Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Rambling about My New Computer
My Internet connection has been down almost all day. I called my Internet service provider, and after jumping through those hoops talked with Kevin and then Jackson oh and one other. They all had East Asian accents and I think I might have understood them better if they'd introduced themselves with their real names. How strange it is to have to adopt a name for work. The end result after going through resetting the modem was that “an Internet outage is suspected.” It's still out and unsettling how much this affects my mood. (The Internet has returned after more than 24 hours down.)
When my old computer died in an electrical storm I borrowed a little Dell Mini 9 (similar to the new model 10) which was running a version of Linux tweaked for Dell. One of the tweaks was to connect it to Yahoo services. I was used to using the Chrome browser so I basically ignored the set up with Yahoo. I figured the loan would be temporary, but in the end it took me a couple of months to get a new computer. The new computer I got is running Lucid Lynx the new version of Ubuntu Linux.
There were somethings I don't much like about the Dell netbook. Among them is the keyboard, particularly the small right hand shift key. My biggest problem is one inadvertently closing windows. But there are many things I like very much and chief among those was its portability.
With visitors here this summer, I bought a modem and wireless router. Part of my thinking was to keep my computers unplugged from the phone lines too. Wireless has turned out great. With the little netbook I can share photographs and messages directly with my father in the living room. Also using Readability I can share articles online whereas before I would print them out for my father to read. Readability is a free tool that renders Web pages looking something like pages in an e-reader.
My friend graciously offered to sell me the Mini and I quickly accepted. Now that it's mine I installed Lucid Lynx Netbook Remix on it this weekend. I'm not very tech savvy and was startled that the install went smoothly. I've discovered that the influx of newbies often grates on the nerves of old Linux hands. I wasn't online when newsgroups were invaded by the hordes of newbies discovering them via AOL, but that culture clash lasted long enough that I got at least a flavor of it. As a Linux newbie by way of Ubuntu the clash tastes about the same. I'm always in awe that people take the time to help people out on forums, so I appreciate the Linux aficionados who do. One post I read asks users to consider not what Linux will do for you, but what you can do for Linux.
What it anything I can do is probably a ways off in the future. I've vaguely imagined that I might be of some help to friends in Uganda who might use Linux. Various flavors of the operating system have real advantages for particular situations. A good example is using Linux on old computers, or low power computers like netbooks and low power computers, like my new one. And of course there's the issue of malware and Linux being less susceptible than Microsoft Windows machines. But none of my friends in Uganda have actually expressed any interest in Linux.
The truth be told Ubuntu in its current release is very easy for a simple folk like me. I did have a problem getting Skype to work on my new computer. Something that came out of that problem was finding that most things are easily discoverable within the operating system itself. The thing to do is look. It's not surprising that computers running Linux are thought a good choice for old folks who don't ask much of their computers except email and the Internet and Ubuntu works without much of any user adjustment. I'm old and I don't ask much more than that, but I also have a habit of breaking things through careless curiosity.
One feature of Linux of which I was afraid was using typed commands. I've run across a few reasons to do so, as well as articles that provide a lists of commands just to show newbies around. LinuxCommand.org is a good example of the many wonderful Linux education sites. At one point in the terminal I was prompted: “John's password.” It's such a simple thing but in the context of a dialog, the prompt made me think: “This computer has a voice!” Its voice is curt and efficient, or pleasant and willing depending on ones point of view. And to me the “sound” of it was the latter.
I'm very happy with the System76 Meerkat Ion computer I bought. But had I been confident about installing an operating system I would probably have bought a Zotac Mag a very similar computer for a lot less money, but is shipped without an operating system. One market for these NetTop computers is for home theater set ups, something I know nothing about. At Amazon the Acer Aspire is comparable and comes with Windows 7 installed. It's amusing to see reviewers say that the first thing they did with the Acer Aspire was to ditch Windows7 and install Linux.
My sister may want a computer and I am thinking the Zotac Mag may be a good choice. But I suspect that she'd lean towards the Acer with Windows7 because Linux sounds so scary. Linus Torvalds, the guy who got the whole Linux juggernaut started, said that Linux has become so bloated that it's "huge and scary." That kind of "scary" is different from what my sister might feel and I certainly felt deciding to go Ubuntu while knowing that I'm a computer ignoramus. At least part of the "bloat" comes from making it not scary for the likes of me.
What I've learned over the last few weeks is Ubuntu Linux is not scary. I've also found that a Nettop with an Atom processor and Nvidia chipset is a very capable machine. Sure folks who are into gaming won't find it adequate, but for a general-purpose home machine, it really rocks.
Photo: scanned souvenir--left over--ride ticket from The Big Knob Grange Fair, a favorite community tradition.