My case for a portable desktop

About two and half years before I invested in a heavily capable laptop, an Acer Aspire 8935G.  After having spent all this time using my laptop I finally reached the conclusion that I’ll avoid laptops like plague in the future.  I understand that it’s quite a harsh stance, especially given a laptop of this caliber but there are too many reasons against them from my perspective.

My first reason of not buying a laptop ever again: Neither suspend nor hibernate works on Linux

Just tell me a more essential feature that you expect from your laptop.  When I go to sleep I wanna suspend my laptop to have a silent environment and to be able to continue my work from where I left off.  When I leave home for some hours I’d also like to suspend my laptop just to save some power.  Hibernate could also work (in a suboptimal fashion) in such situations except that it doesn’t.  Upon resuming my laptop it freezes in no time. Let’s also take into consideration that I use a really complex session with lots of applications spread across multiple workspaces and lots of passwords to type upon startup. This shit costs me about a boring quarter an hour every time I wake up.  It may not seem much but I despise this ritual and I cannot forgive for such an essential feature not working.

So far I’ve surely spent more than 100 hours trying to make resume work with no success.  I’ve tried a number of distributions, fiddled with various parameters of s2ram, tried to suspend from console, switched the graphics card and did pretty much everything under the Sun. According to my understand the major problem is that the iGPU gets resumed instead of the eGPU and the BIOS provides no options to disable the iGPU.  In general this BIOS is dumbed down crap, providing only a handful of options at most.  I’m not in the mood of elaborating in detail about this but it’s been a sickening experience which I couldn’t solve despite having a strong Linux background and spending a *lots* of time on this issue.

The major problem the way I see it is that most laptop manufacturers (Acer surely included) don’t give a shit about Linux support.  I can’t really blame them considing the 1% market share of Linux but it’s sure as hell that I won’t give them a fucking cent ever again for not being able to suspend such a crazy-expensive laptop.

My second reason of not buying a laptop ever again: I have to pay for the sub-optimal hardware and software configuration most of which I already have

Let’s suppose that one already owns a laptop and is about to buy a new one.  Let’s just go over of what hardware components could be used from the old laptop:

  • Screen
  • HDDs, SSDs
  • Keyboard
  • Wifi module
  • Bluetooth module
  • Case

(I didn’t list the motherboard, the CPU and the graphics card because Moore’s law ruthlessly obsoletes these components.)

Some of these components (HDDs, SSDs, Wifi module, Bluetooth module) could be easily reused in a new laptop, but manufacturers provide no means to order a laptop without these components.  Other components (Screen, Keyboard, Case) could also be theoretically reused in a new laptop but manufacturers couldn’t care less about designing according to the need of reusability. As a result customers have to pay for all components every time when buying a new laptop.  This is the opposite of the PC world.

And let’s not even mention that nowadays almost every laptop come with glossy screens which I utterly hate because of their reflection, hence my journey of searching for a replacement matte screen begins, making me spend a hundred-something extra bucks but only if I get lucky enough to find a replacement matte screen.

On the software side of things given that I dislike Microsoft as much as I do and I don’t even use Windows my first thing to do is to send back the laptop to Acer for them to remove Windows which takes about two weeks and I almost don’t get any money back because I have to pay for my laptop to be shipped to the Acer service center. Fail!

The portable desktop

My approach involves using 1 main station and N dock stations, N being the number of places that I frequently spend time at doing heavy computing. If you’re like most people then you only heavily use computers at home and at work.  That’s two places.  I personally work from home but I have two locations between which I travel on a frequent basis and spend some time every time, leaving me with two places, too.

The main station is a Mini-ITX box composed of:

  • Case
  • PicoPSU power supply
  • Mainboard
  • CPU
  • RAM
  • Graphics card
  • Optionally Wifi and/or Bluetooth depending on the motherboard and on your needs

A dock station is composed of:

  • Monitor
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • USB hub
  • DC power supply

Price comparison

Let’s pick a super-capable desktop-like laptop like the Acer Aspire 8950G which will set you back with about $1,600 and will be replaced in every few years. (So far I could only see laptops with 18.4″ screens which I consider desktop-like from Acer.)


The permament parts of the main station cost $216 and composed of:

The soon-to-be-obsoleted parts of the main station cost $474 and composed of:

A dock station costs $400 and composed of:

You surely won’t get the parts for these exact prices but the numbers are in the ballpark. That’s $1600 recurring cost vs. $1016 one-time cost + $474 recurring cost.


I personally never needed a laptop, I needed a portable desktop.  The pros of these solutions are fairly apparent but I list them for completeness’ sake:


  • Portability

Portable desktop:

  • Cost
  • Having the exact hardware configuration that you want
  • Better compatibility allowing you to suspend, resume on Linux

Right now I’m not sure when will I ditch my laptop. So far I’m satisfied with its performance but the time will come eventually, inevitably.

Given the lack of portability my approach is not for everyone but I think it’s thought-provoking because many people don’t even think about the possible advantages of such a configuration in this laptop-centric world.

Deck 82-Ice keyboard disassembly

I have mixed feelings about this keyboard. Although it’s a solid build cosidering the robustness of the case, I cannot overlook the fact that the fonts look ridiculous, the layout is weird and the overall look is rather displeasing. Also, choosing PCB mounting over plate mounting is not fortunate because a drop of water can kill the electronics, not even speaking about the reduced robustness.

It seems that TG3 Electronics tried to play it safe and they’ve minimized the manufacturing costs to get some profit despite the moderate number of sales. This strategy shows itself in not only not having a plate, but using only a single custom manufactured injection molded plastic part that is the top part of the case.

PCB mouting reveals the whole electronics making an excellent PCB porn for your viewing pleasure. The board features dozens of MX switches, LEDs and diodes (full NKRO for the win) and a CY7C63413C MCU that makes things happen. Most of the parts are surface mount but there are some through-hole parts (where it made sense price-wise, I believe). The PCB looks very high quality, I couldn’t find any glitches.

The “You’ve got a big Deck” slogan on the box of the keyboard is rather strange considering that it’s clearly a small form factor keyboard. The User’s Manual mentions that a PS/2 port can be installed and I’ve read on their site that additional LEDs can be added to the sides, making the Deck 82-Ice the most hackable board built so far.

deck-82-ice-keyboard-disassemblyClick to see the album

Launchpad feature set proposal: Bounties


The objective of this post is to propose a new feature set for Launchpad to provide a way for users to create monetary incentives for developers to fix specific bugs or to implement new features.

The problem

The latest and greatest release of Ubuntu, Natty contains more than ten thousand packages.  The sheer number of packages inevitably contain an even larger number of bugs.  At the time of writing there are 90198 open bugs in Launchpad.

Many times Free Software developers work on a project for the reputation of their peers and for the challenge involved but often they cannot devote enough time to their project because they have to make a living.  As a result their project suffers which manifests itself in a large number of bugs and / or missing features.

Millions of users of Ubuntu have to deal with these bugs on a daily basis, usually by working them around or tolerating them.  Sometimes bugs get fixed quickly but many times they don’t get fixed for a long time.  In the latter case users cannot do anything to make a bug fixed apart from reporting the bug or fixing it by themselves, the latter being very time consuming and requires lots of expertise.

If users could create monetary incentives for developers to fix specific bugs or to implement specific features then it would be more likely for those bugs to get fixed or those features to get implemented.

Proposed solution

The model to be proposed works like the online marketplaces designed for freelancers to be employed.  In particular, I’d like to highlight because they’re on the top of their game and they’ve implemented various practices that make sure that the job actually gets done and all parties are satisfied.

The actors involved are:

  • Donor: A user is a donor from the point on he/she deposited a bounty for a bug.
  • Developer: Can be an upstream or third-party developer who’s about to fix a bug for a given bounty.
  • Judge: An independent and competent third-party who has to make justice if donors have any objections about the completeness or quality of the fix after the developer has claimed the bounty.

The process could work like this:

  1. If a user chooses to provide a bounty for a bug, a deposit gets created for the specific bug and the desired amount gets added to it using PayPal or credit card transfer.
  2. Other users can also add funds to this deposit.
  3. At this point any donor can withdraw his/her bounty at any time.
  4. As soon as the bug gets assigned to a developer the deposit gets frozen and donors won’t be able to add or remove funds to it.
  5. The developer should deliver the fix within an approved timeframe and claim the deposited bounty.
  6. The bounty gets transferred to the account of the developer if none of the donors have any objections within a week or so.
  7. If any objection occurs then related parties can discuss it or eventually they can raise the issue to the arbitration phase where a judge is involved.

Some further thoughts:

Because of their dedication, familiarity with the given codebase and proven track record, upstream developers could be given the privilege of being able to exclusively work for a bounty for a specific amount of time.  This exclusivity period could last about one week from the creation of the deposit, for example.

It should be made sure that no developer is able to block the resolution of a given bug.  This could be either done by defining close deadlines or by allowing for any bug to be assigned to multiple developers.  In the latter case whoever resolved the bug first could claim the bounty.

It may make sense for such a system to automatically notify upstream in advance and ask them to agree to merge the upcoming fix and also request the developer to provide a fix in a format requested by upstream.

Canonical should get some portion of the bounty for developing and operating Launchpad and they could also provide judges.

Why Launchpad?

Launchpad is the ultimate umbrella project of the Free Software Universe.  As such, it relates and highlights every upstream project in a consistent manner.  Mark Shuttleworth said at UDS-O that “For most Free Software projects I wouldn’t be surprised to find if there are more bugs filed against that piece of Free Software in Ubuntu than upstream.”

According to the above it makes sense to implement this feature set on top of the existing, state-of-the-art and proven infrastructure instead of creating a whole new site for it.


There are many details left to be answered and nothing is written in stone, but I hope that this post is thought-provoking enough to start further discussions about the viability and towards the implementation of this idea.

I have witnessed online marketplaces working both as a freelancer and as an employer, but this idea could be so much cooler in regards of Free Software where everyone benefits from the work of developers and everything happens openly.

I’m looking forward to talk more about this issue, so if you have anything to say, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments.

FC200RC/AB Leopold Tenkeyless Tactile Click Keyboard disassembly

First of all, I’m not about to go into an in-depth analysis about this board as the geekhack folks did. I’m just about to express some of my opinions and provide some PCB porn pictures.

There are only few keyboards that I consider solid builds. This is one of them. I’ve preordered this one farily early, got it about two months ago and happily using it since then.

There are several attributes that make a solid keyboard in my opinion. One of them is the materials used and the thickness of the walls of the plastic parts. The switches being place mounted vs PCB mounted is another big indicator. As for this keyboard, the plastic seem high quality and the wall thickness is about 2-3mm which I consider very good properties. It’s interesting to note the similarity between the my Filco and this Leopold model. The case construction is pretty much the same except some minor details. As for its design, I rather prefer the Filco because the rounded edges of the Leopold don’t appeal to me that much.

The use of Cherry keycap stabilizers has definitely surprised me because I thought that those can only be PCB mounted but these are clearly plate mounted and they seem less wobbly than the Costar stabilizers which makes me consider them superior. I’ve found a very bad solder joint that has been bridged to a nearby trace but apart from that the quality is very satisffactory.

leopold-tenkeyless-keyboardClick to see the album

dumbsvnreview 0.4 released

I could simply name this release as “syntax highlighting coolness” which was really simple to implement on my part because I just had to provide Meld the correct file extensions to figure out the file format. Apart from that, I’ve worked around an svn bug that provided many redundant parameters to the diff utility.

If you upgrade to this version, please make sure that you update your /etc/sudoers to contain the meld-wrapper script instead of meld.

Go for it!

I’ve replaced my glossy laptop display with a matte one!

I’m definitely not a fan a fan of glossy displays. Unfortunately, glossy screens heavily dominate the market nowadays which is a pain in my ass because it’s a not pleasant experience to work with them in bright sunlight. Always working in the dark room is something I was fed up with. I’ve always wanted a laptop with a matte screen but given the many requirements that I have for laptops that was pretty much impossible and I finally bought my Acer Aspire 8935G-874G100BN laptop about one and half year ago featuring a big ass 18.4 glossy screen.

A while ago I started taking getting a matte screen more seriously and visited the largest laptop shop in my city, Szeged. They let me know that a replacement screen would cost me a small fortune and they eventually concluded that it’s not possible for me to get a matte screen. I don’t blame those guys because doing such a replacement is a rare feat and not so obvious.

I wasn’t about to give up and asked for advice. From this point on, there was no going back. After I disassembled my laptop and got to know that my screen is the N184H6-L02 Rev. C1 model, I was searching for suppliers of the matte version of this screen. Interestingly enough despite some suppliers indicate on the product page a glossy screen, they can provide you a matte version of the same model. Fortunately, Bliss Computers had a last matte model on their stock which I’ve ordered from them and it arrived to me about one week later.

The replacement procedure is pretty obvious, except one thing. There’s a glossy sheet that is part of the case in front of the actual glossy screen. That sheet has to leave forever if you wanna have a matte experience. Removing the sheet involves removing the glue that holds it there and without the sheet the assembled laptop will have a somewhat half-finished, DIY look but nothing too obtrusive.

Enough of words, let the images speak for themselves.

acer-aspire-laptopClick to see the album

As a final word you may ask whether it was worth paying $115 + $45 shipping for the alternative screen. My answer is that IT WAS A F*CKING BARGAIN! My user experience is so much better this way that I can hardly describe it using words! Some folks say that glossy screens provide sharper contrast but I’m not so sure at all. All I know is that reflection has gone, the image quality is stellar and that my glossy screen is officially for sale.

IBM Model M keyboard disassembly

The IBM Model M keyboard. A piece of history. A symbol of geekdom. A cornerstone of computing. Ok, I’ve gone too far but you must admit that this is the predecessor of almost every keyboard that we use in our modern age and it all started in 1984.

Although this model is manufactured around the end of ’92, its quality is as solid as it can be. Around these times manfacturers have already flooded the market with dome switch shit and the next generation of users didn’t have any idea about the keyboards of the golden age. I’m not saying that every people would have loved Model Ms because their noise can be disturing but I’m here to say that the construction quality is far more better than almost any other keyboards that are currently on the market. I can only think of Filco and Leopold as exceptions.

It’s a very good sign of construction quality that the keyboard can be taken apart by anyone without breaking anything on it. The ABS plastic is top quality, feels very rigid, the walls are thick and the number of components used is no more than necessary. I love pretty much everything about this keyboard, even though I prefer Cherry MX blue switches because they require less pressure force which I think is more optimal.

Here comes the Flickr set which you’re welcome to browse through for your viewing pleasure.

ibm-model-m-keyboardClick to see the album

Tabs vs Spaces

Ok, this is some serious shit that drives me crazy. The reason why you should never, and I mean never and let me emphasize NEVER in your entire life use tabs for indentation is because:

  • We use spaces in the code to separate words anyways.  Why do you wanna introduce yet another character?
  • Tabs will be displayed differently depending on the editor in question.
  • People are gonna mix tabs and spaces in surprisingly novel (or just plain random) ways which will screw indentation even more than before because it’s harder for editors to figure out the correct indentation in this case.
  • The mixture of tabs and spaces will produce lots of redundant lines in your {SVN / Git / whatever VCS} diffs because developers will (un)intentionally change them which is gonna be a lot of fun during code reviews.
  • Tabs are evil!  They’re evil, evil, evil!  Don’t use ’em! (Except for Makefiles (which as you may suspect are EVIL!))

As a last word, it’s not possible to avoid using spaces for indentation in such scenarios:

<tab><tab><tab>function_call(arg1, arg2, arg3,
<tab><tab><tab>              arg4, arg5, arg6);

Long life to spaces!