Sunday, 27 May 2007

Spot the linkages

This story tells us about the standard weekend carnage on the roads; the featured drunk drivers had levels of 695mcg (a 14 yr old!), 1943mcg (a record!), and 847mcg (a guy with nine previous convictions).
These numbers somehow led Dave Cliff, the national road policing manager, to recommend that we "...cut legal alcohol driving levels from 400 to 250mcg". Hang on there Dave, the guys out there creating mayhem (a) have lots of priors and don't give a monkeys for the law, and (b) are far above the existing limits, which seem to be set about right, I'd have thought.
How the hell would lowering the limit to 250 have changed the behaviour of these morons? All that will do is catch people who had a 3rd glass of wine on the way home after work on Friday; they're hardly the problem demographic. It will make the stats look good, though, and enable the Minister to answer some patsy questions in Parliament. In the meantime people with five times the permitted alcohol level are out there on the roads killing other drivers.

More computers

Having realised that I needed another computer like I need a third nostril, I rebuilt it with Windows 2000 workstation, for Alice to use. Win2K is a solid, if unexciting, OS - though I'd forgotten about software that needed such a degree of manual installation. First it had no video above 640*480 VGA, 4 colors. There were no sound drivers, no network card drivers, etc.
I took the lid off and ascertained that it was an Intel D845GLAD all-in-one motherboard with all peripherals on the board - from there on, it was a piece of cake. I downloaded the drivers from the excellent Intel support site, moved them over to the new machine with my USB pen drive, and they installed like a dream. Now it's a nice machine, with Open Office 2 installed, and it's ready for its new owner.
It's not a Linux machine, but it works fine, there was lots of support, and it's standard. There's a lot to be said for that.

Monday, 21 May 2007

A solution in search of a problem

Having wasted most of my spare time for a week by installing various Linuxes (Linuces? Linii?) I've reached the point where I have a second desktop PC which is accessible from my first desktop PC. Then I asked myself "Why?"
Why am I running a second, inferior, system, that does exactly what my main system does? I don't mean that Linux is inferior, though it can be cranky, but it is running in a lower screen res, on an elderly Celeron with very little RAM, and the VNC connection has an inevitable lag - the printer driver is also cranky. All in all, the experience is sub-optimal, as they say in Gobbledegook Land.
So - I think that I'll dismantle it all, and install a basic version of Windows, and maybe donate it to Alice. And that should get Linux out of this blog for a while as well...

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Back to Ubuntu - again

I installed Kubuntu 6.06 and the graphical interface looked really nice - up to the point where it rebooted from the hard drive, and Ping! - an error message from the monitor and all went black. I haven't invested much effort in fixing it; Ubuntu 5.10 is reinstalling (for the 3rd time) and this time it's here to stay. It works, after all, which is more than I can say for the newer distros.

Friday, 18 May 2007

There and back

This week I've been there and back, as they say in Hobbiton. Since I last posted on Tuesday, I've installed Mandriva 2006. It went OK, though the installer completely omitted installing the X Windows GUI, so I reinstalled Ubuntu 5.10. It's fine; in fact I'm typing this on it now. Via my PC and a VNC connection, that is.
What's next? I felt I should be more up to date, so I downloaded Kubuntu 6.06.1, otherwise known as Dapper Drake. This dippy double-name thing with Ubuntu isn't to my taste, but then its use is optional. I just won't use it.
I prefer (I think) the KDE way of working, so it will be nice if the next distro is the way I've been hoping. Wait and see.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Back to Ubuntu

I tried various fixes for my Suse video woes, then gave up. Just as an experiment, I re-installed from an Ubuntu 5.10 CD, and it was up and running in less than 30 minutes. It even connects seamlessly to my PC's shared drives. I haven't tried connecting to a printer yet, but I doubt it will be too hard. Installing applications comes next - I don't know how to do that so far, but it's all part of the reason I want to play with Linux.
Not sure if I'll stick with this version of Linux, but it will do for the present. I hear good things about Mandrake, so watch this space...

Monday, 14 May 2007

Now you see it... you don't. I had to reboot my working Suse system, as it lost contact with the KVM switch over night - probably because the BIOS shut down. Once again, it's set the monitor to an impossible refresh rate, and it won't display anything. Going to yast from the command line is easy, but even that tries to start a graphical display, and poof - there's the monitor's error message again. There's probably a config file somewhere...

Sunday, 13 May 2007

It's time for Suse

Having ascertained - twice - that my old PC and Ubuntu do not get along, I remembered that I had been given a set of CDs for Suse 10 - this morning I booted with the first of these, and proceeded through a very quick and straightforward install. Well, "proceeding" would be more accurate, it's nearly finished CD1, but all is going well so far. As Suse is now owned and supported by Novell, it's going to have even better user support than Ubuntu - I hope.
Now it's rebooting - should I remove the CD? No - it offers a menu (complete with penguin) that defaults to booting from the hard disk! This is too easy! It asked for CD2 and is now happily installing applications. I guess this will go on for most of the morning, so I'll do the vacuuming and drop by every so often to check on progress.
Now it's 11.30am and the install has finished, with fewer applications than expected because the last 2 CDs didn't read. As it's Linux, I can always go and get stuff from the web if I find I need something, so it's no big deal. The system is currently doing a bunch of updates, connected to a Suse mirror site in Australia. That'll be filling up my 5GB monthly quota!
Feh - there's always a glitch when Linux and I meet. The system did all its config, set up a user account, and rebooted - and now my monitor can't handle the refresh rate! I have only got a hardware message from the monitor saying "Attention - Out of range - H:74.0KHz V:69.4Hz". I'd like to change the video settings in KDE, but I need a monitor to see what I'm doing with the monitor settings! Maybe there's a "safe mode" boot option...
Yep, I'm now logged in - at the Linux command line. More research is required...
1.30pm - after using su to get yast running (with me so far?) I set the display to 1024x768 - and it produced the error message again, though with different numbers for the display rate. Hmm, one more restart - and up came the KDE desktop in glorious detail. Spooky!

Saturday, 12 May 2007


Well, no luck with repeated attempts to get an Ubuntu install happening. The PC either has some weird hardware incompatibility or the world's slowest CD drive, but when it took three hours to ask me what language I wanted, I gave up. I'll scout around for another chuck-out PC and start again.

On the way

Once I fitted a monitor, keyboard and mouse and forgot about a KVM switch, my Linux install started happening. It is really slow to begin with, as Ubuntu does a live install from the CD; once it is running it asks if you want to do a hard disk install.
It has just got to that point, after 10 minutes or so. Now it's loading the installer from CD - more later.

Not yet Ubuntu

I've struck problems getting under way with the Ubuntu install. The second PC can start Windows and works OK through the 2-way KVM switch, but if I switch away from it, then back, it won't respond. Even if I stay switched to it, then reboot from the CD, it shows a dead screen.
Today's plan is to attach a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and run it as a stand-alone machine. If I can get the Linux install to work, I'll just connect to the box using VNC from my #1 PC.
Apparently some older PC BIOS's think the keyboard mouse and video just aren't there and get lost when the switch is showing the other machine. I think I might be selling a KVM switch on Trademe some time soon.
Maybe the PC is just plain broken, of course. Plan B should prove it one way or the other.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Ubuntu on the horizon

YAC (Yet Another Computer) arrived on the scene today. It's a machine I rescued from the rubbish skip at work; Celeron 1.7GHz, 256MB RAM, 40GB HD, CD drive, the usual connectors. It has been our development server for WebCT 4, but its licence has expired and we don't use it any more.
I'm going to park it way under the desk in the study, where it won't be noticed, connect to it with a KVM switch, and install Ubuntu Linux 7 on it. First I will run it as a desktop machine, then I may configure it to be a household proxy server, or a mail server, or an Apache server for an intranet. Or something. Anyway, YAC will be a Linux machine, for tinkering with.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Firefox add-ons

I'm really happy with two Firefox add-ons I installed recently. First is Tab Catalog, which adds an icon to the menu bar which switches to a page of thumbnails showing all the open tabs. Then just click the one you want. I know that clicking the tab does the same, but when you have a lot of tabs open, sometimes with very similar titles, the words on the tab just aren't enough. If you have several windows open, it shows them all, with a divider line between windows.

The other add-on is Foxmarks. This is an online bookmark synchronizer; it maintains a master bookmarks file which it downloads to any machine running the add-on, and uploads any changes.
The first time it runs, it asks what to do with your several sets of bookmarks; the safest (and default) option is to combine them all. That meant quite a lot of editing to remove duplicates, but now my home PC and Mac laptop have an identical set of bookmarks. Great!
I won't use it on my work machine though; it has lots of work-specific links which would clutter up my home browser.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

A nervous morning

I had an early start today, going to work about 7.45 to do an upgrade patch on our Blackboard CE6 server at 8am - a time we could be pretty sure that most students would not want to study. The patch went as planned, but when I went to restart the server, it spun its wheels and wouldn't start up. Oh dear...
I had half suspected that this might happen, as we had not applied this patch when doing another in late January. Why? Because the install notes said "All patches are cumulative, and include all previous patches." So we assumed that the January update would include this December one - but not so! Now we had installed a December patch over a January one, and entered WebCT/Blackboard's version of the old Windows 3.1 "DLL Hell".
After several calls to Blackboard support in the US, we decided that reinstalling the January Hotfix 2 should put everything back in order. Because I had been nervous about the order of these patches, I had already prepared for this eventuality and had the files ready to go; but HF2 would not install, saying that it had already been installed. I edited out lines in some obvious config files and re-tried, but no luck. Hmmm, back to support again.
They came back to say that restoring from tape backup was our only option. I thought that was an easy out, just saying "go away" to the problem. However, we had no alternative. Our network server administrator then restored us back to the way we were at 11.48pm, taking two hours to restore from tapes - and it started up! I had been worried that we would have to also restore the backup to its 11.48pm state, but it doesn't seem to be a problem. I wonder if any students submitted work in the small hours of Sunday morning? We'll never find their stuff now.
However, we still have the glitch for which today's patch was the answer - even though it was an answer that could only be applied in December, before the next January fix-up. And what caused the need for this patch? An earlier service release! After a major Service Pack, uploading text files of marks started causing "unspecified errors"; not a good idea for a university Learning Management System. Tomorrow I'll have to start asking some hard questions of BB Support. Maybe a coming Service Pack really will contain all the patches that came before, and set things right.
Anyway, by lunchtime I felt like I'd had several days' worth of stress and worry - that's life in the world of IT, folks.