December 16, 2007

Getting There

Damn, it's been a long time without a decent computing infrastructure.

Regular readers (you poor, benighted individuals) will know that a lot of the last year has been taken up by a relocation from the United Kingdom (back) to the USA. In the UK somebody asked me how many computers I had, after a brief mental count, I replied "seven" (which didn't seem excessive to me). I gave one away to an honorary niece before I moved--she is probably still the only kid in her school with a Linux laptop.

Unfortunately four of them had to be packed up and moved with the rest of my house contents, the only ones carried across by hand being my wife's laptop and mine. This wouldn't have been so bad had it not been for the unfortunate necessity to live in rented accommodation (thanks, Gwen and Warren) from February until our new house was ready in September. The move into the new house, of course, coincided with a rather large number of non-computing tasks regarded as necessary for making the new environment livable.

So, now we have blinds on most of the windows, rugs in all rooms, a properly sealed garage floor (yes, "...Magic" is not my only blog) and Christmas shopping completed and the necessary gifts mailed to the UK I have been able to start thinking again about working with more than just the single trusty laptop that has kept me going for the last year. Woot!

The first piece of slightly depressing news was that my Linux system headrat was dead on arrival. I could boot up from an original disk on the second IDE interface, but the primary disk was as dead as the proverbial dodo--we are talking clicking noises from the head actuator, which is rarely a good sign. Fortunately this disk wasn't the one with my home directory on it, so there was no need to restore from backups. Headrat was getting pretty long in the tooth, however: to give you some idea it was a system I put together myself and the first one with a 1GHz Athlon processor in it. While quite blazing seven years ago, the performance today is no longer so impressive, so I decided to see what was available today.

With the help of a local (and very competent) computer dealer I managed to get the following system (now christened hourbot) for just over $600 including sales tax.
  • Athlon 64 dual core 4600+ processor
  • 4 GB DDF-2-667 memory
  • 160 GB SATA 7200 RPM disk drive
  • 18x DVD+/- RW DL optical drive
  • Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard
It was a pleasant surprise to discover that I had saved myself $140 by not requiring the Windows Vista Professional operating system. I would like to think that I have also saved myself a whole passel of trouble down the line thereby--Vista smells to me whereas I know Linux, if not like the back of my hand, then at least a lot better than Vista. I am so pleased with the system I have even thought of installing a decent Linux distribution (I'm using Ubuntu 7.10, better known as Gutsy Gibbon) and putting it on the market.It's a long way from my core skill set, however, so this will probably remain a fantasy. If it ever becomes real I can think of several interesting pieces of software to deliver with it.

There have been a few glitches, like having to load the proprietary Nvidia video drivers before I could get reasonable display performance, but overall the road has been smooth. Ironically I chose the specific motherboard for the superior audio quality it potentially offers, but so far I have been unable to get the sound subsystem working properly. If the lazyweb can help ne solve this outstanding issue I will be a happy man indeed--I had hoped to be able to use this system for putting podcasts together, but this won' at least t be possible until Audacity can see some usable sound hardware. I am prepared to wait a little longer for full 5.1 sound.

I brought the new system home just less than a week ago, and so far haven't had time to do too much with it (though it's nice to have cron job keeping the front page news up to date on an hourly basis). Yesterday I managed to put a new wireless router up for general use, allowing me to repurpose my venerable Linksys WRT54G (which had been running OpenWRT) by loading Sveasoft's GNU/Linux-based Talisman 1.3.1 release on it. This has allowed me to go to WPA encryption, meaning I can now do client work over a wireless connection with fewer worries and can also get back into the home network securely via SSH.

So far I have only used Cywin's X server over the LAN, but in theory it will soon be possible to use the Internet to get a full Linux desktop from machines inside my firewall .That will be something pleasant, even if asymmetries in cable bandwidth make it run at less than stellar speed.

I managed to get all this done before going out to celebrate a friend's 40th birthday (many happy returns, Dave!), which has left me too tired (though not "emotional") to write much more tonight. But boy, it's good to lose the limitations of Windows and get back to realizing how much simpler it is to solve problems when you are no longer limited by proprietary constraints.
We don't need no stinkin' Vista!

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