Saturday, May 13, 2017

Progress report on The Beast

A short note about the OS. 

I have settled on Arch for this machine.  Ubuntu 17.04 has a partition but the new Arch system's boot setup does not give any dual boot access.  That's fine with me for now, and I suppose later this could be solved in any number of ways. 

Boot management on GNU/Linux systems is an arcane field.  For myself, I only ever cared to know enough about it to get a system running.  I hailed GRUB when it first appeared, as it seemed a human readable/writable form.  But soon the wizards towed it into the wood of obfuscation; it was not longer a pleasure to use.  With UEFI, I, at least, faced just one more unmanageable layer of intractability.  Arch required to fiddle with boot managers, GRUB 2 in particular; for me, the confusion often left me grabbing for Ubuntu or other distros that are easy to set up. 

There is something to be said for easy to set up.  I can have an Ubuntu system up and running in less than 30 minutes, with the new speedy machine I did it in maybe 5.  To install the core of my software needs would take part of a day, and to get it polished often took longer.  The cost of Ubuntu, in my terms, was the need to compile several of the more important programs to support my work flow, and generally to remember them and keep them up to date.  It was and is a pleasure to just go to work.

Arch Linux, once installed, is ideal: almost every program I need is available either as one of the large number of blessed programs on the repositories, or as a PKGBUILD on AUR, the Arch User Repository.  A PKGBUILD is a script to download the upstream source code, build the object, and install it.  It is easily maintained, for example using yaourt.  Maybe I've just been lucky: almost every program I wish to try is on AUR.  At last count I think this was around 44000.  Debian stable may have more in terms of numbers, but it doesn't have some of the packages I need.  PPAs exist for a few, but they easily go out of date.  I can easily edit a PKGBUILD to use newer versions as they become available. 


This time around I resolved to install Arch, and I had a few hours to do it.  In the long run it would save time.  Less fiddling.  I watched a youtube video on installing Arch in 10 minutes, and learned about a new boot manager: bootctl.  Without going into detail, this method pretty much worked for me, to get Arch installed in a very short time.  I'm not going to go into detail.  I did have to work some wrinkles out, but the instructions on the Arch Wiki and perhaps other sites were straightforward.

The Arch Way

I don't know whether anyone will read this, but I want to comment on the arrogance of Arch forum rats about "the Arch Way."  Debian's mailing list used to be the gold standard for trashing noobies.  Gentoo developers were much more helpful and tolerant, and the docs were perfection, and have never been equalled in over 10 years.  Responders on Arch forums and perhaps mailing lists are unforgiving with noobies who want to take shortcuts to install Arch.  It's a big deal.  Arch devs will not produce a liveCD installation.  There are a number of alternate approaches, and I've tried many ---because of my grubophobia, and, truth be told, the problems of UEFI/EFI, and actually some confusion---now, I think, at least partly resolved in the Arch installation tutorials about how to mount the EFI partition. 

In the past I have successfully used Antergos, and converted to pure Arch; the last time I tried, this was no longer useful.  I installed Arch on an iMac using "archanywhere," a script, but it has failed on my laptop.  For me.   Some other approaches did not work.  Once in a while, I was actually able to install Arch using the Arch Way.  More recently, I installed Manjaro i3 edition on my laptop.  It's a beautiful system.  Easy to install.  But it does something almost criminal to capture the system boot process, so that other installs often fail to install their own GRUB, but install through Manjaros.  I was able to convert using a 10 step process (provided by Mr. Google) to Arch.  But the conversion was partly abortive: new kernels never got properly set up, during the frequent installed. 

What I want to say about the Arch Way is this: contrary to the claims of the Arch Way adherents, installing in the Arch Way, using the command line, does not teach much about the inner workings of the system: at least anymore.  Gentoo installs, almost impossible on ordinary hardware in my opinion, do teach a lot.  Linux From Scratch does.  Arch uses faily complex scripts to do most of the heavy lifting.  I was surprized how easy the installation was.  It's getting "better."  I am, in some sense, though, an interloper, and I have never contributed a PKGBUILD.  Perhaps I will do so soon: I wish to install more dictionaries for dictd.  Debian has many more, and I have more or less a recipe for doing this when I have time to sit down an focus on it.

Hardware notes

I'm not going to get into much detail about this.

  1. NVMe storage is not operating at full speed, but it is very fast.  
  2. Scrolling and moving the mouse leave a trace in the audio: speakers exhibit a background buzz/hum, not so bad though.  Ideas I've seen (this is an FAQ online): PSU (Corsair CX650 Bronze) or inteference with the integrated audio.  Logitech wifi mouse.
  3. temperatures are very cool: I see CPU maxes of 59C, and the corse are running at 26/27C as I type.  I feel not heat at any time when I put my hand on the box.  psensor is great for monitoring temps.  Htop has a version on Arch already with patches to display temperature on the front page.
  4. Good choice department: The Ultrastar 6.0Gb/s 64MB Cache 2TB 7200RPM drive is pretty fast for an HDD.  
  5. This case has no provision for an Optical Drive.  Trolls online make comments that they are no longer a thing in the new age, but I disagree.  The brackets for HDD and SSDs are something new, and cables provided wth the MB and PSU do not make it easy to access them.
  6.  The Motherboard seems to operate well with GNU/Linux.  The UEFI BIOS is nice to work with.  It would be great if the utilities were available for GNU/Linux.  [C was developed for cross platform compatibility, but Micro$oft did everything possible to end around standardization.  Apple comes closer with an embrace of the Unix idea, but builds kinks into the little bits, to make them difficult or impossible to use outside the Apple infrastructure.  One shudders to think what has been the cost to the global economy of this proprietary locking of technology.  Apple put some nice pieces on CUPS, developed in the Free World, bought CUPS, and does not give back to the free world upon which their implementation is based. ]
  7. The logitech wifi mouse does not work well even three feet away from the receiver, probably due to interference.  When a USB drive was plugged in, this was expecially noticeable.  Perhaps I need to clean up the wiring, untie some lines to avoid crosstalk?  (what do I know).
  8. I use Dropbox.  It is central to being table to set up a new machine quickly in a familiar way.  Most of my ongoing work is on the Dropbox, so once it's installed, I am right at home.  It doesn't take so long to get a machine or a new linux install going, with Arch.  I need to collect a list of all installed package as I was wont to do with Ubuntu/Debian some years ago.  
  9. KUDOs to Arch devs, who do amazing work.

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