Sunday, November 27, 2011

My choice for best essay of 2011

There are shades of disagreement with Andy Crouch's brilliant tribute to Steve Jobs, the Secular Prophet  in the Wall Street Journal, but it is, in my humble opinion, the best essay I have read in 2011.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Getting Ubuntu to work on Amtrak's wireless connection

Today was my first experience with using WiFi on Amtrak. Riding business class on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I expected some difficulty hooking up to Amtrak's serviceable wireless connection. That's because my laptop is a very-dependable Dell Inspiron 1150 with about 2 GB of memory running single-boot Ubuntu 10.04, the very agreeable Lucid Lynx version. For the record, I'm an occasional Ubuntu enthusiast who tries to keep on top of the latest developments in the Linux world. And I do pay attention. I'm a very faithful user of Ubuntu's wonderful update manager so my Dell is current with the latest OS and software patches. By the way, Ubuntu's Update Manager is far superior to Windows' automated utility.

It would be a safe bet to say that I probably was the only laptop user running Linux on the train to Boston. Apple notebooks were everywhere. My son's Windows 7 machine identified the "AmtrakConnectAcela" signal immediately. Logging on was a breeze. Not so with Ubuntu. My machine's adapter could see and then not see the wireless Amtrak signal but I couldn't make an immediate connection. I tried rebooting the machine several times before I stumbled upon a solution. The solution required a simple disabling and re-enabling (unchecking and re-checking) of the wireless network by right-clicking on the wireless icon on the top panel of the desktop. (My icon appears in the upper right hand side). That did the trick. Thereafter I found the network's performance was slow but acceptable and dropped only once which forced me to log on again.

My guess is that this glitch has something to do with the firewall web page that serves as a gateway to the connection. It popped up easily enough in Windows and ultimately did in Firefox on my Ubuntu machine. But the wireless connection appeared to need some kind of acknowledgment that Ubuntu could not provide on the initial bootup of my machine. At its WiFi FAQ, Amtrak says "You will be able to use AmtrakConnect through any laptop or other portable device that is Wi-Fi enabled." That proved to be true but not as seamlessly as I would like. Whether this is done for security reasons I don't know but it would be nice if Amtrak took Linux users into account.

We love Acela too!