Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A New Lease on Life

Your Windows XP machine may be bogged down and security updates may be ending, but Linux can fix that. I have assumed that you’ve resisted the allure of a new machine and have at least skimmed my last post.
Now we will try out a Linux distribution on your machine. Linux is so incredible that it can run on a USB thumb drive.
First we need to discuss distributions or distros. These are “versions” of Linux, and some of the most popular ones are Ubuntu, Debian, Linux Mint, and Fedora. Each of these come with various desktop environments to suit your needs. In this case I chose Xubuntu, the Xfce desktop for Ubuntu, because I have successfully installed it on a number of Windows XP era laptops.
Okay, you have already backed up up your machine according to my last post, if not, do it now. For the first step Xubuntu will only be running on the thumb drive, but something could go wrong so BACKUP!
First, ensure you have a thumb drive that can be overwritten. If it has been used previously, format it using FAT32. Right click on the USB drive in Windows Explorer and click Format. Now you should see your drive letter appear in the Drive box then click OK.
Second, in Windows download the distribution you would like to try. Here I'm using latest Xubuntu Long Term Release, 12.04, so click on the torrent or mirror nearest your location and select the version recommended for your machine, xubuntu-12.04.4-desktop-i386.iso. The MD5SUMS files have a check sum that ensures the integrity of your download. Consult this tutorial to do so for your download.
Third, download UNetbootin and launch it. Click on Disk image and browse to your downloaded .iso. Alternatively, you can select a distro from the list, but I prefer to download it first.

 If you don't see a drive letter as above and get a this message:
Format the drive and then close and re-open Unetbootin. Your drive should be listed. You should then see the following after pressing OK:
And lastly,

Click Exit (Reboot Now will reboot your computer, only press if you're ready to reboot, i.e., no other programs are open). 
Now keep the drive plugged in and restart your machine. The first screen you see should have the motherboard manufacturer's logo plastered on it and some options below. If you see an option to Enter Boot Menu or similar press the key indicated. (All options on this first splash screen can only be accessed through the keyboard.) Then look for the USB drive manufacturer's name in the list under Hard Drives. Select your USB Drive and press the key to proceed. Now your computer is booting up from the USB drive rather than the hard drive containing Windows XP.
If you do not see Enter Boot Menu option then press Delete or the indicated key to enter the BIOS. There you will find a brightly coloured screen. Scroll through until you find the option for Boot Sequence or similar. Then select it and again look for your USB drive or USB/removable drives and move it to first, usually using PgUp and PgDn. Now save and exit and then your computer should be booting from the USB drive. 
First you will see a UNetbootin Menu screen. Click Default and Xubuntu should start loading. Remember that Xubuntu will be slower on the USB drive than when installed on your machine. If you like what you see then press Install Xubuntu icon on the desktop. Click Install Xubuntu. Now if you opted to re-partition your drive and dual boot with Windows XP on the previous blog post, follow this tutorial:  (It is for Linux Mint but most of the screen look the same. Ensure that you select Something Else on the third screen labelled Installation type.
If you want to replace Windows XP on your machine follow the steps in part 2 of this tutorial (scroll down past Part 1).
Voila! Restart and you should see a Grub menu that looks like this. Select Xubuntu 12.04.

To customize Xubuntu you can follow the steps on page two of the above link.

The End of Windows XP

Your Windows XP computer won’t be as secure as it used to be after 8th April 2014.” If you have a Windows XP computer and more than the date formatting bothers you, you have four ready options:
  1. Ignore the message and assume any associated risks;
  2. Rush out and by a Windows 8 machine with a flashy new interface made for tablets or a flashy new Mac;
  3. Try upgrading the computer to a more recent version of Windows (7 or 8); and
  4. Convert to Linux. Basically have a faster, more secure, and free operating system.
If the last option grabs your attention read further.
If you have an XP machine why not extend its useful life by installing a Linux operating system. Yes, Linux. It's not intimidating at all, just unfamiliar. In fact, in many cases, it's superior. Take the Ubuntu Software Centre which functions just like an App Store and has fantastic free programs, such as Stellarium which allows you to view satellites moving through the sky, and even has a night mode so you can take it outside and not impact your night-adjusted eyes.
Step one: Backup. You know the drill. Just remember all the profiles associated with programs, e.g., .pst files and Mozilla profiles, if you’re not using a backup program. If you are, make sure the backup file is uncompressed or in a universal format.
Step two: Decide whether you want to keep Windows XP on the machine or start fresh. If you want to keep Windows XP, so you can still run a favourite program not readily available for Linux or easily go back to the way things were then you need to follow some more steps. Otherwise go here:
Step three: If you only have one hard drive, and it’s pretty full, you will have to free up some room for Linux. Simply run the Disk Cleanup Utility: right-click your hard drive in Windows Explorer and click Disk Cleanup. I generally click OK, but you can also select unchecked items that will free up more space.
Next follow these instructions, which includes defragmenting your drive as an option. I suggest doing so and found that MyDefrag works really well but it takes a long time. So, feel free to use the Windows XP defragmentation utility in Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Disk Defragmenter. Select your hard drive and click Defrag. This will take a few or more hours depending on the size of your hard drive.
Lastly the instructions suggest using GParted to re-size your Windows partition in order to run both Windows XP and Linux on one hard drive. Install the program and follow the remaining steps.
Now you are ready to install Linux.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lauding Linux

If you have an old computer lying around gathering dust, one you love but can't upgrade, or one you can't afford to upgrade, Linux can revive it. You most likely have some preconceptions about Linux, e.g., way too complex, command line, so let’s deal with those first. Linux in 2014 looks and feels much like Windows or Mac OS. Furthermore, consider what you have gotten acclimatized to: blue screens, random error dialogue boxes, and viruses. I haven't seen one in Linux.
Still unsure? Linux, unlike Windows or Mac OS which release one version of their operating system for a period of time, have a very large number of distributions, which you can choose based on preference. Some of these are Long Term Support (LTS) distributions that will be supported for a few years or others are rolling distributions that provide more frequent upgrades. No matter what the distribution it is easy to upgrade and transition to a new distribution. Since Linux can run on a thumb drive, you can test drive those that appeal to you without installing anything on your computer. Try the applications included on the distribution, check out the user interface, and have fun. Note that the distribution will run much faster when it's installed on your computer.
If you find a distribution that appeals to you, but don't like all the programs, don't worry. It is very easy to remove or replace programs. In particular, the Ubuntu Software Centre is great and most of the programs are free. It is like the Google Play or App Store. If you want Libre Office (an excellent office suite), search for it, and click install. Libre Office is a good example because you can install the entire suite or separate programs. You can see exactly what's installed and get new vetted programs in one place, and it's so much better than Add/Remove Programs.
Linux has music covered as well. I invested an inordinate amount of time in my iTunes meta data and was paranoid that this might get lost with any import. Fortunately, programs like Banshee do this with a click of the mouse and not only import the meta data but also playlists. Banshee processed my fairly large music library in ten minutes. The only thing it skipped was the Smart Playlists which I exported from iTunes and then imported separately.
Many distributions have workspaces, which can be best described as switchable desktops running programs you specify. For example, move large files on one workspace and then complete other work on another workspace. This way it is easy to check on the moving files and instantly switch back the other work, and even have a music player or browser on a separate monitor with it's own workspace(s).
Every now and then a problem will present itself, such as when you purchase a new network hard drive, but there are plentiful forum and blog posts to guide you. It may take some time and learning but you will resolve it. Behind all Linux distributions are a committed group of awesome people. They and their organizations release the distributions and are more than willing to help you via forums, wikis, etc. Share the love with these people.
Linux is much less scary than it used to be. If you keep all your data backed up on a portable hard drive or, better, have it on separate drive from your operating system and back it up, and have all your bookmarks, emails, etc. on the cloud, then there is very little risk in playing around with Linux.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review of Vonnegut's Armageddon in Retrospect

Mark Vonnegut, son and introduction author, states, “Writing was a spiritual exercise for my father, the only thing he really believed in.” He then reveals more and more about the man behind such well-crafted work and wit. In this volume the works themselves reveal much about Kurt Vonnegut and about his journey out from the heavy weight of war. I often wondered whether some of these works weren't published sooner (they were published posthumously) because they were too personal and whether they pre-dated Slaughterhouse-Five given that they lack the detachment and satirical intensity of that and later works.

At times the reader seems to be witnessing Vonnegut process his past. For example, a British lance corporal appears in both Spoils and Just You and Me, Sammy (different accounts of his escape from prison), presumably because Vonnegut had weighed his decision to await the Russian advance, something the corporal warns against. His protagonists have clear morals and clash with those who lack them. They question whether upholding their morals in such conditions was worth it — life was so much easier for collaborators. In these stories war seems to be much less about sides than about personal struggle. For example, in The Commandant's Desk liberators bring both good and evil (freedom and continued occupation).

By the end of the collection of essays he seems to have come to terms with the horrors he witnessed, but just enough to still warn others; however, he seems to have also realized the difficulty of communicating such a warning. In Happy Birthday, 1951 an old man attempts to dim the appeal of war to a young boy. In other words you might as well “write an anti-glacier book.” Great Day imagines a future army without war, so much so that they train via a time machine on long-distant battlefields. War will always be present even if it's just a fantasy in a utopia.  The title-story takes place in a future where scientists trap the Devil to overcome war, but there's a catch — it takes much effort to maintain peace.

In God Bless you, Dr. Kevorkian, written much later than most of these works he's gained a perspective through which he can argue the faults of war without raw emotion. Kilgore Trout, a recurring character of Vonnegut's, states regarding Kosovo:

NATO should have resisted the nearly irresistable temptation to be entertainers on television, to compete with movies of blowing up bridges … All cities and even little towns are world assets. … The homicidal paranoia and schizophrenia of ethnic cleansing does its worst quickly now, almost instantly, like a tidal wave or volcano … The disease used to take years. One thinks of Europeans killing off the Aborigines … The Tasmanian genocide, incidentally, is the only one of which I've heard which was one-hundred-percent successful.

Armageddon in Retrospect is adorned with ink and pencil sketches that call into question Vonnegut's assertion that the only thing he was good at was writing. The Unicorn Trap is the only story without a backdrop of modern warfare. Although it's set in Norman England, it still wrestles with the morality of conflict:

“Grand, all right,” said Elmer. He was a small man with a large-domed head. His blue eyes were restless with unhappy intelligence. His small frame was laced with scraggly ropes of muscle, the bonds of a thinking man forced to labor.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Graphic Novels

Few art mediums have worked as hard to gain credibility as graphic novels, perhaps fantasy and sci-fi in their quest to be regarded as literature. Legitimacy seems to have been granted given the expanding sections of this genre in libraries and bookstores, but many, including me remain sheepish when perusing them.

I jumped on the bandwagon with many when Batman: The Dark Night Returns and The Watchmen appeared on the scene. Both jump started the genre to such a degree that they're on the minds of many today due to their Hollywood adaptations. I became more impressed with this genre and moved through the works of Pekar (a full tribute is in the works).

The Adventuress by Audrey Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveler's Wife) was originally published by hand in the 80's. It reminds me of La passion de Jeanne d'Arc – the threshold, the tears behind those eyes, the isolation, and the nuns. Egypt also comes to mind: hands floating without arms hold veils, wine-glasses, and judgement; Eyes sometimes swirl but never blink or have a face. There's also alchemy, a cat, and transformation. The soul mourns a body with crossed arms folded under the chin. Ancient Greece comes to mind with play on weaving (Penelope); however, here a skirts unravelled to create a cocoon. The character seems to have conflicting emotions (thumoi) given the cleft figure and one that hugs and chokes itself. It's such a fantastical world that she, a moth, feasted on Napoleon's books.

The Pride of Baghdad presents war through the eyes of lions. At times the novel becomes too anthropomorphic — sex and rape, moral dilemmas (whether or not to eat humans) — but the point gets across. War starts when the zoo keepers throw them a donkey, enough food to last a while. Bombs blow up the pen's walls and they're free. They embark on a journey and on the way meet a wise turtle who states,

Tigris is the name of the river, dummy. … Everything's got a name. It's how we make crap belong to us. And this stretch of crap is my fishing hole.

There's black stuff under the earth, boy. Poison. When the walkers fight, they send it spewing into the sky, and spilling into the … into the sea.

Although the dialogue can be predictable, the illustrations make use colour very effectively, the dark grey and sepia of tragedy and bright tones for violence. On the whole, the work seems a little too surreal for war, but that might just be how lions view things.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

RSA Animates David Harvey Lecture

As soon as this post entered my twitter-stream, I re-tweeted it; however, I wanted to ensure no one missed it, so have posted it here. The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce animates David Harvey's sagacious words:

Update: Kurt Vonnegut in his final speech had quite a lot to say about Marx:
I might as well clinch my reputation as a world-class nutcase by saying something good about Karl Marx, commonly believed in this country, and surely in Indian-no-place [Indianapolis], to have been one of the most evil people who ever lived.

He did invent Communism, which we have long been taught to hate, because we are so in love with Capitalism, which is what we call the casinos on Wall Street.

Communism is what Karl Marx hoped could be an economic scheme for making industrialized nations take good care of people, and especially of children and the old and disabled, as tribes and extended families used to do, before they were dispersed by the Industrial Revolution (Vonnegut, K. 2008. Armageddon in Retrospect, p. 23).

Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup Fever - Final Impressions, A Canadian's View

At the beginning of every World Cup game I'm struck by the colonial influence on each nation's anthem. Western instruments, chorus lines, and structure predominate. There's no rumba, salsa, or cross-rhythm, and that's such a shame, given the diversity among each nation's fans and players. Fortunately, the music at taxi stands, airports, and fan parks weren't restricted to western notions, and, of course, the vuvuzellas made stadiums their own.

I took quite a few bus-taxis and buses to get around from my remote abode. Although people on the bus-taxis were quite friendly, especially when I repeatedly asked Illovo? or some other destination, people on the bus ignored me. I discussed this behaviour with a white South African after, and she attributed it to the fact that a white person on such buses is a rarity, never mind one with an accent. By the way, from what I've gathered South Africans refer to each other as black, white, or coloured (any ethnic mix other than the former two). I struggled with this terminology due to my North American sensibilities, but soon tired of unnecessarily tip-toeing around.

Another sensibility that I lost pretty quickly was pedestrian right-of-way. Drivers gave me courteous beeps, but such notions can be dangerous (I had a few close calls in my jet-lagged stupor). Like Europe, standard transmission dominates the market, so drivers are quite skilled, but the numerous construction projects made navigation difficult. I still can't get over the lack of seat-belt laws. I desperately wanted to fasten a belt around the new-born in the front seat. Although I wanted to stay and try to get tickets for the Brazil/Portugal, which turned out to be rather flat, the time had come for me to go. I made it to Sandton (an up-scale suburb into which a number of downtown businesses fled when the fence came down) and then to the GauTrain.

The train was filled with residents excited by the prospect of travelling at high-speed. They marvelled at the new smell and efficiency, and some claimed superiority to London's tube (not a fair comparison). I was buoyed by their enthusiasm. The driver came on the intercom, introduced herself, and announced we were travelling at 160 km/h. I was one of the few to leave the train; I picked up some last minute souvenirs and made for my gate. I flew Etihad to Abu Dhabi once more. There were many empty seats so I quickly grabbed a middle row, so I could stretch out later. The meal included a chicken tandoori breast and three bean salad and a choice of chicken tikka, grilled hake or penne in cream sauce. Then I slept. No movies needed on this leg. No World Cup on a single TV in the airport. What's with this place?

After a drowsy day in Frankfurt I boarded a Swiss Air flight to Zurich. The stewardess had a topless picture of Drogba on her serving station and defended her choice, stating that he was her motivation. Swiss chocolate and a great Duty Free catalogue made their low take-off-and-landing priority bearable. I then flew Swiss Air to Montreal. The service, chocolate, and Movenpick ice cream was excellent, but the entertainment system ran on a rotation so you couldn't watch what you wanted when you wanted. The kicker, however, came when I boarded an Air Canada plane and paid $7 for a stale wrap.

Canada really needs to welcome its citizens. Rather than calculating potential tax revenue, citizens shouldn't have to fill out forms or stand in a general line. Where's the Canadian Passports line? It's as rare as a default choice of "Canada" on a Canadian website form. Anyway, I'm back; nearly over 29 hours in the air and nearly acclimatized to Victoria's poky drivers.

Friday, June 18, 2010

World Cup Fever - Argentina Game, A Canadian's View

For the game, Argentina vs. South Korea, I had incredible seats very close to the field and not far from the goal. I saw three of the five cumulative goals. Messi appears even faster in person than on TV. It's too bad he didn't score, but his goal setup was invaluable. The crowd roared most, even overcoming the vuvuzellas's drone, when Maradona tapped the ball.

The only drawback was the belligerent Americans behind me; however, one benefit of their loudness was their attempt to start a wave. We nearly got one going and had lots of fun. Canadians were there, too; one wore a huge maple-leaf hat and the others were grad students who asked me to fill out a very long survey on the World Cup. They got half their way paid for. Not a bad way to go. I was surprised to find out that the attendance was a few thousand lower than the Holland game.

The park and ride bus service was excellent and got back with enough time to watch the end of the Nigeria game. It's very unfortunate that Nigeria lost on home soil, so to speak. Chris, a Ugandan staying at the same place as I, noted that he's been disappointed with Nigeria since the 90's. After the game I experienced my first brownout, but the power came back in time to watch the Mexico game and power my microwave dinner. One benefit of the darkness was seeing the Southern Cross without artificial light obscuring it. Very beautiful!

As I'm writing this, the patrons of this internet cafe are watching WWE. Western culture's everywhere.


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