2017-07-24

Long-Term Review: Linux Mint 18.2 "Sonya" MATE

Installed System: Main Screen + Xed
A little over two weeks ago, I made the decision on what Linux distribution to install and use full-time on my personal laptop. I chose Linux Mint 18.2 "Sonya" MATE, because I felt that while it could do a bit better for total newbies in terms of usability (as some usability features have regressed since a couple of years ago), it has been a reliable and known quantity for me, and I figured that if I could generally use the live session without much hassle, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch (no pun intended) to imagine that the installed session would likely be workable. As I've covered most of the experiences of installing and using programs and getting around the desktop in my review of the live session, this post will be relatively short, covering only the salient points of the installation and some of the changes I made after the installation. Follow the jump to see more.

2017-07-17

Featured Comments: Week of 2017 July 9

I meant to write and post this yesterday, as I typically do this on Sundays. However, I was rather tired yesterday and forgot about it until today. Anyway, this past week, there were two posts that got comments, so I'll post four selected comments from one, and the single comment from the other.

Review: Debian 9 "Stretch" MATE

Reader Isaac Ji Kuo said, "Sluggishness is due to being a USB install. USB is far slower than a hard drive. LiveCD install partially compensates for this by using file system compression, but this still inevitably means sluggish delays due to decompression time. If you want to just see whether or not Debian is functional, a LiveCD is good. If you want to have some idea of its performance for a hard drive install, LiveCD will give you no idea. Flash works in Debian 9. I don't know precisely how it works, but every web site I've tried works with both Firefox and Google Chrome (normally I use Google Chrome, but it's not available in 32 bit so I was forced to try Firefox to use Netflix on my 32 bit computers). Anyway, I think it has to do with the PepperFlashPlayer." (Most of the comments were along these lines, with varying degrees of detail and civility.)
An anonymous commenter had this to say: "Testing live image from USB/DVD and complaining about sluggish delays is bit silly. Unless you test some Puppy/Puppy like distro that loads in ram. Debian live images are used for only one purpose, to see what it can offer with different desktop environments. It is not even recommended to install from those live images, even if that option exists. As for flash, no it does not work out of the box with Debian. And package for flash in Debian is unusable, its maintainer is missing in action. On google chrome flash comes integrated with browser. For Firefox it can be installed easily by downloading it from adobe site, unpacking it and moving libflashplayer.so to the /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/. Downside of that is that you must manually repeat procedure whenever adobe updates flash."
Reader CFWhitman shared, "In my experience Debian is faster in regular use than any version of Ubuntu or Mint. When you have lots of resources, it's just as fast as Lubuntu or LXDE. When you start to run short, it tends to be faster, at least as long as you are running the same desktop environment. When I have hardware that's too weak for even Lubuntu to run well on it, I switch to Debian. I run Debian 9 on a ten year old netbook with an Atom N270 32 bit processor and 1 GB of RAM. If you had problems with speed I have a lot of trouble believing it's a problem with Debian 9. Your USB drive would seem a more likely culprit."
Another anonymous commenter had the following tips: "Other distributions optimise for the liveCD demo, but Debian optimises for long-term use ;-) For a Debian distribution that uses the Mate Desktop and is optimised for liveCD use I'd give Parrot Security OS a try. And yes, I will read your review! That said, I'm about ready give give up on reading "reviews" that are in effect clickbait...eg: just a liveCD demo that is not of what it's like to use for a week or two. LiveCD/USB/etc should be in the title of the page imho. To be fair, sometimes the installed system can be slower than the live one due to background processes like file indexing daemons. ex: Nepomuk and aKonadi. How a distribution configures such things in an actual installation says more about the experience of using it and more about the values of the project than any liveCD."

Review: Linux Mint 18.2 "Sonya" MATE

Reader Steve said, "Please give Debian the benefit of the doubt. It has a huge ecosystem and is ported to dozens of different architectures and envirionments. The Debian developers and maintainers do an amazing job of keeping the various versions to have the same look and feel as much as possible. I used to think that two years was an awfully long time to prepare a new version, until I researched the Debian web sites to see what had to be done." (This was more in response to the previous review, as I had referenced it in this review.)

Thanks to all of those people for those comments. I don't have anything particularly planned for this week. However, I did end up installing Linux Mint 18.2 "Sonya" MATE on my laptop's hard drive, and have been using it for over a week now. Given that, I'll probably have a short post with some notes about installing and using it next week. Anyway, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!

2017-07-12

Review: Linux Mint 18.2 "Sonya" MATE

Main Screen + Linux Mint Menu
The quest for a replacement Linux distribution for Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce continues. With this post comes a review of the latest MATE edition of Linux Mint. Especially for regular readers of this blog, Linux Mint needs no introduction. I will just say that with the latest point release, it seems like the developers have put more polish into the distribution, including their new set of "X-apps" meant to work across MATE, Cinnamon, Xfce, and GNOME, avoiding the pitfalls of more DE-specific applications. I want to see what has changed since my last review and to see whether this would be suitable for installation and daily use on my laptop. To that end, I made a live USB system (again, on my new SanDisk Cruzer USB flash drive) using the "dd" command. Follow the jump to see what it's like. Note that I'll frequently reference that previous review, noting only changes and overall important points as needed.

2017-07-10

Review: Debian 9 "Stretch" MATE

It has been about 2 months since the support cycle for Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" ended. Since then, I haven't been able to update Mozilla Firefox or Adobe Flash, and concurrently, I haven't been able to use the latest versions of Google Hangouts or Skype, the former of which I already cannot use to the fullest extent, and the latter of which I am still somehow able to use but am counting the days when that will end too. Given that, it is urgent that I upgrade the Linux distribution that I use soon, so today, I am trying Debian.

Debian is a rather old distribution, being among the first to use the Linux kernel. It is known for its very conservative release policy for distribution and package versions, as well as its strict policies regarding free versus proprietary software; as such, it is known to be a stable base (and has been the original base for Ubuntu and its derivatives) for desktop and server environments, though while it is not supposed to be a piece of cake to configure and use, it does come with decently-configured generic DEs and other software to start. I figure that I have accumulated a bit of experience with testing and configuring Linux distributions, so that I may be able to install and configure things to my liking even if they aren't present by default.

I tested the 64-bit edition on a live USB made from a live ISO file using the command "cp", which Debian recommends. Additionally, it is worth noting that this is the first review that I'm doing on a new SanDisk Cruzer 8 GB flash drive (as my previous SanDisk Cruzer Micro 8 GB flash drive, which I got 8 years ago, seems to have stopped working reliably, which is why I haven't used it for reviews in the last few months, and the flash drive that I had been using in the meantime, a generic 4 GB unit which I got for free from a career fair several years ago, stopped working after a "dd" command failed). Follow the jump to see what it's like. (Also, I apologize that there are no pictures; I stupidly forgot to upload them, and by the time I exited the live session and restarted my computer, it was too late.)

2017-07-04

Book Review: "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis

I was recently able to read The Big Short by Michael Lewis. Even though there were quite a few details that went over my head, it's an interesting, compelling story about a few specific people who essentially shorted (in other words, bet against) the entire US financial system and ended up "winning" in the 2008 financial crisis. I knew the basic details of how mortgage-backed securities were packaged and repackaged to get high ratings from well-known agencies, even though the underlying instruments were high-risk mortgages given unscrupulously to poor people who were likely to default; that said, I found incredible just how much fraud was being perpetrated, like laundering credit scores based on essentially nothing, or ripping off low-income people with false or misleading interest rates. Also, many financial models seemed to assume no underlying information and total lack of correlation among various investments, assets, or liabilities, even this was obviously untrue: subprime mortgages bundled into financial instruments were highly correlated by underlying economic indicators, and companies' fortunes could often be predicted much more accurately even with publicly-available information (like with Capital One's fortunes depending on regulatory judgments against it), yet these models often still naïvely and nonsensically assumed Gaussian distributions for such events.

Coupled with that ignorance of information in financial modeling seemed to be an intentional lack of transparency in the market for these complex securities and other financial instruments. Typically, enlarging a risk pool would seem to produce better outcomes throughout the market, but here, the mirror image of that was happening: more and more people were being exposed to risk, and that risk was being multiplied based off of essentially nothing tangible (often simply camouflaged through clever names as comprising diversified assets), yet large Wall Street firms were making money off of that for years before the whole system collapsed. On a related note, some people have claimed that short-sellers are beneficial to the market by signaling that certain trading practices should stop as they are too risky, yet as far as I can tell, this only works in an idealized world where information and people's decisions are transparent to everyone, whereas the whole point is that the short-sellers and those selling risky financial instruments were all trying to one-up each other in a cloud of opacity and obfuscation so that they could make their big money (which is what really happened).

Overall, the book is quite engaging and well-written. As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of subtleties, nuances, and jargon that went over my head, but the narrative and salient points are clear enough to a layperson; if anything, the technicalities simply add to the authentic feel of what one of those short-sellers must have been thinking during those years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. It is important to note that the focus of this book is the financial crisis and the years leading up to it, from the perspective of the finance industry/Wall Street; it does not really touch upon the broader economic trends in the US leading up to that point (except for specific trends that tie into the discussions of specific mortgage-backed financial instruments), and it does not discuss the recession per se. With that in mind, I'd recommend this to anyone who is interested in the subject.

2017-07-03

Second Paper: "Unifying Microscopic and Continuum Treatments of van der Waals and Casimir Interactions"

My second paper has been published! It is in volume 118, issue 26 of Physical Review Letters, and an older preprint of it is available too for those who don't have access to academic journals (it has all of the same figures and ideas, though it is missing a few sentences of further explanation as well as a couple of new citations that were inserted for the final publication). As with my first paper, in the interest of explaining these ideas in a way that is easy to understand, I am using the ten hundred most used words in English (except for the two lines that came before this one), as put together from the XKCD Simple Writer. I will use numbers sometimes without completely writing them out, use words for certain names of things without explaining further, and explain less used words when they come up. Keep reading to see what comes next.