Bdale KB0G Makes Stuff!

Last week, I had lunch with an old friend, Bdale Garbee (KB0G). Bdale and I had both worked at HP for a number of years and we have been involved in some common ham radio clubs and activities. I followed the test and measurement path with Agilent Technologies when that company was formed, while Bdale stayed with the HP computer business. He is a recognized industry expert in Unix, Linux and all things open source. It is always cool to catch up with him and find out what he has been doing. He recently took early retirement from HP…I am not sure what “retirement” means for Bdale but its not playing shuffleboard at the retirement home!

Coincidentally, a few days later, I came across this video from HamRadioNow of Bdale talking at the ARRL/TAPR Digital Communications Conference. In this talk, Bdale discusses the general theme of making stuff and the satisfaction that is derived from that activity. It is about an hour long so grab a cup of your favorite beverage and take a seat.

 

By the way, check out the other HamRadioNow videos, especially the videos of the DCC technical talks. Good stuff!

73, Bob K0NR

Backing Up the Acer Aspire One

Aspire OneI’ve posted a few items about the Acer Aspire One netbook (with SDD and Linux) which have generated some positive comments. See Sweet Little Acer Aspire One PC, More on Netbooks,  and My Tweaks to the Aspire One Netbook.  One thing I’ve noticed is that the Thunderbird email client has a nasty habit of losing a critical file and tossing out all of the email messages. Because of this, I’ve taken a bit more care to backup the email messages and address book (which you should be doing anyway).

Here’s the simple procedure I use to back up the critical folders on the Aspire One onto a USB thumb drive.

Exit all applications

Insert a USB flash drive into one of the USB ports (File Manager should automatically open. If not, open up File Manager manually.)

Click View and select Show Hidden Files. Some of the files we want to copy are hidden, so this let’s us see them.

Select My Disk (over on the left side of File Manager). Then drag the .thunderbird folder over to the USB drive, which will copy the files onto the USB drive. This may take several minutes depending on how many files you have.

Also drag the .mozilla folder over to the USB drive, copying the Firefox bookmarks and other settings

You can copy any other folders that you want to back up

Click the eject drive icon on the right side of the USB drive indicator (left side of File Manager). This closes down the USB drive and prepares it to be removed.

If you ever experience a loss of email information, simply insert the USB drive and drag the .thunderbird folder back onto the Aspire’s main drive (My Disk).

Remember, you don’t have that much SSD drive space on the Linux Aspire, so be sure to delete unneeded email messages and other files.

73, Bob K0NR

Podcast: Linux in the Ham Shack

Over the past few years, I have developed the habit of listening to podcasts on my iPod as an alternative to broadcast radio. (See my post from April 2006: Competing for Ears.) Of course, some of my favorite podcasts are on the topic of amateur radio. I’ve noticed that some of them have come and gone, and my interest in them varies over time.

Recently, I just came across a new podcast called Linux in the Ham Shack, by Richard KB5JBV and Russ K5TUX. Richard also does the Resonant Frequency podcast. Both of these podcasts are available via iTunes and probably a whole bunch of other feeds. For you Linux enthusiasts, Russ’s call sign is a vanity call chosen for its Linux significance.

Most of my PCs run some version of Windows, but lately I have gotten more interested in what Linux can do for me. Earlier this year, I took one of my old PCs running Win98 and gave it some new Linux brains (Ubuntu). I have to admit that I have just been running non-ham radio apps such as OpenOffice and Firefox on that machine. I’d like to turn on PSK31, APRS, WinLink and other digital modes so this new podcast sounds like a great resource.

The first few episodes of Linux in the Ham Shack were interesting and helpful, with a nice interplay between Russ and Richard. Keep up the good work, guys!

73, Bob K0NR

My Tweaks to the Aspire One Netbook

I need to document the tweaks that I made to the Acer Aspire One netbook, so I figured I might as well post them here since someone else may find them useful. All of this info is available with sufficient googling but here’s the condensed version.

Background

The PC is the Acer Aspire One, Linux  version with 8GB SSD, referred to in these previous postings:

http://www.k0nr.com/wordpress/archives/200

http://www.k0nr.com/wordpress/archives/430

My basic approach to hacking this PC is to leave most of it alone and make minimal adjustments:

  • Enable the advanced mode user interface
  • Load Thunderbird in place of the original email client
  • Load a few more games

Enable Advanced Mode

This one is easy. Get into the Terminal mode (AKA linux command line) by pressing ALT – F2 on the keyboard.  Type in: xfce-setting-show which will bring up a window with several icons on it. Click on Desktop to get to the Desktop Preferences and choose the Behavior tab. Now mark under Menus the Show desktop menu on right click option and close the window. Now you can access a much expanded menu selection by selecting a Right Click on the desktop.

See http://www.aspireoneuser.com/2008/07/09/aspire-one-advance-linpus-mode-hack/ for more information or if you find my instructions inadequate.

Load New Software

Now that Advanced Mode is enabled, we’ll go load up some new software. Do a Right Click with the mouse on the desktop to bring up the advanced menu. Select SYSTEM and ADD/REMOVE SOFTWARE, which brings up the dialog box for managing the installed software. It will probably take a little while for it to load the list of available choices. Then use the SEARCH tab to find these software programs and add them in:

  • thunderbird
  • any other programs (I just added a few games)

Follow the prompts to get the software to load and be patient.

Fixing the Main Menu (So Email points to Thunderbird)

There is one more thing to fix. The Desktop Menu icon for “Email” still points to Aspire One Mail, not Thunderbird. You could choose to just live with this and select Thunderbird from the Advanced Menu (Right Click on Desktop). Warning: You can royally screw up your computer if you make an error, so all disclaimers apply!

To change the Desktop Menu, we need to edit one of the files that defines how the menus are configured. This forum discussion has all of the info but I will also summarize it here.

Edit this file using Mousepad or some other editor:

/home/user/.config/xfce4/desktop/group-app.xml

You should be able to use the standard file manager to find this file. A double-click on the file should launch the editor.

Find the line that begins <app sequence=”3″ acs=”email”>
Change AME.desktop to mozilla-thunderbird.desktop
Save the file and reboot the PC (you may want to save the original file somewhere in case you need to reverse this edit). Be Sure to Reboot the PC for this change to take effect.

One More Thing

To stop Aspire One Mail from checking for new messages:

Open Aspire One Mail (you may need to use the advanced menu now for this)
Tools>Options
Uncheck: “Check for Messages Every:” and “Play sound when new messages arrive.”

Sweet Little Acer Aspire One PC

My spouse’s notebook computer died a few weeks ago, about 1 year after the 1 year warranty expired. This was not very satisfying. I also had my notebook PC die this past year, so it is starting to look like notebooks are disposal devices. Funny, my desktop PCs just keep on going year after year without a problem. This probably has something to do with the abuse that notebooks get being carried around from place to place.

So if we are going to end up replacing these things every few years, I got interested in lowering the cost. There are a number of compact netbooks that typically run Linux on the Intel Atom and use a solid state drive (no spinning hard disk). We settled on the Acer Aspire One, which is $329 from Amazon (free shipping). This computer has a 1.6GHz Atom N270 Processor, 8GB solid state drive, 512MB DDR2 SDRAM, 802.11b/g, Ethernet, three USB 2.0, VGA output, 1.3 megapixel camera, SDHC and multi-format media readers. I popped an 8GB SDRAM card into the expansion slot and it now has 16 GB. It uses the Linux LinpusLite operating system. (Some netbook models are going with WindowsXP, but I think these minimalist machines are better off with the small footprint of Linux.) The only thing I wish it had was a good-old dialup modem for those rare times when you are stuck without a decent wireless connection. (I’d trade that for the VGA display output.)

It comes ready to run with Linux and the key applications already loaded. For web browsing (Firefox), email (Acer Email) and writing (OpenOffice), it is ready to go. I did decide to load Thunderbird for email (instead of the supplied Acer Email application). This machine is configured like an appliance with not much thought of how the user will add applications. However, a little fiddling around on the web and the use of my (cough) extensive (cough) knowledge of Unix commands got Thunderbird loaded.

So far, this computer has exceeded our expectations. It is really compact, has a great display and is easy to use. What it does, it does well. However, it is NOT a full-size, full-featured notebook computer. For the intended use of internet communications, email, web, basic document creation, it works great. I am hoping that the simple design, with no hard drive, with also last a little longer. Did I mention that this thing boots fast? Go, Linux.

I can’t get it out of my wife’s hands. Trust me, I’ve tried.

73, Bob K0NR

Followup Oct 11: I’ve noticed that the netbook product category continues to be dynamic with new products being introduced all of the time. Check out the latest offerings from Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, MSI, etc. before making a purchase.

Ernie Gets a Linux Upgrade

One of my old PCs sitting in the basement had Windows 98 on it. The computer was named Ernie by my daughter many years ago. (The taller computer we had at the time received the name Bert, as in Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.) The OS seemed to be dieing a slow death as it experienced the blue screen of death on a regular basis. I suspected that the hardware was OK and the software was suffering from entropy. It seemed wrong to re-install Win98 in the year 2008, so I considered other alternatives.

For quite some time, I have been wanting to bring up a Linux machine. Why? Bragging rights, I suppose. Feed the inner geek. Real men run Linux, you know. (Masochists run Windows and wimps run Macs….just kidding.) I was also curious about how friendly and useful the OS would be. The Linux folklore also claims that it will run on anemic PCs without any problem. (I definitely didn’t want to install Vista on this old PC.) Back a few decades, I spent quite a bit of time on HP Unix computers and I used to be able to grep with the best of them. More recently our herd of computers have been running operating systems from Microsoft.

It seems that the Ubuntu release of Linux was getting positive reviews, so I chose it as the upgrade for Ernie. I downloaded the latest release and created an install CD. This first attempt to install linux failed, apparently because the PC only has about 200 Megs of memory. The download page said to use the “alternate” version of the release to deal with limited memory. I downloaded that version and the install progressed quite nicely.

During the install process, the software tried to find a network connection, which was unplugged at the time so it told me I could deal with that later. After the install, the system rebooted and ran just fine. The graphical user interface was familiar enough that I could just start using it without referring to the documentation. (We don’t need no stinkin’ manual.)

At this point, I am feeling quite confident, so I connected up the network (Ethernet to DSL at our house). The computer didn’t see the network and I could not find any way to reconfigure it. At this point, I broke down and checked the documentation, expecting to find a friendly little section for people that didn’t have the network plugged in during the installation. No such luck. Eventually, I gave up and re-installed the entire OS with the ethernet cable connected. Although that seems a bit extreme, it did take care of the problem.

Here I am, writing this blog post using Ernie with a new set of brains. (Ernie, not me.) Good old Firefox was automatically installed and is ready to go without any additional effort. Similarly, the OpenOffice suite is installed as part of the Ubuntu release. Not bad, not bad at all.

As described, I did have a few bumps in the road on the installation but nothing too dramatic. My experience with various versions of Windows is not any better. The machine does seem to run kind of slow, in terms of loading applications and responding to GUI changes. I suspect this is due to the limited PC memory. It probably runs about as fast as the Win98, though. I was just expecting better from lean-and-mean linux.

73, Bob K0NR