Stopwatchgirl wanted a laptop for stage management gigs. Stage management in an opera company is heavily word-processing oriented. There are loads of things to coordinate; the Stage Manager and assistants backstage follow along in their copies of the opera's score where they have notes about who needs to do what. At any given moment the the stage manager can be calling light cues, warning of upcoming costume or scene changes, the assistants can be making sure that the right supers have the right props to take onstage and cuing their entrances.
So during rehearsals, they create these absurdly detailed lists of who has what when and where, where water should be hidden on the set during scene changes, where things come from (is that a prop department sword or a costume department sword? Can we use the rehearsal fan if the singer doesn't like the new fan from costumes?)
Stopwatchgirl is an old friend of WordPerfect, so that was a given. And she'd need networking and telecom stuff to send email and surf, naturally. And graphics stuff, since she's going to be taking the digital camera on her next assignment.
We started by thinking about fast expensive machines. Those Vaios are pretty nice. But they cost actual money! And we could get a cheap sub-200MHz laptop for peanuts, but they weigh several stone. And then we stumbled across the teeny computers. Libretto! Traveler! and...
That new RedHat thing is all the buzz these days, so I picked up a CheapBytes RH 5.2 CD to experiment with. Stopwatchgirl liked the idea of RedHat, so we decided to mount the RH CD on vespa, my Cyrix 6x86L box, and do the install with the much-vaunted RedHat installer using PLIP.
The RedHat install was all new and funny to me; Disk Druid seemed like a funny beast, but it's probably comfier than fdisk for people who don't partition disks every day. We nuked the Windows partition, left APM's 49M partition at the end of the disk untouched, and set up three new partitions: one 48M for /, one 1+ gig for /usr and 32M swap. It seems fine, even with giants like Netscape Communicator, the Gimp and WordPerfect 8 installed.
I'd never used PLIP before, thinking it sounded kind of wrong in principle,
but I was willing to try...and try... After recompiling the kernel a couple of times
on vespa to try to move the sound card to IRQ 5 and leave the parallel IRQ on 7
because it didn't work on 5 and choosing randomly between SPP/EPP/ECP modes, I
found something that should have worked but didn't. Giving up, I booted Tom's RootBoot disk
on the Amity to poke around and --lo and behold-- PLIP worked! Redhat's installer
was asking for network params in a way that seemed funny to me, who am used to
ifconfigging ethernet interfaces manually. So there, I learned something.
Note to self: a) check for lp or sound using IRQ 7
b) insmod plip (returns interface name created, e.g. plip1)
c) ifconfig plip1 plipuno pointopoint plipdue up (plipuno and plipdue are defined in my /etc/hosts as 192.168.0.1 and 192.168.0.2)
d) route add plipdue plip1
e) and likewise on the other machine. Special RedHat installer note: use 255.255.255.255 for the netmask when setting up the PLIP link.
So Stopwatchgirl started up the installer again, and we started PLIPping.
After a couple of false starts, where the PLIP connection would die about
a third of the way through the install, we opted to install a basic set of
stuff that would get us started and add the games and X and all once
the system was up and running.
Note: PLIP was happier on my (desktop) machine with the parallel set to EPP/SPP rather than ECP/EPP
Anyhow. With the Amity booting, it was time to ftp (over PLIP) the development tools and kernel source. Easy. I tried compiling something small first (photopc, the digital camera interface tool). Excellent!
The order of the day was to try to get all the APM stuff working. The Amity says it has a version 1.2 APM BIOS. Try as I might, I couldn't get the suspend, or hibernate, feature to behave so we disabled it in the CMOS setup and settled for the comparatively power-hungry "standby" mode. The power-off on shutdown works fine.
I thought setting up X would be scary because of the Amity's Neomagic video chip, for which the driver was made available only a couple of months ago. It turned out to be totally painless. Using Xconfigurator, it figured out the chip and VRAM automagically, we set the "monitor" to be a 640x480 LCD and asked for 16bpp (a.k.a. thousands of colors). Viola, as they say. The mouse was detected properly as a PS/2.
The only tweakage remaining was that X started up as a 640x480 screen
and we wanted an 800x600 virtual screen to pan around in, so we edited
/etc/X11/XF86Config, and uncommented the "no_accel" option in the MagicGraph
128ZV "Device" section and changed the "Virtual" specification in the "Screen"
Note: The 800 640 maxes out the 1M vram at 16bpp... the no_accel is used to free up vram normally used by the server for accelerating X performance but we need the pixels more than the speed.
We haven't tried many pcmcia cards and haven't run into any yet
that don't work. The pcmcia programs work beautifully out of the box. We've
used two modem cards, a Simple Technology 33.6 Communicator and a
Practical Peripherals PC288T2 EZ. Stopwatchgirl got a deal on a combo
ethernet card, a Linksys EC2T. So far we've only used it here at home
on our little thinnet network.
Note: /etc/pcmcia/network.opts has all the important network startup stuff
The floppy drive is worth mentioning. It's an external unit that attaches to the parallel port. Unlike the Libretto's drive, it seems to work without any special consideration. It read the RedHat install floppies fine and we've used it since then to move files to DOS floppies.
I chose IRQ 5 for the sound card when I compiled the kernel the first time and accepted the Soundblaster defaults for the rest of the parameters. It worked immediately. It's not what you'd call loud, though.
It's cool. It's tiny. It's not as tiny as a Libretto, but I was not happy trying to type on a Libretto. The Amity keyboard is just enough bigger that it's comfy for me. (16mm pitch instead of the 15mm as on Librettos, Hitachi Traveler, or Panasonic CF-M31) The 133 MHz Pentium sounds slow in this day of 400MHz PIIs, but it's not significantly slow in user-response kinds of things. Kernel compile times are around 15 minutes. The one thing that Stopwatchgirl notices being slow is Netscape startup: we have the big bells-and-whistles Communicator 4.5 installed. Stopwatchgirl ordered an additional 32M RAM ($62) for a total of 48M.