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The Laptop: A Retrospective

Hadware: Compaq Presario C500, 1.5 G Ram, $400, 1.6 GHz Centrino

So, I got this thing... last Sunday. Didn't really start in on it till Tuesday. Been playing with it since.
As noted earlier, it came with Vista, which took 40% of the RAM and chewed the hard drive. I tested that stuff such as wireless worked, then moved on. FreeBSD got a try -- a couple of tries, since the first one crashed -- but didn't recognize key laptop bits like the lid, and I didn't want to mess around. PC-BSD, a user friendly version, also didn't work until the second, the first simply failing to install /usr and /var -- and had problems with sound. Ubuntu mostly just worked, though I had to perform occult spells to get wireless working, and have to perform another one to get the speakers to turn off if headphones are plugged in.

(IU VPN wireless will need its own incantations, but that's not the laptop's fault. Ubuntu, or IU IT whose instructions don't work.)

Other stuff really just does work. Battery monitor, sound, lid closing doing something. But there's been weird behavior, the cursor jumping around and such. At first I thought I was hitting the touchpad, but that doesn't actually do much. Then I discovered a menu key on the keyboard, which explains some things, though I'm not always sure I'm touching it when the menu pops up. After some really weird behavior in vi I tracked down the big culprit: a special part of the touchpad. There are orange lines along the right and bottom. Pad space beneath the bottom isn't special, but pad space to the right of that line acts as a scroll bar. Which is actually pretty useful, now that I know about it, but brushing *it* with my thumb causes a lot of problems.
This version of Ubuntu/GNOME (Feisty Fawn) seems to have known problems with unmounting external hard drives from the desktop.

I've also played with desktops: default GNOME, KDE, compiz, xfce. GNOME's pretty good, and in response to AVI files said "I don't have the codecs for this, would you like me to get them?" which worked. GNOME takes half the memory of Visa. xfce has some nice transparency aesthetics and seems very configurable but played AVIs without video. KDE is also configurable, doesn't have much else visibly going for it, and just refused to play my AVIs. compiz is a window manager which can supposedly do neat effects, like putting workspaces on the walls of a cube or room, which you can rotate, but the configuration looks like a nightmare without some extra software I didn't feel like exploring.

There are quirks. Firefox managed to obscure the desktop panels once before, and has done so again while I was typing. Not replicated yet. totem, GNOME's AVI player, I discovered was rather washed out. I found settings which fixed the whiteout -- oddly I had turn down contrast, not just brightness, and the tradeoff between "visible" and "dark" seems fine to non-existent, especially depending on the input anime. I installed mplayer and will test it, but will post this first before I lose all the test.

Update: no difference. Guess totem changes hardware settings (but doesn't affect the desktop appearance), else they read the same configuration file.

Other laptop thing: it feels that I'm exploring exciting new unergonomic positions. Instead of being hunched over my too high (but large and cheap) desk, I sit on my couch and feel an extra 6 pounds on my tailbone.

Other news: Le Petit Cafe is now up to $10.95 for the price fixe Sunday brunch, and $1.95 for tea or coffee. I'm still not sure if you're supposed to tip at a place where you're served by the owners. Bloomingfood's West has Honeycrisp apples.

The panel hiding problem seems connected to F11 in Firefox. Though if I hit F10 or F12 that stops working for a bit. Tres weird.



Damien Sullivan

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April 2018


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