Inaugural Donation to Georgia Tech Library Archive’s Retrocomputing Lab

Wendy Hagenmaier, Jason W. Ellis, and Jody Thompson next to Apple Performa 550 and iMac.
Wendy Hagenmaier, Jason W. Ellis, and Jody Thompson next to Apple Performa 550 and iMac.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of making the first donation of three computers to the Georgia Tech Library Archives, which is launching its own Retrocomputing Lab for scholars and students to use. The Georgia Tech Library Archives is already well-known for its significant Georgia Tech Science Fiction Collection and other holdings.

I met with Department Head Jody Lloyd Thompson and Digital Collections Archivist Wendy Hagenmaier to setup the three computers and talk about each machine’s provenance and current operation. We set the computers up on the right side as you enter the Georgia Tech Library Archives. This is a temporary location as the Archives makes plans for their use in Archives for the time being and possibly more in the future as part of the on-going Georgia Tech Library renovation project.

Apple Performa 550 and iMac.
Apple Performa 550 and iMac.

From my personal collection–which I am having to cull before moving to Brooklyn for my new job at City Tech, I donated three computers: an Apple Performa 550 (1994), Apple iMac (1999), and Dell Dimension 4100 (2001). Before donating the computers, I refurbished each to be in as factory-fresh condition as possible.

For the Peforma 550, I installed a PDS ethernet NIC and replaced the SCSI hard drive with one that was less noisy than its original one. Then, I installed Mac OS 7.6.1 and some software including the AfterDark Star Trek: The Next Generation screensaver and ClarisWorks, and utilities for working with files and disk images.

For the slot-loading, DV iMac, I replaced the motherboard battery and performed a fresh install of Mac OS 9.2.1. The optical drive suffers from a weak ejection mechanism. I made sure that the bottom plastic bezel fit properly, but reseated it had no effect on improving the drive’s ability to eject discs correctly. I warned the librarians about this, and recommended buying an external, Firewire optical drive and using the paperclip ejection method in the meantime.

Dell Dimension 4100.
Dell Dimension 4100.

For the Dell Dimension 4100, I installed a 3Com NIC donated by Mark Warbington. I installed Windows 98 Second Edition and painstakingly installed the drivers for the components in the Dell (this was a laborious process, because despite having the Service Tag number, some recommended drivers did not work on all of the components).

I provided two sets of speakers–one for the Performa 550 (it’s internal speakers had stopped working about a year ago) and one for the Dell Dimension 4100. In the event of future hardware problems, I gave them spare AGP video cards, optical drives, a 3.5″ floppy disk drive.

Also, I gave them some spare motherboards, controller cards, and hard drives that might be useful for displays in the Library.

The Georgia Tech Library Archives have big plans for making digital archival work and learning an integral component of what they do. If you have functional and working computer hardware or software, you should consider donating it to the Georgia Tech Library Archives, or if you have technical skills for working on older hardware and software, you can donate your expertise and time, too. Contact Jody and Wendy by email or phone here: Georgia Tech Library Archives contact information here.

UPDATE: I made these four Google Glass videos while working on the iMac DV:

Followup to Adventures with a CustoMac: Installing Mac OS X Mavericks on Asus P8Z77-V PC

Mavericks installed on CustoMac. NB: MBPr on desk and PowerMacintosh 8500/120 on right.
Mavericks installed on CustoMac. NB: MBPr on desk and PowerMacintosh 8500/120 on right.

Last summer, I wrote about my experiences installing Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion on my Asus P8Z77-V and Intel i7-2700K PC here. What I neglected to say at the time was that an alarming number of creeping instabilities led me to ultimately abandon running Mountain Lion on my PC and return to Windows 7.

I later learned that some of these instabilities were likely linked to a bad PSU and video card–both of which were replaced by the manufacturers under warranty (awesome kudos to Antec and EVGA). With the new PSU and video card, my PC returned to 100% stability under Windows 7. This made me wonder if I could try rolling out a Mavericks installation on my PC.

Also, I wanted to use Mac OS X’s superior file content search technology and other third-party textual analysis tools in my research. I have a MacBook Pro 15″ retina (MBPr), but it lacks the hard drive capacity for my accumulated research files. The comfort that I feel in the MacOS environment and the need for lots of fast storage led me to turn my attention back to turning my PC into a CustoMac (aka “hackintosh”).

This time, I wanted to streamline and simply my setup as much as possible and incorporate components that should work out of the box (OOB). Toward this end, I reduced my hardware configuration from this:

  • ASUS P8Z77-V LGA 1155 Z77 ATX Intel Motherboard (disabled on-board Intel HD 3000 video and Asus Wi-Fi Go! add-on card)
  • Intel Core i7 2700K LGA 1155 Boxed Processor
  • Corsair XMS3 Series 16GB DDR3-1333MHz (PC3-10666) CL 9 Dual Channel Desktop Memory Kit (Four 4GB Memory Modules)
  • evga 01G-P3-1561-KR GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1024MB GDDR5 PCIe 2.0 x16 Video Card
  • Antec High Current Gamer 750W Gamer Power Supply HCG-750
  • Corsair Vengeance C70 Gaming Mid Tower Case Military Green
  • Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus Universal CPU Cooler
  • Samsung 22X DVD±RW Burner with Dual Layer Support – OEM
  • Intel 128 GB SATA SSD
  • Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EARX 1TB IntelliPower 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive – Bare Drive
Using on-board video and no ASUS wifi card.
Using on-board video and no ASUS wifi card.

to this:

  • ASUS P8Z77-V LGA 1155 Z77 ATX Intel Motherboard (using on-board Intel HD 3000 video and removing Asus Wi-Fi Go! add-on card)
  • Intel Core i7 2700K LGA 1155 Boxed Processor
  • Corsair XMS3 Series 16GB DDR3-1333MHz (PC3-10666) CL 9 Dual Channel Desktop Memory Kit (Four 4GB Memory Modules)
  • evga 01G-P3-1561-KR GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1024MB GDDR5 PCIe 2.0 x16 Video Card (removed to simply setup and save power–who has time for gaming?)
  • Antec High Current Gamer 750W Gamer Power Supply HCG-750
  • Corsair Vengeance C70 Gaming Mid Tower Case Military Green
  • Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus Universal CPU Cooler
  • Samsung 22X DVD±RW Burner with Dual Layer Support – OEM
  • Intel 128 GB SATA SSD
  • Three Western Digital HDDs for file storage and work space. 
IoGear GBU521 and TP-Link TL-WDN4800 from Microcenter.
IoGear GBU521 and TP-Link TL-WDN4800 from Microcenter.

Also, I added two new components that were recommended from the TonyMacx86 Forums:

  • TP-Link 450Mbpx Wireless N Dual Band PCI Express Adapter (TL-WDN4800). It works in Mavericks OOB.
  • IoGear Bluetooth 4.0 USB Micro Adapter (GBU521). It works in Mavericks OOB.
ASUS’s Wi-Fi Go! card works great in Windows 7, but it caused problems with my Mavericks installation.

As noted above, I physically removed my 560 Ti video card, because I wanted to simply my setup for installation purposes. Also, I removed the ASUS Wi-Fi Go! add-on card, because despite disabling it in BIOS, the Mavericks installer seemed to hang on a wi-fi device while attempting to set its locale (a setting that determines what radio settings to use based on the country that you happen to be in). After I removed the Wi-Fi Go! card, I had a nearly flawless Mavericks installation process (NB: removing the Wi-Fi Go! card required removing the motherboard, turning it over, removing a screw holding in the Wi-Fi Go! card, turning the motherboard over, and unplugging the Wi-Fi Go! card).

These are the steps that I used to install Mavericks on my PC:

  1. Follow TonyMac’s Mavericks installation guide for making an installation USB drive and installing Mavericks.
  2. Following installation of Mavericks, boot from your USB drive, select your new Mavericks installation drive, arrive at the desktop, and run Multibeast.
  3. Select these settings in Multibeast:
    1. Quick Start > DSDT Free (I left all pre-selected options as-is. Below are additional selections that I made.)
    2. Drivers > Audio > Realtek > Without DSDT > ALC892
    3. Drivers > Disk > 3rd Party SATA
    4. Drivers > Graphics > Intel Graphics Patch for Mixed Configurations
    5. Drivers > Misc > Fake SMC
    6. Drivers > Misc > Fake SMC Plugins
    7. Drivers > Misc > Fake SMC HWMonitor App
    8. Drivers > Misc > NullCPUPowerManagement (I don’t want my machine to go to sleep)
    9. Drivers > Misc > USB 3.0 – Universal
    10. Drivers > Network > Intel – hank’s AppleIntelE1000e
    11. Customize > 1080p Display Mode
    12. Build > Install
  4. Repair Permissions on Mavericks drive from /Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility
  5. Reboot
  6. Run Chameleon Wizard (this will fix a problem that you might have with connecting to the App Store)
  7. Click SMBios > Edit > Premade SMBioses > choose MacPro 3,1 > Save
  8. Reboot
  9. CustoMac should now be fully operational!

In order to arrive at the above instructions, I read a lot of first hand experiences and third party suggestions on TonyMac’s forums. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the amazing community of CustoMac builders who take the time to share their thoughts and lessons and equally so to the tool-builders who create amazing software including UniBeast, Multibeast, and Chameleon Wizard!

I would suggest that you remember that there is not always one path to a successful build. I distilled a lot of posts into my successful build. Your experience with similar hardware might take a different path. Reading others experiences and trying their suggestions experimentally can lead to your own successful discoveries. Thus, I took the time to try out different configurations of hardware until settling on the stripped down approach with on-board video and OOB networking gear. I tried several different installations: a failed Mavericks installation with kernel panics (Wi-Fi Go! card installed and wrong Multibeast configuration), a successful Mountain Lion installation (barebones and correct Multibeast configuration), and a successful Mavericks installation (detailed above).

Obviously, MacOS X can run on a wide range of PC hardware given the correct drivers, configuration information, etc. Apple could do great things if only Tim Cook and others would think differently and move beyond the tightly integrated hardware-software experience. Apple’s engineers could do great things with building better operating systems that adapt to a person’s hardware. Given the chance, they could challenge Microsoft and Google with a new MacOS X that is insanely great for everyone–not just those who can afford to buy new hardware.

Now, back to using some of the tools that I use in my research on a computing platform that I enjoy:

Microsoft Surface Available for Pre-Order, Aggressively Priced at $499 and up

Microsoft comes out swinging with an aggressively priced $499 entry-level model of the Surface sans Type Cover. It includes 32 GB of storage space. The 32 GB Surface with a black Type Cover runs $599 and the 64 GB Surface with a black Type Cover costs $699. There are other Type Cover colors available at an add-on premium price. These models all include Windows RT and they will be publicly available on Oct. 26, 2012. Microsoft simply says, “Coming Soon” on the page for the Windows 8 Pro Surface models.

I stand by my earlier thoughts on the Surface here, but I recognize that Microsoft seems to have thrown its monolithic weight behind Surface and Windows 8. Nevertheless, Gizmodo’s Brian Barrett recommends holding off on this pre-order. This tablet and its cross-platform UI via Windows 8 will likely be contenders in the computing market place regardless of how good or bad they might be. We will know in good time what kind of lasting influence and market share these new Microsoft hardware and software products will have. Regardless, it will send ripples (and potentially waves) through the computing (and touch computing) world.

I don’t know about you, but I’m holding out for Apple’s “We’ve got a little more to show you” event on Tuesday, Oct 23. AllThingsD broke the news a few days ago that we will finally see an iPad mini.

Thoughts on Microsoft’s Surface Tablet and Their Marketing Rhetoric

The reports that I have read of Microsoft’s Surface tablet product announcement yesterday have been overwhelmingly glowing and starry eyed. An emblematic example is Jesus Diaz’s post on Gizmodo today in which he writes, “Microsoft has guts,” and “Microsoft is the underdog because no matter how many hundreds of millions of people use its software, the cool and the future belong to Apple” (par. 1). Actually, Microsoft dominates the computing market–that’s how they can swing the market toward the Windows 8 interface paradigm despite its shortcomings for power users–and they have gobs of money to throw at any perceived problem–in this case, their diminutive tablet marketshare. Furthermore, Microsoft is certainly no underdog. Their market dominance in desktop and laptop computing combined with their shift toward unifying the user experience across those platforms with their phone OS and tablet OSes. I believe Microsoft is playing into this kind of underdog rhetoric, because the image of the Surface above–taken from Microsoft’s website–has the filename, “hero.jpg.”

I certainly like the idea of a tablet that duplicates the power, file management, and options of a laptop computer, but I cannot get behind this particular product from Microsoft. Here are some reasons why.

1) Why did Microsoft have such a controlled release? The reporters/bloggers invited to the release yesterday afternoon–well after the markets had closed on the east coast–were given a very limited time interaction with the demo models. Also, they were not able to use the purported revolutionary features of the Type Cover and Touch Cover (more here on the limited time and actual experience with Surface)? It all seems like a bunch of promises without anything substantial besides the loud demo to back it up.

2) Why believe Microsoft can produce a good hardware product? Their other flagship product, the Xbox 360, has based on a survey conducted by Game Informer magazine a 54.2% failure rate (with 41.2% of those experiencing one failure experience another). Can Microsoft produce something that works as reliably as Apple’s iPad 1 with a 0.9% malfunction rate and Apple’s iPad 2 with a 0.3% malfunction rate, according to this report on SquareTrade? Also, ArsTechnica reported that Ballmer switched demo Surface units during the introduction because “the first one had trouble.” Oddly, I have not seen other reports from the event report this demo failure.

Image3) Why does Microsoft marketing need to use eye-scratching rhetoric in its Surface spec sheet? Instead of “Weight” or “Mass,” the spec sheet lists “Light.” Instead of “Thickness,” it lists “Thin.” Instead of “Display” or “Screen Type,” it lists “Clear.” Instead of “Battery” or “Power,” it lists “Energized.” This kind of over the top bending of the conversation to their marketing rhetorical spin. This all seems like Microsoft is desperately trying to get the world to see its product in their way instead of letting people look at the measurements and think to themselves, this is thin or this is lightweight.

4) Why make such a terrible commercial for the Surface? It doesn’t tell me anything about what it can do or how I can do things with it. My immediate reaction was that this was some cut footage from a late 1990s Trent Reznor music video about magnets and tiny ball bearings revolting against a computer keyboard. More high concept car commercial than useful product introduction, it is something that is You can watch the video below.

It actually reminds me of Microsoft’s first Xbox commercial, too (Note: Microsoft pushed the word “Surface” relentlessly during the introduction yesterday–here, they push “X”):

5) A more fundamental question: Why Windows 8 and Metro? This is also a question about the convergence of iOS and MacOS X. If I were strapped to an operating system that didn’t let me arrange application windows in a manner that suited ME, I would not have been able to complete my dissertation as quickly as I did. It was imperative that I could create a workflow that was as unobtrusive to my thinking and computing habits as possible. Microsoft’s Metro and Apple’s iOS are well suited for smaller screens, limited computing power, and touch interfaces. However, not all kinds of personal computing tasks and workflows are well suited to the design constraints of touch interfaces–much less small screens and limited computing power. We need an ecosystem of operating systems and corresponding programming APIs for applications that facilitate the needs of different platforms. I do not believe that the trends at Microsoft or Apple are viable long term solutions, unless of course we computer users simply have no choice or voice in the matter.

What do you think about the Microsoft Surface? What are your thoughts about Windows 8 and Metro? Sound off in the comments below.

Remember Skype’s High Water Mark, Microsoft Acquires Skype for $8.5 Billion, Probably All Downhill

According to Ars Technica and other news sources, Microsoft Acquires Skype for $8.5 Billion.

A simple question: Why? eBay purchased and then sold Skype for a huge loss after they never did anything substantial with the telephony service. Now, Microsoft is laying down $8.5 billion for Skype to purchase it from the company that acquired it from eBay. Perhaps Microsoft has big plans to transition to a telephony carrier. Perhaps they are simply trying to diversify their portfolio. However, $8.5 billion is nearly half of NASA’s budget for this year! That’s a load of cash for a telephony service that no-where-near gets enough revenue as it now stands to justify this kind of purchase. Microsoft has reportedly never made such a high-priced acquisition before, so I suspect that they have some secret up their sleeve for leveraging Skype and its technology in future products and services.

If Microsoft’s track record is any indication of their future plans for Skype, I suspect that it will be integrated into upcoming Windows releases as yet another layer of crap that doesn’t need to be built into an operating system. Take Windows 7 for example. I reinstalled it yesterday via Oracle’s Virtual Box software, and I immediately trashed it when I couldn’t get some software to run. However, I played around with it for a bit to see how things have changed. It is more streamlined than Vista, but it still contains loads of junk that the OS doesn’t need. Furthermore, it has counter-intuitive navigational and storage spaces for users.

Like others, I can say that Windows 7 is alright despite its problems, but I only say this because it corrects for the substantial problems in Vista. This shouldn’t be the way it is for a monolithic industry leader in modern computing technology. Instead of having Windows releases stand on their own as innovative products, I have read time and time again how Windows 7 stands in good stead due to the fact that it corrects for the horrible problems in Vista (bloat, system memory usage, instability, etc.). Microsoft shouldn’t premiere any OS that looks like and acts like it was built by 5 year old programmers playing in a sandbox. Yet, they do. Repeatedly.

What does this tell me about Skype, which generally does what it is supposed to do–allow you to talk and video chat with people around the world for a reasonable price–Microsoft is going to screw the pooch when they sink their tentacles into Skype. However, a future release might be better, but it probably won’t reacquire the level of usability and stability that it once had before Microsoft’s intervention.

We will see.