The Nemo Memo
My Mac Magazine #37

On my property here in the Sonoran Desert, there are all sorts of plants which would be considered unusual elsewhere in the temperate world. One of these species is the Joshua Tree (or yucca brevifolia), which is native to the Mojave Desert, 150 miles to the northwest.

We have several Joshua Trees. The tallest one is a genuine landmark, reaching nearly 30 feet (or 10 meters) high, with many sturdy upright “arms,” or branches. The shortest one is, or was, about 15 feet (5 meters) high.

 

Desert Photo
•Photo credit www.desertusa.comTucson was blessed with buckets more rain than normal during the recent winter months. As a consequence, an arm on the junior Joshua rotted and broke off, because its hundreds of old woodpecker holes retained water for weeks at a stretch.

Upon arrival home after the recent meeting of TMUG, our local Mac users group, Barbara told me about the broken branch, and asked if I could remove it soon. “Certainly,” I replied, since I had an hour available the following morning.

This yucca has evolved to endure blastingly hot summers and arid winters, and does not cut easily. When I attempted to trim the fresh stump, the Joshua merely laughed, and snagged each of my pruning saws in its dense, pithy, dessicated mass of trunk-leaves and corky bark.

Eventually, I was reduced to hacking away with my trusty Boy Scout hand axe, engraved with “J. Nemerovski, Sweepstakes ’62,” commemorating a long-forgotten event of woodsmanship from my Midwestern youth. The newest bow saw blade was dull by the time I finally had an even cut on the remaining part of the trunk.

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with Nemo’s approach to Life with Macintosh? Plenty!

Now midway through my fifth year as a Macintosher, I have accumulated quite a bit of mouse-mileage. What I notice about myself is a sense of perspective when approaching new problem-solving situations.

Regular readers are familiar with the litany of routine backing-up, hard disk diagnostics, and maintenance chores using the appropriate software tools. If you are not currently doing so, please begin immediately! I can suggest several fine books and Web sites to assist you.

What I am beginning to experience is an even-tempered, seasoned state of mind that I was not previously able to attain. The components are:

  • TIME: setting aside plenty of time whenever you need to install or become familiar with something new, or perform a troubleshooting procedure;
  • PACE: taking it nice and easy, keeping your head clear of distractions, enabling the process to be totally productive;
  • TOOLS: having the correct software and hardware to get the job done, quickly and efficiently;
  • DOCUMENTATION: reading through the printed or electronic manuals as many times as needed, and keeping legible notes of your progress; and
  • EVALUATION: testing the completed results in real-world situations, to make sure you have done it right, whatever it was!Here is what will happen. Out of the blue, you will begin to have unprecedented crashes or conflicts. You become totally unstable and distraught, and waste several hours. Instead, collect your thoughts and proceed patiently and systematically through your problem-solving. Learn how and where to go for help. Read your *friendly* manuals.

    Next, you will receive phone or email “Help me!” requests from friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Walk them through the fix-it process, cheerfully and calmly. Learn when to keep going and when to advise them to go elsewhere for assistance.

    I have been thrifty (or a real tightwad, depending upon whom you ask) my entire life. As a homeowner on a limited budget, I have invested plenty of sweat-equity in do-it-myself chores and projects. This method usually does *not* work in the world of computing.

    My advice is to buy and use the best hardware you can afford, with the appropriate productivity and utility software for your particular situation. Keep current with commercial and shareware updaters and upgrades, unless you won’t actually benefit from them. Read, read, read print and Internet source material.

    Establish a rough budget for both your time and your expenditures. Computers are expensive and very time-consuming. Period.

    What did I learn from the Joshua Tree experience that I can apply to daily computing? I now attempt to approach each new situation with a notion of what has preceded it, with a sense of humor, and with a knowledge that time-and-materials will be required. I welcome your responses, and tales from your personal mouse-travels.

    Oh, yes. Here is an example, which I call “Dotty’s Dilemma, or How the Cookie Crumbled.” I’ll let my friend Dotty explain her side of the story:

     

    It was an average day on the PowerBook. I did a little
    Quicken, got my email, then sent some outgoing mail.
    When I went to shut down my computer, I was puzzled
    when it didn’t turn off. What had I screwed up? Nothing
    like this had ever happened. I tried again. Same result.

    I noticed a strange icon in the top right hand corner of the
    screen. Oh no! A weird thing I’d never seen before. Was
    this something I was supposed to know about? I went to
    Show Balloons to identify it, feeling uneasy about this strange
    visitor that had appeared, uninvited and unwilling to leave,
    on my screen. Turns out it was a cookie. Terrific. I’d never
    heard of such a thing.

    So I looked it up in the manual – nothing. In the Help
    menu – nothing. In Macs for Dummies OS 8.0
    nothing. I kept trying to shut down. Regardless of whether
    I used the Finder in the corner, used the power button, or
    clicked on Shut Down, the damn cookie appeared in the
    corner while the machine stayed on. Did a restart. Tried
    to shut down again. Nada.

    I’m getting pissed and scared at this point. These machines
    are supposed to save so much time!!!! Did I break my
    computer? I called Mr. Nemo Wizard. Through a series of
    investigations he discovered the cookie was from my Jaz
    Drive. We tried to trash it, but we couldn’t get rid of it.

    Finally, he recommended that I contact Iomega. I had to go
    to the Post Office, so I put my computer to sleep and left for
    a while. After doing my errands and enjoying a relaxing
    swim, I tried again. Same deal.

    I tried Iomega on the Web. The help they blithely offered
    in their manual wasn’t obvious on their Web site. I decided
    to try a human, so I called them up on the phone. It took
    about 15 minutes of listening to recorded messages to figure
    out that I might have to pay $20 to speak to a real person and
    find out what this cookie was doing. I was getting frustrated.
    Fortunately, I had made arrangements with my friends,
    Beth and Barbie, to go out to the desert and watch the sunset,
    and I left my computer sleeping on my desk.

    I returned several hours later, having bathed in the beauty
    of the desert and the sunset, feeling really good. There sat
    my computer.

    OK, one more try. Lo and behold, on the screen was a
    message from Iomega – had all that time on the phone
    and the Internet produced something somehow? Had they
    read my mind? It was a reminder to fill out my registration
    which, dinosaur that I am, I had done by snail weeks ago.

    I marked the appropriate box, and the registration form
    vanished. I shut down my computer, and it turned off!
    The offending cookie was gone. It took 8 hours from the
    time the cookie appeared and blocked my ability to shut
    down my computer to the time the Iomega reminder
    showed up on my screen.

    I know I am no computer whiz, but you are, Nemo,
    and this one had even you stumped. Iomega needs to be
    a bit more thorough in explaining what’s up, or fix their
    program. Imagine if you had this experience without the
    support of your friends, the relaxing exercise, or the beauty
    of a desert sunset! Or if the dreaded cookie appeared during
    a thunderstorm, or if you were on an airplane. Could you
    wear down your battery and screw up your PowerBook
    by losing the capability to shut down? Thanks for all your
    help.

    Dotty

     


    John Nemerovski
    nemo@mymac.com

    Websites mentioned:
    http://www.www.desertusa.com

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