I’m trying something new, last night I was bored and like so many at a loss for something to do, I ended up on Google, typing random words and clicking through the results.  I happened upon a game in which I clicked the link for results page numbered seven then tapped the down arrow key seven times then hit enter (seven is a favourite number of mine).  Soon my boredom became so chronic that I could no longer think of random words so, like so many at a loss for words, I ended up typing out QWERTY.  Upon playing my game of sevens, I became engrossed in a site, over a decade untouched, about the Dvorak keyboard layout.

Note: Before starting this post, I started a stopwatch.

Dvorak Macbook

My Macbook after a bit of surgery to convert it to Dvorak.

I remember my first day at secondary school.  I was just twelve years old (though my aspergers gave me a mental age of around 10 I think) and I hadn’t even left primary school yet.  It was an “induction day” in which we were given tours of the school and samples of different classes.  I of course remember the Information Technology class.  I couldn’t tell you what was said, needless to say, it was all very basic stuff that I already knew; what I remember is my fascination of the room.

The most computers I had seen in one room up until that point had been two… in my living room.  But here before me was a room with easily thirty computers in it and amazingly they were all, every single one of them, on the internet!  We didn’t have internet at home, Dad said that it was “too expensive,” it would be a few months yet that I would convince him otherwise and perform my first PC surgery to install a dial up modem.  But it was not the internet that caught my fancy that day, I knew that the internet was far, far too big for me to read through in a fifty minute class, I would need a whole day to do that, no, it was the posters on the wall that caught my attention.

It was really one specific poster, a picture of a computer keyboard.  Different columns of keys were colour coded and numbered between 2 and 5 with the space bar numbered 1.  I knew instantly what this meant from my books at home for learning piano.  This was the secret to touch typing.  This was very exciting to me as I so very wanted to be able to type without having to stare at my own fingers, then up to the screen then down again and so on.  It was tedious and knowing that others out there could type without this strain filled me with envy.

That night, I went home to my computer and started practising.  Very quickly I realised that the F and the J had little bumps to tell me where to place my index fingers on the middle row as a kind of starting point.  I later learnt that these bumped keys are known as the “home keys” and the middle row, the “home row.”  By the end of the summer holidays and before my real first day of secondary school had even arrived, I had taught my self to touch type.  The tedious IT classes using the horrid ‘Mavis Beacon Typing Tutor’ software were used mainly as a race than anything else to see how quickly I could escape them as by this point, these classes were not needed on me.  Few others in my class seemed even interested in learning to type and eleven years later, I still meet people who act like I’m some kind of magician when I turn my head to look at them and my fingers continue to tap away over the keys.

A quick test today using this site tells me that I can type at 62 words per minute.  Not lightening fast I’ll admit but I’m pleased with it.  But reading through the articles I found last night told me that this could be improved by using the Dvorak Keyboard layout.  Assuming I avoid switching between the two too much, it promised that I would be back to my normal typing speed within two to three weeks, if not, faster.  A major benefit boasted was that I would also be less likely to find my hands cramping up, an issue that plagues me on a regular basis.  I set about with my pen knife at hand, modifying my keyboard.

My Macbook halfway through Dvorak conversion.

My Macbook halfway through Dvorak conversion.

This took about an hour to do and I’m sure anyone who has ever had to  replace just one of the keys on a laptop keyboard can guess why.

Now I’ve always found typing tutors to be more a hindrance than anything else so I’d chosen to use my original tactic of diving right in to touch typing.  After around five minutes, I discovered that this was not going to work.  I was wrong, when I started typing on Qwerty, I didn’t start just touch typing, no, I had to spend a long part of my early computer days hunting and jabbing at letters; only when I’d learnt where the letters were was I then able to start learning to type at any real speed.  So that’s how you find me now, my first day of Dvorak, back to my computer childhood, hunting for my letters and jabbing them with frustration when I finally find them.  I’ll keep you updated.

Time to type this post: 1 hour 31 minutes.

Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux Operating Systems and with the release of 11.04, I was keen to have a dedicated computer running it, so with an Eee PC netbook at hand, I had the challenge of installing it on a system with very little space.

 

In the past, Ubuntu has had a dedicated netbook version for small laptops like this but the interface was so popular they chose to mix the interface into the main Ubuntu Desktop version and simply rebrand it as “Ubuntu” meaning that all Ubuntu computers share the same interface that is suitable for both desktop and netbook.

So I bought this tiny computer yesterday second hand in a Cash Converters store with Windows XP preinstalled, well obviously I had to put a fix to that.

The specification of the Eee PC 901 that I bought came with two solid state drives on board: one 4GB drive for the operating system and applications and one 8GB drive for my own files. A quick installation using the presets for replacing XP left me with 0 bytes of space left on my first drive which effectively crippled the computer.

My challenge then was to set up the system in a way that best utilised the drives I had on board.

By default, when Ubuntu installs, it partitions the main drive it is installing on with a swap partition to use for virtual memory management. In my case, that was 1GB, so already I’d lost a gigabyte of space for my operating system.

Now a solid state drive like the one in my Eee PC has its lifetime limited by the number of writes it can perform, as a swap partition is accessed so often, it can severely drop this lifetime so I chose not to have one.

Next I would have to make sure my system knew to use the second, larger drive for my Home directory where I would be storing all of my personal data.

I chose to create a Ubuntu Live USB Stick as detailed on Ubuntu’s download page here and install it using that, when booting on Eee PC, hold down the escape key to be able to select the usb stick as the device to boot from.

Now after selecting to install Ubuntu on your computer, I’d recommend you connect it to the internet if you can and tell it to “Download updates while installing”, you will also spot the option to install some third party software that is not open source like Ubuntu. I would recommend this as it installs various bits that you’re likely to use, like MP3 support and the ability to view Flash media online. It’s not necessary but it makes like so much easier if you have it. To do this, select “Install this third-party software” and continue with setup.

Next up is to setup the drive partitioning. If you’ve already got an Operating System installed, such as Windows XP or another Linux distribution, you’ll have the option to “Install Ubuntu alongside them.” Now as we’ve already established that we don’t really have the space to do this, we would rather erase the disk, however, we already know that the default method of “Erase disk and install Ubuntu” won’t utilise the space on our netbook the way we require it to, so instead, choose “Something else” to be able to setup the partitions our own way.

Now this is where the important stuff is done. Delete all partitions across the devices and then, on the small (4GB) drive, click Add and choose to create an ext4 partition with the mount point set to root (/). Now, on the larger (8GB) drive, choose to create another ext4 partition with the mount point set to be your home directory (/home). Finally, make sure the boot loader installation is set to be on the smaller drive and click “Install Now.” You’ll receive a warning message about not using a swap partition, but as I’ve explained, that’s not something we’re wanting so just continue with setup.

And that’s it, now you have Ubuntu 11.04 all up and running on your netbook, congrats!