El Capitan Collateral Damage


“Almost 1 second remaining,” said the progress bar for installing El Capitan aka Mac OS X 10.11, but I should know better. Over ten minutes since I last checked and the cheery but inaccurate message remains on the screen. Finally it changes to the oxymoronic “Almost 0 seconds remaining” before finally getting on with being installed.

It would have been better if I hadn’t seen the message at all, at least on Marion’s Macbook Air. Marion, for good reasons that I won’t go into here, uses her Macbook as a Windows computer. She started out to use the Macbook as a Mac, but for complex reasons, it didn’t work out for her, so I set up her Macbook as a Boot Camp dual boot computer.

Every so often, just to keep the Mac side up to date in case she ever needs it, I would boot it up as a Mac and install updates and changes. I’d already installed El Capitan on my Macs and liked it so I upgraded Marion’s Macbook in good faith.

The problem came when we tried to boot back up the Windows half of the computer. Uh oh. It wouldn’t boot Windows. A search through Google revealed that others were starting to report the same problem, in the Apple Support forums. There was no reply from anyone at Apple but users were complaining that El Capitan dinged the Windows partition somehow and there was no fixing it. Moving back a release to Mavericks didn’t help because the damage was already done.

Marion is a heavy computer user and is especially busy right now preparing materials for the annual art show at the Cawthra Seniors Centre so I had to do something to get her back up and running. My first thought was to reinstall Mavericks and create a new, fresh Windows instance using Boot Camp Assistant. To do this I had to make an ISO file of the Windows 7 boot DVD and put it on a stick. Then the installation started. It didn’t get far because when Windows tried to boot, it failed on a critical driver Apple had forgotten to sign: appleSSD.sys. Search as I might, I couldn’t find a working solution. I tried some but they didn’t work for me.

So, going for broke, I created an ISO file for El Capitan and put it on a boot stick. I had to blow away the entire Macbook drive in order to reformat it for El Capitan. Boot Camp Assistant wasn’t able to delete the Windows 7 partition.

I thought perhaps I’d try Boot Camp Assistant under El Capitan, but when I got to the point of trying, it said I needed Windows 8 or higher, otherwise there were some tech files available on how to install Windows 7. By this time I had worked the problem for over 24 hours and was feeling a bit testy, so I looked for an alternate approach.

I installed Parallels for Mac v. 11, then installed Windows 7 into Parallels, then began to restore Marion’s data files, a long job. Fortunately we kept up to date backup but it takes a long time to restore.

So far, Parallels seems to be working, but it hasn’t been put to any hard work yet. Fingers crossed that it works out okay. If it doesn’t, I may have to purchase a copy of Windows 10 to install on the machine, trying Boot Camp again.

All in all, 48 hours of fix and restoration, with minimal sleep. El Capitan is causing some serious collateral damage for some users and the snag hasn’t even hit the news yet. Let’s hope word gets out there and doesn’t trip up more users into an experience like mine. The irony is that, in general, I really like El Capitan. Ah, the joys of computing.

Taking Stock: Facing 2012

iPhone Selfie

I hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year season!

Traditionally New Years Day is a time for resolutions that will largely be unkept in the months that follow, so I’ll refrain from making any. Besides some of them are ongoing no matter what time of year: lose weight, exercise more, write more.

Looking back to 2011, I’ve had a Macbook Air (11″) for a year now and it’s so slick and useful it still feels new. As such it’s an incentive to get down to the task of writing just so I can use it. I enjoy my technologies, but it’s been a long time since one has stayed so fresh. Kudos to Apple for another brilliant design and execution.

There are rumours of a new iPad in the works some time 2012. If it turns out to be true I might be ready to pick one up. I gave my previous one to Marion after getting the more writer-friendly Macbook Air, but I confess I miss the iPad experience. I get a miniature version of it with my iPhone 4 but it’s not the same without the large viewing screen.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a fan of podcasts and I’d like to pay tribute to my two favourites: I Should Be Writing, by Mur Lafferty, and Brain Science Podcast, by Dr. Ginger Campbell. You ladies have allowed me to listen in on hours of intelligent conversation. Thank you.

I have a couple of directions I may take my writing in 2012. One idea I’ve been kicking around is putting together a series of personal essays into a Kindle book. The other is to write on a couple of subjects that interest me, but as extended feature articles that could be published as Kindle Shorts.

I don’t have any special photo projects in mind for the year. I’m content to carry a camera around with me and take shots of this and that as I see things. I plan to post a new photo on my Flickr photostream every day, if possible. The camera in my iPhone 4 increases my odds of meeting this goal.

One of the things I may do more of in 2012 is post short reviews of books I’ve read. My current reading is Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution, by Toby E. Huff. I’m about 25% into it and already it’s shaping up as the best science book I’ve read in the past year.

Currently listening to The Harrow & The Harvest, by Gillian Welch. Indispensable if you like a traditional folk sound.

My other two goals for the New Year are to study more philosophy and mathematics. I’m nearly ready to tackle my Algebra II course and I have a good Teaching Company Great Lectures course Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida that I’ve started. Staying intellectually active is less a goal than a deep-seated need. I suspect it’s the same for you.

I look forward to seeing and hearing from friends in 2012. May your 2012 be a wonderful year.

Fall Update


I love the fall. The weather cools down, the trees turn colour, and the pace of life picks up.

Marion and I had a delightful day trip and picnic lunch with our friend Suzanne. We drove up to Forks of the Credit and enjoyed the autumn countryside. It takes a long time to get out of the city now with the GTA expanding northward. One day I expect it to be solidly urban from Mississauga to Orangeville.

This fall I’m taking an online course “Writing the Personal Essay,” from Creative Nonfiction. We have weekly readings and tutorials, occasional online chats, written assignments, and peer review. It’s stretching me as a writer, for which I’m thankful.

I’ve been reading so much my Kindle is smoking. I’m on an SF&F spree that I hope never ends. I’m also reading some mystery fiction. I don’t read much mainstream literature — I find it boring. Contemporary literary fiction, most of it anyway, leaves me cold. But science fiction challenges me and the inventiveness and creativity of the authors delight me. My Kindle is currently subscribed to Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Clarkesworld. And for more serious reading, Philosophy Now.

The delightful thing is that as soon as the issues are released by the publisher, they download into my Kindle.

The fall marks the new TV season as well, and this season I’m watching Dexter, CSI, Silk, Inspector Lewis, and Ringer. Plus documentaries and specials.

Not to mention listening to podcasts galore, including the bracing TED Talk videos.

And I was delighted to hear that my friend Earl has picked up a Macbook Air.

Finally, for anyone interested, I’ve started a paper.li Internet newspaper called Gene’s Sci-Tech Daily.

Back to Mac

Mac OS X Screenshot

The life history of Ubuntu Linux 10.10 netbook edition on my Dell Mini 10v netbook was short.

I like Linux (a lot), but I hit a major snag and the most unusual problem I’ve ever seen: when I tried to use LyX, a genial front-end program to LaTeX, it had no top menu. No File, Edit, Help, etc. De nada. The lower menus were in place and I could open existing documents or start a new one, but missing were all the critical Import/Export features from the File tab, because there was no File tab.

Every other program on my system was normal, indicating a one-off anomaly. I did the usual: I removed LyX and re-fetched and installed it. It still came up without the top menu.

Well, thought I, I’ll simply download the source code and compile it. When I ran ./configure one of the error messages I received was to the effect that it couldn’t find an X Window system. I could have dogged it out, trying to feed in new parameters to the config script, or I could have contacted the packagers for LyX, asking what gives, but I knew that in one hour’s time I could reinstall Mac OS X.

So, that’s what I did. I needed LyX for a project and knew it ran perfectly on Mac OS X so I proceeded with the reinstall. Because I’d done it before I still had all the install files on USB drives. Within an hour I was once again running Snow Leopard.

I fetched MacTex then LyX (as well as installing X) and all was well. The top menu is there and I’m once again ready to proceed to package my year’s journals into a beautifully typeset PDF file.

The only reason I left the Mac OS X install behind was that it doesn’t take well to updates. As in, I can’t boot afterward and I’m not dedicated enough to dig out the why and fix it.

So, I use it without updates. Not a problem really because the machine’s only on when I’m writing.

Still, LyX without a top menu tops my list of strange problems and I enjoyed seeing it for myself. I wouldn’t have credited it if someone had told me this had happened to them. Now I’ll keep an open mind.

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.

A Time for Reflection

A Time for Reflection (by StarbuckGuy)

This photo of birch trees reflected in my cup of coffee was a casual snap I took a few days ago while writing in Starbucks. Like many of my shots, it was a quick capture of the small things I enjoy. Imagine my surprise when this simple shot went nova on Flickr. The comments and faves started rolling in and for most of one day this shot held at #2 in Explore — Flickr’s featured photos section. It eventually dropped down to around #250, but being featured at all still surprises me

In another way, though, perhaps I understand it. One of the more difficult things to achieve these days is time for reflection. For simplicity. For quiet. I can see how this image appealed to a lot of people.

The photo works symbolically for me too. It’s a time of reflection for me as I explore the things in life I most connect with during my retirement. Photography and writing still hold strong, but neither quite satisfies completely. I’ve thought about this for a long time. As much as I love photography and writing, they’ve always been activities I’ve pursued as sidelines. Like playing music. Creative things to do, but not mainline.

My career was in IT and I miss it. Not the 24/7 on-call pager stuff — I’m happy to pass that on to the next generation. What I miss is development and design. There’s something about logic and data structures that makes my synapses sizzle. I’m a predominantly left-brain individual, with some right-brain tendencies. I appreciate the elegance of programming code that is beautifully written and works well, and I like trying to write it.

The problem is, I don’t have any development projects to work on, and it’s been some years since I last did any serious C programming. I didn’t want to go back into corporate IT work on either a part-time or contract basis. Business systems don’t excite me.

It was my wife, Marion, who came up with a breakthrough in my thinking. She was visiting ex-colleagues from Sheridan College’s IT program who are starting to teach programming and design for mobile devices, like the Blackberry. One of them suggested this would be a good area for me.

Bing. A light went on. Here I am, loving my iPod Touch and it hadn’t occurred to me that I could learn how to program for it. I’d been wanting a Macbook anyway, but couldn’t justify one solely on the basis of my writing projects. I did a little research and looked at some Objective-C samples and realized I not only understood them, I got excited by them. I also discovered that you can register with Apple as an iPhone / Touch developer for free and that Apple provides all the essential development tools.

That sealed it. So on Black Friday, I took advantage of the $100 off sale and ordered a 15″ Macbook Pro with 4GB RAM and 500GB drive. With antiglare screen. The two programs I intend to purchase as soon as it arrives are Scrivener, for writing projects, and VMware Fusion to allow me to run Windows programs virtually until I have time and budget to replace all my software with Mac versions.

Now the wait. It’ll take about a week or so to arrive. I’m keeping my little Dell Mini 10v because of its compact size and light weight. I run Linux on it, but once I’m set with the Mac, I might Hackintosh the Mini.

Excited? You bet.