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"Do I Really Need A Spleen?"
Adventures In Millennial Computing
© 1997 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, November/December 1997, pp. 32-35, reprint information

As we approach the Millennium, bizarre tales of strange creeds, deeds and practices will become common. It has happened before; a thousand years ago, as the calendar lurched toward the uncertain Year 1000 AD ("uncertain" because calendars were inaccurate, and because few could count past ten), Europe experienced a cultural convulsion as apocalyptic millennialists brought forth tales of coming horror and doom.

Our current age does not lack for strangeness. As proof, you need look no further than the Machine Mutilators, a diverse group without any apparent geographical or social center, and only one cultural constant: they own Macs. And they mutilate them.

Hardware is Hard

The manner of digital dismemberment has changed over time. Originally, these tended to be frustrated Mac users who wanted more than a single 400K drive and more than 128K of RAM. They cut holes in their Macs and installed SCSI cables through battery ports, clipped in massive circuit boards that could double a machine's memory (in some cases, bringing it up to a full megabyte!), and installed fans and other cooling devices. For the most part, this group met with some success.

Then there were the aesthetics, who made modifications for artistic or other reasons. One individual, impressed with a bright red Macintosh SE shown on the cover of MacWorld, took spray paint in hand and soon had their own bright red Macintosh. For unknown reasons, this individual did not think to remove the case and spray paint just that; instead, they spray painted a fully functional Mac. After letting the paint dry, they flipped the power switch -- and it promptly burst into flames as wiring, shorted by the paint, set the flammable paint afire.

Knowing that cleanliness is next to godliness, another individual decided to blow the dust off the vents on their Macintosh, using a can of compressed air normally used on photography equipment. Unfortunately, they neglected to turn the Mac off first, and the flammable propellant for the compressed air set the machine aflame. On the bright side, the dust was immediately vaporized.

Another individual, upset with the noise generated by their external hard drive, painstakingly crafted a custom-made wooden box to hold the drive, with two small holes, one for the power cord and one for the SCSI cable. The result was a very quiet drive: it almost immediately overheated, and was then forever silent.

Hearing of this unfortunate incident, yet another individual decided that their drive was not going to overheat. They'd noticed the external case would get quite warm after extended use, so decided to create some extra ventilation holes with an electric drill. Not wishing to damage the case by removing it, they drilled holes into the case with the drive still inside -- and metal shavings shorted the drive mechanism.

For the most part, this group has faded from the scene. It would be nice to think this is due to improved education in basic physics.

Hydra Headed

This decade has seen the rise of a new type mutilator: the System Folder slaughterer. Several distinct types have emerged, starting with The Geminis. Lacking any clear understanding of the System Folder's purpose, Geminis see nothing wrong with having two System Folders. Or three. Or four. Or more.

The record -- on a single 200 megabyte hard drive -- stands at fourteen. This individual, a lawyer, also had a healthy collection of viruses. The combination of the multiple System Folders and multiple viruses made the hard disk completely unusable. A recommendation to reformat the drive and reinstall everything was rejected because they didn't have originals of all the programs on the drive; most were pirated. The lawyer's legal specialty: enforcing music copyrightsÅ 

The System Folder belongs to the Macintosh. It is used to store essential parts of the Macintosh operating system, the suite of programs that tells your Mac how to be a Mac instead of, say, a control unit for a traffic light. You want to have only one set of these critical parts; multiple System Folders risk the possibility of the Macintosh using the wrong System Folder, or random bits and pieces of multiple System Folders, which could make the entire Mac unusable.

Two other maxims: (1) Never stick the System Folder inside of another folder. Apple never intended for it to be hidden; it isn't shy. And (2) Don't rename the System Folder. While the Macintosh isn't subject, for the most part, to the rigid restrictions of Other Machines regarding names and placement of folders and directories, most Macintosh programs assume the System Folder is called the System Folder, and not "Weird Looking Stuff."

All For One

Another popular heresy is practiced by The Organizers. Not wishing to see a messy desktop, they put everything in the System Folder. Everything: applications, utilities, word processing documents, QuickTime movies, games. Yes, the System Folder might be 920 megabytes in size, but their desktop is spotless.

Unfortunately, the Mac doesn't take kindly to this. When you boot a Mac, it checks everything in the System Folder to see if it needs to do something special with the files it finds; the more files you add (especially ones that don't belong), the longer it takes for the Mac to boot. In case you were curious, the Mac with the 920 megabyte System Folder took about twelve minutes to boot.

As a general rule, never put anything in the System Folder without explicit instructions from the software manufacturer. When you install the Mac's operating system, Apple's Installer puts things there. When you install applications, their installers might, possibly, put things in the System Folder. But there should be nothing in the System Folder that a human being can use; the System Folder belongs to the Macintosh.

Some items, such as extensions and fonts, are supposed to be placed in the System Folder, and come with instructions on how to do so. Please read the instructions carefully. If the software comes with a folder called "Place Contents In System Folder," this means place the contents in the System Folder, not the folder itself. The Mac with the 920 megabyte System Folder, incidentally, had a number of interesting folders inside the System Folder, including, of course, "Place Contents In System Folder."

Biology Lab

Of all the odd cultists, the Vivisectionists are, perhaps, the most dangerous. In almost every case, they take a perfectly healthy Macintosh and then, in small steps or large, remove vital pieces of the System Folder until the Mac fails to work. Invariably, they have good reasons: "I was trying to free up memory." "My hard disk was getting too full." "I didn't know what that stuff was for." "My brother-in-law told me to do it."

After giving it some time, you can probably come up with a fair list of body parts that, strictly speaking, you don't need in order to live. First off, you can remove all your body hair, including eyebrows and eyelashes. Most people have their wisdom teeth removed but, you have to admit, we really have far more teeth than we need; you could actually remove them all and live reasonably well on baby food. Who needs an appendix? And what, exactly, does the spleen do, anyway?

If you hesitate to remove unnecessary parts of your body, you should also hesitate at removing "unnecessary" parts from your computer, particularly from the System Folder. Just because you don't know the purpose of the spleen (it promotes production of blood cells) doesn't mean you should remove it. Similarly, just because you don't know the purpose of some (or most) of the things in the System Folder doesn't mean they should be tossed.

Words to live by: the Trash can is forever. It is not a temporary storage location.

The most common Vivisectionist target: the Mac's networking software. "I just have a computer in my home; I'm not on a network" is the usual excuse for throwing away various bits and pieces of AppleTalk, Open Transport, MacTCP and TCP/IP. They then are baffled why they can't print to their printer or dial up and connect to the Internet.

Note how the word "Internet" is constructed; "net" is part of the word. An internet (lower case) is a collection of networks; the Internet (upper case) is the largest collection of networks in the known universe. In other words, if you toss your networking software, you toss your ability to connect to the Internet. Or any other network.

You also toss your ability to connect to a laser printer; most Mac laser printers "network" to Macs. Many non-laser printers, most notably the Hewlett-Packard DeskWriter inkjet printers, also work best when they are networked to a Macintosh. And yes, a single Mac connected to a single printer can be a network. (On a personal note: I hate trying to get machines working after the owner has tossed bits and pieces of the networking software. The lack of this software, obviously, makes it impossible to connect to a network and grab a fresh copy of whatever is missing.)

Many Vivisectionists toss out AppleScript. "I heard it is a programming language, and I don't program, so I tossed it." Unfortunately, the Mac OS itself uses AppleScript to do many things, and countless applications use AppleScript to talk to both Mac OS and to other programs. If you want to experience bizarre, seemingly random errors and crashes, tossing AppleScript components is an excellent idea.

Other Vivisectionists remove "surplus" fonts. Since the Macintosh is famous for its fonts, determining which fonts are "surplus" is an interesting exercise in rationalization. Hearing rumors that the Mac requires Chicago, Geneva and Monaco to work, some people remove everything else, and then wonder why everything -- everything -- looks funny. Writing a report written entirely in Chicago should be classified as a crime against humanity.

An extreme example: one exceedingly clever Mac guru ordered a bunch of PowerBook 520 and 540 computers, all of which came with 4 megabytes of RAM. This guru forgot to order extra RAM and, faced with a horde of anxious users, decided to experiment: one piece at a time, parts of a System 7.5 System Folder were removed until the PowerBooks stopped working. Eventually the guru found a combination of things that could be "left out" that cut System 7.5 RAM requirements enough that you could actually launch Microsoft Word 5. Of course, you couldn't print, connect to a network, or do much else.

This guru designed a special label for these custom-tuned PowerBooks, with a nice graphic and their name and address, and affixed it to the computers.

"Well, what do you think?"

"Ah, good: a warning label. Now they know who to blame."

Thankfully, the guru decided more RAM was a better idea.

Alternative Realities

Q. Is it true that you used to sing "Daisy, Daisy" when you saw this guru tossing things from the PowerBook System Folders?

A. Yes.

Q. Did the guru get it?

A. Not until I installed a sound clip from 2001: A Space Odyssey as a startup sound on their computer.

Q. But I really am short of RAM: I've only got 8 megabytes, and Mac OS 8 seems to want all of it. What should I do?

A. Buy more RAM; it is cheap. Plus, your computer will run faster and more reliably.

Q. But I really am short of disk space, and Mac OS 8 takes up so much room.

A. Buy a bigger hard drive. Hard drive prices are ridiculously low. You can either get a bigger internal drive or, better yet (for desktop machines), purchase a high-capacity external drive. When you buy that new Power Mac model you've been lusting after, the external drive will plug right in.

Q. But there really is a lot of junk in my System Folder. I have drivers for an ImageWriter, a StyleWriter, a LaserWriter 300, and a bunch of other things I don't have.

A. Use the Extensions Manager Control Panel to turn these things "off." The Extensions Manager has been around since the very early days of System 7, and was greatly improved in Mac OS 7.6, and improved again in Mac OS 8. Unlike the Trash, the Extensions Manager allows you to "remove" things from active use, yet still re-enable them in case you need them.

Q. But the Extensions Manager still leaves them on the hard disk, and I'm running out of room.

A. This was covered four paragraphs back.

Q. Oh, sorry. But don't you have any suggestions that don't involve spending money?

A. Yes: you can go back to using the same version of the operating system and applications that you first used with your Mac; you probably didn't notice a lack of RAM or hard disk space back then. To use a car analogy, you bought a basic model (no matter what model Mac you purchased), and have since then added heated leather seats, a turbocharger, a larger engine, anti-lock breaks, a radar detector, a cell phone, a color TV in the dash, a refrigerator in the center console, a retractable roof that slides into what used to be the trunk, and lots of other trinkets. Yet you are still using the same battery and factory tires. You really need a bigger battery, some high-performance tires, and definitely a new trunk.

Ripping out pieces of the engine is not the answer.

[Extensions Manager Screen]

The Mac OS 8 Extensions Manager is a superb tool for controlling System Folder clutter. In addition to allowing you to sort extensions by name, size, and version, you can now also sort by "Package," meaning a suite of interrelated files. Note that the new Extensions Manager can also provide detailed information about an extension; in this example, highlighting ColorSync displays information stating the extension is unnecessary if you don't have a color printer or scanner.


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Revised August 28, 1998 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/