The Low End Mac Mailbag

The 'Less Than Intelligent Design' Letters

Dan Knight - 2007.05.07

Most of today's emails are in response to Less than Intelligent Design in Electronics and Computing. - Tip Jar

Mac Volume Control, Mighty Mouse Kudos, and Mac mini Thoughts

John Muir writes:

Dan,

Just read your article on Less than Intelligent Design, and these thoughts come to mind...

"I'm sure that Apple would never make those kind of mistakes. The closest they come is giving you no control over the startup volume of your Mac."

You can't control the volume right there and then, but it is adjustable elsewhere. From my experience with my 12" PowerBook G4 and Intel Macs, there are basically two separately controllable system volumes: one when using the internal speakers and another for anything plugged into line-out / the earphone jack.

For instance, my Intel recently had a firmware upgrade come via Software Update, and after that was done I noticed its start chime was much louder than before. Once I was up in OS X, I saw that my volume setting was the same as usual. That's because I use it with a hi-fi connected to the line out jack and this volume setting is the active one once it's up and running. However the chime is being played through its internal speaker, so I pulled my line out jack out the back and pressed the volume down button a few times to bring that "hidden" setting back under control. No surprise at all: it had been up at the top. No problems now.

Incidentally, the PowerBook helped me discover this less than instantly intuitive arrangement. As I used to listen to iTunes with headphones directly from it before I got an iPod, and quickly learned there were different behaviours with and without a cord plugged in.

As for the Mighty Mouse, I must admit to being one of its rare fans! (Indeed, I've even used them for competitive first person shooter gaming on occasion, with some necessary cunning in button choice.) I can see precisely where its hybrid design comes from. I think the answer is "Steve". The idea seems to be to promote single button use and simplicity as the default, but to allow advanced users to uncover the extra functionality via System Preferences. Also, I'm sure you're mistaken on the side buttons. From what I remember the default is for the side buttons to instigate either Exposé or perhaps the task switcher. The scroll button also defaults to opening the Dashboard. I could be wrong, since I've had it setup my own way so long, but I'm pretty sure it's like this on other machines per Apple's decision. Right click is the one they're sneakily trying to persuade you not to use!

And finally as for the Mac mini: I expect it would be very different indeed with a 3.5" hard drive plugged in. For anyone who wants to visualise what difference "an inch" makes, I advise putting a 2.5" and 3.5" hard drive in your hand at the same time. notebook and desktop drivesTheir sizes are striking. Despite the name, I'd say a 2.5" drive is 3 times shorter than a 3.5" and around half the plan area or less . . . therefore about 6 times smaller overall. Their weight rather gives this away too. Although there are many positives to going 3.5", I'm glad Apple didn't with the mini. Not least is the quiet factor where 2.5" drives easily win hands down. Not to mention the cooling . . . which is my own favourite thing about the Intel Mac mini - it's exceptionally quiet and steady, compared to say the ramping fans of a Power Mac G5 - and the reason I bought one.

Perhaps another model for the 3.5" drive; such as the ever demanded yet still mythical midrange headless Mac.

John Muir

Hi again, John,

I just happen to have a 2.5" and 3.5" drive at hand for comparison purposes. The length of the 2.5" drive is almost identical to the width of the 3.5" drive, and you can place two 2.5" drives side-by-side on top of a 3.5" drive with room to spare. Also, most 3.5" drives these days are 25mm thick, while notebook drives come in 9.5mm and 12.5mm. Assuming the latter, four notebook drives take up as much volume as a single desktop drive.

In terms of weight, this particular notebook drive is just over 5 oz. while the 3.5" drive weighs a hefty 22 oz. - about 4x the weight.

Remarkably, as small as the mini is, the "zero footprint" Mac mini companion drives out today manage to just barely fit a 3.5" drive into the same space.

Yes, noise and cooling are other important factors - typed as I sit next to a not so quiet Power Mac G4 that runs a bit on the hot side. I love the design Apple came up with for the Power Mac G5 and continued in the Mac Pro - aluminum for looks and ruggedness and to act as something of a Faraday cage for electromagnetic signals, lots of holes for fresh air, and fans that run only as fast and as often as necessary to do the job. I'd love to see that in a midrange Mac some day.

Dan

John Muir replied:

Agreed. That would be the monster!

CRT Danger Explains Difficulty Getting into eMac, G3 iMacs

Drew Page says:

Hi Dan,

I enjoyed your latest article. It was really spot on, especially the part about VCRs. What the heck were they thinking?

Anyways, I did think of a reason Apple made it hard to get into iMacs and eMacs of the CRT era: electrical shock. You see, CRTs actually retain a fair amount of charge even after you shut them off. Of course, they discharge after about an hour, but I bet most people don't know that. If a person opened up their iMac or eMac and touched the back of the CRT in the wrong place, ZAP! I bet Apple knows this and didn't want the liability.

Of course, they really should have made the Mac mini user accessible. No excuse for this. That could have been incorporated into the existing design. As far as the iPod? Probably a corporate decision in order to sell more iPods, like you say.

Drew Page

Drew,

Thanks for your thoughts. I never would have thought of that as a reason for making the eMacs and G3 iMacs so hard to open up.

Dan

B&W G3 Did Have an Eject Button

Quicksilvereject button on blue & white G3Dan Palka writes:

The Blue & White G3, and all the earlier G4 towers up until the Quicksilver, had a physical eject button on the tower.

Dan Palka
System 7 Today

Right you are, Dan, as I verified by pulling my b&w G3 out of the basement. That's what comes of trusting my memory instead of looking. Early G4 Power Macs had the same design, and the Quicksilver was the first not to have a visible eject button.

I'll correct the article.

Dan

VCRs with No Backup Battery

Lonnie Buchanon adds his 2¢:

Amen Dan!

Don't forget the VCR's with no backup battery. If the power goes out while you're gone, it doesn't record your show. You have to reset your time, date, and tuner settings after every power outage.

Lonnie Buchanon
proud Pismo user

Right you are, Lonnie.

Worse yet, my first DVD recorder, an inexpensive Lite-On model, had a clock that gained at least a minute a day. Very poor design for a product where having the correct time is essential to its function.

Dan

Lonnie replies:

Oh, that is worse.

Thanks for such great articles. This one made me giggle but your point is quite correct. It's amazing to me how many products continue to be made difficult because "that's the way it's always been done."

Lonnie Buchanon

Don't Forget the Clamshell iMac

Tedrick Mealy writes:

Hey Dan,

I found your Less than Intelligent Design in Electronics and Computing article very interesting and oh-so-true. But I think you should add an aspect of the clamshell iBook to your list.

I love how easy it is to add a wireless card or upgrade the RAM, but the hard drive is a whole different story. I was considering upgrading the hard drive on my clamshell; 10 GB is a little tight. So I decided to do a little research on how difficult it would be, since I had already heard it was a bit tough. The first thing I found (http://caslis.com/mac/ibook/ibdrive.html) showed my just how crazy an idea it was. Among all the things you have to remove (i.e., keyboard, wireless card, case, optical drive, the whole screen assembly, modem, heat sink, metal cage thing, hard drive cage thing) I counted a full 48 screws and bolts to be taken out! That is absolutely insane!

I guess the advantage is that it is built like a tank and can take a hit with no worries.

Tedrick

Thanks for writing, Tedrick.

I have a clamshell iMac that had a failed optical drive when I swapped it for an old iMac. Finding a replacement optical drive wasn't difficult, but putting it in certainly was. And it's not simply a matter of all those screws - lining up the pieces of the case is a real bear as well.

As you said, it is built like a tank....

Dan

Resizing Windows on Macs Is Frustrating

Ashley writes:

Just read your article on top Mac user mistakes.

I'm a person who uses Windows machines every day for work and Macs at home, because I like their style. I'm actually not partial to either one, as each has its pros and cons. (Although, if you ask me, Apple wasn't the first company with stylish computers. SGI was making boxes that looked gorgeous back when Apple still made beige square boxes.)

Anyway, I must admit that the single most frustrating thing that I've found with the Mac OS is the item you list as #12 ["Trying to resize windows from the edge rather than the drag area on the corner"]. And, while you are correct in that I've learned the behavior of the Mac OS and adapted to it, every time I wish to resize a window, I'm constantly frustrated by it.

For a company that swears by its usability, it's sometimes galling how Apple - and many Apple fans - refuse to acknowledge that on occasion Windows does do things better.

Being able to grab a window from any side or corner and stretch it in the corresponding direction is a major time saver, and its absence is a major frustration. Not only does this interaction allow you to resize windows easier, but you can also effectively resize and reposition the window in one step by dragging by the upper-left or upper-right corner. The Mac instead forces you to do this in two steps, and if you forget to position the window first, even more than two.

It only took Apple about 3 centuries to finally figure out that two mouse buttons are actually really handy. Hopefully it won't take them so long to figure out that the single resize corner is similarly restrictive and needs to be retired to the dustbin of technology history....

Respectively yours,
Ashley

Thanks for writing, Ashley.

I agree that it would be far more convenient for both Mac users and switchers if you could resize windows from any side or corner instead of only in the lower right corner, as Apple has done since the first Mac OS.

Dan

Why I Want a 12" MacBook Pro

Adam Rosen says:

I've been an occasional visitor to LEM for many years, congratulations on 10 years of good work! The site is a great resource for the Mac community, with relevant info on new and old Macs alike.

I currently use 12" PowerBook G4 as my main portable and hope along with many other readers that Apple eventually releases a MacBook Pro in this form factor. In addition to all the issues raised, I find two other major benefits that the 12" PB has over MBPros or MacBooks:

  • all cables attach to a single side of the computer (left), making this notebook even easier to setup in tight spaces
  • it has a full size high quality keyboard, like desktops and other high end laptops

I want these two features on a new Intel laptop. And (are you listening, Apple) please don't make the optical drive an optional, external feature. 12" size is fine, as is a slot on the front!

BTW, I have a rather sizable Macintosh collection myself, posted online as The Vintage Mac Museum. I've used info found on LEM to put some of this stuff together. I have a link to Low End Mac on the VMM homepage, would love a mention and link on LEM back if possible.

Regards,
Adam Rosen

Nice website, Adam.

I somehow can't imagine Apple not coming up with a 12" MacBook (regular or pro) somewhere down the line.

Dan

Adam responds:

After too many dashed hopes, I've given up imagining what Apple will/will not do, I just buy what exists now and enjoy it to the fullest. Maybe Uncle Stevie doesn't like the 12" size? I'll bet a 12" MacBook (non-Pro) would only be offered in white - sigh. Think how cool a 12" black MacBook would be!

BTW, I forgot to mention in my last email, there's a monthly tech flea market at MIT in Cambridge, MA which is a great place to buy old Macs very cheaply. Last month I got two iMacs for $20 each. It's held the 3rd Sunday of the month from April to October, may be of interest to your readers in the Boston area:

http://web.mit.edu/w1mx/www/swapfest.html

Adam

Adam,

It's a lot of guessing as to what Apple will do next. I'd love something along the lines of a convertible laptop/tablet MacBook in the 10-12" range, but those who know are not talking.

Dan

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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