Linux Mint 18

Ah, my neglected, seldom ever used blog. This post will be of little interest to non-nerds, but I wanted to get down on paper my experiences transitioning (again) from Windows to Linux.

Background

Many moons ago I had an aging desktop machine that would no longer satisfactorily run Windows XP. Being the wannabe nerd I am, I thought linux would be a good way to breathe life into an old machine. I tried several different distros eventually settling on OpenSUSE with the KDE desktop. I had a problematic Nvidia card and this was the only one that would run with a minimum of problems.

I got used to system and as time went on it became slower and slower so I tried out Ubuntu, which worked for a while. Eventually that too started to lag so I moved to Mint and eventually settled on the Xfce desktop. This worked for a long while and is actually still installed on that now decommissioned desktop.

With my transition to laptops I occasionally experimented with dual booting my machine with linux, with varying results but never really catching on.

The Present

About a year ago I decided to seriously consider dual booting again and making it work. My current laptop, a Lenovo, was at that time two years old, though still in pretty good shape. I was just getting tired of the same old annoyances of Windows and with the advent of Windows 10, it’s built-in spyware and adware, and the potential for eventually having a subscription I thought it was a good idea to have a working alternative.

I liked Mint so I tried Mint 17. Amazingly, pretty much everything worked. I would spend weeks in nothing but linux. But I missed some major applications. Media Monkey in Windows is absolutely the best music application for large libraries (I have north of 50,000 songs). And Pot Player is the most amazing video player. And for work I need access to Microsoft Office, as quite a bit of what work with just doesn’t show up correctly in Libre Office.

So it was always the second choice. And then my laptop headphone jack started acting up. It is loose in the cabinet, something I could probably fix if I really wanted to take the time to do it, but the easier thing to do was to buy an external USB DAC (an ASUS Xonar U3). This thing is awesome. The sound is better than I have ever had…but it was problematic in Mint 17. Pulse audio kept getting borked with it eventually getting so screwed up (admittedly, I probably screwed it up trying so many things to get it to work right) that I lost all sound and try as I might I couldn’t get it back.

So I thought I would try Ubuntu again. And it worked well. The interface of Ubuntu these days is not great, but I can deal with that if everything works. But a new problem cropped up. Video tearing. Scrolling on webpages or anywhere else caused really annoying lines and artifacts. No amount of futzing with it made it better. So I abandoned it again for a short while.

Until Mint 18, which I thought I might as well try out as Mint 17 was near perfect. And Mint 18 is in fact pretty much perfect. No tearing. Everything worked out of the box. I mess around with my music files much less since Spotify so that is less of an issue. SM Player is pretty much what I want from a video player (A note about VLC: VLC is great. But it has a couple of niggling problems I can’t get past. One is that it won’t remember the place I was at in a video. There is an addon to handle this but I can’t seem to get it work, even when I compile it myself. And I use video to fall asleep and one thing I like to be able to do is advance over TV show themes in the dark, with the laptop closed and using the mouse. SM Player will do this with the mouse wheel rocker. VLC has no such function).

My USB sound works well, with caveats. I get crackling sounds when I reboot, particularly a reboot from Windows (rebooting from Windows messes with my mouse too, so I disconnect my mouse before entering Windows and use another one. Windows apparently does something to hardware that does not reset from a reboot but does with a shutdown). Turning the computer off and on again fixes it (Thanks for the advice, It Crowd). But I also need to be careful when I shutdown. Occasionally, if I unplug the Xonar before shutting down, I have no sound at all when I startup again. Deletion of the Pulseaudio config files fixes this.

A few other minor bugs (the biggest one being that occasionally after a suspend (sleep for Windows folk) I lose a lot of the text and icons in various programs. A reboot fixes this and there is a bug report open for it). And Chrome is laggy, especially after being open for a while so I mainly use Firefox, which I did half the time in Windows anyway.

Everything works. I have spent the last few weeks exclusively in Linux Mint and couldn’t be happier. My computer is faster and frankly I think it looks much better (I suspect there is something very wrong with my Windows video drivers as everything is…flat and dim and changing brightness or gamma distorts colors). There is the occasional problem, but then I get to flex my nerd muscles and figure out how to fix it. And there is almost always a fix. And I occasionally still must boot into Windows but it is getting more and more seldom.

I couldn’t recommend Mint 18 enough. It works and is a viable replacement for Windows, at least for the technically inclined and even so it wasn’t that difficult to get working like you want.

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The Residents Wonder of Weird

wonder of weird
On April 30 I went to see The Residents Wonder of Weird 40th Anniversary show here in Bergen, Norway. It was incredible and here is how it went down.

We got there about 10 minutes earlier than they said the doors would open and there were a handful of people there already, including a couple who had the black top hat eyeball t-shirt that I also own. I was sporting my neon orange Cube E tour shirt that I obtained when I saw them in Minneapolis in…’89? The guy in the t-shirt pointed at me and said, “that’s an old shirt!”

When they opened the door we were led into an entryway where you could purchase drinks and Residents stuff, CD’s, shirts and whatnot. After a glance at that stuff we headed through the doors to the hall, which was a small stage and about 200 chairs (we counted). We headed to the front row and sat down right in the middle. No one else was around and we sat there listening to the sound guys play music (instrumental Residents music I assume. Sounded like them but it was newer so am not sure what it was). They even walked by and said hi. After about 20 minutes we wondered where the hell everyone else was and assumed they were drinking or whatever. Then the sound guy says to us that he is now opening the doors! We basically snuck in and got seats before everyone else!

The Stage From Our Seatsresidents concert

The concert itself was unlike some of their tours. It was very much scaled down, with less theatrics and more of just the now three Residents on stage going through the songs. And the song selection was interesting in that they didn’t choose their “hits” but rather some obscure selections, including at least one that was barely even released.

The singer “Randy” with guitarist “Bob”
residents concert

“Chuck” on keyboards/laptopresidents concert

They singer, Randy, was wearing a santa suit and old man mask and had a series of t-shirt fronts that he would talk about in relation to the songs they were playing. He had Snakefinger on one shirt and they played two songs from him. They played two off the Commercial album. Lots of obscurities.

Randy raises the eyeball tree
residents concert

There was a story line about their career and about Randy himself and his forays into porn, his eleven marraiges and sexual addiction (even involving him brandishing an enormous dildo) and his cat, Maurice, which is apparently his only true friend.
residents concert
residents concert

They closed with March to the Sea from the Mole show and then an encore of Santa Dog and Mahogany Wood, one of my all time favorites. All in all a fantastic two hours. And in the process I converted my friend Bjørn into a Residents fan.

My Friend Bjørn captured this slightly unflattering photo of yours truly after the show.
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More Black and White

How science becomes “fact” in conservative circles – Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money.

Another example of black and white thinking. SEK from Lawyers, Guns & Money talks about Rich Lowry from the National Review and his misunderstanding of science and logic. You should read the whole link (it isn’t that long!) but the point is contained in this paragraph:

Which is only to repeat myself: he’s writing about a science he doesn’t understand; moreover, he’s doing so from a position of ignorance so profound he doesn’t even realize his arguments might be entirely compatible. In the same way that I can be both an athlete and a writer, so too can carbon emissions be pushing temperatures up while aerosols drive them down. Arguing that X doesn’t do Y because A does B isn’t much of an argument.

It’s more all or nothing thinking. Since Lowry found some evidence published by climate scientists (who are apparently giving away the scam!) that there are mitigating factors in carbon emissions that help to dampen the effects of warming, he wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of science and applying an all or nothing logic to a shades of gray topic. Like usual.

You see this in spades in the fight over evolution, which I would bet Lowry doesn’t “believe” in either, like it is the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny rather than scientific fact. Not only is it just ignorance of the actual science behind these topics, it is a fundamental ignorance of how science and logic work, all in the name of fitting the evidence to your own preconceived “truth”. It is unfortunate that this sort of thinking is so influential.

It is also an example of trying to apply a political agenda to a decidedly non-political topic. An extension of the black/white error is that everything needs to be talked about in a left/right frame. Which will be the subject of the next thing I write.

Black and White

“i can never understand why u libs hated bush, he spend tax money like a liberal……I;ll never understand it.”

I recently read this quote (misspellings and all) in a Facebook discussion and it became the catalyst for writing in my head an essay I have long been thinking of writing. I am in no way picking on the person who wrote this quote since it could have been anyone who wrote it as it is one of the most common examples of the kind of  thinking that I think is the main problem with political discourse today.

A caveat first: We could discuss all day long the shortcomings of a lot of liberal arguments, something I would love to do with anyone at another time. This is not that time.

“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” George W. Bush

This sort of good/evil, black/white, all/nothing thinking is some sort of unholy melding of religious philosophy and Ayn Rand (Yes, I have read Atlas Shrugged and a couple of her philosophy books.) The origin of the good/evil part is obvious. But you also see this type of thinking in the very popular, co-opted ideas of Rand, where absolute truth is logically worked out (A=A, applied to everything.)and those who are not able to come to those logical conclusions are evading the truth. While context is everything with Rand, a lot of the same kind of thinking is completely forgetting context. So you get arguments like lowering taxes leads to higher revenue (and that is true, in very specific contexts) so raising taxes always and forever lowers revenue. Not true, but another example of this erroneous black and white.

As an aside, if this by some miracle gets read by more than a handful of people who also comment, and the comments turn to a critique of my reading of Rand, I am going to kill a puppy. You have been warned.

In that first example above you have the total misconception that liberals like to tax and spend, with apparently no regard for who is taxed or what it is spent on. But aside from that point, this whole idea that since liberals support some taxing and some spending they must support all taxing and all spending, regardless of context, is black and white thinking and totally wrong.

You see this sort of thinking everywhere. I’ve heard a discouraging number of times on Facebook and elsewhere that people on welfare or other benefits are just lazy or not working hard enough. And it logically follows from this black and white thinking, that if I am successful, and I certainly work hard!, those who aren’t must not work hard. That it is just easier to live off benefits so why wouldn’t they? The first questions I always ask here is that if the benefits are so great, and it is so easy, then why doesn’t everyone do it? Why is a work ethic and the sense of self worth that working gives you exclusive to the people making these arguments? Why is it hard to fathom that the poor, like almost all people (like you, yeah you, who are making this argument), want to work and support themselves? Aside from that, and the fact that this bears no resemblance to actual poor people in the US and elsewhere in the West, the logic is faulty.

I’ve been told recently that I, in supporting a universal healthcare system (I currently live under one), want a cradle to grave system of support, where the government does everything for me. Either full on Laissez-faire capitalism or total socialist/communist, with nothing in between. Black/white.

In response to comment thread on Facebook, here is me summing up all I had been told about myself:

So, let’s see if I have this straight:

As a liberal I have no spine and no beliefs. Or possibly I am just dumb. I, like most liberals, base everything on emotion. I have no experience of anything so I cannot form an educated viewpoint. I only know what I have read or been told. In addition, since I have no convictions I am jelly or even nothing. My only firm beliefs are giving free drugs to kill babies and giving contraception out to everyone. Finally, I don’t have a clue. Is that about right?

Using this black and white thinking, all of this makes weird logical sense. Since the people saying these things are true Americans, who believe in God and Country, and have the righteous truth on their side (as they see it!) it just stands to reason that those who think otherwise are just plain stupid. Or evil! Or have no firm beliefs at all and can’t possibly be educated or knowledgeable about anything or they would see things just like they do. This is of course arrogant as well, but the reasoning is the same as everywhere else.

Most recently I was told that liberals like me never really had an opinion of my own. That I just went along with the majority so I wouldn’t feel left out. That I (we) are too emotionally challenge to really find the truth and in the end too weak and afraid to have a real opinion of my own. Not like the guy who said that, I am sure. He is apparently a rugged intellectual maverick, that always bucked the system and has the emotional maturity and balls to have his own opinion, so it just follows that those who disagree with him are everything he is sure he is not.

It was not my intention to pick on a single person here. These quotes or descriptions are based on several people and are used as examples to illustrate a general point about this type of thinking. And that is my whole point, as I have no problem at all with rational arguments from the right. I have many friends from the right side of the aisle who have my utmost respect (even though they are wrong! haha). There are perfectly rational arguments to be made from the right, but this sort of all or nothing, black and white thinking is not one of them.

And that is the whole point. This sort of thing has seemingly taken over discourse, at least from my vantage point, and it is maddening. We should be getting together to exchange ideas and challenge each other. I love to be challenged! But not when faced with this sort of argument, which is really just an argument of assumption. I think this way, you disagree, so you must be….Nothing should follow that. At least, nothing based on reality.

The quicker we all realize that the world is not either/or, all/nothing, black/white the quicker we can discuss things rationally and maybe even learn from each other. But if we insist on seeing our political opponents as evil and stupid because they dare to disagree with our absolute certainty we are all going to be the worse for it.

My Record Collection: #2 Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables

Way back in the early 80’s, when I was just a dumb kid into what all the other dumb kids were into in the Midwest then, namely metal like Kiss and Judas Priest, this album was my first introduction to something that was truly subversive, something that really challenged what I thought of as music. This almost should have been number 1, as it was the first time I really listened to something that shook up my Rush and AC/DC filled world.

I first heard this was the summer I was 13 I think, which would be 1982. I am not even sure I liked it at first. It was sort of like the metal I was used to, but it was so fast and that Jello guy had a weird voice. But as I listened to it again and again it clicked in my head. The music was fascinating in a way that what I was used to listening to was not. And the lyrics where indeed subversive and political. It was an interesting time then. It was a time of Reagan and Thatcher dole queues the Moral Majority and the world was seemingly going a little crazy. In this just spat in the face of all that. It was exhilarating in a way, and it was probably the first time I really thought of things in a political way.

Jello Biafra became a bit of a touchstone for me at that time, in high school. I remember buying Frankenchrist (that was the one with the poster in it called Penis Landscape painted by H.R. Giger, the poster that got them tried in court for obscenity) in the best record shop Des Moines ever had, Vinyl Fetish. Remember record shops? You can say what you want about the 80’s but that was a marvelous time to discover music, no matter what you listened to.

I played that song on the radio at my high school’s radio station. I recall having no idea whether it was licensed or not or whether I was even legally allowed to play it. I didn’t care. My little salute to Dead Kennedys and the punk ethic.

My Record Collection: #1 Tubeway Army – Replicas

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I don’t think a lot of people have any idea what a barren wasteland of music Iowa was in the 80’s. All you had was what was on the radio (top 40, oldies or country) or at the few record shops that were around, most of them being chain shops in the malls. There were a couple of independent record shops but they were more geared to the older audiophile set and focused on classic rock.

So finding out about new music was a matter of meeting people road trips to the likes of Minneapolis or Chicago for record shopping. There was no iTunes, no internet, no Spotify, no Pirate Bay. And at least when I was really getting into music, no CD’s.  Finding cool music was difficult and took work, which is why most just fell into one of the normal genres, the top 40 kids, the metal dudes, the Deadheads and a small contingent of punks (where I resided for a lot of high school as well).

I came to this album a bit late. It was released in Britain in 1979 and was a giant smash there. It was nothing here. The first, and last, we heard from Gary Numan in the States was Cars, which is where I first heard him. I liked that song but I think was at that point too young and musically immature to really get it. I got it years later when I was reintroduced to him through a friend Numan became my big collection band (it seemed like we all, at least all the cool kids I knew, had that one band that we had to have everything. You had the one into Kraftwerk or Devo. Further afield you had the Deadheads and their tape trading and the few Zappa afficionados.)

This was groundbreaking stuff at the time. The use of synthesizers in a pop context (pop for Britain; US pop is en entirely different beast) was largely unknown then and this song was an absolute smash in the UK. From my perspective in the US this sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. To me, it was punk with synths.

And though I had heard Depeche Mode and Human League and such, hearing this was the first time it actually changed what I wanted to listen to. I had gone from the childhood adoration of KISS and metal, like I think all boys do. I had already done the punk thing, which flowed easily from metal. But this was new and it changed the way I looked at and appreciated music from then on. This is the thing that made me look for music that pushes the boundaries and every weird thing I listen to, from Coil to Nurse With Wound and Zappa to Jazz extends from that epiphany.

Gary Numan – The Fall

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It’s been more than a year since I wrote here. I want to write more here and want this place to be somewhere I write about music, technology and politics. I am going to start a project of writing about albums that have meant something to me. The best way to kick that off is with my teenage, new wave hero, Gary Numan. Here is a new song by him before I write my next post about one of my favorite albums.

Ubuntu

A bit of geek post so if your eyes start to glaze over just skip!

I can’t even remember why I originally decided to try out linux. Had never really thought about it before. It was probably frustrations with endless re-installs of Windows XP to get it running smoothly again that made me look elsewhere.

I originally started trying to install Ubuntu because it was the most popular distro. But I could never get a live CD to work properly and install on my machine so I started looking for something else and ended up with openSUSE. Live CD worked great, installed nicely and it ran fine enough, with some major tweaking, with the at the time brand new KDE4.  I had work to do to get my video card (an older AGP Nvidia 6200) to work well enough with the transparencies and what not. This would come back to haunt me again and again.

After a while, KDE4 started to drive me crazy. It was taking up tremendous resources on my now old desktop (it is an AMD Sempron running at around 2ghz with a gig of ram) and everything was slowing down. And I started getting a weird problem with attaching USB drives, which caused the graphics to hang for 5 minutes or more. So it was off to try Ubuntu again.

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Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…

Was in church this morning to watch my girls sing in the choir. That was fine and they sung well. The service was boring as ever.

It was made worse by the fact that the heating units they have under the pews were set way too high. It was so warm that I wanted to check my wallet to see if my credit cards were melted. I am surprised I didn’t smell cooking meat. But then it struck me that maybe I was the only one feeling such heat sitting in church. Perhaps the intense heat on my ass was a sign…