The RedMonk IT Report: From One Thinkpad to Another

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While it’s true that Lenovo seems extremely unlikely to make their promised ship date of 6.25.07 for my new Thinkpad X61s, it being well after COB everywhere that I’m aware of, it’s also true that I have yet to return their X60s loaner machine (requested back at least two months ago). I wonder if I could ransom the old one for the new one?

Under normal circumstances, a mere laptop migration probably wouldn’t qualify for a RedMonk IT Report. But considering that a.) we haven’t had one in a while, and b.) the fact that there are some interesting angles to this particular migration, I figured what the hell.

Another Thinkpad

You could view my selection of yet another Thinkpad as a validation of the machine’s quality, given that this is my fourth or fifth in a row. And that would be accurate. But it’s equally an indictment of the market for quality ultralight machines. After using Dell’s in work capacities prior to RedMonk, I’m not getting another one of those for a while. The Sony’s are beautiful and light, but fragile from what I’m told. And while I could get over my fear of some of the horrific Apple quality problems I’ve heard recently, the combination of the touchpad and the lack of two mouse buttons makes their gear a non-starter. And so on. So yes I like Thinkpads, and am happy to purchase another one, but they don’t have much competition. That’s why I’ve been trying to get the folks from Sun to apply some of their vaunted engineering expertise to the premium laptop market for a couple of years now, but thus far haven’t convinced anyone.

Backup (Target)

Mechanically, this is very straightforward. The last snapshot will be exported to an external hard drive, but I’m also taking the opportunity to put a mirror of the current state offsite up on Strongspace (thx to the Joyent guys for the account). What’s being backed up? Everything in the /home/sog directory, including all of my application preferences.

Backup (Applications)

Likewise, my application list should be mostly straightforward. There’s the odd application that I’ve downloaded and installed independent of the package management application, such as Songbird (a XULRunner based media player) or Striim (an internet radio player), but just about everything I run has been centrally obtained and installed via apt. Therefore, recreating my setup is actually fairly trivial using the instructions here. Making matters easier is that I have that set up on a nightly cron job, which deposits the output list to my home directory – so it’ll be backed up along with the other data. Once I’m all set with the new machine, I turn apt loose on the list of applications I’m running here and it should drop in everything I need. Have I told package management lately how much I love it?

Backup (Data)

What’s slightly more complicated is restoring my application preferences and data on the target machine. Several of the folks in #redmonk today reported good success with this approach, but the last time I tried it I knocked out my workstation. This time around, I’ll be more selective with the application settings I bring over. The GAIM (accounts and locations), Evolution (all of my offline email) and Firefox (all of my extensions) settings are the most critical and will be applied incrementally. Will report back on my experiences there.

Cellular Connectivity

At the strong urging of folks like Alex, I not only got on board WWAN access in the new machine – I’m actually going to activate it (I never bothered with the X60s). All that needed to be determined was whether I went the EVDO route (Verizon) or the UMTS/HSDPA (Atingular). The differences, as I understand them anyway, are this: EVDO is available in far more markets than HSDPA and UMTS both, and will be a great deal faster in markets where those aren’t available and Atingular customers have to fall back to GPRS/EDGE (what I’m posting with now). The theoretical speed of HSDPA, however, is apparently better and Atingular’s in the process of fixing markets (e.g. San Francisco) that were previously underserved.

As with any connectivity option, however, you have to consider where you’ll be using it. For me, EVDO will be much faster than the Cingular alternative in Denver where I spend 8 or so months of the year. In Denver, however, I have good connectivity at home. Where the family’s place in Maine is, however, EVDO coverage is non-existent and there is no alternative. Atingular, on the other hand, has some connectivity.

So while EVDO would be a very good choice for most folks, UMTS/HSDPA is what I went with. Now I just need to hope I can get it working under Ubuntu. The price tag – 60-80 per month – seems very high, until you look at the amount I’m currently shelling out to airport to airport and hotel wireless providers. I should save a substantial amount by consolidating my connectivity into one monthly payment.

Operating System

No major changes. The old machine was running Ubuntu in a dual boot configuration with Windows, and the new machine will be as well. I’m contemplating moving to Gutsy Gibbon – the bleeding edge version of Ubuntu – rather than Feisty Fawn, but have a few days left to ponder that.


Also under consideration during this migration is placing some or all of my home directory under the control of a source code management system, e.g. a Subversion (centralized) or a bzr/Mercurial (decentralized). While I don’t switch machines enough to see a huge benefit to this practice, it would be nice to be able to check in periodically for backup purposes and check out the snapshotted desktop on the workstation I maintain. Given the slate of other tasks on the agenda, this isn’t likely to happen, but I’m curious as to whether any of you are doing this now (I know a couple of folks that do it via Subversion).

Screen Resolution

One of my biggest beefs with the Thinkpad X series is the 1024×768 screen resolution. It’s not that the display is bad, it’s just that it’s not good. As I told some of the #redmonk regulars, I refuse to have better displays back at the office for fear of ruining the laptop experience. With nothing to compare it to now, 1024×768 seems all right, but sooner or later I’m going to want something with a bit more visual punch.

SSDs, LED, etc

In a perfect world, I would have kept chugging along on the X60s for another year plus, eagerly awaiting difference making features like solid state drives (SSDs), LED displays, and so on. Unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect, ergo the new machine. I’m telling myself that it’s best to skip the first generation of the technologies anyway, and to let others work through the inevitable issues. Someday I might even believe that.


The stickers, I thought, were going to be a real problem. In this, like many other things in this life, I was wrong. Just before lunch, I stopped at the TrueValue hardware store in Brunswick and picked up a box of razor blade for 79 cents. After cutting the corner off one sticker, then slicing open the pad of my thumb, I was able to get all of my stickers off the machine fairly easily. The Creative Commons CC logo left a little gluish residue, but everything peeled off nicely.


  1. I’m actively pondering laser etching to replace stickers.

  2. FWIW, I’ve got a Sony Vaio here that’s about 500MHz and still runs like a champ. From my anecdotal experience, I’d consider trying another Sony.

  3. On the subject of versioned home directories, I’ve found it is actually best to seperate the reasons to backup your home directory, and approach them independantly.

    1) Replicating your settings to other machines

    2) Not loosing things should you take a crash, or get trigger happy with rm -f

    I used to solve the first one with CVS, but now I do it with Mercurial, as there is no server setup required. Just start tracking bits like .bashrc, desktop config files, emacs configs, etc. Then point to point push to any new system you are setting up, and all your settings are there. 🙂 Mercurial’s merge model is good enough that you can make changes wherever, and merge back without too much pain, or fear of loosing anything.

    I started solving the “don’t loose things” problem recently with backuppc (http://backuppc.sourceforge.net), as I was trying to find a piece of Open Source Linux based backup software that was sufficiently easy to setup and configure that it could be proposed for local schools. As of version 3, I think it has gotten there. I’ve now got an installation doing daily backups of /etc, /usr/local, and /home for 5 machines, including my laptop. The user interface for browsing versioned files, and pushing them back for restore is quite nice, and I know works, as I did a laptop rebuild 2 weeks ago and leaned on it heavily.

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