TweetFollow Us on Twitter

25 Years of MacTech: Mac Memories by Adam Engst

Volume Number: 26
Issue Number: 03
Column Tag: 25th Anniversary Stories

25 Years of MacTech: Mac Memories by Adam Engst

Back when I was an undergrad at Cornell University, before I started TidBITS, I worked in Cornell's public computer rooms (this was before everyone had their own computer, so most students had to go to a computer room to use a Mac). Cornell was an extremely early adopter of the Mac, so we had quite a few rooms of Macs around campus. After a semester and a summer of working as a PTOP (Part Time Operator)-the person who sat behind the desk, signed out boot floppies, and made sure no one stole the LaserWriters-I was promoted to being a "STOS" - Student Terminal Operations Supervisor. (Cornell was a little acronym happy in those days.)

One of the rooms I was in charge of was actually had no PTOPs-it was an unmanned facility in which the Macs were locked down to desks, though that didn't prevent students from stealing the mouse balls as a way of ensuring that there would always be a computer available. It was in Carpenter Hall, the Engineering Library, and it was frequented primarily by Computer Science students.

For the most part, we didn't have a lot of interaction with the computer science students. Although many CS majors applied for jobs in the computer rooms, most couldn't interview their way out of a paper bag. People skills were far more important than programming skills for someone who was babysitting recalcitrant printers and helping sorority girls use tabs to format their resumes. But we always assumed the CS students knew their way around a Mac, since they were learning programming.

One day I was in Carpenter Hall's computer room with one of my employees, discussing how we were going to rearrange the room to get several Macs out from under a leaky water pipe. Non-stop excitement, I assure you. We weren't wearing badges or anything else that identified us, but somehow the upperclassman CS consultant who was in the room to help the freshman CS students figured out that we were responsible for the Macs, so he came over to ask us if we could help one of the students with a problem her Mac was having.

Keep in mind, we're talking about single-floppy Mac Plus machines here, so you had to have a boot disk that stored the system, your applications, and your documents on a single 800K floppy. (More amazingly, they all fit!) So, even though it wasn't our job to help the CS students, we figured it might be a hardware problem with the Mac, which was our problem.

When we walked over to look at the Mac in question, it had a modal dialog box on the screen that had apparently flummoxed both the student and the consultant. It said, and I quote, "You cannot erase the startup disk." There was only one button to click, though I can't remember if it was an OK or Cancel button.

My guy and I looked at each other, and we looked at the students and we said, in unison, "It means that you can't erase the startup disk." Both the freshman and the upperclassman looked relieved, and said, "Oh, well, that's okay then" and clicked the button. We smiled at them and walked back to look at our leaky pipes.

Though this was a popular story among our Mac-savvy colleagues, few of whom were taking any CS classes, the real point was that we learned that no matter how clear a user interface may be, sometimes it takes a person to explain precisely what it means.

Of course, we had plenty of other run-ins with far more sophisticated students, such as the one who figured out how to make an invisible copy of MacPlaymate the startup application on the hard drive-equipped Mac Pluses that drove our LaserWriters, or the students who figured out how to hack infinite amounts of money onto the vendacards that we used to charge students for laser printing. Then there was the excitement of discovering and dealing with some of the very first Macintosh viruses; after graduating and starting TidBITS, a colleague at Cornell and I were the first to discover the MDEF virus.

But no one held a candle to the guy who figured out how to send PostScript code directly to a LaserWriter and change the password from the default of 0 to some number between 0 and 32,767. The problem was that each attempt to change the password took 11 seconds, so it could have taken up to 4 days of constant execution to try each possible number. But we couldn't even do that, since the LaserWriter EEPROM, where the password was stored, was rated for only 10,000 writes. So if our program didn't guess in the first 10,000 tries, the LaserWriter's motherboard was toast. We were at an impasse, but eventually the solution presented itself in the form of a "friend" of the hacker who told us the password. We suspected it was the hacker himself, but we had no evidence and were just happy to avoid an expensive repair.

Wait, one more! One of the other computer rooms I was in charge of had a network of 20 double-floppy Macintosh SEs, with a pair of hard-drive equipped SEs in a cabinet to act as file servers over LocalTalk. Our PTOPs signed out boot disks that provided access to the applications on the servers, with a particular floppy for each Mac, and each Mac having access to a folder of applications on the server. It was an odd setup, with the primary goal being to ensure that we could use only 20 copies of the applications, since that's all we had licenses for.

But we only had 20 Macs, and replicating the folder of applications 20 times seemed silly. In fact, the main reason there were 2 servers was because the 20 MB hard drives were large enough to hold only 10 copies of all the applications.

At some point, I learned that it was possible to set a shared bit for applications using ResEdit, at which point multiple people could use the same application over the network at the same time. Once I realized this, I couldn't see any reason for the second server, since a single copy of all the applications could be shared among all 20 Macs from one server. So late one night, after we closed up, a friend and I tested this theory, and discovered that not only did it work, it increased performance because the server hard drives didn't have to seek all over to satisfy requests from different Macs. So we reconfigured one of the servers and redid all the boot disks, and watched it carefully the next day.

When it proved to be a smashing success, we gleefully informed our boss, who didn't respond with particular enthusiasm, which we didn't understand. After all, we'd just improved performance for users and freed up an expensive server for our organization, all while staying entirely within the terms of our software licenses. It turned out that we had stepped across organizational boundaries, since networks were installed by a different department, and those people were unamused at being shown up by a couple of students. Nevertheless, they didn't make us put the network back, though they never did take the unnecessary server away for some other use.

Much as I love how the Mac has evolved and become far more capable and stable than it was in those days, I still miss some of the excitement of being presented with entirely novel problems that were close to the core of the system, and that could be solved even by people who didn't have years of experience.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

TextSoap 8.3.2 - Automate tedious text d...
TextSoap can automatically remove unwanted characters, fix up messed up carriage returns, and do pretty much anything else that we can think of to text. Save time and effort. Be more productive. Stop... Read more
Apple Remote Desktop 3.9 - Remotely cont...
Apple Remote Desktop is the best way to manage the Mac computers on your network. Distribute software, provide real-time online help to end users, create detailed software and hardware reports, and... Read more
Paragraphs 1.1.4 - Writing tool just for...
Paragraphs is an app just for writers. It was built for one thing and one thing only: writing. It gives you everything you need to create brilliant prose and does away with the rest. Features... Read more
Amazon Chime 4.0.5528 - Amazon-based com...
Amazon Chime is a communications service that transforms online meetings with a secure, easy-to-use application that you can trust. Amazon Chime works seamlessly across your devices so that you can... Read more
Apple Final Cut Pro X 10.3.2 - Professio...
Apple Final Cut Pro X is a professional video editing solution.Completely redesigned from the ground up, Final Cut Pro adds extraordinary speed, quality, and flexibility to every part of the post-... Read more
ForkLift 3.0 - Powerful file manager: FT...
ForkLift is a powerful file manager and ferociously fast FTP client clothed in a clean and versatile UI that offers the combination of absolute simplicity and raw power expected from a well-executed... Read more
VueScan 9.5.70 - 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
SoftRAID 5.5.6 - High-quality RAID manag...
SoftRAID allows you to create and manage disk arrays to increase performance and reliability. SoftRAID allows the user to create and manage RAID 4 and 5 volumes, RAID 1+0, and RAID 1 (Mirror) and... Read more
Sparkle 2.1.0 - $79.99
Sparkle will change your mind if you thought building websites wasn't for you. Sparkle is the intuitive site builder that lets you create sites for your online portfolio, team or band pages, or... Read more
Logic Pro X 10.3.1 - Music creation and...
Logic Pro X is the most advanced version of Logic ever. Sophisticated new tools for professional songwriting, editing, and mixing are built around a modern interface that's designed to get creative... Read more

Blasty Bubs is a colorful Pinball and Br...
QuickByte Games has another arcade treat in the works -- this time it's a mishmash of brick breaking and Pinball mechanics. It's called Blasty Bubs, and it's a top down brickbreaker that has you slinging balls around a board. [Read more] | Read more »
Corsola and Heracross are the new region...
Generation 2 finally launched in Pokémon GO, unleashing a brand new batch of Pokémon into the wild. Even before the update went live people were speculating on how to catch elusive Pokémon like the legendary "dogs", Unknown, and whether or not... | Read more »
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Games)
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: An epic adventure through a mysterious mountain filled with monsters, magic and mayhem! “...it looks downright... | Read more »
Fantasy MMORPG MU Origin’s receives a hu...
Developer Webzen are looking to take their highly popular fantasy battler MU Origin to the next level this month, with its most ambitious overhaul yet. The latest update introduces the long sought after Server Arena, new treasure dungeons, and much... | Read more »
RPG Djinn Caster (Games)
RPG Djinn Caster 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: SPECIAL PRICE 38% OFF(USD 7.99 -> USD 4.99)!!!A Fantasy Action RPG of far foreign lands! Summon the Djinns and rise to... | Read more »
Alto's Odyssey gets its first trail...
There's finally video evidence of Alto's Odyssey, the follow up to the 2015 App Store hit, Alto's Adventure. It looks just as soothing and atmospheric as Alto's last outing, but this time players will be journeying to the desert. Whereas Alto's... | Read more »
Last week on Pocket Gamer
What’s going on in the wider world of portable gaming? Each week we ask that question of our sister website Pocket Gamer. The PG team covers iOS gaming, just like 148Apps, but it also strays into the world of Android games and handheld consoles... | Read more »
Pokémon GO Generation 2 evolution guide
At long last, Niantic Labs finally unleashed the Generation 2 Pokémon into the wild. Pokémon GO trainers are scrambling to grab up this new set of 80 Pokémon. There are some special new tricks required to catch all of these new beasties, though.... | Read more »
The best new games we played this week
It feels as though the New Year got off to a creaking start as far as mobile games go, but that's changed over the past few weeks. The last few days alone have seen the debut of a number of wonderful games, so we thought we'd take the time to... | Read more »
Recruit more scallywags and discover new...
Get ready to show off your sea legs all over again in Oceans & Empires’ new grand update, which aims to make the act of rising to the role of seven seas ruler even more fresh and appealing, thanks to a richness of new content on both iOS and... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple restocks refurbished 2015 and 2016 13-i...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 and 2016 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at $759. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: - 2016 13″ 1.6GHz/8GB/128GB... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (Apple refurbished...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros (MD101LL/A) available for $829, or $270 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook... Read more
QuickerTek Announces 5TB Apple AC AirPort Tim...
QuickerTek Inc. has announced their new 5TB hard drive upgrade for Apple’s AC AirPort Time Capsule. By customer request, this upgrade also features six external antennas and offers the highest... Read more
Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available f...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 21″ & 27″ iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are available: - 21″ 3.... Read more
Apple offering Certified Refurbished Series 1...
Apple is now offering Certified Refurbished Series 1 and Series 2 Apple Watches for 14-16% off MSRP, starting at $229. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each watch. Shipping is free: Series... Read more
1.4GHz Mac mini on sale for $449, save $50
B&H Photo has the 1.4GHz Mac mini on sale for $50 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $449 $50 off MSRP Read more
12-inch Retina MacBooks on sale for $200-$250...
Newegg has the 12″ 1.2GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook (sku MLH82LL/A) on sale for $1349.99 including free shipping. Their price is $250 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model.... Read more
13-inch 2.0GHz Space Gray MacBook Pro on sale...
Adorama has the non-Touch Bar 13″ 2.0GHz Space Gray MacBook Pro in stock today for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges NY & NJ sales tax only: - 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray... Read more
13-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for $1...
B&H Photo has select 2016 Apple 13″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and up to $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.9GHz/512GB Touch Bar MacBook... Read more
KSI-1802R SX Disinfect-able Keyboard With Wav...
KSI has unveiled a new, innovative medical keyboard, the KSI-1802R SX, at HIMSS 2017, running February 19-22 in Orlando, Florida. KSI-1802R SX is the only keyboard that combines dual factor... Read more

Jobs Board

*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
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and 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
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and Read more
*Apple* Technician - nfrastructure (United S...
Let’s Work Together Apple Technician This position is based in Portland, ME Life at nfrastructure At nfrastructure, we understand that our success results from our Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.