Blog Post · Technical I.T.

From Leopard to El Capitan in 20 Easy Steps

I recently had the challenge of trying to install a current operating system on an iMac7,1 (2007). Here is my story.

The initial challenge was that the machine was running OS X Server 10.5.8 (Leopard) and I didn’t know the password for any accounts. Fortunately a reboot with Command-S gets you into single user mode (root) with the ability to reset the machine back to defaults (guide here).

Unfortunately, this meant that the software license key needed to be re-entered. Fortunately the key is stored in plain text in:


The next challenge was to purchase a copy of Mountain Lion at AU$30 from the apple store. Only after purchase did I find out that the installer can only be downloaded from the Mac App Store, which only became part of the OS in Snow Leopard.

So the challenge was to get a running instance of Snow Leopard without breaking the running OS (Leopard). Here you have several options to get hold of the Snow Leopard installer:

  • Download the *.dmg install image through a Torrent (illegal)
  • Pay for the physical media from apple (an extra $30 and a few weeks wait)
  • Download the Mountain Lion *.dmg from another Mac running Snow Leopard (or later)

As a rule, I am very sensitive to ethical issues relating to Software, and while I will find cheap (legal) ways to get hold of Operating Systems (e.g. free upgrades, student deals, employer sponsored deals) I am reluctant to use Torrents. This is not just because of the legal/ethical aspect, but also because Torrented media is notorious for malware infection. You can use hash checks to confirm a download, but are then relying on the integrity of the place you found the hash.

Incidentally, this process introduced me to the Apple Disk Image (*.dmg) file format. This format is very useful because it allows the packaging of an *.iso/*.img along with a hash and other disk information. As someone who is frequently imaging hard drives, this seems like a very useful construct, not normally found in operating systems but common in professional forensic software. Being able to confirm the consistency of a Hard Disk/CD/DVD image without carrying around separate MD5 checksum files seems sensible.

I will leave acquisition of the Snow Leopard installer disk image as an exercise for the reader. Rather than install Snow Leopard on the single Mac that I had access to, I used a version of VirtualBox (great free product from Oracle) to create a new virtual machine running Snow Leopard hosted on the Leopard machine. Release 3.0 of VirtualBox is the only one that would still run on Leopard.

I also attempted to get Snow Leopard working under VirtualBox on Windows, but complications with the hardware layer made it far too challenging. I understand people have had success, but it seems to be highly dependent on your Windows OS, hardware and the version of VirtualBox.

After the virtual Snow Leopard was updated to 10.6.8, the app store was running and I was able to download the Mountain Lion installer. For some reason Snow Leopard would not go from initial install to 10.6.8 on its own, the rolled-up 10.6.8 update had to be separately downloaded and manually installed before the app store appeared.

It was not possible to use the Mountain Lion installer to directly update Leopard, I had to use a USB drive to create Snow Leopard install media (guide here). I did a full backup of the Leopard system (and my virtual machine) to a HDD using SuperDuper (excellent backup tool, free version did the job).

Next step was to install Snow Leopard on the iMac, wiping the HDD. The process to update this OS to Mountain Lion (purchased) was now possible through the installer downloaded inside the virtual machine. Once Mountain Lion was installed and working, the update to El Capitan was available.

So now I have a Mac7,1 happily running El Capitan. Even though the hardware is 9 years old, it appears to be running very well. As someone with a background in Unix, Linux, Windows, it was an interesting journey into the world of Apple.

You will note that there is very little code/”how to” content in this post, because I found the guides in the Apple user community on blogs and forums to be very helpful and accurate. I could not find a complete guide detailing the process that I had to follow, but it was made up of numerous simple steps available with a bit of searching. As always in the technical world, don’t try this at home, check your command lines three times and backup before every step.






Blog Post · Film, TV and Literature · Spirituality and Philosophy

Review of The OA (Spoilers)

*This Blog Post Contains Spoilers*

I have just finished watching the first season of the Netflix original The OA. Not since Lost have I watched a TV series that questioned the fabric of human existence in the same way.

With only 8 episodes in the first season, it doesn’t take too long to watch. Brit Marling co-wrote the show with Zal Batmanglij and is also the lead actress. For a Netflix series I was impressed with the production, acting and scripting. It was especially nice to see Phyllis Smith from the The Office back on the screen, she plays the awkward middle-American school teacher brilliantly.

Production aside, what really interested me about the show were the themes and philosophical questions posed.

Hippocrates is famous for the oath which bears his name, and is still at the core of modern medicine. Wikipedia supports my lay-person’s understanding that it can be summarised as ‘do no harm’. We can assume that this applies only to humans, as much of our advances in psychology, neurology, and many other medical fields are owed to the lives (and suffering) of countless rats, mice, monkeys and other animals. When it comes to people, however, there is generally still a strong negative feeling regarding harmful, non-consensual experimentation on humans.

This is not to say that it hasn’t happened, the activities under the Nazis being just one example. The West is also far from unblemished as the MKUltra program run by the CIA in the 1950’s revealed.

In case you missed my spoiler warning, the core of this season of The OA is Doctor Hunter Percy, creepily played by Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), who is experimenting on captive humans who have undergone Near Death Experiences (NDE).

Dr Percy is selecting NDE victims/subjects because they have a better survival rate when killed/revived multiple times. The supposed goal of the experimentation is to prove the existence of an afterlife. This topic is old ground and already the subject of significant real-world research, the Wikipedia page on NDE’s cites numerous studies relating to cardiac arrest survivors. Many of the aspects of NDE observed/recorded by science are faithfully depicted in the show.

Prairie Johnson, played by Brit Marling, becomes one of Dr Percy’s prisoners and through a series of lucid dreams / death experiences decides that NDE sufferers are angels and that an entity from the ‘other side’ is giving them physical movements that can allow them to escape.

This is the part that held my interest, the connection between human movement and spirituality. My children and I enjoyed watching both Avatar: The last Air Bender and the follow-on series, Legend of Kora. In these two shows, the Eastern belief that physical movement is not just about fighting but can also be used as a vehicle to control the elements is central. In my own practice of Qi-Gong (Falun Xiulian Dafa), this idea is also fundamental.

I have frequently visited Hawaii, and every time I see Hula performed I feel that this cultural practice has a much deeper meaning. Rather than just telling stories, or practicing fishing techniques it seems like there is some Sympathetic magic going on, just as there is in the dances of the first Australian People.

This idea is not without at least some recognition in the field of science. Mirror neuron research has shown that our brains have the capacity to observe movement and have it directly impact the motor centres of our own brain. From an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense for the young of a species to quickly learn from their parents simply by watching what they do. At its most basic level, when you watch sport and pay attention to your own body, you will find yourself mimicking the movements. Thus the reason young boys will instinctively cover their own groin when witnessing a peer suffering an unfortunate impact.

The OA uses the sequence of attaining new movements as a plot device, and two movements allow the captives to revive a dead captive and heal a terminal illness. One of the other interesting concepts is the idea that these movements are gained by swallowing something while in a near-death state. The White Snake, collected by the brothers Grimm is one of many examples from folklore where wisdom can be obtained by eating a specific animal. The Greenwood Encyclopaedia of Folktales and Fairytales, by Donald Haas, has a whole disturbing section on food in fairy-tales, especially the cannibalism that has been largely edited out in the Disney versions.  I spoke a little about the importance of movement to religious/spiritual experience in my post on David Bowie’s Blackstar.

The season is full of plot-twists and hide-and-seek timelines common to any thriller, however, I didn’t have any moments where I thought “well that is just ridiculous”. I don’t know what it is, but some people seem to live their life without an overriding discomfort with religion and science’s inability to explain our existence coherently, whereas people like myself are constantly driving by this discomfort to wonder, search and postulate.

Entertainment like The OA prods at those uncomfortable grey areas of our knowledge and bids us to look into the darker corners of our consciousness.


Blog Post · My Own Music

Wolf at the Door

Amidst all the Happy New Year well-wishing I was feeling distinctly un-optimistic about the future of humanity. I tried to capture the feeling in this song, Wolf at the Door. I’m not sure if I have ever properly understood the meaning of the ‘wolf at the door’ motif, despite its extensive use in popular culture.

After all, wolves probably can’t open doors and if you are in a house with a door then you probably aren’t going to be scared of wolves. Wolves knocking on doors is a common theme in fairytales, such as the Three Little Pigs and the less well-known (in English-speaking culture), The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats. Given the dialogue and door-knocking, these are clearly cautionary tales for children using anthropomorphism.

These stories serve two purposes, firstly instilling a well-deserved fear of wolves if you are a young child, and, secondly, instilling a healthy fear of humans that knock at doors. There is no shortage of children’s stories where the wolf is the bad guy, Peter and the Wolf and The Boy Who Cried Wolf being just two examples. Incidentally, I remember first hearing Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf when I was only three, the wolf music still gives me the creeps.

The Wolf at the Door motif is often used in the context of poverty or starvation, which would suggest that the wolf in this case is a stand-in for a more intangible foe.

This experience got me thinking about other songs which have spoken about impending doom on a global scale. My list is by no-means extensive, and I would appreciate any additions in the comments. I am interested in the songs, why they came about and what, if any, effect they had on people.

Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival

This was the first song that came to mind, and a little research revealed the fact that John Fogarty wrote this after watching The Devil and Daniel Webster. This 1941 film is about a farmer in dire financial straits who sells his soul to the devil and subsequently gets rich but alienates and enslaves his friends. Strangest of all, the protagonist has a desire to become President of the United States. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Not Dark Yet – Bob Dylan

As with most Dylan songs, getting an in-depth analysis of the song from the author is unlikely. I only have the lyrics to go on. The song could just be about a temporary depression relating to the particular girl that Dylan has received a letter from, but my feeling is that this song strikes at a deeper depression with the general state of 21st century society, especially given the fact that it was written in 1997 when millennial fear was building.

It’s the End of the World as We Know it – R.E.M

I may be wrong, but I think this song might fit in the same box as Billy Joel’s, We didn’t Start the Fire, where the author is saying that bad stuff has been happening for thousands of years and whatever impending doom you are fearing is probably insignificant. These songs were recorded in 1987 and 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and an end to the nuclear terror of the Cold War. Listening to both these songs as a teenager in the 1990’s, I loved them because they felt like two fingers in the face of the older generation, “this mess isn’t our fault”.

Across the Hills – Leon Rosselson
Eve of Destrucion – Philip Sloan
We Will All Go Together When We Go – Tom Lehrer

I have grouped these songs together as they all related to the period in the 1960’s when nuclear destruction was on people’s minds and the Vietnam War was dragging on. Tom Lehrer, in his usual acerbic style makes a joke of the matter, while Leon Rosselson paints a beautifully dichotomous dialogue between the optimist and the pessimist. I particularly love the phrase:

And it shall reap a hellish harvest
Make the desert of this land

I had always attributed Eve of Destruction to Barry McGuire, but it was written by Philip Sloan. It was interesting that the conservative Right in America felt strongly enough to attack the song directly, even claiming that the song aided the enemy in Vietnam.

I should say that I have no intent to minimize Tom’s contribution because it is funny. Humour has always been a way of coping with horror. Here is another great one from Tom about the subject.

Doom Further Back

I cannot think of any songs from before the 1950’s that relate to a feeling of impending doom about the future of the world. I know that comets and eclipses have had that effect on cultures for thousands of years, but I can’t find evidence that people sat down and wrote songs about it. It may be that television, the Internet and instantaneous global reporting have compressed our vision of the future in a way that previous societies have never imagined. It does feel like a weight on our minds that we could do without.

I must acknowledge the following websites as sources for some of the songs of doom:

Please post other suggestions in the comments.