Saturday, April 26, 2008

ASUS Eee PC, First Impressions

I took the plunge and bought an ASUS Eee PC, mainly for the option to take a very small, very light laptop with us to Costa Rica. I have read a lot about this new crop of mini-notebooks (I call it a knee-top!) and the top contenders of the moment seem to be the HP mini-note and the Eee PC 900 (with the larger 8.9” screen). I ended up getting the cheepy cheap Eee PC 701 because it’s a full $200 cheaper than its more impressive brothers. $341 for a refurbished model is down in impulse-purchase territory, whereas the $550 versions make me want to wait until the processors get faster and the batteries last longer.

I thought I knew everything about this machine when I bought it, so here is the list of things that I hadn’t already gleaned from the interwebs:

  • It was not really usable out-of-the-box. The trackpad was set to minimum sensitivity, and before I figured that out, I was afraid I had a lemon; the trackpad basically would not work at this setting.
  • The mouse button looks like one smooth button, but is in fact a rocker-switch, meaning that you push on the left side for a left click, and the right side for a right click. If you press in the center, you get nothing. This confounded both my four-year-old and my wife.
  • Unlike the various MacBooks in my life which renew my love every day, the Eee PC does not instantly wake from sleep when you open it. It’s a minor thing, but it’s a refinement I have come to take for granted.
  • It does not close Firefox gracefully when you shutdown or restart, which means you are frequently looking at the “Restore Last Session?” dialog. Luckily, Firefox allows disabling it like this.
  • The default terminal application is pretty lousy, but it includes a better one called konsole. Making konsole the default (among other things) is described here.
  • It took some doing, but I learned how to customize the menu screens. I made a special page for Graham with all his favorite movies, web sites, and of course, Tux Paint. You can learn about customizing your Eee PC desktop over here.
  • Unfortunately, some of Graham’s favorite web games use Adobe Shockwave, which does not have a Linux version, and probably never will. The Eee PC does have the Flash player, but not the latest version, so I had to do an upgrade.

In short, the Eee PC demands tweaks before it will purr like a kitten. Lucky for me and about ten million other geek dads, tweaking is fun! Still, it makes me wonder how this is supposed to be a computer for children and seniors who don’t have a Linux-mad nerd standing by to recompile the kernel for them.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Actual overheard snippet of conversation. Two little old ladies at the San Marcos Activity Center.

…daughters, really pretty daughters. One of ’em has a, a wooden leg…

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Your Financial Freedom: the Crossover Point

When my first son was born almost four years ago, I started to reexamine my priorities and my life choices. Elizabeth and I had to decide whether she was going back to work after her maternity leave, or staying home to raise Graham. Choosing the latter meant losing almost half of our income overnight, so we had to seriously reconsider many of our habits. It turns out this is not such a bad thing.

Around this time, I read a great book that changed things for me in a big way. “Your Money or Your Life” is about how to prioritize your financial choices to align with your life’s priorities. The basic idea is that since it takes time to earn money to buy things, you are trading away a little piece of your life for each thingamabob you get. The book makes a strong case for frugality, but not deprivation. It’s ok to make the trade after you’ve determined that it really truly improves your life to do so.

Another important lesson from the book is the idea of the crossover point. The crossover point is the moment when income from your savings and investments is enough to pay your living expenses. From then on, you can continue to work, but only because you want to, not because you need to.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of Americans assume that they will be punching the clock until full retirement age (67 for me) and only then begin to enjoy the fruits of their labor. “Your Money or Your Life” puts a totally different spin on work and retirement. The crossover point means you can begin to get serious about the question, “If I didn’t have to earn a living, what would I do?” The answer tells you a lot about yourself. Get busy!

Here’s a short screencast I made with Apple Numbers to illustrate the crossover point:


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Daddy, How About…

Last night as I was driving three-year-old Graham around, he said the words that gladden the heart of any proud father:

“Daddy, how about I listen to Radiohead?”

Update: here’s further proof that Graham is his daddy’s son.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Mini Notebooks: Not for "Real" Work?

I have been eyeing the new mini notebook computers from ASUS and HP. We are online all the time at my house, including our 3-year-old. It may be hard to believe, but it’s hard for us to share two computers, let alone one.

In general, both of these machines are very favorably reviewed. The HP seems to be a better choice for adults if for no other reason than that the keyboard is very close to full-size. I’m thinking of the ASUS for my kids though, and the nerd in me delights in setting them down in front of Linux before they can potty without help.

I have noticed a pattern in the reviews for these machines that I consider bizarre: people will happily say, “Oh, this is a great computer, but it’s only good for writing or using the Net. For serious work, you’ll need a real PC.” Sometimes instead of saying “for serious work,” they’ll say “for anything complex.” Ok, maybe I have an English-major-cum-computer-programmer bias, but do we know of anything more complex than the Internet and writing the English language?

Wait a hundred years and then test this prediction: empires will be built and destroyed, fortunes will be won and lost and won again, and countless human beings will have found love, God, and life’s purpose by “writing and using the Net.”

Also, you can get a great deal on socks at