Saturday, December 19, 2015

The 12/19 Democratic Debate

I watched it all in pieces on YouTube.

O'Malley continues to run for mayor of the U.S.

Hillary Clinton is running hard to maintain the status quo.

Bernie's defiance of the billionaires is inspiring.

They all dropped the ball on gun violence.  Martha Raddatz asked, in the event sales of assault weapons could be stopped, what could be done about the 7 million or so that are already out there.  Would the candidates advocate confiscating those guns?  Of course, no one would touch that possibility.  If any of them had given real thought to the issue, it would have been simple to point out that confiscation is not needed.  Once you stop the sales, the next obvious step, as Australia has shown, is to set up a buy-back program to get the guns off the street.  Whatever the cost, it has to be cheaper than dealing with 30,000 gun deaths a year in this country.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ninth Life

Richard is twenty years old.   He is clearly less agile than when he was younger, but he still gets around pretty well.  Cats seem to have good memories and they are fast learners when they choose to be.  It does not seem that Richard wastes time fretting over past indiscretions or what may come in the future.  He lives in the moment.

For most of his long life Richard has enjoyed the devoted attention of our female cat, Rio, though he is never the one to initiate these close encounters.  They argue occasionally, but they work things out.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Picturing Time

I snapped this shot on a recent visit to the El Morro National Monument in northwest New Mexico:

When I was back home the next day, I found in a quick web search that Alexander Gardner had made a picture while standing at nearly the same spot in 1868:

Wikipedia -- Photo by Alexander Gardner
Aside from the coincidence, the really interesting thing in comparing the two images is the difference in the vegetation.

The oasis at El Morro was used by many cultures over a period of centuries, so it is possible that the surroundings were denuded of trees by people's needs for wood for construction and fire making.  It is also conceivable that the management of the runoff from the cliffs and protection of the surroundings have allowed new growth without precedent.  Hard to say for sure.

Here are a few more shots made on our last visit to the site:

We stayed the night about a mile down the road from El Morro at a charming little cabin behind the Ancient Way Cafe:

The El Morro site is also know as Inscription Rock due to the many ancient petroglyphs and more recent graffiti which adorn the sandstone cliffs.  The light on this visit was not conducive to making images of the rock art, but I did get some pictures of it on a previous visit:

Two Views of the Education Dilemma

Free Tuition Is Not the Answer
By Catharine Hill

Bernie Sanders’s ‘College for All’ Plan Is Fair, Smart and Achievable
By Heather Gautney and Adolph Reed Jr.

Catherine Hill's essay is an op-ed that appeared in the NY Times on Nov. 30th.  In my opinion Hill's presentation is deceitful and dishonest in that it presents a straw man argument which misrepresents Sanders' proposals for educational reform.  Though she does not admit her partisanship, Hill is clearly making a case for support  of the Clinton candidacy under the banner of the NY Times, and she is basing it on Hillary's line in the last debate about providing Trump's children with a tuition-free education at tax-payer expense.  The problem with that concept, as I pointed out in the previous post, is that it conveniently ignores the fact the American middle class is already paying for the one-percent's access to higher education along with all the other perks granted to them by a money-corrupted political/economic system.

The article by Bautney and Reed which appeared in The Nation places the Sanders education proposals in their proper political and economic context and demonstrates that "Sanders’s College for All offers a way out of a corrupt system that ensnares masses of young people in the prison of debt..."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Speaking Truth to Power

On a Saturday night the audience for the Democratic Debate was predictably meager.  Those who did tune in, however, got a revealing look at the three current contenders for the nomination.

Bernie Sanders came out looking strong and confident by choosing to emphasize his fundamental differences with Clinton.  He was unequivocal in asserting that health care, economic security and educational opportunity are fundamental human rights.  Sanders' did a good job of countering Clinton's effort to undercut him on the issue of gun control by stressing the importance turning down the heat of that part of the debate, and looking for common ground in common sense.

O'Malley polished his liberal credentials by pointing out Clinton's inconsistencies and by bashing Trump's bombastic racism.  When it came to remedies, however, he offered little beyond platitudes.  Realistically, there is zero chance that he will be the nominee in this election.  If O'Malley stays in the race through the initial primaries, it will likely be based on the idea that, of the three current contenders, he is the only one young enough to still be in the running in 2020.

Hillary pushed the right emotional buttons to maintain her standing with women and minorities.  She had no answer to Sanders' confronting her with her debts to her Wall Street backers; her effort to link her acceptance of big money backing to 9-11 seemed like a rather pathetic imitation of G.W. Bush.  She looked more self-confident in talking about the complexities of dealing with the radical Islamist challenge, but also showed no originality in proposing how to deal with that issue.

The most revealing aspect of the debate in regard to Clinton was her response to Sanders' proposal that a college education should be universally available at no direct cost to students and their families.  She replied that she did not think that the American people should be asked to pay for Trump's children to go to college.

Media pundits will praise Clinton's smirking response as a an effective zinger while ignoring the fact that the American people are already paying for Trump's kids to go college, as well as for Trump's private jet and any number of other of his billionaire perks based on a broken tax system.  To be fair, the same should be said of Chelsea's stint at Stanford because, as Trump has pointed out, the Clinton's and the Trumps travel in the same circles.  In the end, what Clinton is really asking of the American people is that they make a rather fine distinction between the "bad" oligarchs like Trump and the "good" oligarchs like Bill and Hillary.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Greening the Debate

The Blue Marble—Earth seen by Apollo 17 in 1972
How nice it would be if the 11/14 debate participants would offer up some clear ideas about what can and must be done to combat climate change.  Here is one possibility from the economist, Robert Pollin, layed out in a Boston Review forum article about a year ago:

"Federal building efficiency program. In 2007 Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which mandates that 75 percent of the more than 300,000 buildings owned by the federal government undergo efficiency retrofits. The goal is to reduce energy usage by 30 percent by 2015, relative to 2003 levels. But even though the bill passed with bipartisan support, there has been little progress in bringing the project to scale. By May of this year, only 1,702 buildings had been retrofitted, about 0.3 percent of the number targeted. Yet the government reports that even this modest level of implementation produced $840 million in annual energy savings for taxpayers. Advancing the project would easily save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars per year. It would also demonstrate to private building owners how much they can save through retrofitting."

You would think that the possibility to "...easily save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars per year" would catch to eye of just about any politician, and as Pollin notes the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 did have bipartisan support.  Realistically, though, in view of the vacumn of ideas among the Republican candidates, my expectation would be that all of them would suggest that simply down-sizing government would achieve the same objectives as retrofitting federal buildings.  Of course, the first target on their government hit list would be the Environmental Protection Agency, leaving us no objective way to measure climate damage, or to map out and enforce mitigation efforts.

Friday, October 30, 2015


During a recent visit to a local used books shop I came across a copy of Life in Mexico by Frances Calderón de la Barca.  The book takes the form of a long series of letters written by the author to her family in New York from Mexico.

The story of travel and adventures in 19th Century Mexico begins with the marriage of Frances Inglis to Ángel Calderón de la Barca in 1838 at about the time the Argentine-born aristocrat was appointed to be the first Spanish Ambassador to Mexico following that country's establishment of independence from the Spanish Empire.  They make an arduous trip from New York to Vera Cruz by sailing ship and then travel overland by horse-drawn carriages to the Mexican capital which becomes their base for exploring central Mexico.  Given the author's social position and her husband's diplomatic status, the judgments exhibited regarding Mexican life are not without racial and class biases, but the author nevertheless shows herself to be a keen observer of Mexican society in the troubled times following independence.

Warring creole-led factions contested control of the capital city.  Bandit gangs often ruled large parts of the rural countryside, so that travel was only marginally safe even with armed escort.  In spite of these hazards, Don Calderón and his wife, during the two years of their residence in the country,  managed to navigate the complicated social and political scene with aplomb, and they undertook epic tours of Central Mexico's historic landscapes, often involving many days on horseback over treacherous roads.

In addition to writing letters home to her family about her adventures, Frances and Ángel also maintained a correspondence with the historian, William Prescott, and undertook the acquisition of information crucial to the development of his ground-breaking History of the Conquest of Mexico.  Prescott at one point even sent the couple a complete Daguerreotype outfit for the purpose of recording images of some of the country's historic sites.  That effort, using the recently-invented photographic process, apparently met with little or no success, but the couple was able to provide significant documentation supporting Prescott's quest.  The historian was later able to reciprocate by aiding Frances in the publication of her book, and providing a preface to the first edition.

The importance and difficulties of mail communications is alluded to many times throughout Life in Mexico.  Letters, packages and commercial goods commonly spent a couple months in transit, and each successful arrival was a cause for celebration.  Frances' straight-forward, unadorned writing style was well suited to communicating a good word-based approximation of her adventures and the exotic places she visited.  At the same time, she was clearly conscious of the limitations of the written word and she tried in several ways to communicate a fuller representation of her experience through non-verbal means -- an idea which today would be subsumed by the concept of multimedia.

Daguerreotypy was too new in 1840 to offer any real chance of success to a couple enthusiastic amateurs.  Frances, however, had better luck with a much older, better developed non-verbal communications form, music and musical notation.  In her sixteenth letter Frances recounts a trip by coach which passed the great pyramids of Teotihuacan on the way to the country estate of a friend.  Writing from the hacienda she reports that :

"In the evening here, all assemble in a large hall, the Señora de _____ playing the piano; while the whole party, agents, dependientes, major-domo, coachmen, matadors, picadors, and women-servants assemble, and perform the dances of the country: jarabes, aforrados, enanos, palomos, zapateros, etc., etc."

Frances includes in her letter the verses of three of the popular songs played at the gathering and says: "The music married to the "immortal verse," I have learned by ear, and shall send you."  In the twenty-sixth letter, the scores of three of the pieces played at the hacienda appear as Frances wrote them out.

These episodes of the book which focused on 19th Century Mexican popular music were the most vivid parts of the story for me.  As someone with no musical talent or education, I had never given much thought to scores and notation, thinking of them always to be little more than recipes for reproducing compositions.  What was clear from the stories told by Frances, however, was that musical notation could be used to communicate the sounds of a specific performance, one that took place at a great remove of time and place.  This may seem a trivial observation to those who are musically literate, but I think it is an idea still worthy of some reflection.

The resources which Frances Calderón de la Baca had for reproducing and transmitting sounds involved processes which are identical in fundamental ways to modern sound recording and production.  She had a method for encoding and decoding sounds, a transmission channel, and technical instrumentation for reproducing the recorded sound patterns.  The great difference between then and now, of course, is that a very high level of operator skill in both recording and  performance was required to achieve fidelity in reproduction.

To put those ideas into context, imagine the receipt of the letter containing the musical scores.  It seems very likely that the Frances' New York family would have gone into the music room after dinner.  A relative or friend who was the most skilled pianist, or perhaps the most familiar with Frances' playing style would sit down at the piano, smooth out the letter's paper, prop it on the music holder and play the tunes that Frances and learned and recorded in a far-away place.  I picture her mother closing her eyes briefly and imagining Frances there at the piano.  I propose this scenario with some degree of confidence because I was able to re-enact that scene shortly after finishing the book.  I am not able to play the piano we have in the house, but when Margaret's accomplished piano teacher came by one evening she played the three tunes for me.  So I closed my eyes too for a moment, and Frances was there in the room.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Remembering and Forgetting

John Collier Jr.
I went to a lecture recently which was sponsored by the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology.  The announcements had indicated the presentation would be about the museums photo archives.  As it turned out, the presenter used some photos from the archives, but mostly as illustrations for discussing theories of photography advanced by European philosophers.  At the end of the talk I asked about the museum's holdings related to the work of John Collier Jr.  The lecturer, currently a curator at the museum, replied that the Maxwell had a very large collection of works by Collier, but that no one had worked with the material.  She said she did not know if anyone in the Anthropology or Education departments at UNM was familar with Collier's work or making use of his techniques in regard to photo analysis and education.

The lecturer's answers to my questions left me discouraged about the state of knowledge about one of Twentieth Century America's photo greats.  John Collier Jr. made a lot of great pictures in the early 1940s while working under Roy Stryker at the Farm Security Administration.  Collier continued making photographs in a similar vein for many more years all over the western hemisphere.  At the same time he also began to develop the concepts of Visual Anthropology and applied those concepts to analyzing teaching and learning processes.  Collier taught photography classes as a full professor for many years at San Francisco State.  His accomplishments as a photographer, researcher and teacher seem all the more extraordinary when you consider that he had very limited formal schooling, due in a large part to injuries sustained as a child which left him with physical impairments, dyslexia, hearing loss and impaired speech.

As it turns out, academic engagement with Collier's work was not as dismally scant as the lecturer had averred.  While browsing the web for information about Collier I stumbled on an interactive presentation about Collier's war-time work with the FSA.  The web pages were the product of a grant project conducted under the auspices of the Maxwell Museum and The College of Education's Technology & Education Center (TEC) at UNM in 2006.  The project's director was Catherine Baudoin, who at the time was the Maxwell's Photographic Collections Curator.  The on line presentation was organized as an interactive lesson plan enabling exercises in interpretation of war-time photo uses by the U.S. government using posters, photo archives and video resources.  To support the lesson plan activities, Baudoin uploaded about 400 of Collier's FSA images to the Flickr photo sharing site where they are still available for viewing.

Unfortunately, Baudoin's web pages had become detached from the Maxwell web site over the years; there is no link there now to the Collier work; the Photo Curator position seems to have evaporated, and Baudoin's name is nowhere to be found.  My guess would be that the skimpy and rather disorganized Maxwell web site is symptomatic of budgetary deficiencies which have focused the institution's efforts more on conservation of holdings rather than on sustaining a coherent educational mission incorporating up-to-date technological communications resources.

Luckily, modern search engine technology compensates for a lot of academic entropy.  Here are some useful  links to information I have come across on the web and elsewhere:

Far from Main Street:Three Photographers in Depression-Era New Mexico (link to Amazon)
A very fine collection of photos along with essays about the FSA/OWI work of  Russell Lee, John Collier Jr. and Jack Delano.  The cover photo is by Collier.  "All photographs are selected from the Pinewood Collection of New Mexico FSA Photographs, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico ... Prints were made from original negatives generously loaned by the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division."

Oral History Interview with John Collier, 1965 January 18 Conducted by Richard K. Doud
Amazing insights into the personalities and operations of the FSA/OWI under Stryker.  The first part of the interview is accessible as an on line audio clip, and it gives a good idea of the expressive challenge which Collier over-came and even turned to an advantage during his long career as a photographer, researcher and educator.

John Collier, Jr.: Anthropology, Education and the Quest for Diversity
by Ray Barnhardt, Center for Cross-Cultural Studies, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
An authoritative, first-person appreciation of Collier's work with Eskimo and Navajo students and teachers as well as with a diverse urban school system in San Francisco.

Photographing Navajos: John Collier Jr. on the Reservation, 1948-1953
by C. Stewart Doty, Dale Sperry Mudge, and Herbert John Benally Photographs by John Collier Jr.
(link to Amazon)

The authors tracked down photo archives of Collier's Navajo work in Pennsylvania and Nova Scotia and then interviewed family members of the people depicted by Collier in the Four Corners area.  The photos in the book illustrate the techniques developed by Collier to elicit social and cultural information by showing photographs to informants depicting their own social and physical environments.  The text and illustrations provide a nice followup to the study of the Navajo conducted by Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton in the 1930s and 1940s.  Right after the publication of Photographing Navajos the Collier family made the decision to donate their collection of Collier's work to the Maxwell Museum.  The book's introduction notes that "The collection includes fifty years of photographs, film and video, field notes, daybooks, and correspondence."

* * *
John Collier Jr., Bureau with Portraits and Mementos
(and self portrait), Picuris Pueblo, NM, ca. 1945

Friday, October 23, 2015

what now?

Webb and Chafee are out of the running. O'Malley will likely hang in through the Iowa and New Hampshire debates.  That leaves mostly Clinton and Sanders to duke it out five more times, with a possible sixth encounter at the the MoveOn forum.  There is some pressure from the non-Clinton wing to expand the number of debates, but it is a little hard to imagine that the Dems could gain enough of a national media audience to support additional debates unless they moved to the carnival freak show format that the Republicans have opted for.

Clinton's debate objective will be to undercut Sanders by cherry-picking issues that help her to shore up her credentials with the party's left wing.  She will continue to hammer him on gun control until -- if and when -- she gets the nomination, and then she'll evolve to a more moderate position.  Clinton will likely make references to the Supreme Court's money in politics position, but she'll say nothing which will seriously  irritate her big bucks backers.  Neither Clinton nor Sanders will have anything substantive to say about the Israel-Palestine confrontation.

Sanders' task now is to counter the Clinton/big-media story line that the race is already over before the first primaries.  His email campaign is presently focused on showing his consistent civil rights stance over a period of many years with an eye toward gaining more traction with blacks, hispanics and the LGBT communities.  Those efforts are no doubt based on accurate perceptions of the lay of the land, but Sanders will also need to come up with better answers than he had available in the first debate regarding his economic analysis and specific and credible remedies.  To is credit, Sanders is the only one in the race who consistently alludes to the fact that achieving the presidency does not translate to leading the way to real changes without the support of millions of Americans -- that is, the achievement of a progressive majority in Congress.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Who won the debate?

The Big Media conclusion is summed up by the latest Washington Post headline: "Clinton, judged winner of debate, holds big national lead over Sanders".

The second portion of that headline is a non-starter; Clinton had a big lead in the polls over Sanders going into the debate and there seems to have been no change in their relative positions afterward.  As for Clinton's being judged "winner of debate" that depends very much on who is doing the judging and what the criteria are.

My impression regarding Clinton's performance was that much of what she said in this first debate was a response to the Sanders challenge.  Bernie has moved the discussion off center to the left, and Hillary is adopting talking points that appeal to that portion of the electorate that Sanders has invigorated.

The questions that must be asked are: does Clinton really believe in the issues she now seems to be championing and even if she does, what are the chances that the positions she are advocating will result in major changes if she takes the presidency?

Clinton's statements about gun control are usefully illustrative.  A clear objective in this instance was to undercut Sanders by adopting a stance on the issue to his left.  In the short run, she probably did gain some ground in regard to the primary election.  What about the general election?  Would her position on gun control evolve?  And, if she gets in office, what are the chances that she will lead the way to substantial changes in regard to gun violence?

In my opinion, Clinton did nothing in the debate to bolster her credibility or to change the perception that she would be unlikely to rock the establishment's boat if elected.  She certainly did not advance seriously strong support for getting big money out of the election process.

Bernie Sanders, in contrast, clearly believes in the positions he has advocated over a lifetime in politics.  He brought those convictions to a national stage in the debate and he forced the Democratic establishment and the country to confront the real issues of election financing reform,  rising economic inequality, inadequate health care, diminishing educational opportunity, and endless wars.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Backing Bernie

I have made some small donations in the past to environmental causes, but this is the first time that I have contributed money to an individual political candidate.  My thirty bucks went to support the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders.

I like Sanders' focus on wealth and income inequality and his proposed remedies.  His proposals for reforming health care and education if enacted would put the U.S. back into a position of leadership in the developed world rather than bringing up the rear as is now the case..

Of equal importance to all the other policy proposals is Sanders' demand that the distortions of the democratic process caused by big money be eliminated.  Sanders is the only major party candidate who has turned away super pacs in favor of small donors, and he has mounted a credible challenge to all the rest who have not found the courage to follow his lead.

While it is widely agreed that the Supreme Court decision on campaign financing has undermined popular democracy, it should also be recognized that the decision does not require any candidate to accept super pac support.  There are clearly great hurdles to turning back the lure of big money to campaigns via legislative channels, but it seems given Sanders' example that it would be much more productive to simply demand of any candidates for office that they reject super pac funding.

Friday, August 14, 2015


I'm always on the lookout for programs that run well on my old hardware.  My latest good find is the K-Meleon web browser, a Mozilla off-shoot.  Here's a snippet from the homepage:

K-Meleon - The Browser You Control

K-Meleon is an extremely fast, customizable, lightweight web browser based on the Gecko layout engine developed by Mozilla which is also used by Firefox. K-Meleon is Free, Open Source software released under the GNU General Public License and is designed specifically for Microsoft Windows (Win32) operating systems

* * *
I have the browser running on my old Compaq laptop with a Pentium III and a gig of memory for Windows XP.  It loads as quiickly as Opera, and it runs quite a bit faster than Firefox.  The browser is fully compliant with modern standards, and the interface is familiar to anyone using any of the other currently popular browsers.  K-Meleon delivers particularly impressive performance in running youtube videos, showing no degradation of the video or audio streams.

I recently refurbished a Dell Inspiron 6400 with the dual core processor and 2 gigs of RAM.  It is fast enough to run the Chrome browser well, but is seemed worthwhile to try K-Meleon too.  I don't see much difference between the two in this case..  With both the Dell and the old Compaq, I am running the currently next-to-last version (75.) with Win XP on the Compaq and Windows Vista on the Dell.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Budget Networking

I downloaded the Apache web server and installed it on the $5 computer seen in the back row of the above picture.  I copied all of my photography web site files into Apache's htdocs folder and started the program as a service under Windows 2000.  Everything worked perfectly with no changes to the Apache configuration file.  I opened port 80 in my router, making the web site visible from anywhere on the web.  

The blue screen over on the left is my Dell Pecision 690; it is running Handylinux in a virtual machine under Windows XP.  Opening port 22 on my router lets me access Handylinux remotely through the secure shell program.  To test that arrangement I took the Compaq laptop on the right down to the Old Town Plaza where there is a free city internet connection.  I fired up Tiny Core Linux, opened a terminal window and typed in "ssh mike@(my router ip address) -Y" to establish the connection.  

That "-Y" at the end of the ssh command allowed me to run virtually any program on Handylinux in a window on the laptop, including the graphics.  In fact, it is even possible to run programs that cannot normally be run on the Compaq with its old Pentium III cpu because the heavy lifting is being done by Handylinux on the Dell desktop and the laptop just has to handle the display.  So, I can have Firefox, Chromium and any number of other gui heavyweights operating on the the old laptop screen.

I was particularly pleased to get the ssh connection going because I had previously been unsuccessful in doing so.  I had been able to easily make standard terminal connections with quite a few Linux and Windows systems, but I just couldn't get the X11 graphics enabled.  I finally hit on the idea of trying a connection to Handylinux, and that did the trick, along with the use of the "-Y" option in the ssh command line.  It seems that the out-of-the-box ssh configuration in Handylinux is up to the task while none of the others were.  So, my next task is to compare the Handylinux configuration file to some of the others.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The $5+ Computer

As related in a previous post, my efforts to salvage a 15-year-old laptop computer purchased for $5 at a thrift store were successful.  The Windows 2000 operating system is still quite functional, though a little slow for web browsing.  Still, the project has provided me with some real satisfaction, perhaps similar to that which one might get from putting an antique car back on the road.  For everyday practical use, however, both the jalopy and the computer need some souping up.

The Dell does Linux with a little help.

Another trip to the thrift store turned up a $3 optical mouse with a PS2 connector that frees up the one available USB port.  On ebay I found a floppy drive for 3.5-inch disks for $10 that connects to the computer via the parallel port and provides a way to boot up another operating system, getting around the fact that the old Dell doesn't know how to boot from the USB port.  I burned a copy of  the PLOP boot manager onto a floppy and am able to use that to coax the computer into booting to a linux live system contained on a usb flash drive.

Tiny Core Linux running inside a vbox virtual machine on my desktop

There are several linux live systems available which are compatible with the storage and memory capabilities of old computers.  SliTaz, Porteus and Puppy Linux all run well in small amounts of Random Access Memory (RAM).  However, the smallest -- and in many ways the best, I think -- is Tiny Core Linux which only occupies 10MB of space on a usb stick and unpacks into as little as 48MB of RAM.  The base system loads entirely into memory and is blazingly fast as a result.  The distribution is equipped with a spare, but functional FLWM GUI desktop and the basic linux utilities you need to get started, including ethernet capability.  A huge software repository is available on line and applications or extensions can be downloaded and installed with just a couple mouse clicks.  Saving settings, files and installed extensions, a feature referred to as persistence, is particularly trouble-free in Tiny Core provided you use the Core2usb installer which can be downloaded from the site.

Links 2.8 was tested first in the virtual machine before installing on the live usb system.

Configuring a basic, fully functional Tiny Core system can be accomplished by anyone with only the slightest familiarity with open source software.  Tailoring the system to meet your own requirements will take a little more effort and experience, and likely several fresh starts.  The choice of a web browser, for instance,  is crucial as it tends to occupy a relatively large amount of memory space.  Firefox runs just fine on my slightly newer Compac laptop with a gig of RAM, but the mozilla is kind of a clunky choice for the Dell with just 256MB.  My own choice for a small-footprint browser is Links 2.8, a text-based web viewer with pretty good graphics capabilities.  Links tends to iron out complicated web site designs and present them in single columns; and you aren't going to be viewing any youtube videos of dancing cats with it.  However, most sites will load in a fraction of a second, and it really doesn't take very long to get used to the trade-off.  Links also doesn't set any cookies and will ignore efforts to track you by advertisers.  In fact, I think one is losing very little in the way of useful information by using Links at the great majority of web sites.

$ $ $

My impression is that fully half of what is presented on line is either graphic frills or attempts to manipulate you into buying stuff.  The corollary to that is that half of the money you are spending on hardware and software is buying the privilege of being tracked and deceived.  That said, I should probably point out that I don't do social media of any kind, and I almost never feel the need to click on video links.  So, your mileage may vary from mine.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Every few years I troll through the offerings of the major Linux distributions and their variants.  When I did that a couple years ago, the outstanding find for me was Puppy Linux, which is a very light-weight distribution that runs well on old, underpowered hardware.  I still use a couple versions of Puppy as it fits my hardware profile, but it is getting difficult to find up-to-date applications for it such as web browsers.  So, back to the hunt.

And the winner is:


HandyLinux is protrayed by its designers as being especially suitable for Linux neophytes.  That's no doubt true, but once past the simplified graphical menu system, the underlying Linux system is as powerful and versatile as any of the more traditional Linux distributions.  In terms of speed of loading, responsiveness and adaptability to a wide range of hardware capabilities, HandyLinux blows everything else out of the water.  As I write this, HandyLinux has arrived a its 2.1 version after several years of development; it provides access to a vast array of applications, and it has an overall  design characterized by supreme elegance with just a trace of arrogance, as one would expect of a product from a French design team.

My first eye-opening experience with HandyLinux came after downloading a copy of the iso file and writing the image to a 2 gig USB stick using the free Universal USB Installer.  I then set my computer to boot from usb, and the program loaded itself into memory and took off like a rocket.  Having just looked at around a dozen other relatively new Linux distributions it was very clear to me that the designers  behind those efforts really need to use HandyLinux as their initial point of reference.

Running the live usb version of the program permits you to do a lot of useful work; a full array of applications is present, including an up-to-date version of FireFox called Iceweasel.  If, however, you want to save work or install additional apps, you probably want to do a full installations of the program.  That is very easily done with a completely automated routine available on the initial splash screen.

I'm not ready to give up my existing Windows system on my desktop machine and I don't particularly like dual-boot solutions.  My strategy for moving forward with a more substantial installation of HandyLinux was to do a full installation within a hypervisor or virtual machine, allowing the full Linux system to run inside of Windows.  For this purpose, I downloaded Oracle's VirtualBox and, thanks to its very easy graphical interface, I had a completely enabled HandyLinux system running in a matter of minutes.  Windows XP and HandyLinux don't seem to mind much when I split my RAM in two to run them simultaneously, and it is very nice to be able to flip easily from one operating system to the other by just a movement of the mouse.

The one serious hitch I encountered in the whole process of running HandyLinux with VirtualBox was that I could not summon up a window for HandyLinux larger than 1024 x 768.  It turns out that to get HandyLinux to occupy your PC's fullscreen capability, you need to install some VirtualBox Guest Additions which enable connections to your hardware including video management.  Try as I might, however, I was initially unable to get the Guest Additions installed in spite of the seeming simplicity of the process as described in the documentation.

Poking around on the Web I could see that a lot of other users of HandyLinux and other modern distributions were encountering the same problem in getting VirtualBox and Linux to cooperate at the hardware level.  There were a lot of solutions offered, but none really seemed to fit the current versions of the the two programs.  What finally got me on the right track was an article entitled How to install Virtualbox Guest Additions for a Linux Guest?.  In order to make that recommended procedure work, I also had to reset the HandyLinux root passward using the "passwd" command within the rescue mode which is accessible from the initial login screen in HandyLinux.  So, now I've got the best of two worlds, and I'm enjoying the exploration of the extraordinary capabilities offered by the elegant and functional HandyLinux environment.

Friday, June 12, 2015

geeky diversion

The 5-dollar price tag on this old Dell laptop caught my eye while I was browsing in the back room of the local thrift shop.  

The computer, a Dell Latitude CSx, had a power supply with it, so I plugged it into a wall outlet and was surprised to see the screen light up with Windows 2000.  At that price I just couldn't pass it up.

A few problems presented when I got my find home.  The first being that there was a log-in screen demanding an unknown password.  I figured I could get by that via the set-up utility accessed by pressing the F-8 function key as the computer is in the bootup stage.  Except that there was a diagonal row of keys that did not work, including the F-8 key.  So, another trip to another thrift store where I picked up a 2-dollar keyboard with a PS2 connector.  That let me get at the setup screen and I was able to set a new Administrator password and get myself into Windows 2000.

So far, so good, but it's awkward to carry around a full-size desktop keyboard along with a laptop.  I opened up the case to get at the keyboard and found that the keys were a very simple mechanical type which did not appear to have anything wrong with them.  In fact, I found that just lifting the keyboard slightly restored the full functioning of all the keys, so it was clear that the problem was with the ribbon cable connecting the keyboard to the main board.  A small paper shim tightened the connector on the keyboard-end of the cable and I was back in business with Windows 2000 running on a Pentium III.  Wow!

Dell's approach was to market a basic machine with peripherals and accessories that attached via external connectors.  Luckily, mine came with a card with a pop-out ethernet connector.  I am also able to attach a wifi adapter with the single usb port on the back.

A Pentium III processor and 256K of RAM is a pretty minimal machine these days for any kind of on-line work.  The current version of Google's Chrome browser will not run on such a set-up, but Firefox works ok and an older version of Opera is even a little quicker.  Looking back fifteen years, however, this was a pretty nice little machine at the time.  The Microsoft Office applications including Word all work fine and would have been perfectly adequate in a transitional business environment in which producing end-user paper copy was still the dominant paradigm. Windows 2000 was a product of Microsoft's NT system which was really a revolutionary step forward, providing the basis for much of what we can do today with personal computers.  I doubt I'll actually get a lot of use from this old laptop, but I got at least five bucks of fun from restoring it, and it provided a good opportunity to look back fifteen years to near the beginnings of the digital revolution.

The Dell Latitude just has one slot for RAM and I believe that the max it could take was 512K.  I'll keep my eyes open for the 512 replacement for my 256K so I can see how much of a difference that would yield in performance.  I have an old Compaq Evo N600c with similar specs and it does very well on the web with a gig of RAM and running Windows XP.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Killer Heels

No one who has met me would mistake me for a fashionista.  However, I really liked the current show at the Albuquerque Museum, Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe.