The Nemo Memo – DO Try this At Home?

DO Try this At Home?

A Little Background
I have never been a fan of initializing my hard drive every year or two, as some Mac gurus recommend. Instead, I choose the more palatable medicine of doing Easy Installs whenever possible, and running Norton Utilities monthly. I archive items I won’t be needing again soon (or ever), and back up religiously.

For years this method has served me well, and I am in no hurry to try anything different, but…

I have friends who, for very different reasons, have recently needed a complete hard disk reformat, with immediate and substantial improvement over their previous computer woes. Now I can speak from both sides of the story.

First, Sharon
Sharon has a 6300, which she purchased new and didn’t use very much until now. She hired me as her tutor, to help her learn and use America Online, then proceed to ClarisWorks.

During our get-acquainted session, I showed her the best methods for diagnosing and fixing software problems, and we tossed out unnecessary garbage she had accumulated throughout her system. At the second appointment, she subscribed to AOL, and we set up some word processing templates in ClarisWorks. During our third session I upgraded her system software from the original 7.x to OS 8.1. So far so good.

Before I returned for round three, Sharon emailed me that she was getting strange errors and freezes, both on-line and offline. I told her not to worry, because Norton would take care of everything. Sure enough, Disk Doctor located and repaired many serious problems, and her Mac was fine again, for three days.

Changing Gears
Wham! Sharon’s frequent crashes made me rethink the entire strategy. I looked through the Book Bytes library, and was reminded about initializing and starting from scratch, which made me a little nervous with someone else’s computer. But, why not?!

We archived everything essential (not much in this case), then held our breath and ran DriveSetup 1.4 to erase the entire disk.

WARNING: If you do this procedure, make sure you have reliable backups of your essential data and software updaters, because Apple doesn’t give you either strongly worded warnings about what you are about to do, or any chance whatsoever to undo it!

In a few seconds we had an empty hard disk, which cheerfully accepted the OS 8.1 installation, plus Sharon’s other registered software. One hour later her “new” computer ran better than ever, and all three of us were wearing the famous Macintosh grin. Now, weeks later, from Sharon my phone is silent and my email box is empty most of the time, except when she is ready for another tutorial lesson.

Second, Paul
Four days after doing Sharon’s complete reformat and reinstallation, my poker buddy Paul called. The conversation ran:

Paul: Hi, John. Do you have a few minutes this afternoon?

John: Not exactly, Paul. I’m just getting over the flu, and all my deadlines are burying me right now. What’s the matter?

Paul: I got a new computer, and I want you to look it over.

John: Great, Paul. Which model of G3 did you buy?

Paul: Well, I went cheap, and got a Performa 6118, or some number like that, because the guy threw in all sorts of extra goodies.

John: Such as?

Paul: Leave them out for now, because the computer is a mess.

John: Huh? You bought a sick Mac? How cheap is cheap?

Paul: Take it easy on me, please. When will you have a little time?

John: Okay. Next Wednesday. Bring EVERYTHING that goes with this new old Performa, plus whatever else you might remotely need.

Paul: I’ll be there.

One Week Later…
He had removed about half the junk from the Mac’s 500 MB hard disk, but it was a real mess. He wanted me to help him do a clean backwards install from OS 8.5 down to 7.6.1 (don’t ask; I still don’t get it myself).

I said “No dice, Paul. It’s 8.1 or nothing.” He didn’t know I was now an instant expert, having survived Sharon’s emergency. Plus he was in no position to argue.

The entire procedure ran more slowly than on the 6300, due to the older PPC 601 processor, but after the initialization we loaded only the OS and his Internet items. Paul is a professional writer, and uses a trusted Centris for his word processing, at least for now.

Finally, Linda
The next day I received the following message from my friend Linda, in California, who also has a 6300:

We were on the “net” when the computer crashed. After the restart, we got the dreaded question mark on the screen and had to “boot up” using our Disk Doctor disk. After trying to repair the computer, we got the desktop back, but were told (by our computer!) that it was unable to fix the problem. The problem was an invalid sibling link 4,1775.

I have looked in every book to try to find out what this is. (naturally can’t find it!) We have checked the cables on our computer (i.e. printer) and everything is fine. I do believe it has something to do with being online as we hardly every crash when we are in the database or other applications.

Do you have any clues to this problem? I have found information on the question mark and that has helped some, but I still don’t know what our problem is. As far as we can tell, it is something “external” to the computer. I will call our Internet provider about it too, just wanted to ask you first.

I told Linda to run Disk Doctor, and let me know if that worked. She replied:

Sorry I haven’t been writing much email this week.

So far, we are doing ok, but I am very “ginger” when on the Internet, not asking it to do too much, for fear of a crash. but until it happens again, we’ll just continue on.

There is one possibility – our ISP was doing some work that day (they sent out an e-letter as such) and maybe it affected our connection and startup functions – is that possible?

We do not have Norton. We just used the startup disk that we got with the computer. It was not a “Disc Doctor” per se.

I have not called the tech support yet at our provider, but plan to sometime soon. I’m also going to hunt down a Mac tech person in the area – hope I find one!

Guess what? The local Mac guy did a complete reformat plus reinstallation, and now Linda is better than ever, as she explained:

We just got our computer back from Bill, he had it for 5-6 days. He did GREAT things for us, like upgrading our Netscape and our email program. He also showed us some things when we picked it up. Really really great and didn’t charge very much. We really liked him. He is president of the local users club. We gave him your email address, we think you two should communicate!

Our computer even sounds quieter! I’m thrilled. He suggested we get a program called Tech Tool to keep it running well.

Also, I must tell you that one reason that it wasn’t working well, was because I had so many undeleted messages in my email program. I just hadn’t taken the time to delete them out and they were taking up a lot of RAM. I think our Internet program will run a lot better now, and faster, thus we may not need a new modem.

What Nemo Learned
Most of the time, for most Mac users, most applications run smoothly. When chaos mode becomes crisis mode, consider doing a complete hard drive initialization and reinstallation, after FIRST archiving and backing up important items. If possible, have someone experienced hold your hand, or do the job for you. Your old clunker will suddenly perform like the lean machine it was meant to be.

If you have additional insights on this topic, I welcome your comments.

Join The Club

Over thirty years ago when I was in college, students would play pranks on one another by enrolling their “friends” in the Columbia Record Club. Shortly thereafter, a few LPs arrived followed by about a million requests for payment, terminating months later in a collection agent asking everyone else where the alleged perpetrators were located. The whole thing was only mildly amusing, but it went on nonstop.

Fast-forward to 1999, and now the two major music clubs are competing on-line for our CD business. At this moment I am enrolled in the classical music clubs for both Columbia House and BMG, each of which claims to have a full-service website for members and visitors.

I signed up to each club via snail mail, using tear-out ads in the newspaper, in order to build up a good collection of Baroque era classical CDs for the course I just finished teaching at the University of Arizona. My experience was primarily via postal mail and telephone (another story altogether), but I did do some ordering and research on their websites. These Internet divisions are now big business, but how user-friendly are they?

Let’s take a look. I’ll see how easy it is to locate and “order” a compact disc featuring the best organ works of J. S. Bach.

First I went to The home page loaded quickly and was easy to navigate. I logged in as a member, and soon had notified BMG not to send the monthly selection.

I attempted to do a search for an album with “Bach organ” in the title, which failed, then searched for “Bach” in the composer-search area. The search located 88 items, and displayed fifteen at a time. The second screen contained:


Memo Picture 2RealAudio excerpts were available for every track on the CD, as was a download for the RealPlayer 5.0.

I placed an order, added the CD to my shopping cart, then signed out before the disc was actually sent to me.

This service is a good one, but can use some improvement in its classical music search criteria.

Next I typed in, and did, more or less, the same stuff as I had just done at BMG. The loading was smooth, but the home page has lots of images and is a bit busy visually.

Starting with my member login, everything was much slower compared to the BMG site, more confusing, and rather tedious. The “Bach” search took a looooooooong time, yielding one huge window with all the Bach items in the Columbia House catalog. Advice: be patient when using Columbia House, especially with a normal modem connection. The selection is good, but the web navigation is not.

At the end of a Columbia House session, it is difficult to know if the order has gone through, because no acknowledgment is provided. Try it, and tell me if I’m missing something obvious.

Both clubs offer very good prices for new and existing members, and I’m interested which music purchase sites are your favorites.

Oldies But Goodies

If you are looking for books that don’t need to be in absolute mint condition, or are out of print, try Bibliofind: This service identifies independent booksellers who have the book, and who will ship it to you, usually at a very nice price. I love it and use it all the time.

Get Stuffed?

One more thing. I am preparing an evaluation of StuffIt Deluxe 5.x, and am interested in your experiences with it. We are in the midst of a controversy here at My Mac Magazine, and value our readers’ opinions highly. I will reply personally to your messages.

See you next month. Are you using a cable modem or DSL connection yet?

John Nemerovski

Websites mentioned:

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