My first stab at self-interview

In my last post I mentioned The Setup. This is my attempt to answer the questions.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Andy, and I work for IT Services at the University of Birmingham in a Service Desk management/development role. In my spare time I listen to and write about music, dabble in free and open source software (mainly Ubuntu), and am sporadically involved in the Isles of Darkness live action roleplay society.

What hardware are you using?

At work everything is largely generic. I have a Dell desktop that is coming to the end of its life, but that is still more than capable of dealing with most of my emailing and calendaring needs. It is plugged into a 17″ Sony monitor that has been with me for about 4 years now, and which I keep holding on to as it is one of the few desktop monitors I’ve used that doesn’t give me a headache after hours of staring at it (yes, I know a new monitor and more breaks might be a more sensible plan).

Most of my actual work is done on an (again) fairly generic Fujitsu Siemens laptop, which I started using a couple of years ago, and which allows me to type for hours without my wrists hurting. I wouldn’t recommend this laptop above any other, but it does the job.

At home I have pretty much left desktop computers behind. My main workstation is a Sony Vaio VGN-NS10l (dual core, 4Gb ram), which I bought a couple of years ago and deals with anything I throw at it. I’ve also got a 10″ Dell Inspiron Mini, which goes everywhere with me, and is increasingly becoming the computer I do most of my web browsing, email and writing on. My backup machines are a G4 iBook and a EeePC 701, and we’ve also got another Mac and a Wii plugged into the TV downstairs. My wife has several other computers which I’ll not mention here except to say that we have more computers than there are rooms in our house (by quite a lot). And that’s not counting the ones that are propping open doors or otherwise not really being used for anything productive any longer.

And what software?

Work is a mix of Windows XP (desktop) and Ubuntu 10.04 (laptop). In Windows I largely use Outlook for email and calendaring, office communicator for collaboration, and very little else. In Linux I use Firefox for browsing (with Chrome and Epiphany for testing), Evolution for email, Empathy and Dropbox for collaboration, for creating documents and spreadsheets, and (generally) Bluefish for coding. Recently I’ve been using GIMP a lot too, and have also been dabbling with a few command-line image conversion tools. I also maintain several instances of Mediawiki, as well as a full LAMP environment for development, and use google calendar to plan and maintain my work-life balance.

At home both of my laptops are running the latest version of Ubuntu, which I’ve used as my primary OS since 2005. I use largely the same software as I use at work, although I’ve recently reverted to using gedit for writing blog posts and other bits of text, and only venturing into OpenOffice when I want to make something available to other people. Home is also where I spend a lot of time playing with WordPress and Virtualbox, and where I use Rhythmbox to listen to music (and to catalogue what I’m listening to). I’ve also recently started using Google Reader, and I now don’t know how I coped without it.

My Macs run a very stripped down version of Leopard, and really only get used for iTunes and other media related things now (although I’d still use my iBook as my main portable computer if it weighed a little less). They also run Dropbox (as does every computer I own), and I’ve been syncing all my important files between all my machines for a couple of years now. I still can’t understand why more people don’t do this, and I’ve lost count of the number of times this one piece of software has got me out of a hole.

What would be your dream setup?

I change my mind about my ideal working environment a lot, but what I basically want is a laptop that is thin, light and stylish, and that can perform at the level where I could use it as my only computer (including storing 100gb of music). The nearest thing I’ve come across is the 13″ Macbook Pro, although I’d be happier with something the size and weight of my 10″ Dell Mini with all the power and stylishness of the Macbook Pro. Being able to run OS X and Ubuntu at the same time would also be great.

Of course, having used an iPad for the first time recently, I’d probably have to add that to my wish list, just because it’s a really stylish and functional piece of kit.

I also wonder if having a desktop computer with two large monitors would make me more productive. I have a feeling that most of what I do can be achieved on a single small screen, but it would be nice to have the opportunity to experiment with these things.

Question format borrowed from The Setup under the Attribution-Share Alike license.

Using wcid instead of NetworkManager on Ubuntu 8.10

This post came about due to an issue with NetworkManager connecting to our wpa-enterprise authenticated network at work, but demonstrates that there is more than one choice when it comes to almost everything on Linux. It’s not too fiddly, and I’ll hopefully have a rebuild of Ubuntu incorporating these changes within 24 hours.

First off, you need to add a line to your sources list, by issuing the following command:

sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list

Add the following line at the bottom of the file:

deb intrepid extras

Then press ctrl+o to save and then ctrl+x to quit and then issue the following command:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install wcid

This will download wcid (a network management tool that doesn’t suffer issues connecting to enterprise level networks), uninstall NetworkManager and then install wcid. At some point in this process you will lose network connectivity, but this is fine.

To make wcid start at boot, go to System > Preferences > Sessions and add a new item to startup. The path for the application is:


Reboot, and you should find that wcid adds an applet similar to nm-applet which will allow you to view available networks, and connect and configure them. I’ve tested this with my EeePC 701 and an Acer Aspire One (both running Ubuntu 8.10), and it is known to work (with a bit of tweaking) on Fedora 10 as well.

Why Thunderbird beats Evolution on a really small screen

I’ve used Evolution as my main mail client for ages, but it really doesn’t like my EeePC, so I thought I’d give Thunderbird a try. Not only does it display all my folders and messages far more clearly, but with the addition of a couple of extensions it makes navigation and moving messages a whole lot easier.


I’m still going to use Evolution at work, because I’m very much tied to Exchange, but I think for home use Thunderbird has come on a lot in the two years since I used it last, and I should at least give it a chance.

Have Asus dropped the ball by choosing Xandros for the EeePC?

For the past couple of weeks we’ve been piloting a laptop surgery at work. We’ve had several EeePCs bought in, and the general consensus of opinion was that they loved the hardware, but that Xandros looked ugly and wasn’t very functional. So what we’ve been doing is offering either Mandriva 2008.1 or the netbook respin of Ubuntu as an alternative (either on the internal SD card or on an external device). Feedback has been good, and I’ve had a few very productive chats with new Linux users over the past few days which have made me realise how vitally important user interface is. Users don’t want their computer to look like a dumbed down version of their last computer, but they do want something that is instinctive, stylish, and doesn’t get in their way.

Something for Asus and Xandros to think about perhaps.

Defining what I actually NEED

After taking my Eeepc away on a trip to Italy, I’m now starting to work out what applications I need and don’t need. The following is what I’m actually using (or am keeping because I think I might need them):

  • Gedit and Terminal (with which I can do most things)
  • Firefox
  • Evolution (yes, I use Evolution on a tiny laptop and it works for me)
  • Emapthy (for IM – it’s the future so I thought I’d start using it now)
  • (for presentations and reading documents sent to me)
  • VLC & Rhythmbox (for the growing collection of media on my spare SD card)

Apart from that, I don’t use anything graphical, and I’ve also got rid of anything that requires a CD drive, or bluetooth, or anything that the Eeepc doesn’t actually have.

Now to think about streamlining my other computers and also investigating why my external keyboard died half way through this post.


I’ve finally got round to getting an EeePC, and so far I’m really impressed. I’ve installed the latest version of Mandriva on it, and have a very functional Gnome desktop, which does everything I need it to do.

Installing Mandriva was a breeze – it was just a case of changing the BIOS to boot from my external CD drive, and also to enable wireless at boot so that the right modules were loaded. I’ve uninstalled a load of stuff I don’t need, added a couple of things, and at present I’ve still got 1.2gb free on the 4gb internal flash card.

I plan on getting another 4gb card and installing the original EeePC OS onto it for testing purposes.