Acer Aspire One D150 and Ubuntu netbook remix

Acer Aspire One D150

Earlier this week I bought an Acer Aspire One D150 to use as my new portable and, possibly, desktop. Most of these new netbooks are pretty much the same inside, so a few things won me over to this one:

  • Ten inch screen, substantially bigger than the seven inch netbooks.
  • Very good reviews of the keyboard, and I concur it works well with my fat fingers, and dedicated Page Up/Down keys are very handy
  • Built-in Bluetooth, which means tethering to my phone for mobile broadband is trivial
  • Built-in SD card (it does other formats too) reader, makes it trivial to upload my photos
  • VGA-out plug, meaning I can potentially use it as a desktop with two screens

Downsides include the Microsoft tax (which I'll attempt to recoup, after Simon Hackett's encouragement), a hard drive that I don't really need and probably is an unnecessary drain on battery, and a touchpad that has been fairly strongly vilified.

I'd tend to agree that the touchpad is pretty poor. The buttons require so much force that you really have to use two hands to do anything like click-drag. That said, I mostly don't use these things anyway and carry around a little retractible mouse anyway.

The install from Ubuntu Netbook Remix was trivial. Change the BIOS settings to boot from USB (F2 at boot to access BIOS) and boot. It was done in about fifteen minutes and most things just worked, including wireless, suspend and hibernate.

I've found a few issues with sound. Playback from Rhythmbox, the default Ubuntu music app, can be a bit choppy. I suspect this is just the application, and I might just change apps. Sound after suspend doesn't seem to work, which is a bit annoying. I haven't worked out how to reliably get the sound to work with Skype either. I'll keep playing with that.

Settings to change

I've made a couple of changes to the default Ubuntu install for this system.

I disable Caps Lock on all machines I use, because it's a completely useless key and my fat fingers often hit it accidentally. The Caps Lock key on the Aspire One is no exception, and I have to wonder why they would include one when a dedicated NumLock key would be more helpful. Add the following to ~/.bashrc:

if [ "$PS1" ]; then
    # Disables the bloody CapsLock button
    xmodmap -e "remove lock = Caps_Lock"
 fi

Inexplicably, Ubuntu disables laptop_mode by default, which means it doesn't do useful things when running on battery power that will extend battery life. It also makes it hard to work out why it isn't running, putting the setting in a seemingly unrelated file, and returning nothing when you try to run the init script. Change ENABLE_LAPTOP_MODE=false to ENABLE_LAPTOP_MODE=true in /etc/default/acpi-support to enable it.

Mouse settings

The touchpad is overly sensitive and when you're in the middle of frenzied typing, often moves the cursor on you. Most annoying. I get around this by disabling clicks from the trackpad, given I don't use it anyway.

Littlefox theme

Firefox, by default, takes up a lot of useless vertical screen space. I've reduced this by removing the Bookmarks Toolbar and moving it up next to the menu. I also installed the Littlefox theme, which uses much smaller icons. This gives you a bit more of the critical vertical screen space.

The included soft slip case, made out of wetsuit material, is alright but has no space for my little mouse and a pair of headphones, which I think are essential portable accessories. I might try sewing on a couple of little pockets to make it perfect.

Conclusion

It's early days just yet, but I'm pretty damn happy with my new little netbook. It's suiting my needs pretty well, and looks rather fine too.

Why display advertising sucks

I've been working on a fair bit of marketing-related stuff over the last few years, and we've been spending pretty big on online campaigns. Much of this money has gone on display advertising, the kind of stuff you'll see on Fairfax and News Corp sites. We've had a whole range of problems with this stuff, and I've come to the conclusion it's more trouble than it's worth. Certainly if you want to measure response based on sales, the rate is pitiful. Here's why it's broken.

When you buy a search ad, you can be pretty certain the person is actually interested in the topic represented by the keyword you're buying. So when someone types "wireless keyboard", it's a good bet they're probably interested in buying a "wireless keyboard" of some sort.

When you buy a display ad, you get pretty loose categorisation. Perhaps your technology product might end up in the technology section of the site, so at least you're being exposed to people with an interest. Or you might be in the "general interest" pool, in which case you're getting exposed to the people who clicked on "celebrity shows boobies" links. Just the people you want. But regardless of the type of category you end up in, you're getting people who are expressly there for something other than finding something about a very specific topic.

So really, you can't measure the results of display advertising by expecting people to buy immediately after clicking, it's more for branding. Or so the salesmen for these mass media properties will tell you. So really you're getting your brand exposed to roughly categorised people.

Except it's completely unmeasurable, and the mass media sites have only themselves to blame for this. You see, if I want to have my brand exposed randomly to roughly categorised people, I need to have some pretty solid statistics on how many have seen it. I'm an Internet advertiser, so I'm used to pretty solid stats, not based on diary entries like TV or circulation surveys like newspapers (yeah, like most copies of the newspaper get read by more than one person, every day).

The problem is the major media in Australia specifically make any "impression" numbers meaningless, by adding a little line of code like this to every page on their site, this from news.com.au:

<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="0300" />

This line of code means the page gets reloaded every 300 seconds, or 5 minutes. Fairfax have recently started doing this in a slightly different way (checking if a video is playing first) but they do the same thing.

By reloading the page every five minutes, they've made their impression numbers completely meaningless. People regularly leave their browsers open with a page: the news, the weather, whatever they were just reading. So they go off for a half hour lunch and three "impressions" tick over, except there's nobody home to be impressed. There's no way to quantify how often this happens, so the impression number isn't just inaccurate, it's some unknowable amount completely wrong.

So you see, measured by the only accurate measurement, click throughs and subsequent sales, display doesn't make sense. And as a branding exercise it's not worth playing around with because the publishers have specifically taken steps to make the numbers meaningless.

And they wonder why newspapers are dying, when they go out of their way to devalue the one thing of value they do produce?

11th June 2009 addition: this "study" by News Digital Media just confirms my suspicions. Surveying less than a thousand people when the ad had 300,000 impressions, yeah there's something you can use to draw conclusions! These being people who had just seen the ad (possibly, given what I said above).

Moving into the cloud

For the last five years I've run a virtual server from the excellent Linode which has hosted a number of services including this web site, a Jabber server, some other web sites, and my email. Initially I did spam filtering myself, but between the load this placed on the server and the constant tweaking required, it annoyed the hell out of me, so I outsourced that to JunkEmailFilter.com, which while imperfect was passable.

I've used mutt as my email client since some time in the later 90s, after upgrading from pine. The advantages of a text-mode mail client were speed, accessibility from nearly anywhere, integrated tools (gpg, lbbdb) and the fact that a clueless boss looking over your shoulder will think "techie stuff, must be work" and hence not require me to justify my work throughput.

More recently I've noticed myself regularly bouncing messages to my secret gmail account. Partly this is because Google Reader produces broken text attachments, and a few of my correspondents insist on using that, but mainly it's because more and more emails included stuff I couldn't use in a text-mode client, like links to complicated web site, pictures, or links to videos.

So I thought I'd try out moving all my email to Google excellent web client. The process of moving the whole domain was surprisingly easy. Just point the MX at Google's servers, set up the appropriate accounts and define the pass-through mail server for anything that doesn't have an account on the Google servers. This means the mailing lists and weird aliases I have on my server continue working as before.

The hardest part was uploading all my old mail. I've been saving mails into their own Maildirs based on the big before the @ in the email address, so john@smith.com ends up saved as john/ and if there's any doubling up of "john" it's still all in there. Gmail has a pretty good (and very fast) search, so filing becomes much less important.

There's a bunch of tools you can find that claim to be able to upload Maildirs to Gmail. I couldn't get any of them to reliably work. Eventually I downloaded the corpus of my Maildirs to a desktop and used Thunderbird to upload them all to the new location. It took ages, but it worked.

So far I'm pretty damn happy with this. I haven't had a single spam get through, and even the ones that make it to the Spam directory are pretty minimal. The add-on Postini spam filtering service has done two false positives on spam so far, which I consider pretty good and I presume it'll learn.

Now that I'm paying US$50/year for each email account (one for me, one for Holly) it's costing about the same as my former JunkEmailFilter.com and rsync.net accounts. I'm also going to downsize my Linode which will also save me some money. More importantly, I'm doing even less maintenance, and the search engine on my email is vastly superior to mutt. It's also a graphical email client, which is nice, and the mobile clients are really quite good.

Quite happy with it.

Tashman: an excellent driving instructor

I've been learning to drive in Sydney for the last few months with an excellent instructor who's been patient, thorough and reassuring. Tashman driving school has seen me through a bunch of lessons at varying times of day and traffic conditions, including a really severe hail storm in peak hour, night time traffic on Parramatta Road and the Hume Highway. I've really appreciated his excellent guidance.

As well as excellent guidance, Tashman is quite an accomplished self-promoter on his web site. He asked me to blog about his service, and I'm happy to recommend him.

After about twelve hours of lessons, I finally graduated to driving with Holly in our own car yesterday. It went fine, apart from one stupid near miss in a car park where I nearly hit a stationary object. I'm learning!

Eulogy for Anthony Rumble: 1972-2009

Anthony Edwin Rumble

Below is the eulogy I gave for Anthony at his funeral yesterday. It outlines his life, and his achievments. I have had many comments from my family that they didn't know he had achieved so much, and that many of these things they were hearing for the first time.

I have placed the slideshow that also played at the funeral online. You can view just the images (use the "Slideshow" button in the top-right ot view full-screen) or view it with the accompanying music (click "Full" to go full screen).

Before I begin I'd like to thank all those who have provided help and support to our family at this difficult time. The friends and family have been out in force with emotional and material support that is quite humbling and demonstrates the love there is for Anthony and his family. We thank you for all the kind words, flowers, support, meals and other help we've been given.

Anthony was born on 16th April 1972 to Chris and Ray Rumble in Port Macquarie hospital after a 49 1/2 hour marathon labour. He was a good baby and would sleep until he was due for his feed, which was handy as both his parents worked long hours, often tag-teaming child minding duties.

Early on Anthony showed many of the traits he displayed throughout his life. His knowledge ranged far and wide, and he didn't mind telling you what he knew. As fact. He was easy prey for the ribbing and stirring of his uncles and aunts, taking their gags hook, line and sinker. During his childhood he was very fond of animals: our pet dogs Buttons and Scamper, his aviary full of budgies and quails, and the Robinson family duck.

Anthony took an early interest in technology. Our first computer, a Dick Smith Wizzard, was purchased in 1982 and Anthony was immediately hooked. When we purchased the BASIC programming cartridge, he went to town writing software. Our games of "shop" with Kristy, Janelle, Susan and Kathryn had Anthony holding our money in computerised accounts at his bank, using software he'd written himself. Later on he wrote a database programme, modestly using his initials in the name: AERBase. Bear in mind, this was a ten year old who had taught himself programming and seen the necessity of a generic data storage mechanism. Anthony continued with newer computers, inheriting the computers that had outrgrown their usefulness in the family businesses.

When it came time to go to high school, Anthony went off to St Patricks College boarding school in Goulburn. I won't say he loved his time in Goulburn, not being the archetypal sporty type the school usually required, but he did well academically, studying four unit maths and getting time on any of the computers he could find around the place. At one point he was effectively administering the school library's multi-user computer network, saving the school thousands in expensive consulting fees.

After school Anthony went to Newcastle University to study Computer Science, briefly. He quickly got frustrated with ivory tower academics lecturing without recourse to the real world. In those days computer science courses taught lots of theory, with little reference to what was actually happening outside academia. He scored a couple of jobs for small engineering firms in Sydney, before landing a job he could really sink his teeth into at Netcomm, a manufacturer of modems.

It was around the end of Anthony's time at school that we bought our first modem. A modem allows you to connect computers to other computers through a phone line, but this primitive model worked at the blistering speed of 300 bits per second, about 40,000 times slower than the Internet connection in my home today. We started calling bulletin boards, which were computer meeting places that you could use to exchange messages and, in some cases, talk in real time to other people. Eventually discovered one of the more popular boards in Sydney, Active Fun Entertainment, which at the time sported five lines allowing five different people to talk to each other in real time. Quite a revelation. The main difference with this board was its social aspect, and it is here that Anthony met some of his closest friends.

One of the groups who frequented Active, and its many social events, ran another bulletin board called Arcadia. This group shared a quirky sense of humour and a plethora of obscure in jokes. Anthony was rapidly accepted into the group, and made lifelong friendships. I see a bunch of Arcadians present today, and I know a few couldn't make it today. Thank you for the kindness and companionship you showed to Anthony.

Soon after discovering Active, Anthony installed some software into the core of the bulletin board to allow people to play a real-time, multiplayer game. It was while installing and integrating this system that Anthony wowed Grant Parnell with his technical skills. Grant and Anthony became close friends, and eventually business partners. We're extremely fortunate to have Grant with us today, as he was scheduled for major surgery last Friday, but it has been rescheduled.

The Linux community has much to remember of Anthony. He was one of the early users of Linux in Australia, with his interest in Minix coinciding with that of a certain Finnish programmer. I remember him rushing in to tell me about a new operating system he'd found, which promised to be more useful than Minix. I was a bit bewildered, wondering how something that took so long to boot and seemed to crash constantly could be of any use. While going through his things, I stumbled on ancient floppy disks for Linux v0.12, the second ever release of the Linux operating system.

Anthony spent much of the early years of Linux distributing the software to others in Australia. He had an Internet account, a rare thing at the time, and so was able to keep up-to-date with the latest developments. People would post or hand-deliver floppies for him to copy, and eventually he set up a bulletin board to allow people to download it. Soon enough he helped found the Sydney chapter of the Australian Public Access Network Association (APANA), which was at the time one of the only ways ordinary Australians could get Internet access outside universities and a few big companies. His APANA node, lsupoz, was one of the first in Sydney and at one point was the hub for the Sydney network, running from the front room of our parents' house.

Later on, Anthony set up a business distributing Linux software and merchandise around Australia with his wife Laura. They got Linux into thousands of sites, distributing CDs and propaganda by mail order and at conferences.

With the dawning of the Internet explosion in public consciousness, Anthony scored a job with one of the early Internet Service Providers in Australia, Microplex. Here he learned many key skills in networking and business, and was fortunate to meet another close friend, Matt Perkins, who would later be Anthony's best man.

Anthony was next headhunted to work on an ambitious project by a large multinational stationery supplier with ambitions to control the entire market in Australia. Corporate Express wanted to move most of their transactions onto the Internet, which at the time was a radical idea. Anthony rose to the challenge, building an innovative online ordering system with a front-end simple enough to be used by the secretaries and admin staff ordering stationery in Australian businesses, government and academia. Soon enough, it was Australia's most successful e-commerce site, turning over many millions of dollars in orders every month. The technology Anthony developed handled the massive load with ease, and the project won a special commendation by the Australian Information Industry Association.

While still working at Corporate Express, Anthony met a young university student named Laura, and shortly afterwards they married in a big ceremony and party. While the marriage ended some years later, there were very happy times as Anthony and Laura built up a business and a family in their home in Croydon. Anthony and Laura set up a business distributing Linux software and merchandise, Everything Linux. This developed a sophisticated stock-management and online ordering system to handle mail orders.

Abigail Rumble was born late in 2000. Anthony doted on Abi, his beautiful daughter, and loved her dearly. After Anthony and Laura separated, they shared custody and he continued Abigail's involvement with cub scouts, which she loves. Under his parents' rearing, Abigail has developed into a beautiful, intelligent and loving young girl, who was the centre of Anthony's life.

The last few years of Anthony's life have not been perfect. He struggled with epilepsy, which was diagnosed about six years ago. The drugs used to control it have many negative side effects including mood disorders, memory loss and aphasia, and the doctors attempted to adjust the dosage to minimise these effects while keeping him safe from the dangers of epilepsy. During this time, his friend, business partner and flatmate Grant was an enormous support to Anthony. More recently things appeared to be looking up for Anthony, with his drug regime seeming to stabilize and cause fewer of the bad side effects. His epilespy seemed well controlled and his mood was good.

Anthony joined a support group after his divorce, Parents Without Partners and soon became heavily involved with the organisation. They gave him excellent support and improved his outlook enormously. He also took up Ceroc, a modern jive partner dance style, and was incredibly proud of his dancing ability. At one of the PWP functions, he met and gradually wooed his partner Rosetta. Rosetta and her family welcomed him into their lives and made him very happy, enjoying dancing and tons of blended family activities.

A few weeks ago Anthony took possession of his new flat in Belmore, and had just finished unpacking his posessions. It was a lovely place and I hadn't even had a chance to visit it myself when I got the phone call last Saturday and rushed over. Anthony's elderly Greek neighbours have told us about the impression he had already made, helping them with odd jobs around the place and always being friendly and polite.

Looking around here today, I see that Anthony was loved far beyond his own immediate family. He'll be missed by all his friends and relatives, but especially by his mother Chris, father Ray, brothers Charlie and Simon, partner Rosetta and her children Jeffrey, Matthew and Catherine, and by his daughter Abigail. We'll miss you Anthony.

Anthony Rumble: 1972-2009

Anthony and Abigail

My beloved brother Anthony died unexpectedly last Friday in his flat in Belmore, Sydney. He will be remembered as a devoted father to his eight year old daughter, as a loving brother and son, and as a loving partner.

Linux v0.12 floppies

The Linux community has much to remember of Anthony. He was one of the early users of Linux in Australia, with his interest in Minix seeming to coincide with a certain Finnish programmer. I remember him rushing in to tell me about a new operating system he'd found, which promised to be more useful than Minix. I was a bit bewildered, wondering how something that took so long to boot and seemed to crash constantly could be of any use. While going through his things, I stumbled on these ancient Linux v0.12 floppies. Quite impressive historical artifacts.

Anthony spent much of the early years of Linux distributing the software to others in Australia. He had an (at the time rare) Internet account, and so was able to keep up-to-date with the latest developments. People would post or hand-deliver floppies for him to copy, and eventually he set up a bulletin board to allow people to download it. Soon enough he helped found the Sydney chapter of APANA, which was at the time one of the only ways ordinary Australians could get Internet access outside universities and a few big companies. His APANA node, lsupoz, was one of the first nodes in Sydney and at one point was the hub for the Sydney network, running from the front room of our parents' house.

Later on, Anthony set up a business distributing Linux software and merchandise around Australia with his wife Laura. They got Linux into thousands of sites, distributing CDs and propaganda by mail order and at conferences.

Rosetta, Abigail and Anthony

Outside the Linux world, Anthony had an active social and family life, especially his beautiful eight year old daughter Abigail, who he adored. He will be dearly missed by family, friends and his partner Rosetta.

I'll post some more about Anthony later.

Obituaries

Thanks for your kind words. Also thanks for the very kind emails and messages I've been receiving. They really are much appreciated.

Funeral

The funeral for Anthony Rumble will be held 11:30 next Monday, 18th May 2009 in the Camellia Chapel at the Macquarie Park Crematorium.

No flowers please. There will be envelopes for donations to Epilepsy Action Australia at the funeral.

Important announcement

Holly's pregnant. We're having a baby.

12 week scan

Didn't wanna beat around the bush on exciting news. Holly's 15 weeks up the duff, and we'll be parents in October. Very exciting, very life changing, very bloody scary!

Above you'll see the 12 week scan. It's a boy and the name I'm using is Laphroaig, to complement Jameson. I suspect I may be overruled at the final hurdle.

So that's why The Hub is empty

The Hub Theatre, Newtown

I heard from The Mayor that The Hub's development application has been rejected by the council. As such, it's now for lease, either long or short term, pending resolution of the DA issues, and I imagine an improvement in economic conditions.

Inside The Hub

At the very least this gives us a bit of a view inside. I've never been inside: it was an adult theatre when I moved into Newtown in the early 1990s, and since that closed I've never seen it open for any reason. Since it would be an amazing space for the emerging Sydney Hackerspace project, I thought I'd contact the estate agent and see what they wanted for it.

Now we know why it's vacant, and has been for so long. On a three year lease (with three year option) they want $350,000 a year (ex-GST), of nearly $7,000 a week! On a short term lease they want $5,000 a week (ex-GST). Yeesh! No wonder the place is empty. It's a brilliant space, but I can't think of many businesses that would be able to justify that, without some fairly major redevelopment -- which is exactly what the council has rejected.

It's a shame, as it's an absolutely brilliant space.

While trawling through this I did find a DA for someone planning to turn the old shop corner building next to it, on the corner of Bedford and Denison, into a cafe. Looks quite cool.

Food: Have you...

Just discovered a really interesting food blog, STUDIOKITCHEN, written by chef Shola Olunloyo. It's got lots of cool technical experiments, and good ideas. Most interesting post I've found so far is this have you post, which just asks some simple questions about things you should try cooking.

Kombu

Have You wrapped fish in Kombu and poached it gently. No I haven't but it sounds divine. I'll try it shortly I think. Fortunately I work above a large Asian supermarket.

Have you just for the heck of it made Miso Soup lately with Dashi and Bonito. No I haven't and it's insane that I haven't! Miso soup is one of the easiest and most delicious quick meals you can make. In fact, I think I'll make some tonight! I'm a big fan of (rehydrated, dried) Shiitake mushrooms in mine. And with the weather turning cool, there's nothing finer than a warming bowl of soup. Well, maybe a really hearty stew, but nothing finer for a weeknight.

More lair plans

Shed plan with 
indicative view of house

Last night I knocked up a couple of changes to the shed plans, taking out the windows on the "shed" side and removing the door between the two sections to reinstate the separate doors. So we'll have a glass sliding door on the "office" side, and an ordinary external door on the "shed" side. There'll be loads of natural light and ventilation on the "office" side, and complete darkness on the "shed" side.

Latest version

The purpose of all these changes is to finally get myself a meeting with the planners at Marrickville Council. I'll be asking lots of questions about the planning process and what I need to give them to get my Development Application through. We've got a few things that force us to go the DA route. The floor space of the "shed" is bigger than the "complying development" rules, and our house isn't detached so we can't use the new rules.

View from over the fence

I'll have lots of technical questions for them too. Like the need for a retaining wall under the fence, as there's about a 50cm drop at the fence. And drainage is going to be an interesting issue, as the back of our block is lower than the street level. Big question is whether I can use a rubble pit for the gutters on the shed, or if I have to do the very complicated easement thing and drain into a public stormwater drain.