openSUSE 11.2 Upgrade

21 Nov 2009

I upgraded my HP Compaq 6715b from openSUSE 11.1 to openSUSE 11.2 on Tuesday. There have been a couple of minor bumps since, but all-in-all, I’m pretty happy with the upgrade. Here are some of the things that I’ve seen.
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Easy Bluetooth Mouse Setup in KDE

14 Nov 2007

A few minutes ago, I installed the kdebluetooth package. I was already logged in, so I had to launch the kbluetooth applet myself. I then clicked K Menu -> System -> KInputWizard, pressed the “reset” button on the bottom of my mouse and clicked “Add” in the Input Devices dialog. My mouse was discovered and I connected to it. Simple as that.

I have a Logitech bluetooth mouse that travels with me. I use it with my notebook computer, as I’m very, very not fond of trackpads. My favorite is the “TrackPoint” or “Eraser-head” mouse built into the keyboard, but this notebook didn’t come with one. Supposedly, I can buy a replacement keyboard from HP that includes the eraser-head pointer, but I have not yet done so.

When I wrote about installing Fedora 7 on this notebook (and now installing Fedora 8), one thing which I never documented was how I got the bluetooth mouse working with Linux (under F7). Now that I installed F8 from scratch, I need to set it up again.

When I installed F7, I spent hours dog-paddling through Google searches and horrible documentation and still hadn’t figured it out. Then, my friend and co-worker, Clint Savage (a.k.a. Herlo) popped into the office. It was him! He’s the one who has the exact same mouse as I do; I knew I’d seen it somewhere before I had bought mine. So, I asked him. He smiled and laughed, saying, “Not finding much useful documentation out there, eh?” He’d been through the same thing as me. He was impressed with how far I’d gotten through that process and estimated that I was probably 1-3 hours away from finding it myself, if I continued to follow the pattern he had. Well, he shared the information with me.

The good news was that it was pretty easy to get my bluetooth mouse talking with my bluetooth equipped notebook, just not really documented anywhere that one could point to just one thing (boy, I wish I’d documented those commands in a blog post; I’ll see if I can do just that next week, when I’m back at the office). The bad news was that one of them had to be run every time he started his computer. So, I put that command into a /root/bin/connect-to-my-bluetooth-mouse (or something like that) script. Then, a week later, I forgot to run that when I booted up and logged in, once, but was using the mouse anyway. I had discovered that it wasn’t necessary to run that all the time.

One of the reasons that it had been so difficult to setup bluetooth on Fedora 7 was that I was using GNOME on that installation. I stuck with entirely GNOME apps (except for Kdevelop) the entire time I had F7 on this notebook. Now that I have F8, I’ve gone back to KDE, which makes life so much better for me. GNOME still doesn’t have much bluetooth support and what is there is still very early half-baked and non-usable, for the most part. KDE’s bluetooth tools, on the other hand, seem much more comprehensive and “just work” for me.



ATI Driver Trouble Under Fedora 8

12 Nov 2007

So, is anyone else experiencing troubles with the proprietary ATI driver on Fedora 8? How about on an updated F7 system?

My HP Compaq 6715b notebook comes with ATI Radeon X1270 video 128MB RAM dedicated plus 192MB RAM shared) and a 1680×1050 resolution 15.4 inch LCD (at 61Hz, it would seem). I’ve installed the proprietary ATI driver in order to get it working, as Fedora’s tools get really confused about widescreen setups, it would seem.

Here are the relevent package versions:

# rpm -qa | egrep '(fglrx|kernel)'
kmod-fglrx-8.42.3-8.lvn8
kmod-fglrx-2.6.23.1-49.fc8-8.42.3-8.lvn8
xorg-x11-drv-fglrx-8.42.3-7.lvn8.1
kernel-devel-2.6.23.1-49.fc8
kernel-devel-2.6.23.1-42.fc8
kernel-2.6.23.1-42.fc8
kernel-2.6.23.1-49.fc8
kernel-headers-2.6.23.1-49.fc8
xorg-x11-drv-fglrx-libs-32bit-8.42.3-7.lvn8.1

(As you can see, I haven’t removed the original kernel, yet. Maybe I’ll go do that now.)

However, I seem to be getting some fairly odd artifacts on-screen with this driver under F8, including some odd extra sprite garbage with the mouse cursor. I had experienced some oddities under F7, but they were confined to GNOME applications (no others exhibited any issues). It doesn’t matter if I enable or disable “Desktop Effects” either (they won’t successfully enable, anyway). A RAM test (memtest86+) shows that there’s nothing wrong with the system memory, but that doesn’t test the video card. There are ATI tools for testing the video card more fully, but I haven’t had time to try them out, yet.

Since FC6, Fedora systems rely on the X server detecting proper monitor and other configuration parameters every time it starts. This has been far less than reliable on a wide variety of machines that I’ve been running into over the past year. I’d like to get some more information about other people’s experiences with this, before I file a “bug” report about this. It’s really becoming an embarrassing problem as things worked much better when we would get a finished configuration file by default in FC5 and earlier.



Linux on an HP Compaq 6715b Notebook

25 Aug 2007

Last week, some IBM ThinkPad T61p notebooks showed up at Guru Labs offices. There were 2 of them on Monday and another on Tuesday. I also know that there are 2 more coming and perhaps a couple of other co-workers will be ordering them, too.

I’ve been needing to get a new notebook for the past two years, but I kept putting it off because of time, money and that one more feature that’s coming out in a couple of months. With the arrival of so many new notebooks in the office, I decided to look again and dream about a new one of my own, so I made the rounds looking at systems of interest, including a couple of HP notebooks, the ThinkPad and Apple‘s MacBook Pro.

When I hit HP’s Small & Medium Business website, I noticed the one category of notebooks which I had always left unexplored (as they didn’t fit some of the criteria I look for) listed that there were models which had up to 16 hours of battery life. I was curious to see what they had in this “Balanced Mobility” category, so I took a look. Boy, am I glad I did.

I found the HP Compaq 6715b. They had (at this writing, I think it’s still on) a pre-packaged deal going for US$1,129 (Ed: The price is lower, now) with:

  • AMD Turion64 X2 (dual core) at 2.0GHz
  • 1GB RAM
  • 160GB SATA hard drive
  • ATI Radeon Mobility X1270 video chip (with 128MB dedicated RAM and using 192MB shared RAM)
  • 15.4 inch WSXGA+ (1680×1050) LCD
  • Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet NIC
  • Broadcom 4321 802.11 a/b/g/draft-n wireless NIC & integrated bluetooth
  • Fingerprint reader
  • 4 USB 2.0, 1 IEEE1394 (firewire), 6-in-1 card reader (actually, all SD type form factors), 1 Type I/II PC-card slot

That’s a lot of notebook for the money. So I put in an order. HP estimated that it would ship on the 30th of August, but it arrived on Thursday morning (2007/08/23).

In fact, I believe it’s around half the price of what any of the other guys have paid for their ThinkPad notebooks and it’s almost the same. They got a wireless USB 2.0 capability which I don’t have, but they only have 3 USB 2.0 ports (I have 4). Most (if not all) of their screens are 15.4 inch WUXGA (1920×1200) with nVidia graphics (256MB), an Intel Core 2 Duo (2.0GHz or 2.2GHz, I’m not sure which in all cases) and they have a nice “eraser-head” mouse which I don’t have, but really love. I hate trackpads, so I just picked up a Logitech bluetooth mouse, Saturday.

Overall, I think I got a better deal. My processor is as good or even a little faster than the ThinkPads’, and otherwise there’s very little difference in the equipment between the two, but they paid quite a bit more than I did for the HP. Thanks to that savings, I also picked up a 12-cell “Ultra Capacity” battery for my new notebook, which attaches to the underside at the back, causing the system to sit at a slight incline. The Ultra Capacity battery mounts in addition to the standard battery that came with the notebook and gives this machine up to 16 hours of battery life, with only a small increase in weight but a little more comfort and room for airflow underneath. We’ll have to wait and see just how much life I really get out of this setup, but I shan’t fear attempting to watch 3-4 movies on an international flight.

I’ve installed Fedora 7 on it. When I booted up the box to do the install, anaconda couldn’t get X to run, so it offered me the choice of using the text-mode installer or of starting VNC for me. I went with a VNC install. The resulting system had a couple of things to fix up. I checked on http://linux-laptops.net/ but this model isn’t listed, yet.

I believe there must have been a bug (I didn’t bother to go looking in Red Hat’s Bugzilla for it) in the version of YUM that shipped with F7 (32-bit) as yum update kept corrupting the RPM db and then deleting the errata RPM files as it thought it had installed packages but actually hadn’t. I simply edited /etc/yum.conf and set keepcache=1 before re-running yum again. That way, the packages stuck around and then I installed as many as I could using rpm instead (including an updated YUM package), which required me to fix the RPM DB, first. This was easy to do by simply running rm /var/lib/rpm/__*; rpm --rebuilddb and waiting for just 1 minute for it to finish. After installing the updated YUM package, all yum commands have worked perfectly for me.

To “fix” the X server configuration, I simply added the livna YUM repo to my new system and ran yum install kmod-fglrx followed by ati-fglrx-display enable as root (that’s not the command mentioned in the Unofficial Fedora FAQ for FC6, but the F7 version of the UFAQ wasn’t up yet) and the X server worked perfectly, even running the screen at it’s full, native resolution by default. I’ll have to see about running Cedega for a couple of games.

Next, I tried to get the fingerprint reader working, but so far, I’ve had no luck. Honestly, I haven’t really tried all that hard, yet. Some quick Google searches have only found references to people who haven’t gotten other HP notebooks’ fingerprint readers to work, but I also found some “hints” that others have. The output of the lsusb command showed Bus 003 Device 003: ID 08ff:2580 AuthenTec, Inc., which is the fingerprint reader.

I haven’t gotten the Broadcom 4321 802.11a/b/g/draft-n working yet. Linux does come with a driver that supposedly covers the chip in this Mini-PCI card, but I do not have the firmware for the driver to load. The tools for these cards come with a program called fw-cutter, but I haven’t found a file for this card that it will work on, yet. I suspect that I will have to wait for an update to fw-cutter to be able to get this working under the Linuxdriver . Perhaps I can find time to try to help patch it. In the meantime, my good old Cisco airo 350 card works fine, but I could also use NDIS Wrapper to run it with a Windows driver.

I’ve only been using this notebook for less than a day (and only a small part of the day, at that). Even so, I’m very happy with it already.

I’m thinking of installing Ubuntu (or Kubuntu, probably) on here alongside of Fedora. I’ve been wanting to learn more about that distro and now I have a hard drive that’s more than large enough for me to play with such things.

I also added vga=0x31a to the kernel line in the /boot/grub/menu.lst file (yeah, yeah, I know how Red Hat/Fedora only folks are going to say the file is “supposed” to be /boot/grub/grub.conf, but it really isn’t so; so, please, don’t add comments telling me about that). That sets up a framebuffer mode for text that’s 1280×1024. I don’t know if the kernel can support a 1680×1050 mode or not (so far, I’m not finding anything that would make thik it does). If so, I’d sure like to find out the right code for it. If not, I’d like to figure out how to add wide-screen friendly modes to the kernel framebuffer driver(s), as more and more systems are going that way.

I’m going to post this system on the http://linux-laptops.net/ website. If anyone else figures out how to get the fingerprint reader working under Linux on this or any other notebook that uses the same fingerprint reader chip/device, please, either TrackBack to this post or leave me a comment.



My MiniDisc is Back

8 Mar 2007

Back in 1995, I started working for a mobile DJ company in Denver & Colorado Springs, Colorado. We used 3 MiniDisc decks with each set of equipment for all our music.

MiniDisc is an awesome technology. It holds just as much music as a CD on a 2-inch recordable magneto-optical disk in a thin, sturdy plastic casing. The audio quality is quite good.

I’ve had a MiniDisc deck for many years, but haven’t had it hooked up for the past 3 years or so. Last night, I came across my stack of discs while looking for (and finding) some LS-120 floppies. So I decided to dust off (literally) the deck and plug into my home workstation for playback. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an audio cable to go from stereo RCA connectors to the line-in jack typical of compter sound cards. This afternoon, it occured to where I could look for the cables I kew that I had and, sure enough, I found them. Since then, I’ve been enjoying listening to my MiniDiscs.

The first deck that I had could do both component audio and fiber optic audio for both input and output. That deck went out and I got it replaced with this current model, but the new one does not have fiber optic input for recording.

It’s been nice to research some links for this article as I’ve learned a lot about newer developments in MiniDisc technology and available devices that have come out over the past couple of years. I think I’m going to have to pick up some of the new Hi-MD (my birthday is in May, in case you were wondering) disks and units. It’s also been fun to reminisce about the two years (from 1995-1997) that I was at that mobile DJ company. Good times.



New Hard Drive: R.I.P.

14 Aug 2006

It hasn’t been very long since I upgraded the storage on my home file server. One evening last week while I was in Los Angeles, my wife told me that there was a “funny” sound coming from the “server room”. Her description made me think it was a fan. Oh, how I wish that had been the case.

Saturday, after I was home I had tried to access some files on the file server and couldn’t. I tried to log into it via SSH and that hung. I logged in as root on it’s console without problems. A df worked fine, but trying to access anything mounted from the new drive’s LVs failed, hanging the command indefinitely. Trying to shutdown the box also failed as it hung on trying to unmount those volumes. I used the good-ol-power-switch to kill it, waited for everything to stop spinning and tried to start it up. The drive controller can’t even make sense of the drive. I simply powered the box down and left it that way for the weekend.

Tonight, I’ll be pulling the new drive out. I’ll hook it up to my home workstation (only other SATA box I currently have) and see if the drive will run. If so, I’m still not putting it back in the server. Instead, I’ll verify everything, wipe it and run it hard to try to fail it again. Even if I can’t get it to fail again, I’m still going to get an RMA and have it replaced. I think I’ll grab 1 or 2 more while I’m at it and set up either RAID 1 or RAID 5.

Let the hard drive games begin, I guess.



Camera Batteries Didn’t Last

24 Jun 2006

In my recent post, I said that I would try to get better pictures of the commemorative plaques at the U.S. Patent & Tradmark Office‘s training rooms. When I went to start making the attempt, the camera reported to me that there was insufficient power remaining to take pictures. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a spare set (2xAA) of batteries with me.

When I bought the camera, I read in it’s manual that it should last much longer on lithium AA batteries that it will on alkaline, so I guess I’ll have to go get some and try it out. Either way, I should carry a spare set when I’m traveling. I already keep AAA batteries for my headphones and my bluetooth earpiece.



Response: The Dvorak Keyboard Layout

3 Jun 2006

This is in response to Christer Edwards recent post about starting to try out the Dvorak keyboard layout.

I haven’t used Dvorak layout for a few years now. This is not because I don’t want to, but simply because I don’t have any convenient keyboards for it at this time. By that, I mean I have been using my notebooks so heavily and just haven’t taken the time to brush up on the Dvorak layout.

However, I hope to fix the keyboard situation soon. I want to get the Kinesis Contour Keyboard, which I used for several months back in 2002. They are awesome! Pricey? Well, yes, but well worth it.

The Kinesis Contour keyboard is thicker than a standard keyboard, but has a slightly smaller width and only a little more depth than a standard keyboard. Basically, it has the same footprint as a standard keyboard with a reasonable wrist rest and is significantly more comfortable to use.

I started by using it in QWERTY mode, which let me get used to the feel of the keyboard and the layout of the keys. Things like the <BACKSPACE> and <ENTER> keys take a little getting used to. I found that it only took me about one day to get that down. At the end of a week, I was going so much faster with that keyboard that I had easily made up for the “lost” productivity during those first couple of days.

Then I switched the keyboard to Dvorak mode. The best way to learn the Dvorak layout was to print out the keyboard guide, tape it to the bottom of my monitor and never look down.

On a standard QWERTY keyboard, I can get up to around 115wpm typing and in some cases, I’ve even been faster. On the Kinesis Contour keyboard, I was doing a maximum of around 150wpm. Those were maximum numbers which, for me, only occur when I am writing original information, like a letter or blog entry. Still, for coding, I saw an average of 40% improvement in my typing speed.

So, to sum things up, for those of you thinking about trying the Dvorak layout, I can highly recommend the Kinesis keyboards, which make it very easy to switch back and forth, plus are simply exceptional keyboards. For those of you who want to stick with QWERTY, I still recommend the Kinesis keybards.



Finally! A Digital Photo Camera

27 May 2006

My wife and I drove up to my hometown of Weiser, Idaho for my baby sister Kayla’s High School graduation. On the way north, we stopped at Best Buy and took a look at the HP Photosmart E317 digital photo camera. I bought one on sale for only $89 (plus tax) and we got back on the road.

Last night, I got home from Washington, D.C., Virginia (a.k.a. Alexandria; hehe) at about 11:30pm. Before going to bed, I grabbed a small bite and watched a little TV (for 10 minutes or so) while eating. There was a Best Buy ad on TV for the HP digital camera, which is why I wanted to check it out.

I’ve only taken a couple of pictures, so far, but they’ve turned out quite well. It’s very easy to use, which is good since it doesn’t come with a “real” user’s guide (like I would need it, I mean, come on! :) ). It’s a 5MP camera, producing images at 2560×1920 resolution (quite a bit better than what you get with 35mm film). It also found all the photos that were on the 512MB SD card I’ve used with my digital video camera (it will take stills on SD or discs). I have almost 600 photos (at 1280×1024) on there already and the camera says that I can fit another 314 (at 2560×1920) on before I fill up the card.

My Dad recently bought an Olympus photo printer. I plugged the HP Photosmart E317 into the printer with the USB cable that came with the camera, surffed through (on the camera) and picked out 3 pictures and hit print (on the camera) and in about 2 minutes I had 3 photos on real photo paper. The quality is excellent, too.

Overall, I can definitely recommend this camera to others, especially while it’s on sale at Best Buy for only $89. It even comes with Lithium batteries and a carrying case that can be worn on your belt.

A word to the wise, though: if you have or are going to purchase a digital photo camera that uses SD cards (or similar) get the high speed kind. You’ll be thanking me later when you see how long other people have to wait before taking another shot. The 512MB SD card I am currently using is of the standard speed variety, and it takes about 8 seconds to finish writing a 5MP JPEG to the card. Thankfully, this camera has 16MB RAM, so I can take a few photos in a row and let it write them to the card in the background (if I’m not waiting for the flash to recharge). Still, I wish I had a faster card for these cameras.

Some other nice features:
- You can record audio
- You can record audio notes about a picture while browsing through them
- It can take video
- When plugging it into your computer, it can be configured to show up either as a storage device (SCSI disk, like an SD card reader), or as a camera which you could use with video conferencing software.

No, HP is not giving me anything for plugging this camera. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own. Blah, blah, blah.