Category Archives: Hardware

New laptop, new OS

The women in my life gifted me with a sweet HP Envy 15-as133cl 15t laptop. I guess they saw the keys pop off of my old HP laptop a few too many times.

The new laptop has an HD screen (1920 x 1080), a lot of memory (16GB), an Intel i7 CPU (not sure of the exact model) and a 1 TB hard drive.

Right now I’m running the Windows 10 that came with it. I “auditioned” Fedora 25 with GNOME and Xubuntu 17.04, and while either one may indeed work with this hardware (the biggest problem being the HD screen and the Linux desktop environments’ inability to handle them without a lot of little tweaks), for now I’m sticking with Windows.

The main reason that I can stick with the stock OS is the Windows Subsystem for Linux (aka the WSL), which gives me a full Ubuntu-powered Bash shell that runs pretty much every Linux console program available. I’m using it to run/update my Ode blog (I still can’t get Unison in Windows to work across networks because I can’t get SSH working and am a little wary of Windows software that seems frozen in time).

As I allude to in the sentence above, adding software in Windows has it’s good and bad points. Good: You can easily run things like MS Office and the Adobe suite, though I don’t use those at all (instead opting for LibreOffice and Google Docs, and GIMP/IrfanView/Inkscape). Bad: Some things are old and unmaintained, like the ClipX clipboard manager that I rely on heavily. Plus after years of drawing on huge Linux software repositories offered by projects like Debian, Ubuntu and Fedora, having to go all over the Internet to find applications is not something I’m excited about.

That said, I have most of what I need. I’m playing with JavaScript, especially in Node, quite a bit, and I have Node installed both in the Ubuntu shell and on the Windows side.

I don’t have Ruby in the WSL or Windows since I haven’t used it in awhile, but I will probably do that in the WSL.

If/when I start dabbling in Java again, I can do that on both sides (WSL and Windows), too.

For Java and Ruby especially, I like coding with them in the Geany editor, which is like a “baby” IDE (it can execute your code, though I’ve never gotten it to work like that with JavaScript/Node). Unfortunately Geany is one of those old GTK apps that looks like hell on this laptop’s HD screen. Principally it’s blurry. So I’ve been using Notepad++ instead, which is a great text editor, though I haven’t figured out if it is capable of executing code in the languages I use (Ruby, JavaScript, Java, Bash).

I am also experimenting with Visual Studio Code, Microsoft’s “not-quite Visual Studio” editor. The “not-quite” part is OK by me, because most IDEs I’ve tried are so massive and cryptic that I’m happy to have something that’s I can understand more easily.

I already had Visual Studio Code on my old HP’s Fedora system, and now I have it in Windows 10 proper. I’ve used it for a little JavaScript. I like the syntax highlighting, and I was able to execute my code via the debugger. (If you actually know what you are talking about, I encourage you to laugh at or with me — your choice.)

In the WSL, I’m relying on Vim as my text editor, and I’m using the limitations of the WSL (most of which can be summed up as “no GUI,” though you can definitely hack one in) as an excuse to sharpen my Vim skills. I also have Vim and gVim on the Windows side. (Vim is everywhere.)

You might notice that a lot of the programs I’m using are things you’d find in Linux. I’m surprised that so many traditional Linux/Unix applications are available in Windows. Some of them are even regularly maintained.

I’ll detail all the software I’m using in Windows 10 at some future point, probably on another site, but quickly:

  • Audacity (audio editor)
  • Dropbox (file sync)
  • FileZilla (FTP)
  • GIMP (image editor)
  • Inkscape (vector graphics editor)
  • IrfanView (image editor)
  • LibreOffice (office suite)
  • Node.js (JavaScript in the console)
  • Notepad++ (text editor)
  • OpenShot (video editor)
  • PuTTY (terminal for SSH connections to servers)
  • qBittorrent (torrent client)
  • QuiteRSS (RSS reader)
  • Vim and gVim (text editor)
  • Visual Studio Code (text editor, mini IDE)
  • VLC (video editor)
  • Windows Subsystem for Linux (aka WSL aka Ubuntu for Windows aka Bash on Windows … do you think they have a branding issue?)

Things I’m relying on in the WSL:

  • Bash (which is obvious, but I use all the common Unix tools and rely on a number of scripts to automate various tasks)
  • SSH (for encrypted connections)
  • Unison (file sychronization)

Things I haven’t yet installed:

  • Geany (GTK text editor that looks a little rough in Windows 10 on this laptop)
  • Hugo (static site/blog engine)
  • JVM (the Java Virtual Machine)
  • Netbeans (IDE written in Java)
  • Ruby (programming language)


Still running Fedora on the HP Pavilion g6-2210us

Just an update on Fedora 18 with Xfce on the HP Pavilion g6-2210us — all systems are very, very ‘go’ that I’m still running Fedora, now version 25, and I just replaced the keyboard on the laptop after individual key replacement didn’t go so well.

When I replaced the “n” key, it took me a while to find the “right” replacement key since HP used so many different keyboards on its Pavilion laptops during this period (2012-13). But the new “n” was never right. It was mushy, and eventually it, too, broke. Then the space bar went wonky, and that looked even more complicated to deal with.

I finally did get the right keyboard. It only cost $15. Yesterday I took out the old one and put this new one in.

Next update/repair should be the hard drive. It’s time for a new one, and I’m looking at both 1TB spinning drives and 512MB+ solid-state drives.

Welcome, new hardware: HP Pavilion g6-2210us

With the untimely (or just timely, depending on your point of view) demise of the Lenovo G555, I found myself in need of a new laptop. I had some critical things to do that required me to borrow Ilene’s sweet MSI netbook, which is bigger than the classic netbook but smaller than your typical small, non-netbook laptop.

That was OK for a couple of days, but I needed a new laptop. That means watching the ads and getting a deal. That came in the form of this HP Pavilion g6-2210us from Fry’s. South of $400 but north of $350, I got a laptop with the standard 15.6-inch screen that has an AMD dual-core A4-4300M processor, 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, an uncharacteristically large 640 MB hard drive (a big selling point) and … wait for it … Windows 8.

A Linux user (mostly Debian) by habit, I nonetheless have been using Windows 7 on a work-supplied desktop (a Lenovo ThinkCentre that hasn’t died, in case you were wondering), so I’m not unfamiliar with the post-Windows XP world of consumer operating systems.

Both for the sake of expediency and as fodder, I am looking at doing a full test of Windows 8 before I either wipe it or dual boot with whatever Linux distribution will run on this now-new hardware (an always tricky proposition with new gear, especially in this era of UEFI/secure boot prompted by Windows 8).

The initial boot and setup was almost uneventful. I had to reboot before completing said setup, and I gave the login name I wanted to the computer itself (it has a name; like a hostname in Unix I suppose), so the computer is named after me, and I have a different login.

Right out of the box, I’ll just say that I NEED A START BUTTON. This is madness. During setup, the laptop clued me in on the “mouse into the corner to get back to the accursed Metro interface” move.

I’m used to mousing into the corner. I do it in GNOME 3. I’ve done it in Ubuntu’s Unity. But here I have to mouse, then click “search,” then type something in. Also like in GNOME 3, Windows 8 allows you to click the “Windows”/Super key and get back to the Metro desktop. But I installed Firefox, and that’s not on that slate of tiles. Internet Explorer is there. Will I be able to put what the hell I want there, or will I only be able to access non-Microsoft apps from the regular desktop WHICH SHOULD HAVE A FREAKING START BUTTON.

You hit the Windows key and get the Metro tiles, but you don’t get a search box. But it’s “there.” You just start typing and the system starts searching for apps and other bits on your computer.

This is pretty much EXACTLY LIKE GNOME 3. Who would have thought?

Lenovo G555 laptop, age 2 years and 11 months, served well, died suddenly

It happened unexpectedly. One minute I was using my nearly 3-year-old Lenovo G555 laptop. I closed the lid, opened it a half-hour later, and s/he was dead.

Wouldn’t even POST. Just a CPU fan and a power light. That means the power supply wasn’t dead. But something on the motherboard sure was.

You can’t really do much about a 3-year-old computer that cost $330 in 2010. I’ll just be pulling the drive and moving on.

I’ve always figured that $100/year is about the right price to pay for a computer. I sure didn’t baby this one. It went everywhere, got pounded on regularly, and — not insignificantly — showed a lot of video (and facilitated the editing of a goodly amount, too).

Unfortunately, three years is what you can generally expect from computers. Five years is lucky, 10 years is “you’re crazy.” I generally am, so I understand it more than most.

I feel better about only spending $330. I’d be hopping mad if it was $900.

Power Mac G4/466 runs Debian Etch

My latest project has been to load and run Debian GNU/Linux on a Power Macintosh G4/466.

The box came to me with no disk drives and 128 MB of RAM. I upped the RAM to 384 MB, and I installed two hard drives.

Besides the stable Etch distribution of Debian, I experimented with the Fedora
Linux distro as well as OpenBSD.

Fedora installed, but configuring X for the GUI video didn’t go very well. I probably could’ve gotten it to work better with information from the xorg.conf file that Debian built for me automatically, but since the system was extremely slow under Fedora, that only made the choice of Debian Etch (which seems made for and tuned to the G4) that much easier.

I really wanted to see how the G4 would do with OpenBSD, but while I was able to install it on two occasions, on neither of those was I able to get the system to boot. The regular FAQ for OpenBSD has excellent instructions on how to install it on an i386 machine, but the supplementary material for doing the install on MacPPC was less than helpful (or not helpful enough to get the system to boot).

So I went with Debian. I installed the system on one hard drive and am using the other to back up the /home directory via rsync.

A Debian victory for the $15 Laptop

I’ve been toying with removing Debian Etch from the $15 Laptop — the 1999 Compaq Armada 7770dmt with a 233 MHz Pentium II MMX processor and 64 MB of RAM. When most computer users — even those partial to Linux — talk about “old” hardware, they mean either things in the 1 GHz range, even 3 GHz single-core CPU computers with 512 MB of RAM.

For me, a 1.2 GHz Celeron laptop with 1 GB of RAM is good enough to run just about any Linux distribution out there. And my main Windows machine at the office — a 3 GHz Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM is way more than adequate for desktop use.

As far as the 233 MHz Compaq laptop goes, I’m probably going to bump up the RAM from the current 64 MB to the maximum of 144 MB, but that’s pretty much besides the point.

When I first got this laptop (yep, it cost me $15, though I had to shell out $10 for the CD-ROM drive on eBay) I ran into a lot of luck, because it wasonly supposed to have 32 MB of RAM but had double that. It wasn’t supposed to have a hard drive, but not only was the hard-drive casing intact, but there was a 3 GB drive inside it. It was loaded with Windows 98 but wouldn’t boot. Once I had the CD drive (the incoluded floppy drive doesn’t work, and I could get another one for $10, but I really don’t need it), I was able to run Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux from live CDs.

At first I loaded Windows 2000 just to see how it ran. Win 2K ran alright, but I’m not in this to run Windows. I had pretty good luck with both Puppy and DSL, but Damn Small Linux is really the more suited of the two for a computer with 64 MB of RAM.

Anyhow, I eventually wanted to try Debian Etch on the Compaq. I’ve done at least four installs of Debian on this computer, but my first began was the “standard” install, which means no X. After that, I added X and Fluxbox, plus all the apps I though I’d need. ROX-filer, AbiWord, Leafpad, Dillo, Lynx, Elinks, Sylpheed (which didn’t work), MtPaint for image editing, and eventually even Iceweasel (aka Debian’s renamed Firefox).

I was able to actually get work done on the laptop, which can connect to the outside world only through the Orinoco WaveLAN Silver 802.11b wireless PCMCIA card I had previously bought for This Old Mac (aka my 1996 Powerbook 1400cs). And since the PCMCIA slot in the much-better $0 Laptop (Gateway Solo 1450) is inoperable (“busted” is the technical term), the wireless card has remained in the Compaq, which has no Ethernet port or USB capability (though it does have a serial port, parallel printer port, built-in telephone modem and a power supply fully enclosed in the case — yes, a 120-volt power cord plugs right into the back). They made these Compaq’s well — this one still runs great.

Anyhow, my “roll-your-own-X” Debian install did OK. The display was a bit slow in Abiword, but I had everything running fairly well. Just not well enough.

Since then, I spent quite a bit of time testing DSL 4.0 on the Compaq. Damn Small Linux runs great on this thing, that much I can tell you. And I even ran Puppy 2.13 for a couple of days this week.

But I always had Debian on the hard drive. Just not the original Debian. I had wiped the drive and experimented with Debian Etch and the Xfce desktop install (desktop=xfce as a boot parameter in the installer) as well as Slackware 12.0 without KDE (Xfce and Fluxbox).

Well, Slackware without KDE means you don’t even get an office suite, and I still had barely any disk space on the 3 GB drive. (I know, I just need to get a bigger drive … I know.)

So I went back to Debian Etch, again the Xfce desktop. Surprisingly, this install includes the full OpenOffice suite and I still have about a full GB of space left on the hard drive. I have a separate /home partition with 800 MB in it, and a root partition with 2 GB, with about 150 MB left. The rest of the space is swap — about 120 MB.

And while on the Gateway laptop (1.2 GHz Celeron CPU) I cannot detect a performance difference between the Xfce and Fluxbox window managers, on this 233 MHz CPU, there’s quite a difference. I was about to give up on Etch altogether when I decided to again install AbiWord (I tried Ted … again … but the RTF word processor still doesn’t work, at least in any Etch install I’ve had), as well as Fluxbox.

Fluxbox makes it a lot snappier. I still have all the Xfce apps, including Thunar, Mousepad and the great Xfmedia.

In fact, I finally got sound working tonight. I don’t think it’ll survive a reoot, so I’ll have to run this line on startup, but for today it did work:

# modprobe sb io=0x220 irq=5 dma=1 mpu_io=0x330

I can’t run alsamixer, but I can play an MP3 in Xfmedia, and it sounds great even on the built-in speakers on this 9-year-old laptop.

I didn’t think I could get sound working in Debian Etch, but since I did, Etch will definitely live to fight another day on this laptop.

Before I close out this entry, let men emphasize that the Xfce install of Debian is a quirky distro, to be sure. It’s nowhere near as complete as Ubuntu’s Xfce variant, Xubuntu.

Etch in its Xfce incarnation includes the full OpenOffice suite, but not Abiword or Gnumeric (which would be good substitutes). There’s no Synaptic or Update Manager, so I’ve been doing what Debian aficionados always tell me to do: use Aptitude. I was running aptitude in a terminal for awhile, but it’s much easier to just run it at the command line:

# aptitude update
# aptitude upgrade
# aptitude install abiword

Yep, just like apt-get and apt-get install, but Aptitude is supposed to do an even better job with dependencies and it keeps track of your changes to the system, should there be any problem.

And if this entry appears on this Blogger blog, it means that the lightweight Dillo browser actually works with the blogging interface — a great thing because Dillo is very, very fast.

Note: I did save a copy of this as text in case Dillo and Blogger aren’t exactly cooperating.

Further note: Dillo and Blogger weren’t exactly getting along, so I completed this post with Iceweasel.

Final note: The fact that Debian Etch — a modern, up-to-date Linux distribution — can run so well in 233 MHz of CPU and 64 MB of RAM is something truly to behold. Again, my thanks to everybody at the Debian Project, past and present, for all they’ve done for the rest of us.

Post-final note: If Debian continues to perform so well, I just might blog the SCALE 6x convention with this 1999-vintage laptop.

Positively the last note: I’ve had trouble with Iceweasel and anything on Google for which I have to log in, so I just cut the fat and posted this to Click. And in case I only mentioned it once above, Fluxbox is really flying on this setup. And since the 1999 Compaq with Debian Etch and Movable Type 4.0 are playing nicely, I think this laptop is definitely going to SCALE 6x.

Sorry, just one more note: Look for a SCALE 6x feature on Click in the days ahead.