Digital Lifestyles

Traveling Europe with a 13” Macbook

I just came home from a 24 day trip across France and Spain. My trusty white 13” Intel Macbook has a lot more miles on it… but worked like a champ. My AC adapter for power and charging was 100-240 volt compatible, so I didn’t have to worry about a voltage converter, just a plug adapter for the European style sockets. Wifi is strong on this older Macbook, and I got good performance in most hotels I stayed in. The size of this smaller Macbook is perfect for lugging around on the road – and much lighter than my 17” Macbook Pro.

Before the trip I upgrade this machine with a new battery, new 500 gig hard drive, and installed the latest Mac OS X 10.6.7 and Lightroom 3. I stored over 300 gig of images on the laptop hard drive, backed up with an external 500 gig hard drive, and kept the shot memory cards for almost all of my images. My mentor Dr. Michael Roach had a horrible wreck on his way back from a long trip to Morocco, and many disks of his two sets DVD backups of images were damaged – but luckily he was able to use unbroken disks between the two sets that he had in different pieces of luggage, and he didn’t lose any images. So for this trip, I decided in advance to take enough memory cards to not have to format and re-use cards, plus backups on two different hard drives.

I carried the Macbook in my photo backpack by Crumpler – a unique design that opens from the strap-side of the pack. It would be next to impossible to steal anything from this pack with it on my back, a feature I really like. The laptop sleeve is removable, so I was able to take that weight out of it when I reached a town that I would be in for several days.

Lightroom was usable with the max 2 gig of RAM, but I made one big mistake – I took along a card reader that would read both memory cards I was using on the trip (Compactflash and SDHC)… on the surface this seemed like a good idea, but in use this particular model turned out to be incredibly slow in reading either memory type. I was daily downloading anywhere from 400 to 1,000 images for me and another photographer, so I wasted a lot of European hours in the hotel downloading images. My next upgrade for this kit is a “faster-than-USB 2.0” Firewire 400 reader.

All in all though, a great trip, made better with my Macbook. Now all I have to do is pay all the bills… and download my Lightroom catalogs into my Mac Pro at the house.

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Hardware Parallel Desktops

A MacBook Pro and a Dying Battery

I've gotten a lot of e-mail lately asking why I haven't been updating my blog. Frankly it's because of two reasons: my business has kept me busier than a one-armed wall-paper hanger and my Macs have just worked. With my adjustment period from Windows to Mac firmly in the rear view mirror and a well rounded set of applications available for use, I haven't really had any issues to speak of.

That is, until this last weekend when my MacBook Pro's battery decided to act up.

Since I have a very powerful Mac Pro humming away under my desk I don't use my MacBook Pro too often. I'll take it when I travel but don't use it on battery power too often. Since I bought the machine about 18 months ago I've only cycled the battery 47 times according to System Profiler.
While traveling over Thanksgiving I pulled the MBP from my bag, powered it up and started happily working away. Oddly the battery indicator—which should show a full charge—rapidly dropped to 92%. Within about 15 minutes my battery power was already dropping below 70%.
I kept working away, popping open some web sites and updating a spreadsheet with some of the data I was looking up. I glanced up at the battery gauge and saw that it was already down in the 40% range after only about 20 minutes of use when suddenly my MBP shut down.
This wasn't a graceful "I'm going to sleep now" shut down. There were no warnings, no kernel panics and no obvious signs of distress from my Mac. The screen just went black. I had about 3 seconds of noise from the fans and hard drive spinning down while I contemplated what had just happened. Did I save what I was working on? Did I really only get 20 minutes of use out of my battery?
I closed the MBP and flipped it over, pushed the little battery indicator button and two little green lights winked back at me. Odd. I pressed the power button and the MBP started to boot up. It was nearly through the boot process when it decided to give up and shut down again.
I grabbed my power cord, plugged the machine in and booted it up. It came up fine, no issues and dutifully reported that it was charging the battery. I remembered that I had recently seen an article on calibrating the battery from Apple. The process was simple:

Get the machine fully recharged then let it rest in that state for at least 2 hours. Once charged, unplug the power and run it down until the machine goes into a sleep state. Let it stay in sleep mode for at least 5 hours to fully exhaust the battery. Recharge from there and you are ready to go.

The problem was, the machine would shut off well before I got down too low on the battery. I decided to get it as close to the "shut down zone" as I could (about 40%), then put the machine to sleep. The graceful pulsating light told me it was happily slumbering away. I left it like that to see how long the battery would last while preserving the memory in sleep mode.
Three days later I lost patience and tried to wake it from sleep mode while still disconnected from power. Though the light was still pulsing I couldn't wake the machine. Not completely dead, it appeared to be in a coma. I reconnected power, turned on the machine and it quickly restored itself. The battery gauge was registering numbers all over the map and after it charged fully it indicated that I needed to "Service Battery":
At this point I'll try taking it into to my local Apple store and see how they deal with it. I have an Apple Care extended warranty though I'm not sure if they will cover the battery with that. Stay tuned and I'll post an update once I learn the outcome. I posted a note about this on Twitter and got lots of responses telling me that Apple quickly replaced their batteries for them. Then again, I also got a link to this page about Apple's battery policy.
Had a battery issue with a MacBook Pro? Did you get a resolution that worked for you? Drop a note in the comments and let me know!