Happy Gnu/Linux user since 2003. Hobbyist and not a programmer or sysadmin, so I like to work with new users and help build their confidence in Gnu/Linux desktop. Currently I use Ubuntu and am a 'mixed' user, I am sure I use a few 'non-free' bytes to make my computing life easier.

Nov 022023

Time Machine, Reflections on Hardware

Here are some reflections after success in replacing the OS on a Chromebook.

I have enjoyed extending the useful life of computer hardware for a couple of decades. From using Knoppix as a live disc and wearing out a few copies, to switching from Red Hat 8 to Ubuntu 4 or 6. That was when Ubuntu was still sequentially numbered, now it gets the release number from the date of release. This is an improvement for Time Travelers. In the early days of the 21st Century the non-free proprietary parts were the modem or wifi sub-units. Sound and display could also be a bit tricky to configure. So we traded ideas and work-arounds or sometimes the firmware needed for a non-free piece of essential hardware or where and what to buy to replace it with a free firmware usable one.

Then there was a period in the switch in personal computing from desktop to laptop. Some improvements in either cooperation and release of firmware for specific hardware items made it a bit easier to extend the useful life of a piece of hardware. A good CPU, upgradeable RAM and upgradeable storage were the requirements for a good Gnu/Linux project. We debated Red Hat vs Debian, Ubuntu verses the variants. Everyone had a favorite Gnu/Linux OS. And people came to seek our help to install on their older laptops. This could be done at regular or special Gnu/Linux Users’ meetings. Local groups, and ours was one, donated configured computers to cafes in town. I believe this was happening broadly. This period ended sometime before 2018. Cafes changed, people changed and smartphones became common.

This year Gnu/Linux on Chromebooks became a possibility. ChromeOS is based on a privatized version of the Linux kernel and Coreboot boot manager. Should work, right? It can, ChromeOS even offers a terminal for application development. It works, but is not really free as in freedom. I have converted one instance of ‘expired’ Chromebook hardware to Xubuntu. It works, with limits and caveats. My unit has browser, wifi and sound, a limited OS – due to the 16 GB Emmc storage. No office suite, no graphical text editor, function keys limited to F1-F10 and no “Super” key. I have made keyboard shortcuts for sound control, and added the “Super” function to the “Search” key which replaces the “Caps Lock” on Chromebooks. Better free than at the mercy of the ChromeOS, but not a replacement for a fully functioning computer. The added storage is not available at boot, so no matter how big an SD card I add it does not change the limitation of storage for the operating system. Maybe someone else will find an answer to that. My conclusion is that it feels like prior times: the limited and privatized hardware, limited control by the user of software by design of the OS and only 4 years support by Google for ChromeOS at present. All this leaves the extension into freedom a real challenge, but no replacement for a fully functional device. Few Chromebooks have a good CPU and upgradable RAM and Storage; the modified keyboard limits what can be done if you do liberate the device. In fact they feel more like a terminal and function that way – the “main frame” is now the Internet. Google, should one desire to live in their environment, allows a lot of work to be done on their web sites. Work is not retained by the user at her/his computer, but becomes part of the storage offered, for a price, by Google. For some users willing to accept the exchange of their freedom and privacy for simplified access to the Internet a Chromebook is an option.

A lot of this recent effort of mine feels like a return to those former times: hardware is problematic and varied. Sometimes a particular hardware is not going to work. The minimal Emmc soldered to the motherboard is one example of a severe limitation brought by the new thinner and lighter portable, ultra-portable laptops. Cloud computing has been sold as the way to operate, but people are not using their own servers as a rule. So the majority of people work and browse the Internet in non-free conditions.

For freedom nothing seems to work short of sufficient personal equipment. Freedom to use, modify, contribute and share your software is still a revolutionary set of concepts. See the Free Software Foundation at https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html
This is still affordable for many, and not too complicated. It does take a certain budget and careful shopping and a commitment to compute self-consciously, thinking about freedom. One way we can help is by sharing our expertise and insight into what it means to have truly free software and mostly freed hardware. The kernel is quickly adding hardware compatibility for the many parts of a good computer. With careful shopping and a little planning on repair-ablity one can avoid the non-free firmware. Life is not perfect, but we can make it better.

Our cafe culture has also shifted from Internet computers to food and phones. While some places offer wifi it is often through a highly regulated portal that restricts access to some sites and bandwidth. Restaurants are returning to focus on their menu and service. The novelty of the Internet is gone, it is now assumed as part of the landscape. And where it hasn’t reached money is being allocated to extend it as a utility to rural and under served areas. Phone connectivity has also changed the interface of personal computing and released people to rely on ever smaller devices. This part of the landscape is changed and people are accepting the new, smaller dimensions. This is no reason to abandon our willingness to promote the four freedoms of computing.

Oct 122023

One more post, October 11, 2023:

Linux on Chromebook Conversion,

This is another story of Gnu/Linux installation for successful life extension for a compact computer. I cannot take a lot of credit, I made a good enough choice of hardware and found the technique on the web. I am always glad to prevent the waste of hardware and glad for the extended support of strangers from the web. I do not repeat the instructions here, only give my story. Please refer to the two websites noted or any other website with similar instructions, but read and understand the steps before you start.

Part One, Hardware
I ordered a used Asus C202 Chromebook on the web. It arrived in working order and had parameters I thought appropriate to my uses: small and lightweight, less than three pounds and closer to two pounds; Intel dual core 64 bit processor, 4Gb ram. Comments on this unit were that tear down was relatively easy for repairs. I was happy to have the “ruggedized” case, too. I was learning about the ChromeOS in order to be able to help seniors with their questions. More are using tablets or Chromebooks as these are less costly and simpler to use, albeit with caveats. These operate on user capture rather than user freedom; tracking and limits are established by Google and Android by design. There is a limited lifetime of support, typically four years. Not long enough, and my purchase, a 2016 model, repeatedly reminded me that the last planned update had already been applied. I considered waiting for 2024 and the promise of ten years support, but went ahead with the conversion to Gnu/Linux now.

Part Two, Research
Proprietary hardware and software can be a real limitation. Could I make progress toward freedom? I began to research on the Web. Both Itsfoss.com and MrChromebox.tech had information for me on investigating the “Developer Mode” in the of the Chromebook. One important clue to success is to boot into Developer Mode and read the screen before continuing. At the bottom is the Motherboard name. This name is needed for comparison to the Supported Devices page under Mrcrhomebox. Mine is TERRA.
I found I could not do the dual boot. My name, TERRA, listed EOL for the RW_Legacy boot modification. So, not maintained any longer, but the nice green check mark indicated I could use a script to over write the Coreboot with a more functional EFI compatible one. I found the Mrchromebox website helpful and sufficient to get the job done. I could not do the dual boot and keep Chromeos, and it was not difficult to follow directions to get the script to modify the firmware. The script functions as a web link and took about two minutes to work. I was not sorry to leave the Chromeos behind.

Part Three, Doing the Steps
One, try Developer Mode, noting the board name, which is key to checking the MrChromebox list. Two, fiddle with Developer Mode and realize it is no advantage and the chrosh and shell do not have full access to the Linux tools I expect on a functioning system. Once I decided to proceed I removed the physical screw that is the write-protect feature of this Chromebook. Write protect must be cleared in order to make changes. Three, copy and paste the command on Mrchromebox to rewrite the BIOS. Four, try out the new boot operations and see how to boot a live/install usb. I could not use the SD slot as a boot option, but my usbA ports both worked to boot media. Xubuntu and Debian both booted. A bit tricky was that I needed to explore the Boot Manager to see how to identify ports and media, then add a boot option. The emmc(16 Gb) no longer booted. Four, boot the install of choice, Xubuntu, run it live as a test, then install. Install took some time, as this was a dual core CPU and 4 Gb ram. I tried install to the SD, but still could not boot from there. So, next, installed to the emmc, using the “minimal” option for the Xubuntu. So far tests are good: wifi, screen, keyboard all work. Sound is good. I can read and use the SD, once logged in and I mount the card. The install is 72% of the 16 Gb, so I will be careful what demands I make. But man pages are there, I have access to all the programs in the Ubuntu repository. I feel the limits are off as the terminal is a terminal, not a limited environment. I can see what I want to see.

This is a return to my hobbyist days of providing useful life extension for needlessly orphaned hardware. And it is fun to have a small portable, really portable laptop, reminding me of the Asus EEE I owned twelve years ago. I chose to abandon and recycle that because of the 32 bit Atom processor. The demands of the web today are such that 64 bit processing is required for general use and basic graphical browsing. So far the fully installed Linux is working well and I am tweaking things to my taste and on both the GUI and in the terminal.

Read the directions, twice. Three times if you are not really clear. Decide your level of trust, I accepted the risks of using the remote script to rewrite the BIOS. It worked for me. Don’t count on the SD slot, it may work for you or a newer motherboard, but research that before you decide it is your desired place for the OS.

I did have repeated tries at the install, with the hazard of the SD not a bootable location. I also lost or over wrote the boot partition of my media and had to learn how to fix that. I can only give myself a “C-” on that. I think I used the chroot and related steps and mounts pretty well, but didn’t umount something before returning to the live environment. In fact if I have to do that again I won’t just use Ctl+D, then reboot as in the Debian wiki. I will exit the chroot, umount the second system and establish just which environment I am in before reboot or shutdown.

Sep 202022

September 15th, 2022:
NMGLUG members gathered in person at Violet Crown, 1606 Alcaldesa St, Santa Fe. It is in the Santa Fe Railyard, very near the water tower landmark. There were five members present: Art, Geoff, Jason, Mark and Ted. Art brought his “new” Lenovo Thinkpad x280. He had successfully installed LinuxMint 21, so we had no work to do there. Several of us discussed the advantages of LinuxMint, Ubuntu and Debian as an introductory OS. Community on-line support and longevity of support are important to the new user, so that they can learn how to identify and then solve issues with the help of the Internet community. Ubuntu has a well developed website with a diversity of topics covered and some community sites beyond the official one. LinuxMint is non-corporate, but has good support and web presence currently. However, it is still mainly the work of one developer. Debian has a very good website, a large community and has a breadth of options for live and install iso’s available. I use Debian at home, but still install either LinuxMint or Xubuntu for new users, though that may change in the future as Debian allows tweaks to the system to permit some non-free libs and codexes to allow use of more hardware and commercial media. I am afraid we are in a hybridized state with freedom and copyright issues swirling around control of the digital world and the User’s general expectations.
The biggest amusement at the meeting was connecting to the wifi at Violet Crown. I was using Debian 11, 32 bit on an old Asus Eee. I connected on second try, perhaps because I was distracted for a moment and that allowed whatever authentication process to work. Others had to make several attempts, too. We were connecting to the VCSF-guest access and the theater provides the password at the concession desk. By the way there is food and a variety of beverages. Food is good and beverages to many tastes. I had raspberry iced tea which was very sweet, but went well with the chicken flautas. After connecting several members explored the speed and utility of the connection. Video worked for those with better machines than mine, and other checks seemed to work. As we were not doing an install, a real test will have to be tried another day. Downloading packages may or may not be as smooth.
Some interest was added when Jason introduced us to etherape, a graphical display of network traffic and showing some simple use cases of wireshark. We tried to get a variety of uses to display – so members used different websites to show print, video or other types of traffic among ourselves.
We had plenty of space and reasonable noise level so we could talk across tables. Our group could have been twice as big with no seating or working problem. This day and time for meeting seems good.
I did also connect to the virtual meeting, one other member was there. Due to my 32 bit system the best we could do was use the chat. That was clear, but we concluded it was better for me to say “Hello” to all and then focus on those at the table. So hybridizing meetings is questionable, but a possibility.

Aug 182022

I am working on a laptop to donate for general users, so I have chosen LinuxMint as the distribution. It includes the non-free audio/visual codexes and brings some of the Ubuntu tools including the Languages setting which helps bring in a wide variety of languages other than English.

As I am a bit of a fan of the GUI, while still able to go to the command line, I feel the readily accessible and easier to use “Languages” is easier than re-configuring Locales. In Debian, I can shift the language, but I am not fluent enough to be sure I could use the commandline in a foreign language. Plus, as I am sending this unit into other hands to pass on to yet others, I hope that the idea of using the “Settings” menu and visible options to adjust the Desktop will be familiar to anyone, anywhere with even a small amount of familiarity with computing.

Since we are no longer meeting face to face as often or easily now, I am hoping that GNU/Linux is familiar to enough people and has a visual interface that “just works” for any user. I have been reflecting on freedom and free software this year, especially after attending the Free Software Foundation virtual conference via video. While I rely on a lot of the work that has been done, I am not absolutely “pure” in my hardware and software. In s few discussions of the current situation I find a wide variety of people using free software for various tasks, from simple to complex. And the approaches vary, too.

Some prefer very un-free hardware for reasons of price, quality of display and other parts, some delve into the total freedom of CoreBoot and motherboards free of undisclosed blobs. I have been a hobbyist and scavenger, so I take what I can find, updating hardware as computing demands have advanced, but basically converting an available PC or laptop to Gnu/Linux and then working with the installed parts and replacing and upgrading where I can.

At home I use Debian and have selected a GUI Desktop that I like. I have an editor preference and other choices and I have become familiar with some other programs as the need or interest has arisen. Most of my daily ‘work’ is simple and basic. I alternate between the commandline and Synaptic for maintenance. I have habits, but not a fully established rationale for my choices. I now try to see that others will be the same: have habits, focus on the many advantages of free software and use it to full advantage either in a particular application or as thorough way of working, using the free-est hardware, too. So I have become a little more broad-minded about how to work with free software and also regret that the public meetings we don’t have mean sharing my interest is rather hit or miss.
I do hope we can expand the circle of GNU/Linux users in the future. I am glad the maintainers have kept up all their good work and that all the distros are keeping up with the changes in hardware and the uses that people have for computing.

Aug 182021

Debian11, Bullseye was released on August 14, 2021.
I have already had a chance to upgrade a 32 bit machine to the new release and it runs well. The laptop is circa 2010 with an Atom processor. Of course it is a bit slow, but that is not surprising. Kernel 5.10 is working well with this older laptop. I managed the upgrade by editing /etc/apt/sources.list by hand. It worked, but I had to check my edits a few times and almost reverted to Buster. One important change is the name change for Debian security line in /etc/apt/sources.list. This is explained in the release notes on the Debian wiki website, and is due to apt syntax symbols. this difference is between “release/security” and “release-security”; replacing the slash with a hyphen. I worked this out by reading the update warnings before I read the release nots. If I had read the notes first I might have taken longer to upgrade, beacause it was very easy to A) do the Buster updates, B) Edit my /etc/apt/sources.list and C) update and upgrade to Bullseye. There are a half dozen steps to clear up obsolete files and settings, remove non-Debian repositories and other obstacles to a simple Buster to Bullseye upgrade. Luckily for me I was running a basic system and had no complications or special settings.

The release notes are here: https://www.debian.org/releases/stable/i386/release-notes/
Note the architecture is specific, though much is the same across all architectures. The main sections are: 1- Introduction, 2- What’s new in Debian 11, 3- Installation system, 4- Upgrades from Debian 10, 5- Issues to be aware of for bullseye, 6- More information on Debian.

I took the sections out of order, doing my own simplified upgrade routine (#4). It worked, but it is certainly better to follow the directions. I omitteed study of the installation system (#3) as I was upgrading. There is some good information in that section also, as well as links to a wide variety of installation images, including a discussion of the firmware issues sometimes encountered due to hardware and solutions and alternative media. Tracking these down involves reading the offerings on the various mirrors and the accompanying notes to select the best ISO image for your circumstances.

Section 2 “What’s New” is very interesting and well laid out to give those with particular interests news of improvements.
Printing (2.2.2); Indicates progress on printing without the need for proprietary firmware for particular printers. I have long preferred HP printers as HP was much more forthcoming with firmware. The section on printing is called “Driverless scanning and printing.” The goal of driverless printing and better interoperability seems to have been reached. I don’t print too often and I do not have any problematic printers or scanners, so I cannot give any firsthand report on this. Still, the progress is good news and I hope somebody will be able to give us a report sometime this year.
Journal and systemd (2.2.5); For the techincally minded this short section may be of interest in decisions about which logs and journals to use to monitor system health. I will look into this in the future, but may have a new tool for evaluating system health.

Section 5 “Issues to be aware of for bullseye” gives some specific guidance on what one may encounter due to the changes in the system and applications. There are many of these and I am not addressing them all here, only those that I have read and applied myself which is not representative of all the issues.
Security (5.1.3) As above the repository for security updates from Debian security has changed, mainly relplacement of the forward slash in the name. I was glad to read the note and to check my sources.list to be sure to stay in conformity with the security notices and updates.
Limitations in security support (5.2.1) Applies mainly to browsers and web protocols. the short story is that Firefox-ESR and Chromium are supported. From the notes: “Therefore, browsers built upon e.g. the webkit and khtml engines[6] are included in bullseye, but not covered by security support. These browsers should not be used against untrusted websites. The webkit2gtk and wpewebkit engines are covered by security support.” From my use that means Web/epiphany-browser is not such a good idea. It was also not working well with my particular email and some other sites. Of interest is that Web/epiphany-browser is sandboxed and that also causes problems with some websites or interactions, like downloads and printing from the web. So, I have removed Web and will use Firefox.
The rescue boot option (5.2.3) The rescue option in the boot menu has limitations as noted in this section. This is for security and applies if there are problems booting. Solutions and advice are given in the notes.
Deprecated components for bullseye (5.3.2) Here I skip over the obsolete package list, but found the discussion of the merge of /bin and /usr/bin very interesting. Essentially there will be a change in the directory tree to eliminate separate /bin, /sbin and /lib and move these to sub-directories of /usr. This brings the tree in line with other Unix and unix like systems. The reason for the separate directories was in part based on hardware limitations during boot which are no longer an issue. I checked my system and it now conforms to the transitional state with a symlink in the separate directories and the files in the appropriate sub-directroy of /usr.
Know severe bugs (5.4) makes for good reading and is important to be aware of know issues to avoid user panic. I am forewarned that the xfce4-settings may go black after a suspend initiated by closing the lid. There are other issues and, of course, someone is working on them.

Sectin 6 is More information on Debian, available at https://www.debian.org/doc A good place to start if you ahve any questions.

In the main my Xfce desktop is the same, with new artwork, an empty “Favorites” section of the app menu that I am adding to, and some settings set to the new defaults that I am re-tweaking. The previous “Favorites” submenu was pre-populated with the maintainer’s choices, mostly okay, but I don’t mind starting with a blank slate and filling in my own choices.
I have purged ‘quodlibet’ and ‘exfalso’ and installed ‘audacious’ and ‘streamtuner2’: this to get music streams from the Internet.
Early use and exploration of the 32 bit laptop has been pleasing. I had decided to give up on 32-bit computing, but as Debian supports it, I will do some more testing.

Jun 142021

Topic of the Day:

Gopher – file search – University of Minnesota, 1991, did not last when web protocols changed, and the university licensed it as copyrighted. By the time the licensing was reversed in 2000, Mosaic had surpassed it in features and use as the web expanded.
Gopher is a client/server directory system that allowed people to quickly browse resources on the networks.

Gemini – a new Internet protocol, file search and markup language; Not Gopher, Not Web, in-between. Art has posted to the mailing list some details.

Other topics

  • Firefox 89 rewrite and some temporary work-arounds;
  • Cherrytree for note taking;
  • Spider-web charts for multi-demnsional comparisons;
  • Spreadsheet preferences – LibreOffice, Gnumeric, csv;
  • Systemd and systemctl – see the recent article at https://www.2daygeek.com/linux-systemctl-command-manage-systemd-units-service/
Mar 162021

After a brief email discussion we have resolved to move to the other alternate Thursdays beginning in April 2021. We will meet April 1, 15 and 29 at the usual time, 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time. Art B. will be adding content for us as follows:

April 1: Replace Excel with RStudio
April 15: Write documents in Pandoc Markdown, exploring documentation formats
April 29: Make a website in Markdown with Static Site Generators like Hugo
May 13: Make a website with Gemini/Gemtext
May 27: Replace Word with Overleaf/Latex
June 10: Replace Powerpoint with Overleaf/Latex/Beamer/Metropolis
June 24: Alternate shells: Fish shell & object shells
July 8: Keep track of RLY BIG files with Git-Annex

Please note that we meet every other Thursday and that the dates have changed beginning in April 2021. We will continue every other Thursday as noted in the Events page. As of March 2021 we are still meeting via video conference at the virtual meeting place: https://meet.jit.si/nmglug We continue to discuss the possibility of in person meetings based on pandemic recommendations and rules from the State and City.

Jan 312021

Art B. will present some work he has done at our Feb. 11, 2021 Virtual Meeting – see Meetings page for link to the meetup

FROM: Art B. Deduplicating backup software and version control for large binary files

Deduplicating backup software includes the likes of Borg, Restic and the horribly named Duplicacy. This is the current state-of-the-art in backup and makes efficient use of disk space while giving more flexibility in pruning old backups compared to backup software based on differential/incremental snapshots. I was thinking to give an overview of how Borg/Restic/Duplicacy stack against each other, the concepts behind how they work, and an example of using one of them. My current personal project [https://github.com/akbarnes/dupver] is a deduplicating version control system that I started at the beginning of the pandemic. I deal a lot with binary files that have a lot of structure like Sqlite databases and was lacking for a good way to keep track of versions. I’m thinking to give an overview of the design behind it along with a usage example. Warning! It’s an ambitious project at alpha-level quality.

The slow web – Gemini, Gopher & the tildeverse

In another area of interest and throwing out an idea for a future presentation if someone wants to take it on. Gopher has been making a comeback along with its younger brother Gemini. I’m old enough to miss the old days of forum culture. This along with the tildeverse scratches my nostalgia itch pretty hard. Maybe someone is familiar with setting up a Gemini server? I got playing around with Gemini and thought I’d share my experience in advance of this week’s meeting.
For folks that haven’t heard of Gopher, it’s a text-based predecessor and, briefly, competitor to the WWW. It lost out when folks saw WWW which was almost Hypercard over the internet and didn’t charge licensing fees as was the case for Gopher. Gemini is a re-imagined Gopher from some alternate cyberpunk universe with a cleaner document format and which runs over TLS. Project names borrow from the early days of the space race. It’s totally impractical, as it could have been implemented more easily with a subset of HTML or even as an alternate text/gmni MIME type on top of HTTPS. I still love it as it tickles my nostalgia centers for the earlier days of the internet. I’ll admit to having rose-colored glasses here. The modern internet is a place where you can get actual work done, but I sure miss the old times of weird personal interest pages and discussion forums. Gemini really brings me back to those days, especially since people don’t seem to quite know what to do with it yet.

Amphora and bombadillo are nice clients and there are a number of servers out there (jet force, molly brown, twins and agate are the most mature, with agate appearing to be the easiest to set up). Ironically it’s a little tricky to set up a server on account of TLS. There are some other hosting alternatives on the tildeverse, notably tilde.team and the Gemini-only tilde.pink
For those unfamiliar with the tildeverse, it’s a stupidly simple concept that has gained surprising traction: set up a VPS running Linux, give people accounts and let them create webpages in old-timey 90s html style.

Feb 102020

“Goals: Our primary intention is to grow the community of GNU/Linux users; both in their numbers and in the level of their expertise. Also we intend to do it while having a good time.” (from the nmglug.org Home page)

On the theme of really growing a community, it is time to review how to be most helpful. How to be welcoming and able to get to the level of a beginner who wants to try Linux. It may be difficult to think like the basic user or curious hobbyist who are not used to thinking of themselves as system administrators. The 2020 termination of Microsoft support for one of their popular systems gives an opportunity to spread the message of freedom of Gnu/Linux. Has anybody asked for release from the tedium of un-free software? It takes time and a little patience to tutor new users on the shift to any of the Linux flavors. And that is one of the assets of Gnu/Linux, the many options and levels of freedom and ‘curation.’ The variety of Flavors.

A recent encounter I had was to install Ubuntu 18.04 on a used laptop a user purchased specifically for a Gnu/Linux install. I had the ISO and installed it on some good, if used hardware: Intel i7 processor, 8 GB ram and 128 GB ssd. This user needed more speed and had shopped for good hardware, even asking for advice a few times before the purchase. The smaller ssd was no problem as the user has a large external drive for files. Gnome3 turned out to be a stumbling block that I was unable to smooth out for her. Mate desktop was different, but still not right for either of us. She requested Linux Mint 19.3, Cinnamon. After I obtained the ISO we proceeded to do a fresh install. Cinnamon and the curation by the Mint community were what she wanted. Feedback was all good.

I am also working with a another indiviual, referred by a neighbor already using Xubuntu 18.04, the going is slower, but not without progress. Here there will be less depth of learning, but due to the ubiquity of computing and a real need to be connected there is the desire to stay on the Internet. So I will work to see how the user works in the old system and adapt my tutoring and selection of an ISO that is most likely to present a shallow learning curve. I believe it can be done.

Four weeks ago NMGLUG helped clear up a file system error that prevented booting. We used edits to grub, a nice trick and the simplest way through the problem, telling grub to force fsck before mounting the system. there were two commands to enter in the “Linux” line in grub, and the caveat to rerun it till it reported no errors. This was accomplished with the assist of a Linux-savvy user with experience and understanding of the boot process. It is fun to work with people with a skill base that is ready to pick up a new idea.

Speaking of rescue, a quicker conversion happened over a recent weekend: a dropped laptop resulted in hard drive damage and inconsistencies. The remedy was to switch out the drive and install a spare from my closet. I installed the Linux Mint 19.3 here as the user was familiar with an Ubuntu loaner from a previous time I suggested help. It will take some time before I hear back on this, but the user is alert and has specific, mostly web related, habits and needs, so the shift should not be too great a problem. I remind each user that the computer will do the same things, but the buttons may have different colors and names. I try to pick distributions with static, visible menus which are less of an obstacle for users accustomed to selecting files or applications from such menus.

Thinking about a recent install, an old Compaq laptop – 32bit Xubuntu 18.04 worked. My Debian 8 Live did not work and I have tossed that DVD. Time to focus on newer equipment for installs, I think. In order to learn about Linux there is no need to hamper the user with a slow system that may not have the capacity for the demands of today’s Internet. A system that is compromised by a slow processor and limited by 1GB of ram is okay for me to practice with, but if it won’t accept imbedded video on the Internet it is too old and an impediment, not an asset, to advertise the merits of Gnu/Linux. I have an older Asus EEE, which is portable, but without web video capability it is not really good enough to pass on to others. There is better hardware in many a closet, or available for purchase.

Jul 142018

Old hardware can be fun to keep going, especially when one of the branded and expensive operating systems stops support on otherwise very good hardware. For a few friends I have installed Xubuntu 16.04 LTS and act as support and tutor. Recently I picked up a discarded 2004 Toshiba and gave it a try. Well, I think there is a limit to how old a laptop or computer I want to do much work with.

For my friends I suggest they do what I do, hence the Xubuntu installs. This way I can also answer some questions on very short notice and perform rescue if there is a glitch or mistake or a badly needed update. I know the menu and main applications and I can look up others in the repository. These people have acquired a decent machine or even buy one, maybe on sale or re-furbished. My current preference is for a 64-bit, 4GB ram and any hard drive that is newer, these are now measured in 100’s of GB’s. The 2004 Toshiba had a 60 GB hard drive and that was enough for installation in 32-bit, but there were other problems.

The old 2004 machine, excellent in its day, was very limited: only one available slot for ram and an early Celeron(tm) processor, not even a Celeron M(tm). Processors are constantly improved and every decade make a leap of 2^5th, if they double in speed every two years, and therefore allow increase demands from the applications. The 2004 could not do multi-threading and was limited to the 32-bit and single core, single thread processing. As a tool it was limited everywhere one would expect increased ability. The Peppermint 8 OS was maybe not the best choice – it is geared toward Internet connectivity and processing which demanded too much from the bus and processor. The games, for instance, were opened by the ICE-SSB links. The “ICE” name for the launcher is the Peppermint nod to an earlier nickname of their OS. It uses the launcher to open a “single site browser,” that is Chromium locked to a single site and without toolbars.  This technique is used elsewhere for Internet test centers an other kiosk-like controls on the user to focus on only allowed activities. For example on a test of scientific knowledge taken via the web, the browser locks me on the test and I cannot access an encyclopedia to find the answers. Unless I also have a cellphone in my hands, too. The effect of the added overhead on the processor of browser plus controls was too much for the 32-bit processor and ram. Locally installed games worked much better, as one would expect. Typically I could play Solitaire and watch the sensors [‘watch -n 10 sensors’] and see the machine cool down. It heated up when browsing and shut down once when I was not paying attention to the heat. Clearly I was asking too much of this old device.  I have assigned this old machine to re-cycling; taking a few choice working sub-assemblies out for use in newer machines I can get to function reliably.

I have the “Net Install” version of Debian on disk and will be using it on 32-bit machines. The Ubuntu threat to cease 32-bit support makes sense for any really workhorse machine; 64-bit, multi-core, multi-threading and larger ram are expected for Internet and visual applications. Still I know that the 32-bit machine with enough ram and bus speed can adequately do most of what I commonly use my computer to do. Currently I have a Dell from 2005 which has the CeleronM(tm) processor and 2 GB ram and it seems to run much better with the Peppermint OS or the Debian 9, Stretch. I am using the Debian Stretch to see just how well it will work and so far it does well, handling local and network access creditably. It will do as a demonstration machine to bring to meetings, though a bit heavy when compared to current portables. And, alas, the optical drive is noisy, but working for now. Unless I find a replacement that is not quite so worn out I won’t use it for audio disks. All in all it shows that 32-bit is sufficient when given enough ram and is used for the basic tasks of e-mail and Internet browsing and running applications made for the installed OS. It can certainly do as a standby machine to access e-mail if I’m doing repairs for myself or someone else. We have become so accustomed to being connected it seems a necessity.

While experimenting with Peppermint I discovered Quod Libet, a music player with built-in browser and accumulator of Internet streaming audio. This ran well on all the machines tested, even the 2004 Toshiba. I have re-discovered the fun and the frustrations of streaming radio as it exists outside of the services that include an algorithm to play what it thinks I want to hear. You know the ones, you join and put in an artist or song and voilà, hours of homogenized music. Instead, the streams collected by Quod Libet seem to be independent radio stations around the world, always interesting, sometimes almost randomly playing music so disparate as to jar the ear. It is some fun to listen for a while to New South Wales, Australia or Paris, France and get a take on pop and hip hop I might otherwise never imagine. The browser claims over three thousand stations, though I suspect some duplication, still, many more than I can get via fm radio in Santa Fe, NM, USA.