Recently in Tech Category

email issues

About a month ago I finally got fed up with all the spam I was receiving. I had an account set up at to where all my email would forward (that I would then download to my home desktop system) and my email was going through a spam filter there, but it was proving to be inadequate. My email was also being forwarded to a Gmail account and since Gmail's spam filter was doing a much better job of sorting the spam out, I decided to reconfigure my account to only forward email to a new Gmail account.

The reconfiguration consisted mostly of creating a new Gmail account, making a forwarder and then deleting my account. A few months ago Gmail added a feater that would allow users to send email out through an SMTP server other than theirs. I had set up my account to send my email through my account. Well, after I deleted my account (back on Oct 15th) which was the account Gmail was sending my email through, none of the email I sent through my Gmail account was actually being sent.

Gmail did give me any indication that the emails were no longer going out. I finally figured out what was happening tonight. Danika mentioned something about an email we both received from my sister that I had responded to and she did not get the response. We did a bit more checking and discovered that she had not been receiving any of the messages I had sent to her from my Gmail account in the last month. I went to check the outgoing email settings and noticed it was set up to send outgoing messages through the account I had deleted. I sent up a new account at, reconfigured Gmail to send email through that account and now everything appears to be working again. I have say I am fairly surprised that there is no mechanism in Gmail to alert you when it can no longer send email out.

latitude c400 x3

I have been watching Latitude C400 auctions on eBay to get an idea of what they sell for. There have been a few decent ones that have sold for less than $40. Most have one or two things wrong with them, but nothing that can not be fixed with a $10 part. I figured if I got the C400 from Danika's mom up and running and liked it enough I might try to get another one to have a spare and/or use for replacement parts. After playing around with it for a while I decided it was a fairly nice laptop--small, light with enough horsepower to run most of the applications I use. I saw an auction come up for two C400s that the seller said he had gotten at a garage sale. He included the Dell tag numbers, so I could look them up on Dell's support site and see how they were configured when they originally left Dell. The price stayed pretty low, so I ended up bidding on them and winning them for $70 ($35 each).

kudos to dell

Dell does not have great Linux support, but they do at least have some. The other day I needed to update the BIOS on a Dell laptop, so I went to Dell's support site to get the BIOS files. I was not surprised to find the only options were to use Windows and DOS to updated the BIOS. I eventually came up with a solution where I copied (using dd) an image of a DOS install onto the empty laptop hard drive, mounted it, copied over the Dell BIOS DOS executable, put the hard drive in the target laptop and then booted to DOS and ran the executable. It was a bit of a pain, and if I did have an extra laptop hard drive laying around I would not have been able to do it.

Since then, I have discovered that Dell actually makes a tool to install BIOS for Linux users called biosdisk. It essentially automates the process of creating a DOS floppy image with the BIOS executable, coping the image and syslinux's memtest into the /boot directory and adding an entry into the grub boot loader menu to boot the image. I have not tried it out, but it was nice to see that Dell acknowledges the fact that not everyone runs Windows and they have alternate solutions.

Dell's biosdisk page:

grub on a usb drive

I typically use PXE to boot PCs when I am not booting them from the hard drive, but I really like the convenience of USB flash drives. They are extremely portable, cheap and most systems can boot from them. I have been playing around a lot with GRUB lately, so I thought I would spend some time setting up a USB flash drive with GRUB. The setup is pretty similar to setting GRUB up on a hard drive (which I have outlined in other post). This post outlines how to setup a USB flash drive to use GRUB to boot memtest86+, FreeDOS, a Fedora Install kernel, an Arch Linux Install kernel and Parted Magic Live.

booting the c400

The Dell Latitude C400 has a number of boot menu options, but few that do not require a docking port. Without a docking port the boot options are limited to the hard drive and NICs. I have done network (PXE) boots before and they are pretty easy to set up. After having done a few, I actually prefer to do PXE installs since they typically go faster if the install does not need to read from a DVD/CD (I usually have a copy of the DVD/CD image on the hard drive). For two of the C400s I was able to setup PXE and boot from their on board NICs to install a Linux distro.

powershot s400

Our 4-5 year old Canon PowerShot S400 (Digital Elph) started acting strangely. In capture mode the LCD is all black or looks like it is on acid. Taking a photo captures the weirdness (see the image below), usually very distored and purple-ish. The LCD works fine, so you can still review photos and use the menus. I did a bit of searching and found that the problem is most likely a known issue. I called Canon and they are sending a prepaid label so I can ship the camera to them to evaluate it. If it is the known issue, they will fix the camera and send it back to me free. I would expect this if the camera was 90 days to 1 year old, but I am very pleasantly surprised since it is 4-5 years old. Here is a link to Canon's Service Notice.

Update (09.30.2009)
I got the UPS label from Canon and sent them our S400. I received an email from them today stating:

Based on our initial examination, we will start the necessary repairs at no charge to you. You can expect the repair to be completed and returned back to you within approximately 7 business days.

Update (10.05.2009)
I got email from Canon on Saturday with a FedEx tracking number. They have fixed and shipped the S400. FedEx tracking says it should arrive tomorrow.

Update (10.07.2009)
FedEx tried to deliver the camera yesterday, but it required a signature, so they did not leave it. I signed the slip they left and they delivered it today. It appears to working great, and not only did Canon fix the issue with the CCD, they replaced the two housing parts that had dents in them. Thanks Canon!

Captured weirdness
Weirdness captured

Distorted Dax
This is a photo of Dax

new router

The router to replace the one I fried arrived yesterday. I went with an Asus WL-500gP V2. I had a chance to play with it last night and was able to get it up and running. Like the Buffalo router it replaced, dd-wrt could not be flashed from the default firmware, so instead I had to use the tftp method. It involves booting the router to special mode that starts a tftp daemon, uploading the firmware to the router, waiting a while and then rebooting it. I messed up a few steps along the way and at one point thought I had bricked my router, but it turned out I was just mis-configuring the IP address on the PC I was using the transfer the firmware from and I also forgot to set the tftp mode to binary. Here is a list of steps I used to flash the dd-wrt firmware to the Asus router:

  1. Shutdown all network interfaces on the PC
  2. Power the router on
  3. Power the router off
  4. Press and hold the black restore button while powering up the router
  5. When the power LED starts flashing release the restore button
  6. Bring up the PC's wired interface with static IP
  7. Check that (the router) responds to ping
  8. tftp to and run:
    tftp> mode binary (set tftp to binary mode)
    tftp> trace (to get feedback)
    tftp> put dd-wrt.v24_usb_generic.bin
    ... and wait for the upload to finish
  9. Wait about 5 minutes (I am not sure if this is necessary, but I think it is to allow the router time to copy the firmware)
  10. Shutdown the PC's wired interface
  11. Power cycle the router (the power LED will remain solid and the air LED will light)
  12. Bring up the PC's wired interface with DHCP
  13. Log into dd-wrt and configure the router

I used the USB version of dd-wrt since the Asus router has two USB ports that I can attach storage or a printer to. I didn't have time to see if I could get that working, but I hope to soon.

latitude c400 update

I installed Fedora 11 on the Latitude C400 again after I had finished with all of the hardware upgrades. As I mentioned before the Intel graphics chipset (82830) the laptop has is not very well supported in Fedora 11. I changed the kernel options in order to get the install to work a little better. I played around with Network Manager and had enough issues with it that I decided to look for another solution. I could not get Network Manager to bring up the wireless interface until I logged in. There is an option to always have an interface connected if the network is accessible, but it does not seem to work. There have been many improvements since the last time I tried to use Network Manager, but it still did not quite fit my needs. Someone suggested wicd to me, so I checked it out. It works great with Fedora 11, I got connected to our WPA network without any hassles.

dead router

Back on July 22 someone found a vulnerability in the dd-wrt software and the folks over at dd-wrt created a fix and recommended updating to the fixed version. They also posted a solution that just involved updating the configuration and did not involve updating the firmware. Since I am running dd-wrt on both of the routers at home, I made configuration changes and added updating the firmware to my "to do" list. I have one router (a Buffalo WHR-HP-G54) setup with 802.11b and the other (a Linksys WRT54GL) with 802.11g. The Buffalo router is connected to the cable modem and we use it for devices that only support 802.11b (the TiVo) and for devices I don't want on the internal network. The Linksys router is connected behind the Buffalo router and is used for everything else.

rpm -e --force glibc!!!

Ever accidentally uninstall glibc from a Linux system? Well, I have and I can't say I recommend it. You may ask how one does this, since most distros make it fairly difficult to uninstall. Well, I was trying to test the latest Intel xorg drivers to see if it fixed any of the video issues I encountered with the Latitude C400. I wanted to install the newer drivers, so I set up yum to point the the Fedora Rawhide repository (which includes the newer version of the driver) and did an update. Since the driver depended on the kernel and the kernel depended on glibc they all got updated (the kernel got installed, so the old kernel was still on the system). After updating all the packages, I rebooted and tried a number of different xorg configurations to see if I could get X to work better. It didn't :(

unsolicted plug for parted magic

Somehow I have managed to become the person my friends call when they are having "computer problems". This is most likely due to them hearing I have helped someone else and the fact that my personality doesn't let me say no when people ask for help. I think it is fair to say that I have been able to come up with good solutions for most of their problems. The majority of the issues have been hardware related, (I try to avoid "fixing" windows as much as I can) and most of those specifically hard drive related. There are a couple of tools that have really aided in the problem solving process.

latitude c400 update

I finally got all the parts (and got them installed) to upgrade the Latitude C400 laptop Danika's mom gave me. Everything appears to be in working order. The laptop now has a 160GB hard drive (which the BIOS shows as 137.4, but the OS appears to be able to see the entire drive), an Intel Pro 2200 802.11b/g wireless card and 1GB of RAM (which was probably an unnecessary upgrade, but I got a good deal on it).

pc issues

Danika has both a laptop and a desktop computer she uses at the house. Mostly she uses her laptop and when she needs to use her desktop she remotely logs in to it. This is partly because the monitor I hooked up to her desktop quit working shortly after I hooked it up. The other day she noticed that she could no longer connect to her desktop, so she checked it out and it was making some odd noises and appeared to just be rebooting and rebooting. She asked if I would hook a working monitor up to it so we could see what the problem was. I lugged in the large CRT from the storage area under the house and hooked it up.


Normally, if I were posting something about Sprint, it would likely be a rant about how frustrating it can be working with their customer support people. That is not (completely) the case this time. When I checked my most recent bill from Sprint the other day, I noticed the $10 off discount they had been applying to my bill was no longer being applied. I was a little miffed, but decided to stay calm and call them to see if I could figure out what was going on (and hopefully get my discount back).

I called billing and spoke with a woman who told me the discount was being applied as part of the one-year contract I had agreed to. I remember talking to the customer service representative a year ago and she said she could get me $10 if I agreed to a new contract, but since my contract end date never changed when I checked it on-line, I assumed I had not had to enter a new contract. The woman from billing also said she could not get the discount reapplied, but she could connect me with someone else who might be able to extend some sort of new offer. We were on our way out at the time, so I told her I would call again later.

Later on I placed another call, this time to a service representative. I explained why I was calling, and that I had not realized the $10 off was something that would expire. She confirmed what the woman in billing had told me and started looking for any offers that might get me the $10 off again. She wasn't having much luck, but then she said, "Oh, you have a $15 data plan, what if we just switch that to be included in you regular plan?". She also said she would make it a permanent part of the plan and that I would not need to make any new contract agreements. Seemed like a heck of a deal, so I agreed. So, I should now have a $30/month plan that includes 200 anytime minutes, free nights (starting at 7pm) and weekends, 500 text messages and unlimited data! Now if only someone would port Android to my phone...

latitude c400... the saga continues

I confirmed the configuration of the Latitude C400. It has 1.2GHz PIII mobile CPU, 256MB of RAM, no internal wireless card and as I mentioned in a previous post a failing (20GB) hard drive. I checked Dell's support website to see what else I could find out about it. It has two slots for RAM (upgradable to 1GB (2x512MB)), but only one is "user" accessible. There is removable door on the bottom that accesses one of the slots. Access to the other slot involves removing the keyboard. Dell's website has fairly detailed instructions explaining how to take it apart, so I gave it a try and it is pretty easy. I was surprised at the ease of getting it to the point where I had access to the RAM slot and even more surprised at the ease of getting it all back together again.