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.

Another toy!

Preparatory to my voyage to Canada for the 2007 Libre Graphics Meeting in May I thought I’d treat myself to another Krita-relevant toy: a new camera. Our first digicam was a Canon Powershot A20 that we’ve taken more than 8000 pictures with. The second was a cute little Praktica DPix 540Z we bought in Wernigerode. The Praktica lives in Irina’s handbag and the Canon is getting a little long in the tooth. Besides, 2 megapixel images are all very well, but they’re not much use for stressing Krita with, are they? And neither camera does RAW.

Enter the third digital camera we’ve bought, one that brings back the days of our second-hand Ricoh SLR: a Fujifilm S6500fd (the fd means “face detection”, and the American model number is s600fd):

The reviews were good, the price was good — and it can do RAW, so I have something of my own to test Krita with. I’m not entirely sure that this camera is quite me as regards looks — it’s maybe a trifle too bulky, too wannabe digital SLR, a trifle to, well, I’m afraid I can’t think of another word than “cocksure” for the way the zoomlens protrudes. I definitely won’t be wearing this camera on its strap around my neck.

But, about 200 snaps later, I have to say that, camera-wise, it’s the goods. That indecent zoomlens is manual: no tumble switch that operates an electric motor. Just turn the lens to zoom. Bliss! It’s sensitive enough that I can make indoor pictures, in really low light, without needing the flash. It’s a Fuji, which means dcraw has special provision for its superccd. It’s blisteringly fast — turns on at the flick of the switch, takes jpegs at full resolution really, really fast, and even the 12 megabyte RAW pictures get snapped and saved to the XD card as fast as the old Canon saved its jpegs. Download using digikam is really fast, too. The electronic viewfinder is a bit crappy, but the lcd screen is excellent. It’s even got a special museum mode, that’s silent and doesn’t flash. It can make hundreds of pictures with four AA batteries. It feels good; not too light, not too heavy. (I always move the Praktica when pressing the button.) The digikam from trunk with libkdcraw works perfectly: Krita 1.6 with its old dcraw dependency less so. And image quality is mostly excellent. (When it’s really darkish, there is noise, and sometimes in the jpegs there’s a tendency to the oil-paint like artefacts that come with too many sensors on too small a ccd.)

It’s got gimmicks, too: the face detection works fine, but is a bit silly, There’s a digital zoom in addition to the manual zoom, but fortunately you need to press a button to activate it.


Irina’s blasted Dell laptop is broken again. It was repaired April 2006. So, after slightly less than a year, it’s a goner again. This time when you try to boot it, it quickly reboots, reboots, reboots, reboots — repeat ad infinitum. It’s even quite hard to really shut it down, it reboots that fast.

So, what now? Another fight with Dell for another ten months of Inspiron 5150 usages or shell out for a new laptop? If the latter it will not be a Dell!

New toy!

I recently bought a cheapo scanner, a Canon ScanScan LiDE25. Our old scanner had broken down, giving red and blue lines all along the left side, and, besides, it dated from our Windows-only era, which means 1994 or so. The LiDE 25 was cheap at about 60 euros, and, surprise!, easier to use under Linux than anywhere else. I mean, all you need to do is plug the usb cable in, and start one of the scan apps that come with any decent distribution. Works out of the box… No need to first install software from a bundled CD or anything.

I’ve tested three applications: the lamented unmaintained Kooka, the equally unmaintained QuiteInsane and XSane. Kooka cannot use the scanner’s 16 bit mode, which is, of course, extremely important because I’ve finally got a way to create 16 bit images to test Krita with. Quiteinsane claims to be abler to do 16 bit images, but cannot, really. Probably uses QImage inside. XSane does do 16 bit and, although all apps use Sane, gives the best results. A pity, because I liked the way QuiteInsane worked a bit better.

Using the scanner also shows that the panel on my Thinkpad Z60m has a really horrible orange cast, while the Philips LCD monitor we recently bought has a green cast. Looking at the image on the screen of our old Dell laptops shows that the scanner is all right and that those Dells, despite their many faults, have brilliant screens.

Still: here’s my new wallpaper, a painting by Pieter Claesz, originally
scanned at 16 bit/channel and 300dpi, massaged and cropped in Krita:

Computers we’ve owned

Computers we’ve owned

The untimely demise of calcifer II, the server that was bringing you my blog entries, and the quick replacement of it by calcifer III sent me reminiscing about computers past and present.

These are all the computers we’ve owned, not counting the two Psion series 3a and one 3c, nor the phones and other pocket stuff. It’s about 25 years, now, that I first got my hands on a computer. A year earlier, I had an earnest discussion with the boy next door. He badly wanted an Apple II, and I maintained that he would be far happier with a box of watercolor paints and some good brushes, or, failing that, a good book.

Acquired Scrapped Model Memory Notes
1982 1982 Sinclair ZX-Spectrum 16K 16 KB Actually borrowed from my mum’s school: all teachers were supposed to learn about the microcomputer revolution by taking turns with this little beast.
1982 1987 Sinclair ZX-Spectrum 48K 48 KB My very own! Got it because I got 9 out of 10 for English. Coded my first games on it in beta basic.
1987 1994 Spring Circle Super Turbo IBM XT clone (8 Mhz) 640 KB Boring machine for schoolwork, replaced the poor Spectrum that had gotten a broken “J” key from loading to many games too often. We actually put a hard-disk in this thing, all of 20MB big. I got a lovely keyboard with it
that we kept for years.
1990 1996 Packard Bell 386sx 2 MB (later: 4 MB) For
coding morphological analyzers in Turbo Pascal
. Ran Linux later on, but was too underpowered for X11. When it started making a lot of noise despite regular fan cleaning we got rid of it. Still, it was very useful for a very long time.
1995 1998 Tulip PC XT 640 KB Our on-line banking machine: a cast-off from my dad.
1993 Compaq Contura Aero 486sx 4 MB A little laptop. Cute, but the hard disk made an annoying noise and the screen is 640×480 in 16 scales of washed-out gray. Still runs Windows 3.11, although I’ve run ZipSlack on it. Irina and I agreed that this would probably our last computer purchase (together with her Psion Series 3a) because we’d be knee-deep in kids Real Soon and wouldn’t be able to afford more computers until they’d all finished
University. I feel this firmly puts me in the same league as Bill Gates and that chap from IBM, Thomas Watson.
1994 2000? Anonymous 486 clone, bought to replace a borrowed machine. 8 MB Our first Linux machine. I ran X11 on this thing in December 1994. It served us well as our UUCP node from 1994 on, first under dos (Waffle UUCP), then Linux with Taylor UUCP. We went on using UUCP well into the twenty-first century. The borrowed machine was meant for Irina to develop a Lotus Notes application on and was also a 486: that was the first machine we went on the internet with, as soon as Hacktic started in 1993. Named Lamarkis.
1995 Another Sinclair ZX-Spectrum 48K, bought for old-times sake 48 KB A colleague of mine found one for me. But as soon as the thing arrived in our household we got rid of the television set, with the result that I’ve never seen it run.
1995 2000 1 Bull MVME motorola 86000 unix box with two terminals 16 MB Funny machine: double the memory of our main computer, I had hoped it would be useful for hacking. The second terminal was meant for Lamarkis, so we wouldn’t need to take turns reading mail. Turns out that Bull’s Unix
was really crappy and that it was next to impossible to connect the box to the home network, so I got rid of it. It also made a noise like a vacuum cleaner on takeoff and contained the whole payroll database of the Apeldoorn location of Randstad Uitzendbureau. 16 serial ports!
1995 ? Tandy Model 100 portable 16 KB Lovely keyboard, 4 line lcd screen and a disk drive that I almost immediately broke. Pity, it was a very nice and sturdy note taking machine. I’m not sure where it’s now…
1996 2004 PC-Deventer (but otherwise anonymous) 686 64 MB It turned out that we needed a somewhat capable computer for Irina to do her translation work on. This was it. Nice machine. Ran Linux pretty exclusively. This one died during the Great Computer Blight of 2004.
1997 A second PC-Deventer (but otherwise anonymous) 686 64 MB Bought when we got cable internet: this machine is still running, because it contains the Roland Sound Canvas synthesizer with the connector for the keyboard. It runs Windows 95 and BeOS, although we mostly used it for Linux.
1998/1999 Calcifer I: anonymous Paradigit clone tower 512 MB I don’t exactly remember when we bought this machine. It did serve quietly and well as for a long time. It broke down when we were in the Hague for the funeral of abbot Father Adrian.
2000 Sinclair Z88, sent us by Charlie Stross 128 KB Charlie Stross, nowadays an SF author, used to be a column hack for computer magazines — even noticing the existence of KOffice. He collected a large amount of junk over the years and was nice enough to send us a coveted Sinclair Z88. We have used it — briefly — for writing text, but connecting it to a Linux machine to get the text somewhere useful was quite hard. And nowadays,
most pc’s don’t have 9 pin serial slots anymore.
2002 2006 Calcifer II: another anonymous Paradigit clone tower 512 MB When calcifer I died, we replaced it with a big tower from Paradigit. I did a lot of Krita hacking on this system and it handled our mail and so on for acges without complaining. Last week we noticed that it kept rebooting itself, and I powered it down to see what was wrong. It never got up again.
2002 2004 Acer Aspire laptop 512 MB Together with Calcifer II, the second PC-Deventer computer got fried, and we bought a laptop for Irina. This was a horribly expensive, horribly badly made laptop that broke within two years. It wouldn’t run for more than half an hour and that only when you kept the bottom completely free. Bwerk.
2003 Apple Powerbook Pismo (G3) 748 MB I wanted to see OS X and I wanted to have something to test PPC builds of Krita on, so when Tryllian went broke I fished this from the trash heap. It still runs faithfully, runs even Pages for Thomas Zander to crib from.
2005 2 Dell Inspiron 5150 laptops 512 MB — the other one later extended to 1 GB Not good machines. Lovely screen, heap of design faults.
2004 2005 1 ancient Dell Latitude laptop (mushroom model) 128 MB Another Tryllian cast-off. This was from our erst-while American branch and a very good computer, or would have been, if the American employee who had it before me hadn’t nicked all the memory that wasn’t soldered on the mainboard. Naomi used it until Tryllian bought me a Thinkpad and I gave her one of the 5150’s after Dell finally repaired it.
2004 Ancient gateway Solo laptop for Menna 384 MB The official Tryllian Architect laptop, this laptop was the envy of the Tryllian developers until it got obsoleted by the march of times. I used it for some time, but after I got my 5150, I got it for free for Menna. It’s running, but the keyboard is loose, and it’s getting really long in the tooth now. It probably dates from 2000.
2004 Another ancient gateway Solo laptop for Rebecca 256 MB My first Tryllian laptop. I bought it for Rebecca and she still runs KDE on it. It’s also 2000 vintage.
2006 calcifer III: Acer Aspire celeron midi-tower 1 GB I swore I would never buy Acer again — but Acer, Packard Bell and HP is all you can get off the shelf in Deventer, it seems. This was the very cheapest computer we were able to find after a lot of searching. We’ve got it for a week now, and it’s still not broken, which must mean that Acer is improving.

That’s… 23 computers, 26 if I count the three psions, 27 if I cound my current work laptop. Slightly more than one computer a year, for a population that’s grown from one to five in 25 years. Eight are currently in use. I do have a feeling that, despite owning car nor dishwasher, television not Jacuzzi, I’m not doing enough in the battle against
global warming.

Both laptops have returned

Two weeks and one week late, respectively. And at least one will go back to Dell immediately. At least one has been returned to us with a broken dvd player and a broken keyboard.

We’re checking the other one as I type…


The other one is working fine. But there’s only one expression for Dell, and I’m not going to use that expression in public.

Another update

No, both laptops have returned broken. And it’s bloody impossible to get to speak to someone at Dell except ordinary technical support, and they are dragging Irina through the entire “are you sure it isn’t your own fault”, “run the recovery cd” (nice, both laptops don’t have a working cd drive anymore), “no windows? We only support Windows” sequence. And then, of course, they’ll notice the machines are out of warranty, I’m waiting for that.

Oh, and Dell technical support cannot handle two broken machines at a time; they can handle only one service tag per call. Damn Dell.

And no thinkpad either

I was right… Bluelink did not deliver my new Thinkpad. They did not even think to tell me that they were not going to deliver. I had to phone them. Of course they didn’t know why they couldn’t deliver or when they would be able to deliver. But they promised to find out and then phone me back.

The Bluelink salesman told me that my laptop wouldn’t be delivered until January 2nd — and probably not even then but a little later.

Right, money back time. He didn’t like that and said he’d try to put some pressure on Lenovo. As far as I’m concerned, he can do that and tell me tomorrow whether that worked or not.

But why is it so hard to deliver a laptop that was introduced in October already? And why don’t resellers inform their customers of delays? Why doesn’t Lenovo sell direct, and why do they have such a large range of models when only a few will be available?


Bluelink have pushed Lenovo really hard, it appears — and now Lenovo will ship the Thinkpad December 22. And they contacted Tryllian very speedily. Excellent!

It has arrived

Right, I take back every unfriendly thing I’ve said about Bluelink. They managed to get my new z60m laptop (and I may well be the first one to install linux on that machine, according to Tux Mobil) in Deventer the day after they took delivery themselves. It’s a gorgeous machine. Pictures and howto-install later… I’m making recovery cd’s right now.


Apart from the singularly sticky Centrino and Windows stickers, and the silly location of the Escape key (which may be the final straw for my vi addiction), there’s really very little wrong with this laptop. It’s sturdy, got a gorgeous screen, a keyboard with a great feel — almost as if I’m typing on a full-size keyboard — and installing Linux seems pretty easy.

Kubuntu wasn’t able to downsize the Windows partition, but SuSE 10 was. And SuSE has very, very beautiful screen fonts and in general a very polished install. But I also wanted to try Kubuntu, which I’m upgrading right now, while also restoring my home directory from the disk of my old Dell. (Which, despite promises hasn’t been returned, repaired, to me before Christmas.) Bad Dell.

Updated update

Installing Kubuntu Breezy Linux on the IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad z60m:

    • Suspend to ram works — out of the box, if not with the fn-f4.
    • Suspend to disk works — out of the box
    • After running sudo apt-get install libdvdread3; sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/examples/, dvd playback works, practically out of the box
    • X11 works, right resolution and everything. I haven’t tested 3D  acceleration with the ATI X600, but dvd playback is smooth and that’s what counts
    • Sound works
    • The drives are approached by default using the SATA drivers, which apparently implies DMA, which is good
    • Mounting usd drives works (restored my home dir that way). However, Kubuntu mounts all partitions on the same mountpoint. Didn’t know that was possible.
    • Connecting to my camera works
    • Wireless — would have worked out of the box if the detection hadn’t preferred the open, unprotected, default settings wlan of my  neighbours.
    • Wired network works

SuSE shows much the same, except that SuSE enables all the wierd and wonderful thinkpad buttons out of the box, including the suspend  button.

The permanently running fans are a “feature” of many newer Thinkpads, according to ThinkWiki.

All I can say is, I wish every laptop were as linux-compatible as this one. There’s not much heroics in this report — if I find it necessary to do something extraordinary I’ll update this entry.