Posts Tagged #Off Topic

Less serious (but still informative) posts and articles.

Posted by Arnon Erba in Meta on .

It’s been about two years since my last meta post, so in keeping with tradition it would seem I’m due for another ground-up redesign of my blog and a retrospective post to go along with it. This time, though, I think I’ll skip the redesign and jump straight to the retrospective post.

I’ve written about the history of this blog before, and much of what I wrote in 2018 still holds true today. I’ve been blogging under the Arnon on Technology moniker for a while now and the past two years have seen the publication of some of my favorite posts. Still, I’ve managed to almost continuously break the cardinal rule of blogging by averaging, in many cases, less than a single post per month.

Why? To be honest, writing posts for this blog takes a lot of time. Some of the more in-depth how-to guides I’ve written have over a dozen hours invested in them and were composed over a period of weeks or months as time permitted. For example, I’ve been working on an article about Git off-and-on since February of this year, and it’s still far from complete. In some way, it’s a case of perfect being the enemy of good enough.

In the end, that’s OK, because this blog still isn’t about money or fame. I’ve never had the time or desire to pursue ad revenue and I’m not active on Twitter or other social media platforms. Instead, my main goal is to continue writing articles about poorly documented tech problems while giving back to the community of Internet bloggers who have helped me out time and again with similar niche issues.

For now, though, it’s time to finish a few more drafts.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in General on .

You’ve probably heard of RFC 2324, the iconic 1998 April Fool’s joke that gave the world the Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol (HTCPCP/1.0):

Any attempt to brew coffee with a teapot should result in the error code “418 I’m a teapot”. The resulting entity body MAY be short and stout.

Some of the nerdier among us may even remember the IPv10 RFC draft, an elaborate piece of delusion or trolling still going strong after almost two years. Of course, we all know nothing helps reduce the number of competing standards like adding more competing standards [obligatory XKCD].

However, to locate true genius, we must peruse the list of April Fools’ Day RFCs and select one from April 1st, 1990. Yes, it’s none other than the one and only RFC 1149, aka IP over Avian Carriers (IPoAC). In perhaps the best form of proof that IP can be adapted to run over almost any physical link imaginable, RFC 1149 lays out the basics for a working IP-based network using carrier pigeons.

Really, no one can describe IPoAC better than its creator, David Waitzman:

The IP datagram is printed, on a small scroll of paper, in hexadecimal, with each octet separated by whitestuff and blackstuff. The scroll of paper is wrapped around one leg of the avian carrier. A band of duct tape is used to secure the datagram’s edges. The bandwidth is limited to the leg length.

If you haven’t read all of RFC 1149, it’s only two pages and is certainly worth the read. When you’re finished, you can read RFC 2549, David’s quality of service-enabled extension to the original IPoAC spec. I’ll leave you with this absolute gem from that follow-up RFC:

The ITU has offered . . . formal alignment with its corresponding technology, Penguins, but that won’t fly.

All jokes aside, this is a good reminder that anyone can submit their own RFC, and that you probably shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in General on .

This year I had the opportunity to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I was able to use my Ubuntu laptop full-time as my main computer both in and out of the house. It was an interesting experience, especially as everyone I was working with had either Windows or Mac OS X. Here’s what happened over the month I used Ubuntu full-time, and here’s what I thought of it.

The first question you’ll probably have after reading the introductory paragraph is, “Why did you only make it one month? Doesn’t that mean you decided Ubuntu wouldn’t work full-time?” The simple answer is, no. The main reason I stopped using my Ubuntu laptop full-time because of hardware issues unrelated to Ubuntu. The long answer covers what I thought of Ubuntu over that month and how well it worked out for me.

Let’s start with the computer I was using. If you’ve seen some of my previous posts, you’ll probably know that my current Ubuntu machine is a Sony Vaio VGN-150e with a 2 GHz Core 2 Duo and 2 GB of RAM. (Ed: not anymore.) It’s not new, but it is perfectly adequate for Ubuntu. The problem lies with the fact that the laptop has a dead battery. Not a worn-out battery, a completely dead battery. I have a suspicion that the problem may even lie with the charging circuit and not the battery itself. This means that when the laptop is unplugged, it instantly dies just like a desktop would. If I happened to be working somewhere without a power outlet, I wasn’t going to be working. This complicated matters to the point where I finally gave up on using the laptop full-time.

But what about Ubuntu? During my experience, I decided that Ubuntu is perfectly usable on a day-to-day basis. In fact, I only discovered one issue: compatibility with traditional Windows programs. Everyone I worked with had Microsoft Office, which made the formatting of many shared documents I had to work with look very odd when opened with LibreOffice. I know LibreOffice isn’t part of Ubuntu and it isn’t Ubuntu’s fault that document formats aren’t universal, but I can’t see any way of getting around this issue except for buying Microsoft Office or forcing everyone else to use Ubuntu. When I finally switched from the Sony to my newer Windows 7 Acer laptop, I chose to use Windows because I already had purchased Microsoft Office and felt that I might as well make use of it.

On everything else except for compatibility, however, Ubuntu did well. I didn’t have a single crash, and I enjoyed the security of using Linux. The bottom line is that my main issues turned out to be hardware-related and that if I had a new laptop that was built for Ubuntu and didn’t have to constantly work with Microsoft Office documents, I would still be using Ubuntu full-time right now. As it is, I use Windows during the day and Ubuntu occasionally.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in General on .

(Editor’s note: Enjoy reading about how I upgraded to Windows 7 in a shockingly roundabout way a few years ago.)

After four years of running an HP-installed version of Windows Vista on my family desktop, I decided it was time to upgrade to Windows 7. Booting up was taking an incredible amount of time, and the system was using between 3 and 5 GB out of 8 GB of RAM during daily use. My original plan was a quick weekend project, but I hesitated for a while because of the fairly high purchase price of Windows, and my quick project stretched out to a few months of searching for Windows on sale. I eventually took the risk of buying a Windows 7 disc set on Craigslist for below retail price. The product key turned out to be valid, but the catch was that my Craigslist purchase was an upgrade version of Windows 7. I didn’t want to do an in-place upgrade, because the entire idea of upgrading to Windows 7 was to remove all of the junk that was slowing the system down. I could still perform a clean install with my upgrade disc, I just needed to have a fully licensed version of Windows on the same hard drive I wanted to install Windows 7 on. I already had a fully licensed version of Windows Vista, but I didn’t want to write over that installation as I wanted to keep a backup in case of disaster.

Faced with this, my project transformed. Instead of partitioning the 750 GB hard drive and installing Windows 7 alongside Windows Vista, I would buy another hard drive, burn the HP factory recovery DVDs, restore Vista to the new hard drive, and then install Windows 7 over the fresh installation of Vista. All while preserving the original Vista installation on the original hard drive. Sounds simple, right?

That, again, didn’t go as planned, and in the most unexpected way possible. The desktop refused to burn the HP recovery discs, giving me an error code which proved to be a hardware error. Was the DVD drive failing after never being used to burn a disc? Was the lens dirty? Did the HP Recovery Manager not like my TDK DVD-Rs? Or was the HP Recovery Manager simply broken? I didn’t have the time or ability to test all these possibilities, so I had to come up with a new plan. The desktop still had the HP recovery partition on the hard drive, but I didn’t want to do a factory restore and erase all the data on the original drive. I wanted Vista on the new hard drive.

I figured if I could copy the recovery partition to the new hard drive, I could factory restore Windows Vista on the new hard drive and not touch the original one. However, Google searches about successfully copying of moving the recovery partition did not look promising. I finally decided to just go ahead, try to copy the partition, and to see what happened.

Enter the Linux Live Ubuntu 12.04 bootable USB thumb drive. Having one of these around has been extremely useful for many reasons, partitioning discs with GParted included. I copied the HP recovery partition directly over to the new drive, and tried booting from the copy.

Predictably, it didn’t work. I got some sort of an “Insert Bootable Media” error, indicating the computer was trying to boot off of the empty partition on the hard drive and not the freshly copied recovery partition. Back in GParted, it turned out the empty partition was marked as the boot partition. I set the boot flag on the recovery partition, restarted the computer, and found myself looking at the HP Recovery prompt. Ecstatic yells ensued.

I waited for the recovery program to finish and then booted into the new installation of Vista. I was then reminded of something I had not thought of: the computer has an upgraded graphics card. Since the recovery program restored the graphics drivers for the original card, the system defaulted to 800 x 600 with 16 bit color. I wasted no time in starting the Windows 7 installation.

There was still more to do when the Windows 7 installation finished. It turned out that even when you choose “Custom install” with an upgrade disc, the install program still saves a large amount of data into a folder called Windows.old. This includes data such as user files, program files, and AppData folders. Since I didn’t want any of the HP-installed programs and I didn’t have any data in the installation of Vista that I had written over, the folder quickly got deleted. Also, my Craigslist Windows 7 disc set was so old it didn’t have Service Pack 1. I ended up downloading probably over a gigabyte of updates.

It was also extremely cool to see the programs installed list completely empty and to have under 10 user-initiated processes running on boot. From now on, I never want to deal with OEM bloatware again.

After all the updates were finished, I installed programs and created user accounts for everyone who uses the computer. Then, I moved over files from the original hard drive with the Vista installation to the fresh Windows 7 installation.

In all, the entire process took about five days, setbacks and all. That’s not counting the time it took me to find a Windows 7 disc set and to buy another hard drive. The step that took the most time was moving over emails from Windows Mail on Vista to Windows Live Mail on 7. A close second were the updates.

Despite the amount of time and effort it took me, it was way worth it doing the upgrade my way. I saved about $50 in parts costs alone. There are also the savings of doing all the file transfers myself versus having a computer shop do them for me. On top of that, I got to decide exactly how my computer would be set up and I know how it’s configured in case anything goes wrong. I had the entire Windows Vista system as a backup, and I got to have a clean install of Windows 7 instead of an upgrade.

Windows 8 next? Not until I get a touchscreen monitor and a trackpad.