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Travels with Charley

So you bought a Power Book, perhaps one of those cute 100s? It’s different from your desktop Mac, isn’t it? I recommend that you read its manual – it was the first Apple manual I’ve read in years, but I was curious. It helped, a little, but I still had questions.

Then I came across Richard Wolfson’s "The PowerBook Companion," (Addison-Wesley, $24.95, ISBN 0-201-6088407) and, to set the tenor of this review, I think Apple should license Rich’s book and ditch the manual. Sure, Apple has that snazzy 80% Garamond font and slick paper, but Apple’s manual doesn’t answer enough real world questions. Rich’s book answers all my questions, and periodically I go back to it when I think of a new question. The answer is usually there.

In addition, if you regularly travel with a Mac, any Mac, buy this book. It gives excellent advice on what to bring, why to bring it, how to power it in electrically-challenged situations, and most importantly, how to take your Mac through airport security. Hint: it’s OK to run the Mac through the X-ray machine – put it on the belt close to the flaps and far from the end where the magnetic field from the motor could possibly do damage. That will save you having to demo the Mac for the airport security people, who by definition cannot have a sense of humor. Rich even printed X-rays, taken at a medical friend’s office, of his two PowerBooks, which work perfectly even now. (Yes, I asked him.)

The book begins with specs and comparisons of the various PowerBooks (this edition covers the 100, 140, and 170 – Rich is working on a new edition for the new PowerBooks). Rich then touches on upgrades you might want, from more RAM (YES) to a larger hard drive (maybe) to a carrying case (yes).

Then he discusses basic usage and system software. Configuring a PowerBook is a task of a different color, and as long as I’m trampling equine allusions, you’d do well to check the System Folder’s teeth. Rich offers specific suggestions about what to remove, including a chart that lists everything and the sizes involved, and then repeats the process for RAM usage, providing a useful chart of memory uses and the trade-offs involved. Since you may wish to jam a System Folder into a RAM disk and boot from that, memory usage takes on new meaning with a PowerBook.

Although Rich covers third party PowerBook hardware and software, he doesn’t look deeply into those subjects, which makes sense given the speed at which the industry moves. He spends time on using and caring for PowerBook batteries, both in and out of the machine. For many of us desktop Mac folks, this will be the most valuable section of the book, because our years of Mac use don’t help in knowing how to conserve power. The basics? Turn down backlighting as far as possible, turn AppleTalk off (use Jon Pugh’s free ToggleAT FKEY), and avoid hard disk usage by running entirely in RAM if possible. We put the System Folder on a RAM disk, boot from the RAM disk, run Nisus Compact, which loads entirely into RAM, and save documents to the RAM disk. Other helpful hints in this section include the actual voltages for good batteries (5.7 to 7 volts) and the warning NOT to use ANY other power adapter to charge the PowerBook.

In his section on connections, Rich offers ideas on how to make a SCSI chain work. Although he skips my favorite (ritual tofu sacrifice), the rest helps with the more complex PowerBook SCSI configurations. Other real world advice shows up in the section on upgrading, where Rich walks you through taking a PowerBook apart. Although I haven’t done so, the instructions seem clear and complete. I appreciate an author not treating me, the reader, as a complete idiot and assuming there’s no way I could open a PowerBook and do good.

The worst nits I can pick are that Rich capitalized the "W" in Macworld incorrectly (which he promised to fix in the next edition); when talking about modem compression he doesn’t mention that it does no good when the file is already compressed; and he occasionally uses the term "AppleTalk" when the Apple Nitpicking Police (who once pulled me over for this offense) would prefer he used "LocalTalk."

In the end, I view this book as an extremely knowledgeable friend telling me all I want to know about the PowerBook. Outside of the book, Rich spends time on CompuServe answering questions (and not with an obnoxious "Read my book." answer, either), and his online writing strongly resembles the clear, uncomplicated writing style in this book (which is due in part to longtime Macintosh author Sharon Zardetto Aker’s editing). If you feel that you don’t know enough about your PowerBook (and I’m still learning), ask Rich by reading this book. And no, he didn’t pay me to say so. Highly recommended.

Addison-Wesley — 800/447-2226 — 617-942-1117 (fax)

Information from:
Rich Wolfson — [email protected][email protected]
[email protected]

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