Adventures in Windows-land – The mystery of the disappearing system partition

goes without saying that if you brick your installation, blame yourself.

This weekend I had some issues with Windows 7 that I have not seen before. This is rather rare. I sit at my computer pretty much 12-18 hours every day. The thing I was seeing was the 100 MB “System Reserved” partition (containing the Windows bootloader) popping in and out of explorer. What I mean with that, is that the normally hidden system partition was randomly getting a drive letter! I noticed it while i was transfering some files to my media pc, and i saw the “my computer”-view uhm.. vibrate up and down. This was because the drive was getting the F: drive letter, and then losing it the same second. Over, and over again.

Some background: This drive is created if you install Windows 7 on an entirely empty disk. You *do* *not* need it. You can have your bootloader on your C: drive, and skip the 100 meg drive entirely if you so want. The way to get Windows to install without it, is to partition the drive ahead of time, use some tricks, or remove it after the fact (like I ended up doing). The contents can be moved to the C: drive and after rebuilding the bootloader, you will be fine. I am living proof.

But so back to the weird-ass bug. I tried diskpart to see if I could remove the drive letter assigned to the system partition. I could not. I would get one of two errors, probably because it didn’t really have a drive letter (for longer than a fraction of a second). I tried assigning a letter to it, and then removing it using:

list disk
list vol
sel vol n
assign letter=x
remove letter=x

No dice. After a reboot or so, the problem would randomly return. Note: It did not always do this. There is something that triggers it, but I was unable to find, or replicate the issue. Randomly it would just start getting a drive letter assigned to it, and then having it removed instantly.

Ok so next, I decided to remove the drive. Here’s how I did it:

First, I went into disk manager (this can be done from diskpart as well), and right clicked my C: drive, and then “Make this drive active”. This makes it so that you can even begin to try and boot from C: without the 100 MB System drive. Next, I assigned a drive letter to the 100 MB partition, so that I could browse it’s contents. I set it to K:, and went into explorer. You need to enable “show hidden files”, and “show protected operating system files”. Copy over everything to the root of C:. Skip any files that you can’t touch (there were two for me).

Next, you need to recreate the boot configuration on C:. First, unload the running conf by running this in an administrative command prompt: reg unload HKLM\BCD00000000. Then, rebuild the boot config with: bcdedit /store c:\boot\bcd /set {bootmgr} device partition=C:

Now go back and remove the drive letter assigned to the system reserved partition, and double-check to make sure the C: drive (or whatever your Windows drive is) is set to active. You should only have one active drive, the C: drive. Your computer might now reboot correctly. Did not for me.

I rebooted and it said partition not found or something similar, so I booted from the Windows 7 USB stick I made, and then chose system repair. It suggested a repair, and i went with it. I was able to boot into windows now, after some modifications to GRUB, since I dual-boot. But that is not a Windows 7 issue per se, I’ll still go through that.

I removed the system reserved partition from Linux and resized the C: drive to fill the 100 MB preceding it. You could do this from Windows disk management too.

After doing this, I had some issues with Windows. It would boot into a “no profile”-mode, and say that it is not genuine. This was because there were some left over registry settings that had to be changed, because I had messed up with the drive letters; namely left a drive letter to the system reserved partition. So I now had some moved-around drive letters, and a drive that didn’t exist anymore, that were still referenced in the registry. I was in the “Windows is not genuine!” mode, which only shows a desktop and the watermark in the lower right corner. How to proceed?

Do a ctrl+shift+esc to open task manager. File -> Run -> regedit. Now, to to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE -> SYSTEM -> MountedDevices and look for the different drive letter assignments. You’ll see various drives, named \DosDevices\C: etc. What you want to do is, flip them around so that your C drive is really your C drive. For me, it had flipped around with the F: drive, so i renamed the C: drive in the registry to \DosDevices\Z:, and then renamed the former F: (really the C:) to \DosDevices\C:. You can get help by doing File -> Import, which will show you explorer, so you can look around at how your drive letter assignments look like. Close regedit, do ctrl+alt+del and logout, and then reboot from there.

After the reboot, remember to activate Windows, which should be no issue. Or just run the Genuine Validation tool/website.

The GRUB issues

GRUB as I said, had some issues with all this. Firstly because the boot drive was no longer /dev/sda1 (which was the 100MB system drive), but sda2, which is my C: drive. That had to change. Also, GRUB 2 (I’m running Mint 13 at the moment) has an entry with the UUID for the boot drive, which also pointed to the now-nonexisting sda1. Both of those had to change in order for GRUB to correctly boot. I did this by installing boot repair in Mint. You can also download the ISO and boot into a live-cd environment and do the fix from there. It’s pretty self explanatory. Google for boot repair or check this site. Any live-cd will do though, since you can really fix this by hand too. Look at /boot/grub and /etc/grub.d.

Sources: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_7-windows_install/blue-screen-this-copy-of-windows-is-not-genuine/1d8dfdad-2ea4-43be-a049-360429cc2d57
http://www.terabyteunlimited.com/kb/article.php?id=409
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc757491%28v=ws.10%29.aspx

NYC – A Post-Mortem

A writeup on my trip to New York in July 2012. I’ve separated it into a few topics, so you can read what you want, or all of it if you are bored.

Travel, Security & Airports

Finnair gets a slap

First of all, i’d like to slap Finnair with a huge wet fish. I had some .. curious issues trying to fill in my data for the flight. By data, I mean the supplementary data that is required to travel to the US. I did my ESTA-thing, and was approved for travel. That system, even thought it costs actual big-people money, works fairly well. Finnair on the other hand, which took 742 euros of my money for a roundtrip, did not work too well. I got an e-mail a 2 weeks before my trip telling me that I need to add some information. I was provided with a link to do so. I edit my information and hit save. Nothing happens, though it did submit something. Close the little window, and hit confirm on the main page: “Your reservation number 123456 could not be found”. Yes, literally that message. Tried IE. Tried Chrome. Tried Firefox. Same result.

So I decide to call Finnair. The phone-call costs 3.15€ per call, plus local per-minute fees. Not exactly cheap, considering that Finnair isn’t usually the cheapest choice in tickets either…

A peppy-sounding woman answers, and I describe the issue to her. She offers to take my information and feed it to the system over the phone. I tell her every single item, and spell any names and such. I didn’t spell New York to her, but more on that later. So i ask her whether the information is on time, and she tells me she doesn’t know, but that she thinks it’s 72 hours prior to travel. This actually applies to the ESTA-form, afaik, and not this supplementary information that the airlines send to the relevant US authorities.

At the end of the call, she tells me to check the website again to see if the information is there and correct.

Rest assured, it was not. Let me itemize some of the things that were either missing or incorrectly typed:

  1. My middle name was missing, even though i gave it
  2. My passport number was missing two characters
  3. My passport expiry date was incorrect (i even got an error saying that my passport is now expired and that i should contact Finnair!!). She typed 2012 when she was supposed to type 2013, making my passport expired
  4. The destination city was typed incorrectly. Now, i may be anal about this, but if you work for an airline, or in the travel industry, even as a temp, you should know how to spell New York.Hell, if you are a human being in the western hemisphere, you should know! But no. She spelled it New Yourk. In my mind, this was the stupidest, though perhaps the smallest, of all the faults she had made.

So after a short moment of perplexion, i redial the Finnair customer support number. I think I got the same Woman, because she neither confirmed or denied when I inquired about whether she was the one I talked to earlier. I tell her the information is incorrect, and start out with the ‘New Yourk’-issue, because that stumped me the most. She started out by telling me: “Oh that’s a small mistake..but I’ll go ahead and correct it anyway”. I then described the other three issues (perhaps not so minor, eh Finnair?) which I asked her to read back to me once she’d typed them in. She then tried to cover her ass by saying “Some of the information we type into our systems don’t show up on the website, so don’t worry”. I could understand if it was my choice of meals on the plane, or what color luggage I was planning on checking in, but what would be the point of having two separate systems that integrate partially? I  mean you could do it that way, but it just sounds weird to me. Then, I’ll disclaim that I’m not a code monkey so i don’t know how they (don’t?) think.

I still didn’t trust her, but decided not to check the information online anyway. I had this theory where, if i open the thing online, it wipes out some of the fields she’s typed in on their end. Sounded plausible at the time..

Now, I am a cautious person by nature. Some might call me neurotic (and be correct in their statement), or even paranoid. But when it comes to dealing with US three-letter-agencies, I tend to want to err on the side of caution. They’ve turned away people at the border for tweeting jokes, so what would happen if my passport number was incorrect? I also bet that Finnair is completely void of any responsibility for any missing or mis-typed information, through some EULA or other agreement I must have mentally signed when I woke up that morning and thought of Finnair. And the amount of .. emotion I would have felt should I have been turned back at the border after paying for everything.. would have been substantial.

I also sent in a complaint to Finnair through their webform (yeah yeah, the irony). I checked the box saying “Yes, I want to be contacted on this issue”. After a while, i got an e-mail saying (or maybe it was on the website after i submitted the form?) that their complaints department is very busy right now, and that someone would get back to me within 28 days. Two weeks after I have returned from my flight. OK, fine, I’ll wait. I’ll also blog about what they say.

The funny did not stop here. A short while later, i get an SMS from Finnair, saying, roughly: “Hello! You’ve recently sent some feedback to us. Would you like to fill in a questionaire on your experience? You could win Finnair Plus gift-cards (or some such trinkets /note) for your troubles!”. Needless to say, I filled in the questionaire, vitriolic content flowing through my literary veins.

I don’t think I’ll win any gift-cards.

Samsonite gets a cookie

I bought my single most expensive piece of luggage before the trip. I was getting tired of lending bags, or using crappy supermarket-quality bags. I bought the second best Samsonite they had on display, at roughly 200€. A black, hard-shell stroller with four wheels. 10 year warranty. Absolutely worth the money. Lightweight, tough, easy to move around. And the obligatory TSA-approved lock, so they can open my bag when they want to!

Equipment

The plane both ways was a Finnair-owned Airbus A330-300 (tail number OH-LTO i think?). The planes were clean, looked “right-out-of-the-factory” for the most part. Neatest part for a geek? Every seat, even in economy, had their own entertainment system in the seat in front of you. And best of all? It ran linux. I’ll add some pics later, which I was able to snag when the guy in front of me fell asleep on his screen, causing it to reboot. The screens got fairly hot, but all in all they worked flawlessly. The screens were resistive touchscreens, maybe 8 inches in size? Also included was a small wired remote with a small lcd-screen. The flipside of the remote had a qwerty-keyboard. The features that I looked at and tested were, in no particular order:

  • SMS (send/receive)
  • E-mail (send)
  • Movies and other video-type entertainment

SMS and E-mail cost two dollars a pop, which is highway (uh.. mile high?) robbery. It costs a shit and a nickle for them to send it out, seriously. I’m gonna look at the email headers later to see what i can deduce from that, as to the route it took etc. Sending and receiving was fairly straight forward, and it asked you to swipe a major credit-card before you started. This felt a bit odd, but since it confirmed each charge separately, I felt pretty safe using it. There’s something about sending an SMS at 11 km above Greenland that tickles my geek-buds.

Also offered was a phone-call option, (the remote/keyboard would have functioned as phone). Sure, phones have been on planes since.. the 80’s? But anyway, first flight i’ve been on that has these ammenities in economy class.

Linux on a Finnair Airbus A330-300

Movies had a fair selection (maybe 30 movies in different categories), all worked fine. Earbuds were included and waiting on the seat on both flights. Again an improvement from the rip-off 5 or 10 dollar charge for those shitty 2 cent chinese headphones on most flights.

So all in all,  Finnair gets points for the flight.

Airports

The airport at Helsinki-Vantaa here in Finland is pretty much the same. They’ve added a new security measure, which involves scanning your passport, then walking into a small booth (not a scanner as far as I know), and then facing a camera which takes your picture. It automatically adjusted for height, and when the picture was taken, it opened the other side so you could pass.

JFK was about the same too, though the TSA has changed some of their uh.. policies. I was at Terminal 8, which is the Finnair terminal, both ways. No nudie-scanners that I could see, so I didn’t need to decline any such invasive radiation based scanning of my body. Too bad, I wanted to see how that worked out, declining that is. I mean, a trans-altantic flight gives you enough of a dose as it is. I see no reason why anyone would like to get irradiated a second time at the airport with technology that is possibly unsafe (or at least not extensively tested), and not even effective.

The TSA signs were pretty funny, stuff like: “Good news! If you’re under 12 years old, tighten your shoelaces! You won’t have to take off your shoes at the security checkpoint!” and “If you are born on or before this date  in the year 1937, you will not have to take off your jacket and shoes”. I for one am thrilled. In only fourty some odd years, i’ll be able to travel without taking off my shoes!

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was pretty much the same, though I was processed by a rather humorless TSA “officer” (why do these guys and gals still have badges? I’m pretty sure they are not all law enforcement trained). He took my passport, scanned it, and asked some questions. I’m not sure he looked at me in the eyes once. Would that be a sign of weakness? Was he just not interested? What was the score here. I don’t know, but it felt rather strange. And for some reason, he stamped the “Welcome to the USA” stamp in the middle of two pages. Was he looking away when he did the stamping? Perhaps.

On the way back we experienced a heavy thunderstorm which hit JFK head-on. Eventually, a blue light started flashing outside, and they announced that the airport was now closed. All eight terminals of JFK. In the end our plane was like two hours late.

During the wait, we were sitting in the Mastercard lounge, which didn’t have wifi. That was the first thing they announced when we got to the lounge. Most people turned around after hearing this, but we just came for the comfortable leather seats. The wifi would have been pretty great though, but it appears nobody had internet at the airport, not wirelessly at least.

Back at Helsinki-Vantaa, we went through the same “airlock” with the self-adjusting camera. Fast and easy, though I fail to see how this increases security.

Hackers on planet Earth 9

So 13-15th of July was Hope #9. The theme was surveilance. Oh boy, where to start?

So the layout was the same as most years, with a few minor changes. There were three main tracks, and a fourth un-scheduled track. The tracks ran on the 18th floor of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York. We also had the Penn Pavilion for us, which consisted of a ground floor, and a mezzanine level. The ground floor had signin and security, as well as the music area, and the mezzanine had vendors, hackerspace area, chillout area, art installations and a bunch of other stuff.

I volunteered again, as I did during the Next Hope (the last hope, in 2010.. yeah, the names are confusing :), though this years experience was, I’m afraid, a bit less exciting. Maybe I’ve changed, or maybe it was really different? I helped out during loadin on thursday, and then did some shifts helping out the AV crew during friday-sunday. This year though, the organizers were either too distracted or there were “too many” volunteers. Work was harder to come by than in 2010, and it was hard to find the people who actually knew what they were doing, and what needed to be done. Also, there was a certain.. clique this year. People who had banded together and gotten special vests (STAFF!), special “all areas access”-cards and such paraphenelia that they paid for themselves. That’s okay, I’m all for that, but it kind of serves as a separator between the have’s and have-not’s. And yeah, I’m probably being too serious, as people always keep telling me, but some of the guys there were clearly above the rest. Man, some of the volunteers were hard to even talk to or get eye-contact, because they were so into their role. Think earbuds and CB-radio. Think walking around like you own the place.

And by no means does this apply to all of the volunteers. Just a select few. Anyway, I felt a little out of my league, and out of place. I didn’t do nearly as much work as last time around. Didn’t really feel like it either.

Okay, but enough whining. On to the talks. There were so many talks that i attended, that it is hard to pick out the best ones. I really liked the Prometheus Radio Project talk, the William Binney keynote (ex NSA dude), and Space Rogue’s Media Hype talk (Great hacks that never happened). There were other great ones as well, but there’s some of them. There were over 100 talks, of which you could see roughly.. a fourth maybe? Unless you were Schrödinger’s Cat or something. The talks were all filmed and recorded, and you can buy them from the 2600 store. Some of the speakers have released their slides, look on twitter for instance. Check the #hope9 tag for some of them.

The tickets this year were not electronic. Instead, we got a purple “Passport”. Inside you could affix stickers, or get stamps from different groups or people. My definite favorite was the one I got from Space Rogue; the L0pht Heavy Industries-stamp. Here are some pics of the passport and stuff:

Hope 9 Passport and plain-jane Volunteer card
First and second page of the passport
Some of the stickers and stamps, including the coveted l0pht stamp
Stamp from a weird “russian” 🙂

In the vendor-area there were some new faces. Hackers for Charity (the Johnny Long-project if i’m not mistaken?), the EFF, the FSF and others were present.

I got a bunch of schwag from the conference, mainly stickers and shirts that i bought or received through donations to the non-profits. I was sad that I couldn’t get some of the EFF shirts without becoming a member. That’d be kind of pointless (and not even possible?), since  I’m already a member of EFFI here in Finland. But we need cooler shirts here too damn it! The “I Fight For The User” shirt was especially nice.

Stickers from Hope 9

New York in general

On the last full day, we went to see the World Trade Center site. The new building, One World Trade Center, was looking mighty fine. It’s now the tallest building in New York, and it’s not even finished yet. Awesome building!

We also visited the Museum of Natural History in the uh.. upper west side of town (i think that’s what it’s called), which was well worth the 19 dollar entry fee. So many exhibits and things to look at you would have needed hours to go through it all.

Wireless was still a pain to find. The hotel apparently had some kind of deal, which was 10 dollars a day. I wish I had seen that when i checked in. Oh well. I resorted mostly to the classic “attwlan” or whatever the Starbucks one is called, and other such places (Burger King was pretty good with Wifi too). Intertubes were slow, and laggy. I don’t have roaming data in my contract, because it’s usually prohibitively expensive. Not that we should complain. The Americans are getting ass-raped by their carriers. They pay some insane sums to get small scraps of data. Sure, they have uh.. “4G”, (not really), but who cares if you have a 1G cap? Even residential DSL connections are capped, which is something I will not stand for, even if I don’t download a lot of stuff…

I set one goal for the trip: Try as many fast-food places as possible. I tried: Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Five Guys burgers and fries. Out of those, Five Guys had perhaps the best burgers, while Taco Bell had the most bang for the buck (cheap as hell, and rather filling). Burger King had good fries at times, and KFC had tasty little Chicken Bits. Pizza Hut had just released the garlic bread pizza, which we of course had to try. It was pretty good too.

TV over there is still insane. Like five or six commercial breaks per  hour of programming. And the ads are so fucking inane. Two seconds of content and the rest is warnings and advisories. Why, I had no idea that Cialis doesn’t prevent me from getting HIV!

All in all we walked a lot, and saw the city. I plotted some of the walks we did, and ended up at nearly 40 kilometers of walking, just inside one city and about four days. Great trip, but I don’t know when I’ll be back. It’s pretty darn expensive to go there, and Hope is now kind of.. I don’t know, been-there-done-that? A 3000 euro trip for the two of us is not something you can just go out and do. It takes saving and planning.

I think I’m going to look at the European conferences next. CCC or some of those events? At least the flights are cheaper.

Ok, this is one monster of apost, best to end it here.

Mac Museum – Cubic

It was time to tackle the Apple G4 Cube. This was something I knew I wanted to have, at least ever since I read “Pattern Recognition” by William Gibson. In the book, the protagonist stays at a friend’s London flat, and uses his G4 Cube. The cube plays a small role, but i was fascinated by the vivid descriptions of the thing. In the book, Gibson describes the cube “breathing”, as it was in sleep mode. By this he meant the power-light and how it pulses in and out if the machine is in sleep mode.

I was lucky enough to get one through a friend (thanks). Buying one is rather hard, and if you’re able to find one, it’s usually far away or reaaaal expensive. I’m talking hundreds of bucks for a 10 year old machine. And if you’re lucky enough to find one, the chance of it being in mint condition such as this one, are slim to none. Okay, mint may be too strong a word. There are two USB ports on this baby, and one of them is broken. Actually, I think i fried a mouse (yes, a mouse), by hooking it up to one of the broken ports. It got really hot, and stopped working eventually. I opened it up, and the main chip was all black and smelly.

Anyway! On to the install. As for this one, I had to do the same tricks as for the Power Mac G4 described in the previous article. I had to open it up and replace the DVD drive in order for it to properly read the Leopard disk. It would start the install, but go no further than the Apple on the grey background, and the spinning loader thing. I jumpered the replacement drive as slave, as i assumed (without looking further), that the HD was master. This machine has one IDE bus, with place for two devices, where as the Power Mac has two buses.

I also had to do the same frequency hack in order for Leopard to install. Look at the previous article for the howto.

Partition the included 80 GB drive with the Apple Partition Map and hit install. Time remaining? 2 and some odd hours. It’s still installing.

Here are some pics.(will post after install is done)

G4 opened up with an alternate DVD drive hooked in. Note the cool Iron Man:ish light.
Cube, Alternate angle.
Cube with outer shell visible on the left.
Screenshot of the installed and upgraded system.

Mac Museum – Installing Mac OS X 10.5 on below spec hardware

So as I mentioned in the previous post, I came in to posession of an old Apple Power Macintosh G4. Now, I already own a Mac Classic from ..what, the late 80’s? A-aand the G4 Cube. I like Mac design, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I wouldn’t work with one (tried it, didn’t work for me), but they are crazy nice to look at. My plan is to have all of these installed with some version of Mac OS, and then shelve them/put them on display at home.

Yesterday i started with the Power Macintosh. I had a retail 10.5 DVD, so this was what i was going to try to install. There were some issues right off the bat. The 10.5 (Leopard) version of Mac OS X will only install on a 867 MHz (or more) processor, with 512MB RAM. RAM wasn’t an issue, the box came maxed out (?) with 1.5GB of it. But the CPU was going to be an issue.  I tried to install OS X as is, and it informed me pretty soon that my hardware was below the minimum specification. I would either have to go with 10.4, which i do not have, or…. figure something out.

After a bit of googling, I found that you could apparently boot into Open-Firmware (either by holding down cmd+opt+f+o and then powering on, or pressing the power button for a long time when booting until you get a tone), and then change an integer value that has the clock frequency of the cpu(s) in hertz. Don’t put in the install DVD before you’ve successfully booted into Open Firmware. Now, the relevant value was 450000000, which had to be changed to 867000000 (867 MHz, the minimum requirement of OS X 10.5 Leopard) with the following commands:

dev /cpus/PowerPC,G4@0 
d# 867000000 encode-int " clock-frequency" property 
boot cd:,\\:tbxi 

With dual CPU’s you’d rinse and repeat for G4@1. After typing each line, you should get an ok if the command was successfull. The last line tries to boot from the DVD. Next issue!

The drive included with the Power Mac would not boot the disk, so i had to change that out. Any standard IDE DVD drive would apparently work, i just picked one out from some spares i had. Hooked it up, jumpered it as master.

Ok, now, remember that the commands in Open Firmware are not persistent. They have to be input each time you boot, until you have the operating system installed. Once it’s installed, there are no more checks for clock frequency.

The next problem came with the hard drive. The Power Mac G4 that i have would not recognize certain drives, and apparently the limit is 128GB. I had a drive from an old DVR set-top box that i used, which had jumpers for “Capacity Cap”, which caps it at 128 GB at the drive level. That seemed to work fine, and the disk was recognized. I was able to continue installing…

..until the installer crashed. It gave me a page-long dump, and i was just about ready to give up. But, I decided to check all connections one more time, repartitioned the hard drive through the disk utility on the Leopard disk, input the Open Firmware magic one more time and this time it worked! The install took over an hour, but it worked. I was able to patch all the way to 10.5.8, and everything works, though it’s a bit slow of course.

The only thing i didn’t get working right off the bat was the wireless card in the G4. It saw the networks, and asked for the WPA passphrase, but after entering it, it would always turn up with “Connect Failed”. A colleague of mine suggested 10.5 might not have the correct drivers for that specific model of wlan card, which might be true. Also, i didn’t try it (yet) after the 10.5.8 update, so it might have been fixed. Other than that, it is working great.

Additional notes: Installing all the latest patches did not fix the WLAN issue. I’m unable to connect to my home network, which uses WPA2.

Power Macintosh G4 ripped open. Note the handy and modular design. Every part is accessible. Which can’t be said for modern Macs..

 

Next up? The G4 Cube, which, due to its William Gibson (Pattern Recognition) fame, and due to its unique futuristic/minimalistic look is my favorite out of all mac hardware! More on that tonight!

Sources:

http://www.thetechbuzz.net/2008/12/22/open-firmware-install-of-mac-os-x-105-leopard-on-unsupported-machines/

http://mac.linux.be/content/guide-open-firmware-apple-bios-0

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mac_OS_X_Leopard

Updates about stuff – Learnings about FreeBSD 9

It’s been a while since i last wrote here. I kind of had writers block, didn’t feel like writing. But then, nobody is forcing my hand, are they?

So what’s been going on? The mess from the December-storm has been mostly cleaned up at the cottage. The trees have been cut down to pieces, and are awaiting final chopping and conversion to firewood. There’s enough wood to last us 10 winters, maybe even more. Note that we don’t stay there year-round, but if we would. We had several cubic meters of dirt brought in to fill in the holes left by the roots of the trees. We had the roof fixed, after the tree hit it. And we had a new solar panel installed (a 110W panel) to replace the one that got hit by a tree. All in all it has been a busy spring and beginning of summer for us there.

On that note, where is my summer? Not that I like the heat too much, but the weather has been unseasonably cold this year.

I’m leaving for New York to attend HOPE 9 in less than two weeks. That also marks the beginning of my annual four week summer vacation. This is something that i direly need at the moment, because work has been busier than ever. I’m volunteering once again for the AV-crew, which ought to be buckets of fun, long sleepless nights and lots of hard work. But totally worth it! The AV crew last time was absolutely great, and it’ll be great working with some of the same people again.

A colleague and friend, K, is moving up north, to dance with the wolves and whatnot, so he’s getting rid of a bunch of stuff. A notorious hardware hoarder (like myself), he had some gems to hand out. He gave me a Saintsong EPC-I, which is a tiny tiny Pentium 3 machine. It’s smaller than a mini-itx board, and comes with a case that fits the motherboard and processor, one stick of SDRAM, and a 2.5″ hard drive. The whole thing runs off a small power brick, and doesn’t draw too many watts. The current setup i have it in, is the 866MHz P3, 256MB RAM, and a 60GB hard drive. I was looking at operating system options, but i finally settled on FreeBSD 9, since I need/want more experience with FreeBSD. It also lists the minimum requirements as “486 with 64MB RAM”. And blimey, it runs fine! It uses a few dozen megs of ram, but i’m left with more than 50% free, while running the OS and a few services (sshd, ntpd to mention a few). The board doesn’t come with any network connectivity, so i plugged in a Buffalo WLI-U2-KL54-AI (i think that was the spell), anyway it’s a 802.11g USB 2.0 dongle. I’ll dedicate the next paragraph to this adventure:

First plugging the thing in, gives me a mass storage device, that i can’t do jack-all with. The driver is included in the FreeBSD kernel (which i found out after having put the ural driver into /boot/loader.conf). Loader informed me that it’s already imported so I guess it ought to work out of the box. Great! The Ural driver supports a bunch of wireless chipsets in the RAlink family, and this card has i think a ralink 2500 chip in it. But alas, no wireless device. It’s supposed to show up as ural0, but no such thing was in my dmesg. Finally, i ended up on a Finnish Ubuntu forum of all places, which had the key words “flick the hardware switch on the device”. There’s a tiny tiny switch on the side, which switches the thing between mass-storage and wlan mode. Flick the switch, reboot, and presto, i have a ural0 device. Next i did some configurations of /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf to add information about my network, and I now have that little thing on the network!! Absolutely awesome. I’ll post my configuration once i get home, because, as I am writing this, it is Saturday, and I’m sitting at the office doing some P2V conversions of production machines that couldn’t be converted during office hours.

Other stuff that i was donated: A bag of games! Olde goode games. Stuff like Descent II, 7th guest, 11th hour (i think that way?), Ecco the Dolphin, and other absolute classics. The pearl of the bag which was completely random and not selected by me: A 4 CD set of FreeBSD 3.0 from November 1998. An official set, by the look of it, including a tiny printed manual. The cover boasts new features such as support for DEC Alpha! I also got a motherboard, which is in an unknown state, with a dual-core AMD processor, and a PPC based Mac tower (a G4 i think?), including rack mounts. That thing is sweet let me tell you. The cover lists the specs as 466 MHz, so i think it’s this model of the Power Macintosh G4 series. It’s been pimped out with a mad 1.5gigs of RAM. It also has a ZIP drive, which is something i don’t yet have in my collections.

Uh what else. Not much at this time i think. I’ll get back with my adventures in FreeBSD-land at a later time.

 

The Early Years

I raided my parents photo albums today, and brought back some dear memories from the early to mid 90’s. I’ve written up an explanation for each picture, and blurred the faces of people to protect the innocent.

An immemorable Christmas, possibly in 1990, or 1991. I got the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, with Super Mario Bros. My very first console, and probably what got me really into gaming.
Me and my sister playing the nintendo during the summer of 94. We’re playing Super Mario Bros.
This could be an ad for the NES. That’s me, being a total playa, and that’s some chick playing on the floor there. Game being played is Super Mario Bros. 3
This was either a 286 or a 386 that my dad hauled from work. I’m playing some skijumping game, i think it was part of some winter olympics game thing.
Here’s the Amstrad 1512 model PC (an 8086 processor) that was, i think, the earliest machine that i’ve every played with. My uncle had it in the late 80’s to early 90’s, and this is, i think, my cousin playing Paratrooper.
Here’s me, being a douche. Behind me is my Compaq Presario model..420? A 486 66 MHz thing. Sold as a “Multimedia PC”, it came with a CD-ROM drive, speakers, and a microphone. We got it in 1995, this picture from 96. Also in the background, note the authentic Windows 95 box, and a sweet 7″ or so color tv. Up on the shelf, an amplifier i still use at the summer house.
Me, in totally street-worthy 90’s flanel shirt, playing something on the presario. Under the desk is probably the first set of games i ever got on CD, “Hits for 6”, which included Railroad Tycoon 1. I remember that chair sucked ass. On the desk there is the printed out manual for Railroad Tycoon 1. On the desk also, a casette walkman.
Some of my elementary school friends over for some gaming. I think it’s obvious we were playing Command & Conquer, and the CD-case is on the desk there. That game.. let me tell you. Many a sleepless nights were spent playing that.
Finally, some blurrycam shots from a lanparty that i know took place in 2000. The games that were played were Unreal Tournament (99), Counter-Strike beta something or other, and hmm.. i can’t remember anything else. These were the first parties that featured online connectivity, courtesy of a DSL modem, shared among the group.
More blurrycam shots from the 2000 lanparty. That’s me on the left.
Can’t quite identify the game being played here. Looks like a shooter or some mecha game perhaps? Same party as the above.

The picture on my Samsung LE40B535 turned red. Ish.

So yeah. I was playing around with my TV, and the picture turned red. Yeah, like red red. It had a red tint, or a hue, or some such shit.  So first I was obviously like, “ok some weird settings change occurred”. Check settings. Nothing. Reset settings. Nothing. Picture is still redish. I mean the picture is sharp as all hell, but on all inputs, the picture is red. Including the built in DVB-C tuner, the PS3, the Xbox 360 (both over HDMI).

The only thing that changed? I hooked up a desktop PC through VGA for testing purposes.

Yeah! Hooking up the PC over VGA borked the picture on all other inputs. Great.

Googling… Find a forum that has the solution, luckily. First page was all “I called service!!!”. Second page had the solution. Go to the service menu, set a setting back to normal and presto: we’re back. No service needed. So how was it done? Here goes:

  1. Shut down your tv, but leave it in standby.
  2. On your remote, pointing it at the TV, press, in order, Info, Menu and finally Mute. Do not hold the buttons down, just send one command per button to the tv.
  3. Turn TV on. You should now be in a Service Menu. (this should work for most Samsungs)
  4. From the ADC/WB menu, select ADC Result
  5. From there, find the 2nd_R_Offset value, which for me was about 20 or so higher than the 2nd_G_Offset and 2nd_B_Offset values.
  6. You should see the change immediately.
  7. To get out of the menu, shut down the TV and start it normally.

Note: My TV was running on the latest firmware available for this model. The PC was a standard Fujitsu-Siemens desktop, and i was running memtest, so nothing even remotely graphically complex. I am also running another PC over HDMI: My MediaPC. It runs XBMC on Ubuntu 10.04. No issues on this for the past two years I’ve had it.

I am therefore inclined to blame the VGA. This is an old model so a firmware fix is unlikely. I am also inclined to thank ‘vasili0s’  on the cnet forums. Thanks!

Voiding Warranties..again

– Disclaimer – I won’t be responsible for anything you do to your phone, voiding waranties, setting small cats on fire, or causing your local subway system to stop working -Disclaimer-

I recently got the HTC Desire Z. Slightly older, but it has the qwerty slider, which i wanted. Anyway, the HTC Sense UI default “shell” put on top of Android is great. By far better than the Samsung uh.. Touch Wiz thing. Smoother, and smarter. But i won’t get into that. What comes with Sense UI on this phone (and i’ll bet a lot of other HTC phones), is a bunch of applications. Applications that i didn’t need. So obivously i tried to remove some of those applications. Turns out, to remove apps like Facebook or Twitter (that i do not want on my phone), you have to have root. I didn’t find any smart way of getting rid of the apps without root, because it requires modification or removal of files that are in directories that are not world or group-writable.

So, after some internal debate between me and myself, i decided to root the phone. I quickly realized that the operation would not be as easy as on the Samsung, which has a fairly established and easy-to-use toolset for doing both rooting and rom management. Samsungs can also be exploited on pretty much any version of the OS.

However, on the HTC, i found that i had to first downgrade the firmware, so that i could use an exploit to gain root. And to make matters worse, this didn’t work on it’s own. I had to turn my microSD card into a “goldcard”, then do the downgrade, then the exploit to gain root, and then flash the new firmware on top. In this case, i ended up with Cyanogen Mod 7.1. again, since i had good experiences with it.

So, let’s go through the process that i had to go through. Reading a bunch of forums, i quickly got the picture that your mileage will vary. First of all, let’s start with what i had. I had the HTC Desire Z (known as the HTC Vision G2, i think, in the US). I had the latest firmware, which in this case meant uh.. Android 2.3.4 (or 2.3.5), called the HTC Sense version 2.1. Anyway, the latest version available through the HTC OTA update. The phone was bought October of this year.

I started out with the Cyanogen Mod instructions for downgrading the phone to an exploitable firmware version on this page. Or actually, i started out by installing the android sdk, but on arch linux it was as easy as installing android-sdk from the AUR. I use yaourt as a frontend, so i did a yaourt android-sdk. On a 64-bit system, i had to enable the multilibs repository, to get the necessary lib32 libraries.

I ran through the steps of  pushing fre3vo and misc_version on the phone, which went fine. I then did the chmods and the debug, which then got me a root shell on the phone temporarily. The next step has me setting the version for a misc_version, and then pushing the actual downgrade onto the phone. All good so far. Next step is to reboot the phone bootloader using adb (the android debugger). This also worked…. until i got a dreadful message. “CID incorrect! Upgrade fail!”. CID? Wtf? Okay. Step back for a moment and google this fucker.

Turns out certain phones need some finetuning to be able to downgrade, due to either..carrier lockin, or some branding put on the phone, or perhaps an unknown reason (maybe hardware or software revisions?). I found this thread on the Cyanogenmod forums, which helped me onwards. The thread describes my exact issue, though with a slightly different downgrade firmware than mine. In any case, i decided to give it a try. The process involves the creation of a “goldcard”, which is then used as a place to store the downgrade firmware. The goldcard is simply a microSD card, with the first few bytes overwritten with some new data.

The steps were basically:

  • Download the goldcard helper application from the Android market. The phone was still bootable and fully operational, as no downgrade had taken place, so i was able to download and install this.
  • Using the goldcard helper, get the reverse CID for your MMC2 card. That’s your microSD card. MMC0 is your internal memory and can’t be used for this, as far as i’ve read.
  • Taking the reverse CID for your microSD card from the program, input it into the goldcard page (a link is also in the application).
  • The site generates an image, which you will download
  • Download also a hex-editor, such as HxD
  • Take your microSD card out of your phone and put it into a memory card reader (i also read you can use your phone as the reader, but i used a Kingston reader instead), and open up the card from the HxD editor using the extra tab, then the open disk menu and under physical disk selected the removable disk which was the microSD card. Make sure that read-only is not checked when opening the microSD card.
  • Open up another tab by opening from the extra tab “open disk image”, and load the .img file that you got from the goldcard site. Also uncheck the read-only checkbox here. Use the default 512 byte sector size. You should now have two tabs open.
  • From the goldcard.img tab, do a select all, then copy. Go to the microSD tab, and select offsets 00000000 to 00000170 and from the edit menu do a “paste write”. This will paste the content of the goldcard.img, to the first offsets of the microSD card.
  • From the file menu, save what you’ve done. Accept / ignore all warnings.
  • Ok, now you have a gold card.

Proceed by copying over the downgrade image to the newly created goldcard. Continue with the CyanogenMod instructions.Following the instructions for the downgrade, you can safely redo all the steps to make sure. Once you are ready, reboot the bootloader again. You should now have great success, in the words of Borat. Navigate with the volume up and down keys, and select using the power or the navigation-touchpad thing-button. Select bootloader, then select fastboot. Confirm that you want to go ahead if necessary.

This will take a moment. You’ll then be downgraded to an earlier version of the firmware, which has a known exploit, allowing us to root the phone. The phone will (i think) reboot on it’s own, and give you an older looking Sense UI.

Continue with the rooting instructions here. Basically you are downloading and pushing onto the phone a bunch of packages that are needed. Then, you’re running the actual exploit which should find a register in the memory, which we will use to sneak in (i think this is a correct analysis of what goes on, though i’m no programmer). Remember to match those md5 sums listed in the instructions before going on.

After this you have a rooted phone, hopefully with clockwork recovery mod installed. You can now keep using the Sense UI thing (i’m not sure that it’ll OTA upgrade anymore?), or install Cyanogenmod, using these instructions. For some reason, i either failed some part, or something failed, but i didn’t have clockwork recovery mod installed after this process. No sign of CWM anywhere. So, i headed on to the market, and downloaded the thing from there. I was now ready to install Cyanogen, which went without incident.

Note, that if you can’t get into recovery mode using the restart into recovery (from the normal shutdown menu, after installing CWM), shut down the phone, and use Power, volume down and the navigation thing pressed all together.

Ok, so now i have Cyanogenmod 7.1.0 on my HTC Desire Z, with Android 2.3.7 on the bottom. Nice! Quadrant scores (yes yes, synthetic benchmarks..) went from 900 to about 1900 compared to the latest Sense UI. Phone feels snappy.

One thing to note was that market kept crashing! I was getting worried for a moment, but then i remembered the internet, found that thread, and fixed the problem. After downgrading, rooting and installing Cyanogen, i had the phone set to a language called English HD. I selected English US, and my problem was gone. So note this.

Winamp keeps crashing now, but it did that on the Sense UI side, so i doubt it has anything to do with Cyanogen. Version 1.2.6 is the latest as i’m writing this, and there is no later version available. The default media player, though, is pretty usable in any case, so i’m just using that for now.

Now, if i could just install this Cyanogen Nightly build… 🙂

I feel like titling every post ‘Random’

Yeah I’m bad at figuring out titles for my posts, so they will be..what they are. For now.

I’ve been back at work for about 7 days now, and I’m already pretty stressed out. Nothing I can’t handle, but still. A decent reminder that yes, i have a job that i do well, but that is not easy to do well without feeling the effects.

My home garden is still alive, and looking better than ever. The balcony-project has been growing lettuce for many many weeks and providing tasty goodies for many a salad. The basil is looking good as well, and right in the middle, you can see some slow-growing parsley.Inside i have another similar box which has some Chives, and some Rucola growing in it. They are not yet in representable condition, so pics will have to wait.

Home-growing (not that, hippies), I’ve found, is quite satisfying, even on this small scale. But in an urban environment (such as in our bustling megacity of a capital, Helsinki), small is where the game is at. Word.

I had the weirdest dream last night. Perhaps one of the weirdest ever, and all without any mind blowing, groovy, 60’s drugs. Basically it was me, my father and my paternal grandfather (who just turned 90, props) on the yard of one of their previous homes. For some reason, which was not explained by anything else by twisted dream-logic, he had.. a cake. Growing out of his left temple. It had apparently started out as just a.. splotch, and dismissed as something old people just “get”. But then it started growing, and turned out to be a cake. And it kept growing and growing. I found a screw on the top side of this cake (at this point he was unable to move because of the size of the cake), and i for some reason, reasoned that this screw is what holds the entire thing in place. So we started turning the screw, which eventually released the cake.

Now if this isn’t fubar, get a load of this. On the side of the cake was.. a door. Opening the door revealed a bakery or a coffee shop. A coffee shop inside a giant cake, growing out of a mans head. And there were people, employees, inside this giant cake/bakery .. thing! So i promptly told them to get the fuck out of the giant cake, and to leave my grandfather alone. The shift-manager, was this weird.. Stepford-Wife kind of person who just had this creepy smile on her face, and without commenting on the weirdness of the situation, calpped her hands merrily, and asked the other employees to leave. I think her happy (creepy happy) face and demeanor was the last thing i saw in this dream.

I would wager i had some late-night fever or something, because never, in my nearly 30 years, have i had a dream that was this fucking convoluted. I’ve been fighting some viral infection for a few days, so it might explain things.

This is so fucked up, you have to realize i could not possibly make this shit up.

So what else. Finished the patio/whatever at the cottage, and it now kicks ass:

Kick. Ass.

Still don’t reaaaally have a well-behaving Ubuntu 11.04 with kernel 3.0 rc[n]. It does boot, but i get bogged down with a bunch of issues. I’ve been posting some bug reports, but most of it has already been posted. So there’s not much i can add. But i try to do my share.

I love how Linus Torvalds has taken up using Google+ to announce new kernels and other misc stuffs. Not sure i like google+ though. It’s turning into facebook for me, which i left nearly 2 years ago. The only thing I’m liking more, is the way it handles links and media, for some reason. Facebook might be just as good nowadays. Who knows. The games addition is (not yet at least) as bad as Facebook, since you can actually choose to opt in to seeing game-related content. So i don’t have to follow your progress on fucking Mafia wars or some other inane piece of productivity-waste.

I started reading Devil’s Eye, by Jack McDevitt. So far it’s basically a “far-in-the-future”, as in millennia from now, detective story. So far. The sole reason i picked it up, out of the blue, was that i was reading an article on Hypernovas (as opposed to Supernovas), and the article mentioned that this book features a hypernova. That sounded interesting,so i placed my order.

Ok enough rambling. I’ll update with some stuff on my HTPC at a later date.

Assembly 2011 – My notes

Assembly 2011 came and went as it always does, the first weekend of August. Pretty much a standard deal, nothing revolutionary on any front really. We only got some attendee tickets this year, as our usual gang kind of fell apart. We’ve usually had 7-10 computer-seats for our crew. Having just the 40 euro attendee ticket wasn’t bad. You always had a place to sit. The WLAN mostly worked (thanks probably go to the netcrew placing more AP’s in the arena, and Cisco…), and you were more free to come and go as you wished. We live 10 minutes away from Hartwal Arena where the venue is held, so it wasn’t a big thing to go home, grab a bite to eat, watch a movie or something. We were mostly on the Arena for the compos.

There were not really any mind blowing entries this year, except for perhaps the particle-laden “Spin” by Andromeda Software Development. It had some pretty awesome stuff in it! Also, the real wild compo had two entries that I really got a kick out of. One was built around an Arduino-platform with an LCD screen, and the other was a freestanding, rotating led-thingamajig that displayed text and images. Absolutely kick-ass!

The attendees are still mostly young and getting fatter by the year. Top three games are, as last year, Counter Strike, Starcraft 2 and World of Warcraft. Not too hard to see. Kids still have a hard time realizing that this is a demo event, and not a huge lan party. When the compo starts. we get the KAAL, or the Kill All Audio and Lights. This is a sign to stop playing, shut down your fucking Rihanna or whatever crap you’re listening to, and look at the big screen. And ever year it fails, because our darling 13-year-old rebels will wait until 3000 people are screaming at them until they shut everything down. Or they start playing music when the call for KAAL (see what i did there?) comes. I get it, it’s very rebellious, and you get to go back to your school and tell everyone what a tough guy you are. Also i get that when you get home, you cant:

  1. Have that nude chick as your wallpaper because your mom will take offense
  2. Play loud music
  3. Play games 72 hours straight

Being at home feels like being castrated. And there, in the bosom of Hartwall Arena, you get to be king for four days. It’s probably a great thrill.

But next year, if i decide to go, and i see a fucker pull this shit… I’ll just buy a bag of cheap wrenches from Clas Ohlsson and start throwing them around. I’ll go medieval.

Booth bitches and other promo-whores are getting ever more popular, which is really boring. They go around in their microshorts and talk to gamers and ask stupid questions and act like they know something. Then they hand out a fucking 10 cent lanyard or some other piece of shit. I remember one year, they came to our area and i think asked one of us why he or she had two screens. “Does that mean you’re really pro?”. No, it means go away you dumb shit. They are just doing their job, but what do we really get out of all this except a throbbing headache. Maybe the kids get something else. I don’t know. I find them annoying.

No 64K intro compo this year, because there was only one entry. Loads of 4k entries. None among them legendary. The 64k intro was put into the demo category, and came in second, which was deserved. Fairlight & alcatraz did a good job there.

Rovio was prominent with their own booth, and their own KAAL which was fucking awesome. Rovio, according to the organisers, actually got their start at Assembly 2003, i think. Which is cool!

Concerts on the main stage instead of every-night raves? Not so cool. We had Machinae Supremacy, who don’t play too well i think. And we had Press Play on Tape, who were good, but a bit too loud. Get off my lawn. And next year? Can we have the bloody raves back…

Ok that’s about it. A different experience for me this year, and next year… Well who knows. Maybe i’ll go, maybe i won’t. Like i say every year.

Check out the Results from all the compos here.

To download any of the entries, go to scene.org

My non-edited, non-framed, non-hipsterized photos from Assembly 2011 can be seen here.