Archive for September 2009

GRUB Geom Error

September 15, 2009

Seems that the more I use computers the more problems I find. The Grub error in the title comes up if you have changed (added or deleated) partitions to the system. Removed or added drives before the Linux drive or partition. Doing so will no longer allow Grub to find the linux boot partition. Grub takes its drive information from the BIOS. If a drive does not pqwer up it will not appear in the BIOS so Grun does not know about it.

In my case I had unplugged all but the XP drive to re-install XP. Then I forgot to hook up the rest of the drives after installation.

The second time I got the geom error, the second had disk did not power up. Weak power supply? Maybe. I tensioned the power connector molex sockets by squeezing them together using a screwdriver. Then sprayed some contact cleaner on the connector pins and sockets and put everything back together. So far that has solved the problem.

After that was corrected I found I could not log on to Debian. Turns out my keyboard was not sending ‘s’ or ‘c’. Keys stuck. Changing out the keyboard corrected the problem.

Good Media Software

September 15, 2009

Free (stuff in the public domain) is good but not always adequate. I have discovered two exceptions to this. Debian 5.0 and VLC media viewer.

Both of these gems just work! Work without need to go searching for drivers or patches or codecs or allow the unknown dwarfs on the internet unrestricted access to your machine so they can do ‘updates’.

The VLC software is breath of fresh air to replace the big brother stench of other media players. VLC does a lot more than merely display media. It makes other media players look childish and amatuerish.

There is even a VLC version for Apple OS-X for versions 1.5 up.

Windows Explorer Hangs

September 14, 2009

I have been fighting this for over a week now. I have some fairly large hard drives. They have multiple partitions. The partitions vary from 250gig to 600gig and the larger partitions are NTFS. I use windows explorer to move files on a regular basis running XP+SP2.

I also have a SATA PCI add-on card to support my two larger SATA drives. My motherboard is older than SATA and only provides for IDE drives.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the hardware display under the systems icon of the classic control panel display was showing a question mark for the RAID controller. The only raid capable controller card I have is the SATA add-on card. It can provide a RAID environment but since I do not use RAID, I never loaded the RAID driver. The card supports the SATA drives just fine without the RAID driver being loaded.

I should know enough to leave well enough alone but that question mark was disturbing. I suspected that it might cause problems later on. I was right. It did cause problems later on because after I got rid of it by installing the RAID driver the windows explorer began to hang. This is NOT the Internet explorer. This is the silly thing that pops up and shows your drives when you double click the ‘My Computer’ label.

I would open a hard drive display window. Move down into the file system, and when I tried to back out by clicking the left arrow, windows explorer quit responding. After hitting the ‘X’ several times I got the unresponsive software window and an offer to end it now. Which I did. All the icons on the desktop disappeared, then came back, and I could use explorer again until I got into the same situation as before.

Turns out that this was being caused by the RAID driver. Perhaps because it did not have a valid digital signature. Whatever the hell that means. No I am not interested in goolilng that. I already knew it had something to do with the way the Microsoft rigged XP. The on-line help was close to worthless because they had no information to resolve the problem. In fact, the help from Microsoft implied that I had a hardware problem when in fact I had software that would not work. (The same hardware runs just fine under Debian.)

So I will remove the RAID driver and settle for the question mark in the control panel display. I will do that as soon as I figure out how to remove the driver. You see, XP reinstalls it everytime I boot up even after I do an uninstall.

I am sure there is way to get rid of that feature without having to re-install XP, but I may not need to do that in any case. There are other problems that annoy me with XP. Debian has its own annoyances but none as disturbing as the nonsense I have had to put up with using XP. I am about an inch and a half away from going to Debian ‘Lenny’ exclusively.

Debian does not treat me like a moron, popping up stupid baloons all over the screen announcing conditions that don’t matter. Debian does most everything I need done. Everything except decent movie editing but that problem is being addressed. I would say that the things that Debian does do, it does well. Sort of like using an Apple Mac. No bull shit, just results. It might be the software that causes PCs to be problematic.

So very soon I may be able to ‘hang’ the entire XP operating system and toss windows out the door.

Multiple Systems re-Visited

September 11, 2009

After I nuked my latest multiple boot system, I decided to put all the Microsoft stuff on its own disk. A disk for XP, and seperate disks for the other Microsoft stuff I had accumulated.

That worked fine for a while until I had to start over on the XP drive which is the first drive, first partition. I did not know how to make a Grub boot floppy. I do now but then it took longer to learn how to do that than just reinstall everything again. That reinstall works now but later, when I have lots of time and effort invested in each system I am not going to be wanting to reinstall it all over again.

So now I have a boot floppy and a spare. XP can go to hell and take the MBR with it and I still can boot Debian.

NEED TO ADD A FOOTNOTE HERE

I started using the boot disk to boot everything. Insert the disk, wait for the Grub screen to come up, select the operating system you want.

Then I discovered if I just wanted to boot XP, I could do so merely by disengaging the boot floppy and letting the system default to boot of the MBR on the XP drive.

Then I became aware that having XP as an option on the Grub boot disk was just a PIA when I wanted to boot Debian. So I changed the default in Grubs menu.lst file back to 0. Now it boots Debian automatically since Debian is the first active entry in the menu.lst file.

To summarize: Pop the disk out of the drive and do a cold boot to boot XP.
Push the disk into the drive and do a cold boot to boot Debian.

The BIOS is set to a boot order of Disk, CD, HardDrive.

Debian 5.0 Quirks

September 10, 2009

I just started using Debian for real now and am finding that some things do not work as expected. No, they work, just not as I expected they would and there is nothing definitive in the docs explaining these ‘quirks’. It could very well be that these things have always been this way and that I am just now discovering them for myself. I guess 30 years of computer savy may not count when trying to use Linux.

You can’t log on as root (they call it administrator at times) from the console. I guess that is to differentiate from being able to log on as root remotely. I say I guess because that does not make sense to me. The remote logon is far more dangerous. Then I may be making a wrong assumption. To correct this problem you have to reconfigure the log-in feature to allow the ‘administrator’ to log-in from the console. I am sure there are situations where this degree of security is needed but it just gets in the way of this single user in a secure office.

You can’t format a mounted floppy. It should be obvious why this is. Obviously to prevent formatting a floppy by mistake. DOS and Windows does not require mounting and unmounting of storage meda. It allows you to screw up everything at once if you don’t know what you are doing. Debian is a little more secure in that it anticipates your mistakes. Of course you can always unmount the floppy and then format it by mistake too. In that case you should probably no be allowed near a computer.

More quirks to come as they are discovered.

Here is one for you. Debian does not do NTFS. No reason why it should but it would make life a lot easier for me. I have over 600gig of media movies stored on NTFS. I would eventually like to have Debian be my sole operating system but first I have to learn how to make it do everything I have gotten used to doing with XP. Not being able to mount and read NTFS is not a very promising way to start. Guess I am going to have to see if there is anything RELIABLE that will allow Debian to talk to NTFS. It will talk to FAT16, Not sure about FAT32. I would hate to have to convert all my stuff to some format that windows cant read or write.

We have a solution!!

(The best solution would have been to dump XP as well as NTFS, but we are not yet ready to cut ties.)

apt-get install libfuse2
apt-get install ntfs-3g
apt-get install disk-manager

Now log on as root, go to the first drop down to the right, second entry on the dropped down menu is disk-manager, select it and activate (mount) the new partitions you find. Under ‘file’ be sure and save before quiting disk-manager. Might want to make sure the permissions are set the way you want. Re-boot and log-on as a user other than root. Double click on the new drive icon and load some movie files if you have them.

My Lenny installation worked flawlessly. No fooling with codecs, command line aggrevations, custom compiling, or asking permission from the Microsoft robot to use the software. No bull shit, just results. Almost like using an Apple.

Got everything covered except for mpg editing software. Once that is found and I learn to use it, I can give XP the boot.

NEW ANOMOLIES

I now have 1.1 tbytes of hard disk storage. Some of the disks are external. One external drive enclosure supprts NSA, USB, and FIREWIRE interfaces. All external drives support USB interfaces. External drives have both FAT32 and NTFS partions. All external drives are IDE. Three internal drives are IDE with one using FAT16, one using EXT3, and the other using NTFS. Two of the internal drives are SATA. All the SATA drives are NTFS.

The setup does not have to be this way. This is just the way it ended up. I use the external drives to transfer files (large video files) between various computers and devices one of which is an iBook. I have had bad experiences resulting in data loss trying to run NTFS on the iBook. So, I no longer do that. The iBook gets to talk to FAT32 now. That gets to be problematic when the file size gets to be more than 4gig but that seldon happens.

Bear with me, I do have a point to make.

I run Debian and XP on the machine that has the 1.1 terabytes of storage. This presents me with several problems. XP does not read the SATA drives because the motherboard does not support SATA. I bought an add-on card to support the SATA drives but XP will malfunction when the SATA cards drivers are loaded. Debian has no problem accessing the SATA drives now that I have installed the software that allows Debina to read and write NTFS.

This large machine does support Firewire and USB. Unfortunately the USB is version 1.x something and not really suitable for data transfer among hard drives. ( or anything else for that matter). The motherboard does have claims of a 2.0 capability but no drivers for it. It is a Gigabyte (giglebyte?) board. It is an old board and recommends the user apply SP1 to XP to get the drivers for USB 2.0. I just hope that the external USB board I just bought has drivers that work with XP. If not, I am pretty confident they will work with Debian. Then I can disable the defective USB features on the motherboard and use the external board and a four port USB 2.0 hub to solve my USB problems.

Getting back to the drives, I find that I can access the FAT16 drives just fine when running XP. When running Debian without root privledges, I can read the FAT16 drives but I cannot write to them. Have to be root to write to them. I tired to change the permissions several times and was unable to make that work. Finally I realized that FAT16 does not know anything about permissions because it was designed by morons.

If you have kept up with this to this point, you will notice that all of these problems are being casued by XP. Right now I still need to use XP because I use some software that was designed to run under XP and have not yet figured out how to make it run on Debian using wine. As soon as that happens XP is going to be a faint and unpleasent memory.

If you are new to computers, stay away from any Microsoft software. Start with something like Debian. If that does not do what you need done, try a MAC. Whatever you do stay away from PCs running Microsoft stuff.

When you hear people say, ‘but they know how to use windows’, remember that they really mean that the user can find and click on a familiar icon to access the desired program. They really do not know anything about windows and don’t need to. So, configure the desktop to look familiar, set it up with the familiar icon, have it bring up a software application that does the same thing, and BINGO you find you cant tell the difference.

Who needs Windows? Microsoft needs windows!

NEW DEVELOPMENT

Seems that the problem of accessing SATA drives because of not being able to load the SATA add-on board driver has been sidestepped. I had a new problem with XP that required another re-installation. This time I did a clean install from a version that indicated it included SP2. After the installation the SATA driver loaded without incident and we now have access to ALL drives under XP. The only difficulty now is that we need to be logged in as root in order to write to the FAT16 partitions. All the more reason to work to get rid of windows.

Still not sure what happened to make the SATA thing work with XP. I do know that it quit working after one of those stupid Microsoft ‘updates’. No more updates here. No more am I going to serve as a Microsoft beta test site for free. Access to the network will only take place under Debian in the future.

Now I have to figgure out how to turn of those clownish ballons that keep poping up.

Got those clownish balloons turned off. Still have the explorer hang problem. The only difference is that this time it did not warn me I was getting screwed. No problem. I will get to screw it back before long.

Booting Multiple Operating Systems

September 9, 2009

The main reason for this is to allow comparing various operating systems as they run on a particular computer. While you might be able to get some information from running different systems on different computers, you get a much better idea of their capability when they are run on the same hardware for a more direct comparison.

Why compare? Why not? How else are you going to discover how much better a different system is unless you try it? You can take the words of others but you really need to see and know what the newer stuff will do on your preferred hardware. Not only will it disclose hardware which might be uncompatible but it will also evaluate the features of the software itself. (Actually, I do not believe that there is anything like incompatible hardware, just bad software.)

Another reason for multiple booting is that you may have software that requires a particular operating system to work and you don’t want to dedicate a complete hardware/software system to that task.

Finally, it is very convenient not to have to search for that old DOS boot disk that may now have bad sectors. Or swap out the windows hard drive for the Linux hard drive. Once again we can subsidize our laziness by using some clever solutions.

Some problems that are avoidable and preventable have to do with the use of most Microsoft operating systems. When Microsoft invented their own special brand of memory storage they ignored several very important possibilities. The possibility that there would ever be desk top computers running word lengths of more than 16 bits and that there could be a time when a desktop computer might have more than one physical hard drive.

That last little bit of ignorance is why all of the Microsoft systems expect to be installed on the first partition of the first hard drive and that that particular part of the first hard drive is the only one made bootable. But wait, there is more good news, Microsoft will not allow you to have more than one primary partition on the hard drive. At least not more than one primary partition that the Microsoft systems can identify.

I have been using Grub as a boot loader. Not that I particular prefer it for usefulness or capability, but mainly because it works for what I want to do and I know how to use it.

Grub will do a virtual swap between drives. So, if we have a Microsoft system on the third hard drive, Grub can fool the system into believing that the drive is actually the first hard drive. Grub can also hide and unhide partitions. So if you have a Linux system on the first hard drives’ first partition and a Microsoft system on the second partition, you can hide the first partition and still boot the Microsoft system on the second partition. Although that can be done, it is not recommended.

In fact, it is not recommended to have anything but a Microsoft system in the first partition of any hard drive. Sharing a MS drive with a Linux or other system is a very dangerous thing to do.

For instance, I had XP followed by Debian, followed by PC-BSD all on the same 300 gig hard drive, the first hard drive in the system. XP developed a problem after numerous so called ‘updates’. It soon became apparent that chasing down the problem might take several decades so I decided to just avoid it by re-installing XP. To make sure I did not pick up any nasties from the exisitng installation I nuked the partition. When I tried to make a new partiton in that space I was informed that the drive already had a primary partition.

I ended up deleting all of the partitions on the drive and starting over. This time I made sure that XP had its own hard drive just like I had arranged for DOS6.2 earlier. This makes it less likely that I will have to trash my unix-like systems when XP decides to quit working. It also allows me to clone the XP drive once it is working and hold that clone for backup if there should ever be a problem. Note, this is not a data backup. I do those seperately and hold the data on different hard drives. No, this backup is for the operating system itself. A complete installation of XP along with all the application software takes the better part of a full day. It is much easier to just pull out the cloned drive and re-clone it onto the offending drive for a future problem.

There maybe better ways of doing this. Doing backups and using multiple disks and multiple operating systems. At one time I had a tray system where I could change out hard drives merely by pulling a try out of a socket and inserting a new tray with a different hard drive. This worked well until the connectors began to fail. (This was over a period of about 15 years.)

I still use the remaining good connectors on a tray system on an old slow Pentium II but I rarely use that computer anyway. Having too much fun with my faster multiple boot system.

Appologies

September 5, 2009

Seems that folk of questionable motivation think that all they have to do is offer an appology for offenses against society, and then only when they get caught.

That is not the way appologies work.

When you offend someone in a moment of anger or frustration but are otherwise a basically good person, you can appologize and expect your appology to make the situation right.

When you are an evil person bent on the destruction of society, you cannot expect anyone to take your appology seriously.

It is like the devil appologizing for having a tail.