Sunday, July 21, 2013


As long-threatened, I've finally followed the crowd and move from Ubuntu to Linux Mint. The main attraction was Mint's use of the MATE desktop, which is enough like Gnome 2 to keep me happy indefinitely, but I also liked the fact that the Debian edition, hereafter LMDE, is a rolling release, meaning I'm not going to have to do a complete upgrade in 6 months. The price is that some software is going to be a little behind the times, but, hey, at work we use CentOS. At least with LMDE it's unlikely that I won't be able to run Google Chrome or Chromium.

So a brief review:

Installation was simple enough. After several hours of backing up my /home partition (twice, to two separate USB disks), I downloaded the DVD and did the initial install. I left my /home and /usr/local directories, which were on separate partitions, intact, and let LMDE overwrite the root directory and install its version of Grub to run through the boot process. This took less than an hour, which was a pleasant surprise.

It then took me another couple of hours to pick out all the packages that weren't automatically installed, and get them up and running. Not too bad, really.

There were, of course, a few things that didn't quite work perfectly.

After a week, those are all the problems I've found. The system is stable, MATE is as good a Desktop as you're going to find these days, and I've had no difficulties in installing other software that I want.

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Stupid Math Tricks

I have a weird mind that occasionally obsesses with some probably trivial math problems. I thought I'd this obsession with the world at large, even if the world isn't ready for it. But this blog isn't really the place for it, so I'm starting a new one:

Stupid Math Tricks, available at a browser near you, or from the sidebar on the right.

Don't worry, when I upgrade Hal to LMDE I'll post all about it right here.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Galactus Rules

Now it can be told: I've been remiss in posting to this blog because I've fallen in love with my smartphone.

Well, maybe not love — more like extreme like — but the fact is, we've been spending a lot of time together. More time than is good, and time I'd ordinarily have for posting to this blog.

It's a Samsung Galaxy S3, currently running Android 4.1.2 on the Verizon Network. OK, it's not the latest and greatest (it was when I bought it in November), but it's still pretty damn good.

As a phone, it's a phone. As a Music Player — well, it does that, though I still use an old iPod at the gym because when I exercise there tends to be excess moisture.

So mainly I like it for the apps. Yes, most (all?) of the things I can do with apps are available for Hal, here, but Hal's downstairs, and my big TV is upstairs. So if I'm just doing casual idiot-box related browsing, or I'm on the road, the phone's the way to go.

What I thought I'd do today is to list some of my favorite Android Apps, why I like them, how the could be improved, and few suggestions for new/better apps. These aren't really in any particular order.

  • Google Maps:  not to mention Navigator and Earth. I use Maps every day to check the traffic patterns on the way to work so that I know if I should avoid the 11th Street Bridge or not. (No one has ever sung Slow Down, You Move to Fast about the 11th Street Bridge.)
  • ESPN Score Center:  This lets me keep up to date on the games I want to know about: mainly the Jayhawks, Nationals, and Royals (I go way back with the Royals, OK?). And it connects to ESPN's Game Center, so I can follow the action pitch-by-pitch. If you wanted to, you could use it to re-create games, as was once done by a former President.
  • IMDb:  I'm always checking this while we're watching TV, movies, whatever. The ultimate Who was that? App.
  • Jota Text Editor:  the Galaxy doesn't come with a decent notepad, as far as I can tell. This one is perfect. Almost EMACS-like.
  • Scanner Radio:  When they were hunting the Boston Bomber, we had CNN on the screen, but we got most of our news from this.
  • Units:  the smartphone version of the Unix program I've written about before.
  • And Bible:  Lots of translations. I particularly like The NET Bible, but you have to pay to get the translators' notes. Particularly useful at church, you can be pretending to follow the text of the sermon while surfing. [I jest. Mostly.]
  • Flipboard:  I probably use this more than any other App, except for Gmail/Email. Flipboard is essentially a graphical version of Google Reader: You sign up for a site's feed (some sites and users set up their own Flipboard magazines), and you drag the screen to flip from one site to the other, and within a site. The nice thing is that Top posts from your list are put right at the top of the App, if you're in a hurry and just want to see what's going on in the world. I also use it to scan Twitter, Google Plus, various news sites, and a handful of blogs. The Twitter reader automagically replaces long links by URLs. If your Reader accessed 100+ sites, this isn't the App for you, but if you only follow a few it's perfect.
  • The March Meeting App:  That's the American Physical Society March Meeting. They managed to cram the entire set of Abstracts for 8000+ talks onto the phone (they stopped printing the full abstract book some years ago — something about deforestation). Tracks times/locations of talks. Would be better if it allowed off-app note taking, but even then it was extremely useful.
  • TuneIn Radio:  accesses the web streams of thousands of radio stations. I particularly like it in the fall, when I can listen to NFL football games while working outside. Not as useful in the spring/summer, as baseball games are hidden behind MLB's pay wall.
  • Newspapers USA:  This is essentially a list of bookmarks for every paper in the US. If you want a specific paper, such as the Washington Post or NY Times, use that paper's App. But if you find yourself wanting to look at the Deseret News for a story, this is the place to find it.

OK, that's the good stuff. What would I change?

  • There are two email clients: One for Gmail, one for Everything Else. The EE one will read your Gmail, but you have to sign up on the Gmail App.
  • On the iPod I use the iTunes store to manage my podcast feeds. It's easy to find everything, though painfully slow, but I don't have to search for a tiny little button to download, say, this week's episode of Car Talk. There may be Android Apps which do this kind of thing, but the one's I've looked at seem to mostly stream podcasts (unacceptable, as my gym doesn't have WiFi), or cost money. iTunes also does a better job of letting you organize Podcast playlists than either of the two music players that come with the Galaxy.

It looks like I'm going to have more time on my hands for the next few months, so I'll be posting here more. In particular, the time has come to move Hal off Ubuntu to a distribution that's not trying to force me off of my preferred Gnome 2-like interface. I'm probably going to follow Penguin Pete and move to Linux Mint, but I'll probably go to Debian Edition, as I like the idea of a rolling distribution that doesn't require me to update everything every six months. For now, spouse's computer, Harlie, will stay on Ubuntu 12.04 LTE, which shouldn't need updating until we trash it in a year or so. (Harlie started out life as a Vista box.)