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F911 March 28, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Xandros.
5 comments

Had a bit of a scare with my Eeep yesterday. I’d somehow rendered it unusable, and had to figure out how to fix the thing.

I fixed it after an hour of twiddling with it at home, not to worry, but at one point I thought I’d have to use the Xandros F9 reinstallation option. Or maybe, finally, make that Xubuntu-on-a-stick dalliance a bit more of a permanent committment. Of course my data was backed up and safe (I’d learned that lesson eons ago). It’s just the hassle of reinstalling everything I already had again, and losing my settings and preferences and bookmarks and all the little things that make up my digital life on the Eeep.

So what happened? How did I bork the Asus? Torrenting did it, my friends.

I was at the office. Since the office network is blocked and firewalled (and it wasn’t fair to use it), I got the Eeep to leech off an open signal in our building and got BitTornado running to get something off the net while I worked. Everything went fine.

Except I didn’t bother to double-check the settings of the client. I didn’t see that the destination folder wasn’t the one on the external WD Passport it’s normally set to. Unbeknowst to me, the 350mb file was going straight to the SSD! It was 10mb short of finishing when it tanked.

I was to find out that in a case like this, an Eeep will promptly hang, then will go on an endless reboot loop since the was no room on the SSD to properly set up the reboot. Argh. At least an error message screen told me the problem right off. So it should be a matter of deleting some files (or that pesky torrent download), and everything should be back to normal.

After a half-hour of fruitlessly trying to get it to run, I hit upon the idea of getting it to boot off a Xubuntu live USB stick – and give me access to the full-to-bursting SSD. And it did boot up properly – but then I couldn’t find the damned SSD directory off the File Manager so I could delete the offending fiile.

Was the SSD even mounted? I called some EeePH friends who didn’t really know how to help me – one of my gurus said I could boot off a dual-boot SD into Windows and fix it from there. Fine, but I didn’t have a bootable Windows SD card. Besides, I was already trying that approach from the Xubuntu angle.

So I went to a neighboring iMac and researched how to mount SSDs. Armed with the info, I went into the Xubuntu console and did some hacking into the structure, carefully because I was a babe in those woods. (It would later turn out that the SSD was mounted after all, and in my fluster I didn’t see the proper /home/user/ folder.)

So I did find my stuff, but when I got to my files, discovered I didn’t have the proper permissions to trash them. Godalmighty. Another couple of calls netted me the advice that I’d need to log on as the proper user so I’d get access to the files to delete them. So I tried it, and discovered that I wasn’t quite sure what name I had used. Whatever I SU’ed only got me an Unknown ID error message.

Throwing in the towel, I went home – but still tried to figure it out on the long drive home, with the Eeep on my lap, running off a Xubuntu stick, with a USB gooseneck light plugged in so I could see the keyboard.

In the house after dinner, I went at it again, determined to fix it before finally surrendering to F9. Or as I like to call it, F-911.

With Terminal open in front of me, the cursor blinking, I figured – why not just SUDO the damn thing? Get the right path and just RM the damned file. Surely it would bypass permissions. Which is what it did, and it worked. The file disappeared. The SSD loosened up. After that my EeePC booted up in Xandros as usually does, and it was as if nothing had happened.

Dang.

Must’ve been the food that kicked my brain into gear. In hindsight it was the obvious, simple solution, and you veteran Linux users are probably thinking what a bozo I was not to have thought of it in the first place. True. Noobs move in mysterious ways.

At least I figured it out before I took the F9 plunge. Moral of the story, gang? Don’t fill up the SSD if you can help it. That’s bork city, especially under Xandros.

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Camera obscure March 14, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Video, Xandros.
2 comments

The EeePC’s webcam seems to be a big deal with a lot of folk. It certainly gives the Eeep more pogi points with the general computing populace and adds a bit more value for the money. Now the fact that the EeePC 900 will have a 1.3 megapixel camera as opposed to the 300k one the 701s and below are outfitted with seems like a big selling point for the newer model.

I’ve never been a big fan of the webcam. Oh, sure, in the old days I thought it was the bomb. I even bought a separate, expensive Kodak USB camera back in the day so I could videochat and live the Dick Tracy life I’ve been looking forward to since I was a kid. The hype never lived up to the promise though: a dark, jerky little postage stamp with major lag, if it worked at all. Lots of wishful thinking. Better these days for sure; given the right conditions the vid hardly stutters, but it’s still not quite what I’ve imagined. Dick Tracy’s video wristwatch is still scfi vaporware as far as I can tell.

When the portable Macs started coming out with built-in iSights, I wasn’t too excited. It was a hoot to vid-chat, and if I was living abroad and wanted to see my family back here every day, I guess I’d be more enthusiastic about them. But I’m of the school that prefers to communicate face-to-face if I have to, but not force the issue if the person isn’t really there. Call me anti-social, but even old-fashioned chatting is a chore for me too. All that typing, when as a writer typing is all I do the whole damn day. Same goes for texting. I get so impatient I prefer to just call.

That said, here are my two cents about the EeePC’s 0.3 megapixel webcam. It’s not great, but it’s not too terrible either. About par for the course, the kind of webcam you’d expect to get with a bare and basic lappie like the Eeep – dark and pixellated, but workable. While it does 30 fps with proper lighting, it drops to 7.5 frames per second in a dim room. Then again, what can one reasonably expect from a 300k webcam, anyway?

For all the workable software they included where the cam is anywhere useful (almost nothing), it seems that Asus added it to the mix because they felt they had to; aside from that I guess they felt it added value for next to nothing. In a purely PR, way they were right.

What gets me when using it with Xandros is that it takes some amount of prep just to get it running in the first place – and then the default Skype included with the distro doesn’t even work with the webcam – you’ll have to downgrade to an older beta, and then manually turn on the webcam by performing some patented sudo moves in Console mode (or you could automate the thing if you know the spells) everytime you needed it for Skyping. (Although I haven’t tested the official Linux Skype 2.0 – just out of beta today, incidentally – for Xandros yet.) And let’s not get started on Yahoo Messenger.

When the EeePC 900 comes out with the additional megapixel, I guess most of the objections as far as clarity and resolution become moot and academic; let’s just hope it’s really more useful and usable. Apart from the bigger screen, trackpad and SSD, it’s a nice frill …but still just a frill. I hope they didn’t abandon plans of an even bigger screen just so they could keep the cam in.

Why fi? March 9, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Ramblings.
4 comments

I hate the term ‘eyeball’.

That’s what most of the guys call it when their user group meets up, when they get together to shoot the breeze and brag about their gear.

I think it’s an ugly term, very purple and a tad gross, if literal. But literal-ness and graphic excess seem to go hand-in-hand with being geeks. I prefer the simpler ‘meeting’ myself. Or as the Eeephers like to call it, a ‘Meet & Greet‘.

I’ve been to a lot of tech user group eyeballs (see how gross it sounds?). A lot. Mac users, iPod users, Palm users, EEEPC users…

Every single one of them, when planning a meeting, has three non-negotiables: it has to be a venue with lots of eletrical outlets, lots of coffee – and a wireless internet connection. Coffee is a must, of course, but personally, I’d be happy to just run off batteries for the few hours we’re there. More than that, I’d be ok without the wifi.

In fact, I prefer it without wifi.

Heresy, you say? I’ve always found it odd. There are long stretches when everyone just sits together and quietly surf by themselves, glassy-eyed and in a semi-trance, when there are many perfectly wonderful like-minded people around to talk to. I can’t think of anything more anti-social. They could just as well be alone at home.

Can’t we do without being connected to our precious net for the few hours we’re together and just connect to each other instead? We’re wired nearly all the time when we’re apart, I think we can live without the net for a bit for the sake of the group. We’re a virtual community most of the time anyway, why not be a real, physical one for the few hours during a Meet & Greet? What’s so important being online together when we already physically are? And what’s so important that whatever it is can’t wait until we get home?

Looking at the gang sitting together surfing, I commented to fellow EeePH member awidyaputranto at our first Meet & Greet some weeks ago this very thing: that it was strange that even when we’re together, we’re apart, doing the solitary, private thing we do anyway elsewhere – being lost in the net. He just chuckled and said that’s how geeks are.

I’ve seen this phenomenon in my other user groups who sit together completely missing the point of a face-to-face. What’s really so important on the net that we give up actual personal interaction to surf? Is it just force of habit? It’s a bit like a high school reunion where all the alumni sit around listening to a calculus lesson rather than catching up with each other. (Ok, not the greatest analogy, but you get what I’m saying.)

Sure, without wifi we can’t stream a live video feed of the event, can’t get that little app that someone recommended, nor post updates about the ongoing meeting to those unable to make it, but surely those aren’t the most important things during a flesh-and-blood meeting?

EeePH.com is organizing our second M&G for the Saturday after Easter, but we’re stumped as to where because of the wifi requirement. There are dozens of nice, comfortable, convenient places with ample coffee and outlets – but few with wifi as well. I’m hoping most of them realize we’d be better off without wifi at a meeting. It would open up our choices of venue for one, and for another it would do the community good to deal with human faces rather than small LCD screens for a few hours.

Then again, maybe it’s just me.

Upgrade blues March 7, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Ramblings.
6 comments

It’s the inevitable fate of the Early Adopter – when Revision A comes out, thus will begin a new round of wailing and gnashing of teeth, of ashes on heads and tearing of clothes. It’s a built-in, programmed destiny – by the very nature of being an EA, it’s a fait accompli. But even with that knowledge, they still go and do it.

They buy the newest thing, and have several weeks of cool – maybe a couple of months, six at the outside. But that newer, better thing will come out, sooner than anyone expects, at which point regret and self-recrimination take over immediately, and the sneaking suspicion that everyone who ooohed and aaaahhed at their new gadget are now derisively mocking them behind their back. Fool. You should have waited.

Which leaves the Early Adopter with two choices: suck it up and stay with the first version, or sell it quickly and upgrade, and suck up the price difference. Most EAs take the second, more painful option, as that is their nature. It’s hardwired into their DNA.

Upon succumbing, they buy themselves a coolness extension, a reprieve which lasts precisely until Revision B comes out, which will be, as these things go, soon. And Rev B will always be better, and more desirable, and more powerful, have more features – you will always be swept up by whatever justification you think up. So the cycle continues.

It’s a depressing, bottomless hole geeks tend to fall in. And addiction from which only a drained budget is the only cure. Or an exasperated wife.

I used to be caught up in it, and was only eventually cured by the two things I just mentioned. But I’m terrified the emergence of the EeePC 900 is threatening to drag me back into the old black addiction again.

I’m trying to talk myself out of selling this little friend of mine, a friend I’ve just come to know in the few inseparable months we’ve been together. I’m almost there; am trying to figure out who to sell it to, for how much less, and from where I’ll be pulling in the price difference.

The fact that almost every accessory I’ve bought for my little friend will not be obsolete and will still be useful comforts me no end. The bag, the memory cards, the external drive. I shall bequeath the ones I can’t use to the next owner of my friend: the screen protector, the additional RAM.

In my head I’ve convinced myself that I cannot live without the extra two inches of screen of the EeePC 900, that I’ll be eternally miserable without the extra half-inch of the new trackpad, the additional megapixel of the webcam, the extra 8gig from the SSD. This is not to mention the glorious advantage I’d extract from the faster Intel Atom processor.

The New Generation computer positively puts the 701 4G to shame; it’s an undeserving, abominable, underpowered, underclocked and unusable device that will forever be in the list of the worst gadgets ever created.

Sure.

I hardly use the darned webcam. I’ve grown accustomed to just 7 inches of screen. I can’t even fill my SD cards with files, not to mention the 160gb external drive. Trackpad? I use a mouse!

So I try to stiffen my resolve. I don’t need the EeePC 900. I just want it, but I don’t need it.

But it shore looks good, don’t it?

Nine-inch goodness March 5, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Pics.
7 comments

It’s one thing to see the new screen on a demo unit that isn’t even turned on, and it’s another seeing it actually work. Here’s what the EeePC 900‘s screen looks like when the computer is on:

(Pic from Engadget)

So, how much bigger will it be? March 4, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Pics.
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This much bigger:

(As you can see from the watermark, pic cribbed from Engadget.)

It’s one of the questions uppermost in my mind. Not too bad as it turns out.

(Also, on a side note, I just found out that Asus calls their EeePC 900 campaign the “New Generation”. I titled the previous post, unaware, the “Next Generation”. Almost had it. Serendipitous. Is that a sign to upgrade when it comes out?)

The next generation March 4, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Asus, Developments, Hardware.
5 comments

The only thing that’d possibly get me to sell my EeePC is coming out: another EeePC. New and improved.

DailyTech confirms the new EeePC 900, which is coming out in a few months.

8.9-inch screen, 1024×600 resolution, a 12gb SSD, a bigger touchpad, a gig of RAM. It might use a different processor (likely the Intel Atom, also known as Silverthorne), and might have a different software bundle.

It’ll be a little thicker and a little heavier, but everything I’ve been grousing about is fixed. (It’s as if Asus was actually listening!) Although the deal breaker might be the eventual price. If it wanders off the value-for-money sweet spot, I might hold on to the 701 longer yet. Reports put it at US$600. Hmm…

RAM and storage are moot; we’ve found alternatives and solutions we can live with. But damn. 1024×600 on 9 inches. Bigger touchpad. Oooh.

I hope there’ll be black ones too.

UPDATE: Engadget‘s got a photo gallery! (It looks almost exactly the same save for the bigger parts; in one photo we see they took out the modem hole entirely.)

UPDATE II: It’ll have a better webcam too. 1.3mp, as opposed to the original .3mp. Nice. And Xandros’ll still be the default OS. (Hopefully an improved distro?)