Title photo
frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair

Regular blog here, 'microblog' there

Many of my traditional blog post live on this site, but a great majority of my social-style posts can be found on my much-busier microbloging site at updates.passthejoe.net. It's busier because my BlogPoster "microblogging" script generates short, Twitter-style posts from the Linux or Windows (or anywhere you can run Ruby with too many Gems) command line, uploads them to the web server and send them out on my Twitter and Mastodon feeds.

I used to post to this blog via scripts and Unix/Linux utilities (curl and Unison) that helped me mirror the files locally and on the server. Since this site recently moved hosts, none of that is set up. I'm just using SFTP and SSH to write posts and manage the site.

Disqus comments are not live just yet because I'm not sure about what I'm going to do for the domain on this site. I'll probably restore the old domain at first just to have some continuity, but for now I like using the "free" domain from this site's new host, NearlyFreeSpeech.net.

Wed, 16 Dec 2015

O, Change Case add-on for Google Docs, you complete me, or at least supply a must-have feature

One of the biggest holes in web-based collaborative editing software like Google Docs (and Microsoft's Office Live Word Online - I checked) is the inability of the programs to allow the conversion of a block of lower case letters to upper case and vice versa.

You'd think this would be core functionality. Knowing what I do of programming, most languages provide utilities/methods that do this very thing. And pretty much every "local" text and/or document editing program offers this as core functionality.

So why don't Google Docs and Microsoft's Word Online offer it?

Beats the hell out of me.

I got annoyed enough that I set out in search of Google Docs add-ons to bring case-changing capability to the editor I'm using every damn day for work.

The add-ons were not hard to find or install. I decide on Change Case by Alec Tutin.

It does exactly what it's supposed to do, and that's good enough for me. If you use Google Docs with any degree of seriousness, you NEED this add-on.

Tue, 15 Dec 2015

I re-rebuilt the Dishmaster faucet again, plus re-did shower valve job

I rebuilt our Dismaster faucet about a week ago, a couple of weeks after a washer-assembly replacement failed to stop it from leaking.

That's because the valve seats were shot. I have never replaced the valve seats before, mostly because I had no idea how to get the old ones out.

The Dishmaster is designed like no other plumbing fixture I've ever worked on. Not that my experience is so vast.

The washers are mounted on plastic assemblies that snap on to the valve stems and turn freely on them. That enables the washers to make a tight-enough seal against the valve seats without grinding when you continue to turn them (unless you turn them a whole lot).

It kind of, sort of mimics the feel of a ceramic-disc faucet while still using a rubber washer against a metal valve seat.

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled the valve stems and replaced those washer assemblies. Not as cheap as regular washers by a long shot, but not a total deal-breaker, pricewise, either.

When that didn't work, I knew I had to figure out how to replace the valve seats.

First of all, I couldn't find the Dismaster M76 model's valve seats at any of my local plumbing or hardware stores. I had to order them. I got them from Casler Hardware, where the prices were good, though the shipping costs were high. Prices were higher [direct from Dishmaster], but I was more confident that Casler would ship quickly, so I chose them for this particular order.

Once you get the valve seats and the all-important Union O-rings that seal the faucet at a critical point, you can read the instructions, or just [see them on the Web].

You remove all of the outside parts of the faucet, then unscrew it from the back at what are called the unions, I believe.

Then you use a hex-key wrench to remove the valve seats from behind instead of the usual way (from in front with a valve-seat wrench). Curiously, the valves seats hold in the bolts that join the front of the faucet to the "unions."

Read the rest of this post

Fri, 04 Dec 2015

'Learn Linux in a Month of Lunches' by Steven Ovadia

Librarian and Linux user and advocate Steven Ovadia of the excellent My Linux Setup blog is writing a book, "Learn Linux in a Month of Lunches," available now in "early-access" form from Manning and as a full book sometime in summer 2016.

Steven's blog is an excellent resource, and he's a pragmatic advocate for free software who does a lot of good.

And in contrast with the early 2000s, when there seemed to be new Linux/Unix books every month, we are in a persistent drought when it comes to how-to books about Linux and related technologies.

So I think "Learn Linux in a Month of Lunches" is just the thing new and prospective Linux uses need to help them make the move from Windows and OS X to the freedom and flexibility offered by Linux and its many distributions.

You can get the first six chapters of the book today in electronic form, with additional chapters delivered as they are ready. It sounds positively Dickensian (in the novels-delivered-as-monthly-parts way, not in the children-working-in-a-bootblacking-factory way, to be clear about it).

Wed, 18 Nov 2015

Watch Hulu on Fedora Linux with the fakehal package and Netflix without it

The Hulu video service -- which really, really wants you to pay them money instead of watching for free -- is not easy to watch in Linux.

They require the HAL library, something Linux hasn't used in years.

There are plenty of tutorials on how to get Hulu working in Ubuntu, but fewer for Fedora.

It's pretty easy to get it so you can watch Hulu in Fedora (version 22 in my case).

You do this:

  • Install the fakehal package available here
  • Use Firefox to watch Hulu -- Chrome still won't work

It's as easy as that. Video quality was good on Firefox. Now that I can watch Hulu successfully in Fedora, I am more inclined to subscribe.

Netflix: While Netflix doesn't have this problem, on Linux you have to watch in Chrome and not Firefox. Call it #confusing.

Tue, 17 Nov 2015

Are search and social-media links to paywalled content a bait-and-switch?

Do search and social-media links to content tucked behind paywalls represent a form of bait-and-switch, "tricking" users of those services into clicking links for content they cannot see without a subscription or paying a one-time fee?

Do words like (nonfree), (fee to read) or (subscribers only) make it more acceptable to promote non-universally available content via search engines like Google and social-media sites like Twitter and Facebook?

My quick answer is that creators of content are able to use the "open" Internet network to distribute their content and restrict access via software. It's a form of privacy.

But I do not like when links to that content appear on my social-media feeds without a warning that the content isn't accessible with payment. Give me an appropriate warning about the nature of the transaction ($ for content) and I can decide whether to click, ignore or remove from my feed altogether.

Fri, 13 Nov 2015

Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings on the Fender Lead I, plus musing on guitars in general

After years of using flatwounds (generally D'Addario Chromes beginning with a .012) on my Fender Lead I guitar, I decided to go light(er) and roundwound with a set of Ernie Ball Power Slinky nickel-wound strings (.011, .014, .018p, .028, .038, .048).

And I'm liking the sound and playability very much. While I like the feel of really heavy strings (I use D'Addario Chromes, the .013 set, with an .014 subbed for the high E and a .018 for the B string), I think those strings overwhelm the solidbody Fender guitar. Or least that's how I feel for the way I play it.

I really like the plain 3rd string, which contributes to the overall evenness of volume and tone.

Even with only a bridge humbucking pickup, the Lead I has a very wide tonal range, and I can easily dial in a good jazz sound.

So much depends on the way you have everything set up -- the knobs on the amp and guitar, the way you play it. I generally use a heavier touch and keep the volume lower.

As I say above, I've gravitated to really heavy strings, but now I'm thinking differently, and I really like this Ernie Ball set. The lower strings, and the low end of the instrument in general, have a lot less muddiness (and a lot more definition).

The guitar, which I've had since I bought it new in what I think was 1979 (but the serial number indicates 1980) is a nice, heavy instrument.

I've pondered "converting" it to a Lead II with two single-coil pickups. I even have a Lead II pickguard ready to go, but I've just never gotten around to that mod (I would need the pickups, pots and tone capacitor, and then I'd have to figure out the wiring).

I'm using the orange Roland Cube 60 amp that, like pretty much every electric guitar I've ever had, I purchased when I was in high school.

About the only guitar I've "let go" over the years was the nice handmade classical that I used during my time in the music program at CSUN. I can't even remember the name of the company, but it was a nice guitar. It had a cedar top -- you could really smell it. I'm more of a spruce-top person, so I'm not all that sorry I don't have it, but it was a very, very nice instrument, and I think I'd enjoy playing a well-made classical guitar built with really good wood.

Takeaway: Players of different kinds of music on the guitar think that they need a certain type of instrument, strings and amplifier to credibly make a certain kind of music. For jazz that seems to be an archtop guitar, heavy flatwound string and amps with a whole lot of headroom so you don't have to drive it too hard to get the volume you need. While I agree with the amp requirement, and I absolutely love the sound of an archtop guitar (both electric and acoustic), when it comes to strings (light, heavy, flatwound, roundwound) and even type of guitar (solidbody, flattop, classical, full archtop, archtop with bridge in a block of wood), there are plenty of viable, sonically rich options.

Note: The Ernie Ball strings image came from the Musician's Friend site. I used an iPod Touch to take the Fender Lead I and Roland Cube 60 photos. The sweet case that Ilene sewed for the iPod Touch can be seen next to the guitar.

Thu, 12 Nov 2015

Adding Java, Perl, Ruby and Node to Windows

I like options. And contingency plans.

So I've been adding development tools to my Windows partition (currently stuck on Windows 8 since the 8.1 upgrade won't play nicely with my Win 8/Fedora dual boot).

I upgraded Strawberry Perl, added Ruby and Node, made sure I had the full JDK 8 and removed an older version of Python. I downloaded a new Python but haven't installed it yet (mostly because I'm not using Python at the moment).

I also have Netbeans ready to install, and I'm thinking of giving Geany a try in Windows. I use it a lot, especially these days for Java because I can compile and run in the editor. Otherwise I use Notepad++ for my editing.

I don't have everything working on this side, but I can certainly mess around with Perl, Ruby, Java and JavaScript. I know I could get a full Linux command line environment with Cygwin, and while I'm not yet ready to say that defeats one purpose or other, it's not something I'm considering at this particular moment.

Me and Unix and the '80s

That's me on an ADM-3A terminal at UC Santa Cruz some time in the late '80s. I'm using whatever version of Unix the university had at the time. I can see from the screen that I'm running the talk program with one of my friends on UCSC's Unix B system.

Unlike the other Unix machines (all named with various letters), Unix B was open to anybody who wanted to start an account.

With the help of a photocopied manual called "Unix for Luddites,"available for a couple bucks at the campus' Bay Tree Bookstore, you could learn vi for writing, nroff for formatting and a smattering of shell commands to get your papers printed on a mysterious, before-its-time laser printer somewhere deep in the campus computer center. Your work would eventually end up in cubby holes for later pickup.

While the ADM-3A was the coolest, most retro-looking terminal, even back then you were a little lucky if a DEC VT100 (or similar) was available. Its screen was green and clearer, its keyboard less mushy.

You were really lucky if one of the even-newer Wyse (unsure of model numbers) terminals was in your college's computer room (or the college next to yours; though a Porter student, I gravitated toward Kresge's much better computer lab/room). The Wyse terminals had amber screens that were even clearer than those of the DECs and (more importantly) featured nice, clicky keyboards.

But for sheer design, the ADM-3A was (and is) a classic.

Mon, 09 Nov 2015

I am reading 'Learning to Program' by Steven Foote

I am reading "Learning to Program," by Steven Foote, an introductory programming guide focused on JavaScript with a novel twist: Lessons are taught through the creation of Google Chrome browser extensions.

I'm only on Chapter 2, but things I already like about the book: It's for beginners but doesn't act like Node.js isn't a thing, I really like the idea of creating browser extensions, and it looks like it goes through a good number of programming concepts.

And Mr. Foote's writing style is clear and inviting.

Tue, 03 Nov 2015

The Fedora Developer Portal

I stumbled upon the Fedora Developer Portal via a link from Reddit that actually first took me to the Deploy and Distribute page, which offers overviews on how to create RPM packages and create/use a COPR repository. Then there's the Tools page on DevAssistant, Vagrant and Docker, and the Languages & Databases page to help you get your development environment together.

And this only scratches the surface of what you can do in Fedora (and other Linux operating systems such as Debian and Ubuntu).

I guess I'm a developer in that I write code sometimes, and Fedora is a great way to get a whole lot of fairly up-to-date tools without having to chase down updates from individual projects.

Fedora is developer-centric. That's what people use it for. So if that "bias" works for you (and it does for me), Fedora is a great way to go.

Note on Fedora Workstation: While I do have all of the Fedora Workstation packages on my system and can run its GNOME 3 desktop environment whenever I get the urge, I find that the Xfce desktop environment fits better for what I do both professionally and otherwise with this computer. You can get Xfce on any Fedora system via the package manager, or install it directly with the Xfce Spin.

Like anybody who uses Linux (or any other system) for a length of time, I have applications and configurations that I prefer, though the Fedora Xfce Spin is a great place to start.