Charles Moore's Mailbag

Saving on Broadband, iBook G4 on the Fritz, and a Pair of Pismos with Problems

Charles Moore - 2010.06.25 -Tip Jar

One Way to Drastically Cut Broadband Cost

From Scott:

Hey Charles, Dan,

Here's my tip for your readers today: If a new broadband competitormoves into your area and offers a fantastic deal, call your currentbroadband ISP and tell them you want to disconnect. When they ask youwhy, tell them you're about to accept their competitor's fantasticdeal. Your ISP will beat their competitor's deal every time,guaranteed. This information probably won't help readers in areas withno broadband competition unfortunately.

I got a letter from Clear [Wireless Internet]today offering broadband as low as $30 per month. I've been paying $50per month for Time WarnerCable broadband for many years. I called Time Warner to disconnect,because somebody told me this tip, and Time Warner immediately loweredmy bill to $30 per month for a year, after which I'll have to call inagain or switch to Clear or whoever is the price leader a year from now(satisfied smile). One phone call just cut my bill by a hugepercentage.


Hi Scott,

Sounds like a strategy that's well worth a shot if onehas somewhere to jump should they call your bluff. But as you note, notmuch help in places like here where I live, where there is onebroadband provider (just over Can$50 per month tax-in) and one dial-upprovider.


Pismo: Can't Clean Install Any OS

From Lloyd:

Dear Charles:

Like you, I love the Pismo. However, my wife,recipient of an iPad for her birthday (Iwrote previously to let you know that I had it online via dial-up),bought me a new MacBookfor mine. (So much for our $50 gift limit...)

To help defray the cost of the new acquisition, I agreed to sell thePismo. (Our household consists of five people and seven Macs, plus theiPad, a Newton, and several iPods, so I can hardly claim that sellingit causes a computer shortage.)

The problem I've encountered is that after wiping the 40 GB harddrive in preparation for a clean install of OS X 10.2 (it had10.3.9 previously), it will now not let me load an OS.

The DVD drive is spotty, leading to several "target disk" installattempts, as well as several hours of fighting the DVD. Nothing works;OS 9, 10.2, Ubuntu, and Yellow Dog all either fail to load, fail toboot, or, the one time 10.2 worked, with issues - no USB, in the lastcase.

Short of opening her up and trying another hard drive, if you haveany suggestions, they'd be most welcome. Until then, my G4-upgraded,nearly spotless, 1 GB Pismo goes unused - and unsold.

Thank you.

Best Regards,

Hi Lloyd,

Some of the DVD-ROM drives that shipped with thePismos were not the best quality, and after ten years of use even oneof the better ones could well have developed a fault.

My first inclination would be to suspect the DVD-ROMdrive, but it's difficulty to confirm that without trying a known-gooddrive by substitution. I doubt that you want to lay out the capital fora replacement optical drive.

It could also be a hard drive issue. Actually,diagnosis by substitution is more practical in that instance, assmaller-capacity ATA2.5" hard drives are usually findable pretty cheaply, and swappinga hard drive into the Pismo is relatively easy. Having done it manytimes, I can do the swap in 10 or 15 minutes without hurrying.

Check out iFixit's excellent Pismo teardown guide for instructions.


Editor's note: If the DVD-ROM drive is bad, one optionis to use FireWire Target Disk Mode and a second Mac that supports it:Put the install disc in the other Mac's optical drive, connect the twomachines with a FireWire cable, restart the second Mac in Target DiskMode (hold down the T key during startup), and boot the Pismo from theremote disc, as documented in UsingFireWire Target Disk Mode to Install OS X on Macs without DVDDrives. If you already have a FireWire cable, this costs younothing.

A more expensive option is swapping the drivemechanism yourself (see Replacing Your Lombard orPismo Optical Drive with a SuperDrive) or buying an externalSuperDrive that supports FireWire (OtherWorld has one for $88). dk

Pismo Won't Boot with a Dead PRAM Battery

From Clay:

In your article on the Pismo [Low End Mac's CompleatGuide to the Pismo PowerBook], you refer to a Pismo not booting ifa battery is dead. Which battery and where? And can that battery bereplaced?

Well, okay, this battery thing wasn't in your article, but might youknow about the matter anyway?

Pismo owner since the beginning of Pismohood.

Hi Clay,

In some cases Pismos are known to refuse to boot ifthe rechargeable PRAM battery on the motherboard fails. The diagnosticfix is to unplug the PRAM battery.

Check out iFixit's guide to PowerBookG3 Pismo Troubleshooting for illustrations and detailedinstructions on how to proceed with unplugging and replacing the PRAM battery.

iFixit notes:

Bad PRAM Battery

If your computer hasn't been started in a while,your PRAM battery might have died. This is easy to test, because thePismo will start without a PRAM battery. Simply follow our free guideto unplug it. There is no need to remove it (No harm either). If yourcomputer starts with the PRAM battery unplugged, then replace the PRAMbattery.


iBook G4 on the Fritz

Hi Charles:

I enjoy your column.

I have a 2004 G4iBook. It has been acting flaky for a few months, but nothingserious till now.

It will start up and operate for a minute or two, hangs - then I geta grey dialogue box telling me I must restart the computer.

Needless to say, this is becoming intolerable. Does this sound likethe kiss of death ? Or is it reasonable to pursue a repair? Any ideas?


Hi Kevin,

It's difficult to diagnose from afar - or even in thecase of this sort of fault when one has the machine in hand.

This certainly sounds like the notorious iBook motherboard failure syndrome, and if that be the case,there's really little sense in attempting to repair it.

It would be prudent to test for such things as harddrive issues or defective RAM. My daughter's G4 iBook developedsymptoms similar to what you're experiencing when it was about 3-1/2years old. My advice to her was to buy a MacBook, which she did ratherthan spending good money attempting to repair what is now an obsoletecomputer with a very spotty reliability reputation.


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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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