Thursday, November 01, 2007

More Mac Nonsense

Last night I put the finishing touches to the repair of the stand for Bil the Elder's Mac Studio Monitor.

It involved more Gorilla Glue, some drilling and a bunch of nuts and bolts, but around midnight I was able to set the monitor upright on its stand and it didn't collapse in a heap again! A great triumph was declared and I went to bed.

Today, before work, I decided to see if Bil the Elder's Mac would talk to the internet if I connected it to my broadband modem. I carried it upstairs to my small, crowded computer room, placed the processor in an out of the way place, improvised a desk for the mouse and keyboard from a chair and positioned the newly repaired monitor on the floor. I pulled my own hateful, inferior-design Compaq Wintel box1 out of its slot and unplugged the ethernet connection between it and the modem. I plugged this into the Mac and booted.

Once again I heard the horrible tinny boot noise come from the box, but this time there was absolutely no writing on the monitor. Nothing. The little Apple button was alight and so were the two control buttons3, but there was nothing at all on the screen itself.

Had I seen The Black Screen of (Monitor) Death, yet another under discussed known problem hidden by the Apple community, chained in some attic room where no-one could see it and comment? Had I killed the monitor completely by the simple act of relocating it spatially? All these things, formerly thought impossible but now well within the realms of the almost inevitable were racing through Mr Brain.

Perhaps the answer was more simple. Perhaps I had somehow inadvertantly turned down the brightness and so just was not seeing the images that were being displayed normally. I reached down but could not reach the settings control button comfortably, so I carefully reached under the monitor and lifted it slightly while pulling it gently forward in order to tilt it a little further upward.

The monitor stand let out a sharp CRACK and I let out some sharp swear words.

Yes, the other side of the stand had broken. It had broken when I had reduced the load on the stand, obeying (once again) some bizarre Apple physics that work the opposite of the stuff normally in operation on a day-to-day basis.

I disconnected everything and carted the iBrik back down to the basement, where I went through the complex little dance needed to detach the 1960's pop-art sculpture from the bottom of the depleted uranium anvil it was "designed" to (almost) support4 and assess the damage.

The crack was, as expected, on the opposite "front leg/lobe" to the one I repaired fully last night by constructing a sandwich of custom made aluminum plates around the break and screwing it all together. I had had qualms last night as I finished the repair that the monitor designers had gone for a "Panther Tank" approach to the job, placing most of the weight over the front legs. The Germans faced this outcome of using the long 75mm cannon on the Panther, which pitched a great deal of weight onto the frontmost roadwheels. The monitor was now recapitulating the problems that arose from this design. On the tank, the front torsion bars had a tendency to snap giving the tank a nose-down aspect and reducing its battlefield utility. On the monitor, the front "legs" of the stand have a tendency to flex, twist and spread, causing the Plexiglas to fail and the monitor to adopt a drunken slouch to one side. They never did fix the Panther design, since it was late in the war, materials were scarce and the tank was otherwise so good at what it did that the benefits of the design outweighed the problems. The situation with the Mac is both similar and different. The problem doesn't get addressed because within a year any individual item is so retro no-one with any aesthetic sensibilities at all will tolerate whatever it is and Apple can simply remove the item from its catalog. Here also there are claims of superior design outweighing other concerns, but in all honesty, after rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands wet you couldn't prove it by me5.

The stand had begun to crack, but I was fortunate to have caught it before it failed totally this time. The crack only went across about half the width of the "leg". That was the good news. The fbleep this fbleeping fbleep-shbleep waste of fbleeping time news was that the crack ran back into the center of the stand, far enough back that I'm not sure a second cunning fix along the lines of the first will work at all. I'd replace the entire construct with some sort of plate and cup assembly, but the attachment mechanism is not a simple pin/bolt: It involves engaging a specially shaped flange on the stand in a specially shaped hole in the monitor, twisting the stand to "lock" it in place in its slot, then inserting a locking boss to stop people pulling the stand off unless they have a set of miniature screwdrivers like mine. It is all very tiresome.

There is no way I am going to spend any more money to replace the stand with an unbroken one of the same design.

Bil the Elder will no doubt blame me for breaking his computer. Maddeningly, there isn't any way I will be able to persuade him it simply yielded to time and abuse, but even my desire not to appear as one of the mass of people just waiting to cheat him is not great enough to overcome my absolute disgust at this so-called computer. I've replaced the power supply. I've replaced the mouse. If it were my own computer I would be concocting some Stevie-designed stand for the monitor or looking for a decently-priced LCD one6. Bil the Elder can replace his monitor if he sees fit. I won't. I'm done spending money on the thing.

It has been a long time since I hated a machine of any kind quite this much.

  1. Which has given sterling service with only two lockups requiring a factory reinstall in five years. Yes that is excessive and a pain in the arse, but I now believe that five years is the total expected lifetime of the better-designed, more well-loved2 Mac, at which point the user simply replaces the dead "better" hardware with the latest version
  2. Well, outside Chateaû Stevie anyway
  3. They glow with a scabrous, wan and altogether unholy radiance. Yet another reason to hate them
  4. Before anyone writes to me to debate the inutility of the Mac Studio Monitor Display Stand and Abstract Visualization of Man's Struggle Against Adversity In A World Gone Mad (Or Something), be aware there are dozens of people publishing on the web using their own version of the iBlox
  5. Power supply, fabricated from pure gold if the cost and mass are any indication, positioned directly above delicate motherboard. Superdense Monitor perched precariously on stand suitable for holding a small, helium-filled balloon. GUI so self-explanatory that after fooling for an hour I was no nearer discovering how to use hotkey screen navigation (no mouse d'y'see) than I was when I booted the thing for the first time. All the marks of epic great design there. Yep
  6. Fat chance of that: I've learned the hard way that "Apple" and "Obscene Pricing" are synonyms

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