Archive for the ‘Gear’ Category

New Laptop! Dell Inspiron 7000 13-7378

Amazing. Amazing on two fronts. First that I have actually gotten off my bum and decided to make another post, and secondly that I have finally decided to pull the trigger on getting a new laptop.

I am one of those guys who likes to talk himself out of making a purchase, even though I need it. I have been working with some pretty old equipment for a long while. Using two old Dell laptops, one of which has a bad (dimming) screen, and the other whos dvd drive and sound card have blown out. Of course the parts are not interchangeable between the two. Well, at Christmas time I finally decided (my Mom talked me into it) that maybe since I spend most of my life banging on my computers that I ought to just go out and get a decent one to use.

I actually decided on a 13 inch Macbook Air, which is really a pleasure to use, runs linux just fine (of course I would run linux on it) and is aesthetically pleasing, light and durable. Well, it just so happens that I had my wife shopping with me and she started looking at the Dell laptops and saw one that was similar in look and specs to the Apple and a couple hundred dollars cheaper (bingo!).

This Dell is a 13 inch 2 in 1 i7 laptop encased in aluminum with 12Gb ram, 256Gb ssd, backlit keyboard and a *gorgeous* high def display. It has all the usual ports and, like you would expect, everything works right out of the box with linux. I am running Mint 18.1 on it at the moment and couldn’t be happier. Now not only can I see what I am doing, but I can hear sound on the laptop too! Having good battery life is another bonus with a new laptop 😉

If you are looking for a really sweet deal on a darn good new linux laptop, definitely go give this one a look. I found it for $700 at BestBuy and it was the last one they had in stock. Plenty of the i5s and i3s still there though, of course 😉

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Boom in 30 seconds

Aiwa Exos 9

Aiwa Exos 9

That’s how long it took, and that may be overestimating things. I opened the box, pulled out the unit, plugged it in, switched it on and noticed on the top there was a touch sensitive display that said “Link” so I touched it and then poked the bluetooth icon on my phone, paired the device and just like that I was playing music! It really happened as quickly as you just read it.

It was many months ago I had heard that Aiwa had been resurrected. Purchased by a Chicago company headed by CEO Joe Born, a fellow I have come to know as an innovator and generally one smart cookie through my interraction with him through the Linux Link Tech Show. I was thrilled. I knew big things would be coming, and now, here it is sitting in my livingroom!

The first (that I know of) product release from the new Aiwa is, and this is how it should be, a “Boombox for the new millennium” called the Aiwa Exos 9. This is in essence, a BIG portable bluetooth speaker. It’s big in size, big in sound and big in features. It’s about 12×19.5×7.5 inches. It weighs about 12-15lbs (my scale is not great) and does 200 watts. In short, it rocks.

I just happen to have been born in 1970 and, as a child of the 80s, this whole thing brought memories flooding back to me of how EVERYONE back in the day used to run around with a boombox, playing their favorite toons. Remembering scenes from “Say Anything” where John Cusack is holding his boombox up playing “In your eyes” by Peter Gabriel. Those were good times with great music and this felt like a welcome homage to that (and Aiwa made some rockin’ boomboxes and sterios back in the day).

Now, it should be noted that I am NOT an audiophile, so if you are, and you are dying for more technical specs, you should look what these guys say. I have been heavily involved in music my entire life. I have studied it and was even a union card holding professional musician for a while. I have listened to a LOT of music, and *I* like the way this sounds. It’s clean. It has good base response that doesn’t distort the music and it sounds good at low and high volume levels. This reminded me of this great pair of Bose 901’s I used to listen on (and they are wickedly expensive). I really liked this and if you read the reviews on Amazon, etc., I am not at all in the minority on that sentiment.

Did I mention this is portable? That’s right. Like a boombox, this is ready to go on adventure with you to your patio or to a pool party or picnic or beach. It has a rechargeable battery that lasts 8+ hours and you can buy an extended battery with double the time. And don’t forget the built in handle on the back to make it easy to take it with you.

There were a couple of things I might change though. Firstly, with the speaker grill on the unit looks pretty plain. I took off the grill to expose the speakers and found that much more aesthetically pleasing. The unit also includes an equalizer with 8 programmable presets. It would be helpful for non audiophiles like me if *some* were pre-programmed for things like Jazz, Rock, Classical, etc.. I would LOVE to see them include a spectrum analyzer to give the unit some bling while it’s playing at those late night parties. Lastly I have heard several people mention perhaps side clasps for a carry strap, although I seem to be able to make due just fine with the back built in handle.

So, where does that leave us? Why, the price of course! This sells for $299 on Aiwas site or on Amazon. I think it’s a steal. You are SURE to spend a similar amount of money on a decent sounding stereo for your home and this will give you robust sounding music in your home and abroad for the same price point. Slam dunk! And for the seriously adventurous, these units will allow 2 to link together for bigger sound! I have yet to be able to test this myself but I can only imagine being able to rock the entire block with a similar setup.

It’s time to let your music run free of your earbuds again, and hear it the way it was intended, and Aiwa has just the thing to help. The Aiwa Exos 9. I would grab one now while they still have stock. You’ll be glad you did!

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Saturday, June 11th, 2016

Replace HD in Dell Inspiron N5110

I am no stranger to replacing bad equipment in servers, desktops and laptops, but some laptops don’t make it easy. This was one.

A couple years ago I swapped out an aging hdd in an older Dell Inspiron with a new ssd and, boy, the performance improved drastically. Lately, I have been using a new(er) Inspiron, an N5110 and have noticed that it sure took a while for things like bootup and Chrome to initially load. It was really starting to annoy me, so I looked up the specs on the original hdd and found that there was a squirrel in there pounding out the bits with a chisel, so I decided it was high time for a modern drive and splurged on a 240Gb ssd. I assumed that this was a simple pull the panel off the bottom and swap kind of procedure like the old Dell, so I pulled off the hdd sized panel and boom. The only thing under there was more plastic and a small memory slot???!!

Not to be outdone I turned to youtube, just like an self respecting techie would and was pleased to find some instruction there. You can find the video i used here if you are interested:

That is where is starts to get fun. Apparently you have to disassemble THE ENTIRE LAPTOP to get the hdd out. You have to pull out the battery, memory, all the screws on the bottom, the dvd drive, then flip the machine over and pull off the keyboard, unscrew and pull off the top plate and all the ribbon cables, then unscrew and remove the entire motherboard and one of the monitor mounts. The hdd is underneath the motherboard. Unreal.

Believe it or not, after all that I only had one extra screw(?) and the laptop booted up on the first try. Now came the good part. How to get my existing Linux Mint install onto the new ssd. Normally I would have just used a disk cloning program or dd to do it but the old hdd was 500Gb and this new ssd is only 240Gb. There are also some complicated tutorials on the web on how accomplish this task but let me share with you the easy way.

Do a clean install of your OS. Really. With Linux it takes 15 minutes tops. Don’t bother with any of your configs or personalization. It’s a dummy install to not only get the partitioning correct on your ssd but generate the correct /etc/fstab file (or get the new uuids and make the correct partitions bootable.

Once you are done, boot into your install media again (I used USB because it was faster) and mount your new installation AND your old hdd (I used an external usb drive case for this). I made the directories I needed by doing (as root) “mkdir -p /mnt/newdisk ; mkdir -p /mnt/olddisk” and then putting things in place with “mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/newdisk ; mount /dev/sdc1 /mnt/olddisk”. I should mention here that my partitions were the default Mint layout with a big Linux partition first, then an extended partition, then swap, on both drives.

Once mounted I made a backup copy of the /etc/fstab on my olddisk (the hdd) and then I copied the /etc/fstab from the newdisk to the /etc/fstab on the olddisk. Now the fun part. Go to (cd) the /mnt/newdisk directory. MAKE SURE IT’S THE NEWDISK DIRECTORY, and “rm -rf *”. That is going to delete all the files you just installed. It’ll only take a second.

Next is the long part. I used rsync to copy all my old files over. If you aren’t a hoarder like me with six linux dvd isos in your download directory and 50Gb of music files, it’ll go a lot faster, but all the same, it’s pretty cool to watch. I did a “rsync -rvlpogdstHEAX /mnt/olddisk/ /mnt/newdisk”. Make note of those /’ in there or you’ll end up having to move stuff around afterwards. In retrospect, I think you could use just rsync -av, but ymmv. What you will see is every file on your old drive being copied to the new one. Like I mentioned, this takes a few minutes, just sit back or grab a coffee. Once it’s done you are *almost* ready.

The very last thing you’ll need to fix is your grub.cfg file. These days everyone wants to use uuid to assign devices and your boot file is still looking for your old hdd. Open up a couple terminals. In one, vi /mnt/newdisk/boot/grub/grub.cfg and in the other vi /mnt/newdisk/etc/fstab. In the fstab file you will see the uuid for your new ssd drive. It’s the first uuid mentioned and mounted at /. Io You need to replace the old one in there with the new one from your fstab. It’s easier than you think in vi. Just do a “:g/olduuidstring/s//newuuidstring/g” and hit enter where olduuidstring is your old uuid and newuuidstring is your new uuid from the fstab file. Once it is finished replacing you probably need to save it with a “:wq!” because your system will undoubtedly say it’s a read only file. The reboot! You should be greeted shortly with a much faster but very familiar linux install, complete with all your goodies.

One last note. You may want to increase the life of your ssd ehink in vi. Just do a “:g/olduuidstring/s//newuuidstring/g” and hit enter where olduuidstring is your old uuid and newuuidstring is your new uuid from the fstab file. Once it is finished replacing you probably need to save it with a “:wq!” because your system will undoubtedly say it’s a read only file. The reboot! You should be greeted shortly with a much faster but very familiar linux install, complete with all your goodies.cat by adding a couple options to your /etc/fstab file. Those options are discard and noatime. These options deal with extra disk writes that you really don’t need on ssd. Your / line options in the fstab should look something like “ext4 discard,noatime,errors=remount-ro 0 1”.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Retro Tablet?

asustf101
I was on a trip to visit my uncle recently and while there and talking shop (he’s a techie kinda fellow) he started telling me about this old tablet he had that I could have if I could get it fixed. It seems he purchased a tablet years ago, didn’t like it, then the os became corrupt and he just sort of shelved it, probably some 5 or 6 years ago and got himself an iPad instead.

He dug this thing out and it happened to be an Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101, a tablet that I actually had long ago myself. This one was dirty and no charge and badly in need of a fresh reimage of the OS but after that, it’s a perfectly functioning, practically brand new (hardly been used) TF101, now updated to the latest OTA update available for it, 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich).

So now I have this new old stock tablet and I have decided to get some use out of it (came from my uncle so it holds some sentimental value) and I actually kind of dig it. Of course it is no rocket ship compared to modern android devices but it does chug along and the 4.0.3 OS is still viable in the android store so some apps are still current. I can get my mail and social media and watch videos, listen to music and the like just fine (even netflix). What I like most about it right now is using it as a portable terminal (juice ssh). The included keyboard dock makes that particularly nice.

I have been wondering, though, what else I can do with such a device and am seeking opinions and experiences. I know there are several server suites available for android. I could use it hooked to an external USB drive for a file server or web server, etc.. Perhaps I could somehow shoehorn an actual Linux as a native OS on this thing. Then, there is the possibility of putting custom Android ROMs on it – I think there is one called KATKIT that people are having great success with. Never having installed a custom ROM before on android I am a little hesitant and don’t want to brick the machine. So, what do you think? What should I try first?

Friday, March 11th, 2016

“Fixing” an old laptop

Dell Inspiron 1545

Dell Inspiron 1545


A few years ago when I was in the market for a new laptop I picked up one of the then wildly popular and cheap Dell Inspiron 1545. There are gobs of these running around now and you can find them cheap if you look (click the pic for links to Amazon). I used this for for, it seems, forever. I only ever had one problem with it – a small plastic chip in one of the corners that I repaired with superglue (you would never notice). Lately, though, it has been running noticeably slow. I don’t know if it’s because it’s actually getting slower, the software is just getting fatter, my work computer is blazing fast in comparison, or a combination of any/all of those. Either way, it’s really been bugging me so much lately that I had considered just getting a new lappy. Before I did, I decided to look over the specs to see what I actually had here. Mine is a core duo 2.2Ghz with 4Gb ram and a 320gb HDD. Running Linux this thing *should* run like it was on fire. So why so freaking slow? A quick look at “top” revealed what had to be the problem. I was at almost 0% CPU and only 1.5Gb ram. It HAD to be the slow as pencil and paper hard drive writes and reads. A quick search says that somewhere in between now and the last time I came up from air at work SSD drive prices dramatically reduced, so I stopped by a bigbox store and picked up a 240Gb SSD for <$100 and screwed it in and WHAMO! It's like I have a brand new laptop! Seriously! Not only is the difference noticeable, it's amazing, so much so that I needed to break my blogging silence to tell you about it. If any of you have an aging laptop like me that runs but is "meh", it's totally worth it to spend the 15 minutes it takes to do this upgrade. It certainly just saved me $500 and I am now, once again, perfectly happy with my trusty old (but well kept) Dell Inspiron 1545.

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

MagicJack Plus

MagicJack Plus
I was an early adopter of voip, initially using Broadvoice, then later inphonex for service, but lately, their service has been problematic. My wife had noticed that after making or receiving a call, the next call she would not be able to hear or talk to the other end of the line. This often required me to reset and restart the IP phone and connection. After mucking around with all sorts of settings on my IP phone and then trying several soft phones as well, all with the same results, I was in the market for yet another carrier. Enter MagicJack.

MagicJack has been all over the media lately and I have stayed away from it mostly because there was no linux support. Well, recently, they came out with the MagicJack Plus, which they advertise as “Use without a computer”. I decided that was probably the way to go. After all, who can resist a $25 A YEAR phone bill, right? Shoot, even my Inphonex plan cost that much per month. So, I went out and bought a MagicJack Plus at my local RadioShack and also purchased a cheapo phone to use with it as my only phone for years has been a voip phone.

The good:
The phone quality is decent. It is easy to set up and get going. It is way inexpensive. It is very portable.

The bad:
You *DO* need a computer to set it up. I had to use a mac to get it registered (no Linux yet and I refuse to use windows). Once set up initially, no more computer needed. The quality is decent. Transferring your old number costs additional $$. Had to change my home number.

All in all I call it a good purchase. I spent $70 on it and that gets me a free year phone service along with the equipment. I have made and taken several phone calls on it now with successful results. The money I spent on the MJP will pay for itself in 3 months of my previous carriers phone bill and then I am saving $25 a month and getting better service. I have to admit it seems hard to beat at this point!

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

GeChic On-Lap 13.3″ LCD

GeChic On-Lap 1301 13.3” Portable and USB powered Thin, Light, and Plug & Play LCD Monitor

GeChic On-Lap 1301 13.3” Portable and USB powered Thin, Light, and Plug & Play LCD Monitor


You would think that my lack of posts here lately meant I had simply dropped of the face of the earth, but that isn’t really so. I have just been extremely busy with the day to day problems facing me in RL, including how to squeeze >that< much more work into my overly busy day. This particular recent purchase, the GeChic On-Lap 1301 13.3” Portable and USB powered Thin, Light, and Plug & Play LCD Monitor, has helped me do just that.

One of the things all high-end computer workers need to enable them to multitask better is more screen space. This has been researched and documented in a variety of different places. Well, what are you to do with your mobile workstation? You can buy one of those external USB screens, that’s what. Almost a no-brainer, right? The problem with that for a Linux user is the drivers. Most of these types of screens push video through USB, which means you have to have a working usb to video driver, not to mention video over usb is a little slow. Enter the GeChic!

The GeChic solves these problems by NOT usung usb for video, it actually has both a vga and a dvi input along with being usb powered. That’s right, no extra power cord, just plug in the usb cable and pick your input method and you are rockin’ and rollin’. This means it will work with literally ANY laptop or desktop which supports those types of video output, regardless of operating system or driver issues.

The unit itself is a little pricey at $200, however, it makes up for it’s few downsides by giving me my much needed screen space, in an attractive, easy and mobile form. I did say few downsides, and there are a couple other than the price. The first is the color. It just doesn’t want to color match my laptop’s LCD no matter how I seem to adjust it. The second is that using vga input the picture quality lacks a little. To be fair, dvi input is far superior to vga anyhow, and the vga problems could just as easily stem from my machine than from the monitor and I didn’t spend a whole lot of time messing with the settings on vga before just trying out dvi. Ymmv.

What I do like is that this is an attractive little lcd screen with a nice resolution of 1366×768. You can use it while physically attached to your laptop or it can sit standalone next to it in several positions with its included stand. To connect it to your laptop it has surprisingly strong suction cups that attach it’s swing-base to the top of your laptop and it can simply fold up or swing out for use. This allows you to also do neat things like show a presentation on the back of your laptop while you watch the front, etc..

No matter how you slice it, this little thing is mighty handy to have around and everyone who has seen it in action immediately wants one of their own. Boy, I wonder if I could get a kickback from NewEgg on this? Even at that price, I think we have a winner.

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

My aching butt? No more!

Knoll Generation

Knoll Generation


I have long held the opinion that you should not skimp on the things that you use professionally and frequently. For instance I often tell my peers to make sure they buy decent computers and not just bargain basement models. For some reason it never occurred to me to apply this reasoning to my posterior. That is, until recently.

I have been using a most uncomfortable office chair for the longest time, in fact, for the last 5 years. It’s one of those “conference room” models, which, although built plenty rugged, are not necessarily built for comfort. The real problem with this is I sit in the thing almost 8 hours a day. I even had to buy a pillow for it because I have what I like to refer to as “sysadmin’s butt”, which is essentially the lack of a posterior portion of your anatomy, due mostly to parking it in a chair 8 hours a day for many years.

A few days ago, a friend of mine who just happens to work for a great company called Knoll, got me hooked up with a review unit of the Knoll Generation chair. Let me just say I don’t know why I waited so long for a good chair!

This chair is the epitome of office comfort and has so many options to aid you in that regard it’s difficult to mention them all. Of course it offers the standard amenities such as height adjustment and a reclining back, but wait, there is more! It has these cool adjustable arms that not only raise and lower but they also have arm pads that adjust in depth, width and pivot. The back of the seat has this comfort type netting which is flexible, cool and very comfortable. The top of the back flexes almost over backwards and it a great place to rest your arm while sitting sideways in high comfort. I think the feature that threw me the most is the flex seat. Unlike most chairs with a solid unyielding seat, this seat has some degree of movement or side to side pivot. I almost thought that my chair was broken until I realized that this was intentional! This pivot to the seat allows comfort and support for how people sit. What I mean by that is people sit different ways and on different angles with their feet up, legs crossed and what have you, and this seat allows some motion in that regard to keep even support and pressure where it should be, fully on your posterior instead of on your legs when you are not seated “flat”. In addition to that, the seat depth adjusts as well.

Although this chair may be on the expensive side, I believe it’s well worth it, especially for people who are confined to such devices for much of their day. I wish they had a travel version available, I would buy it in a minute 😉 I think the best testimony is that every person in my office has now sampled the chair and ALL of them want one! If you are in need, you can’t go wrong with one of these. It’d most likely be the last office chair you would ever need to buy.

My only hope and wish is that the Knoll folks see this review and decide to send me one of their other products to test as well! Other than that, I’ll be happy to hang out in my own Genertion!

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Roku 2 XD

Roku 2 XD

Roku 2 XD


Long have I wanted to have a device that would easily tie my Netflix subscription and other streaming internet media to my tv. I have tried lots of nice things, but they all left me wanting something more, that is, until I got a Roku.

I picked up a Roku 2 XD at BestBuy for $79 and figured I would try it out and return it if it wasn’t what I really wanted. To my surprise I really like it!

My first impressions are that it is REALLY small. It literally fits, in its entirety, into the palm of my hand. It’s pretty slick looking for a little black box with a fabric tag sticking out the side. It has the normal input/output ports that you would expect for a device that connects to your tv to have, and, really, nothing else but the remote, which is also quite small.

Once you hook it all up and plug it in, you are greeted by the Roku logo while the system loads, and then you are taken through a series of steps to register your box and your account (free). After that you can start adding channels and enjoying your streaming web content on your tv!

Now the channels on Roku are different than I expected. Each channel is a service. For example, Netflix is a channel and Hulu is a channel and Crackle and Pandora, etc. and the list goes on. I am sure there is something in there for almost everybody. The ones I really enjoy, outside of Netflix, are Crackle, which somehow provides FREE streaming (recent) movies and tv content, Pandora, and Pub-D-Hub, which has all kinds of old movies, shows and cartoons (and even commercials).

The only thing I really do not like is it’s difficult to actually locate the kind of content you are looking for. This is primarily because there is so much available, and, I will have to admit that sometimes it’s fun just searching around.

What’s Good:
Small, Good looking, Quick, Inexpensive, easy to set up and easy to use.

What’s Bad:
Hard to sort through all the content to find exactly what you want.



Thursday, September 1st, 2011

New bag of holding

Rothco Vintage Classic Army Messenger Heavy Weight Shoulder Bag

Rothco Vintage Classic Army Messenger Heavy Weight Shoulder Bag


I have been carrying a Targus laptop backpack around with me for years. Well, let me qualify that a little. I have been carrying that around with me for years while I have been trying other bags.

Honestly, I was perfectly happy with that Targus bag for the longest time, until I got old 🙂 In the last 4 years or so, I have had some issues with my right shoulder, and slinging that backpack around on that shoulder has occasionally aggravated that. I know what you are saying, why not wear that backback as a backpack? Well, there are a lot of reasons like accessibility and convenience and comfort, along with the face that it makes me look/feel like more of a geek/dork/fat than I am already.

I tried to find a good sling backpack, but they are all either ridiculously expensive, cheaply made, too small or the sling is on the right hand side. Most recently I tried a Solo messenger bag, which worked in form factor, but had it’s own issues like the pocket in the flap bulged out nasty when used, the flap closure clip was single in the middle of the bag which made the bag front roll up on the corners, and the pockets just weren’t adequate enough for my space needs.

Enter the last try, the Rothco Vintage Classic Army Messenger Heavy Weight Shoulder Bag. This is a messenger-style bag made out of heavy/durable canvas material. It has 2 roomy front pockets big enough for me to carry all my odds and ends including my Kindle, usb drives, mail, my little travel hygene/medial kit,etc. The 2 side/drink pockets are great Normally those kinds of pockets are only 3 or 4 inches of mesh, but these are almost full bag height solid canvas pockets which work fantastic for carrying things like all my assorted cables and my glasses case, etc., and can be secured with snaps at the top. There is one small zippered pocket on the inside that is big enough to carry all your assorted pens and paraphernalia. Lastly the single main interior compartment is quite sizable. Although not padded for laptop carry itself, you could easily fit a 15″+ laptop in there with plenty of room to spare for your chargers, books, papers and probably your lunch too. Also, worth noting is that the bag, even when packed, does not look oddly malformed or too bulky to carry comfortably.

I mentioned previously that this was made of durable heavy canvas. That level of durable construction appears in every aspect of the bag. The stitching is solid, the hardware all the way around is metal and build for hard use. I am quite impressed with the strap itself. It too is made of a wide width heavy canvas, attached directly to the bag and is not removable. Many other messenger bags use cheap plastic clips or thin metal dog clips which invariably bind up on something and detach at the most inopportune moment. An added bonus of the strap being canvas is it does NOT slide off my shoulder 🙂

All in all it’s a great bag and so far I am quite happy with it. For around $25 you just can’t beat the price. I highly recommend this for the rest of you commuters, it gets 2 thumbs up!

Sunday, August 21st, 2011