fixing a ten-year-old notebook computer for $5

I have, since late 2013, written on this blog about turning a Samsung R580 notebook into a personal Linux machine running Ubuntu. I won’t link, just search for Samsung and/or R580 to pick up the majority of the posts. The machine was originally purchased for my oldest daughter from Office Depot, and it came installed with Windows 7 Home Premium, or so the sticker on the bottom says. One day the Windows installation just seemed to eat itself up (probably due to a virus; my oldest wasn’t too careful in those days). I bought her a new one and put the R580 on the shelf for about six months. Then in late 2013 I pulled it down and for the hell of it installed Ubuntu 13.10 over Windows 7. And I haven’t looked back.

Not only have I kept it running Ubuntu since 2013, but I’ve also upgraded the hardware over the years, replacing the HDD with a 1TB Samsung Evo SDD when they got cheap enough and doubling the DRAM from 4GiB to 8GiB. It has done yeoman duty these past seven years. It was the first, and primary, Linux development platform, especially in support of my initial Raspberry Pi setup and support efforts.

All that changed over the past year as the R580 began to erratically fail. At first I thought the R580 was finally reaching end-of-life. But I discovered that the problem was with the power connector. It would fail to electrically connect with the power brick, and thus, the battery would run down and it would shut down. It got so bad that it went into the bag almost permanently around Halloween of last year. I wondered at the time if I would buy a replacement from System76.

Well, retirement and a fixed income can put the kibosh on grandiose plans that call for lots of cash. So I went looking around on YouTube to find any tutorials on fixing that R580 problem, found one I understood, ordered the replacement part from Amazon, and then spent two hours one evening disassembling this beast, replacing the power connector, and putting it all back together again. I had no leftover parts and it looks like I plugged every cable back in properly, because it came back on the first time I checked it out.

I have every intention of trying to update the R580 to Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, and leave it there, just like I’ve left it on 18.04 LTS. It does all I need, it’s speedy enough, and $5 is a damn sight cheaper than $100s for a new machine. Yes, retirement on a fixed income turns you into a cheap old bastard real fast.

my evolving use of the ipad with ulysses for writing

Something interesting is happening at the start of retirement; I’m using my iPads more than my iPhone.

Before I retired my iPhone was my primary iDevice, my iPad of choice if you will for reading the news as well as being a general communication device. It was a compact general purpose device that went with me everywhere I traveled requiring far less space than any iPad. I easily fell into the habit of using it equally at home as well as work. My poor old iPads languished, sitting on my nightstand most of the time, constantly connected to their chargers, only coming out when I needed a larger surface to view specific content or work with my photography. No matter how hard I tried to be more balanced in using all the portable devices, my iPhone became the go-to device everywhere.

Now that I’m home I’m it’s reversed. Now my iPhone sits on the charger a lot more while I work with the iPads, especially the big 12.9” second generation. It has become my primary writing tool, combined with Ulysses and the logi Slim Combo cover and keyboard. You’d think I would use my MacBook Pro, but I’ve discovered that the logi keyboard is far easier to type on for long periods of time because it lies flat on the table. Unlike the edge of the MacBook, there is no vertical rise due to the thickness of the computing machine the keyboard is attached to. It makes for a highly relaxing and highly effective writing experience. The MacBook isn’t abandoned as it were, as it continues to be used for tasks for which it is well suited, such as software development and running my various virtual machines.

I have two iPad Pros, a 9.7” first generation and a 12.9” second generation. They were both purchased on heavy discount (50% or more markdown, around Christmas season) after the follow-on generations were released. Newly released Pros are just too expensive. While they are both quite different size-wise, they share many common features, such as the OS at the same version, the use of the Lightening port for charging, a push button on the front, and the 3.5mm headphone jack on the edge. For me it’s worth hanging back a few generations not just on price alone, but to keep the front pushbutton and headphone jack. Quite frankly, considering the power of Apple’s silicon processors (A9x for the 9.5” and A10x for the 12.9”) I don’t feel either one is too slow for what I need. “Trailing edge” suits me just fine.

In the early days before the 12.9” iPad Pro arrived, I was focused on writing with the 9.7”. It had for some time another smaller logi cover and keyboard combo to cover it. But I dropped the 9.7” iPad one time too many on an edge and eventually knocked loose several keyboard keys on one corner, which effectively ended it’s practical typing usefulness. Rather than replace the keyboard with another expensive cover, I purchased a basic incase cover and I now use the 9.7” more for reading, drawing, photo post processing and viewing, and very light typing. It makes an almost ideal reading device for technical books. I’ve also discovered that with Ulysses installed on the 9.7” and using iCloud to save and sync between the devices, I can sit back and read what I’ve written, which believe it or not helps with light editing and corrections. I catch problems on the 9.7” iPad that I seemingly miss on the larger one.

Some Observations Working with Ulysses

As good as using Ulysses on an iPad is (and it really is quite good), there are still some issues with this tool combination:

  • Ulysses has a tendency to correct misspellings such that the correct word is the wrong word, such as correcting word as work. If I don’t catch them when I first make them, then they slip through and wind up being published on my blog. That forces me to go in via the WordPress web editor and make corrections. Which leads me to my second issue and biggest gripe.
  • I can make corrections in Ulysses and push them up to the blog. Unfortunately every time I’ve tried I wind up creating more than one post, which forces me to immediately go in and delete the older version.

That’s rather annoying. I’m left with the choice of either fixing the mistakes directly in the blog, thus forcing the original Ulysses writing to not be in sync with the blog, or else fix it in Ulysses and clean up the earlier duplicate posts. For the time being I’ll live with fixing my mistakes as I find them within WordPress.

Perhaps one day there’ll be a better way to correct and sync those corrections between Ulysses and WordPress. In the mean time the work-around is easy; slow down and be a lot more careful in writing and correcting before pushing out a post. The benefits of this system of writing I’m using far, far outweigh any perceived deficiencies.