The Power of Kindness

Some people underestimate the power of kindness and of saying "Yes." In reality there are not many things that definitely have to go one's way. There is room for compromise on just about everything except what an individual regards as basic needs. Kindness has many rewards. Some people are so surprised at being met half-way that they will go out of their way to repay the kind gesture with even greater kindness, so that kindness begins to escalate between people--a virtuous, rather than a vicious cycle. Good people set up virtuous cycles in their lives that generate goodwill, happiness, safety and security.

I Don't Want to Dress Like a Holiday

I usually wait a few days to write about current events -- I like to detach myself and let my thoughts solidify -- but I'm going to tackle this one while the iron is hot; yesterday, three people told me that I needed to "dress like a holiday" next Friday, as part of some school-spirit competition that pits the different departments against one another . . . and while I gamely wore a green shirt last month (although I was still chastised because I didn't score the maximum five points, which would have entailed wearing FIVE green items) I really don't like dressing out of the ordinary, nor do I like celebrating holidays, and so I was going to quietly avoid participating in this part of the competition -- but there is a sign-up sheet in the English office, and apparently people have been reading it closely, and these people noticed that I didn't select a holidays . . . and I sometimes have a hard time judging if these people are actually angry at me, or just joking around -- but one teacher said that "it wasn't fair" and she was going to "tell the school secretary to remove me from the department" and then she left the room before I could figure out if this was real or feigned anger, and now I'm in that weird spot where I might have to not "dress like a holiday" out of principle . . . because I would never force anyone, against their will, to dress like Kwanza or Flag Day or Boxing Day (just a few of the holidays left from which I might choose) and while I should just placidly suck-it-up and dress like something easy, such as Father's Day, there's a part of me that feels like we shouldn't win this competition anyway, since it's not skill based (if it was inter-department corn-hole, I'd be as ardent as they come) and I really wish this entire contest would evaporate and I could just go back to teaching Shakespeare (but not dressing like him . . . as that's always weird and awkward when the teacher comes to school dressed as the historical figure that you are studying).

Still Thinking About Boots

Can you stand a few more words about shoes? Because I have them. Words. And shoes, duh.

I've been lamenting this week's return to summer-like weather because, well, mainly because I don't like warm weather, but also because it's prime boot-wearing time. It is October, after all. The window of opportunity for wearing boots that don't protect feet from cold and/or snow, and are worn primarily because they look good, has gotten narrower as we've become accustomed to our changing climate and weather patterns. It's possible I might end up being able to get back some of this time during December (and perhaps even later, like two winters ago), but there's no way to know that now.

A long time ago I wore Justin roper boots, and I've also tried classic harness boots with oil-impregnated, matte-finish leather, but I've found that the shaft height (around 10 inches, sometimes a little higher) of these styles to be uncomfortable; the tops of the boots end up rubbing against my calves. I tried higher socks, but they wouldn't stay up and they caused their own comfort issues.

So I've settled on 6" lace-up boots, and a zipper boot that's about 7" high. I have a couple of different kinds in different colors. Three years ago I bought a pair of Wolverine 1000 Mile boots in a color they call "rust." I chose it because it was more distinctive than the black or brown they were also offered in at the time. Some time later they added "tan," which in reality looks too orange and is not something I'd wear.

I've wished since then that they would offer some sort of a burgundy, especially since the leather for the boots comes from Horween, a Chicago tannery that's been around for over a century. Horween offers shell cordovan leather (from horses) in a deep burgundy they call "color 8," and I know this color is available in some of their other leathers. The competition (Red Wing) also offers their boots in "black cherry."

Sure enough, the 1000 Mile boot is now available in "cordovan no. 8," but these boots retail for $350 a pair. You can spend quite a bit less than that, and still get a quality boot that's made in the USA. Maybe seven or eight years back, L.L. Bean revived an engineer boot they had offered back in the 1930s for their Katahdin Iron Works collection. They are made for Bean by Chippewa, a company that doesn't get as much attention as Red Wing or Wolverine but has an equally legitimate bootmaking heritage. (Actually, J. Crew has been offering a few Chippewa styles for a couple of years now.)

This fall Bean added a plain-toe version of the Iron Works boot in a deep burgundy. They cost $210, which is a chunk more than the $150 they ran when Bean first reintroduced them, but still only about 60% of what you'd pay for either the Red Wing or Wolverine equivalent. And the Bean/Chippewa boot can claim to be more usable as a work boot as well. I tried on the original version some years back in a Bean store, and I found that they run small; I have another pair of Chippewas for winter wear and those run small as well.

By the way, for any of my family members who might be reading this: a Bean gift card would be a welcome Christmas or birthday gift, so I could put it toward a pair of these.

First Impressions of SolydK, Manjaro, and PCLinuxOS

Canonical's decision to embrace Mir and abandon X and Wayland has consequences for Ubuntu derivatives such as Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Linux Mint. Also, I've noticed that Canonical's development has been focused on features that mean nothing to me, such as the Unity desktop. I feel that Shuttleworth has a vision for my desktop that differs dramatically from my own. This means Ubuntu and I must part ways at some point in the future. For that reason, I've been exploring other distros in the hopes of finding one that can replace the various Ubuntu derivatives I have been using.

I evaluated Open Suse 12.3 several months ago, but Open Suse still hasn't figured out intuitive printing and a lot of other basics, which is curious. I have the impression that Open Suse doesn't really want new users. Open Suse seems to be the beta-testing sandbox for Suse Enterprise, just like Fedora is the beta-testing sandbox for Red Hat.

I tried SolydK out the other day. I was impressed that it offered to install the ATI proprietary driver for me. A most auspicious beginning! Not every distro offers that kind of service, for sure. I was very pleased seeing it download ATI's fglrx.

But then when I rebooted (as recommended), I got the black screen with nothing visible. Nothing to be done there. Pressed the power button. Second time around, I chose Recovery Mode and got the command line. I typed in "StartX" to see what happens and got the "Solyd blacK" screen again with nothing visible. I can't work without seeing what I'm doing, sorry, I'm not a Jedi Knight yet, only in training. Hit the power button. I then rebooted again in Recovery Mode and uninstalled Plymouth via "sudo apt-get remove plymouth", based on suggestions in the SolydK forum for someone who also used ATI and had a similar problem. No dice. I've now rebooted four times to a "Solyd blacK" screen. I am guessing this is a problem that only affects users with ATI graphics who choose the recommended options of installing the proprietary driver and using Plymouth.

One more thing I'll note is that early in the install process, Solyd identified my hard drives as sda and sdb, and the description for both was "Model". That would deter any Windows user right away, because it is unclear which drive the system will be installed on, and clicking "Forward" might very well begin the install process for all the user knows. As a Linux veteran, I knew to boot up Partition Editor to find out what sda was, but not every user will know to do that. Yet I noticed on several SolydK reviews, there were screenshots where the drives were clearly identified during the install process, so maybe this too is a problem that just impacts my rig.

My next experiment was Manjaro Xfce 0.87.1. With dismay I noted that it was using the same installer as Solyd. Sure enough, I got the same problem with my hard drives being identified only as sda and sdb. This time around, I opted to disable Plymouth, but install the proprietary driver. Manjaro installed, and I rebooted, but Grub spat out an error and went into recovery mode. That was the end of my experiment with Manjaro.

Next, I tried PCLinuxOS, 64-bit KDE version. I first heard of PCLinuxOS and indeed about Linux in general through Piers Anthony's excellent and entertaining blog. The fact he used Linux was a big factor in persuading me to give Linux a try, especially after Microsoft dumped Vista and then Windows 8 on an unsuspecting public. I have been pleased with Linux and glad I learned about it, and I wish with all my heart that more people used Linux.

PCLinuxOS installed without any problems. As one reviewer noted, the installer could use additional refinement, such as a Back button in addition to the Forward button, and maybe a few other little things, but it worked out well for me in the end. "Unrefined" is perfectly okay, when set in contrast with "not working at all." Possibly the most important aspect about a distro is ease of installation, because without the initial install, nothing else happens, and installation forms a strong first impression.

For me, PCLinuxOS's main charm that sets it above the Ubuntu family of distros is the premise I won't have to reinstall later, a major headache for Ubuntu users. I also like how easy it was to update and to install my network printer. Setting up the printer was a trial with OpenSuse 12.3 and influenced me to abandon Open Suse. I've been pleased with PCLinuxOS so far and appreciate some of its features, such as installing everything including the kitchen sink, which annoys some reviewers but pleases me. I can easily uninstall what I don't like, and I think it is helpful to have the apps there to play with, because otherwise I might never find them on my own. I thought the option for changing the wallpaper could have been more intuitive--I had to google for the solution--but that's a minor demerit.

In conclusion, I think that PCLinuxOS deserves to be higher on the DistroWatch list than it is at present. It is a solid, easy-to-use distribution, which is what I want and expect from a distro. As Canonical's strategic decisions continue to impact Ubuntu-based derivatives, I think more and more people are going to migrate over to PCLinuxOS in the years to come.

Firefox Sync: Unintuitive

I never remember how to use Firefox Sync, and that means I can't recommend Sync to anybody. I recommend Firefox, because I love Firefox Add-Ons and the open source nature of Firefox, but Sync has given me frequent problems. In the first place, it doesn't always work for me. Sync stopped working for me once I amassed over 30 styles in Stylish. When I updated my operating system and installed Firefox, I couldn't Sync. There was no error message, but the Syncing failed. I tried several times and wasted about an hour before online research, which is my particular strength, informed me that Sync was broken and buggy. There is a storage limitation on their Sync server, and instead of informing the user about this, Firefox simply fails to Sync, leaving the user to wonder if he did something wrong and should try again a hundred-odd times until it works, which wastes bandwidth and time for everybody, Mozilla included. In the end, I lost all my styles.

But Sync has more problems than just not working right. I can't figure it out half the time. I always have to read the documentation. It is not clear to me how to sync or what each sequence of clicks will do. I have more than once lost an entire Firefox configuration due to the non-intuitive, user-hostile Sync interface. If I can't figure it out--and I'm not exactly a newcomer when it comes to computers--I wonder how all the other users are doing with it. I think it would be very easy to code Sync in such a way that it is intuitive and easy to understand. I think it would take all of an afternoon and nothing more. I just think whoever programmed it was not that skilled at user interfaces and is probably more of a backend coder, possibly good at making a system function but not so good at explaining it to human beings.

I find Thunderbird annoying in a similar manner. I can't figure out how to stop spam. Thunderbird marks emails it thinks are spam, but delivers them anyway in my "In" Box, alerting me with a visual and audible signal about the important spam message. I find Thunderbird pretty primitive as far as an email client goes, but it is still better than Kmail, which requires me to enter my password each and every time I check my email. I do not see the point of using a mail reader in the first place if there is a need to enter the password. Might as well used web-based email in that scenario.


After a long day of coaching soccer, I found a dead spider entwined within my leg hair.

Farewell, Pay Phones

I've been trying to be more aware of potential photo opportunities as I go about my mundane business. It has led to some interesting shots, like the one last week of the panda thief.

Yesterday I was passing through Wellington station again when I noticed this tableau:
The shot didn't come out quite as well as I hoped (I should have taken it on an angle to avoid the outside glare), but I only had a few moments before the train arrived, and there are still some MBTA employees who have not gotten the memo that it's legal and okay to take photos on T property, so I didn't feel like risking the wrath of anyone seeing me trying to take a bunch of shots.

I don't remember ever seeing pay phones inside the station, but I could be wrong about that. It looked as though they were on their way to the pay-phone graveyard and had been set in this spot while awaiting pickup. The cones and caution tape just add to the overall effect.

Badly Broken

I'm writing this at 7:51 PM on Sunday night, an hour before the Breaking Bad finale -- and I am very excited, as this is a rare occurrence . . . watching something "live" on TV . . .before this, the last television finale I watched in real time was the end of Seinfeld-- but I also have no expectations as to what is going to happen in the final episode; things have broekn so bad, that though I was rooting for Jesse Pinkman to come out of the series alive, the penultimate episode makes me wonder if that's possible (and I was especially pleased to refer to the penultimate episode as "the penultimate episode," after which my wife said, "What?" and I got to explain the word, which I very rarely get to use in context) and so I am just hoping for a fantastic, action-packed episode, with an ending that resolves things --no meta-junk like the Sopranos or St. Elsewhere-- and I liken my mood to that same feeling you have when there are two teams are in the Super Bowl that you don't care about, and so you just want to watch a really good game.

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #6

Once I started taking pictures of older cars that I spotted around the area, I started noticing more of them. Sometimes they lurk in driveways, while others are parked on the street.

Today's subject is a car that we passed several times while driving; when it registered in my mind what it was, I asked the Mrs. to stop the next time we drove past it so I could take some pictures. I was very excited to see one still on the road, and not just being saved for car shows and cruise nights.
It's a 1968 Dodge Dart two-door hardtop. Its basic design was introduced for the '67 model year and remained in production for a decade, with minor changes to the front and rear ends every couple of years. The Dart and its corporate cousin the Plymouth Valiant were very popular cars when they were new, because they were well-built, dependable, and economical to own and operate. (There's a reason so many law enforcement organizations preferred Dodge and Plymouth police cars for decades.)
I know this car is driven regularly because I've seen it parked in various spots around this general area, including sometimes in a nearby driveway. This certainly would have been basic transportation when new; it's a Dart 270, the middle trim level of three available that year. I can recall that the parking lot of my elementary school always had several Darts and Valiants in it, cars that belonged to both teachers and staff.
By the way, you can identify the year of Darts like this fairly easily due to the small round side reflector lights. '68 was the first year they were required by the federal government, and the round ones were used on many Dodge and Plymouth models for that year only; for '69 they were replaced with larger rectangular lights.
This car also has a trailer hitch, which may seem a little unusual, but it could be used to pull a small boat or trailer of some kind, especially if it has the small V-8 that was such a workhorse engine in so many Chrysler products of the period (our green station wagon from a few weeks back had the same engine).
This car has obviously seen better days, but it's still on the road after 45 years. I've always liked these cars, especially the Dart GT convertible from this year, but any model from any of the 10 years of this design would be a fun car to have.

More Past Dave Nostalgia

A student that I taught at the start of my career became a teacher and was hired in East Brunswick during the period I spent in Syria -- and she was coaching softball with my friend and colleague Kevin and made the mistake of confiding in him that she had a crush on me way back when I was her English teacher . . . which Kevin relayed to me (in front of this teacher) but then he also told me her reaction when she saw me again, after so many years . . . she said to Kevin, also confidentially: "What happened to him?"