Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Fake Orient watches and Linux (Fedora 25) on a MacBook Pro.  §

Everyone that is interested in watches is eventually going to end up with an unintended fake. But in some online forums, people say that nobody is going to fake brands like Orient or Seiko because there’s not enough money in it to do so.

Well the former happened to me this week, with one of the latter brands (Orient).

See, I recently got interested in the Orient Neo-70’s line. In general right, now, my watch aesthetic is trending ’70s. No, not John Travolta, more Al Pacino. But I digress. I went on eBay and had a model from the Neo-70’s line sent from Japan.

Now before you start going all “…” on eBay, I’ve bought and sold on eBay—including overseas—for twenty years without much trouble. And over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of direct-from-China stuff. That made me very happy. Some of it very, very happy. I heart Chinese sellers in the gritty provinces. Seriously. So in comparison, Tokyo is a safe bet, right? Stodgy, boring, honorable guys who even their rebellious periods were safe to take to visit grandma.

Those lume dots? They’re supposed to be exactly at the ends of the markers. Instead, they are all over the place, offset in different directions in each case. Look how, uh, lovely and straight the three o’clock and six o’clock markers are. And the seven o’clock lume dot is completely hidden by the hand—yet the market is completely visible. Fake? D’ya think?
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

Or so I thought. Paid, got a tracking number of December 26th, and waited. And then waited some more. Tracking showed no package dropped at the carrier for shipment, a week later I messaged. I got a brusque response that literally said, “Hold on, OK!?!” then “explained” that “due to the holidays,” the entirety of freaking Japan was still backlogged four days into January, even in Tokyo (guess they party really hard) and it would make its way into the system in a day or two.

So naturally, it didn’t. A day or two later I wrote again and got message back annoyedly assuring me that the tracking must be wrong. It would be delivered on the 11th, they said.

So naturally, on the night of the 11th, I found myself writing again to say that not only had no package arrived, but the tracking information still showed that the local post office in Japan was waiting on the package to be dropped off for shipment.

Got a reply on the 12th with no explanation, but a tracking number for a FedEx overnight parcel. Well, that’s good, if a bit expensive for them, I thought. Would have been easier and ultimately faster if they’d shipped it properly the first time. Meh.

FedEx package arrived yesterday. I opened it. Then, I laughed. Then, I was annoyed as I realized that this pain-in-the-ass transaction would drag on. The pictures don’t do it justice. They really don’t; when you saw it in person, with lume dots all over in random directions, some clipped by the sub-dials—and the nine o’clock marker (not shown) rotated by about five degrees, you knew right away that Orient didn’t assemble it.

Gosh, no problem here. It’s only off by a full two degrees!
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

See, it’s a fake. But not just any fake. A hilarious, laughably bad fake. Not because the face says “Glorient” instead of “Orient” or anything like that, but because it was assembled by a drunken geisha rather than a watchmaker. The hour markers are more crooked than a Brooklyn camera store. The lume dots aren’t right at the end of the hour markers, like they’re supposed to be, but are wandering around looking for salvation. The whole face is about two degrees off of vertical, like it’s got vertigo. And the caseback was not screwed down tight. Despite being protected by brand new packaging, having full labels and manuals, and appearing to be pristine and unopened, the usual hologram sticker (standard fare with Orient watches, and damned hard to get off, too) wasn’t present.

So today, between a haircut and a many-hours stretch of weekend work time, it went to FedEx for a return/refund. Hopefully. We’ll see how this works out. Not well, I’m going to guess. But yes, for anyone that has ever wondered, there are definitely Orient fakes out there.

— § —

Sometimes, though, the genuine article is just as bad.

I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated with Mac OS recently. It feels like it’s stagnated, and not just stagnated, but stagnated in a bad place. It doesn’t know whether it’s iOS or not. It’s not quite stable on Mac hardware any longer. All of Apple’s professional applications have been retired or versioned out and replaced by wads of tea-flavored cotton candy. So after I recently sold off an iPad Mini and returned to Android out of sheer and surprised iOS hate, and keeping in mind the fact that I haven’t used an iPhone in years, I decided to explore Linux again. After all, every time I fire up a terminal on my rooted Android devices, I get all warm and fuzzy about the OS that was my home for two decades.

So why not?

Why not indeed.

Here’s the deal. I left Linux because Linux had become a pain in the ass. A real one. Not like you sat on a pin, but like a motorcycle gang ran over your buttocks with their heavy vintage V-twins.

I was spending hours and hours every month diagnosing, scripting, patching, and trying to hold together my installations as every update seemed to break, well, everything anew. There were a million little irritating bugs, tics, and dysfunctionalities, and chasing solutions to them meant precisely the need to update a package—which then depended on 10 packages—each of which depended on more packages—all of them apparently in conflict with each other. So instead, I’d sit around and patch code by hand, compile it, rebuild packages to custom names, install them, blah, blah.

I was like a full-on distribution maintainer just to run my everyday computer and type a bunch of essays as a Ph.D. student.

So I left. After six books and thousands of articles and years as an evangelist, and with shelves full of free Linux software, plush toys, stress cubes, plaques, and other corporate swag (or is that swill?) marked “LINUX,” I left for Mac OS because I was tired of the nonsense.

Since then, I’ve been reading for the last few years that Linux is better. Gnome 3 finally became usable. KDE (apparently now called “Plasma Desktop”) finally became usable. Stabilizing forces like Google and Canonical and design-oriented forces like Elementary brought a new culture, and Linux was growing up. Hey, the success of Android (for the uninitiated: it’s just Linux with a thick coat of Google paint) seems to suggest that’s true.

So—as I was saying—when the iPad mini tucked tail and ran because I was about to throw it against the wall, I thought to myself, “Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I’m gonna do a proper, non-VM install of the latest Fedora or Ubuntu distribution and give it a spin again.”

I needn’t have bothered.

Here’s how it went: badly.

Scratch that.


Story time.

— § —

I made a few hundred gigabytes of free space on my Early 2011 unibody MacBook Pro 17″ laptop (macbookpro8,3), downloaded some live DVDs, and away I went—into a wall. None of them would complete a boot.

Now, this is not bad hardware. Core i7, 16GB RAM, 1.5 terabytes of internal storage, 802.11b/g/n, Intel and Radeon graphics, etc. And it’s neither obscure nor so new (six years old, in fact) that the traditional Linux “don’t have a driver yet” disease should have been an issue. But nonetheless, booting from the DVDs took me right to…a garbled white display and apparent hard lock with each live DVD I tried.

Gotta be a needed kernel parameter, right? So I took to Google and started hunting for “macbookpro8,3 linux” with various combinations of “won’t boot,” “garbled display,” etc. Slim pickings. Does nobody use Linux on a MacBook Pro after all? Or is it more that nobody uses Linux since the MacBook Pro, given that at about the time that I switched (2009-2010), a MacBook Pro was basically a Linux box in personality, but one that had seen a series of shrinks and was now in fact sane and working properly rather than suffering from murderous schizophrenia?

In any case, I took a bunch of them down, booted up to GRUB only to find out that… I couldn’t add kernel parameters. Ctrl-X didn’t work in GRUB and instead I got just “x,” meaning that I couldn’t even adjust the boot process.

So I went back to Google and found that this was a bug that people had been well aware of for several years, and was being tracked (oh, hooray!) but of course in several years hadn’t been fixed. Brilliant. Maybe it’s some weird Apple magic in the keyboard scancodes? I dug out an old corded USB PC keyboard that I keep around just to be ridiculous. Plugged it in. Still got just an “x.”

Now I was Googling for workarounds just to be able to try out my workarounds. It began to dawn on me that this was exactly like the old days and exactly why I gave up on Linux. No, it’s not down to the Apple hardware. This was what my experience had been like in 2008-2009 on my very commonplace Thinkpad T60 and on my very boring and vanilla white-box homebrew PC. The same shit.

Well, I did finally stumble across a workaround. Turns out, you can also hit F10. They just didn’t bother to put it in the GRUB docs, or in the GRUB onscreen prompts. That’s very Linux. There are two ways to do something. Bad enough. And only one of them is bulletproof and also requires fewer keystrokes. So naturally instead you document the failure-prone one that requires more keystrokes, because it looks more “Unixy.” That is so Linux.

Upside: I could add kernel parameters and try to get a working live DVD boot. Downside: none of them worked and I did not get a working live DVD boot.

Fedora 25 running on an early 2011 MacBook Pro 17″ laptop. Totally not worth it.
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

More Googling. I’ll cut the story short here. Suffice it to say that it stretched on for an entire afternoon. Just like the old days, ma!

— § —

So here’s the solution. If you want to install Fedora 25 (the one I got working) on an Early 2011 Macbook Pro with Intel+Radeon graphics, here’s what you’ll need to do.

  1. Track down the netinstall ISO. You can’t use the live DVD, no not even from a thumb drive.
  2. Plug your MacBook Pro into wired ethernet before powering up. No, you will not be able to use WiFi, the WiFi on this machine apparently isn’t supported out of the box—as always with Linux, some assembly is required—and the ethernet driver only works properly if you have link integrity at power on. If you plug in afterward, it will stay dead, dead, dead. (How many minutes did I waste figuring this out? 10? 15?)
  3. Get it to boot. I can’t remember at this point (nor do I care) whether that worked eventually or whether I had to add “nomodeset” to my boot parameters. I do remember that for a while I was trying to track down a way to start the old text-mode Anaconda installer, so I must have had some trouble. Suffice it to say that there is a way to get netinstall to get to the visual installer. I’ll do a Linuxism (when in Rome, right?) and say here that “Google is your friend” if you’re having trouble.
  4. Be ultra careful doing a manual partition. This is not intuitive since the days of LVM, not to mention that Linux device nodes don’t line up to Mac OS device nodes, and if you want to preserve your existing Mac partitions, I wouldn’t trust the installer to “figure it out for you” in any way, shape, or form.
  5. Install workstation.
  6. When you get the lovely message saying that now you can reboot and use Linux right away, realize that this is the usual propaganda and, in fact, you won’t be doing that anytime soon.
  7. Power cycle and hold down your option key as you boot up because GRUB will claim to be able to boot Mac OS but will fail miserably. Boot into Mac OS using the option key method and download and install rEFIt so that you can have a proper boot menu that gives you Linux and MacOS. This step is left as an exercise to the reader. Realize that you’ll have to disable SIP to do it, which means booting into recovery mode. Also left as an exercise to the reader.
  8. Once rEFIt is in place to give you the security of a proper boot menu, boot to GRUB (it’s in about the middle of the seven or so Linux boot icons that you now have for some reason) and hit ‘e’ to edit your kernel parameters before you boot. Find the line loading the kernel image and add a space and a “3” to the end of it. Then hit F10 (the workaround I described above) to boot Linux into text-only mode.
  9. Don’t bother with /sys/kernel/debug/vgaswitcharoo/switch or whatever the path to the graphics switcher/multiplexer is (I forget). It won’t work; you’ll get odd permissions errors that nobody on Google is talking about (I know, I looked). You need to flip the Radeon off and the IGD on before you get to userspace. There are a bunch of pages out there that tell you to use GRUB to write some bytes directly, but they won’t work out of the box. I know, I tried.
  10. Do a “yum install grub2-efi-modules” to grab the parts of GRUB that for some stupid reason don’t get installed by default. Yes, I know that yum is now deprecated. It tells me that every time I use it. And then it proceeds to give me another command whose name I can never remember and which seems to have the exact fucking same use cases and command line options and arguments. Plus, when you call yum, it still works and calls this other command instead for you, passing along your arguments. Gosh, it almost feels as if there was no need to deprecate yum, particularly when you can still use yum exactly like you did before. This is so Linux it makes my head spin. But I digress.
  11. Now do a “cp -dpRv /usr/lib/grub/X86_64-efi/ /boot/efi/EFI/fedora” (if you’re doing this on a later version of Fedora than 25, you should probably check the contents of grub2-efi-modules with rpm to make sure the source path is still the same, and quickly ls to make sure that /boot/efi/EFI/fedora still exists as well). Now GRUB will have the full complement of commands, including outb.
  12. Now, finally, reboot. In GRUB, before the kernel load line, add the following lines that power down the Radeon during boot, then hit F10 to boot when you’re done:
    outb 0x728 1
    outb 0x710 2
    outb 0x740 2
    outb 0x750 0
  13. Voila! (If that is appropriate here…) You finally see the desktop manager. You can use Linux, at least on the IGD. Who knows about the Radeon? I’m not going down that rabbit hole. Intel is fine for me. I’m not looking for a religious experience.
  14. Of course, you won’t want to have to do that every single time you boot, so you’ll want to edit /boot/efi/EFI/fedora/grub.cfg to make it stick. Oh, and also /etc/grub.d/10_linux so that grub.cfg auto-regenerations don’t wipe the changes that you’ve made.

Of course, you’ve still got no WiFi. Yes, there is a solution to that. You’ll need to track down the firmware files for the BCM4331 chip from one shady, mostly abandoned anonymous FTP bucket or another, break them out with a utility whose name I forget, then plant them in the spot in the filesystem where the driver is looking to load them. Then reboot. Yes, I actually did this. I have no fucking idea why.

And I have to say that when I got into GNOME 3, it turned out to be just as unusable and bizarre as it was in 2009. I don’t see any difference. Just a few changes to the visuals and a lot of having to think out loud to do simple things like show a different window.

You either get no working boot options or you get 52 identical boot options amongst which one randomly works. How Linux is that!?
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

So I did a “yum install @plasma-desktop-environment” just to try out KDE 4. Which should be scads better by now, right? Nope. Still looks and works like a high school senior project, with mismatched visuals, weird cartoony elements, widgets that claim to do things but clearly don’t do them, and constant notifications popping up about critical, yet obscure and obscurely-named components crashing somewhere behind the scenes, without any mention of whether the service has been restarted or is now missing and you’re going to start losing updates to state information and corrupt your environment or something.

— § —

In short—it took an afternoon—but I finally got Fedora 25 installed and running on my early 2011 17″ MacBook Pro, along with GNOME 3 and KDE 4. And as a side effect, I am now fully cured of any desire to go back to Linux. It is exactly where I left it in 2009.

I won’t even use this install every now and then because the first time I have to run an update, it will no doubt break everything and I will be back to “can’t boot, must Google” again for a day. And I won’t, I’ll just wipe it the fuck out. And if I have anything stored on that filesystem, it will be lost. So basically, it’s DOA for me.

Yes, I know, freedom, and yes, I know, sysadmins who don’t mind having to pave their own way and appreciate max flexibility and blah, blah. I guess it’s just not for me anymore. When I was in my twenties, I could deal with this nonsense. Now? It makes me want to slam my head on concrete.

I guess I’ll check in in another eight years and see if it’s any better. Or maybe by then, we’ll all be using Android devices as our desktops. Problem solved!

— § —

As a final aside, this litany of fail is a continuation of what the start of 2017 has been like for me so far. Big ball of “WTF?!” rolling around smashing things.

This is not a good omen.

Welps! Whatevs.

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