Many decades ago, there was a linoleum layer’s apprentice. For the sake of personality, let’s call him Alf. Like most apprentices, Alf was given all the tedious, noisy, potentially painful jobs that nobody else wanted to do. On one particular day in 1962, Alf was given the job of nailing down a large Masonite board to some timber, in preparation for some truly hideous lino to be set down. Alf was bored, Alf was feeling rebellious, and Alf knew it would be a long time before anyone spotted what he was up to — so he went nuts. Spiral patterns of staples, double, triple and quadruple staples — this board wasn’t going to come up without a fight.
Why am I so conversant now, in 2007, with the actions of a floorer’s apprentice forty-odd years ago?
Well, largely because I’ve just spent the last three days painstakingly pulling up Alf’s handiwork, one painful staple at a time. If you’re still out there, by the way, Alf, thanks a bunch. Remind me to send you my chiropractor’s bills. Once I can stand up again, that is.
For a lot of people, operating a computer — any computer — is rather like my experience with Alf’s handiwork; there are always tedious tasks that need doing, pain may be involved and there are plenty of things we’d rather be doing. The classic easily-avoided but long-regretted-if-ducked of these is without a doubt data backup. A dry topic at the best of times, to be sure, and I’m hopeful that Leopard’s Time Machine facility will make a real difference to my backup schedule (for the time being, I’m keeping my precious data backed up with the curiously named but effective SuperDuper). Still, making sure that my multiple backup locations are respectively online, available via my home network and available overseas is a tedious chore, and it’s often tempting to think that it can wait until later. Having suffered through a few dead hard drives myself, though, those thoughts never last long. Which is the nice way of saying that I’ve suffered — and you shouldn’t have to.
One thing I do like about OS X 10.4 is that for the last twelve months, since I got hold of my current MacBook, I can count the number of reinstalls I’ve had to do on the fingers of no hands at all. A very Zen-like statement, but true nonetheless. And critically, it’s the first notebook I’ve ever owned where that statement is true.
I’m a hopeless fiddler with programs, utilities and those terrible things that ordinary users were not meant to touch (the ominous italics are mandated by the Board of People Who Know More About Computers Than Young Whippersnappers Like You, Pty Ltd). In some ways, I’m probably a bit like Alf in this respect — a little bit of knowledge and a little bit of access can go a long, long way. It should be noted for the ongoing status of my warranty that I haven’t gone mad peppering it with staples at high speed. Well, not yet, anyway. I wonder what would happen if someone did?
Sure, there are bits of my OS that don’t run as snappily as they used to — for some reason iPhoto ’08 is more sluggish than it used to be, for example — but the core OS is still the same as when my MacBook came out of the box.
There are utilities out there that do help keep one’s system running at a theoretical best — the fan-heavy AppleJack for some interior cleaning up, or something like Spring Cleaning for a more individual file-level approach. I’ve used both, it’s true, but as much from curiosity as a genuine need, unlike my recent adventures with pliers, staples, sweat and the intermittent use of words that the Pope probably doesn’t use.
My inner pessimist is sure that a day will come when I’m ready to sweat, grind and swear at my Mac, but right now, I can’t quite work out what it’ll be. Isn’t that a good thing?