Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

May, 2011:

Dell’s USFF Internal Amplified Speaker

DellMiniSpeaker.jpgI bought a Dell Optiplex GX620 USFF (Ultra-Small Form Factor) machine last week, and it came without an internal speaker. I didn’t know the speaker was optional until a machine turned up without one, but a look at my three SX280 USFF machines (built in exactly the same case) showed a very small plastic unit that pulls easily out of the chassis when you lift a plastic tab. It’s wired to the mobo through a conventional 4-pin header. And most interesting of all, it has circuitry on its back.

A look through a loupe showed four solder pads (on the left in the photo above) labeled P5V IN, SPK DET, GND and AUD MONO. These correspond to the red, white, black, and green leads respectively. It took me ten minutes to lash up a test on my Heath ET-3200 breadboard. With 5V on the red lead, common on the black lead, and some sine wave from my audio generator on the green lead, that one tiny little doodad filled the shop with an 800 Hz tone.

I’m pretty sure the SPK DET lead allows the computer to know if there’s a speaker in place; my VOM shows it tied to ground. The IC is almost certainly an LM4871 1.1W audio amp. The National Semi logo is on the chip, and the printed number is RA4871. The Dell part number for the assembly as a whole is Y2298.

I needed to order one for the GX620, so I ordered two, and if I need a subminiature speaker amp for a project, it’ll be in the drawer with my other small speakers, ready to go. $2.69 at the CompuFlea eBay store.

Lazarus, Stay Where You Are!

…because when you came forth, you stepped on my bootloader.

I’ve tried to like Lazarus. I’ve tried for years. I can only assume that (as also evidenced by its similarly screwy cousin, Kylix) there is something in the Linux platform that makes Pascal compilers go a little bit whacko.

A few days ago I installed the KDE Fedora Spin in a new partition on my Linux box. It’s been a good education in the Plasma desktop. Plasma is all very blue and cold looking (way too blue for me, in fact, though the default wallpaper is striking) but unlike my first taste or two of KDE 4, it actually works.

So I started installing the software I’m familiar with to begin using it, and somewhere down the list was Lazarus, the Delphi-ish GUI front end for FreePascal. The package available from Fedora was V0.9.28.2, which is considerably newer than the one I have installed on Ubuntu Lucid, and only a little older than the one you can get from the project Web site. After it downloaded and installed all of its enormous pile of stuff, it asked me to restart Linux. I did.

And grub failed to run.

All I got was a blinking text cursor in the upper-left corner of the screen. This is the first time I’ve ever seen grub fail, apart from the well-known habit of Windows to overwrite grub with its own bootloader. (This is why Windows goes in first, if you’re going to have it at all.) I booted the Ubuntu 11.04 live CD I’d burned a few days after it was released, just to see if my MBR had been damaged. As best I could tell it had not, but I’m not good enough at grub’s internals to really be able to tell what was wrong with the software itself. Since I had plenty of free space on the 750 GB drive, I just installed Ubuntu on yet another partition, hoping that its update of grub would put things right. And it did.

So why would installing a compiler and an IDE mess up the OS bootloader? (Anybody?) I don’t have a lot of clues. The copy of Lazarus I installed looks like it works as well as Lazarus ever does, so I can’t assume that something in the installer or the package glitched and overwrote something unrelated. None of the other partitions on the disk were affected, as best I can tell. I’m tempted to install Lazarus under Ubuntu, to see if it will stomp on Ubuntu’s copy of grub as well…but that will happen another day, when I’m not as busy and not so grouchy.

Odd Lots

A Very Bright Line

Today’s Big Question cooks down to this: Is Bin Laden more valuable to Al Qaeda as a live leader or a dead martyr?

Hint: Name one Islamic martyr.

Here in the mostly unchurched West it’s easy to forget that Islam is an expression of radical monotheism. Islamic culture brooks no competitors to Allah, and takes the Old Testament proscription of “graven images” farther than any other major religion. It’s not about the images themselves, as we sometimes misunderstand, but about the underlying psychology of worship.

Catholicism’s great genius lay in absorbing the pagan cultures it converted rather than destroying them, and in consequence we revere saints and sometimes inanimate objects that are images of saints, are associated with saints (relics) or express sacred symbols. These are Christianized echoes of ancient polytheism, and looking at the myths of early Christianity, it’s easy to see the saints in the stories as small-g gods: They are larger-than-life because, well, they are larger than life, and have ascended into a graduated pantheon that from ancient times expressed the connectedness of humanity to the divine. A single, all-powerful God is a relatively recent addition to religious psychology, but Christianity simply placed God at the top of the pyramid, with all the saints below, revered but not worshipped. (I grant that drawing that line has always been a challenge.)

Here and now we’re comfortable with that, but a close reading of Eastern history shows the sometimes bloody tension between monotheism and these ancient echoes of polytheism. I just finished John Julius Norwich’s A Short History of Byzantium, which went into considerable detail about iconoclasm, a religious conflict that tore through the Byzantine Empire circa 750. People were killing one another over questions of what should be revered, and how. (I think it’s no coincidence that Islam itself appeared barely a century earlier.) Byzantium basically anathematized representational sculpture in the eighth century, and afterward confined religious artwork to painted (not graven; i.e., shaped or sculpted) images. This was a compromise. Many in the iconoclast faction at the time wanted no representational art at all.

Islam goes farther still. It reveres the ancient prophets (up to and including Mohammed, considered the greatest and the last) but demands that worship be directed to God and God only, and is constantly on guard against the temptation to idolatry. Living leaders provide inspiration and are given obedience, but once leaders die, they move into God’s territory, and some very strict rules begin to apply to those still on Earth. Revering a deceased leader too much begins to resemble idolatry, and Muslims have a very deep caution about idolatry.

We in the West don’t call it “hero worship” for nothing.

My thought is that Bin Laden’s death will be an inspiration to his followers, but not too much and not for long. He was a very bright guy, skillful and extremely lucky, and Al Qaeda will miss him sorely as a leader. His power as a martyr and a symbol will be limited, however, in a religion where history and hagiography are separated by a very bright line.

Fedora Spin: KDE Desktop

Sometime back I ran into a concept called Fedora Spins, which are customized Fedora installs with different desktops (KDE, LXDE, XFCE) or a slant in some direction like security, graphics, or games. I downloaded the KDE Spin ISO earlier today, burned it to CD, and this evening (having burned out on ebooks) took it for a…ride. I had 300 GB of free space on my Linux box, so there was no reason not to, and I’d like to get a little better at the KDE Plasma desktop.

Some reactions:

  • The Fedora partitioner is very good. I did a manual partition operation, and created a new 60 GB partition for Fedora, and a 12 GB swap partition. It helps to know a little bit about partitioners generally, but overall it was intuitive and gave me no trouble.
  • For some reason, Fedora installs grub with grub’s hiddenmenu option enabled. (It’s conceivable that I accidentally chose that somehow, but I don’t recall being asked.) This means that at boot time, grub’s menu isn’t displayed, and the system boots directly into Fedora. (The system already has Ubuntu Lucid and Windows XP on it.) You can get the boot menu by pressing F10 during grub’s timeout period, but otherwise you aren’t presented with an OS menu at all.
  • Fedora recognized the existence of my XP partition, but didn’t know what it was. In grub’s menu, XP is therefore listed as “Other.” However, if you select it, grub boots it just fine.
  • Fedora has a GUI bootloader configuration utility that allows selection of the timeout value and the default OS. However, the utility’s sole window does not have a Save or Apply button. You can make changes, but closing the utility throws them away. Wow. This is a bug, and not a brand-new one.
  • Unlike Ubuntu, Fedora does not automatically add the initial user account to the sudoers list. So try to do anything rootish like editing grub’s config file gives you that inane message “jduntemann is not in the sudoers list. This incident will be reported.”
  • Adding yourself to the sudoers list is seriously unintuive, but the best way is probably to use the visudo command, which opens a vi edit window with the sudoers list ready to change. Add USERNAME ALL=(ALL) ALL to the end of the file and save; it’s done. Details here.
  • Fixing grub requires editing the grub.conf file and commenting out the hiddenmenu option. While I was there, I also changed the description of the XP partition from “Other” to “Windows XP.”
  • A 2.8 GHz Dell SX280 does not have sufficient graphics chops to run Plasma’s desktop effects. I wanted to see just how slow they were, but within seconds of enabling desktop effects, Fedora disabled them again. I knew that the SX280 wouldn’t run them well from my online research (it’s one reason I’m getting a more powerful Linux box shortly) but I didn’t know the system would simply refuse to run the effects against my wishes. Interestingly, Ubuntu’s GNOME desktop effects subsystem works on the same machine.

Overall, getting to a usable configuration with Fedora is a lot more screwing around than with Ubuntu. But once done, it works well. More as I experience it.