Thursday, May 8, 2014

New Laptop: Galago Ultrapro

Just got a new laptop, the Galago Ultrapro from System76, and I think it's a keeper.

For years I've used a Dell Studio 1770, with an older i7 processor and a 17" monitor. I've enjoyed the big screen, but the Studio 17 has had a chronic overheating problem from early on that I have finally had enough of.
So I went with an ultrabook that has a better processor, more RAM, a bigger and faster hard drive, and still weighs more than a pound less than my Studio 17. Plus, Galago's come pre-loaded with Ubuntu linux, and I use linux almost exclusively.

So, my impressions now that I'm 24 hours in: good. It is noticeably lighter than the Studio 17 although I don't have precise specs on that yet. I do have specs on how cool it runs, and the Galago shaves an easy 15-20 degrees centigrade off the Studio 17's temperature, and that's with the Studio 17 sitting on a cooling pad.

I was a little worried about going from a 17 inch  monitor to a 14, but it's fine. The monitor comes with a default 1920x1080 screen resolution, which on a 14" screen makes things look a little small to my old, tired eyes, so I reduced the resolution to 1320x768 and I'm good.

There was a lot of grief last year, when the Galago came out, about what was apparently the miserable quality of the keyboard, but in my reading of the reviews it seemed that all of the keyboard troubles were resolved around December of last year. I can testify that the keyboard that the Galago ships with now works perfectly well, meaning that I'm really not noticing it or paying it any attention as I type this post. I also read how some people considered the case to be flimsy and shabby, but that's a wtf for me, now that I've got one to see and handle.

I also like the touchpad's two-finger scroll and tap to click abilities. I've never used either of those, but I am rapidly acquiring a taste for them. The touchpad is an Apple style, no-button touchpad where you press the pad itself to perform a mouse click. This was taking me some effort to get used to, especially since the touchpad's sensitivity is capable of making the cursor jerk to a new position when you perform a click. I was making progress in learning proper technique for avoiding this problem when I discovered that by turning on tap-to-click, the whole issue becomes moot since it is so easy to perform the tap click.

But that brings me to my one actual complaint. The placement of the touchpad relative to the keyboard leaves the meaty part of my right thumb dragging over the touchpad as I type. This has the unfortunate effect of making the mouse cursor jerk around constantly as I type, which is annoying. Supposedly the touchpad automatically disables itself when you type, but that's not working in any way that I've noticed. I have not yet attempted to adjust the pad sensitivity, or talk to System76 about it, so there may be a solution to this. In the interim, there is a very easy one-handed keyboard shortcut to turn the touchpad off, and I've taken to doing that when typing something like this blog post.

All in all, though, I'm liking it quite a bit. It's slim and nice looking, and is giving me the performance I was looking for. But I still need to download Steam and give it a real workout. :)


Monday, May 5, 2014

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

A while ago I read something on the Internet asserting that the Mexican victory against Archduke Maximilian and his French army on May 5th at the Battle of Puebla was important in preventing the French from intervening on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

I have been unable to locate the article I originally read, but this story from a Tampa, Florida television station has some information from what looks to be a very interesting history of the holiday, El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition, written by David Hayes-Bautista, a professor at UCLA.

From the information in the article from Florida, it is still not clear to me how much of a danger to the US the French represented. But it is clear that the early Mexican-Americans who started celebrating Cinco de Mayo did very much consider the victory at the Battle of Puebla to be a blow against the Confederacy and slavery.

I'll always drink to that. And I'm adding Professor Hayes-Bautista's book to my reading list.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Clean, Fresh Air of Los Angeles

Great news from the state Energy Commission: they are kicking in money to fund the building of 28 new hydrogen refueling stations in California. Combined with the nine existing stations, and the 17 currently under construction, this will give California a total of 54 hydrogen stations, which is more than half way to the Commission's goal of having 100 stations across the state by 2020. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are zero-emission vehicles, so if we can make them practical for general use, then we will have made a huge advance towards bringing global warming under control.

More, we will have made a huge advance towards reducing California air pollution in general. Radically reducing California's general smog and air pollution would not be a small thing. The American Lung Association has released a list of the ten American cities with the worst air quality, and California has seven out of the top ten. But knowing that California is moving towards hydrogen fuel cell cars lets me imagine driving into Los Angeles in the summer and looking at a clean, fresh, blue sky, rather than the current experience that we are all too familiar with. It's a sweet dream and it's something that we could actually reach.

But no, wait. Our real estate prices are already sky high because California is already just too damned beautiful. Maybe we should hold on to the smog?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Coming War with Texas

The recent announcement that Toyota is moving its American sales and marketing headquarters from California to Texas has spurred some of the usual commentary about an economic competition between California and Texas. And this is supposedly a competition that California is losing! But I don't think there's much to that story; I don't really think we have anything serious to worry about from Texas poaching our businesses. I will probably do a post about that soon.

However, California does have a serious problem with Texas that may well come to resemble a political and economic war in the years to come. And that war will be about oil.

A recent (and excellent) article about the Texas economy is in the current issue of Washington Monthy magazine. Among many interesting points, author Phillip Longman points out that a critical part of the economic growth spurt in Texas is simply the growth of the Texas oil and gas industry. The growth of the oil and natural gas industries is a critical foundation of the Texas "miracle" that conservatives crow about.

But California has declared war on oil and gas (and coal). From our renewable energy mandate for 2020, to our efforts to build a network of hydrogen fuel cell refill stations across the state, from our opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline to our mandate for electrical utilities to develop energy storage capacity,  to our cap and trade greenhouse gas market, California is working to reduce our use of oil and gas. In so doing, we have taken up arms against an industry that Texas is going all in on.

It's not personal. It's not that anyone over here has a grudge against Texas or is upset by the fact that their economy is growing. But Californians live in the real world, where global warming is a clearly recognized danger to the Mediterranean Climate that we know and love. And because global warming threatens our climate and lifestyle, global warming has to go, and therefore the oil and gas industries pretty much have to go too.

But Texas lives in Fox News Land, and they don't see things the same way. They think oil is great. So our effort to gut their foundation industry is going to cause some really hard feelings at some point.