Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 14 Laptop


My wife's old Dell XPS 15 was dying a slow death, and making a lot of fan noise while it did so. After taking the laptop apart and cleaning the fan with no change, I finally decided it was time for a new laptop.

It seems that over time all laptops eventually start making noise – either from a fan or the hard drive. With the advent of SSD's (solid sate drives), the hard drive is no longer a concern, but fan noise is still a ticking time-bomb in my experience. So this time I decided to get her one with no moving parts.

The other common issue I've had with laptops, is having the battery life go to hell pretty quickly. I think this is exasperated due to the practice of leaving most laptops in my house (I have a few) plugged in for long periods of time so the battery does not go through frequent drain/charge cycles. Having a longer batter life will help this as my wife will be more likely to leave it unplugged more frequently.

And my final criteria is that the laptop must run well with Ubuntu. I've had my wife using Ubuntu for many years now and have no reason or desire to move her back to Windows.

After doing some internet searches and reading some reviews I found the Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 14 Laptop. And while it was a minimal laptop to be sure (only 2GB RAM and 32GB eMMC drive), it was good enough for my wife's needs. The main selling points of having no moving parts, a 12 hour battery life (that really is about 12 hours), and a price tag of about $120 on sale, made it an easy choice for me.

I liked it so much that I bought one for myself to use for long flights and any time I need to go long periods w/o a power supply. It really just has barely enough RAM to run one or two apps at once, but it's good enough for running Emacs and a browser which is what I spend most of my time using.

To install Ubuntu I followed Nicolas Bernaerts' excellent instructions. And while a 32GB drive is enough for my wife, I wanted a larger drive, so I bought a 128GB USB drive and followed these instructions on mounting it as my home drive. It just stays plugged in all the time. I probably could have just put the entire installation on it and booted from the USB. Maybe I'll try that at a later date as then my setup becomes a lot more portable if my laptop should die on me.

My only complaint about the laptop is with its keyboard. It is very stiff and I find it difficult to consistently have key presses register. I'm hoping this will ease up over time. Also, I would be happier with 4GB of RAM as the swap partition gets used a lot.

People think computers will keep them from making mistakes. They're wrong. With computers you make mistakes faster.

– Adam Osborne


Jeremy Reimer's "A History of the Amiga" Series


I've been reading Jeremy Reimer's series on the history of the Amiga, published on Ars Technica. I highly recommend it to anyone that owned an Amiga or was into computers during the Amiga, Mac, DOS/Windows days. It's the computer that should have taken over the world as its technology was five, or even ten, years more advanced than the competition – no joke. With all of that potential, many like me probably wondered how Commodore could have messed it up so badly. Jeremy goes into all of the details of the historical time-line.

Although I got my start on the Commodore 64, my Amiga 1000 (followed by the 3000) was the computer I used during my college years while I was majoring in Computer Science. I was probably the only one in my class using an Amiga too. Their loss!

We worked with a great passion… my most cherished memory is how much we cared about what we were doing. We had something to prove… a real love for it. We created our own sense of family out there.

-— RJ Mical [while engineering the Amiga 1000]


Negroponte Unveils an OLPC Laptop E-Book


Negroponte of OLPC fame, unveils the 2nd Generation OLPC Laptop, which is an E-Book. I'm not sure I'll get one (or even if I'll be allowed to buy one [1]), but I like the idea. I'm still quite happy using my Gemstar (RCA) REB 1100 for all of my e-book needs.

While I like what the OLPC organization has done and continues to accomplish, there are a couple sticking points for me. First, their laptop is very under powered by today's standards. Although that is probably fine for their intended audience, it does make me not want to own one myself. Plus if you use it as intended, you're using their SUGAR interface which is new and limited – in the sense that you can only run applications specifically designed to run under SUGAR.

Some great things have come out of the OLPC project. They were very innovative with the display technology, which requires a lot less energy to power than normal laptop screens. Also, their mesh network concept seems like a good idea.

On a bad note, they've recently decided to support Windows on the OLPC devices, which I think is a very bad idea. A main point of the OLPC project was to foster openness and freedom, two ideals that Windows does not support – at least from a technical perspective.

On the e-book topic, researchers at Maryland and Berkeley Universities have created an interesting e-book reader that lets you flip the pages. That's a feature I don't think I need or want, but it's interesting.

[1] The original OLPC laptop cannot be bought directly. You may buy them for children in other countries, or donate to the project only.

Dew knot trussed yore spell chequer two fined awl mistakes.


ASUS Eee Sub-Notebook PC


ASUS makes this pretty cool looking sub-notebook PC called Eee PC. Even though this computer has been out for a while, I just recently learned of its existence. It seems like a good competitor to the OLPC.

It has a 900MHz Intel CPU, either 256MB, 512MB, or 1GB of DDR2 RAM, and either a 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB flash drive depending on the model. They all have a 7 inch screen with 800x480 resolution and built in 802.11g wireless. With no moving parts for the hard disk, this PC should be very quiet.

It comes installed with a customized version of Xandros Linux which can be updated from Debian repositories. It can also run Windows XP, which can be purchased for $40. The default install boots in (a very impressive by today's standards) 15 seconds.

Even though the price range was supposed to be in the $200 to $300 range, it seems that the middle range models are selling for around $400 at Amazon and Best Buy.

WikiPedia has more information and here are some reviews that go into more details about the device:

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

– Bilbo Baggins [J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Fellowship of the Ring"]


Qtopia Greenphone from Trolltech


I just read this article in Linux Journal about Trolltech's new Greenphone and the Qtopia SDK it comes with. It looks like yet another Linux based cell phone is coming on-line. This can only be good for the Linux community trying to have cell phone options and compete in a cell phone world of corporate control and commodity hardware. linux.com also has an article about the phone.

It looks like Trolltech is only targeting developers for the time being since you can only buy the phone with the SDK. You may choose from the Professional, Light, or Community (GPL) versions. With prices ranging from $695 and up.

The specs include a Marvell PXA270 312MHz CPU, 64MB RAM, 128MB Flash, 320x240 QVGA touch color screen, Mini-SD card slot, Tri-band GSM, Bluetooth, and a 1.3 mega-pixel camera, with Qtopia running on Linux kernel 2.4.19.

Even though the Greenphone looks pretty sexy, it's pricy for what you get. Plus after reading some of the reviews it seems to have some hardware issues. I think I'll stick with my plans to get an OpenMoko device for now.

Agent Gates: I hate this place. This GNU. This open source. This license, whatever you want to call it. I can't stand it any longer. It's the free software, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your GPL. And every time I do, I fear that I've somehow been infected by it.

– fishbonez


Portable Rotary Cell Phone


A while back I read how to make your own rotary cell phone on Hack A Day. I've always liked the idea of building my own, but due to the cost of the parts I've held off.

Recently I saw this article on Make that renewed my interest. Apparently you can take the easy solution and just buy one if you want, from SparkFun Electronics.

Instructions for making your own are supposed to be here, but that link is not working for me as I write this. However, the mighty internet wayback machine has the instructions.

I still don't know when I'll be getting mine, but I would just love to bring one into a bar and put it on the counter and wait for a call while I have a beer. Gotta love the retro gadgets.

Hey barkeep, whose leg do you have to hump to get a dry martini around here?

– Brian (Family Guy)


Do It Yourself Segway Project


Some First Robotics guys are working on a DIY Segway project that looks pretty promising. Their goal is to make one for less than $1000. I would love to drive (err roll?) around work on one.

A day for firm decisions! Or is it?


iPhone iPhenomenon


I'm not sure what to make of this iPhone phenomenon. I have to give kudos to Apple for once again taking the world by storm with an innovative product release along with the usual hype.

I have a coworker that waited all day to get one, and many others that have since purchased one. They all seem to like their new little device a lot. And from the ad-hoc demos I've had of the phone it is pretty impressive. Apple really does know how to make a great user interface. Using your fingers on the touch screen is very intuitive and just works the way you think it should. In fact, I haven't heard much in the way of a negative impression of the iPhone from anyone except for this guy.

One possible negative, depending on what you currently pay for cell phone service, is the price. As this site outlines, the total cost for the first year (assuming you buy the $599 unit) is $1,936. For the first two years, which is the length of the service contract, it comes to $3,232. That's with the minimum voice plan and the unlimited data plan. (What's the point of having an iPhone without the unlimited data plan?) That's a lot of money; about 5% of your net income if you make $50K per year.

Another negative is the constant cleaning of the screen that is required to remove the massive amount of smudges that accumulate from one's greasy finger-tips. I have an acquaintance that compulsively cleans his all day long. Apple might be inadvertently adding fuel to the obsessive/compulsive fire for many of the neurotic tech-gen'ers that will buy an iPhone.

Possibly the biggest down-side is how closed the iPhone development environment is. You cannot load your own applications onto it. Instead, third-party applications must work via the built-in Safari web browser. This means that in addition to traditional web pages, you may run Java Script and AJAX applications. However, it appears that Java and Flash are not supported at this time. I don't think there will be a shortage of web applications for the phone, there are already sites catering to them, and many more will come.

Even though I've listed some issues with the phone, it is really a pretty cool device that has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, I don't see owning one in my near future. I think it is a little expensive for the amount of use I would get out of it. Besides, I'm holding out for one of these. Maybe not as sexy as the iPhone, but they are free and begging to be hacked.

In related news… to keep abreast of what Steve Jobs is up to, have a look at his blog.

AT&T is like an overweight slob that's been given a chance to date a supermodel; if it doesn't shape up soon, it'll be easily replaced.

– Chris Taylor, CNN Article


OpenMoko Cell Phone Project


The OpenMoko project is creating a smartphone platform that consists of open hardware and free software (free as in freedom). This is a very exciting idea in a world dominated by closed mobile phone technology.

There's lots of information about the project on their wiki. Here is a video (part1 and part2) that demos some of the development work. Search for Openmoko on YouTube if you want to see more videos. The commercial-like videos are pretty cool. Here is a review and comparison to the iPhone.

I'm going to have to get me one of these, but I'll probably wait until the next generation versions come out. I want WiFi and the graphics acceleration.

Free your phone.


One Laptop Per Child Google Talk


Using Miro I watched a Google Tech Talk video about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project the other night. I was following this project about a year ago, but haven't revisited it since.

It seems like it is coming along nicely. It was very interesting to get more information about the technical details of the hardware and software that will be used. Also, I don't think I really got it until I watch Ivan's presentation.

And for those of you like me that want to have a look at the development end of this device, they have an ISO SDK Live CD.

In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools.

– Nicholas Negropontes (OLPC)