Charles Moore's Mailbag

Pismo Battery and Screen Problems, Zip vs. Hard Drive for Backup, and MacBook Air Packaging

Charles Moore - 2008.05.07 -Tip Jar

Pismo Battery Problems

From Leo LeBron:

Hey, Charles.

I just got one of thesefine machines (my second one). It's a 500 MHz/128 MB/12 GB machine,with 128 MB extra RAM installed. I upgraded the hard drive to a nicespacious 80 GB 5400 RPM Seagate and nearly maxed the RAM to 768 MB. Inoted that in some of your older articles, you said that 10.4.4 breaksthe Pismo's modem. Well, Apple must have fixed it, because it worksflawlessly under 10.4.11. Do you happen to know in what update this wasfixed? Just out of my morbid curiosity.

Also, I was wondering if your Pismo does the same thing, but mineseems to have issues with the battery, but probably because it was instorage for a while. However, it arrived to me with a good PRAMbattery, as I was able to boot the machine, and it keeps the time withthe main power disconnected. Anyways, the problem I am having is thefirst time I charged up the battery and ran it from battery power, itcut out at exactly 80% and went to sleep. Upon pressing the batterybutton, it had the single flashing LED, Which is odd because minutesbefore, it had all 4 LEDs lit up.

Upon recharging and discharging, it cut out well before it hit 0%,this time at exactly 70%. Note that I get no low battery warnings oranything. Third charge, and it cut out a little under 70%, I think 65%or so. If I keep doing full charge cycles on it, will it eventuallyreach full capacity? It seems to be running longer and longer eachtime.

Also, Apple System Profiler reports the charge cycles as 0. It seemsto be accurately measuring the full charge capacity and remainingcapacity, which the former was 2400+ mAh a few cycles ago, and now it'sat 2161 mAh. coconutBatteryoddly says the original battery capacity is -1 mAh, which isimpossible.

Lastly, the OS X battery menubar item never finishes calculating mytime remaining, or time until full (when charging). It always says"Calculating . . . remaining" or "Calculating . . .until full"

Would a simple PRAM reset fix any or all of these problems? I don'tthink this machine has been running on battery in a long, long time,but so long as it gets longer than an hour like my iBook did, I amset.

Thanks, and sorry for the long email.

Hi Leo,

Congrats on the Pismo purchase.

Yes, I had issues with the early builds of Tiger andmy Pismo's modem, to a degree that I downgraded to Panther indesperation for a while. However, when version 10.4.6 came out Ireinstalled Tiger and have had no more modem issues. I'm currentlyrunning OS 10.4.11 and finding it a smooth performer.

As to your battery issue, batteries can be weird, butmy suspicion would be that yours may be on the way out. Since it hasn'tbeen used for some time, putting it through some charge/recharge cycleswould tend to revive it to a degree, but I'm not optimistic about itlasting. I was getting similar behavior with a FastMac TruePower battery in one ofmy Pismos last fall, and the battery was replaced under warranty.

I'm doubtful that this is a PRAM issue, but you shoulddefinitely try resetting the Power Manager. If you're not familiar withit, on the Pismo the process is:

  • If the computer is on, turn it off.
  • Press and release the reset button located on the rear panel of thecomputer between the external video and modem ports. Wait 5seconds.
  • Press the Power button to restart the computer.

One way to vet out whether the problem is with thebattery itself would be to substitute a known-good battery (perhapsfrom your second Pismo?).


Thanks for the tips. I tried resetting the PMU (which I Googled tofind out how), but that did not help. The battery still says"calculating". I knew something was fishy when I pulled the mainbattery (I ran it down until the computer fell asleep) and the machineshut off completely (sleep light stopped pulsing, luckily I did nothave any work open). This means the PRAM battery is likely dead, right?It seemed fine for a while, because it was keeping the time when I putthe battery in the right bay to test the contacts on that side. Guess Ineed a new one now. Any good supplier of these? I don't feel safebuying a "new" one on eBay.

Oh, and I was testing my video out capabilities and had the machinehooked up via S-video to my 15" LCD (the blueberry one that is hookedto my B&W, Applemodel M4551, a great display). It works, but the video is off. There isa 1 inch black bar around the edge of the screen, and the colors areoff. I tried running the ColorSync calibrator, advanced options andall; I tried adjusting the resolution; I even tried the settings on themonitor. Nothing seems to be working. I tried different cables, bootingin to Mac OS 9, everything I can think of. Could it just be themonitor? RCA input is just fine, I use it all the time with my PS2.Unfortunately I have no S-video inputs on my TV, about the only otherthing I can think of are the ones on my dead G3 AIO's personality card. Icould swap that into my beige G3 MT, but that seemslike a lot of work. It's not critical, since I can output to VGA aswell, and when I get a Bookendz dock for this thing, I will.


Hi Leo,

Are you losing your time settings when the machinepowers down? If not, the PRAM battery must still be working.

Wegener Media has PRAM/PMUbatteries for the Pismo for $18.99. Other suppliers would be iFixit andTechRestore, PowerBookGuy, and probably more I'm not thinking of.

See iFixit's Pismoteardown guide for info on installing the PRAM battery.

I still suspect that your main battery is going southon you.


It must be the PRAM battery. I rebooted into OS 9, and the time wasalready off. I don't notice it in X, because I use the auto syncfeature. I guess I will have to get a new one now. Hopefully that curesmy battery issues, and even if not, I can always get a new, highercapacity one. (iFixit has a 7200 mAh one that is almost double thecapacity of the original one.

I can see me using this machine well into the next decade. Forgetthe black MacBook I was gonna get for college, this is the machine.Just gotta get another 512 MB stick to max this machine out, a 120 GBhard drive (optional, the 80 GB feels big enough, but there are somethings on my B&W's hard drive that can't fit on my Pismo, but allmy documents/movies/music/pictures are here, so I am happy.) I alsoneed to grab a USB 2.0 PC Card.

Oh, and one very cool feature I just found out today: I havemy 4th gen U2 iPod hooked to my B&W G3 desktop via FireWire. Iconnected my long, gold plated FireWire cable to the Pismo to copyfiles overnight, but I booted regularly, and iTunes launched uponlogin, and my iPod appeared on the desktop and in iTunes, and it evensynched with my library on my Pismo.

Hi Leo,

If the date setting is unstable, you very likely havea PRAM battery issue.

The extended life batteries are great. I have a coupleof 7200 mAh ones from FastMac and a NuPower (OWC) 6800 mAh one, and anyof them more than doubles the runtime best runtime I ever got from anOEM Pismo battery (although the newest one of those I had was a yearold when I got it).

Nifty with the iPod sync.

I definitely intend on using a Pismo into the nextdecade. I figure Tiger should stay reasonably supported for at leasttwo years and possibly longer.


Fuzzy Pismo Screen

From Laurie:

Hi Charles!

I wonder if you can give me some insight into a problem I'm havingwith my Pismo display. I'm not sure if the problem is actually just thedisplay itself (I hope so, because it's easier and cheaper to swapdisplays with the infamous "up in smoke" Pismo whose trackpad gave upthe ghost last summer). Suddenly, for the past couple of weeks or so,type is showing up as faint and fuzzy . . . both in webbrowsers and applications. It's getting worse by the day. I'm nottechnically proficient enough to know if it's something that needs tobe replaced inside or if it's just the display. And you are theauthority as far as I'm concerned!

Thanks as always for your help,


Hi Laurie,

Thanks for the kind words. I'm humbled.

The problem you've described is something I haven'tpreviously encountered.

If everything else seems to be functioning normally,my best guess would be that the issue is with the display itself, butit's just a guess.

One way to do a differential diagnosis would be toconnect an external monitor to determine if the same phenomenonmanifested there. If not, you could be pretty sure it is a screenissue. If text is still fuzzy and faint on another monitor, that wouldindicate something else, probably in the video support circuitry.


From Laurie

Since all I have is a TV, I have to go buy fancy cables/adapters tohook it up (don't have an S-video cable or an S-video port on myTV) but I will try that. Thanks :-)

Yeah, it's strange . . . and is causing a lot of eyestrainand headaches. I don't want to have to buy my third laptop in 2 years,that's for sure. Much as I love this thing, I'm starting to doubt thewisdom of buying 7-year-old computers and using them for 18 hours aday.

Thanks for what seems like the billionth time.


Hi Laurie,

You have a point, but of course issues like displaylife depend a lot on how much a machine has been used rather than it'schronological age. For example, my "newest" Pismo purchased a year agohas a screen and keyboard that appear to be as good as they were whennew, even though this machine is actually 10 months older since date ofmanufacture than my "old" Pismo, which has had a ton of use. Thedisplay backlight has had the "pink screen" disease for more than acouple of years now, but it still clears after a few minutes use. Ifthe display screen turns out to be your problem, it's an unusualone.

Another Pismo advantage is that DIY screen orbacklight replacement is within reason for handy users, which is notthe case with any of the aluminum PowerBooks.

If you had a VGA adapter, it shouldn't be hard to findsomebody with a PC desktop who might let you connect to check out thevideo on their monitor.


I didn't know I could hook it up to another computer! I still havemy dead-trackpad Pismo, and also an eMac. I can do that?

I understand your point entirely . . . and it's the only reason I ameven slightly reconsidering the Pismo path I took. I love this thingbeyond reason, but I run it into the ground. I often work 80-100 hoursa week, and thus might need to get a machine with a few less miles onit. That's unfortunately my reality. Believe me, my ideal outcome hereis to find out it's just the display, swap it out, and resolve to splitmy work time between Pismo and eMac from now on. I don't feel like Iwant or need a new laptop. All things considered, this thing is darnnear perfect. 100 GB hard drive, 768 RAM, Wireless G, runs Tiger, allthe convenience of the bays and ports . . . and I paid $240for it. Hello.

Please let it be the display...

PS: Thanks so much for listening. You're my guru.

Hi Laurie,

You can connect a Pismo to any VGA monitor that the8 MB of VRAM and Rage 128 Mobility GPU have the guts to drive(millions of colors on external displays up to 21"), which covers quitea lot of monitors used with desktop PCs.

No way that I know of, however, to output videothrough a built-in monitor in another laptop or an all-in-one desktoplike your eMac. The monitor from your other Pismo could be swappedover, but it's not a simple procedure. You can check out the iFixitPismo teardown guide for what you would be up against:

Since you like the Pismo and it's doing what you needit to do, it's hard to beat as a value for the money. Mine just seem togo on and on, although they get more like 3 hours a day use (thePowerBook G4 is mylong hours machine these days).


Stupid Radio Shack didn't have the cable I needed. But I'm beginningto think this screen problem is really my rapidly failing eyesight! Iturned on my other Pismo and don't see much difference! I need to goget my eyes checked. Staring at this thing night and day may be thereal problem. And I looked the iFixit thing and PowerbookMedic, and the displayswap scared me to death.

So on advice from your column, I've decided to reaffirm mycommitment and go for the Daystar G4 upgrade now. For under $300 I can turn this baby intothe same computer I'd pay $600+ for if I were to buy a used G4 PB.Probably one day I will need to buy a new laptop. But for now I'm happywith what I have. And if there is something wrong with mydisplay, inside or out, Daystar will be able to diagnose and/or fixit.

Best as always,

Hi Laurie,

Yes, the VGA adapter is an Apple part, unlikely to besold anyone but Apple or a Mac-specialist reseller. They shipped withthe computer when it was new, but it's rare to get those ancillary bitswhen you buy used.

I've been very satisfied with my Daystar Pismoupgrade.

If you are looking for a good deal on some new specs,check out Goggles4u andOptical4less.

I bought a new pair of single vision eyeglasses fromgoggles4u back in November - titanium frames, high-density lenses,antiglare, anti-scratch, and polarizing coatings for the princely totalof total of US$37.44 delivered to my door (from Pakistan). The qualityof both frames and optics is excellent - maybe the best pair of specsI've had in 50 years of wearing glasses.


You're such a sweetie. :-) I have an eye test Wednesdaymorning, and I will definitely be visiting those sites for my backupspecs (I wear contacts, but also glasses before I put the lensesin/after I take them out).

Can you believe I think I'm experiencing the infamous pink screen ofdeath on the dead-trackpad Pismo (which is the same one that went up inflames when I got it)? The screen has a pinkish hue. I'm to the pointnow where I have to laugh about all of this. I feel like I'm in somereally bad geek sitcom. Or the butt of a string of cruel practicaljokes.

I already took the Daystar plunge last night, I'm afraid. But I feelgood about it! (She says, conveniently ignoring the fact that she isclearly where Pismos go to die.)

Hi Laurie,

The pink screen is not really a biggie, althoughannoying. My older Pismo has been afflicted now for more than twoyears. It gets a couple or three hours use daily and has only verygradually gotten worse. The pink tinge upon wakeup clears substantiallyafter a few minutes uptime, so I just haven't bothered doing anythingabout it so far. Does that sound like the symptoms you're noticing. Thecure for that is to replace the CCFL backlight tube. They aren'tterribly expensive, but replacing it is a job you wouldn't want totackle yourself unless you're fairly handy with a soldering iron andcomfortable taking things apart. Daystar can probably help you withthat.


The pink screen is on the dead trackpad/up in smoke Pismo - the oneI'll be relying on while my current baby is with Daystar - so I think Ican live with it. It's really not that bad, and yes, it does prettymuch clear up, although the screen does keep a slightly pinkish hue.Bet I can re-calibrate that into nonexistence with very little effort.:-)

Me with a soldering iron, taking things apart. Now there's afrightening thought....

Backup to Zip Disks vs. Hard Drive

From Dan Knight:

Please pass this along to BillHatchell:

I used to do backup to 100 MB Zip disks, and I gave up after 240 MBhard drives. It beat floppies, but it was still a long, slow, tediousprocess. The best solution is a second IDE hard drive, either insidethe computer or external using FireWire (the Classic Mac OS doesn'tsupport USB 2.0, and 1.1 is too slow for backup).

One of the nicest things about the Power Mac G3 and G4 models isthat they all use standard IDE optical drives, so it's trivial to plugin a third-party CD-RW, Combo, or DVD+/-RW drive. It's not a fast wayto do backup, but media is cheap. (You may need third-party drivers.It's a long time since I used my beige G3, but I recall that the CD-RWI pulled from my Dell desktop just worked.)


MacBook Air Packaging

From Eolake Stobblehouse:

Ya gotta like Apple's new efforts in making their packaging compact.This parcel isbarely bigger than the one my last version of Photoshop came in, andthat one only contained a CD and 38 pages of legal boilerplate.:)


Thanks Eolake.


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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 and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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