Friday, December 07, 2007

Sync out of Range issues with new Fujitsu-Siemens donated computers

Last summer I got word that the German Consulate in Los Angeles might have
some computers to donate to our school. 25 Pentium 4 computers to be exact, and while I didn't know all the specs on the machines, knowing that they had P4 processors was enough for me to know that we needed those machines as soon as possible. Unfortunately the German Government is apparently as bureaucratic as the United States' and it wasn't until this Monday that I was able to drive up to Santa Monica to get them. The good news is that there are indeed 25 P4 Fujitsu-Siemens Scenic N600 computers and better yet they are running at 2 GHz, more than fast enough to power a few thin clients, so that is a plus.

The minus came on Tuesday when I tried to install Edubuntu on them and discovered that nearly every monitor I had gave the "sync out of range" message when edubuntu tried to boot. I'm guessing it is a driver issue with the onboard display adapter, but it was puzzling that certain monitors showed things just fine. Even stranger was the fact that one monitor apparently worked fine, but another of the exact same make and model didn't work at all! It was a very disheartening and frustrating discovery and basically sapped my entire Tuesday trying to solve. Eventually I got so frustrated I wrote an irate plea for help on the Ubuntu Forums. Alas, I received no reply.

That night I had an idea for how to fix my problem. Since Ubuntu has pretty good video card support I would just purchase 25 cheap AVG video cards and use them to show the OS. I tested the theory on Wednesday with some old cards I had and it seemed to work so I started shopping around. Eventually I came across and ordered 26 8MB video cards for about $50. What a deal!

So now I'm waiting for my video cards and RAM to arrive so I can start putting these babies to work! Let's hope my $50 solution works. -joe

Saturday, December 01, 2007

From the Obvious Department: Updates help Ubuntu

Well, I'm kind of disappointed. I was all set to whine and moan about Edubuntu screwing things up on my LTSP in the outside lab and how it made me reinstall the entire OS again but then a funny thing happened. After I reinstalled the OS I noticed that it not only worked exactly as it should, but it also had solved one of the most annoying changes from Feisty to Gutsy. So now I guess this is going to be more of a fanboy post than I originally planned to do. Oh well.

So there were basically two problems with the outside lab. I'm not sure whether they were both due to a faulty install or not, but the first was really strange. I have 24 computers in the lab including the server. Therefore I set up 24 user accounts numbered "student1" through "student24" and gave them all the same password so as to make logging on as easy as possible for the students. The only problem was for some reason the server would not accept a few usernames, like "student11" and "student15" for example. I tried looking around the file system and saw that there actually were directories for the malfunctioning user accounts, but I still couldn't get the server to accept the user IDs and couldn't log on to any of the thin clients using any of the malfunctioning IDs either. Really strange stuff.

The second problem was with Flash. Feisty used to require every individual thin client to install its own version of the flash player. Annoying, but not a big deal since it was just a matter of clicking through the plug-in prompts. At least there wasn't any password or authentication required. That changed when I first installed Gutsy. It kept asking for a password and I couldn't figure out which one it wanted. Was it the admin password, the root password, or the user password? Did I need to make the user an administrator and then install flash player? In the end I just decided it was better to leave flash uninstalled. After all the outside lab is too underpowered for anything but research and word processing.

So due to the user problem I decided to just reinstall the entire thing (during which I wrote the previous post). Upon updating and checking out the above mentioned problems I noticed that my user account issue had been solved and worked just as it should, while the flash player issue was not only fixed, but no longer required each thin client to install it on its own! Once I installed the player on the server, all the thin clients had it as well! Super-sweet.

I assume that the updates since the initial release of Gutsy had done something to solve at least the flash problem if not both issues, which brings me to the point of this post: Ubuntu updates help make the OS work better.

That may seem a silly, even contrived statement, but those of us with extensive experience using Windows know that it is anything but. This is because Windows updates frequently cause as many problems as they fix. I'm not sure if it is a Windows issue or a Firefox one, but just last week I had to remove the automatic updating of Firefox on a teacher's computer because it kept losing her bookmarks and passwords with every update. I also got yelled at quite severely last year when I installed updates on a colleagues laptop. "It screws up my computer when I install the updates!" she wailed. And it was just earlier toady that I read about a software update that brought down a call center at AT&T in 1990. Now granted that last example doesn't necessarily name Windows as the culprit, but the point is that Ubuntu gets it right.

This isn't the first time Ubuntu updates have helped me out, but it's still a nice feeling every time it happens. It feels like someone is listening, paying attention, and doing something about the issues that annoy you. It makes me think Mark Shuttleworth should go into politics or something. Cheerio! -joe