Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Trouble on Googleland

Just as Google seems to be facing some trouble with EU regulators, my (till now) trusty Gmail account started to give me trouble too.

I started a thread on Gmail help forums a week ago complaining of a sudden and weird problem. It turns out that many people are reporting a similar problem.

A cool feature of Gmail is that you can fetch emails from other accounts supporting POP3 access. It has been working great for a long time, with the added benefit of using Gmail's spam filtering on that other account's emails.

Unfortunately, starting two weeks ago, Gmail stops fetching emails from these other accounts for no good reason. While a fix has been posted: save the affected account settings again, this fix does not last long and problem eventually reappears.

While it might look like certain ISP is to blame, given the different and varied error reports it looks much more likely that trouble is in Gmail systems.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wake on lan

Recognizing the big amount of energy being wasted at my university, a system for waking up a computer has been set up. In the past many people, including myself, had no other choice but to leave the computer on if you might want access it remotely (as directed-broadcast is not allowed on campus' network, there was no way to send a Wake-On-Lan magic packet from outside of campus).

The new system put in place allows users to wake up their computer from the university intranet, which is a big plus. Alternative systems were available but only worked on certain subnets and you need to know you computer's MAC address (something I have to tell you I've never been able to memorize).

However, and there is always a catch, I realized my computer (an ASUS P5G33) did not seem to accept the wake-on-lan feature. I am quite doubtful about following the advice I read on a forum, even more if it requires reflashing my motherboard BIOS with a firmware many tools refuse to accept. However, I decided I'd risk my system this time to see if I can get WOL working.

In the process I learned that I need to boot up my system with MS-DOS. Not having an MS-DOS system boot floppy, nor a flopply drive in my system proved a problem. Luckily I could get the instructions to install FreeDOS on a USB pen drive. And because this install was bootable, I could finally got my system capable of running AFUDOS.EXE utility to re-flash my system.

Unfortunately some side effects showed up after the process was finished: now BIOS reports my CPU temperature is 4 degrees Celsius and Suspend has became non functional, as my system is non responsive after waking up from Suspend state.

But to make things worse I failed to see anything remotely similar to "Enable Wake On Lan" on the new firmware (though other people reported it solve their problem with WOL). And, of course, everything change I tried in the BIOS did not fix my problem.

Days later I read some advice on our computer center help info that turned my prevoius failure into a success:

sudo ethtool -s eth0 wol g

What this command does is to enable network card to be waiting for a magic packet to wake up the system. Apparently default startup configuration of my Ubuntu system does not enable the feature on the network card and so, the system looks dead (and not sleeping) to wake-on-lan.

In order to make this change permanent it is a good idea to include it somewhere in the adapter initialization process (i.e: if-up.d scripts).

Update: Once again, it happens you should not trust all what you read on the Internet. Out of curiosity, I reverted my motherboard to the original BIOS: Not only I've recovered flawless suspend operation and CPU temperature measurement but Wake On LAN works too. It turns out replacing BIOS was completely unnecessary, but I was fooled to believe the opposite due to both my failure to make WOL work and these reports I read on some forums.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

What a disappointment

As I mentioned a few days ago a talk by Richard Stallman was held on campus and I decided to go. The talk was along the lines of the four freedoms (kind of Stallman's version of Asimov's three laws of robotics). But almost at the end of the talk and before the questions he invited to another unannounced speaker who had some rants about the university.

Everyone is entitled to her own opinion but this was not the reason why I was there so I left. I cannot comment on that other speaker merits but it felt like a commercial in the middle of the talk (and keeping you there from leaving if you wanted to listen the question).

Should that individual have announce his speech people might have decided whether they wanted to attend or not, but the way it was done it felt like a trap. What it may be relevant here is that the university was providing a conference hall for free based on the idea Stallman's speech was of interest for our student and faculty.

As expectation was building up the event was moved to a larger hall, that was not free to have but our school assumed the cost based on the fact that one of our professors was named as the contact person on campus.

I felt someone was not playing nice here. Whether Richard Stallman was deceived or felt he had to step forward to defend someone's speech rights, I do not know.

Bottom line is that I left the conference hall with a bitter sensation. If Stallman's speech is all about ethics he should remember that action speaks louder than voice.