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


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


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.