Monday, November 10, 2008


I have not posted in a while. Blogging is not a hard habit with me.

Besides... I have been distracted by cats.

One of my hobbies is domesticating feral cats and getting them good homes. Many of them have started as kittens or young (less than a year), but I have had some success with older cats.

But they need good homes.

In the next week or so I will post pictures of the cats who are ready to adopt. They have all been fixed. They all deal with people. They all love attention.

I also have some "special needs" cats, but those will take someone special to handle them. (One had a minor stroke and has movement problems. A couple are just anti-social with anyone other than my family.)

I won't advertise on Craig's List since I don't trust the people who tend to answer ads. I am afraid they would wind-up being subjects for medical experiments or used in 419 fraud somehow.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Review: Targus Bluetooth Laser Rechargable Notebook Mouse

I bought a new mouse for the laptop. The Targus Bluetooth Laser Rechargable Notebook Mouse. (What a mouthful!)

I bought it to use with Linux. (Fedora 9 specifically.) Here are my experiences so far...

The mouse comes in one of those invulnerable plastic clamshell cases. (Well, not invulnerable to a Leatherman xTi.) I hate that sort of package, but there is so little choice these days.

The instruction booklet for this is not the most useful. There are a few things that should be explained up front. Like how the rechargeable batteries are inserted.

Battery insertion

If you look at the contacts, you would think they both go the same way. They don't. Look for the little tiny "+" and "-" signs. That is the end that should be sticking out. The little pot metal springs are a pain to get lined up. Make sure they are contacting the battery leads before you put it back together.

Another thing about the mouse. The USB cable is for charging only. It does not act like a USB mouse in any way. The documentation is not clear about this at all.

Now comes the hard part... Connecting it to Linux.

I use Fedora 9 with Gnome. Find the Bluetooth icon in the upper right hand corner of your screen and right-click on it. Click on Preferences. Allow other devices to connect, then click on the Services tab. Highlight Input Services. Under the mouse there is a small black button. Push that with a pen point or other semi-pointy object. Now click Add. Your mouse should show up as Targus BT Laser Mouse. Highlight it and connect to it. Your mouse should work now.

You will probably need to adjust the mouse settings for your preferences. This mouse was much more sensitive than the previous mouse, so it was very jumpy. Adjusting the sensitivity in the Mouse control panel fixed that pretty fast.

The only annoyance so far is that it sometimes takes a bit of movement to get the mouse to wake up after it has been sitting for a minute or two.

The feel is nice. It is a bit small, but so are my hands. (I have short fingers from using a DecWriter in my youth.) The plastic has a velvet finish instead of a shiny smooth plastic. Makes for more comfortable use.

The mouse runs about $50. Not as expensive as some mice and more than others. Is it worth it? My judgement so far is yes. It will take a bit to get used to, but it seems like a good workable mouse. I will post if I change my mind.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Things you should never do

Never buy tartar sauce from a dentist.

Never buy baby oil from a paediatrician.

Never buy corn oil from a podiatrist.

Never buy fix-o-dent from a veterinarian.

Deathrace 2008

The biggest question I have had during the last few months of the Democratic primary is "Did Hillary fail math in school?".

She reminds me of one of those people who are in multi-level marketing who will sell the product at any cost. If you fail, you just did not try hard enough. It does not matter if the competing product is better or the high pressure sales tactics are turning people off. And if you have to play dirty, so be it.

The only way for Hillary to win at this point is to force the nominating committee at the Democratic Convention to install her as leader. She does not have enough delegates (super or otherwise) to win, even if you add in Florida and Michigan. She does not have the popular vote.

Not that she will admit that.

She acts like she is winning. She tells people she is pulling ahead. The numbers do not reflect this, however.

To win, she has to play dirty at the convention. If she does that, She will lose a whole bunch of Democrats who believe in fair play and honesty. Myself being one of them.

More and more she is reminding me of George W. Bush. Both have delusions that they are right, no matter what the evidence may show. Both seem to think that power should be attained and held by any means necessary. Both pander to the "common man" to make themselves more palatable to the average "Joe Six-Pack" voter even though they have little in common with them.

I started out being pretty indifferent to Hillary. I did not like her (mostly because of her stands on video games), but I did not hate her.

That has changed and not for the better.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

REVIEW: The HP dv6000 laptop v.s. the HP zv5000z laptop

Technology marches on...

About four years ago I bought an HP zv5000z laptop. I needed something fast, with a big screen and a real good warranty. I also wanted to run Linux.

The HP zv5000z

The zv5000z came with a AMD64 processor, a 1920x1200 screen, a gig of ram.

The good

  • The screen was amazing. 1920x1200 on a 17" screen is nice and crisp, especially if you have an optometrist who can properly make glasses for you.
  • The processor is fast. 2.1ghz single core was pretty nice four years ago and is still pretty good today.
  • The warranty was for three years and they would replace it if it took any damage. I only had to use it twice. The first time I got the PCMCIA ejector caught on my laptop bag. (I ripped the whole assembly right off the motherboard.) The second was for a dead power brick.

The Not-So-Good

  • When you use the warranty, HP will reformat your hard drive back to the default (unpatched) Windows install. It does not matter what the problem was. When I had a dead power brick, I still had to send in the whole system back for "re-education". I keep a bare hard drive for just such warranty repair.
  • The video card is an nVIDIA 440go chipset with 64 megs of ram. Not quite enough RAM for a screen that large and not enough off-screen memory for things that use it. Also it appears that the chip was designed to use 32 megs of dedicated ram, not 64. I believe that the chip was half dedicated ram and half shared memory. This made output on the external connector to stripe on things that needed a high refresh. (Like DVD output, for example.)
The Bad
  • The laptop is HEAVY. With the high capacity battery it is like a big slab of lead. It is more of a desktop replacement than a thing you would want to carry around every day.
Getting Linux to work on the HP zv5000z

The first version of Linux I installed on that laptop was a beta version of Fedora 2. It was a bit shaky starting out, mostly on power usage, but most everything I cared about worked fine.
  • Video initially needed a mode line in the xorg.conf file. (But only for Fedora 2. The screen size was fully supported soon after.)
  • The modem would work under SuSE, but not under Fedora. (It was a winmodem that I never needed anyways.)
  • The memory card adapter I never got working. (I never had any memory cards I needed to use, so i did not try very hard to make it work.)
  • The PCMCIA adapter need a fair bit of hacking to get working. It required some mapping entries in the pcmcia config files. The cardbus portion also was on a secondary pci bus that was a bit odd. (This works correctly on later kernels.)
  • The rest worked well and still does. (Especially in the later versions of Fedora. The synaptics touchpad support has improved greatly over the last few years.)
All in all, it has been a good, but heavy, laptop.

Then the fun began...

The laptop started to overheat. If I did something processor intensive and it ran for too long, or the vents did not have enough airflow, the machine would overheat and shutdown. This started soon after I got the laptop back from repair. Over time, the problem got worse to the point of having it fail about 50% of the time on boot.

So I figured it was toast and ordered another laptop. (I will get back to what I ordered and why in a moment...)

After ordering the new laptop, I figured I had nothing to lose and opened up the old one to try and fix it.

Opening was not too bad. Lots of screws, but nothing too hard. (I have a good well-lit workbench at home.)

The first thing I noticed was a gouge in the soft metal above the processor heat sink. When I went to unscrew the heat sink, I found that the screws were not properly tightened down. I had to remove the heat sink, regrease it and replace. Took me a couple tries to get it right (the first try was with a heat sink pad and that did not work), but I got it fixed. When i was done, it worked as well as when I bought it.

My wife was not happy.

When it was broken, I had a good excuse to buy a new laptop. Having fixed the other, I now had two good laptops and she was not happy about that.

It looks like she will get my old laptop to make her happy.

Now on to the new laptop...

My philosophy for buying a new laptop is to spend enough so that it will we usable in 3-4 years. Most laptops are cheap and disposable. I don't like that. I want a tool that will work well for years, not just for the short term. (I get enough grief on purchaces that I try and only have to deal with it every four years or so.)

My criteria for a good laptop
  • It had to have lots of dedicated video ram with a good video card. (Compiz-fusion wants lots of video ram.)
  • 64-bit processor
  • Lots of ram
  • Big hard drive
  • Hardware virtualization support
  • A good warranty
I did a good bit of looking. For what I spent, HP had the best hardware for the price. The "no questions asked" breakage warranty was also a big plus.

What I got - the HP dv6000 - $1,800
  • AMD64 Turion dual core 2.4ghz
  • 4 gigs of ram
  • 256 meg nVIDIA 8400m GS video
  • 320 gig hard drive (!)
  • 15" 1280x800 screen
What has changed

There were some positive changes and some (minor) negative ones.

The 15" laptop is much easier to carry. This makes quite a bit of difference. I don't hesitate to grab my laptop bag in the morning anymore.

The old battery was flush in the bottom of the laptop. The new one actually props up the back end of the laptop and gives extra air flow. I get a bit more than three hours of battery life from the new battery. (Not certain how much the old one has because it is quite dead now. It has about five minutes of life left.)

The new laptop has the speaker grill at the top edge of the laptop. The old one was close to the wrist rest and painted black. This change is good. The old one has a bare spot where my watch rubbed off the paint off the grill. It did not look good.

The speaker jacks have moved from the side to the front center. Not certain if that is a good change or not.

What is really good is the lights. The old machine had these dim lights that you could not see unless you were in absolute darkness. This would mean that you could never tell if the capslock key was on. The new lights are bright. In addition, the capslock light is next to the capslock key. This is where it really should be. I just wonder why it took so long for people to figure that one out.

The "quickplay" keys across the top of the keyboard allow you to play DVDs without the OS. (I have not tried that yet.) It also lets you change volume levels. That works great, even in linux.

The old synaptics touchpad was pretty sensitive for clicks. The new one is not so click happy.

The power connector has moved from the back to the side. Now when you plug in the power, the connector lights up. (No more problems of figuring if the power outlet works or not.) The only problem with this is that one of the USB plugs is right next to the power plug. It makes it a little awkward to use. (I have accidently unplugged myself removing a USB drive.) Also, the power brick weighs about a 1/3rd less than the old one. The old power brick was about the mass of a real brick. This one is much better. (Also seems to be a lower wattage as well, which is nice.)

The other two USB connectors on the left hand side are a bit nearer to the front edge of the laptop. This makes wired USB mice awkward. (I need a bluetooth mouse I guess.)

The new laptop had HDMI output! I have not tried it yet, but it is there. It also has s-video and VGA.

The winmodem is still a feature. Still have to real use for it.

The last time I did not get the DVD burner. I did not make that same mistake this time. 8x burner with litescribe. (Not that I ever get Lightscribe discs. It was a free "upgrade".)

The wireless on the old system was a Broadcom bcm4311 chipset. With the firmware, it worked ok with Linux using the B43 drivers. The new chipset is a Broadcom BCM 4328 that does a/b/g/n. This was a pain to get working. I finally had to use the ndiswrapper code. Not fun, but it works well now. At some point I will post step-by-step instructions.

The wireless also has a front switch that will physically disable the wireless. The old one had a similar switch, but it was much harder to make work and had the crappy dull light. The new one shows yellow if off and blue if on. Very nice visual design.

On the new laptop the screen is SHINY. It is a little hard to get used to. It does have one advantage though. You can clean it. The old screen had a dull gloss, but was also flexable. You could poke your finger into it and it would indent. I was always worried that one of my depth perception challenged friends would ruin it. It was a pin to clean. This one is a fairly hard screen that just wipes clean. I think I can adjust to it.

That thing that looks like a PCMCIA slot is not. It actually holds a remote control for the DVD player! Not like that will get much use... (I prefer region free players. I will get into that in a later article.)

There is a memory card slot on the new laptop and just like the old one, I have not used it yet. It looks like this one is recognised a bit better.

For the serious Linux geeks out there, here is the lspci listing for the dv6000:

00:00.0 RAM memory: nVidia Corporation MCP65 Memory Controller (rev a3)
00:01.0 ISA bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP65 LPC Bridge (rev a3)
00:01.1 SMBus: nVidia Corporation MCP65 SMBus (rev a1)
00:01.3 Co-processor: nVidia Corporation MCP65 SMU (rev a1)
00:02.0 USB Controller: nVidia Corporation MCP65 USB Controller (rev a3)
00:02.1 USB Controller: nVidia Corporation MCP65 USB Controller (rev a3)
00:06.0 Ethernet controller: nVidia Corporation MCP65 Ethernet (rev a3)
00:07.0 Audio device: nVidia Corporation MCP65 High Definition Audio (rev a1)
00:08.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP65 PCI bridge (rev a1)
00:09.0 IDE interface: nVidia Corporation MCP65 IDE (rev a1)
00:0a.0 IDE interface: nVidia Corporation MCP65 SATA Controller (rev a3)
00:0b.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation Unknown device 045b (rev a1)
00:0c.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP65 PCI Express bridge (rev a1)
00:0d.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP65 PCI Express bridge (rev a1)
00:0e.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP65 PCI Express bridge (rev a1)
00:18.0 Host bridge: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K8 [Athlon64/Opteron] HyperTransport Technology Configuration
00:18.1 Host bridge: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K8 [Athlon64/Opteron] Address Map
00:18.2 Host bridge: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K8 [Athlon64/Opteron] DRAM Controller
00:18.3 Host bridge: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K8 [Athlon64/Opteron] Miscellaneous Control
03:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4328 802.11a/b/g/n (rev 03)
05:00.0 VGA compatible controller: nVidia Corporation GeForce 8400M GS (rev a1)
07:05.0 FireWire (IEEE 1394): Ricoh Co Ltd R5C832 IEEE 1394 Controller (rev 05)
07:05.1 SD Host controller: Ricoh Co Ltd R5C822 SD/SDIO/MMC/MS/MSPro Host Adapter (rev 22)
07:05.2 System peripheral: Ricoh Co Ltd R5C843 MMC Host Controller (rev 12)
07:05.3 System peripheral: Ricoh Co Ltd R5C592 Memory Stick Bus Host Adapter (rev 12)
07:05.4 System peripheral: Ricoh Co Ltd xD-Picture Card Controller (rev ff)

The machine came with vista preinstalled. The first thing I did was burn the restore discs. The second thing I did was install Fedora 9 beta.

How does it work? Pretty well. There are a couple of issues, but they are issues with Fedora 9, not the hardware itself in almost every case. VMWare and the commercial driver for nVIDIA have some issues, but that is due to the kernel in F9. The wireless card was the only actual problem and that was worked around with the ndis driver. The video memory remap is a bit odd due to having 4gigs of ram. It eats 64megs of ram. Not much I can do about that, but it is being worked on.

Would I recommend this laptop to others. Yes! I paid about $400 less for this one than my old laptop and it is more than twice the machine. I bought both from HP's web site. (Another reason I bought from HP is I could actually navigate their web site. Some other manufacturers have web design with no real explorability. Either you know what you are looking for or you spend a lot of time thrashing.) I am very happy with this laptop.