An OS Love Triangle and a Butterfly’s Wing


Small changes can lead to amplified consequences — one of the common-sense tenets encapsulated in Chaos Theory by the metaphor of the Butterfly Effect. What I’m about to relate is a messy tale. Stop reading now if you like things smooth and uncomplicated.

It starts with an innocent netbook, my Dell Mini 10v, which, by the way, I can recommend highly as an excellent netbook with great battery life (six-cell model).

After I’d switched over to a Macbook Pro as my main computer, I thought it would be cool if my Dell Mini could also run Mac OS X. I found a good recipe and Hackintoshed the 10v into a pretty decent Mac netbook. It wasn’t 100% stable, but most of the time it worked okay.

But I was nagged, in the way that a geek gets nagged, by the requirement to downgrade the Mini 10v BIOS from A06 to A04. BIOSes get upgraded for a good reason, and it’s seldom advisable to go backward. The BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is the firmware that mediates between the operating system and the unit’s hardware components. I suspected some of the minor glitches of OS X Snow Leopard on the 10v could be attributed to BIOS glitches in the earlier BIOS release.

My friend Steve alerted me that the Hackintosh recipe had been updated and no longer required a BIOS downgrade. The new package could be installed on A06. With a little time on my hands I decided that I really didn’t mind reinstalling Mac OS X again, so I decided to make the system “clean.”

When I performed the BIOS downgrade, I had to create a DOS (not Windows) bootable memory stick and put the Dell BIOS exe file on it and manually run it from the command line with a couple of flags. Easy enough, though the computer beeped like a demon at full moon during the procedure. I downloaded the exe file for A06 and put it on the same memory stick and booted from it. At the DOS prompt I dutifully put in the flags and hit Enter. It just as dutifully replied with an error message saying that this executable had to be run in a Windows environment.

Catch-22. Well, I’d come this far so I hooked the 10v to an external HP USB DVD player and performed a minimal Windows XP install. When I was able to log in, I ran the Dell BIOS executable, which ran fine, and upgraded the BIOS to A06 perfectly, without the annoying beeps and screeches of the downgrade.

At last. A clean starting point. With confidence I inserted the 8GB memory stick that had Snow Leopard on it along with utilities to allow it to boot. Following the procedure of the recipe exactly, I booted from the stick, and began installing Mac OS X. I’d done it before and it’s quite easy. Partition the drive for Mac, and set the boot sector to GUID. It started purring along. Home free.

Not quite. With under 10 minutes left, the installation aborted with a -1 and the message “Mac OS X cannot be installed on this computer.” Huh? I rebooted with the stick, erased the partition, and started over, double checking I had everything right. Once more it started installing perfectly. Once again it aborted, with the same message when the installation was nearly finished.

I googled back to the recipe and all the user comments I could find. Everyone said it had worked a treat on their 10v with A06 BIOS. Perfect. No glitches. So what gives? I thought. I’d done this install before, a couple of times, on A04 BIOS with no problems.

So now what? Support for the Hackintosh procedure is thin, and so was my patience. I decided to go back to my previous setup: a dual boot Windows XP and Ubuntu Netbook Remix combo.

I’m not a Windows lover, but I’m not a Windows hater either. I just find it inelegant and kludgy. And terribly annoying. It’s the most annoying operating system I’ve ever used.

But. It works, and its hardware support is great. And, despite reports to the contrary, if you treat it right, it’s stable. Besides, I thought if I make a Windows partition, others in my family can use it if they need a small netbook to take along somewhere. They’re Windows users.

Windows installed as usual, and the Dell resources CD added all the necessary drivers to get things up at a base level. Then the dreaded Windows Update procedure. On the first pass it had 60 updates. After that was done, and it rebooted, it had another dozen or so updates.

All of that to get to square one. No apps yet installed.

Next I downloaded the latest ISO for Ubuntu Remix. It’s a later version than I had running last year, prior to Mac OS X. I put it on a memory stick and it booted fine and installed cleanly. I’m very impressed with how easy Ubuntu has made installing the Debian flavour of Linux, my favourite.

Unlike the previous release, however, it had no wi-fi support out of the gate. That was annoying. I googled the issue and saw that for whatever reason the packagers have removed the proprietary network driver for the internal wireless device. One user reported that after updating by RJ45 cable, the missing driver suddenly appeared.

I took my Dell Mini to a different location, one with direct connection, and updated Linux. Sure enough, the necessary driver was there after updating, and I was able to connect wirelessly after, one of the main points of using a netbook. Given that the same driver is needed by both the Dell and the HP minis, this seems like a major gaffe on the part of the packagers, especially when the previous release included it in the initial build.

So, all I wanted was a clean BIOS. I got it.

Moral of the story: be careful what you wish for.

Pi Day


Until I saw this beautifully crafted Google logo in my browser, I didn’t know it was Pi Day. In fact, I didn’t know there was a Pi Day. An official holiday in the US.

Evidently it is celebrated on March 14th because the first three numbers of Pi are 3 1 and 4. March 14th also happens to be Einstein’s birthday, so the two are sometimes celebrated together.

Pi, known for centuries as Archimedes Constant, is a critical, irrational constant used in mathematical calculations in geometry, trigonometry, physics, chaos theory, and probably many other subjects.

This was a timely bit of serendipity for me. I’ve lately been enjoying a new Teaching Company course called Chaos, and I’ve commenced a review of Elementary Algebra, both of which I may blog about in the near future.

So let us all celebrate these two coinciding things: pi and Einstein’s birthday!

200px-Pi-symbol (by StarbuckGuy)