Acer Aspire One L150 mini-review

Acer Aspire One L150

A few months ago we were given a couple of old laptops by some relatives. I cleaned both of them up, gave one a fresh install of XP Home and the other Ubuntu. The former has now become the family PC and the latter is sitting on top of some draws in my room unused because the power supply connector is nearly unusable.

Being the lazy person I am, wanting to be able to watch TV and surf from the comfort of my bed, I decided I needed a laptop that actually works. When someone on the UKHA mailing list pointed to an offer on Amazon for an Acer Aspire One L150 (white) for 199, I decided I had to go for it. I wasn’t too keen on the white netbook though, so I paid a little more for a lovely blue number.

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2009 Goals

Inspired by my friend David’s own post, this is my brief review of 2008 and my goals for 2009.

There hasn’t been any major change in my life through 2008 (that I can reveal on here, anyway), but I’ve managed to do plenty of interesting things at work. I think the thing that 2008 will be remembered for is the dramatic downturn in the world economy, though fortunately I’ve not been touched by it so far other than seen dramatic interest rate cuts on my savings.

For 2009 I hope to:

  • Become a Microsoft Certified Professional
  • Complete a software project I’m working on, and sell it
  • Buy a house/flat
  • Get more exercise
  • Push for a revival of socialising at work (it’s died off over the last year)
  • Have another great holiday somewhere with friends from uni
  • Do more non-C# coding, to revive the broadness of my programming skills base – specifically PHP

No plans to move abroad, though moving somewhere else in the UK isn’t out of the question – depends on the circumstances and the incentives.

Let’s hope that 2009 brings a more promising outlook for the economy.

Power monitoring with CurrentCost

CurrentCost monitor

The CurrentCost power monitor has become very popular amongst amateur home automators and those technically-savvy who want to keep an eye on how much electricity they are using (and ultimately how much they are going to have to pay in bills). A couple of months ago I purchased the CurrentCost device and a USB cable to connect it to a computer from eBay. Having just seen their eBay store, it looks like they’ve got a fantastic new model on the way, but this article is about the older version.

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KillerLight: A new WordPress theme

KillerLight screenshot

It’s been a long time coming, but I have finally produced my own design for this site.

KillerLight is based on the theme of ‘illumination’. I wanted it to give the impression that things have been illuminated by artificial means, and I looked to a few existing WordPress themes for an idea of what needed doing.

It’s taken about 3 days to put together, just in time for the new year. It was created using a mix of Photoshop, Eclipse (with PHPEclipse) and Notepad++ (for CSS editing). This is my first WordPress theme, and the first serious bit of web design I’ve done in a while.

I also did a little bit in Flash, attempting to have the header rainbow stuff animated and fading between different colours, but there were too many issues so I’ve put that idea on hold for the moment. You can view my attempt if you like by sticking the querystring ‘?animate=true’ on the end of the URL. I know that it doesn’t work in FF on Ubuntu, probably because the Flash player implementation for Linux is a little different.

I don’t have IE 6 at home, so I’ve not been able to test in that. However I assume it will be quite broken, so for anyone unfortunate enough to still be using < IE 7, they will be warned that things won’t look nice and be advised to upgrade or get a different browser. Seems to work fine in FF 3 and Safari (Windows) though.

This theme is not by any means perfect, and there’s plenty more work to do on some of the bits that aren’t commonly accessed. With that in mind, if you spot any issues, please report them in the comments of this post.

Source code for the VAMS-0808 serial interface

As promised, here’s the source code for my VAMS-0808 interface. It’s in C#, with C# projects included, and can be opened in Visual C# Express or full Visual Studio 2005 or greater. There are two test projects included – one which just writes status changes out to the console, and a WinForms project (which runs in mono) for full interaction.

Whole House Audio system: version 1 is complete

Over a year after it began, the whole-house-audio project is complete. 4 rooms around the house can now be filled with the sound of any of (currently) 4 audio devices thanks to a mixture of hardware and software.

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Low voltage power supply, ventilation & lighting

One thing that has been lacking since the first build of the rack is ventilation. With both sets of doors closed, the inside can get quite warm, especially when iron is turned on. Not any more though, having just completed the installation of 2 active ventilation zones, lighting and a low voltage power supply system complete with rack-mount control panel.

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The audio system that I’m building requires 2 low-power computers: 1 for the touchscreen controller (not using an iPod Touch for the moment) and 1 to act as a webserver and serial-console server.

Once again eBay has come to the rescue, and by searching for ‘geode’ – a low-power processor for Thin Clients & Small Form Factor (SFF) PCs – I found the 2 machines that I needed. These are the specs:

magnesium (the black one)

  • 800 MHz Geode
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 6 GB CF drive
  • Onboard graphics, audio, serial, parallel, USB & 10/100 ethernet

70 + P&P

potassium (the grey one)

  • 300 MHz Geode
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 6 GB 2.5″ IDE drive
  • Onboard graphics, audio, serial x2, parallel, USB & 10/100 ethernet

35 + P&P

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Topped off

I’ve finally gotten around to fixing the top to the rack cabinet. It’s made from the door of an old storage-only cabinet, which was actually a fridge/freezer cabinet from Ikea. The top has been cut into the correct proportions for a while, but has just sat cluttering my floor until now.

To allow the many cables to enter the cabinet a notch of approx 8cm square was cut out of one of the panels. These two panels could then be slid together without the need to disconnect any cabling already in place.

Unfortunately I’ve discovered that the top of the cabinet isn’t exactly square – it’s slightly warped, as the photo below shows when the top had been fixed. I’m not happy with this so at some point I’ll have to put some effort into correcting it. Next time I build a rack I’ll make the top and bottom in more of a similar manner, with a known square-angled piece on which to fit the timber supports.

The top currently has no ventilation, but that will change soon thanks to a lovely huge ‘Big Boy’ fan.

The case of the exploding CD

As part of the Whole-House-Audio system I’m building I’ve been forced to install Windows on one of the thin-clients (more details soon). I started off with Windows 98, but found that it doesn’t support USB optical drives – the thin PC doesn’t have any removable media drives – then tried Windows 2000. Everything started off fine, got past the partitioning part and onto copying the initial files. I went downstairs for a few minutes and on my return I noticed that the installer had stalled and the drive was making an odd noise. Thinking that the disc may have just become dislodged I ejected the drive to find the fragments shown above.

The genuine Windows 2000 CD, made back when MS first started off making the cool shiny holographic CDs, had completely disintegrated in the drive. There were no obvious defects when it was inserted, so I can only surmise that the discs weren’t manufacturered with todays high-speed drives in mind.

The USB DVD-Writer was new, having only unwrapped it a few hours earlier. There’s no way that an exploding CD would be covered under warranty, so I chose to attempt to fix the problem. Dismantling the enclosure and drive was harder than I thought, but I learned a lot about the good build quality of them in the process.

After removing the large shards by hand and using an air duster (outside) to remove the tiny fragments, I reassembled the drive. Fortunately it seems to work, at least the reading part does. The writing part caused errors when I tried it on one machine, but that could just be down to that machine. Since I now had no working Windows 2000 CD I ended up installing XP SP2.

Coincidentally a few days earlier I had Stumbled across an article discussing an experiment to find out the fastest that optical media could be spun before disintegrating, with some quite scary findings about just how much damage the resulting shards can do. I can’t find that article, but here’s something a little less scientific-looking.