Monthly Archives: September 2006

Thanks for showing up, you 23 people you

The Daily News blogs, including Come on Feel the Nuys, were down again this morning, not even accessible to readers, let alone the bloggers who write them. But once again, all is well with the server in Denver, and we’re back in the proverbial saddle.

This site’s been pretty much fallow, not counting my Writely rantings in previous entries. That’s a quick and sloppy way to link four blog posts in a single clause. Apologies.

And I’m only excited about 23 people hitting 2,000 Days yesterday because … guess I don’t know.

If you blog in the forest, and nobody reads it, is it still there?

That makes no sense whatsoever.

Daily News blogs in stasis

The reason I don’t post here too much is that I do a whole lot of blogging for the Daily News.

But today the Movable Type interface over which we blog is down, even though most of the blogs themselves are up (although comments are kind of wobbly at present).

Stiill, we can’t post. Over here in the Blogger universe, I’ve been keeping This Old Mac and This Old PC going pretty good, and we’re in the process of creating a new, technology-related blog over at the Daily News, so all the techie crap will go there when the time comes.

Quickly, here’s what I saw today that’s cool:

Get the first five years worth of BoingBoing, the world’s premiere techno-geek blog, in one big, geeky 17,000-post file. This link isn’t the file itself — would I subject you to that without warning? — but it will get you there. Seriously, if you want to know what’s what with the Internet, technology and just plain geekiness in all its forms, BoingBoing is there for you, multiple times a day.

I know you use Mac OS X, but have you ever tried Mac System 1.0? You can read about it and actually download the damn thing here. Go back to the Mac’s very beginnings … although I suspect this bad boy will only run on 68K machines. Don’t have a working Mac Plus lying around? Didn’t think so. Go here to emulate it. Even a PC can do it.

Does “Marmaduke” puzzle you. This guy explains each and every comic.

The U.S.-Mexican border … as volleyball net. From the L.A. Weekly.

A Nietzsche-“Family Circus” mashup from

And last but really first, because it’s a blogger doing real get-out-of-the-house journalism, Mack Reed of L.A. Voice does an LAPD ride-along on Skid Row, where a greatly increased police presence is trying to deal with a very out-of-control drug-fueled situation.

From Avast to Open Office to Gimp and beyond

I can’t believe how many free applications I’ve been using lately. You can really outfit a PC and get real work done on it with these freeware programs. Not little utilities or come-ons to buy a non-crippled version, you can both save money (or in my case, “have applications,” as I’m not going to shell out $100 to $800 for programs for an 8-year-old PC) and be productive with the following:

Avast: Bruce recommended that I use this free program for virus protection. It’s free to home users only, and you must register, but for a free antivirus program that updates automatically, I’m pretty OK with that. It’s been working great so far — updates come down whenever I have This Old PC hooked up to the DSL.

Open Office: We use this at the Daily News after years of telling sources, ” We can’t open up attachments, especially Word files …” Well, now we can — and we can work on documents, spreadsheets (lots of sites like Nielsen Media Research’s press site offer their information in Excel format), “presentations” (I guess this is like PowerPoint), HTML documents (I haven’t tried it yet) and Drawing (also haven’t tried it).

It’s a real Office-like suite of applications that’s being pushed by Sun Microsystems as a kind of Microsoft-annoyer. And I’m sure it’s doing a good job at that. Most people — me included — aren’t tapping into the arcana of Word. I’m just trying to write stuff, and Open Office does great with that. And it works on Windows, Mac OS X and Unix.

The GIMP: The latest program to join my freeware linup is GIMP, which stands for Gnu Image Manipulation Program. It’s basically a Photoshop substitute, and for what I need to get done, it works like a charm. Mostly I need to take big photos and shrink them to specific sizes and resolutions for the Web. Again, at the Daily News we don’t all have Photoshop, but many of us have begun working with art — mostly for the Web. I couldn’t figure out how to make GIMP put a black border on a photo, and at one point I just deleted the whole program in frustration. But Daily News web guru Josh Kleinbaum told me that you have to “stroke” the photo. So a “stroke” is a border in photo speak … I never know. Well, first you select your photo, then add the “stroke,” so I’m all good with the GIMP.

The funny thing about installing GIMP is that you need the program itself and something called GTK+ — both available via links at the GIMP site. The program also runs on Windows, OS X and Unix, so you can have a familiar application on every platform you work on.

While I think the trend in computer applications is toward server-based, or more specifically Web-based applications, programs that are installed on individual PCs will still hold sway for years to come.

And when it comes to hardware like This Old PC, an 8-year-old Pentium II MMX at 333 MHz, the whole idea of purchasing new, off-the-shelf applications tuned to 1.8 GHZ processors and Windows XP is nothing short of ludicrous. It’s either scrounge for older, used versions of software that work better with the old hardware, or try these free programs, which are often less laden than their commercial equivalents. And if it doesn’t work, or is too slow, what have you lost? Certainly not money.

These are the major free programs that I use. I’d love to know about others — and I will be on the lookout for them, both for the PC platform and the Mac.

Free Wi-Fi update

My ethical musings aside, I tried the free Wi-Fi connection this morning, and it wasn’t working. I stayed connected, but the DNS address was sketchy at best — it kept cutting in and out. Mostly out. Moving the antenna did nothing but make it worse.

Soon I’ll have to go to the next round of Wi-Fi networking, trying different spots for the router that can potentially hit both the bedroom and The Back Room. I’m still eyeing the “telephone table” drawer, which, as its name warrants, has a phone jack. There are already two wall worts there (for the cordless phone and answering machine), and I’d have to add two more (router and modem). So I’d need either two extension cords or a power strip that can accomodate four power transformers (maybe one of those “octopus” things?). I’ve though about mounting all the equipment in a plastic box of some kind under the drawer. That would leave the drawer itself for all the other crap we keep in there.

I’m pretty sure I can hit the bedroom with Wi-Fi from there — it’s about 20 feet. But will it go from there to The Back Room? Well, I can easily power up the router from under there and check for a signal. I don’t have to wire it up just to see if it’s working radio-wise.

This old Toolbar

Goodbye, Yahoo! Toolbar. We had quite a few good years together, you at the top of my Internet Explorer screen, allowing me to do searches without opening a Yahoo! window (hey, wait, that’s built into Safari and Firefox).

And I could click on my Yahoo! Mail, or anything else I could stuff up there — Like Yahoo! Movies and Yahoo! TV, both of which I use with some frequency.

I had all my IE “favorites,” all nine hundred and fifty-something of them, uploaded as bookmarks. I never had to access them through the Toolbar, but at least they were there. It sure helped when we got new computers at the office and I wanted to preserve them all. I just downloaded from Yahoo! and somehow followed the instructions — and it worked.

But I had to cut you loose, Yahoo! Toolbar. I’ve been having trouble with the Web-posting interface (is it a program, a system?) for the Daily News, which is used by all of the MediaNews Group papers across the country — and which can only be accessed via IE on a PC (not on anything on a Mac, even IE, nor on any other browser on any other system). I’ve been unable at times to save my work or upload photos.

When I called for help a month ago, tech support in Denver (the MediaNews HQ) had me dump my cookies and temporary Internet files and empty my “trash.”

Remember the last time dumping your cookies, temporary Internet files and trash did anything?

Didn’t think so.

Well, the guy in Denver had no ideas, and he said to contact local tech support here in Woodland Hills.

I did that. I left a message (that’s how you do it here — you leave a message).

Computer guy Jerry showed up within five minutes. He worked on it for a few minutes, took a screen shot (for his scrapbook, I guess) and said there was nothing he could do.

Before he left (as I was cracking walnuts on my desk — no nutcracker for us), he said, “What’s this toolbar?” “We should delete it.” I said OK. At this point, I’ve been frustrated enough to try anything.

Jerry leaves. He doesn’t remove the Yahoo! Toolbar. So I do a quick Web search on how to do it (takes about 5 seconds), and I remove it.

Problem solved. IE works fine with the Web-authoring site. Now I’m running naked IE 6, no toolbar, no tabbed browsing (probably the only cool thing the latest Yahoo! Toolbar added — and how a toobar adds something as complicated as tabbed browsing, I’ll never know. Somebody should win a programming Nobel Prize for that one).

Somehow, I’ll go on. I’ve already blabbed plenty about how I prefer IE, even though, yes, I know that Firefox is so much better, yadda, yadda, yadda.

While on that subject, I was running Firefox on This Old PC a few days ago. I needed to print. Now I almost never print any more, but I was making a “Finding Nemo” coloring page for the kid, and Firefox just hung on it — nothing was happening. While it was hanging, I started IE 5.o, found the page and printed it. Then I stopped the print from Firefox, which I expect was never going to come out.

Once again, the lean and mean IE gets it done. So should I upgrade to IE 6? I’d love to try 5.5 and see how it does … but getting it from Microsoft, or anywhere else for that matter, seems impossible. Bastards.

Ask the Macist

There’s a great new column on the Laist blog called Ask the Macist. Here’s the bio of its author:

About Chris Ullrich (aka the MACist): Chris is a frequent contributor to LAist
as well as other publications and also tweaks Macs (and PCs) for clients in the
Entertainment Industry.

Well, that’s Entertainment Industry, capital E, capital I. But Ask the Macist is pretty darn good nonetheless. And since I need all the help I can get, I plan to mine it for all I can.

The first question, about running Windows programs on Macs, doesn’t interest me because a) I don’t have an Intel Mac, and b) I don’t plan on getting one.

But the second question, on how to back up a Mac, is something that interests me greatly. Chris recommends one of those big Firewire drives that are available at the Apple Store and, of course, Fry’s, and probably everywhere else you’d expect. He goes further to recommend three separate backup programs.

But one caught my eye.

Superduper backs up a Mac by mirroring the entire hard drive. In the event of a problem, you could boot the computer from the backup drive. Best of all, it only costs $27.95. At this price, I’m more than happy to pay for something that is useful and not a gratuitious $300 that only a giant business can afford. The program is available for free download, but to “unlock scheduling, Smart Update (which saves a lot of time), Sandboxes, scripting and more!” you can register from within the program. So you can even try it for free (requires OS X 10.3.9 and above, by the way).

For such an important function, and at such a low price, it pays to register.

I love e-mailing to Blogger

Not that I have to do it very often, but if I
were blogging from the Powerbook, I’d probably post
via e-mail with Netscape 4.7.

Go into Settings, then E-Mail in the Blogger
Dashboard to set it up.

If only Movable Type had e-mail capabilities.
That’s what the Daily News uses. If only …

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around

Power Mac G5

I told my mom I would start looking after her Power Mac G5 — you know, they look like something off the original “Star Trek” set. It’s about 3 years old. It’s currently running 10.3.2, I believe.

First thing, I don’t have the password. Her “consultant” says it doesn’t have one set up. Is that possible? I’ll have to check that out. When she got this box, he said her Netgear router would no longer work, and he took it and replaced it with some weird hub. I’m going to get another Netgear router — better to have the hardware firewall AND the ability to share the Internet connection if needed.

Second thing, gotta check the memory. If it’s got 512 MB, it’s time for 10.4 (or for more memory and 10.4).

And we need to figure out a backup solution. Probably one of those 250 or 500 GB USB/Firewire drives.

Dance with the sofware that brought you

I took This Old PC from Windows 98 to 2000. I won’t go to XP. It came to me with Office 97. I won’t upgrade it. I added free virus software Avast, which my friend Bruce says is better than Norton/Symantic. Firefox? Check. And I’m about to try IE 6. It’s got Wi-Fi and Ethernet (both added by me). USB 1.1 (I haven’t bothered to even think about 2.0).

Also added: Optical mouse (for no good reason); TDK CD burner (years ago) that never could burn an audio disc without clicks and dropouts; and Iomega ZIP USB (works flawlessly). I stuffed the box with as much memory as I could, and it recognizes 262 MB of it.

To change OS or Office versions at this point would be unwise — it works as well as it’s ever going to. If for some reason I need to open Word files in some “higher” version, I’ll install Open Office, but I hope to avoid it.

This Old Mac, the Powerbook 14oo, went from OS 7.5.3 to 7.6.1. I added 32 MB of memory for a total of 48 MB. The best “new” software I got was LiteSwitch (from System 7 Today), which enables me to switch programs with Command-tab, just like in OS X and on Windows. And it is light.

The PB still runs Office 6. No plans to upgrade that, either. Even though that MS package is “Optimized for Power PC,” it’s slow enough. The best thing I did: Adding Internet Explorer 5 (which I also got from System 7 Today). I downloaded a bunch of stuff — every version of Netscape I could find, iCab, Eudora and more, almost all of which I’ve deleted because it doesn’t work (or work well). I kept WriteNow (but haven’t used it much). What’s nice is that 7.6.1 is loaded with great stuff, from valuable utilities to full-blown software (principally ClarisWorks).

It’s all about hitting the sweet spot. Still, it’s sometimes better to have an application work poorly (slowly) than not to have it at all. As long as you’ve got a swifter alternative (or a lot of patience).

"The Good Old Days of Computing"

On Low End Mac, Tommy Thomas writes about “The Good Old Days of Computing,” going back to the early ’90s and before. I guess it’s all nostalgia when you look back.

I continue to be troubled by the disposable nature of computer hardware. That’s a lot of stuff to be throwing out, and a lot of expense, too, especially if you’re talking about a current Mac. I don’t think there’s a desktop or laptop under $1,000 in the line now, except for the Mac Mini. (On second reading, the moral of this story is, “Get a Mac Mini already!”) And you can get a bare-bones Windows box from Fry’s for $300 or even less. That’s when “disposable” doesn’t hurt the pocketbook so much.

But still, it would be nice to both get a few more usable years out of a computer and be able to either upgrade its hardware or recycle the whole damn thing.

It all depends on what you want to do with the box. At this point, I have to say that Web browsing is the No. 1 “killer app” for most people. As long as your hardware, operating system and software can handle most of the Web-browsing tasks out there, you can stick with your system. If you’re comfortably running OS X, there’s Safari and Firefox.

OS 9? You can stick with Internet Explorer 5.1 and whatever version of Netscape will work. Not bad, but not ideal. Once you start dipping back to OS 8 and 7, it gets even murkier.

I’m no expert on OS 8 or 9, but for OS 7 (I’m now using 7.6.1), pickings are rather slim. The original IE 5 for Mac still works fairly well, but not on all sites, and you’ll have trouble with Java and Flash. I’ve never gotten iCab to work without crashing fairly often, but I’m willing to try again. And I use Netscape 4.7 for e-mail because I have never been able to get any 7.6.1-compatible e-mail program to work with my POP account.

My Powerbook 1400 already had Office 6 installed (plus Appleworks if I need it). It has a working Powerport Platinum card with 10baseT Ethernet. I can do a little bit on the Web, check my various Web-based e-mail accounts, go on Google Groups, and send e-mail from Netscape if I’m so inclined. But I can write Word-formatted files and e-mail or transfer them out of there, and that’s my killer app. It’s all in the friendly Mac interface. And the hardware cost me nothing.

Let’s be frank, I’d love to have a second iBook. Our current 14-inch iBook G4 has held its value very well over the three years we’ve had it. I can’t see having problems using it for another four or five years, I think (and I hope). It’s running OS X 10.3.9, and we’ve got Firefox and Office on there, too. It burns CDs but not DVDs. (I wish it had the Superdrive, of course.) And it’s a very nice computer to use. Would I acquire another one in a couple of years if I could get it near $200? You bet. Current used prices through dealers are $600-900. Now that’s holding value.

iBook G3s are cheaper, going for $250-$500, but they already can’t run 10.4. Not that I’m running anything past 10.3.9 right now — or need to. If you can get a good one for $300, that could serve you well for a few years.

$300 for three years? How does that differ from $1,000 for six years? Well, it’s cheaper up front AND on a per-year basis. Even if the $300 computer only lasted two years, you’d still be money ahead. You wouldn’t have “enjoyed” the first years of a completely new computer, but you will have saved some money. And if you don’t keep it as your main computer, that $300 laptop could go years longer in limited use.

This may sound a little strange coming from This Old Mac, which champions the continued use of 10-year-old hardware, but I’ve always said that if you’re going to have only one computer, it’s nice to have one that does everything you need it to do. A second, third or even fourth computer can be less powerful — if you need to do something the older box can’t do, you’ve got options. Of course all this depends on whether or not you’ve got the money for a new PC. $1,000 ain’t chicken feed.

While Microsoft is trying to make everybody upgrade to XP and Vista, there’s still a lot of life left in Windows 2000 (which I run on This Old PC) and maybe a bit ‘o life in Windows 98 (though the inability to get Wi-Fi and card readers working in that OS prompted me to upgrade). And you can still run IE 6 and Firefox in both 2000 and 98, providing your hardware can keep up.

The bottom line for old-Mac users (different than old Mac users, no hyphen) is the waning support for the classic Mac OS. Not everybody can (or should) be running OS 9, and even then there are problems. From my browser-centric prospective, there should be a Safari AND a Firefox for — at the very least — OS 9.

It won’t happen.

There’s a lot you can do with older hardware. Do what it does best, don’t spend a lot of money and you’ll be happier.

The questions I am asking myself: What’s the usable life span of a computer? Is that life span changing — getting longer or shorter? And how do you compute the most efficiently for the least amount of money and waste?

While much depends on individual circumstances, configurations and needs, I think the average computer life span is holding steady at eight years. I think you have five good years and three iffy ones. Then it becomes a stealthy game of upgrades, tricks and compromises to keep the machines relevant.

That’s where This Old Mac and This Old PC come in, at least for me. I wouldn’t be subjecting myself to this if I didn’t in many ways enjoy it. It’s the thrill of victory over free hardware, of making something thought useless work — and sometimes work well. And I do get a kick, although sometimes I wonder where, out of actually using these older boxes.

Next: I assume responsibilities for a Power Mac G5, which doesn’t seem old but isn’t exactly new in the wake of Intel Duo Cores and all that. Do I take it to 10.4 or 10.5? What’s the best/cheapest backup solution out there today?

First thing — a Power Mac G5, purchased the same year as an iMac G4, will last longer. Costs more, too.

Second thing — I guess I should start a This New Mac blog, but I won’t. All Power Mac G5 news will remain here. It’ll be old soon enough when the Intel Trio Cores (or whatever they want to call them) and OS XI (or whatever they want to call THAT) rear their respective heads.