Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year !

[N.P. Andrew Zimmern - Chile]
Happy New Year, everyone. This is now officially "twenty-ten" - not "two thousand and ten", according to the BBC! Over the last month I've loaded up a permanent Linux machine and acquired another to replace a (very) old laptop. I've also enrolled in a SQL Server DBA course, which should be fun (I hope!).

The End of an Era!
Yes - the end of a PC! Back in September 2000 I found that I needed a new laptop to take on a weekend trip to a client to do some programming. My old Sager machine (Pentium 1, your-thighs-are-the-heatsink) was dying fast, so I rang Sony (in CA) on a Thursday morning and begged, pleaded, and even suggested bribery. Friday lunchtime (in work) a guy arrived at my desk with a very big box with Sony written on it. This (right) was the content, a PCG FX540K with 512 MB of RAM, a 15 GB hard drive, and a 14" diagonal screen. It wasn't light - the shell is made of metal! - but it was a beautiful blue machine.

At the end of 2006 I finally bought a new laptop - a 17" Acer - which actually weighs a little less! However, the VAIO wouldn't die - its been used as a sofa-side machine for the last two years, and has had an almost permanent connection to the TV. Yes! a 950 MHz Intel machine running Windows 2000 is perfectly capable of capturing live TV through a USB 1.1 port! I never thought that it would be possible, but it has always worked fine, so I have lots of DVDs of things captured off TV. The hardware I use is an Adaptec "VideOh!" box, but Grabbee do the same thing for Windows XP.

Well, one of the video sync components has finally died, so its getting replaced. Sometime in 2010 I hope I'll be able to get it fixed, as the rest of the machine is perfect, and the hard drive has been replaced with larger versions several times. When that's all done it'll be resurrected, but, for now, it's going into retirement.

The Start of an Era!
Well, the better half can't live without a sofa-side machine, so this is what we're replaced the VAIO with. This is how an Asus EeeBox B202 arrives out of the box. We got a Linux version, instead of a Windows XP version, which costs a little less than $300. It has a DVI video socket (with a VGA converter supplied), an ethernet socket, alittle antenna for WiFi, a card socket for your camera cards, an audio-out socket for your headphones, and four USB sockets. How sweet is that?! And the stand is so simple and effective that it might have come from Apple! Watch out Jonathan Ive!

I plugged it into one of my Hanns-G 19" monitors and it lit up immediately, asked me a few questions, and we were online and googling. Wicked cool!

Asus' EZ-Linux really is very easy - it has all the stuff you need, although not the latest versions, which is a shame. The one thing that nobody will mention to you, which is crazy, because it's a big selling point with a lot of people, is that using an iPod with Linux - even this basic version - is dead easy and safe! I plugged the AG's 1G Shuffle into a USB port and it lit and then started blinking. I started the music program, told it to look for all devices, and it found the iPod. I dragged some MP3 files from the File Manager to the music program and then told it to save them there. Finally I un-mounted the iPod and, after a little while, it stopped blinking. Its light stayed orange until it had finished charging and then we just pulled it, plugged in earbuds, and enjoyed. Problems? none!

The next neat thing to find out is that the Hanns-G has a VESA mount on the back. Normally this is provided in order for you to mount the monitor on a wall, or on an arm that allows you to swing it out of your way ... or whatever. However, Asus twigged that this was about the same size as its whole EeeBox, so it provides a little shelf. You screw the shelf onto the back of the monitor and then the EeeBox onto the shelf. I did all this with the EeeBox still running (I live dangerously, but WTH!) and it all works fine - suddenly all we have is a nice 19" monitor with a mouse and keyboard and a couple of USB socket extenders sitting in front. One power cable provides a pair of sockets for the EeeBox and the Hanns-G, and that's all the cabling. A simple as a laptop.

I can only say that this has to be the simplest, easiest, and downright-coolest computer I have ever met - it really is a personal computer. I give it four thumbs up!

That's all for this New Year's Eve: more soon - probably tomorrow.


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