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TidBITS#169/22-Mar-93

A look at the murky world of Apple repair anchors this issue, and supporting topics include a report about mouse button problems, a review of Peachpit Press's "Silicon Mirage," various and sundry SyQuest drive news, an announcement of upcoming events put on by an email-accessible computer bookstore, and a number of useful notes about new Apple servers, the LC III, and a Duo 230/PowerPoint 3.0 conflict.

Topics:

Copyright 1993 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


MailBITS/22-Mar-93

The European pricing article in TidBITS-168 prompted a tremendous response, which I've forwarded in part to various groups, where I hope the discussion will continue. It's difficult and time-consuming for me to repost comments so please, consider posting comments to a group before sending them to me personally. If you do send them to me, please note if you DON'T want me to repost them anywhere (I avoid anything that's obviously sensitive, but I'm not omniscient).

Apple Announcements -- Apple announced a bunch of network-oriented products today, including several dedicated servers based on the Centris 610, Quadra 800, and Quadra 950, a new text-retrieval package called AppleSearch, and two new versions of AppleShare, called AppleShare 4.0 and AppleShare Pro, that offer higher performance for more users. AppleShare 3.0 will stick around for small workgroups. I'll try to write more on these announcements in a future issue.

PowerPointing a Duo -- Andrew Nielsen reports, "We've discovered a problem with the Duo 230 and Microsoft PowerPoint 3.0, which rampantly crashes the Duo when launched. A bit unpleasant, although Microsoft says there's a patch on the way."

Information from:
Andrew D. Nielsen -- anielsen@uniwa.uwa.edu.au

LC III Quirk -- Matt Strange writes:

After a frustrating few hours trying to configure some LC IIIs yesterday, I discovered something you may not know - but definitely should.

According to Katie Kenny of Farallon, "Due to a last minute change in the design of the LC III, any add-on card that has an FPU on it will crash the machine." [Indeed it will!] "The remedy is to remove the FPU from the card and put it in the socket on the motherboard."

My experience showed this to be a real problem and a real solution. Hope this saves you a headache down the road somewhere.

Information from:
Matt Strange -- Matt_Strange@baka.ithaca.ny.us.


Computer Literacy Comes of Teen-Age

by Ian Feldman -- ianf@random.se

Flower Power, Jefferson Airplane, hot tubs, Apple, and now this. Northern Californians should be made liable for additional taxes for, in our galaxy, the unique privilege of having the Computer Literacy Bookshops (CLB) in their own backyard. The CLB are the only major computer and technology bookstores accessible globally via Internet email for information and book orders. Perhaps this doesn't sound like much to U.S. residents of large cities where there may be other equally well-stocked outlets for current computer literature. For non-U.S. researchers the CLB may be the first and last resort for books not otherwise available. And now they're celebrating a 10th anniversary with a program that could easily put any major computer-scientific conference to shame.

Indeed, as Gene Miya recently summed it up on the net: "People have flown in thousands of miles to attend Comp Lit events to hear notables from Don Knuth and Gene Amdahl to Cliff Stoll. Not to mention that every one of us who first walked into the place spent $300 in less than a hour of browsing: finding classics, finding the latest computation books on some subject."

Enough hype; here are the highlights of CLB's 10th Anniversary events next week - space doesn't permit publishing the full program but those of you with access to Usenet may be able to look in rec.arts.books/alt.books.review for Gene Miya's recent article with Message-ID: <1993Mar15.182607.26570@nas.nasa.gov>, or request it directly from CLB.

Computer Literacy Bookshops 10th Anniversary Events

Sun, Mar 21 - Virtual Reality Day, many attractions
Mon, Mar 22 - Animation Night, many attractions
Tue, Mar 23 - Unix Night, many attractions
Wed, Mar 24 - Object-Oriented Night, many attractions
Thu, Mar 25 - Chip Night (Intel 486 architecture)
Fri, Mar 26 - Bonus Day (value pack for all purchases over $70)
Sat, Mar 27 - Windows Day
Sun, Mar 28 - Multimedia Day - "Come, Human, Spin In My Web!"
Mon, Mar 29 - 10 Percent Off Day (in all 3 stores; in-person sales only)
Tue, Mar 30 - "Things That Make Us Smart," book and talk by Don Norman

Each day there are giveaways from major book and software publishers and CLB offers 10 percent off on that day's topics and related literature.

Computer Literacy Bookshops, Inc.
2590 North First St. (at Trimble Road)
San Jose, CA 95131
408/435-1118
info@clbooks.com

Information from:
Eugene N. Miya -- eugene@wilbur.nas.nasa.gov


VideoShop 1.0 Free Offer

by Don Rittner -- afcmns@aol.com

SyQuest and DiVA are offering a free full working version of DiVA's VideoShop 1.0 pre-loaded on 5.25" removable SyQuest cartridges. (You do have to buy a 44 MB or 88 MB cartridge, though.) Most SyQuest integrators are offering the deal, which ends 30-Apr-93, although it may be extended a few more weeks. Some bundling deals are also offered (drive, software, and video capture card), although they may vary. DiVA and SyQuest will provide full technical support.

VideoShop, a QuickTime-based video editor for creating and editing digital movies on a Mac, retails for $599. The cartridges also include a HyperCard edition of the VideoShop manual (you can order a hard copy if you want), a library of video and sound clips from The Image Bank CD Collection, and the SyQuest/SCSI Probe utility for mounting any cartridge.

If you are thinking about getting into multimedia and you own a SyQuest removable, this deal is hard to pass up. You can try your hands at multimedia without the large investment of camcorder, hard drives, software, etc. The software alone is worth the price of a hard drive, but you can own it for the price of a cartridge! For more info, contact your local SyQuest dealer or call SyQuest at 800/245-CART.


Other SyQuest News

Third Party Cartridges -- An independent company, Nomai, has started selling cartridges in Europe for use with SyQuest drives. That sounds innocuous enough, but SyQuest filed a suit late last year to prevent Nomai from shipping cartridges and claimed in the suit that Nomai's cartridges could possibly damage the SyQuest drive's read-write head and that could in turn cause data loss on other SyQuest-brand cartridges. In addition, SyQuest claims that unlike true SyQuest cartridges, Nomai's cartridges will not work with its forthcoming 5.25" 200 MB removable drive. Nomai claims a return rate of less than 1 in 1000 on the tens of thousands of cartridges it has currently shipped in Europe.

Standard Mounting Techniques -- Last month SyQuest announced a standard that would ensure that no matter what formatter you used, you could always mount other SyQuest cartridges. The problem stems from the Mac retaining in memory the driver of the first cartridge inserted, and that driver may flake out if subsequent cartridges are formatted with incompatible formatting software. In MacWEEK 08-Feb-93, Steve Goodman of Hard Disk Toolkit-maker FWB expressed dissatisfaction with SyQuest's proposed standard, saying it is an "absolutely lame, lowest-common-denominator approach." SyQuest's Pat Allen responded, saying FWB had misunderstood. I'm staying out of this argument, but I'm intrigued by the fact that SyQuest seems to have a brand of reality not shared by some other companies. SyQuest may be in the right, but they certainly have attracted controversy.

Casa Blanca Works, makers of the Drive7 formatting utility announced last week that version 2.3.4 of Drive7 supports SyQuest's standard for driver compatibility.

New SyQuest drives -- We already mentioned the new 200 MB 5.25" drive that SyQuest is working on, and the company has plans for other drives in different form factors, including 3.5" and 2.5" versions, as well as even a 1.8" size drive that could hold up to 100 MB for use on the PCMCIA cards likely to be commonly used on portable computers and personal digital assistants (that's a really awkward name - how about we agree to call them "gerbils" and forget the tortured phraseology?). It appears that Mass Microsystems will have the first 105 MB 3.5" SyQuest drives. Mass Micro will sell the internal version for $949 and the external version for $1,049, in contrast to prices around $1,500 for the 128 MB magneto-optical drives.

Information from:
Pythaeus
Casa Blanca Works propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 08-Feb-93, Vol. 7, #6, pg. 6
MacWEEK -- 15-Feb-93, Vol. 7, #7, pg. 10
MacWEEK -- 22-Mar-93, Vol. 7, #12, pg. 10

Silicon Mirage: A Virtual Review

by Tonya Engst, TidBITS Editor

The mass media recently published a number of articles about virtual reality. I've read a few of them, one in the New York Times some months ago, and two more in Seattle-based periodicals. I encountered rather seamy looks at virtual reality, mainly discussing if and when we will be able to conduct perhaps the ultimate form of "safe" sex, teledildonics. To me, virtual sex sounds as interesting and appetizing as a liver facial, and the pictures of people doing virtual reality made them look like the Star Trekian Borg, so I wrote off virtual reality until I read Peachpit Press's "Silicon Mirage," by Steve Aukstakalnis and David Blatner (ISBN# 0-938151-82-7, $15).

It turns out that virtual reality has little to do with sex and less to do with the Borg. Virtual reality concerns technologies that could radically change what we do with computers and how we do it. Silicon Mirage is for people who wish to know where we are heading and for people who wish to dream about where we might go. The book offers a detailed tour and reference to what's happening with virtual reality.

Silicon Mirage starts out by reviewing and expanding on the average understanding of how human sensory systems function and explains how virtual reality researchers use this knowledge to simulate sensation. It then provides a tour of virtual reality input devices. People with repetitive strain injuries will enjoy this section since the mouse and keyboard receive little mention. This part of the book, though clearly written, does not constitute escapist reading and you may find yourself skimming through some of the longer bits of detail. The wade is worth the work; at some point you'll realize the amazing potential of this research and your mind will spin inside out. The personal computer revolution will be trivial in comparison if virtual reality becomes real, as oxymoronic as that may sound.

The book discusses current and anticipated virtual reality applications and research in a variety of fields such as medicine, architecture, entertainment, business, and science. Silicon Mirage winds down with thoughts about societal challenges that must be met for virtual reality to come to life. Silicon Mirage will add to your vocabulary, remind you of that report you did in sixth grade about the human ear, and give you wonderful tidbits for casual conversation. Recommended.

[As an aside, it appears that VPL, one of the main virtual reality companies, has closed its doors. This isn't to imply virtual reality is dead - but it must evolve to survive in the mass market business world from the specialized niches it currently occupies. -Adam]

Peachpit Press -- 800/283-9444 -- 510/548-4393
510/548-5991 (fax)

Mouse Button Problems

by Liam Breck -- breck@zonker.ecs.umass.edu

Almost two years ago I began noticing posts on Usenet about Macintosh mouse problems in which the mouse button appears to stick, not mechanically, but in effect. The reports included Macs with a wide variety of software and hardware configurations. I figured, well, by the time I buy my new Mac, Apple will have fixed the problem. But last July when my LC II arrived, so did a nice little mouse having an intermittent problem with its button.

In August, I talked to representatives of the Apple Customer Assistance Center (ACAC) at Macworld Expo. They had not heard of the trouble, so I began gathering reports about it via the Internet. In four months I collected over 100 detailed accounts. In November, I found a contact at Apple's Customer Support - Escalation and Response Group and forwarded the reports to them. They acknowledged the problem and said they were starting an investigation that would take several months.

From the reports and my own experience, I believe the problem is caused by a production flaw that affected the miniature switch in the mouse, and not by a system software or main logic board problem. This has NOT been confirmed, however, by Apple or by independent testing. Over 90% of the reports implicate mice manufactured in Malaysia.

In January I asked my contact if Apple would consider making a public statement about the problem and offer troubled mouse users a replacement mouse (that was, after all, why I took on this crusade!).

In February they responded:

...all I can tell you is that Apple is always interested in collecting information about potential problems, but we do not provide details to the public regarding these potential issues or programs since during this investigative phase the information is highly confidential.
Apple does not comment on rumors about products, programs, or promotions that have not been officially announced by Apple. We refrain from commenting to protect customers from making decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information. We feel it is the best way to ensure that all customers are treated fairly.

They told me that I won't hear anything from them until May at the earliest.

I don't believe that the problem will occur in the new mice Apple is shipping. But I'm concerned that Apple will not publicly acknowledge the problem or offer afflicted users good mice. There are certainly many more instances of this problem out there. Recent discussion of it in the Info-Mac Digest brought me a flurry of unsolicited reports and calls for help.

I think it's time for the folks who have had this problem to start talking to Apple directly. If you have experienced this problem, call your regional Apple Customer Assistance Center and politely tell them that you know they are investigating the problem and that you hope they will announce a program to provide afflicted users with new mice. If you can, tell them the mouse's serial number and place of manufacture (printed on the underside of the mouse), and that it has the trouble with your extensions turned off. Here's hoping a few hundred calls will prod Apple to action!

United States -- 800/776-2333
Canada -- 800/665-2775
UK and Europe -- 33-1-49-01-49-01
Australia -- 61-2-452-8000
Japan and Pacific -- 81-3-5411-8500

If the number is not toll-free, try calling collect.

Other notes -- Thanks, Liam, and remember, people on the other side of the phone can only relay your message, so be as polite and professional as possible. It's also not that person's fault, he or she just bears the brunt of this sort of thing.

In a recent MacInTouch column, MacWEEK's Ric Ford added more interesting details. Ric noted that he had received scattered reports of problems with non-Malaysian mice (I've confirmed a few cases of non-Malaysian mice having the virtual sticking problem as well), and several people told Ric that they solved the problem by loosening the screws on the bottom of the mouse. If you need to fix your mouse (Apple won't, see our article on repair below), Ric reported that Soft Solutions of Eugene, Oregon offers both component level repair and various parts for the afflicted rodent.

Ric also mentioned an Apple repair program for mice that are sensitive to static electricity (US-made mice with serial numbers from AP038xxxxxx to AP103xxxxxx) and an abortive Apple plan to replace mice with serial numbers between LT043xxxxxx and LT051xxxxxx. Those mice have a defect that could prevent the mouse button from working, although it would seem that such a problem would be covered by the standard warranty. MacWEEK reported on the replacement plan in the 24-Feb-92 issue, but Apple apparently cancelled the program before it began.

Soft Solutions -- 503/461-1136 -- 503/461-2005

Information from:
Ric Ford, MacWEEK -- 72511.44@compuserve.com

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 15-Mar-92, Vol. 7, #11, pg. 60

Apple Repair, Part 17

All this talk of what should and shouldn't be done as far as component-level repair made me think, and I realized that no one knows what goes on within Apple in terms of old parts. Let's try to dispel some of the mystery.

The World Wide Service group does Apple's repairs. The group came to life through one of Apple's many reorganizations. In this case, reorganization improved on the old system, under which each geographical region did its own repair. Bringing all repair work under one centralized department made tracking and coordination easier, and thus cheaper. Remember that the bottom line is always green, although I suppose that allusion only works in societies having green money.

Most authorized repair happens at Apple's dealers (not including the on-site service for the Performas, the mail-in services for the PowerBooks, and authorized corporate service providers) but as we know, dealers are not authorized to do much other than swap out part of the affected unit and replace it with a functioning part. The trick is that the dealer buys the new part from Apple, outlaying cash to keep it in stock (dealers may not be able to afford to keep all parts in stock) or spending somewhat less to special order the part for immediate use in a damaged Mac.

When a damaged motherboard comes in for repair, for instance, the dealer replaces the damaged board with one in stock (or with one ordered immediately), and returns the damaged one to Apple. If the dealer doesn't return the damaged part quickly enough, Apple charges the dealer the difference between the stock price and the lower exchange price. Although prices seem high to the user, dealers (as it's been explained to me) generally make little money on repairs. Prices for the repair parts from Apple, especially the stock prices, are quite high so Apple can be sure the dealer will return damaged equipment rather than let it float around and potentially be used incorrectly, either damaging Apple's reputation or bilking other users. Psst, wanna buy a cheap motherboard?

Dealers need to make some money on repairs, and yet, if they charge too much, customers feel irritated and go elsewhere. On the other hand, dealers may want to charge enough to tempt customers into buying the latest model, which is, of course, sleeker, faster, and cheaper than the damaged model.

Apple treats different types of returns differently, as you might expect. At the lowest level we find products that Apple throws away, although this currently only applies to mice. Why toast the rodents? That bottom line gets them every time because it costs more to deal with a dead mouse than it does to make a new one. A person has to unpack, fix, test, re-pack, and then place into storage the affected mouse, and even at the low wages a technician might earn, it costs more to repair than it's worth to Apple. The price you pay has several markups added on, so although it may only cost (these numbers are not real) $20 to fix a $75 mouse, that mouse may only cost Apple $10 new.

Components, the Mac parts that are added in like hard drives, floppy drives, fans, power supplies, (but not motherboards), present interesting problems. As we said in the last installment of this sudsy operetta, Apple doesn't make the components in the current Macintoshes. Apple may have helped design the part, and may be the only company using it, but another company does the manufacturing.

Many components, such as hard drives, come with warranties longer than the standard Apple one year warranty. This presents a problem, because Apple cannot currently track the individual components, so if a hard drive fails within its warranty to Apple, Apple cannot currently have the original manufacturer repair or replace it. Apple is working on this problem, as you might expect, since the cost savings, which are currently absorbed by Apple and not passed on to the consumer, are staggering. As it stands now, Apple replaces dead components and either scraps the dead unit or puts it on the service heap. Again, since many of these parts are either too difficult or too expensive to fix, much of the dead stuff gets trashed.

For instance, opening a hard drive is not for the weak of heart, and probably shouldn't be done outside a clean room. Vacuuming the den is not a sufficient level of cleanliness. And, from experience (a friend and I tried to fix my dead floppy drive once), there can be lots of picky parts that have to be disassembled and re-assembled just right and in the proper order. Tightening a spring on a floppy drive head took my friend (a trained engineer) and me at least an hour, and although the drive worked perfectly when we were done, it only lasted for a week. Apple can't do that level of repair or people would be really upset.

So only a small fraction of damaged components end up fixed. Even the ones Apple could return to the original manufacturer wouldn't be fixed - that company would send out a replacement after throwing the damaged unit away. The exception to this composting process is keyboards, which Apple (and possibly your dealer) usually does fix and reuse because the problems are usually simple, mechanical, and on a large enough scale to make repair easy and accurate.

The external cases are almost impossible to repair since they are generally molded plastic (although the IIvx and Centris 650 share a metal case), and there's nothing to do with them but melt them down. You may as well turn any extra cases into avant garde art.

Apple treats boards, which include video cards, the motherboard, and any daughterboards such as those in the PowerBooks (why are boards always feminine?), differently. Apple tries to fix them because the costs often work out in favor of repair. Problems like damaged edge connectors may not be fixed, since that usually indicates damage to the board as a whole. If a single chip fails, though, Apple often replaces that chip, making sure the rest of the board works properly in the process, and then puts that board into circulation as a service part. No repaired boards are used in new Macs. If a board is beyond repair, Apple recovers certain parts, such as the expensive CPU and the ROM chips, but RAM chips, resistors, and the like cost too much to desolder and test for reuse.

As board size decreases, repair becomes less likely because the small, delicate parts are difficult to fix quickly and accurately. Apple repairs some PowerBook board failures, but the percentage is smaller than with desktop systems. Handheld devices like the Newton will probably never be repaired in favor of board replacement.

When it comes right down it, Apple justifies repair policies with a resounding "Because!" To read into that further, we see repair as a costly and legislated process that users want (companies must keep computer repair parts for at least five, and possibly seven years after discontinuing the machine). Since Apple is a business, they make business decisions that may make no sense except when looking at the bottom line. Apple could handle repair differently, but they feel they would lose money. The economics are different between the corporate and personal scales, which is why it makes sense for you to get a $10 chip repaired for $50 with labor, as opposed to paying $400 for a new unit. You can and should do that, but you shouldn't expect Apple to do it. A third party can make money at it, Apple can't.

Interestingly, I've read rumors about Apple doing on-site repair starting this spring. Like the Performas, desktop Macs sold in the U.S. would come with free, one-year, on-site service, though PowerBooks would have to be mailed to Apple or serviced at a dealer authorized to repair PowerBooks. Such a policy would undoubtedly come in response to moves by major PC clone vendors to provide similar services. I wonder how such a repair service would work for home Macs? If you work all day outside your home, it does no good to have someone appear at your house during business hours to fix your Mac. Of course, this repair policy might cheese off authorized dealers who would lose repair revenue, so I'd like to see Apple work with dealers so that the dealer could hire technicians to work evenings and weekends, or allow users to bring damaged Macs into the store, or offer a free pickup and delivery service.

Information from:
Pythaeus

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 01-Mar-93, Vol. 7, #9, pg. 1

Reviews/22-Mar-93


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