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The other day, I wrote about ripping my vinyl records and Noel said that he was interested in getting a turntable. The vinyl revival hasn’t escaped me, although it has puzzled me a bit. A compact disc revival I could actually understand. It did get me thinking to how these things change and that most alternatives have both pros and cons.

One thing that I believe has more cons than pros for many people is the laptop, as contrasted with the desktop. The main advantage of the laptop is that it is portable. Beyond that, I think they’re terrible. I have both a laptop and a desktop and I almost never use the laptop when I’m not traveling. I couldn’t imagine have that as my only machine. Almost everything I use a computer for I can do faster and better on my desktop. I can type more quickly. Editing photos is easier. I simply don’t do any graphics at all on the laptop. Plus, laptops are usually far worse for your posture. It’s much easier to find a comfortable position while using a desktop.

The screen on a laptop is almost always too small. I was surprised one day by someone saying that it was great to see their photos on a television because the screen was so big. For a moment, I was puzzled and then I recalled that many people have laptops. My own screen is so big that I’m pretty comfortable backing my chair up a few inches and watching a video, and it’s my favorite way to view photos.

I suspect these days people often choose a laptop without giving a desktop much thought. When my mother’s last computer finally died, her friends said, “Just go to the store and buy a laptop,” usually naming a particular line by a specific manufacturer. Instead, I built a desktop for her.

I would really encourage people, especially young people who may have never used a desktop at home, to try one.

If you do so, I’d also encourage you to build it yourself if you are so inclined. If you haven’t done it, it’s probably much easier than you think. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

The other day, I went to Micro Center, an electronics store, to pick-up a few items. If you’re not familiar with Micro Center, it’s a chain of 25 stores around the U.S. They sell computers as well as some other electronics, but where they really stand out is that they cater to hobbyists and sell computer parts and electronic components. As I was on their website making my shopping list before schlepping out to Brooklyn, I noticed that they had a video of Micro Center’s CEO being interviewed by the founder of Adafruit Industries. It’s a little embarrassing, but I fucking love Adafruit. I have to control myself when I look at their website because I can blow through an absurd amount of money. Actually, now that I think of it, maybe the video was on the Adafruit website. (Trigger Warning: The following website might cause excessive salivating in sensitive individuals. (OMG! OMG! OMG! I wanna make this!))

At one point in the conversation, Lady Ada, the interviewer, asks Rick Mershad, “Do people still go in and build a computer by, like, getting a motherboard and a processor?”

Mershad responds, “It’s funny you asked. That customer is so important to us. I mean, there must be in every market that we serve… there must be fifty thousand people that want to build their own pcs, the reason being that they have a lot of specific uses and a lot of the manufacturers they don’t build pcs that were…”

Lady Ada at this point suggest some uses like gaming or engineering. Mershad adds graphics, which only confirms that he really does know his market. As an artist, I know that some of the most processor demanding tasks are involved in producing graphics. For some reason, it doesn’t cross people’s minds as readily as gaming does. Ironically, programming is one of the least demanding tasks, unless you need to test a program which is itself demanding of processor power. One of the reasons I built my own computer was that I wanted a beast of a graphics machine. Hence the great big screen. I keep threatening to buy a second one for a dual monitor set-up.

One of the great things about building your own pc is that you can have one that is suited exactly to your needs. As I said, it’s easier than most people seem to think. I just got a book. The book had several sample “builds,” but I didn’t follow any of them exactly. The kind people on the subreddits buildapcforme and buildapc suggested parts – just be prepared for everyone to disagree about what’s “best.”

You probably won’t save a whole lot of money building it yourself, but since you’re getting exactly what you want it will be a better value.

Here’s the whole interview. I actually thought it was pretty interesting. Also, a fun thing to look up is to look for images of computer case mods.

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Ever since I put together my new desktop and spent time haunting hardware forums and reading online magazines that review hardware, I’ve been a bit fascinated by all the breathless announcements that tablet sales have surpassed pc sales. As I’ve said before, I find the comparisons between the two a bit ridiculous. It would be like comparing the sales between tractor trailers and bicycles. Finding that the manufacturers of tablets want to convince me that I want one is unsurprising because, of course, they’d like to sell them. Why there are people who write things saying that tablets are the way of the future, so get used to it, puzzles me.

The way of the future. The future, they say, will be touch, or, better yet, gesture. We all know the various gestures, first made commonplace with the iPhone and now having spread to tablets and laptops. They say that the gestures were taken from the movie Minority Report. In it, Tom Cruise works in front of a transparent screen, waving his arms. You can see his face – so much more interesting than the back of someone’s head. I liked the movie a lot. The director, Stephen Spielberg, spent time consulting with professionals in various fields to create a future that looks believable. Between the government trying to prevent crimes before they happen and the technology it portrays with screens all over, it sometimes seems like one of the most prescient. The computer interface that Tom Cruise employed in the movie was designed by  John Underkoffler, who was told by Spielberg to make it look as if Cruise was conducting an orchestra. That’s much more visually exciting than watching someone typing at a keyboard and reading a dense screen of type.

Whenever I see someone give verbal commands to their phones, I think of Harrison Ford in Blade Runner reclining on a sofa saying, “Enhance,” to his computer. As he finds something in the picture on-screen, he leans forward.

Anyone who has ever seen their profession portrayed in a movie has probably laughed at the contortions directors go through to make banal work dramatic. Most of us, in our daily lives, do not look like movie stars, and that’s not only because we are not as beautiful or handsome or buff. When we concentrate on work we sit with our shoulders hunched over, or leaning our head in our hands which squashes our faces in unflattering ways. From the candid photos in gossip rags, we know that movies stars don’t look like movie stars most days.

So, I’m amused by the fact that the new interfaces for our tools appear to have been shaped more by a need to make characters in a movie look exciting than with the ostensible purpose. Thankfully, writing was invented before the movies, or we all would have been doing our math homework by writing on the window like Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.

A closeup of a motherboard.Today, I partitioned my boot drive and installed Linux.

While a was poking around on the internet trying to figure out how to do this, I found a number of forums posts in which someone asked how to do what I did today in simple step by step directions. That would have been convenient for me too. Instead, for just about every step, I had to look up how to do the previous step. Sometimes the steps seemed unclear or, when I was trying to do it, I’d come to a point where I’d say to myself, “Which choice do I make?” I’m going to try to write it down while those questions, and the answers, are still clear in my mind. This is the first time I’ve set up a dual-boot system, so if anyone has information to add, feel free to leave a comment.

The system I set up has a solid state drive (SSD) to use as a boot drive and a hard disk drive (HDD) to store user files. This added some additional steps to the setup, but this kind of system has become rather common at that moment. Although they are quickly becoming obsolete, I also put in an optical drive (CD/DVD burner).

The overall outline of the steps is as follows:

  • Install Windows to the SSD
  • Move the default location of the user files and the library files to the HDD
  • Partition the Drives
  • Burn an image of Slackware
  • Install Slackware
  • Move the default location of the user files in Slackware

When you purchase a new, individual license of Windows, you should receive a DVD. Turn on your computer. While the computer is booting, hit the delete button repeatedly until the bios (basic input/output system) or uefi (universal extensible firmware interface) setup utility appears. This is pre-installed on the motherboard and each one will be a little bit different. Mine has a menu option labeled boot. In that screen, you can change the order of the boot drives. For first boot option, select your optical drive. For second boot option, select your SSD. Do not exit from the uefi(or bios) setup utility yet. Open the optical drive and insert your Windows disk. Close the drive. Save the changes and exit. For my motherboard, that meant going to the Exit screen and choosing “Save Changes and Exit.”

The computer immediately tries to boot from the optical drive.

If the Windows logo appears, all is going well so far.

The first screen asks for your preferred language, time, currency units and the keyboard layout you will be using. These choices should be self-evident. (If anything I say is self-evident is not, ask in the comments.)

After accepting the license terms, you are presented with choice between an Upgrade and a Custom installation. Since this is a new installation, Custom is the only possible option.

After that, you are asked where to install Windows. You want to choose your SSD. In my case, the SSD appeared first, but you can usually identify the drives by the size since they’re unlikely to be the same size (for reference: byte < kilobyte < megabyte < gigabyte < terabyte). Unfortunately, Windows doesn’t give us a choice at this point about where to put the user files and the default is the same drive as the OS and the program files. We’ll change this later.

The next stage of the installation continues without user input. Your computer will shutdown and automatically restart.

In the next several screens you will enter the product key, set the date and time, and set up your network. Windows will automatically detect internet connections. If it is your own, click “Home.” If it is not, click “Public.” If you choose “Home,” write down your password when you are presented with it.

Windows will start up. You will be prompted to create a user name and a password.

Next, we’re going to format the HDD, so it’s usable. Since this is done in the same utility program as partitioning, we will create a new partition on the SSD for the Linux installation while we’re at it.

Go to the Control Panel. In the Icon View, choose Administrative Tools. In Administrative Tools, choose Computer Management. The Computer Management window will open. In the left hand panel, under the category “Storage,” click once on “Disk Management.” You might need to resize the window to view the information comfortably.

The central portion of the window is itself divided into upper and lower portions. The upper portion lists the drives, or volumes, seen by the operating system. The lower portion shows this graphically and also allows you to see the physical drives on which they are located. Disk 0 should be divided into two portions, one small and without a drive name, the other one significantly larger and labeled “C:”. This is your SSD Below that will appear your HDD, which will also be unlabeled. It will say “unallocated” within the box. Right click on it and, from the context menu, choose New Simple Volume. In a new window, The New Simple Volume Wizard will appear.

Under Specify Volume Size, the default number will be the entire amount available. Click next. Under Assign the Dive a Letter, I chose “D.” You can choose any letter not already in use. Under Format Partition, choose “Format this volume with the following settings: File system: NTFS, Allocation unit size: Default, Volume label: New Volume.” Check “Perform a quick format.” Click Next, then Finish. Do not yet leave Disk Management, because now we have to partition the SSD. That’s slightly different.

First, we need to shrink the volume that contains the Windows operating system to make room for the partition which will contain Linux on our boot drive. Right click on the box labeled “C:” and, from the context menu, choose Shrink Volume. The Shrink dialog box appears. Divide it roughly in half, I gave a little more space to Window since I will have more programs loaded that run on it. You may decide differently. The dialog box asks for the size in megbytes; remember one gigabyte is 1024 megabytes. Enter the number and click shrink.

Close the Computer Management utility.

I’m going to have to pause here because I’m getting sleepy. I will continue tomorrow.

Assembling a computer was no more or less difficult than I expected. It was time consuming and perhaps took about two hours more than I anticipated. What I thought would be boring and routine, loading the operating systems, turned out to be a long, convoluted mess. Windows 8 installed without incident. Then, it froze. It felt like the movie Groundhog’s Day as I rebooted the computer yet again and it froze within the few minutes. I loaded Ubuntu, which worked well. Then I tried to load Windows 8 again. Just to see if Ubuntu had some magic powers I don’t understand, I tried Slackware. Slackware worked as well. I was about five minutes’ patience away from no longer being a Windows user. Then I went online to see if I could find Linux replacements for the programs I use most frequently. Um, not really, at least not for all of them. The thought of creating a Hackintosh even went through my mind. However, I’d chosen the hardware anticipating a Windows 8/Linux dual boot system, and I doubted that I’d have suitable hardware for that. So finally, I broke down and, believe it or not, I purchased Windows 7.

So now I’m working on my nice comfortable desktop with a nice big screen with my fantasy computer all assembled by yours truly. Windows 7 appears to be running smoothly and I’ve made little adjustments, like moving the user files to a hard disk drive. That should be easier to do than it is. I haven’t yet partitioned the solid state drive or loaded Linux onto it. I just need to give myself a little break for a few hours. After all, it’s almost 5:00 am on Sunday morning and I’m only just now putting up my Saturday post.

Sweet Bedstraw. The leaves are opening in the form of a spiral around the cluster of small buds.

Part off a mechanical hand.Not at all technical. This post is more about how society relates to computers.

As mentioned the other day, I’m looking into buying a new computer. It’s a major expense for me, so I’m going to do a lot of research first. I’m not very oriented towards consumerism in any walk of life, so, although I consider myself someone who loves technology, I don’t buy gadgets simply to have the latest coolest thing. Also, I don’t keep up on marketing trends.  I don’t read about the latest hardware, drooling over what I will buy in the future. So, once every three to five years, when I find I need a new machine, based on my own changing needs, not on what’s on the market, I wind up having to educate myself about what’s happened in the computer industry.

When reading about the technology that’s out there I came across a variety of articles that wrote about larger trends. Quite a lot of it focused on the decline of the desktop pc and the rise of the tablet. The tablet, as everyone agrees, changes the way we relate to the computer, making it more of a consumer item. The tablet is a closed box. It’s something you buy as is.

It’s ironic that the company most responsible for turning the computer into a consumer item, taking it beyond the realm of hobbyists and tinkerers is Apple, a company that got its start in a group of hobbyists and tinkerers. Meanwhile, today’s hobbyists and tinkerers fear that their fun will come to an end as more computer items get sealed up.

Despite all the push towards smaller, easier and more mobile devices, what I’ve been jonesing after myself is a desktop computer with a nice big monitor, maybe even two, and a comfortable keyboard. Apparently, I’m not the only one out there with this desire. In an article in PC Magazine one of their regular writers said,

Just imagine the type of machine that could be built for $2,500, not to mention $3,500; it’s the exact machine that power users cobble together themselves.

He then goes on to describe a powerful desktop machine with three monitors.

Though this three-monitor power user configuration is quite common in the real world, I have never seen it sold as such. Dell, HP, or Lenovo will never advertise this configuration because they’ll tell you that people want laptops and tablets and that will be the end of it.

In my own experience, this set up is indeed common. People choose different tools for different purposes. I don’t especially want an iPad because there’s not enough that I want to do with it to justify the cost. However, I can see why other people want one. In advertisements the world seems to be full of good-looking people who work by running down Manhattan streets while shouting into their phones. In reality, much in the world is accomplished by plodding people sitting at desks.

The interesting thing is differentiation. Years ago, the desktop did everything because the desktop was all there was. If all you wanted to do was send emails to your nieces and nephews, you did it on a piece of equipment that didn’t look very different in external form than the computer an architect used for CAD drawings. Now, a desktop seems like overkill if all you want is email and the web, but I don’t think civil engineers will do their work on a phone. These other computer users won’t go away.

Neither will the hobbyists and tinkerers. There are a lot of forums out there where people discuss building their own PCs. From the activity there, it seems to be a hobby that’s alive and well.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to be building my own PC. If this is interesting to anyone, I’d be happy to put up posts describing what I’m doing. I’m new to this, so the posts would probably not be very technical, plain English translations of technical matters.

Before I give you the kittylicious pictures, I’m going to pose a question for the great big world out there. I am having technical difficulties. My main machine has given up the ghost and I will be looking into acquiring a new desktop computer. This always brings up loads of questions. I tend to do a lot of graphics work. Most basic computers are not good enough and I’ve been very disappointed in the past. People think they’re helping you save money, but it’s ultimately an expensive mistake. If anyone is a heavy user of graphics programs and has any advice – do I get a separate video card (I’m inclined to think yes) and if so, which, etc. The higher priced ones are out of my price range. I’m not a big hardware geek, so any advice or opinions would be appreciated.

A small cat with soft fur waking up from a nap on a chair.

More kitty pictures below the fold →

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This is going to be fast. I rarely post twice in a day, but this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. A woman, Adria Richards, attending a developer conference, PyCon, heard men making sexist jokes at the conference. She tweeted their picture. One of the men in was fired by his employer PlayHaven. Hackers congregating at sites like 4chan put pressure on Richards’ employer, SendGrid, which then fired her.

Woman is sacked for tweeting picture of men who made ‘sexist’ dongle jokes at PyCon developer conference

Usually, when I do artwork directly on the computer, I work on a “desktop replacement” laptop with a comparatively large screen and I use a Wacom Intuos digitizer tablet as an imput device. Maybe someday I’ll have a desktop computer with a huge screen and a Cintiq. Until then, I can only dream.

Well, as it happens, my internet connection was as slow as molasses the other day, so I went out to my sister’s place to put up my last post. I took a smaller laptop I bought specifically for traveling. It works pretty well for putting up a short, written posts, and when I was in France I used it for photos. With a thirteen inch screen, I wouldn’t want to do extensive editing with it, but I downloaded Paint.NET and it works very well for minor tweaking. At home I use Photoshop.

The lightweight laptop is significantly newer. It has a touch screen and the operating system is Windows8. Since it was such a nice day, I thought I’d stay at my Sis’s place and spend some time outdoors. I also thought I would try out drawing directly on the touch screen. I found it a little frustrating because the precision isn’t there.

Here is a sketch I did with the free version of Artweaver. It looks like a nice drawing program and I’ll have to try it more extensively when I am at home.

A rough sketch of a landscape with a bird bath and a  young dogwood tree.

Very rough sketch of a woman in gray sweat pants lyig on a red sofa.Here is another sketch that I did of my sister lying on the sofa last night. This was done with the Fresh Paint program that came with Windows8. It feels much too much like finger painting for me, although I could see kids having some fun with it. Unlike Artweaver and most other drawing programs, it doesn’t have more advanced features like layers. Also, last night I tried Project Dogwaffle, but I couldn’t figure out how to change the paper size and I just abandoned trying to make heads or tails of that program.

On the other hand, it was nice being able to take the computer outside with me and use it much like a sketch pad to make drawings from life.