Micro Doctor

Author: Hoyt Hillsman

Publisher: Little Brown

Size: 16 x 22 cm x about 230 pages

Cost: $36.00

(Reprinted from The Australian Apple Review June 1987)

Micro Doctor is not a book about a very small member of the medical fraternity, nor will' it make you a specialist when it comes to curing micros of all their ills. What it is however, is a reasonable set of hints on minor medicine for the IIs, along with some habits which can provide more than one ounce of prevention.

The book starts ominously, 'Whether you've just bought your Apple computer or had it for a couple of years, the day will eventually arrive when SOMETHING WILL GO WRONG. This is the terror that virtually all computer users harbour deep in their hearts . . ."

Probably there are some people who could worry to that extent about their Apples, but what put fear into my heart was a sentence which came a few paragraphs later, "this book provides a useful, non-technical, comprehensive guide to the maintenance and repair of Apple computers for the average computer owner". More so when coupled with the publisher's disclaimer of liabilities only a page or two prior.

The reaction was probably due to an incorrectly preconceived idea - from the blurb I was expecting something akin to a workshop manual. This certainly is not Micro Doctor. The book is aimed at a novice or casual user and acquaints them with some of the simpler maladies and their cures in eleven chapters and three appendices.

Chapter 1 Introduction is best left unread. Hoyt Hillsman has probably written an essay or two in his lifetime and felt that an introduction was a necessity to any piece of prose. In this case, it's a dozen wasted pages, because the book could just as easily start from Chapter Two - Care, Cleaning and Routine Maintenance of Your Apple.

Chapter 2 is a better introduction as it goes over some basic considerations when installing micros of any brand name. However, at times I felt it was overdone, "try not to place it (Apple) in a particularly dusty area or near a duct from a gas or electric furnace." It is far easier to review a work than it is to write it, and while there are some colourful phrases, Micro Doctor does in _ Chapter 2, trace over some common sense details so easily overlooked when locating the computer equipment - environment, light, dust, smoke, temperature, humidity and power. And the emphasis, quite rightly, is on power.

While it is doubtful anyone with an Apple on the same circuit as a fridge or washing machine would need a book before shifting the computer onto a cleaner circuit, the book can steer the novice from spikes, brownouts and other power-related nuisances without the trial and error. Apart from data loss considerations, the weakest and most susceptible part of the Apple II has always been the power supply, and this should be protected as best possible.

Towards the end of this chapter, which runs about 40 pages, we are introduced to our tools. Sorry, but you won't be able to go into the computer repair business with this selection - "a vacuum cleaner with a clean, brush-type attachment", isn't exactly high tech. Nor are the "clean rags, swabs and a bottle of isopropyl alcohol". We could be out to clean the car and get merry, rather than launch into preventative medicine for our Apples.

Fortunately in Chapter Three - The ABCs of Troubleshooting and Repair, we get to add to our little black bag, tools more befitting a micro doctor. But it is really in Chapter 4 - Troubleshooting the Apple System Unit, that some of the less obvious remedies

are revealed.

This chapter and Chapter 5 - Troubleshooting the Video Monitor and Keyboard are excellent in that they give the chip layouts for the II+ and the IIe and information on which chips do what. Those who have the old II+s will find more information in their reference manual (this was undoubtedly the best manual ever put out by Apple and shows the company pre-paranoia with even a circuit diagram of the motherboard and monitor ROM listings), but this does not detract as the information presented is clear and simple to follow. Micro Doctor lists the problems, the possible offending chips and shows their position on the board. This is clearly shown in the figures accompanying this review.

Chapter 6 - Troubleshooting the Disk Drive, continues in the same vein. The information, while not as detailed, will make the drive more approachable to minor adjustment. For example, the speed adjustment is walked through and anyone with two screwdrivers would be capable of carrying this out. One minor shortcoming was that the simplest method of getting the speed right is to use a graphics oriented program such as comes with Locksmith. The chapter would have benefited with a similar program included.

Chapter 7 - Troubleshooting the Printer, and Chapter 8 - Troubleshooting Peripherals, are also well done, though one can see where Mr Hillsman is more comfortable. The printer section is thorough (though you'll still need your manual to figure out the switch settings) while modems, about which an entire book on troubleshooting could be written, rate less than two pages.

The remaining chapters, Chapter 9 - Getting Help from your Computer Dealer, Chapter 10 Apple Warranties and Service Offerings and Chapter 11 Third Party Service Agreements , I found only marginally interesting. The book was written in the U.S., so the details and prices (if only they were Australian dollars), would be different.

However the chapters show that some things are the same in Australia as in the U.S. "Probably the most important issue to raise with your dealer is whether he or she has the resources to encounter in operating your Apple System. Many dealers mean well but simply don't have the resources to cope with even everyday repair and maintenance problems. Most dealers talk in somewhat grandiose terms about their "staff of technicians" or their "repair staff". You will need to read the book to find out though I feel most readers could easily guess.

To conclude, I found Micro Doctor to have a very useful selection of hints, ideas, and good advice. While in some cases the fault may not be straightforward to diagnose or fix - for example you won't see anything on your screen if the CPU fails - the book does give logical starting off points for tracing faults. The strength of the book however is in the preventative advice. No one can argue that the bulk of faults, power supply excluded, are initiated by the user and need never occur. The book alerts to a good many of these. But, common sense will also alert you to these and common sense is cheaper than $36.00.

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