Posts Tagged ‘Linux’

Linux and SmartBoards

6 February 2017

Regular readers may recall that one of my major activities is helping keep the technology going at St. John’s Episcopal School and Church.

We have four SmartBoards in the building.  A full SmartBoard installation requires the board (essentially a large touchscreen), a computer, and projector that projects the computer display on the SmartBoard.  Software on the computer interfaces to the SmartBoard, and interprets touches (as mouse clicks) and swipes (as various line draws, highlights, etc.).  The swipes are usually overlayed on whatever the computer is displaying.

The computers we have driving the SmartBoards are very old, 2004-vintage, and running XP.  I did an XP install from scratch on one, and it sped up a little, but it still would not play videos, and the SmartBoard drawing was very sluggish.

A buddy of mine from the Omaha area (thanks, Stan!) donated one of his computers to St. John’s.  It’s a dual-core 3GHz machine with 8GB of memory.  I decided to replace one of the SmartBoard computers with this one.  The license tag was for Vista.  I decided that since SmartBoard supported Linux, that’s the route I would go.

The requirements stated by Smart was a 1.2GHz machine with 1GB of RAM, and Ubuntu 14.04. I had the most recent Ubuntu 16.04 on a USB stick, so that’s what I used.  The install and setup were smooth, as expected, as this was the eighth computer I have installed 16.04 on.  Then I noticed in some fine print on the installation errata that the SmartBoard drivers would only work on a 32bit (386) architecture.  Well, crap, the install I just did was for a 64bit architecture.  So off I went and downloaded a 32bit version of Ubuntu 16.04.  That install was very smooth as well.

I had to go through a lot of gyrations with Smart to get a product key to allow me to download the Smart Notebook software.  I had registered one SmartBoard with them back when I first installed it, and while I registered the other three in the process, only that first registration got me an authorized product key (although, the terms for that key stated that the software could be installed any where in the building.  Whatever.).

I unpacked the Smart Notebook software and drivers, and started reading the installation instructions.  The files were in .deb archives, which are usually very straightforward to install.  There were a lot of instructions from Smart about setting up PGP, running scripts with their key and my key to sign the archives prior to installation, and the first time I followed their instructions to the letter, the process immediately failed with NO explanation except “signing failed”.  Hmmmm…

After about two seconds of thought, I said THWI, and started installing the .deb files as they were unzipped.  I did try to do this in a reasonable order (the common files first, etc.).  All reported installed successfully. Usually after this, I would try to start the service that would be installed, but I didn’t see anything like that in top, so I just restarted the whole computer.  When I logged in again, the status light on the board was and solid, which indicated that the board and computer were communicating.  I did some pokes at the board, and darned if the thing wasn’t working.  I aligned it, and all was well.

I fired up the Smart Notebook software, and got a splash screen, but nothing else.  It sat for a while, still nothing.  I went to the terminal I had open, and any command reported no child processes spawned, which is usually an indicator that all resources are sucked dry.  I restarted again (at least graceful restart was still there), got on terminal and saw the usual stuff I would expect (along with SmartBoard drivers, very cool), and then fired up Notebook again.  This time, ps -x showed more new processes spawned that I could keep up with.  When they got up to 20,000+, the machine basically threw up its hands.

I went off to research.  While I found the same question on a number of forums, the answer was on the very bottom of the errata sheet for Notebook 11:  Notebook will not work with Unity, which is the default desktop of Ubuntu (and was for 14.04, which is the baseline for Ubuntu for SmartBoards).  I installed a Gnome desktop, restarted with that one, and fired up Notebook, which ran perfectly.

I would say that Notebook running wild under Unity is a major bug that should be addressed by Smart.  I don’t think they will; the latest Notebook for Linux is 11, and the Windows version is 16.

Regardless, my favorite teacher likes the new computer, is comfortable with Linux, and likes that the new machine can run SmartBoard programs, annotate documents, and all the other cool stuff that SmartBoards can do.  She can also play YouTube videos and stream PBS and news programs for her kids to watch thanks to the zippy new computer.

So I’m calling Linux on SmartBoards a win overall.  Next, I will deploy Linux on the curernt machine on another SmartBoard (a GX270) and see if performance is better than the XP that’s currently on that one.

Adventures In Ubuntu, VMs, and GPS

21 April 2016

NERD ALERT:  Nerdy talk follows!

Since I switched my HP laptop to Ubuntu Linux, I have made a fairly smooth transition in terms of software. I can get company email via webmail (using a security token for the connection), even though the webmail is Microsoft Outlook Web Access and the browser is Chrome. In the past couple days, I’ve used LibreOffice to build briefings, create documents, and read stuff for work, used various Google apps to transfer files around, and generally had a problem-free transition. There are a couple nits. One thing that sounds silly, I edit pictures quite a bit. In Windows, I could use Paint to add text and draw lines that are pointers. In Linux, GIMP does the text just fine, but it doesn’t draw lines. I’ll figure that out.

The one thing that’s weird is working with GPS files. I do a lot of GPS work for planning hiking and backpacking, and then downloading the saved tracks from the trips. Those require a bit of editing to clean them up, join tracks from each day, and the like.

We just got back from a nice trip to Eastern Oklahoma, and it was a bit of an effort to get the tracks out of the two GPS units. I carried a Garmin GPSMap60, and Ian carried a Garmin GPS62s.

I’ve tried a couple Linux tools to extract the tracks (via a USB connection), and had trouble getting them to recognize the devices. I also tried to install the Garmin Basecamp tool I’ve used forever using Wine, and had no luck. One tool (QmapShack) I tried to install from source, and between requiring a specific version of cmake and other oddities I couldn’t get it to work. I tried installing the Windows version, but it requires the Visual C redistributable, and that wouldn’t install. So that was just Too Hard.

BTW, the command I used was:

gpsbabel -t -i garmin -f usb: -o gpx -F [trackname.gpx]

In the end, I decided to use the Basecamp tool that was in the Virtual Machine of my previous HP 6930p, which I had brought into Virtual Box under Ubuntu. The problem was trying to get the GPS tracks to the VM. I tried some stuff to make the GPS units visible to Basecamp under VirtualBoxm, no way. With the 60, it took an obscure command line using GPSBabel (which was installed on the computer when Ubuntu was installed to get the track data our and into Linux. The same didn’t work for the 62s. Turns out the 62s mounts as a USB stick as far as Ubuntu is concerned, and the track data is in a folder a couple levels deep.

So now I had the files, but still needed to get them to Basecamp. USB sticks were tried with no luck. I’m pretty sure the stick(s) were visible to the VM, but they didn’t show up.

In the end, it took a roundabout way. My laptop had Apache installed on it. I made a connection to WiFi (that got an IP address for the laptop). Then I copied the two GPX files to the root of the web server and started Apache. I went to the VM, fired up a Windows command prompt, and could ping the IP address the laptop had from the WiFi. I fired up Chrome, typed the IP address, added the filename of each GPX. That got them downloaded.  They came in from Chrome with an additional xml extension (so they look liker gpsmap60.gpx.xml), but a rename fixed that.

Then I fired up BaseCamp and imported the tracks, and editing worked well.  Once the tracks were in and edited, I displayed them on a topo map, and as an altitude plot.  In both cases, I did a screen capture of the display that included the Windows VM, and the capture was saved in the pictures folder of the Linux box.  From there, I brought the captures up in GIMP for annotation, and from there they went to Google+ with the photos I took on the hike.

This was all pretty cool and easy for me, but I think for a non-geek it would have been sorta hard.

I Finally Have An Upgraded Disk

6 February 2011

My trusty desktop has an 80GB disk that I upgraded a couple years ago from a 20GB disk. Now, between a lot of downloads, photos, videos, etc. that disk was about 97% full. It is time for another upgrade. My computer has two disks in it: the 80GB XP disk, and another 80GB that has a 20GB Fedora 12 installation (soon to be Fedora 13), and the rest of the disk is shared space (formatted FAT32) for DVR functionality.

I have a 500GB drive that was recovered from a failed video recorder. I popped the drive into an external carrier and looked at it; it was formatted NTFS and had Windows 2000 Professional on it. I zorched the partition, took it from the external carrier, and installed it into my desktop as an IDE slave. It was recognized by the BIOS, looking good so far.

I started the machine up with System Rescue CD. It found the disks, but when I did an fdisk -l, it found a bunch of RAID stuff as well (RAID == Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, a methodology of automatic backups of data, for databases and the like). NBD, I thought, I’m about to wipe the drive anyway.

My usual process here is to clone a known good drive to the new drive, then grow that partition to fit the new, presumably larger drive.

So I started the cloning process using the trusty dd command. My old XP partition was copied over to the “new” 500GB drive after a bit. I moved the IDE connections around to make the 500GB drive the master and rebooted the computer. XP came up, Linux came up, all looked good so far.

I rebooted into System Rescue CD, and fired up Gparted (Gnu Partition Editor) to grow the XP partition to the full 500GB size. Here is where I ran into a problem. The partition grow process seemed to work OK, but when gparted did the final check, it reported that another process had locked access to the 500GB disk. WTH?

Doing some rooting around in the log files showed that Linux thought that the 500GB disk was still a RAID, and it had started RAID services on the disk. These services in turn had complained during boot up that the RAID was screwed up. I know little about RAID administration, so I was off to what I soon found was a confusing and limited set of information about RAID management.

Many things were tried, and none worked. I inquired of Hitachi, the manufacturer, about the possibility of a low-level reformat; they recommended against it. The dd cloning operation was re-performed about five times over a couple days.

Finally, I found a description of a similar problem online. The dmraid command was the answer. I did a dmraid -r, it listed the RAID information it thought it knew about. Next, I did a dmraid -rE command to zorch that “RAID”. The next dmraid -r showed no RAID information. I jumped to gparted, grew the partition, and got no errors reported.

Finally, I booted both Linux (OK), and Windows (also OK). Windows complained about the disk partition being “dirty”, did some chkdsk and other checks, and finally settled down and started working. The usage has gone from 97% to 14.5%, so I have a while to go before another upgrade is needed.

I am still a bit mystified as to how Linux detected that the 500GB disk had been part of a RAID. The disk had Windows 2000 on it. Overwriting the W2K with the XP partition should have gone a long ways to de-RAIDing the disk. I can only surmise that there was RAID information on the disk past the 80GB point, and Linux picked up on it during the boot process. Hitachi said that there was no RAID markers in the Master Boot Record (MBR). Gparted did not show that there were any RAID flags set either. Maybe I can go figure that out later, in my “spare” time.

Another Linux Win

11 January 2010

Had another Linux mini-win this weekend.

A friends laptop computer crashed due to a bad power supply. She needed the files, and I am happy to recover them if I can. So I pulled the drive; it was a SATA drive. I looked for an external drive carrier, they are more than $75, too expensive; I needed to move the files to DVD. I tried mounting the drive into my main desktop, since I had found some SATA data cables and we had had a standard four-pin Molex to SATA power connector donated, but the inserted SATA drive screwed up the drive mappings in my GRUB and so the computer wouldn’t boot. I played with ways to change the drive mappings with no luck. My very cute but computer-using roommate has a computer with a SATA drive, but she is constantly on and the machine is hard to get at, so that was out.

So I thought a little bit, and decided to take my SATA laptop and use it. I pulled the “native” drive out, put the drive to be recovered in, and booted from my System Rescue CD. The laptop booted and we were off. SysResCD mounted the NTFS SATA drive with no problems. It started the laptops built-in wireless and connected to my home network. I had to set a root password, and then I went to my desktop and fired up my open source FileZilla GUI client. FileZilla went to the laptop via Secure FTP, and I was dragging and dropping the files with no glitches.

Well, three glitches. Two were unusual – the house WiFi access point lost it’s mind twice during the transfer process. I had to repower-reboot it (note, I wonder why. It was still working for the two computers hard-wired into it, but it would not talk to the two computers connected into it via access point. I wonder if it was a data volume issue, or a buffer problem). The cool thing was that FileZilla remembered the stuff I was trying to transfer but was still in queue, so I didn’t lose anything. The first WiFi croak was also a bit fortuitous in that I was starting to run out of disk space on the machine I was recovering to (there was about 20GB of stuff to be recovered), so I took the opportunity to copy a lot of the stuff off to DVD using the open source CDBurnerXP Pro.

It did take a while to transfer all that data over the house WiFi link between the computers – about eight hours total. Fortunately, I was doing stuff around the house, so it wasn’t like I was sitting there the whole time watching the display.

So all the stuff was transferred and burned off to five DVDs. I was writing this and feeling very happy with the results, when I… realized I could have done it much faster, or at least more directly.

This is how I should have done it. Mount the SATA drive into my main computer (which will not boot using the installed disks and GRUB), but boot the computer from the System Rescue CD directly. Then, mount the SATA disk, and use the DVD burner program on the SysResCD to write the data directly from the SATA disk to the DVD. I probably would have been done in an hour that way.

Live and learn. Linux Rules.

Open Source and System Rescue CD: Really Cool

1 November 2009

I have written before about how cool it is to use Open Source software to Get Stuff Done. This is somewhat related to a couple other things I have written about, namely my quest to replace my computer-based DVR function.

I have a 250GB disk that came out of a Dish Network DVR that had been used for recording (but not paying for) movies. I wiped it and used it in the school server for file serving, but I was the only one who ever used it, and the roughly 10GB of space I had on the main server disk was only 20% full. So I pulled the 250GB device.

The computer I want to use for my DVR has an 80GB primary disk with Windows on it. I have a 20GB disk that came out of a failed laptop a couple years ago; it has a GRUB boot partition and a Linux partition on it. I had recently upgraded the Linux partition from Fedora 5 to Fedora 10; all my personal files I have on DVD from the backup that I did before the installation.

My idea was to put the 250GB disk into the computer, and image the 20GB over to it, then stretch the Linux partition out to 40GB just for some extra room (the 20GB Linux partition is only about 25% full, but you can never have too much disk space, right?). Then I would take all the extra space on the 250GB, make a partition, and format it for NTFS (the theory here being that Fedora talks to NTFS, and Windows talks to NTFS, but Windows can’t talk to a Linux ext partition). This way, both Windows and Fedora can share the big space.

So I put the 250GB drive in, pop in System Rescue CD 1.4, do an fdisk -l to make sure it sees all the disks, and then use dd (Disk Duplicator) to copy everything on /dev/sdc to /dev/sdb. dd runs in about 20 min, and for the first time since I started using it, I had some errors reported during the copy process. Hmmm, thought I.

I shut down, pulled the System Rescue CD from the drive, pulled the 20GB drive, and moved the 250GB drive to that slot on the IDE bus. Booted both Windows and Linux, so good there. No problems from the reported errors.

A short detour: When I upgraded my Linux partition to Fedora 10 from Fedora 5, all of a sudden I could not boot ANYTHING. I used System Rescue CD to boot the system, mount the Linux partition, and change the boot drive from the default of (0,0) to (1,0). This allowed GRUB to find the operating system commands. But for some reason, the OS selector menu wouldn’t show. If I hit the up arrow key a number of times, then enter, then Linux would boot. Down arrow (or let it just set throught the default timeout), and XP would boot. I looked online a bit, but this evening I figured it out: the “splashimage” command was pointing to disk (0,0) also. I changed it to (1,0) and we were off again. Whatever was setting GRUB up in the Fedora 10 installation was figuring out where the various OS’s were, but didn’t put them back into the right place in grub.conf.

So now I have a 250GB disk with a 20GB Fedora 10 Linux installation. I go back to System Rescue CD, and fire it up. I go into the Linux GUI and start Gnu Partition Editor (GPartEd). It sees the two disks, but it does not recognize the OS on the 250GB drive. Hmmm. I check the version number. I then reboot to the Fedora, and load the latest version of GPartEd using Yum, and run it. It reports that the parition type is Linux LVM, which is correct, but it also informs me that LVM isn’t supported yet.

So I create a new partition in all that free space, and format it as FAT32, so both Windows and Linux can read and write it safely. I was planning to do this as NTFS, I seemed to remember that FAT32 would not support more than something like 120GB, but when I identified the space for formatting, FAT32 was an option, and the process was successful.

I booted into both the Windows and Linux partitions, and they worked, and could read and write to the FAT32 partition, so overall success.

So my basic requirement is accomplished: I imaged my existing Fedora 10 and boot partitions from a 20GB to a 250GB disk. I have a HUGE amount of space to store DVR data. I was not able to stretch my Fedora partition, but I will go and see if there is a schedule for GPartEd or some other Open Source tool to support LVM.

Open Source wins again: Linux/Fedora, GPartEd, Grand Unified Bootloader (GRUB).

A Cool Linux Thing, Actually, A Couple of Things

19 October 2009

I got an AVI file from a camera today, it was 235MB in size. I tried VideoLAN, it would transcode from a file to a file, but it would not transcode both the video and audio (audio only). I couldn’t find a tool on Windows to convert the file to MPEG format, but there were a couple posts on a Linux board referring to a tool in Linux called Media Encoder, or mencoder. The posts both said that if you had Linux Media Player you had Encoder also.

I switched to my Fedora 10 instatllation, and found it did not have Media Player installed. A quick “yum install mplayer” fixed that. But the command line mencoder didn’t work. I did a locate on the disk, not there. So I went back to the command prompt and “yum install mencoder” and then I was converting the 236MB AVI to a 35MB MPEG that looked and sounded just as good.

Since Linux mounted my other XP partition just fine, i copied the file to that environment. At first, I wanted to send the converted file to my very cute and XP using roommate, but I realized that I really wanted to upload it to the HTTP server I run on the school computer.

While I was playing around with the Windows Network list on the “Connect to Server” function (off the Gnome “Places” menu item), I noticed it had options for connecting to an FTP server, in both anonymous and authenticated modes. “What the heck”, thought I, and specified the information for my server at St. John’s.

Now, FTP is pretty common, but in this case, instead of a command window, or a dedicated drag-and-drop GUI, a mount point appeared on my Gnome Desktop that was labelled “” (the St. John’s IP address). I double-clicked it, and it opened up a file window, just like I could see for my local filesystem! Cool, thought I.

I drilled down to the root of the webserver document directory, and there were the files I expected. I grabbed the converted MPEG file from the Gnome Desktop and dragged it to the opened webserver directory, and a couple minutes later, the file was on the St. John’s webserver!

The FTP icon had an Unmount item when it was right-clicked, and when I selected it the FTP session was logged off just fine. That was about the slickest FTP I’ve ever done.

So, between mencoder to convert the media file, and mplayer to verify the file was converted correctly, and finally the very cool FTP function, Linux rules!

A Minor Linux Fail

12 October 2009

I usually sing the praises of open source in general and Linux in particular.

My main gripe against Windows over the years is that it’s just an operating system. It’s been hard to install, and then you have to fool with drivers. Once it is installed, you have to get or buy more stuff – Word or OpenOffice if you want to do office stuff, something else for image editing, something else to read PDFs (or any of dozens of other files), etc.

OTOH, you can put a LiveCD of most any Linux version into your computer, fire it up, and you can do pretty much anything that you want to do for day-to-day work. If you get one of the full distros and load it, you can do anything you want to do day-to-day, and you can write software, or run a version control system, or stream video, or run a server. And to top it off, Linux is perfectly happy to co-exist with Windows; the opposite has never been so.

So today I had a disappointment. I was doing some work on our new school server (which is going to be implemented with Linux Fedora 10 on one of our donated Air Force Gateway computers). I was working on my laptop, which is dual booted between XP and Linux (Fedora 10 also). The Linux server needed a network connection, and it did not recognize the USB-based WiFi device I tried to use (it was an older Trendnet device) (it should be noted, that wifi in Linux is better than it was, but it is still not perfect, and there are lots of wifi devices for which the manufacturers do not provide Linux drivers).

My laptop was on the house network, and I remembered that internet connection sharing (ICS) was built into the last couple Fedora releases without the need to do an iptables configuration. I ran a crossover cable between the computers, and found the “Share This Connection” tab easily enough, but I could not get it to work. The wired port on the laptop was some odd address in the 10. Class C range, so I know something was happening. I messed around a bit and decided I didn’t have time to mess with it, so I rebooted the laptop and brought up Windows XP.

XP already had the ICS function configured, and the server picked up an IP address immediately, and it was off. I started the update task on the server, and now it is ready (in fact, it asked me if I wanted to take it from Fedora 10 to Fedora 11!).

So in this case, Windows did better than Linux. I probably will investigate in the next couple weeks to see if I can get it working. You can never have too much connectivity.

Using My Computer As A DVR

30 September 2009

OK, very few people might be interested, but I am going to document my computer-as-Digital Video Recorder (DVR) saga from Saturday.

We don’t have a working VCR, but I have no less than two video capture cards in my main development computer. There was show on the “Ovation” TV channel that I wanted to record. So I thought that using a piece of DVR software would work.

Now, I’ve got a lot of computer and digital video experience. I have a two-channel video stream that I run quite often; I use it to send video over the house network to my laptop so I can watch Dish or over-the-air TV wherever I happen to be working.

First I fired up the WinTV2000 application. It has a VCR function. I ran it for two minutes; it only saves in AVI format, and the two minutes consumed 180MB of space. For the two-hour program I was wanting to record, it would require about 200GB of disk, and I just didn’t have that kind of space available.

I started working the upgrade process around 1300 Saturday. I had stuff I was doing around the house and outside, so I was sharing my time between the computer DVR project and the house.

So I knew about an application called MythTV. First I downloaded a live CD called MythDora, which is MythTV based on the Linux Fedora distribution. Since my development machine is a dual-boot XP/Fedora 5, I thought this would be a good test. I got the CD booted and MythTV started. After going through configuration, it started running. MythTV seemed to be running, but when I got to looking at the logs, it was not able to open either of my video devices. I played with it a while without success.

I booted back into my Fedora 5 installation and downloaded a KDE-based TV app. It started showing me the output of the TV tuners right away. So those were working OK under Linux, there was a problem with MythDora.

I decided to upgrade my Fedora 5 installation to Fedora 10. I downloaded the DVD, burned it, and started the install. That went well. It did take an hour and some change, but at the end of it I had a new Fedora 10. I immediately downloaded two TV apps and ran them, got TV! I downloaded MythTV in source form, since I could not get it via Yum or in an RPM. I started the compile. It crashed after 10 minutes complaining about a missing library.

Next, I thought about using VLC, which is a good player and can stream. I tried to get it via Yum, but it was missing some library, and I couldn’t find the library.

So I rebooted back into Windows XP, which has a copy of VLC for windows already installed. For some reason, it couldn’t find either TV card. I played with the inputs but the darn thing wouldn’t start streaming.

Finally, I hit upon a solution. I would use Microsoft Media Encoder to stream the TV to another computer, which would capture and store the video stream. When I started the WME wizard, there was an option I hadn’t noticed to encode to DISK. In MPEG formats! I tried it on a short segment, and it saved the stream just fine. Then it opened up with Windows Media Player.

I started the capture of the program. Thie program ran from 0030 to 0230 Sunday. I got to stay up and listen to the program (“Phantom of the Opera: Behind the Mask”) with one ear while I did some Internet searching that I had put off doing, so it wasn’t like I was sleeping or anything like that. The two hours of MPEG-1 recording ended up taking up 2.3GB.

In the end, I got the program recorded, but I did it manually. I was not able to set a DVR-type timer to start and stop the recording. I also wasted a bit of time trying to get various software working, downloading and burning stuff to CD and DVD, doing installs, and the like. I got a Fedora 10 update (which I needed to do anyway, since my new school Linux server is also Fedora 10) on my development and test machine. But this was the first Linux-based Charlie-Fox that I have had. It’s kind of ironic that a freebie from Microsoft (Windows Media Encoder) got the job sort of done in place of Linux, when a lot of Microsoft stuff is barely functional.

I’ll work on it some more later this week.