Posts Tagged ‘Ubuntu’

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.

Some Dual-Boot Weirdness, XP and Linux

19 December 2010

My very cute and computationally intensive roommate has a fairly beefy Dell dual-core machine. She does a lot of graphics work, and collects music and videos. Her machine had a 160GB drive and 1GB of memory, and we determined that an upgrade was in order. She also wanted a Linux distribution to get some experience with.

I did a short amount of searching, found that prices for the components I needed were pretty much the same, and chose a 1.5TB Seagate drive, and four 1GB DDR2 sticks from TigerDirect. Total price, about $160 including shipping. I was amazed at the low price. The stuff arrived at the house a day earlier than the four-day shipping promised.

So yesterday, I started off by installing the memory sticks first (and got the 32-bit Windows limitation of only showing 3.7GB, in spite of the BIOS showing all 4GB. Really, you would think a big-time outfit like Microsoft would fix that).

Next, I installed the 1.5TB disk into the chassis as the first SATA drive. Dell recognized it immediately.

I booted the computer with my trusty System Rescue CD v 1.6. It started up just fine. At the command prompt I did an fdisk -l and it showed both disks. Here I made two small errors. I executed my favorite cloning command dd bs=256 if=/dev/sdb2 of=/dev/sda. First error, there were a couple useless partitions on the 160GB disk, and I just wanted the XP partition, so I thought to copy it over and grow it to the full size later. Second error – a “bs”, or blocksize of 256 bytes, so it made for the least efficient transfer. This second error meant it took about four hours to do the cloning operation, and the first error meant that the clone would fail. Fortunately, because I had not changed the original disk, the errors were no-impact.

The second time I did it right. I executed dd bs=256K /dev/sdb /dev/sda. This time the 160MB cloning took about 40 minutes. One thing – when I clone drives at school, it usually takes about 40 minutes to clone a 40GB disk using IDE. The two SATA drives have rated throughput of 1.5GBps and 3.0Gbps, and that speed shows!

Once I got the disk cloned, I booted the 1.5TB disk and watched Windows thrash around a couple minutes to deal with the new disk and the moved disk. Then, I rebooted into System Rescue CD, and used gparted to (1) delete the two useless Dell partitions (getting back another 3.5GB of disk), and then grew the XP partition forward and backward to make it about 1.4TB. I rebooted the computer again, XP came up, and disk usage had gone from about 90% to 10%. Very cool. I’m running the 160GB disk as a secondary disk for a while, then I will go clean XP off it, and use it as a backup disk.

So I started the second part, putting Linux on. When I grew the XP partition, I created two other partitions at the end of the disk, one 5GB partition formatted as FAT32 (which both Linux and XP understand), named “Shared”, and one 50GB partition named “Linux”. I did this out of habit. XP doesn’t understand any disk format except for Microsoft-developed stuff. Linux has understood NTFS as read-only for a while, and for read-write more recently. I have usually dealt with this by creating couple GB of partition formatted as FAT32, mainly so that if I needed to share a file between Windows and Linux, then using FAT32 is a common format both understand. I need to get out of that habit, and start just having Linux mount the Windows partition every time, using ntfs-3g or whatever the distro supports.

I had given some thought as to the Linux distro to install. I am partial to Fedora, which I use for the wide variety of tools, the fact that it is the same as I use for the school server, and it has multiple software development environments. Raegan needed much less – editing (OpenOffice), graphics (The GIMP), Internet (Firefox and Opera), and media (audio and video). Given that, and the fact that I use Ubuntu on several of the student computers at school, and the fact that Fedora has to be hand-configured with a lot of video and audio tools (that I rarely use), I decided to get her Ubuntu.

I downloaded it on her new disk, and burned the CD, and then booted the computer from the CD, and… major problem. Ubuntu seemed to hang for a looooong time, then I got an error “Ubi-language crashed” or something like that. It was consistent across several tries at loading. I looked the error up on Google and got very few references to what caused it. So after thinking about troubleshooting versus a known good route, I said the heck with Ubuntu and went to Fedora 13. [Quick update later this afternoon: I popped the Ubuntu 10.10 CD into two of my machines, and it booted all the way up just fine. One is a Dell Dimension 4600, and the other is my cranky HP 6930p. I say cranky because it needs a particular driver for both XP and Vista and W7 installs, and even a special parameter for a Fedora install. But it ran Ubuntu just fine.]

I pulled my F13 live CD (which I knew had an install-to-disk function) and fired up her computer with it. It started just fine, and so I told it to install to disk. I had told gparted to format the partition intended for Linux as an ext3 filesystem, and F13 found it just fine when I told it to select existing Linux partitions and use it for the installation.

The installation went very quickly, and eventually it asked me about the bootloader. It detected the XP bootloader on the first partition (which is called /dev/sda1). I used the editor to rename the XP description from “Other” to “Windows XP”, and changed the Linux description from “Fedora” to “Fedora 13”). Looking good so far.

The next time I rebooted, there was a bit of a delay, but no Grub boot screen. I seemed to remember that when I did a F12 installation at one point, that the Grub had been set to not show a menu (why, I don’t know, that seems stupid for a multi-boot computer). I tried to force my way into the boot menu by hitting the space bar during boot a number of times, but it only annoyed Windows as it booted each time.

I did some research and found away to boot using Linux rescue mode from the full Fedora 13 DVD. This quickly showed me that the Grub menu had indeed been set to not display. I changed that using “vi” (I had to dredge up the editing commands from a memory long ago and far away – I am not a vi fan) by commenting out the line that said to not display the menu, and then changed the time before starting the default from 5 seconds to 15 seconds.

Restarted the machine, and damned if XP didn’t come up again! At this point, it was about 2300, and I said the heck with it and went and did other things.

My general feeling is that it was just too hard to install Linux (rather, it was easy to install Linux, but making it work with XP is too hard)! I have thousands of OS installs under my belt, including hundreds of Linux installs. When I did my first dual-boot installation (I think it was Windows 2000 and Fedora Core 2), the FC2 built the dual-boot configuration automatically. The last couple duals I have done required me to use System Rescue CD to fix things, something that is easy for me but impossible for 99% of people. That is not a good thing for Linux.

I’ve found some rather detailed things to try (including changing the XP boot loader to find the Linux install), but that is low-priority to other things I’m doing around the house, so it will be a while before I get Raegan up on Linux also.