Archive for June, 2007

macs, radeons, blank/black boot screens and you

The following is 100% geek-speak, and I’m posting here because it’s the solution to a problem that bedeviled me for several days, and as far as I can tell the method is not to be found anywhere via the expected search terms. Hopefully this post will fix that.

Late last year, for the first time in about a decade, I bought a completely new-in-the-box computer: a Mac Pro. (A purchase that was, thankfully, paid for by people who were not me — an amusing story for another time.) It is, hands-down, the best computer I have ever owned. But there was, of course, one small crazy-making problem:

When connected to my Dell LCD monitor (a 2001fp: still quite the respectable little beast, and connected via DVI, so you’d think that the computer and monitor would be able to figure this stuff out), the first-stage boot screen (dark grey apple, light grey background, spinner) did not display. The screen stayed entirely black until it got to the second-stage screen (“Welcome to OSX”, blue background, blue progress meter) and the login window. Sometimes, if the moon was in the right phase, the Dell would display a “can not display this mode” error, but usually it would just stay black.

Now this would have merely been an aesthetic oddity, except that the video mode that the monitor wouldn’t display is the same video mode used for several actually important things, ie:

1. verbose boot: all black
2. single-user boot: black on black
3. Boot Camp selection screen: none more black

The last one, as you can imagine, is a bit of a downer, since the system will happily pause endlessly mid-boot waiting for you to pick a boot volume, which is hard to do when you can’t see anything. (I got pretty good at doing this by keyboard and intuition, but it’s not a skill I’m happy to have picked up.)

Digging around on google suggested that the problem was endemic on older Dell LCD monitors, and more likely to happen to Mac Pros with the ATI Radeon graphics card installed, but I wouldn’t claim either as a 100% certainty.

Well, it took me a while, but I finally sussed it out. The fix for this is documented precisely nowhere on Apple’s site, and the only hints I found of it were in the archives of a bunch of sites dedicated to hacking OSX to run on non-Apple hardware. Even better, not one but two things were wrong, and it took me a while to tease them both out.

First: the DVI cable that came with the Dell monitor, and which I was still using many years later, was a “single-link” DVI cable. This, apparently, is a no-no: the first stage boot screens require a dual-link cable to display on this monitor. Why? I have no idea.

Second, the video card and the monitor were failing to handshake properly. It turns out that you can manually specify the resolution and refresh mode of the first-stage boot process in the /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/ file, like so:

<?xml version=”1.0” encoding=”UTF-8”?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC “-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN” “”>
<plist version=”1.0”>
     <key>Kernel Flags</key>
     <key>Boot Graphics</key>
     <key>Graphics Mode</key>
Pick a resolution and refresh rate that you’re confident your monitor can support, save the file (you’ll have to be root to edit it, of course) and reboot. Et voila, the boot screen is back.

Obvious warning: playing with system boot parameters is a great way to turn your computer into a large, expensive, electricity-sucking brick. Take a full backup before you attempt any such surgery, and please don’t email me for support.

over the golden gate


Last weekend, Josh, Miranda and I took a bicycle ride from the Embarcadero, through the Marina district and Presidio, over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito.

This may come as a shock to some, but it’s a pretty picturesque ride.

A few more photos behind the cut…

On your marks…


Every May, there’s a serious 1012-kilometer race held in San Francisco, starting downtown and heading over the middle of the city (and up some serious hills) to end at Ocean Beach. Serious runners from from around the world to compete…

…and nobody pays a damn bit of attention to them, because after the runners come the hundreds and hundreds of people in homemade costumes (or no clothes at all), pulling floats, kegs and portable tiki bars, setting up impromptou profesisonal wrestling matches, and generally indulging in the sort of semi-organized silliness that San Francisco is famous for.

I hear somebody won the race. I have no idea who it was.

New Orleans, April 2007


Well, it’s really too late at this point for a proper trip writeup, but here’s my quick takeaway:

Go visit New Orleans, really. It’s going to be years before the refinery and shipping jobs come back, if they ever do. For now, what’s keeping the city going is construction work and tourism. Everyone we spoke to, whether a random stranger or a local friend (hi !) was unequivocal on this point: Tell your friends we’re open for business. The city is still recovering, yes, but it’s also still alive, vibrant, beautiful and worthy of your interest. It’s going to be touch and go for a few years — they really, really need enough calm hurricane seasons to outlast the Bush administration — so going now increases the chances of it still being there to go to in the future.

“Dressing up” means something different down there. Years of going to punk and goth clubs in NYC and SF left me woefully unprepared for what the rest of the country does by way of “dressing up for a night out.” We went to see the Rebirth Brass Band at the justifiably famed Tipitinas (an awesome show, complete with an unscheduled appearence by a group of Mardi Gras Indians), and I foolishly thought that my normal clubbing get-up of black jeans and a leather jacket would be perfectly appropriate. Wrong. There were, I swear, multiple women in 4” heels and day-glo empire-waist dresses. There were also boys in docksiders, the less said about which the better.

Dear god the food. I don’t think I have ever eaten as consistantly well in any city that I have ever been to in my life, Paris included. It wasn’t a surprise that Jacques Imo and the Commander’s Palace instantly rocketed onto my top-ten-meals-of-all-time list, but the random cheap street eats were just phenomenal as well. I still have half of a Verdi Mart muffelata carefully sectioned into eighths and bagged in my freezer, and have been rationing it out to myself over the last six weeks. Also, I am going to hell for this, but turtle soup turns out to be astoundingly good. Mmmmmm…reptile…

Bourbon Street at night is like a Pride Parade for drunken straight people. Amusing to watch, but you couldn’t pay me to be female and anywhere near it around Mardi Gras.

Really, you should go. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking in equal turns, and it might be gone tomorrow.

A few more of my favorite photos behind the cut…