Leaving Slackware
#14 Henry, Wednesday, 02 December 2009 4:04 PM (Category: Linux)
(Tags: slackware linux)

After my recent run-ins trying to get Audacity running on Slackware, I've been thinking about abandoning Slackware for my home and work desktops and moving to something newer and fresher. I will continue to use Slackware for my servers, as it is superb in that role.

I have two real choices - make the final switch to Mac for my desktop, or change to a different Linux distribution.

I occasionally do think about abandoning Linux on the desktop and going over to Mac. I use my Macs for the fancy stuff that Linux does not do well. Video. Handling my iPod Touch. FM radio. Digitising LPs. I love my Macs for a lot of things, but I don't know if I could ever make them my sole desktop. The Macs are very much a visual experience and I use them and love them for it. But my day to day computer use is not at the GUI, it's at the command line. And I have customised my command line environment to be very effective and efficient. I don't know if I could achieve the same level of customisation on the Mac. The Mac has a limited version of the X-Windows pager, but I use a 4x3 pager arrangement, giving me 12 screens, and scripts that fire up standard stuff in standard pages, and the Mac just doesn't go that far. I'm not prepared to lose functionality for prettiness. So I think that I will stick a Linux of some variety for my grunt work.

I asked the local Unix Users Group about what distributions I should experiment with. My needs are simple. I don't care about graphical vs text installation, I don't care about speed of installation. Installation takes half an hour to a few hours and then it's done for a year or more. I spend my time using my computer not installing it, so installation details are pretty irrelevant. As long as it installs, it's good.

The rest of my needs are peculiar to me. I do not use a computer like most people use a computer. I program a lot. I work on the command line most of the time. I write a lot of scripts to automate a lot of work. I want to be able to use Vim and the original Dickey xterm. I have to interact with a lot of older Unixes and tunnel around the Internet to them, and I want an xterm that handles the special keystrokes, and works correctly with them. I've also configured a lot of xterm and shell shortcuts and I don't want to lose them. I want a lot of shells available, a lot of languages available and a lot of fairly standard software already installed and ready to go. I prefer to use fvwm as my window manager and I want to keep it that way.

So I got a lot of feedback and I have started installing distributions on one of my laptops and working with it to see how things go. So far I have tried Kubuntu and Ubuntu. I discovered that I very much dislike KDE and Gnome. It's just a personal thing, I just don't like them. I find both distributions to be opaque. They feel like they have been designed to keep things from me, to guide me in the one holy path.

I'm not trying to start wars over this. I just don't like them, probably because my needs are different to most people. After Slackware finishes installing and I am greeted with a black screen and a command line login, I am exhilarated, it's like "Here we go!!!!!" and the adventure starts. When the others finish installing and I am faced with a blue looking screen that reminds me uncomfortably of Windows, I struggle to understand the weird metaphors in use. Obviously, in the modern world, this makes me a freak. So be it.

I will continue to experiment with distributions. Gentoo, Debian and Mandriva are next. Maybe even Fedora.

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TomTom GPS ONE 140
#13 Henry, Wednesday, 02 December 2009 3:42 PM (Category: Gadgets)
(Tags: tomtom gps)

The TomTom GPS ONE 140 that I bought for Anne has arrived. It's really, really nice. I haven't looked at all the features yet, but I like it a lot.

If you travel the same route a few times, it remembers and tracks it and bases new routes on the data it collected. If you change map details or POIs, it can share these changes with server central and you can share other people's changes too. And I think there are free map upgrades. I like the screen, I like the menu options, I like almost everything about it.

The small size is okay. The suction thing that holds it on the windscreen is a bit dubious. I'll have to see it in action before I trust it. But overall, it's a really nice device. The $60 Black Friday price was also really nice.

Now I wish I had bought one for myself at that price too.

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Unsubscribe me
#12 Henry, Wednesday, 02 December 2009 3:37 PM (Category: General)
(Tags: spam email)

I get a lot of crap email that I don't want. You know how it is, you sign up for something, register a new product, or need to put an email address up to get access to something. And you give them an email address. I know why they do it, they want an email address so they can send you sales material to persuade you to buy more stuff. I'm good with that. I'll even read the first few emails to see what you've got. But usually there comes a time when I don't want it anymore and I want to turn off the emails. They call it "unsubscribe" but that's the wrong term for it, because usually I did not voluntarily subscribe to these emails.

Luckily, most of these emails contain a link at the end that lets you get the email stopped. Mostly these work. The good ones have codes in the link and they go straight to the heart of the matter and without any more interaction from me, I am unsubscribed. That's good. The next best ones want me to type my email address in again before they will unsubscribe me. That's not so cool, but I'll do it.

Then there's a third class of unsubscribing where they want me to enter my name, first and last, and my email address, twice, and then select which newsletter I no longer want. If I'm in a good mood, I'll go through this procedure. If I'm not, I'm going to ignore this unsubscribe process and I'm going to block them at my mailserver and bounce anti-spam messages back to them, and report them for spam abuse on the RBL sites and any other horrible stuff I can do.

I know why they want to make it difficult to unsubscribe. They want to continue sending the stuff to me. But have they ever considered that this is not a very good thing to do? It enrages me, it makes me swear to never buy anything from them again, and it encourages me to go out of my way to make things difficult for them. I will put far more effort into being a bastard about it than the effort I would have expended in filling out their stupid form and submitting it.

I believe that most people in charge of marketing departments, especially mailing marketing departments, are really really stupid.

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GPS Navigators
#11 Henry, Sunday, 29 November 2009 10:04 PM (Category: Gadgets)
(Tags: gps)

This Christmas, GPS navigators are the big thing. They were one of the hottest items at the Black Friday sales.

I've been using an older Garmin Nuvi 200W for a while, and it is an amazing thing. I don't get lost any more. I don't get angry. I don't have fights with Anne about directions. I get to places on time. I see more of the countryside. I love GPS navigators. I would hate to have to do without again.

What's the difference between your wife and a GPS navigator?

Your wife says "Turn right at this corner." as you go past the corner, too late to do anything about it.

The GPS navigator says "In 200 feet, turn right."

This Black Friday, I bought Anne a TomTom ONE 140 navigator. from NewEgg.com. It's not the latest, it's not the greatest, but it does the job and it was $60. Anne will be happy, and I will be happy and all is well.

Until the big solar flares start coming and knock out all the GPS satellites, and we all start getting lost.

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Backups?
#10 Henry, Saturday, 28 November 2009 7:04 PM (Category: Hardware)
(Tags: backup photo)

Friend of a co-worker has a Windows computer, and it's burdened with spyware and malware and it's slow and causing problems. She decides to get the local computer shop to look at it. The husband drops it off in the morning, computer guy looks at it and decides he'll take the easy way out. He phones the husband "I want to wipe the hard disk and install from fresh. That okay with you?" Husband says "Sure". Guy gets to work.

Husband picks it up after work, pays $100. Takes it home and gives it to the wife. She starts it up and starts to work on it and suddenly "Where's my photos?" and then follows three days of crying. Five years of family photos are gone. Birth photos, growing up photos of their son, Christmas, Halloween, vacations. All gone.

They phoned the computer guy. Not his problem, he did ask the husband if it was okay. Husband shouldn't have said "Yes, it's okay."

"Can't they get the photos back from their backups?"

"The what?"

Backups. You can't expect to keep family mementos on a fragile hard disk that is likely to die at any time, or be accidentally erased. You have to make backups. You have to take responsibility for knowing that your data is fragile and can be lost, you have to go and buy some external hard disk or make arrangements to have your data saved into The Cloud, and set it up to backup regularly. On the Mac, it's a little bit easier, but you still have to make the decision to buy an external hard disk and connect it. The Mac will recognise it's there and ask if you want to use it for backups, but you have to kick it off. And you can get MobileMe and back up to The Apple Cloud. Unless you're like me and have 100 gig of photos.

Backups are important if you want to keep your photos and documents and tax records safe. It's your responsibility to know about it, and to do something about it.

(I did have a look at their computer just to see if the photos had been saved anywhere, but no, they were gone forever.)

On the other hand, is there any value to saving family photos forever? We all take far too many photos, and most of them are junk. And when we are gone, they are even more worthless.

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