The new Commodore 64 laptop

sx-64_build This isn’t the first time a Commodore 64 laptop has been made but it’s probably the coolest one. Commodore’s original SX 64 was built in 1984 and featured a tiny 5 inch CRT screen with a hardly portable body weighing in at 10kg!
I actually saw an SX 64 years ago in Cork Micro, the small computer shop run by the late Sean Bossang in Cork.
A couple of years ago there was the Picodore, a tiny little laptop built from the innards of a C64 DTV joystick. The keyboard’s a little small for my tastes though!
c64_hero And finally, Benjamin has created a real, “normal sized” laptop from the motherboard of a C64C, the final version of the C64 built by Commodore.
It uses the original keyboard too, and “1541-III DTV” to emulate the original 1541 disk drive. This device takes FAT32 formatted SD cards so you can copy D64 images from your PC on to it, insert the card in the laptop and load them immediately. Judging by the movie below, he needs an Action Replay cartridge or something to speed up loading. The emulated drive emulates the slow loading of the original drive too well methinks.

Nice to see Thunderblade make an appearance. I’m sure I have the original C64 tape of that game around here somewhere..

More info on Ben’s post.

HOWTO: Ubuntu desktop visual effects on Dell D630

The Dell Latitude D630 comes with a number of different video cards but if you use the Intel chipset you may be frustrated when trying to activate the visual effects eye candy of Compiz:

Ubuntu Visual Effects

Checking either of the lower two options brings up this alert saying, “Desktop effects could not be enabled”.

Ubuntu Visual Effects

I didn’t bother trying to fix it for ages and put it down to using Ubuntu on exotic hardware. Fortunately it’s simple to get working. I just needed to install the xGL server:

# aptitude install xserver-xgl
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
Reading extended state information
Initializing package states... Done
Building tag database... Done
The following NEW packages will be automatically installed:
  libglitz-glx1 libglitz1
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  libglitz-glx1 libglitz1 xserver-xgl
0 packages upgraded, 3 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 0B/1843kB of archives. After unpacking 4854kB will be used.
Do you want to continue? [Y/n/?]

Once I logged out (and rebooted, for some reason my external monitor doesn’t always “catch” when I restart X) and back in again xGL was loaded and I was able to enable desktop visual effects. Despite my misgivings about using an embedded graphics chip it actually works really well. Windows bounced around, bent out of shape and did lots of nice animation stuff.

Then I removed the whole lot by uninstalling the xserver-xgl package again. Why? Unfortunately it conflicts with other openGL apps. In a toss up between fancy desktop effects and decent SDLMame performance, SDLMame wins hands down. It’s nice to know the visual effects work though!

Ubuntu WiFi problems on the Dell D630 laptop

Wireless networking was always a bit patchy for me on my Dell Latitude D630 while running Ubuntu Gutsy version of Linux. It would work fine for ages and then freeze up suddenly, requiring a hard reboot to get things working (Apache would become unkillable, I guess because it was attached to the broken Wireless networking driver.) Problems always showed up when I transferred large amounts of data between Linux and my Macbook. Files copied fine for a few minutes and then the whole house of cards would collapse. Crash! Boom!

The first time I looked for a solution nothing turned up, but eventually I went searching again, and after digging into all sorts of forums and websites I found the simpe solution on the Dell Linux Wiki:

Create a file called /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist-ipw3945 and add:

blacklist ipw3945

Add to /etc/modules:


Reboot after doing that and all will be fine in the world again! I haven’t had any networking issues since replacing the ipw3945 driver with the iwl3945 one!

It's so hard to sell a laptop on eBay

Sometimes blog posts take on a life of their own. Occasionally they attract the wrong sort of attention. I made a brief post called, Laptop for sale back in 2003 and ever since that post has been collecting comments from Nigerian scammers. It’s bizarre.

Last month one of them got smart. They subscribed. Here’s the email Tobi sent me when he got the confirmation email from Feedburner.

laptop email

Being curious, I checked the email headers. Luckily, Yahoo records the IP of the user who sent the email:

Received: from [] by via HTTP; Fri, 14 Dec 2007 19:23:22 PST

Armed with that bit of information, I checked out only to discover he wasn’t in the grand old US of A at all! I was shocked!

inetnum: –
org: ORG-SA410-RIPE
netname: Supernet
descr: Supernet
country: NG
admin-c: TS3788-RIPE
[clipped for brevity]
address: 8th Fl 21 Mobolaji Bank Anthony way
address: Ikeja Lagos
address: Nigeria

I toyed with the idea of stringing him along but it was the run up to Christmas and I never got around to it. I had to dig up the email this evening because this was too good not to share.

Anyone remember the 419 Monty Python sketch from a while back?

Ubuntu Gutsy on the Dell Latitude D630

I previously documented my problems with Ubuntu and the DVD in the D630 but the upgrade to Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy From Feisty went almost painlessly.

ubuntu 710 upgrade

All the packages downloaded and installed through the nice GUI front end. I was able to work away while they downloaded and for most of the time during install too, but when I rebooted I found that sound wasn’t working! I found this solution but I didn’t want to compile a kernel again. That’s so 90’s and this is 2007! Instead I checked my grub menu.lst and found there was an older 2.6.20 kernel listed there. A quick reboot later and sound works again, and it’s even louder! WiFi never stopped working thankfully but if you’re having problems, the page above explains what you need to install to get it working.

I haven’t tried the eye candy features yet, but so far the system feels springier and lighter, even with the old kernel. Let’s hope it stays that way!

Bah. GIMP 2.4rc3 broke a lot of the Script-fu scripts I use. I read about this somewhere. Time to get my hands dirty in my lomo plugin for starters.

Nice! Gthumb supports RAW images although it takes ages to initially process them initially.

Ubuntu Linux on Dell D630: the DVD

Getting the DVD drive working in Ubuntu Feisty on my Dell D630 laptop was one of the tasks that eluded me until a few minutes ago when I went searching again and found the solution.

At first I tried this and used the ide-generic driver. Linux recognised the drive, but as the page above says, it doesn’t give you any DMA modes. I tried the Bourne Supremacy, just to see if anything would happen, but Totem just sat there and the system became sluggish while the CD made some whirring noises. That’s a sure sign that DMA isn’t working!

That wasn’t going to be satisfactory, so I kept searching. This page and some of the Ubuntu forums suggest loading the “piix” and “ata_piix” modules. I tried to modprobe them without luck, but when I added “piix” to my /etc/modules and rebooted my DVD drive was found!

DMA is now enabled and everything works ok. Even got the film to play in Mplayer and it was very smooth.

# hdparm -i /dev/hda


Model=TSSTcorp DVD+/-RW TS-L632D, FwRev=DE04, SerialNo=
Config={ Fixed Removeable DTR10Mbs nonMagnetic }
RawCHS=0/0/0, TrkSize=0, SectSize=0, ECCbytes=0
BuffType=unknown, BuffSize=0kB, MaxMultSect=0
(maybe): CurCHS=0/0/0, CurSects=0, LBA=yes, LBAsects=0
IORDY=on/off, tPIO={min:227,w/IORDY:120}, tDMA={min:120,rec:120}
PIO modes: pio0 pio1 pio2 pio3 pio4
DMA modes: mdma0 mdma1 mdma2
UDMA modes: udma0 udma1 *udma2

# hdparm /dev/hda

IO_support = 1 (32-bit)
unmaskirq = 1 (on)
using_dma = 1 (on)
keepsettings = 1 (on)
readonly = 0 (off)
readahead = 256 (on)

How much of your Macbook's battery is gone for good?


Rechargeable batteries start deteriorating from the moment they are manufactured. I’ve noticed my Canon 20D’s batteries don’t last quite as long as they did 2 years ago. AA and AAA batteries seem to be even worse. As I’m heading to San Francisco in July I’ll be doing a lot of flying so it’ll be important that my Apple Macbook laptop have a decent battery life.

There’s no quick fix for this as it’s not reversible but if you’re wondering how much life is left, then Coconut Battery is a must have. I installed it last night and it looks like my battery still has 85% of it’s capacity left after 11 months of use. That’s not bad. It’s not enough to get me across the Atlantic but I don’t know if I want to spend €139 on a second battery when I’ll only ever use it once a year.

I think it is possible to slow down the deterioration. Don’t unplug your laptop! The less you use the battery, the longer the battery will last.

The Pigs, they are a flying

The impossible has happened. When you're outside over the next few days watch the skies. If you looks carefully you may see pigs flying through the air! Why? My Apple MacBook arrived yesterday and I'm playing with it now. After some initial problems with my Linksys WRT54G wireless router I got the laptop online using the neat "network setup assistant". Soon Firefox and Thunderbird were downloaded and now I'm trying to figure out how to migrate my email from Linux to the Mac Thunderbird. Hopefully it's as easy as copying over the data folder.

Despite myself, I am impressed. It's going with me to San Francisco so I'm going to have a busy few days installing Apache, PHP, MySQL, Subversion and whatever else I can find to amuse myself on a long trip!

Now, where are all those Unix tools hidden?

Update – writing in Mac Flock, ripping a DVD with Mac Ripper, iTerm, VLC, Samba on my Linux box allows me to browse my mp3, movie and photo collections, from the living room! Bottom of the machine is very warm. No need for central heating this winter!

iPhoto likes to do it's own thing with my photos. Not sure if I'm comfortable with that but I'll give it a go. I knew the DOOM Collector's Edition I bought a few years ago would come in handy! PrBoom works a treat, but avoid the 2.4.3 release. The "Launch" button is greyed out no matter what WAD file you throw at it. 2.4.2 works fine though.

XAMPP for Mac OS X is downloading now. Like the well known version of Windows, this is an installer bundled with Apache, PHP, MySQL and PHP. Along with Vim and Subversion I should have a complete dev environment for the long wait in the airport tomorrow! Later – I spoke too soon, XAMPP doesn't work on Intel Macs yet. I'm going to give MAMP a go now.

Later still! Lots of tips for new users switching from Windows to Mac on this page. Podz saw it on the top posts list! I still don't know how to switch between Flock windows. ALT-TAB switches between applications only. Anyone know how?