Monthly Archives: July 2010

Shiny & Clean!

I’ve been working on getting Frankenstein working again, so this Saturday I cleaned him up a bit. I had hoped to have him up and running for some experimentation, but I hit a few insurmountable snags (as you’ll see).

I took Frankenstein to SMF (my workplace) because there’s an industrial kitchen there with deep sinks and several tables. Usually they are used for food preparation, but not today!

First of all, a look at the nasty state he was in before cleaning:

Nasty!

Nasty!

More Nasty!

More Nasty!

Basically, it was lots of nasty. It was a lot less nasty than when I cleaned it up to salvage parts to make Limited Edition, though — there were huge balls of dust all over the inside of him then. So I got to work tearing off the plastic parts of the case, and when I got to working on the inside, I took off the CPU fan shroud (the big plastic thing that directs airflow from the CPU fan directly to the outside of the case) and found this:

Super Gross CPU Fan

Super Gross CPU Fan

Which I guess was okay until I took off the fan and found this lurking underneath:

And I thought they were dusty on the outside!

And I thought they were dusty on the outside!

Frankenstein needed some really hardcore cleaning. So, I took him apart entirely: floppy, fans, PCI cards, power supply, motherboard, even screws got cleaned. I didn’t take the heatsink off the CPU, though, because I figured if it kept it that cool when the heatsink was that clogged, it would be fine. Maybe some other day I’ll give it the Arctic Silver treatment. However, everything else, PSU inclusive, got disassembled, washed and/or canned-air-cleaned (is there a verb for that?). And I mean the “washed” literally:

Now do you believe me?

Now do you believe me?

After I cleaned the case thoroughly, I got the bare motherboard whipped into shape:

Oooh, shiny!

Oooh, shiny!

After reattaching the motherboard, I put back the now thoroughly cleaned RAM, PCI cards, system fan, and CPU fan. Already, Frankenstein was looking better than he had in years. Starting out like this:

Dirty Frankenstein...

Dirty Frankenstein...

He now looked like this:

Clean Frankenstein!

Clean Frankenstein!

Bonus Action Shot!

Bonus Action Shot!

By now, there was only one more dirty component to deal with — the power supply:

Eww. Just... eww.

Eww. Just... eww.

After dealing with the literally gagging amounts of dust, the PSU was finally cleaned and ready to go back in place, but there were two big problems I’d noticed along the way.

Problem #1: No floppy cable. I know nobody cares about floppies anymore, but I had hoped to have this one working so I’d have something other than USB to fall back on in an emergency. I could just steal it back from Limited Edition, but the issue is irrelevant in light of the other big problem.

Problem #2:

Nooooooo!

Nooooooo!

Since the CF-IDE adapter I purchased plugs directly into the motherboard, the floppy power connector is too short by far to reach it. Stupid HP! You made everything else in this case too long by far, why not the floppy power cable!

At least Frankenstein is clean now, but this means that I can’t work on him again until I get an adapter. Fortunately for me, eBay has several Molex-to-floppy converters, and I used the last of my eBay bucks to get one (and a new floppy cable, just in case). When I get it in the mail, my adventures in running Linux from a cheap SSD-workalike will resume.

UPDATE: I got the floppy cable in the mail today, and it is just the perfect length to reach! Maybe I can experiment with one-floppy OSs, so long as I’m going to use Frankenstein for experimentation, eh?

Promises, Promises

Well, I’m afraid I’ve been slacking in the “learning to program” department. My various adventures, detailed in previous posts, have led me astray to more prosaic pursuits (mostly installing and configuring XP Pro and Ubuntu). However, I don’t feel that I have really wasted any time: I’ve been learning many valuable lessons about Ubuntu, and have been slowly adjusting to the Linux (or at least the Ubuntu/Gnome) way of doing things. Having cheat sheets helps, too 😉 . This hiatus from learning Python is unfortunately going to last a bit longer, because I’m trying to get everything I could conceivably need or want off the Internet before I take Limited Edition home with me (for the eighth time, he grumbles) where there is no Internet connection to be had.

As a side note, am I the only one who wishes Gnome had a default keyboard shortcut that equivalent to Win-E opening Explorer? It gets tiring always having to use the mouse! However, I’ve basically replaced both the Win-E and the Win-R Windows shortcuts with Win-Space for Gnome Do, which rocks the socks off of the Windows Start Menu and Google Desktop combined! And I like that Gnome Do gives me two guesses at the same time, but it’s usually right with the first one.

As for Frankenstein, I’ve kinda been scared to start on it because of the incredibly gross amount of grime and dust that’s built up inside it over the years. This weekend, I think I’ll finally bite that particular bullet and clean out the old nasty, so you guys can all enjoy tales of my suffering. Also, I will try to take some before-and-after pictures for all you eye candy junkies out there.

Frankenstein Developments

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m going to attempt to make a working Linux box from the remains of an CF-converted iPod Video and the leftover components from my old HP Pavilion 533c (purchased circa 2003, if memory serves).

Yesterday I received in the mail not one, but three (!) CF-IDE adapters. I guess I should read my eBay auction details more closely next time, but for now I’ll shelf the extra adapters and ponder future uses for them (RAID, anyone?). So, no more excuses, it’s time to clean up that nasty old box and get it ready for experimentation!

Finding an iTunes Replacement for Linux: The Quest Begins

When I installed the proprietary ATI/AMD driver for Limited Edition‘s video card, I had no idea that my Linux install would end up severely damaged. Sparing you the details, I now need to reinstall Ubuntu 10.04 (without any proprietary drivers that “utilize your hardware more efficiently”, of course). This is an opportunity in disguise, though, since I’ve gained extra experience in configuring Ubuntu for Limited Edition for the third time (sixth, if you count test installs), so now I don’t panic too much if I break everything (my /home directory is on a separate partition, thank goodness!).

However, the one thing that I’ve found lacking in all my searching was an iTunes replacement for Linux. I really loved iTunes on Windows XP, used it all the time, and got really excited when new features arrived that made music, podcast, and audiobook management easier for me. However, iTunes 9 really, really doesn’t work in Linux, so I’ve been thrashing about for an acceptable alternative.

High on my particular list of necessities are: podcast support (including enhanced podcasts), audiobook (especially m4b) support, and library management. Cover art support, and tag management would be very welcome as well. And I’d like that all in Gnome, please.

So my alternatives that I am going to be reviewing in the coming weeks will include: aTunes, audacious, Banshee, Clementine, DeaDBeeF, exaile, Nightingale (if it comes out anytime soon), Quod Libet, and Songbird (even though they dropped support for Linux, it may be worth a shot). I do not like KDE 4, so as a last resort I may try JuK or Amarok, but don’t hold your breath.

Also, just for fun, the classic Which OS are You? quiz:

You are Debian Linux. People have difficulty getting to know you.  Once you finally open your shell they're apt to love you.

Pretty good, huh?

UPDATE: Posted reviews for aTunes, Audacious, Banshee, Clementine, DeaDBeeF, exaile, JajuK, Miro, Quod Libet, Songbird in Software Reviews. Coming review for Listen.

CONTEST RESULTS: (As of 8/9/2010) Well, there is no clear winner here. There were quite a few strong candidates, but nobody has the Linux iTunes replacement title in the bag. This is what I felt all candidates lacked:

  • Strong, simple tag editing
  • Good embedded album art support
  • Nice album art display
  • Consistency in handling of unsupported file types
  • Chaptering support
  • Good bookmark support

Here are some things that I liked in the Linux players that weren’t available in iTunes:

  • Multiple library views (especially filesystem views)
  • Cover art fetchers
  • Multiple music stores
  • Support for Vorbis files
  • Lyrics fetchers

All in all, Linux really has quite a lot going for it, but people seem to be focusing overall on either making a minimal player that does hardly anything other than playing the files you give to it, or on making a do-all player that has cool cutting-edge features but lacks some of the basics.

I have no alternative now — I have to try out Amarok 2.3, the most beloved of all Linux music players. If Amarok really, you know, rocks, I think I may have to make the move to KDE, despite my resistance to it until this point 😐 .

Limited Edition Is Rocking Ubuntu Again!

Limited Edition has survived its reconfiguration, and I am now ready to migrate my everyday computing tasks to Ubuntu 10.04! The ready availability of free, high-quality HDD partitioning software is absolutely amazing to behold (for me, anyway). I remember when all I had to work with was fdisk, and I had to use Zip100 disks for backup! GParted is far easier and much less nerve-wracking to use. Not to mention Palimpsest Disk Utility!

Knowing a little better now which programs I want in Ubuntu (thanks to the wonderful Ubuntu Start Script and Ubuntu Tweak utilities), I will be able to go about setting up Limited Edition much more quickly than last time.

My adventures in Linux installations these last few weeks have shown me that Linux installs are way easier to do, more user-friendly, and much faster than Windows XP installs on the same machine. Even individual program configurations and updates are easier to handle!

Also, a major word of praise for Firefox Sync. I converted from Xmarks when I saw that even Mozilla can’t unencrypt your data, and even though it’s not quite so nice as other bookmark/password/etc syncing addons, it has worked flawlessly for all my machines so far. For example, I used dreamer6 to research what to do on Limited Edition, and when I got Limited Edition started up in Ubuntu, all I had to do was start Firefox, install Sync, and pick up exactly where I left off – very handy, indeed.

Some(what) Happy Developments

I alluded in a previous post to potentially changing Limited Edition‘s primary OS to Ubuntu. So for the next few days I’m going to be doing just that.

Installing Windows XP Pro SP3: I’ve been using XP Home on Limited Edition since 2003 or so, and though I don’t really need any of the “extras” of Pro, I figured since I had an extra license lying around from the laptop I cannibalized to keep Piggybacker running, why not? It will be my gaming system, and will hold my legacy files/programs. I’ll install it on my 160GB HDD, but will leave room for Ubuntu’s swap file (though the only time I actually used it was when I tried to calculate really huge exponents in Python 🙂 ).

Re- (and Re-Re-) installing Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Desktop Edition: I’ve already shrunk my NTFS media partition (H:\) by about 250GB, so I’ll put a preliminary Ubuntu install in the free space there. This would be a more permanent setup, but unfortunately my C:\ partition needs some chkdsk massaging, so I need to install Ubuntu temporarily so I can have a working GRUB menu. After making GParted happy that C:\ is okay, I’ll delete this temporary install and move C:\ to the end of the drive so my permanent Ubuntu install can be on /dev/sda1 (which will make the coming months of data transfer and partition resizing/deletion much more bearable).

Removing Windows XP Home SP3: Next I will slowly dismantle my original XP Home install (~250GB of my 1.5TB HDD), and after I’ve made sure I’ve gotten all I want off of it, I will delete it entirely, making extra room for my Ubuntu /home directory.

Moving H:\ to /home/bgbraithwaite: I have most of my user data on my NTFS H:/ drive (music, videos, programs, articles, schoolwork, etc.), and I really want to move it all over to being /home/bgbraithwaite so I can both integrate my data and keep it totally separate from my OS’s filesystem (IMO, one of the best features of Unix-like OSes).

So basically, my computer will go from this:

  • 1.5TB HDD:
    • C:\ (200GB) – Win XP Home SP3 (original OS)
    • D:\ (5GB) – Win XP Home recovery partition (original OS)
    • G:\ (200GB) – User files (documents, schoolwork, etc.)
    • H:\ (1+TB) – Media (music, videos, etc.)
  • 160GB HDD:
    • swap (6GB) – Ubuntu swap file
    • \ (154GB) – Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Desktop Edition

To this (eventually):

  • 1.5TB HDD:
    • \ (250GB) – Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Desktop Edition
    • \home (1+TB) – All my documents and media
  • 160GB HDD:
    • C:\ (155GB) – Win XP Pro SP3 (fresh install)
    • swap (4GB) – Ubuntu swap file

This will make Limited Edition much easier to administer, as well as snappier whenever I use my (Linux) swap file. Hopefully I will soon be a happy full-time home Linux user! Wish me luck (and no data loss, knock on wood).

Hello World! v1.0

Hello World! v1.0

As for Python, I’ve written my first program! Admittedly, it’s just a “Hello, World!” where you can write your own name in, but I think it’s pretty cool just now 🙂 . I will post the code once I have access to Limited Edition’s data again. Woot!

UPDATE: Here is the source for my first program, hello.py:

#!/usr/bin/env python

# hello.py v1.0
# (20 Jul 2010)
# My First Program!

# Get the user's name
name = raw_input("What is your name? ")

# Print the name in a greeting
print "Hello, " + name + "!"

You can also download hello.py from my Dropbox, if you are so inclined.

UPDATE #2: Added screenshot.

A New Project!

Lately I’ve been reading through K.Mandla’s excellent Ubuntu and minimalist computing blog, and I ran across his post on how to put an aging computer to good use, an old post from the Ubuntu forums about the resurrection of a vintage 2000 HP Pavilion, and his new post about putting a CF card to use as an impromptu SSD.

Meanwhile, I had an old 30GB iPod Video 5.5G laying around that I’d bought in college in 2008. When the hard drive failed, I turned it into a much nicer 32GB CF iPod Video. Unfortunately, the iPod’s hardware became more flaky over time from heavy use and died sometime mid-2009, so I had a 32GB CF card laying dormant.

Then in late-2009 when I upgraded my old HP Pavilion 533c (upgraded is an anemic word in this case — I assembled a completely new system from parts then moved the hard drive into the new shell), I was left with a less-than-barebones PC that not even eBay could love.

So after reading K.Mandla’s posts, I thought to myself, “Why not?”, and I bought a $.99 IDE-CF adapter from eBay to bring these neglected parts to life again. What exactly will this Frankenstein of a PC be doing? We’ll see.