January 27, 2013

To be completely honest, I’m a little disappointed with ZaReason‘s tablet offering, the ZaTab (N.B. currently sold out while they develop the successor). And I feel guilty about saying so, because I love ZaReason and I want them to succeed.

Here’s the basic problems I’ve been having with my device.

  • Device doesn’t charge. This is kind of a big problem for a device to have. It’s kind of a qualified "doesn’t charge", though, because if you plug the USB cable in just the right position, it will charge, but slowly (36 hours for a charge?). It seems like the connectors aren’t well-seated or maybe the case is coming loose, or maybe the connectors are breaking off the motherboard. Who knows? I wrote support an email on the 14th of December. I thought I’d cut them some slack for the holidays, but it’s been almost three weeks without any response — even so much as a "sorry, we can’t help you, it’s almost certainly completely fucked and it’s out of warranty". (I pinged them on Twitter too; nothing.)
  • When a MicroSD card is inserted, the device becomes much more sluggish and seems to run out of charge a lot faster. Maybe this is related to the above, maybe not. This was with a 32GB card; I haven’t tried anything else since them.
  • No clear way to update device. Maybe this is my fault for factory-resetting the device, but it’s running CyanogenMod 9, right? So why can’t I just easily install Cyanogen 10 to see if the above problem goes away? I don’t want to dick with flashing ROMs and installing the Android SDK. That’s the whole reason I bought a free device!
  • Oh, a standard micro-HDMI connector doesn’t quite fit into the port. You can order a cable with the tablet that has a micro-HDMI connector that’s an itsy bitsy bit longer than standard, which works. Yuck.

I don’t want to jump to any conclusions as far as what this means about ZaReason’s technical chops or their business practices or whatever. Maybe I just got a bad one, or I was too rough on it, or it got banged up in shipping and it’s no one’s fault. But when I buy devices, I want them to just make my life unilaterally and unequivocally better. Instead it seems like nobody ever sells exactly the product I really want, and ZaReason just manages to come a little closer than everyone else.

I guess the good news is that in the last few years, open hardware has suddenly gotten a lot more plausible. Please be aware of PengPod and Jolla. It’s a brave new world..

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Upgrading an uncooperative ReadyNAS

August 31, 2012

My ReadyNAS was refusing to be upgraded from version 4.1.6. Every time I tried to induce it to get a new upgrade, it complained that the checksum had failed. I eventually got it to upgrade by following the instructions on this page, which seems to avoid doing a checksum. I’m not sure if it will be necessary to repeat the process for every new release..

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Another Steampunk Game Boy Mod

September 4, 2011

Steampunk is timeless, right? Seen on Tinycartridge: ` Thretris’s steampunk Game Boy mod <>`_.

Full gallery here.

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MSI Wind U110

March 21, 2010

Subtitle: poulsbo and why you should avoid it.

I recently bought an MSI Wind U110. Linux suffers on this platform as a result of its GMA 500 aka "Poulsbo" graphics hardware. Wikipedia: "GMA 500 support on Linux is not optimal." It’s possible to run Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix, which is what I’m doing now, but it’s not optimal in the following ways:

  1. The wireless is disabled in fascinating ways until you press Fn-F11. Once you do that, it should work out of the box.

  2. You absolutely need to get the psb driver. Without it, you can’t even drive the LCD at native resolution, and life just utterly sucks. I did this by dumping a bunch of PPAs into my /etc/apt/sources.list.d using add-apt-repository. The Ubuntu-Mobile PPA doesn’t seem to have packages for karmic right now; I found relevant packages in the PPA of kalon33: Nicolas DERIVE and the gma500 PPA of lucazade. I’m currently running the packages built by Nicolas DERIVE.

  3. You need to "fix" the driver in some obscure way so that it doesn’t crash when you modprobe it. Bug 406529 documents the fix — see comment 6. Be sure to uninstall the package psb-modules when you rebuild, because it has priority. The psb-kernel-source package unpacks into /usr/src.

  4. After you do the updated-packages dance, the "home screen" thing that lets you select packages doesn’t come up by default, but it does show up if you click the Ubuntu logo in the upper-left. Not sure what’s going on here.

  5. Suspend doesn’t work by default — the backlight doesn’t come on during resume. I’ve successfully suspended from the command line, both by sudo pm-suspend --quirk-vbestate-restore and using the uswsusp package using a command like sudo s2ram --force --vbe_save. It seems that by default, HAL is adding a bunch of quirks that interfere with backlight coming back on. HAL is in "maintenance mode" and may be being replaced by DeviceKit in the future, but for now we have to work with it.

    If you close the lid, you’ll see the quirks that are being added in /var/log/pm-suspend.log. On my machine, these were: --quirk-dpms-on --quirk-dpms-suspend --quirk-vbe-post --quirk-vbemode-restore --quirk-vbestate-restore --quirk-vga-mode-3. It’s --quirk-vbe-post that really messes everything up, but even when I disabled that one, I still had problems with the screen randomly not coming back (but with the backlight on), so I decided to disable all of these quirks except --quirk-vbestate-restore.

    There are at least two ways to do this. One way involves adding a pm-utils script to remove these quirks from pm-suspend calls. The other way involves telling HAL to get rid of these quirks.

    The first way is in some ways simpler, so let’s start there.

    1. Add a file to /etc/pm/sleep.d/05_remove-annoying-quirks with these contents:

      . "${PM_FUNCTIONS}"
        remove_parameters --quirk-dpms-on \
              --quirk-dpms-suspend \
              --quirk-vbe-post \
              --quirk-vbe-post \
              --quirk-vga-mode3 \
      case "$1" in
              suspend|hibernate) remove_quirks;;
    2. sudo chmod a+x /etc/pm/sleep.d/05_remove_annoying_quirks

    Here’s how you disable the quirks in HAL, which may or may not be a more elegant solution.

    1. lshal | less to see what HAL thinks of your system. You should see, close to the top, something like power_management.quirk.vbe_post = true, and similar for all the other above quirks.

    2. sudo pm-suspend --quirk-vbestate-restore --store-quirks-as-fdi, which writes a file in /etc/hal/fdi/information/99local-pm-utils-quirks.fdi, storing the quirks you just used. On my machine, that looks like this:

      <?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?> <!-- -*- SGML -*- -->
      <!-- Created by pm-utils -->
      <deviceinfo version="0.2">
          <match key="system.hardware.vendor" string="Micro-Star International">
            <match key="system.hardware.product" string="U110">
              <match key="system.firmware.version" string="AN012IMS Ver1.0E">
                <match key="system.hardware.primary_video.vendor" int="0x8086">
                  <match key="system.hardware.primary_video.product" int="0x8108">
                    <merge key="power_management.quirk.vbemode_restore" type="bool">true</merge>
                    <merge key="power_management.quirk.vbestate_restore" type="bool">true</merge>
    3. See the <merge> lines? Add some more that match the other quirks, to turn them off.

      <?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?> <!-- -*- SGML -*- -->
      <!-- Created by pm-utils -->
      <deviceinfo version="0.2">
          <match key="system.hardware.vendor" string="Micro-Star International">
            <match key="system.hardware.product" string="U110">
              <match key="system.firmware.version" string="AN012IMS Ver1.0E">
                <match key="system.hardware.primary_video.vendor" int="0x8086">
                  <match key="system.hardware.primary_video.product" int="0x8108">
                    <merge key="power_management.quirk.vbe_post" type="bool">false</merge>
                    <merge key="power_management.quirk.dpms_suspend" type="bool">false</merge>
                    <merge key="power_management.quirk.dpms_on" type="bool">false</merge>
                    <merge key="power_management.quirk.vga_mode_3" type="bool">false</merge>
                    <merge key="power_management.quirk.vbemode_restore" type="bool">true</merge>
                    <merge key="power_management.quirk.vbestate_restore" type="bool">true</merge>
    4. sudo restart hal and then lshal | less again. You should now see power_management.quirk.vbe_post = false, etc.

  6. I stuck with uswsusp because resume is a lot faster using it. To enable uswsusp in pm-utils (which is what gnome-power-manager uses), edit /etc/pm/config.d/00sleep_module and add SLEEP_MODULE="uswsusp".

  7. Sound is broken out of the box. The fix is documented on Linux Tipps:

    Sound does not always work without problems. In Karmic 9.10 you have to comment out

    #options snd-hda-intel power_save=10 power_save_controller=N

    in /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf.

    options snd-hda-intel position_fix=1 bdl_pos_adj=64

    instead helped me as well.

    I’ve been playing with enabling/disabling this option and haven’t seen any clear gains or losses, although I have had sound cut out after resume both ways.

  8. The machine can drive external monitors at 1024×768, 800×600, 640×480, and 720×480, which is about what you would expect from hardware like this.

  9. Like the man says, webcam works fine once you press Fn-F6.

  10. I’m finding that when I try to record audio, I get a massive amount of static and very little input volume. Still working on this one..

  11. Bluetooth seems to work out-of-the-box, but you have to Fn-F11 to toggle it on. (This seems to be a matter of some contention for some people, but on my machine Fn-F11 cycles through both Bluetooth and wireless off, to Bluetooth off and wireless on, to Bluetooth on and Wireless off, to both on, and then back. (00, 01, 10, 11.)

[I’ll continue to update this as I discover things about this machine.]

Otherwise, the keyboard’s pretty good and the battery life seems pretty good (as you might expect from the big-ass 9-cell battery).

As far as I can tell, it’s not really possible to run the Ubuntu Lucid alpha on this hardware, and probably won’t be for a while, because Xorg 1.7 is incompatible with the closed-source psb driver. I wrote a post on the thread on Intel’s forum about Linux support for GMA500 summarizing the various-driver situation; it’s possible that in a month, when Lucid finally comes out, there’ll be a better driver situation, or that in six months, Intel will release a better driver of their own. Do people still reverse engineer graphics drivers? Would anyone be interested in doing so for a free U110 or two of their own?

Knowing the things that I know, I’d probably advise against this netbook for anyone hoping to run Linux on it. In today’s day and age, it just doesn’t make sense to buy open-source-unfriendly hardware, even for the sake of a 10-inch screen. Then again, it’s hard to know what hardware to support. The Dell Mini 10, for example, has an Intel NM10 Express graphics card: what does that even mean? Does it have support? Wikipedia has a comparison of netbooks page, but there’s no column for "Linux support", and in general comparing multi-dimensional things like hardware is a real challenge. Anyone have any tips?

[Update: I have been tinkering with the different quirks for suspend. Right now I’m using SLEEP_MODLE="kernel" and removing both quirks --quirk-vga-mode3 and --quirk-vga-mode-3 (one is specified by HAL, and another by the man page..). However, I still haven’t solved the problem that periodically my machine will still just fail to suspend. My impression is that SLEEP_MODULE="uswsusp" takes about half the time to suspend and resume, but that it’s more unstable, where the failure mode is failing to resume. I don’t know what else to try so for now I’m leaving it alone.]

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Nokia, Intel merge Maemo, Moblin into Meego

February 15, 2010

Some coverage of the recent announcement: Nokia, Intel merge Maemo, Moblin into Meego on Slashdot, Moblin and Maemo to merge on LWN, Maemo + Moblin = MeeGo = Failure on Planet Debian. Some quotes:

A stupid name is a prerequisite for being a successful FOSS product. Nokia and Intel have clearly done their homework.

Also indicating huge potential, MeeGo has already ignited a flamewar between RPM and DEB supporters. Welcome to the community!

—EvilTNUser (here)


Today, Nokia and Intel announced the merge of Maemo and Moblin into the MeeGo project. This is sad, because it will end the era of the Debian-based mobile operating system Maemo and replace it with a system using RPM and probably some other evil stuff as well. In fact, dpkg & apt-get where two of my main reasons to buy the N900.

And another question is why yet another name. Moblin was already a well-known name and they shouldn’t have changed the name just because they switch the servers and add some Nokia developers.

Furthermore, does this all mean that there will be no Maemo 6? What will happen to the Maemo users on the N900, will it be possible for them to use MeeGo?

I recently bought an N900 (very recently — like, using it four three or four days now. Review forthcoming) and I have to admit to a few moments of shock and terror. But having thought things over, I’m giving in to "cautious optimism". Here’s my take on it:

  1. Like Julian Klode, my getting an N900 was prompted by my extremely positive experience on the Nokia N810. And it’s true that part of that experience was the discovery you can apt-get pretty much anything in the Debian repository. But the mechanism whereby this occurs is a little subtle: although apt-get is the application-installation mechanism for Maemo apps, the Maemo repositories aren’t really compatible with Debian. You can’t just open a terminal and sudo apt-get install emacs. Cross-compiling Debian packages is possible but (in my experience) a really bad idea; I broke APT on my N810 this way.

    The preferred mechanism for getting access to the Debian repository is a package, installable by default, called easy-deb-chroot. As you might guess, what this does is to set up a Debian chroot, wherein you have free range of whatever you want to do. In other words — the mechanism by which applications are installed by default on the device is completely independent of having access to the Debian universe. This is important: it means they can switch to RPM for installing packages, and still give us our easy-deb-chroot, which is what we really want anyhow.

  1. I’m surprised that they chose a new name — I think both Maemo and Moblin have great brand recognition in the community.

Nokia is the only hardware company in the mobile space that I think really "gets it" (some examples occur to me). Intel has been making strides towards getting it. And best of all, there are no telecoms involved in MeeGo yet. For these reasons, I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach. After all: there’s lots of work ahead of us if we’re going to build a better mobile stack than Google and Apple.

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Misa Digital Guitar makes your Rock Band Peripherals feel inadequate

January 22, 2010

Seen on LWN: a look at a Linux-based guitar.

OK, so not only am I suffering from a terrible case of gadget lust, but I find fascinating some of the comments like this one:

actually all it does is make it easier for talentless people to claim how good they are at playing guitar, when they aren’t playing at all. get a real guitar if you’re serious or go back to the guitar hero b/s.

I think it’s an interesting idea that because an instrument isn’t "real" guitar, then it doesn’t count. Clearly a game like Guitar Hero is different from a real guitar — the Rock Band instruments are all simplified versions of the real thing. But the idea that you don’t have any skill as a musician because your instrument is in a nontraditional form seems a little untenable..

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Free N900

November 14, 2009

OK, no joke: LUST. I want an N900 so bad I can almost taste it. Um, anyhow, seen on LWN.

KDE.News has a report from the Maemo Summit, where Nokia handed out 300 N900 phones to developers. "However, it is not the hardware which is most interesting to us – it is the software. The N900 runs Maemo, a Debian Linux based operating system for high-end smart phones. Compared to pretty much all competition, the N900 offers a very open software platform and provides a terminal application by default."

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Deprived of a defective battery, phone resorts to remotely starting oven to satisfy pyromania

August 25, 2009
Tags: ,

The oven is just saying HI! What’s the big deal? Seen on Engadget Mobile: a highly unusual situation.


It seems that the phone somehow triggers the burners on his Magic Chef range to ignite when it’s called — in fact, they don’t just light up, they go straight to the hellish “HI” setting, as the appliance’s display is eager to point out — and other phones tested have incited similar effects.

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Google refutes USA Today report on blocked Skype application

August 22, 2009

Cool isometric art from eBoy!! Seen on Engadget Mobile: some crap nobody cares about.


While Apple was busy batting away the FCC with its litany of reasons why its app approval process is totally hunky-dory, Google was apparently having it’s own VoIP-related firefight. It seems that an article in the USA Today which hit newsstands this morning alleges that the internet giant sought to block (dare we say reject) a full Skype application from making its way into the Android Market. The story claims that the application was neutered to become “a watered-down version of the original that routes calls over traditional phone networks” — which would obviously cast a decidedly malevolent slant to the benevolent company’s policies.

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Internet-Enabled Doorbell

August 14, 2009

Seen on Cory McWilliams’s blog. <3!!!

I wanted to play with electronics and home automation. This is what I came up with.

The following sequence of events is not just a dramatization. It happened yesterday.

  • The UPS delivery guy delivers a package and pushes my doorbell button.
  • The button rings my doorbell and switches a relay.
  • The relay drives a pin high on the GBA port on the Nintendo DS.
  • A homebrew app runs on the DS which reads from EEPROM every frame, effectively polling the relay state.
  • The DS connects to my wireless access point, sends an HTTP request to my server, and then goes offline again.
  • The HTTP request executes a CGI script which connects to a chat server I’ve been working on, sends a message, and then disconnects.
  • The chat server stores the message and sends it to any connected clients.
  • One of the clients, which was the result of an AJAX request, returns the new message to a web browser.
  • Cory, in his web browser, is notified that a package has arrived.
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