Unused Cycles

June 7, 2010

All of your music anytime, anywhere, with Android and Ampache

Filed under: Ampache, Android, GNU/Linux — Kevin @ 10:44 pm

I recently bought an Android-powered phone (Motorola Droid) and love it to death. I’ll love it even more-so during the fourth quarter when the next version of Android (FroYo, or Frozen Yogurt) comes out. Google’s promised the ability to access your entire music library anytime and anywhere in the new version.

Well, I’m an impatient person, and I’ve got enough music to fill up my 16 GB micro-SD card and then some. I’ve used Ampache in the past to stream music from my laptop at home into the lab in which I was working at the time, so I figured I’d search for “android ampache”. Lo and behold, there are programs in the app market (Amdroid and Lullaby) that are able to connect to Ampache servers.

First, install and configure Ampache. If you’re running Ubuntu, instructions can be found here. If you’re running Windows, the installation may be different, but the configuration should be the same.

Next, install either Amdroid or Lullaby from the Marketplace. I prefer Lullaby, because Amdroid seemed slow and buggy to me. Enter the IP address of your Ampache server as well as your username and password where appropriate in the settings.

If you’re behind a router and you want to set up streaming outside of your LAN, you’ll have to set up port forwarding. If your ISP has you on a dynamic IP address, you may also want to check out a service like DynDNS.

Finally, if you’re on a limited data plan, you may want to set up transcoding to a lower bitrate (and you’ll have to if parts of your library are encoded in OGG or FLAC). To do this, I edited ampache.cfg.php (in /etc/ampache) to hold this information (it may already be in there, you just need to uncomment it):

```transcode_m4a           = true transcode_m4a_target    = mp3 transcode_flac          = true transcode_flac_target   = mp3 transcode_mp3           = true transcode_mp3_target    = mp3 transcode_ogg           = true transcode_ogg_target    = mp3 transcode_cmd_flac      = "flac -dc %FILE% | lame -b %SAMPLE% -S - - " transcode_cmd_m4a       = "faad -f 2 -w %FILE% | lame -r -b %SAMPLE% -S - -" transcode_cmd_mp3       = "mp3splt -qnf %FILE% %OFFSET% %EOF% -o - | lame --mp3input -q 3 -b %SAMPLE% -S - -" transcode_cmd_ogg       = "oggsplt -qn %FILE% %OFFSET% %EOF% -o - | oggdec -Q -o - - | lame -S -q 3 -b %SAMPLE% -S - -"```

On Ubuntu, I had to install the following packages to get transcoding working properly: vorbis-tools, mp3splt, faad, lame.

That should be it.  I know it’s not as in depth as my guides usually are, but I’m strapped on time. Enjoy!

UPDATE: iPhone users can have fun too, because I’ve found out that there’s an iPhone app called iAmpache that does the same thing. I’ve tried it out on my iPod Touch and it works great over a LAN, although I can’t comment on how it’ll work on an iPhone over AT&T’s 3G.

May 27, 2010

Make KDE/Qt apps look consistent with GNOME apps in Ubuntu 10.04

Filed under: GNU/Linux — Kevin @ 11:26 am

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’m still around. I just figured out something that’s plagued me for a long time, and it turned out to be really simple.

I’ve always hated how KDE/Qt apps and GNOME/GTK apps look so different. Most people say “just use qtcurve,” but I wanted them to look uniform with the default Ubuntu Ambiance theme. Here’s a(n almost) complete solution, and it should work with Arch Linux, too (I’ll try it later today).

1. Install System Settings (sudo apt-get install systemsettings)
2. Go to System->Preferences->QT4 Settings and set Select GUI Style to GTK+
3. Go to System->Preferences->System Settings, choose Appearance, and set the Widget Style to GTK+
4. While in System Settings, download this color scheme and import it using the Import Scheme under Colors
5. Under Fonts, I selected 96 dpi, set all font sizes to 10 (the GNOME default for Ubuntu on my computer), and turned on anti-aliasing
6. Under Icons, select Ubuntu Mono Dark

The result is pretty consistent as you can see with the screenshot of Amarok below. One small niggle is that the file dialogs for KDE/QT apps are still QT style, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a program that does the opposite of KGtk (if you happen to know of one I’d be thrilled to hear about it). The fonts also look a bit different, but it may be a slight difference in the fonts “Sans” used by GNOME and “Sans Serif” used by KDE.

Hope this helps someone. Why Canonical doesn’t do this with stock Ubuntu confuses me.

September 29, 2009

Now At Purdue University

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin @ 5:52 pm

Well, it’s been a while, and I’ve got a few posts drafted up but haven’t actually had the energy to finish them up. A few updates:

1. Rachel and I moved out to Lafayette, IN and I’m now attending Purdue University as a grad student in mathematics. I’m taking two courses, real analysis and abstract algebra, as well as teaching calculus recitations (MATH 165 in particular)
2. I’ve gotten a used XV6800 from Verizon and have been playing with it for the past few months. I’ve gotten things worked out so that it doesn’t try to access the data network unless it’s trying to send out a MMS message. I started typing up a post about it since it was kind of difficult to get things running how I wanted, and I’ll post this draft sometime if I ever finish it
3. Group theory is much, much more difficult in grad school than it was as an undergrad. I’ve got a draft on a really interesting homework problem involving group actions that I’ll post when I finish it
4. I’ve switched my Desktop Environment from KDE to Gnome. Crazy, I know. I just got tired of KDE releasing crappy 4.x versions and decided to go with something stable but yet not neglected (I still like KDE 3.5.x…but unfortunately it seems to have been abandoned…) I’ve got a draft on how the switch is going so far that might get posted sometime

I’m getting ready for an exam shortly, so I should get back to work. Later!

April 29, 2009

Amarok 1.4 Sync with iPod Touch 2G in Linux

Filed under: GNU/Linux, iPod Touch — Kevin @ 11:22 am

Since I’ve gotten my iPod Touch 2G, I’ve been forced to use iTunes, which I never really liked. Not just because it’s proprietary, but I really never cared for the interface and how it handles playlists. While four months of iTunes usage has warmed me a bit to it, I like being able to choose what application I use, especially because running iTunes means I have to run Windows XP in a Virtualbox virtual machine. Furthermore, I prefer Amarok 1.4 on KDE’s functionality more than I do iTunes or any other music player. Thankfully, with the recent release of the 24kpwn exploit on the iPod Touch 2G which allows an untethered software jailbreak, it’s possible to use Amarok with the iPod Touch 2G!

First a bit of background. The iPod generally uses a file called “iTunesDB” to store locations and tags of all of the files on your iPod. If you put music on your iPod without it being entered into the database, the iPod software won’t recognize it and you won’t be able to play it. Over the years, people have developed support for writing the iTunesDB without iTunes; on Linux, this is specifically done using libgpod. This database was the same with every iPod, so it was easy to use a new iPod with existing music software. Even the iPod Touch 1G was compatible with libgpod (albeit in a roundabout way).

With the introduction of iPod Touch firmware 2.x, Apple decided to “obfuscate” the database so that it could no longer be reproduced. All of the software that could once sync with iPods (Amarok included) was rendered useless with iPod Touch firmware 2.x.

Thankfully, there’s a workaroud. The database obfuscation is controlled by an XML file found in /System/Library/Lockdown/Checkpoint.xml on the iPod Touch (and iPhone). As it is easy to edit that file with a jailbroken iPod Touch with OpenSSH installed, it’s a matter of changing

```<key>DBVersion</key> <integer>4</integer>```

to use database version 2 instead. Version 2 of the database is — you guessed it — the unobfuscated version.

There’s one little problem. When you plug your iPod Touch into your computer and run fdisk -l, it doesn’t show up. The iPod Touch does not identify itself as a mountable drive, so you must do one of two things:

1. Tunnel an SSH connection through USB using iTunnel (buggy, at least when I compiled from source on Arch Linux), 0r
2. Mount your iPod Touch via Fuse over WiFi

The second method is great if you’ve got a wireless network to work from. If not, and your wireless card supports ad-hoc mode, you can set up a network just between your computer and iPod. On the other hand, if you do not have access to WiFi at all, your only option is the first, which I’ve found to be quite buggy on Arch Linux. Who knows, maybe you’ll have good luck, but I’ll continue writing this the assumption that you’re using the second method.

From there, just fire up Amarok 1.4 and set up your iPod like normal. File transfer rates depend on your card’s speed and the traffic around the local access point.

If you’re OCD like me, you like having lyrics on each of your tracks so that when you tap the music application it displays lyrics. Unfortunately Amarok does not handle this well (actually, at all).  To get it working requires recompiling Amarok. If you’re into that, then keep reading. If you’re not, then you can stop right here and either a) use gtkpod which handles lyrics and artwork (but I didn’t like how it handles audiobooks (I’m a huge Doctor Who fan and listen to Big Finish audios in my free time)), or b) forget about lyrics support.

Amarok just does not handle lyrics tags well at all. From what I can make out, it saves lyrics to its own database, not the USLT portion of the ID3v2 tag. Thus when you save the lyrics to a music file using an external program, Amarok doesn’t see it and vice-versa. You can install scripts that read and write to the ID3 tags, but even then lyrics don’t show up on your iPod.

What’s happening is that a song in a database has a lyrics flag that must be set. iTunes does this by looking at the file in question at transfer time, seeing if it has lyrics in its tag, and sets that bit in the database. Unfortunately, stock Amarok 1.4.10 does not have this capability. I’ve found a patch here for Amarok 1.4.4 that I applied manually to Amarok 1.4.10

That still didn’t quite work for me. It compiled fine, but something’s changed since Amarok 1.4.4 in the way that it checks the ID3v2 tags. The original function was looking for the lyrics themselves and returning the lyrics as a string. The way that the patch works, it doesn’t actually care what the lyrics are — it just wants to know if there are lyrics. After analyzing the changes made, I changed the method QString MetaBundle::lyrics() in metabundle.cpp to just do the following (excuse the sloppy tabbing, WordPress doesn’t handle HTML):

```QString MetaBundle::lyrics() const { TagLib::FileRef fileref = TagLib::FileRef( QFile::encodeName( url().path() ), true ); if ( TagLib::MPEG::File *file = dynamic_cast<TagLib::MPEG::File *>( fileref.file() ) ) { if ( file->ID3v2Tag() )`````` { if ( !file->ID3v2Tag()->frameListMap()["USLT"].isEmpty()); return QString("there's something here..."); } return QString(""); }```

After recompiling and transferring a few songs, it worked! It’s not the most elegant solution, but at least you’ll get your lyrical goodness so that you can sing along to all those songs which you have no idea what they’re saying (Boom Shackalak, anyone?)

This patch only works for MP3 files, which brings me to my next (and final) point. As previously mentioned, I listen to audiobooks and I like the built-in audiobook format that iTunes uses (M4B) because it bookmarks your files. Amarok immediately recognized my M4B files as such and uploaded them to properly use the bookmarks. However, I also like to put the “cover blurb” on the lyrics tag so that when I start a new one I have a faint idea of what’s happening. Because the lyrics patch only works for MP3 files and not M4A (I tried getting it to work, but ran into an issue with Arch’s libmp4v2), you can’t have this capability. Thankfully, in looking over the iTunesDB code for Amarok, I found that if you set the genre to “audiobook” it’ll set the audiobook flag on the iPod — regardless of whether or not it’s an M4B file. What that means is that you can use regular old MP3 files as audiobooks (which gets me even further away from Apple’s proprietary junk!)

Hopefully this was a helpful post. It’s taken me a few days to get Amarok working to my tastes, but it finally is and I thought I’d share my research.

April 22, 2009

Using the Context Menu Key as a Compose Key

Filed under: GNU/Linux — Kevin @ 9:10 am

I’ve noticed over the last few months that I don’t use the “context menu” key very much. Actually, I never use it, and I find it really annoying when I’m scrolling through a webpage with my arrow keys and accidentally bump it. On top of that, I wanted an easy way to type letters with accents, so I could do things like type über or a ¢ sign without having to go to a character map.

If you’re new to Linux, what I was looking for is called a “compose key.” The compose key works like this: tap the compose key, then a modifier, and lastly the letter you want. For example, if I want an e with a grave accent, I type “compose, ` (the character next to 1), e” in that order, and voilà I get a nice è.

Now, how do you go about setting your context menu key to act as a compose key? In Linux, it’s as easy as typing

`setxkbmap -option "compose:menu"`

into a terminal. You’ll immediately have a compose key. Even things such as £ (compose, -, L) or € (compose, =, C) will work on a US keyboard now! A complete listing of compose key combinations is here. The only problem is, when you restart X, your settings will go away so you’ll have to run that every time you start X. You can do that one of two ways:

1. In /etc/X11/xorg.conf, add `Option "XkbOptions" "compose:menu"` to your keyboard section.
2. Add the previoius “setxkbmap” line to a startup script. For example, I’m running KDE 4.2, so I added that line to ~/.kde4/Autostart/startup.sh (chmodded so that it’s executable, of course) so that KDE will run that command every time I log in. In GNOME, it should be as easy as going to System>Preferences>Sessions.

I recommend using the second method, because it will only change the setting for your user. Who knows, perhaps other people do use the context menu key.

April 10, 2009

KDE 4.2 and Amarok 1.4 Multimedia Keys

Filed under: GNU/Linux — Tags: , , — Kevin @ 10:14 am

I just figured out something that has been plaguing me for about a week, so I figured I’d write a quick post about it.

I’d been using Amarok 2 lately because it’s integrated into KDE 4.2 fairly well. When I tried upgrading to 2.0.2, however, I had major issues with compilation, and then with databasing when it was finally compiled. That, coupled with the lack of an equalizer and other Amarok 1.4 features, convinced me to downgrade to Amarok 1.4 (which is in the Arch Linux repositories).

As previously mentioned, Amarok 2 had pretty good interfacing with KDE 4.2, including being able to use the KDE Control Menu’s Global Shortcuts. It was easy to set up my multimedia keys (play/pause, stop, next, previous) to work with Amarok 2. But after downgrading to 1.4 I lost that ability.

The solution is to open Amarok 1.4. Under settings, there is an option to configure global shortcuts. Just configure play/pause, etc., to your media keys and voila! It works great, even under KDE 4.2.

October 24, 2008

Busy, busy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin @ 7:32 pm

Obviously it’s been a while since I updated. Here’s what’s been going on:

• I got married on August 16, 2008, to my beautiful wife Rachel Nicole Rotz. Things are going quite well after two months.
• I’m taking three (real) courses this semester:
• Dell replaced my old Inspiron E1705 with a Vostro 1700 because the CPU went bad again, which was a huge upgrade. So much so that I sold it to my dad and bought a Dell XPS M1330. I know I said I wouldn’t buy a Dell, but the fact that they sent me a computer with a 250 GB hard drive and 4 GB RAM when I only bought a 100 GB hard drive and 1 GB RAM was enough reason to stick with them. This new M1330 had Ubuntu pre-installed, so now they can’t whine about me not having Windows installed. In fact, they won’t support Windows on this new machine because I didn’t pay for Windows support. Nice 🙂
• I installed Gentoo on my new XPS M1330. Things are running smoothly, for the most part. The bluetooth on it is a little funny, and I can’t quite figure out why it’s not working properly. It detects the adapter, at least, but gives me errors about not supporting rfcomm. My fingerprint reader and webcam work perfectly. The only other thing that’s slightly annoying is that I can’t get suspend to disk to work, and it apparently does work with Ubuntu (from what I’ve read about the M1330 on the Ubuntu forums). The Tuxonice kernel that I installed is also funny. More to come.
• I’ve started looking out at graduate schools. So far I’ve got at least two letters in the works, with another two that I’m sure I can ask for. I’ll be applying for mathematics schools in both pure and applied fields. If I do applied, I’d like to do some type of mathematical physics. If pure, some type of algebra, most likely something related to group theory. It’s unfortunate that many of the schools that I’m looking at, such as UMD, separate their pure and applied programs into different departments, so for those I’ll be applying only for their pure departments. I honestly think I’d be happier doing algebra over mathematical physics, but I’ll take what I can get.

So yeah, when things start dying down again, maybe I’ll get back to work on this blog. But things don’t really have any sign of slowing down, at least until I get the general GRE out of the way and applications for grad schools start becoming due.

August 13, 2008

Trying out Gentoo Linux on my Dell E1705

Filed under: GNU/Linux — Tags: , — Kevin @ 10:16 am

Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to make the days pass more quickly by messing around with Gentoo Linux on my Dell laptop (which Dell finally fixed under my warranty). As a reminder, I’ve been using (K)Ubuntu for over a year, and I recently installed OpenSUSE 11.0 on my desktop, so I’m not a total newcomer to Linux.

My first reaction is that it’s definitely a more hands-on Linux distribution. I did a minimal installation using the Gentoo handbook, in which you boot from the minimal install CD and there’s really no install script. The first steps are to partition everything manually using fdisk, install Portage (the package management tool for Gentoo), and install a bare kernel which you can configure manually. And when I say bare, I mean bare naked. One must literally install everything that he or she wants on the target system – I even had to emerge iptables using Portage.

There are two options for configuring the kernel. First, one can try to configure it manually, though I had issues with ndiswrapper when I tried that, so I used the second option, emerging genkernel and using that “vanilla” kernel that supports most hardware. Maybe sometime if I get brave enough I’ll go back and try configuring my own again.

I had somewhat of a headache trying to get X installed, but that was because when I emerged Xorg it didn’t install the mouse and keyboard drivers, so I had to 1) figure out what kernel modules I had to install (xf86-input-mouse and xf86-input-keyboard) and 2) install them manually. After that, I had already installed my graphics driver so there were no issues with that from the start (amazing! I’ve had troubles with Ubuntu from the beginning where the driver would be installed but it would be using Mesa for OpenGL and not the fglrx driver). Then I had to emerge KDE. At the moment, everything is running very quickly (although I still think the default KDE look is very bland and uninteresting, so I’ll have to fool around with that later).

But not everything is going well.

I still haven’t figured out how to get sound going (I think it’s just a matter of adding my normal user to the proper group,, but that’ll have to wait until I’m done emerging some big files on Konsole so I can restart X)

1. The keyboard is very annoying. Sometimes keys stick, even though I hardly tap them. As a result, I’vvvvvvve been having issues while typing this entry (as you can see with the extra “v”‘s and a few extra spaces which I’ve let unaltered from the original typing). This isn’t an issue with the actual keyboard, because I don’t have any problems with it in Vista (yes, I took the plunge! So far it’s nota s bad as people makeito ooooooooooooooooooooout t obe. AAnd again with the kyboard issues).
2. I can’t get knetworkmanager working. I’ve merged it and when I run “emerge –pretend knetworkmanager” it says that it would rebuild it if I tried to emerge it again. But yet when I try to run it at the command line, it says that the command cannot be found. Furthermore, when I try to run it from the K menu, it pops up in the system tray; however, when I place my mouse over the tray icon, it immediately crashes.
3. Konqueror has issues with displaying images and some pages properly. We’ll see if my issues with being in the wrong profile (default instead of 2008.0/desktop – see below) fix things.
4. I haven’t been able to emerge Firefox yet, but right now I’m re-emerging cairo with the X USE flag, so I think that will fix it. (Update: I’ve gotten Firefox 3 to emerge. It looks great!)
5. There’s no ebuild for Firestarter (my favorite iptables frontend)! Instead I’m using Guarddog, but I’ve had issues with internet connection sharing and Guarddog in the past.
6. I’m not entirely sure that both of my CPU cores are being utilized. They’re being reported in cpufreq-info and /proc/cpuinfo, but things are still choppy. Installing Superkaramba and running a dual-core monitor reports both CPUs are always at the same percentage of usage, which leaads me to believe only one is actually being utilized.
7. I can’t get sound working yet, at least not in KDE. It works fine at the command line with ogg123, and lsmod shows that the module that I need for my particular sound card is loaded. I’ve done a forum post on the Gentoo forums and one user noticed that I probably wasn’t using the desktop profile. I’ve changed over to this and I’m re-emerging things.
8. More of a gripe than an issue: while the idea of compiling software is very cool, it’s sometimes a bit of a pain to wait to compile it. Although the fact that Konqueror loads as fast as lightning makes up for it 🙂

So I’m pretty happy with it, I suppose. When I’m done, maybe I’ll go through and make a list of how I got certain hardware working.

As a last thought, I took a screenshot of my desktop. Click it to enlarge.

My KDE desktop on Gentoo 2008.0

August 3, 2008

The Gordon Game

Filed under: Mathematics — Tags: , — Kevin @ 11:30 pm

The Gordon game is a game to be played by two people who know a bit about group theory (and by a bit, it’ll suffice to read my introduction to group theory). I found of the game in the book “Adventures in Group Theory: Rubik’s Cube, Merlin’s Magic and Other Mathematical Toys” by David Joyner.

According to the book, the rules are as follows. Take two copies of a set corresponding to the group $(G,\ast)$ and call one $M$ and the other $P$. The rules are then as follows:

1. Player one chooses an element $p_1$ from the group $P$ and $m_1$ from $M$. These can be any element he chooses, and once they are chosen they are removed from the sets $P$ and $M$
2. The next player chooses an element $m_{i+1}$ and $p_{i+1}$ such that $p_{i+1}=m_{i+1}p_{i}$. Both elements are removed from their respective sets.
3. Repeat the previous step. The first player that cannot move loses.

I’ve written a program in C++ that will compile under GCC. The group used here is $\mathbb{Z}/7\mathbb{Z}$, that is, the integers modulo 7. You can download it here, although this link may change after I graduate. I wrote it hastily, so it’s not commented well and it probably has bugs. To compile, use the command

``g++ gordon.cpp -o gordon``

I can compile it fine on OpenSUSE 11.0. There’s no AI yet, so it simply switches between two human players. In the future, I may add support for user-defined groups and possibly some rudimentary AI.

Enjoy!

UPDATE: I updated the program a little bit so that you can make your own groups. As a result, you’ll now need to download the default file, z7z.grp, if you  want to be able to run the program.

1. On the first line, list all of the group elements separated by a space and followed by an exclamation mark.
2. Now just list the multiplication table, with a space between columns and a new line between rows.

For example, the group $\mathbb{Z}/7\mathbb{Z}$ looks like this:

``````0 1 2 3 4 5 6 !
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6 0
2 3 4 5 6 0 1
3 4 5 6 0 1 2
4 5 6 0 1 2 3
5 6 0 1 2 3 4
6 0 1 2 3 4 5``````

To use your new group, pass it on as a command line argument, i.e. run

``./gordon mygroup.grp``

That’s it! Try it with a complicated group, for example a large order dihedral group.

July 23, 2008

Dude, I’m not getting a Dell!

Filed under: Dell — Kevin @ 9:56 pm

Well it’s been quite a while since I posted last, but this is something that is irking me quite a bit. I’ve got a blog entry based on set theory about half done, I’ll post it when I get time to finish it. Lately, I’ve been reading quite a bit about algebra, specifically “Symmetry and the Monster” by Mark Ronan. Very interesting book – if you’re at all interested in group theory, give it a read! It’s very much geared toward a general audience.

In any case, my reason for this post is to rant a bit about Dell’s Customer service. As you may know from my previous posts, I dual boot Ubuntu 8.04 with Windows XP professional on my Dell E1705 laptop. Lately, I’ve been experiencing random lockups in Ubuntu, that seem to be categorized into two types:

1. The keyboard and mouse lock up completely, can’t SSH in. The system is totally unresponsive, even to a powerdown by hitting the power button. I have to unplug the computer and take out the battery. When I do reboot after this, sometimes I get a kernel panic (caps and num locks flashing) and have to reboot once again. Then it’ll boot fine.
2. The keyboard stops responding and the mouse keeps moving, but I can’t click on anything. Sometimes when this happens the screen keeps updating itself (I’ve got KTemperature installed, and it updates itself in the system tray), but I can’t interact at all; other times the screen stops updating. I haven’t tried to SSH in because this happens less frequently. My thoughts on this are that this is graphics related, because it’s not a full lockup and I can’t recall having this trouble since I stopped using Compiz.

On top of this, I’ve been getting bluescreens in Windows with the error message “IRQL_NOT_LESS_THAN_OR_EQUAL” and the hex code “STOP: 0x0000000A (0x007DA000, 0x0000001C, 0x00000001, 0x80544B5C).” On both operating systems, the issues have persisted after fresh reinstalls.

To me, this seemed to indicate a hardware issue. Forums that I’ve found indicate that the IRQL error is usually related to memory. My thoughts were that it was my graphics card, because I changed the RAM and it didn’t affect the lockups. Dell seemed to think so, too, because when I chatted with their support online they sent somebody out to replace the graphics card, an ATI Radeon Mobility X1400.

When I got the same bluescreen later that day, I knew the problem wasn’t fixed.

I’ve been abiding by it for about two to three weeks here, but I finally got sick of it. Windows crashes within a few hours, and Ubuntu crashes at least once a day, and when I’m trying to do some interesting data processing (well, at least interesting to me) it’s very annoying to have to restart my code constantly.

My first thought was to install a third operating system to see if it had issues as well. So I installed OpenSUSE 11.0 (KDE 4 edition) which I have happily running on my desktop computer. It installed just fine. However, after I booted into the fresh, pristine system for the first time, I got the same type of lockup I got in Ubuntu after about five minutes (type one, that is). This was without installing the fglrx driver for my graphics card and even ndiswrapper for my wireless card. Something is fried with my laptop.

I logged into Dell’s online chat and told the guy who answered me (named Nate) what was going on. I was getting blue screens in Windows XP, and lockups in Ubuntu and OpenSUSE. I gave him the lockup type (IRQL) but I didn’t have the hex codes available. So he had me run the Dell diagnostics, which it surprisingly passed. His response was, since I didn’t have the hex codes that the bluescreen gave me and I was running an unsupported operating system, he could not help me.

Wait a second… an unsupported operating system? Surely Dell has support for Ubuntu. They’ve been selling systems with it preinstalled for a while. My laptop was not one of them, but then again when I ordered my laptop I was assured that I wouldn’t have any issues with hardware if I did decide to dual-boot with Linux (which I am still a bit unhappy about – my ATI card has terrible drivers for Linux, and I have to use ndiswrapper to get my wireless card running). I would have thought that somebody would know a bit about Ubuntu systems there. I understand not supporting OpenSUSE, but Ubuntu is something that Dell should know about if they’re selling systems with it.

So, having wiped Windows when I installed OpenSUSE, I proceded to reinstall it. Sure enough, during the install process I got the same bluescreen as before. I kept the laptop on, copied to error code over to my desktop and got back on the chat line with Dell. This time I was answered by Jennifer. I told her my issue, that I had just talked to Nate about a half-hour ago, and gave her the error code and hex numbers. A few minutes passed, and her response was:

“For us to offer support you would have to erase the partition and do a clean reinstall of Windows XP only.”

This was a clean reinstall of Windows XP. Ubuntu was doing nothing other than taking up space on my hard drive at that moment. I tried to explain it to her, but she wasn’t very helpful. She asked if I wanted to remove Ubuntu; I didn’t, but do I really have a choice? I’ve obviously got a hardware issue and the only way for me to fix it is to wipe out Ubuntu and start over with XP only, which I don’t want at all. So I told her I’ll remove it. So she proceded to tell me how to wipe out my partitions, without even allowing me a chance to back up my important data!

So, we left the chat with the understanding that I would backup my data one last time and try installing just XP. Right now, I’m in the middle of my backup, running the Kubuntu 8.04 LiveCD. I’m suprised it’s been running for how long it has been (about 3 hours) without giving me any troubles. Then I’m off to install XP again. I’m 99% sure that this isn’t going to fix things, and I’ll just be back talking to support with Dell again.

To me, it’s very frustrating that they’re not even willing to work with me on something that clearly does not have to do with Ubuntu just existing on my hard drive. It’s a problem with bluescreening in Windows, something that I have paid beaucoup bucks for Dell to support me on.

Funny thing is, as I write this I got a kernel panic on the LiveCD. No extras running, just the base system. There goes three hours of data copying down the drain. Perhaps I don’t understand everything that Dell has to go through, but the next laptop I buy is going to be an Apple MacBook.

UPDATE (7/27/08): After much more frustrating time with Dell, I’m finally getting a replacement hard drive. I was able to get Windows XP reinstalled and after an hour or so of playing Free Cell while waiting for a bluescreen I decided to try installing some drivers. I had installed about three or four and got the error

IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL. STOP: 0x0000000A (0x007DA000, 0x0000001C, 0x00000001, 0x80544B5C).

So I got back on Dell support with James, who was enigmatic at best. He suggested that the drive be replaced. I should have stopped then and just said okay. But I wanted to make sure it was the drive, so I asked if there were any diagnostics that could be run – of course there was, this is a Dell computer and it came with a diagnostics CD. So I ran that, and James left so it could run (he was very impatient).

After it passed, I got on support once again with Martin. He had me install the Microsoft Offline Crash Diagnostic Tool and told me that should fix the problems and I could go ahead and finish installing drivers. So I did that. Afterwards, I got two more IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL bluescreens, this time with error codes:

0x0000000A (0x0A4C0060, 0x0000001C, 0x00000001, 0x80544CDC)

0x0000000A (0x0A4C02E0, 0x0000001C, 0x00000001, 0x80544CDC)

The computer was idling when I got these. Another trip to Dell support. Great. It was late and I was tired so I waited until the next morning (Saturday).

That morning, I got on with David, and had to explain everything once again. I gave him the error codes I had so far, and told him that I did not think it was a driver error because all of the drivers I had installed were directly from Dell themselves. So he used Dellconnect (some type of VNC program that these technicians use to help with problems) and connected to my computer. He updated my drivers to the latest versions (apparently my wireless and wired connections had newer drivers than the ones on my driver CD from Dell) and twice tried to use Windows update to get me up to date there. Then the best thing that could have happened did happen: I got a bluescreen while he was connected, not once but twice. After updating the drivers. Somehow, my desktop that I was using for support got disconnected from the server twice, and when I tried to reconnect I got a different person.

This time I was connected with Justin, to whom I had to reexplain everything once again (good grief this was getting old). He had me update the BIOS, and tried to fix some issues I had with the Network Configurator complaining about not finding a dll file on boot (of course, this was an issue in the newest driver that David had just downloaded). Once again I was disconnected (was this my computer or were they just getting annoyed at me??).

Finally, I got connected with a guy named Dale. He turned out to be a new guy who was still learning the ropes. But he did the most he could to help me. He installed WinDbg on my computer through Dellconnect and traced the issue back to Symantec Endpoint. I was a bit incredulous, but he had done the most in depth search for what was the problem so far and he was very polite about it. And he didn’t immediately assume it was a driver issue. Finally I was getting somewhere. Dale uninstalled Symantec Endpoint and I installed AVG for virus protection. I was amazed that afterwards, it wasn’t giving me any more errors.

Today, the Sunday after this ordeal began, I got another bluescreen while defragmenting my hard drive. This time the error was another IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL with the code 0x0000000A (0x21D428BE, 0x0000001C, 0x00000008, 0x80544CDC). By this time, I had been dealing with Dell support for five days and countless hours, so I was pleased to find that I was connected with a person named Justin – who I think was the same Justin as I was connected to before Dale. He noticed almost right away that I had the issue while installing Windows XP and said that only two things can cause that: memory and the hard drive. Since I had the memory replaced already, he issued me a new hard drive, overnighted through DHL, and I’ll be able to install it myself.

We’ll see if this new drive works. I’m at least pleased that I finally got somebody to listen to my ramblings that it’s something with hardware. But the fact remains: Dell’s support has been a nightmare for me to navigate through. While I used to be a staunch supporter of Dell products – my father, mother and sister all have Dell computers, I have two myself, and I recommended that my friend Zachary wait until Dell releases their own netbook instead of buying an Asus EEE PC – I’m not very inclined at this moment to buy another product from them.

UPDATE (7/29/08): Well the hard drive came today. Wouldn’t you know it, I got another bluescreen, the same type of error as before. I talked to three people this evening (the connection kept getting reset on my end of things this time) and they had me try to reinstall twice (once from scratch again), check the memory and hard drive, and reseat the RAM. The third time I got connected to a guy named Gary. He listened to my insistence that it wasn’t the RAM, walked me through the install process and diagnosed the issue as a motherboard problem since it didn’t seem to be memory or the new hard drive. So I’m getting a new mobo. On top of that, I’ve noticed 6 dead pixels on my monitor; I mentioned those to Gary and I’m getting an LCD replacement as well!

So I’ve had to push quite a bit, but after a week of dealing with Dell customer support, I’m finally getting places. Now hopefully it is the motherboard. If not, I’ll be back on chat with customer support once again!

As an afterthought for this whole ordeal, the hard drive replacement that Dell sent was a bit larger than the one that came with the computer. It’s reported by the XP install disk to be 114471 MB, so I’m led to think it’s a (nominally) 120 GB drive. That’s 20 GB larger than my old nominally 100 GB drive. Thanks Dell!

Older Posts »