A Stroll Down Mac Memory Lane
by Steve Wood
May 16, 2008
I've taken a bit of a stroll down computer memory lane the last few weeks. Something had gotten me started updating the links and improving the graphics on an old, but frequently viewed column, Illustrated Mac IIci Teardown. From time to time I try to update links on the most frequently viewed columns on the site. One that had defied updating because of all the stuff that simply is no longer available was Teacher Tools 4: A Roll-Your-Own Spelling Program. I decided to take yet another stab at updating the links in it and found that the spelling templates file linked in the column appeared not to decompress properly. Since the templates were something teachers might still use, I found the old ClarisWorks 5 files for them on my G5, opened them up in AppleWorks 6, and then saved them in the AppleWorks 6 format. I also was able to use the AppleWorks 6 files to convert the files to the the Pages format from Apple's iWork suite and Microsoft Word format. Of course, all the hits on these pages may just be some computer science or journalism teacher showing their students bad examples!
The Teacher Tools series actually appeared first on Dan Knight's Low End Mac site during the first year of my View from the Classroom series of columns. I think I did some of my best writing for Dan and Low End. Unfortunately, at the time I was writing for Dan, my classroom caseload was going nuts, so I gave up writing for Low End and took View to my own site for its last few years. Without any deadlines to meet (more self-imposed than anything Dan did), not a lot got posted over the next few years and the series was retired when I retired from the classroom. I have to say that I like having the ability to go back to my own server and update links on old, frequently viewed columns, but deadlines do help me be a bit more productive.
Once done with the file conversions and uploading the new file to the server, I decided to see if the old template file was corrupted or if it was just a case of newer software no longer supporting older file types. I keep a G4 QuickSilver dual boot capable machine on hand and hooked up to my Cinema Display for just such investigations. It still boots from Mac OS 9 as well as Mac OS X (Tiger and Leopard and Mac OS X 10.3.9 Server). I fired it up, selected my OS 9 installation for the boot volume, and restarted. I quickly found that my USB keyboard and mouse were drawing power but not working. The machine appeared to lock up at the end of startup when the desktop displayed. So I restarted in safe mode and selected good old Conflict Catcher, as I suspected an extensions conflict more than a hardware error.
If you've forgotten about extension conflicts or are too young to have worked with the old, classic Mac OS, Conflict Catcher was an essential tool for serious Mac users to track down what extension was causing problems at startup. It would carry on a series of restarts, methodically activating a number of extensions at a time to isolate the offending system extension(s). It could also alter the order in which system items loaded at startup, so that if you had an idea of what the problem item was, you could change the load order which would sometimes fix things.
On my eighth restart the problem was reproduced on the QuickSilver. Doing a conflict test is not a quick task. While doing the restarts, I got my old G3 Minitower set up, started it, selected a classic system folder to restart into (the G3 booted to Mac OS X 10.2 by default), and even though I'd selected an OS 9 system folder, it ended up rebooting into System 8.1 on a completely different volume! Under System 8.1 on the G3, I was able to download and decompress the file in question, so I "knew" my problem was with the old compression format. Later, when I checked the desktop of my G5, I found the file had decompressed properly, but appeared in an unusual spot on the screen. Duh!
Once Conflict Catcher was on the trail of the problem, I noticed that it had changed the estimated number of remaining restarts from 2 to 9. If I'd only known that it would take over 40 restarts to isolate the multiple offending files! Conflict Catcher eventually identified five or six offending files including several ATI driver extensions from a botched manual update I'd done when I hooked the QuickSilver into a DVM box connected to my 23" Cinema Display. Just to make sure all was well, I decided to log into Software Update under System 9.2.2. But the Software Update control panel and a number of other items weren't to be found on the hard drive. Apparently, the system folder I was booting from was one of those slimmed down versions designed for use in the Classic mode under OS X!
So after a glorious afternoon of conflict testing, I found myself rummaging through my software disks and doing a fresh install of System 9.2.2 from an old iBook installer disk. It booted the QuickSilver and the installation proceeded without any problems. I ran software update and also updated my video drivers, carefully removing the ones Conflict Catcher had previously identified as potential problems. After that, it was just a matter of dragging my various classic add-ons to the new system folder.
In the meantime, I fired up Claris Home Page under system 8.1 and started writing this column on the old G3 running System 8.1. I also reacquainted myself with the intricacies of connecting to another computer under System 8.1 via AppleShare. I'd forgotten that after setting AppleTalk and TCP/IP to Ethernet that you use the Chooser to select AppleShare and connect. Once I did that, I found that my current OS X password exceeded the old AppleTalk maximum size, so I logged into my G5 as a guest and uploaded this file to it.
One of the things I noticed as I accessed the old System 8.1 help files was the old Apple Guide. It was an excellent tutorial help system, sadly later abandoned by Apple, that had step-by-step directions including the help system monitoring if you had the correct window open and circling what you needed to focus on. Developers could easily create directions with it, as I'd played around with that years ago.
While I felt a bit foolish about not seeing where the file had decompressed, it had gotten me started working with some of my older computers.
I moved on to other columns to be updated, attacking one that had defied updates in the past. My Illustrated Power Mac 7500 Teardown column had long suffered from the original graphics taken with a very early digital camera with a max resolution of 640x480. Since my 7500 had gone home with a student years ago, I though I was just cooked on redoing any of the photos, but I stumbled across my dad's old Power Mac 7300 while looking for something else in my computer workshop. While the motherboard is a bit different from the 7500's, the case and drive arrangement are nearly identical. I ended up completely tearing down the 7300 to get some better photos. After reassembling the computer, I fired it up and was pleasantly surprised to see how well it worked. Dad now works on an Intel powered iMac!
When returning the 7300 to its storage area, I spied my venerable Mac IIfx. At one time, I had two working fx's and a third "stealth fx" built into an old Mac II case. I succumbed to greed a year or so ago and sold the backup fx to a nice lady who was trying to save some files on a hard drive from an fx.
I opened up the Mac IIfx to make sure all the chips were seated, hooked it up to an old monitor and fired it up. Of course, it quickly gave me the chimes of death. Having played this game frequently with the machine, I opened it up, pulled the drive riser, and cleaned the ROM SIMM and reinstalled it. The machine then booted without complaint.
I quickly realized that I didn't have an ethernet card in the fx, so I found an old Farallon NuBus ethernet card and installed it. When the fx booted, the green indicator light indicated the card was functioning. Unfortunately, I found that I didn't have a web browser on the machine, and it was unable to log into my G5 via AppleShare, as AppleShare under System 7.6.1 is incompatible with the newer system.
I went back to the G4 QuickSilver, booted into System 9.2.2 and was able to connect via AppleShare to both the G5 (where I have lots of old browser installers stored) and the fx. In a short time I'd transferred iCab 2.9.9 (68K version) to the fx.
It took a long time for Educators' News to load on the old fx, and a couple of YouTube embedded images didn't display, but I was pleased to see that the old fx could still browse the internet. A note on the top of the fx said I'd last run the computer in 2005!
On a roll, I pulled out a Mac SE/30 my old buddy Mark Crosby had told me was on the "free table" at work. Since I've frequently contributed to the table, I didn't feel bad about walking away with the old classic. It's screen is a bit twitchy and the floppy drive doesn't work well either, but I did find an old SCSI Ethernet adapter on eBay! Maybe I'll get it online soon, but for now, just playing around with Word 4 on it was fun. I also found this machine had a pretty cool screen saver installed. I'd forgotten all the fantastic classic screen savers that existed at one time (think flying toasters).
Retired or Unemployed?
Annie and I aren't quite sure yet whether I have really retired this time or am just taking a break before looking for new challenges on the web and in education. I do have my Resumé updated and posted, but I'm having a lot of fun just catching up on home repairs, gardening, and reacquainting myself with some of my old computers. I've thought about starting a gardening web site for seniors, doing independent Moodle training, going back to the classroom for a bit, and lots of other stuff.
Right now, I'm going to go mow grass. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. :-)
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©2008 Steven L. Wood