Archive for the ‘Hardware’ category

Raise your Mac from the Dead!

9 May 2015

Mac folks need to know!
etsy image
If your Mac is completely dead; no response at all to anything, no lights, not a flicker when the power button is pressed, absolutely dead; it may just be playing possum. An SMC bypass may boot it.

As it was described where I found it;
– unplug the power cord;
– press and hold the power button;
– while holding the power button, plug in the power cord;
– continue to hold the power button for 10 seconds;
– release the power button for 2 seconds;
– press and release the power button.

Worked for our mid-2010 Macbook Pro that we thought was truly dead after spilling tea in it. The procedure doesn’t fix anything but it did boot the machine. It boots into a state where a lot of low level functions aren’t working so the fan runs full speed constantly, but at least it’s running and we’re able to copy all the files to an external drive.

Virtual Machine Moving Day

28 December 2012

virtual machinesI have an old program on an old Ubuntu OS that I still need. It’s computer died after many years of reliable service. I imaged it’s disk and now it lives on in a virtual machine on a real machine running Mandriva. That story is here.

The Mandriva machine has been popping up reminders to do a distribution upgrade for a while now. I’ve been afraid to do a distro upgrade for fear of the virtual machine not working after. Sure wish the virtual machine was on the box that’s running the new(er) Ubuntu 12.04 Long Term Support distro! (Why didn’t I put it there in the first place? I don’t know!)

Today I decided to try moving the virtual machine.

Installed VirtualBox on the Ubuntu machine. Some concern that the Mandriva machine uses Virtual Box 3.1.8_OSE while the Ubuntu machine uses 4.1.12_Ubuntu, but we’ll see how it goes.

Moved my .vdi file by scp from the Mandriva machine to the Ubuntu machine.

Made a new virtual machine on the Ubuntu machine, choosing the .vdi file as the hard drive. Start it up.

Seems like it’s going to go, old OS splash screen appears, but then it fails with “/dev/hda5 does not exist”. Not happy.

Check md5sums on .vdi files. They don’t match. Probably not surprising… still, just in case, copy the .vdi file again. This takes an hour by scp as the file is nearly 40 Gb. I go shovel dirt. (Isn’t that what everyone does while waiting for things?)

Come back. Check md5sums. They match.
Delete the first virtual machine. Make another. Try to start it. Same error!

Notice the .vdi is attached to the virtual machine’s SATA controller. OK, in hindsight this should have been obvious. The error did say hda. Remove the .vdi from the SATA controller and attach it to the IDE controller. Start the virtual machine and voilà!

The old program I need is running on the machine with long term support! I can upgrade Mandriva! Happy New Year!

Lenovo X61 Ubuntu 12.04

6 November 2012

One day recently my Aspire One wouldn’t boot. A few tries gave errors, then it quit trying entirely. Black screen, nothing more. Miraculously it booted fine the next day, like nothing had happened! What it didn’t seem to realize was that I never liked it that much anyway so it’s little tantrum was enough to start me looking for a new laptop.

I found my new laptop in a Lenovo X61 tablet from Vancouver Laptops for $257! The cool thing about the X61 is that the screen can rotate and lay flat. At last I have a device with a decent sized (12.1″) screen that I can take hand written notes on using Xournal!

X61 Ubuntu 12.04

The first thing to settle was what distro to install.

(I should probably mention for any non-Linuxy people who wander by here that the machine came with Windows Vista Business on it. They also had some with Windows 7 for a few dollars more.)

It’s wonderful how easy it is to try Gnu/Linux distributions by putting them on a USB stick. I use dd. There are more complicated ways for people who don’t have Linux or aren’t comfortable with the command-line.

First I tried Mandriva, which is what I use on my desktop machine. Mandriva didn’t enable the touch screen on the default install and I wasn’t in a mood to monkey around with things.

Next I tried Fedora, which did enable the touch screen and seemed quite nice. Getting the display to autorotate when I put the laptop into tablet mode seemed problematic though.

Finally I tried Ubuntu and with installation of Magick Rotation things seemed to be shaping up.

So I settled on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin). I like the Long Term Support releases because they give me more flexibility in choosing when to upgrade. Precise Pangolin was released in April 2012 and is supported until April 2017. Compare to 12.10 which was released October 2012 and is only supported until April 2014.

pangolinA Pangolin, in case you’re wondering, is a mammal with sharp scaley armour and long claws that can emit a noxious-smelling acid and can extend its tongue up to 40 cm. They can climb trees, burrow in the ground and swim. Tough and versatile, like Linux.

During the Ubuntu install on the X61 I chose to encrypt the /home directory to protect data in the event of theft. A good idea made simple by the installation process.

Unity has great keyboard shortcuts and Ubuntu 12.04 supports the IBM TrackPoint beautifully so the system is very efficient however it’s used moment to moment in laptop mode.

One small glitch with Ubuntu’s Unity interface is that if you choose to hide the launcher it does not appear using the tablet stylus. To make the Launcher appear, the cursor has to go just past the edge of the screen and that doesn’t happen with the pen. So in ~/.magick-rotation.xml I added under the run_normal_before option
gconftool-2 –type int –set “/apps/compiz-1/plugins/unityshell/screen0/options/launcher_hide_mode” 1
and under the run_tablet option
gconftool-2 –type int –set “/apps/compiz-1/plugins/unityshell/screen0/options/launcher_hide_mode” 0

Installed Xournal, Gimp, qpdfview (because it allowed me to move its controls to where I want them in tablet mode), Hamster Time Tracker, Getting Things Gnome, Lightning (calendar and tasks for Thunderbird), ImageMagick.

One small annoyance that took me a while to solve was that bluetooth was on with every boot. I doubt I’ll use bluetooth on this machine so I want it off. I might use it sometime though, so I don’t want it gone. I finally found the answer on Michael Hirsch’s blog. Add the line ” rfkill block bluetooth” to /etc/rc.local above the line (on my file) “exit 0” Thank you Mr Hirsch!

I think the only hardware on the X61 that is not supported by Ubuntu is the fingerprint reader. Fine by me, really. Battery life is better than four hours according to the power monitor applet. I haven’t timed it, but that sounds right based on the use I’ve had.

Loving this machine so far.

Next trick will be to figure out how to put a DVD onto a USB stick. Either that or get an external DVD drive for the X61.

Shadowy Business!

11 October 2012

shadowy business!I had an odd dream last night. Something like a very G rated, kid friendly version of Mission Impossible. The dream left me musing about cyber-espionage and China. So I sat down to write this post and my made-in-China netbook wouldn’t boot. How’s that for coincidence!?

There was news recently about Canada needing to replace a super secure federal network that was irreparably compromised by cyber-attacks out of China in 2010. A US intelligence committee head warned that we should not use the Chinese company Huawei for this work. Harper is not saying whether the national security exemption will exclude Huawei from this government work. Huawei currently provides high-speed networks for Bell Canada, Telus, SaskTel and Wind Mobile. The US committee head suggested that Huawei might embed back doors and bugs into networks and even consumer hardware.

What if, eh? I have a Huawei tablet with front and rear cameras. Does it watch me while I use it? How about our modems and routers? People probably don’t often think of modems and routers as computers, but they are. They have an operating system and data storage capacity and obvious networking capability. If some kind of malware was built in at the factory, as has happened with PCs, attempts to make good use of a router’s security features could be for naught! Could surveillance on the scale of consumer electronics be done?

There would be a massive amount of data to mine for the relatively few crumbs of industrially or politically useful stuff that might be found. It would take something on the scale of the NSA’s new surveillance centre to handle all the data. I suppose if the NSA can build such a thing, so could China.

All that data going to Beijing would be sure to raise some eyebrows though. How would you hide it? Maybe buy the US’s second largest theatre chain. Might that holding’s online traffic be big enough to obscure traffic from a very large and secret botnet?

Maybe add some energy company purchases, such as the CNOOC/Nexen deal. Surely that would give China plenty of capacity to handle network traffic within North America and plenty of reason for traffic back to Beijing. They’d also be that much more embedded in Canada’s energy infrastructure, an infrastructure already threatened and perhaps compromised by cyber-attacks.

Meanwhile our federal government is cozying up to China with a trade deal that some describe as a sell-out. CSIS has warned that China holds influence over Canadian politicians of all levels. If this deal is as bad as some suggest, one can’t help wondering whether that influence might include our PM.

If the digital systems our society runs on were compromised at the level of their BIOSes, how would we know? After all, Nortel was compromised for years and apparently no one knew till after the company fell apart. If a tech company like Nortel didn’t know, how are most PC and cell phone users to know? If it was happening and we did find out, what would we do? Faced with such questions, what is the line between caution and tin-hat paranoia?

I have few answers to these questions, but it’s certain that trying to get a handle on it could be an interesting game of cat and mouse!


10 July 2012

Just a quick happy post.

I have an old program I really, really need that was running on an ancient Compaq laptop. I know I need to get a newer version of the program running, but setup is a long process with a gazillion details and I just haven’t got it done. Transferring the old version database to a new version of the program hasn’t worked.

So of course the ancient laptop, which was kind of running on life support already, died.

I put the hard drive in a USB case and had read errors. Scary! So I tried an internal 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter in my desktop machine and it worked!

Next, to preserve the original data and get a copy running in a virtual machine.

Made a disk image with
dd if=/dev/sdb of=compaq_28apr12.img
(yeah that was a while ago. Haven’t had much time to mess around with this.)

Converted the disk image with
VBoxManage convertfromraw compaq_28apr12.img compaq_13may12.vdi

After that, I could boot the disk image as a guest OS in Virtualbox, but X failed with “no devices”. Xorg.conf examples I found online all seemed to point to installing Virtualbox Guest Additions in the guest OS, so following instructions I booted my image and in the Virtualbox “Devices” menu clicked “Install Guest Additions” then confirmed in “Devices -> CD/DVD Devices” that VboxGuestAdditions_x.xx.iso was enabled.

That makes the Guest Additions ISO available to the guest OS as a CD. Next step was to mount the CD with
mount /dev/cdrom /media/cdrom
go there
cd /media/cdrom
and run the appropriate script, in my case
since my guest OS is 32-bit. The alternative would have been if my guest OS had been 64 bit.

After that completed I rebooted the guest OS with
shutdown -r now
and when it came back up I had X running, better mouse integration, a larger Virtualbox window and probably more benefits that I haven’t noticed yet.

Old program lives on! I am so grateful to the good and smart people who make these tools available to people like me.

(One of these days I’ll switch to the newer version of the program…just need some time to work on it….)

Ebooks Revisited

1 March 2012

digital bookBack in August 2010 I wrote a rant about ebooks and DRM, “Canadian DMCA (Bill C-32) and ‘my life of crime; part 2′“.

Today I was dragged back into the ebook swamp by Rafe Mair, damn him. I saw his post about his new book “The Home Stretch” being published on-line. The book sounded interesting and Rafe fights the good fights, the Charlottetown Accord and Northern Gateway being the two that stand out for me. So I thought I should buy Rafe’s book.

I couldn’t find a PDF version anywhere, but did discover that there is a Kobo app for Android. I have an Android tablet. A fairly useless toy of a computer, but a handy size to read on. So I installed the Kobo app, rediscovered my old password and purchased the book through the Kobo app.

It was an easy process and didn’t force me to buy a new device to read a book, so I guess the ebook scene has improved a wee bit since 2010.

I didn’t read the licence agreement though.

Being Climate Changed

6 December 2011

warm earthI may have been climate changed today.

My current main computer is due for an OS upgrade. I’ve had inconsistent results with upgrades in the past so prefer to do new installs with a fresh drive. Not having a large enough drive to do the job, I went to a local computer store to ask about hard drives. The fellow there told me $120 for a 500 GB SATA drive. I didn’t think that was a terrible price. $20 more than the nearest big box store price, but supporting the small local business is perhaps worth $20.

Apparently he didn’t like his own price though, because he went on to explain that hard drive prices are high due to the flooding in Thailand!

Of course I had heard of the flooding in Thailand, but I hadn’t heard there was a shortage of hard drives. Looking online I see things like;

“retailers are rationing hard drives in an attempt to deal with shortages caused by the closure of flooded factories.”

Damn. Had to happen just when I want one!

Now, in interviews I’ve read or heard, scientists are always careful to say that no particular weather event can be linked to climate change. However, they also always say that climate change will bring us more and worse extreme weather events. More and worse like the flooding in Thailand. The oceans near Thailand have been 0.3C warmer than normal so rains have been freakishly heavy. The resulting floods have affected (among other things I’m sure) car manufacturing, the computer and camera industries and rice production (also badly hit this year by the droughts in the U.S.), as well as outright killing 600 Thai people by the latest numbers I’ve seen.

My personal experience of shopping for a hard drive is of course trivial, even within just my own life. And it had a bright side in that I wound up buying a used computer instead. It is more powerful than my old main computer and cost not much more than the new hard drive would have. Not having Windows on it saved me about $45.

It struck me though that while my federal government is in Durban vigorously trying to prevent any progress in combating climate change, here I was at home experiencing in a very small but concrete way how climate change is impacting and increasingly will impact us all.

It looks like the flooding in Thailand is going to cost the insurance industry around eleven billion dollars. The insurance industry is really taking a kicking this year so you know they’ll be kicking us next year.

Conservatives aren’t known for their sensitivity to human costs in whatever situation. But they are the ones everyone expects to be champions of the economy. How does the Harper government dismiss the economic impacts of climate change? Isn’t preventing action on climate change and turning Canada into Saudi Arabia North, with the emissions growth that entails, kind of like taking a job where you get one dollar today to tie a plastic bag over your head and if you survive it the boss will dock you two dollars tomorrow?

Fighting climate change, on the other hand, is like putting money in an RESP for your kids.

You’d think Harper would get that.