Charles Moore's Mailbag

Pismo Worth a G4 Upgrade?, What to Do with Old Macs, and Dangers from Texting and Talking Drivers

Charles Moore - 2009.08.05 - Tip Jar

Driving Dangers from Cell Phones and Texting

From Michael in response to Texting Kills: Cell Phone Use Impairs Drivers More than Alcohol:

Being a resident of Toronto, I believe the cavalier misuse of cellphones while driving has long since reached epidemic proportions. Drivers who would never consider transporting their kids without appropriate restraints don't think twice about endangering their safety in this manner.

However, there are varying levels of impairment, so the statement "significantly more impaired" should be a relative one. Someone who has an impairment level twice the legal limit of Blood Alcohol Content is more dangerous than one who is close to or slightly over that limit. This is not intended as any defense of the selfish and foolish use of cellphones while driving, just a reminder that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Thank you for covering this important issue.

Michael

Hi Michael,

Thank you for the comment.

Actually, the statistical data I had in hand when preparing the article significantly understated the potential dangers of texting while driving compared with a new study (released the same day my column was published) authored by Dr. Rich Hanowski of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) and to be presented at the First International Conference on Driver Distraction and Inattention in Sweden on September 28 and 29. He found that a driver is 23.2 times more likely to crash if they text while behind the wheel and that text messaging diverts the driver's eyes away from the road for about 4.6 seconds over a six-second interval. A driver is nearly 6 times more likely to crash while dialing on a cell phone, and reaching for an electronic device was associated with a 6.7 times increased risk for a crash or near crash.

That's far worse than any figures for diminished capability at or near the legal limit for alcohol that I've seen. Of course, as you say there are degrees of alcohol impairment, but I deduce that you would have to be pretty badly in the bag to be 23 times less capable.

ABC News reported that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting immediately," at a news conference yesterday.

Here in Nova Scotia, where using a handheld cellphone while driving has been illegal for over a year, news surveys and observation of traffic indicate that too many people are still ignoring the law, which makes a tougher crackdown seem in order.

Personally, I don't want to share the road with nitwits too boneheaded to cognate that texting while driving is a really bad idea.

Charles

Pismo King of the Mac Laptop Hill, but Worth a G4 Upgrade?

From Tom in response to Enduring Pismo Still King of the Mac Laptop Hill:

Hi Charles,

Good to read this well-written article about the classic, fabulous Pismo, a one-of-a-kind laptop that still has viability (and, thanks to Apple's quality of manufacture, reliability) after nine years on the constantly changing, volatile computer market. Simply awesome, unbelievable, but, as we Pismo owners know, absolutely real and true!

My Pismo G3/500 runs beautifully, zipping along on its wireless connection, running "Tiger" 10.4.11 like a champ, and scorching through many Classic programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and Quark in OS 9.2.2. This last factor is something not always addressed when considering the Pismo's worth. A lot of Classic programs, such as the three I mentioned and many more, still are perfectly usable - even powerful - in today's world and are in daily use both in business and personal computing.

The Pismo runs these beautifully. The newest Mac laptops (and other models) won't run them at all, unless there's some hack software out there that I'm not aware of. Why move from what's still working - unless you have to due to hardware upgrades? Save your money! - no small consideration in today's economy.

I really rather like the curvy, sleek lines of the Pismo (and the older PowerBooks in general). If not precisely sexy, certainly it is elegant and attractive. In many ways, the Pismo is indeed king of the hill and likely to remain in contention for that title at least for a while to come.

One question: Does the G4 550 MHz upgrade really make all that much of a speed difference for the Pismo? $300 worth, anyway? (I didn't pay that much for the Pismo on which I am typing this - got an incredible machine for peanuts.) You have the experience and discernment to know the answer to this, so what do you think?

Now on to another subject I've been following with interest in your writing, that of medical marijuana and the problems some people have getting the analgesic effects without the side effects caused by smoking it. I suppose I will date myself by even bringing this up, but if you need the truly beneficial effects of marijuana but don't want to smoke it, how about brownies? They were all the rage in the late '60s for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the lack of tars and resins usually taken in by smoking.

The onset of effect was much smoother, the "high" (analgesic and hypnotic effects) much longer-lasting, smoother, and easier to handle - and what the hey, brownies taste good (no noticeable taste from the marijuana unless you really overdo the amount you put in, which you don't want to do). Best of all, it only takes brownie mix and an oven, and you're in business. It's a much nicer and, I think, healthier way to ingest the THC and get its beneficial effects.

Will continue to follow your writing, keep up the good work!

God Bless,
Tom Gabriel

Hi Tom,

Glad to hear that you're getting excellent service from your G3 Pismo, and you're absolutely right about the utility of old Classic programs. The Pismo is lightning in OS 9, and if the older software does what you need it to do, then it's a great and economical alternative. There are still a few Classic apps I use regularly in Classic Mode, but to get the full performance benefit you need to boot into OS 9.

For me, adding the G4 processor upgrade made the difference from having effectively semi-retired the machine in late 2003 to my still using it in mid-2009. The boost in performance is substantial with AltiVec-optimized applications (I use Photoshop Elements a lot), and I understand the PPC versions of OS X have a fair bit of AltiVec optimization built in.

That said, I did try running my "middle" Pismo with the G3 processor that came in it for a while in "Tiger" and was impressed by how lively it was, so perhaps the performance difference isn't as dramatic as it was in OS X 10.3 "Panther" days.

Whether a G4 upgrade is worth the cost is a value judgment, and indeed the fair market value of a Pismo today is only a bit less than the price of an upgrade, although Wegener Media will put you in one for $200. I'm using a Wegener 550 MHz G4 upgrade in this Pismo I'm typing on right now and it's been great.

As for marijuana brownies, a person I know who has experimented says the effect is somewhat different but worthwhile. Apparently the key is to extract the cannabinol constituents by sautéing the weed in oil or butter first the right way - details of which now elude me. For me it's not an ideal alternative, because part of my fibromyalgia problems are some severe food sensitivities, including ones to both grain products and sugar, which are the main ingredients of brownies! However, for many folks it could be the answer, and indeed much healthier than smoking the stuff.

Charles

Pismo G4 Upgrade Value

From Scott:

Hey Charles,

I hear you talk about the 550 MHz G4 upgrade for the Pismo all the time. What real benefit does 50 MHz or AltiVec have over the stock 500 MHz G3 CPU? I doubt many Pismo users will be encoding video with their laptop. My experience has shown that video encoding (not video editing) is the only application where AltiVec is a huge performance advantage. AltiVec isn't even used for "normal" applications like the word processing, email, and web surfing most laptop users would be doing.

If you really need AltiVec, you probably wouldn't want one of those early 7400 or 7410 processors without level 3 cache, like the Pismo G4 upgrade. You'd be far better off with the 7455 processor with level 3 cache, like in the last Titaniums. The G4 upgrade probably costs as much as the whole Pismo would today. I'm wondering if the average user would even notice 50 MHz? I can hardly tell the difference between the 400 MHz and 500 MHz CPU settings on my G3 iBook.

Scott

Hi Scott,

For me, OS X 10.3 "Panther" and the G4 upgrade were a new lease on life for my Pismo, which by early 2004 had been semi put out to pasture after I bought a 700 MHz G3 iBook. Of course, I use Photoshop (Elements) a lot, but the OS X Finder in PPC versions of OS X also incorporates AltiVec optimization.

Here's what I wrote in my first report after the Pismo arrived back from Daystar with the G4 transplant:

"A year ago, as I was exploring the capabilities of my then-new iBook G3 700 MHz, the old 500 MHz Pismo, lovely computer though it was, seemed like it was well past its prime. It was still fast in OS 9, but a sluggish performer in OS X 10.2 Jaguar compared with the livelier Quartz Extreme supporting iBook,

"However, OS 10.3 changed all that. Installing Panther gave the old Pismo a new lease on life. Indeed, running 10.3, the Pismo actually seemed faster than the iBook, which didn't derive nearly as much of a turbo-boost from the Panther upgrade as the Pismo did.

"Now with this 550 MHz G4 processor from Daystar in the Pismo, there's no contest. The Pismo is just flat-out faster. I didn't do any formal benchmarking, but programs now open with only a couple of bounces in the Dock; menus and Windows snap open and closed just about as quickly as they do in OS 9; browsers feel like they're on steroids, and scrolling - always a bugbear in OS X - is significantly improved, almost too much so in Classic Mode. The speed increase across the board is impressive."

With Wegener Media offering G4 processor upgrades for the Pismo for $200, my take is that for someone who loves their Pismo and plans on using it for a while yet, the cost of the upgrade will help them get the best possible performance and enjoyment from the machine. On the other hand, if you don't use AltiVec optimized applications a lot, it may not be a good value. It's a value judgment call to be sure.

Charles

Missing My Pismos

From Leo LeBron:

Glad you enjoyed my Pismo article. I had a feeling you would.

I really enjoyed your article, too.

Just wish one of my Pismos survived; I would still be using it to this day.

Right now, however, I am working on saving up for a Unibody MacBook. Might even get a used 13" model. That would be plenty of power. I was thinking of getting a white MacBook, but the unibodies seem so much stronger, and I have had bad luck with two iBooks recently, so I think the unibodies might fare better in my hands.

Thanks again.

Leo V

Hi Leo,

I just love my 13" Unibody MacBook, which is the first laptop I've yet owned that seems to have potential to displace the Pismo as my all-time favorite, although we'll have to wait a bit to see how the durability aspect plays out.

I would encourage anyone who is on the fence between a whiteBook and a unibody to fall on the latter side. These machines are a whole different dimension, and Apple will now sell you a Certified Refurbished 2.0 GHz model like mine for $950.

Mine is an ACR unit and has been flawless so far. The lack of FireWire is a royal pain, but I've made my peace with working around it. One of Apple's most boneheaded decisions ever, but at least they've now repented of it, and the machine is otherwise so sublime that it helps one be forgiving.

Charles

What to Do With Old and Ancient Macs?

From Chris:

Greetings,

There are several Macs I don't know what to do with. Let's start with the only one I still own, and the first I actually paid money for:

Pismo (G3 400, 256 MB RAM, 6 GB HDD, AirPort, iffy Matsushita DVD drive, 15-to-30-minute battery, screen that's starting to pink out)

After reading about it on Low End Mac countless times, I had to pick one up for my first (well, first after the MainStreet my neighbors gave me) laptop, under the very tight budget of 100 US$. The main issue here is that 1 GB of RAM will run me about 60 US$, a new hard drive will cost another 60 US$, a replacement DVD drive that reads data discs reliably won't be cheap (especially if I take the external FireWire route), and new batteries are 150 US$ each, to say nothing of replacing the ailing backlight. At least the keyboard's pretty good by laptop standards. Not WallStreet good, but still good.

It's no longer my main mobile machine, though (replaced it with an HP TC1100 that cost less than a G4/550 upgrade for that Pismo), and I can't think of a reason to keep it around other than to run Classic Mac OS games on. OS 9 doesn't have a modern browser and has such disappointing multitasking that a stalled browser will stall the entire system, and 256 MB of RAM does not cut it for OS X Tiger at all. E-mail-wise, Eudora 6 can't even handle multiple email accounts, though Mail on OS X is decent. In fact, I'd say that the lack of RAM and hard drive space for OS X use combined with the only-usable-as-a-UPS battery are what hinder its possible uses to me, the battery much moreso. (If I get around to upgrading the TC1100's hard drive, I can put its current 40 GB hard drive in the Pismo and split it into an HFS+ partition for OS 9 use and an NTFS partition for use as an external FireWire drive in Target Disk Mode with all of the Windows machines I run into, but given that I have to worry about power if there's no AC outlet nearby....)

Why don't I just sell it, you ask? It's my only Mac, in a household of Windows-based PCs (most of which are mine, because I generally use them to play many generations of DOS/Windows games in addition to other computing tasks), and my neighbors have a ton of Classic Mac OS software that I could use - everything from HyperCard to old games, not all of which have both Windows 9x and Mac versions on the same disc.

Said neighbors (who got me into Macs to begin with) also have the following:

  • iMac G3 indigo (350 MHz, 320 MB RAM, 7 GB HDD, no FireWire or AirPort)
  • Power Mac 6500 (exact specs unknown; it's tucked away in storage)
  • Mac IIcx (exact specs also unknown; it's tucked away in storage too, but I do know that it needs a new PRAM battery)

The iMac is set up and ready to use, which is why I know the exact specs, but they don't use it. The machines they do use are three iBook G4s (two of them 1.42 GHz models with 1 GB RAM total) and a Core 2 Duo MacBook (2 GB RAM), all running Tiger, even though they don't use Classic Mode and could run Leopard on every one of them (and, in the MacBook's case, Snow Leopard).

About the only use I could think of for them that doesn't involve Classic Mac OS gaming would be the iMac being converted into a sort of file server, though the 128 GB hard drive barrier could pose problems. (I'm thinking that they could use such a file server to back up their important documents and iTunes libraries.) The 6500 running a Linux distro of some sort might be better for that if the case can hold multiple hard drives, though, and I have no idea what anyone could do with the IIcx in this day and age, unless it's me and I find some 680x0-era Mac games that run on it.

What do you recommend?

-Chris

Hi Chris,

Having a house full of old Macs that still work fine, or in a few cases would if they had new PRAM batteries, I share your dilemma to a degree. How useful such machines are depends entirely on if one has a practical use for them, and I really don't beyond the three laptops I use regularly - one of them a Pismo, and another Pismo that my wife uses.

I handed off my old WallStreet to my daughter, who is getting some use out of it, and our six-year-old G3 iBook died completely last winter, "solving" the "what to do with it" issue for that Mac.

I do think the time comes when it's time to call it quits. Your Pismo has a number of deficiencies and issues, and it's hard to make a compelling case for spending the money it would take to restore and equip it to run OS X adequately. It would make a good parts mule if you were to buy another Pismo. Depends I guess on how much you like Pismos.

I'm hoping to get another few years out of my Pismos, but it will depend on continued reliability, and I do have a parts machine for spares. Both have G4 upgrades and 8x DVD SuperDrives and upgraded RAM, so they run Tiger 10.4.11 nicely.

Charles

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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