Monthly Archives: June 2008

First days with the Eee PC

I got one two weeks ago, after being thinking about it for a few weeks (my first bump with an Eee PC was in XKCD).

The little machine is a wonder. Right now I moved my email, browsing, reading and note taking tasks to it, and probably a few others will end up in it as well.

For a long time I was using PortableApps to keep my email and browser on the move, and even than they are very good the lack of a processor makes the operation too slow in many situations. The limit case is when we are traveling, specially in Argentina. The last time there I didn’t carry a laptop but a USB stick, and external USB disk and my PDA (an Axim x51v, which is very good as well), and they run short of features all the time. Now I have the same portable setup as before, but running in the Eee, and I am addicted.

I have a model 700 4G, with Thunderbird as my email client, Firefox 3 for browser, KeePass to manage my passwords, Acrobat Reader (for PDFs) and FBReader (for CHMs) for my reading activities, VLC and SMPlayer for videos and Amarok to collect podcasts (I use Google Reader for the blogs).

The screen is a bit tight, but can be used perfectly to read books and play videos. I was thinking of getting an Amazon Kindle, but now that option looks very remote (I like the idea of a longer life battery, but is not reason enough to get a specialized computer).

Browsing is OK, in particular since I installed Firefox 3. Going full screen and using the new zoom functionality allows me to manage most of my browsing tasks in the Eee.

Thunderbird is more complicated, because with the menus and lists there is no room for the actual messages. In my laptop I have a three panels setup, which is fast and easy to use (I have many email addresses, and moving between them is messy without the address panel), and receive many emails on each, then the preview is very handy to deal with emails promptly. In the Eee I have two panels only, without preview, and that is the thing that I like less in this machine. I didn’t try to work with an external monitor, may be that could be an option.

In my case, the killer activity for the Eee PC is reading. Since we moved to Ireland I am trying to keep a limited number of books on paper (my whole library is still waiting in Argentina until I can have a bigger house), and I tried a number of different devices to read my electronic books (the more successful were the Palm Vx, Palm 515 and the Axim for literature, and an HP Jornada 700 for books with graphics) and none of them covered all the requisites. I will probably keep using the Axim and Palm 515 a lot, but they are not the main readers anymore.

The keyboard is OK. Note taking is another thing which made me try a lot of devices as well (including some old machines which worked surprisingly well, appart from the problem of moving the notes to the PC), and now I am doing most of the writing in the Eee. I was thinking about pluging a keyboard, but didn’t try yet.

I am so happy with this machine, that past night bought a 900 model for Flor :)

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Everybody’s knife bible

I finished Everybody’s Knife Bible: The All-New Way to Use and Enjoy Your Knives in the Great Outdoors a few days ago.

The book is easy to read, and the clinometer idea is very good (I did something like that when I was at the University, but I didn’t think about dividing the arc in percentages instead of degrees).

The author is happy with Blackjack Knives and kukri designs (I never tried any of them), and very vocal about the size of knives handles (while I agree up to a point, I can’t see myself wrapping my knives with four layers of stuff that I might need. I prefer to keep the knives clean and carry the extra in a bag, sometimes attached to the case).

All in all, is a nice book to read if you already know knives and are looking for stories from the trenches for new ideas.

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About email security

I’ve just finished reading a post from Jeff Atwood about the reasons to not ask for an email password as part of your service.

Appart from the fact that I agree with the article in every point, it caught my attention because it still amaze me the way in which email is regarded as private as a letter in an envelope when in fairness is more like a postcard.

I have a good number of email accounts around there, some in free providers like Gmail, some in a few domains hosted for me by my hosting provider, and a couple more living in my servers at home, but I could not think of them as ‘safe’ at any point. They are increassingly difficult to setup and maintain (Gmail is trivial, the hosted accounts are OK, my own email server is giving me hassle nearly every week), and none of them is safe.

At some point (I don’t know if it still the case) Gmail was expected to search through my emails to present me with appropiate adds (I dont see a ‘searched’ email as safe). I have no idea about how my hosting company have their email service setup, or who has access to it, then I must assume that at least a few persons have control on it (the administrator, postmaster, and a few guys in support probably). At home I have a server in place, which should be pretty safe, but I am not a full time sysadmin/postmaster, then I am never sure about the holes in the network/services running in my own network.

In the end, email is open, but we keep assuming than nobody can access it appart from the sender and receiver. We send confidential documents by email, and passwords, and photos, bussiness plans, love letters, whatever, and they are flying with signs asking to open them on the way from one point to the other. Human mind is very strange :)

I use PGP to encrypt mail with a few contacts who are using it as well and that make a difference, but there is not too many people around who knows or care about PGP, and I haven’t seen an Internet company using it (not my bank, PayPal or any other service dealing with money, which I guess should be very interested in this kind of problems).

One idea that is around my head since a few months ago is the fact that we have now enough spare computing power in most houses to manage this kind of services without too much trouble. Right now I can see a portable DVD player which can process DivX files (I still have around a 486 motherboard that run out of breath trying to process MP3s), a TV that boot up with a logo from the maker (making me suspect that there is a micro processor there with more power than the first five computers that I used), and a couple of discarded mobile phones which can run Java applications. Probably any of them should be enough to deal with a encrypted mail service, easy to setup by a normal person, instead of being sitting there with a light saying that they are ready to do what they do whenever you pay them any attention.

Now I only need to decide if I want to sit down and write some code to implement this idea ;)

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