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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.

Fri, 17 Nov 2017

Windows 10 is really not that bad

If you have an old computer, you should definitely consider Linux (and not just Chrome OS, as this ZDNet article suggests), but when it comes to new hardware you're buying right now, Windows 10 is more of a contender than the Microsoft operating system has ever been, even for people -- like me -- who have been using Linux as their OS of choice for years.

First of all, Windows 10 works well, is pretty slick, and handles HD (and presumably UHD) displays very well.

And since much of our (or at least my) computing is application-based and not so much OS-based, it doesn't really matter if you run the Google Chrome browser in Windows, Linux or Mac OS. It's still basically the same browser.

I still have the Geany text editor (though there is no terminal window in the Windows version). I code in Java and Ruby and haven't run into any problems yet.

But I wouldn't be here, still running Windows 10 on my 8-month-old laptop, if if werent for the Windows Subsystem for Linux, aka Bash on Windows, aka Ubuntu on Windows.

My "critical" Linux stuff -- mainly the scripts that run this blog -- still live in a Unix environment (believe me, I've tried it in Windows, and it's not happening). I use the WSL every day.

I also use Vim every day -- both in the WSL and in Windows, which has its own version of Vim (and GVim).

So far I've had one regression with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update -- the facial recognition on this HP laptop stopped working. Maybe it'll get fixed. It's not at all critical.

I just didn't want to go through the fight to get Linux just right on this laptop when my interests these days are more in writing code in Ruby and Java and less in how my OS is handling graphics, sound, networking and the like.

If these things were a problem in Windows 10, I'd be running back toward Fedora. Or Ubuntu. That might happen. And I still have my Fedora-running laptop. But once you go to an HD screen, it's hard to go back. I'll probably say the same thing about UHD when I get a laptop that offers it.

But for now, the OS is not important. I am running a browser and a few programming languages, various and assorted text editors, and until Windows 10 crosses me, I'm not motivated to buy myself any trouble (and don't tell me how you installed your favorite Linux system and had absolutely no problems ever; fixing those problems veered into hobby territory for me, but I'm just not feeling it these days). I recognize that Microsoft is spying on me. So is Google. I'm probably more comfortable with the former than the latter. And I'm way more comfortable with either one of those than I am of Facebook. That's a topic for another day.

Wed, 15 Nov 2017

I set the intonation on a Fender guitar for the first time

I've gone all this time being a guitar player and never before set the intonation on a guitar. It's mostly because my Gibson ES-175 has a wooden compensated bridge, and all you can do is move the whole thing forward or backward (and also side to side, but I digress). You don't generally do any intonation adjustments on acoustics, though luthiers can work a little magic with the nut and bridge saddle.

My 1979 Fender Lead I has a strong, thick neck that has never needed a truss rod adjustment, which is a good thing because getting to the truss-rod screw means loosening the neck from the body.

The Fender Lead's six-saddle hard-tail (meaning no tremolo) bridge is somewhat Strat-like, though it doesn't have springs between the intonation-adjustment screws and the individual bridge saddles. In lieu of those springs are nuts that hold the adjustment screws in place.

I had my little wrench to loosen the "lock" nuts, a Phillips screwdriver to turn the adjustment screws, and a clamp-on electronic tuner to check the pitches. I was set to go. I didn't even use an amp.

I've tried to set the intonation in the past, but I was never terribly successful. This time I used the cheap clamp-on tuner to compare the 12th-fret harmonic vs. the fretted note, and I went down the line and set all of the strings.

I also figured out that it's a lot easier to turn the screws (and you won't strip the heads) if you detune each string until it is slack before you make an adjustment at the bridge, then re-tuning the string to check how close you are to matching the pitches at the 12th fret. Words to live by: Don't adjust intonation at pitch!

Before yesterday, the guitar was out of tune as I played up the neck. Now that I have the intonation set, I will be playing it a lot more, and I might even "fill out" the extra Lead II pickguard I've had for years, turning the single (but super-versatile) humbucker Lead I guitar into a two-single-coil pickup Lead II-style guitar. With this change, the neck pickup sound should be closer to what I'm looking for, which is a jazz tone like Ed Bickert gets with his Telecaster. The hard-tail bridge of the Lead I, with the strings anchored through the back of the body, brings it closer to the Tele vibe. I wouldn't say that the Lead models sound like Strats or Teles (the Lead I sure doesn't), but I'll report back if I ever do swap out the pickguard and electronics for the Lead II-style setup.

Again, what I wanted to say was that after decades as a middling player, I never before did a full intonation setup. I really needed it and am too cheap to pay for it. So I'm glad I did it, and now I can really enjoy the Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings I've had on the guitar for some time. I have a couple more sets -- one pure nickel, the other nickel-coated steel -- in the wings, and I love the sound of this .011 set on the guitar.

New Firefox is the real deal but hasn't beaten Chrome yet

The new Firefox -- version 57 -- is being touted as faster then ever, with the unspoken message being, "if you do serious work in the web browser, you no longer have to use Google Chrome to avoid pulling your hair out."

I've been testing the new Firefox all morning, and I can say that's pretty much true. That said, there are still some design choices -- and I'm talking about how multiple tabs are handled -- where Chrome still wins. And after a morning of use, Chrome still retains a performance edge.

It didn't used to be a contest. When I used to run Firefox with multiple tabs open, it was a prescription for pain. But with the new Firefox, none of the performance issues I had with previous versions of Firefox are bothering me. I have my usual 15 or so tabs open, and I am able to switch between them with no lag and no blank screens. Nothing is freezing, which means everything is moving. Once my session "aged" a bit, I noticed a lag when trying to select text on a web page for copying. But I could still switch between tabs and start new ones with no trouble and no loss of speed.

About the only complaint I have is an old one: When you have more than, say, 15 tabs open in Firefox, you have to scroll to see them all. In Google Chrome, the tabs just keep getting smaller and smaller, and you can always see them all in your browser window. That's one thing that Chrome still does better -- for me, anyway.

But the fact that Firefox is no longer a performance nightmare compared to Chrome and is once again a viable alternative is huge. Google has much too big a piece of all of our pies to not have Firefox as a backstop against monopoly.

I've already been using the Firefox browser (the privacy version) on my Android phone, where it has been performing well for months. I can't tell a difference between it and the built-in Chrome, with the possible exception being that the Firefox browser is optimized to prevent spying and Chrome is very much not.

I hope Mozilla takes the browser where it needs to go -- performance equal to or better than Google Chrome. We really need the diversity in desktop and mobile browsing that Mozilla brings to a world where Google is the major player and Microsoft and Apple try to snare users of their platforms with each company's own in-house browser.

Things with Mozilla have been awkward. Company CEO (and JavaScript inventor) Brendan Eich's ouster over his anti-gay-marriage activism was the beginning of a very dark period for the non-profit entity.

With all the publicity of how much money Mozilla was getting from Google for search placement, any calls for donations from Mozilla were met (from me anyway) with a "how could they??" Even now, I'd like a bevy of compelling reasons for supporting Mozilla, financially and otherwise. A renewed Firefox that's going places, along with the Rust programming language that at least partly makes that possible is one. Advocacy for an open Web not controlled by "not evil" (in their own mind) corporations is another.

But that brings me back to the financials. Is Mozilla worthy of our money? Does it even need it? I applaud their efforts to bring Firefox back from the dead. It was basically killed by Google Chrome for sheer performance reasons, and Firefox's "return" has been delayed for years, it seems.

If I haven't said it already, we need Firefox, and we need Mozilla in its role as advocate and innovator. I will be using Firefox more, and since I haven't used it at all for the past few years, that should be easy. The open Web is important, but so is a more open world for the mobile devices and networks that have dwarfed "traditional" computer use over the past five or so years.

Mozilla tried to address this with Firefox OS, which failed fairly spectacularly. When the Firefox browser itself also fell behind, that was another ominous sign, and hopefully this week's release is the beginning of a new era for critical software that isn't controlled by an enormous company intent on making money by selling its users to bidders high and low alike.

Tue, 14 Nov 2017

John Stowell live in The Sound Room at WEEU-AM 830 in Reading, PA

One of the best, deepest and most innovative solo jazz guitarists working today, John Stowell, plays "Ligia," "Nobody Else But Me," and "Remembering the Rain" during a live session at WEEU-AM 830's The Sound Room in Reading, Pennsylvania.

His harmony is so innovative, and his chords so unconventional, that he's pretty much re-inventing how jazz is played on the guitar. I think Ed Bickert played chords kind of like this, but Stowell is definitely in his own arena when it comes to playing tunes his way.

They are not lying. The new Firefox is really fast

I just upgraded to the new Firefox (version 57, in case you're playing along at home), and it is a lot faster than the previous version.

Speed is the one thing that drove me away from Firefox and toward Chrome, and truth be told I would rather run Firefox and have Google spying on me just a little bit less.

The other thing that I need in a browser is the ability to have maybe 20 tabs open with the abilty to switch between them without pain. That's a big reason why Chrome became my go-to browser.

If Firefox can handle multiple tabs, it will be a whole new game. I commend Mozilla in advance, and I'll tell you how it goes.

Sun, 12 Nov 2017

A dedicated social blog?

I'm thinking that it's time for me to break out these social-style posts into their own blog.

I haven't done a hard analysis, but if I had to guess, I'd say I'm putting out 50 social posts for every traditional blog post. And since the social posts are in a subdirectory (aka a category), it's easy to go to that category and see all of the social posts, or see all the posts, traditional and social.

But there's no way to exclude the /updates directory and see everything but what's in that part of the filesystem. I'm sure I could code this into Ode, which is nothing if not flexible, but the more "natural" way to handle this is to have a separate blog for social posts, keeping this one for traditional, long-form writing.

It's an idea. The good thing about Ode and its flat-file structure is that I could move all of the "old" social posts into the new blog by simply copying the directory and its contents into the new site's /documents directory.

I'm not ready to do it just yet, but I am thinking about it. If I'm only putting out 10 social posts a day, I think a single blog is manageable for the reader. I am probably doing 25 some days, five on others.

So I may stick with the current arrangement (the preferred choice of the lazy), but another thing having two sites does is simplify the sending of posts to social-media sites. With two separate blogs, there would be no contortions to get traditional updates (post title and post link) automatically sent to Twitter with social updates (post body only) either excluded (I'm using my Blog Poster app to send them to Twitter) or sent automatically.

'Big Little Lies': Best thing on TV in months

I've been watching the seven-episode "Big Little Lies," starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern, which is written by 1990s TV powerhouse David E. Kelley, and it's probably the best thing I've seen on TV in the past six months or year.

Not that the competition is all that stiff. "This Is Us" is not my thing. "Victoria" is good but not great. I did like "I Love Dick," but HBO's "Big Little Lies" is better. It's also better than the most recent season of "Orange Is the New Black" (which improved with its ground-breaking pacing). "Transparent" is flagging. I really like "Casual," but "Big Little Lies" is better.

"You're the Worst"? Also running on fumes. "Love" from Netflix? Not as good.

"Poldark" is great, but "Big Little Lies" is still better.

So now that I've done super-mini reviews of every show I've watched in the past year, I can tell you that we're just starting the final episode of the seven-installment "Big Little Lies," and in terms of writing, acting and directing, this is the best that television has to offer.

Sat, 11 Nov 2017

I have a "now" category

When my Blog Poster script isn't posting a "social" entry, it drops the files in the "now" directory/category. I figured that "now" was a good a way as any to describe these quick posts that aren't meant as direct social media posts. They go to Twitter as a "normal" blog post, with title and link (instead of post body with no title or link).

Why can Ruby call Vim in read/write mode in Linux but read-only in Windows?

Why does Ruby's system call to vim allow me to write a file sometimes but not other? I can write all files in Windows with Notepad, and all files with vim in Linux.

Update: Now I seem to be having no problem using Vim for read/write. Maybe my last change (removing routine that read from a text file) fixed this bug, too.

Thu, 09 Nov 2017

Overcoming a permission error while using Ruby to move files

I'm not sure if this is a Windows-specific problem (I am currently developing on Windows 10), but part of the Ruby script in my Blog Poster app allows the user to "archive" all of the text files created as blog/social posts by moving them from the main program directory to an archives directory. I could opt not to create files at all, or have the script continue to overwrite the same one for each post.

But for now I'm keeping all of the text files (which the script creates and names based on the <title> tag of URLs that are part of the post, and I have an option to move those text files to the archive directory:

Dir.glob("*.txt") {|f| FileUtils.move File.expand_path(f), "archive" }

This part of the Ruby script worked fine when I started it and was doing nothing else, but if I used it to create one or more files, invoking the "archive" feature would error out and kill the script, saying that there was a permission issue.

Laziness. I looked in Stack Overflow and found the solution, which consisted of adding :force => true to the expression:

Dir.glob("*.txt") {|f| FileUtils.move File.expand_path(f), "archive", :force => true }

Now I can create posts (and their matching .txt files, which my blog uses) and then archive them at any point without the permission error killing the script. Thanks, Stack Overflow user mudasobwa.

Update: This modification allowed the script to keep running, but any files created during the current session are NOT moved to the archive directory.

The reason the files created during the session were not deletable is due to the script reading them out in the console. I will figure out a way to provide this output without rendering the files "undeletable" via Ruby.

Here are the lines I am removing for now:

puts "This is your file:\n\n"
File.open( @yourFileName ).each do |line|
   puts line
end