Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

What's Up, Date?

September 2013

By Mike Gould

Ah, the heartbreak of cascading updates (HCU). I wrote about this back in June of 2010 ("Old Stuff, New Stuff" - URL below), but I recently had the quintessential experience with this and just had to share.

Old Stuff vs. New Stuff
As you may recall, HCU happens when you put off doing system and other software upgrades, sometimes for years, and then you suddenly have to start using some new software and it won't work with your existing system. So you update your system, say from Mac OS 10.6 to 10.8, and suddenly half of your other software doesn't work, so you have to update that. And then you have to update the software that talks to your printer and scanner, and on and on.

Or you buy a new laptop, say, and all of a sudden nothing wants to work with Windows 8 (including you) because all the stuff you transferred over has issues with the new environment. Or you want to run new stuff on ancient hardware, as below.

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis, Tempus Fugit
Today's story starts innocently enough with me prepping a laptop for my buddy Ken Kozora. Now Ken is a great composer, and I have commissioned him to write a series of musical pieces for an upcoming museum show I am doing with my lasers.

As luck would have it, Apple just came out with a new version of their premiere composing software, Logic Pro X, (the X standing, as it often does in Apple-land, for ten, i.e., the tenth version of this thang). As luck would have it some more, in the process of issuing the upgrade, they also dramatically lowered the price, from $600 to $200. This makes it very affordable for musicians like Ken, so we agreed to get it for him.

Elder: Hostile
That is the new stuff; now for the old stuff. Ken has two laptops available for this project, an old PowerMac and an older PowerMac, the latter just six months or so older than the former. Both are pretty beat up, but work fine in their current incarnation. The older one has a larger hard drive, so we start with that. Here is the problem with Mac laptops: they don't have the decency to die when their EOL (End of Life) is reached. EOL is the freshness date after which Apple decrees: "Nuh-uh, not gonna support it, wouldn't be prudent, and besides, we think you will be ever so much happier with a nice bright shiny new one, available from your friendly neighborhood Apple store or on Internets everywhere".

And yet there it sits, quietly humming to itself, perfectly content to continue working with you under System 10.6.8 until the cows come home, or some hardware failure happens. (Bet on the cows; these silly Apple things just keep on ticking...)

Anyway, being a New Stuff kinda thing, Logic Pro X turns up its nose at anything less than 10.8, system-wise. And it also wants at least 4G of RAM in which to create its wonders. We've got 10.6.8, 1G of RAM, and by the way, the battery is dead.

Amazon to the rescue: a new battery and 4G of RAM is obtained for around $80 and we set out to do the upgrade. Except the laptop won't acknowledge the presence of the battery. Works fine with the power supply, no dice with the battery. After several hours of trying every fix I know about (resetting the PMU, blowing the PRAM and other abstruse rituals, don't ask), I think, "Well, maybe a new operating system will fix it". So I go to download the 10.8 system and the Apple Store says "I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that". Turns out that laptop the elder is just six months the wrong side of EOL and I am SOL. Ya see, Apple made some minor change to the firmware going from version elder to version not quite so elder, and 10.8 just won't work with that minor change. Bastards.

OooKaaay. Plan B. On to ancient laptop the younger. This fine beauty has definitely led a good full life, around six years of it. The bottom panel, some sort of rubber I've never seen before, is coming loose and sort of flaps around. Laptops tend to show their age prominently, and most companies replace them every three years. Musicians, not so much, and so we patiently plod on.

This 'top has two gigs of RAM and a functional battery, so we set out on our journey. Step one, update it to 10.8. Back to the Apple Store (you can no longer buy system software on disk, you gotta download it), we get Ken an Apple account and download the latest and greatest system for a mere $20. This works, and it only takes around an hour to get it installed. Why? Old laptops have very slow hard drives, that's why, and it takes forever to get things onto and off of them. But I'm getting ahead of myself here: before we update him, we need to make a backup of all his important files, all 36G or so of them.

And this takes forever because it happens over USB, which is necessary because this laptop lacks anything faster. So around three hours for the backup, then an hour for the update, and suddenly the afternoon is shot and Ken has to leave for his gig (musician-speak for job, not another 1,000 MB of data...) in Port Huron at the "hippy festival/drum circle with the ladies dancing around in the firelight all night".

The next day he drives back and comes to my office and we finish the download of Logic Pro X, which only took around an hour and a half. And we couldn't download all the extra features because he had filled up his hard drive. But it works!

Moral of the story: sometimes you can get old stuff to work with new stuff, but it is usually a major PITA that takes a really long time. And sometimes you can't, and that shiny new laptop starts to look better and better...

Old Stuff, New Stuff

Mike Gould tries to help out musicians when possible, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser display devices, performs with the Illuminatus 2.3 Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to

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