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Scott's Column
Lindows & The Deck is Finished

June 1, 2004
By Scott Lewis

Well, I finished the deck... almost. Just a very left, so I don't have pictures this month. I also took a look at Lindows. I have been impressed by their newsletter touting applications like Lphoto and Lsongs as good applications for keeping music and pictures organized. I want to try it out. How did I like it. You'll have to read on to find out.

Lindows

Lindows. Linspire. Linux like Windows. Whatever. I got my hands on a copy of Lindows 4.5 something. I decided I wanted to try it out. Since I hardly use my desktop anymore I decided I would try to load it on my laptop.

If you recall, I mentioned in a previous column that I was able to run LindowsLive! on my laptop when the hard drive was experiencing a failure. LindowsLive! will run Lindows from the CD without installing it. I decided to try and load it and see if I could get it to connect to my network and the Internet.

A few months ago I told you that my laptop was having a bit of an overheating problem. It would shut down when it was too hot. I have turned the CPU speed down in the power configuration utility in the control panel. This has helped a lot. It rarely shuts down from heat. Well, the Lindows install has no way of slowing down the CPU, so it runs full tilt. It took me four tries to get Lindows to install. I had to put an ice pack under the laptop to keep it cool enough. Even with the ice pack it still had trouble. I had to hold the ice pack up to the heat sink on the back of the laptop as well. What a pain. My wife says I should take it in, but I don't know if they can really help. I will have to look into it. Maybe next month. This month is about Lindows.

I finally got Lindows up and running. The install only asked a couple of questions, but it took a very long time. I have not timed a Windows install in a while, but I know it doesn't take THAT long. Prior to installing Lindows I used Partition Magic to create a Linux partition of 10 MB and told Lindows to install on it. It spent a fair amount of time initializing that partition. This bothered me for a couple of reasons. First, Partition Magic spent a fair amount of time prepping that partition as a Linux partition, so why did it need to be initialized? Second, since it took me 4 tries to install Lindows, why didn't the install realize on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th attempts that it had already completed the initialization step. Not a very intuitive installer. I remember reading about Lindows and they used to claim it could be installed by a "non-techie user" in under ten minutes. It took a little more than an hour to install from beginning to end (for just the final try that succeeded). Since I had to constantly hand hold the laptop to keep it cool enough to finish I hated the install.

Once Lindows was up and running I had two problems. The first problem was the "boot loader" defaulted to loading Lindows. A boot loader is used when you have more than one operating system. It allows you to pick which operating system loads when you turn the computer on. Since I am not the only one using the laptop I wanted it to default to Windows XP. I searched Lindows' site and found pretty clear instructions for changing the order of items for the boot loader. These instructions were clear, but not easy. It is not for those that don't like getting into the working of startup files and such. It was like editing an INI file manually. Overall I was pleased and now had Windows XP booting as the default OS. I would prefer a GUI tool to edit the configuration file of the boot loader, but I can live without it.

Problem two was the "touch pad" did not work. The touch pad being the mouse on the laptop. This concerned me because it worked just fine when running LindowsLive, but not in Lindows. Go figure. I searched Lindows' site and they didn't have any information about getting a mouse to work. They just allowed me to search for compatible hardware. There was no mention of Toshiba mouse equipment listed. One of the options from the boot loader is to re-detect. I took this to mean it would try again to detect all my hardware. I ran this and when Lindows booted up the touch pad was working.

With all the basic hardware working it was time to start checking out Lindows. About the only thing I got to was the boot time. It took over 4 minutes for Lindows to boot from the moment I selected it in the boot loader. I did not use a stop watch, but just used the minutes on my alarm clock. The fact that I could use a clock with onle minutes to time this operation is terrible. When the laptp boots up under Windows XP it does so in under a minute. Strike one Lindows.

Lindows & Wireless

Since I use the laptop wirelessly the next order of business was to try and get that working. I found a wireless section in its network connections area. I plugged in the name of my wireless network (the SSID of my router). It claimed it started using it, but nothing was present. I tried rebooting and it still did not find the wireless network. I logged onto Lindows web site again and searched for wireless information. It listed a small handful of wireless adapters that it works with. It also had a huge list of wireless network adapters that it thought it should work with even though they were not tested. The adapter built-in to the laptop was not present. Neither was my Linksys adapter that I am presently not using, so I can't try that route. I remember when I tried running LindowsLive it did not detect my Linksys card, so I didn't even bother trying with Lindows. I did try to search Toshiba's web site to see if they would have drivers for their wireless network card for Linux. That turned up nothing.

At this point I decided to give up on Lindows for the time being. Maybe they will get support for more wireless adapters in the future. Until then I will leave it behind. However I am planning on doing a little research to see if Red Hat or Mandrake Linux support my wireless needs. More on that next month.

Removing Lindows

Since I was willing to leave my hard drive partitioned up, all I really needed to do to remove Lindows was to remove the boot loader program. If I can't get to Lindows that should be good enough. I had to search Google to find instructions for removing the boot loader Lindows installed on my computer. I find this a little odd that they did not have this information on their own web site. It was relatively easy, and worked like a charm. I still have the partition defined in Partition Magic for when I am ready to use another version of Linux.

Games on the Laptop

When I partitioned everything I left about 37GB for a "D" drive. This is where I will keep data. Mind you I keep most data on my fileserver, so this is over kill for the laptop. I think it is about time I started to get back into gaming, and use the laptop to do so. I will load Virtual CD and use the space on the "D" drive to store the disc images. This will allow me to load a few games on the laptop running Virtual CD instead of jockeying CDs around.

Now I just need to find some games to play. This is tougher than you might think. The laptop does not have a mouse, just that dreaded touch pad. This eliminates any games that require fast mouse work. I loved Warcraft II and would play it today if it was still fun. Unfortunately it is not fun against the computer. The computer is too easy. I also liked Starcraft and found it to be more challenging against the computer than Warcraft, but games would get tedious over time. I was hoping to really like Warcraft III, but found that even on the easiest level the game was almost impossible to play against the computer. Without the practice against the computer I couldn't get good enough to play online. It was just going to require too much of my time to get good enough to enjoy the game. I heard that they released a patch to Warcraft III that would let you play against the computer at the easy level. When I last played War3 the "easiest" level was the normal level. So maybe I should give it a try again. But there is that mouse/touch pad issue. Warcraft would be a nightmare with a touch pad. Do I really want to buy a mouse to lay in bed playing games? I don't think so. Also, War3 would be overly time consuming. 

I need a game that I can enjoy. It has to have a short learning curve, so I can get good enough in a reasonable time. I need to be able to boot it up quickly, and exit it quickly. I never know when I will get the time to start it, or have to walk away from it. If it is a progressive game I should be able to easily & quickly save my progress. Finally, I should be able to have fun with about 15 to 30 of playing at any given time. Simple. Maybe I need more cerebral games, that don't require a major click-fest. Does anyone know of some games like this?

The Deck

Well, I finally finished the deck. It took a long time. As some long time reads will recall this project started last year just before school ended, and it took until this year. Wow, almost a year to build a deck. The main reason it took so long is that I am not skilled enough to do the work myself, and I was trying to build it for as little cash outlay as possible.

To accomplish my goals I needed to get my brother-in-law's help on a number of occasions. I did not want to impose too much, and I didn't always have time when he did. So it took a while before it all came together. Also, I didn't have as much time as would have liked to work on it. Finally, we saved a boat-load of money doing it this way. I built the deck for a little less than $4,000, including everything. The deck is about 500 sq. ft. in size, and the deck surface is composite material.

Composite material costs quite a bit more than regular pressure treated lumber, but it lasts a long time with little to no maintenance. If you do the math you will see that we built the deck for about $8/sqft. Not bad. A friend of mine paid someone to build a deck for him. His deck is fully composite with every piece of lumber covered in composite material. He paid about $17/sqft. That was not too bad considering he didn't have to lift a finger.

I used regular pressure treated lumber for the railing. I will eventually replace the railing with something that is better looking and at least as durable and maintenance free as the composite material. However, that is a few years away. Someday I want to expand the deck with a larger area for table and chairs. When I expand the deck I will also consider extending the deck all the way around the pool. If I do that I will be making the decision to keep an above ground pool. I think a built in pool will just be far too expensive (especially with all the rock we live on) to be a practical investment.

Also in the plans when the deck gets expanded will be all new railing. My brother-in-law is thinking about getting into welding. He says we can save a bunch of money on materials if we weld up a nice looking railing. That will take time, so it will wait. I saw a picture in an online magazine that showed aluminum tubes running between the upright posts for a railing. It looked really cool. I want that. I don't know how to do it yet, but I will figure it out.

At this point I am done... for quite a while. Now it's time to get back to clearing the trees beyond the pool in our backyard. That should take up a summer full of weekends.

Until next time...
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