Shallow Thoughts : tags : vaio

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 27 Aug 2011

Vaio tips for Debian Squeeze

I switched to the current Debian release, "Squeeze", quite a few months ago on my Sony Vaio laptop. I've found that Squeeze, with its older kernel and good attention to power management (compared to the power management regressions in more recent kernels), gets much better battery life than either Arch Linux or Ubuntu on this machine. I'm using Squeeze as the primary OS at least until the other distros get their kernel power management sorted out.

I did have to solve a couple of minor problems when switching over, though.

Suspend/Resume quirks

The first problem was that my Vaio TX650 would freeze on resuming from suspend -- something that every other Linux distro has handled out of the box on this machine.

The solution turned out to be simple though non-obvious, apparently a problem with controlling power to the display:

sudo pm-suspend --quirk-dpms-on

That wasn't easy to find, but ever since then the machine has been suspending without a single glitch. And it's a true suspend, unlike Ubuntu Natty, which on this machine will use up a full battery if I leave it suspended all day -- Natty uses nearly as much power when suspended as it does running.

Adjusting screen brightness: debugging ACPI

Of course, once I got that sorted out, there were the usual collection of little changes I needed to make. Number one was that it didn't automatically handle brightness adjustment with the Fn-F5 and Fn-F6 keys.

It turned out my previous technique for handling the brightness keys didn't work, because the names of the ACPI events in /etc/acpi/events had changed. Previously, /etc/acpi/events/sony-brightness-down had contained references to the Sony I/O Control, or SPIC:

event=sony/hotkey SPIC 00000001 00000010
action=/etc/acpi/ down
That device didn't exist on Squeeze. To find out what I needed now, I ran acpi-listen and typed the function-key combos in question. That gave me the codes I needed. I changed the sony-brightness-down file to read:
event=video/brightnessdown BRTDN 00000087 00000000
action=/etc/acpi/ down

It's probably a good thing, changing to be less Sony-specific ... but as a user it's one of those niggling annoyances that I have to go chase down every time I upgrade to a new Linux version.

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[ 11:07 Aug 27, 2011    More linux/laptop | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 16 May 2008

How to set your time zone

My laptop's clock has been drifting. I suspect the clock battery is low (not surprising on a 7-year-old machine). But after an hour of poking and prodding, I've been unable to find a way to expose the circuit board under the keyboard, either from the top (keyboard) side -- though I know how to remove individual keycaps, thanks to a reader who sent me detailed instructions a while back (thanks, Miles!) -- or the bottom. Any expert on Vaio SR laptops know how this works?

Anyway, that means I have to check and reset the time periodically. So this morning I did a time check and found it many hours off. No, wait -- actually it was pretty close; it only looked like it was way off because the system had suddenly decided it was in UTC, not PDT. But how could I change that back?

I checked /etc/timezone -- sure enough, it was set to UTC. So I changed that, copying one from a debian machine -- "US/Pacific", but that didn't do it, even after a reboot.

I spent some time reading man hwclock -- there's a lot of good reading in that manual page, about the relation between the system (kernel) clock and the hardware clock. Did you know that you're not supposed to use the date command to set the system time while the system is running? Me neither -- I do that all the time. Hmm. Anyway, interesting reading, but nothing useful about the system time zone.

It has an extensive SEE ALSO list at the end, so I explored some of those documents. /usr/share/doc/util-linux/README.Debian.hwclock is full of lots of interesting information, well worth reading, but it didn't have the answer. man tzset sounded promising, but there was no such man page (or program) on my system. Just for the heckofit, I tried typing tz[tab] to see if I had any other timezone-related programs installed ... and found tzselect. And there was the answer, added almost as an afterthought at the end of the manual page:

Note that tzselect will not actually change the timezone for you. Use 'dpkg-reconfigure tzdata' to achieve this.
Sure enough, dpkg-reconfigure tzdata let me set the time zone. And it even seems to be remembered through a reboot.

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[ 10:04 May 16, 2008    More linux | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 07 Apr 2008

Ubuntu "Hardy Heron"

On a lunchtime bird walk on Monday I saw one blue heron and at least five green herons (very unusuual to see so many of those). Maybe that helped prepare me for installing the latest Ubuntu beta, "Hardy Heron", Monday afternoon.

I was trying the beta primarily in the hope that it would fix a serious video out regression that appeared in Gutsy (the current Ubuntu) in January. My beloved old Vaio SR17 laptop can't switch video signals on the fly like some laptops can; I've always needed to boot it with an external monitor or projector connected. But as long as it saw a monitor at boot time, it would remember that state through many suspend cycles, so I could come out of suspend, plug in to a projector and be ready to go. But beginning some time in late January, somehow Gutsy started doing something that turned off the video signal when suspending. To talk to a projector, I could reboot with the projector connected (I hate making an audience watch that! and besides, it takes away the magic). I also discovered that switching to one of the alternate consoles, then back (ctl-alt-F2 ctl-alt-F7) got a signal going out on the video port -- but I found out the hard way, in front of an audience, that it was only a 640x480 signal, not the 1024x768 signal I expected. Not pretty! I could either go back to Feisty ... or try upgrading to Hardy.

I've already written about the handy debootstrap lightweight install process I used. (I did try the official Hardy "alternate installer" disk first, but after finishing package installation it got into a spin lock trying to configure kernel modules, so I had to pull the plug and try another approach.)

This left me with a system that was very minimal indeed, so I spent the next few hours installing packages, starting with tcsh, vim (Ubuntu's minimal install has something called vim, but it's not actually vim so you tend to get lots of errors about parsing your .vimrc until you install the real vim), acpi and acpi-support (for suspending), and the window system: xorg and friends. To get xorg, I started with:

apt-get install xserver-xorg-video-savage xbase-clients openbox xloadimage xterm

Then there was the usual exercise of aptitude search font and installing everything on that list that seemed relevant to European languages (I don't really need to scroll through dozens of Tamil, Thai, Devanagari and Bangla fonts every time I'm looking for a fancy cursive in GIMP).

But I hit a problem with that pretty early on: turns out most of the fonts I installed weren't actually showing up in xlsfonts, xfontsel, gtkfontsel, or, most important, the little xlib program I'm using for a talk I need to give in a couple weeks. I filed it as bug 212669, but kept working on it, and when a clever person on #ubuntu+1 ("redwhitewaldo") suggested I take a look at the x-ttcidfont-conf README, that gave me enough clue to get me the rest of the way. Turns out there's a Debian bug with the solution, and the workaround is easy until the Ubuntu folks pick up the update.

I hit a few other problems, like the PCMCIA/udev problem I've described elsewhere ... but mostly, my debootstrapped Hardy Heron is working quite well.

And in case you're wondering whether Hardy fixed the video signal problem, I'm happy to say it does. Video out is working just fine.

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[ 18:31 Apr 07, 2008    More linux/install | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Tue, 15 May 2007

Debian "Etch": a Sketch

Since I'd already tried the latest Ubuntu on my desktop, I wanted to check out Debian's latest, "Etch", on my laptop.

The installer was the same as always, and the same as the Ubuntu installer. No surprises, although I do like the way Debian gives me a choice of system types to install (Basic desktop, Web server, etc. ... though why isn't "Development" an option?) compared to Ubuntu's "take the packages we give you and deal with it later" approach.

Otherwise, the install went very much like a typical Ubuntu install. I followed the usual procedures and workarounds so as not to overwrite the existing grub, to get around the Vaio hardware issues, etc. No big deal, and the install went smoothly.

The good

But the real surprise came on booting into the new system. Background: my Vaio SR-17 has a quirk (which regular readers will have heard about already): it has one PCMCIA slot, which is needed for either the external CDROM drive or a network card. This means that at any one time, you can have a network, or a CDROM, but not both. This tends to throw Debian-based installers into a tizzy -- you have to go through five or more screens (including timing out on DHCP even after you've told it that you have no network card) to persuade the installer that yes, you really don't have a network and it's okay to continue anyway.

That means that the first step after rebooting into the new system is always configuring the network card. In Ubuntu installs, this typically means either fiddling endlessly with entries in the System or Admin menus, or editing /etc/network/interfaces.

Anticipating a vi session, I booted into my new Etch and inserted the network card (a 3COM 3c59x which often confuses Ubuntu). Immediately, something began spinning in the upper taskbar. Curious, I waited, and in ten seconds or so a popup appeared informing me "You are now connected to the wired net."

And indeed I was! The network worked fine. Kudos to debian -- Etch is the first distro which has ever handled this automatically. (I still need to edit /etc/network/interfaces to set my static IP address -- network manager

Of course, since this was my laptop, the next most important feature is power management. Happily, both sleep and hibernate worked correctly, once I installed the hibernate package. That had been my biggest worry: Ubuntu was an early pioneer in getting ACPI and power management code working properly, but it looks like Debian has caught up.

The bad

I did see a couple of minor glitches.

First, I got a lot of system hangs in X. These turned out to be the usual dri problem on S3 video cards. It's a well known bug, and I wish distros would fix it!

I've also gotten at least one kernel OOPS, but I have a theory about what might be causing that. Time will tell whether it's a real problem.

It took a little googling to figure out the line I needed to add to /etc/apt/sources.list in order to install programs that weren't included on the CD. (Etch automatically adds lines for security updates, but not for getting new software). But fortunately, lots of other people have already asked this in a variety of forums. The answer is:

deb etch main contrib non-free

My husband had suggested that Etch might be lighter weight than Ubuntu and less dependent on hal (which I always remove from my laptop, because its constant hardware polling makes noise and sucks power). But no: Etch installed hal, and any attempt to uninstall it takes with it the whole gnome desktop environment, plus network-manager (that's apparently that nice app that noticed my network card earlier) and rhythmbox. I don't actually use the gnome desktop or these other programs, but it would be nice to have the option of trying them when I want to check something out. So for now I've resorted to the temporary solution: mv /usr/sbin/hald /usr/sbin/hald-not

The ugly

Etch looks fairly nice, and I'm looking forward to exploring it. I'm mostly kidding about the "ugly". I did hit one minor bit of ugliness involving network devices which led me on a two-hour chase ... but I'll save that for its own article.

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[ 13:29 May 15, 2007    More linux | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 03 Jun 2005

Ubuntu "Hoary Hedgehog" on a Vaio SR17 Laptop

I've been experimenting with Ubuntu's second release, "Hoary Hedgehog" off and on since just before it was released.

Overall, I'm very impressed. It's quite usable on a desktop machine; but more important, I'm blown away by the fact that Ubuntu's kernel team has made a 2.6 acpi kernel that actually works on my aging but still beloved little Vaio SR17 laptop. It can suspend to RAM (if I uncomment ACPI_SLEEP in /etc/defaults/acpi-support), it can suspend to disk, it gets power button events (which are easily customizable: by default it shuts the machine down, but if I replace with a single line calling, it suspends), it can read the CPU temperature. Very cool.

One thing didn't work: USB stopped working when resuming after a suspend to RAM. It turned out this was a hotplug problem, not a kernel problem: the solution was to add calls to /etc/init.d/hotplug stop and /etc/init.d/hotplug start in the /etc/acpi/ script. Problem solved (except now resuming takes forever, as does booting; I need to tune that hotplug startup script and get rid of whatever is taking so long).

Sonypi (the jogdial driver) also works. It isn't automatically loaded (I've added it to /etc/modules), and it disables the power button (so much for changing the script to call, a minor annoyance. But when loaded, it automatically creates /dev/sonypi, so I don't have to play the usual guessing game about which minor number it wanted this time.

Oh, did I mention that the Hoary live CD also works on the Vaio? It's the first live linux CD which has ever worked on this machine (all the others, including rescue disks like the Bootable Business Card and SuperRescue, have problems with the Sony PCMCIA-emulating-IDE CD drive). It's too slow to use for real work, but the fact that it works at all is amazing.

I have to balance this by saying that Ubuntu's not perfect. The installer, which is apparently the Debian Sarge installer dumbed down to reduce the number of choices, is inconsistent, difficult, and can't deal with a networkless install (which, on a laptop which can't have a CD drive and networking at the same time because they both use the single PCMCIA slot, makes installation quite tricky). The only way I found was to boot into expert mode, skip the network installation step, then, after the system was up and running (and I'd several times dismissed irritating warnings about how it couldn't find the network, therefore "some things" in gnome wouldn't work properly, and did I want to log in anyway?) I manually edited /etc/network/interfaces to configure my card (none of Ubuntu's built-in hardware or network configuration tools would let me configure my vanilla 3Com card; presumably they depend on something that would have been done at install time if I'd been allowed to configure networking then). (Bug 2835.)

About that expert mode: I needed that even for the desktop, because hoary's normal installer doesn't offer an option for a static IP address. But on both desktop and laptop this causes a problem. You see, hoary's normal mode of operation is to add the first-created user to the sudoers list, and then not create a root account at all. All of their system administration tools depend on the user being in the sudoers file. Fine. But someone at ubuntu apparently decided that anyone installing in expert mode probably wants a root account (no argument so far) and therefore doesn't need to be in the sudoers file. Which means that after the install, none of the admin tools work; they just pop up variants on a permission denied dialog. The solution is to use visudo to add yourself to /etc/sudoers. (Bugs 7636 and 9832.)

Expert mode also has some other bugs, like prompting over and over for additional kernel modules (bug 5999).

Okay, so nothing's perfect. I'm not very impressed with Hoary's installer, though most of its problems are inherited from Sarge. But once it's on the machine, Hoary works great. It's a modern Debian-based Linux that gets security upgrades (something Debian hasn't been able to do, though they keep making noises about finally releasing Sarge). And there's that amazing kernel. Now that I have the hotplug-on-resume problem fixed, I'm going to try using it as the primary OS on the laptop for a while, and see how it goes.

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[ 16:29 Jun 03, 2005    More linux | permalink to this entry | comments ]