A Manjaro Review

I’ve primarily run Fedora on my desktop since it became clear that Windows 10 was going to be persistently buggy on the little HP Slimline Desktop 270-a016 (AMD A9-9430 with eight gigs of RAM). Fedora runs like a champ on the unit so long as I’m using xorg instead of wayland but I got a wild hare and took off distro hopping.

I tried CentOS for a few days and liked the stability and long-term support aspect of it. I was able to get the applications I wanted via a combination of EPEL, RPMFusion, and the nux repo. All was going well until I saw that Red Hat had agreed to be acquired by IBM. Who knows what IBM will decide to do with CentOS, it being a RHEL clone and all? With a hearty cry of “Freedom!”, I renewed my distro quest.

Manjaro has been at or close to the top of the popularity list at distrowatch.com for a while now, so I decided to give it a shot. My first hurdle was getting a functional version of the darn thing on my hard drive since it steadfastly refused to boot up after installation. I had been able to reuse the same partitions when installing Fedora or Ubuntu on the machine but finally gave up, copied my music and documents to a thumb drive, wiped the drive with a GParted live disk, and was then able to successfully install Manjaro with the XFCE desktop.

What’s a little different about Manjaro (maybe a lot different, depending on where you’re coming from) is it’s a rolling release. So, instead of having to upgrade every six months, nine months, two to 10 years, whatever, the version you have now will be gradually upgraded to the latest, greatest version a few pieces at a time. In other words, so long as you regularly install package updates, whatever rolling release you have now will gradually become version next over the course of time.

Trying to avoid the potential hassle of a big system upgrade like what you would have to deal with when running Ubuntu or Fedora sounds like a good idea but it comes with its own set of drawbacks. Prepackaged OS versions go through extensive testing to be sure all the pieces play nicely with each other in order to produce a functional, cohesive whole. (Note Microsoft’s recent epic fail regarding Windows 10 regarding same). However, when your rolling release installs a handful of the latest, greatest, versions of packages of X,Y, and Z, the other files on your system may decide they don’t want to play with these new packages. Stuff may break. Some stuff may break badly. And then you better have a live CD to access your files and the gumption to figure out what the heck just happened and the best way to fix it.

Manjaro is based on Arch Linux*, the current king of DIY, bleeding edge rolling releases. I installed and configured Arch twice in years past and it was adventure both times. I liked the extreme configurability Arch offers but maintaining the system for daily use just became too much hassle so, after a few weeks or months, I had moved on. Manjaro brags about simplicity but I think it’s only simple when compared to its daddy. You still need to know what to do when pacnew files are created and it’s good watch the forums for any problems caused by the latest bundle of updates. (Manjaro’s maintainers release package updates in batches that have supposedly been tested to keep from breaking anything too badly.)

Manjaro uses Arch’s versatile pacman package manager in the terminal. Manjaro also adds a GUI package manager (Pamac on XFCE) that doesn’t suck up the system resources that the Gnome Software Center does. You might not think got Arch or Manjaro would have many packages in their repos compared to larger distros but Pamac on Manjaro gives you access to the Arch User Repository (AUR). The AUR contains a slew of community-contributed applications. So far, I’ve installed Chrome, Dropbox, and Signal Messenger from the AUR and they all work just fine. Something to note is that the AUR consists of packages which need to be downloaded and compiled on your machine. No binaries to be found there.

I’ve been running Manjaro for a week and all is well at this early stage. I blacklisted a file after a kernel update as per the terminal recommendation, took care of a pacnew file generated after a grub update (don’t jack up your boot loader), and got some advice on the user forum regarding how to make Perlbrew compile new perls (use –notest option during Perl install due to the bleeding edge bugginess of some files). MP3 and mp4 playback works fine out of the box. Suspend and resume work great. I’m not a huge fan of any of the default color themes but I’ll get over it.

I’m hopeful that Manjaro and I will get along well for the foreseeable future. It will require some care and feeding to keep rocking along smoothly but I like distros where I get my hands dirty a little and it’s nice to see what the latest versions of various applications are without having to deal with a full-on Arch installation. Who knows, this may be the first time I contribute $$ to a distro. I can’t see these guys getting bought out by M$, Apple, Google, or Facebook for 34.5 billion but one never knows.

* (Using Arch is an adventure. The installer is really just a collection of shell scripts. You the user install every blessed application you want with the exception of the most basic, low-level stuff. And you edit text files to configure that. Better keep an eye peeled for potential show stoppers with every significant package update.)

Straying Off The Reservation

Brian Zahnd once told a story that went something like this.

“There was a pastor at a fundamentalist church in the same town as my church and, one Sunday morning, he gets up to preach and says, ‘I’m no longer a Christian. I’ve become an atheist and can no longer in good conscience lead this congregation.’

“His church was understandably shook up by this and someone convinces him he should talk to me about it although I don’t think either one of us believed it would do any good. So, he sits down in my office, he tells me his story, and I say ‘Look, your problem isn’t that you’re an atheist. You problem is that you’re a fundamentalist.'”

I think Zahnd’s point was that the mindset among fundamentalist Christians and most conservative evangelicals requires strict interpretation of the Bible without much (if any) wiggle room. You start to question x, y, and z, discover some facts you can’t refute, cracks form in your foundation, and, boom, you decide you can no longer be a Christian.

The pastor in the story above was hemmed in by this kind of belief system. I don’t know which tenets of his church he could no longer accept but, with anything short of denying Christ, this guy didn’t have to abandon the faith.

Conservative evangelical leaders in the church today need to start talking about supposed Biblical contradictions and how the Old Testament was influenced by Ancient Near East mythology to let people know that their salvation doesn’t depend on believing the Bible as it may have been taught to them in a traditional church. This would be especially helpful for kids entering high school or going off to college. As Andy Stanley says, we tend to give Sunday school answers to real world questions. And those answers will most likely be insufficient to allow these kids to continue in their faith.

You don’t have to become an atheist or agnostic if you’re a Christian who decides you can’t continue in the tradition you were raised in. There’s a great big world of Christianity outside of traditional conservative evangelicalism. Don’t be afraid to kick open some doors and look behind the curtain. You’ll find God is already there.

How Did a Good Baptist Boy Like Me Wind Up In This Headspace, Anyway?

I blame Trump. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s a good pat answer but it isn’t really applicable in this instance. Part of it had to do with reading the Bible critically, asking questions, and not necessarily accepting the commonly accepted answers provided by my conservative evangelical tradition. I should probably back up enough to explain what I’m talking about in the first place.

I was saved at a young age in the Southern Baptist church and for decades my theology was standard, conservative fare. I believed in once saved always saved, took Genesis 1-11 literally, and thought communion was certainly an ordinance not knowing there was any other way of looking at it. Later on, I adopted a large dose of Calvinism into my beliefs and the legalism associated with that doctrine meshed nicely with my Christian mindset at the time and what I thought I knew.

There were periods where I was certainly more serious about my Christianity than at other times and there were years when I wouldn’t take time to do any real Bible study or commit myself to a small group.

This on-again/off-again cycle continued until several years ago when, after getting back from my church’s men’s retreat, I decided to read the New Testament in 90 days. I found that you could get this knocked out by reading three chapters a day and, lo and behold, I managed it. Emboldened by this and not knowing any better, I tried the Discipleship Journal read the Bible in a year plan and got it done (it might’ve taken 14 months, but still …). I used an ESV reading plan to go through the Bible the following year.

During all this reading, I started to notice things that didn’t really make much sense to me. For instance, I read about Saul meeting David in I Samuel 16, then read about him meeting David for the first time again in totally different circumstances in the next chapter. I generally do my readings early in the morning, so at first I wondered if my fuzzy brain hadn’t processed something correctly. “Well, that’s odd,” I thought. And I went on without giving it to much additional thought at the time.

But stuff kept on piling up. Like, why is God trying to kill Moses in Exodus 4 after telling him to get back to Egypt and confront Pharaoh? It just didn’t seem to compute. There are also several minor discrepancies between the Gospels. Were there two demoniacs among the tombs or just one? Did blind Baratmaeus have a buddy? How many angels were at Jesus’s tomb? What day was Jesus crucified on? Why are there two different versions of Jesus’s (or least Joseph’s) lineage?

Some of these questions have good answers and some just don’t. I was attending a solid men’s Bible study at the time and got possible answers at that time, some of which made sense to me while others seemed like they were stretch in an effort to justify making everything in the Bible as literal as possible.

Another eye-opener for me had to do with the Apostle Paul (shocka) but perhaps not quite in the way you might think. Quite a bit of my theology nowadays comes from Andy Stanley and the Bible Project (“Well, that explains it,” mutter the naysayers while they simultaneously do a Paris Hilton-worthy eyeroll) and during a Bible Project podcast Tim Mackie pointed out that in I Cor. 10:10 Paul attributed the deaths of the Israelites in the wilderness “grumbling” passages “the destroyer” or “the destroying angel”. Mackie goes on to say that Paul’s comment is based on a common belief among Pharisees at the time that God had a destroying angel that did his dirty work.

The thing is this isn’t what the Bible says in the grumbling passages. They talk about plagues, the earth opening up, fire from God, etc. but (someone correct me if I’m wrong) none of them mention a “destroyer”, as such. BTW, the grumbling passages are as follows:

  • Numbers 11:31-34 God provides quail for the Israelites, then kills them
  • Numbers 12 Miriam and Aaron rebel
  • Numbers 14:36-38 God kills all the scouts except Joshua and Caleb
  • Numbers 16:31-36 Korah’s rebellion
  • Numbers 16:41-50 the people rebel after Korah’s death
  • Numbers 21:4-9 fiery serpents
  • Numbers 25:1-9 the people worship Baal

Why is this a big deal? Because Paul’s view of the Scripture in this instance is informed by his cultural tradition at that time. This isn’t Scripture interpreting Scripture, the approach I was always taught to take. This is an example of a Biblical author’s cultural and historical context influencing his view on existing Scripture and that view finding its way into the Bible. I didn’t know it at the time but this would open a huge door (or Pandaora’s box, depending on how you want to look at it) further down the road. (Pete Enns had a similar experience that he describes here. Scroll down to “The Rock Was Christ” for a specific example that Enns mentions in a later podcast as deeply affecting him.)

Once I discovered Ancient Near East cosmology was an actual thing, I began to look at the creation story quite differently. I had figured out that Genesis 2 couldn’t be a more detailed commentary on Genesis 1 because the creation sequence was different. Turns out that creation in Genesis 1 is a reflection of how everyone in that geographic area at that time thought the Earth, skies, and sea were structured. That whole business with the firmament finally makes sense. Genesis 2 is most likely a second version of the creation account, IMHO.

However, after all of these changes in how I read the Bible, I still believe that there is a real live God who created the world, created humanity, and sent his Son to save us from ourselves. I’m no longer as certain as I was about the details of Scripture but one thing I know is that these finer points don’t matter. The Bible is still the primary way God chose to communicate with us and it still points to Jesus.

Oh yeah, about that Trump thing – I was a registered Republican for decades until Trump was elected. I knew I’d feel compelled to defend the yahoo if I voted for him so I voted for Evan McMullen, then registered as an Independent a few days after Trump won the general. It’s very freeing to no longer be obligated to making excuses for a Republican president. Likewise, it’s very freeing not having to jump through cognitive hoops to rationalize the Bible I was raised with. ‘Tis the season for changes.

A Little About The NRSV

I’ve had an interest in the New Revised Standard Version for a while now* but I hadn’t managed to get a hold of one that quite suits my fancy. The translation just doesn’t have the sales figures to justify a plethora of purchase options.

My initial NRSV was large print and contained the Apocrypha (both features I liked) but is just a little too large to comfortably hold in one’s lap. My second attempt to get into the translation resulted in the purchase of a used large-print pew Bible but, upon closer examination, it has the syllables separated by bullets. I assume this feature is for ease of pronunciation but it’s just distracting when attempting to sit and read a passage.

I noticed that a couple of teachers I admire, Tim Mackie and Pete Enns, both use the NRSV or at least reference it in some of their lectures. That prompted me to cast about for a more usable version of the translation. After a modicum of searching, I found this thinline NRSV online.

It isn’t perfect for my needs and preferences since I would rather have large print (middle age isn’t for the faint hearted) and the smooth bonded leather cover is just ugly, IMHO, especially when compared to the nice cover on the CSB ultrathin.

sample of NRSV thinline text size

I’m sure this text size would have been fine for me five years ago but now …

But the content inside that homely cover is quite interesting. The translation committee wasn’t afraid to admit that there can be more than one meaning for a given passage based on which manuscript you use, so there is a legend in the front of the book listing various sources. There’s also a well written preface by noted textual critic Bruce Metzgar which explains the history and tradition of the NRSV.

I’ve used the NRSV for my regular semi-daily Bible reading the past two days and I happen to be in Isaiah currently. The first thing I noticed was that it isn’t afraid to use big words. The reading level is supposedly 11th grade but it felt collegiate-level to me. (Give me a break, I graduated NSU.) The second thing that became apparent was that this translation doesn’t give you any help in figuring out what a passage means when the original text didn’t spell it out.

For example, the NRSV translates Isaiah 23:4 as “Be ashamed, O Sidon, for the sea has spoken, the fortress of the sea, saying: “I have neither labored nor given birth, I have neither reared young men nor brought up young women.” And I couldn’t figure out what was meant by “fortress of the sea” so I consulted the NLT which said, “But now you are put to shame, city of Sidon, for Tyre, the fortress of the sea says, …” I don’t know enough about ancient geography to tie this stuff together on my own but I’m glad other folks have figured it out and shared their knowledge.

In a similar vein, Isaiah 33 is plugging along talking to the people of Israel about restoration when, all of a sudden, the NRSV hits you with verse 23: “Your rigging hangs loose; it cannot hold the mast firm in its place, or keep the sail spread out. Then prey and spoil in abundance will be divided; even the lame will fall to plundering.” Wait, what?

The NLT renders verse 23 quite differently: “The enemies’ sails hang loose on broken masts with useless tackle. Their treasure will be divided by the people of God. Even the lame will take their share!” Okay then.

The NET Bible, not to be outdone, splits the difference between the two in rendering the verse with notes as follows – “The first half of the verse is addressed to Judah and contrasts the nation’s present weakness with its future prosperity. Judah is compared to a ship that is incapable of sailing.” I’m starting to get the idea scholars may not have reached consensus on what this verse actually means.

It’s easy to understand why the NRSV is a favorite among many scholars and professorial types if the rest of it is like what I’ve seen so far in Isaiah. The translation focuses on being literal and sticking to what the original texts said rather than what they meant unless they have to deviate from that to keep things from becoming really confusing.

On the other hand, it can still be confusing for reasons like those I’ve noted above. And it doesn’t convert ancient units of measurement into their modern equivalents. This means I’m going to reach for the NLT or CSB when reading through things like measurements for the first temple. I just can’t handle wading through all that verbiage and seeing “cubits” time and time again. That makes it even easier for me to skim the passage and get even less out of it than I otherwise might.

So, the NRSV isn’t everyone’s cup of soup but I like it. You have to contend with its translations of Genesis 1:2 and Isaiah 7:14 but the verbiage most of us are accustomed to is present in the notes. It’s a good translation that probably deserves more popularity than it currently enjoys. I suspect I’ll be using it for a while.

*My ideal Bible translation would be done by a group of scholars who respect the text enough not to put a specific theological tilt to it one way or another.

A Critical Review of The Shack

I recently got tired of taking everyone else’s word for the message of The Shack and its theological underpinnings. So, I decided to take the radical step of actually buying and reading the book for myself to see what all the fuss was about.

Let me start by saying that the last piece of modern Christian fiction I read was This Present Darkness and that was around 30 years ago. Christian fiction just isn’t my thing and I’m not this book’s target audience.

******************* SPOILERS * SPOILERS * SPOILERS * SPOILERS ********************

Having said that, The Shack seemed to avoid what I would consider Christian cliches for the first few chapters. And then God showed up and things took a drastic turn for the overly melodramatic. (Well, the main character constantly referring to his daughter’s kidnap and murder as The Great Sadness ever since chapter one was pretty cheesy.)

Theological issues pop up as soon as the conversations between Mack (the protagonist/first person narrator) and God (represented as Papa (the Father), Jesus, and Sarayu (the Spirit)) start taking place. Papa explains to Mack in chapter six that none of the miracles Jesus performed on Earth were done using the powers of His inherent Godhood. Instead, Papa tells Mack that Jesus was fully human at that time (which is true but …)and was able to work wonders because He was so closely aligned with God (“… he could express my heart and will into any given circumstance.”). Papa goes on to explain that she (yes, God is gender fluid) would be incapable of love without having the other members of the Trinity to express love to and that she can’t act apart from love. I’m not quite sure where any of this is found in the Bible.

In chapter 10, Jesus and Mack are talking about the relationship between the three members of the Godhead. Jesus says that the members of the Trinity are submitted to each other out of love and respect and that all three of them are submitted to humanity out of a desire for Jesus to have “brothers and sisters who will share life with (him).” On a similar note, back in chapter 7, the Trinity eagerly receives news of Mack’s kids because they have limited their omniscience out of respect for him. This is elevating man way, way more than indicated in the Bible. Big chunks of Job and Psalms, among others, say that humankind is far inferior to God. This doesn’t seem to be the kind of theology The Shack is concerned with.

Chapter 11 allows us to meet the personification of Papa’s wisdom, Sophia. She introduces Mack to the idea of universal salvation, putting Mack in the role of a judge, then telling him he has to choose two of his kids to send to Heaven and three to put in Hell. The idea of personal salvation or culpability never enters into the equation. This is brought home in chapter 13 when Papa tells Mack that He is reconciled to the whole world through Jesus’s death and resurrection. Mack says, “You mean those who believe in you, right?” God replies, “The whole world, Mack. All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two-way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally. It is not the nature of love to force a relationship, but it is the nature of love to open the way.”

At any rate, the story continues on and ends with forgiveness, hope, love, and warm fuzzies all around. I understand that this is a work of fiction but it is far too easy, I think, for Christians who aren’t solidly grounded in the Word to think the God portrayed here is representative of the one true God. And it just reinforces the generic, all forgiving, universal God that many non-Christians bring to mind when they think about the deity.

The Shack differs from other potentially controversial novels like the Harry Potter series, in my view, in that the story’s focus is on the author’s take on Christianity through the dialogues that make up the majority of the book. It’s essentially a philosophical treatise and everything else in the book is secondary to the ideas it proposes. We as Christians need to be aware of the message in The Shack in order to counter its claims and lead people to repentance and true faith in Jesus. Anyone basing their theology on The Shack will find it an unsteady foundation.

Setting The Record Straight

The signs of an impending spring are have already arrived here in Northwest Arkansas. The air isn’t quite as chill, some foolhardy plants are beginning to blossom, and campaign signs are thick as last year’s unraked oak leaves as they bristle from every street corner and intersection.

Although they may seem haphazardly placed, there is actually a science to putting up campaign signs and candidates vie for prime locations. Representative Jana Della Rosa, the Republican incumbent for Arkansas House District 90, makes a point to always ask permission from the property owner before putting any of her signs up. Some of her opponents don’t always show the same courtesy.

Below is the unedited audio of two phone calls made by Patsy Wootton, Della Rosa’s mother, to the Rogers Police Department about two weeks ago. One of Della Rosa’s supporters (who had give her permission to post signs) found that an opponent of hers was putting signs on his property without permission. He called Della Rosa and word got passed to Wootton. So, she drove up to check it out.

Unedited Call Audio

Della Rosa’s opponent and some of his big money supporters have since tried to twist this into Wootton calling 911 in an effort to force him to take down his signs (she didn’t) or say that Wootton was stalking the guy all around Rogers (the police asked her to meet them at the guy’s location so she wound up having to follow him for a bit).

You have to think Della Rosa’s opposition is getting a little desperate and perhaps just a bit nervous when they start resorting to this kind of thing. Perhaps they are afraid they can’t win on the merits of their arguments?

Gracie Could Use a Hand

I’m sure many of the people who happen to read this have no idea who Gracie Martin is or why they should care, so let me volunteer a little information.

Gracie is a talented singer, multi-instrumentalist, and worship leader here in Springdale. Her incredible voice is the main reason I wanted to be part of the SpringCreek Fellowship praise band a few years ago. She’s a new mom, devoted wife, loving daughter, and dedicated Christ follower.

After being at SpringCreek for a while, I began to learn of the myriad of health issues Gracie faces. I also noticed that she never complained about her problems even when she had trouble getting out of her seat and making it up the two stairs to the worship platform.

In my mind, it would be easy for someone like Gracie to be bitter. Here’s this talented, 25-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her and she’s having to deal with debilitating arthritis, a ruptured disk, painful psoriasis, and other assorted health problems. It seems to me she might have a right to complain.

I mentioned this to her once and she said that she’s blessed; that there are other people all around us who are in worse shape than she is and she’s privileged to have Jesus as her Lord.

Gracie and her husband Jacob became parents a few weeks ago with the birth of their son Max. Gracie’s health worsened during the pregnancy, reaching the point where she has been referred to the Mayo Clinic. The doctors there may be able to accurately diagnose the source of her problems and prescribe treatment but protracted illnesses and the procedures to deal with them are often expensive.

I encourage everyone who can spare a few dollars to donate to The Martins Go To Mayo. The money will be used to offset the cost of procedures, consultations, and other expenses surrounding the Martin family’s trip to Rochester, MN. Gracie is an unassuming person who doesn’t ask for much. I know she and Jacob will appreciate any help you can give them.

A Critical Review of Mac OS X

Last Spring, I took my wife into Apple Land. Being the geeky guy that I am, I looked at my spouse’s dying computer (slow and down to one working USB port), her low-grade phone, and her old, laggy tablet and figured it would be a good time to jump whole hog into the Apple ecosystem.

My wife is a lifelong Windows user but I talked her into switching over and she soon had a Mac Mini, an iPad Air, and an iPhone 5s. Her favorite from that lot is probably the iPhone since its camera and data connectivity is a quantum leap over what she had before. The iPad is in second place with the Mac bringing up the rear.

I don’t think she really dislikes the Mac so much as we are still in a learning curve. It takes some time to get used to looking for the menu of a given application at the top of the screen or remember to look in the Apple menu for a given option.

A plus for the Mac includes Hand Off, a function which allows you to “hand off” whatever app you were using on the Mac to the iPad or vice versa. (Feel nature calling while you’re looking at a web page on the Mac? Grab the iPad, swipe up from the bottom left corner, and the same web page will open up for you right where you left off.) We both really like the Magic Track pad. That slick little platform makes it easy to zip around a big screen. The computer’s speed is also a big plus since we got the mid-range Mac Mini with a 2.6 mhz i5 dual core and eight gigs of RAM. We don’t need to bother with an antivirus so we don’t have to deal with it slowing down the system. It’s also handy to be able to set a reminder on the Mac and have it pop up on your phone while you’re out and about.

I initially approached the Mac thinking it would be as bullet proof as I’d heard. Alas, such was not the case. The first problem occurred when I was setting up the computer. I had already created a user and, not knowing any better, had chosen to set up the iCloud Keychain since that was a default option. The system hung. We waited a few minutes and … nothing. Still a spinning beach ball, the Mac equivalent of a Windows hourglass. I had to shut down and restart the computer, create another user with the same name (had to have a different Home folder of course), skip fooling with the Keychain, and we were able to boot log into our shiny new Mac.

And then, since I wanted her Home folder to have the same name as her first name, I reassigned folders and deleted users until I had her user set up the way it should have been in the first place.

After a few days, we discovered the monitor had to be turned off and on to start working again after the Mac woke up from sleep. I searched online and soon found that this was a known problem with a lot of Mac Minis; the wake up signal wasn’t making it through the HDMI cord to tell the monitor it needed to rouse itself from slumber. There wasn’t really a solid consensus on what the solution to this was so I followed the recommended workaround and replaced the HDMI cable with DVI-D. The monitor worked fine after this.

Coincidentally, an Apple sales person was at Best Buy when I went in to do the cable exchange. I told him about the trouble I was experiencing and he had no idea what I was talking about. He recommended I call Apple Care. I didn’t take him up on it.

People talk about Macs being intuitive. This isn’t really the case. Once you learn how to use a Mac it’s intuitive. If you have no previous experience with how to navigate Windows, a Mac’s layout and controls may be intuitive. However, if you are like most folks and coming over the Windows world, you are going to have to relearn a lot of stuff.

Take cutting and pasting a file, for example. There are hoops to jump through if you want to move a file by right clicking on it instead of just dragging it from one folder to another. You right click the file you want to move, select Copy, open the folder you are moving it to, right click on a blank space, hold in the Alt key, then select Move Item Here. That’s one key stroke and Google search too many.

On the internet front, my spouse found she couldn’t watch videos on the Encore website so she downloaded Silverlight. They still wouldn’t play. I tried removing Silverlight (more on program removal later), reinstalled it, and still no joy. Cross platform fail. Hey, at least Safari got pin tabs in El Capitan.

Installing a program on a Mac is really simple. Assuming you don’t get something through the App Store (which works the same as the App Store on an iPhone or Google Play on Android), all you have to do it pull the downloaded program’s icon into your Applications folder. That’s it. No progress bar or installation windows to click through.

But whoever is in charge of the way programs are uninstalled from a Mac needs to get up to speed with how things work in the 21st century. I uninstalled Microsoft Office 2011 before installing Office 2016 and found that you have to manually remove every little piece of the program by tracking down the files and folders and putting them in the Trash. Apple needs to get a clue and find a way to automate this process. I felt like I was using Slackware with a prettier UI.

We’ve had some hiccups in the last few days with Word, Excel, and Skype but I’ll cut M$ and Apple some slack since both parties are still adjusting to the changes brought about by El Capitan. Some disruptions are to be expected after an OS upgrade.

After it’s all said and done, OS X is simply an operating system just like Windows or a Linux distro is an operating system. Choose whichever one meets your needs and budget. I like OS X despite its weirdness, my wife kinda likes it (she might not like Windows 10 any better), and if Linux didn’t exist I would probably be using a Mac for software development. OS X isn’t head and shoulders above Windows; both platforms have their issues. Pick one that floats your boat and go for it.

A Brief Pen Review and Shootout


And now for something completely random –

Last week my old faithful office pen, a Bic Atlantis, gave up the ghost and went to that great recycling dumpster in the sky. Do I do the obvious (also the simpler, cheaper) route and just get another Atlantis? Of course not! I decided I needed to go on a quest and see what else is out there besides the two dozen dried up old Bic Stics in my cabinet.

A quick Google search turned up this article, so I took the reviewers’ advice and picked up some Uniball Jetstream fine (.7 mm) tips. The ink in this pen flows so easily it was a little freaky at first. It’s nice, lays down a nice clear line (no feathering or bleeding through the paper), and is starting to grow on me but writing with it is so smooth I have to slow down to feel like I have control of the pen.

Next up was the Pilot Acroball fine (.7 mm) tip. It didn’t feel as slippery as the Jetstream and still wrote a nice, clean line but the padded grip’s contour is in the wrong place for me; I was constantly readjusting my fingers on the pen trying to find a grip that felt natural.

Third on the list was the Zebra F-301 fine (.7) tip. This is one short, thin pen. It seems durable with the stainless steel barrel and is easy to write fast with (did I mention my handwriting sucks?) but it’s so skinny it just feels weird in my hand. And the ink is noticeably lighter and less stark than the two pens I tried earlier.

I picked up a pack of Pentel Energels in .7 mm medium tip yesterday. These things are hands down my least favorite pen in my stack. They just belch out huge streams of ink. The feel is mushy and hard to control. I might like these better with .5 mm tip but the medium tip model is just not my cup of meat.

I tried a few of my wife’s pens as well. The old school Bic Stic was typically hard to get started. Her Pilot Precise V5 was okay but didn’t really move me one way or another. The fine tip Sharpie Pen just feels too much like an old fashioned felt tip and I never liked those things.

But then, suddenly – Eureka! I found a two-pack of Uniball Signo 207 .5 mm micro tips at one of my friendly neighborhood Walmarts. Since the Signo 207s are gel pens, I wanted to go with the .5 mm tip instead of the .7 due to my bad experience with the Energels. The pen lays down a nice, clean, bold line with a feel that’s easy to control. (It’s number three in my eyeball comparison of which pens lays down the thickest, clearest line.) The slightly cushioned grip area doesn’t have any contour, so I can hold the pen however I feel comfortable. It fits my hand well and I don’t feel like I have to work to make the pen write what I want where I want to put it.

So, there you have it. Way more thought put into a subject that I never really paid much attention to before and I’m adopting the Signo 207 as my new pen of choice. I would suggest that, if you’re fed up with your cheap ballpoint clumping up and spitting out ugly globs of ink in the middle of your notes, you lay down a few dollars and try a little nicer grade pen. There are worse things to spend money on.

Below are samples of my gnarly handwriting with the pens mentioned above. My loving spouse ranked them in order of which one laid down the thickest ink. My scribbles in the right margin indicate whether the pen is gel, hybrid ballpoint, felt tip, ballpoint, or roller ball.


A Geek and a Spare Desktop

So, a few weeks ago I pulled my old Windows 7 laptop out of the closet and found out it still worked. (Won’t hold a charge and the battery and DC adapter have already been replaced but it works fine while plugged in.)

I did a clean install of Win 7 Pro with drivers (glad to finally have an excuse to use that back up image), downloaded a metric buttload of updates, installed Chrome, Java, GData, and Minecraft, and gave it to my 8-year-old son. He was ecstatic to be able to play Minecraft with his sister and I got my old Linux desktop back.

The desktop is an old eMachines T5234 32-bit that originally came with Vista (ack!). It didn’t take long for the power supply to crap out, so that got replaced by a much improved unit (a Thermaltake, maybe?), an extra cooling fan was installed, and I maxxed out its RAM to a full 2 gigs (crazy!).

I had used a plethora of Linux distros on it over the years. Over the course of the two years or so my son had it, the desktop had ran Slackware, Fedora (when Chrome started getting wonky), and then CentOS (when Fedora started locking up).

It had been a few years since I had tried to install a modern Linux distro on the machine. This time around, I focused on the LXDE desktop to try to get the most of its limited resources (the aforementioned 2 gigs of RAM, an AMD Athlon 64 dual core, and a NVIDIA GeForce 6150SE chip) and quickly started running into problems: openSUSE had insane video tearing, Fedora had disappearing menu icons, Lubuntu 14.10 was almost stable but Firefox caused massive video tearing when launched. Ditto for Linux Mint with the MATE desktop.

A Debian netinstall with LXDE exhibited the same video problems when I upgraded to Testing. I did a fresh install with Stable and it was, well, stable. However, IceWeasel ESR was sluggish on Facebook and I found myself switching back and forth between Chromium for speed and IceWeasel when I need to use Flash. (Should have checked to see if a pepperflash plugin was available for Chromium.)

I wound up going back to what was already on the desktop when it came back to me: CentOS. No video tearing with the old reliable Gnome 2 desktop (Gnome 3 is an abomination. It’s like the Gnome developers looked at Windows 8 and said, “Pshaw. We can make a desktop suck worse than that. They ain’t seen nothin’ yet!) and CentOS is as stable as the day as long.

Same blessed problem with Firefox ESR, though – it’s just too sluggish! I tried to find some way to install Chrome but Google isn’t showing the Chromish love to old Linux kernels. A popular user repository installed an old version of Chromium and scripts for pepperflash. Problem was that pepperflash didn’t work.

Which left me with the nuclear option: Arch. This distro’s installation process isn’t as scary as Linux From Scratch or FreeBSD but it’s not for the faint of heart. I had tried to install Arch at some earlier point in this saga but it refused to boot despite having been on the same machine in years past. My problem was likely rooted in trying to preserve my /home partition in the install process to avoid having my old data wiped out. I rsynced my home onto an external hard drive, wound up using GParted to partition the eMachine’s drive to Arch’s liking, and made it through the install process.

After several hours of pain and suffering (most of which involved trying to figure why the flip the USB drives wouldn’t automount), I had a working, lightweight LXDE desktop. It didn’t come with Firefox (Arch doesn’t come with much of anything; you build it yourself) so I installed Chromium and a working (!) pepperflash plugin from the AUR for speedy browsing. And there haven’t been any video issues thus far but it’s only been a few days.

Arch is a bleeding edge, rolling release so maintenance will definitely be required. At this point, however, I’m a happy camper. Everything is working the way it’s supposed to and the old desktop is almost speedy when unburdened by extraneous cruft. (Well, it’s not like I’m using it for video editing.) My digital life is good.

There may be a full write up on my Arch experience in the future. It’s a fun distro but bleeding edginess can sometimes cause kiniption fits. We’ll see how things work out.