Arch Linux on bootable, persistent USB drive

I recently got a new laptop from work. Its a refurbished Dell Latitude E6330 with an Intel Core i5 processor, a 13″ screen and a 120GB SSD drive that came with Windows 7 Pro. I haven’t used Windows regularly in quite some time (I’ve been using a WinXP VM on the rare occassion I need to do something in Windows) but now that I’ve been using Windows 7 for some time I can say its really a very good OS. That said, I missed my Linux tools, and quickly grew frustrated every time I hit up against a task that I knew I could do easier in Linux or that required yet another proprietary and expensive application. Trust me, you can quickly get used to having access to a vast repository of software that can be installed in seconds safely and for free.

arch-linux-logoSince this is a machine owned by my company (and for which they paid good money for a Windows license) I can’t in good conscience just blow away Windows and replace it with Linux. The SSD, while incredibly fast, isn’t really big enough to carve up partitions for another OS. Besides, the main reason I have the machine is to run some software which requires Windows. That said, there are times when I’d like to use the machine for personal tasks as well, and I’d rather not have my personal information saved on the work machine. This got me thinking about how I could boot the machine from a “persistent” USB drive. Persistent in this sense means that the drive would not only boot the OS (a bootable live CD or USB drive does that), but also serve to store personal settings like wifi settings, themes, installed programs, etc. and personal files so that the next time I boot up, its all there.

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Youtube TV control from my android tablet

update 131202: I would disregard most of this post since I’ve picked up a chromecast which, at $35 has made queueing up Youtube, Netflix, or HBOgo videos to the TV stupid easy from the android tablet. I replaced the underpowered atom box with an Intel NUC for more serious gaming (minecraft mainly).

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Ive got a small and very underpowered System76 meerkat hooked up to my LCD TV.  The meerkat is the first “net top” they released in 2009 which you can think of as the desktop equivalent of a netbook (remember those?) and shipped with an Atom processor, one GB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive.  It came in with Ubuntu 8.10, but has been upgraded many times over the last three years and currently runs Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.  Although its integrated Intel video makes it feel slow, it boots up pretty quick.  It won’t do full screen HD without choppiness so its definitely on the list to be replaced at some point, especially since pushing video to my TV is this things only job in life, but I can run video in a standard quality which looks pretty good on the big screen anyway. Mostly I use the thing to stream YouTube or TED Talk videos, but sometimes I’ll stream music from another machine on the network and run a slideshow, or the kids can play some silly online games on it.  I never bothered to upgrade the hard drive in the thing which might make it more useful as a storage device, so with its little 80GB drive I end up storing nothing on it at all.  Once in a while I might copy a bunch of MP4s or other ripped video to it, but not often.  With my old Logitech S 510 cordless keyboard and mouse connected to it, theoretically I could lean back on the couch and control the action in comfort.  What actually happens is that I end up putting the keyboard on the coffee table and hunching over it because I can’t see the text on the screen.  I could probably solve this problem easily by just getting a pair of glasses but I hate wearing glasses unless I really have to.

Youtube promised to make it possible for me to control whats playing on the TV from a handheld or tablet device with their new YouTube TV service. The idea here is that most of you now have a handheld device and are hanging out on the couch with it while the TV is on, hitting up IMDB when you see an actor you recognize, or looking up some obscure factoid on Wikipedia inspired by the educational program you’re watching… well, thats what I’m doing. The media execs think I’m rushing off to Amazon to buy whatever crap they’re hawking in the commercials I don’t see since I use noscript and adblock. Whatever.
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Fixing my 19″ Samsung LCD monitor

Recently one of my monitors at work was refusing to go on in the morning. I’ve got two: a Samsung SyncMaster 940T and an HP L1950. Its sort of a wierd setup in that the (now quite old) PC I’m using came with a single VGA output, so I ended up buying an add-on DVI card, but I usually end up with whatever parts are left over after deploying stuff and I could only scam one DVI screen so I’ve got one VGA and one DVI screen hooked up. The problem was that every morning the screen was blank but the power light was blinking in a sort of double flash pattern. There was no message on screen for “No Signal”, and I know now that the blue light means that I was getting signal, but the monitor couldn’t display it.

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Warcraft III on Ubuntu 12.04

Installing Ubuntu on the MacBook recently, I knew there would be a bunch of OSX programs I would no longer be able to run but I was pretty confident that I’d be able to get some Windows programs going with wine. Having had good luck with Temple of Elemental Evil on the Elitebook last December, it was as simple as copying over my .wine folder to bring that over to the MacBook, and it seems to work well (so far). I was a little worried about WarCraft III since I hadn’t ever tried that on the Elitebook – I’d always run it under OSX, but as it turned out, that wasn’t anything to worry about either. Hey, I realize this is a 10 year old game, but its one of my favorites and I like to putter around in it from time to time! My notes on getting it set up follow.

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