Charles Moore's Mailbag

Car Seats for Computing, ThinkPads vs. Mac 'Books, Power Outages, and More

Charles Moore - 2008.09.24 - Tip Jar

UPS for Mac mini, IMAP Not Great on Dialup

From Dan Knight in response to a recent mailbag column:


It's surprising and a shame that nobody has ever developed a UPS specifically for the Mac mini. Where a regular UPS converts AC to DC for storage, and then from DC to AC to power a computer, it could eliminate that second conversion by using an 18V battery to power the mini. (People who put the mini in a car routinely use 12V-to-18V DC converters.) This should result in a smaller, less costly UPS - perhaps one charged by the mini's AC adapter, which would further reduce its price.

You'd still need to provide display power....

As you may recall, from February 2001 through July 2003, I used a 400 MHz PowerBook G4 as my only computer, only buying a refurbished 700 MHz eMac so the TiBook could go in for repair. My setup included a Logitech Cordless Elite Duo keyboard and mouse (long since discontinued, but still working very nicely) and a stand to raise the TiBook's screen to a better working height. With RAM and hard drive upgrades, that PowerBook served me well for nearly 5 years, although the faster eMac quickly became my primary computer.

Today I use a Power Mac G4 with two 1 GHz CPUs, 2 GB of RAM, two 400 GB hard drives (one dedicated to backup), two USB 2.0 cards, and a 1280 x 1024 display. I would probably be happy replacing this with the hi-res version of the 15" PowerBook G4, which ran at 1.67 GHz. And if I could eliminate my dependence on Claris Home Page and Classic Mode (getting closer!), I would undoubtedly be totally thrilled with the performance of a 15" MacBook Pro.

Thanks for sharing the tip about PseudoAnacron. The only drawback I see is that it only checks when the program is launched, so if your Mac sleeps through scheduled maintenance routines, it's not going to help much. On the other hand, if you turn your Mac on every morning, it's probably a great tool.

Finally, I doubt you'd be happy with IMAP email for one simple reason: It works to synchronize your email collection between your computer(s) and the mail server. That's mildly annoying with broadband, but I suspect it would drive you to distraction over your slow dialup connection. (Have you ever been able to achieve better than 28.8 throughput from home?)


Hi Dan,

Excellent idea about a mini UPS. I suppose that the mini itself could run happily off a laptop battery, but as you note, powering a desktop display would be another matter. Perhaps a smaller, laptop-display sized desktop display as well for the mini?

Unfortunately, Apple seems to have lost interest in the mini.

Yes, I remember your TiBook era.

Thanks for the heads-up about IMAP synchronization bogging things down. As I noted in my recent comments about Time Machine, I'm not a happy camper with stuff going on in the background, especially if I haven't manually initiated it.

As for throughput, I can only recall seeing 28.8 here probably fewer times than I can count on the fingers of one hand, and only with a good, old US Robotics modem that I long since gave to my daughter. I get 26,400 bps on good days - sometimes 24,000. When I need speed, so to speak, I log onto the WiFi hotspot at the local library (12 mile drive) where I get a maximum of about ten times that or a bit better. Took me nearly an hour-and-a-half to download the humongous 601 MB OS X 10.5.5 Combo updater.

Last week I was talking to the company that has the contract to supply wireless broadband in this neck of the woods and was given the depressing prognostication that it could well be late 2009 before they get it going here. Satellite Internet is looking more tempting all the time, but sooooo expensive, and I have almost phobic resistance to long-term contracts (which I define as anything longer than month-to-month) for anything, which is one reason I don't have a cellphone. I don't have to enter into a contract for my land line phone, my dialup Internet, my electric power, and even my car insurance is on a six-month term with one month retained premium on a policy cancellation, so I fail to see why I should have to enter into a contract for cell or high-speed Internet.


Computing Chair/Car Seat

From Marion Delahan in response to Converting a Car's Front Seat for Use Around the House:

Maybe the best way to go is to try to acquire compatible fabric and make an upholstered/padded "skirt." It might make the whole thing more acceptable to your "better half" as well.


Hi Marion,

Thanks for the suggestion. I hadn't thought of that. It's a great idea!


Car Seat Computer Chair

From Brian:

Great idea, but for me, American car seats are too cushy, European car seats are much nicer. My VW has a height adjuster like an old-style barber chair and would make a great computer chair. Also, I'd go with five wheels on a circular base, it's more stable.


Hi Brian,

Yes, absolutely. You're right on all counts.

I remember the first time I drove a Mercedes-Benz. "What is this upholstered with - concrete?" was my initial reaction, but those hard M-B seats stay with you. I had a Dodge pickup that had pretty hard seats and found it somewhat the same, even for 500 mile legs on road trips.

That VW height adjuster would be ideal, and ditto for the five-wheel base (which is what my store-bought computer chair has.


Converting a Car Seat for Use Around the House

From Ken:


That was definitely the strangest article I've read on Low End Mac - at least the strangest one I can remember. :)

It must be that time of year when you are running low on ideas for Mac or Apple-related articles. I did "repurpose" an old car stereo for use in my computer room a long time ago . . . so I suppose I understand your "project." :)


- Ken

Hi Ken,

Actually, I have no shortage of "conventional" article ideas for Low End Mac, but this was a sort of whimsical piece I'd been thinking of for some time, and the Car & Driver magazine "10 Best Car Parts for Interior Home Decor" entry deadline coming up in early October served as a catalyst to get going on it.

I converted a tape deck pulled from a Nissan owned by a friend for home use some years back - and before that a really nice old Delco radio from a '65 Chevy I had.

I also have used door pulls from early-to-mid '60s British Austin and Morris sedans (I owned 17 assorted Austin Cambridges and Morris Oxfords over a period of 30 years) as drawer pulls on cabinets I built. They look and work great!


ThinkPads and Such

From Andrew:


Very interesting exchange you had regarding ThinkPads, their design, and comparison with Apple 'Books. As a longtime user of both Apple and IBM/Lenovo laptops, I'd like to offer some additional information.

The ThinkPad keyboard is justly famous, and despite my strong preference for OS X, when it's time for a heavy typing session, I always grab my ThinkPad. Knowing a bit about your preferences in keyboards, I can easily see why you would prefer the keyboard on a Pismo to that of a ThinkPad, but from the perspective of someone who does not share your particular disabilities, I can honestly say that (most) ThinkPad keyboards come close to perfection. ThinkPads (purposely) have longer key travel and more resistance than typical laptop keyboards, precisely the qualities you've mentioned a need to avoid.

ThinkPads also tend to be far more ruggedly built than recent Apple laptops. I too had a Pismo, numerous 12" and 15" PowerBooks, and a current Black MacBook, and my cheapest ThinkPad - a budget model R60 that shares most dimensions with the Pismo - is better built than any of them. The high-end T Series are better still, as are the ultraportable X Series. I've heard bad things about the new consumer SL-series, however.

What makes a ThinkPad so great is not performance, which in current models use pretty-much the exact same hardware components as the current MacBook and MacBook Pro models, and thus should perform identically under OS X. For that matter, there is an entire section of the ThinkPads forum dedicated to running OS X on ThinkPads, and while they share the same issues as other generic PCs running OS X, performance is not a complaint.

Your reader was also quite correct when mentioning that any ThinkPad that did not have a touchpad (except for the tiny X Series) would either be very old or a bargain-basement model. Either way, Windows performance is not a fair indicator, as it may have very low installed RAM, have a lot of resource-hungry IBM applications (need more than stock RAM), or be infested with crapware as Windows machines frequently are.

I briefly ran OS X Tiger on a 2005-vintage ThinkPad T42p. This was essentially equivalent to a first-generation MacBook Pro, only with better graphics and a slightly slower single-core processor. Tiger was an absolute speed-demon on that system, though I never got the sound to work through the built-in speakers (worked fine through the output or dock). What did work, however, was my docking station, which gave me one-touch docking. I also was able to combine a massive 9-cell battery and an ultrabay battery for 10 hour runtime (in Windows, no power management in OS X = 7 hours).

While the T42p was not reliable enough as an early Hackintosh, it did show that a ThinkPad could possibly make a better Mac than a real Mac. I strongly favor the ThinkPad keyboard and actually view the new MacBook style as being better than the Pismo keyboard. I also am a huge fan of the TrackPoint and despise touchpads, though Apple's are barely tolerable. Add the docking, dual PC or ExpressCard (54, not 36) slows and swappable drive bay in a system the same size and weight as a 15" MacBook Pro with better build-quality and the same components and you have a real winner if adapted to OS X.

I would buy one immediately.


Hi Andrew,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on ThinkPads.

We'll have to agree to disagree about keyboards and trackpads. My preference for the Pismo keyboard isn't just due to my struggles with neuritis. I just love the feel of the Pismo 'board and just don't get it, I guess, about why some folks are equally passionate about the "IBM-style" keyboards - laptop or freestanding, although it's not a bad keyboard - definitely better than average. I just like the feel and action of the Pismo 'board better. I'm not smitten with the MacBook and aluminum desktop Mac keyboards either, although I haven't spent enough time on them yet for a really thorough evaluation.

I'm not really a fan of trackpads except as an alternative to the TrackPoint (which I find uncomfortably stiff and counterintuitive and would absolutely not want to put up with it on a day-to-day basis) and trackballs, which are somewhat less annoying but not a whole lot. I prefer a good mouse, but IMHO the trackpad is the best of a bad lot in built-in laptop pointing devices. Some are better than others, and in my estimation the one in the WallStreet was the best Apple unit I've used, but my freestanding Cirque Easy Cat Touchpad is vastly better. [Editor's note: See Charles Moore Reviews the Cirque Easy Cat Touchpad on Applelinks.]

The ThinkPad I had here was an A20m, which will mean more to you than me as my ignorance of the ThinkPad model timeline is voluminous. My inference is that it was roughly contemporaneous with the Pismo. This ThinkPad as constituted and configured with Windows XP was really, really slow and sluggish. I suspected that the Windows XP Home installation was not in good shape, but being totally ignorant of Windows system maintenance procedures, and since it wasn't my problem (it was was a gift from a family friend to my daughter who is a computer tech with lots of Windows experience), I was disinclined to mess with it. She subsequently reinitialized the hard drive and did a fresh install of XP Pro and says that performance is now tolerable, albeit far from scintillating. She also says she would take a Mac by preference any day, but the ThinkPad "isn't really a bad PC as they go."

If there is any equivalent to Apple's Mac OS System Profiler or even the "About This Computer" panel, I was unable to sleuth it out. Apparently, the A20m variously shipped with Intel Celeron 500 MHz and 550 MHz chips, and also 700 MHz Pentium III chips (perhaps others as well). I'm guessing this one has a Celeron, which corresponds fairly with the Pismo's 500 MHz G3 750 CPU.

The A20m also was apparently sold with a variety of different displays, including 12.1", 14.1", and 15" sizes. This one has the small screen - with 800 x 600 resolution - and is no more satisfactory in the ThinkPad than it is in a low-end WallStreet PowerBook G3 Series or a Clamshell iBook. The 800 x 600 display is tolerable in OS 9 but feels exceedingly cramped running OS X. While the Pismo's 14.1" 1024 x 768 screen is not huge by current notebook display standards, it looks and feels expansive comparatively.

The two laptops are almost identical in footprint, but the Pismo is substantially thinner than the ThinkPad, and its slim profile and rounded contours make it much nicer to handle and carry, not to mention look at. The A20m is to my eyes not one of the most fetching ThinkPads aesthetically, with its sort of techno-utilitarian look, but it's not plug-ugly. It's just that the Pismo is so tastefully attractive by comparison.

This ThinkPad was heavier than the PowerBook, but not by as much as one would think based on perceived heft - 3.05 kg vs., 2.8 kg respectively. I would definitely give the Mexico-built ThinkPad the nod over the Taiwan-built PowerBook in look and feel of solidity and ruggedness. The Pismo has a good reputation for durability, so this impression could be more subjective than substantive, but the IBM unit did impress with its build quality, making the PowerBook feel a bit flexible and flimsy in contrast.

Both the A20m and the Pismo have removable optical drives, but I give the nod to the Pismo for versatility and slickness of drive (or battery) swapping.

I can easily get 10 hours runtime in OS X (10.4) with two FastMac or NewerTech extended life Pismo batteries. The A20m had PC-type Serial ports, VGA out, a single USB 1.1 port, and ethernet, but no FireWire or S-video out, so the Pismo had it beat there too on several counts.

However, different strokes, and it's partly a matter of taste and preference I guess. I was just surprised by how underwhelmed I was with a real, live ThinkPad after hearing so much praise being heaped on them for years.



The ThinkPad A20, being A Series, was considered a budget desktop replacement model that is actually contemporary with the Lombard PowerBook. A Series models were made between 1999 and 2002, with the A20 series being first generation. Also, if it had a Celeron and a 12" display, then you had the low-end model, which also only came with 64 MB or 128 MB of RAM. RAM is probably the reason why Windows performance was slow, though even maxed out at 512 MB the early Celeron processors were extremely slow. They had level 2 cache by this time (the original 300 MHz and 400 MHz Celerons didn't), but lacked most of the extended instructions of the Pentium II and Pentium III models. The 700 MHz Pentium III was about equivalent to a 400 or 500 MHz G3, while the 500 MHz Celeron was more like a 240 MHz 603e performance-wise - think somewhere between a PowerBook 3400c and a 300 MHz Lombard with low RAM.

Also as a model designed for desktop replacement use, the A20m was comparatively huge. It was a three-spindle machine having both a floppy and optical drive, and it weighed about 7 or 8 lb. I never owned an A Series for precisely that reason.

The ThinkPads that most people look at as the high-end are the T Series, which are a smidge over an inch thick, typically weigh about 5 lb. - even for 14" models - and are far more rigidly built than your A20m. T Series have titanium lids and bottoms, very high-grade plastics, and started at a 650 MHz Pentium III in 1999 and today have the same fast Penryn chips and even higher-end graphics chips than the MacBook Pros. They now come in both 14" and 15" sizes, have options for glossy or matte screens (MacBook screens are typically better than ThinkPad screens), and have multiple screen resolution options. The new ones (since the T40 of 2003) are in every way premium machines, and even the slowest T20, with sufficient memory, will run Windows XP very quickly.

I totally respect your opinion on the keyboards, but as ThinkPads go, the A20m is nowhere near representative of the best. It's like someone today taking a clamshell iBook with 128 MB of RAM running Panther and complaining that Mac laptops are slow and bulky. There are far faster Mac systems of even the same vintage, and running any OS with insufficient RAM is just asking for underwhelming performance and a poor impression of the machine. Run that same A20m with either 512 MB of RAM or with the then-contemporary Windows 98 or Windows 2000 (Me was horrible no what you do), and you will find that even with 128 MB (Win2K) or 64 MB of RAM (Win98) that the machine is quite speedy and pleasant to use, kind of like running that Clamshell iBook or Lombard PowerBook in OS 9 instead of OS X.


Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the ThinkPad tutorial. I'm now much more educated in TP distinctions.

As I said, I haven't a clue as to what this A20m had in it for RAM, and don't know whether it was a Celeron or a Pentium. The previous owner had been using it to run his real estate business, and it had a nice WiFi card with it. :-)


Time Machine and Drive Failure

From David:

Here's a thread I posted on Apple's support forums.

Since posting this, I have not had a single problem with the network drive. I use Time Machine occasionally on an external USB drive dedicated only to backups.

I'm convinced it's a Time Machine data problem, not a problem with wear and tear on hard drives due to frequent activity.

Hi David,

Thanks for the update. Glad your problem is solved, or at least in abeyance.


Power Outages and Early Portables

From Henry following up on Lessons Learned from the Macintosh Portable:

Charles W. Moore wrote:

"Oh yes. A 10 hour power outage is not especially unusual here."

You all are rather exposed. It's the price of living in a naturally beautiful area.

I lived in the mountains of San Francisco's east bay for many years. There were power outages with every storm. After a couple of years I went out and bought a generator, which solved the problem. The week after, PG&E came out and trimmed trees along their power lines, and the power never went off again. I keep that pristine yellow Suzuki generator to ward off outages, and it works in Texas too. We haven't lost power for more than an hour or so, which we can ride out with battery powered gadgets.

Compaq Portable IIIMy memory is faulty - the lunchpail I was thinking of was a Compaq Portable III. I thought GRiD had also built one in this style. But you were right to show the GRiD Compass, since it's the original clamshell design which Apple copied. The PowerBook 100 set the final form of clamshell portables with the recessed keyboard making a palm rest at the front.

Hi Henry,

Thanks. It is pretty here.

I also have a generator - a small one that I bought on sale recently for a price I found irresistible. It hasn't been used yet, but it's there for the next long one. I still prefer being able to ride things out in silence with the laptops and some extended life batteries.


Thanks Much

From Spin

Thanks much for your Installing OS X 10.4 'Tiger' on DVD-Challenged Macs Using FireWire Target Disk Mode. It has been very useful.

Best regards,

Hi Spin,

Delighted to hear that you found it helpful.


Hi, Charles,

Well, I've just appointed you as my official Mac Guru, which means I added to my reader your RSS feed (from - pity your page at Low End Mac doesn't have an RSS feed of its own, but I set it as start page in one of my browsers). I saw the list of your of Macs at your page in Low End Mac and made me think of my own: Mac Classic, PowerBook 165c, PowerBook 1400c, the blue clamshell iBook, and our current iBook G3 12", which is the family's laptop, plus the PowerBook G4 12", which I've borrowed sort of permanently from my employer. I think that after the Classic - which was my first own Mac and an improvement regarding the Mac Plus I used at work at that time - I haven't bought a desktop Mac anymore. It is already 21 years of Mac-life... :o)

Thanks for the good reading and better advice!


Hi Spin,

Thanks for the kind words and for the browser homepage configuration. I'm humbled.

Perhaps Dan will get back to you about LEM and RSS feeds. [Editor's note: That may be possible once we switch to a Content Management System. Joomla looks very promising. dk]

The list of my currently owned Macs needs a bit of updating. My ancient PowerBook 5300 is back, but the WallStreet has been handed off at least temporarily to my daughter. I now have two (actually 2-1/2) Pismos, and my main production machine these days is a 17" 1.33 GHz PowerBook. My wife has taken over the iBook G3, and it's still running just great.


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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