Washington Apple Pi

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August General Meeting: Preventive Maintenance

by Lawrence I. Charters, Vice President, Macintosh

August General Meeting: Under Repair

For many years the Pi has devoted August to games. Several reasons have been offered for this: 1) it gives the people who regularly run the General Meetings a break; 2) it celebrates the fun-loving spirit of summer; 3) it is difficult to get vendors to do presentations so close to MacWorld Boston; 4) nobody in their right mind stays in the Washington Metro area in August since the sensible thing to do is go on vacation far, far away.

Computer user groups, successful ones at least, are not slaves to tradition, and certainly not sensible, so the August meeting was devoted to preventive maintenance and repair. Yes, it was hot and sticky, but a large crowd did show up, anyway, and immediately dove into an animated, intense two hour discussion on how to keep your Macintosh healthy.

Outside the auditorium, Aspen Gold Software of Alexandria, VA (aspengld@netcom.com; 703-750-6692) kept up the games month tradition by demonstrating CrossPro, an approach to crossword puzzles that extends from fun to serious. Not only does the package contain hundreds of crossword puzzles for you to solve, but it also allows you to make your own puzzles, and has a cleverly designed, very comfortable interface. In addition to game enthusiasts, teachers should also consider the package as crossword puzzles are excellent tools for teaching spelling and vocabulary.

Back inside, the preventive maintenance and repair questions seemed to fall in a few groups:

Q.: How much memory do you really need to run System 7? System 7.5? Photoshop? PageMaker? Microsoft Office 4.2?

A.: As much as you can afford or as much as your machine permits. No, RAMdoubler is not an adequate substitute for real RAM.

Q.: My internal hard disk is full. Is it easy to replace an internal hard disk?

A.: On most machines, it is very easy to replace an internal hard disk (the exceptions are PowerBooks and the original "toaster" Macs). However, it may not be desirable. Adding an external hard disk is as easy as plugging in the cable and turning it on, and an external hard disk can be easily moved to a new, more powerful computer if you decide to get one. Given the present very low price of hard drives, there really isn't any excuse to avoid getting a bigger drive if you need one.

Q.: My machine crashes a lot when I am doing [whatever]. What should I do?

A.: Several things: 1) Boot from your Disk Tools Disk (or a bootable CD-ROM drive) and run the latest version of Apple's Disk First Aid utility to check for damaged disk directories and other problems; 2) Make sure that your hard disk uses a driver that is compatible with System 7/System 7.5 (many older Macs, and third-party hard drives, do not have compatible drivers); 3) Check your hard disk with Symantec's Norton Disk Utilities 3.1 or later (as of this writing, none of the other commercial disk maintenance programs are completely stable when used with System 7/7.5); 4) zap your PRAM (Parameter Random Access Memory) to remove any "stuck bits;" 5) If necessary, reinstall a fresh copy of your operating system, or your application.

Q.: I upgraded from System 7 to 7.5 and am having problems. What do I do?

A.: Make sure you update your hard disk driver to the latest version. Make sure you check your hard disk with Disk First Aid prior to doing an installation to make sure the disk is in good shape. Most important of all, do a Clean Install; do not install over the top of a previous version of the operating system but, instead, start from scratch. This will prevent any damaged elements from migrating to the new system, and also eliminate conflicts caused by non-standard extensions. Finally, upgrade your fresh System 7.5 to System 7.5.1 using the files on the Pi's bulletin board, the TCS, or from the Pi's Disk Library.

Q.: Can I do my own internal repairs on a PowerBook?

A.: Not recommended; PowerBooks are unusually sensitive to static damage, have really small, fragile parts, and are hard to take apart and put together.

Q.: What do you think of Iomega Bernoulli drives, Syquest drives, Iomega Zip drives, Iomega Jaz drives, magneto-optical drives?

A.: The Jaz drives don't exist yet (as of the meeting), the Zip drives are in very short supply, Syquest drives have a long history of being both prone to failure and suffering from a variety of incompatible drivers, and Bernoulli drives will eventually be replaced by Jaz and Zip drives. The 3.5" magneto-optical drive, in both the 128 MB and 230 MB versions, is not as fast as any of the former, but the cartridges have a longer shelf life, and the formatting conforms to an industry standard. For long-term backup, the magneto-optical drives are best; for day-to-day "my hard drive is full and I need to get rid of something!" chores, the Bernoulli and Zip drives seem to be the most reliable, the Syquest drives are faster, and it is possible the Jaz drives will ultimately be the most popular.

Q.: My Mac IIsi (with 5 MB of RAM) crashes when I run RAMdoubler, DiskDoubler, and virtual memory and try and run Photoshop, PageMaker and Word 6.0.1 at the same time.

A.: Don't do that.

Probably the two "best" reference books for preventive maintenance and repair are The Little Mac Book, 4th Edition, by Robin Williams (Peachpit Press, 1995; ISBN 1-56609-149-7; $17.95) and Guide to Macintosh System 7.5, by Don Crabb (Hayden Books, 1994; ISBN 1-56830-109-X; $25.00). Both books focus on how your Mac works, and why, rather than on repairing problems, but most Macintosh maintenance problems are caused by a failure to understand how the Mac operates. With The Little Mac Book as a highly readable, enthusiastic introduction to Macintosh mysteries, and Guide to Macintosh System 7.5 as a reference to the operating system, you should be able to avoid most problems, and quickly recover from those you don't avoid.

Capsule reviews of related books:

Sad Macs, Bombs and Other Disasters, 2nd Ed., by Ted Landau (Addison-Wesley, 1995; ISBN 0-201-40958-5; $34.95). Huge (nearly 900 pages), comprehensive guide to what goes wrong and how to fix it. While an excellent book, it does not provide any context of how the Mac operates and why. Highly recommended, but only if you read The Little Mac Book first. If you work with Macs for a living, this is an essential.

The Dead Mac Scrolls, by Larry Pina (Peachpit Press, 1992; ISBN 0-940235-25-0; $32). This is a comprehensive, detailed guide to the repair and upgrade of "older" Macs, monitors, ImageWriters and LaserWriters. Designed for someone comfortable with electrical components, wirecutters, screwdrivers, and an occasional soldering iron. The index is irritating until you get used to it, and there is virtually no attention given to software ‹ this is a hardware book. Recommended if you have older equipment, but only after you've read The Little Mac Book.

Protect Your Macintosh, by Bruce Schneier (Peachpit Press, 1994; ISBN 1-56609-101-2; $23.95). Most of this book is focused on a different sort of preventive maintenance: protecting your Macintosh from theft, spies, snoopy coworkers, sabotage, viruses and other disasters. It covers physical security (locking up the machine), virus protection, encryption, computer insurance, and the most neglected subject of all: backups. Highly recommended.

The Little Mac Toolkit, by Clay Andres (Peachpit Press, 1994; ISBN 1-56609-042-3; $34.95). The book is essentially a detailed guide to the freeware and shareware utilities included on the accompanying CD-ROM. As such, it is an excellent one-volume overview to such classics as Stuffit, Stuffit Expander, Compact Pro, SCSI Probe, TattleTale, MacEnvy, Greg's Buttons, Disinfectant, Before Dark and lots of other classics, including some games. On the one hand, it does its job well. On the other hand, it doesn't explain that some of these utilities do things you may wish to avoid, or that conflict with one another.

Macintosh System 7.5 for Dummies, by Bob LeVitus (IDG Books, 1994; ISBN 1-56884-197-3; $19.95). Decent overview of System 7.5 with great cartoons and an offensive title. LeVitus is scheduled to be at the Pi in February; be sure and tell him what you think of the title.

Upgrading &;Fixing Macs for Dummies, by Kearney Rietmann and Frank Higgins (IDG Books, 1994; ISBN 1-56884-189-2; $19.95). A good guide to how to take your Mac apart to install new stuff, but of little or no use on preventive maintenance. Like the LeVitus book above, it has great cartoons and an offensive title (dummies should work on MS-DOS machines, not Macs).

MacWorld Mac &;Power Mac Secrets, by David Pogue and Joseph Schorr (IDG Books, 1994; ISBN 1-56884-175-2; $39.95). This massive volume (1100 pages, plus three diskettes) has a decent index, covers lots of territory, and suffers from a poor theme. The entire book is devoted to the conceit that there are "secrets" buried in the Macintosh and, once you uncover them, everything will work better. As a result, you often find yourself immersed in a treasure hunt rather than presented with solid information and accompanying context. The book is also poorly bound, given its size, and you'll soon end up carrying it around in a paper sack if you use it often. Recommended only after you've read The Little Mac Book.

The Power Mac Book! by Ron Pronk (Coriolis Group, 1995; ISBN 1-883577-09-8; $34.95). While it does discuss the Power Mac and Power Mac software, and even includes a CD-ROM with some Power Mac utilities, the book isn't exceptional. Many of the topics covered (QuickTime, using the Internet, System 7.5) are not unique to the Power Mac, and are better covered in other books. A new edition is due in late 1995 or early 1996.

The Little System 7.1/7.5 Book, by Kay Yarborough Nelson (Peahpit Press, 1994; ISBN 1-56609-151-9; $13.95). A decent overview of System 7.1 and 7.5, it sometimes comes across as "chatty" despite the size (less than 200 pages), and sometimes looks like it was written in a hurry. There is allegedly a newer edition, devoted just to System 7.5, but I haven't seen it yet.

The Complete Guide to Mac Backup Management, by Dorian J. Cougias (Floating Point Press/APS Technologies, 1994; ISBN 1-885871-00-7; $50). Even including the disk of utilities, this volume is greatly overpriced: you get a self-indulgent, chatty review of backup techniques and disaster prevention techniques spiced with case studies, and along the way you are told, even if you didn't want to know, that the author is a former Green Beret and works for a hot-shot computer consulting firm. On the other hand, APS has recently been selling the book at about 10% of the original price, a bargain.


Lots of little trinkets from MacWorld were distributed. The most highly prized seemed to be a couple dozen copies of the MacUser Internet RoadMap.

Vendors mentioned:

The Coreolis Group, 7339 E. Acouma Drive, Suite 7, Scottsdale, AZ 85260

Floating Point Press/APS Technologies, 6131 Deramus, Kansas City, MO 64120-0087

Hayden Books, 201 W. 103rd St., Indianapolis, IN 46290

IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 155 Bovet Road, Suite 310, San Mateo, CA 94402

Peachpit Press, 2414 Sixth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

Send meeting comments to: lcharters@tcs.wap.org.

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