Captain Kerbal

Tag: iMac

Pronounced Dead

The iMac has finally been declared dead. I’ve donated the motherboard, the hard drive now lives in my grandmother’s computer, and the aluminum frame has been sold to a scrap metal merchant – only the power supply lives on (which is another story altogether).

It was not unexpected; I had already mentioned my possible plans for it. It seems like a good use for the parts… better than throwing them in the bin, anyway.

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Decisions, decisions…

I’m still wondering what to do with the iMac. After all, it’s working fine. Apart from a dead screen.

And I’ve just discovered that I could upgrade the internals with a 64 bit CPU and up to 4GB of RAM. That would make it quite a powerhouse, at least by my standards! Or on-par with all of my other machines, at least.

My real issue is that I’ve already got another machine that’s more powerful – at least one, anyway – so there’s not a whole lot of point in getting yet another working. Assuming I buy another motherboard for the Vostro, I’d have four perfectly good machines capable of taking 4GB+ of RAM and a Core 2 Duo. Putting all of them to work would be difficult, to say the least!

And my PC can be upgraded to a Core 2 Quad, which should outperform anything else that I’ve got by an order of magnitude, at least for compiling jobs. Since I’m considering using the Acer for playing KSP on, the PC will be somewhat defunct – assuming that I get the Vostro working, that is. So it’ll be relegated to the task of churning out packages as required, and possibly a bit of light web browsing every now and again. And provided that I managed to find a processor with vt-x extensions, I’d have a pair of machines capable of running virtual machines.

Which will mean that the iMac is pretty much completely defunct. It turns out that I could use a USB to serial adaptor that we have lying around, and my new null modem cable would let me have emergency terminal access, as required. Plus I could use one of the spare disk drives to ensure that I always could access the system. But without a screen, I couldn’t update the firmware, so I’d have to sink at least NZ$30 into it, not including buying some more RAM, and a newer CPU.

So I’m most likely to salvage parts from it, unless I think of a use for it. Salvageable parts include the HDD and (firewire!) internal camera, and the power supply. I thought that I could use the HDD in my grand mother’s computer, whenever I get around to ‘upgrading’ it to Debian Jessie, although I have until 2018 to do so. It would be a size and speed upgrade, although only a minor one, and would give me more room to manoeuvre; I could always fall back to the older install if required!

A diversion to i-land

To go straight to the point: I’ve been contemplating getting rid of the iMac. Or more specifically, the motherboard, fans, screen, and speakers.

Why, I ask myself? Why?

Well, I’ve been looking at my requirements. And a reasonably power hungry, older, not-very-grunty machine is just… defunct. If I need more power, I’ll fire up my PC. And the laptop I’m using at the moment (on loan) is yet again more powerful. What had I intended to use the iMac for, anyway?

To quote:

The aim for the iMac is to provide a server for compiling software, including for the Toshiba, and to provide a platform for virtual machines.

Given that I now own another machine, it’s even more defunct. Using it as a DistCC node would help, but, honestly, I can’t see any benefit from having an older machine added. Sure, faster compiles are nice, but they already take a short amount of time (half an hour to build a toolchain… on just one computer), so it won’t make a huge difference. And my newer laptop can now handle virtual machines, so the iMac is no longer unique in that regard.

I’m not throwing it out just yet – and I’ll preserve the HDD, newly-enclosed power supply (for another project…), and probably the wifi and bluetooth cards. They might just come in handy…

But when I have a worthy successor, it’ll be sent off to my local recycling company. Without too many regrets.

We’ll see… I may yet have a change of heart!

Pondering the definition of junk

I haven’t posted as of late, being busy with other things, so I thought I should take the time to jot down a few thoughts I’ve been considering of late, with regards to the definition of junk.

As it turns out, junk has a few definitions which I won’t link to here. Urban Dictionary has a rather tongue-in-cheek definition:

Seemingly useless rubbish which sits around for months and is inevitably disposed of the day before it is needed.

It’s fairly close to what I was thinking of.

The reason why I was pondering this is because I’ve convinced myself that I have space for one more computer, with a caveat – I’d have to get rid of the iMac, which I had planned to build a case for and revive. The real problem with getting another computer (or even trying to revive the iMac!) is that I feel the need to justify it’s existence.

You see, currently all of my computers need a justification for me to keep them. For my Toshiba, I am keeping it because I enjoy fiddling around with it and experimenting with stuff to put on it. For my PC, the justification is that I need it. For my Pi, the justification is that it is a perfect always-on low powered server. I have a justification ready for whatever laptop I end up with, namely that it is a laptop. But I don’t have a justification for the iMac, since it is underpowered compared to my other machines. I don’t have a justification for any other pieces of cool hardware I might find. And I certainly don’t have a justification for the rubbishy laptops I bring home from time to time, which is why most of them have been returned within a few weeks.

So why do I even need to think about getting another machine, or replacing the iMac? It would obviously have no use what so ever, and I could never spare the time to really give it care it needs, since I’ve already got the Toshiba to keep me busy.

Well, there are possible reasons why I’d like to keep a piece of hardware.

  • It is more powerful than anything else I own.
  • It is useful in some way.
  • It is cool.

The first one is easy – of course I’d keep something more powerful, provided that it was substantially more so, and was an attractive machine in it’s own right – not too noisy, easy to install Arch Linux on and maintain, and easy to hook up to a network. A bigger monitor is another thing that I’d quite like… but I might wait until large e-ink screens are available.

The second is a bit harder. Given that I own all I need, I’m not sure what that useful something might be. An expansion card for my PC that provides some more functionality? Spare parts for my Toshiba, perhaps.

The third is even trickier. What makes something cool? Pondering this, I thought of several machines I would like:

And a few others 🙂

The main issue with reason #3, is that I could get to the stage where I have a dozen old computers, all of which I might consider to be ‘special’ in some way, which I never spend any time on. In other words, I would become a collector of old computer hardware….

Is that a good thing? Or is it just hoarding junk?

I’m not sure yet…

Happy Holidays

Holidays are nearly here!

Well, almost. Several weeks away, in fact. But I’m looking forward to them 🙂

I have been doing some planning, however. The plan so far involves:

  • Creating the iMac case
  • Working on my syncing system, specifically the mk.2 version
  • Bringing cling to a state of basic completion
  • Work on the specialised distro for my Toshiba

Of course, there are other goals as well, but they are outside the scope of this blog 🙂

I’ll see how far I get…


I’ve also managed to make some progress on cling. To date, I’ve added the very basic functionality, and have cleaned it up. The next steps are to finish cleaning the current code up, write some tests, write some CLI binaries using libcling to test that I have the basics covered, and then release 1.0!

Good progress so far 🙂

iMac revival – it lives!

I spent yesterday getting the iMac to boot Arch Linux. This was try no. 2 – I first tried a couple of weeks ago, using the existing partition table (gpt) with the HFS partition removed, and replace with a btrfs filesystem holding Arch Linux. Somewhat as expected, this failed to boot.

Now, everything would have been easy if only this computer had a working disk drive. Unfortunately, the disk drive had died a painful death some time ago, leaving me with no option but to use zechariah, which has a spare HDD slot.

I was under the impression that Macs only boot off EFI drives, and wasted the weekend trying to get it to boot, without the ability to use ‘bless’ or ‘mactel’ or other similar tools, since I was booting off a BIOS based PC. I have since abandoned that approach; according to this website, Intel Macs can boot off MBR disks. Note that refit is out of date; this was good for me since the iMac is also out of date, but the information may not hold for more modern Macs. So, the next step was to try with the disk formatted using MBR, and using a standard Arch Linux install – Macs have a BIOS compatibility mode, allowed me to not bother with an EFI bootloader.

To check that I was not making a fatal mistake which would involve removing the EFI partition, I first booted off the known good disk in zechariah. Success!

The next step was reformatting the disk to MBR. I first tried with cfdisk, deleting the GPT entry and making a new partition table. Much confusion ensued, as the resulting disk was recognizable, the partitions mountable, but not bootable on either the PC or the iMac. ??? Adding to the confusion was the insistence of syslinux that it had failed to set the boot flag on the target drive, although I had set it manually with cfdisk.

Parted came to the rescue, enlightening me to the fact that cfdisk had in fact left the GPT table intact – although how it could treat a GPT disk as MBR and get away with it, I am still unsure. An easy fix; parted kindly reformatted the disk with a MBR table, added the new partitions, and I was away. A few hours later, I had the iMac booting off a MBR disk, and the ip address.

The ip address was difficult, as one of those things that I had regretted was not using the OSX partition to find the MAC address first…

The solution was to write a short script (blind):

for i in $(ip addr); do echo "[whitespace...] $i"; done | less

This printed out each word in the last column in the screen left intact, allowing me to find the ip address, SSH in, and find the MAC address from the comfort of a working terminal, using the same commands. After I had set up a static ip address on the router, I checked that I could ssh in, and it worked!

The next step is to build a custom case 😉