Sunday, December 6, 2009

Acer Aspire 5517-5136

These little gems are on sale at Wal-Mart for $348, and I felt so guilty buying them at that price I actually got two.

They have:

AMD Athlon 64 TF-20 / 1.6 GHz
ATI Radeon Xpress 1200, 1366 x 768 ( WXGA )
2G RAM, DDR2 SDRAM - 667.0 MHz
160G HD
WiFi (with disable switch)
Mouse Pad (with disable switch)
External VGA
DVD burner
2 USB slots
side mounted mic/headphone jacks
side mounted power jack with right angle plug
memory card reader
decent keyboard.

I have set both up to dual boot Win7 and Ubuntu 9.10 (wireless BroadCom STA drivers were problematic), and things seem to be good.

Fedora 12

Here is the roundup for Fedora 12, RedHat's latest release.

PASS - Asus system board with AMD-64 X2, upgrade from F11.

FAIL - Acer Aspire One AO751h netbook, no video driver for poulsbo chipset yet.

FAIL - Acer Aspire 5517-5136 laptop, went into endless reboots .. so I used Ubuntu 9.10 ... the wireless (Broadcom STA drivers) gave me a bit of a head scratching, but, the solution was easily found on the web. Dual boot with Win7.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Virtual Machines

A few years back a co-worker turned me on to "virtual machines". The technology has been available for large mainframe systems for many hears (1970's), but has become usable on PC systems over the past decade.

A "virtual machine" allows you to create a "virtual" computer system for running software that won't run on the host system, or, needs to be insulated from the host system.
VM's give you the ability to run multiple operating systems at the same time on the same physical hardware. I am running Fedora 11 as the host and other versions of Linux, DOS and/or Windows as guests.

I started out using VMWare workstation, and it served me well over the years. While the price was not unreasonable, it was not free. There is a VMWare player that will let you run virtual machines, but the workstation license is "required" to create virtual machines.

More recently, Phil, another co-worker, turned me on to VirtualBox. I have found it to be every bit as useful, stable and easy to use as VMWare at my kind of price point. Free.

Having virtual machines can give you the ability to run software (Tax Cut in my case) once in a while on Windows, while maintaining the security of a Linux system for daily use.

I also gives you the ability to engage in "high risk" activities on a virtual operating system (like experimental system configuration changes or testing the effectiveness of virus protection software). It also helps me support friends and relatives on different operating systems as I can walk them through the things they need help with from the comfort of my desk.

Finally, just like Linux, when you take the worry and hassle out of doing something, it just might become fun again.

These are screen shots of a few of my "virtual" boxes, all of these screen shots were made on my main Fedora 11 machine running ....

Linux - Fedora 12

Linux - Ubuntu 9.10

Linux - Mint 7

Windows - XP Pro

Windows - 2000 Pro

Mint 7 on VirtualBox

I installed Mint 7 Linux on a virtual machine (VirtualBox). Setup was:

512M RAM
10G Disk, Fixed Size
32M Video RAM

I installed correctly, including the guest operating system drivers, and ran well.

The look and feel reminds me very much of Windows XP ... seems like this may be a comfortable fit for folks wanting to try Linux.

Ubuntu 9.10 on VirtualBox

Well, Ubuntu 9.10 is finally here.

I took it for a spin in a Virtual Machine (VirtualBox). The setup was:

512M RAM
10G Disk, Fixed Size
32M Video RAM

After installing the guest operating system's drivers it handled as advertised.

I need to play with it more, but, time is at a premium these days.

Fedora 12 on VirtualBox

Well, I loaded up Fedora 12 in a virtual machine (VirtualBox) and took it for a spin. I must say, early impressions are:

1. Clean
2. Simple
3. Fast

The install went without a hitch ... I chose the following VM settings:

512M RAM
10G Disk, fixed size
32M RAM for video

I installed the OS and the VM's drivers for the guest system (in this case Fedora 12 was the guest, and my main system, running Fedora 11, was the host).

Next I added yum repositories for:

RPM Fusion (for non-free audio/video codecs)
Adobe Flash / Acrobat reader

It seems impossible, but, I would say the optimizations in Fedora 12 give the OS a snappier feel in the VM than Fedora 11 has running on a real machine.

Will write more later ... pressing on to updating the Acer Aspire One netbook ... so far ... so good.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Save your data

As a person that is called on to help update computer systems regularly, I can tell you, making sure data is preserved is no joking matter. You just try telling grandma that you laid waste to 5 years worth of grandkid photos and see how popular you are at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In similar fashion, business users are none to happy with the idea of having to recreate data after an upgrade ... they are in business to serve customers, not computers.

So, a few tricks from the pros can keep you from pulling your hair out.

First of all, if you have a Windows operating system, look into buying a program that can handle copying your data from one version of Windows (say Vista) and restoring it to another (say Win7). Get an external (portable) hard drive (I prefer USB connected hard drives) and do your backups.

It is also helpful to keep your data in a logical fashion in a common set of folders (documents and settings). Some programs try to store their data in the program files folder, which, in my humble opinion, is WRONG. You should not be making backups of the OS folders (ie. c:\program files or c:\windows) with your data during the upgrade process, the OS files from an older version of Windows may render the new system unworkable.

Under Linux, user data is store in the /home folder. If joe, sue and bill all share the same machine, there will be home folders like:


So, backing up /home will get it all. No muss, no fuss, no special programs needed. In fact, if you take a bit of time during the install of Linux, you can setup the hard disk so that /home is in a "separate area" of the hard drive (called a partition) that will be preserved during an update. This does not eliminate the backup as a good idea, but, it will remove the requirement of having to backup before and restore after. If all goes well, the data will be in the same place it was before. Another nice thing about Linux, you don't have the permission or rights to store data in a place where programs are kept.

I normally "partition" my Linux system hard drives into three "parts".


I put the swap in first ... usually I make it twice the size of RAM ... so, if your machine has 2G of RAM, it would get 4G of swap partition space.

Next, I put the Linux partition, 10G is plenty for a normal user, and I have been using ext3 format for years with a smile on my face.

Next, I put the home partition, take the rest of the free space, format it ext3

Now, whenever I install from DVD, I can completely reload the Linux partition and the /home partition stays put ... with all my data and personal preferences in place.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ubuntu 9.10

We, let the install party begin.

I downloaded the installation CD images for Ubuntu 9.10, just released Oct. 29, 2009, and I am ready to rumble.

I hope you noticed that the Microsoft Commercials for "Win7 install parties" were deliberately not called "Win7 upgrade parties" ... no doubt because upgrading from Vista to Win7 will be NO PARTY.

On Steve's Dell laptop it went from 8.10 to 9.04 and then 9.10.

On Kirsten's Dell laptop it went from 8.04 to 8.10 to 9.04 like a dream.

So, see if you can get Microsoft Vista to upgrade to Win7 without loss of data or intervention of any kind .... for free.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I'm in love with ... python

I have done it. I never thought I would fall victim to a middle age crisis, but, it just happened. #15 was the charm.

After learning 14 other computer languages I found the love of my life.

Python, with wxPython for GUI, wxGlade for GUI layout and postgres for the database.

What can I tell you. With almost no thought or effort the code just falls from my fingertips. Even for a novice GUI developer ... it is nearly effortless.

lists, dictionaries, tuples, object oriented design and I'm still on version 2.6.

Be still my heart.

The efficiency of assembler.
The constant thought required of VB.
The speed of C.
The mind numbing perl with books covering my desk.

I will miss all of them.

The bright side ?

I love coding even more than I did already.

Please don't tell my boss, but, I would do this for free.

Acer Aspire One A0751-1279

Well, I took the plunge. I traded $298.00 for an Acer Aspire One, free shipping, site-to-store.

I love it.

The Vista that came with the machine never had a chance.
No kindness.
No dual boot.
No shot at breathing the breath of life.
I booted Knoppix, partitioned the hard drive, and infused it with Fedora 11 (sorry Steve, but Ubuntu 9.04 did not support the Wifi chip).

The specs on the machine are:

* Intel Atom, Z520 (1.33GHz / 512 KB L2 cache / 533FSB), US15W
* 11.6" Widescreen, Glossy, 1366 x 768 (WXGA/LED)
* MGA500 Graphics (Poulsbo), shared memory, Aux VGA output
* 2GB, DDR2 667
* 250G HD
* 6-in-1 Card Reader
* Web Camera
* RJ-45 Ethernet Jack
* WiFi 802.11b/g
* Bluetooth
* 3 USB 2.0 Ports
* 3 Cell Battery with 4 hour runtime

I put on Fedora, went out to AdamW's site (for the Poulsbo driver) and setup the video for 1366x768. The sound, wifi, ethernet and all worked out of the box.

The little guy is FAST.

The CPU is hyperthreaded (almost like a dual core) and has a 64bit register set.

It plays flash video just fine ... and so far has just been a joy to drive.

Big C

Being a truck driver, Steve runs into a good many people from different walks of life. Basically, anyone shipping large items is going to need the services of a trucking company at some point in time.

Steve has never been one to come up short on opinions. If he loves a product, or hates it, you're likely to hear about.

"Big C" works at a company that enlists the services of Steve's employer, so it would be unlikely that "Big C" has heard Steve relating his Linux stories.

Well, not to long ago Steve gave "Big C" a copy of Ubuntu 9.04 and a demo of Ubuntu on Steve's Dell Ubuntu Laptop (Inspiron 1545N).

"Big C" was impressed, but still had questions about journey from Windows to Linux. The Ubuntu disk sat patiently by until one of "Big C"'s Windows boxes fell to a crafty virus and refused to access the internet.

Well, I answered one question on the phone and "Big C" installed Ubuntu from that CD. He ended up with an Ubuntu Linux 9.04 partition that could access the internet and the accomplishment of creating a "dual boot" machine with Windows and Ubuntu.

I didn't ask "Big C" how many times he had installed an operating system before, but, it would not surprise me if that was his first.

Somehow, I doubt it will be his last.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

System for SAMM

Well, Steve, my truck driving buddy, and his wife, June, told me about June's mom being retired and offline. Because I have a real dislike of putting electronic gear in the landfill, there are usually several computers at my place in need of a good home. They called me and I told them for the cost of freight I could set SAMM (June's mom) up with a system that would be good for e-mail, youtube, light gaming and instant messaging.

The machine selected was:

* AMD Athlon (32bit) 1.6Ghz
* 512M RAM
* Keyboard, mouse, speakers
* USB 2.0 Hub
* USB Webcam
* 19" LCD monitor
* Fedora 11

Now, most of you can tell that this machine is no speed demon. It would not be appropriate for WinXP, Vista or Win7 simply because the the limited amount of RAM ... and would barely run Win2000.

Well, it runs Fedora 11 just fine. It plays DVD's, flash videos, Freecell and Monsterz. It will do almost anything SAMM will need it to do for a while.

Because SAMM has nobody living in her home to help her with computer related things, any hardware or software issues, training or frustration will initiate a phone call to June, and possibly to me. Keeping SAM's life simple means keeping June's life simple, and ultimately, my life simple too.

June setup accounts e-mail and IM on most of the majors, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Gmail ... keeping track of the usernames and passwords.

I installed the system and setup the codecs for DVD, mp3 and such. The instant messaging and e-mail programs were setup with the accounts that June created. June and I tested all the stuff out, IM, e-mail ... the whole 9 yards.

The system was shipped and delivered. SAMM helped me verify that the CPU and cables were still in place. She put the system together from all the parts, plugged it in and was off and running.

June walked her through the login process, menus, applications, start up, shutdown and such.

DSL should be getting installed soon, then the real adventure starts.

To date, the only frustrations I know of have been expressed by family members that have never used Linux ... they want to help SAMM get the most out of her system and Linux looks like a poor choice to them, but, they don't have the experiences behind them that I do.

This is not the first system I have shipped to OKLAHOMA. I have two friends in the ministry that are still using a Linux they got from me many years ago. That system was a dual boot, Win2000 and Linux. After all these years, the only OS still running is ... Linux. The Win2000 side won't boot any more, it was running slow and giving "the dreaded blue screen of death". The sad part to their story is "they need Windows", but, like so many folks in the ministry, they can not afford the constant Microsoft Taxes. The cost of new hardware, the cost of new versions of Windows, the cost of time spent being a system administrator, anti-virus expert, blah, blah, blah.

I know that Microsoft has made it very difficult to use the products and then break free ... that is why I sent SAMM a box running Linux.

It is easier to avoid starting a bad habit than it is to break free of one.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dell 15N preloaded with Ubuntu

Well, he did it. Steve, my truck driving buddy, has picked up one of those inexpensive Dell 15N laptop computers with Ubuntu Linux.

* 2.16Ghz Celeron processor
* 2G RAM
* 160G Hard Disk
* 15.4" LCD
* Wireless

All for just over $400 ... not too shabby.

Steve got his FIRST COMPUTER a little over a year ago, it is a nicely equipped desktop system that came with Vista and now has Vista and Fedora Linux (dual boot).

Now, I have tried to keep him faithful to Fedora Linux, but, before I could get him to remove Ubuntu Linux from that new laptop, he fell in love.

He only asked me for the security key required to access his wireless router. After that he was on the internet and:

* upgraded Ubuntu 8.10 to 9.04, no loss of personal data ...
* installed the codecs needed to play audio and video multimedia
* customized his environment

This may not be rocket science to a power user ... but he did this without any help and ENJOYED THE PROCESS.

Now, how many of you could update Windows XP to Windows Vista? Do you think you could:
  • upgrade easily?
  • enjoy the process?
  • preserve all your data?
  • succeed without any support from friends?

I have done more of my share of upgrades (friends and family) over the years ... and I have never, ever seen a Windows upgrade that was easy or fun. I have seen more than my share that resulted in loss of data (thank God for backups) and crippled machines.

I will say this, installing and using Ubuntu is easy enough to be FUN.

In closing, if you do decide to upgrade from XP to Vista, and you need help, call:


and have your credit card handy.

Best Buy says "You wore out your computer"?

I overheard this at a local Best Buy.

"If your computer is slow, it is probably because
you wore it out and need a new one".

If a car started running like crap after a 6 months of service, nobody would just assume it was worn out. They would be demanding that it be repaired, for free if it was still under warranty. The manufacturer would be financially on the ropes after doing that to EVERY CUSTOMER THEY SERVED FOR A FEW YEARS.

But we, as consumers, have been led to believe that slow computers just need to be replaced. It is the best marketing scam of the century. Computer software companies are not to be held responsible for anything, EVEN CRAPPY SOFTWARE THAT IS INSECURE.

System slow? I guess I just wore it out. What a JOKE.

This may come as a surprise, but, if a computer is "worn out", it won't be SLOW, it will be DEAD.

I have computers that are over 10 years old, still in service, still just as fast as the day they were purchased.

Now lightning strikes have FRIED a couple of my computers over the years, but they were not slow, they were DEAD.

So, what is making old Bessy so slow ?

Let's go over the checklist here:

* bloated operating system .... check
* tons of crapware installed by manufacturer .... check
* added tons of antiviral programs to detect infections .... check
* got a trojan, which in turn installed 400 virus programs ... check
* every installed program constantly checks for updates ... check

I don't know about you, but I don't have the time, patience or money to replace computers every six months, so I don't.

I put LINUX on them and FORGET them. They run fast as the day you bought them, FOREVER.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Computers should be like toasters ...

Computers should be like TV sets, or a toaster, or any other appliance.

Turn them on. Use them. Turn them off.

How often does your ...

* DVD player get a virus?
* Refrigerator get a blue screen of death?
* Your stove controls lock up?
* TV Sound slows to a crawl when there is a lot of action on the screen?
* Stereo stop working because you connect a cassette player?

Get real. The local consumer reporter would carry the story and the company that made the device would be changing their name and leaving the country.

That is why I use Linux. I want a computing appliance. I don't want to think about the websites I visit being infected. I don't want to fret over e-mail I open containing a trojan. I don't want my firewall to get wormy or my SQL to get injected (whatever that is). I don't want to buy extra stuff to make my computer work properly (anti-virus, anti-adware, anti-spyware).

I want it to just work. Every time. No excuses. No exceptions. No headaches.

Just like Linux.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Fedora 10

November brought the release of Fedora 10.

I must say, it was a very welcome upgrade.

Adding RPM Fusion (to get the missing audio/video codecs) was easy.
Adding Adobe Acrobat and Flash was not as easy.
Adding Google Earth was shameful.

All in all, I was up and running in just under 30 minutes (fresh install).

As always, my data and settings were just like I left them.

Try that with Windows.