Dumbing Down a Sandisk Cruzer

Sandisk Cruzer

Originally uploaded by StarbuckGuy

As thumb drives go, I rather like the design of the Sandisk Cruzer. It uses a slider to push out or retract the USB connector so there’s no cap to misplace or lose. The price has been dropping steadily on them and I found a nice little 4Gb unit in Staples yesterday for about $30 Cdn. Since I’d been wanting another one (I gave my first one to Marion), I added it to the pack of Sharpies I’d come in to buy.

The only drawback to the Cruzer is that it has a U3 feature that complicates what should be a simple technology. U3 first mounts the thumb drive as a CD-ROM volume, then uses another drive assignment to mount the storage partition. I suppose it’s set up so, in a pinch, you can run some programs from it. The U3 stuff takes quite a while to boot up and adds yet more clutter to the desktop.

I simply wanted it to act as a dumb thumb drive. I guessed that someone would have figured out a way to remove the U3 partition and reformat the device to be more simple minded and I was right. I Googled a blog entry that showed exactly what to do (in Windows).

All that’s required is a simple download from Sandisk — a special reformatter program that removes U3. It’s small and works a treat. It took mere seconds to reformat the Cruzer as a dumb thumb using the U3 Launchpad Removal Tool listed on the Sandisk site.

I’m impressed with Sandisk for making this utility program available. Furthermore, while reading an FAQ on the Sandisk site, I discovered that the ability to remove U3 is built in to the U3 Launcher software for Windows:

Can I remove U3 technology from my USB drive? Yes. To remove the U3 technology from the drive, simply go to the U3 Launchpad and, under Settings, select U3 Launchpad settings and click Uninstall. This will completely remove the U3 Launchpad from the drive.

Kudos to Sandisk for designing a nice little thumb drive and giving the user the option of removing the “additional features”.

Internet-centric Computing

The more I think about it, the less I would need to have a beefed up computer these days as long as I used the resources on the Internet for most of my work. For me, the exception to this would be Photoshop CS3 which I use frequently, but even that could be dispensed with in a pinch.

Already I use Google Docs & Spreadsheets to store my text files and spreadsheets. I update them online, or squirt them up from one of my tiny electronic writing devices. I keep a cardio exercise log there that I update and use to fill out for the sheets I hand in at class for my cardio rehab program.

Blog entries, such as this one, are written directly into WordPress from the keyboard. The online editor is fine for this kind of writing and it offers interactive spell check to help me catch typos and misspelled words.

Most of my good photos go up on Flickr, which now offers an online photo editor for making corrections to colour, sharpness, contrast, sizing. A casual hobbyist could take shots with a digicam, look at them on the LCD, and select the best ones to load up to Flickr, fixing them up once they’re online.

With this in mind, those sub-compact notebook computers, or Internet devices if you prefer, such as the Asus eeePC, could be all the computer you’d need. It runs a variant of Linux that is invisible to the casual user. It offers wireless connectivity and a few basic programs, including a browser.

I’m even tempted to say you could almost do without owning a computer at all. Just book time on an Internet computer at the local library or rent some connection time at an Internet café. Talk about travelling light!

Of course, most of us would be unable to live without checking email several times a day or, if you use IRC or IM, being in constant contact with friends.

But a time is coming, and it could be soon, when the only computing device you might need is an iPhone-like cellular phone with embedded camera, MP3 and video player, browser, and an accessory Blue-Tooth folding keyboard to use for any serious typing.

Forget hard-disk failures and nasty Microsoft upgrades. Soon we’ll be nomadic, Internet-centric computerists doing our hunting and gathering via wireless hotspots.

Portable Writing Machine

Writing Machine
I have a passion for portable electronic writing devices. It began in 1983 with the purchase of a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100, later dubbed Tandy 100. By the standards of the day it was quite advanced: 32K internal RAM, modem software (via the serial port), MS Basic, calendar, text editor built in, and an amazingly typeable full-size keyboard. The display was a small LCD panel of 8 lines of 40 characters. Back then I was writing a lot for computer publications and I once estimated I’d written 100,000 published words with the machine.

The text files loaded, via a null-modem cable, into my Osborne CP/M computer and later my IBM PC. I used the Mod 100 for years beyond its relative shelf life mainly because nobody ever came up with a newer machine that duplicated its functionality.

In the past year I’ve discovered AlphaSmart machines and really enjoy using my Neo, which resembles the Mod 100 quite a bit. It has a slightly larger LCD display, and it’s more readable in dim light, but it too has a magnificent keyboard. I squirt my files from the Neo into my Windows or Linux word process via a USB cable. Plus ça change…

While I love the Neo, I think I’m even more affectionate about my new Palm TX with its matching Palm BlueTooth wireless folding keyboard. The bright colour LCD display on the TX can be expanded and flipped sideways, giving a really good view of what’s being entered. It sits in a little holder that is stored in the keyboard and unfolded during use. Because I already owned a copy, I use WordSmith, an inexpensive text editor for the Palm. I also have it loaded with eReader and have several Gutenberg eTexts on the Palm’s SD card.

Typing on the folding keyboard is not bad. The only quirk is that the right shift key and the slash/question mark key are reversed. I’m a touch typist so I always get a surprise when I type a slash or question mark. For the rest, the keyboard is decent and because it’s a four-row keyboard, I’m not required to use a function key to type numbers.

I’ve become quite speedy with this little setup, and I can see it under nearly all lighting conditions. The setup weighs less than half a pound or so and I can easily carry the two components in my coat pockets. With this, and an ultracompact digicam in my belt pouch, I can bring my main two interests, writing and photography, with me everywhere I walk.

My relative success with PicoWriMo was largely because of this gear. The only downside I’ve discovered is that the BT keyboard drains the TX’s battery fairly noticeably. I doubt I could get more than 3, maybe 4, hours out of it starting with a fresh charge. But most days I write an hour or two at the max, so it’s not been a serious issue for me. For a more prolific writer, the battery life could be a show stopper.

Ubuntu Linux

When it comes to computing, I’ve become lazy. I call myself lazy because, like many of you, I do many things unrelated to computing, I have a family, and I am not interested in having to wrestle my OS or programs to the ground every time I want to do something with my computer. Of course if I were totally lazy, I’d simply use Windows or OS X and be done with it.

The reason I keep returning to Linux is that I sympathize with the goals and philosophy of open-source software. I’m also impressed by the talented programmers and writers the world over who have given so much of their time and talent to creating and documenting open-source projects.

Furthermore, I’ve always liked Unix. My first computer experience was with a dialup shared account on the University of Toronto’s Zoology Dept DEC PDP-11. Sitting at a 110 BAUD dumb terminal, I learned ed, nroff, and a handful of command-line utilities to manage files and directories. It was a heady experience I’ve never forgotten.

I’m an ex-IT professional, now retired. During my 20+ years working in IT I worked in all kinds of environments including CP/M, TRS-80, AppleDOS, early Mac OS, MS-DOS, Windows, OS/2, VAX VMS, AOS/VS, a tiny bit of MVS, and a number of Unix or Unix-like systems, including Solaris, SCO Unix, AT&T Unix, BSD, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, plus too many flavours of Linux to remember. My early favourites in Linux were Slackware, Red Hat, and Debian. I now use Ubuntu Linux.

I mention this mainly as background to remind myself that over the years I’ve done a lot of technical work and support, including programming, system administration, database design, user support, Internet infrastructure building, and even a bit of computerized typesetting. I don’t want to do these things any more. Instead I prefer to read fiction, take photographs with the cameras in my collection, enjoy my family, cook, go for walks, and do some writing. I don’t have time to hack at systems to make things work. I’ve become that dreaded thing: a User.

So this time around I freed up some space on my Windows XP workstation so I could install Ubuntu Linux and dual book my system. I tried Ubuntu once before and liked the ease of use it was acquiring. I hit it really lucky by installing right after the Gutsy Gibbon release (Ubuntu Linux 7.10). From what I’ve seen so far, this is a fine release for the lazy. Most things work correctly after installation without a lot of tweaking and reading. Exactly what I was looking for.

My Linux server in the basement, which I use mainly as an Internet server test bed for when I’m not feeling totally lazy, is a Debian system and I’m a fan of Debian-style packages. To me, Ubuntu is a slicked-up version of Debian for the masses.

Despite enjoying Linux, I’m not a zealot. In fact I’m pretty agnostic about operating systems and when I need Windows, I’ll be there. I use Windows extensively for digital photography and although I can accomplish some of what I do with photography in Linux, there’s nothing there that matches Photoshop CS2, Downloader Pro, or Irfanview.

Nonetheless, I’ll use The GIMP fairly regularly for casual work. It’s come a long way and I rather like it.

So, once again I step into the Linux world. Continue reading “Ubuntu Linux”