Monday, 22 September 2008

Watching Video Clips

Something that slightly annoys me is the inability to watch video clips, MP4s and the like, which seem to work on my desktops that run Arch. Maybe I have overlooked something. I will start by following the instructions on how to set up Arch Linux for dvd ripping. It can't hurt, and after all, it's only going to take up hard drive space, yes ?

Well, It may not have hurt, but it still doesn't work. Shades of Mr John Major .

OK then, I am getting an error message from the Totem Movie Player 2.22.2 using GStreamer 0.10.20 and GNOME telling me "The playback of this movie requires a H.264 MPEG-4 AAC decoder plugin which is not installed". The desktop that does play it has the totem-xine package so let's try a little more jiggery and pokery ...

A swift "sudo pacman -S totem-xine" removes the Gstreamer version, loads the Xine version, and ... and ...

And PRESTO it works (!)

Monday, 15 September 2008

Wader and Wader-gtk

OK then, this is it. Time to confront the elephant in the room.

Pivotal to what I want to do with the webbook is the mechanism by which the thing can establish a connection to the big bad world via a broadband usb dongle. In my case an orange Icon-225 broadband usb dongle but we live in hope of it working with others as well.

The ubuntu build came with a prebuilt wader and wader-gtk package from warp networks. I am going to have to build it from the ground up and it probably isn't going to be easy.

Edit September 22nd.

Well this is where it gets tough. The source code for the wader package seems to have been stored here on "launchpad" where I find a total of six "packages" listed in alphabetical order
  • dbus-python-0.82.-1ubuntu2~ppa1
  • hso-1.3.1
  • hsolink-
  • pydoctor-0.2.0+svn56371-1
  • usbmodeswitch=
  • wader-0.2.2-1
As this has all been built for debian / ubuntu I am guessing I will have to start over pretty much from the beginning. From a brief scrutiny of the packages my first assessment is as follows :-
  • The dbus-python and pydoctor packages are there to extend python to cater for operation of the wader utiluty.
  • hso is a kernel module permitting operation of the high speed g3 modem. This is going to be the fun part of the setup, I can tell (!)
  • hsolink is a utility that permits the IP setup of the G3 modem
  • usbmodeswitch is a utility that flicks the ZeroCD usb 3G stick from CD to modem.
  • And wader is the python utility that does the rest.

OpenOffice Progress

Again this all looks too easy. As per the Arch Wiki
  • sudo pacman -S jre openoffice-base


The ubuntu software included a network tool that worked a little like wifi-radar.

So it seems the obvious thing to do is try ...
  • su
  • pacman -S wifi-radar
  • wifi-radar
And guess what. It WORKED. All I did was run the tool, it picked up on the existence of the ipw2200 chips right away, and found my wireless router. All I had to do was 'configure' things with the right mode (managed), channel (auto) and wep key and off it went and came right back with an IP address. I know it is supposed to do what it says on the tin. However it is still nice when it does.

OK I don't use wpa here so I cannot speak for that.

This is all getting to be too easy.

GNOME Progress

More surprises

It works. Almost out of the box. I got caught out by stupidly enabling gdm before i had added a non-privileged user, so I had to recover by loading a 'knoppix live CD' and using it to mount, and then edit, the /etc/rc,conf to add a "!" before gdm in the daemons line. A hint: if you want to run a knoppix livecd, you CAN, but specify "fb800x600" in the boot line or the framebugger exceeds the screen size and you can't see the bottom lines when running 'vi'

Further GNOME amendments will be added to this if need be later

X-Windows Progress

I'm quite surprised really.

The X Windows xorg package installed and ran with minimal effort. OK the screen and video driver are the vesa standard, which is rubbish really, but it will do until I get the big stuff out of the way and I'll come back to the little things afterwards.

Putting this post on the site as a marker, I will add things later !

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Where next ?

A good question (!)

Here is the wishlist I will be less than happy if I do not succeed in geting running. I may be back to edit this in good time (!)
  • X Windows (that may be fun with the webbooks 1024x600 screen)
  • GNOME (see comment above)
  • Wireless Networking (with wifi-radar)
  • OpenOffice
  • Email, Web, Pidgin
  • Alsa Sound
  • Some means to play youtube videos and the like
  • Some means to run my webcam
  • A port of the wader-gtk utility to permit the webbook to once again connect me to the mobile internet !
I am hoping the work I have to do to achieve this is little more, in most cases, than the work already documented to such high standards in the Arch Wiki. If so, the next few entries will be sparse. SOMEHOW though I don't think that is going to happen easily.

Well, I started off by reading the Official Arch Linux Install Guide and the first thing I thought I ought to install above and beyond the norm was abs. With that out of the way I barnstormed on to install Xorg.

Installing the basic Xorg system needed no more than the slavish following of the details in the Arch Wiki and an edit in the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file created by hwd. I removed all the "modelines" and set a single screen size, 1024x600, for the one resolution I wanted, and I deleted all the rest.

One thing that must be done before you load and auto-start gdm is the setting up of a non privileged user account otherwise you enter an endless loop where your attempts to log in as 'root' are blocked because by default gdm is configured to ban root login. It's a pity the arch docs don't bother warning you of this, one day I will get caught out by it (!)

Oh yeah, before I forget. In the arch wiki for gnome is a near-throwaway comment about adding "portmap, fam and hal" to the daemons line in /etc/rc.conf. Don't forget to do it !

Configuration, Configuration, Configuration

A couple of pointers as the setup proceeded.

  • I decided to let arch linux auto-prepare the hard drive. No point on keeoing a dog and barking yourself, I say. I may regret this, though !
  • I elected to use the ext3 journalled filesystem for '/' and '/home'
  • From the startup disk I installed pretty much everything, except the wierder wireless drivers (the webbook has an ipw2200 chip), reiserfs, jfs and xfs filesyetem utilities.
  • I configured the machine to use the en_GB locale and configured eth0 (the wired LAN) to use "dhcp" against my wired and wireless router. For the moment updates can be loaded over electric string. Time enough for clever stuff with wireless later.
  • I decided on a European location for my pacman mirrot. Heanet or Belnet, I can't remember which.
It all went swimmingly. Everything installed, the machine rebooted, I plugged in the wired LAN and told it to start updating itself. And off it went.

So here I am, the proud owner of a webbook no longer dead and running a fairly minimal, text based version of Arch Linux.

Boot with an old style ISOLINUX image, methinks

Time to see if an old-style ISOLINUX image will work.

OK I have tried to make a USB stick with an Arch Linux image pre 2008-06 on it, and I have failed most miserably. I tried following the instructions for building a usb stick the 'old way', mounting the stick, using mkdosfs on it, mounting the ISO as a looped file system and copying the files over. All was to no avail, I kept getting repeated 'cp operation not permittted cannot set ownership' errors.

In the end I found only one way to force the webbook to boot an Arch system.

Using the Arch Linux website I found an Arch mirror and downloaded the ISO of the 2007-08-02 core ISO, burned THAT to a cd-rom, fetched out the Maplin dongle i referred to earlier, plugged in a spare CD-ROM drive removed from an old desktop, loaded the newly burned cd and hit the webbook's ctrl-alt-delete.


The familiar boot / install legend spluttered into life. I'm on the way now.

Usb Stick Woes

As the terribly nice people who wrote the Arch Linux Wiki went to all that trouble, you might think it would all be plain sailing from now on. But nothing could be further from the truth.

I start by grabbing an old 256MB USB memory stick, navigating to the Arch Home Page and from there navigating to 'Get Arch' where I pause briefly to find out how to grab the ftp install image (it seems a reasonabe one for a small USB stick). Having worked that out, I follow the instructions to the letter to create a linux bootable image on the USB stick. Elated, I shove it in the side of the WebBook, hit the startup button ...

And I am rewarded by a grub prompt of the sort that normally appears when the loader can't find the rest of the things it has to do. Deep joy.

I remove the Arch Linux 2008-06 usb image stick, and set in its place the pendrive linux stick. Nothing wrong here, "Pendrive Linux" kicks off in top gear. Oh dear. Could it be the image ? I reach into the cupboard for an ageing IBM Thinkpad R50e, a veteran of several IT contracts. Can this venerable beast even boot from USB, I wonder ? I start by hooking up the "ever eager to please" PenDriveLinux stick and press the Thinkpad's ON button. Lights flash; drives whirr; and in no time at all I see the PendriveLinux logo. So, off comes that stick and in goes the Arch Linux one.

It takes an age ro start up, but finally it shows me a grub prompt, takes another age, and then brings up the first linux boot steps. Maybe I hit the return key subconsciously or just lost count or patience or something, but the proof is there for all to see, the USB stick was configured with the Arch Linux 2008,06 build and there is is. Pity it's not booting the right laptop.

Oh well, drawing board here I come.

OK it has been an "interesting" couple of hours and I have reached the end of my patience. It is clear that some aspect of the combination of the new Arch USB boot image, plus the Elones BIOS, conspire together to fail miserably. I do not know what is happenning, all I know is the machine refuses toboot at all with a stick that may, or may not, boot properly on other machines, yet boots readily on others.

To add insult to injury, I got my hands on a Maplin USB 2.0 S-ATA / IDE Adapter and used it to hook up a bog-standard IDE CD/DVD ROM, loading a CD I burned of the 2008-06 ISO. Now that ISO launches perfectly in every one of my desktops and even launches without error when I use the Maplin interface to hook it up to my other laptops. But not with the WebBook. I have no idea what is going on, but the Arch Linux 2008-06 boot is a total failure with the Elonex WebBook

Time for a thought about the boot method

Well, now here we have the first slight problem.

The Web Book has no internal CD-ROM drive.

The BIOS says it can boot from SD-MMC cards or a LAN boot device. Well, it looks like my first challenge is going to be finding a way to create an Arch Linux boot image this little box of tricks will recognise, and boot from. Watch this space (!)

Right then. Having thought things over it's down to business.

First bit of good news. The WebBook can boot from a USB drive. I saw a popup for something called Pen Drive Linux and although it's not what I want, it quite irrefutably is a variant of linux that can be copied to a pen drive and booted from thereafter. So I just had to have it as a decider of whether to carry on, or whether to forget the whole thing.

So I grabbed a spare IGB USB drive, followed the instructions on PenDrive Linux's website to the letter, and presto, Linux on a stick. All you have to do is [it the USB stick in the slot BEFORE you boot up - so the BIOS finds it, hit DEL to go into the BIOS SETUP screen ....

... and hey look at that, the machine finds TWO hard drives. One is the SATA drive that was fitted all along, the new one is the USB Drive. SO all you have to do is TAB down the menus making the USB Drive the 'FIRST' one, then go the BOOT menu and pick THAT as the first boot device on BOOT DEVICE PRIORITY and then ... reboot.

And yippee I am rewarded by the sight of a linux boot menu. Admittedly this is the boot menu for 'Pendrive Linux' not 'Arch Linux' but hey, it's a start.

Welcome One And All

A warm welcome to pretty much anyone who has stopped by to take a look !

OK what's this all about ? Well, I recently took delivery of one of these little gems pictured on the left I signed up to a USB mobile broadband deal with Carphone Warehouse and was offered this item ffor "free" if i extended the minimum contract period and paid them another tenner (in effect, getting an interest free loan from them to buy the thing what was available for sale for about £250.

You can read the low-down on this item here which I believe is the website of one of the software designers. I wish them well but I have to say I have become seriously disappointed since taking delivery of the item in question. It arrived equipped with their 'port' of the ubuntu linux operating system, and no factory reinstall process. And that, you can say, is where my problems have sprung from. Because twenty years in the IT business has led me to believe that a man with no backup is a fool.

And no sooner had I worked out how to back up the system in a way I could understand, than the web book's hard drive went south for the winter. I really don't know what happenned, all I know is that I turned it on expecting to see the login prompt and instead received a string of 'grub error 2" / "grub error 15" messages and when I finally worked out how to hook up a 'rescue' system, the disk was reported to have about a zillion errors on it.

Time for a rethink. Do I fancy a two hour phone call to Elonex Software Support at £1 a minute to the phone line advertised on their site ? Not really. Do I fancy fighting it out with Carphone Warehouse under the Sale of Goods Act ? Well, they already refused my right to cancel the contract enshrined in BRITISH law when they failed to deliver the damn USB dongle for a week, so that shows you what they lhink of the law.

If the developers read this and see how their business partners are treating their customers and want to do something useful about it, drop me an email or leave a comment (!) I'm sure we can do something under the GPL to sort matters out for anyone in the same shitty position as I am, but who has LESS technical knowledge...

But MY answer is to start over and load this hardware with a version of the OS I know and trust. Arch Linux