Installing CentOS v5.2 in Virtual PC 2007

I am still a big fan of Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 (VPC) as a solution for experimenting with various operating systems.  If a machine is running Windows, you can go and download VPC 2007 for free … and then simply create a virtual machine, and run the OS of your choice in a window.

Well … almost.  The issue comes down to compatibility with the “virtual” hardware.  Lately, I have found that many of the Linux distributions make no effort to ensure that their releases install easily in VPC.  I’ll address that in another post.

Today I again wanted to test a new distro – CentOS v5.2 – in VPC and when I started the graphical install I was met with the same old issues. Immediately I get a completely distorted graphical screen … which is one of the most common issues.  It turns out that for host memory considerations, the “virtual video card” in VPC is limited to 8MB of video memory.  This time I chose to find a better, easier solution … and I did.

Bad Video Card settings in CentOS Install

Bad Video Card settings in CentOS Install

Poking around Google I was able to find this post that gave me the answer.  It turns out that there is a kernel parameter that can be set to force the limit on the size of the VESA video frame buffer.


I gave it a try, and it worked!  Of course, once I got through that, I got to the next most common issue that I hit … the mouse wouldn’t work.  Back to Google to find that fix again.  I found it here.  There are two simple parameters to add … one for the mouse, and the second to have the wheel work.

i8042.noloop psmouse.proto=imps

The first part fixes the mouse … the second is for the wheel.

So how do you use all of this information?  It’s really simple.  When you boot the CD or DVD to install CentOS v5.2, you’ll get to this screen:

CentOS Install Menu

CentOS Install Menu

Once you get here, simply type:

linux vesafb=vtotal:8M i8042.noloop psmouse.proto=imps

Hit Enter and you are off and going!

Now, when the installation was complete and I rebooted I was surprised to find that the video was still working.  I didn’t have to do anything else.  BUT … the mouse was again not working.  The trick is to interrupt the GRUB boot loader, and edit the settings of the kernel line.  So when the system boots, and gives you chance to “Press any key to enter the menu” … hit any key!

You’ll then be presented with the GRUB menu, and you can then:

  1. Hit ‘e’ to edit the highlighted CentOS entry
  2. Arrow down to the lines that starts with “kernel” and hit ‘e’ again
  3. Add the following to the end of the line:  i8042.noloop psmouse.proto=imps
  4. Hit enter
  5. Type ‘b’ for boot

That will get you booted and running.

To make the change permanent, you’ll have to edit the grub.conf file as follows:

  1. Login as root (or you can use sudo if you have set up teh sudoers file.)
  2. Open grub.conf in an editor of your choice (e.g. nano /etc/grub.conf)
  3. Once again look for that “kernel” line … go to the end of the line
  4. Add the following to the end:  i8042.noloop psmouse.proto=imps
  5. Save the file and exit.

After all of this, I have a working CentOS v5.2 in Virtual PC 2007.  Well … except that I have no audio working.  It now appears that CentOS v5.2 does not include the “snd-sb16” sound card driver.  I found that I can get the sources to build the drivers from the website … but that is something that will occur on another day.  🙂

Supercomputers and Solar Efficiency …

The SunI happened to catch this article today while reading on the net.  To me, this is truly impressive in two core ways:

New solar cell material achieves almost 100% efficiency, could solve world-wide energy problems

Columbus (OH) – Researchers at Ohio State University have accidentally discovered a new solar cell material capable of absorbing all of the sun’s visible light energy. The material is comprised of a hybrid of plastics, molybdenum and titanium. The team discovered it not only fluoresces (as most solar cells do), but also phosphoresces. Electrons in a phosphorescent state remain at a place where they can be “siphoned off” as electricity over 7 million times longer than those generated in a fluorescent state. This combination of materials also utilizes the entire visible spectrum of light energy, translating into a theoretical potential of almost 100% efficiency. Commercial products are still years away, but this foundational work may well pave the way for a truly renewable form of clean, global energy.

The first thing about this that I find impressive is the use of supercomputers to solve these problems.  Our advances in raw compute power are often talked about, but what is the real value delivered to us by all of this compute power?  Well … massively efficient solar power would be a heck of a reward.  From the article:

Supercomputers are enabling an entire new area of materials. No longer do scientists have to physically create samples of every possible material in the lab, only to test and document everything they find about it. Today they can set up a series of parameters and instruct a supercomputing machine to find the one that best aligns with their desires, wants and wishes. And while such computations often takes many days or even weeks for each trial material, it’s more economical and feasible than the old route. Plus, it enables materials like these which were, in this context, accidentally discovered using computers.

It is this ability to simulate and iterate – at incredible speeds – that allows us to evaluate the massive numbers of permutations and combinations to discover these types of solutons.

The second impressive aspect of this discovery, to me, is that we are now finding new uses for common foundation materials.  We are now beginning to discover the unique ways in which materials can be combined to create just the right conditions to product energy from something as common as sunlight.  If we can now rapidly transform this type of discover into an actual commercial material – which might take years – it could have immeasurable impacts of the lives of humans all over the globe.

The beginning of commodity telepresence …

With the growth of the Internet, and wireless extensions of the Internet (via Wifi and broadband wireless), it is inevitable that we are going to see our abilities to participate in remote events enhanced through telepresence.  There are numerous companies working in this area for “high-end” solutions … Cisco being one of them.  But what is now facinating is the growth from the bottom up … the small, inexpensive “toys” that are beginning to show up in the market.

Telepresence is the ability to be present somewhere else … so that you can interact with the world at that remote location without actually being there.  Companies like Cisco are working on this for various communications solutions … so that you can have virtual meetings or present at a conference when you are not actually there.

iRobot ConnectRLast week I found the iRobot ConnectR which is an impressive start.  The ConnectR is referred to as a Virtual Visiting Robot and is built on the same iRobot Roomba vaccum platform.  It is able to leverage all of the features of that platform, including the transport, navigation, and auto-recharge/dock features … but probably without the vacuum.  What has been added instead is a tilting webcam, microphone, and speakers … along with a Wifi wireless radio.  Once you have purchased this unit, you can put the charging station in a corner, and then remotely – either from your home, or across the globe – connect to the ConnectR.  You can then “drive” it around your house … looking through the webcam, and listening through the microphone … and then even talk to anyone or anything that might be around.  You could be using this to check on your house, your pets, your children, or even your parents.  And yes … iRobot is already exploring the various issues of security, and how you control access to the ConnectR remotely … and also how you can locally disable the robot.  This robot is currently in pilot/beta, and is estimated to cost $499.99 … so not the cheapest … but as an owner of a Roomba I can guess the quality will be there.

Spykee RobotYesterday on my way home from Oakland, California I was flying on Southwest Airlines and found yet another iteration of the commodity telepresence robot … and this one is also very impressive.  It’s being promoted as a “toy” byt Erector … yes, the folks that used to make Erector Sets.  Erector has since been bought by Nikko, an innovative manufacturer of electronic toys … which are growing rapidly in capabilities.  The Spykee Robot is a base platform with treaded tracks containing a Wifi radio and basic processor.  This basic platform is designed to allow the owner (uh … not just kids … I want one!) to build a “torso” using Erector Set parts.  There are supposed to be three models coming … with slightly different parts … and I’m sure a bunch of add-on kits.  On the torso is again a webcam, speakers, a microphone, and various lights.  The Spykee also has a PC “control panel” application that allows you to remotely – in your house, or across the globe – connect to the Spykee and cruise around interacting with the world.  There is also a “security” feature which allows the Spykee to be watching via it’s webcam, and to e-mail you photos when motion is detected.  The Spykee appears to be close to shipping in the UK … Amazon says that the US availability is November 15th … list price of $299.99.

Wow Wee RovioWhile investigating the Spykee, of course I came across the Wow Wee Rovio.  This is another $299.99 remote telepresence robot, with a browser based control panel.  The three wheeled unit contains the processor, Wifi radio, webcam, microphone and speaker, along with some sort of optical tracking – similar to the iRobot units.  There is a docking station for recharging, and optional tracking beacons that canbe bought – I’m guessing – to enhnace the navigation of the robot around your house.  This unit appears to be available now in the US, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen one in the stores yet.

What is impressive is that these last two units are now below $300 for a complete – basic – telepresence robot.  The example videos provided by both companies demonstrate both home and office uses, and begin to move into the home security space … and even the home video surveillance space.  As we saw with the prices on Wifi Access Points, and other hardware … I can only expect it to continue to fall.

The next area that I am going to look at for these robots, and something that I believe will be important for success, will be the “hackability” of the control protocols.  How easy will it be for hackers to begin to enhance the controlling applications, and for the robots to be integrated into more extensive applications?  Imagine when someone has created the automatic search and mapping application for the Rovio or Spykee that allows someone to release dozens of these into an unknown building and have the robots quickly survey the inside and report back what they find.  What other applications are going to emerge?  Maybe I can rent a remote Rovio to explore a remote location that I otherwise might never visit!  Explore the Louvre after hours?  Visit underground caverns on the other side of the planet?  Hmmm … maybe there is a interesting business model in there somewhere …  🙂

HUD Homes – Investment and Ownership

ngs have been busy lately on the development front.  Our College Football site is doing well, and growing steadily.  We now have launched a new website this month called that is a resource for home buyers and investors to search the portfolio of HUD Homes that are currently available through the US Federal Government.

GoHUD.comHUD Homes are an interesting opportunity for home buyers, and also investors, who want to purchase a home in almost any state across the country.  A “HUD Home” is one that is being sold by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  When someone with an FHA-insured mortgage can’t make the payments, the lender forecloses on the home and HUD takes ownership.  It is then offered for sale at market value, based on a recent AS-IS appraisal, meaning, the market value in its current condition.  Obviously with the current financial market, the number of available HUD properties has doubled over the last 6 months, and some states have thousands of available properties.
HUD properties are made available in a variety of ways, with an emphasis on “Owner Occupied” purchases that include the “Good Neighbor Next Door” buying opportunities for “Law enforcement officers, pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers and firefighters/emergency medical technicians.”  This last group of individuals can get incredible discounts on the purchase of a HUD property.  The prices on HUD Homes tend to be very price competitive in the areas where they are located, and each will have an associated Property Condition Report.

When watching the prices on the homes, you might notice a common pattern as a particular home stays on the market.  The home will be listed, and be available to “Owner Occupants” … meaning that you must live in the home as your primary residence if you purchase it.  If the home is not sold in a week or so, then the status will change to “All Bidders” … meaning that anyone can now bid to purchase the property for any purpose.  If the home still does not sell, it is common that the price will then be reduced by a full 10%, and the status will return to “Owner Occupants” again.  This process will repeat until the home sells.  Owner occupant, all bidders, price reduction … and on and on.

Our current website aggregates the details of all available HUD Homes across the country, and provides a variety of ways to search, map, and “favorite” any property in the database.  We’re continuing to add features to automate your monitoring of a property and the status changes, and also to engage with a HUD Authorized Real Estate Agent, who can assist you with navigating the various issues in researching and eventually purchasing a HUD property.

To me, it has been a fun project to learn more and more about HUD Homes, and how they work … and the opportunities that exist.  I’m not yet sure if the real estate market is close to the bottom yet, but I’m watching homes in a wide range of cities across the nation for an eventual investment opportunity.

Check out the website and let us know what you think!