Using the Asus EEE

Now that I have had my Asus EEE for a week and have taken it for a test run in the field I think it’s time to jot down some thoughts.

The big W on my EEE

The EEE pc is one of the most satisfying buys ever. It weighs nothing. I don’t even feel I’m carrying it. Despite that, it doesn’t look cheap or feel like a toy. (I can’t vouch for the other colours, but the black version looks like an ordinary laptop. Just a lot smaller.) There’s no reason not to pop it into my bag and take it everywhere I go.

It works (after plugging it in and/or charging it) out of the box, starts up in 10 to 15 seconds, has a preinstalled interface that anyone can understand, comes with oodles of software including games, an open source office suite, Firefox, Thunderbird, excellent WiFi, a photo viewer/slideshow, screen capture, a news reader, IM client, Skype, etc, etc.

While I’m not completely new to Linux, I’m not that familiar with it either. I use *nix commands on the server that hosts my sites, but my home and work desktop PCs have always run Windows or a Mac OS. So I don’t know much about the various incarnations of Linux.

The EEE runs a custom Asus version of Xandros by default. Once I switched from the ‘Easy’ desktop environment to Advanced it looks a lot like a rip off of Windows XP – which is almost disappointing. It’s not the most exciting look. But I didn’t know Linux GUI’s were this advanced. I thought there’d be more command line stuff to get to grips with, but you get lots of menus and right click options, just like in XP. Again… that’s almost disappointing. I guess that’s why they called it “EEE, Easy to learn, work and play”.

The trackpad does the job, but isn’t great for prolonged usage. It is small and the left and right click button feels a little stiff. I plugged in an old mouse which worked really well, so I bought a nice small notebook mouse from Microsoft which works even better. The keyboard could have been better too. I have to hit the space bar pretty hard to make it work and I find touch typing difficult in any other position than seated at a desk.

I mentioned switching to the Advanced desktop. Out of the box, the EEE starts up with an ‘Easy’ interface, which is just a couple of tabs with large icons on it. If you want to get the most out of the machine, use the Advanced desktop. It used to be an option on the menu, but Asus decided to market the machine as an appliance rather than a pc, so they took the option out. You have to put it back in. It’s pretty easy to do, following these instructions: ‘Enable Advanced Desktop mode‘ from the eeeuser.com wiki. Note that personalising the EEE environment almost always involves opening a terminal window and doing some command line stuff. So stick to Easy mode if that scares you.

The EEE can play quite a few different video formats, even .mkv files, although there were some synch problems with the file I tried. What the EEE can’t do is play the ipod compatible formats, mp4/quicktime h.264. But no worries, if you downgrade the supplied mplayer, it will play those as well.

Firefox is preinstalled but the browser’s chrome will dominate a large part of the tiny screen. You’ll have to fiddle with settings a bit to make better use of your real estate. In fact, Opera seems to be the better choice, especially if you use that browser’s fit-to-width option. You’ll have to install Opera and then customise it following instructions from the the eeeuser.com wiki to make the most of the space you have.

To make your EEE a portable jukebox, ideally you’d want to install a bittorrent client, but I haven’t got round to that. I tried a Firefox torrent extension, but could not get it to work. For now I’ve settled for a Limewire clone called Frostwire. I’m not a big fan of the Gnutella protocol, since I prefer the high quality rips found elsewhere, but it will have to do for now.

Wrapping up this review, the Asus EEE is a fantastic little computer. If you get one, spend some time customising it with help from the EEE user community. Buy a small mouse. You’ll need at least some extra storage so one or two SD cards will come in handy, and/or a USB flash stick. And remember, if your system dies while you’re customising it, you can easily revert to factory settings by hitting F9 during start up.

Photographers should consider this set up for a great portable storage and post-processing solution.

Canon Pixma iP4200

canon_pixma.gif

Oh why didn’t I get one of these yonks ago? These Canon photo printers don’t really cost all that much and the quality is just stunning. I splashed out on the ‘pro’ type photo paper and an extra set of ink cartridges that should last me a good while.

It’s fun to play with while I’m recuperating from week that was.

I can see clearly now

Spending money before you’ve got it… to be able to earn it. That’s what I did today. I have been working on a website for a colleague the last couple of weekends. It’s been tough because the house has been drafty and cold – not the ideal circumstances to sit still in – but also because my old LG monitor was getting old in the teeth and very blurry in some areas of the screen. I was squinting too much and it was tiring. So I went to a computer hardware store this morning to buy myself a TFT-monitor.

I hadn’t really prepared for it, all I knew was I wanted ‘a black one’ and I wanted it fast.

In the shop I pointed out their cheapest Acer monitor and asked if it was available in black. It wasn’t. So I pointed to the dearer black Iiyama ProLite E431s and said: ‘Ok, gimme that one.’ They came back with a box, I pulled my credit card, cussed when they charged 1.5% extra for the use of the card ($&#*!! bloody annoying country…)

Then I rushed back home to connect the thing and start working. On the tram I thought to myself… ‘wouldn’t it be typical if they’d sold me a silver coloured monitor?’

Well, they did.

But fuck it, at least I can see what I’m doing now.

Life’s a bitch and then you marry one

The first item I’ve ever put up on eBay was grabbed up in no time, but already it’s become the ordeal I feared auctioning off my stuff would be. I offered ordinary P&P options but the buyer contacted me to ask if I could courier them the item. I was going to say NO but didn’t want to be dismissive the first time around, so I said I’d investigate.

I found the Fedex site impossible to negotiate, but finally figured out I’d have to apply for a ‘personal’ account first. That would take too much time, so I tried TNT who seemed to offer shipping without too much hassle. But when I rang them this morning to verify things were as simple as they seemed, I was told that because I wasn’t a business, they could not give me an account and would not pick up the item. Instead I would have to use the service they offer through the post office.

The post office I can NEVER go to because it only opens during office hours.

I find things like not being able to use every day services available to businesses deeply frustrating. It did nothing to improve the mood I’ve landed in since my return from the U.K.

I’d felt gloomy since Monday morning, but it was the cashier at Duivendrecht station who triggered my festering wrath. On Monday evening 11.15pm she refused to give me change from a tenner and made me buy a sausage roll so I would have the coins to pay for a subway ticket.

Bitch. I cursed this stupid country and its refusal to accept credit cards in vending machines (or anywhere else for that matter) to hell and back. And then the 54 line broke down and I had to get back on a train anyway. And walk more stairs with my gammy knee, because all the escalators had broken down too.

But anyway, selling stuff on eBay… I had to refund the buyer their shipping money and placate them with apologies. They begged me to go to the post office, would even pay for my petrol. I don’t have a car, but anyway, there’s no post office anywhere near where I work. More apologies and grovelling. I hate this. I hate negotiating with sellers in the first place, but it’s worse the other way around as I’m expected to make the buyer happy. I find this endless negotiating with strangers incredibly taxing. Bloody does my head in. Now the buyer’s unhappy, and I’m drowning in guilt and I wish I had said NO in the first place. I’m considering sending him the item free and be done with it.

To make matters worse, TGP post have failed to deliver the lovely Revue 400 se camera I bought from a seller in Austria. I’ll have to go to the post office (when? WHEN? WHEN FOR FUCK SAKE???) to fill in a form. I’ve done this before and always get the same standard ‘sorry we can’t find it’ answer a few weeks later. There really is no point.

My deep sympathies go out to those who do this for a living.

Moving iTunes purchases from A to B

If I buy a song from iTMS on my work computer, how can I download it again on my home computer? There doesn’t seem to be a way other than paying for it again.

Yes, I can mail it to myself, or burn it, or ftp it. But really, it should show up in my library automatically.

This is an evil plan to make me invest in an iPod. Which I’m not willing to do.

I do not need a portable player. I don’t like shutting myself off from the world while I’m commuting. If I ever do invest it will be in one of iRiver’s machines. Their features suit me better and sue me, but I like the look better too.

Stan Smith in the house

Last season I noticed my (Fila) tennis shoes were getting a bit tight. As you grow older, your feet keep growing. Whether they actually grow, or just get flatter and thus longer and wider, I don’t know.

fila.jpg

I’d never been keen on them anyway, these ‘modern’ tennis shoes are higher around the ankle and heel. The faux leather edge feels uncomfortable.

I had looked around for a new pair, but they all had the same modern cut. Again and again I’d walk into shops to see if there was any shoe I liked. But I’d come out empty handed, or with a pair of yet another pair of sneakers for everyday use. Oh, how I yearned for a pair of old fashioned Adidas Stan Smith tennis shoes.

Stan Smith tennis shoes were the norm in the late 70s and 80s when I played tennis regularly. Adidas were big. Brands like Fila and Tacchini were starting to become popular, but Nike had only just become known in our country. Kappa was cool, but not for tennis. Diadora, of course, was for girls. Asics’ design was just too ‘busy’ with its tangled swooshes – and in any case, Asics was a badminton and volleyball brand.

I played a lot of sports in school and my friends and I were Adidas ‘fans’. We’d scrounge sports shops for bargains and bought their cotton soccer shorts in every colour imaginable. We were buying them bigger and bigger, too. Baggy had become popular. Those bargain hunts were also good for scoring ‘rare’ items – odd colour shirts and designs. We worshipped the three stripes.

I coveted Stan Smith tennis shoes with their pure white leather and green finishes. (If you wanted to be different, you bought them in France, where they had red finishes.) They were cool and they were comfortable.

They were, however, too expensive. My parents weren’t into the whole sports thing anyway and money, at the time, was tight as my dad had decided at 42 he wanted to go to University and study law. 80/90 guilders was deemed too much for a pair of tennis shoes.

They got me a pair of Ilie Nastase shoes (here shown in black – they were bright blue back then.) I think they were around 50 guilders. I was happy with them at first, but after a while the mesh finish began to look a little tatty (after a softball training session on black gravel) and I wasn’t keen on their thick slick soles. I didn’t feel like I had a good grip on whatever floor I was playing on.

They didn’t last long either. I got another pair of Adidas shoes in a bargain sale. I don’t remember what they were called. They were similar to the Stan Smith, but the leather was off-white and apparently made of kangaroo skin (which made them very supple and comfortable) and they had a red finish.

I wore them out quickly (I played every sport imaginable in them) and for my graduation I asked for a pair of Nike shoes, Nike having become a big hit with us ‘jocks’. Again, I opted for a Stan Smith look-a-like. A plain white shoe with a light blue swoosh.

When they went I got an even simpler pair of Nikes in a bargain sale in a Danish supermarket. I batted my eyes at my very sweet uncle who forked out the equivalent of 15 dollars. They were cloth-top tennis shoes with a dark blue swoosh.

I didn’t play tennis that much anymore, so they lasted me a long time but eventually died a sneaker’s smelly death.

When I picked up the sport again around 1998, I bought the Fila shoes mentioned before. And then my feet ‘grew’ and this season I got tired of the shoes being too tight. I’d also come to realise that of every brand shoe I’ve put my foot in, Adidas comes out the most comfortable.

With some glee I noticed ‘retro’ shoes coming back in fashion and a lot of brands bringing their 80s models back on the shelves. A further check brought a real smile to my face.

There they were, real Adidas Stan Smith tennis shoes. Priced at 75 euros they were cheaper than most current sports shoes, but still twice as much as back in the day. I didn’t buy them. I went back, didn’t buy. Went back again, didn’t buy. Picked them up, cooed over their absolute shinyness, but didn’t buy.

‘Maybe they’re cheaper in France,’ I thought, thinking back on how it used to be ‘cool’ to get a French pair. But when I got there, I didn’t want to carry another pair of shoes around. ‘I’ll buy them when I get back to Holland,’ I thought, thinking I didn’t want to play the tournament I’d committed myself to on shoes that were too tight.

But when I got back, the Stan Smith shoes were sold out everywhere. Which is why I turned to online shops. I had some Amazon vouchers left, enough for a pair of shoes, so that’s where I started and found Champs.

I didn’t know exactly what size to get — there are such big differences in sizes between countries and brands. So I checked all my other sports shoes and chose the average.

The shoes were cheap: 54.99, but the p&p brought it back into perspective: 87 dollars in total.

Today my shoes arrived from the USA, with 20 Euro customs tax on ’em, too, but since I don’t count the vouchers as money, I figure that’s just what they cost me. 20 Euro for a brand new pair of Stan Smith, as coveted for the last twenty years.

stansmith.jpg

And I picked the right size too.

Que bueno, we’re not impressed

pin_100whibkg.gif

Recently I saw that footage of President Bush mocking an American journalist for speaking French. (transcript) I’d heard of the incident, but not seen it yet.

Whatever else you may think of him, this should be enough to doubt his ability to be at the head of the most powerful country in the world. What an immature, small minded, mean spirited man he is. What a sorry excuse for a world leader.

Please register to vote and do the right thing.