Linux is Hard!

Or is it just different?

People used to walk everywhere, which is pretty easy, right? Unless of course you can’t walk, but let’s not be too pedantic here. Eventually, most of us learned to drive or ride a motorbike. Is that inherently easy? Could ease ever be described as something that needs contrast to be so?

I’ve always said that Linux has a steep learning curve, or something to that effect. I appreciate that about Linux now. Yes, it can be a tough nut to crack, particularly when compared to the likes of Windows and Mac. I know it sucks when things don’t work, but guess what, they can get it wrong too.

It took me a while to realise this myself, but a heck of a lot of people go into Linux with Windows firmly in mind, expecting it to be Windows, however, it’s a totally different operating system; an entirely different platform! That’s like stepping into a car and expecting it to drive like a motorbike.

I watched a video recently of a guy raging because he couldn’t deal with Linux not working as he expected. I’m not going to spout nonsense about how Linux always works or something, because the truth is it can be a major PITA. That said, this comes to mind:

“You are like this cup; you are full of ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.” – Master Ryutan.

Granted, you can’t really get a fair chance to mess with your cup if the thing doesn’t even work at all, which is why it took a while to get to the point at which I could learn all this stuff and get so involved with GNU/Linux, as some people insist on calling it.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully accept and understand that it’s not everyone’s idea of fun to fill your screen with virtual terminals and type out command after command. I know many people feel typing jargon is like going back to the days of MS-DOS, when such apparent gibberish meant you got something done.

Well, you still can get things done, and far more efficiently — why do you think the Linux command line has survived all this time, even in the age of such excessive hand-holding like the so-called “free” Windows 10? Your games and programs were created from lines and lines of code, or a program with a UI made from yet more lines and lines of code.

I loved Windows for years, but Windows 10 was the final straw. Ultimately, Micro$oft and Mac lock you down, but, provided it works on your hardware, then Linux will set you free. Is that always a good thing? No, as there are many opportunities to screw up if you overlook something, especially for a “power user” like me who loves to tinker and tweak.

I hope Linux will continue to mature and rise up to the challenge of appealing more to those whom refuse to use a terminal and want a more “user-friendly” environment. I want those things too — I’d love not to need the terminal for anything, and that’s coming from someone who loves it! I want the option not the necessity to use it.

Linux has achieved a lot, but there’s still quite the journey ahead for desktop users.

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Search Linux Apps without Fluff

Thought I’d try this while messing around in the repos on my PeppermintOS 7 installation of Linux, or GNU/Linux, if you prefer. I found it useful, because I was sick of browsing through the repositories only to find fluff after fluff.

Using wc -l at the end shows 9,691 which is still pretty sizable. I’m sure quite a few are being filtered out, unfortunately, but I can’t think of a way to avoid that at the moment. I’m quite happy with this many for now!

apt-cache search " " | sed '/[a-z;0-9]-/d; s/ - /£/' | column -t -s £ | sort | less

If you want to see only the package names on one column:

apt-cache search " " | sed '/[a-z;0-9]-/d; s/ - /£/' | awk -F "£" '{print $1}d' | less

This one could be a good base to use for searching. So, you could add this function to your .bashrc for more user-friendly searches:

function acs(){
read -p "Package name to search for: " package_search
apt-cache search " " | sed '/[a-z;0-9]-/d; s/ - /£ /' | awk -F "£" '{print $1}d' | grep "$package_search"
return
}

The 2nd line within that function, replace it with the following line if you want to see the descriptions as well:

apt-cache search " " | sed '/[a-z;0-9]-/d; s/ - /£/' | column -t -s "£" | grep "$package_search"

Yeah, so some of that isn’t exactly necessary, but I like playing around with this stuff and getting a layout that appeals to me.

I’m not sure what this will and won’t work on, so you’ll have to just give it a try. It probably will only work on Ubuntu-based installations, however. I’m using bash 4.3.46(1)-release, if that helps at all.

Let me know if you find this useful.

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Linux and Microsoft

Windows 8.1 is still being supported, and they say will be until  January 9th, 2018. Windows 7 has, according to their site, been cut off though. A terrible decision, in my opinion, given the huge success of that OS. A lot of people have jumped ship because of Windows 10, and I don’t blame them.

Linux has a bit over 3% of the market share, according to Wiki’s graphs. Linux has been gaining ground for many years, while interest in various Windows iterations is dropping. Fewer people are using Windows as time goes by.

I use Linux (PeppermintOS 7, built on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS) more than ever now; it’s my primary OS and I rarely go near Windows. Thanks to privacy and glaring security concerns, I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe using Windows anymore, despite having used and loved them since Windows 3.1 at primary school. Linux has opened my eyes to a new way, ‘though it wasn’t an easy journey.

I don’t like the way Microsoft conducts their business and I don’t think they care about the customers at all, only money. I find them deceptive, manipulative, and underhanded.

Linux, however, is open source; it’s all about sharing, creativity, and freedom. There’s even a Hannah Montana distribution; ridiculous? Sure, but wonderful that someone was able to create that and freely share it. At least if you don’t like a developer of your chosen distribution, you can jump to another; it’s not like you’re short of options.

That said, I am, or at least was a gamer. I still dabble. I’d need Windows for gaming. Linux does support games, and I do have Steam on it, but the graphical performance in many games seems terrible or lackluster in comparison, at least in my experience.

I have a feeling I’ll eventually just let go of the many Windows-only games on my Steam account and stick with Linux indefinitely. I barely game anymore anyway.

With Linux gradually gaining ground and Windows steadfastly losing it, that leaves Linux an opportunity to really step up. I think it needs some serious work in both gaming performance and a more approachable UI for those uninterested in the command line interface (Terminal) before it’ll have a shot at some day besting Windows.

I’m all for choice though, so if Microsoft is offering what you want, that’s fine. There’s a lot of Linux fans that generally make it all really personal against users of Windows and probably Mac too, but that’s not where I’m coming from here — not at all.

My issue is with Microsoft.

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Safely Insecure

There’s something special about filling two monitors with terminal windows on Linux, then smashing the keyboard until you fill each black space with jargon. I digress, before I’ve even started!

Today, I focused on accessing Android devices (3 mobile phones) via the USB Debugging feature within the Developer Options found or unlocked on most Android phones. I was even able to rescue all the files off an SD Card I previously deemed non-functional. Once I’d used and reused the CLI program adb – freely available on Linux, Windows, and Mac – I then focused my energies on trying to get my PC to communicate with my laptop.

Side note: I’ve truly come to appreciate just how open Linux is, but with that, also the risks involved.

Did you know that your router very probably has something called Mac Filtering, which’ll let you strictly set which devices can connect to your network? Your ISP likely gave you information, perhaps on a little card, that has your router’s local IP address; use this in the URL field on your browse of choice, then supply the login credentials your ISP gave you, in order to change these settings. Fair warning though, some settings on routers can seriously mess with your Internet connection and may end up costing you time and cash to remedy the screw-up. Proceed with caution.

Setting a longer password, with uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and symbols really does affect the security of that password. They don’t say it for funsies; it really does make it more time-consuming to crack. The longer and more obnoxious your wifi password is, the less likely anyone will sit outside your house for years in order to get access. You should be using the best encryption method your router allows for your wifi connection as well. While it helps to hide your SSID, it’s possible to see right past that with little effort, so I wouldn’t rely on it.

By the way, if you see an unsecure wireless network and think you might just log in to browse the interwebs for some much needed tweets and status updates, think again! These can be a very nasty trap. Commercially available networks can be different, but I’d still not trust a great deal to the offered free wifi of, say, McDonald’s.

“Get some work done, check your email or connect with friends. With free Wi-Fi at more than 11,500 participating restaurants, customers can access the Internet using their laptops or mobile devices at no charge. So grab a McCafé® Latte and log on. The Wi-Fi is on us!” – McDonald’s official website; link.

Notice the zero mention of security? This would suggest it’s really not that important to them, or perhaps they just don’t think it’s important to the majority of us. Either way, I’m concerned.

Ultimately, for the best security, use Ethernet cables and be done with wireless! Safe in the knowledge that the only way someone will get your data, is if they physically break into your home, which isn’t all that likely, unless you stick up a big billboard next to your home which reads, “Government secrets stored on servers inside this building.”

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Discovering Linux Commands

I’m reminded of the early stages of language learning; like when I was learning words the likes of die Katze and der Hund in German. It’s quite exciting. Of course, instead of German, it’s computer jargon!

I’ve been quite busy again today, trying to shovel more commands into my brain; really exercising that wonderful hippocampus. My focus for a large part of the day was both security and seeing what Mint 18 with the XFCE desktop environment is like. I wasn’t disappointed.

I now have a much firmer grasp of WAN security. Not in a super-scientific way, but an in-depth look into wifi security without crunching numbers and eating computer science books.

I again looked into Kali Linux (an OS used to test systems and their security) and learned about the little CLI program called wifite which, it turns out, can be installed from the default Mint 18 repositories, and I assume also the PeppermintOS 7 ones.

As for now, I discovered a document online (the link to which I’ve sadly lost) which shows rather a lot of Linux commands, however outdated they may now be. I’m able to tote the incredibly intelligent cal and date commands. However, something occurred to me: would it be possible to insert two commands at once? As it turns out, the answer is yes.

If you type > between commands, you can output the data into a file. If you type | between commands, you can “pipe” the command into another command (such as less) which is very handy for commands that have a rather large output.

Armed with this knowledge, it occurred to me that another similar symbol would suffice for typing in multiple commands. It wasn’t long before I stumbled onto the semi-colon. If you type, for example, cal ; time into the Terminal, it’ll indeed run both commands at the same time. Bonus! Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work for 3 or more commands at once.

The oft used sudo apt-get install, sudo apt-get remove, sudo apt-get autoremove, and sudo add-apt-repository ppa:[name] commands are mostly seared onto my head now, thankfully. I remember hating the need to ever type in all that when installing and uninstalling a program; it doesn’t really bother me now.

As I understand it, when you want to install a program that isn’t in your repository, the process is as follows:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:[name]
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install [name]

Usually at this point, it’ll be done and dusted, but in some cases you may need or want to update the program you downloaded, if for some reason it doesn’t come  updated. As for uninstalling, this is my usual method of choice, although I’d like to incorporate the –purge bit at some point:

sudo apt-get-remove [name]
sudo apt-get autoremove
sudo add-apt-repository -r ppa:[name]

Of course, if there was no need to add a special repository for the program, you can just ignore the add-apt-repository part. This is what works for me, but I’m lead to believe –purge goes above and beyond the call of duty to clean your system of a program.

You can just skip all the sudo-ing and start the commanding with sudo su, to permanently log in as Root (at least in that session) with an exit command to leave, but I’m advised against doing so as it can apparently be dangerous.

I’m getting tired typing all this out, so I’ll continue this in the next entry! I’m looking forward to some day reading all this again, then laughing at my relative Noob status.

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Back to Linux – PeppermintOS 7

I might continue this as a new series of blog posts regarding my return to and journey through Linux via the distribution (distro) PeppermintOS 7, based on Ubuntu 16.04 with the default desktop environment (DE) of LXDE. If you’d like to see more entries in this area, please do let me know.

My previous experience with Linux was less than favorable, which I posted rather negatively about over in this entry: Linux fails me yet again! Granted, it was more of a rant than anything, but it’s a stark contrast to my recent experience, that’s for sure!

As for now? Glorious. I did run into issues getting Netflix to behave, but it took a few hours to find a solution as to how to get Netflix to work on PeppermintOS 7. So basically Netflix uses either HTML5 or the now discontinued Silverlight, version 4 or 5.

Silverlight is the only option here, it seems. That left me to search for an open-source alternative: the solution was something called Pipelight. There’s another bit of software called Moonlight, but if I remember correctly, it’s not longer in development.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just as simple as installing Pipelight. I had to install an extension called UAControl on Firefox to tell Netflix I’m not on Linux. Because for some reason, the people behind Netflix indeed give a damn, and stop you playing media on it, simply because you’re on Linux. Way to make some money, guys! In the end, the problem was solved.

I’ve been saving notes, links, and other stuff for future reference, which I’m finding is an absolute necessity when dealing with a new language, as well as a new UI with new ways to install things; it can get quite overwhelming. Linux seems to be a case of it’s great if you know what to do, but if not, then it’s painful searches through site after site to find a potential solution.

Everything else seems fine. Skype is installed and working, thanks to the official site being kind enough to put up a deb for it; I’m surprised M$ provided that. Audio is working, video is working, and LAN is working. I’m very pleased. Oh yes, and f.lux is installed and functioning as intended.

I’ve had to do plenty of Terminal stuff, sadly. Some of it was complicated, but I guess prior experience has helped me better understand what I’m doing, rather than my just following commands blindly. The Terminal is required less, sure, but still not yet perfect. Deb files are the best though; they’re like actual setup executables you get in Windows; the way it should be!

In other news, today I got my hands on a nice lil HP 635 laptop on which a barebones, legitimate copy of Windows 7 – Professional was originally installed. Despite its AMD, APU graphics, PeppermintOS 7 seems to work on it just fine, showing the same experience I’ve had on the computer. It somewhat miraculously got the wireless, ethernet, sound, graphics, touchpad, and whatever else to work straight from the LiveUSB without even any Internet connection needed.

I’m feeling more comfortable with the Terminal and its commands, although I’m still far from being anything other than an amateur Terminal user. Now that I have a distro and/or DE that actually works, I feel like I can make some decent progress in better understanding Linux, and with that, better understanding the Windows iterations I’ve been using since I was a lil kid some bazillions of years ago.

On a side note, I learned about Domain Name System attacks recently, which was really eye-opening and helped me better appreciate not only how DNS works, but how to block sites from running or reroute them to something more appropriate, simply by editing the hosts file with a word processor; handy stuff!

I’m excited to see what I’ll discover next.

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Worried about Dust Bunnies?

The whole “dust bunny” thing is quite the exaggeration these days, in my experience and opinion. If you wanna see when dust bunnies really cause problems, you should’ve seen the ancient desktop computer I once battled! It had a terrible case design that limited airflow and took in junk for a long time.

The windows in the person’s cluttered home were never really opened. The guy—unfortunately in a wheelchair thus not quite as able—had a dog, and he smoked a lot, both weed and cigarettes. The vents were almost completely blocked by junk. The heatsinks? Utterly caked. The computer hadn’t been opened up in years.

He wanted me to clean the machine out, so I started to do just that. I honestly had such a hard time because of the disgusting smell and dust that initially went straight into my lungs, that I quit! Never again.

When you’re dragging out huge, thick lumps of crap that make you feel as though you’re emptying a vacuume cleaner as opposed to a computer, then you have a problem on your hands.

Once you experience that, you don’t care too much about a few bits of dust.

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Sticking to nVidia’s Graphics Cards!

Never would I have imagined it would be so much hassle returning to an AMD graphics card. It wasn’t even a day before the MSI “Gaming” R9 290 OC was drop-kicked out the window. Performance isn’t always everything.

The ability to successfully cap a game’s fps was sorely lacking, at least with this GPU and driver package, the latter of which was the latest. AMD’s capping feature within the control panel was a nice attempt which completely failed to cap Borderlands, GTA 5 or Fallout 4. Furthermore, Fallout 4 refused to even start with it enabled to even 60fps.

This was a real issue for me because I’m a stickler for a consistent frame rate. I play games at 60fps only if they can keep it consistently, or at least the great majority of the time. Otherwise, I typically cap to 30fps and max it; it’s not ideal, but it’s somewhat like the best of both the console and PC worlds.

A few other things that were off-putting with this graphics card is that it ran very hot, and the fans would start to squeal upon ramping up. Sure, AMD says the R9 290 safely supports 95c; I’m not convinced, and still feel that is too hot, especially when all that heat is being chucked around the rig. My Zalmon Z11 is pretty well air-cooled, and I’m not in a particularly hot country, but none-the-less I don’t feel comfortable with that kinda heat. The card ramped up to 88c and would’ve gladly gone higher had it the chance.

It wasn’t all bad, as the 2012 game Hitman Absolution ran well, maintaining 60fps from what I saw. Every setting, bar 1, was maxed with 4x AA. However, the game would drop a lot of frames during certain scenes which seemed to be down to the “Level of Detail” setting which I lowered a little. Problem was solved, but on the other card I cap to 30fps and max it all; no problem. I also enjoyed the display colors the red corner offered, as opposed to nVidia’s more washed-out look.

I’m finally seeing that performance is not the most important thing: functionality is, at least to me. I had a headache with the drivers. Sure, they installed fine the first time around, but when I tried to uninstall the driver to put on a different version, I lost visuals completely and upon restarting the computer, both screens were entirely corrupted beyond any use. It was reminiscent of the instability I’d experienced before with Linux.

I decided that was enough. I opened my bitch up, shoved that ASUS 760 OC back where it belongs, sealed her tight, and loaded this rig up with a vengeance. Now things “just work” as they should’ve done in the first place.

Fallout 4 and GTA 5 were fine, but they couldn’t consistently keep 60fps, or at least without stuttering. I could’ve lowered lots of settings, but I had expected more from this card, given its specs. I was so close with GTA 5, though; I would get stuttering which I can only assume was down to the occasional dip below 60fps. I’m realising that obsessing over 60fps is causing more harm than good.

I’ve tried to keep an open mind with regards to what people have said about AMD’s drivers over the years, but this has left a very bad impression. I’m just relieved I didn’t throw down a bunch of monies on that card!

I shan’t be revisiting AMD graphics cards any time soon, for the simple reason that nVidia’s cards and/or drivers—currently and in my experience—work and have features I consider absolutely essential.

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Back to an AMD Graphics Card

I’ve been with nVidia for a very, very long time. The last AMD GPU I had was in-fact so old that it was still ATI; I can’t even remember its name. Since then I’ve had a standard, passively-cooled 400 series card, a PNY 550Ti, an MSI Twin Frozr II 560Ti OC, and most recently, an ASUS 760 OC.

I’ve just upgraded to a new GPU, but this time it’s not nVidia, this time it’s an MSI R9 290 OC, “Gaming” iteration, courtesy of AMD. There are two versions of these cards: 4G and 8G, which is stupid marketing crap for 4GB and 8GB, respectively! Mine’s the 4GB version, which should suit my needs well enough.

If you’re confused as to why I’m upgrading to a card that was released late 2013, from a card that was also released that year, despite their vast difference in performance, it’s because I got it free along with some more Corsair XMS3 1600MHz DDR3 RAM, putting my current total up to 10GB.

As I cannot find this card on Amazon, I’ll point you to Sapphire’s version, which is currently selling as new for approximately £260, whereas the ASUS 760 OC isn’t even on there anymore. However, the 960—performing very similar to the former, but more modern and efficient—is selling for about £163, new.

Once I removed nVidia from my system as best I could, I got this chunky, hefty beast into the rig (t’was a tight fit in a Zalmon Z11!) and began downloading, then installing AMD’s software and drivers.

The first thing I noticed once everything had started up, is that everything was very sharp, and dark. Black now truly looks as dark as night, which is wonderful on my IPS display from ASUS. At first thing I thought something went wrong, but I did a quick Google search and found that this is actually a common attribute of AMD GPUs: color clarity.

I had a quick peek at AMD’s control panel and found it to be easy on the eyes, while still maintaining functionality; a considerable difference from the old days! I also had little issue in finding the right driver package for the job.

Prior to running any games, a concern of mine is whether the lack of PhysX will prevent me playing games like Borderlands, a game I’ve been happily revisiting as of late. Heat and power are two other concerns of mine, particularly the former.

I’m particularly excited because the R9 290 has 4GB VRAM to the 760’s 2GB, which really was becoming a problem in newer games like Fallout 4, GTA5, and Doom. On top of that, a much higher memory bus interface width of a whopping 512-bit, next to the 760’s 256-bit.

I’m looking forward to testing this GPU and seeing what AMD has to offer.

To be continued…

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Screw You, Technology

I’m so sick and tired of technology.

How is it, after all these fantastic years of discovery and advancements, we have computers so smart they get sent into space, yet here on planet Earth, this Toshiba laptop refuses to use official drivers from two official locations, both Toshiba’s site and AMD’s site, on an operating system with which it was originally sold?

I’m fed up of Windows troubles. I’m sick of Skype not working; dying on Android then dying on my PC for seemingly no reason with no decent help to be found online, for others too. Messages not getting sent or received, calls being dropped, video failing to show, and surely more issues have plagued my various Skype installations for too long.

I’m sick of Microsoft with their questionable business decisions and obnoxious software changes, forcing us into some crap for which some of us frankly don’t give a shit. What exactly was so wrong with Windows Live Messenger with Plus! which worked so well, looked fantastic, and was so popular? Don’t even get me started on the initial XBOX One fiasco!

I’ve had enough of troubleshooting; having to test, remember each and every setting in-case the computer implodes at any given moment, and trying to figure out just how technology has somehow screwed me.

I’m sick of companies like Google sticking their noses up something that was perfectly fine the way it was! Sure, because we really needed Google+ and Google’s interference with what was a perfectly fine and dandy system on YouTube. Yeah, I said it.

Use Linux! I hear you shout. Well, I’ve ran into arguably more issues there than I ever have with modern Windows (7 and 8.1) so I have no clue what the hell to think of Linux. Crash after freeze after failed installation mixed with a terminal and computer jargon with which most probably don’t care to deal—not fun.

I’m tired of technology advancing so fast, making you spend so much money just to play games in a stable and pleasant way, despite having spent a sizable chunk of dosh to have a decent experience. Assuming, of course, the damn companies don’t make a complete and utter, dire, joke of a mess of these so-called AAA games; stutter, horrendous FPS on solid machines, CtDs, freezes, errors, corrupted saves, and so much more await many a modern PC gamer.

Technology, kindly go home, because you’re well and truly wankered.

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