Archive for August, 2010

Ubuntu on Lenovo S12 NetBook

Posted in General on August 22, 2010 by jkiparsky

I’ve just installed Ubuntu 10.4 (Lecherous Lemur, or whatever it’s called) on a Lenovo S12 netbook graciously donated by Chris, who’s buggering off to Oregon and leaving all his stuff behind him. The install was not difficult, but since I had to look for the steps of the procedure, I record them here in case anyone else has trouble.
There are no great discoveries here, you should only read on in case you’re having trouble getting Ubuntu onto one of these machines. This may also be applicable to other distributions, but I don’t know enough about them to say. Feel free to try, and let me know if I need to add anything here!

The trouble with installing on the netbook is that there isn’t a CD drive, so you have to install from a USB stick or an external CD drive. I went with the USB stick, since it’s what I had lying around.

1) I emptied the USB drive (copied the contents to my Mac hard drive for safekeeping). I don’t know if clearing off the drive makes a difference, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt at all.

2) Making the USB drive bootable: I turned on the Lenovo, which was running XP, and went to, downloaded and ran the unetbootin program, which magically makes a USB stick into a bootable device with the install of your choice on it. I selected 10.4 (Leperous Limpet) from the menu, and poured a cup of coffee while it fetched the disk image. When it was done, it suggested that I could now restart the machine.

Here’s where I missed a step, and where you will likely miss a step, unless you’ve done this before:
I said, sure, restart, and then I continued drinking my coffee. When I looked up, it had booted into XP, as before. This is because I had failed to change the BIOS settings when I restarted the machine.

3) Change the BIOS settings to boot from the USB drive. When the machine begins to set up, you have about a second to hit the F2 key, which lets you into the BIOS setup. If you miss it, you have to restart and pay attention next time. It’ll bring you to a screenful of options. Arrow your way over to “Boot” and arrow down to the name of your USB stick. Now, you’ll assume that you can just select this and save changes and restart, but this is wrong. You have to use the F5 key to move the entry for this device up to the first position in the list, otherwise it’ll start from the first item on the list that it finds. Now you can save and restart (F10).

From here, it’s pretty easy: you’ll see a desktop with an icon labelled “Install Linux”. Start that up, and follow the instructions, then reboot.
You may want to go back into the bios and re-set the boot order, but it won’t make a lot of difference unless you plan on powering up the machine with a flash drive in the USB port.

This got Linux up and running, but I haven’t yet got the drivers for the wireless card. When I find those, I will make a posting about it and link from here.


I never did get the drivers onto that install, because it wound up having trouble even spotting the ethernet cord, so I managed to get some coding tools on it and used it to learn some lisp.
However, I’ve since put Mint 8 on it, and that was able to find and install some drivers at least. Unfortunately, it’s not finding my home network, so there’s more to be done, but there’s something to try. It might just be that drivers are newly available, and if I redo the Ubuntu install, everything will work fine. If that happens, I will update. For the moment, if you’re having trouble with wireless drivers on your netbook, try Mint and see if that works better for you.

Later Still:
installed slackware over the Christmas weekend – thanks Ryan! – but was unable to get anywhere with the configuration, so I installed the netbook remix of 10.04 on a separate partition. This time, it was able to find and install the b43 drivers: I have a netbook that talks to the world. Huzzah.

If you’re reading this to try to find out how to get a working linux intstall on an ideapad, my advice is: try 10.04. I don’t much like the “netbook edition” but it’s working. I haven’t checked whether the “real” edition has also got the trick of finding those drivers (it didn’t a few months ago), but I don’t know if I’m going to try to find out. If anyone has any luck with finding the drivers under 10.04 standard, please drop me a note so I can include it here.

Command-line audio switcher for Mac OS

Posted in General on August 8, 2010 by jkiparsky

Found this tonight, and it’s rather handy if you set it up right, so I figured I’d pass it along.

In one of my jobs, I spend a certain amount of time talking to people via a headset, but I don’t want to be on the headset all the time, because I like my ears and I want to keep them. So I switch back and forth between headset and speakers for a few hours, but digging up a System Preferences window and clicking down to audio can be a bit of a nuisance when you’re doing it over and over. So I was looking for a way to do this through the command line, like a civilized human being. (I do believe that the only really good use for a mouse is feeding snakes)

I found something that I like.
SwitchAudioSource is an open source C program that allows you to display and change your audio device settings from the terminal window. If you simply download it and install it, it’s not hard to figure out, but the name of the program is long and the names of the devices are long, and typos mean you start over, so it’s not very useful straight out of the box.
Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to make aliases for the devices that you use often, so after a very small amount of configuring this ends up being a very useful piece of work. For example, I now type “headset” to switch to the headset and “spkr” to go to the on-board speakers when I’m done with a call. If you’re doing sound mixing or some other task that requires switching among various inputs or outputs, this might be a handy tool for you.

I haven’t included set-up instructions here because it’s all pretty simple, but if anyone asks I’ll explain the process that I used. It involves putting the file in the right place, making a symbolic link, and defining two aliases. It’s not difficult stuff, and it’s stuff that a Mac user should know how to do, because it’s nice to be able to customize your machine.