4 GB SD cards properly read under Linux

Remember how MacOS X ate my pics? In that post I explained that Linux had problems with >1 GB Secure Digital cards.

Well, apparently the problem was in the card reader, not in Linux (or the card itself). I recently acquired a SD card reader on eBay (actually, one like this one), and with it I can mount and read 2 and 4 GB SD cards without problem.

Fnac selling (almost) only Windows netbooks?

It seems that the Fnac (at least the Spanish section) has been remodelling its web recently, which caused some downtime last week, and a really slow experience right now (their webmaster must lack the experience to realize that great changes should be made first in test computers, then moved to production ones. Or maybe they lack the resources to buy a spare server...).

Anyway, I'm visiting the place to check the prices of netbooks, more precisely an ASUS Eee 901, and, to my surprise, the Linux models are gone! I have previously seen both Windows XP and Linux-based netbooks in Fnac, but now only the former seem to survive. I suspect that the XP netbooks are always over-represented in stores, that is, they have many more XP units than Linux ones, even though they are sold on par. Or even more Linux units are sold.

However, this plain and simple oblivion of any Linux offer is outrageous, and can only point to nasty activity by Microsoft, who moves the necessary strings (money when possible, threats when necessary) to secure a niche (that of netbooks), that is one of the biggest market entry points for Linux, and thus the greatest menace to MS's monopoly.

Right nowk, the Fnac Spain "Ultra Mobile" page (can not make a direct link because URLs inside the Fnac site are a thing to fear and hate), shows only one Acer Aspire One with Linux. All other netbooks, including all other Acer Aspire One models, and all Eee PCs, are exclusively Windows machines.

Update: The Linux Eee PCs seem to be back. Maybe it was just an error? Probably I'm just too paranoid :^)

Hibernating my MacBook under Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex

No matter what they say, hibernating Linux laptops has always been a problem. I managed to get my MacBook to suspend to RAM quite reliably without much of a hassle. It suspends when I close the lid, and it resumes when I open the lid back. I even configured it to suspend when battery is critically low. This way, and due to the really low power consumption while suspended, I can safely forget my laptop on and unplugged for extended periods of time, and the worst that can happen is that I will have to resume it. A huge difference from the nasty surprise of finding it off and losing all the information not saved to disk.

However hibernating to disk is a whole different business. I never managed it to work, and that was an itch I wanted to scratch. Finally I managed, with the following recipe.


First, make sure that you have enough swap space available in disk. In Linux you generally create a swap partition when installing the OS. The old adage states that one should make the swap partition twice as big as the RAM memory of the computer. With modern computers this is both unnecessary (because the big RAM makes sure you'll never run out of it, and if you do, you are screwed anyway) and wasteful (if you have a 4GB RAM, it means that you dump 8GB of disk space). However, if you intend to hibernate your computer, all the information in the RAM memory has to be copied to the hard disk, so you sure need at least as much swap as RAM (but not twice).

Second, you need to use the correct tool. I use Xfce as desktop environment under Ubuntu, and the Exit menu presents me with six options: "Switch user", "Log out", "Restart", "Shut down", "Suspend" and "Hibernate". I think that the latter two make use of the tools in the acpi-support package. The suspend action seems to work OK, but the hibernate one doesn't (for me). It runs the command /etc/acpi/hibernate.sh, and it gives me problems. Thankfully I found some utilities that work reliably, namely pm-utils.

The pm-suspend command seems to work as correctly as the "Suspend" button in the Exit menu of Xfce. The pm-hibernate, on the other hand, works perfectly, unlike the "Hibernate" button. The drawback is that only root can run it. My solution is to put a launcher button in the Xfce task bar, that will run "gksudo pm-hibernate". This way I am asked for my password and, if sudo is correctly set up, pm-hibernate will run.

More info

Sometimes it is very interesting to run some commands at suspension/hibernation moment, or at resuming/thawing. One such command is hdparm, with which you can fix the long known load/unload cycle problem (you can google about it). Another one is one to fix a problem that apparently appears on MacBooks: the touchpad is lost when the computer wakes up back. The keyboard works, and USB mice work, but the touchpad doesn't. This problem can be fixed by reloading the appletouch kernel module:

# modprobe -r appletouch && modprobe appletouch

You can fix both issues above by creating a file named, e.g., 99-macbook_fix, in /etc/pm/sleep.d/, and making it executable. Then write in it the following:


if [ $1 = 'thaw' ]; then
# The appletouch module has to be reloaded after hibernating
# (not after suspending, though), because otherwise the touchpad
# remains frozen upon awakening.
modprobe -r appletouch
modprobe appletouch

# Correct the load/unload cycles problem
/sbin/hdparm -B 254 /dev/sda

if [ $i = 'resume' ]; then
# Correct the load/unload cycles problem
/sbin/hdparm -B 254 /dev/sda

Installation of simyo Huawei E220 under Linux

Last friday I wrote about how to install a Huawei E220 modem under MacOSX. Today I will write the corresponding HowTo for Linux.

Usually installation of hardware with non-free drivers is a bit more difficult in Linux than in MacOS and Windows, because the drivers are only made for the latter two. However the E220 is well supported by the Linux kernel (starting at 2.6.20, apparently), so we only need to tweak some configuration files.

1 - Make the system see it properly

The Huawei E220 is a dual machine: apart from being a modem, it is also an USB flash device, with some space to save the Mac/Windows drivers, so that it will "autoinstall" when plugging it under those OSs.

This adds a small level of difficulty, because we have to make sure that the OS sees it as a modem, not as a storage device. In principle the command dmesg (or the file /var/log/messages) will tell us about it. However, I have had it work when dmesg would say that it was a storage device!

The short story is that some kernel modules must be loaded, and some others unloaded, when you plug the device. Needed modules: option, usbserial, ppp_async. Must not be present: airprime. In my case usb_storage made no harm, some people say you should unload it. For airprime not to be automatically loaded, put it in some blacklist file in /etc/modprobe.d/. I decided to add the following line to /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist-modem:

blacklist airprime

You can ensure the required modules are loaded by taking advantage of udev, but it is not really necessary (in my case it wasn't). udev can also give you a consistent name for the modem. For me the relevant device was always /dev/ttyUSB0, but you can make it /dev/huawei if you will. For that, you can put the following optional rules in a file in /etc/udev/rules.d/ (for example create 55-huawei.rules):

BUS=="usb", SYSFS{idProduct}=="1003", SYSFS{idVendor}=="12d1", NAME="huawei"
BUS=="usb", SYSFS{idProduct}=="1003", SYSFS{idVendor}=="12d1", RUN+="/sbin/modprobe option"
BUS=="usb", SYSFS{idProduct}=="1003", SYSFS{idVendor}=="12d1", RUN+="/sbin/modprobe ppp_async"

Two notes: the strings in idProduct and idVendor are obtained running the command lsusb when the modem is plugged. It will show something like:

Bus 003 Device 005: ID 12d1:1003 Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. E220 HSDPA Modem

This is a very neat trick for any USB device we want to manage with udev. The second note is that kppp (see later) only allows to choose a modem device from a list. If you make the modem be /dev/huawei, you will not be able to use kppp, since that device won't appear in the list.

2 - Configure wvdial / kppp

You can make use of programs such as wvdial or kppp to make the actual connection. I use kppp myself, but that's up to you (wvdial is apparently more flexible).


To use it you have to create a /etc/wvdial.conf file. You can achieve this by running wvdialconf as root, or editing the file by hand, if you are brave.

For me, the output of wvdialconf yielded:

Editing `/etc/wvdial.conf'.

Scanning your serial ports for a modem.

Modem Port Scan<*1>: S0 S1 S2 S3
WvModem<*1>: Cannot get information for serial port.
ttyUSB0<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 -- OK
ttyUSB0<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 Z -- OK
ttyUSB0<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 -- OK
ttyUSB0<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 -- OK
ttyUSB0<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 -- OK
ttyUSB0<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0 -- OK
ttyUSB0<*1>: Modem Identifier: ATI -- Manufacturer: huawei
ttyUSB0<*1>: Speed 9600: AT -- OK
ttyUSB0<*1>: Max speed is 9600; that should be safe.
ttyUSB0<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0 -- OK
WvModem<*1>: Cannot get information for serial port.
ttyUSB1<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 -- OK
ttyUSB1<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 Z -- OK
ttyUSB1<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 -- OK
ttyUSB1<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 -- OK
ttyUSB1<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 -- OK
ttyUSB1<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0 -- OK
ttyUSB1<*1>: Modem Identifier: ATI -- Manufacturer: huawei
ttyUSB1<*1>: Speed 9600: AT -- OK
ttyUSB1<*1>: Max speed is 9600; that should be safe.
ttyUSB1<*1>: ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0 -- OK

Found a modem on /dev/ttyUSB0.
Modem configuration written to /etc/wvdial.conf.
ttyUSB0: Speed 9600; init "ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0"
ttyUSB1: Speed 9600; init "ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0"

And my current /etc/wvdial.conf looks as follows:

[Dialer Defaults]
;Init1 = ATZ
Init2 = ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0
Modem Type = Analog Modem
ISDN = 0
New PPPD = yes
Modem = /dev/ttyUSB1
Baud = 9600

[Dialer simyo]
Dial Command = ATDT
Phone = *99#
Init2 = ATZ
Init4 = ATE0V1&D2&C1S0=0+IFC=2,2
Init3 = AT+CGDCONT=1,"IP","gprs-service.com";
Stupid Mode = 1
Modem Type = Analog Modem
ISDN = 0
Modem = /dev/ttyUSB0
Username = whatever
Password = whatever
Baud = whatever

In bold, the relevant user-provided settings. In italics, some items in which you can put whatever, because it doesn't seem to make a difference.

To connect, run wvdial simyo (or whatever you put in the "[Dialer xxx]" setting above), in the command line. To terminate, Ctrl+C.


This is the one I use. To open the config/run dialog, run kppp (you can do this as user). There you will have to configure two things: the account and the modem. By pressing "Configure" you will be presented with a window with four tabs. In the first one you will create a new account, in which the relevant data is:

  • Phone number: *99#
  • Authentication: PAP/CHAP
  • Callback type: none

In the second tab you will configure the modem:

  • Modem device: /dev/ttyUSB0
  • Flow control: Hardware
  • Line termination: CR/LF
  • Connection speed: 921600

Please note that those are parameters that work for me. I can not assure that they are the "correct" ones. I have player around with different values, and many times the modem would work all the same with different settings. If you find some error in my setup, please tell me :^)

Installation of simyo Huawei E220 under MacOSX

I recently subscribed to simyo's mobile internet service. I was considering also Orange, as explained in a previous post (es), but simyo's offer is better.

I am writing how to make the modem simyo provides (the commonplace Huawei E220) on MacOSX first, because apparently the PIN has to be deactivated for the modem to work in Linux. I have to admit that in MacOSX installation was a breeze.

Software installation

Start MacOS, then plug the USB modem. A window will open automatically, with two objects inside: "MobileConnect" and "User Manual". The former is the installer binary, and the latter is a folder with the manuals in PDF format (for me, they were in English and Spanish).

Clicking on the "MobileConnect" icon the installer will start, and after being asked to accept an EULA, then introduce the admin password, then choosing a location for placing the files (actually just a hard disk, not a concrete dir), the installer does its thing.

Profile setting

After that, we only need to configure a connection in the "Mobile Connect" window that opens automatically after installation. For that, click on "Setting..." and create a new profile. If you read the manual (see above), it is easy to fill in the blanks. In short:

  • Profile name: whatever you want
  • Access Point Name: this is the APN value that simyo tells you in some paper (gprs-service.com)
  • Telephone number: *99#
  • Account name: irrelevant
  • Password: irrelevant

Save the above, then choose the profile you just created in the drop-down list in "Profile name", then hit the "Connect" button. If after saying "Dialing up, please wait", it tells you "Connection succesfull!", then everything is fine!

PIN deactivation

Apparently using the modem under Linux requires that the PIN is deactivated. Doing that under MacOSX is easy: when the "Mobile Connect" window is active, go to the "Manage PIN" drop-down menu in the top bar. There you can find "Activate", "Deactivate" and "Modify". Self-explanatory, ain't it?

MacOSX ate my pics

OK, so the 2GB SD card I use in my camera has its problems. Apparently, only 1GB of it are recognized by the OS (Linux) and/or the card readers I own. The problem seems to be common, as you can see by googling about it. More info, from the Wikipedia article for SD cards:

Devices that use SD cards identify the card by requesting a 128-bit identification string from the card. For standard-capacity SD cards, 12 of the bits are used to identify the number of memory clusters (ranging from 1 to 4096) and 3 of the bits are used to identify the number of blocks per cluster (which decode to 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 or 512 blocks per cluster).

In older 1.x implementations the standard capacity block was exactly 512 bytes. This gives 4096 x 512 x 512 = 1 gigabyte of storage memory. A later revision of the 1.x standard allowed a 4-bit field to indicate 1024 or 2048 bytes per block instead, yielding more than 1 gigabyte of memory storage. Devices designed before this change may incorrectly identify such cards. Usually by misidentify a card with lower capacity than is the case by assuming 512 bytes per block rather than 1024 or 2048.

For the new SDHC high capacity card (2.0) implementation, 22 bits of the identification string are used to indicate the memory size in increments of 512 KBytes. Currently 16 of the 22 bits are allowed to be used, giving a maximum size of 32 GB. All SDHC 4-GB and larger cards must be 2.0 implementations. Two bits that were previously reserved and fixed at 0 are now used for identifying the type of card, 0=standard, 1=HC, 2=reserved, 3=reserved. Non-HC devices are not programmed to read this code and therefore cannot correctly read the identification of the card.

All SDHC readers work with standard SD cards.[ref]

Many older devices will not accept the 2 or 4 GB size even though it is in the revised standard. The following statement is from the SD association specification:

"To make 2 GByte card, the Maximum Block Length (READ_BL_LEN=WRITE_BL_LEN) shall be set to 1024 bytes. However, the Block Length, set by CMD16, shall be up to 512 bytes to keep consistency with 512 bytes Maximum Block Length cards (Less than and equal 2 Gbyte cards[ref]."

I have had problems in the past with this issue, and could only retrieve the photos exceeding the "first GB" of the card with a tedious operation: copy some photos from the card to the internal memory of the camera (28MB), remove the card from camera, connect camera to computer, download the photos in the internal memory (and empty it), unplug and repeat. 1GB/28MB = boring as hell.

However yesterday I realized that I had a shinny MacBook with its MacOSX intact. I read somewhere that Windows would sometimes read 2GB cards that Linux couldn't, by the simple method of happily ignoring the f*cked up file system in them. Maybe MacOSX could, too.

Well, it turns out it couldn't. When I attached the card in the card reader (I didn't try with the camera directly), MacOSX found the device and mounted it, giving me a nice icon in the Mac version of "My PC". However, the directory the icon led to was empty. I thought "Tough luck, Mac reads nothing in the card", unmounted it and unplug it. Then I placed it in the camera again, turned it on and... there was no photo in the darned thing! MacOSX had erased them!

There is still the (likely) possibility that I made some deep mistake, but the explanation for now seems that MacOSX ate my pics. Sad.

Making iSight camera work in Ubuntu

As I said in a previous post, I bought a MacBook, and I am making all bits work correctly. Out-of-the-box support from Ubuntu (the only GNU/Linux I tried on the MacBook so far) is excellent, but some things (camera, WiFi...) need proprietary drivers, so some more tweaks are needed.

I have followed the instructions in the Ubuntu community site, as with the procedures detailed in the previous post.

Basically, it all boils down to:

Fetch the Apple drivers for the camera

As root (if, unlike me, you like sudo, then run the following as user, but prepended with sudo), mount the Mac OSX partition (you didn't delete it, right?) and copy the relevant file somewhere else (the cp command should be all in one line):

# cd
# mkdir /mnt/macosx
# mount /dev/sda2 /mnt/macosx
# cp /mnt/macosx/System/Library/Extensions/
     Contents/MacOS/AppleUSBVideoSupport .
# umount /mnt/macosx

You might have noticed that the Mac OSX partition is not sda1, but sda2. Don't ask me. It turns out like this after following my own installation instructions. Apple must have decided to install the OS in the second partition for some reason.

Install the required packages

We need a package called isight-firmware-tools. Unfortunately it is not present in the Hardy repos at the moment (it was in the Gutsy ones, I think). You can add a Launchpad repo, editing /etc/apt/sources.list to add:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/mactel-support/ubuntu hardy main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/mactel-support/ubuntu hardy main

Then, as root:

# aptitude update
# aptitude install isight-firmware-tools

You will be prompted for a path to the driver you copied before. You can press Enter without paying much attention, then execute (assuming you copied the driver to your root home):

# cd
# ift-extract -a ./AppleUSBVideoSupport

To activate the driver, restart HAL:

# /etc/init.d/hal restart

Test it with Ekiga

As explained in the Ubuntu community site, you can run Ekiga as user (after installing the ekiga package). Choose V4L2 as video plugin, and Built-in iSight should appear among the Input device list. If it does, the process worked.

Installing Ubuntu Hardy Heron on a MacBook

Yes, dear reader, I committed the heresy of purchasing an Apple MacBook. I obviously didn't do it for MacOS X, for which I couldn't care less, but for the hardware, which is quite good. I was looking for a laptop as small as possible, keeping price low (it cost 799 eur), and screen not too small (this one has a 13" one. Maybe even 12" is acceptable. 13" sure is).

You can see some pictures of it at my MacBook gallery.

If you, like me, are used to PCs, then there are a few things to note:

  • It has a different layout in the keyboard. Most prominently, some keys are missing: Del, PgUp, PgDn, Home, End. Some others (Win key, AltGr) have substitutes that can be mapped. Also the equivalent to AltGr and right Ctrl are kind of swapped: the key closest to the SpaceBar is right "cmd" (could be right Ctrl), and the farthest one is left "alt" (could be AltGr)
  • The touchpad has a single button, and tapping on it won't click. There is no zone on it to use as vertical scroll, either. Luckily the latter can be fixed via software, so that in Ubuntu the touchpad does behave correctly: you can tap-click, and you can scroll with a smooth movement of a finger. The single-button issue is not present in USB mice: they work "normally".

I would like to outline here the process of installing Ubuntu (Hardy Heron) in this machine. For that, I recommend reading (as I did), the following links:

Repartition of the hard disk

My Mac came with 120 GB (109 real) of HD, all of it devoted to OS X. Unfortunately, the Ubuntu installer can not cope with resizing of HFS+ partitions. Fortunately, OS X itself can. You can make use of Boot Camp as follows: go to Go->Utilities->Boot Camp Assistant. There you can (should) reduce the existing HFS+ partition to the bare minimum (in my machine it was 22GB, because OSX already uses 17GB, and it won't accept less than 5GB of free disk). Leave the rest unassigned, and quit.

Installation of multi-boot system

The first hurdle in our Linux installation is that the Mac machines do not have a "normal" BIOS. The BIOS is important for Linux/Windows installations, so this is a drawback. Macs come with a thingie called Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI), instead. However, there is a nice little tool called rEFIt that can help us with it.

To install rEFIt, you can follow the instructions at its Sourceforge site. I followed the Automatic Installation with the Installer Package instructions. Basically I downloaded the Mac disk image from the download page, opened in the Mac OSX file browser, double-clicked it to open it, then double-clicked on the rEFIt.mpkg file inside, and followed the instructions.

This will make the rEFIt menu appear in the next reboot, but only if you hold some key while booting (I think it's "C"). If you want the menu to always appear, do the following in a terminal, inside Mac OSX:

% cd /efi/refit
% ./enable-always.sh

Installation of Linux OS

After doing the above, you should reboot with an Ubuntu installation CD inserted. If the EFI installation was correct, you will be presented with the rEFIt menu, in which you will have two big icons (OSX and the Linux CD), and five small ones below ("Start EFI Shell", "Start Partitioning Tool", "About rEFIt", "Shut down computer" and "Restart computer").

Use the left-rigth arrow keys to select the Ubuntu CD, and press Enter. At that moment, or after installing Ubuntu (I don't recall), the computer could complain saying: "No bootable device -- insert boot disk and press any key". If so, reboot and, in the aforementioned rEFIt menu, choose the second small icon, "Start Partitioning Tool". This tool will prompt you to update the MBR. Accept, and let it do its magic.

When booting with the CD, you will have the option to make an absolutely normal Ubuntu installation. The Ubuntu MacBook page says that Boot Camp will complain if you make more than two partitions in total. It will, but for me this is ridiculous, since OSX is already eating up one. There's no way I will install any Linux in a single partition (withouth even swap!). If you do not care about opening Boot Camp ever again (I don't), do a totally normal install. I created two 8.5GB partitions for / (one for Ubuntu, another one unused for the future), a 750MB swap partition, and the rest (73GB) as /home (potentially shared among the two Linux I could install).

After the installation, reboot and you will find the aforementioned rEFIt menu. Choosing the penguin icon on the right side will take you to the GRUB screen you probably are accustomed to. What this means is that you have to go through two boot menus when booting, but that's a minor issue, I think. The first menu is an EFI menu, in which you choose OSX or GRUB. The second one is the GRUB menu that lets you choose among different installed kernels.

And I think that's it...

I will keep on writing when I have time, at least about how to make WiFi work, and also how to configure Compiz Fusion. Yes, the X3100 graphics chip that the MacBooks carry is blacklisted, as not working with CF. But, believe me, it does work!

Blackout summary X

Last week a new power failure affected the Campus. At least the PCs at the DIPC were reseted around midnight. So, here goes the updated list of blackouts I have been able to compile, with comments if any:

  1. 2008-Mar-05
  2. 2007-Dec-10 (I used the reboot of my computer to install kernel 2.6.22-3)
  3. 2007-Oct-16
  4. 2007-Aug-27 (at least three short power failures, 5-10 minutes apart)
  5. 2007-May-19
  6. 2006-Oct-21 (they warned beforehand)
  7. 2006-Sep-14 (Orpheus fell, the DNSs fell, the DHCP servers fell)
  8. 2006-Jul-04 (Orpheus didn't fall)
  9. 2006-Jun-16
  10. 2006-Jun-13
  11. 2006-Jun-08
  12. 2006-Jun-04
  13. 2006-May-26 (The card-based automated access to the Faculty broke down)
  14. 2005-Dec-21
  15. 2005-Dec-13

Summary: 15 blackouts in 813 days, or 54.2 dpb (days per blackout). 86 days since last blackout. Average dpb went up by 2.2.

First post in the series: here