The Nemo Memo

I have been spending quite a bit of time in the company of a variety of PowerBooks, and I have formed some strong opinions along the way.

I’m sitting in a scenic, spacious room in Port Townsend, Washington (U.S.), gazing across Discovery Bay to the snowy peaks of the Olympic Mountains. My current borrowed computer is a PowerBook 1400cs/133, similar to the one Mike Wallinga wrote about in the June issue. This PB1400 is adequate for the task, but I would not choose to own one, given the alternatives mentioned later in this column.


PowerBook 1400The speed and features of the low-end PB1400 are just dandy, but the inferior-quality screen does not have enough luminescence for my eyeballs. If I were stuck on a desert island with this PowerBook I would use it with devotion, but its optical inadequacy would nag me every time I used it. Are we still friends, Mike?

When the PowerBook 3400 series became available, I encouraged several friends to purchase them. The initial cost was substantial, being nearly $5,000 (U.S.) for the low-end PB3400c/180, by the time extra RAM and a warranty were added in.

Just before departing from Tucson for this trip to Washington, I helped two TMUGgers upgrade their PB3400’s from OS 7.6 to OS 8.1. I became fond of working with those PowerBooks, especially because of their high-quality screens.


PowerBook 3400What impresses me the most is that the PB3400 can double as a desktop computer when needed. For example, Ernie runs a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and Zip drive from his PowerBook (with the screen section closed!), and it is certainly efficient and compact arrangement. Now that the prices of the 3400 series PowerBooks are much lower, I heartily suggest you consider buying one if you need a first-rate portable Mac.


Kurt is a Macintosh professional who had just about given up on Apple. He was beginning to shift his allegiance to the NT platform due to its stability and popularity in the network environment. When the second generation of G3 PowerBooks was announced, Kurt decided to give the Mac one last chance.

He was one of the 500 excited customers who ordered $2 million worth of G3 PowerBooks on the first day they were available back in May. Kurt patiently awaited for the arrival of his new baby, and kept in touch with the Apple order center via phone and email every few days. The promise was always “the end of the week” for FedEx delivery, but it took five weeks for the computer to show up on his doorstep.


PowerBook G3Again the magic number was around $5,000 for the mid-level G3/PB /250/64/4, including an AppleCare warranty and the optional DVD drive. He is a movie nut, and paid the extra $200 (U.S.) for a DVD accessory so he could watch feature films on his Mac.

I was at Kurt’s house last night when the package arrived from Apple. To say “he was excited” is a heavyweight understatement. He was veeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrryy excited.

After transferring software and files from his desktop Mac and PB520, Kurt decided to play his first DVD movie, “The Manchurian Candidate.” No dice. Kurt is a very smart fellow, but he couldn’t get to first base with the movie disc. Music CDs played and sounded fine, but he was really frustrated.

He browsed around Apple’s Tech Info Library Website, and determined that the G3/DVD player requires some additional third-party software, which appears to cost $149 (U.S.). We both groaned, and Kurt muttered “I think I was taken!” I went to bed, and he played with his new toy until the wee hours.

I did have a chance to take the PowerBook G3/250 through its paces, and here is my informal report:

  • Yes, it is truly fast.
  • Everything works great (except the DVD player, we think; please let me know if you have additional information on this subject).
  • The new look and feel are stunning, including a great keyboard that handles particularly agreeably to the touch.
  • Very little software is bundled with the computer.
  • The screen is phenomenal. I could see it clearly across the room!My RECOMMENDATION is to wait a few months, if you can endure it, until the prices come down a bit, then dust off your credit card and buy one. I agree with other reviewers who say that the best value in G3 PowerBooks is Kurt’s mid-range model, the 250 MHz computer with the mid-size screen. Get a second battery plus an extra 32Mb of memory and the CD player, but don’t rush to buy the DVD option. Whichever PowerBook you decide to obtain, purchase the best extended warranty you can afford. Apple has a different policy than do the mail-order and retail merchants, so consider the service options when you make your initial purchase. 

    As I was getting ready to unplug my surge protector the night before we were flying from Tucson to Seattle, the phone rang. It was Pam, a middle-aged TMUGger whom I had gotten to know at the monthly meetings. What follows is a reconstruction of our conversation. I hope you enjoy the show.

    PAM: Is this John Nemerovski from TMUG?

    JOHN: Yes. Who is this?

    PAM: Hi, John. This is Pam Shores. Do you remember me?

    JOHN: Of course. Hi, Pam.

    P: John. I need help. It’s an emergency. Am I calling too late?

    J: Yes, but I’m always happy to help a fellow TMUGger. What’s the problem?

    P: I keep getting all these error messages, and now my mouse doesn’t work. I’m desperate.

    J: Okay, Pam. Let’s walk through this slowly. Can you do a keyboard restart?

    P: What’s that?

    J: You press the CONTROL, COMMAND, and POWER keys at the same time. I’ll hang on while you do it.


    P: Oh, it is starting up.

    J: Good. Write that down, the keyboard startup procedure.

    P: Sure. Just a sec.

    J: Do you have your desktop now?

    P: My desk? Of course. Sorry, John. You mean my normal Mac screen, right? I’m not used to all these computer terms.

    J: That’s fine, Pam. Does it look normal?

    P: Yes, but when I try to move the mouse, that little arrow is stuck in one place.

    J: I’ll look up the problem in my Sad Macs book. Hang on, Pam.

    P: Wait, John! Oh, this is awful. The mouse was unplugged from the keyboard. I feel so stupid. I am really embarrassed. Here. I’ll plug it in and hang up.


    J: Stop! You have to turn off the computer first.
    Go to the back of the CPU, the actual computer box,
    and press in the little switch that shuts down your Mac.

    (I gave her exact instructions for a CPU hard shutdown.)

    P: The mouse is in its hole again.

    J: Good. Startup from your POWER key, and let’s work on those error messages.


    P: Here’s the first message, something about not being able to send or receive a fax because I have less than 500k of hard disk space.

    J: What? Your hard drive is full? How big is your hard drive, Pam?

    P: Don’t know, John. How do I find out?

    (She has a Performa 631, with a 500 MB hard disk, which we determined after a few minutes’ investigation.)

    J: Why is your disk so full? What have you been downloading from our TMUG bulletin board?

    P: I don’t remember, but it sure took a lot of time.

    J: What is the second warning message?

    P: Let’s see. Here it is. The fax somethingorother again, this time saying I need to select it in the Chooser, whatever that is, then pick the right port. I’m totally lost.

    J: This one shouldn’t be hard, Pam.

    (I took her to the Extensions Manager, where she disabled everything related to the fax software.)

    P: Can I plug in my new Zip drive now, John?

    J: Definitely not. You don’t have any space on your hard disk.

    P: I know. That’s why I got the Zip.

    J: Listen, Pam. You need to throw out a ton of stuff, especially large items that you have downloaded. Someone at TMUG can always help you locate those files again in the future. I’m amazed your Mac works even slightly.

    P: Well, it has been rather slow lately.

    J: I’m not surprised. Let’s run Norton next.

    P: Norton? What is that?

    J: How about Disk First Aid? Can we run that from your original Performa system CD?

    (With guidance, Pam ran Disk First Aid twice from a CD startup, until her disk “appeared to be okay.” It was getting late. I was tired.)

    P: Can we use the Zip now, John?

    J: Please Pam, write this down. ONE, trash any files and folders that you don’t expect to use within the next few months. Write down their names for future reference. TWO, run Disk First Aid from the CD every day, as often as you need, until it tells you there are no problems. THREE, order Norton Utilities 3.5.3, and keep it in a safe place. FOUR, ditto for Retrospect Express.

    P: When do I get to use my new Zip?

    J: I’ll be on vacation for three weeks. When I get back we will FIRST run Norton Disk Doctor until it says “no problems found” several times, then SECOND we will install your Zip and backup your entire hard drive, and finally THIRD we will run Norton Speed Disk to defragment and optimize your drive.

    (I spent a few minutes explaining some of the finer points of Norton and Retrospect, and was totally exhausted by this point.)

    P: Well, John, thanks so much. You saved my life. Can I send a fax now?

    J: Buy a fax machine, Pam. Sorry, that was a bad joke. I pooped. Send me an email message at the end of the month. If you have ANY problems before then WRITE DOWN exactly what happened and what you were doing just before it happened. When in doubt, RESTART and then run Disk First Aid from the CD. You should be okay (I prayed), but no more downloads until we get your Mac back in shape.

    P: Oh, John, thank you so much. You must be ready for bed. Right? What time is your plane leaving?


    And so ends this month’s Nemo Memo. By the way, I am getting used to this PowerBook 1400 by now, but I still say that the 3400 and G3/250 are far superior. Bye until next month.

    John Nemerovski

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