eeePC - not for the masses

I managed to purchase one of these little gems in late April. I’ve been a longtime fan of Linux and Asus in general, so the thought of a little laptop running the free OS was enough to keep me dreaming until I broke down and ordered one. I bought a 7” model with the4 gig hard drive and an extra 2 gigs of ram. I did the ram install myself and setup the Advanced Desktop to my liking. The first several days were wonderful. I intended to use this to check email, read the internet, and watch streaming video piped to my TV. Then I started to notice some things…the newness was wearing off.

First - this thing is tiny. I knew that going in and anyone thinking about one should know that too. The idea of a tiny laptop didn’t scare me - I have medium to large size hands and work with computers every day. If anything a little less weight to carry would be good. I found the weight to be fine. However, I found the keyboard to be of just plain bad quality. What most have blamed on big fingers - I believe is a flaw in the design. My O and N keys consistently required more force to press than others in order to register a keystroke. In addition, the cramped spaces inside the device made it such that using a headphone plug on the side of the laptop was extremely difficult - hard to put in and hard to take out. The microphone port was fine…

Second - Linux is good. Asus branded Linux…not so hot. Initially, I was overjoyed that the flavor of Linux on the eeePC was Debian based - gotta love apt-get. However, repositories of definite quality and dependability are slim to none. Luckily, the eee has most of what you need - just hope you don’t need to update in the future.

Third - drivers within the default Linux for the wireless nic are just poor. Posts on can confirm this for anyone. If you’re connecting to an unsecured wireless access point - you’ll be pleased with the eee. I don’t give away my internet connection, and so have a standard Linksys WRT54g configured for WPA with a typed in key. Connecting to this with the eee got worse every time I booted the device - to the point of waiting for up to an hour for it to connect. It just didn’t seem to receive DHCP offers. Contrast that to my workhorse Lenovo laptop that connected every time before I could even log in to Windows. I don’t doubt that Asus used good quality parts - I believe that using hacked up drivers on a commerical product that results in a boot time of under 1 minute and a WPA access time of an hour is poor form. Shame on you Asus. I love Linux - and I even prefer Asus for my motherboards. But surely there are better supported wireless chipsets out there for Linux they could have used…

Fourth - Adobe Flash on Linux works well, for the most part. However, the speed of the eee coupled with poor Flash performance on Linux makes playing back videos on Hulu jittery and unwatchable. I tried every trick I could find, stopping only before overclocking (not worth it in my book). Perhaps the next Flash version will make this better? Let’s all hope so.

I could have lived with everything above except for the 3rd point. A device meant to be instant-on taking that long to connect to a wireless network I know is in good working order is infuriating. If I can boot up my Lenovo laptop with Visual Studio, Office 2007, etc. on it and beat the eee to the Internet - the eee is now just a paper weight. For that reason - the eeePC was the first item I’ve sold on eBay. I have no doubt that 90% of the audience of the eee loves it. Heck - I think it’s a brilliant device and one we’ll see cloned 100 times over. I’ll probably buy one of those clones. But of all the praise for the eee - it is still a niche product meant for a select few. Namely those with: small hands, limited application needs, unsecured wireless routers, and flashblock installed in FireFox.

Anybody have one of the eee Clones with Linux and good WPA wireless? Maybe I’ll try my luck again.

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Finding the last login date for all profiles

By day I am but an humble IT worker - currently tasked with maintaining and improving scripts and tools that keep our enterprise workstations humming. My largest project thus far has been an ever growing inventory script (now a .NET 2 app) that reports information back to a SQL database. This app is run on a schedule by a service I wrote. The script collects great pieces of information - everything from the screen resolution being used to information on SQL Server instances on the device (yep - inventories servers too!).

Anyway - one area that posed an issue was reporting back all profiles present on a computer and when they were last used. This can be done a number of ways - the simplest of which being to enumerate the folders in the Documents and Settings folder and then get the last modified date off of the ntuser.dat.log file within each directory. This file is a log (wow, couldn’t have guessed that!) of all registry actions for that specific user’s registry hive - think everything under HKEY_CURRENT_USER while you’re logged in. This works great - and has for a long time. Recent developments have changed some of that though…

What happens when AntiVirus crawls each user’s registry hive? It updates that file. Suddenly the inventory app was reporting each profile to be current as of the day the app was run…not good. I searched a long time via the Internet - and just poking around the registry for days. WMI didnt’ help any - and neither did a hunch I had about using the local computer as an Active Directory forest to find the last login time. I came across another file you can check - and I believe I’m the first on the net to post this.

Check the file date on this file:
C:\Documents and Settings<user>UserName\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Windows\UsrClass.dat.LOG

This has proved to be a reliable way of getting the last login time for each profile when the other log file isn’t reliable. I suspect that it may be updated on certain software installations - so beware. But in my case - this was a life saver. Have fun and let me know if it helps!</user>

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Boxes of Orden

I just finished reading Chainfire, by Terry Goodkind. I had taken a 2 year hiatus from reading the series and finally returned to it. If you’re looking to pick up recreational reading, I highly recommend the series. It starts with “Wizard’s First Rule”. Truly one of the best series of our time.

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Laptop BIOS/CMOS reset = pain

This post is for those individuals looking to see if this is possible… I just reset the BIOS on an HP Pavilion ZE4900 (laptop) by removing and replacing the CMOS battery. The online manual doesn’t show its location - but you need to complete disassemble the laptop down to removing the main board. The CMOS battery is located on the underside of the board toward the front of the laptop. Needless to say - the last four hours are hours I’ll never get back :-/

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The Resurgence of the Adventure Game Genre

I’ve been a gamer ever since I first laid eyes on an Atari. But of all the genres that I’ve enjoyed - the Adventure Genre stands out the most. What games are included on this list? Pretty much all Lucas Arts games…Monkey Island (1-4), Loom, Day of the Tentacle, etc. Because of my age, these games (for the most part) came out before I was old enough to realize that I needed to go buy them. As such, I acquired them from garage sales and relatives wanting to get rid of them. The adventure genre isn’t known for its replayability, graphics, or downright fun. What I’ve always enjoyed was the tongue in cheek humor provided by them. I’ve enjoyed the zany puzzles. I enjoyed the “talkies”.

These kind of games have been abandoned as a viable genre. Monkey Island 4 was the last great (if you can call it great - it used the keyboard more than the mouse) adventure game released by Lucas Arts….all the way back in the year 2000. So for seven years the world has needed a fresh adventure game. Who stepped up to the plate? Telltale Games. Building on the success of Lucas Arts’ old Sam & Max adventure game, Telltale Games built and released episodic Sam & Max adventure games through GameTap (a monthly PC game subscription service). A friend of mine lets me use his secondary account, and I’ve been gladly enjoying Sam & Max for the last six months. They’ve completed the “first season” of the game (6 games) and are now offering it for sale at their online store. To be honest, Sam & Max is the ONLY PC game I’ve been playing in the last six months. None of the rest have held my attention (or been as entertaining).

Here’s a brief rundown on how I’d score this game if I was reviewing for an online game site:
<ul><li>Graphics: 5/10 - The game doesn’t push my GPU hard at all. However, it’s a cartoony looking game with 3D graphics and nicely modeled characters. If it got much more graphically intensive, it wouldn’t have the comic feel that it should. You should be able to run this game on just about any PC you could have bought in the last 4-5 years.</li><li>Replayability: 4/10 - Once again - this isn’t what adventure games are about. You may replay the game once every few years. I tend to explore every aspect of an adventure game the first time through, so replaying is done more for nostalgia sake than anything else.</li><li>Sound: 10/10 - the voice acting and ambient music are excellent and really contribute to the feel of the game. The Sam & Max voice actors remind me of the old cartoon that was being produced years ago. So yes…this is a “talkie” :)</li><li>Humor: 8/10 - The humor in this one (and most adventure games) is very dry. My humor is the same, so I found the games to be pretty funny. At times, the jokes and dialogue just didn’t tickle my funny bone - but they made my wife laugh. Good stuff.</li><li>Challenge: 7.5/10 - This is one area where I was a bit disappointed. The old Lucas Arts adventure games many times had you combining different items in your inventory to do things (sometimes multiple items). These games didn’t do that at all. To top it off, each game generally had a similar premise - Find out problem, get tool from the inconvenience store, solve problem. Not that this was a totally bad thing - but a little more interactivity with the items in the inventory would have been appreciated. At other times, the puzzle completely stumped me and I ended up cheating (yeah I know…don’t say it). I didn’t ever get that same feeling that I got when playing the first couple Monkey Island games when I’d solve some rediculous puzzle using multiple combined items and timing my mouse clicks right. The game was still rewarding though.</li><li>Worthy of purchase: 11/10. If you’ve ever enjoyed adventure games, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up and play through it (all 6 episodes). I’m not advertising for TellTale here - but I think they’ve done the Sam & Max franchise justice.</li></ul>If you’re interested in purchasing the entire series, the TellTale store has it. You might also think about getting a 3 month subscription (or longer) to GameTap. It’s a pretty neat service and has alot of good games to pick from besides the Sam & Max Series.

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