Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Mac Goes Home

The Mac Saga has finally come to an end of sorts.

Readers1 may remember that I foolishly got involved in the process of determining why Mrs Stevie's elder brother, Bil the Elder, couldn't use his G4 Power Mac (Gigabit Ethernet)2 to access his Yahoo mail or download any interesting images that took his fancy. What can I say? Take a man's e-mail and you take away his voice. Take away his BarelyLegalTeens3 and you assault the very bastions of democracy and undermine the foundations of what makes this nation great IMHO etc.

I won't recap the various hardships that have been par for the course as I attempted to trick what I came to call the iBrik into booting up and staying that way for more than a few minutes at a time. You can do that yourself by selecting The Great Mac G4 Debacle from the "themes" list and reading from the bottom up4. I will recount only the events that came to pass over Monday evening, when I set the computer up on our coffee table and researched almost all the help documents stored on it, and Tuesday, when I got it to connect to the internet and I made a posting to a site using it.

After closing out the "help" facility on Monday night and finding nothing illuminating, I launched Norton Utilities and let it have a bash at analysing the system. Couldn't hurt, I thought. The first thing it called out was that the date on the machine was currently set to the first of January, 1901. "Wow", I said (to no-one in particular). "The bios battery must be dead."

"What does that mean?" asked Mrs Stevie, as always, hanging on every involuntary outburst in the hope of discovering some reason for violence. Since about the third month of our marriage, the woman has developed an addiction to lethally strong coffee which fuels homicidal rages in her that can explode for little or no reason. The recent forgotten anniversary has had her on a hair trigger, for example, even though it was the first time in twenty years I have done that. I tried to defuse the situation at the time with a witty remark that after twenty years one of us should be getting the Medal of Honor, but that only seemed to make her even more unreasonable. I digress.

"The battery keeps the computer from forgetting what day it is" I replied. "No battery, no memory. The computer thinks it is New Year's Day 1901 every time it wakes up."

There then came the internal clanking and grinding that means Mr Brain has spotted something relevant and is trying to connect the dots. This time it didn't get the chance, as Mrs Stevie decided to use a tactic I often come across in my work environment - wait until all the real work has been done, then jump in at the last minute to claim all the credit.

"Maybe that's why it won't talk to the internet then" she said with a tone of smug finality, well aware she had just ruined what little fun was to be salvaged from this whole sorry business.

I sat there gnashing my teeth. It was obvious that the TCP/IP chit-chat between the modem and the Mac wouldn't work if each time the modem asked if they could talk the computer responded by answering 106 years ago. The time-out built into most TCP/IP exchanges is on the order of microseconds or less. Mrs Stevie couldn’t wait and let Mr Brain figure it out. Oh no. She had to butt in with her conclusions based entirely on some spurious experience with some web-based bank software she uses at work that had absolutely no relevance to this case but by chance happened to have the same answer. It was like using a cheat book to solve one puzzle in a "Myst" game. It completely deflated the sense of achievement.

On Tuesday I had the day off to vote5 so I went down to Radio Shack with the Stevieling in tow to buy a new bios battery for the Mac. The battery, following the design philosophy used in every other part in the machine, cost $20. It was approximately 1/3 the size of an AA battery and cost approximately 2 000% more. As I say, this follows the design concept used throughout on this particular machine. I was so amazed that the battery was still being made that I ponied up the purchase price with only a muted scream of agony. I am obviously growing immune to Macenomics. Had the machine spent any longer in my house I quite likely would start looking upon "hard-to-find" and "costs-an-arm-and-a-leg" to be acceptable downsides to the joy to be had from just looking at the Mac.

Once the Lithium-Diamond battery was in place and I had the date and time adjusted properly, the machine began to connect to my modem with relative ease6. Then it was a voyage of discovery to try and stop the OS crashing every time a page was loaded.

Bil the Elder had his home page defined as Optimum Online's splash page. That wouldn't load for me using his Netscape browser. Occasionally, Netscape would try and link to, with disastrous results. If I didn't stop the page loading in time, it would announce that the page couldn't be viewed using this version of Netscape, which would cause the browser to launch some sort of utility, which in turn would freeze OS 9 and require an IFR7. Nor would the newest version of Netscape run on OS 9. I tried Firefox's page, but it also won't run on OS 9. I managed to change the default Homepage for the Netscape browser to Google in the end, but it was a tough fight for dominance between man and machine in a World Gone Mad, let me tell you.

I switched back to my trusty inferior design, loathsomely Windows-infested Compaq so that I could browse a few tech forums before the year was out, and I asked a few net acquaintances I trust8 what I might do. The consensus was that adding more memory to the machine couldn't hurt (all those Error1/2/3 messages meant "You're out of memory, Bub") and would allow a switch to OS X - version 10.3 seemed to be the likeliest to work on such an antique. The problem, as was pointed out to me by rab, one of the team advising me, was finding someone who could sell me a copy.

That turned out to be less of a problem than either of us imagined, because Bil the Elder turned up around 7 pm to reclaim his computer. He was delighted and surprised that it was working again. I was puzzled as to why he had suddenly appeared on our doorstep. Bil the Elder explained that Mrs Stevie had phoned him earlier.

"Come and get your computer. It's fixed" she said.

"Fixed? You mean it's working?" he asked in amazement9.

"It's working."

"How? What was wrong with it? What did Stevie do to get it working?" he asked.

"That idiot? Nothing. I figured out that the date was wrong in it. All it needed was a new battery. I don't know what all the fuss was about really" she purred, smugly. "Oh, I tell a lie: He did break your monitor stand. He fixed it but it looks a right mess".

I walked Bil the Elder through some basics, like how not to use the cord of the mouse to tie it to anything, how to get the pictures out of his camera and onto the machine and the advisability of using an external drive to copy everything to before he does any kind of software upgrade, and he left clutching the iBrik.

The house seems so big and empty now

  1. Our circulation here at TOS has been verified at somewhere between four and five, Steve the Oracle having been spotted in the wild and confirmed as still visiting once in a while and Paul the Globetrotting Wargamer now engaged in a frenzied search for libels in these pages vis-a-vis his good self on an almost weekly basis. Hello Paul
  2. For such it is
  3. Documentation on file with the webmaster to prove everyone involved is, no matter how barely, of legal age
  4. As we do in blogs, though it makes no sense to me. Why don't blogs display as "bottom-appended" lists of entries, positioning the reader at the latest (bottom-most) entry by default? Much easier to read from the top down than from the bottom up
  5. Which I couldn't, not being a citizen
  6. Relative to the weekend, when it wouldn't do so no matter what I did. One should not infer any sort of absolute ease here
  7. Index Finger Reboot
  8. Thanks Dunx, Raak, rab and Dan
  9. I confess to being a little disappointed in Bil the Elder's lack of respect for my abilities here. Although it is true that I honestly despaired of ever getting the damn thing running properly again, he doesn't know that


Anonymous said...

Surely your readership is higher than 5? But then I suppose Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling don't read your outpourings (I'm sure Mrs Stevie doesn't or you'd be dead by now). Plus, it would seem logical that regular readers of your glorious outpourings would be known as TOSsers. Not perhaps the image you want to convey. ;)

Anonymous said...

Well, There's you'n'Steve the Oracle'n'Paul The Globetrotting Wargamer'n'some bloke called "Gazza"'n'gil.

"Chalky" also claims to read TOS, but since I have long believed that she is actually Raak impersonaatiing ImNotJohn doing Simons Mith aping you (impersonating Projoy claiming to be penelope), it still works out to five.

On a good day.