My Tweaks to the Aspire One Netbook

I need to document the tweaks that I made to the Acer Aspire One netbook, so I figured I might as well post them here since someone else may find them useful. All of this info is available with sufficient googling but here’s the condensed version.

Background

The PC is the Acer Aspire One, Linux  version with 8GB SSD, referred to in these previous postings:

http://www.k0nr.com/wordpress/archives/200

http://www.k0nr.com/wordpress/archives/430

My basic approach to hacking this PC is to leave most of it alone and make minimal adjustments:

  • Enable the advanced mode user interface
  • Load Thunderbird in place of the original email client
  • Load a few more games

Enable Advanced Mode

This one is easy. Get into the Terminal mode (AKA linux command line) by pressing ALT – F2 on the keyboard.  Type in: xfce-setting-show which will bring up a window with several icons on it. Click on Desktop to get to the Desktop Preferences and choose the Behavior tab. Now mark under Menus the Show desktop menu on right click option and close the window. Now you can access a much expanded menu selection by selecting a Right Click on the desktop.

See http://www.aspireoneuser.com/2008/07/09/aspire-one-advance-linpus-mode-hack/ for more information or if you find my instructions inadequate.

Load New Software

Now that Advanced Mode is enabled, we’ll go load up some new software. Do a Right Click with the mouse on the desktop to bring up the advanced menu. Select SYSTEM and ADD/REMOVE SOFTWARE, which brings up the dialog box for managing the installed software. It will probably take a little while for it to load the list of available choices. Then use the SEARCH tab to find these software programs and add them in:

  • thunderbird
  • any other programs (I just added a few games)

Follow the prompts to get the software to load and be patient.

Fixing the Main Menu (So Email points to Thunderbird)

There is one more thing to fix. The Desktop Menu icon for “Email” still points to Aspire One Mail, not Thunderbird. You could choose to just live with this and select Thunderbird from the Advanced Menu (Right Click on Desktop). Warning: You can royally screw up your computer if you make an error, so all disclaimers apply!

To change the Desktop Menu, we need to edit one of the files that defines how the menus are configured. This forum discussion has all of the info but I will also summarize it here.

Edit this file using Mousepad or some other editor:

/home/user/.config/xfce4/desktop/group-app.xml

You should be able to use the standard file manager to find this file. A double-click on the file should launch the editor.

Find the line that begins <app sequence=”3″ acs=”email”>
Change AME.desktop to mozilla-thunderbird.desktop
Save the file and reboot the PC (you may want to save the original file somewhere in case you need to reverse this edit). Be Sure to Reboot the PC for this change to take effect.

One More Thing

To stop Aspire One Mail from checking for new messages:

Open Aspire One Mail (you may need to use the advanced menu now for this)
Tools>Options
Uncheck: “Check for Messages Every:” and “Play sound when new messages arrive.”

More on Netbooks

The so-called “Netbook” category continues to get quite a bit of attention. Acer has introduced several new models in the Aspire One line and is intent on winning in this category (aiming for 50% of the market in 2009).

Some pundits have pointed out that even though this category is growing dramatically, you may not see that many of them at the local coffee shop. I have to admit that I have not noticed very many of them in the wild. (The installed base is huge, so it takes quite a few units to move the needle.) Acer has apparently taken the worldwide lead in consumer notebooks (in terms of units) in Q3 of 2008, edging out HP with 5.04M units (vs. HP’s 4.85M units.) With netbook prices often in the range of $300 to 500, this sure sounds like price erosion to me in the notebook category.

In a previous post, I wrote about the Acer Aspire One Netbook that my wife is using. She does let me use it once in while, so I have actually gotten some stick time on it. My assessment remains largely the same: this is a great little PC for its intended purpose (web usage, email and light text editing). Sometimes it is the little things that can make a big difference: I find myself reaching for the Acer because it boots from a deadstart in under 24 seconds. It makes my WindowsXP and Vista machines seem like slow, plodding dinosaurs. My car starts in a few seconds, so why can’t my PC be instant on?

After about 6 weeks of having the computer, I still give it high marks. The keyboard is slightly cramped but quite usable. I wouldn’t want to type on anything smaller and I do appreciate it when I switch back to a full size keyboard. The touchpad sucks but that doesn’t surprise — I think all touchpads suck, so I am not an unbiased observer. I use a small notebook style mouse whenever possible. The right/left “mouse” keys for the touchpad are placed in a non-standard position, which causes some user complaints. I finally figured out that FN – F7 turns the dang thing off, so I don’t bump it while I am typing.

The Linux OS has turned out to be sturdy and reliable but difficult to adapt. The GUI that layered on top of Linux does a good job as far as it goes. After that, I find myself resorting to the Linux command line to get things done. This is acceptable for me but puts futzing around with the system out of reach for many users. If you don’t speak Linux, then your ability to adapt this machine is limited. But for its intended use, you shouldn’t need to mess with it. So there you go….works well for the intended use but be careful beyond that.

And did I mention it BOOTS FAST?

– Bob K0NR

Update (28 Nov 2008): Here are a few links for user information, hacks, modifications, etc.

http://www.aspireoneuser.com/2008/07/09/aspire-one-advance-linpus-mode-hack/

http://www.liliputing.com/2008/07/how-to-access-advanced-acer-aspire-one.html

http://www.linuxhaxor.net/2008/09/27/30-cool-acer-aspire-one-hacks/

http://macles.blogspot.com/

Making Plans for Hamcon Colorado

I attended the planning meeting for the 2009 Hamcon Colorado this morning. This event is the ARRL Rocky Mountain Division Convention, held in Colorado every three years as it rotates between Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. In 2009, it will be held on May 29-31 in Estes Park, a super vacation spot.

Hamcon Colorado’s main feature is a strong set of technical and operating forums covering a wide range of amateur radio topics. The common complaint is that there are too many attractive forums and they run in parallel, so you can’t attend them all. The list of forums is still being finalized, but it is looking really good for next year and will likely include APRS, D-STAR, APCO Project 25, DXing, QRP, VHF antennas, electronic test equipment, satellite operating and much more. Keep an eye on the Hamcon Colorado web site as the technical program is finalized. The weekend has plenty of other activities, including saturday night banquet, QLF CW contest, transmitter hunt and VE testing.

For hams within driving distance of Colorado, Estes Park makes a great vacation spot for the entire family. This little mountain town sits at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the nation’s best scenic parks.

If you are looking for a great weekend (or week long) getaway filled with amateur radio fun, plan on attending Hamcon Colorado in 2009.

- 73, Bob K0NR

Trying SIT Tones for Phone Spam

Having recently commented (whined?) about the huge about of email spam clogging the internet, I now turn to the same issue with POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). At our house, we use caller ID and answering machine call screening to deal with most solicitors. This has been remarkably effective. With the election growing near, the politicos are spending a ton of money on these robot autodialers (robocall) that call and leave a recorded message. Although I don’t have to listen to these idiotic messages, they do fill up the answering machine.

Before you tell me to register with the United States Do Not Call Registry, don’t bother. We are registered but it doesn’t apply to political organizations. (Seems that Congress thinks there is some special Freedom of Speech issue here.)

Here is an idea that I have tried and it seems to help. The telephone system has a number of special signaling tones that indicate the status of a phone line, called Special Information Tones. These tones basically tell the calling device that the dialed number has a problem. I recorded these tones at the beginning of our outgoing voice message, followed by my usual “Sorry we can’t take your call right now” greeting. The idea is that a machine calling will hear the tones and give up, while a human will ignore them and listen to the message.

Click here for the sit-tone

I’ve had this running for a few days, and the success rate appears to be about 80%. I still see incoming political calls on the Caller ID but most don’t make it to the answering machine. A few still get through…probably because the calling device ignores the SIT tone.

This is Bob K0NR and I approve this message.

73, Bob K0NR