The Leopard dead end

Finally got it, trapped myself into a dead end. This afternoon, I wanted to get AdBlock Pus back into my own account’s Google Chrome on the Mac. I found out that extensions wouldn’t install unless I update my Google Chrome. I tried it, but that stupidly installed a version of Chrome incompatible with Mac OS X 10.5 and I just cannot revert back to the old Chrome. It cannot be downloaded anymore from Google and apparently anywhere else. So I end up with only Safari as a browser on this machine. I cannot get Chrome anymore, no matter how hard I try. However, one hour ago, after I put away this damned machine, I found out I was able to get Firefox 16, the last Firefox usable on Mac OS X 10.5. This wouldn’t get me access to Sync for my bookmarks and history (now requires Firefox 33 or something), but at least I would get a browser I’m used to and that supports HTML5.

Well, at worst, I can live with Safari as the only browser, but getting blocked to Mac OS X 10.5.8 is a more and more an handicap. It prevents me from getting Firefox with Sync, Chrome, SmoothMouse or Razer Synapse, I don’t have access to the Mac App Store so cannot get back my screen capture utility I started using on my Hackintosh, and cannot obtain XCode, which I would need to obtain MEncoder through MacPorts. MEncoder would be useful to encode videos into the QuickTime variant Final Cut Express prefers for optimum performance, as soon as I find this out, and assuming there is such an optimal format that would avoid lengty rendering or at least reduce its length.

The golden upgrade path: from scratch to Yosemite!

I was imagining an upgrade path capable of leading me to Yosemite. I was over-enthousiast with this, thrilled by the possibility it may be doable. The idea would be the following:

  1. Backup as much as I can the data from the hard drive.
  2. Optionnally replace the hard drive with a 120Gb SSD I don’t use anymore.
  3. Install, from scratch, the Mountain Lion I got during my Hackintosh venture.  The USB key Unibeast produced me is just a wrapped up prestine Mac OS X installer that can boot on MBR-based PCs. The Mac’s EFI will just ignore that part, find the EFI loader from Apple and boot that, bypassing the hacked part of the media. I was thus hopeful to get a fresh Mountain Lion system installed from my hacked USB stick! After all, I paid for Mountain Lion, so it was nice to be able to get a return over investment.
  4. Upgrade to Mavericks through Mac App Store, maybe even directly to Yosemite.
  5. Update to Yosemite through Mac App Store if I had to go through Mavericks.
  6. Find a way to get back Final Cut Express, maybe I will be able to copy it back from backed up hard drive, maybe not.
  7. Enjoy!

Unfortunately, things didn’t go so great. First, installation of a SSD would be a great undertaking, requiring almost tearing apart the whole laptop. Then I found out, by running uname -a from a terminal, that Apple did the same stupid mistake as all other manufacturers until Windows 7 comes out: supply a 32 bits OS on machines with a CPU capable of 64 bits operations!

But Apple went one step further: hard-code the EFI to boot only 32 bits loaders!!! There is apparently no work around. A PC with a 32 bit EFI could be worked around by using the legacy boot, which would allow an OS with 80×86 code to switch the CPU into 64-bits mode. But Mac’s EFI can only boot EFI executables, and EFI executables are incapable of switching the CPU mode, at least as far as I know. I didn’t get confirmation of this from EFI spec, so I may be surprised later on. So if EFI is 32 bits on a Mac, that Mac an only run 32 bits OSes!

Why is it so bad? Well, Mountain Lion and later versions only supply a 64-bits kernel, so they won’t run on a 32-bits EFI, no chance it can happen. So not only I am blocked to Mac OS X 10.7, but I don’t have the needed media to jump there.

This afternoon, I confirmed this theory by attempting to boot the Mac off my hacked Mountain Lion USB stick. Although the EFI displayed the loader from the USB stick, that simply resulted in a forbidden sign, no more.

From Leopard to Lion

Without an access to Mac App Store, getting my hands on Lion will be as hard as getting Mountain Lion. I would have to install an hacked version of Mac OS X into VirtualBox or rebuild my Hackintosh, use Mac App Store to download Lion (assuming it would let me do so without meeting requirements) and transfer that onto a USB stick or DVD.

Any Google search leads me to the need for purchasing the retail DVD of Snow Leopard from Apple Store. That would require ordering the disk online, waiting for it forever and it will be delivered to me while I am at work (unless I spend the whole week working from home, and maybe even then). Ideally, I would purchase a download link to an ISO image and burn it.

However, things are not as simple. This afternoon, pissed off beyond imagination, I tried to search for a Torrent that would allow me to grab that damned ISO. It found several, but I discovered that the ISO file was 7Gb large, so doesn’t fit a DVD. So even if I could download the ISO legally from Apple, I wouldn’t be able to burn it on a DVD. Somebody managed to unpack the ISO on an iPod Classic and installed Mac OS X from that through a Firewire port. Wow! I don’t have such an artillery, nor the iPod classic, nor the Firewire cable. Would I get some luck with a USB stick or external hard drive? Maybe, maybe not.

I kind of lost hope at this point. It seems that a Mac either works out of the box as it is, or requires divine intervention from an Apple technician. But getting an Apple technician to work on the machine is another headache, requiring scheduled appointment, probably during day time, so I would have to interrupt my work day to get that damned computer checked, and probably the tech, when looking at the empty battery slot, would stop there and simply recommend I purchase a brand new Macbook Pro, that would have not just Snow Leopard but prestine all-new super-great super-cool Yosemite. Yeah! But that would cost me more than 2000$, and still no more Final Cut Express.

I don’t know what to do at this point. I’m oscillating between switching gears and reinstalling my Hackintosh, ordering this damned Snow Leopard DVD and see or getting it (illegally, unfortunately) through BitTorrent and fiddling with external media workarounds to accomodate the oversized media. If I can get my hands on a couple of dual layer DVD+-R medias, maybe my burner would be able to write the large ISO on that, maybe not, I never tried.

I finally decided to try ordering the retail DVD. I tried upgrading to expedited shipping to make sure to get it a day I know I would be at home. I also found out that upgrading to Lion would require bumping up memory to 2Gb, so I will have to figure out how to replace the SO-DIMM modules before going from Snow Leopard to Lion.

Note that I also found out that the Mac has a 120Gb hard drive. As a result, if I later on switch to use my 120Gb OCZ Agility 3 SSD, I will have the same amount of disk space, with more speed.

Can this Mac be saved?

If I cannot get a more supported Mac OS X, can this machine be freed from this limiting plague which seems to be Mac OS X? The best thing I could install it is probably a Ubuntu version of some sort. But searches about this are not so positive. Some people succeeeded, but they used an hacked Ubuntu version. Some people are telling it is possible to install a 32-bits version of Ubuntu 14.04 from a DVD or USB stick (EFI could boot the live CD), some didn’t have success unless they used an hacked 12.04 DVD and jumped to 14.04. So this promises to be a very frustrating weekend (and maybe even whole Christmas holidays) of trial and errors! I’m not sure I want to venture into that.


External display issues

Quickly enough, I wanted to plug the Mac on an external display. First, I would get a bigger screen. Then I would be able to use a fully-functional keyboard with working F1-F10, Alt/Option and Escape keys, in front of my external monitor, rather than having to lean my head constantly towards the far-away laptop, to control it with an external keyboard/mouse.

Physical connection

I quickly found out the good new: that October 2006 MacBook Pro (discovered exact model using MacTracker this morning) has a real full-sized DVI output port! This is not the pseky mini-DVI requiring almost-Apple-specific adapters, even not the newest mini-DisplayPort. No, a real DVI port! Ok, I have a DVI to HDMI adapter for that!


Well I realized with surprise that the DVI end of this adapter didn’t fit into the DVI port of the Mac. The exact reason why is still to be determined. However, I tried with a DVI to HDMI cable I had and the DVI end fitted. The DVI end of a DVI to DVI cable also fitted.

I was thus able to hook up the Macbook Pro to my Dell 23″ touch screen through DVI->HDMI. But the touch interface, provided by a separate USB connection, didn’t work, only the keyboard and mouse worked through the USB hub built into the display. I also successfully hooked up the Mac to my old 22″ LG LCD. Ideally, I would have put the machine and old LCD on a dedicated desk/table, with its own keyboard and mouse (ideally an Apple keyboard, if I can get my hands on one), but I don’t have a large enough table for this to fit comfortably.

The problem with my new Dell LCD is that connecting the cables is hard. The space behind is kind of too tight. I thus try to leave cables connected in the monitor’s end and just plug/unplug the device ends. There is one loose HDMI cable hanging on my desk. I can plug something directly if it has an HDMI output, or use an adapter to turn this HDMI into a mini-DisplayPort (really, I purchased this adapter for a Dell ultrabook provided by Nuance, the company where I am working), a DVI, a mini-HDMI or micro-HDMI.

The fact that the HDMI to DVI adapter didn’t work was kind of problematic for my monitor setup. I thought about several solutions:

  • An HDMI male to female cable. Most cables are male to male. It is a bit uncommon to have one female end.
  • A female to female HDMI coupler that would allow me to link to cables with an HDMI male end together.
  • An HDMI to DisplayPort cable. My Dell LCD has a DisplayPort port which is unused. I could try to use it instead of the HDMI port for connection with HDMI and mini-DisplayPort laptops. But I may have to purchase an additional mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter, not sure it would work with mini-DisplayPort/HDMI/DisplayPort.
  • A DVI to DisplayPort cable. May work, but I end up having to try my luck with another DVI end which may not fit into the Mac’s port, unless of course I purchase the damned cable twice the price at an Apple store!
  • A new LCD with easier to access connectors. I may have to sacrifice the touch ability, which is totally unacceptable!

Yesterday afternoon, I tried to get the HDMI male to female cable from a local computer store. I thought I had it, but looking further at it, I found out it was a somewhat weird HDMI to VGA cable. The ends are shown on the picture below.


I was quite depressed and exasperated when I noticed that. How wiill I be able to get my hands on the needed cable if I cannot rely on anybody to help me out with finding it. I will have to wait forever for somebody sighted and versed into computer science to come with me and check, or try ordering the thing online.

But wait. I do have what I need!!! On my way to the gym yesterday, I remembered about the HDMI switch I was using with my old LCD monitor to duplicate the digital inputs (it has just one DVI and one VGA port). This is exactly the HDMI female to female coupler I needed, with just extra HDMI inputs I just don’t need for this particular uncommon use case. Back at home yesterday, I did the connection and it worked!


Lack of flexibility

Quickly enough, I found out that Mac OS X would not display 1920×1080 to my LCD. It was matching with the internal display’s resolution. I went into the Monitors preferences and bumped up the resolution, but Mac OS X stubbornly added black vertical bars, truncating the image. This looks similar to picture below.


I searched and found no solution, except closing the lid. Argh! That will prevent me from accessing the internal keyboard, if I need to change sound volume and the machine may become hot. Ok, let’s do it.

But that didn’t help! The laptop, instead of shutting off its internal display and sending video just to external, went into suspend mode! It was hooked up to AC power. It needs to be, because the battery exploded a while ago (before my brother’s girlfriend gave me the machine), so there is no battery at all!


The first time I did this, after almost thirty seconds, my Dell LCD turned back on and I had 1080p.


However, fonts were so tiny that I almost went mentally ill! Moreover, after that, internal display wouldn’t turn on again.

I don’t know exactly why, but I had to reboot the Mac later on, which reverted to the two-screen mode. Then closing the lid just suspended the Mac, not turning the external display anymore. However, it was a bit easier to work with the two displays, because the truncated display gave a bit larger fonts than fully 1080p display.

At some point, I reached the dead end with font size and finally lowered the resolution, but that didn’t help much. It just truncates the menu bar and things are not really bigger.

How about the “extended” display mode? Hitting F7 toggles between mirrored and extended modes. In mirrored mode, the two displays show the same thing. In extended mode, they act like a large screen. Extended mode didn’t work well for me, because the menu bar only showed up on the internal laptop LCD and each time I was trying to bring my lost mouse pointer to the top most corner, it was disappearing into the internal display!

The mystery of the closed lid

I think I found the way to have only external display. After the laptop suspended when lid is closed, I should have move the mouse or pressed a key on the keyboard, which would wake up the machine and force it to use just the external display. I read that somewhere during never-ending searches about other issues.

Getting back to internal display is a matter of disconnecting the external display, closing the lid and reopening it.


Mouse issues

When I started exploring Final Cut Express on the Mac, I got quickly blocked by the mouse driving me totally crazy. With the Mac mouse coming with the machine, it was somewhat working, but the pointer moved very slowly. I had to move the mouse, lift it, move it again, lift it, five or six times, to bring the pointer where I wanted. This quickly became a real pain. The trackpad is working a bit better, but just a bit.

I tried with my PC Razer mouse in the hope I would get better results. The mouse worked, as opposed to the noname pointing device I tried on my Hackintosh last year, but the pointer was moving desperately slowly. I tried to tweak the pointer speed (there are buttons for that on my Razer mouse), but that made things worse! The pointer was moving slowly if I moved the mouse a bit, then jumping at a somewhat random place on the screen! It was almost impossible for me to use that!

Razer Synapse making my synapses mad

In an attempt to solve this, I tried installing the driver from Razer, Synapse 2.0. There is a Mac version. Installation went well, but after system restarted, I got an error message popping up about RzUpdater that crashed. I had to choice to Ignore, Report or Relaunch. Tired of unstable software, I didn’t hesitate to try the Report option. That sent a (probably useless) report to Apple, the dialog box dismissed, but it almost instantly reappared. I tried to dismiss with Ignore, with Relaunch, to no avail.

The message was always on top, covering other windows. I had to move it away at the bottom of the screen. It was always hanging, impossible to get rid of completely.

Then started a more than 45 minute Google search giving almost nothing except frustration. I got referred to an uninstaller program, found it using Spotlight, ran it, but it said to be incompatible with my version of Mac OS X. After a few searches and attempts, I found out that RzUpdater and RzEngine wouldn’t start on my version of Mac OS X, and moreover, uninstaller wouldn’t start as well! So I was stuck with no solution.

I then searched about cleaning up the startup applications and found this. This gave me something that allowed to “repair” my system. The /Library/StartupItems and /System/Library/StartupItems folders were empty, which is perfectly normal, /Library/LaunchDaemons folder didn’t contain any Razer-related stuff. But /Library/LauchAgents contained two Razer-related files, one about RzUpdater, one about RzEngine. Resisting the temptation of removing these files without any precaution, I made a backup copy, then I proceeded with the removal.

I don’t know if and how this can be done from the Finder. I was tired of the GUI and opened a Terminal to do the surgery from the Bash shell I know about and like far better than a GUI not working well with the keyboard. A plain old rm didn’t do the trick: permission denied. But sudo rm worked; I had to provide the login password of the account I was logged on. The damned RzUpdater message came back after I dismissed it for the maybe 50th time, but one reboot later, it was gone for good.

SmoothMouse not so smooth

After this miserable failure with Razer Synapse (almost bloated the Mac forever and drove me nut!), I tried more searches and found a free solution. My new hope: SmoothMouse! Happy to find something promising, I tried to download and install this. Unfortunately, that didn’t start at all: the tool was incompatible with Mac OS X 10.5, works only with 10.6.8 or above.

I could try with SteerMouse, ControllerMate or USB Overdrive, but all of these three cost 20$ to 30$ US. Without the Mac App Store (only in 10.6, again!), I would have to stick my credit card yet another place and be charged an undetermined amount of money since I am unlucky and live in Canada, not in US. I am more and more frustrated by all these artificial complications. Mouse support should be built into the OS, not require a third party tool that needs to be purchased separately. Moreover, I feel that no matter which one I’ll pick, I’ll get a road block later on and will have to switch. If I was sure that one of the three tools would solve my mouse problem once and for all, and no matter what future mouse I stick into the USB port of this apparently dommed MacBook Pro, I would be glad to pay 20$ to a person that would have saved me!

An unexpected improvement

Feeling more and more likely to end up giving this machine back to my brother’s girlfriend, I decided to isolate my connections to personal profiles (Google, Facebook, Apple ID) in a dedicated account, rather than continuing to log in with her account.  The process of creating a new account was easy and worked flawlessly. I then logged in with my new account and found out that the mouse was working a bit better. While not perfect, it is usable, so this is less of an issue than before. Moreover, the creation of the new account allowed me to start fresh with a cleaner, less cluterred dock.

However, I am finding more and more programs that cannot install on obsolete, not supported anymore, Mac OS X 10.5. This is starting to be a road block, near a show stopper. This may end up my adventure prematurely, unless I switch gear and come back to my early Hackintosh-based installation!


Defective keys and erratic keyboard shortcuts

One of the first thing I attempted to do on the Mac was to turn on full zoom and enlarge mouse pointer. This can be done from the System Preferences (Apple menu), Universal Access icon. Zoom was set to No, so I changed it to Yes.

Image 5

As a side note, the Mouse and trackpad tab offers a neat way to enlarge the mouse pointer. This is one of the greatest Mac OS X feature.

Image 6

The Sight tab is giving the keyboard shortcut to zoom and unzoom, unfortunately in a quite cryptic and hard to remember way. Instead of putting key names such as Command, Option, Shift, etc., Apple decided to use icons that make no sense. This is a real pain for me, because I have trouble associating these images with keys. But after some time, I figured out that the key combination to zoom was Command (key marked with an apple just left to the space bar), Option (key just left to the Command key) and =. However, hitting that key combination just did nothing. I tried several times, without success. I also tried Command-Option-8 many times to make sure that zoom was effectively enabled.

Starting to suspect the key wasn’t responding physically, I started a Terminal and launched xev, an utility I know of from my UNIX/Linux background. xev listens to events and displays the name X receives when the event occurs. This is a way to figure out what is generated when a key is pressed, a mouse button is used, etc. Pressing on Command, Shift, =, and some other keys, had an effet. However, pressing on Option did… nothing.

Ok, maybe some misbehaved application was intercepting the Option keys. To iron this out, I wanted to boot this machine off an Ubuntu USB stick. The main idea to achieve that is to insert the stick and press Option at boot, just after hearing the chime. No matter how much times I tried this, it had no effect.

I finally tested with an external USB keyboard, but that was a PC keyboard, since I don’t have a spare Mac USB keyboard hanging around in my house. This is not ideal, because some keys are misplaced and quite confusing. In particular, to get the Command key on the PC keyboard, I have to press the Windows key. Option is mapped to Alt. This knowledge in mind, acquired from my experience with a Hackintosh, I tried Windows-Alt-= and got the zoom! Ok, so Mac OS X is processing Option key, but the builtin keyboard is not capable of producing it.

The only way I can zoom in with just the built in keyboard is by hitting Shift and scrolling with two fingers on the trackpad.

Note that I successfully got the EFI boot menu by turning on the Mac while hooked to an external keyboard and hitting Alt key after the chime. However, I had to repeat the manipulation five or six times until it succeeded. That remembered me of the memorable trouble I got while trying to jailbreak my iPod after upgrade to iOS 4; entering DFU was hard and no instruction given on the Internet was working. I had to use completely different timings than one given on web sites! Seems Apple likes these hard to guess procedures, to be alone able to debug things, but that excludes cases of old out-of-warranty devices!

But that’s not the end of the story. Quick enough, I wanted to open up the main menu bar without using the mouse. I know there is a way: CTRL-F1 to enable universal keyboard access, then CTRL-F2. This again comes from my Hackintosh experience. So I tried… with no luck.

After a little trial and error, I found out that F1 through F10 don’t produce F1 through F10 but rather special behavior, like adjusting LCD brightness, volume, keyboard backlight, etc. Correct, no problem with that, if I can get F1 through F10 another way. From previous intuitions with laptops, I figured out that fn key combined with F2 would do the trick, so Ctrl-Fn-F2 would open up the menu bar. Well no! Fn key seems defective and not responding as well, same for Escape!

Any Google search about this got me absolutely no positive results. It seems I would have to replace the keyboard, which would involve purchasing a completely new chassis, disassembling the MacBook Pro and reassembling it in the new chassis. This is just a non-sense and too costly job. I’m not ready, nor technically, nor mentally, to engage into such an operation. I could do it on a desktop PC if I had to, because I know how they are put together, but I have no knowledge, no mental model, about how the components of MacBook Pro are put together.

Lack of the fn key also prevents the production of the Home, End, Page Up and Page Down keys by combining Fn with the arrow keys. I will probably discover other impossible to obtain keys. For now, it is far better to hook up an external USB keyboard to this machine, especially to be in front on a larger external monitor when using it.

Even with an external USB keyboard, some shortcuts don’t always respond. For example, Ctrl-F2 doesn’t always open the menu. It seems that when the machine is busy, it just happily skips the interpretation of the shortcut! Sometimes, the machine produces an annoying beep when I hit Ctrl-F2 instead of popping up the menu. Combined with other issues, this sometimes got me mad, almost drove me crazy!

The use of a PC keyboard complicates things. To get a /, I have to combine right Alt with é key. Same right alt acrobatics are needed for ~, {, }, [, ], |, etc. The ù is obtained by the key just left to the number 1 while on the MacBook Pro keyboard, it is left to the Z key.

Some keyboard shortcuts I am used to just don’t work: Windows-Tab instead of Alt-Tab, Windows-L instead of Ctrl-L, etc. The Home key, rather than going at the beginning of the current line, jumps at the beginning of the file, forcing me to return at the point I was while editing. This happens for documents in text processors as well as text edited on web interface such as WordPress. This is minor compared to problems caused by defective keys or shortcuts not always responding, but this adds up to make a really bad and extremely frustrating user experience.




Screen becoming black sporadically

I often have trouble tracking the mouse pointer on the screen, especially the default small one. When I loose track of it, I bring it back at the top left corner of the screen. The first time I did that on the Mac, everything became black. Even if I was moving the mouse pointer or hitting a key, nothing was happening. Screen reappared after a few seconds. This happened a few times, but the other times, it was possible to leave this mode by just moving the mouse.

I figured out two things. First, the screen would become black every time I bring the mouse pointer at the top left corner. Second, the machine was so overloaded that at start, things didn’t respond properly, even exiting from this black mode.

I looked into the system preferences for a solution about this. The preferences are accessible from the Apple menu, available from all applications.

Image 2

I found something quite interesting in preferences for Exposé and spaces: configurable hot corners.

Image 4

Top left corner was configured to trigger the screen saver! AH! I clicked on this and that popped a menu offering me different options, including one to disable this unwanted (at least for me) behavior.

Image 3

In conclusion, not a bug, just a feature. At least, this is configurable, as opposed to intrusive GNOME3 hot corners which cannot be tweaked from any GUI, at least in the versions I tried.


An old Mac = old and new problems

This is the first post of what I expect to be a very long saga. I don’t know exactly what I will acquire during this venture, but I am tempted to engage in it because of my curiosity and taste for exploration.  Will I get more patience, experience with Final Cut Express, with Mac OS X, maybe, maybe not. For now, the only thing I am getting is trouble. It seems that nothing works as expected. Keyboard shortcuts randomly fail, mouse moves erratically, scrolling in web pages is slow and choppy and every, I say EVERY, web page shows up with a tiny font. I have to hit Command-+ more than 15 times to get a zoom level I am comfortable with.

This Mac comes from my brother’s girlfriend. Since she is nicknamed Poney, I decided to call this machine the PoneyMac for the time being. When I consider this beast as tamed, it will symbocally become mine and I may assign it a new name of my own creation, but for now, this is The Mac, not my Mac.

This is a 2006 MacBook Pro with 1Gb of RAM and an hard drive of I don’t know yet exact size.  The machine runs Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, unfortunately a 32 bits version. I’m not yet sure if the EFI is capable of booting 64 bits OSes, maybe not, which is quite bad.

All future posts of this saga will get the PoneyMac category, with tags corresponding to the topic.