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Set Startup..

© July 2005 Tony Lawrence

I found this while cleaning out some more old stuff. I wrote it in April of 1991, and it may have been published in the Boston Computer Society magazine, though I can't put my hands on the issue if it was. Anyway, it amused me to read this again so here it is.

I was walking through the corridors of a customer's building, on my way to some real or imagined emergency, when a voice called out from an office I was passing.

"Hey, do you know anything about DOS?"

The voice belonged to an unusually pretty red-headed women with a mile-wide smile. That alone might have elicited a positive response to almost any query, including my knowledge of the latest brain surgery techniques, but I could answer this honestly. I stepped into her office and said "Sure, what's the problem?"

"My AUTOEXEC.BAT file doesn't work", she explained, showing rows of pearly teeth. Her sparkling eyes engaged mine, waiting for my words of wisdom.

I sternly reminded myself that I am happily married to another unusually attractive woman, noted that she also sported a prominent wedding ring, and looked about the office. I could see that the computer on her desk was a Macintosh SE. Mac's don't have Autoexec.bat files; they have a System folder where you can stick things you want loaded at startup, but they don't use .bat files. There is something called "Set Startup", which is a little bit like Autoexec, but that's not a file - it's a menu that you add things to.

So, I figured this was a case of a little knowledge being tossed around and sticking to the wrong person. It would seem she was trying to put an AUTOEXEC.BAT file in her System folder. That's a doomed effort, but understandable. Someone told this pretty woman she needed this, and led her astray. Rather than go into details, I thought it might be easier if I knew why she thought she needed this. I'm no Mac expert, but if she just needed something simple, I could probably help. So I asked if she could show me the file, expecting that she would then fire up MacWrite and load AUTOEXEC.BAT.

Instead, she reached in her purse and pulled out a piece of paper. "This is it," she said, handing it to me. Pretty hands, I thought, but took the paper and looked at it instead.

Sure enough, there was a pretty typical AUTOEXEC.BAT printed there. The only odd thing was that it was stair-stepped:

                       PROMPT $P$G

The other oddity was that it was dot matrix print. This puzzled me. It's not that you never see a dot matrix with a Mac, but it's rare, and there sure wasn't a dot matrix printer in this office.

I'm a little slow, but not completely stupid. "This is your HOME machine!" I exclaimed.

She looked at me with eyes that obviously wondered what sort of dolt she was entertaining.

"My husband's DOS machine, actually", she said slowly. "Mac's don't use Autoexec's, you know". One eyebrow was raised on that last sentence, which would have been very appealing had it not indicated that she thought my computer intelligence was be pretty sad if I didn't know that.

I debated the best way to reply, and decided to let it pass. "OK", I asked, "were you trying to add that PROMPT recently?"

She cocked her head, perhaps wondering if I did in fact have some intelligence. "Yes, my husband wanted to add that - and now it doesn't work at all".

"Did he use a word processor to do that?"

Her expression showed that my perceived intelligence had just sunk again. "What on earth ELSE would he use?"

So I explained about ASCII files and word processor files; that AUTOEXEC.BAT has to be an ASCII file, and how most word processors have some method to save plain text without all the formatting junk. I guess I told her a bit too much, because she interrupted me:

"It will save in ASCII. I do that to transfer stuff to my MAC".

OK, so I was wasting her time. At least I knew how to solve the problem.

"When you go home, try re-saving this as ASCII. It will work if you do that."

She seemed doubtful, but agreed to try it.

"One more thing", I said. "Don't tell your husband that you asked me. Tell him you figured it out."

"Why?", she wondered.

"Well, just for fun. Maybe he's a little computer arrogant now and then?"

Comprehension spread across her face. "Oooo, I LIKE that! He can be a bit of a know-it all sometimes.."

So, I left her and went on to whatever it was I had come there for. I imagined her husband's astonishment when she "figured it out" for him.

As it happened, I came to the same customer the next day. There is little truth to the allegation that I cancelled another appointmemt, skipped lunch, drove eighteen miles out of my way and pretended to have business in that part of the building. I definitely did NOT skip lunch.

I poked my head in her office and asked if the AUTOEXEC.BAT was working.

"Works great", she smiled, "Thanks!"

I asked if she had fessed up to her husband.

"Not right away. Boy, I had him going. He thought I fixed something he couldn't. I did tell him eventually, but it was fun while it lasted!"

I'm sure it was.

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