I’m the man (or "How I proved that syntax is everything")

This is actually going to be a very very fun story to tell, because it’s a success story! If you’re finding this blog post from a search of the web and are looking for help, this might actually also be what you’re looking for! 🙂

Okay, here’s the story. As most of you who are reading this know, last week I was in California. I was visiting my uncle there. Well, while I was there, I fixed up his computers. I cleaned up his newish shiny Sony Vaio (uninstalled crapware and adware, installed and used a free spyware scanner, defragmented the hard drive, ran a virus scan, etc) and cleaned (literally took apart and cleaned with a vacuum, it was so freaking dirty) an older computer, almost breaking it when I had plugged in a RAM chip 99% of the way. I actually have to give my uncle “mad props” on the RAM chip thing, as he’s the one who persuaded me to check and see if I had left anything undone inside the computer when it failed to start. I pushed the RAM chip in as hard as I could, it slid in about a millimeter, and much to my embarrassment, I heard a small click.

Well so he’s all happy with the fact that his laptop is no longer running as though through syrup, and that the old computer that had been so dirty had now been promoted to running as though through syrup (as opposed to taking 10 minutes to boot windows 98, it now only took about 5-8). He brings me a laptop that no one has apparently been able to get to even turn on, let alone work properly. This is the beginning of a long story that, at many many times, came close to robbing me of my patience, and causing me to give up entirely.

My uncle said that, especially since the laptop was at the current time completely worthless to him without me fixing it for free, that I could have it. The coolness of this is that if I fixed it, I would have earned myself a free laptop! This is awesome no matter which way you slice it if you consider this: I had no laptop to speak of at all. A broken laptop, even one with only 128MB of ram and a 300MHz processor, was still better than an imaginary one that I would only dream of being able to use.

This is where this story gets ridiculous to the point of hilarity. So the first step was getting it to turn on. Originally, my uncle couldn’t find the cord going to the Vaio, so I used the power cable for the newer, shiny Vaio in its place. I started up the laptop, it went into Windows 98, and about a minute after booting, it crashed.

Now, I’ve had things crash before. I’ve had things hang, I’ve had things freeze, and I’ve had things simply just stop working and just beep at me until I do a hard shut down. Of all of those, this has to be the most startling kind of crash – the thing just shuts down. Let me show you what I mean…this is jumping ahead a little bit in time, but I think you can connect the dots until I explain it a little later.

The first time it happened, I thought that maybe I had stepped on the powerstrip and turned it off, or had unplugged it or something (at this point I had the battery removed from the laptop, after my uncle told me that it was dead). Everything was plugged in.

(Sidenote for fun – the only time that I have ever seen something shut down in a stranger way was this: I was installing some drivers on this current machine that I’m using now, in Windows XP Home Edition. I was also listening to the Bungie Podcast on my iPod in a similar fashion as seen in my 360 tutorial, except the input source was a male-male 1/8″ cable from my iPod to my computer. Suddenly, the computer shut down, but for some reason the sound card was still receiving a little power, or still had power, or something, because while everything was off, I could still hear the podcast, except softer. It kept getting softer and softer until eventually becoming inaudible. Freaky!)

Okay so to make the video I just showed you make a little more sense, basically the laptop continues to shut down. Time passes, and for some reason (I believe that this may be a seperate problem, known colloquially known as “hard drive failure”, a.k.a. “SNAFU” or “FUBAR” 🙂 ) the laptop stops booting Windows 98, and instead is now displaying the friendly error message “Operating System not found”. This is about the point where I turn to your friendly neighborhood linux distribution Ubuntu. I don’t need to look at the minimum system requirements to realize that 7.04 Feisty Fawn isn’t going to work on such an old machine, so I use 6.06 Dapper Drake instead. Like you saw in the video above, it crashes, in the same way that Windows 98 did (way back when the hard drive still worked…man those were some good times 😉 ).

Time passes…I discover that my problem is that of the apparently common Vaio Shutdown design flaw. Now, I’m normally more of a software person than a hardware person, so please excuse me if I say something inaccurate, but from what I understand, due in some way to the processor or just the laptop in general receiving inconsistent power from the AC-cord, as well as the degradation of the parts inside of the laptop over time (this laptop is extremely old, if you haven’t already guessed) the CPU inaccurately reads that it is overheating, and shuts itself down to avoid bad things happening (example).

I looked far and wide, before eventually discovering something about turning off ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) and APM (Advanced Power Management). This seemed to be the right way to go, but it didn’t work with Ubuntu. I decided that maybe it wasn’t working because the OS was too heavy for the laptop, and so I searched for something smaller. What I found was DSL; Damn Small Linux.

Damn Small Linux can be found here, for those who are curious about it. It’s an extremely small distribution of linux that takes up the smallest amount of resources imaginable. I tried a live CD of DSL on the laptop, and it looked like it was working for a bit, but then it suddenly stopped. There was much sorrow throughout the land.

I’ll save you, dear reader, from taking you through the endless searching, failed attempts, and dead ends that I had to deal with while trying to fix this problem. Eventually it was time for me to return home, and I took the laptop with me. One of my (slightly funny, yet actually probable) fears was that I was going to be stopped by airport security and asked to turn the machine on to prove it was a laptop and not some kind of dust-covered laptop-shaped bomb with stickers from Hong Kong on it.

I tried more things. I tried booting DSL from a floppy disk, thinking that perhaps the slow throughput of the floppy drive would prevent the machine from running very fast, thus preventing it from “overheating”. I was wrong. I had forgotten, perhaps, that this machine has managed to “overheat” in the BIOS. Phht. Yeah, right. I mean you know how it is…changing the system date and time is such a resource hog. Whatever.

More time passed. I eventually came accross something involving the “no-hlt” command. This apparently stops the laptop from being able to shut itself down, regardless of how hot it thought it was. I was excited, and tried this with DSL. No such luck. I was thinking that maybe the command wasn’t supported by DSL or something, so I tried it with Ubuntu 6.06. Yeah, it hung in the middle of booting, but it sure didn’t shut itself down!

I tried using the command with DSL again, but it didn’t work. At this point I was trying this command line: “boot: dsl noacpi apm=off acpi=off no-hlt” with no success. This was where I became very frustrated. I tried other things, other operating systems, without success.

Yes, even more time passes, and last night I tried this command line, after seeing some of the options shown for DSL in the boot menu, and the way they were written. I decided to try every iteration of the boot options that I could think of in the command line, and tried booting with this: “boot: dsl noacpi noapm nohlt no-acpi no-apm no-hlt acpi=off apm=off hlt=off”

It worked!

The only thing that I had to get past is that the hard drive is still not recognized by the laptop. My current theory to explain this is that it’s dead, or is in Spain for some reason. No matter, as this is solved by a USB thumb drive! Woot!

The lesson learned from all of this is simple: Syntax matters. There may not be a directory at /home/shaymus22/desktop, but there sure as hell is one at /home/shaymus22/Desktop

So, now I have a laptop! Woot! 🙂

Click the thumbnails to view them large!


3 Responses to “I’m the man (or "How I proved that syntax is everything")”

  1. Ben Says:

    Thank you for that! I can now use DSL on my Vaio – working around the problem in Windows was easy enough (getting rid of power management DLLs, only got a couple blue screens per boot) and Mandriva seemed to work (albeit 10 minutes per cursor move) but now I have a fast DSL!

    Now, to make it discover the Hard Drive and its partitions, and then on to bigger things. Who knows? Maybe one day it’ll even have the internet!

  2. Ben Says:

    Further testing shows that “noapm noacpi no-hlt” are the ones that work, meaning you can cut down on all those hit and miss arguments.

    Hard drive partitions can be found by going in to a terminal shell, and doing the following:

    sudo -s
    cfdisk /dev/hda

    If you install DSL on to a partition, use grub when asked to install a boot loader, and over the DSL partition, press e. For me, the noapm and noacpi were already defaulted, so it was just a matter of adding it to the end.

    From within linux, add the commands in the grub.conf file at /boot/grub/grub.conf

    Even if it doesn’t help you personally, perhaps someone googling might be helped…

  3. John Says:

    I’ve had a similar problem with a Vaio 350 but I went with puppylinux using these boot options: puppy acpi=off apm=off no-hlt

    puppy linux works very well on that machine. Give

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