Art and Linux

After waiting what seems like several months, a nice, big stack of Ubuntu Linux CDs showed up in the mail recently. I can’t complain about the wait since the CDs are free (as in free beer). Most of them are for Intel but I also got a couple of PowerPC and AMD CDs for good measure. I’ll probably give away most of them to other folks considering Linux. I plan on trying it out my notebook but from what I’ve read, it may not be ready for that yet. Maybe the next version will be up to the task. Most distros offer a server or workstation install. Does anyone know of a distro that offers a notebook or laptop install option? Or better yet how about a distro intended specifically for use on notebook computers. There must be something like that out there somewhere.

Susan and I managed to get over to the Meadows Museum today for the last day of the Barrett Collection exhibition. There was a lot of cool stuff by Texas artists including two by John Alexander, a particular favorite of mine. This was the first time we’d been to the Meadows Museum and it was actually quite nice.

Mini RoboMind

I’ve been doing some C programming lately on the MRM board, which uses a Motorola 68332 CPU. It’s not exactly a new chip but I think the last Motorola I did much development on was an HC11, so it’s definitely a step up from that. The board ships with an ancient GNU gcc 2.95.3 and equally old versions of binutils and newlib. So, my first problem was building a new cross tool chain using gcc 3.4.3. That done, I’m now begining to work on code that uses the TPU to generate pulses suitable for controlling R/C servos. Next up may be talking to one of those Logitech cordless PS2 controllers.

Dell Laptop Saga: Part 2

My Dell Inspiron 8600 finally arrived, no thanks to Dell customer service. When it failed to show up on time and UPS couldn’t find any record of it, Dell concluded that it had been lost internally prior to the handoff to UPS. Customer service claimed they would have to cancel my order and create a replacement order. But a few days later the package showed up. It turned out UPS had it all along but, for some reason, it wasn’t showing up in their online tracking system. Despite promising to call me back several times, Dell customer service hasn’t called to let me know what’s up with the alleged replacement order. Will I end up with a second Inspiron? I doubt it. Dell’s online status doesn’t show any sign that customer service ever did anything.

I also picked up one of those really fast Hitachi/IBM Travelstar 7200RPM drives on eBay to replace the slow one in the Inspiron. I’ll keep Windows XP on the Dell drive and swap it back into the notebook if it needs to be serviced. But the real drive will have Linux on it. Anyway, the brilliant eBay seller put the fragile little notebook hardrive into a USPS priority envelope with no packing, no anti-static bag, nothing; just the bare drive in a paper envelope. Guess what? The drive was DOA. Hmmm… I wonder why that could be? The good news is that it was a new drive and still under a 3 year warranty. Hitachi agreed to replace it at no charge and I shipped it off to the factory (in an antistatic bag and several layers of bubble wrap).

It’ll be worth all the trouble to have a fast laptop running Linux. And the widescreen on the Inspiron looks great.

Advogato Weirdness

I’ve noticed that Advogato has been suffering from the same mysterious, random file loss problem that hit a while back. As best I can tell this is due to a race condition in the “out of disk space” patch. My problems ended once I reverted the patch in my mod_virgule codebase. On the upside, though, maybe this will prompt a line or two of new code for the official mod_virgule in 2005.

Dell Laptop Saga: Part 1

My ancient IBM Thinkpad 750C (a 486 CPU and tiny little 10″ LCD) is finally going to be retired. I wanted something reasonably fast with a widescreen that would run Linux. If money were no object I would’ve opted for one of the G4 PowerBooks with 15.4″ screen. Unfortunately, they cost way too much. So I ended up ordering a Dell Inspiron 8600. It’s not as cool looking as the PowerBook but was about half the price and has a higher resolution 15.4″ screen (WUXGA 1920 x 1200, at 13.56″ x 8.76″ that’s 140 dpi). After doing some research, I was able to spec a combination of parts that others have reported to work pretty well with Linux.

What I’ve found so far is that Dell’s service has continued to deteriorate. They used to have first class tech support until they outsourced it all to sweatshops in India. We’ve bought servers from them for years and they were always high-quality products. So I thought I’d take a chance on them for a notebook. But, looking around on the web, there seems to be general agreement that Dell customer service sucks. I’m hoping I’ll never need their customer service but things aren’t off to a promising start.

After placing an order, Dell’s website reports order status. In my case it said my notebook had been shipped on Jan 10 and provided a UPS tracking number. The UPS status webpage showed they had recieved paperwork for the package but not the package itself. After three days with no change in status, I called Dell customer service and spoke at length with someone for whom English seemed to be a second language. Dell said they handed the package off to UPS but UPS claims they never got it. I’m not entirely sure what happened after that but as best I could understand from the broken English of the customer support person, Dell has cancelled the lost order and issued a second order for a replacement notebook to be built and shipped. Who knows – maybe in another week or so I’ll have my new notebook.

Anyway, I’m still hopeful everything will work out alright. I’ll probably install either Ubuntu or Fedora when it arrives. I wasn’t able to order a notebook with no OS (which is odd because we do it all the time when we order servers from Dell). I may investigate getting a refund for the Windows XP Home license but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for that. I think I may remove and store the hard drive shipped in the notebook and install a new one to put Linux on. That way, I can swap back in the factory installed OS if I ever need to get it serviced by Dell.