Moving up to eleven-ten

>> Thursday, October 20, 2011

I surrendered this week. In my defense, I should have been writing, and updating my desktop machine to Ubuntu 11.10 was easier than writing. Writing, don't let anyone tell you differently, is terribly hard. Americans got to the moon faster and with less trouble than I'm having getting one goddamn paragraph to stick to the screen without begging to be put out of its misery like an incubating second-stringer in an Aliens sequel. I'd like to tell you this is what happens when you get remaindered pixels from an outlet store, but there's nobody to blame except my stupid, inferior brain.

Contrary to what you may have heard from the ancient Greeks, the Muses weren't a bunch of lovely young women plucking harps and brandishing scrolls, no. That may be how ancient Greek sculptors depicted them for the sake of not pissing them off, these lying sculptors may have been attempting flattery, I'm saying, but the real Muses are vicious, shrieking subhuman demons that latch onto a person's back and scream in the poor victim's ears and clawing at the victim's face from their perch behind. In spite of their gaunt frames, they weigh several hundred pounds apiece and their highly allergenic hair sheds more than a cat's as they whip it about trying to get strands into the prey's eyes, nose, throat, where the filaments lodge like spun fiberglass and eventually cause cancer of the soul. The bitches are tricksy, too; they'll do things like seemingly calm down for a bit and croon like doves as you write a particularly long and clever bit, only to laugh and howl like banshees when you get to the bottom of the page; worse still, they'll often grab your head again in their nine-inch-nailed paws and force your head up to look at the part they're shrieking at and force you to look at your own fecal slop, sometimes pushing your head to the screen as if they want to rub your nose in it.

Sorry. Where was I?

I surrendered, I said. This blog's faithful may recall a few months ago, when I made the upgrade to Ubuntu 10.10 UNE on the netbook and had reservations. By "reservations" I mean I sort of hated it. But later I upgraded the netbook to 11.04, and 11.04 seemed to markedly improve upon some of the issues. And then a couple of weeks ago, I updated the netbook to 11.10; although that's technically something of an interim version in Ubuntuland, 11.10 (I had to confess) was kind of awesome as far as how well Canonical had integrated everything together. Also, I have to confess with a poorly-defined sense of shame, I found myself adapting to working the way Unity (the Ubuntu user interface) wanted me to work over the way I was used to working. Sure, I didn't like the idea of everything being auto-maximized and having a global toolbar, but wasn't I already doing something similar on the main machine by maximizing applications myself and pushing them to different desktops so that Writer's Café was at home in one space while Firefox was in another and the open document in another and my music player in yet another? Didn't the global toolbar actually make a certain amount of sense and make it easy to find things a lot of the time? Wasn't that idiotic launcher pretty useful after you stopped cursing at it and grumbling at it and just used it? Isn't that some downright tasty Flavor Aid in my paper cup, here?

My desktop-replacing notebook's working environment had gotten long in the tooth, too. It had lots of little nooks and things that were so familiar they'd become contemptible, really. Lots of little apps that were never used or rarely used, lots of clutter here and there and a number of obsolete and unsupported applications that I just wasn't paying attention to. The irony being that I didn't much want to do a clean reinstall of the OS even though I have the drive partitioned to make that easy, still, doing the update would clean up the dross and shine some light on some of the dustier bits that needed junked. And as easy as it is to knock eye candy as being gratuitous--what really matters is functionality, right? and whether you can do the job you need to do with the tool at hand--I have to confess it's nice to have some shiny shiny chrome in your workspace.

So I enabled the updates in the update manager and updated from 10.04 to 10.10 to 11.04 to 11.10, because trying to go from a Ubuntu x.04 release to an x+y.10 release tends to be very bad; I learned that the hard way one time when I tried doing that a couple of years ago before discovering you weren't supposed to do that because it would do what happened to that installation, which is it broke just about everything and created a horribly disfigured, unstable system that hid out in the basement of an abandoned house and plotted gory revenge on the team of surgeons it blamed for its disfigurement. Well. Half of that happened, anyway. You can go, I think, from one Ubuntu x.04 to the x+1.04 release--this is upgrading a long-term-support version to the next long-term-support version, as they say in Ubuntuese, but it just seemed better given the age of the installation to take things incrementally.

Which, at any rate, mostly worked. Mostly. I found myself with an unstable 11.04 installation that wouldn't boot into the graphic interface, which was an interesting experience because I was actually able to solve this by plugging the machine directly into my Internet connection, getting into the terminal from the recovery mode boot menu option, and updating from the command line. Which I mention not because it's actually a big deal--this is something that any computer grognard has done, possibly in the midnight darkness during a category five hurricane with no power except what he could generate turning a hand-cranked generator with his scaly, hairy foot while improvising a network connection using the clipped end of a parallel port cable connected to the computer held in his teeth near the frayed end of a 120-year-old telegraph cable similarly held, his own tongue serving as a conductor/connector between the damaged wires. Fixing a broken update from the command line and proceeding as if it had never even happened wasn't anything special, and that's actually the point and the reason I'm mentioning it for the benefit of computer users who might be interested in Linux but find it intimidating or something: basically, any idiot who finds himself with a stalled and derailed Ubuntu upgrade has a good chance of fixing it if he can find is way to a terminal prompt by typing, "sudo apt-get upgrade" (no, don't let that throw you: think of it as magical gibberish, like "abracadabra" or "hocus-pocus" or "abacab"), whereupon the machine picks up where it was and finishes what it was doing. Actually, I had to do this twice, with the second upgrade attempt also needing to be aborted at one point near the end and the machine having to be told to update a few more odds and ends whereupon it rebooted exactly like it was supposed to and popped up the graphic interface and login prompt. It was very clever and I had to wonder if people upgrading their Windows have anything nearly as awesome as an upgrade process that fixes itself when there's a problem without the whole computer having to be thrown out a window, initiating a completely different kind of upgrade procedure that may require getting in a car and driving to Best Buy.

This is the kind of thing that has one hedging even though one wants to be gleeful and glib. Seriously. The whole general process of upgrading from Ubuntu 10.04 to 11.10 through two intervening versions was almost (but not quite) as easy as tripping over a stick and falling face-first into the ground despite the fact the process failed at least twice while I was doing it. This is marvelous, because while we all hope our upgrades go without hitches (and I've had massive operating system upgrades of similar scope go completely hitchless), the fact that failures were so easily recoverable is just magical. Which isn't to say that the Internet isn't full of people asking what they should do when a Ubuntu upgrade completely freezes their system like any other upgrade of any other operating system might for no particularly obvious reason. I'm just saying that Canonical has done a magnificent job of making at least some failures No Big Deal And Nothing To Get Excited About, which contributes to a particularly stress-free user experience and novice users shouldn't let themselves be intimidated. Kudos.

Of course, not everything has been smooth since successfully upgrading. This is, really, mostly my own damn fault and illustrates why clean re-installs really are better if you can bear it. I've had things like missing icons, for instance, and duplicate launcher entries, both of which could be traced back to custom menu entries I'd created while using 10.04. If you're missing an icon in your taskbar or launcher, for instance, and you did an upgrade instead of a fresh install, you might want to launch the old menu editor and see if you used some fancy custom icon back in the day; resetting the icon may fix your problem when you reboot. Similarly, deleting duplicate menu entries using the old menu editor may get rid of redundant launcher entries. Couldn't tell you why, just that it's mostly worked for me. And Banshee seems to be crashing a bit much for some reason.

There's also been some little things missing here and there. I cannot get the fancy eye-candy Alt-Tab switcher to work (I only get the old bleh one), and there are a few other things missing that seem to work alright on the netbook installation. There are also some customizations and tweaks I'm working on here and there, and it's just like me to go and want to muck things up for the sake of "personalization". But I'm not unhappy yet, is the big thing, and I do have to hand it to Canonical that this is mostly proving to be a far better user experience than, say for instance, any experience I've had with That One Operating System (You Know The One) Made By That Company In Redmond.

In fact, there's really only one major problem, come to think of it....

I've solved a lot of the tweaks and little issues like getting the ATI card working properly again. I've downloaded a few extras and mods to make things more functional and to customize a little bit of this and that. Which means I'm just about done, or as mostly-done as anyone ever is who likes to tweak and poke their computer's OS and interface....

Oh gods. I've totally fucked myself, haven't I?

I'm going to have to start writing again.


Jeri Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 8:27:00 PM EDT  

Tesla wept! I'm one of those people who have always wanted to be brave and try Linux. As Roseanne Roseannadanna would say: never-mind. I've come as close to a nervous breakdown as you can, without actually needing a drool can attached to my chin for the rest of my life, when I had to reformat my whole stupid PC (with Windows and yes, horrors, Internet Explorer (unclean! unclean!)) a couple years ago.

Phiala Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 8:58:00 PM EDT  

Jeri, you can load ubuntu onto a flash drive following explicit instructions available online and boot from that without having to even make any changes to the hard drive. It's really slick: all of the fun without any of the trauma. And honestly, the worst problem I've ever had with an installation in my 17 years of running linux (17? That can't be right... um... 1994 to 2011... never mind) have nothing on even moderate problems with installing windows.

Eric was telling the truth: it's trivial to make a broken linux installation pick itself up, dust itself off, and try again. Google will tell you the magic incantations.

Eric, I'm still on 10.04 on the netbook, but will eventually get around to it, I suppose. I'm with you on the writing thing too. I sat down two hours ago to work on an outline. I... opened the file.

Eric Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 9:30:00 PM EDT  

Jeri, I'd emphasize both the things Phiala said. First, that you can try Ubuntu without installing it, running it off a flash drive or CD-ROM/DVD, which is a great way to see if it's something you'd like using. And second: that it really is just that trivial to fix most broken installer problems. When I had to re-initiate the install from the command line a second time, it didn't even have to re-download any files, it's like the installer just said, "Oh, hey, cool, let me finish opening these files and putting 'em away, don't even know why I stopped earlier." It was sweet.

Phiala, re: writing: you have my empathy and sympathy. Yargh. Yargh, says I.

Tom Friday, October 21, 2011 at 11:08:00 AM EDT  

Well, if my fellow Netbookers are all upgrading, I might as well follow the crowd (he said sheepishly). Starting upgrade from 10.04 to 10.10 in 3, 2, 1, GO!

Phiala Friday, October 21, 2011 at 11:12:00 AM EDT  

Oh great! I'm causing peer pressure and I haven't even done it myself yet!

What I really need to do is a clean reinstallation on all the work machines (three). But... what a pain, especially the server.

Tom Friday, October 21, 2011 at 12:39:00 PM EDT  

Phiala, Eric's the reason I have a Netbook, as well as the reason my Netbook has Ubuntu on it, instead of the Windows 7 it came with. Therefore, I'm very comfortable blaming it all on him. You can just come along for the ride.

Eric is the Guinea pig, err, courageous explorer, and I follow slavishly, err, sheepishly in his tracks.

Phiala Friday, October 21, 2011 at 2:42:00 PM EDT  

I've had an Ubuntu-laden netbook since before I met any of you, and I'm quite comfortable taking full responsibility for my actions. :)

Tom Friday, October 21, 2011 at 3:30:00 PM EDT  

Phiala, when it comes to your responsibility for your actions, I have no say. But I hope you weren't taking responsibility for my actions. I felt no peer pressure from you. I blame my actions on Eric, for making Ubuntu in general, and this upgrade specifically, seem reasonable and easy, and on myself, for being such a "sheepish" follower.

ingleess: the langage I ain't always fer sure about speakin'.

Phiala Friday, October 21, 2011 at 3:34:00 PM EDT  

I'd be happy to pressure you if it makes you feel better.

Ubuntu on the netbook is fabulous, and so much better than Windows. And I'm sure the upgrade comes with puppies and kittens and unicorns and is entirely painless.

It's not foolishly sheepy behavior if the person you're following is right.

Eric Friday, October 21, 2011 at 3:39:00 PM EDT  

Well, damn, Tom: if I'd known my influence was that powerful, I would have been asking everybody for money. :)

So, speaking-of-which, I'm reading Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology (a book-length expansion of her 2006 Rolling Stone profile that can be found here). The takeaway so far would be that LRH's famous (and slightly apocryphal) "If you want to get rich, start a religion" line may have played less of a role in the founding of Scientology than the element of LRH being batshit crazy; I mean, I always thought the guy was a little bent and maybe moreso when he died (by his latter years, it seems pretty clear he'd been drinking his own Kool-Aid, e.g. trying to treat physical ailments by calling his auditor before he called his personal physician), but his earlier years included not just the imaginary Japanese submarine incident in WWII, but things like kidnapping his estranged wife and driving her around the country trying to find a psychiatrist(!) to involuntarily commit her. And it's actually not clear that all the money that flowed into CoS' coffers went into LRH's pockets: there was an interval in the '70s, it seems, when LRH was heavily churning the money back into Scientology churches while living on the lam in what sound like pretty seedy motels. Not saying he wasn't a crook, just that the percentages may have been more like 90% nutter, 10% crook instead of the 50-50 or 40-60 I might have other wise guessed.

Anyway, back on subject: I sense that some of you might have anxiety about installing Ubuntu. What I would suggest is maybe you try out some of the tech I'm developing that will help you understand these issues and become clear. We could start you with one or two basic courses, but what I really think would be helpful would be if you tried the full series of courses, and then we could do some additional evaluations to see if some additional course work would help you address further issues involving past traumatic experiences and even past lives that may be holding you back from being a fully-actualized Ubuntu user. All we need to start rebuilding a better you is money. Send it. To me.

And then we can begin.

Phiala Friday, October 21, 2011 at 3:48:00 PM EDT  

You *might* get to the puppies stage on your own, but to get kittens, and definitely unicorns, you really need to take the courses.

[Eric, I expect a percentage.]

Tom Friday, October 21, 2011 at 3:59:00 PM EDT  

Phiala, maybe a little bit of pressure, right there, no, over some, YEAH, there.

I've been using my Netbook with Linux now for about a year and a half. It's a great train-time utilizer. But in spite of the fact that I've been working in (or on) computers for 40+ years, I'm still a bit unsure of myself when it comes to Linux. Eric's Linux/Netbook posts strike a chord in me, and press my buttons. But they give me impetus to do things that I really want to do anyway.

Uh-oh, time to leave work. More on this later. Bye y'all.

Eric Friday, October 21, 2011 at 4:19:00 PM EDT  

Phiala, I hereby dub you the Grand Commissar Of The Hot-Air Balloon Org, should you be willing to accept the position. (Should you be unwilling, you will--of course--be declared a Not-Much-Fun Person (NMFP, in tech terms), and barred from interacting with circus carneys and exotic pets.)

The position, of course, comes with certain Church benefits: the ability to perform weddings, to officiate at burials from hot-air balloon, and heaping piles of money once we get the revenue streams flowing and the IRS approves our tax status.

Phiala Friday, October 21, 2011 at 4:23:00 PM EDT  

There used to be a hot air balloon rally just down the street from my house, but I don't live there any more.

As long as I can officiate at weddings from my hot air balloon, I'm in.

Eric Friday, October 21, 2011 at 4:41:00 PM EDT  

You can officiate at weddings anywhere.* As for funerals, that's up to you: I merely suggest you'll want to take the balloon high enough for the deceased to be thoroughly buried when his descent terminates and you may want to avoid conducting ceremonies over highly-populated areas.

*Wedding ceremonies void in AL, AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, KS, MD, MA, MI, MN, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ (pending appeal), NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SD, TN, TX, VT, VA, WA, WI and WY.

Phiala Friday, October 21, 2011 at 4:56:00 PM EDT  

Hot air balloon or no, I can officiate at weddings in Pennsylvania as long as the couple get a Quaker license.

As for hot-air-balloon funerals, I have a list, and some large bodies of water available.

Eric Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 11:49:00 AM EDT  

The blissful joys of the Microsoft experience compared to Linux: Windows tells me I need to update the fingerprint reader, so I update the fingerprint reader, and now Windows tells me the driver is up-to-date, it's just that Windows can't load it right now. I swear--if Windows was in charge of the doors of my condo, I'd be locked out of my home, preparing to attempt to leap from my car door to a window. And then I would remove all the RAM chips while the fucking thing sang "Daisy" to me, yes.

Happily, the only thing I use the fingerprint reader for is logging into Windows (which I can do with the keyboard anyway, it's just lazier to swipe a finger two or three times over the sensor), and the only thing I use Windows for is videogames. But let me repeat this for anyone wanting a useful (non-gaming) machine: if I was having a similar problem in Linux, I'd be able to do a Google search on my phone for the problem and then type in a few words and--voila!--nine times out of nine-and-a-half, the problem would be fixed. Windows issue...?


Well, I did click on the button to file a report....

Tom Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 12:57:00 PM EDT  

As a continuation of my previous comment, I was attempting to do the 10.04 to 10.10 upgrade at work without a battery charger. After all, I had 3 hours of battery life left. The download was initially scary, since it said it would take 4 hours to download the files. It soon changed to 2 hours, so I knew it was just an estimate, which could, and probably would, change based on actual network throughput.

The file download finished, and it started upgrading. Again there was an estimate of several hours, but by this time, I only had an hour of battery left. After a while, I decided to close the Netbook, which forces a suspend, and saves the battery. A while later I noticed that the light, which blinks while in suspend, was off. Uh oh! I hoped the Netbook saw that it was running low on battery, and put itself in hibernate, where it writes the contents of memory onto the disk, and turns itself off.

If that was what it did, I would have to make sure it had power before turning it on again. Once I got home, I plugged it in to charge it up.

This and that happened, and the upshot was I didn't return to the Netbook until just a few minutes ago. I opened it, and hit the power, which, if it had been in suspend, would take it out of suspend. Well, when it came up, there were a number of boxes flashing about the screen. I put the cursor where one box would show up, and eventually hit the OK button. It had been trying to tell me that the battery was critically low, and it wanted to hibernate. I guess it was successful.

There was also the top of a window at the bottom of my screen. I couldn't tell what it was. I was able to right-click on it, and tell it to move up and over so I could see what it was. It was the upgrade window! Doing just exactly what it had been doing about 18 hours earlier. The time estimate was now 1 day and 13 hours, but of course that was because of the 18-hour hibernate. It started counting down hours, and now is saying 13 hours remaining.

It tells me "configuring this" and "installing that" and it really looks like the suspended new version install is continuing. I had visions of disaster, with the OS partially missing and such, but the "little Netbook that could" is just nicely doing it's job.

Go, little Netbook, and Ubuntu, GO!

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