Breaking OSX; Breaking Apple

By Graham K. Rogers

The iMac gremlins arrived recently bringing a series of instabilities. These started when reactivating the computer from sleep. I added to the problems: I put the Bluetooth adapter in the USB port before the machine was awake and it died. When it finally restarted, it crashed again.

The first clues came at startup. I heard three beeps; the power light flashed three times: signals to indicate a memory access problem.

Why would the computer be unable to access the startup memory modules? The answer came when I found that the date was shown as 1 January 1970: a classic symptom of a dead battery.

In the Haynes manual, it looked as if the iMac would need the case open: a task I accepted but dreaded. However, the nice man at Copperwired told me I could access the battery through the same flap used to install memory.

I pulled out all cables, put a towel on the the desk and turned the iMac over so that it was screen-down, exposing the flap, which I undid with a one-baht coin. Memory is easy to get at, but it took a second or two to spot the battery.

I am unsure which cousin of E.T. they have as technician at the shop, but I had problems pushing my fingers up into the space to remove the battery. It took both hands: one finger each hand.

Replacement was even more problematic. If I messed up, the battery would fall inside the chassis. I would be creating greater problems.

Gravity was the enemy. I reduced the risk by turning the iMac over even more, so that the motherboard was horizontal, albeit upside-down. With the battery right way up -- the flat side (negative) goes in the top of the fixture -- I manoeuvered it over the bracket, turned my hand round, then pressed it firmly in. I put the flap back and turned the iMac over.

Book review: Linzmayer, Owen. W. Apple Confidential 2.0: The Definitive History of the World's Most Colorful Company. No Starch Press; San Francisco, 2004. US$19.95. ISBN: 1-59327-010-0

Apple Confidential has all the dirt on how Apple came into existence, the developments (failed and successful), the personalities in the driving seat over the years, and the "Return of the King", Steve Jobs. It was great to read a computer book and be unable to put it down.

What struck me most was not how wonderful Apple is; but how on earth has it survived in the face of such incompetent management and decision-making?

Apple Confidential cover shotI had already seen a major section in MacWorld (UK), printed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Macintosh. It was a surprise to me that Steve Jobs had first tried to kill the Macintosh -- with the Apple 2 in full swing and the advent of the Lisa. Sculley's cause célèbre was the Newton (he is credited with coining the phrase "personal digital assistant" -- PDA), which Jobs dumpeded almost as soon as he was back.

Linzmayer also makes clear why Apple has such a reputation for expensive computers: new technology introduced by Apple (3.5 inch floppy disks, USB, firewire, and of course the Xerox-inspired GUI) finally finding its way into the mainstream PC market. They really were expensive. Today's range is bargain basement.

Linzmayer has done his research. The book is peppered with interesting -- occasionally embarrassing -- quotes from the guilty parties inside and outside Apple. There are a couple of naughty quotes from Bill Gates who, despite the beliefs of the "I hate Micrososft" brigade (and I must include myself), has a real interest in the survival of Apple. That is not to suggest -- as this book makes clear -- that he is not averse to some sharp practices.

Apart from Woz (Steve Wozniak), designer Jonathan Ive and Fred Anderson, the recently-retired financial director, no one comes out of this book totally unscathed. Jobs, Sculley, Spender, Gassée particularly, Gil Amelio: all are found wanting. Perhaps all US companies lurch close to destruction like this, but it is only the terminal cases that get found out.

I loved the frequent quotes from main players. These were placed to one side of the main text and would sometimes be in complete contrast to a character's actions in the narrative: lots of computer folks speak with forked tongues.

The later chapters, of course, deal with the phoenix that Apple has become, and the return of Jobs through convoluted business relationship that concern Apple, NeXT and Pixar -- how lucky can some people be? These dealing are covered in other chapters, and these particularly had me agape. Each chapter has a useful section with a timeline of decisions and events.

Although this is aimed at those interested in Apple, it ought to be required reading for those studying for an MBA: there are reasons a company will not lay down and die.

Note: Owen W. Linzmayer, has been in touch and mentions that he is selling autographed copies. If you order directly, there is a saving over the retail cost: $20 for delivery in the US, and $25 for elsewhere: from Owen Ink, 2227 15th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94116-1824. To pay via PayPal, or for more information, visit his web site.

A user in Phuket had been suffering from what is known as the "rolling disconnect": the internal modem receives a busy signal, shows that it is disconnecting, but never finishes: the line is free, but the modem is not. For the few users who suffer from this, the only solution is a restart, although the modem can be tricked with a Unix "kill" command.

Kurt Kauffman of Useful Software -- well-named, eh? -- has a script to run the necessary command. It runs it five times actually. You can download it from Kurt's site.

Leave the file on the Desktop and double-click if the problem appears. I take no responsibility for what may happen (nor does Useful Software), but I had no problems when I tested it.

Latest reports from Phuket suggest that, after it was run once, it was not needed again.

Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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