Mac Surgery - 1989

by David Pogue


It began, oddly enough, with software. Powerful, massive, hard-drive hungry software. A program so vast and so potent it is shipped on four floppies, to which a single megabyte of memory is like a pebble on its mighty shore. A masterpiece of programming which, with its brute and awesome number-crunching demands, runs on my Mac SE about as fast as a 42nd Street crosstown bus at 5:15 pm.


My choice was clear: get an accelerator card or go to law school.


The literature for the Orion accelerator card spoke glowingly of an inexpensive card that you pop into your machine, and voila: “calculation-dependent software like music and CAD/CAM applications run up to 100 times faster!” Sounded pretty good. I ordered one. $860 USD for the whole shebang.


Confident, smiling, I unplugged my computer. I laid it on a Spider-Man towel, screen down. Feeling like James T. Kirk, exploring new dimensions, I unscrewed the Mac’s four case screws. Piece o’cake—a child could open this computer. I lifted off the case, admiring the famed signatures of the Mac’s creators inscribed on the inside—a sight, I realized with a glow of pride, that only the true power-user cognoscenti would ever get to see.


I turned back to the patient and looked at the innards. Immediately I abandoned all hope.


The Mac was a mess. There were wires and components and circuits and all kinds of stuff. Reluctantly, I opened the manual for the first time.


“1. WARNING: Installation procedure is intended for Authorized service technicians. All other attempts to install Orion Boards are discouraged by the manufacturer, who is not responsible for the consequences. You must work in an environment that is static free. Always wear goggles. Remove rings and wristwatches before performing installation. Never touch the Anode—it carries high voltage from the side of the picture tube. These precautions will reduce the possibility of injury but will not eliminate them.”


Consequences!? Injury!? Goggles?! What was it gonna do, squirt ink at me?


But nay! I thrust my shoulders back and gripped the screwdriver. I can DO this. Knowingly, I took my watch off. I took my socks off, too—you never know about static.


“2. You will notice three connectors to the motherboard. Unplug these connectors from the motherboard (the one from the power board may take a little persuasion).”




Perspiring already, I inspected the motherboard. This, then, was the Brain. But there were five main connectors, not three. Or maybe only four were connectors, and the other was—the Anode.


I wiped the thought from my mind.


The first four came off with no problem—like taking diodes from a baby. The fifth required a little persuasion.


“PLEASE! PLEEEEEASE come off!” I cried as I tried to wrest it free with sweating fingers.


No dice.


It occurred to me that a different, more New York kind of persuasion might be the ticket. Glowering threateningly, I slowly lowered the tip of a putty knife to the plastic terminus. I slipped it underneath like a lever and persuasioned that little sucker right out of its socket with an unnerving ripping sound.


Right out of any future functionality, too, no doubt.


“3. Locate and remove Apple’s ROM chips, labeled ROM HI and ROM LO. Perform this removal carefully.” In my mind, I heard Leonard Nimoy narrating. “The slightest slip will send the patient into an irreversible paraelectronic stupor. Pogue must remove the chips leg by leg, taking care not to bend a single one. As the night wears on, the surgeon faces his greatest challenge.”


At last the chips were free. Handling them like radioactive isotopes, I lifted them with the tip of the screwdriver and set them gently down on the bottom of a Rubbermaid Freez-N-Serv sandwich box.


And so it went, organ by internal organ. Finally, an hour later, I arrived at the last page of the manual. It was called “Finishing Up.”


It read, in its entirety:


“7. While holding the motherboard close to the bottom of the computer, position it with the bottom side in the track. Now comes the key step: Take a screwdriver and insert blade into the notch between the frame and”


That’s no typo. “Between the frame and”


That was the end of the manual. The last word on the page. That’s all she wrote. Assuming, of course, that the manual writer—who quit typing in the middle of the most crucial sentence in the entire manual in order, I’m guessing, to catch the eye of that cute guy with the Sony Watchman over in Shipping—was female.


Standing foolishly, screwdriver in hand, the fruit of the salaries of ten summers of camp counseloring strewn like so much “Star Wars III: Return of the Jedi” Prop Dept. refuse across my desk, bed and floor, I fleetingly considered some of the actually quite attractive qualities of today’s top management-training programs.


In a last futile gesture, I even tried to follow the instruction. I actually put the screwdriver between the frame and But it was no use. I chucked the screwdriver and slipped the motherboard back into its original position, praying fervently. I reconnected the cables—the ones I knew about, anyway—and, somehow knowing it was futile, turned on the Mac. The sweet sound of success—bing!—and there, I saw, with a welling glow of satisfaction, the contented smiling startup icon of a well-adjusted computer.


I choked. I sobbed. All was not lost!


And soon—miracle!—there was the Desktop, all my little icons yawning, stretching, blinking in the morning sun, completely unaware of how close they had come to electronic death.


And what speed! I launched my favorite quick-as-a-turtle graphics program. Zooomm! I tried a music program. Zippp! I was almost alarmed.


Now, exhausted and shaking very slightly, I replaced the Mac cover and put back the screws that hold it in place: one, two, three—uh-oh! After all this, I couldn’t find the fourth screw anywhere. I looked in the sandwich box. On the floor, on the desk, in my pockets. I felt like a surgeon who, upon sewing up the patient, suddenly says: “Now, what did I do with those sponges?”


I cleaned up rampantly. I put the tools away, threw away (violently) the installation manual, swept the floor. The little screw was defiantly hiding.


At last, as I brushed the circuitry crumbs from the towel, my thumb ran over what I thought at first was just a little Spider-Man eye dirt. Yes, there it was, nestled deep in the terry at the corner of Spidey’s left eyehole: the fourth screw.


Today the patient is healthier than ever before. It has cut down on meats and sugars, increased its leafy vegetable intake, and begun to exercise regularly. With a careful eye on its blood pressure and weight, there’s no reason the Mac shouldn’t continue a productive and happy existence right up to the onset of obsolescence—which could be as long as another eighteen to twenty months.