Life is dynamic

I haven’t forgotten about this blog. Life has gotten busier, and I’ve had a lot of different things clamoring for my attention.

A lot of things haven’t changed.

I’ve managed to stick with a single Linux install, without distro hopping. I’ve had a few sidelong glances at Solus and I’ve been tempted to try different desktop environments, but so far I’ve kept those to virtual machine installs. I still have Manjaro’s Xfce edition installed on two of my machines, and I’ve been incredibly happy with it.

I’m still plugging along at learning Spanish, though I’ve also added Swedish to the mix. I’ve always wanted to be poly-lingual, and it’s a better diversion than just mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. I feel like I’m learning something and not wasting time. Spanish is so common in the US that it makes sense to have some level of proficiency with it, even if I can’t yet carry on a conversation. I added Swedish because that’s one of the countries my family comes from, and I’d like to learn more about my heritage.

I’m still constantly on the search for the perfect web browsers and music players for daily use. I still use Vivaldi, Brave, and Firefox, but I’m pulling back on Opera after reading this article. Vivaldi has now released a mobile browser beta that has the same speed as the desktop browser. I keep hoping that we’ll eventually see some more advertising blocking on mobile, but it’s early yet. I certainly don’t want to keep pages from receiving advertising money, but it does take up my mobile data, so I’ll be using Vivaldi more on Wi-Fi than on the road. Audacious has made it to my music player rotation, and I do like it.

Some things have changed though.

My father has retired. My wife and I have been renting their house. They’re moving back in with us, so we’re currently working on blending two household’s worth of possessions and pets down to one house. This is taking up the bulk of my time outside of work. My cat and dog have long made peace, but the new dog isn’t quite there with the cat. It will all work out in the end, but right now, we’re still in the thick of it.

As a result, I’ve had less time for tabletop gaming. Our D&D Ravenloft game and Trinity sessions have been put on hold. I think we’ve had a grand total of two sessions over the past two or three months. This too, won’t last, and we’ll be back to our usual sessions soon, I hope.

I’m enrolling to take classes again. Since I work at a university, I’m able to take classes for free, not counting books and other materials. I’m interested in learning some new skills and getting myself into a better position down the road.

Life is happening. Some things change, some things stay the same. I’m ready either way.

Music to my ears

I suppose I should check back in. It’s been a few weeks since I put finger to keyboard to type one of these up. I’ve been a bit distracted lately with new pursuits. A friend has been teaching me how to crochet, and I’ve been working on a pair of gloves for when the weather cools down. I’ve also been trying to learn Spanish through Duolingo on my phone (https://www.duolingo.com). I’m interested partly out of personal growth, envy of people who can speak multiple languages, and the desire to be able to watch “Jane the Virgin” without having to look up at the screen to read the subtitles. I doubt I’ll ever be fluent, but it’s a fun diversion.

This is unrelated to what I want to talk about today. No, this morning, as I was about to queue up some music, I had to stop and think about which of the numerous music players I wanted to use.

If you haven’t read anything I’ve written before, you’ll start to realize that I’m a little undecisive about what programs I use. Some days, I’m gung-ho about open source software. Other days, I’m nostalgic for software I used to use, back in the day. Other days, I’m interested in what software uses the least amount of system resources or which is the most secure.

I’m this way about music players.

Note that I am not a music player power user. I tend to stick to the basic settings, so I can’t go into any length about audio quality or equalizer settings. I make playlists, I run them, and I want the program to remember what I had loaded up last time I used it. With that…

The Players

When using Windows, I frequently use Media Player Classic (https://mpc-hc.org), which, according to the web site, was last developed in 2017. This software can run a large variety of files, from video to music, and has a simple, easy to use interface. It remembers what song I was on when I shut down the program and remembers the playlist, which is a plus for me. It’s easy to add and remove music and can save playlists in various file types. Back in my undergrad days, I used to use Windows Media Player a lot, and this hits the nostalgia points, with the familiar appearance.

Another Windows media player that I keep around because of the old days is Winamp (http://winamp.com/). This was the first media player I used when I first found out about .mp3 files. Last updated in 2018, the web page says that it is still actively being developed, though development is slow. This is definitely a product of an earlier age. Menus are crowded and not always easy to navigate, but it works well. I tend to stick with the main window and the playlist window and I like the classic interface because that’s what I used in the 90s.

I own a Microsoft Zune, and I love it. I also really like the Zune media player (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=27163) for ripping albums and managing some of my playlists. I also use it to transfer music between my Windows machines. Last release was back in 2011. The player is no longer supported by Microsoft, but the layout of the software was much easier to use than iTunes ever was. This handles a large library of music/albums smoothly. You can sort by group, album title, release date, etc. You can drag and drop music between devices. It’s a nice little piece of software.

VLC (https://www.videolan.org/vlc/) is a very commonly used media player that handles audio and video files. VLC is available on most operating systems and comes as the default player for several Linux distributions. This is still actively developed as of 2019. There are a lot of settings available to tweak. This software is known for handling just about any kind of file type out there, though there may be some it can’t load. I’m not overly adventurous with my music files. It will allow you to create and save playlists. However, the one thing it doesn’t seem to do well, and if someone knows how to do so please let me know, is remembering playlists after closing the program. There are, apparently, ways to save as bookmarks, but that’s one extra step I don’t need to do on other programs. This is the software I use if I can’t get other programs to work, if I want to play DVDs on Linux, or if I don’t care about losing my carefully selected playlist. This is the one thing that keeps it from being my default player.

I’ve dabbled with Aimp (http://www.aimp.ru/). It seems like it’s going for a Winamp aesthetic. The last Windows release was early 2018. It’s functional, if a bit busy, but I didn’t have any major complaints. It also didn’t wow me, so I have probably the least experience with it.

Clementine Player (https://www.clementine-player.org/) was last updated in 2016. It’s available on multiple operating systems, which is nice. It’s very busy, with multiple tabs for your music library, main player screen, multiple playlists, etc. This one took the most time for me to get used to the workflow. In some ways it’s great; I love being able to have several playlists saved and ready, with each remembering where I was the last time I booted up. You can even set the program to immediately start playing where you left off. The bad is that there is just too much going on in the interface. I like it and use it, especially when I’m trying to remember which episode of my radio drama I heard last, but it’s not the first program I load up.

One of the few players to release the newest edition in 2019, SMPlayer (https://www.smplayer.info/) is the player I have the most mixed feelings about. It’s able to run just about everything I’ve thrown at it and it is cross platform, which is great. But DVDs don’t always run as smoothly in it. I can’t just drag and drop files into the playlist screen, like I can with other programs. I have to go through the playlist window menus to add and remove files, which is less convenient. It will show album art, but it can drastically change window size, depending on what album I use, which probably has to do with the picture file used, but that can be distracting. I like using newer software, because I believe that means bugs are being fixed (even if new ones are replacing them). It can also fix security issues. Since SMPlayer and VLC are the only two media players that are actively in development, I feel like I need to use them, but they both have issues.  This is a program I use, but mostly to make sure it’s updated and to see if updates fix my relatively minor issues with it, but it’s not my first choice in programs.

In Conclusion

These are just the programs I use. There are dozens more out there that I’ve only heard about and dozens more that are completely foreign to me. I’m not as worried about jumping between different media players, like I am with web browsers. I prefer more up-to-date software, for security purposes, but I’m not aware of many attacks through media players. Might be worth researching.

Anyone have a favorite player I should look at? Maybe something I didn’t mention, or a killer feature of one that I do use?

The price we pay for “free” food

There’s a line that exists as a border between convenience and privacy. I’m not quite sure how thin that line is (I imagine it varies for each person), but it’s something I’ve had to start thinking about. It seems like every month, there’s a new story about a data breach at a major company. Want to see a disturbing long list of breaches? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_data_breaches ought to sober you up a little bit.

Our personal information is a major currency. Companies vacuum up details about our lives from our browser histories, forms we fill out, items we purchase from their stores, sites we visit after visiting theirs, sites we visit where their trackers are embedded, and sometimes, from our phones after just walking into their stores.

They want to know what brands we buy, where we look at their merchandise, what paths we use to walk through their stores, whether we comparison shop with other companies. Looking for flights online? Airlines will use the cookies on your browser to see where you’ve been looking and use that information to manipulate the cost of flights. Use a store’s free Wi-Fi? They see what sites and apps you use and where you are in their building. Sign up for a perk card or other membership program? They’ll send you coupons (good) so that you spend more of your money there (bad?).

If you’re anything like me, your time, money, and attention are limited resources. I know going in that the sandwich place is using points to get me to go into their store more often and spend more money. I get more food for less money.

But, I understand that they may be selling that information to other companies so they can hone their advertising. Those companies may pass my information on. At any one of those companies, there could be a data breach, taking identifiable information about me and giving it to “bad actors”, whoever that may be. I have to make a choice. Is that “free” sandwich every other month (or so) worth the possibility of having my info get out into the world?

For me, the answer is yes. I need to make my money go as far as it can. For other people, that answer may be no, they don’t want any more of their info getting out than has to, and that’s cool too. We have made conscious decisions about our data.

The group that we need to reach is everyone else. The ones who don’t understand that they just made a choice about their data. People act surprised when they hear about a data breach at a company and don’t understand a) how that company got their information and b) what that may mean for them. They also don’t c) know how that could impact them. The problem is complex.

Not everyone wants to or can break that down for themselves (or explain it to loved ones!). We need to learn how explain this to people in a way that makes sense and doesn’t cause a panic. People need to be able to understand for themselves the potential risk involved with coupons.

Ultimately, it’s up to the companies to better police themselves or the government to create an actual police force for these (often international) companies. I have low hopes of that happening, no hope of that happening well, and no illusion that it’ll happen anytime soon, without something catastrophic happening first.

Therefore, I propose that we create a grassroots movement to teach people about data safety and personal information (and responsibility!). Companies like Vivaldi and Brave, and organizations like the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and Mozilla are good places to start. However, we need to be able to teach this information to those we care about in a way that they’ll understand… and care about. That’s the trick. Then we can start making choices intelligently for ourselves and families.

The hope, then, will be that companies will see the choices we are making and become more responsible in accordance with our actions. That they will become better stewards of our information. Because a lot of them aren’t doing it now…

I’m getting hungry. Time for a “free” sandwich.

The composer, the musical, and the fox

The Vivaldi browser is an interesting project. It hearkens back to the early days of Opera Browser, when they still used the Presto rendering engine. Opera used to pack in a lot of features, like RSS reader, email, chat, and the first browser to use tabs instead of having to open a new window for each page opened.

My college roommate turned me on to Opera. Back then, you had a limited amount of uses before you had to pay to unlock the full version of the software.

One day, I was going to buy it for my own use. I loved the program. It was fast and I liked the idea of having one program that did so many things well. Right about that time, Opera went fully free to use, and I was ecstatic.

It wasn’t all puppies and rainbows though. I remember how not every page was optimized for Opera. I had to keep other browsers around, in case pages didn’t render properly (I remember something called Mozilla… I wonder whatever happened to them…).

I remember how tabs and the address bar were at the bottom of the screen and how it felt cool and a little elite to have such a different interface than most people used.

But, like all good things, this came to an end. Opera evolved, got a new rendering engine, dropped features, add some new ones, and changed hands. I still use it, I still like it, though I keep my eyes open for signs of data misuse. Manjaro, my current Linux distribution of choice, still has it in it’s software repo, so I trust it isn’t too insecure. I boost it with privacy extensions and avoid their VPN/proxy servers.

Their mobile browser is hard to beat though, for speed, ad blocking, and ability to connect to Facebook’s messenger site (he said in the same breath, after talking about privacy extensions, aware of the irony…).

Vivaldi tries to bring back some of the same magic that Opera once had. It adds a lot of features to the browser that are usually only duplicated with extensions. Many browsers have a reader mode (get with the program Opera!), but this also has tab stacking (combining several tabs into one group), the ability to dive deep into your browsing history, side panels for opening web pages, tab tiling for viewing multiple pages at once, etc…

Vivaldi has a strong social media and blog presence, providing a lot of information and insight about how the program is developed, showcasing interesting new features (want to change the color of your browser tabs or lights in your room or on your keyboard or mouse?..), and providing frequent snapshots of new versions. This is all cool and keeps the community energized.

Is it, then, the perfect browser for me? Well… not quiet.

If have mixed feelings about the Chromium engine that Vivaldi is built on. I remember the old days of the web, when Internet Explorer (IE) was king, and web standards didn’t feel like the standard. I remember when sites were built around IE and not the other way around. I’ve read about the security of IE and how it didn’t always keep up with holes and flaws (though there were less people trying and the stakes weren’t quite as high with personal data as they are today, I believe).

I’m concerned with one engine having too much sway over how the internet is viewed and accessed. I’m concerned with the sheer clout that Google has over the web and that they are more interested in our data instead of our privacy. I’m worried that Google has so much control over Chromium that they can dictate how the web will work. A few months ago, they said they’d change APIs and that would alter how ad blockers work. Is this a swipe at ad blockers themselves, which can reduce how much data is absorbed, or is there valid security concerns with how things run now? I’m not well-versed enough in computer and internet security and software to know for sure, but it is curious.

I also notice that Chromium-based browsers don’t render fonts nearly as well as Firefox does. Text looks fuzzier in Vivaldi. It’s harder to read, so I find myself using Firefox more. Firefox also has the ability to keep sites like Facebook in a container, so it can’t interact with other sites and suck up even more information about my browsing habits and interests. This is a nice feature, one that is important to me, that other browsers don’t currently have.

This brings me to mobile browsing. As I said earlier, Opera does the basics well. It runs fast on my Android phone (I wish there were more mobile operating system alternatives available…), blocks ads, and lets me utilize features on Facebook’s site that other browsers can’t or won’t. Firefox Focus works well if I don’t care about saving my results, but it’s really bare bones. Firefox Mobile lets me add extensions to protect my privacy, but it’s slow and not as responsive as other browsers. Vivaldi…

We’ve been waiting a while for Vivaldi’s mobile offering. I’d have loved to see some screen shots posted to see how the project is progressing. I understand wanting to do the project right before releasing it to the public, especially a piece of software as important security-wise as a browser, but it’s been in development and been promised for years now. It’ll be nice when it’s finally released. I’m a little disappointed to hear that it won’t be able to block advertising. I don’t have a lot of mobile data when I’m away from my home’s Wi-Fi and I know there are ads out there that are less scrupulous about skimming data. I hope there are some decent privacy options embedded in Vivaldi Mobile. I also hope I’ll be able to access FB messenger via the website, otherwise I might be sticking with Opera.

The other thing I’ve been waiting on is Vivaldi’s email client. I miss having Opera with a built-in client, like the old days. It was convenient to have one program running, and I liked how I could check all of my inboxes with one window. I hope it has RSS capabilities as well, as I find those handy for reading web comics and blogs. I also wish we could have seen some screenshots during development, to get an idea of how it has evolved.

It’s hard not to be a little disappointed with how long it has taken Vivaldi to develop and release these features. I know we’re essentially getting these for free and really have no right to complain. It’s more like that feeling you got, as a kid, of waiting for Christmas to come. There will be presents in the future, but it’s just so far off… At least with Christmas, you knew the date it would get here.

Do I believe that Vivaldi is interested in protecting user security and privacy? Absolutely. Is it 100% perfect? No browser is. Will I still also use Firefox and Opera? Yup. I like Opera because it’s fast and seems to be interested in privacy and security (though I’m keeping one eye open for news otherwise). Mozilla’s focus seems to be on privacy, despite some boneheaded mistakes (just look up their Mr. Robot kerfuffle and the recent security certificate issue, part two).

I would like it if Vivaldi could improve their font rendering to be crisper, less smudgy. I would like it if pages remembered where they were when I closed the browser (this seems to be a somewhat unique problem for me). I wish it wasn’t based on Chromium. But I still really like it and will continue to use it. But I’ll keep using other browsers two. I just have to accept that about myself.

TLDR (I’m half tempted to put this at the top from now on…)

I really like Vivaldi. I love the old school Opera feel. BUT, I’m getting antsy waiting for the rest of the toys (mobile browsing and email client) to finally get here. I’m still going to spend a lot of time with Firefox (for that font crispness I don’t get from Chromium and for the privacy settings).

Roaming the open (source) plains

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Vivaldi’s mobile browser and email client. If you haven’t guessed already, I like to have alternatives to tinker with.

I like to support Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) like Mozilla’s Firefox and Thunderbird programs. I think it’s important to have access to programs base code, so that people (far more knowledgeable than me about programming) can look through the code and look for security holes and to make sure companies aren’t exploiting user data.

The fact that they’re free doesn’t hurt any either. I’m not made of money, after all…

It’s nice to know that there are alternatives to mainstream software out there and that people love the projects enough that they’re willing to spend time and effort into making them better. I think it also helps keep proprietary software in check somewhat. If a free alternative can do the same or similar job as an expensive piece of technology, it makes it easier for more users to create and distribute their own work. It may also help keep prices for proprietary works lower (though I’m no sure how effective that is as a whole).

That’s not to say that I won’t use proprietary software. I love me some video games. I also understand that companies want to be compensated for their hard work and time spent in research and development.

What does this have to do with my original statement?

Well, Vivaldi seems to live in both worlds a little. Source code for much of the browser is based on Chromium (which is open source) and is available online (older versions, it loks like, are available here https://vivaldi.com/source/).

I’m okay with not every scrap of code being available to look through. I wouldn’t know what to do with it all if I had access to it anyway. I was trained as a chemist and educator, not a computer scientist.

Firefox runs really well on desktop and… it runs on Android. I installed an extension that will allow me to fake my user agent to see if that speeds things up any. So I’m definitely excited about a new candidate as my primary mobile browser. I’m a little concerned that I’ll be bombarded with advertising though, as it’s been reported that there will not be an ad-blocker available (https://www.cnet.com/news/vivaldi-mobile-browser-due-in-2019-but-no-ad-blocking/#).

On mobile, it’s not just about tracking, but page loading speed and not using so much mobile data. I’d also love to be able to log into Facebook Messenger through their mobile site. Right now, the only browser that lets me do that is Opera Mobile. The only work arounds I’ve found are to load the desktop page (the text is too small to be useful) or to log into their really basic mobile page, designed for feature phones (https://mbasic.facebook.com if you’re curious).

I’m trying to stay clear of downloading a ton of apps.

For the email client, I’ve been happy enough with Thunderbird, but I’d love to see an email client built into the browser, like Opera’s earlier browsers (version 12 and earlier) or Seamonkey (which doesn’t update all that frequently anymore). It would be really nice if all of my login information and accounts were synced up. That would save me a ton of time when I distrohop.

Do I wish that Vivaldi was open source?… Maybe a little bit. Is that going to stop me from using it?… No, not really. But I will continue to bounce back and forth between Vivaldi and Firefox for the time being.

Especially until Vivaldi is still working on their mobile browser and email clients.

Learn to pick my fights

I’m starting to think I should just stick with what works and learn to be happy with it.

Solus Linux has been working wonderfully on my laptop, so I decided to install it on my desktop too. It turns out it throws me an error when the machine boots up. So, back to Manjaro on the desktop, maybe the laptop too, I haven’t decided yet. It’s not that I don’t like Manjaro. I really do. I just thought I’d found something that was simpler to maintain, requiring less work.

A couple of weeks ago, I broke a zipper on a pair of jeans. I decided to replace my regular carpenter jeans for something a little less relaxed fit and a little more professional looking. I also decided to try out a different brand. I thought it might be nice to jump down a little on the waste size. That was a mistake.

A few weeks before that, I decided to try a pretzel crust pizza and a fast food carry out place. It was not good. Instead of red sauce, there was cheese-based product.

Sometimes it’s hard pushing your boundaries and trying new things. Sometimes that new experience comes back to bite you. Its more expensive, it takes more time, its not as satisfying.

Does that mean I should stop trying?

Probably not. Maybe I learn to live with some choices. Manjaro seems to take anything I can throw at it and come back smiling. My regular jeans are comfortable, affordable, and I know they fit. Sausage pizza is tasty and I don’t get it all that often. Live with it.

However, you never know when you’ll find something new that you love. You could end up with a slice of processed cheese pizza sadness, but you could find an operating system that you like that runs on anything you throw it on.

Maybe I just need to choose my battles a bit better.

Solus Linux: a New Hope

I decided to hop my laptop over to Solus Linux 4.0 with Budgie 10.5 (10-4 good buddy). There must have been some significant performance improvements to Budgie, because it’s more responsive than the Solus 3.99 release.

I really like the idea of having a rolling release on my systems. Software stays up-to-date and I don’t have to worry about backing up for major updates to the system. That’s not to say that I don’t have to think when I maintain my system.

Arch-based systems require a little more attention. You’re supposed to read the news posts and follow the forums to fix problems that may arise during updates/upgrades. Since Manjaro is an Arch-based distribution, that’s what’s expected of new users.

Manjaro is a fantastic Linux distribution. I really enjoy using it. I’ve found the Xfce edition to be snappy, attractive (even with the flat icon theme), and relatively easy to maintain, even with minimal attention to the forums and release notes. The forum community is great, and I’ll definitely continue to lurk and post. There are some really friendly, knowledgeable people there. I’m mostly concerned about breaking something during update because I didn’t keep up with the blog and forum posts.

Going back to Solus Linux… I haven’t found any talk of doing things the Arch way. I don’t see a lot of posts in the forums about new updates and who has update problems and how their machines aren’t working like I did for Manjaro. It looks like it’s easier to maintain, overall.

So far though, I’m digging the Budgie desktop. It doesn’t seem as customizable as Xfce, but I usually only change the wallpaper and maybe the icon theme. The flat icons still seem to be the default icons for Solus, but that may change. They have some lovely wallpapers installed by default, so I’m pretty happy so far.

Solus has a smaller software repository than many distributions. Since Solus is not directly based on any other distribution, they have to make their own packages, and are focusing on ones used by the developers or specifically requested by users. It does support Flatpack and Snaps though, so you can still get more software that way, and I believe you can also use AppImages.

Solus doesn’t have access to the Arch User Repository (AUR). The AUR is a huge software repository that gives users access to all sorts of programs. However, since it’s maintained by users, you should look into packages to make sure that they’re still maintained and that they’re trustworthy.

I’m not overly fluent in computer code. Since Solus has a curated software repository, there is a way smaller chance that downloading software will compromise your system. You also don’t have to worry about someone deciding not to continue to maintain the package and it becomes orphaned.

Solus seems like a good choice for people coming directly from Windows or wanting a Windows kind of experience. There’s a lot about Budgie that reminds me of Windows 10. The Raven side panel reminds me of the Windows notification panel. The application menu will be very familiar to the Windows start menu panel.

I’m looking forward to getting to know this distribution. Manjaro felt exciting, pushing myself with something Arch-based, testing things out with the AUR. But I think I’m ready for something a little easier to maintain. This should fit the bill nicely!

So (distro) hoppy to see you

My fear of missing out (FOMO) is kicking in again.

I’ve been happy with Manjaro for the most part. It’s fast, it’s fairly stable, and it has a great community. It does pretty much everything I want (Killing Floor 2 COULD run a little faster…). Access to the Arch User Repository (AUR) is really handy, but there are warnings about security issues lurking there. It can also take programs a while to install/compile.

FOMO, however, is whispering in my ear that I should check out Solus as an option again.

I’ve got Solus Budgie, KDE, and MATE loaded onto virtual machine (machines?…). I had briefly installed the Budgie edition on my (by computer standards) ancient laptop. It was a little heavy and ran a little sluggishly on that machine, but there is a MATE edition… And Budgie is actively developed, so maybe we’ll see some performance increases soon.

Mostly I’m thinking about stability. Solus seems like it might be easier to maintain in the long run. There are currently fewer programs available in the Solus repository, but it has almost everything I want/use available (Ambient Noise doesn’t seem to work at the moment though).

I like the curated approach. I like that it feels more like a simpler distribution. I’m not necessarily looking to become a Linux expert. I’m pretty happy being competent enough to handle most small issues without diving too deeply into expert territory. I’m sure I’ll get to develop my skills over time though, since I’m the curious type.

I do wish that Solus had an Xfce edition. That’s my happy place right now. But, seeing as that’s not an option, mayhaps I’ll put MATE on the laptop and Budgie on the desktop, assuming I decide to move at all…

Decisions, decisions.

(Queue the analysis paralysis, roll credits)

Oh DM boy, the dice, the dice are calling…

Buckle up kiddies, we’re going deep into the weeds here. There’s a summary waaaay at the bottom.

Intro

The dice are indeed calling again. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd ed is the first game I played and ran back in college. The grand old game captured my imagination back in the day. It’s maintained it over the years and is still the edition I look most fondly on.

I have the black boarder books that came out near the end of the line. The art was not as good as earlier releases (the thief… oh gods the thief…), but it still stirs the imagination when I flip back through and reread the book. It brings me to a special state of mind.

Personal history

My interest in D&D started with advertising in comics and the animated series. Cheese and all, I love it and still rewatch episodes. They’re great background when grading papers.

In junior high school, one of the kids I looked up to turned me onto the Dragonlance novels. I was hooked. It’s still my favorite setting. I loved that my wife and I got to play through the War of the Lance campaign (though it was D&D 3.5).

Next I found the Ravenloft novels. I loved the Gothic horror and the classic monsters. Strahd was a compelling nemesis.

Around that time, I finally got to start playing (though only a handful of sessions). I quickly too the DM chair afterwards. I had no idea what I was doing nor did I understand all of the rules, but that seems like a rite of passage for a lot of players and Dungeon Masters.

Those were exciting days. I learned to improvise and think on my feet. I learned how to create stories and engage players. I learned how to come up with interesting set pieces and make up NPCs.

A year or two later, when 3rd ed D&D came out, we jumped to that setting, and the learning continued. I quickly learned the limitations of creating characters with multiple classes and not trying to optimize the build. I also learned that I didn’t like feats and having to master the system in order to keep up.

My preferences

You see, I’m more interested in the story than I am with mechanics. I prefer to come up with characters that interest me and characters I can explore their motivations and desires. I’m less interested in building characters for power.

I’m definitely not trying to say you can’t do BOTH. Not by a long shot. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve done it. It just doesn’t interest me. I either had to play along with learning the right chains of feats or I’d risk falling behind. I was more interested in developing my character through play than through mechanics.

The thing I loved about AD&D is that it felt like I had more freedom while playing. Feats didn’t exist then, so I didn’t have to worry about what special ability I needed to do something. If I wanted to charge an opponent and attack, I just did it.

Some differences between editions

In 3rd edition, there were feats that allowed you to do these things. It wasn’t obvious if you needed a particular feat or if that just made you better at doing it. It felt more limiting. You didn’t have to worry about spending skill points every level.

The fact that there were skills was nice though. There were fewer saves, and they were for very specific things. If you needed to avoid a hit, you rolled a reflex safe. If you took a hit, you might have to roll fortitude. If you need to shake something off, you would roll a willpower save. Older editions of D&D had a multitude of saves. Not that those didn’t make sense, there were just a lot to keep track of.

We’ve started playing 5th edition D&D. I like it well enough. They did a good job of streamlining a lot of the game. There are times it feels almost like AD&D.

I’ve started teaching a couple of new players 5e as their first edition. There is a lot for them to keep track of. It’s not as easy as I’d hoped. There’s also a lot of talks about builds and worrying about what archetype to take. For some reason, the word “build” makes my skin crawl a little when I think about D&D, because that’s the part I least like. I want a character to form organically, through play, not planning out levels in advance.

AD&D didn’t have any of that. If you were a non-human character, you couldn’t change your class (or classes!) that you started with. Humans could change, but only if their stats were high enough.

I find it somewhat difficult to teach some of my new players 5e. There is a lot to take in. Some things are easier though. Almost everything (except damage) is dealt with by rolling a 20 sided die (d20 in the parlance) and hoping to roll high. Otherwise, there are a lot of new ideas that you have to instill into players. There are a lot of features to each class, and it can be confusing to remember them all. I think we’ve used second wind once, maybe twice, because we usually don’t remember fighters have it, for example.

Classes in AD&D didn’t have all of the neat powers you find in 5e. You don’t have all the feats you had in 3e. You had a relatively sparse box with a new toys.

But that’s fine. I do some of my best work within the confines of boxes like these. Once I know the limitations, I can figure out what I can do within the box.

However, new players coming from video games are used to more special abilities. Some of the powers available to classes are downright cool. They add mechanical complexity though, and that can make things more difficult for players new to the system.

Breakdown

For me, the mechanics can get in the way of the story. The less rules there are, the easier it is for me to get immersed into the setting. Complex fight scenes make me think more about rules than about strategy and picturing what my character is actually doing. Worrying too much about rules may make me miss an opportunity to do something cool over the easy use of a power or spell.

With more mechanical bits, I feel like the game is showing how to play. With fewer examples, fewer class powers, it felt more like imagination was king. There were no feats telling me that with this power I could do… X. I felt more creative for having to come up with whatever X was on my own. I didn’t need the game to tell me I could do X. Of course you could try X. You may never try X again, but if you did, there was a house rule or DM ruling created because of X.

In editions with feats and powers, I feel like the game tells you that you can do X. Of course you can do X. Now that you’ve got the ability to do X, you’re going to try and do it all the time, instead of looking for Y or Z. You’ll wait until you get Y and Z as class features.

Older editions seem less forgiving (although a lot of that was dependent on the person running the game). Low attributes didn’t mean the character was unplayable, it meant you had to be smart. Now there are so many bonuses associated with attributes that playing a character with a low attribute is mroe of a challenge. It’s all about the bonuses. In older editions, you didn’t even start getting penalties because of low attributes until 7 (out of 18). Now, a 9 or lower is bad.

Balance

5th edition attempts to maintain player balance at each level. Hit points are raised (which is cool by me!). Every class gets something relevant at every level, if memory serves. 4th edition D&D even more so!

3rd edition was closer to AD&D in that regard, however. You had the problem of fighters being higher powered at lower levels, and wizards became more powerful at higher levels. This was described as liner fighters and quadratic wizards. Fighters pretty much progressed at a steady pace, and needed to protect others until the point where wizards got powerful enough to do more damage. Then the wizards got to do cool stuff and warriors mopped up. This is very much how earlier D&D games did it. And I’m okay with that. It made fighters easier to play for new players and wizards were the challenging class.

AD&D had some other ways to balance classes that later editions got rid of. First off, not every class leveled up at the same rate. Thieves were relatively low powered compared to other classes. They could back stab (later sneak attack), but they were lucky if they got that once a fight. They had a lot of other out of combat abilities though, and they were really handy to have in a fight. They were just low hit point (d6 per level) and didn’t get great weapons or armor. They leveled quickly though, so it soon became less of an issue. Do thief-type things, get better at it quickly, survive longer.

Fighters leveled up more slowly, but got great access to weapons and armor, and could hit more frequently faster than other classes. They could also hit more lower-leveled enemies as they got better, so they could clean up a battlefield quickly. They had great hit points (the mighty d10) and possibly a constitution bonus, so they could give and take hits. They had to play smart though, because they could still die after some good hits.

Wizards leveled even more slowly. But, once they got high enough in level (and were smart enough), they got access to truly powerful spells. They just had to be protected until they got there. They only had d4 hit points, so they were very fragile. Power came later.

Another way AD&D maintained balance is by limiting what type of class you could be and how far you could advance, depending on your character’s race. Dwarves, for example, could never be wizards an could only advance so far in fighter, cleric, and thief classes. This was done because several races had special abilities to help them early on, be it night vision, the ability to move silently and sneak up on foes, or the ability to find secret doors, etc. Humans got none of that, so they could go farther in any class. The other races had the ability to take more than one class at a time (mage/thief or fighter/cleric, for example) which was called multi-classing. Humans could only take one class at a time, but they could dual-class. They could start as a figher, for example, and at a later date decide that thief was more appropriate. They’d lose their fighter abilities in exchange for new thief-related abilities. It was a little more complex than that, but it’s the basics.

In exchange for more power, characters leveled more slowly. Balance. Now, that balance doesn’t mean that everyone is the same power all the time, and I’m okay with that. It just means that when working together in a team, everyone would eventually have the chance to shine.

Intermission

This really got away from me in a hurry, and if you’re still reading, congratulations on making it this far. I did say at the top that I’d be getting deep into the weeds.

Mechanics

Newer editions did a better job of unifying die rolls. You rolled a d20 and wanted to get high results from 3rd edition on. Unlike AD&D, which had different rolls for different things. Attribute checks meant rolling low on a d20. Thief skills were percentages. Finding secret doors were d6 checks. Initiative was… I want to say low on a d10.

It was a bit of a mess, to say the least.

But it was our mess. And the chances of success weren’t that bad, when you looked at the actual probability. Thieves were pretty bad at thieving for quite a while though.

The Summary

TLDR; I like AD&D because it had less mechanical rules for everything (though there are A LOT of rules!). I liked that the books didn’t have a power for everything and that it made me feel like I had to be more creative. I’m okay with the race and class restrictions. It takes me back to my early days gaming. I miss that feel.

Edition wars… Edition wars never change

I’m not interested in starting another edition war. You’ll see them all over if you start reading up on D&D. I play and like several editions. I’m even looking to try 4th edition D&D at some point. I like what I’ve read.

This is all about my preferences. I will happily discuss D&D all day long. I didn’t say argue. You love 3e? Ditto. I have some issues with later levels, but I’ve played it the most and would play it again. 5e? It’s fun and has a lot of positives. 4e? Cool! What do you enjoy? BECMI or AD&D or Basic or Rulecyclopedia? Kick ass!

Gaming is gaming. If you’re rolling dice and have fun, that’s what’s important. Not how someone else plays. You want to compare notes? Let’s talk!

Arch-based de triumph!

Solid state drives (SSD) installed? Check. Operating systems engaged? Double check.

Windows 10 Pro was a simple affair. I made an install USB and loaded it onto the first SSD. There were a few minor hiccups (a couple of times, the install backtracked a step or two, but nothing major).

Linux, however, proved slightly more challenging.

I intended to start with Ubuntu. My reasoning was in Jason Evangelho’s article on Forbes; consider using a more mainstream, flagship edition of Linux.

I had issues (pun also intended).

When I ran the Ubuntu installer, the default setting was to overwrite Windows. So, I shut the machine down, switched the cables on my hard drives, and tried again.

It didn’t matter. If I was going to install Ubuntu, I had to do figure out how to manually set up the root partition on the secondary drive.

Okay, not ideal, and a little beyond me, so I tried Ubuntu MATE, not actually believing it would work as intended. It did not.

Only slightly deterred, I threw in my third choice, the one I used the longest and am most comfortable with; Manjaro. Xfce edition, if you’re curious.

Victory!

What Ubuntu’s Ubiquity installer couldn’t handle without manual configuration, Manjaro’s Calamares installer managed with ease. I was able to select which SSD I wanted to install the OS on and I let the automated installer handle the rest.

I know that a lot of more experienced users customize their installations. They decide how large to make their swap areas, which file system they want, etc. I don’t know much about all of that. I also wanted to see if I could install without having to make any changes. To that end, I succeeded and I’m happy with the results.