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

Acorn 5.6.1 - Bitmap image editor.
Acorn is a new image editor built with one goal in mind - simplicity. Fast, easy, and fluid, Acorn provides the options you'll need without any overhead. Acorn feels right, and won't drain your bank... Read more
Dash 3.4.3 - Instant search and offline...
Dash is an API documentation browser and code snippet manager. Dash helps you store snippets of code, as well as instantly search and browse documentation for almost any API you might use (for a full... Read more
Microsoft Remote Desktop 8.0.37 - Connec...
With Microsoft Remote Desktop, you can connect to a remote PC and your work resources from almost anywhere. Experience the power of Windows with RemoteFX in a Remote Desktop client designed to help... Read more
Macs Fan Control 1.4.7.0 - Monitor and c...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more
MacFamilyTree 8.1.3 - Create and explore...
MacFamilyTree gives genealogy a facelift: modern, interactive, convenient and fast. Explore your family tree and your family history in a way generations of chroniclers before you would have loved.... Read more
Boom 2 1.5.2 - $14.99
Boom 2 is a system-wide volume booster and equalizer app that is designed especially for OS X 10.10 Yosemite. It comes with a smart interface, self-calibrates itself according to your Mac, offers... Read more
Macs Fan Control 1.4.7.0 - Monitor and c...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more
Boom 2 1.5.2 - $14.99
Boom 2 is a system-wide volume booster and equalizer app that is designed especially for OS X 10.10 Yosemite. It comes with a smart interface, self-calibrates itself according to your Mac, offers... Read more
MacFamilyTree 8.1.3 - Create and explore...
MacFamilyTree gives genealogy a facelift: modern, interactive, convenient and fast. Explore your family tree and your family history in a way generations of chroniclers before you would have loved.... Read more
WhiteCap 6.6 - Visual plug-in for iTunes...
WhiteCap is a sleek and sophisticated music visualizer and screensaver that features futuristic, wireframe mesh visuals with dynamic backgrounds and colors. WhiteCap contains thousands of visual... Read more

Stickman Surfer rides in with the tide t...
Stickson is back and this time he's taken up yet another extreme sport - surfing. Stickman Surfer is out this Thursday on both iOS and Android, so if you've been following the other Stickman adventures, you might be interested in picking this one... | Read more »
Z-Exemplar (Games)
Z-Exemplar 1.4 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.4 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
5 dastardly difficult roguelikes like th...
Edmund McMillen's popular roguelike creation The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has finally crawled onto mobile devices. It's a grotesque dual-stick shooter that tosses you into an endless, procedurally generated basement as you, the pitiable Isaac,... | Read more »
Last week on PocketGamer
Welcome to a weekly feature looking back on the past seven days of coverage on our sister website, PocketGamer. It’s taken a while for 2017 to really get going, at least when it comes to the world of portable gaming. Thank goodness, then, for... | Read more »
ROME: Total War - Barbarian Invasion set...
To the delight of mobile strategy fans, Feral Interactive released ROME: Total War just a few months ago. Now the game's expansion, Barbarian Invasion is marching onto iPads as a standalone release. [Read more] | Read more »
Yuri (Games)
Yuri 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: It's night. Yuri opens his eyes. He wakes up in a strange forest.The small, courageous explorer rides on his bed on casters in this... | Read more »
Space schmup Xenoraid launches on the Ap...
10Tons Xenoraid is out today on the App Store, bringing some high-speed space action to your mobile gadgets just in time for the weekend. The company's last premium title, another sci-fi game titled Neon Chrome, did quite well for itself, so... | Read more »
Star Wars: Force Arena Beginner's G...
Star Wars: Force Arena joined the populous ranks of Star Wars games on mobile today. It's a two-lane MOBA starring many familiar faces from George Lucas's famed sci-fi franchise. As with most games of this nature, Force Arena can be a little obtuse... | Read more »
Mysterium: The Board Game (Games)
Mysterium: The Board Game 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The official adaptation of the famous board game Mysterium! | Read more »
Sonny (Games)
Sonny 1.0.4 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.4 (iTunes) Description: Reimagined for iOS, cult-hit RPG Sonny brings challenging turn-based combat that requires strategy and mastery of each new skill to... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Back in stock: Apple refurbished 13-inch Reti...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 13″ Retina MacBook Pros available for up to $360 off original MSRP, starting at $1099. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is... Read more
CalcTape for macOS 1.2 Adding Machine App for...
schoettler Software has announced CalcTape 1.2, an update to their desktop calculator for macOS. When it comes to adding long columns of numbers, doing complex calculations or playing around with... Read more
New MacBooks And MacBook Pros WIth Kaby Lake...
Digitimes’ Joseph Tsai cites a Chinese-language Economic Daily News (EDN) report that unnamed market watchers are predicting Apple MacBook shipments to grow 10 percent in 2017, and projecting 15... Read more
New 2016 13-inch MacBook Pros on sale for up...
B&H Photo has the new 2016 13″ MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.9GHz/512GB Touch Bar MacBook Pro... Read more
New 15-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock a...
B&H Photo has the new 2016 15″ Apple Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.7GHz Touch Bar... Read more
Opera Announces Neon Concept Browser For Mac
Opera is inviting users to get a glimpse of what Opera for computers could become with its Opera Neon browser concept. Each Opera Neon feature is described as “an alternate reality” for the Opera... Read more
Tellini Releases TabView 3.0 Missing Tool fo...
Tellini has announced the release of TabView 3.0. TabView has been the first macOS viewer for PowerTab tablatures. PowerTab is a well-known and widely adopted tablature editor for Windows systems and... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Overstock.com has the 1.6GHz/128GB 13″ MacBook Air on sale for $130 off MSRP including free shipping: - 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MMGF2LL/A): $869.99 $130 off MSRP Their price is the lowest... Read more
12-inch 32GB Space Gray iPad Pro on sale for...
B&H Photo has 12″ Space Gray 32GB WiFi Apple iPad Pros on sale for $55 off MSRP including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 12″ Space Gray 32GB WiFi iPad Pro: $744.44 $55 off... Read more
9-inch 32GB Space Gray iPad Pro on sale for $...
B&H Photo has the 9.7″ 32GB Space Gray Apple iPad Pro on sale for $549 for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (Multi-L...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* & PC Desktop Support Technician...
Apple & PC Desktop Support Technician job in Stamford, CT We have immediate job openings for several Desktop Support Technicians with one of our most well-known Read more
*Apple* macOS Systems Integration Administra...
…most exceptional support available in the industry. SCI is seeking an Junior Apple macOS systems integration administrator that will be responsible for providing Read more
*Apple* Premier Retailer - Service Technicia...
DescriptionSimply Mac is the largest premier retailer for Apple products and solutions. At Simply Mac we are all Apple , all the time. Same products. Same prices. Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.