Category Archives: Apple

Hello Again – Or Back to the Mac after a Linux Attack

So this is my third blog post today. Huh. Something of a record. Mainly trying to test out posting in Markdown instead of using that God-awful Gutenberg. I’m trying to learn to love it, or at least tolerate it, but it is a struggle.

Just wanted to recount my recent adventures in using this aging MacBook Air with Linux instead of OS X for a couple months earlier this year. TLDR: I tried it, it was okay. I am back to using OS X.

For those more interested, here is a longer version. This laptop is a ten year old MacBook Air that has worked admirably. However, it no longer get software updates from Apple and it is stuck on High Sierra, which I think came out over 4 years ago now. No Mac OS X security updates; no Safari updates (not that I used that browser very much) and more importantly to me, no more Homebrew updates soon. I decided to try installing Ubuntu 20.04 on this machine back in February. It worked, but it was kind of pokey slow and was not the upgrade I was looking for. So I decided to give mxLinux a spin on this computer and I was pleasantly surprised. It ran well, I was able to install everything I needed and get updates on a regular basis. I know Debian well, and this distro had all that plus a bit extra tooling that I liked. I installed mxLinux in late February and used it for two and a half months.

So what happened? A few things :) – First and foremost, I borked the boot process one day when I overwrote my GRUB settings during an apt-get session. While I could have struggled through this issue and figured out how to fix the GRUB boot process and gotten back into mxLinux, I started thinking about some other issues that gave me pause. A couple things really stood out to me.

  • First, one of my biggest problems was the trackpad sensitivity and settings. Using mxLinux was frustrating me for weeks. Everytime I tried to type something, the heel of my hand inevitably would brush the trackpad, sending the mouse pointer into frenzies across the screen. I would lose my focus, or click away to another application. It was frustrating. I figured out a setting to disable the trackpad while I was typing, but then trying to use both trackpad and keyboard (like web browsing and scrolling through a page, filling in a form) became a slow… motion… pain… in… the… butt. Waiting a second or two everytime I switch between the two input modes slowly grew excruciating. But I could live with it.
  • Second was the realization that my battery life on Linux was just terrible. I just took the time and effort last fall to replace the battery in this laptop, and using OS X I got 3 – 4+ hours on a charge, using the computer almost constantly with either video or music playing in the background. Under Linux, I was lucky to get 2 hours out of the battery. Worse, the battery percentage was completely off kilter. It would say 62% charge remaining, then just completely die 3 minutes later. Not cool bro.
  • Lastly, I have to honestly say I missed some of the benefits of the Apple ecosystem. Turns out I like being able to take a Facetime on my computer instead of my iPhone. Managing the Apple family plan was easier on a computer instead of my iPhone too. Huh.

So I am back in the Apple fold for now. It was pretty easy to restore everything back to where I was in February. Thank you Time Machine. Only took about two hours to put everything back in place and get back to where I was on February 8, 2021. I got a lot of apps furiously updating themselves right now. Looking at you Firefox, and you VS Code, and you Kindle, and you WhatsApp desktop, and you Dropbox, and you Teams. Just not you Safari :)

Goodbye Fink > Hello Brew

Spent some time this morning trying to install some software (lynx actually – anybody remember that?) on my iMac. I tried using Fink, but apparently the repos are no longer maintained, or have shifted their location.

This led down a rathole for almost two hours as I tried to get Fink update and upgraded to use OS X 10.9 Mavericks. I originally installed Fink many many years ago on OS X 10.5 Snow Leopard. Yeah my iMac is that old. Still kicking though.

Anyway, it proved insurmountable to me. I am sure a couple more hours of tinkering and I would have set the path to the 64 bit binaries, but my frustration bucket was filled by 11:30 am. With no clear upgrade path and I ended up uninstalling Fink. And I was fine with that. But then the Mavericks distro required me to compile from source. Ugh. Fink was clearly showing its age, and a cursory examination of the packages in the 10.9 distribution was less than exciting. Too much friction, not enough payoff. Sayonara Fink.

But I felt I needed a package manager – I still wanted to scratch that geeky itch and install Lynx. And I didn’t want to compile it from source. I got two kids running underfoot this morning, I can’t focus completely on the computer.

So enter Homebrew, a more modern package manager built around Ruby and Git, two tools I am quite familiar with. Took about four minutes to download and install and now – presto – I have lynx running on my computer. And now I have htop too, my favorite activity monitoring tool these days. Gosh that was painless. Hey about another trip down memory lane with tin? Crikey that works too! I will draw the line at elm however.

One Dead iMac

I finally got around to taking my iMac G5 into the local Apple dealer here on Guam yesterday. Everything I had done at home pointed towards a power supply failure. But the tech took one look at my motherboard and told me I basically had a rather large, expensive, four year old paper weight on my hands. The power supply was shot, but the motherboard was also fried, with at least fix blown capacitors on the circuit board. It would cost more to fix than a new machine basically and that really pisses me off.

I’m pissed because it is a perfectly good 20 inch LCD monitor I can no longer use, a 250 gigabyte hard drive I will have to pull out and repurpose, and 2 gigabytes of RAM that I am betting will not be compatible with any other computer I might replace this machine with. This all ticks me off to no end. Definitely my last iMac purchase. I will probably get a new Macintosh, but it will be one with a seperate monitor I can reuse further on down the line.

It just irritates me that I cannot use that fantastic monitor for anything else. On the other hand, I won’t have to listen to the constant jet engine whine of the myriad fans inside the iMac G5. So I guess something small and fanless will be my next Mac, like a Mac Mini.

I’m already pricing them on the online store right now…

iMac Blues

My iMac died this week. Bummer. It needs a new power supply, so I guess a trip to Marianas Electronics is in order.

This is the second time I’ve had to bring that machine in for servicing. There was a factory recall back in 2005 on that model, and now this.

Actually on second thought, maybe I will just buy the power supply and replace it myself. Not exactly rocket science, and I have built and repaired a number of other computers, Macs included. I am still particularly proud of how I brought my G3 back to life in 2002. Bought new motherboard and ROM chips off eBay, a new power supply, housing and more RAM and my venerable machine was chugging along like new.

Bye Bye Firefox?

Lately I’ve quit using Firefox on my Macs. I’ve been test driving Safari and Camino, and both are meeting my needs better than Firefox.

Make no mistake; Firefox is a great program, and the extensibility of the program is a wonderful feature. I love Adblock, but Pith Helmet provides nearly the same features for Safari and CamiTools has ad blocking too.

My biggest reason of ditching Firefox; speed. On my iBook G4, an admittedly venerable four year old machine, Firefox just slows to a crawl after a day or so of being open. I don’t know how other people operate, but I tend to keep my web browser open all the time, with different tabs for my web mail, calendar, bloglines and itsyourturn open all the time, along with an assortment of other pages I surf to during the day. Probably not the best workflow practice but I do love my tabs. And Firefox just grinds to a halt after a day or two of this use. I’ve worked this way for years, and only since Firefox went to version 2 has this happened. I understand there is a PowerPC G4 version out there in some corner of the internet, but it was a couple releases behind last time I checked.

And frankly Safari is really pretty cool now. Try searching in Safari; that’s just damn cool. And it works with most web sites, including Yahoo Mail, so for the past week I’ve been using it almost exclusively. I still had to shut it down and restart this afternoon however.

Nobody’s perfect I guess.

Friday Night Geekatron

Sorry, this is probably incredibly boring to most folks, but I just spent a large portion of Friday night monkeying around trying to get my Windows laptop to connect and print to my venerable Apple LaserWriter 4 600. It was not small feat; the LaserWriter only speaks Appletalk; a networking protocol unknown to the Windows machine. The LaserWriter is connected to the home network via a Localtalk to Ethernet bridge, the aging Ethermac iPrint Adapter from long extinct Farallon.

Thanks Mac Os X Hints for pointing me in the right direction. A little bit of editing to smb.conf and printers.conf on my iMac G5, turn on Samba and print sharing, download the Adobe PostScript print driver and voila, I am printing to my LaserWriter, something I have wanted to do for years and never thought possible without installing Dave or some other such Appletalk client.

And now I can go to bed a little geekier, and content in the knowledge that Macs are cool and I can print my boring spreadsheets and emails from the ThinkPad now.

Techno Lust

Well I can’t say this is a real surprise. It’s not like everybody saw this coming for the last couple years. Looks slick and sexy.

I’ll stick with my Treo 650 for now thank you very much. It works well good enough. At least up in town; the coverage sucks down by my house and in southern Guam. Which kind of negates the purpose of the phone. Guess I need to relocate to Tamuning. Probably part of the reason I’ve been sleeping in my car so much lately…

Clearing Some Links

Randomly interesting stuff, but it’s time to clear some tabs in my browser.

Random Links

Time for a flurry of random, unrelated links to marginally interesting stuff. Behold the power of the internets!

  • Mapping Medieval Townscapes – An atlas of the towns founded by Edward I between 1277 and 1303. That’s Edward Longshanks, the evil king from Braveheart. Make no mistake, these villages were founded in Wales for the exact purpose that Israel plopped down all those settlements in the West Bank.
  • Nazi aircraft carrier located – A Polish oil exploration outfit has found the wreck of Nazi Germany’s only aircraft carrier, the Graf Zeppelin. The ship never saw action in World War II, and there is some speculation about how it was sunk.
  • Book of Psalms found in Irish bog – A thousand year old copy of the Book of Psalms was discovered by a construction in a peat bog.
  • Virtue Desktops – If you own a Mac, this is worth it’s weight in gold. This gives you four different virtual desktops to play with, just like any other Unix/Linux system. VirtueDesktops is the bee’s knees. I can’t sing it’s praises enough.
  • 86400 Moments – An interesting photo exhibit, documenting a day in Joshua Tree National Park.
  • Apple Support Specifications – Can’t get enough information about current and older Macs? Check out Apple’s support pages with details about every Powerbook, iMac, iBook, iPod, eMac, PowerMac, AirPort, MacBook, Mac Mini or display Apple’s ever made.
  • Mechanical Turk – Looking to make a few bucks doing a mindless job for Amazon? Turns out it is a lot easier for them to pay scads of people a bit of money to identify stuff (pink shoes, jazz records, tabby cats) than to write software to do the same thing. Get in on the action and earn a couple bucks today.
  • Underground Russia – Morlocks
  • Rachel Ray and the food snobs – Just digging through the long tail here folks. I think she looks cute, though maybe a little too perky.
  • Underground Japan – More Morlock technology.
  • Camera phones are ‘obstruction of justice’ – This guy was arrested for taking a picture of cops in a drug bust on his street.
  • Pat Robertson and Senator James Inhofe on the threat of environmentalism – Whoa. That just creeps me out.
  • The Eco-Bubble – Speaking of the environment, maybe it is starting to look like the tech bubble of the nineties. But that ain’t exactly a bad thing.

Farewell To A Faithful Friend

Apple PowerMac G3 MTWell, I am just about to bid farewell to a faithful friend; my trusty Beige PowerMac G3, which I purchased back in 1999, is pretty much dead. I think it was the power outages this week that did it. It just won’t boot up. I hear the power come on, the fan starts blowing on the power supply, but the familiar startup chime never sounds. It will not boot, and I suspect the logic board is fried again. I am not going to attempt a repair this time. Since I bought the iMac G5, the trusty G3 has been relegated to back room status as a file and web server, and not even the primary one – that’s the job of the dual PIII Linux box running Xubuntu. And hey, OS X breathed new life into that tired old box for a few months. It’s just not worth the effort scrounging up parts for that old box.

Like I said, I have successfully resuscitated the G3 before. Back in 2002 I replaced the logic board, power supply and video card, basically replacing most of the guts of the machine. And it worked great for the next four years, so no complaints on that front. It was a trusty G3. Even though it was only 300 Mhz, it still played MP3’s and surfed the net like a champ. It was the first brand new Mac I’d bought since 1990, spending most of the 90’s trolling through eBay for older machines. (Like my Frankenstein Quadra 950; 3 monitors – including a Radius Color Pivot– on that honking beast, plus 3 external SCSI hard drives, external SCSI CDRW, SCSI Zip drive, SCSI flat bed scanner, ImageWriter ][ – which I still have – and a HP DeskWriter. God what a behemoth.)

Apple PowerMac G4 SawtoothAnd now I have a lead on a G4 Sawtooth tower somebody wants to unload. Hell that will run Tiger instead of Jaguar like the G3, and he says it is loaded with RAM and a big hard drive. And as I think anybody can tell, I am a sucker for collecting older computers, and this one sounds like it might actually be useful to me with a big internal hard drive. Say hello to my new file and web server. One era closes, another begins…

Mac Performance

G5 vs. CoreDuo! Who wins?

Looks like the CoreDuo beats the G5 using R to perform the tests. Ominously, Linux and Windows XP absolutely crush the G5 running OS X; even Linux running on the G5 knocks the socks off OS X. The author says it is the microkernel’s fault that OS X performs so poorly. And the author is not very keen on Apple products. Hmm. Guess my next computer will be an AMD Opteron system running Linux.

Software Theft Protection

Orbicule Software has come out with an intriguing piece of software for the Macintosh. Undercover is theft recovery software that tracks the location and habits of your laptop after thieves have absconded with the precious hardware. It takes screenshots of whatever the thief is doing and sends them, aong with the computer’s IP address, to you and law enforcement authorities, hopefully facilitating recovery of the laptop.

Even better is “Plan B” – after the recover efforts fail, Undercover simulates a hardware failure, prompting the thief to take the machine to an Apple dealer for repair. When the machine is plugged into the Apple dealer’s store, it alerts the store personnel that it is a stolen machine and that it needs to be returned to the rightful owner immediately to become usable again. It will even start shouting this message, demanding its return to all within earshot. How ridiculously cool is that?

iPod Oddities

Like most folks with an iPod, I mostly put the thing on shuffle and let it spit out 4,500 tunes in pseudo-random order. I haven’t seen anything documented, but I am pretty sure it puts tunes that I’ve listened to before towards the front of the shuffle playlist. I think it sorta stacks the deck that way. I can think of no other reason why the iTrip FM tuner mp3’s keep popping up so damn often. There’s only a couple dozen of them in there, but it seems like every sixth tune is a series of blips and beeps to the iTrip. That becomes annoying.

A couple other oddities:

  • I’ve been taking the iPod with me on my evening walks up into Yoña. Three times now the iPod has played Strange Fire just as I walk by St. Francis Church. Weird…
  • Strange synchronicity: I just finished listening to Miles Davis’ version of Concierto De Aranjuez from Sketches of Spain, and it went directly into Julian Bream playing the exact same adagio movement from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Is the iPod psychic?