Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More on "Ubuntu on Desktop" experiment

After reasonable success with the usage of Ubuntu 9.10 on my desktop - for about 2 weeks, I gathered courage to replace PCQuest Linux 2005 with Ubuntu 9.10 on one more PC.

It is a P-IV 2.4 Ghz, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB harddisk, Intel 845GSVR motherboard and DVD writer. The installation would start fine but would freeze after 3-4 minutes of disk activity. It won't even reach hard-disk partitioning stage. After many attempts, installation worked in Safe Mode. But, after that no matter I did, I just could not make it work in better resolution than 640x480. Installed latest updates worth about 110 MB. No luck. Installed earlier Intel 2.4 graphics drivers. No luck. Tried even manually configuring 'Monitor' section of xorg.conf file. No luck. Gave up after lot of trial and error.

Took out Ubuntu 8.10 Desktop CD from the cup board and put it in the DVD drive. It installed without any problem with full resolution. But, it would just freeze after entering user name password. Found solutions on a blog on the issue, got around the 'compiz' problem by removing this special effect from the desktop appearance. Ever since it's been working like a breeze.

Installed latest updates about 210 MB!!! Ubuntu Software centre even says Ubuntu 9.04 is available. What about 9.10? May be it's not stable release yet!

It has Open Office 2.4. Tried to get version 4.1 but menu system does not have any option to upgrade, as mentioned in the online help. 'Add remove' feature allows just removal of Open Office 2.4. Do I have to uninstall and then re-install? Not sure.

Samba network shares on the Nitix Server works without any problem. What about printing on NetWare printers? Not tried yet. It's working well on other PC running Ubuntu 9.10 with some effort. Of course, it was not printing 2 days back. The print job would just not get released to the Novell NetWare print queue and insist on waiting for 5 minutes. Why? No idea. Even when I manually released it, the print job would again would go in 'wait' for 5 minutes. I gave up then. But it printed properly today. May be it required a 'shut-down' like our good old friend. Well, surely with this feature, Ubuntu will make it in the big league since it has already 'shut-down' before it works mentality some-where in it's spinal cord.

Few things that required lot of search and work and may be it's working now on Ubuntu 9.10 - persistent connection to Samba Network shares. Before this I had to connect to it manually. After manually editing few conf files it's working. But it's far from perfect. I'm unable to get the Samba Network shares on the Nautilus File browser. For example, say I'm in gmail in FireFox and composing an email and want to attach a file on the Samba Network share. I'm just not able to do it directly. I've to copy the file to the local drive and then only able to attach it.

Also, I notice that I'm unable to move e-mail messages in Domino Web Access client 7.0 to domino mail folders. Even I'm unable to attach file attachments or save message to folder while sending mails.

So, I searched if any Notes is available natively for Linux. I found that it is available for Debian but it will not work on Ubuntu 9.10. Bad luck. I found that it works on Ubuntu 8.10 and 9.04 but not on 9.10. In fact, because of this reason alone I decided to quit Ubuntu 9.10 on other PC with low resolution problem and installed 8.10. Of course, I've yet not tried Notes client installation because I'm not sure where to get the Notes Client for Linux. Nitix (now Lotus Foundations) does not offer Linux client on the download site. IBM site offers only 90 day eval copy. Too bad, I've licensed copy of Domino running on Nitix (LFS 1.1) but I'm unable to get Notes Client for Linux (debian). That's about how well IBM has got Nitix in to it's fold!!

Few thoughts on Ubuntu as a desktop OS. Ubuntu will put fear of God in to Microsoft. Well this quote is adopted from a PC Magazine article that I had read when it had reviewed newly released Microsoft Excel spreadsheet on Windows. The title was 'Excel will put fear of God in to Lotus 1-2-3'. Well, you know how the situation is now? Young ones ask what is Lotus 1-2-3? They don't even know about existence of Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet!!!

There was a time when Lotus 1-2-3 was a un-disputed king of spread-sheets in the DOS world. In fact, I'm unable to even recollect name of un-disputed king of Word Processor in DOS days; and even for few years in Windows era. Such is our IT technology world. Software, Technology, Ideas and People become obsolete very fast in today's world.

So, Microsoft (actually, Windows) better watch out - now Ubuntu is on the scene - alive and kicking.

Well, more on Ubuntu later.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Magnetic north pole is shifting eastwards 40 miles a year

Today I read a news in Mumbai Samachar (Gujarati daily) saying Mangetic North Pole is rapidly advancing eastwards - towards Russia - at about 40 miles (68 kms) a year. Interesting!

Then I came across a 24 Dec 2009 daily news in National Geographic, which is the source of this news item. The article says following:

A rapidly shifting magnetic pole means that magnetic-field maps need to be updated more often to allow compass users to make the crucial adjustment from magnetic north to true North.

Wandering Pole

Geologists think Earth has a magnetic field because the core is made up of a solid iron center surrounded by rapidly spinning liquid metal. This creates a "dynamo" that drives our magnetic field.

(Get more facts about Earth's insides.)

Scientists had long suspected that, since the molten core is constantly moving, changes in its magnetism might be affecting the surface location of magnetic north.

It's predicted that magnetic north and south poles will be reversed, but not in near future. Well, process of magnetic pole reversal has accelerated now.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Defective product replacement experience within warranty period

Generally speaking, in India, customer is at a receiving end while asking for replacement for a defective product within warranty period. I shall narrate my experience, one bad and other slightly good.

It's a experience most people in India would agree and say it's not new - it's common. Any way, draw your own conclusions.

We had purchased Creative's EP-630 Ear-phone from a dealer in Lamington Road at about Rs.850/-. After few months, it became defective. When we contacted dealer, he said warranty is only for 2 months. I pointed out to him that on Creative's web site, it's written as 1 year. He said we don't get replacement from the distributor. I contacted distributor - Cyberroam. They said warranty is for 6 months from the date of manufacture. When I saw the date on the box, 6 month had just got over. I pointed out to them that Creative's warranty is for 1 year from date of purchase but they refused to acknowledge same saying it's only for 6 months from the date of manufacturing.

So, I wrote to Creative, Singapore. First they confirmed that warranty is 12 month from the date of purchase. They asked me to contact dealer/distributor. Then I convinced them that they are unwilling to do anything. So, they shipped replacement piece, EP-830 (which was one level higher and slightly costlier) by ordinary post. After waiting for 6 weeks, I informed them that it has not reached. So, they shipped second piece, again by ordinary post, in spite of my telling them to send by other means because their replacement policy did not allow shipment by courier. Again after waiting for about 5 weeks, I wrote to them to give details of shipment. They sent it to me and I registered complaint with Indian Post and sent them details of the same. Also, I advised them to give complaint at Singapore.

After that they sent me third piece, but this time by FedEx courier (priority) and sent me the shipment number. I got it on the 3rd or 4th day without any problem. Of course, it was not in the usual box packing. Earphone was kept inside a simple plastic bag inside an envelope.

Other replacement is about Transcend DDR RAM - 256 MB. We had purchased it at about Rs.2,500/- a piece. At the time of purchase dealer said it carried 3 year warranty. After about 3.5 year, PC started giving problem i.e., it would arbitrarily shut down or hang. After lot of trial and error, we found that it was one of the two 256 MB RAM that was problematic. Upon close inspection, we noticed that small portion of it's leg (that goes inside the PCI slot) had a defect. When we contacted the dealer, he said DDR rams are not available and warranty is also over.

So, I checked the Transcend's website and entered all details. Upon checking warranty details, I found that is carried life time warranty. So, I contacted Transcend for warranty replacement. They confirmed by return mail that my RAM had life time warranty and I should contact distributors. They sent me details of their distributors and I contacted all of them one by one, not knowing from whom the dealer who supplied to me had bought from. Two distributors, who were in Mumbai, when I sent the RAM to them, said they had not sold it. When I asked them details of the Transcend Warranty Replacement Centre, one said there is no one, we only give replacement for units we have sold. Other said there is one in Tardeo A/c Market but did not have any more details.

So, I wrote about this to Transcend, Taiwan. After about 2 weeks delay they sent name and address of Accel Frontline's warranty replacement centre. I sent them the defective RAM, they gave receipt and said contact in 1 week. After 1 week they said replacement is ready, send some one. When we collected it back, we found it was just returned as it is! When we contacted them, they said it was out of warranty, so it was returned. When I wrote about this to Transcend, some one called up from Chennai, saying please send it again because there was a mistake in number entered.

After initially insisting on their collecting the defective item from me, which did not do in spite of my writing to all concerned people and talking to them, I sent it back. They have online system of checking the status. For about 2 weeks, it kept on saying 'checking warranty'. After that it showed 'out of warranty'!!! When we told them the whole history and also told them that we had given proof to them from Transcend that it was under life-time warranty. Then they said, they are waiting for replacement to come. After few days, we noticed that Accel Frontline's website did not have any references to 'Transcend'!!! When we called them on phone they said the reference number had changed and we should contact them after some time. That's last we heard from them. It's been almost 2 months. We have written few mails to Transcend, some of which they forward to Accel but no response from Accel Frontline.

After few months of follow-up on phone, finally we got a brand new DDR-333 256 MB RAM in original packing.

Update Oct 2014
One more Transcend DDR RAM - 512 MB started giving problem by rebooting the PC. I checked the warranty status on Transcend's website by keying in the Serial number. System said it is having Life Time Warranty.

Transcend Part No.TS64MLD64V3F5
Product Description 512MB DDR 333 U-DIMM 2Rx8
Serial Number xxxxxxxxxxx586
Warranty Until Life Time Warranty

Once again contacted Accel Frontline and got response that as per Transcend's policy they don't accept any RAM module with capacity less than 1 GB! So, I made a complaint on Transcend's website. I got mail reply that I should contact Accel Frontline in Mumbai. After number of mails back and forth - I got a mail from Taiwan that they have spoken to Accel Frontline and we should give the faulty RAM to them. After showing them printout of mail they accepted the faulty RAM and gave receipt. They said replacement would take 2 to 3 months. Let's see what happens.

This is the deal customer gets in India for warranty replacement.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Started New Year with Ubuntu (what is that?)

In past, I tried to switch over my desktop to Linux number of times. I tried SLED 10 (Suse Linux Desktop 10), Fedora 8, PCQuest Linux 2005 and finally Ubuntu 9.10.

But, before gathering courage to try out Ubuntu, it was my tryst with Nitix 5.0, which gave me courage and confidence. About 1 year back; I was seriously looking for replacement for Novell NetWare 4.2; which has been going on non-stop for last 10 years; and earlier versions of NetWare (2.2 and 3.2) for previous 8 year or so. Actually, it will go on for another 25 years, if the server on which it is running won't fail. Even, the server (HP E-45, PII 300 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, 4 GB SCSI hard disk) is running for last 11 years with only component failed being 4 GB Tape Drive. I suppose it would run for another 5 years or so. But our accounting software (Work Horse) has outlived it's useful life. So, last year we switched over to Tally ERP 9.2 (finally).

At that time, we signed up with Nitix as their reseller by purchasing Not For Resale copy of Nitix Blue (Nitix - proprietary Linux with Lotus Domino 7) 5 user. We bought a brand new HP ML-110 (Xeon 1065 Server with 1 GB RAM and 2 x 160 GB hard disks, 1 DVD ROM) for the same; at an unbelievably low price. It got installed in 30 min but learning this new animal (Server OS) took us about 1 year. Was it worth? Yes, it was worth it at the end.

In this one year, we migrated e-mails in cc:Mail r8 stored on NetWare 4.2 to NitixBlue (Domino 7) via Notes 5.0. It was daunting work but it worked with few problems. Then we shifted data from NetWare to Nitix's Samba server. Configured MTNL's Triband connection with Nitix Server. Got Firewall and VPN working. So, I could access my office emails even from Home and anywhere from the world through Internet. Backup became automatic because Nitix's backup automatically backs up all files on the first hard-disk to the 2nd hard-disk automatically. It take full backup once a week at 11 O clock on Sunday night. And incremental backup every 1 hour (default settings - which can be changed).

In this one year, Nitix got bought over by IBM. IBM calls it Lotus Foundations Start. So, we upgraded NitixBlue 1.1 (Nitix 5.3) to Lotus Foundations Start 1.0 (Domino 8.0) and 1.1 (Domino 8.5). Transition was smooth technically. But, lot of things changed when IBM took over. First, IBM would not recognize our NFR (Not For Resale) copy. At the time of renewal, they asked us to purchase renewal subscription at regular price (like a normal customer). But partner web site said we could get free subscription renewal and we should get in touch with IBM Manager. IBM Manager said free renewal was only for US and CANADA resellers!!! Why? May be color of their blood is 'blue'!

What's good part? Product is working well, without the usual dose of updates (available only for valid subscriptions). It's like NetWare 4.12. Rock Solid. It would work even when main hard-disk would fail; because backup drive would automatically switch over and start working as first hard disk.

OK. That's long and short of our experience with proprietary Linux on the Server. Having got confidence of mastering a linux animal; I ventured to try Ubuntu 9.10. It came with the Digit CD (Dec 2009). Made Ubuntu 9.10 Desktop boot disk and installed on a brand new HP ML-115 Server (AMD Quad-Core with 1GB RAM and 160 GB hard disk). Installed in 15 minutes. It recognized everything correctly. Worked like a charm. Then installed Win 7 RC on another partition. It also installed and worked flaw-lessly. I gave that PC to my son for his use at the engineering college. When he learnt that I had installed Ubuntu he grumbled. I booted the PC in Ubuntu and he could not find out that it was not Windows 7. He keep saying it does not support 'EXE' files. But when he saw number of programs meant for engineering students, he was shocked. He took the PC to his hostel with both OS on it.

So, I ventured to install Ubuntu 9.10 on another PC (P-IV 2.4 GHz, 768 MB RAM, 80 GB hard-disk with DVD Writer). It installed in 20 min. Recognized even 20" LCD Wide Monitor (AOC) and automatically sensed 1600x900 resolution and started working. Have you seen this happening on a Windows PC? I doubt. I bet.

I decided to dump good old friend in favour of new found friend Ubuntu. In African language Ubuntu means 'Humanity to others'. So, with Ubuntu we don't win but we live in peace with others. Isn't it great?

Saw '3 Idiots' movie

Last week saw '3 Idiots'. Theater was packed. Very entertaining. Too good. Re-lived many moments of my stay at IIT Bombay. Movie has some really good messages like 'we go to college for learning and not for grades'. 'Enjoy your work, money will be incidental then.' etc.

People just love the movie. If I were to give title to this movie, I would say, "Ajab Dil Ki Gajab Kahani'. It was all about 'heart' ruling over 'head'. Through and Through it was same thing.

But, wait, people don't do this in their real life. In real life, it's almost always head ruling the heart. Isn't it? Then why people love this movie? Because here they see what should be. Vicariously they feel relieved for their inability to allow 'heart' over their 'head'. They feel nice and feel money well spent because it relieves them of the guilt.

In fact, I almost agreed with one critic who said "it's a time-pass". In other words, feel nice and get back to your usual way.

Idea to conserve water discharged from Flush Tanks

This year there has been a threat of water scarcity looming over the city of Mumbai. Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is seriously looking at ways and means of conserving water. Given below is my idea which could save tons of water, if implemented.

Recent flush tanks are coming with 2 knobs - one for half discharge and other for full discharge. But, even half discharge knob releases substantial volume of water. I learn from few minutes of Internet search that at least 10 to 15 liter of water is discharged with each press of the knob.

Yesterday I got a simple but good idea to reduce volume of discharge from Flush Tanks. Implementation is easy and would easily conserve about 2 liters of water per discharge.

You will require:
1. A plastic bag which can hold say 1 or 2 liter of water. Ordinary Milk bag or small size plastic carry bag would do.

2. String (Plastic, preferably) 6 to 8 inch long

Take a plastic bag. Fill it with water. Tie it up with the string at the top. Ensure that water does not leak after tying it up.

Open the lid of the flush tank. In most cases, it should be easy. Now, insert the filled plastic bag inside the flush tank, in the empty space. Close the lid.

If tank size permits, you may insert more than one filled plastic bags.

Note: In flush tanks with two knobs, you may have to lift the knob, locate a plastic screw. Open it up using a screw-driver. Pull out the knob, plastic screw assembly. Lift the lid.

It's done. Now, every time you flush, discharge would be reduced to the extent of size of the filled plastic bag.

I've already implemented the idea in all the flush tanks of my house. Here is a video.
How to reduce volume of flush water discharge video

Let me know, if you like the idea. Also, let me know if you have suggestions for improvement.