Review: Chakra 2015.11 "Fermi"

Main Screen + Kickoff Menu
Not only has it been a while since I've done a Linux distribution review on this blog, but it has been an especially long time (over 2.5 years, in fact) since I've looked at Chakra. I figured that now that KDE 5 (technically incorrect terminology, I know, but please bear with me, as I'm using this for the sake of brevity) is being used in Chakra, it may be time to see how a distribution I've rather liked in the past has evolved. In case you don't remember, Chakra was originally based on Arch Linux, but a few years ago, it branched off into its own independent distribution with its own repositories, though certain tools (like the package manager Pacman) are based on things found in Arch Linux. It focuses exclusively on KDE, and it uses a semi-rolling release model in which core system packages are updated less frequently in order to maintain stability, while front-end applications seen by users most often are updated more frequently to provide a competitive desktop experience.

I tried this on a live USB using the "dd" command; as in my review from over 2.5 years ago, neither UnetBootin nor MultiSystem work anymore for reliably creating Chakra live USB media. This wasn't a terribly difficult thing to do, but in any case, the Chakra wiki contains a little more information for people who might need a little more help with these steps (especially if they are new users from Microsoft Windows who are trying a Linux distribution for the first time). Additionally, note that Chakra can only be used on 64-bit computers. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


On Transitioning into Graduate Life, One Year In

This is a post that's more about what's going on in my life right now, so if you would have liked to see a software review or an otherwise more technical/generally topical post, fear not! That shall come in at least one more post this month. This post is more about some thoughts I've had about mentally and socially transitioning to life in graduate school after a little over a year in it, so I just hope that anyone going through a similar transition may find this even mildly interesting. Follow the jump to see more.


FOLLOW-UP: Personal, Corporate, and In-Between Fraud

This is a follow-up to my post from last month about the VW emissions cheating scandal and the case of the arrest of the "clock kid" Ahmed Mohamed.

Regarding the VW emissions cheating scandal, VW executives blamed (link from AP, Reuters, NBC News) "a couple of software engineers". Given how the cheat was pretty much impossible without a collaboration between many engineers of different kinds (mechanical, software, electrical, et cetera), all I can say is the following: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Regarding the case of Ahmed Mohamed, it turns out that he and his family are moving (link from Jessica Contrera, Washington Post) to Qatar, and that this decision was supposedly made less than 24 hours after meeting President Obama in the White House. In my previous post, I pretty much unconditionally defended him against accusations of fraudulent behavior. I still don't believe that he personally would have brought the clock in just to incite the response from the school and police that transpired, because for one, that would require a massive conspiracy, and for another, that absolves the school and police of responsibility for their actions. That said, I am now less sure of his family's actions and motives following the arrest and its initial reporting. Clearly they took advantage of the massive publicity, and while I'm certainly not a fan of that sort of exploitation of publicity, I was hoping that would be the end of the story. Yet now, I can't believe that a Sudanese immigrant family, where the father has run for the presidency of Sudan before, would within the span of 24 hours decide to move to Qatar, unless they already had high-level connections there. My guess now is that while this story would have likely been widely shared regardless of the family's behavior, a lot of the publicity was probably due to the family's influence itself, and they were able to use that to move out to Qatar (and use the story to get the Qatar Foundation to provide Ahmed a scholarship to sweeten the deal). It probably wasn't because of Ahmed's inability to go back to school in his district, because there have been plenty of other cases of kids who have been in situations where they can't go back to school in their home districts because of similar high-profile incidents. In such cases, the family usually moves to another district within the state, another state, or maybe their home country if they immigrated here, as opposed to a totally different country. Anyway, I still do wish Ahmed the best in his studies of engineering, but I now feel at least partially duped in some way by this whole turn of events, and hope that this story finally dies once the family moves out of the country.


Personal, Corporate, and In-Between Fraud

I realize that the two (really, 1.5) main topics of this post are already somewhat old news, having happened last week and having not really persisted into the news cycle of this week. That said, I didn't have a good opportunity to write this last week, and the end of the month is coming (and I didn't have any other posts this month), so I figured now is the best time for me to write this. Follow the jump to see more.


A Year Through Graduate School

I realized about a week ago that I hadn't written anything for this month. I wanted to write this at the end of last week, but I didn't get around to it until today; thankfully, September hasn't come around quite yet.

This post is basically a quick update on things going on in my graduate career. I formally joined a group at the end of January, though I was already doing work for it by the middle of that month. The first project I picked up was about comparing existing approximations of the Casimir effect to a relatively new exact (up to numerical discretization error) boundary-element method for computing the Casimir force; this can be done in conjunction with nonlinear optimization methods, both to optimize for the difference in the exact versus approximate forces, as well as to optimize the overall energy (when making the situation more realistic by taking surface tension into account) and seeing how the resulting energies and structures differ. That has been going on for a while now. More recently, I've been looking at some code for volume integral equation methods to simulate electromagnetic phenomena like radiative heat transfer from a classical perspective (where the only quantum effect comes in the correlation function for different bound currents in a dielectric medium). In particular, I've been extending said volume integral equation code to incorporate nonlocal dielectric effects. Both of these projects have been quite enjoyable in how much I've learned and in the bits that I've been able to contribute; I hope to continue learning and contributing even more to these projects and to others in the future. Otherwise, I've gotten into a great group of friends, and my living situation has been pretty good too. Overall, I've had a really enjoyable first year, and I really look forward to my second year at Princeton! (I'm also looking forward to not having to take formal classes after my second year, though I'm not looking forward as much to dealing with general exams [often called qualifying exams for graduate programs in other universities] at the end of my second year.)


Featured Comments: Week of 2015 July 19

There was one post this past week that got a comment, so I'll repost that.

Review: Manjaro Linux 0.8.13 "Ascella" KDE

Reader Kanthala Raghu said, "I'm currently on xfce edition of Manjaro Linux 0.8.13. Thanks for you review now I will be trying KDE too! Cheers ! :)".

Thanks to that reader for that comment. I don't have any posts planned for this coming week, but I do hope to have at least one review or other post coming out in the next few weeks, though I don't know right now exactly what that might be. Anyway, if you like what I write, please start or continue subscribing and commenting!


Review: Manjaro Linux 0.8.13 "Ascella" KDE

Main Screen + KDE Kickoff Menu
It has been several months since I last checked out Manjaro Linux. That review was of its Xfce edition, whereas this is of its KDE edition. As I mentioned in my recent review of SolydK, I wanted to originally compare the two in a single post. However, Manjaro Linux uses KDE 5 (again, I know this is a deliberate abuse of notation) whereas SolydK still uses KDE 4, so I feel like it wouldn't be fair to compare the two in one post. Instead, I have kept the two posts separate, and will make reference to my review of SolydK as needed.

I tested the 64-bit version of Manjaro Linux on a live USB system made with UnetBootin. Interestingly, unlike my previous review of Manjaro Linux, no extra modifications were needed after UnetBootin finished doing its thing. Anyway, follow the jump to see what it's like. (Regarding the title, some sites say that the codename for this release is also "Ascella", but this doesn't seem to be officially used in an entirely consistent manner.)


Review: SolydK 201506

Main Screen + KDE Kickoff Menu
Originally, I wanted this post to be a comparison test. Specifically, I wanted to compare SolydK to the KDE edition of Manjaro Linux. However, it turns out that Manjaro Linux uses KDE 5 (I know this is a deliberate abuse of notation), while SolydK uses KDE 4. That doesn't sound like a fair comparison, so I'm splitting these into separate reviews.

SolydXK is a pair of distributions that are basically like Linux Mint Debian, except with KDE (SolydK) or Xfce (SolydX) rather than MATE or Cinnamon, given that Linux Mint Debian discontinued its Xfce edition a while ago (and never really had a KDE edition). As far as I can tell, unlike Linux Mint Debian, SolydXK remains a semi-rolling release, as its website says that users never need to reinstall (which wouldn't be true if it had pegged itself to Debian Stable).

I tested SolydK as a live USB system made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Ramblings on Depth and Breadth in Introductory Science Teaching

About a week ago, I was having dinner with a friend, and the topic of teaching in various science disciplines came up; he got his degree in biology, while I got mine in physics. One of the things that we both noticed in our undergraduate careers was that introductory physics classes tend to go fairly deep right away, focusing only on a few broad topics, whereas introductory biology classes go much more for breadth, with the depth coming in specific topics in later classes. It took us a little time to think of why this might be. I think we came up with a reasonable explanation, so follow the jump to see what that explanation might be (along with extensions of it).

A few warnings are in order. One is that although I've gone through a full undergraduate course sequence in physics, I have only taken one introductory biology class in my undergraduate studies, so I'm essentially comparing an insider view of one subject to an outsider view of another; worse, my insider view of physics was built over 4 years so it is fairly fresh in my memory, whereas my outsider view of biology came in a single semester 4 years ago, so my memory of it is rather fading (though it is augmented by the problem sets and exams that I saved on my computer). Therefore, some things I say about biology might as well come from my posterior. Given all this, if you see that I say something horribly wrong about biology (or physics, for that matter), tell me in the comments! The other is that this post may seem rambling and incoherent at times; that's because this is more of a brainstorm than anything else.


Featured Comments: Week of 2015 May 24

There was one post that got a few comments this past week, so I'll repost all of those.

Review: Kubuntu 15.04 "Vivid Vervet"

An anonymous reader said, "I agree with you, kubuntu is still not stable and cannot be recommended for production."
Commenter jongleren countered, "It might not be stable. I like it though on my vivobook. And it looks great! And it is much faster than kde4. So promosing at least."
Another anonymous reader had this suggestion: "I had similar issues on a notebook with nVidia graphics when using the nouveau driver. Installing the proprietary nvidia driver fixed it."

Thanks to all of those people for those comments. This coming week, I do plan to have another post out, given that I may have a little more time to write such a post. Anyway, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Review: Kubuntu 15.04 "Vivid Vervet"

This month has been quite busy for me with classes. Now that the semester is finally over, I have a little more time, and that means I have enough time to do a review. It has been a few years since I've reviewed Kubuntu, the officially-supported variant of Ubuntu that uses KDE. Moreover, Kubuntu now features KDE 5 (I know the KDE naming and numbering system has become a lot more complicated, so this is, as a physicist might say, an intentional abuse of notation) as stable for the first time, so I figured I should try this version. I tried it as a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like. (It should become progressively clearer through this review why there are no pictures.)


Review: Linux Mint Debian 2 "Betsy" MATE

Main Screen + Linux Mint Menu
It has been over a year since I've reviewed Debian-based Linux Mint. Since then, some major changes have occurred. The most notable is that Debian-based Linux Mint is no longer a rolling-release distribution but is largely based on the upcoming stable release of Debian (version 8 "Jessie"), though it should continue to get updates for major applications like Mozilla Firefox. Given its shift to a new stable base, I figured it would be time for another review. I checked out the MATE 64-bit edition (due to certain issues with the 32-bit version not being able to detect multiple processor cores) on a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like. As with the previous review, I am linking to it and only highlighting changes.


Review: Sabayon 15.02 KDE

This weekend has been a little slower than usual for work, so I have a little more time to do a review. Several weeks ago, I downloaded the latest version of Sabayon and kept it for a time (as now) when I'd be free to do a review. Moreover, looking through the archives of this blog, I realized that it's been almost 3 years since I've looked at Sabayon, so a fresh review is long overdue.

Main Screen + KDE Kickoff Menu
For those who don't remember, Sabayon is a rolling-release distribution based on Gentoo, though unlike its parent, it does not require users to compile packages by hand. It used to have a strong multimedia focus and a bit of a heavy metal-type image, but since then, it has broadened its focus to be a good general-use distribution where things work out-of-the-box. Moreover, its main focus used to be KDE, but now it offers a variety of DEs too.

I don't know exactly when this change happened, but now Sabayon is only usable on 64-bit systems, so take note. I tested the live version of the KDE edition on a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like. This review is a bit short for two reasons: one is that I am mainly pointing out differences compared to my previous review, and the other is something that will become clear by the end of the review.


Review: Korora 21 "Darla" Cinnamon

Main Screen + Cinnamon Menu
I wanted to do this review a few weeks ago but didn't get the chance until now. Anyway, although I have reviewed Korora a few times before on this blog, I have not reviewed its Cinnamon edition until now. I particularly wanted to try the Cinnamon edition mainly because I seem to have bad luck whenever I try other distributions with Cinnamon, so I wanted to see if that would change here. As usual, I tried it as a live USB system made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Review: Manjaro Linux 0.8.12 "Ascella" Xfce

It has been a while since I reviewed Manjaro Linux. In fact, my last review of it was almost 2 years ago. Since then, I have seen a lot of news about how much it has grown and how good it has gotten. I figured I should give it another review.

Manjaro Welcome + Whisker Menu
For those who don't remember, Manjaro is a distribution that based on Arch Linux. It maintains a rolling-release base, and it is compatible with most Arch repositories, though some of its repositories are its own. It officially supports KDE and Xfce, though community editions exist for other DEs as well.

Several weeks ago, I tried to test it using MultiSystem, but the live USB didn't boot. This time, though, it worked using UnetBootin after following this set of instructions. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Review: Linux Mint 17.1 "Rebecca" Xfce

Main Screen + Whisker Menu
Recently, the Xfce edition of Linux Mint 17.1 "Rebecca" was released. It and the MATE edition are notable in featuring...Compiz! This really caught my eye, so I wanted to review it. There are several other changes too, so I figured that it would be worthwhile to review the Xfce edition rather than the MATE edition, given that I already tried the MATE edition of Linux Mint 17 "Qiana" not too long ago. Note that Ubuntu-based Linux Mint is sticking only to LTS releases, so a major release will roughly coincide (lagging by a month or so) with the Ubuntu LTS release, and then decimal point releases will be put out every 6 months or so and be given a new code name while still sticking with the last LTS release as its base. As far as this review goes, I tried this as usual as a live USB system made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Featured Comments: Week of 2014 December 28

Happy new year 2015! This past week, there were two comments on one post. I will repost both of those.

Review: CentOS 7.0 GNOME

An anonymous reader said, "Both CentOS and Scientific are straighforward recompilations of RHEL, with trademarks, logos, etc., removed. It's no surprise you found them much alike, because they are essentially identical. Flash and any other closed source non-FOSS products violate Red Hat's policy on FOSS, and leave it -- and the customers it indemnifies -- vulnerable to law suits. Ditto CentOS and Fedora. While RHEL/CentOS can be tweaked to make it an acceptable desktop (at least for my purposes) both are quite obviously enterprise products, and marketed as such."
Commenter Kamlesh Sheth had a suggestion (which I had already tried): "you can easily tweak centos to delight by following www.dedoimedo.com".

Thanks to both of those folks for commenting on that post. I am back at Princeton now to take my final exams this month and start research for real. Again, this means that my post frequency will be at least once per month, but I can't guarantee a higher frequency than that, and I can't guarantee specifically what I will post. Anyway, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!