Potpourri, June 18th (2016 edition)

1959ish, I'd sayIt’s been a few months of hardware madness here — and if you know my tastes in computer stuff, you know they lean towards the software rather than the hardware side of things. So I haven’t been entirely happy during that time…

Back in mid-April, my two-terabyte (2TB) hard drive abruptly failed. It took me several weeks — educational ones, to be sure — to admit that I probably could not resuscitate the thing. I replaced it with a 3TB one, and all went swimmingly at first…

…at least, until I installed Windows 10 on it.

Here’s how my computer at home has been set up, now going back maybe five-six years:

The hard drive is divided into two (main) partitions, running two entirely different operating systems: Windows in the first partition, and Linux in the second. This is called a dual-boot setup: when you boot the computer, you’re prompted to select which operating system you want to run for this session. The default for me is Linux, but I do occasionally (rarely, actually) use Windows for one specific program or another.

The Windows side has moved progressively from Windows XP to Windows 7 and then finally to Windows 10, via the automatic (i.e., forced) upgrade which Microsoft “offers” to users of older versions. When I installed Windows 10 on the new hard drive, I was actually restoring it.

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“New” Computer?

mint1702_postinstall_smOkay, not really. It certainly feels that way, though: I just replaced the operating system I use for “everyday” purposes with a new one: good-bye, Ubuntu 12.04 (Linux), and hello Mint 17.2 (also Linux).

I spent about four hours this morning laying the groundwork, which mostly involved researching the problems I might expect to encounter (and how to avoid or recover from them), doing backups, and so on. In the event, though, the installation process itself took about a half-hour to run — during only a few minutes of which I actually had to be hands-on involved.

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Pure (But Minor) Geek Stuff: Font Problem (Ubuntu, Chrome)

I’m currently running Ubuntu 12.04 as my main operating system, and primarily use Google Chrome for Web browsing. (The “About Chrome” page says it’s version 32.0.1700.107.) I haven’t added any goofy font-management packages — or goofy fonts, for that matter. And I’d never noticed any problems with the same setup on my older computer, replaced last summer: same OS, same browser.

For the record: Chrome under Windows did not display the same problematic behavior.

But on this computer, oy. On certain pages, particularly Wikipedia pages, I could see a very vexing problem. (The problem occurred only with Chrome, not with Firefox or Opera.) To illustrate, here’s a partial screen capture of a current Wikipedia article as I saw it when I first browsed there a little while ago (click to enlarge); the red ellipses highlight problematic areas on the screen:


As you can see, especially (but not only) on lines containing boldface text, adjacent characters — sometimes entire words — appeared to overlap. I could sorta-kinda read this text, but it was getting very, very tiresome to puzzle it out when I was really in a hurry to get to a page’s content without having to fight its form.

I did some research, saw that others had experienced the same problem, but the specific solutions proposed (often involving the installation of new software and/or fonts) didn’t interest or even apply to me. Yet the focus on fonts did

Short answer:

  • In Chrome, go to the Settings page and click on the Show advanced settings… link at the bottom.
  • Scroll down to the section headed Web content. Click on the Customize fonts… button.
  • Look at the default sans-serif font. Does it say Arial? If so, use the drop-down list to change it to one of the generic substitutes; I picked FreeSans.
  • Reload the problematic Web page.

At least in my case, the improvement was immediate (click to enlarge):


I can’t promise you identical results if you’ve got a similar problem. This one just worked for me.

And now, at last: back to researching minor planets, Chthonian planets, hot Jupiters, trojan planets, Lagrangian points, and yes, planetary cores…

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Things Programmers Think (and Sometimes Say)

In my day job, I have a couple of stock responses to questions from clients or just to my (and their) experiences with computers. One of these stock responses is something which clients almost never like to hear, because it translates, roughly, to This may sound like a “yes,” but if you believe that you’re crazy:

Oh, the [program/database/software tool] I’ve provided you with can be made to do almost anything. Some things aren’t worth paying for, though.

They often don’t hear the other stock response at all, because it comes across as a bit too braggy, smug, self-satisfied; I may be all of those things, but — haha — just don’t want anyone to know it.

But I think it to myself often enough, you bet. Always after a bout with some truculent beast of a technical problem: a program whose interface didn’t let me do X (although I knew damned well that X was among the things it should let me do); an oddball hardware device — a label printer, scanner, digital camera, trackball — which finally allowed itself to be fitted (usually tightly) with the software clothing available; a database query which had always taken thirty minutes to run but suddenly, simply because I poked at it and finally changed just, like, two words, returns its results in seconds. Whatever. Here’s what I think to myself:

The programmer always wins.

From my post earlier this week, you may already know this has been the sort of week with my home computer to make even an ardent technologist long for the days of abacus and quill. The image at the top of today’s post (like the one from mid-week) sort of sums it up. I had to take it with a camera, rather than the system’s built-in screen-capture feature, and as a result it’s sort of wobbly and muddy and Moire-patterned, but it gives you the idea.

Late yesterday afternoon, I took the “after” counterpart:

Big difference, huh?

True, I haven’t yet restored everything. But at that moment, I’ll tell ya: I felt pretty damned full of myself.

(Which brings to mind, now, that other thing I keep forgetting, what is it?, something about… pride? Yeah, that’s it. Pride. Oh, and I think there might be something about a fall involved, too.)

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Smashing Your Thumb with Your Trusty Hammer

[Technology alert: If you’re not into PC tech, especially wonky stuff about operating systems and such, you might want to give this post a pass.]

As some of you may know, I almost never use Microsoft Windows anymore — at least, when at home. (At work, there’s no other option.) Until a couple days ago, in fact, I hadn’t used Windows since, oh, August, maybe? July?

That phrase “almost never use Microsoft Windows anymore” catches a lot of people by surprise. Especially when I clarify further: “…and I don’t own a Mac, either.” Like, what other option is there? And all other considerations aside, why would someone NOT use Windows or a Mac in the first place?

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Forward Bravely, into the Past!

Bogus RAND computer (click to enlarge)

This March — the 12th, and isn’t it interesting I remember the exact date? — marks my 30th year as a computer guy.

When I started out at AT&T, my job title was Member of Programming Staff (with a digression into Managerhood); at my present job, I’ve been a Distributed Systems Specialist, a Business Systems Analyst, and a Database Analyst. (Oh, and throw in whatever you call a departmental Webmaster, too. Probably exactly that.)

And then I’ve built and maintained other Web sites, as well, and RAMH is, like, my fourth or fifth blog since 1999-2000 or so.

By now, you might think, I’d be right up there in the vanguard doing the Pied Piper thing, urging everyone else to join the cyber/systems/virtual revolution.

Er, no.

Into my Inbox recently drifted a plaintive email from a young guy with a computing question. In purchasing a new computer, it seems that he had to choose between two options: a souped-up whiz-bang up-to-the-minute model? or scale back on the computer itself, and spring for a really nice monitor?

I counseled him to choose Door #2, introducing it with the (perhaps surprising) claim:

I tend to be conservative in matters of computer hardware: I don’t want my computer to make my heart race; I want it to be INVISIBLE.

That pretty much sums it up.

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Smile After Smile

JES, en mosaicThey say old habits die hard, and I guess it’s true.

But traditions are a sort of shared old habit, and traditions don’t die hard at all — although they don’t flat-out die, either. Traditions evolve. People come and go. What’s possible replaces what you could never do, and what you used to do all the time gets a lot harder as the muscle aches and stray indecisions of age set in.

So all right, I know: the “Christmas traditions” I remember from my four decades in New Jersey are probably long gone.

(Early in the week, I asked my mother what she’d be making for Christmas dinner — feeling all nostalgic, y’know, for turkey and pies and fruit cake and all that, to say nothing of the many-voiced family sit-down conversation around the table. “Meatball sandwiches,” she said. “What?!?” “Well,” she explained, “it was just getting too complicated trying to get everybody here at the same time, for the same length of time. This way they can drop in whenever they want and stay as long as they want.”)

But the one tradition that lives on — one that I haven’t been able to take part in, not for many years — is just seeing everyone at Christmas.

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More Bibliophiliac Detritus

Bookshelf, back room, south wall

In a post a few days ago, I talked about BookRabbit.com — a (fairly new) site which lets readers share the titles of books they own, in hopes of discovering other books they might be interested in. The clever mechanism which BookRabbit have come up with for communicating this information is bookshelf photographs: take a photo of a bookshelf, and go through every (or at least many) of the books displayed thereon, “tagging” them by title, edition, and so on.

I found this impossible to resist.

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