Here's the replacement...
Here’s the replacement…

A few weeks ago, on a Thursday night, I was playing XCOM on my Windows box.  Everything was running smoothly, no problems.  On Friday, I got home and turned on the computer to listen to some music and, for some odd reason, the hard drive wasn’t detected.  As in, the hard drive containing the Windows OS wasn’t even there, so far as the system was concerned.

Thankfully, I only stored Windows and some replaceable programs on the drive that failed (an SSD), and my pictures, music, and videos were all stored on a separate hard drive (a traditional HDD).  Typically when one uses an SSD (or “solid state drive”), you only run programs on it as they can take advantage of the speeds afforded by SSD technology, while slower traditional hard drives (“HDD”) are just fine for other stuff.  So really, all I lost in the drive failure were a few programs (that I could re-install) and some game save files (or so I thought…).

Also, thankfully, the drive was still under warranty.  I’ve had it for less than a year, so I contacted the manufacturer, sent the drive in (last Tuesday) and got the replacement (last Saturday), which is a pretty quick turn-around.  On Saturday, I spent my time re-installing the drive and getting some of those programs back on, but this time, I installed Windows 8 rather than Windows 7 (hey, if I’ve got to re-install everything, I may as well try out the new hottness, right?).  Microsoft is trying to get everyone to upgrade, so they’ve had it on sale for $40, which is a pretty good deal compared with the regular price of $120 (which Win8 will return to after January 31st).  I may write more about Windows 8 later but, for now, it’s “alright.”  My mind isn’t blown.  If you’ve got Windows 7, you’re fine sticking with 7, but 8 isn’t horrible (and it boots really fast).

I mentioned that I lost a few game save files, and this was the worst part of the experience.  I’d put about 9 hours of time into XCOM since picking it up months ago, so I wasn’t looking forward to having to repeat the lost time.  Also thankfully, the program I use to manage the game (Steambacked the save files up to “the cloud,” meaning that once I re-installed the program, my save files were also re-downloaded and restored.

In the end, I lost nothing except for a week of using my Windows-based computer.  All in all, not a bad deal.  And we had the Linux box (that this site runs on…) to use in the meantime.

As a side-note, having no Windows PC to use, and thus, no computer to run iTunes, I couldn’t update my iPod for listening to podcasts during that week.  Instead, I relied upon my cell phone (an HTC One X) for downloading new podcasts and music.  To be honest, I kinda don’t want to go back to the iPod.  I’ve gotten used to downloading podcasts and music immediately from work (or wherever), rather than waiting to go home, turn on the Windows PC, download the podcast or music to the computer, then transfer it to the iPod: it’s much easier to just do it directly.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to use my phone in my car, except for relying on the phone’s speakers (which aren’t really loud enough).

Oh well.



This is what the desktop screen and apps look like in Jolicloud.

I’ve mentioned previously that we’ve got a Dell Mini 10 netbook.  To be honest, it doesn’t get as much use as it did a few years ago when we lived in St. Louis and our desktop computer(s) were on a different floor.  Once we moved to Swisher, and now back to St. Louis again, the desktop is only a room away from the living room, so there isn’t much of a need to have a laptop constantly running…let alone the fact that we both have Android smartphones now, where it’s even faster to look something up quickly if it’s needed.

Thus, I get to “play” with the netbook a bit more than I used to.  I find Windows XP to be extremely slow on the system: slow to boot, slow to open programs, slow to do just about anything.  Therefore, I’ve toyed with a few different alternative operating systems.  Because Ubuntu 11.10 appears to have some serious issues with the graphics chip on the netbook, I decided to give Jolicloud a try.

Jolicloud is based on Ubuntu, incidentally, but runs quite a bit differently.  It’s designed to do everything within a browser as much as possible, though it is capable of having stand-alone programs installed as well.  In the desktop screen pictured above, most of those programs are opened within the Chromium web browser.  You can listen to music, edit documents, use maps, check your status updates, and browse the internet just as you can from any other computer.  The benefit here, though, is that the netbook is much more responsive because all it’s effectively doing is loading a web browser.

I guess the main downside is that it really requires an internet connection of some type, so if you aren’t on wifi anywhere, you can’t use the OS (to do anything productive, at least).  But hey, where does that happen anymore, anyway?

I’ve referred to cloud computing in the past.  Like many things, I think it works remarkably well, but you just have to know what you’re getting into before you boot the system.  Know what the strengths and weaknesses are before even trying to go that route.  You can’t expect to run Photoshop using low-powered devices that are designed to only operate within a web browser.  At the same time, though, you can get away with cheaper hardware with remarkably fast boot times and functionality.  So yes, a trade-off.

I’m enjoying it for now, though.  It’s always fun to install a new operating system and see what it can or can’t do.  At the very least, it gets me to use the netbook more often.  Still a good piece of hardware that has a few more years left in it due to software like Jolicloud.

A View From The Top

While I was sitting at my parents house over Easter talking with my Dad, it suddenly dawned on me that Linux had finally gained supremacy over Windows and Apple, something that I never thought I’d see.  However, it wasn’t able to pull off the feat using a traditional PC: instead, it used mobile devices via Android OS.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a new idea.  The thought has been broadcast across the interwebs over the past few years, though only recently did Android actually surpass iOS in adoption across the phone and tablet markets.  Seeing the range of new products coming out on the horizon, this trend will only continue upwards as multiple companies release products using the Android OS as the backbone for their software.

What some forget, however, is that the core of Android is, in fact, the Linux kernel.  My HTC Inspire 4G, running Android 2.2.1, is using Linux kernel 2.6.32.  My Linux box at home runs Linux kernel 2.6.35, a slightly newer version.  I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of differences in kernels (nor do I care…), but let’s just say that there has been some disagreement between Google and the maintainers of the Linux kernel as to whether Android OS technically counts as “Linux,” though I believe most would say that it absolutely does.

I guess I just find it fascinating that this “Little Operating System That Could” finally found an audience and most people don’t even know it.  Dad introduced me to computers when DOS and Windows 3.1 were king.  However, once our family started having multiple computers, he toyed with other operating systems, including OS/2 Warp and Red Hat Linux 5.2.  While he purchased a copy of OS/2, he frequently picked up copies of Linux from the Public Library, installing different flavors of Linux for free on his system(s).  As I was curious about these different systems, I learned more about it and once I went to college, grabbed an old Gateway 2000 computer and put Red Hat 6.1 on it, followed by various other iterations of Linux.  Over the past decade, it’s been my desktop operating system of choice, always getting better and better.

But few people know how good Linux has gotten.  It’s an excellent operating system, as it has been for years.  Sure, it still doesn’t run Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, or a multitude of Windows- or Mac-only video games, but it does do one thing remarkably well:


And if you want to make a device that is constantly connected to the internet, and don’t want to pay high development costs or licensing fees to Microsoft or Apple, which operating system makes the most sense for you to use?


As we all move further toward cloud-based computing, and companies like Google keep focusing on Linux as their technology of choice (as it’s behind Android OS and Chrome OS, which will power netbooks and tablets beginning this year), further adoption of Linux will take place in populations that never thought they’d ever use it.  Part of this is because the Linux kernel has always had a remarkable “efficiency” to it that Windows has never been able to re-create.  You always needed newer hardware to run the most modern Windows systems, while you could run a modern Linux system on practically nothing.  Mobile phones, especially, use relatively slow processors when compared to the quad-core monstrosities powering many desktops today.  Heck, it was just revealed that an early version of Windows 8 will be the first one to run on an ARM processor, the technology powering practically every mobile phone sold today.  Up until now, Windows hasn’t even been capable of running on anything like that, unless it’s the feature-poor Windows CE.  Windows will ultimately make it to tablets, but not before Android and iOS have a massive foot-hold on the market, as they already do on phones.

It’s just fascinating to consider how far Linux has come and what ended up actually pushing it “over the top.”  We all thought Dell offering Linux on laptops would do it, or the multitude of governments, schools and companies across the world that switched from Windows (or Unix) to Linux would do it.

It was the telephone all along.

A Technical Note

I recently upgraded to Ubuntu 9.04 and, while the site appears to generally work, it has started loading _really_ slowly. So yeah, it isn’t just you…

At this point, I think it’s the computer itself, not the ‘net connection, as it takes awhile for it to load when I’m pulling it in from within my own network.

I’ll figure it out. Eventually. 🙂

(on another note, I just bought tickets for ‘Star Trek‘ at the Ronnie’s 20 IMAX for next Thursday, May 7th, at 10:00 PM. w00t!!)

“I think I killed it…”

So, a few nights ago, I tried installing Yellow Dog Linux (YDL) on my PS3… This is a version I know relatively little about, except that it’s based on Red Hat/Fedora (which I haven’t used in years) and it classically has been used for Macs, as they used PowerPC processors back in the day. As the PowerPC and the Cell Processor in the PS3 are related, YDL is specifically geared to run on it. There aren’t really any specific benefits to having Linux running on my PS3, except that I can potentially plug in a keyboard/mouse and do computing on a 32″ HD TV screen…or stream content from upstairs (Linux server box) down to my TV…or stream a variety of Flash-based TV shows to the TV without having to fight with the PS3’s installed web browser.

Anyway, I flipped through a few tutorials and used this one from PS3grid.net. Essentially, just as on a PC, you need to format the hard drive to make a 10 GB partition capable of housing the Linux install, leaving the rest for the PS3 to use. The guide says NO DATA WILL BE DELETED.

Not so much.

Apparently, it doesn’t work like it does on a PC, where the formatting simply resizes the existing partition and makes room for a new one, deleting (essentially) no data from the existing drive. The PS3, on the other hand, formatted the whole thing in order to get Linux on there…sigh…

Long story short, I had to re-download all the games I’d purchased through PSN, but thankfully, some of my progress through games (online progress, at least) was saved to external PSN servers. However, my progress through the single-player campaign of Resistance 2 and LittleBigPlanet were both lost (along with Wipeout HD and Burnout Paradise…), so now I’ll have to go back and re-play what I lost.

My holiday season is now planned, I guess!


I upgraded Ubuntu yesterday to version 8.1, “Hardy Heron” (which is awesome, by the way!). I ended up having to reformat that partition of the drive because Automatix had broken my system…at least, as far as global distribution upgrades go.

Anyway, in doing so, there ended up being some kind of problem with MySQL, PHP5 and Apache2… I could get WordPress installed, but it couldn’t access the database. I ended up fixing the problem with a somewhat “unsecure” workaround, but then found out that all my link and post categories had been lost. I’ve restored the links, but now I’ve got 350+ posts to recategorize to file…grrrrrrr…

Regardless, “Hardy Heron” is an excellent release. I’ve had it on my laptop since it was available to download and has worked flawlessly… You should all check it out, if you haven’t already!

A new addition to the family…

So, the newest addition to our family arrived today. We’ve been expecting her for a few days, but took her sweet time getting here, much to my chagrin. Here are her vitals:

Size: 14.06″ x 10.34″ x 0.93″ – 1.38″
Weight: 6.29 lbs

Now, most white men married to a white woman would question the fact that their new addition would be black, but I will accept her as my own anyway…that’s just how I roll… That, and the brushed silver finish on the palm-rest looks pretty sweet…

The name on the birth certificate reads “Dell XPS M1530″…I may call her “Lola” for short…

Here are “her” other vitals:

Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7500 (2.2GHz/800Mhz FSB, 4MB Cache)
Windows Vista Home Premium
3 GB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz (2 DIMMs)
8X DVD +/- RW w/dbl layer write capability (slot loader)
Bluetooth Wireless Card 355
120 GB SATA Hard Drive (5400 RPM)
256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT
15.4 WXGA Laptop Screen Display with TrueLife
Two 90W AC Adapters
Intel 4965 802.11a/g/n Dual-Band Mini Card

I’m sure “Lola” and I will have a wonderful time together!

Now, the first thing I need to teach her is to run Linux… 🙂

Mmmm, toys…

Well, I’m about ready to purchase that new computer system in the next few weeks… I already got a new LCD monitor for a whopping $105, after rebate, so I’m well on my way… But for now, here’s the system I have speced out:

I was hoping I didn’t need a video card, as many nForce motherboards have one integrated (and for my Linux purposes, I don’t need anything crazy with regards to gaming), but this board apparently doesn’t have one, so I’m adding on a card… Total, the cost comes up to around $700 once you figure in shipping, etc…

Not too bad, you think? I’d actually like some video card suggestions… Not that I really want to play games much, but I’d kinda like to try getting UT2004 running under Linux, since a). there are Linux versions available, and b). I can run it in 64-bit mode. I’d like to stick with nVidia because their Linux drivers are much, much better than ATi’s…but I’m thinking that I could get a decent GeForce card of the previous generation (6 series) for the same price as a budget GeForce of the current one (7 series). So yeah, that’s just one on Newegg right now, but lemme know if you know of something better…

Of principles and $$$…

So yeah, I got to thinking today… I use Linux and various other open-source programs instead of Windows for a variety of reasons, but one of those is that the information contained within is freely available to anyone who wants it. What does that mean? Well, it means that if you download the “source code” of the Linux kernel and other “open-source” programs, you can edit it and tweak it to your heart’s content. If you decide you don’t like the way a certain function of the program works, you can (assuming you know some programming…) change it to fit your purpose. The reason why this is cool is that it allows knowledge to travel freely between different groups; what one person starts with a program can be learned from and transferred to another application, allowing for the programming itself to improve over time.

Now, switch gears into science. My plan has been to get my Ph.D. and then work in industry for awhile, making some cash, and then maybe switch back into academia and teach for a few years to alleviate boredom around retirement time. The correlation is that academia is like “open-source,” where information is published and freely available for other scientists to learn from and take a step further, while industry is like “closed-source” where you work toward patents that can allow you to make money and prevent y our opponents from coming up with a solution to a given problem that’s better than yours.

So, the question remains: am I hypocritical in using open-source software, believing in what it stands for, and then getting a job and making a career in industry where I will work in a “closed-source” environment? I mean, I have relatively expensive hobbies (computers/electronics, etc.) and I’d like to be able to finance them, and to do so, I need a job in industry so I can afford that 1969 Shelby Mustang…but is it right to compromise principles in doing so?

I dunno…I guess there’s no simple answer to the question…but I’ve got 5 years to figure it out…


So, I discovered gDesklets this past week… It’s been out for awhile, but I just now found out how badass it is… Here’s what my desktop looks like on the laptop:


As you can see, the bar at the bottom functions like the one in OS X, so when you highlight an icon, it has this nifty animation on it…and you can set up different windows that are on your desktop, such as weather, a Gmail checker, or even an RSS (news…) reader or little “Post It” notes to mark things on… Here’s a more close-up look at the launcher at the bottom:


The only thing I can complain about is how much RAM the damned thing takes up…I mean, 512 MB can run it just fine, but much below that may not be a good call…

So yeah, here’s the deal: install Linux on your computers. It’ll look pretty. Prettier than WinXP. You can install it on your desktop as a secondary OS so you can run WinXP by default and boot up Linux when you feel like toying around. seriously. Do it. I’ll install it for you.

“It is your destiny.”