TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Mar 95 Viewpoint
Volume Number:11
Issue Number:3
Column Tag:The Editor’s Viewpoint

The Editor’s Viewpoint

By Scott T Boyd, Editor

I recently came across the following e-mail closing:

“(Anxiously awaiting a protected memory MacOS)”

We all know what he was getting at, don’t we? If only we had memory protection, life would be oh-so-much better. As often as we hear this, read this, and utter this, it must be true.

Memory protection - it’s got to be good. Make sure that stray writes won’t damage anything else, and the machine will stand solid as a rock, impervious to the vagaries of programmer error and lack of foresight. Let’s go march in front of Apple’s R&D center with placards, bullhorns, and riot police, and demand our memory protection now!

pan•a•ce•a n. a supposed remedy, cure, or medicine for all diseases or ills; cure-all [Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition]

Memory protection sounds so good, but it’s a panacea, a holy grail. Now, that’s not to say that it’s necessarily a bad thing; far from it. Nevertheless, it’s not the solution. If it were, unix systems wouldn’t crash, and wouldn’t get corrupted, but they do.

What is the solution? I’ll get to that, but for now consider this - fixation on a panacea can distract us to the point of missing real solutions.

The writer of the e-mail I mentioned above listed a serious of difficulties he experienced recently while trying to install and use a complex environment. He also offered his workarounds. Let’s take a look at the problems.

Crashes. Workaround - reinstall MacOS from scratch (clean install). Reason - system corruption from repeated crashes.

Corrupted files and file system. Workaround - run Norton Utilities, Disk First Aid, and so forth. A bad file system often gets worse, so fix problems early and avoid more damage.

Faulty system extensions. Workaround - remove suspect extensions. These can cause trouble whether they’re intact or corrupted.

Unknown crashes. Workaround - power down the machine for a few minutes. Reason - don’t know, but it seems to work sometimes when simple rebooting doesn’t.

Incorrect parameter RAM settings. Workaround - zap PRAM. Reason - bad settings can result in improperly configured hardware and software.

While this list isn’t complete, let’s see what we can quickly figure out about what’s happening here.

Problem: corrupted system file. Possible causes include:

• power or system failure during a write to the system file, due to “natural causes” or “human nature” (see below).

• power or system failure before the file system cache is flushed to disk, or while a file is open

• faulty hardware (SCSI termination, SCSI drive, cables, etc.)

• bad software changing the system file unintentionally or incorrectly.

Problem: file system corruption. Possible causes include all of the above, as well as improper use of file system calls (e.g. it would be bad to write directly to any of a number of system-owned files).

Problem: incompatibilities introduced by extensions. Possible causes are too numerous to mention. It’s hard to write system software, and that’s what extensions are - system software. Extendibility makes the Macintosh interesting, and it comes with a price.

Problem: Only a shutdown, power off, then restart solves problem. Typically caused by equipment problems (overheating, for example). Might also be that something needs to be reset but doesn’t except during a cold start.

Problem: configuration settings improperly set. Probable cause? Someone or something writing to PRAM unintentionally or incorrectly.

Back to the suggestion that protected memory will fix lots of problems - will it?

Will it protect the file system from corruption in the event of power failure? system failure? Wouldn’t that really require a robust file system? Perhaps a transaction-based system, complete with commit/rollback (like most databases do)?

Power failure comes in many forms. “Human nature” runs deep, and I’ve seen power failure result from inadvertent use of what looks very much like a floppy eject button on the front of certain models of Macintosh (e.g. my PowerMac 6100). My 18-month-old daughter, who seriously enjoys inserting floppies into floppy slots, one day put one into my 6100.

When I explained that it can only hold one, and you have to take it out before you can put another in, she decided that she’d better get that first one out of there. Without hesitation, she reached right up to push the floppy eject button. The next 60 ticks flowed by as slowly as a glacier’s movement as I (calmly?) said, “NO!” and rushed to avert disaster.

If only I’d had protected memory, right? A system design along the lines of a PowerBook (such as a soft power switch and battery backup) might prove more efficacious. (Of course, moving the switch elsewhere might work, too!)

Will memory protection defend against poorly-written system software? Having written some Apple system software myself, I can assure you that it’s entirely possible that Apple might accidentally ship some system software that has a bug in it. Not that I ever shipped any bugs (not on purpose, at any rate), but I did ship a few bug fixes, some for buggy Apple code, some for buggy 3rd-party code. Any errors in the system software may bring it to its knees, no matter what kind of protection is in place. Ever see a unix kernel crash? I have. Ever see the Power Macintosh memory-protected nanokernel crash? I have (three times yesterday, and twice today, unfortunately). Computers are complicated beasts, and it’s extremely tough to cover all the possibilities, memory protection notwithstanding.

Will memory protection protect against someone writing to the system file directly? Nope. How about protecting against someone adding or changing resources in the system file? Again, nope. Is it possible to protect the system file? Sure. One example is the Macintosh Classic, which can boot from ROM (just try to change that system file!). By the same token, anything that is protected by a software mechanism, yet offers an API for writing, opens up the possibility that someone may use it incorrectly. This same reasoning covers what happens with PRAM. It’s generally pretty difficult to write to PRAM without using the API. Yet we still see situations where the PRAM (or the CUDA, which handles serial on the AVs) gets incorrectly configured. Bugs in Apple’s code? Bugs in 3rd party code? Sure. Will protection help? Not really.

What’s the solution? Modernization, certainly. Memory protection is a good thing (holy grails are nice to have), but it’s going to be a while yet. And keep in mind what it’s supposed to protect against - flawed software that goes astray. And who writes it? We all do! It’s time that we learn what mistakes we’re making, and then teach each other about them, and then devise methods to avoid them.

Finally, Apple could help out with overhauled and/or new APIs which help us avoid common pitfalls. Such APIs could help by making errors harder to make (reducing the error modes), and by offering services so we can stop writing some of the same old code for the umpteenth time. And how about offering only the calls we need, and not a few thousand calls of everything you could ever think of?

On a Slightly Different Topic

So you want to start a company and you’re sweating it out at your “real” job while developing your killer idea? Maybe you’ve taken the big step and gone out on your own to bring the killer idea to market. Maybe, just maybe, it looks almost like a product. Now what do you do? Why, marketing, of course! And how better to start than by building a “presence”? Not every upstart could pull it off, but the odd assortment of Collaboration Technologies, Mark/Space Softworks, MacUp, Mac the Knife, and even Apple filled Bondage A Go Go with wide-eyed MacWorld show-goers to mingle and gawk at people in black/leather/fetish attire. As with many marketing efforts, it’s hard to know whether Mac Black ’95 achieved the desired effect, but no doubt remains about whether the attendees will remember it!

Food For Thought

Have Net, will travel! - Brad Kollmyer

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Postbox 5.0.9 - Powerful and flexible em...
Postbox is a new email application that helps you organize your work life and get stuff done. It has all the elegance and simplicity of Apple Mail, but with more power and flexibility to manage even... Read more
DiskCatalogMaker 6.5.16 - Catalog your d...
DiskCatalogMaker is a simple disk management tool which catalogs disks. Simple, light-weight, and fast. Finder-like intuitive look and feel. Super-fast search algorithm. Can compress catalog data... Read more
TrailRunner 3.8.827 - Route planning for...
TrailRunner is the perfect companion for runners, bikers, hikers, and all people wandering under the sky. Plan routes on a geographical map. Import GPS or workout recordings and journalize your... Read more
VueScan 9.5.61 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
Postbox 5.0.9 - Powerful and flexible em...
Postbox is a new email application that helps you organize your work life and get stuff done. It has all the elegance and simplicity of Apple Mail, but with more power and flexibility to manage even... Read more
VueScan 9.5.61 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
DiskCatalogMaker 6.5.16 - Catalog your d...
DiskCatalogMaker is a simple disk management tool which catalogs disks. Simple, light-weight, and fast. Finder-like intuitive look and feel. Super-fast search algorithm. Can compress catalog data... Read more
TrailRunner 3.8.827 - Route planning for...
TrailRunner is the perfect companion for runners, bikers, hikers, and all people wandering under the sky. Plan routes on a geographical map. Import GPS or workout recordings and journalize your... Read more
Civilization VI 1.0.1 - Next iteration o...
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is the next entry in the popular Civilization franchise. Originally created by legendary game designer Sid Meier, Civilization is a strategy game in which you attempt to... Read more
Chromium 55.0.2883.75 - Fast and stable...
Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. Version 55.0.2883.75: Security fixes: High CVE-2016... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Amateur Surgeon 4 Guide: Become the worl...
It's time to wield your trusty pizza cutter again, as Amateur Surgeon has returned with a whole fresh set of challenges (and some old, familiar ones, too). Starting anew isn't easy, especially when all you have at your disposal is a lighter, the... | Read more »
Le Parker: Sous Chef Extraordinaire (Ga...
Le Parker: Sous Chef Extraordinaire 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Telltale Games really is working on a Gu...
Telltale Games' next episodic adventure is indeed Guardians of the Galaxy. A document tied to the voice actors strike suggested that the project was in the work, but now we have direct confirmation following an announcement at the Game Awards that... | Read more »
Amateur Surgeon returns to iOS and Andro...
Amateur Surgeon and its two sequels disappeared from the App Store some time and it was sad days for all. But now, just in time for the holidays, the Adult Swim favorite makes its joyous return in the shape of Amateur Surgeon 4, a remake with... | Read more »
The best board games on mobile
Sometimes you need to ditch all of the high speed, high action games in favor of something a little more traditional. If you don't feel like parting ways from your mobile device, though, there are still plenty of ways to get that old-school fix.... | Read more »
The best Facebook Messenger Instant Game...
Facebook's new Instant Games is now here, meaning you can play games with your friends directly via Facebook. It's a fun new way to connect with friends, of course, but it's also proving to be a solid gaming experience in its own right, with a... | Read more »
You can now play game's on Facebook...
Facebook launched its new Instant Games platform in an exciting new attempt to engage its user base. As a result, you can now play a number of different games directly through Facebook Messenger. All of these games run with HTML5, meaning you play... | Read more »
Apollo Justice Ace Attorney (Games)
Apollo Justice Ace Attorney 1.00.00 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.00.00 (iTunes) Description: Court Is Back In Session Star as rookie defense attorney, Apollo Justice, as he visits crime scenes,... | Read more »
KORG iWAVESTATION (Music)
KORG iWAVESTATION 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $19.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: A revolutionary new world of sound.The Wave Sequence Synthesizer for iPad - KORG iWAVESTATION | Read more »
Don't Grind Guide: Tips for becomin...
Don’t Grind is a surprising, derpy little one touch game with fun hand-drawn graphics. The goal is simple -- get the high score without being chopped to bits. That can be tough when you’re not used to the game, and that’s compounded by the fact... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Holiday sale: Apple MacBook Airs available fo...
B&H Photo has 13″ MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MMGF2LL/A): $899 $100 off MSRP - 13″ 1.6GHz/... Read more
13-inch Silver Touch Bar MacBook Pro in stock...
Amazon has the new 2016 13″ 2.9GHz/256GB Silver Touch Bar MacBook Pro (MLVP2LL/A) in stock today and on sale for $1749 including free shipping. That’s $50 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price... Read more
Parallels Toolbox 1.3 for Mac Offers 25 Singl...
Parallels has launched Parallels Toolbox 1.3 for Mac, an upgrade that adds five new utilities to the stand-alone application which was released in August and is available exclusively online at http... Read more
OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini Ultra-Portabl...
OWC has introduced the new OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini, a powerful yet ultra-portable dual-drive RAID solution. The new Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini packs phenomenal performance into a small... Read more
Clearance 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros availab...
B&H Photo has clearance 2015 13″ Retina Apple MacBook Pros available for up to $200 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $... Read more
Roundup of 2016 13-inch 2.0GHz MacBook Pro sa...
B&H has the non-Touch Bar 13″ MacBook Pros in stock today for $50-$100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray (MLL42LL/A): $1449 $... Read more
New 13-inch 2.0GHz Space Gray MacBook Pro in...
Adorama has the new 13″ 2.0GHz Space Gray MacBook Pro (non-Touch Bar, MLL42LL/A) in stock for $1499 including a free 3-year AppleCare Protection Plan. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax... Read more
Finnair Adopts iOS Enterprise iPad Apps from...
Finnair and IBM have announced a first-of-its-kind agreement to utilize iOS enterprise apps from IBM to support the airline’s overall digital transformation. Finnair is focused on Asia-Europe traffic... Read more
Tech21 Launches Evo Go iPhone 7 Case Availabl...
Tech21 has announced the launch of the Evo Go case for Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, exclusively at T-Mobile. Available online and at participating T-Mobile stores nationwide, Evo Go cases start... Read more
Apple Turns (RED) with More Ways to Join the...
In recognition of World AIDS Day, Apple is offering more ways than ever for customers to join (RED) in its mission to create an AIDS-free generation. Apple is the worlds largest corporate contributor... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Kansas...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Chicago...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Hardware Design Validation Engineer - *Apple...
The Apple Watch team is looking for a Hardware Design Validation Engineer. This person will be part of the Apple Watch hardware team with responsibilities for Read more
SW Engineer *Apple* TV Frameworks - Apple I...
The Apple TV team is looking for a software...create features that reflect the look and feel of Apple TV. Description: Were looking for someone who is Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Greenwi...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.