A Mind Lost

Anything and everything.

Random Surfing Leads to Familiar Places

For a while now I’ve been tempted to try to put together a retro-gaming PC (I’ve also been kicking my own ass for getting rid of so much great – and perfectly functional – hardware that I’m now interested in buying again, such as my AWE64 Gold, or 3dfx Voodoo 3… damn damn damn).  Playing with MS/FreeDOS in a VM, and with DOSbox, is fun, but it doesn’t compare with having the real thing chugging away next to your desk.

While refreshing my memory of the good old days and brushing up on the state of emulation with regards to 16-bit realmode OSs, I came across the OS/2 Museum, which has an absolute ton of fascinating, if useless (to any but the nerdiest of computer nerds) information.

As an aside, the author of OS/2 Museum is one Michal Necasek, a name that tickles at the back of my memory.  I know the name, but I’m not certain where from.  I think he was fairly active on the Watcom USENET groups right around the time they were preparing to open source it, but I could be mistaken.  I’ve been meaning to ask, but time has a way of getting away from me.

Anyway, links lead to reading, which leads to more links, and more reading, until I found myself on a fairly plain page on this web site.  It’s about the DESQview multitasking software for DOS, and a few other bits of software written by QuarterDeck, including QEMM.  And lo’, long forgotten by myself, there is my tiny contribution to the page, as I am the selfsame Andrew who contributed QEMM 97.

That must have been well over a decade ago, as I don’t remember frequenting comp.os.msdos.desqview much (if at all) after finally making the switch from MS-DOS/Windows 98 to Windows XP back around 2002/2003.  I’m really surprised that page is still up, as a lot of the links  I came across that supposedly contained The Good Stuff (neat old programs, that is) more often lead to a 404.

Life’s funny sometimes.  I went looking for a bit of information on the feasibility of scratching a particularly pointless itch, and find myself “virtually” bumping into a familiar name and a familiar place, both almost forgotten.

Oh, and if you’re interested in old hardware, old operating systems, or just looking for something interesting to read, definitely check out OS/2 museum.

One last thing. While poking around, I found out Vernon D. Buerg passed away in December of ’09.  Like a lot of PC geeks who grew up in the 90’s (and 80’s, I suppose), “Vern”‘s LIST program was a mandatory part of my toolbox for years and years.  Needless to say, I was quite saddened when I found out, and worse that he passed 6 years ago and I never saw anything about it.  I’m surprised it never made it to Slashdot (at least a quick Google didn’t turn up any hits).  I’m also more than a little disappointed.

Adblock Plus & Element Hiding Helper

There’s a lot of neat content on Tumblr, but sometimes an individual’s choice of theme leaves much to be desired.  In such cases, I switch to archive view, e.g. by going to blogname.tumblr.com/archive/.  From there one can view all the posts made to a tumblr by year and month.

I came across one blog that has an annoying hover element on it’s /post/ pages that makes it difficult to get to the content itself.  Viewing the source and opening the URL, or viewing the page info and saving from there didn’t take too long to become tedious, so I did a quick Google for a solution.

Enter Element Hiding Helper for Adblock Plus.  This extension presents a handy popup that allows one to select an element, refine it, then add it to Adblock Plus‘ filters.  Unfortunately, this had the effect of rendering the archive view unusable as the same tag (div class="hover") was used there.  Due to the way element filters work there’s no way to limit the scope to only specific parts of a site, it only works by domain name, so to get around this an exception must be added (exceptions can specify more than just the domain name to apply to).  What I ended up with, then, is a rule for blogname.tumblr.com##DIV.hover, with an exception as @@blogname.tumblr.com/archive/.   This is definitely much easier than searching through the page’s media for the correct image.

Entware-ng on TS-251+

I’ve had a bit more time to mess around with my NAS as I try to make it less just a storage device and more a private home server.  Most of the included server software works just fine, and is even fairly up to date (PHP’s only a few minor rev’s out of date, while Apache is the latest 2.2.*).

I’m still a bit annoyed about the SSH daemon restricting logins to the admin account only.  Like most *nix users, I’m not overly fond of the idea of working in the root account, where one typo can hose the system.  While it somewhat makes sense given the nature of the device, I’d still prefer the ability to log in as any user I like.  Assigned to the proper groups, and with the appropriate security considerations and judicious use of account elevation, there’s no reason not to allow it (although neither su or sudo seem to be available in the default firmware).

Enter Entware-ng.  I feel like I’m more than a little late to the party, but from what I understand there have been several methods of getting software onto QNAP hardware outside of the QNAP provided Applications installer – Qnapware, Optware, and now Entware-ng.

Entware-ng is a “software repository for embedded devices like routers or network attached storages” that uses the OpenWrt buildroot to bring many (about 1,800) software packages to numerous Linux devices and architectures.

Installing Entware-ng on my TS-251+ was as simple as downloading one package and installing it via the QTS App Centre.  The TS-251+ runs x86_64 Linux, but I grabbed the autodetect package and let it do it’s thing.

Entware-ng installs to the /opt directory, which ends up as a symlink to /share/CACHEDEV1_DATA/.qpkg/Entware-ng/ (CACHEDEV1_DATA is the root of the internal storage on the NAS).  Beneath it, we have all the usual subdirectories like bin, share, etc and so on.

Once installed we can shell into the NAS and manage packages via the opkg package manager (*sigh* another bloody package manager to become familiar with).  There’s a list of available packages one can peruse, and it seems to be quite exhaustive.  If you need a SSH client, and are on Windows, PuTTY is highly recommended.  I usually just use the SSH client available as part of MSYS2.  Cygwin also includes a SSH client, as does pretty much every Linux distribution.

At this point I’ve only installed a few packages to test things out, like Midnight Commander and sudo, in preparation for having an unrestricted SSHd.  I feel like I’m playing catch-up on the last few years of (embedded) Linux stuff.  I haven’t really used Linux outside of running a few VMs here and there (I’ve just setup an ArchLinux VM to try it out) for a number of years now, and beyond occasionally opening up an MSYS2 or Cygwin shell to use some *nixy command, my *nix-fu has become quite weak.  Plus, I find that as I get older it gets harder and harder to learn and retain this stuff, or even remember things that I remember knowing!

Next up I’ll have to figure out how to get the Entware-ng SSHd running in place of the stock QNAP version.  I’d also like to set the NAS up as a DNS server with dnsmasq servicing requests for my home network, and maybe even a web proxy with squid.  I’m also planning to check out the OpenWrt buildroot system, as I know just the very basics about cross-compilation.  For the time being, it’s back to the forums and wikis to wrap my head around this stuff.  If the process is complicated, I’ll follow up this post with another detailing what steps were necessary.  Then again, I might just be thick and making this out to be harder than it is.

Getting old sucks, btw.

QNAP TS-251+

A while back I picked up my first NAS, a QNAP TS-251+. I’ve been wanting to set up some sort of network storage for years now, but never really had the means (read: money) to do so.  I had considered repurposing an old computer to run something like FreeNAS, but ’round here they’re usually handed down to family members as I upgrade to newer hardware.  The other problem, of course, is that desktop-class hardware is overkill for such a job.

The TS-251+ is a slight upgrade over it’s predecessor, featuring a quad-core 2.0 GHz Intel Celeron processor capable of bursting up to 2.42GHz (the older TS-251 features a dual-core part clocked at 2.41GHz that can burst up to 2.58GHz), 2GB of RAM, and supporting up to two drives.  I upgraded the RAM to 8GB with a pair of Corsair Vengeance 4GB sticks, which is the maximum amount of memory the unit supports.

For storage, I bought a pair of 3TB Western Digital ‘Red’ NAS drives, configured to run in RAID 1 (mirroring).  As I’m primarily using the NAS as a backup solution, redundancy is particularly important.  While it would have been nice to load it up with the biggest drives it can handle, the 3TB drives were at the sweet spot between price and capacity.  I also have a 3TB Western Digital MyBook that, once I get everything organized, I’m planning to wipe and use to backup the NAS, just in case.

On the software side, the NAS runs a 64-bit Linux… sorry, GNU/Linux, underneath QNAP’s interface.  While it’s set up a little differently from what I’m used to (Slackware, primarily), it’s familiar enough that I’m not too lost.  There’s a decent selection of server software available, including Apache, ProFTPd, and SSH.

One annoyance, however, is that only the admin account can be used to connect via SSH.  There’s no easy way around it as, from what I’ve read, this behaviour is hard-coded into the server binary.  Digging through old forum posts and the QNAP wiki did yield some ways to bypass the restrictions of the SSH server, but no sooner would I look deeper into what was suggested before I’d come across information that would render the suggestions moot.  Turns out there’s been a handful of methods of getting 3rd party software onto QNAP’s devices (Optware?), but the ones I looked into had been deprecated in favour of something called Entware-ng.  I haven’t really had time to look into it further, but it seems like it should be possible to install a SSH daemon that’s not restricted.

Other than slowly starting to migrate my media collection to the NAS, I haven’t done a whole lot else with it yet.  All my music and a handful of videos are on it, and play fine over Samba, although occasionally my computer loses connection with the NAS.  I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I suspect it’s my router; I’ve got a shitty Bell Connection Hub that’s a combo modem/router.  The routery part of it is not that impressive.  Unfortunately, when I tried putting it into bridged mode to run my own router, I ended up getting lower throughput than running everything through the CH.  Why, I don’t know.  The modem has Gb ethernet ports, as does my ASUS router, so there’s no reason the speeds should be lower.

But I digress.  The NAS supports a bunch of neat features I’ve yet to experiment with like on-the-fly media transcoding and virtualization.  I did set up a wiki with DokuWiki to make it a little easier to share some stuff. I went with DokuWiki because it supports flat files for content storage.  Although the NAS includes an SQL server (MariaDB), flat files are ideal for my needs.

My family’s not all that used to things like SMB shares and network drives and all that, but a web page is something they can understand.  It’ll be tedious, creating pages for the stuff they want, but I’m sure there’s some bit of software out there that can make the process easier.  If not, it’ll be a great excuse to brush up on my shell scripting, or maybe learn Python, to hack together some sort of a tool that can be autorun from a cron job to automate pulling data out of info files to generate content accessible through DokuWiki.

First, though, I’ve gotta finish dumping several gigs of content onto it.

I wish I had something more informational to post, rather than just rambling on about some piece of hardware I bought, but I don’t.  I need to find something interesting to say, instead of leaving this blog to languish.

David Berlinski makes an ass of himself defending intelligent design

Why Evolution Is True

I know of no critic of evolution—perhaps save the late William F. Buckley, Jr.—who is at once so eloquent and so ignorant as David Berlinski.  The man has spent years attacking evolutionary biology and defending intelligent design (ID), and is, to my knowledge, the only living creationist who is not religious. (He claims to be an agnostic, though I have trouble believing that.) He’s also a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, a position reserved for only the Highest Poo-Bahs of Ignorance.

Yesterday, at the Discovery Institute’s News and Views site, Berlinski wrote “Majestic Ascent: Berlinski on Darwin on Trial,” a post apparently designed to fête the twentieth anniversary of Phillip Johnson’s execrable Darwin on Trial: the book that launched the ID movement.  Johnson’s book is full of inaccuracies and lies (I use the word deliberately, because no honest scholar could make the claims that he did).  And…

View original post 1,646 more words

PDFCreator

It’s been many a long year since I’ve had a physical printer connected to my computer; instead, I’ve been using PDFCreator as a virtual printer, the output of which I can then send off to the real printer connected to another household computer if necessary.

Unfortunately, the developers started included some pretty shitty “extra” software in 2009.  Over the years they’ve changed what crapware is installed, but never removed it entirely.  So, on to the point of this post – installing PDFCreator v1.6.2 (current as of March 2013) without any extra crap.

pdfcreator_01

pdfcreator_02


pdfcreator_03


pdfcreator_04

This is the point where one really needs to start paying attention.  I unselect Images2PDF and PDFArchitect, because I (initially) had no freaking clue what they are and was installing a virtual printer, not a kitchen sink.  Incidentally, Images2PDF supposedly lets you make a PDF out of images, and PDFArchitect looks like a PDF editor of sorts.  But with no description in the installer, the average user will have no idea.

pdfcreator_05

I also unselect the COM samples option, and ensure only the English language translation and help file are installed.

pdfcreator_06

After selecting what parts of PDFCreator will be installed, we come to the disingenuous part of the installer.  It’s deceptive that “Express” is marked as recommended, and the “Custom installation” option is grayed out (which implies it’s not selectable at all).  Adding “(advanced)” is the icing on the lame-cake; it’s a sure-fire way to scare off the general computer user.
pdfcreator_07

Select the “Custom installation (advanced)” option, and uncheck each of the previous hidden boxes.
pdfcreator_08

But wait, there’s more!  As if avoiding one round of crapware wasn’t enough, we’re presented with a second!  The wording “I accept” and “I do not accept” are again deceptive.  Just select “I do not accept” and move along.

pdfcreator_09

Triple check the options listed, ensuring just the components desired are installed.

pdfcreator_10

I don’t have a problem with software developers, even Open Source developers, trying to make a buck off their work.  Generosity and a desire to share doesn’t put food in your belly.  But being disingenuous and deceptive not the right way to try to earn a few dollars.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found an acceptable alternative that delivers the functionality of PDFCreator that I desire.  I’ve been meaning to dig out a copy of Visual Studio and see if I couldn’t roll a crapless installer based on the available source code, but just never seem to get around to it (and have completely forgotten what little I knew of VB anyway).

Uninstalling the Sentinel License Service (hasplms)

One of the (many) things I absolutely hate is when, during the installation of a program, a ton of other crap is silently installed beside it without any warning or indications.

I just noticed a new service, “hasplms.exe”, running.  I have no idea where it came from or what installed it.  I did give Lightworks a spin yesterday (not impressed), as well as my lengthy ordeal attempting to install Tomb Raider Anniversary which I complained about in my last post, maybe one of them install it… but I dunno.

With no idea where it came from, and no uninstaller to be found, I turned to the Internet.  It didn’t take long to find a YouTube video illustrating the uninstall process, and it was surprisingly pain-free.  From hasp.com/srm (which redirects to sentinelcustomer.safenet-inc.com/sentineldownloads/) download the command line run-time installer and run it as

haspdinst.exe -purge

And it looks like the service’s gone, without me having to rage and fume about yet another bit of computer BS.  Now I just have to see if anything breaks…

*Update 2013/10/18*

A few comments have prompted me to provide slightly more explicit instructions, with pictures.  Anywhere you see my name (Andrew), expect instead to see your name (or whatever the name of the account you are using is).

First, downloading the software:

Sentinal001-WebSite

Open the Downloads folder, or wherever you saved the file to, and right click on the downloaded file.  Click on “Extract All…”.

Sentinel002-DownloadandExtract

A window will open, asking where you want to extract the files from.  Remove the highlighted part.

Sentinel003-Extract1

This is the path we want the downloaded files extracted to.  Again, if your name’s not Andrew, that part of the path will be different.

Sentinel004-Extract2

Returning to the window that was showing us the Downloads folder, you’ll see the newly created folder.

Sentinel005-ExtractedFolder

Ensure that the “haspdinst” program was properly extracted, if you must.

Sentinel006-Files

Now you must open a “Command Prompt”.  You can do this in various ways, but for now just use the Start Menu.

Sentinel007-OpenCommandPrompt

Your command prompt window may not look exactly like this; I use it fairly frequently, and so have resized and customized it to suit my uses.  Also, be aware that I run Windows with UAC permanently disabled.  I don’t know if UAC will interfere with this process.  If it does, you’ll have to look in to running the command prompt with elevated privileges.

Sentinel008-CommandPrompt

This next part may look like gibberish, but there’s only three commands that really need to be run (they are underlined in pink in the picture).  Obviously, <ENTER> is the enter/return key.

cd Downloads<ENTER>
cd Sentinel_LDK_Run-time_cmd_line<ENTER>
haspdinst.exe -purge<ENTER>

Sentinel009-RunIt
A small window should pop up, asking you to wait. This will uninstall the software.

Hopefully this clears things up a bit.

Steam(ing pile), part 2

I can hardly believe it’s been two years since I bitched about Valve’s Steam platform, but it’s that time again.

After playing Torchlight II for a bit this morning, I exited the game (and Steam) for a bit.  A while later I restarted the client and received an indication that there was an update of 110 MB. The updater ran to about 73 MB and stopped, and shortly thereafter my wireless network appeared to lose connectivity.

Now this is not an usual occurance around here.  Contrary to whatever claims they make, my ISP (Rogers) is complete garbage.  My connection frequently and inexplicably drops out – this has been an on-going problem for years now.  I actually had one of their phone reps tell me I needed to power cycle my modem every few days because “the logs get full”.  With geniuses like this, it’s no wonder their network is garbage.

Steam - FU

Queue the usual run-around – is it just me, is it my router, is it the modem, what?  Well, it turns out that it was only my machine that had no Internet connection, everyone else’s was just fine.  So I did the disconnect/connect dance and fired up Steam once more, and once more it tried doing the download.  Again, at 73 MB it died.

So, generic solution #2: REBOOT!

This garnered a few more inexplicable, hair-pulling results.  After the first reboot, instead of the Windows 7 login screen I got a oddly fuzzy white screen with a black strip running down the middle.  I should have taken a photo of it, as I’ve never seen that before.  Powering off and back on got me to the login screen, but I’d no sooner opened Windows Update than I got a blue screen.  Rebooting into safe-mode and running NirSoft BlueScreenView showed a problem with the nVidia display driver.

Generic solution #3: driver updates!  Never mind that my system has been running perfectly fine since I configured it in September of last year.  So, I did a round of updates, including my graphics card (which was only a single driver release out of date anyway), wireless network adapter, wired adapter, and even my Intel RST drivers (I run a software raid as my boot drive).

Reboot many times, finally start Steam.  Still stops at 73 MB.  This time, I do the reconnect dance before the updater can complain of requiring an Internet connection, and after a brief delay it continues the process.  I had to toggle my wifi one more time before it finished.

Finally, I get the Steam window up!  And everything freezes!  Yay!  10 seconds or so later, the Firefox window I’d clicked on finally raises itself, but once again I have no Internet connection.  If I had to guess, I’d say the Steam client is burning all four cores and leaving Windows no room to do anything, but that should really be impossible these days.

  • Yes, my drivers are up-to-date.
  • Yes, my Operating System is up-to-date (Windows 7 x64, Service Pack 1, completely updated).
  • No, I do not have any viruses or malware.
  • No, my computer is not running anything obscure or uncommon.
  • No, there is no problem with the hardware, either.
  • This problem just started with the latest Steam update!

This absolutely does not make sense.  How is a user-space program which is nothing more than a feature-limited web-browser and program launcher KILLING MY FREAKING NETWORK?!?!

So, while I continue the reconnect dance as Steam continues to try to download the 220 MB update to Half-Life (and I’m skipping ahead a bit, as I restarted the Steam client several times, and also uninstalled Steam completely, reinstalled and copied back my library (well, copied is wrong, as I use a symlink, but I digress), I decide to give the Steam forums a whirl.

Of course, this is going to require yet another freaking account, after the Steam account itself, and the account I made to use the Steam Support site.

So, make an account, link it to my Steam ID, browse a bit not find anyone complaining of my specific problem, hit New Thread and…

Steam vBulletin BS

So basically I can’t post until some wanker gets off his arse and “activates” my account.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: This one’s for you Valve!

fuck-you

Seriously, almost a decade after its release and Steam still doesn’t work properly?  And then one has to jump through hoops trying to get some form of support, only to run into the Impassable Brick Wall of Freaking Stupidity in the end anyway.

In the end, the only “solution” I found was to disconnect/connect to my wireless network every time I lost connectivity.  gg Steam.  gg.

Because it makes me feel better, here’s the ticket I’ve put in:

The most recent “update” to the Steam client (that clocked in at 110mb, with an unskinned updater) has broken my ability to download content via Steam. In fact, the updater itself required several tries to get it to download the whole thing (via disconnect/reconnecting from my network before the updater complained about requiring a connection). Now, the client will download for a short while before completely screwing my network connection, killing *everything* and requiring that I disconnect from and reconnect to the network.

I shall be clear here: everything was working perfectly fine before this update! That’s said with a 285 GB SteamApps folder! Nothing has changed aside from the Steam client itself. I have completely updated both my system, and all drivers for my hardware. There is nothing uncommon or unusual in my setup.

On top of that, I tried to post to the forums, but apparently cannot until an admin gets off his butt and “approves” my account, never mind I’ve been a Steam user for years. Honestly, three logins related to Steam (Steam account, support account, forum account) is too much. This is ridiculous, and I’ve found the whole process of trying to resolve my problem with your jumped up web browser/program launcher to be entirely frustrating.


Update 2013/02/21: The problem was still there this morning, so I threw together the video now embedded at the top of this post. A short while later I tried again, and this time I managed to download the remaining gig of data without interruption.

I changed absolutely nothing, and everything has the appearance of working as it should be. The only thing I can think of at this point is that Steam really is a pile of garbage, like many on the ‘net claim, or (and I’m grasping here) that my ISP was sending something back down the line that was causing my network device to barf. That wouldn’t surprise me, as Rogers has admitted to tampering with what passes through the tubes. But at this point I have no freaking idea what’s going on.

Linux Mint 13

Haven’t really had much to say lately.  Windows 7 has been surprisingly obedient, and without any issues I haven’t had much to complain about.  I even finally managed to get Service Pack 1 to behave, after every previous attempt ended in inexplicable bluescreens!

As for Windows 8, I’ll be giving that a pass.  The new UI doesn’t appeal to me at all, and with a smooth-sailing 7 x64 installation I see no reason to upgrade.

What this post is really about, as the title indicates, is Linux Mint.  I tried Mint 12 way back in January, and was not particularly impressed.  Well, a few weeks back I decided to scrap the Slackware install on my notebook, an aging ASUS F8Sn-B1.  Within is an Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 clocked at 2.1GHz, 3GB of memory, an Nvidia Geforce 9500M GS with 512MB of dedicated memory, and the only upgrade I’ve made to it, a 640GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue drive.  Originally I had upgraded to a 500GB Scorpio Black from the stock 250GB Toshiba drive, but after just a few hours of power-on the BIOS started reporting S.M.A.R.T. errors.  RMA’ing the drive required jumping through a few hoops as the drive’s serial number didn’t match where I had purchased the drive from (I’m in Canada).  Western Digital eventually sorted it out with no problems, and I did get an RMA, but in the meantime I had picked up the 640GB drive.

As with my previous try with Mint, the installer went smooth as butter, this time without stalls.  I selected the Xfce version of Mint as I wanted something light yet functional.  After a month of use, I really had no complaints whatsoever, and while I missed Slackware due to my familiarity with it, the ease of software installation and dependency resolution assuaged both my yearning and my guilt.

Unfortunately, I am ever the tinkerer.  The replacement Scorpio Black drive, which had seen infrequent use as an external drive, was taunting me to swap it into the notebook for its better performance.  Don’t get me wrong, the Blue drive has worked great (I also put a desktop Scorpio Blue in the desktop I gave my Dad), but I just couldn’t resist.

This time I decided to give a different flavour of Mint a try.  I started with the KDE version, which is my preference over Gnome and its relatives.  After installing and updating, I set about to tweaking.  One of the features I love about KDE is its customizability.  One of the things I don’t like, however, is its apparent performance.  KDE 4 has always felt “laggy” to me.  Opening windows, moving them, closing them, the interface just feels sluggish.  I don’t remember KDE 3, which I loved, suffering from this.  While it’s not a deal breaker, it is an annoyance.

Then I came across a problem with fonts.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the fonts in KDE’s application launcher to look right.  Everything else was fine, desktop, taskbar, tray, and application fonts all looked ok.  Even GTK applications looked great!  Being near-sighted, I find I am sensitive to fonts that don’t look right (and bits of dust and hair on the screen, my laptop’s screen is like a magnet to such), and blurry/fuzzy fonts are just unacceptable.

So with the fonts driving me nuts, something inside me broke for a minute and I decided that since the GTK app fonts looked great, I’d give the Cinnamon version of Mint a try.  Download, wipe, install and update again.

Yes, I realize I could have just grabbed everything via Synaptic and done an in-place change to Cinnamon, but I reasoned that if I was switching to Cinnamon I wouldn’t need the bulk of the KDE stuff, and that it was just easier to grab a different .ISO, rather than tediously going through all the installed packages and removing the unneeded ones.

So, Cinnamon.  The Mint guys have done a great job making Gnome 3 usable, so much “props” to them for that, but it’s still Gnome and I really just don’t like it.  I haven’t used Unity, and probably never will as I don’t like the direction they’ve taken with it as a user interface (much the same as I don’t like Windows 8’s Metro).  But no matter the work they put in to Cinnamon, it’s still Gnome, and I find there’s just not enough options to make me feel comfortable with it.  And the application launcher is horrible!

There were other little things that bothered me, such as the Alt+F2 launcher not offering suggestions, but the final straw came when X crashed in the midst of opening a window and dumped me back to the login manager, a problem I did not experience in either Xfce or KDE.

I didn’t try the Debian edition of Linux Mint, because after KDE, then Cinnamon, I was frustrated and had had enough.  So, I’ve come full circle and reinstall Linux Mint Xfce.  My notebook feels snappy and the interface offers enough customization to make me happy (though to be honest I like Xfce’s out-of-box experience).

The TL;DR is Linux Mint 13 Xfce gets a definite two thumbs up from me.

Something else I want to mention here regarding the Western Digital Scorpio Black drive.  As with many drives from WD, it seemed particularly aggressive about parking the head.  Every 8 seconds without activity the drive would emit a loud clunk as it moved the head into the landing zone.

I also experienced this with the Scorpio Blue, and worked around the issue by adding a call to hdparm within the local rc startup script (/etc/rc.d/rc.local in Slackware, and /etc/rc.local in Mint):

hdparm -B 255 /dev/sda

This completely shuts off power-management for the drive.  I did the same with the Black drive, but this had no apparent effect!  After Googling, I came across the WDIDLE3 utility on Western Digital’s website.  This software cannot be run under anything but DOS; fortunately, I happen to have a bootable USB drive with a copy of FreeDOS on it.  Keeping a bootable FreeDOS USB stick has been incredibly useful, as I also used it to flash the firmware for my motherboard’s Asmedia USB 3 hardware.  Also, I nostalgia’d hard upon seeing a fullscreen bare C:\ prompt.  Oh the memories.

However, even after using the software to completely disable the idle timer, the drive was still merrily clicking away as it parked the head.  After another reboot in to FreeDOS, I decided to set the timer to its maximim value of 300 (that’s 5 minutes).  Since the drive is touched in some way in much smaller intervals than 5 minutes, this has effectively worked to eliminate the head parking.

Note that the head parking is, in general, a good thing.  However, for my usage scenario it’s not necessary.  I don’t carry the notebook around while it’s running, or often move or jostle it.  I’m fairly delicate with my computers.

Also note that although the drive (I don’t have the exact model available atm) wasn’t listed on the WDIDLE3 page, the program did work just fine.  YMMV, just be aware that messing with low-level stuff like this can render your hardware useless.

MinGW windres.exe “can’t popen” error

I’m not sure what causes it, but the windres.exe from MinGW’s binutils (2.22) package doesn’t work properly, claiming an error of No error.

c:\msys\mingw32\bin\windres.exe: can't popen `c:\msys\mingw32\bin\gcc -E -xc
-DRC_INVOKED  -': No error

Note that this is when running in the MSYS bash shell; I didn’t receive this error when running it from a CMD.EXE compatible console (TCCLE).  I also did not encounter this problem with the MSYS windres.exe (binutils 2.19.51.20090704).

To fix this, I use a script that I place in ${HOME}/bin/windres.  Since ${HOME}/bin comes before /mingw/bin in my PATH, the shell picks up the script rather than the binary.

#! /bin/sh
/mingw/bin/windres --use-temp-file `echo "$*" | sed 's/\\\\//g'`

The –use-temp-file flag fixes the popen problem.  The text replacement is just an added bonus.  I’ve noticed that when configuring software with autoconf in MinGW, quite often it adds more escaped characters than are necessary to the command-line.  The call to sed removes these unnecessary escape sequences.