CategoryTechnology

Why I Use Linux

Most people that know me on any level beyond just a basic hello know that I use Linux in my personal computing for about 95% of what I do. Of course purists would say that I should call it GNU/Linux, but that’s a habit I have yet to adopt. Apologies.

I thought I would take a minute to articulate why I have chosen to be a Linux user. I’d like to think I’m a Linux evangelist, but I’ve only convinced 0.5 people to give it a try, so I guess I haven’t been to successful on a person to person basis of getting anyone to switch over, though not for lack of trying. Well, whatever your reasons are for sticking with Windows or Mac, here’s why I chose a third path.

Background

When I first entered college, I had never heard of Linux. I had purchased a custom built laptop to get me through college, but as I found out later it wasn’t as awesome as it would need to be to get me through all 4 years. Just a standard XP rig of the typical quality available in 2005. But I really found it fascinating that a person could build a computer, rather than buying one from a manufacturer.

I learned about a lot of new things in college, most of them on my own rather than in the classroom. One of the things that I researched and studied most of all in those early days was Linux. I started seeing things about it on various news and tech websites that I was checking out, and I started seeing a lot of snarky Facebook groups and merchandise for sale on the Internet about Linux. It intrugued me, and I started reading about it more and more.

About three years ago, before my Junior year of college, I decided that I wanted to build my own computer. A couple guys I worked with were hard core gamers, and they were the source of much of my early hardware knowledge. They were both Windows devotees, but they agreed to help me get everything I needed on Newegg, and helped me put it all together.

The build did not go flawlessly. As a result of a couple crossed wires attached to the power supply, a bunch of fuses got blown out and half of my house was without power for a couple days. After the blow out, the guys left, and I actually read the manuals to find out what was wrong and fix it.

Once the machine was in order, I began the process of installing Ubuntu, which at this point was 7.04 Feisty Fawn. The installation went flawlessly, and all the hardware worked, which was pretty amazing considering I was bought the latest processor and graphics card and such.

Unfortunately, I had a bad monitor which made everything appear to look like a photo negative. It should have been obvious to me that the monitor was at fault, but it wasn’t. In the end, I shipped the monitor back to Newegg and got a new one, but I also had a computer repair shop install a copy of Vista Home Premium as the only OS on the system.

So, for a while, I had been scared off of Linux, but I was not deterred for too long. I later installed Fedora 9 on my system, only to find out a week later that Fedora 10 had been released. To a novice like myself, Fedora was pretty hard to use. I had to fight it to make a lot of things work that I wanted, like flash support. It was a great learning experience. Since then I’ve done a lot of distro-hopping, but I mostly now use Linux Mint Debian Edition and Fedora.

Why I Use Linux

So, after that extensive pre-amble, here are the five reasons I choose to use Linux as my primary OS: Cost, Diversity, Security, Speed, Freedom, and Adventure. I’ve listed them in order from least important to most important to me.

Cost: Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Linux is free of cost. If you want to try it right now, you can. Just go to the site of any Linux distro and download an iso file. This was why I initially got into using Linux. I was tired of spending money on software. I plan on contributing financially to my favored distros in the future, but it’s nice to know that whenever I need to get a new copy or a different copy, I can do so with no monetary consequence. It’s just about the computing.

Diversity: Don’t like something or anything about your computer? Change it. I’ve used Ubuntu, Fedora, Mint, Debian, Belenix (technically a Solaris derivative), and Puppy. I primarily use Linux Mint Debian Edition right now, but I also keep Fedora going, and I always carry a pendrive with Puppy Linux with me. I also like to try out different desktop environments, mostly GNOME and Xfce, but I’ve dabbled in LXDE. I don’t care for KDE, but that’s just me.

Security: I honestly never had that much trouble with viruses and malware using Windows. I always ran AVG Free, Spybot, and C Cleaner regularly to keep my system in good shape. I think I have had like three viruses total ever. Others I know however, are always falling prey to viruses, malware, scareware, and suspicious email attachments. I like knowing that even if I’m repairing someone else’s system, I mostly don’t have to worry about any of those problems while running Linux (though Linux viruses do exist).

Speed: Just over the Christmas holiday, I installed Fedora 14 Xfce on that original laptop I mentined previously in this post. It runs faster than any of my Windows installations, and almost as fast as my other more modern PCs running Linux, despite it’s pathetically low specs. I needed to print something while I was at my parents house, and it took 20 minutes from boot to paper on their old XP machine. I don’t have patience for that nonsense. I like a fast boot and fast response. I don’t have patience for Windows installations that just get slower over time. I’ve got things to do, and I don’t want the OS getting in the way.

Freedom: I don’t have much to say here. Others have explained it all more eloquently than I have. If you want to read about software freedom, look up Richard Stallman. I can’t say that I agree with him on everything, or even most things, but I do value the freedom that using FOSS affords me. If you ever want to scare yourself, read the license agreement that comes with any Apple software, such as iTunes. I’ll take the General Public License any day.

Adventure: I started looking into Linux because I knew there had to be more to computing than what Microsoft offered. I don’t hate Windows or Microsoft Office. In fact, I think Office 2007 and 2010 are awesome. But I want some adventure in my computing. I like it when I have to fight to make things like sound or graphics work. I think the installation and setup process is almost the most fun part.  There’s always something new to learn and new challenges to face.

So there you go.

My long-winded explanation for why I like to use Linux. I’d be glad to answer any questions you might have about Linux that I can, but my knowledge is far from complete. There’s always something new to learn! Do you use Linux? Why, and what distro? Have you ever thought about trying it? Let me know in the comments below.

Have a good one.

Driving to Las Vegas

As I mentioned in my previous Life Update post, I have the opportunity to go to the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The show is between January 6 and 9. In my insanity, I am considering driving out to Las Vegas rather than flying.

I didn’t book flights and hotels back in October when I got my CES tickets because I did not know what I would be doing in January. As fortune would have it, my new job starts on January 24, so I will be able to attend the show, but at this late date, flights are quite expensive. Not only that, I don’t like flying. I prefer driving whenever possible because when I’m driving, I feel like I have more control over my destiny. Nobody has to feel me up, I don’t have to go through any security features, and I can arrive and depart whenever I choose.

Another reason I want to drive is that I wanted to go on a Great Southern Road Trip after I graduated, but it was the middle of August, and that time of year is pretty hot in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. I also couldn’t work out the logistics because I was in the process of moving up to KC. This is an opportunity to make that road trip happen in temperatures much more pleasant in my mind.

I am considering three routes. According to Google Maps, the shortest route by total travel time to go through Colorado and Utah. I’m calling this the Northern Route. I’ll also have the misfortune of driving across the entire state of Kansas, which is not always enjoyable. What concerns me about this route is the Colorado portion. I’ve never traveled through Colorado in Winter, but I understand they get a little bit of snow over that way this time of year. The halfway point for this route is Vail, CO, and I’m sure a night at a motel in Vail won’t be expensive during skiing season (note the sarcasm).

Northern Route

The other two routes I have dubbed the Southern Route and the Middle Route, although the Middle Route isn’t that different from the Southern Route. Either way Tucumcari, NM is the halfway point. On the Southern route, I would drive down through Joplin, Tulsa, and over through Amarillo, TX. If I take the Middle route, I’d be going through Wichita and just catch the edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle and Northern Texas. Even taking this route I’m sure I’ll have to face possible Winter difficulties while crossing the Rockies.

Southern Route

Middle Route

I think on the way out to Las Vegas, I’m going to take the Middle Route. On the return trip I may consider taking the Northern Route, but I have a feeling that January will not be the best time to attempt this. I’ll be driving my Jeep, which is “Trail Rated,” whatever that means, so I feel confident that I’ll be able to handle whatever the road throws at me other than blizzards. If any of the roads are closed that will obviously slow or halt my progress. As I said, I don’t really know what to expect driving through this part of the country this time of year.

Anybody with travel experience on any of these routes in Winter, or knowledge of what travel conditions are usually like, let me know. I’m looking forward to this adventure, I just hope that I can pull it off in the Winter months.

Linux to the Rescue

I am home visiting my parents for the holidays. I had introduced my mom, who is a college professor, to Dropbox about six months ago to keep her files synced up between her laptop and netbook, both of which run Windows XP. She uses the laptop mostly at home, and takes the netbook to class with her, among other places. Despite the convenience and utility of Dropbox, my mom still had many important files on a flash drive.

I wanted to borrow the flash drive to test out Debian Xfce live, and she realized that it would be a good idea to transfer the mission-critical files to her Dropbox folder. However, when she inserted the drive into the USB slot on her netbook, she got the dreaded message saying that the drive was not properly formatted. It looked as though all her files were gone, and this was potentially a very big problem because much of the data she needs for her classes was only located on the flash drive.

Fortunately, all hope was not lost. I busted out my Puppy Linux live USB flash drive, booted it up on her laptop, and then mounted the “unformatted” flash drive with no files on it. Puppy’s file manager found all her data in tact, so I mounted the Windows hard drive, navigated to her Dropbox folder, and copied over the files, then booted up XP and let Dropbox sync everything up.

This situation could have been very disastrous. There were over 150 critically important documents, files, and records on that flash drive, and if it failed, semesters worth of work would have been completely lost. If you have files you cannot afford to lose, you need to have some form of a backup system. I love using Dropbox, but other options exist. Even if you only have one computer, Dropbox is a good option because you can then access your files through their website from anywhere you can get online.

Everywhere I go, I carry around a Linux flash drive just in case someone’s Windows file system corrupts itself or becomes un-boot-able for some reason. There have been a couple instances where I have been able to rescue some important files before a computer would be sent to get repaired or replaced all together. It’s always good to have a bag of tricks up your sleeve. If you’ve got a bad virus infestation on a Windows PC, why not boot from a Linux flash drive and scan the Windows hard drive without dealing with painful slowness or other viral troubles? Check out www.pendrivelinux.com for more information.

I wish I could get my parents to convert to Linux. Most of their hardware is old, and most of it barely can function under the heavy load that Windows XP places on it (and by heavy load, I mean, significantly less than Vista or 7 would impose, but still more than this old hardware can handle). Everything they do on computers they could do using only free open source software without too painful a learning curve/transition, but they’re just not quite ready to give up that comfortable Microsoft crutch yet. Maybe someday… If nothing else, I hope this latest incident has nudged things in the right direction.

Have a good one.

Why I’m Buying a Mac

I’m buying a Mac. People that know me would never expect to hear these words coming out of my mouth, or in this case, being produced by a combination of keystrokes originating from my hands. I’m going to explain why I’m buying a Mac, but first a bit of my history with Macs.

My History with Macs

My mom was an elementary school teacher, and for a while she was the technology coordinator for her school district. Back in those days, all schools used Macs, or Macintoshes as I am used to calling them. Since she was the tech coordinator, we always had Macs around the house. I literally cannot remember a time in my life when we did not have computers in our house. While it certainly wasn’t true for everyone, my generation is the first to have people growing up immersed in computer technology. Most kids born in the United States these days will grow up not knowing life without computers.

The first computer we had that I can remember was an Apple Macintosh Classic II. Later on we had an LC-580 when everyone else still had the LC-520, so we were the cool people with the advanced technology. That computer was the first computer that was “mine” once my parents got a Power Macintosh G3. The LC-580 had a 512 MB hard drive, so when we got the G3 with a 2 GB hard drive, it was the greatest thing ever. This G3 wasn’t one of the pretty ones with the transparent case, it was the old style beige case. It was what they call “Outrigger” style.

Late in elementary school and during middle school, we had Macs and all my nerd friends were using Windows 95 and Windows 98. These nerds treated me really badly for being a Mac user, as though I had some control of what computers my parents bought at age 11. The hilarious irony is that now all those same nerds are using Macs.

The main thing that always frustrated me about having Macs was that there were very few games I was interested in playing. All the good stuff was made for PCs, although I was an ace at Super Munchers. When Windows XP came out, my parents finally switched over to PC by ordering the most low-spec Dell available, and that same computer is still running today, albeit slowly. It was a bit of an adjustment process for my mom, but my dad had no trouble since they were using Windows PCs at his work. I had picked up some Windows experience in middle school, so I took to it pretty well too.

I inherited the G3, and kept using it even into high school, although it was super out of date by the time we sold it. The last time I owned and regularly used a Mac was back during OS 8.

My Present View of Macs

I am probably perceived as a “Mac hater,” when really I am probably more of a “Mac culture” skeptic. I don’t like the way people buy Macs to be cool. I don’t like the fact that Apple is a marketing company that sells computers. I’m not a hipster or a musician or a person that wants his computer to “just work.” I like my computer to challenge me to expand my understanding of how computers work and what computers have the potential to do. I’m definitely an elitist snob when it comes to computers, but not in the same way Mac users can tend to be. I’ve used Macs several times during college, mainly to print things since the school’s page tracking software didn’t work on the Macs.  Despite the annoying userbase, Macs are just the slickest thing out there right now.

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Why I’m Buying A Mac

Frankly, the Macbook is just a great product. I’ve been looking for a new computer for months now. My Asus F8 laptop came out back when a good battery life was 1.5 hours. I want more than that. My Asus EEE netbook battery lasts about 6.5 hours, but it’s not the performer I want, and the 10.1 inch screen is a bit small for much more than web browsing. I’m buying a Macbook because I want performance and long battery life. Also, let’s face it: the Mac looks really slick, in a way that most Windows PCs don’t. I’m tired of plastic. The best looking PCs I’ve seen lately were the HP Envy series, and they still don’t look as good as the Macs. I don’t feel like compromising when I buy my next computer. I should be able to replace my netbook and my laptop with a Macbook

I already run Linux as my primary OS, and I also have XP, Vista Business, and 7 Professional. It only makes sense for me to expand my computer knowledge by adding Mac to my repertoire. I want to get it now, because I’m not convinced that 10.7’s iPad-like interface is going to be that great.

The Plan

I haven’t decided yet whether or not to get the 13 in or 15 in model. I like the size of the 13 in, but I like the i5 processor of the 15 in better than the Core 2 Duo in the 13 in. I’m planning to use either Parallels, Boot Camp, or some other solution to run Windows 7 Professional and some Linux distribution (probably Fedora or Linux Mint Debian Edition) in addition to OS X. I’m not planning to buy any of the extra software that they sell on the Apple website. I’m going to run Libre Office or OpenOffice.org, install Gimp and Scribus, and other FOSS to get my needs met. Really, if could just buy the Mac hardware without the OS, I would still choose it over most of the PC offerings out there right now.

Feedback

So, Mac using friends, what else do I need to know before I order this beast? What software do I need that I haven’t thought of yet? Should I use Parallels, Boot Camp, or something else for my multi-boot setup? Let me know.

Android Tethering

Hello friends. Let’s say you made the correct decision the last time you bought a new phone, and by the correct decision, I mean you bought an Android phone. When I moved up to Kansas City, the first thing I did was trade in my tired old non-3G Blackberry Curve 8310 from AT&T and switched to an HTC Evo 4G with Sprint. I’ve been extremely happy with it so far. The only downside is that the battery life isn’t extraordinary. I charge it in the morning before going out for the day, and by the time I get home, it’s almost down to nothing after a full day in the field. If you want to get the maximum value from your Evo, I highly recommend investing in a car charger, and get a second wall/USB charger to use at work. You won’t regret being able to keep things charged up.

Anyway, now that I’m on this extremely fast 4G network, I want to be able to use those capabilities to their utmost. I didn’t invest in the $30/month mobile hotspot plan, so up until now I’ve only been able to enjoy the massive benefits of 4G on the Evo itself. I started doing a little research to find a way to tether so I could get my 4G on my computer when I’m out in the world. I would much rather use my own mobile connection at the coffee shop than some unsecure public wifi network where some guy with a packet sniffer or something can steal my bank login information.

I have finally stumbled upon a solution. So far I have not tested it on Linux, which is my preferred operating system, but it works like a champ on Windows. I made this work on my Asus F8 laptop running Vista Business with my Evo 4G. It should work with other Android phones and other Windows computers, and also with Macintosh computers running OS X 10.5 or 10.6, but since I don’t have any Macs, I haven’t tested it with them either.

Note before Getting Started

This application is free, and unless you start downloading a whole bunch of stuff you shouldn’t see any increases on your phone bill. I’ll update when my next phone bill arrives if Sprint catches on and tries to up my bill. If you’re using a less impressive cell service provider that tries to restrict everything (such as AT&T), you might want to really be careful about downloads and such because they’re more likely to pitch a fit about it.

Step by Step

I used an application called PdaNet. Go into the Android market and search for PdaNet of scan this barcode to get right to it.

There is one more step on your phone and you’ll be ready to go. You need to allow “USB Debugging.” On the Evo, you activate USB Debugging by selecting Menu–>Settings–>Applications and then checking the box next to USB Debugging. Now your phone is all ready for the tethering process.

Now you need the PC component. Go over to the PdaNet website. You’ll see that they have apps for Palm, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and iPhone as well, so if someone gets one of these working, let me know, because my sister has an iPhone, and I’m sure she’d like to be able to tether without paying for it. Download the appropriate version of PdaNet for Android. In my case, it was Version 2.45 for 32-bit Windows 7/Vista/XP.

Once you download the PC application, just install by following the instructions.

First you pick your phone manufacturer.

Next install the USB Drivers

Install the Device Software

And get online.

The entire process took me a total of about 5 minutes from start to finish, and everything connected without a hitch. Enjoy your new-found freedom and security with Android tethering. I’ll be trying this out on Linux with WINE soon, and I’ll post if it works properly. If it doesn’t, I’ll be looking for alternatives for Android tethering with Linux.

So, let me know if you found this guide useful. Have you picked up any neat Android tips or tricks along the way? Would you like to see more Android guides on some specific topic? Let me know in the comments section below, or send me an email via my Contact Russell Page.

Have a good one.

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