written in Nov 2002
last update Nov 15 2007

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About me and my Computers

I am kind of a computer veteran. I learned programming in 1974, starting with ALGOL. At that time in our university we had the biggest IBM mainframe of Germany, a System/370-168, serving 256 users at terminals and 256 batch jobs all at the same time. The machine was water-cooled and had the exorbitant amount of 2.4 MBytes main memory...

  • My first computer was a (PDP-8 compatible) single board IM6100 system from Intersil. I got it in Dec 1976. I learned programming in machine language and created many useful programs. The one I am still using today is a versatile darkroom timer application. Note that this computer is still working perfectly, like most others in the following list.
  • I constructed my own computer 1978 using the same IM6100 12bit-CPU. The intended application was as the brain of one of my KYTRON robots, but I never finished that project. Instead I wrote many other applications, the one being used today is as a controller and statistics logger for my radioactivity metering device.
  • In 1979 and 1980 I constructed and built a microcontroller which is the brain of my robot KYTRON 4, this one uses the Motorola ICU MC14500B chip.
  • In 1988 I got the first real personal computer, an Apple Macintosh SE with 4MB RAM (IBM PCs had up to 640KB at that time...) and System 6.0.4. I programmed in Common Lisp and HyperCard/HyperTalk. In Lisp I wrote (besides my AI research work) a 6100-disassembler and download facility for my two 6100-based systems mentioned above. In HyperTalk one of my about a hundred small applications is a model train digital control software.
  • In 1992 I bought an Apple Powerbook Duo 230 with 12MB RAM and System 7.1. Besides using Common Lisp I learned to program in Java 1.02. I am still using this machine sporadically to download the timer software onto the IM6100 single board.
  • In 1995 I got an Apple Performa 5300 with 100MHz PowerPC, 64 MB RAM, (and the game MYST ;-) , running with System 7.6.
  • In 1996 I bought an Apple Powerbook Duo 280c with 24MB RAM. This notebook is used up to now for model train control.
  • Sep 1997 I got a Gericom OverdoseXL Notebook with 233MHz Pentium and Windows 95. I programmed in Java 1.1.x. On this machine I wrote my first bigger computer game "Alurwe", while I did all the media work for the game (sounds, midi-formatting, images, icons, animations) and the authoring (script) on the Macintosh.
  • Since Jun 1999 for routine and serious work I have an Apple G3 400MHz with 320 MB RAM. This Mac runs under MacOS 8.6. I do all my office work, and the image processing for quality printing, and for security reasons all email processing on this reliable machine. (I used it for small CD edition burning for my games too. This task shifted gradually to the next machine:)
  • For learning Linux and for programming in the current Java releases I purchased a vanilla PC with 800 Mhz Pentium III and 512 MB RAM in Sep 2000. I installed SuSE 7.0, later 7.2, 8.0, recently 8.2. On other partitions I have tested and played with many versions of Mandrake and other Distributions. On this machine I wrote my second computer game "secunda". I did sounds and images mostly in Linux, partly on the Macintosh.
  • In Dec 2001 I removed Windows 95 and successfully installed a nice, lean Debian 2.2 Linux on my old Gericom Notebook with Gnome, GIMP, Internet software and two different Common Lisps. The late Overdose looked really refreshed under the Sawfish window manager.
  • In July 2002 my old Gericom notebook died (hardware/mainboard defect) after serving me well for almost five years.
  • Since Sep 2002 I own a new notebook Gericom X5 force with mobile Pentium 1.6 GHz and GeForce 4 Go graphics, and with integrated WLAN. The rest of this page is mainly about this notebook when run under several Linux distributions. (I still use its Windows XP to play "Train Simulator".)
  • I plan to acquire a new Apple notebook later this year. This will become my first Mac OS X system. My dream machine would be an iBook with a 2 GHz PowerPC...
  • Sept 2003: Just got my brand new PowerBook G4 17", less than 10 days after the worldwide announcement. (Not bad for an Austrian Apple Center shop.) What a machine. Okay it is not 2 GHz but 1.33, but still it is Apple's top model, an eye-catcher like no other. I got it with 10.2.7 preinstalled, but as soon as the internet connection was established it upgraded itself to 10.2.8. What a screen, what a case. Nov-26-2003: upgrade to 10.3.1 and all is even better.

The Gericom X5 force Notebook

This 2002 notebook has the following key features:

  • Pentium 4-M 1.6GHz
  • 256 MB DDR RAM
  • VIA P4X266A chip set
  • GeForce 4 go with 32 MB
  • Combo Drive (CD-RW writer and DVD reader)
  • 30 GB harddisk
  • internal WLAN 802.11b adapter
  • 1 CompactFlash card slot
  • AC'97 compatible sound
  • 10/100 Mbit Ethernet built-in
  • Modem built-in
  • Fast Irda built-in
  • Firewire 1394
  • 3 USB 2.0 connectors

In contrast to earlier Gericom computers this one is not loud (most of the time almost quiet) and has a robust feel. And it is comparitively slim (3.5 cm) and light (2.6 kg).

Linux on my X5 Notebook

Partitioning the drive

Windows XP machines use the NTFS file system. Unfortunately the Linux installers of all current distros were not able to split NTFS partitions, so if I wanted to keep the preinstalled Windows I had to buy a Windows partitioning software.

Using "Partition Manager", I split the harddisk into three partitions of about 10 GB each. (In fact I made a fourth small partition as swap space for Linux.)

The first partition stayes the home of Windows XP which I use for game play and for learning about the details of the hardware of my computer.

The second partition was meant to become my main "production" system, I installed SuSE 8.0 on it.

The third partition was to be the experimental partition where I want to check out new distros.

This was the plan. In reality it happened a bit different:

SuSE 8.0

The SuSE 8.0 installation went smoothly, except that:

  • Neither nv nor nvidia X11 drivers worked with 3d accelleration. The original nvidia drivers did not work at all. I think I tried everything. In the process I learned so much about X11 that I could get 3d accelleration working on both my desktop Linux computer (ATI Expert 2000) and my wifes Compaq Presario computer (AMD Athlon and Geforce 2). But on my X5 force, no go.
  • Infrared port not working. (So I cannot go online out there using my cellular phone.)
  • Modem not working (maybe easy to get this straight but modem does not interest me at all).
  • WLAN not working. (But see the Feb 2003 updates below.)
  • Suspend mode etc. and battery state display not working.
  • Scroll keys (under the touchpad) do not work.

On the plus side:

  • There is sound, though with horrible quality.
  • The CD-Writer works correctly with e.g. Xcdroast.
  • The nv driver runs with 24bit colors.
  • Ethernet networking does it perfectly.

Debian 3.0

The Debian 3.0 installation made much more problems.

I used the stripped-down one-CD installation from the German Linux-USER magazine.

This left me no choice about the kernel and I just had the 2.2.20 version, which makes additional problems when installing the linux-wlan-ng drivers. For having the most modern kernel I changed the source-list from stable to testing/unstable and then did an upgrade. There were many severe problems, but I have forgotten the details. Should have noted everything immediately.

Finally I ended in a quite nice Debian environment with Gnome 2, kernel 2.4.19, but with only vesa-framebuffer graphics (which look very good, but are not suitable for 3d accel. as far as I know.) Not the nvidia, not even the nv drivers want to work on my Debian, don't know why.

Problems with my installation:

  • Neither nv nor nvidia X11 drivers work at all. Vesa-fb do.
  • Infrared port not working. (So I cannot go online out there using my cellular phone.)
  • Modem not working (maybe easy to get this straight but modem does not interest me at all).
  • WLAN not working.
  • Suspend mode and battery state display not working, but I can close the lid to shut off the screen.
  • Scroll keys (under the touchpad) do not work.
  • Absolutely no sound. (But see the Feb 2003 updates below.)
  • The CD-Writer is not recognized (SCSI emulation missing?).

On the plus side:

  • Ethernet networking works.
  • The screen looks great.
  • ... and it's Debian. The coolest way to get and update software.

Activating the WLAN module...

... On Debian

From Windows XP I knew that I have a GemTek mini-USB PRISM2-based module.

(Ironically the PRISM chipsets are a product of Intersil, like my first microprocessor nearly 30 years ago. See top of this page.)

Searching the Internet I found that my only chance to get that beast going was to use the drivers of the ongoing "linux-wlan-ng" project.

From the various docs on that project's web site I learned that it would be best and safest to compile the kernel, then compile and install the wlan modules.

This was bad news, I never had recompiled my Linux kernels. I thought this to be too demanding for me.

Now I had to learn how to recompile and install a new kernel. It turned out this is not too hard to do.

Once I had compiled my own kernel, I could install the linux-wlan-ng drivers and modules which are necessary for using my internal WLAN device, which is a GemTek WL-388 mini-USB device, so I needed to compile the prism2_usb kernel module.

After this and some experimentation with the different included wlan-related scripts I managed to get it into working condition, and just that I did not open a bottle of champagne to celebrate my first real wireless web surfing session from my seat in the wintergarten of our old house...

About two weeks of hard work were gone into this WLAN-under-Linux experiment...

But after some hours my new WLAN died - no way to get it up again.
What had I changed?
I had changed nothing, at least I was not aware to have done anything suspect...

I tried everything, resetting to what I had, resetting to what I thought how it should be... to no avail.

Finally after 3 frustrating days and some mails from the mailing list I was at a point to just throw it all away.

I startet over.

I disabled any wlan-script I could find, in /etc/init.d, in /etc, in /etc/hotplug, in /etc/networking, any such script got the following lines in the beginning of the file:

   echo "===< WLAN script xyz intentionally not running."
   exit 0

So the script could not do any harm.

Then after booting I "connected" the USB WLAN device (i.e. I turned it on) and evaled by hand the commands as written in the README file of the linux-wlan-ng source directory - one by one.

No error occurred.

I did not use WEP encryption in order to have fewer initial problems.

And it worked! (Internet access worked after setting an appropriate route.)

Then I set up my AP to use WEP.

I collected the WLAN setup commands into a script (I called it ws for wlan-start), and added the new WEP related commands.

It worked, and it works stable until today. Several weeks of hard use have proven the stability of this system.

Remark:

Somewhere in the docu of linux-wlan-ng there it is written that the wlan0 device should be initialized as early as possible in the boot process, at least before the network machinery of Linux is started.

In my experience it should be the other way around: wlan0 and all wlan-ng commands should be called as late as possible or even better, as I do it, should be called when the entire system is up and running completely.

Maybe the difference comes from my device being a USB-connected device, in contrast to a PCMCIA-card. (?)

Update (2003-01-08):

In late December I made up new softlinks in the Debian boot/init directories which now start up my WLAN automatically by calling the ws-script.

I decided to do this because:

  • It works reliably and I use it every day anyway, so why should I have to turn it up by hand?
  • If the machine boots and the WLAN access point is not ready or has lost connection or I am on a trip the script does no harm. When I return home (or the access point reestablishes the connection) I just call my script ws again and it works.
  • After using kismet I "eject" and "plug in" my WLAN (by powering it off and on again) then also just call my script ws again, no crashes anymore.

En detail: (for Debian - other distros use slightly different directories)

  • In /etc/init.d create a new executable script and call it wlan:
       #!/bin/sh
       /usr/bin/ws 
    
  • In /etc/rc2.d create a new softlink called S98wlan to the new wlan script. This will call the ws script late in the init process for run level 2, which is the main run level for Debian (use run levels 3 and 5 for SuSE).
  • (As far as I understand the Linux boot system for consistency one should add a K98wlan link to wlan inside the /etc/rc1.d directory. But this is moot because the simple ws script has no stop-service functionality yet.)

My Script ws:

Here are the essential commands of my script, to be called after booting has finished, with superuser access rights (use sudo to be able to call it from user account)

#!/bin/sh
# ws (wlan-start)
# this script should initialize the GemTek WL-388 mini-USB WLAN module 
# rudolf.mittelmann@aon.at 2002-10-22
# using linux-wlan-ng-0.1.16-pre6
PATH=/sbin:$PATH
modprobe prism2_usb prism2_doreset=1
wlanctl-ng wlan0 lnxreq_ifstate ifstate=enable
wlanctl-ng wlan0 lnxreq_hostwep decrypt=true encrypt=true # for me this must be host-based encrypt.
wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11WEPDefaultKeyID=2 # which WEP key to use
wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11ExcludeUnencrypted=true
wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11PrivacyInvoked=true
wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11WEPDefaultKey0=<your:first:key:goes:here>
wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11WEPDefaultKey1=<your:second:key:goes:here>
wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11WEPDefaultKey2=<your:third:key:goes:here>
wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11WEPDefaultKey3=<your:fourth:key:goes:here>
wlanctl-ng wlan0 lnxreq_autojoin "ssid=<your-ESSID-goes-here>" authtype="opensystem" 
    #authtype should be "sharedkey" but that does not work for me
ifconfig wlan0 192.168.1.50 # your local WLAN IP address
route add default gw 192.168.1.1 # route to your router IP address

... On SuSE

Now that it turned out to be such easy:

  • recompile and install the kernel
  • compile and install linux-wlan-ng
  • disable all wlan scripts
  • call own script after booting

I thought well let us do it on SuSE too.

Well, I did not have any success.

When evaluating the first command of the wlan driver, I get the infamous "implementation failure" message.

I still had no idea what could make the difference, except I have kernel 2.4.18 on SuSE and 2.4.19 on Debian, but that was not the problem.

... On Knoppix

The Knoppix distribution is a so-called live-CD, i.e. it should run straight from the CDROM without the need to install anything on the harddisk. Thus it is ideally suited to try out Linux on your friend's notebook or PC or even in a computer shop before buying a new machine. If Knoppix has problems to run you can assume any other distro will have some problems too, because the hardware detection of Knoppix is one of the best IMHO.

The Knoppix Linux-Live-CD v.3.1 "special edition c't" runs nicely on my X5 except for sound (the snd-via82xx-module seems to be missing). It contains the linux-wlan-ng drivers and modules, so after replugging the WLAN module and then calling my ws script this Knoppix distribution is online/on air too, with ESSID and WEP. Knoppix is a marvelous artwork. Great.
(See my update below.)

More Updates...

Update Feb 06 2003:

Finally! Just read the hint in the linux-wlan-user mailing list to turn off usbdevfs in the SuSE kernel config because it conflicts with linux-wlan-ng somehow (only for SuSE, not for Debian).

(I should have read that hint on the very interesting homepage (Linux install. on X5) of Gerd Fleischer some time ago, but I overlooked its importance when I was just in the phase of learning how to compile a kernel...)

I switched off usbdevfs and recompiled, and violà! now my WLAN works with SuSE 8.0. Fine.

See my guestbook for someone who had success using SuSE 8.1.

Update Feb 10 2003:

Just succeeded in activating sound in Debian 3 with my own kernel. My installation is not really clean, because I did it as in the "Install" manual of the Alsa release. I used Alsa 0.9.0rc6 and that worked well. I did not build the deb packages, just compiled and installed the modules, then "set up" everything as explained in that "Install" text and in the Debian Alsa tutorial, and now I have a Linux with high quality sound running on my X5. Great.

Of course I turned on sound in the kismet_ui.conf file. There it is said there is an interface to the Festival speech synthesis software.

I installed Festival too, and now kismet talks to me, reading netword names of newly found access points.

Update Feb 12 2003:

I tried the SuSE 8.1 Live-CD on my X5 notebook. In contrast to the older SuSE 8.0 LifeCD or full version this evaluation-version has good sound, but after launching 4 to 7 application programs it hangs up, maybe it has not enough memory to breath.

Last winter I also tried to boot the "warlinux 0.5" live-CD distribution, but I could not make any use of it, especially I could not get my wlan module to work. The linux-wlan-ng kernel drivers are included, only the USB module is missing. The author of warlinux has emailed me he intends to include that prism2_usb in the next release...

Update Feb 13 2003:

Now that my Debian installation has good sound, I could not resist to try the same Alsa release 0.9.0rc6 on my SuSE 8.0.
Successfull! Now the crackling noise which accompagnied each sound playing is gone - and my SuSE sounds good too.

The release 0.9.0rc7 did not compile correctly (produced unresolved symbols), so I tried rc6 which compiled without any errors.
The only problem was the script for updating the file /etc/modules.conf did not do its job, and YaST2 was not able to repair this too, so I had to edit the file manually, easy enough (basically renaming snd-via8233 into snd-via82xx and then removing the options for 8233).

Update Feb 28 2003:

I recompiled both kernels (2.4.19 for Debian and 2.4.18 for SuSE) once again, adding support for serial line protocol in USB. I will need this when my already ordered USB-connected GPS-mouse finally arrives. Should be a nice wardriving kit together with the ingenious GPSDrive software.
I also added SCSI-IDE support for CDROM in the Debian kernel config. So now finally I can read CDROMs and listen to AudioCDs on both Distros, and can burn CDRs in Debian. The burn-in-SuSE-problem remains to be solved.
Also I activated printing support in SuSE, very easy to do with YaST. In Debian I could not find something like a Debian-printing-HOWTO, and ended up in apt-getting some CUPS packages, but I still have no idea what to do with it and how to make it work. Needs some research...

Update 03-03-03:

Today I compiled a kernel driver module for a new ethernet card of my desktop system. The total time for installing the hardware PCI card, compiling and installing the driver (supplied on floppy) and configuring using YaST2 was under 10 minutes. I am quite proud about this (although actually it was my son Thomas who did the hardware part of this fast mini project).
I also had my first real wardriving experience, cartographing 118 WLAN access points in less than one hour. Kismet finds the APs, MySQL holds the data base of found APs, Festival announces them loudly, and GPSDrive inserts them in real time into the street map. Highly interesting. If your company is interested in a security audit, ask me ;-) .
This is in SuSE. In Debian for some reason I cannot 'modprobe' the kernel modules for serial-over-USB. So gpsd cannot read the NMEA data of my new Holux GM-210 GPS mouse. So unexpectedly SuSE wins the head-to-head competition for the first complete )( setup. (A very personal view, of course.)

Update Mar 11 2003:

Another minor glitch of my SuSE installation on the X5 notebook was most standard man pages refusing to open. I got some error messages about to few permissions and there were no man pages for... I have installed SuSE 8.0 on several desktop PCs and on none of these there is that man page problem. What happened here? I don't know and I could not find out.
Yesterday I uninstalled the man pages packages and reinstalled them (okay that is a windoze approach but as a last resort...). Just as expected this changed nothing. Finally I checked the access rights and ownership of all directories in the man page hierarchy, and yes, the man1 directory had different settings then the other manX dirs. I changed that and now the problem is gone. Quite a trivial problem but annoying nevertheless.
Another mysterious difference between the SuSE installations is the differing content of the work menu (in KDE). As an example, on the desktop the editor entry is KWrite, on the notebook it is Kate. After all, both installations were done from the same DVD...

Update April 20 2003:

The new Knoppix Live-CD v.3.2 runs as well on my X5 as the c't-edition (see above). But I was a bit disappointed to note sound is still not working (while the sound chip is detected correctly) and it is still using Kismet v. 2.6.2 (version 2.8.1 is current for a while). Also it is quite difficult to get Kismet configured, because its config files are in a read-only area. The best way would probably be to copy the config files into a writable directory and call the Kismet scripts with the options for different config file paths.
A good feature of v.3.2 is its ability to store the complete Knoppix config on a USB-Memory dongle. You do this simply by choosing the appropriate KDE menu command. Next time you want to boot Knoppix you insert the USB-memory device, then type
knoppix myconfig=/mnt/sda1
at the boot prompt.
I keep my ws-script also on that dongle which makes using Knoppix quite convenient.

... and I am still waiting for warlinux 0.6 ...

Update April 29 2003:

Oh, silly me. Just read in the Knoppix newsgroup to use the "alsa" boottime switch to enable sound. This works. (But the sound quality is as bad as it was for the plain SuSE 8.0 installation, good for alarm sounds but unusable for music listening.)

Update May 06 2003:

After my )(-trip to Graz I finally updated the flash firmware of my Gemtek mini-USB WLAN module. The flashing was done in WinXP and worked just fine. After rebooting into Linux at first I could not get any wireless connection. After some tries in SuSE and Debian suddenly the WLAN worked as fine as before the upgrade. (I did not change any settings file...) So far so good.
The reason I wanted to have the newer firmware was to get sniffing (monitor mode) running with the newer linux-wlan-ng drivers (0.2.0 and newer). So I installed the newer drivers, but to my disappointment, there was no change in behavior. With both 0.2.0 and 0.2.1-pre2 for me the normal network mode works correctly, also with WEP, but sniffing (monitor mode) does not work. Also, the newest version 0.2.1-pre3 does not even compile on my systems.
(All these remarks hold for both my SuSE 8.0 and my Debian 3 unstable installation which are quite different IMHO.)
A bit frustrated I downgraded my linux-wlan-ng drivers to the well doing version 0.1.16-pre6.

Update May 12 2003:

After fighting against an upgrade problem in my Gnome/Debian installation for several days I decided to give up on Debian (for now) and give the new SuSE 8.2 a try on that partition. After all, the third partition was meant as a playground for checking out new distros. I put a separate page about SuSE 8.2 on the X5 force online.

Update June 12 2003:

One advantage of the firmware update is I now can let the WLAN-hardware do the WEP encryption. Unexpectedly the download transfer rate increased from about 280-300 KB/s to 340-360 KB/s, despite I have a relative fast processor. I just had to set the two hostbased-encrytion flags in the WLAN-config file to false.
wireless setting "authtype"
In the description of my ws script above I have wondered why I need the "authtype" to be set to "opensystem" instead of "shared" as many other people on the mailing list claim would be correct. In the meantime I think this is a feature of the access point. The setting is correct if it matches the setting in the access point. In my case I cannot change this feature in the access point, so I have to live with the less secure "opensystem" method.

Update June 16 2004: SuSE 9.1

I replaced the horribly instable SuSE 8.2 installation with a SuSE 9.1. I put a separate page about SuSE 9.1 on the X5 force online.
Oct 2004: now with GPRS and Bluetooth Internet access.

Update August 09 2004: Gentoo 2004.2

I replaced the trustworthy but outdated SuSE 8.0 installation with a brand new Gentoo 2004.2. A separate page about Gentoo on the X5 force is online.

Update October 21 2007: openSUSE 10.3

I replaced the older SuSE installation with the new openSUSE 10.3. (I still have the SUSE 10.0 installed on a second partition.) Installation of openSUSE went smoothly, very nice system. The one remaining problem, as always, was the internal WLAN module. YAST knew about it and asked me all the relevant data for configuring it, but in the end it did not work. I experimented a while than gave up. My trusty script ws from 2003 was copied and "installed" easily. YAST can now manage sudo entries, nice. So I go online per WLAN (WiFi) still with my ancient script, and it works great. Btw, openSUSE 10.3, which got some bad reviews lately, is IMHO the best SuSE ever, and I like it even better than the newest Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon, which is also a very good distro.


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2002-11-22 rudolf mittelmann


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