Category Archives: Linux

So long, laptop… Hello iPad and ClamCase Pro

Last year I wrote about converting my HP laptop to Linux Mint, after running Windows Vista and Windows 7 over the years.  A few weeks ago the battery started showing signs of its age.  Since I wasn’t doing anything on the laptop that I can’t do on my iPad, I figured this would be a good time to downsize the gadgetry a little bit.

There was a problem, however: Typing more than a couple of sentences with an onscreen keyboard is a bitch.  Hell, even typing an alphanumeric password is annoying because you have to switch the keyboard mode, often several times (I use weird passwords).

A few months ago, I happened to notice an iPad keyboard, the ClamCase Pro, that looked Clamcase Propretty cool and was getting good reviews.  So I hit the tech web sites again, looking for more recent reviews, and I didn’t see much in terms of negative comments – most of them seemed to be related to a problem located between the keyboard and the chair, while some others were of the “well, duh!” category – such as the keyboard roughly doubling the weight of the iPad. Most of the keyboard’s weight is actually a counterweight so that the iPad won’t tip over when it’s inclined.  Note that I did run into a review where the reviewer mentioned that you cannot use it comfortably on your lap because it will tip over.  I don’t know what that person’s situation was, but I’m typing this with the ClamCase Pro on my lap, with the iPad at a rather steep angle, and it doesn’t even feel like it wants to tip over.

Unlike many keyboards I’ve seen, the ClamCase Pro has a palmrest, which makes it more comfortable for prolonged use.  The keys are very responsive, and I got used to the layout very quickly.  It’s roughly like a standard Mac keyboard, with a few different keys. You can put the iPad in “tablet mode” by folding the keyboard all the way to the back (it’s also recommended to turn off the physical keyboard when you do that, to avoid pressing keys accidentally while holding it).  It does make it kind of heavy to use for reading, however.  Then again, if you’re going to read for a prolonged period, you can always take the iPad out of the enclosure.

After testing this setup for a few days, I determined that this would do just fine as a replacement for my laptop.  Note that I’m not saying that a tablet can replace a laptop (and definitely not a desktop computer): I just wasn’t doing a whole lot with my laptop.  I’d say the only annoyance is that some web sites just don’t work all that great on mobile browsers – yet.

I donated my laptop to a local technology charity named CompuCorps.  I bought the laptop back in 2007 and didn’t expect to get much for it, so I’d rather have it go to someone who needs it.  I’ll get a tax receipt for the donation, so that’s cool. 🙂

So, if you’re looking for a good physical keyboard for your iPad (2, 3, 4), the ClamCase Pro is a solid choice – and as a bonus, it looks pretty slick, not unlike a netbook or Chromebook.  The manufacturer also just released a new version of the keyboard for the thinner iPad Air, which doesn’t seem to be widely available (at the time of writing).

Linux Mint for the win…

I guess I got bored with Windows 7 on my 6-year old laptop (né Windows Vista).  Last year I tried to install Ubuntu Linux on it and that was a failure.  Sleep and Hibernate didn’t work (well, waking up was the problem), and on a laptop that’s a no-sale. Linux has a reputation of being a bitch to install on many laptops, and I guess mine was one of those, despite being from a popular line (HP Pavilion dv9000). I didn’t investigate the reason much since I didn’t have much time and just reinstalled Windows 7.  I decided to give it another try this weekend.  That was eventful…

Ubuntu 13.04 was just released a few days ago, so I figured I’d give it another try. I downloaded the 64-bit version.  The installation went relatively well (note: installing Linux is no longer “blazingly fast” compared to Windows, contrary to some claims).  After the installation was completed, the first thing I noticed was: No wireless.  Hmmm… OK.  So let’s try Sleep/Wake up.  Abort! Abort! Abort!  On wake-up, the screen turned to crap and practically everything was unreadable – just like last year.  Fire up the iMac to do some research.  Something about the Nvidia driver.  There’s is an open source version called Nouveau (OK…), which is known to (1) be slow and (2) have problems.  Yet, that is the default version that’s installed. Great.  OK so let’s go to Additional Drivers and select the proprietary Nvidia driver instead (known to (1) be fast and (2) usually work fine.  It let me pick it, but nothing happened.  OK.  Keep reading.  Ah… So 64-bit Linux doesn’t have as many drivers as the 32-bit version.  Well, I don’t really need 64-bit on this laptop anyway, so let’s download the 32-bit version!

Installation was slow again.  But hey, once it was done, I actually could see the various wireless networks available around me (I’m in a condo building, so that means a lengthy list… I wonder if all that stuff is frying my brain… :D)  That’s one down.  Let’s try Sleep/Wake-up again.  No joy.  OK, that driver thing, right… Oops, no love.  More tinkering, no luck.  But… Wait!  I’ve been reading about that other Linux distro, Linux Mint, which apparently sports a better interface.  I did forget to mention that I find Ubuntu’s Unity interface to be somewhat… atrocious.

Soooo… Download Linux Mint (32-bit – no point in screwing around with 64-bit again).  The installation was just as slow as for Ubuntu, which I kind of expected.  And now there it is, the Cinammon interface (they actually have several interfaces available when it’s time to pick a download… I like choice, but man, without trying them all, how the hell am I supposed to know which one I’ll prefer?)  This one is closer to the common Windows interface, and doesn’t have the crappy Unity Launcher (ugh…)

So back to my usual tests:  OK, no wireless again.  Let’s worry about that one later.  Let’s try Sleep/Wake-up.  Oh, screw up (yeah, screwed up again…)  Alright, more reading, but looking for tips specific to Linux Mint.  So I find this guy who says that even when you pick the proprietary Nvidia driver, Nouveau still manages to get in the way (oh, great…) and it doesn’t like to be removed (a driver with feelings?)  BUT, here’s how to “blacklist it” so that the kernel won’t load it.  Well, let’s try that – just a file to edit.  There, done.  Sleep/Wake-up.  Oooooh…  Is this… *click* *click* *click* for a few minutes… Success!  I owe that guy a beer.

OK, time for a more “extreme” test: Hibernate/Wake-up.  Contrary to popular belief, hibernate works fine in Windows (been doing it for years), but is really hit-or-miss with Linux.  Hit the power button… Password screen… So far, so good.  Desktop… Looking good.  *click* *click* frenzy again. Success!

Now where the hell is my wireless crap.  As it turns out, the Broadcom wireless driver is not included with Linux Mint, because apparently Broadcom won’t allow it (yet it was on Ubuntu 32-bit). Anyway, again I found some instructions on setting it up.  Here we go, huge list of nearby wireless networks again.  More success!  This is getting fun.  Time to update my Facebook status, stating that I am tentatively pleased.

I really only use this laptop on weekday mornings for my early browsing/e-mailing/whatever while having a coffee before going to work, so I don’t need a lot on it.  Browser, password manager, text editor.  Firefox is included, but it’s version 16.  Unlike the Windows and Mac versions I’ve been using, this one doesn’t auto-update.  OK.  Wait, what’s this icon in the tray?  A couple of hundred updates are available.  Hmmm.. Let’s not waste time, surely the newest version of Firefox is in there (and yes, it was… but it took a while for all that stuff to download and install – comes with a fresh OS installation…)

Things get complicated when it comes to passwords.  I use KeePass, which is really a .NET program for Windows, but there’s a version that runs under Mono (an open source version of .NET). This version is pretty sucky compared to the original, but it mostly works.  KeePass encrypts the password database, but that’s not enough for me.  I store the password file “in the cloud” so that I can share it between several computers.  I use BoxCryptor for additional encryption.  But wait, there’s no BoxCryptor for Linux.  Just Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.  Oops.  Fear not: the encryption is compatible with encFS.  So from here it was a matter of setting up the cloud service app (thankfully there was one for Linux), encFS, and KeePass.  I found all of these through the Software Sources applications, so at least installation wasn’t painful.  I did find a little application to manage encFS volumes from the tray, so I installed that as well.

Lastly I needed a text editor.  I recently started using Sublime Text on the Mac, and they happen to have Windows and Linux versions.  Installing this one was a bit more involved, since I wanted to install a couple of packages to enhance its functionality. Translation: some shell adventures.  At least Linux, like the Mac but unlike Windows, has an excellent command-line shell.

Sooo… It looks like the laptop is now up and running and ready for the simple tasks I require of it.  Still, Linux requires a bit of tinkering to get where you want, so I’d say it’s not necessarily “ready for grandma”, unlike what many people claim.  Dealing with drivers the way we have to, for very basic functionality, is not something “Joe Average” wants to know about, let alone do.  A lot of people won’t even know what to search for.  But once things are up and running, this is all pretty slick.

Alright, so now I should stop procrastinating (because that’s really what I was doing all that time) and get better acquainted with OS X and iOS programming… Hopefully the topic of a post sometime in the next couple of weeks!