Saturday, March 10, 2007

No NITNF This Week, But There Are Things Worth Blogging About...


My apologies. I just couldn't think up anything interesting this week for Not In The News Friday (NITNF). Yes, I could scour for some trivia or something but I like for NITNF to be inspired. If it's interesting to me, I can hope that it's interesting to you. By the same logic, if it's not interesting to me, how can I expect it to be interesting to you?

A lot has been going on in Real LifeTM. The van was in the shop from last Thursday through this Wednesday. And yet, we didn't miss one day of work and the kids never missed school. That's not to say it was a piece of cake, and I did way more walking than I should have (ended up with a low fever and leg cramps by Wednesday, my "overkill" day). The transmission place ended up having to replace the torque converter, some seals and the filters...and it still has a leak, just nowhere near the Niagara Falls it was last Thursday! I plan on taking it back on Wednesday, assuming it can hold out till then. It also seems to have sprung an oil leak (no fun). I blame the extreme cold weather we had last month but one way or the other, it will need to be fixed.

In the meantime, I've been working on my little laptop that I got for Christmas. It had been running very, very slow with Windows 2000. I eventually got frustrated and decided to just downgrade it to Windows 98SE (Second Edition), so I wiped the hard drive, only to find out my CDROM was not working well enough to install Windows (or any other operating system). This left me with a mini-dilemma...

Warning: your eyes may glaze over for a moment while technical details are explained. Do not worry, the effect is only temporary. Do not adjust your monitor. My laptop is a Dell Latitude CPi. It is truly a wonder of its time (1997), a lightweight, compact workhorse designed for business users. The laptop has a robust 266 Mhz processor, 64 MB of EDO RAM, a 3 GB hard drive and modular bay that supports floppy and cdrom modules (just not at the same time).

In the midst of my frustration over not having a working CDROM for the laptop, I looked at other options, including Linux distributions...except that most of those are installed via CD. I actually found some decent versions that I downloaded to my PC and created boot floppies for. The best was Blue Flops, a stable two-floppy distribution that includes the graphical web browser called Links. Once I connected my laptop to its port replicator (which has an ethernet port) and booted up this distribution and configured it for DHCP, I was able to cruise the web using Links (I had to take some time configuring the video driver settings in Blueflops then it worked beautifully). But that was the only thing I could get to work well, so I knew I needed a better solution.

I went to the local computer antique shops (Austin's "Goodwill Computer Works" and "Discount Electronics") but they didn't have what I needed, in terms of a CDROM or other upgrades (but man, if you need a Dell Latitude floppy drive, you'll have no problem getting a replacement!). Finally, my brother-in-law was able to give me a replacement CDROM for the laptop and it works brilliantly.

I spent all Thursday trying to make a dual-boot system (Windows 98SE and Linux). I went through over half a dozen distributions but they would all hang on the video driver (a 2 MB NeoMagic video card) and/or the ISA Soundblaster-compatible Crystal 4237B soundcard. By evening, I gave up on putting Linux on the laptop, reformatted the whole drive and put a clean install of Windows 2000 back on. I know...ironic, huh? But I'd like to think I set this version up pretty well.

Now, in all fairness to Linux distributions, I know there are real and working solutions for every single issue I faced. I know I could Google my way out of that box and make it all work...I simply have the patience of a Windows user and I admit it.

Putting on a clean install of the OS (Operating System) instead of just an upgrade helps. Then, I only put on the Windows service packs (and not the infinite Windows/MS Updates), run Firefox for the browser (instead of Internet Explorer) and put AVG Free on for security (antivirus). I have a wireless PCMCIA card and Windows 2000 (Win2K) found that no problem after I installed the Netgear software and drivers and I was able to connect to the internet wirelessly. I also picked up a 1GB flash drive to essentially add a Gig of space to my laptop's hard drive storage.

I did get one thing from Discount Electronics, a Dell laptop backpack. Now that I have the laptop the way I want it again, I may actually take it places (Whooooaa!) that have a wifi connection. The backpack looks brand new, is nicely cushioned, has plenty of space, pockets, etc. (I even tested it by fitting both the port replicator and the laptop inside it without any problems, although I won't be keeping the port replicator in it now that the wireless works) and I couldn't beat the price: $29!

I've imported all my bookmarks from Google bookmarks (I love that feature!) and customized my profile, browser theme and extensions. All I still need is word processing software and to upgrade my Windows Media Player (version 9 is the highest I can put on Win2K).

I already use Google Docs but there will be occasions when I need to write offline and I'd like the capability (sure, I could use Notepad but, please!) I like AbiWord for a standalone word processor. It essentially has all the features of MS Word and it's free! I really like Open Office but it's too bulky and memory intensive for my old laptop and really, all I'd really use is word processing anyway.

I do all of my chat in Firefox on and most of my email on Gmail, so those don't require any memory-intensive software.

As you can see, with the CDROM replaced and an actual OS on my "vintage laptop," I've been having a lot of fun with it!

And for those of you who have glazed -- SNAP OUT OF IT! THE BLOG ENTRY'S OVER!!

Best Wishes,

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