Tiny Wireless Device

No Bigger Than Your Thumb

Well we finally got the iBook done. Possibly due to its habit of regularly becoming misconnected, the AirPort (WiFi) card had well and truly failed. You could tell this because if you plugged it back in and switched on, the computer wouldn’t boot or even beep. Its fan would just start spinning at maximum speed, and the card would become too hot to touch.

Generally, not a good sign.

Buying a new internal card from Apple would have been expensive, time-consuming, or both, so we went looking for a USB WiFi adapter instead. I was surprised – the shops were full of very reasonably-priced stuff from Netgear, Belkin and Cisco, absolutely none of which seemed to be compatible with Macs. You’d think it would be worth the small cost of developing drivers. Sure, all Macs come with WiFi built in now, but so does virtually every PC laptop.

We found a nice one eventually though, from a maker called Edimax. It was a bit more expensive than the others, but it’s cute as a button. The same size as the smallest Bluetooth adapter, yet it seemed to have no problem receiving a signal throughout the house.

Any catch? Well yeah… The drivers come on a CD. But to save on packaging – laudable as that is – it’s one of those mini CDs, maybe half the diameter of the proper thing. Not a size you see much since the demise of the CD single, which was the same day as they came out. These work perfectly in most CD drives of course, but Macs have slot-loaders. So basically you slide that little disc on in there, and… you start figuring how the hell you’re going to get it out again.

Except possibly by sheer luck once in a while, a mini CD is not going to play in a slot-loading drive. But no matter, you can download the drivers instead. Just connect to the Wi… Oh right.

Where there’s a will; I happened to have a 3G modem with me, though I suppose we could’ve dug up an Ethernet cable too. After that it was relatively simple. Except that the download link required you to enter an email address despite clearly saying it was optional – a double irritation this time. Otherwise though, it seems a lovely little product. And not only does it come with drivers for most versions of OS X and Windows, it even has them for Linux. One to remember.

Too Tired To Think Of A Headline

Windows Vista WOW - iBook?
Attention to detail is important

Oh God, I am now officially exhausted. That iBook proved more recalcitrant than expected. The fragile power connector came away from the logic board – again – requiring me to make a microscopic soldering iron out of the finest screwdriver in my kit. Even then though, the tiny soldered joint didn’t have enough physical strength. In the end nothing would work short of setting it in epoxy. Lots of epoxy.

So I didn’t get a lot of sleep – and I hadn’t recovered from the night I lost repairing someone’s PC. Or more probably, repairing the repairs somebody else did to someone’s PC. That was a weird one. It’s normally well hidden in Windows, but there’s a system of permissions telling it who can do what with every single file. So there was nothing much wrong with this computer – except for the fact that nobody had permission to do anything to anything. Thus while apparently running perfectly, it was utterly useless. You can guess how long it took to figure out what the hell was causing that.

So that’s two nights’ sleep missed in the last week. Meanwhile I have three cartoon commissions going on at once – about as many as I had in all of last year. The Christmas tree is still indoors. I have to seriously consider rewiring the kitchen. I need a shower badly. I haven’t seen my girlfriend in more than two weeks. Those last two are not connected. I’m not keeping up with this blog, I’ve had to put my play on hold, my website redesign on the hold that comes after hold, the other thing I really need to get done on too-depressing-to-even-clearly-recall.

You know what though? These are the good times.

OK, I’m going to bed.

No wait, wash dishes first. Then bed.

Once More Into The Mac

So Many Screws. So Many, Many Screws

Not for the first, not for the second, but for the third time, Niceol’s damn Mac has thrown its Airport card. I am now convinced that this¹ is the worst piece of shit that Apple ever made. Oh, it’s a fine design in some ways. More anonymous than the wild G3 generation, but more refined and cool – indeed the motif seems to be a 1960s fridge. But the attention to detail makes it all the more strange that there’s a huge flaw right at its heart – and getting into the heart means performing dangerous heart surgery.

Don't Try This At Home

Well never again. Not if a wooden splint and a load of impact adhesive have anything to do with it. That WiFi card is staying put.

It’s that grey rectangular thing on the left side there. The white stripe at the front of it is the wood I put in. To be honest, it’s a match – well, a section cut from a kitchen match, much chunkier than the usual kind. It turned out to be the precise thickness to fit between the card and a convenient ledge in the chassis above it. Held both by glue and the original clamp, it should keep this end of the card – the end with the connector that continually worked loose – pressed firmly against the motherboard for ever and ever.

Again.

  1. iBook G4 12″ 1.33GHz Model M9846LL/A, if you need to know.

Mac Fixin’ Again

Circuit City

Some laptops are a lot easier to fix than others. My Toughbook can basically be maintained with a bicycle spanner. At the opposite end, I once had such a hard time taking apart an Acer that I didn’t bother to put it back together again.

Apple’s are in the middle, though some are better than others. The last couple of MacBooks are far better than past models – they actually let you take your own hard drive out, without needing power tools! The Intel iBooks are fairly OK, except that all the connectors inside seem to snake into one bizarre nexus. The iBook G3 on the other hand, though actually my favourite from the outside (it’s the weird curvy one from about 2000), has about 650 screws – no two of which are the same.

But the iBook G4 (1.33GHz) is my poorly-designed nemesis. It’s notorious because the Wi-Fi card has a tendency to come loose, crashing the thing. I fixed one almost exactly a year ago, for my musician friend Niceol. And guess what? It came loose again. As I said at the time:

To help prevent the Wi-Fi card working loose again I needed something to pad out the clamp holding it, make the grip tighter. So I found a nice pale grey piece of card, cut neatly rounded corners, got a pen and wrote “iPad”.

Because Apple design is all about attention to detail.

Seems my design was underpowered. So I replaced the soft card with a thicker piece of plastic. On which, naturally, I scrawled “iPad 2”.

Some days I Even Like Microsoft

Why the hell is insomnia the opposite of sleeping in?

Sorry, I am wrecked because in the last three days I’ve repaired three different laptops. The thing is, they each took more than a day to fix. Not a lot of sleep was had, is basically what I’m saying here. If you’re reading this it means I did by some miracle manage to get up on Wednesday morning. If you’re not reading this, come and wake me quick.

There They Are, Fixed

Of the three, by far the most tricky was a friend’s Mac – an iBook G4 1.33GHz, for those of you who care. Apple are rightly famed for design simplicity, but that applies to the outside only. They seem deliberately hard to repair. Probably so that you’ll have to take it to Apple’s specialists, who are trained to raise their eyebrows and explain to you how much better off you’d be with a new one. Take the hard drive; this is a disk that spends most of its time spinning at several thousand revs a minute, and so is the part of a computer most likely to fail. Usually therefore it’s fairly easy to take out. Even a crappy laptop from the likes of say Compaq has only about six screws to undo. On a Thinkpad it can be just one, and with a Toughbook you simply open a latch. This iBook?

You have to take the entire feckin’ thing apart.

But it wasn’t the hard drive this time. In another sure sign that Jonathan Ive leaves the insides to his secretary, the little circuit board for Airport (Apple’s cute name for Wi-Fi) is mounted in such a way that it can – and given enough time, will – work its way lose. That doesn’t just mean you lose your wireless sometimes, it means that you have a short circuit. So at unpredictable intervals, the computer crashes¹. It took me two days just to work out what was going on here.

The Wi-Fi card on Mac laptops is often just under the keyboard like the RAM. On this particular one however it’s buried right in the heart – just alongside that hard drive. If you want to repair it, you basically have to reduce the machine to its constituent minerals. Which is no fun. I’m an artist, I do have a reasonably delicate touch, but inside this iBook I felt like a gorilla doing the Japanese tea ceremony. It’s finicky and delicate, featuring the lovely innovation of sockets that attach to the circuit board far more weakly than they do to the plugs that go into them. So it is not merely probable but nearly inevitable that in the process of trying to unplug a tiny cable you’ll pull the socket clean off. To repair this, you have to do a soldering job right on the motherboard, on components barely big enough to see.

I actually used a needle for a soldering iron. It took longer to fix this than it did to repair the original problem.

To help prevent the Wi-Fi card working loose again I needed something to pad out the clamp holding it, make the grip tighter. So I found a nice pale grey piece of card, cut neatly rounded corners, got a pen and wrote “iPad”.

Because Apple design is all about attention to detail.

  1. Oh I’m sorry, Macs don’t crash. They have a “kernel panic”, which sounds more like a reaction you might have to peanuts.