Ubuntu on the Advent 8111

Dec 29, 2006 / 0 comments

Katherine's father bought her mother a laptop for Christmas. I am ashamed to admit that although I was responsible for the specification it was purchased from PC World. There is a lack of shops in Northern Ireland where you can walk in and purchase a reasonably cheap laptop unfortunately. The model we ended up with was an Advent 8111 (Dixons link as it's saner than the PC World one). It's not actually a bad spec; Core Duo 1.6GHz, 1GB RAM, 80GB HD, wireless/ethernet/modem, 15.4" 1280x800 widescreen TFT. I think it claims up to 3 hours battery life and I certainly had 2+ out of it though not under heavy use.

I decided that it was getting Linux; Katherine's mum isn't used to any form of computer so there are no preconceptions about Windows to get over. While I'm a Debian person myself I felt it was time to give Ubuntu a chance; mjg59 (and others I'm sure) has spent a lot of time trying to get it happy on laptops and make sure things Just Work. I didn't have a lot of time to sit fiddling with the setup, so a shiny out-of-the-box distro seemed ideal.

I downloaded ubuntu-6.10-desktop-i386.iso and burnt myself a CD. Dropped it in the drive and it booted into the live CD installer fine. The install process was simple and it managed to resize the Windows partition without problems (I would have deleted it but I couldn't convince the Windows rescue CD creator to work and I don't want to burn my bridges until I'm sure Linux works out ok for the owner).

Rebooting into the freshly installed system I was surprised at the time the boot process took. It certainly felt a lot longer than it takes my (lower speced) laptop to boot to a GDM prompt under Debian. Also the display looked a bit fuzzy. Further investigation led to the discovery that although X correctly detected a panel size of 1280x800 it was only using 1024x768. Much searching found me i915resolution which did some magic that made things work. However this doesn't appear to be part of Ubuntu proper so I'm not sure if was the correct solution or if I should have done something else?

Getting to the point where I could download i915resolution was interesting too. My parents have a WEP encrypted wireless network (to prevent casual use rather than because it's secure). I was expecting Ubuntu (which detected the Intel wireless card fine) to pop up some sort of dialog saying it had found a network and would I like to connect (if I provided the key). Something network-managery. But no. Even when I went to the network control panel and added all the details the connection didn't seem to come up. I gave up and did it manually with iwconfig and dhclient (I needed it to work quickly and at present it won't need wireless usually).

Once I had the display working happily my other task was to tame the modem. It's an Intel HDA thing and I'd hoped sl-modem-daemon would drive it. Of course it didn't. Although it's an Intel chipset it has a bloody Conexant codec on it. Which of course there are no free or Free drivers for. I ended up trying the trial Linuxant driver, which did work fine at 14.4k, but that's really painful so I gave up and paid for the full version. I'd really rather have voted with my feet and ended up with some proper modem hardware, but it would have been an extra set of wires and cost more. I hate Conexant. Anyway, the drivers work (though seem to break sound; I haven't had enough time to prod this and the modem is much more important to have working).

Hopefully in time I'll convince them they really want ADSL, but at present I think it would be quite hard as they don't have a high expected use.

Once the modem was working I needed an easy way to dial up. I started playing with modem monitor, which had been installed by default. However I just couldn't figure out how to get it to allow me to dialup and dial down - the activate/disable options stayed greyed out. So I installed GNOME PPP which seems to work fine and be easy enough to drive - put a nice link to it on the desktop and stored all the details so it's a double click to launch and then a click of the "Connect" button.

My final issue was that once I actually took the laptop to Katherine's house to show her mum how to use it it started hanging on boot. Booting into recovery mode showed a soft lockup error message around the point where it was setting up the network interfaces. I think this might have had something to do with me hitting the wireless kill switch (no point having it on when there's no wireless in the house), as disabling the device in the BIOS made the problem go away. I didn't have enough time to do a fully exhaustive check, but will look at it in the future.

I wait with interest to see how use of the laptop goes. Expected usage to being with is mainly web and email (provided by the Ubuntu defaults of Firefox and Evolution) so hopefully it shouldn't be too problematic now I've fought the install process. I was really quite surprised at the problems I encountered (well, aside from the modem drivers); I'd expected a much smoother install that would leave me with everything working fine out of the box. I haven't yet filed any bugs or done more investigation - I only had about a day to setup the machine so couldn't prod it more just yet. I will of course try to do so when I get a free moment, but if I missed some obvious stuff please do point it out to me! (As if you wouldn't...)

Oh, and here's some lspci output for anyone interested in some more details about the laptop:

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Mobile 945GM/PM/GMS/940GML and 945GT Express Memory Controller Hub (rev 03)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 945GM/GMS/940GML Express Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 03) (prog-if 00 [VGA])
00:02.1 Display controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 945GM/GMS/940GML Express Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 03)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) High Definition Audio Controller (rev 02)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) PCI Express Port 1 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [Normal decode])
00:1c.1 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) PCI Express Port 2 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [Normal decode])
00:1c.2 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) PCI Express Port 3 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [Normal decode])
00:1d.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI #1 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [UHCI])
00:1d.1 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI #2 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [UHCI])
00:1d.2 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI #3 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [UHCI])
00:1d.3 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI #4 (rev 02) (prog-if 00 [UHCI])
00:1d.7 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB2 EHCI Controller (rev 02) (prog-if 20 [EHCI])
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 Mobile PCI Bridge (rev e2) (prog-if 01 [Subtractive decode])
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation 82801GBM (ICH7-M) LPC Interface Bridge (rev 02)
00:1f.2 IDE interface: Intel Corporation 82801GBM/GHM (ICH7 Family) Serial ATA Storage Controller IDE (rev 02) (prog-if 80 [Master])
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) SMBus Controller (rev 02)
02:00.0 Network controller: Intel Corporation PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection (rev 02)
04:00.0 Ethernet controller: Marvell Technology Group Ltd. 88E8055 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller (rev 10)
05:01.0 CardBus bridge: Texas Instruments Unknown device 8039
05:01.1 FireWire (IEEE 1394): Texas Instruments Unknown device 803a (prog-if 10 [OHCI])
05:01.2 Mass storage controller: Texas Instruments Unknown device 803b
05:01.3 Class 0805: Texas Instruments Unknown device 803c (prog-if 01)

Wedding writeup

Dec 20, 2006 / 0 comments

I've been sitting on this for a while, gradually adding more bits as I think of them. So it's a bit long and rambly, but if I don't post it now I'll never get round to it.

First, the details, for anyone who cares.

I got married to my partner of 11 years, Katherine, on 1st December. This was actually our 11 year anniversary. We had a civil ceremony in The Assembly House, Norwich with a wine reception afterwards, then moved on to Wolterton Hall for the main reception, with a magnificant feast provided by Brasteds. Afterwards there was a chocolate fountain courtesy of Digby's and Nero thanks to Milton.

The wedding cars were provided by American Dream (we had the Excalibur Sedan and the Lincoln Town Car). The bus to/from the reception was from Dolphin Autos. Robin Phillips brought the band. Wonderful purple jacket + the other suits were from John Field Formal Hire.

Next, some photos.

Burly Dave Ganesh Paddy Steve Tim (Ceremony) Tim (Reception)

Finally, some things I've learned.

For guests (I wish someone had told me these - Katherine says I sound stroppy but I don't mean to):

  • As soon as you know if you're going or not, let the couple know. Especially if you're not going. They will probably be constrained on numbers and there are very few people who can be invited at short notice if you only let them know you're not coming by the RSVP deadline.
  • Don't leave buying your present until the last minute. The couple will have lots more important things on their minds in the final week or two than trying to make sure there's enough left on the gift list.
  • People really do mean that they'd rather you turned up than gave a gift. I never fully appreciated this; I'd feel bad going to a wedding without having given a gift. However I know that it's not cheap to get to Norwich and (in most cases) have to spend at least one night in a hotel. I'd much rather people did that and I got to see them on the day than they sent a present.

For couples getting married:

  • It costs more than you think. Really. I'd always assumed hotels dug their arm in for weddings and upped all the prices, but actually the hotels we looked at were the cheap options, both in terms of the actual cost and also the fact they'd throw extras like a honeymoon suite in for free.
  • Make sure everyone in the wedding party knows the way to the ceremony venue. Really. Don't rely on them to ask you, or assume that they'll have looked at the directions you've prepared.
  • People are far too generous. We received many completely unexpected gifts from relatives or friends who we hadn't invited to the wedding, or those who couldn't make it. (As well as many of the people who came to the wedding buying us far too much.) If you gave us a gift, you will get a thank you card - these are already in progress but it probably won't be until after the New Year before they're all sorted and sent.
  • Don't leave booking a honeymoon until after the wedding. We had issues regarding not being sure about Katherine's holidays and we ended up not sorting anything until a couple of weeks later. This reduced our options somewhat.
  • So far it doesn't seem to have changed anything much. Katherine and I have already been living together for some time which we consider a bigger step. And we haven't seen a whole lot of each other since the wedding, though we have spent the past week together. But really, we don't feel a lot different yet.

Perfect Noodles

Dec 16, 2006 / 0 comments

Holy fridge, Batman!

Dec 15, 2006 / 0 comments

I have a new fridge freezer. It has a hole in the back of the fridge. I can see through it to the outside world. This is apparently a drainage duct and part of the deicing/condensation thingy-ma-jig. It strikes me as just wrong. Won't all the cold escape? Simon tells me it's only a small hole and his fridge has one too, but I'm not convinced. I'll have to hide it behind some beer so I forget about it.

Small World?

Dec 8, 2006 / 0 comments

Having been reading about Small World Phenomenon (which I've been calling Small World Syndrome for some time now, guess I'll have to change) the other day I was vaguely interested in LOST when I was pointed at it. It doesn't really help model the interconnectedness of the matrix as it's a tree structure AFAICT, but I think it's an fun idea with about as much point as most social networking sites and none of the claims to usefulness. :)

I'd heard of Milgram before; my Mum did some stuff around Milgram's Experiment. SWP seems quite a different topic to me - are there similarities I'm missing or is it just the social psychologist equivalent of hacking on kernel code one day and a web app the next?

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