Mac laptops to buy (or avoid)

Currently being Slashdotted: the Macintouch iBook and PowerBook reliability survey. Usual statistical cautions apply: while the overall sample size of 4,614 repairs out of 10,627 respondents should yield reliable answers at the top level (when did your ‘book need to be repaired? did you buy AppleCare? have you ever dropped your machine?), it’s unlikely to do so at the machine level.

And yet. For the two machines I’ve owned (the Powerbook G3 Firewire and the 1GHz G4 TiBook), the stats are dead on. To wit: the three things that gave me problems on the G3 were the power adapter, the RAM, and the optical drive, and I’ve experienced serious case problems on the G4 TiBook.

Fortunately for Apple, it looks like recent AlBook models have been much more reliable. Which probably means that Apple really is due to introduce some new designs to shake things up at next week’s MacWorld Expo.

WordPress 2.0 hits the streets

Missed this over the weekend: WordPress 2.0 (née 1.6) has been released. I will be looking at the process to upgrade from 1.5 on the Boycott Sony blog, which is currently on WordPress 1.5. (This blog is on the Manila platform.)

Changelist, and what’s new from a developer’s perspective. I’m most excited about the default inclusion of Akismet for distributed spam blocking, as comment moderation for spam comments takes some time today.

Media wiring, penultimate chapter

On New Years Eve, I got a chance to work on a long stalled project—hooking up the cable wiring in our distributed media outlets. As you may recall, back in June and July I ran coax to outlets in the first and second floor bedrooms and connected them to a distribution block—really an oversized panel-mounted tee connector—in our structured wiring panel. That left the last step: connecting the distribution block to a live cable feed.

On Saturday, Lisa and I (with help from Esta) mostly finished this part of the job. What was required:

First: Reroute the existing cable hookup in the basement back behind the fake wall. This takes some explaining: Our basement is built with one finished room, which has drywall walls at a standoff (about six inches) from the actual foundation wall. This leaves a convenient space to run electrical cables back and forth to the service panel, since the panel is mounted in the false wall, as well as for other kinds of cabling projects. There is even a door in the false wall, which is for accessing the house water shutoff but which works well for fishing wire.

Back in 2004 when cable was installed in the basement, the installer drilled a hole through the left top of the window frame and dropped the cable directly into the room. I drilled a hole through the false wall on the upper right side of the window and pulled the cable across behind the blind hardware at the top of the window and through the hole into the access space.

Second: Fish coax cable from the media panel into the laundry room. This was straightforward, since there are lots of cables and ducts passing through openings in the wall between these two rooms that will be boxed in at some point in the future. With everything still open, I could just pass the cable by hand through the wall into the laundry room.

Third: Fish coax from the laundry room, inside the finished ceiling of the library, and down into the access space and connect it to the live feed. This was the nightmare. The last time I looked at the access space, it wasn’t too bad: just a few cables strung across. One of our electricians had even been thoughtful enough to leave a nylon string in place for pulling future cables through. Unfortunately, that was before the first floor ductwork and the bathroom renovations were completed. End result: it took about two hours to work my hand up and fish the coax across, without getting snagged on any live electrical wires or puncturing the insulated ducts, and then to retrieve the fish tape.

Oy. Finally, though, almost all the connections have been made. Still remaining: actually test the cable outlets in the two bedrooms; insert one more tee in the false wall; install an outlet on the wall in the library bedroom; and tack up the cables in the library and the utility room. I’m most nervous about the first item. Anything could have gone wrong with the coax going up to the bedrooms, including bad connector attachment (by me), drywall nails driven into the coax (also me), insulation damaged by the HVAC guys… etc. Well, we’ll see how it goes.

Dealing with a truculent iPod

My second iPod has reached the point of battery senescence. I hadn’t noticed the problem before, primarily because I normally keep the iPod plugged into a charger while I am driving. However, as I tried to update the iPod with some Christmas music, I realized that the thing no longer holds enough charge to complete a sync.

The problem is worsened because of my temporary setup during the Project. I have the single FireWire port on my TiBook tied up by the external 300GB drive that holds my music (and must, therefore, remain attached during the sync). That means I have to connect the iPod to the FireWire port on the back of the external drive, which is, unfortunately, an unpowered port (something I missed when I selected the Venus enclosure). So the iPod has to rely on its flickering battery during the sync and ultimately it fails.

I figured out a workaround this morning—sort of. I ejected and powered down the drive, then reconnected it using the USB connection. I then plugged the iPod into the FireWire port on the back of the TiBook, where it happily charged away. And a good thing, too, because the TiBook only has USB 1.1, which is slow. I think I got about 150 songs onto the device in 45 minutes. But it will do, for now.

The ultimate solution? Well, for one thing, once the Project is done I will be accessing the music files over the network, so there won’t be that problem any more. In the meantime, I think I need to look into battery replacement for the iPod, which means I’ll be updating the iPod Autopsy page with pics from the innards of my 3rd G device. I have some other ideas as well, but will try the battery replacement first to see how it goes.

Update: There’s also an Apple support note on five things to try with an iPod before sending it in for battery replacement. We’ll see.