Thursday, October 22

Anyone can play guitar

This is a bit of a tech post. Unless you're interested in very amateur Linux talk or curious about my computer adventures, you don't have to read on.

In my last post, I'd written about finally letting go of XP (still think it's the nicest Windows OS) and switching to LXLE, a lightweight distribution (distro) based on Lubuntu, running on the LXDE desktop environment. It is primarily for ageing PCs like mine, though it will function just as well on newer computers. This post consists of layman observations and some experiential info after having used it for almost a week.

First off, LXLE is easy to install and I strongly recommend creating a Live USB using UNetboot.in (which you'll have to download) and using that to install the OS. I mean, use a thumb drive rather than a CD/DVD to install. The steps are simple enough and your intelligence level would have to be dangerously close to that of the average Indian politician's for you to fuck it up.

Since I was getting rid of XP and not dual-booting, the override process was very simple. If you do choose to dual-boot, there are simple and excellent videos on YouTube on how to do this with Windows+Ubuntu. This would follow the same steps. Here are just 2 videos that show you how easy the installation process is:

1. https://youtu.be/9O6yU_yvlS4
2. https://youtu.be/3HANcetKsqc

I've used the 2nd link when dual-booting my other laptop and it went off without a hitch. When downloading/installing the OS, remember to choose to install the restricted extras which are the codecs for Flash, Java, Mp3s, etc. It makes life easier, though they can be installed later.

Okay, back to LXLE. The boot time is around 2 minutes, which is a little slow, but that may be because it's settling in. The reviews peg the boot time to under 1 minute, which is seriously quick, if you think about it. Like Ubuntu, LXLE shuts down fast (10 seconds).

The default desktop paradigm is XP, though you can choose between 4 others. I'm still trying to figure out how you can change between these. FYI, paradigm basically means where the start button/panel is located. In the Unity paradigm, it's a column on the left, and Gnome 2 has it at the top of the screen, etc. XP is familiar and there's nothing wrong with it.

LXLE comes with the Libre Office Suite, including Writer, Calc, Impress (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) amongst others. If like me, you tend to largely use Word, you shouldn't have any trouble with Writer. If you use PowerPoint, Adobe PS/AI and Excel heavily in your work, Libre Office will disappoint you. You are better off dual-booting or using Wine (Windows Program Loader) to install and use MS Office in LXLE.

Mozilla build of Seamonkey is the default browser and if you're used to Firefox, this is almost the same. In some design ways, Seamonkey is even nicer than Firefox. You are free to download Firefox or Chrome (Chromium) too. LXLE comes with the Lubuntu Software Centre where you can search for and install various packages/ software. You can also run online searches for Terminal commands to directly download and install software. However, if you're easily confused by large strings of commands or are more of a point-and-click person, use the software centre. And as you will read later, the software centre can't solve all your problems.

LXLE comes with default (and nifty, might I add) photo viewing and editing software (Shotwell is one), Video viewer (you can download VLC) and PDF viewer, so no sweat there. Audacity audio editor is also pre-installed.

My 2 favourite features of LXLE are the random wallpaper feature (featuring some seriously stunning photographs) and Guayadeque Music Player (which I've written about before - see a previous Ubuntu post). To me, they are the sensory highlights of LXLE.

Unlike in Ubuntu 15.04, the Terminal is called ROXTerm and can be opened using Alt+C or Ctrl+Alt+t. Why am I telling you this? Because the one spot of bother I ran into was using the Printer.

Installing a Printer on LXLE

I plugged in the printer (HP 915) using the USB, wanting to print something, only to find that the printer wasn't being recognised. This was odd because LXLE, Ubuntu, etc. are usually thoughtful about things like this. I did a bit of searching online and found that others had the same trouble as well. This being a Linux distro, there are kajillion forums and links on how to try and solve the issue. Whatever I tried, didn't work, leaving me more disappointed than frustrated. As luck would have it, I then stumbled upon an old 2011 link (updated in 2015) that gave a solution, which would have to be executed using the Terminal. It took a little while, needed a little bit of reading and finger-crossing but happily for me, it worked. If you're interested, here it is.

That's about it. So far, so good, with the printer installation being the only complicated bit I had to figure out. Perversely enough, I actually enjoy tinkering around with this kind of stuff, so it wasn't too much of a bother. It was also nice to share the solution on the LXLE forum and feel like I'd actually accomplished something. Happy Dussera indeed.

P.S: One bit of a piss-taker is that iTunes will not work, even if you use Wine. Since I have an iPhone as of now, it's a shitty situation, but there's not much to be done, unless those Apple fucktards release a Linux version of iTunes. Not holding my breath on that though. 

Song for the moment: Plump - Ali Khan

Saturday, October 17

Monkey Wrench

December 23, 2006. I'd only been in the States a few months had finally nailed a precious on-campus job at the Communications Studies department. The first semester was over and a sepulchral silence settled over the campus and residential areas around the university as the Christmas and New Year holidays commenced.

I sat at my desk in the silent office building waiting for quitting time (everyone else had left hours earlier and I was simply manning the fort) when the phone rang. It was my room mate, Grandpa. "Chote, tere liye kuch parcel aaya hai. Pata nahin, baxa hai. Aake dekh le." is what he said before hanging up, leaving me nonplussed. I hadn't ordered anything and wasn't expecting any parcels or letters, so what was this box?

Eventually 5:30pm rolled by and I left for home at a brisk pace. On opening the door, I was confronted by the startling sight of Grandpa leering like he'd seen a particularly comely female. Though it was his natural smile, it still took some getting used to. I was about to ask him about the box but the question froze on my lips because I spotted the logo. DELL.

At first I couldn't believe my eyes and assumed it was a joke by my room mates. But there it was, heavy and sealed with all the official documentation. On opening the box, I found the note from my folks wishing me a happy birthday. And then I found the white and silver Dell Inspiron E1505 laptop which they'd arranged for a relative to buy and ship from New Jersey. I think that was the last time a birthday gift genuinely stunned me.

Since it was from my folks, the tech-specs were pragmatic rather than woo-hoo! But it was a very respectable laptop; solid and dependable, packing a 60 GB Internal HD and Windows XP. From the very beginning, I took good care of it, avoiding dodgy websites, shady downloads and the like. Though it weighed a ton, I hauled it everywhere, using it to read books, watch movies and of course, start this blog. It was on this laptop that I perfected the ability to type in pitch dark at speed and till today, I struggle to reach the same ease on other keyboards.

The first time the laptop gave me trouble was in Cambodia when the CD drive inexplicably conked off. Since I've chronicled that in posts from 2008, there won't be a repeat. But that little flake slowly become a growing snowball going down the tech hill. The battery performance nosedived after a few years, which was followed by the system itself. Though the RAM was enough for the superb XP OS, programs started slowing down and dragging and anti-virus only made it worse. My preferred browser, Firefox, would take ages to load and I was unable to run more than a few programs at once.

Eventually, I cleaned out the laptop, installed more RAM and things improved. And then came the fateful announcement from Microsoft that they wouldn't support XP after April 2014. I began to do my research on the possible solutions. Yes, the simplest would have been to buy a new laptop with top of the line specs. But, there was nothing wrong with the actual hardware. A Mac was out of my budget and I honestly didn't see what the hullabaloo was about. At heart, I'm still a writer and all I need is a word document program and the Internet.

Since I was living in Bombay, the Dell was my Poona-based PC, crammed with all the critical stuff. I got a second-hand laptop for Bombay, which had superb hardware but only came with XP on it. That's when I knew it was time to take the plunge. I'd heard, read and kept up with Linux for years, always curious about this highly praised OS and its derivatives but also scared about its technical side. Earlier this year, I did a little bit of experimentation, dual-booting the Bombay laptop, installed Linux Ubuntu and fell in love with its simplicity and elegance. But what was I to do about my old, faithful Dell which was still on XP?

The answer was LXLE. And today, after 9 years, I backed up all my files and folders, plugged in the Live USB and said goodbye to XP. I was sorely tempted to keep it going till December 23rd, giving it a neat birthday send-off, but didn't see the point in that. The laptop was limping and the OS was tired so, in a way, there was more dignity this way (Okay, maybe I'm starting to sound like Joaquin Phoenix in 'Her'). And once I installed LXLE, I knew it was the right decision.

It is basically made for laptops like mine, i.e. old but serviceable. It'll be supported by the Linux community till 2019 so I'm happy to have given the Dell a new lease of life. After all we've been through together, it was thoroughly deserved. And yes, I'm still writing blog posts on the same laptop. Who would have thunk it?

Song for the moment: Into the great wide open - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers    

Sunday, October 4

I know what I know

If you've been reading this blog for a while (okay, even the last few posts), you'd know I regularly ponder the dodgy choices made by yours truly that have left me in a awful situations. The fact that these choices also lead to posts of dubious quality but fruity language is cold comfort. The fact remains. To quote Forrest Gump, I am not a smart man.

Why? As I write this, it is a peaceful Sunday night. At my age, this should signal much conviviality. Instead, I find myself in the bedroom, sitting hermit-fashion on the bed, shovelling an early dinner out of a bowl (plates are overrated), moodily tracking the sporting murder at the Emirates Stadium and listening to people 30 years older than me having the time of their lives in the living room. You heard me right.

The pater is hosting one of his quarterly parties. Mind you, calling it a party is rather generous. Because it is more a guys' night out (for everyone but the pater of course), involving booze, fatty foods they wouldn't touch normally with a bargepole and a lot of laughter. Here I am, a respectable (reasonably) member of the early 30s crowd, pootling around the house with only the gentle shushing of the rain outside for company. There they are, men way past the hill (and in some cases, paunches bearing a startling resemblance to the aforementioned geographic feature) cheerfully quaffing down stuff and living it up.

As I heard them chuckle helplessly, I couldn't help feel jealous at first. But then, I heard the pater laugh too. Not something we hear very often nowadays. And when I think about that fact, I am suddenly and simultaneously shameful for being petty-minded and happy because he has friends who will make him laugh every now and then. It seems to be a funny role-reversal in my life. I have become (or, as my "friends" would no doubt remark, am) more of the concerned yet curmudgeonly father, while, for one evening, he's become the carefree young man entertaining his friends.

Considering the life we've had, he's had, I'd have to be a Grade 1 asshole to begrudge him this moment. So, I will end this here and go do what any parent would in the situation. Check on the boys, ask them if they need anything and serve them some snacks. That's a choice I wouldn't regret for a minute.

Song for the moment: Have a nice day - Stereophonics