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22 Nov 2008


Posted by astromme. 1 Comment

I woke up to my cell phone alarm on Friday morning at 7AM, quite drowsy and not at all feeling ready to take an engineering exam. However, when I rolled over to look out the window all I could see was whiteness. Wait a minute… it was snowing!


This is what I had been waiting for, I thought, and jumped out of bed to see how hard it was snowing. After realizing that I didn’t have my glasses and couldn’t actually see anything, I fumbled around my desk until my hands found their metal frame.

Huzzah! It was still snowing, and I could actually see the flakes!

At 7:05 the ground was covered, and the thought of walking around in the snow got me moving quickly. One of my most favorite things to do is to be outside while it’s actively snowing, and another is being up in the morning, so when put together I was definitely excited.

While walking to my class I got this as a view of the science center:

My morning view of the science center

My morning view of the science center

As you can see, there is a fair amount of snow on the ground. That picture was taken at about 7:50AM.

My exam went… decently (more on that in another post) and I spent the rest of the day enjoying the snow. And by that I mean being cooped up inside all morning and all afternoon in classes and labs, thinking about the snow.

In the evening I snapped this picture at sunset.

This is what my view looked like by sunset

This is what my view looked like by sunset

It’s the view outside of my dorm. I’m pretty sure that it’s one of the best views on campus, and that makes me feel very lucky.

Hopefully the snow won’t melt immediately (it’s still here as of sunset on Saturday).

19 Nov 2008

Yay for OOo

Posted by astromme. No Comments

I’m working on a fairly complex lab for an engineering class. My writeup for this lab includes diagrams, figure captions, equations, references, headers, and some crazy tables. All of this has been created in Word 2007 on the XP machines in the engineering computer labs. However, I needed to make some calculations dependent on the data in my writeup and the only machine I had access to was my laptop, which runs Kubuntu 8.10 with OO.o 3.0. So, I figured I should give it a try.

Boy am I impressed. Not only did open office open the docx correctly, along with all of the special formatting, it also did so directly from the samba share that holds the files.

Chalk one up for open source =).

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18 Nov 2008

Only in engineering….

Posted by astromme. No Comments

would the computer lab be full every weekday.

Yay for yet another engineering lab! (not so much…)

15 Nov 2008

Adventures in embedded computing

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Atmel makes a cheap ($30) usb development board. I’m working on a final project for E5 (more about that later) and in doing so needed a board that I could program. Interestingly, avr, the type of chip that I would be using, has a full gcc port and associated development environment. The board can be found here:


After an hour or so of hacking around with eclipse, avr-gcc and various websites (http://www.avrfreaks.net is great!) and tutorials, I now have an eclipse project that crossbuilds. Using avrsimul I can simulate the processor and run code (and gdb!) on my laptop before I even have the board. So far, I’ve succeeded in setting up avrsimul and hooking in gdb with a simple blinking hello-world program. Unfortunately, there is no way for me to tell if the blinking code is actually working, as I lack the hardware. But anyways, here was the joy of the morning:

astromme@Thor:~/Projects/Eclipse/avr-hello/Debug$ avr-gdb
GNU gdb 6.4
Copyright 2005 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
GDB is free software, covered by the GNU General Public License, and you are
welcome to change it and/or distribute copies of it under certain conditions.
Type "show copying" to see the conditions.
There is absolutely no warranty for GDB. Type "show warranty" for details.
This GDB was configured as "--host=x86_64-linux-gnu --target=avr".
(gdb) file avr-hello.elf
Reading symbols from /home/astromme/Projects/Eclipse/avr-hello/Debug/avr-hello.elf...done.
(gdb) target remote localhost:1212
Remote debugging using localhost:1212
0x00000000 in __vectors ()
(gdb) load
Loading section .text, size 0x19c lma 0x0
Start address 0x0, load size 412
Transfer rate: 1648000 bits/sec, 137 bytes/write.
(gdb) break main
Breakpoint 1 at 0xbc: file ../src/blinky.cpp, line 21.
(gdb) continue

Breakpoint 1, main () at ../src/blinky.cpp:21
21 int main(void){
(gdb) cont
Program received signal SIGINT, Interrupt.
0x0000008e in stupid_sleep (time=25) at ../src/blinky.cpp:14
14 for(j=0;j<530;j++){

The simulator showed this:

main.c:415: MESSAGE: Simulating clock frequency of 8000000 Hz
Waiting on port 1212 for gdb client to connect...
Connection opened by host, port -28232.
decoder.c:737: MESSAGE: BREAK POINT: PC = 0x0000005e: clock = 29

Now on to actually getting the hardware.

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11 Nov 2008

Some Photos

Posted by astromme. No Comments

This is a great photo showing my desktop. Often it’s that clean, but as with everything, it goes in cycles of cleanliness and dirtiness.

A cameraphone (N78) picture of my workspace

A cameraphone (N78) picture of my workspace

This second photo shows a tree on campus that I think is beautiful in the fall. It has a circle of leaves below it and contrasts nicely with the green grass.

A beautiful tree on campus

A beautiful tree on campus

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11 Nov 2008

Computers in Flight (Part 2)

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So, anyways, I wanted to take this desktop on the plane.

There are a few problems with that statement. Number 1: Desktops are fragile. This meant that I needed to have it as carry-on luggage, as big and bulky and non-wheeled as it was. Number 2: Desktops are heavy. This meant that I used the Antec straps that came with a case that I had purchased earlier. Number 3: The black glossy Antec Sonata case is scratched quite easily. This means that I decided to cover the case with a white cloth covering.

Lets recap for a moment. I’m now walking into the airport with three bags. I have my backpack, with my laptop and other electronics (a LOT of other electronics). I have my large red duffel bag that is packed with winter clothing and a rather large, but rather light sleeping bag. And lastly, I have a large heavy metal box that is covered in a white cloth. That last object sounds like the definition of sketchy. Anyways, I managed to put the duffel bag underneath the plane, so I was left with more or less a bag full of electronics and a box full of more electronics. Going through security was very funny. I could see the reactions on the employees – I’m guessing they rarely (if ever) saw desktop computers come through as carry-on. After a thorough check of my luggage, security finally let me go.

I managed the rest of the flight without much trouble, although some of the other passengers certainly looked at me with a quizzical eye. And I definitely got a workout carrying that computer along with the rest of my bags up four flights of stairs.

I’m extremely pleased to have my desktop here with me at school. As cool as laptops are, a desktop is a constant. It doesn’t run out of battery, it has a nice dedicated large screen, a good mouse and keyboard (ugh, the pointing stick was beginning to get very old) and some wonderful speakers.

9 Nov 2008

AMD Graphics in Intrepid

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As part of my quest for a quieter desktop, I replaced my old NVidia 6600GT with a shiny new fanless AMD 3450HD card. I had heard good things about AMD graphics working well in KDE4, even with desktop effects and I was interested in having a card that (in the far future it seems) will eventually work with the opensource radeonhd drivers.

In the meantime, it seems that I’m still stuck using the binary-only fglrx driver. And up until a few minutes ago, I was having all sorts of trouble with it. Once I was into a desktop session things were fine, but getting from a computer that was powered off to a working X session was absolutely horrendous. A normal boot would never work, and some magic combination (which I have yet to narrow down precisely) of using the “xfix” option in the recovery menu, copying over old xorg.conf files and restarting the xserver in all manners of ways would sometimes let me see the login screen at the correct resolution.

Finally, I was completely frustrated with fglrx and decided to drop down to 2d only with the current radeonhd drivers (that supposedly work for my 3450HD). Upon trying to install xserver-xorg-video-radeonhd, I discovered that it was already installed. I’m not sure if this is a part of the default Intrepid install or if I installed it and forgot about it, but I decided to just change my driver line in xorg.conf from “fglrx” to “radeonhd” to see what happens. Much to my surprise I got the same black screen as I normally did. Out of curiosity, I decided to remove the radeonhd driver, in case it was conflicting with the fglrx driver, causing my headaches.

I removed the driver, reset the xorg.conf and rebooted. Lo and behold, X11 started up cleanly. I guess all of my problems were related to some sort of conflict with the radeonhd driver and the fglrx driver, even though the latter was the only one listed in the configuration file.

Update: A few days later, everything is still working perfectly.

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19 Oct 2008

Computers in Flight (Part 1)

Posted by astromme. No Comments

This post first requires a little bit of background. The most important thing is that I tend to tinker with technology. Where software is concerned, I tend to play with applications until they break. And when I have Ubuntu on my machine I tend to play with my core operating system until it breaks. This is all fine and dandy as long as I have a functional machine to get my actual work done. Up until this past September I always had a working machine in either my desktop or in my laptop. I would break one (temporarily, in software only) and still have the other to write that crucial paper. But when I left for school I decided to start with only my tablet, the Lenovo X61t. While it is a wonderful machine, some parts, such as the touchscreen and the fingerprint scanner don’t work quite perfectly out of the box with Ubuntu. This leads to more tinkering. Because of its lack of an optical drive, the Linux Kernel 2.6.27′s e1000 flaw that took out my ethernet card, and my school’s wireless network that crashed most versions of NetworkManager 0.6/0.7, it was very difficult to recover from a broken system. I had to ask a friend to create a bootable USB key with the OS installer on it. It took almost two weeks for me to have a working system again. So when I had the chance to bring my desktop back with me when I returned from fall break, I decided that it was worth it to lug a heavy computer on the plane.

4 Oct 2008

Kubuntu 8.10

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Kubuntu 8.10 beta has been released (check http://www.kubuntu.org for details) and I’m really excited for this upcoming release of Intrepid. I’m using the beta on my laptop and everything is the smoothest it’s been yet with kde4 and even with my tablet (Lenovo X61t) hardware.

Kubuntu Counter

30 Sep 2008

No more sketchy network

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A few weeks ago I finally found the magic combination of settings that allowed my Kubuntu laptop onto the college wifi network. This worked great everywhere on campus except my dorm. (of course, the place I need it the most)

My way around this was to set a manual IP based off of a friend’s IP. This worked, but was quite sketchy, and a number of things weren’t as they should be. For some reason I couldn’t access anything in the school’s domain. Outside internet services were fine, but I couldn’t even get to our homepage. If that weren’t strange enough, my bandwidth seemed to not be capped at the normal 120KB/s but rather at a lofty 2MB/s! So, I didn’t complain, and used my phone’s 3G tethering when I needed to use school email or other school services.

However, it seems this rift in the network is gone, and from my dorm room I now get a normal dhcp address and normal internet. Although I lament the loss of my extreme speeds, it’s much nicer to not have to worry about how I’m going to connect.

Edit: Well, it seems I have spoken too soon. I’m back to the old behavior.