Friday, September 28, 2007

The Allure of Steampunk

I love History, as anyone that knows me will tell you. I have been interested in history since I knew that my family had a history (and quite a colorful one at that ^_^). So historical artifacts and retro-looking objects have been an interest of mine for some time. I have Victorian oil lamps, camping oil lamps, a wood-burning stove, and some other older devices (like a 1953 Willys Jeep). But, oddly enough, I hadn't even thought about steampunk before. Then my friend, Joseph Hall, introduced me to the Steampunk keyboard Mod at the Steampunk Workshop.

This keyboard is really cool, with beautiful brushed metal bindings in brass. Now I think I understand my appeal to the Apple computer: the brushed metal. It's all about the brushed metal. I also like the keyboard, because growing up we had an old Victorian manual typewriter with which we constantly played. Instantly I was hooked.

This was months ago that Joe introduced me, and since I have been pretty much floating in a steampunk mood. I like the idea of large machines, brushed metal parts, clockwork, and the like. Something that is easy to manage in that each part has an obvious function. This follows the utilitarian philosophy that pervaded the Victorian years, and as such becomes a fascinating movement in and of itself.

So I started to think about all the facets of our lives that can be effected by steam technology. Imagine if you had a motorcycle that could run for 2 hours, just on steam? Also, that steam could be created from burning alcohol, instead of gasoline. Thereby, you create a viable and powerful mode of transportation that is eco-friendly, carbon neutral (or closer to it), and can potentially look really cool.

But what about the problems that plagued the steam engines of the past, you say? True, boilers would tend to blow up after so many uses. But that was more to do with the type of metal used, not really the design. Brass, bronze, copper, and iron were all used early on because they were readily available, and less expensive than steel. But they also were softer metals, and would slowly melt away with each firing until the walls were too thin to handle the pressure of the steam. They would then blow up spectacularly, causing injury. There are plenty of new alloys that could take the place of copper or brass.

And now many of you are probably thinking: Wouldn't it be more fuel efficient to create a combustion engine to run on alcohol? Sure! That would also be potentially more safe assuming you use a copper boiler for your steam engine. But is it just as cool? Is it easy to get? Is it something that you can show to your friends and have them say, "wow, I don't know why you did it, but it looks just so cool!"

So, does this mean I'm going to build one soon? Probably not. It takes a level of engineering that I just don't have (yet), but I am going to start with some simple mods of my own. I think I could come up with some pretty cool mods given the time. But until then, I'll keep following the Steampunk Workshop. I wonder if he will make an optical mouse telegraph sounder?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Slow Boot Process on Mac? Try Clearing PVRAM

I've been spending a lot of time this week imaging Macbook Pro's, and with many of them I have been wasting time waiting for them to boot. The boot times were painfully long, bringing up a serious concern on my part. These machines are not even a year old, and yet their boot times were concerning.

Well, after a while I thought I would just clear the PVRAM. What is the PVRAM, you ask? It's a system level RAM that stores the processes for BootX (Running the BootROM POST, identifying the kernel , initializing the environment, etc.). This is where the EFI bootloader sequence is run, and it will even set up a default boot volume. If the PVRAM becomes too bloated (as with any system), it will bog down and finally crash.

Clearing the PVRAM is very simple: You just hold down Command, Option, P, R, while booting, and wait for the computer to chime again. I usually let it chime at least twice, to be sure the RAM is completely clear. Once done, you will see a marked difference in your boot performance.

But that's not all! I returned home to see my wife's iMac experiencing a horrific situation. It seems the computer has been booting directly to Windows (she needed Windows installed for a work project). In order to select the Mac OS, she has needed to hold down the Option key. I tried installing rEFIt, but it failed to load. Why? Well, because it would seem that the PVRAM was completely full, and on the verge of crashing.

Avoiding the obvious and painful jokes about Windows setting up the Mac to crash, I cleared the PVRAM. The boot process worked like a charm, going straight to Mac. Tonight I will reinstall rEFIt so the boot process will be easier to manage between the operating systems, and all will be well.

Yet another side-effect of working in a mac lab with multiple OS'es, you get to learn fun, fundamental things about how the Mac works. ^_^

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Triboot Saga Continues: The New Discoveries

In my excitement, I posted a triboot process for the MacBook Pro that worked. Unfortunately, as I continued through the process on additional MacBooks, I couldn't get GRUB to install. What? How could that be? It worked just fine on the first machine! Incredulous, I started on another mac, and had the same problem. Bugger, I needed to start all over again and find out what went wrong.

The good news is that both the Mac and Windows partitions worked just fine, so I simply configured them properly for lab use. Now, to the Linux partition.

I started by backing up the working partition in a tar ball. I figured that if all else failed, I could at least restore everything from there. Then, I looked at the original machine closely to see if there was anything different on this machine than on the others. And there was! I used the ext3 file system on the original machine, and ReiserFS for the additional machines. Not having used Linux for three years, I'm not aware of any issues that GRUB may have with ReiserFS, but then I had always used Lilo, since I'm familiar with it. So, that was easy enough to fix: I reformatted the partition as ext3, and Ubuntu (and GRUB) installed just fine. There was much rejoicing (Yay!).

Then, in that process, I realized I forgot to back up and restore the original MBR! Oh no! My Windows partition will be bound to GRUB! I rebooted quickly and checked the partition, and Windows booted without a hitch. Sighing in relief, I realized that particular step was unnecessary. This, of course, caused me to revise my process for tri-booting the MacBook, which is below:

Needed Equipment:

- 1 Mac OS X Install DVD, with companion DVD
- 1 Windows XP SP2 Install CD
- 1 Ubuntu Linux Install CD v 7.04 for X86-64 processors
- 1 disk image of rEFIt
- 1 Boot Camp Driver install disk
- 1 Intel-based Macintosh machine

Step 1: Make your partitions
- Boot from the Mac OS X Install DVD, and under Utilities, select Disk Utility.
- Select the drive (not the volume), and click on the Partition pane.
- Split the drive into three partitions, in this order:
Partition 1: Macintosh HD (For the Mac OS)
Partition 2: LInux (as a Unix partition)
Partition 3: WIndows (as a FAT 32 partition). This is because Windows XP needs to be on the last bootable partition on the drive.
- Click on "Partition" to begin the partition and formatting process.

Step 2: Install Mac OS X
- Begin the Mac OS X installation, as normal.
- Once finished, boot into the Mac OS X environment, and install the rEFIt utility.

Step 3: Install Windows XP SP2
- Insert the Windows XP install CD, and reboot the machine.
- From the rEFIt start menu, select the Windows CD for your Boot volume.
- Begin the Windows install process.
- Select the 4th partition. Why 4th partition? Because the EFI partition is created automatically as a boot partition for the Macintosh. The 4th partition is the partition you set aside for Windows. You can choose to format the partition in NTFS, or continue to install it in the FAT 32 environment.
- When it reboots, be sure to select the newly created Windows boot volume in rEFIt. Finish the setup process as normal.
- Once it reboots again, hold down the mouse button to eject the Windows Install CD before rEFIt offers it as a boot option.
- Boot into Windows, and then insert the Boot Camp drivers disk.
- Run the installation. At this point, if you need to add additional accounts, you can do so during the installation.
- Reboot when it has finished, and asks you to reboot. Hold down the mouse button as it boots up, in order to eject the Boot Camp CD.

Step 3: Install Linux
- Insert the Ubuntu Feisty install CD, and reboot the machine.
- Select the Linux install disk from the rEFIt boot menu.
- Allow the machine to boot into the Ubuntu Live environment.
- Double-click on the Install option.
- Select your Location and Keyboard layout.
- When asked to Partition the disk, select the 3rd partition, format it as ext3, and set the root mount point on that partition. Click continue.
- It will give you a warning about not creating a swap partition, at which case you can still continue. With enough RAM on your machine, you do not need a swap partition.
- Create your user for Linux, setting the computer name as well.
- On the final pane, click on the "Advanced" button at the bottom right-hand corner.
- Change the (hd0) to (hd0,2), to install GRUB on the 3rd partition. This avoids any conflicts with the Windows partition.
- Start the installation.
- Reboot when it has finished.

You should now have a machine that will boot in Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Ubuntu Linux.

Again, I hope this is helpful to anyone out there that is looking to triboot their Intel Mac. After all, that is the greatest strength of the Mac platform: being able to boot multiple operating systems. For a lab deployment option that deals with these environments, I can't think of a better platform (other than virtual machines).

Friday, September 21, 2007

I'm Alive and Feeling Like a Kraut

The past couple of weeks have been really intense, with most of my days taken up by either teaching, or preparing to teach classes. So, I apologize to the few people who read my drivel. ^_^

Seriously though, there has been a lot on my mind as I read, listen, and watch the news going on. And what's the first thing that comes to mind? Oktoberfest! Yes, that's right, it's that time of year again. Germans, Swiss, Austrians, and all the other Germanic groups out there spend this time enjoying the stereotype of Bravaria, as they swill beer, eat great German food, and yodel in the hills.

If you are in the Utah area at all this month, or even into next month, feel free to stop by the Snowbird Resort. The food is excellent (though I prefer Rhineland sauerkraut rather than the Bravarian sauerkraut), and the singing and yodeling is enjoyable as well. Perhaps you will even see some fun spoon playing techniques.

If this doesn't tickle your fancy, you are not alone. But for nothing else, it's a great opportunity to enjoy one of the great ethnic celebrations Utah has to offer. So, if I don't see you until then, auf Weitersehen!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How to Rebuild a Nation

There have been a lot of talk about political progress in Iraq so far this week, mostly negative references to a people trying to build a government to satisfy their current citizens. Regardless of your political affiliation, the outlook appears grim based on our own short memories. It seems that people expect quick results, as one might expect from a company going through a management reorganization. But, unfortunately, that is not how government works.

First, it is important to understand that a representative government does not develop overnight, or even in a year. If there has been no history of representative government before in human memory, then humans tend to look at their own experiences of government and perpetuate what is already known. But, you might say, other countries have managed to go through political upheaval without chaos, right? Let's look at a quick historical overview, and see just how governments have been formed.

The Tribe
The first government developed in human pre-history was a tribal government. Tribes represent family relationships, and were an extension of the family in and of itself. As such, strong bonds are developed and sustained based on this basic, social structure.

The Clan or Monarchy
An extension of the tribal relationship is the Clan, where a single family that is very successful provides support, security, and safety to those that ally themselves. The success can be in many forms, and one might argue that organized religion provides the same success in security and stability as any other clan organization. So, I place the religious organization of government into a clan government. An excellent example of this type of government was Ancient Egypt. This begins the idea of the Chief, or Royal family.

The Oligarchy
The next logical step is community organization. Community organization begins the idea of Statehood, or belonging to a greater whole. In this organization, several clans or tribes can band together to create unity for mutual benefit. In effect, the tribes and clans become one big tribe or clan. Here, because you have a number of successful families trying to lead, you have the emergence of an oligarchy. Senates have risen because of this organization, as well as Nobility or Aristocrats.

Monarchy will give way eventually to this form of government, or work in tandem with this form of government. The idea is that at any given time, the Oligarchy, Nobility, or even Democratically elected Senators can take the place of the executive (King, Chief, Imperator, President, etc.), which keeps the executive in check. The thing is, the state organization is still limited to a small community. City States represent this type of government, such as Ancient Greek cities, Rome, Carthage, etc.

Scaled Oligarchy
Finally, as one city state becomes more powerful than the rest, you begin to get domination over the others. At this point, you have what I like to call the scaled oligarchy, or an oligarchy that continues to grow with the reaching influence of their city state. Eventually, you begin to add additional oligarchical members from absorbed (or conquered) city states into the political process, which causes more strain on the system.

Now everyone wants to be part of the political process so the oligarchical base becomes widened, and is no longer based on blood. It's based on the economic contribution of the members. This increased political pressure begins to hemorrhage, and political unrest results. Depending on how the oligarchy handles it, it can be a peaceful transition to a new form of government, or a violent revolution. Which brings us to our next step.

Democracy or Representative Republic
A democracy or representative government is a result of sufficient economic growth to allow common people to afford participating in the political process. At this point, either by standing for office themselves or by bank-rolling their representatives, the people can participate. This again is a slow process and has many stages of suffrage, usually focusing on the economic impact of those participating.

That is a step by step outlook at the building of a national identity and democracy. Is it possible to short-circuit the process? As Simon Bolivar has shown us, the process cannot be successfully short-circuited without a dedicated economic base willing to change themselves. Unfortunately, those that live in a non-constitutional monarchy or dictatorship are used to having their political decisions made for them. Also, if the country is not sufficiently stable economically, the people are just simply not in a position to do anything about politics.

So why am I mentioning this? Mostly because people need to realize that when a government has been removed, it takes time to rebuild it. A lot of time, mostly based on the determination of the people within a tribe, clan, or community. Iraq will be in a lot of political turmoil for a long time, and it's a reality that we need to accept. The only "short-cut" would be to place a dictator in power and remove any gains toward democracy that currently exist.

My assessment of Iraq? It is currently in a tribal and clan state, slowly emerging into a community based government. We saw sectarian violence as a direct result of a clan state, people not seeing past their religious affiliation. That is now starting to change, either by reverting to a tribal state (shiites fighting shiites), or a community based government at evidenced in Anbar Provence.

So, where is the Iraqi National Government in all of this? They are just waiting in the wings. Quite honestly, I don't expect anything to happen on their level to better the situation. It all has to happen at the community level first, which will then provide supported political figures in national representation. They have tried to do this at the Clan level, and that has failed. It is now up to communities to see past any differences they may perceive, and bring stability to Iraq.

Friday, September 07, 2007

TriBoot Saga: The Imaging Blues

On Monday, I posted my success in tribooting a MacBook Pro for use in a lab. It's been great, impressing all that have seen it so far. But there is at least one thing that is holding the deployment back: The images.

With a Mac, you can completely image a drive and then use it to boot from a NetBoot image, or install the image on the machine. Also, you can use it to restore the image fairly easily. But it's limited in the types of drives it can work with. I can use the images on a Mac Extended partition, FAT 32 partition, but I can't work it on a Linux partition (ext2, ext3, RaiserFS, etc.). So this means that imaging the Mac way doesn't make sense. Unfortunately, I haven't found any other way to image the Linux partition.

So, I'm placing this request out there generally. Is there a way to image a Linux partition, and restore it with the same convenience as a Mac image and restore? What hardware is required? What software configuration is necessary? This can be applied generally to any Linux partition, but specifically I am using Ubuntu for this partition. Ideally I would like to image the entire drive, partitions and all, and restore it without having to do anything special to the computer. But I would settle for just imaging the Linux partition, and restoring it.

Thanks in advance for anyone that has the answer! ^_^

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New iPod Line for Apple: Initial Reaction

Like many other people who are Apple fans, I spent the past hour and a half reading updates from the new announcements from Apple. The big news: new iPod Nano plays video, iPod (now iPod Classic) has up to 160 GB of storage space, a new iPod Touch, and the iPhone was discounted. New software includes a WiFi iTunes Music Store for downloads.

My initial reaction? I was excited, really excited. The iPod Touch was everything hardware-wise I have been waiting for from Apple, and I really like the new iPod Nano. The discount of the iPhone makes it that much easier for my wife to want one. The hardware looks slick, nice, and easy to use. I'm looking forward to playing with some at the Apple Store.

What I was hoping for, particularly with the imminent release of Leopard and the Calendar Server, is a better Calendar for the iPhone/iPod Touch. To date, the calendar system will sync easily with your iCal on the Mac, but creates a new calendar entry for each new event you add. Why? Because it's poorly designed. If you want to appeal to business people, you need to have a real, functioning calendar that syncs easily. Quite frankly, Pocket Outlook is better in this regard (or I should say ActiveSync).

Other than that, It's a beautiful line up, and will probably sell well this Christmas season. I know a lot of people were hoping for a iPhone Nano, but it's quite frankly too soon for that to happen. They just barely shipped the one millionth iPhone, and still have another year to make ten million. So, they dropped the price. I think that $399.00 is a little easier to justify for an 8GB iPod with a phone.

And for all those that don't want to have to deal with a phone, you have the iPod Touch. This device, in my mind, has the best potential as a PDA than any other, even the iPhone. Why? Because it runs OS X (same as the iPhone), and can be opened up a lot easier for new software. As Steve Jobs said before, he wants to be sure that the phone works as a phone, and not break because of poorly coded software. The iPod Touch is an excellent test bed for any new software to go to the iPhone.

But, new development libraries were not announced. Perhaps it's because they didn't want to distract from the music, perhaps because they didn't expect developers there. Hopefully Apple will announce development tools for the iPod Touch in January (or even better, in October with OS X 10.5), and have them available for developers soon. That will really drive the market, I bet. Imagine, World of Warcraft running on your iPod. ^_^

So, what do we really need? Development tools. That being said, the hardware is exactly what I had hoped for as a replacement for the iPhone. It's going to be hard to justify not getting one when my wife wants her iPhone. ^_^

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Tri-Boot Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Ubuntu: Success!

For the past week I have been pretty silent, no posts at all. That's because I have been embarked on a very ambitious goal: To redesign a lab to support Windows, Mac, Linux, CCNA, etc., but use only one set of hardware. Because of the requirements, there is only one computer system that we could use: the Mac. But in order to use it properly, we would need to have it tri-boot Windows, Mac, and Linux.

This process was very time consuming, taking a week to work out the problems. Finally, at 1:00 PM Mountain Time today, I can claim success. Here is the situation, the problems I ran into, and the final solution.

The Problem
I wanted to set up a lab that can use Windows, Linux, and Macintosh all on one machine (ideally on a MacBook Pro for portability). This also includes having an easy navigation system between the operating systems without holding a key down.

The Solution
Because the Mac can run these operating systems, it should just be a matter of installing each operating system on a partition, and go! Right?

What Went Wrong
I started with partitioning the system with Disk Utility. It was easy, having Mac, then Windows, then Linux. That was my first mistake, but I wouldn't figure it out until after the first day. I formatted each partition accordingly, and began the Mac install. It installed without a problem, and I was ready to start the next step.

Next, I installed Windows XP. The install went very cleanly, and installed on the second partition without a problem. I could even boot off the partition when holding down the Option key, and selecting the Windows partition. This seemed to be running a lot smoother than I thought it would be. Linux couldn't be that big of a problem, could it?

Next I tried Linux. Ultimately I wanted to install Fedora for a linux lab, but I started with Ubuntu. This was mainly to test the actual install version. You see, the Mac has a 64 bit processor, but I didn't know if the 64 bit processor install would work. So I burned two versions of Ubuntu (because CD's are cheaper than DVD's), and found out that the 64 bit version worked much better than the traditional i386 version. That was good, because now I knew which version of Fedora to burn.

So, I started burning Fedora Core 6. Then, in the middle of the DVD burn, I found out that Fedora 7 was released, and it wasn't part of the Core releases. After a few choice words, I downloaded and burned Fedora 7 for the 64 bit architecture. By now, I was getting a little anxious, but still excited about this process.

I then started the install. It worked like a charm, and continued the installation without a hitch. Until I tried to reboot: It killed the Linux partition. I couldn't see it at all, even with the Option key. Well, thinking that it was just a problem with the Mac EFI bootloader, I followed some recommendations of a colleague and installed rEFIt.

REFIt is a tool that makes navigating between bootable devices on a Mac very easy. It detects all bootable images, and let's you select them. This includes CDs, DVDs, and even Firewire drives. The problem is, it didn't see the Linux partition either.

So, I started the process again, this time paying attention to the volumes that I could install it on. This was day 2, and I was getting a little anxious. The process seemed to run just fine, but now Windows wouldn't install, at all. So, I started cursing Windows as usual, and started working hard to get the blasted thing to install.

After a few good hours, I realized that the problem was with the partition order. It seems that Windows needs to be the last partition on the drive when you have multiple bootable partitions. So, I set it up that way. Windows finally installed, and I could boot off of it again.

Now, LInux wouldn't work. By day 3, I was cursing and really frustrated. Why wouldn't Fedora work? I didn't know, and my patience was wearing thin. I finally decided that Ubuntu looked good on the Live CD, I might as well give it a try. Besides, I know several people that have gotten it to install without a problem.

Installing Ubuntu
THis took a couple of installs, but I finally got it to work by the end of the 4th day. Now, I had all three installed, and both Ubuntu and Mac ran just fine. Everything couldn't be better! Except for the fact that Grub wouldn't let me get to the Windows partition. Argh!

Well, because it was a long week already, I left the problem until this morning. When I came in, I reinstalled Windows (to have a nice clean install), and then I went back to the boards.

Ubuntu Boards
One thing I don't like about bulletin boards is the difficulty to find exactly what I was looking for. No one had instructions on installing Fiesty (Ubuntu 7.04) in a tri-boot setup, though several people were referred to installing Dapper (6.06). So, I looked at the Dapper install information, and found a section that I think might help me: backing up and restoring the Master Boot Record. I thought I would give it a try.

At first, it didn't work. So I went back to the boards, and found a completely different section about losing the Linux bootable drive in rEFIt. There, they recommended installing the boot loader for Linux on the 3rd partition, or HD0,2. My heart was beating fast, could this be the answer?

I tried it. Before I started the install, I set the location of the boot loader to (hd0,2). While it finished the installation process, I also replaced the MBR with the backed up copy. I rebooted, and it worked! I was finally able to select the boot location for Mac, Windows, or Ubuntu, and have the system boot that OS without going to Grub. The final process is here:

Install Process for Tri-boot MacBook Pro
1. Make 3 partitions (use Disk Utility)
- Mac OS X (EFI with Mac OS X Extended, Journaled partition).
- Linux partition - Unix partition type (will be reformatted by Ubuntu)
- Windows Partition - FAT32 (reformatted as NTFS later)
*NOTE: a fourth partition is created for the EFI partition, this shows up as the first partition while installing your other operating systems.

2. Install Mac

3. Install eRFIt

4. Install Windows XP SP2
- Format drive as NTFS
- Make sure it is the last partition (in this case, 4th).
- When you reboot, be sure to select the Windows drive, instead of the CD.
- Once done, install the Boot Camp drivers.

5. Install Ubuntu
- Boot off of the Live CD
- Opt to use a manual partition scheme. Select the 3rd partition, set to format it and have it mount at root.
- Before you continue, back up your MBR.
- alt-F2 will open a command line then type: dd if=dev/sda of=/tmp/sda.mbr bs=512 count=1
- Continue with the install process, Until step 7.
- Here, click on the "Advanced" button, and enter (hd0,2) for the boot loader install. This will install the boot loader only in the Linux partition.
- Start the install.
- When finished, restore the backed up MBR with this command: dd if=/tmp/sda.mbr of=/dev/sda

That process will let you tri-boot your Mac. My references for each new information can be found below:

Partition order
Dapper install with info on MBR backup
Final information on the Grub issue from which I found out how to reference the Linux partition for the boot loader install.

I hope this will be helpful to many of you looking to utilize all these operating systems on the same machine, if only one at a time. ^_^