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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Mon, 05 Jun 2017

Writing on phones and tablets sucks

If you want to write things like words and sentences, doing it on mobile phones or tablets sucks. Bluetooth keyboards and mice and their intermittent connections to phones and tablets also suck.

The same holds true for programming. Writing code on phones and tablets suck. What sucks even more is that Android's primary programming language is Java, yet it's harder to develop and run Java code in Android than it is to write Perl, Python, JavaScript and Ruby.

I even wrote C++ on an Android tablet. It was a pain in the ass, but I did it. Those languages that aren't Java are "easier," but the experience remains poor.

Even though I use a few Google Chrome "apps" for programming-like tasks (Secure Shell, which is pretty good; and Text, which is super-rudimentary), even a Chromebook is better than a tablet or phone.

Right now my laptop is so nice, I hate using my desktop computer at the office. Now it's screen seems blurry (because it is), and I hate the standard-issue Lenovo keyboard. That's a backwards way of saying that I like a nice laptop keyboard. It has to "click" a bit, meaning it can't be too mushy.

I can certainly see (and am seeing) laptops that incorporate tablet/phone hardware and software. I would absolutely welcome the "intents" present in Android apps that allow you to easily share content from one app to another. Windows now has an app store, though most of what's in it is shit. (I do like the Fitbit app for Windows, though.)

Tangents be dammed. To make things with words, you need a proper keyboard.

Sun, 21 May 2017

New laptop, new OS

The women in my life gifted me with a sweet HP Envy 15-as133cl 15t laptop. I guess they saw the keys pop off of my old HP laptop a few too many times.

The new laptop has an HD screen (1920 x 1080), a lot of memory (16GB), an Intel i7 CPU (not sure of the exact model) and a 1 TB hard drive.

Right now I’m running the Windows 10 that came with it. I “auditioned” Fedora 25 with GNOME and Xubuntu 17.04, and while either one may indeed work with this hardware (the biggest problem being the HD screen and the Linux desktop environments’ inability to handle them without a lot of little tweaks), for now I’m sticking with Windows.

The main reason that I can stick with the stock OS is the Windows Subsystem for Linux (aka the WSL), which gives me a full Ubuntu-powered Bash shell that runs pretty much every Linux console program available. I’m using it to run/update my Ode blog (I still can’t get Unison in Windows to work across networks because I can’t get SSH working and am a little wary of Windows software that seems frozen in time).

As I allude to in the sentence above, adding software in Windows has it’s good and bad points. Good: You can easily run things like MS Office and the Adobe suite, though I don’t use those at all (instead opting for LibreOffice and Google Docs, and GIMP/IrfanView/Inkscape). Bad: Some things are old and unmaintained, like the ClipX clipboard manager that I rely on heavily. Plus after years of drawing on huge Linux software repositories offered by projects like Debian, Ubuntu and Fedora, having to go all over the Internet to find applications is not something I’m excited about.

That said, I have most of what I need. I’m playing with JavaScript, especially in Node, quite a bit, and I have Node installed both in the Ubuntu shell and on the Windows side.

I don’t have Ruby in the WSL or Windows since I haven’t used it in awhile, but I will probably do that in the WSL.

If/when I start dabbling in Java again, I can do that on both sides (WSL and Windows), too.

For Java and Ruby especially, I like coding with them in the Geany editor, which is like a “baby” IDE (it can execute your code, though I’ve never gotten it to work like that with JavaScript/Node). Unfortunately Geany is one of those old GTK apps that looks like hell on this laptop’s HD screen. Principally it’s blurry. So I’ve been using Notepad++ instead, which is a great text editor, though I haven’t figured out if it is capable of executing code in the languages I use (Ruby, JavaScript, Java, Bash).

I am also experimenting with Visual Studio Code, Microsoft’s “not-quite Visual Studio” editor. The “not-quite” part is OK by me, because most IDEs I’ve tried are so massive and cryptic that I’m happy to have something that’s I can understand more easily.

I already had Visual Studio Code on my old HP’s Fedora system, and now I have it in Windows 10 proper. I’ve used it for a little JavaScript. I like the syntax highlighting, and I was able to execute my code via the debugger. (If you actually know what you are talking about, I encourage you to laugh at or with me — your choice.)

In the WSL, I’m relying on Vim as my text editor, and I’m using the limitations of the WSL (most of which can be summed up as “no GUI,” though you can definitely hack one in) as an excuse to sharpen my Vim skills. I also have Vim and gVim on the Windows side. (Vim is everywhere.)

You might notice that a lot of the programs I’m using are things you’d find in Linux. I’m surprised that so many traditional Linux/Unix applications are available in Windows. Some of them are even regularly maintained.

I’ll detail all the software I’m using in Windows 10 at some future point, probably on another site, but quickly:

  • Audacity (audio editor)
  • Dropbox (file sync)
  • FileZilla (FTP)
  • GIMP (image editor)
  • Inkscape (vector graphics editor)
  • IrfanView (image editor)
  • LibreOffice (office suite)
  • Node.js (JavaScript in the console)
  • Notepad++ (text editor)
  • OpenShot (video editor)
  • PuTTY (terminal for SSH connections to servers)
  • qBittorrent (torrent client)
  • QuiteRSS (RSS reader)
  • Vim and gVim (text editor)
  • Visual Studio Code (text editor, mini IDE)
  • VLC (video editor)
  • Windows Subsystem for Linux (aka WSL aka Ubuntu for Windows aka Bash on Windows … do you think they have a branding issue?)

Things I’m relying on in the WSL:

  • Bash (which is obvious, but I use all the common Unix tools and rely on a number of scripts to automate various tasks)
  • SSH (for encrypted connections)
  • Unison (file sychronization)

Things I haven’t yet installed:

  • Geany (GTK text editor that looks a little rough in Windows 10 on this laptop)
  • Hugo (static site/blog engine)
  • JVM (the Java Virtual Machine)
  • Netbeans (IDE written in Java)
  • Ruby (programming language)

Update: I'm installing the JVM now. It's hard to find.

Thu, 23 Mar 2017

Coming over to the dark side

I recently received a too-expensive birthday present: a new laptop.

For the women in my life, seeing all those keys pop off was too much I guess.

The HP Pavilion g6-2210us is still kicking as it nears the 4-year mark. That's a modern record for me. My previous laptop, the Lenovo G555, died just after its second year of service. I still have a second replacement keyboard still on the way from China for the HP Pavilion.

Once I get this new laptop fully set up, at some point I'll pop a new hard drive into the old HP. The current drive has a lot of bad sectors. A lot. Then I'll run it as a full Linux system with no Windows partition.

So what about the new laptop?

It's an HP Envy 15-as133cl 15t with Intel Core i7, 1080p resolution, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB spinning hard drive.

The case is all metal, which is quite an upgrade from my previous all-plastic laptops.

It has Windows 10. The first thing I did was install the Windows Subsystem for Linux so I could have Bash in the terminal and access to thousands of console-based applications from the Ubuntu archive.

Read the rest of this post

Mon, 27 Feb 2017

I finally replaced my HP Pavilion g6 keyboard

I had a new keyboard, and my "n" key on the old one broke again (the replacement was never as good as the original key), so I decided to pull the laptop apart and install the new keyboard.

While putting it all together, I did get one little screw wedged in a plastic hole (I'll extract that one later and replace it), but an old laptop can get along with many fewer case screws than it ships with. If you've ever had a used or otherwise repaired laptop, you know what I'm talking about.

The keyboard replacement wasn't too hard. I probably took out a lot more screws than needed to make it happen. I could have just removed the back panel, unscrewed the keyboard-retaining screw (that's the wedged-in-plastic one) and popped the keyboard out from behind/below by aggressively pushing on the proper spot with an eraser-tipped pencil.

I tried that, and it wasn't happening. I knew the keyboard was held in "tight" due to the last time I tried to replace it when I had the wrong part.

So I took out a bunch more screws and then tried again. The extra screws probably didn't need to be removed, but at that point I was more confident in the amount of pressure I was putting on that eraser-tipped pencil to push the keyboard out through the top of the laptop's plastic case.

I got the keyboard out and pulled the ribbon cable.

Inserting the new keyboard's ribbon cable wasn't instant. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how it snapped in. But I got it done, snapped the keyboard itself into the case and closed everything up.

It all works, and now I have a new keyboard on this laptop that will be 4 years old in a couple of months.

This keyboard isn't a "springy" as the other replacement keyboard I bought a few months back that didn't quite fit, but it'll do the job and give this laptop some more useful life.

My last laptop, a low-priced Lenovo G555, only lasted 2 years before it went to sleep and never woke up. This also-cheap HP Pavilion g6-2210us is still running at nearly 4 years old, but not without effort.

It just underscores my contention that you can't really get 5 years of service out of a laptop. If they don't fail mechanically or electronically, they'll be ancient in some other way. I'm no longer saying "don't pay more than $500 for a laptop," because I see real differences between the $500 and $700-900 laptops being offered these days. But I will say that no matter how much you pay, if you're beating the hell out of it like I do, don't expect more than two trouble-free years.

* Pictured above is the new keyboard before I put it in. After removing the hatch at the bottom of the laptop and removing a retaining screw, there is a little hole on which you can push at the keyboard from below with an eraser-tipped pencil and loosen its plastic grip with the case enough to start unsnapping it the rest of the way around for replacement.

Tue, 03 Jan 2017

Adding memory to a laptop when they don't want you to add memory

When we bought my daughter a cheap Asus laptop a couple of years ago, I knew it had only 2 GB of RAM. But I also knew, or thought anyway, that I would add memory at some point in the near future. After all, upgrading memory is easy, right?

The answer is yes, I suppose, if you have the kind of Windows laptop where you can get the battery out by switching a lever. The hard drive and memory are a plastic door and a couple of screws away.

That's how it is on my 2013-purchased HP Pavilion.

But on my daughter's 2014-made Asus Aspire E15 laptop? Nope (battery access), nope (hard drive access) and nope (memory access).

To do anything -- change the hard drive, memory or even the battery, you have to remove 18 screws from the bottom of the case, crack it open with a case-cracking tool (I use a little plastic spatula from a long-dead and -gone mini food processor), and then start taking off parts.

To get to the RAM module on this Acer, you have to remove the hard drive, pull about a dozen cables of various types and then remove the entire motherboard from the case BECAUSE THE RAM IS ON THE BOTTOM.

If I hadn't pretty much torn down and rebuilt more than a couple of laptops, I wouldn't have even attempted it.

It's frustrating. Laptops traditionally allow the user to swap in new RAM and hard drives. You might want to do an upgrade, or a drive can go bad. And batteries? Mine last about a year and a half, and then I need to replace them.

So now that tablets are ubiquitous and are basically glued together, laptops, especially cheap ones, are not serviceable or upgradable?

If the hard drive dies or I need more memory, it's just tough tacos?

No. I do not accept that.

Read the rest of this post

Sun, 06 Nov 2016

Well-used laptops don't last forever

My experience, anyway, is that heavily used laptops like mine don't last anywhere forever.

My Lenovo G555 lasted a little more than two years before it died.

And now I've had this HP Pavilion G6 2210-us for three years and six months. I'm on my third battery (luckily they're cheap), and now I'm about to replace the entire keyboard (also cheap).

I bumped up the RAM to the maximum of 8 GB a while ago. No regrets there.

The HP has had one catastrophic drop onto concrete that didn't affect it at all -- except for some nasty abrasions on the plastic case.

The drive it came with was an ample 640 GB in size. I sort of want to rebuild it as a Linux-only computer with a 1 TB drive. I generally have 100 GB of free space, and I'd have even more if I could kill out the Windows 8 instllation that I could never successfully upgrade to 8.1 and hence never even try to get Windows 10. If I don't go SSD (and I can't see doing that on this old laptop), the 1 TB would give me a lot of breathing room.

So the batteries last about a year, and the keyboard lasts 3 years. I'll replace the keyboard and hope the rest of the thing doesn't go south.

Would a more expensive laptop -- this one sold for around -- last longer? I don't think so, but you never know.

No more replacement keys, I'm just going to replace the entire keyboard

While my last key replacement was rocky yet ultimately successful, the results aren't what I'd hoped. And now the space bar is going wonky.

My "new" N key works, but it doesn't have the clicky/bouncy feel of the other keys. I'm not sure if it's the rubber cup or the hingy mechanism, but it is what it is. And it's not great.

I tried new rubber cups that I got from ReplacementLaptopKeys.com, and that didn't help.

The space bar is just generally loose and mushy, and it doesn't work on the ends all that well.

This time I'm just buying a whole new keyboard. What I didn't know is that they're cheap. For this laptop anyway.

I'm not sure if this is the case for all laptop brands, or just HP, but the market is awash with OEM replacement keyboards, and I just bought one for on eBay. Sure I'll have to take the whole damn laptop apart, but it should really have a new lease on life.

Sun, 21 Aug 2016

ReplacementLaptopKeys.com comes through again

Just like on the laptop before this one, if you bang on it and take it enough places, you end up with a busted key.

Where do you get a new one?

HP won't sell you one key.

Enter third-party individual-key sellers like ReplacementLaptopKeys.com, which attempt -- usually very well -- to send you any individual key to replace a broken one.

Read the rest of this post

Fri, 31 Jan 2014

Just because you're a former Apple manager doesn't mean your iMac's getting fixed

An extremely cautionary tale on broken iMacs, Apple's relative indifference, and how barbaric this all seems in relation to hardware from other vendors:

Readwrite: How I Fixed An iLemon -- Repairing a Mac is no simple task — take it from someone who worked at Apple for 20 years by David Sobotta

Wed, 16 Oct 2013

File under obvious: Turning off CPU fan makes computer run hot

So I noticed a BIOS option to turn the CPU fan off on my HP Pavilion g6-2210us. I tried it.

After invoking this in the BIOS, the fan didn't run all the time. It ran about half or more of the time. And the bottom of the laptop was appreciably hotter.

So I went back into the BIOS and turned the fan back to "always on."

Now the laptop runs cooler.

Obviously, right?

The fan isn't so loud that it's a problem, and it does have variable speed, so having it cycle off and on is more noticeable than just having it on all the time.