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

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.


I had to reinstall Linux on my laptop and ran into some trouble with the ttf-mscorefonts package. (It runs some text-mode click-wrap license agreement, except in my case, there was a problem where it didn’t run properly. I probably hit the wrong button at some point.) Anyway, this is not a new problem:

I picked the latter one because it didn’t involve dpkg.


I wouldn’t take it gift-wrapped

Office 2016 for Mac now available as stand-alone software. I’ve been exposed to Office 2013/Windows, and to get anything done, I have to use Office 2011 on my Mac.

I wouldn’t even install Office 2016 on my Mac for $100 even if it left the old version intact. More likely, though, it clobbers the previous version. In that case, I’d only do it for the cost of a new computer—so I could throw out the old computer with Office 2016 on it.

System Admin Notes

Windows 10 is, in some ways, worse(!) than 8.1 was. (Really!)

Since I don’t have time to keep sinking into Windows, here’s what I’ve been doing:

Once you’ve done all that, remember to install an ssh server:

sudo apt-get install openssh-server

Also, install rbenv (and ruby-build) and a ruby or two. Plus your favorite gems.

Tech Tab Sweep

Krita appears to be Gimp spelled sideways, but cross-platform, or more accurately, Gimp:Photoshop::Krita:Painter.

OpenSSH best practices. Mac OS X 10.10 “Yosemite” takes SSH security so seriously that after you upgrade, you can’t log in remotely. Even if you tell it you want to.

Use Ruby to make your graphs look hand-drawn, like the ones in XKCD.

Via RubyFlow: A set of step-by-step TDD tutorials, a library for importing real-world CSV data.

Gruff: a library for creating beautiful charts in Ruby. Use capture3 instead of backticks: capturing I/O from shell commands. I should be using pry instead of irb, and when I switch, here’s how to work with exceptions in pry.

Microsoft promises that you can clean install Windows 10 after upgrading. Hanselman confirms, but look at the questions in people’s comments. Someone at Microsoft should be asking, why don’t they trust us, and what do we have to do so they start?

Google’s new build tool: Bazel. What are the odds I’d switch when I’m still learning Rake?

Tech Links – May 29

Three open-source Python shells.

Don’t catch Exceptions. I must have known why I always do rescue => boom to catch exceptions. The reason is that Ruby makes that shorthand for rescue StandardError => boom. Nifty.

libgrader: find quality gems for your next project. It knows about two of my favorites gems: pericope and titleize. (Unlike awesome-ruby.)

Sequel: the database toolkit for Ruby. (Here’s an introductory screencast at RubyTapas.) I keep thinking I should do something with sqlite. Well, really I think I should do something with a database, but I’d rather put it on Drobox than try to figure out how to have a mysql server out on the internet and not regret it.

The reason? Once you’ve used a join you’ll never be content using a spreadsheet for a database. Here’s a quick introduction to joins.

Mac audio graphing tool FuzzMeasure updated. I didn’t remember that it had a name of its own. I thought it was just SuperMegaUltraGroovy. Anyway, every time I look at this I think to myself about the software I wrote in the mid-90s and all the cool graphs I’d like to have implemented.

Windows 8 Setup (Continued)

I’m moving from a Mac to a Windows PC at work, and I’ve been blogging some of the things I’m doing to set up my computer.

There’s two things I wish I could just set up: rsync and a decent command shell.


I don’t know how you write a server for Windows, but it’s amazing to me that Rsync hasn’t caught on there. Especially since it was developed by the same guy who gave us Samba. (Maybe that’s the point. Note the direction of the copying arrow.) (Don’t tell me about DeltaCopy. It may be great for moving things between Windows machines, but I’m not hoping to do that a lot. I want a cross-platform solution. I need to explore cwrsync.)


Cygwin gives you a pretty good set of proper command line utilities. The biggest problem is that it needs a command-line tool like apt or yum to keep it up-to-date. I’m looking into apt-cyg.

But a shell needs a terminal emulator to run in, and Cmd.exe doesn’t cut it. Again, I’m puzzled by the dearth of alternatives, especially since the one Microsoft included was so crappy. There are probably a dozen decent terminal emulators in the Linux world, and a couple for Mac OS X.

So right now I’m trying to figure out cmder. It appears to be a fresh implementation of a terminal emulator.

Windows PC Start-up List

Download a copy of PC-Decrapifier (or Decrap) and Should I Remove It. (You’ll need to get other things from Ninite (below) but start by getting Revo Uninstaller in case you’re having trouble decrapifying something.)

Product Key Finder by Magical Jellybean.

From create installers for:

  • Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. You can’t have too many alternatives to Exploder.
  • Dropbox and Google Drive.
  • Notepad++, Python, WinSCP, Putty, and WinMerge
  • LibreOffice

vim and gow (Gnu on Windows) and maybe Cygwin.

Ruby Windows Installer.


Telegram Desktop

MarkdownPad (or pay $15 and get Pro)

Be not slow to consult Alternative To.

And when you’re ready, make a backup image using Clonezilla. Or at least a system restore point.