Got the Mac Pro running again

The Mac Pro “Quad Core” (specs here) that I picked up at a surplus sale for $50 just cost me another $15. No, wait, it was $20. The power button was blinking on and off and the machine wouldn’t boot. Supposedly, you can fix certain things just by resetting the SMC. Or maybe the battery is dead. Since the computer is about 10+ years old and probably was still using the OEM battery, I figured I should start there, I started there by replacing it. (It’s a C2032 lithium battery, which is apparently the button battery equivalent of a AA. It cost me $5, because I didn’t  check Amazon, where they run about 80¢.)

But, sorry, no luck with the SMC or battery. That left “bad RAM” as the problem. The RAM is (unfortunately) but exotic and obsolete: PC6400 DDR2 ECC 800MHz in pairs of 240 Pin FB-DIMM Modules.  ECC memory! Can you believe it? I don’t think I’ve used ECC RAM since leaving college and the DECSystem-20‘s core memory. Or, who knows? Maybe I use ECC memory all the time via Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other web-based services. But I’ve never had to pay for it. It’s not cheap, at upwards of $10 per GB from OWC.

How much could I afford? The machine came with 4 MB, but it supports up to 16 GB (or 32 GB if you cheat). It seems crazy to spend money to upgrade a machine today if you’re only going to have 4 GB when you’re done, but who wants to buy $80 worth of RAM?

Finally, I hit on the idea of getting the wrong kind of RAM. Apple RAM has about 4 ounces of head-spreaders per stick. (It’s actually pretty amazing. I guess they figure people who buy a Mac Pro are going to be serious users.) But you can get ECC RAM of the wrong kind directly from China for just $15. So that’s what I did.

It arrived, and I installed it. (What an awesome thing it is to have a computer from Apple that is easy to upgrade instead of a hermetically sealed Batmobile.)

The best part is that it works. It’s probably more failure prone now, I know. But remember, it wasn’t booting at all. This looks better to me:

Mac Pro - working again

The Senate and SCOTUS — A Modest Proposal

Since the nomination of Merrick Garland has been held up all year, and is at this point likely dead, President Trump may nominate as many as three (even 4?) Justices to the Supreme Court.

The Senate, of course, must approve those nominations. Historically, this would have been subject to a 60-vote requirement to overcome any minority-party filibuster. But retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid eliminated that precedent, and, indeed, even two weeks ago sought to permanently “nuke the filibuster.” We may therefore expect that even a bare majority in the GOP-held Senate could approve each of those nominees.

Perhaps today Democrats can better see the folly of Harry Reid. Even some Republicans are uneasy at the prospect of President Trump’s SCOTUS picks.

I believe that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should, in the interest of national unity, allow the Democrats to restore to the Senate the historic protection of the filibuster.

He should announce that he will, in this session, schedule hearings for Merrick Garland on the condition that each member of the Senate — every single one, without exception — go to the floor of the Senate, and make a public pledge of support for the filibuster, along the lines of: “I solemnly renounce and abjure the disastrous and demagogic policies of Harry Reid which so gravely imperiled the historic safeguard that is the filibuster, and put our republic in jeopardy of descending into the ugliest form of mob rule.”

Since no Senate can bind a future Senate, this show of support for the filibuster will be necessary at the start of each term. Incoming Senators should be required to make the same pledge in January. Without such a show of national unity and resolve, McConnell should declare the filibuster dead and delete it across the board from all Senate rules.

Would this be humiliating for Democrats? Absolutely. So it might tempt the Republicans, who, otherwise, will want to wait for Trump’s nominee and those who will come later.

But swallowing their pride would be good for Democrats. Being (sort of) generous in victory would be good for Republicans. And restoring a strong filibuster would be good for the country, and not only in the area of SCOTUS nominees.

If nothing else, the election of President Trump and a GOP Senate should teach us that it is dangerous to take power into our own hands that we would be terrified to see in the hands of our political opponents.

Ubuntu 16.10 and Zeroconf

I don’t do enough system admin to enjoy it when I do. (Does anyone?)

When you upgrade Ubuntu, you lose a lot of the software you’d installed. There’s a list of system admin tips that I try to remember here. (Which reminds me, I should find a better home for it for when Twitter dies.)

I couldn’t resolve names of Macs in my local network. I should point out what a shame it is that Mac addresses aren’t the same thing as MAC addresses, since Google as my primary system admin resource.

That’s the work of avahi-daemon and friends (a/k/a Zeroconf and Bonjour). For awhile I thought that something had broken there. But eventually, I figured out that was working, i.e., the problem lay elsewhere.

I wondered if they’d added a firewall to 16.10. They did (or, for all I know, they’ve always had one) called ufw (more here), but it’s (still) not enabled by default. If that ever changes, I can learn what to do about it here.

After about an hour, I found out there is something called nss-resolve. Which is actually a pretty clever idea. Except it wasn’t working. Its configuration file is well documented here. Good luck figuring that out.

Finally, I just compared my 16.10 /etc/nss-switch.conf file with the one from a working installation of 16.04.1. HAH!

Not only was there a difference, it gave me a string I could Google. That brought me to this:

It also brought me to this:, which (if I read it correctly) says that I should go ahead and use the string from 16.04.1 that works instead of the one from 16.10 that doesn’t.

Odds ‘n’ Ends

MIT Tech Review: Your brain limits you to just five BFF’s. Dunbar’s number isn’t just one number.

There’s a Zinc flash at the moment of conception. New State of Water Molecule Discovered. Quantum tunneling!!!

NPR: 40 Years On, the Genius of 2112.

ExJon: Shun the Crowd, Embrace the Remnant

Acton: Bruce Wayne, Capitalist Superhero:

What we have in Bruce Wayne, CEO, then, is an embodiment of noblesse oblige, the idea that nobility (an elevated position in society) comes with certain responsibilities. The concept has been tainted in the minds of some by its association with hereditary aristocracy and paternalism, but the essential idea is praiseworthy.

Just Odds (no Ends today)

Luna thought that Ron might suffer from a variety of this problem.

Awe-inspiring: a type II-P supernova caught in mid-burst. The explosion takes months, then hours, then no time at all. (Kind of like Hemingway’s character’s bankruptcy.)

An MIT course in how to make your own videos to publish on YouTube. (Ignore the headline.)

Finally, a beautiful video of undisturbed places. Trust me.