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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sun, 30 Sep 2012

Better-late-than-never review: The ZaReason Limbo 6000A desktop computer running Linux Mint 12

I get offered products for review here and there. Usually those products are hard for me to get excited about.

But a computer built for Linux, assembled in Berkeley, California, by the well-respected ZaReason?

That was exciting.

Cathy Malmrose of ZaReason contacted me through Larry Cafiero, Linux advocate and my Digital First Media / MediaNews Group colleague. Soon enough, the ZaReason Limbo 6000A was on its way to the L.A. Daily News office.

The lowest-priced Limbo 6000A runs a very reasonable . The box sent to me included a few key improvements that brought the price up to .

I know what you're thinking. I could put together my own box from Newegg/TigerDirect parts, or buy a cheaper computer from Dell, HP, Acer, etc. ...

But if you buy from ZaReason (or System 76, or the other Linux- and BSD-loading builder-dealers out there), you are getting systems on which all the hardware is guaranteed to work with free, open-source operating systems. You get actual support. And you don't run the risk of putting together a box from scratch that might not even POST when you turn the power on, not to mention fail to work with the Linux distribution of your choice.

(Rear of the ZaReason Limbo 6000A)


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Fri, 28 Sep 2012

The $99 supercomputer: Adapteva turns to Kickstarter for funding to get its massively parallel, fully open Raspberry Pi killer off the ground

Above: Adapteva's video of the prototype Parallella board running Ubuntu.


First netbooks died, killing off their Linux origins before that. Then big OEMs flirting with desktop Linux went from bang to whimper with nary a marketing push.

But the bright, shining light in open source hardware -- software-wise anyway, as the hardware ain't all that open -- has been the Raspberry Pi single-board computer that runs Linux, sips power and has a great deal of the world busy crafting enclosures, fine-tuning OS images and basically geeking out.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But there will be competitors. Others that want to take the throne.

Chief among complaints about Raspberry Pi is the presence of closed-source chips on the board.

Well along comes Adapteva with an idea for a massively parallel collection of CPUs on a chip (either 16 or 64), also (electrical) power sipping but this time funded by Kickstarter and promising way more processing power, plus a fully open hardware design, all for (for 16 cores) or (for 64 cores).

That's if they get that Kickstarter money and get the project off the ground.

People are thirsting big time for these "supercomputing" ARM platforms, something cheap enough to play a niche role yet powerful enough to actually do some things.

The Parallella Project is looking for ,000 out of Kickstarter to produce the 16-core chip. If things blow up and they get million, they'll produce the 64-core version.

According to the Ubuntu Vibes write-up linked to above, the 16-core version will deliver 13 GHz of CPU performance, and the 64-core version will push 45 GHz. All that in 5 watts of power.

And they're pledging to open-source the hardware if this Kickstarter thing works out.

Tue, 31 Jan 2012

Laptop overheating, causing thermal shutdown during prolonged, CPU-intensive tasks

I've had my Lenovo G555 laptop (AMD Athlon II at 2.1 GHz) for nearly two years, and recently I've been experiencing thermal shutdowns while running prolonged, CPU-intensive tasks in Debian Squeeze.

Perhaps ironically but probably totally explainable, watching Flash video is not one of these tasks. I can watch Flash-delivered content in Hulu all night, and the Lenovo is fine.

The laptop overheats and shuts down when doing two things:

  • Java-heavy tasks like listening to networked, software-defined-radio sites like http://w4ax.com

  • Rendering videos in OpenShot

Two things that are very CPU-intensive, indeed.

So what did I do about this?

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Fri, 28 Oct 2011

Thinking out of the server box: HP ProLiant MicroServer

By way of Planet Debian, I found Vincent Sanders' article on the HP ProLiant MicroServer he bought for use at home instead of a dedicated NAS appliance.

This is by no means a blade server. It's a squat little box. And the HP ProLiant MicroServer line starts at .

Here are general specs from HP:

What's new

  • Faster processor -- AMD Turion II Neo 1.5GHz
  • Choice of preinstalled OS's includes Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials

Features

Simple to Own and Easy to Use

  • Server performance but at a PC price
  • Designed to make adding drives or peripherals a minimal effort
  • At a 22 dBA noise level, it is quiet for ergonomic working environment
  • Space-saving; ideal for the small office

Proven HP Dependability and Support

  • HP has built a reputation of dependability by conducting some of the most rigorous and thorough testing in the industry
  • System testing and process control ensures only the most dependable products for the customers
  • Worldwide network of HP trained service

Reliability and Expandability

  • Error checking and correction (ECC) memory minimizes the likelihood of memory corruption
  • RAID 0, 1 prevents data loss and ensures around the clock reliability
  • Up to four LFF SATA pluggable hard disks and up to 8 GB of RAM

That's pretty interesting. It's small, all right. The ECC memory is very server-ish. And not everybody wants or has a rack set up to stuff a server into. This can sit on a table or shelf somewhere.

While there is a model, the best deal seems to be the version with double the RAM (2 GB). The system ships with a smallish 250 GB drive, but the whole point is that you can buy drives for the four bays and just plug 'em in.

Vincent bought his HP box to run Debian, which is what I'd be doing. The HP PDF lists the following as "supported" OSes:

  • Microsoft Windows 2008 Standard Edition R2
  • Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)

It doesn't say which versions of RHEL will run, but I imagine that 5.x and 6.x are good to go. And if it runs Debian Squeeze, it will probably run a current Ubuntu release as well.

Looking back at Vincent's original article, he has what looks to me like a somewhat complicated RAID setup for his four 2 TB drives, with 1 GB of ext2 in RAID 1 across four drives for /boot, ext3 with LVM in RAID 5 for the rest of the data, plus a small partition at the beginning for GRUB. I'm a little bit hazy on exactly how one does this.

He cites reports of reliability problems in ext4 as a reason for choosing ext3 for the big RAID partition. I'm running ext3 with LVM in my Debian Squeeze laptop, and it has been 100 percent solid.

I really need to read up on RAID and configuring Linux servers with RAID and LVM ...

Tue, 27 Sep 2011

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion supports some older HP scanners, but not the one I'm trying to get working; Apple rant follows

Long story short, I'm setting up a shiny, new iMac with OS X 10.7 (aka Lion) for my graphic artist mother whose 2003-era G5 decided to die catastrophically and quickly.

Once I figured out the ancient SpeedStream modem's PPPoE issues with her formerly SBC, currently AT&T DSL connection, got her Ethernet-equipped HP LaserJet 4000n printer on the same network as the iMac (once I figured out the printer's IP address through printer-top button-pressing voodoo), all that remained was bringing the HP Scanjet 6300c scanner to life.

It shows up in the detailed view of "About this Mac." But no software is automatically downloaded (that's how OS X 10.7 configures printers and scanners, apparently, and it dealt with the LaserJet 4000n that way).

The USB-connected scanner appears to be dead. To OS X 10.7 anyway.

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Tue, 23 Aug 2011

Want a server / desktop / laptop / studio machine / firewall / NAS / quiet system running Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD? eRacks can help you

I haven't come across Orange, Calif.-based eRacks in awhile, but I followed a link over there today and was re-acquainted with its suprisingly full line of systems that do just about anything you want and ship with a multitude of Linux and BSD operating systems, including Debian, Ubuntu and CentOS, along with Free-, Open- and NetBSD.

They also offer Fedora, Gentoo, PCLinuxOS, Mint, Mandriva, Puppy (who else ships boxes running Puppy??), Mepis, OpenSuse, SLED, RHEL, Xandros and even Windows 7 if you want it.

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Mon, 28 Mar 2011

The problem with Excito’s Bubba 3 server? It’s nearly $400. So where do I go from here?

I really like the idea of an ARM-based, Debian-running home server, and I really like Excito’s Bubba 3.

The only problem? The Bubba is .75 U.S. (€279.20, exchange rate calculated by Google).

What can I do between those less-than-hardy plug servers for and this item?

Here’s what I’m looking for: * Small form factor * Low power consumption * Linux or BSD OS * Uses standard SATA laptop hard drives * Fanless motherboard and power supply

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Sat, 26 Mar 2011

Server over desktop

I’ve been planning to build a computer for at least a year.

I started with the idea of a mini-ITX motherboard and case to produce a small, low-power desktop, to which I’d hook up a keyboard, mouse and monitor and use as a traditional desktop computer.

Since that time I’ve shed quite a bit of old hardware. And if you want my Sun Sparcstation 20 or Alix Sparcstation 10 clone, come and get them. All the rest of the desktops are gone.

I’m no believer in laptops. Desktops are tougher, easier to fix, better performing. But they stay on a desk.

And while I’m often at a desk myself, it’s generally not the same desk all the time. I’ve begun using Dropbox so my “critical” files are available on more than one computer and are always in sync. Thus far I’m a believer.

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Wed, 23 Feb 2011

The Epson Perfection V330 scanner and Debian (or any other kind of Linux, for that matter)

I got a deal on an Epson Perfection V330 scanner. It runs great in Windows 7 with the voluminous amount of software on the install CD. I hoped that it would work out of the box with Debian Squeeze. No such luck. Sane/Xsane doesn’t recognize it (although it's in the dmesg).

I Googled for and found a few packages that got me going. (Here's a report of this method working in Ubuntu.)

I downloaded, unpacked and installed the driver and scanning software from Avasys, and with a reboot I was able to scan from my Debian Squeeze laptop.

It all works great. Thus far I've only used the Image Scan! software (yep, the name has an ! in it), which does work fairly well by the way.

I imagine these same packages would work for Ubuntu. There are also packages for Mint, Mandriva, CentOS, Fedora, PCLinuxOS and a few others.

You would think that scanners, especially those by companies such as Epson, would either work out of the box or have packages within the Debian (or Ubuntu) repos, if only in non-free. Guess not.

But since the solution was fairly easy to come by, I'm accepting (and now using) it.

Thu, 31 Jan 2008

A Debian victory for the $15 Laptop

I've been toying with removing Debian Etch from the $15 Laptop -- the 1999 Compaq Armada 7770dmt with a 233 MHz Pentium II MMX processor and 64 MB of RAM. When most computer users -- even those partial to Linux -- talk about "old" hardware, they mean either things in the 1 GHz range, even 3 GHz single-core CPU computers with 512 MB of RAM.

For me, a 1.2 GHz Celeron laptop with 1 GB of RAM is good enough to run just about any Linux distribution out there. And my main Windows machine at the office -- a 3 GHz Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM is way more than adequate for desktop use.

As far as the 233 MHz Compaq laptop goes, I'm probably going to bump up the RAM from the current 64 MB to the maximum of 144 MB, but that's pretty much besides the point.

When I first got this laptop (yep, it cost me $15, though I had to shell out $10 for the CD-ROM drive on eBay) I ran into a lot of luck, because it wasonly supposed to have 32 MB of RAM but had double that. It wasn't supposed to have a hard drive, but not only was the hard-drive casing intact, but there was a 3 GB drive inside it. It was loaded with Windows 98 but wouldn't boot. Once I had the CD drive (the included floppy drive doesn't work, and I could get another one for $10, but I really don't need it), I was able to run Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux from live CDs.

At first I loaded Windows 2000 just to see how it ran. Win 2K ran alright, but I'm not in this to run Windows. I had pretty good luck with both Puppy and DSL, but Damn Small Linux is really the more suited of the two for a computer with 64 MB of RAM.

Anyhow, I eventually wanted to try Debian Etch on the Compaq. I've done at least four installs of Debian on this computer, but my first began was the "standard" install, which means no X. After that, I added X and Fluxbox, plus all the apps I though I'd need. ROX-filer, AbiWord, Leafpad, Dillo, Lynx, Elinks, Sylpheed (which didn't work), MtPaint for image editing, and eventually even Iceweasel (aka Debian's renamed Firefox).

I was able to actually get work done on the laptop, which can connect to the outside world only through the Orinoco WaveLAN Silver 802.11b wireless PCMCIA card I had previously bought for This Old Mac (aka my 1996 Powerbook 1400cs). And since the PCMCIA slot in the much-better $0 Laptop (Gateway Solo 1450) is inoperable ("busted" is the technical term), the wireless card has remained in the Compaq, which has no Ethernet port or USB capability (though it does have a serial port, parallel printer port, built-in telephone modem and a power supply fully enclosed in the case -- yes, a 120-volt power cord plugs right into the back). They made these Compaq's well -- this one still runs great.

Anyhow, my "roll-your-own-X" Debian install did OK. The display was a bit slow in Abiword, but I had everything running fairly well. Just not well enough.

Since then, I spent quite a bit of time testing DSL 4.0 on the Compaq. Damn Small Linux runs great on this thing, that much I can tell you. And I even ran Puppy 2.13 for a couple of days this week.

But I always had Debian on the hard drive. Just not the original Debian. I had wiped the drive and experimented with Debian Etch and the Xfce desktop install (desktop=xfce as a boot parameter in the installer) as well as Slackware 12.0 without KDE (Xfce and Fluxbox).

Well, Slackware without KDE means you don't even get an office suite, and I still had barely any disk space on the 3 GB drive. (I know, I just need to get a bigger drive ... I know.)

So I went back to Debian Etch, again the Xfce desktop. Surprisingly, this install includes the full OpenOffice suite and I still have about a full GB of space left on the hard drive. I have a separate /home partition with 800 MB in it, and a root partition with 2 GB, with about 150 MB left. The rest of the space is swap -- about 120 MB.

And while on the Gateway laptop (1.2 GHz Celeron CPU) I cannot detect a performance difference between the Xfce and Fluxbox window managers, on this 233 MHz CPU, there's quite a difference. I was about to give up on Etch altogether when I decided to again install AbiWord (I tried Ted ... again ... but the RTF word processor still doesn't work, at least in any Etch install I've had), as well as Fluxbox.

Fluxbox makes it a lot snappier. I still have all the Xfce apps, including Thunar, Mousepad and the great Xfmedia.

In fact, I finally got sound working tonight. I don't think it'll survive a reoot, so I'll have to run this line on startup, but for today it did work:

# modprobe sb io=0x220 irq=5 dma=1 mpu_io=0x330

I can't run alsamixer, but I can play an MP3 in Xfmedia, and it sounds great even on the built-in speakers on this 9-year-old laptop.

I didn't think I could get sound working in Debian Etch, but since I did, Etch will definitely live to fight another day on this laptop.

Before I close out this entry, let men emphasize that the Xfce install of Debian is a quirky distro, to be sure. It's nowhere near as complete as Ubuntu's Xfce variant, Xubuntu.

Etch in its Xfce incarnation includes the full OpenOffice suite, but not Abiword or Gnumeric (which would be good substitutes). There's no Synaptic or Update Manager, so I've been doing what Debian aficionados always tell me to do: use Aptitude. I was running aptitude in a terminal for awhile, but it's much easier to just run it at the command line:

# aptitude update
# aptitude upgrade
# aptitude install abiword

Yep, just like apt-get and apt-get install, but Aptitude is supposed to do an even better job with dependencies and it keeps track of your changes to the system, should there be any problem.

And if this entry appears on this Blogger blog, it means that the lightweight Dillo browser actually works with the blogging interface -- a great thing because Dillo is very, very fast.

Note: I did save a copy of this as text in case Dillo and Blogger aren't exactly cooperating.

Further note: Dillo and Blogger weren't exactly getting along, so I completed this post with Iceweasel.

Final note: The fact that Debian Etch -- a modern, up-to-date Linux distribution -- can run so well in 233 MHz of CPU and 64 MB of RAM is something truly to behold. Again, my thanks to everybody at the Debian Project, past and present, for all they've done for the rest of us.

Post-final note: If Debian continues to perform so well, I just might blog the SCALE 6x convention with this 1999-vintage laptop.

Positively the last note: I've had trouble with Iceweasel and anything on Google for which I have to log in, so I just cut the fat and posted this to Click. And in case I only mentioned it once above, Fluxbox is really flying on this setup. And since the 1999 Compaq with Debian Etch and Movable Type 4.0 are playing nicely, I think this laptop is definitely going to SCALE 6x.

Sorry, just one more note: Look for a SCALE 6x feature on Click in the days ahead.

This post originally appeared on The CTRL freak blog.

Original comments

Mika said... "Etch in its Xfce incarnation includes the full OpenOffice suite, but not Abiword or Gnumeric (which would be good substitutes). There's no Synaptic or Update Manager, so I've been doing what Debian aficionados always tell me to do: use Aptitude."

Why don't you then just install Abiword, Gnumeric, Synaptic and update-manager? Those are in the Debian Etch repository even if you install xfce-desktop. You need to understand that Xfce is just another desktop and nothing else. Debian with xfce is not different distro than Debian with Gnome etc. So ofcourse you can install those applications even if you installed Debian with xfce-desktop.

Just do this:

apt-get install abiword abiword-plugins

apt-get install gnumeric

apt-get install synaptic

apt-get install update-manager

apt-get install update-notifier

I have no idea if update-notifier can be used in xfce, but atleast update-manager should work.

Looks like you have used ubuntu, so you know that they have three distros: Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Xubuntu. I have never understood why they do that. I think that's simply idiotic. In Debian you just tell Debian installer which desktop you want. you van select desktop, but there is still just one Debian distro.

February 1, 2008 at 1:38 AM
Steven Rosenberg said... I know I can make Debian into whatever I want with apt, but I'm just curious as to why the different desktop installs of Debian (the standardesktop with GNOME, plus the KDE and Xfce versions) install the way they do.

Ubuntu may do things differently -- and I think they give short shrift to Xubuntu and Kubuntu as well, but Ubuntu's Xubuntu offshoot is a whole lot more usable in its default configuration than Debian's Xfce.

I think it would be a great thing if Debian would adopt just a little bit of Ubuntu's marketing acumen. If Debian put out a live CD with an application lineup similar to Ubuntu's -- but with Debian's imprint -- and that CD would also install that system (in the same manner as the Ubuntu live CD) Debian would be easie to grasp, and would open up a door to many, many more users.

In any case, the Debian Xfce install is plenty curious. There's also a bunch of database software that installs by default. I'm going to take a very close look at what's installed on this thing before I start paring it down so I can get some more space on this puny 3 GB drive.

February 11, 2008 at 9:53 PM
Steven Rosenberg said... Also, thanks for the tip on installing the Abiword plugins. When I used Aptitude instead of plain apt, I got all the Abiword extras, including the excellent spell-checker.