3 problems upgrading to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS “Bionic Beaver” on an old Mac mini (2007 model)

The upgrade from 14.04 LTS to 16.04 LTS a few years ago was unproblematic, as I recall. So I was hoping this latest upgrade would go smoothly. It did not.

TL;DR: 3 big problems came up, but were fixable, thanks to solutions and ideas published by earlier adopters.

First I did the upgrade on my Kubuntu computer, a full-tower desktop machine which is also getting long in the tooth. That upgrade was slow, but mostly due to the WiFi situation upstairs in the home office. The throughput is not great, but good enough for work. After the slowness of that upgrade, everything else seemed to run pretty smoothly — just a few config file questions for me answer and it did everything else by itself.

So I set about upgrading my 2007 Mac mini from Ubuntu 16.04 to 18.04, and was quite pleased with the download speeds (duh…it’s connected directly the cable modem via ethernet). After the downloads completed in a third of the time or less, a quick reboot and I’d be in business. Or so I thought. I encountered one problem after another. Fortunately, others found these problems before me and published them. I am paying it forward for you here.

Wayland

It would hang on the startup screen and never let me log in. I mostly run this box headless, but every now and again I like a GUI for it. So I googled.

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/gdm3/+bug/1767606

There’s some incompatibility between Wayland and the GNOME desktop manager and the integrated graphics card on my Mac mini’s motherboard. Solution: fall back to Xorg instead of Wayland. Edit the /etc/gdm3/custom.conf file and uncomment the line WaylandEnable=false.

DNS

After I got the display manager working, I quickly saw that no internet stuff dependent on domain names was working. Hard-coded addresses, like for the machines on my LAN, seemed to work fine. More googling led me to comment out the line:

dns=dnsmasq

… in the file /etc/NetworkManger/NetworkManager.conf so as to not use the systemd DNS-stub thing from systemd pointing to 127.0.0.53 or whatever. After a reboot, domain name resolution starting working again.

apt and $LANGUAGE in my locale

OK, DNS resolution was working again. I wanted to get the freshest versions of the packages (maybe fixing the previous problems). Reading the package lists with sudo apt update was running extremely slowly — several minutes just to advance from 1% to 2%, whereas this part of the task is over and done with normally quite quickly. I googled some more and found something to try here:

https://askubuntu.com/questions/251781/reading-package-list-takes-forever/327444 (kinda far down on the page)

Apparently the $LANGUAGE variable needs to be in the form of a two-character lower-case ISO code, like “en”. Mine had been set to something like “en_US.UTF-8” and it had never caused problems for me before. But I used localectl set-locale LANGUAGE=en to update it, and after a new login, things were working normally again.

Conclusion

I wonder when that old mid-2007 Mac mini will no longer be supported by the likes of Debian and Ubuntu. 11 years later though — it’s still chugging along with maxed-out RAM and an SSD HD upgrade along the way.

Kubuntu + Dell Vostro + Wireless Networking = *headdesk*

I bought a new, old computer — a Dell Vostro 1310 — on which to play around with Linux today. Here are the things I’ve learned:

  • I am not sure the processor in this notebook is a 64-bit processor (it’s an Intel Core 2 Duo…but I don’t know which series, or whether that matters. I am not a hardware person). I eventually gave up after the installer crashed a couple times at critical junctures and I am having better results with the 32-bit version of Kubuntu.
  • Telling the BIOS to boot from CD/DVD or SD card reader or USB device in order to start the installation process really didn’t work all that well. Google was my friend on this one; someone out there reported better results after a cold boot. I think that’s what finally worked for me, too.
  • There’s a dreaded Broadcom wireless card in here. I’ve struggled with those for so many years now, and I’m not alone in that, so I am kind of surprised that it’s still such a big hassle to get wireless networking actually working in this day and age. In the end, I gave up, too. I couldn’t make the WLAN in my apartment work on Channel 13 with this network card. I kept seeing other networks in and near our building, but never ours. Some Googling revealed that others had similar symptoms, and that you can use sudo iwlist chan at a command prompt to see what channels are available. I tried proprietary drivers. I tried generic drivers. I didn’t mess with any kernel modules (like I used to have to do, the last time I had Linux running on a laptop). So since I could only get the card to acknowledge Channels 1 through 11, I just switched our network over to one of those instead of fighting with it any longer, and I guess it’s all hunkey-dorey now.

Still don’t know what I’d do, however, if there were a compelling reason to use Channel 12 or 13. I wonder if this is the same problem other guests were having with their smartphones last summer while visiting us.

Skype on Kubuntu Natty (11.04) with video on from a crappy old web camera

I’ve been tinkering around with this all morning. I’ve been googling for terms like

  • skype
  • linux
  • kubuntu
  • gspca
  • sonix
  • gspca_sonixj
  • 0c45:613c Microdia PC Camera (SN9C120)
  • video
  • modprobe
  • lsmod
  • lsusb
  • speedlink

to mostly no avail. I kept finding hits and solution suggestions for older operating systems, or newer cameras. But I pressed on, because I knew this camera was working with applications like the aptly named Cheese (whence the image in this post came), Kopete, and even Google+ Hangouts seemed to work just fine with this cheapo camera (well, aside from its cheapo image quality, that is).

Sooner or later along the way, I hit upon this post by Hitesh Sarda which gave me a hint about starting Skype by setting some environment variables. I tried what he suggested, and that didn’t work for me. But I noticed that in the same folder as the shared object he mentioned, there was another one available.

myuser@linux:/usr/lib/libv4l$ ls
ov511-decomp ov518-decomp v4l1compat.so v4l2convert.so
myuser@linux:/usr/lib/libv4l$

And that v4l2convert.so shared object file does something to make my camera work with Skype. So with a simple shell script, I can start Skype and get the video working:

#!/bin/sh
env LD_PRELOAD=/usr/lib/libv4l/v4l2convert.so skype

I suppose most people would have simply upgraded to a newer/better webcam…but not me. Skype needs to catch up with other software companies supporting more varied hardware via open-source platforms out of the box, otherwise they’re going to end up just like Microsoft Internet Explo — oh…uh, never mind.

Skype 2.2 on Mac mini under Kubuntu 10.10 with USB mic

Haven’t geeked out here in a while!

This morning I put Kubuntu 10.10 onto my Mac mini’s hardware (in parallel to OS X 10.6) sort of for a lark and sort of because I like the KDE desktop so much. It went surprisingly smoothly and painlessly, despite my hodgepodge of cannibalized hardware (but hey, that’s what a Mac mini is for, right?).

I had no trouble getting all the basics to work: external hard drives readable and usable, WLAN was a snap, even got Kdropbox (though it’s not called that anymore) going quickly and painlessly.

Except for Skype. I downloaded the latest .deb package from skype.com and the audio output stuff seemed to be working just fine. But not the audio input from my USB microphone. Couldn’t figure that out. I did some googling, but mostly found references to Skype beta versions and hacked up wrappers from years ago, like version 1.2 or 1.3. Didn’t really seem appropriate anymore. There was a hint in the Skype Sound Devices options about PulseAudio and messing the with the settings outside of the Skype software.

So I kept digging in the KDE System Settings dialog. First weird thing I noticed: no obvious “Sound” or “Audio” control panels? Hmm, what about this Multimedia setting? I looked in there more than once before I realized that I need to take a look at “Phonon”.

In here I finally saw that I could adjust the preference order of my sound input devices, moving the USB microphone higher up on the list. Then Skype worked like a champ!

Expanding our personal network

Sounds creepy, doesn’t it? Like I’m going to corner you at a party and explain how

Beautyvision is more than just a franchise opportunity… It’s a way of looking at the world with the total absence of fear.

It’s not like that.

We got pretty tired of picking hotels and rental apartments based in part on their advertised internet connectivity. Which pretty much always is more hassle than it’s worth. Therefore, when I heard about O2‘s “dayflat pack” rate of €3,50/day or €25/month on a prepaid surfstick, I thought it was a great idea. We have a pretty reliable internet connection at home, and don’t need a mobile internet contract because we’re not usually out on the road. But when we are traveling (in Germany) €3,50 for the odd day’s worth of mobile broadband with no further strings attached is a great deal. No more getting the unluckily situated hotel room, the rental apartment running out of surfsticks, paying through the nose to SwissCom at the hotel or T-Mobile at the airport.

“Whew!” I thought to myself. “This sounds great!”

Reading a little closer into the system requirements, I saw that linux — of course — isn’t supported. Googling a bit, I found you can’t even fake it via Wine.

A little more googling revealed stuff about usb_modeswitcher and umtsmon — programs which enable your linux box (or netbook in this case) to manipuate your phone’s (or surfsticks’s) SIM card while it’s plugged into your USB port or PCMCIA slot. I noticed all the posts on this topic were about two years old, and apparently largely irrelevant now that Ubuntu supports all those things more or less out-of-the box.

But I’m on Kubuntu, which always seems to lag behind Ubuntu in terms of networking, and was still struggling until I coughed up for the Huawei E5 mobile WLAN router.

Wearing the TrekStor badge, this is my Huawei E5 model
This cute little device will let me and my four favorite WiFi capable devices surf on the cellular signal from that O2 pre-paid card: Sarah’s phone, our little netbook, my iPod touch, plus two other WLAN-capable devices (perhaps those of travel buddies), all simultaneously. Best part: somehow it knew all the settings like APN and dial-up number (huh? dial-up?) or, it read all that stuff off the SIM card…not sure which. Kubuntu and umtsmon needed me to tell them those things (and I was clueless as to what to put in there).

There is at least one caveat here: the easiest way to tell O2 you want to cash in some of your prepaid credit in the form of a dayflat pass is to use the software that came installed on the surfstick’s tiny little drive. That requires Windows (which I only use at work, and not at home) or a Macintosh (OK, got one of those). But my Mac is not a mobile device. How then, can I activate a dayflat pack while underway armed with only the SIM card (and surfstick) and no Windows/Mac OS with me?

The secret is that you CAN purchase a daily or monthly pack without the O2 “Mobile Partner” software. You just put that O2 prepaid SIM card into any GSM phone, boot it, and then dial *104#. I’m not sure what this is called in English, but the text that appeared on my phone said something like “service command” (I think was “Dienstbefehl“). From there you can enter numbers on your phone’s keypad to purchase a dayflat or monthly pack out of your pre-paid account’s available credit. Then pop that SIM card back into your surfstick or portable WiFi router and you’re good.

Nerdin’ out with Kubuntu 9.10 “Karmic Koala”

My venerable old vprMatrix (I think it was a Best Buy house brand) computer has gone through a power supply and video card and I’ve beefed up the hard drives on it a couple times. Now I think it might be time for its second video card. I upgraded it from Kubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) with the intention of going straight to Kubuntu 10.04 “Lucid Lynx” LTS, but alas, the 8.04 “Hardy Heron” release of Kubuntu was not deemed an “LTS” release, so I have to hop, skip and jump my way around here a bit to fully modernize the OS on that box. If I even get all the way there.

The upgrade seemed to go OK to 9.10, but once I rebooted into Kubuntu 9.10, I noticed one thing immediately: the snazzy new (to me) KDE4 environment was not drawing the windows properly – parts of most (but not all windows) were displaying ostensibly correctly, but the title bar of every window was garbled with a repeating pattern of lines — some vertical, some horizontal. So much so, that I couldn’t read the titles of any of the windows I clicked on. I had to rely on my old friends, the keyboard shortcuts, to call up a console session and turn the machine off via command line. I googled around a bit and found this: Window corruption with older ATI graphics cards

The tips there fixed my window display problems, but I wonder if I should just upgrade the video card anyway. Scrolling seems clunky; 32MB of RAM on the graphics card just might not cut it anymore. We’ll see how it looks when I get to 10.04 (another 1500 files have to be downloaded and configured and installed and …).

Dell Inspiron Mini 9-inch Netbook with Ubuntu 8.04 – personal experiences wanted

Warning: pretty geeky stuff in this post.

Our aging-when-we-bought-it-new laptop teetered another step toward the abyss while at the airport in Mexico City between flights on our way to Puerto Vallarta. It was there that the flakiness Sarah and I’d seen revealed itself to be due, at least in part, to a failing hard drive.

“OK, I can work around that…when we get back to Germany…” I thought to myself. I picked out an SATA hard disk drive from Amazon.de — a Toshiba MK2552GSX (250GB, for about 50 €) and downloaded a fresh ISO image of Kubuntu 9.04 (and burnt the ISO image to a CD on our Mac mini), removed the old Fujitsu 40GB SATA drive and connected the fresh new Toshiba one. The installation appeared to be going OK, until we got to the point in the process where the drive needs to be partitioned.

No dice. The BIOS wouldn’t recognnize the new drive.

“Hmm, maybe Scott‘s right and I should reflash the BIOS.” So I burnt an ISO image of that file onto CD, flashed the BIOS to the latest update for our lappy, a Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Pro V2035, and tried the whole thing again, just to make sure.

Still no dice.

We’d previously tried out an Asus Eee PC purchased from amazon.de and were pretty satisfied with that little thing, except that the battery in it refused to hold a charge whatsoever. Reading up on that particular product online after-the-fact (uh…should have done that BEFORE-the-fact) I discovered that those Eee PC things are particularly prone to significant battery drain — even when the thing is completely off, even when the battery is completely disconnected from the machine. Which kinda works against the concept of keeping a netbook charged and ready to go with you out the door on your adventures. So we opted to send it back and ask for a refund rather than a replacement. Amazon.de was prompt about that, but it still annoyed me that they sent a defective product in the first place.

So now I’m looking at turning that Toshiba drive, which despite a BIOS flash is still unrecognizable to my old lappy, into an external hard drive for use with a different netbook. Looking around online, I noticed that Dell is offering 9″ netbooks with Ubuntu 8.04 installed and an SSD, upgradable RAM, and a few other upgradable or customizable features. Sounds great, right? Still maybe not optimal for what I want. Check out this little chat session I had with a CSR from them if you can read Dorktsch.

Specifically, I’m not sure how I feel about

  • installing Kubuntu voiding the warranty (I guess for Dell that counts as a different operating system, even though I strongly suspect no one else would consider “Kubuntu” a different operating system from “Ubuntu”).
  • having no recovery DVD supplied with purchase (even though Dell sales to/from other countries apparently got recovery DVDs with them).
  • having to call tech support if I want to reset my machine back to its factory configuration.

Those things make me a little nervous. Still we are talking about a purchase of “only” 269€ (the way I configured my Wunschmaschine). I suppose Ubuntu (i.e. GNOME) might be just fine for our intended purposes (read email, do some light surfing, move photos from my camera onto an external HDD while traveling). Any advice to offer me? I’m particularly anyone who has bought one of these Dells or installed a flavor of Linux on another brand of netbook.