Hi again! It’s December and I hate it. Not only is it time to be thinking of slippery roads, tire chains, windshield scrapers, snow, rain, sleet, fog and cold; it is also that credit card maxing, bank account sucking, shopping mall delirium time we have all come to know as Christmas. My feelings on this time of year can be summed up in one word, BahHumBug! But in keeping with tradition, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas! That said, let’s move on to what I really want to talk to you about.
HOW YOUR MACINTOSH REALLY WORKS!
I know that you My Mac readers have a pretty good idea of what’s inside your Macintosh computer. After all, anyone with even a little computer knowledge understands that their Mac consists of a CPU, a floppy Disk Drive, a hard disk drive, keyboard, mouse and a monitor. Some have a CD-ROM Drive built-in, others don’t. We know this is basically all one needs to get started in computing. We also know this isn’t enough for average computer nuts like us. Most of us need bells and whistles! So we add all the extra goodies like modems, scanners, Zip drives, printers, etc. Whatever we can afford.
Having said this, I now ask, “How many of you understand what takes place deep in the bowels of your Mac to get all that cool Mac stuff up on the screen?” Let’s have a show of hands, please! Not too many, huh? I thought not.
But that’s okay, there are only a handful of “highly technical types” who understand the Macintosh process, and fewer still who can explain this process to the average layman in terms that he/she will understand. So, ladies and gents, this is your lucky day. I, Pete Miner, am one of those “highly technical types,” and with my “way with words,” I will be able to explain to you, my dear Constant Reader, the inner workings of your Macintosh.
Let me start by saying I have only seen the inside of my Performa one time. That was when I added a memory SIMM to my motherboard. But during that one time I was able to look around and listen real good to what was going on inside my Mac. What I discovered even amazed me, a self proclaimed “highly technical type” kind of guy.
After seeing what I saw and hearing what I heard, I feel confident I can give each and every one of you a clear understanding of what takes place under the hood of your Mac. Trust me! I’ve never given you bum information before, have I? Of course not!
Assuming that your Mac is plugged in and all other cords are in their proper receptacles, the first thing you do is hit the start button. This produces a fairly straightforward electronic action that sends a constant stream of juice into the juice collector inside the CPU, which in turn distributes differing amounts of juice to the monitor, hard drive, floppy drive, modem, etc. This process is no different than what happens when you turn on a TV or radio. But this is where the similarities end. What makes your Mac a computer and not a TV is what happens when this surge of juice enters the CPU. It not only turns everything on but also wakes up the Byte Family. With me so far? ……. Good!
If you could look deep inside your CPU with a high-powered microscope, right next to the juice collector, you would see where the Byte Family lives. On my CPU it’s an eight story apartment chip. The Byte Family is quite large, -as you can imagine. Luckily they don’t take up very much room because they live in the microscopic realm of reality.
The Byte Family is headed by Grandma and Grandpa Giga who reside on the top floor of the Chip Building. The seventh and sixth floors are occupied by Ma and Pa Mega who share those floors with a large number of little Bits that will eventually grow into Bytes but can’t really look out for themselves just yet. We find the fifth, fourth and third floors crowded with brother and sister Kilo’s, the work horses of the Mac. On the bottom two floors of the Chip Building are the little guys and gals known as The Bytes. The Bytes work hard but are never overworked as their older siblings the Kilo’s are. Some Macs don’t have a Grandma and Grandpa Giga because their storage capabilities do not require them. I happen to have a 1 gigabyte external hard drive on my Mac so I was forced to go out and find a suitable Grandma and Grandpa Giga to watch over the rest of the Byte Family.
Now that I’ve established who the labor force is that gives you all that cool stuff you get on your monitor, I’ll fill you in on how it’s done.
On startup, the Byte Family is rudely awakened by a jolt of AC from the juice collector which immediately sends the Byte Family into action. Grandma and Grandpa Giga call down to Ma and Pa Mega and inform them that it’s show time. They also convey to them a list of what stuff has to be displayed on the monitor during startup. Ma and Pa Mega quickly collect the “Welcome to Macintosh” display, all the extensions and control panels that will be needed, and anything else the fool owner of the machine has seen fit to drop into the Startup Items Folder. These items are scattered all over the 6th and 7th floors of the Chip Building. Once gathered up, Ma and Pa Mega drop them through a transfer tube in the middle of the floor which empties out on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors of the Chip Building. The Kilo siblings divide up the loot and haul ass up the copper enclosed tunnel to the backside of your monitor. Here they wait for the lights to come on and then start pasting all this stuff onto your monitor. Have you ever noticed that sometimes during startup you have to wait a few seconds for the next control panel to show itself? Well, what has happened here is that the Kilo responsible for carrying that particular panel has probably tripped and fallen in the tunnel and is late reaching the monitor, and because everything has to be pasted (loaded) in a defined order, all work comes to a screeching halt till that one clumsy Kilo makes it to the monitor. If you listen closely you can hear all the other Kilos clicking and screaming at the clumsy one, telling her to hurry up. (I say “her” because 9 times out of 10 it’s a female Kilo who falls down in the tunnel. Don’t ask me why!)
(NOTE: Every now and then, when I get in a mischievous mood I’ll start up my Mac while holding down the shift key which of course means “No Extensions.” Unfortunately the Kilo’s don’t know this until they get to the monitor and find out that none of their extensions will stick. If I listen closely I can hear them cussin’ me out!)
While all this is going on behind your monitor, Grandma and Grandpa Giga are in constant contact with Ma and Pa Mega, letting them know what will be needed as soon as the Desktop appears on the screen. Ma and Pa Mega collect all the stuff that you see on your desktop and send it down the transfer tube to the Kilo’s who make another mad dash up the tunnel to your monitor and begin sticking all those icons on your Desktop. (One amazing point to ponder here is the complete accuracy in which The Kilo’s put everything right where it was just before you shut your Mac off the last time. This amazing feat I believe is accomplished through suggestive hypnosis, but that’s just a guess on my part.)
Still with me? Sure you are! And you thought this was going to be all high-tech mumbo jumbo nerd talk!
When you shutdown your Mac the process is reversed. The only difference being, it’s not quite as hectic. After you toggle the Shutdown switch, The Kilo’s close up and put away any programs that have been left open, the screen goes dark and The Kilo’s can work at a leisurely pace removing all the icons, extensions, etc., from the backside of the monitor. Don’t worry, they have little flashlights they use once the lights go out. The Kilo’s can tell the difference between a shutdown and a restart in case your wondering. I’m not sure how, but I think there is always one Kilo that stands by the Hot Line that is connected to the top floor of the Chip Building and while the rest of The Kilo’s are putting away the programs you left open, the Hot Line Kilo is asking Grandma or Grandpa Giga if this is a quick restart or a total shutdown.
In a nutshell, The Kilo’s do most of the manual labor required to display and move stuff around on your monitor, open and close menus and files, Drag and Drop stuff and basically give us that wonderful Macintosh Interface we have all come to know and love.
That brings us to those little rascals on the 1st and 2nd floor of The Chip Building, The Bytes. These little guys and gals don’t do any heavy lifting like The Kilo’s but are just as important. The Byte’s work inside programs/applications. They also work in conjunction with Bits; for without Bits, there cannot be a Byte.
Say the user clicks on a word processing icon. I’ll use Word 6.0 for the example. Grandma and Grandpa Giga yell down to Ma and Pa Mega and tell them what the user wants. Ma and Pa Mega find it and drag it over to the transfer tube and drop it down. Hundreds of Kilo’s each grab a piece of Word and head up the tunnel -complaining all the way about how fat and heavy this program is. Once they reach the monitor, they start pasting all the things you see on your screen when Word 6.0 sluggishly opens, until finally you’re staring at a clean blank sheet of electronic paper.
Let’s assume the user wants to type a simple letter to his friend, though why he choose the slow and bloated Word 6.0 for a simple letter is beyond me, but that’s beside the point. As soon as the empty page is displayed on the screen, all the Byte’s and a few hundred Bits race up the tunnel and stand by for action. Let’s say the user starts his letter with: “Dear Tim.” As soon as the user hits the “shift” and “D” keys, (TECHNICAL NOTE: All Keyboard keys are attached to little catapults behind your monitor.) A Byte that exactly resembles this letter is catapulted onto the page at the point of the flashing cursor and another “D” takes his place on the catapult to be ready for the next time a “D” is needed. When the user hits the “e” key, guess what happens! That’s right, an “e” Byte is blasted off the catapult onto the page and another “e” takes it’s place, and so on throughout the entire salutation. So what are the little Bits doing hanging around back there, you ask? I answer. The Bits are needed just in case the user decides to get fancy with his typing. Say the user starts adding characters like %, #, *, =, or ~ to his letter. These and other seldom used characters do not have their own individual catapults, they share a common one. In fact, they are used so infrequently that there are no ready made Bytes that resemble these characters. So when the user hits one of these special character keys, what happens is this; eight Bits all crowd together on the special characters catapult and commence doing what looks like slam dancing until they mold together and become a Byte that resembles the special character that the user has typed. Then SPLAT, the Byte is catapulted onto the screen right where the user wants it. This takes a little longer but at the speeds we’re talking about, the delay isn’t even noticeable to the average user.
Of course I have explained all of the above in slow motion. Everything takes place just as I have stated, however, it happens in nanoseconds. You can’t see it with the naked eye, but trust me, this is exactly what goes on inside your Mac. I know because I’m a “highly technical type” kind of guy, and know of what I speak.
What? ……….. You don’t believe me? You think this is far too archaic and primitive for what happens inside your Macintosh?…………. Humph! Well, let me just say this about that! If you think this is archaic, primitive and unbelievable, I’m sure glad I didn’t try to explain the inner workings of PC’s to you! My God, what would you have thought if I told you the PC hasn’t even gotten to the development of catapults yet? Or that the Ma and Pa Mega’s that live in PC’s are still using the stairs in lieu of a suitable transfer tube! One more thing. Did you know that inside all PC’s, when a user types a key on his keyboard, no matter what key it is, it always results in an eight Bit slam dance? That’s right, there are no pre-configured Byte characters standing by in a PC. Now that’s archaic!
I could go on and discuss how the Macintosh Byte Family handle graphics programs with their highly advanced pixel manipulator or how they handle communications and the Internet with their state-of-the-art wireless transporter room, but I’ll end this here and let what I’ve told you so far, sink in. I hope all you non-believers will drop me an e-mail once you think about what I’ve just told you and come to the realization that, “By Jove, Pete was right!” I’d love to hear from you.
See you Next Year!