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Sunday, January 01, 2006


Well, not from the living room per se, but from the "dining area", which is sort of in the living room.

Natalie Solent posts a stirring tale about do-it-yourself furniture assembly, in which the Solents assemble a couple of beds using only their native wit, a few little allen wrenches, and metal shop fit for a Navy yard.

(However, I have to ask: couldn't you have just found a compatible metric-threaded screw and used your own taps?)

Anyhow, this little episode from Chez Solent has made me feel much better about my new computer.

My on-again, off-again career has suddenly switched on again (temporarily), and I needed to buy a new computer to handle the work. So I got an HP zv6270us notebook (my first laptop computer), which has an AMD Athlon 64-bit processor. Here's where the theme from Jaws should be playing.

Windows set up was uneventful, of course, but I keep Windows around only for laughs, and because it came on the computer. I don't think I've booted Windows95 on my old computer for two years. The thing is to get Linux installed on it, and after that all the scientific software which was the entire reason for buying the damned thing.

So, Linux. We were RedHat users in this household, but Niles (part of whose job is system administration) says they've become stupid and expensive, so he's switched to Suse. This may turn out to be ironic.

OK, first step, install Suse 10.0, which is the latest release. Well, unfortunately, it installs as far as probing the PCI bus, and quits.

We google up some stuff which suggests this may be a clock problem, and that a new version of the BIOS would fix it. The latest version of the BIOS is F.1B, which is also the version we have. BUT, the date for the BIOS release on the relevant HP webpage is Nov. 18, while the ship date on the computer is Nov. 8. How can it have the latest BIOS when it was shipped ten days before the BIOS was released?

We decide HP may be trying to pull a fast one (upgrading the BIOS without changing the version number), so we download and flash the new BIOS. When we unpack the Windows executable, it gives a date of Nov. first, so our BIOS could be the right one after all.

In any case, there's no change.

We try installing the 32-bit version Suse, and it goes in smoothly. That's a relief, but it would be nice to have the 64-bit version running. More googling discovers that other people have solved this problem by passing the boot parameter "noapic". We try that and experience sweet, sweet success.

Huzzah! However, those other people have also noted that this disables the on-board wireless card. I cannot use the wireless network.

We try, anyway. Ndiswrapper is a snare and delusion. For one thing, there is no ndiswrapper module added, but there is a wlan. We're not sure how to proceed from there. I read a couple of things which suggest an older version of ndiswrapper might work better, but Niles's patience has run thin. PCMCIA wireless cards are cheap, he says. Let's go get one of those. So last week we picked one up for a song. Then we plugged that puppy in, booted the computer, and...

It didn't work.

So in desperation Niles removed the card and stuck it back in again and WHOA NELLY! IT'S ALIVE! After that, it took a mere three hours more to get the network configured so that it would actually come on again at boot, and to get the computer to remember its name when running off the wireless, and other trivia.

ADDENDUM: Actually, it took more than that. We tried to make it so the ethernet and/or the wireless could be turned on manually, but this never worked -- rather, it would work once, and not again. We finally set the network to start at card/cable insertion, and that seems to do the trick. Although we're not sure what would happen if we accidentally left the ethernet cable plugged in when we inserted the wireless card. We figure it'd be something like "all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light."

So, W00T! I'm mobile! Except, of course, that if I want to move the computer I have to unplug the power cord, the mouse, the keyboard, and the ZIP drive. And the battery life is only so long, which is why I typed almost all of this on the old computer.

The other reason is that I don't know for sure that we won't have to take the poor thing back, in the end. I installed my primary scientific software OK, but the secondary package, which I absolutely need, barfed at the 64-bit libraries. If I can't get all this stuff installed, I'm going to have to try it all again with the 32-bit version of Suse (oy!), and if that doesn't work, I'll have to get a different computer. So all this must be done before the exchange period runs out.

On Christmas Eve, while others had visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, I dreamt that we were having a Christmas party, in which every associated item -- decorations, food, drink, guests -- had to be "downloaded" and "installed". No, I'm not kidding.

UPDATE: The secondary scientific package was installed simply by using the binaries pre-built for RedHat. They seem to work. Magic! Some other stuff, still vitally important, does not, but I'm pretty sure this will be a simple fix. So it looks like this thing is here to stay. Now all that's left is paying the bills.