Category Archives: Linux

I heart the ASUS UL30A-A2

First, some background
Confession time. I used to be a die hard Apple fan. I remember second grade when the Apple IIe and I first made eye contact. I’m pretty sure I saw the computer smile at me. Apple IIe I was in love. Sure, over the years I occasionally flirted with PCs running Microsoft operating systems but I always stayed faithful to Apple computers. (Strange. I started writing that last sentence and The Avett Brother’s song Shame started playing. Coincidence. Pure coincidence.) Later I even tried installing Red Hat Linux on a PC. I think that was when it came with a baker’s dozen worth of CDs. Nothing could compare to Apple, even with the crippled (pre OS X) Mac OS. Yes, I was an Apple fan boy in the dark years when Steve Jobs was wandering in the desert of silicon valley before making his triumphant return to the Apple throne.

Circa 2005 HP laptop

Typical 2005 laptop

Circa 2005 Apple PowerBook

2005 Apple PowerBook

Fast forward to about 2005. I was using both Windows and Mac OS X for work. I used the tools necessary to get the job done. I was no longer a devout Apple fan. It wasn’t Apple, it was me. OK, maybe it was a little bit Apple. No matter, I found a new love in Ubuntu on my home computers. Free software, which I had grown accustom to over the years with web development, finally looked compelling to me on the desktop in the form of a Linux distro. There was just one problem. The PC hardware, laptops specifically, were, at best, bland. In many cases they were worst than that. Most PC laptops looked like bricks impersonating laptops. They were thick blocks of plastic lacking any sense of design. Apple’s PowerBooks (and later MacBooks) looked like fine art compared to their PC counterparts. There were exceptions but the price was just as high as Apple’s gear. It seemed like a no-win situation. So I settled for middling hardware from a variety of PC manufacturers. I conceded that reasonably priced hardware with good form and function wasn’t going to happen.

Dell Studio XPS 16At the beginning of spring last year I bought a Dell Studio XPS 16. It had a beautiful 1080p LED display, dedicated graphics, fast hard drive, and more than enough processing power for me. It was also heavy and only portable as long as I had a never ending extension cord. It was a quality laptop but I found it didn’t meet my real needs. I wanted something that had substantially better battery life, about half the weight, thin, looked/felt good, “good enough” performance, reasonably priced, and played nice with Ubuntu.

Enter the ASUS UL30A-A2
A few months ago, after some research, it seemed like my best bet for getting a laptop meeting my requirements was going to be one with a CULV processor. Asus UL30A-A2 That’s Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage for those not in the know. (And really, don’t admit that you know, even if you do.) My biggest concern with CULV laptops was that the processor would be crippled. While I don’t actively develop software anymore, I do help test it quite a bit, and testing software in this case means compiling code, running automated test suites, and loading enough virtual machines to make Amazon jealous. That last part was pretty key. The ability to run virtual machines was a must-have. I found out that I would probably be OK on that front as long as I had a laptop with an Intel SU7300 processor and not the SU4100. The SU7300 has VT-x, the SU4100 does not.

One thing I did not want was a computer with a hybrid video card. This is where there is both a dedicated and built-in video card. The theory is that you switch over to the dedicated card for stuff like games and then flip back over to the built-in card when you don’t want to carry a car battery around to help power your computer that’s out of reach of an outlet. From what I’ve read, these hybrid video card setups can be tricky to get working properly in Linux. I’ve been in video card hell before. I decided to pass. Maybe next time it’ll be a better option for me.

After looking at the CULV laptops out there I finally decided to go with the ASUS UL30A-A2. With a catchy name like that how could you go wrong? Turns out you can’t. The ASUS UL30A-A2 meets all my requirements. It’s light (under 4 pounds), thin (under an inch thick at its thickest), has outstanding battery life (8 hours minimum doing real work with brightness turned down to about half way), plenty powerful, and runs Ubuntu (Lucid and Maverick) 64bit really well. It also costs less than $700.

Asus UL30A-A2Have no fear about running 64bit Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on the UL30A. I’ve yet to run into an issue. Suspend, hibernate, video, sound, wifi, webcam, touchpad, etc. all work well. There’s nothing exciting to report on Ubuntu compatibility, which is just as it should be.

My greatest concern with buying the UL30A was not having enough processing power. It turned out to be a non-issue. Even though the processor is slower than the Core 2 Duo on my previous Dell, I don’t notice it in day-to-day use. I use Virtualbox right now as my virtualization software of choice and it runs great. I have VMs of Ubuntu, Windows 7, Kubuntu, Fedora, and others installed. They run fine. In fact, I’ll run two Linux based VMs at the same time and it’s not a problem. The only time it slows down noticeably is when you’re running upgrades on the VMs at the same time. I remember reading that the CU7300 processor was likely only going to satisfy those who were doing some email, web browsing, music listening – nothing too serious. But I’ve found that not to be true. I even do some light video editing on it and it works fine, very responsive. I expected it to be at least a bit sluggish based on some of what I’ve read about laptops with the CU7300 processor. Maybe those opinions reflected more on Windows rather than the processor itself? Not sure. Will an Intel i3/5/7 do better? Of course. But it’s hard to get 10 hours of battery life on a 13.3″ laptop less than an inch thin and less than four pounds with an Intel i3 (or better) processor in it. Not to mention one that costs less than $1,000.

Asus UL30A-A2 touchpad

Dimples on babies? Cute. On a touchpad? Not so much.

In order to avoid sounding too Pollyannish about my undying love for the little computer that could, there are a couple of things I wished were better. The first being the trackpad. It has a strange dimple texture on it that is supposed to help you identify it from the rest of the body. Unfortunately, I find it a bit finicky and my ginormous paws tend to accidentally hit the trackpad more often than on other computers I’ve owned. The second thing I’d like to see is an all aluminum body. The current build quality is good, but I like the feel of metal over plastic. That’s asking too much for a computer in this price range, but I would’ve paid at least $200 more for an all aluminum body.

All-in-all, the ASUS UL30A-A2 is a great laptop. I’m sure as soon as I finish writing this there will be some amazing new computer that comes out that is 100x better and costs pennies on the dollar. Ah the joys of technology!

64-bit Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar add-ons for Linux

For some reason, finding the Mozilla Thunderbird calendar add-ons that are compatible with 64-bit Linux were not as easy to find as I thought they would be. It took me several Google searches to finally turn up this link: http://releases.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/calendar/lightning/releases/1.0b2/contrib/linux-x86_64/ When I went to either the Lightning install page or the Provider for Google Calendar install page to get the extensions, it was always an incompatible 32bit version. When I attempted to install those versions I would get an error that said, “Lightning could not be installed because it is not compatible with your Thunderbird build type (Linux_x86_64-gcc3). Please contact the author of this item about the problem.”

P.S. I now noticed that there is an Ubuntu help page on where to find the correct versions. Not sure how that didn’t come up in my searches before. Or maybe I just overlooked it since it’s a bit buried in the page. Not sure.

This entry was published on September 19, 2010 under the following topics Linux, Ubuntu

Kubuntu 9.04 WiFi Problem Solved

I just upgraded to the latest beta version of Kubuntu 9.04 and after a reboot found that my wireless no longer worked. I believe this is because Kubuntu no longer uses the KNetworkManager app to configure wifi connections. If you’re having a similar issue try these steps:

  1. Right-click on the Task Manager bar and select Panel Options->Add Widgets…
  2. In the search type network
    kubuntu_904_add_widget_screenshot
  3. Click on Network Management
  4. Click the Add Widget button
  5. Click the Close button
  6. In the Task Manager bar you should now see a new icon for the Network Management widget
    kubuntu_905_network_management_widget_in_taskbar_screenshot
  7. Right-click the Network Management widget and select Manage Connections…
  8. Click the Wireless tab
  9. Click the Add button
  10. Scan for your network and put in the proper settings for your wifi network
  11. Click the OK button once your wifi network settings are in place
  12. Click the OK button to close the Network Management widget

Note: You may be nagged for your KWallet password now when your computer boots. This is because the Network Management widget is using KWallet to store the wifi password. If anyone knows how to get around this, please feel free to share. :)

This entry was published on April 11, 2009 under the following topics Linux

How to Schedule a Ruby on Rails Rake Task Via Cron

If you ever want to run a Rails Rake task on a schedule via cron, here is the entry you need to make in crontab:

*/5 * * * * cd /var/www/apps/rails_app/ && /usr/local/bin/rake RAILS_ENV=production rake_task:goes_here

The above snippet will run the given Rails Rake task using the production environment every 5 minutes. Note that you need to first change the directory path to your rails app and then call the rake task. This may all be common knowledge but it was new to me.

This entry was published on August 23, 2008 under the following topics Linux

Benevolent Dictators

Benevolent DictatorsYesterday I read a short white paper about some experiences with developing open source software for the Department of Defense (DoD.) It was a good read and relevant considering that we (Gestalt) have been pushing more and more of our software for the DoD coming out of the Joplin, MO office to the open source community. One of the points made in the paper was that successful open source projects need a benevolent dictator. I’ve always believed this to be true, but then I read Josh Berkus’ post on The Myth of The Benevolent Dictator and am not so sure now.

Josh Berkus is a lead developer for PostgreSQL. While MySQL often gets the glory, PostgreSQL has quietly earned respect by hardcore database people. I’m one of those people who has a lot of respect for the PostgreSQL project as a whole, so when one of the lead developers expresses a strong opinion I’m prone to listen. (Plus, the guy has one of the best first names ever.) Josh’s main point is that it’s too easy to say that successful open source projects need to have a benevolent dictator. There are all sorts of models that have succeeded. PostgreSQL is a democracy. Debian is a chaotic democracy. Apache is a bureaucracy. MySQL is a company. Java is a mixed bag of everything. But, it’s more fun to look to the benevolent dictator for quotes and it’s more convenient to sum up the success of open source project leadership in two words.

There has to be clear leadership for any software project, open source or not. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that open source software has been successful with various models of project leadership. The benevolent dictator is one model that has worked for Linux and others, but it is only one of many.

I realize this conclusion will likely disappoint one of my Gestalt comrades who sometimes fancies himself a benevolent dictator, but it had to happen sooner or later. At least he’ll always have “The Lovinator”, which is something that is ALL his and likely always will be. Dictate away!

VirtualBox 1.4 is great (plus a fix for Vista guest networking)

I was sceptical that VirtualBox, an open source desktop virtualization software package, could be a viable alternative to VMWare and Parallels. I’m happy to report that my early experiences with it have been fantastic. The biggest issue I had was with my Microsoft Vista Home Premium guest OS (i.e. an OS running inside of VirtualBox) not having a driver out-of-the-box for the network adapter VirtualBox and most of the other virtualization solutions use. Oh the irony. Windows has the driver problems, not Linux this time around. Ha!

I documented my issue and solution to the network driver problem on the VirtualBox issue tracker site. In order to get the word out just a bit more through the search engines, I’m posting my problem and solution here.

My setup:

  • Fresh Kubuntu 7.04 install on a Gateway MT6840 notebook (Centrino Duo platform)
  • VirtualBox 1.4 install from the VirtualBox debian repository
  • VirtualBox “Guest Additions” installed
  • Network connection through my wireless card only on eth1
  • Guest OS on VirtualBox is Vista Home Premium (I know, I know…licensing issues…sigh)

Everything went fine until I tried to get networking on Vista working. I learned quickly that there are issues with Vista not supporting (out-of-the-box) the network card VirtualBox emulates (AMD PCnet Ethernet card.) The answer to this is to install the “Guest Additions”, go through the Windows “New Hardware Wizard” and point it to the CD drive, which should be an ISO image of drivers from the “Guest Addition” installer. However, when I followed this process Vista would go to install the driver and then freeze about 10 seconds into the install. The only thing I could do then was do a hard reset from the VirtualBox “File” menu. After trying numerous potential workarounds, I stumbled upon the solution:

  1. Go to VirtualBox and select the “Network” link under the “Details” tab for your Vista VM image
  2. In the Network Details tab select the appropriate network adapter (eth1 in my case) and then make sure you have these settings:
    1. Check “Enable Network Adapter”
    2. Select “Not attached” for the “Attached to” menu
    3. Check OFF the “Connected” checkbox
    4. Click OK to save the changes
  3. Start up Vista
  4. After you login, go to the VirtualBox “Devices” menu and select “Mount CD/DVD-ROM”->”CD/DVD-ROM Image”
  5. Select “VBoxAdditions.iso” and click “Select”
  6. From the “Start menu” right-click on “Computer” and select “Manage”
  7. Click on “Device Manager” to see all the devices
  8. Right click on your computer’s name in the “Device Manager” and select “Scan for hardware changes”
  9. You should be prompted to install a driver for your network controller
  10. When prompted, tell Windows to look for the driver on your CD driver under the “AMD_PCnet” directory on the drive
  11. Vista should successfully install the driver
  12. Shutdown Vista from the “Start Menu”
  13. Perform steps 1 & 2 (different sub-steps for 2 are below)
    1. Check “Enable Ethernet Adapter”
    2. Select “NAT” for the “Attached to” menu
    3. Check ON the “Connected” checkbox
    4. Click OK to save the changes
  14. Start up Vista and you should now have network connectivity

If you’ve had this problem with Vista as a guest OS using VirtualBox and these steps helped or didn’t help, please feel free to leave a comment.

This entry was published on July 21, 2007 under the following topics Linux