Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Fri, 23 Mar 2007

Back in the Herd

I've been having some problems with Folding@home on my home PC. Apart from it taking weeks to process a work unit due to not being on all the time and just being generally slow, I've had several units crash out, so wasting several days of processing. I've not found a workaround, so for now I'm putting this PC back on distibuted.net. It has no benefit to medical science, and I'm not totally sure about it's benefits to anyone else, but at least my PC is contributing to something. I hate to see a processor idle.

I changed my start-up script to swap things over, but when I rebooted I ended up at a console. It took me a while to sort it. It seems that it was actually due to an update I had run earlier which had not completed properly. Running 'apt-get -f install' fixed it.

distributed.net has achieved a few things. It has cracked a few encryption challenges and has calculated some optimum Golomb rulers, but the latest challenge seems ambitious. They have been working on the RC5-72 encryption challenge for a few years and, at current rates, will take another 1000 years to cover all the keyspace. Of course the key may be found in the first 1% and computers will get faster, but I think this already shows how hard a task it is. I think they have less contributors than in the past as many have moved to other projects. Looking at their stats on the platforms in use, it's amazing to see the variety. There are even some old Amigas still processing.

Maybe I'll look at Folding@home again when I have a faster, probably dual core, PC. The F@H client is gaining the ability to exploit all cores without the user having to set up multiple instances. Dnet has had that for several years, as I found when I ran it on an old dual CPU server. It will be intesting to see the results when Sony release the F@H client for the PS3.

I've been looking for a while for a way to convert programmes I've recorded from Freeview to a more compact format. I was thinking of DVD, but as my player can do Divx that may be suitable. I remember when that first appeared and the fun we had converting DVDs. I ran some tests with mencoder and that looks promising, even if it lacks a GUI. I was going to convert a programme from last night for the wife to take to work, but Channel 4 changed the schedule at the last minute.

Minor excitement in the garden today when a sparrowhawk took out a dove. I missed the kill and it flew off before I could get my camera.

[15:19] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 14 Feb 2007

You know your computer is old when...

...the BIOS battery dies. This just happened to me. I was having to set the BIOS date and time when I started up, but I had a spare battery (good old CR2032!) and now it's fixed for another few years. I'm not sure how long I've had the motherboard, but the Duron 1200 CPU has been around for nearly six years according to this comprehensive list.

I've had a few issues with the computer lately, mostly down to my earlier mishaps. I managed to get printing working again after bypassing the official way of installing CUPS. I still have a few issues including the screensaver not turning the monitor off. Yesterday Firefox stopped working completely. It seemed to be due to some sort of file corruption, so I ended up re-installing it. I also lost sound from the web via Flash and Realplayer, but that's still under investigation. Perhaps when the next version of Ubuntu gets released I'll try a fresh install in hope of fixing all these niggles, but I shall be careful to preserve all my user files. I'll just have to re-install a whole load of stuff. The graphics card is going to have to come out as it's making a lot of noise whilst not giving me much benefit. I just hope this doesn't mess things up again. I could wait until I do the re-install to be safe.

I just took delivery of a smart new DVD player. It's a Sony DVP-NS76H. I've not bought Sony stuff in the past, but this got a good rating from Which. I've plugged it in with a composite video cable to the TV and it looks good so far. Next steps are to make it multi-region, which may need my One4All remote, and set up my Harmony remote to work with it. My old DVD was an Acoustic Solutions unit that came from Richer Sounds many years ago. It has worked fine and is being passed on to someone. The Sony has features like HDMI and progressive scan, but these will not work with my current TV. I'm holding off buying a flat screen for now. The price/quality ratio should improve and settle down in a couple of years.

[13:13] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 19 Jan 2007

Upgrade Woes

I'm still working on sorting out my PC after installing the MX400. I've now established that it's only my account that's broken, so I may just move all my files and build it again from scratch. At least on Linux it's relatively easy to recover the settings for each application as they are all stored as files rather than in a registry database.

I'm even having second thoughts about whether to keep the card in that PC. I need to run more tests, but it doesn't seem much quicker and it adds to the system noise due to it's fan. I gain up to 32MB of system memory, but that's offset by the new DIMM anyway. Maybe I should try to find a slightly more moderm card that gives real benefits, preferably one with passive cooling.

On the subject of nvidia I was listening to LugRadio on the train today. They were speaking to someone from the Nouveau project that is trying to build open source drivers. That's a tricky task due to the lack of public technical data. It will be even trickier if they want to support all the generations of cards. Perhaps I should go for open hardware.

Of course I could build a whole new PC with much better parts for not much money, but I'm trying to resist the temptation. To encourage my greener lifestyle I was given a subscription to Ethical Consumer magazine. Most of the companies I would generally buy from do not get rated well, but then the reviewers have very strict criteria. In a lot of cases I will have to go for the least evil affordable option.

[13:56] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 18 Jan 2007

Upgrades for Free

Rather than buying/building a new computer I'm trying to get by upgrading what I have. The advantage of this method is that there are people out there who have spare parts I need left over from their own upgrades. I've been placing some ads on the local Freecycle and on my Multiply Market. I also advertised some of the kit I've had lying around for years that is too old to get any money for. This week I managed to get rid of a fair bit and, in exchange, I gained some useful parts. These consisted of an extra 256MB DIMM and a couple of graphics cards. The nvidia MX400 looked like a good option for my main Linux box as it's old enough to be supported by the motherboard. It may not give a huge performance leap over the on-board graphics, but it frees up some memory. The Matrox G550 will go in the Win98 box that the kids use.

I've had a few issues with the MX400. After it didn't initially get me into KDE I did some digging and found out it needed the legacy driver. I think that is working, but I now still have problems getting KDE to start consistently. I sometimes get a desktop with no toolbar or window title bars, but did once manage to get everything looking as it did previously. I need to learn more about how it all works. There are various guides that give you a series of commands to run to make something work, but they don't always explain why it works.

On the upgrade front I'm still on the look-out for a better CPU. I should be able to fit something at least 50% quicker than my 1200 Duron. That will help speed up my current project to convert some Freeview recordings to DVD format.

[14:08] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 03 Jan 2007

Long Live the Amiga

I've just been reading an interesting article on The Inquirer about the current state of the Amiga. It seems there is a new version of the OS, but the hardware to run it is no longer in production. Looks like another in a long line of fiascos.

Many years ago I bought a second-hand A500 Plus and had a lot of fun with it. Working from floppies became a bit limiting so I moved to the A1200 when it came out with a mighty 200MB hard drive. That machine went through a series of upgrades culminating in a 68040 processor with 128MB of memory. The drive was swapped for a 1.7GB 3.5" that sat outside the case and I had a x2 SCSI CD, all powered by an old PC PSU. I could even run a Mac emulator for things like Compuserve and some games. And then Doom got ported! It was all fun, but the Amiga was suffering from lack of development and I eventually gave it up for a Windows PC (PII/350 with 128MB memory and 8GB HD). I managed to sell all the Amiga stuff for a fraction of what it cost.

My home computing history goes back a lot further to my BBC Micro, but that's a different story.

Now I'm happily running Kubuntu Linux. There's something of the feel of the old Amiga community, but with much better prospects for a decent future. The main problems are likely to be things like getting drivers for new hardware and support for new media formats or web services. Recently I've been thinking about getting a cordless phone that can also link to the PC for use with Skype or some other VOIP, but there seems to be a lack of support for that. I still don't intend to resort to using Windows, of any sort. I do have a PC running Windows 98, but that's only to run some old games for the kids.

[12:54] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 20 Dec 2006

Who needs Windows?

I've been running my main PC on Linux for about 18 months now and don't miss Windows at all. I still have 98 on the second PC, but only so the kids can play some simple games, and use XP at work. I quite often find that I miss certain Linux facilities when using XP, but rarely the other way around. I've seen all the hype about Vista, but there's nothing that really grabs me. Why should I pay hundreds of pounds for something that will place so many restrictions on what I can do? It's possible to get all the 3D tricks on Linux if you want them and have the necessary hardware.

Ubuntu has served me very well. Almost all the software I need can be easily installed from their repositories. They also have have friendly forums (fora?). I still need to work out how to do a few things, like transferring home video to DVD, but I'm generally happy. I still don't think it's suitable for everyone. Games will be an issue for the forseeable future, but I don't play them.

In some cases Linux can be easier to install than Windows. I am tempted to try installing something lightweight, like Xubuntu, on an old PC I have to see if it could be made useful.

What I could do with is a more powerful PC. My old Duron 1200 is getting on and I have to wait a while for some things to run. I've put out some requests for certain items that would let me upgrade this PC to keep it running a while longer. To use the nice new stuff, like dual-core processors will mean starting from scratch. A faster CPU, some more memory and a graphics card could transform what I have without costing a fortune. If my request on Freecycle gets answered it may even cost nothing as people may have them hanging around after they upgraded. I have my own pile of old hardware that I have offered, but there are no takers yet. Some of it may have to be dumped, but I will re-use what I can.

[09:03] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 16 Dec 2006

Deskstar in a Coma

Many years ago I decided to upgrade the 8GB drive in my PC to something bigger. I went for a 46GB IBM Deskstar. Probably cost about £200 at the time. This worked happily for many years, but did get a bit flakey in later life, so I replaced it with a massive 250GB that cost about a quarter as much. I also bought an external USB drive case from ebuyer. I used this to copy data off some older drives, but when I tried the Deskstar it didn't seem to recognise it. The drive case is made by Safecom. It's basic, but was fairly cheap. I just had a look at the buyers' comments here and found one by Ron Hope suggesting that for a Deskstar you should ignore the jumpers settings to set master/slave etc and just remove the jumpers. The manual said the drive had to be set to master. That got it working straight away. So thanks Ron and perhaps people will find this article if they have similar problems.

[16:01] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 14 Dec 2006

Herts LUG 20061213

Last meeting of the year and I think there were nine of us. Average attendance is up significantly this year. There was the usual chat and then Malcolm, suspiciously smartly dressed, gave a little presentation on the benefits of SCO Caldera Linux to ruthless corporate dictators. This turned out to be an excuse to commit serious violence on innocent manuals and CDs. Power tools were used. As a piece of performance art this was great fun. Certainly a nice way to end the year.

James (going to do your page soon?) turned up late after his Java teaching duties to make a rare appearance. This turned out to be very productive as he managed to get a wireless card working on Mandriva for someone whose name I either don't know or have forgotten.

The free timestamping service I mentioned to Ian can be found here.

[16:43] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 11 Nov 2006

Herts LUG 20061108

Our LUG speaker this month was Rob talking about how he got LPI certified. He did pretty well considering he has a new baby and is suffering from a lack of sleep. I remember those days. He's 'flogged' it. There was also a general discussion about email and the problems of spam. Some of the talk about managing mail servers went over my head.

I didn't seem to write anything for the meeting last month. LordElph talked about how the GeoGraph site is run on Linux. He is also a fellow participant in the Open Streetmap project. He's mainly working on Baldock. I keep adding bits and pieces of places I've been, but haven't had the time to finish off Arlesey. It would only take a day to map the remaining streets, longer to do all the local footpaths.

Talking of Baldock, we were there in Tesco today and were having a snack in their cafe when we were joined by an old soldier who had been out collecting for the poppy appeal. He was a very sprightly 84 and had been at the Normandy landings among other campaigns. There can't be that many of his kind left. I am very much anti any sort of war as they are generally due to the failures of politicians, but I admire those who had to fight, regardless of whether they wanted to be soldiers.

[17:16] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 04 Nov 2006

Easy Edgy

I've been putting off upgrading my Kubuntu (a variant of the Ubuntu OS), for a while since they released the latest version, Edgy Eft. I've heard of people having problems that left them with an unusable system, and I have experienced this myself on an earlier version change. Last night I decided to go for it. I ran a couple of commands and the system proceeded to download about 900 packages. That and the actual installation took around three hours. I had to run the upgrade command twice after it stumbled on a file, but apart from that it was all smooth sailing. The scary part was rebooting to see if the system came back up. And it did!

There's a few obvious changes in the look of the system. Windows and the backdrop have changed. Starting the system seems slightly quicker with new-look screens. Some of the applications show obvious new features. Kopete (multi-protocol messager) is showing MSN avatars and shows the MSN gateway as a separate account. Amarok (audio player) can now play the streams from Last.fm. There's also Firefox V2.

I've had stability issues in the past. It will be intesting to see if this version reduces those, but so far, so good.

[16:33] | [] | Comments | G

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