Acer Aspire One – Initial Impressions

Well, despite my successful installation of a DIY solid state drive – the old laptop continued to develop new problems (the keyboard started to get sticky keys).  I did agonize over buying something new (or maybe a used ThinkPad) and finally settled on one of the new netbooks – the Acer Aspire One.

Now while it is primarily going to be Jenn’s machine, I will get to tinker with it.  Tonight I spent some time getting it on our network, downloading updates and then installing VNC so she can remote to her Mac.

Out of the gate the Aspire One is way more machine that the old clunky laptop we had.  Its fast, small, 11G wireless and has working sound.  It boots to the UI in about 20 seconds, but you’ve got to wait another 10 seconds or so for the wifi to connect.

One annoyance was the fact that the initial setup process doesn’t allow for passwords with punctuation in them – I fixed that by getting into the terminal and changing the initial password.

The process to do that is as follows: Go to Files > My Documents to open the File Manager. Then go to File > Terminal.  Its actually pretty trivial, but this is the gateway into adding more software.

Once in the terminal you can modify the XCFE settings by running the xfce-setting-show command: Click on Desktop to get to the Desktop Preferences and choose the Behavior tab. Now mark under Menus the Show desktop menu on right click option and close the window.  Once you’re done here, right click one the desktop background will bring up the Desktop Menu.

The Aspire One users call the above the “Advanced Mode” hack.  The primary reason to do it is to enable the Add/Remove Programs function (the Package Manager).

Now before you get going, you will want to fix the root password.  Thankfully this is trivial: Simply launch a terminal and sudo bash to get a root shell, then use passwd to fix things.

At this point you can run the package manager from the Desktop Menu, provide the root password and away you go.  As I mentioned, I chose to install a VNC viewer.  This worked fine, but the normal home screen menus did not pick up the new application (the Desktop Menu did).

To modify the home screen menus you need to edit /home/user/.config/xfce4/desktop/group-app.xml and add a line something like: 
<app sequence=”10″>/usr/share/applications/vncviewer.desktop</app>

You will need to reboot to get it to show up.

So far, its a very cool gadget for a fairly reasonable price.  Once we’ve had it a while, I’ll write up a proper review.

Pad Sew

One of my all time favorite foods would be noodles.  Instant noodles were a staple in my diet until recently – they were cheap, filling, and tasty.  The MaMa Shrimp flavour were my favorite.  I still crave them, but the sodium content wasn’t doing me any favors (50% daily value per packet, and I tended to eat two at a time).

Since I’m avoiding instant noodles at home, my noodle consumption there is either spaghetti or kraft dinner with Alison.  Occasionally at work we’ll run out to Thai Express and pick up some noodles – I predictably get Pad Sew with beef.  I kept saying I needed to find a good Pad Sew recipe and start making it at home.

I finally got around to doing a search and locating a good looking recipe, then it was a trip to the local Asian grocery store to find some of the ingredients I needed.  While the recipe looks pretty complex, it turns out to be fairly straight forward – and the resulting dish is awesome.

Here is a replication of the recipe from the original source along with my comments.

Pad Sew (aka: Pad See Ew)
serves 2

300g flat rice noodle (rice stick)
1 egg
250g Chinese broccoli (or similar, I used bok choy)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 tbsp cooking oil (used roughly in 3rds during cooking)
1 tbsp thick (sweet) soy sauce (look for soy sauce with palm sugar)
dash of fish sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar

Meat & Marinade
225g pork loin, cut thin & bite sized
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
splash (dark) sesame oil

Prepare the meat & marinate, and let it sit for 15 to 30mins.  Chop up the vegetable (Chinese broccoli) into bite sized chunks, you may want to separate the stems from the leaves to allow you to cook the stems slightly longer.  Prepare the garlic.  Heat up some water, then soak the noodles until they are just soft.  Drain the noodles.

Heat up your wok, we’ll be cooking on high the whole time.  Have your sauces and ingredients ready, this goes pretty fast.

With a little oil, stir fry the vegetable with a dash of fish sauce.  You may want to start with the stems, then toss in the leafs.  When it all looks a bit wilted, dump the wok out into a bowl.

Now its time for Noodles.  Use a generous amount of oil, toss the drained noodles into the hot wok and stir the noodles to coat them in oil.  Add 1 tbsp thick soy and a dash of fish sauce.  Mix the sauce into the noodles to give them nice colour, add some more oil if things start to stick badly.  Spread the noodles in a thin layer over the wok and let them cook a bit.  Dump the wok out into the same bowl as the vegetables.

Some oil, garlic and meat go into the hot wok.  Stir fry the meat.  Once its browned nicely, spread the meat away from the hot part of the wok and crack the egg into that spot.  Scramble the egg and mix the meat in.  Once the meat and egg are cooked, dump the bowl with the noodles and vegetables back in.  Add the rice vinegar and stir things together.Time to eat.


The fish sauce, oyster sauce and rice vinegar all play arole in making it authentic tasting, but I think the thick soy is the magic ingredient.  The type of noodle will make or break this dish – the second time I made it the local grocery store only had a thinner rice noodle which just didn’t have the same impact.  I’ve also used beef instead of pork and it was a nice substitution.

You’ll want to cook this in small batches – otherwise the wok won’t be hot enough to cook the ingredients as they should be.  The original points out some options for making this a vegetarian dish if you are so inclined.

Kids Picnic Table

At one point growing up if you asked me what I wanted to do my answer was that I wanted to be a carpenter.  I liked building things, I still do.  Of course, as I got older I realized that being a construction worker was probably going to be hard work so my tune changed.  That and my fascination with computers resulted in me being a software developer.  I still do like to build things.

The other weekend Jenn suggested that I build a picnic table for our daughter Alison.  It seemed like a neat father/daughter project.  Jenn dug up some plans from the internet and we built one.

Other than an electric drill, you can do this all with hand tools.  If you’re hard core – you can use a manual drill (I’ve actually got one!) and do without power tools.  Of course, as we’re cutting wood here you can get into power saws etc, but as I wanted to let my 3 year old participate it seemed like the fewer power tools involved the better.

Total cost was about $40.  I used white cedar from Lanark Cedar and weatherproof deck screws that I got at the local hardware store.  It took a couple of hours, but if your more organized and need fewer juice breaks you can probably get it built pretty quick.

I originally thought that the 1×3 and 1×6 wood called for by the plans would be pretty skimpy, but as a whole the table is pretty solid.  The table top is about 19″ off the ground, making it impractical for an adult to sit at it.  Thus, if you’re the right size to sit at the table – it will hold your weight.  We actually made the table / seats about 6 inches longer than the plans called for.  Overall it was a very satisfying weekend project.