Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolution

Day 57

I'm coming up on the two month mark with me Eee PC, and that conveniently syncs up pretty close with the start of 2009. I have a personal resolution to help ring in the new year, but I thought I could make one for the Eee as well - and that is to play well with others.

Well, other computers anyways. I never had much luck getting my Eee to find network printers at work, and I've never even bothered to set up a home network. Counting the Eee, and the soon-to-be acquired Dell from my Mom's office (I was volunteered to set up two new computers for her and that is my commission) I have six machines at my disposal and I think it's time I figure out how to make them all work together.

My ultimate goal is to get a multi-player first person shooter game up and running. I skipped many classes during college to play Half-Life with buddies in the dorms, and I'd like to recreate that in the basement with my assortment of computers. Linux and the gaming world have a love-hate relationship, so this may be an unattainable goal, but aren't all new year's resolutions?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Get Around Flash Videos that Crash Firefox

Day 48

I blogged on day 24 the woes of watching flash videos with Firefox. Every third video or so will cause Firefox (and sometimes the entire Eee) to freeze for about a minute before presenting a pop up asking if you want to terminate the program. Conveniently, when Firefox restarts it asks if you'd like to restore tabs from the previous session. I could live with this if I didn't have to wait for the error message - it feels like forever when you're anxiously waiting to Barry Maniroll yourself.

Here's a simple workaround. Instead of starting Firefox by double clicking on the icon or choosing it from the launch menu, open it using the console. In easy mode, press ctrl+alt+t, or in advanced mode select it from launch-->applications-->systems (I actually have it added to my desktop for quick access). Simply type "Firefox" and hit enter. You can even add a web address in the console to save a step once Firefox is open.

The advantage to this is that if/when a flash video freezes, you don't have to wait for the termination message to display. Simply close the console, and Firefox will terminate. When you reload it, it will ask if you want to continue from where you left off.

This doesn't fix the Linux/Flash problem, but using the console does make it a bit more tolerable.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Link is Down Message

This is a follow-up to a previous post, Strange Icons.
I'm still having occasional sightings of this mysterious wifi icon. While I don't have the answer to what it's all about and why it appears, I have some new findings I thought I'd share. The other day I decided to look around the Eee in easy mode. I was hardwired in, and I immediately spotted a familiar icon. It was just like the mystery icon I had been noticing in advanced mode, only without the red warning symbol. Strange. Why would it appear when I was successfully connected through my wireless router?

The next time the strange icon appeared, I checked the network connection tab. There was a strange status message - "Link is down." What link? And if it is down, why could I still surf the web?

I think I can safely say the icon is not an indicator or government monitoring or that my Eee has developed self awareness, but I'm still not sure what it means. If I can still connect to the Internet, it can't be that big of a deal.

I should instead be worrying that Christmas is in less than a week and I haven't gone shopping yet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How to Record Skype Conversations

Day 42

I remember using AIM in late 1999 for voice chat. Sure, it was a beta feature - there was some serious delay and the quality was sub par - but the feature was available none the less. So when I first fired up Skype, I didn't see what all the hype was about. I soon learned the true potential is hidden behind skype credits ,which gives the caller the ability to call ordinary phone numbers.

It's just over 2 cents a minute to call anywhere in the US, so I thought it was worth experimenting with. I purchased $10 in Skype credits and punched in my wife's cell number. Since Skype ships with the Asus Eee, I figured there would be no problems, and I was correct. The connection was clear with only occasional digital distortion.

But there's really no need to spend my credits calling my wife when my own cell phone does the trick. Instead, I wanted to see the potential in using Skype for podcasting. Phone interviews are a great way to keep a podcast interesting - if you can get a quality recording.

While recording Skype conversations in Windows is fairly easy, there are not many resources available for doing so in Linux. Googling the topic brought up many pages, but few solid answers. There were a handful of tutorials for setting up Audacity to take the Skype signal, but they were either too difficult to follow, or led to dead ends in the program settings. One tutorial gave suggestions for recording through the command line, which was a concept I simply couldn't grasp. There was even a website that detailed how to connect two laptops with a series of patch cords going to and from the microphone and headphone jacks. All these "solutions" almost made me give up on recording a Skype conversation. Until I found Skype Call Recorder.

SCR is a simple-to-use addon for Skype. When a call is placed, it saves the recording as a stereo mp3 track. The convenient thing is that the caller is recorded on the left speaker track and the callee is on the right making it extremely easy to edit (If you want to know how to edit this using Audacity, leave a comment, and I'll post a quick how-to).

Skype Call Recorder can be downloaded here as a .deb package that is specifically for the Eee, so there should be no problems installing. There weren't any for me. Just click on the link and let the Eee do the hard part.

Skype Call Recorder is great for podcasting and recording phone interviews.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Problems with Shell Console

Day 41

I was trying to work through some command line tutorials and the console kept messing with the text I was entering. Every few minutes it would start entering text with space between each letter so that it l o o k e d l i k e t h i s. Needless to say, my console commands didn't work very well.

I have no idea why this was happening, and that only added to the frustration. The only way to fix the problem was to close the shell and then open a new one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Day 40

My thirty-something year old cousin asked me to drop by her house today to help set up a digital photo frame that she bought someone for Christmas. I had a few minutes to kill between holiday errands and when I told her I'd be there, so I hit up a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru and found an unencrypted wifi signal coming from a hotel nearby.

I don't know if it's related or not, but the first site I went to (Twitter - I actually just got back in to using this site. Follow me if you'd like!) brought up a certificate expiration warning, and so did Gmail and Digg. It was then that I noticed the clock in the corner of the screen was off by about 5 hours. Strange. I figured something wasn't set up right with the hotel's signal.

Tonight when I fired up Firefox I again got the same warnings. It at least reminded me to reset the clock. When I opened the clock menu, I found the reason for all the confusion. My Eee thought it was 2018.

I don't know what caused my Eee PC to age ten years in the course of a day, but I'm going to assume it had something to do with connecting to an unsecure wireless signal... Unless it happens again. Then I'll have to find something else to blame.

And on a somewhat related note - My cousin was excited to see me walk in with the Eee. She told me she bought one for her 14 year old son for Christmas. When I asked if it was loaded with Windows or Linux, she guessed Windows. I'm half hoping that it's really Xandros - it'll give me the opportunity to go over there and spread the good word to a new generation.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How to Make USB Christmas Lights

Day 39

I spent all day pulling the decorations out of the basement and making the house look festive. We had no ornament casualties this year, but we did have two sets of lights that were only half working.

A few hours after I threw them out, I got an idea. I dug a set out of the trash and plugged it in. After spotting a section that was still working, I unplugged and cut the section off the rest of the string. My goal - to make Christmas lights for my Eee PC.

Step 1 - Cut the lights
The lights actually had three wires. one was connected to each bulb on the string, and I needed one of the others to complete the circuit. The third must have been a ground or something, so I simply removed it. I spliced both ends of the wires and twisted the two on one end together so all I would need to do is connect a power source to the other end.

Step 2 - Test the circuit
I had 8 lights in my string. I know that a USB port only sends out 5 volts of power, so before trying it on my laptop, I pressed the two wires against the terminals on a 9 volt battery. They lit up, but it was quite dim, so I knew I needed to shorten my string if it were to light up on the Eee. I cut it in half.

Step 3 - Connecting the USB.
I dug up a USB cord for an old printer that is no longer functioning and cut it about 8 inches from the connector. There were fours wires inside - red, black, green, blue. The green and blue are for data transfer, so they were useless. I stripped the red and black and connected them to the ends of my lights. Just to be safe, I wound some electrical tape around all the exposed wires before connecting them to the Eee.

They aren't the brightest, but I now have some yule-tide bling for my laptop. I was thinking about picking up a toggle switch so I could turn them on and off, but I'd love it even more if I could find the console command to stop power to the USB port. I Googled it, but didn't have much luck. Either way, USB lights are a quick and easy project for nerds caught up in the holiday spirit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to add applications to the Launch Menu

Day 37

Having to first open the console in order to run a program seems a bit redundant. Besides, I don't trust myself to remember what needs to be typed in to call up each program. With a bit of exploring, I found it easy to add applications to their respective sub menus in the Launch menu.

Let's use my new favorite game, BomberClone for example. I wanted to put it with the other games (specifically categorized in the “arcade” section. Here's how to do it:

  1. Click on the Launch menu.
  2. Mouse over “applications” and right click.
  3. Choose “edit menu” from the list.
  4. Navigate to the sub menu you wish to add your application to. In this case it was Applications --> Games --> Arcade.
  5. Click the “new item” icon at the top of the screen and enter the name of the application as you want it to be displayed in the menu.
  6. To the right of the menu editor, there are several fields where you can add information about the application. The only essential field is the command field. Type the console command for the application in that field. In my case, it was the word “bomberclone.”
  7. If you want to add an icon, click on the box to the right of the application name. You can either choose from the set of system icons, or browse for your own. I got lucky – there was a bomb icon already in the laptop somewhere.
The process was much easier than I expected. There's probably a way to do it through the command line as well, but I have no desire to figure it out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm the Bomb

Day 36

Linux isn't known for it's incredible gaming abilities (although Digg is abuzz with stories about someone porting Prey to Linux), and unfortunately, neither am I. Given the preference, I'd still rather pull out the old NES or Sega Genesis than turn on the Wii that's in the living room. The reason I mention these archiac systems is because tonight I got to take my Eee with me down memory lane.

One of my favorite games as a kid was Mega Bomberman for the Sega. Bomberman was forever trapped in a series of mazes with a seemingly endless supply of bombs hidden somewhere on his person. Occasionally a dinosaur bearing a slight resemblance to Yoshi comes to help, and at some point in the game, Bomberman is called upon to fight a giant banana. Imagine my glee when I found an open source version called BomberClone in Synaptic.

It installed no problem, but does not automatically show up in the Launch menu. Instead, it runs simply by typing "bomberclone" in the console.

It's similar to Bomberman, however, sadly, the giant banana is absent. It has a multi-player setting though, so if anyone is interested in trying to play a game, comment me and maybe we can figure something out.

No Bananas or good-natured dinosaurs, but BomberClone is still lots of fun.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Comments and Santa

Day 35

Cybermoron from the EeeUser forum informed me that comments weren't working (thanks, Steve!), so if you were interesting in sharing your thoughts, please do so - the problem has been fixed. And here I thought I was writing to myself! At least I know it was a problem with the comments on my blog and not with the content. I was afraid it was coming across as tasteless or obscene.

The approaching holiday season has given me an opportunity to do a little street team work for the Eee PC. For the past month it has gone pretty much everywhere with me; it has raised some eyebrows, and sparked some interesting conversations. I've made sure to contribute to these honestly and fairly, revealing all the cons as well as pros to owning this little guy. Most agree that the positive outweighs the negative; I know of at least two Asus Eee PCs that have been purchased because of me - One of my colleagues purchased one for each of her two children. There were others that had only heard whispers of these things known as netbooks, and I'd like to think I shed enough light on the subject to persuade them to seriously consider buying one to put under the Christmas tree.

If you've managed to avoid the naughty list this year, here's why you should ask Santa for an Asus Eee PC.

  • Excellent battery life - With screen brightness at about 60% and wireless on, I get almost 4 hours of intermittent use before needing to plug in.
  • Basic Mode & Advanced Mode - With Xandros Linux you get something not available on Windows - a choice for user interface.
  • Portability - I carry mine around like it's a hardcover book. It I were a woman and had a purse, it would easily fit in there next to (or in place of!) the daily planner and Blackberry.
  • Price and Compatibility - It's under $300 and it's 99% compatible with proprietary applications such as Microsoft Office.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Strange icons

Day 33
Last night I noticed something strange while doing some last minute emailing before bed. Normally, the familiar green bars icon sits comfortably in my menu bar informing me that I have a good Internet connection. When I glanced down, I saw a different icon. I was still able to connect to the internet, so it wasn't a broken connection. I was actually quite paranoid that it was a cryptic message from Asus informing me that the government was reading my gmail, so I quickly restarted the laptop. When I reconnected, the green bar came back, and has remained ever since.

Any ideas?

Friday, December 5, 2008

I Miss Ktorrent Continued

Days 29-31

I have spent the past three days trying to reinstall Ktorrent. It's becoming the itch that can't be scratched. Here is the truncated list of all my failed attempts so far.

  • After checking previous posts, I started a new thread on EeeUser in hopes of the answer. No luck yet.
  • Someone suggested removing all references to the offending libqt3c102-mt file. It didn't work (but here is the how-to if you want to give it a go).
  • I found an article explaining how a similar error was coming up when people tried to install an old version of Skype. The article linked to the Skype homepage with directions to reinstall an updated version which also installs the needed dependencies. Not only did it not work, my Eee damn near threw a fit when I tried to downgrade my version of Skype.
  • Another site said to add two new repositories, so I did. This is the current list on my laptop with the new ones appearing at the end.
deb common main
deb p900 main
deb en main
deb p701 main
deb p701 etch main
deb dccri-3.0 main
deb xandros4 main
deb p701 main etch
deb-src v1.1 main
deb p701 dev
deb binary/
deb-src source/

Adding the repositories got rid of the original libqt3c102-mt error, but only to replace it with a more complexing one:

The following packages have unmet dependencies:
ktorrent: Depends: libgeoip1 (>= 1.3.17) but it is not installable
E: Broken packages

I have no idea what libgeoip1 is. It doesn't even come up in a Google search. Any ideas?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Miss Ktorrent

Day 28

I spent some time yesterday and today replicating my original Xandros install that was destroyed during my botched attempt at loading EeeUbuntu. Fortunately, this blog was a great resource. Since I've been reporting everything I do with the Eee, I had no problem re-downloading packages and copying console commands. The only thing I was unable to recover was Ktorrent.

I made the mistake of being quite vague regarding where/how I downloaded it in my original post. I believe I found a tutorial and installed the package using the command line. I may have added a repository, but I can't be sure. Regardless, I couldn't find the tutorial I used, so I decided to take a new approach.

I went right to Synaptic since it is usually the easiest avenue. Ktorrent came right up, along with several other torrent applications. When I tried downloading it, however, I got a somewhere damning error message. Synaptic told me that something called libqt3c102-mt was required but it would not be installed. This seemed like an awfully pissy message to be receiving from a computer. Either my Eee had turned into a temperamental teenage girl, or there was a conflict with the Ktorrent package and Xandros.

The equivalent of the Asus Eee taking its football and going home.

No biggie. I decided to try another application. After all, what difference does it make?

I couldn't tell you. Most of them wouldn't install for me. Some, like BitTorrent and BitTornado required python, which apparently isn't an option on the Eee, and others like Transmission and Frostwire would appear to download, but would never load.

I tried every torrent on the list, and the only one that seemed to function properly was Azureus. I hated every minute of using it. So much that I would rather nothing than use Azureus. I miss Ktorrent. Does anyone know how to get it back on my Eee?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Punk Rock Elmo on the Eee

Day 27

Listen to Punk Rock Elmo, recorded on the Asus Eee

Linux isn't known for its audio prowess, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of packages hidden in the repositories for those who dare try to push the limits. The most popular of course is Audacity which is typically used for podcasts and light audio editing. I wanted to put it to the test and see if it and the Asus Eee could handle recording a multi-track, musical composition.

My daughter will be a year-and-a-half by Christmas, and her life currently revolves around Sesame Street's Elmo. That furry monster is on constantly in the house and I can't help but find myself wandering around whistling the theme song. This will be my sample song. I grew up on punk rock (and it's still my guilty pleasure), so I thought I would combine the two and see what happened.

I consider myself a mediocre musician on most instruments, and although I can play the drums, I didn't have a real drumset handy, so I hunted down a copy of Hydrogen. This is a drum machine similar to the commercial product known as Fruity Loops. I installed it from a .deb package I downloaded from the Hydrogen Sourceforge site. It installed fine, but there was no program icon in the launch menu so it had to be started from the command line (simply by typing the word hydrogen). The screen sized forced me to scroll horizontally through the drum tracks, but other than being a minor irritation, this did not affect the program in any way. After I had sequenced the drums, I exported it as a .wav and moved on to Audacity.

I played with Audacity in the past, and found that the sound card on the Eee does a decent job recording one track, but once that exists, it pretty much sounds like mud for any additional tracks. I was planning on importing the drum track and then recording two guitars and a bass - four tracks total. To do this, I would have to get a bit creative.

Rather than importing the drum track into Audacity, I instead loaded it into the default Music Manager that comes with the Eee. I plugged my mic into the 1/8" jack and aimed it at my guitar amp. I was able to record through Audacity while listening to the drum track playing through the Music Manager. This way Audacity could stay at its one track recording maximum, but I still had something to follow along with.

It was a tedious process, but it worked. I repeated it with the other tracks. After each track, I did some quick track cleaning (amplified and removed noise), and then saved it as an mp3.

When all the recording was done, I imported the four tracks into Audacity and synced them up. After a bit of tweeking, it was good to go. The quality isn't fantastic, but it's a solid little recording.

Does this prove that Audacity is to the Eee what Garage Band is to the Mac? Not really. But it'll get the job done if you're will to work around the issues. And the next time you see Elmo, I hope you picture him kicking ass in a mosh pit with the rest of his muppet pals.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

EeeUbuntu Frustrations

Day 25 and 26

Things have not gone well so far with my transition away from Xandros. 

It seemed simple enough. Download the .iso and then use Unetbootin to load it onto a flash drive. I first tried this from the Eee - after all, it only seemed appropriate to have the Eee do all the work. I followed the directions to run Unetbootin, but nothing happened. More tinkering, but still no luck. I decided to give in and create the bootable usb from my wife's HP pavilion laptop. 
I re-downloaded everything I needed and successfully loaded it onto my Kingston DataTraveler 8gb flash drive. I even rebooted it on the HP and it booted the live version of EeeUbuntu. I was ready to install it on the Eee. 

First, I had to figure out how to boot to a USB. The boot order didn't say anything specifically about a USB, only a generic "removable device." I went to the Eee forums for an answer and learned that there should be a USB boot option during the grub splash screen. Since I didn't see this, it caused all kinds of headaches for me. About two hours' worth, to be exact. In the end, I think I got the USB boot option by powering up the Eee and then holding down both the esc button and the power button, but I did so much random button pressing during start up that I'm not sure what really did the trick. 

So I now had my USB good to go, and the Eee was ready to boot to it. Only one problem - it didn't detect the USB. Apparently the Asus Eee doesn't like Kingston brand usb drives. I went back to the HP and started the process over again with a new flash drive. 

The only other flash drive I had handy was my 2gb watch drive I got for Christmas last year from thinkgeek. I use it constantly for transferring files to and from work. I cleared all other files off of it and reformatted it for good measure, and then loaded EeeUbuntu onto it. After it finished I returned to the Eee and booted it up. 

Running EeeUbuntu from my wrist watch

Ureeka! the USB watch was detected and I was allowed to boot to it. With little success. The grub bootloader started but stopped at what looked like some sort of command line. Posts lamenting about similar errors on Eeeuser resulted in no easy fix. By now it was 4am, so I decided to call it a night. 

This is the mess I left on the kitchen table after I gave up for the night. The next morning I awoke to find my wife setting the table for breakfast around the laptops. 

This morning I decided to give it another go. I had read that Unetbootin isn't completely reliable and can sometimes load files incorrectly onto the USB. I reformatted my watch and tried again. This time it loaded quickly and booted no problem! I was ready to install. 

EeeUbuntu booted nicely on the Eee, and I quickly went through the 6 installation steps. I didn't change any of the settings and just let it go with a default install. It took about 25 minutes for it to finish installation. When it prompted me, I removed the flash drive and rebooted. 

I saw the grub bootloader but then got this message:

Error 21: Selected disk does not exist. 

That's bad. I shut it down, plugged the USB back in, and then restarted and booted to it. It worked perfect. Conclusion - I had accidentally erased Xandros from the internal SD memory, but then installed EeeUbuntu to the flash drive instead of in Xandros' place. Oops. I know some people do just that intentionally by using the removable SD care slot, but a fricken' watch plugged into the side of the lapotp is just a bit more cumbersome. 

To make matters worse, I was generally unimpressed with EeeUbuntu's user interface. It's based on the netbook remix, so it reminded me more of Xandros in easy mode than what I had been using in advanced mode. 

By now, I was feeling a bit desperate. I had a laptop that was essentially useless and I wanted it back up and running as soon as possible. Since I didn't like EeeUbuntu, I figured I'd look into EeeXubuntu. It was similar in layout to Xandros. I found a torrent of the iso and the process began all over again. 

Xubuntu installed nicely, and in the right place on the internal memory. I was pumped. Until I noticed that the wireless wasn't working, and I kept getting repeated warning errors about the battery being dead (I was plugged into the wall, so this didn't make much sense). More dead ends. 

So I give up. During the past two days I kept comparing everything to the Xandros advanced desktop I had running. It made me realize how much I liked it. I plan to pull out the restore DVD and see if I can get it to boot from a usb. 

Lesson learned - If it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Day 24

I spend much of my free time getting wrapped up in viral videos posted on sites like youtube and digg. The relationship between Flash and Linux has been a rocky one, and lagging or choppy videos on the Eee seems to be a recurring topic on Eee forums. Fortunately, that hasn't been the case for me. Instead, flash videos periodically cause Firefox to crash. It isn't any one specific video or site that causes this, so this has to be an issue with Xandros. And it may be a deal breaker for me.

Tomorrow is the 1/4 mark for my 100 days experiment. I think I'm going to celebrate by ditching Xandros in favor of EeeUbuntu. There's not harm in trying - if I hate it, I can use the supplied restore disk to bring back the original operating system.

Here are two of the crash messages from earlier today.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving with the Eee

Day 23

I went to my Mom's house for Thanksgiving, and after too much turkey and fixings, my brothers and I ended up on the couch - me with the Eee, and them with their Macbooks. Here's what I observed:

  1. The Macbooks discovered the unencrypted wireless signal way faster than the Eee. In fact, when I first searched for it nothing showed. Only after I turned wifi off then on again could I begin the lengthy process of waiting for the signal to change from pending to enabled.
  2. Battery life on the Eee is much better than the Macbook. After an evening of sharing favorite sites, blogs, and trying to RickRoll each other, the Eee's battery life was 60% and the Macbook was at 50%. Realistically, this means the Eee would outlive the Macbook by about an hour.
  3. According to my mom, size does matter. She said I looked funny sitting next to the other, larger Macbooks.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Background Settings

Day 23

Tonight I found a nifty little feature in the background settings that allows multiple backgrounds to be selected as part of a slow moving slide show. I don't think this is a feature available on Windows or even other Linux distros (?), so while it's a small detail, it makes Xandros just a bit more aesthetically pleasing.

Right click on the desktop and choose "properties." Enable the slide show option to have multiple backgrounds rotate on the desktop.


Day 22

Web site keyboardr is an as-you-type search mashup of Google (including blog and image search), Wikipedia, and YouTube with blazing speed. Once you see a result you like, just use your arrow keys to navigate to the result, then hit Enter to open it.
- Lifehacker

One of my earlier gripes about navigating around the Eee was the inevitable hand cramps that resulted from the tiny keyboard and touch pad. This is particularly noticeable while surfing the web.

I may have found a solution to this problem while visiting my favorite social bookmarking site, Delicious. Keyboardr is a new homepage that can search, navigate, and select all from the keyboard. This is convenient on any computer, but even moreso on the Eee. It was just released, and it's clear there are some bugs. Hopefully these will be worked out, and a few more options will be added, but for right now, keyboardr is a nice remedy to the hand strain caused by the Eee's cramped real estate.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Audacity and LAME

Day 21

There are some intentional incompatibilities between Audacity and proprietary files formats (.wma, for example). Apparently this applies to mp3s as well because a separate file is needed in order for Audacity to export projects as an mp3, and while Ogg Vorbis is just as good, it just isn't the standard yet. LAME is needed.
On a Windows computer, installing LAME is no more difficult that downloading the file and then directing Audacity to its location. It proved to be much more difficult on Linux. Maybe I wasn't looking hard enough, but I couldn't find a location to download the file Audacity was asking for (Incidentally, Windows Audacity asks for lame.dll). I decided to compile the file from source. Here's how.

  1. Download the source file here.
  2. Extract the files from the .zip.
  3. Click into the LAME folder that was extracted, click on the tools menu, and choose “open new console window.”
  4. Type sudo apt-get install build-essential
  5. Type su and enter your root password when prompted
  6. Type ./configure
  7. Type make
  8. Type make install

Following these steps caused all kinds of interesting things to happen in the console – it kind of looked like the time the cat walked across the keyboard while I was typing my masters project – but it seemed to do the trick. Sort of.

When I tried to export to mp3, it again asked me the the LAME file, and much to my chagrin, I couldn't locate it. I minimized the window and used the handy find option in the launch bar to locate the path to Strangely, Audacity couldn't see the folder it was in, so I had to manually move it to my home directory and use it from there.

If anything, the last two days have shown me why the Eee doesn't ship with Audacity. Sure it works, but it's kind of like using a butter knife as a screwdriver. It gets the job done, but may require a bit more effort than expected.

Day 20

I have yet to remedy the recording problems I experienced while using Audacity, although to be honest, I haven't really tried to fix them. Instead, I needed to focus on editing some multi-track .aup files that some students at school recorded. It's a podcast, more or less, complete with transitions, background music, and sound effects.

I wasn't sure at first if Audacity on the Eee would even open the files since they were made on a computer running Windows XP, but it fired up right away. Sort of. I couldn't double click on the file – it would open as a text file, and I wasn't sure how to assign a program to the .aup file type. Instead, I ran Audacity and then opened the file from there. No problem.

I saw no major difference in editing between the Eee and a Windows machine other than a slight speed difference when importing new audio or adding effects, but this could be from the 512 Ram in the Eee. It had no problem, however, with playback - despite having five tracks total in the project.

When I finished editing, I saved the project, and then went to export it as an MP3. I know from experience that LAME is needed, and as expected, Audacity asked me where the file was. By now it was late, so I canceled the export and figured I would fight that battle another day.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

No News is Good News?

Day 19

I'm quickly approaching the three week mark of my Eee experiment, and I'm finding it more and more difficult to post on my daily experiences. I was actually feeling a bit of pressure to put something out every night, but that's not what this blog is about. I had to remind myself why I started this in the first place.

Netbooks like the Eee are gaining popularity, and will no doubt be a hot item this holiday season. This blog was created to share my adventures with the Eee - a one-stop solution for Eee users looking to get the most out of their machines. With Google and dedicated message boards like EeeUser, it isn't hard to troubleshoot and customize the Eee, but I thought it would be nice for someone to be able to come here and work through what I did to make the Eee most ideal for me.

At first I had a laundry list of things that I wanted to accomplish. Many of these items have been crossed off now, so I'm starting to slow down on the blogs. That doesn't mean I'm not using my Eee. It's on all day, and I'm still enjoying it very much. So I guess no news is good news, right?

Friday, November 21, 2008


Day 18

I use Audacity (along with Hydrogen) to record demo tracks of songs. I haven't played in a band in over a year, but I miss playing, and I still have songs rattling around in my head. Audacity helps get those out. It isn't intended to do large-scale sound recording, but it works well with my makeshift "studio" in the basement. I also use Audacity at my school were I head up the school's "radio station." Much of this duty is spent teaching kids how to record, edit, and produce shows that are then broadcast on a short-range transmitter. It's basically a glorified podcast, but again, Audacity gets the job done.

I wanted to see how Audacity performed on the Eee, despite its limitations. Rather than turn to the console this time, I check Synaptic, and it popped right up. (I'm guessing it is included in the Xandros repos, but I may be wrong.)

Audacity has a history of hiccups on Linux machines. People, including myself, have experienced strange errors messages that made it impossible to record. Fortunately, I didn't run into this problem on the Eee. I grabbed my guitar and click on record.

Even though there's an 1/8" mic input, I decided to see how the internal microphone handled sound. It recorded well with little noise or evidence of lag (which can be a deal breaker when recording music). Everything was going well - until I tried to record another track over the first.It's visually apparent that something's not right with the second track.

Now, logically speaking, in order to recording multiple music tracks, one needs to hear them all at once. Apparently the Eee can't quite handle this, because the second track was nothing but static. When I turned off the "Play other tracks while recording new one" option, the second track sounded as good as the first, but it's useless at this point.

The verdict - I need to play with this some more. Audacity certainly works on the Eee, but not without flaws. I plan on doing some editing on Audacity this weekend, and I'm optimistic that it will go well. As long as the limitations present with recording don't emerge while editing as well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

USB & BIOS - Part I

Day 16

I'm being optimistic with the title of this post - I'm making the assumption that there will be a Part II post where all the problems listed below will be rectified. Maybe I'm setting myself up. Only tomorrow will tell.

My brother gave me Ubuntu loaded onto an 8GB flash drive for my birthday, and today I decided to see how it would perform on my laptop. I know it wouldn't be ideal since there is an Eee-specific Ubuntu, but it would at least give me a chance to go through the process of booting from a USB.

I knew I would have to change the boot order, so first step was to change some settings in the BIOS. One little problem though - the BIOS splash screen had long since disappeared during start up. After a few helpful suggestions from the folks at EeeUser, I figured out that quick boot was enabled. To fix this, all I needed to do was frantically press F2 immediately after powering on the Eee. From there I disabled the quick boot and then went to change the boot order.

I did not see an option for booting to a USB, per se. The closest option referred to it simply as an "external device." Strangely enough, it was already listed at the top of the boot sequence. Anticipating a quick solution to the task and an easy blog entry, I plugged in my flash drive, saved changes and restarted the laptop. It booted normally into Xandros. Crap.

Here's where it gets tricky. I noticed that upon loading KDE, the USB icon in the menu was curiously absent. Even though the flash drive was present, the Eee was not detecting it. I unplugged it, and then put it back in - this time it detected the USB drive no problem. I tried shutting down and restarting several more times, all with the same outcome.

For some reason the Eee is not detecting a flash drive that is loaded prior to powering on. This is a definite problem for anyone looking to boot to a USB, although I know it is possible based on countless wikis and forum conversations. My project for tomorrow is first figure out why my Eee is not playing nice with BIOS and USB devices. Stupid acronyms.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Day 15

DejaVu Sans is the default font in Oo Writer, and while I like it better than Arial or Times New Roman, it just isn't cutting it for me as a primary font. I noticed that DejaVu does some strange things when its converted to pdf files (and since my Eee is not connected to a printer, and my machine that is connected doesn't have OpenOffice or DejaVu, this is my only option for producing hard copies). Letter spacing selectively disappears. I don't know if this is a font issue, or an quirk with the pdf export function, but for the time being I decided to look into some other, time-tested fonts.

My first thought was to get back to basics - the core Microsoft fonts. This was fairly easy since I already had the necessary Xandros repositories. Instructions on how to add them can be found on the EeeUser wiki page. From there, it was a quick trip to the console, and I had all the basic fonts ready to roll.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install msttcorefonts

Now for some not-so-common fonts. My favorite site for "flavor fonts" is Since I am currently working on a unit for my class that uses an old Twilight Zone episode, I thought I might benefit from having the classic title font on tap. Sure enough, it was there. I downloaded the .TTF file, but then hit a wall. On Windows, this file would be dragged into the font folder. I am aware that Linux system folders are not so easy to navigate, so I didn't know where this font folder was located, if it existed at all. On a whim, I right-clicked on the font file. Holy cow, there was an "install" option! My font installed somewhere in my system and I was able to delete the file resting on my desktop.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why you should avoid .doc in OpenOffice Writer

Day 13

I have OpenOffice installed on my other computers and have never had a problem with it. Differences between it and Microsoft Office are minor and there are a few options that Word is missing. For example, the pdf export option saves all kinds of headaches when it comes to using fonts not installed on other computers.

But tonight I ran into some weird formatting issues that I've never encountered before. I use a lot of frames/text boxes and I especially like the formatting options that Writer has for these. The problem I was running into was that things were randomly repositioning or disappearing completely whenever I'd close out of the file. It was actually quite irritating especially when it involved having to resize or move multiple frames. At first I thought it had something to do with the anchor option (which, for the record, I never quite understood), but then I figured it out. In an attempt to make the Eee more versatile, Asus defaults all OpenOffice Writer files to be saved as .doc files. This does weird things to formatting options that aren't available on Microsoft Word. It was a simple fix - save everything as .odt files.

Avoid proprietary file extensions.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

That's What She Said

Day 12

My wrist hurts.

This can mostly be blamed on mousing around with the touch pad, but the tiny keys haven't helped much either. To put it into perspective, there are 35 keys crammed into a 3"X3" section of keyboard. I can still touch type on my Eee, but strain is becoming an issue.

That's a whole lot of keys in not a lot of space.

I would say I have average size hands, but folks with larger digits may want to steer clear of the Eee Pc. Here's a few guidelines - You should not buy the Asus Eee PC if:
  • Oven mits are a snug fit
  • The only shadow puppet you can make is of an eclipse
  • Elephantiasis is more than just a really good idea for a Halloween costume
  • Manicures require a cinder block instead of a pumice stone.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Foray in Multimedia

Day 11

We had our awards ceremony at school, and all went well. I connected the Eee to an LCD projector to play a java version of Jeopardy with the kids and to show a brief Oo Impress slide. I had zero connectivity problems. The Dell laptops that the school has assigned to the projector carts often spent valuable class time searching for a signal. The Eee connected immediately and toggled between the LCD and its own screen flawlessly by using Fn+F5.

I know very little about LCD resolutions, lumens, or any other factor that contributes to the quality of the projection. At first glance, I didn't notice any difference in quality between the Eee through the projector and the typical performance of the Dell. But screens that were more text than images definitely seemed grittier. I don't think anyone noticed but me, but it makes me curious to see what a movie would look like.

After the awards, one of the teachers on my team dropped off a digital camera loaded with pictures from the day. We like to keep our team website up to date, so getting those pictures formatted and posted was a priority. I mentioned in an earlier post how easy it was to install Gimp on the Eee, but this was my chance to really get my hands dirty in some bulk image editing.First challenge - getting the image files to a place where they can be stored. My plan was to use the SD slot on the Eee and, in the interest of saving space, transfer them directly to an 8GB USB flash drive. Each file hovered just above 1mb and there were 46 total. I selected all from the SD and copied them into the flash drive. It only took about 30 seconds. So far, so good.

For our site, I like to keep the pictures at 400 X 300 - that way they aren't too small, but not large enough to warrant making thumbnails. In my Windows days (it seems much longer than 11 days ago!) I would simply open all 46 files into Photoshop and do some quick cropping and resizing. I had a feeling that my little machine wouldn't fare so well with everything at once, so I opted to only do ten files at a time. Gimp lagged a bit, and it took around a minute to open each set of files, but with the factory-installed 512 ram, it's about what I expected.

I'm not sure of the pixel size of the camera, but the images were 3072 X 2304 with a resolution of 72. Cropping, resizing, and saving files on Gimp was comparable to Photoshop both in difficulty and amount of time needed.

Today's work on the Eee proved that while it may not be a media superstar, it can hold its own for presentations and image editing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Microsoft Publisher and Linux

Day 10

I ran into my first brick wall using the Eee PC. My team at school recently decided to hold a small awards ceremony to mark the end of the first 10 weeks. We chose students for high achievement and effort, and one of the teachers created award certificates using Microsoft Publisher. During our team meeting, she wanted to show us her design, so she popped her flash drive into my Eee. Nothing recognized the .pub file.

The woes of Publisher is a familiar one for Linux users. I went through this same predicament last year while using Ubuntu. Users looking to do desktop publishing will find solace in Scribus, however it did me no good in regard to our student award files - Scribus is unable to open .pub files.

How big of a problem is this for potential Asus customers? No very. After all, how often does the average user even open Publisher? For those that use it often, go with Scribus. It's quite similar. Just don't plan on pulling up old projects done with Microsoft Publisher.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Playing AVIs

Day 9

I ran into some trouble today while trying to play a movie in .avi format. My first instinct was to download as many codecs as possible, but I stopped myself. I'm trying not to let this machine get screwy as a result of strange downloads or stupid user decisions. For example, I keep getting errors anytime I either apt-get update on the console, or update Synaptic. I'm sure I added a repository wrong at some point. Not a big deal, but it serves as a good example why I don't trust myself installing codec packs.

Instead I decided to install VLC. It's a small download, and is the standard for playing .avi files. It required a repository add, but I must have done it right this time, because it worked like a charm. Here's the console commands I used.

sudo kwrite /etc/apt/sources.list
deb stable main contrib non-free
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install vlc

VLC media player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols.

I also spent a good deal of time today spreading the word about my Eeexperiment in the form of blog listings and a few social bookmarking sites (incidentally, if you like my site, feel free to share it on Digg, Delicious, or any other site of merit). I also registered at Eeeuser, and was immediately welcomed by their diverse group of users. In my first post I was introduced to Eee users ranging from soccer moms to self-proclaimed "old men." All of them share in my newfound enthusiasm for the Eee.

Pros and Cons

Day 8

Well, I made it though my first week with the Asus Eee PC. When I first half-jokingly proposed the idea of going cold turkey on all my other computers, I figured it would be much more difficult. While it hasn't been all kittens and tulips, I must say my overall experience with the Eee has been enjoyable.

Since today marks the completion of approximately 1/14th of the experiment, I thought it might be fitting to give my initial pros and cons of the Eee PC. If they change enough maybe I'll do an updated list every week.



The idea of a tiny laptop was what drew me to the Eee in the first place, but I wasn't sure if the novelty would wear off. How would I handle a screen roughly the size of one on an ATM, and a chicklet-sized keyboard? Surprisingly it was quite easy to adapt, although I found myself typing with my pinky far more than I ever did before. Overall, I'm still impressed by the ultra-portability of the Eee. Besides, nothing looks cooler than walking down the hall carrying a laptop with one hand like a paperback book.


I've been getting about four hours of life before getting to 10% and plugging the Eee in. That's almost double what I usually get on my HP. I've yet to have it completely die on me.


I got into a Linux kick last fall, so I have about a year's experience on the operating system. I'm most comfortable with Ubuntu, and I have a desktop with Google's G Os, but I've played around with all the popular flavors. Maybe this is why I didn't feel too lost when I first started up the default Xandros system. I'm listing Linux as pro for all the usual reasons – open source, fast, and flawless. In the first week, I've only had one error message (with Firefox), and I think it was an Internet connectivity issue, and not with the operating system.



If I had bought the Eee before last fall, I might

be singing a different tune – and this is why I'm also adding Linux to my cons list. Using Synaptic and the console are second nature for me now, but newbies may run into some serious trouble. In terms of customization, the Eee only has extremes. Easy mode is too restrictive, and advanced mode is truly for the advanced user.


I'm having one hell of a time connecting to wireless signals. To be fair, I have only had the opportunity to do so with my home router, so I need to do some testing to rule out the possibility that it's a problem outside of the Eee. On average though, it takes about six minutes to connect. I've googled this problem, and it seems to be a consistent woe on Eee forums and wikis. The machine detects the signal, but then hangs forever before connecting.

The dreaded pending screen...


Again, I'm comfortable using open source applications such as Pidgin, Thunderbird, and the OpenOffice suite, but I'm trying to write this from the perspective of a novice user. Xandros in advanced mode looks and feels much like Windows, so users may do some chin scratching when the try to click on a familiar-looking icon. Plus, even with Synaptic, downloading new applications can be iffy. There are no repositories, so that's an extra step to the usual search-and-install Synaptic bliss.

Monday, November 10, 2008

External Ports & Gimp

Day 7
Today at school I took advantage of some of the external ports on the Eee and the monitor for the now-dormant desktop computer supplied by my school. Connecting it was surprisingly easy. Plugged it in and the monitor flicked on. Fn+F5 let me choose to turn off the LCD or have it displayed on both. And by changing the external display options found in the Control Center menu, I was able to get it to run in 1024X768 resolution.

I also decided to install Gimp. I've had limited experience with image work using Gimp and although it's no Photoshop, it's what available, so it'll have to do. It took about 25 minutes, but I made the banner for this blog. Not bad, huh?

I used the console for Gimp. In case you're interested, here's the commands. I have no idea if it requires any special repositories. It didn't for me, but that means very little because I've been adding repositories like crazy. The more the better, right?

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install gimp

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Making Space

Day 6
I need a copy of the 1983 movie The Outsiders to show to my students. I'm almost positive there's a copy of it in the building somewhere, but just in case, I'd like to download a backup copy in the event that my colleagues fall through on delivering the goods. But how do I download on a computer that only has about 1GB of available space?

First, I started with what I know - Ubuntu Hardy comes with torrent downloading software Transmission. I've already added a few repositories to Synaptic, so I take my chances and search for Transmission. Luck is on my side and it shows up. I mark it for installation and apply changes. All appears well, but the Transmission icon fails to show itself in any of the menus, and it does not load using sudo transmission in the console. If it did install correctly, I'll never know.

Next step - I google torrents for the Eee and find that ktorrent is the most popular. I follow a simple tutorial and it downloads no problem. Looks and acts similar to Transmission, so I'm feeling good. Now to deal with the space restrictions.

I go to "Configure Ktorrent" in the settings menu and change the downloading path to an external 8GB flash drive. Easy fix.

After a quick search on Pirate Bay, I'm all set.

Installing Ktorrent only took a few minutes and changing the download path is an easy hack to combat the Eee's space restrictions.

Introduction to the Experiment

Day 1
On November 4th, while our nation was participating in a history-making presidential election, I was quietly enjoying my 27th birthday and eating cake with my family. This was also the day that I convinced my wife that I needed another laptop. When she asked why we needed a third (we also have a HP running Windows XP and a Dell with Ubuntu Hardy Heron installed) I had a simple answer - it's my birthday.

I had been following the Asus Eee PC for the past year, but could never find a way to sneak a $299 online purchase past my wife since she is usually the one who pays the bills. I had pretty much given up on the idea until I saw Target stores now carrying the 4G 900 series. Now how could I possibly sleep at night knowing there was a shelf full of these things only minutes from my house. I was sold.

That night I picked up a black model of the Asus and proudly marched it through Target. I got it home and all seemed well - it fired up right away, let me create a user name and password, and connected to my wireless with the correct WEP key. One problem - unless a well-aim sledgehammer blow was used, the enter key wasn't working. No biggie. A quick trip back to Target would remedy the problem.

Day 2
Asus #2 - Wireless is paint-dryingly slow. I know the first laptop wasn't like this, so there must be a problem. After much swearing, I decided to try one more time.

Day 3
To help curb my bad luck I decided to make Eee #3 white this time. Thank goodness Target has such a lax return policy. I spent the rest of the night cautiously exploring my new toy.

Day 4
Perhaps some background is needed here. I teach middle school English Language Arts in a semi-rural district near Niagara Falls. I enjoy using technology in my room, and I'm usually the guy other teachers go to when they need a hand with something computer related. Naturally when I brought the Eee in, my fellow teachers were immediately interested and wanted a full review. With all the problems I had already run into, I was a bit weary of giving a full report just yet. That's when I got an idea.

What if I only used the Asus Eee PC? No other computers either at home or sch0ol. Could I survive in a Windows world with a Linux machine with just over 1 GB of available space? And thus began the 100 Days with the Eee PC experiment.

Day 5
First stop - Google. I wanted to see what hidden potentials the Xandros install was harboring. It seems like many users install Eee-flavors of the 'buntu series, but I want to keep this little quest as simple as possible. Turns out Asus had the same idea. Originally they wanted to offer the Eee with two different desktop modes - easy and advanced. The advanced desktop never quite made it to the final install. There's a desktop icon in the settings menu, but it does nothing. I read that in an attempt to lessen customer service calls, Asus opted out of this option. Advanced mode still exists though - it just takes some tweaking. I found instructions on doing so here. I like it much better. It's KDE, and I'm used to Ubuntu's Gnome desktop, but there are certainly more options. I added a few shortcuts to the desktop, changed some backgrounds, and made myself a bit more comfortable. With a bit more googling I even found the needed repositories and installed audacity. It won't be lightening fast, but I do use it quite often at school with the kids, so it is necessary if my little experiment is to succeed.

Here's a screenshot of my Eee in Advanced Desktop mode.