Random tidbits on the computer/nerd-alert front. I accidentally launched my laptop into the air last month and shattered the screen. It was good while it lasted, and it is sitting on a shelf, waiting for me to find time to replace the screen. In the meantime I picked up an Asus UL30A-X5, which runs Linux beautifully, lasts for about 10 hours on battery and is incredibly light between the 13" screen and lack of an optical drive. In order to hedge my bets and have something with a bit more speed I also built my first desktop, based loosely on one described at Ars Technica with a few minor changes (P55A-UD3 motherboard, 5750 graphics card, 400W Corsair power supply). It too runs Linux and anything I can throw at it like a champ. So I use the desktop at home and the laptop at school, using Unison to keep things in sync.
Archive for the ‘linux’ Category
I just got Unison up and running to synchronize the data between my laptop and desktop machines. It is the closest thing to magic that any software in recent memory has come for me. Keeping data in sync between multiple computers has always seemed like a huge pain, but Unison scans my home folder on each machine (> 100k files!) in about 30 seconds, lets me review any differences and then synchronizes them. If you regularly use two computers and are tired of emailing files back and forth to yourself, you should check out Unison. In particular, read this post by Philip Guo for a well written introduction and detailed instructions (randomly, I mentioned Philip more than two years ago for another incredibly helpful post that he wrote about applying for graduate fellowships).
I've been using Banshee for my music listening needs the past few months after using iTunes for a very, very long time. I never got around to importing my iTunes playlist, mainly because there weren't any good solutions when I first looked into it a few months ago. This weekend I finally imported all of my iTunes info (play counts, playlists, ratings) using a great script found here.
However, it didn't work for me right off the bat. For some reason, the file size in my iTunes library didn't match the file size reported by Banshee. Also, the database format appears to have changed slightly since the script was originally written. Here is a copy of the modified script, which just has two changed lines of code. Hopefully this is helpful to somebody and be sure to thank the author of the original script if it is!
I've tried to keep track of my thoughts and todo items many different ways in the past 3 years or so. I tried to use a single text file, but it grew too bulky and there was no way to slice the data across projects, contexts, or todo items. The same problem cropped up with a hand written list; there was simply too much stuff to keep track of and the notes would always end up in the washer. Next, I had a series of flings with web applications: Gubb, Todoist, Remember the Milk and Tracks. A common problem with these was that they were too slow; I inevitably would have a separate list or text file that I ended up falling back on. I tried desktop applications; iGTD and Things, but they felt like contrived systems rather than a real way to plan and keep track of things. If any type of system takes too much of my time to manage, it's turning into a hobby rather than a tool. I ended up settling on Evernote for about a year, which made me feel slightly more organized than a text file, but only so slightly.
The other day I was taking a fresh look at the problem. Somehow I came across org-mode. I watched a Google Tech Talk on the subject and immediately hated it. I mean, it's based upon emacs, and the scars of using non-X11 versions and being unable to click anywhere are seared into my brain. And how would I handle images!? I immediately installed Wine and went back to Evernote. Harumph.
But then some of the tech talk started slipping back into my brain. Org-mode seemed like a way to tame the text file beast and ride it off into the sunset. I installed the latest version of emacs using the magic of Linux and apt-get, and I realized that emacs is pretty sexy actually. And org-mode is centered around bulleted lists, which I always find myself using anyway (along with parentheses, of course). It was starting to make some sense. So I gave it a shot and two weeks later my life is stored in two text files along with the magic of org-mode. I have no idea how long they are, probably 1000 lines each, but it doesn't matter. I can combine long winded notes about my latest fabrication process with that thing that I have to do on it next week, fold everything back up, and then keep easy tabs on everything using the agenda view. It's like an outlining tool, except it's so good that you might as well keep going and outline everything. I would recommend using clean view though.
Org-mode is one of those things that can't appreciate until you've given it a chance. And there is definitely an initial bump to get over (like the insane zombie unicorn logo, although it could just look like that because I've been playing too much Left 4 Dead lately). So give it a chance, I don't think that you'll regret it; moving bullet points up and down like butter is a thing of beauty.
I've used a Mac since back when LC IIIs roamed the Earth. But I switched to Linux a few weeks ago. My laptop was starting to fall apart and the interface was starting to feel a bit slow, so I started thinking about upgrading to a newer computer. But paying roughly double for Apple hardware and having little choice in terms of laptop size and performance seemed a bit silly. And my hands could only take so much more of the sharp corners and burning heat that my previous iBooks and MacBook have come with. Then I tried the Ubuntu Live CD and felt the snappiness, so decided that it was worth some serious consideration. Pretty much every application that I use is open source, runs on Linux, or has a good equivalent, so I started looking into the hardware a bit more. I decided to seal the deal when I found the Asus X83VM-X1, which is essentially a MacBook Pro for $800 instead of $2250 (once you bring up the memory and hard drive to match the Asus). The downsides would be battery life (3 hours) and trackpad buttons that will make you grow muscles in your thumb where aren't even supposed to be muscles (although I've either gotten stronger or the buttons have loosened up). On a side note, I got my computer off of eBay for about $750 but you can also buy the X83VM-X2, which is essentially the same as the X1, for $800 new from Best Buy. If you're happy with integrated graphics and a non-Penryn processor then you can get a solid laptop in the $400-500 ballpark or about half that if you're into netbooks.
After about 3 weeks I'm still extremely happy with the setup. Installing Ubuntu 8.10 was simple and all of the drivers were magically installed (including the nVidia 9600). The only potential issue is the CD drive which has has some problems reported with it although there's a quick fix. I installed Ubuntu with a USB flash drive so didn't notice the CD problems until today and it just took a few minutes to change a BIOS setting (there are instructions online).
In fact, after reinstalling Windows XP on a computer at school the other day, I'd say that the Ubuntu installation process is way faster and easier, and includes all of the drivers known to man with it. I mean, Windows didn't even have the driver for the ethernet so I had to transfer everything via USB from another computer.
Change is good and I've started to love some of the new applications that I've found: Gnome Do really is crazy delicious, Banshee is my favorite music player so far and can sync with the G1, Picasa is solid for basic photo management but I'm not set on it yet, and org-mode rounds things out.
I'm going to try to share any interesting tidbits that I encounter and will probably crank out a few posts tonight. I recommend trying out the Live CD and giving it a shot if you have hardware that is starting to show its age or just want to give it a spin.