Thursday, 8 August 2013

Wallpaper of the Month - Inspiron 6400

I was lucky enough to be marshalling for (but not lucky enough to be participating in) the Oggie 8 at the weekend, so an excellent excuse to get into the hills in the morning. It was also an excellent excuse to change the desktop on the Inspiron 6400!

This is The Cannon on Tryfan, one of the iconic rocks in the Ogwen Valley and I've always found it to be a magical place. As I was alone when I took the photo, you get no sense of scale: this is a dramatic shard of rock that can be see from the valley floor but it is oddly comforting to reach it when you're climbing in claggy conditions.

Anyway, good things seem to happen to me on Tryfan, and this will be a reminder of a fabulous day and a special person while I struggle to get through the next eight days!

Sources & References:

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Edged Out?


After a great start, interest in the Edge appears to be on the wane.

Mind you, that is nearly $250,000 in twenty-four hours but the run rate is not sufficient to meet the target.

Anyway, I'll add the widget and try to do my bit to maintain interest.

Sources & References:

  • None

Monday, 29 July 2013

Canonical Passes $7,000,000

I've just checked Canonical's progress in its campaign to raise $32,000,000 to develop the Edge. At 12:30 BST, the total pledges amounted to over $7,000,000 with 24 days left.

That's amazing!

Sources & References:

Not Dead Yet

The Register is running a fascinating opinion piece by Trevor Pott on Microsoft's future.

It seems that Pott has pretty much accepted the death of the PC and points to Microsoft's divergent business interests and innovation as the Company's potential salvation. All-in-all though, he seems pretty sanguine about the behemoth's future:

"The next 24 months is Microsoft's true window of vulnerability. If the wrong calls are made Microsoft's competitors will shred them. It will take a decade or so for Microsoft to die, but if there is a chance for a fatal wound it is now. If the right choices are made, however, Microsoft becomes functionally untouchable for the rest of our careers."

I've yet to be convinced by the argument that the PC is dead: there are several factors to consider for declining sales over recent years; not least, a worldwide recession. But hey, what do I know?

Notwithstanding my slightly different take on the future of desktops as endpoints, a well considered article and worth a read.

Sources & References:

Friday, 26 July 2013

One Careless Owner

I'm amazed at what some folk will throw out.

I went to the dump recycling centre the other day and found this Compaq C700 sitting in the electronics skip. At the time I was working on a customers CQ71 that some imbecile had removed most of the case screws, so I grabbed this only so I could cannibalize it for parts: I simply assumed that it didn't work.

Anyway, it's been a quiet couple of weeks so I put in an old 2.5" hard drive and turned it on...

...some lights, but not much else seemed to be happening.

Anyway, out of curiosity I plugged in a VGA cable and the monitor fired up without missing a beat! Clearly, the screen was shot (something that seems to happen a lot with Compaq Presarios), but (apart from all the bits I'd robbed) it was good to go.

I bought the parts from ebay and kept the refurbishment second-user: apart from a new screen (grade B) I've had to replace the battery, charger, speakers, caddy, and screws (plus an old 60GB hard drive I had laying around).I put it back together this morning and it fired up first time. All the ports work, the optical drive is fast and quiet, and there's barely a scratch on the case.

If I had some spare money, I'd keep this little beauty but sadly, I need to sell it!

Sources & References:

  • None

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

DELL 6400 Integrated Card Reader & Ubuntu 12.04

My six year old laptop has become my primary machine over the last few months. I've always liked the DELL Inspiron 6400 but it's never been used as much as it should have been - until now!

Unsurprising then that I should only now realize that the integrated card reader doesn't work! I've been meaning to look into it for a couple of days and finally got round to it this evening: the fix took seconds!

Open a terminal and type:

sudo gedit /etc/modules

When Gedit opens, add the following code to the bottom of the file:


Save and close the modules file and reboot. Inserting a SD card on restart resulted in a welcome media prompt.

I always like the easy fixes!

Sources & References:

Small & Perfectly Formed?

It seems that everyone's at it; making PCs smaller is the order of the day and in August, Compulab will start taking orders for its new micro-computer - the Utilite.

Designed to run Linux & Android operating systems, this isn't a bad looking piece of kit: sadly, it'll probably end up fixed to the rear of a flat panel monitor with some sort of VESA mount! OK, I'm being cynical, but it makes you wonder why they don't just put all this inside the monitor and be done with it: if you want a PC so small that it's all but invisible, you might as well hide it to begin with.

The technical specs aren't too shabby though: top-end, the Utilite boasts a quad core Cortex-A9 MPCore and up to 4GB of DDR3 although the headline price of $99 will only snag you a Freescale i.MX6 single core processor and (I'm guessing) less memory. Ports galore and a low-energy supply it looks versatile and capable of saving the planet from all those 500W electricity guzzlers out there.

Ironically, for such a small product, the market in micro-computers is remarkably crowded and users are almost spoiled for choice. Take your pick from the Raspberry Pi, Intel's NUC, Gigabyte's BRIX, or a thousand handsets running Android, IOS, Windows, and (hopefully) Ubuntu.

Sources & References:

Oh, That's All Right Then

It seems that the Ubuntu Forums hacker has broken cover to assuage users over fears that their passwords are on the market to the highest bidder. However, this promise doesn't appear to be some charitable act on behalf of a benign Mitnick wannabe: apparently, cracking 1.8 million passwords would just take too long!

The Register is reporting that someone claiming to be the hacker made his/her promise on TwitLonger. So, no harm, no foul? I don't think so, perhaps Sputn1k_ should get a job.

Sources & References:

Monday, 22 July 2013

I'd Love to Help....

...but I don't have a spare $600.

Canonical has turned to crowdfunding to get its new handset off the ground: I hope it works because I'd love to see Ubuntu Edge on general release. Sadly, I'm not in a position to fork out the cash and, even if I were, $600 is a reasonable mid-range PC!

It'll be interesting to see if Canonical hits its target of $32,000,000 and I, for one, will be keeping my fingers crossed.

Sources & References:

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Win98 Custom Build - Specs

Last month I blogged about installing Win98 using Virtualbox on Precise, so, for completeness, I thought I'd post the spec and a couple of pics.

Bear in mind that the primary role of this build is to run Win98; it's designed as a business machine and not a gaming rig! That said, it's running the 64-bit version of Ubuntu Precise and the UEFI is tweaked for virtualization.

  • Chassis - Xigmatek Asgard II
  • CPU - Intel Pentium G620 2.6GHz Dual-Core
  • Mobo - Gigabyte GA-Z77-DS3H ATX LGA1155
  • Memory - G.Skill 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333
  • PSU - OCZ CoreXStream 500W
  • Wireless Card - TP-Link TL-WDN4800
  • Optical Drive - LG GH24NS95 DVD/CD Writer
  • Card Reader - Icy Box IB-864 Front Panel 3.5"
  • Operating System - Ubuntu 12.04 Precise 64-bit
  • Virtualization - VirtualBox

The case doesn't attract particulary good reviews (either on Amazon or PCPartPicker) but I really liked it. Cable management is actually easier than some of the reviews suggest but it does require some forethought. If I have a criticism, it's that the tool-less system doesn't hold the drives square in the drive bays. Adding a securing screw on the I/O side of the case helps, but this does defeat the object!

The PSU is virtually silent and is seriously over-powered for the designed purpose (more than twice the estimated power requirement!). However, it was on offer at the time of the build and it does add some future-proofing to the build - highly recommended!

The card reader required a header adapter (the USB3.0 internal connection is a standard usb connector). The adapter is a little loose in the header, but the connection appears sound enough and the system did survive the journey from workshop to customer.

Sources & References:

Ubuntu Forums Hacked

OMG!Ubuntu is reporting that the Ubuntu Forums has been hacked and user names and passwords, compromised.

Oh well, time to change my Forum password. Fortunately, I used Launchpad to access the forums (although, I do have a Forum account) and this doesn't appear to have been affected. Moreover, I use unique passwords for all sites and email accounts, so whatever the outcome, my personal exposure is an increase in email spam. Nonetheless, it's disappointing to see the suggestion that lax security led to this attack. It'll be interesting to see the outcome of any investigation. For now the Forum is down with a holding page at the url.

Sources & References:

Desktop of the Month - 8400 July 2013

This picture was taken from Y Foel (SJ188391) looking NNE towards Creig iau Eglwyseg.

This week I was lucky enough to join some friends on Tryfan to watch the sunrise. I received some photographs this morning that show my point-and-click efforts for what they really are! I'm reminded that I am lucky to live in North Wales where even a poor photographer such as I can capture beautiful images.

Sources & References:

  • None

Saturday, 29 June 2013

D-Link's Impressive Powerline

I know that these devices aren't new, but I've never used them before today: D-Link's Powerline network adapters are superb and a great way to extend your network to those hard-to-reach WiFi spots.

Setup time is minimal (around ten minutes with all the plug & sorting and cable untangling!) and connecting your PC to the network gives new meaning to the phrase plug 'n' play. All-in-all I'm very impressed.

Just one word of warning: the RJ45 cables supplied in the starter kit are around 450mm long (around 18") and nowhere near long enough for any practical purposes. Make sure that you've got a couple of spares handy or buy some when you order your starter kit.

Sources & References:

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Fixing Grub

After resurecting my old WinXP drive recently, the GRUB menu appears during the startup routine on my workshop machine. It's probably because two operating systems are detected during the boot sequence but as I never intend to use WinXP on this machine, this behaviour is a little irritating - fortunately, it's easy to fix!

From a terminal (Ctr+Alt+T), open your grub file:

sudo gedit /etc/default/grub

Input your password when prompted and make the following changes:

  1. Un-comment line 2 #GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT=0
  3. Amend line 4 to read: GRUB_TIMEOUT=0

The relevant part of the amended file should look similar to this:

GRUB_DISTRIBUTOR=`lsb_release -i -s 2> /dev/null || echo Debian`

Save and close the file and then update grub:

sudo update-grub


sudo shutdown -r now

Sources: & References:

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Back to the Future - Ubuntu & Win98

One of the nice things about starting your own IT support business is meeting fascinating people who have interesting or unusual requirements: recently, I've been helping a customer to install Win98 on modern hardware, not as straightforward as it sounds!

Although rare, it's not unheard of for people to be running legacy systems in the UK: I know of several companies that use Win98 on closed networks to run machinery and many of them are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the hardware. Nonetheless, developing bespoke software to run on Win7 or Win8 still makes migration to newer equipment financially unappealing when compared to nursing archaic computer equipment.

"OK", I hear you say, "but what's this got to do with Ubuntu?" Well, although I did manage to get Win98 installed and stable on the XP machine, getting it to communicate with peripherals (such as the dot-matrix printer and a floppy drive!) proved beyond me: it just didn't want to play. Clearly, this was of no use to my customer who then started to make plans to import a machine from the US specifically to run a fifteen year old operating system. It's then that we started discussing the option of virtualizing Win98 on an open-source operating system using one of the freely (and free!) available virtualization programs.

Installing Precise on the WinXP box was easy and the processor had no problem driving VirtualBox. Fortunately, my customer was using WinXP SE (by all accounts, much easier to get running on VirtualBox than the previous version), so getting Win98 running was also simple but we still had several issues to resolve.

The first is purely aesthetic: in VirtualBox, Win98 SE only runs in a low resolution mode (800x600 16 Color). We fixed this using a very useful utility called SciTech Display Doctor. This is no longer supported, but you can find a registration code online that allows you to use the utility beyond its trial period.

Secondly, we had to fix the ACPI idle time issue (see here for an explanation) - we did this using a utility called Rain which, ordinarily, is used to keep over-clocked processors operating at peak efficiency.

Getting the printer to work was no more difficult than using a IEEE 1284 usb-centronics converter. This didn't work out of the box and we needed to hunt down some drivers. Contrary to some of the reviews on Amazon, our cable had no driver disk (for 98 or otherwise). However, by effectively converting our printer to a USB device, all we then had to do was install the VirtualBox extension pack to enable USB support in Win98 and install a brilliant (and still supported!) utility called DOSPRN.

This approach also worked for a USB floppy drive (without the need for DOSPRN), but with USB support, we no longer needed the restricted format of floppy disks: usb thumb drives are completely supported in this setup and the larger capacities are infinitely preferable to 1.44MB of storage!

On the customer's WinXP box, this setup worked - just! However, replicating it on my WinVista machine was much more successful. Having a dual core processor with plenty of spare system memory clearly helps! So, we'll build a bespoke system to host this virtualization and make the whole enterprise a little more future proof. Of course, the host operating system will be Ubuntu Precise, saving the customer a few bob on a Windows installation ;).

Sources & References:

Backward Progress - normal.mod not found

Recently I wanted to try out some software from the repository for Ubuntu 12.1(+): that meant upgrading my workshop machine's installation from 12.04LTS. Whilst the upgrade went smoothly enough, I found Quantal to be a little glitchy and I couldn't get LedgerSMB to work, so I abandoned the project.

Given that the workshop machine should be as stable as possible, I decided to revert the OS to Precise: easy, right?



Slipping the installation disk into the drive and electing to format the partition before (re)installation, resulted in the following error on reboot:

file '/boot/grub/i386-pc/normal.mod' not found

Followed by the grub prompt:

grub rescue >

At first I thought that the install had been corrupted and I tried simply reinstalling the reinstall (if that makes sense), but no joy - the same error appeared on reboot. The good news is that the fix was fairly simple: delete the root partition ("/") and recreate it during the installation process. The bad news is that, if you haven't created a separate home partition (or, if you don't have a full, current backup of your files) everything gets deleted as a result!

Fortunately, I am in the habit of maintaining a separate /home partition, so my directories and documents were quite safe during the restoration of Precise. However, if you haven't segregated your /home and root directories, try using the install DVD as a live disk and copying your files to an external disk or drive before attempting to repartition your disk (or backup your system) before down-grading.

Sources & References:

Monday, 20 May 2013

Reliable? Yes!

Last month I reported on the installation of a TP-Link TL-WN751ND wireless adapter in my mongrel 12.04 workshop setup. There's no doubt that it was a serviceable if not perfect solution to my telephone installation problems. Although I continued to experience the connection drop-outs during the period they were less frequent than with my Belkin dongle and, in defence of the card, it has provided (significantly) faster speeds.

Now that I've got my own broadband, I've had a few days to test the card on a dedicated network. Since the installation of my service, the card hasn't dropped the connection at all, so my problems on the public network were probably related to signal strength and user activity (that is, the network, not detecting any user activity, dropped the connection automatically) issues. Surprisingly, the reported speed on the private network has dropped to 65Mb/s. I say surprisingly because the wireless AP is directly above the antenna, separated from the PC by only a wooden desktop.

Nonetheless, I've decided to leave the PC on a wireless connection for now. Sure, it's probably not as fast as a physical Ethernet connection, but it is reliable and it saves using up a port on the router. If you buy sensibly (which I did not), this card offers a reliable wireless connection and I find myself recommending its use on Ubuntu machines.

Sources & References:


It's been a challenging couple of weeks: the business has started (slowly) but is starting to come together. However, the hardest part of starting a business in the UK is getting a damn 'phone line installed!

After weeks of trying, I've finally had my service connected and the broadband speeds are not too shabby - 10.23Mb/s. OK, not ultra-fast, but slicker than my home service.

Sources & References:

  • None

Bling for 13.10?

Joey-Elijah Sneddon has reported that Chromium is the likely replacement for Firefox in the 13.10 release of Ubuntu.

I haven't used Firefox for a while: I find it slow to open and flaky to use. In fact, the only time that I use FF now is when I'm testing changes made to the Komphix website from Bluefish. I'm not sure that it will ever be my favourite browser again as it once was.

Sources & References:

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Reliable Drive & The Missing Windows

I started my journey into open-source in 2008 after the hard drive in my Windows XP machine died. Little did I know at the time that pursuing my interest in Linux would ultimately lead me to a career in IT! Nonetheless, here I sit in my workshop waiting for the telephone installation and marketing materials before I can make my first million.

Whilst sorting through some bits and pieces that I thought might come in useful for my new venture, I stumbled across that old hard drive and found myself wondering whether I could salvage any of the data. I confess that I thought it unlikely, I was certain that the drive had suffered a physical failure and wouldn't even spin up, but I thought trying might make for an interesting diversion while waiting for suppliers and customers (not necessarily in that order). Imagine my surprise then when I plugged it into my workshop pc and Ubuntu recognized it instantly.

However, whilst I could see the drive in Nautilus, I couldn't mount the file system; Ubuntu complained that Windows had not shut down properly and was corrupt. Nonetheless, a promising start!

I put the XP installation disk into the optical drive and selected the repair option from the menu. In XP, this option drops you to a command line; something Microsoft calls the Recovery Console1. From here I tried:

  1. fixmbr
  2. fixboot
with no success.

Following advice from the Ubuntu error message, I then tried chkdsk /f. Chkdsk is a utility which checks the status of the disk for errors and the f switch attempts to repair any problems the utility finds. However, although the utility ran, it failed with errors after a couple of hours and I still couldn't access any data. A second attempt also failed.

It was then that I recalled a vague reference to problems with chkdsk running on an XP SP2 installation using and XP SP1 installation disk (sorry, I can't find the reference now). My original installation was an OEM install by DELL, an XP Professional SP1a OS. Fortunately, my laptop came with XP Professional SP2, so I thought I'd give the installation disk a try.

It took several hours, but chkdsk reported that it had fixed errors on the disk. I tried booting to XP but it hung on the splash screen and, as yet, I've not been able to boot from the disk. But, I can access all of the files from Ubuntu! I've found several photographs that weren't included in my backups and that I'd thought had gone forever, so I'm pretty chuffed.

The question now is what to do with the disk. Clearly, the drive must be returned to the original PC if I'm to run XP and I can still try:

  • fixmbr
  • copy d:\i386\ntldr
  • copy d:\i386\
  • bootcfg /rebuild
if I want to get XP running, but my Dimension 8400 has been running Ubuntu for five years; why would I want to regress to XP? The fact is that I achieved what I set out to achieve: access to data I thought lost.

The irony is that, had I not simply replaced my PC when the original XP installation failed, I might never have investigated Linux.

Sources & References:


  1. See Meyers 2012 pp.820-823

Friday, 26 April 2013

It's been coming for a while and I've dropped one or two hints over the last weeks but on next week I rejoin the world of work doing something that I've always wanted: fixing computers.

Komphix officially opens its doors to the public on Monday 29th April 2013. I hope that anyone that reads this blog (and there are one-or-two) forgive the rather gratuitous advertising and wish me luck in my new venture!

You can find out what's on offer at the new website: feel free to link ;)

Sources & Resources:

Thursday, 25 April 2013

13.04 is Here

Ubuntu 13.04 LTS is released today!

If it really is designed for lightweight devices, it might be worth trying on the workshop machine!

Sources & Resources:

The Reliable Choice & The Missing Engineer

It's probably better not to go into too much detail; suffice to say that yesterday I spent over seven hours waiting at the workshop for a telephone engineer that never appeared. I'm now told that it will be July before I get my telephone and broadband installed - now that's what I call customer service (not).

However, I can access a wireless service from the workshop using a domestic service and I have been getting an intermittent connection using a Belkin USB Network adpater that managed around 36Kb/s. It worked, but it is a painfully slow solution and the constant drop-outs did nothing to repair my temper. The solution was to install a wireless PCI in my refurbished PC: a little research indicated that I would have fewer problems if I chose a device using any of the following chipsets: Ralink (2500/RT2400), Realteck RTL8280, or Atheros (AR9170). I picked up a TP-Link TL-WN751ND adapter from my local Maplin and paid heavily (about twice the online price of c.£10.00) for my impatience.

Easy to fit (of course) and I even took some time to re-route the front umbilicals. The good news is that the adapter works out of the box on my mongrel Ubuntu 12.04 setup and delivers 72Mb/s (exactly twice the speed of the Belkin). I have experienced one drop-out since installation, but it does appear to be a significantly more stable connection and this might be the solution that gets me out of trouble.

So, my trusty mobile and new TP-Link Wireless N PCI adapter it is, at least until I can get my phone line installed. The reliable choice? I don't know, I'll have to live with it for a while; but, so far it seems like a good choice.

Sources & References:

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Seeing Clearly

My refurbished PC is up and running but I wanted to share my screen using a VGA switch. This had a disastrous effect on Ubuntu's appearance as the OS didn't seem to be able to detect the screen's native resolution through the switch although it had no problems when I plugged the cable directly into the video card.

There's a fair few solutions on the web, but I couldn't seem to make any work, so I cobbled together a fix which, although not particularly elegant, does work (for me). Simply put, I automate a command at startup that adds the desired resolution and forces Ubuntu to adopt it as the default.
There are a couple issues with my solution:
  • The script runs at startup not at boot, so I'm stuck with a low-res login screen.
  • The script (initially) runs too early giving me some weird video effects until the resolution had been reset.
  • This will only work for my login
As I'm the only user, I don't have to worry about multiple fixes. Moreover, I've fixed the second issue and resolved to live with the first. Here's how I solved the problem:

First of all, ascertain the monitor's native resolution. I just Googled mine, but if you have the manual, the information is probably in there. My resolution is 1280x1024 with a refresh rate of 60Hz. Now create the resolution in Ubuntu. Open a terminal and type:

sudo cvt 1280 1024 60

Change the values to suit your monitor (horizontal, vertical, and the refresh rate). The output of this command will look similar to that below.

# 1280x1024 59.89 Hz (CVT 1.31M4) hsync: 63.67 kHz; pclk: 109.00 MHz
Modeline "1280x1024_60.00" 109.00 1280 1368 1496 1712 1024 1027 1034 1063 -hsync +vsync

We're interested in the second line (the one starting Modeline): we'll be using this information in our script later.

Next, determine the Output Port Name (aka monitor designation). In your terminal, type:

sudo xrandr -q

The output of this command gives you information about your monitor and how it's connected to the PC. The output will depend on the video driver in use; for my analogue connection, the port name is VGA-0. If you're uncertain which designation is correct, look here (under Output Port Names) to see which is the most likely.
Now prepare the script that will run at startup. Open a text editor such as Gedit with:
sudo gedit /home/username/.resfix
      # Fix screen resolution at boot via VGA switch
xrandr --newmode "1280x1024_60.00" 109.00 1280 1368 1496 1712 1024 1027 1034 1063 -hsync +vsync
xrandr --addmode VGA-0 1280x1024_60.00
xrandr --output VGA-0 --mode 1280x1024_60.00

Change the values (in red) to suit and then save and close your file. Next, make the file executable. In a terminal:

sudo chmod a+x /home/username/.resfix

Now add the script to the startup routine. The easiest way to do this is via the shutdown button - just select Startup Applications... from the dropdown menu. In the Startup Applications Preferences dialog, click Add. Now complete the Edit Startup Program:
  • Name: anything you want!
  • Command: /home/username/.resfix
  • Comment: something useful!
One last thing to do and that's to delay the script so that it minimizes the weired video. In a terminal:

sudo gedit /home/username/.config/autostart/.resfix.desktop

At the end of the file, add the following:


The number is the time in seconds that you want to delay your script: change yours to suit. Reboot for your changes to take effect.

Sources &References:

Sunday, 21 April 2013

I Wasn't Expecting That

You recall the generic hard drive that I ordered for my refurbishment project?

Well, it turned up on Thursday and it turned out to be a Western Digital device (WD1600AVJS)! Now I wasn't expecting that.

Sources & References:

Wallpaper of the Month

This is Llyn Y Cwn (SH 637 584) taken yesterday. You can just about see Moel Eilio on the horizon (centre).

I had a fabulous day on the Glyerau, starting with the North Ridge of Tryfan (including North Tower), onto Dexter Gully (I kid you not!) on Bristly Ridge, Castell Y Gwynt (just for a little exercise), and bagged Y Garn just to finish off. The weather was glorious and I am always happiest when I'm in the Ogwen Valley.

Sources & References:

  • None

Raring to Go?

Canonical releases 13.04LTS (Raring Ringtail) on 25th April 2013. Joey-Elijah Sneddon (of OMG! Ubuntu!) gives a nice summary of what we can expect from the latest release.

I'll try it on the 6400 to see if Canonical has fixed the virtual file system issues and then think about upgrading my desktop and file server. However, there's no urgency, support for 12.04 runs until April 2017.

Sources & References:

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Mending & Making Do

I'm in the process of refurbishing a spare pc for my new workshop. It's only going to be used for driver downloads, Google, and lightweight stuff such as email which is just as well: this puppy is ancient.

But, and here's the thing, it already runs Ubuntu 12.04 without breaking a sweat!

The Motherboard is an ASrock P4i65G so replacing the 40GB IDE hard drive is no problem because the board supports SATA. So, I've chosen the cheapest hard drive I could find: a 160GB generic device from Amazon for the paltry sum of £23.99 with free shipping.

I'm also upgrading the RAM from it's current 512MB (yes, you did read that right! Two un-matched 128MB sticks that can only be working as SIMM) to the maximum allowed on the board, 2GB DIMM. Again, nothing fancy and as cheap as chips: 2 x 1GB generic memory sticks by Komputerbay (whoever they are).

I needed a SATA cable (obviously!) and a Molex/SATA power adapter: all told, the total was less than £60.00.

Refit time is around fifteen minutes and installing Ubuntu will take an hour or so with update - that's pretty sweet.

Sources & References:

Thursday, 11 April 2013

WiFi Speed Tip

I love my little appartment, but I've been thinking for a while now that I need to add a wireless access point to my network in order to improve WiFi reception in my lounge. After all, I don't want to be sat in my home office all the time!

However, whilst reading December's back issue of Maximum PC magazine, I was reminded the there are cheaper options to try before getting out your credit card. Ok, so it's no huge revelation that you can change your WiFi channel, but sometimes the obvious just passes you by: inSSIDer is a utility designed for Windows (and Mac1) but you can also download it for Android from Google Play.

So, I downloaded it to my Samsung Galaxy Advance, sat in my lounge and looked for the best channel to use. The performance improvement was substantial, so I may spend more time on my couch from now on!


  1. There is a version for Linux, but reports about its efficacy are mixed. I just found it easier to load onto my mobile phone and analyze my network that way.

Sources & References:

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Value Writ Large

For both personal and professional reasons I've been reacquainting myself with the various Windows operating systems recently and I chose Mike Meyers' tome for no other reason than it offered broad coverage of XP, Vista, and 7. However, this book proved to be far more than a Windows instruction manual and it has become one of the few books that, when I finished it, I immediately started re-reading!

I have previously been guilty of complaining that computer books are over-priced but this is clearly an exception. With a rrp of £40.99, each page (excluding Appendices & index) costs just 2.8 pence. Given the information density, illustration quality, and the fact that you are unlikely to pay the list price, this represents superb value for money.

Myers keeps the language accessible and eschews the gratuitous use of intensifiers that can make reading (and understanding) technical literature such a chore. This makes this an enjoyable (yes, enjoyable) read! Criticism is limited to Myers occasionally forgetting that the world stretches beyond the borders of the USA and a little too much advertising for his Company. Nonetheless, even if you have no intention of taking the CompTIA A+ exams, this an outstanding introduction to computing for aspiring techs or enthusiastic amateurs alike and I have no hesitation in rating it a five star publication.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Changes to Ubuntu Release Cycle Support

This news is a few days old but I thought it worth mentioning. Canonical has announced that the non-LTS (Long Term Support) release cycle is being reduced from eighteen to nine months. The primary reason seems to be the resource load for supporting non-LTS releases.

The changes start from 13.04 (scheduled for April 25 2013): LTS releases will be supported for five years.

Sources & References:

Monday, 25 March 2013


So happy am I that I've integrated my Twitter feed into my new website, I've decided to add the widget to my blog!

Sources & References:

  • None

Fixing the Twitter Feed Widget

I've been building a new website (more of that in a later post!) and I wanted to integrate my (new!) Twitter feed. Usefully, Twitter provides a handy way of producing java script that can be copied and pasted into your html document.

The only promlem is...

... it doesn't work! Or at least, it didn't work for me.

It turns out that the fix is simple: copy the code into a text editor of your choice (my current favourite is Bluefish) and look for the element starting


between the script tags. Insert http: between the " & // in the source reference - your code should now look like this:


I'm grateful to @fjmdesigns for the solution! Oh, my Twitter feed (if anyone is remotely interested) is @komphix

Sources & References:

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Looks Like A Winner

It looks as though I may have found my replacement for Google Reader.

I had spent a week with Good Noows and it was ok - but only ok. It has a different look and feel to Reader and I guess that I just couldn't get on with the unfamiliar layout. Oh, and for some reason, it couldn't get the feeds from Grough (a deal breaker!).

So, onto Feedly for a trial run and I immediately fell in love with the interface: familiar, accessible, and logical! The best news is that it comes with an Android equivalent that integrates with my Samsung Galaxy so it consolidates my feeds and keeps them up to date for me.

I'll give it a week, but I think we have a replacement!

Sources & References:

Friday, 15 March 2013

There's an Irony

Maximum PC is reporting that Google is retiring it's rss feed, Google Reader. I checked his source and it seems that he's right: Google Reader is going with effect from 01st July 2013. It's ironic that I should hear the news of the demise of Reader whilst reading one of the feeds on Google Reader; but I guess that's life!

Paul Lilly asks if anyone will miss Reader when it's gone: well, I will!

Time to start searching for a replacement.

Sources & References:

Friday, 8 March 2013

Wallpaper of the Month

Well, I suppose that it was inevitable: having rebuilt my Ubuntu desktop, I felt that it was time to have a new wallpaper!

Ogwen Valley
The Roman Road in the Ogwen Valley © John Dexter All Rights Reserved

This picture, taken by your host, looks east-south-east toward Capel Curig from (approx) SH 683 602. Gallt yr Ogof is in the distance to the right.

Sources & References:

  • None

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Ubuntu 12.04+ CD Install Problems

I've been struggling to re-install 12.04 on my desktop all day. I'd previously used the upgrade path from the Update Manager, so I hadn't experienced the problem before. Try as I might, I couldn't get the PC to boot from the install CD. Changing the CMOS settings and boot order had no effect and I was plagued by a Drive not Available error message.

I tried resetting the BIOS - no effect.

I checked that the drive cables were properly seated - they were

I even checked that the drive was working - it was!

In an act of sheer desperation, I tried the install disc for 11.04 LTS and it installed flawlessly! I'm now in the process of upgrading.

I've checked the Ubuntu downloads pages for clues and found nothing that matched my circumstances, but I suspect that it's a hardware problem and the BIOS simply doesn't support the bootstrap. Anyway, if you're experiencing similar problems, it may be worth downgrading first.

Sources & References:

Just So I Don't Forget....

Getting the WiFi driver installed on the DELL Inspiron 6400 (and the 1501) is:

sudo apt-get install firmware-b43-installer

You'd think that I could remember that by now, wouldn't you?

Sources & References:

GSettings Data Error

If you've upgraded to Ubuntu 12.10 and you're getting an error message at boot that reads:

GSettings Data Conversion has closed unexpectedly

The problem seems to be related to the onboard keyboard. Uninstalling the onboard package should resolve the issue (assuming that you neither want nor need your onboard keyboard!).

sudo apt-get remove onboard

For information, see Ubuntu Bug #1047859.

I've actually given up trying to get 12.1 working: I'll wait until Canonical decides how it wants to manage virtual files.

Sources & References:

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Your Good Health

I've spent quite a lot of time over the last few weeks reacquainting myself with Windows Vista and it occurs to me that, while Microsoft definitely does some things really well (in my opinion, Windows Media Player is superior to anything I've yet found in the open-source world), I've not found anything that Windows can do that Ubuntu can't. For instance, a week or so ago I was blogging about i-nex, an open-source alternative to CPU-Z and this week I set myself the challenge of finding an alternative to CrystalDiskInfo - almost too easy!

If you don't already know, CrystalDiskInfo is a utility for Windows that supports S.M.A.R.T1 and reports on the health of a system's disk drives. For obvious reasons, being forewarned about a disk drive failure is quite handy and, as my hard drive in the DELL Dimension is five years old or so (this is my second hdd in this system!), disaster is likely to come sooner rather than later. In Linux, you can access S.M.A.R.T via the terminal using a utility called smartmontools2: the two programs in the package are smartctl (on-demand disk scanning) and smartd (continuous monitoring): both come with multiple switches and it's worth spending some time reviewing the manpages in order to get to the information you want.

Whilst smartmontools is an excellent suite of utilities, I don't find the output particularly user-friendly despite it being concise. That said, it's easy to pipe the output of multiple commands to a text file and read it at your leisure3 but it's so much better if you can view all this information in one place without having to type multiple commands into a terminal.

Enter GSmartControl.

GSmartControl is Ubuntu's equivalent of CrystalDiskInfo without the colourful display icons. It's easy to install from the Software Centre, just search for GSmartControl and click the install button. The information available from S.M.A.R.T is fascinating: for instance, you can see how many times your disk has been started (mine is 2,607) and how long the disk has been running (mine is 7,675 hours or nearly 320 days!). Intrestingly, my Windows Vista machine (purchased when my first hdd died) has only been powered on 889 times and been running for 4,958 hours; demonstrating succinctly how my experiment with Ubuntu eventually (and quickly) became my OS of choice.

A word of warning though, installing GSmartControl will slow your boot times unless you un-check the Scan system for drives on startup option in the preferences/General dialog.

Sources & References:


  • 1 Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology
  • 2 In Ubuntu, install smartmontools by opening a terminal and then sudo apt-get install smartmontools
  • 3 For instance, if you wanted to view the disk information and the disk health output, you could do:

    sudo smartctl -d sat -i /dev/sda >> /home/[user_name]/Documents/smartmontools.txt

    Followed by:

    sudo smarctl -H /dev/sda >> home/[user_name]/Documents/smartmontools.txt

    The output of the second command will be appended to the end of the text file in /home/[user_name]/Documents/smartmontools.txt

Friday, 22 February 2013

More News From the Front

Last month I mentioned that my old DELL Inspiron 1501 had found a new home. Well today it's back....

...for an upgrade!

The new owner has over 600 music cd and wanted to get them onto his drive: the original 60GB drive was never going to cope with that lot (and the OS, files, pictures, etc) so we decided to plug in a new 250GB drive. Astonishingly, a replacement drive cost less than £40 with delivery! On the 1501, it's just five screws that secure the hard disk drive and swapping out the drive takes seconds. The hardware element went like clockwork and I'm sitting here reinstalling Ubuntu 12.04 and the latest patches before restoring the files and settings.

The only problem has been the usual tussle with the WiFi drivers, but that's now resolved so all is good. Tomorrow, the little Inspiron will go back to its new owner and he can rip his music collection!

Sources & References:

Friday, 8 February 2013

It's Coming!

So, the much anticipated Ubuntu phone is due to land in October.

"Ubuntu main man Mark Shuttleworth says plans are on track to produce smartphones running a mobile variant of the Ubuntu Linux OS by October 2013, but developers should be able to start working with the platform even sooner."
Source: The Register

I don't think that the UK will be high on the list of target markets, but here's hoping!

Sources & Resources:

System Information

If, like me, you've come from a Windows background, you may be missing some of those great utilities that do the work for you. I was reminded of one in particular while browsing Scott Mueller's (excellent) Upgrading and Repairing PCs this morning: CPU-Z. This is a peerless resource if you want to review system information in a Windows environment.

So, is there an equivalent for Linux?

Most experienced Linux users will get this information from the terminal and save themselves the bother of installing a new package. After all, it's a simple command and how often do you really need this information? Just open a terminal and type:

sudo lshw |more

If you prefer, you can pipe the output to a text file to make it easier to read and search:

sudo lshw |more >> /home/username/directory_name/document_name.txt

Just change the file path (the red text in the code example) to suit your particular location.
However, if you really are determined to have a utility that does all the heavy lifting and simply presents the data in a similar format to CPU-Z, give i-nex a look.

It's not, perhaps, as polished as CPU-Z but all the relevant data is there and it is easier to find than searching through the output from the lshw command. To install the package you also need to install the gambas3 package.

Open a terminal and type:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:nemh/gambas3
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:i-nex-development-team/stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install i-nex

Sources & References:
  • Home
  • Mueller S: Upgrading and Repairing PCs, 20th Edition (p.72) (Amazon UK)

Monday, 4 February 2013

Anonymizing YouTube

A friend of mine asked me if it is possible to anonymize his YouTube account. Nowadays, it seems that Google (or Facebook) owns everything on the web and if you want a YouTube account, you have to have a Google+ account. However, after a lot of fannying around, I discovered that you don't have to link your Google+ account to YouTube and you can login to YouTube under a pseudonym.
  • Sign into YouTube and click the arrow next to your profile name and picture (top right hand side of the webpage.

  • Select the YouTube Settings option from the left hand menu

  • Click the Disconnect Channel from Google+ option
  • You'll be directed to a Rename channel dialog where you will either revert to your original YouTube name or be forced to choose a new one.
Sources & References:

  • None

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Desktop of the Month

This wallpaper has just made it onto my 8400 - it's another picture from the Ogwen Valley in North Wales taken last year.

The view, taken from Bwlch Cyfryw-drum on the Carneddau, is to the south west looking toward Carnedd Dafydd. It was taken in March on a beautiful day with stunning cloud inversions all day. As I look out of my window on the Ceiriog Valley, today is another such day.

How I miss the mountains.

Sources & References:

  • Wikipedia

Monday, 28 January 2013

Attaching Network Files to Thunderbird Email

A little problem that has vexed me for a while is attaching files from my file server to emails drafted on my desktop (or any other client device, for that matter). Even when I'd opened the network location in Nautilus, I couldn't see the shortcut in the Attach Files dialog in Thunderbird. It wasn't a huge issue, just one of those little niggles that got put on my to-do list a while back.

Actually, attaching network files to emails turns out to be an easy thing to achieve if you look for the files in the right place! Unlike permanent mounted directories (those that mount at boot), ad hoc navigation of network folders mounts the location in a virtual file system: to be specific, in Nautilus, it mounts the directory in the Gnome Virtual File System. So, assuming that you have mounted the directory in Nautilus, all you need to do is navigate to the home/[username]/.gvfs directory from Thunderbird's Attach File dialog and you should find your files right where you left them!

Sources & References:

  • Wikipedia: GVFS
  • bugzilla: Bug 378425 - Cannot attach files from smb://

Saturday, 26 January 2013

News from the Front

My DELL Inspiron 1501 has gone to a new home. I confess that in some ways I'm sorry to see it go: in others, I'm thrilled that, once again, it's become a productive and useful tool.

The astonishing thing is that this machine is operating Ubuntu 12.1 and runs like a trooper! I hope that my friend Tom gets as much pleasure from it as I once did and my daughter before me.

Sources & References:

Changing Your Email Client in LibreOffice to Thunderbird

For some reason that I can't fathom, the default email client in LibreOffice is something called sensible-ooomua. When you try to browse for a different client, you get the following error message:

There's an easy fix! In LibreOffice:

  • Click on Tools in the main menu.
  • Click Options... in the drop-down menu.
  • In the left-hand pane, expand the Internet option.
  • Select the E-mail option.
  • Delete the text string sensible-ooomua from the E-mail program text box.
  • Type thunderbird (or the name of your preferred client) in the text box (yep, it is that simple).
  • More properly, type usr/bin/thunderbird in the text box.
  • Use the browse button (to the right of the text box) and browse to usr/bin/thunderbird and then click Open.

Next time that you want to send an email from LibreOffice, this should open Thunderbird (or your chosen email client) and start a new message.

Sources & References: