Unboxing the Pinebook64

So last week a package was delivered to my work place. It came in a padded envelope and was addressed to me from someone in Hongkong. That’s usually a good thing. As it turns out, is was.

Mmmmh. What could it be?

Aha! The long awaited Pinebook64. As the team from PINE sensibly only orders the hardware to be built once enough orders are in, I had to wait 4 weeks for my particular  unit to be built, but for this price was happy to be built.


Certainly a new take on packaging a laptop for a 9000km journey, but it worked, as the plastic minicase was broken, but the Pinebook arrived in perfect shape.



Pretty thing, innit?

All connectors present and accounted for.

Two USB2 connectors, headphone connector, micro ssd slot and power. What else do you need?


The unit came with a completely depleted battery (which we were warned about on the Pinebook forum – apparently an issue during quality control), but after two hours it happily started up. It immediately booted into this special Ubuntu remix, running on a board supported package (BSP) linux kernel, making it possible for this Allwinner board to run this OS. Hardware specs are not particularly exciting, as you would expect from a machine for £75.

It’s got a 4 core Arm A53 CPU on an Allwinner board with a Mali 400 MP2 graphics unit, a 16GB EMMC and 2gb DDR2 Ram. It’s pretty much a low-specced mobile phone in a (well designed) plastic laptop case. But, the display is gorgeous, it looks and feels pretty sturdy, and it’s perfectly usable.  The GUI is responsive and easy to use (previous Ubuntu use will help), Libre-Office runs well and Chromium is acceptable to use. Even that terrible slog on browser resources, Apple’s iCloud website, is usable. Youtube and Vimeo work well on Chromium. The speakers are very very tinny, but the DAC is of acceptable quality, so headphone use is ok. I haven’t yet checked battery performance, but I’m expecting good results from a solid state machine like this.

The PINE community has  a few different OSs you can try, but at present I’m quite happy with the current OS. Only bugbear is the inability to switch GUI’s, as I’m pretty sure at these specs would benefit from using LXDE instead of MATE, but I’ll be happily tinker away until I got it sorted. For this price (it’s actually more 160£ with import tax and postage) you can get a used chrome book or modestly specced used Windows laptop, but what’s the fun in that? The future is definitely in low priced, low specced machines like this. Will it replace my Macbook Pro for day to day use? Of course not. Would I take it on holiday for some light browsing, emailing and watching movies? Yes.

The Playstation has to leave. Why?

So this is it (shoobab): my Playstation 3 finally has to go. We spend 3 stormy years together, but in the end her flaws where just too obvious, so she will leave the household through the front door via ebay, head (or sisaxis controller) held high.

When Sony announced the original specs for the PS3, I literally drooled: the mixture of capable graphics hardware with the cell processor, coupled with bluetooth, wifi and a blu ray player sounded just too good. So when I finally bought her in February 2008 due to a sudden bout of long distance relationship induced blues, I was incredibly excited to have her in the house. I was envisioning nights of coding and surfing on the fastest Linux ever, thanks to the remarkable architecture, amazing graphics and superb cell processor, but of course all my dreams were crushed due to Sony’s decision to limit 3rd party OS’s access to the hardware and my inability to work the Sisaxis controller. So all games I played I immediately failed due to my extreme clumsiness (or the fact that when I learned gaming, we had something called ‘joysticks’, ‘mice’ and ‘keyboards’. I still game (to the chagrin of the best girlfriend ever), but these days it’s a Windows 7 based gargantuan rig (Macs aren’t for gaming. They are for working), and so the PS3 ended up to be the most electricity demanding BlueRay player ever. Each time another episode of Boston Legal was watched, another three nuclear power stations in France had to put another log on the fire and the lights in my little village in Mid Essex started to flicker.

The last insult really was Sony’s appalling behaviour towards their fan community by locking down the juggernaut further and further and in the end even going to war with their most devoted hardware hackers. This, and its inability to play multi region DVD’s (there are ca 100 unwatched DVD’s from New Zealand in my living room, begging to be freed) finally pushed it onto ebay.

So, if you can actually use a Sixaxis controller, don’t mind the French to work their nuclear power stations overtime and have no use for DVDs outside region 2 and love Sony’s hold on your product, buy her here.

But please be nice to her.


Moving from the Mac to Ubuntu?

It’s time that we had another geekish post, as there has been far too much footy and other stuff lately So today we will focus on the age old lament of people switching to Linux because they fear Apple’s hardware and software lock in. THis time it’s Salon.com’s Dan Gillmor to make the big jump and I completely understand where he’s coming from. I’ve done it numerous times: after I sold/broke a Mac I swore solemnly to embrace Open Source and would end up buying some laptop and install Ubuntu/Suse/Mandriva/Debian/Red Hat on it, just to pine for the functionality of ease of OS X on a MacBook and end up byuying one 6 months later anyway.

It’s perfectly ok to be suspicious of Apple’s control freakery, but in the end their stuff works. No missing drivers, no blue screen of death, no Kernel upgrades that go awry, no hardware problems. I have Ubuntu Karmic installed on my Desktop where it works just beautifully, but just because I continue working under the hood to MAKE it work.

Not so my MacBook (s). Since my first Powerbook 150 back in 1993 they have performed dutifully from day one, survived numerous drops and my current one dutifully updates my Ipad (which I now carry around with me instead).

So if Simon wants to go down the exciting road of Linux on the Laptop, I wish him luck. Being old and lazy now, I prefer to use what works.

P.S. Looks like Ubuntu isn’t working on his new Levono.

Karmic Koala Problems?

The Register is reporting that an ever growing number of users is struggling with Ubuntu 9.10.

Not so here at Fordiebianco central. I installed KK on a freshly wiped Aspire One (the one with 120GB HD and 1Gb ram) and it’s been humming away happily: everything seems to work just fine, including my HSDPA modem dongle, built in wifi, webcam and ethernet. Battery time has improved and the new design looks much more classy then the annoying fruityness of Windows in all its flavours.

I usually do a fresh install when I change OS’s, and as most of my ‘mission critical’ data is lying on various servers around the globe, it’s not so much of a hassle.

So, from us at Messagedfromtheouthouse a happy and hearty ‘thank you’ to Mark Shuttleworth and his mighty team of geeks.


P.S. Evolution is still shit, though.

Mediatomb makes your PS3 finally useful.

Ca 8 months ago I bought a Playstation 3. I was fascinated by its ‘supercomputer in a box’ claims, found Cell technology mildly interesting and it’s been a long time since I’ve been playing a good first person shooter. As Amazon had a good deal that included “Resistance: Fall of Man” I had this magnificent geek box sitting next to my TV in no time.

If you look at it objectively, it really does offer a lot for its moderate price: it can play Blue Ray, DVDs, CDs and all sort of other discshaped things, USB keys, can hook up to your Ipod and all other sort of things. It does Bluetooth, Wifi and, crucially, has uPNP capabilities: for those non-Geeks out there it means it can play movies and sound files that are lying on other computers around the house by the virtue of wifi.

In the past I managed to get this done thanks to my single Windows machine in the house, but who wants to have one of those monsters on, wasting electricity all the time. Now, thanks to Ubuntu, the AspireOne and Mediatomb this is all much more elegantly organised:

As the AspireOne is only fired up for work at home (it never ends, you know) my need for a decent musical background begins exactly at the same time. With the PS3 hooked up to a decent pair of speakers this is (though of course not hi end, due to the fact that the music on the Aspireone is encoded in some sort of compression format) an easy way to put my 28 GB music collection to use. Mediatomb is surprisingly easy to install and configure for a Linux product concocted by without doubt very nerdy but ultimately nice gentlemen (just look at the guy who looks after Rhythmbox for Gnome. You wouldn’t even mind living next to him. And that’s a big compliment for your average Gnome coder).

This is of course not perfect, and I am aware of the acute lack of proper, non-encoded tunes in my household. There is still the matter of 450 vinyl records stored away in a warehouse in Ilford, but before I could peruse these again I have to source a decent amp, a set of proper electrostatic speakers and dig out my Thorens turntable, so that will take a bit.

In the meantime I am quite happy to enjoy Charlie Parker in mildly compressed form.

Sometimes even music reproduction is being hit by compromise.

Tough. I know.