Lowered Expectations...

Once something becomes a "mature technology", you begin to take it for granted.

When silicon chips and LCD displays became cheap and common enough, there was no longer any really burning need to spend the money on a Seiko or Casio digital watch if all you needed to know was what time it was; the fifty cent watch from a gumball machine could do that.

Some technologies are more mature than others.

Repeat after me: I will not buy a cheap-ass "powered USB hub".



Drinking from the fire hose.

Moving up here, my CD collection filled two big cardboard boxes slightly larger than longneck beer cases.

The iMac has a 13GB internal hard drive.

To quote Roy Scheider: "You're gonna need a bigger disk."


"Eat up Martha"

I met up with TD at the NRA convention this past weekend. He'd been hinting that he had a totally awesome piece of swag for me that would surely make a good subject for a Digital Fossils column. He wasn't kidding:

Bonus supergeek points for getting the reference in the post title...


State of the Experiment Address.

I'm typing this on my iBook, sitting on the front porch. For the last three weeks or so, I've been doing all my computing on Macs, none newer than eight years old. Not being much of a power gamer any more, this is all blogging, web surfing, writing, emailing, iPodding, and what-have-you. Here's how it's going:

The iBook, a G3/466 Firewire machine, was no great stretch. It's been my de facto portable all along. It's running the latest version of Panther, and has been for about a year. With my recent Firefox woes, I've started using Safari on it and will download Camino as soon as I get around to it. It connects to the network with its internal AirPort card.

My G3/250 WallStreet is in use as a "bridge" machine, running OS 9.2. It stays more-or-less permanently plugged-in in a corner of the living room with a Farallon WiFi PCMCIA card and an AppleTalk dongle hanging off it. Should I do some writing on one of my "lap savers", a 2400c or a Duo 280c, I'll AppleTalk the file to the WallStreet and email it to myself.

A G4/500 Sawtooth tower is my main machine. Browsing the web with Camino, it's also using Panther because the old Matshita LP-2 DVD drive won't read my Tiger install. Because it's still on Panther, and with its two USB ports clogged by the Logitech mouse and keyboard, it provides a job for the last computer.

Sitting next to the Sawtooth on the desk is a slot-loading G3/400 iMac DV SE. I have Tiger up and running on it. Thanks to the magic of a powered USB hub, it has a Hawking USB WiFi connection, as well as serving as the dock for my iPod Nano and my card reader for the Compact Flash cards from my Nikon Coolpix digital camera. Using the iMac as basically a media server lets me rip CDs or download Firefly episodes without tying up the Sawtooth. As the internal drive fills up, I'll just go ahead and get an external FireWire drive for all the media crap. Since both the iBook and the G4 tower are (barely) just new enough to have FireWire ports, this will pay bonus dividends down the road.

Am I missing my trusty P4/2.4 yet? Nope. Not really. So far, these old machines are doing everything I need them to do. What I can't get over is the fact that I have a very capable, complet, four-computer wireless network, with two laptops and two desktops that could be had off eBay for much less than $1,000. Neat! :)


Browser woes fixed. I think.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I've been having nothing but trouble with the latest release of Firefox 2 running on Panther (10.3.9).

After a frustrating run with Safari, I've downloaded Camino. It seems to be doing everything I need: To wit, acting like an older version of Firefox that doesn't lock up constantly.

With it doing so swimmingly on the G4, I'm going to download it to the iBook next.


That was weird.

Keeping ancient computers around and actually using them means you get to see some pretty weird stuff from time to time. Sometimes you even get to see pretty weird stuff when you're not using them.

I keep a few old PowerBooks stacked atop the bookshelves in the living room where I can grab one on my way out the front door to do some writing on the porch. As I was walking through the room yesterday morning, I heard this weird clicking buzz coming from atop the bookshelf.

Oh, crap! I had just finished next week's column for Low End Mac on the 2400 the night before, and had left the computer sleeping, intending to AppleTalk it over to the WallStreet and polish it up before emailing it in. Could the snoozing Comet have suddenly decided to lunch its hard disk or something?

I snatched the 2400c from the top of the stack, but its sleep light just blinked at me silently. The noise wasn't coming from it. Setting the Comet on the futon, I grabbed the next 'Book off the stack, the Duo 280c. It, too was inert. The noise was coming from the bottom laptop in the stack, the 1400cs. Scooping it up, it became apparent that the strange buzzing sound was emanating from its speaker. This was odd, because the battery was deader than Elvis.

Opening the lid and poking the on/off key got me nothing. I plugged in an AC power supply and hooked up the computer and the noise stopped. I still got no response from the power key, and when I unplugged the AC adaptor, the noise resumed. Ejecting the battery caused the buzz to cease again, and when I went upstairs and fetched another (also dead) battery and inserted it, the noise didn't return.

I hooked up the AC and used the power reset switch on the back of the notebook, and it powered up normally. I shut it down and it stayed silent. The only abnormality I could detect with the battery that had been in it when it was making the noise is that the righthand-most of the four battery terminals was bent slightly outward from the other three.

Who knows what caused the speaker to suddenly go berserk, especially when the battery was run down so flat?


See, this is how it's supposed to work.

I'd been running OS 10.2.8 on the G4 tower.

Now, I like the idea behind OS X, don't get me wrong, but the early implementations left something to be desired. All the swoopy graphics touches that make the interface "pretty" are worthless if they make the machine limp along like an arthritic slug. I had hope, however.

As long as Jaguar was the only game in town, I kept my iBook (a G3/466 with 192 megs of RAM) running OS 9. It just wasn't worth staring at the spinning beachball of frustration every time I tried to do something. When the chance came to upgrade the clamshell to Panther, I jumped at it, and it's been running 10.3.9 just fine since.

That's what gave me hope: I knew that there was no reason that a G3 iBook should be faster than a G4/500 tower with half a gig of RAM, save for the fact that Jaguar is one bog-slow OS. When the mailman came yesterday, he probably wondered why I almost knocked him over getting the padded envelope out of his hands. I had the first Panther install disk in the G4 almost before the front door slammed.

It's like a whole new machine.



I wrote my last column using my PowerBook Duo 280c, a computer that is fourteen years old. Although the comparison isn't exact, it's roughly the equivalent of a 486-era notebook. Mac laptops just seem to dodge the landfill long after they are completely technically obsolete.

The idea inspired me to go crawling eBay to see if I could find an equivalent DOS-powered machine. When I moved, I realized that I had a slew of games still on 3.5" (and even 5.25"!) floppies, as well as plenty of old MS-DOS install disks. Rather than go through the workarounds required to get them to run on my present-day XP box, it'd be nice to have a machine on which they could run in their native environment, yet is easy to stow away when I'm done playing.

Unfortunately, on eBay you just go to "Vintage Apple" to find the old Mac you want, but you have to go nose through "Vintage Computing" for a DOS box. Do you know how long scrolling through those listings takes when you have to stop and look at every Timex Sinclair and Mattel Aquarius ("NEW IN BOX!!!1!!")?

Sadly, the old DOS laptop market is nowhere near as robust. To be fair, neither were most old DOS laptops. With the exception of a few name brands like Toshiba, most PC laptops of the era were pretty flimsily constructed, uninspiring affairs. I wonder what the comparative ratios are between keepers and landfill fodder for both DOS laptops and Mac PowerBooks?


If I had a time machine...

I was messing around trying to get the TAM to talk to the 2400c when it occurred to me that if I had that setup back in late '97, I would have been big pimpin': Apple's super-snob appeal desktop machine and the flavor-of-the-month subnotebook were both serious computing status symbols when they were new, and would have gone together like peaches and cream. Free-range peaches and organically grown cream, of course. From some pretentious yuppie grocery store with carpeted aisles.

This has given me an idea for a post, or a column, or something...

UPDATE: Looking at this more closely, the Macs I'm using during my experiment (a G4 "Sawtooth", a graphite iMac DV SE, and a key lime iBook SE) would have been a pretty swoopy computing suite, circa late 2000. It might be neat to do a series of experiments; go "back in time" and try using a comparable suite from 1992 (Quadra 950/LCII/Duo 270c) or 1994 (Power Mac 7100/Performa 636CD/PowerBook 540c), and see how it feels.

Poverty sucks.


When you have a 270c and a 280c, a full dock would be the ultimate accessory. Sigh. There will be others...


This is me, tearing my hair out...

Remember the other day, when I was going on and on about how easy my little AppleTalk experiment was? Yeah, well, that was then, and this is now.

How come an ancient Color Classic, circa 1993 and running an OS that generated its zeros and ones by banging small rocks together, fired up and chattered back and forth with my much more recent PowerBook 2400 without a hitch, but when my Twentieth Anniversary Mac, a nearly contemporaneous machine, was asked to do likewise I got bupkis? I've tried both the 2400 and the G3 WallStreet and the TAM refuses to divulge its existence to the network through either the modem or printer ports.

Work proceeds apace on figuring out just exactly why. I'm all ears if anyone has any ideas on where to look.

Oh for the glorious days of big hair, skinny ties, teen movies...

...and really lousy keyboards.

(H/T to Dustbury.)