A stupid laptop (ACER Aspire 5315)

Working on upgrading an old 2008 laptop for someone from Vista to (also) run Linux, I ran into the most silly issue. Unlike “normal” laptops, the ACER Aspire 5315 does not control its CPU fan through its BIOS (ACPI) – the fan does run on startup, but stops as soon as you start an operating system. Vista then controls it again through a driver. So in a nutshell, unless you have something specifically controlling the fan, it doesn’t run. Obviously this makes the processor heat up considerably within a fairly short space of time (10 minutes or so) and causes the laptop to shut down (thermal protection).

It’s merely a hurdle and not a hindrance for installing Linux – it has a tool to handle this stuff, which needs to be installed and enabled before proceeding with the rest of the installation process.

My main point of this post is just calling out “how stupid” of ACER to design a laptop like this. It really doesn’t help at all. There are standard ways of doing this, and they just ignored it for this particular laptop. Other ACER laptops do things the standard way. Sigh.

Ubuntu 11.04 on an old Dell Inspiron 8500

Phoebe’s EeePC 4G still works fine after 3 years, now running Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick – but the screen is just way too small. Apart from local apps, quite a few sites such as ABC4Kids have Flash games that require at least 1024×768. So, time to try something new, preferably without spending any money…
I have an old laptop I don’t use any more, a heavy Dell Inspiron 8500 which has a 15″ ultra-high resolution screen: max 1920×1200. At that resolution the pixels are ridiculously small so I toned it down even beyond 1680×1050 to 1440×900.
Installing Ubuntu 11.04 Natty on it was fairly straightforward, but even from the LiveCD the screen looked distinctly messy with vertical lines in various spots, and after a while the screen would lock up:
[drm] nouveau 0000:01:00.0 GPU lockup - switching to software fbcon.

The proprietary NVIDIA drivers make even more of a mess, but the older free nv drivers work fine. To make them work, you need to -apart from installing them- make sure the nouveau drivers definitely don’t get loaded.

  • sudo vim /etc/modprobe.d/nvidia-graphics-drivers.conf
  • Press i (insert mode) and add this line: blacklist nouveau
  • Press Esc, :wq <enter>
  • sudo apt-get install xserver-xorg-video-nv
  • sudo reboot
If it all works you could do
  • sudo apt-get remove –purge xserver-xorg-video-nouveau

Linux now Good for Video Recording and Editing

I used to use a Mac (OS-X) for video editing, format conversion and the like. But as I was preparing an old MiniDV camcorder to record a talk tomorrow, it appears that on my Ubuntu Linux I now have everything I need. Rock!

The functional recipe is:

  • Old JVC camcorder with firewire (IEEE 1494) cable to laptop;
  • Ubuntu GNU/Linux 11.04 (aka Natty Narwhal);
  • Kino recorder app;
  • OpenShot edit/export app.

I didn’t have to read any manuals or mess around, it “just works”. Using this setup I’m actually able to record directly on the laptop (rather than recording to a miniDV tape then copy it for editing), this is a great advantage as otherwise you’re always restricted by the capacity of the tape. The laptop’s harddisk is not going to run out of space these days.

printf(“Goodbye, Dennis Ritchie.”);


Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie died last week. He was an American computer scientist notable for co-developing the C programming language (in which most operating systems and other software is written) and for operating systems such as Unix (upon which Linux is based).

A humble person he was, but you may credit him for playing an important role in designing much of what makes our computers and the Internet run today. Much of Windows was written in C, as are Linux and OSX. Your phone (often embedded Linux, some iOS which is OSX based). Your LCD television (embedded Linux again), your ADSL modem/router (embedded Linux again) And so on… respect.

I learnt C in the mid 80s, in large part from the Kernighan & Ritchie book “The C Programming Language”, which I bought using some pocket money. It’s one of the few books I kept when I moved to Australia, and it’s still on my shelf today. I started a business on my 21st birthday, as a software developer. Mostly C, with some assembly (old MS-DOS times). So, I too owe Dennis Ritchie a lot.

Here’s another story, at Wired. Dennis Ritchie: The Shoulders Steve Jobs Stood On

Running Ubuntu Linux on MacBook

Why would I? Well, I have two 13″ MacBooks (one spare, I think I blogged that story earlier) that are essentially my office. I used to travel lots for work, and at the time (around 2004) neither wireless nor suspend worked reliably (or at all) on laptops running Linux. I really didn’t want to be stuck with Windows, so when Apple came out with the 13″ MacBook I convinced my then employer MySQL AB to allow me to get one. They were the perfect size. It solved the problems, and at the command line it’s still a Unix derivative so all familiar tools like ssh just work as expected.

Mac laptops are slick (noticed how many macbooks you see at conferences!), they just works, so essentially I became a “happy captive” of the OSX environment… for a while. Yes it does work better than Windows, but with Steve Jobs and Apple’s attitude towards open development, making software and even hardware obsolete with upgrades, DRM and other nonsense, in the end it’s just another form of annoyance (or evil, as you will).

But how do you get rid of a complete environment, when there’s lots of convenient apps you use, that have your data semi-captive? Think mail, addresses, calendar, photos, music…

Some time ago I already set up a Linux desktop machine (with Ubuntu), and later we shifted my company Open Query to a new mail server (Zimbra) that has a decent web interface – so Mac Mail was no longer necessary either.

I have an iPod nano (gift from years ago) but I can actually just copy MP3s onto the microSD card of my Android phone and play them through my Bluetooth headset… in some ways more convenient than the iPod, so that’s the music taken care of, really.

For photos I’m looking at Google’s Picasa, as it has apps for OSX and Linux as well and can export photos and metadata from iPhoto; it can also publish albums online which I sometimes do (I’ve used Flickr which is not so convenient as it’s only online, and Facebook is just a nuisance I’ll cover in a separate blog some time soon). Also Picasa merely indexes photos, rather than importing them into its own system under magic names. So it’s useful but doesn’t lock in like iPhoto does.

So with all those things just progressing over time, I still had another problem to solve: I don’t just want to toss out lots of perfectly functional hardware and purchase a new laptop to run Linux on. Running Linux in a virtual machine is not an option, too much speed and RAM gets lost that way. The “obvious” solution would be to run Linux straight on the MacBook hardware, but that path has had many hurdles. I do have it working now on my spare laptop (alongside OSX) and while there are still some minor glitches, I have to say it works pretty darn well. Again, thanks to a lot of dedicated developers!