Category Archives: Technology

Ubuntu and old hardware

I got a call from a friend a few months ago saying he had a friend drop off some computer equipment and he didn’t know what to do with it. A few days later I stopped by his shop and what he had was a Dell PowerEdge 2800 Server. This is no run of the mill machine but server grade, 3 SCSI drives, Windows 2003 Server, and weighed 50 + lbs. The tub of incidentals was minor compared to this behemoth. I reluctantly took it not knowing when or if I’d have time to mess with it. Worst case I figured I could recycle it.

It is a few years old, BIOS is from 2005, but should be able to run Linux. The first challenge was how to boot, it has no CD-ROM drive and the BIOS supports booting from a floppy not USB. So the only option that didn’t involve hardware was PXE. That seemed interesting since I haven’t done that before, sounded like a good experiment. To get that setup I followed this reference on the Ubuntu Community site.

Next up was DHCP. My router serves it on the network so temporarily shut that off and enabled it on the server. Note to self here if you’re going to do that don’t assume you’ll have a network connection when you turn it of, change your settings to static before you do that. DHCP was a little bit of a struggle, it’s been 5 or more years since I’ve had to dive into the config files, but that was taken care of in about 15 minutes.

With both of those pieces addressed I turned on the 2800, btw it sounds like an airplane about to take off for the first 10 seconds, pressed F12 when the BIOS information showed up and away we went. Once it got an ip address via DHCP the Ubuntu Server install screen showed up. The install went without a problem the only thing I didn’t do was try to configure RAID. With the drives attached via SCSI controllers Ubuntu saw one drive by default. Not a good thing as I can’t use the three hot swap-able drives as intended but I’m not sure I’ll be running this thing for anything so it wasn’t a big deal. Note: There was an option to configure RAID but I did not take the time to go through that. So the knock on ‘no RAID’ is probably me and not Ubuntu..

Yes it was a good experiment.

Android phone encryption

More of a note to myself than anything else. If choosing to encrypt your phone use caution.

I’ve got a Nexus S I don’t use very often, can’t give up the swipe UI on my N9 even though it’s showing it’s age, but it can run Jelly Bean and makes a good backup. So I try a few things on it every now and then and over the christmas holiday I decided to enable device encryption. On the plus side everything felt the same speed, battery life, UI response, access from the PC all good… but not when launching the camera.

Pictures are stored on the sdcard but it’s not removeable, the internal storage is partitioned so a SD Card device is present. I could connect via USB and move files but when lauching the camera I’d only get a ‘cannot access SDCard’ message. I wasn’t using the stock ROM so if that was a limitation I’m not sure. I knew when enabling the only way to get rid of it was to wipe the device, so I was prepared. What I didn’t expect was a simple wipe in Clockworkmod wouldn’t do the trick. It wiped the device but also noted ‘cannot access /sdcard’. My first thought was I bricked it but some searching suggested options. For me fixing would be use adb from the Android SDK, mount the sdcard device with ‘parted’ and reformat the partiton. Easy enough and the excellent references on sites like stackexchange make following along pretty easy. I might try it again but should remember be prepared to wipe, may need to use adb, and always make a backup.

The Nexus One

Around this time last year I was happily using my G1 Dev Phone on AT&T, even though it was meant for T-Mobile, until the keyboard went bad. Not every key but a few, P, backspace and the back arrow. My replacement was the HTC Aria. An excellent phone, hackable, and served me well…. until the last week or two. Which was not expected. The touch sensor on the screen is messed up, keyboard recalibrating didn’t help and neither did switching ROM’s. No phone insurance and only a year into my contract getting a replacement from AT&T didn’t look that appealing. Time to go unlocked again!!

Nexus OneI enjoyed the physical keyboard of my G1 Dev Phone very much and was hoping to get something like that again. AT&T has a wide selection but not what I’m looking for, mainly because the hit on price if not committing to a longer contract. Going the unlocked route opens up options, but the latest and greatest will be even more pricey. I’d have to settle on something that’s 6 months or older. It didn’t take long to find the HTC Desire Z, it looked ideal. 3G or 4G data is not important but knowing was a version for AT&T’s GSM spectrum was a plus. Of course prices though were more than I wanted to pay so it was off the list.

Enter the Nexus One. I had almost forgotten about it until checking Newegg’s list of unlocked phones. No physical keyboard but that was more of a want than a need, a virtual alternative would be fine with the right package. I passed on it at the start of 2010 for a few reasons, the G1 was still working fine and the price was in laptop range. But that was a year and a half ago, a really long time in the world of mobile phones… crazy but true. With what Newegg was offering, and the need for a phone, it was a deal I couldn’t pass up.

It showed up a few days ago and came loaded with Android 2.2. A few hours after it was on I got a OTA notice for the 2.3.4 update to Gingerbread. The configuration options are less than what I’m use to with Cyanogenmod but that’s ok for now, I’ll root it later. My only hope is I can get more than a year out of this one.

HP you surprised me

On May 25, 2011 FedEx delivered a new laptop, a HP ProBook 4430s. This is it’s my first purchase where Windows is not the OS from the manufacture. The last few years I’ve used a couple used IBM T42’s which are excellent machines, and the keyboard will spoil you. When it came time to find a replacement I wanted something that didn’t come with Windows, as I wouldn’t be using it, surprisingly the search led me to HP.

At the start of 2011 I did the same search and found Dell’s Vostro V13. I read Dell offered it with Ubuntu pre-loaded but was never able to find out how through their on line store. I did purchase one and it is a good package. Every thing worked out of the box with Fedora 15 and Gnome3 but there were two issues for me, the keyboard was too cramped and batter life was low. That was enough to send it off to mom, she needed something to replace the 7 year old Compaq, and I could search from something more suitable.

I’ve read good things about Zareason and System76, they both have a good selection and offer Ubuntu. The construction wasn’t what I was looking for and some of the other options out there were ThinkPads or Dells with Linux loaded. I wanted to find something with a metal chassis and not much plastic. To compare would be the construction of a MacBook Pro, but I wasn’t looking for a Mac. It took a few months until I came across the HP 4430s Notebook. This model, if you configure it, offers Suse Enterprise 11 installed. I haven’t used Suse for a number of years but the “flavor” of Linux wasn’t important. The fact the hardware fit my criteria and was available with Linux installed sealed the deal.

On first boot it took awhile as it uses KIWI to install the OEM image. A standard suite of applications is included, Gnome 2.82 as the window manager and all the hardware (wireless, camera, card reader, sound) worked… as one should expect. There are plenty of pics on the web, so I don’t need to put up much here but I will say if you like to “get under the hood” access has never been easier. Memory, drive, processor, etc is just pull the battery and slide the cover back after releasing two holding pins.

I’m enjoying it so far especially with an Intel SSD and Fedora 15 (Gnome3). I’d recommend the ProBook 4430s if your in the market for something non-Windows, 14′ wide screen, wireless, bluetooth, card reader, and ever thing working. If Suse is not your flavor pick another. I only had to load iwlwifi-6000g2b for wireless, every thing else worked out of the box. It’s great to see mainstream companies offering solutions like this. Thank you HP!

My phone, my data or maybe not

Read an interesting article about the IPhone and access to Microsoft Exchange Server email. The full article is Wipeout: When Your Company Kills Your iPhone and I found it on Slashdot. That seems a little extreme, but I guess when you think about it work email is the company’s not yours. I’ve yet to add work email setup to my phone. It might be another reason not to. I don’t have an IPhone, but Android phones have a MAPI email client for Exchange access, which is what mine runs. I’d have to assume it works the same way.

I’ll stick with browser access !!!