Travels with Charley

Before it suffered a stupendous hard drive crash, the Pentium laptop I keep as part conversation spur, part thumbing-my-nose-at-the-wastefulness-of-modern-consumerism was doing quite well in its role as mobile communication point.

Or as well as can be expected for a machine that has survived long enough to see two different centuries. In the short six or seven days I had it at my disposal, I jotted down a few notes to myself, if I ever decided to bring it along again.

Probably the biggest consideration was that it is quite heavy, and unfortunately there’s not a lot to be done about that. It’s simply the nature of the beast that the machine has a core weight of around 8 or 9 pounds, give or take.

I could remove the battery and the floppy drive, but the difference is negligible — and then I would have two unsightly gaping holes in the machine when I’m trying to pitch it to people as a working antique. :| No, the bulk of the bulk is in the central frame and display, so I’m afraid that’s just the way it is.

The battery is another consideration. I contacted a laptop battery company, and in spite of its age it seems that it’s possible to have the battery rebuilt — to the tune of US$65 or so.

I am debating whether or not I want to go that route; most of the time the machine is deskbound, so running without the power cable is never a need. Of course the reason it’s deskbound is because the machine has no battery, so I might have trapped myself in a mental loop there.

And on the other hand, it would be nice to have a small measure of portability from time to time. It’s just a little difficult, personally, to justify rebuilding the battery at a cost six and a half times what I paid for the entire computer. :roll:

Soundwise, I still haven’t figured out how to configure ISA hardware in newer kernels, and my efforts to use precompiled distros to give me a boost isn’t bearing fruit. So I had no music, but I brought along my music player, and the problem was solved.

Outside of those physical considerations, most of the issues I had with the machine were my own to solve. I had little or no experience working with WPA encryption, so when I visited a relative with an encrypted wireless network, I had some head-scratching to do. In the future I should impose upon a friend with a WPA network, before wandering around the planet and waiting for my ignorance to become a problem.

Furthermore I didn’t bring along a wired network connection, which in retrospect was a rather important thing to leave behind. In the case where WPA was an issue it would have been a convenient fallback to yank the wireless card and plug into the router, at least for an hour or two.

And for a machine of this age and speed, Crux is simply the best solution, although the option of adding more software was almost nonexistent. I did a good job keeping myself armed with the programs I would need, but if anything outside of the ordinary were to suddenly crop up, I daresay I would have been in trouble. By the time I would have it compiled, I would have been back in Japan.

But after that, there wasn’t much I felt was lacking. I could browse the Web with relative comfort, hook up to area wireless networks, check weather reports and flight times without too much trouble. In my downtime I had vitetris, freecell and a long-running game of Nethack to keep me occupied, which was more than enough. I got a couple of stares from people toting the latest and greatest netbooks, but I can’t say for sure if those were looks of shock, jealousy or disgust. Maybe all three. ;)

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9 Responses to “Travels with Charley”


  1. 1 Timmy 2009/10/28 at 10:23 AM

    >It’s just a little difficult, personally, to justify rebuilding the battery at a cost six and a half times what I paid for the entire computer.

    I had a similar struggle with myself over a circa 1999 Thinkpad I picked up for $5–and ended up spending ten times that much for a power cord, battery and RAM.

  2. 2 JakeT 2009/10/29 at 4:00 AM

    I saw a Win95 laptop for sale a few days ago and passed on it b/c of weight issue as well. The size was great and I’m sure I could have gotten it working fine, but the fact that it weight twice what my normal laptop does throws the whole portability thing right out the window.

  3. 4 steve 2009/10/29 at 5:28 PM

    Hey KMandla, good to see you back. I have acquired a 500MHz P3 toshiba satellite pro with a whopping 64MB of RAM and it runs Puppy Linux quite well, even wirelessly. Works well as a thin-client as well.

    Sure it weighs 6-8lbs but there’s no substitute for having a ‘working antique’ =D

  4. 5 ShiftPlusOne 2009/11/02 at 9:23 AM

    I’ve got a similar battery issue. I bouht an old laptop for $40. It’s hard drive was a barely working mess and it ran Windows ME. After finding a new hard drive and replacing the internal button cell, I got it running Gentoo quite nicely. The only downside is I can’t find any place that sells the battery for the ThinkPad 560Z.

    Since you have all these years of experience with old laptop, would you happen to know what my best bet for the battery is?

    • 6 ShiftPlusOne 2009/11/07 at 9:06 PM

      No? Ok then =(

      • 7 K.Mandla 2009/11/08 at 7:39 AM

        Sorry; overlooked that one. Once or twice I bought rehabbed batteries off of ebay, or batteries that fix the model but claimed to be chargeable. Results were mixed.

        Someone mentioned http://www.batteryrebuild.com, but I haven’t tried their service yet. I might.

        • 8 ShiftPlusOne 2009/11/08 at 9:11 AM

          Ah, thank you! Batteryrebuild looks promising. I’ve looked on ebay, but the few batteries they has were sold with the labels ‘not tested, sold as is’… which doesn’t sound at all reliable.

          Anyway, thanks again, I’ll look into batteryrebuild.


  1. 1 Poor man’s SSD « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2010/07/22 at 9:58 AM

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May 6, 2011
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