Random Thoughts about the Affordable Care Act

Unless you have been living under a rock these days, you know that this week, the United States Supreme Court ruled (5-4) in favor of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more popularly known as "Obamacare". What shocked everybody was that Chief Justice John Roberts was in the majority of that ruling. Basically, he and other Justices reinterpreted the clause about the ACA mandating the purchase of health insurance as being a tax rather than forced commerce. In addition, the only major setback to the ACA was the striking down of the clause saying (if I understand this correctly) that states must expand Medicaid coverage to cover low-income people who would otherwise be unable to afford the mandated insurance or else forgo funding for health care entirely. (Please note that I am not anything close to a legal scholar. The following constitutes little more than random mumbling, so you don't have to take it for more than that.)


Revisited: SolusOS 1.1 "Eveline"

This is the follow-up to this review. At the time, the 64-bit edition had not been released, and I was unable to install packages in the live system probably due to a bad USB writing procedure by that particular version of MultiSystem that I was using at that time. For this post, I tried the 64-bit edition of SolusOS 1.1 "Eveline" using a live USB made with UnetBootin. Because I am simply discussing whether installation of my preferred packages worked, I will keep it short and sweet.

Using the Synaptic Package Manager to install the Linux Mint Menu and Redshift worked, and those packages started and worked fine too. Also, as SolusOS 1.1 "Eveline" is based on Debian 6 "Squeeze", the Mupen64Plus package in the repository is version 1.5, so I was able to install and use that fine too.
Google Talk was not in the repository, but that is generally to be expected. I was able to install and use it through the DEB file fine.
SolusOS uses Nautilus Elementary, but interestingly, Gloobus-Preview is not present. As SolusOS is not based on Ubuntu, installing Gloobus-Preview is nontrivial, so I would like to see that included in the future. Then again, SolusOS 2 will have GNOME 3 and has GNOME Sushi (which is basically the same sort of thing as Gloobus-Preview) in a repository already, so given that SolusOS 2 will not be released more than a few months from now or so, this is probably not a big issue.
Skype, at version 4, was the bad apple here. Neither the static DEB file from the website nor the package from the repository worked. I mean, the package installed fine in both instances, but in both cases Skype refused to start, throwing an error (that I think I have seen before) about the inability to load some critical shared library. Unfortunately, searching in the SolusOS forums yielded the same question with not much of an answer, and the suggestions made for users of Debian 6 "Squeeze" on various websites did not work either, as Skype continued to throw the same error.

The lack of a working Skype means that I would not install SolusOS 1.1 "Eveline" on my computer. I do hope though that it works better on SolusOS 2. In fact, I am downloading and trying out SolusOS 2 Alpha 5 right now.


Long-Term Review: Because Now I Can

I am doing a UROP on campus this summer (as opposed to last summer, when I interned at NIST), and it is a continuation of my UROP from the last two semesters concerning photonic crystals. This summer, my ultimate goal is to be able to use MEEP finite-difference method simulations to recreate the spontaneous emission spectrum of a particular photonic crystal structure of great interest to the research group in which I am working.

To do that, I create the simulations as programs written in the Scheme programming language (a derivative of Lisp) and executed through MEEP. These actual steps are done on a cluster of computers, so the laptop computer that I have been using at my office is merely a terminal for the cluster. Because that laptop runs Microsoft Windows XP, there is no built-in way to SSH into the cluster, so I have to use a UNIX-like terminal emulator for Microsoft Windows; in my case, I use SecureCRT combined with XWin32 for graphical programs like Gedit and Geeqie. Unfortunately, that laptop is at least 7 years old (judging from its hardware specifications and thickness), and with Microsoft Windows XP, it is certainly showing its age; last semester it worked just fine, but a few days ago, it started choking trying to run Mozilla Firefox/Adobe Reader, LibreOffice Calc, and SecureCRT simultaneously. I asked my UROP faculty advisor if I could use a much newer desktop in the office that I use that no one else seems to be using, and he was fine with that; I even asked him if I could run Linux on it, and given that my previous UROP postdoc advisor (in the same research group) ran Ubuntu and helped other people set up Linux for work computers, he was fine with that too.

This presents a unique opportunity for me this summer with regard to this blog, and that's where the title comes in. One of the most common complaints about the reviews I do here is that they use the live session without trying the installation on real hardware at all. Also, because I usually only test the live session, the actual amount of time I spend is not more than a few hours spread over two days or so. Now, I have finally secured the official go-ahead to do with the computer whatever I feel is useful, so I will attempt to take more time to test some distributions (now as an installed session on real hardware) that I have said before that I would have no problem installing, because I want to see just how true of a statement that is. The computer in question is probably not more than 3 years old; it is a Dell desktop with a 64-bit Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 320 GB hard drive, and an ATI graphics card (though I am not sure if the graphics card is integrated or dedicated).

Given the amount of time I have left this summer to work, I intend to test each distribution for between 7-10 days of work, though that may change depending on my schedule and if a given distribution really does not work out. I have already installed Chakra 2012.05 "Archimedes", so that will be the subject of the first real "Long-Term Review" post. Each of these posts will be updated with a daily label detailing any changes, bugs, or other things that I notice. Each post will also have a "Day 0" label at the top sort of revisiting the live session like I normally do to set up my ideal desktop once more. At the end of the testing session (again, 7-10 days), I will publish the full post. While the "Day 0" section will basically be like a full review all over again, the following days' sections will be shorter. It doesn't take a long time to see if my favorite applications work or not, but it does take longer to really feel comfortable with the desktop, look for bugs and quirks, and make sure that upgrades go smoothly. So in these posts, I will really be looking out for details like how well the file manager and panel do stuff that I want them to do on a daily basis, how stable the system is, et cetera, as opposed to simply seeing once if something like Skype works; at my UROP, I only really need a web browser to see some web pages and check email, a PDF viewer to read papers, and a terminal emulator to SSH into the cluster, so I could theoretically settle for something like Ubuntu, but I don't want to waste this opportunity.

Again, I have already started with Chakra. I've always been fond of #!, so I might give that a go too. I'll also give Sabayon a run given that version 9 seemed to work so incredibly well. All of these will be the 64-bit editions because the computer has a 64-bit processor and 4 GB of RAM, so I want to make use of that. That leaves room for a fourth distribution (but probably not more than that); I will have to think about what I want to save for last, and I certainly welcome any comments and suggestions on the matter. Do look out for these posts along with my usual reviews and other random posts.

(UPDATE: Duh. I just realized I could do a long-term test of a prerelease version of SolusOS at the end of summer, and that would be the fourth distribution to test. Hopefully by then a 64-bit beta edition will have been released. I haven't written about it formally, but I have checked out SolusOS 2 Alpha 4, and I'm quite pleased with what I see, especially for an alpha release. Now, I will be able to see if that is really true over a longer period of use on an installed system instead of just a shorter period of use on a live system.)


Review: Sabayon 9 KDE

Main Screen + Kickoff Menu
Over the last several months, I have become a fan of Chakra GNU/Linux. It seems like the best combination out there of stability, newness, and ease-of-use, as it uses KDE and is a rolling-release distribution. But even since before I found out about Chakra, there has been another distribution that aims to do all that, and that is Sabayon.

The last version of Sabayon that I reviewed was version 7, and it has been a while since that review. (If your memory needs refreshing, Sabayon is based on Gentoo and also uses KDE as its primary DE.) Since then, Sabayon has changed its GUI package manager and has of course brought in the usual round of application updates; I think it is now trying harder than ever to appear less amateurish, more professional, and more user-friendly, so we will see how that works out.

I tested [32-bit] Sabayon 9 KDE using a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Featured Comments: Week of 2012 June 17

There were two posts that got several comments each, so I will try to repost a few from each.

Review: Zorin OS 6 Core

Reader DarkDuck said, among other things, "I have done a quick screenshot preview of Zorin OS 6 Core, and my system used much less memory."
Commenter Kryten451 had this bit of support: "Good writeup. I like what they're trying to do with Zorin, and I've tried them last release, and I'll give it another look soon."
Reader Glenn said, "I installed it and it works really well. I like it. I'll d/l the paid version to give them a little support $$. Good job guys..."
Commenter Manic Miner had this to say, among other things: "I'm currently running Zorin 5 on my laptop and despite previous concerns I had about it I really do like it. Version 5 is very stable and the compiz effects are excellent without being too much. (A wee bit of jazz). I might give version 6 a go over the weekend."

Review: Netrunner 4.2 LTS "Dryland" SE

Reader starbuck had this suggestion: "the mic issue seems to be a known problem in ubuntu/kubuntu and is related to settings, so maybe these solutions help with correct setup: http://askubuntu.com/questions/142670/skype-no-mic-under-kde http://community.skype.com/t5/Linux/microphone-does-not-work-with-skype-on-kubuntu-11-04/td-p/73304"
An anonymous commenter said, "Working great for me. I think it's a beautiful distro. Glad I found it."
Another anonymous reader suggested this solution to another problem: "The KDE 4.x series has been tuned and revised a lot from version to version, especially due to plasma active, actually getting faster with each update, so here might be a possible explanation of the resources during testing: If suddenly your system becomes slower, starts acting weird or sluggish and perfomance seems way up, look out for the "nepomuk" icon in systray: It could be that nepomuk has just started indexing your files, which is especially resource hungry in case you just mounted a NAS storage permanently over samba-network with samba-mounter. In this case, you can either suspend indexing or leave it on for your network overnight. Other than that, Netrunner 4.2 runs exceptionally smooth and snappy on my samsung netbook n110 atom with 1GB ram."
Commenter Psychover said, "Netrunner is based on Kubuntu, according to Distrowatch. As far as I remember, Clement ( Founder /Developer of Mint) works in Netrunner project as Blue Systems is the main sponsor of Mint project right now. So I think LM Maya KDE 'll not be a huge difference with this."

Thanks to all those who commented on this past week's posts. This coming week, I intend to have at least one more review out, and if Sabayon 9 works well with UnetBootin, I do intend to review that as well. In any case, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Rebutting the New York Times Review of "A Universe From Nothing"

I was talking to my family today, and they mentioned that this week, Stephen Colbert interviewed physicist/author Lawrence Krauss on The Colbert Report, where he promoted his new book "A Universe From Nothing". They also talked about how they saw a review of this book on the New York Times that seemed rather critical of it, and they suggested that I read that review.

In fairness, I have not read the book, nor have I (yet) watched the interview on that show. But reading this article made me laugh and cringe simultaneously, and I am going to lay out why. I should also say that the book, which is supposed to explain how quantum field theory lays the groundwork for the universe springing from nothing, is for a popular audience. I would say that among the scientific community, the predictions of relativistic quantum field theory have been accepted for decades. Follow the jump to see what else I think about this.


Review: Netrunner 4.2 LTS "Dryland" SE

Main Screen + KMenu
The first and most recent time that I tried out Netrunner, it was in comparison with Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" KDE. At that time, I felt like although Netrunner had a few quirky design choices that I didn't agree with as much, I felt like Linux Mint with KDE just felt too generic, while Netrunner made a conscious effort to improve the user experience of KDE. Now, Netrunner has come out with a new release based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin", and I am in search of something to eventually replace my installation of Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" GNOME, so I am trying out this latest version now.

Netrunner hasn't had a particularly long history, but it has grown quickly. It aims to offer a spruced-up KDE experience, and true to its name, it aims to offer a lot of cloud-based applications as well. The organization behind Netrunner has also sponsored Linux Mint with KDE, and has more recently taken over Kubuntu from Canonical. Given that these three distributions now fall within the same organizational umbrella, and given that I was pretty excited about the prospect of Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" KDE, I'm trying Netrunner to predict what may happen when I try Linux Mint with KDE in (hopefully) the near future.

Given that this could be the distribution for which I have been searching, I tried the 64-bit edition of Netrunner 4.2 LTS "Dryland" SE as a live USB made using UnetBootin (because it seems like MultiSystem on my installed OS is no longer able to reliably create live USB systems, which is a little disappointing). Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Review: Zorin OS 6 Core

Main Screen + "Zorin OS" GnoMenu
I've looked at Zorin OS before, and I liked what I saw then. That was based on Ubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal", and now the new Zorin OS version 6 is based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin", so I'm checking it out.

I haven't paid much attention to Zorin OS until recently because when GNOME 2 was still around, it seemed easy enough to create a Microsoft Windows-lookalike. Now, with GNOME 3, though, that is much more difficult. I saw on DistroWatch a bit about Zorin OS 6 RC, and the release announcement discussed using GNOME 3 and the Avant Window Navigator (AWN) dock with Compiz to recreate the old look. That really piqued my curiosity; that's why I'm doing this review, and because this looks like a possible candidate for long-term residence on my laptop's hard drive, I tried out the 64-bit version and did the more extensive round of tests.

I tried Zorin OS 6 Core 64-bit using a live USB made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Featured Comments: Week of 2012 June 10

There was one post this past week that got a bunch of comments, so I will repost a few of them.

Review: Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" MATE

Reader Fudger said, "I have Linux Mint 13 - 64 bit Mate edition running on 2 machines. Skype installed on both OK via synaptic. Laptop worked OOTB without tweaks, desktop needed microphone tweaking in alsamixer. Desktop has new ATI graphics and I had to add proprietary drivers via command line after fails with Jockey and Synaptic. I followed the simple instructions in a post on the Mint forum. I am very happy with both machines now."
Commenter Erno shared this: "I've tested 1½ weeks both MATE and Cinnamon and found MATE as much more stable. However i won't try too much new themes from websites because i found them eating memory and making system shaking. Last weekend i totally messed MATE and so i have to re-install it on Monday. I really worked fine, it's stable. One interesting thing: after updating Firefox from 12.0 to 13.0 Ubuntu could not bring language packages but Linux Mint Cinnamon and MATE did it. And that was another plus for this great OS named Linux Mint - my favorite."
Reader Michael Freeman had this tip: "There IS an Indicator Applet available for Mate. The problem is that it just loads the basic, included indicators. Any 3rd-party indicators that I've tried to load (such as My-Weather-Indicator) either refuse to show up, or are placed in the Notification Area instead, with limited functionality. That's a major drawback for me, since there are a lot of 3rd party indicators I enjoy and rely on. I'm not sure if there's a tweak that needs to be done somewhere. But at least it does have an Indicator Applet. Cinnamon has none (although a lot of nice Cinnamon applets replace most of that functionality - minus the nice sliding mouse activation you mentioned, sadly). For me, Cinnamon's issues with ATI drivers make it unusable. ATI's proprietary drivers cause problems with an unusably flickering screen on some full-screen graphics heavy programs, such as games, and the Open Source drivers are terribly slow and heat up my laptop like a furnace. So, since Cinnamon is basically crippled on my system, and Mate has a few integration issues (like, but not limited to my example above), I've been forced to use another desktop for now. I've settled on Gnome Classic/Fallback for the time being. It's actually quite good if you get it configured right. It's missing the Mint menu and some functional settings tools (have to go through gconf-editor for some tweaks), but aside from that it has everything that the Gnome 2 desktop had. And the Indicator Applet works better than the older Gnome 2 Indicator Applet did. It even puts the Skype icon on a nice indicator."
Commenter duskfire said, "I'm sure you have heard by now that Skype has received a major update, and they have brought the Linux version up to par (version 4). There's a .deb file that refers to Ubuntu 10.04, but I'm certain you can install it on more recent Linux Mint and Ubuntu editions."

Thanks to all those who commented on that post. I also intended to review Sabayon and/or Mageia for this past week or this coming week, but that won't happen because neither one plays nicely with MultiSystem. I'll see what I can do this week. Anyway, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Review: Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" MATE

Ah yes. I've been wanting to do this review for quite a while now. And now I can! So I will do just that.

Main Screen + Linux Mint Menu
Linux Mint has been my OS of choice for the last 3 years now. For the last 2 years, I have been using Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" GNOME. That will be supported for another year from now, but that also means that I need to start looking into replacements for when the old version loses its official support. I've played around with Cinnamon, but it's still a bit immature and unstable and doesn't quite fit my needs; given that MATE is supposed to be GNOME 2 with the essential components simply renamed, it seems like this would be the best candidate for remaining on my computer's hard drive for the next few years.

I tested the live session of the 64-bit version using a live USB made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see if this is a worthy successor to what I have been using thus far.


Featured Comments: Week of 2012 June 3

There was no "Featured Comments" post last week because there were no comments on the posts from the previous week. This past week, one post got a handful of comments, so I'll repost a few of those.

PCLinuxOS (Kinda) Saved My Laptop

Reader shem suggested, "PXE at bootup is usually for booting via network, so yeah, something happened to your ethernet. Could try go into BIOS, check all settings and save changes, even if none made. If that doesn't help, power off for 20 seconds, go into BIOS again, load default settings or optimized defaults (if available) and save changes, again even if none made. No guarantees that it will work, but definately won't harm to try..."
An anonymous commenter said, "Try the ethernet in Win7. If id doesn't work there then you know that the hardware is the issue."
Reader Mechatotoro had this bit of support: "Congratulations on the recovery of your cherished Mint. PCLinuxOS has also saved me a couple times already and one can't get enough of a good thing. It is now the main system on my laptop. I believe all of us become clumsy when stressed out, so no problem there. Thanks for sharing your story!"
Commenter cirrusuk added this: "pclinuxos will always have a special place in my cyberheart , good stuff on getting everything back on track."

Thanks to all those who commented on this past week's posts. I'm back at MIT now and ready to start my UROP; this also means that I will have time (and USB flash drives) to do normal reviews again, so watch out for those soon. In the meantime, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!


PCLinuxOS (Kinda) Saved My Laptop

Yesterday, I was surfing the web in my room as usual, when some exterminators came to my house and advised that I leave the room while the pesticides were applied. I unplugged my laptop from the wall outlet, forgetting that I had also removed the battery. Whoops.

Today, I was alarmed to see that I could not boot into my Linux Mint system; the OS would give a "no init found" error after the boot splash. First, I had to boot into Microsoft Windows 7; thankfully, that worked as Linux Mint was the OS I was [of course] using when I accidentally unplugged my computer. I looked up the error, and it turns out it's a common one that can be solved by a file system check ("fsck") from a live CD. All the guides I saw recommended using a live CD of the same OS whose hard drive partition is affected, but I had left my live CDs and USB sticks in my dormitory room. Whoops again. What I figured would just be a minor inconvenience turned into a semi-major problem.

First I tried making a Linux Mint live CD from within Microsoft Windows 7. The first attempt failed because I didn't use the right tool to burn the ISO file to the CD. The second attempt failed too, but that is because the live CD would hang during the [very long] boot process after the boot splash screen was done.

After that, I figured it may just be an issue with Linux Mint, so I rummaged through some CDs and found an old Fedora 11 "Leonidas" GNOME live CD. That would also hang right after the boot splash, so at that point I became quite worried that my computer may never be able to work with Linux ever again.

Finally, I found an old PCLinuxOS 2009.2 KDE live CD, and I gave that a shot. To my relief, it worked, although it would not connect to the Internet. I entered "su" into the terminal followed by "fsck -y /dev/sda5" (because my Linux Mint partition is "sda5"), and that seemed to work OK. Rebooting into my installed Linux Mint system worked! I was incredibly happy to see my main OS back in working order and to see that I would not have to resign myself to using Microsoft Windows 7. There are only two lingering issues, and both of them are quite minor. The first is that some odd error message involving "PXE" and "PCI" is displayed for a few seconds just before the GRUB boot menu is displayed, but that goes away on its own anyway. The second, which may be related to the first, is that Linux Mint is apparently no longer able to recognize my laptop's ethernet card, so I must now depend on wireless connections to access the Internet, and I will have to train myself to overcome my aversion to wireless connections stemming from numerous failed attempts by my family to send wireless Internet signals to the very room where I am typing this. Anyway, regardless of the fact that I don't particularly care for the newer versions of PCLinuxOS, I salute [the older version of] PCLinuxOS for doing its job when I needed it most!

(UPDATE: I was a little concerned that this accident may have fried my laptop's ethernet card, so as per some advice posted somewhere online, I unplugged my laptop from everything (power, ethernet, even the USB mouse), and didn't touch it again for the next 16 hours (i.e. from yesterday afternoon until now). For one, that weird error message has disappeared. For another, the ethernet card is now recognized in the "System Profiler and Benchmark" program as well as in the output of the terminal command "lshw -C network", although my laptop refuses to connect to the ethernet. Hooray!)