Where Are The Wise Men?

Mike's Ramblings

Review Pangolin Laptop From System76

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I had known that my early-model MacBook Pro was getting to the end of it's usefulness for me. I mean, it still runs but as software has grown more and more complicated, my MBP wasn't cutting it anymore.

Most people would just by another MacBook Pro! And, while that sounded tempting, I had a few things that held me back from that. For one thing, $2500 was a steep price for me and [my rising side-business.][] And the tools I use 85% of the time were not Mac specific. They are things like zsh, Emacs, Python, PHP, and some of[JetBrain's products.][] All of them would work on Linux, which is a much lower cost to entry than another Mac.

I started this journey around six months ago when I started scouring the Internet on what the best Linux-based laptop would be. I was quickly led to [System76][], a maker of Ubuntu-powered laptops, desktops, and servers. I was impressed when I scoured the web about this company. There were a lot of reviews and comments from their users and no one ever had anything bad to say about them. I mean, they had things that they wished that maybe were different, but everyone was happy with the hardware they were getting, how well it worked with the Ubuntu, and, more importantly, how happy they were with the post-sales support they were getting. The price was higher, especially compared to the laptops you get at big-box stores, but you got a machine that you knew would work with Ubuntu, and not have to fiddle around with it. But, regardless, it was certainly cheaper than a MacBook Pro!

aging MacBook Pro But I couldn't! I already had it maxed out at 2GB! So this was when I decided to make the plunge.

System76 has a wide range of laptops available, but the choice was easy for me -- [The Pangolin Performance.][] It seemed like a good development machine and my display needs are not that heavy to warrant the next step up. I spec'ed out what I wanted, and then compared it with a MacBook Pro. Yep, about half the price even though I was getting 6GB of RAM instead of Apple's 4GB, and I was getting a slightly larger hard drive. I thought I was getting a very good deal.

I ordered it about 10 days before Christmas, and System76 responded that it would ship within 8 business days. I was surprised when I found out that it was delivered early, and expected to arrive on the Tuesday before Christmas! And I was even more surprised to have it arrive a day earlier. Huzzah!

The packaging of the laptop was nothing to write home about, but it was extremely well cushioned and supported inside. It would be hard to damage it's contents. I took it out of the box and immediately started using it while the battery was charging

The first thing I noticed is how quiet it is. I didn't think the fan was even running! But it turned out that it was -- it's just that quiet. I had my Pangolin on my lap, doing lots of installation, configuring, etc., when my wife asked me if my lap was hot yet. I hadn't even thought about that, so of course it wasn't hot at all! I discovered why when I was packing it up after using it for a while on a table. Just left of where it was sitting on the table was a little hot, but underneath was fairly cool. It seems that the fan blows the heat straight to the left side instead of blowing it underneath. This allows the heat to escape and make your lap cooler as well as the underside of laptop itself. +1 for great design!

As for as Ubuntu? Almost flawless. I thought I had to call support to get Bluetooth working, but then I found the button to turn on the F12 key. That could have been an embarrassing phone call.

Note the word "almost" -- the one thing that I can't seem to get working right is to get Flash to use HDMI Audio. The HDMI Video works fine, and I got HDMI Audio to work out of normal Gnome apps, but Flash seems to cheerfully ignore the HDMI output and always goes to my speakers. Since my primary use of a developer machine and not a multimedia server, this is not a big deal.

The overall performance, however, is fantastic. The laptop boots in seconds, and every app I run starts in milliseconds. And I run Apache, PHP, MySQL and PostgreSQL most of the time. It finds my Android phone, Kindle, and iPod when I plugin them in and offers to start the right app.

So, after few weeks of fairly heavy use, would I recommend this laptop? Resoundingly yes! Especially if you are a developer in the open source space and just want everything to "just work". Everything just works for me -- without paying the Apple premium.

Maven Haikus

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You start a project

You initialize Maven

World is downloaded.

Dependencies Stink

What is the incantation?

Maybe God knows them.

Have some subprojects

Maven won't find sibling code

Then chaos ensues.

New dependency

Not found in Maven repo

Now build is broken.

Do you understand?

Maven has many errors

Now you start guessing

All day on Maven

Now the project is worse off

And your hair is gone

On Android

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I recently put my stake in the ground on the side of Android and, while I'm not quite up to my first month in usage yet, I can't think that the iPhone would be better than this. If you are an iPod user, you won't like having magical iTunes sync for music. But you can manually copy the files over and, if you don't like doing that, [there are apps][] [that do it for you.][]

I just got back from a trip and the GPS capabilities of our Android drive-by-drive directions were spot-on. Need to find a gas station? Literally hit the button and ask it.

I seriously couldn't ask for a better phone.

My wife likes her keyboard on her droid, but she also likes how much lighter my phone is than hers. I thought I would be annoyed by the Incredible's keyboard but I have gotten used to it. Or, rather, it's gotten used to me -- I now have a number of words added in and now it is smarter about spelling decisions.

screen when you are in direct sunlight (this is a big deal while geocaching) and sometimes it can be real slow when I turn it sideways. That especially happens when I'm typing something in and decide that I want to two-hand type, so I turn it. The screen generally does not rotate with it.

But the value and the usefulness of the phone outweighs all of them. I can't think I would like an iPhone more than this.

Carol and Robin

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This is the first in a series of Monday posts -- somewhat to get me out of the blog rut I'm in, and also because I tend to find interesting stuff on the weekend and post it on Twitter/Facebook. I might as well put it on my blog too.

I remember when this first aired (I think I was in junior high) and I still think it's hilarious. If the beginning seems slow to you, go forward to about the 6:23 mark -- when Carol and Robin do the skit a second time.

Expanding My Own Oh My ZSH!

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I've been thinking about cleaning up my own ZShell config and putting it out in the wild, but that just didn't seem to happen. I was looking for something in ZShell -- I think [it was getting version control information][] at the prompt and I stumbled upon a mention of[Oh My ZSH][] which is a bunch of powerful ZShell configs arranged in a nice way.

I tried it and I liked it. But it didn't have everything that I used. But, heck it's on github -- easy forking. [So I did.][] My changes are:

  • Change the xiong-chiamiov-plus theme to use vcs_info instead of being git-specific. Gave the new theme the original name of mikeh.
  • Option to configure a terminal with strange settings (labor intensive on the first run, perfectly wonderful after that.)
  • Will automatically rehash the path, so new commands will be found immediately
  • Added realias to quickly make a new shell alias/function (EDITOR env variable required)
  • Removed upgrade checker (I don't expect you to trust me)
  • Share history with your zsh’s on the same host

More changes coming as time permits. Enjoy!