The Origin of the arch-book

What began as an impulsive project on a Friday afternoon turned into a 4 – 5 day extravaganza.

The arch-book is actually a Dell Chromebook 11 from a few years ago. It is old enough that the newer ChromeOS updates didn't run great on it, but it is otherwise a good machine with a nice, simple, utilitarian form factor. I really like it, and always lamented never using it to its fullest potential. A few years ago, I messed around with putting GalliumOS on it. That was fine but a) I never worked on it long enough to get all of the kinks out, and 2) I never really decided how I would use it once it was set up. I never integrated it into my daily practice and habits. And that was fine, I suppose; it was a hobby project. But I still felt like I was wasting a cool piece of tech.

Then last week with no warning, I decided to dust off this machine to see if I can make it a usable part of my day-to-day practice.

My goals for this machine are to be able to:

That's it. I didn't want a whole office suite or full connectivity to all of my ecosystems all the time. And perhaps most importantly, I didn't want a general purpose device that could do a bit of everything. I like using this thing; I like playing with it. If I made it so it could do anything, all I'd end up doing on it would be path-of-least-resistance type stuff.

Instead, I wanted, Oh, you like playing with this? Well all it is, is a tool for writing. If you're going to use it, you're going to use it for that. For creation. I hoped that could trick myself into finding excuses to use it, and therefore to write... and I think its working.

I will admit I was somewhat inspired by Only Lovers Left Alive in this project. I loved how Adam built all of these wonderful systems with old, “outdated” tech. I loved the idea that someone living through all of this technoligical change wouldn't need to be cutting edge. If something worked why move on to the next iteration simply because it was the next? There's no reason things can't be improved and integrated without being abandoned.

With these goals in mind – actually, I couldn't say that. This project was so impulsive, I can't say I had any goal in mind when I started it. I didn't even set out to start a project per se. I randomly wanted to dust off this machine. Does it still work? Yeah? Oh, GalliumOS is shutting down? Damn. Can I put something else on it? Cool, I'll do that.

And thus a thread was pulled and... here we are, almost a week later.

This all happened in the way it did because I found a very thorough guide tailored not just to Chromebooks, but to THIS Chromebook, the Dell Chromebook 11 here:

...and that's what caused me to put Arch Linux on it. I just wanted something and Arch had a detailed walk-through, so... sure! Later, deep in the process, I did start to remember some things I learned the last time I tiptoed into linux: that Arch is a little more dense or at least a little more hands on... and that it didn't come with a visual environment. But since I kind of blustered into this project in the first place, I just kept lumbering along, working through things. It was challenging but rewarding and continues to be so. Most of the time -

...I just had to stop in the middle of this entry to go figure out why spellchecking wasn't working in my text editor. It was a bit of a wild goose chase. I came away knowing a little more about how linux, etc. works, but also realizing that 90% of my issues are from typos/details I miss.

Setting up this machine has been ripe with these whack-a-mole sessions. I honestly do enjoy fixing and learning from them, but they also impede my momentum to actually get USING this thing. Every other step I take towards daily use I need to divert and walk around for 5 miles fixing some random issue. I am hoping that this sort of things tapers off the closer I get running this through my daily routines.


Here's what I did:

1. mrchromebox

A few years ago, to get GalliumOS on this thing, I did... uh something to the BIOS? It wasn't bad – I didn't mess anything up – I just don't remember what exactly I did. Whatever it was, it came with an (known) issue where if the battery got completely drained, I'd have to manually enable a certain kind of boot mode before I could load linux again. And I used the machine just infrequently enough that I never remembered exactly how to do it and had to look it up and stumble through the process every time.

So at least this time, I decided to commit, and to follow these:

...and do, uh whatever-it-was thoroughly enough to avoid the above hassle.

2. followed arch wiki

This well-written documentation:

...was detailed and accessible enough to get me through almost everything I needed to do. When I got lost in the google woods, it was usually because of a typo or something stupid I did. One setup step of note though, I....

2a. partitioned

...1 gig swap, and 10 gigs for data. It was slightly nerve-wracking.

And now, with everything installed, storage is a squeaky fit. I am using a SD card for additional storage as needed.

If anything, this is inspiration to keep things very lean. I just hope having to keep such a close eye on storage doesn't end up bogging things down. So far, so good.

Hard disk set up and base installation in the books, the next step was to...

3. look for lightweight graphic environments

As I dutifully plugged away at the wiki, I soon realized that Arch was text-only and I had to go shopping for a window manager. Luckily there is tons of good data out there about lean setups for older machines. I went with LXQt because it was recommended, and so far I am happy with it.

After that, I...

4. installed

chromium, ghostwriter*, featherpad

That reminds me, in terms of installing things, I also got practice...

5. installing apps from the arch user repo


Didn't have many huge problems in the overall arch/LXQt install and set up, and I learned A LOT in the process. Tho there where a few...

6. notable issues:

6a. emojis via noto fonts

6b. the sleep debacle

Was having an issue where, after a certain amount of time (like, hours), sleep mode would crash and reboot the computer. Did a lot of digging and went down some wrong paths. Ultimately, it seems to be a deep google problem with a known bug messing up the S3 sleep cycle(s):

(Can't find the link to the bug report! Take my word for it!)

My workaround has been to switch to a lighter sleep by setting this in sleep.conf :

SuspendState=standby freeze

...which avoids the behavior. I can sleep and wake up just fine, I just save less battery in this lighter sleep. Not thrilled with that, but at least its I can suspe.

This is another opportunity to travel light and lean. And save often.

*** By now, the whack-a-mole is dying down, and I'm starting to integrate this into my daily life, along with other habits I'm trying to cultivate. I'm working to build a cyclic relationship being daily reading and daily writing – journalling, logging, etc.

So far so good. The arch-book is becoming my go-to digital capture device. I'm starting to use it like a digital notebook, and learning how it can compliment my paper notebooks. The separation of concerns between all of these devices, and the iPad, is working so far. Just a little friction to make the system tactile.

Downstairs the macbook anchors this system, though now tethered to power most of the time. They are the workhorse, holding it all together. Things feel a little tenous, but I like stitching things together and am up for the challenge.

posted: monday, 23 jan 23 tags: #linux #archbook