Yep, I finally got one in my hands

Say no more, it’s… gorgeous…

Hacking away!


You won’t believe it, but I am actually typing this on my tiny little HackBook, aka Dell Mini 9. Running Leopard 10.5.6 smoothly and all hardware -as far as I can see now- seems to be working. The keyboard is really small, so I have to get used to it quite a bit. But overall this is one dell of a machine (pun intended). So what happened between now and my last post about this emotionally challenging experiment?

It took Dell about three weeks to actually deliver the box. On a Wednesday I reserved the evening and dubbed it my solo Hackintosh event. I’m not stupid using a computer and I usually find my way around, but I’m certainly no hardcore hacker. So a tedious online research on the protocols of hacking a Dell Mini 9 was imperative. Fortunately I was not the only nerd with the desire to have a Mac the size of a book so I could find a vast amount of forums where real geeks were kind enough to describe the process step by step. I even prepared a USB stick with the necessary software: MacOS X. 

But first back to the box. Being a Mac user for almost my entire computer life (not true, after my Commodore 64 and Amiga I did start using a PC/AT but was converted to a Mac when I was working for Janssen Pharmaceutica back in 1993, and never looked back) you get used to quality. It sure does sound like a cliche, but opening a Dell box is not the same experience as opening an Apple box (yes, I am biased but doing my utmost to be objective. Seriously). From a marketing point of view intruiging. Apple’s packaging is a true form of art, with even the plastic bags inside sealed with silver wires. Dell’s box is just… a box.

Unboxing a Dell is... different

Unboxing a Dell is... different

Once opened I was first confronted with the physical form factor of the Dell Mini 9. I confess, it did touch my feminin part in me: “How cute!” (now this is out in the open I will from now on only talk GHz, GB, RAM and CPU power). The price tag of €299 became obvious. The Dell Mini 9 feels more like a Fisherprice laptop with plastic all over the place.

So I was ready to go but first I needed to make yet another USB stick with a ‘bootloader’.

Originally the Dell doesn’t recognise the Mac OS. In order to ‘fool’ the Dell one need to load a specific piece of software during startup which makes it understand a USB stick with MacOS X. This bootloader has to be set up in Windows XP. So here the fun started…

Although I use XP in a compulsary way at work, I soon came to realize that being a Mac user I am really, seriously spoiled. I booted up XP and entered the confusing world of this antique OS. OK, I admit that my Dell came with XP Home Edition which is no doubt the most notorious and inferior OS in the family of XP, but still. It started with a mismatch between the keyboard and the OS. I had a US keyboard whereas XP thought I had a Dutch one. Result: all symbols completely messed-up. That really became a problem in the next geeky part, creating the bootloader. I also needed wireless internet but Windows could not get any connection (although it said it was connected but could not find an IP address, or something like that).

I won’t go into detail, but creating the bootloader involved starting up the command line after which I ended up in a kind of window with DOS. Wait, I’ll write that again: DOS. As in Disk Operating System. As in the eighties.

So the code I had to type read something like this: ‘cd C:\syslinux-3.63\win32’, and after that: ‘syslinux.exe -ma E:’. But the keyboard was really freaking out on me. I just could not find the bloody ‘\’. And as you can see, I kind of needed that symbol quite a few times. And did you ever try to find a setting in XP where you can just change the keyboard layout? It drove me nuts and made me want to throw the bloody machine out of the window! And that after only thirty minutes! Aaahh… those good ol’ pre-Mac times of CRA (Computer Related Anxiety).

Anyway, my basic knowledge of DOS which I was forced to learn at school back in the early nineties was still present somewhere in my memory. Eventually I was able to create the bootloader and I was ready for the real work: hacking!

One USB stick with the bootloader in the left port, the Mac OS USB stick in the right. After changing the boot order to start up from the USB bootloader funny letters and numbers magically appeared on my screen. Now it was time to pay attention. Being faithful to my research I typed in ’81’ at a dedicated spot somewhere in the process and to my delight the uberfamous Apple logo filled the tiny 9″ LCD screen. It felt like coming home.

The rest was just the normal setup of Mac OS X. The only thing I still had to do was changing the EFI so that the Dell was actually booting from the Mac OS and voila. I was the owner of a real HackBook.

The final part of the transformation was applying the specially designed Apple logo over the Dell logo on the cover of the HackBook, and the removal of the cheapo sticker ‘Intel Inside’ and ‘Designed for Windows’ inside. Pathetic, but a neccesity if I ever wanted to be taken seriously among my few friends I still have.

It really is feline...

It really is feline...

Till now all seems to work. Sound, webcam, dimming the screen, wifi. Even the soft pulsing LED when the lid is closed. The battery lasts for about 3 hours which is reasonably good. As said, the keyboard is really tiny but I guess that’s the price one has to pay to be portable. The HackBook is really light which is most welcome when I’m traveling (the second main reason why I bought the Dell mini). I have installed only a few programs since I want to test to what extend the HackBook can be used for what it is designed for: the Cloud.

I will be traveling soon. Expect feedback on my findings using this device on our blog.

Hell just froze over. I bought a Dell


OK, this is going to get tough. Years upon years I’ve been preaching the Mac-religion. To friends, family, friends of family and family of friends. And pretty successful I might say. The number of first and second line switchers (second line is a switcher switched because they switched due to my annoying rambling of the superiority of the Mac platform) add up to almost 70. Steve can be proud, his Reality Distortion Field worked.

I have yet to find anybody who regrets the switch, we are all happilly using our little machines and during these years I built up some credibility as a Mac geek. Always open for questions and couldn’t stand when I was not able to solve the issue. I could not accept letting down people who I personnaly brought on board.

Just bought the new MacBook together with the 24 inch Cinema Display. I couldn’t be happier. So I thought.

That’s all going to change now. Familiar with the term ‘Netbooks’? These are very little laptops (9 inch screens), having absolutely no power (1.6 GHz) and virtually no memory (1 GB RAM and usually 16 GB Solid State HD). They are designed for being online, and being online only. For using the Cloud for what it’s meant to be used for: storage and applications. They are priced very low, in the EUR 200-300 range. The perfect travel companion, the ultimate portability communication tool. There’s only one problem:

Apple doesn’t have a Netbook…

Bummer. They have an iPhone, and according to Steve that’s close enough. Although I do love my iPhone (no, I actually adore it) it’s not the real thing as far as computer is concerned. Sorry Steve, this time I have to disagree with you. So who is making Netbooks? Well, the usual suspects: Dell, HP, Sony. But also some newcomers like Asus (these are the Taiwanese boys and girls normally producing the laptops for the usual suspects).

I was intruiged by the concept -after all, it is a gadget- and started my exploration. Thanks to the marvelous decision to put Intel hardware in a Mac, the Mac OS now runs on Intel. However, out of the box it’s impossible to install Mac OS on a computer other than a Mac. Actually, the license agreement forbids it. Fortunately some clever guys were able to hack the OS and creatively named it ‘Hackintosh’. By using this approach people are able to run Mac OS X on any (non Apple) computer.

It turned out that the Dell (of all brands) has the best Hackintosh Netbook on the market; the Dell mini 9. All functionalities work and once you’ve done the hack you have a real Mac on Dell hardware. Of course that’s only the first step. The second step involves stickers. But that’s really nerdy…

Anyway, it took me a holiday in Indonesia and almost two weeks back in the Netherlandsto get used to the idea that I might be buying a Dell. I have been checking my Mac Rumor RSS feeds frantically to see if Apple hasn’t released a MacNetBook themselves. They introduced all kind of stuff these twoo weeks (iMacs, Mac minis, Mac Pros, iPod suffles) but no Netbook.

So today, 15 minutes before a EUR 50 deal when ordering online would expire, I took a deep breath and did it. I bought my Dell Netbook. I am still confused. Did I do the right thing? Well, we just have to see. I will keep you posted about my experiences with the transformation of the Dell mini 9 into the MacBook mini. In a week time I might have replaced an obsolete piece of junk operating system with a perfectly running superior feline operating system, or it might turn out that I lost a few hundred Euros.

But then I will get some friends back…


The end goal

The end goal










This is the 'raw material'

This is the 'raw material'

We’ve come a long way

Around 1994 was my first confrontation with a Mac. Coming from the Commodore  Amiga world I was desperately ‘lost’ in the entire ‘PC’ world, a world which was forced upon me by the university, companies, friends and family. No icons in this world, no pull down menus. The first attempts of Microsoft to create a GUI with Windows 3.1 were at first pathetic. But I had to go with the flow. At least to be able to make some research papers for my study.

And then came the Mac. It was a small Mac Classic, snoozing on my desk at Janssen Pharmaceutica in Belgium (the entire company was on Macs then). It could do pop up screens -called windows-, there were pull down menus and even a metaphore for the desktop. I was sold.

From that day onwards, till today I have never looked back and owned several Macs. You have to know that now it’s OK to own a Mac. Actually, it’s pretty cool. But in those earlier days you were an outcast, a true loser supporting a company on the verge of bankrupcy (which was actually true at that time).

The battle between the two camps (Windows vs. Mac) was fierce and last till today. One weapon Mac bashers loved to throw at you is shouting that the ‘Mac was a toy’, with all those colorful icons and strange form factors.

Well, we came a long way, didn’t we?


Macca of Mac Zealots

You really didn’t believe that I was going to leave New York without a visit to the Apple Store? The Apple Store? I heard that during daytime the crowd was too overwhelming and the line to get in obnoxious long. So I thought I paid the Glass Cube a visit around 11 pm. Conveniently located nearby my hotel on 5th Avenue, there it was, in the middle of a little square. 

The Apple logo clearly lit and the place buzzing of people. You go down the well-known glass stairs, entering the divine place of The Apple. Several priests walk around with little devices in their hand. It later turned out that you can pay at those priests. The Apple Store has no cashiers so basically you can pay anywhere. 

There was a line waiting to catch a glimpse of the latest Apple Relic: the iPhone 3G. A direct descendant from Lord Jobs, this little device once owned will change your life forever. Each day this line forms again since there are only a few hundreds of iPhones arriving each day. The faithful followers receive a voucher with which they can stand in line for about 5 to 6 hours. After the necessary ceremonial monetary exchange they go home. Happier, fullfilled, and yet again an increased status.

Everybody who knows me a bit better realizes that I will stand in line for a few hours as well, obeying the Reality Distortion Field (RDF) of Steve Jobs. Unfortunately it isn’t possible anymore to just buy the iPhone, get it through customs and hack it away. Now I have to learn to live with the fact that there are people in Oss (of all places) who surpass me in this ever frantic race of coolness…

Size doesn’t matter

As content producers we are always on the outlook of devices that improves our production value, either by time, processes or handling. For our video productions we use a Canon XL 1s, one of the most used professional cameras around. We are pretty happy with this camera, and it always amazes us how many people ask us info about the camera when we walk around on congresses.

Although our Canon certainly looks impressive, sometimes you want to go a bit more ‘guerilla’ shooting (not to confuse with secretely recording of people without their knowledge, which is a big NoNo). Hence I started looking around for a small and handy device that could suit these needs.

Since we want to expirement with High Definition too, the camera should meet the following requirements:

  • Small (so no tape)
  • High Def, at least 720p
  • External mike
  • Mac-compatible, plug and play
  • Cool looking (hey, we’re gadget freaks…)

We found the solution of most of the above requirements in the Sanyo Xacti HD1000. With the ability to record in 1080i we thought it would be a bargain for €600.

There are many reviews found on the internet, so I’m not going to repeat these. I will only describe a few of our own findings:

First of all, it certainly looks cool, especially if you attach a wireless mike receiver on top (check two requirements). It records on a Flash and with 8 GB you can record about 1 hours and 20 minutes HD material. Be sure to buy a high performance SD card.

Secondly, the quality is relatively good. I read on the blogosphere that some users experienced bad quality, but with good lighting it’s OK. Having said that, I do realize that the small size and low price is a trade-off to the more expensive cameras which no doubt have a better quality. And AVCHD is not the best quality codec.

Working with the Mac is another topic. In the first instance I thought everything would be fine, since one of their demo movies could be found in a .Mac gallery (check here). Not so.

When I attached the camera to my Mac nothing happened in iMovie or Final Cut. When I dragged the files from the SD card (recorded 1080i) on the desktop, all I saw was a green picture. Turned out that first I had to  install an extra Quicktime plug-in (mp4vEncoder). OK, now at least I could see something. Unfortunately however, my Mac (not the cheapest MacBook Pro, 1 year old) couldn’t handle the 1080i. When I switched to 720, all seems fine.

Now, there are two settings in the 720 mode: 30 fps and 60 fps. When you use 60 fps and import via de import fucntion in iMovie, you get only half the time of the clip. Funny, if you copy the files from the SD card to the desktop and then import it in iMovie, it seems fine. The combination 30 fps and 720 seems to work. Strange.
In FCP you need to import manually, since the Log and Transfer does not recognize the camera.

To have the best result I recommend to use a ProRes setting in FCP and export in with at least 30 fps. You then avoid the ‘shivering’ image when doing a pan, something AVCHD is notorious for. That leaves all iMovie and Final Cut Express users in the cold, since they can not set the timeline in ProRes.

Overall I can say that, once we know what to do we are pretty happy with our new toy. It’s light, handy and you can even extend the lenses with fish-eye or tele (there’s even a scubadive case). We have done a fast and dirty comparison of the image quality with our Canon, and the first results are definitely in favor of the Sanyo. We will do some barebone testing later.

Now we are in dubio for our next camera: HD or SD (keeping in mind that most of our work is for the web, 640×360 max). Any ideas?

3D desktop with Wii remote

A lot of people are looking for the ‘next big thing’ on desktop development and many think it’s gonna be a 3D environment. But how to get that? Using advanced technologies in screens? Colored pixels with colored glasses? Holograms? Johny Lee thinks the Wii remote would do just fine:

Nice tool for podcasters

Like most podcasters, we have around 7 iPods laying around. I collect the devices like I used to collect Star Wars action figures when I was 12 (well, honestly, 24). An iPod nano for running, a 60GB for the ‘no-think-what-I-have -to-put-on-the-iPod-because-it’s-full’ iPod, the one with the phone crambled in (what’s the name again?), a shuffle because life is sort of random…

Fortunately I found yet another reason to buy  a new iPod: the Belkin iPod Mobile Podcast Studio. This little wonder, introduced at the CES has a dual XLR and 1/4-inch channels. No clue what these channels do, but 1/4 sounds impressive…

And for $100, it’s a bargain. Available in June.


Yeah, we got them!

Whatever you think of the US of A, they’re able to bring you a joy of undescribable proportions…

iPhone stag

(please, don’t tell customs…)

Check our blog!

…and yes, she’s hacked (sorry Luke, you’re facing a solo-hack-night)

The iPod Revolution

Found an interesting Discovery documentary on YouTube about the way the iPod revolutionized an entiry industry. Lots of great examples of brand building, communities and marketing. My favorite: Duke University decided that all freshmen were given iPods as an educational tool. The students in higher classes of course disliked that idea, since they were not given these iPods. It became obvious that you were a freshman since you were wearing the white ear buds. So what happens when you are a senior and you’re wearing white ear buds (from your own iPod)? Exactly, people might think you’re a freshman. And that is certainly something you don’t want. Collectively all students in highre classes decided (or were forced) to buy other color ear buds…

See the documentary here (part 1 of 5):

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