Archive for the ‘netbook’ Category

Lessons learned.

Monday, August 6th, 2012

So…somebody I know was having problems with their netbook running Ubuntu.

The somebody in question decided (for good and sufficient reasons) that part of the problem might be due to them having done several upgrade installs of recent Ubuntu versions which left cruft on the system. This somebody thought the best thing to do was to make a backup of /home, reformat the box, and reinstall Ubuntu 12.04 from scratch, blowing away all the existing data and partitions.

Which they did.

The somebody in question had a MySQL database on the box that had somewhere around ~2,500 records in it. It was a fairly simple database, probably overkill for MySQL: one table, a few columns.

It turns out that MySQL doesn’t store databases in /home. MySQL stores databases in /var/lib/mysql by default, and the somebody in question never changed the default. (This vaguely makes sense if you think about it; after all, MySQL is intended to be a multi-user database, so why would you store databases under an individual user’s home directory by default?)

The somebody in question found this out after blowing everything away. And, of course, the somebody in question only backed up /home.

Fortunately, the database isn’t that important, and much of the data on it can be recovered from older .CSV files that were used to import the data into MySQL.

But next time, the somebody in question is going to backup every damn thing, not just /home.

The somebody in question is also going to try to get out of the habit of making assumptions about where things are stored.

I heartily endorse this event or product. (#7 in a series)

Friday, February 3rd, 2012


Back in May of last year, I wrote about upgrading my wireless router to a dual-band Netgear WNDR3700, and the problem posed by the lack of a dual-band wireless adapter in the Project e netbook.

Since then, I’ve been looking for a dual-band 2.4GHz – 5GHz 802.11N USB adapter that was fully supported by Ubuntu out of the box; no NDIS wrapper, just straight plug it in and have it work. I actually bought and returned one adapter that ended up not meeting those requirements. I kept looking, and kept beating my head against a wall.

The last time the issue came up, I noticed a mention of ThinkPenguin on the Ubuntu “WifiDocs/WirelessCardsSupported” page. “Okay,” I said to myself. “Why not check to see what they have?”

Sure enough, ThinkPenguin offered a dual-band USB wireless 802.11N adapter that they claimed would work right out of the box with all current versions of Ubuntu. It was a little more expensive than the 802.11N adapters that you find on sale at Fry’s, but by this point I was willing to pay a few extra dollars for something that would Just. Freaking. Work. So I placed an order.

I picked up the adapter last night, booted up the netbook, plugged it in, and…

…It. Just. Works. Right out of the box. Ubuntu had no problems recognizing the device, I had no problems connecting to my 5 GHz network (even without external antennas; more on this in a moment), and I’m getting the expected substantial speed improvement. If I get a chance, I’ll see if I can post some direct speed comparisons between ThinkPenguin’s adapter and the Asus built-in one.

I’ve also had occasion to communicate with ThinkPenguin support, and I was extremely impressed with the speed of their response; using their online support form, I got a response back to my questions in less than one hour. I consider that outstanding.

I will concede, as I said above, that ThinkPenguin’s offerings are a little more expensive than the stuff you find at Fry’s. I paid $64 for the adapter I ordered (plus about $6 for priority mail shipping); dual-band adapters at Fry’s typically seem to run about $40 (plus local tax of 8.25%) for name brands. The thing is, my time is worth more than $20/hour to me; I’m willing to pay for stuff that works right away, and does what I want it to do without limits.

If that’s the way you feel, I recommend you check out ThinkPenguin.

(One other point: you’ll note that I didn’t offer a specific link to the adapter I bought. That’s because, according to ThinkPenguin support, they’ve dropped that adapter from their catalog. TP states they plan to introduce a new adapter in the next month or two, as soon as they can raise funds to get the adapter produced. In the meantime, while the adapter I ordered is not listed on their site, TP still has a small stock available, and you can purchase it by contacting them through their website or calling 1-888-39-THINK (84465). Please note that I haven’t received any freebies from TP; I’m just a very satisfied customer.)

(Edited to add: Also, if you’re going to order an adapter that supports external antennas, just a note: it is easier to order both the adapter and the antennas at the same time. TP will still sell you the antennas as a separate item; they just don’t have them cataloged, and it will require an email/phone call.)

Talkin’ GPS Blues (part 1).

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

A long time ago, my great and good friend Glen pointed me in the direction of a Steven Jay Gould essay about his encounter with Richard Feynman. Gould’s point in that essay was that he thought Feynman wasted a lot of time trying to understand evolution from the ground up, time that Feynman could have spent making valuable contributions to the theory instead. My response is that I think I understand where Feynman was coming from; the only way he felt like he could contribute something was to start from first principles and work his way forward until he understood each step. I’m not anywhere near as smart as Feynman or Gould, but I feel much the same way as Feynman did. Hence, the long and rambling nature of this entry.

I have six GPS systems. That’s probably more than any one sane person needs, but we can leave that discussion for another time.


Do Androids dream of electric apps?

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

As noted previously, I finally resolved the phone issue. (And AT&T can still die in a fire.)

The number one question I’ve been getting (replacing “Where did you get that shirt?” at the top of the charts) is: “How do you like your new phone?”

Answer: I like it just fine, but…below are some preliminary thoughts on Android (at least, as implemented on the EVO 4G; I do realize that some of these may be issues with the built-in apps, rather than the Android OS itself):

  • It is disappointing to me that the alarm built into the EVO’s clock app can’t be set to play arbitrary sound files as alarms. (I fall into Ihnatko’s 2% who haven’t seen the movie yet, but I love the story behind “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien“.)
  • Ditto that I can’t set an arbitrary sound file for text message notifications.
  • It is also disappointing to me that there’s no basic Notepad type app provided with the EVO. I’m sure there’s probably 300+ on the Android marketplace, but I needed to make a shopping list this morning and didn’t have time to sort through all of them. Any tips?
  • Integration between the built-in music player and the built-in navigation app is also a disappointment; the navigation app will pause the player to make route announcements, but you have to manually start the player up again, rather than it automatically resuming play.
  • On the plus side, the sound is great; I can listen to podcasts in the car without having to hook into my (currently non-functional) stereo system.
  • The on-screen keyboard is vastly better than using the keypad (even with T9) was on the T616, and somewhat better than the on-screen keyboard on the N800. However, I still have a lot of trouble hitting the correct key with my large-ish fingers.
  • One of the drawbacks of purchasing an Android phone is synchronization with the MacBook. If I had purchased an iPhone, everything would be simple (or at least, simpler). But, no, I had to be different and resist peer pressure… At some point, I suspect I will end up ordering this. (Right now – and I do realize this is a phone controlled setting – the MacBook sees the phone as a USB disk drive with photos on it, and automatically opens iPhoto. I can browse the Android file system and copy files to or from it without problems.)
  • Speaking of iPhoto, I’ve done almost nothing with the built-in camera yet.  I need to work on that.
  • The EVO’s calendar app has a noticeable lag; it takes a couple of seconds to switch to the current date when I bring it up.
  • If there’s a way to sync the EVO’s calendar app with Google Calender, I haven’t found it, and there doesn’t seem to be a separate Google Calender app (like there is for Maps, Voice, Earth, etc.). Do I need to grab some other calender app off the Android Market? (Edited to add 9/10: Okay, I think I’ve figured this one out. You can sync the EVO app with Google Calender, it just isn’t quite as straightforward as I was looking for.)
  • The EVO also seems to lag behind in changing screen orientation when I rotate the phone.
  • I managed to get the Android SDK and the ADT plugin installed without problems on the MacBook, but the ADT plugin won’t install into Eclipse on Project e. It looks like there are some dependencies that Eclipse can’t resolve, but I can’t figure out what those are. I may have to blow away and reinstall Eclipse (which isn’t a major issue; I don’t have a bunch invested in Eclipse on Project e).
  • I either need to dig out my old Java textbook, or see if I can find an updated edition cheap online.
  • Speaking of textbooks, and having nothing to do with Android in particular, I just paid $180+ for a damn textbook. This makes me mildly cranky.
  • My old T616 in the case fit neatly into the magazine phone pocket of my 5.11 tactical pants. The EVO? Doesn’t fit. Dear 5.11 folks: maybe we could think about redesigning that pocket to fit smartphones? (I wear 5.11 tactical pants (or, as some people call them, “Kaiser blade Internet pants“), not because I’m a mall ninja, but because they are the most comfortable and toughest pants I’ve found. Plus they make it really easy to carry all my stuff.)
  • Battery life is…well, middling. I haven’t really tried optimizing power consumption, though, except for turning off WiFi and Bluetooth. (Hurrah for the EVO’s control panel that allows easy access to those settings.)
  • There’s a few applications I’m looking for and would welcome advice on finding in the Android market. The first one is a good WiFi scanning utility; ideally, it would have the ability to log access points with GPS coordinates, note if the points are A, B, G, or N, note if they’re open or closed (and if they’re WEP, WPA, WPA2, etc.), and write all this data to a XML or KML file. It looks like there are several apps in the market that meet these criteria, but I’m not sure which ones are good.
    The second app I’m looking for is a good vehicle management application. At a minimum, I’d like to be able to enter an odometer reading and number of gallons, and get a miles-per-gallon figure for that tank, as well as an average MPG for all tanks to date. It’d be spiffy if I could also enter a price per gallon, as well as other expenses (insurance, repairs, maintenance) and get a cost-per-mile figure as well.
  • I love the GPS Status app.
  • I’ve played a little with the Amazon Kindle app; so far, I’m more impressed with it than I am with the refurbished Kindle I purchased earlier this year.
  • The EVO’s screen is impressive. Much better than the N800’s. I haven’t done a side-by-side with an iPhone 4 yet, but I’m willing to bet it gives the iPhone a run for its money.
  • The EVO’s video player can decode H.264 video! (I haven’t done anything with the camcorder app, so I don’t know what format it encodes video in.)
  • Waiting for a sale on those 32GB microSD cards…
  • Edited to add: There’s also no general file browser app on the EVO.

Again, I generally like the phone; most of these are just minor quibbles that I can probably solve one way or another.

After action report: Tucson, AZ.

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

My regular readers (and my irregular readers, too; come to think of it, “Whipped Cream Irregulars” would be a good name for a band) may have figured out by now that I’ve spent much of the past week on the road. Specifically, I was in Tucson for the annual convention of the Smith and Wesson Collectors Association. (You might have been able to guess that I also made a brief trip to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area so I could visit Taliesin West.)

I’m not going to talk much about what went on at that convention here, since it is a closed private convention, and I’m not comfortable discussing the organization’s affairs on a public blog. (Jay G. and the rest of the Vicious Circle gang might be amused to know that there was an actual S&W police bike, manufactured in Springfield, MA and complete with lights and siren, on display at the convention. I didn’t get a chance to take a photo.) I will say I had a great time at the convention, and in Tucson in general. Sadly, I didn’t have time to hit any used bookstores or gun stores in the area, but maybe next time.

This is the first extended road trip I’ve taken since last year’s DEFCON, so I thought it might be interesting to do some notes about what worked and didn’t work on this trip.


The Elves of Dalton, GA (and other tales from Christmas).

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Just be patient, it will all come together in the end.

A few weeks ago, one of my cow orkers sent around this photo, just for fun. It prompted a discussion among some of my other cow orkers about their first computers. I was sitting there listening to these guys talking about their 386 machines with 4 MB of memory, and thinking to myself, “You bunch of pikers. My first computer had 4K of memory. Not 4 MB, 4 KB. As in, 4,096 bytes total. And I used cassette tape for mass storage.” You tell that to kids nowdays, they just don’t believe you. (Well, except maybe the cow orker who sent around that photo; I suspect he actually got his start sometime in the System 360 days.)


Project updates.

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Project e update: I took the machine up to 2GB of memory earlier this week; it turned out to be much harder than I expected, mostly because getting the memory access door off the machine took more effort than I expected.

I just finished doing a clean install of Ubuntu 9.10 on Project e; I went the clean install route, instead of doing an upgrade in place, because there were some things I wanted to clean out, and I didn’t really have a whole lot invested in the current system. (However, I didn’t re-partition and blow away /home.) So far, wireless seems much more stable; no connection drops yet. Ethernet just works, straight out of the box (no loading of modules) and Bluetooth seems to work as well, modulo some flakiness in listing devices.

This install also took more effort, and more time, than I expected. However, much of that was my fault; the process for creating USB install disks changed from 9.04 to 9.10, and the instructions on the Ubuntu website are not clear on how to do that under OS X. I ended up having to move the 9.10 ISO over to the netbook and use the USB startup disk creator to make a bootable flash drive. I don’t see this as an Ubuntu problem as much as a “thought I knew what I was doing, should have read the docs first” problem.

Question: does anyone know of a good Karmic-compatible eeePC tray utility, now that eeepc-tray has been end of lifed?

6.00 update: I’ve been tied up dealing with some personal issues that I don’t want to go into here (for reasons of other people’s privacy) and haven’t had as much time as I would like to work on this. I’ve gone through all of lecture 2, and I’m hoping to knock out the assignment and move on to lecture 3 this week.

School: Registered for CSYS 4334, “Implementing Information Systems In Organizations” (in other words, more SQL Server 2005) and CSYS 4330, “Advanced Networking/Network Security” next semester. That second one should be fun.

MIT OpenCourseWare: 6.00, the home game (Part 1).

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

School has wrapped up for the semester, at least for me. (Yes, I’m aware it is mid-October. Yes, I’m aware normal people are dealing with mid-terms. What can I say; that’s the way the St. Ed’s New College schedule worked out this time around.)

Now that I’ve got some free time, I can engage in some useful projects, like more Project e work (I’ve got a long multi-part post in the works that I hope to finish soon), updating the SDC pages, and perhaps some outside study.

I’ve written here before about the MIT OpenCourseWare initiative, and I decided this would be as good a time as any to start working through 6.00, “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming“. As I was reviewing the various readings, a thought came to me.

“Hey,” I said to myself, “wouldn’t it be nifty to blog this as you’re taking it?”

“That’s a definition of ‘nifty’ I was previously unaware of,” I responded.

“It’d give you some motivation,” I said.

“Why am I talking to myself?” I responded.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Have you considered medication?”

Anyway, my need for psychotropic medications aside, this seems like a good idea, if only to give my loyal readers something to laugh at. So…

Lecture 1.

Course readings.

Getting Started: Python and IDLE.

Problem set 1.

My code for problem set 1. (This has been tested on Project e with Python 2.6.2, on the MacBook with Python 2.5, and on the Nokia with Python 2.5.2. I haven’t tested it on my work machine yet.)

Comments on my code or coding style are welcome; as a matter of fact, they are downright encouraged.

Project e, Part 3: The Virtualizing

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Work on Project e continues, slowly, as time permits.

  • The Alfa WiFi adapter worked right out of the box; just a simple plug and play operation. Who’d a thunk it?
  • Built-in wireless continues to be a problem, but mostly on my home network. I am starting to wonder if this is an issue with the access point. Wireless at St. Ed’s (where I’m spending a lot of time these days) isn’t great, but at least the connections stay up.
  • As far as I can tell, the current version of Wireshark for Ubuntu 9.04 is 1.0.7, while the current stable version for other platforms (including Ubuntu Karmic, aka 9.10) is 1.2.1. Between that and the other wired/wireless networking issues, I think I’m going to wait until Karmic drops in late October, then upgrade and install Wireshark and Kismet if networking is stable.

In the meantime, I’ve spent the last few days playing around with something else…


Random notes from a Friday night dinner.

Friday, August 28th, 2009

First of all, if any of my friends (or even blog readers who are not friends) are considering purchasing Snow Leopard from Amazon, here’s the link that gives me a small cut. Also, someone made a specific request for the ASUS DVDRW external drive.

To keep this from being a 100% “Buy Amazon! Give me money!” entry, I want to mention a web log that’s new to me; by way of Lawrence, we have Lovely Listing. One entry that he found particularly striking was the velour people. Lawrence also included this link, but I’m not sure where he found it on Lovely Listing.

When he mentioned the names Arakawa and Gins, I thought they sounded somewhat familiar. Indeed, they were; it turns out Arakawa and Gins were two of Bernie Madoff’s clients. (That second link is by way of Nancy Nall, who has some pungent things to say on the subject.)

Clippings: August 25, 2009 (plus blogging slowdown)

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Classes have started up again at St. Edward’s, so blogging is likely to slow down a bit. I’m planning on taking Project e with me to classes, so I may have some time to blog before class and during breaks; however, St. Ed’s made some changes to the wireless network this semester, and so far connectivity isn’t working very well for anyone. Work on Project e does continue, slowly.

I did want to point out two interesting articles: this one from The Atlantic on health care reform, and why the current proposals will do nothing to fix the structural problems of our health care system (by way of Radley Balko), and Roger Ebert’s latest journal entry on AA and his alcoholism.

Project e: Part 2: The Ubuntuing

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Before I begin, a couple of notes:

First, I’d like to publicly acknowledge D. D. Tannenbaum as the first person to actually leave a real substantive comment on Whipped Cream Difficulties. (There was one spam comment before his, which I guess makes some sort of pathetic statement about the state of the Internet.) Thank you, sir.

Second, another size comparison:

IMG_0334 (Modified)

That’s my (somewhat beat up, as I’ve been toting it for a while) copy of Learning Python, 3rd Edition. As you can see, the eee is only slightly larger than the book; you can’t see this in the photo, but it is substantially thinner. I wanted to get a weight comparison between the two as well, but I don’t have a scale that will work well for that purpose; manufacturer’s quoted weight for the eee is 2.9 pounds.

On to The Ubuntuing.