Exorcising Those Phantoms (10/6/00)
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Something verrry fishy's going down with them newfangled Cubes Apple has been releasing into the Mac ecosystem lately. We're not talking about the cracks-- or the "mold lines," or the mold lines that might have a tendency to crack, or whatever it is that most of the Cube Controversy Crowd is obsessing over these days. (By the way, if you want to see what all that fuss is about, faithful viewer David McConnell pointed us to a new ZDNet article complete with close-ups of the mystery blemishes.) We're talking about the decidedly spooky phenomenon of Cubes suddenly waking up or turning on or off-- when there's no one around to trigger the event. Oh, great; like the crack thing wasn't bad enough, so now the Cubes have got to be haunted, too. That ought to perk up those slower-than-expected sales...

Now, while we personally would just chalk up the spontaneously self-starting Cubes to poltergeist activity or the increased telekinetic powers of the real human brains living at every Cube's core, Apple has a far more prosaic explanation kicking around in its Tech Info Library, and we figure it's only polite to pretend that it's the truth, at least for a moment. According to Apple, the culprit is the super-cool buttonless electrostatic touch sensor on the Cube's top surface. If you haven't tried this yet, it's definitely worth a trip down to your local Apple reseller to mess with a demo unit. The power symbol is simply silk-screened right onto the Cube's unbroken surface, and brushing it with a finger causes a pulsing glow to emanate from the surface under the symbol itself-- and then the Cube wakes up, or goes to sleep, or whatever. Elegant, yes, but apparently the technology is also a bit, er, "touchy," what with all this random on and off activity on "a small number of Power Mac G4 Cubes."

Of particular interest is Apple's list of steps to troubleshoot the problem. Step one from Apple is to "make sure the Cube is on a sturdy, flat surface," since operating your Cube on a trampoline or an inflatable pool toy may cause the phantom power phenomenon. Step two is to "make sure there is nothing on top of the Cube" triggering the power switch-- like your cat, or your right hand with its index finger extended. Step three: "check the settings in the Energy Saver control panel," just in case you actually set your Cube to start up and shut down at seemingly random intervals and just plumb forgot about it. Steps four and five constitute that timeless classic that's been in every troubleshooting manual for every electrical device since the dawn of time: make sure it's plugged in.

The sixth and final step is probably what most people were waiting for: an adventure into the Cube's guts. Apparently a "DC-to-DC Converter card" that isn't fully seated (perhaps because it came loose in shipping) can trigger the problem, and Apple provides step-by-step instructions on how to reseat this troublesome little beastie. (You were wondering why the Cube costs so much? It's because Apple threw in useless components like a DC-to-DC converter. What's to convert, if it's already DC?) Hopefully this is the one that'll fix the problem for most of those afflicted-- if not, we recommend either a spiritual cleansing by your local shaman, or wrapping the Cube in tin foil to block the brain's telekinetic waves.


 
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The above scene was taken from the 10/6/00 episode:

October 6, 2000: Still panicking over last week's earnings warning and subsequent stock slide? Robert Cringely puts the current Apple financial crisis in perspective. Meanwhile, Apple acknowledges that some Cubes are possessed by mischievous power-cycling entities, and Microsoft blames the government for dragging the "Redmond Justice" case out too long...

Other scenes from that episode:

  • 2595: How To Spot A Raving Nut (10/6/00)   Some people are borderline, sure, but some others you just know are crazy. We're talking about those folks who so obviously have a hole in their marble bag that any additional evidence of severe mental illness is purely superfluous...

  • 2597: ...Now With Extra Bile! (10/6/00)   In today's fast-paced, work-a-day world, it's not always easy to get the nourishment your moral compass needs to thrive and survive. Oh, sure, the nightly news is chock full of sound-byte atrocities that might give your sense of moral outrage a quick burst of energy, and the newspaper can provide you with plenty of dressed-down stories about the darker side of human nature, but it's all just empty calories-- and no one can live on junk food forever...

Or view the entire episode as originally broadcast...

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