Saturday, December 3, 2016

Windows Is User Hostile

I do not understand how people can tolerate Windows computers on a daily or semi-regular basis.  The frequent reasons usually boil down to either (a) well, it's just what I know or (b) I have to use Windows for the software I need.  Of these, option (b) is only partially believable to me.  For the vast majority of non-business users, Windows is no better or worse than a Linux or Mac desktop.

First, the familiarity.  People say they just know Windows.  Really?  It's changed a hell of a lot from release to release, much like Linux and Mac releases.  Is it really that familiar to you or do you just know realize you are adapting to a new interface?

Second, the software.  People say the programs they need are only on Windows.  I call bullshit on that.  Both Linux and Mac systems offer very good alternatives (and sometimes even better alternatives) to whatever shit you're wanting to run on Windows.  And then there's even things like Google Drive where you don't even need to install things like office software because it runs right in the damn web browser.  For nearly all home users, this is more than sufficient.

There is a Windows system currently in my office.  It belonged to my mother in law.  In an effort to preserve the data (e.g., photos), I offered to help extract those files from this system so we could then either sell or donate the computer.  What I thought would be a relatively simple task turned out to be basically impossible.

Let's Get The Files
Boot up and log in.  Seems mostly familiar.  The system is running Windows 7 Home Premium.  It does not look familiar to the Windows that I was last familiar with (Windows NT 4.0), but I am able to figure some things out.  But not everything.  How do I get a listing of what's on the disk?  Can I see a file manager?  How about a command prompt?  I find a thing on the menu called Computer that lets me navigate the C: drive, but I don't really know what I'm looking for.  I could really do this faster at a command prompt.  I remember being able to type cmd in the Run dialog box and it ran a DOS prompt.  That still works.  But turns out I don't really remember my DOS and am clumsily moving around the hard disk.  OK, this is a waste of time.

How About a Shell I Know
I download and install Cygwin and launch its bash shell.  I can now access C: via /cygdrive/c and things start looking familiar.  I think now I can just tar up some key directories, scp them to a real computer, and then unpack those archives and pull out photos and so on.  I install tar and get to it.  Oh, except I start getting permission denied errors from tar despite the fact that I am logged in via an Administrator account.  What is this shit?  Tar just won't dive in to these directories.

OK, What About a Drive Imaging Program
I know these exist in the Windows world.  How about I image the entire C: drive and we can replicate it somewhere else if we need to?  I'm now getting desperate and reducing the data extraction exercise to just moving bits over to another computer and not knowing if I will be able to do anything with them.  I find and install DriveImage.  It lets me select C: and then makes a ton of files which are image chunks.  I scp these to my real computer and then that's it.  Not really sure what to do now.  This is a non-starter.

We go on vacation.

Right, Back From Vacation
Still need to get these files off the system.  But you know, I'm not really sure what files are of interest.  It would be best to save everything just in case.  In fact, it would be best to be able to have Karen go back and look through this computer if need be.  Ah ha!  I can do a physical to virt conversion, or p2v, and set this system up in a virtual environment on her laptop.  Perfect.

Pick Your Poison
All of our computers run either Linux or Apple ProDOS.  Windows is alien.  So I need to find a virtual machine system that works on her laptop.  Oh wait, it's running CentOS and we include virt technology in that.  Perfect.  Except converting a physical system to something that runs in our KVM environment is sort of a bitch and half.  I'm feeling lazy, what else can I find?

VMware is an option, as is VirtualBox.  Microsoft offers it via Hyper-V, except Hyper-V only runs on Windows.  I look at VirtualBox but they are as complicated as our procedure for doing p2v.  VMware offers a nice method to convert a local system to virt.  So I download that tool and proceed to create the .vmx file.

Error: A General Error Occurred
VMware is terrible with error messages.  The VMware vSphere Converter tool that will let you create images from physical installations is ok, except that it's also terrible.  I launch it and it immediately tells me that a general error has occurred.  Um, ok?  Google takes me to the VMware kbase where it explains that the error is because I didn't run it in Administrator mode.  What?  I am the Administrator.  But in Windows, you can right click an icon and select Run or Run As Administrator.   Seems that even being logged is as the Administrator has a default mode of dropping privileges when running programs.  From a security standpoint, that's probably better for users.  However, it's not what I was expecting nor did the error message help me at all.

I select a place to store the image and tell it to image the boot drive and C:.  I then tell it to make C: as small as possible, which gets it down to 115G.  I set some other parameters and let it run.  It runs for hours and then fails.  Awesome.  It actually wrote out the image file, but still insists that it's a failure.  Why?

One Drive Per Image, Please
VMware can't easily handle more than one disk in the image.  Or this program can't.  Whatever, I don't care.  I reran it selecting just C: and it ran fine.  The other disk was the EFI boot partition, so I don't really care.  The VMware kbase tells me that the image won't be bootable and I will need to boot from the install media and repair the image.  Ugh, what the hell?  This is entirely too annoying.  But I now have an image.  Time to get it on the laptop and get it working there.

I Ransomwared Myself
Remember I said I was feeling lazy?  Well, that's a mistake I had to pay for.  VMware Workstation costs money.  Should have seen that coming.  I had to pay $200 for it.  I got that installed on the laptop and proceeded to copy over the image I made, except...

Low Disk Space Warning
That 115G disk image of the Windows computer sure is big.  I have the / volume and /home on the laptop.  The / volume has 43G free and /home has 31G free.  Hmmmm....this is bad.  Maybe I can shrink / and expand /home and also get the Windows image under 70G, right?  Totally doable.

Several problems.  I have no idea what I'm doing on Windows.  I start uninstalling programs that seem pointless.  I remove files from C:\WINDOWS\TEMP.  I empty the Recycle Bin.  I try to free up space, but I can only get it down to about 101G.  I go back to the laptop.  Resizing there is going to be a pain.  I took defaults when I set up CentOS on the laptop.  The volumes are within an LVM volume group and are XFS filesystems.  You can't shrink XFS.  You can only grow it.  DAMN IT!

But we do have xfsdump and xfsrestore to make the shrink process possible, but annoying.  Maybe I can run to Best Buy or Staples and pick up a new hard disk, migrate this laptop to a larger disk, then copy over the vmx image, get that set up and running.  Yeah, that should only take the entire weekend.

That's it.  No more.  I am going to have Karen and her brother comb through the Windows system, extract the files they want, then we will wipe and reinstall and get rid of it.  What I thought would be relatively straightforward turned out to be the most frustrating process ever.  I blame a lot of this on Windows because I really just can't figure out how to do things on Windows.  It's really no different than other systems in that regard.  If I knew what to go and find, this could have been done already.  The best option I could come up with was going p2v and setting it up to run in virt on a Linux system.  And even that turned out to be impossible with my resources.

If you need me I'll be on my Apple IIgs.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Upgrading to Fedora 24

Fedora 24 is now available and today I took time to upgrade my workstation to this release.  I have to admit that I was a little lazy and did not bother to upgrade to Fedora 23, so today's task was upgrading a Fedora 22 system to Fedora 24.

I have been working at Red Hat for a long time and have been part of the Fedora Project during the entire time.  A lot of work goes in to each Fedora release and I have to say that this release is very nice and was very easy to upgrade to.  Many non-Fedora users I talk to have the impression that Fedora changes way too quickly for easy upgrades to be possible.  Well, that's probably true when you compare it to more conservative distributions.  Rather than slow things down, Fedora has built a reliable mechanism in for upgrades.  It's taken a while to evolve and I am pleased that my team has contributed a large part of that work over the years.

So, going from Fedora 22 to Fedora 24, here's all I did:
  • Back up.  Seriously.  Everyone says this, most don't do it.
  • Log in on another system and get Firefox open and irc up.  The upgrade is going to take a while and I want to be online while that happens.  Red Hat is very nice and provides me with multiple computers at my desk.
  • Choose your upgrade method.  For me, I chose the dnf system upgrade option.  This is a continuation/evolution of what used to be called fedup in previous releases (and in a way the older yum distro-sync mechanism).  I also chose to upgrade first to Fedora 23, then to Fedora 24.  While an upgrade directly to Fedora 24 would probably have worked for me, I wanted to step it up through the releases because I know that path is actually tested by other Fedora Project members.
  • Execute the upgrade to Fedora 23:
  • sudo dnf update --refresh
    sudo dnf install dnf-plugin-system-upgrade
    sudo dnf system-upgrade download --refresh --releasever=23
    sudo dnf system-upgrade reboot
  • During the reboot the system will upgrade to Fedora 23 and then reboot again.
  • Execute the upgrade to Fedora 24:
  • sudo dnf update --refresh
    sudo dnf system-upgrade download --refresh --releasever=24
    sudo dnf system-upgrade reboot
  • And during this reboot, the system will upgrade to Fedora 24 and reboot again.
That's the process.  It involves more waiting than commands.  And I got my information from here:

As with all systems, there are a handful of adjustments I had to make or tips I collected during the upgrade.  Here's how I modified the steps above:
  • During the upgrade to Fedora 24, I had to add --allowerasing to the dnf command due to some problems with third party repositories.  This did not have a negative impact on the upgrade itself, though some third party packages I had installed were removed (e.g., vlc).
  • Once in Fedora 24, I had to disable the rpmfusion-nonfree-updates repository.  I guess as of now, it does not yet exist.
  • There are some optional commands explained on the wiki page above that are generally good for housekeeping purposes, but I did not find that any of them were required.
I am using GNOME 3 on my laptop and MATE on my workstation with Fedora 24.  Why?  Well, I like being aware of the different desktop options available in our current release and maybe next week I'll move to KDE or LXDE or something like that.  I do try to give each one a week or so of me using it so I can do a variety of everyday tasks in that environment.

And Fedora 25 development is just getting started now, so if you are interested in trying Fedora 24 you should do that now because it won't be current forever.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Simple Sawhorse Plans

These are plans I put together for some simple sawhorses.  It's really a collection of different ideas I saw online and then slightly adapted.  The finished product:


Parts per sawhorse:
  • 246 inches of 2x4 lumber, which is approximately 2.56 eight foot boards, so buy three boards.  I bought Irving premium SPF at Home Depot.  Fewer knots, doesn't smell, cheap.
  • 24 deck screws of length 3".  I bought Deckmate #9 x 3" screws at Home Depot.
  • 8 deck screws of length 2".  I bought Deckmate #8 x 2" screws at Home Depot.
Cost per sawhorse:
  • $12 for lumber and screws
  • Compound mitre saw or your favorite way to make 15 degree cross cuts.
  • Cordless impact driver or a drill and lots of patience with a screwdriver.
  • Speed square
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure
Steps for the 1st sawhorse:
  1. The first thing to measure and cut are the three pieces that form the I-beam.  Measure 32", scribe, cross cut at 90°.  Use this board as a template to mark the other two you need.
  2. Assemble the three 32" boards in to an I-beam as you see in the picture.  This is simple.  There should be roughly 1" on either side of the center board.  Use the 2" deck screws to attach the top and bottom boards to the center.  I put 3 screws across the top and 5 screws across the bottom underside, all more or less evenly spaced.
  3. Now measure and cut the legs.  Legs are 29.5" long.  The foot is a 15° cut as you can see in the picture.  Make sure you measure the 29.5" on the longest side of the board.  Cut four legs all the same way.  You can also go ahead and cut four more for the second sawhorse now too.
  4. Attach each leg by pushing the 90° end up in to the I-beam corner as you see in the picture.  Use four 3" deck screws to attach each leg.  Be sure the angle cut foot is going in the correct direction before you attach each leg.
  5. Measure and cut the braces.  These are 16" long with a 15° cut on each end.  It's a trapezoid.  Measure the 16" across the longest side of this trapezoid.
  6. Attach the leg braces as shown in the picture.  Attach them to the OUTSIDE of the sawhorse legs.  Use four 3" deck screws for each brace.
Steps for the 2nd sawhorse:

It's the same as the steps for the first sawhorse with the following changes:
  • Make the I-beam 31.5" long (or 31....just shorter than 32).
  • Attach the leg braces on the INSIDE of the sawhorse legs.
When completed, you can stack the 1st sawhorse on top of the 2nd sawhorse.

I wrote all this from memory, plus what I had jotted down on an index card.  I may have left out a step.  If you do not use an impact drive to run the screws in, you'll need to predrill and take your time.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Several Weeks with EnChroma Glasses


In December 2015, I ordered some EnChroma glasses.  Mine are their indoor lens style with freeform prescription lenses.  You may have seen news stories about EnChroma glasses.  They aim to "correct" color blindness, though that's a bit misleading.  There's no way to correct color blindness and even the term 'correct' is subjective.  We may disagree on what normal color vision is or should be.

Head over to EnChroma's web site for a quick explanation of what they do and then some reaction videos of first time users.

OK, all that aside, what's it like having these glasses?  If you were wondering if there was a WOW moment when I put them on, there wasn't.  So there won't be a reaction video of me putting them on and then looking at a box of assorted LEGO bricks and crying or something like that.  Sorry to let everyone down on that.

EnChroma has an online color vision test that's based around the world famous Ishihara 38 plate test.  EnChroma adjusts what they ask you based on your responses to further refine their analysis of you.  I took the test several times and in all but one instance I was classified as a severe protan with EnChroma warning that the glasses would only have a 30% chance of having any effect on me.

It's worse than that.  The glasses are tinted and make me look like a Visitor ready to meet the Secretary General of the United Nations.  They are only really effective under specific lighting conditions.  They are meant for indoor use, but I probably need more light.

They have taken some time to get used to.  And the frames are sort of crappy.  Maybe at some point my regular optometrist will be able to offer these lenses with frames I buy.


Yes!  And it keeps getting a little better the more I wear them.  Here's a list of things I've noticed, in no particular order:
  1. The first day I wore them I was walking around the house noticing subtle differences in things.  Karen pointed out my shirt and I looked at that and said, "WHOA!  GREEN!"  That's the closest to a wow moment I've had with these glasses.
  2. It's much easier to watch movies and TV on our LCD screens at home.  Everyone is sharper and clearer, which I thought was already the case, but it's even more so with these glasses.
  3. Watching college football is less stressful because the uniforms of each team are different colors.  I usually look for pattern differences in helmet designs or some other insignia on the uniform to distinguish them.  This made watching the Michigan vs. Alabama game with my parents more enjoyable. 
  4. ls(1) coloring is easier to read on my laptop screen.  I liked NetBSD's ls coloring by default, the GNU coloring was all over the place.  But these glasses clean that up.
  5. Barbeque sauce and ketchup are different colors.  I previously relied on viscosity differences to tell them apart.  Barbeque sauce in general is not as viscous as ketchup, btw.  Sitting in little cups at a restaurant, barbeque sauce will tend to level out and ketchup doesn't.
  6. The cafeteria at work has a lot of red.  The serving counters are all red.  Like Red Hat red.  Oh, right.
  7. I noticed the red lights on traffic signals today, around lunch time.  They are bright red.
  8. Oh, and the yellow line on the left side of the road.  That stands out much more.  Previously, it looked sort of like an offbrand post-it note and would register as "solid line".
  9. Cumberland Farms stations around here have a green stripe wrapping their roof top.
  10. The badge readers at the office have an LED that shows red but when you scan your badge it turns to green and beeps.  I've always just tried to open the door when it beeps.  The green light is useful.
So, are there any downsides?  Of course.  Here are some:
  1. It's another pair of glasses.  I have my regular glasses and my prescription sunglasses.  I can't really wear the EnChromas all day because it's dark when I head home and I can't wear these in the dark.  I may be able to use these in place of the sunglasses for at least driving.
  2. Detail on the LCD TVs is harder to pick up.  I can see small artifacts on shows and movies, which is likely due to having more rods than cones.  With the EnChroma glasses on, those don't stand out as clearly, but I can take them off and see the artifacts more.
That's it so far.  Probably another update after I've had them for longer.