An unexpected game of "Musical Laptops"

Mon 24 June 2024

I purchased this laptop I'm writing on now about a month ago. It's a Thinkpad X260 from 2016. I looked it up online, and it was actually shipped the very day (or the day before/after) I graduated college. That's a fun little coincidence to make me feel the passage of time more keenly ;)

The purpose of this cheap laptop (ok, it's almost scandalous how cheap an 8-year old laptop is, and truly scandalous how incredibly useful an 8-year-old laptop can be when not weighed down with garbage software) was for operating system experimentation.

Starting a couple years back, I had spent some time experimenting with OpenBSD and FreeBSD, and I greatly enjoyed both systems. I loved learning how they worked (and how different they were from Linux), and adapting my own small collection of scripts and utilities to work in other operating systems than Linux.

While I had a lot of fun with those two major BSDs (a couple years back), I was sad that I couldn't spend much time experimenting with NetBSD, because I couldn't get S3 suspend (i.e. "going to sleep") working on my laptop, even though it was a very old Thinkpad X200. So, after happily kicking the tires just a bit, I had to remove NetBSD and go on to the next thing.

A little over a month ago, I started feeling the itch to experiment some more, so I asked the "Fediverse" what laptops work well with NetBSD. To my surprise, the official NetBSD account commented on my "toot," and said that the X260 was working great out-of-the-box.

So, it being a Friday, me being a bit bored, and the laptops being dirt CHEAP, I jumped on ebay and ordered one. When it came in... whoo boy, it was filthy (for a laptop, anyway). But after some careful work with a sanitizing cloth, it looked almost as good as new, save some relatively minor cosmetic scratches on the lid.

So, I installed NetBSD and started going through the official NetBSD guide. One thing I wanted to get going was disk encryption: there wasn't an option to encrypt the entire disk, nor was there any automatic encryption option even of just one partition that I could find in the menu, so I just set it up with the defaults, and started experimenting with writing various little scripts and learning how the system worked, without copying any of my personal data onto the disk.

While I greatly enjoyed the process of learning a new Unix-based operating system, e.g.,

  • How do I trigger suspend?
  • How do I find the battery status?
  • How are disks represented and set up?
  • How do I manage Human Interface Devices, and how can I turn off that terrible trackpad?

...I never quite made a dent in reading the official guide. I just never quite could muster up the concentration, as it's decently technical, and I haven't worked in a technical field in many years.

However, I was happy to have it as a side project, and even though I wasn't doing any serious work on that laptop, it was no loss, as it was cheap enough to just be a "toss-around" machine (not literally).

That all changed a week ago, when I unfortunately noticed the hinge of my Pinebook Pro (my daily driver of three years) bending in a very unnatural way while I was attempting to close it to pack it up in my bag.

After gingerly closing it, taking it home, and taking it apart, I realized that the two screws that held the aluminum bottom plate fast to the aluminum hinge pieces had "eaten through" the bottom plate, such that they were no longer holding onto the bottom plate at all. "Eaten through" not in a caustic sense, but rather in the sense of slowly expanding the non-reinforced holes in the aluminum sheet until the holes were bigger than the screw heads.

I attempted to remedy this by hammering the raised-and-enlarged screw holes in the bottom plate with the rubberized handle of a pair of pliers (or some similar tool). In addition to the screw hole, the small square plastic pieces that go between the hinge piece and aluminum bottom plate had been squeezed so hard as to be partially broken, and would no longer provide the screw with something to grip onto (that is, for the head of the screw and the bottom plate to press against, not the threads).

I attempted to 3d print some replacements that a kind stranger on the internet designed, but in the process of trying out one of the pieces, I managed to drop one of the case screws to the Pinebook onto the floor, never to be seen again (they are TINY, maybe 1.5 mm shaft diameter).

Wellllll, that's going to be about it for now. I'll order some more case screws, but it's probably going to be a month's shipping, and even then, the bottom case itself is no longer in stock, and they don't provide a replacement for the teensy square plastic pieces, which my not-very-well-tweaked-and-calibrated 3D printer didn't do a wonderful job of reproducing.

So, for want of a daily driver, I had to enlist the X260. So, I tarred up the scripts and config files I had created under NetBSD, saved it on my Raspberry Pi server, and installed Debian and got it set up last night.

C'est la vie. 😅

Category: QuickPost Tagged: BSD Computing Linux Non-religious post QuickPost UNIX