Stumbling to Freedom

I’m home in the UK temporarily and I am having to deal with the painful realities of home computing.

I have myself (partly) to blame. I’ve bought some crap hardware, but haven’t we all?

Though I don’t know what possessed me to purchase a CIT200 Linksys Skype phone for my parents. Well I know why. So my parents could communicate cheaply. Unfortunately the USB device is dependent on Win32 drivers. So moving them over to Ubuntu dapper, not possible. Also Skype is proprietary FOOL. Argh…

One step at a time you might say. They’re not quite used to OpenOffice yet. They’ve been using the pre-bundled Microsoft Works 7 (.wps files), which aren’t compatible with OpenOffice. Oh no. In fact wps files aren’t compatible with new versions of Microsoft Office.

Oh, WTF?

Thanks to a online resource I installed a plugin for Works7 to export wps files into Word compatible RTF files. Those files I can import into OpenOffice.

That’s painful. My mother has made quite a few documents that each have to be manually updated to doc and then opendocument text (odt). That’s painful.


A simple letterhead of my parent’s business shows the import is leaky. God knows how to extend that border line to the right. Or correct the font. I frustratingly tried to edit and format the letterhead and it couldn’t get it to align nicely to right. What a pain.

Our good neighbour Morley has been more keen to use Linux. He is a complete novice and I helped order the parts from with him two years ago. He never got it working and since recently returning to Praze Farm I had a look at his machine.

A local computer store said his Radeon 7000 works. It doesn’t. He did manage to procure an old Matrox PCI MGA which does work. He got as so far as to install Fedora, but never managed to get the dialup modem working. I noticed he was trying to get a Winmodem working. sigh

He says he is familiar with Fedora since he had some Linux Format magazine guide. Of course I want him to use Debian, or Debian based like Ubuntu Dapper. Now I have to convince to, re-install. Pain. I am also trying to convince him to get broadband now.

Years ago I bought my parents a mini-itx (when they were all the rage) based machine from scam, sorry who built a very noisy machine. Recently I just turned off the fan and took the side case panels off. Seems to be OK. I want to “upgrade” the machine as the USB ports are dodgy, the network card hates DHCP and the sound card doesn’t work. I did hunt around for a machine, but the Mac mini might be again too painful for my parents and it doesn’t have a mic jack for Skype. WTF.

I looked around dabs and I can’t believe they sell machines with 256mbs of RAM. Also they don’t reveal how loud they are which is super important to me. And they’re not cheap. I am missing Korean prices. And does the hardware work with Dapper? Hmph. Lets face it, hardware support pages don’t help. You’d be hard pressed to source the tested machines. I ran a great Ubuntu desktop machine on a high end Thinkcentre in Korea. I want that back. It was also quiet. I also loathe, hate and break out into angry fits about having to buy Microsoft Windows whilst buying a computer.

I am thinking back to my adventures with computing at home. It really just hasn’t worked out for poor Linux. The biggest breakthrough is having broadband with a Linksys WAG354G-UK. I am greatly indebted to a local LUGer Neil Stone for helping my parents set this up. They would not have managed the broadband setup without him. We have a peculiar problem with our phone line and if some phones are plugged in the modem could never reliably maintain a connection. We’ve unplugged all our phones and broaband does work, except we have terrible landline quality issues. Argh, another reason why my parents like Skype a lot.

So I can share the Internet reasonably from my lovely Thinkpad X40 wireless. Though only in one room. The walls are so thick in praze farm, the signal doesn’t go into my bedroom or the kitchen. I noticed the WAG354G has an aerial port, but I couldn’t find an aerial that claims to support it. I contacted Linksys and they said the product isn’t on the market and suggest purchasing instead the WRE54G v2. I can’t find that device on dabs. Anyway we have several rooms in this house. I am not going to buy a wireless repeater for each room! So wireless and big old thick walled houses is pain.

Hopefully in the future I’ll get my WRT54G that I send via sea from Korea and install that upstairs where the walls are thankfully just partitions and see how that goes.

Another important problem I have been keeping myself busy with are backups or “digital preservation”. My strategy is to copy everything precious and organise them on an external 80G USB hard drive which already has fallen off the desk a couple of times. I’ve ripped down DVDs of home videos to VOB, but since neither of our machines at home are particularly powerful, I can’t convert them to theora!

I have many digital images that I need to track in some database. I need to write a program to do that. I’ve been too lazy to do so. We keep a lot of printed photographs in our cupboards. It’s remarkable how they’ve preserved, although my mother chucked out all the negatives as she claimed they were all “stuck together” and useless. Damn, I don’t think I will digitising photographs anytime soon.

There are two main problems I think with my parents and computing. Hardware and know how. My mother claims she would attend computer courses, but there aren’t any ones with Ubuntu and say OpenOffice and Firefox (Gmail)!

The most pressing problem is that it is hard to buy compatible hardware without falling for some Microsoft trap. At least I have my parent’s using Gmail and now we have broadband so I can access . They seem happy with that, though I’m not. There really needs to be Free software comparable to Gmail.

We’re at least no closer any to “free computing” after all these years. :/


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