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What are GainSpan and new_host?

A few weeks ago, I noticed two computers on my home network that I couldn’t identify. One was GainSpand23v and the other was simply new_host.

The network uses WPA-2 with a fairly strong password, so I was mystified how something could have got on without my wife or I knowing about it. Just to play it safe, I went into the router’s settings, blocked them from having access, and made a mental note to undo them in case it turned out they were something important like my wife’s VOIP phone.

Nothing broke immediately, so I left it be and let the mystery sit for a while.

Early last week, I bought George Takei’s e-book Oh Myyy! from Amazon. Surprisingly, it didn’t appear on my 3-month old, e-ink Kindle and as I attempted to sync it manually, I started getting error messages that the Kindle couldn’t even connect to the WiFi.

Remember those two unknown computers? I didn’t. It took most of a week before I realized “new_host” was the Kindle. (And since the e-ink Kindles only connect rarely, that would explain why this “computer” wasn’t pingable.)

So now had to find out what the heck GainSpand23v was. Google came back with a link to GainSpan, a company which apparently makes low-power WiFi modules for “The Internet of Things.”

OK, a clue. What “smart” devices do I have? The Raspberry Pi? Nope, that was accounted for. The thermostat? No, that was also showing up. What else could there be?

Finally, my mind hit on the Aria Scale. Could that be it? So I searched for “gainspan fitbit” to see if perhaps Fitbit was one of GainSpan’s customers. Bingo. It seems someone else found GainSpan on his network too.

Both companies might want to consider having their devices do a better job of identifying themselves. But for now, I hereby record this experience in case someone else should run across the same mystery.

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Installing Ubuntu without pae

From the land of “things I might want to refer to later…”

My old Dell Inspiron works fine except for a missing ‘R’ key. Windows XP is showing more signs of age than the notebook, so time to put another OS on it.

I’ve been using Ubuntu in such situations, but my attempts at installing both 12.04> and Lubuntu (lightweight Ubuntu) have both ended with a message about the hardware not supporting the required pae extensions.

Physical Address Extension (aka pae) is an Intel technology which allows a 32-bit operating system to access more than 4 GB of RAM. (A quick read suggests it essentially hands easch application a 4 GB chunk of memory, similar to how programs on the 80286 and earlier chips were able to address more than 64 KB at a time by combining a 16-bit memory address with a 16-bit segment address — and by revealing that I know about this, I’ve probably dated myself quite handily.)

Another quick search on Google turned up a relevant pair of AskUbuntu Questions describing how to install a non-PAE version.

In a nutshell:

  • Download the non-pae netboot image mini.iso. This is a bare-bones installer which downloads the selected packages during the installation process. (Obviously, this requires a broadband connection.)
  • Burn the image onto a CD* and boot the computer from that.
  • Accept the default values for most of the prompts. You’ll need to supply a userid and password. My experience is that it’s faster to select the keyboard layout from a list then to go through the prompts for “detection.” (Faster for a standard US keyboard anyhow; your mileage may vary.)
  • At the final screen, when prompted for packages to install, be certain to select a desktop (e.g. Ubuntu Desktop) unless you plan to do everything from the command line.

* The Inspiron’s CD drive is getting old and unreliable, using UNetbootin to make a bootable thumb drive worked perfectly.

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Standards

“The great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.”  — Me.

I’m pretty sure this is why:

Fortunately, the charging one has been solved now that we've all standardized on mini-USB. Or is it micro-USB? Shit.

(via xkcd)

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First Post

Well no, not really.  But some traditions die harder than others.

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