Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Impression of Acer Aspire One netbook

I mentioned in an earlier post about my thought process on purchasing a netbook, that I'd follow up with my impressions and experiences. Now that I've got some legitimate use of my Acer Aspire One netbook, here it is. I wanted to write this before Christmas for those that were thinking about giving one as a gift, or buying one on sale, but I guess it's "better late than never." For the record, I'm writing most of this post on my netbook while watching college football on the couch.


Obviously, this is one of the big features of the netbooks. Even with the 6 cell battery, it's still very light and compact. I carried it around quite a bit during the holidays. It took up about the same room as a smaller O'Reilly book, and probably weighed the same or less. The battery life was up to its billing. With web surfing and email, I was getting about 5 hours per charge. The wireless card range seems a little weaker than ones built into laptops, since it would connect with "Very Good" instead of "Excellent", but overall, I didn't have problems with network speed.


The boot up time isn't much slower (if even noticeable) than my other laptop. The only web performance issue I've noticed so far is when using the standard view of Gmail. It seems to hang or is sluggish when trying to load. However, I have no problems using the basic HTML version. The built in speakers aren't very loud, but that's not that big of a deal to me. If I'm going to listen to music or need audio, I can just plug in some headphones or powered computer speakers.


The keyboard is slightly smaller than a laptop keyboard, but I don't have too much difficulty touch typing. It is definitely easier than typing on a smart phone or my iPhone. The screen real estate is noticeably smaller, but doesn't impede too much considering this is a mobile device. Again, it's much larger than a smart phone or an iPhone. I didn't get any complaints from "guest" users either; including my wife, brother-in-law, or father-in-law. My only complaint, which is very minor, is the touchpad and the positioning of the left and right click buttons. However, it's mostly because I'm used to the buttons being positioned differently. I like the "zoom" feature with the touchpad that is similar to the Macbooks or iPhone. The three USB ports seem to work fine. I've only used them one at a time to connect my iPod or iPhone.

Other Features

The built in microphone and video camera work surprisingly well. Using the video chat feature on AOL Instant Messenger v.6, the video and audio received by the recipient was decent quality. Because it works so well, I was disappointed my netbook did not come with a Mac-like "Photo Booth" program pre-installed (more on that later). I haven't used the SD card slots yet. I'm not sure why there are two of them. I haven't used the VGA-out port either.

My Modifications

The netbook does come with pre-installed software, which I'm not generally a fan of. I removed the trial versions of Microsoft Office and McAfee Anti-virus. It also came with Microsoft Works. I haven't decided if I want to uninstall that and install Open Office instead.

As for software I've added (all are freeware for personal use), here's the list and why I chose them.

AOL Instant Messenger - I'm normally a Pidgin fan, but Pidgin doesn't support video chat right now.

AVG Anti-Virus (free for personal use) - I picked this one over Avast because it was supposed to be lighter weight. It seems to work pretty well, but I don't like the browser plugin that scans all links on a web page. It really hampered my web browsing. I've disabled the plugin, but now there is an exclamation point "splat" on the icon in the system tray.

Debut Video Capture - This program is a lot like the Mac's "Photo Booth". I was happy when I found it, and best of all, it's free.

Firefox Web Browser - I personally like it better than IE7.

- I don't plan to use my netbook to manage my music on my iPhone or iPod, but since I have over 100GB of storage, I figure I can copy my library over.

Picasa - Just in case I want to do some light photo management while travelling. My permanent photo storage will be on my desktop.

Skype - Another video chat client, just in case someone uses that instead for video chat.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the "Comments."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Linux Mag's Top 10 Sys Admin Articles of 2008

With 2008 coming to an end, everyone is starting to put out their "Top" lists. I saw the announcement today in my Inbox that Linux Magazine posted its Top 10 Sys Admin Articles of 2008. Unfortuantely, the links to articles requires registration, but it's free. The two articles on ZFS interest me the most, and I want to refresh myself on the "port knocking" article. I forget where I've heard about port knocking before. I'm pretty sure it was a couple years ago though.

It also made me realize I miss reading physical magazines over online copies. Then again, I rarely read the ones I get in the mail now. It's amazing how technology changes things.

On a totally unrelated note, I just wanted to share a good laugh about Matt Simmons' comment on a blog post about having multiple superusers on the VMware ESX server.

"Once, many many moons ago, probably near the peak of my danger curve, I got tired of su’ing all the time, so I just changed my uid to 0 in the passwd file. That was fun."

I can't explain why it struck me as funny as it did, but that was probably the funniest thing I've read today.

Monday, December 22, 2008

My netbook purchase thought process

I try to keep this blog relative to System Administration, but once in a while, I should be allowed to stray. It's the holidays after all, right?

My Acer Aspire One arrived on Friday. I've used it a little bit, and I wanted to give anyone interested my initial thoughts and opinions. There's quite a bit of hype about these "low cost" netbooks. For those considering a netbook, this was my criteria and rationale for buying one. Just a side note about about my link to this netbook. When I bought it, it was available directly through It appears they are now selling them through other online merchants. If you buy through that link, your mileage may vary.

First of all, I wanted something small and mobile to use for casual to light web access. I used to use my Compaq laptop to surf the Internet, check email, and do other lightweight computing tasks from the living room couch or on trips. Unfortunately, it's having power problems and I was looking for a replacement for this device. We also have a desktop computer that we use for storage or to do heftier computer tasks.

Second, the replacement gadget had to be intuitive and useful enough for general users. I would not be the only user, and I try to avoid being a system admin or operating a "helpdesk" when I'm not at work. Don't get me wrong; I like helping people, but I don't want to create unnecessary issues for myself. I was sure that my wife, or other guests, would want to use this device; and potentially when I was not around to help them use it.

My third "want" was a device that had good battery life. I didn't want to be dependent on the accessibility of an electrical outlet within an hour or two of usage. I can depend on an outlet when I'm at home, but if I'm traveling or visiting, this becomes more cumbersome and intrusive.

After thinking about what I really wanted and needed for a replacement portable device, I thought about what I already owned, and if I really needed to replace my laptop. I already own an iPhone. It's small, portable, decent battery life, supports Wi-Fi for Internet access, and all-around I really like it. However, it's also my cell phone, which means I take it everywhere with me. It's also a very "personal" device for me, and I'm hesitant to allow other people to use it (maybe I'm just strange). These two reasons make it difficult for being a shared device for around the house. Someone suggested buying an iPod Touch for my wife, but she has an iPod Nano that she got last Christmas. Plus, if we had guest users of our Wi-Fi device, not everyone is going to know how to use a Touch, and I'd have to spend a few minutes here and there helping them operate it. I do think the Touch is nifty device, but in my opinion, not practical enough in this case.

"So you think you want to buy a netbook..." As mentioned in my PXE live distro post, I looked at Acer, ASUS, Dell, and HP's offerings. For the prices and features, I concentrated on Acer and ASUS.
  • Which Operating System should I use? - The geek inside me wanted Linux. My wife could probably learn how to use Linux also, but there would be a slight learning curve. I had intended to use our desktop, which runs Windows XP, for permanent storage of important files, such as photos or other documents. Having the device run Windows XP would make network drive setup and usage much easier. Plus, she's already familiar with Windows. I chose Windows XP.
  • What kind of local storage should I get? - Another tough decision. Solid stage drives (SDD) seem geekier. Without much investigation, I thought they could be potentially faster, use less electricity, and be more durable if the netbook was accidentally dropped. However, knowing how bloated XP can be and the other programs I wanted to run, I wanted more storage than what could be offered on a USB stick. I could only find netbooks in my price point with about 8GB of SDD. If I could have purchased a 32GB SDD model, I would've bought that. It was overkill, but I ended up with the 100+ GB standard hard drive.
  • What size battery do I want? - I read people complaining that the 6 cell batteries made the netbook "too heavy and bulky." However, I liked the fact that they could last about 5 hours, as opposed to the standard 3 cell that gave about 2.5 hours. It would be rare for me to have to have 5 hours of battery life, but I didn't think it was that bad of a trade off. In the end, it only added about an inch to the back of the netbook, and it wasn't that much heavier. Yes, the 6 cell battery, please.
As for the other available options, such as the integrated webcam and SD slots, they are nice but not totally necessary. Of course, Wi-Fi is a must, but all of them have that integrated. I don't have a need for Bluetooth at this time, so that didn't need to be integrated. If I do need Bluetooth, I can get a USB adapter that should be compatible with Windows XP.

I've only played with my netbook a couple of days, and I like it so far. I already had the expectations that the screen and keyboard would be small. For those that touch-type, I find the reviews of the smallness of the keyboard slightly exaggerated. I do sometimes strike wrong keys, but it is still faster than typing on a smartphone. The layout of the left and right click buttons for the touchpad makes dragging/dropping and windows resizing more difficult than a full sized laptop, but I knew I was going to be sacrificing some functionality when I bought something this small. Overall, the smallness is noticeable, but does not take away from its functionality. Once I get some more hours in, I'll post other opinions and findings.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Live" distribution PXE install server idea

I've had netbooks on the brain for the past few days now. I'm thinking about buying one for couch/living room use for the wife and I, since we use my failing Compaq laptop for web access and email. Late last night, it had me thinking about OS re-installs without physical media; considering netbooks seem to only support SD cards for removable media.

I'm not sure how practical this is, but I had an idea for reinstalling netbooks if you have another PC on your home network. I don't want to dedicate a host on my network to be a server for PXE installs (ex. Jumpstart or Kickstart), but what about a Live CD (or DVD) that has these services configured? If I needed to re-install my netbook, I'd just boot my desktop PC off the Live disk and then run the PXE install on my remote host. Does anyone know if I'm re-inventing the wheel, or if this idea is practical? I did a cursory search on Google, and didn't see any projects or distributions related to this.

On the netbook front, I'm torn if I should purchase one or not. I do own an iPhone, but that doesn't help my wife with Internet access around the house. She already has a recent iPod nano, so purchasing her a Touch would be a waste of money. I'm also seeing notebook prices dropping, and wonder if I'd just be better off buying one of those instead for a couple hundred dollars more. A co-worker of mine did mention that if I wasn't happy with a netbook, there would be plenty of interest in buying one used, and that the resale value on Craigslist or eBay would probably be about a $100 loss on my part. I'm looking at the Asus Eee and Acer Aspire One models, and I'm leaning towards this one. I would normally be interested in one using Linux since they seem to have SSD, but with the wife also being a user, I don't want to have to play sysadmin/helpdesk at home.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"find" and "Permission denied"

I was trying to run "find" on a directory, looking for a perl script. Because of which user I was running it as, I was getting a bunch of "Permission denied" errors.

I thought I could just tack on "| grep -v "Permission denied" at the end of my command, but no luck. I fruitlessly checked to see if there would be something in the find man page as well.

I came across this site:

The correct answer to what I was trying to accomplish was

$ find / -name -print 2>/dev/null

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Are new releases of Slackware newsworthy?

From the Slashdot RSS feed, I saw "Slackware 12.2 Released", and it made me wonder if this is actually newsworthy. Granted, Slackware was technically the first Linux distribution I ever installed. It came with a "Linux for Dummies" book I bought in 1997, when I was starting to become more interested in doing more with computers than basic every day tasks (email, web surfing, word processing, games). However, my experience with Slackware was short lived because I was still living at home, and my parents used AOL for Internet access.

Nowadays, it seems Slackware is revered by older users, but isn't used. To me, it falls into the same area as using the Eudora mail client, or until recently, Netscape web browser. It seems Ubuntu (and its variants) and Fedora dominate the Linux desktop, with a smattering of Debian users; and CentOS, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Ubuntu (somewhat surprising to me), with some Gentoo diehards, leading the Linux servers. I think this may be the least used "mainstream" *NIX distribution available. Except for nostalgia, what reasons do users install Slackware for?

Not that I'm discouraging further development of Slackware, or trying to insult their users. I'm just questioning their relevance in today's IT news, unless it's just a slow news day :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What's your blog's personality?

I came across this blog post (a post about a post about a site) that discusses a beta online tool, Typealyzer, that tries to determine your blog's personality. Mine came out to be "ISTJ - The Duty Fulfillers."

The responsible and hardworking type. They are especially attuned to the details of life and are careful about getting the facts right. Conservative by nature they are often reluctant to take any risks whatsoever.

The Duty Fulfillers are happy to be let alone and to be able to work int heir [sic] own pace. They know what they have to do and how to do it.

Doesn't sound too flattering, but I guess it could be worse. What personality is your blog?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

iPhone messaging lameness

I like my iPhone, but today I discovered another behavior I'm not too thrilled about. I didn't realize that people can send email directly to your iPhone. I'm used to connecting to Gmail with the Mail client if I want to receive email. I saw in someone's post that you can email directly using someone's phone number "" (ex.

I tried it out from my Gmail account through the web browser, and sure enough, I got this SMS message.

FRM: My "From" Name
SUBJ: test
MSG: does this work?

However, all it says is that it came from some non-descript number. I was able to successfully reply to it and received it in my Gmail Inbox.

That's fine and all, but that's an odd way to get a message. Someone could change their "From" full name in their mail client and send deceiving emails, since there is no way to verify the actual sender.

Monday, December 1, 2008

TaoSecurity's thoughts on the future


The points he raises are interesting, and some seem very probable. The ones I think are interesting are

Prediction 1: VPN connections will disappear.
"Some of you might limit the type of connection to certain protocols, but why not just expose those protocols directly to the outside world and avoid the VPN altogether?"

This may have some merits, but it makes me uncomfortable. It's quite possible I may be looking at it from a narrow point of view of performing my job remotely, and not looking at normal day-to-day work. Some internal assets such as email, collaborative web tools (ex. wikis, Microsoft Share Point), and code repositories (ex. CVS, SVN) might be able to to be exposed with proper strength of authentication and encryption. However, I would think it would be difficult to do many remote administration tasks securely. Maybe the title implies that the VPN connections dramatically decrease, but not totally disappear?

Prediction 2: Intranets will disappear.

This prediction builds off the previous one. I suppose this is a semantics argument. The assets are still going to exist, but since they are exposed to the internet, they would no longer be considered intranet?

The other predictions are definitely plausible to happen in the future. It's a fairly quick and interesting read, so I'd recommend clicking the link above. He has other good posts too, so you may want to add him to your RSS feed if you haven't already.