SHENANIGANS! It’s a freakin’ anti-Linux conspiracy…

My last post mentioned that I’m actually in the market for a much-needed Linux netbook. My problem is that the combination of FUD and bribery (“we’ll give you a huge discount AND continue paying you to put up the ‘[company] recommends Microsoft’ advertisements on your website!”) seems to have killed off my choices at the retail level (all Microsoft), and perhaps has made it difficult to even order online.

Dell and HP take almost two weeks (“estimated”) to get me a Linux netbook, and I’d rather not wait that long. I thought perhaps the stock Sylvania G Meso, which seems to be getting very good reviews for the price, might be something I could at least order and get within a few days. However…nobody online seems to stock them either, unless they charge an extra $100 for them.

Here’s the query I just sent to Sylvania Computers (now known as “Digital Gadgets”):

I’m having a great deal of trouble actually finding what I want: your Sylvania G Meso with Ubuntu.

Of your “Where to buy” links:

  • MicroCenter” only carries the “Magni Elite” rather than the G Meso, and only with Microsoft Windows.
  • DataVision” wants $100 extra for the one color (yellow) that is actually in stock (the others, including those at the correct $269 price, are “pre-order”).
  • RCSNet only has the “XP” version in stock for the extra $30 – the others are “pre-order” (correction – I missed that they claim to have one color – “pink” – actually in stock).
  • lists the model that I want, but says “Usually ships in 1-2 MONTHS

Does anyone actually stock the $269 Ubuntu Sylvania G Meso?

A second question, less urgent: I would have preferred to be able to upgrade to 2GB of RAM (without voiding the warranty) – will this be possible in the near future?

P.S. you might want to put a redirect on “” to “” – a lot of the laudatory articles about the Ubuntu Sylvania G Meso still link to “”.


At this point, I’m seriously considering offering to drive to Dell’s corporate headquarters (about 3-4 hours drive from here) next weekend to pick up a Mini 9 even if I have to assemble the freakin’ thing myself in their waiting room rather than wait for their factory to get around to it, if it’ll get me a functional netbook within a week.

Otherwise, perhaps being sufficiently secure in my masculinity to order a pink netbook (and a can of spray-paint? A coating of “magnetic”, “chalkboard”, or “dry-erase marker” enamel might be fun) may be my only chance of getting a Linux netbook in a decent time-frame.

The alternative is to pay the Microsoft tax and get a retail unit, then upgrade it to Linux and try to get a tax refund (while Microsoft continues bragging that in “brick and mortar” stores where there seem to be absolutely no Linux boxes, Linux only sells 1 out of 20 netbooks*…). No waiting, and I can just take it back and exchange it if the hardware’s defective. Somebody please talk me out of this last option…

* What impresses me is that we’re talking about a study Microsoft bought, that looks at a market that seems to actually stock near 0% Linux netbooks, and even there Linux still makes up one in twenty sales…

I ♥ the Minister of Domestic Affairs

The Minister of Domestic Affairs has given the go-ahead to find myself a netbook to take the place of my gigantic beast of an aging laptop. Now I just have to figure out which one to go for.

A white 'Sylvania G Meso' netbookI’ve got the selection narrowed down to four possibilities. Irritatingly, I cannot seem to find Linux-based netbooks in retail outlets thus far. I tend to prefer to get things like this retail, so that if I start them up and find they’re defective (or if they die in the first few days), I can just take it back and exchange it, rather than calling some call-center halfway around the globe, sitting on hold for an hour, dealing with some schmuck going through the “did you plug it in? Did you turn it on?” script, finally getting an RMA#, and then paying to ship the thing back and being without a computer for 2-4 weeks until the replacement arrives.

Currently, my first choice is the Sylvania G Meso Linux version, which seems to be a very good value and is well-supported by Linux – plus for a computer that I have to order, I should be able to get it shipped quickly. My second and third choices would be either a Dell Mini 9 or HP Mini 1110NR. Those give me more customization options (and the HP keyboard is perhaps one of the most usable “small netbook” ones), but Dell and HP would take almost 2 weeks after taking my money to finally get the thing assembled and sent to me.

The last option would be to go to Wal-Mart® or similar cheap-electronics place and get an Acer Aspire One crippled with a “Windows XP Home” OS, and take it home in a lead-lined box until it can be overwritten with a real OS (and then perhaps argue with Acer about getting a refund for the unused and unwanted Windows license.).

Some people probably think I’m insane for wanting a tiny little netbook (and I do specifically want the smallest netbook I can reasonably use – I’ll actually take the 8.9″ version over the 10″ version) to replace a laptop. Thing is, Intel Atom 270N-based netbooks should be somewhat better-performing than my old full-size laptop with its old “Turion 64 ML-30” processor (same clock speed as the Atom, with less than half the bus speed and an order of magnitude higher power consumption…) and will have a much better-supported graphics chipset. My view of Google Earth might be a bit more constrained than on my big 1280×768 giganto-laptop screen, but it ought to be smoother…

Anybody have any suggestions? The actual distribution of Linux that it comes with is essentially irrelevant, as I’ll almost certainly replace it with either Gentoo (if it has a large, standard hard drive) or Arch (if it has a solid-state drive).

Another Asterisk post to follow, later, too. Keep watching…

Interactive Photo-Map: Oil and Rocks and Squiggly Things

No audio narration, but there is a spiffy map that you can scroll around in, complete with icons you can click on to see the photos and some text to go with them. Who could ask for anything more? Besides audio narration in my mellifluous voice, that is.

Since the embedded “Google Maps” image doesn’t seem to appear in the RSS feeds, I’m adding it after the “Continue Reading” link below – please do so and let me know how it works. As usual, suggestions are welcome – I’d like to do more of this kind of thing when I have time to travel. (Suggestions for future locations or themes are welcome as well).

Continue reading Interactive Photo-Map: Oil and Rocks and Squiggly Things

JelloLlamaJalama Beach Teaser Post

Okay, I finally worked out what was screwing up my geolocation (the new dates for Daylight Losings Time) and had a chance to sit down for a while today to work on cleaning up my photos for upload. I really need to get a new digital camera that handles low-light conditions much better. I did manage to get a photo of the Majestic Natural Glory of the Los Angeles river from the train, though, despite the tinted windows. Take a look:

Ain’t it pretty? They say the waters of the Los Angeles river are so pristine that they taste like (Miller|Coors|Bud|Insert-Your-Least-Favorite-Beer-Here) Lite®!

Here’s a question for everyone who reads this: I’m planning to turn the Jalama Beach photos and track into an interactive map post (Hopefully tomorrow [Sunday, April 5th]). Anybody want audio narration to go with it? Also, is anyone but me playing with the Mozilla Firefox 3.1(/3.5) beta, or the latest experimental Opera or Safari browsers, i.e. browsers that support the HTML5 <audio> tag?

And, since I titled this post “Jalama Beach teaser”, and while I’m talking about Pristine Natural Beauty, here’s a sample:

A natural Tar Seep on Jalama Beach

Woe is me (some more)

We’re back from our all too short stress-management vacate-shun. I’m chronically underslept (indeed, I ought to be in bed right now) and now I think I’m coming down with a generic Obnoxious Respiratory Ailment for the third time in as many months, which is extremely unusual for me, and which I definitely Do Not Want. Also, it turns out that as usual, Motorola cellphones are crippled. My Razr V3 apparently doesn’t allow applications to access the camera, so there’s no way for me to cram a functional datamatrix barcode decoder onto it. And the built-in wireless networking in Igor (my venerable 3½-year-old laptop) appears to have died…

I need a new cellphone. And a microscope. And a “netbook”. And a digital camera that handles low-light conditions and close-ups better. (And a pony?…) Still, things aren’t all bad, for all my whining.

A DataMatrix barcode painted in watercolors...I did manage to get some interesting pictures on the trip, at least, along with GPS tracks for geolocation purposes. Also, wine jelly and interesting spices from generous family members we were visiting, and even some avocado honey from a little roadside produce stand on the way back to the train station for the trip back.

I’m going to bed now. Hopefully after work tomorrow or this weekend I’ll be putting up another post (and start posting more often again). Anybody want to see pictures of oil and rocks from JelloLlamaJalama Beach, or the majestic Los Angeles River?

A cheap techno-toy concept to distract me from my woes…

A DataMatrix barcode with a 'secret' message...It’s been a relatively awful month here, to tell the truth, but we’re still hanging on so far. Hopefully things will improve soon. In the meantime, I’m having as much fun as I can get away with without spending any real money. Mining old patents for interesting gadgets and ideas, for example…did you know that Google has a US Patent search? And unlike the USPTO, you can actually get a PDF of old patents, not just try to view them as “TIFF” images in a plugin that you may or may not have for your browser and may or may not even work if you do…However, my quest for old designs for industrial brewing equipment and ozone generators is not the subject of this particular post.

One thing I find I like to do for fun with my computer is sort of the opposite of what most people seem to do for fun with their computers. Most people seem to treat their computers as grossly overpriced video-game devices, whose main purpose is to connect people to fake worlds to interact with. “Computer games”. Bah. Humbug. The computer is the game, boys and girls. I like to instead find ways to connect my computer to the real world. I suppose that’s where I get my interest in neogeography, and Asterisk, and home automation (which I’ve only dabbled with but still fascinates me), and so forth.

My latest discovery of a cheap real-world/computer interface is barcodes.

More specifically, I’ve discovered that there’s finally a working project that lets me read and write Data Matrix barcodes. I ran into the project when it was mentioned in the
“New Projects” section of the March 2009 “Linux Journal”
(you won’t be able to actually read the article at the link unless you’re either a subscriber, or you wait until they finally open it to the public, though you might also find a copy of the magazine at the bookstore). The actual project in question is libdmtx, and they provide some basic software for generating and, more importantly, decoding these barcodes, which means I can finally actually play with them myself.

There’s an irritating “functional fixedness” issue with these barcodes. There’s an implicit assumption that they are only for one of two things – either they are for inventory tracking (i.e. they encode serial numbers or some proprietary equivalent), which renders them essentially meaningless for anyone but the entity doing the tracking, or they may be used like the QRCode barcodes popular in Japan, which are usually assumed to be used specifically to encode a company’s website URL for “consumers” to decode with their cellphone cameras. Again: Humbug! “Consumers” can go conjugate themselves. “Consumers” are the screwups who made it possible to destroy the world economy, pollute the planet, and make vampire crap a popular “mainstream” genre. No, it’s time we paid a little less attention to catering to “consumers” and gave some love to “participants” instead.

See, both Data Matrix and QRCode barcodes can encode up to a kilobyte or so worth of any kind of data, which might then be stuck in just about any kind of place where someone might see it and take a picture of it (either for immediate decoding or for later).

If this sounds familiar to you, it may be that you remember hearing about a “Hobo Code“, which wandering homeless folks might use to encode visual messages for others with small pictograms. The catch is that since in that context you have to be able to keep the entire “dictionary” of what each symbol means in your head, you’re kind of limited to a small number of specific messages. On the other hand, one ought to be able to hypothetically cram a couple of SMS/”Twitter”-sized messages into a pattern of dots not much bigger than a postage stamp…or conversely stomped out on a giant scale in a wheat field like an especially nerdy “crop circle” just in time for Google Maps’ latest satellite imagery update.

I happened to be at an office-supply store today and was kind of surprised at the variety of things are now available to be shoved through a laser printer. Not only greeting cards and mailing labels, but a variety of self-adhesive and even refrigerator-magnet sheets. I saw they even had blank bumper stickers. Never mind serial numbers and “consumers” websites – you could stick all kinds of messages in all kinds of places with this.

A tip or warning for future diners at a restaurant (“Ask for ‘Chef Special #3’, it’s not on the menu but it’s great!” or “be nice to the waitress or the chef will spit in your food” for example) might be encoded on a small sticker or card and hidden underneath the table. You might encode your personal website URL or just a friendly greeting to be stuck to the inside cover of a Bookscrossing book along with it’s ID number. You might encode a time and place for a meeting as a geostring on printed on little magnetic squares to for members of the Secret Society (or Linux Users’ Group?) that you belong to, or to be included as an “album art” image in the metadata of a geolocated sound or video recording. You might compose original short poems or haiku and leave them in random business-card racks for the bemusement of technically-inclined strangers…

I think the stress must be getting to me, because it’s usually about this point in my thought processes that in a corner of my brain a voice pipes up, saying “What the hell’s wrong with you? This doesn’t sound like you at all! You’re starting to sound like one of those artsy-fartsy techno neo-hippies that gather at things like Burning Man or guest-post at BoingBoing, babbling about nerdy art projects and ‘culture’!”. Then another corner pipes up with “Hey, it might be kind of fun to go to Burning Man one of these years”, and then another pops up with “I like pie!” and everything erupts in chaos. Next thing I know, some indeterminate amount of time has gone by without me noticing and I suddenly realize I’m dangling from a rope over a highway wearing nothing but a pair of SpiderMan™ underpants and a thick coating of cocoa butter, still clutching a handful of LED “Throwies” and looking down at the nice folks offering me a nice warm jacket with extra-long wraparound sleeves…

But I feel MUCH better now…

Am I insane, or can any of you think of other uses for this? Or is that not an “or” question?…

Sophic Suds

A beer-colored, sepia-tone-like picture of glass of beer overlooking a valley
(Image: “When Beer Ruled the Earth” – you should really click through and read the caption that goes with it…)

A fundamental aspect of my personal philosophy is this: If you cannot play with something, you have not mastered it, and if you do not play with it, you will not master it.

I can sit here and read for hours, but it’s time I actually put my hands on some brewing again. I have a pound each of wheat and amber dried malt extract, an ounce of a low-bitterness (~2.9% alpha-acids) pellet hops, a packet of medium-attenuation dried beer yeast, two 39 millihogshead plastic containers that I can use as fermenters, an early-20th-century hand-cranked blower/bellows, a hot glue gun, a gallon of pineapple juice, some air-line tubing, a cabinet full of spices (including, of course, ginger), at least one small room air-filter, several pounds of honey, perhaps half a cup of granular erythritol, glycerol, a whole mess of glass bottles and bottlecaps, a variety of high-caffeine black tea bags, miscellaneous kitchen implements, a couple of copper-coated scouring pads, a selection of two-liter PETE bottles, iodophor concentrate, a hydrometer, a somewhat overstressed and twisted mind, a wife, four cats, and a dog. What shall I make?

I’m thinking I should aim for a mildly sweet brew with a ginger bite, perhaps adding a bit of tea or pepper if the sweetness needs balancing – but of course part of the goal of the exercise here will be to try to adapt to whatever I’m getting along the way…


What shall I do?!?

Colored nigiri rice colored and shaped like 'Marshmallow Peeps'Since natural forces have not (yet) secured a replacement job for my Minister of Domestic Affairs, I’m forced to appeal to the supernatural and assume that the Spirits are angry with me for not yet having performed the appropriate Devouring Of The Soft Pink Bunnies ritual this year…so I’m devouring a package of pink “Peeps” bunnies. No doubt good fortune will finally swiftly follow…

Meanwhile, I’m poking around in patents and scientific papers, pondering a few different possible topics for the next post:

  • More on the “Nathan System” of brewing, with reference to patents and the intended purpose thereof (and pondering how to construct a homebrew-scale “Hillbilly Biotech™” version thereof)
  • Fermented foods and beverages review and request for ones I haven’t heard of yet
  • Bad poetry
  • The previously mentioned paper on getting yeast cells to eat themselves to death
  • A post composed mainly of photographs of myself with no clothes
  • The current collection of quasi-random scientific publications I’m wading through for fun
  • Some computer-related nerdity
  • Anything else

Please place your suggestions in the comments, I beg of you. Even if they are just long strings of profane threats of violence should I elect to post on [insert forbidden topic here].

This Week = No Fun, but here’s an update anyway…

Busy week with unpleasant surprises, but I ain’t dead yet. You’re probably wondering what a hot dog that’s apparently eagerly anticipating eating itself has to do with that. The answer is: nothing, but it does relate to something I have been intending to post about for a long time, but haven’t since I didn’t have access to the paper…

So, in lieu of blasting out Twitter®-style updates on my Laconica feed that nobody reads anyway (a few people no doubt see the echo of them on Twitter® itself, but I don’t know if anyone cares…), here are a couple of what-I’m-doing-now updates before I go to bed:

  • I just shot off an email to the webmaster (the only contact I could find who might have the relevant information) of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, trying to get access to a classic paper published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling for the upcoming “On the Shoulders of Giants” carnival.
  • There’s no way I can afford the ~$300US that it would cost to join the group, nor even at the moment to pay the typical $30 or so that greedy paywall-imprisoned publishers charge for individual articles. However, they appear to be opening up their archives to the public, for which I think they deserve substantial praise. Still, they haven’t worked their way back to the first few decades of the 20th century yet, so I had to email and ask if there was a way to get the article in question. If not, I’ll see if there’s any way to get it through inter-library loan in time.

  • “Small Things Considered” asks “What Microbiological Discovery in 2008 Did You Find Especially Interesting?” Which brings us to the “self-eating” thing.
  • The paper on caffeine’s induction of macroautophagy (“self-eating”) in yeast (and what happens when benzoic acid is also present) finally escaped from the paywall prison in January, and I now have a copy. I at least thought it was full of interesting implications (along with some useful knowledge), so I’ll hopefully be posting about it soon.

  • I’m also a computer nerd
  • Particularly when it comes to things like Linux. I’ve been thinking of trying to do some recordings on a couple of practical subjects that interest me for “Hacker Public Radio”

  • And of course, I still need to do some Xanthomonas snot Xanthan Gum experiments.

I am an attention-whorewilling to listen to my readers’ interests, so if anyone has suggestions or comments feel free to post them…

Coming Soon to a blog post near you!

I got a little money for Christmas, but I’m feeling quite guilty as I didn’t really have the time and money to reciprocate in advance. I also haven’t been able to figure out what to spend it on until now. Now, I have a solution for both problems.

Xanthomonas campestris growing in a petri dish and exuding slimeI intend to spend it all on fermentation-related food ingredients and do some experimentation with sweet-tasting foods. Initially, in addition to flavors (spices and whatnot), I need to track down bulk quantities of:

  • Erythritol, which is a virtually non-caloric sugar alcohol which unlike sorbitol and so forth is not normally prone to cause gastric distress, and unlike Xylitol is not hazardous for beloved household pets. Better still, it actually is very tasty unlike that nasty hippy “Stevia” crap (which isn’t produced by fermentation anyway, as far as I know).
  • Food-grade Glycerol (“Glycerine”), which I hypothesize is close enough to the structure of Erythritol to mix well with it and help the erythritol dissolve (and hopefully prevent crystallization, much the same way the “corn syrup” does with sucrose).
  • Xanthan Gum. MMmmmmm…edible bacteria-snot. (Okay, for all that this sounds disgusting, it’s really somewhat similar to pectin, which like xanthan gum is a polysaccharide. Pectin is just fruit-snot rather than bacteria snot. Dietarily, both count as “soluble fiber”.)

There are probably other ingredients I can come up with as well. For those of you out there who are owed gifts: Chewy candies, hard candies, baked goods, and/or beverages, what’s your preference for my initial experimentation? Assuming anyone’s interested, I will probably blog my results…

Meanwhile, I’ve also been thinking about geolocation, geotagging of audio and video media, and Asterisk again. I want to take the lessons learned from my playing with the “Where Was I?” prototype and turn it into a real geolocation system, integrating with Asterisk and Laconica (which turned out to be easier to set up than I’d feared – I’ve now got my own Laconica server at, though I need to sit down and activate the IM integration (Twitter may have abandoned IM, but it reportedly works fine in Laconica).

It also turns out that you can use Asterisk with cellphones(!), at least if they have bluetooth. That’s handy to know…

Argh – too much to do, not enough time!…