Arlan R. Levitan
A Conversion Experience
Telecomputing can sometimes take on religious overtones. There are believers and nonbelievers. And then, there are converts.
It all started innocuously enough. My wife and I had invited our neighbors, Dan and Phyllis, to come over for lasagna. As dinner ended, we entered the Slouch Back with Eyes Half-Closed mode.
"Say, Arlan," mused Dan. "I've been having a little trouble with one of my Macintosh diskettes. Call it coincidence, but I just happen to have it in my jacket pocket. Would you mind checking it out?"
An experienced translator of computer-hobbyist catch phrases, my wife turned to Phyllis and without batting an eye pronounced, "That's the last we'll see of them for at least an hour and a half."
"No Problem, Dan.…"
"You still messing around with modems?" Dan asked as we climbed the stairs. "To be honest with you, I never found a real use for mine."
That hurt. Years ago I had talked Dan into purchasing a inexpensive direct-connect job for his Atari 800. Over time, many demos of information services and bulletin boards had failed to strike a responsive chord in my friend. Since then he had replaced the trusty old 800 with a Mac. "Hey, if you know anyone who wants one, I'll let mine go for a song. I haven't bothered to hook it up to the Mac."
I fired up my Mac Plus, pausing a few seconds for the system's hard drive to come up to speed before turning on the Mac itself. "I wouldn't be so quick to dump that modem, Dan. You never know when it will come in handy."
After a few seconds, the familiar Mac Desktop appeared. I slipped Dan's diskette into the system drive and asked, "Now what seems to be the problem here?"
"I think I did something to the disk. Every time I start up MacWrite I get a system failure." I double-clicked on the MacWrite icon and, sure enough, the system locked up.
I turned the equipment off and flipped through my Mac disks. "No problem, Dan; I'll just put a fresh copy of MacWrite on another disk and move your text files over to it." I ejected Dan's suspect disk, casually restarted the system, and waited for the Desktop to reappear. Instead, I got the following message: This is not a Macintosh disk: Do you want to initialize it? I thought of the 15 megabytes of data on the hard drive and powered off the system.
"What version of the Finder [an integral part of the Mac's operating system] was on that diskette?"
"Um, I think Finder 1.0."
I cursed myself for my own thickness.
Starting up Dan's blasted version of MacWrite had polluted my machine's copy of the operating system. I calmly rebooted my system from a floppy and tried to access the hard drive, only to be greeted by the same dreaded message. I frantically grabbed for the box containing my most recent system backup. It was three months old. I turned to my ex-friend, contemplating the most suitable height for a new, electric barbed-wire fence between our homes.
Dan remained remarkably calm while I did a rendition of Gene Wilder's "mad" scene from Young Frankenstein.
As the noise level approached that of WrestleMania III, our wives ran upstairs. It took both of them and my kids to break the headlock I had on Dan's cranium.
After spending suitable time in a neutral corner, I called John, a friend who works as a technical support manager for Apple, and explained my plight. "Sounds particularly nasty, Arlan. There's about a 50/50 chance that our Disk First Aid utility will fix your problem."
"I don't have a copy, John."
"Got your modem? Have your system call mine in five minutes. I'll send you the latest version."
I slapped a communications program in the system's internal drive and brought the system up without the brain-damaged hard drive. In a few minutes First Aid was on its way.
I explained what was going on to Dan. He was mildly impressed with the fact that we could actually send the hoped-for cure for our ills from system to system. He became more impressed as he realized that he wasn't going to be coerced into motoring 50 miles in driving rain to get the digital medicine.
About 15 minutes later the file transfer was complete. Disk First Aid was invoked and churned away at the hard drive for what seemed an eternity. Eventually the program ended, reporting that its surgery was complete. We crossed our fingers, dropped back five, and punted. The Mac groggily stirred to life, displaying the familiar Mac happy face that indicated that all was well with world. A quick examination of the drive showed that nothing had been lost.
A wave of relief rolled through the room, replacing angst and hard feelings with camaraderie and good cheer. We all took a vote and decided that the occasion merited cracking one of the bottles of '68 Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon that had been languishing in my cellar.
As we toasted the memory of Emil Baudot, Dan mused, "You know, maybe hooking up that old modem to my Mac wouldn't be such a bad idea.…"