Friday, June 12, 2015

Don't recycle your old laptops! - (Donate them to a student)

Hi all,

We're trying an experiment to see if we can get enough donated laptops to outfit one classroom with laptops that may otherwise end up in landfill (or China being recycled). If the experiment works we'll look at expanding the idea.

The basics.

1. Lots of kids in New Zealand could do with a laptop for class but can't afford one.
2. Lots of companies in New Zealand have old laptops (unable to run Windows 7) that are cluttering cupboards waiting for the landfill.
3. These old laptops can be given a new lease of life with Linux running the Chrome browser. We're trialling a "lite" version of Ubuntu -
4. Old laptops run just fine in Linux for Google Docs, Youtube and searching. We may also install a local web server, php, IDE, python etc.

Lubuntu Desktop

This is the type of Laptop we want donated........


I have a friend who's a teacher at a lower decile high school in Northland, we're going to try to outfit his class of 30 students with old laptops donated from companies.

The students currently use Google Classroom to turn in assignments. But they can only do this when his class can get access to the group laptops.

We need laptops of this type of spec....

(1-4gb Ram), WiFi, XP or better. The minimum specification for CPU is Pentium 4 or Pentium M or AMD K8.

CD rom is not important, as we'll be installing Linux from a USB flash drive.

WiFI is a must, Battery life is not important, as the battery is probably dead or 5 years old and worth more than the laptop!

Internet Access

Yes, Internet access in the home will be an issue for some students, however Google Docs for Chrome has offline access so students can work without WiFi access.


1. Please donate us your laptops, they must be booting, we're not a repair shop.
2. If you'd like an email from the student that gets it, please put a sticker on the laptop with your email address, we'll ask them to say thanks!
3. The hard disks will be re-formatted to run Lubuntu, so Windows licences are not needed.
4. Once we have 30 Laptops we'll image them all and deliver them to the class, photos will be uploaded here.

Courier laptops to:

Laptop Revival Project
C/- Mac Jones
PO Box 174
Whangarei 0140

Yes - NZ Post / Courier Post can deliver to a PO Box.

email me on if you have any questions.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Arduino Books

A great resource listing all the Arduino books ever published and even those yet to be published.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ubuntu Baby Rocker - When geeks have babies.......

Friday, September 08, 2006

Ubuntu based Speaking Podcast Player for the Blind

In English.
A special computer with no keyboard, mouse or screen, that plays music and spoken articles for blind people, and also reads aloud the titles so a blind person can select them using a special remote control.

In Geek.
An Ubuntu Linux based MP3 / Podcast player with a simple remote connected to the serial port. No keyboard, no mouse, no screen. Instructions are spoken with text to speech through Festival, and ID3 tags from podcasts are spoken as well. Podcasts are loaded from a CD, but could be automated with bashpodder. The remote is used for controlling the player.

Happy to open-source this if there is any interest. Leave a comment.


Long Version - How it came about.

My uncle Jim, (not really an uncle, but one of those people who has always been there for the family!), he's sharp as a tack, and blind as a bat! (Well not completely blind, but he would not be able to use a computer, even if he had one...)

I was talking to him the other day about life the universe and everything, when he asked me what a blog was..... this led to a discussion on what a podcast was...... this led me to thinking how I could get him to listen to podcasts. The audio tapes he gets from the library and blind foundation are not about subjects that he's passionate about.

I asked him what he would like to hear about..... "travel, woodworking, religion, and world affairs" he said.....

After getting home I decided to make him a "talking ipod", so that he could listen to podcasts and not need to use an actual ipod or a full computer.

Thus "BOB" was born....

Bob is a PII 350, with 96 megs of RAM and a 6 gig HDD.

Bob has a main menu that runs one of two python apps, one is an MP3 player, the other is a CD loading app.

The CD loading app simply copies all Mp3's on a CD into a file on the hard disk, speaking a count-down as it does so, because 600 megs of podcasts can take a while to copy to the hard disk.

The player is a python application that waits for buttons to be pressed and then speaks the ID3 details and plays the tracks.

The remote is in the serial port using a python serial library to get the button pushes, and to set the LED's flashing differently depending on the players state.

Uncle Jim has never used a "real" computer, he does not even own a CD player, I could have got him an MP3 cd player but it would not have read him the ID3 tags, or kept his place when switched off.

If he ever gets broadband I'll setup bashpodder to get the files automatically, for now bashpodder puts his podcasts in a directory on my PC and I'll burn him a CD once a month.

That's about it ! I hope this gives someone else the boost needed to use Linux to help others !

Monday, July 03, 2006

How to install New Skype Beta for Ubuntu Dapper

Skype has released their New Beta for Linux !

Version, ALSA or OSS support, no Video conferencing yet.

Why upgrade? It fixed my "problem with sound device" error that version had, seems more stable.

How to install.

If you have Skype go to the command line and remove it ! (Don't worry, your contacts will not be deleted)

sudo apt-get remove skype

Download the new debian package from this link

Find the package by browsing to it from your "home folder" and right click on it, then select "Open with GDebi Package Installer"

Click Install, then enter your password

It should install under "internet / skype"

Or you could type this at the command line

skype &

All done !

Whats new in the new Skype see changelog

Sunday, June 18, 2006

How to run Windows XP under Ubuntu Dapper


Because Dapper was just too Damn reliable... nah, seriously, I need to run Microsoft Visual Studio, and doing so under wine was not going to cut it, and dual booting was going to be a pain, VMWare was not open source so....QEMU to the rescue.


There's a program called qemu (, by Fabrice Bellard.

Basically it makes a virtual PC within your PC with some standard spec's (NE 2000 network card, Cirrus CLGD 5446 PCI VGA card, etc). The advantage of this is that you're running the actual OS ! (some may say that is not an advantage...)

QEMU keeps this "PC's" partition in one single file, so you can copy that file off somewhere safe and have a "snapshot" of your PC for when the viruses and other nasties get in.

Other neat things in the documentation.

-You can also make that image read only, so that it will never change. (it uses /tmp for a temp file)

-Just like VMWare you can move that image to another machine running QEMU and it should just work.

-QEMU uses a Samba option on the command line to let XP see a samba share, so you can get files in and out of your new OS.


install qemu
sudo apt-get install qemu

make a directory to put the xp image / iso files etc.
mkdir winxp
cd winxp/

one off creation of the "partition", I used 4.3 gig so I could burn backups to a DVD.
qemu-img create winxp.img 4300M

put in xp cd and type...
qemu -boot d -hda winxp.img -cdrom /dev/cdrom -m 256 -localtime
read this line as "boot -d hda", d=boot from cdrom (c=boot from hdd)
"-cdrom /dev/cdrom" tells qemu where the CD to boot from is
"-m 256" is how much memory this machine has access to
-localtime" tells the new pc's bios to set itself to GMT/UTC from the real PC clock.

now go thru the XP install!

then to boot just make a shortcut to:
qemu -boot c -hda winxp.img -m 256 -localtime
Notice the "c" not makes us boot from the winxp.img file, not the cdrom, as I've left off the -cdrom option here this PC now has no access to the CD drive.

You're all done, log in and try going to ! (it worked for me YMMV)

Note : If you get an error when logging on to XP (after entering password).

If you get an error Error code 0x800703e6 on Product Activation, then your XP is pre sp1 or sp2, follow these instructions....

download sp2

make an iso of the sp2 exe file.
mkisofs -o sp2.iso WindowsXP-KB835935-SP2-ENU.exe

boot into XP but press F8 immediately to go into safe mode, pointing -cdrom to the iso file of SP2 will mean that the XP machine will have a "cdrom" available when you boot into it.
qemu -boot c -hda winxp.img -cdrom sp2.iso -m 256

Use explorer to get to the cdrom and click the exe file to install SP2. One error will com up about "Invalid Access to Memory Location", no biggy, just hit OK and it will finish.

All done, no more 0x800703e6

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Scan to PDF in Ubuntu, with Beagle Searchable Meta Data

This bash script lets you scan directly to a PDF and then search your scanned PDF's using beagle, not just by file name, but by the information (meta data), that you can save with your PDF.

I developed this script because I really want to have a paperless desk and I could not find an easy way to scan documents to PDF, (and find them again!).

A picture's worth a thousand words...

I have a "launcher" on my desktop called "scan", I just click it and....

Select colour or Grey (color or Gray) for the Americans!

Then press OK for each page of the PDF you want to make. (Cancel to finish)

Then give the PDF a file name... (jam recipe!)

Then some meta data so beagle can find it... jam, recipe, grannys, yum.

Thats all !

Now search for "grannys jam" in Beagle.....

And there it is !!

Here is the script, it was made pretty fast so......

Please feel free to mess about with it. And post improvements back here !

Programs you'll need..

Copy the script into its own directory, chmod u+rxw. Thats all!.



#scan to pdf with metadata, by Mac Jones, New Zealand

#scan a batch

#decide grey or colour (gray or color for the Americans!)
colour=`zenity --list --title "Color or Gray?" --radiolist --column "-" --column "Scan" TRUE Gray FALSE Color`

a=0 #page counter
cont=1 #should we continue?

until [ $cont -eq "0" ] #keep doing it until cont variable is not a zero.
echo -n "$a "
let "a+=1"
if zenity --question --text "OK to scan a page, Cancel to finish, Page=$a" --title "Scanning pages"
scanimage --format pnm --resolution 150 --mode $colour > "$a.pnm"

done # No surprises, so far.

#convert the raw file to postscript
convert -density 150 *.pnm | zenity --progress --auto-close --title "Converting to Postscript"

#convert the postscript to pdf
ps2pdf out.pdf | zenity --progress --auto-close --title "Converting Postscript to PDF"

#remove raw scan files
rm *.pnm

#remove old ps files

#beep to get attention after processing
echo -e "\a"

#add the metadata and file name.
#this meta data can be searched from Beagle in Ubuntu.

#echo "Please enter a name for the PDF file (** no .pdf on end)"
nm=`zenity --entry --text "Enter file name, (no .pdf on the end)" --title "File Name?"`

#echo "Please enter Metadata for searching"
meta=`zenity --entry --text "Meta data for searching" --entry-text=$nm --title "Meta Data for Searching"`

echo "InfoKey: Producer" > tmp
echo "InfoValue: $meta" >> tmp
echo "InfoKey: Keywords" >> tmp
echo "InfoValue: $meta" >> tmp
echo "InfoKey: Title" >> tmp
echo "InfoValue: $nm" >> tmp

#update the metadata
pdftk out.pdf update_info tmp output "$nm.pdf"

#rm metadata file and pdf
rm tmp
rm out.pdf

zenity --info --text="All done, $nm.pdf is ready!" --title "Thanks!"


Why this blog is here

This blog is a place for me to put the interesting things I find on my never ending adventure into Linux. I should have done it ages ago, as two years in I feel like a bunch of the stuff I learnt the hard way may have beenuseful to others !

For reference, I'm using BSD and Debian, my business has 80+ computers on Debian (Damn Small Linux & Ubuntu). BSD is running our firewalls.

So here goes....