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February 29, 2008


I finally canceled my home phone service a few weeks ago. Today I was walking the dogs and got a call from a local number I didn't recognize. It was the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Last Spring I had taken Susan to see Carmina Burana, and ASO has been sending me mail, e-mails, and calling every now and then ever since. Not sure why I gave them my cell phone number, but I quickly informed them that they were calling my cell phone and I didn't want them to use that number. The guy asked if there was another number where they could reach me. I hadn't thought that far ahead, but realized I could only answer No. So he said "So you just don't want us to call you?" I said "I guess not."

February 27, 2008

Kaspersky - Ugh

Last year I bought Kaspersky Internet Security 6.0. I was really happy with it because it wasn't that intrusive and didn't use a lot of system resources. It was also pretty easy to configure. So when Fry's offered a 3-license version of KIS 7.0 for free after rebates, I jumped on it. The first install I tried was on Mom's laptop. She said it brought her computer to a crawl and uninstalled it. One nice thing about Kaspersky is that it is pretty easy to uninstall. I was disappointed, but if Mom said it was no good, then that was the case (maybe more memory will help Mom's computer).

Now that I have my laptop, I thought I'd try installing Kaspersky. It installed easily enough on Sunday and then downloaded a fairly big update, which is to be expected. Then it started a system scan. Soon it was up to a thousand files. I let it running by itself, realizing the first full hard disk scan would take some time. A few hours later it was still scanning. Because the laptop was set to go to sleep after an hour of no use, it would go to sleep and I would need to wake it up to keep the scan going. I did this several times Sunday before going to bed.

The next morning it was up to 20,000 files. I thought that was pretty crazy. Why would Vista install so many files? I checked the properties of the Windows folder to see how many files were in there and it was about 20,000 so I figured it would be done soon. Before I went to work I changed the automatic sleep setting so the computer would keep running. When I got home it was up to 40,000 files. That night it was up to 60,000. The next morning it was up to 80,000. This thing is scanning 24 hours a day now! Tuesday night it was over 100,000 files.

I got on Kaspersky's discussion boards and looked for answers. There were some people who had problem with Norton conflicting, but I didn't have Norton. They have a program you can download that gets all of your computer's system info and posts it to a web page so people can help you out. I did that. I posted a message asking for help and a few people offered some advice that didn't really help (allow Kaspersky to hog resources, turn off Google desktop). This morning a message was posted suggesting I try the scan in Safe Mode. So I had to learn how to do that (press F8 right after the boot menu). The scan was going really fast and was up to 20,000 files in about 20 minutes before I had to go to work. When I got back home the computer had scanned 160,000 files in 35 minutes.

I don't know what other things to turn off to duplicate that kind of performance in normal mode. I turned off the touchpad icon in the system tray and tried turning off the wireless network card. Still pretty slow. I tried uninstalling Kaspersky and reinstalling. I noticed when I did this it would zip through the first 10,000 files pretty quickly and then bog down. There are some large archive files that Vista uses as backups of the system files that I knew would take a while to read and scan, but there couldn't be all that many of them. I tried reinstalling but not allowing Kaspersky to update itself. That kind of worked, but it would slow down after the first 10,000.

Back on the help board someone suggested I download the latest version of Kaspersky 7, which apparently doesn't automatically happen. I downloaded the 38 MB file and tried to install it before getting some kind of disk read error for a .cab file.

Very frustrating. I also bought a 3-license version of Trend Internet Security which Consumer Reports ranks very highly. I installed it on Susan's computer a few months ago and it seems okay, but seemed to make her computer a little sluggish. I could use it as a last resort.

February 16, 2008

Linux, Part 3

I couldn't get rid of the partition I had freed up for Ubuntu. So I thought I would try one more time with a clean installation. I also noticed on the page of lengthy instructions (from Linux, Part 2) that it was for the Dell 1390 wireless card and I checked and I had the 1395 wireless card. So I reran everything, only this time I downloaded the driver file R174291.exe instead of what the instructions told me. Worked like a charm!

Yeah, it still took a really long time to get everything to download and install, but I am writing this post wirelessly on the Vostro 1400 on Ubuntu.

The next challenge was getting DVD's to play. This is pretty simple on regular PC's, but not on open source software like Linux because of the copyright protection not being open source. After trying all kinds of crazy things to try to get the built in movie player, Totem, to play movies, I found a post that said the thing to do was try VLC player:

>>To install VLC in Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon), select "Applications" > "Add/Remove...". Search for VLC and install the VLC media player.<<

The only thing I had to do was make sure that when I opened it I went under File:Open Disc instead of Open File. Works great though I had to do some more craziness in order to get the Vostro's speaker to work: speaker fix. The only problem there is that if you Suspend the notebook that the speaker won't work once you wake the notebook back up (nothing wakes back up if you choose Hibernate, though winter isn't over yet). Another problem mentioned by the speaker fix post is the fan. In Windows the fan is off if the computer is running cool already, goes to low speed sometimes, and high speed when it is really working hard. In Ubuntu the fan is always on low.

I ran some time trials on the notebook under the two different operating systems:

In Ubuntu the computer boots in 60 seconds from the GRUB loader screen (which pops up very quickly, maybe 6 seconds) and takes 13 seconds to shut down. In Vista the computer starts up in about 60 seconds as well, but takes 35 seconds to shut down.

Linux, Part 4

February 15, 2008

Linux, Part 2

Today I got the Vostro 1400. Starting it up and getting Vista going wasn't bad, but it took a while. I had opted to get rid of most of the software bloat that Dell usually includes, but still had to set things up, download updates, etc. Vista is the slowest thing ever.

After I got everything set up, I decided to try installing Ubuntu (see Linux, Part 1 where I downloaded and tried out the installation CD). I knew the first step was shrinking the main hard drive partition to free up room. But Vista doesn't make this easy. I still don't know how to get to that control panel other than by searching Help for "partition" and then clicking on a link that opens the utility. I struggled with that for a while before I went back and read the article that said I didn't have to do anything but free up the space (not create a volume, which I couldn't do). The Dell came with the hard drive already partitioned into 4 parts. I think one is for a quick-booting media player, the other is a recovery disk, one is diagnostics, and the other is the rest of your hard drive with Windows on it. (In Ubuntu they are called MEDIADIRECT, RECOVERY, DellUtility, and OS).

Next I booted up from the Ubuntu CD I had made and installed on the free space I had already created. This went pretty smoothly, but took about 20 minutes. Finally I was able to boot Ubuntu from the hard drive. Now when the computer starts it gives you a menu right after the BIOS loads to choose an operating system. This is kind of clumsy in my opinion. I have an old PC set up to boot in either Win98 or Win2000 and it is pretty easy to set the startup disk to either C: or D: Then you boot up into that one all the time until you change it.

Anyway, this boot menu is called GRUB. And once it is on your machine there is no getting rid of it (well, there is, but it isn't easy; more on this later).

Ubuntu loaded okay and it would hook up to the internet over an ethernet cable, but it had no idea I had a wireless card installed. I followed some very, very lengthy instructions I found that involved typing in all kinds of crazy Unix commands. Everything seemed to go all right, except towards the end when you test the driver it is supposed to say the driver is installed and the hardware was detected. Only mine just said the driver was installed. The hardware wasn't detected. I tried all kinds of different things and couldn't get it to find the wireless card (note: I got this to work in Linux, Part 3).

So I decided to delete the partition. Back to Vista and the disk management panel. I right-clicked the 40 GB volume I had freed up (now separated into a 38 GB volume and a smaller one which Ubuntu used as a swap file, but I right-clicked the bigger one) and choose Delete Volume. The smaller partition stilled showed however if you get out of disk management and back in I was back to my 39.06 GB of free space (due to the fact that there are 4 partitions, for some reason I am unable to extend my main partition into this free space without getting an error that there is no space available on the disk; this is a Vista bug). However now when I started, my BIOS looked for GRUB and, when it couldn't find it, just gave up completely. I couldn't boot up the computer at all.

I eventually reinstalled Ubuntu so that it would rewrite the partition and rewrite GRUB. So now at least I can boot up, but I'm stuck with GRUB until I can make some kind of recovery disk that will let me overwrite the master boot record to get rid of GRUB and restore the Vista boot loader.

I eventually figured out how to get rid of GRUB. Fortunately the Dell came with a recovery disk "reinstallation DVD". I booted from the DVD and then followed the instructions from Microsoft ultimately only needing to type: bootrec /FixMbr at the C: prompt

I hate the way they have the recovery CD set up. Not only does it take a long time to boot up, but about 15 seconds after you start booting from CD (I'm hitting F12 during normal boot to select Boot from CD/DVD instead of from the hard drive) when you think everything is going good and you can go get some coffee, a question pops up that asks you to hit any key if you want to boot from the CD/DVD. If you don't do anything (because you are getting coffee) it boots up normally, which in my case was back to GRUB which after 7 seconds goes ahead and starts Ubuntu. So I kept ending up in Ubuntu. It seems like GRUB would have a way of uninstalling itself (which I could have done from Linux), but if it does I couldn't find it.


During my searches for a Dell wireless driver I found an Ubuntu disk image (for 7.04 instead of 7.10) customized for certain Dell laptops, mine not included, but it would work on very similar laptops with much of the same hardware. I downloaded the disk image, burned it to CD like I had done before with InfraRecorder and booted from the CD. It seemed to work fairly normally, but at some point while the CD was booting, it gave me a graphics error and I didn't know how to recover from that. Game Over as far as I'm concerned.

February 12, 2008

Asian Grouper

For birthdays and other special occasions at work sometimes we will go to a restaurant near Little Five Points called Front Page News. They serve regular American fare with a little emphasis on New Orleans food. One item they have had for years is a grouper sandwich. Sometime last year it started to come out that most restaurants offering grouper on their menu weren't really giving you grouper. This is because we have eaten almost all of the grouper in the ocean and it is very hard to get anymore. Groupers mature very slowly and a typical fish might be 40 years old. Fishing for grouper is completely unsustainable.

Anyway, I noticed on the menu of Front Page News that they now offered "Asian Grouper" which they said was not endangered like regular grouper. Really, I think they weren't serving grouper at all and now they are trying to tell you what they really serve. I ordered some and thought it kind of tasted like tilapia, not as firm as grouper (which I don't eat anymore).

I tried looking up asian grouper at Monterey Bay Aquarium's SeafoodWatch. There is some grouper that you can get from Hawaii which is kind of close to Asia, but the menu says that what they are selling is "pangasius". I looked this up on Wikipedia and found that there are a number of species of pangasius but all are catfish from rivers in Thailand and Vietnam. I remember reading about giant catfish in the Mekong River that would bring in tons of money to any farmer lucky enough to catch one. There was concern then that people were catching all of the giant catfish by stringing nets all the way across the river. Here's an article from National Geographic saying they are critically endangered. Those are pangasius gigas. I certainly hope that's not what I was eating. I kind of doubt it since they only catch a few of those per year.

I did some more searching and found out that most of the catfish that are cultivated in Thailand and Vietnam are pangasius hypophthalmus. There are problems with the imports from Vietnam where the water is very polluted and there is no regulation of what kind of chemicals are going in the water. This report found that several restaurants were selling this as grouper. There's another subplot where US catfish farmers are all up in arms because their prices are being undercut by cheap Asian imports.

However the upside of this is that this species is absolutely sustainable since it is farmed, but don't think you're getting anything close to grouper when you order that at a restaurant.

February 11, 2008

Linux, Part 1

In my musings about having an internet tablet and then deciding on a notebook and then finally buying a Dell Vostro 1400, I thought that I could make up for a lack of computing power by using a less demanding operating system like Linux. Learning more about it, the particular Linux package that seemed best was Ubuntu. When Dell sells a computer with Linux, they install Ubuntu.

I don't have my notebook yet, but I wanted to go ahead and download the software. The install is one giant file that fills up a CD (694 MB). Given my low-speed high-speed internet I decided to download it at Susan's house where such a download would take less than 15 minutes vs. more than 2 hours at my house.

Here's the deal with Linux: it isn't exactly user-friendly. They have made enormous strides in this area, but it's still kind of wonky. For instance, I was reading some posts that talked about problems using Ubuntu with the Vostro. One was the microphone wouldn't work right, but there was some kind of crazy user command you could enter at a command prompt that would fix it. Another problem is the wireless card that Dell uses. There's some way around that too, but you have to research *everything*.

So I go to Ubuntu's website to download the software (they will send you a CD in the mail for free if you want, but who can wait?). The first question is whether you want the 32-bit version or 64-bit. I was pretty sure that the Vostro's Core 2 Duo processor is 64-bit. So I figured that should be the direction I should go. But to be sure I did some research to find out if the Core 2 Duo is really 64-bit or not. Turns out it is. So I started the download. Then I burned a CD of the .iso disk image to take home.

Once home I thought maybe I should see whether the 64-bit system was advisable, not just possible. From what I read, it was not advisable and I would be better off with the 32-bit version. A lot of the open source software that Linux thrives on is 32-bit and some things (Flash player) are not even available in a 64-bit version (which you can get around by running a 32-bit version of Firefox apparently). More research! So I decide to download the 32-bit version at home and went to bed.

My Vostro won't arrive for a while (I hope this week, but Dell estimates Feb 19 as the ship date), but now that I have a 32-bit version, I could try it out on my old 32-bit desktop computer. Normally I would have to install it on its own partition on my hard drive. The problem there is my hard drive is too full for a partition and I think partitioning the hard drive would erase it. With the Vostro, Vista will let me partition without erasing. But the great thing about Ubuntu is you can run it from the installation CD!

So I burned the 32-bit .iso file to a CD, rebooted my hard drive, and it booted right into Windows XP. Whoops. I had to go into the BIOS to tell the computer to boot from the CD if possible before going to the hard drive. I did this and it wouldn't. I go do some research. The CD has to be made bootable. I didn't know there were bootable and non-bootable CD's. So I go into my CD burning software, Sonic, and find a button I can push to make the CD bootable. It looks for a disk image and something weird happened, but it wasn't looking for an .iso file. I put it on there anyway. It wouldn't boot from this. More research yields that you can sometimes double-click the .iso file and the software will automatically burn it to a bootable CD. I try this and Sonic asks for my Sonic installation CD. I actually get it to put the file on there, but again, I can't boot from it.

More research. Someone recommends some software that will figure the checksum for the .iso file to make sure it was downloaded correctly. So I download this software (WinMD5Sum), install it, and run it. You get the checksum value and compare it to hash values for Ubuntu installation files. Now this is a lot to know! Anyway, my checksum matches one of the hash values. So the file is okay.

More research on how to make a bootable disk. There is some software you can download that will burn a bootable disk image (InfraRecorder). I download that, install it, run it, and create a CD (this is CD number 5 if you're keeping score, which I am).

Hey, it's bootable! I get a Ubuntu splash screen. At the same place I was getting this help, it said you should check to see if the CD is damaged before going further and this is one of the splash screen options. I run that. It looks like it will take a while, so I take the dogs for a walk (they are bouncing off the walls, not at all patient with me figuring out how to make bootable Ubuntu disks, plus they kind of have a Pavlov thing going with when the computer shuts down and I've shut down the computer about 8 times).

I get back and the CD has checked out. Ubuntu says press any key and reboot. I reboot and get the splash screen again (takes a little while because everything is running from the CD, not the hard drive). I tell it to start up Ubuntu. This takes even longer, but isn't that horrible really (a lot faster than Windows installation CD's).

Boom! I'm on the desktop. In the menu at the top are Applications. There are games there! Cool. There is also OpenOffice, the Linux knockoff of Microsoft Office. I open a word processing document. It works! I close it. I try the spreadsheet. It looks really good. I see if it will sum two number and it does. Good enough for me. Close that. There is an icon for Firefox, so I open it. I'm at a static page stored on my hard drive that says welcome to Ubuntu 7.10 (they have funny names for their releases, 7.10 is Gutsy Gibbon, the previous version was 7.04 Feisty Fawn). Will it work on the real internet? I enter http://mac.fivefoks.com . . .

It works! I'm on the page and some guy has posted his pogo hops record! I log in to my blog account and click Create New Entry. I start typing: "Linux, Part 1 . . . "

Part 2

February 8, 2008

Budget Notebook

After considering some kind of internet tablet I realized that an inexpensive notebook is a much better buy than an underpowered $400 Linux device. I found some notebooks in the $400-$500 range at Fry's made by Toshiba or Compaq. With 15.4" screens, all of them were over six pounds which some reviewers considered heavy. So I went to notebook review where you can filter on price and weight. Surprisingly, there was a 5-pound(ish) Dell computer for $499. I had looked at Dell recently, but they didn't even mention the Vostro line of notebook computers. Apparently the Vostro is a "small business" computer and Dell feels like consumers should buy more expensive Inspiron or XPS notebooks. Even better, the Vostro has free shipping right now. There is a still less expensive Vostro 1000 (I'm looking at the Vostro 1400), that starts at $399, but once you add in a few extras to make it roughly equivalent to the 1400 (the 1400 uses an Intel Celeron processor and the 1000 uses an AMD Sempron), the price difference was fairly small.

Since the democrats in Congress have decided that I should receive nearly the full $600 stimulus rebate, I thought I should go ahead and blow most of that on a laptop. Rather than wait for my check in May, I think I may pull the trigger on this deal this weekend. The nice thing about Dells is they are very popular among Linux hobbyists, so I may try setting up the computer to boot in Linux as an option.