mac

Computers are amazing

In a break from the typical kind of writing I do here, I'd like to mention a few thoughts I've had after reading some opinion pieces on the reparability (or lack thereof) of the new MacBook Pro with Retina display.

Early PCs and Macs

The first computer I owned was a scrap-parts 386 DOS-based PC. I found a working 386 processor from a broken computer, scrounged 1MB of RAM from a couple dead motherboards, found a small hard drive and floppy drive, and slapped it all together inside a huge metal case. It ran great, except when one of the components failed—which seemed to happen on a monthly basis.

My First 386 PC - Gutted
My first PC - and all the tools necessary for PC repair!

While using early PCs, I had to deal with IRQ addresses, serial port driver conflicts, floppy drive cables malfunctioning, hard drive errors, and power supply fuses breaking... not to mention the myriad software incompatibilities with various bits of hardware (and I couldn't just Google "<device name> + <windows 3.1>"!).

I even spent quite a bit of time hardware hacking with the first few Macs I owned (a Mac IIci, a PowerBook 180c, and then a few other Mac desktops and towers—more history here).

Throughout high school and college, I helped a few hundred people repair or upgrade their computers, first through 'Jeff's Computer Service' (as a side/hobby job), and then through Midwestern Mac, LLC (this site's company). I loved working on computers, and still do! From the earliest computers until the past five or so years, most computers required some level of technical knowledge to be used effectively, and required repairs and upgrades at least once or twice a year.

But times have changed; I've since dropped 'computer repair' from the services I provide, because the only service requests are for Windows users who have found some way to clutter up their computer with strange search toolbars and other junkware.

Minecraft Patching Guide for Macs

I've watched a few episodes of 'The Minecraft Project' on YouTube for inspiration, and I occasionally play Minecraft for an hour or two as a diversion (it's like LEGOs on a computer, but much more fun, because there are zombies!).

Jeff's Humble little Minecraft Farm
My humble little Minecraft farm.

One thing I've always liked is The Minecraft Project's look and feel, mostly due to syndicate's use of the DokuCraft Light texture pack. However, getting that texture pack to work along with other mods and patches (especially the automatic tool switcher mod) took some work on my Mac, and I thought I'd post my process for getting everything to work here, for the benefit of others having the same troubles (especially those getting the 'Use the patcher noob' messages where water, lava, etc. are supposed to appear):

"You have inserted a Blank DVD" – Opening discs from Windows on a Mac

A few times in my life, I've received DVD-Rs or CD-Rs that a Windows user burned and gave to me, and popped them in my Mac, only to receive a message, "You inserted a blank DVD [or CD]. Choose an action from the pop-up menu or click Ignore."

The problem is, there's no way to read the data from the disc on the Mac; you can try burning stuff onto it or simply ignoring it, but you can't read the pictures off the disk. I checked the data side of the disc, and, sure enough, there's a different color band where data was written. But it's a no-go on the Mac.

The problem here is that Microsoft/Windows decided to implement it's 'Drag to Disc' file copying feature in a somewhat annoying way; people with Windows computers can copy individual files to a burnable disc, eject the disc, and put it back in and copy more files to it. But they can't delete files from the disc, and this kinda breaks the way write-once media is supposed to work. (To Windows users: Make sure that you finalize/burn the disc completely before you hand it off to someone. Otherwise only Windows users can read the files).

Old Mac of the Month - Macintosh IIci (on 512 Pixels)

This month, my old Mac story about a IIci was featured on on the excellent Apple-related blog 512 Pixels, by Stephen Hackett: Old Mac of the Month: Macintosh IIci.

My old Mac IIci

I briefly mention the IIci in my (not-yet-complete) Computing History article here on Life is a Prayer.com. I really liked the IIci, and it's probably one of my favorite Macs of all time, especially considering I probably owned and used it the longest!

Special thanks to my brother and dad, who not only helped me get into electronics and computing, but also helped me edit the article.

Pick and Choose F-key usage (Brightness, Sound, Dashboard, etc.) on a Mac

For the longest time, I've flip-flopped on whether to check the 'Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys' option in the Keyboard System Preference pane.

I love using the volume up and down keys on the keyboard, and probably use them fifty times a day. I sometimes like using the 'Dashboard' key too. I rarely use the media control keys. I'm undecided on the F1/F2 keys, though... I would like to use them as brightness control on my MacBook Air keyboard, but when my Air is plugged into my external monitor and keyboard, I want to use those as F1 and F2 (especially for code folding in TextMate).

Lucky for me, I found this great bit of freeware: FunctionFlip.

It's a System Preference pane that lets you choose which F keys are used as standard function keys, and which ones are used for the marked purposes (brightness, volume, etc.). AND, you can even set things different depending on what keyboard you're using. Nice!

Supercharge your Key Repeat rates in Mac OS X Lion

As an ardent keyboard-only user of Mac OS X (mice are so early 90s!), I like having a very fast key repeat rate, allowing me to hold the delete key to remove characters, command-z to undo a bunch of things in my text editor, etc.

Since I have a MacBook Air without an Eject key, I had to use KeyRemap4MacBook to switch the F12 key to behave like the Eject key for the purpose of turning off the screen with the keyboard.

This gives me another nice feature, too: the ability to have extremely fine-grained control over key repeat rates. After installing KeyRemap4MacBook, you can click on it’s ‘Key Repeat’ tab in the System Preference pane, and set your own values (in ms) for waits.

I simply set the ‘Initial Wait’ to 200ms, and the ‘Wait’ to 25ms. These values let me type, delete, and undo things very fast. That’s sooooooooooooooo spiffy ;-)

Force-Sleep the Display on a 2010-2011 MacBook Air

[Update: It looks like Mountain Lion finally restored this functionality—you can press Shift + Control + Power key, and the screen will immediately go to sleep.]

The 2010/2011 MacBook Air models are all amazing, and I believe Apple will eventually convert all their Mac laptops to the same basic design (just different sizes), forgoing the optical drives.

The only downside to this new design is the lack of an eject key—of course, most people probably only knew the key could eject discs, so it's no big loss for them. I, however, use that key in a standard Shift + Control + Eject combination to instantly turn off my Mac's display to conserve power and prevent any pixel ghosting. I've used the combo for a few years, and it took me some time to find out a way to reliably do something similar on my new 11" MacBook Air.

There are a few ways you can get this functionality back:

MobileMe Stuck on 'Registering Computer...'? Try this

I was having tons of trouble getting my brand new 11" MacBook Air to get MobileMe Sync set up, and it kept getting stuck with 'Registering computer...' either when I checked the 'Synchronize with MobileMe' checkbox or when I clicked 'Advanced...' and then 'Register Computer'.

Since I've subscribed to iTools, then .Mac, and now MobileMe (soon iCloud) since 2000, I figured this may have something to do with the fact that, after all these years, my default AppleID would change to @me.com (rather than @mac.com, as it has been for years).

The steps you should try before giving up are as follows:

Steve

As many of my colleagues mourn the death of a great tech icon, Steve Jobs, I pray for his soul, and hope (sincerely) that he makes it to Heaven. For all his flaws, he was a good neighbor, an optimist, a great strategist, an opponent of pornography, and he built up the tech industry in ways the future history books will show.

Steve Jobs

Much of my life has been lived along with products created or conceived by Steve himself (see my ongoing computing history here), and my current profession would be nowhere near as interesting as it is without his continual push towards extending the reach of technology into my life.

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