Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Fixing an iPod mini

Many times the answer is on the 'net, so when I wondered if my dead iPod could be fixed I started Googling. This post is one of the answers I have found. To make a long story short: iPods do not like to fall on the floor, they use to stop working as a revenge on the careless user. iPod mini has an Hitachi microdrive (same size as a Compact Flash memory but thicker) inside.

You may wonder, as I did, if you can substitute the damaged microdrive with a solid state flash memory. The answer is yes. Have a look.

And yes, you can replace the 4GB microdrive with a 8, 16 or even 32GB Compact Flash card to boost your iPod capacity. You can also replace the battery if it is not holding a charge too. Just be aware that not all the CF cards work.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

When my son asked for a new MP3 with video player to replace his ancient Creative Zen micro I thought a new 8GB Creative ZEN will be a nice replacement. However the Zen micro units and the Zen V Plus have not been very reliable (at least not mine). It seems the obvious choice would be to go iPod nano. An option I would agree with but because my iPod decided not to allow writing new songs anymore a few weeks ago.

Several things seemed to favor the 8GB Creative ZEN: screen size almost double that of Ipod, a built-in radio and a built-in microphone enabling the use of the unit as a voice recorder. On the cons it was the size and thickness factors that played against Creative's.

Unfortunately, the 8GB unit was not easy to find, but somehow Santa managed to get one just in time. It was a disappointment to discover the unit display did not to work just after opening the box. However, just to follow the instructions we fully charged the unit and transfered a whole bunch of songs (data transfer worked ok) just to realize the initial assessment was just right. The display did not work.

Tomorrow I am going to return the unit to the shop but I am not sure whether they will have more units or not. On the other hand, I am not sure I am going to stick with Creative anymore. I do not like brands that do this to me.

Update: It took them almost half an hour to figure out the unit was not working (PC CITY). I was offered the unit on display or a refund. I took the latter. I tried to buy an iPod but they were locked inside a transparent container. I tried to get a shop attendant but none were available. I walk away after cashing my refund to go to the next shop (MediaMarkt) where I bought an iPod nano (there you could just pick up the unit).

BTW, no software comes with iPod nano. They seem to assume you'll have Internet access at home and you'll figure out how to download and install iTunes. For the moment the iPod nano works fine and transferring 7GB of MP3 music was ok. The only problem is that many of the CD covers were not automatically downloaded, just some of them were figured out ok.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Still more problems with Ubuntu 7.10

While I have to admit I am quite happy with the last Ubuntu version I have to mention several bumps I ran into:
  • To my surprise, the usual way of installing ssh server did not work as expected. After doing sudo apt-get install ssh I've got installed and running the ssh daemon, but no connection was possible. Well, not sure what happened, but now it works ... I cannot trace what exactly the problem was though it seems two daemon processes were launched by error.
  • Realplayer is another problematic application that use to work in previous versions but now it creates trouble.
  • The adobe Flash player is (almost a requirement if you want YouTube videos to play) another tool creating trouble at the moment. The install will fail but some magic can be done to get it working too.
  • VMware's vmplayer is another example of this apparent regression of tools. It was working before but stopped working not. Fortunately help was on its way and it can be fixed too.
None of these problems has been a show stopper but they all add up to create a general impression that Gutsy has been rushed without enough testing. (To be honest I reckon the Flash problem has been caused by Adobe releasing a new version of the linux plugin).

Once said that and given I've fixed all the issues I had with the Desktop Effects on different computers (most of the trouble was due to ATI cards --sorry AMD, you have to do it better--) I am quite happy with this version. Font rendering seems to have improved and the neat effects on the desktop add a nice touch to the system. I think work is being done in the right direction, just please keep working applications working on each new version.

Hopefully I'll be able now to move on to other topics on this blog.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Gutsy ... we have a few problems

The second system I installed Gutsy was probably angry with me. Or maybe I was just downplaying Murphy's laws. It was an old Asus Pundit-R computer and it was a mess.

The initial install went ok as I kept my /home partition untouched not to loose any data. However since the first moment the screen colors looked awfully washed out. Of course this same computer was just happy with almost any previous version of several flavors of GNU/Linux, so it had to be something new. While Google comes in handy most of the time, the problem is to choose the right keywords. It took me a while (more than I am willing to admit) to find this bug report and the solution.

And while doing the silly thing with the Ubuntu logo above, I discovered the GIMP version that comes with Gutsy fails to open a URL. A feature that has been working for ages. (Fix: sudo apt-get install gimp-libcurl).

In the process of fixing the graphics driver problem something happened to compiz that now prevents me to use any graphical effects.

Now I am not sure I am going to install this version on any more desktops.

Update: I could not resist the temptation to try again with a third system. Again the colors looked awful on another system with an ATI (Radeon Xpress 200) graphics card. However, the problem was fixed when I selected the use of the closed source driver fglrx. However Desktop Effects did not worked till I installed Xgl. I failed to mention that the autoinstall of the flashpluing-nonfree fails too, which is a PITA. However you can just go to Adobe site and download the plugin yourself. You need to store the file to /usr/lib/firefox/plugins/ which is again a bit of a challenge for the novice user (remember to use sudo cp to be able to copy!).
Finally, an interesting problem I met before this upgrade is that Java applications need you to type export AWT_TOOLKIT=MToolkit before you can see anything on the Java-created frame. This seems to be an interaction between the 3D desktop and how Java renders the content of frames (dialog boxes work, however).

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Testing Ubuntu 7.10

After some weeks waiting to allow the news to settle, I've decided to install the new release of Ubuntu known as Gutsy Gibbon. I have started with my laptop that was most needed of an upgrade as it was still running the same version I installed 18 months ago. At the time, Ubuntu required me to tweak several things to get the laptop running fine and still the memory card reader was a no go.

This time installation was faster and everything worked first time (all but the WLAN led, while WLAN worked ok the led showing it was on didn't). No need to fight with any xorg config file to get the right screen resolution. Suspension worked nicely too (but I needed to go to the preferences menu to select the power save operations I wished: closing the lid will suspend the system). For the first time Firefox prompt a Java runtime install that worked ok, giving you the choice of what virtual machine you wanted, too.

I've read some claims that battery consumption might be higher on this new release. My unscientific first impression is that they might be right, as it seems to deplete battery slightly faster than before.

All in all I think I am moving my other desktops to this new version. And yes, in case you wonder this new release will easily download any multimedia codec you need to play audio/video content.