'Tis the season to rebuild eMacs

My biannual eMac-rebuilding ritual.

Last time, I killed my mum's Mac on Christmas day.

I was a little late this time. It took me until yesterday.

Well, technically Anne did it this time, but only by doing the same thing I did two years ago, which is exactly what I would have done if I'd been the one sitting in front of the computer, because I had forgotten what happened last time.

Heck, I wasn't sure what even caused the problem last time. Only now that it's happened twice do I have some degree of confidence about it.

Word to the wise: If your mum's got an eMac with OS X Tiger on it, and she's just clicked the cancel button every time the computer said there was an update it'd like to install, and you eventually sit down in front of the computer and say "yes" to the literal years of updates that're all waiting to be installed... then that eMac will go horribly wrong.

Perhaps the updates would have installed OK if we'd done absolutely nothing with the computer while they were installing. Including just clicking the "stop" button on the updater so we could make a backup first, which ironically seems to be what touched the problem off this time.

(Apparently the current version of OS X shuts everything down before it updates. I suspect there may be a connection between this problem and that feature.)

The computer looked, at least, less broken this time. No scary boot-up screen colours, just a power-on to usable-desktop time of about 30 minutes. But it still wasn't fixable on site.

(Which xkcd comic was it that showed the traditional "solving a computer problem" flow of activity? [UPDATE: Naturally, a reader found it for me almost instantly.] You know - you start out working on the problem, then trying to solve the problems your attempt to solve the problem caused, then just trying to get it back the way it was, then admitting that the fire has claimed the house but you think you might still be able to save the garage...)

So I'll be visiting Mum again later today. Provided the gigaton of updates currently trickling into the reinstalled OS don't pole-axe it again, of course.

25 Responses to “'Tis the season to rebuild eMacs”

  1. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Yep, that's the one. I knew someone'd tell me within about an hour :-).


  2. evilspoons Says:

    It is, arguably, her fault for not installing the updates in the first place.

    I was starting to write a really good analogy about doing something helpful and "so normal it's a reflex for everyone"-kinda thing turning worse because the person being helped does things wrong, but I am extremely tired and I can't think of one that isn't completely retarded.

    But I still stand by what I said.

  3. Ziggyinc Says:

    I had to finally install remote desktop software of my parents and in-laws computers. I log in once a week and allow everything to update, and delete the malware that they installed. much easier than trying to diagnose over the phone.

  4. Red October Says:

    Oh dear. I can relate; my "new" IBM G40 came in the mail, "helpfully" restored off the recovery partition to XP SP1, which left me with several hours of windows updating to do. Fortunately this went smoothly enough, although for some reason it would have nothing to do with an IBM wireless network card I attempted to feed it, and I eventually broke down and used a Netgear.

    I've made a rule for myself, though. No complicated computer procedures after 21:00; if things turn pear-shaped I'd rather not be up at 02:00 slaving over a brick just trying to get it back to working again. This came from an experience with a scavenged Wang 20 meg disk that was apparently nonstandard and therefor death to any machine it was hooked to.

  5. Jax184 Says:

    Remember how much fun you had when I mentioned that the Apple eMate likes to bludgeon its screen cable to death with its hinge?

    The second revision eMacs at speeds somewhere around 1.25 GHz like to blow their caps. You can check some of the ones that fail by removing the memory cover on the bottom. The replacement proceedure is so agonizing (Mostly due to the take apart) that a local mac store drops them off at my house and pays me to do it for them. Just thought you'd like to know.

    (Cue evil laugh)

    It's probably fine, but at least you'll have some idea what to check if the machine starts doing anything truely bizzare.
    (What you've gone through so far isn't bizzare for a mac by any means.)

  6. Stuart Says:

    "It is, arguably, her fault for not installing the updates in the first place."

    This kind of logic only works until a vagina is introduced into the equation - at which point, saying it is about as smart as throwing a lit match into your car's petrol tank. Still, they're your testicles - you can put them in mortal danger if you wish.

    As an aside, I've never understood why the same people who refuse to install a legitimate update when prompted have no such restraint on clicking browser pop-ups. It is always an opportunity for them to play whack-a-mole the minute that a seizure inducing or pornographic dialog appears. All apple would need to do to ensure updates are applied would be to put the word 'Viagra' in red on blue 72pt type on the dialog - they'd get a faster strike rate than if they put a woodpecker in front of the keyboard.

  7. phrantic Says:

    Hmm I had the same problem reinstalling the OS on a computer at work that a workmate saw fit to install "free smileys" on. After a recovery CD and a reboot, there were 40 or 50 Windows updates.

    I don't think Vista enjoys more than 20 updates in a single hit. Or maybe I just got (un)lucky.

  8. Ice8205 Says:

    Why did I think that the next article, "Sometimes, stupidity IS painful", was entirely appropriate...

    Having a virus scanner running while OS updates are being applied are another way to force a reinstall.

  9. Stark Says:

    I recently came across a Windows XP service pack nothing machine... just for grins I updated it all the way up to current (yes, I was bored, but mostly you can leave it to do it's thing so I wasn't baby sitting it). Unfortunately it was no fun at all. Not even a hiccup. Of course had I been depending on it to go well it probably would have resulted in the summoning of Cthulu and the end of mankind.

    On a pedantic side note, throwing a lit match into your gas tank will do exactly nothing other than to extinguish the match and eventually pose a problem for the fuel filter! Liquid gasoline won't burn at normal temperatures. Fuel vapor requires a specific ratio of air to fuel in order to burn and the mix in a gas tank is far to oxygen deprived to ignite.

  10. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    Dammit Stark, you beat me to the snarky gasoline comment.

    Anyway, Jax, the capacitor problem in those was due to a bad batch of Nichicon HM/HN series caps - they were overfilled at the factory, I believe. It's a common problem in computers from that era (P4s, especially on Intel motherboards, from the late-Northwood through mid-Prescott era need to keep an eye out as well).

  11. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    I like the handle. It’s so you can attach a chain and use it as a BOAT ANCHOR.

    Oh, they don't have handles. Never mind. Point stands, though.


  12. Jax184 Says:

    (I can't believe I'm arguing about something so stupid)

    Although I agree a lit match appearing out of nowhere inside a gas tank probably wouldn't set it off, I'd be more worried about setting off the fumes directly above the filler while trying to throw the match in.

    Not that I can see myself dropping lit matches into fuel tanks any time soon...

  13. Coderer Says:

    So after last time's fiasco, you *still* haven't trained your mum to hit YES? I just set up my parents' computer (Win XP) to auto-update without any prompting. Best effort, I think.

  14. Stark Says:

    Gah... I had a long and detailed reply to Jax about why even holding the match over the tank opening is highly unlikely to result in anything more than burned finger tips... and I accidentally deleted it.

    So, here's a shorter version: The flammable vapor range for gasoline is between 1.4 and 7.6 percent by volume. Achieving this ratio intentionally is actually fairly difficult - doing so by accident is very unlikely - even when hovering a flame over the opening of a gas tank. Partly this is due to the fairly narrow flammable range in air and partly this is due to the density of the vapor - which is 3-4 times that of air. This means that the vapor tends to stay in the tank and not mix with the air outside the tank - it's denser than the air above it so it sits in the tank the same way the liquid does. Obviously if the tank is warmer than ambient temperature you will get a bit of pressure pushing the vapor out... but even then it tends to stay together in stream and not mix well with the air around it due to the small opening of the tank acting like a pressure nozzle. Now, if you take the tank out of the vehicle and cut it open so you essentially have a big pan of gas than on any reasonably warm day you will be able to light the vapor on top - but it will simply burn and not explode.

    Yes, I've tested all of this. For a class many years ago - using a sparkler on the end of a pole as an ignition source and pushing the tank and other gasoline filled vessels into place with another, even longer, pole. (I'm crazy enough to test theory but not stupid enough to do it in a cavalier manner.)

    So, while it's not completely out of the realm of possibility to get a vapor explosion from a match and gas tank... it is very, very unlikely - despite what Hollywood would have us think.

    And yes, this was the short answer. :)

  15. TVarmy Says:

    You've probably tried this, but have you considered getting the OSX Tiger discs, holding down C while the machine boots up, and then tell it to "Archive and Install?" A pirated version will also work, and there's no DRM or serials or activation to worry about. This will save her user folder and apps, create a compressed copy of her old system files (in case you, for whatever reason, need/want to revert despite them being ruined), and copy over virgin system files. Then, after that reinstall boots up, download this patch: http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/apple/macosx_updates/macosx10411comboupdateppc.html

    Install it, then try running System Update. I think this approach is best, as the computer reinstalled from the disc will still need a lot of patches, and by getting it to 10.4.11 in one patch, it keeps the computer from installing older updates made unnecessary in newer code, and keeps it from messing with an outdated System Update.

    Speaking of which, if it's not that old, you might want to consider an update to Leopard, so that she can have automatic backups via Time Machine, and some other features she may or may not care about. Leopard has the benefit of being easier to find a copy of, both in real life and online, and of being on one DVD for a faster install/burn.

    If you have any questions, I assume you can see the email in the box above. Or reach me via MeFi: http://www.metafilter.com/user/61286

    Hope it goes well!

  16. Chazzozz Says:

    Although I agree a lit match appearing out of nowhere inside a gas tank probably wouldn’t set it off, I’d be more worried about setting off the fumes directly above the filler while trying to throw the match in.
    I suppose that may depend a bit on where you are and what season it is. When I was just a young 'un, we'd amuse ourselves by dropping lit matches into open buckets of gasoline...but it was Northern Canada in winter when the temperature was at -30C or lower. There would've been next to no vapour coming off the surface then. You could even get away with defrosting your frozen locking-gas-cap using a cigarette lighter.

    Of course, doing either of those where I live now (Queensland, Australia) would be totally unthinkable, because the ambient temp all year round is much higher!

    Obligatory YouTube link.

  17. j Says:

    Well, I feel like a nerd.

    Was I the only one to assume from the title that you were re-compiling the Emacs text editor?

    Ah, I see that I was.

  18. pompomtom Says:

    As an aside, I’ve never understood why the same people who refuse to install a legitimate update when prompted have no such restraint on clicking browser pop-ups.

    Right, but as a mac user, they probably don't ever see browser popups, and even if they did, and then clicked on them, the malware likely wouldn't install.

  19. rndmnmbr Says:

    It's only too bad that there aren't any handy utilities for OSX resembling one of the dozens of slipstreaming utilities out there for XP. I never install from scratch until after I've built a 100% updated install disc to do it with.

    I also keep an updated copy of an Autopatcher disc around, just in case I come across a system desperately in need of patching.

    (of course, things like this become necessary if, for example, one hypothetically acquired XP via extralegal means, and thus this hypothetical non-genuine install of XP was incapable of passing WGA checks, rendering XP incapable of updating in the orthodox manner...)

  20. Itsacon Says:

    > Was I the only one to assume from the title that you were re-compiling the Emacs text editor?

    Why would you think that? The Emacs people knew how to capitalize words... (hint guys: FIRST letter)

  21. computersolutions Says:

    @20 -

    You mean like creating an install image, and adding the latest combo update to it?

    Pretty easy on Mac, although I find installing manually is pretty quick anyway - a magnitude faster than PC's anyhow.

    Installing a new Mac usually takes me about 20 minutes max.
    Mind you, I image the install disk to a partition, and install from that - *way* faster than DVD...

    System image software here - http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/apple/macosx_updates/serveradmintools105.html

  22. rndmnmbr Says:

    Very nice. I figured OSX would have a way of rolling updates into the install image.

    Now, if only Apple would release OSX sans hardware restrictions... ( I know there are hacked install images out there, but they're lacking things like common hardware support.)

  23. corinoco Says:

    I found a G4 in the gutter last week - I grabbed it with hopes of building a Mac to toture, if only for the pleasure of finding all the creaky bits in OSX then going to the Apple store and be infuriating. Yeah small things for small minds.

    Unfortunately it turned out to have no ram (SDRAM) and no video card (AGP). Fortunately I have plenty of old SDRAM and AGP cards lying around outside of my Mame table (which occasionally needs to be fed a new stick of SDRAM when one dies). Unfortunately (again) freakin' Apple chose make things so you can't use an object that has become non-holy by once being in a PC. Prices for such Apple-blessed parts on Ebay, are needless to say, hilarious.

  24. Jax184 Says:

    It's actually a case of firmware differences between video cards made for macs and PCs. It's possible to flash certain ATI cards to work in a mac, and some just work in both out of the box. RAM isn't platform specific.

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