Setting up my secretary

This has been a terribly frustrating weekend. I had a lot I wanted to do… too much I had to get done – but I have been spinning my wheels. First of all, I feel exhausted. A lot of that is because of the unending heat, I’m sure.

But mostly I feel energized by accomplishment and that has been in short supply. Too much time working on repairs and not enough getting things fixed. Candy’s laptop is hosed (yes, it is a Vista machine and yes, it sucks) and that is causing me all kind of headaches. I can handle one problem, usually, but when multiple screwups come screaming down at once it all coalesces into a hopeless shitstorm of helplessness… you get the idea.

There is only one little thing that makes me smile this weekend. I have been successful in getting my secretary set up like I want it and that is good.

I bought a secretary for my office room a little over a month ago and I’ve been working on setting it up as a writing station. It was good for using my pens and doing some note-taking and hadwriting, but I kept wanting to type up work and would have to leave the secretary and walk over to my laptop – back and forth. I needed computer access – without taking up much space and without taking away digital capability from anywhere else.

So I dug out Candy’s old Dell Latitude D600. It’s what? About seven years old now? That’s ancient in computer terms. We bought it off of eBay back in the day. It’s way too weak sauce to run Windows anymore, but I have Linux on it, and it chugs along, doing what I need to do. I drilled a hole in the back of the secretary for the power cord and it sits folded up, back in the shelving unit, out of the way, until I need to pop it out and open it up.

Since I want to use it for writing, I did some thinking about software. Maybe I’m finally turning into an old fart – but I still miss typing into a console-based word processor (I still think Wordperfect 5.1 – the old white-text-on-blue was the best environment for pure writing). There are plenty of console-based text editors for Linux, but no full-featured word processor.

I found through LifeHacker and a book from the library, Ubuntu Kung Fu, (don’t know what I found first) that I could install a little dos emulator and then run a free version of Microsoft Word for Dos from Microsoft, full screen, no problemo.

If nothing else, the idea of getting something free from Microsoft…. So I did the work, and there it is. Old-school. But it is pretty cool, really. It prints, it saves… no distracting Internet – but it even has text-based mouse support (that little square cursor jumping across the page). Easy on the eyes, no tiny delay while you are typing, no onscreen fonts, formatting… nothing, nothing between my fingers and the pure words.

My secretary setup

My secretary setup

Here’s my setup – you can see the old laptop up and running Microsoft Word for DOS. To the left, I have a stack of Moleskines (notes and such). Above that is a cubby with a bottle of Noodlers Black ink (for the desk pen), a box of 3×5 cards (hidden back in the shadow) and a few spare fountain pens (A white Pilot Prera and some Sheaffer Snorkels). On the right are the current writing books I’m working through and a Staples Bagasse composition book with a desk pen set on top. That’s an Esterbrook desk pen in the Eight-Ball base (bought the pen and base separately at Canton – put a new bladder and lever into the pen). These are common pens from back in the day, but they write really well and have interchangeable nibs. I’m using a 9314M medium stub nib in there right now.

I Make the Switch (danger, geekiness ahead)

I have this image in my mind. There are the two guys, the cool, young, hip Mac guy and the old, chubby loser PC Geek.

The PC Guy and the Mac Guy

The PC Guy and the Mac Guy

They argue for a while then stand there, hand in hand, then… Have you ever seen Bambi Meets Godzilla? Watch it. I love the chord at the end.

That’s what I see in my mind, the big Godzilla foot crushes the two guys, the Mac guy and the PC guy. But Godzilla’s foot says, “Linux” on it.

PC and Mac guy meet Linux Godzilla

PC and Mac guy meet Linux Godzilla

The first time I ever gave Linux a shot was… I don’t know, a long time ago – an eon ago in computer time. These were the days when you still logged on to the Internet through a dial-up connection to America Online (I miss the tones of the dial connection and modem negotiation, the comforting hiss of the data stream starting, coming out of the tinny little speaker). I found a boxed copy of SUSE Linux at a thrift store in Mesquite, Texas. The box had a stack of 3.5 inch floppy disks and a thick, confusing manual. It was on the miscellaneous shelf between the used dishes and the mismatched shoes. It cost one dollar.

It might have been version 4.2, I don’t remember. That was the first version and should have been version 1.1, but they wanted to give it the number of Life, the Universe, and Everything. That sense of nerd humor is one of the nice things to permeate the Linux community.

That old SUSE distribution never ran very well – I think I installed it on a very crappy old 386SX, or something like that. But it gave me a taste and I thought it was cool enough to stay interested and I could definitely get the feeling for the possibilities to come.

So a few years later, I built a custom box and decided to put Linux on it. After shopping distributions and trying a few different ones out, I settled on Fedora Core 6. I was ecstatic.

My home computing setup was to have two boxes under my desk. One ran Fedora and the other Windows. I could switch between them with a KVM switch, which worked pretty well. I even built a switch box so I could play music on one computer and work on the other.

But as time went by, I pretty much stopped using Windows altogether. One by one, the dominoes fell and the Linux Open Source versions of applications became superior to the Windows Junk (plus they were free) and I only used Window for ITunes (to keep my Touch loaded).

I would upgrade my Fedora, usually every other upgrade, on through Fedora 13. Especially, once the Live CD spins became common, I would play around with other distributions. I found some of the smaller, lighter distros extremely helpful in fixing or rescuing other people’s crapped out Windows stuff. I built a server (now undergoing rebuilding) for music, file backup, and web hosting and put Ubuntu on it because the current Fedora choked on its odd video setup.

Over the years I switched from the desktop setup to a Toshiba Laptop running Fedora and Windows in a dual-boot configuration. Still, I rarely booted to Windows – only for Itunes, Adobe Illustrator (I use The Gimp instead of Photoshop, but still haven’t come around to Inkscape over Illustrator) and Dragon Naturally Speaking. Oh, and streaming Netflix – It drives me nuts I can’t do that on Linux.

The other day I cleaned up the laptop, reinstalled Windows (No matter how careful you are, that piece of crap still will eventually get larded up with malware and have to be redone) and moved up to Fedora 15.

And it crapped out. I tried and tried and could not get the newest bleeding edge Fedora distribution to work on my Toshiba. Up until then it had loaded and run without a hitch, but it kept freezing up at unpredictable times. I played around with video drivers and such, but realized I didn’t have time for this crap.

So I installed Ubuntu 11.04, Natty Narwhal. Not a hitch.

So now I’ve switched. I’m still of two minds about Unity, the new Ubuntu desktop, but It’s starting to grow on me.

I’ve never been a great proponent of brand loyalty, but in some ways, by switching Linux distributions, I feel like I’ve abandoned an old friend. Out with the old, in with the new.

Now I’m an Ubuntu freak. Yee-haw.