Performance boost for an aging laptop

I have an aging Sony VAIO VGN-N110g laptop that cannot take more than 1GB of RAM but still has a ton of life left in it for multimedia, projects, and general use. The previous teenage owner ran it on blankets, on the bed, under clothes, etc. Eventually the CPU fan stopped working and something went wrong with SODMIM slot 2, probably heat related. Until recently it was dog slow.  Here is what I found and how I regained significant performance breathing new life into the machine.

Hardware improvements:

First I replaced the CPU fan ($15 on eBay) which allows the CPU to run at 1.2GHz again rather than be permanently thermally throttled to 800MHz or less. With 1GB of RAM the 32 bit Ubuntu 14.04 LTS was still running sluggishly. I have a friend who owns a similar VAIO inherited from a similar family member, he had been down this road before.  He recommended I get an SSD because it’s probably swapping memory to disk. I checked the performance monitor and he was right, it was swapping a lot. I caught a 250GB WD SSD on sale on Amazon for $69.99, which I thought isn’t too bad (bought through the Workshop 88 affiliate link here to benefit the club at no extra cost). I mounted the SSD into an external USB drive case, booted from a Clonezilla live CD, and copied the 80GB boot disk directly to the 250GB SSD (I could have used Clonezilla from UBCD or Parted Magic but I had the Clonezilla the disk handy). Then I swapped the hard disks (removed keyboard, battery, RAM cover, CD Drive, and 26 screws… <dramatic eye roll>). Before reassembling the laptop I plugged in and tested it to make sure it booted and ran properly from the new drive and was thrilled to see how fast it booted and that it worked perfectly so I buttoned it up.

Expand the boot/OS partition

Now there was only one thing left to do: Expand the 80GB boot partition to fill the unused 150GB+ on the new SSD drive.  Directly copying the drive is nice because it copies all bootloaders, file systems, and your data regardless of OS, but it does not resize the existing partitions.  Moving and resizing partitions is always risky.  All the partitions need to be unmounted, which for the boot partition usually means you need to be running the OS from RAM. The best way I know to do this is to boot from either a Linux distribution’s live disk (Ubuntu, Puppy, pick from any on DistroWatch.com…), or a purpose built tools CD/DVD like the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD) which is what I did. From UBCD I selected Parted Magic and it launched the included image. Parted Magic is intended for just this type of thing and runs entirely in RAM. I used GParted to edit the partitions but immediately ran into an interesting problem (which is really why I’m writing here): The boot partition was at the start of the disk, followed by an extended partition that contained the linux-swap partition, and all the free space was at the end of the disk. I could neither increase the size of the boot partition because it was not adjacent to free space nor could I move the extended partition because it contained the linux-swap swap partition. I was stuck until I found this:

Expanding a Linux disk with gparted (and getting swap out of the way)
https://blog.mwpreston.net/2012/06/22/expanding-a-linux-disk-with-gparted-and-getting-swap-out-of-the-way/

To summarize I had to:

  1. Expand end of the extended partition to consume all the free space after it
  2. Move the linux-swap partition to the end of the extended partition
  3. Reduce the size of the extended partition by moving it’s start location to the beginning of the linux-swap partition
  4. Finally, expand the boot partition to consume the free space I had created.

I created these operations one at a time in GParted, executed them with one click (fast on an SSD!), rebooted, and voila!

Here is what Parted Magic looks like and my partitions in GParted after extending the modifications.

And here is what my VAIO laptop looks like running after the updates were complete.

It works and now I have a faster laptop with 3x the disk space for under a hundred bucks.  This may seem like mundane or even common knowledge to many of you but I thought it was interesting enough to share and maybe some of the information will be helpful to someone.

Here are links to the free tools mentioned above:

I strongly suggest you look at and get the Ultimate Boot CD
http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/ 
Check out all the powerful free tools you get on one FREE disk image.

Drive/partition image/clone/backup tool (also available on UBCD)
https://clonezilla.org/

Disk editing tools that run entirely in RAM so you can work on all disks
(also available on UBCD)
https://partedmagic.com/

Partition editor available in most Linux distributions
https://gparted.org/

D. Scott Williamson
Compulsively Creative

P.S. There is (was) an Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, it hasn’t been maintained in a while but it is still worth trying out.  You can find it on majorgeeks.com here:
https://www.majorgeeks.com/files/details/ubcd4win.html
Beware: The original site, [URL deliberately not mentioned], looks sketchy now; I do not advise anyone go there and if you do, be careful.

Member projects: Thingiverse remix

One of our new members, Josh, has been making great use of the 3D printers at Workshop 88. He had a headlight for his bike that he wanted centered on the handlebars. So he took the Blackburn Flea Bike Light Handlebar Mount file on Thingiverse and remixed it to fit on his bike. Here is his remix – the photo at the top shows the finished print.


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Member project: Crowd-sourced science

Animation of some preliminary results from the Steelpan Vibrations project on Zooniverse.

One of our members, Andrew Morrison, has a citizen science project running on the Zooniverse website.

The project is called Steelpan Vibrations and is a project looking at understanding how Caribbean steelpans (sometimes referred to as steel drums) work to produce their characteristic sound. What he has done is made high speed videos of the waves that go across the steel pan when it is struck by a player. The problem is that there is no easy way to analyze the video frames to get quantitative data. The project asks for people to go to the website and mark individual frames so that they can be aggregated together for analysis later.

There is a blog where details about the research are discussed regularly, and you can also follow Andrew on twitter where project updates are regularly posted.


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Member projects: Building a night sky observatory!!

One of our members, Steven Sagerian, has a passion for astronomy and astronomy education and outreach. He has been working on building an observing site outside of the Chicago suburbs in a dark location – and now he has a GoFundMe set up to make this a reality!

Steve also has designed a solar panel system for charging batteries to run the observatory. You can see the solar cells in the photo on the GoFundMe site, and he also has a page dedicated to the design and construction of it.

Solar panels for charging power supply at observatory.


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How to create and install custom ringtones on an iPhone without iTunes or a USB cable

In this step by step tutorial you will learn to:

  • Download individual and playlists of movies and audio from movie websites including YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion, etc. and convert the files into numerous audio and video formats using youtube-dl.
  • Edit audio file clips, adjust volume, and save in different formats, including .m4a needed for iPhone ringtones and songs using Audacity.
  • Send audio files to your iPhone using email, save them, import them into GarageBand, and process them into usable ringtones for your iPhone
    (and even delete them when you are done with them).

All off this is done with free software and without iTunes, or connecting your iPhone to the computer!

These PC instructions are for Windows, but all the tools, youtube-dl, Audacity, and FFmpeg are also available for Linux and OS X.

Capturing sound file from YouTube

You will need:

  • youtube-dl An awesome tool to download and convert videos and playlists from YouTube and other sites.

Instructions:

  1. Find a video you like on YouTube
  2. Copy the URL
  3. Navigate in Explorer (file browser, not internet browser) to the folder you would like to download the sound file to.
  4. Type cmd into the address bar to launch a command prompt
  5. Enter youtube-dl –extract-audio –audio-format mp3 -o “%%(title)s-%%(id)s.%%(ext)s” your_url_here
    i.e.
    youtube-dl –extract-audio –audio-format mp3 -o “%%(title)s-%%(id)s.%%(ext)s” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7MIJP90biM
    * See footnotes for additional options

Footnotes:

  • You may omit -o “%%(title)s-%%(id)s.%%(ext)s” or replace it with your own filename format string
  • If the video is under 30 seconds long and you want to use it without editing, you can save it directly as an .m4a like this:
    youtube-dl –extract-audio –audio-format m4a -o “%%(title)s-%%(id)s.%%(ext)s” your_url_here
  • You can download entire playlists as audio with numbered tracks as .mp3 files like this:
    youtube-dl –extract-audio –audio-format mp3 -o “%%(playlist_index)s – %%(title)s-%%(id)s.%%(ext)s” https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3KyodHSvyYL2qAyXGli1CCd5IS0ENfBh
  • You can download and convert video files from many sites for watching like this:
    youtube-dl -o “D. Scott Williamson, Expert.%%(ext)s” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7MIJP90biM

Editing your sound file

You will need:

  • Audacity sound editor
  • FFmpeg extension for Audacity needed to save .m4a files (Use their download even if you already have FFmpeg)

Instructions:

The sound file must be 30 seconds long or less.
Remember, it will loop; some files benefit from some silence at the end or a long decay.
Audacity is too large a tool to describe in depth here, here are some basic commands that will allow you to select the section of the audio file interesting to you, adjust the volume, and export as an .m4a file.

  1. Open the file by either dragging it onto Audacity, Selecting Open… ffrom the File menu, or pressing Ctrl-o.
    When the file opens you will see a waveform display in the center of the Audacity window.
  2. Mute | Solo On the left side of your waveform display you will see Mute and Solo buttons.  If you open multiple files, they will behave as multiple tracks in the same project.
    • Mute will silence the track.
    • Solo will mute all other tracks and unmute the current track.
  3. Selection Click and drag on the audio waveform display to select a subset of the sound file.  You can carefully click and adjust the start and end of the selection which is useful to refine your selection.
  4. Zoom allows you to magnify or shrink the sound file to enable you to work carefully on the section that is important to you
    • Zoom in, Zoom out Magnify or shrink the view of your sound
    • Zoom Selection will zoom so the selection fills the display.  I typically will select a slightly larger section than I want, Zoom Selection to make my selection fill the display, and refine the start and endpoint.
    • Fit Project to width will zoom all the way out so that your (longest) sound file will be fit to the window width.
  5. Scroll When zoomed in, you can use the scroll bar at the bottom of your sound window to pan left and right.
  6. Play There are a couple ways to play your sound:
    • Click the play button to play your selection, or the entire file if none is selected.
    • Click anywhere in the timeline above the waveform to play from that position to the right edge of the window, useful for quickly locating key points in your sound file.
  7. Copy Use this to copy your selection either by clicking the copy button or pressing Ctrl-c.   I find it easiest to copy the portion of the sound I like and paste it into a new Audacity project.  Not only is it less likely to damage the original file, but I think it is fewer steps too.
  8. New Create a new sound file by selecting New from the File or pressing Ctrl-n
  9. Paste Click the paste button or press Ctrl-v to paste your previously copied selection into the new file.
  10. Volume There are a lot of effects you can apply to an audio clip in Audacity, perhaps the most common is adjusting the volume.  Click on Amplitude in the Effects menu, you will see a dialog with the suggested amplification already filled in.  The suggested value will make your sound fill the volume range.  If you would like more amplitude than suggested, be sure to check Allow clipping.  The volume can be reduced too.
  11. Undo you can undo any mistake with a click or by pressing Ctrl-z
  12. Export as .m4a by selecting Export from the File menu and selecting Export audio file… or by pressing Ctrl-Shift-e.  Navigate to where you’d like to save the file, select save as type “M4A (ACC) Files (FFFmpeg)“, and save your file.
    (The first time you do this, Audacity will ask you to locate avformat-55.dll, it will be where you unzipped ffmpeg-win-2.2.2.zip)

Creating a ringtone

You will need:

  • GarageBand app on your phone (made by Apple)
  • Access to email from your PC and iPhone
  • One or more sound files that must be .m4a (or .m4r) format and 30 seconds long or less.

Instructions:

  1. Install GarageBand on your iPhone from the App Store
  2. Send your .m4a files to yourself as attachments to an email (be aware of email attachment size limits, you may need to send multiple emails).
  3. Open email on your phone and open your email
  4. Long press on each attachment to bring up the action menu
  5. Select Save To Files
  6. Save the file to GarageBand / GarageBand File Transfer
    • Click GarageBand to expand it
    • Click GarageBand File Transfer
    • Click Add in the upper right corner
  7. Launch GarageBand
  8. Click Create Document
  9. Click Tracks at the top of the screen
  10. Swipe left or right until you get to the Audio Recorder and click the screen
  11. Click the Tracks icon (Third from the left at the top off the screen, looks like a brick wall)
  12. Click Loops icon (second from right at the top, looks like a loop, next to the wrench)
  13. Click Audio Files at the top center of the window
  14. You should now see your file(s) you saved from your email.  Click them to hear them, drag one onto the workspace next to the microphone on the left.
  15. Click Save (Down arrow at upper left of the screen)
  16. Click My Songs
  17. Long click on your saved file to bring up menu
  18. Click Share
  19. Click Ringtone
  20. Type name
  21. Click Export in the upper right corner
  22. Done!

Now look for your new ringtone in Settings Notifications or Sounds.
This process can also be used to create songs, just select Song instead of Ringtone.

To Delete a ringtone

  1. Launch GarageBand
  2. Long press in shared folder on any track
  3. Click Share
  4. Click Ringtone
  5. Click Your Ringtones
  6. Click Edit
  7. Select and delete files as needed
  8. Back out of menus or close the app

This was fun!  I hope you were able to follow these directions to get interesting new free ringtones into your iPhone while discovering powerful open source tools along the way.

D. Scott Williamson
Compulsively Creative

Mustard etching?

knife3

Knife with mustard packet before the etching.

We’ve been playing with the etching of metals with our laser cutter at Workshop 88. One of our members discovered a mustard-etching method and tested it out last night during the weekly open house.

knife2

Reapplying mustard between passes.

knife1

Finished etched knife after cleaning.

The results are pretty great for a first attempt! Expect more detail to come in future posts – but if you want to know more, please come to our open house meetings every Thursday night!

Glue gun mystery unstuck

Knowing how critical hot melt glue is in a hackerspace, I’m sure you’ll be relieved that the mystery of why the trigger on the yellow glue gun stopped working has been unravelled, and that it even works again!

There was no hope of getting the gun open until I let it get good and hot to liquify the glue. I was amazed to find the entire front half of the gun full of liquid glue. The great glob of solidified glue in front of the trigger answered the mystery question.

As I scooped and pried the glue out, a clue appeared: I suspect this split in the silicone sleeve that guides the glue sticks to the melt chamber was part of the story.

I wonder whether another part was some imagined incident when someone tried to use the gun with the tip badly clogged. With the gun thoroughly heated, he squeezed the trigger again and again, only to have no glue come out. “Where the heck is all the glue going?” he might have wondered.

The gun works again, but no guess as to for how long. The fantastic isopropyl-alcohol-as-hot-melt-release-agent trick cleaned the bench so well that there’s no trace of the huge mess I made.

W88 at River Forest Maker-Fest

Workshop 88 joined many other makers at the River Forest Public Library’s first Maker-Fest on 10/7/17. The Drawbot got lots of attention, and decorated the shelves with its drawings.

While maker events and makerspaces are a growing phenomenon at libraries, and River Forest has considered what it can do, its beautiful old building just doesn’t have room for a space.  But Ethan Baehrend, as part of his Eagle Scout mission, encouraged the library to host this Fest, both to provide a maker event for area residents and to help the library gauge interest so it can best serve its users.  The event was a success on all fronts.

Ethan posed here for a picture with the Drawbot’s rendition of the Eagle Scout logo.  Thanks to his mom, Diana, for the picture!

The Drawbot was in good form with its new aluminum-and-teflon pen holder, and generated lots of artwork, as well as interest among visitors. Here are some pics of its output.

 

Some more details on the drawbot are here.

Why Workshop 88 Rocks

I just had another experience Thursday evening reminding me why makerspaces are so great. I needed a very custom spring, but didn’t know how to make it. (It was to remove backlash in the gearbox of a stepper motor driving a robot to play a Theremin, but that doesn’t matter.)

I had the stepper in my hand – since it’s always easier to discuss something concrete – and asked member Bill if he knew anything about making springs. He did, but not the kind I needed. We talked about mandrels and springback, and threw out ideas about how to design a form to wind what I needed.

And then he pulled some music wire from a cabinet and started bending it by hand into very roughly what we thought we needed. That physical strawman let us pull and twist and point and talk about which direction the forces were acting and how to anchor it and how a spring like that really works. After a delightful session of technical banter, I had a LOT more insight into the spring I needed plus the eye-opener that I could just make it by hand! I grabbed some wire and a pair of pliers, and in 15 minutes had a spring that did exactly what I needed.

A fun technical discussion and exploration with a friend, and going from a show-stopper problem to a perfect solution for a few pennies’ worth of materials – it doesn’t get much better than that. And that’s why we hang out at makerspaces.

The project I needed the spring for is another great, if darker example of what happens at the space. An old lonely, dusty Theremin has lived in the back room for years, and I brought it out to see if I could make it work. It had just started to play its first eerie notes, and I was showing it to whoever wandered by, when somebody – a visitor, whose name I don’t recall – said “It would be neat to have a robot play it.” Whoa. That would be so frickin’ cool that even though I needed a new project like I needed a hole in the head, the Theremin playing robot was off and running. Here’s a clip of it playing a scale a couple of weeks later.

I bet lots of makerspaces have stories of whole projects that started by somebody musing “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”.  I guess we’re all suckers for that. 🙂

Winfield Library Build-A-Flute Workshop

Workshop 88 led a workshop on 7/11/17 for the Winfield Public Library Young Adult Services called Science of Sound. The students built flutes (more like recorders) out of PVC tubing and pieces of wooden dowel. The flutes worked quite well, and the students had a good time.

There’s a LOT of information on the web about PVC flutes, up to and including some “flutomat” pages with interactive spreadsheets for finger hole placement. Who knew?

In preparing for the workshop by making a couple of flutes at home, it quickly became clear that it was often easier to get a flute to sound the first overtone than the fundamental we’d be shooting for. To set the stage for discussing that as the student flutes made their first noises, the presentation started out talking about natural vibration modes, with demos of guitar string harmonics, vibrating strips of metal, and a 15-foot “jumprope” with standing wave loops up to the 4th harmonic.

In discussions at W88 before the class, Rachel pointed out that decorating the flutes would be important to some students. Colorful duct tape, provided by both W88 and the library, proved that suggestion to be quite true, despite the stodgy old teacher never even considering it. Thankfully, we have a community to help rip off blinders!

Those discussions also resulted in scope creeping from the initial plan of just showing that drilling a hole or 2 could change the pitch of the flute. The final class version used a traditional six hole fingering scheme that played fairly well in tune into the second register – a few notes above an octave. Thanks to this flutomat for the hole spacings!