Failing to Impress Me

Every few years, I try Linux again. I like the idea of a free OS, and the last time I installed it I ran it on my laptop for two years. It served me well until I used the recovery disks to put Windows Vista back on it and sell it cheap to a friend who was desperate for a computer.

I replaced that laptop with a used Samsung loaded with Windows 7 Home Premium, and as a fan of Windows 7 based on work experience, I was happy with it.

Fast forward two years or so later. I sit here typing this on the same laptop, freshly-installed just tonight with Linux Mint 17.2.

This time around, the move to Linux wasn’t motivated by my geeky curiosity. In fact, in Windows 7 I had recently set up a few PowerShell scripts and right-click context menu shortcuts that helped streamline my digital photography workflow and file management.

This time, I switched because of a failure.

At first the source of the problem wasn’t obvious because it seemed to coincide with my update to Windows 10. I searched online forums for an answer, but the possible solutions never resolved my trouble. I got angry and blamed it on Windows 10, but according to Microsoft I had been running it too long to perform the clean rollback to Windows 7.

Because my data already was backed up, I rushed into wiping the hard drive and installing Linux. Upon the first boot, Linux informed me that I had bad sectors on my hard drive. I admit to a bit of a facepalm for not making the time to run diagnostics before wiping Windows.

The laptop booted fine from a bootable USB stick, but it was hit-or-miss while booting from the hard drive. Linux was pickier, apparently, and if it knew it couldn’t run reliably, it wouldn’t even boot.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that the hard drive had started failing, considering it had belonged young man who had used it for gaming, and at some point had smacked it around enough to make a permanent bright spot in the LCD panel.

I put in an old, much smaller hard drive and re-installed Linux. With some work I could re-create much of the convenience I had put in place in Windows, but I wasn’t very familiar with scripting in Linux nor the equivalents to registry tricks that made the right-click menus do exactly what I wanted. Also, I had a few proprietary software packages that didn’t run in Linux.

My problem was that the kid who had sold me the laptop hadn’t included the Windows recovery disks, and they were not saved on the hard drive. I wanted to get Windows 7 so that I could go back to the workhorse machine I had so carefully created.

Wishing against reasonable hope, I called Samsung and explained my situation. I knew it wasn’t still under warranty, and that she had no reason to believe me, but I wanted the company to send me what I needed to get the laptop back to manufacturer’s specs–including Windows 7.

“Where did you purchase the laptop?” the representative asked.

“From a kid in a McDonald’s parking lot,” I said.

She chuckled while saying, “Okay.”

From there she went on to say that they will send me a recovery disk, free of charge, and gave me a confirmation number. “It might be a while, she said,” because it is not still readily available.

Now that the holiday madness is over, it’s time for me to call them back and ask about the progress.

Meanwhile, today I replaced the hard drive with a solid state drive, and doubled the RAM. Because of the delay in getting the Windows disk, and because in the meantime I had grown to like this turn with Linux, I again installed it. It’s free, so why not?

I’m typing this in NoteTab Light, my favorite Windows text editor. Yes, I’m running a Windows program in Linux, using Wine. I also have my favorite Windows image viewing and batch processing program, Irfanview. I realize that means I’m not running a true Linux desktop, but until I find applications to replace those, I’ll keep it as impure as I want.

I can tell already that the Crucial solid state drive has made my laptop boot much faster and run much cooler. I haven’t done much yet to see the effect of the extra RAM, but it certainly can’t hurt.

Will I install Windows 7 if Samsung comes through with the recovery media? Maybe.

I won’t say I’m glad I had this particular excuse to install Linux again, but the OS still is maturing and might just win me over permanently.

Feeling Dumb with SmartMusic

The school my son attends touted SmartMusic as a great way for children to learn their instruments. I can see it helping him in some ways, but I do have some reservations about it. That is for another time.

Right now, I’m here to help anyone else seeing this error:

UnknownNetworkError (99) loading https://account.makemusic.com/OpenId/Provider: Connection timed out

The laptop we use for SmartMusic is on the internet just fine. But, on launching, the progress bar in the bottom right corner of SmartMusic was getting hung up at 10%. My son never was prompted to login.

According to Brian, the support tech at SmartMusic, “The application tries to contact our servers every time it launches.”

An IT worker myself, and formerly at the HelpDesk level, I wanted to know why it sometimes does that. I explained that I had poked around the program’s menus and emptied its internet cache. Brian seemed duly impressed that I had found that, but then he asked a question that I am now ashamed he even had to ask.

“When was the last time you rebooted the computer?”

Ah, there it was. The answer to so many problems when you’re working HelpDesk and the user’s computer isn’t withing reach. “Reboot it.” So, I did.

SmartMusic worked fine after that. So, after more than 20 years in IT, I got to feel like the average end user again, and my son was able to use the application. I still want to know what was causing the problem, but at least now anybody in our home can resolve it if that particular problem happens again.

A Belated Birthday Dedication Letter

Chris,

Ever since we were–what, 7?–I have known that your birthday was either September 9 or 11. Then that thing happened, and the date was forever solidified in my brain. It isn’t 9 or 11, it’s 9-11.

Numbers aside, I’m glad we’re still friends, and lately I’m realizing how much our friendship shaped who I am.

When my own son asks to watch Star Wars or “Star Trek,” I recall childhood memories of watching the original series in your 100-year old farmhouse living room. I remember that you had cool Star Wars toys. Or were those your brother’s?

I remember your TRS-80 computer and your Micronauts, your tiny electronic motors that we wired to “D” cell batteries just to watch them spin. Later, while at your house I read Omni and Popular Science. They were quite different from the reading found at my own house, and sparked an interest in science that still burns to this day. I remember bending in closer to study the huge, yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) that spun its impressive web next to your barn.

When I see my son thrilled by the prospect of Robotics Club, I imagine that you and I would have joined had it been available to us. I don’t doubt it for a moment.

It dawns on me while writing this that I’m passing down to my son the same passions I developed with you.

My older brother was not interested in any of those things. While I owe him for any athletic inclinations and skills I have, and countless social skills, growing up with you just a bike’s ride down the road drew out my geeky passions.

I’m glad you were drawing spaceships that day in 2nd grade. It started something bigger than I could have imagined.

New Blog for My New Obsession

I am not retiring this blog. It still will serve as a place for me to post about life in general, when the urge hits me.

Until then, please see my first post on my new blog. It tells the story of how an obsession of mine started, faded, then rekindled with a passion.

The only thing set in stone on the blog is the topic. I have not made a final decision yet on the name or the theme.

Click the post title below to read:
A Pedaler’s Tale

The First Buffalo National River Trip I Planned

Foggy Morning Restaurant View

Last summer I returned to one of my favorite places — the Buffalo National River, and five friends from Texas joined me. At age 44, it would be my first time on the Buffalo with anyone other than my family. When these guys originally asked me to get a trip together back in May, I was pumped. Then they said it had to be in August. Not much of the river usually is floatable in the middle of August without a lot of getting out and dragging the boat.

You might think that it’s difficult to get lost when floating down a waterway that only leads in one direction. I managed it easily, but that comes later.

(click any image to enlarge it)

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