the minimalist vista machine – editor’s notebook


I recently purchased a new Dell Inspiron 1545 – a 15.6’’ widescreen notebook with a decent processor, 3GB of RAM, a discrete ATI Radeon graphics card with 256mb of memory and a 250 gig hard drive. It’s a mid-level machine; nothing crazy about it – just a solid, simple machine that will run anything I throw at it.

Dell 1545

It shipped full of bloatware; trial versions of software I’d never use and some Dell-branded stuff I had no interest in. After removing said bloatware, I set to work to create a minimalist setup designed to let me work efficiently.

Windows Sidebar

Windows Vista has a SideBar feature that I really enjoy using. I set it up as follows:

  • sidebarAnalog clock (Vista default)
  • Calendar (Vista default)
  • Weather (Vista default)
  • Notepad (Vista default)
  • iStat Memory (shows used and free RAM)
  • iStat Wireless (shows WiFi signal strength, network name and IP)
  • iStat Battery (shows battery life in percentage and time remaining)


Drink Your Ovaltine

Drink Your Ovaltine

Drink Your Ovaltine

Drink Your Ovaltine

Drink Your Ovaltine

Basic Apps

I don’t enjoy dropping cash on licensed copies of branded software when there are plenty of free open-source options available that replicate most major functions of the branded software:

Document Editing, Spreadsheets, Presentations

OpenOffice is a completely free, full-featured office suite that replicates Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more. It just works. For free.

Photo Editing

I have used Adobe Photoshop for a long time. I started with version 6.0 – and ended with CS. Now I use GIMP – the Gnu Image Manipulation Program. It’ll do everything I ever did with Photoshop – and it’s 100% free.


Web Browser

I drank the Chrome koolaid today and am really enjoying its simplicity and speed. I had Opera loaded to the hilt with bookmarks, plugins etc; Chrome’s simplicity is honestly refreshing. Tabbed browsing, an address bar and a row of links in button format – doesn’t get much simpler. You can customize it with themes; I chose one with earth tones that makes me happy.



If you’ve read this far, you’ll know I’m all about free, highly functional software. I use a handful of email accounts (all GMail, email that is free and highly functional) and Mozilla Thunderbird does a great job of consolidating my email into one program. It automatically checks for new mail and saves me from logging in and out of the website. I can also subscribe to RSS feeds and read them within the program.



I can’t stand cluttered desktops. I keep it simple by eliminating all icons on the desktop, placing program shortcuts on the taskbar and utilizing folders launched from within the start menu to store photos and documents. It’s not as simple as I’d like.I’d like to see the sidebar go; but until I can replicate the functionality of the Widgets I use without the sidebar, it’ll stay.


Other Programs

So you probably noticed I have a few more icons on my taskbar. Here’s a quick rundown (left to right):

  • Show Desktop
  • Switch Between Windows
  • Google Chrome
  • Opera Browser
  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Openoffice Writer
  • iTunes (love the spreadsheet library layout)
  • Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Dell Webcam Central
  • Frostwire (no comment)
  • Picasa (Google’s photo viewer and basic editor. FREE and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)
  • Windows Live Writer (great for blog publishing)
  • MSN Messenger
  • GIMP
  • TweetDeck (Voted #1 Twitter desktop client by
  • Calculator
  • Ad-Aware (simple malware/spyware remover)

This is about as simple as I can get away with without sacrificing functionality – and I didn’t spend a single penny on software to get there. (Nor did I have to resort to theft in order to load up my notebook with good software on a budget)


Frugal Living: RV Life

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My wife and I recently went through a life change after I left the store I managed and signed up for college courses. We knew that having one or both of us going to school would put a fair-sized stranglehold on our finances. We came up with a few ideas – this one took second place (to an apartment) but we came very close to going with it.

Our income would dictate cheap living. This much we knew. Living in an RV can be incredibly cheap – challenging, but cheap. We identified several key areas we’d need to find solutions to fit our needs as well as a few tips and tricks from experienced fulltime RVers. We may have decided against this but who knows? Might work for you.


Anyone who’s been in one knows that the living space inside even a larger RV is tight. Not only do we have two people to allocate space for, we have an infant. This complicated things and basically ruled out any size RV except for a Class A.

Class A: Largest chassis, comparable to a bus. Some with high-displacement gasoline engines (Chevy 454, Ford 460) or diesel engines.
Class B: Simple converted van, usually with a raised roof.
Class C: Van chassis and front end, can be large.

As floor plans in RVs vary widely, we didn’t go into detail with space allocation at this point – saving that problem to solve later when we actually were looking at RVs.


Storage is at a premium in RVs. Usually the refrigerator is a dorm-sized unit, prohibiting long-term fridge storage of foods. However, RVs have fairly full-featured kitchens complete with microwaves, stoves, counter space and cabinets. We decided to purchase dry foods in bulk, storing them in our own containers to save space.


Most RVs have two systems for electricity – 120v (house) electricity and 12v (vehicle). Basically, you need electricity for lights, air-conditioning, appliances, personal electronics etc etc. RVs have large batteries that will allow you to run low-wattage (no hair dryers) equipment for a reasonable period of time – but like all batteries, they can go dead.

To recharge your house batteries, you can either:

-Run the RV’s engine to charge the batteries from the alternator
-Connect your RV to shore power
-Run your generator

Each has its benefits and drawbacks. If you run your engine, you inflict wear and tear on something you rely on to keep you mobile. Not a good idea. If you connect your RV to shore power, you’re either jacking power from someone or you’re paying a campground fee and plugging into their power. If you run your generator, you’ll use a smaller amount of fuel than the vehicle engine, but you’ll piss off everyone around you with the noise.

To avoid the drawbacks of the three options above, you can install a set of solar panels on the roof of the RV. These will trickle charge your batteries to get you through in a pinch if you’re far from shore power.

Internet Access

You’ve got several options here.

Hughesnet Satellite Internet

       -Expensive. Fast, but expensive. Also, you must first have service set up at your home and then move it to your RV. You also have to set up and aim a satellite dish anytime you want internet. Not very plug-n-play.

Cell Phone

      – Most phones will allow you to wirelessly connect to them via your laptop’s bluetooth radio and access the internet at dialup speeds. Great in a pinch (especially if you have an unlimited data plan with your carrier) but slow.


      -Many, many places are offering free broadband-speed WiFi access points – all you need is a laptop and a parking space for some of them. Great for speed, frugality – but you have to physically be near an access point in order to take advantage of it. Not so great if you’re in a beautiful boondock spot and want to get your youtube fix.

Part II coming soon.

The Rambler’s Handbook is looking for ramblers.

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If you tend towards the minimalistic side, enjoy travel, don’t mind writing on a deadline and are at least 10% in touch with your inner geek, we want you.

Send an email to ramblershandbook AT gmail DOT com with a writing sample.

Ten Ways to Pass Time While Stuck in an Airport

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1. Read blogs.

2. Buy an overpriced book and read it. Or sit at your gate, slowly ripping pages out while staring at random people.

3. Ask people to carry your bag onto the plane for you, then say “Just kidding.”

4. Carry a Koran around. Ask people to carry your Koran onto the plane for you.

5. Clean out your computer. Install Linux. Thank me later.

6. Freak out the security guards with your electronic cigarette.

7. Re-enact the scene from “The Terminal” where he makes ketchup and mustard sandwiches with crackers.

8. Go through security, then exit and go through again. And again. See what happens.

9. Super glue a quarter to the floor. Watch as hilarity ensues.

10. Stand in front of the window and watch planes land. Tense up right before they land and turn away with your fingers in your ears. Express visible disappointment when it lands without incident. See what happens.