Playing catch-up for a bit

After our long, long drive yesterday, I thought this would be a good day to rest and recover. I forgot that I’d brought Mary home. She was out in the garage at 7:30 fueling and oiling the lawn mower, eager to get to work cutting grass. I was not. I have more sedate plans.

  • I was up at 6 tinkering with computers. I’ve mentioned before that my Mac is on its last legs, with keys falling out and mysterious errors cropping up now and then, but the price of replacing it was prohibitive, especially since my disposable income, which wasn’t much to begin with, is flowing outwards to deal with legal debt. After a few days in my daughter’s Reality Distortion Field, in which she pointed out that I could get a high-end Linux machine for a thousand bucks less than my Mac upgrade, I decided to tinker. I installed the free Pop!_OS on an old Windows machine that I found intolerable — Windows is an ugly abomination — and brought it back to life. I’m going to work with it for a while to see if my old brain can readjust itself to use Unix instead of the MacOS, which I hate to say has become increasingly ugly over the years. I despise iTunes almost as much as I do Windows.

  • I’m going to spend some time in the lab this morning giving loving attention to my spiders, who have been neglected now for almost a week. Baby want a snackums? I have some nice flies for you.

  • I will obey my mistress after the spiders are made content. She has assigned me the task of cleaning out and sterilizing the car we spent 14 hours in yesterday. This may require fire.

  • I’ve got this working Raspberry Pi with a NOIR camera that we had set up to take pictures, and I’ve got this spider cage here at home, and now I have to figure out how to mount the camera above it at a reasonable distance that encompasses the whole field of view with reasonable resolution. Alternatively, I may have to build a dedicated cage of smaller size that will compromised between freedom of movement for the spider and adequate field dimensions for this camera. I’m thinking ring stands, tripods, hot glue, and popsicle sticks, because I’m focused on cheap and easy.

  • Mary has been looking at this bachelor pad I’ve been occupying with a glint in her eye. Who knows what she’ll order me to do next?

  • I’ve got some weekend cooking to do. I’ve been frustrated by the lack of garam masala in Morris, so I’d ordered a bunch of it online. Yes, I have a 5 lb bag of garam masala now, in case anyone needs to borrow a cup of it. I hope Mary likes curry.


  1. says

    I hate long road trips, always have. I can’t imagine how tough it is now. It was just you and your wife right? So no kids saying “are we there yet?” the whole time. Glad you guys made it home safe.

  2. leerudolph says

    Who knows what she’ll order me to do next?

    One possible order might involve the words “cat” and “puke”. Just a wild guess…

  3. christoph says

    Here’s a thought about disinfecting the car-just roll up the windows, open the glove compartment and any other storage compartments and leave the car in the hot sun for a few hours. That should kill any lingering viruses. (Remove any candy bars beforehand.)

  4. Sean Boyd says

    I’ll be interested to hear your experience with Pop!_OS. I”d never heard of it before. Generally, I’ve stayed in the Debian ecosphere (Debian itself, Ubuntu, Mint once or twice). The only reason I use Windows these days is work :(

  5. says

    Skatje recommended it, it’s what she’s using now. Very clean and snappy, uses a lot of hotkeys (which I don’t know yet), makes it fast and easy once you’re used to it. I figure I’ll try it for a while, see if it grows on me.

  6. Sean Boyd says

    Looked more closely at Pop!_OS…it IS an Ubuntu derivative, with a Gnome desktop. How old is your Windows machine? Not that I’m anything resembling a tech expert (if techies were like Jedi, I’d have never made knighthood!) but I’ve found Gnome can be a bit sluggish on older desktops. But Gnome is clean looking and simple to use, and as long as you’re not tied to specific programs, it should be a fun transition. And rebuilding your Unix-fu back to its mainframe-era heights shouldn’t be required…the nice thing about your typical Ubuntu-based distro is that you only need dive into command-line gymnastics as much as you want.

  7. wzrd1 says

    @The Vicar, not sure what you mean about Linux being so terrible. It works quite well for me, a power user/systems administrator and my barely computer literate wife.
    Currently, I had a Windows machine, it crapped out, a *BSD machine (I pop a different distro on occasion onto that machine) and the rest are Ubuntu Linux boxes. I really gotta get around to setting up Puppet for patch management, rather than wandering around the place installing patches…

    @PZ, never found garam masala pre-ground, I always bought the whole spice version and grind it myself when I want it.
    You might also want to try some kefir yogurt, olive oil, a vinegar, cumin, chilli pepper, black pepper (if you want it), onion (I like scallions diced from bulb to green), garlic and coriander (greens and seeds if you can get the whole plant, otherwise, the seeds). Let the marinade combine overnight, then put the chicken in for the afternoon. My father tended to not like new foods toward the end, but he, my wife and I nearly caused chicken to become an endangered species! ;)
    Some might also want paprika for color, I was out the last time and it didn’t impact the taste at all.

  8. robro says

    Long road trips could have some significant hurdles. My wife was planning to go to one of her favorite plant nurseries about an hour-and-a-half from us. They told her their bathrooms…portable potties…are closed, and a close by gas station had its bathrooms closed. She nixed the trip. A four hour trip without a pee break could be tough for a 60 year old person with a bladder infection.

  9. jrkrideau says

    @ 7 PZ Myers

    I figure I’ll try it for a while, see if it grows on me.
    It looks interesting, I’ll give it a try. It produces a bootable USB.

    One of the nice things about Linux is that if you do not like on flavour , all it costs is a hour or so of time (and no money) to try another.

  10. says

    Lots of power Windows users thing MacOS looks like an OS made for 6 year olds :-)

    Let the flame war begin!

  11. robro says

    whheydt @ #11

    And–just FYI–MACOS is really just the Apple GUI on top of…BSD unix.

    Strikes me as an oversimplification. It’s a core layer, but there are other pieces (MACH) and components before you get to the GUI.

  12. VP says

    I’m curious as to how your PopOS experiment goes. PopOS is developed by the System76 folks (and Is built on Ubuntu which is probably the best consumer base to build a Linux OS on). If you do end up really liking it you can buy some nice machines which have PopOS installed and integrated from them.

    I would also like to potentially move my Mom to it, especially when her mac dies. She does not use her laptop enough to justify another 1-2000 dollars investment and frankly Linux may be more interesting an option anyways, considering how much MacOS goes out of its way to make life difficult for its users these days.

  13. davidc1 says

    I love American road trips ,i could spend the rest of my life driving them big empty highways you are blessed with .
    Well out in the country ,not so keen in the cities .

  14. billseymour says

    I had a Mac for quite a while and really liked it; but I eventually returned to Windows to escape the worst of vendor lock-in.

    I have a Windows 10 box at work (that’s my employer’s computer, not mine, so I don’t get to say what it is), and I have a couple of laptops at home: a newer box running Windows 10 (which I dislike) and a much older one running Windows 7 (which I dislike less). The new box is the one I use for working from home and the one I have VDI and Zoom installed on.

    I’ve been thinking of getting a solid-state hard drive for the older box and installing some kind of dual-boot software that lets me run both some Unix flavor and Windows. We’ll have to get over the stay-at-home business before I think seriously about that, though.

  15. asteraceae says

    You could also try Xubuntu, which is a very light-weight Xfce UI for Ubuntu. Same package management, etc. as other Debian derivatives like Raspbian. Very attractive, low-stress desktop and simple organization. I’ve been using it for years, on my desktop, laptop and a bunch of old, pathetic EEE PCs which I use for field experiments. It even runs respectably on those.

    I don’t know how anyone uses Mac or Windows anymore. I can get used to Windows, but I never liked OSX even after using it for a couple of years.

  16. hillaryrettig says

    Yeah Linux! I’ve been using it for years. (Ubuntu)

    Does every single thing I need except run Scrivener (for long-form writing). But every time I’m tempted to try Windows or Mac, I take one look at the interface – not to mention, all the proprietary crap – and run away.

  17. hillaryrettig says

    ps – years ago I tried running Scrivener in an emulator window, and it didn’t work well. maybe it’s better now. if anyone has done this successfully on Ubuntu please let me know.

  18. says

    All seriousness aside: Blame the house on the cat. The cat can’t defend himself against that.

    Unix wasn’t designed for mainframes, but for minis. Ya gotta use punchcards for a real mainframe… and learn JCL… I did my first programming before there was a nonproprietary release of any flavor of *nix. Fighting over whether the System 370’s from-manufacturer interface was an improvement over System 360’s was fun enough before Sierra iron started shipping! Especially if there was a DEC sales representative in the room to muck up the conversation further.

    Apple chose to put a “friendlier” user interface on top of the operating system that perfected “user hostile is a feature, not a bug.” That says a lot. About both. (Which is not a defense of the Windoze architecture, either.)

  19. lochaber says

    Welcome to Linux! I’ve been using it since my last Mac crapped out on me about a decade ago. It’s not too difficult to get an inexpensive PC with decent stats, and I can’t stand Windows. It’s like they go out of their way to make it intentionally difficult. Updating it is super easy and quick, none of this Windows nonsense where the computer can do nothing else for a good 10-20 minutes while it downloads, configures, and then restarts multiple times.

    I’ve been using Linux Mint, and it’s been relatively easy. I’m waiting on a new laptop now, and may give Manjaro a try when it arrives. I’ve heard generally good things about Pop!OS. And, when there is a problem, a lot of times googling it turns up a solution.

    The only thing I really miss is the iConcertCal add-on for iTunes. I don’t even know if that works anymore, but I just ended up putting all the artists in my collection in SongKick, and I get an email whenever one of them does a show nearby, it’s been working well enough.

  20. whheydt says

    Re; VP @ #16…
    I don’t know if Ubuntu is the “best” commercial Linux distro, but it does seem to be the most popular. What you might consider for your mother is looking at using a Pi4B running Raspbian. There are some people that post on the RPF forums that use Pis as their primary desktop system. It’ll do pretty much anything you want except play Windows-based games. My 12-year-old grandson is using a Pi4B2 at present as his own machine, for instance.

    And…if you want better performance, a beta test started this week that permits a Pi4B to boot directly from a USB attached mass storage device (MSD). I have a Pi4B4 booting from an HP S600 120GB SSD and a Pi4B2 booting from a WD 314GB PiDrive HDD. Both are working without issues.

    On the general Linux topic… I like Debian because they are more interested in reliability and stability than cutting edge releases. (Ubuntu stays much closer to that cutting edge.) As a result, I’m really happy to be running Raspbian on Pis as it is derived from Debian and follows their major release schedule. A little stodgy for some, but it’s a choice one gets to make.

  21. whheydt says

    Re: Jaws @ #23…
    Yeah… DOS, OS/360, OS/VS1, MVS… JCL can be lots of fun.

    I never had any particular problems with unix, but, then, CLI holds no terrors for me. I still do quite a lot on Linux (Raspbian) using LXterminal. In fact, I just got finished doing a minor upgrade to one of my Pis by adding an RTC (RASclock) to it. Took about 5 minutes, including referencing a guide for how to do it (I don’t do it often enough to do it reliably from memory, but it’s a simple process).

    I first encountered unix when my wife was working for a section of the College of Environmental Design at Berkeley. What they did was manage grants and produce the papers that came out the other end of the process. My wife was–after expressing interest in the idea of using a computer to enter and manage text–given a unix account. I’d get calls asking what something in the manual meant when she ran into a problem. She wound up doing papers using vi, nroff, troff, tbl, and eqn. Later, she wrote a novel using vi and nroff. That start was on bsd 2.9.

  22. says

    {MockHorror} vi and not emacs? no wonder she had to call for help so often! {/MockHorror}

    Nothing to see here, citizens, just inciting another doctrinal holy war! Because we computer folk have nothing better to do.

  23. nomdeplume says

    No, no, no PZ, stay with Apple, the other path will lead you to deep and endless regreats.

  24. says

    I can’t afford Apple anymore. Also, there have been so many bad decisions on Apple’s part in the design of the interface, which used to be crowning glory of the brand.

  25. kaleberg says

    You aren’t the only one who didn’t like iTunes. I gather Apple finally broke it into pieces roughly following the iPhone model, so it’s now a music app, a video app and so on.

    Good luck with Linux. I gather that most distributions are just fine for what most people do on their computer – word processing, image processing, web access, mail and so on. There are some good apps too, like R. (I use too many Mac only applications to consider moving, but that’s me.)

  26. whheydt says

    It occurs to me to point out that the full version of Raspbian includes a package that would be very expensive to add to other systems: Wolfram/Mathematica.

  27. John Morales says

    Me, I never got the hate against Windows.
    Says more about the user than about the system.

    And yeah, Apple stuff was (is?) more-or-less stabler — but that’s because of their “walled garden” model. Doesn’t have to accommodate any amount of 3rd party stuff.

  28. sparks says

    Real glad to hear that your sweetie is back home safe and sound PZ.

    Now, update us on the cat damnit! :)

  29. wzrd1 says

    @30 PZ, Apple in many ways reminds me of HP. Everything was great to operate, configure and use constantly.
    Then, the sales folks got to it and fucked it all the hell up.

    @33 John Morales, I’m fairly OS agnostic. Windows, well that’s job security, as that has a lower MTBF than *BSD based or Linux systems (as was observed above, OSX is a neutered security system version of *BSD, with the window manager being crafted by Apple) by far. So, it’s job security.
    That said, I’ve had MD device configuration butchery from updates on Linux, non-bootable *BSD systems after an update, so it’s all job security to me.
    When I was working, Windows 10 was the OS in the office. At home, it’s Linux, as my MacBook Pro was stolen and I’m just too poor to even think of the modern version (mine was a 2009 vintage) that has less features in the hardware.
    My servers are old Dell PowerEdge 2900 series monsters, dual Xeon and enough RAM added to crunch videos and assorted other tasks, while still serving as general purpose servers, surveillance video server, entertainment system server and heavy data crunching server when I need crunch power (they’re CPU clustered for data crushing).
    So, each to its purpose and preference! The only wrong thing to do with a computer is to try to drive nail home with it. ;)

  30. darth314 says

    I strongly recommend Ubuntu Linux. I use it since years. it ca be installed ony any old PC (except mac, of course). there is a free sowftware for everything. usually way better that the commercial ones.

  31. chrislawson says

    After burning myself too many times with MS and then Apple, I bought a PC laptop and installed a Linux partition. It took a few tries to find a Linux flavour I liked (Mint with Cinnamon, but this is definitely a YMMV). Since then I’ve never been happier. The only significant frustration I have is that some software is just not available on Linux. But since I’ve gone dual-partition, I can always switch back to Windows for the few programs I can’t run in Linux. The only unresolvable is when I want to run MacOS-specific software. Fortunately this is not common.

    This is not to say that everyone should move to Linux. Work out what’s best for you. Remember that Linux is free to try (you don’t need to use commercial distributions — Mint and Elementary are pretty easy to install) so you can always give it a go.

  32. madtom1999 says

    Do you not have Raspbian on your Camera Pi – thats a Linux you can play one. I’ve been coding for over 40 years now and I’ve got a RaspberryPi Zero W ($10?) which I test certain things on under the Raspbian desktop. If it works there it will work anywhere.

  33. mastmaker says

    No, no, no PZ, stay with Apple, the other path will lead you to deep and endless regreats.

    In 2016, I bought a Asus UX360CA for a discounted price (from $750) of $500. I loaded Linux on it and have been using it happily ever since with zero problems. It has m3 processor, 8gb LPDDR3 memory, 256gb SSD, 13.3″ 1920×1080 IPS touchscreen, metal body, very very thin and light (at about 2.8lb), 1 usb-c, 1 mini hdmi, 1 usb 3.1 ports and one SD-card slot. Every single one of those specs is the same as or better than the MacBook Air regular model of the day retailing at twice the price. It is also easier to service/replace parts: just pop a few screws and you’re done. Why would one even look at Apple?

  34. says

    Garam Masala is my absolute favourite spice blend, though i always buy it whole. Aldi regularly has those small pre filled mills on offer with garam masala. But I recently bought a pound of allspice because the other alternative were 19 grams for almost the same money.

  35. garnetstar says

    Apple, both hardware and software, has become so bad that I’ll never buy another device from them. And, I’ve quit using the up-to-date macOS’s because they’re so bad. My favorite OS is actually 10.6.8, from 2011. I use it whenever possible, but it’s rapidly becoming obsolete online. I use a more modern OS when needed, but hate it.
    And, when my old-style (early 2011 and before) hardware dies, I’ll also be going to Linux.
    I’ve never so much as touched any computer other than Apple (starting with Macintosh SE II), but they have lost me as a customer for good. Why would I buy a fantastically expensive computer that is a serious downgrade, both in hardware and software, from what I have?

  36. hillaryrettig says

    @22 jrkrideau – thank you! I tried that a while back and it was flaky. But perhaps should try again.

    Note – I don’t know how to work with linux at all, I’m just a user. someone with more programming skills might have better luck.

  37. whheydt says

    Re: Jaws @ #28…
    It was AT UC Berkeley, where vi was written. Their default terminals were LS ADM3-As, complete with arrows on the hjkl keys. (Bell Labs later failed to write a full screen editor and had to go to the folks at Berkeley to ask for a license for vi…and then mucked around changing the–human readable–termcap into terminfo, a definite step backwards.)

    Re: hillaryrettig @ #23…
    One can do almost everything with a modern Linux through programs with GUIs. Relatively little use of CLI is actually required, though it is useful to learn. If you’re old enough to have used MS-DOS it will look vaguely familiar. A cheap and easy way to get started with Linux is to buy the current headline Pi for $35 (Pi4B2, at the moment), burn the current Raspbian with recommended software to a micro-SD card (16GB is plenty) and away you go. You will need a power supply unit (aka PSU, $8), video cable ($5), a USB mouse (which you may have, otherwise about $5) and a USB keyboard (likewise, otherwise $15 for the Logitech K120 I usually use with Pis). Lot of hand-holding on the initial setup…things like changing the default password, establishing locality, setting WiFi country, and the like, all through a GUI.

    That will give you all the basic functionality of any computer: web browser (Chromium), office suite (LibreOffice), e-mail client (Claws Mail), PDF viewer, file manager, and so on. Plus a lot of programming tools. If you create an account on the RPF forums ( you can get all manner of help, plus a ton of documentation. The RPF actively supports and maintains Raspbian, so package updates, security updates, and new releases are kept current.

  38. whheydt says

    Re: hillaryrettig @ #42 (again)…
    I always think of things I should have said after I post and I can’t go back and add things here…. Oh, Well…

    The Raspberry Pi was specifically developed to allow kids to learn both programming (“coding” in modern parlance) and physical computing. That whole swaths of maker/DIYers and commercial enterprises fell upon it with great cries of glee was an unintended benefit. All those other uses are pretty much why 30+ million of them have been sold. (There are, for instance, reports of Pis being used as control devices in newly developed ventilators.)

    The Raspberry Pi Foundation (RPF), the organization behind the Pi, is a UK educational non-profit. Raspberry Pi Trading (LTD) (RPT) is a wholly owned for profit subsidiary that develops new hardware. All profits go back to the RPF and plowed into education purposes. One of the big things they do is provide free two day seminars for teachers in how to do all manner of things with Pis. They are also publishing extensively and the books and magazines they publish all have free-to-download PDF versions.

    You cite lack of experience with Linux… My grandson, now 12, has been using Pis for the last 6 years without problems. If he can do it, what’s stopping you?

  39. cag says

    #36, I’m running Ubuntu 20.04 on an iMac “Core 2 Duo” 2.66 20-Inch Aluminum (Early 2008/Penryn) 2.66 GHz Intel “Core 2 Duo” processor (E8335). My only issue is that if my Wi-Fi drops while the computer is in suspend, it won’t come back on automatically. As it will be connected by Ethernet, I’m not too concerned. Fairly slow compared to my Ubuntu with a SSD and 8GB ram (home build). The only “complication” was loading the ISO in an IMac format on a USB stick (not hard at all). After that it was a standard USB install.

  40. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To hillaryrettig
    I’m not sure if I should suggest this, but it might be possible to get Scrivener running on Linux via Wine. However, given your stated level of expertise, it might be a little much, and maybe you would be better off dual-booting Windows. However, I’ll float the idea in case you want to spend some time looking at it.

  41. hillaryrettig says

    Thanks whheydt and GerrardOfTitanServer!
    GerrardOfTitanServer – Wine was what I think I tried a while back, and it didn’t work. System got flaky, froze up, etc. It may be that things have improved.

  42. hillaryrettig says

    Thanks whheydt and GerrardOfTitanServer!

    GerrardOfTitanServer – Wine was what I think I tried a while back, and it didn’t work. System got flaky, froze up, etc. It may be that things have improved.

  43. dianne says

    I realize this advice is a little late, but before you buy 20 pounds of cumin and a metric ton of tumeric, I’d like to point out that Penzy’s sells garam masala and other spices in individual consumer friendly amounts.

  44. whheydt says

    And for anyone still paying attention to this thread… The Raspberry Pi Foundation just launched a version of the Pi4B with 8GB or RAM. Also…beta test of a full 64-bit OS to run on it (and some of the earlier models of Pis).

  45. blf says

    An old-time *ix user and developer here (since the late 1970s, including the kernel and contributing to Posix), I’ve found many of the opinions here… interesting, shall we say. No more comment on that.

    One of my own factoids is that, with one exception (a job where I wasn’t allowed to), I’ve always deleted the Do$ or Windro$$ from the disc and installed some sort of Unix variant, typically Linux. (For that one exception, I ran MinGW.) I’ve also used “Mac” only once, on the original MacIstosh, which so unusable and crashed so often I’ve never ever again even considered any of Apple’s obvious garbage.