Three steps to instant cool

I seem to be getting a lot more traffic than usual these days, which is either a good thing or a bad thing. If you’re new here, welcome, and I’ll summarize much of the content for you. Just as a courtesy. 😉

Here are three things you can do to take an old, unwanted computer and turn it into the coolest, sharpest toy in your neighborhood. Follow through with these steps, and every geek — even the turtlenecked wannabe artist types — will bow down to you.

  1. Take it apart and repaint it. I know, it’s easier said than done, particularly when we’re talking about laptops. But you’ll learn a lot about the guts, you’ll get a chance to clean everything out, and when it’s done, it’s absolutely spectacular. Don’t skip this step.
  2. Swap the hard drive for a CF card. Whatever you heard about CF cards or even SD cards being untrustworthy or having a short life span is utter and complete rubbish. Forget you heard it. I’ve been using one for about three months now, and spent almost three weeks raging against another, and they both still work fine. Get one. Now.
  3. Install fbterm. This is also easier said than done, but in doing so you’ll carve your system demands down so drastically you can easily get by with a 10-, 12- or 14-year-old computer, and it will do everything you ask of it without even blinking (except maybe the cursor 🙄 ). And best of all, it’s insanely awesome and cool beyond measure. You’ll be so glad you did this.

That’s all. If you need details on how to get started, I’ve kept all my notes and tips scattered around the site. Take a week or two to get used to your machine, then get to work revamping it. I promise: The results will turn people green with envy. … :mrgreen:


15 thoughts on “Three steps to instant cool

  1. Jonathan Page

    I didn’t know about the painting it part (I’ve been reading your blog since the fbterm post). Maybe I’ll do that with my new experimenting laptop. I need to fix the hinge anyway, and with no bootable devices other than the hard drive, installing linux on there awaits my acquisition of a usb-ide cable. (CF might be better. Hmm. I don’t actually have a CF card or reader…

  2. Josh Tolle

    I don’t remember how I came across your blog, nor the particular post that drew me in, but you site did inspire me. I have spent the past few years running a MacBook Pro, and I finally got sick of it. Not that I don’t appreciate OS X and the “clean and sleek” design of the machine, I just got tired of everything getting slower (which is to say that I would upgrade software and the hardware that used to run like a dream grew less and less adequate with each upgrade). I couldn’t really justify the spend on a new system, so I was in a quandary: tuck in the string and shell out for a new system or continue being thoroughly pissed off at seeing the beach ball more often when attempting to switch between applications.

    Then I cam across this blog and I was inspired. I had picked up a used IBM ThinkPad T41 from work (they sell piles of used equipment to the corporate employees periodically, and although they’re a little beat up and stripped to the lowest possible specs for what they are, they’re still in pretty good shape). I did my best to run in just the console, but screen is beyond my ability to grasp at this time and although Alt-F#’ing around is fairly convenient, it just torqued me when I’d more to a terminal that I hadn’t logged into yet. So I loaded up awesome WM atop my Arch Linux base, and I’m humming along pretty well now. There are a few things I need to figure out still (I haven’t taken the time to play around with the sound yet, but I don’t feel like I’m missing a whole ton without it), but I’m loving this machine as my main rig. Moreover, I love watching other techie’s faces contort with utter confusion and thorough disgust when I explain what I’m running as a main machine.

    I saw an interview once with someone who was clearly the master of anything technical put in his general vicinity, and the interviewer asked what the guy ran at home. The answer was something along the lines of “it’s really not relevant because all of the hardware I have is given to me because it’s out of date, or I pick it up broken and use parts from other machines to get it working again, so I end up having to write all my own drivers and all of that….” I thought then — and still do now — that it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard someone say about computing — and so off-handed and matter-of-fact! Also, I remember thinking that the guy was nuts. Now I’ve clearly gone around the bend because I am currently working toward that echelon (no doubt I won’t get there, but life is about the journey, not the destination).

    Sorry for the War & Peace comment here. Please keep the inspiration coming, it is much appreciated.

  3. Kevin

    Installing fbterm looks intimidating. I want to eventually learn to live without Xorg, but that might be a step or two too soon. Does anyone have any good suggestions for an intermediate set-up? I’ve done Openbox, but would like to go even further. I’m thinking Musca, Awesome WM, or ScrotWM, but I have no experience what so ever with tiling window managers. Any advice/tips/hints would be appreciated 🙂

    1. prinzzchavo

      I’m basically at the same point, or even more attached to a GUI as you…(too attached to Skype and Inkscape) and I’m sticking to openbox (just a personal favorite).

      What I would do is to strip openbox down until you get the minimum X can give (no menus, no bars…), launch a terminal emulator on fullscreen at bootup, and work in it.

      Sure it’s not the best choice, but it’s what I do.

  4. anon

    Just curious, does fbterm conflict with fb MPlayer? Just want to know so I can try this later.

    I’m gonna upgrade my Pentium 3’s memory, give it a CF card, install Crux, and see all the fun that is possible.

    1. Kyle

      Mplayer works fine here. For viewing pictures, FBV the best choice. (fbi does not play well with fbterm) Finally, to read graphical PDFs, use “pdftoppm -png” (part of poppler) along with FBV.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Me? Probably Crux, with Arch as a close second. Thus far (although the verdict is still out) only Crux lets me customize (easily) to the point where things work on a Pentium. … 😐

      1. Jeff Flowers

        I have a big crush on Arch Linux right now because it’s so configurable. I’m going to do another test install of Arch tonight, so right now I am looking through the base group packages to see what I can eliminate.

  5. Cian

    Tiling managers is partly a matter of taste, and what you’re prepared to do. I use XMonad and absolutely love it. Rock solid (absolutely never crashed), fast and it gets the task done (I even have a very nice tiled arrangement for the Gimp).

    The downside is that the configuration is based upon Haskell, which has a fairly steep learning curve (though all of my configuration was cribbed from various websites/FAQs/etc), and you need the GHC compiler, which uses 600MB. Yep, that’s right. But given that that my main hard drive has plenty of free space on it, this doesn’t bother me so much. It did take me a while to get it working the way I wanted, but once it was working I’ve left it alone and not really thought about it much.

    A lot of people like Awesome, and it definitely has all the kewl gadgets/widgets. I was always put off by the fact that the configuration files seemed to keep changing with each release. If that’s stable, then Lua is certainly a lot easier to work with, and you don’t need 600MB for the compiler. The other thing is that I’ve heard mixed things about its stability. Given that XMonad works fine for me, I’ve not been tempted to try it.

    There’s also stump which is based upon Lisp. If you like Lisp, then maybe. I know nothing about it though.

    The rest are less powerful, but that doesn’t necessarily matter (they can certainly do all that Screen can) if your needs are quite light. A good place to start looking is the Arch wiki, and forums. For some reason Arch users love tiling WMs.

  6. Cian

    I’ll add another thing about XMonad. On my Arch Linux setup it uses about 54MB on boot. So it is very light when running.

  7. ErSandro

    Always loved tiling WMs. I suggest musca (my actual choice) and i3. Both of them are very easy to use and configure.

  8. totalizator

    For myself there is a 4th step: framebuffer web browser able to properly draw modern web pages, for instance my “netsurf-framebuffer” ;). Screenshots here:

  9. Josh Tolle

    Well, with that and a decent fb IM client, I could head back to the console. I’ll go digging around tonight.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s