Post office follies

There are many things I love about the city where I live, but my local post office isn't one of them. It's no stretch to say that I've never had such indifferent terrible service from a post office as I have since moving here. It wasn't always like this; when I lived here in the 1990s, I never had a problem. Something must have happened in the interim.

My first inkling that something was amiss was in 2003, when I graduated from UCSB. The university mailed my diploma, and it arrived on a rainy afternoon looking as if it had been dropped in a puddle and dragged through the mud, this despite the fact that my front porch is well-shielded from the elements on the 2nd floor. When I went to the post office to complain, I got the most thorough stonewalling I've ever encountered from a government employee, and came to the conclusion that whatever happened, the local staff would simply cover for each other and nothing would happen to change that.

Then there was the time I was home from work, and waiting for a package to arrive. Late in the afternoon, I went to the mailbox to find a note that my package had been left at the office because it had to be signed for and there was no answer at the delivery address. Small problem: I was home all day, and my doorbell never rang. Another time packages for multiple addresses were left in a box by the office door, in clear view of a rather busy street. Anyone could have helped themselves. Perhaps you are beginning to understand why I'm less than thrilled with this particular post office?

So I started taking steps to ensure that as little of my business as possible would be sent through the U.S. Postal Service. My bills now are largely electronic, and when I have to ship something, it goes UPS or FedEx. It isn't much, but it's all I can do, and it makes me feel a little better.

Lately, they've come up with a new trick. Bulk mail is being left bundled on the ground underneath our mailboxes. This has happened several times now, and I recently decided to start documenting it on the theory that if I ever again have a problem worth complaining about, I'll have photographic evidence that the local P.O. is slacking off on the job. It's not that I love having my mailbox stuffed with junk mail, but it _does_ make me wonder about how my other mail is being handled. I'm sure that it must be a violation of some kind of postal regulation, since bulk mail is still mail that is supposed to be delivered.

Anyway, here's what I saw today (the first two photos are reversed, because they were taken through my side view mirror):

The USPS delivering mail to my apartment complex. Notice the bundles under the mailboxes.

The intrepid postal carrier finishing up before driving away. Notice the bundles are still under the mailboxes.

Bulk mail bundles left under the mailboxes after the carrier has driven away. I wonder what the advertiser (our local paper) would think about how its mail is being handled?

I'd say he was in a hurry, but he seemed to have time to set up and take down his iPod speakers (not visible in the photos). As I said, this isn't the first time it's happened. It's happened on several other occasions; the last time I documented it was back in November, and you can see those photos here.

This, however, is not the end of the story. Five months ago, my wife and I mailed a package from upstate New York containing various vacation souvenirs. It never arrived. I had foolishly failed to ask for a tracking number, so it could not be tracked and I assumed it was lost. Today, a little more than five months to the day since mailing it, it showed up at my brother's place in New York (I used his address as the return address). It was stamped "Unable to be delivered." This despite the fact that it was, you guessed it, correctly addressed. I can only surmise that our postal carrier (see above photos) couldn't be bothered to actually, you know, deliver it to my doorstep. It must have been easier to return it to New York, which I assume was done via pack mule since it took five bloody months to show up.

The upshot of all this, if there is one, is this: our local post office sucks out loud, and I'm sick of it. I'm tired of accepting substandard service from poorly supervised government employees who know that, for all practical purposes, they can't be fired. If there was a way I could remove the Ventura post office from my life entirely, I'd do so in a heartbeat. I'd gladly pay more for better service, but unfortunately our government has not yet seen fit to privatize the post office and open it up to competition. So I will continue to avoid doing business with the USPS wherever possible, and I'll continue to document its shortcomings right here.

And if you work for the Ventura post office--East Ventura, Wake Forest Avenue--be sure to smile for the camera. I'm watching. :)

Ten years on

Today is the last day of the year, and there are, have been, and will be no shortage of posts in the blogosphere looking back at 2008. This is logical, I suppose, but I find myself less inclined to look back at the year gone by than I am to look back at the last ten or twelve years--the last decade, as it were.

Decade, you say? Indeed…

On this day in 1998, I had recently completed my first semester back in school after a 15-year hiatus. I had quit my job, given up my apartment, and moved back to my childhood home in order to pursue the degree I should have pursued in 1983. It would prove to be the beginning of a period in my life that saw me experience religious conversion--twice, no less, whatever that says about me--meet the woman whom I was obviously supposed to marry, move three times, and generally transform my life.

All of this was the continuation of a process that began in earnest two years earlier, in 1996. Back then, I was single, working in a restaurant, and living in a cookie-cutter apartment in a plastic suburb planned community, and was becoming pretty desperately unhappy. I moved to Ventura, ostensibly for cheaper rent, but in reality I was searching for the life that I knew had to be out there somewhere. Before long, I was immersed in the life of a musical community whose center was a coffeehouse known as the Cafe Voltaire.

It was magical, and quite unlike anything I had experienced before, or would encounter later. People from all walks of life came together and formed a congenial unit. Imagine, if you will, a wisecracking Jewish coffeehouse owner, a stilt-walking hippie doorman, a retired fishing boat captain and his wife (who did beautiful leather work), a cigar-smoking Xerox technician (who was and is a serious amateur photographer), a tattooed ex-punk kid (hi, Zack), a middle-aged eleven-toed songwriter and guitar pickerwho came to California from Texas, running from the law, his wife, a down-home Kentucky girl, who had lived in Iran before the revolution and spoke fluent Persian, and me, a crew-cut (at the time) fast-food management dork. And those were just _some_ of the regulars. Somehow, we all got along famously.

All of this was highly transformative, and it is safe to say that by the time I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2003, I was not the same person who moved to Ventura seven years earlier. In coming to know and understand others of wildly varying backgrounds, I had come to understand myself in a way that I could not have conceived of in my Simi Valley apartment in 1996. Because of all of that, I am a better, more well-rounded, and more well-adjusted person today.

All of this was on my mind as I drove home from work today, so just for the hell of it, since I don't get down there much anymore, I thought I'd take the long way home and drive through downtown Ventura. What I saw left me with decidedly mixed emotions, because while I feel I have come to understand myself better in the last ten years, it seems my adopted hometown is suffering from an identity crisis.

The Cafe Voltaire itself is long gone, of course. It went the way of the dodo in 1999 when Todd, the owner, lost his lease and tried moving it to another location, after which it was never the same. He ultimately tried buying a dingy country bar and transforming it, but the clientele didn't follow, and in 2001, after becoming a tribute-band venue, it closed ignominiously without notice and Todd left town. The courtyard where the cafe had been has in the last ten years been transformed from the bohemian, slightly funky ex-bus barn that it was into a yuppie heaven. A pricey Montecito restaurant has relocated into the space the cafe once occupied; the children's art center (Kids' Arts) across the courtyard is now a trendy Bikram yoga studio, and the tiny and eclectic jewelry shop appears to have become an equally tiny hair salon.

The rest of downtown has undergone similar change. There has been an obvious attempt to mimic Santa Barbara, which to some extent has succeeded in upgrading the ambience, but sadly there has been an equally transparent attempt to upgrade the clientele as well. It's unlikely that anything like my eclectic Cafe Voltaire experience could take place today, because the overwhelming majority of the new businesses seem to be catering to tourists with money and the wealthier locals in preference to average residents who might not spend so much in one shot but whom are likelier to be regular patrons.

This is not necessarily a bad thing; businesses have to make money to stay in business, and if catering to the tourist trade and dislocated Santa Barbarans is what they have to do, then so be it. There was a time when downtown Ventura consisted largely of independent locally-owned businesses, and to be certain it was not always healthy. When I first came to town, people thought of the downtown area as being primarily made up of thrift stores, used book stores, dive bars and homeless people, and there was a reason for that.

But something important and unique is being lost, which I mourn. With the possible exception of the local Hells Angels chapter, I don't think too many people miss the rowdy Rendezvous Room being turned into a nice bistro, but it's unfortunate that the locally-owned Daily Grind coffeehouse is now a Starbucks, and that the Bank of Books has become an American Apparel store. There has to be more than just fitness studios, yoga studios, and trendy bistros, or else it'll just be a big outdoor mall. We already have a Santa Barbara and an Ojai. We don't need another one.

And here's where the identity crisis comes in: under the surface, Ventura is not either of those, nor will it ever be. For better or for worse, it's always been a working-class town, a wallflower compared to its wealthier sister, Santa Barbara. Surprisingly, we still have working oil fields in Ventura, the same ones that brought the first President Bush here briefly after World War II when he was in the oil business. Make no mistake, it's a wonderful city, but its beauty is sometimes lost on outsiders until they live here a while. Thanks to Caltrans' ham-fisted freeway design and construction, for most Angelenos, downtown Ventura is a concrete canyon they drive through on their way to Santa Barbara, which suits many of us here just fine.

Ultimately, of course, change is inevitable. Ten years on, this city is still amazingly like the town I adopted as my hometown. But thirty miles to the north, two-bedroom homes sell for over a million dollars, and we're only fifty miles north of the sprawling disaster that is Los Angeles. On a summer's day, when L.A. is 100 degrees and smoggy, here you can still feel the ocean breezes and smell the citrus blossoms. Short of blowing up the Santa Clara River bridge, dynamiting the Rincon, and erecting the Great Wall of Saticoy, I don't see any way to prevent the gradual overrunning of our little corner of paradise, and I have no illusions that the gentrification and yuppification of downtown Ventura will cease or even slow.

But that doesn't mean I have to like it, and it doesn't mean I can't look back with fondness on a time now past when things were different. I was fortunate to have been here at a very special moment in time, when all the conditions were perfect to create something magical. I am who I am today in large part because of the people I met during that time, many of whom have moved on to other places and other pursuits. I owe them a debt I can never repay.

Thanks to all of you for having been a part of my life. The last ten years have been spectacular. I can't wait to see what the next ten years will bring.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Alan, and Rick, and Robert, and Us*

So, having learned nothing from the British experience in the 1970s(or more likely being completely ignorant of it) President Bush has decided to give the automakers up to $17.4 billion from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout to stave off bankruptcy for the next three months. I wish I felt better about it.

First off, you read that correctly--the 17.4 super-sized large ones are only enough to get them through sometime in March. One can only imagine what they will come back and ask for when they burn through the first installment.

Second, I don't really think anything is going to change. Detroit has some structural issues that, for better or worse, are unlikely to go away anytime soon--contracts with the UAW and state laws regarding automobile dealerships, to name but two. Over the years, the UAW negotiated some sweetheart deals with the Big Three, including severance packages which in some cases mandate that workers receive 90% of their pay as a benefit, which they are unwilling to revisit at this point in time. And the dealers, many of whom are teetering themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, under many state laws can't be eliminated without lots of pain and buyouts from the automakers.

And all of this will be going to save an industry that has been breathtakingly short-sighted in recent years. Thirty years after the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, the lesson that gasoline can become both scarce and expensive was forgotten, as Detroit spent millions of advertising dollars convincing ordinary American families that they needed a GMC Yukon or Ford Excursion to tote Mom, Dad, and two or three kids to soccer practice or to Grandma's for Christmas. Yes, even the Japanese automakers eventually jumped on the SUV bandwagon, but Toyota managed to develop both the hybrid Prius and the Sequoia at the same time, while GM was more interested in tarting up a Chevy Suburban with bling and calling it a Cadillac.

There's no crime in selling people what they want, but the smart businessman looks five, ten, or even fifteen years ahead and plans accordingly. Detroit sold fuel-efficient and well-designed vehicles overseas, but were spectacularly unprepared to bring them stateside when we started seeing $4-per-gallon gasoline this year. One would think that someone somewhere would have considered it as a contingency plan, but apparently they decided that the party would go on forever. Only now, ten years after the Prius first hit the market, are the American automakers beginning to put hybrids on the road in respectable numbers.

So, with Americans having decided that Ford, GM and Chrysler weren't worthy of their purchasing dollars, Detroit has done an end run around the American people and gone to the government to get our money anyway. That works out to about $58 for every man, woman and child in America, if I've done the math right. Maybe they'll throw in free floormats or something next time we all decide to buy a car to make up for that, but I doubt it. Here's an idea: make it a loan with 7.9% financing, and force them to pay back the interest before the principal, the way they so often do it when we buy a car. Hey, it can't hurt to try, right?

But the sad fact is that this isn't likely going to end up like Chrysler in the 1980s, who paid back every cent of the loan guarantees to the government, and did it ahead of schedule. No, it's more likely to end up looking like British Leyland: diminishing market share, stagnating technology, and eventual bankruptcy anyway with whatever pieces that ultimately survive ending up in foreign ownership.

My prediction: Chrysler goes first, and before 2009 is out. They've shut down production for 30 days at all 30 plants, and Chrysler Financial isn't doing so well either. My bet is that they end up like Studebaker, and go out with a whimper. The new cash will get them through for a time, but they're top-heavy with trucks and mediocre cars, and to the best of my knowledge they have no new products in the pipeline that are likely to change that. And with Chrysler Financial failing, their dealers are having trouble getting financing.

But hey, it's only $17.4 billion, right?

*Alan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford; Rick Wagoner, Chairman and CEO of GM; and Robert Nardelli, Chairman and CEO of Chrysler.

Of Esperanto and Alfa Romeos

OK, I know I said I was going to branch off my tech posts to another blog, but I've just finished a 1600-word magnum opus on my experiences with Ubuntu, and in my ever-so-humble opinion it's too good not to reference here.

So go read the whole thing, already…

(The post title will make sense after you read it. I promise.)

Final reflections

Before closing the book on this blog1, I thought I’d wrap things up with a few final thoughts.

This wasn’t my first experience with Linux. At Christmas 2002, I picked up a copy of Yellow Dog Linux 2.3, a PPC distro, and installed it on my 500-MHz G3 iBook. I actually used it throughout winter quarter at UCSB, and wrote my senior thesis in OpenOffice while running YDL as my main OS. I had fun configuring it, and only switched back to OS X because as a student, I needed to use suspend (“sleep” in Mac lingo) frequently, and it was quite well and truly broken in Linux. When waking it up from sleep, it would randomly emit what can only be described as a high-pitched, ear-shattering shriek from the speakers, which attracted quite a bit of attention in a crowded lecture hall, as you might expect. Unfortunately, there was no known cure for this malady. Lovely.

Fast-forward to 2006. Ubuntu Linux was making its mark, and I ordered a CD from Shipit. It arrived a couple of months later, and I attempted to install Ubuntu 6.06 (“Dapper Drake”) on the still-existing Linux partition on my iBook. Unfortunately, it never successfully completed an installation, although it did succeed admirably in hosing the Linux partition and in destroying the bootloader. Oops.

So this year, I was feeling that it was time to replace my laptop (now OS X-only) after seven years of hard use, and I’d been reading about System76 and their line of laptops with Linux preinstalled. I figured it was worth a try, especially if S76 succeeded in making stuff work out of the box. There would always be time for me to screw it up later, but at least I’d have a working computer at the beginning. If you read the first few installments of this blog, you’ll see how that went.

So, what conclusions can be drawn from my latest foray into the world of Linux?

For one thing, Linux is improving. Six years ago, when I first installed Yellow Dog Linux on my iBook, fonts were uniformly terrible and the overall look of GNOME screamed "Windows 3.1." Today, font smoothing works well, and GNOME's appearance is at least the equal of Windows XP, while KDE 4.x is just drop-dead gorgeous. Neither has yet achieved the mix of functionality and elegant design that characterizes Mac OS X or (to a lesser extent) Windows Vista, but that is bound to change.

What still needs work, at least in my opinion and experience, is usability. Smooth fonts and Compiz Fusion graphics are all well and good, and I love the philosophy of the Ubuntu project, but if I can't connect to the Internet it's no good to me. It's kind of like driving an Alfa Romeo with twin carburetors: you can tinker with it to your heart's content, it makes you feel good and look cool, and you have the satisfaction of knowing you've gone your own way, but you better know how to get under the hood and fix it, because it's likely to give you the opportunity to do so at the most inopportune moments. Sometimes, you just want to get to work, and at those times you'll be a whole lot happier in a Nissan 350Z, particularly if it's 34 degrees F and it's raining and you're running late. God bless the man who invented fuel injection.

It's this question of usability on the desktop that has dogged Linux for years, and I'm not sure there is a good answer. One of the reasons that Apple has succeeded so well in making their products "just work" is that they control both the hardware and the software, and need only support a very limited range of hardware configurations. It's the same reason that Windows has become such bloated spaghetti code: Microsoft has to worry about maintaining compatibility with a huge, almost limitless variety of hardware. Linux, which has to contend with the same problem as Microsoft, has far fewer resources and less ability to keep track of the combinations, being an open-source project. Even Ubuntu, which has the resources of Canonical Ltd. behind it, can't come close to solving the problem.

As for System76, it's obvious that they care. They've gone to great effort to make the Ubuntu experience as painless as possible, writing their own "System76 Driver" to fill in the rough spots where Ubuntu's hardware support is lacking. But they're a small operation, and while they only try to make the the S76 driver support the hardware that they sell, even that is a bit of a challenge, because of Canonical's (and therefore Ubuntu's) rigid every-six-months release schedule. That relentless biannual target is something that neither Apple nor Microsoft have ever tried to pull off, and I can't help but wonder if Canonical would be better off focusing on the Long Term Support releases such as Hardy Heron (8.04), and calling the other releases public betas. Since Canonical is unlikely to do this, S76 may want to reconsider their policy of using the latest release, since every OS update is likely to break something. A better alternative might be to stick with Long Term Support (LTS) releases, with the latest release a customer option. 8.04 was the last LTS release, whereas mine came loaded with 8.10, which was the newest version. My impression from reading the S76 forum at is that 8.10 broke some things that worked fine in 8.04, and I for one would gladly trade cutting-edge bragging rights for greater stability.

When things do break, the fixes are often somewhat intimidating to new users--who, incidentally, are more likely to try Ubuntu than any other distro. There's nothing particularly difficult about opening a terminal window and typing "sudo gedit xorg.conf,", but it looks like gibberish to the uninitiated and is likely to discourage those who are used to point-and-click in a GUI. Of course, most Linux users are not fazed by this in the slightest.

And therein lies the problem. Linux, including Ubuntu, is by and large developed by geeks for other geeks, who really, really don't understand why anyone would possibly object to doing something at the command line from time to time. This is actually not an unreasonable attitude; surprisingly often, it really is the fastest, simplest way to get something done.

But most average users aren't going to care, because they don't speak Unix and aren't interested in learning it in order to check their Hotmail accounts. When something breaks, they're going to say, "Gee, I knew it was too good to be true" and buy the HP system at Best Buy that the guy next door told them about, because he Knows Something About Computers and said it was a good deal. Or they'll go to the Apple Store and pick up a MacBook Air because it looks really cool and works well with their iPod. And they'll never look at Linux again.

As for me, I've come to the conclusion that while I love open-source software, I need my operating system to be as reliable as it possibly can be. Although I've used Macs for the last eight years, I'm no Apple fanboy. I prefer Firefox to Safari. I eschew the iPod for a Cowon iAudio X5L that looks like an East German MP3 player would look had the GDR ever made such a thing. I gave up iTunes for the open-source Play, and I'd rather use NeoOffice than Apple's iWork suite. I rip CDs using Max, download podcasts with Juice, and watch video with VLC. I get my mail in Gmail using Mailplane rather than Apple Mail. My backups are done with JungleDisk rather than Time Machine. I even disdain the Finder, preferring Path Finder. Perhaps you get the picture.

But for all the non-Apple, largely open-source software I use, I find that for me the underlying Mac OS is the best possible foundation on which to build. It’s solid, it’s reliable, and it’s beautiful. Back in 2000, Apple introduced something that combined a rock-solid Unix foundation with the user-friendliness of the classic Mac OS, and after using it for eight years, with each version steadily improving upon the last, I still find it the most congenial environment in which to conduct my day-to-day computing. “Better” is a subjective term, but I find it better than Windows, and better than Linux—even Ubuntu Linux. Acolytes of Linus Torvalds will protest, but in many respects OS X is what Linux should be.

In the end, for me, Linux is like Esperanto. It is somewhat exotic, has a dedicated core of slightly fanatical users, is built on noble principles, and there are many things I like about it. I have no doubt that there will always be people who lernas la internacian lingvon, and the world undoubtedly will be a better place for it. But it is the same world where English is rapidly becoming the new lingua franca, and one must ask oneself whether or not learning an entirely new constructed language is worth the effort, except as a hobby. The answer, sadly, is probably “no.”

And so it is, for me, with Ubuntu. In another five or six years, I may try my hand at whatever the flavor-of-the-month is in Linux distros. But I’ll do it on a spare machine, and install it myself. It will be a very long time, if ever, before I try to use it as my main computing environment. After three ultimately unsuccessful attempts at migrating to Linux, it is perhaps understandable that I’m a bit gun-shy.

And so ends this blog. My Linux experiment ended sooner than I anticipated, and since this blog was created to chronicle that experiment, it is time, as I said earlier, to close the book.

Mi dankas vin pro legado!

  1. This was originally written for a separate blog I set up to document my intended switch to Ubuntu Linux.

First and last steps with Ubuntu

First, a note: I want to make it clear at the outset that my situation was unique, that if it wasn't, System76 would have gone out of business long ago, and the good people at System76, Tom in particular, were the soul of helpfulness. What follows should also not take away from the fact that I had direct assistance from one person who knew my computer, knew my situation, and actually gave a damn. Try that with Dell.

So, what happened next?

OK. Not to go into unnecessary detail, I started exploring. I set up Evolution to handle my Google Apps mail account in IMAP, tried to find out how the camera worked, set up a new theme for GNOME, and played with the fingerprint reader. I set the time and weather for my local area. In short, I did the usual things one might do with a new toy--er, computer. Ahem.

Then I decided to see how suspend worked. Bad move.

Networking problems began. Kernel panics. Freezes that would only respond to a forced shutdown. All the godawful horror stories you've heard about Linux started coming true, and it wasn't fun. Sometimes it remembered my WPA2 password, sometimes it didn't. Sometimes it got it wrong. Sometimes it didn't see any wireless networks at all.

I went on the System76 forum and asked for help. A few things were suggested, then Tom at System76 tech support suggested we take it private over email and get down to business. We did so.

Just about everything was tried. Things were uninstalled and reinstalled, at the command line. He had me take the back off the computer to reseat the hard drive and memory cards. I ran Memtest86 for fifteen bloody hours, overnight. I booted from an Ubuntu live CD to see if the wireless would work any better. Nothing helped. I reset the CMOS according to his instructions, after which the computer was completely dead--black screen, blinking cursor. Oh dear.

So, he emailed me a UPS mailing label to send it in for repair (this was Thanksgiving weekend). I mailed it on Monday, it arrived there on Tuesday, was mailed back Wednesday and I got it on Thursday. A new motherboard had been installed, and the BIOS updated.

I took it out of the box and fired it up. It connected to my network, so I opened Firefox to check my email. I logged onto my Google Apps account, and…Firefox froze. I closed the window, and opened a terminal to run top to see what processes were running. When I closed the terminal window, it (terminal) became a zombie process and I got a dialog box telling me I needed to quit the process or restart to get a new window. When I tried to restart, it hung at "shuttting down ALSA". Then it gave me this:

[773.587862] iwlagn: Microcode SW error detected. Restarting 0x2000000.

Then it froze completely. Another forced shutdown was necessary.

It was at this point that something snapped inside me. It had been thirteen days since I got the computer, and I had had maybe an hour of normal uptime, tops. Having installed (and used) Linux on an iBook several years ago, I was well aware that it wouldn't be a seamless Apple-type experience, but I did expect that certain basic things would work, like connecting to the Internet and using Gmail. I'm not doing video editing, and I'm not trying to network it to an antiquated Atari 800 or play World of Warcraft in emulation. I just want to get on the web. This is basic stuff, and it needs to work. Particularly when it's right out of the box after being repaired.

System76 tech support had me try one more thing, but at this point my patience had ended. To their credit, when I told them I just wanted to call it a day and get my money refunded, they agreed to do so, and they waived the normal 15% restocking fee. Tom emailed me another UPS label, and the very same afternoon I packed it up and shipped it to Colorado, where they would credit my credit card upon receipt of the machine.

But first, I went to the Apple Store online and ordered a nice refurbished 2.4-GHz MacBook Pro with a 200 GB hard drive, 2 GB of RAM, an LED-backlit screen and AppleCare, the only extended warranty on the planet that's worth the money. Prior to adding the AppleCare, it cost about the same as the one I just sent back. The specs aren't quite the same, but I'm sure it will do just fine. It arrived the very next day.

Next post: Final reflections

Unboxing the Pangolin Performance

Note: This was originally published on Posterous.

So, I hear you ask, what happened? Did the laptop arrive? Did it get unboxed? Did everything just work? Read on, bucko…

Yes, the laptop arrived, although I think it was the last thing off the UPS truck before the driver stopped at the supermarket to pick up milk and bread for the wife on his way home. (Note to self: next time, ask for Next Day Air instead of Next Day Air Saver.)

In any case, it arrived. Here's what it looked like before the unboxing:


Pretty generic. But then, even Apple ships its stuff in plain brown cardboard.

More unboxing photos:


The inner container is equally exciting, and here's where you can see the difference between the System76 and a Mac laptop:


Next, inside the package. The laptop was well-secured with polystyrene, and the two cardboard inserts held the polystyrene in place in the larger box. The one above held the manual, ethernet cable, spare battery, and some papers; the one to the right held the power cords:



The manual is pretty generic, and was obviously written for the Clevo/Sager notebook that the Pangolin is based on, full of references to Windows functions.

Detail of one of the inserts:


The lid is gorgeous--glossy black, with a silver System76 logo:


Side views:



Fired up, and applying the latest updates. Note the white "Powered by Ubuntu" sticker in place of the usual Windows sticker:


Updated and ready to go:


Next post: what happened next. Oh, boy…

New technology blog

I've decided to branch my tech posts off into a new blog. Religion and politics sort of go together; technology is kind of a different animal, and techies don't necessarily like to mix in religious and political content with their tech. It's a question of focus, really, and I can't say I disagree. (I'll also be writing under my real name, just for good measure.)

So head on over and look at my new tech blog: behold, Calibuntu!

The Adventure Begins

Note: This was originally published on Posterous.

This afternoon, UPS will be delivering my new laptop, and this time it's not a Mac. I've decided it's time to delve deeper into Linux, and how better to do that than with something Linux-only?

So, last week, after looking at Linux-based options from Dell and others, I ordered a Pangolin Performance laptop from System76 (actually, it's an early birthday present from my wife--thanks, honey!). They're a Colorado-based retailer of desktops, laptops and servers running Ubuntu Linux, and they've accumulated quite a reputation for service and for making stuff that Just Works. What more could an Apple user ask for?

The Pangolin Performance is based on the Sager NP7680, and is nicely customizable. Why buy from System76 when I could save a few bucks by buying from Sager directly? Because System76 takes the time to make sure that everything is working properly, whereas I'd have to do the usual debugging if installing Ubuntu directly on a freshly formatted drive. I'd like it to just work at the beginning. There'll be plenty of time for me to screw it up later. :-)

Anyway, here's how I configured it:
Operating System: Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) 64 Bit Linux
Display Resolution: 15.4" WSXGA+ Super Clear Glossy LCD (1680 x 1050)
Processor: Core 2 Duo P8600 2.40 GHz 1066 MHz FSB 3 MB L2 (25 Watt)
Graphics: nVidia GeForce 9300M GS 256MB DDR2
Networking: Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000), WiFi
Memory: 4 GB - DDR2 800 MHz - 2 DIMMs
Hard Drive: 320 GB 5400 RPM SATA II
Optical Drive: CD-RW / DVD-RW
Wireless: 802.11 agn
Extra 6 Cell Smart Li-ION Battery

The price out the door was at least $600 less than I would pay for a comparable Mac. I could have spent even less, but I wanted something with powerful enough specs that I wouldn't have to update or replace it for quite a while.

Next post: the unboxing!

Change is good

Now that the Presidential election is over, it's a pleasure to be able to get away from electoral politics and get back to some other subjects. Today's post is about technology and computers, so if you're techno-phobic you have been forewarned.

When it comes to operating systems, people have strong opinions, and the Mac-vs.-PC rivalry has been described, not entirely inaccurately, as a "religious war." What's often forgotten is that "under the hood," computers of all kinds are more alike than they are different, and an ecumenical approach has much to recommend it.

In that vein, I am now awaiting the delivery of a new laptop (an early birthday present from my wife), and with any luck I'll have it in hand before Thanksgiving. Those who know me know that I have very happily been running Apple hardware for the last seven years, and do not hesitate to recommend Macs to my family and friends should they ask. It will probably surprise some of you, therefore, to find out that my new laptop isn't a Mac.