Time for Reflection


I spent last week in hospital. Some angina-like pains in my chest were sharp enough to convince me to call 911 for an ambulance to make sure I wasn’t in cardiac distress.

The immediate tests and bloodwork showed no sign of heart attack, but because of my coronary history, I was admitted for tests. After a couple of days waiting, and lots of blood work later, I took an electrolytic stress test. The results indicated an anomaly so I was next scheduled for an angiogram in order for the cardiologists to take a look inside.

The angiogram results were good news. No new blockages, and all the plumbing from my bypass surgery looked great. The anomaly turned out to be a small branch artery that had been blocked by an earlier stent. Arterially it isn’t important, but it’s blocked just enough to cause me some angina pains when I’ve exerted myself harder than usual.

Because it’s a little branch, or twig, artery, I’ve dubbed it “Twiglet.” As in, “Twiglet’s complaining again.”

Whenever I spend time in hospital, it feels like a reprieve when I’m home again. A time to reflect and be thankful for family, friends, home, and generally good health.

During this holiday season, allow me to wish you the best of all these things. May your life be blessed with love, comfort, imagination, and joy.

— Gene

Dell Mini 10v Hackintosh

Dell Mini 10v Hackintosh (by StarbuckGuy)

A Hackintosh is any non-Apple Intel-based computer that has been “hacked” to run Mac OS X. Although not supported by Apple, or anyone else for that matter, the underlying hardware architecture of a Mac is essentially the same as that of any modern Windows PC. Put this in front of a good hacker, and the challenge is too sweet to ignore: “let’s see if we can turn this baby into a Mac.

“I’m not smart enough to figure any of this out, but the folks who are enjoy sharing their knowledge on the Internet, and they supply instructions for the rest of us. Instructions for hackintoshing computers tend to be brand and model specific due to the varied mix of manufacturer’s components inside the chassis of PC’s. When I found a good recipe for hackintoshing a Dell Mini 10v netbook, I decided to try it out. I was already running Linux on it anyway and knew, in worst case, I could simply revert to Linux or Windows.

The recipe calls for a fresh Mac Snow Leopard OS X 10.6 upgrade DVD (not the one that comes with a Macintosh). I purchased one for $35. You also need a USB hard drive that holds at least 8GB. My 8GB USB stick was already in use, so I picked up a 16GB one. I also discovered that a small-capacity USB stick is a good thing to have for this project, if you need to change the BIOS.

My Dell Mini 10v came with an A06 BIOS, and I had to downgrade it to A04. The recipe had links to a great little Mac utility for creating a bootable DOS USB drive to boot the machine for a BIOS change. I used one of my older 2GB USB sticks for the job.

The scariest part of the entire procedure was downgrading the BIOS to the level needed to properly support Mac OS. A BIOS change has to either succeed correctly, or fail correctly. Anything in between means taking the netbook back to Dell for fixing. Despite the scary disclaimers, though, BIOS upgrades or downgrades are relatively safe if you do them right and use common sense, such as making certain the unit has AC power attached.

A BIOS change is also a loud affair. It makes the computer beep repeatedly for five to ten minutes, very loudly. Everyone in the house thought a smoke detector was going off. I had to assure them the beeps were “a good thing.”

With the BIOS downgraded, I booted from the newly created Mac OS X installation USB hard drive I’d created with yet another Mac utility linked to in the recipe. I’ve installed plenty of operating systems, and, as installations go, this one was easy. I used the Disk Utility to partition the drive for a Mac, then clicked Install. The rest was simple.The moment of truth: after the install, the Dell Mini booted up as a Mac, and I was asked the usual customization questions to set up the netbook. It came up clean.

There are limitations, of course. A 1GB Snow Leopard machine is too limited for any large-memory applications, and apps don’t always like the Dell’s odd (1024 x 576) screen resolution. But the Mini is my writing and surfing machine, and I was able to run TextWranger and Scrivener well, and even MS Word 8 for Mac is usable. Safari runs fine.

Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac refused to install because of the screen size. I didn’t really need it on the netbook, but was curious to see if it would run in 1GB. I still don’t know.

I use a USB mouse with my netbook most of the time, and with a mouse, Mac OS X runs as expected. The touchpad, however, is not so great. It can’t do what a real Mac touchpad can, but there are experimental drivers available that bring it a little closer.

Bottom line: Hackintoshing the netbook was fun to do, and I now have an “under-$400” Mac netbook. It may or may not prove to be stable. I wouldn’t recommend it as a substitute for a Mac — you need the real thing if you’re serious about running major Mac applications. For light work, though, it’s a little gem.

And funky.

Special thanks to John Herman and his excellent How To: Hackintosh a Dell Mini 10v into the Ultimate Snow Leopard Netbook


LyX Screenshot

As a Macintosh newbie, I’m still in deep learning mode, but I’ve discovered one thing that really excited me. LyX, the easy-to-use front end to LaTeX, is available in a Mac binary package, as is LaTeX in the form of MacTeX. LyX is the main reason I use Linux on my netbook. I’m using it to typeset “Captain’s Log,” my 2009 journal that I plan to print privately as a 6×9-inch book at Lulu.com.

Having this on my Mac is even better, and would free up my Dell Mini 10v netbook as a Hackintosh. Following the instructions on the LyX site, I first downloaded MacTeX, then LyX. Both installed cleanly and simply and I was able to use the .lyx files from my netbook.

The only snag I hit was that LyX expects aspell or ispell — the most common spelling packages in a Unix environment — for spell checking.

This lead me to MacPorts — Unix ports of open-source software scripted for installation on a Macintosh. It has two requirements: X11 and the Mac Xcode development system.

X11 was already installed but I had to install Xcode from my installation disc. Having done that, I was able to type $sudo port install aspell and it did the rest, obtaining aspell and all its dependencies, compiling them on the Mac. Lovely!

My journal project has now been moved to the Mac and I’ve reached mid-September in my proofing and typesetting.  It’s going to be a thick book: I’ve been journaling prolifically this year.

I’ve not yet obtained any photo editing software or office software for word processing and spreadsheets. I use Photoshop CS3 on my PC, but may switch to Photoshop Elements 8 on the Mac. It seems to have all the features, including layers and layer tools, that I use in CS3.For office software, I’ll likely go with either NeoOffice or MS Office for Mac, if I can obtain a student version.

In the meantime, I’ve been watching tutorial videos on iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and GarageBand.

Mac me!

Joining the 21st Century

After a few years of saying “I’m going to get a Mac next time,” I finally did it. I just took delivery of a 15″ Macbook Pro that is slated to become my main computer.

The Mac interface is fairly intuitive and I was able to figure out quite a few things without consulting the little pamphlet that comes with the unit, but I hit one snag that’s amusing, in hindsight.

During the intialization process, I was asked several questions and had different options to choose from. I could use the track pad to put the arrow in the right place, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it “click.” I’d tap the touchpad and nothing would happen. Pressing “Enter” seemed to work sometimes, but not always. Stumped, I plugged in a wireless USB mouse I already had and the Mac picked it up right away and let me use it to finish.

Only a day later did I discover, by accident, that the touchpad depresses, and that’s how you get it to “click,” at least initially. I now have it set so I can tap it, the way I do the touchpad on my other laptop. Unless I missed it in the pamphlet, I think it should be more explicit about how to click.

There are many things I’ve yet to figure out, like the Dashboard thingie that pops up and shows me the weather in Ottawa. It must be adjustable somewhere.

I found Terminal and had a look around the file system. There’s a lovely BSD flavour to it, and I’ve always been a fan of BSD so the underlying “Unix” facilities look enticing.

Because the Xmarks plugin works with Safari, I’m trying it out as my main browser. I’ve downloaded Firefox, which is my normal standard, just in case I find limitations in Safari.

I purchased and installed Scrivener. It will become my main writing tool for larger, or complex, writing projects

I quickly discovered that Text Editor, like Windows Notepad, is a little feeble. I couldn’t find a word count function in it. A Google search led me to TextWrangler, which has a better feel as a text editor. I may also experiment with an old favourite: Emacs.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time moving parts of my MP3 collection to the Mac and getting them into iTunes. I had trouble with the adding them to the library — several of the albums showed up in triplicate. After several frustrating re-do’s, I discovered, in the Advanced tab, that iTunes was copying my MP3’s into its own directory. I clicked this off, deleted all the iTunes media, database files, and XML’s and started fresh. Bingo. Just one listing in iTunes. (Aside: I’ve never liked iTunes and I don’t find it to be any better when running on a Mac.)

Next steps: getting some photo editing software and word processing on the Mac.