Social Media and Mental Health

So I got on Diaspora and dumped Facebook (and Google) because of all the paranoid geeky stuff about them manipulating news and spying on people and using all your stuff to take over the world.

I ran away from systemd on Linux because of all the paranoid geeky stuff I read on Diaspora about how Red Hat and Microsoft (and the NSA, FBI, Illuminati, and who knows, some alien race from the Eighth Dimension) are using systemd on Linux to take over the world and enslave Linux users.

As it turns out, in spite of Monstanto, GMOs, vaccines, the Left, the Right, Microsoft, Google, the Borg, Canonical, Red Hat, and systemd, my computer and my privacy are as safe as anyone who ever connects to the Internet on any device or platform can expect to be.

Who is manipulating who here? Who is really thriving on the fears of others here?

People told us to stop flying the American flag and stop showing our support for the military and first responders or else we could be targeted for violence, blacklisting, discrimination, etc. Did I take down my flag? Hell no. Let them come. I’ll gut them if they bring their threats beyond my front door.

And guess what else? I’ve got a systemd-equipped Linux distro running because it works better on my machine than the two systemd-free distros I tried. And y’know what else? I rejoined Facebook today. I’m using it with my eyes open and sensible precautions in place. I’ll keep my Diaspora but I’m making big changes there. All that paranoia and conspiracy stuff is not good for people who have ever been diagnosed with depression, whatever the cause.

All I can say now is,

I didn’t take my flag down. And I’m not avoiding systemd, Facebook, Google, or any other tool that serves me.

I’ll use the Internet wisely, my systemd-equipped Linux distro wisely, and Facebook wisely. Just like I do with my car, my firearms, my power tools, and anything else that requires a little thought and caution. I’m not throwing away all the perfectly good tools that make modern life so nice and so rich.

I’m through running away from phantoms. If and when the time comes to fight, against whoever the bad guys are, I’ll fight and die like a Klingon in glorious battle. In the meantime time, all you anti-vaccine, anti-Google, and anti-everything-that-isn’t-home-grown-or-home-made people can kiss my grits.

Hey, I just had a thought…. maybe my medicine is working now after all!

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Issues With WordPress

For almost four days now, I can’t access the WordPress.com web site at all. I post via e-mail, so that’s why this post is making it to the blog. But I can no longer moderate replies, read the blogs I follow (unless I get them emailed to me), or manage my sites at all. 😥

I tried downloading the WordPress desktop app, but it’s 64-bit only so I can’t use it on my old 32-bit desktop. The fancy hand-me-down 64-bit ‘puter had a hard drive failure so I resurrected an ancient Dell Dimension and got it running wonderfully with Linux Lite! But WordPress.com won’t load in any browser from here for some reason.

If your comment is awaiting moderation, or if I fail to respond to a question, rest assured it’s temporary… unless WordPress remains unreachable/unloadable, in which case I may be moving the whole kit and kabootle to another site.

Please pardon the inconvenience, and hope that it’s temporary!

diaspora*: The Beautiful, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; A Constructive Critique

Here is a “geek’s” take on Diaspora*, the kinda-sorta social network I have mentioned off and on here. I’m having to make some changes on my Diaspora settings to avoid some of the mentally-draining, emotionally-paralyzing, end-of-the-world stuff that has dominated my “stream” (Diaspora’s term for “feed”) up to now. If that doesn’t improve my experience, I’ll probably just quietly disappear from the network.

The blog post below is another’s take on the subject. WARNING: Profanity and “trigger words.”

Brandon The Vegan

Pre Intro:

Consider this post my resumé for a position with the core devs of the diaspora project. If it should fail to win over the core team, then consider this article my resignition from the diaspora community altogether. I find myself more and more disinterested and impatient with the diaspora realm.

No hard feelings if the latter were true.

I know I have the capacity to take on Sean Tilley’s former position with the project. Don’t doubt me, it will be a ever-lasting mistake that you will make in your lifetime. That’s not a threat, it’s a fact.

My defense:

For reference:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note: This…

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Compare, Ponder, Choose

So for a few weeks I have had a great chance to compare two awesome Linux distributions (hereafter “distro” or plural form “distros”), each with unique tools and features. So much of choosing a distro has to do with completely subjective stuff like the user’s ability, tastes, and values. There are desktops and Window managers to choose from, levels of risk to choose from, rolling-release vs. point releases (both have their advantages and disadvantages), system tools and system toys that may be unique to a particular distro. One is not better than other as far as most of the objective measures are concerned, it’s about “which is better for me.”

I had a big fancy 64-bit hand-me-down HP all-in-one desktop that ran PCLinuxOS Xfce “mini” in spite of it’s abundance of RAM and processing power. Until the hard drive finally failed completely. I also have a Dell Latitude laptop, also 64-bit, with 3 gb of RAM and a decent processor, running Linux Lite. Both ran well, except as noted in the following few paragraphs, and either one may suit any particular user – except new users, perhaps, in which Linux Lite has a decisive edge if, in my opinion, an additional safety feature is added. Without that added safety net, Linux Lite is no safer than any rolling-release distro as far as things being broken by updates – a very common complaint in most Ubuntu-based distros. Recently, “upstream” Ubuntu included Beta software in an update that broke a whole bunch of systems “downstream” until a later update fixed it. There’s no excuse for that! Especially in a Linux distro that is targeted at novice users.

PCLinuxOS

The “main” version is KDE, which has been doing through big huge changes recently to the new KDE5. Breakage is probably to expected with all the big changes, and KDE4 is no longer supported in PCLinuxOS. It is definitely a “KDE-centric” distro, and even the standard Xfce community edition has abuncha KDE/Qt stuff in it. That’s fine on a hearty machine, but many people choose Xfce because they want a lean, fast desktop, and KDE is a long-time resource hog. I used the Xfce “mini” after getting a little frustrated with the “regular” Xfce edition, and it was decisively more nimble and responsive. Unencumbered by systemd or “KDE stuff,” I enjoyed the speed, but experienced very frequent crashes in both of my two favorite web browsers, Seamonkey and Midori. I was more than a little spooked by the all-or-nothing approach to updating, even though PCLinuxOS has a large number of people who test newer versions of software before it gets added to the repository for the rest of us. Perhaps it’s just because of the big changes to KDE right now, but “broken after updating” threads have dominated the support forums. I experienced no breakage in my KDE-free system. Still, it’s a rolling-release distro with all the advantages like install once and update forever without ever having to install it again – and the disadvantages like “oops look what got by the testers” and “we didn’t anticipate it’s impact on other (non-KDE) desktop applications.” Is rolling release better? Well, for some, yes, and for others, no. I don’t think it’s for me, though, and that’s just a personal choice.

PCLinuxOS has an awesome tool kit for tuning and tweaking the system and doing other tasks. Several are unique to the distro, and I love the innovation. The community is absolutely second to none; cordial, knowledgeable, welcoming, generous, patient, and full of good humor and enthusiasm for the team and the distro. The monthly PCLOS magazine is wonderful, and users of any distro can benefit from reading it’s tutorials, recipes, puzzles, interviews, and reviews.

The reason I ran to PCLinuxOS to begin with was that it is systemd-free. Not that I ever had any issues with systemd myself, but the potential for big problems and back doors is very big and very scary. But that’s potential, not realized/actual, at least not yet. It bears watching. Yet on the other hand, it’s so widely adopted in the Linux world that there are now thousands of developers and coders to keep watch of it and to prevent it from becoming a major threat to privacy and security. Most of the objections I have found to systemd make a lot of sense, but they are years old already, and many of the vulnerabilities discovered have long-since been patched. The bottom line is reliability, simplicity, and speed. Especially for us “casual” desktop users and technophobes. I have decided that for now at least, I can’t make such a big deal of systemd based on vulnerabilities discovered and patched long before it finally appeared in most Ubuntu-LTS-based distros. Technophobia is one thing. Paranoia is a whole ‘nother critter.

With the loss of my fancy hand-me-down 64-bit all-in-one HP ‘puter’s hard drive, I dug an ancient Dell Dimension out of mothballs and decided to test out the 32-bit version of another favorite of mine, Linux Lite (32-bit).

Linux Lite

Xfce desktop, of course, because it’s lightweight, infinitely configurable, gorgeous, super-simple, and totally awesome. It also has a cool tool kit unique to Linux Lite, like “Lite Tweaks that lets the user safely do all kindsa system stuff in a few mouse clicks. This is great for new users!

Also unique to Linux Lite is that applications are named for what they do, not by their “real” names that tell the user nothing about them. How will a new user from Windows or Mac know that Thunar is a file manager? They wouldn’t, so in Linux Lite it’s simply called “File Manager.” What a concept, huh? Yes, this won’t matter to most long-time Linux users, but for introducing newcomers to Linux awesomeness, this is thoughtful and wise.

My browsers behave better in Linux Lite than they did in PCLinuxOS, though I have no idea why. I just know that they do. Fewer crashes, fewer freezes, fewer surprises.

Now about updating: What I am about to suggest is only my opinion, and plenty of people who are a lot smarter than I am will strongly disagree. The following suggestion is not officially supported by Linux Lite and in fact, opposed very strongly by it’s lead developer. But I find myself in very good and numerous company when I say that updates can do as much damage as good, and nothing frustrates new Linux users than unexpected breakage caused by updates. As I have already mentioned, “upstream” Ubuntu is known to include beta software in it’s updates, and there is absolutely no excuse for making unwitting beta-testers out of novice users (and simple people like me, and technophobes like me) without their knowledge and consent! This is unforgivable. Users of Linux Mint enjoy true freedom from these ridiculous, highly risky upstream updates, because their Updater allows the user to selectively update their system according to risk. A wonderful, awesome former member of the Linux Lite development team has adapted Linux Mint’s awesome Updater for Linux Lite and made it available to Linux Lite users (here). He also has taken another of Linux Mint’s cool tools, called MintStick, and included it in his repository of awesomeness. In PCLinuxOS you can use GParted and MyLiveCD to do the same things that MintStick does, but the process is cumbersome and time-consuming compared to the “click-click-done” simplicity of MintStick. The Updater from unlockforus.com I consider a vitally important safety measure for Linux Lite, and whenever I introduce new users to Linux I will include it by default, it’s that important. Otherwise, new users should start with Linux Mint if their hardware can handle a heavier load than Linux Lite ordinarily uses.

I now have Linux Lite running on all my machines, and have no plans to change.

Random Thoughts on PCLinuxOS

PCLinuxOS is my first rolling-release distro. That’s a little scary for a newbie coming from the Ubuntu-LTS-based world. What really ticks me off about the Ubuntu-based distros lately is their long-standing habit of sneaking Beta software into updates – even updates of their LTS versions which are supposed to be more stable. Making unwitting Beta-testers out of Linux novices is just unforgivable. Only Linux Mint users and Linux Lite users who take advantage of a modified updater created for Linux Lite (but not officially supported by the distro) avoid most of the issues because of the brilliant Mint Updater.

I have had absolutely no update issues with with my very minimal PCLOS/Xfce mixture, but I must admit, reading the forums lately has me a little spooked. It’s probably normal when there are huge, major, fundamental changes to a major component of the system, like the changes from KDE4 to KDE5. KDE is the default, flagship edition of PCLinuxOS, and it’s going through some maaaaaaajor changes with the big KDE updates to Plasma 5.

It’s got a lot of fancy stuff in it! And a lot of dependencies that I don’t have in my minimalistic, super-simple Xfce mixture. Like PulseAudio, for example. Firefox users have to put up with PA because Firefox now depends on PulseAudio, but I don’t (yay for Midori and Seamonkey!). PulseAudio was Beta when it first got pushed on Ubuntu-based distros aimed at Linux novices, and for as long as I could, I removed it from my Xubuntu and relied on good ol’ ALSA, until it was no longer possible to avoid. Nowadays it’s Grub2 (beta) being pushed on Linux newbies from Ubuntu. Unforflippingivable. In PCLinuxOS Grub 2 is only being used by testers, and updates will not impose it on the rest of us until it has proven itself safe.

I do hafta say, though, if the big changes in KDE are somehow getting past even the PCLOS testers and causing so many “broken after update” issues – again probably to be expected with such a major release of such a major component – maybe new users should stick to the Xfce or Mate community editions of PCLinuxOS until things settle down with KDE.

Linux on Old Computers

One of the things I really take joy in doing is restoring old throw-away and hand-me-down computers and making them run better than new, using lightweight Linux operating systems and free software. I can then donate them to a local school, church, or other charity. Mostly desktops, because laptops are harder to do because of the wifi tweaking I have to do. I prefer the Xfce desktop because it’s so very intuitive, even people who never used a computer before can just point-and-click their way along with an easy learning curve.

By the way, I got in trouble at school for my silly answer to the professor’s question, “What was the first point-and-click interface?”
My answer: “Colt Firearms.”

Where was I? Oh yeah – old hardware. I may have to quit when 32-bit Linux systems become impossible to find. It may not be long, but while it lasts I’ll keep that ancient, one-step-up-from-an-abacus Windows98 machine running along for as long as I can.

Here’s one I won’t ever donate:

Xfce desktop with desktop icons for school stuff I’m working on

Sizzle, pop, clickety

The dial is a thermometer. The gauge doesn’t show degrees, but whatever. The speaker is covered by a collander-type slotted spoon.

Okay, okay, it’s not really an old computer. It’s Steampunk!

Antique-looking awesomeness.

PCLinuxOS Mini Xfce Edition

I have been writing about why I jumped from Ubuntu-derived Linux Lite to PCLinuxOS. Linux Lite – with addition of a vitally important safety feature from the awesome and venerable Ralphy’s own repository – is by far the best newbie-friendly distro for older hardware I have ever had the pleasure to use. Just one issue: It’s “daemon possessed.”

And I don’t mean it’s administered by a Ferengi starship commander, either. A daemon is a program that runs in the background. Every decent operating system has daemons, or it would hardly be useful for us ordinary mortals. But this one particular daemon, named systemd, is a dangerous, invasive, “supervisory” one that does more than just initialize programs and applications and allocate the proper resources to them. It oversees, overrules, overextends, and keeps a record of every process. It has many security vulnerabilities and other issues that sent me fleeing away, at least until it can be tamed and put on a leash or something, if ever.

I wanted a Linux distribution that was not only not possessed by that evil daemon, but also beginner-friendly and technophobe-friendly. Salix would have sufficed in the first department, but not really in the second. A little more research and I re-discovered PCLinuxOS. There’s a nice community Xfce edition with lots of extra stuff in it that I actually don’t need or want, but that is true of every newbie-friendly Linux mixture. I found a “Xfce mini” edition, put together by the revered and praiseworthy Ika, a long-time member of the very loyal and enthusiastic PCLOS community. I installed it today on the old laptop and just wanted to describe the experience a little, for the benefit of any readers who are looking to escape the systemd threat without losing the simplicity and “friendliness” of wonderful Linux distros like Mint, the ‘buntu family, LXLE, Linux Lite, ElementaryOS, and many more built from Ubuntu. For them, if they have decent hardware that isn’t more than a couple of years old, there is the flagship KDE edition of PCLinuxOS. It has it all! I prefer the lightweight, infinitely configurable, and super-simple Xfce desktop. It’s the default desktop of Linux Lite, and also the default desktop of several Linux distributions meant for use by children! So it’s not complicated, but it’s powerful, simple, and nimble on older hardware. The Xfce flavor of PCLinuxOS is available in two different forms: The standard one is basically kinda sorta PCLinuxOS with Xfce tied on. The “mini” Xfce version has few installed applications, just enough to run it and then install the software you really want and prefer to use. It uses Synaptic Package Manager (yeah, you read that right, Synaptic, even though it’s not Debian or Ubuntu-based) to update and install software from a vast, hyooooge, very extensive repository! It even has Seamonkey! Cool, no adding PPAs and all that high-risk nonsense. LXLE has like six or eight added PPAs besides Ubuntu’s, just to get the latest versions of LibreOffice, to make Seamonkey available to their users, and the latest daily builds of other popular software. That’s nice, but the more PPAs you add to an Ubuntu-based OS, the greater the risk of something breaking when installed and/or updated. My other complaint with Ubuntu-based distros is the inexplicable presence of beta software in a distro intended for novice users! I just think that is unconscionable. Systemd, by the way, is beta quality even if it’s not billed that way.

Okay, end of lecture on why I switched (and why others should, in my opinion). Now the good part.

The Xfce Mini Live USB cranked right up and ran fast and responsively in Live mode. Installation may be unfamiliar to folks who are used to the Ubuntu-based stuff, but it’s pretty easy. Clicking on the “install PCLinuxOS” icon brings up a nice step-by-step set of instructions. The DrakLive installer uses GParted, but helps the user along. BACK UP ALL YOUR STUFF to an external media first!

I don’t do the dual-boot thing, and I didn’t install PCLOS alongside another distro. So I chose “custom partitioning.”

A swap partition, traditionally about 2X your computer’s RAM. I gave “/” 20 Gigabytes of space on my HDD, and all the rest of the drive is “/home.”
WORD OF CAUTION: If you already have a /home directory on the drive that you used with a different distro, format that sucker! “Foreign” settings and stuff will definitely interfere with PCLinuxOS default settings. Keep your documents, pictures, videos, browser / email profiles etc on external media to use after installation.

Now tell the installer what bootloader and device you want to use. The default is Grub on the hard drive.

Now the magic happens!

Ohhhh, it’s wonderful! The entire process from start to finish took under 10 minutes on my laptop. My only issue was that I needed to use my little non-proprietary USB wifi dongle to get an internet connection. That’s common with the stupid Broadcom wireless hardware in Dell computers. Not a show-stopper really, just a minor annoyance. Easily fixed after installation. On a desktop with a wired internet connection, no issue at all.

Then reboot when it’s finished, but do not remove the Live media (USB or DVD) until prompted to do so.

On first boot, you’ll choose your root password and set up a user (with a different password – this ain’t Ubuntu!). Log in and enjoy!

The mini Xfce version has enough to get you going. First thing: Update! You can do it when prompted to, but on the mini you’ll want to open Synaptic and choose your favorite apps. I install Seamonkey, ddCopy, xournal, Faenza icon set, and a few other favorites. LibreOffice isn’t included in the mini version, so install it from Synaptic if you want it. GParted and ddCopy do what Mintstick did in Linux Lite (and Mint), so I’m comfortable with that. This is a truly customized mixture, and the cool thing is, you can use MyLiveCD to roll your own custom-made, just-the-way-you-want-it iso to install on another computer. It does what Systemback did (and by the way, Systemback is about to lose it’s maintainer, so it may not be available in the next LTS releases of Ubuntu and it’s derivatives).

I’m just enjoying this so much, and I feel so much better to have exorcised the systemd daemon from my OS.