Define "a Life"...

... still searching for a clear definition of that thing people keep telling me I need to get...

Location: Springfield, PA

Friday, March 20, 2009


A couple of weeks ago, during tech for A Tale of Two Cities, I got so frustrated with the now almost ridiculously short working time of my iBook's battery that I went hunting online for after-market replacement options. When I got the iBook G4 back in 2005, it would run on battery for around four hours, maybe even a little more if I shut off Bluetooth and wifi. These days, I get maybe thirty minutes from the time I disconnect from wall power. Just maintaining sleep cuts deep into the battery's charge; if it goes to sleep with a 100% charge, it might wake eight or ten hours later and indicate battery levels in the sixties. You can imagine how little operating time I get between waking it and needing to plug it in.

I'm not going to be able to afford anything major in the computer department in the foreseeable future. And, realistically, there's no need to upgrade the iBook. The hearty little fella's got what it takes to run OS 10.5 Leopard, although I'm still running Tiger 10.4.11 because that's the best my old snow iMac can handle and it's been easier to keep the two in synch when they're both running the same OS. In praise of snowy, I have to say he handles Tiger pretty well, considering that he's a G3, 500 MHz PowerPC 750, a full processor generation previous to the 1.42 GHz G4 in my iBook. (Yes, I bought my iBook barely a month before the first Intel-based iBooks shipped. At the back of the Apple Store in the King of Prussia Mall, behind the counter, there's a red phone that's a direct line to an office in Cupertino, California. Whenever I buy something, the tee-shirted Apple acolyte who sold it to me waits until I'm out of sight and then hurries straight to that phone to report. Two to six weeks later, the new version of whatever I've just bought is released. Seriously. I think it was only a week or two after I'd bought my 30 GB iPod that the next generation came out, with 10 GB more capacity for the same price. Not that I really experience any need for more room on the iPod I have. I'm just sayin'.) I swapped snowy's RAM up its maximum of 1 GB before upgrading from Panther to Tiger, an extremely easy bit of business that testifies to the fact that the advancements in form factor and friendliness after Jobs' return included internal design as well as external. Although things sometimes move a little slower on snowy than they do on the iBook, the performance lag is usually not enough to be a real bother. Sure, Dashboard's a bit jerky, and the current iTunes has features that are effectively a waste on this machine. I know some of that is processor speed, but since the most prominent (and annoying) sluggishness manifests in rendering busy web pages, particularly those with lots of Flash clutter which never runs smoothly anyway, I suspect much is a result of limitations with snowy's graphics card. No drama. I can live without being able to watch video in iTunes on my iMac.

I'll likely bite the bullet soon and start running Leopard on my iBook, though. The two Macs we have at work now -- a MacBook Pro and a sexy Mac Pro (purchased only a few weeks before the most recent upgrade came out, which I can only see as further proof of that red phone) -- are both running the current 10.5.6, and there's just enough difference between that and Tiger that I'm finding switching from one interface to the other, which I'm sometimes doing with my machine sitting right next to the Leopard machine, slighting jarring. So I'm weighing that inconvenience against the inconvenience of juggling the two operating systems at home.

I'm also thinking ahead to my eventual entry into the iPhone cult, at which point solid synching between my iPhone and my primary Mac (which is now my iBook, really) will be the defining concern. I expect that will want, perhaps require, that my iBook run the most up-to-date OS. Everything that was is now MobileMe. Although I've not had any substantial hiccups with my old Dot-Mac stuff that transition, I don't think everything will mesh as cleanly once I introduce a third element into the equation, especially if that third element is of a different generation than the other two. So the iPhone will probably push my jump to Leopard.

At which time Snow Leopard will almost immediately begin shipping.

Looking ahead toward running current Leopard on my iBook, though, I'm thinking of bumping up its original 1 GB of RAM up to its maximum 1.5 GB. Its original configuration is 512 MB in the slot in addition to the permanent 512 MB on the board. At the time I bought it, the cost of putting a 1 GB DIMM in that slot was a lot more than the 512MB I went with. But memory gets cheaper, and the price for a 1GB DIMM is good deal less than it was. Since I'm not looking at a new machine for a while, it's worth a moderate investment to maximize what I can get out of the one I have. From what I can tell, performing a DIY swap of the DIMM shouldn't be too hard on this iBook.

But all this started out as an anecdote about my new battery (which, incidentally, has been powering the iBook during the entire time I've been tapping out this particular ramble, including breaks to answer e-mail and my other distracting sidetracks around the InterWeb). After shopping around a bit online, I decided to get a replacement battery from Newer Technology. Obviously, Apple isn't making the battery for my iBook at this point, but there are a lot of third-party options that claim to be OEM replacements. I did find a site selling used original Apple batteries, but I have to feel that another used battery would at best be the equivalent sending my own original battery back in time a year or two: it's still a three- or four-year-old battery. Some of the third-party options felt a little iffy to me. I'm sure Laptops-for-Less employs some very nice people, but I got a bad vibe.

So I received my new battery, but had to wait a few days before my schedule had an open span of time long enough to devote the iBook to conditioning the battery with a charge-discharge-charge cycle in the way the manufacturer advised. I've heard the typical nay-sayers dismiss the idea of conditioning for rechargeable batteries, but in battery units like this there's sometimes more at work than the simple chemical reactions of a charge. While Lithium-ion batteries don't suffer from memory effect the same way Ni-Cad batteries do, the literature on the NuPower battery I bought says the electronics that monitor charging and report working levels use a full cycle as a reference. Okay. What the Hell? I'll begin by following instructions.

And the instructions say the discharge portion of a conditioning cycle wants to drain the battery all the way in continuous use. Charge it for twelve hours, drain it, then let it charge to 100% again. So here's the bit that spurred this whole rambling top-heavy post. It's silly, but it did make me laugh. Whoever wrote the instructions here was sensitive to the fact that someone might for whatever reason want to get through the middle phase of this conditioning cycle as quickly as possible. Accordingly, they offered this suggestion:

You may accelerate this process by running applications to boost processor and hard disk usage. Playing a CD on shuffle in iTunes with full visuals turned on is a good way of draining the battery quickly.

I think it's the understatement the did it for me.


Blogger Eric Aitala said...

I've been in the same boat - most laptop batteries have a limited number of charge cycles before they crap out. There are some freeware apps which will tell you how many cycles have occurred and what shape you battery is in.


4:01 PM  
Blogger Michael Heath said...

Greg, let me know if you are in need of a new battery for Mr. iBook. I can still get a hold of them at UPenn at the academic price. Upgrading the memory on an iBook is easy as pie, though the price of PC2700 memory is on it's way up (I'm seeing $60 for a 1GB chip on

Worth mentioning: My mother has a handful of Mac Mini's in her department that need homes and are absolutely free to anyone who wants them. I don't know the exact specs of each system she has, but since there's only a few generations of Mini's out there I have full confidence they'll all run Leopard and Snow Leopard.

Side Note: I've befriended a number of Apple developers over the years. 10.6 will be announced in June, but if what I'm hearing is correct there's much work to be done still.

If want an iPhone, and you have MobileMe, you don't absolutely need Leopard. iTunes 8.1 and MobileMe need 10.4.11 or later, that's all. While it all certainly runs better on Leopard, if upgrading ruins your already-working set up, I see no reason to bother a functional ecosystem unless you absolutely want to.

Lastly, and as always, feel free to ask me for advice before upgrading. You know I always have my ear to the ground. The next 6 months are fairly safe if you are thinking of buying a new Apple computer since the next Intel mobile upgrade of any real significance won't be for another 7-9 months (and every Apple computer uses Intel's mobile platform except the Mac Pro). If you wait until November/December to buy, you may as well wait until January 2010, and it would be worth it, believe me. Don't buy an iPhone just yet: You'll be sorry come June...

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm also available for any Mac-related questions you may have, at any time.

I'd love to get some family members into a Mac mini, my parents are struggling with a 700 MHz eMac I picked up for them - it's a dog in the interwebs. Any extras your mom has would go to good homes - contact me at your leisure.

12:59 PM  

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