Custom laptops are now a reality…

This has been the case for some time, it seems. I was blissfully unaware of it.

The last three laptops I’ve used for any sustained period of time have been:

  • Apple PowerBook G4 (2005-2007)
  • ThinkPad X60s (2007-present)
  • ThinkPad X201 (2011-present)

My ThinkPad X60s, photographed in 2007 — yes, I am a super hacker..

Of those two, the most annoying was by far the most recent ThinkPad. For years considered the best machine for desktop GNU/Linux, ThinkPads are actually getting pretty bad. Its now hard to find a ThinkPad with an Atheros wireless card and Intel graphics, its even harder if you want a machine you can change the battery on.

I found a few companies who sell machines preloaded with GNU/Linux, and sadly many of those machines don’t have this problem fixed either. I was delighted to discover that you can actually configure and build your own laptop online — there are a few companies that offer this, I went with AVA Direct because they offered the most choice of configurations, offered to install Debian on the laptop.

I’m very interested to see what my new laptop is like.

The juicy specs are: 3.1Ghz Intel Core i5, Intel HD video, 16GB RAM, 240GB SSD and a floppy drive.

  1. COMPAL QAL50 (QAL5010011) Core™ i5 Notebook Barebone, Socket G2, Intel® HM76, 15.6″ HD LED Glossy, Intel® GMA HD Graphics
  2. INTEL Core™ i5-3210M Dual-Core 2.5 – 3.1GHz TB, HD Graphics 4000, 3MB L3 Cache, 22nm, 35W, EM64T EIST HT VT-d VT-x XD, OEM
  3. CRUCIAL 16GB (2 x 8GB) PC3-12800 DDR3 1600MHz SDRAM SODIMM, CL11, 1.35V, Non-ECC
  4. INTEL 240GB 520 Series SSD, MLC SandForce SF-2281, 550/520 MB/s, 2.5-Inch w/ 3.5-Inch Bracket, SATA 6 Gb/s, Retail
  5. COMPAL Super-Multi Dual-Layer DVD±RW Optical Drive for Compal QAL50 / QAL51 Series Notebooks
  6. BYTECC External Black 1.44MB 3.5″ Floppy Drive, USB
  7. NOTEBOOK ACCESSORY Built-in 3-in-1 MMC/SD/MS Media Card Reader (Included)
  8. VISIONTEK Killer™ Wireless-N 1202 Wireless Card, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n, 11/54/300 Mbps, Internal PCIe Half Mini Card
  9. ASUS USB-BT211 Bluetooth 2.1 Adapter, 3.0Mbps, USB 2.0
  10. NOTEBOOK ACCESSORY Extra 120W AC Adapter for all VBI / CBB Notebooks
  11. NONE No Operating System (Choose OS or subject to Limited Support)
  12. WARRANTY Assembled and Tested (1 Year Limited Parts, Lifetime Labor Warranty)

Here’s hoping I get something totally cool…

What I hope my new laptop will look like



rtl-sdr is a project to enable DVB-T sticks based on the Realtek RTL2832U to be used as a cheap Software Defined Radio (SDR), since the chip allows transferring the raw I/Q samples to the host, which is officially used for DAB/DAB+/FM demodulation.

I picked up a couple of Unikoo UK001T cards, based on reddit’s guide to functional chipsets.

Unikoo UK001T

rtl-sdr is a command line tool that can initialize the RTL2832, tune to a given frequency, and record the I/Q-samples to a file.

The code can be checked out with:

git clone git://

Additionally, a source block for GNU Radio is being worked on.

North East GNU/Linux Fest

This weekend I went to the North East GNU/Linux Fest in Worcester, MA. Along with Jon ‘maddog’ Hall, this will be my second time speaking at the conference — feels nice to be a veteran of something.

Joining me was John Sullivan and Donald Robertson. I had a go at shooting a video of John’s talk on my Kodak handheld camera.

Now I begin the most stressful week of my year.

Beets and An Unwavering Band of Light

Yesterday, I asked people to send me free software I’d not heard of. The first suggestion was a program called beets, which bills itself as “the media library management system for obsessive-compulsive music geeks.” — sounds good to me.

Today, I got an email with a download code for the new Jenny Owen Youngs album, An Unwavering Band of Light — one of the good things coming as a result of the Kickstarter from last year.

A perfect opportunity to test beets and ensure all my scrobbles to of the new record are spiffy and correct…

First, install beets.

Installing beets is as simple as typing “pip install beets” — but installing pip itself might be harder. I was able to type apt-get install python-pip — but if you’re on Windows or a Mac, you might have a harder time. Installation instructions for pip might help you out.

Next, download your new music.

Buy your copy of An Unwavering Band of Light — I opted for the FLAC version, but the procedure is the same for virtually any format. When it arrives, unzip it into a folder, doesn’t really matter which.

My unzipped album, in all its machine-generated filename glory.

Stand back, here’s the magic.

I have all my music in a folder called “Music” — you probably do as well. I fired up a terminal, typed ‘beet -d Music imp’ and then dragged the unzipped folder into the Terminal.

This is UNIX, I know this.

Ta-da, magic. Now I had to agree to the changes beet was going to make — renaming a few of the files slightly — I just hit Enter to accept all the changes.

Reasonable looking changes.

That’s it. The music is now in my Music player.

Not only are the filenames fixed, the metadata is fixed too.

Now to listen to the album. Go buy it 🙂

I'm onto Track 6 by the time I got this posted. It's all very good.