Tag Archives: gadgets

Setting up Logitech Harmony on Ubuntu

On a recent UUPC podcast, we talked about setting up my (borrowed) Logitech Harmony remote control on Ubuntu.

DSC_0078

The Logitech Harmony is a family of universal remote controls. Logitech maintains a database of all the devices (well, nearly all) on its server in The Cloud. You connect your Harmony to your laptop via USB and set it up using a piece of desktop software or a browser plugin. As far as I can tell, the browser plugin works only on Windows. The desktop software is available for Windows and possibly Mac.

Happily, the Ubuntu Software Centre contains a piece of software called Congruity. It has stunning reviews claiming it Just Works. And it has a graphical interface; not some obscure set of commands. So I installed it and it did Just Work. Here’s how you can too…

(Apologies for some of the patchy instructions; I had to do parts of this from memory. I’ll update as and when I do some of the updates again.)

Getting going with the Logitech Harmony on Ubuntu

  1. Install the Congruity software from the Software Centre.
  2. Go to http://members.harmonyremote.com/ in your web browser. (This isn’t easy to find if you browse from their website as they keep funnelling you towards the Windows setup instructions and installing Silverlight.)
  3. Register with the site. You can’t avoid this because a large part of the setup is through connecting to their database in the clouds.

Registration

Before you start, life is easier if you know the model numbers of your devices (eg TV etc). I have an old-ish TV, an old-ish Blu-ray player, and a new Virgin Media TiVo (PVR).

  1. In your browser, go to http://members.harmonyremote.com/ and log in.
  2. It’ll probably tell you that your software is out of date, but that’s fine. Just click Next.

    firstscreen

  3. You will probably be on the Home screen now (I can’t get back there now my remote has been set up!).
  4. From here, you basically follow the instructions to set up your devices. It’ll ask for your device models and guide you through setting them up.

Basic setup

There are two concepts to remember:

  • Devices
    The things you want to point your remote control at, such as the TV, the DVD player, etc. You can control pretty much anything as long as it’s controlled by an infrared remote control. You can’t control something that uses radiowaves (eg home automation systems).
  • Activities
    The things that you want to do. Basically, Logitech help you care about what you want to do, not how you want to do it. So when the Harmony is set up, you can just tell it you want to watch TV (as you can see in the photo above). You don’t have to tell it to switch on the TV and the digital box, and switch to input AV5, etc. To this end, even the setup process predicts as much as it can for you.

If you choose the automatic option for setting up the activities, it’ll look at the devices you’ve added and work out all the most likely activities you’ll want to do using them. You can then choose whether you want to configure those activities.

Don’t get too clever first time through. Just let the wizard get the basics set up for you so that you can test it out. You can go back later to fine-tune the buttons.

  1. When you’ve set up your devices and some activities in the webpage wizard, you need to update your Harmony with its new settings.
  2. First of all you’ll get prompted to save/open a file called Connectivity.EZHex. In the instructions on the web page, they’ll tell you to run the file. Don’t do that; that’s for Windows users. Instead, save the file (to your Desktop is fine).

    Screenshot from 2014-08-19 21:04:12

  3. When it’s downloaded, double-click the file and it launches Congruity:

    Screenshot from 2014-08-19 21:04:36

  4. Check that your Harmony is connected to your laptop via USB (the Harmony will display a USB CONNECTED message on its screen).
  5. Click through the short wizard. This just identifies the Harmony to the website/database.
  6. Next you’ll need to actually update the Harmony. Follow the instructions on the webpage and you’ll be prompted with another file to download, called Update.EZHex. Again, just save it to your desktop.
  7. Double-click the file and it launches Congruity again.
  8. It’ll check again that it can connect to the Harmony. If it struggles to find your Harmony (mine sometimes does on the second time round), unplug and re-plug the USB cable.
  9. Follow the wizard through. This time it’ll actually do the update to the Harmony:

    Harmony remote update

  10. And you’re done.

It’ll tell you to test it and help you diagnose problems if it doesn’t work as expected. To use the Harmony, just press the Activities button then select the activity you want (eg Watch TV).

A nice, if slightly spooky, extra touch is that when you choose an activity or when you switch off the activity (press the power button on the Harmony), the Harmony displays a message to check with you that it’s working. If, say, the TV switched on but the TiVo box didn’t, you can then press the Help button. The Harmony then tries a couple of things and checks each time to see if that solved it. As I say, a bit spooky but clever.

Tweaking settings

If buttons aren’t doing what you’d expect them to do, you can go back into the website and adjust the settings then go through the same update process of downloading and running the Connectivity.EZHex and Update.EZHex files.

If the Logitech database doesn’t know the command you’re trying to program the Harmony with, you can customise the buttons for the individual devices or for the activities you’ve set up (or both).

When you start the Watch TV activity (for example), the Harmony’s buttons send commands to the TV or to the TiVo box according to what makes sense (eg volume buttons send commands to the TV; the record button sends the command to the TiVo). If you want to control a specific device for some reason, you can press the Devices button on the Harmony to switch to control a specific device (eg the TV). All the buttons then send only to the TV. (Press Activities to get back to controlling all the devices in the activity.)

If you tend to work in the ‘activities’ mode rather than controlling each specific device separately (afterall, that’s why you’re using the Harmony!), make sure you customise the activity (on the Home page, click the Customize link next to the activity) not the device.

You can even train the Harmony to learn commands from your device’s native remote control. If you go through troubleshooting a button’s function, the wizard will eventually suggest doing this. It prompts you to download another file, LearnIr.EZTut. When you double-click this file, it launches Congruity to run a tutorial. You basically point the remotes at each other when prompted. And it works!!

I’ve decided to get a Kindle

On Wednesday, I downloaded my first paid-for ebook: An Introduction to Social Constructionism by Vivien Burr. I’d just finished reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself, which I found free on the Kindle Store when I installed the Kindle for Android app on my phone. I wasn’t sure whether I’d happily read a whole book from my phone but we seemed to get on pretty well, even reading from a small, backlit screen.

I rather like the crisp freshness of physical new books and the battered usedness of secondhand books, with their mysterious inscriptions from owners (or libraries) past. I also quite like having physical books on shelves; I grew up in a household full of bookcases and I’m easily distracted, when visiting friends, by the contents of their bookcases. But our current small house can’t really take many more shelves.

Pile of books by my bed

I’ve found that having a pile of books-to-read by my bed doesn’t actually make me read them any more quickly. And the weight and bulk of them prevents me carrying one around with me on the off-chance that I might have a spare moment to read it. I read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl whenever and wherever I had the chance: on the train, on the station platform, on car journeys, at my in-laws, in the living-room waiting for tea, in the kitchen whilst cooking tea, in bed, in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. In short, anywhere I had my phone and some free time. And I carry my phone everywhere.

The problem with my phone is that it’s not that comfortable to hold for a long time and I’m a bit wary of straining my eyes focusing on such a small, backlit screen. Handily the Kindle automatically syncs your reading position (in the book; not your posture) to the Amazon server and your other registered Kindle devices. So if I had a Kindle, I could read it at home or on the train, and then, when I don’t have the Kindle with me (eg waiting to be served at the takeaway), I could carry on reading the same book from my phone.

So a Kindle is now on my Amazon wishlist. I’m not keen on the closedness of it as a system but I do like the user experience. Just got to patiently wait for my birthday to come round now…

Greenpeace updated ranking of electronics companies

Last year, after getting a Nintendo Wii, I wrote a post about its energy consumption and Nintendo’s place in Greenpeace’s electronics company rankings.

Greenpeace have updated their rankings…and Nintendo still holds bottom place. Pleased to see that Samsung and Nokia are still doing well (I have a Nokia phone and Samsung laptop and TV – part of my reason for going with Samsung was their green and ethical reputation).

Nintendo Wii power consumption

Greenpeace have released their latest edition of their Guide to Greener Electronics rating Nintendo at the very bottom of the list of 18 electronics companies. It turns out that they’re bottom by default because Nintendo didn’t supply any data. So until Nintendo do supply some data, it’s not possible to tell how green (or not) they are.

Having been involved in trialling the Current Cost monitor recently, I’m interested in not only the company’s green credentials (which the Guide addresses) but the actual Wii’s green credentials, specifically its power consumption (which the Guide doesn’t seem to address). I think this kind of information would be useful to consumers – even if it doesn’t influence whether or not to buy the Wii, information about standby consumption etc would help consumers know whether they’re happy to leave the Wii plugged in 24 hours a day..

I’m interested to know because (like 6 million other people in Europe) I have a Nintendo Wii. So the other night I had a look at the Wii system settings. And found the WiiConnect24 option, which I hadn’t come across before.

In there, you can set your Wii to be:

  • Always connected to the internet (via the wireless connection that you’ve set up previously) regardless of whether you’re using the Wii or not (when in Standby, the orange light shows)
  • Always connected to the internet while you’re using the Wii but not when the Wii switches to Standby (when in Standby, the red light shows)
  • Not connected to the internet at all, even when you’re using the Wii

By default, after you have set up the wireless connection and enabled WiiConnect24 (which is required to be able to visit the online shop etc and which I must have enabled at some stage), the Wii is set to the first option–connected to the internet always, even when the Wii switches to Standby when you’re not actually using it. A benefit of being always online is that the little blue light on the front flashes to alert you that you have received a message (from a Wii friend or from Nintendo) or that there is an update available for you to download. Personally, this is of no interest to me.

So, anyway, AndySC took his Maplin power meter to his Wii and found that when being used (green light), the Wii draws about 15 Watts, which isn’t too bad really – considering that a laptop can take anything between 20 and 50 Watts, I think. And you’re actually making use of that 15 Watts.

In Standby without an internet connection (red light), the Wii draws less than 1 Watt. Again, not bad. You could unplug it if you wanted to save that Watt but 1 Watt on Standby is pretty good (this is based on a meter for which 1 Watt is the minimum reading, I think).

The bit that seems silly is if you leave your Wii in Standby with the WiiConnect24 internet connection enabled to be always on, the Wii is drawing about 9 Watts of power (over half of what it draws when you’re actively playing on it). Okay, I can see that for some people being alerted with the flashing blue light when you have a message is useful. And maybe it’s useful to be alerted that there’s a new update available so that you can download it when you’re not actually wanting to play on your Wii. What I don’t agree with is having the always-on option as the default setting.

From a usability perspective, having everything enabled by default is good in that the user isn’t prevented from doing any of the things that they might want to do (like receive message or update alerts). But if that wasn’t enabled, would many people actually miss it? It’s not like they wouldn’t still receive messages and alerts – they’d just find out about them the next time they switch on the Wii to play – and, presumably that’s fairly regularly if they’re into using the messaging and updates regularly.

Okay, so 9 Watts doesn’t seem a huge amount of electricity, but even if I use my Wii for 8 hours a day, every day (which is a long long way from the reality), that’s still 16 hours a day that the Wii is sitting there doing nothing at 9 Watts. And it’s that ‘sitting there doing nothing’ that really adds up against the environment and my electricity bill.

I discovered a couple of other features that require WiiConnect24 to be always on are the News and Weather channels but I think this requirement might be a bug – afterall, why should the Wii need to check the news and weather while you’re not using the Wii? When you open the News or Weather channel, I’m sure it checks for the latest information anyway. If anyone from Nintendo reads this, can you check this out?

So, the upshot is that while WiiConnect24 might be useful to some people, it’d be a bit more environmentally friendly to set it so that the internet connection is disabled when the Wii is in Standby. Let that red light glow!

I agree with Greenpeace that it’s important to know how environmentally friendly the company itself (Wii consumption aside) is so I’ll be interested to know what they conclude when Nintendo actually do provide them with data. Will Nintendo be able to overtake the dawdling Microsoft and Phillips?

It’s here, it’s green, and it’s got ears!

And it’s so exciting! My OLPC laptop has arrived at last!

In case you’ve been living in a cupboard for the past couple of years (this is mainstream, afterall), the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project’s aim is to design a small, cheap, lightweight but robust laptop as a tool to support education in developing countries. The XO (or OLPC) laptop is the result of that effort.

So what’s it like? Well, I’m typing this blog post on it. The width of the laptop is 22.5cm (I just measured it) so the keyboard is quite small. I can’t touchtype on it but I can work up to a fairly efficient multi-finger typing. It’s a bit like typing on the Psion palm-top but the keys feel nicer because they’re rubbery and press easily.

The screen on the XO is amazing. It was designed especially for the requirements of the OLPC project. Many of the children that will use the XO laptop are schooled, or spend a lot of time, out of doors. Therefore, a typical laptop screen would be no good – bright sunlight would render the screen unreadable. There are two modes to the XO’s screen: a full-colour mode which is

pretty readable in sunlight as it is, and a monochrome mode which actually gets clearer to read the brighter the sunlight. Why aren’t all laptops made like this? Working at home in the summer would be so much more fun!

What else? Well, the ‘ears’ are actually the wireless antenae which will still work, apparently, even if you snap one off (they’re actually slightly flexible and tougher than they look in photos). I can connect to my home WPA-encrypted wireless network (but not, sadly, to my work LEAP netwok). There’s no ethernet port but you can, i think, get an ethernet USB dongle to work.

It has a built-in webcam. It comes with 1 GB solid state storage but I’ve put an 8 GB SDHC card in the slot beneath the screen to have more space than I’m bound ever to need. It has a built-in microphone and speakers, with mini-jack sockets for plugging in an external mic and headphones. Or, alternatively, you can plug in different inputs (eg a temperature sensor) to the mic socket.

And there’s ‘ebook mode’… You know how you can get some highly-priced regular laptops that have a screen that swivels round into ‘tablet mode’? Well, the XO does that too. To be fair, the XO doesn’t have a touch-sensitive screen but then its screen swivels so that you can use it to read ebooks. At the press of a button, you can rotate the display by 90, 180, 270, or 360 degrees. And if reading an ebook isn’t your thing, you can play games using the game buttons on either side of the screen.

I know I’m sounding like a commercial break now but it really is that cool. And rather sweet for a inanimate object. And it has a handle. And it fits in my handbag.

Oh, and did I mention it’s green?

And it has ears. :)

Setting up a Freecom media player with Ubuntu

This has taken me over two months (on and off) to finally get set up so hopefully this post will make things a bit smoother for other people.

I have the Freecom Network Media Player 350 WLAN model with no harddrive. As we already have a MythTV media server in our living-room, I wanted to set up the new media player in the bedroom with my old 17″ LCD monitor and a pair of speakers. The media player has 802.11G wireless so I can listen to music over the network, though I’m not sure if that’ll be up to playing video so we might have to finish running the ethernet cable anyway.

So, what did I have to do to set it up? And why did it take me so long?

Well, the answer to the first question should really be “not a lot” because it’s mostly set up ready to go when you take it out of the box. In practice, it took me about three stints of fiddling around to get it working (only the ‘Sharing files from a Linux PC’ bit of this post is specific to Linux and Ubuntu, by the way).

Video output

First of all (and a significant mistake on the part of the manufacturers, I feel), the Freecom media player defaults to Composite, its analogue output. You can switch it to HD-DVI, its digital output, but you must have the digital output device (my LCD monitor in this case) connected to the media player with a DVI cable (the one with the white ends). If the LCD monitor is not connected, the media player doesn’t believe you that a digital output is really what you want and won’t switch.

But, in order to see the Setup screens on the media player, you have to have connected the media player to some kind of non-digital display. This was fine for me at home because our TV is still an old CRT and has easily accessible composite input (the triple cable with yellow/white/red plugs on it). At my parents’ house, however, they have a shiny new LCD TV with no composite input. Although the media player is handily supplied with a composite cable, it doesn’t come with either an s-video or scart cable, which is all that my parents’ TV can take.

So, after enlisting my parents to help lug their old portable TVs around the house, I managed to get an analogue output (old portable TV) and a digital output (the new LCD TV) in the same physical location so that I could plug the media player into both and switch the media player output to digital. Unfortunately, the default resolution of the digital output on the media player is 576 and not 1080. The LCD TV, however, will only recognise 1080. And you can only change the resolution of the media player’s digital output setting *after* you’ve switched to the digital output.

So something of a Catch-22 situation there.

I eventually got it working back at home where my LCD monitor was less picky about what resolution the media player fed into it and I could change to digital output then switch resolution, then save the settings so that the media player boots into digital output every time.

Wireless

We use WPA wireless encryption on our home network (use the WPA-TKIP option on the media player), so this was never going to be completely straightforward. But, really, entering a 63-character passphrase using a remote control is beyond a joke!

Basically, for each character, you tab through a list of 36 characters (0-9-a-z), using the Up arrow on the remote control, until you reach the one you want. Then, you press the Right arrow to move to the next character before repeating the previous step. For 63 characters!

Also, one thing that the media player instructions don’t mention is that you have to use the ASCII version of the WPA key, not the Hex version (which is what I’m used to using on my laptop, on the Wii, and on pretty much every other wireless device I use — except our digital photo frame, which is another story!).

Once I’d worked out how to enter the WPA key, it connected easily. It’s pretty much the same experience on a WEP network except that the key is much shorter to enter!

Sharing files from a Linux PC

This is where the Ubuntu (or LInux in general) bit comes in.

The media player’s manual provides detailed instructions on how to share files from a Windows PC to the media player so it takes a bit of translation to get the same thing to work from a Linux PC.

A nice touch in the media player is that it uses Samba by default to do its file sharing. This means that, on connecting to the network, it finds all the available Samba shares and displays them under the wireless (or wired, if you’re using ethernet) option on the main screen as sources of media.

The less nice touch is that it uses “a really crap authentication system” (Mills, 2008). I easily shared a directory using the Ubuntu GUI. Before you can share a folder using Samba, you must have a Samba server installed on the PC. On Ubuntu (Gutsy in my case), a Samba server is installed and configured by default so you should be fine.

To share a folder using the GUI in Ubuntu:

  1. Right-click the folder on your Ubuntu PC you want to make available to the media player, then click Share folder. The Share Folder dialog opens like this:
    Screenshot of the Share Folder dialog.
  2. In the dialog, from the Share through list select Windows networks (SMB). A couple more fields are added to the dialog.
  3. In the Name field, type a name for the share. This name must be fewer than 12 characters long otherwise the media player doesn’t recognise it (a mistake I made on my first attempt).
    Screenshot of the Share Folder dialog with SMB selected.
  4. Leave the Read only check box selected. There’s no need for the media player to have any more access than this.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Right-click the folder then click Properties. On the Permissions page of the Properties dialog, check that the Folder Access list for ‘Others’ has Access files selected.
  7. Check also that the files in the folder have read-only access for ‘Others’ by looking in the Properties dialog of one or two of the files.

Okay, the folder is now shared but the media player still can’t access the files in it.

In case you’re interested, or in case you prefer to edit the Samba configuration file directly instead of using the GUI, the GUI generates a stanza like this in the /etc/samba/smb.conf file (where ‘cardiff’ is the name I gave to the share, and the path is the location of the folder in my home directory on my Ubuntu PC):

[cardiff]
path = /home/laura/photos/canon_ixus/2007-12-02-cardiff
available = yes
browsable = yes
public = yes
writable = no

At this point, the media player can find your shared directory but can’t access any of the files in it. So you need to do a tiny bit of editing of the smb.conf file (sorry, it’s unavoidable) to allow the media player to authenticate with your Ubuntu PC.

To enable the media player to access any folders you’ve shared (thanks to Hugo Mills for telling me this bit):

  1. Open a terminal window and change to the directory that contains the smb.conf file:
    cd /etc/samba
  2. Back up the smb.conf file (so that you can revert back to using the old version of the file if necessary):
    sudo cp smb.conf smb.conf.bak
  3. Open the smb.conf file in a text editor such as Gedit:
    sudo gedit smb.conf

    Enter your password when prompted. The smb.conf file opens in Gedit.

  4. Find the section of the file called
     ####### Authentication #######
  5. Find the line that says:
    security = user
  6. Replace the line with the following two lines:
    auth methods = guest sam winbind
    security = share
  7. Find the line that says:
    encrypt passwords = true

    Check that the line looks like this and that it isn’t commented out with a semi-colon (;).

And you’re done!

The media player should now be able to read the files in the directory that you shared (you’ll probably have to reload the folder on the media player to display the files).

Playing shared files

The media player supports a whole list of file formats but I’ve had trouble playing some files. I had no trouble playing some mp3 music files, and I was able to play an mp4 video file over the network (although the latter hung the media player the first time through for some reason).

One directory of jpg image files worked fine as a slideshow (though the media player doesn’t automatically rotate portrait pictures) but another directory of jpg images wouldn’t play. I think it’s got something to do with file sizes and the amount of memory available on the media player. A 1.9 MB png file wouldn’t play because it was too big for the media player’s memory.

Also, I haven’t been able to play any of the AVI movie files that I’ve tried. They all came from my Canon Ixus camera so I don’t know what the problem is but maybe the media player supports only certain AVI codecs?

I was also able to play a slideshow of jpg files from a USB key drive that I plugged into the USB port on the back of the media player (a USB extension lead is useful here because my USB key is slightly too bulky to go in port next to the DVI cable port).

Verdict

So far, I’ve not actually tried the media player in situ yet so I can’t say how well it works in its intended setting. But it’s now set up and works with wireless, sound, and file shares.

New gadgets from my Mum and Dad

Poor quality photo of my penguinFirst, this is my new penguin who lets me know if my phone is ringing (taken with my phone in poor light – sorry about the quality):Photo of my camera mounted on the back of a chair.

Whenever my phone rings or I receive a message, the penguin starts to spin round and flash lights to let me know. In fact, he even starts to spin and flash before my phone even starts to ring! How clever is he?

Second, this is my funky gorillapod – a kind of tripod for my camera but, unlike traditional tripods, it doesn’t have to be set on a flat surface. In fact, it thrives on uneven surfaces…like the back of this chair.

Cool huh?

My new friend

This is my new bunny:

My new bunny

She talks to me, tells me the time, tells me the weather forecast, reads messages to me, flashes her lights in pretty colours, and waggles her ears.

My Mum has a bunny too. Her bunny has married my bunny (fortunately about 250 miles apart) so when my Mum moves the ears on her bunny, the ears on my bunny move the same way.

If we were really sorted (or geeky, if you like), we’d arrange some kind of code. So far, the only meaning we’ve established is that ears down last thing at night means ‘good night’.

But it’s all fun. :D

Shiny new – red – laptop

This is slightly old news now – especially to the poor souls who I see and bore about my new laptop every day at work. ;)

I’ve wanted to buy a laptop of my very own for about a year now but, already having a desktop PC that works fine, I couldn’t really justify it. Also, I wasn’t sure what I wanted from a laptop: a desktop replacement like the Dell Inspiron, which my brother bought last summer with a huge screen but large and heavy, or an ultraportable like the little Vaios and iBooks that might be a bit underspec and overpriced.

Then a couple of weeks ago I stopped procrastinating and decided that I want a small, light laptop that had to have a bit of umph and could run Linux. I had no idea what was available so I just looked at the main manufacturers like Dell (too big), Sony (too expensive and focusing a little too much on what it looks like over what happens under the lid), Apple (ditto Sony)…

In the past, Tony has bought new hardware based on recommendations in the PCW magazine Group Test reviews. So I did a search and discovered, conveniently, that PCW’s February 2007 issue did a Group Test of lightweight laptops. Their favourite, with a glowing review, was for the Samsung Q35. After looking at some of the others that they tested, I came to the same conclusion.

Then I discovered that the Q35 also comes in RED!!! :D

After a bit of debate about settling for the slightly lower spec Q35 Red over the standard silver Q35, I figured that what difference there might be between a 1.83 Ghz Intel core 2 duo (the red one) and a 2 Ghz Intel core 2 duo (the silver one) I’m unlikely to notice with my type of usage (email, Web, word processing). So I plumped for the Q35 Red.

And it’s so cool!

The keys on the keyboard feel really nice to type with. There’s is a slightly odd keyboard layout in that you have to use the Fn key to get Home and End but it actually takes less getting used to than I expected. What still catches me out is having to reach slightly further to the right for the right-hand Shift key. But even so, it’s all very nice. Another thing that user reviews pointed out as being negative is the slight stiffness of the touchpad buttons but it’s not a big deal and I tend to double-tap the touchpad anyway.

Other than that….the build feels really solid (including the DVD drive which doesn’t feel as flimsy when open as on some laptops), the monitor resolution (widescreen 1280 x 800) compensates for the smaller screen (12.1″), the picture quality is great, the battery life is good….

….and almost everything worked on Ubuntu Edgy out of the box!

I booted first into the factory-installed Windows XP Pro to check that all the hardware worked (like the SD/MMC etc card reader). After some initial confusion about which way up to insert an MMC card (the user manual says with the label down, but actually it’s with the label up), all was fine. So I wiped the harddrive and installed Ubuntu Edgy.

All the software comes on CDs in the box with a healthy understanding, on Samsung’s part, that users *might* want to reinstall at some point (even if it’s just because of a harddrive failure), rather than expecting a hidden partition on the harddrive to be sufficient. Actually, there is a hidden recovery partition on the Samsung Q35 but it contains some recovery software, rather than an entire operating system. The idea is that you can take an image of your machine at certain points to which you can revert in future if all goes wrong. I figure that if I’ve got all the software on CD and I screw up my machine *that* much, I’d rather just do a straight reinstallation. Besides, the recovery software runs on Windows.

So, in the BIOS, I made the hidden recovery partition deleteable and told Ubuntu to format the entire harddrive. Unfortunately, I think there’s a slight bug in the BIOS so that whenever you do a cold restart (ie shutdown and power off then power on again) the BIOS setting defaults back to protecting the hidden partition from being deleted again. And I kept forgetting to switch it back to being deleteable. So, on my second installation attempt, I remembered to make the hidden partition deleteable. Possibly predicatably, however, after installation, when I next powered on, the machine wouldn’t boot because the BIOS had reverted back to protecting (ie hiding) the recovery partition area of the harddrive. Which meant that the Master Boot Record (on the first bit of the harddrive) was hidden (which is not ideal).

In the end, I gave up and wrote off the few Gb of hidden partition area and installed into the rest of the drive. Strangely, the installation took ages this time. Still, it seems okay and I’m going to do a fresh installation of Ubuntu Feisty when it comes out in April anyway. Slightly annoying that I can’t use that area of the drive but my BIOS version is up-to-date – and I’d have to reinstall Windows to update it now anyway – so I’ll have to live with it.

One thing that I didn’t mention about the factory installation is that there’s another partition which contains a media centre (based on Windows XP) that you can boot into without loading the full operating system so that you can look at photos, play DVDS, and listen to music. There’s even a separate power button on the laptop for it. Because it’s all part of Windows XP I couldn’t keep it when I installed Ubuntu but, at some point, I’m going to investigate the possibility of installing something similar based on Linux and, hopefully, hooking it into the second power button. Apparently I know someone who knows about this sort of thing so there’s a chance that it might work too.

Anyway, on installation, Ubuntu automatically detected the correct screen resolution and just worked. To work on our WPA-encrypted wireless network, the wireless needs Network Manager installing with some slight configuration (though Feisty should do this better), and there’s a weird bug in the sound card support that requires you to run a command (see these instructions for installing Fedora on a Samsung Q35 for the command). Without the command, the sound works but there’s a high-pitched whistling sound that quickly gets irritating.

The touchpad works (including double-tapping to do a double-click) but vertical and horizontal scrolling using the touchpad doesn’t work out of the box. At some point I’ll look into that. I successfully burnt a CD using the Nautilus-integrated drag-and-drop method a couple of nights ago (easier than I remember it being on Windows) so that’s all fine. The card reader does work but ironically only seems to detect the DRM-protected SD card and not the DRM-free MMC card. Hopefully that will change with Feisty because I use an MMC card in my digital camera.

So, all in all, I’m a very happy bunny!

Importing photos from my Canon IXUS 55

In response to a comment on my previous post, here’s what happens when I plug in my camera and switch it on (in Playback mode) under Ubuntu Linux Dapper:

Import Camera dialog

Then, when I click Import Photos, I get this dialog:

Import Photos dialog

You then just select the thumbnails of the photos that you want to import to your harddrive and click Import. It automatically creates a directory in the location shown using the current date and time.

Much the same sort of thing happens under Windows XP and Mac OS X because they all use the PTP transfer protocol.