Me and My System76 Darter

So my Darter showed up yesterday (DHL rocks), and it is just super-sweet. The screen is bright and clear, the keyboard is sturdy and responsive and a good size. The battery life is superb, and the touchpad is one of the best I’ve ever used. I think my complaints are limited to the speakers, and the lack of manuals.
About my two criticisms, before I go any further, I’d like to explain what I mean when I complain about speakers. I’m used to very high-quality desktop speakers. I never buy OEM speakers because they always end up being less than what I expected, so I always buy them separately. The audio quality of this machine is outstanding, but only when it’s coming through another set of speakers. Laptop speakers are notoriously lousy… but these ones are satisfactory for laptop speakers.
The manuals that I would have expected could have explained how to use all of the different hardware components on the machine, and what all the little buttons on the top do. I had to contact support at first to get a quick tutorial on how to turn on the wireless because the button for the wireless looks more like a speaker with a harpoon through it than a speaker. Called them up and a very polite gentleman by the name of Tom answered my questions very quickly.
Now onto the things I really like about this machine…
It’s small, but not too small. When I thought of a 12.1″ widescreen, at first I thought for sure it would be too small. It’s definitely smaller than my 17″ widescreen, but pleasantly so. I wanted a machine I could move around with, and I certainly got it. This bad boy can move anywhere with me without trouble. It’s light and compact, and will be very nice for train rides. It’s nice to have a laptop that fits comfortably on your lap for a change.
This machine came with a fantastic Ubuntu install! I’ve never seen anybody do Feisty so much justice. While I’ve got it up and running on Kubuntu Gutsy now, the default Ubuntu install would be perfect for anybody, particularly newbies.
This keyboard is blowing my mind. It might be that I’ve had a crappy HP keyboard that missed keystrokes, but this keyboard is sturdy and very responsive. There are a couple issues with it, such as having the function key where the control key is traditionally placed, and some of the keys are a bit small, so I have to get used to that, too. All-in-all this is a fine keyboard.
I’m getting about four to four-and-a-half hours of battery life out of this fella. On my HP laptop I only got about 2 hours if I was lucky. This Darter is giving me more than four hours consistently, and I’m loving it. I can actually do things wirelessly and not have to worry about running out of battery.
Also, as expected, buying from System76 eliminates most of the common problems that you have with a GNU/Linux machine. The graphics card works fantastically with 3D out of the box, though it does need a little tweaking for compositing, the wireless works out of the box once you figure out what the silly button looks like, and I’m told the webcam works as well, though I haven’t gotten around to playing with it yet. I don’t know if the finger-print scanner works either, but I don’t really care about that one.
The bottom line is that I love this machine. It is sturdy, functional, portable, and will undoubtedly serve me well for quite some time. I give a standing ovation to System76 for their support of Free Software and the Ubuntu community. Their success really does help the free software movement as a whole.

When Buying PCs, Always Bring your Live CD!

So many of us have bought computer hardware just to get home and realize that there are serious issues with hardware compatibility. So I had an idea….
Next time you go into Best Buy or Circuit City or $RETAILER, why don’t you bring your Kubuntu Live CD (okay, you can bring an Ubuntu Live CD if you really want) with you? I did that today, and it actually went really well. Here’s the story.
So I ordered a Dell OEM Ubuntu Inspiron 1420 on the 23rd of July. Today, the 15th of August, Dell still hasn’t shipped my order. So I call them up to see what’s going on. They won’t give me any update other than telling me that it’s in production. Meanwhile, I notice all sorts of public outcry from all sorts of folks about how they’ve been waiting weeks beyond their “Estimated Ship Date” and still have yet to receive their machines. This is obviously not something that is going to make me very happy at all.
So today when the guy was giving me the run-around on the phone, telling me that my order “could ship on time, but it could also not ship on time,” I just canceled. I’ve had enough of Dell’s guff, and I went out on the prowl to find a machine that will work for me. I went everywhere. I went to Radio Shack, Best Buy, Circuit City, Simplified Computers, Computer Deli, and Microcenter. Nobody had anything I was interested in except that Circuit City had this neat little 13.3″ wide-screen Toshiba U305-S5107 that looked kinda neat. So I called their manager later in the evening and asked the guy if I could bring in my Kubuntu Live CD and test it without installing anything. The guy said sure–much to my shock and amazement–and so I went in there and took a peeky-peek.
What I found was very disappointing but also very promising. Disappointing because the Toshiba model completely failed my test, but very promising because Circuit City seemed very willing to let me test these machines to my heart’s content. This particular Toshiba model actually didn’t work with my Kubuntu 7.04 Live CD at all. The ACPI didn’t work–couldn’t restart or suspend–there was no audio, the wireless device didn’t work, the bluetooth device wouldn’t work, and it seemed like the graphics card wasn’t going to play nice either. I’m glad I ran this test and it really helped me make a better purchasing decision.
WARNING: If you do decide to do this, please don’t screw it up for the rest of us. Be courteous when you run your tests. Most of all, don’t install anything. I understand that many of us consider Windows to be the ultimate computer virus, but if even a handful of folks screw around and start installing stuff, it could really make it harder for the rest of us to be able to test this hardware with our operating system of choice.
At the end of the day, I ended up ordering the 12.1″ Darter Ultra from System76. I just want a machine that will do what I need, and I’m not interested in screwing around with hardware compatibility anymore. System76 is promising a 8-10 day turnaround, so I’m really looking forward to my new machine. Here’s hoping System76 really delivers on their promise.

Program Review: Katapult for Fun and Profit…

So, what is katapult, and why would it be fun or profitable for me?!
Katapult is a KDE program that increases your productivity by giving you unlimited access to your programs, music, documents, a spellchecker, and a calculator, without ever reaching for the mouse! Now, some of you may like your mouse, and that’s cool, but nobody can deny that ALT+Space konq ENTER isn’t an easier way to fire off konqueror than reaching for the mouse and clicking the icon.
So, let’s go into the functionality that Katapult has. Katapult will let you run programs. Just hit ALT+Space and start typing the name of your favorite program. No, not the unix command, just the name of the program. So instead of typing “oocalc” you could type “o sp” (notice the space) and spreadsheet will fire off. Beautiful, no? This will also work with your konqueror bookmarks.
Then there’s your music. Katapult integrates with Amarok to give you access to your music at your finger tips. This functionality is a little flakey sometimes it seems, but it is there.
Then there’s the calculator. This is one of my favorite features. ALT+Space and then type in your math, and Katapult will do the math for you. This is very convenient for those of us who have to do tiny little bits of math regularly.
Now there’s the spellcheck… some of us aren’t gifted spellers, so this is a very useful feature. Just ALT+Space and then type “spell” followed by the word you want to spell. If you get it wrong, it’ll give you a comma-separated list of guesses.
So there’s Katapult, and I hope you find it as useful as I do. I know the folks who wrote it were really thinking of making lives easier when they wrote it, and man did they succeed. A round of applause for the Katapult hackers!

Would the Real manchicken Please Stand Up?

Okay, so some of you are going to notice my transition from to for the blog. This is for two reasons. One reason is that I’m trying to attract more free software traffic with the new domain name. The other reason is that I plan on using for more free software related stuff. is the new home for this blog, but will remain up and active indefinitely.

Highway Robbery by Domain Brokers

So, on June 15th of 2007 I wrote this letter to the current domain broker owning

You all have a parked domain at I’m wondering if you would be willing to sell it at a reasonable price since it’s just parked. Thanks.

Today I got a reply from them. Here is the reply:

Hi Man Chicken,
Thank you for your interest in We are currently not
entertaining offers below $3500 for three-word generic terms with the
expectation of a higher price upon receiving a proper evaluation. If
this is out of your price range I will be more than happy to search our
portfolio for a domain that better suits your needs. I look forward to
hearing from you.
Thank You,
Lauren [snip for privacy reasons]
Sales Operations
[snip for privacy reasons]

This is insane. These people actually think they’re going to receive $3,500 USD for this domain? It’s been parked for at least three years, and I seriously doubt they’re receiving offers from anybody other than bloggers such as myself.
Now, I know that you all may argue that this is the free market, and all’s fair and blah blah blah… but these companies are doing this everywhere. Almost any domain you try to find these days is either used by someone else for their legitimate purpose, or is parked by some horse-crap domain broker. This is wrong because it excludes startups and normal folks like you and me from actually being able to get into many domain names. The reason why we’ve got so many new domain suffixes popping up isn’t because the domains are all being used by legitimate folks, it’s because they’re all being parked by idiots like this.
I understand it’s a business model that many think is harmless advertising, but it really is harming the ability of normal folks online to express themselves using logically named domains. Either way, I hope these folks enjoy their domain, because they’ll have it for a long time.

In Eager Anticipation of KDE4…

So many of you know that KDE4 Beta1 came out and is in Gutsy repos right now, as we speak. It’s phenomenal that it we’re already to this point. I’m tickled to death at the prospect of new versions of Kopete, Konqueror, Amarok, Kate, and so much more. I’ve even looked at the new Kate and the new Kopete, and even a bit into the new version of Konqueror. I’m seriously impressed.
Even plasma looks promising, despite its current instability. Many programs seem to crash upon closing, and I’m sure folks are hard at work trying to make things work well. I’m just putting this message out hoping that it encourages those who are working, and letting them know that their work is appreciated.
I also appreciate Richard Johnson and John Riddell’s (and anybody I missed, sorry) efforts in packaging KDE4 betas so that we could look at them more conveniently. KDE4 is going to knock our collective socks off.

ChiCon: The First Chicago Free Software Conference

So, I was contacted by Kevin Harriss (specialKevin) today about a Free Software conference in Chicago that they’re hoping to pull off around November. Gosh, that sounds like a good time! I’ve heard of a lot of “open source” conferences where businesses all get together and disingenuously show off how much they love “open source software” (which to them translates to inexpensive software with zero liability), but this could be different.
I know you Free Software lovers out there might really enjoy a conference focused on desktop users and enthusiasts, and I’ve been told that this is what this conference is going to be all about. I’ll keep you up to date as more details come forth, but until then I’ll link you to Kevin Harriss’ post.

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