The truth about Arch cat & Debian dog

This may sound a little weird (and it did come to me under the influence of a sleeping pill), but hear me out.

Debian reminds me of my dog, Gurps (yes, I know I’m a nerd with a problem, but it really fits him). I understand Gurps’s behavior (for the most part). He’s loyal, predictable (even if his behavior is frustrating at times!), and I can more or less make him do what I want, when I want.

Apt/apt-get (and to an extent eopkg in Solus) makes sense to me. If I want to upgrade my system, it’s sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade (after waiting for the OS to finish checking things on it’s own). In Solus, it’s sudo eopkg upgrade. The commands make sense, I know what I’m typing and why I’m typing it into the terminal (some of the few terminal commands I know and use regularly).

Now, as I mentioned above, Ubuntu distributions have some weirdness about them where they run background commands where I have to wait several minutes after boot-up before I can make the terminal do it’s thing. It’s like when Gurps sees another dog outside. I know I can get him under control (eventually), but I’ll have to wait it out. It’s annoying, but it’s a foible I can live with.

By the by, if anyone knows how to bypass or fix this, I’m, like, 95% ears. The remaining 5% is for typing in the command(s).

Pacman, on the other hand, is more like my cat, Nickel. in the abstract, I know why it does what it does, even if I don’t understand it at the time. Overall it’s slick, smooth, but I don’t really understand why sudo pacman -Syu (or -Syyu) makes all that much sense. I know why it does what it does, but I’m not quite sure why or how it got there. My cat will, from time to time, lose his little kitty mind, tear around the house, then stop and act like normal. I know it’s going to happen, but I have to read more into it.

With me so far?

The dog will do something I understand, in a way I understand, but it can take some time to get him under control. The cat will do something that makes little sense, but will do it quickly then go back to behavior I understand.

With Linux, I’ve been trying to expose myself to different distributions, different ways of thinking, different ways of doing things. Debian is loyal, stable, and what you see is what you get. Arch is more exotic (to me!), unpredictable, but worth it in the long run (even if Nickel prefers my wife’s lap to mine, little traitor…).

Also, like cats and dogs, the Debian-based Mint and Ubuntu families have shorter set lifespans than Arch-based distros. Debian-based have LTS (that’s long term support for those trying to learn along with me) that are typically supported for 3-5 years, depending on the distribution. Some last longer. Arch can last you much longer (in the natural scheme of things), assuming no one does something foolish, like screw up an install or run into traffic.

Fedora is, I don’t know… a parakeet? Don’t dive too deep into this, I haven’t yet.

All of this comes back to that hard drive I have coming in the mail. Do I want a cat, or a dog on my new drive? Do I want to have to invest in a new dog in a few years, or do I want to see how long I can keep the cat alive? Do I want stability or try something with a little edge to it?

My gut says go safe. My heart says go sleek. Manjaro has a great community willing to help, but so does Ubuntu MATE and Linux Mint. I’ve got a few days to think on it.

A brave new world

The hard drive (HDD) in my desktop is dying by inches. We’ve had good times together. But like all good things, they must come to an end. There’s no telling how much longer the smaller drive will last. It’s probably over a decade old at this point. The large drive has housed Windows 10, while the smaller drive is for my Linux testing.

I find myself in an exciting position, however. Instead of one mega-sized HDD and one much smaller, much older laptop HHD, I’m going with two, smaller solid state drives (SSD).

Not only should I see a sizeable boost in speed, I can finally start using Linux as a more primary OS. I can try installing some of my favorite programs (read: games) in Linux first!

The question is, which distribution do I run? (I’m interested in running the same on my laptop and desktop, btw)

Ubuntu MATE has a certain appeal. The variety of themes means I can spice things up if I get bored. I liked Unity and Pantheon desktops, and my first computer (and smart phone!) was an Apple, so the Cupertino theme has some attraction. I also appreciate that updates focus more on stability.

Perhaps Linux Mint? The desktop can run Cinnamon without any problem, and the laptop can run Mate (substitute out the mint menu for brisk…) or Xfce. Again, there’s that level of stability and Mint is one of the prettiest distros I’ve ever used.

Manjaro was good to me on my laptop. The software repository is great, and it runs smoothly. There’s a little thrill at running on the bleeding edge and updates haven’t tanked my system yet. There’s also something nice about not having to reinstall the system when there’s a big update/new long term support (LTS) release. Vivaldi has been a little difficult to get all of the extras I want out of the AUR though, and I’ve had some installation issues with it.

Solus ran a little heavy on my laptop. I played with Fedora a little bit on a virtual machine

I’m not exactly a newbie, but I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’m not quite ready for something along the lines of Arch or Gentoo. But at least I have it somewhat narrowed down.

Wait a minute Mr. (email) Postman

I have an email problem.

I have way, way too many accounts. I should pare then down, but until then, I use a desktop email client to keep track of all of them. For that, I use Mozilla’s Thunderbird. It’s open source, connects with my Microsoft Exchange accounts, and is available cross platform. I can use it in Linux and in Windows (aside form an unfortunate theming issue with the Greybird theme in Linux) it does what I need.

My theme issue was in finding the button to turn off automatically marking emails as read. I prefer to leave some things unread, so they’re easier to find later. It’s a quirky thing, but it’s how my system/mind works.

But I’m not married to Thunderbird. I use it because it works, not because it’s my favorite.

Back in college, I used to use Eudora Pro (I want to say 3 or 4, but it’s been decades). I believe the software was available through my university’s software page. I loved that I could right click on the taskbar icon to check email whenever I wanted to.

I used Window’s native email clients in 95 and 98. There was something charming about the way the mail window looked like a little envelope, and I liked that it created a new, smaller window for writing emails. It made it so it didn’t take up so much screen real estate, back when that was an issue.

I played around with Netscape and later Mozilla and Seamonkey’s email client and used that for some accounts. I remember having some issues with Hotmail, but I think I eventually figured it out. I know that’s part of why I feel so comfortable using Thunderbird.

I liked the MSN Explorer browser, with it’s built-in Hotmail access. I ended up moving away when the program was discontinued.

Opera’s old Presto browser, with their built-in email client was awesome. It did everything I needed and I only had to have one program opened. I was a little sad when Opera shut down Presto, in favor of Webkit/Blink/Chromium. I understand the hassle of trying to maintain their own system though, and I appreciated Opera being compatible with more web sites. Their independent email program, Opera Mail, worked nice, but they stopped supporting it, which is such a pity.

Outlook Express and Windows Live mail where probably my favorite clients. Seamless Hotmail connectivity, RSS readers for my feeds (read “extensive web comic list”), fast, could handle a large list of email accounts… It had all the features I needed and did what I wanted the way I wanted it to work. I miss those programs.

Outlook took some getting used to, but with work, it’s one of my most used tools. I appreciate the calendar features, ability to create meetings, and connectivity with Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, every time Microsoft updates Office, I have to get used to old features in new places. It drives me a little nuts.

Windows 10 Mail is flakier than a layered breakfast biscuit. It’s feature light almost to the extreme, and it tends to shut down at the drop of a hat. It’s slow to load, doesn’t do everything I want it to, and is frustrating to use. I don’t know how they got it so wrong.

Pegasus email is one I’ve try every now and then. It’s tricky to set up, doesn’t have all the things I need, and is retro in the less fun way. It hasn’t aged as well as some programs.

I’ve tried a number of Linux-native clients. Evolution is feature rich, but it just doesn’t quite work for me. It’s not as snappy as Thunderbird, a bit of a hassle to set up, and I usually don’t stick with it for more than a couple of days. Geary is too light and if I have to manually set up an email account, I can’t figure out how to resize the window. Sylpheed and Claws don’t fare any better than Pegasus. I’m not sure I trust Nylas/Mailspring/whatever they’re calling themselves. I still can’t get rid of the folders N1 set up in my email folders.

Wow. I have used a ton of these programs over the years. It’s amazing how little has changed. Some things have gotten easier (Thunderbird will try and find your account settings), but aside from some interface changes, little has improved.

I’ve more or less found a forever email client until when (if?) Vivaldi ever releases their email client in their browser.

Did I miss any that anyone would recommend?

What I’ve learned about myself so far

I started blogging for a number of reasons; I wanted a way to record and collect my thoughts, I wanted to see if I could get input from others, I wanted to find out if other people had some of the same issues I did, and I just wanted to give blogging a try.

I have gotten some excellent responses. Several people seem to resonate with my ramblings on web browsers and on Linux. I’ve even found a fellow Castles & Crusades fan out there!

What have I learned about myself? I already knew I had problems with my attention span (a deficit disorder, one might say).  But I’ve always learned to work with or around it.

I know I have to pace myself when I have a task to get done. I know I’ll stop for frequent breaks (just a quick game of sudoku, maybe read a webcomic…). I know I’ll have to work to reign myself in. I know I can’t go too hard on myself when my attention strays. I know it’s harder for me and I accept that.

I know it can make me better at parts of my job. I take in a lot about my environment and it helps when I do inspections. I can see other sides of issues. I can relate when other people have attention problems. I can take a step back and I can compartmentalize things.

I also know that my interests change quickly. I get interested and focused on things quickly (a rolling release is JUST what I need for my computer, no more reinstalling my operating system! I know what game I want to play next!). I know I dive deep on subjects for a week or so.

I know the temptation I feel when I have the need for change. Everything is working SO WELL on my computer… but I know I’ll like this new distribution more… until I don’t. I NEED to change my RPG campaign… instead of focusing on the game I have and putting effort into it.

How do I deal? Ride it out. Learn something new. Relearn something old. Let myself get focused, it’s how I enjoy spending my time. Learn, adapt, become versed in a variety of subjects and systems. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

I have a hunger/thirst for knowledge. That’s okay. It’s not wrong, it is what is. I like that I know a little about a lot of things. I thrive on little changes and can adapt to new situations. I’m not set in all of my ways. It’s the way. It makes me unique.

I’m me.

My gaming habit, part 2

I miss playing West End Game’s classic d6 Star Wars. Back when there was an expanded universe but fewer movies, we were left wondering what the Clone Wars actually were, before Knights of the Old Republic, hell, before Shadows of the Empire, we had a lot more empty space to fill. I only got to play a few sessions here and there, but I enjoyed making characters and rolling fistfuls of dice. I’d like to play that again, or possibly run a campaign myself. It would be good for doing something like Firefly.

I think what I miss most is the feeling of the early sessions. I only played a session or two before I agreed to run my own game. I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t really know the system all that well, but I could tell a yarn and I played off of the players well. I’m good at thinking on my feet and rolling with things.

Growing up means I have the ability to afford books and supplies I didn’t used to be able to get (though the majority of my collection I bought back in college, used).

I miss the adventure of exploring something new. I think that’s why I’m constantly reading through RPG books. I get sparks of ideas as I read through the texts, inspirations and thoughts of what I’d like to do with a game.

My problem is I lack focus. I dive deep into something over a short period of time, until I feel that I know it so well… then it becomes old hat, and I start looking for that next hit of creativity.

That’s why I keep leaping to new experiences. I distro hop in Linux, trying out new programs and systems. I keep looking for the next big thing in web browsers. I read everything I can over gaming systems, trying to find the one that fits perfectly, right now.

But my tastes invariably change after a few weeks. A few things have kept my interest. White Wolf books are entertaining reads, as they’re less reference book and more purple prose. GURPS lets me model the real world and has tons (probably literally) of material available. D&D has become a cultural experience as it becomes more popular and wide spread. I like sharing war stories with other players and DMs.

I know what I crave too. I like things that are not too rules heavy (crunchy). I like having the freedom to play off of my players’ crazy ideas and say, “That sounds cool! Let’s see what happens,” and letting the dice fall where they may. I like lighter, story-driven systems. I like letting my imagination fly. I like it when players talk after the campaign about what happened during the game. I like building memories.

I just wish my mind was built for the long haul, instead of looking for the next hit of something new.

My gaming habit, part 1

I’m going to switch gears a little bit this time, and focus on rambling about tabletop gaming, mostly the noble RPG.

I won’t be diving into mechanics or resources. This is a 1000 ft overview (about 305 m for the rest of the world) of how the games make me feel. If you want to discuss mechanics or the like, leave a comment! I do enjoy getting into that kind of thing too.

Though I’ve had some dry spells, I’ve been gaming for a couple of decades now. I started with the second edition of AD&D. Looking back on it, it’s got a number of different die rolling mechanics all mixed together. Sometimes you want to roll high, some you want to roll low. Sometimes you roll a d6, a d10, a d20, or d%. Balance is done by making some classes advance more slowly or by limiting what some fantasy races can become. No dwarven mages or half-orc paladins in this game.

It’s weird, it’s not as streamlined as I remember, it can be a little punishing. …but I love it. It’s still one of my favorite games, because I didn’t know it all when I ran. I just ran it and made up rules on the fly.

Castles & Crusades is close to how that game played, but a little more streamlined. You want to roll high most of (all of? I can’t remember initiative rules) the time. They tried to unify how things work. Any fantasy race can be any class, but classes still advance at different speeds. Wizards require more experience to level up than rogues (or is it thieves?). It still has the old school feel, from what I understand anyway. I’ve never been able to get a group together to play.

I want to remedy that. I’d love to play, but I’d be happy to run.

We’ve been playing a lot more 5th edition D&D lately. It…. is okay. I like how simple it is to make up rulings as we go, and there are some interesting character options for classes and races. But it doesn’t excite me as much as older editions. I got to really dislike the complexity of 3.5 D&D. There was too much focus on character builds (even bringing up the world “build” in 5e gives me the shivers) and mastery of system mechanics in 3.5. I personally prefer characters to form more organically than worrying about what I can or will do 3, 4, 5 levels down the road.

It’s a fine game, it runs well, and it’s fun. It just doesn’t feel quite right to me. It’s probably my second favorite edition, but considering I’ve only played three different editions…

I’d like to give 4th edition D&D a shot. I listened to a lot of the complaints gamers had when it came out and worried it “wasn’t D&D” enough. I started to get into it more after reading 13th Age. I like the strategy involved with combat (I’ve considered getting into war gaming), I like the changes to lore, and I like the ease of building balanced encounters. I just haven’t tried it yet. Again, most folk aren’t super enthusiastic about it. Still, I collect some of the books. I love the artistic choices in the books I have.

Speaking of 13th Age, I love what they’re trying to do with the game. It’s made by former D&D designers (from both 3rd and 4th editions of D&D) and it’s the game that they play, using mechanics from their creations. But they made it into something lighter than either version of D&D and focus more on story.

Damage and hit points do get amazingly high, but they increased damage as well, to balance things. Characters only go up to 10th level in the core book, but the players have much more say in the setting, with the One Unique Thing that makes their character different and the creation of backgrounds instead of skills.

There is a free System Reference Document if you’re interested. The core book is one of the easiest reads I’ve ever had with an RPG product. It’s more conversational tone with the creators even bouncing ideas back and forth and at the readers.

GURPS holds a special place in my cold, black heart. We even named our dog Gurps. I have a slight preference for the 3rd edition over the newer 4th edition, but that’s partly because I have a LOT of books for the older edition. They’re nearly the same, with a few tweaks for playability sake in the 4e book.

GURPS lets you design characters at a much more granular level than D&D. You spent points on attributes instead of rolling for them (by default! I know there are other ways of making characters in D&D). There are no classes (though you can add templates!), so you can pick and choose skills as you want (with GM oversight into what is an isn’t allowed in that particular game). You can get a good feel for who you are playing with Advantages (which cost points) and Disadvantages (which give you points), though a clever player can attempt to game the system. There is one primary mechanic for the game, which is nice.

GURPS is, however, more of a toolkit for making your own game than a complete game. This means that there is no defined world, lore, or the like. The Game Master (that GM again) is expected to decide what extra books they’re using (if any), which skills are relevant, which Ads and Disads are okay, etc. It’s work on the front end, but easier on the back end.

Character creation can be more complex, but once you’re done, the character sheet has most of the info you need. Combat can be complex or simple, depending on what rules the GM is allowing and which they’re ignoring.

It definitely isn’t a game for everyone, but it does try to be any game for those who enjoy it. It also lets you organically grow your characters. The books are dense and read more like a textbook, but the splat books (extra books with additional material) are great for just about any game, if you ignore the GURPS-specific material. They’re well researched.

That leaves White Wolf and their catalog of games. My personal favorite is Vampire: the Masquerade. I love the lore. I’ve been reading the books for fun, because they’re written more like fiction with some mechanics hidden inside. Like GURPS, it’s a point buy system with an easy (though different) mechanic.

There are less options than in GURPS (which can be a good thing). It doesn’t try to model everything (like GURPS does). I think I prefer the tone of earlier editions of the book, where you focus on taking a human, turning them into a monster, then watching them try to deal with the downward spiral as they fight their nature (with nature almost ALWAYS winning in the end!) than the world-spanning plots in later editions. Not that those can’t be fun!

I find myself reading White Wolf game books more frequently because they’re meant to be read, not necessarily studied. All of the games use the same basic mechanics, though the themes, powers, abilities, etc. can vary from game-to-game.

I’m pushing over 1,200 words already and there are other games I’d like to talk about (I’m looking at you, West End’s D6 system!). I’ll save those for later.

If you’ve gotten this far and aren’t completely board off your chair, you’re a personal hero of mine!

Linux, my gateway to freedom and indecision

My first thought is, “People are actually reading and responding to my posts? Wild!”. I mostly started putting these up for my own benefit and only distantly believing that someone else might read these, let along leave some thoughtful comments.

By the way, thanks to everyone who has responded (and isn’t a scammer or spammer!)! For better or worse, I’m encouraged to write more (so you only have yourselves to blame!).

Last time, I talked about Manjaro being my forever distro. I’m still leaning heavily that way. I like the community. I like the variety of packages available in the repositories (I pull a scant handful from the AUR, mostly Vivaldi and Dropbox). It runs well and I won’t have to reinstall when there’s a new release, like I might in Debian world (Ubuntu, Mint, and the like).

Maybe I’m getting a little paranoid though, reading through the Manjaro forums. I’m not really living the Arch lifestyle. If there’s an update, I usually just update it. The laptop is just for web browsing, email, solitaire, and experimenting with distros, after all. I’m not worried about keeping my information. I’ve reinstalled dozens of time.

BUT… I mostly learn by reading forum posts and tinkering. I’ve managed not to break things. I can figure out how to get Linux to print to our home printer. I can do just about anything I want on that computer (except get Artemis to play, for some reason). I’m not one to spend hours perusing the manuals until I break something.

So I ask myself, is this the right place for me? Should I be on a Debian-based distro and just deal with reinstalling every two years (or so)? Should I spend some time on Fedora, which seems to be rolling but stable? I dabbled with Solus, but Budgie runs a little slow on that machine and I’m not totally sold on MATE (if they ever did an Xfce release though…).

Or am I just over-analyzing everything again? I’m really, really good at that.

At some point, I think I may move away from Windows. I know Windows, I understand where files are, I understand the tools, it’s been my computer home since… 1996? I worked through Win 95, 98, XP, 8, 8.1, now 10… It’s the devil I know. Linux is starting to make more sense to me. I can do little things. I’m learning slowly, but the data is being absorbed.

When I switch to Linux, I want to set things and not worry about it. Mint and Ubuntu usually have methods for upgrading their distros when a new release comes out and the software I care about (web browsers, email, security) are all updated regularly. Maybe Debian-based is best for me. Manjaro seems solid though, and I don’t think Arch is going anywhere, but there seem like there are risks there.

I know I’m not stuck in one place. I can get a second drive, make that home, and call it good. Then I can experiment with the distros all I want. A lot of Linux users seem to wander a bit, and that’s one of the things that’s cool about it.

Enough ranting. If anyone has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them! The TLDR summary is Manjaro good, Mint a possibility, I can’t make a decision to save my life.

There and back again, a distrohopper’s story

For those who have read any of these rantings, I’m a bit indecisive (read: I can’t make up my damn mind).

I seem to have found a forever distribution (Manjaro Linux in Xfce) despite all of my attempts. This seems to be one decision that has stuck, even though I have wandering eyes.

My latest dalliance was a whole day with Solus on the laptop.  I like the simplicity, the overall appearance, and the concept. It… was… just… a… little… sluggish on that machine. Which, considering the age, is not too surprising.

Manjaro does what I want, I understand the bare basics of the commands (I am NOT a terminal jockey, I just like to update and install programs from the command line).

It looks… fine, I guess without much change. I have seen people gush about the overall aesthetics of Manjaro, and I can’t begrudge anyone their opinion about what does or doesn’t look nice. I’m a bit older school with my preferences, and I won’t tell anyone they’re wrong for liking what they like. I’m sure a lot of people don’t agree with my opinions on the flat icons and interfaces and color choices.

I just keep looking for something that might work better for me. the Arch frame of mind is a little daunting to a self-taught Linux rookie (I’m definitely not newbie, but not overly skilled either). On the other hand, I try to pay attention to the forums and practice good installation habits. I try to be selective about what I pull from the AUR, I don’t quit installations before they’re done, and I try to use the terminal when possible.

Linux is a little intimidating. I’m sure if I grew up with it instead of Windows (or the Apple IIGS I used until 1996), I’d be more confident. Mostly I’ve been learning things as I go, often in concert with copious mistakes, though I’ve certainly gotten better. I play with desktop environments, windows managers, infrastructure (mostly Debian- or Arch-based)… It’s been fun. It’s my hobby.

I’m starting to feel like I’m tightening down on some of my fluctuating tastes. Now it’s a matter of realizing that I’ve made a decision and to stop trying to talk myself out of my choices.

So much for stagecraft…

Yesterday, I ran my 5e D&D game through a few side quests in the Lost Mines of Phandelver module in the Dungeons & Dragons starter set. I was running them through the scene with the banshee.

It was fun, watching the players get worked up as they realized how badly this encounter could go for them if the creature attacked. I had to go back through the description of the quest they got back in Phandelvin, since it’s been months since they played through that. We’re supposed to play every other week, but with weather and schedules… We’re averaging about once a month.

I had started setting the mood last week. The weather was rainy, foggy, just miserable. The atmosphere was getting to them. Sound was dampened by the fog and trees. Rain dripped onto the leaves. The banshee talked in a hoarse whisper.

…and they kept talking and laughing. Can’t win them all, I guess. At least the orcs at Wyvern Tor gave them a run for their money.

If it ain’t broke, why fix it?…

I’m getting that twitchy feeling again. The feeling to make changes.

I can’t quite make up my mind on browsers. I’ve been spending time lately with Brave on PC (don’t be jealous Vivaldi, I’m only seeing them on the side…) and Opera and Brave on Android (that phone layout on Opera… so easy to navigate). I’m getting itchy for change.

I like Mozilla’s overall message of privacy on the net, and I appreciate Vivaldi agrees. I’m just getting impatient for a mobile browser. Makes me search out new experiences despite the fact I have perfectly good programs at my disposal. Always looking for *the* perfect browser for my needs. I feel I’m getting close.

On the RPG front (Role Playing Game for the uninitiated), we’ve been playing mostly 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. It’s… fine. No major gripes. I appreciate some of the changes made to improve speed during play and making magic users feel more useful. Some things rub me slightly the wrong way, but I can live with it because that’s where the game is and most aren’t interested in changing (again, in one game we’re playing).

But I miss older editions. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition was a beautiful mess, but I loved it when I started. So many different rules for different subsystems. So many weird restrictions (dwarves can’t be magic users, can only get so far in some classes but further in others…). It was the first system I truly loved though, and I have the books to prove it.

I want that original feeling back.

Playing with Linux is another hobby. I’m trying to see if I can make it work for me without a lot of problems. I spent a lot of time, originally, with the Debian-based distributions. I visited with the Ubuntu family, tried out Linux Mint, Zorin, and I’m currently happy with Manjaro’s Xfce flagship edition.

It works fine (though Firefox freezes up like Chicago in -40 F weather). It’s a rolling release, which means you never have to reinstall it. Updates keep coming out, making it up-to-date. There’s some risk in doing it this way, but it works fairly well. I’m just not sure how interested I am in reading update documentation before I update the computer.

I miss that Debian-based feeling, when I could just update and not worry so much.

So, I’ll pick up the old books (again), I’ll try other browsers again (it doesn’t mean anything, baby…), and I’ll probably change up the installation on the Linux Laptop (and probably go back in a few weeks), because the need for change gnaws at me, like my cat, when we try and show him too much affection.

I keep trying to optimize things, but I look backwards and what I used, because I know it. It can be hard to look forward or enjoy where I am, at times.