Expect the Unexpected

I started off on this holiday weekend expecting to write about a simple text based calendar/scheduler program I can run from a Linux shell. This was “calcurse”. It’s a nice simple program that works for me and is in line with the “Keep It Simple” philosophy.
Well, that was the plan.
I didn’t stick to the plan.
I got sidetracked playing around with a few Distros and ended up spending more time than I should have with some old computers and the latest releases of AntiX, Ubuntu Budgie, and Netrunner.

It’s fairly easy to while away the hours setting up and trying out multiple Linux distributions. 
I wouldn’t say it’s a waste of time because I always learn something new tinkering with my computers.
These are all very solid Debian based Operating systems, but that doesn’t always work out to being perfect for the systems I have – most of which are fairly under powered compared to some of the newer hardware that’s on the market.
Ubuntu is getting better, and the Budgie Spin is probably my favorite looking desktop. Netrunner is very elegant, the Debian based version at least.
AntiX is probably the fastest and probably the best suited for older hardware. MX has been my daily driver for a while now, and very close to AntiX, but AntiX does almost everything I need and feels a little faster. For a minimal approach I’d have to give the edge to AntiX, but I’ll continue to use MX for now on my main machine. I duel boot NetRunner and Ubuntu Budgie on my more powerful laptop – mostly as a testing setup.
While going through this exercise I found myself thinking I was still looking for a total replacement for Windows 10, and should probably install Microsoft on one of my machines to see how the latest update compares, but I usually don’t keep Windows for too long before getting disappointed. The only saving grace is PowerShell, which I admit is probably the most interesting thing I’ve found useful on any Microsoft OS machine.
I even tried getting GhostBSD running this weekend – and it does work on one of my older laptops, but it’s not something I would really use as a daily driver. 

I do recommend trying it out if you have a spare machine to install it on purely for learning how Unix compares to Linux based distributions. Distro hopping can be fun and insightful, but it can also be frustrating if you can’t find an operating system that meets your daily work requirements. Worse yet is the realization that you often find that you’ve wasted a lot of time. You can go the Virtual machine route, but I never consider that a true test unless you dedicate all your machines resources to the operating system your testing. That’s just my own personal opinion of course. I know a lot of people run Virtual Box on Windows machines to test Linux Distros.
That’s just not my thing. Duel booting seems to be a little more realistic, but that sometimes can be an issue if you tend to encrypt your hard drive. 
Someday I may settle on the one perfect Distro, but not today. I should probably schedule these testing forays with a decent text based scheduling program.
Oh ya, that’s what I started out doing. I wonder which Linux box I should run that on.

I can appreciate all the time and effort developers put into each of these projects. These are very good options, or should I say alternatives to what I have used in the past. I can get a lot of work done without adding very many new applications. Everything I need usually comes included in the distribution, and anything I usually need to install is available from the main repositories.

I am looking forward to the next major Ubuntu LTS, but until then any of the latest Debian based spins could work for me, as could the various Ubuntu flavors. I will probably not use the KDE desktop, but will continue with Xfce on most of my systems mostly because it always seems a better fit for how I navigate around the system. KDE looks great, but Xfce looks good to me also.

There’ll be more interesting distributions to try, and I probably will test drive a few in the hope that the unexpected is more dazzling than the expected.

None of these Linux distributions will replace my Chromebook. If all you need is a laptop to write with, a Chromebook is so simple and fast, you’ll spend less time tinkering and more time creating content. That was something I did not fully expect. I still will use Linux full time – except when time is limited. Maybe what I’m really looking for is a Linux/Chromebook hybrid. They might just be working on that. We shall see. One more thing, my Chromebook has a real nice calendar app that’s perfect for scheduling

Quiet Please

I like to have a nice quiet place to get some computer work or studying done where the distractions are minimal. Not everyone wants this, needs this, or has such a place This isn’t always the same “work/study space “ some might have in mind. Don’t get this confused with some place to play video games or work on you next music project. It could be at the library (if people still a actually go?)
On a train, in your car, at your kitchen table, you bedroom – whatever works for you.
I’m kind of partial to “workshop “ type setup. A place to fix things that aren’t broken, or break things that shouldn’t be fixed. A halfway decent work bench, some decent lighting, and a few handy tools make for a nice workshop even if it’s in a run down worn out Hockey shed in the swamp. It is what you make of it…..especially if you actually make most of it yourself.
It’s Spring, but Winter still has it’s clutches holding the north fast in swirling snow and ice. (How these tree frogs can be so active when it’s still kind of cold is a mystery to me)
So close to May and still snow in the air. Howling wind, driving rain, and powerful storms swirl across the land. The ground is soggy – mud is a common theme. Thus the swamp designation.
Deep within said inner sanctum the wind is but a faint howl in the distance (actually it’s the insulation that quiets the wind noise). Thunder claps muffled slightly as an old radio’s speakers crackle with each flash of lightning. This is Spring? It feels more like late October than mid April. At least the bitter cold is no longer a frosty issue. The temperature is cool and damp, reminisced of a scene from an Wild Western cowboy story setting.
(One where it rains a lot.)
The generator is prepped in case the power should fail, and the glow of the display monitors light the room.
The room is cold, but dry and pleasant, exactly what you would want for a small work shop. A hot cup of coffee only enhances atmosphere adding a certain pleasantness.
This will have to do as my fortress of solitude away from the noise of Fake News and political nonsense where one can still watch some playoff Hockey in peace.
Isn’t that what a workshop is really for ?
Sure I can putter around and work on a random project here and there, but come on – we’ve all learned to multitask. (Watch Hockey and listen to Baseball)
It’s good to have a small space to hunker down and really concentrate on getting some work done. Something productive like rearranging all my hockey sticks by curve and brand. Stacking pucks, or wondering why the hell I threw my old CCMs out – they were still good. The blades were a bit bent, but who noticed that?
With a few old Linux laptops you can watch the game, and review player stats – sort of a Hockey command center. It’s all good until the power goes out, or the Internet connection fails.
All your tech, now virtually useless unless you decide to drain your battery power and operate in crisis mode. You know you must remain calm.
The power will come back on.
The old radio still works (it’s really just used for local weather updates)
You could start up the generator, but wouldn’t that noise drown out the game. Plus that would Probably draw attention to some “non-hockey” fans more interested in actual survival than what’s going on in the third period. “you got a generator?” Nope – just working on my lawnmower over here.

Oh my goodness, what if there’s another overtime.
There are always headphones, but that won’t help much if the Internet is down. If cell service is down, I’m really in for it.
This is the moment you’ve been prepping for. This is why you brought that extra box of Ho Hos.
Maybe you should have bought some Twinkies like a true survivalist, but they haven’t tasted the same since they came back on the market.
Ho Hos always taste good.
So you pop a Ho Ho in your mouth – don’t even chew it. What would be the point?
Then it hits you! Of course, OTA television! The sad frustrating replacement letdown to the good old analog days.
Find a “old” …not too old television and rig up a Stone Age Antenna.
You’re probably not going to pull in the CBC Hockey Night in Canada, but you can try.
Oh yeah, I guess I would have to start the generator to power the television. (Mental note:
Look for a battery powered television that works with digital signals)
If all else fails you can always try to get some actual work done. Actually “working” in a workshop just sounds wrong.
I hope lighting doesn’t hit the Koho I’m using as an antenna mast. That would not be good.
If there truly is an apocalyptic event coming, I hope it’s in the off season.
Of course it’s always some type of sport’s season.
I guess I could always re-read another Linux manual.
Wait a minute – that’s not such a bad idea.
It’s a perfect night for a little lite reading.
It’s stopped raining and all the swamp critters are making all kinds of weird noises.
The power is on and I just remembered…..my team already played earlier today.
Well, I’m here now, I might as well be productive and get some work done.

Have you checked your system’s BIOS lately?

Have you checked your system’s BIOS lately?

Maybe you should. It’s pretty simple if you are familiar with your operating systems terminal/command line.


Linux:
sudo dmidecode –type bios

Windows:
systeminfo | findstr BIOS

The simplest way to upgrade my Lenovo laptops was to re-install Windows 10 and use the Lenovo utilities to upgrade the bios Revision , then install my Linux Distro again. I could have avoided some of the pain if I had setup my laptops as duel boot systems, but I didn’t.

There are other methods to go about this without relying on Windows, but using Windows was perfect for my situation just for the fact that it was so simple.
Lenovo’s Service Bridge is pretty simple to setup.
It wants you to download .NET 3.5 – which I did, not a big deal either. I figured I’d end up blowing Windows away and Installing MX back on my machines anyway. (I use MX-18.1 a Debian based LINUX OS) – at the moment.
All I really wanted was the BIOS/UEF1 updates
Only the file listed as Jan 31 2019 was the most recent available for my machine. This was newer than my 2017 version installed on my laptop, so it seemed to be worth the slight hassle I had gone through so far – which wasn’t Lenovo’s fault, just my own process of exploring nonlinear routes to get things done. I consider these side tracks as learning experiences. The flash utility appeared to have worked well, and then my machine rebooted. The reboot is where the BIOS actually get updated.
After Windows 10 rebooted I ran a system check again and this time the BIOS version had version 1.25 (12/24/2018) listed. Well, that’s probably as current as I’ll get with this method.
So I did what any rational pc owner would do and re-installed MX-18.1. (Of course I used the entire drive)
Why spend too much time poking around Windows updates?
Once back in MX I verified the BIOS revision as 1.25.

So did this have any benefits other than good housekeeping?
Probably nothing that would jump right out at you.
Yes, BIOS upgrades can sometimes give some performance enhancements, and resolve certain bugs or compatibility issues. It doesn’t usually increase speed, but it can help with some issues that degrade performance such as overheating.
Sometimes upgrading your BIOS may produce undesirable affects. If your computer is operating well, or as expected, you may not wish to chance any damage to your system with an upgrade that doesn’t work properly.
I upgraded my bios more out of curiosity, and waited for my spare test machine to finish before I upgraded my main machine.
My primary goal was to bring the security aspects of the bios up to date. This may be something that some Linux users don’t always focus on, but are usually aware of. Usually I focus more on available Distro updates and upgrades along with common sense proactiveness to keep my systems secure. BIOS upgrades can factor in there as well, and should at least be contemplated with a little research to see if upgrading your BIOS is a worthwhile endeavor. If anything, you should at least know what BIOS revision you currently have on your system.

So check to see what your BIOS are listed as, and if you do decide to upgrade, and there are newer revisions available – proceed with caution.

You may not need to make any changes at all.

Good luck!

Windows on the Side

Well, it was great news to see that Wireshark 3.0 was finally released, but unfortunately I’m still stuck with 2.6.5 in my “MX 18.1 Continuum” distribution for now. I was able to install 3.0 on a laptop running Windows 10 to start testing the new release, but this will only be temporary until the MX repository is updated with the new version of Wireshark. I guess having a Windows machine around for some types of testing comes in handy once in a while. This isn’t enough reason to drop MX as my daily driver. I chalk these annoyances up as “ to be expected “. I’m sure the new Wireshark release will make it down to the Debian repositories eventually. Windows 10 may have had it available faster, but in the long run I’m sure I’ll be glad I waited for Linux. I’m not a huge fan of PPAs or Manjaro’s AUR repository alternatives. (I do use Manjaro occasionally) They seem to work, but I can usually wait for the main repository updates.
Having seen the latest Ubuntu 16.04.6 LTS release reaffirms my belief that a lot of LINUX users tend to hold on to what works for them more often then leap into the next big thing.
Sometimes this is driven by hardware constraints or limitations. This is probably why I’m reluctant to have updates pushed into my system from Microsoft or Apple as opposed to controlling updates and package downloads myself.
I also prefer to avoid bloatware on my system as well….if possible. Since I’ve started using MX I find myself drifting farther away from some of the other popular Linux distributions. I can spend more time working with Linux, rather than constantly trying out new releases.
I’ve gone a few months without using a Mac, and I don’t miss it yet. I loaded MX onto my very inexpensive Lenovo IdeaPad 110S and it works like a champ. It’s a couple of years old now, but still going strong as a test machine. (Used for testing low resource supporting LINUX distributions).
There are times when I do reach for my Windows 10 laptop to check out any interesting developments in the Microsoft world.
You might think this would be a good reason to duel boot Windows and Linux, or run Virtual machines. I’ve done that, but prefer to run Linux as the only Operating System on a dedicated laptop. If I need Windows for a quick test, I can install it on a spare laptop for a short time, and then re-use the machine to test other Linux distributions. This sounds like a hassle, but it works for me. I can even run Wine to use some Windows applications – like the new Wireshark release, and I have done that to test the 2.9 development releases. This does give you some productive options.
My goal is to be totally Windows free, and I’m getting closer as Linux distributions keep improving. For now, access to a Windows 10 machine is still useful, but it also feels like a limitation.


Update:

MX Package Installer does support flatpacks, which I was able to use to Install Wireshark stable (3.0). This will work for me for now until the MX Stable Repo replaces 2.6.5.1 with 3.0 This was a much simpler solution than using Wine or a Windows OS.


When The Wind Blows

All day yesterday I received storm alerts for this big wind storm we are expecting in the next few hours.
Batteries are charged, my generator tank is full, and the truck’s fuel tank is topped off.
Pantry is stocked, and water is on hand. I get ready for any storm I think is heading our way, but lately the weather predictions have been either overblown, or just wrong. Best to be safe either way, but I had hoped technology would have advanced a little more in the accuracy department.
Usually my dogs are better weather predictors when a storm is coming. When they start acting goofy, I know we’re in for something bad.
So if this storm does knock out the power and even the cell service for a few days, I’ll at least have the one tool on hand that is always useful in many situations. No it’s not my phone, or my laptop. It’s my old school Swiss Army knife. It doesn’t require power or an Internet connection to function, just your brain.
Almost everyone appears to have a smartphone with them these days, and I would categorize that as having a “Swiss Army Knife” of sorts, but other than games, flashlight, notepad, or a camera function, many are quite useless without a internet connection. Without power, they become a paperweight that you probably could use as a sun reflector for emergencies.
A real jackknife only requires a little dexterity.
Of course if you have a reliable source of power (solar or fuel) and possibly a satellite connection – or even a cell booster, you might be ok as your local area takes a hit from storm damage.
If you get high winds, like we are expecting, it could move your satellite dish enough to lose your link. That is sometimes worse than some brief attenuation from rain fade or cloud cover. You can prepare for a storm, but sometimes they throw you a curve ball you weren’t expecting.
So keeping with my Swiss Army knife theme, I also keep my cell phone with me as my “tech tool” of choice. I don’t really rely on my laptop too much anymore unless I’m working on a special project that requires support from a operating system other than IOS or Android.
Now I’m starting to consider the creative possibilities of the IPhone’s camera. I have a 7plus which has 4K capability at 30 FPS. It’s not something I would have ever considered playing around with, but that’s a better camera than my old Kodak I rarely use.
I’m thinking about playing around with some video editing, which I might even try to do all in the iPhone.
I did look at using my Linux laptop running OpenShot, and I also tried the Windows version.
It works fine, but my old laptops might be slightly under-powered for any heavy cpu and memory demands.
I looked at using the Chromebook, but didn’t find any solution I really liked.

I am interested in Adobe’s Project Rush if it becomes available for Chromebooks. I see it’s available for Windows, Mac, and IOS.
Maybe I should film the pine trees I see starting to sway in the breeze. Hopefully this storm is not too damaging.
Anyhow, I think I’m ready for it, but who knows how the wind blows.