Year of the Windows Desktop

In the comments of the last entry, Mr Ben asked how Windows coped with the same setup.

Now, my initial attempt to install Windows 7 did not go much better, (or should that be beta, haw haw), but, with this setup:

The reason there is a separate boot drive to the RAID is because Windows doesn’t see my RAID card natively, so I have to set that up afterwards. The 1024 cylinder thing would still be an issue, but when I tried that it warned me before I did it (so I didn’t). The graphics drivers Just Work, too, and don’t require either a reboot or restarting the window manager. OTOH, I installed Linux because I couldn’t get a debugging development environment working, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

linux Ubuntu

Year of the Linux Desktop

So, I’m developing Piracy Inc in Ruby on Rails version 3. Because newness is obviously better, I’m also doing this with a fully integrated IDE, in the form of Netbeans. Currently, the Debugger functionality of Netbeans doesn’t work under Windows (because it wants to compile a module, and there isn’t a compiler, and the precompiled versions don’t work, and getting a compiler working led to two hours of yak shaving that could have better been spent picking the lint out of my bellybutton).

So I decided to install Ubuntu, because there was a new version out, and because the server PInc will be running on will be a Linux server, so doing dev work on the same OS makes sense.

I have an ATI (now AMD) graphics card, a motherboard, and a complicated hard-drive setup. There’s a 1Tb drive acting as a windows/boot drive, a 30Gb SSD drive for things I want really fast access to (It used to also be the boot drive, but broke and got sent back, so the current boot drive was put in as a temporary stopgap, and I haven’t reinstalled since the SSD got returned) an SIL 3132 RAID card with 2x1Tb drives in Raid1, a USB hard drive for backups, and an HTC Desire mobile telephone.

So: Boot, SSD, Raid(Disk1,Disk2), USB, Phone.

Boot from CD. the partition manager scanning of the above takes ages.

Resize boot drive to install things onto, big partition.

No swap. Back. Wait for rescan.

Big partition. Swap drive. Install.



Grub cannot find the boot device. “grub rescue>” prompt.

GoogleGoogleGoogle How do I use grub rescue?

“The grub-rescue> mode is a more restricted subset of the grub> shell. Some commands are phrased differently here for easier use. Try help to start. “

Awesome. Except help doesn’t work, and the documentation doesn’t say how the command set differs. Root and boot don’t work either. Also:

Useful tip: try to load normal mode: insmod /boot/grub/normal.mod

Ah, so your hint to how to use grub rescue is to get to grub normal. Why does grub rescue exist, then?

I assume there is documentation for grub rescue somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. Eventually I realized I still needed to care about boot drives being in the first X cylinders of the hard drive, rebooted from rescue and reinstalled.

So, Ubuntu is installed across SSD and Boot, with churning stuff on Boot (/home, /var, /tmp, /swap) and more static stuff on the SSD. SSDs have more limited write-life, so this is Good Use Of Technology.

Support for my RAID card appears to be a little broken. By a little broken, I mean that each drive attached to the RAID card is currently available as a separate block mountable device in the My Computer window, which is pretty much the exact opposite of anything I ever want to happen ever ever ever involving anything ever attached to a RAID card. Still don’t know how to fix that, got dmraid to create another device as a RAID access, and mounted that. So long as I always mount the *right* block device called “RAID” and don’t accidentally mount one of the component devices on its own or write to it and invalidate the integrity of the set, I should be fine. It’s not as if they’ve all got the same name and icon, or anything.

No, wait.

My phone was running low on battery so I plugged it in.

Okay, graphics then. Right. I have an ATI graphics card, duel head output, left side Benq FP73G mounted landscape, right side secondary Benq FP73G+ mounted portrait. Monitor Preferences would allow me to enable the second monitor in desktop extension mode, but if I attempted to rotate it would spontaneously reboot X and lose everything I was doing. So I installed the AMD non-free graphics drivers because I hate freedom and want my shit to work.

The drivers installed and I had to reboot. How quaint. Right, fine, kernel modules are complicated. Reboot.

Or, you know, not. Can’t mount /home. or /var. Nor /tmp or swap.


Okay, so further research (involving command lines and fdisk) suggests that the drive referred to above as Boot is no longer /dev/sdd, but is instead /dev/sdf. Fine, some kind of updates happened. Change fstab, reboot.

X works, but it’s in mirrored display again, so I configure that to be duel head, and it tells me to reboot. It doesn’t mean reboot, it means restart X, so I press ctrl-alt-backspace, the time honoured method of “Get me out of here, X has gone crazy”. Apparently that doesn’t work either. Way to go. Ah well, give in, reboot. Take a recruiter call while it does so.

Can’t mount /home. or /var. Nor /tmp or swap.


The drives are back to being /sdd again. Great.

Can you spot a running thread, readers? Do you see why the numbers are getting shuffled? Has the reason I included “an HTC Desire mobile telephone” in the list of hard drives started to make sense?

Yes, plugging my phone in and then rebooting causes the allocation of my hard-wired hard-drives to go haywire.


Eventually, I find out that the AMD drivers autodetect the refresh rate of my monitor wrong, causing it to give up and go black. I find that my motherboard does strictly unnecessary things that cause USB drives to mean SATA drives get renumbered, I find that my RAID card is a “FakeRAID” card, the RAID equivalent of a winmodem, except with claimed support from Linux, and I should be grateful that it works at all.

And none of this is Ubuntu’s fault, really. It’s AMD’s stupid drivers, or the motherboard, or badly made cheap RAID cards. And the later problems installing Ruby from source (because Rails3 needs 1.9.2, which isn’t packaged), having to edit a Ruby library file to get the debugger to run the right script, but I spent more time attempting to get all of the little component parts to work together than I could spend actually progressing towards actual Piracy Inc development work.

The most common FUD campaign slogan against free software is that it’s only “free” if you don’t value the time you spend faffing with it to get it to work, and that’s a lot less true than it used to be, but the time I spend faffing with the above kind of crap is still far, far too much.

So it’s not the year of the linux desktop now, either.

Computer Games

Falling Out Three

“Fallout New Vegas is coming out soon. I should finish playing with Fallout 3 before I spend money I haven’t got on it. And I’ve already got it downloaded in Steam!”

Start Fallout: 1

Fallout crashes.

Disable second monitor.

Start Fallout: 2

“Where are my saves? Oh, yes. I have to sign in to Games For Windows Live to get at them. Ho hum.”

Live Login: 1

“Remember my username and password”.
“You must apply this Games For Windows update.”… Okay…

… update starts in background, needs input, game still showing static progress bar. Awesome UI, guys.

Update: 1
Start Fallout: 3
Live Login: 2

… “Remember username and password”
“You must apply this Games For Windows update.”… But I… Okay…

Update: 2
Start Fallout: 4
Live Login: 3

“This saved game relies on content from DLC pack ‘Operation Anchorage’ which isn’t installed”

… right, install it, then.

“Download it again?”

Yes, again.

“In order to download and manage DLC, you need to install the Games For Windows desktop client”

… you’re kidding?

Exit fallout
Download gfwlivesetup
install gfwlivesetup…
start the desktop client

Live Login: 4

Find Fallout in the GFW catalog.
Find the DLC
Download it.
Install it

Start Fallout: 4

Am immediately shot and killed by the reason I’d abandoned this save game last year.

Whine on my blog.

Books computing


So, a post not about computer games.

Also, not about the fact that I have been made redundant. Slightly before I was made redundant, I decided I wanted an ebook reader.

Actually, I wanted an iPad, and probably still do, but they’re a little bulky and heavy to cart around in my pocket, even if it fitted, and while my major reason for wanting a tablet device is ebooks, staring at backlit screens is bad for my head, so epaper it was.

I own a number of ebooks already, mostly though Baen’s Webscription store, which does open ebooks. I also own the Kindle app for Android, with a couple of books on it for “try out new software” purposes, and I quite like it, so I decided to take the risk and bought a Kindle and a cover for it. (Note, all the following Amazon links will supply me with a kickback if you buy though them).

The kindle registered as “Cheap for what it is” at £110, the cover (with built-in light, since the kindle doesn’t do backlights) as “Expensive for what it looks like” at £50. The light does, however, work perfectly and the cover does look great. Specifically, I bought the Wifi only Kindle and the Kindle Lighted Leather Cover, Steel Blue, instead of the Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi, 6, which is more expensive. The 3G option and data rate charges don’t seem excessive, but since my phone can act as a wireless router to its 3G connection, if I need mobile access I can just use that.

A few days later the device had arrived. It arrives semi-charged – much like the iPhone – and if you bought it though Amazon without selecting “as a gift” comes pre-configured with your Amazon account already set up. The ePaper screen is crystal clear, and it arrives already displaying a welcome message (The Kindle only uses battery charge to repopulate the screen, so even in the “off” state a message can still be on screen. When you put it to sleep yourself, your book text is replaced with a picture of a famous author or object of literary worth. It’s really nice).

After using touch screens, the arrow-key interface is a bit limiting at first, but works well enough. The UI touches have impressed me. Within a couple of minutes of lighting up, it had downloaded the books I’d bought for Kindle for Android (Empire in Black and Gold) and when I went into it, continued from the place I’d been at when I last closed the android application, after asking me if that’s what I wanted.

The Kindle will accept .mobi or PDF files by default, if you plug it in to your computer it’ll appear as a USB storage device. You can use the open source software Calibre to convert things to this format, and to manage what ebooks are on the device if you like.

The display is sharp and clear, the slightly weird page refresh – which reverses video before changing the content – looks like it’ll be distracting when you first see it, but soon becomes unnoticeable when you’re following. The lack of being able to read it in the dark without the portable light is something it shares with real books, and the advantage that it can still be read in direct sunlight is also.

You can worry about Amazon acting the evil empire and removing books you’ve paid for – though after fucking that up once they’ve said they won’t do that again – if you like and just go with books you’ve downloaded and bought yourself that have no relationship with them. Even with wifi on and using the case-light (which feeds off the Kindle power supply) the batteries have lasted almost three weeks before needing charging.

I like it. It’s surprisingly natural to read, it Just Works almost all of the time, and it’s a quarter the price of the cheapest iPad. It’s not a tablet device as much as it’s just an eBook reader, but it knows what it is supposed to do, and it does that very well indeed.

Computer Games

World of Minecraft

Last Friday, I woke up at 5am, which was unfortunate.

Whilst I didn’t leap up and think “Aha, an extra hour to face the day and relish its challanges”, I did eventually reach the conclusion that if I was going to be awake at 5am, I could at least play Civ5 for a couple of hours before work, as it had unlocked at 1am.

It hadn’t.

I have never had a game preload and then install correctly on Steam. This one took deleting all the preload data, uninstalling the game, uninstalling steam, rebooting and fscking the hard drive and then installing steam and the game, which now had to download again.

In the meantime, I tripped and fell down a Minecraft.

Minecraft is in the Dwarf Fortress Indy tradition of games that look like they were built decades ago, yet have the underlying mechanisms of a game with all the processing power 2010 can provide.

The game looks startlingly like Lemmings 3D when you first enter. A blocky world with your blocky avatar, randomly generated with great – if foggy – vistas of mountains, valleys, waterfalls and forests. Blocky sheep and blocky cows roam the blocky landscape. A blocky sun filters though the blocky clouds.

But this is minecraft, and your purpose is to build things. If you punch a tree, eventually you’ll get a log. Four logs will build a crafting table. Some logs build some sticks. Sticks and logs build a wooden pickaxe you can attack ore rocks with. Ore rocks build a furnace. A furnace, some coal and some ore rocks build you a better pickaxe. You can harvest your own blocks, building houses and skyscrapers, hills and towers, bookcases and trojen horses.

And the game loves you.

And by “love”, I mean that at night the ice weasels come.

When night falls the idilic – if blocky – landscape becomes a nightmare. Spiders and zombies roam the land, able to destroy you really quite quickly. I sealled myself into a cave and waited for the morning.

Come the morning, there was a zombie hiding under a tree. Seeing me, it ran directly at me, and set fire on the way. Vampire zombies, apparently.

So I mined some sand and put it in my furnace, hollowed out a larger hole in the rock, found more coal, put some sticks and coal together to make a few burning torches, and realised it was getting dark again. Time flies when you’re making glass.

I used my new glass blocks to build a picture window of my new hovel, and watched the blocky sun set over the blocky horizon. Then I realised I was about to be late for work, and left.

It’s not a game with a win condition. It’s not even a soft Simcity/Sims win condition of “Balance the numbers”. You can build your perfect house, or you can beat up all the cows until you have enough leather to make armour. You could grab a pickaxe and get enough gold to block the river, or you could grab a sword and destroy the vampire zombies.

I described the epic vista of blocky mountains, but mine down in the rock and you’ll find blocky cave systems, complete with flowing lava, more spiders and deeper mines. You can build rollercoasters and boats, mine tracks and bookcases, all you’ve got is the lose condition of don’t die, and don’t accidentally set your house on fire.

This post should have pictures on it. Pictures would illustrate what the game looks like, how awesome my house is, what the zombies look like, and Minecraft in all its low-fi 3d glory.

However, I have not yet managed to launch the game to take screenshots without spending two hours playing it, so you’re getting it as is.