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Dingux – Keeping Me Out Of Trouble

Posted 2010.05.05 10.45 in Computers/Internet/Technology

So the first couple weeks with my Dingoo, I was messing with the native firmware, doing some hacks and coming up with a nice theme/skin for it, that sort of thing. I knew you could run Linux on there but I was sort of avoiding it, trying to just stick to the native firmware.

Then I started looking for a game, to take the place of Star Trek: Tactical Assault on the DS. Something that I could pick up and play for 5 or 10 minutes then leave, something that had challenging fly-around-and-shoot-stuff combat, but didn’t have a huge backstory or a long story-mode. (Yeah I know ST:TA has that, but I never play it, I just use Skirmish mode. I get a ship, the computer gets a ship, and we slug it out.)

So after a bunch of trial and error, it boiled down to an oldie-but-goodie: Star Control 2. Or rather, the modern opensource remake, Ur-Quan Masters. Yeah, long drawn-out story mode. Skip that: Super Melee mode. I get 14 ships. The computer gets 14 ships. We slug it out. Brilliant. The only catch? It’s not available for native firmware, only Dingux – that’s what they call Linux on the Dingoo.

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Linux Kernel for Eeepc 1008HA

Posted 2009.08.07 7.33 in Computers/Internet/Technology

I had a request this morning for my linux kernel that I’m using on my Eeepc 1008HA. This is a sub-notebook (aka “netbook”) computer by Asus, it’s very thin and light, though it sports a 10″ screen and a good-sized keyboard.

So on with the kernel info. I’ve been running a custom-built kernel since before I got the 1008; I have been rolling my own eeepc-specific kernel for over a year now, first for my 8G then the 1000, and now the 1008. As of this writing, the kernel version is 2.6.30.4. Essentially I’m downloading the generic “vanilla” kernel from Kernel.org and then applying my own config to it. The config is tweaked to include specifically what I personally want / need, and omits everything else. So fair warning: If you need a kernel that knows about nfs or ntfs or fatfs etc, this kernel won’t work ‘out of the box’ for you. Mucking around with the kernel is not something for total noobs to do, because it’s very easy to end up with a computer that doesn’t boot any more.

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Linux and the Libretto, Redux

Posted 2007.06.01 0.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology

Several months ago I wrote a bunch of little posts about how I was breathing new life into an old laptop. My wee little portable mini laptop, the Libretto 100CT, and a variant of Linux based on Damn Small Linux, which is based on Debian.

Well, it’s been about 6 months since I made the last post, which was about installing a solid-state hard drive. Unfortunately, the followup is not happy…

A few nights ago my Libretto stopped working, it wouldn’t respond. I tried to reboot it, and it wouldn’t boot. Grub error. That’s bad.

So, tonight I rooted around and found my stack of laptop hard drives. I had to try them all until I found the one that would boot. It’s the one I was using before switching to the CF card / hard drive. It was last used in November 2006.

Once I had the Libretto booted, I mounted the CF card in a PCMCIA slot. Or, I tried to mount it. It wouldn’t mount. Sigh.

After a bunch of messing around with e2fsck, I managed to get it to the point that I could mount it. Oh, joy. My /home partition is gone. All data lost. Yippee. And look, my root partition is mangled. I was able to get a few files out of /etc that I could use to get my old harddrive based install back up to where my solid state one was, but not my data files.

Then, I remembered! I had a backup!

After rooting around a bit, I found my backup. Another CF card, yes, but it hasn’t been used much so it should be ok. Shouldn’t it?

Aw, crap.

Well, my backup of the root partition was gone, and my home partition was from the end of November. So, about 6 months old. I really ought to have backed up more often. Shit.

Anyhow, long story short, my Libretto is up and running again, using my home-made linux that’s based on Damn Small Linux that’s based on Debian. But I’ve lost about 6 months of data. And I will not use cheap CF cards as a hard drive again, at least not without a regular backup plan.

So, let that be a lesson to me!

She Who Laughs Last, Probably Made A Backup!

Toshiba Libretto 100CT in surgery

Linux on the Libretto, Part VI

Posted 2006.11.03 1.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology

The story so far: The Libretto is a teeny tiny portable computer, about 8 years old now, with limited resources, small memory and small screen, but it is wonderfully conveniently small. I found a linux distro that worked relatively well in the available resources, customized it, broke it, fixed it, customized it some more, and finaly ended up with something that worked about as well as could be expected, and looked nice too.

So far, all I’ve been doing is in the realm of soft ware: Operating system, GUI, customizations, tweaking. It has all been software. Today, finaly, I got out the screwdriver and soldering iron.

There is actually not much one can do with a Libretto 100. The small size dictates what the options are, and the options are few. The stock Lib100 has only 32MB of RAM, there is a memory expansion unit that will double this to 64MB but it’s a custom proprietary part. You can’t build it yourself or use an off-the-shelf part, so RAM is not really an option – you either find the special part, or you don’t. And I already have it, so nothing I can do there.

That leaves only the hard drive. Now, the Libretto 100 came with a 3GB hard drive, and the BIOS can recognize drives up to 8GB in size. Physically it will take any 2.5″ drive that is about 9mm or less in thickness. Nowadays, you can get drives that will fit, that are 80 or 100GB. This is cool and all, and if you’re running linux the 8GB limit doesn’t affect you (just make a small /boot partition and put it up front under the 8GB limit, then the rest is yours to play with). But this is not where I want to go. My whole linux installation is currently about 400MB. I don’t need a lot of space here, the Libretto is going to be used for surfing, connecting to the office with SSH, and perhaps some email. 256MB is about enough /home for my limited use.

So, rather than going big, I want to go small. Take the minimalist Libretto philosophy another step further. See, nowadays, you can get solid state flash memory in sizes up to 4GB. And it’s relatively cheap. I got a 1GB compact flash card for about $20. See where I’m going with this yet? Hard drives have moving parts, they create noise, they are slow, and turning those disks and moving those heads takes power. Solid state memory has no moving parts, is very fast, and has very low demands on power. And all you need, to use a CF card instead of a hard drive, is one of these CF to IDE converter cards:
IDE to CF card

For size comparison, here’s a side-by-side image of the CF to IDE card with a compact flash card installed (not the card I’m actually using, a 64MB one I had laying around) sitting next to the actual hard drive I took out of my Libretto:
CF versus HDD

To get in and do the switch over, I had to take the Libretto apart. No problem, just pull the battery, remove seven screws, and you’re in:
libretto inside with hard drive
Click to enlarge. Hard drive in upper right, PCMCIA slots in upper left, motherboard beneath PCMCIA and hard drive, battery area across the bottom.

Then all I had to do was remove the hard drive and slide in the IDE/CF card.

Hahaha, if only it were that easy. No, this was one of those 5 minute projects that ended up taking 3 1/2 hours. Oh yeah. Love when that happens.

When I put the IDE/CF card in the Libretto…it refused to boot! Just asked for a disk. I swapped the hard drive back in, and put the IDE/CF card in an external drive case. Verified that it was properly partitioned, verified my linux was on it, verified that GRUB was installed. Check, check, check. Also — this proved that the IDE/CF card was working right, since the external hard drive case was working properly and it mounted and worked right. So I knew the IDE/CF card was OK. And I knew my Libretto was OK too – it worked fine with a normal hard drive.

This is one of those little puzzlers, right? The Libretto works with a normal hard drive, but not the CF hard drive. The CF hard drive works in a hard drive case. The normal hard drive also works in the external case. So everything works, just not the combination of Libretto + IDE/CF card.

Then, I remembered something. I had read, somewhere, sometime, in the last 2 or 3 weeks. Something about somebody having a problem with a Libretto and some particular hard drive. Something about grounding a pin. One quick Google later, and I found it. Well not “it”, but something close enough. Some hard drives go into CSEL mode in some instances, when pin 28 is left ‘floating’. In those cases it has to be tied low. Here’s the details I found. Nothing to do with CF cards, but sounded plausible so I tried it, and hey! It worked! Of course, it took me THREE HOURS of screwing around with external hard drives, floppy drives, boot images, and extra wear and tear on the Libretto of taking it apart a DOZEN times more than I planned. But at last, it worked! My Libretto, with the IDE/CF card installed:
libretto inside with hard drive
Click to enlarge. IDE/CF card in upper right instead of hard drive.

So, how does it work? Well, it works amazingly better than I had hoped! It is fast! It is at least twice as fast as the traditional hard drive. Booting from a cold start, I get to a log on prompt in less than 1/2 the time I did from the hard drive. And from there, to a fully rendered X GUI also in about half the time. It lasts forever! The solid state “hard disk” just sips power. From a more-or-less full battery, I have had it on for two hours now, and the ACPI is still reporting 2.5 hours remaining. At one point it reported over 6 hours remaining, although it stabilized to about 4.5 hours after a few minutes. Still – 4.5 hours on a charge! That’s incredible, considering what it can do! And finally… It is Scary Silent. I mean, it is unnerving. It does not make any noise. The most intensive thing I do with it typically is launch Firefox. When I do, I’ve become conditioned to hear lots of whirring and clicking as the hard drive does whatever it needs to do. Now? Nothing. Just utter silence. The hdd light still flickers, so I know it’s doing something, but it does it fast, and silently.

What more can I say? This thing is now frigging awesome. Sure, it’s still only a Pentium MMX 166MHz, it’s only 64MB of RAM, and it’s only got 1 GB of “hard drive”. But it will fit in an overcoat pocket or cargo-pants pocket, it weighs less than 2 pounds (did I mention the CF card weighs nothing, compared to the hard drive?) and it goes for 4 frigging hours! Damn!

Smiley Face
I have a happy.

Linux on the Libretto, Part V

Posted 2006.11.01 1.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology

So the other night I was trying to do some more customizations to Fluxbox, and stuff just wasn’t working the way the documentation said it should. I tried variations, tried all sorts of things, but nothing, it just refused to do what I wanted it to. Finally I realized that it was because the version of Fluxbox that came with Damn Small Linux was a) not the most recent, and b) probably stripped of a bunch of features, to trim down its size.

So I went poking around and (of course) managed to completely break Fluxbox on the Libretto.

I’m sick with cold or flu or something so I was laying in bed when this happened. Now, I could have just gotten up and gone to where I had my backup hard drive, to try and restore Fluxbox off of that. But that would have meant getting up. And besides, that version of Fluxbox didn’t do what I wanted in the first place.

I had, only a few hours earlier, installed the gcc and additional libraries, so I had (I hoped) a complete development environment. I downloaded the source files for the latest version of Fluxbox and figured hey, I’ll just compile the latest greatest, with the features I want.

Well, try doing this on a computer the size of a VHS cassette, with a 166MHz cpu and only 64MB of RAM.

Two hours(!) into the compile, it hit a fatal error. It was looking for a shared object in the X tree that wasn’t there. Two hours! Well, I had a search and found an older version was there. It wanted 1.2.2 and I had 1.1.something so I just made a link from the version it wanted to the version I had and let it pick up where it left off. Didn’t seem to hurt, since after another 30 minutes it finished the compile. I installed the new Fluxbox and voilla! It worked, more or less.

There was enough difference between the Damn Small Linux version of Fluxbox and the new version that it didn’t run right away, I had to do more tweaks to .xinitrc and then found that my Fluxbox init and style files needed more work, so add another half hour for that.

In the end, it took me about 3 hours to get things back where they were before I broke it in the first place. But as usual, it was a good learning experience, and now that I know what’s possible, I can go back and reconfigure Fluxbox all I want then recompile it again to get things just perfect.

So finaly I think I have X, Fluxbox, and Linux more or less the way I want them. As I posted at the Damn Small Linux Forums, my install isn’t really Damn Small Linux any more. It’s not damn small, being about 400MB now, and it’s not compatible with the various My-DSL stuff any more as I pulled most of that out and rewrote a lot of the init functions.

Basically, it’s loosely based on debian and DSL, with a 2.4 kernel and bits and pieces of DSL applications. Although it’s not technically DSL any more, I’m still glad I started there – It was a good base to start with and I’ve learned a lot!

Coming up next time – a small hardware ‘hack’ that makes the Libretto amazing!

Why Waste Time on the Libretto Anyways?

Posted 2006.10.30 1.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology

The question comes up now and then. I’ve been spending a lot of time and energy on my Libretto. Even spent a bit of money, on some new hardware. Mostly though, a lot of time has gone into it, to find the right Linux, get it installed, configured, get things working just the way I like them.

But why?

I have a perfectly good laptop already. I have an Apple Powerbook G4, with a big 15″ screen, 60GB hard drive, dvd drive, a gig of RAM, and a fast, beautiful operating system. So why spend so much effort on an eight year old laptop with a tiny screen and limited functionality?

Because to me, the single most important feature of a portable computer is…portability!

The 15″ Powerbook is a beautiful, powerful computer. But it weighs over 5 pounds, and 15″ is huge! If I want a big powerful computer, I sit at my desk. My dual-head iMac system is the best most powerful system I’ve ever used, hands down, bar none. It’s impossible to reproduce that kind of functionality in a laptop, so why try? These laptops with the 15″ screens, the 17″ widescreens, I can’t understand. Ok I could understand if you used the laptop as your desktop system.

When I switched to Macintosh, I tried linux on the Libretto for a while, but in those days, Linux wasn’t as advanced as it is now, and there were too many sacrifices. When I first retired the Libretto, I switched to an iBook with a 12″ screen (the curvy green plastic clamshell one.) Then I sold that and got a G4 iBook, another 12″ because that’s the smallest they had. Then when I sold that and upgraded to the Powerbook, the smallest one that had the features I wanted, was the 15″.

I’ve had it for less than a year…Bought it in February or March I think. And it’s just too big and too heavy. When the Libretto got freed of its lame little DOS task at the office a couple weeks ago, I brought it home, stared at it for a few minutes, and then got to work at it. It’s still not 100% where I want it, but it’s doing the job. In another week or two, when some hardware I ordered comes in, I think the Libretto will be my ‘new’ laptop all over again.

In the meantime, I haven’t turned on the Powerbook in over a week. And at this rate, the next time I turn it on, it will only be to transfer some files off of it, before shelving it – or preparing it for resale.

Why, oh why, won’t Apple make a sub-mini Macbook? Sure it’s niche, but for those of us who value portability, it would fill a definite void in the Macintosh line.

Libretto sitting on 15-inch Powerbook
Libretto sitting on 15-inch Powerbook

Linux on my Toshiba Libretto 100CT – iv

Posted 2006.10.29 0.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology

In part iii, I learned about the fluxbox window manager, and got partway through customizing my GUI. This time, I’ll finish customizing the GUI and share some of the various files.

The torsmo thing seemed quite interesting and has some good possibilities. I gave the .torsmorc file a thorough read, and then proceeded to edit the default file to give me exactly what I wanted: Clock on top, then battery and temperature info, then CPU load and number of processes, then memory usage and swap usage, then file system usage. The swap and filesystem stuff isn’t too important, but the time, cpu load, and memory status is good to know. And if running on batteries, the time remaining is also pretty important.

After getting rid of the extraneous junk that was cluttering up my screen, I wanted to customize the rest of it to give it a look and feel that I could really enjoy. The default fluxbox style Hat was ok, but I didn’t like the big graphic of Tux cluttering up the screen. The graduated screen effect was nice, but brown isn’t really my colour. So I copied the file /usr/share/fluxbox/styles/Hat over to ~/.fluxbox/styles/Steph and started editing. I changed things up, changed brown into blue, replaced Tux with another background image, and got the taskbar thing at the bottom to auto-hide. This left me with a desktop that I think is relatively clean, uncluttered, and with a colour scheme that I enjoy.

Here’s a screenshot of my Libretto desktop:
My Screenshot
Click for full-size view

You can see in the upper left corner, the five icons for fast access to my five most-used applications. Terminal and Firefox being the top two by a long, long margin. And in the upper right corner, there’s the torsmo output of system information. The image in the lower left corner is based on an Xubuntu wallpaper image at the XFCE-Look site; it was created by xxxatarixxx. I clipped it and resized it to fit the smaller screen of the Libretto, changed the colours slightly, and then changed its background to transparent so it would fit onto the fluxbox graduated background. If you’re interested, you can download a tar of these various init and config files, by clicking here: my-configs.tar

Next time, we’ll look into some exciting hardware stuff that’s ideal for small size, small overhead, small linux applications.