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.

Top 43 Android Apps That I Use

Now that I have had a smartphone for about seven months (before you look, this post was written in April 2013, believe it or not), I figure it’s time to point out some favorite Android apps (many also available for iPhone). If you’re looking for games, go elsewhere, as I don’t really play games much.

I have enough apps on my Droid Razr that I have grouped some of them into categories to keep down the clutter and reduce swiping away from the home screen. I present my favorites below, in the same categories I use.

All are free unless otherwise stated, and I note whether they are available for iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad), if I know for certain.

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DishNetwork Getting More Like Cable Companies

We have been very happy with our DishNetwork service for all the 10-plus years we have been customers.

For the first time, they are moving toward a system that’s eerily similar to that used by cable companies. By that, I mean that with the new Hopper and Joey system, they require not only a receiver for your main television (the Hopper), but also additional units (Joeys) attached to any television you wish to use with the system. Dish always has charged a monthly for the main package and the receiver, but now there’s a new wrinkle.

While there are pros and cons of staying with the old system, versus going with the new, I’m starting to wish I had kept our previous receiver rather than upgrading to the new Hopper system — for now.

Quick Tip:
If you are a DishNetwork dual-tuner DVR user who has not yet “upgraded” to the Hopper, and storage space is your primary concern, consider buying an external hard drive for your existing DVR and being happy with what you have. It will save you money after the initial fee of adding a hard drive.

Now, to the full story, for the “why” of it all.

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So What if It Doesn’t Light Up or Make Sound?

I worry that reading anything longer than a few sentences is becoming a dying art, and our increasing reliance on technology is ushering it to the graveyard. I’m just as guilty as the next person of helping it happen.

Once our son is in bed, my first thought is, “What can we watch?” If my wife turns in early for the evening, it’s, “What can I watch?”

My wife and I watch a few TV shows together, via DVR, but far fewer than we did before we had a child. After all, when your TV watching begins at 8:30 p.m. or so instead of 5:00 or 6:00 o’clock, there’s only so much you can fit in before bed time. Recording shows for viewing on our own schedule is not new to us. Before DVR, we re-used seven VHS tapes, religiously, each labeled for a day of the week, to record our shows. When the image quality got bad enough, we replaced the tapes.

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DishNetwork Hopper, Joey, and DHCP Trouble

Quick review before the technical, DHCP-related stuff: I like the new DishNetwork Hopper. Okay, that’s finished.

On Monday, a DishNetwork technician came to my house and replaced my ViP 722 with a Hopper and one Joey. He had trouble getting the Hopper on my network, so I pulled up my router’s management page in my browser on my main PC. I never saw the Hopper while he was trying to make it connect, but it could have been a coincidence in timing, because I was working my regular job from home, too.

The technician’s solution to this was interesting and unexpected.

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