Jolicloud saved my 5-year old!

So the airport antenna on my 5-year-old son’s PowerMac G5 (coincidentally also 5 years old) has been gradually degrading over the past couple of weeks, deteriorating into complete failure this weekend. This isn’t good, because without his Airport antenna, son has no Internet, and without Internet son has no Spongebob Squarepants on his computer, and without Spongebob, he keeps bugging Mom to use her computer, which upsets Mom, which then eventually means that I never hear the end of it.

Rather than spend $30 on a second-hand Airport antenna on eBay, my temporary solution was to set up my son with my Asus EeePC 701 running Jolicloud, connected to an old 17-inch VGA display. Son gets access to internet, Spongebob and other flash games (via Friv), therefore doesn’t bug mom, and everyone’s happy. I would never have thought that my EeePC under previous OSes such as EeeBuntu or CrashBang Linux would have been usable by my five-year-old, but Jolicloud is very accessible.

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love + hate = netbook

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with my netbook, an Asus EeePC 701 I bought two years ago, at the very dawn of the netbook era. In retrospect I should have waited before buying, because now I’m stuck with a netbook that’s too small, its keyboard too cramped, storage too tiny (non-upgradeable 4GB SSD) in comparison to today’s netbook offerings.

My Eee PC spends most of its time sitting on my desk, unused. I’ll dust it off every few months, when a new version of EeeBuntu or CrunchEee is released, to test the latest in EeePC-optimized distros (CrunchEee is my favorite), but mostly the thing sits idle.

R.I.P., SpyMac

Does anyone remember SpyMac? Several years ago, it used to be a vibrant Mac-centric online community that offered some great free or low-cost alternatives to dot-mac products such as mail and iDisk. SpyMac used to offer free email as well as one gig of online storage (at a time when such things were rare and unheard of). SpyMac was one place online where the Mac force was strong, and attracted Mac fans of every stripe.

I just visited spymac.com today, and was shocked to find it unrecognizable. It has transmogrified into “Leapfrog,” some kind of Web 2.0 social networking and video site, where people can upload their home-made videos and receive payouts. It also boasts of face-to-face chat and post pictures of each other. It seems to be a generic hodge-podge of Youtube, MySpace and Facebook that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Mac. The only vestige that remains from the old, Mac days is the logo.

Digging deeper, I discovered that the old school Mac-centric SpyMac site is still up at classic.spymac.com, but it hasn’t been updated in a long time. If you’re feeling industrious, dedicated or nostalgic, the whole sordid story of what happened to SpyMac can be read in this thread. The beginning of the end was the advent of Leapfrog, summarized in this press release. The long and short of it, as I see it: SpyMac grew too big, too fast; it incorrectly identified the needs of its audience, leading to bad decisions and resources being allocated where they shouldn’t have gone. SpyMac, the site and its services, were down more often, and members stopped visiting the site, and stopped caring. Stuck with a whole bunch of expensive server hardware and infrastructure to service an audience that no longer cared, apparently the site’s owners decided to launch Leapfrog as an attempt to recoup their losses.

The end result: a tragic and ignominious descent into mediocrity. So long, SpyMac; I prefer to think of you as you were, not as you are.

Advice For The Young At Heart

A young friend of mine was complaining about how older freelance web designers seem to talk down to younger freelance web designers because of their age and relative inexperience. I gave him this advice:

My advice to you is to believe in yourself, and be brutally honest with yourself about your abilities and your limitations.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, because only you can be the judge of that.

If you ever happen to hit a wall because of your relative inexperience, learn from it, and don’t make the same mistake in the future. Marc Andreessen was 17 when Netscape became a multi-million dollar company. Filo and Wang were in college when Yahoo! made it big.

Listen to everyone’s advice, young, old or middle-aged; everyone’s got some truth to share or experience to pass on. Use your own internal BS filter to separate the useful nuggets from the useless crap.

Be humble. No one likes an arrogant smart ass, no matter what age he or she is.

Here endeth the lecture. (Steps off soap box)

Life With Eee PC, Day 20: Integration

I’ve had my Eee PC for nearly three weeks. In that time I’ve used it to write many emails on GMail (tried Evolution Mail but it’s just too expansive to fit on the tiny screen), written some online course answers using AbiWord, scanned my wife’s transcript using the XSane Image Scanner, socialized via Twitterfox and gtwitter — in short, it’s become a useful tool rather than a novelty gadget. All this is apart from its daily use as my personal media player (PMP).

My replacement 8GB SDHC card finally arrived courtesy of Newegg, so now I’m rocking an extra 12 gigs of storage (SDHC card + 4GB flash drive) over and above the 4GB internal SSD. I had initially thought that I would use the SDHC card as a test bed to dual-boot the Eee PC, but I’m finding that I’m really happy with EeeXubuntu, and I don’t feel the need to switch to any other OS at the moment. EeeXubuntu is fast, stable, usable, and with access to the entire Ubuntu repositories, highly expandable (something the default Xandros OS is not).

These folks are trying to get Mac OS X Tiger running on the Eee PC.  So far the main problem seems to be that the OS 10.4.9 kernel thinks that one second is 2.6 seconds long on the Eee PC. Several people on the site are offering cash rewards for solutions to getting OS X running smoothly on the Eee PC. Personally, even though I love the Mac OS, I don’t think it’s a good fit for the Eee PC; I think it would need to be heavily modified before it could be useful on the tiny wonder. I’ll be watching their progress, though.

Eee PC as Personal Media Player

One thing I really like about using my Eee PC as a Personal Media Player (PMP) as opposed to what I’d erstwhile been using, my 5th-gen iPod with video, is that I no longer have to use iSquint (a tremendous piece of software, don’t get me wrong) to convert each and every one of my DivX files to mpeg-4 or h.264, the only video formats that the 5G iPod understands.

With VLC installed on my Eee PC, I can view pretty much any video format ever devised.

Having no limitations on what video formats will work on my PMP?

I could get used to this.