Archive for October, 2009

Ubuntu test

Posted in technology with tags , , , , , on October 31, 2009 by bytor

I was forced into a trial of Ubuntu on my old laptop. Why? Because when I upgraded my current laptop to Windows 7 the one thing I did lose was the use of my scanner. It is too old and simply incompatible with Win 7. My old laptop (Acer Aspire 1360, AMD Sempron processor 3000+ rating, NVIDIA GeForce FX Go 5200 graphics card, 60GB HDD, 0.5MB RAM!!!) running Windows XP could still use the scanner, but it was so old, and the hard drive was so full that it was virtually unuseable. Even after deleting and installing all unecessary files it still ran like treacle.

So, my grand plan was to restore it to a brand new Windows XP factory install and then just run the scanner software and nothing else. Unfortunately either I had some corruption on my HDD or I caused some during the restore process. I was only supllied with “recovery disks” not full Windows XP disks. I think it restores Windows from a small hidden partition. Somewhere along the line something got screwed up and even various utility boot disks, formats, repartitions and low level disk scans did not solve the problem. The PC would hang after a variable (short) time.

In desperation I installed Ubuntu. Amazingly it installed straight away no problems. Maybe because it uses a different filesystem? The install program included some repartitioning. This seemed to go OK.

Karmic Koala

So, with the latest version of Ubuntu installed, how is it for a Linux noob? Well a bit tricky. The GUI (Gnome) takes a little getting used to and the installation process is still a mystery to me. However, it works.

Problems

No wifi. First time round I connected to my router via an ethernet cable. This was immediately recognised and allowed me to update the system and apps, and install a few Firefox add-ons to make me feel more at home (hello Xmarks!). With wifi however it was a different matter. My wifi lan card is not natively supported by Linux but luckily there is a program to allow Windows drivers to be used. I installed this as instructed but it always seemed to get stuck at the stage where I was asked to input the WPA wifi security key. I therefore tried turning off the encryption all together and it connected first time.

So, I am currently trying to see if I can solve the WPA problem. There is a lot of information out there on the net but at this stage I am still such a noob that it is mostly gobbeldeegook to me.

UPDATE: I tried changing the encryption protocol to WEP instead of WPA-PSK. This seemed to work fine. It’s a bit annoying because now I need to change all my other wireless devices too, Wii, iPhone, other laptop etc. and I know that WEP is less secure than WPA, but I’ll go with it for now.

Next Task

Seeing if the scanner and printer work. If the scanner doesn’t work I might try and see if will work under WINE the Windows emulator.

UPDATE: No luck with the scanner. It is not recognized natively. There is a project caller SANE (scanners are now easy) which aims to make a lot of scanners work with Linux. Unfortunately mine is not one of them. There might be some hope on the horizon though, as a company called JFL Peripheral Solutions have apparently announced that they will be releasing drivers for all Visioneer scanners for Linux.

UPDATE2: I contacted JFL and unfortunately their Linux drivers are only for current models, not legacy products, so I’m out of luck.

The printer (Epson Stylus Color 680) worked fine with no need for any additional steps.

USB keys worked OK too.

Windows 7 installation – my experiences and tips

Posted in technology with tags , on October 25, 2009 by bytor

windows_7_launch_dateOK, I am upgrading to the full release version of Windows 7 Home Premium, after having used the Release Candidate trial version for a few months. I will be detailing my experiences here. It will be a rough and ready “type as I go along” blog, with no real fancy flourishes, but hopefully it might be of interest and help to the odd person.

So, where did I start from: I had Vista HP on my Dell inspiron 1525 laptop. When Win 7 RC became available a few months ago I tried it out by creating a 50GB partition and dual booting. The RC worked very well, but I still had to use the Vista install for some things as I didn’t at that stage want to transfer all my programs acorss (e.g. Office, iTunes etc.)

So now the full version is out (and shout out to Amazon for getting it to me on release day despite the postal strike). What I needed to do was:

  • Back up anything I had made with the RC and then delete the 50GB partition
  • Expand the original C: partition to take advantage of the released space
  • Back up everything important!
  • Perform a clean install of Windows 7 Home Premium on the C: drive but hopefully transferring some of my settings from the original Vista install
  • Spend a looooooooong time updating, and re-installing my applications

So, first task, partitioning. I used a trial version of Paragon Partition Manager 9 which I got from an old magazine coverdisk. I used it to make the 50GB partition for the trial Windows 7 in the first place. It was still installed and it was pretty straight forward to delete the partition then increase the size of the remaining one. It had to be done in 2 steps and required several reboots during the process but it passed without incident.

Backing up

OK, my first big hint. You need an external hard drive to do this properly. I have been reasonably good at backing up to ext. HDD using the free Microsoft SyncToy 2.0 to mirror my folders containing my documents and media files. There are a few other things you might want to consider backing up that probably aren’t in your “My Documents” folder.

You browser bookmarks/favourites. If you use Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari I suggest you use Xmarks to maintain a cloud cache of your favourites. This not only helps moving between machines if you have more than one in the household, and also enables you to access your bookmarks via a web interface on any computer, but it comes in very handy when re-installing your OS! If you use Chrome , Opera or other weird browser you have to investigate other options to save and restore your bookmarks.

Emails, and contacts. I use Gmail as my primary email system, with a local copy downloaded to Outlook for “archive”. If you use Outlook make sure you have saved you Outlook.pst and archive.pst files which is where Outlook saves everything. For users of other systems YMMV but look into it. It is a real pain to loose all your email addresses.

iTunes. Many people use iTunes and you need to back up you library. There are instructions on how to do that on Apples site, and there are a number of ways to achieve it. It all depends on how you have your media organised. I actually rarely buy any song from iTunes, but i do download a lot of podcasts, and also all my iPhone apps are managed from iTunes so it was important to back it up. This simply meant copying the relevent folder to a backup external drive. All my tunes and videos (although in the iTunes library for syncing to the iPhone) are actually stored elsewhere in my directory structure. I know where everything is there, so I prefer to keep it that way.

Network settings. If you connect to the net through a wireless router, I would suggest you copy down all the settings somewhere. (You should do this anyway right?) In particular, note down the wifi encryption key. (What do you mean you don’t know it? You have turned on wifi encryption….) Either that or temporarily turn of the encryption. You could get by temporarily by connecting direct to your router with an ethernet cable but you will still need you wifi (WPA/WEP) keys eventually. If you don’t have them well tough, you are going to need to access your router and set up some new ones.

Microsoft OneNote. Probably not many of you use this but I have found it fairly useful. Make sure you backup the files specifically for this so you can import them back in later. Instructions are in the application’s help file.

OK, so you backed up everything important! The next thing I did was to fire up Windows Easy Transfer. This is installed as part of Vista (there is also an XP version – I think you have to download it from Microsoft.com) which allows you to back up various Windows settings, programs and files and transfer them to another computer (or a new OS installation on the same computer in this case). You have the option of what to include in the transfer. My tipn would be as little as possible. Don’t include lots of documents or the transfer may take hours. Back up your documents seperately as noted above. However it is useful to include the window settings. This saved me quite a bit of time. You have to save a loarge file to you external HDD (or flash drive or optical media) and then once Windows 7  is installed you can use this to get back your settings.

Taking the plunge

Make sure your PC is set to boot preferentially from CD/DVD!! If you are not sure, reboot and enter the BIOS setup screens (usually pressing F2 or F12 or some other function key early in the boot up process before the Windows screen comes up). So I then put the 32bit Win 7 DVD in the drive and re-booted. The instructions were minimal and easy to follow. The whole installation process took only about 40-50 minutes and little user interaction was required. The only important choice was right at the start. If you are installing over a previous Vista installation you are given the choice of “upgrade” or “clean install”. I always intended to do a clean install. Re-installing the OS has been a time honoured ritual for PC users since time immemorium, as a way to spring clean and speed up the PC, and this was another ideal opportunity. After reading this story on the BBC website I was even more convinced.

While you are installing a clean install you are told that if a previous version of Windows is discovered, the files will be stored in a folder called “Windows.old” This is incredibly useful as it provides a simple way of accessing your old documents. Yes, you should have backed them up to the external HDD in case something goes horribly wrong, but this makes it much easier to get back to where you were with your files. However it did give me a fright at first when I saw how little free space remained on the disk after installing Windows 7. Then I realised that the “Windows.old” folder was about 70GB in size. Most of it can be deleted.

After installation

Well everything seemed to go remarkably smoothly. The default screen resolution was a bit low, but a quick click on the display settings cured that. There was only a generic display driver present and the fancy “Aero” visual effects that are one of the nicest parts of the Win7 aesthetic were not working. I tried to detect new hardware  but my graphics card was not redcognised. Some warning bells started to tinkle in my mind.

However first things first. Get on the net. Win7 automatically detected my router’s wifi signal but of course I needed the WPA encryption key. Never fear I thought, I have cleverly saved it in a document on my external hard disk. So i tried to open this Word file. D’oh. Word is not installed. So install Office. Takes about 20 mins. Then open the document with the WPA key and connect to wifi.

As soon as I was connected there were a number of important things to do:

  • Update Windows (via Windows Update, duh! This actually takes quite a long time and several reboots)
  • get anti-virus (went for AVG free, a good standard I have used for ages, beware of being tricked into installing various other toolbars etc though)
  • Update antivirus and run a scan. Also update Windows Defender (anti spyware) and/or get andditional antispyware (I made do with just Windows Defender)
  • Update video card drivers. Once connected to the net Windows automatically found there were updated drivers for my NVIDIA  graphics card and directed me to the site to download them. Once done, all the graphics hiccups were gone and I could benefit fully from all the Aero whizz-bang effects.
  • Use Office Update (an adjunct to Windows Update) to get all the Office programs up to date.

So that’s about it. I still have quite a bit of work to do, mainly installing various applications that I like to use, and check that various hardware still works. I am working my way through this. It is a bit tedious, but a necessary evil. I will update here with any problems I come across with either software or hardware and any solutions I have found.

Software installs

  • Firefox + various add ons (no problems)
  • Picasa (no problems)
  • Adobe Reader (no problems)
  • Adobe AIR platform (no problems)
  • Seesmic Desktop twitter client (no problems)
  • Irfanview (no problems)
  • iPlayer Downloader (didn’t work because of missing DLL files. Searched for them and found them in the backed up “windows.old” under /windows/system32  Simply transferred them to the equivalent folder in the new Windows and everything OK.)
  • Juice (podcast receiving software). Didn’t work at first probably because it got confused trying to create a folder to store downloaded podcasts but the folder was already there because I had copied it from the backed up folders in “Windows.old”. Got round it by renaming that folder temporarily and trying again. Seems to work OK now.
  • iPlayer Desktop (no problems)
  • iTunes – no problems. I thought I would have to manually restore my iTunes library but it seemed to magically reappear in the right place with everything intact. I’m not sure how this happened! Maybe it was part of the Windows Easy Transfer settings that were saved but I’m really not sure. Still, can’t complain.
  • Last.fm – the scrobbling client. (no problems)

Hardware

  • Epson Stylus Color 680 – (no problems, Windows 7 recognised and installed appropriate drivers)
  • Canon A80 digital camera – I did not try and install the Canon software which came with the camera. I only wanted to be able to transfer pictures in the correct format, filename and to the folder of my choice. This was achieved with the built-in transfer software that Windows installed when I connected via USB.
  • Visioneer OneTouch660 USB scanner. This is a truly ancient piece of equipment and I had a lot of trouble getting it to work with Vista. It was really only designed for XP. I actually managed to get it working OK with Vista by somehow forcing the XP drivers onto it. I am (bravely or foolishly) going to try the same thing with Win7. It could all go pear shaped. My only insurance is that I will make a restore point before I start, and if it all goes very badly I can at the worst re-install everything again (I hope that is not necessary)
  • (update on the old scanner – it didn’t work. The software installed but Windows 7 refused to install the provided driver. Not unreasonably as it is really supposed to be for XP but hey ho. I need a new scanner.)

Insects of the world, unite

Posted in sport with tags , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2009 by bytor

Am I imagining this, or are the insects of the world conspiring to disrupt our human sporting activities? Not so long ago a swarm of giant flying ants halted a cricket match in South Africa during the Champions Trophy semi-final.

Now, a soccer World Cup qualifier between Mexico and El Salvador had to be temporarily halted by a huge swarm of bees.

I’m waiting for a plague of locusts.