Back to Ubuntu

Well, not completely back, as I’m also running my Windows desktop and my Macbook Air. But yes, I’ve got an Ubuntu laptop now!

rick_h_ in #ubuntu-us-mi put his Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition up for sale (2014 model, so only like 9 months old) and I bought it.

It has a high definition touch screen, a 128 gb SSD, 8 gb of RAM, and runs Ubuntu 14.10 like a champ. I’ve finally got it all set up with most of the software I need (Chrome, Trillian, Geary, Corebird, Hexchat, and Dropbox) and I’m really really liking it.

Physically, this computer is great. The keyboard is very solid and the touchpad has a very satisfying click to it. Not as satisfying as the Macbook touchpad, but Apple really has perfected the touchpad and I’m not sure there are better ones anywhere. The screen is VERY nice and has a very good pixels-per-inch. This is a high-def screen, and the quality really shows. I don’t use the touch aspect of it much but it’s handy if you’re browsing a site and want to scroll down.

There’s a soft-touch material around the keyboard and where you rest your palms. Surprisingly, it picks up oils and dust and stuff, which I’m not happy about, but it is very comfortable to rest my palms on. The lid is aluminum. The hinge has absolutely NO wiggle when you raise the screen up and set it to position. I’m super pleased with the quality and fit and finish of this laptop. Dell really has done a nice job with this machine and is making a name for themselves for more quality goods instead of being a budget supplier. Granted, they still have budget options, but this is a great machine and a consumer shouldn’t make their decision based on a super cheap model.

There are some niggles, just like any linux laptop, but the main one came when I got it: the BIOS did this strange thing wherein it said “No operating system found”. After you got that, just hit “enter” and it boots normally. Well I figured it out. You have to start up the laptop and mash F12 to get to the BIOS menu, then make sure secure boot is on and the UEFI is set to run Ubuntu. If you need to reinstall, go back into the BIOS and set the Legacy boot mode on and set the USB to boot first. After you install and everything is working, then turn the Legacy boot back off and pick Ubuntu.

Another couple of niggles would possibly be the fact that there’s no native Evernote or Wunderlist support. To get around this, I’m using the chrome apps. They’re super easy to create (install the app in chrome, then open it in a new window, and then pin it to the Unity bar). They’re accessible. I’m not sure if I will have access to them without internet, but it’s not a major inconvenience if I don’t. Evernote kind of is, but I can type up a note in a text document and then paste it into Evernote when I get back to a place that has “the cloud”.

What I love the most about Ubuntu is how easy it is, especially now with all of the improvements that keep coming.

I’m not sure about Wayland, but I doubt it will make a huge difference to an end user. If there are issues, I will surely report bugs.

Speaking of bugs, I want to get back involved with the bugsquad! I’ve been lax in helping them recently (work, Nile, having a relationship, then not, and regular self-care) but hope to get back into it. I need to setup my SSH keys and upload them to Launchpad.

Anyway, how about a screenshot?

Screenshot from 2015-03-29 22:12:44

I’m using the Libra GTK3 theme as well as the numix-circle icons. They are awesome. I like customizing my setup a little bit, and linux allows me to do that. Unity isn’t as customizable as say… KDE, but it’s got a very simple and clean layout to start with, and that’s what I really like about it. I do a few things immediately, like resize the launcher, remove all of the Libreoffice icons from the launcher, add the workspaces button, add a terminal button, and then start installing the apps I need. And then I’m up and running very quickly with a full setup.

I’m just really liking this machine. Worth what I paid and I’m liking getting back into ubuntu again.

New Laptop Backpack

My Swiss Gear backpack ripped on the seam where the zipper is for the secondary compartment (the one where I stash my files/notebook).  I’m not sure what happened, but this shouldn’t happen.  Anyway, I’m going to see if my mother can sew it up and then we can donate it to Goodwill or something.  Because I’ve found something better.

Cue my trip to Microcenter to pick up a keyboard for my brother.  Well, I took my work laptop with me and started looking for a new briefcase.  My laptop is an HP Elitebook 8540w, which is a second-generation of the Elitebook line.  The model I have is a workstation CAD laptop and it’s heavy.  In the Swiss Gear, everything was heavy.  I think the backpack itself was heavy to begin with, and then adding everything I carry (laptop, charger, umbrella, files, notebook, mouse, etc, etc) it got really heavy.  Anyway, I wanted something lighter and initially I was looking for a messenger-style or briefcase-style.  I think they look more professional.  Well, I couldn’t find anything that I liked that was a decent price AND that fit my behemoth of a laptop.  What I did find was something that was $100 and it didn’t have all of the features I wanted.  I turned around to the backpacks and started loading my laptop into various bags (I’m sure I looked goofy to loss prevention) until I found the Everki Glide Laptop Backpack.  I tried it in-store, checked the price (under $80; score!) and decided to buy it by the virtue of my work laptop fitting it in and the pocket looking like it can accommodate a larger laptop (I’ll be upgraded to the 8560W which is slightly larger and heavier; hopefully I’ll have a decent additional battery too so there’s that addon the bag has to fit).

I took it home, cut the tags off, and started loading it.  It took everything I was carrying in my LL Bean book pack (from college!) except for my lunch and shoes.  It can carry my shoes but not my lunchbox, which is fine.

Anyway, how about a couple photos?

2014-02-05 18.31.39Here is the backpack empty and against my wall in the apartment.

2014-02-05 18.31.56

Here it is open and ready to receive my stuff.

2014-02-05 18.30.16Here is all my stuff.  The water bottle is substituted because I left my normal 20 oz one at work.  I also have an iPod Touch as well as a Nexus 7 and also usually a couple of pens and/or pencils.  Those are not shown because they don’t take up a lot of room and they fit in the pen/pencil slots.  The Touch was used to take the pictures and the tablet was forgotten, as it was charging at my charging station.  Anyway, from the top left:

  • Umbrella.
  • Laptop charger.
  • Water bottle.
  • Plastic bag (holds my shoes; I’m currently wearing boots into work because of all the snow).
  • Cloth bag with personal lady items, wipes, and some Shout wipes.
  • BigSkinny bi-fold cellphone wallet (I love it).
  • Portable mouse.
  • Tin with earbuds and charger for the iPod.
  • Zippo lighter (I don’t smoke but a lighter comes in handy).
  • Small day bag/purse in case we go out to lunch and I don’t want to be stuck shoving all my necessities in my pockets.
  • And my laptop.  It’s huge.

2014-02-05 18.34.49Here’s the main compartment filled up.  My umbrella and charger go on the bottom, the laptop in the sleeve for it, my notebook and tablet in the tablet sleeve, and nothing really in that zipper compartment.  I like to have options of where I can stash my stuff.  The shoes fit in my plastic Meijer bag and sit right in the center top between all my other things.

2014-02-05 18.34.55Here’s the organizer pouch thing and I have my wallet in there, the tin with the earbuds and charger in the flap pocket as well as the lighter, my small “personal item” bag in the bottom, and my cell phone in the pouch next to the wallet (you can’t see it because it goes all the way down!).  If I’d had some pens/pencils I’d put them in the slots next to the flap pocket.

2014-02-05 18.35.01 2014-02-05 18.35.12And with these two pictures, you can see how it looks when filled with all those things.  My water bottle goes on the outside pocket, as well as my small purse.  That outside pocket expands to fit everything you put in it.  I wouldn’t stretch it too much, but it does hold a lot of stuff.  I do suppose I could put my shoes in there, but I prefer them to be inside the bag.

2014-02-05 18.35.19Bag from the front when filled.

As you can see. this bag takes a lot of items and I hope it will last for awhile.  I’ve had it for about 2 days or so, so we’ll see how it holds up.  I’ve been carrying my laptop back and forth because of the snow.

Anyway, what I really like about this bag is that it holds all that stuff, but it’s light!  It doesn’t seem to weigh as much as my Swiss Gear ever did.  The straps seem to fit my back and shoulders better than the other one did.  It carries closer to my body and is easier to walk in.  Also, its slimmer than the old one and it fits through the turnstile door a lot better; I have no fear of getting stuck.  The interior is orange, so it’s easy to find what you’ve stashed in various pockets.  The inside of the Swiss Gear was grey, and seemed to swallow and lose things.

For right now, I’d give this bag a 4/5 for fitting most of my stuff (doesn’t fit my lunchbox), for being lightweight, and for being slim so I can carry my things in less space (and not get stuck in the door!).  I really like this bag and it looks different from the other ones everyone else carries, with the black main color and the orange trim.  I really like the padding on the back between my back and my laptop, as well as the corner guards that are built into the bag.

I will probably revisit this review in a few weeks to give an update.  Right now I really like it and it works.

I’d recommend this to anyone looking to carry a large laptop for work as well as its charger and other things and your files/notebooks.





A thought on Jono’s Menu Discoverability in Ubuntu 11.10

Jono writes on his blog:

My thesis as to why is pretty simple: people learn by exploration. Let’s do a quick exercise. Write down on a piece of paper the last three devices that you purchased. They might televisions, cell phones, kitchen appliances, games consoles, or whatever else. Every one of these devices comes with it’s own interface to operate it. Now, how many of those devices did you sit down and read the instructions for? I am willing to bet it was close to none.

You learned those devices by poking around, trying things out, clicking, pressing, pushing, and otherwise playing with and exploring it. Many of these devices will have had entirely new interfaces to you which you had not used before, yet you figured them out. Some elements of the interfaces will have been obvious (e.g. buttons protruded to indicate that they can be pressed) and some elements less-so.

Now, I don’t disagree with Jono, but I can see how confusing it could be for a new user to not have the close, minimize and maximize buttons up on the top where they are visible.  I was not taken by surprise when I upgraded the netbook, since I new the change was coming.  I can see that if someone wasn’t expecting the change, they’d have a problem, but the new interface isn’t really that different from the old interface.

I got to know Ubuntu by playing with it.  Matter-of-fact, I just installed Ubuntu to a friend’s laptop; I’m hoping she will play with it and learn how things are done.  I think the interface is pretty easy to use, and I hope she will as well.

This experiment would prove to me that anyone can use Ubuntu.  She’s not a computer whiz at all, but I think trying a different OS will help her overcome her fear of “breaking” something.  Seriously; I’ve set up her laptop wtih all the programs she needs, and she can easily find other programs in the software center… Updates won’t be a problem, since I’ve set up her password and automatic updates.

We’ll see.  This project just came into my hands because she hated Vista and I can’t see making her drop $200 for Win7, especially if she just uses email and browsing and some light games.  This way she won’t be stuck with a virus or something.

Yay for spreading the open-source love.



System 76 Laptops: 1.5 Years

I’ve noticed a lot of posts in this thread on the Ubuntu forums so I decided to give a 1.5 year review as it were of both of my System76 computers.

Lets start with the Pangolian.

I have a PanP5, which is the fifth version of the Pangolian laptop. I ordered it in June of 2009, and it arrived at the tail end of the month. This laptop replaced my brother’s (at least) eight year old desktop (that’s now being used by my mother with Windows XP) that replaced a Dell Dimension (that ran Windows XP and various versions of Ubuntu). My old desktops ran well and for a long time, but I felt it was time for an upgrade.

I chose some upgrades (from my blog post on the subject):

It has a 15.4 screen (huge, IMHO) with 1680×1050 resolution (upgraded), Core 2 Duo P8700 2.53 GHz 1066 MHz FSB 3BM L2 (25 Watt) (upgrade also), 4 GB RAM (upgrade), 320 GB hard drive (upgrade), 1 DVD/CD burner drive, 512 MB DDR2 nVidia GeForce G105M graphics card, standard networking and wireless, 2.0 MP webcam (built-in), Bluetooth, and all the standard ports (including HDMI, VGA and 3 USB). Oh, and I forgot to mention; it comes with 64-bit Ubuntu 9.04.

Now, the laptop has a 500 GB drive in it, with Ubuntu 10.10, dual-booted with Windows 7. I had some repairs that needed to be done to it in November. Basically, I needed a new motherboard and hard drive. A year later, the replacement hard drive died, and I got the 500 GB from NewEgg.

I derive a great deal of pleasure from just booting this machine up. I like typing on it; the keyboard is amazing, the sound (out of speakers, through the headphone jack) is great, the DVD drive has no problems (knock on wood), and everything is working just fine. I’ve hooked up a second monitor to my laptop (my Westinghouse 1280×1024 LCD panel) so I have more screen real estate to work with.

I use it for the following:

  • Podcasts
  • Music
  • Blogging
  • Browsing
  • Light gaming (stuff like Xmoto, Gweled, Mines, etc)
  • Moderate gaming under Windows (some Sims2)
  • Gimp
  • Writing (penned [penning] two unfinished NaNo novels)
  • Chat
  • IRC
  • Microblogging
  • Flier creation (for OES and Nile)
  • Making invitations
  • Making programs (for events, not programming)
  • Seti@home
  • Ebooks (organizing and sending to my Nook)
  • Picture organization (not much; mostly related to my blog)

Basically, the computer is a home office laptop. Now, how about a screenshot?

My Desktop Screenshot

I’m running Docky, Empathy, Gwibber, BOINC, Bloglio, Gpodder, Dropbox. Wakoopa, Radio Tray, and Tomboy Notes. This is Gnome, which I love. The wallpaper is from everydayishock’s Tumblr. This is Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron from An American in Paris, the ballet scene.

Again, I derive pleasure from starting this laptop up every day. I love the way the keyboard feels, the way the trackpad works, the sound through my external speakers, and the sheer speed of the laptop. I’ve seen virtually no slowdowns from the day I’ve bought it, and there are few changes I’ve made to the machine (the exception being a 500 GB 5400 RPM drive replacing my 320 GB drive).

I feel that this computer will last several more years, and that’s why I bought it. If I’d wanted something to last one year, I would have gone to Best Buy and gotten a $500 Gateway or something. Not to diss Gateway (the desktop that went from my brother, to me, to my mother is a Gateway), but I don’t feel their laptops are as of the quality they used to be. Also, Best Buy didn’t have exactly what I wanted. What I wanted was something with a discreet video card, and nothing at my local Best Buy fit that bill. Still doesn’t.

Now, I’ll cover my Starling.

I have a Star1 which is the first version of the Starling. There is now a refresh of my netbook (the Star3, I think) and a Starling Edubook.

I didn’t have any upgrades, really. For simplicity, I’ll take the specs from my last blog post on the subject.

The screen is 10.1 inches, the memory is 1 GB of RAM, the hard drive is 160 gigs, and it has standard wifi and lan networking.  The graphics aren’t anything to really write home about, but this is a netbook: a portable device for browsing, blogging, writing and reading.

I’ve made no changes to this netbook, as there is nothing to change. I’ve updated to 10.10, and I’m now using the Unity desktop. It’s quite different from anything I’m used to, but I’m interested in how this will work out. I’m taking a “wait and see” approach to the whole Unity interface.

How about a screenshot?

Netbook Screenshot

I’ve got Wakoopa, Dropbox, Tomboy Notes, and Unity running here. The wallpaper is the same as my laptop. I like to keep things consistent.

This netbook has been with me all over the house, outside for computing in the backyard, down to Indianapolis for Supreme Session, Battle Creek for Grand Chapter, and the coffee shop. It’s perfect for couch surfing while I’m watching TV. It stays very cool, even when running YouTube videos. I’ve had to replace the battery at $99, so that wasn’t cheap, but it was still cheaper than buying a new netbook. I’m taking care of the battery better now (ie, not using it when I’m on the couch but plugging it in) and trying to conserve its cycles for when I need it.

The only real complaints? The battery issue (a battery should last longer than a year) and the wireless (slightly flaky; I hope Natty will resolve this for good). This is a first generation machine, so if those are the only issues, then I’m not too peeved.

For the Pangolian, I give a 5/5 for everything. This machine is a workhorse, and I’m very pleased with it, even at a year-and-a-half-in. The Starling gets a 4/5, only because of the wireless and battery issues. I’d really like to have a larger range for the wireless card; it’d be much more useful to me when I go out. Unfortunately, there’s not ubiquitous wireless internet; and I don’t have the money for a 3 or 4G connection.

System76 gets a 5/5 for service, speed, help, and just all around good products. Depending on what they have when I’m in the market again, I’ll definitely go with them.

Death of my hard drive


My laptop is currently back from the dead (does that make it a zombie? but I digress…) with a new hard drive.

Well, a new old hard drive.

The story:

Earlier this week, I was in Windows running some updates and stuff and generally just browsing. We went to lunch around noon and I came back to a black screen and this error:

Intel UNDI, PXE-2.1 (build 082)
Copyright (C) 1997-2000 Intel Corporation

For Realtek RTL8111B/8111C Gigabit Ethernet Controller v2.0 (071105)

Client MAC ADDR: 00 90 F5 91 CC FC GUID: 0090F591-CCFC-000-000-000000000000
PXE-E53: No boot filename received

PXE-M0F: Exiting PXE ROM.
Operating System not found

How can the operating system not be found? This computer had two operating systems on it (Ubuntu and Windows 7) and I know it was working before I went to lunch. Ok, it was time for some troubleshooting.

I booted to a LiveCD and checked in Gparted. My main hard drive wasn’t detected at all. It was like I had pulled it out of the computer. I rebooted and checked my BIOS. No hard drive at all. I reseated it, and ran the same tests (BIOS check, LiveCD) and noticed that it started clicking when I did a startup. Not good.

So I submitted a note to the Ubutu forums that maybe System76 could help me out. I was directed to send them an email, which I did.

Ok, so it turns out that it’ll cost about $170 to replace the drive. I politely declined service, as I can replace the drive easily on my own. I know I was out of warranty, but I thought I could at least get a drive from System76 as it was a replacement from November of last year.

Price comparision: I can replace the drive with a 500 gb one from Newegg for between $60 and $80.

I’m working fine with this 200 gb drive from my brother. I’d like to get a 500 gb drive so I can devote 75-100 gb to Windows 7 (just so I have plenty of room to install games and stuff).

I’ll still recommend System76 as a vendor if you need laptop hardware. It’s too bad they won’t even take my old drive back to get some of their money back though. This is still a great computer, and runs well. My warranty had run out (just barely though) and I understand that they can’t do any “free” work on it. Makes sense.

Starling Netbook

The second half of my laptop order from System76 arrived today.

I got the Starling Netbook.  At a price of about $360 and no mucking with operating systems, it’s a very good buy, in my opinion.

This is from the System76 website.  Cute little netbook!

The screen is 10.1 inches, the memory is 1 GB of RAM, the hard drive is 160 gigs, and it has standard wifi and lan networking.  The graphics aren’t anything to really write home about, but this is a netbook: a portable device for browsing, blogging, writing and reading.  There’s no DVD/CD drive, but that doesn’t bother me, as I have a very nice DVD/CD drive on my much higher powered laptop I wrote about in my last post.

I took some pictures when I unboxed it (not forgetting to grab the camera this time!).

Here’s the packaging.  It was well packaged with lots of paper and packing materials so the netbook didn’t move in transit.

More packaging.  It came with a power cord (duh) and some documentation relating to where the keys are (like for volume control and brightness).

Here it is set up on my desk.  Yes, that is a Microsoft wireless laptop mouse!  The computer is very small and convenient to carry around the house.

Battery life is longer than 3 hours.  I really haven’t tested it for full capacity yet, but I figure definitely longer than three hours.  I’d really like to test it from a full battery.

Onto the keyboard.  The keyboard is small.  I’ve got to adjust my hands to it every time I switch from my full-sized laptop to the netbook.  I wouldn’t recommend this netbook to someone with massive hands, as they wouldn’t be able to type very comfortably on it.  Although, if you have massive hands, you might look into a roll-up keyboard or something.

I would recommend this netbook to anyone who is fed up with the offerings from the other netbook manufacturers who are supplying mostly Windows-based netbooks.  Granted, it will run MS Office (a very good program in its own right) but it won’t run any of your games or other high-intensity programs.  The Starling runs Ubuntu Netbook Remix speedily and handles multiple programs easily.

I was up and running within an hour.  I had gwibber and flock installed and configured as well as flash working.  I also got firefox 3.5 working on this netbook with no problems.

If you want portability, style, and ease of use, I would recommend this netbook.  5/5 from System76!

Blogged with the Flock Browser

New Laptop

Ah. The wonders of new hardware.  It makes me happy (to have something that’s shiny and not so dang slow), just like it makes most other geeks happy.

Onto what I got:

The System76 Pangolian Performance laptop.

It has a 15.4 screen (huge, IMHO) with 1680×1050 resolution (upgraded), Core 2 Duo P8700 2.53 GHz 1066 MHz FSB 3BM L2 (25 Watt) (upgrade also), 4 GB RAM (upgrade), 320 GB hard drive (upgrade), 1 DVD/CD burner drive, 512 MB DDR2 nVidia GeForce G105M graphics card, standard networking and wireless, 2.0 MP webcam (built-in), Bluetooth,  and all the standard ports (including HDMI, VGA and 3 USB).  Oh, and I forgot to mention; it comes with 64-bit Ubuntu 9.04.

From the System76 website.

I got it yesterday, 30JN09.  A good day for mucking about with a laptop, as the weather was chilly, and it looked like rain.

Anyway, I opened the box and almost forgot to take some pictures!  I went over to my brother’s computer and stole his digital camera and took the following to show the computer and its packaging:

This is the box after I took off the shipping box.  Nice packaging!

Here it is with the computer taken out: the long box is where the power brick was and the thin box contained all of the documentation.

I opened it all up and put it together with my own hardware (mouse, speaker, USB hub and printer).

Here it is, in its new home!

Here it is with the screen shut.  Takes up much less room than the desktop ever did!

Well, this wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted a better way to hook my cables together and I wanted to get some extra air flow from my new toy… err, computer.  So, I took a trip to Staples today.  I was looking for a laptop holder that was a) cheap and b) sturdy.  Well, I found a “shelf” thingy made of wire that would either be too high (set up correctly) or just the right height (inverted).  For $10.50 you can’t go wrong (and if it is wrong, I can always use it somewhere else, like under the desk…).

I brought it home (along with a PS2-to-USB converter I picked up at Radio Shack) and started assembling my contraption.

The keyboard would sit in front of the laptop, which would sit on the inverted shelf (I found it was WAY too high for my tastes).  I could hook my USB hub to the shelf support (which I did; I had a velcro cable tie laying around), and I could save some room by having the external hard drive I keep my back up on under the shelf.  It was just slim enough.  I fed my keyboard cord underneath the shelf and I got this:

The USB hub is fixed so I can slide it on the rail.  I can slide it towards me to plug in a flash drive, camera or mp3 player, then slide it back out of the way.  All of my miscellaneous USB devices are plugged into the back part of the hub: printer, mouse, keyboard and USB drive.

Note in the close-up above, you can see where the external drive sits.  The power brick is now next to the laptop.

My laptop now gets some decent airflow whilst being at the right height for me.  Now I might have to adjust the resoluion so I can read my screen better. o_O

Either way, I love this laptop.  It’s built extremely well.  It feels solid and I was able to get up and running in a matter of minutes.  All it took was an update, installing some of my favorite programs, and going!

I’d say my System76 experience was a very good one. 5/5 for letting me know what’s going on with it as well as having awesome machines.  Now, I wait for my netbook to arrive; due to hit my doorstep tomorrow sometime.

EDIT: Removed the shelf.  As much as I love my keyboard, I liked being able to see what I was typing more.  Heh.  My $10.50 appears to be wasted, but I think I might find something else to use it for.