Some more thoughts on the N900

I haven’t managed to install a development enviroment yet — that’s part laziness, part caution: I’m not going to install scratchbox on my laptop directly, I’ll use a vm for that. And after installing scratchbox in Karmic, Karmic won’t start anymore. Need to investigate more — that’s the┬álaziness.

Two observations: the lock switch on the side is soooo nice — much better than pressing two keys in exactly the right succession on my old E71. And the N900 gets slow when six to eight apps are running, and — dash it! — I want them running because they are all so convenient. And a third observation: swiping from outside the screen onto the xterm will select the url to open or copy if there’s one on the line(s) you swipe over.

A new laptop

My beloved X61 tablet is still going strong, and I still carry it with me wherever I go. I got the tablet calibrated now, for stylus and finger usage and together with MyPaint (I need to blog about mypaint!) or Krita it’s just perfect.

But KOffice is getting bigger and bigger, there are more and more unittests and the poor thing now takes about two hours to compile everything and another hour to run the tests, which is not productive if you try to fix stuff in the libraries, which I’ve been doing a lot. Krita alone has 102 unittestsi (out of 213 for all of KOffice), not counting the two tests that try to run all filters. And while 1024×768 is still the resolution I am making Krita for, I can only use KDeveloper or Qt Creator if they run in full-screen mode.

So I got a new one. A Thinkpad, of course. A really fast W500 with a high resolution screen. Lovely! Same form factor as my previous Z60M. Weirdly enough, on the X61t OpenSUSE rules: everything works perfectly, but it failed on the W500 with bad screen fonts, no network, no suspend, while Kubuntu, which didn’t work on the X61t, works perfectly on the W500. There’s this thing bugging me: with the great build quality, why does Lenovo put such crappy backlights in their laptops? There’s no way to tilt the screen so all of it is readable. And it’s way too dim for my nearly forty-year-old eyes.

But it compiles like a dream!

I finally succumbed

And got myself a new telephone. When I was in Berlin for the KOffice Sprint, I get totally fed up with sms’ing with only a numerical keyboard. So I went to the shop and got myself something with a real keyboard: a Nokia E71.

My previous phone was actually the Motorola phone I received got the 2006 aKademy Award for Best Application. I clocked up about three hours of call time and about sixty sms messages since then — I’m not a great phone user. But look what this phone can do: Logging in with ssh on my home server!

Of course, no matter what you do, unless you get one given to you (and my daughters are now fighing over the Motorola phone), when you get a phone, you will feel ripped off. Did I get the best data plan? Shouldn’t I have waited for another type of phone with just as good a keyboard, but full VGA resolution? Or maybe even got something that doesn’t run S60?

Right now, I think this phone has great hardware, great design (with two minus points: the rubbery bits covering usb and micro-sd slot are tacky, and the screen resolution should be better) and software that could be improved a lot.

Yet another laptop…

I remember that just before Naomi was born, Irina and I said to each other “we’d better buy that hardware now, after the kid is born we won’t be able to afford new computers anymore”, so we bought a Psion series 3 for her and a Compaq Aero notebook for me. Little did we know….

So, when Irina’s Toshiba laptop broke down a couple of weeks ago, she could make do with the C20 vintage Gateway Solo laptop that used to be my work computer, until that one broke too. Enter a spanking new Lenovo Thinkpad R61e… Irina decided to run OpenSUSE 11 on it, although we had a recent Kubuntu as a fallback option.

Pretty much everyone seems to work out of the box: sound, suspend/resume, graphics, mouse, usb… But not the wifi. When I ordered the laptop, the specs said it contained an Intel wifi chip, but it’s got an Atheros AR5212 a/b/g wifi adapter and I cannot manage to get it to work. OpenSUSE loads the athk5_pic driver by default, but for some reason that doesn’t work (dmesg says “probe faild with error -5”). I’ve tried getting it to run with madwifi, but failed, and I’ve tried ndiswrapper, and failed, too. It doesn’t work under Kubuntu 8.04 either…

It does work under Kubuntu 7.10 — and I suspect that OpenSUSE 10.3 also works. It isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this kind of regressions when upgrading: Naomi’s very old Dell 5150 laptop has always worked perfectly. But an upgrade to Kubuntu 7.10 killed her sound.

And then…

The power supply of my ten year old hub started smoking. My 3com wireless router was already flaky — it tended to go meekly out of the way when more modern, more powerful wireless routers came onto the air.

So, now I’m the proud owner of a Sitecom 54g turbo storage Linux-based wireless router, nas usb server thingy. Comes complete with written offer for the GPL’ed bits. It took ten minutes and a restart of the router (after changing the essid) to be up and running again. It seems hardware has improved since 1995 ­čÖé

Oh, and it says it’s a print server, too, for printers connected to a usb port. I wonder how I can get that to work…



This morning, General Logistics Systems finally delivered my new laptop. Or rather, almost didn’t deliver it. A bit of street in front of the house was broken up and the driver obviously didn’t want to walk the thirty or so meters with a smallish package. So he’d written up the Addressee Not At Home slip and slipped it into our letterbox. Well, we were just as obviously at home so I contacted GLS through their mailform, asking them to phone the driver to go back and deliver the package.

Well — you can probably imagine my surprise when that actually was what happened: the driver came back, delivered the package all the while loudly expostulating that really, he had rung the bell, obviously we hadn’t heard it ring. Yeah, right… The idiomatic Dutch word is smoesjes.

The X61 tablet laptop is pretty spiffy: kubuntu gutsy installed like a dream, after upgrading to todays version sound and wireless worked. Two things aren’t working yet: the wired lan connection and resume-after-suspend. The former just doesn’t do anything. That’s a bit of a problem since my home dir is about 25Gb and it takes a long time to restore over the air. The other issue is weird: the laptop does resume, but I have to go back to an ascii console to get the screen back. I’ll investigate some more.

The Gutsy installer is pretty confusing in one area, by the way. I wanted to resize the vista partition (didn’t want to delete it — I want to see how vista does the handwriting recognition, and I want to try Corel Painter), but somehow I confused the old and the new partition and managed to give Vista 80GB instead of Linux. Which meant that my home dir didn’t fit, which in turns means reinstallation time…

But twisting the lid and sketching with Krita is really a truly marvellous experience. I’ll see about getting rid of the cursor and the fringe benefits (dockers, toolbox) and adding a few shortcuts for stylus-only mode.

One down, two to go

I fixed sound and wifi on one of the Lenovo 3000 C200 laptops I bought for Menna and Rebecca’s birthday. It was a bit fiddly, at one point the sound system made a noise like an angry modem. But everything is fine now, except that the speakers aren’t muted if you plug in earphones. Youtube works, planet penguin racer works — what else can a 12 year old wish for? Krita is installing now.

This is the essential link:

(The Ubuntu wiki is quite difficult to navigate: there’s so much stuff that the authoritative pages often don’t show up in the first few pages of Google hits.)

I’m pleasantly surprised by the performance of these laptops: they crawl under Vista, but run really smoothly with Kubuntu Feisty and even compilation isn’t painful. Next the other 3000 C200, and then I’ll try to fix Naomi’s old Dell.


Sometimes I wish we could do without all this tiresome hardware. Of course, I have to do without the hardware I need for hacking on Krita for a while, since I returned my laptop to Tryllian today. Monday will be my first day with Omnitrans.

Still, that gives me time to try to get my daughters’ hardware working. Menna and Rebecca are going to get a new laptop each (a Lenovo 300 C200) for their birthday, on Sunday, and I want to make sure it runs Linux before then. And running means sound and wireless network. Which is kinda hard.

Kubuntu apparently installs something called avahi and another something called network manager that insists on inventing IP addresses instead of asking my dhcp server about it. Besides, the wireless adapter is a broadcom, and I need to perform various incantations I haven’t needed for years to get it working. And then, on rebooting, nothing works again. The simple Intel sound chip doesn’t produce any sound, although the mixer sees it just fine. Silence is golden.

In the meantime, Naomi’s laptop — the last of the famous Dells — is acting up. Somehow, the pcmcia wifi card no longer works. I guess it’s the cradle, because the same card works fine in my ancient Pismo. So I bought a Sitecom USB wifi stick. Modules get loaded, and I’ve been able to use it using Feisty and Gutsy, though not after rebooting. OpenSuse and Mandriva Spring 2007 don’t see it at all.

And worse, for my teenaged Amarok-addict, sound suddenly stopped working completely after I upgraded her laptop from Breezy to any of the four distributions above. Once I managed to make sound work again with Gutsy, through some recompilation of alsa modules — but as soon as I got the usb wifi stick working, sound stopped working.

I’ve got a day off tomorrow, and somehow, I already know what I will be doing. And it’s not hacking on Krita.

Twenty-five years of coding

Calum Benson notes that today is the twenty-fifth birthday of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. That means that I’ve been coding now for twenty-five years, too. (With only a small gap when I was studying Chinese and only had a boring 8086)

I coded my first little things on the 16K Speccy my mother got loaned from the school where she worked as a teacher — they had bought one computer and a distance-learning course for all of their staff, and everyone was allowed a few months of the Spectrum. When it had to go, my parents promised to buy a computer of our own if my Easter report was up to scratch. I started reading Sinclair User and other English computer mags in preparation and soon my marks for English went through the roof. It’s safe to say that it was Sir Clive who made me learn English.

Much code was open source in these days. Or rather, one would buy a book with Basic listings in the bookshop, convert the code to something that one run on the idiosyncratic dialect of the computer one happened to own. And when the code finally executed, it was hacking time! Let’s make every player in the silly kingdom-type of game that was so popular at the time start with a debt and two fortune-eating elephants! Make them go through a random maze before they could get at the treasure needed to buy troops to quell a revolt!

That’s how I learned code. Wonderful days, wonderful days…

Oh, I had almost forgotten…

If you get a camera like my new Fuji, and you’re a *buntu user, you may well be surprised that you can only download images from the camera if you’re root. The solution is this known bug in *buntu (and assorted gaggle of duplicates). I think it should have been a showstopper bug for Edgy, but then, I’ve got one of these cameras.

By the way… If anyone know how to get sound working with Kubuntu on a Toshiba L30 101 laptop with a realtek 826 sound chip that identifies itself as an unknown ATI sound chip, eternal gratitude and a delicacy like a pound pack of Dutch chocolate sprinkles will be yours. I’m baffled like I haven’t been baffled by a piece of hardware and Linux since 1997.