I’ve been using a spare MacBook from work for the last 2 years as an email machine. It came back to me from a former employee right after COVID hit, and I figured I’d flatten the drive to use it while I wasn’t in the office. I went to update it yesterday afternoon to 12.o Monterey and it wouldn’t let me get past a prompt for Jamf, an enterprise nannyware application that I don’t want my personal information sitting underneath. I could attempt to use my wheezy 15″ MacBook from 2008, but older software is getting harder and harder to support—older operating systems, browsers and email clients don’t support modern encryption, which makes things difficult on a day to day basis. For example, our twelve-year-old server in the basement, topped out at OS 10.7, can’t load and display email on Apple’s native client. So it’s looking like I’m in the market for a new laptop for the first time in a long while, something I wasn’t planning on.
Finley did a great job at school last week so I treated her to something new and interesting: we rode down the street (it was cold, y’all) to a store called Trax on Wax and went record shopping. At some point last year, Finn found a purple standalone record player at the thrift store and excitedly brought it home. She hasn’t had anything to play on it since then, and she mentioned getting some vinyl in the car ride home from karate last week. She had an idea of what she wanted to look for before going in—I made sure she listed a couple of options before we got out of the car— knowing exactly what would happen: we got in the store and she was immediately overwhelmed. I reminded her she was looking for the first Black Sabbath album (no shit) or some Beatles. I had a couple of ideas as to what I wanted so we split up and started digging. I found a good copy of Steely Dan’s Aja but she struck out on Black Sabbath, so I walked her over and showed her how to pick a good album within her budget. We chose The Early Beatles and I treated her to her first LP.
I’ve got a pair of turntables sitting in the basement: Dad’s old Scott XXX and a Technics SL-DD33, which I got from our visit to the Mildew House, along with some CCR and Elvis records. The Scott is a bargain brand unit probably sold at Sears or K-Mart back in the day, with an integrated stylus and a very basic speed adjustment. The Technics is a much higher quality unit, with a heavy slab platter, a weighted, balanced tone arm, and a direct drive motor. The stylus on the Technics is also cartridge-based, allowing for worn out needles to be replaced. The needle was trashed when I got it, so I put a replacement in my Amazon cart. In its place I hooked the Scott up to my basement receiver and played my first LP in probably 25 years. There’s a reason audiophiles use Aja as a test record: the signal from the Scott is weak and carries a strong hum; I also think the motor is going out because I could hear the speed oscillating slightly. So I’ll replace the stylus in the Technics unit and figure out which receiver to hook it up to. Then, I’ll start building a small library of classic jazz.
We had guests over for a lovely dinner on Saturday night, and I figured I’d set up some soft jazz in the background for mood music. I’ve got an iTunes library with a real nice jazz collection that I’ve spent years curating. For a long time, all it took to work was to have iTunes running as a shared server and the AppleTV would pick it up on the network; I could scroll through the shared media from there and play that through the head unit into the speakers. So that’s what I did.
But Saturday our AppleTV didn’t see the server; an app is supposed to pop up called “Computers” and from there the library is visible. But I didn’t see that. I checked the connections and realized the AppleTV was on the wireless network, so I hardwired it: still no luck.
Thinking it could maybe be that the ancient version of iTunes 10 I’m running downstairs (the server is a 2008 model and maxed out at OS 10.7) isn’t compatible with the AppleTV, I figured I’d bypass that and started hunting for old laptops from that era which could still talk to it. I’ve got an ancient Powerbook G4 running 10.6 in the basement, so I dug that out and booted it up to see if I could access the shared library. Success! I moved it to the den and balanced it on the receiver, then plugged an iPod input to the headphone port. But from there I got nothing; I guess the mini headphone jack isn’t compatible with that port.
The receiver has a big Spotify sticker on the front, so I checked into that as an option. For some stupid reason it needs an app on your phone, which is a ridiculous situation and one I can’t use anyway—I’m still on the free account and it requires a paid subscription. So I just tuned into the local college radio station and we suffered through some hair metal.
This morning I did some sleuthing and happened upon a random comment on Apple’s boards which led me back to iTunes on the server to check whether I was still logged in to the iTunes Store: I was not. (How I ever got logged out remains a mystery). I logged back in and presto! the server popped back up on AppleTV.
Waaaay back in 2007 I traded an inoperable Powerbook 100 for a working Powerbook 160, which was a welcome upgrade allowing me to open and view legacy files from my early days of design. The 160 worked for a couple of years and then died around 2013. I did some reading at that point and replaced the PRAM battery, hoping that would fix things, but it had no effect so the unit went back in the box. At some point recently I learned that there are inexpensive power supplies available for early Powerbooks, so I got one on Amazon for $10 and tried it out. Amazingly, I was greeted by the comforting early Macintosh startup chime, and the screen lit up for a brief moment before going dark, and then all of the pixels on the display smushed over to the right side of the screen.
Clearly there’s something amiss with the display, and from what the Interwebs say it’s a pretty common thing for the capacitors on passive-matrix grayscale monitors to fail, leading to these issues. I contacted a guy who streamed a repair live to see what he’d charge to fix it; we’ll see if he gets back to me.
Update: there are several videos on how to disassemble and recap the display online; given that I don’t have a lot of winter projects lined up, this is something I’ll tackle myself. I’d need a sharper soldering iron and the proper solder, but this isn’t anything I’m particularly scared of. The problem is that several of the capacitors aren’t in stock at Mouser or Digikey, so I’ll have to revisit this project in the summertime.
I also think I’ve got an old Powerbook Display Adapter in my antique computer bin somewhere; I’ll have to dig it out today and see if I can hook the unit to a monitor for testing.
Last summer I was moving plants around in the greenhouse and a branch on one of the tomato plants caught and pulled the AirPod out of my left ear and flung it out of sight. After searching for five minutes, I couldn’t find it anywhere and began to panic. Somehow I thought of Find My app on my phone; both AirPods appeared there immediately but the location tracking wasn’t precise enough to pinpoint the missing unit. I noticed a button on the app which said Play Sound, and I was able to toggle that to have the missing pod play an audible tone. This led me to find it behind a stack of pots in a far corner, someplace I never would have looked otherwise. That alone would have made the purchase price worth the money—beside the fact that they are awesome.
Apple announced today they’re opening up the excellent Find My service to third-party manufacturers. This could conceivably mean I could put a Find My tag in all three of my cars, on my bicycles (ahem Finley’s bicycle), and on my car keys, and use their system to keep track of them all. What I don’t know yet is how it would connect to dumb unwired devices—would I have to charge a battery on the tag on my bike, for example—or would it be a dumb chip like Tile? Either way, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this, and when the car versions come out, hardwiring one into each of our vehicles.
There are several tomatoes coloring in the greenhouse, and I am READY for them. The cherry plants are still producing fruit randomly; every week I go out and bring a handful in for the girls. I’m going to have to go out and consolidate a bunch of stuff this weekend and finally put the panel in the back wall to keep things warm overnight. Winter is coming…
Here in the office I finally took the time to go through some drawers and bins and boxes full of old computer gear and set aside a bunch of crap to get rid of: ancient CD-RW drives I scavenged from old towers, a pair of AirPort Base Stations that date back 15 years, miles of old Cat-5 network cabling, first-gen iPod FireWire wall warts, old manuals…there’s certainly more to get rid of, but I’ve found that if I’m going to keep old machinery it’s critical to have the gear to support it. So I’ll still hang on to the AirPort Express that will talk to the G3 Powerbooks that will still run OS9 so that I can access design files from 1997…
One of the things I dug out of the archives is a Sony Watchman MD-10, something that came out of the unclaimed personal property of a repo when I was in college. I took it back with me junior year and it allowed us all to stay current on Seinfeld episodes when we were on break during late night classes. For its time it was an amazing little device, and I wish it had DC input, because as I recall it ate AA batteries pretty fast. It’s useless these days with the advent of digital broadcasting; I could theoretically hook a digital antenna up to an RF modulator and broadcast local analog signal to it, but it’s really not worth the trouble. Interestingly, Gizmodo just did an article on this very model a few months ago; I share the author’s hesitation to get rid of his.
Hazel has been battling various side effects of the medication she’s been prescribed for side effects of medication she was prescribed since we’ve had her. To recap: she was given all manner of vaccinations as a puppy, some of which she developed allergies to, and they started breaking down the blood vessels in her ears. We were prescribed different medication to help with this condition only to find it lowered her immune system, causing her to break out with warts across her body. We got the ear thing under control, finally, and her dermatologist decided we were going to take her off that medication and switch to a different one. It’s been a month or so since the switch, and her ears are still clear and the warts are finally disappearing. Meanwhile, the Easy Lead we bought a couple of weeks ago, while not her favorite object in the world, makes walking her about a million times more enjoyable. We’re doing about three miles daily, a long walk in the morning and a family walk in the evening, and it seems to be great for everyone’s mental health.
After fucking around with multiple different approaches to installing OX El Capitan on my 14-year-old Mac Pro, I decided to give up on janky scripts and poorly written directions and just clone the copy of Leopard I had running on it before to test that the SSD was viable, which did work. Now I’m going to have to buy a copy of 10.7 Lion from Apple (it is not available as a download anymore for reasons I can’t fathom, and among the hundreds of archived backup and install discs I’ve got in my collection, I don’t have this installer) and put a clean copy of the last officially compatible OS on the drive.
There’s a wealth of information out there about Mac Pros out there, which is super handy for keeping the original 2006 version I own (and the 2010 version I use at work) running smoothly. It’s hard to believe my work tower is that old, but it still cranks along happily, earning its keep. I see people complaining about the high cost of pro Apple gear, but if I amortize the purchase price over the time I’ve used it, it’s an incredible bargain.
Tomatoes are officially in season here in the greenhouse and the girls haven’t been able to keep up with the harvest. We have a bunch of Cherokee Purples ripening on several different plants, and they’re all about due to be picked. I pulled several beautiful Chef’s Choice on Saturday with a bowl full of cherries. At the same time there are several basil plants getting fuller with the heat.