Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The virtues of limited terminal width

I've noticed that a great benefit of reading mail in an 80-column X terminal is that it acts as a simple filter: if a thread drifts so far to the right that I can no longer read the Subject: line, it's probably not worth my time to read it and I can kill the whole thing.

I wonder what sorts of gains in free time and productivity I could realize by shrinking my terminals to widths of 70, 60, or even 40 characters wide?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

System 76

I've got a new desktop system, after going two years without a desktop at all. My last desktop, which served me well for about five years, was one that I built myself from parts. This time, though, I was feeling a little lazy, and I decided to order a computer from System 76, one of the few companies that will assemble and ship a computer to you with Linux (in this case, Ubuntu) preinstalled.


The cats were curious about something new appearing in our apartment. They were even more excited when they found out it was full of cat toys! Sadly for them, though, I confiscated all the styrofoam peanuts and stuck them in a cat-proof trash can.


The usual box of random CDs still exists when you have preloaded Linux. I was surprised to discover that it did not include an Ubuntu CD or five, which seems to me like a no-brainer.


Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without a picture of the actual box. It looks just like it did on the system76 web site; no surprise there.

DSC00504.JPG DSC00505.JPG

I used the included Ubuntu install for a little while, and it looked like everything was configured reasonably well. The one piece of weirdness was that Ubuntu uses a program called network-manager to configure the network; while it has some nice features (like doing network discovery for wireless, letting programs easily get notifications when network devices go down or come up, etc), these are offset, at least for me, by the fact that it likes to randomly break the computer's network access. This isn't exclusively an Ubuntu problem, of course; etch also installs and configures network-manager by default, and I had the same problems on etch until I purged it. I assume that network-manager works for someone, so probably something to do with the network environment here breaks it.

The system is currently running Debian etch, with Xen domains booting testing and unstable that I use for development. Even without the NVidia graphics drivers and with one of the Xen domains running a computationally intensive job, it's quite snappy; a lot snappier than any other desktop system I've owned recently. And while it's doing this, it's one of the quietest computers I own.

So, in summary, I'm quite happy with this system and I'd suggest System 76 as an option for anyone who wants a Windows-free computer.