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Experiment over April 10, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Ramblings, Uncategorized.
7 comments

All good things come to an end, so they say.

     I didn’t think it would come this soon, but it has. 

     I gave up my EeePC.

     Don’t kill me. It went to a new owner, someone who I think would love it as much as I do or even more. It’s her first ever laptop, and would help her immensely in her work and her life. I am the first one to preach the virtues of a laptop as a major enabler, and gladly pass my EeePC on to someone.

     It was never mine to begin with, really. It never felt like it, much as I wanted to claim it as my own. It was my sidearm, my familiar, my shadow, my friend – for a time. But I’ve always felt deep down like I was just a temporary caretaker of it for someone else.

     I think it’s happy with the new owner, and the new owner seems to be happy with it. Which is all good.

     At first I thought I’d be using it for many months more at least, or if I ever did give it up anytime soon, it would be for another of its generation, an upgraded version. But maybe not now. Not yet, anyway.

     It wasn’t an impulsive thing to let it go. I thought long and hard to just keep it, even if I did get another laptop, but in the end decided it was best put to long and good use by someone else. It would be a waste to just keep it in a box in my closet, rather like a bird in a cage.

     I never doubted it’s a great laptop, and in other circumstances the EeePC would be The One, the keeper. (Well, to be completely truthful, not exactly this one, but maybe the EeePC 900, with the bigger screen – if I could afford the upgrade – but if it had to be just this I wouldn’t feel bad). Alas, it’s not to be. I’m still looking, and it’s time to move on.

     So the Experiment is over.

     After several months exclusively using it, what have I learned?

     That the Asus EeePC is a good machine, affordable, capable, useful, portable. Within reason, there’s hardly anything you can’t do with it. It’s the gadget with the best value for money I’ve ever gotten in my life, bar none. It’s rock solid, and certainly touches the heart. I will continue to give it the highest recommendations.

     But much as I have gotten used to it, my hands still have small continuing arguments with the keyboard, and my eyes often decry the size of the screen. As I get older I know this won’t abate, but likely get worse. Young whippersnappers won’t have these problems, but I’m an old fart already, even before I got the EeePC.

     I’ve also hit the wall of the storage issue a few times, most recently with that endless reboot loop when I uninitentionally filled up the SSD that I wrote about in a previous post. The storage limitation’s not a deal-breaker, but it still makes me grit my teeth now and then. 

     On the other hand I enjoyed the convenience immensely. I loved that I could bring it everywhere without endangering my back and shoulders. I loved the reliability and facility of Xandros (which I’ve learned to use in my time with my EeePC). Most of all I loved that I could work anywhere and everywhere. Not to mention seeing the occasional double-take from passersby.

     But I found myself still looking for something else. Bigger screen, bigger keyboard, more storage, apart from the lightness and portability, convenience, reliability and ease of use I got accustomed to. Comfort is a big thing for an old fart.

     I think I know what that something is already; if you know me a bit you even might be able to guess what it is. (Contrary to what I’ve previously said. I am going to eat crow soon.) But there are two main differences though: physical size (in terms of dimensions at least), and that value-for-money thing. I can live with the size, but the price is the big hurdle. Way big.

     I’ve been resisting the siren call, clasping the little EeePC to my chest for strength, but it keeps haunting me. But I know what I want now, even if I have to eat my words. I’m setting my sights in that direction, and hopefully I can find a way.

     And since the Experiment is over, I’m sad to say this blog will have to end here as well. I’ve said all I can and have nothing more to contribute. 

     I hope you don’t think I’m turning my back on the whole thing, and that this is an indictment of the EeePC. I was happy and satisfied, and learned and did a lot with it. The experiment was a success. I’ve just decided, while it’s perfect for a lot of folk, in the end, honestly speaking, it’s just not for me. I hope me ending my sojourn with the Little One won’t turn others off it.

     Speaking of which, I loved the people I’ve met over the course of the experiment. Like-minded geeks who did the things I did, kindred souls who’ll remain friends, I hope. I intend to still monitor our users group as much as I can, if they’ll have me.

     Someday if I get my hands on the newer versions of the EeePC, I might resume posting here, or create another blog entirely. But this one will be up for while yet, and new users who want to know what it’s like can go back and read my drivel and see how I handled it.

     In the meantime I have my other blogs, if you want to keep up with my doings and goings-on. There’s my Mac blog, Mac A Doodle, on the Inquirer network, and there’s the P.W.I.T. Blog (Philippine Week in Tech!) with my fellow tech editors and writers, and my personal blog among others. And of course my print work at Hinge Inquirer. All the links are somewhere here on pEEEPCee, and my magazines are on the newsstands.

     Please feel free to continue to rant on the Comments portion of this post. You can call me names or comiserate with me, or just shoot the breeze. I’ll check often and reply faithfully. Would love to keep hearing from you guys. Maybe someday soon, I’ll come back to the fold anyway, and all this would be a bad dream. Who knows?

     All I know for sure is that this was a hard post to write. Thanks for reading this far, and thanks for reading my little blog all these months. I had a blast, and hope you did too.

     But for now, I gotta go, gotta run, gotta make tracks… catch you elsewhere on the ether, EeePC users!

(Not) Trashing a config April 7, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Ramblings, Xandros.
6 comments

I found it ridiculously easy to clean up an EeePC of all signs and vestiges of use. Of my use, anyway. Virginizing it is a snap.

Of course the main reason for this is also ridiculously easy to figure out: the SSD is so small there isn’t much to clean up. You don’t have the room and the luxury to be disorganized and messy.

And as an adjunct, to take it even further, the built-in storage area is so small that it would be a crime to be disorganized and messy as you usually are. In fact, it becomes incumbent upon you to make your mess elsewhere so it doesn’t inadvertently fill up. (God, you should see my 8gb SD card.) If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know the consequences of not monitoring the available space.

I’ve been fastidious with my file keeping, saving everything in the ‘My Documents’ folder, which I’ve populated with subfolders in the various flavors of my work. Everything is there. Doc files, stories-in-progress, nascent blog posts, pictures, downloads, screencaps, web page archives, the occasional short AVI file. (Yeah, yeah, I hear you; it didn’t prevent me from borking up the computer, but hey I tried!)

I was keeping it together because it was easy to backup everything to the SD card since it was a matter of dragging the My Docs folder to the card. So it follows that just deleting the thing would unload my personal stuff off the EeePC.

What kept me up was cleaning up the pref files for most of the apps I use, and cleaning up the bookmarks from both Firefox and Opera. Man, that was a chore. Apparently I’m not as organized saving bookmarks, which I discovered were all over the place. 

So why, you ask, don’t I just wipe it clean and reinstall the OS, do the F9 thing?

Because, as most of you veteran users know, it takes time and effort to get a laptop working just so. It’s a shame to trash a config. Getting the apps to keep the docs they produce in the proper folders automatically, saving preferences for looks and themes and backgrounds and keeping the look just right, adding the little apps that make life easy, taking out the ones that don’t – it’s like making a work of art, or creating and decorating an apartment, filling it with appliances and furniture and paintings on the wall so you can live in it comfortably.

Reinstalling the OS is like bulldozing down your house and leaving an empty lot in its place. I just wanted to peacefully vacate the house and let someone else live in it furnished to discover all the little conveniences I built in. Later, they can peel off the wallpaper and put something else in, or decide they didn’t like the living room furniture so they can put it in the trash bin and install something else. Later, if they want to bulldoze it after all, then they could, and that would be ok too.

But leaving it be is heaven-sent if the new occupants aren’t as into home decorating and design as I am, and would embrace the furnishings as if they were theirs. They would appreciate the modern conveniences I so painstakingly put in, all the little stuff I’ve collected, all the security features I set up. Or not. But it’s still a nice, happy, homey, comfortable, lived-in house with good memories.

So I cleaned out my junk and left the good stuff in, emptied the cabinets and the cupboards, replaced the sheets and all, and then cleaned, washed and mopped up. Now it’s ready for the new occupant.

Why am I doing this? Ah, that’s for another blog post. The next one. An important one too, I might add, since it involves eating crow and has implications for the future of this blog.

Got you wondering, haven’t I? Come back soon if you want to find out.

 

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?

Report Card February 2, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Asus, Ramblings, Review.
3 comments

It’s been a month for me using the EeePC today. Happy Anniversary!

Still top marks. Learned a lot, from a rudimentary grasp of Linux to learning how to hack into the system to get it to do things Asus never meant for you to do. And everything in between.

It’s still a computer worth getting. A month hasn’t dimmed its value or usefulness. If anything, it’s gotten more valuable over the past few weeks.

It still turns heads in public, up to now. The shortage of stock has made it even more desirable, and people are combing the stores for units. Preferably the Galaxy Black version, which is number one with a bullet (although having been up close and personal with a Pearl White, I wouldn’t mind owning one instead).

If you’ve been reading the comments here, you’ll note the quick conversions people have once they see it in action. Windows die-hards, Mac blow-hards, non-geeks, even Luddites. I’ve more than one friend pick one up after seeing mine, and I sometimes get calls from co-workers and friends asking me the precise model and price because they were at the mall hunting one down and didn’t want to make a mistake.

The most heard (and telling) comment? “My phone costs more than that, and I can’t even do a thing with it!”

I often forget that I’m carrying one in my backpack, I’m so used to heavy laptops. I’ve gotten a lot more personal work done on it that I’ve ever been able to do with the MacBook or the Thinkpad, precisely because of the reasons I’ve enumerated on this blog. My brother says he’s never been happier with his purchase, and doesn’t regret buying one at all.

I’m happy because it delivers. What I set out to do with it I did. And I didn’t even need to convert to Windows or anything (which is one of the better perks). I’m walking proof that the open source model works – everything I need I got out of the box or from Synaptics. Well, yeah, some outside of repositories. Let’s not split hairs. But I haven’t needed to purchase anything, and I’m able to do 98% of what I need to.

The niggles are still there, of course. Small screen, small keyboard. Small everything, really. No big hard disk, no optical drive. But you can live without these things, and eventually realize that that’s perfectly all right. That’s the nature of the beast. (As Microsoft likes to say, they’re not bugs, they’re features.) Literally and figuratively, the EeePC is no burden at all. Even if you don’t think you need one, you probably do.

Nearly straight As. One B- for the screen size, which, unlike the keyboard, could be a bit bigger. (Really now, Asus. We know you were keeping the costs down, but I think we wouldn’t have have minded springing a bit more for an additional inch or so of LCD. Things would’ve been so much nicer.)

And a point off for the modem hole.

That damned screen January 31, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Ramblings.
4 comments

Ok, here’s the whole other post.

The first thing people rag the Eeep about is the screen. (The keyboard is a far second,actually; that comes when they start typing on it.) There’s something fundamentally uncomfortable about not having an edge-to-edge LCD. It’s just not right.

But, like the keyboard, you learn to live with it.

It is truly, disconcertingly tiny though. I’m at the upper age limit of being able to tolerate a screen this size without resorting to visual aids; if I were a couple of years older, I’d actively hate this thing and would never buy it. But fate and Asus have conspired to make this thing here and now, when I can still use one without magnifying glasses, so here I am in front of it, gingerly typing and trying not to squint.

There is this faux computer under the VTech line, a toy for kids that purports to be more than what it is, which is a toy with an LCD screen that tries hard to look like a laptop. People in my neck of the woods would be familiar with it, but it goes under different labels and brands elsewhere. I’ve seen it on the shelves of Toys R Us in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. You’ve probably seen one.

The gray LCD screens of these VTech things are like postage stamps stuck dead-center on the front of a letter envelope; tiny in relation to the surface area of the lid. The EeePC looks a bit like it, which is why I (unfairly) dismissed it out of hand after seeing a prototype pic on the net. Ugh. Never work.

Until the raves started coming in, some from people I respect. True enough, after getting face time with one, I relented. I ate my words gladly. This was workable. It’s small, but I can live with it.

Now and then, when I’m caught off-guard and my familiarity isn’t instantly available, I’m struck by how much real estate is wasted in the wide plastic frame surrounding the Eeep screen. The speakers panels are a joke; the real speaker opening is a quarter-sized perforated area a third of the way down from the top on either side of the screen. Way too much speaker grille for its own good, and a flimsy way to cover up the smallness of the LCD.

(Granted, the speakers are louder than you’d expect. Watching DiVX files is great, sound-wise, but the grills have nothing to do with it.)

I’m not grousing as much as I should because in spite of myself, I am actually impressed by the EeePC screen’s usability and readability. It’s clear and bright, and it’s shown me that I can live beneath 1024 x 768. It’s amazing, really.

I’ve generally gotten used to the Eeep’s face, except in moments when I need to do the alt-click-drag routine on a window to get at a button. And there are those weird, awkward moments when even if a window is maxxed out, the lower dialogue buttons can’t be accessed no mattter what you do.

I also find the size and aspect ratio perfect for catching a movie fullscreen on VLC more than adequate. With the small size and lightness of the thing, I don’t drive the wife crazy using the thing in bed with it propped up on my chest, or at least not as much as if I was using the MacBook.

A friend-of-mine-who-must-not-be-named hit the mother lode of ebooks on some guy’s site, literally thousands of titles both old and new on nearly 5gb – enough to keep us busy reading until we’re old and gray. And setting the ebook reader to show a page rotated 90 degrees is perfect for just curling up with a black tea latte. I mean, I love the Books app on the iPhone, but something’s still to be said with a bigger screen like the Eeep’s.

I’m not as strident complaining about the screen as I am about the keyboard. If it could just eat up a couple of inches more of the bezel, I’d be a happy camper.

Dispelling the reality distortion field January 21, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Macs, Ramblings.
10 comments

Those of you folk who know the stuff I write online will know that I am a Mac fanboy first and foremost, before anything.

The fact that I am enamored with an EeePC so much that I’ve practically set aside my Macs for the time being and even started a blog about it is a testament to its value and worth as a computing platform. That it can distract a Mac user from his Mac is a big thing.

The other day I showed my EeePC to a friend of mine who works in the building next to mine. After fifteen minutes of tinkering with it, he bought one that very afternoon. To be fair, Vic asked if I could drop by his studio and demo it to him. He was already half-sold on the idea of an EeePC, having researched the net, and just needed to actually get his fingers on an Eeep keyboard before taking the plunge.

My friend is, if anything, an even bigger Machead than I am. He texts me the next day:

Dude, between the eBook reader, VLC and the wifi browsing, I’m wondering if I even need my MacBook Pro on a daily basis. Love love love.

I know what you mean, Vic. I leave my older laptop on my desk in the office now; only the Eeep gets to go home with me. It gets to go everywhere.

The EeePC is so good it even cancels out the Steve Jobs RDF, even a powerful one like the field generated around the MacBook Air; after a few hours, some Macheads snap out of it when they had a chance to think about the Eeep.

In fact, way bigger Mac fanboys than Vic and myself have seen the light. I came across a wonderfully sobering column by writer Vern Seward entitled MacBook Air: The Wrong Envelope on the popular website The Mac Observer last night. I quote some of the interesting parts:

I have a feeling that the MacBook Air is this year’s “Cube.” Nearly everyone I’ve talked to, both Mac and PC fans, want a small laptop. If you’ve read the blogs and forums leading up to Macworld you couldn’t help but come away with a sense that people were looking forward to a small, lightweight device. The MacBook Air is small, but compared to devices like the ASUS EEEPC, the MacBook Air suddenly becomes not so small.

I know I don’t want or need a full blown OS while I’m on the go, the iPhone proves that people can get along without the whole of OS X while out and about. What I want is the iPhone or iPod touch on steroids, a small package with some innovation built in.

In fact, if you compare the EEEPC with the MacBook Air you might find that while the EEEPC is not as thin and does not offer that nice multi-touch pad, it does offer enough horsepower to do 80 to 90 percent of what you might want to do. For me, that’s plenty.

I also believe that many were waiting to see what Steve Jobs announced at Macworld, holding off buying the ultra-portable they’ve had an eye on in case Apple offered something better. I wouldn’t be surprised if ASUS sees a big jump in EEEPC sales this month.

This, coming from a hardboiled Mac loyalist. Interesting read. Click on the link and check it out.

Port-A-PC January 20, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Ramblings.
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Of course I got it because it was portable.

And I’d be damned if it isn’t. I can actually put it in a fanny pack with all the little pieces that go with it – the charger, the wifi mouse, a flash drive, an extra SD card. Then I run out the door with the thing on my waist. Goes with me everywhere. No sweat. Literally.

It’s nothing like a MacBook Air, of course. (I’d rather we not go there. It would be like comparing, uh, apples and …catalytic converters.) I’d love one of those, but it still isn’t an Eeep.

I used to lug around my Macs and Thinkpads in big rucksacks, folios, sachels and bags of all shapes, sizes, weights and materials. I have a considerable collection – I have a serious bag problem, I think. That’s another story though (and something I’ve told in another blog.)

But now with the Eeep, I hardly need one. Now I’ve just settled on the trusty old backpack that I’d occasionally bring if I don’t need to bring a laptop. That’s because it’s not meant to carry one; no special pads, pockets and compartments for the tech stuff. I just throw in an extra shirt, a book and some other analog things like a sandwich, or the occasional tech thing, like a Nintendo DS.

Now that I have a laptop in the plain old backpack, it doesn’t even feel at all like it has one inside. I keep the little pile of EeePC detritus in a little zip case, and after I throw it in there, the bag still feels empty. It’s so light it could just be an analog tuna sandwich in it. I just need to keep reminding myself there’s a laptop in there so I don’t hurl the bag into a corner when I get home.

I’ve even tried to just carry the thing in my hand. I recently went out with the power adaptor in my pants pocket, and just handcarrying the Eeep along with a thin hardbound I’m currently reading called Variable Star written by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson. Thin as it was, the book was still bigger and heavier, and was the thing I wish I had left home.

The fact that my Eeep’s a tough little bugger is an added plus. In the School of Hard Knocks this one is a Dean’s Lister. Hardy and durable, there isn’t that nagging thought I always had in the back of my mind that I should tiptoe my way around all the time back when I carried the bigger gear. Now I can comfortably be my klutzy, careless, normal self.

Right now I’m typing this in a Starbucks, with about five other people tapping away at Macs and Windows laptops. One of them is getting ready to go, and I watch him stowing his big rig away like he was packing for a long trip: putting away his corded mouse, his coolpad, winding up the power cable around the brick and jamming them all in the bag, then stuffing the chunky laptop right in there after it with great difficulty, as the junk had taken up a good deal of the space already. Poor guy. It was a ceremony I was very familiar with.

Now, when I have to go, I’d just shut the lid closed and throw the Eeep into the mesh pocket on the side of my rucksack. Then I’m outta there.

The Asus EeePC may not be thin enough that I should be afraid of getting paper cuts, but it’s cheap, tough, tiny and does the job.

Good enough for me.

That damned keyboard January 13, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Hardware, Ramblings.
3 comments

You guys have probably noticed that my big peeve about the Eeep is how tiny the keyboard is, even for people with normal digits. True, I hate it. Hate it. Then again, I realize I’m being unreasonable; it is after all a UMPC; what exactly did I expect? So I stopped griping and started trying to live with it. That’s why I’ve been mum since.

Some of you’ve been wondering about this, I guess, especially after my very first post. If you’ve been reading the few comments on this blog, someone’s already asked if I’ve learned to like it, since I’m dedicating the Eeep to writing my stuff on.

Nope.

I still hate it hate it hate it.

But we’re slowly getting to know each other. In the fullness of time we might actually become reluctant friends. I don’t think I’d be happy lugging an external keyboard around, no matter how compact and foldable it was (not to mention being able to actually find such a creature – right, Art?). I think adding a keyboard to my load misses the whole point of a UMPC. Even the little wireless mouse is already an imposition; only my extreme dislike for trackpads makes me bring it.

A mouse is one thing. But bringing a keyboard is like bringing along a plank. (Oddly enough, the converse is just as bad; if it’s too compact, then might as well use the built-in keyboard, right?)

Since my Eeepboard and I can’t get divorced, we’re learning to get along. Slow going, but we’re getting somewhere.

Typing on an EeePC is really hell for a big guy like me. Imagine trying to put all the fingers of each hand as close together as you can, like you’re trying to fit the bunch in a little hole in the wall, then in that pinched claw configuration, using them to tap on little keys. No fun.

You keep missing the right keys, or you accidentally hit Caps Lock AND END UP SHOUTING YOUR SENTENCE LIKE THIS. (Which brings me to another niggle – no Caps Lock indicator light. You never know you’ve hit Caps Lock until your text shows up loud and clear.) Or you sometimes hit an arrow key instead of the shift key and bump up the cursor to a place where it shouldn’t be, and you don’t realize it until your fingers have gone ahead and messed something up.

Stuff like that.

I’m just glad it isn’t worse, like for most people who touch-type. For the first time in my life I’m glad I never really learned. My fast hunt-and-peck is loads easier since there are less fingers to get in the way of each other when typing, and the crude system is actually a bit easier to do since there is less distance for my hands and fingers to travel per keystroke.

But even so, the targets my index fingers need to hit are tinier, so I need to pay attention and keep at it until muscle memory can eventually take over. Like I said, determination is the operative word.

We really should get over it. A tiny keyboard is par for the course. Unless Asus can design something like the small Thinkpad that had that great, expanding aircraft-carrier-deck of a keyboard when you opened the lid, the Eeepboard is the one of major trade-offs, a non-negotiable. Tiny laptop, tiny keyboard. You learn to live with it.

Not like the screen size, which should have been remedied at the drawing board. Heck, look at that ginormously wide, unused frame around the LCD. Speakers or screen space? No contest.

But that’s a whole other post.

Inscrutable January 12, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Asus, Macs, Ramblings, Windows, Xandros.
5 comments

One of the things I’ve been spoiled with using Macs is the simple, logical, almost street-language, gut-feel interface of Mac OS X which you can intuitively wing. That’s why Macs don’t come with much documentation. You try to intuit how to do something, and usually you end up being right.

Being spoon-fed for years with this sort of personal computing, you’re in for a major shock when you have to get your hands dirty with the command line interface in Linux.

Not that you have to really get your hands dirty when you buy an EeePC. You can always just live in the child-like universe of Easy Mode, or if ever you break into Advanced Mode go no further than its faux-Windows GUI interface, which is vaguely comforting in a guilty sort of way.

But to squeeze more out of an EeePC and Xandros, to go beyond what is safe and easy, you’ll have to crack open a console window at some point and deal with commands like “sudo” (which I’ve previously said sounds like a martial art where you use your intuition’s own weight against itself).

One of the more bracing things is the inscrutability of the commands and the syntax. It’s shockingly counter-intuitive especially if you’re coming from a cold start in Linux, like a dash of ice-water in your crotch. Even if you’d used DOS commands before, stuff like “home/user> sudo dpkg -i opera_9.25-20071214.6-shared-qt_en_i386.deb” looks downright terrifying. Not a single friendly phrase in the crowd. More so if your idea of installing an app is just clicking the mouse button on a pretty little icon.

There is no real peg in the example to even tenuously hang your geek gut instinct on. Which to some people is an interesting challenge, but for most, a clear signal to put their EeePC on EeeBay while it can still go for a reasonable amount. Either that or fall sway once more to the oily lure of Windows XP, which is at least a devil you know (as a couple of my friends have done).

As a Mac user I see where Apple has done a good job. The underpinnings of Mac OS X is this exact same unknown bedrock. To harness the efficiency, economy and reliability of Unix yet make things as simple as clicking the mouse button on a pretty little icon and marry it to their own hardware, Apple’s done things right. As opposed to the original Wintel hegemony, where everything was all over the place, and nobody got along.

The EeePC under Xandros is essentially what Apple is doing, minus Jonathan Ives, orchestrated keynotes and done on a shoestring budget. Which is why despite the inscrutability I’m still willing to try and learn the martial art of sudo. At least I’m buying into a world where people know what they’re doing.

I just hope this old dog can still learn some new tricks.