Ubuntu Karmic Koala update looking better

After a week of upgrade woes getting our Broadcomm wireless chip to work with Karmic Koala, the effort seems to be worthwhile, especially since discovering the builtin Gnome Network Manager applet.  We’re sitting at Zaxan Cafe at The Mill  in Hamilton, and the wireless connection was a painless click-click.  Last time we were here, running Intrepid Ibex (8.10), lots of fiddling required in the old network manager, etc.  We tried WiFi-Radar, but it comes with Some Assembly Required, Batteries Not Included: the Gnome applet just plain works.

Linux, and particularly Ubuntu, is becoming a mainstream end-user system, slowly but surely.  Unix has always been an “expert friendly system,” and the need for professional system administration services (and some of us have had our own issues with lack of documentation) has kept it out of the “even Grandma can use it” mode.   We’re using Google Chrome, which is evolving, but the extensions are almost essential to business-oriented social networking and cloud computing.  Firefox is the solid browser, and Opera is attractive.

“Better Than New” — Old House Restoration

After five weeks, we returned to Montana to check on restoration of our other old house.  Backstory–we got a call from our realtor on New Year’s Day that there was water running down the walls in the dining room, wallpaper hanging from the ceiling, etc.  Seems the cold water faucet connection, undisturbed for probably 30 years, suddenly decided to start leaking, which went undetected through several house showings and a friend checking on the house from time to time, as it went directly behind the sink cabinet into the floor.

Purvis Restoration did a great job, ripping out soggy floor and ceiling, drying and mold control applied, and the nearly-new carpet salvaged.  We hired Tom O’Shaunessy, who had painted the dining room originally, to do the repaint.  The outcome is fantastic, it looks like nothing ever happened, except there is new vinyl in the upstairs bathroom.

So, moral of the story–when you inspect for leaks, feel the joints or wipe them down: leaks are not always visible.  Sadly, we just went through a round of leak fixing in our “new” old house in Washington.

Bending the old house to suit

OK, we love our new old house, but two 13-watt CFLs in the kitchen just didn’t cut it.  Last week, we put up a rather modern-looking 6-lamp halogen Z-bar in the center, which lets us actually see what we are cleaning and cooking.

But, the pale moon over the breakfast nook is just that, pale.  So, back to the store, where we pick out a nice pendant light with a ribbed glass shade that speaks more to the period of the house and the metal matches the light bar, more or less.  Dropping the old light, we find what we expected, wires poking out of the textured beaverboard.  but, at least, no gaping hole in the board and the ceiling is finished right up to the wires.  So, we trot down to our friendly neighborhood Ace Hardware yet again, for yet another rework box.  I trace around it on the ceiling, cut a circle with my trusty Leatherman knife, and pry out a chunk of beaverboard.  The box fits snugly in the hole, flush with the ceiling, and even has a joist to screw it into.

After fighting with the lamp for a reasonable time for an unsupervised DIYer (Judy was off to a quilt guild committee meeting), I read the directions, put the mounting screws in the holes they were supposed to  go in,  remove one of the pendant rod sections to put the lamp at the desired height, rethread the wires, and Wow! we have a right handsome light.  Using the same 13W CFL, which is now two feet closer to the table, we have sufficient light on the table.  Life is good.    Next week, we need to take down the bar light and patch the ugly hole in the ceiling and surrounding texturing.

Curiouser and Curiouser — Wifi at last?

OK, another mystery.  I added the patch from the CD, added DKMS from the CD, added the bcmwl-kernel-source package, which crashed the system.  Backed out the bcmwl-kernel package.  Then, recompiled the STA driver downloaded from Broadcom, cleaned up the /etc/init.d/wifi.sh script, dropped and reloaded the newly compiled wl module, restarted networking, and voila! , the blue light blinks red and blue and the wireless interface is now working.  But, wifi-radar still can’t connect.

Browsing around for a different approach, I find that Ubuntu 9.10 comes with the latest and greatest version of Gnome Network Manager.  Hey, maybe that’s what that little antenna symbol in the top toolbar is…  Click, I can see the network offered; click, and I’m connected!  Whoof.  Almost an entire week since we started this upgrade, and five days of fighting with drivers and configurations, and we are back mobile-prepared again, just hours  before starting on our week-long road trip.  Now, if it will only survive a reboot…

Your mileage may vary (Linux tips)

The battle for wireless connectivity continues.  The mystery of the system crashes is at least revealed, if not understood.  A blog by Alvonsius indicated there is a package on the Karmic Koala install disk that will enable Broadcom adapters:  bcmwl-kernel-source.   I had installed it (from web archives, not the disk) on Saturday, which instigated the video lockups (go figure!). Last night, I rediscovered this helpful hint and applied it, upon which the system crashed a few minutes after logging in.

OK, back to single-user (recovery) mode, remove the offending package, and reboot.  The system is once more stable.  Now, the next step is to remove the driver obtained directly from Broadcom and the scripts that load it, and try again with the Ubuntu package.  Now, the other day, when the crashing and burning started, it was some time after unsuccessfully trying the bcmwl package on an updated system, so the fix was not quite so obvious.

Meanwhile, I am getting a lot of flack from other members of the household about choosing to use a “one-off” system like Linux.  Now, these are professional people, but not computer people.  Like most of the world, they don’t seem to understand that a computer system isn’t just a single machine, but a system representing an entire population of generations of software writers, so its behavior is just as unpredictable in specific instances as that of an unruly crowd.  The world of Microsoft and Windows is more or less totalitarian, so that users’ actions are restricted and the shortcomings of the system are hidden behind barriers of state secrecy.  In the Open Systems world, there is a lot more freedom, but there also isn’t always a cop around when you need one.  But, then, you do have the option to take matters into your own hands and deal with the problem.  Which is OK if you have the tools and knowledge it takes.  On the other hand, in the world of proprietary software, the danger is much like that in totalitarian societies: if you are being beaten and robbed, it is no use calling the police–they are already there.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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