Archive for the 'Hardware' Category

In praise of floppies

Behold the floppy, a miracle of post-modern technology! Does your computer still have a floppy drive? Count yourself among the lucky!

This is just one kind of floppy.

This is a floppy.

Why? Thousands of reasons! Do you have an ultralight lifestyle? Are you a maximalist? Are your computing needs sufficiently sparse to fit your entire home directory into less than a megabyte and a half?

If so, then you too can use floppies to back up your personal files! And if you are daring, you could even run your entire system with a floppy as the home directory. Yank that floppy out, and bingo! your precious data are safe and secure!

Even better, with two machines with floppy drives, you can synchronize systems in a fraction of the time it takes to string cables, set up network interfaces, configure wireless keys, install a networking protocol, configure a server and client, get them handshaking, manage groups and permissions, and then synchronize. Floppies save you time!

Floppies are cheap! Chances are, someone will give you a floppy — how many times has someone given you a USB drive that didn’t include some sort of blatant advertisement, or preinstalled crapware? No crapware on floppies!

And floppies are versatile too! You’re not limited to using an out-of-date, obsolete, archaic filesystem with floppies. You can use ext2, ext3, ext4 and even the newest, coolest filesystems on the block! Don’t want journaling? With floppies, you can skip journaling altogether!

Floppies are disposable, and sometimes even recyclable! Tired of your floppy? Make a clone of your floppy, and move it to a new one in seconds! You can decorate a floppy with colored markers! You can slather it with stickers — but not the puffy ones! :lol:

Floppies are available in thousands of colors, dozens of styles and themes. If you’re lucky, you may even find — gasp! — the holy grail of floppies: the transparent floppy! :shock:

Floppies are universal! You don’t need a proprietary interface or a conversion cable or a rubberized palm guard to use a floppy. Do you have a floppy drive? Congratulations: You can use floppies!

Are you a Linux guru? Do you want to be a Linux guru? You’ll dazzle them at your Linux guru job interview by mentioning that you always install grub to a floppy, so your computer is unbootable without it. It’s like a primitive boot lock!

And don’t forget, you can still install one of the greatest operating systems in the world … with only floppies! That’s right, you can get your system online and surfing the Web with only a few floppies and an hour or two of time. It’s magic!

Yes, there’s still plenty of use for floppies. Don’t let angst-ridden teenage geek wannabes and turtlenecked pseudo-minimalist artsy-snob-types tell you otherwise: If you’re not using floppies, you’re just not cool! :P

Paid for by the Committee to Re-Elect Floppies.

An Android in the family

I’ve mentioned in the past when family members get Linux-driven computers, so I suppose I can mention this as well.

Astute Reader Number One sent this picture the other day of a Samsung Fascinate (I think that’s the proper link), which is new to the household. I know almost nothing about these fancy phones, but I do understand this to be an Android-based gadget.

Maybe in about 15 years, when they’re out of date and completely unsupported, I’ll get one and string it into the rest of my archaic home network. It can’t be worse than this. :roll:

Poor man’s SSD: Test results

Well, for the past 17 days, for 24 hours a day, I’ve been running dban on a compact flash card, in hopes of finding it’s weak point, making it crack, and watching it go boom.

And I have nothing to report. No failures, no issues, no faults. Nothing caught fire, sizzled down to a puddle of plastic or even stopped responding to orders. It ran as instructed, then ended with a smile, asking for more.

How disappointing. :|

The drive size is still reported the same, there are no bad blocks, and I had no consistency or validation errors. Data rates ranged from 5775Kbps to 11900Kbps, depending on when and where it was writing or reading.


What can I say? Sound as a pound.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it won’t go screwy the next time I turn it on. Component failure is just an ugly reality that there’s no circumventing, really.

The CF card I have in my main Pentium machine has been in use for months now without a hiccup, but certainly suffered less stress than the second. And I have no guarantee it will work tomorrow.

I have had two or three hard drive crashes in as many years, and some of those drives were only a year or two old. And I have some that date back to 1997, which are still working — slowly and noisily, yes, but working.

I think what I’m trying to say is, if there is a limit, I didn’t bump up against it. After 400-plus hours of constant reading and writing, reading and writing, I didn’t see a failure.

Personally, I can comfortably put that into the day-to-day use category without worrying about it degrading or crashing or shrinking or spitting out errors. I would suggest that the myth is just a myth.

If something happens to it from this point on, I can only ascribe that to the same bad luck that killed the other drives. I won’t blame it on the medium if it does.

It’ll just be fate. :)

Principia Mathematica Corporatica

I know Intel has had trouble with math in the past, but this might be a more grievous error.

A huge thank-you to WARvault, for sending that along as a special order. Apparently, to Intel’s marketing department, one calendar year is about 32 1/3 years to a computer. Which means my Pentium is a whopping 452 years, 8 months old. Who knew.

Gee, maybe I should run out and buy a new one. :roll:

I can only hope nobody falls for that nonsense. To remain strictly educational, this is what I mean when I talk about advertising pressure and marketing gibberish pushing you to buy a new computer.

You don’t need to buy a new computer. Microsoft needs you to buy a new computer. Intel needs you to buy a new computer. These are multibillion-dollar corporations that don’t make money if you don’t spend.

And if they don’t make money, they fail. As simple as that. So they will push you and plead and instill any sense of fear or guilt they can invoke, if it means they’ll continue to make gobs and gobs of money.

They don’t care about you. They care about money. And the easiest way to make money in this day and age is to release shoddy products and convince people they need to buy them.

If I came up to you on the street and shrieked in a panicked voice, “You need to buy a new computer!” you’d think I was imbalanced. You’d probably phone the cops or the guys in the white suits, and spend the rest of the day wondering what was wrong with me.

But for some reason, corporations have some twisted shred of authority when they splash posters like this around town, and the same shriek from them sinks deeper into your skull. No one even questions it.

Well, I’m not falling for it. I hope you don’t either. Learn to use yours more efficiently and completely and you can go for four, six, eight or maybe even 10 years without having to buy a new one. That’s 323 years to a computer, you know. :D

One more anniversary

It’s not all sad news around the house today though. This month has been chock full of anniversaries and milestones, and yesterday I noticed another one: the “birthday” of the Pentium I use on a daily basis.

Yep, a year ago I found a museum-quality Pentium computer in a thrift shop down the road, dropped a single 1000-yen note on the counter top and brought it home.

Since then it has supplanted just about every other machine I’ve owned in the past decade, accomplishing the same day-to-day tasks on a fraction of the power and resources, and hopefully inspiring a person or two in the process.

It’s taught me a lot about usability, function, power and efficiency, and even served as the guinea pig for one of the most gratifying experiments I personally have ever conducted with a computer.

So here’s a first-anniversary snapshot, just for the record and to preserve a memory. Ladies and gentlemen, the Fujitsu FMV-5120 NU2/W. Fourteen years old and in its prime. :)

Cheers, and may all your prized possessions likewise last beyond their intended lifespan. :mrgreen:

So depressing

Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

I didn’t do anything to deserve this, meaning it wasn’t dropped or smacked into a door frame or something.

I had noticed a tiny hairline crack creeping around that hinge mount there, and today when I opened the case there was a terrifying splintering noise.


It looks like someone stabbed it with a box cutter. :(

Very depressing, really. This is the machine I bought almost three years ago in a recycling shop on the other side of the island, at what seemed like a rather trivial price, for what I was getting.

At first I thought this wouldn’t affect its function, but now I’m not so sure. The hinges and screen must be torquing the motherboard or power connections, because now when I try to push in a USB drive, power drops immediately. That top picture is the last one I have with the power working alongside USB.

The smaller irony here is that I had an inkling that I might give this one away in the near future. It has a legitimate Windows ME serial number, even if that’s something of a curse.

The thought was that any of the machines I keep as “spares” could probably take over the two or three jobs this one does, and this could possibly work for someone else as a fully functional machine.

That’s just impossible now. It’s visibly damaged and behaves badly. Scarred machines don’t have much appeal, even when the price is zero yen.

I guess I’ll keep using it for as long as I can suffer to look at it, in its new, battered state. Things like that just make you feel bad though. :(

1984 vs. 2007

Not really Linux-related, but a quick thanks to Astute Reader No. 1, who sent along a great three-minute clip off of (gasp!) YouTube from a year ago or so, showing simultaneous boots on a Vista-laden PC from 2007 and an ancient floppy-driven Macintosh Classic from 1984.

Rationalize all you want, it’s still taking far longer for a vastly more powerful computer to get to a workable starting point than a lowly 16-bit floppy-driven machine.

This is the part where I usually insert a long and windy tirade about bloated software and inefficient programming and why it’s ridiculous to waste money on newer faster machines when obviously the old ones will work, if given a chance.

But I’ll spare you. You can use your imagination for that point, and even use a creaky old librarian lady voice if it makes things more amusing. :lol:

P.S.: For goodness’ sake, don’t read the comments to that video. I don’t know what it is about YouTube that attracts the weakest minds on the planet, but. …

Like I need a hole in my head

With so many computers around the house and not really enough things to do with them, you’d think I would make a point of not bringing home another leftover piece of junk.

Unless it’s something I can use as parts, or to improve upon the machines I already have.

That’s what I thought I was doing when I found a Fujitsu NU/13D, a rather banged-up 133Mhz Pentium machine with 64Mb of memory in it, a CDROM but no hard drive.

Ideally, the plan was to scalp whatever was usable — memory and CDROM — and use it in my own Fujitsu Pentium. Alas, it was not to be … in part.

The machine came out of a junk bin in a recycling shop, and some wag had already scooped the memory out of it, or it never had any additional memory to start with. Bummer.

So the CDROM was the only viable transplant, and I say that not having torn apart the machine yet to see if the remaining 32Mb reported by the BIOS is removable. The last Fujitsu-series Pentium I tore apart had the memory fused to the motherboard.

Interestingly, the CDROM is accessible from the operating system and BIOS, but the option to boot from it doesn’t seem to work. It’s possible that it is not completely compatible; the machine is actually a full year older than the one I type on now.

And oddly, it is not an unattractive computer. It’s rough around the edges and needed a vigorous cleaning, but all the parts appear to work and the screen is in good shape. It’s a tiny bit bigger than the one I have now, too.

But the guts are not appealing to me — it also has a dreaded Trident video card — and since the Mebius has USB ports, this new machine is not likely to take over any time soon.

Ironically, I can boot to something like the final release of Damn Small Linux, get a full screen, full color, full resolution desktop, connect to the wireless network with a leftover orinoco/agere wireless card, and all that without a hard drive … and the battery will last an hour and a half.

Too bad that battery is not compatible with the machine I use now though. It will insert, but it can’t draw power off it, and I see where the “model number” on the battery is different. Probably different connections. Oh well.

I also found a rather quaint Corega WLCB54GL2 PCMCIA wireless card, and it apparently is working … sort of. It’s RT61-driven, and it’s been a really, really long time since I fought with an RT61 card.

I can see where the drivers are available in the kernel, but for some reason my kernels can never find the firmware need to run the things. Technically it works (I can get online and surf in Arch Linux) just not when I try to do it myself.

The last thing I noticed was a creepy looking laptop of some sorts: something called a PCsel L7 Avie, if I remember the name right. The screen was minuscule and the size of the thing was suspicious in its smallness.

So I might have been looking at a true antique — maybe a 386 or even 286. I’m sorry to say I didn’t have enough money to take home both that and the Fujitsu, so I left it there.

Of course if I go back now, it’ll be gone. In the wild, wild world of leftover computer junk, you can’t pause to think things over. You gotta move quick. … :roll:

A reasonable investment or two

I made a few upgrades today, this time in the X60s. It’s been about six months since I bought it, and I have yet to be disappointed in anything it does. Start to finish it has been a wonderful machine.

And an evaluation like that means it’s more than likely going to be around for a little while to come. With that in mind, I went ahead and spent US$100 or so on some upgrades: a 7200rpm SATA3G hard drive and the largest memory configuration it can handle, 3Gb.

Now the first thing I get to say at this point is, the machine didn’t run faster with three gigabytes of memory in it. I swapped the 512Mb out first, while I still had a standing Arch Linux installation in place. And you’ll probably be quite disappointed to learn that the boot times and the general “snappiness” of the machine were the same.

I don’t cling to the myth that dumping gobs of memory into your machine will arbitrarily make it run faster. I have in the past, but I never will again. Yes, under certain circumstances you will see improvements with more memory, but a clean boot to a lightweight desktop does not improve by sextupling a system’s memory. Not in this household.

Swapping out the hard drive, on the other hand, made a huge difference. The old one was an 80Gb 5400rpm drive, and while I bear it no ill will, there was a big improvement once I had an identical system in place. No comparison.

But that makes sense. The new drive simply reads and transfers faster than the old one could, by virtue of its technology. And subsequently, anything that relied on drive access (like boot times or installing software) was improved as a result.

The only downside — if it is a downside, which I suppose it isn’t — is that the smallest drive size I could find with those transfer and read rates was a whopping 320Gb. Good grief. I have no idea what to do with all that space. I’m not even using the first 10Gb of it, with system files and a home folder. :shock:

Pricewise I think I did pretty good for myself. An online retailer sold me the drive for less than US$60 with a USB enclosure as part of the deal, and the memory was only US$40 for a 2Gb stick of PC2-5300, and US$20 for a 1Gb stick of the same. All in all, I think the total was around US$140.

Money well spent, I say. I didn’t truly need the extra RAM or disk space (definitely not the disk space). But I am in the habit of pampering the machines I like — like the maxed out memory and giant 120Gb drive in the Thinkpad, or the 80Mb of memory and the 8GB CF card in the Pentium I’m typing on now.

And so long as I intend to keep this machine, it’s worth the extra money put into it. And the speed I get out of it. :twisted:

Poor man’s SSD

I hope your fingers are limber and ready for some exercise, because this next post is either going to infuriate you and trigger all kinds of keyboard action, or get you so wired to reply that you’ll fall into spasms from trying to punch at the “Leave a comment” button.

First, a question: What’s this?

If you said, “An 8Gb CF memory card,” you’re right. Now here’s another one for you:

If you said, “A CF-to-2.5-inch-IDE adapter,” you’re right again. Give yourself a cookie.

Now if you can imagine where this is going, then you’re probably already seconds away from those spasms I just mentioned. But a little history first.

Way back in October, when I went on a short vacation and gallivanted all around the world with a Pentium laptop, I suffered a rather noisy and very unfortunate hard drive crash. In the time that I had remaining away from home, I thought about investing in a solid state drive, but there are two big shortcomings for me: size and price.

Price, because I don’t like dumping US$200 into a 14-year-old computer. I would be spending almost 20 times the value of the machine on a fairly-new technology that hasn’t really settled into a stable price bracket to start with. Pecuniary prudence prevented it. ;)

And size, because to be honest, I don’t need anything in the 200Gb range in a console-based laptop that I only use for writing, scheduling, surfing, e-mail, note-taking, chatting, gaming, troubleshooting, experimenting, blogging, organizing, planning, making presentations, calculating, reviewing and more experimenting, and a few other small things. :twisted: In fact, there’s nothing that I do that would require 20Gb, let alone 200.

So paying a lot of money for a giant sized drive that probably wouldn’t even boot in a BIOS this old would be throwing bad money after good. I’d do just as well with a teensy 10Gb drive, provided it was reasonably fast. And cheap. And light. And didn’t eat a lot of power. And wasn’t hot. And wasn’t noisy.

Well hey, SSDs aren’t much different from giant memory cards. And CF cards are two or three generations removed from state-of-the-art, so they’re pretty cheap. Heck, I can get an 8Gb card off for around US$20, and the connector is only US$14. …

“And that is how I got to where I find myself today.”

I’m US$34 poorer now, and just about everyone who heard about my plan pooh-poohed it as a ridiculous idea, that CF cards would degrade over time, that the IO drag would be a nightmare, that bad luck would follow me like the plague … pretty much everything short of biblical catastrophe would ensue.

But even Wikipedia mentions this combination as an alternative to SSDs. And the XO-1 shipped with NAND flash as standard, although what you see there is just your common ordinary garden-variety CF card, intended for cameras and whatnot.

And really, I think the pros far outweigh the cons. Weight is negligible. Noise level is absolute zero. Speed is on par with the 40Gb 5400rpm drive I usually use in the Pentium. Heat is nil. Power draw is next to nil. And mechanical issues, which drove me to this end in the first place, are next to nil.

Moreover, I consider this an experiment: If it falls to pieces after a few hours, so be it. I lost roughly US$30 and learned something about the way these things work. I would much rather that, than lose US$200 to a drive that didn’t like my BIOS and collected dust in the closet. I’m willing to take a chance.

In the mean time, I’m going to sit back, relax, count and recount the US$175 or so I saved on a full size SSD plus shipping, and imagine how I shall waste that money. :twisted:


Visit the Wiki!

Some recent desktops

May 6, 2011
Musca 0.9.24 on Crux Linux
150Mhz Pentium 96Mb 8Gb CF

May 14, 2011
IceWM 1.2.37 and Arch Linux
L2300 core duo 3Gb 320Gb

Some recent games

Apr. 21, 2011
Oolite on Xubuntu 11.04
L2300 core duo 3Gb 320Gb

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