Charles Moore's Mailbag

Acer One Replaces PowerBook, Unbootable WD FireWire Drives, WiFi Insecurity, and More

Charles Moore - 2009.04.22 - Tip Jar

Acer One a Replacement for 12" PowerBook

From Bryan:

Hi Charles,

I recently started a new contracting job and needed a replacement for my previous employer's 13" MacBook I used. My problem is compounded by my inability to carry anything much over 1.5 kg and size - I commute by train for 3 hours a day. Rather than buy my own MacBook or even endure the weight and carry my 15" MacBook Pro, I bought the "little" Acer Aspire One (the one smaller than 10"). [Editor's note: The 8.9" Aspire One is currently available with a 3-cell battery for as little as $230 from It weighs just 2.2 lb./1 kg.]

I began by replacing Windows XP with Ubuntu 8.04 Netbook Remix especially for the Aspire One (called Linux4One) and OpenOffice. The hardware has been great, keyboard is typical PC - cheap and tacky, somewhat cramped, battery life is very average - 3 cells gets me around 100 minutes of typing/saving to disk, but overall I'm very happy with it, and at $NZ880 it compared really favourably cost-wise to the secondhand MacBook Air I was looking at for $NZ2000.

I consider the Acer a fine replacement for my memory of the 12" PowerBook I had several years ago, which was also a great portable machine - whether the Acer lasts as long, only time will tell.


Hi Bryan,

Thanks for the report. You've confirmed my impressions. I doubt if the Aspire One will prove as rugged and long-lived as a typical 12" PowerBook, but at the price, even if it only holds up for a couple of years, it won't owe you anything.


Unbootable Western Digital FireWire Drive

From Rich:

Charles -

This is in response to Laurie's question about "BlackBook" replacement choices. (I kinda like that! In a similar vein, one of my iBooks was painted green by a former owner, so I've dubbed it the "GreenBook" - but I digress.)

As you may recall, I got one of the new WhiteBooks about the same time you got your aluminum Unibody. Thanks to the processor load from running SETI, my 'Book did run hot with the fans running until I followed up on your CoolBook suggestion (and thanks for that, by the way). I also installed a pair of Speedballs on the bottom, at the hinge end - something that I've previously done on each of my iBooks, as well. I opted for the white Nvidia model because of the retained FireWire, which I feel I need for compatibility with my family's stable of legacy G3, G4, and G5 machines. The price was nice too, but aesthetics weren't a consideration for me (my dad, an architect, begs to disagree).

Lee's not the only one to have problems with Western Digital external drives. I've got two that have FireWire but can't be used as startup disks because my machines can't see them at power up, even when the drives are turned on first using external power. Since I've been able to replicate this problem with several Macs, I'm assuming it's something about the WD drives. For what it's worth, I have not tried to use any of the software that they came with: I reformatted and partitioned them right out of the box.

As for his comments about living within our means: I'm afraid that doesn't seem to be the "American way" these days, although I concede that maybe it should be. Hooray for the Luddites amongst us! While I don't consider myself one, I'm not an early adopter either. There have been several columns on Low End Mac and other places along the idea of "How good is good enough?" While my new MacBook is certainly neat, there's nothing that I need to do that my older PowerPC machines can't handle, although admittedly with less haste.

Thanks as always -

Hi Rich,

Glad you got the overheating issue sorted out.

I am definitely missing FireWire, but the Unibody is such a delight in so many other ways that I'm forgiving about that deficiency.

In terms of older PowerPC machine being good enough, that was certainly my mantra for three years while I dithered over whether to upgrade to a Macintel, and it's still true for most of the stuff I do, although faster graphics performance on the MacBook isn't hard to take.

However, had I realized that MacSpeech Dictate performance would be such a radical Improvement over what I had been experiencing with iListen on my PowerBook G4 and Pismos, I think I might have been persuaded to make the leap sooner.


PowerBook Duo or Clamshell iBook?

From Evan:

Thanks for your reply! I found it whilst skimming eBay for a PowerBook Duo and a DuoDock . . . sure, I have no money (Curse you child labor laws! oh well, on Nov. 15 I'll legally be able to get a job!) but I can hope . . . Of course, if I'm willing to trade one of my PS/2s, a iBook G3 300 MHz w/576 megs of RAM may fall into my possession, which I could use to fulfill my dream of having a Mac and PC running in tandem and fulfill my netbook problem. Sure, it's not quite the netbook form factor, but I think that won't be much of a problem, seeing as I don't travel that often but need something that I can take with me.

Hi Evan,

The Duo is, like the 12" PowerBook, one of those great small Macs that I admired vicariously but never actually owned. The original Duo concept always appealed to me as one who spends most of his computing time at a desktop workstation but likes to be able to take my main computer platform on the road from time to time.

Of course, it made a lot more sense back in those days when the regular PowerBooks were really heavy to lug around, even though they weren't that large in footprint. Having gotten used to the aluminum PowerBooks and MacBook, it's always a bit of an orientation adjustment to pick up my old PowerBook 5300 or 1400 and feel how unexpectedly heavy they are for their size.

A Duo probably could make a half decent substitute for a netbook, although the "net" part would be considerably handicapped. Off the top of my head, I don't think there are any WiFi solutions that will work with the Duo, and the internal modems are very slow by today's standards. Even the PowerPC Duo 2300 was no ball of fire, being even slower than the lazy PowerBook 5300 due to an internal architecture inherited from the original '030 Duos, along with the case form factor.

The Duos were absurdly expensive in their day, but they were very well built and rugged. One thing they have in common with the netbooks is that their keyboards were undersized, although not quite as radically.


Well, I was thinking of using the iBook G3 as my netbook (any intensive tasks would be reserved for the 4x4, my main machine (4-core processor, 4 GB RAM, and Vista isn't actually as bad as most people say - honestly, it's not quite XP or 2000 but it's definitely not ME. I can live with it.), but I still rather admire the Duo and the DuoDock, mainly because only recently I figured out you could dock laptops (me being prominently a desktop user and only recently experimenting with laptops).

Hi Evan,

Yes, the Duo was a very elegant concept. However, it isn't the only laptop that can be docked.

For example, a firm called BookEndz makes docks for a variety of Apple laptops, including the iBook G3


WiFi Range Reduction?

From Scott:

Is there a way to reduce the range of wireless to make it more difficult and less attractive for the neighbors to steal your wireless in the first place? Perhaps removing the antenna(s) from the gateway or something? I know in my neighborhood there are a bunch of wireless signals stronger than mine. I think a wireless thief would go for the strongest and fastest wireless he could break into . . . just a random thought.


Hi Scott,

Beats me. The orientation usually is to increase range I guess. One way to limit range would be to use an older metal PowerBook as a wireless server!


My wireless gateway has a setting to limit it to wireless B only. If my neighbors had Internet access that exceeded the speed of wireless B (not likely), then that would be one way to make my wireless less attractive I suppose? I don't think anyone has ever tried to break into my wireless though, so I'm not even concerned. I could just run a wired network if I had to.

It might be good to point out to readers that their Internet traffic is not secure, even through a wired network or the most secure wireless network, unless they and the people they talk to use email with 128-bit encryption, or they're visiting websites with 128-bit encryption, which all financial sites do as far as I know. Those are the only cases where their Internet traffic will be secure, regardless of how secure their wireless may be. Most people don't have secure email, which means their email username and password are broadcast in the clear every time, even over a wired network, or secure wireless.


Hi Scott,

A sobering thought. Right now I'm completely wired - dialup Internet and a hard-wired home ethernet network. However, we are told that broadband via wireless is on its way here (I'm not holding my breath, but I'm cautiously hopeful), and that will change things. OTOH, this is (to quote a former head of the local RCMP detachment) "essentially a no-crime area" - but most readers of this column will not be as fortunate in that regard, so your counsel is well-taken.


WiFi Insecurity

From Ralph:

Thanks, Charles, for forwarding me Dan's answer. I do want to answer him:

Hi Dan!

Thank you for your response.

Regarding possible hardware: You can use several PCI WiFi cards, which are supported natively for OS X. My card of choice is Asus W138 v2, which uses a Broadcom chipset and OS X (starting with 10.3 "Panther") recognizes it as native AirPort Card. Same goes for the Aria Extreme, Buffalo WLI2-PCI-G54S, Motorola WPC1810G, and US Robotics USR5417 PCI Wireless cards.

Another option, at least for desktop machines which need wireless networking, would be to attach a wireless router capable of WPA2 security via ethernet-based bridged mode - that's what I do (two machines cabled to the router, from there via WPA2 to another wireless router, which connects the Internet), e.g. All of these cost you a mere US$20 to US$50, the most for each device - many of them available used and cheaper.

Regarding the N standard: It's still drafted and not finalized yet, so anyone buying hardware today has no chance of knowing whether the finalized standard "N" will be supported - it is likely, though, via firmware updates, but neither ensured nor enforceable. And there are quite some inconsistencies regarding N capable devices between different manufacturers. Right now 802.11g is good for anyone but one wanting to transmit Blu-ray 1080p HD content via wireless networking - but those definitely won't be using low-end Mac hardware firsthand.

I still do insist on my initial recommendation: If you transmit sensitive personal data over your wireless network, you must stay away from WEP all together. If you use a WEP based machine to connect to the Internet, the same applies. WEP is termed "completely hacked" since five years ago (took a couple of minutes), and today's hacking takes a mere couple of seconds. You are right, this very likely involves someone with bad attitudes - but this is the security threat one wants to eliminate at all costs: A criminal hacking into your network to steal sensitive data, as credit card information, address, phone numbers, pictures, etc. or using your Internet connection to commit crimes which could put the owner of the connection into quite some legal trouble.

Now, as I mentioned, the original AirPort Cards could be updated to 128-bit encryption via Mac OS 9 using the AirPort 2.0.4 Update. This basically turns your 64-bit WEP encryption card into a 128-bit WEP encryption card (same goes for the AirPort Base Station). The more important thing it does, though, is: When you're running OS X 10.3 Panther (and upwards), you will get WPA capabilities and therefore a magnitude better security - but not so with System 9.

Technology has moved on, and unfortunately regarding OS 9 hardware, wireless networking is not recommended at all, as it is forced to use WEP with all its negative implications. I must repeat: WEP 64-bit/128-bit encryption does not give you security at all; it's a complete false sense of safely connecting. And the breach you want to avoid is not your neighbour sniffing in shortly, but someone with criminal intent to steal from you and cause you severe economic damages - but even your neighbour can cause you serious harm. Legally speaking you are solely responsible to secure your network. You are accounted liable, if you didn't protect your network with reasonable . This is in regard to the US, I think, it certainly applies to us here in Germany.

As technology moves on, even WPA slowly comes near its end of life, too, as successful hacking attempts based on ill-implemented paraphrase checking (proven 2008). It's still kind of secure, but must phase out.

The wireless security you want to choose today for your devices (any of it connecting to sensitive data) is called WPA2 AES encryption, nothing less. The hardware for older machines is in place, too.

Here's an interesting read from one year ago. Check out all the comments to sense the need for WPA2 AES:

With best wishes,


I reiterate my position: Some security is better than none. Given the choice between a wide-open WiFi network with no security and an 802.11b one with WEP, which one is more likely to be used by a neighbor? The one that doesn't require any hacker skills or special software.

My point isn't that using WEP and not broadcasting the SSID makes a network secure, but that using them is enough to keep casual users from using your network and should be sufficient to demonstrate to the courts, should it ever be necessary, that you tried to make your network secure.


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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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