Monday, August 23, 2010

Shutting down (sort of)

This will be the last post for Operation Lazarus. After not updating this in a year, I'll at least tell you where I am.

I broke down and got a halfway decent desktop in March. I run Ubuntu via VirtualBox (the machine came with Windows 7), along with a couple of other virtual machines. I'm going to be a teaching assistant for a programming class this fall, and the professor I'm working for asked me if I had any Unix or Linux experience, and I was happy to tell him yes!

While the original machine Lazarus is gone, the spirit of my inquiry lives on. In fact, I'm merging my thoughts into my other blog as part of expanding that blog's scope. I'll keep this one up as long as I can, though. On my newly-expanded blog, I'll definitely be posting about technology, which will probably include some open-source adventures. Come and check it out!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Plan B

The trip to Goodwill Computer Works was disappointing. I probably would have fared better if I'd been looking for a specific part, but for actual boxes, the prices weren't low enough to dissuade me from other options. From here, I can go in one of two directions:
  • Buy a secondhand refurbished box from a reseller.
  • Buy a barebones kit and assemble it myself.
Regarding the first option, many of these boxes are lease returns and the like. If the reseller is any good, they test these boxes thoroughly and offer their own guarantees when selling the box to you. It's like the certified used cars that some dealerships offer--you get a little more certainty than you would buying something "as is." As you may have guessed, I happen to know of such a reseller. My network administrator dad does a lot of business with them, and he is one happy customer.

The major downside of going that way is that these are generally proprietary boxes. This means I would have very limited options for upgrading and modifying the system as I see fit. So just like now, if something went out on the motherboard, I'd be hosed. Or at the very least, I'd be locked into parts from that one manufacturer, which are often more expensive.

My other option is to buy a barebones kit and assemble it. This way I wouldn't be locked into a proprietary system, and you tend to get a bit more machine for your money. I'd also get the learning experience of putting my own computer together all by myself! The downside of going that route is that I wouldn't have the security of being able to call a single phone number. Also, individual manufacturers might try to weasel out of their warranty by placing the blame on a part they don't make. And as anyone who's worked with computers for a while, the quality of a company's customer service is not a trivial matter.

Strangely enough, both options cost roughly the same for what I'm looking for. So we're looking at a philosophical difference here. Not sure which way I'll go, but of course, I'll keep you posted!

Friday, August 14, 2009

My options

In my last post I mentioned how Lazarus is spontaneously turning on even after completely shutting him down. I did a little research on the matter, and the general consensus is that first you need to check your BIOS settings to see if "Wake on LAN" is enabled. This seems to fix the problem for most people, but in my case, the setting is already disabled. Looking through the BIOS reveals no other "Wake on" settings.

The next step is to check for viruses/adware/spyware/malware. I think I can safely rule that out, since I'm running Linux. Besides, I've done complete wipes and reloads just trying out different distros, and the problem persists, so I'm pretty sure it's not a virus problem.

This seems to point to an issue with the motherboard. For those whose Ethernet is hardwired in, there's a cable you can disconnect. However, I have a separate network card, so that isn't an option for me. Other people who have gotten to this point have had some luck actually tinkering with the power button mechanism. I think it might be interesting to try that just to see if it works, but I'm still thinking that an upgrade will probably be in the works.

Since everything with eMachines (and many other manufacturers, to be fair) is proprietary, I can't mix and match with cases and motherboards. In other words, I can't just replace the current motherboard with a newer, more standard one. But I don't want to just head to Wal-Mart and plop down a few hundred bucks for the cheapie box of the moment. I definitely want to stay true to the spirit of Operation Lazarus in that I want to maximize my computing capability with minimal resources (both technical and financial).

First order of business will be to check out the Goodwill Computer Works store in my area this weekend. I know that's a crapshoot, but I really admire Goodwill's mission, and I think this is the most logical first step in staying true to the original intent of this project. And for those of you who aren't aware of this and haven't made other provisions for recycling your old computer hardware, Goodwill does a lot of work with that, too. Even if I have to buy my major parts via retail channels, I'll probably donate what I can't salvage of Lazarus to Goodwill.

Next time I'll tell you how the shopping trip went and discuss options for people who don't have access to places like Goodwill Computer Works.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I'm back!

A lot has happened since I've posted last, but the important thing is that I'm ready to get cracking again. In previous posts I'd mentioned wanting to try bare-bones versions of other distros on Lazarus, so you should see information about that pretty soon.

One major change is that Lazarus now has his own peripherals, so no more messing with the KVM switch. Actually, I've had the keyboard and mouse (both PS/2) that came with Lazarus the whole time but lacked the room for them. This is no longer an issue. When setting it up, I was reminded that on these computers it actually matters which PS/2 port you plug the cables into (hence the color coding, I suppose). I accidentally plugged the mouse into the keyboard port and vice versa, and the system wouldn't recognize either one when booting up until I fixed it!

Also, I'm looking at hardware upgrades. Sure, I could buy a ready-made box for a reasonable price, but that's no fun, is it? Right now my biggest limitation is the CPU. One could argue that the RAM is a greater limitation, but I could upgrade that easily. However, the CPU is about as fast as the current motherboard supports. All sources indicate that 533 MHz is the fastest processing you can have on this motherboard, and I'm already at 500. So we're probably talking a new case, motherboard, and CPU in the near future. Maybe that will also fix Lazarus's weird habit of spontaneously powering on.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I've been a very bad girl.

I know, I know, I haven't posted in ages. And this one isn't going to be terribly substantial, but there will be some information.

First off, the answer to the question, "How do you set up desktop icons if you're using Fluxbox?" The short answer: you don't. The longer answer: there are third-party apps out there such as Idesk that can give you that functionality. The creators of Fluxbox are all about this "slit" thing, but frankly, I still haven't figured it out. I haven't had much luck with Idesk either, but I also haven't put a great amount of time and effort into it.

I can definitely see why Linux isn't more popular. Most people don't want to put that much effort into their computers. Now, one could argue that such effort is rewarded with better system performance, security and other benefits, and they might be right. But the vast majority of computer users want a computer that at least does most of what it's wanted to do out of the box (for the record, I'm glad that Linux is around for geeky tinkerers like myself).

One might think that these issues don't exist on more high-speed distros, but the fact is that they do. I tried Ubuntu on a partition of my laptop, and I had nothing but trouble getting the Bluetooth and wifi to work (for the record, I had a much easier time getting them to work in Mandriva). I know that these are controversial issues in the open source community because of the proprietary nature of those technologies, but the fact is that they are widely used enough that any OS that aspires to be competitive needs to support them. So if your principles prohibit you from working with those technologies, don't whine about why your OS isn't more popular. It's lonely at the top of the mountain. ;-)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sorry for the lack of updates

The room where Lazarus is located has been occupied by his former owners (my in-laws, for those of you just joining us) for the last several days, and I've been very busy with my new job, which explicitly frowns on blogging from work. Hence no updates in a while. The room will be vacated Saturday morning, and I should be able to post a proper update this weekend. Catch you later!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Semi-Homemade Linux, Part 1

So I've successfully installed a couple of preconfigured Linux distros on Lazarus. Good to know, but not exactly a huge technical accomplishment. While I'm not ready for building everything from source code just yet, I think I'm ready to do some customization. They say that Linux is like Legos, so I'm going to see what I can do when I'm not just following set instructions.

To do this, I've done a bare-bones Debian install (I also plan to try this with Slackware and maybe Gentoo). For anyone wishing to try this at home, this means DO NOT install the "Desktop Environment" when selecting components. It installs the GNOME desktop by default, which is also the default desktop in Ubuntu and Fedora. The more high-speed Linux distros usually use GNOME or another desktop called KDE. For a comparison between the two, click here. Any comparison is irrelevant for Lazarus, however, as he lacks the resources to run either one.

However, I am not doomed to eternal command-line interface usage. I'll just have to call on my good friend apt-get to give me a boost. Fluxbox is a popular desktop choice for those who lack the resources for GNOME or KDE, and it's the one I intend to use. Our friends over at Damn Small Linux use Fluxbox.

Unfortunately, you can't just install fluxbox by itself and be ready to go. You have to install X Window System (also called X11 or just X). Fortunately, this only entails one other command. Start with:
apt-get install x-window-system-core

followed by:
apt-get install fluxbox

To start your graphical interface, type "startx", which should bring it right up. There won't be any icons, but you can get to any of your apps (or a Terminal screen) by right-clicking the desktop.

Next time: icons and stuff. (Note: edit was just to correct a typo.)