Archive for the ‘Zaurus’ Category


Zaurus: Digital Divide

January 2, 2008

Zaurus 5500


I have not been doing a good job with keeping up with desktop Linux news.  Fortunately there are a lot of others who do.


Despite my disappointment with Linux for the desktop, the Zaurus has been my best friend.  I read and write more blog entries on this thing than even my Windows desktop machine.  Using flash memory, I’m able to easily move documents back and forth with the desktop being used mostly to upload and polish up and add links with my various blogging interests. I have a work laptop that I can also use but the thing is still much too large and bulky for just reading stuff.  The Zaurus is cozy and comfortable.  I can lie on my back on the bed or couch and have at it.  I can get 4-5 hours of reading on a battery charge if I read on the lowest screen brightness.  But even having to have an outlet close by is not a huge deal as long as I can have some time away from it.


 I recently ordered a wireless card for my Zaurus that may change how I do business. I ordered a D-link but it is being sent from China!  Hopefully it won’t be a very slow boat.


Yeah, we’re still on a modem but there are getting to be more and more wireless places around nowadays.  I am thinking about going high speed with the cable company, which may shift things back in favor of Linux since the modem issue has been such a stickler.  Also high speed would greatly facilitate getting updates and fiddling around.  But I hear Linux has wireless issues so we’ll see.




Digital Divide Issues


The digital divide continues to grow.  Even if I escape the modem by buying DSL or through the cable company, what about single parents who arre being left behind?  Who don’t even have a computer?  


This was a big part of why I wanted to make Linux work.  I envisioned taking legacy hardware and  giving it new life to parents of kids with severe disabilities who already have mobility and isolation issues along with financial strain.  Getting them online would help them access information and services already available to everyone else.  Getting online really is becoming more and more of an issue for accessing knowledge and information and parents of kids with severe disabilities have perhaps more need for the access and mobility offered by the internet than anyone else.  But they are being left behind.


When a machine finally gets into their price range (which is more or less free) it is obsolete for getting online.  I’m thinking of the countless Win98 machines that are now choking landfills.  Why couldn’t these be given to people who might otherwise not have a machine?  I’m watching our school upgrade and dump off hundreds and hundreds of machines that are otherwise okay.  This seems like such a huge waste.  So my modem quest wasn’t just for me but for many others who have been left behind, technologically.  I also envisioned giving them some simple training on computers to get them up and running.


I’m just wondering how to make the idea a reality, or even if it is worth doing.





Linux MP3 player for my car!

April 25, 2007


I just discovered something that is absolutely too cool.


I was taking an absolutely insanely long drive (4+ hours there, and 4+ hours back) and I like to have listening material to help keep me awake and alert.  I listen to my share of talk radio and music on the radio, but who doesn’t like listening to their own stuff?  This is probably why the iPod is such a big deal.


For the record, I have a cassette deck in my truck.  That was intentio0nal because at the time I had many more cassettes than CDs.  I later bought an adapter to play CDs.


So I began thinking about this long drive and decided I might try to use my Zaurus.  And lo and behold, the same adapter that works with the CD works with the Zaurus! 


The Zaurus has an Mp3 player built in that is actually pretty nice.  This PDA was seriously way ahead of its time as I’m still discovering things about it and its capabilities.  What makes this such a nifty thing beyond the CD adapter parts fitting it, is that the Zaurus has 2 expansion slots for SD and CF flash drives.  So as the capacity of flash drives increase, so does the capabilities of the Zaurus as an Mp3 player.  I had stored only about 25 songs, not fully knowing if it would work before I had to leave. 


So basically I can store an entire CD collection on flash drives and then select a play list before the trip for hours of DRM-free music.  How cool is that?  And it can be set up to play in order or randomly shuffle.


I’m looking for a screen shot of the Zaurus mp3 player but haven’t found one.  One very nice feature of this is that the buttons on the touch screen are large enough that you can actually operate the player without the stylus which is mighty handy while driving.


Too bad the Zaurus can only be bought on eBay nowadays, but it usually still fetches a respectable price of around $200 or so.  Not too many other 5 year-old technology devices are still holding that sort of  value, and this could be one of the reasons why the Zaurus continues to have some small popularity.  I still have not seen anything that compares to it in the way of ability or features.  About the only downside is the lack of RAM (mine only has 32 mb) which makes it a bit sluggish on some applications like pdf files.  I absolutely love having having the flash card slots and can’t figure out why more devices don’t have them. 


One other downside that I may or may have no mentioned before is the limited battery life.  A lot depends on the brightness of the LCD screen, but I max out at a little over 3 hours on the lowest brightness.  I generally prefer to have it plugged in so  I can have the screen as bright as I like.  With the mp3 feature, the screen isn’t as much of an issue but playing might.  Does volume figure into the power drain on an mp3 player?


I admit I’m way behind the curve on the whole mp3 music thing.  I was still using 8 tracks when cassettes were all the rage and I got a cheap adapter for that.  (Yeah, a bunch of you are “what’s an 8 track?) I finally get a cassette player and now everyone likes CDs.  However my being a bit slow on the uptake has worked in my favor as I’m unaware of any optical adapters that make a CD play an iPod.  However, if you have a cassette player in your car it might be worth your while to get a CD adapter and see if it works with your iPod.  I make no claims as to the quality or loudness of the output, but am just pointing out that this is doable.  Basically, if it uses a standard headphone jack, it should work.




Superior Media Detection

March 27, 2007


I have several different computers in my classroom and use several types of storage media for keeping pictures and documents.  I use SD, memory sticks, compact flash plus more ordinary flash drives.  To read memory cards, I have a couple of different card readers, each supposedly able to read more than one kind of media.  For instance the compact flash reader is also supposed to be able to read a memory stick, while my SD reader reads a memory stick but not a compact flash.  Nothing too complicated, right?  It is just a matter of plugging the appropriate reader into the USB slot.


However, my XP machines are quite fickle as to what they will and won’t read on a given day.  Sometimes one machine won’t read my SD reader but will read a compact flash.  One machine likes the compact flash but not the SD.  Other times they don’t like any of the card readers.


But on the machine where I’ve installed Mepis, I don’t deal with this sort of fickle-ry.  It reads pretty much anything I’ve ever plugged into it, including the odd camera or two the XP has had issues with.  Keep in mind, the Mepis machine is the oldest of the lot and only has two USB slots to begin with.  But it always detects whatever memory card or camera I plug into it.  It treats the cameras the same as a memory card, which suits me just fine.


I’ve discussed before how I often compose blog posts on my Zaurus and then transfer to a desktop for further editing and/or posting.  My Linux box isn’t networked so when the networked XP machines don’t want to read my flash card, I have to do some transferring.  Namely from the compact flash to a floppy (on the Linux/Mepis machine) back to the XP machine to be posted.  It’s a bit of a process.  This is made more complicated when I try to figure out to save a file on to a floppy.  It’s not quite as simple as a “save as…” that we see by right clicking in XP.  I right click in Mepis I can get to a save menu, but the file structure looks totally different and takes some hunting around. 


So let’s just say I have to want to get something up awfully bad to go through this extended process.  At home, I have administrative control of my home XP machine and don’t have all these different issues.


This is why I’ve been willing to fiddle with Linux in the first place, in an attempt to have a machine that I can control more of my own experience.  The price of this, is of course, ease of use.  The more control the user has, the more complicated and sophisticated the thing is. 


So other than this small thing, I haven’t been playing with Linux very much at all. 




An Experiment

January 17, 2007

Last summer it was kind of exciting talking about all of the various Linux distros coming out and trying them.  But lately, Linux has lost some of its luster.  Many are waiting for Vista to take over all the tech news.  Amazon sent me an email offering to sell me copies for as little as $149.99 for the basic home version.  I do not think I will be buying the newest malware magnet anytime soon.


Okay, my experiences with certain distros may or may not be typical for true newbies.  I’m talking people who are not power users of any sort.  The type who turn on the computer and just expect it to do stuff.  Like my para educator team.  I think I’m going to switch distros on them and see what happens.  They’ve been using Puppy Linux 2.10 for a couple of months now and I haven’t heard a lot of complaints.  They are mainly surfing the web and checking their web-based email accounts and might occasionally write something or print it out.  Sometimes they run across some cute animation, video or song they want to see or listen to.  So I’m going to see how they like and respond to different distros.  As long as it doesn’t get too disruptive, we’ll give each one a week’s worth of try-out time.  That should be plenty for them (and me) to discover any potential issues.  We’re running live CDs at the moment but will see about installing maybe later on.


System Hardware


This is a new Intel D processor machine running 2.67 G with 512 M RAM.  We are plugged into a network and the machine is also hooked to an older HP DeskJet 694c printer.  The machine has a DVD-CDRW and a floppy drive.  I’m not sure the specs on the monitor but since it came with the machine, it is new.  It is not LCD or flat panel but the older, regular 17″ type.


Subjects Participants


These are not geeks by any stretch.  They do not know or care what they are using as long as it works.  They know they are using Puppy because the screen has a giant puppy face on it.   But otherwise could care less.


Queen is around 50 or so, and knows the internet and email.   She has a computer at home but I don’t think uses it that much.   She’ll play an occasional game of solitaire or an online game.  The advent of the cell phone has turned her into a technophile, but computers are something she only knows so much about.


Patience is in her 30’s and is fairly savvy when it comes to surfing the web and technology in general.  She has a laptop that she uses at home where she gets email, plays games and writes on occasion.  She’s brought it in a time or two for me to look at in order to diagnose various annoyances and problems.


Coach is in his 20’s and is totally comfortable with computers and technology.  He’ll be the one wanting to download music or watch movies on his computer at home.  Here, he is mostly surfing the web.  He might actually have a fantasy football team somewhere and would play any sports game we had, if we had any.  I’m not sure what kind of game console he has at home except that he does have one.


But he’s obviously not a power user.  He was telling about how his computer died last night while he was surfing the internet:

Yeah, I was surfing away when it just went blank, so I rebooted it and it got stuck on the Windows 98 screen.” 

Win 98? HELLO?!?  Why don’t you just paint a sign on your virtual back that says “INFECT ME!” Ha!  Seriously, I see a new old desktop in my future.


Oh, and there’s me.  In my 40’s, I take apart computers and put them back together.  I do much of my reading and most of my writing on my Zaurus PDA.  But of the 4 of us, I was the last one to get a cell phone.  I’ve been fiddling with Linux for about a year now.




Puppy was the first one, and they have not complained much about it, at least to my face.  They may have issues they simply haven’t shared.  By switching the interfaces, it should give them something to complain about!


Mepis 6.0 and Ubuntu 6.0 will definitely be tried out.  Freespire and PCLinux are not booting up for some reason on this machine.  They both get so far in the process and then just stall.  I haven’t tried the SuSE DVD, yet.


I also went ahead and ordered a couple more distros that I’m interested in looking at.  One is Kubuntu 6.10.  I keep hearing how wonderful it is so I’ll see for myself how good or bad it is.  I admit my expectations are low so maybe I will be pleasantly surprised.


I’m more looking forward to Dreamlinux 2.2 which is supposed to be targeted for multimedia applications.  It has some new features that make it especially appealing.  One is that it has an installer that will install apps like Google’s Picasa which has given other distros I’ve tried severe indigestion.  It also has WINE preinstalled, which is a winner for me if it works.


Finally, I ordered Linspire 5.0 to see if that does what Freespire isn’t doing for me at the moment, mainly functioning at all. 


All in all, I’ll have several different distros for the paras to try out plus a few that I’ll be playing around with on my own.  Until I get that second desktop, I won’t be trying a full install anytime soon. 




Battle of the Distros

July 18, 2006

My disks came today and I absolutely could not wait to see what these things could do.  Would I find a new favorite in the bunch?  Would I find a replacement for Windows?  Am I typing this using Linux?


I’ll answer the last question first; yes, I am using a Linux kernel to type this.  But not from any distro you all might be using.  I’m using my Zaurus PDA!  In fact, I’m not sure I could get anything to you through any distros that came in the mail today as it presently stands.  But this is preliminary, as I just spent a little time with each.  I spent enough time to form some opinions which I’m sure will be unpopular to many.  Too bad.  Let us begin…




The first distro I tried was recommended by Limulus, which was PCLinuxOS.  All 3 disks I ordered were live CDs, but this one was the only one of the 3 that was not a DVD.  Boot tome for Live CDs is typically quite long, so I put the CD in, made some iced tea, did laundry and cut the grass and came in just in time to see it get to a screen asking for a user name.  I typed in my name which was, of course, incorrect..  I then typed “root” for both name and password and all was well.  If I had not had experience with MEPIS, I would have been frustrated right then and there.  Neither of the other two distros had the password prompt.


Once inside, I was greeted by a nice, friendly, clean brand spanking new desktop.  That’s the cool thing about trying out these OSs as it’s just like getting a new computer!


Okay, I need to take my fellow newbies aside for just a moment to talk about desktops.  When you get a windows desktop, that’s what you get… a Windows desktop to sort of fix up the way you like but you pretty much have the basic elements: A taskbar at the bottom with a “start” menu, a clock and some icons on the desktop.  In Linux, the are two predomininant types of desktops.  One is called KDE, which contains the same basic elements as the Windows version, plus a few more things.  This is what I had with MEPIS.  With PCLinux, I encountered the Gnome desktop for the first time.  This, being unfamiliar caused me some confusion.  I had some icons on the desktop and then (I think) some menu options at the top.  But I never felt like I was seeing everything offered on this CD and seemed to be trying to search for things that should have been more accessible. 


My primary concern and mission was to find a distro that would deal with my modem.  In this, PCLinux failed.  In fact, I never did find any sort of modem connection options at all.  Would PCLinux play my Gladiator DVD?  No.  None of the distros would because of some proprietary thing which is screwy.  Isn’t a DVD player a DVD player?  The logo on my Memorex is the same as the one connected to my TV, isn’t it?


PCLinux had the Office suite, some games and a suite of multimedia tools typical of all distros.  It was not a terribly complicated distro, but it seemed light on applications.  Not bad, but not as good as Mepis in my opinion. 


Ubuntu 6.06 – Dapper Drake


Numero Uno on DistroWatch, I was anxious to give this distro a try.  I have 5 more CDs of this on the way, and have read about Ubuntu all over the place.  You absolutely can not swing a dead cat in the desktop Linux world without hearing about Ubuntu.  An OS for humans.




First off, this was a live DVD.  My first DVD drive had no idea what to do with it, and booted to Windows.  However, once in Windows, putting the DVD in gives one access to open source programs like Firefox, Thunderbird and The Gimp.  That was kind of cool, throwing Windows users a bone.  So I stuck the disk in my DVD burner and rebooted.  This time we were in business. 


After washing and waxing the kitchen floor, changing the oil in my and my wife’s car and doing my taxes, I came in just in time to witness Ubuntu loading the desktop.  Ubuntu, like PCLinux, loads the Gnome desktop. 


I spent some time poking around.  I never found whatever Ubuntu/Gnome uses to configure or run a modem so we struck out there.  Ubuntu seemed to have a lot more games than PCLinux or Mepis.  I actually, I did find a list of Ubuntu applications and it seemed pretty extensive.  I found KPPP but was informed that I could not load it because I was not connected to the internet.  DuH!  If I was connected, why would I need a dial-up client?


I was rapidly disillusioned with Ubuntu.  Yeah, I could play a bunch of cheezy games I suppose, and type something.  But could I save it?  I don’t know.  I’ll have to investigate more with it later.  Maybe.  Right now, I feel like I wasted $7 on this thing. 


Ubuntu vs. PCLinux = PCLinux by a hair.  PCLinux just felt easier to use.  Lots of searching for applications in both, but Ubuntu did not impress me.  Could it be the Gnome desktop?  Maybe, but PCLinux also runs it.  Now, Ubuntu was a disappointment.  No newbie coming from Windows is going spend much time with this cow.  At least it’s cheap.  But seeing as I bought the DVD, PCLinux becomes the better buy at $5.95 vs $1.95.


Ubuntu Vs. Mepis = Mepis  Mepis is by far the easiest to use so far. The applications far easier to find and use. Will this still hold true at the end?  Let’s see.


SuSE 10.1


#2 on DistroWatch, this was also a live DVD.  However, unlike the other two contenders, this had no option to install.  It is intended to be used as a live DVD and that’s it.


I booted this DVD up the same as Ubuntu in the DVD burner.  I have no idea why these live DVDs don’t like my regular DVD player, but that is a strike against them compared to the CDs that had no problems in either drive.


SuSE presented me with something fairly quickly.  In fact, it was so quick, I missed it and had to reboot.  A screen comes up offering several choices.  I can boot off the hard drive, which is Windows and since that was the default that’s what it did before I realized what was going on and digesting all the choices.  Mepis does something similar, although not as rich in options as SuSE in the choices.


We might have a contender.


The other two choices were SuSE with a KDE desktop or SuSE with a Gnome desktop.  I picked KDE.


After having the dog and the cat neutered, picked up my dry cleaning and remodeled the upstairs bathroom, I walked in just in time to see SuSE throw up the desktop and a message mentioning  something about registering for access to more programs and Novell support.  Okay, that was nice.  SuSE then promptly acted like a slovenly drunken sow by seeming to hang and then take forever to execute anything at all.  So I rebooted again.


Things went better this time.  I quickly discovered a modem tool right on the task bar and went into it.  The modem I had recently installed supposedly ran on SuSE 9.x, so I had high hopes. However, no amount of tweaking around got me anywhere.


 Of the 3 distros that came in today, SuSE seemed to be the easiest for me to manage.  The KDE desktop was more familiar to me, as it did look like Windows, only much better organized.  Still not playing my DVDs, though.


Of the 3, I spent more time with SuSE as it seemed to have more applications and tools beyond the same things everyone else has.  More choices is good for everyone, so there are more office applications and more multimedia and photo tools.  However, SuSE did not seem to detect my analogue TV card, so that was a disappointment.   



 Also, SuSE would not let me mount and explore either of my hard drives which is a serious gig if I can’t figure it out.



Of these three, SuSE wins the prize for versatility, ease of use and comfort.  I thought it was MUCH easier than Ubuntu, which comes in last in my own distro survey.  I find it does nothing and adds nothing to what anyone else has and seems to me to be a very pooor choice for breaking in new users coming from Windows.  Those free CDs that they are sending out are akin to the days when AOL sent everyone floppies then CDs to drum up business.  Thing was, users would leave AOL as soon as their minutes were up.  Newbies looking for a decent experience with Linux should avoid Ubuntu.  But this is an early impression.  It also decreases the amount of time I’m willing to spend with the Dapper Drake


Mepis beats the lot for ease of use, number of programs and versatility. Curerently #4 on distro watch, it should be higher.  Ubuntu’s position is a severely inflated one, and will absolutely NOT be bringing Linux to desktops across the nation.  


I know Ubuntu fans will hate it, but security and repositories will do no good if I can’t   even get online.


Linux remains the domain of the propeller heads and geeks for the time being as it is too much trouble for an average home user newbie using dial-up.  Without access to the internet, there is no support, no extra applications, no connection and no taking advantage of the extra security.  It is such a fundamental thing and such a fatal flaw.


I’m not finished, yet.  When I go back to work, I’ll try these on my new work computer to see how they do there and perhaps my experience will be different.   We’ll see if anyone has trouble detecting my network, plus I can better try the “On the Go” feature of my latest edition of Mepis.


I’m also going to dig deeper into these distros and see if I am missing some important feature, especially with the Gnome desktops.  Feedback would be helpful, here.  Of course, desktop preference probably doesn’t mean much to those who come from UNIX and are using command lines any way.  Again, unless the Linux community can successfully minimize the UNIX experience (without abandoning the benefits) they can forget about getting more users, more applications, more drivers, more Desktop Linux machines and making more of an impact on the personal PC business.

And if Ubuntu is half the cow it seemed like for me, people need to stop peddling the bloody thing and promote something that might work better.  It would be interesting to see if Kubuntu would be a better choice for me, but I’m not too willing to invest much more money and time in any more distros.  I’m okay with some tinkering, but have a ridiculously short attention span for stuff that does not seem to work.  When I get bored enough, I’ll give it another go.





June 23, 2006

Anyone out there ever heard of TiVo?  For many, that might be their first real experience with a Linux appliance as that is what is running TiVo.  I don't have TiVo, but I do have something that is running Linux right now.


That would be my Zaurus 5500 SL PDA which I use to type 99% of my blog posts.  I got a PDA because I couldn't afford a laptop and the Zaurus has become a real companion and fulfilling most of what I would use a laptop for.  It has a built-in Blackberry-like thumb-pad/keyboard which I've gotten good at using. 


Basically, I read and write documents using an Office knock-off called Hancom Word.  After writing this, I save it on either the SD or CF card.  Then I put it in the card reader on the computer and then I run it through a spell check and then post it using cut and paste.  Any Word documents (and some pdf documents) can be saved on the flash drive and then I can read them on the Zaurus. 


The Zaurus runs off of a simple Linux Kernel.  The screen looks and behaves just like a Windows machine, where the stylus enables one to use the touch screen.  It was this journey which has made me a lot less timid about trying out Linux on my PC.


 Sharp still makes a Zaurus and you can find one like mine on eBay for around $200.  More portable than a laptop, it has made it much easier to read and write blog entries on the couch, in bed, in the car or wherever.  It has become my #1 blogging tool.