Archives For December 2016

alien-covenant-1280

I saw the original “Alien” when it was released in 1979. Not knowing what to expect, I went in with an open mind and was greatly pleased with what I saw. I’d been prepped, as it were, by the original “Star Wars” of 1977, and I expected a good, if somewhat flawed, science fiction movie. I came away from “Alien” feeling in the same great mood I’d felt after watching “Star Wars.” It wasn’t until 1986, a good seven years later, before I got to watch “Aliens.” But it was very much worth the wait. If anything the second movie proved even better than the first. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1987, winning two. Sigourney Weaver (then, now, and forever so incredibly beautiful) was nominated for a Best Actress, although she didn’t win it (Marlene Matlin won for “Children of a Lesser God”). Such an incredibly good start to the Alien franchise.

That was the last Alien franchise movie I watched until “Prometheus.” I’d watch the trailers for the successive Alien movies after “Aliens”, finding little in them to convince me to spend my hard-earned cash to watch the complete film. All I ever saw in the trailers were variations on the first two films. Along the way I made the mistake of watching “Alien vs Predator.” After that cinematic debacle I made sure to stay away from all the other movies in that particular franchise mashup. Then “Prometheus” came along in 2012, far enough away in time from the “Alien vs Predator” release that I broke down and gave “Prometheus” a shot. That was a big mistake on my part I came to regret almost instantly.

“Prometheus” is a crude horror movie, steeped in pseudo-intellectualism about the creation of life on Earth, in which every character behaved in the most moronic and self-destructive way imaginable. They all deserved to die, in their own horrific manner. I felt absolutely no sympathy for any of the characters. The only emotion I felt was a deep disappointment in that the character Elizabeth Shaw survived, along with the android David’s head.

On Christmas Day they released the trailer to the second movie in this franchise reboot, “Alien: Covenant.” Everything a pre-pubescent male could ever want in a schlock-filled horror movie is there in this two-minute trailer: an alien bursting out of a human, a screaming blood covered female (with knife), two naked humans making love in a shower scene with an alien slashing them into a bloody mess (stealing death-because-of-sex from “Friday the 13th”), an exploding flaming spaceship, a face-hugger, mindless screaming while running through the dark, etc, etc, etc. It’s a rote movie, with minor variations from the many prior releases, which were themselves just as rote after the very first two in the original franchise series. There’s not a damn thing that’s truly new except for the planet. Who the hell cares about the Engineers? Who really cares who created the xenomorph/neomorph? Does that really add anything important to the overall story telling? Not really. It is, instead, an opportunity to churn out yet another tiresome Alien related movie, another cynical money-making exercise.

I watched the trailer because I had managed to nurture just a glimmer of hope that things might actually be better this time around. The trailer effectively slashed that hope into a bloody mess.

raspian pixel

December 21, 2016

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Just a quick entry about Raspian Pixel, the latest Debian-based distribution for the Raspberry Pi. In this entry, I have it running off of a 32GB microSDHC card, a Sandisk Ultra Extreme with an 80MB write speed, plugged into the Raspberry Pi 3. The Pixel desktop is something of a minor wonder, a reasonable graphical desktop that isn’t glacially slow. This entry is being written on the Pixel desktop within Chromium “Version 51.0.2704.91 Built on Ubuntu 14.04, running on Raspbian 8.0” according to the about screen. I’ve been dabbling with some of the more current distributions lately, specifically Raspbian and Fedora 25 for ARM.

Raspbian Pixel is a nice, clean, reasonably fast distribution for the Raspberry Pi 3. My only real complaint is that Raspbian, like Arch Linux ARM and Fedora 25, is still compiled for 32-bit ARM, not 64-bit. Other than that I can’t really complain. If anything, I have high praise for Pixel, especially its inclusion of Chromium/Chrome. Everything on the web I’ve attempted to view on Chromium renders as well as a regular Chrome on Windows, macOS, and Ubuntu. It handles multiple tabs, although with the limited memory on the RPi 3 I make sure to have as absolutely few open as possible.

I won’t be able to do anything of significance until after Christmas. But with a decent version of Raspbian on one of my RPi boxen, I now have a reference installation that will allow me to check to see if any of my more esoteric projects failures are due to me or the fact that Arch Linux doesn’t fully support what I’m trying to do.

Unfortunately, Fedora 25 has taken the place of the older versions of Raspian as the slowest, least usable distribution you can install on the Raspberry Pi 3. “Glacial” doesn’t even begin to describe how slow it is. After 30 frustrating minutes of dealing with “did it crash or is it just that slow,” I installed Raspbian Pixel over the top of it and moved on. I’ll admit Fedora looks pretty, but that’s no reason to keep it around. Ugly but highly functional will always beat pretty but slow as molasses in a New England winter. If you’re reading this and trying to make a decision, take my advice, and install Raspbian Pixel. Don’t even waste bandwidth and diskspace on Fedora 25 for ARM.

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The Samsung R580 is like the Timex watches of yore, when they “took a lickin’ and kept on ticken’.” Or maybe it should be compared to something more contemporary like the Energizer Bunny. Regardless, the R580 continues to do yeoman duty, what with its ‘mere’ 4GB of memory and now-modest Intel Core i5 m430 processor. It was originally purchased with Windows Vista installed back in 2010. It was upgraded to Windows 7 when that was offered as a free upgrade, and stayed that way until Windows 7 decided to corrupt itself. When that happened I installed Ubuntu 13.10 on it in December 2013. It’s been an Ubuntu workhorse ever since.

When I upgraded the R580 to Ubuntu I replaced the keyboard and put a new 500GB hard drive in it to match the size of the original hard drive. Over the years I started to replace the hard drive, first with a 1TB model, then a second just to make sure that at least the rotating media was kept up to date. I thought about upgrading to 8GB, the highest you could go with this model, but I just never got around to it. This December, I decided to be a bit more drastic with my upgrade.

As you’ll note above, I upgraded the R580 with a 1TB Samsung 850 EVO SSD. The price finally dropped low enough to make installation a no-brainer. I’d already upgraded a Samsung 17″ running Windows 10 with a 1TB Samsung 950 Pro, and I’d purchased a mid-2015 MBP with a 1TB SSD built in. So I was quite appreciative of how an SSD significantly speeds up a computer. It just made more sense to spend the money on the SSD rather than more memory, so when the Christmas sale on the 850 EVO was announced I picked up a copy, along with a Sabrent USB adapter. With Clonezilla on a USB thumb drive, I booted into Clonezilla and proceeded to clone the HDD disk to the SSD. Total time took about two hours, most of which was just waiting for it to finish. Once finished I swapped the HDD out for the SSD, booted the system back up, and here I am writing this blog entry on it.

Before you ask: No, dd is not as good as Clonezilla, at least not for this use case. For example, Clonezilla (for which I have extensive experience) will analyze the drive to be cloned and only copy over what needs to be copied over. dd is blind in that it duplicates the entire drive from one device to another. And in order to make that work you still need to boot into a live version of the OS from a thumb drive, so the amount of prep work is identical. It makes far more sense to use Clonezilla.

Needless to say, everything is so much faster, from startup and shutdown to launching applications. And if it goes to swap, well then, it goes to very, very fast swap. I don’t intend to do any more hard disk upgrades, just as I don’t intend to update the OS beyond Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. I’ll keep using the R580 until it literally dies of something, I’m not sure what. I keep thinking I’ll replace it with another used notebook, but its overall combination of reasonable performance, many ports, and the fact it has a Blueray drive make it hard to find a replacement for, now that everybody and their relative wants to drop ports and repairability and upgradability in the name of convenience, cost cutting, and dare I say it? Lock-in.

Here’s to another five years of drama-free usage.

2/3rds the way home

December 13, 2016


I’ve been spending the day traveling from Kumamoto back to Orlando, via Tokia’s Haneda and Minneapolis. Right now I’m sitting in Minneapolis trying to fight off the chill brought on by the outside temperature of 5 degrees F. For a Florida resident (I’m not a real native, mind you) that’s just too cold. It never got that cold in Atlanta where I grew up, although it certainly tried from time to time. No, this is just too cold. And the travel back with this long layover (I’ve arrived from Tokyo 12:45pm local time) only adds to the long slow grind of getting home.

Thankfully there’s no more long business trips for 2016, just Christmas with the family. But next year promises to be just as grinding with trips up to Kansas during the winter, as well as next year’s business support trip north of Tokyo near Sendai.

I managed to catch a few multi-hour naps from while flying out of Tokyo. When I woke up, it was about an hour out of Minneapolis. Outside it looked cold and remote, covered in snow. Almost like an alien landscape.

Photos were taken with the iPhone 7 Plus, and post processed using VSCO’s various filters; Distortia Pack for the top, and B4 for the bottom. This post was written using WordPress’ latest iOS app on an iPad Pro 9.8″. Getting the photos to the point where they were visible to the WordPress app required a number of non-intuitive steps, but otherwise the WordPress app makes writing a quite post like this reasonable.

kumamoto

December 12, 2016

Another two-week-plus trip to Japan and YS-71 has come to an end. I leave in the morning on a 20-plus hour flight back to my home in Orlando. While here I’ve had to put up with sinus problems and blisters on my right foot the entire time. Couple that with the dark-to-dark work schedule for the every day I was here and I’ve had no time to do much more than eat, sleep, and work. No time at all for much of anything except for today, because the exercise ended yesterday. I had a Major with the JSDF come by for a few hours to visit. We did a little bit of sightseeing in the downtown area and we had lunch. I’d met him last year when I installed software for one of the Japanese Army’s training schools. We hit it off and he’s become a true “pen-pal.” I look forward to seeing him when I come to support these exercises.

One of the places we visited today was Jojuen Garden. I did take more than just the cat, but that cat came up to ask for rubs and say hello in his own cattish way. The day may have been cloudy, but the little guy brought a bit of personal sunshine into my life at that moment. Made me think of the Gingersnaps back home. Quite the handsome little guy if I do say so myself.

I haven’t written much because I’ve been busy, and I’m still in a state of shock over the election of Trump as president. I’m gathering my wits about me as it were, and coming up with a long-term plan to counteract what his election has wrought. I’ll have more to write about in the future, but for now, I need to finish packing and get ready for tomorrow’s flight home. I can’t wait to get home.