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

MacFamilyTree 7.3.4 - Create and explore...
MacFamilyTree gives genealogy a facelift: it's modern, interactive, incredibly fast, and easy to use. We're convinced that generations of chroniclers would have loved to trade in their genealogy... Read more
Yummy FTP 1.10.2 - FTP/SFTP/FTPS client...
Yummy FTP is an FTP + SFTP + FTPS file transfer client which focuses on speed, reliability and productivity. Whether you need to transfer a few files or a few thousand, schedule automatic backups, or... Read more
VueScan 9.5.08 - 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
Iridient Developer 3.0.1 - Powerful imag...
Iridient Developer (was RAW Developer) is a powerful image conversion application designed specifically for OS X. Iridient Developer gives advanced photographers total control over every aspect of... Read more
Air Video Server HD 2.1.0 - Stream video...
Air Video Server HD streams videos instantly from your computer on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Apple TV. No need to worry about converting or transferring files. We took everything that was... Read more
Duplicate Annihilator 5.7.5 - Find and d...
Duplicate Annihilator takes on the time-consuming task of comparing the images in your iPhoto library using effective algorithms to make sure that no duplicate escapes. Duplicate Annihilator... Read more
BusyContacts 1.0.2 - Fast, efficient con...
BusyContacts is a contact manager for OS X that makes creating, finding, and managing contacts faster and more efficient. It brings to contact management the same power, flexibility, and sharing... Read more
Capture One Pro 8.2.0.82 - RAW workflow...
Capture One Pro 8 is a professional RAW converter offering you ultimate image quality with accurate colors and incredible detail from more than 300 high-end cameras -- straight out of the box. It... Read more
Backblaze 4.0.0.872 - Online backup serv...
Backblaze is an online backup service designed from the ground-up for the Mac.With unlimited storage available for $5 per month, as well as a free 15-day trial, peace of mind is within reach with... Read more
Little Snitch 3.5.2 - Alerts you about o...
Little Snitch gives you control over your private outgoing data. Track background activity As soon as your computer connects to the Internet, applications often have permission to send any... Read more

Pie In The Sky: A Pizza Odyssey (Games)
Pie In The Sky: A Pizza Odyssey 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: A game about delivering pizza. In space. | Read more »
Chosen Gives Hopeful Singers, Songwriter...
If YouTube videos and reality TV shows like The Voice have taught us one thing, it’s that there are a lot of people out there who are anxious to show the world their talents. And if they’ve taught us a second thing, it’s that there’s an almost... | Read more »
Android's Popular OfficeSuite Now A...
Once only available for Android devices, OfficeSuite has finally landed on the app store. The Mobile Systems app lets you view, edit, create, and share Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents as well as convert them to/from PDFs. It's touted as being... | Read more »
Warhammer: Arcane Magic is Coming Soon,...
Turbo Tape Games has announced that they're joining forces with Games Workshop to bring the turn-based strategy board game, Warhammer: Arcane Magic, to life on the iOS. | Read more »
Fast & Furious: Legacy's Creati...
| Read more »
N-Fusion and 505's Ember is Totally...
| Read more »
These are All the Apple Watch Apps and G...
The Apple Watch is less than a month from hitting store shelves, and once you get your hands on it you're probably going to want some apps and games to install. Fear not! We've compiled a list of all the Apple Watch apps and games we've been able to... | Read more »
Appy to Have Known You - Lee Hamlet Look...
Being at 148Apps these past 2 years has been an awesome experience that has taught me a great deal, and working with such a great team has been a privilege. Thank you to Rob Rich, and to both Rob LeFebvre and Jeff Scott before him, for helping me... | Read more »
Hands-On With Allstar Heroes - A Promisi...
Let’s get this out of the way quickly. Allstar Heroes looks a lot like a certain other recent action RPG release, but it turns out that while it’s not yet available here, Allstar Heroes has been around for much longer than that other title. Now that... | Read more »
Macho Man and Steve Austin Join the Rank...
WWE Immortals, by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and WWE, has gotten a superstar update. You'll now have access to Macho Man Randy Savage and Steve Austin. Both characters have two different versions: Macho Man Randy Savage Renegade or Macho... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple offering refurbished 27-inch 5K iMacs f...
The Apple Store is offering Apple Certified Refurbished 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMacs for $2119 including free shipping. Their price is $380 off the price of new models, and it’s the lowest price available for... Read more
16GB iPad mini on sale for $199, save $50
Walmart has 16GB iPad minis (1st generation) available for $199.99 on their online store, including free shipping. Their price is $50 off MSRP. Online orders only. Read more
New 128GB MacBook Airs on sale for $50 off MS...
 B&H Photo has 128GB 11″ and 13″ 2015 MacBook Airs on sale today for $50 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 11″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (Model #MJVM2LL/A): $849 $50 off... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro (refurbishe...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pros available for $979 including free shipping. Original MSRP for this model was $1299. Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
The Apple Store is offering Apple Certified Refurbished Mac Pros for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The... Read more
Samsung Galaxy S 6 and Galaxy S 6 edge U.S. P...
Samsung Electronics America, Inc. has announced the Galaxy S 6 and Galaxy S 6 edge will be available in the U.S. beginning April 10, with pre-orders being accepted now. “We have completely reimagined... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (refurbished) avai...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros available for $829, or $270 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.... Read more
Save up to $80 on iPad Air 2s, NY tax only, f...
 B&H Photo has iPad Air 2s on sale for $80 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $469.99 $30 off - 64GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $549.99 $50 off - 128GB iPad... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 21″ 1.4GHz iMac: $1019 $80 off - 21″ 2.7GHz iMac: $1189 $110 off - 21″ 2.9GHz... Read more
Färbe Technik Offers iPhone Battery Charge LI...
Färbe Technik, which manufactures and markets of mobile accessories for Apple, Blackberry and Samsung mobile devices, is offering tips on how to keep your iPhone charged while in the field: •... Read more

Jobs Board

DevOps Software Engineer - *Apple* Pay, iOS...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
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
Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Lead *Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail...
**Job Summary** Job Summary The Lead ASC is an Apple employee who serves as the Apple business manager and influencer in a hyper-business critical Reseller's store Read more
*Apple* Pay - Site Reliability Engineer - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.