Genealogy Status

I finally had a chance to start getting the genealogy system (phpgedview) back online. The system is now in place, although anyone with a user ID will need to contact me to have their logins restored. The site is located at http://genealogy.marstella.net.

The genealogy system is (or at least will be again) configured to allow visitors to see records of non-living persons. However, full user access is required to download gedcom files and see records for living persons.

Hopefully, the system will be fully online within the next 2 days…

Homebrew PC

So I’ve been reading a lot lately about vintage computers (especially S-100 bus systems) and looking into CP/M as an operating system. This combination gives a “hobbyist” the opportunity to explore the inner workings of hardware, firmware, and software at a level that’s difficult to achieve with modern systems. The older systems could easily be developed and maintained by a single person, while today’s systems require many engineers across multiple disciplines.

Due to the extreme cost and/or lack of availability of the older systems, I’m looking at the option of homebrewing a computer based around a Motorola 68000 CPU. This looks like a good option as it has a 24-bit address bus (up to 16 MB memory directly), 16-bit data bus, and frequencies of 8 MHz or more. There are a lot of hobbyists utilizing this CPU so information is somewhat easy to find. There is also a nice simulator available, complete with assembler and hardware emulator, that would help ease the task of developing the BIOS for the machine.

Initially, I’d be looking at a single board computer (SBC) with CPU, 64k ROM, 64k RAM, serial port (primarily for communication to another PC for display), and AT/PS2 keyboard converter as well as ASCII keyboard support (not that I can afford one, but it never hurts to include it as it requires only a bit of programming and a connection point).

Ultimately, the goal is to have an SBC that can be plugged into a bus configuration (using a 34 pin IDC for 32-bit address signals, another 34 pin IDC for 16-bit data + control signals, and a 6-pin header for power supply). The “bus” could then be expanded with multiple memory cards, VGA and/or composite video cards, I/O modules, CF or SD (or both) storage option, SCSI board, IDE board, etc. One of my design goals is to implement a system similar to ones that other people have used but to do so without requiring a backplane (motherboard) configuration. Another expansion is to upgrade the CPU to a version with 32-bit addressing.

In the short term, the system would probably just use multiple disks or some sort of bootstrap loader to fire up dedicated programs. CP/M-68k isn’t really going to provide a good OS for a system like this due to the inherent limits. However, I would like to ultimately implement a Linux/Minix microkernel arrangement, complete with drivers, that is fully based on a somewhat modern OS concept. There are technical limits, but I think a fully functioning system is attainable using this methodology.

I hope to post complete specs, drawings, etc. as I go. Looks like circuit boards can be custom-cut at a very reasonable price these days if you’re not in a huge hurry, connectors are available by the gobs from surplus houses, and I’ve got enough parts to build 4 or 5 CPU boards and support boards without buying much other than sockets.

Stay tuned. Based on my past history, I should be updating this page within a year (two, definitely).

MacBook 6,1 and Linux Mint 9 (Ubuntu 10.04)

(If anyone knows how to get this added to the MacTel FAQ or other pages on Ubuntu’s site, let me know. I’ve had 0 luck trying to do so myself.)

Installation of Linux Mint 9 Isadora (or Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx) onto MacBook 6,1

(sole installation, DO NOT USE IF YOU WANT TO KEEP OS X and/or WINDOWS!!! Also, this is NOT for the MacBook Pro)

There is a lack of support for the MacBook 6,1 and Linux, I suppose due to the newness of the system. While some information from Ubuntu’s site is useful, I’ve found several things to be incomplete or in error. I have used the following procedure on a number of occasions to install Ubuntu and Linux Mint on my MacBook 6,1 with no problems at all. Please make sure you read the steps completely, though, and try not to take shortcuts. I’ve tried to document the procedure completely, but YMMV. Also, it’s your Mac in question and your responsibility, so if you’re not sure about something, leave Mac OS X installed.

Installation:

– process begins with power off

– hold down C key and press power button

– immediately insert Linux Mint 9 CD; if apple logo and spinner are displayed, power off and start again (you might have to power down and back up with C held a couple of times)

– if screen stays white and CD spins up, wait about 30 seconds; Mint’s menu will eventually show up and you can release the C key

– select the top menu option or allow the 10 second timer to expire

– the Mint logo should appear; it might take up to 10 minutes or more for the system to boot into Mint completely and the system might appear to hang… be patient

– once the system is completely booted, you should eventually see a prompt for Restricted Hardware Driver availability

– click on the Hardware Driver icon, select the Broadcom device and click Activate; this process requires 3 to 5 minutes

– upon completion of the Broadcom device, don’t bother installing Nvidia’s driver yet

– go ahead and activate your wireless and connect to the internet (you may have to click the wireless icon in the panel and start the wireless 1 or 2 times before it works the first time)

– wait a few minutes and the system will probably prompt to download updates, which is probably for the best

– by performing the wireless steps during installation, the system updates and also stores the values you input, so the driver will load when your reboot after installing

– once updating is complete, click on the Install Mint icon on the desktop

– go through the normal installation process; when you reach the drive partitioning, the system should allow you to completely erase the existing partitions and either use the entire drive or make changes manually

– again, DO NOT USE THIS METHOD if you are planning to keep OS X and/or Windows; you will not like the results

– the system will run through the installation process and finally report completion

– after selecting Restart, the system will process through the normal shutdown procedure to the point where it ejects the CD

– after removing the CD, press and hold the power button for several seconds until the power is off (we’ll have to fix that problem later; it’s simple but requires a minor change)

Initial Configuration after Installation:

– turn the power back on

– the screen may stay blank for up to 30 seconds so be patient

– once the boot process begins, it is pretty quick and your system should be up and waiting for login within a minute

– the following steps should fix the problem that requires you to manually push the power button during shutdown or restart…

– use Menu ? Terminal and enter “gksu gedit /etc/default/grub” (without quotes); enter your system password if prompted

– find the line that says GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash”

– change the line to read GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash reboot=pci”

– double-check that you have correctly entered the above and have included the proper quotes

– save and then exit from gedit

– still in the Terminal, enter “gksu update-grub” (without quotes); you should see a few brief messages informing you that it found various files

Sound Configuration:

– my experience with both Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) and Linux Mint 9 is that the sound is actually muted in multiple ways when the system first boots; you can test the following method with the live CD prior to installation if you want to prove it works on your system

– start Firefox and browse to a radio station or play a media file that has a sound track of at least several minutes; start playing the track

– click Menu ? Terminal

– in the Terminal type “alsamixer” (again, without the quotes)

– use the left and right arrow keys to move to the Surround with MM above it and type M to unmute the surround

– now move to the right to the Surround that shows 00<->00 and use the up arrow to raise the volume until you can hear it

– you might need to tinker with the settings, but I had headphones working this same way; you can also change Front Sp(eaker) setting, but the sound quality doesn’t seem as good as Surround

– type ESC to exit; you can now control volume using the speaker icon in the panel and the volume control on most media player apps

– please try this method first; I used all of the other methods that were recommended and discovered this one completely by accident

Graphics Updating:

– use Menu ? Terminal to open a Terminal window and type “glxgears” (without quotes)

– every 5 seconds or so you’ll see an update showing the frame rate; my MacBook shows around 2900 frames in 5.0 seconds prior to updating the graphics driver

– in the panel, click on the hardware driver installation icon or click Menu ? Administration ? Hardware Drivers

– click on the Nvidia driver for version 173 and then click Activate; I’m activating the older version first as I’ve had some issues with going straight to the newer version

– this takes several minutes to activate usually so do something to help reduce your stress; remember, I’m doing this procedure as I go along on my system and everything is being typed on my MacBook under Mint 9

– when complete, the window will show the message “You need to restart the computer to activate this driver” near the bottom

– close everything down nicely and then restart the system; remember, you’ll have to manually power the system off so wait until the logo animation has stopped for at least 30 seconds and then press the power button for about 5 seconds or so

– when the system starts back up, the logo will appear different and you’ll hear the Mint(y) sound when the login appears

Graphics Confirmation and Current Version Update:

– run Menu ? Terminal and enter “glxgears” (without quotes)

– you should see an update in the Terminal every 5 seconds; my MacBook now shows approximately 14,300 frames every 5 seconds, about 6 to 7 times what it was prior to the update above (this is before we’ve changed anything at all on the Nvidia display configuration)

– now, repeat the step above to install Hardware Drivers, except we’ll choose the “version current” option this time; this procedure may take several minutes again

– when complete, close everything down nicely and restart the machine; the system should restart this time with no interaction from you

– run Menu ? Terminal and enter “glxgears” (without quotes)

– my system now shows about 16,300 frames every 5 seconds; YMMV

– if you’d like to tweak the video settings you can now do so using Menu ? Administration ? Nvidia X Server Settings

– I don’t really have any reason to touch these as everything is currently set to a value that works for me; the only point of interest is that my core temp is 54 C unloaded and rising through 92 C with glxgears running

– if temperature becomes an issue to you (as noted by discoloration of your white MacBook or through graphics slowdown), use Menu ? Terminal and issue the following command: “echo 3000 | sudo tee -a /sys/devices/platform/applesmc.768/fan1_min”; this sets the fan speed to 3000

– above 3500 or so, the fan is audible but doesn’t seem to be a problem

– this is a known issue with the drivers and will probably be corrected as more of the 6,1 MacBooks get into the right hands

See https://help.ubuntu.com/community/MacBook6-1/Karmic for more suggestions if you find things that don’t work; this guide didn’t really help me too much other than the reboot issue and the fan speed

marstella.com perishes

marstella.com perished a few months ago due to a failure on my part to renew the domain. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to re-acquire it as the company that bought it hasn’t been willing to contact me. Apparently the domain is worth thousands to them…

MacBook 6,1 and Ubuntu 64-bit 10.04 (short version)

Looking to get Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) running on your MacBook 6,1? Calm down! Take a deep breath. Then, before you consult all the web pages on how to get sound working, follow these steps. This might not work for everyone but the steps are non-invasive and it won’t hurt anything to try this before moving on to the surgery-level steps that other blogs are recommending.

  • Go to the terminal and run alsamixer. Make sure no channels are muted and that all channels are turned up (probably above 60% or so is a good starting point). Especially make sure that the Surround channels are un-muted and turned up.
  • Install VLC and try playing back a media file (just about anything; VLC just works). Turn the volume up in VLC and in Ubuntu’s panel.
  • If all volumes are turned up sufficiently, you should already have sound and will not need to hack around installing Alsa and the other libraries that are mentioned on sites prior to April, 2010. I wasted many hours and was running Windows 7 (gasp!) until yesterday, when I decided to give Ubuntu a try again.

YMMV, feel free to comment if you’d like some details/screenshots of alsamixer.

Yes, I know Mac OS X is a very nice operating system. I bought the Apple MacBook for hardware quality and performance, not for the OS. My next trick is to see if OS X actually virtualizes properly now as indicated on some other blogs…

“Vacation” 2008

An interesting thing happened to me on the way to Myrtle Beach yesterday; I found out that there’s a 2nd bike rally that happens about two weeks after the first one…

My wife and I decided on fairly short notice to rent a car and head to Myrtle Beach for a long weekend. After some checking, it looked like there weren’t very many vacancies, especially right on the beach, but we figured we’d get there and find something decent. Talk about being way too optimistic.

We go to within about 15 miles of MB and traffic started getting really heavy. While watching the other vehicles, we noticed a lot of crotch rockets going by, their riders acting really stupid (dodging in an out of cars, going through intersections against red lights or lanes, etc.). The more we watched and the closer to MB we got, the more bikes there were. But this wasn’t the normal bike week (those guys are way more intelligent acting). This was stupidity in motion.

About 1-1/2 hours later, we were finally almost on 17 and near the ocean. Due to the idiocy of the “bikers”, we couldn’t get near the beach since they had nearly all of the access roads blocked by having done something to attract the attention of the cops and/or medical squads. Finally, we drove out of town and south to Litchfield Beach; not a planned destination, just the closest thing with a decent hotel that had vacancy. One vacancy, to be exact. Take it or leave it.

Next morning, we figured it might be better to completely leave MB area and move towards Jacksonville instead. We were hoping that there wouldn’t be a similar “bike” rally there, as we were both anxious to visit the beach and play in the ocean a little. Turns out that, if you schedule your trips right, you can turn a 10 hour drive from KY to FL into a 15+ hour trip. You just have to not do enough research and make sure that everyone you mention your trip to doesn’t bother telling you that the last couple of weekends in May at MB hold a whole new adventure.

RockBox iPod

Just installed RockBox (www.rockbox.org) to my 30GB iPod Video. So far, I like it as it gives MUCH more information than the generic firmware provides. I’ll have to see how stable it is, though.

One gripe right from the start was the RBUtilQt program that is available couldn’t detect my iPod. However, when I ran the ipodpatcher.exe program, it found it just fine. The RBUtil program states that it has problems autodetecting some devices, but I couldn’t get the manual configuration to work either. After installing the bootloader via the ipodpatcher.exe program, though, RBUtilQt was able to install the actual RockBox program, along with themes, fonts, etc.

Looks good so far!