Why I Can’t Just Enjoy My New 13-inch MacBook Pro

It really is a business expense.

13" MacBook ProLast week, I finally broke down and ordered a new MacBook Pro. I’d been wanting a computer like the 13″ MacBook for a while, but what I really wanted was a Mac netbook. When Apple unveiled the 13″ MacBook Pro at the Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference earlier this month, I finally stopped denying the truth: that there would be no Mac netbook in my immediate future. Instead, I saw the new 13″ MacBook Pro as a reward for my patience. Not only did it have more features than the MacBook I’d been looking at, but it would cost less money.

Apple also announced some new features in Snow Leopard. While I’m not prepared (because of NDA stuff) to write publicly about Snow Leopard, I am in the middle of a revision to my Mac OS Visual QuickStart Guide for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. One of the hurdles I was facing was not being able to show and discuss features of Mac OS X that work on the new MacBooks. About two years ago, I bought a 15-inch MacBook Pro to use as my “test mule” for writing about Leopard. That computer simply doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the newer models I need to write about.

It looked as if I’d have to buy a new MacBook Pro so I could write about it for my book.

This is both good and bad:

  • Good because having to buy a new computer for work means I can deduct the cost of it from my taxes. (I use my computers for all of my various business endeavors — I don’t play games on my computers. If I’m not working, I’m out having fun somewhere or sleeping.) And let’s face it: it’s always nice to have a computer with the latest technology.
  • Bad because having to buy a new computer means having to come up with the money to pay for it. Just because I can deduct it as a business expense doesn’t mean it’s free. (So many people don’t understand this simple fact: you still have to pay for business expenses; it’s just like being able to buy them at a discount equal to your tax bracket percentage.) In this case, the final price tag came to just under $2K. Ouch.

It’s also bad because I never seem able to buy a new computer and just enjoy it like a normal person.

Believe it or not, this is my first “unboxing” video. Let’s just say it doesn’t completely suck. The weird noises you hear in the background are coming from Alex the Bird.

Most folks buy a computer, open the box, fire it up, and start exploring. I, on the other hand, buy a computer, open the box, fire it up, erase the hard disk, and install beta operating system software on it. I then get to spend several weeks exploring the minutiae of the operating system’s elements, including every single window and dialog that might appear to the average user. I take screen shots of everything I see and write about it in an unbelievable level of detail.

So right now, as I type this, I’m waiting for the Developer Preview of Snow Leopard to install on my brand new, just-out-of-the-box 13″ MacBook Pro’s freshly erased hard disk. I’ll put some sample files on it, set it down on my workspace table beside my 24-inch iMac, get them talking to each other via AirPort network, and start exploring the current topic I’m writing about, which is the Dashboard and Widgets. I’ll put my old 15-inch MacBook Pro away in its case and set it atop the Dell laptop I’ve also brought along with me this summer to revise another book for another publisher.

When I get back to Arizona, if I’m not too busy doing other things, I’ll use the discs that came with the 13″ MacBook Pro to restore it to its factory hard drive configuration. Then maybe — just maybe — I’ll put it back in the box and have a reopening, trying my best to pretend it’s brand new again.

Back to Basics with my 12-inch PowerBook

Who needs a netbook? I got this old clunker.

PowerBookYears ago, I bought a 12″ PowerBook. I was attracted to its small size and great power. Back when it was first released, you may remember, it was considered a tiny marvel. While other people flocked to the 17″ PowerBook, I wanted sheer portability and the 12″ was my dream laptop.

Time marches on. A G4 processor operating with 640 MB of RAM isn’t anyone’s dream machine anymore. Hell, when I tried to install Leopard on it last year, it was so slow I had to rebuild the hard disk with Tiger on it.

And I think that’s when I fell out of love with it.

You see, in the meantime, I’d bought a 15″ MacBook Pro. Not one of the new ones — this one is about two years old now. I’d bought it as a test mule — a computer to run software on while I write about the software. But when I finished my Leopard book in September 2007, I began using the MacBook Pro more and more. And when I couldn’t get Leopard to run on the 12″, I realized that it was silly to use an old laptop when I had a newer one. The 12″ wound up on the shelf.

But this morning I pulled it out and dusted it off and fired it up. I let it update Microsoft Office 2004 and various Apple software. I updated my ecto database to pull in all the blog entries I’d written over the past year. And I started writing this.

The sad part about this PowerBook is that the battery is so toasted that it won’t hold a charge for more than 20 minutes of operations. So as a portable computer for use in coffee shops, etc., it fails miserably. But plug it in and sit at the kitchen table and it does everything it’s supposed to.

I want a netbook. I’m sorely tempted by the Dell Mini 9. A buddy of mine says he can transform it into a Hackintosh for me. But I’m also hoping that Apple comes out with their own netbook. If they price it reasonably — and I’m talking about well under $1,000 — I’ll be the first on line to buy one.

And frankly, I don’t give a damn about the so-called “Apple Tax.” Dan Miller of Macworld.com was right in his article, “The Microsoft Discount.” He could be speaking for me when he says:

But for the benefit of my Windows-using friends, I will say for the record: I don’t use a Mac because it’s cool. I use it because it works better for me. I use it because it doesn’t stink.

I’ve got a hopped-up Windows laptop that’s way faster than this little old PowerBook. But when it came time to do a little blogging this morning, I left it gathering dust on the shelf.

How to Add RAM to a MacBook Pro

It’s easier than you might think.

I bought a 15-inch MacBook Pro about a year ago. I use it primarily as my “test mule” — the computer I run software on when I’m writing about the software. But recently, I signed a contract to create a video training course for macPro Video. I’d record the video on my MacBook Pro using some high-end recording hardware. The hardware’s install guide requires a minimum of 1 GB of RAM, which my MacBook Pro had. But it also recommended 2 GB of RAM. More RAM is always better than less, so I looked into upgrading.

I found compatible RAM on the 4AllMemory.com Web site. LIke most RAM suppliers, 4AllMemory makes it easy to find the right RAM for your computer by letting you tell it exactly which computer you have. In my case, I have a MacBook Pro 2.16GHz 15.4-inch computer. The page for that computer offered a bunch of options.

I was shocked by the price. And, as usual, I must digress to explain why.

Back in 1989, when I bought my first Mac — a Mac IIcx — I upgraded the RAM from the 1 MB (not a typo) on board to 2 MB (not a typo) by installing four 256 K (not a typo) RAM SIMMs. The cost for that upgrade: $750 (not a typo).

The single 1 GB SO-DIMM I needed for my MacBook Pro would cost me $29.99 with free shipping.

As discussed in “MacBook Pro: How to install memory” on Apple’s Web site, RAM is very easy to install. The only thing you need is a size 0 or 00 Phillips screwdriver. The instructions on that page are step-by-step, with diagrams that show you each step. While I recommend that document as required reading before a memory installation, I took some photos this morning to supplement those steps.

Here’s how I did the job.

First, I shut down the computer. Then I laid out a dishtowel on my kitchen table and put the closed computer upside down on the towel (to protect its footless top from scratching). The bottom of the computer looks like this:

Bottom of MacBook Pro

Next, I removed the battery by pushing up on the two sliding latches that hold it in place and pulling the battery out. That exposed the three small screws that hold the RAM cover in place. I removed the three screws with the Phillips screwdriver. In this photo, two of the screws have already been removed:

RAM Cover

Inside the ComputerWith all screws removed, I lifted the RAM cover off, exposing the RAM slots. As you can see here, there are two slots; one is filled with a 1 GB SO-DIMM and the other is empty. A diagram illustrates how the slots work. Basically, the DIMMs slide in at an angle and then get pushed down parallel to the computer’s body.

I lined up the new DIMM’s pins and notch with the slot on the computer and firmly pushed in into place. Sorry about the bad focus in this shot:

Inserted DIMM

Then I pushed the entire DIMM down until it locked right above the other DIMM:

Pushed Down DIMM

About this MacAfter that, it was just a matter of screwing the RAM compartment cover back on and replacing the battery. When I started up the computer, a quick peek at About This Mac confirmed that the computer recognized the new RAM.

Total time elapsed: 5 minutes. But that’s because I stopped to take pictures.

Mounting Hard Disks

Clarification for a reader.

Product ImageReader Mike writes about my Tiger book:

On page 63 the mounting of storage media is covered. In the first paragraph it mentions Hard Discs, which may or not be Hard Drives (the description is a little vague), but then it does not cover how to mount them (if they are in fact Hard Drives). I know there is a “look at the documentation that came with the device” disclaimer for all devices not specifically dealt with, but considering the popularity of Hard Drives I hope future editions (maybe they do already!) will describe the basic process of mounting them.

I guess the reason I didn’t get specific about mounting a hard disk in my Tiger book is because there’s really nothing to it. (I do discuss it in some detail on page 104 of my Leopard book, which expands my discussion of storage media considerably.) When you attach an external hard disk to a Mac and power it up, it’s automatically mounted. In other words, its icon appears on the desktop or in the sidebar of Finder windows so you can access it.

External hard disks are normally connected via Firewire or USB. Either cable can be connected to your Mac while it is running. Just connect the device and turn it on. Some portable hard disks are powered through Firewire or USB and don’t even have a power switch. When you plug them into a running computer, they’re automatically powered up and mounted.

The one thing you must remember is to unmount an external device before disconnecting it. This is similar to ejecting removable media. The most straightforward way to do this is to drag its icon to the trash. I cover this in both my Leopard and Tiger books.

Learn More

Product ImageYou can learn more about using different kinds of storage media with your Macintosh in Chapter 6 of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide. That’s where you can find discussions covering mounting and ejecting disks, burning CDs and DVDs, setting CD and DVD preferences, using Disk Utility, and setting up and using Time Machine.

How to Add a Second Display to Your Mac

Some tips on getting the job done without pulling out your hair.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of adding a second display to my 24-in iMac setup. In this quick article, I’ll explain why I did this and provide some tips for how you can do it, too.

Why Two displays?

First of all, you need to understand how having a second display on your computer can work. Basically, you can use the second display two ways:

  • Use the second display to mirror the main display. You’d use this primarily when doing a presentation and you need a larger or second display to display to your audience. This is pretty common if you do a presentation from a laptop; you’d connect it to a projector which acts as a second display, then turn on mirroring.
  • Use the second display to add screen space to your computer setup. So instead of having the space on one display screen, you also have the space from the second display screen. The joined pair of screenshots below illustrate how this could work. This is how I use the second display.

The following example shows how I use my two displays. The one on the left is my 24-inch iMac display. This is my main display, which includes the menu bar, Dock (when displayed), and desktop icons. The one on the right is my new 22-inch Samsung DVI-D display. I’ve positioned them side by side, so when my mouse pointer is on the right side of the left display screen and I move the mouse to the right, it moves into the right display screen.

Two Monitors on a Mac

You may wonder why, with 24 inches of screen real estate set to its highest resolution (1920 x 1200 pixels), I wanted to add another display to my setup. There are two reasons:

  • I could. High resolution digital displays are surprisingly affordable these days (with the exception of those made by Apple and a number of other high-end makers). The new display cost just $309 in Best Buy; and yes, I’m sure I could have gotten a better deal elsewhere, if I were willing to spend days/weeks/months researching and shopping.
  • I felt that I could be more productive if I could move my online applications — Mail, Twitterrific, Skype, iChat — into a second display where they’d be visible but I wouldn’t have to switch to them. (Yes, I’ve tried Spaces and I’m very sorry to say that I just couldn’t make it work the way I needed it to with all my apps.)

I would like to mention here that although I bought a Samsung display and it works fine with my iMac, I’m not necessarily recommending it. The picture is okay and it worked right out of the box without installing any drivers. But the picture quality is not anywhere near as good as the incredible picture on my iMac — even my husband commented on it at first glance. So if you work with graphics or have problems with your eyesight and you’re not on a budget, I recommend that you check out an Apple display first. It might just be worth the $900 (for 23 inches) or $1800 (for 30 inches) price tag for you. Personally, I couldn’t justify the additional expense.

Set Up Tips

Once you decide to add a second display, consider these things:

  • Can your computer support a second display? This is a biggie. If the answer is no, forget it. You can find out if your Mac can support a second display by visiting the Apple store and chatting with someone working the floor. If that’s not an option, try checking Apple’s Web site for technical specifications on your computer model. (Here’s the specs for mine.) If you’re really confused and your Mac is a currently available model, you can try giving the Apple Store a call at 1-800-MY-APPLE (in the U.S.) and asking. (Please don’t use this phone number to get technical support — it’s a sales number and the person who answers will not be able to help you.)
  • What’s the maximum resolution your computer will support for the second display? This is also information you can get from the above sources. You need to know this so you don’t buy a display that’s too big for what your computer can support. My 22-inch Samsung has a lower resolution than what my computer can support.
  • What cable will you need for your display? Before you answer this question, either know which display you plan to buy or buy the display. If you’re like me, no matter how many cables and adapters you have in your home or office, you will not have the one you need.

To make sure I got the right adapter, I looked at the description on the display box, examined the DVI-D cable that came with the display, checked the pictures here, called the Apple Store to ask, and looked up the adapter on the Apple Store’s Web site.

Do I sound paranoid? I live 50 miles from the closest Apple Store and there’s nothing more frustrating than getting the wrong cable or adapter. The Apple Web site is full of bad reviews by buyers who bought the wrong adapter; I didn’t want to make the same mistake.

I sent a link to the Apple Store Web page for the adapter to my husband at work in Phoenix and told him to print it and bring it with him to the Apple Store. He walked into the Biltmore store, flashed the printout, and got the right adapter. The cost: $19.

Remember that the adapter I bought works for me with my computer and my second display; it might not work for you. Do your homework and don’t blame me if you buy the wrong one.

Setting Options

Once you’ve got the second display connected and powered up, your Mac should automatically recognize it. Although you may not need to configure it at all, you can. Here’s what the configuration looks like with my Leopard setup.

Open System Preferences and click the Displays icon. Two Displays preferences panes should appear — one on each screen.

iMac Display PanelSamsung Display PanelHere’s the Display panel of the Display preferences pane on each display. I won’t go into detail on the usual settings; I cover all that in my Leopard book. Instead, note the Gather Windows button. Clicking this button moves all the open windows to that display. You might find this handy if you have a second display connected and you don’t want to power it up. What I’ve discovered is that your Mac will remember where an application’s windows were the last time you ran the application and will reopen the windows there. The Gather Windows button moves those windows to the display you click the button on.

You might also notice a Rotate button on the SyncMaster window for my Samsung display. That’s a weird little feature that enables me to rotate the display’s image in 90° increments. (The larger display actually has a rotating base.)

Display ArrangementTo set up the positioning of the displays, click the Arrangement button on the main display’s Display preferences pane. The Arrangement panel, shown here, displays the two displays as they are arranged. In my setup, the two displays are physically side by side with the Samsung a little lower than the iMac. You can drag the boxes to reposition the displays and I highly recommend that you do so if you need to. For example, if your second display is on the left, drag its box to the left of the main display. This way the mouse behaves logically when you drag it from one screen to another. (This, by the way, would be a great practical joke to play on a friend with two displays; just switch the boxes around to drive him nuts!)

If you decide you want the menu bar on the other display, just drag it over there. That’ll move the menu bar, Dock, and volume icons that appear on the desktop.

If you want to mirror the displays, as discussed at the beginning of this article, turn on the Mirror Displays check box. This is also where you’d disable this feature if it happened to be turned on by default.

But Wait! There’s More!

Displays MenuOf course, you can set many of the Options in the Displays preferences pane if you turn on the Displays menu. Here’s what my Displays menu looks like with both displays connected. As you can see, I can enable/disable mirroring, set resolution for either display, or open Display preferences. Saves the bother of going into the Displays preferences pane for making minor adjustments.

Learn More

Product ImageYou can learn more about options in the Displays preferences pane on pages 553-554 of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide.

And if you’d prefer to stick with one monitor, be sure to check out pages 179-183 of the book to learn more about Spaces.