The Low End Mac Mailbag

Mac mini with HDTV, Lucida Grande on Low End Mac, the Open Computer, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.04.17 - Tip Jar

I Spy Lucida Grande

From John Muir:

Hi Dan,

Just opened up the site and I see Lucida Grande: my favourite Mac font everywhere! Very nice. Distinctive in Safari from the rest of the web at large, and very readable too.

John

John,

I ran across an article on "Swiss Interface Syndrome" through a link on Daring Fireball yesterday. Sebastian de With is complaining about the way many OS X applications are mixing Helvetica and Lucida Grande, which he calls a "ghastly trend". Helvetica was designed to look great in print; the Lucida family of fonts was designed for legibility on your computer screen and in low-resolution printouts, such as faxes.

Reading de With's diatribe, I decided it really was time to update the font on Low End Mac. We've been using Geneva (one of the Mac's original screen fonts) as our first choice font since the start, and our style sheets make Verdana (a Microsoft font optimized for display) as second choice, Arial (a version of Helvetica that's better suited to the screen) as third, Helvetica as fourth, and generic sans serif as the last choice. I updated our style sheets to use Lucida Grande as first choice, Lucida Sans as second, followed by Geneva, Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, and sans serif.

I liked Geneva, and it gave the site a classic Mac look, but I do find Lucida Grande very easy on the eyes.

Thanks for noticing.

Dan

Headless Mac

From Peter Vanacore:

Dan,

Keep dreaming. You've described exactly what I want in a Mac. If they produced it, I would buy it tomorrow (well, I'll probably wait for the second version to work out the kinks), but it's not coming. Alas, I will stick with my 6-year-old Power Mac until it dies. At the rate Apple is selling computers, they don't need my money, and my whining is all for naught.

Peter

Peter,

I hear you. I love my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4, which will celebrate it's sixth birthday in August. It has the full 2 GB of RAM that it can support, two 400 GB 7200 rpm hard drives (one for work, one for backup), a 16x Pioneer SuperDrive plus its original 4x SuperDrive, two USB 2.0 cards, and a SCSI card that came with it (and I've not yet used). The only room for improvement would be a better video card and a faster dual processor card, and for the kind of work I do, I don't think I could cost justify upgrading either.

Were Apple to introduce a headless Mac with two 3.5" drive bays, room for 4 GB of RAM, and the option of a better video card should I ever need it, and a Core 2 CPU, I'd find a way to buy it. I don't need ultimate power, but I want something more responsive than the Mac mini with its notebook hard drive. Odds are I'll go for an iMac when I upgrade from my G4, and I'm in no hurry.

Dan

Cleaning an Extended Keyboard

From Darren:

Dan,

I recently dug up my old Extended Keyboard, originally purchased in 1989 for a IIcx, and wanted to see if I could get it working on Leopard and my MacBook Pro (2.2 Santa Rosa). After sitting for 10 years in my parent's basement, the keyboard was covered in grime, and one of the ADB connectors had a nice rust mark staining the plastic. It was a long shot, but I figured I would give it a try.

When I first picked up the keyboard, I was reminded of one of the early scenes of Gattica, where Gore Vidal comments that the director had been beaten to death with a keyboard. While most modern boards would not really hurt anyone in a fight, at over 5 pounds, the Apple Extended Keyboard would do the job nicely.

Anyway, I cleaned up the surface of the keyboard with some mild soap and water, and then I opened the case to clean out some of the gunk that accumulated over 20 years of its existence. The keys still look dirty, and the platinum has faded to that beige color that old Macs age to, but it looks okay.

I came across some reports that indicated different levels of success with Griffin's iMate product that converts Apple Desktop Bus protocols to USB. Although there were no guarantees that it would work - Griffin only supports the device through 10.3.9 - I decided to take a chance.

While the iMate seems to be working, the keyboard isn't in the best shape. The T, G, H, B, space bar, right arrow, and clear/numlock keys did not work at all, and the U and the caps lock key only gave intermittent response with the LED lighting incorrectly (i.e. on - caps lock not active). After very liberal dousing of electronic cleaner, I was able to get all letter keys, the space bar, clear/num lock, and the arrow somewhat functional, but key presses for these keys are only recognized intermittently, and the Caps Lock is now completely dead. Also, while the clear function of Clear/Num Lock key works, I can't get the keyboard to light the Num Lock LED and lock in to that mode. Both ADB ports work fine, and even the soft power key seems to act like the power switch on the front of the MacBook Pro.

I do think the iMate is working properly - most reports indicate that it will work with Leopard for keyboards, but not much else. I believe that the age and the condition of the keyboard are the limiting factors here. I did try to type this letter using the keyboard, but the dropped keys made it much too frustrating.

I am reasonably sure that the keyboard needs a thorough cleaning, but have no idea how to do it. I have tried to lift the key caps off the Alps switches to try to clean them out but can't figure out how to do it without breaking the keys. I have seen recommendations to dunk the entire keyboard in distilled water to try to clear the switches, but I don't know if that really would be effective (or prudent). I don't think the electronic contact cleaner will do any good, although I would be happy to continue to try it.

Any suggestions?

Thanks for the help.

Darren

Darren,

Do you have a dishwasher? If so, you have the best tool ever invented for cleaning old keyboards. Some people recommend taking the keyboard apart before putting it in the dishwasher, but there are a multitude of reports that you can clean it without all that bother. Here are the steps:

  1. Turn off the heated dry cycle on your dishwasher. It could create enough heat to melt some plastics, and keyboards are not marked as dishwasher safe. Your keyboard may survive heated drying, but we recommend you play it safe.
  2. If the cable is permanently attached to your keyboard and your keyboard works as a hub (true of Apple's ADB and USB keyboards), plug the computer end of the keyboard cable into one of the ports on the keyboard.
  3. Put the keyboard in the top rack of your dishwasher, add soap, and use the regular cleaning cycle.
  4. Once the dishwasher has finished its job, set the keyboard vertically against a wall or something, probably with a washcloth or dishtowel to soak up the water that drains from it.
  5. Let it stand for several days before using the keyboard to be sure that all of the water had drained and evaporated.

In general, people who do this find that their keyboard look a whole let better (although it won't do anything for discolored plastic) and everything works as it should. Following these steps, I haven't heard of anyone making things worse, but proceed at your own risk.

Dan

HDTV and Computer Displays

From Stéphane Di Cesare:

Dear Dan,

I was just reading with interest your comment about using a HDTV as a computer display. I actually have the opposite question: I get TV by satellite and don't need a tuner and don't need a very large TV, so what about using a computer display as a TV?

There are a few 24" displays which also accept component input - still needed for the moment, as there is little HDTV in Germany yet. I would also get 1900 x 1200, which is much better than a HDTV in the same price range.

Scaling might be a problem, but I often stream the signal from my satellite receiver to display it on my Mac with VLC, and it looks very good as long as you are activate one of the deinterlacing filters provided by VLC.

Vendors tell me that HDTVs are "optimized for moving images". I don't understand that argument: don't gamers require much higher frame rates than 24/25 fps used for TV broadcasts?

I would be very interested to know if someone actually tried and could share their experience.

And last but not least, thanks for your column!

Best regards,
Stéphane Di Cesare
Munich, Germany

Stéphane,

Even though a lot of video cards produce remarkably high frame rates, most monitors don't have high enough response to display all those frames. An LCD with a response time of 16ms or lower should be adequate for TV viewing. And no matter how fast the response time, at resolutions such as 1900 x 1200, DVI runs at 60 Hz/frames per second, so there's no need for a response time lower than 16ms.

The electronic connection shouldn't be a problem, as the DVI connection used by computer monitors carries exactly the same data as the HDMI connection used for digital television - except for audio. So if you have a monitor that doesn't include an HDMI connection, you just need a DVI/HDMI adapter between your signal source and your display.

How well will it work? Will there be any issues, like scaling? I don't know. We'll post this in the mailbag in hopes one or more readers can weigh in on it.

Dan

HDTV with a Mac mini

From James Johnson:

Dan:

I have a relative who has a Sharp Aquos 46" high def TV that has a DVI input paired with a 1/8" stereo audio input. That is the best monitor that I have ever used. It worked extremely well with my 1.33 GHz Freescale PowerPC Mac mini. When I am able to get my own big screen TV I will only get one that has a DVI + 1/8" stereo audio input so I can use it with my Mac mini. HDMI would not work because . . . how do you feed audio into the HDMI cable from the computer? Maybe Apple will start feeding "monitors" with HDMI in the future?

James Johnson

James,

Thanks for sharing your experience. Maybe Apple will wise up to the fact that a lot of people want to connect their Macs (especially the mini) to HDTV and either replace the DVI port or supplement it with an HDMI port so one cable can handle audio and video. Then include an HDMI-to-DVI dongle for computer monitors....

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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