A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....
Why Did My Computer Do That? August 30th, 2000
A couple of days last week I had a problem with my Mac freezing up. I kept having to fix it with the "unplug the power from the wall and start over" technique. Now as you may know, this is not exactly a recommended repair procedure. It had been a while since I had rebuilt my desktop, and I figured that this might help. Rebuilding the desktop recompiles all of the desktop information, giving your computer's filing system a fresh start. Here's where I confess that I couldn't remember how to do it. However, since I remember covering it a couple of years ago, I went to the index for Computing With Bifocals and found the October 1998 column that covered this topic. Even considering this, the whole process took me about 10 minutes to find the directions and complete the entire process. Better yet, it worked. Crisis over.
By Way Of Comparison
The next day at work I had problems with the dratted PC that I am forced to use. Strange things were happening with Microsoft Word. Understand, this is not an uncommon situation as we all frequently have strange things happen when trying to complete work using Microsoft Word for the PC. First of all I couldn't get the spell check feature to work correctly. Then the computer started freezing up. Actually, that is not exactly true. Microsoft Word started freezing up which made no sense to me. So, here is where the fun begins. First I have to make sure I have the ID number of the CPU. Then I have to call the help desk where I am put on hold because there are not enough staff to deal with all of the problems. Then I give my name, room number, and ID number to the staff member and explain my problem in detail. She or he writes it up, gives me a reference number, and passes it on to a technician. Sometime in the next two days I can expect to hear from a technician who will either come to my machine to fix it, take my machine off somewhere for a day or two to fix it, or fix it remotely over the network. At absolutely no point in time am I given any directions to fix it myself. They do not trust me to do it properly and their mistrust is probably well placed. To be fair to them, there are several hundred people working here and if we all tried to fix our PCs there would probably be havoc on a daily basis.
All of the bureaucracy notwithstanding, the average PC just does not lend itself to ease of repair. But, and this is a big but, before you and I can repair our Macs when the need arises we need to know what to do and how to do it. Today's column is covering some of the basic problems that you may encounter and what steps you can take to fix them.
Generic Questions To Ask Yourself
Problems almost never occur on a working Mac all by themselves. Chances are (isn't that a song?) great that your problem was caused by some change that you have made to your computer. Don't you just hate it when that happens? Check these general things:
Have you added any new software or changed anything significant in your Mac's extensions or control panels?
Have you added new RAM?
What were you doing just before the problem first occurred?
The Computer Isn't Getting Power
If there appears to be no power check these things:
Is the monitor turned on along with the computer?
Are they both plugged in?
Test the wall outlet with a lamp to see if it is working.
Check that your cables have not come loose anywhere.
If none of these are the problem then you may need a new power supply.
The Computer Crashes During Startup or Randomly During Use
This usually signifies an extensions conflict. Try holding down the Shift key during restart. This turns off the extensions during restart. If that does not solve the problem you may need to do a Clean Install. This link, sponsored by The Essential Mac, will walk you through the process.
There is a Blinking Question Mark on the Screen During Start Up.
The question mark lets you know that your computer can't identify a valid System Folder. This can happen because your OS has gotten badly corrupted or your hard drive has been damaged or faces its own corruption problems. If you have this problem, running Norton Utilities or TechTool Pro canusually help. You may also need to reinstall your OS. If this still doesn't help, you will probably need to get some professional help.
If the question mark only shows for about a half a minute and then the computer finishes normal start up, you may need to make sure your computer is looking in the right place for a System Folder. Go to the Control Panel under your Apple Menu and choose Startup Disk. Then select your hard drive. If you have more than one hard drive, or a hard drive with more than one partition, just select the one with the System Folder. One note on this, some iMacs will show the question mark for a moment and then start up just fine. This is not a problem, but is related to changes in the way the iMac stores some of its instructions.
Everything Works Fine Until I Run XYZ Application.
First choice, throw it away. However, if you are using it you probably need it so do it the hard way. The problem is probably related to the Preferences associated with the application. Open the Preferences folder in the System folder and write down any serial numbers or other important information found there. Then close the Preferences folder and delete it. (It will recreate itself the next time you start up your computer.) If that doesn't solve the problem, then delete the application, the associated Preferences and the associated Extensions, and reinstall from your master disks or download a new copy. If that doesn't work, there may be an Extensions Conflict. This link, sponsored by The Essential Mac, will walk you through the process of solving extensions conflicts.
How Can I Adjust The Finder's Memory?
Some readers have asked me to tell them how to add more memory to the Finder like you can with other applications. The long answer is that you can do this, but the short answer is that if you are asking how it is probably more than you should tackle. If you happen to be using System 6 or System 7, you can do it like this:
System 6 - increase memory by choosing Get Info from the File pull-down menu.
System 7 - increase memory by using the extension Finder Heap Fix.
Since it is very difficult to get onto the Internet with either of those antiquated operating systems, it is doubtful that anyone reading this would need to do so. For OS 7.5 and above, Finder memory is... well, I will let Gary Randazzo of The Mac Observer (one of The Idiots, but don't be fooled, he knows his stuff!) explain it. He kindly provided the following information for those of us who have operating systems greater than 7:
"The Finder is the only part of the Mac OS that doesn't reside in a static memory partition. It grabs memory as needed, and that why the amount of memory it uses gradually increases as you work. The "system heap" grows, which is why a lot of folks recommend restarting your Mac every so often.
In OS X the days of static memory partitions will be behind us. No more giving an application more memory with the Get Info command!"
And this explains to me why I sometimes get messages from my computer that say it can not complete a command because the "system heap is full." This message only pops up when I am working with graphics of some kind. I learn something new every day.
If you have any tips, suggestions, or other comments about this, or any other Mac topics, send them to me so that I can share them with other readers.
Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping. To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.
Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color,
covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.
Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.