Tag Archives: Dell Mini

Laptop Blues

Looks like the days are numbered for my Dell Studio laptop. I have had it since 2009 and it has done a great job. I’ve had a dual boot setup, running Ubuntu as the my primary OS and keeping Windows 7 to meet various requirments: (1) assignments for school that I need to do in MS Office knowing that often OpenOffice does not do the job (PowerPoint is a great example), (2) iTunes… although I don’t need it very often on the laptop, and (3) RR-Track which I use for designing layouts for my O gauge trains.

I use my laptop a lot. I mentioned “school” above… I have been in a program at the University of Saint Mary to earn a Kindergarten through 6th grade teaching license. Next year I retire from the Army and teaching elementary school will be my 2nd Act, my back nine, my mid-life career change. I have been attending night classes since last fall and have completed six classes with five to go, plus student teaching. About at the halfway point now.

I’m looking back to Dell for my next laptop. I’ve had a long line of Dells… the Studio and an XPS before that. Can’t forget the Dell Mini and I am typing now on a Dell Inspiron Mini (a bit bigger than the Dell Mini). I had an HP laptop for a while, which was not a great experience (this was the days when WiFi was just becoming popular). Before that I had an Alienware laptop. Since then, Dell has purchased Alienware and I have decided to give Alienware a go again. I am not a “gamer” but I do appreciate solid hardware and good video performance. I like a fair amount of real estate on a laptop to include both keyboard and screen. My intent is to dual boot it again between Ubuntu and Windows 7, primarily using Ubuntu.

So – why not a Mac? I’ve read a bit on trying to install Ubuntu on a Mac and it sounds like much more trouble than it is worth. Last year I got my XYL a Mac-Mini when her desktop quit. I like it. I used it to edit a video I used last semester when teaching a lesson in a 4th grade class. The video editor was much better than anything Ubuntu had to offer. But ultimately a Mac is not as versatile as a PC that will allow me to load different OSes.

KH6 – Hawaii Bound

My current assignment at Fort Leavenworth has me traveling quite a bit. My intent has been to bring a rig with me and have some casual QSOs while on the road. My success has been mixed. I would mostly attribute this to either a lack of planning on my part or being in a stuck in a hotel room with zero antenna opportunities.

One of the most inspiring ham radio blogs I ever ran across was the 100 Pound Dxpedition. I enjoyed how Scott, NE1RD, covered his adventures of conducting portable operations… documenting what worked and what did not. His last post on that paticular blog was back in 2007, but I still use the site as a reference. Scott’s praise for the Buddipole led me in using the Buddipole during my recent tour in Korea. Another tip from Scott I am going to try out is using a hardside golf bag case to transport my Buddipole to Hawaii.

Now for a rig… I think the Elecraft KX3 would be ideal for a Hawaii trip. With 10 watts output and an internal battery, I can’t think of better rig to take to the beach. But the wait time for the KX3 is still quite a while. I have both an Elecraft KX1 and a Yaesu FT-817ND. The KX1 would be great due to its small size and ease of use. But it is limited to only CW and I would like to do some PSK in addition to CW.

I pulled out my FT-817 and conducted an inventory:

    - West Mountain Radio RIGblaster Plug n Play connects directly to the DIN socket on the back of the rig.
    - CAT cable that connects from the RIGblaster to the rig’s ACC socket which enables rig control.
    - PowerPole 12v adapter.
    - Palm Paddle.
    - Elecraft T1 Auto-tuner.
    - Nifty manual for the FT-817.

My FT-817 has quite a few of the optional bells and whistles from W4RT:

I also splurged on two recent upgrades:

    - Peg Leg tilt stand – I think this will be helpful as one of my significant dislikes of the FT-817 is the small display which is hard to see.
    - Magnets for the Palm Paddle – this is critically important as the Palm Paddle by itself is not heavy enough. The magnets allow the Palm Paddles to firmly stick to the top of the FT-817.

For PSK, rig control, and logging I have my Dell Mini netbook. I had not used the netbook in a while, so I started it up to see how it was working. I initally purchased it back in 2009 baselined with Ubuntu and have kept Ubuntu installed on it since then. After booting it up. I updated the distribution to 10.04 LTS and installed fldigi. The RIGblaster easily interfaced with the netbook via a USB connection and the headphone/microphone jacks.

I configured fldigi to work with the RIGblaster to include rig control using Hamlib:

    - Audio: PortAudio using the netbook’s hardware soundcard for both Capture and Playback
    - Rig: Hamlib; Device /dev/ttyUSB0; Baud rate 38400; Stopbits 2; PTT via Hamlib command checked

… clicked on the Initialize button and I was good to go.

Setting up the macros on flidigi is pretty straightforward with the default macros only needing slight tweaking for my personal preferemces.

Once I fired everything up all I had to do was switch to 14.070 MHz, switch the mode to DIG, and drop the input level a bit. With the narrow yellow PSK streams cascading down the waterfall, I picked one that was calling CQ and answered. Transmit worked and my home antenna provided a nice low SWR, no need for the tuner. My macros worked and the QSO was concluded successfully. All with 5 watts.

I plugged in the Palm Paddle, switched to 7.115 MHz, listened and heard nothing, then used the paddles to send QRL? a few times. SWR still looked decent. After a few CQ calls, I got an answer followed by a short QSO. Great – both PSK and CW were working FB.

Now the question is: do I want to bring my small Tokyo Hy-Power HL-100B amplifier that will raise the output to 100 watts? If I bring the amp, I will have to bring a power supply and a different tuner. I am thinking I need to be able to use two different configurations:

    (A) Beach and Buddipole: using the barefoot FT-817, running everything on batteries.
    (B) Lanai Portable: used from the hotel room, with amp and assoicated power supply.

Now it is time to go through my Buddipole bags and figure out what I need to pack.

Looks like I will be there during the Hawaii QSO Party!

Dell Mini 9 + Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix = Netbook Nirvana

My Dell Mini 9 netbook had been limping along on the Ubuntu distribution that came with it – 8.04. This specific version put out by Dell had some flaws. Follow on distributions were rumored to be glitchy with the Dell Mini 9; problems with WiFi, the integrated webcam, and other nits. With 9.04, Ubuntu introduced the Netbook Remix. Ubuntu’s website says that, “a remix is a ‘respun’ version of Ubuntu built for a specific purpose. Although Canonical has encouraged community projects to use this terminology for some time, this is the first time that Canonical has used it. We are using it to differentiate from an ‘Edition’ which we consider a complete version with daily builds suitable for the average user with no additional work beyond installing the CD.”

I loaded the remix from a USB flash drive (the Dell Mini does not have a CD drive). Everything worked flawlessly. The initall WiFi connection is quicker, Skype works with the embedded webcam, and the menu driven layout of the remix is intuitive. The initial OS took up only a mere 2GBs worth of space on the Dell Mini’s solid state hard drive.

While I do not enjoy the small keyboard and screen, the Dell Mini is a great little netbook to take notes on in a classroom and makes for a light load when traveling. Perhaps a good companion for a QRP field operation?

I look forward to playing around with my revitalized Dell Mini.

Return of the ARSIB

It’s time to dust off the Amateur Radio Station In a Box (ARSIB) and get it ready for field day.
Back in 2006 I was inspired by other hams who had put together portable stations that were built inside waterproof containers, capable of multimode (phone, CW, digital) HF, VHF, or UHF operation, easily powered by 110v/220v AC or a 12v source, able to carry with one hand, and ready for immediate operation with minimal setup.
My prototype was the ARSIB which I used on several occasions.

The ARSIB was based around my FT-817 to provide complete flexibility of a minimalist operation on AA batteries if need be. For normal operations, the 100W Tokyo HyPower amplifier gets me were I need to be. I had a lot of fun with the ARSIB using it during an RV DXpedition and for a lighthouse activation.
I now want to take the ARSIB to the next level – fine tune the design a bit. In searching around I have found several sources of inspiration:

  • Notes on building a portable self-powered communications station suitable for RACES, ARES, remote station, or general QRP use
  • Second Generation EmComm Station
  • KA5CVH Portable

    For my second generation ARSIB, I would like to improve the inner shelving structure supporting the radio equipment. Another goal of mine is not to put any holes in the waterproof container, which has limited some of my arrangements inside the box. I also want all the equipment to be able to travel well, without worry of damage. I also need to clean up the wiring; power, audio, and antenna. Some more ascetically pleasing, but functional.

    I think the Dell Mini will serve as the perfect companion for the eARSIB.

    Ultimately I hope to use the eARSIB (“e” is for enhanced) for Field Day 2009. The plan now is to link with KD6EUG, Larry, up in the Sierra Nevada’s for Field Day. In addition to participating in the event, we will string up an antenna or two for his cabin/shack… and maybe even get an APRS weather station operational as well.

    Now it is time to make it happen!

  • Victory over the Dell Mini

    After a few hours of toil and despair of trying to tweak my Dell Mini with Ubuntu in an attempt to enable the ability to use the 2GB of RAM instead of being limited to just 1GB. At one point I had the 2GB recognized but lost wifi and sound. In the end I completely reinstalled the initial Dell Ubuntu 8.04+ OS, did a full apt-get update and install…. and everything worked (2GB of RAM, wifi, sound, and on board webcam). And by now in Ubuntu I can add my network printers and permanently mount my networked shared drives with my eyes closed.

    And yes, the Dell Mini is just a bit more zippy with 2GB of RAM humming under the hood.

    Dell Mini 9…. 2GB with Ubuntu?

    I got a Dell Mini back in October and have been enjoying it very much. What I like the best is its portability and battery life. At the time, the version that I purchased from Dell came with a specialized version of Ubuntu 8.04 and 1GB of RAM. I wanted to upgrade to 2GB and purchased the RAM. However, the Mini failed to recognize the additional RAM, stilling telling me I only had 1GB installed (even though it only has a single 2GB DIMM). I learned today that the problem is not the RAM but the specific Ubuntu kernel that Dell used for the Mini. And here is the fix:

    Mini 9 Kernel Re-compile for 2 GB ram:

    - Open a terminal
    - Enable root login using the command:
    sudo passwd root

    - Change to the root user and then execute the following commands:
    lsmod > /tmp/modules.old
    apt-get install linux-source
    apt-get install build-essential
    apt-get install libncurses5-dev
    cd /usr/src
    tar -jxvf linux-source-2.6.24.tar.bz2
    cd linux-source-2.6.24
    cp /boot/config-2.6.24-19lpia .config
    make oldconfig
    make menuconfig

    - In the menu that opens, go to “Processor Type and Features”, enter the option “High Memory Support (off)”, select the option 4GB, exit and save.
    - Execute the follwing commands:
    make modules_install
    cp arch/i386/boot/bzImage /boot/vmlinuz-
    cp .config /boot/config-

    cd /lib/modules
    cp -r 2.6.24-19lpia/volatile
    cp -r 2.6.24-19lpia/ubuntu
    update-initramfs -u -k

    - edit /boot/grub/menu.lst and at the very bottom add an entry for the new kernel. It is recommended that you also increase the delay time to something greater than 0 (like 10 seconds) so you leave the stock kernel as the default, but select the new one from the grub menu till you know it works.
    - Reboot and select the entry you created for the Kernel
    - Several modules won’t have loaded after the reboot, You can identify which ones by doing a “lsmod > /tmp/modules.new” (without the double quotes) and comparing to the /tmp/modules.old generated previously. One that fails for sure is wireless, another one is the embedded webcam.
    - To fix the wireless, just open a terminal and type the following commands:
    depmod -a
    modprobe wl

    - at this point, perform a modprobe for the other modules listed in /tmp/modules.new that are missing from /tmp/modules.old . In my mini 9 the commands were:
    modprobe michael_mic
    modprobe arc4
    modprobe ecb
    modprobe blkcipher
    modprobe unionfs

    - At this point everything should be working normally in your Mini 9, and it should recognize all 2 GB of RAM. I did a last reboot before testing the camera and everything.
    - If you are confortable that everything is working fine, edit /boot/grub/menu.lst again, change the delay back to 0 and make your new kernel entry the first one on the list of options.

    I’m going to try this tomorrow – I hope it works!

    There seems to be some debate on if it would be easier to just upgrade to Ubuntu 8.10. The apparent downside of the 8.10 upgrade on the Dell Mini is that it takes a bit to tweak the hardware settings and the potential loss of the battery efficiency of the Dell’s Ubuntu 8.04. More info here.

    The Columbus Day Surprise

    My Dell Mini arrived! I’m using it for this entry. I like it so far, but there are draw backs. The keyboard is tiny. Performance is a bit slugish, but it plays video without issue. I’ve been able to configure it to access my network drives, that went fairly well (… once I remembered the Linux commands).

    It is small! And light weight. So far the battery is doing well. The screen is sharp and the speakers are pretty loud when you crank them up. There’s an SD card reader on the side. I also opted for the webcam, which seems to work nicely.

    Now I need to stop procrastinating and write my history paper that’s due tomorrow. :-)

    Back in the saddle

    I -finally- got my HF rig working here at the Kansas QTH.

    Since arriving here back in July, I’ve been super busy. School (the Army’s Command & General Staff College (CGSC)) kicked in at the beginning of August. The last formal schooling I had was eight years ago – so I was a bit rusty at getting into the swing of things (i.e. reading, reading… and more reading). I’m also taking a complementarity master’s degree program in International Relations through Webster University (two nights a week). The good news is I was able to talk the XYL into taking the master’s courses with me. The bad news is that sometimes the master’s stuff chews up more time than my school work for CGSC.

    CGSC can be intense. September was packed with wall-to-wall learning, usually from 0830 to at least 1530. The schedule is starting to lighten up a bit.

    Today I was able catch my breath a bit… out of class at 1130. The sun was shining, a beautiful day. I had some antenna maintenance to do. A little bit of time on the roof and the majority of my HF problems were fixed. I’m now up on HF, except for 80M. I think a little work on my counterpoise will fix that.

    Back in the basement (aka The Scud Bunker) I hooked up my Icom IC-7000 to the new and improved HF antenna – bingo… all the problems I was experiencing in the past were gone. A QSO with KC2PBX, Pierre on Long Island, NY on 20M and then TI8II from Costa Rica on 17M, later with Ray, W1RAA from Tampa, FL. It felt good having some HF QSOs. I did a little more work with my station setup; hooking up the RIGtalk and RIGblaster Plug&Play. There’s more work to do and I should have time later in the week.

    Other news:
    - I’m switching from Windows to Ubuntu Linux. I WILL NOT UPGRADE FROM XP TO VISTA. Vista is a tool of the devil and I will have no part of it. My Toshiba laptop has been dual boot between XP and Ubuntu for a while, but had rarely been using the Ubuntu. I ordered a Dell Mini 9 (very tiny netbook) to help with school (writing papers in the library rather than goofing off in the Scud Bunker). The Dell Mini is coming with Ubuntu pre-loaded. Sweet. The next step will be setting up one of my towers as an Ubuntu server. Goodbye Microsoft.
    - I’ve gone Kindle. Both the XYL and myself have the Amazon Kindle. I like it a lot better than my Sony eBook. Getting the Washington Post first thing every morning is great. The battery life is a little to be desired. The best part is that I can read KE9V’s blog right on my Kindle.

    Ok – back to the books. I will get better at making frequent updates here.