The iBook Road Trip

The following review provides an overview of my recent vacation in the western American states of Idaho, Wyoming and Utah with my trusty Apple iBook.

December 19, 2001

While running around the house in a frenzy of last minute packing, I trip over the iBook’s power cord, sending it crashing to the floor from the kitchen table. Amazingly, nothing breaks — the display, the CD/DVD drive, the hard drive, the power-source, the RAM — it’s all still humming along. To verify this, I play The Sims for an hour while waiting for my laundry to dry.

December 20, 2001

Before the trip I made sure both of my batteries (the iBook comes with one; I bought a back-up) are fully charged. We arrive at Philadelphia Airport and head to the Northwestern portion of the terminal. In the post 9/11 world, laptop computer must now be placed into their own bins for inspection (just like you do with your spare change or keys). I don’t see what they do with the machine, and I’m not asked to demonstrate that it actually works — I’m too busy getting patted down as one of the unlucky individuals selected for extra security attention.

I’d been worried that the iBook’s rather unique “yo-yo” power converter (include picture) might cause some problems, but they ignored it while searching my laptop case. They also ignored another possible problem child — the extra battery. The battery is a small white box with four green indicators and a button; pressing the button lights up the indicators, the more that glow, the more power you have. It’s a Mac thing, and I wasn’t sure what they’d make of it.

The trip to Salt Lake consisted of two legs — one from Philly to Minneapolis, another from Minneapolis to Salt Lake. The first leg took about two hours; the second two and a half. I was engrossed with the Stephen King book I got for my birthday — Dreamcatcher — and ignored my laptop.

On the ground in Minneoplis, while waiting for the SLC plane, I searched in vain for a power outlet, but there weren’t anyway. I dropped back onto battery power, booted up the iBook, and played The Sims for a while waiting for the plane.

Once on the plane I shut it down for take off. Once we were in the air though, I booted it back up and did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time on a flight — watch a movie that I picked. I pulled out my Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace DVD, and proceeded to watch a bunch of documentaries on Disk 2 (I’m saving listening to the movie commentary track for the trip back).

Watching a DVD burned power quicker than simply playing The Sims (which didn’t access the CD drive), but I only burned through about 30% of the iBooks power in about an hour’s worth of DVD use.

December 21, 2001

We drive north in our rented Chevy Cavalier, driving out of Salt Lake City on I-15 toward Soda Springs, Idaho. My wife takes the wheel for the first part of the trip; I boot up the iBook and start writing this story in Microsoft Word. I’m once again reminded of one OS 10.1’s annoying “improvements” — the removal of the battery indicator from the Dock. OS X displays the battery power in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, but that portion of the screen is hidden in Classic mode, which I need to run Word. The initial release displayed battery power in the Dock, which isn’t hidden by Classic. Once I get home I definitely need to search for a hack to restore the battery display to the Dock.

It’s a heavily overcast day, and the flurries continue to fall as we drive north. The iBook’s screen isn’t hard to see. It would be easier if I boosted the brightness, but that’ll burn through power faster than I like, and it’s an eight-hour drive to Soda.

December 22-24, 2001

Once in Soda Springs I spent a few days hanging out with family, playing with my nieces and nephews, and fighting off a bad cold. The iBook slept in our room, its blue “eye” winking hypnotically while it maintained a steady charge via the wall outlet. When I used it on the 24th to play a game of Diablo II, the OS X desktop behaved strangely, forcing my icons to snap to a grid even though I hadn’t set that option. Re-booting solved that problem; it’s the first problem I’ve encountered waking up OS X from sleep mode.

December 25, 2001

On Christmas Day the iBook got its first kid test: two eight-year-olds — one girl, Breanna, and one boy, Jarrett — tried their hand at Star Wars Racer. The kids crashed a lot as they attempted to navigate Anakin and his pod racer around a course on Tatooine, but didn’t have any problems with the computer itself. A five-year-old boy, Justin, tried as well, but the keyboard was a bit too large for his small fingers, so he controlled the thrust while I navigated the course. The last kid to try out the machine, Hannah, was content to watch the pods scream by.

The Racer program was a demo I installed from a MacAddict disk. The non-Carbon game refused to run in OS X’s Classic mode, saying that OpenGL wasn’t current. The game worked fine when I booted into OS 9.2, running faster and with finer controls than when I played the game on my Nintendo 64. The game did pause momentarily during the demo race, but that could just be a configuration issue on my machine.

January 1, 2002

On New Year’s Day we travel from Soda Springs, Idaho to Rock Springs, Wyoming with our two nieces in the back seat. The sky’s bright blue, and the sun streams in from all sides of the car, but after bumping up the brightness on the iBook I’m able to see well enough to write my Firestar review.

January 2, 2002

My niece BreAnna and I play The Sims in OS X. She finds controlling the cursor to be a bit difficult — she wasn’t familiar with using a trackpad. Sitting cross-legged on the sofa with the iBook on her lap, she said “this computer is sooo comfortable!”. The computer weathered toddler abuse as BreAnna’s three-year-old sister Hanna poked the screen enthusiastically and her one-year-old brother did his best to bend the monitor backwards. Neither one damaged the laptop.

The only annoyance that I experienced was the power indicator — BreAnna and I were playing off of the battery, and while The Sims was running there was no easy way to see how much power remained without flipping the laptop up and pressing the power-indicator button on the battery. Some sort of indicator near the keyboard — as well as the existing one on the battery — would have been helpful. All in all, the iBook passed this second kid test with flying colors.

January 3, 2002

Time to go home. At Salt Lake City airport my laptop is once again placed in a special bin for x-ray scanning, and I’m subjected to in intensive scan/pat-down. The iBook passes, and my wife snags it as a cordial but serious security man instructs me to unbuckle my belt so he can scan my pant’s button.

About halfway through the first leg of the trip home — a two-hour hop to Minneapolis — I boot up my laptop. It’s not nearly as comfortable as the trip out — the guy in front of me has his seat all the way back, and the microscopic chairs on the Northwestern plane barely contain my 6’2″ frame. Fortunately, the iBook’s slim profile leaves me enough room to type on tray table.

Booting up I get an unwelcome and unprecedented screen — some sort of weird Unix spawned-junk that hints at a memory error. Fortunately it disappears after I do a hard reboot, and the machine comes up normally.

Final Analysis

All in all, the iBook performed very well on my trip. Its light weight made it easy to haul around the airport, and its slim profile came in very handy when I sneaked it past my extended tray table on the plane. The kids found the computer easy to use, and it didn’t suffer any major ill-effects from repeated poking by three-year-olds.

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