Monday, August 19, 2013

Macury Retrograde


What's my status? Facebook has the temerity to ask about my status. What's on my mind? Does it really want to know? It is an it, you know.

Instead of posting the usual Facebook platitudes, this is my reality sandwich. A dubious long-winded nerd-joy story that probably only three master guru nerdlings in the world—like Piet Bess, Chris Devine and Micaela Wall—will fully appreciate. Maybe Brian Wimsett too—but he's a PC guy. Apples and oranges.

I can see your eyes glazing over now. It's OK, you don't have to read this. (Hint: skip the parenthetical techno-speech parts to speed-read this piece). You don't have to read it all, just because I feel compelled to read everything in front of me, then write about it. Call it OCD. Or maybe it's Stockholm Syndrome. I've bonded with my captive imagination.

What's my status? After last year's colossal Mercury Retrograde, which was my Macury meltdown during tax season, when my elder iMac went kabloom! after a series of power outages, is shaken. (Ask me how I found out that my three-prong surge bar plugged into old wiring dating back to the 1920s, is not grounded). I refused to freak out, and I Carried On. Stiff upper lip, and all that. (Insert Blondie's One Way or Another earworm here).

My main Mac gurus (and suppliers of broken Mac bits), Piet & Micaela know how I've been nursing that old 2005 PPC iMac, with its lovely screen, for years. Lovely matte screen. Lovely. No reflected glare. Perfect for editing photos. When the iMac became long in tooth, most sensible people would've upgraded. No ifs, ands or buts. It's gonna gitcha gitcha gitcha.…

(How far behind the technological times am I? Let's just say that yesterday, I nostalgically fired up my old 1995 PowerBook which sported the first Motorola PowerPC processor (PPC). That's pre-G3, pre-G4, pre-G5. Who even remembers back that far? FWIW: it's  s l o w.  My PPC iMac was the last G5 ever made. A terminal case, yes, but it could also run the Paleolithic OS 9 software in Classic in emulation mode. OS = Operating System.)

(Those G3 and-G4s were cool dual-boot crossover Macs. They could run OS 9 and OS X software. The Neolithic OS X flavors 1-3 all allowed full OS 9 boot up. OSX.4 (aka Tiger) was an emulation version, it ran OS 9 in Classic mode. Unfortunately the emulation, or Classic mode is not good enough for my picky SCSI Nikon slide scanner, so I keep a working G4 with a SCSI card handy too.)

(Apple upgraded the PPC Mac line with the Pentium Intel core processor in 2006 with the Intel Core Solo—then the Intel Core Duo. The confusingly-named Intel Core 2 Duo replaced the MacBook 1, leaving bewildered Mac users to ferret out whether they had a 32-bit or a when-I'm 64-bit Mac. Is that an Intel 2 or the Intel 2-2? Macs in tutus? Leaping leopards with spots on top!)

(Apple also tossed out the lovely matte screen for a shiny new, highly reflective shiny screen. Emphasis on shiny. Collective shrieks abounded as myriad Mac users who upgraded to the newest iMacs and Mactops, saw, instead of their own photos onscreen, their own faces reflected back at themselves. Added a whole new dimension to being able to see yourself. Some hackers who hadn't seen themselves in decades, fainted.)

(In this convoluted tale of woe, even code names and big cat OS's don't help much to keep it all straight, but here's an OS X 1-9 list, in case you were dying to know: Cheetah/Puma (aka OSX.1), Jaguar (OSX.2), Panther (OSX.3), Tiger (OSX.4), Leopard (OS X.5), Snow Leopard (OS X.6), Lion (OSX.7), Mountain Lion (OSX.8). OK, so pumas and mountain lions are the same catamount. Catty circular filing system?) Here kitty kitty kitty.

(What's next, saber tooth tiger? Smiledon? That's one hell of a cat box to consider. No, for the next OSX reiteration, it looks like we're goin' surfin', dude. Coming soon to a Mac near you—Mavericks (OSX.9). Everybody's gone surfin', surfin' Californi-ay. What's with the surfin' USA bit—can one surf anywhere else in the USA? Surfin' Kansas-eye-a cornfields in August doesn't quite cut it. OK, so there's the Oregon and Washington coastline—but that's Bill Gateslandia. No little cute Macs on surfboards in that neck-o-the-woods.)

And yes, I was still using Tiger until last year. I girded my svelte money belt, I stuck with Tiger, the last PPC operating system (OSX.4). I cobbled on, using obsolete hardware while others upgraded (to the Intel Core Duo, Core 2 Duo, Core i5, Core i7, and Xeon processors) until there was nowhere else left to go. Tiger, tyger—your stripes of mourning, your markings of gold no longer burned bright in the forests of the night.

Are you glazed over yet? (Did you remember to skip the parentheses?) Well, by this point, I admitted defeat: my old software was defunct. Legacy doesn't even begin cover it. Speaking of Smiledon, Tiger (OSX.4) was so long in the tooth, it was positively geriatric. Hold that Tiger. It's dead dead dead. Mummified. Fossilized, even.

But I kept on keeping on, tweaking and flogging Tony the Tiger, using crazy workarounds when all manner of hell arrived, carrying its latest updated techno-snafu in a hand-basket. My new Macury Retrograde nemesis was the birth of iCloud and the dual deaths of iDisk and I did not go gentle unto that good night. Nor could I migrate my accounts over to iCloud with Tiger or Leopard.

I hate technological obsolescence. I only buy refurbished Macs and I keep them alive way past their kill-by date. (Maybe I should switch to Dell. They die early and often.) When the PPC iMac hard drive died right after the warranty ended, I carried on. No problem. I just booted the iMac off an external firewire drive. Ditto with the optical drive. (Opening the last PPC iMac is a nightmare—bent credit cards are involved). External was cool. Safe computing, and all that.

Besides, everything was backed up on DVDs and three external hard drives. Or so I thought. FLW. What could go wrong? But you can never be to rich or too thin or have enough back-up hard drives.

I was locked in tighter than a tick in last decade's technology and the only way out was through—if I ever wanted to surf the net and read my email again. It was time to upgrade, in a big way. My browsers no longer worked, Adobe Flash abandoned us (alors, no more CSI?), I couldn't access my Mail, thanks to the new iCloud upgrade. Blah-blah-blah. I was in upgrade denial for a decade. But I digress. (What else is new?)

Movin' on, I got a Craigslist special—an ailing, headless first generation MacBookPro (MBP's code name: Santa Rosa) with—shall we say—issues? The Craigslister said he was a musician but I think the no-longer-20-something guy used the MBP for a skateboard as it was seriously bent, in need of a backlit screen, an optical drive, speakers, a software upgrade to OSX.6—and some serious autobody work. We ran it through its paces, I mentally noted all the work-arounds I'd have to implement. Doable.

This MBP was not a unibody model—it came apart. Cool! If I can look under its hood, I can fix it—but I was playing poker. You know, The Girl Card. I don't kno-ow.... Skateboard ManDude, seeing my hesitation, dropped the price some more and threw in an extra MBP carcass and innards to sweeten the deal. Sold!  I'm, sure he whispered Sucker! or Old Fhartette under his breath as I left. (I forgot to mention I'm in my 6th decade, but I don't look it. He, on the other hand....)

I saw the inner beauty and retro potential of SkateboardMan's sleek aluminum technological castoff. I needed a 64-bit Intel Core 2 Duo to access my locked-up emailbox which was being held hostage in the iCloud as and iDisk were phased out as in hunted down to extinction. Dead as Tiger. Or Smiledon. Oh, and I forgot to mention, my iCal, and  iTunes access was also now tied up in this iCloud Celtic gordian knot conundrum. Not exactly knockin' on heaven's door, iCloud was cumulous gift that kept on giving.

The price on SkateboardMan's ManBookPro was right. Half of what others were asking for their equally thrashed old MBPs. (What's with all these Craigslisters with over-inflated egos, selling obsolete crappalola for more than direct Apple refurb prices anyway? And the snide "don't waste my time, don't lo-ball me" sign-off, as they try and low-ball you. Yeah, right.)

Luckily, this 2nd generation MacBookPro in a basket also came with spare parts—another 2 g. MBP. What's not to like? I can do this. FLW. It was fast and sleek but it wore Leopard spots (OSX.5). I also needed the last cloud cat, Snow Leopard (OSX.6) upgrade in order to access the rarified air of the iCloud. And this somewhat elderly MacBookPro had the right tutu to dance with iCloud. I was pirouetting with joy.

I rolled up my sleeves, ponied back my hair, scraped off the thrashed music stickers, and got to work. We had beauty. Well maybe, in the eyes of the beholder. It looked pretty sick. I hammered out the frame. steelwooled it, and got everything connected up, including all the hard-and software workarounds. I loved my new MBP—and was it fast. That 64-bit intel processor ran smoke rings around my elderly 2006 Macbook. (And Rosetta emulation let me run all my old Universal software—but OS 9, and PPC OSX Tiger software was X'd out.)

However the iCloud was calling. Or, lack of iCloud access was raining on my parade. Time to upgrade, to bring in another cat: the Snow Leopard, so I could access my email. An easy upgrade. Right? Catch a cloud leopard by the tail. Not. More like a cat tail caught in the door. Or cat-o-nine-tails flogging me.

Let's just say that the online Apple software (OSX.6.8) update hung. Things went further south—thanks to ATT throttling my DSL speed to near-zero. Not good to have flailing DSL when you're in the middle of an online software upgrade. Suddenly my easy-peasy itty-bitty cloud cat OS upgrade install was a victim of Macury Retrograde on steroids.

So when things went really south, and my new MBP was an inert pile of metal, I tried to move on with my creaky vintage white plastic first generation 2006 Intel MacBook (which doubles as a lapcat, it runs so hot).

But the plot thickens in this comedy of errors. My two trusty back-up drives (done this one before), and my shiny new Plan C Seagate GoFlex PC wifi drives were attached to my MBP when I was upgrading the software on my MBP—what could go wrong? Never dawned on me to disconnect them.

What could go wrong? Lockdown, that's what. Little padlocks on all my files. And little padlocks on all my back-up hard drives. Permission denied. Did I mention Mac(f)ury Retrograde? Add some PC crossover issues into the matrix with the Seagate GoFlex drive.

Poof! Now, I had no software, no files, no back-up files!—and then I found out the hard way that TurboTax needed Snow Leopard. Lordluvaduck, I'm fckd. Haunted by cloud cat spots. So, I went to Starbucks wifi and upgraded to Snow Leopard on the elder Macbook. Pieceacake! Sideways progress. Did I mention that TurboTax also needed a 64-bit processor (this info was not posted on the box because...?) Poor old plastic MacBook with its obsolete 32-bit processor. Foiled. Again.

So it was back to getting that aluminum MacBookPro up and running, or nada. I tried every trick in the book—I was locked out, it was hanging, mid-install. And ALL my back up drives: plans A, B, & C were inert lumps of cybercoal. Moral: NEVER leave external drives attached when doing a software upgrade. Never. TLN (too late now) was the new motto stamped on my forehead.

I was also trapped in some kind of weird install hell without access to a working backlit screen, let alone, a blue screen of death. Did I mention the MBP was not only sans functional computer screen (the backlight was out); it was also sans working optical drive—so a DVD disk install (the normal method) wasn't an option. I was running out of workarounds.

No battery, no screen: so dragging the MBP down to Starbucks wifi wasn't even an option. Flashlight held at just the right angle in a dark room to see the shadows of install icons was my workaround.

Another TLN moment: My big Apple monitor and DVD player both needed working software to run. Detail. I found this out the hard way. By this time, I hated Snow Leopard. Endangered species or not—I wanted to shoot the damned occluded cloud cat.

So, 24 tiny screws later—trying to find a screwdriver that small was another dubious joy, I managed to yank the bleeping stalled MBP hard drive out, and I stuck in my original old MacBook Tiger drive. (Remember that 32-bit part?) Shockingly, the tiny 2006 Apple drive (why I yanked it in the first place was its size) worked.

But it was still no dice for all my now padlocked back-up hard drives with no Permission Access. And of course, my last ace card, my PC-flavored Seagate GoFlex wifi time machine back-up drive with ethernet, treated me like an evil hackster because the software, the hard drive and Mac no longer matched up. More like having a joker card up my sleeve.

So, I cloned the working Snow Leopard OSX.6 from my white 32-bit MacBook hard drive to a new hybrid SSD hard drive from OWC. I popped the cloned hybrid drive into the MBP (23 screws later—I only lost one screw, but I was already so screwed—what's one more/less loose screw?)

Surprise! The cloned SSD hard drive fired right up. It worked—despite a 32/64-bit software differences of opinion. It was cool, it was quiet, It was also 500 GB big. You can never be too rich, thin or have a hard drive that's too big. I was in. Or up. Or something. I had access to the iCloud, my email, and TurboTax now loaded. Sweetjaysus! It worked. The MacGawds must be smiling on me. What about all my backed up software, and files? Argh! Still padlocks on everything. But my Can Do attitude was in tenacious Ramboverdrive.

I eventually resolved the back-up drive lockdown with the help of MacWorld's Chris Breen, and an app called BatChmod—l also learned lots of other batty & bitchin' stuff I would rather forget. Padlocks begone. I could open all my back up drives. Permissions (mostly) restored.

But alas, I wasn't out of the cyberwoods yet. As I rounded up my orphan files and poems, I discovered my old Word 5 files turned into rogue Unix files when I joined this decade's operating system. No way to access them. I tried everything. Try not to panic. All my old writing. All my old photos. No no no no!

(Dear Readers of this blogged down bloggybit (all 218 of you know who you are… Whoa Nellie, now it's 493 readers? Really? Who are all you people? Or is this sudden readership shunt the work of busy web spiders? Vampire stats feeling a little peckish, or what? And, no, I haven't visited my own blog THAT many times. Not even during rewrites. Besides, Blogger doesn't count my visits.)

I was gonna say …take a breather. Or better yet, run out of the room screaming from this Mary Roach styled techno-rant—while you can. I would love to offer you cyber chocolate kisses or Irish coffee lattes for getting this far. Really.

Maybe it's more of a  Myles na gCopaleen than a Mary Roach tale. All part of the Irish postModern contunuum. Sorry, no sexy bits ahead, but old fharts are involved. Read on, if you dare. Time to take the earworm DJ down another notch: rock-a my head in the bosom of migraine....)


Here's the bite: my laissez-faire approach to upgrading software just got up close and personal. All my old writing and my MA and MFA research files and writing were meticulously filed, archived, and DiskDoubled in Word 5 docs, and/or old AOL memo format—both completely unopenable under Snow Leopard.

Many of my 1980s files were at least 5 motherboard generations removed from cyber reality. I used AOL instead of the grandfather of TextEdit? Really? What was I thinking? I'm from the if it ain't broke school. Define broken. Duct tape and bailing wire are my friends.

Feeling like Arthur Dent at the end of the universe, in need of a strong cuppa tea and a wet towel, I kept at it. Time to go retro on the earworm: Sweet dream are made of these. Movin' on. Hold your head up! I remembered that I had them backed up on DVDs! Yes, Virginia there is a Plan Z.

But those back-up DVD files also morphed into gray Unix files with evil green lettering. OMG, it's the feckin' OS.6 software. I've been hung out to dry by a catty Snow Leopard. Will I never be able to access all my old writing, photos, and art again? Decades of poetry and news stories, Gone. I mourned. I raged, I gnashed my teeth. Then I got mad. I got even. Surely there was a way around the problem. So many technological barriers to overcome. The solution came to me—I kid you not—in a dream. Poof! I had a plan.

So, I resurrected my neighbor's old 2005 PPC Mac tower, it fired up like a champ after sitting in the closet for ages. I CCCloned most of my old iMac OS.4 Tiger hard drive (in this case, 5th time's a charm) onto it. And it fired it up: voilà! I now have access to my OS 6-9 files. (Short version of story). I can run OS 9 under Classic mode in Tiger. PPC was the last Mac chipset able to this particular pony trick. And Tiger was the last OS to support OS 9. See how antiquated I am? See my stripes? Hear me roar!

So, I've got OS 9 running on Tiger and hooked up to a Visio widescreen TV—curious admixture of old and new technology colliding—they're playing nicely. Chris Breen would be proud of me. And now I just might be able to access my Seagate GoFlex wifi drive. A whole lotta good that particular purchase did me. I should've stuck with Apple's Time Machine—but I thought I was saving money. Yeah, right. Gonna kill it (sing: kill it kill it kill it, then erase it. Erase erase erase it.) That is, if I can remember the bleeping password. Anyone want a Seagate GoFlex wifi drive gone rogue?

As I reacquianted myself with my archived writing (DiskDoublr behaving nicely) I now get why I left all my writing in Word 5, rather than bringing them into the 21st Century. Should I mention that Word 5 docs open blazingly FAST? Microsoft failed big time with Word 2000, 2001, 2004, 2008, etc., upgrades, etc., ack, ick, is all I can say. Bloatware galore. Sluggards all. I won't even mention Windows. Nothing rhymes with orange.

Last night's Tiger breakthrough came at a price: replete with another colossal kablam! This is where I came in. Loud fhart noises. Kablooey and kablam are not sounds you want to hear around computers. Not too sure what the explosion was—a surge bar overload? Electronic burp? One external speaker quit on me—a Jerbil woofer subfhart? I'm sure I'll find out the ramifications later, but hey, I'm in. I'm all in. Another set of problems to solve. Another day, another night to redo those taxes the IRS lost, yes, lost—twice (another story).

So, it's been a long learning curve, the old PPC iMac with its lovely matte screen was sent out to e-waste pasture—fixing blown power supplies and capacitors is way beyond my paygrade. As Chris Breen so sagely said to me: "it's time to practice Catch and Release on that old iMac. It's served you well and you've certainly gotten your money's worth out of it."

Infomercial: Because I was working with the Mac platform, I was able to creatively problem-solve, and rescue old files. I did not give up the ghost, or chalk it up to PC hell, and move on, abandoning old files—which is what most people are forced to do.

What's my status? Red-eyed and rather cranky.

You shouldn't have asked. But hey, I have a workaround: I can now open some of my old locked "Unix" files.

And Facebook won't let me post my status? What's with that? Where's the Dislike button?

More Mac-related blogs:

On iClouds & Motherships
Lloyd Reynolds' Calligraphic Legacy
Dear Google, Using Blogger is a Painful Experience

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