One of the things I find interesting about writing Mac Gems is how certain products—especially those that are useful but very simple—seem to be controversial by their very existence . Soon after a column is published, I receive a wave of emails and forum comments proclaiming how silly it is that such a product was created. At the same time, I get plenty of messages to the effect of, “This is exactly what I was looking for!” Today’s Gem is likely to be one of these products.
Does this scenario sound familiar? You sit down, plug in your PowerBook, iBook, or MacBook Pro, and then work away, figuring your laptop battery is charging all the while. Later you unplug your laptop to “go mobile,” only to have its battery die after a few minutes. Turns out that your laptop’s power cable didn’t have a good connection, or that at some point during charging, it got pulled out just enough to stop providing power.
I don’t know about you, but over the years this has happened to me many, many times; it most frequently happens when someone accidentally pulls on (or trips on) the power cable, partially unplugging it. It was especially an issue with pre-MagSafe adapters, which tended to slide out just enough to be ineffective while still looking like they were plugged in, but a number of MacBook Pro owners have reported that even the new MagSafe connector can easily come unplugged—in fact, it was designed to do just that.
Apple has tried to address this very problem over the years via AC adapters with a light built into the adapter itself—amber means it’s charging your battery, green means your battery is charged but the adapter is still providing power. Similarly, if you’ve got OS X’s battery status indicator in your menu bar—or, even better, a utility such as SlimBatteryMonitor ( )—you can view your laptop’s power/charging status. But here’s the thing: Nowadays, I’ve got so many electronic devices with little indicator lights on them that I rarely even notice these lights any more. And when I’m using my laptop at my desk, it’s connected to an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse and placed mostly out of sight. So I don’t always see the light, and I’ve grown largely oblivious to menu-bar indicators. I know I’m not alone here, as I’ve read similar comments from readers.
Michele Balistreri’s free Unplugged 1.3 ( ) is a simple utility that solves this (admittedly minor) issue: When running, it pops up a notice whenever there’s a change in your laptop’s power source.
Plug your PowerBook in to charge it? You get confirmation that it’s really plugged in. Accidentally pull out the power cable? Unplugged lets you know. If you’re running Growl, Unplugged will even use Growl notification boxes. And it uses a miniscule amount of RAM and CPU resources.
Some might find Unplugged to be intrusive, but it’s exactly what I want—something that lets me know if my laptop is connected to AC power, forcing me to pay attention to that notification.
Unnecessary? Perhaps. Useful? Definitely.
Unplugged is compatible with Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger.)