Monday, May 28, 2007

NonTechy Post

Since Nancy's mom passed, we both have been in 'distraction mode'. We keep busy to avoid the rush of grief. Nancy moreso than myself, of course. But, the grief does come, and it hits at strange times. As time goes by, we start remembering others that have passed in our lives; My father, grandfathers, grandmother, Gary Dotson. Those are just some recent ones for me. The 90's seem to kill off half my family. Natural causes, but it was still a lot in a short time. Death is a part of life, but grief is one of those parts of life that just plain sux.

You may have noticed most of my posts are tech related lately. Two reasons for that;
  1. Most of my recent days have been tech-filled. Not many other events.
  2. I'm looking for a part time tech job, and hoping the interviewers look at my blog.
That, and my head is just plain tech filled lately.

My sister and mother are in England. I hope they got there safe, and get home safe. And have a good time. One of my brothers is trying to start a business. I hope he gets going, mostly so I can convince him the benefits of nepotism. My other brother is dealing with a mentally deranged boss. No exaggeration there, from what I understand. This brother is an incredibly patient person (a Thompson trait, it seems), and able to work with most anyone. If he can't work well with that person, then the guy should seek employment elsewhere. May I suggest a few places: Columbia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Ukraine. Let's see how long his mental condition lasts in those places.

Our dogs are doing well. Other than the passing of her mother, Nancy and her family are doing well. Nancy and I are doing well. Other than needing a job and a dentist, I'm doing well. In fact, my life, for the most part, has been far better than I could ever deserve.
Actually, I never really grew up. I just see no benefit in being 'mature'.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Server Installed! Now What?

So I got the server installed. Maybe not with the RAID 0 setup I wanted, but oh well. No biggy. Now what do I do with this hulking behemoth of a machine?

I installed a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, php) setup on the server when I put the system in. My intention is to learn how to administer a web server. The problem is the heat and noise from this machine. And the fact that it will only do so much. It's pretty old, but still usable. Barely. Except for the SCSI drives, it has a similar configuration as my old Compaq from 1998 (currently running Xubuntu). It's big, heavy, hot, and loud. Not many places to put it. I'd have to sound proof, cool, and vent a small closet for it.

Right now, my intention is to keep the regular Ubuntu Server installation on it, with no GUI. I might eventually give in and install a GUI for it, and use Webmin, like this guy did. I'd really rather use the Sun Ultra 60 I have, but I can't figure how to get that thing working. The Sun machine is much more quiet. I'll probably have to use to use any web server from the house.

Eventually, I need to set up a Print Server, a File Server, and a Mail Server. Not that I personally need all those, but I need to practice setting them up. Although, I hear setting up a mail server, and SMTP is like playing Rachmaninoff (like I actually have any clue about that).

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Server Success

Today, I set up an older Compaq Proliant 3000 server with Ubuntu Server 6.06 LTS. That's what it looks like when you're done. There's no desktop with Ubuntu Server. Here's the machine:
It's big. It has a Pentium II, 300 MHz, 128 Mb ram, 2 SCSI 4.3 Gb hard drives. Yes, I know; not a powerhouse. But, with a server you don't really need a powerhouse. You need a sturdy, durable house. This is probably the biggest computer I've ever worked with. And the heaviest; 125 lbs. Fully loaded with BOTH power supplies and all bays with hard drives is 250 lbs. Yeah. Big and heavy.

This is what one should look like:
Mine has two hard drives. I wanted to use RAID 0, but I could only find instructions for setting up RAID 1. My first attempt was with no RAID, and the system wouldn't boot. I couldn't get to a command prompt. When I found the instructions to setup RAID 1 on Ubuntu Server, it worked perfect. I did an update, upgraded the system, and it's working perfect. I got me a good LAMP server!

This guy is selling a Compaq server like mine on eBay, and the price is right. His has lots more hard drives, lots more memory. I might eventually get something like that when I'm interested in setting up my own website. For now, I'll practice on what I have. It was free, from a Free Geek donation!

Besides, this thing is hot an really noisy!

Do I look More Grown Up Yet?

Well? Do I?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Red Laptop Progress

Today, I painted the main shell parts of the laptop. I learned a few things:
  1. Use something to hold down all corners of the newspaper: During the painting of the bottom of the shell, wind blew the newspaper over, and made it stick to the paint, ripping is away. You can tell the paint is messed up there, but luckily it's on the bottom. The parts people will see came out perfect.
  2. Use a mask: I can still smelling paint in my sinuses. I now understand why people use those things.

It came out pretty good. The bottom was painted after these pieces and smaller parts later. I really lucked out on not getting the pieces above messed up.

I'm not really looking forward to putting it back together. I have the diagrams and all, but the parts are real small. I'll be lucky if I can get it back together right, much less working.

Just in case you forgot, this is what I'm working on getting here:

Monday, May 21, 2007

Just a Few Things

I don't really like computers!
Seriously, I don't. That's like saying, "I really like wrenches" or, "I really like drill presses." A computer is a freaking tool. That is all. What I like is what I can do with a computer. What I can use a computer for. Just as a mechanic likes what he can do with a wrench, or a drill press. Or a girl. I really like what I can do with a girl. Oh. Wait. Never mind that last one. I actually really do like girls (especially the Nancy one).

I like computers, because I can:
  • Learn
  • Communicate with my friends and family
  • Meet people -even if only virtually
  • Quickly learn from others experience
  • Share my experiences
  • Share my daily life - especially with my friends and family
  • Keep in touch with friends that without the internet would be gone
For me, a computer is a tool. Okay, maybe something more like a tool that's also a 3D puzzle, but still just a tool. In ten years, computer will be completely different, and we'll use them different, but we'll still use them to interact with each other. That's what I like about computers.

Speaking of Learning
Probably the best thing I've found on the internet so far:
This is a speed reading tool. You can use it in two ways:
  1. Highlight and copy an article you want to read online
    1. Paste it to the Spreed application
    2. Adjust your settings (I like to see 2-4 words at one time, at about 350 words per minute)
    3. Read. Fast. Faster.
  2. Highlight the article you want to read
    1. Use the book marklet you put in your toolbar to use Spreed! automatically.
If you are a student, or it's important to your work to keep up with things, Spreed is an excellent tool. I've been hoping for something like this to come along. I might even try it with a few stories. I tend to like to read fiction slower, but who knows. Maybe something like spreed will keep the pace going better.

More on Mark Shuttleworth
I've said before that all movements, especially in technology, need an icon. Bill Gate/Microsoft. Steve Jobs/Apple. Larry Ellison/Oracle. Michael Dell/Dell. Andy Grove/Intel. Henry Ford/Ford. Thomas Edison/Edison Electric.

Notice when the icon is not there, the company doesn't do as good? Ford, Edison Electric, Dell. They all needed their icon. And remember when Jobs was forced out of Apple? Yeah...thought you didn't remember. That's when Microsoft came on strong.

There are times when an icon shows why he's an icon. In his blog post about Software Patents and Microsoft, Mark Shuttleworth shows why he'll be a very strong icon. Everyone keep an eye on this guy. Just keep in mind: Mark Shuttleworth/Ubuntu

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Laptop Distraction

Losing Mrs. Wayman is a sad time for us all. Nancy distracts herself by staying busy on organizing the funeral and stuff. I stay busy by trying to help her, but it's not distracting enough. I decided to go back to working on the laptop. I'll deal with sadness later. After all, tomorrow is another day.

Here's the laptop fully apart.

To help with distraction, I'm blasting my podcasts behind me.

Here are the parts to be painted.

Stay tuned for progress.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Later, Mrs. Wayman

On Thursday, Nancy and I found that her mother, Nordena Wayman, had passed away. Nancy did a blog entry about her. We are sad, and the rest of life is put on hold for awhile.

Mrs. Wayman helped me learn how to teach people with little to no computer experience how to use a computer. It was obvious to me how much Mrs. Wayman loved and cared for her daughter and granddaughters.

I'm sure Mrs. Wayman is around, watching things as they go, before she moves on.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Laptop Experiment

Earlier this week, I got a donation of a Compaq Server, and an older Dell Latitude XPi CD Laptop. It's an oldy:

  • Pentium 150 MHz
  • 32 Mb Ram
  • 1.2 Gb hard drive

It actually works! It didn't have any operating system in it, but I booted it up and looked at the BIOS. I've really been itching to try K.Mandla's Red Pepper Laptop paint job, and this is just the bugger to do it on.

Before I really found the documentation on the machine, I got some of it apart. Only after a few ribbons did I learn about zero insertion force ribbons. Now I know. Let's just say, I used a bit more than zero force to remove the ribbons. But, I did find the documentation, and learned better. Getting the thing a part has moved much faster. I'm going to document my adventure with this thing here.

Here's where I am so far:
When I get the thing back together, I'll be really surprised if it works (the whole 'zero' insertion force thing). For what I want to learn here, getting it to work isn't that important. I want to learn the paint job. We'll see how it turns out. If it does work, I might try to load Puppy Linux on it. My intention is to leave the CD in, and boot from that -if possible- and use the hard drive for saving programs and such. Puppy does seem to work better directly from the CD.

This is what I eventually want it to look like:
I'll let you be the judge.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Legal Chicken

It's getting close to summer. I can tell. On every road there are signs out;
  • Sharks and Minnows Summer Swimming Camp
  • Space Camp (we have that here in Florida!)
  • Gymnastics Camp
  • Art Camp
Whatever happen to Camping Camp?

Nancy once (actually, many times) told me a story about a time she went to a mock trial at the Orlando Court House. These were 10-12 year old kids, and the mock trial was the Three Little Pigs against the Wolf. She said it was highly entertaining.

Which brought to question the idea of; Why isn't there a LAW Camp for kids?
They could spend the summer doing all the things it would take to actually bring a case to trial. More practice with the Three Little Pigs, or the children suing the Little Old Lady who lived in a shoe and wouldn't stop reproducing. Or maybe Jack suing the candlestick maker. Better yet, the girls charging Georgie Pordgie for stalking and harassment. Or, the Wolf could sue Little Red Riding Hood. I'd pay to see that. If I had any money, that is.

In Other News
Vista in Latvian means Chicken - hen to be precise. I saw it on a page somewhere, ChaCha'd up a English/Latvian translator, and entered "hen" in the box. Windows Chicken. Hehe.

Vista has that Aero eye candy thing. I tried it for all of five minutes before I turned it off. Same with Beryl on Ubuntu. But, for anyone who thinks Ubuntu isn't a good Windows replacement:

Thursday, May 10, 2007


The beard is pretty much all the way in. It feels weird. I catch myself playing with it constantly. It's not soft, like I thought a beard should be. It's prickly. I'm hoping it makes me look older, wiser, with more IT experience.

I think I finally got the hang of doing an OEM installation (Original Equipment Manufacture) of Ubuntu/Xubuntu. An OEM installation is an operating system set up for a new user. It's basically the same as if you purchased the computer, turned it on, and it was ready to go. All you have to do is enter the name you want to log in under, a password, and a few other bits of information. This way, the entire OS is personalized for you. It gives the FreeBoxes I give out an air of professionalism and polish. It gives the end user the full experience -like new.

To do an OEM setup, you use the Alternate Installation CD, and select the 'manufacturer' option. It goes through the set up normally, and even prompts you for a password, but when it's ready, you log in as 'oem' and update and add things as you want. When you're done, you open a terminal, and enter sudo oem-config-prepare. When you log off, it deletes the oem user and password, and prepares the computer for a new end user. Doing this, I can set up a complete installation and have the computer completely ready. Just before I give the computer out, I update everything, and do the sudo oem-config-prepare thing, and their computer is up-to-date, ready to go.

Another thing I do is clean the computer as completely as possible. If I have to, I take the computer completely apart. On a few occasions, the box was so bad I had to take everything out -even the motherboard- and wash the frame with a hose. I get the dust out, scrub the outside clean, and put everything back together. After it's dried of course. It's amazing how new they look when I'm done. I've got a hankering to try a paintjob on one. I may do a brown box for an Ubuntu installation, and a blue box for a Xubuntu installation.

I've gotten a few emails asking things like, "How do you determine if you should use Ubuntu or Xubuntu?"

I use three criteria to determine that:
  1. The amount of memory the computer is going to have, and the potential amount of memory it could have.
  2. The speed of the hard drive
  3. The speed of the processor
  4. The intended use of the machine
That is the order of importance I use. You can see the processor speed isn't that important.

The more memory a computer has, the better the OS will run. When I get equipment in, I take the memory out. I have a decent collection of memory. For the most part, I leave the other components in. For old computers -under 800 MHz- I try to keep at least 256 meg on them. Xubuntu runs very well with that much memory. You don't really need anymore, but 384 meg does help. If all your really going to do is surf the Internet, a 400 MHz Pentium II, 256 meg ram with Xubuntu will do just fine. But, if you're into digital photography, you'll be waiting a while for pictures to render. It will work, but it won't be a speed demon. If you can get more memory, 384 meg, it will do just fine.

The hard drive speed makes a difference too. In the first Ubuntu computer I set up, I was using an Pentium III 800 MHz, 768 meg ram, with a 80 gig hard drive. The hard drive was 7200 rpm. That computer felt faster than than this 2.8 GHz laptop. I'm sure if I got the memory up to 1024, if would be all I really needed.

If use Xubuntu for computers 800 MHz and under, and try to have at least 256 meg installed with them. They will run on 128 megs of ram, but they are sluggish. If I do an Ubuntu installation, the processor is usually above 800 MHz, and I try to get at least 512 meg of ram on it. 768 meg or even 1024 would be much better.

I try to save all the top end components and memory for the top processors. If possible, I like to give away the best machines I can. I still try to find out what user requires, and determine which one I have will work well enough.

Monday, May 07, 2007


No, not the drink. The signal. It's all about the signal.

Nancy's mom's computer wasn't getting a reliable connection. The little Belkin 54G USB Network adapter I was using to get a signal was just not enough. It's a nice product, don't get me wrong, but the signals were too far away. Using the Windsurfer Parabolic Antenna helped, but not enough to get a reliable signal. I even tried placing the Adapter/Antenna combo in different places, putting it up high, and pointing it out the windows. I could get some access points, but not strong enough to get a DHCP address from them. But, the Darth Invictus side of me refused defeat.

The computer Mrs. Wayman was using was an older Compaq Celeron, 1.4 GHz, 512 meg ram, with a 40 GB Hard drive that kept claiming is was about to die (it's been doing that for two years now). In retrospect, this was much more computer than Mrs. Wayman really needed. She didn't need a fast computer, just one with a fast internet connection.

I took out a much older HP Pavilion, Celeron 633 MHz, 256 meg ram, 15 gig hard drive (Thanks Elaine!) and put in a WirelessG PCI card. I think it was a Belkin with the Broadcom bcm4306 chipset. I'm fairly sure that's the chipset, because using the bcm43xx-fwcutter utility on it got it working. I loaded Xubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn on it, and did a custom setup for Mrs. Wayman.

Once I got Xubuntu up and running, I tested the the wireless connectivity. Getting my own wireless signal was no problem; the access point was in the same room. Using WiFi Radar, I was able to get a signal from two nearby neighbors, but not strong enough to log-in. I attached this Hawking Technologies Hi-Gain WiFi Signal Booster, and was able to pick up 4 more signals.

Pretty strong too. Using the Windsurfer Antenna combined with the Signal Booster, I was able to pick up even ten more signals, all of them strong enough to log-on. A few were password protected, so only seven signals were actually available. Once again, Linksys and Default are still the USA's largest internet provider. Not only was the signal reliable, it was very fast. I couldn't really tell much difference in speed from my own connection. Maybe in the future, I'll do a speed test, and see what I get.

So, if you have a desktop computer and want to use a wireless solution (especially if you intend on borrowing your neighbors signal), the combination of a PCI card, the Hawking Technologies signal booster, and the Windsurfer Parabolic Antenna works very well. Out of all those things, the signal booster would be the most expensive. You can find cheap wireless cards, or if you join Free Cycle, you'll probably be able to get a free one. It's anyones guess which one works best with various linux distros. The one thing I would suggest adding to that combo is a longer antenna cable.

From what I read in WiFi forums, the Windsurfer Antenna is just as good as a Cantenna. Even though it's made out of a paper cut-out with tin foil on it, it's extremely effective. And free! The design is math based, and not just a rigged up, redneck engineer solution -even though such a thing usually works. They even have an interesting design for your home Wireless Router. Just as easy as the Windsurfer. I used the Windsurfer on my router, and it's working wonderfully. I'm not bother with it for now.

So far, Ubuntu and Xubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn have been somewhat of a disappointment for me. I had trouble installing it on my laptop (the temp error), and Xubuntu on Mrs. Wayman's new setup has some issues; I can't open a terminal. If I try to open a terminal, the screen goes blank, then after the hard drive whirrllss a bit, it restarts the desktop. I can get to a terminal if I log in only to that, and not to the Xubuntu Desktop, but can't open one normally. Weird. It might be something specific to that computer. I'll find out this weekend. I'm setting up three new donations with Xubuntu.

As far as Wireless goes, I'm interested in trying out another Hawking solution I saw:
Evidently, this little USB Network adapter works out-of-the-box in Ubuntu. The external Antenna can be removed, and add additional antenna boosting. This looks promising for helping people have internet access.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Various Updates

I made all A's this semester! Yes, I should be proud, and am proud. I've come to expect it of myself now. But, I'm getting into the more difficult subjects for my degree. I'll be proud to pass, and very proud of more A's. Next thing: Get A+ Certified!

I'm looking for a job for the summer. Hopefully, I'll get a good one that can help pay for school. Since no classes I need are offered this summer, I'm focusing on getting the certifications I need right now: A+, Network+, and Linux+. I've got most of the study materials I need.

Get this: Vista doesn't synchronize well with my iPAQ PocketPC - a Microsoft based product! If I write a file in Pocket Word, it won't synchronize to Word 2007. Add that to the fact that transferring any media files (MP3's, ogg's, Video) to the PocketPC is extremely slow, it's not worth bothering to connect it. It's faster to use the SD card, and transfer media that way. I'm getting the idea they want to encourage the use of Windows Mobile 5, instead of Pocket PC 2003 with Vista. Sounds like the whole iPhone/OS X Leopard thing.

As far as any future device for me, it will have to be something that is basically a cell phone combined with Pocket PC like stuff. I do like having all my ebooks, but if I have to, I'll get over not having them. Palm (the Palm Pilot people) may be making a Linux based device soon. I'll keep my eyes on that. I'm not concerned that it's Linux based, I just want it to:
  1. Take and make phone calls
  2. Take pictures
  3. Listen to audio
  4. Go online
  5. Ebooks, maybe
At the very least, mine still works well with Windows XP. Yeah...that's the least.

Ubuntu Feisty Fawn
My Feisty installation is doing fine. No problems so far. I installed it on my stepson's computer, but he's too far away to be able to borrow wireless Internet signal. There are two nearby, but they're password protected. Hosers. One thing I really like is that I got the frequency scaling working really good this time. I'm not sure Feisty couldn't do it out of the box. I never gave it a try. I fairly sure it didn't, though. I get about one hour and fifteen minutes now. That's almost like a real laptop! It never did that with Windows. I think even new it got one hour. So, after some good fiddling, it turns out I don't even need a new battery. What I always needed was a real operating system.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Battle with Feisty Fawn

Last night, and this morning, I loaded Ubuntu Feisty Fawn on my laptop. Not only was it not easy, it was much more like a quest. But, I remain true to myself: Darth Invictus. (Yeah, Nancy and I have been watch way too much Star Wars lately. After all, we are close to Star Wars day: May the 4h be with you.)

I gave into temptation and tried to upgrade my laptop to Feisty Fawn.
This is my laptop. What you see is the original Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper Drake installation. Back then, I also needed to use the Belkin USB Network adapter. Now that I know how to use fwcutter, I don't need it anymore. The onboard Linksys Adapter works just fine.

For the past few months. I've had Ubuntu 6.10 Edgy Eft working great. Now that school was over, and I didn't have any particular material to worry about, I could attempt an upgrade. I'd already successfully upgraded one of the iMac G3's we have to Feisty Fawn, and it went smooth as silk. No problems at all. Not so with the laptop.

The laptop had lots of other things installed on it, so I knew upgrading it would be risky. I was right. I attempt to upgrade through the upgrade manager. Everything went okay right up to the point of trying to install flash. The installation froze. After trying every little trick, I had no choice but to power off, and restart. Surprisingly, it rebooted into Feisty Fawn. But, with in a few seconds, it powered off. I watch the message go by, and it said something about "critical temperature reached. Shutting down". After trying to restart several times, the same error message appeared each time.

I figured I would have to install Feisty from scratch. Not a big deal. I prefer to install the systems that way. You get a completely clean system. After a good 4 hour boot and nuke, I tried to install Feisty from the Alternate Install disc. About 1/4 of the way through the text installation, the machine powered down again, giving me the same temperature error message. I tried again, with the same result. Then I tried to install from the LiveCD. The LiveCD worked fine, as long as I didn't try to install. Even when I tried to install from the LiveCD, the computer would power down from the same temperature error message. I opened parts of the case, and blew out dust, just in case that was the problem. The temp error persisted. I sooped up the power to my Targus Chill Mat under the laptop (made the fans sound like turbine engines), and used that to try to control the heat. Still no go.

I resolved that I'd have to go back to 6.10 Edgy Eft. I was disappointed, and still am, that Feisty wouldn't install. While Edgy was loading up (with no issues), I figured I might be able to dry upgrade to Feisty that way. Once Edgy was installed, and I'd loaded all the updates to it, I clicked on the "Upgrade Distribution" button, and it started.

This time, no temp error messages, and no freezes. Once the computer restarted, Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn was installed. But, a few things were off. Before doing the upgrade, I didn't enable Universe and Multiverse in the Sources list. In retrospect, I should have done that before doing the updates. Some of the artwork didn't upgrade. Not a really big deal though; I like my own custom desktop, login, window, and icon artwork. I think I also did the fix on the CPU Frequency Scaling better this time. I'm getting almost an hour out of the battery. The computer runs a bit slower now. I have it set for ondemand. The speed of the CPU changes depending on what I'm doing -at least that how I think it works. I've enable the different power-schemes, and I probably could have done that in Edgy.

I do like the Network connection 'roaming' ability in the Network Manager applet. My adapter seems to struggle to log on, but it eventually does. I haven't tried everything out yet, so I can't give a full evaluation on Feisty Fawn, but I can say this: I'm hoping Gutsy Gibbon is going to be easier to install on this laptop!