Well that didn’t last long

A couple months ago I bought a wireless speaker from Harman/Kardon called the Onyx. That speaker has now failed on me. I am beyond the refund window, so Harman/Kardon was going to replace it. Well, honestly I wasn’t that impressed. So I had another idea.

After I’d initially ordered that speaker, I noticed that Harman/Kardon is still selling the Soundsticks 2.1 setup (pictured above). I used to have a set like these when I bought my first Mac back in 2002. So there is some sense of nostalgia.

The Soundsticks happened to be exactly the same price as the Onyx. So I talked them into sending me the Soundsticks to replace the failed Onyx. Yes, it’s possible they chose style over substance. But I believe this 2.1 setup will out-perform the Onyx.

In search of good sound

I just got a new wireless speaker for my desk at home. I wasn’t necessarily in the market for one… but this popped up in my twitter feed as a “deal”. I recognize Harman/Kardon as a quality audio brand. And it was discounted about $350 off regular price. I think one could safely say it was originally overpriced. But after the discount it’s probably just about right. One selling point for me… it has Airplay built in. So I can play to it from my computer or my phone, seamlessly and lossless.

Apple all the way…

I’m not sure why I did it. Perhaps it had something to do with an app on my iPhone that would allow import of a photo… but only from my Apple photo app… not my Google Drive. But I figured I’d be better off being completely in the Apple ecosystem.

I just spent the last 24 hours or so migrating all my data from Google Drive back over to the Apple iCloud. And at the very last, I even moved all my Gmail mail and contacts over to Apple’s email service. This is something I was pretty sure I would never do.

So now I am 100% back on the Apple ecosystem. I never really thought I would go back to the Apple iCloud email. The main drawback it has… I can’t send email as if I’m at my own domain. Gmail allows that. At one time this was pretty important to me. I own three domains and I want to be able to send email as-if from those domains. But I figured what the heck. I suppose I can live with elden.f@icloud.com. So that’s the address my email will be from from now on.

I suppose I should have less hassle now. Everything is Apple. I’m no longer connected to anything Google on my devices and/or computers. I still have some Google docs. And I really like Google docs. But what I have left there are pretty much just backups of stuff I’ve migrated back over to the iCloud.

In theory things should be pretty nice doing the 100% Apple thing. We’ll see. I know that it’s not the absolute best cloud service out there, but I think it should be alright. Sometimes the path of less hassle is the best.

VMware

I’ve been a little bored lately. And my allowance fund has been building for awhile. So I decided to spring for VMware for my iMac along with a memory upgrade to make it a workable thing.

My iMac (which is the latest higher-end model) only came with 8GB of RAM. Some of the iMac models are not even upgradable. Mine is. I had four slots with only two used. At any rate, I replaced my two 4GB sticks with four 8GB sticks for a total of 32GB. That should be enough for some virtual machine fun.

I now have 12 different operating systems installed in VMware. I bought a license for Windows 10… the rest are all Linux. Oh, and FreeBSD just for kicks.

Not sure what I’m going to do with these except just play around. One thing I learned from my previous experience with ChromeOS. And that is, if you have all your data in the cloud, pretty much any computer is a ChromeBook/ChromeBox. That’s because if you have a browser, you have everything right there, regardless of the operating system you happen to be running. So any of these operating systems will serve me equally well, as long as I use a browser that supports my LastPass password manager.

Actually, I find macOS to be pretty sweet. And I really have no need to use anything else. It’s all just for grins I suppose.

Another chance

Ok, I’m going to back pedal a bit from my recent post “The Apple Experiment“. One thing that prompted me to originally move to Google Drive from Apple’s iCloud was because I was having trouble with my only Mac and started using my Chromebox instead. That’s when it became evident that Apple’s iCloud was never really suitable to be a truly platform-independent cloud service.

However, I have since ditched my Chromebox and am now back using Apple hardware again (I actually forked out for another iMac). So… yes that’s right, I moved my stuff back to Apple’s iCloud. It really does mostly work ok. And there is one advantage. Because all my iCloud data also sits on my local machine, I can easily back it up to external hard drives (something you can’t really do with Google Drive).

I am still relatively unhappy with the stability of MacOS. Since my last post there has been at least one instance where I had to hold down my power button to reset again. This sort of thing normally happens when I’m doing something fairly intense.

Originally my big problem with it was happening when I was encrypting 5-6 large external hard drives. More recently it happened when I was syncing a very large amount of data via iCloud. Under normal usage I don’t have a problem. However that is no excuse. An OS that buckles under pressure is still highly annoying.

The Apple experiment

I just moved my domains to Google Domains. As a side-benefit, they now integrate well with Blogger. So the new URL of this blog is w7ldn.com. My other blog is at one of my other domains (moondog.org). And my third domain (eldenf.com) forwards to my Google+ page.

The reason for the domain move? My old domain registrar (NameCheap) had spam filtering on their free email forwarding that I could not turn off. There were some email that I was mysteriously not receiving. It doesn’t seem to me that an email forwarding service should do any spam filtering at all. After all, the email box that eventually receives the mail will have it’s own spam filter, no?

I made the choice last Christmas to switch back over to Apple gear after years away. So virtually all my gear is Apple now.

While I am an Apple fan, I’m not a fan of their cloud services or their email service. I have a number of beefs:

  • With their email service, I can’t send using my own domains. Since that’s the main reason I have my own domains… that’s a problem. However, Google lets me do that.
  • With their iCloud document service (Pages and Numbers) not all of the important features are available on the web or on my mobile devices. Only on a Mac does one have full functionality. Google Docs are entirely web-centered. So I have every feature available to me via the browser regardless of what operating system I am on.
  • With their iCloud file storage service I have to have all my files stored on my local hard drive. The iCloud storage is less of a cloud storage and more of a cloud backup and synchronization facility. Google lets me store everything in the cloud. I don’t have to have it on my machine at all. Again, all I need is a browser and I have access to all my documents, regardless of what computer I’m on.
  • Apple iCloud seriously hosed my photo library on multiple occasions by duplicating photos and making an entire mess of things. It took hours and hours to clean up. I’m guessing it was simply a cloud synchronization issue. Google Drive has no such issues because you have one and only one copy of your files (if you do it right).

When I initially went back to the Mac a few months ago, I migrated all my documents to iCloud. Figured I’d give it all a fair try. After coming to the above realizations, I moved everything back to Google Drive. Now I’m back to using Google Calendar, gmail, etc. Luckily the Google stuff for the most part is operating system independent so it works fine with MacOS.

Still there are a lot of things to like about Apple stuff. But I’m not entirely sold on any particular platform. Last Christmas when I made the decision to go with Apple, I was initially shopping for a Chrome Book. And honestly, that would have worked just fine (and saved me a ton of money).

While I’m on the subject of Apple vs the competition… I will say something about my Macs. I am experiencing a level of operating system instability on both of my Macs that I have never experienced on modern Windows installations. Anyone who tells you that MacOS is more stable than Windows is seriously mistaken. And I say this after having resorted to all the normal trouble shooting measures like doing a fresh install of the operating system (multiple times). Seriously I cannot count how many times I’ve had to hold the power button down and kill my machines because they quit responding.

There may have been a time where MacOS was more stable than Windows. But that time is not now.

Back to the Mac

 

My wife and I have an annual tradition of buying ourselves something around Christmas each year. Not only is it Christmas, it’s bonus time at the company where I work. These things frequently take the form of electronic gadgets.

This year, my plan was to buy a Chromebook. These are pretty inexpensive laptops that run Chrome OS. I ordered one online at Best Buy, and arranged to pick it up in the store.

However, when we arrived to pick it up, it wasn’t ready. So we started browsing. That’s where the trouble started. They sell Apple gear.

To make a very long story short, between then and now, I’ve managed to replace most of our gear with Apple stuff. We traded our Android phones for iPhones. We replaced our Android tablets with iPads. And I ended up replacing my PC with an iMac. (my wife will still be using a Windows PC)

I was fortunate to be able to sell my old desktop PC for a reasonable price. So that helped. But my allowance will take awhile to recover from this.

So far, I’m enjoying being an Apple user again. I originally became a Mac user back in 2002, shortly after they introduced their new operating system based on FreeBSD (OS X). I think I sold my last Mac somewhere around 2009.

So Macs aren’t new to me. I had a bunch of old software licenses for stuff that I used to use back then. I’ve renewed and updated the licenses for a number of those things. Of course some of them are now defunct.

Before this, I was pretty deep into the whole Google ecosystem. All my stuff was on Google Drive. I have used Gmail for many years. But I figured if I was going to do the Apple thing, I would go the full route.

So I am now using the Apple iCloud stuff. It’s not perfect, but it seems to work pretty well. I have cloud storage, plus a lot of the Mac and iOS software use iCloud to sync data. I’m also using iCloud email. There was once a time where I had higher-end needs. But now for the most part, any reasonably capable service will fit my needs just fine.

And of course we’re using the Apple Music service for our tunes. When we switched our phones, we also dumped Verizon in favor of T-Mobile. One nice thing about T-Mobile is, they have free music streaming. So that’s what I end up listening to in my car most of the time.

Build complete

Got the new machine built and running.

I reconsidered the RAM and went with 16GB RAM instead of 8GB. The i5 processor I went with is pretty high-end (for an i5). So I didn’t want to hinder the performance of the box by shorting it on the RAM. And 16GB is the max for this motherboard (cheap motherboard).

I am using a 120GB SSD as my boot drive and a 1TB HD for extra storage.

I had to send the original case back and get a replacement. A number of the plastic tabs that held the front panel on were broken. Luckily there was no issue with the RAM (I was worried). NewEgg was very good about it.

The internal wifi adapter I bought proved to be very problematic. It had significant driver issues with Linux (and Windows too according to the unfavorable reviews). So I opted instead for a wireless bridge. That way all I need to deal with is the wired LAN adapter. I got a 4-port dual-band 802.11n bridge. It will connect our whole office to the router in the living room. And I even managed to position the two so that they are pretty much line-of-sight with no obstructions. That should be quite reliable.

After a lot of back and forth I decided I will run Fedora on it. I know I change my mind on this sort of thing almost as often as my underwear, but I’m hoping to sit still on this choice for awhile.

One of the problems with the Haswell chip on-board graphics is drivers. That chip is so new that a number of Linux distributions do not support the graphics on it yet. I was initially going to run Debian. No support. Then I thought it might be a lot of fun to run FreeBSD again. Got it all installed. No support for my graphics.

I could run a *buntu derivative, but I figured Fedora should be fun. Arch would be ok, but I don’t really need that level of frustration with getting basic things to work. So Fedora it is.

After placing my order for the new machine I decided to sell a few things on Ebay to offset the cost. The processor I went with was about 4 times the price of the Celeron I was initially going to go with. And changing my mind on the RAM cost a bit as well. So I sold my recently-purchased Chromebox and my Kenwood hand-held ham radio that was rarely-used.

Long time coming

I think I finally came to a solution for my restlestness regarding my computer setup at home. One reason why I found myself frequently switching operating systems on my machines was because I simply didn’t have enough machines.

I love running and playing with Linux. But I also need a Windows machine that is pretty much full-time Windows. I need that for the rare thing that Linux can’t do, as well as to run a few daemons that are Windows-only.

And unfortunately I just added to the reasons why I can’t get along without Windows by buying another iPod. I got it mainly for the purpose of listening to podcasts. Podcasts certainly work best if iTunes is left running so that it can download them automatically in the background. And it would rather suck to have to re-boot a dual-boot machine back into Windows every day or two just to update the podcasts and sync with my iPod.

So if I need a dedicated always-on Windows machine, my Dell all-in-one is by far the best answer. First, a desktop machine is way better to have up 24/7 than a laptop. And the Dell has never been happy dual-booting thanks to the UEFI mess. Unfortunately that leaves only my laptop for running Linux on.

The laptop will run with the lid closed while allowing the use of two external monitors plus keyboard/mouse. But that’s not a very good solution for what is supposed to be my main machine. I really want my main desktop machine to be… well, a desktop machine.

And even if I wanted to dual-boot Linux and Windows with my Dell all-in-one, it’s really problematic thanks to it’s goofy UEFI “bios”. It was really meant to run Windows 8. Although it is too bad that Linux doesn’t handle that better.

So the answer??… well… build a new machine of course! So today I ordered the parts for a fairly bare-bones desktop machine. I already have two monitors and a 1TB hard drive. So it wasn’t horribly painful. It will be an Intel i5 with 8GB of RAM. Although it’s not a high-end machine, it will easily out-perform anything we have now.

I could double the RAM down the road. But really, Linux is pretty darn happy with just 8GB. I even have a spare SSD that I could use for the operating system.

Sounds like fun ahead!

New strategy

I came up with a new strategy for my computer configuration(s). I do this a lot. And it’s not necessarily because what I’m doing isn’t working. I often change things around just due to boredom.

I’d already decided that I don’t really like dual-booting. So each of the machines will have only one bootable operating system. No virtual machine wussiness. Just bare metal booting.

  1. My first machine is a Core-i5 laptop with 8GB RAM and a 750GB HD. This will run Windows 8.1. It has enough room for all my data. It will mostly be unused, but will come in handy when I need to do something that Linux or Chrome OS won’t do. So far, photo printing is the only thing I care about that is on that list. And that need is so rare, not a big deal.
  2. My second machine is an Acer C720 Chromebook. This will be a good on-the-go laptop with 8+ hours of battery life and zero maintenance. Typically I’d grab this when going somewhere over my Windows laptop due to those factors.
  3. My third machine is an ASUS Chromebox with a 23″ monitor. It will sit in the kitchen/front room. This will be a spare computer with zero maintenance. Great for looking up recipes, browsing, or being near my wife while she’s out there doing something.
  4. My fourth and main machine is a 23″ all-in-one with a 23″ second monitor. This will be my geek machine. It will run the Linux “flavor of the week”.

One nice thing about the geek machine. I don’t need it. If I mess it up and it’s not operational I can just hop on another. That’s one advantage to having all my data in the cloud.

So last night I bit the bullet and installed Arch Linux on my geek machine. This was exciting for several reasons.

  • Arch Linux is known to be challenging. That means I’m not as likely to get bored with it. And the fact that this will help me learn stuff is a bonus.
  • I wanted to replace my current Linux Mint installation on LVM with Arch Linux without losing my data on other LVM volumes. That made a tricky install even more tricky.
  • Of course the main reason it was exciting is because I was successful at installing it last night, without losing data. And by this morning it’s all mostly functional.

For those of you not familiar with Arch Linux… this is a totally do-it-yourself version of Linux. It comes with no GUI or anything installed. You have to roll your own. For example, I had to download, install, and configure a program just to set the desktop background image! There are a zillion little single-purpose programs that are required to do all sorts of things that most computer users take for granted.

This may be more work to set up… but the opportunities for customization are endless. There are typically no two Arch Linux systems that are setup the same. And of course the tinkering is at least half the fun.

I’m not sure if anyone actually reads this blog. But you may notice in past entries… my relationship with Linux is a bit of a love/hate thing. It’s fun. I love setting it up and playing with it. But there is no doubt that it’s really not a good replacement for Windows. Unless of course you lower your expectations to where Linux will actually meet them.

This is sort of what I did when buying my two Chrome OS devices. With all my data in the Google cloud… I can survive in Chrome OS. And if I can survive in Chrome OS, I can definitely survive with Linux.