Saturday, April 17, 2021

Trying out Debian Linux

 So I had some questions about my blogging about trying out different Linux Distributions, along with FreeBSD. The questions mainly concerned why I swapped OS's a couple of times a year. The answer is, I don't. My daily driver machine has been running Ubuntu since I bought it and has only been reinstalled when new Long Term Support (LTS) versions come out. The laptop I carry with me when I travel, closely mirrors my desktop. I have a 2nd laptop, which I refer to as my flop around the house system. This is an older i5 system without an SSD or M.2 card, this is the system I try these different OS's with. There is rarely anything important on it and if there is, it is usually backup to Dropbox, so wiping the OS is never an issue.

Having clarified that, my latest adventure has been installing Debian Linux. I figured having some insight into this was a good idea, since Debian is the upstream provider for Ubuntu. This basically means, the Ubuntu team simply takes the latest testing or unstable version of Debian, add some flash to it and call it Ubuntu. The idea being that if I ever need to, I can always fallback to Debian if Ubuntu fails me.

You would think this would be easy as pie, but there are a couple of bumps in the road. My first instinct was to install a very minimal amount and then build up from there. This was a mistake, I should have installed the GUI upfront, trying to install it afterwards was to be blunt, a shit show. The second thing is, the basic install of Debian does not include the proprietary drivers for common wifi cards, skipping the step where you provide them upfront, makes it geometrically more difficult to get wifi working after the fact. The first install was a terrible pain in the ass.

The second time I did the install, I also downloaded the firmware package and extracted it to a separate usb key and when the installer asked for it, I plugged it in, the firmware was installed and all was good. The next thing I did was during the install it asks you if you want to install a desktop environment, unless you plan to work solely from the command line, you should definitely do this. They give you a choice of several, I chose LXQT, although I could have just as easily chosen Mate, Gnome or KDE. I did have to install the gnome-network-manager package to get the wireless configured properly once I was into my desktop, but otherwise it was pretty painless compared to the first time around.

Once this was done, the next step was to upgrade to the unstable version, the reason for this is, the stable version is geared towards old, tried, tested and stable as fuck. I wanted access to newer software and stability is not necessarily my main concern here, Keep in mind, unstable in Linux does not mean the same thing as it does in the Windows world. Doing this is fairly easy all things considered, I simply updated the repository links from stable to unstable.


deb buster main non-free contrib
deb-src buster main non-free contrib


deb unstable main contrib non-free
deb-src unstable main contrib non-free

After that I simply did an "apt update" and "apt full-upgrade", a little while later, it was done. Start to finish, this took me around 3 hours, including the the first install. I think had I started out following the instructions properly, I think this would have taken me maybe an hour or an hour and a half. In my next post I will let you know what I think after I have had a chance to mess around with things and configure things to my taste.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Review: Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an interesting book, it is actually two stories that blend together to make one long fascinating multi generational family drama. From the incestuous grandparents, through the post WWII parents building a mid 20th century nuclear family, to Cal, born as an intersex (hermaphrodite) and raised as girl, this story is captivating on many levels. The central character is supposed to Cal, but he really is not, he is just one character among a cast of equally interesting characters.

The story starts with Desdemona and Lefty, a brother and sister couple escaping post WWI Turkey, to remake themselves as a married couple in America. The Desdemona and Lefty relationship is an uncomfortable one, the author tried to build an epic love story here, but there is a definite ick factor here. Their story is not really about the oddity of the relationship or really even the relationship itself, but rather it is about transformations and making a new life for ones self.

This transformation and building of a new life, parallels Cal's own story, upon the discovery of Cal's condition, she runs away and starts a new life as a man. There is even a bit of an ick factor, while Cal is a teenage runway he becomes a performer in burlesque show where his genitals are displayed for the entertainment of paying customers. Interspersed throughout the book is the story of a middle aged Cal meeting a woman who excepts him for who he is, this part of the story is very short and told in single paragraphs throughout the book.

In between Cal and his grandparents is the story of Milton and Tessie, Cal's parents, who are also cousins. Their story is not so much about transformation, but more about what life was like for ethnic immigrants and their children in the mid 20th century as they build a life together and have children. Their lives fall apart a couple of times, but always they seem to bounce back, stronger than before.

Over all, really good book, strong characters, interesting story lines built with strong writing. I liked the way the author faded from one story to another, with little to no transition. In one paragraph you will be reading about Lefty's gambling problem in the 1960's and in the next reading about Cal spending time with a women in the early 2000's. The transitions are smooth and a couple of times I did not even realize they had happened, it just felt like the natural flow of the story.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 11, 2021

I do stupid things sometimes

 I have been using Linux for decades. At this point I have it down pretty well, even to the point where it is easier than Windows 10 for me. Sometimes I get bored with the "It just works" shit I take on a task just because it is hard. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you have seen me switch Linux distributions, and even try out FreeBSD.

This wee, my project has been trying out tiling windows managers. Normally I just use Mate, which is pretty straight forward and not too different from using Windows, although it is far more configurable. A tiling window manager, to quote Wikipedia, is 

"a tiling window manager is a window manager with an organization of the screen into mutually non-overlapping frames, as opposed to the more popular approach of coordinate-based stacking of overlapping objects (windows) that tries to fully emulate the desktop metaphor."

Something like this:

In other words, instead of windows floating all over the place, the windows are nicely lined up, wasting no desktop space. The really nice feature of most of these tiling windows managers is they are light on resources. When using Mate, it is not unusual for 5GB of RAM to be in use at any given times. While using one of these, I have never seen RAM usage climb above 1 GB. Of course there is a trade off in functionality and ease of use. Of course this was not about functionality or ease of use, this was about abusing myself. I tried two of them out, DWM and 13, compared to Mate, neither were great, but one was definitely better than the other.

DWM is made by the Suckless organization, I have some really bad news for them however. DWM does not suck less. I get it, these guys want to build light weight tools, with a minimum of features. Okay, got it, but seriously, it should not be necessary to recompile from source code to change the colors of the tool bar. In fact any changes at that you might want to make, require you to change the source code and recompile. Apparently, to them, this is a feature, not a bug. In my mind, reading and writing a configuration file would not be a terrible leap in bloat. To their credit, they do provide patches for the more popular modifications people make, unfortunately, it is exactly no ones job to maintain these patches, and I found 80% of them I could not even apply the patch without jumping through hoops and when I did get the patches installed properly, many of them  failed to function properly. So after fucking with this for 2 days and getting little more than a basic install working, I decided this was a non starter.

i3 is slightly better in terms of configuration. They at least understand the utility of a configuration file to make small useful changes. Mind you it took me the better part of a day googling things to finally get a usable desktop so it was not all fun and sunshine, however once I figured out the basic syntax of the config files, it was relatively easy to add functionality. I would not consider i3 to be easy by any means, but it sucks less than DWM. The thing i3 really had over DWM, is once I got everything setup more or less the way I wanted it, it was pretty easy to save the config files and write a script to automate installing all the needed software and placing the config files where they needed to be, so duplicating my setup on another system would be trivial.

Overall, I am a bit meh! about this whole tiling windows manager thing. I like the idea of this kind of organizational structure and desktop management, but honestly there is no reason why it should take 7 hours setting up a decent working desktop with my preferred colors, properly sized and readable fonts that do not make my eyes bleed, and some useful applets like WiFi, Battery and volume control. Now that it is done, I will probably use it for a while, but if I ever decide to seriously change windows managers, I will choose one that has a setup wizard, not one that requires me to know that #012FFF is the hexadecimal value of my favorite shade of blue.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

RE: Raspberry Pi 400

 One of the things I thought I'd talk about with this machine is configuring it to do something useful. On the outside this appears to be pretty easy, the basic Rasbian boot image pretty much has everything you need to be reasonably productive. The problem is, I don't particularly like the basic setup or the choices of applications. On top of that, I prefer Ubuntu to other flavors of Linux, so I wanted to start there. The basic Ubuntu desktop never appealed to me, Gnome 3 is just not my thing and on my desktop, I use Mates. There is a Mates version I can use, but I wanted to do something a little different. The Raspberry Pi 400 is a pretty decent machine and is very capable of running Mates, but it is still somewhat constrained my modern standards and i have no desire to overclock it, so the less resources the windowing system uses, the more resources I have available for applications and multitasking.

My choice for Window Manager is Dynamic Window Manager (DWM), it is the core of the Suckless Desktop, whose design goal is simplicity in desktop design. The whole thing runs on less than than 300K of memory. It does have some limitations and irritations, but the trade offs are acceptable. DWM is very configurable, but this requires you to recompile it to even change the default color scheme and upgrading it, forces you to make all the changes again before doing so. This is a no thanks for me, the default colors are fine, all I really want to do is change the background and that is easy enough without recompiling anything. So I will simply be using apt-get to install and update it.

I will start off with the Ubuntu 20.04 Server image, I choose this because it does not have xorg or graphical applications preinstalled, it is totally command line and is a blank slate for our purposes. I am a lets script this shit kind of guy, so that is what i did, I created some basic config files to get me started and write a shell script to install the software I regularly use, so once I get Ubuntu Server installed, updated and a new user created, I simply copied all of these files, plus the image I wanted to use as my background, over to my home directory via ssh and ran the setup script.

Some notes about what I did here. I removed snap because i have found snap applications run significantly slower than the normal repository versions, so I remove it to keep from accidentally installing from the snap store. I removed gdm3, because I want the system to boot into text mode by default, I will start DWM manually when I need it. You will note that I have two fairly complete sets of applications, text mode and GUI, I would say I am in the GUI 80% of the time, but I do have a bit of a fetish for the command line and sometimes I will spend a lot of time working in text mode only, and this gives me both for when I am in one of those moods. To answer the obvious question, yes I can be fairly productive at the command line, about the only things I can't do is play videos and the internet experience is less than optimal.

Well that is it folks, I have posted all the files below, so you can use them as a template for yourself so you can customize your setup without too much fuss.

Setup script:


# Update the system
sudo apt-get update

# Install text mode applications, tools and libraries
sudo apt-get install mc links cmus htop neofetch wordgrinder emacs-nox tmux alpine sc finch tpp net-tools i2c-tools build-essential -y

# Install GUI and applications, tools and libraries
sudo apt-get install xorg dwm suckless-tools dmenu feh rxvt-unicode firefox thunderbird gnumeric abiword pidgin pluma audacious vlc -y

# Clean up
sudo apt autoremove --purge snapd -y
sudo apt purge gdm3 -y
sudo apt-get autoremove -y
sudo apt-get clean

# Copy config files and fix some things
cp x.tmux.conf ~/.tmux.conf
cp x.xsession ~/.xsession
cp x.Xdefaults ~/.Xdefaults
mkdir ~/pictures
cp background.jpg ~/pictures
sudo cat wifi.txt >> /etc/netplan/50-cloud-init.yaml

 .tmux.conf file

# loud or quiet?
set -g visual-activity off
set -g visual-bell off
set -g visual-silence off
setw -g monitor-activity off
set -g bell-action none

#  modes
setw -g clock-mode-colour colour5
setw -g mode-style 'fg=colour1 bg=colour18 bold'

# panes
set -g pane-border-style 'fg=green bg=white'
set -g pane-active-border-style 'bg=green fg=white'

# statusbar
set -g status-position top
set -g status-justify left
set -g status-style 'bg=green fg=white'
set -g status-left ''
set -g status-right '#[fg=white,bg=black] %d/%m #[fg=white,bg=black] %H:%M:%S '
set -g status-right-length 50
set -g status-left-length 20

setw -g window-status-current-style 'fg=white bg=black bold'
setw -g window-status-current-format ' #I#[fg=white]:#[fg=white]#W#[fg=white]#F '

setw -g window-status-style 'fg=white bg=green'
setw -g window-status-format ' #I#[fg=white]:#[fg=white]#W#[fg=white]#F '

setw -g window-status-bell-style 'fg=white bg=green bold'

# messages
set -g message-style 'fg=white bg=green bold'

 .xsession file

# set background image
feh --bg-scale ~/pictures/background.jpg

# puts a clock in the upper right hand corner
(while true; do xsetroot -name "` date +"%I:%M %p %D"`"; sleep 5; done ) &

# starts DWM
exec dwm

 .Xdefaults file

URxvt*termName: rxvt
URxvt.buffered:         true
URxvt.background:       black
URxvt.foreground:       green
URxvt.cursorColor:      green
URxvt.underlineColor:   red
URxvt.scrollBar:    False
URxvt.perl-ext:         default,matcher
URxvt.urlLauncher:      /usr/bin/firefox
URxvt.matcher.button:   1
URxvt.transparent:    True
URxvt.shading:        50

 wifi.txt file to setup wireless

            optional: true
                "Access Point SSID":
                    password: "Password"
            dhcp4: true

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Raspberry Pi 400

Recently I bought a Raspberry Pi 400. This is a neat little device, basically it is a Raspberry Pi 4 (RPi) built into a nice slim white keyboard. Like the RPi, it has GPIO headers for attaching interesting devices like sensors, servos or small LCD panels. It is powered off a USB-C connector, it has 2 Mini HDMI ports so you can run 2 monitors on it and has USB3 ports. The most important thing about it is the 4 core ARM processor that runs at 1.8Ghz and it has 4 GB of memory, which mean it is fast enough to function as a proper desktop computer.

Now, would I use this as my main computer? Probably not, but as a backup machine, why not. If I were buying a computer for a kid, this would definitely top my list, coming in at $70 for just the system itself. A more complete kit with power supply, Mini HDMI cable, mouse and an SD card preinstalled with an OS is about $100. It does all the basic things a computer needs to do, surf the web, check email, basic document creation, plays MP3's and videos with very little trouble.

There are a couple of downsides as you would expect. For one the keyboard is a bit cramped, I typed this post on it, and I found it to be just a little uncomfortable. It boots of an SD card, which are notoriously slow for disk access, so if you are reading and writing large files, the system will pause for a bit. i found attaching a USB3 Hard rive to it fixes that problem pretty well. Finally, this is not a problem for me, but many other people will, it does not officially run Windows. Some clever hackers have gotten Windows installed on it, but there are missing drivers, and will be missing features like WiFi and Bluetooth support. For me this was not a big deal, I am a Linux guy, so this did not bother me even a little.

Overall, not bad, the RPi 4 was certainly the best Raspberry Pi to hit the market and this does it one better by making it an integrated easy to use computer.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Review: Misfit Magic by Niall Teasdale

Misfit Magic (Misfits, #1)Misfit Magic by Niall Teasdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a mixed bag for me. There were some really cool ideas and some interesting world building, I liked the idea of a society of dragons, socially stratified by color. There is a lot of potential story telling in this world. Unfortunately, the story itself fell a little flat for me, it wasn't terrible, but neither was it particularly ground breaking. The characterizations were very two dimensional, with little or no character growth, with the exception of one character, who was not the protagonist, but rather one of several sidekicks, this characters story arc, was actually more interesting than the protagonist.

One thing I do have address is the sex. Please don't get me wrong, I am no prude, I am all for good sex in a good story, especially lesbian sex. However, in this book it felt a lot like fan service. The author knew his primary readership was going to be horny teenage boys and wanted to throw them some hot babe sex to keep them reading. This did not in anyway contribute to the story, the relationship between Krys and Trudy could have easily been addressed with out the graphic sex scene.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Review: I see by my Outfit by Peter S. Beagle

I See by My OutfitI See by My Outfit by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not really a camper, especially in my old age, I am not inclined to sleep on the ground. I like my bed, indoor plumbing and internet access. Having said that, there is something appealing about being a free spirit and taking a cross country trip on a motorcycle, and live a happy carefree life, even if just for a few weeks.

This book is not a self help book in disguise like so many of these books tend to be. It really is just a story about Peter Beagle and his best friend Phil making a cross country trip to see a girl. The story is mostly about the people they meet along the way. Beagle does not spend a ton of time on any one person, but manages to convey what each persons life is like anyway. All of the people depicted were shown as likeable in some way, I would suppose this is more of a reflection of the time then probably the actual character of the people. In the early 60's life was different and our expectations of other people were different. Mothers taught their children that if you could not say something nice about someone don't say anything at all, and I think Beagle took this to heart while writing this book.

Many of the characters were outright racist, both Peter and Phil were very tolerant of this, even being Jewish themselves, they accepted even anti semitic statements, with a sort of blasé attitude. Beagle. in spite of this, still painted there people in the best light possible, which says more about Beagle's kind heart than anything else. His depiction of Jilly, the hooker from Los Angeles was an interesting one. On the one hand, she was depicted as this person who had lived and adventurous, if criminal life, who was maybe a good person under it all. However as Beagle tells her story, you come to realize that she really is not a good person, not particularly evil, but willing to do what it takes to survive. Jilly is probably the most interesting character outside of Peter and Phil in the book. Beagle also spends the most time on her.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, it is not an action adventure story by any means, it is just a slice of real life in 1962 America. It reminded me why I like to travel and I don't really mind driving across the country, as long as I have someone fun to share the experience with.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Online Gaming

I started playing RPG's online in 2002, mainly because I could not find any players locally who I wanted to game with. I eventually realized, it was not the local players who were the problem, the problem was that I wanted to game with my old group of friends. Unfortunately we had all spread out across the western half of the country over the years.

Once I discovered OpenRPG, I started sending out emails to the people I had gamed back in my home town. Most of them were not interested, but a few were and after a couple of months of putting things together, we got started playing and never really looked back. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of our gaming group. Frankly speaking, I don't think I could ever go back to in person gaming.

2020 of course saw playing RPG's online explode. COVID-19 forced groups online in almost desperate attempts to keep their games going. This was a huge change from just a few years earlier when many gamers would decry online gaming as bad gaming and everyone knows that no game is better than a bad game. That has all changed now and I suspect that even after COVID-19 is a bad memory, many groups will continue online, rather than begin meeting in person again.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Thought Experiment

So, just how close did Donald Trump come to successfully pulling off a coup on January 6th, 2021? It is fairly clear now their aim was to take Congress and the Vice President hostage, conduct show trials and execute them. The Alt-Right is saying this was not a serious coup attempt, but rather a large scale gag that got a little out of hand, because there are all these pictures of people doing silly things and smiling on camera. The problem of course is, this does not take into account the fact that there are also pictures of these thugs with zip ties to be used as handcuff, guns, molotov cocktails and pipe bombs. If this was just a gag, why were these items needed?

These guys obviously thought they had the backing of the majority of America, the  President and once they got the ball rolling, even the military would fall in behind them and they would be celebrated as the heroes of the revolution. They were not entirely wrong about this. There was definitely some collusion going on considering the response by the Capital Police and the apathy displayed by the Pentagon over bringing in the National Guard.

So it is really not that far fetched  to think that had the security on the inside of the Capital Building been just as incompetent as those outside, and had decided not to evacuate Congress and staffers to the bunkers under the building, these assholes could have actually taken Congress hostage. If Congress was forcefully dissolved and the VP assassinated, there would effectively be no one who could Constitutionally remove Trump from power.

Certainly there would be a civil war, but at that point the best we could hope for would be a few bloody days while the military tried to keep a lid on things until Biden could be sworn in as President on January 20th and reconstitute the government. At worst, it would launch a multi year bloodbath and resulting in the death of our democracy.

Friday, January 1, 2021