Check the obvious solutions first

Several years ago, I grabbed a Seagate Free Agent external drive for a song in some refurb sale. It came in at 1.5 TB, matching my internal drive in my G5 and the aluminum look of my setup. Great stuff.

Except… it would do weird things. During normal operation, though getting a bit hot from time to time, it was reliable enough to serve as a backup drive, but when I would turn my G5 off, the Free Agent would keep running. At first, I thought, maybe it just takes a bit to spin down and cool off, but it would stay on, hard drive spinning, for hours. Doing nothing.

Here’s a reason why I bought the drive – it had Firewire 800, making it a doubly great deal at the time. I wanted to maximum every ounce of speed from my G5, so why not use FW800 over USB 2.0? So, I did, stubbornly.

I got into the habit of physically unplugging the drive after use.

Ultimately, I decided, after a series of different kinds of troubleshooting, that my G5 probably had a less updated version of Firewire 800 that didn’t play quite nicely with this drive or its controller, failing to give it a “go to sleep” function or something or the other.

Fast forward to years of living with his annoying issue, I misplaced my Firewire 800 cable during a recent move to a new home, and so I plugged in the USB cable that came with the drive. Guess what? As soon as I shut the G5 off, the whole unit goes to sleep on command (and seems a whole lot less hot too).

In other words, after all these years of trying to maximize speed, I failed to give it even one test with a USB cable to compare performance and quirks. It wasn’t my G5 after all, likely a poorly designed controller board in the external drive that couldn’t play nicely. No wonder I got it for so cheap.

It just goes to show – don’t be stubborn. Check the most basic solutions first before making do with bugs and quirks. Next time, I’ll tell you about living with quirky RAM issues.

— Nathan

Future of SimpleMarkPPC

Happy New Year!

This is just a quick post about my current thoughts of the state of SimpleMarkPPC.

The Good: I feel like the app is functional enough, with a few rough edges that can be fixed to give a little more options. For example, I do plan on making a preference file so font/font size/font color options become persistent.

The Bad: Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that performance is still not what I want it to be. I think this is due to a focus bug inherent to the version of RealBasic that I use, which when using the html viewer control, robs focus from the main text field in which you type. It’s also more prevalent with larger text files. They just become slow to work with, and I need to do some investigation. This ultimately may mean that I will undo the automatic html view and make it manual. I don’t want to do this, because this is essentially what you can get with a few other apps out there for Power Macs that do have working markdown support. Maybe I can simply slow down the cycle a little bit and see if it helps.

Worst case scenario? If I can’t find a decent solution, I am going to stop development and look to rebuild the app using the source from Bean, for instance, or even a basic TextEdit clone. I think performance (and look and feel) will be a lot better too, but it will take a little time. Stay tuned!

— Nathan

Tips & Tricks to Access Your G5 While Far, Far Away

Many of us in the States (and potentially elsewhere) take some much needed vacation time, visiting friends, family, and far off places during this holiday season. You may want to access your G5 to get at those critical documents, outdated games, or whatever it is you might want to do. In that case, here are some ways to do it.

Obviously, with Leopard’s strong UNIX underpinnings, you can easily access your G5 via SSH, if you so choose. I won’t go into that here, because unless you are running a server, it’s probably not the most effective way to access your computer. But, it’s an awesome possibility and probably the most secure option when you set up an ssh key for your remote device.

Another easy option is to keep using Dropbox, which yes, still works for our Leopard Macs (for the time being). You can use the online Dropbox interface or a favorite iOS app to get at any crucial files and save you security headaches. Easy stuff.

But let’s say you prefer to access a specific email account that is setup on your G5 or want to get some work done without bringing a bunch of files. In that case, VNC is your solution.

VNC allows you to share your desktop remotely and interact with your computer like you were sitting in front of it. You’ll need a VNC server, which Leopard has already built in, and you’ll need a VNC viewer. Leopard has one built in as well, but you might have better results with something like Chicken of the VNC. In my experience, it’s just a bit faster.

To get your VNC server going, just open up System Preferences, go to your Sharing settings, and click the check box next to “Screen Sharing”. You will want to fiddle with the settings, of course. It’s absolutely crucial that you create a password. Choosing the first option, allowing anyone access, saves you a little hassle from logging in to your user account first, but it’s probably safer to leave it off. Back in the main settings pane, if you have multiple accounts, I’d recommend choosing just one or two users who have access in this way.

Screen Sharing settings

You may need to do some tests from another computer to make sure it works, but the most important step is to insure your router forwards VNC traffic directly to your G5. Every router is a bit different, so consult its documentation on how to setup port forwarding. The default port is 5900, so the easiest way is to funnel any traffic on that port in your router to the same port on your Mac. Be sure to give your Mac a permanent internal IP address as well, so you don’t have to change the port forwarding rules every time your router resets.

For a little more security through obscurity, you could use a port of your own choosing and have the router internally connect to your G5 on 5900. The purpose is to turn away any bots or hackers who may be trying to access any computers via that commonly used port. Running a separate VNC server gives you more options in this regard to fine tune your settings and security. I’d recommend taking a look at Vine VNC, which works great on PowerPC machines.

Testing internally (from within your LAN) is a piece of cake. Bonjour is awesome and will advertise your Mac’s screen sharing server right away. Testing from outside your network is a little different. You will need your external IP address and get to a place (like work/coffee shop/library/etc). Write in that external IP with the default port and password, and you should be in. If it doesn’t work, work you way from the top of this article to see what went wrong. Most of the time it is router related.

What are the risks of opening your Mac to the outside world? If someone did get access, they can do anything they want. Delete files. Send email on your behalf. Surf to salty websites. Or ruin your Fallout character. So, use screen sharing only when you must.

Last and not least, a bonus tip: Power Mac G5s can consume a lot of electricity, so it’s pointless in my opinion to leave them running 24/7 especially if you aren’t using them. As an added layer of security, I setup my G5 to boot up at a specific time and shut down fairly quickly automatically. For example, I might have the G5 start up at 4 PM EST and shut off at 4:30 PM EST everyday while I am away. Pick a time that works for you and that only you know. That way, if you need access, you can wait for that time, log into your Mac remotely, shut off its schedule (or modify it), and work on what you need to work on. You save electricity, and you provide a smaller window for someone who wants to get your archive of precious GIFs.

Did I miss anything? What are some of your tips and tricks?

Have a great holiday season! See you in 2016!

— Nathan

Welcome to the family

I swung by the local university surplus shop to take a look at some older iMacs, Mac Pros, and Macbooks to see if there were any deals that perked my interest.

Unfortunately, despite seeing a Mac Mini G4 there, everything ended up being a little pricy or just old enough to not be worth it. I nearly pulled the trigger on an early Intel iMac in good shape, but with RAM capped at 6 GB, I didn’t feel confident. So, I was about to leave when I realized that this gorgeous Mac-like monitor was calling my name. After hooking it up and giving it a test drive, I knew it was coming home.

Apple Cinema Display

Yes, I am now complimenting my trusty G5 with a gorgeous Apple Cinema Display. They go together like long lost brothers. They were made for each other like stars of a Hollywood romance. Maybe a “Han and Chewie” of the PowerPC era?

— Nathan

Coming soon

I just got through a move to my new place of residence, so the G5 is currently disconnected, lying in bits and pieces in the basement. When I get it set back up, I’ll work on some juicy material for you.

What’s on tap?

Before Christmas, I am aiming to do a little walkthrough of some remote connection options for your G5. For example, how do you setup screen sharing, your own VNC server, telnet, etc? I’ll probably do them in bits and pieces though, rather than one big messy article.

Stay tuned.

— Nathan