Wednesday, August 17, 2016

New Toys - The story of my PC hardware journey in last 20 years

This Blog post comprises the Show Notes from a recent Hacker Public Radio Show I did, hpr2097 which I thought might interest my readers.

I was a latecomer to the world of personal computing having been at school in the Late 60’s and early 70’s when we hadn’t even got calculators, if you were lucky to be able to work out the intricacy of it you may have had use of a slide rule. Even after calculators started to be more widely used I had a lecturer at college while studying marine engineering, that was so good with his slide rule and mental calculation, he could, and would often work out equations far faster than those of us using a calculator.

I first came across an IBM clone PC back at college in 1987 while studying a control systems course this was a Intel 286 PC which the college ran CAD/CAM software on and we used it to learn how to create engineering drawings electronically. This would be the last time I used a computer until the early 1990’s when by then I had changed career and become a Registered Nurse. I was working in a residential nursing home and we had access to a Windows 3.xx PC which I would use to create templates of the clinical paperwork we used for record keeping.

Around this time I met my then wife to be and she needed a PC for the University Course she was on so we obtained a used Intel 386 PC from a Friend and upgraded the Ram from 1Mb to 4Mb which cost nearly half the price we paid for the PC £120, which in 1993 was a good chunk of cash. It was a time when there was a world shortage of Ram and offices were getting burgled just for the memory in the office PC’s.

While we had this PC in the house It didn’t much interest me at the time, this was pre internet days for the average user, we weren’t on line at work and the Word processing software was Dos based and I hated using it, so would do the odd things I needed to at work during my break.

Move forward 5 years and Windows 95 had taken over the world and there was this wonderful new OS called Windows 98 starting to appear in the shops. In September 1998 I went back to do a Nursing Degree in my specialist area of practice and found that we were required to submit all our course work in word processed format, no long hand written assignments this time around. So I decided that I would invest in a new home PC.

There were a couple of Big Box PC retailers in the UK at the time that advertised heavily in the press and on TV and I chose to go to one of these and bought a PC with the following specs:

Pentium 2 350 CPU, 128Mb Ram, 6Gig HDD, 56k modem and a DVD Rom. It also came bundled with a Scanner, Inkjet printer and software including MS Office for small Business. All for the grand total of £1400 which at the time was about a month’s take home pay so I had to pay for it with the flexible friend (my Credit Card for those of you too young to remember the ad’s)
I also signed up for an AOL account to access the internet over the 56k modem, dog slow now but at the time was the only affordable way us mere mortals could afford home internet access. I remember it could take a minute or 2 to render my Bank’s web site when I started online banking in 2001 and that was using compression software to reduce the bandwidth.

I used that PC to write all my college work and with the help of a couple of friends started to tinker with the PC, getting a 120 ZIP drive for it, and later adding a CD RW drive for storing documents and Photos that I’d scanned and later taken with my first digital Camera.

By 2002 the PC was starting to get a bit long in the tooth and I decided it was time for an upgrade and I had a PC built for me by a local shop with P4 2.5Ghz CPU 40Gig HDD and 512Mb Ram (later upgraded to 2Gig) and a CD RW drive again later upgraded to DVD RW drive. This PC cost me half of what I paid for the P2 four years previously and was to be the last PC I bought new, all the PC’s including laptops I’ve owned since this PC have been second hand. Some given by family or friends, some built from parts off Freecycle/Freegle, and lately PC’s I’ve bought at a local computer auction in the north west of the UK.

The title of this podcast is “New Toys” and so to the juicy bit, my Desktop for the last 6 years has been a Lenovo ThinkCentre 7373 Core 2 Duo PC with a 2.6Ghz CPU, 250Gig SSD, an upgrade from the 160Gig HDD it came with and 12Gig Ram also upgraded from the 4Gig it came with and requiring a bios flash to get the MB to support 16Gig. This rig has served me well but lately I have found it starting to feel its age and taking a long time to do things I now do regularly such as video and photo editing, Audio editing and virtual PC’s in virtualBox. So I decided it was time I looked around for an upgrade. As usual I was not in the market for a new PC, I could afford one but I don’t like splashing the cash unnecessarily. As luck would have it the monthly Auction catalogue included a HP Compaq Elite 8300 i7 Micro Tower. I checked out the specs and liked what I read. So Monday 1st of August I took a trip to the auction and as luck would have it I became the proud owner of said PC for the princely sum of £184.80, hammer price of £165 plus commission.

The full spec of the PC is: i7 3.4Ghz CPU (22nm architecture) 4 cores and 8 threads, 8Gig Ram Supports 32Gig 500Gig HDD, DVD RW drive and a card reader. Also came with a Win7 pro CoA but no installed OS.

So It took me 10 minutes to install Linux Mint 18 and another 30 to complete the updates and install my software over and above the base install. It boots in just over a minute which is only slightly slower than the old PC with an SSD so I guess it will boot mega fast with an SSD upgrade which is on the cards after I return from Holiday as may an upgrade to the Ram, I’ve already used some Ram from the old PC to increase to 12Gig but I need some matching 8Gig Ram to go to 16 or higher.

Well that charts my PC hardware journey over the last 20 odd years it’s amazing to think that one of the Raspberry Pi 3’s I own has more processing power than most of the hardware I’ve had up to the Core 2 Duo in 2010.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Podcsting with Hacker Public Radio

This post is not strictly a Linux post, but as many of the contributors to the HPR community podcast site are from the Linux community I thought I would write about it here, and give them a bit of publicity.
HPR is a podcast community for those that want to have a go at podcasting but don't have the resources or skills to be able to go it alone from the start (although some of the regular contributors do also have their own independent podcasts). Setting up and managing a podcast site is quite a commitment if your not sure if you want to do more than the occasional show, and as it already has regular listeners you're sure to have someone listen to what you record.
HPR releases a new show every day Monday to Friday but these are all from shows made by the community members, and can be of any topic of interest to the contributors. As the title suggests many of the shows are technology related, but they don't have to be. Recent shows have covered, Repairing a Truck, brewing beer and recording a band. So for example if your into making Jam and want to share how to do this on a podcast you can.
So why have I suddenly decided to write about HPR. A few weeks ago one of the Volunteers who manage the Web site, posted a podcast explaining that there were only a few shows left in the queue for publication and if things didn't improve there was a danger that without any future content the site would have to close. This was the rallying cry I needed to get off my backside and record something for HPR.
It's not my first go at podcsting as I was a member of the fullcirclemagazine.org podcast for a few months and had also done a one off podcast with, Dan lynch (Linux outlaws), Pete Cannon (The Dick Turpin Road show) and Les Pounder (fullcircle podcast) called 'The Flying Handbag', which we recorded during Blackpool Barcamp a few years ago. But just me and a microphone talking about something I wanted to share with an audience was something I'd not done before.
The biggest fear I had was the perceived difficulty getting it in a format to broadcast but it's all taken care of by the community volunteers, all I had to do was record my show, (I chose to share about how I started to use Linux, as my first show) and then choose when I wanted it to be aired, follow the instructions on the upload page, and the rest is done for you.
So if you've ever been tempted to have a go at a podcast but didn't know how to go about it give it a go via the HPR podcast community
http://hackerpublicradio.org/index.php

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Raspberry pi zero

Well a few weeks ago the Raspberry pi Foundation surprised the world by not only releasing a very small raspberry pi called the Pi Zero, but at a price point of £4 /$5 in the UK /USA. And if that wasn't enough they gave 10000 of them away free with the official magazine, MagPi. 



I was one of those lucky enough to get hold of a few copys of the magazine for me and my makerspace and thus the Pi Zero. As this board only has 1 micro USB port for peripherals and a Mini HDMI port for video out it was a couple of days before I could test it after getting hold of the converters. Once these arrived (cost about £3-4 for the pair on ebay) I was able to hook up the Zero to my lap dock. 



I loaded the Micro sd card with the latest Raspbian Jessie image, plugged it into the dock and away we went. The Pi Zero is factory clocked at 1GHz and has 512mb RAM so is on a par with the raspberry pi B+ and performance wise it compares well. 

However this tiny PC will for most folk not be used for day to day PC tasks it's size 65 x 30 x 5 mm, unpopulated 40 pin GPIO and 9 grams in weight, will mean that at this price most of these boards are destined to be used in embedded projects where the lack of connectivity will be a positive not a negative, as you are able to add only the nessesary conections for your project.

As it is fully compatible with the other Raspberry Pi's you can programme the card with a B+ or Pi2 and test out everything prior to putting the Zero in whatever project it will run. 

If your into programming and electronics and have been using previous Raspberry Pi Boards then at $5/£4 this is a must buy bit of kit, if you can get your hands on it. The original stock of both the magazine and those available through outlets such as  The Pi Hut, Pi Supply and Pimoroni all sold out within a day or so of release. With manufacturing beeing about 2000 units a day it will be a while before supply exceeds demand.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Linux Mint 17.1 and Old P4 Towers

Well thought I'd write about the New Linux Mint update and some old kit I've been getting ready to give away. A while ago a friend asked if I wanted all their old corporate P4 towers which they had recently replaced and I ended up with 12 HP Compaq P4 2 - 2.8gig towers with 512mb - 1Gig Ram and 40-80Gig HDD's.

I've put Mint 17.1 Mate on several of these PC's and after install they Run very well with 768mb DDR Ram and 1 with a P4(HT) 2.8Gig CPU and 512mb DDR2 Ram runs very smooth (I didn't have any compatible Ram to upgrade and not having realised it was a HT (Hyper Thread) CPU so had been surprised how quickly and smoothly the install went.

On the whole all these PC's are running well with such low resource and make capable homework PC's. They’re never going to be modern Gaming PC's or run the latest graphics effects that are available in Mint, but for word processing and office tasks they work well and surf the net without any problems. You can even watch U Tube videos at low resolution and thus it is possible to listen to streaming music and the like. 

The technology in theses PC's is now over 10 years old but with Linux Mint (other Linux Distributions are available) installed they are perfectly capable of having a few more years of use with a secure and modern OS on board. So if you have any old Computer hardware knocking around don't send it to the recycle centre install Linux and use it as a spare PC, set up a print/file server or donate it to a charity or just give it to a younger member of the family as a starter PC/homework Box.  

If you have any other ideas or stories of what you've done with an Older PC let me know via the comments.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Windows Live and missing .dll files

Windows is not normally a topic I cover here on this blog but I have a number of friends and family members that I offer PC support to. Today one of those friends from my church contacted me as she had a problem with her laptop that I recently installed Windows 7 onto for her.

The laptop was having problems with booting, sometimes it would and at others not but she was getting scary messages about something not being right with the PC when it did boot. My first inclination was possibly the HDD was on the way out.

Anyway I went round and found out the issue was with the DVD drive as a disc had been left in it for several months and it was set as the first boot device. Once this was removed the PC booted OK but to be on the safe side I ran a disc check. after completion of this no HDD errors and PC boots OK but when trying to access windows live mail it would not start and was giving an error message that the WLDCore.dll file was missing and windows live mail would need to be reinstalled to rectify the issue.

Problem being I couldn't access the software to back up contacts and email and was not sure if a reinstall would cause all this data to be lost (I suspect it would). A quick search of the internet relieved that this is not an uncommon problem, Windows Live must be quite a flaky application given the number of Help requests I found for the same error.

Luckily a member of the community had found a solution that did not involve re-instillation of windows live. This involved going into the windows live program files shared folder and copying the wldcore.dll and wldlog.dll files from there back into the respective Messenger, contacts and mail folders. This done I reopened Live mail and it started fine. While I was there I showed my friend how to back up mail and contacts just in case.

What bugs me is that given the number of Help posts I found with a similar problem some going back to 2011 Why have Microsoft not fixed the issue yet, if this had been an open source problem this bug would have been fixed ages ago. All Microsoft can offer is reinstall the programme to fix it (that was the official advice in the Microsoft solution centre), not stop the problem happening in the first place.

Lucky for me and others the Community came to the rescue with a simpler solution which did not involve the risk of data loss.

 This was the post that rescued my day:

Thank you to elliottme11 on the Microsoft community site for this solution and saving me a lot of grief in the process.

As for my own day to day computing needs I'll stick with LINUX it does not break its own applications when you do a disc scan.




       

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ubuntu 14.04

At the Blackpool LUG / Maker space last Saturday we decided install Ubuntu 14.04 on different specification hardware, the recommended minimum specification can be found here: http://aq.be/047dcb

As expected with the minimum specification the unity desktop would not install but more surprisingly neither would the the Lubuntu re-spin which is recommended for older hardware. Also a system with the minimum recommended to run Unity installed it ran dog slow but in hindsight this was probably due to the graphics card not being up to specification to run the more resource heavy DTE.

On a Dual core laptop the install was flawless and so was the user experience after install (if you like the Unity DTE that is, I'm not a fan but that is personal preference). One niggle was that despite ticking the box to download updates during the install and being connected to the internet this was not done, and updates were required post install.

Having done this at the LUG I decided to see what 14.04 would feel like on my old ACER Aspire ONE net-book circa 2008 Specification:

CPU, Atom 1.6Gig single core with hyper threding
HDD, 8Gig SSD  
RAM 1.5Gig 
Graphics - Intel GMA 950

The instillation went OK and took about 35 minutes to complete I then took out the swap partition, on such a small SSD this was eating up much needed space and also older SSD's are less robust with write cycles and constant writing on the swap can lead to problems with the drive.

Again the system said it needed to install updates despite my ticking the said box on install (minor niggle) on first booting up the system is using about 206mb RAM and about 9% of CPU capacity, it opened a new LibreOffice document in 5 seconds which while not lightning fast is very workable. 

I then opened Fire Fox and navigated to UTube to test a video. as you would expect running at higher resolutions were problematic due to the limited Graphics of the Net-Book but I was able to run a music video at 144p in full screen which while not fantastic was viewable so no problem there.

Other things online such as e-mail and documents are a little slow but I put that down to the hardware and not Ubuntu. Would I recommend 14.04 to users, I suppose if you are already using previous versions of Ubuntu with or without unity then you'll have no problems with 14.04 and if you're installing it on hardware less than 5 years old with a 1.5Gig processor or better, 2Gig of RAM and fairly decent graphics then your not going to have any issues and you'll have a modern OS supported for the next 5 years. 

For a new user who has been running windows XP and needs to move to a new OS but is reluctant to pay for a windows Upgrade then I would recommend installing Mint 17 LTS Mate, when it comes out at the end of the month. It will be a more familiar Desktop feel for windows users and as Mate is less resource intensive it will probably work better on older hardware. One point for new users of Linux while there is loads of support on the internet you can't beat having someone who's been there and done that as a new user themselves. My advice is look up your local Linux User Group (LUG) and get some face to face support.

I'll install Mint 17 on the Net-book when it comes out and do a write up to compare the experience.

 
 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

OggCamp Part 2

Well the Sunday of OggCamp started a little later as Myself and Olly did not have to be at the venue until 9.30 so we could have a bit of a lay in till 8am. We stopped off at the fast food place for coffee and a bite to eat again, then back up the hill to the venue. This was a little harder as we were both carrying our weekend cases as we couldn't leave them in the hotel. Brownlow Hill is quite steep when you have to lug a case up it :-(

Anyway arrived at the venue and after dumping the said case in the crew room (storage locker under the stairs) I was allocated the registration desk for the morning. I always enjoy doing registration as you get to meet loads of people as they arrive. Some you may know but often new faces, including some new to Barcamp events.

Just before lunch I managed to skive of for a talk given by Mark one of the UUPC presenters and one of the organisers of the event. He was talking about the history of OggCamp and what was involved in organising community events like this. The most interesting thing about his talk was that he said that while the event had been started by the 2 podcast teams there was now ongoing discussion as to how it could be passed on to the community to be more involved in the organisation of the event. Mark invited anyone who was interested in getting more involved to contact the team. This invite extends to anyone wanting to help in any way, such as being part of the crew right through to being part of the main organisation group. Mark also called for ideas on what to do for future events and it was suggested by one person that there should be a young persons track (junior OggCamp) and this was greeted with some enthusiasm as it was felt it would be good have something happening to attract younger attendees to the event.

After Lunch (which was again Pizza and as quickly devoured as the previous day) I was part of the Full Circle podcast Live show along with my co-hosts Les, Olly and Freaky Clown. you can listen to this recording via the website when it gets released soon. Suffice to say we had a good time after we managed to finally get the audio recording equipment set up and negotiated genial heckling from our friend Pete Cannon of Dick Turpin fame.

Then came one of my favorite parts of the week, despite it meaning the event was coming to an end. The live Raffle Cast, it’s always good fun to see Popey running up and down the stairs in the main lecture theater, throwing prizes at all and sundry and getting out of puff in the process. Then sadly it was all over for another year, I helped with a bit of the clearing up but had to miss the after OggCamp drinks and food as I had a train to catch back to Blackpool as I was back at work the next day.

If you have never been to a BarCamp type event have a look on the internet, there are several around the country during the year, Blackpool and Canterbury to name just 2 and of course OggCamp. There is also a thriving community running other events on similar lines such as the Raspberry Pi events (Raspberry Jam's) Python, open hardware and hack days. If you have an interest there is probably a community event that will meet your needs. Also don’t forget your local user groups and hack spaces, its often only a few people meeting over a common interest but it is a case of use it or lose it, if the interest and attendance is not there, these groups go as quickly as they were formed.

Well that's it for now, Happy Geeking and maybe I'll see you at an event sometime, if you see me and you've read this come and say hi.