FOB Story II

What and Why:

Who could forget the original – A FOB STORY: some notes on bootable flash drives – but it’s time for the sequel…

m.2 SSDs have gotten faster (NVMe)  and less expensive, and there’s finally a usable m.2 NMVe to USB-C/USB-3.0 adapter.  Just the combo for building a turbo version of the “Swiss Army” flash drive.

There are some real advantages to the above combo as compared to a flash drive implementation.  First, of course, is speed.  The setup that I configured hits close to 1GB/sec when on a USB-C port.  A less-obvious advantage is the possibility of multiple partitions.

It’s been possible to configure multiple partitions on a flash drive with Linux, for instance, but Windows would only recognize the first partition.  That really limits what one can do.  (note: recent spins of Win 10 may tolerate multiple partitions.  Looking into that…)  With the SSD/adapter approach the external device appears as a removable hard drive, and Windows is happy with multiple partitions.  I describe how I set up the partitions later in this article.

The Hardware:

There are multiple vendors making similar devices these days – certainly NVMe SSDs are available from several sources.  There are also multiple adapter vendors – but not all are fully usable in my applications (see below). These are the ones I’m using:

The SSD: Crucial P1 1TB 3D NAND NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD – CT1000P1SSD8

Picked for a couple of reasons: it’s well-priced, and fast.  Not as fast as some more expensive 4-lane SSDs, but well matched with the adapter’s performance.

The adapter: MyDigitalSSD M2X Portable USB 3.1 Gen 2 M.2 PCI Express SSD External Enclosure Adapter w/USB-C USB-A Cables – MDNVME-M2X-USB

Picked for one very important reason (along with being very well priced…) it actually works in this application and others.  Let me try to explain…

Earlier tries by other manufacturers would work with NVMe drives as external drives, but that was it.  They required initializing an SSD to match their particular sector size requirements.  That made them useless for forensics, recovery, cloning… anything that needed to preserve and access data already on the drive.  Initializing nuked anything present.

This one can read and write SSDs pulled from my ThinkPads as well as implementing a general-purpose external drive.  If you go with some other vendor’s adapter – be very careful to understand what you are getting.

How it’s configured:

There are myriad ways the SSD could be configured.  I set things up pretty much as I have my multi-boot flash drives (details: A FOB STORY: some notes on bootable flash drives ) with the addition of an NTFS partition to hold data – typically Acronis backup images.

The first partition is FAT32 and contains a live Linux (Ubuntu 19.04) and other bootable tools: memtest, Acronis backup/recovery/ a UEFI shell tool, other Linux and Ubuntu versions.  All (well, most) can be booted via stand-alone grub2 in both UEFI and Legacy mode.

I use a FAT32 partly as a hold-over from how flash drives got configured and because the contents can be edited/manipulated/added to from Windows and Linux.  An installed Linux (an option since we can have multiple partitions) would be harder to manage from Windows.  Since most of my PCs aren’t multi-boot these days but tend to run *nix in virtual machines, things are simpler to manage if Windows-accessible.  All of this could also be done from Linux…

The SSD was initialized in MBR mode – not GPT – to allow for both UEFI and legacy booting.

It’s also necessary to set the FAT32 partition active to allow legacy booting in most BIOSen.  For some reason Windows Disk Management didn’t allow that, so Diskpart was used.  When using Diskpart for anything, be very careful to select the correct drive!

NOTE: click on lines that look like the below to expand their content.

Diskpart set active partition example

C:\WINDOWS\system32>diskpart

Microsoft DiskPart version 10.0.17763.1

Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation.
On computer: ********

DISKPART> list disk

  Disk ###  Status         Size     Free     Dyn  Gpt
  --------  -------------  -------  -------  ---  ---
  Disk 0    Online          476 GB      0 B        *
  Disk 1    Online          465 GB  1024 KB        *
  Disk 2    Online         3726 GB      0 B        *
  Disk 3    Online          931 GB  1024 KB

DISKPART> select disk 3

Disk 3 is now the selected disk.

DISKPART> list partition

  Partition ###  Type              Size     Offset
  -------------  ----------------  -------  -------
  Partition 1    Primary             29 GB  1024 KB
  Partition 2    Primary            902 GB    29 GB

DISKPART> select partition 1

Partition 1 is now the selected partition.

DISKPART> active

DiskPart marked the current partition as active.

DISKPART> list partition

  Partition ###  Type              Size     Offset
  -------------  ----------------  -------  -------
* Partition 1    Primary             29 GB  1024 KB
  Partition 2    Primary            902 GB    29 GB

DISKPART> exit

Leaving DiskPart...

C:\WINDOWS\system32>

 

What’s on it:

For now there’s nothing in/on the NTFS partition.  That will be used for (probably transient) data.  All the current action in in the FAT32 partition.

The build starts with Ubuntu 19.04 – live, not installed.  That will be the primary bootable OS, and we’ll use its grub2 to handle booting other tools and OSen.  getting a live, UEFI-bootable Ubuntu is as simple as downloading the ISO and copying its contents to the FAT32 partition.  Don’t copy the ISO itself.  Use 7zip, Windows 10 Explorer, or your favorite (un)archiving tool to extract the ISO contents to the SSD.

You should end up with this in the FAT32 partition (shown here in 7zip):

Adding the ability to boot in legacy mode involves installing grub2 to the boot sector.  Boot the already-added Ubuntu in UEFI mode and run the installer.  It will first be necessary to determine the device name of the booted M2x/SSD, and make its mount point (usually /cdrom) writable.

Determine device path and mount point


ubuntu@ubuntu:~$ mount
sysfs on /sys type sysfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
proc on /proc type proc (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
udev on /dev type devtmpfs (rw,nosuid,relatime,size=8009764k,nr_inodes=2002441,mode=755)
devpts on /dev/pts type devpts (rw,nosuid,noexec,relatime,gid=5,mode=620,ptmxmode=000)
tmpfs on /run type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,noexec,relatime,size=1606936k,mode=755)
/dev/sda1 on /cdrom type vfat (ro,noatime,fmask=0022,dmask=0022,codepage=437,iocharset=iso8859-1,shortname=mixed,errors=remount-ro)
/dev/loop0 on /rofs type squashfs (ro,noatime)
/cow on / type overlay (rw,relatime,lowerdir=//filesystem.squashfs,upperdir=/cow/upper,workdir=/cow/work)
securityfs on /sys/kernel/security type securityfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
tmpfs on /dev/shm type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,nodev)
tmpfs on /run/lock type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,size=5120k)
tmpfs on /sys/fs/cgroup type tmpfs (ro,nosuid,nodev,noexec,mode=755)
cgroup2 on /sys/fs/cgroup/unified type cgroup2 (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,nsdelegate)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/systemd type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,xattr,name=systemd)
pstore on /sys/fs/pstore type pstore (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
efivarfs on /sys/firmware/efi/efivars type efivarfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
bpf on /sys/fs/bpf type bpf (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,mode=700)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/net_cls,net_prio type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,net_cls,net_prio)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/hugetlb type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,hugetlb)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/devices type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,devices)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/pids type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,pids)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/rdma type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,rdma)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/perf_event type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,perf_event)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/memory type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,memory)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/blkio type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,blkio)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/freezer type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,freezer)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/cpuset type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,cpuset)
cgroup on /sys/fs/cgroup/cpu,cpuacct type cgroup (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,cpu,cpuacct)
systemd-1 on /proc/sys/fs/binfmt_misc type autofs (rw,relatime,fd=35,pgrp=1,timeout=0,minproto=5,maxproto=5,direct,pipe_ino=19071)
mqueue on /dev/mqueue type mqueue (rw,relatime)
debugfs on /sys/kernel/debug type debugfs (rw,relatime)
hugetlbfs on /dev/hugepages type hugetlbfs (rw,relatime,pagesize=2M)
configfs on /sys/kernel/config type configfs (rw,relatime)
fusectl on /sys/fs/fuse/connections type fusectl (rw,relatime)
tmpfs on /tmp type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,relatime)
tmpfs on /run/user/999 type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,relatime,size=1606932k,mode=700,uid=999,gid=999)
gvfsd-fuse on /run/user/999/gvfs type fuse.gvfsd-fuse (rw,nosuid,nodev,relatime,user_id=999,group_id=999)
/dev/sda2 on /media/ubuntu/M2X NTFS type fuseblk (rw,nosuid,nodev,relatime,user_id=0,group_id=0,default_permissions,allow_other,blksize=4096,uhelper=udisks2)
/var/lib/snapd/snaps/core_6673.snap on /snap/core/6673 type squashfs (ro,nodev,relatime,x-gdu.hide)
/var/lib/snapd/snaps/core18_941.snap on /snap/core18/941 type squashfs (ro,nodev,relatime,x-gdu.hide)
/var/lib/snapd/snaps/gnome-3-28-1804_31.snap on /snap/gnome-3-28-1804/31 type squashfs (ro,nodev,relatime,x-gdu.hide)
/var/lib/snapd/snaps/gnome-calculator_406.snap on /snap/gnome-calculator/406 type squashfs (ro,nodev,relatime,x-gdu.hide)
/var/lib/snapd/snaps/gnome-characters_254.snap on /snap/gnome-characters/254 type squashfs (ro,nodev,relatime,x-gdu.hide)
/var/lib/snapd/snaps/gnome-logs_61.snap on /snap/gnome-logs/61 type squashfs (ro,nodev,relatime,x-gdu.hide)
ubuntu@ubuntu:~$ 

 

Make /cdrom writable and install the legacy bootloader:

Install grub2 legacy boot components


ubuntu@ubuntu:~$ sudo su
root@ubuntu:/home/ubuntu# mount -o remount rw /cdrom
root@ubuntu:/home/ubuntu# grub-install --force --no-floppy --boot-directory=/cdrom/boot  /dev/sda
Installing for i386-pc platform.
Installation finished. No error reported.
root@ubuntu:/home/ubuntu# 

 

Now the “turbo” gadget should boot in either legacy or UEFI mode. The grub menu is shared by both modes.  With this live (not installed) setup it’s possible to easily hand-edit grub.cfg to add other bootable tools and options.  Editing can be done from Windows or Linux. Directories and files can also be added from Windows (apart from the persistence file – see below).

My current menu is shown below.  It includes the “stock” live Ubuntu boot stanzas and the things I’ve added:  Ubuntu 16.10 booted from an ISO,  16.10 via ISO with persistence (more on that below), Linux Mint 19.1 from an ISO (per request of someone who uses my “Swiss Army” drives on the job,  Acronis, Memtest (legacy and UEFI) and a UEFI shell tool.

Included are examples of directly booting the primary Ubuntu, loop-mounting ISOs and booting them, booting other images, and chainloading.

Current grub.cfg (boot menu)



if loadfont /boot/grub/font.pf2 ; then
	set gfxmode=auto
	insmod efi_gop
	insmod efi_uga
	insmod gfxterm
	terminal_output gfxterm
fi

set menu_color_normal=white/black
set menu_color_highlight=black/light-gray

set timeout=5
menuentry "Try Ubuntu 19.04 without installing" {
	set gfxpayload=keep
	linux	/casper/vmlinuz  file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper quiet splash ---
	initrd	/casper/initrd
}
menuentry "Try Ubuntu 19.04 without installing (safe graphics)" {
	set gfxpayload=keep
	linux	/casper/vmlinuz  file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper quiet splash nomodeset ---
	initrd	/casper/initrd
}
menuentry "Install Ubuntu 19.04" {
	set gfxpayload=keep
	linux	/casper/vmlinuz  file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper only-ubiquity quiet splash ---
	initrd	/casper/initrd
}
menuentry "Install Ubuntu 19.04 (safe graphics)" {
	set gfxpayload=keep
	linux	/casper/vmlinuz  file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper only-ubiquity quiet splash nomodeset ---
	initrd	/casper/initrd
}

# ### My additions below

# Boot Ubuntu 16.10 from ISO

menuentry "Ubuntu 16.10 64-bit Desktop ISO" {
   set isofile="/bootable/iso/ubuntu-16.10-desktop-amd64.iso"
   loopback loop $isofile
   linux (loop)/casper/vmlinuz.efi boot=casper iso-scan/filename=$isofile noeject noprompt splash --
   initrd (loop)/casper/initrd.lz
}

# Boot Ubuntu 16.10 from ISO With Persistence

menuentry "Ubuntu 16.10 64-bit Desktop ISO With Persistence" {
   set isofile="/bootable/iso/ubuntu-16.10-desktop-amd64.iso"
   loopback loop $isofile
   linux (loop)/casper/vmlinuz.efi boot=casper iso-scan/filename=$isofile persistent persistent-path=/persistence/ubuntu-16.10 noeject noprompt splash --
   initrd (loop)/casper/initrd.lz
}

# Boot Mint 19.1 from ISO

menuentry "Mint 19.1 64-bit Desktop ISO" {
   set isofile="/bootable/iso/linuxmint-19.1-cinnamon-64bit.iso"
   loopback loop $isofile
   linux (loop)/casper/vmlinuz boot=casper iso-scan/filename=$isofile noeject noprompt splash --
   initrd (loop)/casper/initrd.lz
}

menuentry "Acronis 2018 9207 ISO 64 Bit Mode UEFI (NOT SECURE BOOTABLE) and Legacy" {
set quiet=1
set gfxpayload=1024x768x32,1024x768
set mbrcrcs=on
set isofile="/bootable/iso/AcronisTrueImage2018_15470.iso"
search --set -f $isofile
loopback loop $isofile
# edit: lang=13 is asian # linux (loop,msdos1)/dat10.dat lang=13 quiet force_modules=usbhid
linux (loop,msdos1)/dat10.dat quiet force_modules=usbhid
initrd (loop,msdos1)/dat11.dat (loop,msdos1)/dat12.dat
boot
}

menuentry "Memtest 86+ V5.01 legacy boot" {
   linux16 /bootable/images/memtest86+-5.01.bin
}

menuentry "Memtest 7.5 UEFI chainload" {
   chainloader /bootable/memtest86v7.5/EFI/BOOT/BOOTX64.EFI
}

menuentry "EFI Shell UEFI chainload" {
   chainloader /bootable/EFI_Shell/BootX64.efi
}




 

The current directory and file layout (with most of the live Ubuntu stock files obscured by “…” to reduce clutter) I’ve added the bootable and persistence folders and their contents to the stock Ubuntu setup.

Current folder and file configuration


Folder PATH listing for volume M2X FAT32
Volume serial number is A4DA-E616
D:.
|   md5sum.txt
|   README.diskdefines
|   M2X FAT32 Tree.txt
|   
+---persistence
|   \---ubuntu-16.10
|           casper-rw
|           
+---EFI
|   \---BOOT
|           BOOTx64.EFI
|           grubx64.efi
|           mmx64.efi
|           
+---install
|       mt86plus
|       
+---isolinux
|       ...
|       
+---pics
|       ...
|       
+---pool
|       ...
|                 
+---preseed
|       ...
|       
+---.disk
|       ...
|       
+---[BOOT]
|       1-Boot-NoEmul.img
|       2-Boot-NoEmul.img
|       
+---boot
|   \---grub
|       |   font.pf2
|       |   grub.cfg
|       |   grubenv
|       |   loopback.cfg
|       |   
|       ...
|               
+---bootable
|   +---EFI_Shell
|   |       BootX64.efi
|   |       
|   +---images
|   |       memtest86+-5.01.bin
|   |       
|   +---iso
|   |       AcronisTrueImage2018_15470.iso
|   |       linuxmint-19.1-cinnamon-64bit.iso
|   |       ubuntu-16.10-desktop-amd64.iso
|   |       
|   \---memtest86v7.5
|       |   license.rtf
|       |   
|       +---EFI
|       |   \---BOOT
|       |       |   blacklist.cfg
|       |       |   BOOTIA32.efi
|       |       |   BOOTX64.efi
|       |       |   MemTest86.log
|       |       |   mt86.png
|       |       |   unifont.bin
|       |       |   
|       |       \---Benchmark
|       +---help
|       |       MemTest86_User_Guide_UEFI.pdf
|       |       
|       +---src
|       |       memtest86-src.tar.gz
|       |       
|       \---syslinux
|               boot.txt
|               isolinux.bin
|               ldlinux.c32
|               memtest
|               syslinux.cfg
|               
+---casper
|       ...
|       initrd
|       vmlinuz
|       
\---dists
    ...


 

Persistence:

This is a sore subject as explained below 🙁  Persistence can be very useful when working with live Linux.  Since live “installs” revert to their original state when booted, there’s no way to update them or add a useful driver or tool – except for persistence.  Generally speaking it’s not really appropriate for updating the entire distro (requires a very large file and really slows things down), but to add something like a newer wifi driver, it’s very useful.

Persistence consistists of a file to contain updated state, and a flag in the boot stanza. See below for an example of persistence file creation, and grub.cfg above for the boot stanza.

Persistence file creation


ubuntu@ubuntu:~$ sudo su
root@ubuntu:/home/ubuntu# mount -o remount rw /cdrom
root@ubuntu:/home/ubuntu# cd /cdrom
root@ubuntu:/cdrom# mkdir persistence
root@ubuntu:/cdrom# cd persistence
root@ubuntu:/cdrom/persistence# mkdir ubuntu-16.10
root@ubuntu:/cdrom/persistence# cd *ubu*
root@ubuntu:/cdrom/persistence/ubuntu-16.10# dd if=/dev/zero of=casper-rw bs=1M count=128
128+0 records in
128+0 records out
134217728 bytes (134 MB, 128 MiB) copied, 0.0866414 s, 1.5 GB/s
root@ubuntu:/cdrom/persistence/ubuntu-16.10# mkfs.ext3 casper-rw
mke2fs 1.44.6 (5-Mar-2019)
Creating filesystem with 131072 1k blocks and 32768 inodes
Filesystem UUID: fec57b24-47c5-4adc-931a-021c6a38a29a
Superblock backups stored on blocks: 
	8193, 24577, 40961, 57345, 73729

Allocating group tables: done                            
Writing inode tables: done                            
Creating journal (4096 blocks): done
Writing superblocks and filesystem accounting information: done 

root@ubuntu:/cdrom/persistence/ubuntu-16.10# 

 

And now the bad news: persistence is broken from Ubuntu 17.x onward.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve included 16.10 in this gadget.  Something about snapd causes very high CPU usage when persistence is implemented in later Ubuntu versions.  My pleas have fallen on deaf ears 🙁

Live images with broken seed causes snapd high CPU usage and periodic short GUI freezes

(at last) Speed:

It’s physically somewhat larger than a flash drive, but that – IMNSHO – is offset by the multiple partition capability … and speed.

USB-C:

USB-3.0:

(finally) Quirks:

I’ve noticed a couple of issues with this setup.  One is MS foolishness, the other seems to be an M2X issue – perhaps harmless.

Microsoft:

If Ubuntu has been booted on this setup, the next time it’s plugged into a Win 10 machine there will be an error warning.  It seems to be a total false alarm, and also happens with all my bootable flash drives.

“No errors were found”.  But you seemed so certain… I’ve come to just ignore the offer to scan.

M2X:

If the M2X is plugged into an “always on” USB-x port (direct to desktop or laptop, via hub or dock) shutting down Windows causes the activity LED on the adapter to start blinking.  Eternally.  I’ve let it blink for a couple of hours. Even unplugged the host PC from the dock or hub, and it keeps on blinking.

This can also happen when simply doing a “Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media” action in the Windows toolbar.

It does not seem to happen when shutting down from Ubuntu.  Very odd.

I’ve identified differences in behavior based on the exact revision of the M2X circuit board, but no revision is totally immune in all situations.  Current and previous firmware revs don’t seem to make a difference.  Since we’re schooled to not unplug or power off an external drive when the activity LED is blinking, this is troubling.  So far I’ve not detected any data corruption, but it remains a concern.

I will say that MyDigitalDiscount support has been very responsive, and I’m optimistic that this will get resolved.  Perhaps with a firmware update.  I’ll report back when I have further news.

Update 2019.09.02: The bad news: my MyDigital contact has gone silent 🙁  The good news: a firmware update appears to have solved the permanently-blinking activity LED issue.  Will keep an eye on it…

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Kanji Quiz – 漢字クイズ

For quite some time now I’ve used and enjoyed Philip Brown’s JDrill.  It’s a nifty Java program that lets me practice/learn/remember Japanese Kanji characters.  I keep a shortcut to it on all my monitors.

There’s a rather obnoxious euphemism: “as we go along in life..” (Read: get old..) Sure enough, I’m due for the old-crock large-type version.  That’s a good excuse to try my 2nd GUI program.  (The first was my silly Sudoku solver.)

This one is also a tcl/tk program.  Pics and links below.  It’s new – and rough – so don’t be shy about reporting bugs or quirks.   There’s no connection to Mr. Brown’s site or software – other than admiration and emulation.  It’s a tribute – rather like the way that crappy Elvis impersonator carrying on at your local bar is a “tribute” to Elvis…


This little program has a limited set of features: it can randomly post a Kanji character and five possible English matches (one of which is correct) or v/v – an English quiz word and five Kanji “guesses”.

Clicking on a wrong guess turns it red.  Clicking on the correct match turns it green and in a few seconds a new quiz is presented.  Clicking on the quiz word will “cheat”; the correct answer will turn green. Clicking on the top “Kanji Quiz…” button toggles between Kanji and English quiz words.

Multiple grades of Kanji can be selected – one or more – with grade 1 the easiest and “ungraded” the hardest.

At this time the thing is available in three forms:

  • KanjiQuiz-x.y.x.zip:  the original tcl program zipped up with the dictionaries as separate files.
  • KanjiQuiz-x.y.x.exe:  a Windows exe built with FreeWrap which includes the dictionaries
  • KanjiQuiz-x.y.z.apk:  an Android app built with Androwish which also includes the dictionaries.  Since -0.8.4 the apk is built for an ARM CPU target, which should run on most ARM and X86 devices.

They’re all available here.

A note about the apk: this is very much a work in progress – and a hobby shop deal… The apk seems fine on my Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro tablet.  It will install on my Samsung Galaxy S7 phone, and sort of works.  It’s too large, and pinch-to-shrink isn’t available.  I’m going to continue to work on it – but it (and the other versions…) are strictly amateur productions.

Update 2018.10.13: There’s a -0.8.5a version out there now with font sizes appropriate for my S7. Still need to implement (or enable) panning to make it fully usable.

Update 2018.10.17: Version 0.8.6a has a re-worked line wrap algorithm that lets things fit on my S7 ( 1440 x 2560 display ) in portrait mode.  Seems usable without panning.

The tcl version requires that the dictionary files be present in the same directory as the .tcl file. Download the KanjiQuiz-x.y.z .zip file and extract it.  The resulting folder contains the tcl program and the dictionary files (the …xList files) .

The exe and apk versions include the dictionaries and can be run stand-alone.

If the preference is to run the native tcl program in Windows or Linux a tcl/tk interpreter will be required.  Most Linux distros will include tcl and tk – either already installed or readily available in package repositories.  For Windows, Active State’s Free Community Edition is available.

The dictionary list files were derived from the kanjidic2 xml file available at http://nihongo.monash.edu/kanjidic2/

At this time there’s no provision for saving preferences.  That’s on the TODO list, along with adding a Hiragana option.

(And yes, I know the colors are funky.  Everybody wants to be an art director… sheesh!  So feel free to edit the code…)

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ThinkPad X280: First Look

(Draft of Lenovo forum blog article)


X280 and USB-C charger

Another year, another CES, and another pre-production laptop to test and enjoy.  This year it’s a high-spec X280.  The below is not a review – more of a quick survey of specifications and a look at the usual things that I find of interest.  But first:

From time to time  Lenovo sends me a gadget. They’re handy to have around – both for my own use and when trying to help out in the Lenovo forums. I do some testing and writing as well. Beyond the use of the laptop, I’m not otherwise compensated.

Professional images are Lenovo’s.  Amateur snapshots are mine.  Opinions are exclusively mine.  I do not work for, represent, or speak for Lenovo.

 

Introduction

This X280 is the successor to the X270. I haven’t had any keyboard time with the earlier x270 but looking over its specs and documentation I’d call it a compact “conventional” laptop.  The X280 moves more into the ultrabook range (non-removable battery, proprietary small Ethernet port…).  Specifications and major differences between the ‘270 and ‘280 are called out below.

 

Lenovo Gallery

 

  X280 360 Degree Video (MOV)

 

Specifications

Note: all specifications here are based on currently available documentation and the evaluation X280 as delivered.  I’ve done my best to check them – but this is preliminary.  Please do not make a purchase decision based on what you read here without verifying yourself.

Lenovo Data Sheet

My unit’s major specifications

  • CPU: Quad Core Intel i7-8550U @ 1.80GHz – 1.99GHz
  • RAM: 16GB DDR4 @ 2400 MHz (soldered)
  • SSD: 512GB Lenovo-branded PCIe
  • Graphics: Intel UHD 620
  • Display FHD IPS Touch – 10 touch points
  • Camera: 720p HD with privacy shutter
  • WLAN: Intel 8265 AC
  • WWAN: none

X280 / X270 specification major differences

  • CPU: up to 8th gen i7 quad core up to 6th or 7th gen i7 dual core
  • RAM: up to 16GB DDR4 soldered / up to 16GB DDR4 single socket
  • Storage: PCIe SSD / 7mm HDD or SSD, m.2 PCIe SSD
  • Graphics: Intel UHD 620 / Intel 520 or 620
  • Display: HD TN, FHD IPS, FHD IPS Touch / HD TN, FHD IPS, FHD IPS, Touch
  • Camera: 720p HD Camera with ThinkShutter or IR Camera without ThinkShutter / 720p HD
  • LAN: proprietary GigE port + RJ45 Dongle / GigE standard RJ45
  • WLAN: Intel (2 x 2) AC, Bluetooth 4.2 / Various including WiGig
  • WWAN: (optional?) LTE-A L850-GL and Fibocom L830-EB / Various
  • Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB Type-C, 1 Thunderbolt™ 3, 1 x HDMI, 1 proprietary Ethernet with RJ45 dongle,  1 x headphone and microphone combo jack / Two USB 3.1 Gen 1 (USB 3.0, one Always On), USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 1, HDMI 1.4b, Ethernet (RJ-45), Dock connector
  • Docking: Side Dock using USB-C and Ethernet connectors / bottom port
  • Card reader: combo SIM + uSD carrier on back, (optional?) Smart Card reader / 4-in-1 reader (MMC, SD, SDHC, SDXC), (optional) Smart Card reader
  • Battery: fixed internal / removable external + (optional) fixed internal
  • Power: charge via either USB-C port / charge via Slim Tip or USB-C port
  • Dimensions: mm: 307.7 x 209.8 x 17.4-17.8 inches: 12.11 x 8.25 x 0.68-0.70 / mm: 305.5 x 208.5 x 20.3 inches: 12.03 x 8.21 x 0.80
  • Weight: 1.16 kg/2.56 lbs – 1.30 kg/2.87 lbs / 1.27 kg/2.7 lbs – 1.52 kg/3.33 lbs

Among the welcome enhancements to the new model are a quad-core i7 CPU option (linked above) and a camera privacy shutter.


Privacy shutter open and closed

 

Front/Rear/Side Views and Ports


Front


Rear with SIM/uSD Tray


Left – USB-C, Thunderbolt, Proprietary Ethernet, USB 3.0, HDMI, Audio Combo


Right – Smart Card, USB 3.0, Lock

 

Assorted Information

The Lenovo-branded PCIe SSD is fast.  Wireless AC hooks up with my AC 1900 router at 867mbps.  SSD partitioning is as expected for a machine running a Push-Button Reset preload.  (The ADATA in Disk Management is a flash drive … I forgot to unplug…)


SSD Model, Partitioning, and Performance, Thunderbolt Details, WLAN Details

 

Virtualization

Intel VT-x was turned on by default in the test laptop’s BIOS.  In my working life I did some *nix driver development and support.  VMs were handy when coding and for occasional use of tools that weren’t available in windows (less of an issue now with Ubuntu & Bash on Windows).  This i7 16GB laptop had no problems at all running multiple VMs.

 

Linux

I don’t often run Linux as a bare-metal install these days unless I’m testing a device driver (usually on a desktop).  There are times when it’s useful to run a live distro for forensics and/or recovery  – and there are lots of folks who simply prefer Linux on their daily driver.

Testing with a live Ubuntu 16.10 and 17.04 produced mixed results.  (I’m staying away from 17.10 until the dust settles on the UEFI “corruption” problem.  There seems to be a fixed kernel now, and it doesn’t seem to be an issue for ThinkPads – but better safe than bricked.)

A serious problem was lack of UltraNav input once booted to Ubuntu.  The TrackPoint was completely unresponsive, and the touchpad would only occasionally respond.  There’s a long thread in the Lenovo Linux forum on what seems to be a similar [edit: perhaps unrelated] issue.  I’m confident that the open-source wizards will fix this eventually.  For now I did my testing with my favorite accessory: a Lenovo compact USB keyboard/TrackPoint combo. It at least allowed some continued testing and may help when trying fixes in the future.

[edit 2018.01.20]  A simple edit of the Ubuntu grub2 boot stanza gets the basics of the TrackPoint and touchpad working.  Adding “psmouse.proto=bare” (without the quotes) to the linux line in the live flash boot stanza gets the basics of the TrackPoint and touchpad working Smiley Happy  The full grub2 stanza looks like the below.  This is with Ubuntu 17.10.1:

menuentry "Try Ubuntu without installing" {
    set gfxpayload=keep
    linux    /casper/vmlinuz.efi  file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper psmouse.proto=bare quiet splash ---
    initrd    /casper/initrd.lz

I didn’t give things a very thorough workout but the basics – wifi, touchscreen, and SSD access – all seemed OK.

 

A Few Quick Tests

I haven’t had this unit long enough to do really exhaustive testing.  I did make time to try some brief basic fiddling with USB-C accessories.

An Anker USB-C to USB 3.0 hub with GigE port worked fine.  As did a CableMatters USB-C to HDMI adapter.  I was able to run 3 displays – 720p TV, laptop display, FHD monitor – independently using the adapter and the laptop’s HDMI port.

I did not have time or appropriate displays to test resolution and refresh rate options.

Battery runtime looks to be 10-12 hours in my normal use mode: ~half screen brightness, ~half way on the performance slider, a few tabs open in FireFox, maybe an text editor running.  It’s too soon to make a very accurate call on runtime.

 

The Last Word

As stated, this is more  a quick survey than a review.  I’ll edit and add as/when/if things change.  In the meantime, I’m happy to try to answer questions as time and available gadgets permit.

I’ve also received a mechanical dock that works with the X280.  It’s a “side dock” that uses the laptop’s regular USB-C, Thunderbolt, and Ethernet connectors.  A look at that interesting design will come along in the fullness of time.  There just weren’t enough hours before CES to get to the dock.  I’m looking forward to it.

For now, here’s snapshot of the X280 parked in the mechanical Side Dock:


Basic Side Dock – Ports: Audio, Slim Tip Power, Display Port, VGA, USB x4, RJ45

This wouldn’t be complete without a final comment about issues and unanswered questions:  I don’t know if the RJ45 dongle will be included with customer-ship units.  My test machine has balky TrackPoint buttons.  The fingerprint reader is inconsistent.  It also takes a minute or so to shut down.  I ascribe these to pre-production hardware and software but won’t be able to verify until customer-ship machines are available (and I don’t know yet when that will be…)  The Linux TrackPoint issue is a problem.  For now.

[edit 2018.01.08]  The above concerns have made their way to Lenovo engineering.  Hoping for feedback – time frame unknown.

[edit 2018.01.20]  A simple edit of the Ubuntu grub2 boot stanza gets the basics of the TrackPoint and touchpad working.  See above.

[edit 2018.02.26]  The laptop’s rearward USB-C port will support a -C to HDMI adapter but it is exclusive of the laptop’s HDMI port.  This also applies to the basic dock’s Displayport which apparently connects via the rearward USB-C port.

As above, the laptop will support 3 displays: laptop monitor + HDMI + HDMI via adapter, but the adapter must be plugged into the forward USB-C port.

When in the basic dock the laptop’s HDMI port or the dock’s DisplayPort may be used – but not both.

[edit 2018.05.13] It took a while but the initial concerns above have been resolved.  Long shutdown time and poor fingerprint reader function were cured by software updates.  The TrackPoint button issues were due to pre-production hardware.  A new keyboard – with updated buttons – fixed that.  The RJ45 dongle does not appear to be included in with US laptops.

[edit 2018.06.17] About docks and dongles:  The basic dock’s DisplayPort is different than the DisplayPort(s) on the Pro and Ultra docks.  All will support a direct connection to a DisplayPort monitor.  If using an adapter (DisplayPort to HDMI, for example) the basic dock requires an active adapter.  The other docks will drive an HDMI monitor via either active or passive DisplayPort adapters.

https://www.startech.com/faq/displayport_converter_dp_multi_mode

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25th Anniversary ThinkPad

The “Retro” has arrived 🙂

I haven’t laid hands on one yet.  Looking forward to giving that classic  – but updated – keyboard and TrackPoint a test run.

That’s what I miss most with recent ThinkPads: the 7-row keyboard.  And a TrackPoint isn’t an option – it’s a necessity.

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Stuffed Bell Peppers

Our favorite spin on this old standard:

Not the typical floating-in-tomato-sauce version.  That’s not bad… this is better 🙂

  • 4 red or yellow bell peppers.  Green if you like but they are just unripe colored peppers and can be bitter.
  • 1/2 cup of uncooked rice.  White or brown.  We’ve used white so far.
  • 2 carrots peeled and chopped.
  • 1 onion minced.
  • 2-6 garlic cloves minced.
  • 1 tsp chili powder.
  • 1/2 lb lean ground beef.
  • 2 tomatoes cored and chopped – seeded if you must…
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth.
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice.
  • 1 seeded and minced jalapeno – for flavor, not heat. Optional.
  • Some might add 1 tbsp of tomato paste and 2 tbsp of minced parsley.  We don’t.

It helps if the peppers, onion, carrots, jalapeno, tomatoes, and garlic come straight from your garden.  If not, make do @ the super 😉

Trim the tops off the peppers, seed and core.  Submerge in boiling salted (1 tbsp or so) water to cover and cook until they just start to soften.  Maybe 5 minutes.  Remove, drain, and let cool.

Bring the water to a boil again, add rice, cook until tender, drain and transfer to your working bowl.

Saute the carrots, onion, and jalapeno (if using) in olive oil until they start to soften.  Add garlic, tomato paste (if using), and chili power and cook another 30 seconds or so.  Don’t scorch the garlic.

Add the ground beef and cook while breaking it up until all is just browned through.  Add tomatoes and chicken broth and cook until the tomatoes start to break down.

Add the beef mixture to the rice in your working bowl along with the chicken broth, lemon juice, parsley (if using), 3/4 cup of the cheese, salt and pepper to taste.  Mix thoroughly.

Dry the inside of the peppers, fill with the mixture, top with the rest of the cheese, and place in a suitably-sized baking dish (so they don’t fall over…).  Bake in a pre-heated 350F oven until heated through.  30 minutes or so.

Enjoy 🙂

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