Friday, July 29, 2016

More proof that Barak Obama is a classy guy

I have written that Barak Obama is a classy guy. I have never written about his wife, Michelle Obama, who is even classier than he is.

By "classy", I don't mean someone who is rich or powerful, or well-dressed. Normal, everyday people can have class. Donald Trump, in spite of all his purported riches, has no class. Zero. Hillary Clinton, in spite of her professional and political career, has no class, either. But Obama has tons of it.

You don't have to like his politics, and you can even disagree passionately with some of his words and actions as President. (Personally, I still do.) But you can't deny that the man has class.

As yet another piece of evidence, I offer this photograph, by official White House photographer Pete Souza, published in a photo essay in the Huffington Post called simply, "Obama With Kids." This is a picture of the prez with Ella Rhodes, daughter of National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, in her elephant Halloween costume last October.

That's the Oval Office, people. And the President of the United States. In a really expensive suit and shoes. During business hours. AND this isn't the first time he's gotten down on the floor to play with this little girl.

I will say it once more.

The man has class.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Election 2016: Let's All Vote Third-Party This Year

With a respectful nod in Mr. Sanders' direction, it looks like, when November 2, 2016 comes around, we will be faced with a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
We're all Screwed 2016 campaign button

Giant Meteor 2016 campaign button
Alien Invasion 2016 campaign button

Not necessarily.

I have some alternative proposals for you to consider. The first one is too easy, it's the one that most people will do, and it may backfire. Don't do it - think a little harder. The last proposal is the greatest idea ever. But to work, requires an open mind, a bit of daring, and a lot of cooperation - like millions of people combining to do it.

The cool thing about voting in the United States of America, exit polls notwithstanding, is that it's a secret ballot. You don't have to tell anybody how you voted. Remember that.

1. Vote not-Clinton or not-Trump. Choose the one you hate the least, the proverbial Lesser of Two Really Bad Evils.

(Maybe you are one of the rare Americans who really does support Clinton or Trump. Good for you. Vote your convictions.)

2. Vote for Dictator, not for President. Decide which one you would be most willing to live under as a dictator, because that may happen. Vote for the dictator of your choice.

3. Vote for the Vice-President. Look carefully at the candidates for vice-president. Vote for the vice-president who will make the best president, on the assumption that the elected president is likely to get impeached or otherwise removed from office before his or her term is up.

None of the Above 2016 campaign button
4. THIS IS MY FAVORITE: Vote for somebody else - anybody else. We tend to forget that the Democrats and the Republicans are NOT the only political parties in the nation, and are definitely NOT the only parties with candidates for president. And while the conventional wisdom has always been that (1) third-party candidates cannot win a presidential election  and that (2) a strong third-party candidate unnecessarily muddies the waters, this year they may be very useful. Stay with me here. Read on.

WARNING: There is some math in the second paragraph following this one.

It is common in modern politics for the winning candidate to claim a "clear mandate from the people." The word "mandate" implies that, through the popular vote, the people overwhelmingly chose this candidate to rule. The mandate is claimed even when margin of victory is laughably slim. This year, let's deny the winner any mandate.

Election results pie chart

It's inevitable that one of the two major candidates will win the election. But if enough people vote for a minor-party candidate, then the winner will be denied a majority of the popular vote. If the winner gets less than one-third (33%) of all the votes cast, and the loser gets even less than that, then more than one-third of the votes (more than the winner got!) will go for the bloc of third-party candidates. We will have demonstrated to both major candidates, and both major parties, that we don't like them and that We The People are supremely dissatisfied with the way this election turned out. We will show them that they do not have a mandate to rule, and that we prefer anybody else to them.

American Pirate Party logo
So vote Libertarian. Or Green. Or United States Pirate Party (arrr!).

Ron White for president poster
Or vote for comedian Ron White - yes, he's a registered presidential candidate this year. It doesn't matter who you vote for. Your candidate will not win, but your vote will be counted, and if enough of us do this, we will deny the major parties their so-called mandate, and somebody important will finally Get It. We will send a message to Washington D.C. that they won't dare to ignore.

Picture credits:
 "Giant Meteor 2016" appeared on the Nihilist Memes FB page as a reader submission. 
"Alien Invasion 2016" was created by Randy Cassingham at This Is True, the Internet's oldest and most successful news-and-commentary newsletter. It appeared on True's FB page.
"None of the Above 2016" and the pie chart are my own creations. © 2016 Ray Depew. Go ahead and spread them around, free of charge. Just remember where you got 'em.
Everything else I found on Google. 
And the United States Pirate Party is a real thing. Arrr, matey.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

I love Linux: more Linux tools

While most computers in use today run on OS X (Apple) or MS Windows operating systems, there's a small but hardy contingent that run on Linux. My PC is a Windows 10 machine, but I use a Cygwin window to do a lot of my work. When I started a new job in December, I was delighted to discover that my computer was running Linux:

Linux is not an OS for the faint of heart. It's like the do-it-yourself pickup truck or street rod that experienced mechanics or gearheads like to drive — there's always some tinkering to do, and always some workarounds for the whizzy options pre-installed in other vehicles but not yet installed in your own. Nevertheless, if you are a computer professional, Linux is the OS that lets you get stuff done. With Linux, the OS doesn't get in the way nearly as much as it does with Windows.

You're getting off track, Ray. Reel it in. What's this blog post about?

I'm always running across new capabilities and new toys in Linux. Let me tell you about my latest finds. None of these are new. Linux heads with more hours at the keyboard than me have known about these tools for years. Some of them may snicker at me for not having discovered them until now. But if you don't know about them yet, then let me be the first to tell you about them.

screen - a remote terminal utility

Many Linux users have been using screen for years, while I've been trapped in Windows land using TinyTerm and other terminal emulators. screen lets you connect to any device with a serial interface — or any of a number of interfaces. If it's an I/O device listed in the /dev directory, you can connect to it with screen. In fact, with screen, you can connect with multiple devices at once.

For example, if you have an Arduino connected to your Linux box with a USB cable, and the Arduino is listed as /dev/ttyACM0, then you can talk directly to the Arduino (and it can talk back) through the screen interface, after you type the command:

     screen /dev/ttyACM0

ytree and Linuxtree - file management utilities

The tree command allows you to list all the subdirectories and files in your current directory in a hierarchical (tree) diagram. It's moderately useful. For those of us who get tired of typing commands like

     ls * */* */*/*

it gives you a quick way to see all of your files in an organized fashion. Wouldn't it be nice if you could do something with them while they're displayed like that, the way users used to do with Norton Commander or Xtree?

Well, you can! Xtree fans have created two Xtree lookalikes, ytree ( because it comes after Xtree - heh) and Linuxtree. Both are text-based file management utilities that are superior in some ways to Windows Explorer or File Manager or whatever they call it in the latest version of Windows. After you use ytree or linuxtree for a day or two, you won't want to go back to the Windows way of doing things.

Fortunately, you don't have to. There's a Windows-based lookalike, called Ztree. While ytree and linuxtree are free, Ztree costs money. Ztree gives you a fully-functional 30-day free trial, and before the end of the 30 days, if you like it, you pay a (very reasonable) one-time license fee.

autojump - an easier way to jump around

Most Linux heads like to do most of their work from the command line - you know, a window like this

where you use the keyboard instead of  the mouse and type in all of your commands. You make think that's old-fashioned and archaic, like a manual transmission, and you would be right. But the fact is that, even today, all of the really nice, GUI-based programs that you use were created by a team of software engineers punching away at command lines.

Most of us don't realize how often we use the cd (for "change directory") command from the command line. After a while, I get tired of typing in the same  cd command over and over again - things like

     cd /users/ray/Documents/webpages/blog/

and so I assign it to an alias, a shortcut like this:

     alias blog='cd /users/ray/Documents/webpages/blog/'

Creating an alias like this lets me hit four keys instead of 38 keys.

A tiny tool called autojump lets me do the same thing, but without aliases. Autojump learns which directories I use most often, and then it lets me switch to them quickly, by typing 'j' (for jump) and part of the directory pathname. For example, I can type

     j blog

and autojump takes me to the same directory as that alias does. Autojump is not perfect, but it is very useful to command-line weenies like me.

Where to get them

If screen isn't built into your Linux distribution, you can find it using apt-get or your distro's Software Management tool. It's also available for Cygwin, a Posix-like shell for Windows. Cygwin is one of the first things I install on a new Windows computer.

Likewise, you can get ytree or linuxtree using apt-get or your distro's Software Management too.l. While linuxtree isn't immediately available for Cygwin, ytree is. And if you really want linuxtree in Cygwin, you can download and compile the source code.

You will need to use git to download autojump from github. You will need Python to run the installation utility. Git and Python are available for every Linux distro out there, and for Cygwin as well.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Windows 10, After Two Months

I bought a new laptop PC two months ago. It came with Windows 8, but was sold as compatible with the soon-to-arrive Windows 10 operating system. After about a week of use, Microsoft invited me to upgrade to Windows 10 for free, and I jumped at the chance. So I've been running Windows 10 on my laptop PC for a couple of months now, almost from the day I bought it. Mostly, I like Windows 10. It is chock full of really nice features, and (so far) appears to be a worthy successor to Windows 7.

I do have a few objections to it, which I will enumerate here.

1. Upselling

One thing I don't like about it is I feel like it's constantly upselling, trying to get me to download or buy more and more software. It's built-in advertising. Ironically, the upselling efforts backfire with me, as I usually end up uninstalling or at least deactivating the software that is doing the upselling.

2. Bloatware in the install

Another thing I don't like about it is that the Windows 10 upgrade came with its own load of bloatware or crapware. I'm still finding all sorts of apps and programs that I really don't want, and it takes me a few minutes every time I find one, to uninstall it. I've noticed, to my annoyance, that some of them can't be uninstalled.

If you leave the bloatware on your PC, it eats up disk space, which isn't a big deal, but it also eats up memory and CPU time, and those two things matter. In addition, the bloatware may be doing things in the background that you really don't want your computer to be doing. That takes us to the next point.

3. "We're watching you ..."

A third thing that I don't like is that Windows 10, and many (if not all) of the apps that come with it, are set by default to snoop on everything you do on your computer, and phone home to report it to a cloud server somewhere. Microsoft and its minions intend to perform "data mining" on this information, or sell it to third parties who will do their own "data mining", all this so that they can "enhance your online experience." That means that they want to sell you stuff, and they're going to bombard you with slyly targeted come-ons, designed to separate you from your money. And your privacy. You need to go into the Settings menus and manually disable all of this invasion-of-privacy stuff.

4. Forced upgrades

Finally, one thing that I find irritating to the point of profanity is Microsoft's insistence on automatically downloading and installing updates to the OS and the drivers, whenever they feel like it. I don't mind Windows 10 telling me that an update is available, but I absolutely hate the way it takes over my computer when it decides it's time for the update. I wrote a couple of posts about this problem and its solutions, here and here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Hey! Microsoft! Stop being so RUDE!

Keeping your Windows PC updated is a safe and prudent thing to do; it's true. I'm sure that Microsoft thought they were being helpful when they forced automatic updates upon us in Windows 10. But they didn't stop to consider that the implementation was PUSHY and RUDE. Windows 10 (and, by extension, Microsoft) presumes to know what's best for me and my computer at any given moment. It doesn't consider that I may be doing a time-critical task, like:

  • Giving a presentation to a client.
  • Skyping with someone halfway around the world.
  • Suffering through an IRS audit.

It just takes over my computer without any warning or permission.

In my previous post, I wrote about how Microsoft's Windows 10 is set up to automatically download and install any upgrades that Microsoft decides are important for you to have.

When this happens, your computer doesn't alert you or warn you. It just goes ahead and does it. The download takes top priority over anything else The program that you're running slows down, and it may even look like it's freezing. You can't open a File Explorer window to look at your hard disk. If you try to open the Task Manager to see what has happened to your PC, it takes forever to open, and then it informs you that something is consuming 100% of your CPU, all of your available RAM, 100% of your network bandwidth, and probably even 100% of your hard disk bandwidth.

(Yes, your hard disk has limited bandwidth. You can't read from and write to it at infinite speeds.)

Because it's stealing all of your network's bandwidth, other devices on your network will also be affected - especially things like other people's computers, tablets and network-connected cellphones.

You can change settings in the Control Panel to disable automatic installation of the updates. That's described in my previous post. But there is not a Control Panel setting to disable automatic downloading of the updates. You may not think this is a problem, but if you're on a busy network and one of these top-priority updates comes down the pipe from the Mother Ship, it freezes your whole computer and many of the other devices on the same network. It is both crippling and irritating for you, and it's also irritating to everyone else who is affected by your computer's download.

Many people have complained about this problem, but MS hasn't seen fit to fix it yet. (Their attitude is "Just get used to doing things our way." Not acceptable.) The Web reveals an easy hack that anyone can do to regain control over Windows 10 automatic downloads. The trick is to  designate your network connections as "metered connections". This article in HowToGeek tells you how to do it. If that article doesn't help you, this one in LifeHacker might work better.

Windows 10 may be inexcusably rude, but it's smart enough not to mess with people's cellphones. People would get very upset if their cellphone charges suddenly skyrocketed due to Windows 10 automatically downloading huge updates through their tethered cellphones.

Therefore, Microsoft allows you to designate a network connection as a "metered connection". Windows 10 won't download updates through a metered connection without asking for permission first. (It's not a matter of Windows being POLITE. It's more like Windows is being PRUDENT. Or TIMID. We could use more of that timidity elsewhere in the operating system.)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dammit, Microsoft! Stop doing that!

I was working on my computer with a client today, helping him set up an account, when Windows 10 decided that it was time to install a stack of important updates, and then to reboot in order to complete the installation. It gave me no warning of what it was doing, the screen simply went black. I fought with the computer for about ten minutes, during which time it rebooted a couple of times and finally gave me a message saying that it was finishing installing the updates.

Why couldn't it tell me that earlier? Why couldn't it advise me that it had some updates to make, and ask if now was a good time to download and install them? Windows 7 used to do that.

Actually, I had to go into the Control Panel in Windows 7 and change the settings so that it would behave politely. It used to be just as rude as Windows 10.

So as soon as Windows 10 finished updating, I went into the Control Panel and changed its settings. Windows 10 won't allow me to postpone downloading the updates, but at least it will ask my permission before it iinstalls them. The Windows 10 Control Panel warned me that it was recommended that I allow Windows 10 to download and install updates whenever the hell it wanted to.

Not after today's experience, Microsoft. You locked me out of my computer for ten minutes, when I was in the middle of a critical task. You no longer get that control over me. And if you try a sneaky stunt like that again, I will stop using any Microsoft product: Windows, Office, you name it, it won't be on this computer.

UPDATE: It can be hacked to allow you to disable the automatic downloads as well. Here's how.

UPDATE 2: I followed through on my threat. This PC doesn't have MS Office on it - no Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook. I'm doing just fine, thank you.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

UBreakIFix Boulder review: lots of thumbs up for this one

So, here's a shout out to a local business. I got my cell phone glass replaced yesterday, and after I got back to work, I checked the paperwork and I got the feeling that I had ripped them off. I called them back and told them that I still owed them $20. They told me not to worry about it. But they did fantastic work - perfect workmanship, good timing, great office manners, everything. I figured that the least I could do was tell all of you about them and encourage you to take your business there. That way they will more than recover the $20 they lost on me.
UBreakIFix Boulder (Facebook: and any browser: does repair work on cellphones, tablets, laptop computers, and other small electronic devices. They will do it by appointment or while you wait. Their prices are reasonable. Please give them as much business as you can. Just don't try to rip them off.