Home Sweet Home

As some of you already know by reading the blog “Larry the Free Software Guy,” I spent about a week — OK, it was only five days — trying to find what was so special about Unity on Ubuntu 12.04.

To quote Virginia Woolf, who said this about Oakland: “There’s no ‘there’ there.” In fact, while the desktop environment atop Ubuntu might work for some, I find it lacking in a lot of important respects. So I didn’t find anything.

Scratch that: I did find something. I found out how much I missed using CrunchBang on a regular basis, and I was very happy to get back to it on an uninterrupted daily basis. I fought sleep last night to install it back on the ThinkPad T30 and this morning I have both laptops on which I do most of my work running CrunchBang — the ZaReason Alto 3880 “football” which goes with me everywhere, and this ThinkPad which looks more like a NASCAR racer than a laptop, with all its stickers.

It’s good to be home.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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ZaReason Alto 3880: The honeymoon continues

[Note: This item is being resposted from the Larry the Free Software Guy blog. Because it mentions CrunchBang, it is included in this blog as well.]

When I reviewed the ZaReason Alto 3880 earlier this year, I liked it so much I got one, and I told Cathy and Earl Malmrose of ZaReason that I’d write my impressions of the Alto three months later.

That was in February and now it’s May — three months hence — and I have to say that I have not had one bad experience with the laptop.

To recap: Until I gave the Alto a test run, I was a dyed-in-the-wool ThinkPad guy, utilitarian to the core. All my ThinkPads — and there are several — look like NASCAR entries with their sticker-laden covers displaying the best of FOSS programs.

Since February, though, I’ve been using the Alto for hours on end on a daily basis, giving it the rigorous workout that the ThinkPads normally got when I was using them exclusively. The Alto 3880 has proved to be a very tough machine going step-for-step, measure-for-measure with the ThinkPad in all categories.

The advantage that the Alto has over the ThinkPad is that it looks good — no, it looks great — doing it.

Which of course brings me to the keyboard: As I wrote earlier, I thought the keyboard in the Alto 3880, at first touch, was a little light. With the pounding I normally give the sturdy ThinkPad keyboard, I openly worried about my heavy fingers and not-so-gentle touch on what I thought might be a less-than-sturdy keyboard. I was completely wrong about this — the keyboard is tougher than the first impression lets on, and it is one of the Alto 3880’s outstanding features. If it handles the range of tapping I give it — and it has — then it passes that test with high marks.

As I’ve written before, I’m running CrunchBang Statler on this machine and it runs flawlessly on the Alto. In the original blog, I mentioned that I had also run other distros on the Alto as well, but I choose to run CrunchBang for a variety of reasons I write about in another blog. For the unenlightened, CrunchBang — which is on the verge of releasing another version soon — is a Debian-based distro running the Openbox window manager. On the Alto, the combination of Openbox with Debian rumbling under the hood makes this laptop a digital rocket.

The ZaReason Alto 3880 is an outstanding machine that continues to earn my highest recommendation. The specs are here and, as I mentioned in the original blog item, the price is higher than you’d pay for something off the shelf at a big box like Best Buy (and, in a word, don’t!). But the Alto is worth every bit of the extra cost, and one of many features that ZaReason offers is that they provide a wide variety of distros to choose from on their hardware — though I don’t use it often, I understand Linux Mint would be a good off-the-shelf choice — and they even will install a distro at your request.

Like — oh, I don’t know — CrunchBang, if you ask for it.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Ready for Waldorf

Before I start, there’s an interview I had given while at Linux Fest Northwest with David Whitman of Hacker Public Radio about CrunchBang. It rambles a little, so I apologize for that, and I didn’t hear all the New Year’s Eve HPR shows that Philip (corenominal) and Rebecca (bobobex) Newborough did, so I wasn’t in on the “wife” reference that David asked me about. Serves me right for not listening to all of the two shows in their entirety.

Anyway, the HPR interview is here. And thank you, David, for taking a few minutes to talk to me.

Back to the topic at hand: I’ve been using the Waldorf development build for the last couple of weeks on my old, but equally trusty, IBM ThinkPad T30, and I have to report that I haven’t yet broken it — clearly a good sign, first off, that corenominal has done something right (yet again) and there are things about it that make the T30 run better: off the bat, a wider range of screen resolutions and an improved network manager that plays a lot nicer with the T30 than Statler are two improvements right off the bat.

As many of you who read the Larry the Free Software Guy blog know, I think reviewing an unfinished distro — which is what an alpha, beta or a development build actually is — is akin to telling someone how great a cake would taste by sampling the batter. So I don’t review distros until they’re done.

However, I can tell you this about Wheezy-based CrunchBang 11 Waldorf: All indications point to the fact that this stands to be an outstanding release.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Linux Fest Northwest makes its mark

Those of us who have been to Linux shows, or especially have worked Linux shows, in the past know the drill. It’s something out of “Field of Dreams.” If you build it — the “it” here being a Linux event — they will come, and they will all seem to come right at Saturday morning at 9 sharp when the show officially starts.

They did just that at Linux Fest Northwest. Past its first decade of operation, LFNW has established itself as the premiere Linux event in the region and, as I’ve mentioned before, next to the Southern California Linux Expo, it’s the best show on the West Coast. For two days, geeks in the Northwest get to listen to top-notch presenters — as well as people like me — and visit exhibits from distros, software and hardware makers.

The Bellingham Linux Users Group and volunteers from other open source user groups in the area never fail to put on a great expo, and I think I speak for many attendees when I say that I’m deeply grateful for their efforts. About 1,200 people attended LFNW on the campus of Bellingham Technical College over the weekend. Thanks, LFNW folks.

Here’s a look at the weekend:

Not another distro . . .: Bill Smith and his wife Portia staffed the CrunchBang booth with me, and again my thanks go out to them for the help. Visitors to the booth ranged from those who knew what CrunchBang was to those who whined, “Not another distro . . .” To which I replied far too often, “Yes, another distro. This one is Debian with the OpenBox window manager,” before explaining the advantages of CrunchBang. “There’s a digital Darwinism at play here, with the good distros gathering a strong community and thriving, and others . . . not so much.” There were about 150 pieces of media burned — CDs and DVDs — all of which went out the door with prospective users. I, of course, will sit in the corner with the pointy hat because, truth be told, I forgot the banner and the “success kid” stickers made up for LFNW, but we’ll use ‘em next year.

Hello, I’m Greg DeKoenigsberg: The printed program had it right, as did the Web site. But the large poster on the wall on the Haskell classroom building on Saturday morning had Greg’s presentation on the schedule where I was giving the Intro to CrunchBang talk. With LFNW’s permission, Greg and I had switched presentation times more than a week prior to the event, since he was getting in late. But the poster outside the wall had the old schedule. Try as I might — which, of course, was not very hard — I could not convince the folks that I was the Eucalyptus VP. After an announcement that if you were there for Greg’s talk, it would be tomorrow, only a couple of people bailed out. As for my talk, it went as well as my talks usually go — no one was injured and law enforcement officials were nowhere to be found — and Scott Dowdle videotaped it, so as soon as that gets posted, I’ll let you know.

The (two) big thing(s): The big thing at Linux Fest Northwest — not including OpenSUSE rep Bryen Yunashko’s hat — was the Pogo Linux’s booth, which featured a full-fledged, sit-behind-the-wheel racing game with three large-screen monitors, where drivers navigated a course and prizes were given for the fastest laps. No, my racing days are far behind me, but from what I was told by someone who raced cars and turned the second fastest lap on Saturday, it was very realistic. Another big thing — bigger to the Android crowd, apparently, and arguably just as fast as the racing game — was the ZaReason tablet, which many folks tried out at our booth (ZaReason shared the CrunchBang booth at LFNW). Keep an eye on that, since this full-fledged Android tablet will be coming out very soon.

Hands across the water: It was a grand experiment, though operator error by yours truly may have kept it from being a huge success. But during the CrunchBang Birds of a Feather meetup on Sunday morning, we used a Google+ Hangout to raise CrunchBang lead developer Philip Newborough. Sort of. Despite getting dropped a couple of times — once because I hit the wrong key — we got to talk about the show, about what’s coming up for CrunchBang and things along those lines, and it was very informative for those in attendance. Thanks, Philip, and Rebecca Newborough as well, who in her capacity as the CrunchBang Community Leader also participated from the Lincoln side of things.

Bon mots: I’m still apologizing to Deb Nicholson for forgetting her surname in introducing her to Philip Newborough at the BoF on Sunday morning. You know you work with someone in FOSS circles for years and something like this happens . . . . A shout-out goes to Eric Craw, a new CrunchBang user from Washington who converted at Linux Fest Northwest. Not only did he start using CrunchBang, but he already started contributing code back to the project, showing that this is what FOSS is all about . . . . David Whitman of Hacker Public Radio gave me a few minutes of interview time at the end of Linux Fest Northwest, so all that thumping and loading in the background may or may not be audible once the interview is broadcast . . . . I drove 962 miles each way to attend LFNW, but this show is so great that I would have walked 962 miles to get to Bellingham. Again, kudos to the LFNW crew.

Start rumors: In my capacity as publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo, I finally got to sit down with my good friends Warren Sanders and Scott Dowdle, and two folks from the Big Sky Country that I hadn’t met — Rocky Mountain College’s Andrew Niemantsverdreit and Gary Bummer, who is Scott’s colleague at Montana State University — and the five of us discussed bringing an event to their area. So be on the lookout for Montana Linux Fest, or something like it, in 2013.

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(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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