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PPCMLA How-tos, Tips, Tricks, and Articles

Archive for the ‘How-To’ Category

Using an HP HDTV as a monitor

Friday, September 4th, 2009

HP LC4276NI’ve got this 42″ HP LCD TV we bought a few years ago when HP was having a major blow-out sale after Thanksgiving. The TV was discontinued, and we got a massive discount on it. Ever since then, I’ve been struggling to get it working with a variety of Macs so we can use Front Row to play back our sizable movie collection on the nice widescreen display.

The TV supports 480i, 480p, 720p (actually 768p), 1080i, and 1080p. But if you’ve ever tried to hook up a computer to an HDTV via an analog connection (VGA), you know that just knowing the display resolutions doesn’t make it plug and play. But DisplayConfigX lets you set up custom display profiles to make your Mac work with just about any display.

For the longest time, I just didn’t have the patience to run through the trial-and-error process to get the display settings just right. But then I bought a nice iMac G4 1GHz with a bad LCD inverter. Hmm, perfect opportunity to get that LCD TV working…

So I finally sat down and took a couple hours to get the display working as a monitor on the iMac. Under the Timing menu for my monitor, I entered these values:
DisplayConfig X Timing Settings

  • Horizontal Active: 1360
  • Horizontal Front Porch: 144
  • Horizontal Sync: 144
  • Horizontal Back Porch 160
  • Horizontal Total (not editable): 1808
  • Vertical Active: 768
  • Vertical Front Porch: 18
  • Vertical Sync: 3
  • Vertical Back Porch: 14
  • Vertical Total (not editable): 803
  • Refresh rate: 59.993 Hz

The TV’s actual resolution is 1080p (1920×1080), but it supports 1366×768 (768p). I couldn’t get 1366 to work as a horizontal resolution, and the settings I used above were the best balance between my patience and image. There is still a pair of small black bands on the edges of the screen, but there isn’t any distortion, the image is pretty close to centered, and the iMac’s NVIDIA GeForce 4MX handles it easily. (Interestingly, DisplayConfigX insists that 1080p resolutions are out of range for the video card.)

For those looking for similar settings, my exact HDTV is the HP LC4276N which shows up to the Mac as an LC1080N in the Displays preference pane. Other models in this series are the LC4776N, LC4272N, LC4270N, LC3772N, LC3770N, LC3272N, and LC3270N. As I don’t have any of those other displays to test, I can’t guarantee that my settings will work with your TV, so your mileage may vary.

A final note for the curious: I disconnected the built-in LCD. Once the display is disconnected, the Open Firmware restriction against using external monitors in anything other than mirroring mode is lifted. However, if you don’t want to disconnect your built-in LCD, you’ll have to apply Screen Spanning Doctor.

iPhone and iPod Touch Mail Filters & Rules

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

If you have an iPod Touch or an iPhone, you have no doubt realized by now that the Mail app does not filter your email. There is no way to set up any rules or filters. I subscribe to a variety of email lists, so my inbox is quickly flooded. Quite by accident, I discovered a workaround that allows email on my iPhone to be automatically routed to any folder I wish…

I happen to subscribe to MobileMe. I’ve been using since it was named iTools. But I only really started to use it in earnest when I started using more than one computer frequently. I set it up to automatically synchronize all my information (including my desktop Mail.app rules) between all my devices. Of course, Mail on the iPhone doesn’tuse rules. But one day I left Mail.app running on my desktop at home when I got up and went out. I was pleasantly surprised to find when I checked my mail on my iPhone that email was being correctly routed!

The mail rules were running on my desktop at home and appropriately filtering my email. And because MobileMe was actively synchronizing my email, the filtered mailbox was available on my iPhone.

So if you are a subscriber to MobileMe, just keep Mail.app running on your Mac at home to keep your mail appropriately filtered on your iPhone. Naturally, this tip will not work with a POP email account, but if you keep your email stored on a Microsoft Exchange server or use an IMAP mailbox, I don’t see why this wouldn’t work for you.


PowerBook G4 15″ Buying Experience

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Ultimately, you know better than anyone else what your needs are when looking for a PowerBook. This article isn’t intended to help you pick out which PowerBook is right for you. It might be an 867 MHz PowerBook G4 12″, or it might be a 1.67 GHz PowerBook G4 17″. That decision is entirely up to you. However, this article may help you avoid some problems in the buying process. Humans, among all the animals, have the unique ability to learn from another’s experience…

When buying a high-value item like a PowerBook G4, it is important to do so safely. Unfortunately, the most likely source for a used PowerBook at a reasonable price is eBay. And on eBay, most of the power lies with the seller. I thought at first that I would get a good deal through buying from a reseller of refurbished PowerBooks or of PowerBooks obtained via an estate sale or the like. I picked up a PowerBook G4 15″ 1.67 GHz for $710 from a dutch auction. I payed with a balance transfer via PayPal. A week later, it arrived in fantastic shape. The case was perfect. This was too good to be true, I thought. And indeed it was. When I turned it on for the first time, I got a single solid tone indicating that bad RAM was installed. After a trip to the Apple store and some investigation online, I determined that the problem was actually a bad RAM slot, not bad RAM. I sent it back to the seller for an exchange (he had more than one).

After some helpful advice from the online community, I opened a dispute via PayPal. Oh boy, the seller didn’t like that. The seller had already received my PowerBook, but he refused to send the replacement until I closed the dispute. At this point, I was more interested in obtaining a $710 dollar PowerBook G4 than I was in having my money returned to me. So I caved and closed the dispute. The seller did follow through and send a replacement PowerBook. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt when I first meet them, so I will refrain from thinking he was being vengeful or spiteful when he sent me a replacement that was in considerably worse cosmetic shape (screws that wouldn’t completely recess, dents and dings galore, and more scratches than sandblasted crystal). Add to that the fact that the same RAM slot was defective (only this time the problem was intermittent).

This was the second PowerBook that I had received from the seller that was defective. At this point, either the seller knew he had a supply problem, or he was beginning to suspect that I was somehow causing the PowerBooks to malfunction when the arrived. Needless to say, he wasn’t as friendly as the first time when I contacted him regarding a defective PowerBook. He did offer yet another exchange, but I wasn’t willing to test the old adage that the “third time’s the charm.” And, with my PayPal dispute having been closed and not having paid via credit card, I had no recourse but to politely and gently ask for a refund. Much to the seller’s credit (and contrary to his listing’s text), he did finally agree to a refund (minus all shipping costs, of course).

So what were my two biggest mistakes? 1) I pre-maturely closed my PayPal dispute. Stick to your guns until the problem is resolved to your liking. When buying on eBay, the seller holds all the cards (money and goods). PayPal helps to level that playing field by acting as a sort of escrow service when a buyer takes issue with a transaction. Without this protection, you always run the risk that once you pay for an item, the seller can walk off with your money. 2) I didn’t use a credit card to pay even though the seller accepted credit card funded PayPal payments. Even after you close a dispute via PayPal, you can still start the process for a charge back through your credit card company. This affords you an even greater level of protection as a buyer.

So let that be a lesson to you. But I have a few more tips to offer. In researching PowerBooks to buy, I finally settled on a 1.67 GHz 15″ G4. Along the way, I learned a few things about common failures and frequent problems in them.

1) Dead RAM Slot
Perhaps the most frequent issue to plague owners of the aluminum line of 15″ PowerBooks is the failure of one of the RAM slots. Sometimes this problem manifests itself at startup with a single long beep indicating bad RAM is installed. Sometimes it gives three beeps indicating it can’t locate any memory. Sometimes you Mac seems to work fine except that half the RAM is missing according to “About this Mac.” And sometimes it surfaces as complete system freezes after the PowerBook has been running for a while. A lengthy discussion of this issue appeared on MacInTouch. In fact, the problem was so pervasive that Apple offered a free repair program: About the PowerBook G4 Memory Slot Repair Extension Program. Apple claimed this issue only affected a very limited number of 1.5 GHz and 1.67 GHz PowerBooks with 15″ screens manufactured between January and April in 2005. However, this problem has surfaced in all iterations of the 15″ aluminum PowerBooks, and there is an online petition to have all them covered under this repair program here: PowerBook Lower Memory Slot failure – The Petition

2) Case Flexing
These machines are all made of aluminum which is a relatively pliable metal. Repeated lifting by holding the corner next to the CD/DVD drive’s slot can cause subtle deflection at that corner. Eventually this manifests itself as a PowerBook which has an unsightly gap at that corner when the lid is closed. Although the PowerBook will continue to function, this is visually unpleasant.

3) Dents!
Aluminum is slippery. If you don’t have a good grasp of an edge, it is very easy for an aluminum PowerBook to slip out of your grip and crash down to the floor. This results in unsightly dings and dents over the lifetime of a PowerBook. In some cases, small dents at the rear corners of the PowerBook can cause enough case deformation to prevent the AC adapter from making adequate contact with the power socket. This can ultimately end up in a PowerBook that cannot be recharged.

4) Trackpad Stutter or Unresponsiveness
Although I haven’t experienced this myself, some have reported that the new trackpads Apple used in the aluminum G4s are less sensitive than the previous trackpads used in the titanium G4s. In some cases, the trackpads are completely defective. They also appear to be highly susceptible to static discharge events so user beware: Don’t wear wool socks on winter nights and use your trackpad at the same time.

5) Broken Trackpad Clicker
Sometimes, even though you haven’t heard (of felt) the un-click when you pick your thumb up off the trackpad button, the button does electrically un-click. If you are moving a bunch of files or dragging for a large selection, this can be especially annoying. And, unfortunately, it requires an excessive amount of force to keep the button depressed. Which can lead to the next problem: In some cases, the clicker can be completely separated from it’s supporting structure. This can make for a “squishy” click, or very noisy “snapping” sound during a click, or a completely non-functional button a la the 5300 of yore. While annoying, this can be worked around with an external mouse or through use of the “click” or “tap” functionality of the trackpad itself.

6) Battery Recall
Shades of the PowerBook 5300! Apple issued a recall on certain batteries in the PowerBook G4 15″ line. These batteries were manufactured by Sony (just like the Li-Ion batteries for the 5300) and could present a serious safety hazard if not dealt with. Fortunately, the number of reported “accidents” has been very low. Check out the Battery Exchange Program for iBook G4 and PowerBook G4.

7) Closed Lid Won’t Stay Closed
There are at least two failure signatures for this problem. In one scenario, the little hook that latches when the case closes won’t clear the latching mechanism and so can never engage. In the other scenario, the little hook doesn’t actuate at all and doesn’t descend when the lid is closed. In both cases, sometimes a little gentle prodding or “convincing” by applying a little extra acceleration just at the last moment will allow the case to latch shut. In extreme cases, the lid simply will not stay shut at all.

Enjoy & happy hunting,

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KStars on OS 9?

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

So you’ve got an old ethernet or WiFi equipped Mac sitting in the closet taking up space, and you’ve got a shny new G4, G5, or Intel Mac on your desk. You love that old Mac, but you’ve got nothing for it to do. Well here is something you can try.

KStars is an open source astronomy tool similar to Starry Night. It displays a map of the night sky as viewed from anywhere on Earth and provides a plethora of tools and information for anyone with skillsets ranging from the backyard star gazer to the serious astronomer and astro-photographer. The map can be updated in real time, or it can be set to any time you choose. A full review of KStars is probably beyond the skope of this article, but you can read more about KStars here. Don’t download it from there, though. Use Fink or FinkCommander as detailed below instead.

Normally, you wouldn’t be able to run kstars on a Mac at all, never mind on one running OS 8 or 9. However, thanks to the wonderful world of UNIX, Mac OS X, and open source software, you can now set up your old Mac to display KStars for free. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good price (especially considering that Starry Night costs anywhere from $50 to $300)!

What you’ll need:

  • OS X on your new Mac. (If 10.4.x, you’ll also need the Developer tools. 10.3 and earlier don’t need this.)
  • Fink or FinkCommander on your new Mac.
  • A physical TCP/IP network connection between your old Mac and your new Mac.
  • A Secure Shell (SSH) client for your old Mac such as Nifty Telnet SSH.
  • An X Window server application for your old Mac such as MacX or eXodus. (For this article, I used an old copy of eXodus 7 from back in my OS 9 days. I haven’t tested this with MacX.)

If you’ve got all those tools, you should be able to get KStars running from your old Mac.

Here’s what I have:

  • Power Mac G4 (dual 1 GHz) running 10.4.something with ethernet.
  • PowerBook 1400cs/G3 233 running 9.1 with WiFi via an ORiNOCO Silver card and the ORiNOCO 7.2 drivers.
  • Nifty Telnet SSH and eXodus (eXodus is commercial software, so I can’t give you a download link) on the PowerBook.

Surprisingly, the performance of this configuration is pretty good. The 1400 runs eXodus respectably. Display refreshes are fast and smooth, and KStars, which is actually being executed on the dual G4, runs well even in real time mode.

First things first. Set up Fink and FinkCommander on your new Mac. (If you don’t already know, Fink and FinkCommander are excellent software that allow you to download hundreds of open source software titles originally written for Linux that have been ported to Mac OS X.) Follow the directions here to set up Fink, and then follow the directions here to set up FinkCommander. At this point, you could quit, and you would be ahead. You now have access to hundreds of open source software titles at your fingertips.

But we’re not done. You still have to get KStars! If you are running OS X 10.3.9 or ealier, installing KStars is as simple a matter as downloading it from FinkCommander. If you are running OS X 10.4 or higher, KStars is not in the pre-built download list in FinkCommander. If that is the case, you’ll have to build KStars from source. That is actually a lot easier to do than you might think. Just follow the directions here.

Now that you’ve got KStars installed, you can give it a test on your new Mac. Open X11, bring up an xterm, and type the following:

cd /sw/bin

This should start KStars for the first time. Configure it appropriately, and you’ll be ready to run it remotely.

The last thing to do on your new Mac is to make sure that Remote Login is enabled in your Sharing preference pane.

On your old Mac, launch your SSH client. For Nifty Telnet SSH, start a new connection (Command-N), then edit the connection settings. Make the shortcut name anything you like. Type in the IP address of your new Mac in the Host Name field. Set the Protocol to 3DES. Click the “OK” button. Now connect to your new Mac. You’ll be challenged for a user name and password. Once you are logged in, type the following commands to start KStars.

setenv DISPLAY <IP address of your old Mac>:0.0
cd /sw/bin

Kongratulations! You should now have a KStars display on your old Mac.

Why go through all the trouble of running KStars remotely? Why not just run it on the new Mac? I would hope that if you are reading the PPCMLA, you would provide the answers to these questions yourself. Certainly it takes a little extra effort to set up your KStars this way, but it can also be rewarding. Aside from the geek cred you’ll get, imagine this: You could set up four PowerBook based digital picture frames each with a wireless connection to a Mac OS X box each displaying the view to one of the four points of the compass. Then you could hang the picture frames on the associated walls of your office! How cool is that?!

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