Posts by davelawrence8.

Love Notes to Newton

March 19th, 2021

Love Notes to Newton

It’s been so quiet around here I forgot to let people know: there’s a great documentary about the Newton!

Love Notes to Newton, from filmmaker Noah Leon, is a collection of conversations with the Newton community: inventors, Apple executives, developers, and fans. It’s a beautiful story chronicling the full history of the Newton, from idea to prototype to launch, and the fandom that still flocks to the MessagePad and eMate all these years after its cancellation.

And hey, Noah was nice enough to ask me to participate:

Dave Lawrence in Love Notes to Newton

The real story, though, comes from conversations with people who were there at its creation, and who are still there as collectors, tinkerers, and enthusiasts.

Noah, with all his collaborators, did an incredible job on putting this film together. Go buy it, and help spread the word.

Rebooting a PowerMac G4 Blue & White

March 17th, 2021

PowerMac G3 booting

After my inventory of all my classic Apple gear, the first big project was figuring out why my PowerMac G3 Blue & White (Yosemite) failed to boot up.

The symptoms:

  • Mac starts up, and chimes the familiar Mac OS boot chime
  • I hear the hard drive cranking away and the fans kick on
  • The new Apple Studio Display registers that a signal is coming in, but nothing shows up on screen

After leaving it sit for a bit to warm up, nothing changed. Time to troubleshoot.

First thing’s first: start with one stick of RAM and see if that works. I started with the lowest memory RAM stick, and after trying to boot, got the familiar “bad RAM” beep. That one’s out! After a few more tries, I found one RAM stick that let the Mac start the bootup process.

Great! We’re in business! I let the PowerMac boot into OS 8.6, and started a Disk First Aid routine to make sure everything in the hard drive was working properly. Everything passed with flying colors.

Since the Mac booted into the OS, I figured a fresh restart would be a smart idea. But that was a mistake. The PowerMac would not boot back into the OS, even after zapping the PRAM, performing a variety of key commands on startup, and multiple restarts. Nothing.

Thanks goodness for the internet. I found a few tips online about disconnecting the motherboard to reset the power supply, performing a hard reset to the motherboard, and letting the PowerMac sit in a time out and think about what its done (okay, that one’s mine).

I tried these techniques over and over again, in a variety of steps, like conducting some ancient spell. A dash of cuda resets, a pinch of removing the PRAM battery, invoking the Command-Option-P-R incantation – I went through a week’s worth of this witchcraft, trying in vain to get that Mac OS 8 boot screen again.

Then, I started at the beginning. What were the exact steps that worked last time? Let’s try that.

Another PRAM zap, and while the Mac hangs on boot, hit the reset button again. It worked. Magic.

Welcome to Mac OS

And here the PowerMac sits, two weeks after I took it out of storage, still humming along and plugged in – mostly because I’m nervous to shut it down again.

Up next for #MARCHintosh: Syncing up my Newton MessagePad and eMate.

Starting Fresh: My Collection in 2021

March 9th, 2021

Making a list...

Jumping back in during #Marchintosh, I needed to do some inventory and check-ins on my Mac and Newton collection. What was working, and what wasn’t? Which PRAM batteries had died, what needed a restore, and what failed to turn on?

Here’s what my collection, and their status, looks like in the first part of 2021.

PowerMac G3

My blue and white G3 Power Mac was still the hub of my collection. It served as the main connection point, a storage system for my old iMac G3 hard drive (and every app and document on that iMac), as well as the backup and sync Mac for my Newton MessagePad and eMate.

In short, it was iffy. After booting up the PowerMac and hearing that familiar Mac chime, the system would not show a screen on my new Apple Studio Display. I went through the usual checklist: swapping out the PRAM battery for a new one, checking RAM sticks to make sure none went bad, a variety of key presses during the startup phase. Nothing. No screen.

Then, after a reset of the motherboard (a tip picked up from an archived G3 manual), and with only one RAM stick (out of the four I had in the slots), magic!

Welcome to Mac OS

I did a quick Disk First Aid routine, checked to make sure apps and documents were still there, and then – for reassurance – rebooted the PowerMac.

Then, naturally, nothing. I was back at square one. The only thing I could be sure of was the Mac did work, had everything on it still, and had now become a mini project all its own.

Newton MessagePad 110

First things first: a new set of AA batteries. I grabbed some rechargeable Amazon batteries, popped them into the Newton, and *bing* up it came. The only problem was the memory button battery had gone dead, so I was back in 1994 and the only contact in my Names was “Bob Anderson.”

Newton MessagePad date

But the MessagePad still worked! I knew I had a backup file somewhere around here…

iBook G3 Blueberry

Ah, my road trip Mac. I love picking up these clamshell iBooks and feeling how sturdy and tough they still are. That’s why I picked this Mac as my cross-country companion: I could drop it off the grand canyon and…well, have a mess. But you get the idea.

I remember thinking about replacing the battery years ago, but never got around to it, so plugging it in with the UFO AC adapter was my one option to boot it up. And good news – it booted into that familiar Jaguar pinstripe desktop.

iBook G3 desktop

Looking around at the files, photos, and music on the iBook, it held some great memories of my Route 66 and Yellowstone trips in iPhoto, blog posts in AppleWorks, and road trip soundtrack songs in iTunes 3.

Newton eMate 300

Sad news: the battery I installed in the eMate is long gone. The machine itself doesn’t even boot up, even when plugged into AC power. I have to add the much-loved eMate to my project list as well.

Macintosh LCII

This little pizza box Mac was a pickup at my old recycling gig. My friend Curtis told me all it needed was a fresh PRAM battery and it should boot right up.

The other element I needed for this Mac was a monitor, something I had now with my Apple Studio Display. A quick adapter later and I had it hooked into the VGA port, installed a new PRAM battery, and voila – it booted right up.

System 7.0.1

This LCII was a minimal Mac: it had one or two applications installed, ran System 7.0.1, and not much else. It was a blank slate, waiting for a purpose. But it worked.

And that’s the collection, minus my OG Mac, the iBook G4, but that’s sitting comfortably in retirement in the basement.

Most of the rest of the collection worked. The others would keep me busy during the rest of #Marchintosh.

Back In Action

March 1st, 2021

Apple Studio Display

After 10 years of on-and-off tinkering, I’m kicking off #Marchintosh with a fun new project: purchasing and connecting an Apple Studio Display to my blue and white PowerMac G3.

The first step? Finding a monitor! After selling off my CRT studio display, I had no way to view my PowerMac G3. I wanted something small and light, and wanted to stick with the G3-era hardware. Luckily I found an affordable display on eBay.

It arrived in great condition, fully working, and ready to connect to the desktop. However, it’s been seven or eight years since I booted up the G3. I took this as an opportunity to turn on and test all my classic Apple devices: iBook G3, MessagePad 110, eMate 300, and a Macintosh LC II.

I quickly learned I needed to install a couple of fresh PRAM batteries in the Mac motherboards, swap out dead batteries in the Newtons, and buy a few adapters to connect the VGA Apple Studio Display to the LC II.

This month, in honor of #Marchintosh, I’ll explore how my old devices are working, what needs help or fixing, and how this Apple Studio Display helps me classic Mac in style.

Where Apple and I Differ

November 2nd, 2016

Apple’s release of the new Touch Bar MacBook Pro has made a lot of news. There’s good reason: it’s a signal to us longer-term fans of Macintosh computers that things are different now.

I don’t have a whole lot to add to the commentary that’s circulating, but what I do have is personal thoughts about my working relationships with Mac, sprinkled with a bit of sentimentality.

The Chime

You don’t buy a Mac because it does spreadsheets and websurfing better than any computer. You buy a Mac because you appreciate the design, enjoy using the operating system, and love the little personality quirks.

Like the start up chime.

The Mac start up chime doesn’t add anything to its usability or purpose. It doesn’t make your work stand out, or help Safari render websites faster. What it does do, however, is help you appreciate the computer on your desk, or on your lap. It’s the spark of personality that inspires people to name their computer. It’s a signal to say, “I’m going to work on this computer that I enjoy using.” It’s the orchestra warming up before the big performance.

The lack of the chime, while not the end of the world, is another example of the Mac losing its personality over time. And that makes me sad.

(I mean, the sound is so iconic it’s in a Pixar film!)

While surely it added nothing concrete to the Mac user experience, taking it away eliminates a bit of the spirit that was in the Macintosh all these years.

Ports and Dongles

I get it: introducing and picking a winning port has historical precedent, and maybe it’ll all end up just fine.

But Stephen Hackett’s point that a G3 PowerMac held on to legacy ports is apt – in fact, it’s why I keep my blue and white Yosemite around.

For “pros,” a diversity of ports is important: photographers’ needs are different than audio engineers’ needs are different than illustrators’ needs. Over time, it may be that USB-C takes over the world, but we don’t live in that world yet, and pros have to get work done today.

Now it seems Apple is in the dongle business more than the personal computer business.

Limiting Options

Only so much hard drive room. Only so much RAM. Only one kind of port. No upgradable hard drive.

You thought Steve Job was insistent about limiting your options on a Mac, Apple of late is taking his philosophy to another level.

Recent Macs’ lack of upgradability has been a real downer. I’ve owned my 2009 iMac for seven years now, and it’s lasted this long because I’ve kept up with upgrades – especially RAM. Memory needs change, and the fact that you can’t touch a lot of the parts of the make is depressing.

Want an upgrade? Buy a new Mac.

Not Meeting Eye to Eye

I feel like Apple is making a computer that works less and less like I do.

I’m a photographer, so the lack of an SD card slot stinks. The personality is leaving. The upgrade path is non-existent. Maybe the only saving grace is that Macs still run macOS, still the best operating system out there.

And it could be that I would be just fine owning one of the new MacBook Pros. It’s just that right now I’m in the market for a new iMac, and those options aren’t all that appealing either. If/when an iMac update comes, do I see things getting better or worse?

Worse. That’s what makes me nervous.

Celebrating #Apple40Years

April 7th, 2016

My internet and classic Mac pal Riccardo Mori of System Folder is celebrating #Apple40Years over on his Twitter account, and it’s been a ton of fun to follow along.

What’s amazing to me is how even some of the recent (past 10 years or so) Apple products seem like classics now.

A true trip down memory lane. Thanks Riccardo!

How to Disable Auto Log Off on Mac OS X

August 31st, 2015

So your Mac keeps logging you off automatically? After about 30 minutes?

My work iMac, running OS X 10.9.5 Mavericks, kept logging me off after a period of a half hour or so. I would leave my desk for a meeting, say, and come back to find me logged out and all my applications closed. Grindingly frustrating.

After lots of searching, I finally found the solution – almost by accident.

Pref pane on Mac OS X

Head to Preferences, and the Security & Privacy pane (above).

Advanced tab in Security & Privacy

Go to the fourth tab at the top, “Privacy.” Hit the “Advanced…” button at the bottom of the window.

Uncheck the automatically log out

UNCHECK THIS BASTARD.

And done.

Hope that helps!

Apple II Watch

April 9th, 2015

Amazing. Sign me up.

[via Kottke]

Looking back at Newton packaging

November 25th, 2014

Great look back at the style of Apple packaging in the early ’90s by Christopher Phin over at Macworld.

For a child of the ’80s like me, that style of photography—moody, low-lit, with shafts of light picking out form and texture—is still desperately exciting. And even as a kid, I was excited about the idea of working, of business, of being productive, so the kind of language and lifestyle you see in the pictures was terribly beguiling.

Indeed. Like a haircut, you can tell what era you’re in from the packaging. But Christopher makes an interesting note: all the work done to market the MessagePad on the packaging may have been for naught if they were hidden behind a sales counter.

Apple still offering Aperture with new Macs

August 1st, 2014

Interesting find: I’m spec’ing out a new iMac and find that Apple is still offering Aperture as a pro software upgrade.

But wait, didn’t they officially say they’re discontinuing Aperture? And that support will be kaput by the end of the year? Why would they continue to offer a pro-level application if it’s not long for this world?

My only thought is that, since they don’t have the Photos app ready to replace Aperture, they have to have something in that video/audio/photo lineup.

Aperture is also still listed under their “Pro Apps” section of the Mac page on Apple’s website. And nothing on the Aperture page about being discontinued. App buyers can still plunk down their $79.99 and purchase it with no warning.