The Joy of Formatting… The Danger of Thinking Too Much


For a certain variety of Mac geek, of which I am one, there’s great satisfaction in formatting a hard drive. I don’t mean just choosing Erase Disk from the Special menu either–that’s lightweight stuff, reserved for floppy disks that have been sitting in a drawer for four years with unfinished SimCity scenarios on them.


I mean wiping a drive down to the bare metal. Fire up the Drive Setup utility (the very latest version, freshly downloaded from Apple’s servers), set it to do a Low Level Format and to Zero All Data, and just willy-nilly click “OK” to all those ugly dialog boxes warning you that you’re bringing on a little magnetic apocalypse inside your Mac.


It’s even more satisfying if the drive is from a flaky machine running something like System 7.5.2 and about three dozen RAM-chewing extensions–formatting one of those yields the same kind of self-congratulatory pride as clinically cleaning out a fridge that you accidentally left unplugged for two weeks. Perhaps it’s also the same feeling nuclear weapons test engineers used to get each time they converted a tropical island paradise into a vast, radioactive crater in the sea. It may be time-consuming and even a bit dangerous, but in the end you can say “I did that!”

[Quadra 630 from]


Waiting for that bit-by-bit format also gives you time to think, which is what I did the other day while I was resurrecting an old Quadra 630 for my dad. (In case you’re wondering, no, my dad is not a timid first-time computer user who needs my help whenever something goes wrong. In fact, he has five Wintel desktop machines and three laptops, all hooked up in a homebrew Novell network–in his den. He could easily have set the Quadra up himself. But I said I enjoyed this, right? With a dad like that, how could I not?)


Anyway, I was thinking. You see, my dad has lots of monitors, but they’re all the kind with PC-style VGA cables on them–with teeny little monitor plugs–and to run one of them from the Mac he’d need a Mac-to-VGA video adapter. And so I faced a dilemma.


Where, I asked myself, should I buy the adapter?


Whenever I buy some big piece of Mac equipment, such as a new machine, a scanner, a monitor, or a printer, my course of action is simple. I visit one of several nice Apple-focused dealers in the general vicinity of my home in Vancouver, Canada. (Okay, maybe I surf to the eBay online auction, but let’s not complicate things too much.) The Apple dealers deserve my business for sticking with the Mac even in the pre-iMac days when it was far from cool (or very profitable) to do so.


However, when it comes to small stuff–inkjet paper, games, cables, Zip disks, printer cartridges, and yes, adapters–I’m not sure where I should go. Part of me says that I should still buy those things from my local Apple dealer, to show my support and send a bit more cash their way.


But another part of me thinks like this: If enough Mac users buy at least some of their supplies at generally Mac-hostile stores (think Best Buy or Circuit City in the U.S., Future Shop here in Canada–I’m sure those of you elsewhere have your equivalents), then those stores are bound to notice over time that, hey, we’re selling a fair bit of Mac stuff here.


I have a lot of Wintel-using friends, largely because I work for a software company that develops only for Windows. Before the iMac and “Think Different” came along, they were convinced the Mac had been dead for years. After all, they never saw Macs, Mac supplies, or especially Mac software in stores. I tried to explain that Mac users mostly buy at Apple specialty stores or mail order, but I think they dismissed me as a relic, like someone still clinging to his Atari 800 or Coleco ADAM.

[Mac-VGA adapter]


If, at that time, even a small percentage of the millions of Mac users had come out the woodwork and started snapping up all the weird Mac parts that Mac-hostile stores still seemed to carry (you know, Mac mice, Mac serial cables, and adapters like the one I needed for my dad), then maybe those stores would have realized sooner how many of us there are, and started stocking other stuff, like actual software applications.


Maybe Apple’s apparent death spiral of 1995-97 wouldn’t have seemed so dire, and maybe fewer Mac users would have been forced over to the Wintel camp by Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Maybe the company’s recent Phoenix-like recovery wouldn’t have seemed so miraculous to the doomsaying industry analysts.




With that in mind, and after the Low Level Format on my dad’s Quadra was finished, I trucked off to the nearest Future Shop, intent on striking my own thirty-dollar blow for the Mac cause.


Guess what? Now that Future Shop is selling a ton of iMacs, they don’t have any use for Mac-VGA adapters. iMacs don’t have video ports, as you know. Sigh.


But they did have an old Mac aircraft-style joystick in the bargain bin for half price, so I bought that instead. Then I drove to the local Mac dealer and bought the adapter there. Victory on both fronts!


Of course, I’d just spent twice what I’d planned. For a certain variety of Mac geek, of which I am one, there’s great satisfaction in that too.



Derek K. Miller

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