Fixing Suspend in Xubuntu on the Acer C720 – A Simplified Guide

I am posting this guide as a point-in-time assist after the release of Ubuntu 14.04, to help those looking to fix suspend in Xubuntu on their C720s (and any Chromebook with Haswell architecture or similar hardware). I will do my utmost to keep this updated, but keep in mind that this post is not my first priority. Please remember that messing about with your system instructions can create horrible problems, for which you are responsible – no one is forcing you to make these changes. If they are very intimidating to you, do not take these steps and stick with crouton or ChrUbuntu! If you have anything to add, please let me know. I welcome help and criticism as it helps all of us with our knowledge.   Things to keep in mind:

  • I am not an experienced coder – I understand the instructions below because I have scripting/coding experience, but I am presenting this only to help those who have little to no experience.
  • I am only one person, so have a little patience – I am doing this only as a service to help you, and cannot do much in the way of troubleshooting. If you are having problems, make sure to present them on the G+ post.
  • As the Ubuntu kernel updates, (ie, 14.04.1) I will try to test if anything is broken – I may miss something, so let me know.

My article is derived from the following reddit post: http://www.reddit.com/r/chrubuntu/comments/1rsxkd/list_of_fixes_for_xubuntu_1310_on_the_acer_c720/ After you have followed the guide for installing Xubuntu, make sure to make corrections in order, as suggested in the reddit post. Specifically, you may have trouble with suspend (closing the lid will cause a lock-up requiring a cold start). Here is all the info you need: https://plus.google.com/113736371980021233804/posts/6CgQypQukMa However, after many responses and corrections, you may find the Google+ post by Pedro Larroy a bit confusing. Here’s a distilled version:

add the following to the kernel boot parameters in /etc/default/grub reload grub via update-grub

add_efi_memmap boot=local noresume noswap i915.modeset=1 tpm_tis.force=1 tpm_tis.interrupts=0 nmi_watchdog=panic,lapic

This fix was originally suggested for an earlier kernel – but it has been superseded/replaced by the following scripts, so you will have to make some fixes for Xubuntu 13.10 (stable) or Xubuntu 14.04 . Do not enter the lines above. Only use what I have posted in code below. After making the changes originally posted by Pedro, skip down to the Mike Lim response (I have added formatting to make it easier to read. Hopefully my formatting will work and terminal entries will appear properly):   1. Creating 05_Sound file under /etc/pm/sleep.d/

sudo gedit /etc/pm/sleep.d/05_sound
#####################
#!/bin/sh
# File: "/etc/pm/sleep.d/05_sound"
case "${1}" in
hibernate|suspend)
# Unbind ehci for preventing error
echo -n "0000:00:1d.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci-pci/unbind
# Unbind snd_hda_intel for sound
echo -n "0000:00:1b.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/snd_hda_intel/unbind
echo -n "0000:00:03.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/snd_hda_intel/unbind
sleep 1
;;
resume|thaw)
# Bind ehci for preventing error
echo -n "0000:00:1d.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci-pci/bind
# Bind snd_hda_intel for sound
echo -n "0000:00:1b.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/snd_hda_intel/bind
echo -n "0000:00:03.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/snd_hda_intel/bind
sleep 1
;;
esac
#################
sudo chmod +x /etc/pm/sleep.d/05_sound

2. rc.local editing

sudo gedit /etc/rc.local
#############################
echo EHCI > /proc/acpi/wakeup
echo HDEF > /proc/acpi/wakeup
echo XHCI > /proc/acpi/wakeup
echo LID0 > /proc/acpi/wakeup
echo TPAD > /proc/acpi/wakeup
echo TSCR > /proc/acpi/wakeup
echo 300 > /sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/brightness
rfkill block bluetooth
/etc/init.d/bluetooth stop
##############################

IMPORTANT: make sure that your script ends with “exit 0” – no quotes. Do not remove this line!   3. grub editing

sudo gedit /etc/default/grub
######################################
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash tpm_tis.force=1"
######################################

4. update grub

sudo update-grub
sudo update-grub2

IMPORTANT – for those with little to no programming/scripting experience: Hash marks (#) represent “commenting out” – anything following the hash mark on a line will be ignored. Be aware that the comment lines are not necessary, but should be included. Comments help you keep track of what changes you’ve made. This should work perfectly for 13.10, but if you find you have trouble, go back to the G+ post and read through some of the issues. For instance, I keep bluetooth shut off, and have never had the bluetooth issues described in the responses. For those of you using 14.04, the following response from Jimmy Capizzi should addresses additional issues found with suspend. Again, make sure to update grub after you are finished:   1. create sound suspend file in /systemd

sudo mkdir /usr/lib/systemd/system-sleep/
sudo gedit /usr/lib/systemd/system-sleep/cros-sound-suspend.sh
#####################################################
#/usr/lib/systemd/system-sleep/cros-sound-suspend.sh
#!/bin/bash
case $1/$2 in
pre/*)
# Unbind ehci for preventing error
echo -n "0000:00:1d.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci-pci/unbind
# Unbind snd_hda_intel for sound
echo -n "0000:00:1b.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/snd_hda_intel/unbind
echo -n "0000:00:03.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/snd_hda_intel/unbind
;;
post/*)
# unBind ehci for preventing error
echo -n "0000:00:1d.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci-pci/unbind
# bind snd_hda_intel for sound
echo -n "0000:00:1b.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/snd_hda_intel/bind
echo -n "0000:00:03.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/snd_hda_intel/bind
;;
esac
#####################################################

Save the gedit file, and you are done. Restart your Chromebook and test suspend. Hopefully, this is helpful to you. It’s a lot to take in and digest through various links, but my intent is only to help clarify for beginners. I welcome all feedback! I really hope this helps simplify your Xubuntu installation on your Chromebook. Good luck!

EDIT (2014-06-11) – I have made a few formatting corrections to the code. I did not realize that I was getting leading spaces on the lines until I copied and pasted code from this article to a new Kubuntu installation on the C720. Also added a line to the Mike Lim fix (last bit of scripting) to make the appropriate directory (see comments for this article). I can confirm that, as of the writing of this edit, suspend works properly using Kubuntu 14.04 and the now current kernel, if you follow these steps. The ChruBuntu installation will default to Kubuntu 12.04 LTS, but I “upgraded” to 14.04 to avoid compiling random kernels.

EDIT (2014-08-12) – I have added the “sleep 1” statements from the G+ post referenced in this article to the “05_sound” script as suggested in the comment made by Michael Conner. I was aware of this fix when I originally wrote this post, but did not see much positive feedback on G+ (and it appeared to be superseded by later fixes), so I left it out of the original script. I can confirm that there are no more wonky responses to sleep/suspend regarding sound after minimal testing. Thanks to Michael for checking in and testing on his own!

My first technology review – the Acer C720 Chromebook

The Acer C720, newly arrived at my domicile.
The Acer C720, newly arrived at my domicile.

First impressions.

Well packaged and clean – not overly packaged by any means – quick delivery from Amazon (3 days using Amazon Prime).

The box seemed much heavier than I expected it to be for just a Chromebook but, after opening the box, the additional weight was explained by the power brick.

Contents:

  • Acer C720 Chromebook (covered in microfiber sleeve)

  • power block and power cord

  • Quick start guide and guidebook

IMAG0613 - Acer C720 sm

Dead simple set-up. Power on, be astounded by start-up time and log in. Make sure you have the Chromebook plugged in to a wall outlet prior to starting. Even though the battery was at 100% on delivery, the C720 would not start without being plugged in.

First login was a minor test of patience, since the Chromebook was a bit slow to connect to my account and pick up my G+ account photo – have patience and wait for your photo to appear in the list of photos for your login.. Otherwise, extremely quick. My wife and I actually had comical faces of disbelief when we saw how quickly the C720 started from complete power-off.

The C720 has a clean and simple design. Nothing unfamiliar on cutting edge. There have been some complaints about the boring exterior but honestly, it’s a tool that doesn’t get in your way with a bunch of bells and whistles, and I appreciate that.

Bottom line? The C720 was so easy to set up, a 5 year-old could do it without trouble. Even Apple products are more complex to unbox and use for the very first time.

Build quality is good although the laptop seemed delicate to me, at first blush. I normally either carry iPads, Alienware laptops or Macbooks around, so I may be used to an extremely high build quality and a heavier overall design. However, there is very little flex when holding the C720 at angles and it feels lighter than our 4th gen iPad. Really, “featherlight” is not hyperbole for this notebook.

I have considered buying an LED light strip to attach to the Chromebook at night, since one of the primary reasons I got it was to use at night without disturbing my wife, but there is no backlight on the keyboard. For $250, I can search around for a janky solution that allows my wife to sleep and me to keep typing away.

The C720 did get hot enough for the fan to start running when I started using it on my lap. However, using it on a flat surface seems to have addressed the and it is cool to the touch, with just the ambient venting working to keep the intel chip cool. I would suggest keeping the vents on the underside of the C720 free from blockages. Use it on a lapdesk or hard surface, or be prepared for a bit of fan noise and heat.

Initially, I noticed some lag with a few tabs open and a flash game running in one tab. However, I have run a number of games since, with no noticeable lag. If you want to play games, probably a good idea to close all other tabs. Also, I believe that a number of background processes were taking over, since it was the first use of the Chromebook. After a month’s worth of use, I am nothing but impressed with the peppy performance of the C720.

Absolutely no operational noise, even while under load. When the fan kicked in, it was barely audible in a very quiet room. And from everything that I can see, you really have to put the processor under stress to get the fan to kick on or create any kind of noise.

Battery life is great, but not any more awesome than my wife’s Macbook Pro – it was definitely not 8 hours on the first use, and arrived fully charged. During my first session, I always had about 10 tabs open, a flash game running and Google Play Music running, and I was down to under 20% battery within about 5 hours. That’s actually very good in comparison to my 1 year old Alienware M14, whose battery would last roughly 3 hours under the same load.

When I was shopping for Chromebooks, I noticed that Plex was an app that was available for Chrome OS, but had no luck finding it in the Chrome Web Store prior to purchase. I was really pleased to see the Plex app was included under a special section of the Store, which only appears when you are using Chrome OS to navigate to the Chrome Store.

So you understand why I chose to get a Chromebook, and an Acer specifically, I will explain.

I have been seeking a better way to interact with the internet. I do almost all my news-gathering and reading via internet. I found that a touch interface was extremely frustrating for me to deal with if I wanted to type more than a few words. A tablet, even though the screen is larger than my phone, was even more uncomfortable to use for any kind of typing. So what did I think I needed? A light internet device with a reasonably small screen that was dead cheap. I don’t need to spend a bunch of $$ on yet another device. And I need a keyboard that is at least comfortable on which to type.

While the Microsoft Surface tablets have an add-on keyboard I have been disgusted by the Windows 8 interface, and the keyboards (unless you get an aftermarket full-size keyboard) are not much better than an on-screen keyboard. Ultrabooks? Too expensive and heavy. Macbook Air? Let’s not go there – I needed a tool, not a status symbol.

So I reviewed the Acer C720. If I was going to learn a new OS, why not one that was designed for the purposes I had in mind?

Much had been written about the “tinny” speakers included with this Chromebook, especially in comparison to the Chromebook 11 (HP). The speakers are really nothing to be amazed by, but output well for the music and movies I ran during my initial session with the C720. It is truly rare to find a laptop at any price point with really good speakers, and much less so with this price point. The speakers were certainly not bad and I felt no disappointment while using them.

Another key reviewer complaint was the “closed ecosystem.” Apple products basically boil down to the fact that everything I do MUST be Apple-oriented supported once I buy one of their devices. Breaking out of those restrictions is often extremely difficult or impossible. The reflexive argument may also be true with Google devices – with the C720 you may initially feel that you are restricted only to Google services, but it is a simple matter to have Ubuntu running in conjunction with the Chrome OS (which is a derivative of Linux anyway), switching between the two with just a few keystrokes. And Ubuntu opens me up to any regular desktop applications I may wish to use. I imagine that, as Chrome OS matures, there will be less need for even this type of simple work around, although I love messing with Ubuntu as a rule.

One thing you should be aware of is that the Chromebook’s simplicity can be an inconvenience as well. If you are like me, you rarely read manuals. I watched the few existing video reviews on the Acer C720, but none covered the actual use of the freebies that owning a Chromebook allows you. After a day a of use, I went into my Google Drive, only to find out that I had no increase in storage. Just logging into the C720 did not automatically give me access to the new services (Free GoGo, increased Google Drive storage, and two months of free Unlimited Google Play Music) My suggestion is to go straight to the “Get Started” app and review your options.

The entire contents of a delivered Acer C720
The entire contents of a delivered Acer C720

So let’s get down to the meat of the issue and address some of the pros and cons of this Chromebook.

Performance. From everything I can see the C720 is super-fast. Not new, out-of-the-box Windows 7 performance laptop fast. It’s actually faster than that. The C720 (as I have heard is true of all Chromebooks) starts up in less than 7 seconds. That is from the point you press the power button to the time you can login. And, in all honesty, I was stunned by how quickly the C720 starts up. The Haswell processor, 16 GB SSD and 4 GB of RAM work stunningly together with Chrome OS to give a truly flawless user experience. For those of you holding off on getting a Chromebook because you heard that early (or even existing models) were slow, you can rest easy. The C720 is always very fast – faster than my Alienware when browsing with Chrome.

Now, that is largely because there are practically no large background processes checking and rechecking the condition of the hardware and the OS prior to usability stage. This does not mean the a Chromebook is just a browser, or that you absolutely need the internet to work. Many apps, including browser-based apps can work fine by caching your information in the admittedly tiny hard drive and then syncing that work when you regain an internet connection. Be aware that Chrome OS does NOT support Java, so if you use Java a lot, you may not want to get a Chromebook.

Design. I love tech reporters that try to make something of nothing. When Lenovo continues to make severe black rectangles called laptops, they are praised for their adherence to traditional design. Acer? They get compared to a bubblegum Chromebook 11 by HP, which looks more like a child’s toy than a notebook. I like the svelte slate design of the C720. I equate HP’s attention-grabbing Chromebook 11 design to driving a jacked up, loud 4×4 or a cherry-red Ferrari. Someone’s compensating for something. I don’t need to make a fashion statement with the looks of my Chromebook. I just need to get my reading, writing and research done. And the C720 does that beautifully well.

Practicality. I have been using an Android smartphone for years now, and Google has slowly permeated my digital life. So, I store things on Google Drive instead of the C720 hard drive? No problem. Google + is my repository for photos? Ok. No way to use anything but Google services or web interfaces? That’ll take some getting used to. Chrome OS needs more apps and access to more games or streaming game services would go a long way. But, in all honesty, I am 90% satisfied with the current use cases the C720 does provide.

At home, I have a file/media server and it was strange to not have network share access directly through a network-dedicated interface. I actually had to use my server’s web interface to grab files from a shared folder. When every operating system I have used has some sort of file manager, using a web interface for file management felt a little strange. However, it was no less effective. Perhaps Google will improve this in some way, but I doubt it. Google’s play here is obviously to get you further tied into their internet services and I don’t think they could care less about your home designed cloud services.

The C720 has the best hardware in a bargain-basement Chromebook, hands-down. The Haswell processor, although a Celeron, has more than enough oomph for the tasks at hand. Flawless YouTube playback. Flawless Plex playback at 720p (1080 would be a waste on this screen), and tabs and apps snap open and closed, even after days of continuous use. As of the time of this writing, I have not yet shut down the C720 after two days of use and there is no lag or odd behavior. Try that with a new price-conscious Windows notebook or the lowest-end Macbook you can buy, and you won’t have the same experience.

The battery life is decent, but I would have to wait a few more weeks to really feel like I have a base understanding of how well it performs. I certainly think that battery life will not be a concern with the C720, but I am not sure I can really verify 7-8 hour operational times right now. Update – battery life is great until you start using browser windows with Flash or high refresh rates. If I avoided Flash, I would easily get more than 8 hours of use. Let’s just say that you will have no trouble using this notebook unplugged throughout an average day.

One interesting thing that has surprised me is the relative good build quality, considering the materials used. I can tell you that I have previously not had a good experience with Acer and consider them to be on par with the lowest levels of computer hardware retailers. I was somewhat nervous about getting the C720, and would not have bothered if other tech news outlets had not been universally positive regarding this model. It is as solid as you can expect a $250 notebook to be. And, as of this writing, I understand that the C720’s stiffest competition, the HP Chromebook 11, is actually being pulled from the shelves in Best Buy (just before the holiday shopping season) and being removed from Amazon’s listings due to issues with the charger.

The C720 is stiff and there is little to no flex when open or closed. The display is crisp and reasonably bright. It is no IPS display but, really, that would be overkill for a device like this until the technology is a little more commonplace (read, “cheaper”). The keyboard is surprisingly responsive and functional, and for someone like me who is a ham-handed typist, it is really comfortable. I have always been unhappy with chiclet keyboards, but this one works wonderfully. Although the USB 3.0 port has not yet been used, I appreciate having a fast i/o port in the case that I want to carry around a bunch of 1080p movies in my travels.

The bad. I think that, for many people, the C720 would be an ideal internet gateway. If all you really need to do is email, web surfing, light photo editing, light video composing and some light writing, this Chromebook is for you. However, if you want to get some work done via office suite, I think you will be very frustrated. Unlike Libre Office, Google Docs is really not ready for prime time. It literally took me a half an hour to learn how to convert an existing Libre Office spreadsheet file to Google Calc and then convert the resulting document to .xlxs format and .pdf. There is also a very limited library of apps/software available to use on Chrome OS, so you have to be prepared for that. It stuns me that Chrome OS has not really reached a true level of interoperability with other common office products in the time since its launch. There have been great improvements, no doubt. But these improvements seem to be going slowly. Especially considering Google is the driving force behind the OS.

Overall, the Acer C720 Chromebook is a fantastic little machine. It is light, functional, and has pretty comprehensive utility with a few caveats noted above. In the current field of players, I would suggest that unless you are a serious game player or need a supremely powerful PC/Mac for specific reasons, this is the device you should be getting for portability, dependability and ease of use. This would be a great gift for the holidays, to boot.

The Acer C720, up and running.
The Acer C720, up and running.
Processor:
Graphics:
Operating System:
Display:
Storage:
Memory:
Camera:
Sound:
Communications:
Ports:Battery:
Weight:
Dimensions:
Software Extras:

Price:

Intel Celeron 2955U (1.40GHz, dual core)
Intel HD (Haswell) graphics
Chrome OS
11.6 inches (1366×768), 16:9
16GB
4GB DDR3 RAM
Front-facing webcam
Stereo speakers
Dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
Full-size HDMI
USB 3.0, USB 2.0
SD card slot
3.5mm headphone/mic jack
36Wh, est. 8.5 hours of use
2.76 lbs
0.75 inches thick
100GB Google Drive cloud storage
30-day free trial Google Play Music All Access
$249 currently on Amazon, $199 for 2GB of RAM

Getting Time Machine to Work With Windows Home Server 2011 (OSX 10.8.5 ONLY – Mavericks and subsequent updates break this)

Screen-Shot-2012-02-28-at-4.53.50-PM

 


 

EDIT:

2014-05-01 – backing up to WHS 2011 from current versions of OSX is just not feasible. I have not been able to determine a way to correct the current issues. For confirmation, please see the link below and also in the comments. We Got Served is one of my most trusted WHS resources.

http://www.wegotserved.com/2014/05/03/mailbag-can-back-mac-windows-home-server-2011/


 

For years now, I have avoided using Macs. My wife always gets a real kick out of my avoidance, since I seem to also deal well with Macs in general. She thinks there is no real reason not to use a Mac. Professionally, I had a few support cases with Mac desktops and laptops, and in our home, the lion’s share of devices are Apple devices.

I am also a terror about backing up data. Not only have I seen the losses myself, but I have watched them on nearly a daily basis at my previous job. Losing your favorite song/pictures/videos sucks. And so much of all of that is solely digital now.

So, in keeping with these philosophies, I make an effort to get the household Macs backed up to our home server. In the past, that was generally a pain to set up, but Apple has made it even harder with the recent 10.8.5 (Mountain Lion) update. It used to be that while using terminal, you could set a switch to have Time Machine recognize an “unsupported volume.” That is, anything that is not a Time Capsule. That was great because all you needed to do was create a backup volume and drop it in a share and select that volume in the Time Machine settings. Not super-easy, but not super-hard. With the new OS update, that switch no longer effectively works.

There are several reasons why I have a problem with this.

One, Apple’s classic closed system. I hate it. It’s one of the reasons I prefer not to use Macs. Don’t get me wrong, Macs are spectacular machines, that are insanely easy to use. Provided you use them exactly the way Apple wants you to. I just don’t like that kind of restriction and am always looking for the next best way to hack something.

Two, we are getting to a point where smart households will really have a technical “Admin.” With streaming services, even retail customers are no longer just individuals – they are households with lots of devices that need to be interoperable. Can I listen to the family owned music on all my devices? Movies? Pictures? Sure. But if I have one Apple product (computer), now all my devices have to be Apple products. Can you see the steam rising out of my ears?

Three, I hate being forced to use specific products or services to do the things I want to do. I shouldn’t have to pay a premium for an external hard drive just because it has the catchy name “Time Capsule.” If I want to use a server for backups, then I should be allowed to do so.

Four, backing up to a network share is pretty standard practice. There is absolutely no reason an automated backup to a home server should be restricted, except that Apple feels it adds a level of complexity to support calls. And I am really bothered when someone tries to keep things so simple for themselves that they interfere with my best practices.

So, I have been using a Windows Home Server to stream all our data to whatever device (client) is a part of our household. Want to walk around with your Kindle and watch Star Wars? No problem. Same movie on the iPad? No problem.

But I don’t kid myself. My wife wouldn’t backup a thing if the back up wasn’t automatic. My daughter has so much data that saving individual files to our home server would literally take half her day. That’s what makes Time Machine so valuable. You turn it on and let it do the work. But the recent update killed that functionality for networked backup. Sort of. Now you have to take a different step.

These instructions:

http://www.mediasmartserver.net/2011/05/05/guide-backing-up-your-mac-to-whs-2011-with-time-machine/

were my backup bible for the longest time. However, OS X updates have killed a lot of what the author has outlined in the post. Here are my corrected instructions, which should help with any networked backup volume. Before you start, make sure you have a strong WiFi connection, or are preferably connected to your home network via ethernet cable.

***PLEASE NOTE*** I cannot be responsible for the actions you choose to take by following my tutorial. I cannot be there to guide you or advise you while you do this. I have made the utmost effort to provide clear instructions, but any time you make changes to your Mac via terminal, you are taking the risk of breaking something. I have tested this only with WHS 2011 but have seen that the same commands work with a NAS during my research. I cannot guarantee this will work for you. I cannot be held responsible for risks you take. -end disclaimer***

1. Make sure you have an account on your home server or NAS for the person using the Mac. The server account username and password should match the username and password for the Mac. This just reduces complexity and keeps things simple for the user. The Mac user account should also have admin privileges on their Mac.

2. Your server should have a top-level shared directory (folder) named “MacBackups” or similar – no spaces between words in the name. Make sure the account in #1 above has read/write access to that share.

3. Mount the share on your Mac. The way to do this for Windows Home Server 2011 is to click on the “Shared Folders” shortcut in the WHS Launchpad. After entering the appropriate password, you will be asked to select which drives to mount (each shared folder is a “drive”). Select your MacBackup folder. If you are using a NAS or different server software, research how to mount a network volume on OS X.

3. In the Spotlight search, type “terminal” and hit “Return”. Type the following command into the terminal:

sudo defaults write com.apple.systempreferences TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 1

It is suggested that you copy/paste the command into terminal, to avoid typos, then hit “Return”. Because you are using the temporary super user “sudo,” the Mac user will need to enter their password. This command allows Time Machine to recognize the drive you will mount later in this tutorial. Please be aware that, because we are using “unsupported volumes” it is possible to corrupt your backup if you lose network connectivity or interrupt the backup in any way. This means you shouldn’t close the lid to your Macbook while the Time Machine Backup is running.

4. Leave your terminal window open and go to System Preferences >> Sharing and confirm your computer name (found at the top of the window) has no spaces in it. If there are spaces, remove them or replace them with hyphens. Copy the computer name and paste it into a text editor document (Notes is fine).

5. Go back to the terminal and type the following:

ifconfig en0 | grep ether

This will toss out your ethernet MAC address. Copy/paste this information to your Notes document on a new line and remove the colons. The MAC address should be alphanumeric only.

6. Create a sparse bundle image for Time Machine to use as a backup image. You should do this in terminal by copy/pasting the following command. You will need to replace the information in brackets “{}” with specific information that I will describe below. Copy/paste this command to your Notes document with your computer name and MAC address on a separate line. Do not copy/paste the line below into terminal!

hdiutil create -size {100g} -fs HFS+J -volname "{username}TimeMachine" {NAME_XXXXXXXXXXXX}.sparsebundle

{100g} – this is the maximum size in GB of the backup file. You should replace this with the largest amount of backup space you think the user will need, e.g. “500g” is half a terabyte. My daughter might need that much space, but my wife would need a fraction of that.

{username} – the Mac username. If the person’s login is “Tim” then the volname would be “TimTimeMachine” – no spaces, otherwise your sparse bundle image will not mount properly. Honestly, you can name this pretty much anything you want, but I suggest you stick to the naming model I have used, especially if you have more than one Mac in the house that needs networked Time Machine backups.

{NAME_XXXXXXXXXXXX} – “NAME” is replaced by the Mac computer name and the  twelve Xs represent your MAC address. Replace those placeholders with the correct information. It should look something like “Tims-Mac-mini_002d881f0d33.sparsebundle”

Once you have confirmed these edits in your Notes document, copy/paste into terminal and hit “Return”

This will create a sparse bundle image file in your Mac user’s Home folder.

7. Copy paste this file into your server backup directory (the one you mounted in step #3). Once the file is copied, delete the original file in the Home folder. Now, double-click the sparse bundle image to mount it.

Time Machine will only recognize the sparse bundle (backup image) if it is mounted. To confirm that it is mounted, type the following commands into terminal (hitting “Return” after each):

cd /Volumes
ls

This will list your mounted volumes. Your Time Machine file should be listed.

8. One last step in terminal. Copy/paste the following command into terminal, but make the changes indicated below before hitting “Return”:

sudo tmutil setdestination /Volumes/{backup image name}

So your command would look something like “sudo tmutil setdestination /Volumes/TimsTimeMachine”

Now click on the Time Machine icon at the top of the screen, select “Open Time Machine Preferences…” and confirm that the backup was set up properly. You may have to turn on Time Machine. Do the initial backup (I would suggest over LAN, if you can) and confirm everything goes well.

After each restart, the user will have to mount the MacBackup share and the Time Machine file inside – they should do this immediately after they get to the OS X desktop. Again, advise the user that they should wait until the Time Machine backup stops before closing the lid on their Macbook or shutting down. By default, Backups run every half hour on Mountain Lion. Unfortunately, Apple has made this process a bit of a pain to handle, especially for the folks who would typically have a Mac. If your Macs are usually just on your network, I would set a login item for the backup directory and file mounting process. If not, coach the person on mounting the necessary items themselves.

I hope this helps those who would like to set up Time Machine with a server or NAS and please let me know if you have anything to add, or if you think I have corrections to make or if you just want to say “hi.”

Don’t Start None, Won’t Be None – a Proud Repost

It’s funny how things work. I always hesitate to reblog because it often feels like plagiarism to me. To take people’s words and fly them under my banner.

But sometimes a good cause strikes me in the face.

A blogger for Scientific American was approached by someone at Biology-online to guest write. Not too bad, but when informed that she would not be paid (and there were also other less palatable conditions for a blogger), she politely and professionally declined the man identifying himself as “Ofek.”

His response? Call her a whore. A professional scientist and writer.

To add insult to injury (or insult to insult) Scientific American took down the original blog and her intelligent and good-natured response for inappropriate content.

I have provided a link to the original blog post and reposted it below, with the help Sean Carroll’s efforts.

Please read and share to show your support of professionals mishandled in the educational and scientific community. As Sean notes in his blog, our best hope is that SciAm will put the blog back up and cut all ties with Biology-online.

My further hope is that you will avoid Biology-online at all costs – boycott them to make sure that no one will ever approach another professional with disdain simply because their website has a high number of hits. Perhaps that number will decrease to nothing with your help.

Thank you.

http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/10/12/dont-start-none-wont-be-none/

Was There Ever a Golden Age of Computer Knowledge?

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I am a tinkerer. I always have been. This was a trait of mine that was particularly frustrating for my mother, who would come home to fully disassembled phones, blenders and radios. Thankfully for her sanity, I paid attention to what I was doing when I was disassembling, and reassembled the electronics pretty quickly, and generally left them functional.

Perhaps I was just inclined toward problem-solving. Most of what I have pursued in my life, in terms of distraction or career, was intentionally chosen to be a new challenge for me. If I did not have a challenge, I became bored.

So, when my Mom redirected my destructive curiosity toward computing at 10 years of age, it was a perfect fit. Suddenly there was this new technology for which dis-assembly was not really feasible. But I could assemble it and then learn how to program it or control it.

Programming languages were a challenge in and of themselves. Using them correctly required problem solving. The best programming required clever problem solving – creating efficient and unexpected solutions.

I was the only child I knew who was learning BASIC at that age. And the only child I knew who had assembled his own computer. When I went to high school, I was one of six children from my school who attended a programming extension course for FORTRAN at the local university.

What struck me was that so few people were even interested in computers back then. That really has not changed, even though computers have become ubiquitous. To most people, the computer is simply a highly-target tool. A smartphone, a word processor, a photo manipulator. When people get their computer, they are interested in a specific tool, but not the general use of the computer itself.

A high percentage of the people who use computers have no real knowledge of how they function, and the highly abstract nature of OSes means that they usually do not have to have that knowledge – day-to-day use of a computer is fairly easy. But it also means that our skills at troubleshooting (problem-solving), are not being exercised. Our knowledge of computers goes no deeper than the thin veneer at the surface.

In the tech writing world, this lack of deep computing knowledge has led to the postulation that there has been a sudden “fall-off” in the actual ability to use computers. I have written about this in previous blogs. Our youth are typified as being expert in the use of computers while, in fact, they are no more knowledgeable about the actual general operation of the computer itself than we are. But a growing trend in thought is that there are fewer people now who know how to use computers than there were in the golden past. And that is a conclusion I have a problem with.

Marc Scott, author of the “Coding2Learn” blog is an excellent writer and human observer. Unlike the programmer stereotype many of us have in our heads, Marc is a personable and socially ept computer educator. And he’s a Linux advocate. You can find one of his great blogs here:

http://www.coding2learn.org/blog/2013/07/29/kids-cant-use-computers/

Part of his argument is that adults have lost the ability to use generalized computers – that a smaller percentage of adults understand proper computer use, but I maintain that the vast majority of adults never really had those skills to begin with. I think that we have roughly the same percentage of computer-savvy adults now that we had 20 years ago. Not really such a bad thing, right? Well, maybe not.

As in my youth, most people just do not care to know more than what is dictated by basic necessity. When VCRs were ubiquitous, there was always that one guy (or girl) in the family who knew how to use it properly. To set the clock. To schedule a recording time. Do any of us remember how many VCRs had a flashing clock, terminally set at “12:00” in their house? Or a neighbor’s house? And that is just the “set clock” function.

The same philosophy now goes for computers, since they are no longer really a tinkerer’s toy. Aside from some expertise in a specific application, most people do not know enough to troubleshoot an issue if it comes up. Often, they have no understanding of how to identify a simple problem, and differentiate that from one with which they may need some real help.

I do not think there is anything wrong with not wanting to be bothered. And companies like Apple have engendered an entire culture that proudly holds out a banner that says, “I’m simple and I like it that way – make my computers simple, too!”

I think you can see where I am going with this. Maybe it is not so great that we deal with computers in this way. Maybe we should have a more functional knowledge of how our everyday tools operate. Just because it has always been about “simple” for most people, does not mean it has to stay that way. In fact, as computers become more intrinsic to everyday tasks, it is important that a higher percentage of today’s youth learn the basics than we did. The computing revolution may have started in my generation, but this next generation will carry revolution throughout their lives.

Unfortunately, we are not really teaching more of our kids the computing skills they will need. In fact, with the way computing systems are set up in educational institutions, we are actually discouraging children from learning the ins and outs of computers.

And it is incredibly important that we turn trend that around now.

“Why?” you ask. Because our world is no longer separate from computing systems. There is a CIO in almost every major company. Your phone? A computer. The plane that’s flying you to Seattle? A computer. The commuter train you ride to work every day? A computer. As Marc Scott says in his blog:

Tomorrow’s politicians, civil servants, police officers, teachers, journalists and CEOs are being created today. These people don’t know how to use computers, yet they are going to be creating laws regarding computers, enforcing laws regarding computers, educating the youth about computers, reporting in the media about computers and lobbying politicians about computers. Do you thinks this is an acceptable state of affairs?

Our governments are lagging behind in solid technology decision-making. The most illustrative evidence is the fact that, four and a half years ago when President Obama appointed someone to to head up a project in the FCC to provide a broadband standard for the whole country, the first thing his appointee asked of the public was, “What do you think broadband is?”

And, by the way, our government still does not have an answer to that question in the US. Even though many private ISPs provide the higher bandwith than most other places in the world. Stunningly, my 4G LTE phone has higher bandwidth than my home WiFi. That’s what we call “broadband.” But, to return to the subject, even our appointed computer experts cannot define broadband or find a solution for providing that service, country-wide.

So no, I do not think that there are fewer computiung buffs than there used to be. There was really no Golden Age of Computing where our understanding of computers was greater than it is now. But we need to start ushering in that Golden Age as soon as possible, or we will have a very rough road ahead.

Where Do We Go Now?

Trayvon-Martin-in-hoodie

Google+ has always been my favorite alternate social site. I’m not so sure any more. As I sit here considering my son and daughter, both of whom have brown skin and look “other” (non-Anglo), I begin to fear for their lives.

You see, I consider myself black. I always have. Perhaps that’s another blog post entirely, but the George Zimmerman trial (which could have easily been called, the Trayvon Williams trial), has brought “otherness” starkly into the foreground and reinforced my own and my children’s otherness. I fear their they will both have to deal with the intolerance exhibited on Google+ in a way that may even endanger their lives, as Trayvon’s was, simply for being black in the wrong part of town. Even the fact that there is a “wrong” part of town for Trayvon disturbs me. Because there most certainly will be a wrong part of town for my children.

Even though I had followed the Zimmerman trial for the few weeks it was present in the news, I had no idea what the conservative right (in effect, news agencies like Fox News) were postulating about Trayvon and the obvious results of the trial. Trayvon’s possible gay bashing (unverified, thrown out to the public speculatively by Rush Limbaugh), Trayvon’s use of controlled substances (unconfirmed – although he was suspended from school for trace amounts of marijuana in his backpack) and, most incredibly, that Trayvon was in fact stalking George Zimmerman (?!? – also unconfirmed and presented speculatively by conservative media). Who exactly was on trial? Can we excuse murder, much like we excuse rape, because it was the victim’s fault?

Only in this country, and specifically in the South, can a teenager be followed in a car because he is black, accosted harshly for walking in the street at night and walking out of the neighborhood, be subsequently pursued on foot and then seek to defend himself from his pursuer, murdered by that pursuer and finally be accused, post-mortem, that he was stalking his stalker. If the Stand Your Ground law works for Zimmerman, why wouldn’t it work for Trayvon Martin? Instead, Trayvon is painted as the wrong-doer, and admonished for his murder being his own fault. He simply tried to defend himself, and when he unfortunately gained the upper hand, Zimmerman whipped out a gun, murdered a boy who was simply walking home, and claimed that he was defending himself.  The Stand Your Ground law allowed the murderer Zimmerman t0 walk out of the courtroom, free.

Look folks, I do not mean to beat a dead horse, but Zimmerman was obviously looking for a fight. He chose to assume that Trayvon was up to no good, simply because he was wearing a hoodie and walking down the street at night. Zimmerman was part of a neighborhood watch. Operative word? Watch. If Zimmerman were doing what he was supposed to do, the police would have been allowed to check it out. Instead the police allowed a vigilante to chase someone walking through the neighborhood. I actually shudder to think what the police may have done to Trayvon, had they responded more quickly to Zimmerman’s call. Trayvon Martin’s body may not have even been recognizable afterward. And for those of you who may be asking why Trayvon did not call the police when he realized he was being followed by a “creepy-ass cracker,” there is your answer.

One of my favorite responses heard from the conservative right was that the media coverage is so out of proportion to the crime. That there are this many thousand of black-on-black crimes every year. Why is it that, instead of addressing the issue at hand, conservatives will immediately result to responses out of context? Sleight of hand. Oh and, by the way conservative media, black on black crime is largely due to institutional racism – closing schools, denying job opportunities, denying the right to vote. Yes, please point to black on black crime. You’re only pointing back at yourselves. If you do not have opportunities to live normally, what choices do you have?

I have increasing anxiety about my children’s future in the US. Think about it. They will be raised as muslims in this country. Strike one. They have brown skin that gets progressively browner during the summer. Strike two. They are independent and ignorant of the fine lines of race in this country. Strike three. Will they be injured, maimed, or murdered simply because of the color of their skin? What lessons will they be forced to learn in order to survive our society?

The final result of Zimmerman’s trial seems to support this idea. Not only was George Zimmerman acquitted, but Trayvon was reviled in an effort to save a vigilante’s life. And where is this really coming from? I have an idea that it comes from a basic fear of losing power. Laws like “Stand Your Ground” are meant to keep a waning white population in power, since they are unevenly enforced, barring people of color from using the same defense.

It is already a recognized fact that white people as a group are slowly shifting toward minority status. This in a country the conservative right have considered exclusively created for their benefit. And their reactionary fear prompts them to hold on to, to conserve, that last shred of their culture to the detriment to the rest of the US. But this cultural change in the US is a juggernaut – it will not stop. Conservatives cannot close our borders with walls to keep gated communities white and free from teenage walkers of questionable ethnic background. Who would do your dishes? Care for your children? Mow your perfectly manicured lawn? Cultivating as many good relationships with those other than their kind would be the smart thing for the conservative right to do, so that understanding and trust can be balanced between the current majority and everyone else.

Do I want my children to grow up in a country that nationally justifies the murder of a child simply because he was black? No, I most certainly do not. Now, like Edward Snowden, I only have a choice between evils. I can no longer take Richard Wright’s route in being an ex-patriot in France, since France has been creating laws against Muslims, as much of Europe is beginning to do. I cannot go to most Islamic states, since I would have similar fears of state corruption and other dangers for my children. If my children are not safe in the US, a country founded on the fundamental rights of all human beings, no matter their color or religion, where will my children be safe to live as a normal, equal human being? When I was young, I truly believed that things would get better – it was my only hope. It appears the US will continue its downward racial spiral.

Google+ illustrates perfectly (in the link below) what a horrible condition our country is in, when POTUS cannot address an issue of national concern without these racist and defensive comments. Most disturbing is that these comments are not “fringe” opinions. If they were then, I could laugh them off. But by the number of “pluses” they received, we can see that many people agree with institutional racism and think that addressing a serious race problem on the national level is “race-baiting.”

I don’t know what the answers are, but I would say that the conservative right should not let the injustice that was the Zimmerman “trial” be the keys to their own destruction. Live up to the ideals of the community that the United States of America is supposed to represent. And then, and only then, will all our children be safe from these kinds of travesties. You can be conservative. Just stop being racist.

I fear the future in a country that lets Zimmerman go free. Within weeks of Trayvon’s murder, yet another Florida man shot and killed a black teen at a gas station, because he didn’t like loud music. Will that man go free, too? Will he be able to “stand his ground,” even though the teen was seated in his car and had no weapons?

The shame of it is, he probably will.

A short addendum. You may recognize that I have used UK publications to support my point. This primarily has to do with my trust of UK news media (in relation to US news media), and the fact that there is less political slant on UK news articles about the US, since there is no benefit to have that slant.

Article that sparked the blog:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/man-shoots-teen-loud-music-article-1.1209345

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1352947/Black-drug-offenders-times-likely-jailed-whites.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2247119/2043-census-prediction-US-whites-longer-majority-Hispanic-population-surges.html

We Need Hackers and We Need Them Yesterday

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(image credit: American Free Press)

Until very recently, US policy has been to treat hackers much like terrorists. This is terribly unfortunate for the US at large, since the talents these hackers posses can be directed toward protecting US governmental and corporate interests. But our government insists on treating all hackers as dangerous. Why? Policy makers have a lack of working knowledge of computer science and security. And the unknown is always a scary thing. The result? We have stunted the growth of prospective computer science and security experts and developed a counter-culture of irresponsible hackers. As you may have noticed in recent headlines, we increasingly tracing large-scale hacking attempts to foreign governments. We need thousands of our own hackers, and we need them yesterday.

It is hard to keep ahead of advances in technology, but computers have been ubiquitous for nearly thirty years. Today, even our phones are hand-held computers. We are more likely to stay in touch with our family and friends via computer than by phone or postal letters. There is no reason for current policy makers to view those talented at manipulating these devices as an automatic threat. And since computing and network connectivity have become so commonplace, security exploits have more far-reaching effects.

Colleges and universities have shown an unwillingness to teach students how to take advantage of programming security weaknesses. The closest correlate I could draw to this sort of fear is that the US refuse to train any more special forces, for fear that they would get loose and run amok on our city streets. The sad result of this sort of shortfall is that hackers train themselves, and those hackers often have something to prove, instead of seeking the rewards we all seek in our own careers.

Another fault lies in the fact that computers have become incredibly easy to use. We now have “intuitive” interfaces (Windows, OSX, iOS, Android, etc.) with high levels of abstraction. At first, computers had very low levels of abstraction. We had to send information bit-by-bit to allow computers execute commands. That required a high level of knowledge – everyone who used computers had to be a hacker. Later, programming languages moved into common use. This allowed a higher level of abstraction, and you had to learn a programming language to manipulate computers. Now, working with a computer requires almost no fundamental computing knowledge – the highest level of abstraction in computing so far. All we need to do is touch, or click, or type a request in our own language and we get the results we expect.

As a result of this simplification, we have fewer people in the US who are developing fundamental computing and security skills. Computer science programs in US colleges and universities are seeing fewer and fewer entrants to their programs and those who do enter often have no previous programming experience. High school programs designed to prepare students for a major in computer science often only include a some HTML development (website development), but little to no instruction in programming languages. Some institutions have pegged a 70% decline in computer science course entry at the college level since the 1990s. There is little to no encouragement to pursue this sort of career path in the US, and hackers most often learn on their own as a hobby, rather than learning coding and computer security skills through a formal education. Representatives from the NSA have stated that almost all the people they recruit started their hacking career with no formal computer science training and were self-taught. And then we bring the hammer down on these people when they attempt to exhibit their skills in public.

The NSA, DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and CIA have recently hosted a national hacking competition, but there were only three hundred participants. Three hundred! That so few talented hackers attempted to solve the puzzles presented by our government in a competition is astounding. We literally need thousands more to protect US and corporate interests. There are informal annual hacking conventions (DEFCON/Black Hat, in Las Vegas, for one), but the participants are generally the kind of people who are not interested in working with governmental or corporate interests. In fact, many have had run-ins with government and tend to look at any organization outside of their own with contempt and apprehension.

Don’t get me wrong, the NSA hiring hackers from DEFCON to protect against internal threats has its merits. But national governments around the world are sponsoring hacking efforts against the US. We are years behind this kind of recruiting, organization and training. And we are that far behind because we have cultivated a hacker-phobic culture instead of encouraging those skills in a productive environment.

While we may currently be able to defend against or react to these kind of government-sponsored attacks, defense cannot be the only strategy to keep our information and systems safe. Even when we can trace an attack directly to China or North Korea or Iran, we often do not have any means of proving guilt or petitioning an international regulatory body to exact penalties for the attack(s). I suggest that we need to be able to field our own hacking resources, an army if you will, to keep others occupied with our exploits against their systems. Perhaps one of the most effective ways to keep international hackers busy is to take the fight to them – to keep them occupied in protecting and defending themselves. We don’t do that yet, even if Hollywood might want you to think we do. Certainly not on the scale we need to.

So, the answer really comes down to two points – we need to stop marginalizing talented hackers in the US, and we have to start encouraging interest in computer science and security in our youth. Hacking is a valuable talent that we desperately need to protect our interests. Other countries have a years-long head-start on us, and if we want to continue to be able to protect our information and systems in the future, we have to get cracking. I’m doing my part – I have purchased a Raspberry Pi to introduce my son and daughter to programming. I hope they will have an interest in how a computer works, but at the very least they will be more informed users in the future and better able to protect himself. Let’s hope we encourage additional talent before we lose our valuable information to other countries. Our stability may very well depend on it.

Decline in computer science majors in the US: http://ars.to/MZEpCS

From where are hackers attacking?: http://gtnr.it/10qIkjI

The NSA recruits hackers, but what about other federal agencies?: http://bit.ly/LIlKrv

Edit 5/25/2013, Additional hacking attempts at US utility companies: http://bit.ly/12THKtk