Friday, August 31, 2007

The Death and Resurrection Show - part 1

As you may have gathered if you follow this blog, my laptop died a while ago. This prompted the introduction of Berman into the house, and my recanting of all things anti-Mac. The particulars of this Dell Inspiron 8100's death involved nastier and nastier blue-screens until finally nothing would start up. Keep in mind this is a 6 year old computer, and has had its hard drive, DVD drive and monitor replaced in its lifetime. It seemed like its time to go.

Further investigation into the BIOS showed me that the system memory was off (200 MB. Not a power of 2. Problem.). It seemed, then, that the RAM was the source of the problem. Now, RAM can be removed, replaced and upgraded, so once I downloaded the manual for the Inspiron 8100, I was able to get in there, and figure out what chips I needed.

eBay is my friend. I found two 256MB PC133 144pin SODIMMs for a pretty reasonable price (~$50), and within a few days, them arrive. In the meantime, I'd pulled the damage RAM chip, which proved that that was indeed the problem (booted up fine after, but ridiculous slow; that's 128 MB for ya). With all the anti-static precautions I could muster, I put in the new chips, doubling what the RAM used to be, and bringing my old laptop back to life, for at least a little while longer.

Once I make sure I have all the files on it backed up on the server, I'm considering installing Linux on it (now that I know its so easy). Unfortunately, even with doubled RAM, its still not powerful enough to run the Kubuntu LiveCD at any degree of speed. I was able to get it up and running, proving that at least the major drivers worked, but it was very tedious, and I didn't have the time or inclination to do much further testing. More planned for part 1.5.

What I haven't had the time to mention until now is the untimely death of Larkin, the system on which I just installed Kubuntu. I was using it that morning, turned it off, then when I tried to power-on, nothing. Well, the fans started up, but there was no POST (Power-On Self Test, those first beeps before the screen does anything), no BIOS, no signal of any kind to the monitor. Inspection of the innards of thing showed nothing overtly wrong, like a disconnected cable or charred patch. Talking with the system's builder, I was able to determine that it is likely a problem with the motherboard. Fortunately, this is an easy fix, and comparatively cheap. I just need the time to confirm, and then do the disassembly and rebuild. This is planned as part 2.0 of the Death and Resurrection Show. Stay tuned!

Special thanks to the Killing Joke for the title.

Obligitory Blog Day post

The massive interwoven mesh of the blogosphere tells me its time for all good little bloggers to jot down their 5 recommended blogs for the year. This is my blog day, so I will take my favourites.

  1. Lifehacker - Just got turned on to this one, but its absolutely awesome. From Firefox Extensions and Ubuntu hacks to sleep-enrichment tips and guides to multitasking, this blog is points me to at least one new tip, trick or tool a day.
  2. lo-fi librarian - a UK-based law librarian who posts a list of new tools each week. Like Lifehacker, this blog dramatically increases my bag o'tricks. lo-fi has also started experimenting with Ubuntu Linux, so its interesting to compare notes.
  3. Catalogablog - Keeps a finger on the pulse of the cataloging world, which I think has enough wrong with it currently and enough going for it in the future, that I want to stay knowledgeable. The new info on MODS, METS, RDF and FRBR can be a little dry in technicalities, but tracking the headlines helps keep me current.
  4. Stephen's Lighthouse - I'm a Stephen Abram fan-boy, I'll admit it. I love seeing the man speak at SLA, and reading his column in Information Outlook is my favourite part of that publication. His blog is well written and thought-provoking.
  5. Slashdot - News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters. Almost too technical for me, sometimes, but often full of useful news (more specific to my world than Boing Boing, which I also like to follow).
I'm sure I'll have more to share next Aug. 31, but for now, that's it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Kubuntu installed!

And my, how incredibly easy it was.

As you might remember from earlier posts, I decided that it would be a good idea to put a more recent and user-friendly version of Linux on Sarah's computer, Larkin. It had been running Debian, which while powerful, was more complex than we needed. Also, it had not been updated any time recently, and doing so might have lead to a video driver recompile (two words: Ewww wwww).

Research and recommendations from the computer's creator led me to seek Ubuntu. Its based on Debian, but makes more things automatic, so one doesn't have to know the proper Unix commands to do as many things. Its intent is to be simple, easy to install and use, and still uber-powerful. It comes in several flavours (regular, Xubuntu, Edubuntu and our choice Kubuntu), and has a regular release cycle of 6 months. The current version, 7.04 Feisty Fawn, is 4 months old (the number before the decimal is the year, the number after is the month). Dapper Drake, version 6.06, is available for long term support (3 years). I downloaded the disc images of both. Dapper Drake was tested out first on Berman, but since its almost time for 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon to come out, I figured Feisty was safe enough.

I burned the .iso files onto disc using the Burn Image option on Infra Recorder (this is in Windows; Mac has a utility for this kind of burn built in), then put the Feisty Fawn disk into Larkin. I had previously configured the BIOS to boot from disc before trying to boot from the harddrive, so Kubuntu started right up. The LiveCD I'd created allowed me to run Kubuntu from the disc first, to make sure it was compatible with my hardware. It was. All I had to do was click the install icon on the desktop, answer some simple locational questions, pick a username and password, and define my partition (since the whole computer was to be on this OS, I could just let the machine do it for me. Kubuntu does let users make it a secondary operating system, unlike Windows). That was that. I waited half an hour, then restarted, removed the LiveCD, and there I was, with a new Linux distro.

Configuring was easy. I simply needed to know what packages to install, then use Adept to do it. I added various bits of software for development, as well as some codecs, and the GIMP. More can be added at any time. Adept also looks for software interdependencies, and will get all the necessary programs to support what you requested.

Firefox came pre-installed, and I did the usual extensions. Setting up the printer and networked storage were just a matter of pointing the system to the right place.

The only challenges I had were getting the audio to work (which required mucking around with muted values in the Mixer, and plugging the speakers into the right port) and getting Java to download (I missed the 'do you agree' checkbox the first time).

So, Linux is easy. Anyone who wants to test it is welcome to borrow (or have) my LiveCDs for either Dapper or Feisty. I'm so pleased to have pulled this off without turning Larkin into a dead pile of metal (I wasn't worried, but I certainly considered what I'd do if so). I'm also glad that I'm personally free of Microsoft. When it comes time to replace my next computer, I won't be forced to buy Vista and all its evilness; Berman has shown me the way of the Mac, and Larkin can now be my guide to the world of Linux. I suppose this makes me a computer geek.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Welcome Berman, the new Mac in the household

Thanks to kind funding from my parents, we have just added a new laptop to the household network. Berman is named for the radical cataloger who challenged the racist, sexist, Christocentric and just plain arcane biases of LCSH. (We had though of going with Avram, which sounds a little cooler, but Sanford Berman is a bit more personally significant to the both of us).

Berman has been installed with:
  • Adobe Creative Suite 3
  • Parallels 3.0
  • MS Office 2004
  • Firefox (with Zotero, FireFTP, Twitbin, and Foxmarks extensions)
  • Adium (basically Pidgin for Mac)
  • Second Life
Its already talking quite plainly with our server, and the DVD player is clean and easy (the remote control really helps, too). All the installations, configurations and customizations have been incredibly easy. I'm still figuring out the Mac print interface, and making sure I've configured Berman to talk to the shared printer properly.

Even installing Kubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake) on Parallels was ridiculously simple. A twenty minute download, and a pointer, and I was set. I'm still working out how to save everything, but that shouldn't be a problem. I will read the book of a manual that comes with it when I have more time.

Still have yet to test the wireless connection, or to point iTunes to the music uploaded to the server. I will probably also install more programs as I need them, as well.

Very, very, very pleased. I take back most everything ill I may have said about Macs.