Category: computers


2016-05-19 19.51.52I’ve been resisting upgrading my OS for five years because I knew several of my most-used and/or most-loved pieces of software would no longer work. I didn’t want to have to buy yet another version of Quicken (to be clear, that’s in the most-used department) and, dang, living without Rise of Nations is no way to live. I had a back-up computer, an old tower that I rarely used, running on older OS, but it had a small (by today’s standards) hard drive. So I embarked on a fabulously ridiculous and ridiculously fabulous journey of geekitude: I bought two new large hard drives for the tower, which has two drive bays, and installed two out-of-date OS versions, one per drive. Counting the updated OS on my desktop, and the unbelievably old OS 9 on my iBook, that means I now have not one, not two, not three, but four, FOUR different versions of the Mac OS running. Yeah, I’m just that geeky. But it gets better than that—or worse, depending on your point of view.

Because video games have a limited shelf life after which selling them seems pointless, I 2016-05-19 19.49.34tend to just throw them in a stack in the closet, not being able to bring myself to add them to the million of CDs already in our landfills (AOL install discs, WALL-E and I are looking at you). But now that I have all these legacy versions of the Mac OS available to me, I got busy installing all of those games in whichever was the highest OS they would run in. And—you better sit down—some of these games originally came on floppy disks, but I had transferred them to CDs decades ago when floppies were hit by an asteroid and went extinct. I’m almost done with this project, so I can now sit back and simply behold the glory of what I have created. So, now that you ask, at upper left, that is indeed 1998’s Yoot Tower running on my 2001 iBook. At right we have 1991’s SimAnt, which actually runs fine under the Classic emulation of OS 10.4 on the tower. Yoot Tower is buggy in emulation, so that had to go into OS 9 on the laptop. Back with SimAnt, I also have SimEarth (1990), SimLife (1992), SimFarm (1994), SimTown (1995), and SimSafari (1998). Holy crap. Somebody help me.

I’ve got a bunch more games all available to me across three computers . . . but, of course, I barely have time to play any of them. Not to mention all the new games I have on my iPad. This has always been an issue for me: buying more books, games, movies, and CDs than I can ever really appreciate. I’ve gotten much better and resist buying new stuff. But if anyone wants to play decades-old Mac games, I’ve got a museum right over here. By appointment only.

Two things you need to know about me: 1) I love computer games, and B) I don’t have any time to play computer games.

The result of these two incompatible facts is I have tons of games. That I’ve essentially never played. I rarely reach the end of a game, because I don’t invest enough time to play all the way through. So I never get rid of games, because I haven’t finished them. And I keep buying games, because I love them. It’s a form of madness.

And it gets worse. As computers and operating systems evolve, backward compatibility lasts only so long. Eventually you have a game you haven’t finished that you can’t run anymore. Unless you maintain an older computer. So now I have an iBook that I need to keep going because it’s old enough that it can boot in OS 9. And I recently picked up an old G5 pre-Intel tower that runs OS X 10.4, so that has access to a bunch of software my new Intel iMac with 10.6 can’t run. I’m reluctant to upgrade beyond 10.6, because I know I’ll lose a ton of games. 

But, of course, it’s not like I’m really playing those games anyway. Did I mention it’s a form of madness?

And it gets worse. The interesting thing about Intel Macs is that because they’re running on the same chip as Windows, it becomes possible to run Windows software on your Mac. Do you see where this is going? Yes, I’m now buying Windows games that I don’t have any more time to play than the tons of Mac games I already own. Weird thing is that the Mac versions wouldn’t run on the Intel Mac,  but I can run the Windows game. I’m running the Windows version of Command & Conquer from 1995–seventeen years old!–on my iMac.

I’ve just ordered Star Trek Online, which was never released for the Mac, and look forward to giving it a try, since play is free now. Of course, I’ll barely play it. I’ve also recently ordered an old game, Deep Space Nine: The Fallen for Windows. It was released for the Mac, but it’s very rare and, if you do find it, it’s usually priced far higher than what I would want to pay for a game over ten years old that, realistically, I’ll rarely play. But I was able to pick up the Windows version for $8. Fun side note: Star Trek writer Dave Mack contributed dialogue to The Fallen.

I do, every once in a blue moon, show some restraint. Sort of. To a point. About a month ago I noticed the Mac version of Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn along with the expansion pack Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhal on the shelf at my neighborhood Half Price Books, at $10 a piece. Oooo, I wanted those games. But I forced myself to not buy them. I knew I wouldn’t get around to playing them, and why not save the $20? The following week they were still there. No, I stood strong. The week after that they still taunted me. I walked past, but my resolve was weakening. I decided to look up some reviews, hoping they’d say the game was a major disappointment so that I’d not buy them. Instead, the reviews were jubilant. The game has sold over 2 million copies. I was back to coveting them.

Last week I could stand it no more. I grabbed them off the shelf and took them to the counter. The guy rang them up, then got the discs from behind the desk and dropped them into the case. I saw disks one, two, and four go by. No three.

“You’re missing a disk,” I said. “I guess I’ll be returning those.”

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I don’t know why we took this with a missing disk. You still want the other one?”

“No, it’s an expansion, you need the original game to be able to play it.” The guy started crediting them both back to my card. “Quickest. Return. Ever,” I said. 

I guess that’s what I get for giving in!

Steve Jobs, 1955–2011

It’s been nearly a week now since the passing of Steve Jobs. I was surprised by how much it affected me emotionally. Sure, I’m a dedicated Mac user, but it’s not like I knew the guy. When an actor dies, someone you’ve watched on screen for years, perhaps decades, it’s more understandable, because there’s a greater illusion of knowing the person. Watching that person in favorite roles does build an emotional attachment, never mind that it’s on a fictional foundation. Steve Jobs was a guy who had great ideas for cool gadgets that I like. I didn’t make a point of watching his public appearances or reading about him. I just love his machines. How did that turn into personal attachment?

Thirty year flashback. I’m in high school, a dedicated sci-fi nerd and raving Star Trek fan. For the first time the school offered a computer programming elective. We didn’t even have the computers in our little school, we had an arrangement with another little school four miles away to share their computer lab. I don’t remember how many times a week I had the class, but we’d get a ride over there and learn BASIC programming on an Apple–this was pre Macintosh–probably an Apple IIe. In color! It was like the future. I loved it. I think I still have the 5.25-inch floppy disk with my programs, tucked away at the bottom of a drawer. I remember one of the programs: just a bunch of colors moving across the game in geometric patterns. It seemed amazing.

In college I didn’t have the money to buy a computer, and I was taking English classes, not computer classes. The first computer I owned was some sort of Commodore that I got for free. I played around on it a little, since I knew BASIC, but it had no floppy drive, and I didn’t invest in one. The next computer I owned was a dedicated word processor, a glorified electronic typewriter that plugged into a monitor and a disk drive. That was all I could afford in 1987 with my first professional sale. But in 1991 or so, I bought a used Mac SE/30 from a coworker to replace the word processor thing. And started getting my Mac geek back on. In glorious black and white.

From there I went to a Performa 6200 Power PC, then got an iBook G3, then an iMac G5. Now’ve I’ve got an iMac Intel Core Duo. And there are various iPods and an iPad in the house as well. At my day job for the last nine years I’ve worked on Windows machines. I prefer the Mac for a variety of reasons. One is simply style. Yes, the eye candy. Hardcore anti-Mac people often make fun of that, but when you spend as much time on the computer as a freelance editor and writer does, you want it to be fun. I overheard a Windows person on the bus one morning saying Windows was the best because it forces you to learn something. Which, from my perspective, is a lot like saying it’s best to have a car that breaks down all the time so that you learn how to fix it. I swear, that will be the only bit of Mac snobbery I allow in this post! That one was for Steve.

So now I write on the computer, edit on the computer, do my checkbook and taxes, keep in touch with friends, play games, watch movies, video call with the kid on her iPad when she’s out of town . . . I’m a person of the twenty-first century, and for good or ill that means I’m on the computer a lot. A ton. A lot of tons. And to me that computer lifestyle is infused with the Mac OS. Windows is just work. Mac is life. And that, of course, is what Steve Jobs was going for. That’s why when he came back to Apple he started the assault on the boring beige boxes that all computers were. He was the driving force behind so much innovation, yes, in style, but also ease of use. Which, contrary to the person on my bus, is not a bad thing.

Not that I’m a blind-faith fanatic. I’m perfectly willing and able to acknowledge and point out Apple’s missteps. I think Steve’s battle with Flash was ill-timed, for one thing. The Cube was too far ahead of its time . . . to get it that small, the components were too expensive. It looked amazing, but who could buy it? But I remember thinking, “Look . . . if you took that cube and made it a flatter rectangle, it would fit on the back of a monitor. The monitor would be the computer!” I felt pretty good about myself when that was actually what happened.

At some point across the years (or, I suppose, incrementally), without me fully realizing it, Steve Jobs, the man behind the machine, became important to me. But even when I felt concern for his health, and knew he must have been in a bad way to step down from Apple, it seemed like more generic sympathy, that you feel for anyone. But it turned out to be more. Like most people, I didn’t expect the end to come so soon. And I certainly didn’t expect I would be repeatedly getting misty eyed as I read the various reminiscences there have been posted on line over the last several days. Stephen Fry’s was quite good. Stephen Colbert’s was funny but with a poignant end that really got me (I did the same thing myself before I saw it; check it out so you’ll know what I mean). 

I don’t know if Apple will ever be quite the same. They’ve got a good set up now, and could have a good run just making the existing products better. Apple TV, although much improved, still needs work. The computer and pods and pads and phone can just keep getting faster and cooler and more interconnected. But they also need to be able to come up with the game changers, the crazy things that Steve would take to his people and say, “Can we do this?” I don’t even know what those are. I just hope there’s someone at Apple, or soon to come to Apple, that does. And then it will be insanely great.

This is a PSA for backing up your computer files. We all know we should. Many of us don’t. Maybe we have great plans for it, get started at it, then fall away.

I was in that last category back in January when my computer started coughing up blood, fell on its face, convulsed for a while, then got frightfully still. Flat line. I started looking at my backup discs and realized that they were not weeks behind, or months behind, but years behind. I could have sworn I had done it a month or so ago. Yikes.

The happy ending, as previously blogged here, was that all my data was recovered. The loss of photos and writing projects would have been devastating, and the fear I lived under until I had all those back was terrible. I vowed that I had learned my lesson. My immediate action was to get a terabyte external drive to go along with my new computer. That drive, using Apple’s fancypants Time Machine software, is an automated backup system that records my changes hourly. If something goes horrible wrong on my computer now, I’ve got that drive write there ready to restore my precious files.

But what if a zombie comes into my house and destroys my entire desk? That drive sits right next to the computer. One zombie, or Hellfire missile from an errant Predator drone, would take out my backup along with my computer. Obviously, I hadn’t gotten serious enough.

Yesterday I signed up with on offsite storage service. All my personally created files are uploaded, encrypted, and stored on servers. Their software automatically detects changes–just like Time Machine–and uploads new or updated files. Now if the Blob crashes to Earth in my neighborhood and engulfs and devours my desk, I know that I can buy a new computer, log into my offsite storage, and start downloading.

I’d been thinking about doing the offsite thing since the computer crashed, but over the weekend when a Facebook friend posted that her computer had died and she may have lost an entire novel she had written, I decided it was high time I finally did so. Got the upload started Sunday morning. It may actually take over a week to upload over 40 gigs of files, but I’ll sleep better when I’m away from home.

Because when you’re gone, extraterrestrial bounty hunters often use your home for stakeouts, and they’re none too careful with your personal belongings, I can tell you.