Two more days

It’ll be my 29th birthday on Friday.

The plan for celebration is simple, get together with my monthly poker buddies, drink craft beer, eat Youngstown pizza and play dozens of hands of poker all while trying to win a $7 trophy. There may even be cigars.

I’ve been trying for the last week to remember specific birthdays of childhood or just life, just to see what if any details my brain can pull out of the ether.

I remember putting on a magic show for one of my birthdays as “The Great Trubini”, and becoming a little upset that one of the kids at the party guessed the trick before I had a chance to perform it.

I remember crawling through tunnels and ball pits with my friend Chris pretending they were the Jeffries tubes on the starship Enterprise (remember those “discovery” play places, basically big versions of the play areas at McDonalds?)

I remember putting some of the stickers on my MicroMachine toolbox fold up city, and getting the river a little wonky and needing my Dad or my grandpa to fix it.

I remember when Don Pablos was pretty much the only Mexican restaurant in town and that it was fun to go on your birthday and get your picture taken wearing the huge sombrero.

And I remember year after year (including probably this year) of sitting at my parent’s kitchen table behind that years cake, taking a picture before blowing out the candles.

My early twenties are a little easier to discern because many of the best involve the little red haired girl.

My own 21st birthday is hardly worth mentioning, so I lived vicariously through my girlfriend (now my wife’s). I didn’t know what fancy drinks I should order (even something simple like a Jack and Coke) so I ordered a Manhattan (one of the only drinks I’d heard of and apparently something only Grandpas drink). I still order them, as well as Godfathers.

My 22nd involved a great surprise party thrown by my wife with all my friends and a video created by the talented Mr. Buckley (involving the song “What is love?” and an unspeakable amount of inside jokes).

A few years ago my wife and I drove to Dayton to hear Over The Rhine play in a bar, the way that band is best enjoyed, especially while sipping whiskey in a jazzy smoky room.

There was the “naked cookie day” year which I believe needs no explanation.

There were crazy candy cakes and lasagnas (mine and Garfield’s favorite pasta) and forcing my wife to watch really bad b-movies (knowing I’d pay for it half a year later on her birthday).

I was thinking earlier that I was happy that this was the last birthday of my twenties, that I was kind of an idiot in my early twenties and I wouldn’t mind putting some of that behind me.

But truthfully, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

And maybe next year I’ll get beaten up by a goat.

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What’s Next?

I’m almost done with the final draft of Surreality. If I can get a couple of solid writing weeks together I will be. Of course it still has to go through my wife’s edits and another pass, but finishing this draft will be one of the final steps before I’m ready to publish this book.

And yet even as I am nearing the finish line I am thinking about another book: Dark Matter.

From a “writing strategy” standpoint it might make some sense to write another book in the Surreality series before releasing something like Dark Matter, a much longer Sci-Fi action adventure epic that I honestly haven’t worked on in a couple of years (since right around the time I started writing this blog).

And I already have the next three Surreality books in my head in various stages of development.

This always seems to happen to me, I’m working on something, and though I’m enjoying it, I can’t stop thinking about something else. Or I’ll have made a plan for whatever the next book should be, and then by the time I get to it I want to tear up the plan and do something else.

I’m a little reluctant to juggle two writing projects at the same time (since technically it would actually be three if you include the blog and all the short story work). I feel like it might be difficult for me to keep the details straight, and I have the feeling that even under optimal conditions it would take longer for both books to come out.

But Dark Matter is going to be a long project. I need to do a complete rewrite, plus some prequel material, plus edits and more potential rewrites. If I wait until that project is done to work on the book after it, it might be quite a wait.

I think at the end of the day the wisest course is the one you feel most energized by. If writing another book in a series is something you’re doing because you feel you have to, then even if you like the material those feelings might show through. On the other hand it may be that you have two honest writing passions going on at the same time, and maybe now’s not the best time to be monogamous.

And I’m excited about the current Surreality, the next Surreality, the one after that and the one after that. I’m excited about Dark Matter‘s prequel, sequel and tertiaryquel (and this isn’t even getting into the Atlantia series which is a whole other discussion entirely).

I think the only solution to this is to keep writing.

Have you guys ever had to juggle two projects at once? How do you make decisions about what to prioritize?

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See you next week

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I’m here but I’m a little exhausted. Gonna read some Batman to recharge and work a little on the book before Easter. See you all next week. Happy egg seeking, chocolate rabbit consuming, and family time spending.

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Something you probably didn’t know about me

I hate the sound of popping balloons.

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I think most people don’t like it when balloons are popped by surprise. After all, it kind of sounds like a gunshot. Most people especially don’t like it when the balloon breaks while they’re blowing it up, because that can sting. But I don’t like the sound even when I’m prepared for it. Hell, even when I have my hands over my ears. It sends a shiver down my neck and into my spine.

As a kid my parents had a game for one of my early birthday parties (or maybe it was some other kid’s party, who’s to know?). Anyway, we filled these huge black garbage bags with dozens of balloons and have a contest to see who could break all the balloons the quickest by sitting on the bag (a contest at which I’d probably be a champion these days). I don’t remember if I joined in or held back, but either way this might have been the moment the aversion started.

So the little red haired girl has to pop all the balloons in the house. And she does, because she’s my wife and she loves me. But she does tend to laugh every time.

Interestingly, I don’t mind popping bubble wrap, in fact like all warm blooded Americans I kinda get a kick out of it. Go figure.

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XPocalypse Next

Well, you’ve survived the XPocalypse, but you’ve only got a few years to prepare for Microsoft’s next disaster, the end of Vista. We’ve got the XPocalypse, but what should we call the last days of Vista?

windows-vista

Here are a few suggestions. Feel free to submit your own in the comments:

  • eVisteration
  • Vistactomy
  • God help the Vista who gets between me and my sista
  • Visteria
  • Vistopia
  • Hasta la Vista, Baby
  • And God help the Vista who gets between me and my man
  • Vistastrophe
  • Die Die Die
  • Vistacular
  • Vistalitus
  • Alta Vista
  • C’est la Vista

Any thoughts?

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After the XPocalypse: Zorin – As close to Windows as Linux can get

Say you have an old desktop that used to run XP. You don’t really want to spend the money to replace it, but you don’t want it gathering dust either. Bottom line, you don’t want to spend any money right now and you’re willing to try something new and radical, yet safe and familiar.

Look no further than Zorin:

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 08_02_06

Never heard of it? Well, you’ve probably heard of Ubuntu. Zorin’s a flavor of linux with Ubuntu as its starting point. Zorin’s mission is to provide a Windows like experience for people who are new to Linux. Be warned, it is still Linux. There will be a learning curve, but you can do it!

First off a word about versions. The version I’m recommending you install is Zorin 6.4 Core LTS (0r 6.2 Lite LTS if your machine is really ancient). LTS stands for “long term support” which in the Ubuntu Linux world means 5 years. Zorin 6.4 is the latest LTS available, based off Ubuntu’s 12.04 LTS. It’ll be good for about another three years, and then you’ll probably need to do another install. You can try something newer but support times are shrinking. They used to be 18 months and now they’re 9 months. So this OS should last you 2-4 times as long as any other option besides spending money.

For this install you will need:

*Clarification on support. Zorin 6.2 and 7.1 lite are no longer supported, but there is no version of lite for version 8 of Zorin (the latest). The 6.4 Core has the longest support of 2017. The reason for this is that Lite version is based on Lubuntu (lightweight Ubuntu) which has a different support cycle. I recommend using Core if your system can handle it, and the latest lite if not until a new version is released. (This differs from the version of Zorin I originally recommended for download, I am correcting the original post). A new LTS version of Ubuntu should be released sometime this month, but when that update affects Zorin is unknown.

You’ll be installing Zorin either with a live USB or live CD/DVD. There are some pros and cons to either solution:

  • Burning a CD or DVD from an ISO is pretty easy. If you don’t have the software on your computer, try InfraRecorder.
  • If you don’t have an optical drive (external or built-in), then flash is really the only way to go.
  • But not all BIOS’s support booting from a USB (more on this later).
  • Using a USB allows you to create a full linux live system with persistent files that you can boot on any machine (in other words kind of like a virtual machine).
  • But the data files are unencrypted and lost if you lose the USB.
  • USB will be faster, but DVD will be easier and will auto-eject when finished installing.

My suggestion is create both options (flash drive and CD/DVD) and try both to see which works. Flash drives can always be reformatted and CD/DVDs are cheap. Plus you have a backup of the OS if you ever want it.

Step One: Bring your USB to live

Assuming you’ve already burned a live disc, we’ll now create a live USB.

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Pendrivelinux’s UUI has some pretty simple to follow instructions. Select the Linux OS you’re installing from a drop down list (Zorin OS is under “other”). Browse to the location of your ISO. Select your flash drive (and optionally format it).

The persistent file size is the area of your drive used to store any files or settings you create while running the live system. This makes it easy for you to try what you like, and then install everything you’ve changed without having to repeat it. If you’ve got a big flash drive, go ahead and slide this bar all the way to the end.

Click create. Be patient, this could take as much as a half an hour to complete, but probably more like 15 minutes. Get a coffee. Send some e-mail.

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At some point it will start extracting the ISO image. This will pop up another window and will probably be one of the longer parts of the creation.

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The only disadvantage to the persistent drive it takes a few minutes to create. The program has to create a virtual drive that’s formatted correctly. If the program doesn’t look like it’s doing anything, trust me, it is.

Some people prefer UNetbootin. Both work, there’s no real advantage to either. Use whichever you prefer.

Step Two: Get to your BIOS, or hit F2 repeatedly

Your BIOS is what actually runs first whenever you turn on a machine. Modern computers hide the BIOS so you don’t even see that it’s working, you just see Windows. But trust me it’s there. They’re all a little different, and you even hit different keys to get to them. You’ll have to look up which one works for your computer but good candidates are F2, F9, F10, F11 and F12. My older ASUS netbook (model eee 1005 HA), used F2.

You’re looking for a tab marked Boot settings or something like it. You probably will only be able to use your keyboard to move around.

On the ASUS there are two boot orders, one marked “Boot Device Priority” and the other marked “Hard Disk Drives”. Make sure to have your USB plugged in when you are making these changes. Make “Removable dev” your first boot priority, and make the USB the first of the two hard drives. This setting doesn’t seem to hold if you remove the drive or even shut the computer all the way off.

Most BIOS have CDs as the first priority item. You can leave this and make USB the second to cover all bases.

If you’re successful you should see UUI’s load screen and then the Zorin live system will boot.

Step Three: Look Around

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 08_02_06

There’s an icon on the desktop that might just be how we install this OS. It’s called “Install Zorin OS”. Before you click it, click on the network icon in the bottom right and connect to your internet connection. Make sure your device is plugged in. This install may take about an hour.

Feel free to play around with the menu, or any of the buttons at this point. Familiarize yourself with the programs that come pre-installed. Everything’s organized by category so it should be pretty easy to find what you want.

Step Four: Push the button

Click the “Install Zorin OS”. If you’re running from a live CD, be patient if it doesn’t respond immediately. After a few screens asking what language you speak Zorin will bring up this screen:

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 12_42_48

You can do one of a few things at this point. The first option is to install Zorin alongside the existing operating system. If you think you’re going to need XP in the future, just to run some programs you can’t get running anywhere else, go ahead and choose this option (I did).

Note: XP demanded a chkdsk after I finished installing Zorin (probably because of the repartitioning). This is normal and XP should run fine after it finishes the check.

If you think you’re ready to only live with Linux, go ahead and pick option two. Be aware this erases all your files and programs so hopefully you made a backup? If not, quit and try again.

Step Five: Figure out how big you want Zorin to be

After you hit continue you will see this screen:

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 12_44_38

On the left is your old OS (assuming you kept it), on the right, Zorin’s new home. 40GB is a pretty good size though you can always go bigger depending on your needs. Just click and drag the bar in the middle to manipulate.

Note: Ubuntu does not define a GB in this case as a true gigabyte. It is instead 1,000,000,000 bytes. A real gigabyte is 1,073,741,824 bytes. So our 40 “GB” drive is actually about 38.4 gigabytes, still more than sufficient.

Step Six: Click “Install Now” and Wait

Partitioning the drive for your installation will probably take a while, especially if your hard drive is really full and hasn’t been defragged in a while. When true installation begins there will be a few screens for determining time zone, keyboard layout, and login credentials. Once you’re done, Zorin may show you a video while it finishes copying all the files over.

Note: Your user icon can be difficult to change after installation so make sure you pick one you’re going to like (especially if you take a picture of yourself :) ).

Step Seven: Reboot when finished

If you’ve plugged in a flash drive to install the OS you may want to choose to continue playing with the live so you can do a full shutdown rather than just a restart. Otherwise you might boot back up into the live system instead of the one you just installed.

Step Eight: Run updates

The shutdown icon in the bottom left will have a menu option that says either “System Up To Date” or “Check For Updates”. Click this either way, and then click “check” on the screen that comes up.

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 19_07_00

Zorin 6.4 had 337 updates as of this writing. After you click install you’ll be asked to authenticate:

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 19_07_23

Get used to doing this, this is linux’s user account control.

You may see this screen:

Screenshot from 2014-04-07 19_20_05

“If you don’t know why the file is there already, it is usually safe to replace it”. Not a great habit, but seems okay in this case.

Step Nine: Enjoy!

Here’s a few things to try:

  • Click on the internet category and use Zorin’s internet manager to install the browser of your choice.
  • Click on the system group to change the look and feel of zorin.
  • Take screenshots and see them auto appear in your pictures folder.
  • Try to use WINE to install a windows program (more on this another time).

This primer should get you started at least. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, or show me something cool you’ve done with Zorin.

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Disclaimer: Any advice or tips given here will not be valid for all users in all circumstances. Do what makes sense to you and don’t do what doesn’t make sense. These posts are for educational, informative purposes only. Show these posts to your computer friends and have them tell you if I’m right on the money or out to lunch. In any case, please realize that anything you do to your computer is your responsibility. If you have a specific problem and need help, shoot me a comment, but if your computer bricks you were warned.

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After the XPocalypse: How to take the Vista out of 8.1

Windows 8.1 is Microsoft’s latest operating system, but it’s hardly the greatest. It has little business adoption, switching between apps and real programs is frustrating and disruptive, and it made all the visuals flat and boring so that they could maintain a consistent look between their laptops, desktops  and the partial OS they run on the Surface.

Windows-8-1

But all is not completely lost. You can make Windows 8.1 into a system you’ll love, or at least won’t hate quite as much. And hey Microsoft’s gonna support you for another 9 years so if you can get used to it, you might learn to love it.

Get Office all the time, not 365 days a year

For starters buy yourself a copy of Office 2010 or 2013. It’ll cost between $85 to $139 for Home and Student, and into the $200s for anything pro or multi-user. But trust me, if you need Office, and unfortunately for a lot of you OpenOffice doesn’t quite cut it, this is a far better solution than Office 365. Don’t be seduced by fancy words like “Cloud” and”Your documents on all your devices” or “always up to date”. Since when has Word really gotten all that better? I like the equation editor they added in 2007 (used it extensively for my fractal book), but other than that and maybe native save as PDF support, I’m unimpressed. Unless you’re a student Office 365 is going to cost you $99 A YEAR! Where does Microsoft get off charging something like that?

Have you met Windows 7?

You could downgrade to Windows 7, if you owned Windows 8.1 Pro, which if you don’t know, you probably don’t. There are ways to try to do it yourself. This guide from PC Magazine might help.

Not Metro?

Hate booting to the Metro Screen? Here’s a few things you can do:

  1. Right Click on the taskbar and click “Properties”.
  2. On the box that pops up, click on the tab that says “Navigation”.
  3. There’s two cool things you can do from here:

GoToDeskop

  • In the “Start Screen” section there are two boxes you should check. The first is “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, got to the desktp instead of Start”. Otherwise known as “Boot to Desktop”. If you want Windows 8 to work like every other computer you’ve ever owned. Do this step.
  • The second is “Show the Apps view automatically when I got Start”. This is as close to the traditional start button as you’ll get without third party add-ons. Make sure the second box underneath is checked as well (as shown). You can click the up arrow on this screen to get to the Metro view if you ever want to.

Shut it down

You know what else the start menu had that this one doesn’t? A proper shut down button. Now you could go into the power settings and tell the computer to shut down when you close the lid. But if you want to watch what it’s doing, and bypass updates you weren’t planning on waiting for, do this instead:

  1. Right-click anywhere on the desktop and select New–>Shortcut.
  2. Type “shutdown /s /t 0″ into the “location” line. This is an old DOS command Windows still recognizes. A full reference can be found here, but this line basically means shutdown this computer “/s” in 0 seconds “/t 0″.

shutdown

This won’t have  fancy icon, but you can pick one by right clicking on the shortcut, selecting “properties” and clicking “change icon”.

Command your computer

There’s a surprising amount you can still do with old DOS commands and I highly recommend you learn some. But one thing’s clear, you need a command prompt (or terminal as the Linux people like to say). The Apps view you brought up has this under the Windows System line:

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Right click on the icon and click “Pin to taskbar” to send this to your desktop taskbar. While you’re there you can also get the task manager if you want it or the run command.

But command prompt does it all. Type the following for a few useful commands and programs:

  • msconfig – Brings up your system configuration and allows you to change what programs are running at startup.
  • taskmgr – Brings up the task manager. Which also changes startup configuration apparently.
  • regedit – Brings up the registry editor.
  • dir /s /b > output.txt – Takes the current folder and creates a human readable text file with basic information about every file and subfolder in that directory.
  • calc – The old school desktop calculator, not the app.

Send it in a letter

Your best friend is the send to desktop icon. If your program is not listed in the Apps view (and it won’t catch them all), go the the program’s location on your computer and right click, hover over “send” and select “to desktop”. Between the taskbar and the desktop you should be able to put most of the programs you use on a daily basis without even having to bother with the start button. I use the left side for applications and the right side for games, and the task bar for stuff I get into all the time. If you’re a gamer, this is Steam and Desura’s time to shine, as one icon can get you access to a whole library of games.

&*%$! Homegroup Icon!

Noticed that, eh? Microsoft has a bug on some computers which causes the Homegroup icon to mysteriously appear on your desktop. You can’t delete it, can’t even move it. And you probably would never use it.

  1. Right click on the desktop and select “personalize”.
  2. Click “Change Desktop Icons” on the left.
  3. Check the box that says “Network” and hit apply.
  4. Uncheck the box that says “Network and hit apply.

The icon should now be gone, but probably not forever. Hopefully a more permanent solution will be released soon.

I want my Start Menu!!!

Don’t we all. Two programs to try are Classic Shell and Start8. Start 8 is $4.99 and Classic Shell is better. From what I’ve read Start8 is closer to the real experience, and works better with 8 so it may be worth the money. For the moment I’m toughing it out to see if I can get used to the current configuration, but if not I’ll probably try Classic Shell. I personally don’t like to try a lot of third party programs I don’t know until I get to know an OS a little better.

Microsoft did recently announce it was bringing back the start menu, but with no clear roadmap as to when the update will be rolled out. Also the ability to use apps in the desktop environment. Probably by the time we’re ready for Windows 9, Windows 8 will be all it can be.

I have a feeling I could write another one of these guides in another six months with a whole bunch more useful information, but hopefully this will be enough to get you started. Please post any questions you have in the comments. I’ll play around and try to solve any new problems you might pose.

Tomorrow we’ll cover Zorin-Lite for the Windows crowd that doesn’t want to spend any money, and is really new to linux.

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Disclaimer: Any advice or tips given here will not be valid for all users in all circumstances. Do what makes sense to you and don’t do what doesn’t make sense. These posts are for educational, informative purposes only. Show these posts to your computer friends and have them tell you if I’m right on the money or out to lunch. In any case, please realize that anything you do to your computer is your responsibility. If you have a specific problem and need help, shoot me a comment, but if your computer bricks you were warned.

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