Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chromebook

I've been curious about Google's Chrome OS for awhile. And recently I've been reading that the new Acer C720 Chromebook finally nailed the sweet spot between price, quality, battery life, and performance. At $199 it was supposed to be a pretty good value. Finally, a Chromebook that lives up to the promise.

So I decided to give it a go. One free offer that comes with the Chromebook purchase is 100GB of extra Google Drive space for two years. Nice. That means I can downgrade my $99 per year Dropbox account to the free level of service and save... $198. Hmm... that would make this a $1 laptop.

The Acer C720 has an Intel haswell processor. Battery life is supposed to be 8+ hours. Not sure what to expect as far as performance goes. But pretty much all the OS has to do is run the Chrome browser.

That's really the Chrome OS in a nutshell. It's the Google Chrome browser with all it's various extensions and plugins. And of course there is whatever level of hardware support to make it all work. With the standard Google Chrome browser you go into "Settings" and you get the browser settings. In the Google Chrome OS... if you go into "Settings" in the browser you get the browser settings and various hardware and operating system settings. There seems to be very little else to it.

I've been arguing for several years that anymore all one really needs is a good browser with a few choice plugins. Obviously Google has been thinking the same thing. And in 2013 it seems that Chromebooks have captured a pretty significant chunk of the notebook market.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Full circle

Back on July 21st of this year I started playing around with Linux again after about a 12-year break. The first distribution I chose to try was Linux Mint 15 MATE edition. Linux Mint had/has the distinction of being the most popular distribution out there (neck and neck with Ubuntu). I've installed and reinstalled many different Linux distributions since then. Playing around with just about all the more popular ones.

But not long ago, Linux Mint 16 MATE was released. So I've come back around to where I began and installed that to give it a whirl. It's pretty nice.

This reminds me of when I started using Macs. When I made that choice, it was because the new Mac OS was unix-based. And I had been playing with Linux and FreeBSD a lot. While the Mac had always had a reputation of being "easier" than Windows. I insisted that I was not chosing the Mac for that reason. Because I truly did not need computers to be easier. I was perfectly fine running Windows or whatever. I was not after easier, I was after "better".

Linux Mint has a very similar reputation for being easier. Only maybe now I'm not so adamant about not using that as a reason for running an OS. After trying so many different distributions, it is rather refreshing to run one where things work without a great deal of effort. And when it comes to Linux, it's not so much a matter of easier or harder. It's a matter of things working or not working. I don't mind doing my homework to figure out how to do something. But I'm still an end-user, not a Linux developer. If I can choose a distribution where things work without having to spend days and weeks getting them to do so, then great!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The other side of the story

My last post was less than two weeks ago. At that time I was seriously questioning any benefit I would receive from running Linux. At that time I wiped Linux off my machine and went fully back to Windows 8. This was easy due to having good backups.

But about one day later I wrote up a document of pros and cons to running Linux. I like doing that when I’m making a decision. I debate with myself in the form of a document. It helps me come to a decision and solidify my logic.


Well, in doing this with my decision whether or not to run Linux… I was sort of surprised. I was able to find solutions to each and every drawback to running Linux except one. Quicken.


Ok, not totally surprised. That’s been a recurring theme. As a matter of fact, that’s why I got rid of my Macs and went with Windows computers back in 2008 or so. I was tired of dual-booting or running Windows in a VM just so I could run Quicken.


However, I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’ve been tinkering with the mother of all budget spreadsheets on Google Docs. I keep honing it and making it better. And that, like Linux, is also a lot of fun. And it can totally replace Quicken in my life if I choose to do that.


So as much as I’d really rather that my choice to run Linux was not a philosophical one, it very well may be. The desire to run Linux, just for the fun of it, prods me into ridding myself of the shackles of proprietary software. It has definitely moved me in the direction of things that are “operating system independent” like Google Docs, non-DRM media files, and web-based applications in general.


The nice thing about this… if I decided to move to a Chromebook for example… no problem. I’ve been moving that direction for years. Just give me a good browser with a few essential plugins and I’m good to go.


So it is philosophical. And there is a definite benefit.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Linux why?

I want a divorce from technology. Somebody write up the papers... I'll sign.

In all my messing around with Linux... it's fun and all. I learn stuff. I can setup pretty much any of the various distributions with my preferred setup in a matter of hours. Sure they all have their quirks, but no big deal. I had my machine booting into six different Linux versions. All set up and working nicely.

Then I had to stop and ask myself, what's the point? I mean really. Why would one run Linux instead of Windows unless they HAD to? Windows works so well. What's not to like? I know that it's popular or somehow "hip" to be anti-Microsoft. But I see no benefit in that.

Linux might make sense to me if my wife was open to using it. We have two desktops (her's and mine) and a laptop. It's just not that great to have one Linux system and two Windows machines. If they were all Linux I think it wouldn't be so bad. But nothing cooperates with a Windows machine as well as another Windows machine running the same software.

I am quite torn over the issue really. Because messing with Linux is a lot of fun. And I mean a ton of fun. But if I want something more than a toy to play with... something that will actually do all the things I want it to do... I have to keep coming back to Windows. So it's the difference between being fun or being useful.

Linux might be nice if I wanted to learn PHP, Perl, or certain other programming languages that are non-Microsoft based. But what's the point of setting up something like dual-boot with Windows and Linux when I have to boot into Windows to do certain things? What's the upside to that hassle? I don't know that there is one.

It is kind of funny though. When I get Linux all set up nicely and working they way I want, I feel like I've really accomplished something. But when it comes to Windows... that sense of accomplishment is not nearly so pronounced, because it comes so much more easily. Maybe that's why Linux is fun and Windows is useful.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Giving KDE a whirl

In my last blog entry about choosing a Linux distribution, I mentioned favoring the Xfce desktop environment. I mentioned ruling out Suse because it was crashing upon initial configuration. And I mentioned that I hadn't really given KDE a try.

Well... since that time, I was able to get past the Suse instability and install a couple of different flavors of that. And I've tried Kubuntu, Suse w/KDE, and Fedora's KDE spin. I also got a little tired of having 6 different installations of Linux. So I decided to settle on just one.

For now it's Fedora with KDE. I've condensed my partitions and that's what I'm running. So far so good. Everything works except for my scanner. Which is no problem since I can access that via my Windows 7 VM.

I'm leaving the door open to going with Suse in the near future. They are about to release their next version. And they are a distribution that seems to lean toward KDE as their default choice. So it makes sense that someone wanting KDE might choose Suse.

My current choice of KDE is a little strange. Because KDE is about as heavy as it gets when it comes to desktop environments. And because so far one of my favorite distributions of all has been Crunchbang which uses the extremely lightweight and barebones Openbox window manager with no DE at all! So I am torn between the two extremes. Typical.

In other boring news... I ordered two new hard drives.

I'm using an old spare 160GB HD in my laptop running Windows 8. I pulled my 128GB SSD and put that in because having only 12GB free space is a little too tight for my taste. In thinking about replacing the drive... I could have gone with a new 250GB SSD for about $180. Or I could get a 750GB 7200RPM HD for $73. I went for the 750GB drive. Space over speed.

The second drive is a "green" WD 3TB drive for my external Lacie enclosure. I have two of these enclosures. They are pretty spiffy looking. Although buying a drive with an enclosure was almost cheaper than buying just the drive... I went ahead and did the drive anyway.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Choosing a Linux distribution

The problem I get when messing with Linux is trying to figure out which distribution to run. They're all free. And changing distributions costs nothing (except time and maybe sleep).

So I was thinking about the factors that I should consider when choosing. Trying out a bunch of different ones is fun. Been there done that. As I gain more experience with the various distributions, I have been able to build a much better idea of which one I want to run and why.

I might be tempted to rule out distributions that don't support all of my hardware out-of-the-box. However, the only hardware I have that is potentially a problem is my wired ethernet and the scanner portion of my Canon wifi all-in-one printer/scanner. My wireless internet is supported on all of them. And I can use my scanner from within my Windows 7 VM. So these are pretty much non-issues.

Some distributions are heavy on eye-candy. Others not so much. While I like things to look nice, functionality and reliability are way more important than looks. A slick interface isn't that great if it's got bugs.

Then there is the matter of philosophy. Some distributions make it difficult to get so-called "non-free" software. To them the encumbrance of any closed code is something to be avoided (even at the expense of things not working). This is not important to me. I just want things to work.

One other factor is what I will call "conservative vs bleeding edge". Debian is generally on the conservative side. They only release things after they've had a lot of testing. Fedora and Arch Linux are bleeding edge. If you want to be the first to get new versions of things, those are the ones to run. I think I would prefer something more conservative. It's possible that a Ubuntu LTS (long-term support) version would be just up my alley. And that would include the officially supported derivatives.

However, the problem with "conservative" distributions goes back to lack of support for newer hardware and older versions of almost all software. While the Ubuntu folks recommend that you run the LTS versions of their stuff for stability reasons. The current LTS version lacks support for my wired ethernet and scanner. Whereas the latest Ubuntu non-LTS version supports both of those out-of-the-box.

Then we have the difference "mainstream vs obscure". I've run across a number of distributions that have broken repositories and or download links that don't even work due to some outage or something. I think with obscure distributions you may have some level of slickness and novelty, but you don't have nearly the support structure that a mainstream distribution would have. Either in terms of available software or online help. And you probably have way more bugs due to a smaller test pool and fewer development resources.

So if I would limit myself to mainstream distributions, they would have to be Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, Debian and Suse.

While Mint might generally be considered mainstream, I think it's more of a Ubuntu knock-off. One may as well run the real thing and stick with Ubuntu. The whole Unity mess is easy enough to avoid by going with an official derivative. For me Mint keeps seeming like Ubuntu with extra crap on top.

I tried Suse last week and it crashed like three or four times just while I was trying to get it set up. A new release is in the works very soon. So I may give it another try then. When the OS crashes before you even have it set up that doesn't give me a good feeling. Bodhi was another one that hung several times during the installation process.

So based on all this... my own choices seem to be narrowed down to the Xfce versions of Fedora, Debian or Ubuntu.

I like Xfce because it lacks most of the bloat of Gnome, Unity and KDE. Although I have yet to give KDE a try. That's on my list of things to do.

For all this rambling... no conclusions yet. This is a work in progress.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Multi-booting with Linux

Windows 8 uses a GPT-formatted hard drive and an EFI boot partition. This is so new that Linux does not yet play well with it. While a few distributions handle it, I came to the conclusion that the state of EFI support in Linux right now is so poor that it's just too much hassle. So I decided to change the partition table on my drive from GPT to MBR. Then I turned on "legacy" boot support in my BIOS.

Of course that means I will lose the ability to boot into Windows 8. But it also means that I can now boot Linux using the normal GRUB boot loader the way it has been accustomed to. As you can see above, I have SIX different Linuxes installed. And when I boot the machine I'm presented with a GRUB screen where I can choose which one I want. I have one swap partition and one partition for my data that I share between them all. I am NOT however sharing my /home directories between each one. That will prevent conflicts with user configuration files between the different distros.

I initially read that I should not install GRUB with the installation of each version of Linux that I set up. But many of those installations did not give me an option. Luckily each one recognized the other operating systems installed and added them to the new GRUB configuration being installed.

This is way better than messing around in virtual machines. I'd commented earlier that VMs take no guts to set up... because they can be nuked in a second and they're not really running on the hardware. Booting directly into 6 different Linuxes becomes more real. Support for the actual hardware needs to be configured.

One of my goals is to test out which distribution will support my scanner out of the box. I already know that several of these are having trouble with my ethernet adapter. Though luckily they seem to support my wireless adapter with no problem.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

System restore

In playing with my Dell desktop machine's partitions I ended up deleting the various reserved system recovery partitions. I don't really understand how they are organized or what pieces are required. But there seemed to be 3 or 4 of these reserved partitions when I decided to clean them up.

The only symptom I have now... is that the Dell Backup and Recovery app won't run (or even install) without the "Windows Recovery Environment" which resided in one of these partitions.

I probably wouldn't care about not having this except that this system came with some software that I would like to be able to reinstall if necessary (namely Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop Elements).

The answer, is to restore the system to “factory” using restore discs that I’ve already made. That should put back all those special partitions. Then I’ll use Acronis True Image to replace my OS and Data partitions. At that point I’ll be back to where I am now with the system partitions restored. In theory.

The main motivation for attempting a full restore of the entire system is to give my new version of Acronis True Image a good workout. I want to see how it works. And even the worst-case scenario isn’t that bad. If it fails I could always do it the hard way by building from a fresh install. But I don’t expect that will happen.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 was released for download last Thursday. Of course I installed it on all of my computers. No real issues.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't provide any kind of install image or ISO for 8.1. So if I ever need to reinstall (which of course I will), I will need to install 8.0 again and then download the 8.1 all over again. That doesn't sit well with me and probably a million other people who have a strong preference for a fresh virgin install.

There are some nice new features. I had a hack in the form of a shortcut that would take me directly to the all-app screen in Windows 8. No longer needed. Windows 8.1 has a setting that will give you the all-app screen in place of the regular start screen by default. And there is a setting that lets you shove all those useless "modern" apps to the end of the list. Yay!

I would have preferred a configuration option that would eliminate any possibility of seeing a "modern" app anywhere for any reason. But I guess that is too much to ask. Although I do hear that the modern apps have been enhanced to the point where one might actually consider using them for real things. I still don't know why I'd want to. I like my desktop apps. That might possibly be why I run a desktop operating system! Ya think?

My wife is going out of town. And since I wanted to install Windows 8.1 on my laptop SSD, I pulled my Linux hard drive out of my laptop and put my Windows SSD back in. Then I upgraded it to 8.1. I did end up having an issue where I had to reformat. Only because of my lack of patience. I had a ghost printer that I could not delete. And problems with several versions of the same printer. They were grayed out, but would not let me delete them. After googling and trying some different things I decided a fresh install was in order. No problem.

In my playing around with Linux I recently came to a bit of a conclusion. Windows is a far more capable operating system. Not because it's actually better, but because it has all the third-party support. Things just work. And while that's true when comparing it to Linux, it's also somewhat true when comparing it to Mac OS X. Although you'll have a hard time getting Mac folks to admit that.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Linux as a primary OS

I'm totally loving Fedora Linux since I put it on my two machines last week. I have my desktop machine dual-booting with Windows 8... UEFI no less. And my laptop is running Fedora as well. And I have a Windows 7 VM in both primarily for running Quicken.

The whole UEFI secure boot thing is pretty new. Most distributions still don't handle it. It came onto the scene with Windows 8-ready machines. But luckily Fedora does handle it without too much trouble.

I'm pretty sure I couldn't run Linux as my daily-driver operating system except that anymore my PC's are primarily "general use" machines. I don't run any special-use software that I can't live without. The only program I really don't want to give up is Quicken. All the other stuff I depend on is pretty generic.

Dropbox is one program I deem essential. Other than that there are a couple of browser plugins that I use... like Lastpass and Xmarks. Of course Linux has Firefox and Chrome.

It's weird. The longer I use computers the less software I seem to need. I'm becoming an "average" computer user. Other than enjoying the setup and configuration of operating systems and software, my needs are pretty basic. Of course there are a lot of people in the same boat. That's one reason why Chromebooks are pretty strong sellers now. It might not be that long before all one really needs is a good browser with a few good plugins. (that's essentially what a Chromebook is)

I guess one could argue that the lack of need for a real computer is partly to blame for dropping PC sales in conjuction with the popularity of smart phones and tablets. I personally can't imagine that. I don't think I could ever do without a computer. I don't even like being confined to a laptop.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dual boot

Ok... not long ago I decided to setup a virtual machine on my Windows box for every different version of Linux that I had. There were nine of them! And I had Linux installed and working on just about every one.

But then I decided to get some guts, and try setting up my Windows 8 to dual boot with Fedora 19. Of course when setting up dual boot you run a fairly serious risk of rendering your machine unbootable. But rumor had it that Fedora 19 played well with UEFI secure boot.

Before I did this I partitioned my Windows into four different partitions, mainly to aid in backups. I recently updated my copy of Acronis True Image so that I could take a snapshot of all the partitions on my machine so that if the whole dual boot thing went awry, I could put things back. The advantage to having multiple partitions was that I could put my huge stuff (movies, TV shows and music) in a separate partition that I could omit from the partition snap shot. That stuff is easy enough to put back that there is no snapshot needed. It's just a lot of data.

One of my partitions was about 220GB that I was using strictly for above said virtual machines. So I backed that stuff off to an external hard drive, nuked the partition and set up Fedora for real on an EXT4 partition. Yay!

So it's all working nicely. And I just now setup my Windows 7 virtual machine as a guest in my Fedora host! So I can boot Windows in Fedora and run Quicken.

I have a bit of a soft spot for Fedora. Back in the days when I was working for my brother, we administered a bunch of Red Hat servers. Big fun. Lots of memories.

And Fedora is pretty cutting edge when compared to many other Linuxes. Although I'm pretty sure it's not as cutting edge as Arch Linux. Which is fine with me. I got tired of hanging out in the #archlinux IRC channel and seeing a steady stream of people coming in who had something break as a result of some update. I think that's what you get with a rolling release that always has the latest of everything. Probably not bad if you like being a beta tester. Certainly it's own kind of fun.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fuse tap

I have only one 12-volt accessory outlet in my little Honda Fit. And my Garmin GPS needs one pretty much full-time. It doesn't run very long on it's battery. I don't think it was designed to.

So the GPS ties up the only available outlet. Which is a pain when I need to plug in a mobile device for charging (like a smart phone or tablet).

To solve the situation, I wired up a female cig-lighter style plug to the fusebox using a fuse tap. I then ran the GPS power cord (with it's male cig-lighter plug) under the dash and have it plugged in where it's all out of sight. That frees up my one accessory outlet for various charging needs as they occur. Yay!

Virtual machines

I did end up installing Arch Linux on a VM using VirtualBox. Been playing around with it. VirtualBox has a cool "seamless" mode where I can have linux programs open on my windows desktop just like a normal windows program. The linux programs and windows programs are intermixed "seamlessly". It's really very cool.

Facilitating that was my latest installation of xorg-server, Openbox, and the VirtualBox guest tools on my Arch guest VM. Now that they are on and functioning the guest VM works as it should. I had strictly been using it for console sessions.

I'm am debating possibly creating a new VM with Fedora. I was inching toward dumping Arch Linux. But perhaps I will stick with it a bit longer. Now I realize... since all of my Linux stuff is happening in VMs, there is no reason I have to "dump" one to try the other. I can have a bunch of VMs and just continue to play with them all. I can try all sorts of things without having to nuke one to do the other. That's pretty nice.

It's still a little hard for me to see the point in all this. All this is running on a perfectly good Windows 8 machine. And Windows 8 will do anything/everything that I have configured Arch Linux to do. Sure I can IRC or browse the web using a Linux "machine". And I certainly could set up other things to run on it. For what purpose I am not sure. Maybe just to say I did.

There might be some benefit to doing IRC and web browsing via a Linux VM rather than doing those things in Windows. In theory, I'd have less vulnerability.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Reset

Kind of did a "reset" over the weekend. Not sure what I mean by this term. But whatever it is, I do it periodically. The reset included two things:

1) I tore down my ham radio installations in my office and my car.

2) I yanked the hard drive out of my laptop that had Arch Linux installed on it and put my SSD with Windows 8 on it back in.

It was just last week that I received a window sticker for my car that said 146.52 on it in a small white oval. The 146.52 is the standard frequency used by ham radio operators who are local to each other so they can call one another direct (rather than using a repeater). Armed with that sticker (which would indicate I'm listening on that frequency) and my callsign on the back window of my car... I figured I might get calls as I tool down the road.

And sure enough. On Friday I was headed up to Salem and someone gave me a shout. We had a nice little chat. It worked!

But overall my involvement in ham radio is a bit of a bust. I know some of the guys on the local repeater. And I knew a bunch of guys in Salem. But not very well. When you stop talking on the air for extended periods of time people tend to forget you exist. So a person either needs to be a regular, or just give it up.

I originally got into ham radio for the social aspect. I would say that most hams are tolerant of operators who are not very technical, but many are not. And now that I'm married, I don't sit at home alone all the time wanting someone to talk to.

Another aspect of the local repeater group (and most repeater groups) is that it's quite cliquish. You're either a "regular" or your not. And this point is brought home almost daily. Not that they aren't nice people for the most part. It's just natural human behavior.

As a result of all this, I don't get on the air much. So I decided to tear down the ham radio installations in my office and car.

In my office I had a mobile VHF/UHF radio setup with a 12-volt power supply and a mobile antenna on a little mast with a ground radial kit. It worked pretty well, but it was ugly and I wanted a more minimalist office environment. I tore that down entirely and packed it away. I will use my handheld if I decide to play radio at all. And it will work just fine with the local repeaters.

I took the stickers off of my car and I removed the antenna mount and hid it under the hood. I pulled out the radio itself, but I left the antenna cable and power cable in place just in case I change my mind (which I've done before). But most signs of the installation are gone.

As far as Linux goes... once again I sort of reached the point where I realized it's a bit pointless. I can spend endless hours tweaking a Linux system. I can install a new distribution every day if I want and configure everything to work correctly in short order. But why?

At some point it's totally "been there, done that". Sure it's neato and everything. But for me I think computers have stopped being a source of wonder and amazement quite awhile back. While it always fun to try something new, it's hard to consider it a hobby any longer. Sure I like tech, but computers, tablets, smartphones... they are all now just appliances. Part of life. The less time it takes to set them up and keep them going the better.

I thought of playing with various Linux distributions in the VirtualBox VM software. And I still might. But it's just not the same as having it on the bare metal. Any wuss can install Linux in a VM. But putting it on bare metal you are committed. You are relying on it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Breakage

I guess when I mentioned "risk of breakage" w/regards to Arch Linux I was correct. After few days monitoring the chat channel and forums, I can easily see that the whole "rolling release" thing does indeed cause things to stop working on a semi-regular basis. At least, it's a fair number folks who have had that happen to them that are in these channels/forums asking for help.

But it's not really a big deal. I'm running Arch Linux on my laptop for fun. It's not my main system. So I don't really care that much if it breaks. If it gets too bad I can just pop in my SSD with Windows 8 on it and I'll be cruising along again.

One of the things I like about my new Arch install, is that it boots to a command line. It does not auto-start the GUI. That can be nice for when I'm working with the system via SSH terminal (which is most of the time). That is partly due to the fact that much of the help that can be found on the Arch website walks you through configuration steps using command-line tools. So the GUI is not that necessary. So I will SSH in to configure things, update the system, or run IRC. And it is pretty nice to have a well-configured and functioning Linux system handy.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Arch Linux

Arch Linux is pretty cool. It has some good features.

What distinguishes one Linux distribution from another?
  1. The package manager and available packages
  2. The default software choices and configs
  3. Technical documentation
Arch Linux shines in all three of these areas.

The package manager specifically allows for third parties to put together their own packages in the form of AURs. So if something isn't officially available... chances are it is available as an AUR.

As far as defaults go... you pretty much need to install everything you want. That's the beauty of it. You don't get saddled with a bunch of stuff you don't need.

The documentation available on the Arch Linux site is fantastic. This is a huge help. Before I installed Arch Linux I had read that the documentation alone was a huge plus in favor. And after going through the install process I can say it is a very nice thing indeed.

Some folks maintain that Arch Linux is difficult to run. I haven't found that to be true. In my one or two days with it... I already have pretty much everything working that I would typically set up on a Linux machine. And honestly it was easier than with many distributions that are oriented toward beginners.

One area where Arch Linux differs from many other distributions is how new releases are done. Arch Linux uses a rolling release system. So there actually are no new releases. Updated packages are made available to the distribution when they become available and are not typically bundled with other packages in the form of a scheduled "release". 

This means you are always as up-to-date as you want to be. One command will update all of your installed packages in one fell swoop. Of course there is a certain risk of breakage. Maybe a little more than with distributions that used the concept of scheduled releases. The term "bleeding edge" might be somewhat appropriate here.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

New play toy

After a number of weeks messing with Linux on my two PCs awhile back, I finally decided it was really not a wise use of my time. I was learning a few things. But it was seriously eating up all of my time. 

However, now that I've been back on Windows 8 for awhile I'm getting a little bored. It's too easy. Things are just working. 

I have a laptop that I rarely use. And while I've been thinking about playing with Arch Linux on it, I worked pretty hard getting that thing all put back to Windows 8. I'd really rather not have to do that again anytime soon. 

Then it occurred to me! I have a spare laptop hard drive! Yay. I will simply pull the current one out with Windows 8 on it all nice and neat, and stick in my spare. 

Let the fun begin!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Phone upgrade

I don't know who picked the magical "two-year" time span that cellular service contracts typically run. But I know I'm usually ready for a new phone about six months before I am eligible. And my current phone is no exception. I have a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. I am exactly six months from being able to upgrade my phone with a subsidy.

But my wife helped me come up with a plan so that I could upgrade now. We decided to add a line of service and get a new subsidized phone with the contract it would require. The idea is that I will transfer my current phone number to the new phone. And my current phone will end up with the new number. Then six months down the road when my contract on the current phone expires we can terminate that line. Yay!

I've had my eye on the smartphone market for awhile. I mean don't all geeks sort of know which are the best phones at any given time? You'd hope so. Of course it changes all the time. Research confirmed... the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One were the two top contenders. But Motorola has just released a whole new line of "Droid" phones for Verizon. One of those is the Droid Maxx. Its main focus is having stellar battery life.

When my wife upgraded her phone about 6 months ago, we chose the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD, which is pretty much the previous version of the new Droid Maxx. I was totally impressed by its build quality. Nice heft and very solid with a Kevlar back.

After having the Samsung Galaxy Nexus for 18 months, I had direct experience with three things.

1) The whole Nexus thing. Yes, those devices are easy to root and customize. No bloat or crapware. Great. I rooted and unrooted my phone multiple times and ran several custom ROMs on it. Big whoop. I'm afraid I'm not into it. It just isn't my thing. Which may be somewhat surprising. But I figure the original designers probably sort of know what they're doing. At least as much as "Swibby", "Darklord" or whoever it is that hacks on these custom ROMs. The fact that all these developers have cartooney nicknames does not exactly instill confidence. And there is the whole voiding-the-warranty thing. I concluded that I have no real need or desire to root my phone.

2) Build quality. Samsung makes good phones. But they have a real plastic feel to them. When you drop $600 on a phone, you want it to FEEL like a $600 phone. My Samsung always felt like a toy.

3) Battery life. One of the known issues with my Samsung Galaxy Nexus was battery life. I even sprung for the extended battery ($50). It still sucked.

So... Motorola phones have locked boot loaders and are hard (or impossible) to root. Don't care. The build quality and battery life are important to me. These are the two biggest selling points of the new Motorola Droid Maxx. So I hit the button last night on the purchase.

I have a strange habit. After I make a purchase, I like to surf around a bit more and read reviews and such to "validate" my purchase. At least I suppose that is why I do it.

Well this morning I found a review by a fairly reputable web site. It was not very favorable toward the Droid Maxx. As a matter of fact, they were pretty harsh. But it felt really nice as I was reading the comments made by readers at the bottom of the page. Comment after comment was made by Droid Maxx owners who completely disagreed with the review. They accused the reviewer of having an agenda and obvious bias. They totally loved the phone. Many of them compared the Droid Maxx directly with the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One and chose the Droid Maxx over both of them. A few were still within their return window and said they had no regrets after hands-on experience with the phone and had no reservations sticking with their purchase.

Nice!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Change of direction

Blogging is interesting. I have no idea if anyone is reading this or not. But I think when doing a blog, one needs to ignore that entirely and write as if the whole world is reading.

I came to a conclusion a couple of days ago. And I remembered some of the reasons why I backed away from messing with various operating systems (primarily Linux) a number of years ago.

I don't have OCD. But I do have tendencies that lean in that direction. As a career computer programmer, that attention to detail and anal retentiveness has served me well. But when it comes to setting up operating systems and software on my personal computer with an infinite number of working scenarios... it tends to really aggravate the whole OCD thing.

Basically, it's much better for me to just set things up and leave them alone. Ok, not as much fun... but in the long run it's best. What I really enjoy most about computers is setting them up. Way more than actually using them... the configuration and setup is the part I really like. Getting it all just perfect.

At any rate... my conclusion was... as much fun as messing with Linux is... it's all just pretty much a waste of time. Reformat, reinstall... configure, repeat. I do learn a lot along the way. But to what use? What difference does it make that I know how to make my terminal screen startup at a certain size? Or that I know how to do that with four different types of terminals?

Linux may be superior to Windows in a lot of ways. But Windows is way better when it comes to things just working out of the box. So at some point it makes sense to stifle whatever idealism and/or curiosity makes me want to run Linux and just go with something that does the job and requires far less time and energy.

So I ended up taking both my desktop machine and my laptop and restoring them to factory setups. So now they're both happily running Windows and I can once again sleep at night and have time for my wife.

I think I will continue this blog. I did rename it. And it will now be about my general technology adventures rather than focusing on Linux.

Friday, August 23, 2013

And it's back to Ubuntu

So, yesterday I switched my systems back to Ubuntu proper. The purpose was mainly to clean up my installs from all my messing around. I had originally installed both systems as Ubuntu. Then I ran some command string I found on the web that removed Unity and installed the standard Gnome3 desktop environment. And after that I ran another super-duper command to switch those to Xubuntu without reinstalling. Then I decided I would like to go back to Ubuntu. So I did a super-duper command to do that!

But after all that messing around, I was sort of longing for a fresh install. This was particularly appealing since my last command to switch these systems back to Ubuntu caused me to be unable to login to the GUI. I figure it was just too much messing around with various config options in /etc with regards to the various desktop environments. So clean installs were in order.

At any rate, the primary reason for going back to Ubuntu in the first place was... to run the most popular version of desktop Linux. Along with that (in theory) comes the best support. Both in terms of available software packages and in terms of community resources. And also to deliberately divorce myself from the idea that one is someone cooler and more "hip" if they run a more difficult flavor of Linux.

The thing about Ubuntu... it's pretty much the same under the covers as any of the other Linuxes. If you take away the desktop environment and installed apps... the various distributions are very much alike. Particularly those that are all derived from the same origin (like Debian).

I suppose it would be nice to run a distro that defaults to a desktop environment that I like. But in recent years I'm learning that it's often times better for me to just adapt to the software I'm using, and yield to the design preferences of the developers rather than trying to force the software to adapt to my preferences by reconfiguring it all the time.

I figure I can live with Unity. I don't know why not. And I can certainly install and remove any packages I choose. So I don't see a problem.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Conditional command IF ELSE

Here is a little different example. This script does one of two commands based on the presence of an argument. It displays a sorted list of installed packages using dpkg (for systems that use that particular type of package management). If an argument is passed, it will only include packages that contain that search argument. Otherwise it will include them all.
#!/bin/bash
criteria="$1"
# If criteria is not specified, show all
if [[ $criteria = "" ]]; then
dpkg --get-selections | grep -v deinstall | sort | less
else
dpkg --get-selections | grep -v deinstall | grep -i "$criteria" | sort | less
fi

Setting a default if an argument isn't passed

In doing some bash scripting... I use some simple scripts to automate commands so I don't have to type in (or remember) all the parameters. This script uses the du command to show me the disk usage on directories. The depth parameter specifies how deep in the path to go when reporting. I wanted the script to function correctly without an argument. So my solution was to test for the argument and use a default value if it's not present. Without a default value, this command would produce an error.
#!/bin/bash
depth="$1"
# If depth is not specified, default to zero
if [[ $depth = "" ]]; then
depth="0"
fi
du -mc -d$depth --apparent-size * | sort -nr | less

Backup script using rsync

Here's a cute little backup script I wrote. Just a little smarts to suit my particular situation. But I did learn how to prompt for a parameter and do a case statement. The rsync command is a very powerful backup tool. On this particular backup drive (Lacie) I have two sets of backups... (/backup1/ and /backup2/). This script prompts me for which one I want to use and does the right thing. I'm also using an exclude list in the form of a txt file to omit browser caches and the like.
#!/bin/bash
read -p "Backup number (1/2)?" choice
case "$choice" in
1 ) echo "1";;
2 ) echo "2";;
* ) echo "Failure to communicate, try again.";exit 1;;
esac
path="/home/"
pathfrom="$path."
pathto="/media/Lacie/backup$choice$path."
rsync -avAX --delete --exclude-from '/usr/local/bin/backup-exclude.txt' "$pathfrom" "$pathto"

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Thank you psychocats

After installing Ubuntu and completely removing Unity in favor of the standard Gnome3 desktop, I found Gnome to be not so much to my liking. But there is a great resource available to those who have installed one of the flavors of Ubuntu (Ubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu, Kubuntu). With one big honkin' command, you can switch from one of those flavors to the other. And this site provides the necessary stuff.

So... not liking Gnome3 that much? Just issue this one big command string and walla! You're now running Xubuntu! Yes, that is exactly what I did. Worked peachy. And it was almost entirely painless. It's really just a matter of removing some packages and installing others. All the underlying configuration stays put. All I really had to do is setup the Xfce panels the way I wanted them.

See the big problem I'm having is that there are just far too many choices in the Linux world... and they're all FREE. So there is no limit to the things one can try. It only costs time. Could be it's time to just leave things alone for awhile and use my time for something else.

Now that I'm back on Ubuntu I'm starting to read all these things about Canonical trying to force their own display server (Mir) on the rest of the Linux community. The problem is, because Canonical produces the most popular Linux distribution (Ubuntu), they probably have more leverage than they should on the direction of Linux as a whole. The Linux community is already fragmented enough without this kind of bullying.

But it makes me want to stay far away from Ubuntu and it's derivatives (now that I have just installed one). Gah! I just can't win. Although I have no compelling reason to make a hasty decision (and spend more time distro-hopping). I'm sure what I have installed will work well for me for several years, if I want it to. And it will be officially supported until April 2015.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Choke!

One funny thing happened yesterday evening. Typically when I switch distros, I keep my desktop and laptop machines in sync and switch them both. That has proven to be valuable. As I was configuring my laptop last night... I was changing ownership of the /var/www directory and I messed up big time and changed the permissions recursively of everything in /var. Holy cow!

Of course that's a big deal because many of the critical running processes keep track of their status using /var and they sort of need the right permissions to access their control stuff. Took me a few hours to straighten that out. And having two identical installations allowed me to compare the broken one with the non-broken one and correct the ownership.

Next thing to try...

So, I got a brain-storm in the middle of the night (night before last).

First... Ubuntu being the most popular distro, there are advantages to running it in spite of the fact that the Linux geeks who think they are all that look down on it. I don't mind getting my hands dirty to get things working in Linux and I can pretty much solve whatever problems come up. But at the end of the day, the quicker the path is to looking good and functioning well, the better life is.

There is also an advantage to running the LTS (long-term support) versions of Ubuntu. LTS versions are released every 2 years and officially supported for 5 years. Their other versions which are released every 6 months are only supported for 9 months. I was going to switch to the LTS version awhile back, but the installer for the last LTS release (12.04) does not support LVM (which I was using). So it wasn't going to work.

However, night before last I was able to get my native Linux backup solution working. With an external hard drive formatted ext4 and some rsync goodness, I had three copies of all my files. The time was ripe... so I re-partitioned my drives getting rid of LVM. Now I was able to install 12.04 (and proceeded to do so).

I also looked into removing the Unity junk from Ubuntu. It turns out that it's not that hard to remove Unity and go with the standard Gnome3 desktop. So that's exactly what I did, and it's all working great. FYI, most of the main Linux distributions (like Fedora and Debian) default to the Gnome desktop. And most the apps I use are Gnome or GTK-based.

So in theory... I should not need to make another change until April of 2014 when the next LTS version of Ubuntu is scheduled to ship. Unless of course I find another excuse.  :)

One big advantage to running a mainstream Linux distribution... there is tons of support on the net. Pretty much any technical question I come up with can be answered with a quick web search. That rocks!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Attitude

Well, after hanging out in the Debian IRC channels for a few days, I grew rather tired of the major attitude I was observing. Ok... Debian has been around a long time and it's not as easy to run as say Ubuntu. But that doesn't mean you have the right to be rude to people that run something else.

They referred to Ubuntu as "linux with training wheels". Ok, whatever. Yes, I had Debian on both my machines and it was running fine. But the Debian folks are way too principled for their own good. They deliberately omit a lot of extremely useful and necessary software and drivers from their distribution because it doesn't fit their particular strict definition of "free" and non-proprietary. This causes much unnecessary inconvenience.

Personally, I'm not running Linux because I want to be a communist. I could not care less about those sorts of principles that are put higher in priority above the need for things to actually function.

So I decided, screw the attitude. I'm going back to Lubuntu. Ok, maybe it has training wheels, but it looks a HELL of a lot better than Debian does. I could have tweaked Debian for six months to get it to look as good as Lubuntu does on DAY ONE.

This whole idea that you are somehow cooler and more elite because you run something that takes more work and knowledge to run is a bit of a fallacy. You may be cooler, but I HAVE A LOT MORE FREE TIME! LOL. AND MY SYSTEM JUST WORKS! So who is smarter?

Ok. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I love Linux. And I run it because it's fun. Not for bragging rights. I run a distro that is pretty easy to set up. That's ok. Instead of taking months to get everything right, I have two systems up and running perfectly with all my software in less than 24 hours.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Here we go again

So, after installing CrunchBang... I started hanging out in the Debian chat channels. I figured that CrunchBang was based directly on Debian... so for all practical purposes, any advice or support for Debian would also pertain to CrunchBang.

But, when I mentioned CrunchBang in the #debian channel, I was told in no uncertain terms that CrunchBang != Debian. And they refused to even talk to me (in spite of the fact that I wasn't actually seeking support).

So... that evening I wiped my two systems and installed Debian proper. They won't support something "based" on Debian, so I'll just run Debian itself and then I can avail myself of the community support.

After installing Debian, I was surprised to discover that the default Debian desktop environment is Gnome. I was totally expecting something more light-weight. A bit disappointing. Then I thought, hey... why can't I just install a few additional desktop environments along side Gnome and play around? The oh-so-kind folks in the #debian channel assured me that would be a piece of cake.

And piece of cake it was. Up until the point where I checked out the available programs in the Gnome GUI and saw four different file managers, several image viewers, and duplicates of just about every type of program and utility that came pre-installed. You see, each desktop environment normally gets paired with different programs to fulfill particular functions. So I essentially ended up with three or four programs in each category that did essentially the same thing. Bogus!

I proceeded to wipe both systems (yet again). I reinstalled Debian on both, but this time I decided to stick to only one desktop environment. I chose Xfce for my desktop machine and LXDE for my laptop.

So they're both installed and running perfectly. But holy cow, this is getting old. After all this screwing around I am actually considering going back to Ubuntu or a supported flavor of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the most popular. But when it comes to "mainstream"... Ubuntu is pretty much for newbies, while Fedora and Debian are the two heavy hitters for people who don't need their hands held.

As good as CrunchBang was... I don't really like the idea of running something that is "almost" Debian. Or something that is "based on" a mainstream distro... but comes without any real support from that originating distro's community (think red-headed step-child).

Sunday, August 11, 2013

identd

Well, I installed CrunchBang Linux about nine days ago on both my machines and I am still absolutely loving it. Totally awesome.

I had some trouble getting identd (auth) working. Turns out my router was blocking ident requests. It's not that uncommon I guess. I wanted to run an identd so that IRC would not hang for 30 seconds during logon. Plus I'd rather not have the little squiggly thing you get by your name when you don't use identd that pretty much says (I'm too stoopid to know how to setup identd).

So... my wife (being the way cool wife that she is) ok'd an unplanned $60 expenditure for a new Netgear WNR3500Lv2 router. The selling point of this router is that it supports "open" third-party firmware like DD-WRT and Tomato. This firmware completely replaces the stock firmware (sort of like rooting your phone and installing a custom ROM). It's like having a router on freaking steroids. Gives you all sorts of way cool features.

So, after installing a recent build of the Tomato firmware, boom... identd is all working and happy. Yay!

But now I have another problem. All of a sudden DALnet (the IRC network) is complaining about me running an "open proxy". I don't even know what an open proxy is. But I guess it's a big security risk and they don't want insecure machines on their network. So I'm effectively banned from their network until I can figure out what the problem is.

I'm not sure if that's caused by my router or my web server (lighttpd). But it's probably one or the other. I'll have to do more research.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

CrunchBang

Several days ago I had recently installed Fedora 19 on my machines. There was really nothing wrong with Fedora that prompted me to make another change. But I was really considering giving Debian a try. I've run Debian before, many moons ago. It's one of the oldest surviving Linux distributions and very well-respected for it's stability.

Now there are a lot of distributions that are based on Debian. Not only that, but Ubuntu is based on Debian. And there are a ton of distributions based on Ubuntu. So Debian is sort of the granddaddy. I had downloaded several new ISOs. I had Debian, I had Arch Linux, and I had CrunchBang.

Decisions decisions. Arch Linux is a lot of work. Fun, but still... a lot of work. It's almost like a "roll your own" kind of thing. Debian might also be a bit of work, because I'd have to choose all the packages I'd need. And then I'd have to make them all work together.

But CrunchBang was interesting. It is directly based on Debian and it features the Openbox window manager. The CrunchBang folks really only add two things... 1) they choose the various necessary components to go with Openbox so that it will give basic functionality that most people require... and 2) they provide a nice default configuration for said Openbox and components. The result is an extremely light-weight Linux system that is the minimalist's dream.

Seriously, I've been running it for four or five days now and I am totally in love. I think my "distro-hopping" days are over. I have CrunchBang on both of my machines and it's working flawlessly.

It did take a little work in some areas. But it wasn't bad. I plugged in my Canon digital camera... and it wasn't recognized. Most complete Linux desktop environments provide that functionality, but Openbox isn't actually a "desktop environment", it's simply a window manager. That's why it's so nice that the CrunchBang folks put all the various pieces together. Once I tracked down the pieces necessary, I was able to talk to my Canon camera just fine.

The thing about most other distributions (or operating systems in general) is that right after installing them, I find myself needing to start uninstalling all the needless garbage they add to it. And often times removing all that junk is way harder than just picking a minimalist distribution and adding to it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The *buntus are for wusses

Ok, part of the thing running Linux... is finding out what the cool kids run, and going with that. Right?

And when you're doing it for fun, easier is not always best. I mean you want a bit of a challenge right? Then you think you're really solving problems and such.

While it's true what I said earlier... about not wanting to have to work so hard to get things working. It's also true that I want to learn. Increasing my knowledge is definitely one of the main goals in running Linux.

I was recently following a discussion thread in the Xfce forums about which distribution was the favorite of the folks (who presumably all ran the Xfce desktop environment like I do). A number of people did prefer Xubuntu... because it just worked. But those are the folks that just didn't want the hassle.

For people who know, and think the hassle is totally worth it... they seemed to prefer Debian, Arch Linux, and Fedora. I think Debian was the clear winner.

So all the *buntus are based on Debian. One guy says... if Debian is the father of all these distros, why not just run that? On a similar note, Fedora was the original heavy hitter (starting as Red Hat). And that development team has been and still is responsible for a lot of innovation and new technologies that are later adopted by the other distributions.

But in one aspect, Debian and Fedora are like night and day. Debian is well-known as the most conservative distro out there. In terms of... they don't put something into the distro until they've tested it for like two years. While that means it's rock-solid stable. It also means they make it pretty inconvenient to get recent versions of the various software components.

Fedora on the other hand, seems to be pretty well-known for being on the bleeding edge. A ZDNet article I referred to earlier indicated that Fedora was for people that really know Linux. As opposed to the *buntus or Mint which are oriented toward newcomers or people who don't want to hassle with a larger learning curve.

So I figured I'd give Fedora another try. I installed it last night and it's working just peachy. For now I'm running Xubuntu on my laptop and the Xfce spin of Fedora on my desktop machine.

But I think I'm going to want to play around with the network installer disc for Fedora. I used the live Xfce spin for my desktop installation. That gave me a pre-selected set of software designed for the Xfce desktop environment.

I think the network installer disc makes all the software available. It lets you chose each component and only choose those pieces you want. And it downloads all the pieces on the fly rather than having stale versions on a pre-built disc.

So I intend to give that a run. Maybe even tonight. We'll see. I didn't get much sleep last night.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Xfce "save session" option

I think the "save session" option on the logout screen in Xfce is dorky. So I found a way to remove it. Here are the steps:

sudo mkdir /etc/xdg/xfce4/kiosk

sudo vim /etc/xdg/xfce4/kiosk/kioskrc

Add these lines:

[xfce4-session]
SaveSession=NONE

Done. You can also do this to clear out any previously-saved sessions:

rm -r ~/.cache/sessions/*

Monday, July 29, 2013

20 years of Linux and supercomputing

Just ran across this article on ZDNet about 20 years of Linux and what it's done for super computing.

It seems the impact of Linux has been very consequential. Even in the scope of what it's done for society as a whole. Perhaps it doesn't own the desktop. But hey... it can own yours if you want.

Weekend fun

Ha! I had some more Linux fun over the weekend. On Saturday I wiped my two machines and put Lubuntu on. Although Ubuntu was pretty smooth... it had a lot of "features" that I just didn't want.

So I played with Lubuntu for the rest of the day. It's big feature is that it's light weight. It runs LXDE and has very little overhead when compared to other distributions. It is pretty plain. But, I've never viewed eye candy as being that important. I like functionality and efficiency. So that made LXDE pretty appealing.

After messing around most of the day I had things set up pretty well. That's when I started thinking about Fedora. Not only are there different flavors of Ubuntu, there are also different "spins" of Fedora. And there is an LXDE version of Fedora. In theory it should be fairly similar to Lubuntu.

That's when it occurred to me that there was no reason why my two machines needed to be running the same distribution. So I proceeded to wipe my laptop and put the LXDE spin of Fedora 19 on it. I figured that it would very similar to Lubuntu.

Well... it was similar but different. I would say that the installation program for Lubuntu (which is essentially the same as for Ubuntu) is better. But it was really no problem.

One of the primary differences between Fedora and the Ubuntu derivatives is that Ubuntu derivatives use the Debian package system and Fedora uses RPM (from the original Red Hat). Shortly after I installed Fedora I ran into an installation issue with the VirtualBox application. It makes use of custom kernel modules. This was no problem at all for Ubuntu and such. But in Fedora the installation process for VirtualBox errored out with some cryptic errors regarding kernel header source.

Come to find out... Fedora updates that I had run earlier updated the version of the kernel. But because I hadn't rebooted, the installation process for VirtualBox was looking for the old version of the kernel source, causing the problem. Not a big deal. Once I rebooted, all went well. But it was an illustration of differences regarding ease of use.

It didn't take long for me to realize that Fedora was a different beast. There are a number of things that I typically get working when I initially do a Linux installation. I've had a lot of practice doing them lately. And with Fedora many of those were more difficult to achieve than they should have been. Things that just should have worked didn't. So because of that I decided against continuing on with Fedora.

In spite of the article I had read on ZDNet about Fedora being for people who "knew" Linux... I think I'd rather use a distribution that I don't have to work so hard at. In the exploration of why things weren't working properly, I ran across bug reports explaining that a number of these things were known issues. That didn't leave a good taste in my mouth.

I also ran across threads in the developer's forum that indicated discord among the team with regards to the direction Fedora will take into the future. Now I'm sure all open source projects experience that to a certain extent. But reading it did not give me a lot of confidence. With Ubuntu the deal is about their recent focus on mobile devices and touch screens. A case could be made that they are losing their focus and diverting their resources away from desktop Linux.

At any rate... I figured what the heck... and on Sunday morning I wiped both my systems and installed Xubuntu. This is also somewhat light weight flavor of Ubuntu like Lubuntu. But a little better in the departments of visual appeal and functionality. It uses the Xfce desktop environment.

The Xfce environment appears to be a bit more integrated than LXDE. More of a complete experience. So far I really like it. And I have both machines completely set up and purring.

I think Xubuntu is where I will stay for awhile. Time to relax and enjoy.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Linux is indeed fun

So, I've been playing with Ubuntu proper for the last few days. It certainly has polish. But I realized this morning that it was just too full of annoying crapware. I found myself inundated with "features" that I didn't want. With no easy way to remove or disable them.

I've always believed that Linux is about having it your way. Being able to customize most of the facets of your operating system is the huge selling point (or would be if it cost money).

Along those lines... I wiped Ubuntu off my machines and put Lubuntu back on in about an hour this morning.

And as far as the fun part of Linux goes, it certainly is the customizability. But it's also the freedom and convenience of being able to wipe the operating system and install a completely different flavor in less than an hour. All the while retaining my data, the user settings, and configuration for virtually all the software that I run.

In looking back at the last two weeks with all the installing, wiping, and installing again... to an outsider it might seem like a lot of hassle. But it was not nearly as bad as one might imagine. As a matter of fact... it was not difficult or inconvenient at all. And I learned a bunch by doing it. I don't imagine that I'll be doing full wipes and re-installs on a normal basis. But it certainly isn't a big deal if I do get the whim.

With every iteration I get closer and closer to what I'm after. And I discover what it is I really am after a little more each time. When it comes to functionality... pretty much any of the setups I've had will do the job. So really it's all just about having something to play with. There are much more expensive hobbies to have.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An excuse to try Ubuntu

In my process of installing several different Linux distros over the last week or two, I found out a few things.

First, the idea of using LVM and having a separate partition for /home is great. I was able to wipe Linux Mint off my machines and put on Lubuntu with no problem at all. No data loss. All my user settings remained intact.

But... my partitions were a little wonky. And after installing Lubuntu on my desktop machine which is designed to boot in UEFI mode I was having some trouble.

Turns out that the newer PCs that shipped with Windows 8 use a different method of booting. No longer do they use the old PC Bios... but instead they use UEFI. With UEFI, you have a special partition on your hard drive (about 256MB) that contains the first-stage boot files. Macs have been using this for awhile.

Because this is so new, a lot of Linuxes are having trouble with it. I messed with the UEFI thing for quite awhile last night. I had the machine booting... but it would not do so without this weird error. So I set my machine for legacy boot. This tells it to boot using the old PC Bios way. That meant I could delete the EFI partition.

That's also when I decided that my LVM volume groups needed to be renamed. Having them named "mint-vg" just would not do since I was no longer running Linux Mint. I figured, better sort this all out now rather than later. Since I had just done a fresh install, it was a good time to re-do it before I had too much time invested into it.

Unfortunately, in the process of renaming the volume group on my laptop... I rendered the machine unbootable. Yes, there are many ways I could have fixed that. But... I used it as an opportunity to make yet another change. I'd experienced Lubuntu for a day or two. I thought... hmm... maybe I should just load Ubuntu proper on these?

So... I wiped both machines again... and installed Ubuntu on them.

Parting thoughts on Lubuntu... I liked it a lot. It actually seemed quite a bit more polished than Linux Mint. And it's probably way more my style than Ubuntu is. So if I get sick of Ubuntu, it will probably be the one I go back to.

So far, it seems to me that the biggest negative with Ubuntu is all the crapware they put on there. Stuff that gets in the way. Little "features" that are just annoying and make you think "how can I disable this" when you first encounter them.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Giving Lubuntu a whirl

I've been contemplating what to do about potentially messing up my Linux Mint installations by changing repositories for the MATE desktop environment. I was not having any trouble, but the idea that I totally strayed from the official accepted practices by adding a foreign repository bothered me.

I was also questioning if Linux Mint was really the best choice of distributions for me. Ubuntu is the most popular. So running something based on that (as Linux Mint is) seems like a smart idea. But I was contemplating running one of the other distros that I felt were probably even more closely tied to Ubuntu like Lubuntu or Xubuntu.

I settled on Lubuntu. So this morning I wiped Linux Mint off of both my machines and installed Lubuntu.

Lubuntu is light-weight, but still has a fair amount of polish. The main thing I care about is functionality and compatibility with the Ubuntu base. Unlike Linux Mint... Lubuntu uses only standard Ubuntu repositories. I think this is a big plus.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

LVM and partitions

One thing to consider when installing Linux is hard drive partitions. The default for most Linux distributions is to have one big partition for root and a small swap partition. That's it.

This is less than ideal. It's particularly inconvenient for those that have a lot of user data and like to experiment with different varieties of Linux. With one's user data being in the same partition as the OS... you end up having to backup and restore all your data whenever you want to wipe your OS and install something different.

It's super nice to have a separate partition for /home where you park all your user data and settings. Then you can wipe /root anytime you want and install a new OS without your data being affected (of course you would never do that without some sort of backup, just in case).

This is why I chose to use LVM when installing Linux Mint. Logical Volume Manager (LVM) is a partitioning scheme with an abstraction layer that makes resizing partitions a pretty straight forward thing.

Unfortunately I had trouble with the Linux Mint installer. It would allow me to use LVM, but it would not allow me to configure the LVM via the installation interface. (I have since learned... it's best to boot into a live Linux DVD and setup LVM before doing the install)

Anyway, so I installed Linux Mint into a single LVM volume on both my machines. I then tracked down an excellent article on how to resize LVM volumes and the file systems within them.

In order to do this I booted my machine off of a live Linux DVD, because you can't resize these partitions while they are mounted. Once booted off the live DVD, I issued the command "sudo su" in order to gain root access (there is no password on a live DVD).

I was then able to use the following commands to make this all happen...

vgdisplay mint-vg

(displays the info for the volume group mint-vg. issuing the vgdisplay command without an argument will display all volume groups.)

lvdisplay /dev/mint-vg/root

(displays the info for the logical volume root in the volume group mint-vg. issuing the lvdisplay command without an argument will display all logical volumes.)

lvresize -L 500G /dev/mint-vg/root

(resizes the logical volume root in the volume group mint-vg to be 500GB.)

lvcreate -L 500G -n home mint-vg

(creates a logical volume named home in the volume group mint-vg with a size of 500GB.)

lvresize -l +100%FREE /dev/mint-vg/home

(resizes the logical volume home in the volume group mint-vg to use 100% of the space available in the volume group mint-vg.)

mke2fs -t ext4 /dev/mapper/mint-vg-home
(creates a new ext4 file system in the logical volume home in the volume group mint-vg.)

resize2fs /dev/mapper/mint-vg-root 500G

(resizes the file system on the logical volume root in the volume group mint-vg to a size of 500GB.)

resize2fs -p /dev/mapper/mint-vg-home

(resizes the file system on the logical volume home in the volume group mint-vg to take the maximum space available on the logical volume.)

e2fsck -f /dev/mapper/mint-vg-root

(checks the file system on the logical volume root in the volume group mint-vg for errors.)

I first shrunk my original /root file system using the resize2fs command. Then I shrunk the logical volume that contained it to match using lvresize. I then created a new logical volume for /home using lvcreate. Then I pumped it up to maximum size using "lvresize -l +100%FREE" which expands it to fill any remaining space in the volume group. I then created an ext4 file system in the new logical volume using mke2fs. I then used resize2fs with the -p parameter in order to expand it to fill all available space in the logical volume.

Now comes the fun part. How to actually make the swap? I found a great knowledge base article on the ubuntu web site that tells exactly how to do this.

The main nuggets I got from this article were two commands:

sudo rsync -aXS --exclude='/*/.gvfs' /home/. /media/home/.

(this command duplicates the /home directory while preserving ownership and permissions.)

cd / && sudo mv /home /old_home && sudo mkdir /home

(this actually does the swap by executing several commands in sequence.)

If you're going to do this you should read the article. Because there are some /etc/fstab modifications that need to happen between steps.

Easy peasy.

New blog

About a week ago, I decided I needed to get more in touch with my geek roots. So I formatted the hard drives on my desktop machine and my laptop, and I installed Linux Mint 15 MATE edition.

I've created this blog in order to chronicle my experiences with Linux. There are two primary reasons for this. First, it's possible that others who choose this path can benefit from what I've gone through. Second, if I ever need to wipe my hard drive and start over, this log of the things I ran into might come in very handy when I need to do it all over again.

I'm not new to Linux. Back before I bought my first Mac in 2002, I'd spent a number of years playing with Linux and FreeBSD. I loved FreeBSD! That was largely why I bought my first Mac. It was around that time when Mac OS X came out of the beta/test stage and became a usable operating system. It was based on FreeBSD and became a common topic for discussion in the FreeBSD chat rooms.

Anyway, fast-forward to last week... when I made an assessment of the things I would have to give up if I were to completely dump Windows. I was running Windows 8 on both my machines. But the only Windows software that I really relied on was Quicken and iTunes.

Lucky for me, I've recently spent a lot of time developing a custom budget spreadsheet that totally rules. It actually has enough functionality built into it that it can replace Quicken as my day-to-day financial tracker. Dumping Quicken has been on my to-do list for a very long time. So this was a fine opportunity.

Regarding iTunes. I initially tried the Linux music program that came with Linux Mint called Banshee. But it apparently could not handle the MP3 tags on about 500 of my songs. So after importing all my music there were roughly 500 tracks where it did not know the artist, the album, or the track number. Repairing that would be a pretty big job.

Then my wife came up with a brilliant idea. She suggested I create an account on her Windows 8 machine and import my music into iTunes there. Then I can use that account when I want to sync my iPod or stream to the Apple TV in the front room. Sweet! Problem solved!

I don't actually need iTunes to play my music library on a day-to-day basis because I use Google Play Music. My entire music library has already been uploaded there (for free). I can play anything I own from any web browser or mobile android device (gotta love that).

I also have Oracle's free VirtualBox software installed on both my Linux machines. And each one has a VM with Windows 7 installed. This is just in case I run into something I can't do without Windows. Although I'm pretty sure I won't have that need.