Rebuilding an old MBP

I had an old, broken 2009 MacBook Pro sitting on a shelf because I had never gotten around to trying to fix it. It had three significant issues:

  1. It randomly kernel panicked every once in a while
  2. It had an SSD drive in it that no longer worked
  3. Three of the keys on the keyboard didn’t work.

Last weekend, I finally decided to see if I could get it into working shape again. To start, I took the back off and removed the failed SSD drive. The MBP is too old to run a current version of MacOS, but it still has a working HD drive, so I decided to install Linux there.

To fix the keys, I tried removing the key caps and cleaning the switches, but after putting them back together they still failed. By chance however, I noticed that if I *smashed* the key beside one of the failed ones (in frustration? 🙂 ) then the original keys would start working for a bit. This led me to pulling that other key cap off and cleaning it, and after putting it back together all the keys worked.

This only left me with the random kernel panics, so I booted the Mac into hardware test mode and let it do a full test. Even after 10 minutes of hammering RAM and CPU (with the fans screaming), there were no failures, so I chalked the problem up to either a Mac driver issue, or something to do with the now removed SSD.

For linux, I just went with Ubuntu, mostly because there was a tutorial about installing on Macs that seemed pretty reasonable. The only wrinkle was the lack of a driver for the MBP’s discrete graphics card. I went for the easy option of doing nomodeset in grub, and ended up with…

I don’t think it’s worth putting a new battery in it, but if I needed a home computer for email and web browsing this would be perfectly useful. Nice!

I had a camera.

When the Micro Four Thirds mirrorless digital cameras first came out, I decided I was going to take the plunge and get myself a “good” camera. The one I ended up buying was an Olympus E-PL1. I guess camera geeks recognize that model as not being great, but at the time, it took what I thought were pretty amazing photos.

Over the years though, I didn’t really spend as much time as I thought I would taking pictures, and once cell phones started to have decent cameras, the E-PL1 got relegated to a shelf, except when Deb was using it to do product shots for Sheep’s Ahoy.

Today when I was cleaning up my stash of old USB cables — a bigger task than it might seem; I ended throwing out close to 50(!) — I actually found the camera’s custom USB cable, which had been missing for years. This sparked my interest in the old beast enough to recharge it’s battery and take some shots, to see how it compares to my iPhone’s camera.

I won’t keep you in suspense: The iPhone 8P’s photos were better. I thought that the larger sensor in the E-PL1 might let it take better low light photos, but the images were just as noisy as the iPhone’s, if not worse.

As a quick comparison, here’s one representative photo from each:

By just about any measure, the iPhone picture is better: warmer, less noise, sharper. Oh well. And Deb’s XR takes even better pictures than the 8P! I can’t even say that the E-PL1 had better manual shooting features, since at least for my amateur needs Halide does just as much, and I could even get additional lenses if I wanted to.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize there are still digital cameras out there that take much better photos than any cell phone. They’re just not priced to make sense for anyone who isn’t going to make a serious commitment to photography (like my friend John). I’m happy with the pictures I take on my phone, and I’m sure when I upgrade to the iPhone 12 Pro (or whatever it ends up being called) they’ll be even better. 😉

Overclocking

In my post about the new home of GCW, I had a picture of the Raspberry Pi based version of the server. What probably stood out the most in that picture was the cool (sic!) ICE Tower active cooling system. That Pi has been rock solid since I turned it on, so given the insane cooler, I thought I’d try playing around with a bit o’ the old overclocking.

The stock CPU and graphics clock speeds on a RPi 4 are 1.5 GHz and 400 MHz respectively. In order to get the CPU clock past 1.75 GHz, you need to install firmware that is in advance of what comes with the standard Raspbian distro, so I figured I’d start with 1.75 GHz. For the graphics clock, I tried 600 MHz, which I’ve seen in a couple of how-to videos.

With those speeds, the Pi booted just fine, but after some heavy use (i.e. 3 simultaneous video playbacks) the graphics became unstable. I backed the graphics clock off to 550 MHz and the performance stablized.

With the ICE Tower running, the core temp never went above 40 degrees Celcius even under the heaviest load — compare that to the Pi thermal throttling at 80 degrees showing a single video with no cooling.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the result. The combined boosts in clock speeds have made an immediately noticeable improvement in performance. It’s entirely possible that this has reduced the lifespan of the board, but honestly at the price I paid for it, I can live with that.

Divertimento Fall Concert

November 8 & 9, 2019
That’s this Friday and Saturday!

Program:

  • Jacques Offenbach  — Orpheus in the Underworld Overture
  • Johannes Brahms — Variations on a theme by Haydn
  • Camille Saint-Saëns — Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah
  • Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov — Caucasian Sketches, Op. 42 “Iveria”
  • Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov — Caucasian Sketches, Op. 10

Venue:

Woodroffe United Church
207 Woodroffe Ave.
Ottawa,
Ontario

Concert starts at 8pm. Tickets available at the door.

Commenting

I have set the blog to require registration before you can comment. Apologies. It’s an experiment to see if this will help me manage the egregious amounts of spam I’m getting (even with akismet’s help). If it doesn’t help I’ll turn it off again, but to give you some context, in 12 hours I received 17 pages of spam!

https

I decided I wanted to be able to log in and post from outside my home network, and using vanilla http to do that while running on unencrypted wifi at the coffee shop was just asking for trouble.

Thankfully, Let’s Encrypt has made setting up https on your site both easy and, more importantly, free!

The “wonders” of how my old install of WP was set up has meant that older posts may still have bogus links in them, but on the front page (and going forward) at least, you now see:


Woot!

GCW gets a new home

After many years of running Great Castle Wilson on some flavour of Mac, I’ve finally decided to give it dedicated hardware of its own. In part, this is because I enjoy proving to myself that I can still set up and configure a webserver and all the other required accoutrements — yes, I’m weird like that — but mostly it’s because I’m fairly confident that macOS Catalina is going to break my current configuration anyway, so it seemed like a good time to make a change.

For those who aren’t aware, Catalina is the first version of macOS that only supports 64-bit applications. There are some fairly significant changes under the covers, and the odds are low that my personal mix of random open source software and existing Mac tech is going to continue to work.

So without further ado, here is the brand new GCW:

Yep, it’s a Pi 🙂

Specifically:

So far the setup process has been relatively painless, but I did learn that WordPress does *not* like it when its API URL points at a different instance of WordPress than the one that’s making the request — that took a couple of hours to debug. 🙂

Anyway, if you can read this, then we’re live. The site seems quite responsive and the only posts that aren’t displaying properly are ones where some of the original content they linked to no longer exists

Welcome!

Some history…

I don’t post to NfGCW very often any more, but I love the fact that there’s years of history from our family here. I’ve blogged about many topics over the years, including the site itself. Here are some previous posts about the hardware GCW ran on.