Computer upgrade

I used to upgrade my PC based on the following simple formula: when CPUs of twice the speed of my current processor drop below £100, it’s time to move up.

Right now, though, I’m running on an AMD Duron 800Mhz from over two years ago, and Athlon XP 1600 processors are currently going for less than 50 quid. The main reason I haven’t upgraded yet is that I now do most of my games playing on my PS2 rather than on my PC. (And one of the joys of a console is that you don’t have to upgrade it to the latest hardware to run the latest games adequately.)

But I think I’m getting to the point where I’d like to upgrade my PC. The last game I played on it (Warcraft III) was noticeably sluggish when there were a lot of characters on screen, and when I’m running Virtual Machines, they aren’t as snappy as I’d like them to be. And if I plan to be running a Linux VM sort-of permanently, I’d quite like it to be snappy.

Unfortunately, my current motherboard (an Abit KT7) won’t take an Athlon XP. So I’ll have to upgrade the mobo. Also, it looks like all of the Athlon XP mobos only take DDR RAM, so my 512MB of PC133 isn’t going to be any use, either. My wireless LAN card sits in an adapter in the ISA slot on my current motherboard, but ISA slots seem to be extinct now, so I’ll have to get a PCI adapter instead. At least my Radeon video card will still be okay in an AGP slot.

All in all, I think I can put together a nice little upgrade package (Athlon XP1600+, or maybe higher, plus motherboard, plus 512Mb DDR RAM, plus PCI adapter card) for about £250. Also, I can probably recoup some of that cost by selling the old parts on Ebay. (We’ve played the game of keeping spare PC parts around to build new computers from them…but we have all the computers we reasonably need already.)

I think this is going to be a project for the new year, though. I need some time to get myself back up to speed on motherboard technology. I’m not looking for top of the line hardware, but I’d like to make sure that I’m not going to be buying a lemon.

Toad The Wet Sprocket reunited (temporarily)

Possibly the most exciting piece of news I’ve had this year (okay…maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one) was the email from the Glen Phillips mailing list a couple of weeks ago that said that Toad The Wet Sprocket are getting together again to play some gigs.

Big woo!

Toad The Wet Sprocket are one of my favourite bands of all time, and Scott and I were both mightily upset when they split up about four years ago. Now, none of them are saying that they’re going to get back together again permanently, but the fact that they’re playing some shows is just fantastic. From Glen’s site:

“Everyone is happy to be playing together again, but we’re keeping our goals very short term for the time being. It’s fun, and we’ve all surprised ourselves with how good we sound after five years of not playing together.”

Since they split up, Glen has done a solo album, and Todd and Randy have now finished two albums with Lapdog. Glen’s CD, “Abulum”, is a work of sheer beauty. It took me a while to get into some of the songs, but they are some of the finest pieces he has ever written. (I find it hard to even listen to “My Darkest Hour” too closely, because it makes my cry.)

And while Glen has been going all acoustic and mellow, Lapdog has been rocking the house. I don’t have their albums, but they have some mp3 downloads on their web site, and they sound energetic and fresh.

Basically, they’ve all been recharging their batteries, and doing fun new stuff that they enjoy. Bring them back together again as Toad, and the combination might well be pure magic.

Unfortunately, the shows they’re playing in December are all in California. And we’re not going back to CA this year. Damn.

But…. They are talking about a twenty city tour in February. And one of the last newsletters said:

“And for those of you non-west coasters, be patient, the new year could bring good news for you.”

To see Toad play would be utterly fantastic. I have this sneaky little plan brewing in the back of my mind…. In February flights to the East Coast of the US won’t be too expensive. The flights aren’t too long, either. So it might just be feasible to take a couple of days off work, fly out there, see a gig, and fly back. That would just be so cool!

Discussion board

One of the last things I did during this year’s Linux Experience was to try out some discussion board software before deploying it to Sunpig. I’ve been meaning to play around with this for a while, but it was only really last week that I found an incentive.

Richard had set up a chat board on EZBoard for his friends to hang out. But EZBoard’s free service throws huge banner, footer and popup ads at you, and their member signup forms are possibly the most deceptive I’ve ever seen. (One wrong click, and who knows how many mailing lists you’re on.) Also, the free service only lasts for so long before you have to upgrade to their paid service, and that time had come…

So, knowing that I have a bunch of space and bandwidth here on Sunpig, and the ability to install and run my own scripts, PHP, MySQL databases, etc. (through EZPublishing–our excellent web hosts), I offered to set up a board right here.

And just a few days later, it was up and running! The board runs on phpBB, which is a breeze to set up and get going. (I had a look at phpNuke as well, but phpBB is more lightweight, simpler, does all the basic stuff nicely enough, and has some spiffy default templates to go with it.)

If you want to come along and hang out, the board is at Note that it’s Richard’s board, not mine, but he says his intention was that he would invite his friends along to it, and then they would invote friends of their own. So just tell Rich that I sent you 😉

Martin’s Annual Linux Experience 2002 — wrapping up

Martin's Annual Linux Experience 2002Well, it looks like this year’s Linux Experience is drawing to a close. It’s been over a month since I switched my primary desktop to SuSE Linux 8.1, which is the longest I’ve ever held out. But it’s time to go back to Windows now.

It’s been an interesting month. I’ve learned a lot about setting up and configuring Linux, and the programs that run on it. My Perl has gone from rusted-away back up to passably acceptable. And I’m much more familiar with editing Apache’s httpd.conf files. And all this for an initial outlay of about £30! I reckon I’ve probably had more enjoyment out of that money than I get out of most £30-£40 games I buy. So it hasn’t been a waste of time by a long shot.

When I made the switch this year, I did expect to keep running some Windows apps. I thought that I would probably end up using VMWare to set up virtual Windows machines, but that didn’t work out. In fact, I think it’s going to end up the other way round. There are some Linux programs that are just too useful to give up. Our web host (EZPUblishing runs Linux servers with Apache on them. It would be really useful to be able to mirror that environment locally more effectively than I can with Apache on Windows. So my plan is to set up a stable Linux environment in a virtual machine. I can then use the VM as a local development server on our home network.

Overall, converting back to Windows is not going to be too much of a problem, because I hadn’t completely zapped my hard drive, and was using grub to multi-boot between Win and Lin. The main difficulty I’m running into is email. When I set up KMail, I set it up to use the maildir mailbox format, rather than the standard mbox format. KMail happily imported my Windows mail from Outlook Express, but going in the other direction is proving to be more difficult.

If I had my mail in mbox format, I could suck it into Mozilla mail in a snap. I could even import it into Outlook Express via the Eudora import filter, because Eudora uses the mbox format. But maildir? Uh-uh. Not a hope. I can’t even find a tool that will easily convert mail from maildir to mbox on Linux. The only thing that seems to do the trick is a widget that comes with qmail, but of all the Linux software I’ve installed and configured over the last month, qmail takes the biscuit for being the most difficult. And I’m not sure I can be bothered.

It looks like the simplest way is going to be the most time-consuming: KMail allows you to have both maildir and mbox formatted folders running at the same time. So I can create a new parallel mbox filing structure to mirror my maildir folders, and then copy messages from one to the other. Slow, laborious, annoying…but simpler than sodding qmail.

I find myself sad to have to go back to Windows. The XP desktop looks a little bit cold and plain now. KDE felt ragged at times, but it also had that little frisson of adventurousness–a sense that something strange, but maybe pleasant lay behind the next mouse click. Windows, I know inside-out, and it holds few secrets for me. But on the other hand, it also holds the joys of TextPad and Paint Shop Pro, and a faster version of Opera. It means a more productive me.

Linux will still be around, though, even if it is just in a Virtual Machine I fire up when I need it. And going on past experience, it’s only a year until the 2003 Annual Experience rolls around…

Microsoft: Why not?

Martin's Annual Linux Experience 2002I called Julian on Monday evening for a chat. We hadn’t spoken for a while, so we had a lot to catch up on. But instead we mostly talked about Microsoft, Linux, and why I’m choosing one over the other.

The conversation came at a good time. Julian disagrees with a lot of what I’ve been saying about Microsoft, and it’s useful to hear the opposite side of the argument. I enjoy writing this blog because it forces me to put all of my vague, incoherent thoughts and feelings into structured sentences, paragraphs, and arguments. (Or, at least, I try to.) By writing about my feelings, I come to understand them better. The only problem is that writing is a solitary activity, and it’s very easy to get locked into a train of thought, and ride it round and round in self-reinforcing circles.

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