Dumpster Diving for Old Computers

To paraphrase Forrest Gump’s mother, “Dumpster diving for computers is like a box of chocolates … you never know what you’re gonna get.”

Over the past at least twelve years, I have been salvaging computers I have found on the streets on garbage day, or found in other locations where my various personal travels have taken me, for use to reformat into usable computers. The various finds have served as main desktop computers, secondary computers, home servers, computation nodes for the World Community Grid, gifts to my brother or the occasional friend, and the like. It has variously allowed me to indulge in a bit of tinkering, trying out a new linux distro or version of BSD, build a home server, or just pass the time while engaging in a hobby.

In the process, I’ve watched the lower bar of what is acceptable “junk that isn’t junk, at least not yet” move upwards from about P4-533 MHz 32 bit processors to dual core 2.66 GHz 64 bit processors (although single core 64 bit P4 at 3.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz range is good if you don’t want to depend on a GUI, or if you have a lot of RAM and an SSD), 512 MB of RAM to 2GB of RAM, and 20GB hard drives to 80GB hard drives. Now it seems that the next big thing will be in moving from mechanical drives to SSD drives, which I expect — when SSD drives become common in the old computers I find being thrown out — will make a revolutionary change upwards in speed in low end hardware, the way I learned the same in 2017 when I swapped out the mechanical drive in my laptop and replaced it with an SSD. (To be fair, when I bought the computer new in 2015, the hard drive was curiously a 5400 RPM model, presumably either to make it less expensive, less power hungry vis-à-vis battery life, or both.)

As an aside: My favourite brands of castoffs have been, in order, IBM / Lenovo ThinkCentres, then Dells. After that, I’ve had an excellent experience with a single used HP desktop that has been doing computations for World Community Grid running at 100% capacity, since late summer 2016. I’ve dealt with other types of computers, but the ThinkCentres and the Dells have been the ones I’ve had the most success with, or at least the most personal experience. (Since initially writing this post, I have been developing a suspicion that based on the longevity of the HP cast-off I have, HP actually might be superior to the IBM / Lenovo when it comes to cast-offs; however, since it’s the only HP cast off that I can remember ever having, it’s hard to form a proper opinion.)

But to wit: Over the past two weeks, I have tried to revive three used computers that were cast-offs.

Two of them were IBM / Lenovo ThinkCentres, which I think were new in 2006 / 2007, 2.66MHz 64 bit dual cores, 80GB hard drives, and 2 GB memory. The third computer was a Dell case with only the motherboard (proving to have been — see below — a 64 bit dual CPU running at something like 2.66MHz) but no memory, no hard drive, no wires, no DVD player, and not even a power supply!

The two ThinkCentres were from a pile of old computers marked for disposal at a location where I happened to be in mid-2017, and I was granted permission to pick and choose what I wanted from the pile. I gave them to my brother, who at the time evaluated them and determined that neither worked, one just beeping four times and then hanging. After that, they just sat around in his apartment for whenever they might come in handy for spare parts. He had since determined that one actually worked, but he hadn’t done anything with it.

The third computer was found on the street near home a couple of months ago, and was covered with about an inch of snow by the time I’d recovered it. I brought it home, and let it sit around for several weeks just to make sure that it dried out properly. Based on the “Built for Windows XP” and “Vista Ready” stickers, I’d guess that it was new in about 2005 or 2006.

Having forgotten about the ThinkCentre computers I’d given to my brother in 2017, I casually asked him if he had the requisite spare parts to make the snow-covered computer work, since we normally share our piles of spare parts retrieved from old computers that die. To my surprise, he sent me the functional ThinkCentre. My knee-jerk reaction was “I don’t need a new-to-me computer; just the parts required to see if I can get the snow-covered computer to work.” Perversely, I didn’t actually want the results of my planned efforts to produce a functional computer; I just wanted the amusement of a small project, and more generally to see whether the Dell found on the street would work.

In parallel, my home server on which I hosted my backups and my website, another computer of the used several times over variety, worked perfectly except for mysteriously turning off on its own a couple of times recently, perhaps once a week. My brother and I decided that what was probably happening was the result of one or more thermal event(s) which shut down the computer, no doubt due to a combination of dust accumulation, the CPU fan ports in the case not having enough clearance from the computer next to it to allow for proper aspiration of ambient cooling air, and possibly high heat generation from occasional loads due to search engine bots crawling my website. Despite cleaning out the dust, removing the computer’s side panel from which the CPU fan drew air, and shifting both computers a bit in order to allow for adequate ventilation, the computer turned itself off again after about a week.

My brother and I made a swift decision to replace my server with a new installation on a “new” computer — the good ThinkCentre I initially didn’t want — because even though the existing machine was otherwise performing spectacularly well given the overall small load, we tacitly agreed that the shutdowns were a problem with a production server, though we hadn’t actually said the words. This incidentally dealt with another curious behaviour exhibited by the existing server which appeared to otherwise be completely benign, and hence perhaps beyond the scope of why we changed the physical computer.

The operational ThinkCentre was plugged in, formatted with Fedora 31, and my brother helped me install the requisite services and transfer settings to the new server in order to replicate my website. Newer practices in installation were implemented, and newer choices of packages were made. For instance, the “old” machine is still being kept active for a bit as a backup as well as to maintain some VPN services — provided by openVPN — for the purposes of setting up the new server and installing WireGuard for VPN on the new server, and generally allow for a smooth transition period. Other things that we had to remember as well as learn, perhaps for another time, were to install No-IP as a service, and that drive mounts should be unmounted and re-mounted through rc.local.

One of the unexpected bonuses to the upgrade is that it appears to be serving web pages and my blog a wee bit faster, for reasons unknown.

In a few weeks, I’ll reformat the old webserver and make it another computation node for the World Community Gridin fact, this particular machine’s “original” vocation when I first got it in late 2017.

In the meantime, on the next project, I got the non-functional ThinkCentre for its spare parts. The first idea I had was that maybe this second ThinkCentre might still be good, and we looked at a YouTube video that suggested cleaning out the seats for the memory sticks with a can of clean compressed air. I was suspicious of this but let it go for a while, and I proceeded to harvest parts from the computer after deciding that the machine wouldn’t work regardless.

A power supply, cables, a hard drive, and memory sticks were placed in the Dell found on the street. It powered up, and after changing some settings in the BIOS, I was able to boot up a Fedora 31 LiveUSB. Using the settings option from the Gnome desktop, I was able to determine that there was a 64 bit dualcore CPU running at about 2.66GHz, that the 2GBs of memory I’d inserted worked, and that the 80GB hard drive was recognized. I looked around on the hard drive a bit with a file manager (Nautilus) and determined that the place from which I’d retrieved the ThinkCentre appeared to have done at least a basic reformatting of the drive with NTFS. I didn’t try to use or install any forensic tools to further determine whether the drive had been properly cleaned, or had merely received a quick reformat.

Suppertime came around, and the machine was left idle to wait for my instructions for about an hour or so. When I returned to the computer, I saw an interesting screen:

“Oh no! Something has gone wrong.” error screen

(If you can’t see the picture above, it’s an error screen, vaguely akin to a Windows Blue Screen of Death.) After a few reboots, all with the same “Oh no!” error screen, my brother suggested that the machine may have been thrown out for good reason, intimating that it was good luck that I’d even managed to boot it up in the first place and look around a little bit. I, on the other hand, was relieved: I’d had my evening’s entertainment, I’d gotten what I wanted in the form of working on the machine to determine whether or not the machine could be used, and I’d learned that it indeed couldn’t be used. Parts were stripped back out of the Dell, and the box was relegated to the part of the garage where I store toxic waste and old electronics for the times I have enough collected to make it worthwhile to go to an authorized disposal centre.

At this point, something was still bugging me about the second ThinkCentre. I hadn’t yet placed my finger on it, but I was suspicious of the “use compressed air to get rid of the dust in the memory bays” solution. So I placed the salvaged parts back into the ThinkCentre — having fun with which wires go where in order to make it work again — and got the four beeps again. I looked up what four beeps at start up means (here’s my archive of the table, which I had to recreate since a direct printing of the webpage only printed one of the tables,) and found that at least on a Lenovo ThinkCentre, it means “Clock error, timer on the system board does not work.” While I assumed that changing the BIOS battery may well fix the problem, I decided not to investigate any further.

I salvaged the parts again and placed them in my parts pile, ready for the next time I find a junker on the street or from elsewhere. The second ThinkCentre’s case was also placed beside the Dell, awaiting my next trip to an authorized disposal centre.

This means that out of the last three computers, I have one functioning computer replacing an existing computer (that I hope will continue with an industrious afterlife doing something else), one computer scavenged for spare parts and the case relegated to the disposal centre pile, and the Dell computer which was found on the street also relegated to the disposal centre pile.

Or, to paraphrase Meat Loaf, “One out of three ain’t bad …”

Linux Meetup Montreal — Présentation

Cette page est principalement une place à exposer le lien pour ma présentation de ce soir au Linux Meetup Montréal au sujet d’utiliser le SSH et le SSHfs pour l’accès aux fichiers sur des autres systèmes depuis votre ordinateur linux (Fedora avec Gnome, dans mon cas).

https://www.malak.ca/linux/20200303présentation.pdf

Essentiellement, je discute le fait que SSH et SSHfs peuvent être utilisés pour les transferts des fichiers, et comment, à la base, les invoquer.

*****

This is a page to expose the link for my presentation this evening at the Linux Meetup Montreal discussing SSH and SSHfs for file transfers on other systems (Fedora with Gnome, in my case).

https://www.malak.ca/linux/20200303présentation.pdf

Essentially, in the presentation I say that SSH and SSHfs can be used for file transfers, and in a basic way, how to invoke them.

And yes, it’s in French. Deal with it. 🙂

New World Community Grid Node

I started volunteering some of my extra computers’ idle time for the World Community Grid in December, 2013.  Unfortunately, the machine in question, a used computer I’d bought about five years earlier and, after having been used as a desktop for a few years, had been converted to being a server under CentOS, died from a “thermal event” nine months later.  It had completed 713 results and earned 419,591 points.

In 2016, I found a P4 3.4GHz machine, installed CentOS 7 on it, and then the BOINC infrastructure.  I assigned it to the World Community Grid and 100% of its capacity to the project.  From when it began in September, 2016 to today, it has completed 4,540 results, and earned 2,568,590 points.

In 2017, I finally converted my old netbook (32 bit atom processor) to CentOS 6 and did the same thing.  From when it began in April until today, it has completed 261 results, and earned 133,073 points.  (What a difference in capacity that 3.4GHz 64 bit has as compared to 1.6GHz 32 bit!)

Over the past few months, I have been collecting up a number of old machines which have come my way, including some IBM ThinkCentres from the Windows Vista era.  So far, my brother and I haven’t been able to get them running properly, and we will probably end up using them for spare parts.

In the meantime, we acquired two more computers.  My brother wanted / needed a replacement computer for his aging media server, an old reclaimed IBM ThinkCentre I’d gotten for him a few years ago.  I, in the meantime, wanted to add another node to the World Community Grid (of course, working at 100% of capacity.)

I chose CentOS 7 for this build, like I did for my other nodes, for what I consider to be the obvious reason that I want to pretty much forget about the computers and just relish in the numbers on the World Community Grid website — I don’t want to be re-installing every year!

The install went well enough, although it was long enough process for the base install, as compared to my laptop and desktop.  I will rule out the comparison to my laptop since the SSD and physical drive don’t compare at all.  As for the desktop and node, I’ll chalk up the difference mainly to processor speed and general architectures:  A 2015-era four core i5 running at 3.4GHZ vs a 2010 era Pentium dual-core E6500 running at 2.93GHz (no HyperThreading).

What was really long after that was the yum update after the initial install — about 650 packages!  In the process of the updates, I tried a few things like web surfing, and the gnome desktop became unstable; I ended up with a flashing text screen.  I finally rebooted, and tried to downgrade to an older kernel in GRUB, to no avail.  I tried the rescue kernel, no avail.  Under both situations, I couldn’t pull up a terminal with Alt-Ctrl-F2.  A quick check under a Fedora live environment was a waste of time, since I didn’t really know how to diagnose things; however, I was able to mount the CentOS drive.

There was some flirting with the idea of installing Fedora 27, but I don’t want the re-installation mill on this machine (or any of my other volunteer computing nodes) every year — although, seeing my brother upgrade from Fedora 25 to 27 through the GUI go as smoothly as a routine DNF upgrade is making me wonder if the point is moot.  (Note that CentOS 7, based on Fedora 19, is still using YUM, while Fedora has been using DNF since version 22.)

Finally, I restarted the install of CentOS, this time doing a minimal text install.  Things were a touch faster.  Then I did a yum update, with only about half as many packages to update.  After that, I installed the Gnome Desktop on the machine. (Here’s my archive.)

I continued with the installation of the Fedora EPEL repository (as root “wget http://dl.fedoraproject.org/pub/epel/epel-release-latest-7.noarch.rpm”, then “rpm -ivh epel-release-latest-7.noarch.rpm”).  Installing the BOINC infrastructure was easy:  As root “yum install boinc*”.

I launched the BOINC manager from one of the pull down menus, and, to my surprise, it actually worked out of the box, unlike previous installations.  Someone must have updated the packages. 🙂  I added the World Community Grid website information, and my account and password.

Voilà!  At 12:00 UTC the next morning, my machine had already submitted FIVE results, and earned 2,429 points!  And, at 00:00 UTC as I’m completing this post, a total of EIGHT results, and 4,638 points!

malak.ca updated

Since about lat 2016, my website had problems with uptime:  It was mostly down.  In the spring of 2017, it was finally up and I did a bit of restoration work.  And then … it was down again for a few months.  (And, due to the circumstances of this downtime, my restoration work was lost.)

Finally, I transferred my website to an existing home server, and it is now living out of a computer which I believe may be as old as 2003, living under CentOS 7.x series, in my bedroom.  Having fixed a faulty telephone line (squirrels!) the line is now “not noisy” and the internet is back properly.

Main work has been:

ADTE Colloque 2016

Today I attended the ADTE Colloque 2016: The annual conference in Montreal (home for me) for a Quebec association with goals to promote free software in education.

Overall, the conference and its logistics were reasonably well organized; as far as the implementation of the event went, it seemed to go hitch free. Rooms that were appropriately sized were available, enough chairs were in place, there were no problems with the sign in, the microphones worked, the lunches arrived, and so on.

My interest was to see Richard Stallman, who was the keynote speaker.

Before he started his speech, I got to see his laptop almost closeup: He has a GNU sticker on it, an FSF sticker on it, and a small Trisquel sticker on it. I managed to ask him what the model was; an IBM Thinkpad X60, reconditioned, slightly upgraded, and marketed by a company called Gluglug.

Given that the conference was in French, Mr. Stallman presented what was no doubt his standard speech on free software, in French. (Let’s clear this up now: I’m a native English speaker, but Montreal is a predominantly French-speaking city; as such, since I live in Montreal, *of*course* I speak and understand French fluently.) Although I knew in advance that his French was competent enough to make his presentation in French, I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed that technically it was better than moderate in calibre, and that he could maintain it for over two hours with barely two or three requests to provide the French equivalent of a word or expression. And despite a fairly thick non-native speaker accent, it was almost surprisingly easy to follow.

His speech, although it appeared to be one of his standard speeches, went on too long in my view; 2.5 hours had been allotted for the presentation and questions, and I thought he could have accomplished the same thing in about 100 minutes, including questions.

I found that there were three downsides to his presentation:

– The “Church of Emacs” routine was off-topic or at least beyond the scope of the conference. Given what amounted to be a public audience, it was out of place. A cute parlour routine or pub talk in its own right, but out of place there.
– His comments about not having children were completely out of place, however legitimate they may be in their own right, and at best were poorly presented.
– Mr. Stallman apparently is losing his hearing, and asks people to speak a little more slowly, and clearly enunciate all their words. This is understandable, especially when those asking questions are not speaking his mother tongue; further, Quebec French and accents can be difficult even for native French speakers not accustomed to them. At one point, someone who forgot to speak extra clear and a bit more slowly elicited his ire as he either lost his temper, or whined like a child, repeating admittedly for the umpteenth time for the person to speak clearly and more slowly.

As for the rest of the conference:

The overall conference had a few quirks. The iPads at the registration desks were funny and out of place, given the topic of the conference. The glaring and blatant use of a Microsoft Windows computer on the overhead projector was a weird oversight to the point of being shocking, regardless of the fact that for all intents and purposes it ended up only being used to display the wifi network and password, and one minor demonstration during a roundtable discussion. This was addressed in the first question period by an irate participant who venomously commented on it and expressed his feeling of being insulted, to the applause of roughly at least a third if not half the participants.

For me, the first round table, before Mr. Stallman’s speech, left something to be desired. I thought that they could have been better organized instead of being just “I’m Tom Smith and this is what I do. Oh, and this is what I know about free software.”

The second round table, after Mr. Stallman’s presentation, was a bit meatier and not quite as disappointing as the first. There was an IT person who was trying to slowly provide Free Software by placing it in their pool of software available to staff at his institution, alongside other software. Another panelist provided a good and enlightening response to a question, to the order of “Try explaining *that* to a powerful teachers’ union!”

My brother said the comments then as well as elsewhere in the day felt like we were still in 2006 instead of 2016 given their nature, such as:
– “Well GNU/Linux is hard to install” (I found it easy to install in 2008, and installing other software and fixing settings is something one does on any platform);
– “LibreOffice isn’t fully compatible with MS Word” (that’s a very nuanced conversation that strictly speaking is technically correct, but mostly trivially, IMO);
– “I’m accustomed to program X”;
– “I didn’t know that you could do that using free software”.

The lunch included in the admission fee was fine albeit a bit too frou-frou for my tastes, and totally inedible for my brother’s admittedly very narrow tastes. I would have hoped that there might have been more than three or four tables in the trade show part of the conference, which was held in the large lunch room area, but that’s neither here nor there.

The two afternoon sessions I attended were on the subject of “Accessing the Moodle Community”, and the ProjectLibre software.

The first presentation on the Moodle Community seemed a bit off and probably confusing to most of the participants, being a bit obscure and technical. However, once I re-read the title in the day’s schedule, I realized that it *was* on topic (both for the conference, and, on topic for his presentation.) Disappointingly, the presenter was delayed by a good fifteen minutes, for technical reasons: He could not use his computer for his presentation, given that for some reason he was unable to plug it into the projector. He then tried to present his slides prepared in LibreOffice with a computer using MS Powerpoint, which did not like his slides. He finally had to install LibreOffice on the supplied computer which was effectively permanently connected to the projector, or the setup otherwise effectively precluded the use of his own computer. He should have been prepared with the slides saved in PDF format, but to his credit he had placed the presentation online so that he could access it easily, in addition to having brought it on his computer.

The second presentation was a bit better as it at least was a demo of free software that can be used by educators / schools / etc. to either to manage their projects, what kind of software can be taught in schools, etc.

However, I thought that the two individual presenters I saw had two failings beyond what I mentioned earlier about the Moodle presenter:

– They only had about half an hour each; they could have done with at least another 15 minutes each. Each went over their allotted time; in any case, they should have timed things better in their presentations given that they knew of their time limitations, or should have known, given the announcements online and in the printed schedules liberally distributed during the conference.
– They should have been coached in advance with “ok, present what you want the way you want, *BUT*, please spend the first up to five minutes answering these five questions, such as a brief description of what the software / project / topic is, what its use could mean to the participants, etc. etc. etc.” In addition, I thought that each unfortunately were unprepared for people asking questions and making comments during the presentations, which could have been handled with “Could you wait until I finish my presentation, at which point I’d love to take your questions and feedback.”

Overall, however, I did love participating in the conference.

Update 27 April 2016:

Here is the link to the ADTE’s conference recap page (in French) (and here’s my archive)

In it are links to YouTube videos of Mr. Stallman’s presentation as well as a number of links to speakers’ quick resumé of what they spoke about to even sometimes slides of their presentations, again normally in French.

I’ve finally got a convert, sort of, to whom I’m giving a linux desktop!

In 2011 a new hire at work was assigned to join me on a few field jobs in order to expose them to the kinds of things we do at the office.

At the time, I enthusiastically told him about my use of linux. Suffice it to say his reaction was “What is this communist stuff anyway?!?!” Harrrummmpphh. “Red Hat is in line to have $1 billion with a big fat capital B in revenues this year alone. Doesn’t sound very communist to me at all.”

Back in mid-December of 2015 — after countless times of telling him about linux in the meantime, hopefully a bit more toned down — he sent me a message: “Here’s a modest budget; set me up, I’d be interested in trying it out.” I was practically beside myself in my pleasure.

I came back from the Christmas holidays and announced that I’d tracked down a used computer for free, and just needed to get it into my hot little hands. I explained that I wanted to give him a relatively risk free introduction. In the meantime, the computer in question, I’m told, proved to be dead and not usable. I’m promised another computer, and this week, when it looks like I’ll indeed be getting it in time for an install day this weekend, I further explained to my colleague: “The computer is probably about four or five years old but it’s supposed to be a dual core with 4 gigs of memory. It won’t be the best performing computer in the world, and some things it just won’t be able to do, at least not spectacularly, not because of linux, but because of the computer itself; however, it should still be good enough for videos, games, and day to day stuff, and you’ll be able to explore all the software available for it and see what can be done with linux, and you can add a few things like a bluetooth dongle if you like.”

He cautiously tells me all along that I’m building up anticipation; the caution suggests to me that he is mildly tongue-in-cheek meaning “of the disappointing variety”.

I then start asking him very specific questions, like what he wants as the computer name (I give him examples of current and past computer names I’ve used, and advise him to choose carefully since using the name of a pet or relative could backfire in case something goes wrong, and in the process of relating the experience to family or friends they may be confused or even become upset), the user name and password to use, the root password he wants, and things like which email client he uses at home. Pleased that he’ll be able to use a GMail interface, he begins to apparently genuinely say “Oh now you’re *really* building anticipation!” instead of the cautious insinuations from before.

Therefore in anticipation of the build this coming weekend, I put together this list of the main things I’ll need to install on his computer, especially since I’ll be helping my brother-in-the-know again with another desktop install, and try to get in some of his under the hood expertise at getting my server to be a bit more useful than a rarely used ftp server, a backup server for my data which depends on my remembering to back up my data on it, and consuming electricity.

So enjoy my list of things to do to loading a Fedora desktop very similar to how I use mine. And yes I know that there are plenty of things I *don’t* say, like “take this icon and place it third or fifth or last in the dock on the left on the activities screen” or, how to do “that”. 🙂

Installing Fedora 21 (Part II), 32 bits at a time

In Part I, I talked about installing Fedora 21 on a new Dell desktop, and promised a Part II, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But wait folks, I was serious. 🙂

I have an Acer Aspire One which I received new out of the factory sealed box as a birthday present in 2009, and immediately converted it to linux after receiving it – Fedora 11, to be exact. It has used, as I recall, Fedora 11, 12, 14, 15, possibly 16, 17, and 19, all without any trouble. Well, ok, none that can’t be attributed to “whaddya expect out of a notebook vs. a full horsepower machine” and errors stemming from somewhere between the keyboard and the chair. ?

However, time is starting to march on with this machine, and while it was great under roughly 18 months of Fedora 19, it was clearly starting to slow down a bit, but … well, Fedora keeps releasing new versions, and, well, while CentOS 7, which is based on Fedora 19 and which I’d be happy to install on my netbook, unfortunately is only available under 64bit while my netbook is only 32bit. So my options were to either keep Fedora 19 unpatched, upgrade to Fedora 21 workstation, which I wanted to do, upgrade to Fedora 21 with XFCE, which would probably make it peppier, or explore other distros, which I don’t wish to do.

When Fedora 21 Workstation came out in December 2014, I downloaded the 32 bit version, and the fun began. Within a couple of minutes of booting up the live DVD and before the desktop loaded up, the machine went into hibernation. This didn’t feel right, but I hit a key and things came back to life. Then, within about a minute, the machine went into hibernation again. I hit a key again, got a minute of performance, and it hibernated again, ad nauseum, and ad infinitum, literally.

Despite this, I decided to continue with the F21 Workstation installation anyway, and I ended up babysitting the install, hitting a key to wake up the system every minute or so during the installation. On a single core atom processor running at 1.5 GHz, this took a good long while and a lot of keyboard wakeups. Finally, the system was installed, but it kept on hibernating after roughly a minute.

As a reference, I proceeded to install Fedora 21 XFCE Spin, and, except for hibernating once during the initial booting up of the liveDVD, it worked like a charm.

One solution I tried was to do a “yum install fedora-release-workstation” or somesuch from an installed XFCE spin, hoping to then do a “yum groupremove XFCE” and repeat “yum install fedora-release-workstation” just to reinstall any packages which may have gotten removed, but it bricked the install and I had to reinstall XFCE yet again.

For a variety of reasons which are now lost in the winds but which probably included having gone through the following suggestions from ask.fedoraproject.org, I managed to install and re-install the XFCE spin several times again after probably having reinstalled the Workstation a few times in between.

I went to ask.fedoraproject.org to ask for help (here’s my archive), and I got a few interesting responses.

The first response I got was:

“You can do tests and get logs without interference with systemd-inhibit – ie sudo systemd-inhibit bash. The system won’t suspend or hibernate until you end the process invoked with systemd-inhibit.” This didn’t work; hibernation continued as before.

The next response was “I’m just guessing, but it feels like the system thinks that the battery is almost empty and because of that does the right thing in that situation. I’m not sure which software component is handling this situation but anyway, there seems to be a bug that happens to manifest on your particular environment.” This could have been ruled out immediately – mostly – because at the time the battery was physically out of the machine when I tested, and I was running on mains electricity out of the wall. Nonetheless, I did check, with a fully charged battery in, to be sure I wasn’t being a fool; no such luck, under both cases, the machine kept on hibernating every minute or so.

All through this, I learned that at least one user with a Toshiba Satellite Pro without a CD player had this same problem, and worked just fine up till Fedora 20.

My “brother in the know” helped me with some research, and we found something: In the Arch Linux forums, the problem is described, and the user “Scimmia” comes up with the following workaround (here’s my archive):

“Try setting ‘HandleSuspendKey’ and ‘HandleLidSwitch’ to ignore in /etc/systemd/logind.conf” “Scimmia” further claims that this problem appears to be caused by systemd/logind. This all means that somewhere, signals are being sent out, rightly or wrongly or otherwise, that are being interpreted as “the clamshell lid is being closed, so it’s time to hibernate.”

To wit, my brother and I, after I’d installed Fedora 21 Workstation for the probably at least third time, then boot up an XFCE liveDVD (but do not install it), and through some of my brother’s linux kung-foo, he mounts the hard drive, using Thunar in the XFCE spin as a facilitator, and we edited the appropriate file.

… And Bingo was his name-OH. (Translation: Yup, that worked and the machine now works.)

Here are the instructions to correct the problem, at least for an Acer Aspire One, and which are also findable through ask.fedoraproject.org:

1) install F21 32bit workstation, by babysitting the system throughout the whole install to keep waking it up every minute or so (literally!)
2) reboot using a live-dvd that works on the system, such as the F21 XFCE live-DVD
3) mount the hard drive (not really sure specifically how my brother did it but using Thunar seemed to help out a lot)
4)open a terminal session and make sure the hard drive is mounted
5) edit the file /etc/systemd/logind.conf (such as using nano)
6) uncomment the settings for “HandleSuspendKey” and “HandleLidSwitch”
7) set the “HandleSuspendKey” and “HandleLidSwitch” options to “ignore”
8) save the file
9) reboot
10) enjoy

… and, it seems, my instructions, posted on ask.fedoraproject.org, helped at least one other user with an Acer Aspire one. I’m pleased. ?

Now, as for what I think of it … well I like F21 Workstation. On my laptop, it’s a slightly sluggish, but still working well.

I’d say that Fedora has arrived!

Almost five years ago in March 2010, I stated “Ubuntu and Fedora LiveCDs — Ubuntu a clear winner!”

I’d burned two live CD’s — one of the current Fedora of the day, and one of the current Ubuntu of the day. I had wanted a group I belonged to to use one to reformat a virus-infected computer to use it again. Incidentally, they declined the honour, however that’s beyond my point: I didn’t want to give them (or anyone) the Fedora CD, while I thought that the Ubuntu CD was great out of the box, specifically including OpenOffice.org (now LibreOffice) and a cute little directory including a short video, a sample mortgage calculator, and two or three other little gems which really put the CD over the top for its immediate usefulness.

Well, I haven’t really used Live CD’s much since I’m not all that worried about having linux on the run, but at this point Fedora 21 seems to only be available by Live CD’s. But to wit, the experience with Fedora 21 seems to be quite the improvement in experience, according to at least two of my somewhere between the stated and implicit standards of comparison: The inclusion of (now) LibreOffice, what I considered a killer omission, and the ability to quickly and easily install many “productive” pieces of software through the new software installer. To be fair, at the time Fedora limited itself to CD’s and in its efforts to include as wide a base as possible for supposed widest mass appeal, Fedora was unable to include OpenOffice.org (or, as possible, any usable subset thereof) due to space restrictions, although it was able to include AbiWord.

Now, Fedora Workstation includes LibreOffice, and by typing into the search box in the “Activities Overview” (click on “Activities” on the upper left hand corner of the screen, or invoke it using the “hot corner” by bringing your cursor up there), the installed software that may help you, as well as a number of other pieces of software in the repositories which may help you, as indicated by a little shopping bag to the left of the proposed piece of software.

screenshot of proposed software

Well, I guess now I just need to find someone who needs to have their computer saved from viruses and spyware. 🙂

Installing Fedora 21 — Part I

Well, well, Fedora 21 Workstation came out in early December, 2014 to (at least my) great anticipation. It works great, and it’s a nice evolution in the Fedora desktop.

Initially, one of the biggest things that had me confused about it was wrapping my head around the hoopla: What’s the improvement? What’s the big deal? What has really come about to fill up the time between the release of Fedora 20 in December, 2013, and the release of Fedora 21 in December, 2014? Ok, tell me. “Uhhhh …” And so on.

Eventually I understood, or at least presumed, rightly or wrongly, that the biggest improvements for me would be under the hood and I wouldn’t really notice much, although I’d see the better and more intuitive software installation manager on the gui, and the polish, which I have. Apparently — for (one of) the main (now) Products, the Workstation — improvements would show up in the clearing of many bugs, general issues, and polish issues, and as well as choosing “best of breed” components (and in some cases, working with or even creating some upstream projects expressly to make desired components into the “best of their breed”, at least toward Fedora’s new vision). This would be instead of Fedora giving the impression (again, rightly or wrongly) of just “throwing together a bunch of packages and compiling them into a distribution” (admittedly, that worked rather well, and by working with upstream projects directly to fix bugs and contribute desired new functionality.) And finally, the dimensions of the windows have been changed such that in many places, the gray space and borders are smaller and thinner.

So after downloading and burning the 64-bit ISO (and concurrently, the 32-bit iso, the subject of Part II), and doing a full backup of my /home directory (including the hidden directories), I dived into the installation.

I had no trouble at all installing F21 on my NEW NEW NEW Dell Inspiron Dell i3847-5387BK PC (Intel Core i5-4460 / 1TB HDD / 8GB RAM / Intel HD Graphics / Windows 8.1). Firstly, nuking the Windows install was a great pleasure after having been pestered into first installing the Windows 8.1 which came with the computer. And that’s not including all the really annoying and really invasive questions the install asks, like full names, areas, and connecting to your (or signing up for) Windows Live or whatever account (which of course I don’t have).

The install was fairly easy (I suppose I’m not saying much given the several, several dozen linux installs I’ve done over the past eight plus years). In fact, the liveDVD — only because Fedora gave up on the size restrictions of CD’s for the live versions a few years ago, the image size was the order of 1.4 gigs (ok almost twice the size of a regular CD) — booted up rather quickly (faster than I’m accustomed to with the usually low-powered P4 single cores), and the first thing I saw was an option to either try out F21 Workstation or go directly to installation, all on top of Gnome Shell. I of course hotly jumped onto the install option, egged on by the annoying Windows install I’d just done (which, BTW, went flawlessly beyond the nuisances mentioned above, and fairly quickly.)

The biggest thing that was a bit confusing was discerning in Anaconda the checkbox that allowed me to free up all space on the hard drive, given that it seemed to be slightly below the screen and I needed to scroll down to it.

In the part of Anaconda that asks for location in order to set the time zone (and possibly / probably) set other regional default settings, Montreal — where I live — isn’t available. To me this is “a (minor) thing” since Montreal *used* to be available in the Anaconda locations list. The main cities in my time zone and “nearby” were Toronto and New York. I suppose that setting “New York” is generic enough, but in the presence of a long list of city names around the world spanning multiple time zones and with multiple redundancies per time zone, requiring someone from Montreal to indicate that their location is Toronto is downright near insulting — no Maple Laughs here! 🙂 Heck, I couldn’t even choose Ottawa had I wanted to, or choose to be equally insulted to indicate Quebec City — Go Habs Go! 🙂

Once the basic information was input, the installation was great and quick; so quick, in fact, I neglected to enter a computer name — easily fixed with a “hostname (addnamehere)” and “nano /etc/sysconfig/network” as root and editing things appropriately.

Interestingly, UEFI was not even a non-issue (ok so I do think that tin-foil hats are a legitimate fashion statement. 🙂 ) A quick check afterwards of the pre-boot menu options listed the following:

Boot Mode is to: UEFI
Secure Boot: ON
UEFI Boot: Fedora UEFI OS

How pleasing to see that Windows *isn’t* listed.

Now, beyond assuming that most linux distros pay the UEFI tax, err, registration fee, I wonder if Oracle pays it for Solaris, IBM for z/OS — I assume as much based on a cursory search for “IBM zos uefi” — or just about any other os developer working on intel architecture.

After that, the computer ran (and of course still runs) great. I even described it as “frighteningly fast”. The new software installer in F21 is quite helpful in suggesting software I want if it’s not already installed, and installs it quickly. The best part is that it’s seamlessly integrated with the activities screen where I can enter software I want to use in the search line, and most of the uninstalled software that I’d want is listed.

A few other command line installs were necessary though, to install (what my brother calls “your linux kung-fu”) some things like DenyHosts, some codecs, and so on.

However a there was one little problem with the settings. For one of the settings surrounding locations, I entered the likes of GB or UK for Great Britain / United Kingdom, so as to get settings with British spellings (again, Canadian English settings weren’t available). This had the result of setting the calendar applet at the top center of the screen to start weeks on Mondays. Now, I know that around the world this is gaining a certain traction for a variety of reasons, including ISO reasons, but this is incredibly confusing to one who is accustomed to calendars using Sundays as the first day of the week. (Yes, I know that this same argument, appropriately centred on Mondays, applies to those who use Mondays as the first day of the week.) This was finally fixed by setting the locales setting in /etc/default/locale to:

ANG=”en_CA.UTF-8″
LC_TIME=”en_CA.UTF-8″
LC_PAPER=”en_CA.UTF-8″
LC_MEASUREMENT=”en_CA.UTF-8″

Well this solution didn’t seem to be persistent, even if the file is. I ended up going into the “settings” / “region and language” option of the gui and setting both the language and region to, surprise, surprise, Canada.

Well this system is up and running, and works just like Fedora, surprise, surprise. My /home directory was restored with no trouble at all. And, while I was happy to have used Fedora 19 for a year and a half (as far as I’m concerned, Fedora heaven for me, getting an extra six months of system stability) I’m also glad to have updated to Fedora 21.

Upcoming: Part II — Installing Fedora 21, 32-bits at a time

I now have a Fedora Friend Finder!

In early 2011, I decided to go to a FudCon in Tempe, Arizona (here’s my archive). And here’s my blog summarizing my participation.

One of the things in the list of items to bring was a Fedora Friend Finder (archive), in other words an extension cord with multiple outlets / a power bar. This of course makes sense when you have a bunch of computer people gathering together, face to face: We still bring computers and as such we want to plug them in.

As you can see if you followed the link or checked my archive, the page featured a long power bar with 12 outlets, like the following:

12 outlet power strip

I of course had considered the power bar shown to be quite fanciful and even comical to the point of farce, and as such I assumed that someone had played around with GIMP to produce the image. However, the message was clear: I brought a four outlet power bar with a roll-up extension cord to FudCon Tempe, like the following:

cord caddy

During FudCon Tempe, I was mildly popular during the various “unconference” sessions and certainly made friends as a result of my power bar. In fact, during the “Lightning Talks” at the end of the “unconference” part, I was so popular that I had to turn people away who wanted to plug in, even after several other power bars had been plugged into mine.

Fast forward to this past week in 2014, and I’m shopping for supplies at a Canadian Tire for a job site I’m starting up, including electrical extension cords and power bars. What do I find? To my amazement, a 12 outlet power bar just like I’d seen on the Fedora Friend Finder web page. The person I was with was a bit bewildered by my fascination with it; to him, it was just a big power bar. It may have been odd, but it was just another power bar.

I wasn’t just fascinated; I was practically beside myself. Here I was in front of a real live example of the farcical prop I’d seen on a web page. Of course, I had to buy one.

Here’s a pic of it with eight personal pumps and one DryCal calibrator hooked up, charging the internal batteries:

my Fedora Friend Finder

I think it’s cool. It will probably eventually be used at home where I have my multiple computers and a big wide screen TV and PVR, where things are currently lit up like a Christmas tree, so to speak, with multiple power bars which are nonetheless underused given the multiple oversized adapters.

However, the temptation will be there to bring it out to any events at which not only would such a power bar be useful, but also to just brag on an “over the top” level and get incredulous looks along with a “may I plug in ?!?!?”