Macbook musings

I have an older Macbook pro.  I bought it when Microsoft came out with Vista.  I thought so little of Vista that I bought a Macbook Pro.  Come to think of it it is time to buy a new Macbook Pro.  After all Microsoft came out with the new Vista!

Macs are different.  Their keyboards, mice, etc. are different.  I understood this better when I read the Steve Jobs Autobiography.  Steve was a minimalist.  This shows up in the Apple products.  I really like the way that the  Apple caps lock works just like a typewriter.  The way that PC keyboard’s caps lock works is stupid , and has been since 1982.  I must admit that I am less impressed with Mac Mice.  I usually substitute one of my trusty Microsoft Red Eye mice for a Mac mouse if I need to do any amount of work on a desktop Mac.  On my laptop, I am perfectly happy using the trackpad.  BTW the trackpad stinks on my Windows PC.  It is just not as good or effortless as the Mac Pro.

The Mac’s underpinnings have always impressed me.  If you study your history the Mac’s OS is based on Mach, developed at Carnegie Mellon.  According to the Wikipedia article Mach was a replacement for the BSD kernel.  This is why there is a nice Unix-like terminal interface with familiar bash and tcsh command shells.  I say Unix-like because enough has moved around that you know you are on a different platform than a typical Unix.


Macs are strange.  Only on a Mac can you chant magical incantations like “resetting the PRAM” .  Or resetting the SMC.  You never encounter them on a PC.  Of course PCs or more properly Windows systems have their own foibles most notably the registry, the wasteland where data goes to die.

Speaking of PRAMs and SMCs that brings me to the point of this post.  Jerry Pournelle, a science fiction writer and technologist once said that Mac problems fall into two categories, trivial and impossible.

I recently ran into a Mac problem that had me stumped for several weeks.  Randomly, after it got warm it would shutdown with no warning.  Since it is old and out of warranty I did not bring it into the Apple Store since any hardware fix would be better spent on a new Macbook. So if you Google Macbook pro shuts down unexpectedly you get a series of suggestions.  Some of which involve resetting the PRAM , some involve resetting the SMC.  This didn’t do anything for me.
Recently the laptop would shutdown several times a day.

Some of the suggestions seem to imply a bad power supply and/or battery.  So first I unplugged  the power supply

and ran though my tests.  I first boot the laptop and then run Prime95 which runs the CPU cores at 100%.  I did this to get the CPU temp up to 70-80°C.  I would then jiggle the laptop and sure enough it would just shutdown.  Since this is an older laptop I removed the battery and and just used the external power supply.   When I booted the Mac it reset itself like I had used the “reset PRAM” key combination.  (Cmd-option-P-R).  Then it booted normally.  I repeated my test and the problem apparently went away.  I replaced the battery and tried the test and still no problem.

No problem? You have to be kidding me.  I was figuring a corroded ribbon cable or bad mainboard or something.   But no apparently the PRAM, SMC or something was not in a happy space.  Reminds of one of my old sayings about software based systems.  “In the world of software all is not as it seems.”



Macbook musings — 2 Comments

  1. Heh.

    I have loved Macs since my first proper Macbook Pro (Intel Core Duo) back in 2006! Those were the best style, aluminum body etc. The reason that one died was due to the logic board overheating. 🙁 So not so much software, but indeed a hardware issue.

    • Hi Liz–
      FWIW I use smcFanControl for my fans. And I watch the mainboard temperature like a hawk. For some while now I’ve had a speed disparity between the Left and Right Fans. The Left fan did not want to work and stayed at 1500 RPM. Eventually I installed a small shell script that runs every five minutes that puts the Left fan under user control. Now there is just a few rpm difference. Macs sure are different. what looks like a hardware problem turned out to be something in the software. I suppose that since this is an older Mac I’m lucky that it runs Mavericks at all.

      I am not a big fan of the newer Macs with “no user serviceable components inside” Putting a SSD inside my Early 2008 Macbook pro was no picnic but at least it was doable.

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