My Love For the PowerMac G4

While I’ve mentioned my possession of PowerMac G4s in several previous posts throughout the months, I think it’s time I went into the history of them in a little bit more detail. These are machines that I have bought mainly for nostalgic purposes; machines that I idolized when they were released and wanted so badly but could never afford. After high school, however, I decided that I was a big boy and could buy them if I so chose. So I did.

My first G4, a 450MHz single core AGP machine with a DVD drive, 512MB RAM and a 40GB HD running OS 10.4 Tiger, was purchased when I was at Messiah College in February of 2007. I won it on eBay for $75+$20 shipping, which was not a bad deal by any means. It had been a design machine at a studio in New York, and had been retired and put up for sale. The auction mentioned that shipping would be slow, and indeed it was - nearly a month after I won the auction the machine showed up at my campus post office. Included was the tower, an ethernet cable and a Dell keyboard and mouse, which was more than I was expecting. My friend Isaac gave me a 15 inch Dell monitor that had been sitting in his attic, and I soon had my very own G4 up and running in my dorm room. Now, what was I going to do with it?

It wasn’t nearly as powerful as my MacBook, and it didn’t come with any software other than Microsoft Office X. I didn’t have Office at the time, so I transferred that over to my Macbook. I had bought the machine for nostalgia purposes, but now I had a machine that ran the same OS as my Macbook (10.4.9 Tiger), only slower, and had less programs. Crap. The DVD drive was very nice, since I had Japanese region DVDs that required my MacBook to switch the DVD region of its drive. Since the number of switches was limited to five, the G4's first role was as a Japanese DVD-watching machine.

But I didn’t watch Japanese DVDs that often, so I had to find another way to justify this machine that hung out under my desk. Games, I thought, I can run games on it.

So I did!

For the remainder of the college semester, my G4 ran a copy of MacMAME. MacMAME allowed me to play shmups (my first video game love), and I poured hours into playing classic games such as Progear no Arashi, DodonPachi, DonPachi, E.S.P. Rade, Guwange, Battle Garrega and Armed Police Batrider. A regular keyboard was no good for these games and I didn’t have a gamepad, so I bought a USB<=>PS2 cable and borrowed a friend’s idle DualShock to rock MacMAME. It was glorious, I assure you.

I stored the machine over the summer, as I was in Japan making money, and by the time I returned in September I was itching to actually use the G4 for classic, nostalgic purposes. A quick search on eBay and a few strategic bids netted me a copy of Mac OS 9.2 and a copy of Unreal Tournament (I see Unreal Tournament 2004 as pretty much the zenith of computer gaming, but classic UT is almost as good). Not only was I granted access to hours of fragging goodness, but being able to boot into OS 9 allowed me to download and play abandonware games for the Mac as well. These are classic games that have been abandoned by their publishers and are available for free download. The most notable of these games, of course, was SimCity 2000, Original Oregon Trail, and Civilization 2, all of which had incredibly high nostalgic value for me. I was now swimming in nostalgia goodness!

But, believe it or not, that got old. I never imagined it getting old, but it did. And soon I decided that the computer wasn’t worth the space it took up, so I decided to sell it. I bundled it with OS 9, a pair of Roland speakers, the monitor, keyboard and mouse, and the copy of Unreal Tournament and put it up on CraigsList for $150. It wasn’t exactly a flip because all of the stuff DID cost me more than that, but I certainly didn’t lose a lot of money. A guy who lived in Philadelphia came and picked it up, only to call me two days later to complain that “[he] plugged it in and it started smoking.” I expected to be out a full $150, but for some reason he never called me again. I sometimes wonder what ever happened to the machine.

Well, one G4 had come and gone, but how long would it be before I wanted another, better one?


That was in the spring of 2008, after which I went for half a year without another G4. Upon moving to Minnesota, however, I decided that it would be nice to have one again, so to Craigslist I faithfully turned once again.

I sold the first G4 because I didn’t need it, so "what made me decide I needed another one?", you may ask. This time I did actually have a goal in mind. This time I wanted to use it to set up an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server. An FTP server, for those who don’t know, is a machine that hosts files online that can be accessed from anywhere that has an Internet connection. I saw my future G4 as a machine that would sit in the corner, run 24/7, serve up media files at my request and also backup any data I might want backed up.

My media is actually pretty limited - just 207 episodes of the anime BLEACH (though at 175MB an episode, that’s a lot of data) and a few seasons of House M.D. These I figured would go on a slave hard drive, while the OS and backed-up files would be stored on the primary drive.

But wait, I haven’t actually found a machine yet.

Though I decided I wanted to step up and buy a faster, better machine than the last G4 I owned, price was still a factor, and I set myself a price range of $120-$180. After a few days of browsing I happened upon a listing for a Quicksilver G4 with a 867MHz processor, 384MB RAM, 40GB HD, Zip drive(!), and running an unknown version of OS X. Apparently the lister (the same guy who had no idea how to use Pro Tools) had forgotten the admin logon password and hadn’t used the machine in ages. The machine, priced at $150, came with an Apple Pro keyboard and mouse, and the cute round Apple speakers. I looked at the listing and grinned. I could haggle that down. I called the guy up at 9:45 on a Friday night, asking if the machine was still available. It was, and he wanted it gone that night, so I hopped in my van and drove over to his house. We had a quick meeting at his apartment, he showed me the machine, and I successfully haggled the price down to $120, citing that the machine effectively had no operating system - that alone was worth the $30. The keyboard was extremely dusty, but everything looked good overall, and I drove back home eager to set up my new machine.

I got home and realized that not only did I not have a monitor, but no one in my house even had a monitor that I could borrow. After a bit of thinking, I remembered that the basement had a projector which accepted VGA input, so I hauled my new purchase down the stairs and set it up in the basement at 11 o’clock at night.

First on the agenda was obviously to get an OS loaded onto the machine. It didn’t have a DVD drive (grr!), which meant that not only could I not (illegally) load my copy of Leopard onto it, but also that I couldn’t load my copy of OS 10.4 Tiger on it either. Luckily, a Grape iMac that I had purchased a month before had come with a copy of OS 10.3 Panther, so I grabbed the discs for that and went to work.

It is worth noting that I wanted to keep things legal here. My 333MHz iMac was at the time dual-booting OS 9.2.2 and Panther, so to keep things square I deleted Panther from the iMac before installing it on the G4. The iMac ran it slowly anyway.

So now that the OS was loaded on, I needed to install a plethora of networking utilities. I set up Panther to for file-sharing and FTP hosting, (following this website) configured a DNS account using DynDNS, downloaded and installed Eavesdrop, and loaded up a VNC client. At this point I only had the one 40GB hard drive, so loading my media would have to wait.

Time to connect from my MacBook! I loaded up Cyberduck, typed in the G4’s DynDNS address, and BAM, I was FTP-ing. It was sweet. I could, like, transfer files back and forth between the G4 in the basement and my laptop in my room.

Now it was time to upgrade my system to make it a worthwhile FTP system and deal with all the technical difficulties and disappointments that went along with that!


So my Quicksilver G4 was humming in my basement, FTPing inside my house to my MacBook. But I couldn’t leave it set up that way - I needed to move everything into my room. That meant that before I started upgrading anything else, I needed a monitor. I thought about trying Craigslist since it is, after all, the answer to any material need, but before I could hop on there I ran across a nice 15-incher at my local Axman Surplus. The monitor, a CRT of course, was attractively priced at $1.97. They couldn’t guarantee that it worked, buy for that kind of price, I was willing to risk it.

It turned out that the monitor worked beautifully and fulfilled all of my viewing needs quite well. I then turned my attention to the RAM and hard drive upgrades. First the RAM.

The G4, as stated before, had a paltry 384MB of RAM - one slot with a 128MB stick and another with 256MB. Despite rampant claims that 16k should be enough for anybody, I ignored the advice of yesteryear and sought to procure more RAM. My first stop, oddly enough, was eBay.

I had $22 idly sitting in my PayPal account that I wanted to use, so I looked around eBay for some good RAM for about that amount. I found a listing for 1GB (2x512) of high-density RAM for $19, so I took it. It arrived, only to not work in my machine, because, unbeknownst to me, my machine needs low-density RAM (which is considerably more expensive). I flipped the useless high-density stuff on Craigslist and this time stayed there to try and find some more. I eventually, after a couple weeks, found a guy who was selling two 256MB sticks for $20, so I went for that. A quick install and my G4 was purring with 768MBs of RAM goodness, its three slots holding 256MB each.

The second hard drive posed a much bigger headache. I’ve already admitted to being kind of a sad n00bcakes when it comes to computer parts, and my choice of hard drive will demonstrate that once again. I hopped on Craigslist once more, hoping to find something around 120GB-160GB that I could partition into two parts - allowing me to keep my OS and other files on the master and organize all of the media to host on the second drive. I found a nice 160GB SATA drive for about $20, and I met the guy in a McDonalds marking lot and made the swap. I took it home only to find that my machine needs an IDE drive - a completely different type of interface. Still full of vigor, I hopped on Amazon to find a converter bridge, something that would allow a IDE machine to take a SATA drive. That part turned out to be about $15, so, ever the stickler for FREE SuperSaver Shipping, I tacked on a internal four port USB card to the order. A computer can never have too many USB ports!

Both items arrived in a timely fashion and I installed them in an afternoon. The USB card worked flawlessly. The bridge did not. I tried every combination of master/slave drive set up that I could think of, but nothing worked. I took the IDE drive out of my external back-up drive and plugged the bridge into that, and that worked, so I knew that the bridge wasn’t bad. I just couldn’t get my machine to recognize that stupid second drive!

I abandoned that SATA drive (the drive and bridge are still stuffed in a drawer, four months later) and trudged back to CL to find another drive. I found one and arranged to meet the guy at the Oakdale Best Buy parking lot on Black Friday. In hindsight, this was a terrible idea. Don’t ever do this. I ended up walking around the parking lot for an hour, only to never find the guy and return home. He emailed me later, apologizing for not showing up and claiming that it, “just wasn’t a good day.” Whatever, guy. I gave you my cell number - you could’ve called me.

I soon found another listing, and arranged to meet this guy at a local record store called the Electric Fetus, a popular offbeat Minneapolis joint. Again, I was left browsing rows and rows of CDs waiting for a guy who never showed up. I got home only to find an email from him, claiming that he never saw me. I had told him earlier to look for a guy in shades and a leather biker jacket, and I reminded him that that was what I was wearing.

“Oh,” he replied, “that tall guy? I didn’t know. I asked the guy at the counter if anyone was waiting for me, and he said ‘no’.”

Oh, of course. I’m totally going to walk up to a clerk and be all like, “Hey, if a some guy comes in asking if someone is waiting for him, send him over to me.” What am I, nuts? So that swap didn’t work out either.

Turns out the third one was the charm. I found a guy selling a 160GB IDE drive for $20, so I agreed to meet him at a gas station about 4 miles or so away from my house. It was cold, but I decided that I was tough and that I could bike there. I did, only to soon receive a call saying that he was running late. The gas station was in a part of town that, while not “bad”, was not exactly full of moms-driving-minivans (I’m sure you are all familiar with the M-D-M parts of town in your areas). So, because of this, the gas station wouldn’t let me wait inside, and I had to try and keep warm at 9:30AM in ten-degree weather and wait for twenty minutes until this guy showed up with my hard drive.

My hands froze on the ride home (I WAS wearing ski gloves, but I guess that doesn’t help against cold wind and bare metal handlebars), and I had to stop in at my work to warm them up before I could continue. Standing there holding my hands inside of a metal hotcase was one of the most painful experiences of my life, second only perhaps to having my nipple pierced when I was 15.

I eventually made it home, threw the drive into the G4, and booted it up.

Success! Not only did it work, but this guy had left 20GB of MP3 files on it. I didn’t want any of them, and I had to partition the drive anyway, so they all got deleted. The partition went smoothly, and soon I was loading all sorts of media onto the machine, fulfilling my dream that I had set out to achieve for it.

But is that it? Is that what the machine is doing now? Shockingly, no!


Now that my Quicksilver G4 is fully upgraded, I should be able to put it to use as an FTP server, right? Well, things weren’t that simple. It turns out that I don’t know how to assign a static IP address to the Quicksilver machine, which is kind of important if you want to FTP. My options are actually to A) open all the ports on the router to allow FTP, or B) assign a static (unchanging, as opposed to dynamic, or variable) IP address to the machine. I know how to do neither of these things. (If you know how, by all means let me know!)

So because I can’t FTP, the machine just sits there as a media storage unit. But, thankfully, I can put it to use in other ways as well.

In late November I bought a grape G3 iMac off of Craigslist for $25 that had OS 9 as well as Photoshop 5.5 and Illustrator 9. Since the G4 can run programs in the Classic environment, I copied the whole system folder and both Adobe programs over to it. It now servers as my graphics machine, and I use it to make these comics. Actually just about any image editing that I do is done on that machine. (I have since reinstalled OS 8.6 on the iMac and given it away).

I also tried using the G4 as a music jukebox, because my laptop is portable and my speakers are not. I like to listen to music as I drift off to sleep, but the G4 generated too much fan noise to be of any use while I am trying to sleep. It’s just too loud and disconcerting. Bleh!

The keyboard that came with the G4 was super dusty, so one week I decided to clean it. While all of the keys were strewn about my desk, I got the wild idea that I wanted to learn the Dvorak keyboard layout. So I re-assembled the keyboard in that layout, and now I am teaching myself Dvorak. One annoying part of this is that every time I restart the computer, the logon window still operates in QWERTY, so I have to try and picture the QWERTY setup in my head in order to input my password correctly. Consequently, I don’t restart very often.

So, dear reader, our journey has come to an end. You have followed me from basement monitor setup to Dvorak layout, and suffered with me through parts upgrades, missed appointments, incompatible hardware, and other frustrations. But now you know the whole story behind my Quicksilver G4, and why I love it so much. It’s become a permanent fixture in my room, humming away a bit too loudly, and providing my with good classic software that lets me get done what I want to do.



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Ubuntu 8.0 on a Macbook to replace Leopard? Not quite yet!

Last weekend I entertained the idea of switching my Macbook OS to Linux, or more specifically, to Ubuntu 8.0. Right now if course I run OS Leopard 10.5.6, which I love. So why would I want to switch? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First, I was just curious. The last time I tried Ubuntu was back when it was version 7.0 and wouldn’t recognize my Mac’s wireless card. No wireless was kind of a deal breaker, and I wasn’t about to go rooting around to find code or drivers to make it work, so I immediately retreated to the safety of Leopard. But now version 8.0 was out, and I thought I would try it out to see what features it had to offer, and to see if the wireless issue was fixed.

Secondly, I was attracted to Ubuntu because it was free, open source software (the two are not synonymous). More importantly, it was a free, open source operating system. I use free software on my Mac whenever possible, but a free operating system would be a first. Open sourcing is an issue I care about because I feel that closed, proprietary formats and software seriously inhibit the progression of global, grassroots software technology. In order for software to be available to everyone, it needs to be as cheap as possible, and nothing is cheaper than free. In the past free software couldn’t compete with commercial products, but that has changed thanks to (a) more programmers and (b) their willingness and ability to collaborate with one another over the Internet. Free software really is the future, and as such I feel that I should adopt it as soon as possible.

So I was all ready to install Ubuntu, but then I had second thoughts. What would I lose by abandoning Leopard? Have my computing habits become so ingrained in the Mac user experience that I would find it difficult or even painful to switch? In the nine years or so that I have been using Macs, I have become somewhat of a Mac power user (also a Power Mac user!) It was time that I examined the features that I totally take for granted on my Macbook.

For starters, I would lose the total hardware/software integration. These are the little things that make the Mac user experience so enjoyable. Things like the brightness and volume adjust keys, the Safari/Dashboard integration, and Exposé. The two finger scroll, the numerous keyboard shortcuts that I have memorized, and the native iSight and iPod support. These things “just work” on a Mac.

This goes for language support as well. I have a MacBook with a Japanese keyboard, which allows me to switch from English to Japanese with the press of a single key. I also get to type @ ¥ ^ - [ ] : ; / _ without hitting the Shift key!

On the tangent of iPod support, I would also have to face losing three years worth of music statistics kept track of by my iTunes. Stats like song ratings, play counts, playlists, not to mention other perks like album art and downloaded lyrics. I would literally have to start from scratch.

Another thing I would miss is the intuitive, subtle features present in Leopard itself. While I could do without gimmicks like Stacks, other features such as Spaces, Quick Look, Spotlight, and the Dock have become mainstays of my computing experience. Would these have Linux counterparts? Linux has such counterparts for programs like Quicksilver (a third party application launcher that has revolutionized how I interact with my Mac) and Time Machine, which I feel that I could get used to quite quickly.

Of course, there are other apps that I run on my Macbook that I would likely miss as well - programs like Amadeus Pro, Garageband, Handbrake, Ghost Recon, iMovie, and GarageSale. These might have Linux alternatives, but it would take me time to learn all of them, and, frankly, right now I don’t see the point in learning a lot of new software that does the same stuff that I can already do.

And what about the migration of all my preferences? All my saved passwords, system settings, website autologins, and bookmarked links? I would have to reset all of those!

So I didn’t install Ubuntu. I figured, “Hey, I paid the money for Leopard, I might as well get all the use out of it that I can.” And this is what I plan to do. Right now I am not yet ready to make the migration to the Linux world, but I plan to eventually. And by the time I am ready, my Macbook will no doubt be falling apart and Ubuntu will have gotten even better. But know this, I will install Linux on the next computer I buy. And the next one. And the next one.


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Desktop Colors, Productivity, and Useful Information

I found this article in Wednesday’s Minneapolis Sun-Herald.

“A new study by the American Computer Learning Society, the nations leading body on researching how to optimally use the personal computer in everyday life, reports that displaying a solid color on a computer’s desktop results in increased productivity for the user. While the current trend is to post a personal photo or “wallpaper” as a background image, researcher Laura Beechersmith says that this is a less-than-ideal situation for both private users and employers alike.

Says Beechersmith, “Since nearly the inception of the computer desktop, people have liked to put a picture of their kid, pet, favorite vacation destination or whatever as the backdrop for their personal computing. What we’re finding is that not only do people who have these customized wallpapers spend less time being productive, they also spend more time on things that should matter way less than they do.”

Beechersmith notes that those who like having control over their desktops are more often to browse the Internet in search of fresh images to display, and are 20% more likely to engage in idle, non-work-related conversation with their co-workers than those who just have a single, solid color as their background. In a widespread study that concluded last month, blue was seen as the best color to set a desktop background to in order to increase productivity.

“Employers would be wise to take note that solid colors result in more productivity and to likewise develop their workplace computing guidelines accordingly,” notes Ezra Gould, one of Beechersmith’s colleagues. “This could be as easy as a bulletin on a public board or as intensive as visual checks of each workstation.”

Public reception has understandably been mixed. Says local resident and employee of Three-Angle Computing Solutions Ashley Carrey, “I think it’s a big deal that this research might have an impact on my employers decision about computing in the workplace. I mean, I have a picture of my two sons playing baseball on my desktop, reminding me each day that I work hard so that they can have a better life. If that image were gone, my motivation would go down.”

Others seem completely fine with the change. Businessman Karl Simons of Uptown commented, “This will be great for my work. I have a guy who sits next to me all day who talks non-stop about how the Saints are the greatest football team in America, and how he is such a huge fan by having twenty different Saints wallpapers running on a rotation. Forcing him to have a solid color would save me countless headaches and no doubt increase productivity in my office.”

Whether yellow or blue, the research does seem to indicate that a solid color could certainly help productivity by decreasing distractions and helping the hardworking American concentrate on business at hand. Only time will tell if employers will heed the advice and take action in their workplaces.”

Pretty convincing, no?

Now, if you had done any Googling whatsoever of anything in the article, you would know that it is not a real article. The newspaper name is fake, the quotes are fake, and the research is fake. I wrote that article in fifteen minutes. So why bother writing it?

Because I want to make a point that not everything on the Internet is believable just because it looks good. Web design has come a long way in a very short time span, and having a good website with lots of information does not necessarily mean that it’s good information. In an age where we expect everything to be linked or cited, we often take such things for granted and don’t investigate the credibility of articles we may come across. I wrote this article in fifteen minutes - imagine what it could look like if someone was really intent on fooling you and was willing to put a lot more time and effort into it!

Investigate what you read!


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