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Hunting the Squirrel:

Dateline: 1992

At the close of July of 1990, the City of Los Angeles, after 12 years of pleas and 8 years of budget requests on our part, at long last permitted the Los Angeles Department of City Planning Graphics Design Services Section to enter the electronic age. They got us a Macintosh.

Now, the City hadn’t wanted to get us a Macintosh. The City hadn’t wanted to get us a computer at all. Nor, for many years, had our own Department been any more supportive of our digital ambitions. Representatives of our Administrative Services Division (under whom we are, for our sins, administered) had stood there, at some point in the 1980s, on their hind legs, in the middle of our Section and challenged us; “You are the Graphics Section. What would you do with a computer?”

So, as the decade wore on and the rest of the department broke out in a faint rash of dumb PC terminals and the GIS Section was born into a full-blown case of Prime, the Graphics Section was still redolent with the mingled bouquet of hot wax, spray mount and rubber cement, and its denizens stalked the halls, their forearms arrayed in bits of zipatone.

Eventually this reached a point that the Powers That Be up in the Administrative Services Division decided that this reflected poorly upon themselves and they thought to amend their long neglect.

The ISD Department was no happier with the idea of getting us a Macintosh than our own Department had been. Macintoshes were a dirty little secret in City offices. But we insisted — not that we knew anything more of the field than that we were the Graphics Section and the Macintosh was reputed to be a Graphics machine — and eventually, in the winter of ’89, ISD sent the order through with an air of disgruntled resignation.

In the fullness of time, a triumphal procession made its way to South Figueroa Street, where we were stationed in a satellite office, consisting of 2–3 crates of hardware, a carton of software, and the jaundiced spirit of ISD which dumped all them in the middle of the Section, grumbled, “You said you wanted it. There it is.”, and departed.

Of course none of us knew what to do with any of it. Most of us had no idea of what most of this stuff even was. Eventually a couple of people elsewhere in the Department who had Macintosh 512s at home came and helped us to configure the set-up, installed the System software for us and showed us how to install the applications. Nobody knew how to use any of them.

The Mac, a Macintosh Ilci, immediately declared itself to be the platinum apple of discord. Fortunately, 2 of the 13 members of the Graphics Section (the Photographer and his Assistant) were still stationed in City Hall and out of the battle lines. Also, perhaps fortunately, 2 more of the staff (highly enough placed to be able to carry it off), were apparent technophobes who would scarcely go near the thing. Which brought the ratio down to what was then the departmental norm of employees to computers of 9:1. This was quite bad enough. We ended up working out a rota of scheduled training periods in the mornings with afternoons earmarked for assigned work time on specific projects.

“Training” consisted of fumbling clulessly wthout direction, trying to get something related to one or other of our actual projects done.

The carton of software contained three highly regarded graphics-oriented applications, a high-end page layout program and a leading word processor. It also contained several puzzles. There were some very curious omissions. For example, the only utility programs which the City had provided for us were Adobe Type Manager and Suitcase II. We were provided with no screen saver. We were given no disk optimization or file recovery programs. Nor did we have a back-up program. We were issued no virus hunter. Despite the fact that the ci had a drive which would allow for us to read PC disks, there were no translation filters to enable us to do anything with what was on them. Although we did have a scanner provided and we are the publications section, there was no OCR program which would enable us to make use of scanned-in text. The puzzle box also contained some equally curious inclusions. Why, for example, were we issued a copy of Microsoft Word, and a copy of Microsoft Write? Why did we get a copy of MacDraw and a copy of MacDraw II? Most curious of all, why were we provided with a copy of Microphone (a communications program), and a copy of Microphone II, but no modern?

Go figure.

A later puzzle which surfaced in April, was, why had the SCSI address of the internal hard drive been set at 3 rather than the more conventional 0? We do not understand these things. We also do not know, who, in the bureaucratic maze of ISD, the dealer from whom they purchased the system, or the manufacturers of its components, had included the squirrel. For the machine was unequivocally squirrelly. From the get-go.

Our first obvious problem was not the squirrel, however, but the mouse. The mouse that came with the system was defective. The cursor tended either to quiver abjectly, not moving at all, or it would suddenly make sprightly leaps to the opposite side the screen. Allow me to point out that we are, essentially, the Art Department. We have to draw with this tool. I think I may have been the first of us to come out and say that the mouse was defective. My supervisors told me that I didn’t understand computers, how could I know whether the equipment was defective or not? The mouse’s performance deteriorated. More of us stated that the mouse was defective. Administration told us that we didn’t understand computers, how could we know whether the equipment was defective or not? The mouse’s performance continued to deteriorate.

By the time ISD finally sent someone out to look at the thing, it had reached such a state that one couldn’t make a menu selection, because the cursor couldn’t be brought under sufficient control to connect with what anyone wanted to select, and half the time we couldn’t even get it up to the menu bar and onto the proper menu title. If you are saying to yourself that the system wouldn’t even be usable by that time, you’re right. Well, the fellow went “tut-tut” and pulled some of the guts out of the mouse, which made it marginally operable and arranged for us to get a new one, which finally showed up in a week or so.

This pretty well defines the level of support which we got from ISD, the Department through which all City offices’ computer-oriented issues must be processed. These are the people who took from Nov. to May to process an order for one lousy typeface. Well, once we got the replacement mouse, which was about Oct. or Nov., things went as smoothly as could be expected with as squirrelly a box as we seem to have been gifted with, until Dec. when the whole system crashed.

What had appeared to set this off was a system bomb claiming a fatal error, and an ID number which I didn’t think to write down. (I was removing a font from a suitcase in the Font/DA Mover. The Font/DA Mover, I later learned was notorious for throwing scary alert boxes at people.) I turned the machine off, turned it back on, and couldn’t get the hard disk to mount. The office wall clock had also stopped. This may have been related.

Well, even ISD couldn’t argue with that, so, after a few days somebody from a company who ISD evidently had a contract with showed up, reformatted the hard drive and reinstalled the system. (It took five years to replace the clock.) We were left with the impression that we had suffered something called a head crash. I didn’t question the idea at the time. But in view of later events, that now seems far from likely to me. The fellow from ISD did not reinstall the applications. We had to do that ourselves.

While we were at that, I did at least have the presence of mind, (and a couple dozen cheap blank floppys) to make back-up copies of our application disks, since the originals were kept locked in the Section Head’s file cabinet.

Although back in service, the system remained squirrelly.

Now, mind you, none of us knew what the hell they were doing at that particular point. We had all been too busy trying to fumble our way into navigating through folders and producing something in the applications, to try to figure out how the system runs, as well. (Nine people into one box comes out to less than 10 hours of training a month, with no instruction beyond being turned loose with the manuals.) So when we crashed again in April we were again at the mercy of ISD. They hemmed and hawed and after a few days sent someone in who wheeled the machine away to the shop. He brought it back the next afternoon having claimed to have rebuilt the desktop. This did not sound to me like the solution to our problems. So, when it crashed again two days later, I, at least, wasn’t particularly surprised. When called, ISD turned sniffy and informed us that they had no service contract with anyone to attend to Macintoshes, and that we had exceeded the amount which they had allotted for fixing complaints about them. Therefore, they didn’t intend to send anyone out to see to it over this one.

Now, we were getting startup chimes and the Sad Mac icon. The machine wouldn’t boot. We were also getting an unlisted error number and no assistance from any source at our disposal. In sheer desperation, a coworker and I found that we could boot from a floppy, so I copied everybody’s files onto floppy disks, (playing the floppy shuffle — two disks/one drive — all the way) found the program for reformatting the disk and did it. Which meant we had to reinstall everything all over again. This time, since we seemed to be having such bad luck running under System 6.0.5, I decided we might do better to try seeing if System 6.0.7 would run any better.

It didn’t.

We got a steady string of bizarre bomb alerts with messages such as "bus error" or "Coprocessor not installed" (I beg your pardon, this is a IIci, the coprocessor is so installed, thank you very much.) Some of this cleared up after we learned that 6.0.7 is notoriously buggy under multifinder, and stopped trying to use multifinder (bidding background printing adieu with some regret). But we still usually ended up having to restart three times an hour. On the other hand, given our past performance, I couldn’t really give much credence to the prevailing opinion among the members of my users’ groups that “System 6.0.5 is far more stable.” I also figured that, given ISD’s degree of willingness to support us, in self-defense someone in the Section had better get some idea of how the operating system works in general, in case of further emergencies. I had already started buying software for the box out of my own pocket — which tended to be either programs which I wanted to try out myself, or which sounded like they might make things a little easier for us all, or which ought to have been included in our original package and hadn’t been. So we now had a utilities package available. I started coming in on weekends to optimize the disk and rebuild the desktop. And, although the system continued to be squirrelly as hell, our last real crash had been the one back in April.

Well, toward the middle of September, we installed System 7.0. All bets were off.

It started out all right, although we immediately started getting the expected out-of-memory alerts. But everything worked, until one of the crew decided be cute and turn on Virtual Memory. Then all hell broke loose. First he crashed, and then he couldn’t get back to the desktop. Well, I ended up fighting with the machine off and on for a week, (later immortalized as the week that everything broke) until we ended up with a configuration that at least allowed for our most necessary INITs. And, unlike with System 6, we no longer got a bomb box every time we turned around. Instead, we got a screen freeze. Or a system hang. Which all came to the same thing. I contacted the developers of the things which were crashing us on start-up who unanimously claimed that their software was compatible with System 7.0 and with Virtual Memory.

Go figure.

One helpful piece of advice which had been pointed out to me was that installing System 7.0 over the top of System 6.0x tends to chew it up a bit, and that I ought really to pull the old System and Finder out of the folder, trash them, and reinstall System 7.0 clean. So I did. This did solve a couple of minor anomalies which had puzzled me. But it was still squirrelly. And we still couldn’t run things which had run for the first two days we spent under 7.0. Most of the people I asked advice of indicated that it really might have been a good idea to have reformatted the disk before changing over.

The stakes got raised when, after a trip to the Seybold Expo was out of my hair, I decided to improve the shining hour by completely reorganizing the font library over a holiday weekend. My intention was to set things up so that people could load and unload any typeface that they wanted for some special job or other by themselves without running to me about it.

Now, that is the sort of project that, once you start, you have to carry it through, or nobody has any typefaces. And, of course, it turned out to be about 50% more complicated than I had expected.

Then just to make things even more fun, the System chose to shred itself as I was working with it. I put about 41 hours into the project over the 3-day weekend, with the machine fighting me every step of the way, and, by the end of it, the machine, which had been squirrelly from the day we got it, had developed a whole new string of bombs and hangs to throw in our faces. Optimizing the disk, (twice) got rid of the problems that our diagnostic programs found, but the performance was not significantly better. It wasn’t even back to where it had been when we started. So, after discussing the matter, it seemed reasonable to make a virtue of necessity and reformat, as all of my sources seem to agree ought to have been done in the first place. We spent the week pulling our individual projects off of the hard disk onto floppys in preparation.

That being taken care of, on Friday afternoon, I popped the Disk Tools disk that came with System 7.0 into the drive and booted up, in order to run the Disk First Aid program on the hard disk, just like all the instructions tell us.

The hard disk didn’t mount.

| called up the program. The program couldn’t find the hard disk. It isn’t an Apple hard disk.

I called ISD. The one name I had been given listing a person who, presumably, dealt with problems that people have with Macintoshes belonged to a person who had gone home for the day. (It was 2:00 p.m.) I called five different people from two different users’ groups. No one was available. I left messages on machines. I hunted out the formatting software which I had used in April (and which could find the hard drive) and reformatted the drive with it. I started reinstalling the system. The machine fought me every step of the way.

Midway through reconfiguring the new System, I got a call-back from one of the users’ group names.

“What kind of hard drive are you using?” He asked

“Quantum 105 internal.” I said.

“Oh, Apple’s Disk First Aid can’t deal with that.” He said.

“Yeah, I noticed.” I said.

“Did you have any formatting software bundled with that drive?” He asked.

“Disk Manager Mac.” I said.

“What version?” he asked.

“Huh?” I said.

“Oh, yes, the formatting software has to be up to date or the drive won’t be able to handle the current software. System 7.0’s a problem. How long has the City had that hard drive?”

Since July of ’90. And who knows how long the dealer had had it before that.

Wonderful. Our hard disk was incompatible with current system software. And it had probably been incompatible with System 6.0.7, and possibly System 6.0.5 as well. Was this something that I really needed to be told?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, it was.

And, of course, this meant that I was irrevocably engaged in a futile endeavor. I was going to have to find a more current formatting program which would work with our disk, and then I would have to reformat and reinstall everything all over again!

Well, the fellow, who deals in wholesale — wouldn’t you know it — quoted me a good price (too good a price) on a program which he said ought to be able to handle System 7.0, and said he would send it off the next day. I said I would send a check, and went back to reinstalling our applications so we would at least be able to continue limping along until I got the new formatting software. I made a number of cute little secondary discoveries. Such as the way that two of our key programs, Aldus Freehand and Aldus PageMaker are both System 7 compatible, but that their installers weren’t.

I had to partition the disk, and install a copy of System 6.0.7 in the partition. Then I needed to drag the folder for System 6 (renamed) out of this partition and into the one which had the System 7 folder and get rid of the partition. Then I needed to install a copy of the Freeware utility, System Picker (which enables you to move from one System to the other), switch systems, boot up in System 6, and run the Aldus installers to install the programs. Then finish up by launching System Picker, switching systems, rebooting, and dragging the Aldus system files out of the OS 6 System folder and putting them into the OS 7 System folder in order to get them installed to run under System 7. I admit that that was the worst example in the lot, but it took me until about 2:00 a.m. to get everything installed. With the machine continuing to fight me. When I was finished, it ran only slightly worse than when I had started out.

We hobbled along for the week it took for the program to reach me. The fellow may deal in wholesale, but what he sent me was not a commercial copy of the program. Frankly, I suspected it was bootleg. But I could be wrong. It also turned out not be the absolutely latest version of that particular program either (which may explain the cut-rate price), but if it could handle System 7, we were doing better than we had been. And, when it came down to it, the disk reformatted without incident and although it took me all night to get things back to where they had been before, the box did not fight me every step of the way through the installation process.

By one of those coincidences that keep taking place in this world, the next issue of MacUser magazine to reach me (November’s) had one of their comparison articles on moderate-sized (i.e. 100MB) hard drives. This article touched upon the issue of formatting software. The comparison chart listed which program and which version of these programs came bundled with each drive tested. Several of these were Quantum drives which came bundled with Disk Manager Mac. The compatible versions listed were, variously, 2.23, 2.24 and 2.25. The first of these was identified as being the earliest which would deal with System 7.0. Out of curiosity, I popped our original copy into the drive to read what version we had been issued.

We had version 2.1. We may have finally found the squirrel.

In an attempt to give everything a thorough test, I loaded up just about every bell and whistle and INIT and CDEV we had, just to see if they would run. Most of them did. In fact, most of them even would handle Virtual Memory. (Which was fortunate since with everything that would run running the system gobbled about 3.5 of our 5MB of RAM.)

32-bit addressing was another story. A lot of stuff hadn’t caught up to that, although I expected that the latest rash of updates were gradually taking care of that problem. We did have a couple of casualties, however. Suitcase II, which is one of our most vital extensions, now wouldn’t run. That was the worst case. Actually, it had run fine before, and it still ran just fine when installed in the copy of System 6 which I’d left available – since one or two of our applications had features which wouldn’t run under 7 yet. Therefore, I concluded that the problem was due to a conflict with one of our other INITs. And, a week later, when I pulled most of these bells and whistles out of the system to free up as much memory as possible and reinstalled it, it made no further difficulties. (Incidentally, when I pulled the 20–30 PostScript font families which we had had to have running through the System during the period that Suitcase was unavailable, it freed up about another 500K of RAM which the System had been eating.) I didn’t manage to pinpoint the cause of the conflict, but since the other enhancements weren’t going back until we got a RAM upgrade, the matter was pretty much academic for now.

So, we were back on our feet, and finally progressing, if rather slowly, on System 7.

But the machine was still fairly squirrelly. Go figure.