number and count of screws needed to accommodate the one inside the other. A quick swipe with the shop-vac11 to remove any nasty swarf from the case and Hey Pasta! "Instant" working Mac.

A detailed search of the house (It was midnight by now and I wasn't a happy camper 'cos I had work in the morning) failed to turn up the keyboard and mouse, so I showered and retired for five hours sleep. Before dropping off I disabled my alarm. I could always take a later train and I needed the sleep.

I was woken at 6:30 am by the Stevieling's cell phone playing a delightful orchestral racket, ten minutes before the time my alarm had been set for. She uses her alarm as an alarm clock, but that night had forgotten to take the rather elementary step of taking her cellphone off the coffee table in the main room and taking it upstairs with her.

Fortunately, I was awake and was able to claw my way groggily up the stairs to wake her for school.

  1. Redundant term when speaking of a Mac
  2. I should point out that I do not have the old power supply. Bil the Elder does. He needed it to identify the replacement part. Which he didn't buy
  3. Dead On Arrival
  4. The award-winning suitcase design helpfully arranges things so that while working on the wretched machine, the heaviest things are suspended as high as possible over the most delicate things. Thus are we once again confronted by the evidence of the betterness of Apple design over cheap'n'nasty PCs
  5. Another over-designed piece of junk that is manifestly unfit for doing the primary job a cell phone is bought for thanks to all the cruft bolted on. I mean, two key operations to use the camera but seven to change the built-in ringtone to another built-in ringtone?
  6. I named my claw hammer "Finesse" back when I was single. My happy place has a hammer in it. Worth knowing if you ever start to piss me off
  7. As far as I could tell. Part of the problem is that these things don't come with a detailed data sheet printed on them
  8. This shows how well I wasn't thinking: I could easily have blown up the working power supply by connecting it to a bollixed motherboard
  9. A major concession by Apple there: They could easily have gone for some sort of brainwave sensor device instead of a push-button in a bid to once again up the complexity and cost of the machine
  10. Apple users just don't air their own dirty laundry in public. I wouldn't mind that, but they aren't at all unwilling to air everyone else's
  11. Actually a Home Despot wet/dry vacuum, from their Rigid line, highly recommended, four Steviestars etc

No comments: