Linux on a Toshiba Portege 3300CT

3300 A colleague at work passed an old laptop to the department – the intention being that we put it with the other Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment for disposal. It’s an old Toshiba Portégé 3300CT which would originally have been supplied with Windows 95 but which was now running Windows 98. “Running” like a three-legged dog. It’s a sweet little laptop though and I couldn’t quite bring myself to consign it to the scrap heap, particularly when it seemed to be fully functional. “It needs Linux!” I thought to myself.

I’ve installed Linux on a few older machines, to drag a bit more life out of them. VectorLinux has been my distribution of choice in the past, but on this occasion I really struggled to get it to install. There were a few problems:

  • The laptop has limited ports and no docking station. We’re stuck with PCMCIA, a single USB 1 port, a modem, a proprietary floppy drive port and not much else.
  • There is an external PCMCIA CD-ROM drive. Eventually I discovered that you can boot from this if you hold down “C” during startup. Unfortunately driver support for this CD-ROM drive is limited. During the VectorLinux install, it could boot from the CD but subsequently could not find the CD in the installation process.
  • It is possible to boot from floppies. Tracking down a floppy-initiated install for VectorLinux is a challenge, but I found that some of the archived Slackware distributions have a three-disk set floppy boot process that loads sufficient drivers to enable installation to continue from an ISO image stored on the existing Windows partition.
  • Unfortunately, the VectorLinux install didn’t seem to recognise any of the PCMCIA or USB network cards I threw at the laptop. I searched for manually installable drivers (and indeed found some – source code only) but the Linux environment was unable to make the drivers.

In my wrangling with VectorLinux, I removed as much bloat as possible from Windows 98. Having installed a USB network card I was able to transfer an ISO image for the install onto the Windows partition. I then shrank this using FIPS (you have to restart in DOS mode). VectorLinux is able to install from an ISO image on the hard drive, once you’ve got the kernel and ram disk loaded up.

Because VL didn’t recognise any network card, I started to cast my eye wider – tried booting from a Knoppix Live CD (no dice) and finally settled on attempting a Debian install. I’ve had good results with Debian in the past, particularly with hardware support, but I didn’t consider it to start with because I think of it more as a “full blown” distribution – not necessarily one best suited to older, slower hardware.

To give Debian “room to breathe”, I thought it best to place the ISO image (for CD 1) on a partition more or less on its own. To do this, I removed the hard drive from the laptop (a bit of a fiddly job, but do-able). I popped it into a USB hard drive caddy and then used another PC to clear out and defrag the Windows partition and copy across the ISO, Linux and initrd images. Having done that, I attached the USB caddy to a laptop, booted the laptop with a GParted CD and resized the Windows partition leaving just a little bit more space than the ISO required. That done, I returned the laptop drive to its normal location.

Using a Windows 98 boot floppy (DOS wouldn’t work since the parition was FAT32) I copied loadlin and the Windows 98 “system files” onto the hard drive – it could now be booted from again.

Finally, I booted from the hard drive and issued the command “loadlin vmlinuz /dev/ram rw initrd=initrd.gz”. The installer fired up, found my ISO image and most importantly recognised my USB network card. The system is now fully installed and up and running.

I’m not quite sure what I’m going to use it for – possibly as a network monitoring system or for some web development testing work. For sure, it’s not going in the bin – just yet.

Feel free to comment if you would like me to expand on any of the points above.

Image copyright © Inverse Net. All rights acknowledged.

Sinner or Saint?


I’ve been a Christian for 30 years. That feels like quite a long time. Certainly long enough for me to forget the impact of my conversion experience.

I woke up with a strange but profound analogy going through my mind this morning: no matter how often I use a screwdriver to prise out nails, this will never make it a crowbar. And it may well break the screwdriver. I said this to my wife and she had no idea what I was talking about, so perhaps I had better expand on that. (In her defence it was 7am – a bit early for spiritual parables.)

One of the charges often levelled at Christians is that they’re no different from everyone else. In fact they’re worse: they claim to have absolute moral standards, yet they hypocritically fail to meet those standards themselves. I feel that often this is used as an excuse to justify bad behaviour (if the Christians can’t get it right, why should we?) nevertheless, sometimes the mud sticks. So are Christians any different, and if so, in what way?

Back to my conversion experience. I was four at the time. No, I wasn’t into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll (!) but I was an unruly, wilful little boy and my parents – especially my mum – found me hard work. Until the day of my conversion, that is.

“No matter how often I use a screwdriver to prise out nails, this will never make it a crowbar.”

The story goes that I was having an argument with my dad. I was insisting that I was a Christian and he was insisting that I wasn’t. Eventually I asked him if I wasn’t a Christian, why not – and he explained to me the necessity of apologising to God for all I did wrong and committing myself to “the Jesus way”. Apparently I bought that explanation and made a commitment there and then.

Some may wonder whether it’s possible for someone so young to make such a significant decision or appreciate the implications of it. All I can offer in response is the evidence of my life. I’m still here, still following that path I set out on 30 years ago and increasingly certain that it was the right decision.

As to the impact of my commitment – I changed dramatically and immediately. I became tractable, obedient, compliant and submissive. Much of this is what my parents reported at the time and subsequently – I can’t remember in detail what I was like previously. But what I do remember is the feeling that a cloud had lifted and that I had emerged into a new, light, airy freedom. It genuinely was like being reborn.

This is one of many facts from experience that makes it nigh on impossible for me to deny the living reality of my faith. Excessively naughty four year old boys cannot simply change under their own effort. No, I experienced a transformation of my nature – there can be no other explanation for the sudden and complete overhaul of my behaviour.

“I remember the feeling that a cloud had lifted and that I had emerged into a new, light, airy freedom. It was like being reborn.”

There is an evident contradiction in my life though. Despite this transformation, I still blow it, frequently and repeatedly. How can this be, if I have been transformed from sinner to saint? This is where the analogy of the screwdriver comes in. I have heard it said recently that salvation is not an event, it’s a journey. From my experience, I have to disagree. It was a profound event. I was changed in an instant from a sinner to a saint. In the place of the crowbar there was now a screwdriver. I could still be used to pry out nails, but this was no longer my function. As a saint, I can still sin, but this is not my purpose or destiny. I have an obligation to live a better life than that and this is what I try to do, no matter how often I fall short of that. I also know that if I sin too often, if I prise out too many nails, it will break me and I will need some serious repairs/re-forging.

So I would no longer call myself a sinner. That is not what I am made for. Granted, I may sin, but using a screwdriver for the wrong purpose does not change its nature. Using all that God has given me for the wrong purpose cannot change my fundamental nature as one who is saved. This way of thinking liberates me to a free and fuller life. This is what I believe God wants for all people.

Crowbar image copyright © Dustin Tinney, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.