Friday, November 13, 2009

Problems with 32bit java on AMD64 on karmic

I prefer to run 32 bit java on my desktop since I only have 2GB of RAM. 64bit buys me nothing, and it eats twice the RSS.

With Jaunty (and Gutsy before that) I'd followed derek's advice on building a 32bit .deb.

I ran a downloaded 32bit eclipse.

Karmic seems to have broken something (probably SWT) and 32bit eclipse with 32bit JDK isn't usable.

Posting this here so I can find Derek's article again and start with that to get 32bit eclipse and 32bit sun-jdk working together again.

[update] It looks like Miroslav Hruz has a solution to the 32bit SWT issue. I'll try that on the weekend (remotely).

[update] I got things working without really understanding (or logging) what I did. After a bunch of uninstall, reinstall, all without notes (and some of it was in synaptic, so not in .bash_history), 32-bit sun-jdk and 32-bit eclipse started working again without me needing to do anything as in the links above. I did export GDK_NATIVE_WINDOWS=1 though. Thus ends this unhelpful post :-).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

No audio? Is skype running?

I was looking at newly uploaded (from camera) videos of Timmy and John and I was confused because the videos were weird:

      Totem said they where *playing*, but the progress bar wasn't moving and there was neither sound nor video.

      The time counter (shows how many seconds/minutes into the video/song you're in) wasn't moving.

      I thought it was something wrong with the newly mangled videos (made smaller via ffmpeg) so I tried some MP3s. Same symptoms as for the videos.

So I looked around at the modules, and at dmesg. Everything looked good. Until I moved my mouse to the bottom of the screen and the hidden status panel popped up. Skype was running. Apparently, on this machine, it takes over the sound card.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Slow vim startup -- solved

I've had some frustration due to slow vim startup.

time vim -c 'q'

real 0m6.138s
user 0m0.096s
sys 0m0.024s

Found the solution though. a blog post at says to use -X.

So now I have two new aliases in ~/.bashrc

alias vi="/usr/bin/vi -X"
alias vim="/usr/bin/vim -X"

I was a little confused because the slowness was there in screen, but when I opened a new terminal, there was no slowness (even without the aliases). I think it's because I've restarted X since I started screen. So $DISPLAY in the screen sessions is :0.0, but possibly there's some other X authentication cookies that refer to the old X session. Ok, I just looked, there's an XDG_SESSION_COOKIE, maybe that's it, or if not, something similar. So the X authentication still succeeds, but only after a timeout.

The poster at samdorr had a different problem. His server probably didn't have X at all, or maybe vim is trying to connect via ssh X forwarding, back to his graphical terminal :-). But the solution he gives is an axe that solves my problem too since I don't need vim to talk to X at all.

Hmmm, someday I'll just need to catch up to the modern world and use gvim, and probably syntax highlighting even :-).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Vodafone "Vodem" -- very easy

A friend of mine has a vodem (that's a USB HSDPA modem that works with the Vodafone NZ network). I borrowed it and tried it out on my Jaunty (Ubuntu 9.04) laptop at home.

I was confused initially since I had no manual or anything else. My friend said that on windows there's a CD, it installs a bunch of things and then just works. I didn't think to ask if authentication via login/password was required.

After some messing around, I found a hint on ubuntuforums that pointed me in the right direction. NetworkManager in Jaunty automatically detects the modem. It even automatically detects the network. It then presents a dialog asking which country (NZ is already default selected) and which Network to use. There are three networks ("Vodafone", "Vodafone (restricted)", and "Vodafone (unrestricted)"). My confusion was that I chose the first and the modem immediately disconnected.

I should have chosen the third. Upon choosing "Vodafone (unrestricted)", the vodem connects immediately to the Vodafone network and then just works. No further management needed. This is pretty cool. Too bad vodafone data charges are still so high. When the data charges drop by a factor of 10, this will be a real player. For now, it's a nice toy that I'm soon going to return to its rightful owner.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

On recruiting software developers

John Fuex has a great article, 19 Tips for Recruiting Great Developers

Now, not all companies are going to be needing the superstars this article focuses on, but the points made there should be relevant to, say, the top 85-90-95 percent of developers.

Perhaps the tips can be relaxed according to the quality of the developer needed by the company (although the company, HR division or recruiter who is conscious of the actual target percentiles [instead of being hypnotized by some mantra about hiring "only the best"], is likely very rare on the ground).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Switched back to gnome

I had switched to xfce4 in Ubuntu because it gave me some memory savings. I found, however, that on my work desktop, I got *far* more savings by installing and using a 32-bit JDK (and 32-bit eclipse to go with it).

I didn't really need to switch back to gnome, but gnome is a bit smoother than xfce in the total experience, and I found myself using gnome applets in xfce (mainly the user switcher, but some others too).

I didn't switch back to gnome immediately since I *much* preferred xfce's Alt-F2 behavior to gnome's. The application chooser is much smarter even than Gnome-do. But then I realized that I could use xfrun4 in gnome. And after testing that at work, I've switched to gnome+xfrun4 at home too.

I forgot how I was running firefox as another user for security :-). After some fumbling, I figured it out again (although, really, I should just have logged back into xfce and looked at the launcher :-).

sudo -u [other_user] -H /usr/bin/firefox-3.5 -a [profile] -P [profile]

The -H is necessary because if it's not given then it'll use your own home directory rather than the home directory of other_user.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Ubuntu 9.04 gphoto2/libgphoto2 borken for my Canon Digital Ixus 700

I use gthumb for downloading camera pictures to my computer. I have a script that takes the filenames produced by gthumb and renames and creates resized copies of the images and videos. gphoto2 talks to the camera in PTP mode.

For a while gthumb worked on my laptops. It's stopped working now though and I don't know why. There are bugs posted with Ubuntu regarding this. Adding yet another bug confirmation won't do any good.

At one point I had gphotofs working enough to mount the camera filesystem. But I didn't want to mess with the filesystem directly. And anyway, gphotofs isn't working anymore now (it runs, returns, but doesn't actually mount the filesystem, and gphotofs keeps running in the background [which is OK, that's what it needs to do as a fuse filesystem provider]).

So now I have a horrendous hack for grabbing the images :-). I installed Ubuntu Intrepid under VirtualBox, gave it access to the USB devices, and I run gthumb there. Then I just scp the files over to the host box and halt Intrepid.

Yech. It works, but is hoogly :-). Maybe this'll be fixed in Karmic.

Overall, I find Ubuntu a pretty good platform for doing everything I need to do, but there certainly are the little niggles like this that demonstrate it's not really ready for regular users. Or it is, but they'll come up against walls every once in a while, get frustrated, and go back to their windows viruses.

Ah, pulled in gphoto2, libgphoto2 and libgphoto2-port0 from karmic (downloaded the debs manually and installed with dpkg -i) and gthumb is now downloading the pictures. I understand about lack of resources, but it does seem a bug that this fix wasn't backported to work with Jaunty.

I'm now actually on Karmic. The dist-upgrade reverted a separate and necessary fix. Gnome has a gvfs module for gphoto2 and when it's loaded, gthumb can't read the pictures/videos from the camera since the PTP port is already in use (by the gvfs gphoto2 module). Solution is to disable that. There might be a neater way, but I just did
chmod a-rwx /usr/lib/gvfs/gvfsd-gphoto2.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Screen and scrollbars!

I work with Nigel McNie and was whining (on the company IRC server) to a friend about screen and how I wish I could get it to work with scrollbars. He pointed me at Nigel's page on how he uses screen.

I don't use urxvt, but the invocation given there works with rxvt too (just change urxvt to rxvt in the .Xdefaults entry). So now I've got scrollbars working with screen.

Slightly more secure

On my home computer I've got a reasonably secure browsing setup (firefox 3.5, noscript, adblock, flashblock, made the flash cookies directory non-writeable, etc). But nothing is perfect. So I decided to raise the bar a bit. I moved my main browsing profile to a separate user account (so that even if it gets cracked, it won't have access to my ssh keys (ssh-agent is convenient, but it could be a hole), data in my home directory (svn working copies, git working copies, random other files) or to my other privileges (sudo access on this and other computers).

My trusted profiles (online banking, power company, mobile phone company, phone/internet company, cable tv company, etc) will probably go into yet another account. I haven't done that yet. But I'll get it done tomorrow, probably.

For reference:

to allow the other user to run firefox on the main display:
xhost local:[other_user_name]

and to actually run firefox as the other user:
sudo -H -u [other_user_name] firefox-3.5 -a [profile] -P [profile]

I don't think the -a should be needed there, but it doesn't work right (loading the default profile instead of the profile I want) when it's removed. So I keep it in.

Update - I wondered why youtube and other videos had no sound in this new setup. Today I realized that it's because the browser is running as the other user, and that other user isn't in the audio group.

Fixed with vigr.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Install FreeNX server on ubuntu

Google has also announced a free NX server called NeatX. It's very new and there are no ubuntu packages yet.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Firefox 3.5 Memory usage looking good

This article benchmarks opera, chrome, firefox 3.5 and safari in terms of how much memory they took to perform the same task(s). The numbers are for Windows, but I expect that there'll be a similar improvement in memory use on Linux.

Firefox 3.5 is looking very good. I'm going to download the beta and test the heck out of it :-). Browser memory use has been a *huge* problem for me, particularly since I've been doing a *lot* of Selenium testing. Of course selenium, and firebug and similar developer tools will increase the amount of memory used by browsers by a lot. But if the base browser can use a lot less memory, that'll be a huge help (particularly since Eclipse and tomcat 5.5 aren't memory-thin applications either, and running everything together makes my system slow as molasses as they force each other out to swap).

pidgin stopped working with yahoo

Yahoo changed their messenger authentication protocol and now pidgin 2.5.6 has stopped working with Yahoo Messenger. There's an announcement that 2.5.7 is available at launchpad, but it's not really there yet. I guess it takes a while for packages to become available, or maybe I'm hitting a mirror and the mirror hasn't synced yet.

I hope it'll be there tomorrow so I can upgrade my laptops and my work computer :-). If not, well, works well enough for now. It sure would be convenient though if pidgin were to start working again soon :-).

I'm not yet ready to build pidgin from source. But I may be, by Tuesday :-).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Broadband plan upgrade

I was sick for much of last week. That's why we're upgrading our broadband plan (to avoid 64kbps when we go over our cap). Now, it's only one week til the end of the current cycle, so we're going to have to use up 10G in one week :-). I don't think that's going to be a problem.

Our previous plan was the Explorer plan, with 10GB of bandwidth before we're slowed down to 64kbps.

Since I was sick last week though, but I only took two sick days (Monday and Tuesday). I went to work on Wednesday, but that was a mistake since I got worse on Thursday and had to stay home Thursday and Friday. But I didn't want to not work at all the whole week, so I worked from home. Unfortunately, work involved a lot of vnc work against a vserver at work. So I blew around 2.5GB on vnc :-).

So we're upgrading to a 40GB cap plan. It's only NZ$10.00 more for double the bandwidth, so it's a great deal. There's a real danger that we won't downgrade from this plan :-).

Well, we plan to get a second broadband link at some point. Sol works from home 4 days a week, and I do quite a lot of work from home, so redundancy (even against an extremely unlikely outage) is going to be worthwhile. But that won't be for a while yet. And if we do that, then I'll certainly ratchet the telecom plan down.

I should have started the upgrade yesterday morning, so that it'd take effect by Tuesday (two working days). I didn't though, so we'll have to stay under the 800MB cap until around end of Tuesday or sometime Wednesday when the new plan takes effect. It had better not take til Friday to take effect though.

Update: I looked at the bandwidth monitor this morning and I noticed that we'd already been upgraded. No 2 day wait. That's cool since I *was* wondering what they were thinking with the 2 day wait. The delay was probably a leftover from some manual procedure that required review and approval, a leftover that got brought over to the web based procedure. And telecom finally figured out that the approval and delay weren't necessary since, after all, the customer logged in and authenticated themselves with their password.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Caveats of Evaluating Databases

The title of this article is just the title of the article on Caveats of Evaluating Databases. That title isn't very good. But the article is.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

very interesting discussion of tomcat classloader leak that leads to running out of PermGen

Must read deeply and test (-client seems an easy test)

Update -
Ok, -client doesn't work for me. OTOH, this is an old article (2005). No doubt a lot has changed with Java garbage collectors (and maybe less, but still some changes in Sun java API/JVM implementations). -client is actually significantly bad, compared to -server.

Time to look at org.springframework.web.util.IntrospectorCleanupListener

Monday, June 15, 2009

Morons? Utter Morons?

Sounds like Microsoft has outdone themselves with a bug that makes windows unbootable. And fixing it just sets you up for letting Microsoft making itself unbootable again.

Hearsay only, I wouldn't know if this is true since I don't run windows (it sits there eating up some disk space in case I run across some hardware that needs it, and I'd rather not have to waste money on a license since I've already got one good license [actually, I'd have three, except I've blown away windows on two of our three laptops]).

Thursday, June 04, 2009

myvodafone fail

I get my mobile phone service from Vodafone NZ because when my family and I arrived in New Zealand, we brought our GSM phones with us, and Vodafone is currently the only GSM provider in NZ. It's a prepaid service since I don't need to make many calls.

Since it's prepaid, I need to top-up my prepaid credit every once in a while. Now vodafone has a service called Hotlink. With Hotlink, it's possible to register a phone number and pin with my bank (highly recommended) and then get prepaid credit top-ups via a vodafone app that works through SMS messages. Hotlink worked very well for us for a year. Lately, however, my sister-in-law came to visit us in NZ and we asked her to buy us new phones since our old phones (well, mine) were approaching unusable due to a cracked screen, shorter battery life, etc.

We love our new phones. However, apparently vodafone's Hotlink app doesn't work with all handsets. Presumably it only works with handsets that vodafone sells or has sold in the past. So no hotlink for us.

Fortunately, there's a website where I can top-up my own phone via credit card payment. I didn't realize that I could top up my wife's phone too, using my account. So I tried to log in to *her* account. I'd forgotten the password, so I clicked on the forgotten password link and it sent a new password to her mobile. Except the password didn't work. I generated passwords three times and none of them worked. FAIL.

And phone support doesn't work since vodafone phone support isn't 24x7. FAIL.

So I logged in to my account (I use the Revelation password manager in Ubuntu to store my passwords) and I noticed that I could pay for prepaid credit to (via credit card) go to any mobile phone. So I used that to send credit to my wife's phone.

But vodafone FAIL isn't done. Vodafone accepts the credit card number on their site instead of having the credit card transaction be processed through a dedicated credit card gateway. In the name of usability they allow myvodafone users to store their credit card information *in*their*profile*. So they're not dropping the credit card information as soon as the credit card transaction is done, they're really storing the credit card information in their database.

Well, they'd better be really security paranoid over there.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Switching to xfce4 on Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty)

I've been using Ubuntu (Gnome) since Dapper Drake. I've liked it and didn't see the need to switch to anything else. I did take a look at KDE (didn't like it) and xfce (didn't like it then either). It's been a few years though, and xfce is now sufficiently like Gnome (except thinner), that I have now switched over to xfce completely.

I would probably still use Gnome except my work is in java lately, and with tomcat, eclipse, firefox, firebug and selenium, I'm finding that 2GB of RAM isn't enough. I can't upgrade my laptops (they all max out at 2GB, I'd need to buy new laptops to use 4GB or more). So I'm doing everything I can to retrieve memory from fat apps.

No doubt there are more ways to save memory. Maybe opera and selenium-server. For now though, xfce is definitely usable. It's growing on me and I expect that I'll like it more than I like Gnome in just a week or two :-).

Friday, May 01, 2009

xfce4 on vnc

I'm liking xfce4 on Ubuntu. I'd looked at xfce before and not been too impressed. It was pretty good, but not good or easy enough to use. So I'd stayed with gnome.

For slow machines, I've used either fvwm or icewm. There are other lightweight window managers, but I liked those two.

At work, I use gnome on my primary desktop (but I may change that to xfce4, actually), and icewm on another desktop on which I have a vnc server. I run eclipse and tomcat on my primary desktop, and browsers, IRC and mail clients on the remote desktop.

I think I'm about ready to switch to xfce, actually. I tested that out on my laptop running gnome, with vnc running xfce. I had some minor problems getting xfce working under VNC until I saw a post on "xfce4 on vnc" on ubuntuforums.

Tried it out. It works on the laptop (both primary and vncserver running on the same box. That should be perfect for work.

startxfce4 &

Not jaunty yet at work

I had planned to upgrade my work desktop to Jaunty today. But that's now pushed back to Monday. I forgot to bring a laptop to work, so I wouldn't be able to work if something went wrogn with the upgrade (and I prefer to work on a laptop anyway while the upgrade is running to avoid any instability the upgrade might cause).

Was in such a rush to get Timmy ready for school, and take care of John while Sol brought Timmy to school, that I didn't have time to pack up the laptop.

Naturally, the bus was then late and I would have been able to pack *two* laptops if I'd wanted to :-).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Just noticed: Only 1GB!

I've been working on an HP laptop, an HP Pavilion dv1000. For the longest time I thought I had 2GB on it. It was always fast enough for anything I needed, and even when I was running tomcat, eclipse and firefox on it, it was great.

Of course this is in linux. There's a windows partition on there, but it's never used. I keep it on because it's a legal copy and it'd be a pain to have to reinstall it. As is too often the case these days, the laptop didn't come with the install CD. I think there's an image on the hard drive, but in typical Microsoft arrogance, that would blow away the whole hard drive, and then I'd have to install linux again and have it resize the windows partition again, etc. And I'm not sure about that image anyway.

So it's all been good and fast for the year and a half that we've had it. The CPU isn't very fast, but we only use it for browsing and email and the occasional web based program. Previously, only in PHP, so nothing that would stress the memory on the box.

I recently noticed though that with eclipse+tomcat+firefox3, the box was swapping. So I finally looked at what linux thought was installed, didn't believe that it had only 1GB and opened up the box. And it really does have just two 512GB sticks in there.

I don't care too much. I'll just run tomcat and firefox and thunderbird on my other, faster, fatter laptop, and eclipse on the HP. I could run one instance of firefox here and not notice, probably. Particularly as I've switched to xfce4 and am liking it. But for now I'll keep firefox on the fatter laptop.

I doubt if I'll buy more RAM for this laptop. I just don't need it :-).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Upgrading to Jaunty

I upgraded my spare laptop to Jaunty the other day. That worked perfectly. But that laptop has mostly just the basic ubuntu installation and a few additional things (tomcat, sun-jdk, postgresql).

I'm upgrading my own main home-work laptop just now, keeping fingers crossed.


Well, it booted into the login screen, so that's more than half the battle right there. It got a bit confused, logging into xfce rather than gnome. It forgot what my default and previous session were, perhaps? But it's easy enough to get into gnome, and there's nothing obviously borken there.

It's a good thing that (since Intrepid I think, but maybe since Hardy) Ubuntu turns off third party repositories before doing a dist-upgrade. That borked a few things for me a few upgrades ago. Things have gotten much more stable with dist-upgrades in the last few versions.

I think I'll wait a bit before upgrading the last laptop. That's sol's main work machine (she works at home) and while she could work on my home-work laptop if her laptop gets borked during the upgrade, there's no need to do the upgrade immediately either.

WPA and network-manager aren't working right for me on my home-work laptop, but it wasn't working well previously either, so I run wpa_supplicant from a rc.local and in the background (&) and without the -B (running it with -B, even from the command line doesn't work and I can't tell why, thus the ugly workaround). Sol's laptop has wicd (at one point all these laptops had wicd, which works perfectly, except it's not so nice about having two interfaces up at the same time, and I use the spare and home-work laptops together with quicksynergy on eth0, so I need two interfaces for these).

I normally wouldn't dist-upgrade so eagerly (I'm happy to wait a few months before doing the dist-upgrade), but Jaunty has a fix for an irritating synergy bug in Intrepid that I've been waiting for (but not so eagerly that I'd pull the packages from the Jaunty pre-release versions and install :-).

On my home-work laptop I've probably got some old-bad network configuration that's confusing Network-Manager, I should fix it. But there's a huge gap between should and want-to right now, I'll stick with the workaround script until I have time to figure it out. Although, it'd probably be more efficient to just reinstall Ubuntu from scratch on this laptop :-) (/home is a separate partition, so I'd just need a backup of /etc so I can get to customizations (e.g., /etc/openvpn/*, /etc/wpa_supplicant/*, some entries in /etc/apache2 and /etc/tomcat5.5, etc).

Damn, eclipse is still 3.2 though. That sucks. I'll just have to stick with my downloaded 3.4 tarball installation then. Or get it from upstream and test it. But I don't have a lot of time for that, and I've got a working tarball 3.4 installation workaround. I'm only maintaining eclipse on 1 laptop and a desktop, so there's not enough maintenance headache/overhead to push me into figuring out how to get it from upstream :-).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Classic Mistakes Enumerated

Steve Mcconnell has a post on classic software development mistakes, enumerated.

From 1996, apparently. Which is why it seemed familiar :-).

Monday, January 19, 2009

intel/amd Hardware virtualization CPU capability

I've often wondered if a computer I'm using (a laptop, or my work desktop) has hardware virtualization support. There are quite a few sites that say "cat /proc/cpuinfo | grep flags and look to see if there are vmx or svm flags in there", e.g.


Now I've done that and it's a pain because there are so many flags and they're not in an order that makes it easy to spot the relevant flags. So I did some sed:

cat /proc/cpuinfo | grep flags | sed "s/ /\\n/g" | egrep "(vmx|svm)"

which is more useful since it replaces spaces in the flags with newlines, so that we can then search for just the flags we need and not be confused by the pollution from all the other flags on the line.

Without the trailing egrep I get:

flags :
flags :

As it happens, although I *do* have vmx in there, I doubt if it's actually usable. I've got two laptops with vmx enabled, but I expect that the hardware virtualization is disabled in the BIOS, and there's no toggle in the CMOS settings to turn it on. But I'll try to install Xen anyway, and see if it can use the CPU hardware virtualization support :-).

It's too bad that those are my two slower laptops (2.2Ghz and 1.6Ghz). My fastest laptop (3.3Ghz) is the oldest and it definitely doesn't have vmx support in there at all. Ah well, maybe I'll just play with Xen and hardware virtualization on my AMD64 desktop at work.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

vlc on intrepid, no video

I recently installed Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid) on laptops at home. I also installed vlc (well, on one computer vlc was already installed on Hardy and I just dist-upgraded). I would see no video but could hear sound. Some googling a week or so ago didn't help.

Today though I found this:

cannot play any video (SOLVED) on the videolan forums.

That solved the problem perfectly. The solution being, at the command line, to run:

vlc --reset-plugins-cache --reset-config

Linked to here so that its google karma will rise (not that it needs it, since it's already the first result :-).

Friday, January 09, 2009

xchat and DSL router woes

I've had some problems with xchat when working at home. This is on Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid).

I lurk on's #erlang channel (sometimes I ask embarrassingly newbie questions).

The first issue (backwards from the title) is that my home DSL router (provided by my ISP) is crap (but I don't replace it because it's free). The DSL-604T has some sort of issue with some ip_conntrack settings being too low, so that when it receives too many incoming connections at the same time or within a short amount of time (e.g., when running a peer-to-peer client, or when in the #erlang channel, apparently, although I don't understand why that is) then the router hangs and I need to power-cycle it.

There are firmware upgrades for this model, but I can't upgrade the firmware since it might then stop working with my ISP (the ISP has custom firmware in there).

This isn't even about running peer-to-peer, it's about an IRC channel about a programming language!

So I solved that by setting up screen to open an ssh session (at screen #9) to do an auto-port-forward to my work computer. ssh -L my_work_computer. Then I just have xchat connect to localhost:8001. It's simpler than figuring out how to NAT requests to port 8001 through my work computer and cheaper on bandwidth than running xchat in vnc at work (my ISPs bandwidth caps have increased by a factor of 3 since i first whined about the caps, but I still hit the limit before the end of the month).

So then I remembered that xchat on ubuntu sucks because there's no graphical way to turn off join and parts messages. And on a channel with a lot of lurkers (like #erlang), there are a lot of those.

A quick google search shows that the thing to do is

/set irc_conf_mode 1

And I can have that done automatically by:
Xchat|Network List|Select Network|Edit

and setting the Connect command to "/set irc_conf_mode 1".
It'd be nice if it were settable in the graphical interface, but
since it isn't, this is a neat workaround.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Toshiba Satellite A75-S231 bios password clearing

I've had a heck of a time trying to get a Toshiba Satellite A75-S231 working well with Linux. I first received this laptop (secondhand) around 2006, I think. I couldn't use it productively in Ubuntu (I think I might have checked some other distros, certainly I checked Knoppix too) back then. Whenever I would do something compute intensive it would shut down. It seems the kernel wasn't controlling the fans and it was overheating and the BIOS would turn it off.

I could sort of limp along and use it if I set the cpu scaling to its lowest speed. But that was still 1.8Ghz (no 800Mhz speeds on this CPU). And even at 1.8Ghz, if I did anything challenging that would use 100% cpu for a few minutes, it would shut down.

So I gave up. For a while I lent the laptop to someone who used XP on it, and after that it was stored in its laptop case for a year or so.

Well this year we moved to New Zealand, and since my sister-in-law was coming over, and I'd forgotten what the myriad issues with the laptop had been, I asked her to bring it with her.

I tried to install Solaris 10 on the ubuntu partition. That didn't end well. I'll try it again, but it looks like Solaris 10 probably doesn't know how to run the fans either. I then installed Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid). That installed and it didn't hang. It looks like linux got the fan working sometime between Feisty (I think) and Intrepid.

I had another problem with the laptop. I had received it with the bios security password set and my brother, who gave me the laptop, didn't remember what the password was. Back when the laptop was shutting down due to power, I'd thought that if I could get into the CMOS setup, I could find a setting so that the fan would always run if it was on AC power. But first I had to get into the BIOS.

Well, this year, with Intrepid working on it, the urgency of getting into the BIOS receded. I still wanted to clear the passwords though. After a lot of searching, I finally found:

Toshiba Laptop password deletion

On page 8 that shows the jumper to short to clear the BIOS password. So finally I can get into the CMOS setup. As it happens, there's no "keep-the-fan-on-all-the-time" setting. As with many (all?) laptop BIOSes, it's pretty minimal. I can't even set how much RAM is shared by the video subsystem. It's good to finally be able to see what's in there though (and set the boot order of the drives, fortunately, previously the boot order had CD-DVD-Rom first, which allowed me to install Linux in the first place).

This laptop still has other problems. I've never liked how insensitive the Alps glidepoint touchpad is, and the keyboard is pretty weak (there's no right Ctrl key, and I always use right Ctrl instead of Left Ctrl, the ~` key is beside the space bar, which is stupid). But that's the case with all laptop keyboards anyway, compromises are made and they all suck. I can deal with the keyboard though, mostly. And if I can't stand it anymore, I've got a cheap external keyboard I can use with it. I still hate the touchpad, but some tweaking of gnome mouse settings has the mouse being tolerable. I'll probably still buy an external mouse and use that though. The laptop is big enough (and I'm switching to it because I like the widescreen) that it's really a desktop replacement. For travelling, we'll bring sol's much lighter (and still widescreen) HP Pavilion.

As long as I'm going to use an external keyboard/mouse, I'd love to have this Adesso keyboard with built-in touchpad (well, assuming the touchpad is any good, but it probably is, most touchpads are, the -one in the Satellite A75-S231 I've got is just bad, not sure if it's bad for all instances of that model, or if I've just got a dud). I can't find that keyboard in New Zealand though, and frankly, I won't spend that much for a keyboard+mouse. I'll just grab a cheap external mouse.

I'll keep my other laptop (a Durabook) for a spare. Or probably for Solaris (not that I need Solaris, but I might as well play with it and get familiar with it, I'm sure I'll use it since the big client my department does software development and management for is big on enterprise everything).