Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again!

The Bridge of the USS Defiant as it was in 2013. It’s pretty much the same now, except for a thick layer of paperwork needing to be scanned or otherwise dealt with.

I’ve got this big-screen iMac, circa 2009, and it’s proven wonderful both for critically editing and cleaning up film photographs to make art prints, and also simply to be able to work on one document while another reference source is on the screen right beside it. Its screen sharpness is fabulous, which makes me wonder why Apple later upgraded it to just barely beyond the visual limits of human eye resolution. Apart from being a marketing brag, what’s the practical use for all that extra cost? No matter. I was pleased to be able to concentrate on my workload rather than have to frequently troubleshoot why my computer suddenly couldn’t find my printer.

Regardless, the iMac has been a real workhorse right up until Apple emailed me in 2013 that too many of the special Seagate hard disk drives (HDD) they use were failing, and would I please take my iMac to one of their authorized service centers for an HDD replacement at no charge. I found this notable because they knew I was several months out of warranty and wanted to replace it anyway. So, I took it into a repair center in Phoenix and they handled the data transfer and setup as well. I hauled it back home and began using it, but the new drive promptly barfed. Hmmm. Back it went, and I asked this time if I could have a larger drive of a different brand installed, like, ohhh say, Hitachi. Nope, Apple only authorized this work using factory authorized parts, they replied. Back in the days when 300MB drives were considered to be comfortably large, Seagate was the bee’s knees. Once they started cashing in on their reputation by cheapening the drive’s makeup and pocketing the difference, Western Digital came to hold the torch of reliability. They befell the same fate. Maxtor was then decent, and eventually, Hitachi (before its acquisition by Seagate) was pretty much bulletproof.

So this third Seagate drive has hung in there until now, and after throwing a few flags for a week or two, my Drive Genius monitoring software has begun warning me to replace the drive immediately. Four years out of a hard drive isn’t too bad, so I can’t complain. (Never stopped me before, though.) So I did a backup, and will do another when my replacement drive arrives.

I used to build, restore and upgrade PCs for fun, but the iMac’s seamless and fastener-free profile had me stumped. The glass was the only way in, and what held the glass in? My usual source for all parts Mac has videos, and it turns out that the iMac’s huge glass screen is held in by sets of magnets at the top, and tabs & slots below. They show you, for your particular year and model, the whole procedure start to finish. It does require some finesse along the way with several connector wires, but it’s doable and saves time and money having to pay someone else to do it.

This time around, I’m attempting to kill two birds with one stone by replacing the HDD with an SSD (solid state drive). The first bird is the predictably limited service life of conventional mechanical hard drives. They eventually emit the “click of death” and whatever you have on them is gone. Used to be, they lasted forever and you only chucked them because feature bloat required newer ones with larger capacity. Once they got “large”, maybe 1,000MB, they began getting less and less reliable. Solid state drives tend to erode instead of come to a clanking halt beside the road. In doing so, they have the potential of significantly outlasting their predecessors. But as usual, you get what you pay for, and better SSDs have provisioning for this electronic wear on memory cells. Thanks to OWC’s (Other World Computing) website setup, I was steered toward the selection of components that were compatible with my particular iMac – which is not the same as the selection of Hot Stuff for a newer one. OWC offers their own branded models of SSDs, of which I picked one as part of a swap kit. The kit has the needed hand tools and a couple of suction cups to yank the front glass open with, plus an adapter that cradles and connects the 2.5″ SSD to the iMac’s 3.5″ drive bay. But wait! There’s more! It also includes a special cable with a thermal sensor that mimics the Seagate’s presence and is compatible with Apple’s temperature management setup.

The other bird? Speed. Each new and improved operating system version requires more system resources, and measurably slows everything down. The latest iteration of OSX, now rechristened MacOS, has a new file system type optimized for SSD’s, and many new capabilities that my iMac doesn’t have the internal hardware to support. In spite of that, it takes minutes to boot and often acts like there’s a linkage loose between mouse click and response. The last few OS versions, I could hear the hard drive faintly chugging away with background tasks, and the far higher speed of the SSD will make that less time-consuming and less likely to affect active tasks. That busyness and a slow response usually means that your computer’s RAM is too small in capacity and is transferring some memory duties to the much slower hard drive, and a full hard drive doesn’t help, either. More RAM is always a good thing, but so far, the iMac’s usage seems to be staying within the prudent zone. Maybe next year. RAM memory sticks are kind of pricey, and this has not been a frugal Fall. I’m thinking of capturing that swap process on video simply because it’s so unlike working on a PC (and then editing it down to its symbolic core), but I’ll decide that in the moment. I may have to edit out some of the audio now and then, too…

Now and then, the Four Wheel camper (and its mounts) have to deal with frame twist. With limited articulation available, either the frame twists, or you lift a wheel. Ford now boxes their frames, so pick your poison!

Speaking of not being frugal, I was in error last week by claiming that the Four Wheel truck camper has presented no issues. I discovered one a couple of days after writing that. Technically, it’s still not the Four Wheel. It’s the bed mounts. There’s an issue about exactly where they are located in the truck’s bed. There’s just too little side angle between camper mounts and bed mounts, with the result that after 19+ months of use, the camper has once again shifted sideways in the bed. This time, it held fast until very late in the game. What’s odd is that the front shifted the most, and yet both of those mounts are still tight. Considering that all these mounts were honked down tight and checked regularly, this means two things: the bed mounts are not located far enough toward the edges to prevent side movement (and perhaps the bed may not allow a wider relocation) and/or the combination of a snow plow prep package and a 10,000-pound GVWR package on the F-250 really is as violence-oriented as I’ve always claimed. I think it’s both.

The installing dealer is going to take a look at it a couple of weeks from now, and determine the best approach to take. This isn’t their first rodeo on F-250s, but this spring setup is not common underneath a lightweight camper. They do a lot of design and fabrication work as well as equipment installs. This may or may not involve moving the bed mounts further outboard, since the freshwater & waste system formerly known as Tankmin required its own bed butchery when it was in residence. Personally, I don’t think that the mounts can be relocated enough to be effective, not on this rig. There’s no “float” to speak of in the Mighty Furd’s suspension, and the suddenness with which it can roll even a short distance is impressive even when loaded to its limit, as it is now. Now and then, that camper has to hang on for dear life. As they are, the existing mount setup holds the camper down very well, and keeps it forward in the bed. But it can’t keep it from shifting sideways, and that’s on top of highly textured urethane bedliner.

At first, all I could think of was tossing some unforgiving material around the camper, between the camper sidewall and the truck bed sidewall, but the bottom corners are quite rounded because it was formed in one piece. Perhaps another set of stays could be added from the camper’s eyelets to the side of the bed, but access to tighten them through the camper’s little doors would be a gymnastic feat. I woke up the next morning with the idea of mounting lengths of metal “L”-angle to the bed on both sides of the camper, to physically restrain it from moving much. A snug fit between the rails would be best for that goal, but realistically, you’d never be able to get the camper back into the bed without it being perched somewhere on top of the angle. You’d have to leave some slop.

When I mentioned this idea to the dealer, he liked it, but recognized the problem quickly and cautioned me, “You know, you really can’t enclose the camper very tightly, otherwise it’ll be difficult every time you try to put it back in the bed, because of the tight alignment needed when you back the truck up under it. Are you bringing your lift jacks with you?”

“Ah, no,” I replied, “I don’t own any, since I never planned on removing it until maybe the truck dies. I let you guys handle the installation and then the reset last March, so how tight or loose the fit needs to be, we’ll have to work out. Wrestling the thing back into the bed, well, I kinda view that as your problem!” I could hear him laughing at my dumping the tightrope walk on him.

Seriously, a loose fit makes camper installation easier, but has the potential to decrease tension on one or more or the mounts (particularly in the rear), which in turn can greatly increase the risk of damaging the camper on a rough trail. Any slop in the mounts encourages a kind of whiplash effect, much like when a chain suddenly reaches its maximum length. That kind of sudden force can damage structure. The other potential problem with allowing “too much” side movement is that it has a greater tendency to load the new retaining rails at points instead of along lengths, which would put a lot of strain on just one or two fasteners holding the rail to the bed. Realistically, you can’t expect to load all of the fasteners equally along the length of the rail even in a snug fit, but biasing the system heavily toward easy camper installation does have side effects that can largely cancel out their primary purpose: restrain the camper from edging its way to either side. This may all be moot, since the front-to-back ridges and grooves in the bed highly influence rail placement.

I went and bought two 8′ lengths of 1/8″ thick aluminum angle extrusions, 3/4″ square. How to best fasten them to the bed became the next issue. One needs to be careful here, because blindly punching drill bits and screws down through the bed floor can also penetrate whatever is just below it, like the fuel tank, hoses, pipes, and other things that are best left alone. Nuts and bolts can get pretty tedious, requiring two people as well as full access both above and below. There’s a hardware store not too far away up there, but I selected a couple lengths of 3/16″ pop rivets and two lengths of self-drilling hex head #12 sheet metal screws. I don’t have much faith in any of them, both from a tear-out standpoint and a durability one. Fortunately, the shop has plenty of specialty fasteners made just for this kind of thing. I might have seen them in the 1980’s, I think. They too require access from only one side, but provide a secure mount with a threaded center, which would allow the rails to be bolted down to the bed. I guess that outshines my idea of Elmer’s Glue and duct tape.

The painful part for me will be twofold. In order to bolt on the jacks that lift the camper, the camper’s four mounting plates have to be cleared of all other equipment, like the ground panel holder in front and the fishing rod holder on the driver’s side. The Stow-Away cargo box must be unpacked and removed from the rear hitch, then repacked on the ground for safekeeping. In order to be able to jack up the camper without risk of its floor tearing out and staying in the truck bed, I also need to remove the four batteries from inside the benches and set them outside. This time, all this will take place at home the morning before my 8AM appointment, so I can then drive the four hours to Prescott and check into a motel a few miles from the shop. That cost and the $110 per hour shop rate should make this an ordeal that I fervently hope will be the last reinstall I ever have to make. This has to work, but I likely won’t find out whether it does until at least midway into next year!

Neither the iMac drive swap nor the truck bed mod represent an adventure in the usual sense. I consider them so, however, because if I screw either one up, I’ve got problems! If I succeed in both of them, I shall be just impossible to live with.

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6 thoughts on “It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again!

  1. Just a thought. What if the retaining side rails were a reasonably snug fit, but had angled guides mounted on top of them forming a profile something like the letter Y with one of the upper arms missing. Pick the camper up an extra couple of inches, drive under it, getting it in reasonable alignment, then let the angled guide funnel the camper down between the retainers as it is lowered.

    • Now that’s interesting! I doubt I could find a “stock” channel profile to do that job, but I can envision four thick guide profiles standing up higher than the L-angles to lead the camper in. On the practical end, I can’t fabricate much of anything here, but it does get one wondering about different ways to do the same job. If nothing else, setting the rails toward the sloppy end and then once the camper is locked down in an acceptable place, dropping flat rail spacers in the gaps on both sides to decrease the room to move. The access doors allow that. Thanks!

  2. My 2010 iMac lasted 7 years under heavy use. I looked at all the videos for opening up the Mac and replacing the bad hard drive. Even with my experience of tearing apart PCs years ago, I did not feel comfortable enough to do the swap. It concerned me of the extra stuff the new drive, new wires etc would have that would not have internal guts to work with it.

    I took the easy way out and bought a new one and have not regretted the decision. The old iMac sets on my other desk waiting for me to sell it with the bad hard drive on Craig’sList or eBay.

    For some reason I’ve always been lucky I guess when it comes to computer problems. My almost 7 year old iMac didn’t have any issues until it let me know it was time to replace it with something.

    I like your set up in the old trailer. Did those screws actually hold your iMac in place with all the bouncing around the trailer would do when you went off the grid?

    • Steve, until I began touring with the truck camper in 2016, my iMac’s been used pretty much all day, every day. Until I saw the videos available at OWC about replacing drives, I wouldn’t even think about doing it myself. I particularly dislike connectors that refuse to disconnect. OWC has a workaround for the missing bits in non-Apple drives. Looking at current prices for a new iMac equivalent to mine, it’s better that I keep the old one soldiering on as long as possible. The screws are hex-head sheet metal-type screws with washers that have neoprene underneath so that the stand base is not marred. And yes, though that trailer has bent lightly-loaded bike racks and such on trails, the iMac has stayed in place without problems of any kind. I’m sure summer temps down here inside the trailer exceed Apple’s recommended storage maximums, but that hopefully doesn’t affect any more than mechanical systems that use lube, like the existing HDD.

      • Thanks for the info. When I start traveling I don’t see me without the larger iMac on the road. It’s nice to downsize but I am addicted to the larger monitors.

        • Absolutely. Just from the ability to get stuff done without having it get tedious, the iMac is freeing, while my much faster new laptop feels visually claustrophobic and hemmed in. I made sure it can hook up to my Firewire film scanner and do the job before I selected it (in case the iMac rolled over and died), but cleaning dust marks off 400MB photos is not going to be its forte on a 13″ screen! It’s tedious enough on a 27″.

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