Thursday, July 21, 2005

Linux Mobile: Running wirelessly

I got the Mandrake-powered notebook to work over the wireless network with AP at home. But no luck at office. This vexed me more than normal because I had a hand in setting up the office wireless AP and was pretty sure of what the settings were. Normally when you build two things that are like, you'd get better the second time, not worse. But since the first time worked flawlessly, I learned nothing from the experience. That is why I don't see problems as obstacles. They are opportunities to learn.
Basically my problem boiled down to the fact my notebook's wireless card can't connect to the office AP using WEP encryption. Without it, no problem. But the kicker was that I was using WEP at home AP and it worked out-of-the-box. No option I tried could get it done. This is the time to take a step back. The thing to do at a time like this is to not go through the things I got wrong. But rather the things I thought I got right. What was it that I did differently at the office than at home?
And there the solution was. The wireless card needed the WEP key to be in hex. It would not use the ASCII key. That I found that out at home but it was fixed easily because the home AP showed the ASCII key I entered as hex and vice versa when I switched between ASCII and hex input. The office AP didn't have that feature. You either entered it in ASCII or Hex and switching between both just blanks out any key previously entered. So I used an ASCII to hex converter at the command line. Apparently these things are case-sensitive. No wonder it wouldn't work. It was just the wrong key! I found that out because I finally decided to change the WEP key at the office AP. I just entered it in hex and did the same on the notebook. It worked straight away. I didn't do this earlier because other people were also using the AP. After changing back the key and more fiddling around I learned that the office AP apparently automatically makes the ASCII key entered into UPPER CASE before converting it to hex value and then using it . The AP vendor committed one of Great Sins of Equipment Manufacturers: Not telling the user of the assumption you made for them (and in a way, about them). I was thankful though they didn't do something boneheaded like configuring the AP to use two keys for every ASCII key entered (that is convert the ASCII key into both upper and lower case and converting each into hex and using them both). It would have made my setup work immediately but it would be Not The Right Way.

Linux Mobile: An out-of-the-box experience

Recap on the installation
  • LAN network card: ok. Didn't expect any problems but who knows.
  • Graphics display = Vesa only. It bombed using the i910 drivers for XFree. I heard Intel is posting it's driver. Will try that. But not really bad Vesa.
  • Power Management = ACPI ok, APIC crashes the system for some reason.
I mucked up the NTFS XP partition. It went from ok to just gone. I have backup for the XP but not since the major updates. I think the partition was corrupted as I trying to resize the ext partitions. However, using a Resuce CD, I managed to repair it using parted. Or Parted managed to repair it. All I did was made sure it showed up and pressed a few key. It is amazing what is autoamted nowadays. My wireless network card loaded ok but it still required the ipw2200 firmware package. It only detected it after a urpmi makeover. I made sure all of the other repositiories were visible before I tried again. After the nail biting wait for the dependancy resolution and downloading and installing, it worked like a charm.

Linux Mobile: Introduction

Finally, I got a new notebook at work. I was a bit apprehensive about what distro to put. SuSe Pro is a big pull. Ubuntu even crossed my mind. But realising that this was a notebook that would not have all the pieces working with Linux, I needed most of my experience to make it up and running. And an unfamiliar distribution would make me grope in the dark. Mandrake/Mandriva it was.
In the next course of blogs, I try to document as much as possible what I did right and what I did wrong with the hope it'll help someone out there.
First things first, the notebook is a MSI Megabook, rebranded as a local brand here. Centrino chips, 512MB RAM, DVD-CDRW, 40GB HDD, 3 USB, 1 Firewire, 1 VGA, 1 PCMCIA with integrated card reader (Ricoh), built in Wifi, network and modem. All in a nice 1.8 kg package costing slightly under 1k dollars.
The good news is that I am writing this on the notebook

Friday, July 08, 2005

Waiting for nothing

I looking at the Mandriva CD that came with Linux Format, the best Linux magazine for the less uppity or the pocket-protector-less. I wonder when I will get to install it. To be truthful, I had the downloaded CDs longer but if you have read the past few posts, upgrades are something I dread.
It's that I also use the PC so much, I am aprehensive of all the lost time to install most of what I had already installed on the upgraded mahine.

Shouting obscenities and Error Messages

Mandriva is greatly enhanced by urmpi and more so when combined with the repositories listed on EasyUrpmi. If you haven't got plf repositories listed, you are definitely missing a lot. A side feature of using EasyUrpmi is that you can set the main repository, thereby eliminating the need to have the CDs or DVD around when ever you install stuff. As a desktop OS, you will install a lot of stuff.
Suddenly, things got slower during installs, often failing. There are no clues other than messages saying that some packages cannot be installed due to missing keys and that some packages are corrupted. Checked the name of the package. Correct. Checked rpm.pbone. Correct. Tried restoring missing keys. Trouble is, they weren't missing to begin with.
And it goes on for some time. Sometimes I get to install. Other times I don't. So I tried updating the repository indexes. Some are successful, other times, it just hangs, requiring a kill.
Fortunately, I have another desktop at home. Faster. I am the only one using the Internet connection. Everything I tried installing, worked. Even stuff that didn't work.. at work. Then I realised that the PC at work kept hanging when I tried updating the indexes. So I do what I normally do when trying to figure stuff out. I break it down.
Tried a few indexes at first. But ultimately it all worked. All indexes from repositories that have their contents updated, that is. So I tried updating the index from the repository that is not supposed to change, main. It failed spectacularly. So that was the problem. The repository was no longer where it was. A quick visit to EasyUrpmi fixed that. Deleted the main repository, found another one and added it back with the command generated by EasyUrpmi.
Which says a lot about error messages. Error messages are a must. It tells us when things are wrong. More importantly, it tells us what is wrong so that it can be fixed. When errors messages don't tell me what it wrong, it might as well be shouting obscenities alone.

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