Saturday, September 26, 2009

Going on hiatus

Not that anyone actually follows this blog (if they do, the statistics certainly don't reflect it), but this is just a public outlet for me more than anything else. I have a journal for my deep, dark stuff, mwahahahaha. But anyway, it seems like there is a lot of negativity permeating the intrawebs these days, and I've pretty much had my fill of it. I don't if it's due to the stress of getting close to the release date of several huge software projects, or what, but the blogs and "Planets" I typically follow have been especially bitchy these days, and it's not just about code, either. That would be one thing, but I can't open my browser these days without being greated by at least a few profane posts ranting about everything from sexism to politics.

Anyway, this kind of sentiment seems to be permeating cyberspace as a whole (or at least my little corner of it), and at the moment I really don't need that. I'm in the process of recovering from major back surgery and have enough to deal with without listening to everyone who can type a forum post air their personal beef. So this blog is most likely going to go silent for some time. I've deactivated my Facebook account for the time being, cut WAY back on checking email and have left my computer sitting pretty much unloved more often than it's getting used, with the exception of keeping notes on my condition and tracking my meds. So for now, I'm checking out and taking a little vacation from the web. I'm going to pick up my guitar, take walks, and spend a little more time talking to my kids. Admittedly, it's probably best that I do more of that in the long run anyhow, as some people seem to get too wrapped up in their online selves, and I'm probably just as guilty as anyone of that.

As an aside, though, my kid got to playing with my Fuze a couple of weeks ago and was so impressed with it he ditched his current PMP, ordered one for himself and so far couldn't be happier with it. Turns out the old man knows a thing or two after all. ;) It really is a kick-ass audio player for the money, and I can't imagine (at least for my needs) ever needing anything different as it already does more than I actually use it for. Now that I think about it, it might be wise for me to either buy a replacement battery for my current Fuze or buy a new Fuze altogether and just leave it in a drawer in it's packaging for the unfortunate day Sandisk decide to replace it in their product line, which with my luck would be about the same time mine would die. Never hurts to cover your bases.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Epiphany extensions, where art thou?

For the longest time, ever since I started using Debian, Epiphany has always been my favorite web browser. It's always been just a little quicker and less bloated than what Firefox has evolved into and came with a sufficient number of extensions (including the very useful Greasemonkey). However, after version 2.26 of Epiphany they have dropped the Gecko engine (the one used by all of Mozilla's browsers) in favor of WebKit, something I've been pretty excited about. I've been trying to keep up with the latest Epiphany releases which use this engine, and they have worked brilliantly for the most part. One of the big hurdles at the beginning of development seemed to be porting the extensions over to WebKit version, but port them they did. The extensions are available on the PPA for Epiphany WebKit, but I'm not sure why. I can only remember running one version that ever gave me access to the extensions, and the latest (and I fear last) version for Jaunty has once again disabled the Tools menu and I'm no longer able to access them even though I have them installed. This is quite frustrating, as why would you offer an extensions package and not provide access to it? Just doesn't make sense to me. Guess I'll have to wait for Karmic to get a fully functional version of Epiphany, which can't come too soon as I'm growing a little weary of this game of hide and seek. Meanwhile, I find myself using Midori (another Linux WebKit browser) more and more, which seems to be updating at a breakneck pace and adding new features all the time, even for Jaunty users. It's just beyond me why the Epiphany developers are giving us half functional releases. If they're going to do that, then why offer them at all? Perhaps they should be wooing the developer (which is pretty much a one man show) of Midori and tapping him to add some of the cool functionality of that browser into Epiphany, as Midori remains small, fast and simple (like Epiphany) but still provides some niceties that Epiphany WebKit, at least on Ubuntu 9.04, seems to be lacking. At least October is right around the corner......

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Props to Decalgirl

If there's anyone out there who actually reads my blog, you know I'm the owner of an Eee PC 1000HA, among other things. I like to dress up and protect my valuable items when I can, and for that I often use Decalgirl's skins. I've dealt with them several times in the past, but lately I came across a design that I really, really wanted to use as a skin for my netbook. This was my first custom order from them, and I did a lot of the work making the psd file for their template to keep the cost down, which was really quite reasonable when it was said and done, and dealing with and getting advice from the staff during this process was an absolute dream. There are a lot of companies I can think of who would do well to use Decalgirl as a model for how to do customer service. After I submitted the final artwork for the job, I was a bit nervous to say the least about how it would turn it out, but it would be a serious understatement to say that the finished product they shipped to me was absolutely gorgeous and far exceeded my expectations.

So, anyway, this post is mainly to give a shout out to Keith, Kara and the rest of the crew at Decalgirl. They do some fabulous work and I can recommend them without hesitation. They most definitely have a customer for life.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Replacements

Despite my misgivings about Skullcandy now, I decided to keep them anyway. All in all they're really not bad phones. I was able to get the plastic snapons from the cloth earpads on the G.I. headphones to work with the leather earpads, but I still wasn't 100% happy with the G.I.s, so I went shopping for another set. Like I said, I still harbour some doubts about the brand, but I found a set of "Metallica Artist Edition Hesh" headphones on sale with a 20% discount, which means in Oregon (the land of no sales tax) I was able to pick them up for $29.99. Not too bad considering that 1) I'm a pretty big pre-1991 Metallica fan (despite Lars' dumba$$ Napster rants) and did enjoy their latest album which is more reminiscent of the Metallica of old and 2) the drivers in the Hesh models are 50's versus the 41's in the G.I.s. So I picked them up, and my 17 year old son, who was very envious of my phones to start with, inherited the G.I.s, and thus my wife inherited his pair of Lowriders to replace her half busted old headphones, so everyone's happy. So far the driver's in these parabolic earcups are LOUD, and actually produce some pretty decent sound. I swear I heard a guitar lick in a song I've been listening to for at least two decades and never noticed before. The padding on the Hesh earcups is about 10x more comfortable than the G.I.s, too (although I've read varying opinions on this point based on individual ear size - mine seem to fit perfectly). The fact that the design painted on the cups is pretty badass looking doesn't hurt either, and neither does the fact that they came with a code to download the "Death Magnetic" album in DRM free 320kbps MP3 format, but I do kinda wish I could get rid of the lame embroidery on the headstrap (which is pretty thick and comfy in it's own right). Anyway, the headphone situation in the household has been resolved and everyone's happy - that's a good thing.

On a side note, I just wanted to share an observation. Something I've noticed from reading reviews in various places is that people are pretty divided when it comes to Skullcandy's products. They're kind of like the old AMC Pacer - you either loved or you hated it, there's no middle ground. I don't think I've seen a single neutral review of a Skullcandy product yet, either the reviewer thinks they are a gift from God, or on the opposing side the worst products ever made in the history of electronics. But anyway, like I've mentioned before, I'm pretty happy with mine and with a lifetime replacement warranty you can hardly go wrong for the low prices you usually pay for them. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Well, that didn't take long

Had my Skullcandy G.I. headphones less than a week, and today I discovered that the the leather earpad replacements that came with the headphones that I put on upon receiving them had one of the plastic tabs that hold the pad to the earphone had snapped off. And not just one side, either - both of them had a broken tab, one was just broken and the other one had snapped off and was completely missing. I've babied the heck out of these things, and probably would not have discovered it had I not noticed that the pads on the headphones were a little loose. So when I removed the pads to find out why, that's what I was greeted with. Not really a great first impression for a first-time user of a brand.

Oh, and for anyone who is curious, I still haven't heard a thing back in regard to the Split Stick. With the mood I'm in right now, I'm really tempted to head over to the site and cancel my order (providing it's not too late, as it appears they've already charged my debit card). Not a good day so far, and there isn't much day left.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Glad that's finally over

Don't really have much gadget stuff to blog about aside from receiving the 2GB memory upgrade for my 1000HA. Sure cuts down on the lag and the swap. Oh, and a new version of eee-control was released yesterday that is supposed to be a little more compatible with newer Eee PC models, but I haven't really noticed any difference from the previous version yet. Guess that's not really fair to saysince I haven't even been running it a full day, but it still seems the same. One thing I did notice is that it actually recognizes and correctly reports the version of my machine. I guess that's something.

But what I'm really glad about is the fact that I've finally completed the 70+ Ubuntu CDs I've been burning and labeling to hand out at community events. Sad thing is I don't have anyone nearby (or even within the state, it seems) with enough motivation to get out there and promote out favorite OS, much less do anything toward advancing out LoCo team toward approval status. It's getting a little disheartening, truth be known but all I can do is push on and do what I can do. There's a new Ubuntu user every day who converts over, and hopefully it won't be too long before I have a few in my neck of the woods who are as enthusiastic as I am. Hope. I guess it's all I can do. Just need to worry about myself for the moment I guess. Well, enough self pity for one post. Need to get my hands on some new toys soon, seeing as how this is what this blog is about in the first place, eh?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Skullcandy Winter Camo G.I. Headphones

Well, our youngest dog was in the mood for electonics a week or so ago and decided my earbuds would make a great snack. At first this angered me of course, but then it dawned on me that this would give me an excuse to go one of my favorite things - shop for gadgets! Only this time I didn't go for earbuds, I wanted something a little more robust and a bit more comfortable that I could use on my netbook as well as my Fuze, so I went shopping for headphones instead. Being as I haven't won the lottery yet, though, I went out cruising Amazon for a pair that had three things: a decent price tag, acceptable sound quality (my hearing is fading anyway) and a bit of flair. I came across the Skullcandy G.I. line of headphones (my son has a pair of their Lowriders and loves them) and so I believe that what I settled on met all three criteria.

The ones I chose came in the "Winter Camo" design, which was not too flashy but at the same time a bit stylish. I see from Skullcandy's website that this particular design changed fairly significantly, so what I was purchasing was last year's model which didn't really make much difference to me, but probably also partially accounted for the $11 price difference between what I paid for them and the retail price quoted on Skullcandy's site. I've only had them a few days, so what I'm going to blog here is pretty much a brand new user's experience rather than someone who's dealt extensively with a particular brand or been through a variety of models from different manufacturers. So far here are my initial impressions. They feel and appear to be relatively sturdy. As far as fit goes, I appreciate the fact that the individual headphones rotate separately so that you can get them oriented on your ears just right. I'm sure this will differ from one individual to another depending on the size of your head, but these fit me just right - not too loose, not too snug. One of the things I was most impressed by was the fact that they came with cloth earpads installed, which I did not find comfortable AT ALL, but much to my surprise I found that there were also a pair of leather pads packed in the box as well. It was simply a matter of snapping the old ones off and snapping the new ones on. This made a HUGE difference in comfort for me. I've been using these to listen to movies and fairly long playlists while doing some writing as well as wearing them to bed to listen to my podcasts, so based purely on comfort I would probably have to give them 5 stars. However, here is the rub. A) they are a bit quiet and B) they are somewhat lacking in the low end department. I'm not a big fan of bass or heavy beats, but in songs that require it, such as some of the older R&B and Disco tracks I occasionally listen to (yeah, I'm an old guy - 45), I'd a appreciate a bit more bass, but the midrange seems great for a pair of phones with 41mm drivers. I also appreciate the fact that you only have one cord to deal with coming from the left headphone. They come with a cable extenison (thank goodness, because the main cord is super short), but it is a bit long which some may find inconvenient if you use them for more portables listening. The connectors are all gold plated, and one feature that I REALLY like that had been present on a favorite pair of Panasonic headphones I had owned some years back is an in-line volume control, especially useful when I'm lying in the dark listening to my podcasts at night so I'm not fumbling around with my media player in the dark.
On a final note (no pun intended) those who are worried about the durability of these headphones from reading other reviews should keep in mind that Skullcandy does carry a lifetime warranty on all of their products. Of course they will replace them if they become faulty due to a manufacturing defect, but what I find particularly impressive is that they will go as far as replacing them at a 50% discount even if the damage was intentionally caused due to abuse by the owner. Overall, a good purchase for the price you pay (in my case $54 - had to get them from Amazon, Overstock was backordered/canceled). So if you're looking for a decent pair of reasonably priced headphones, I can definitely recommend these if you don't mind they few caveats mentioned above.

Friday, August 7, 2009

More than usual

I usually don' t post terribly often, but I've had an awful lot happen over the past couple of days, including suddenly becoming the manager of two Social Groups over on the Ubuntu Forums. It seems I am increasingly getting more and more involved with this distro, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I have had some of my toys show up, but like I said, it's getting kind of crazy so I'm going to keep this short and break up my reviews and other posts into chunks and post about them one at a time.

And speaking of getting involved, check this out!:

My first Ubuntu Brainstorm. And if you own a netbook and love it and use Ubuntu on it like I do, please help out by voting for my idea. Thanks!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Scratching the itch again

Picked up a couple more toys this weekend, supposedly due to necessity (or at least as far as my wife knows, since our dog decided to have my earbuds for a snack). First one was a gadget I came across a couple of weeks ago from a company called Quirky, Inc. Essentially from all appearances all it is is a 4GB thumb drive, but there's a bit of a twist. It's called the Split Stick and if you look at the product image it's pretty much self explanatory. It's split into two 2GB memory cards with one on each end, and a slider switch in the middle to switch between the two. What makes this unique is the possibilities it presents. For example, on mine I plan to have a System Rescue CD installed on one side for emergencies, and on the other I'll install a bootable image with Ubuntu Netbook Remix on it that has a small persistent partition to store data on. My wife saw them and ordered one as well, although I have no idea what her intentions are for hers since she has plenty of SD cards to carry her data around on.

The other was a pair of Skullcandy headphones (the G.I. model in Winter Camo) to replace a 5+ year old set of Panasonic cans that are starting to short out on me. Reviews are mixed on these headphones and there doesn't seem to be any in-between either, people either absolutely love them or absolutely hate them. But they were reasonably priced ($69.95 at Skullcandy, but got them for $33 at and I suppose I will see whether or not you get what you pay for, plus they come with a lifetime warranty. One consenus is that the low end seems to be a bit weak, but that has never been an issue for me as I a) mostly use headphones to listen to podcasts and watch videos and b) don't listen to rap or any other genre of music that involves a lot of bass, so a pair of 40mm drivers with a decent midrange should suit me just fine.

Don't know when I'lll get a chance to review them for you as I'm a sucker for the "Free Shipping" opeion meaning it's a crap shoot as to when I'll receive either of the items, but hopefully it will be before the end of next week.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A little off the beaten path

Although I am a blogger (although not a very prolific one), I do like to keep a private journal to record my personal and private thoughts as I'm not "that kind of blogger" (i.e. have to discuss relationships, my personal life, politics, etc in front of the whole world unless I'm advocating a cause I feel REALLy strongly about). but anyway, just getting straight to the point, even though I usually discuss hardware related things here, I wanted to take the time to post about a piece of software I've really been enjoying lately. Once upon a time back when I was an ardent Mac user there existed a very nice piece of diary/journal software that I used on a regular basis, that is until it went shareware, and not being in agreement with the author that the price he wanted to charge justified it's utility, I gave it up. Lo these many years I've gone about my business and not really actively sought out a replacement, but always wished for one in the back of my mind.
As it so happens, the other day while perusing my feeds in Liferea I stumbled across an app called RedNotebook. Curious, I visited the page and it appeared to possess all of (and then some) of the features I enjoyed and desired in my old journal software. If you are an Ubuntu user you won't find it in the repositories, although he does produce Ubuntu builds and provides instructions on his project site on how to add his repo to your sources list as well as providing a GPG key. I believe there is also a Mac version and the author appears to be actively seeking a Windows packager as well (if you happen to swing that way). I won't waste time going into details and feautres as you can check those out for yourself at the link, but I just wanted to take the time to share this with those who might be interested. So if his is the type of thing that strikes your fancy, by all means give it a look.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Update on the 1000HA

I received the 1000HA overnight delivery last Friday. and so far Netbook Remix is getting along with it pretty well. The only real snag I ran into is the wireless compatibility. The current ath5k module in 9.04 worked very sporadically at best. So I ended up having to reaquaint myself with ndiswrapper. There are several sets of instructions on resolving this situation (just search the Ubuntu forums, (especially this post: Asus Eee PC 1000HA / 9.04 / Atheros AR242x) as well as many guides which can be found if you just google the terms "wireless, jaunty and 1000HA". One of the most important parts of this process is making sure you blacklist the lackluster ath5k module so Ubuntu doesn't try to fall back on it for some reason. But otherwise all is well, I haven't suffered any dropped connections (although they can be a bit weak at times) but so far I'm getting a full strength 54Mb/s connection about 98.9% of the time. I'm hoping that since Karmic is supposed to be so focused on netbooks that this situation will be resolved by next release, as I understand that Intrepid's ath5k drivers worked just fine so I know it's definitely possible.

One thing that has crossed my mind since access to major components on this machine are so easy to get to is a possible replacement for the OEM wireless card, preferably something from Intel. Any recommendations?

Speaking of Karmic, there is a lot of hard work being done on the proposed artwork for this upcoming release. One theme in particular, Redux, is my current favorite and seems to be coming along quite nicely. You might want to drop by GNOME-Look or the Incoming Artwork for Karmic page on the Ubuntu wiki and give it a test drive, and most iportantly provide some feedback as this may very well be the first theme you see when you fire up your brand spanking new version of 9.10 this fall.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Out with the old, in with the new.

Well, the HP mini had some great attributes like size and keyboard, but battery life definitely wasn't one of them, and getting a replacement 6-cell just wasnt worth it in the long run as it would A) ruin the slimline aesthetics and B) the gain in battery life wasn't nearly as much as had been hoped for as reported by those that actually purchased one. So I sold it for a bit of a loss and purchased an equally reasonably priced Eee PC 901 20G (wanted to stay on the small side), the one that came with (blech!) Xandros Linux pre-installed. First order of business was to wipe out that kiddie interface and replace it with a "real" distro. I never got around to trying out Crunchbang as I had heard there were a few issues that needed to be ironed out with the "Cruncheee" version yet and I really didn't have the time or patience to work on it at the time. So during my research I found a distro that was supposed to make an Eee PC run like a top straight out of the box. Said distro shall remain nameless to avoid any flaming (although it's not too hard to narrow down the list of "Eee specific distros), but it certainly did not function as advertised. After many hours and days of the 901 overheating, updates breaking different features and trying to get all the hotkeys to work like they should (if I could get them to work at all), I finally threw in the towel and went in a different direction. Since the 901 was listed as a Tier 1 machine on the Ubuntu Netbook Remix web site, I decided to give it a spin. I installed it, ran all the updates and installed Eeecontrol. This time it was a much different story. Everything functioned as it should and the battery life was amazing. It worked so well, if fact, that my wife fell in love with the machine and decided she had to have one of her own. Unfortunately, by the time she had come to this conclusion the 901 had been discontinued and couldn't be found anywhere at a price of $400 or more, which was obviously unacceptable. Needless to say, the 901 is now the prized possession of Mrs. M and by week's end I'll be the (hopefully) proud owner of an Eee PC 1000HA. Hoping things go just as well with this machine as they did with the 901 fist time around. We shall see shortly, I suppose.

FYI, The Sansa Fuze is stil running like a champ. Looks like it's earned a permanent position in my ever flexible gadget-sphere. It works great with Rhythmbox (and Quod Libet, my alternate music management fave), not so much with Banshee which I gave a brief workout (yes, I'm yet another one of those anti-Mono zealots). Plan to give Listen and a few others a try in the not so distant future as well.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Trying out a relatively new distro called CrunchBang (#! for short). It's essentially and unofficial stripped down version of Ubuntu using OpenBox as the WM rather than the standard GNOME. It's quite fast and just about exactly what I was looking for to run on the Mini as it uses less resources but still retains a good deal of the standard Ubuntu functionality since it relies largely on the Ubuntu repos and can utilize GTK apps. I've been a user of Fluxbox in the past and have found the learning curve of OpenBox to not be quite as steep as I imagined. If you're a netbook user like myself and are looking for an operating system with a little more pep and a little less bloat, do yourself a favor and fire up unetbootin, create a live USB image of CrunchBang Lite and take it for a test drive.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Latest additions to the family

In keeping with my new resolve to post more frequently, I'm posting about two new gadgets I've acquired recently. In the long interim since my first post I've had about five different computers, a Nokia N800, and HP iPaq Travel companion, two Nintendo DS, a PSP, iPod Touch, two Nano versions, two Shuffles and three different cell phones. But today I'm going to concentrate on a couple of things I've picked up in the last couple of weeks.

First up is the Sandisk Sansa Clip. Very simple and toy-like, there is a lot more under the hood than you might expect from a simple DAP in the Shuffle competition segment. Unlike the Shuffle, with which it shares only a similar size, you get a display, voice and FM radio recording, FM radio with presets, the ability to switch between MTP and MSC connection options, and support for OGG and FLAC as well as the expected WMA and MP3. Far more versatile than the proprietary Shuffle and best of all it works great in Ubuntu with music software such as Rhythmbox and Banshee. :)

Next is a little beauty I picked up on clearance at Best Buy, the Garmin Nuvi 205. For being a GPS device on it's way out, it's certainly a handy little guy. I plugged it in when I got to the parking lot and it acquired a good signal within about two minutes. I put in my home address to try it out and it took me straight there using my usual route. The maps were pretty up to date out of the box, but my apartment complex is so new that the street it's on didn't even show up, but the device itself can't really be blamed since this place just went up in the last few months. The screen is very responsive and legible even in the relatively bright sun and the touch provides nice positive haptic feedback when used. The speaker was quite loud at full volume and the voice cues were very clear. The battery appears to run down rather quickly which is a bit of a disappointment since there is an option for a "pedestrian" navigation mode which is something I very much wanted. But I think I can live with it since the device will spend the majority of it's time tethered to the power cord. One thing I can't figure out for the life of me is why some of these companies think that something like a picture viewer app adds value to a device like this. Go figure. I'd much rather have the space for additional maps. Aside from the battery the device also one other downside, and for me this is a biggie. So far after much time spent on Google there appears to be no (easy) way to update the device under Linux, which means I'll have to rely on the kindness of Windows and Mac using family and friends. Oh, well. I guess you can't have everything. Otherwise this little guy seems like it's going to earn it's keep and stay in my gadget arsenal for some time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Better late than never

Whoa! Am I ever behind. But while time has passed me by, technology certainly hasn't. I've sort of returned to my young, experimental roots and installed the latest version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix on my recently purchased HP Mini. Things have been going quite swimmingly so far with the exception of having to iron out a few audio issues by having to install some updated ALSA drivers. Otherwise it's been pure heaven and the experience has reignited some of the old tinkering flames I first experienced when tinkering with Debian on PPC machines about 10 years ago. I find myself quite a bit reinvigorated.