I Will Be Buying a New Laptop Soon

Around tax day the file system on my laptop starting going into read-only mode. I followed the directions I used the last time this happened in 2016.

That trick worked a few times. After the first time I got an external hard drive from Best Buy and saved everything I could onto it. I already had an external hard drive, but I decided to get another one. The easiest way to manage risk is redundancy and spare capacity. After a few times of running fsck the machine stopped booting up.

I will go with another machine from System76. I have been happy with my Meerkat, and I think it is important to support a Linux vendor. I asked on the System76 subreddit about using a laptop for AI work, and the consensus is that AI work should be left to desktops. I will probably get a system that can hold 64 GB of memory.

I thought about getting another system from Discount Electronics, but they do not always have systems that can handle 64 GB of memory.

I did look again at Star Labs Systems, but it would take at least two months to get a decent machine. Maybe they need time to access the Chip Force (perhaps they should call the STAR Labs on Earth Prime). Even a machine from System76 will take two weeks. So far I have had no issues with my Meerkat, but I prefer having two systems.

A few years ago I was at a meetup talking to another member, and we started talking about what systems would be like in the future. I pointed out all the Apple fanbois thought when the iPad came out that nobody would be buying desktops or laptops in five to ten years; obviously that prediction turned out to be wrong [Note 1]. He thought that we might just plug our phones into ports. I think it would be neat if there were stations at companies, hotels, conferences, and else where set up for minis, like the Meerkat, the Librem Mini, systems by SimplyNUC, or the Focus NX [Note 2]. There could be a power outlet, with monitor, mouse, keyboard and other peripherals accessible via cables and a USB port. It would have more capacity than a phone, and it could fit in a bag. I thought a mini could be inserted into a slot, but that might cause heat issues. The user would have to have a decent firewall.

I remember lugging around a massive desktop for a project at school around 2000 or 2001. The fact that these small systems are beyond what was available then is amazing.

I just have to get over being depressed about spending a lot of money before I make the purchase.

You’re welcome.

Note 1: It is amazing how many Apple users will pride themselves for being skeptical of Microsoft and mock MS fanbois for not having thoughts that do not come from MS, but then turn around and will not say whether or not the sun is out unless their iJunk tells them it is. Let’s not forget: Blow Jobs criticized MS for their lack of taste, not their business practices.

Note 2: Is the Focus NX the first Warp 5 mini?

Image from Grec 1208, a 12th-century manuscript housed at Bibliothèque nationale de France; image from Gallica BnF, assumed allowed under public domain.

I Now Own Only Linux Machines

About nine months ago I got a small desktop computer running Linux from a company in Colorado named System76. I got the Meerkat. I still have to use Windows for work, but after about 21 years of either dual-booting or having one each of Linux and Windows, my machines are now free of Microsoft.

There is a saying that BSD is for people who like Unix, and Linux is for people who hate Windows. Either way works for me. One reason I went with System76 is that I wanted to buy something with Linux pre-installed [Note 1]. I think it is important to send a market signal that there is demand for Linux. Yes, I could buy something with Windows on it and install Linux. But I am tired of installing OSes. And it does not seem as easy as it used to be. I know that Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) has replaced BIOS. I think I do not quite get the difference between a BIOS and a UEFI, and I do not care. I do not want to spend my time with low-level stuff. I have read some articles and comments that UEFI makes it harder to install Linux (or at least it did: see articles here and here). I think for a while Microsoft was the only UEFI signing authority.

Some people have suggested that I go for Apple. From one proprietary vendor to another. How much money does MS get for a laptop with Windows pre-installed? Maybe $50 or $100? Giving Apple an extra $1000 to not give MS $100 does not seem smart, especially when Apple is not what I really want anyway.

I also wanted to get away from Ubuntu. So far I have liked it, but I do not like working with snaps (see Hacker News posts here, here, here and here). They use a lot of disk space, sometimes they use up a lot of memory, and they tend to update whenever they want and not what the user wants, sort of like Windows. System76 has an Ubuntu derivative named Pop!_OS (page here, subreddit here; and yes, the exclamation point and underscore are part of the name) and it does not use snaps. Another Ubuntu derivative named Linux Mint has also dropped snaps (HN threads here and here). If I had to install, I think I would go with Mint.

Before this I had two laptops: one I got used in 2017 from a local vendor named Discount Electronics that I installed Ubuntu on that I used as my main system, and one that I got in 2014 running Windows 8 that I mostly used to collect podcasts and watch videos. The Windows laptop was getting slower and slower, the battery stopped working a long time ago, and it would update whenever it wanted. When it tried to update, I used to try to tell it to update in 5 or so hours, but then it would bug me again five minutes later. Typical Windows: doing what it wants, and not what I want. At some point, it took so long to start up I thought that it was only a matter of time until it died and I should replace it soon.

I looked around for a few vendors. I asked on a local list about minis [Note 2] and laptops. I mentioned System76 and the Librem Mini by Purism. Someone else mentioned minis by Simply NUC. Other Linux vendors include KFocus by MindShare, Tuxedo Computers, Raptor Computing Systems (their systems run Linux on Power chips and are very expensive) and Starlabs Systems (their systems do not contain dark matter). Lenovo sells system in the US, but a lot of people do not trust them. Although I did not go with Ubuntu, they do have a list of hardware certified to run Ubuntu; it is a good resource to have if you want to install something a distro derived from Ubuntu.

I like the Meerkat. I had to buy a USB port because it did not have enough ports for me (sometimes I hook in a flash drive and headphones while my mouse and keyboard are hooked in). I also had to get an adapter to go into the USB port because the audio jack was not compatiable with my speakers. It seems to add OS updates more frequently than I expected (not necessarily kernel updates, but other packages it labels as part of the OS), and I am not able to make a few small configurations that I can on my Ubuntu machine. For some reason there are two Emacs installations on the system. And it still comes with vi installed. But other than that, I am happy with it and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a Linux system. I like the fact that OS updates might require a restart, but I can put that off as long as I want.

To sum up, I like System76. As ads would say in the days of yore, they are purveyors of fine Linux machines, and make systems that can handle your computing needs.

You’re welcome.

Note 1: I posted a question asking for recommendations for Linux machines. I said I wanted to buy something pre-installed. Someone asked me why. Why not? I am tired of installing OSes. I do not want to get something to have an excuse to install an OS. I have done more times than I wanted to, I never learned anything from it, and I am tired of doing it. I realize that somebody has to know how to do it. That does not mean everybody has to know it.

In the past I have asked people if there are routers with Linux pre-installed, mentioning that while I could install Linux, I have no desire to do so. Almost every time, some idiot says, “Why not install OpenWrt?” Because I am sick of installing OSes. If someone says, “I do not want to do X”, and you suggest, “Why not do X?”, you are not insightful, you are not funny, you are just being a jerk. Or at best obtuse

Note 2: Some jackass replied “Eric, you’ve got to make sure you keep your terms proper and straight. A mini-computer is one step up from a PC, and the next step to a main frame. These are very much like running a very big system.” First off, Dick, we are not friends. I have no idea who you are. Do not refer to me on a mailing list by my first name. Your parents must have seen the future when they decided to name you “Richard”. Secondly, the vendors call them minis. That works for me.

Most of the responses were constructive. Just not that guy.

For a community that talks a lot about freedom, some Linux people have very rigid ideas about how other people are supposed to act.

Here are links to the System76 subreddit and the Pop!_OS subreddit.

Image of the women at the tomb from Poussay Gospels, a 10th century manuscript now housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, image from Biblissima Portal, assumed allowed under Public Domain. Telling people that death has been conquered seemed like an appropriate image.

May 2020 Update

I got a Pluralsight membership for a year. It was 30% off.

Right now I am going through some Java 8, Spring and microservices tutorials. My Java skills are out of date. After that, I think I will look at some Go again. There is one on microservices in Go that looks interesting.

I still would like to get through all the books in “The Little Schemer” series and then go through SICP. But sometimes I wonder if spending all that time on Scheme may have been a mistake. Perhaps I should have just been building some web apps in Clojure. Maybe going for “enlightenment” was not the best idea.

I have also been struggling with updating my laptop to the latest version of Ubuntu. I think the issue might be that I have snap disabled. There were a few stories on Hacker News that convinced me to disable snap (see here and here), and now I cannot upgrade.

For my next laptop, I plan on buying one with Linux pre-installed. I might get a Dell, but since they only offer Ubuntu I might go with another vendor. I am looking at System76 (submissions to Hacker News at this page) or Purism (Hacker News submissions at this page). They both offer systems with either Ubuntu or their own Linux. I think in both cases their OSes are derived from Ubuntu. Purism’s is PureOS, and System76’s is PopOS.

One thing I would really like is to be able to disable the mousepad. If I don’t attach a USB keyboard, I always hit the mousepad with my thumb. In all seriousness, who came up with that gesture anyway? It’s not like anyone ever lifts up their mouse and puts it down.

You’re welcome.

Image from the Morgan Beatus, a 10th century manuscript of ‘Commentary on the Apocalypse‘, written in the 8th century by Beatus of Liébana; image from Arachne, licensed under Creative Commons License (BY-NC-ND 3.0).

2017-10-22 Update

There is not a whole lot to report this week. Not much progress on the Clojure front.

I did upgrade one of my laptops to the newest version of Ubuntu. I will use some of the updated packages to update my firewalls to nftables, although I have a feeling there will be more work that just running the scripts on the nftables website. This is part of completing my Groovy mail server.

Once I do that, I plan on running another mail server in another domain so I can send emails with TLS and not worry about getting banned. I hope mail-in-a-box is as easy as it sounds.

You’re welcome.

Image from an 11th century manuscript housed at the Bavarian State Library, webpage information here, image from World Document Library, image assumed allowed under Fair Use.

2017-09-17 Update: Updating Ubuntu

This week (and especially this weekend) were not too productive. I was hoping to look at some Clojure libraries for TensorFlow.

But I started out updating one of my laptops to Ubuntu 17, and I was unable to log in. So I downloaded Ubuntu Gnome and spent a lot of time trying to get that right. I hate hate hate the default Gnome window manager (I think it is called “mutter”). I tried to switch to another window manager, locked myself out, and then I tried to install Mint.

For some reason I was not able to burn the iso files, so I re-installed Ubuntu Gnome and figured out how to get compiz t work to make it somewhat usable.

I also thought about working on an nftables firewall, but there are some migration utilities that will be available in the next version of Ubuntu. I think the next version is coming out in a month.

You’re welcome.

Image from Evangeliary of Michaelbeuern, an 11th century manuscript housed at Bavarian State Library, webpage information here, image from World Document Library, image assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Computer Names

I have going through backup CDs and DVDs lately. Some of the files were tar files. The names of the tar files had names of my computers as part of them. I have had a lot of computers over the past decade, desktops and laptops, running Linux and Windows.

Here are some of the computer names that I found:

  • Juarez
  • Freecity
  • Jolene
  • Saigon
  • Washington
  • Duain
  • Finance
  • Rebirth
  • Slick
  • Latitude

Update 2023-07-31_17.15.59:

I now use a random word generator to select my machine names. My current machines are:

  • Highway
  • Refinery

You’re welcome.

Image from Gospel of Lorsch, a 12th century manuscript housed at Bavarian State Library, webpage information here, image from World Document Library, image assumed allowed under Fair Use.

2017-05-01 Update

Per the advice of Nathan Marz and Dan Vega, I will try to blog more often.

I got a new laptop. At least new to me. My main laptop was starting to use the battery even if the charger was still plugged in. I took it to Discount Electronics, and they couldn’t find anything wrong. But I saw a used Dell for a good price. I asked how much would it cost with more memory and a 500GB hard drive, and it was still a good price. Cheaper than a new one.

From what I understand, UEFI and Secure Boot have made installing Linux a bit trickier than before. It used to be that you could just go to Best Buy, get a random laptop, put in an install DVD, and keep hitting “Next” until you had Linux installed. This seems like a step backwards. Some admins say “all you need to do is hit F$RANDOM_NUMBER, so into the BIOS and disable Secure Boot.” I am tired of going into the BIOS. That reminds me of what installing Linux used to be like.

If I buy a laptop with Linux pre-installed, I will probably go to System 76.

After installing, I locked myself out of my laptop because the GUI would not start. I went with Ubuntu, and usually one of the first things I do is get rid of Unity. I have never liked it. I ran a few commands to get rid of it, but when I rebooted I got a black screen. So I had to re-install and try again.

Now it looks like Ubuntu is dropping Unity. Fine with me.

For future reference, the magic command is:

apt-get install gnome-session-flashback

You’re welcome.

Image from “Evangelia quattuor [Évangiles de Lothaire] (3v-207r). Capitulare evangeliorum (207v-221v)”, a 9th century manuscript housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF; image assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Rebooting Ubuntu After It Goes Read-Only

Sometimes my Ubuntu laptop malfunctions and the file system goes into read-only mode.

This might mean it’s time to upgrade to a new laptop. Which I will probably do in a few months.

But I want to note how I can get back to normal.

The obvious way is just to reboot. But sometimes the system goes into a initramfs prompt.

To solve the issue, I need the location of my drive in the /dev file system, which I can get by running df -h:

Filesystem                   Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
udev                         2.9G     0  2.9G   0% /dev
tmpfs                        588M  8.9M  579M   2% /run
/dev/mapper/ubuntu--vg-root  453G  407G   23G  95% /
tmpfs                        2.9G  344K  2.9G   1% /dev/shm
tmpfs                        5.0M  4.0K  5.0M   1% /run/lock
tmpfs                        2.9G     0  2.9G   0% /sys/fs/cgroup
/dev/sda1                    236M  119M  105M  54% /boot
cgmfs                        100K     0  100K   0% /run/cgmanager/fs
tmpfs                        588M   52K  588M   1% /run/user/1000
/home/ericm/.Private         453G  407G   23G  95% /home/ericm

The one I want is “/dev/mapper/ubuntu–vg-root”.

So in the initramfs prompt, I run this:

fsck /dev/mapper/ubuntu--vg-root -y

I got this answer from the Ask Ubuntu site (see another answer here). As long as I can access my site from another machine, I should be able to solve this.

I may need to get a new laptop soon because sometimes my laptop does not detect the power chord is plugged in, so it starts using the battery.

You’re welcome.

I Got a New Laptop Running Windows 8

Last week my older laptop running Windows XP died. So I got one running Windows 8. The only reason I run Windows is because my mp3 player will not connect to my Linux laptop.

So far, it is okay. I have not worked with the touch screen. I like the fact that if you hit Windows-X you can have the old XP interface. It is nice that Microsoft is actually giving people some degree of choice. I guess that the newer way of doing things might someday become the standard, so I should probably look at it at some point. Maybe it will be like Intel’s Itanium: Consumers will ignore it and it will just die.

When I was setting up my user account it tried to force me to get a Microsoft account. I did some googling on my other machine, and one of the results pointed out there was a link in fine print that would allow me to log in without a Microsoft account. One thing that I did not like was that Windows 8 tried to call the mothership. I have my router set up to only allow explicit ethernet addresses through. But I could not get the ethernet address without logging in, so I had to disable that on my router. I got the ethernet address, entered it, and re-enabled that feature. I am not a security expert. Maybe the Russians are using my WiFi to plan their next invasion of Estonia. But I do not like doing something that I know for sure will make me less secure.

I then downloaded Firefox, the JDK, and a few other apps that I use, like jEdit and aTunes. For one of those, I downloaded an installer from Sourceforge by mistake that installed a browser add-on called mysearchdial. I got id of it from Firefox. I was only able to disable it in IE. I have not figured out how to delete it. I was a bit surprised that Sourceforge was installing spyware on machines. It is not that hard to avoid doing it, you just have to be careful what you click on.

But so far Windows 8 seems nice.

Image from “Codicis Theodosiani libri sexdecim”, a 9th century manuscript housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF; image assumed allowed under Fair Use.


Upgraded Ubuntu

I did not get as much done today as I hoped I would. I upgraded my laptop to Ubuntu Precise Pangolin.

First off, it took more than two hours, a lot longer than I thought. Then some things did not work. When I tried to get my laptop to wake up when I lifted up the lid, I did not get a login prompt. I saw the background image, but no prompt. So I had to pull out the plug and removed the battery to restart it. Then I tried the “Unity” interface (which I hate) and I had the same problem. I have to use the “Gnome (No Effects)” interface to login. So far no problems anymore.

I was also not getting my regular wireless network at first. Now I am. The login/bootup process is still pretty slow. But so far things seem okay.

Image from World Digital Library, assumed allowed under Fair Use. Image from the Ashburnham Pentateuch, or Tours Pentateuch, a Latin manuscript of the first five books of the Old Testament from the 6th century or 7th century. Its place of origin is unknown.