Archive for June, 2014

Kicking and Screaming into the Future: Part 4, the Journey Arrives

June 29, 2014

Well,here we are in the future, and it’s not as bad as I feared. That’s not to say that it’s great.

TL:DR Summary for this Series: if you have to do a full install to upgrade your OS, then buy a new hard drive and install it there. You’ll have to redo all your bookmarks and passwords anyway, and the old drive can act as an archive.

As part of my build-a-little, test-a-little approach to life, I dug out an old Linux box to try some installs on. How old? Thirty-two bit old. Ethernet port doesn’t work old. It already had OpenSUSE on it, from needing to run some simulation software that didn’t like Ubuntu’s version of Java. I plugged in my new TB drive and installed the latest version of SUSE (“Software und System-Entwicklung“, meaning “Software and systems development”, it’s foreign). That’s when I was reminded that it was a 32-bit system. I won’t go into all my trials and tribulations — reading about someone else’s OS installs is as bad as watching them happen. Suffice it to say I that over the course of the last 48hrs I’ve done five OS installs on two different machines.

The final installs went easy. First, I moved my new drive to my production machine. Did you know that some PC power cable builders alternate the direction of the notches on their daisy-chained plugs? First one has them pointing down. Second one, three inches along on the cable, has them pointing up (as if you were going to install the drive upside down) and you have to rotate the already-short cable to attach them. Just thought I’d mention that. Then I installed Ubuntu 14.04 from disk. Then I had a fight with the boot loader over which drive to boot from.

It turns out I like U14 even less than I like U12. The icons are obnoxious. It forces Thunderbird on you. It … I can’t remember all the reasons. The reason being, it took me about ten minutes to decide to dump Ubuntu for OpenSUSE*. Two hours later, and I have an operating operating system.

OpenSUSE isn’t perfect. They let you log in as root instead of forcing sudo on you, a dangerous practice. Their fonts are too small. The KDE desktop organizer is a little funky. The way one finds applications to run is also odd. The screen saver settings aren’t cooperating, so it still blanks out after five minutes. I have not yet tried to get the mailer working. I still have to install Chromium. Anki doesn’t have a version of their flash card software for OpenSUSE like they do for Ubuntu, so I’m using the browser version (and have installed the desktop version on my Windows machine).

On the other hand, Firefox works, and Opera (except that they’re not using the latest Flash plugin), and I can see the old drive, so it was a trivial matter to copy all the files over to the new Home folder. The user interface has a nice retro-unix feel to it, with grey pulldowns and raised check boxes and radio buttons that show a black dot when selected. Takes me back forty years.

Complete with chameleon mascot

Complete with chameleon mascot
(click to embiggen)

* I decided not to go with Mint, because they’re a Ubuntu variant, and I wasn’t sure what baggage that would involve.

MH370: Reuters gets it wrong

June 28, 2014

…and so does Slate.

On Thursday, the Australian Transportation Safety Board released a report (5MB .pdf) detailing how they decided on the next search location in the hunt for flight MH370.

The report is an outstanding example of how to do these things. Assumptions are defined, logic trails are laid out, what is known is kept separate from what is unknown. It’s a far cry from the joke that was the Indonesian government’s report.

On page 34 (39th page of the .pdf) they describe their End of Flight Scenario. But first, they put in a disclaimer:

Note: Given the imprecise nature of the SATCOM data, it was necessary to make some assumptions regarding pilot control inputs in order to define a search area of a practical size. These assumptions were only made for the purposes of defining a search area and there is no suggestion that the investigation authority will make similar assumptions.

Got that? “We had to narrow down the options, so we chose this one“. It was at he top of the section, and it was in boldface. They then go on to say:

Given these observations, the final stages of the unresponsive crew/ hypoxia event type appeared to best fit the available evidence for the final period of MH370’s flight when it was heading in a generally southerly direction:

Immediately after their scenario description, they insert another boldface disclaimer:

Note: This suggestion is made for the sole purpose of assisting to define a search area. The determination of the actual factors involved in the loss of MH370 are the responsibility of the accident investigation authority and not the SSWG.

So, what’s the Reuters headline? “Malaysia jet passengers likely suffocated, Australia says“. And the article, unlike many on the web, tracks with the headline — everybody was incapacitated by hypoxia. And what’s the Slate headline? “MH370 Passengers “Most Likely” Died of Hypoxia Before Crash, Report Says“. They go on to say “It does not appear to have suggested why passengers and crew might have lost access to oxygen.” Translation: it was a story that was too good to check, so we didn’t read the report.

The fact is, the passengers and crew could have been unresponsive because they were dead of hypoxia, or because they were dead of a murder-suicide, or because the crew was locked in the cockpit playing honeymoon bridge while the passengers were relaxing in the back with their small lemon-soaked paper napkins.

We don’t know what happened. The scenario is one that fits what’s known, so let’s use that to extrapolate what’s unknown. And then we’re at the mercy of the media.

Cabbage Broth Oatmeal

June 26, 2014

As a result of harvest ops in the garden, I had a large supply of the outer leaves of the harvested cabbage — edible, but tough and fibrous (like kale, but without the foodster panache). I thought I’d try using them to make broth for my morning oatmeal. So I took half a dozen biggish leaves, tore them into cookable chunks, and ran them through the pressure cooker for half an hour. The only additive was salt.

The broth was … exceedingly cabbagy. The smell permeated the kitchen for days. The meal was:

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of cabbage broth, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: Meh. Bland, with cabbage. Adding pepper helped. Adding cheese helped. A second pass, adding pepper and sage and garlics and such … needed cheese. Perhaps if I added more ingredients when making the original broth. Things like onions and carrots and the like. I think I’ll put that off for another day.

Rating: *****

Kicking and Screaming into the Future: Part 3, the Journey Pauses

June 25, 2014

While we are writing wamilditing waititors waiting for the new drive to arrive, let’s take a spin through Ubuntu 12.04 and see what’s what.

First of all, I’m not a fan of the new iconic toolbar. I can see why you need it — it saves vertical screen real estate, but a sidebar really demands icons. I just don’t like it.

Second, I deplore the trend towards auto-extend menus that pop up the instant your cursor tip runs across them. If I make a big, sweeping move from the R/H screen to somewhere on the lower L/H side of the L/H screen I’m sure to fire off three or four menus enroute, end up blocking the place I wanted to click. It reminds me of HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy:

For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive – you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same programme. Douglas Adams HHGG

Speaking of programmes, I fixed the sound issue — I had patched the headphone output into the mic input so I could collect anime OP and ED songs. Somewhere on U10 there was a setting that let me hear the music as well, but I can’t find it on U12. Hopefully it’s still there.

I’m also not happy about the move away from Evolution, and the associated decay of my mail client. I’m not trying to fix stuff right now, but I may be forced into Thunderbird mail when I go to U14. Until then, I’ll just have to put up with U12 sticking almost all my mail in the fake spam folder, and marking it as read. Evolution has also gotten flakey about demanding that I use a contacts email address when it finds one. If I want to send an email to, say,, and all I have in the contacts list is, then it will not let me type that, unless I put a space after the @ sign, type the address, and delete the space. On the other hand, it’s no longer sticking egregious commas into some of my addresses. It used to be that if I typed and hit [Tab] it would come out as old,, with an error message about old not being a proper address.

I severely dislike Gnome’s decision to save the planet by turning off my monitor screens when I’m not active, instead of letting me run my 10GB collection of Earth-, Space-, and OldNavy- porn photos as a screen saver. I know we don’t need such things any more, but they provide mild entertainment for when I’m in the room but not at the keyboard. I’m sure there’s a slideshow app that will do the same thing, when I click on it. I’m also sure that turning off the monitors will save zillions of dollars in power, globally. But damnit, I want to make that decision! I don’t want some faceless collective to do it for me.

Finally, there’s something now wrong with my keyboard function. Every so often, the cursor makes a break for the top of the page. I had to retype the previous paragraph twice, and correct the first sentence three times, because the cursor did a top-pop while I was typing with my head down. It is not my hardware — happens on both a wireless and a straight USB plugin keyboard. Happens in various browsers (although it seems worst in Opera…sigh). It’s quite a sight to see, when it dashes to the top of my RSS feeds –14000 unread messages.

Also, the system now does not recognize the [left-shift-@] keyboard combo. I first encountered this in Evolution, when typing an email address, but it turns out it’s true across all almost all applications — text edit, Firefox (gmail recognizes it in the search bar, not in a text box), LibreOffice. In addition, it doesn’t recognize the [Page Down] key on when browsing. [Spacebar] works, [Page Up] works.  I suspect it’s a Java issue, but again, am not going to mess with things until U14.

And if U14 continues to be a mess, then there’s always Mint or OpenSuSe. I mean, if I have to do a totally new install, with all the reconstruction pain that implies, I might as well try something new.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 22, 2014

Garden Report for 140623

The weather this week started out with two days of cold and windy rain, and ended with sunny skies and an 80F high. The early part was good for the cabbages, but the rain rotted the bottoms of a couple of the iceberg lettuce.

I harvested two of the four remaining cabbage. They had a leaf-spread of a couple of feet, but by the time I was done stripping it down, each one was the size of a softball. I am going to make broth in the pressure cooker, using the outer leaves. They are reportedly edible, but tough and fibrous and the goal will be to just extract the flavor. (<spoiler>it didn’t work</spoiler>) Speaking of tough and fibrous, some of our leaf lettuce is starting to bolt, and now that we’re coming on for high summer I suspect the rest will go quickly. More salads!

The squash are poised to take over everything but haven’t made their move yet. There’s a good five or six pie pumpkins developing on each pumpkin plant. Unfortunately, the squirrels seem to think they’re peanuts, until they’ve picked them. No sign of fruit on any of the others, but at least they retained their blossoms during the cold spell.

The tomatoes, likewise, kept their flowers, and the Napa Grape already has half a dozen small …um… grape-like … fruit.

Kicking and Screaming into the Future: Part 2, the Journey Continues

June 21, 2014

After a short stop in our non-stop journey to the future, we proceeded to move onward and upward, from Ubuntu 12.4 to 14.04.

Not so fast, cowboy.

So, it turns out (you’ll see that phrase a lot in this set of essays) that everything did not go smoothly with the online upgrade. How do I know?

First, is the calm silence, broken only by the hum of the fan. No beeps, boops, or blats. In fact, no audio. At all. Played around with some of the settings, to no avail. That’s OK, I’ll wait ’till I get the 14.04 upgrade installed, and then I’ll worry.

Second, no 14.04 install. I tried the quickie online upgrade route, the one that went so well for 12.04, and it failed at the setup stage. Something about not being able to calculate the install and maybe it was unresolved dependencies, but maybe it was non-Ubuntu software. Update manager says no problems with dependencies, and there’s not a lot of stuff that I’ve gone out and dug up on my own. The Opera browser, maybe. AnkiDeck for my flashcards. Not much else. I suspect that something went wrong with the 12.04 upgrade. Not horribly wrong, but wrong enough.

So, what is to be done?, as Lenin would say. Having looked at the Ubuntu Upgrade forums leading entry “I upgraded my machine and now I have this problem”, it looks like I’m back to downloading the new OS, burning it to disc, and doing a fresh install. For the Windows snickerers, this is much like going from XP to Win8. The question is, how to do it?

The reason that’s a question is that I’m a cautious suspenders and belt kindof guy. I’d rather not end up with a blown 14.04 install and no machine. OK, the other reason is, I’ve been thinking of upgrading my hard drive anyway. So, I’ve just now ordered a new TB drive from Amazon, and when it comes (end of the week), I’ll plug it in and install the new OS on it. If something goes wrong, I just change the boot order back.

Sounds like a plan. Time for bed.

Kicking and Screaming into the Future: Part 1, the Journey Begins

June 20, 2014

I severely dislike upgrading my operating system. There’s so much at stake and so much that can go wrong that I put it off as long as possible. Longer, even. Herewith a brief account of how I got from There to Here. In the future.

I bought my present Linux box from System76 about four years ago — two generations of Moore’s Law. It came with 8GB of memory and a 2.67 quad core chip running 64-bit Ubuntu 10.04LTS. Not a screamer, but good enough. The biggest change from today’s boxen is that now the cpu’s are running 25% faster. Of course Ubuntu is now at version 14.04LTS. The easiest way to get from 10 to 14, it says here, is via online update to 12.

I started by backing up my stuff. Turns out, I’ve got a lot of stuff, and not a lot of places to put it. I pay for 100GB on DropBox, so that’s the first step. Of course, I’ve got a lot more than 100GB of stuff, so I can only put part of it up in the cloud. That was the plan, and the plan worked. Sortof. You see, your ISP (mine is Centurylink) only promises you fast downloads. Uploads go at a tenth the speed, if that. A day later, DropBox was still trudging through my collection of EarthPorn landscape photos, what I use for my screen saver. I also have a NAS with a fair bit of space on it, so the rest of the files go there. That solved the problem, and I didn’t have to move stuff over to my Windows box, or to MJ’s machine, or resurrect my external drive enclosure.

Came Der Tag, and I opened the Update window and clicked on the “12.02 is available” button. After a bit of palavering, it told me that it would take about 9 hours at my current DSL download speeds. No, half an hour. Sorry, five hours. And so forth. As bad as Windows. It ended up taking only about two and a half hours. Roughly. At one point it popped open a modal dialog box the instant I left the room and sat there awaiting my return, so the timings are somewhat estimated.

After the download came the install. Since all the software was on the PC, and it wasn’t pulling packages from hither and yon, the displayed two-hour install time was pretty accurate. Towards the end, it asked me about keeping old or installing new versions of config files. I told it to install new files, except for GRUB, where I told it to keep the old one, silly old me.

Install was done and reboot was run and …. there I was, looking at a black screen with a blinking cursor. Did I mention I hate upgrading my OS? I tried the old “hold down [right-shift] at the precise 3-second interval” trick. That gave me a black screen, the words “Loading GRUB”, and a blinking cursor. My guess is that the old GRUB config file confused it.

My usual response to this kind of infelicity is to pop over to the Ubuntu Forums and dig around. None of the posts in the “Installations & Upgrades” forum quite covered it, so I posted a query. Six hours later (those guys are good) I had my answer — Boot Repair Disk. This is a free utility that you download, burn to disk, and use to boot your ailing PC. It has an autofix tool that fixes you right up. It almost took longer to download than it did to update.

So, here we are, at the first stop on our non-stop trip to the future. I’m going to play with 12.04 for a day or so, and then do an online upgrade to 14.04. I mean, the worst is over, and what could possibly go wrong?

Veterans and Entitlements

June 17, 2014

In the almost-century that tha VA, or its components, has existed, it’s never been adequately funded to meet its responsibilities. In typical fashion, Congress has ignored it, except when some scandal has forced their hands. In the most recent decade, they have consistently refused to provide funding for those thousands of veterans injured in America’s Longest War. It took a series of vets dying practically on Senator John McCain’s lawn to trigger the latest stopgap measure. And stopgap it is, and no, it won’t be followed up on, not once the November elections are past.

Despite that, some Republican lawmakers still found it necessary to carp about the cost and the open-endedness of it all. Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, a state kept afloat by Army, Navy, and Air Force bases, found it in his heart to say:

“I feel strongly we’ve got to do the right thing for our veterans. But I don’t think we should create a blank check, an unlimited entitlement program, now,”

Blank check. Entitlements. You know, Senator Sessions, every serviceman and -woman signs a blank check upon entry onto active duty. That check says they will obey all lawful orders given by their superiors. If those orders require that they die carrying them out, well, they knew that when they signed up. You can see it in the kinds of orders that are sometimes given: “hit the beach”, “take that hill”, “hold until relieved”, “come on you bastards, ya wanna live forever?”. The Coast Guard, responsible for rescuing mariners in trouble, no matter what the sea state, has a saying: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.”

We’re not that far past the anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the turning point of WWII in the Pacific. My father was with the Marine Defense Battalion on Midway Island during the battle. His introduction to it was his commander saying to them while they were still in Hawaii, three months after the fall of Wake Island, “You lads want to go bait a trap?” One of the heroic stories of the battle itself was the performance of Navy torpedo squadron VT-8. Torpedo 8 is famous because they pressed home their attack in the face of overwhelming fire, every plane was shot down, and only one man survived. What normally isn’t said is the fact that they knew, when they took off from their carrier, that if the Japanese fleet was where we thought it was, they wouldn’t have enough gas to get back. They still went. Blank check.

So yes, Senator Sessions, Senator Johnson, Senator Corker, we should create a blank check for these people. We should create an unending entitlement, because they did the same for you, in all your foreign wars and adventures. It’s one of the costs of engaging in those wars, a cost that should be fully recognized at the start. If you can order them in harm’s way, you can damn well care for what comes back. It’s their right. They’re entitled.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 16, 2014

Garden Report for 140616

June gloom was a little late arriving this year, but last week made up for it, with gloomy, blustery, sometimes-rainy days. Highs haven’t been above 62F this week. Next week will start out the same, but should warm rapidly.

The garden keeps on. Over half the squash and tomatoes have blossoms, but I worry that the recent lows in the 40’s might re-set their clocks. Harvested a couple of the cabbages — by the time I’d stripped off the outer, unappetizing leaves I was down to a head smaller than my fist. Some of the icebergs have actually headed, but loosely. You wouldn’t buy them in the store, but they make good-looking salads, being a little greener than the store-bought heads.

This is late and short. Last week was Finals, and this week is The Assigning of the Grades and The Arguing With The Students. In between, we had commencement. Now I know why the 14th Century academics wore those long, heavy robes.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 8, 2014

Garden Report for 140609

The weather this week was the inverse of the week before. We started out hot and got cooler. Next week will be the same, they say.

Not much doing, gardenwise. I’m harvesting huge heads of icebergs, except that they’re not ‘headed’. About to plant a third tranche of lettuce, due out in August. Other things are also growing apace — half my tomatoes have blossoms, as do a couple of squash. I ripped a bunch of bolted brassicae out of Section 2. As an example of the impact of the heat, the broccoli florets developed already spaced out. Saturday, I found one head, slightly bigger than a cherry tomato, that hadn’t exploded yet. MJ and I split it.

My adventure for this week was fixing another hose break. Not an actual break, but the ageing hose slipped off one of the connectors. None of the hose clamps I had was big enough (I have both broad gauge and narrow gauge soaker hoses), so I bought a new one and went to put it on. Unfortunately, my injured shoulder (see last week’s entry) wasn’t up to the torque needed to hold the tab of the clamp in place while holding the hose solidly enough to use the screwdriver. I had to rest it on the netting support, where I could bring straighter pressure to bear, and in doing so, I messed up:

If you don't pay attention, things can get misaligned

If you don’t pay attention, things can get misaligned

Sorry, I’ll write that again:

Sorry. Here's what happens when you don't pay attention

Sorry. Here’s what happens when you don’t pay attention

I guess you could call it high-drip irrigation.

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2014

June 8, 2014

The season is drawing to a close, and I’m still dropping shows. These are ones that I kindof watched, sometimes over halfway through, but then the inertia died and I got bored and wandered off…I guess.

Brynhildr in the Darkness – Presumably dead or dying girls brought back to life and experimented upon (Gunslinger Girls trope, with superpowers) by secret government project. Some escape and get chased down and killed. Others escape and join the Astronomy Club. Flopped back and forth between gratuitous violence and gratuitous fanservice.

Chaika–The Coffin Princess – Granddaughter of dead and dismembered evil emperor wanders around with an anti-tank gun-shaped magical weapon in a coffin-shaped carrier, trying to collect grampa-parts for burial. Unlike most magical weapons, this one seems to require a pre-firing checklist and spin-up time, which was really cool. And then … um… there were some characters…and…a…um…plot.

The World is Still Beautiful – Spunky teenage daughter of small, cloud producing country, having lost a game of Jan-Ken-Pon to her sisters, is married off to the 12-year-old king of seriously big, seriously dry country that (through his presumably precocious efforts) has conquered most of the rest of the world. Her skills apparently include understanding lonely 12 year old absolute monarchs, and making it rain by singing poorly written J-Pop in bad English. I guess the point of this Seattle-Los Angeles romance is that there’s no problem a nice cold shower can’t solve.

Nanana’s Buried Treasure – Ghost of a cute teenage girl haunts an apartment complex after her precursor buried powerful artifacts all over an artificial island, leaving them protected by hidden high tech puzzles, any one of which would require a major construction project coordinated by a general contractor. Many years later, an “Adventure Club” of other teenagers hunts them down, in a this-should-be-in-a-museum style. Meanwhile, crime gang works at infiltration and theft of the artifacts. Some interesting plot twists, but what a waste of a good character — videogame-playing teenage-girl-ghost acts as nothing more than a story arc hook and plucky comic relief.

The perils of computer laziness

June 7, 2014

Ubuntu updates regularly, but does provide LTS (Long Term Support) for versions that come out in even-numbered years. So, rather than updating the OS annually, it’s possible to wait a couple of years, and update with the new LTS. For servers, LTS is four years. For desktops, I guess it’s only two.

In any event, I’m still running Ubuntu 10.4, and the rest of the world just moved on to 14.4. Given that, it’s not surprising that the latest security patch (Linux has been bepesterd by them of late) broke my copy of 10.4. Broke it as in “the mouse and keyboard don’t work and I can’t open or change any files or even log in”.

This, of course, at the start of the weekend before finals, and half an hour before my formal blood pressure check (it was a little high).

The problem turns out to be fixable — hit [shift-escape] [right-shift] on bootup, pick the older kernel from the Grub menu to get in, then edit the Grub defaults to always boot from that kernel. This, of course is a stopgap until I can get the end-of-term chores out-of-the-way.

It took me about two hours to get things sorted out. The first hour I was thrashing around on my own, trying the original install disk and so forth, and the second hour was a more methodical combing through the Ubuntu Forums. Well, OK, there was also an additional half-hour of trying to hit [shift-escape] [right-shift] at the exact millisecond I was supposed to — my twitch muscles weren’t twitching too well. You see, since it’s a Linux-only box, I’ve turned all the Grub menus off, so there’s no indication of when I should twitch and no delay to allow me to do it.

Turns out that I wasn’t the only one with this problem, and there was a certain amount of forum snarking at us for not updating on schedule. But updates are fraught with their own problems, problems I was too lazy to want to encounter. Turns out, that was a mistake.

So, come mid-June, I’ll be installing 12.4 on my machine, and then 14.4 on both mine and MJ’s. And next time? I’ll be upgrading to 16.4.

UPDATED: to correct the key you should hit. Not sure how that happened, except that I had a fight with WordPress’ html interpreter over whether or not I could use <> as delimiters and that distracted me.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 1, 2014

Garden Report for 140602

And Bang! we go from spring to summer. Last Wednesday it was 57F. Sunday it was 77F.

Not as solid as it looked

Not as solid as it looked
(click to embiggen)

Nice soil, though

Nice soil, though

One learns a lot from a garden. Here’s what I learned on Saturday:

1. a pair of 2x4s can be heavy and cumbersome (left)

2. dry-laid cinder-block can be unstable when subjected to lateral overturning force (right)

3. KHG components like phone books really do decompose into soil (bottom).

4. Also, old shoulder injuries never really heal.

In addition to de-Hadrianizing my KHG, I’m pulling out all of the brassicae, except maybe the cabbage. That’s an experiment that doesn’t need to be repeated. Maybe put in the next increment of peas and/or beans. Problem was, the early stuff was due to be harvested in 40-70 days. At Day 40 there wasn’t anything remotely harvestable of the cauliflower and broccoli. At Day 60, they had bolted. It gets too hot too soon, here in the NENW.

The lettuce is going wild. I’m going to have to give some away. The iceberg has shown no interest in heading, but it’s still very good and very crispy, if you put it in the fridge for a while before serving.

As everyone says, there’s a rhythm to gardening. The greenhouse goes up early in the spring, and comes down a month later, when the plants go in the ground. The anti-squirrel mesh goes up when I do my initial planting, and comes down a month later, when the plants are big enough to fight off the squirrels. You know the mesh I’m talking about — a four-foot wide strip of chicken wire, stapled to two, eight-foot 2x4s. They’re heavy. And cumbersome.