I have an old netbook, a Samsung NF110 that is hopelessly underpowered now with only 1Gb RAM and a 1.66GHz Atom CPU. It used to run Windows 7 (can you imagine?!) and was ok for basic word processing when I got the thing and had a really good battery life. I installed Ubuntu on this a while ago and found it very slow. I recently put Ubuntu 18.04 on, simply because I use this on the desktop. Yesterday I wanted to see if it could provide another screen and run pskreporter and it sat there for 10 minutes allegedly loading Firefox. Hmmm. I remembered at that point that I had planned to put it on eBay anyway but wondered why on earth it was just so slow with Linux.

Enter Lubuntu. Lubuntu 12.10 has given the poor little thing a new lease on life. It is actually usable and no Gnome awkwardness. I’d still rather it had a little more RAM (like, I dunno, 8 times as much!) but it always was a handy little PC so it can remain in the shack now.

And on Lubuntu – well sort of – I installed LXDE on the shack PC as Gnome continues to annoy. So far, so good, and of course it’s easy to switch between desktop environments.

More PC blues

I finally decided to rebuild the shack PC given that just about everything was going daft. I suspect this is a result of various software installs while testing new stuff that were not fully deinstalled. Yeah I know I should test in a VM…

Anyway, a complete fresh install of Ubuntu 18.04 with it formatting the disk has got the PC back to normality. Almost. Networking works again with the inbuild (un)helpful config rather than me setting it up by hand each boot via a script. And I remembered to sort Gnome out so I can get the classic view rather than the daft dock setup.

But there are two oddities… first off, the rather annoying way the screen layout changes (un)helpfully (!) when you touch the to left corner with the mouse. This can be disabled but when done so the Applications menu – the leftmost top bar menu – is no longer accessible. No amount of permutations of the toggles via gnome-tweaks will sort that.

But more annoying I have lost almost all decode highlights in wsjt-x. The only ones that work are CQ, tx and my call, nothing else. I’ve tried every combination. It’s not wsjt-x (I installed a previous version just to check, same result) and I am rather stuck with that now. It will be something obvious but I just can’t see it… hmmm.

Even more PC woes

So the Ethernet interface on the shack PC decided not to work at all today. It’s managed by the network-manager stuff so no ideas why it had decided to go funny. Actually, it has been off colour for a few weeks now as at boot it does not see the Internet i.e. it fails to find a route but does see locally.

Anyway, I’ve never liked network-manger, I would far rather get control of it all myself. I realise it’s there for a reason but I favour a more handraulic approach. After battling it into submission and removing it from the startup scripts editing /etc/networks/interfaces has cured its tantrum. For now anyway!

But I am wondering what is up with the PC now as USB failures yesterday and then a collapse of networking today… everything important is backed up so no worries there. However, I am not of the camp that these things fail slowly as I have had PCs running for years and years before. I may well use this as an excuse to get a midi-tower system I can dual boot (Windows and Linux) and get a couple of PCI cards into.

Random PC woes

This morning the rig would not go into transmit via wsjt-x. It worked fine last night up to when everything was shut down and there were no changes to anything, hardware or software. Rebooting the PC made no difference. CAT control was working both ways and it was receiving FT8 fine. I noticed that transmitting would sometimes change the rig settings e.g. from data to non-data.

I tried the flrig / fldigi combination but transmitting via this messed the FT450D’s settings up in that it was rapidly triggering tx and the rig decided to engage its internal tuner.

Plugging the two USB connectors into the front USB sockets on the PC made it work but the transmit levels are mad – ALC is triggering and the rig does not generate any decent power with this turned down. ALC is on a knife-edge where it goes from very little power / no ALC via the SignaLink TX control to 50% ALC and proper power output with nothing in between. Fiddling with the audio settings on the PC and in wsjt-x makes little difference.

But changing the Mode to Data/Pkt in Settings -> Radio does improve the ALC business. This was set to None and I cannot remember if this is a change or not.

The audio settings via pavucontrol are set to 100% for the USB audio. This was 120% before as otherwise the rig would keep falling out of Tx on 40m. Wsjt-x’s tune function is holding up on 40m at 100% so there is a change there for no apparent reason.

All the PC USB ports are USB2.0 so there is no difference there. Trying a few CQs on 17m shows that FT8 is being received across Europe so it is all working. The same is true to 40m.

Weird. The only physical differences between it not working at all this morning and now are the two USB cables are plugged into the front sockets and the USB leads are away from the antenna coax. But the latter, i.e. the cable routing has always been along the same path as the coax and it has worked every day without issue.


Those lumps you see on PC monitor cables and other PC and related cables… yes we know what they are and what they do but here’s proof.

I got a DisplayPort to HDMI cable for a new monitor. It works fine via VGA but why not? Anyway, aside from why on earth the PC has a DisplayPort and not an HDMI, the cable duly arrived. It’s a nice cable in that it has a braided cover, feels well made and the connectors fit well and do not drop out. But no ferrites.

All worked fine with both monitors – one DVI and one HDMI connected – came on fine. But when I key up the FT450D (set to 30W) the HDMI-connected screen goes blank. Completely blank. Black. It comes right back when I de-key. Ugh, no ferrites.

I fitted a decent clip-on to each end with a whole turn of lead in each – no problems since. See? They do work!

Corrupt SD cards

Those of you with Raspberry Pi systems or similar (other small sized computers are available!) will feel my pain…

A few days ago my little web and all-sort-of-other-stuff server fell over. I had no idea why but it seemed to reboot ok. I suspected we’d had a very short power outage but checking the other Pi systems (there are 4 here) all had long uptimes. Anyway, it all came back ok, or so it seemed.

It runs a process every minute to grab data off the weather station and displays this on my private website, which it also serves. The website simply tails a log file and was now showing a Linux error message which looked ominous. Checking the Pi it has gained a nice little file system error and the temp file the weather station grabber creates was corrupt. Rebooting cured this (it runs fsck on boot). That cured the weather station data but the problem persists.

So far there are no other obvious issues except it writes ext4-fs warnings to syslog every time something does anything. No biggie, these are only log files.

So, thought I, I’ll fsck the SD card. Ok, can’t do that running so it needs to be mounted on another system. Where do I have an SD reader? My little Samsung Netbook has a version of Ubuntu on it so I can use that.

This is where things went south. The Netbook takes a while to boot but takes an age for the GUI to settle. And I mean 30+ minutes and still it sits there! Come on, I can do a Windows update faster… Ah, found a USB SD card reader, I can use my desktop instead (the Netbook is destined for eBay I suspect). So, let’s plan this logically. I shut the Pi down (a caveat here is it’s also the NFS server and serves a disk to another Pi that does all the CCTV recording… probably better that one had its own disk!!), pull the SD card, stuff it on the desktop Linux box and fsck the filesystem. There’s a danger it will fsck to death and become useless but everything is backed up or can be reinstalled, all I need is a clean SD card. Um…

Ok… scratch that and order some SD cards first! Ugh.