2016-09-19

Revisited: Linux Mint 18 "Sarah" KDE + Xfce

The KDE and Xfce editions of Linux Mint 18 "Sarah" recently came out. Over a month ago, I had reviewed the MATE edition, and while I was generally happy with how it worked, there were a handful of minor usability issues and other niggles that detracted from the experience enough that I couldn't recommend that a newbie install it by him/herself. Given that, I wanted to see if maybe the KDE or Xfce editions could make up for the deficiencies that I observed in the MATE edition. Follow the jump to see what each is like. Given that the main base of Linux Mint 18 "Sarah" is common to all of these editions, I'm not going to spend too much time rehashing things like application installation for their own sake; instead, these reviews will be shorter, and will focus on the differences relative to the MATE edition.

2016-08-07

Featured Comments: Week of 2016 July 31

There was one post this past week that got two comments, so I'll repost both of those.

Review: Linux Mint 18 "Sarah" MATE

An anonymous reader said, "The scrollbar-jumping decision is a mind-numbinglingy stupid UI decision. I'd love to know why the GTK-3 Firefox people thought it was such a good idea (along with removing the up/down arrows on scrollbars). It smacks of the kind of totalitarian UI thinking that drove GNOME 3. It IS fixable by adding a line or two to .config/gtk-3.0/settings.ini (INI??? This isn't windows for god's sake...), but it should never have come to that."
Commenter DarkDuck had a similar review to share: "Yet another "not-so-nice" review of Mint 18. http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/2016/07/linux-mint-18-cinnamon-pity-pity-pity.html".

Thanks to both of those people for commenting. Given that I'm essentially posting only once a month now, I don't anticipate having much to post for the rest of this month (unless I happen to think of something). That said, I do intend to have at least one Linux distribution review out by next month. Anyway, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!

2016-08-01

Review: Linux Mint 18 "Sarah" MATE

My laptop is getting old, and Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce will only be supported for one more year. Given this, I figured it might be time to seriously start looking into newer distributions for upgrade (even if I don't actually upgrade right away). Linux Mint just released its latest version, giving me all the more reason to review it.

Main Screen + Linux Mint Menu
The biggest change (as far as I can see) is that multimedia plugins and codecs are no longer included by default. From what I understand, this was done not due to any legal issue, but because maintaining separate installable/live bootable ISO images with and without codecs was becoming costly in terms of time and effort. Instead, the distribution provides alternative ways to install those plugins and codecs in the live and installed system. There are of course smaller updates to the distribution, including new applications and a new interface theme. (Also, on a much more minor note, although the codename still ends in an "a"/"ah" sound, this is the first Ubuntu-based release whose codename doesn't actually end in the letter "a".)

I tested this on a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

2016-07-18

Classical Damping of Gases and Oscillators

I was on vacation last week, and during some quiet time, I randomly happened to be thinking about explanations for damping in physical systems. I remember learning in ELE 456 — Quantum Optics, from last spring, that the phenomenological linear damping of a classical oscillator could be derived by coupling a quantum oscillator to a thermal bath of quantum oscillators; each linear oscillator is microscopically undamped, but by treating the bath through statistical thermodynamics, the coupling of the oscillator in question to a bath essentially produces a linear damping coefficient dependent on the spectrum of the bath (and the coupling too). Microscopically, the quantization of energy levels in a linear oscillator makes it easy to interpret how discrete excitations can move from one oscillator to another coupled oscillator, but I was wondering if quantum mechanics is really necessary to explain damping. Follow the jump to see an extremely rough sketch of ideas that may (or may not) justify the use of classical mechanics by itself. (Added after finishing: this turns out to be a rambling and possibly ultimately pointless post with a much clearer and more self-consistent explanation linked at the end, so for the time being, humor me.)

2016-06-20

Autonomous Cars and Autonomous Ownership

I was originally going to do a Linux distribution review this month. However, when I tried a couple of distributions that I wanted to test, none of them would properly boot from a live USB, so I gave up on those. Instead, I wanted to use this space to ramble a bit on what the near-future of self-driving cars might look like. It comes from some conversations I had with my family last weekend while visiting California, after having seen the limited self-driving capabilities of a Tesla Model S (namely, its ability to autonomously pull in and out of a parking space). Moreover, as some of you who know me personally would know, I have a disability that prevents me from driving, so the sight of even minimally-autonomous cars as a present reality excites me, and I'm keeping an eye on current developments in that field/market. Given this, if you'll indulge me, then follow the jump to (not exhaustively) explore some possibilities for self-driving cars.

2016-05-16

Review: Rebellin Linux v3 GNOME

Last week, I finished and passed my generals! This not only means that I can continue doing research here with a roof over my head and with money to feed myself; it also means that I now have the time to get back to doing reviews and posting about other things here. I'm starting this week by reviewing Rebellin Linux.

Main screen + GnoMenu
Rebellin Linux is a rolling-release distribution based on the unstable "Sid" branch of Debian. It features the GNOME or MATE DEs, and its focus is on being easy to use, with special attention paid to user support; in particular, it offers personalized lifetime support after a onetime payment of a modest ($14 as of this writing) fee, and offers free support in the form of the user manual (though that requires provision of an email address, which is a bit odd) and a Q&A section of the site in lieu of traditional forums. Looking at the website, it seems like this is largely a one-person operation, and the website design and some of the words used make it seem a little more amateurish (which is marginally off-putting for a distribution that bills itself as meaning "business"), but it seems like a decent effort from a single person, and I'd like to see what it has to offer in any case. I tried this as a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

2016-04-15

Generals Impending

I briefly thought of doing a review or another longer post this month, but I realized that studying for my generals will require too much of my time and concentration to allow for that. Instead, I'll keep this post as an update about my upcoming generals. My generals will have two parts: the first is a standard research seminar where I get to talk about some of the stuff that I've done over the last year and more, while the second is an oral exam where the three committee members get to ask me more fundamental questions. The oral exam is tricky to prepare for because those questions could in principle be about anything; that said, from what I understand, the committee members tend to ask about things related to my research topics, my coursework, or other basic things that they expect someone in my field to understand, so I basically have to study a broad range of material and hope for the best. The research seminar is a little better, because I have a better sense of my own research than at least two out of the three committee members (the excluded member being my advisor); I just have to make sure that I know what I'm talking about (and on that same note that I don't start making stuff up), so this will require me to go a little broad but more deep into the fundamentals underlying my research.

I said in a post from two months ago that I'm working on projects involving nanoscale wetting as well as more accurate modeling of the optical response of electrons in nanoscale metal structures. Right now, I'm not so sure about the future of the second project, because there still seems to be a lot of controversy about how to properly account for boundary effects in finite metal systems, and our group is not really in the business of making those [more fundamental] decisions; instead, we'd like to use a more well-established model of optical response and hope to show some new and interesting results using novel techniques in computational electromagnetics. Given that, my research seminar is almost exclusively going to focus on the first project, which is a much better-posed and better-developed problem and has consequently led to very interesting results. (I can't really give more details until we put out a publication.)

Anyway, at this point I'm waiting to be over with generals, while studying hard for them as the days count down. I promise that I'll have a more typical post next month, after I finish both parts of generals.

2016-03-21

Review: Black Lab Linux 7.0.2 Xfce

Main Screen + Whisker Menu
This is a review that I've been wanting to do for a while now, so I'm glad I can finally do it. Of course, after this, I'll have to buckle down again and prepare for my general exams again, so another review may not come for another month or more.

Black Lab Linux is supposed to be a distribution that focuses on being easy to use and having a consistent user interface, with the hope of attracting users new to Linux. Unlike many other distributions, it offers professional support (for a fee), and also offers computers for sale that have Black Lab Linux preinstalled. As is typical, the distribution by itself is offered as a free downloadable ISO file, so that's what I tested here. I tested the 64-bit version using a live USB system made with UnetBootin; follow the jump to see what it's like.

2016-02-24

Research and Generals

I was intending to post a review this month, but I got too busy and didn't have the time to do that. Instead, I'll keep this as a short update. Right now, I'm quite occupied with doing research on two projects: one has to do with wetting at the nanoscale, and the other has to do with modeling the optical response of electrons in metals and semiconductors. They may seem divorced from each other at first, but they are both electromagnetic phenomena, and if I consider Casimir forces or heat transfer from metals or semiconductors, they both involve fluctuational phenomena as well. Concurrently with research, I am preparing for my general examinations (often called qualifying examinations elsewhere) which are coming up in April or May. Anyway, hopefully I'll have a little time next month to put a review or another sort of post like that out.

2016-01-24

Featured Comments: Week of 2016 January 17

There was one post this past week that got a few comments, so I'll repost all of those.

Review: Solus 1.0 "Shannon"

Reader whs001 said, "Thanks very much for a thorough review of Solus. I've been paying attention to Ikey Dougherty's work ever since Linux Mint Debian Edition, and I've read quite a few reviews of Solus - yours is more thorough than many others, and the first one I've seen that mentions all the problems you found. At this point I'm relying on reviews of Solus because I can't even get it to finish booting on either of my 64-bit machines. It starts to boot, but hangs up before even getting to the logon screen. Not ready for prime time. I'm actually writing because you are the first review I've ever seen who has complained about scroll bars that jump all the way to where you click rather than just going one "page down" the way they ordinarily do. I have strange problems with that behavior. On my Dell OptiPlex desktop running Linux Lite with XFCE, most of the scroll bars work normally, but in Synaptic they jump down (or up) as you describe. On my Dell Inspiron laptop running Xubuntu, it seems as though the scrollbars in all applications have this stupid jump-down behavior. I would blame that on Ubuntu (particularly since it has a history of messing with scrollbars, giving us that dopey long, skinny place marker rather than the usual squarish one), but Linux Lite is also based on Ubuntu. In fact what I'm running is Xubuntu 14.04 and Linux Lite based on Ubuntu 14.04, so the fact that they have different forms of scrollbar misbehavior is really odd. Thanks again for the review", later clarifying in response to a question from me, "I wrote Solus onto two different USB sticks with dd, and neither one of them would finish booting on either machine."
In response to the above posts, commenter keithbluhm shared the following: "I've been checking out Solus just because, and I'm no computer hardware/software guru, but I was able to install, boot, update, use, shutdown, reboot, etc, etc, using the provided ISO within VirtualBox on Win7...zero issues. No idea what the differences would be between a VM, Live USB, and so on."
Also in response, reader Jake had the following tip: "@whs001: Sounds like an issue with uefi. Check your bios settings and ensure that uefi is first or enabled. Perhaps you need to make sure that your drive is selected as the boot device as well."

Thanks to all of those readers for those comments. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may have gathered that I'm basically posting around once per month now. That schedule is not going to change much for the next few months. It won't decrease because I do still enjoy posting from time to time, and I would personally feel a bit badly for neglecting this blog for an entire calendar month. That said, it also won't increase because this semester, having finished classes (basically), I need to prepare for my general examinations (also called qualifying examinations) which occur at the end of the semester, which will determine whether I get to stay in my PhD program or not. Anyway, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!