Hi! Uh. Happy new year? I meant to write something serious and contemplative days ago, but then the garbage disposal broke, taking out the drain to both the kitchen sink and the dishwasher. While Tom was in the middle of draining and cleaning a 90 gallon fish tank.

And then the internet broke. Well, I say 'and then'. The internet has been intermittently broken for months now, because this neighborhood appears to have been wired for cable in about 1974 and then diligently ignored. There was no way to get Comcast to believe it was their equipment and not ours until we had submitted roughly 978,378 support tickets, at which point they generally dispatch a tech to shut the customer up. I don't know what exactly the issue was, but once we got someone out to look at the outside of the house, they fixed it in like half an hour.

The actual computer is not broken, but that's mainly because I haven't gotten around to it yet. I know various and sundry people who work in IT and inherit a lot of equipment from forgotten supply closets, and one of them just handed me a 128GB solid-state SATA drive. This is brilliant and would already be installed, except that I have an Asus. It's not a particularly terrible computer, but they do not ship with system discs, which means I have no media from which to reinstall Windows onto the new drive. (It's supposed to have a "restore partition". This is one of many pieces of shovelware their computers come with, and Google will give you a zillion examples of it not working.) In theory, if you've paid for a copy of Windows -- which I did -- you can download installation packages direct from Microsoft; in practice, Asus is one of the manufacturers who ships their Windows computers in a pre-activated state using bulk-bought OEM keys, which will not work on a regulation copy of Windows. I have the key, it's just useless.

Microsoft's suggested solution is to give them another $120 for a fresh copy of Windows. Asus's suggested solution is to give them $50 for burning a CD-R with their OEM Windows package on it and shipping it to me via arthritic snail. My suggested solution is for all of them to eat a large bag of dicks, because this computer cost me $300 as a refurb four years ago, and both of those figures are many times what it is currently worth.

Tom is for some reason dead set on convincing me to clone the original drive onto the SSD and then force-upgrade it to Windows 10. I would happily nuke everything and run the hardware on Marshmallow, which is stupid-crazy fast even on this thing, except that about half the software I need is available "only" for Windows/Mac/Linux. (For the record, the minimum installation list is: LibreOffice/OpenOffice suite, GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Sigil, VLC, and a web browser in which Flash actually works.) I unearthed the spare laptop from the depths of the closet and it's now running Lubuntu 16.10, which is perfectly fine for a dual-core Celeron.

I may just hand Tom the stack of supplies and tell him that if it's not back to functioning as a computer with 48 hours, I'm just going to stomp the drive and put Linux on it. Normally I would break out in hives at the prospect of handing my working computer over to someone else and possibly getting it back in need of a good hard formatting, but honestly, I've gotten to the point where there is nothing on the local hard disk that cannot be replaced. A lot of it would be annoying to replace, because it would involve spending most of the weekend going through the "Google, download, install, reboot, install, reboot..." ritual D. C. al fine. But most of it's just cluttering up the data partition because I got tired of having to hook and unhook external media drives to find music and video.

Everything important is either on an external HDD or crammed into a cloud drive somewhere or another. Admittedly, I'd be completely hosed if Google ever disintegrated, but so would about 200 million other people, so I don't think shouting at me would be a priority. The main thing that used to drive me batty when changing computers was that the browser would forget all of my obscure passwords, and that no longer happens -- saved logins go with your Chrome profile, which goes wherever Google is accessible. And if Google isn't accessible, I can't see why I'd need any of my logins anyway.

My main problem with letting other people tinker with my computer is that I need something to do things on. I think I've reached equilibrium in that regard, now that the mobile devices are actually smart enough to handle email and YouTube. I'm currently sitting in the middle of a heap of screens: the Windows laptop, the Lubuntu laptop with external monitor, two completely different kinds of Kindle, there's a phone in here somewhere, the DS is on charge and the 3DS is currently running Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, because I am an addict and Moggie is one of my most faithful enablers. There is no longer any one function confined to a single machine, so even if I have to take the computer away from my roommate and install his least-favorite OS all by myself, I won't ever be stuck incommunicado.

Frankly, the number one upgrade the Asus actually needs is a keyboard on which all of the keys function reliably the first time you press them. I am absolute murder on keyboards, being as I loathe having to scrawl things out by hand, and type absolutely everything. Touchscreens just make me want to murder everything else. I can get the Fire (and the BlackBerry, when it works) to guess what word I want next, and I can get Swype to guess the word I want now, but I can't get any one keyboard to do both of those things, never mind do them in more than one language at a time.


  1. Try the SwiftKey keyboard. I find it's rather good at guessing both next and now. I don't know how it is at multiple languages, though.

    1. Does it let you drag from letter to letter? I use Swype specifically because it lets you "swipe" a path from the first letter to the last, and does not require a lot of accuracy. I hate the thumbsmash thing -- there isn't any tactile feedback on the Kindle or on my phone, and there's no way to get your finger position by feel like on a physical keyboard.

    2. Yup, it has swiping functionality.

    3. Found it, pulled it, tried it. It's very book-smart, but excruciatingly slow, to the tune of 1-2 seconds to make each guess, even after I fed it my Gmail output to refine its dictionary. I also see no quick way to type arbitrary symbols or accented characters without going swimming in a bunch of menus. (Swype puts all of that on long-press menus attached to the QWERTY keys.) As charmed as I am that it wants to autocorrect my Esperanto, it's not usable on either the Fire or the Alcatel phone. Foo.

  2. I think if you just ask in advance whether the cloning can be done without writing anything on the source disk, you approximately halve your chances of getting back a non-working computer: the chance of success doesn't really change, but in case of failure you will have a fifty percent chance to get a working laptop with the old HDD intact and put back into its place.

    1. He has a professional-grade hardware cloning widget, and has successfully replaced/cloned the HDD in the other roommate's computer with it. THAT part verifiably works. It's a bit-for-bit copy, so as long as Windows doesn't look too closely at the hard drive, it should be a completely transparent switchover. I also have a couple of (bootable) USB2SATA bridges around, plus LiveKeys for both Lubuntu and RemixOS, so unless he lets the magic smoke out he can't break the computer so completely I can't do any work on it. What I want to prevent is him stalling out trying to upgrade the OS and keeping the computer for a week of "No, no, just one more day, Windows 10 almost works now."

      I'm frankly unsure Windows 10 would be any kind of improvement. Right now this thing is running Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, and it's grumbly enough. The relevant specs are that its brain is an Intel B960 dual-core @ 2.20gHz with only 4GB of RAM. I got roughly equivalent grumbling (or lack thereof) out of the other laptop, running a Celeron dual-core 1.3gHz with 1GB RAM, just by switching to a lightweight version of Ubuntu, and that one's simultaneously driving an external HD panel.

    2. You just need to make sure the upgrade to Windows 10 doesn't happen before cloning… My experience with an Asus Windows install is that it does survive the cloning with a HDD change but without changing MB/CPU just fine.

      I guess Windows 10 could ask to enable SecureBoot, and then RemixOS won't boot (until Secure Boot is disabled again — fortunately, it is very easy in case of Asus) because it is not properly signed or whatever.

      Professional-grade HDD cloning hardware sounds scary: I know of one case where non-trivial hardware is needed, and this case involves opening the normally-sealed dust-free volume of the HDD (when the reading heads die but the data on the platters is fine). In any other case, it is at most a cheap SATA-USB gadget, and sometimes both drives just go into spare slots of a desktop computer.

      I guess the optimal outcome for you includes him cloning the drive, trying to upgrade the copy, failing, giving up and cloning the original Windows 7 again…

    3. It's professional as in "small business", not as in "forensic". As far as I can tell, it's SATA bridge widget with some low level bit copy software. Probably better than you could do with clicking and dragging in Windows, but not ask that fancy overall.

      The optimum outcome for me is having a working computer back in my possession by the end of the day. Which means I'm probably going to take it apart myself, install either Ubuntu 16.04 LTS or Lubuntu 16.10 on it, and have a working computer within an hour. There is nothing on there that requires Windows to live, and terminal windows do not scare me. The original drive can live in a USB enclosure, where I can boot from it if absolutely necessary.

    4. Well, maybe I miss the difference on the level power user vs. small business. Bit-by-bit copying doesn't require any more hardware than just accessing both HDDs, but yes, it does require knowing the name of the software to use (for the record: in Linux-based systems it is usually called dd).

      I guess I didn't guess correctly what is the optimal outcome, I assumed that if you even consider asking someone to clone the HDD, you probably slightly prefer Windows 7 to Lubuntu.

    5. Copying files in Windows makes a copy of the file content. A bit for bit copy of the drive also preserves the non-user-visible structure and arrangement of the files, plus things like permissions and metadata. Even power users don't really noodle around with things like Ghost, mainly because the licenses are priced for business use. And I didn't ask him to do anything; I got a new HDD and he immediately started trying to convince me to clone the drive and upgrade to Windows 10. I considered it, and ultimately decided I didn't have that much patience and didn't want to risk him bricking something.

      I'm more familiar with Windows because I've always had Windows (and, back in the day, DOS/Windows) computers. I'm comfortable enough using Macs, but wouldn't like to own one; I find Apple's "shh, don't open it up to tinker, Daddy will take care of everything for you" attitude to be obstructive and wrong. I wasn't very interested in Linux until it got to the point where the boring maintenance tasks like updating the OS and installing software was as easy as it was in Windows. Downloading a .deb package and letting the Package Installer take care of it isn't any more tedious than downloading an .exe and hoping the programmer has all the settings in the MSX installer correct, and generally less likely to install malware.

      They all really work the same on a day-to-day basis at this point. I prefer the Lubuntu shell over Mac OS, primarily because the panel is in the same place as the Windows start menu, and I don't have to totally unlearn all of my reflexes.

  3. > Copying files in Windows makes a copy of the file content. A bit for bit copy of the drive also preserves the non-user-visible structure and arrangement of the files, plus things like permissions and metadata.

    And then there are some details of the boot configuration that are hard to copy. And then some system files are just locked whenever Windows is running and copying without booting from a different disk and using special software is impossible.

    > Even power users don't really noodle around with things like Ghost, mainly because the licenses are priced for business use.

    Well, I use Linux and I use dd which is a part of GNU coreutils anyway (you have it in all your Ubuntu installs, actually). But with dd it is not hard to mess up, of course.

    > I got a new HDD and he immediately started trying to convince me to clone the drive and upgrade to Windows 10.

    Well, I guess I internally treat the lack of immediate «ouch, pain» reaction to the idea of upgrading to Windows 10 as a relative approval of that idea.

    Nice that even fresh GIMP works fine in Lubuntu after the installation.

    1. I suppose it didn't come through above, but "ouch pain" WAS my immediate reaction to his talk of Windows 10. I didn't go rooting around in the Registry to stop that fucking FREE UPGRADE! pop-up for nothing. This hardware barely handled 7, especially after a few rounds of updates. He swore blind that 10 was lighter and faster, and although that's not totally impossible -- 7 was an improvement on Vista, after all -- I found it highly improbable, which is why I didn't immediately hand my baby over. This may have something to do with the fact that I'm old enough to remember things like editing win.ini and dealing with IRQ conflicts between the sound card and the mouse, and he isn't.

      A Linux user noodling around with dd and a Windows user noodling around with something like Norton Ghost or whatever that's turned into are two totally different things. Linux is kind of opt-in, and because of that, most people using it do kinda want to know how it works. Most people using Windows use Windows because it came on the computer and don't care about permissions and boot config, and just want it to run their games and word processor. I'd expect a far higher percentage of Linux users to know the difference between cloning a drive and copying the files over. Most Windows users don't even know "drive cloning" is a thing.

  4. Sure, my «ouch pain» just immediately goes to «hell no» reply with zero delay, and I misinterpreted your text, sorry for myinattention.

    As for dd — I was just explaining my reaction to «professional hardware». As for software — yes, my notion of professional-administrator grade software is off and I know it. Partially it is because I have built a few small short-lived networks for fun (well, combining a virtually unlimited supply of basic NAT routers to get the desired kind of network segmentation is a fun puzzle).

    Somehow I remember negotiating (together with my father — it was new for both of us) with MS Backup for DOS to give us back our files (it expected the backup index on HDD by default, and the HDD was formatted, so we needed to understand which of the synonyms of «get» actually means «give me all the floppies and I will recreate the index»), but not any problems with sound card vs mouse IRQ conflicts (I do know the underlying mechanics, but we got lucky).


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