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Computing At Chaos Manor:
February 12, 2008

The User's Column, February, 2008
Column 331, Part 2
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2008 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

Mac Tales

This column continues the story of changing over from PC systems to Imogene, the iMac 20", as my main writing machine. I've been using the Mac exclusively for all writing except mail and my daybook website for about two weeks now. That includes using the Mac keyboard. I expect that part of the experiment won't last: I don't hate the Mac keyboard, but I don't much like it. Of course, I wrote all this with the Mac keyboard, and it does grow on me. It sure looks elegant.

Chaos Manor Advisor Peter Glaskowsky has discovered that Microsoft makes a wireless Comfort Curve Mac keyboard, and I have ordered one from Amazon. I do like the Microsoft comfort curve design, and I use those keyboards on the writing machine in the Monk's Cell (otherwise known as the oldest boy's room: no Internet, no telephone, no books except old high school textbooks, no games, just a writing machine and a bag of popcorn; it's where I write fiction).

On the other hand, I like the Mighty Mouse quite a bit. Once you set things in Preferences and get used to it, the Mighty Mouse is very easy to use, and the little track ball that sits where the wheel is on a Microsoft redeye mouse scrolls sideways as well as up and down. Managing Editor Brian Bilbrey tells me he has had some problems with crud in that track ball; so far I haven't had that problem at all.

The one thing you can't do with the Mighty Mouse is press both the right and left mouse buttons at the same time.


I am writing this with Microsoft Office Word 2004 for the Mac. The actual file is over on Roxanne, a Core 2 Duo machine running Vista. Whatever problems I had last week with working that way, Word on the Mac but the actual file over on a PC system, has gone away. This works smoothly and invisibly.

Note that this is the same Microsoft Office that I installed on Ariadne, the PowerBook. Thanks to the miracle of Rosetta, code written for the PowerPC is invisibly translated to Intel Core 2 Duo code. Note I said translated: this isn't an emulation. The code is translated as needed. Having been translated once, it need not be done again.

It is mildly possible that my original problems with editing a document physically stored on a Windows machine had something to do with this translation process. Whatever the cause, they have gone away.

For more on Rosetta, here is Apple's account; and for even more detail, I found the Wikipedia article interesting. In my judgment, Rosetta is a blooming miracle.

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft runs quite well on the Mac. The only problem is that you have to install it from the original disks, and that will take at least two hours. When I want to set up World of Warcraft on a new Windows machine, I merely copy the WoW folder. While that will work just fine if you are going from Windows XP to Windows Vista (and in general Windows PC to Windows PC), it will definitely not work to go from PC to Mac. Note that, like most applications, WoW will transfer from one Intel Mac to another simply by copying the application folder. That's one great advantage of not having a Registry.

I found the original installation disks I had used to install WoW on the PC, inserted the first disk, and everything went automatically from there.

When the original WoW had finished installing, I got out the Burning Crusade extension disks and installed that. By now I had a bit more than an hour invested in this installation. Then I gave my user name and password for the account I use on the PC, and let the upgrades begin. That took about forty five minutes — and we were done. I could get into the game and there were all my characters.

There was one problem. I am used to having a WoW add-on that gives me the grid coordinates of where my character is (a sort of GPS for a fantasy world). That way it's easy for someone to tell me how to find things like quest items. (I subscribe to Allakhazam's Magical Realm, which is a good forum for discussions that often give those locations.)

Installing add-ons is simple: go to Applications/ World of Warcraft/ Interface, find or make a folder named add-ons and put the add-ons into that folder. A quick Google search on Safari indicated several coordinates ad-ons but none of them worked. Since I knew one worked on my PC copies of World of Warcraft, I went over there to see which one it was. Then I downloaded the Suki_MiniMap Coords and put that folder into the AddOns folder; and Voila!

Incidentally, as a general principle WoW add-ons that work on a PC will also work on the Mac. The problem with WoW add-ons is that Blizzard continually updates the game and distributes patches, and those patches will often break the add-ons. Since add-ons are mostly written by unpaid enthusiasts, there's no predicting which ones will be fixed after being broken.

World of Warcraft plays just fine on the iMac. There is one problem. I am accustomed to moving my character by pressing both mouse buttons. There are other ways — keyboard arrows, and even changing the interface options so that you just click on where you want the character to go — but I got used to the two mouse buttons method. Alas, you can't do that with the Mighty Mouse or if you can I haven't been able to figure it out. Instead I have plugged in a Microsoft redeye. It coexists nicely with the Mighty Mouse, so I just move whichever mouse I am using over to the mouse stage and put the other out of the way. Works fine.

WoW players will find the iMac 20" more than good enough.

Safari and Internet Access

Imogene is connected to the Internet in precisely the same way as the other Chaos Manor computers. The others use either Internet Explorer or Firefox (or very likely both) for Internet browsing. Imogene at the moment uses only Safari, the Internet browser that comes with the Mac OS X.

Imogene is noticeably slower at net surfing than the PC systems. In particular, it takes considerably longer to connect to Google and do a Google search. It also takes noticeably longer to connect to bookmarked sites like my own www.jerrypournelle.com. Once connected to the site, jumping around within the site seems no different on the Mac than the PC.

This is an observation. My guess is that the delays are due to Safari, not the Mac herself; but I am only guessing. I expect I'll know a lot more about this in a few days.

A Time Machine Story

The next step in setting up Imogene the iMac 20" to be my main writing machine was to arrange for automatic backups. Mac OS X has a built in backup system called Time Machine, and that's the one to use. I have heard many good things about Time Machine.

I have several Seagate 500 GB external storage drives that connect with either USB2 or FireWire. I also have a Seagate eSATA drive, extremely fast, that requires a PCI card. That won't work with an iMac but it's sure great for PC backup (recommended). In any event, my PowerBook had a 60 GB FireWire backup disk, and it always worked well, so I chose the FireWire connection for the Seagate 500 GB drive intended for the Time Machine.

The Seagate drive had previously been used as a backup drive for a Windows XP machine and had some 50 GB of files. When I connected the drive to the Mac, it mounted automatically, and I could see all the files and folders, including one folder of photographs, and another of Audacity sound files. I thought it would be worth while to keep those so I created a "From Seagate" folder in the WORK folder I keep on my Mac desktop and dragged those two folders over to it.

At this point I suppose I took leave of my senses. I should have realized that Time Machine would probably want to format the disk it would save to, and if it didn't, it wouldn't object to the presence of other files on that disk. However, I didn't want the files any more, and they would be so much clutter, so I painstakingly dragged every one of those file folders and files to the TRASH basket I see on the iMac Dock. (The Dock is a bunch of icons that run across the bottom of the screen, and takes the place of both the START bar and the Tray in Windows XP.)

Now that I had all the files in the Trash, the next step was to empty the Trash. I tried that.

Operation Not Allowed

There were some 55,000 files in the Trash. A window appeared. The iMac trundled. Then up came a window that informed me that Send To was disabled and therefore the Trash could not be emptied. If I really and truly wanted to empty the Trash, I should press the Option key while selecting Empty Trash.

I right clicked the Trash basket, and held down the Option key while clicking on the Empty Trash command. The iMac trundled. Then up came a window that informed me that Send To was disabled and therefore the Trash could not be emptied. If I really and truly wanted to empty the Trash, I should press the Option key while selecting Empty Trash.

All right, I am unfamiliar with the Mac OS X. I right clicked the Trash icon and chose OPEN. The window opened, and sure enough there was an "Empty Trash" button on its top. Aha, I cried, and pressed the Option Key while clicking on the Empty Trash button. This time I got a window asking if I really and truly wanted to delete all those items permanently. Yes! I do, I do! The iMac trundled. Then up came the familiar window I had seen before. Send To was disabled and therefore the Trash could not be emptied. If I really and truly wanted to empty the Trash, I should press the Option key while selecting Empty Trash.

At this point I spent half an hour trying in various ways to empty the trash. It simply wasn't possible, but I sure saw that dialogue window often enough. I tried moving items OUT of the Trash with a view to reducing the number of files that had to be deleted. That didn't really work either. I tried many things including evil and potent magic. Nothing worked.

I then consulted my advisors. I also put some of this story up on my web site at this link, since I have a lot of readers and many are Mac enthusiasts.

Descent into Unix

MAC OS X is a Unix shell; that is, an interface that sits between the user and the Unix operating system. I said back in the 1980's that the problem with UNIX was that it was the guru full employment act: there was no way for normal users to use UNIX-based systems.

UNIX refers to Bell Labs AT&T UNIX; the generic term for Unix regardless of version is Unix. The only Unix I ever used was UNIX: back in the 1980's AT&T brought out a UNIX desktop PC that was supposed to be compatible with DOS applications. I used it for months, but I never mastered UNIX, while the DOS compatibility left a lot to be desired. It was in some ways the most powerful machine I had, far more powerful than the IBM PC, but AT&T's heart wasn't in it, and they didn't continue the development.

Unix allows the development of very powerful user interface shells, and many tried building a UNIX shell that would allow non-guru users to run applications and do business work on an affordable Unix based desktop machine, but no one was ever able to do it. Sooner or later, a guru would be needed.

My experience with emptying the Trash was the closest I have come to that problem with MAC OS X. It was clear that I couldn't use the Mac GUI (graphical user interface) to delete those files. I asked the advisors how to do it with the Unix command line underneath. Before they could answer, Joe Zeff, a reader and old friend, said

Open a terminal, go to the trash folder and, as root, enter this:

rm -rf *

Make sure you do this in the Trash folder, not in your root folder (/) or you will delete everything on your hard disk.

Of course I didn't know how to open a terminal or go to the trash folder. I figured out how to open a terminal: Finder/ Applications / Utilities / Terminal. This opens a window that looks very much like the Command Window in Windows. In my case, I saw

imogene:~ jerrypournelle$

which was clearly the directory for the jerrypournelle account — not quite the root directory, but the one that contains just about everything I've done on the Mac. I vaguely remembered Unix commands, but I didn't have to guess. A number of readers told me that cd would change directories. Then Ken Hagler sent this message:

1. Launch Terminal.
2. Type "cd ~/.Trash".
3. Type "rm -rf *".

That should clear out your OS X trash blockage.

Ken Hagler

I did that with a certain amount of trepidation. First I did steps 1 and 2, then I did pwd (Unix for Print Working Directory only by "print" it means "print to the current display device", i.e. the screen) to be sure I was truly in the Trash directory. Once I was sure I was in the right place, I did step 3.

My Terminal window flowed with information. Most of the information was "operation not allowed." When it was all done, about half the Trash was emptied. The rest was still there. Not even Unix could empty that trash!!

At this point I fell into what amounted to irrational rage. If this Operating System couldn't even empty the trash — if I were going to have to buy a new hard drive, or reformat this one, just to empty the trash — then this must be the OS from Hell. For those interested in emotional responses to small computers you will find the account at this link but I warn you that it's not pretty.

And about this time, Outlook on my XP system began to act up: it brought in mail, but it stacked the outgoing mail in my outbox, and of course it gave me no warning that it was doing this. Eventually I discovered that there were 20 messages in the outbox, and my advisors had not heard that I had tried their advice and it had failed.

Outlook does that sometimes. The remedy is to exit Outlook, open Task Manager and stop any ongoing process with the name Outlook in it, then start Outlook again. I do not know why this is so, and I don't like it much, but it happens every few days on this machine; it's one reason I intend to replace my communications machine with something else. I may even move all those operations over to the Mac, although at the moment the plan is for Imogene to take over as my main writing machine and leave communications to XP machine. In any event, I shut down Outlook, brought it back up, and saw my outbox empty itself.

I also got mail from Mac enthusiast Tim Loeb, who told me to pull the plug on the external drive; that ought to allow me to empty the trash.

At this point, being both desperate and infuriated, I did exactly what he said: I pulled the FireWire plug on the Seagate external drive. The Mac immediately reacted. A message informed me that I had improperly removed a device and probably damaged it and almost certainly had lost data. That was disconcerting — but when I emptied the Trash, it emptied!

Pulling the plug on the external drive allowed me to empty the trash in the internal Mac drive.

This is not precisely intuitive.

Drive Not Readable

Now that the trash was emptied, the next step would be to set up the Seagate drive to be the Time Machine backup drive.

I plugged in the FireWire cord. The last time I did that the disk mounted. Not this time. This time a message popped up: the drive was not readable. The Disk Utility Window opened. Did I want to Erase the drive? Would I like to reformat it?

First thing was to Erase the drive. The Mac offered me a bunch of formats. The default was DOS FAT. Since this was an offer to ERASE, not FORMAT the drive, I thought I had to choose that one first, since I presumed that was the actual format of the disk. (It wasn't, but that didn't matter.) So I told it to go ahead and Erase the DOS FAT disk. It demanded the disk volume name before it would do that. I didn't know the disk volume name. Since it wouldn't start without one, I told it "FOO". The system trundled, erased the disk, and formatted it in DOS FAT with the volume name FOO.

I thought about that for a while, then told the system to "Erase" the disk again. This time I told it MAC OS Extended Journaled format, and gave it the volume name Mac Time Machine. It trundled for a while and did precisely that. I now had a MAC OS Extended Journaled Format disk with that name. A window popped up. Did I want to use this drive for Time Machine?

And that, really, is the end of the story. Time Machine started up. It began making a backup of the internal Mac Drive. I don't know how long it took, because I went out for an hour or so, but when I came back it was done, and presumably Time Machine is now making incremental backups of what I am doing including this document. It works invisibly.

The Moral of the Story

There are several morals to this story. There is also a warning.

The warning is, DO NOT LIGHTLY USE THE UNIX COMMAND WINDOW. Unix is very powerful, and completely unforgiving. It is not only possible, but quite easy, to erase your entire hard drive with one Unix command. Unix commands can be recursive, too, meaning that the scope of the command can be a lot wider than you think. Before you even open a Unix Terminal, think about what you are doing, and have a Unix handbook handy. Unless you are a guru, use the Unix terminal with fear and trembling.

The first moral of the story is that Mac OS X may be intuitive once you have been enlightened, but long time Windows users will find it less than intuitive; indeed, sometimes counter intuitive.

The second moral of the story is that it is not quite true that with a Mac everything is either very easy or impossible. It's true enough for many operations, but if you get off on the wrong foot, as I did, getting out of the situation may turn out to be tricky. In my case, to empty the trash on the internal hard drive, I had to disconnect the external hard drive. Now that is apparently intuitive to long time Mac users, and it was certainly simple enough to do; but it wasn't intuitive to me.

Over on my web site I wrote: "Macs are great if you're me, with access to lots of guru advisors. I am not so sure about Aunt Minnie. But now all is well, and Time Machine is doing its thing, and we have a happy ending."

That promoted this message from Kristopher Browne:

One comment on this: AppleCare is given many good reviews on the fact that they are more than willing to help with questions like this, and will keep plugging away until a reasonable answer is found... And even more so, every Apple Store has their Genius bars for people in situations like this. Apple does their best to make sure _everyone_ has advisors.

Full Disclosure: I work at an Apple Store, though not as a Genius yet.

The third moral of the story is that you don't really need a Unix guru to solve problems on the Mac, but it doesn't hurt to have access to one. If you do anticipate such problems, buy AppleCare.

What I Should Have Done

I have plenty of mail telling me that no one in his right mind would connect a disk made by a different operating system onto a strange computer and expect it to deal with that; to which I can only say, the MAC OS X said it recognized the files on that disk, and gave me no warning that it would have any trouble dealing with the disk. I refuse to admit that I was entirely an idiot.

Managing Editor Brian Bilbrey puts it more gently:

Were it me, I might have used the disk utility to erase the disk and reformat it, rather than try to empty the disk to the trash. This would have prepared the disk for use with time machine, where an empty FAT drive would not have.

I would suggest that course in the future. I tend NOT to share drives between systems directly, but to move data around on the network if needed. Note that bootable backup can be made to a fire wire disk.

The tricky bit to making that backup is that you're "Restoring" your internal drive to the external drive. That nearly wiped me out one time.

But I must keep remembering that "counterintuitive" is only relative to my current experience.

It's certainly true that Aunt Minnie isn't likely to have a 500 GB drive previously used to back up a Windows system and decide to use that for the Time Machine backup for her iMac. She's not likely to encounter the problem I had.

On the other hand, this is Chaos Manor, and we do lots of silly things so you don't have to.

And on the gripping hand, we do have a happy ending and all is well.

Next week we'll continue the saga of Imogene the new Mac and how she becomes the main writing system.