By Collin Allen

Apple vs. The Analog Monster

March 9, 2006

John Siracusa at ArsTechnica points out a bug I’ve experienced more than once with various Macs. High frequency changes in CPU power draws on some Macs’ power supplies can cause them to emit sounds.

Then I noticed a strange noise…a chirping sound. I chased down the source, I searched the net for solutions, and I eventually wrote about it here at Ars in March of 2004. The summary: the power supply in the revision 1 Power Mac G5 made chirping noises, and there was no hardware-based fix in sight.

Sure, it’s hardly an OS crippling bug, but in a quiet environment it can be quite distracting. This bug also affects more than just G5 hardware – I can hear my PowerBook G4 (1.25 GHz 15”) making sounds at I type. I’m positive of the source for two reasons. For one, I use MenuMeters to display a small CPU usage graph and ATA bus read/write indicators in my Mac’s menu bar. Neither are active, yet I can still hear the faint clicks. Second, John links to a utility called SystemLoad which will actually play a scale on the power supply by adjusting CPU usage levels. Hearing my machine’s power circuitry play a tune is, well, creepy and unsettling.

John goes on to say that a feature of the processors, CPU “napping,” allows the unit to temporarily lower its power consumption and “wake up” as needed, often many times a second. I’ve found that this feature can be controlled by installing Apple’s CHUD (Computer Hardware Understanding Development) tools and disabling the napping option in the new Processor system preference pane. (As a side note, the Processor prefpane icon changed from a Motorola chip to that of an Intel Pentium 4 style chip many months before the Intel transition. At the time I wondered why they made the change, but only recently has the tiny interface tweak become clear.) Upon unchecking the box, the change is immediate and the clicks are silenced. SystemLoad no longer plays tunes with my analog hardware. With napping disabled, though, the CPU tends to generate more heat. In return, the fans come on more often and kick up even more noise than the faint clicking. This situation is lose-lose, and is one I should not even be dealing with considering the original selling price of the machine. Apple needs to get with the program and start producing quieter analog electronics. I know digital is all the rage these days, but electricity isn’t going anywhere for a long, long time. Or, more accurately, it’s going everywhere all the time, but it should not make noise doing so.


March 7, 2006

On a reader’s blog, I just discovered Textpander, a small utility which turns small segments of text into large, expanded ones. Back in the Mac OS 8 and 9 days, I used to run TypeIt4Me to catch common typos and handle a few conversions, and I’m delighted to find Textpander is a perfect companion to Mac OS X. When the preference pane is opened, Textpander launches a small background process to watch your keystrokes for a given trigger from the defined list. Personally, misspelling “and” as “adn” is one I always look for when proofreading, but now those days are gone. What’s more impressive is that Textpander can match the case of the misspelling such that the replaced word is exactly what you intended to type. Great software that Just Works. This handy utility is offered as donationware, so I highly recommend giving it a try and sending the author a tip if you find it useful.

Mac Mini TiVo

March 5, 2006

A recent article, originally written for Mercury News, claims that Apple has already rolled out what could be their big step into the living room environment. Apple’s newest release of Front Row features built-in Bonjour networking technology, allowing computers to find each other on a network and share media with zero setup.

I’m amazed at how often it comes up, though, that Apple doesn’t offer video recording capabilities out of the box.

The Mac mini doesn’t yet work as a TiVo-like digital video recorder, despite rumors and speculation before Tuesday’s event.

While it’s technically easy to build TV tuners into computers and write software for recording TV shows, the cable and satellite industries have yet to truly open their systems to hardware they don’t own.

I may be entirely off-base here, but I think Apple is looking past recording broadcast TV and ahead to internet-delivered entertainment. You can already have music and TV shows delivered via iTunes and stream them around wirelessly, so why strap down your Mac with coaxial cable, fickle schedules, and – the bane of modern media – advertisements. It seems like a step backwards, and one that Apple would be unlikely to take. Undoubtedly, they’re already working on new ways to get media to your various devices without having to resort to capturing, editing, and encoding. Leave the computationally heavy tasks to the people on the other end of your internet connection while you enjoy downloaded or streamed content with a lightweight client. A Mac Mini, perhaps.

Update: A step in the right direction: Apple is now offering a “Season Pass” for TV shows, allowing you to pay once for a season and get them as they are released.

ThinkPad 1802 Error Fix

February 26, 2006

Of all the laptops I’ve worked on, IBM ThinkPads are by far the easiest to disassemble and fix. They’re also pretty tough machines, as they survive substantially more damage than most of the Dell laptops I’ve seen. If I were a full time Windows user (and I’m not, despite the recent number of PC related posts), I would probably consider purchasing a ThinkPad. If it weren’t for one tiny problem… Most newer ThinkPad models have a Mini-PCI slot and antennae, ready to be equipped with a standard wireless card. Mini-PCI may be unfamiliar to Mac users reading this blog, just as it was to me several months ago. Think of Mini-PCI as an AirPort Extreme connector, but standardized such that any manufacturer can create a compatible communications card. While the slot is standardized, IBM insists on crippling it via software to only accept “IBM brand” wireless cards – which are really just OEM cards made by Philips and others. Upon booting a machine with a non-IBM card installed, the following POST error will be displayed:

1802: Unauthorized network card is plugged in Power off and remove the miniPCI network card.

What a sneaky way to lock people into buying an expensive wireless card, when others can be bought for much much lower prices. (I suppose I can’t complain, though, as AirPort Extreme is even more proprietary. Although, I’ve never had the need to use a different wireless card in my PowerBook – I just bought the “whole widget” from Apple and that was that.) Luckily for ThinkPad owners, there exists a small fix for this “1802” error: a DOS program which will flip a single bit in the CMOS and allow use of any Mini-PCI wireless card. The program, by Tisheng Chen, can be found here. To make running this program easier for myself and others, I’ve prepared a bootable CD ISO and floppy disk image.

Both files will require unzipping before use (use the free 7-Zip or WinZip). Once unzipped, the CD version can be burned with Disk Utility or Toast on the Mac, or ImgBurn or Nero on the PC. The floppy disk version can be written with Floppy Image for Windows, or dd if=no1802.img of=/dev/fd0 in a Unix environment. The floppy image is a bit-for-bit copy of what I actually had on disk, and the CD version boots and loads the very same floppy into RAM, using a highly customized Ultimate Boot CD. Hopefully this will allow ThinkPad owners to use any wireless cards, and not just those offered by IBM.

5/17/06 Update: I’m glad to see that people are having success with my pre-made wireless card fix. A list of some of the models affected by IBM’s decision can be found here, thanks to Matthew Garrett. He also has few pages with useful technical details on this topic, as well.

8/30/06 Update: For future reference: IBM “high rate” wireless+56K modem combo cards with FRUs 12P3637, 12P3863, 26P8472 and 91P7661 require separate modem drivers (that aren’t part of the “high rate” package). The cards are made by Actiontec, but the the modem portion is made by Agere/Lucent, and the drivers can be found in IBM’s list of downloads for the R32.

9/10/06 Update: This page was linked to at ThinkWiki, where you’ll find even more information on the 1802 error.

Confirmed Working

  • A31, A31 2652-Q3U, A31 2652-1U6
  • A31p, A31p 2653-CU5, A31p 2653-R3U
  • G40 2384-EHU
  • R40 2682-HU2, R40 2682-K2G, R40 2681, R40 2896-GZU
  • R50 1830-48G
  • R50e 1834-BZG
  • R51
  • T30, T30 2637
  • T40, T40 2373, T40 2373-8CU, T40 2373-94G, T40 2374-GG2, T40 2374-DG1
  • T41, T41 2374-7JG
  • T42, T42 2373-BX9
  • T42p
  • X24
  • X30
  • X31, X31 2672-U31
  • X40

Confirmed Not Working

  • R32
  • R60
  • T60
  • Z60t
  • X41 2525-6NH
  • Lenovo x100e
  • Lenovo x120e

iTunes Podcast Auto-Subscribe

February 21, 2006

A few days ago, Jon Maddox and I found the need to make iTunes to subscribe to a podcast with one click from Safari. After a few guessing attempts and some meager Googling, we were unable to come up with a solution. Today, I ran across a tutorial on how to do just that. The pcast:// prefix, instead of http:// will make the Mac version of iTunes open and subscribe to the podcast URL immediately following the prefix. For the Windows side of things, there are several more steps which involve the creation of an XML file linking to the podcast. With a little server-side user-agent switching or some other per-client trickery, it should be relatively simple to produce a Mac or Windows “one click subscribe” link. Check out the full details at Podcast Shuffle.