The spirits of computer failure target me again.

January 19, 2013

Once again, I’m having computer issues. This time, it’s with my beloved eeePC, which I may have used the most for writing and editing in the most unlikely places over the past four years or so.

Everything seemed to be fine Thursday midday. I’d taken it to work with me, and not actually used it on the bus because I’d been procrastinating for a week and a half on reading the other entries to the latest SDMB short fiction contest. So I quickly transferred those stories to the Kindle before I left home and read like crazy all the way to Burlington.

The eeePC battery tends to drain itself fairly quickly even when the netbook isn’t turned on, and it doesn’t actually realize that it needs to recharge until you turn it on. So I quickly powered it up on my lunch break, then plugged it in later that afternoon so the battery would top up. I remember that the desktop came up as usual.

After walking to the bus stop Thursday evening, I powered up the eeePC – and things were going wrong. It was prompting me for a password, which it usually doesn’t do on boot, and when I typed in the usual admin password, it just kept returning me to the same prompt without any message of what was going on:

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I didn’t take these photos on the bus, but it wasn’t hard to recreate the same prompts at home. But back to the bus for now – I was quickly getting critical low battery messages as well, which was a bit unusual, so I packed up the netbook, hoping it was just a weird reaction to booting on a low battery. Maybe if it booted up fine plugged into AC power, I would order a replacement battery. Pulled out the Kindle again and read some of “Maybe Baby” and watched part of an ‘8 Simple Rules’ episode with John Ritter, on the iPhone.

But things didn’t work out any better once I got the netbook home. Same login prompts when I tried to boot from the solid-state drive. Yesterday morning, I made up a liveUSB stick with Xubuntu 10.10 on it – several versions back, but one version ahead of what was on the netbook, and it was handy. It took a while to re-enable the right BIOS option to book from a USB hard-disk device, and that seemed to go promising to start with.

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The splash screen for Xubuntu took a long time when it was running off the flash drive, over half an hour:

 

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But eventually, disaster struck:

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The error message I was getting was something like “udevd[166]: timeout killing /sbin/blkld -o udev -p /dev/sdb1′ [378]”. After a while, I also got some “udevd[166]: /sbin/blkld -o udev -p /dev/sdb1′ terminated by signal 9 (killed)”

So, it kinda looks to me like the eeePC is toast. There’s one option on the liveUSB that I haven’t tried yet – to reformat the SSD and reinstall Xubuntu onto it. But if I can’t even run Xubuntu off the liveUSB, I have very little hope that a reinstall will even finish, let alone work the way I want it to.

Any geeks out there have a better prognosis or suggestion for me? I know that all electronics do have an expected lifespan, and the eeePC has given me much over the years. But I’ll be sad to see it go this way.

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Tech geeky update

August 17, 2012

Well, I’ve been indulging in some geeky stuff lately, so I thought I’d share just a bit of it with you.

Droid grocery list update. Had a breakthrough since the last time I mentioned this – I think I talked about the approach of trying to take the App Studio iMenu control, taking away its absolute position, and putting it inside a classic HTML table layout. This turned out to be easier than I thought – the iMenu control doesn’t have absolute position hard-wired into it, it’s just a couple of css directives. I love my new droid grocery list and have been using it instead of the iPhone version ever since:

I’m looking forward to doing something else with this hybrid approach to developing for Droid, but not just yet. Part of the problem is that the Eclypse’s keyboard isn’t as spiffy as it looks. It’s great for text entry, but there’s no navigation buttons, so you still have to tap on the screen to work with the GUI. Very quiet sigh.

My new geek project has to do with my old Toshiba Satellite M70 notebook computer that I got back in 2006; soon after I started doing Nanowriye writing. It’s been bogging down more and more, and I’ve been using the Acer Aspire One notebook more and more as an everyday around-the-house laptop, but I didn’t want to consign the Satellite to tech oblivion, especially since it has a few good features – great big comfy keyboard, wide bright screen, S-video out port. On the con side, the hard drive is none too roomy, (58 gigs,) the onboard RAM is limited to 512 megs, and 1.6 gigahertz Intel CPU.

So, I’d been thinking about what I wanted to do with it. I copied all the important personal data off the hard drive, figuring that I’d want to pave over the hard drive and reinstall something fresh, be careful about installing anything that could slow it down. I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to stick with windows XP or try Xubuntu.

And then inspiration hit – I’d try both! Dual-boot that puppy.

Getting started was the hardest part. I found the Toshiba restore DVD, and spent hours fooling around with USB sticks and BIOS settings because I thought the optical drive wasn’t up to booting off. And the BIOS was somehow stuck in some weird display mode that showed up neither on the attached LCD or the S-video out. (I’m wondering if my S-video cable might need to get replaced, actually.) Once I got the display stuff sorted out, it became clear that the BIOS wouldn’t support booting off USB – even after I tried a BIOS update, which made it almost impossible to hit the setup key in time. But booting off the optical drive didn’t turn out to be a problem.

I’ve got the basic Ubuntu install done, though I’ll need to go and upload patches and software updates to both OSes soon. The hard drive is partitioned more or less like this:

20 gigs – windows C drive, NTFS, (co-mounted on Ubuntu as /windows/c)
10 gigs – Ubuntu file system root, EXT4
2 gigs – Ubuntu swap partition
26 gigs – FAT32 partition, E drive on windows, /share on Ubuntu. All documents and media files, particularly those that can be used on both operating systems.

🙂


Xubuntu

April 28, 2011

X is for…

Well, this is the point at which I geek out, it seems.

I’ve been using Xubuntu of one sort or another on my eeePC netbook for a few years now, I guess. When I wanted to move on from the hokey Xandros OS that came with the eeePC, there were a bunch of eeePC specific linux OS installers around, and I picked eeeXubuntu because it seemed to have a reasonably good support community at eeeuser, where I was already familiar with the wiki and forums.

But I quickly came to appreciate Xubuntu’s mix of power and user-friendliness, with the Thunar file explorer (reassuringly like Windows XP’s in a lot of important ways,) the down and dirty mousepad text editor, and the global keyboard shortcuts that let me give all my favorite programs an easy to remember shift-key combination, so that I don’t need to worry about how to add anything to the start menu. (Good thing too, because the Xubuntu start menu, on the other hand, is ARCANE! I still don’t really know the details of where and how I’d need to construct a shortcut file to get Celtx on my eeePC start menu.)

And behind the Xfce desktop environment, of course, is all the power of the Ubuntu operating system core, with the Synaptic package manager to make it easy to find new software packages to install, like OpenOffice, Gambas programming tool, Unison to sync my work with a flash drive, and so on.

I wanted to update the Ubuntu version on the eeePC over the winter, and I tried the ‘Ubuntu netbook remix’ version first. But I wasn’t impressed with that interface – it seemed to have its own ideas about what people should be using netbook computers for, and customizing it to the purposes I wanted seemed like too much of a pain. So I went back to Xubuntu, Maverick Meerkat version, which has worked well ever since.

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Netbooks

April 16, 2011

N is for…

I have two different netbook computers. The first one is the eeePC, which was one of the first netbooks to hit the market, and I got it around April of 2008, just as the model was getting started. It’s a wee little thing with a 7 inch screen and 4 gigabytes of onboard flash memory, which is the same size hard drive as the Compaq laptop I bought way back in 1999, and it came with this strange mutant version of Xandros linux pre-loaded, which really made it a bit hard to do anything but what the people who loaded it thought you’d want to be doing with a netbook, which apparently included using it in coffee-shops with free wi-fi a lot, since many of the applications they had loaded were ones that worked online.

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