MX-Linux Xfce

This is MX-Linux, customized to my liking. It took all of ten minutes to get set up just the way I like it!

Transparent Xfce panel with wicked-kewl launchers and widgets (weather, analog clock, notifications) and wallpaper featuring the wonderful guys from the 2nd Florida Infantry, Company E with the Third National Flag of the Confederacy. It’s gorgeous, fast, not encumbered by systemd (it’s “there” as a dependency but not used, so none of that “taming” is needed and no huge logs being accumulated).

Partly on principle and partly out of personal preference: Firefox replaced with Chromium, Thunderbird replaced with Evolution, Conky script edited for something prettier as well as informative. Installation was efforless and very simple. I used to keep separate partitions for root, home, and swap, but in MX it’s hardly necessary, since backup is so fast and simple, as well as elegant. Even configurations are easily copied for future upgrades and re-installs if and when needed. No need for Timeshift or Systemback (which I had to add to Linux Mint via a PPA to replace buggy Timeshift). So I gave MX-Linux the entire hard drive during installation.

Even without using systemd it boots in seconds to this beautiful desktop and needs a lot less CPU and RAM to do so, despite the “greater efficiency” promised by systemd. That so-called efficiency is a trade-off in my opinion. Disk space (which has to be manually limited by editing a configuration file) and logging on top of the”init” daemon that intrudes into EVERYTHING. Efficient? I respectfully disagree.

Also available in a 32-bit .iso, MX-Linux offers a Fluxbox edition which is fine for much more modest hardware. You can even get a non-PAE kernel for those really old ‘puters, but I would use antiX Linux for anything 512-RAM or less, and choose applications that don’t need a lot of RAM and processing power, like Seamonkey in place of Firefox and Thunderbird. Seamonkey does both jobs in one application with thousands fewer lines of code than Firefox all by itself, yet has all the wicked-kewl features of both including a WYSIWYG editor for composing fancy HTML emails like this one (I post to this blog via email).

Best of all, it’s all built on the awesome granddaddy of a zillion and twelve other Linux distributions, Debian! Debian Stable, to be exact. Except for maybe Slackware, it just doesn’t get any more stable than Debian Stable. Yet in MX, all the software can be found fully up-to-date using either Debian backports, MX’s own repositories, and/or Flatpaks. This is no longer vulnerable to all that Ubuntu cruft, corruption, regression, and weirdness. Even the noblest of Ubuntu-based distros are vulnerable to the weirdness Ubuntu is sending downstream. I saw it in the Mint Forums where people are moving to Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) to avoid it now. It seems only a matter of time before Linux Mint’s own flagship may switch to a Debian base from Ubuntu, as the latter gets stranger and more complicated and harder to manage.

Oh, okay, yeah: Why do I have two clocks? Because when I have an application running, the Conky hides behind it but the panel (with the other clock) doesn’t. I can still glance over and keep track of time. As much as I dislike duplication, I have a reason for doing it here. Aaaaaand, I have one digital and one analog. Because, that’s why. It’s Linux and I can do whatever I want! Try that in any other OS!

The newest MX-Linux fanboy,

Linux Mint Xfce vs MX-Linux

Two awesome Linux distros, both amazingly simple and graphical (point-and-click easy for us technically challenged users), both full-featured with amazing tools and plenty of support for both beginners and long-experienced users alike. Both come highly recommended and either one is a superb choice for general-purpose home and business computing. Any comparison between these two comes down to personal preferences, philosophical differences, and stuff like “looks and feel” rather than anything truly substantial.

For this post, I’m comparing Linux Mint’s Xfce edition with MX-Linux because they both use the same desktop environment. But both offer alternative desktop environments either in “official flavors” or in “community remixes” where users can play with other desktops. There are at least one zillion and twelve articles to explore on the many different Linux desktops there are to choose from, and my purpose is not to add to that clutter.

Linux Mint Xfce has been my daily driver for the past four months, just because. It’s easy to use and easy to share with others. Ready out of the box to just install and use right away. Over the months I have made changes to it – some because the default applications don’t suit me (Firefox, Thunderbird, etc – exchanged for Chromium, Evolution, etc) and a few that were necessary for technical reasons. Changing browsers and other common software is pretty much effortless in both distros and is usually a matter of mere preference, so I won’t delve into why I swap out Firefox and use Chromium, or Evolution instead of Thunderbird. Personal choice, easily changed in a few clicks of a mouse.

More important for my purposes here are the changes that I found necessary for technical and functional reasons. These have the potential to become “deal breakers” if I wasn’t able to make these changes, because they affect the function and reliability of the operating system.

The first necessary change was to limit systemd’s log size. Left alone it becomes a huge file and takes up abuncha storage space for no good reason. It’s limits should be set by default, for goodnessakes, and Linux Mint would do well to ship future releases with these limits already pre-set. Other logging software can be set up with reasonable limits as well. If you’re a Linux Mint user, click here for a super-easy guide to getting systemd under control, as well as keeping your Linux Mint installation clean and free of stuff that encumbers it and wants to slow it down.

Another absolutely necessary change – for me at least, after trying a dozen ways to get Timeshift to work as advertised, was to completely dump the misbehaving resource-hog entirely and replace it with a sweet, graphical alternative that not only does what Timeshift does, but also does what MX-Linux’s iso maker does – all in one much-easier-to-understand-and-use application called Systemback (find it for Linux Mint/Ubuntu here). Not only can you make snapshots of your system, but you can make it into a bootable iso and write it to a pen drive. Complete copy-and-install capability without using multiple apps and commands in a terminal. I suggest that Systemback would be a better default program for Linux Mint (and many other distros) than Timeshift is. For now it has to be added to Mint and any other Ubuntu-based OS via a PPA.

One clear advantage of MX-Linux on this front is the fact that it’s completely unnecessary in MX, which already has the coolest backup-and-restore and system-copy and make-an-iso-of-your-existing-OS software tools available. No need to add a PPA or anything. No replacement of a malfunctioning bohemoth app that many find frustrating with a whole ‘nother bit of software from a out-of-distto repository. Yes, MX-Linux uses Timeshift, but to make Timeshift do more than it does in Linux Mint, and do it better, it doesn’t need replacing.

As Ubuntu gets more and more “proprietary” and further removed from it’s Debian foundation, it tends to impose it’s ways on all of the distros that are built on it. That isn’t Ubuntu’s fault, of course, and many if not most Ubuntu-based distros disable those features like snaps-by-default that come down from Canonical On High, where Ubuntu is built and released. There are some things that Ubuntu indeed does better than Debian:

  • Hardware support (Ubuntu’s enablement stack)
  • Kernel Update Management (Debian still doing “backports”)
  • Third-Party Repositories (most are Ubuntu-specific)

But those things come at the price of package-management troubles (snapd-vs-deb) and other annoyances with the potential to become deal-breakers. Debian, which MX-Linux is built from, is less vulnerable to these big proprietary changes. Because MX is Debian Stable, it simply doesn’t get more stable than MX. Stable means reliable, tested, proven, and dependable. Some folks will say “older, dated, out of style, maybe even obsolete.” That is a matter of opinion, of course. You may not find the latest version with the most bling and fanciest options in Debian Stable (look for them in Debian Sid or Debian Experimental), but for most home and business users, Stable is fitting.

If I had not been successful in taming Linux Mint Xfce to be what MX-Linux is basically by default, I would probably be using MX-Linux (and it’s ultralight, systemd-free sibling antiX on my old 32-bit bit machine) as my daily driver already. For now I am content to enjoy my “modified Mint” and it’s great community of contributors and fans.

Are Trump’s People Really This Despaerate Already?

Perhaps they should be. Check out this desperate meme that’s supposed to scare the heck out of DeSantis supporters:

Does anyone actually believe this bovine excrement? Soros-backed DeSantis? Running against MAGA?

This is seriously desparate fear-mongering on some Trump supporter’s part. And it’s completely false.

Does the Trump campaign really have any reason to be this fearful and desperate about a DeSantis candidacy?

Perhaps they do, after all. Here is why:

  • Ron DeSantis did not turn the government over to the “deep state” (Fauci and Company) when this plandemic occured.
  • Ron DeSantis did not create a public/private partnership (the very literal definition of fascism) with Big Pharma.
  • Ron DeSantis didn’t bulldoze over the FDA to get a toxic, lethal “vaccine” approved for “emergency use” even though there were safer, proven alternatives already in use.

The Republic as we knew it effectively ended on Trump’s watch. And this I will not forget, nor forgive.

Every Hobby Has it’s Politics

I ran into this back when I was big into ham radio. Someone wants to be the Big Guy in Charge, someone “buys their way in” to some position of power and influence by operating the biggest and baddest packet hub or repeater in the county / state/whatever; I get all that and I never let it bother me until The Big Guy in Charge assumed too much when a parade of hurricanes threatened South Florida, coming one after another, and he was The One all ham radio operators were supposed to coordinate with, whether we were members of his particular club or not. A running joke at the time was, “If you have an emergency, don’t call 9-1-1, call N4*** instead!”

I was glad to get out of South Florida and away from all the politics that made being a ham radio guy much more frustrating and tumultuous than it ever needed to be. It was such a bad experience that I let my ham license expire and got rid of all my radio stuff.

Politics tried to mar my love of clogdancing, too, but I just went on my own and did my own thing, quite successfully, ignoring all the Powers That Be in that little world.

So I suppose I should have expected the same thing when my family and I got into Living History and joined a civil war reenacting unit. It did “get political” for a time, but by the time it started to reach us, the kids had graduated and we left the hobby, since home-schooling the kids was the whole reason we got into reenacting to start with. Dodged a bullet back then, I guess. But now that we’re back into reenacting, sure enough, here it comes again. We ignored it as long as we could, but once we got ripped off multiple times when it came to equipment (all the stuff: Period-correct guns, accouterments, uniforms, big money stuff!) and then became the subject of gossip when one of the “Big Guys” in my unit falsely attributed his own hostility towards a popular brigade chaplain to an even bigger “Big Guy,” got caught at it, and then – fortunately – was providentially forced to leave the unit. Then some folks in that unit had donated some civil war stuff to my family in care of someone else – who decided to sell it and keep the money. Next a controversy over possible abuse of the By-Laws of the organization (a registered tax-exempt organization – be careful, legal stuff), and, well, that’s enough. I’m out.

— And back in again! With a different unit. My new unit has a 30-plus year record of unimpeachable accord and reliability. It’s part of a different brigade and thus not affected by the politics that has plagued my former brigade since it’s founding. That former brigade broke off from the brigade I just joined, over who wanted to be in the Big Guy club, I hear. But it just so happens – providence again – that the brigade I just joined happened to need a Battalion Chaplain! It’s a non-political position and a gateway to some hugely expanded opportunities for ministry in the Living History world. I received notice of my appointment while writing this post!
If it ever “gets political,” I’ll do like I did when clogdancing went that way – just continue on my own, answering only to the One who has called me as a minister to reenactors.
His will be done!

Best of the Federated Platforms: Diaspora

In yesterday’s post on social media I ranted about people’s dependence upon Facebook and why I think it’s bad! Not forgetting what Amazon did to Parler, who depended on Amazon servers for hosting their platform, I reminded my readers that relying on Facebook for any organization’s publication, discussions, and file sharing is the same darn is the same darn mistake Parler made. And I offered some alternatives that are federated, (distributed) rather than hosted on a single huge domain with a single, huge server.

Following yesterday’s RANT, comes today’s RAVE about the oldest and in my opinion best of the federated socil media platforms: Diaspora!

Yes there are other federated networks to choose from, and their advocates can write all about how much better they think theirs is than Diaspora. But I have tried them all, and in my judgement the easiest to set up and use; the one with the simplest user interface and most level learning curve is Diaspora. A couple of definitions are in order before my rave and tutorial begins:

Microblogging: Words, videos, and pictures with a limit number of characters, like Twitter. Posts come quickly and furiously, in little quips, memes, and comments.

Macroblogging: Whole multi-paragraph articles, if you want, or short little quips if you prefer, like Facebook. Including videos and pictures. No restrictive character limits. If it’s really big, then post it to a regular blog (like WordPress) and link to it. But most of us can simply blog on Diaspora, and Diaspora lets me cross-post between my WordPress blog and my Diaspora stream. Diaspora is a macroblogging platform.

DISCLAIMER: Not a single member of my family or circle of friends (in “real life”) has even tried any alternative to Facebook. For me it’s just exactly the same thing as getting my friends to try Linux. All the same arguments apply: Not locked into a single vendor on which you depend for everything; free as in free beer and free as in liberty; etc. It’s like the great prophet Morphius said:

“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.”

That said, even though I go alone, I friggin’ go anyway, because it’s best for me. Most people will simply go on living in the Matrix even knowing that they’re just being batteries for the machines.

Okay on with the rave. Diaspora’s User Interface:

This is screenshot of my Stream, or “feed” if you will. When I log in, this is what I see. On Diaspora my identity is ミ★ Confederate Space Force ★彡, and my avatar is an anime-type soldier from the War Between the States (upper right corner of the screenshot). You can be anybody you want to be on Diaspora. There’s no requirement to use your real name and likeness, nothing to identify the real you. I can be “Robin the Boy Wonder” or Captain America or Admiral Jean-Luc Picard.

On the left is a clickable menu, so I can jump to followed hashtags and choose one to see all the posts from Diaspora on that particular subject. I can click on Aspects (contacts, categorized) to see what my friends are up to. I use Aspects to make my own groups on Diaspora. There are no groups per se on Diaspora, because there’s no need! I include certain people in certain Aspect categories and I can post only to that Aspect category – so it’s a group just for the contacts in that Aspect category:

Just family, or just reenactors, or just coworkers, or Reformed theologians, etc. Make up whatever Aspect category you want! Starship officers, Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers, Linux geeks, rogues, cigar lovers, whatever you care to invent. This is how “groups” are done on Diaspora. Which brings me to this important point:

Diaspora will not suggest “people you may know” or “stuff you might like.” There’s no algorhythm spying on you and gathering information for such suggestions. You build your community yourself, so it takes time to make Diaspora what you want it to be for you. I started gathering Aspects by first following hashtags, then following people. It’s far better to follow people than to just follow hashtags! But I started with hashtags until I found the cool people to follow from there.

Wanna write a post? Wanna have headers and bold and italics and other “rich text” options in your posts and comments? Check this out:

First, choose your audience. Post to the public, just your friends, or, as in the example above, just the people in my “reenactors” Aspect category. If you make your post Public, anyone on the Internet can see it, with or without a Diaspora account of their own.

On the “Write” screen, notice the cool interface for bold, italic, headers, links, pictures, quotes, code, etc. You can even preview you post before sending it:

See I have a big header, or title, and I’m using some of the goodies: Hashtags, bold, italics, etc. This works on comments as well as posts! This is a pretty easy interface to navigate. Some of the other networks have complicated the crap out of this simple set of functions and made it so feature-rich that it’s easy to get lost in a wreck along that steep learning curve. Most people don’t use most of those extra-fancy-schmancy features anyhow, so Diaspora doesn’t include all that extra bloatware. Keep it simple for the users! Yaaaaaay!

Diaspora can federate with some, but not all of the different “fediverse” platforms. We federate with Friendica, Hubzilla, etc. but not with Mastodon. Who cares? You wanna be on Mastodon go ahead and choose an instance and make an account of your own if you like that Twitter-like stuff. Mastodon is the biggest of the federated networks, to be sure. Probably because most people prefer little “sound bytes” and short little paragraphs instead of substantive content. But if you’re looking for an alternative to Facebook, Diaspora is surely the best way to go.

Consider this your personal invitation! Click here!

Social Media

When we decided to get back into doing Living History again after all these years, it seems like almost every organization from the huge regional ones to the company-level units no longer bother with their own web sites or even email listservs anymore – they’re all on Facebook!

Why host on Facebook?

No expense and trouble with having their own domain name (dot com, dot org, dot whatever).
No need for running your own server
No big fuss over page designs and links
A place to host files, pictures, videos, stories, news, and events.

But at what cost?

Ads. Lots and lots of ads.
Loss of rights to your own content.
Loss of privacy for you and your visitors.
Getting inexplicably restricted for whatever “community standards” Facebook chooses.

Why lock yourself, your organization, and your site visitors into a single vendor who insists that all your visitors create an account on their platform to access it or contribute to it? Why ask your “customers,” members, and contributors to give up their privacy and intellectual property rights in order to participate? That’s not only unethical, it’s downright stupid. You give up so much and depend for everything on someone else’ terms of service! Remember how Amazon destroyed so many businesses who depended on their servers when Amazon decided those companies weren’t “woke” enough? It wasn’t that long ago, y’know.

Obviously hosting your own domain on your own server is the best solution as far as retaining your rights and respecting your users’ and contributors’ privacy and dignity. A small number of the reenacting groups I found do this, at least partially. But most just rely on Facebook in the same way Parler relied on Amazon. Not very smart.

There are perfectly sane and sensible alternatives to Facebook for cry’n out loud! 

How about any one of the platforms offered in the Fediverse? These are all free (as in beer), but also free (as in freedom!) Rights respected, privacy preserved, open-source software-driven, maintained by volunteers who may solicit donations to defray their expenses. Anyone can host their own, the software is free if you want to run your own instance of one or more of the federated – or distributed – networks: Mastodon (microblogging, like Twitter), for example, or Friendica (very busy social network with a steep learning curve), or the simple, intuitive Diaspora network – the oldest and probably still the largest of the macro-blogging social networks (like facebook, only easier).

Centralized networks like MeWe do what Facebook and some others do, but again – you’re locked into a single vendor and hosted on a single megaserver and you don’t retain control of your own data.

In my next post, I’ll describe the one federated network that is in my opinion the easiest to learn and to use. Here’s a hint: diaspora*

Busy Since Ordination!

It’s amazing how fast things have moved since I decided to make the change from military reenacting (infantry) to the more modest civilian chaplain role. I interpret history as a small-town preacher sent from the little Presbyterian church in Madison, Florida to minister to our fighting men in the War Between the States. And what a ride it has been in a very short time! Seminary training, examination, and ordination; preaching at two living history events (so far), nomination to the post of “Brigade Chaplain” to one of the largest and busiest reenacting organizations in the Southeast, and the honor of officiating my son’s wedding! And all I had to do was retire from work and get on with my true calling. Not as simple as it sounds, but much more fulfilling than driving a flatbed semi for 12 to 14 hours every day.

I can’t stay put behind a pulpit … I always end up in front of it, speaking more intimately to a gathering.

“Chaplain R.C.,” Mr. and Mrs. Arnaud, and Mrs. Robin following my first official marriage ceremony. And what an honor to
perform the service for my own family first!

In the Wood Shop

I don’t want to have to borrow these things, even though I’m just getting started in my new reenacting role as a civilian chaplain instead of a Confederate rifleman. As much as I have enjoyed “killin’ Yankees” with my pards in the infantry, I really can’t continue that, medically speaking (long story, maybe another time). So I’m doing this new impression not only for all the fun it brings, but because it’s true ministry and quite unique in it’s little niche.

Anyway, I just got the portable desktop pulpit finished. Now in the office working on period-correct paperback hymnals, then back to the wood shop to make some portable / collapsible pews!

It’ll just sit on a table or something, but it looks kinda cool and “beat up” like it should.

More to come!

A True Church?

The marks of a true church – according to my own denomination’s written documentation, are:

Pure preaching of the Gospel,
True administration of the Sacraments (ordinances, if you prefer, baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and
Exercise of Church Discipline.

All three must be present for a church to be a true church. Two out of three doesn’t qualify.

Suppose a church has the first two down very well, but not the third:

A “Deacon” that hasn’t been to church in years, yet retains his office because he’s the Treasurer and works at the bank.
A “Deacon” who can’t articulate the gospel and doesn’t agree with the church’s doctrinal position.
Elders that won’t participate in Presbytery or General Assembly at all, other than to send whatever reports are required.

Is this a true church?

“Asking for a friend.”