A Violist and His Alto

in which I replace my old school portable computer

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For the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve had a notebook computer I’d use once in a while. It’s an HP Omnibook 6000, and I bought it used (obviously). I figure that it’s probably 12 years old now, as its capabilities would suggest: PIII 650mhz, 256Mb RAM, no web cam, WIFI via a PCMCIA card.

Sorry for the alphabet soup. The point is, this computer is not, by today’s standards, a powerhouse. Not at all. It is very dated. I had to be careful about what I loaded on it and what I ran. (There’s no way it could run Skype.)

Add to all this the fact that the HP is fairly heavy. With its carry case and charger, it weighs almost 10 pounds.

In short, there are good reasons why I don’t use it a lot.

Even so, the HP served me well, for the modest uses I had for it. With it I got some good work done on my dissertation. From it I blogged at General Synod this past summer. I confess to some pride that I had such an ancient, old-school computer in active use at Synod, and some jealousy at the shiny new notebooks and netbooks and tablets around me.

With this sabbatical and the grant, I decided that a new notebook computer made sense. Tammi and I will be in London for a week, and I want to be able to update this blog and keep in contact with our children while we’re there. The HP could definitely not do this.

I thought a lot about what I wanted in a computer. I wanted a web cam. (That seems pretty standard these days.) I didn’t need something to replace my desktop machine. I didn’t want a tiny netbook. I didn’t want a 17″ model that could function as a personal movie theater. A 14″ model would suit me perfectly. I wanted an HDMI port, and it had to have WIFI built in (which also seems standard).

There’s one more item on my list of desiderata, and the more I thought about it the more important I realized it was for me. I wanted a notebook with Linux installed. I realize that most of you reading this blog will not relate to this at all. You are confirmed Windows or Mac people. “Different strokes” and all that. I’ve been using Linux almost exclusively for my personal use for more than 12 years. At this point I know it very well, and I would not want to have to go back to either Windows or Mac. (I intend to go into this more in a later post.)

I’ve installed Linux on several different machines, including the HP. I know I could do that with my new notebook. But I knew that this could mean a lot of effort, which translates to a lot of time, a commodity of significant value. I was willing to pay maybe a little bit more for someone else to have worked out the hardware issues for me and put in my hands a machine that just worked.

In the end, I decided on a Zareason Alto 3880. Zareason sells computers with Linux preinstalled. They seem to be the best of the bunch among Linux computer sellers. The Alto is their low-end notebook, but it has all the power I needed: 14″ screen, i3-2350M CPU @ 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 250GB hard drive, 3 USB ports, HDMI out port, 1.3Mpixel camera, and (this is cool) an SD card reader.

Now, even I, the Violapastor, didn’t get at first how perfect the name was for me, but soon it dawned on me. Of course! An Alto! For a violist!

(“Alto” is what the French call a viola.)

I was so excited when I got the machine. I started loading all my essential software. All the software I use is free, and readily installable from over the Internet. Two hours into the installation the computer dies. “Oh well,” I thought, “I guess it ran out of battery power.” So I plug the power in and start things up again. It runs for awhile, and then the same thing happens: it all goes dark. I press the power button, and it makes a vain attempt to power up, then darkness. Try again. Even worse. This is clearly not going in the right direction.

When I called Zareason’s tech support I was able to talk to Tony, their CTO, right away. I described to him the symptoms, and he pretty quickly decides that I will have to return the machine. I was crushed. And worried.

Well, all is good now. They checked things out right away when the machine got back to them, and it seems that they gave me a new machine, although they swapped in the hard drive I had installed software on. And now it works fabulously. It’s fast. It’s lightweight. I can use Skype and Google video chat. It will be a handy music workstation when I’m staying at a lake house in the Finger Lakes in July.

I am so happy with this computer. And it’s running my favorite operating system! Plus, it has such a cool name.

Author: Dan Griswold

A good life is motivated by love. My loves: the Triune God, family, music, friends, parishioners, theology.

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