Linux Almost Six Months In

Almost half a year into the Great Linux Experiment and I’m still here.

HP Linux Whoo!!

The last time I tired running Linux as a desktop OS was back around 2001. It went so horribly sideways that I lasted maybe two days. Then again this was 2001 and while I could get Linux (Mandrake) installed, couldn’t get the damned thing online. So it was essentially a weekend of yelling and screaming to myself because I had no Internet to yell and scream into.

Now I can scream all I want, anytime I want. Here are a few things I’ve discovered:

Continue reading “Linux Almost Six Months In”

The Easy Part Is The Computer

I’m going to add a little more to my post from last week. Yes, yes I’ve whinged and kvetched about computers here many times but I’ve been rethinking my relationship with technology quite a lot over the past few weeks.

Up until the past year or so, I’ve been what you would call a die hard Mac user and had been since around 2007. Apple was my jam. The house is filled with MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV’s, Apple Watches, and HomePod mini’s.1

I still have two Macs but one is at deaths door and the other is so slow it’s been relegated to being a lowly media server.  In the meantime, I’d been researching new machines and using my work computer, a Dell XPS running Windows 11, as a stopgap – and we all know that using your work computer for personal shit is never a good idea.

While I’m somewhat interested in MacBooks, I’m no longer the fanatic I once was. Apple made some design and pricing decisions over the past few years that soured my taste. Touchbars, USB-C, shitty keyboards, $500 wheels, $1200 monitor stands … you get the picture. Some of their recent designs are good (well the MacBook Pros anyway), and the Apple Silicon chips are interesting. Yet while I was considering saving and getting a MBP, in the end I simply could no longer justify the prices Apple is asking for their computers. So instead of spending a small fortune on a new MacBook Pro started looking at the PC market.

After years of deriding Microsoft, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Windows is actually really good now. Especially Windows 11. Sure, there’s cruft, legacy garbage, and weird design decisions hanging out in the background, but there is cruft, legacy garbage, and weird design decisions hanging out in the background of any operating system.

The work Dell I’ve been using would be a really nice computer if it wasn’t so prone to hardware issues. At the beginning of of the year I had to run the gauntlet with Dell Support. Three motherboard replacements later and currently the trackpad doesn’t work if the laptop is plugged into power – and this is a $2500+ laptop.

I also am partial to Lenovo ThinkPads but one of those would also run me a couple of thousand dollars.

And then I got to thinking: do I really need to part with that much money just to get a computer, any computer, that can handle basic music production and light video editing?

“Marketing, marketing, marketing. Everything is Better! Faster! Thinner! Lighter! New new new! Forget about what was out just a few months ago! Check out what we have right now! It’s better!”
– Every Tech Company That Exists.

So I started looking at the second hand and refurbished market.

Here is what I found:

      1. Companies market to us in order to get us to buy new and stigmatize anything second hand/refurbished.
      2. Thanks to this, people rely on new items way more than we should which, in turn, is creating massive amounts of e-waste.
      3. There are way more second hand/refurbished options out there than I think anyone realizes.
      4. It’s all good stuff.

So count me in. Here I am on my refurbished HP laptop and everything is going just fine.


1: I’m severely disappointed with the HomePod mini’s.

Pros:

    • They look good.
    • They sound great for their size.
    • They pair and work ok with the Apple TV. Sometimes.

Cons:

    • Siri is just  as useless as it is on the iPhone and it’s the only way you can control the HomePods.
    • The setup and settings in the the Home app is non-intuitive garbage.
    • They only work half the time when mirroring a Mac to the Apple TV. 
    • When starting a movie on Apple TV more often than not, they’ll forget they’re connected and there is no sound for nearly two minutes. Then they’ll remember the ATV and sound kicks in.
    • They constantly lose connection with each other or the Internet.
    • They only work with Apple Music. As luck would have it, I was trying out Apple Music this summer and let me tell you, calling up music on the HomePods was shaky at best. It would ether play the wrong thing, or try and play it on the TV. More often than not, I’d hear “There is a problem with Apple Music please try again later”. I canceled my Apple Music subscription because I found it in no way better than Spotify and it never worked as advertised on anything past my iPhone. It sucked on the HomePod and the Apple TV and my computers. The Mac app is merely ok. There is no dedicated Windows app so you either get iTunes or the Apple Music web interface (both of which are garbage). You know what Spotify has? An app for Windows, Mac, and Linux. And they’re all fucking great.

Another Major Shift

After all my posts opining about Apple, macOS, Dell, and Windows, I’ve thrown my hands in the air and given up looking at new computer hardware. I have a ton of reasons which I’ll write about, but the main one is that I’ve become dismayed thinking about the amount of second hand computers that exist while companies churn out new product for ridiculous prices. As a friend of mine recently said: “I like the idea that Apple is making high performance chips that are low on power consumption but I can’t, and won’t spend that much money on a computer.”

After looking into the second hand market, I headed to a local, mom and pop refurbished computer store and marveled at the WALL OF LAPTOPS they had on display:

WALL OF LAPTOPS

These are all second hand/refurbished. And they have more than these stored away in the back. They have old old computers, not so old computers, and newish computers. Give them an idea of what you’re looking for and they’ll hook you up. Why would anyone buy something brand new? Performance? The ability to run whatever is shiny and new?

Well …

I ended up purchasing a refurbished HP EliteBook  850 G3. The model is around six years old and came with an i7 6600u, 16GB of memory (which I upgraded to 32GB thank to an extra stick of ram I had lying around) and a 512 SSD. Supposedly the CPU is not Windows 11 supported but who cares?

In another twist, I decided to flatten the hard drive and give Linux a run for its money.

After doing some research, I settled on Fedora Jam as it’s geared towards music production and so far so good.

I’ve got my Tascam US16x08 running using ALSA – which came with Fedora Jam and needed no configuration – and it all works with Mixbus32c. I have to say that, so far, Mixbus runs so goddamned smooth on Linux, which makes sense considering it’s based on Ardour.

My usual go-to and longtime favorite DAW is Reaper, and it turns out they have a Linux build.  I managed to get it installed and running but, at first, it would not pick up the Tascam. I kept at it over the past few days and now it seems to be running just fine – although under JACK rather than ALSA. I mean ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Music aside, I’ve managed to set it up Fedora as a full-on desktop environment running KDE Plasma and with all my usual apps (Firefox, Spotify, FocusWriter) as well as a good number of Open Source alternatives. The most pleasing surprise is a video editor called Kdenlive. it’s go just the right amount of features that I used in DaVinci Resolve and Premier Pro to make it just right without excessive bloat.

I’m also loving how well a new release of Linux runs on six year old hardware. When I first brought the laptop home, and before I nuked the drive, I gave the Windows 10 install a spin and it was a little sluggish. Fedora, on the other hand, is running like a dream.

Linux has come a long, long way since I seriously tired it last. I know it will never overtake Windows or macOS – I mean, it’s been poised to take over for as long as I can remember – but wow, it’s so much better than I remember.

So far so good.

It’s Alive!

At the end of February, I posted about my beloved 11″ MacBook Air finally giving up the ghost.

This morning I was reading that the last of the 11″ MBA’s were being added to the obsolete list and I started thinking about the error icon I saw:

bork bork bork

I looked it up. And found that it was most likely an issue with the SSD. For a goof, I pulled the laptop off the shelf, removed the back and and found …

There was no screw holding the M2 SSD in place. How in the … ?

My best guess is that when I took that machine apart a couple of years ago to  replace the battery, I forgot to put the screw that secures the M2 drive back in place. And in the time between then and now, the SSD managed to wiggled itself loose.

I have this tiny, external drive that holds a 128GB M2. I took it  apart and removed one of the screws holding the M2 in place. I then went to the Mac, re-seated the SSD, put in the screw, put the back cover on.  plugged it in, hit the power button and …

The Mac is humming away running a software update. Who knows how much longer it has, but I’ll take it.

Ashes To Ashes

Midsummer 2011, I purchased a base model 11″ MacBook Air; 1.6 Intel Core i5. 4GB ram. 128GB SSD.

This past week I went to turn it on. It gave me this:

bork bork bork

I held down the power button until it turned off. Hit the power button again and…

… nothing.

So this was it. It didn’t go put with a whimper. It just decided to pack it in.

For ten and a half years, this little MacBook Air:

    • Was my portable recording unit across two bands; countless demos and jams were recorded using GarageBand and Reaper.
    • Powered MainStage at home, rehearsals, and on stage.
    • Was my backup when my work computer freaked out (and, at one point, used for a full year because a company I worked for didn’t provide computers).
    • I’ve written who knows how many blog posts on it.
    • Was my teleprompter when recording video.
    • Was very decent at photo/image editing thanks to Pixelmator.
    • Has traveled with me to many countries. It was so small I just tossed it in the front pocket of my carry-on; I didn’t need an extra laptop bag.

In all those years the MacBook didn’t have a single issue. I did replace the battery in 2019; it wasn’t dead, it just wasn’t holding a charge for any more than an hour and and that just comes with age and heavy useage.

That’s value.

RIP little MacBook. You more than earned it.

Deep Breath

It’s been over a week since I got the Dell back. It’s still going strong except for the issue where the touchpad stops working when the laptop is plugged in.

Told Dell Support I’d live with it after they offered yet another motherboard replacement. I just can’t right now with that. The XPS has decent battery life so I’m pretty ok with using the touchpad when the laptop is not plugged in and a mouse when it is.

I then started thinking about my wanting one of the new MacBook Pros and cooled my jets a little. As mentioned previously, the XPS is a very decent laptop when it’s working. Also, the new MacBook Pros are very expensive and it’s money I can’t justify spending right now.

In the end I opted for a minor (and much cheaper) compromise: I ordered two 32 GB sticks of G.SKILL DDR4 which will max out the RAM on the XPS. I have a year left on the Dell ProSupport Plus so I’m going to tough it out and if the issues get any worse than the current touchpad shenanigans, then I’m going to milk every last second of their time and resources.

I really believe that Support is the Achilles Heel for any company not named Apple.  I’m sorry, but the having Apple Stores puts them in a class by themselves.

Computer Update.

Got the XPS back from Dell on January 7. It works!

… except when I plug in the power adapter, then the touch pad stops working.

Logged a ticket on January 8.

January 10 I get a reply asking if I want to ship it to the Advanced Resolution Center. “It should only take 3-5 days.”

I let them know I just got this thing back from the Advanced Resolution Center and asked what other options there are.

In between all this, the touch pad starts randomly working while plugged in; maybe two out of every five attempts.

January 12 I get a reply asking if I want to have someone come to the house and replace the motherboard.

I take a deep breath and reply telling them the motherboard has been replaced twice now and that another motherboard seems like overkill. I tell them I’ll deal with it for now and open a new issue if it becomes completely unusable.

This is unfortunate because when it’s working, this XPS is a great machine. I just can’t get past the issues I’ve had in the past five months.

As with everything from Dell, it’s all turning into ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

Moving Over

I’m typing this post on a second, maybe third hand ThinkPad, testing out IA Writer 1 on Windows to see if the experience mirrors that of macOS and so far so good. Reaper and Mixbus are doing their things as the licenses work for both platforms. Hell, pretty much all of the apps I use these days have Windows versions and they all run pretty damn good.

The dark horse is MainStage which I use quite a bit and is an absolute steal if you’re on the Mac platform. It’s thirty bucks and comes with untold gigs of samples and is, quite simply, one of the most powerful, easiest to use  music performance apps out there. Moving to Windows is going to be super hard without MainStage.

… Wait, what?

Continue reading “Moving Over”