• Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint
Share this Page URL



Our story begins a little more than two years ago at the East Coast edition of Macworld Expo, the Mac-centric convention that convenes twice a year in San Francisco and New York, respectively. The show floor had recently closed for the day, and in typical postshow fashion, I made my way to the nearest Mac-vendor party and began packing as many mini-quiches into my gaping gob as the generosity of my host would allow.

'Round about quiche 17, a hand encroached from the left. Just as I was about to slap it away and slide the remaining pastries into the plastic-lined pocket I devised for such occasions, the hand's owner spoke.

“Chris, how are you?”

“Mmmmbffhhff!” I responded through hors d'oeuvre-stuffed cheeks.

Mistaking my crummy ejaculation and look of glutinous embarrassment for lack of recognition, my questioner offered her hand and said, “Marjorie Baer, from Peachpit Press.”

After a good deal of swallowing, I finally managed to choke out, “Of course, Marjorie. Great to see you.”

We chatted over the Mac news of the day, and then my canapé companion uttered the seven fateful words that have brought you and me together: “You should write a book for us.”

Having spent the better part of my life saying exactly the wrong thing at the most inappropriate moment, I couldn't help but reply, “What a wonderful thought! As a matter of fact, I've been kicking around an idea for a book. I'd like to take the Macintosh knowledge I've accumulated over the past decade or so and shove it all into a lengthy tome entitled Chris Breen's Massive Macintosh Brain Dump. The cover will feature a large, inflatable gray brain that throbs and pulses (or do you think simple embossing would be more tasteful?). I haven't conceived all the book's elements, of course, but a QuickTime VR pop-up page is a must, and surely the book would benefit from a scratch-'n'-sniff troubleshooting section.”

Without missing a beat, Marjorie smiled, replied, “Works for me. Here's my card,” and left me to inhale what remained of the shrimp platter.

“Now that,” I mused as I propelled the hindquarters of a sea-going decapod down my gullet, “is an outfit I can work with.”

Who I Am

Oh, I'm sorry. I seem to have launched into a story about my personal life without introducing myself properly.

I'm your host, Chris Breen. I've been writing about computers since the latter days of the Reagan administration for such publications as Macworld, MacUser, MacWEEK, PCWorld, Access Magazine, Computer Gaming World, and Inside Mac Games. I've contributed to four editions of Peachpit Press's venerable Macintosh Bible, and I cowrote The Macintosh Bible to Games (Peachpit Press) and My iMac (Hungry Minds).

I currently spend much of my time writing for Macworld magazine. Specifically, I pen “Mac 911” (my, now, there's a catchy title!), Macworld's monthly tips and troubleshooting column. In addition to the column, my name is often tacked onto features, how-to articles, and reviews. I also write Macworld Daily Tips (www.macworld.com/newsletters), a Mac tips newsletter sent to subscribers each business day. And my video visage appears each month as host of the CD-ROM bundled with newsstand copies of Macworld (as well as within “Breen's Bungalow,” a video tutorial that appears on the disc and on Macworld's Web site each month). You may also see me in video form on the compucentric cable channel TechTV, where I occasionally appear as a guest on the “Call for Help” and “Screen Savers” programs.

Before writing for Macworld, I was a contributing editor for the dear, departed MacUser magazine, where, with the lovely and talented Bob LeVitus, I cowrote MacUser's wildly popular troubleshooting column, “Help Folder.”

In other words, I've spent the better part of 13 years planted in front of various Macintosh computers, trying to understand how they perform their magic and—when they fail to produce the expected rabbit from the requisite hat—what hinders them. Having scrutinized, diagnosed, repaired, upgraded, nursed, and cursed countless Macs and written more than a million words recounting my experiences in numerous publications, online, and on TV, I think I have a pretty good handle on what makes a Mac tick.

What This Is

A glance at the cover and a flip through these pages reveals that I've abandoned the more flamboyant elements of my original book proposal. Instead of Chris Breen's Massive Macintosh Brain Dump, this book is titled simply Mac 911. And sorry—unless some horrible mix-up occurred at the printing house, you'll find no pages that pop up, and the aroma that greets your nostrils should be composed of nothing more than a pleasing mélange of wood pulp and ink.

What hasn't changed, however, is the basic notion behind the book. I wanted to produce a book that was not only helpful in regard to keeping a Mac up and running but also one that provided a hint or two about what useful things you might do with the Mac after it's ticking along on all cylinders.

Having read through these pages more times than I care to recount, I think that I may have succeeded. I hope you agree.

Who This Is For

Mac 911 is for just about every Mac user—from the newest of the newbies on up to crusty old veterans. If you've just unpacked your first Macintosh, however, and the terms point, click, drag, menu, and icon are foreign to you, I suggest that you pick up a copy of Robin Williams's The Little Mac Book (Peachpit Press) before reading further. I've made every effort to write a book that my mother can understand (and believe me, Mom's no computer whiz), but you'll get far more use out of Mac 911 if you know your way around the Mac.

Mac 911 is also appropriate for those who are using Mac OS 9.2 and earlier (the old Macintosh operating system we're all familiar with) or Mac OS X (the brand-new Macintosh operating system that far fewer people are familiar with). As I write this introduction at the close of 2001, the Mac community is at a crossroads. Most Mac users continue to run the old Mac OS for their everyday computing chores but Mac OS X is quickly becoming a viable everyday operating system as well—particularly with the Mac OS X 10.1 update and such staples as Microsoft Office coming to the Mac in Mac OS X-native form. Although many of the tips and techniques I discuss work with both the old and new Mac OS, I speak specifically about one or the other when appropriate. Those looking for Mac OS X troubleshooting information will find it in a chapter devoted specifically to that subject.

As the title hints, a goodly portion of Mac 911 is intended to be helpful to those who are having trouble with their Macs. But as much as I'd love to lay claim to writing the ultimate guide on the subject, this is not the most comprehensive Macintosh troubleshooting book on the planet. That honor goes to Ted Landau's wonderful Sad Macs, Bombs, and Other Disasters (Peachpit Press). No person is more knowledgeable about Mac troubleshooting than Ted, and no troubleshooting book is more comprehensive than Sad Macs. If your interest in Mac troubleshooting and repair goes beyond the limits of this book, you must own a copy of Sad Macs. (Also, Ted's a really good guy who turns the most endearing shade of red when he laughs.)

How This Book Is Organized

The first portion of Mac 911 deals with the misbehaving Mac: troubleshooting and repair. Throughout this section of the book, I do my best to convey how a Mac works and what's likely to keep it from performing at its full potential. As I explain at greater length elsewhere, my goal is to teach you to think like a Mac—to become generally familiar with the way it goes about its business. After you gain this understanding, you can more easily intuit where a problem lies. The advantage in teaching you to fish rather than plunking a plate of pike before your puss is that there's a greater likelihood that you'll be able to use the knowledge you've gained here to solve problems not specifically mentioned within these pages. In short, I want to help sharpen your detective skills so that you can find the bad guys on your own.

And although it's wonderful to preside over a Mac that runs properly, a computer that does little more than comport itself in an agreeable manner is a pretty dull appliance. In addition to keeping your Mac on the straight and narrow, I intend to help you create a Mac that's useful and fun to work with. That's where the second section of Mac 911 comes in. In part deux, I present you a series of projects—the kind of projects that beginning and intermediate Mac users shy away from, for fear that such tasks as upgrading a Mac or creating a network are too complicated. They're not, honestly.

Then there's part three, which is the most obvious remnant of the brain-dump idea. Here, I present some of my favorite Mac tips and tricks, a list of useful resources, and a couple of bits that just didn't seem to fit elsewhere. I think that you'll find it helpful (or at least amusing).

Speaking of amusement, I should issue a warning before closing this introduction:

I have a sense of humor, and I'm not afraid to use it. I'm deadly serious about this book being useful, but if I have the opportunity to make my point with a smile, I won't hesitate.

Have no fear. No animals were harmed, nor information sacrificed, for the sake of a joke.

Thanks for joining me. Now let's get to it.

  • Creative Edge
  • Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint