New Year, Updated OS

With some unanticipated free time around the new year, I finally updated the operating system on my computer.  I’ve run Linux Mint since I built the desktop (about six years ago, now), and really like it–it isn’t too far away from Windows (sorry, no experience wiht the current Apple system, so I can’t compare), and doesn’t require use of Terminal, but you can certainly do things the quick way with text commands if you like.  I started out with Mint 14, and updated to 17 after that came out.  I finally got around to updating to 19.1, which is a definite improvement.

Probably the most notable update (at least for me) is with the repository (that is, the programs that are easily installable from within the system itself).  Lots and lots of new stuff is in there (and I’m still stumbling across more).  One notable inclusion is Skype.  Previously, you had to download the tarball and install it that way, then Microsoft dropped support for earlier versions of Mint (or something happened–I couldn’t get it to work, but since it isn’t entirely essential, I didn’t bother with tracing the problem).  Now, with it in the repository, it’s just a click to install.  There are also more social media applications, if that’s your way of interacting with the world.

Additionally, someone reverse engineered the software needed to make my Canon printer/scanner work in Mint.  Last time, I had to hunt for the drivers in a form Linux could use (from Canon’s Asian site) and do some work in Terminal to try and get it to work.  Now, a developer put together the back end to allow the printer to work in Linux without needing to do a lot of manual work.  I just installed that program, and the computer found it, both for printing and scanning.  A definite win.

In addition to updating the system, I went from the Cinnamon edition to MATE.  The main difference, as far as I can tell, is that Cinnamon has a slightly more polished graphics feel to it, while MATE is a bit more familar to long-time Linux users.  On the upside, since it has less going on graphics wise, it appears to be slightly more stable.  MATE is certainly appears more bare-bones, but that’s not necessarily a problem.  Sorry, not being a deep Linux geek, I can’t give much more than those impressions–I do understand that the file manager and menu programs are different, but functionality seems to be identical.

Finally, I made the leap and put in a home partition, which should make future upgrades (or switching back to Cinnamon) easier.  In essence, what this does is puts my home folder (where all your personal and working files go) in a parition on the hard drive, rather than as a folder within the OS.  When I go to update the system again (or install a different edition of Mint, or a different flavor of Linux), I should be able to keep the home partion and tell the system to use that as the home folder, rather than creating a new, empty one.  The mistake I made this time around was I tried to create the home partition before updating the system, and seem to have misnamed it (or named it properly, when the system wanted to create a folder of that same name).  When I installed the new system, it wouldn’t launch because it was confused by the existence of possibly two home folders on the parition.  After all, what would a system update be without a little drama and at least one re-install.  After re-installing, allowing the system to create the folder on the partion, and copying all my files into it, things ran (and continue to run) smoothly.

I’m still playing around with it, and making minor tweaks, but overall, I like the update, and am pleased with how easy it was (slight misstep with the home folder aside).  Really, it only took a couple of hours, and most of that was hands-off while files were being copied.  Well worth the investment.


Happy Epiphany

Note the song comes more from tradition than scripture.  As Yakum put it, “Wait, so the Bible says that there were magi, plural, but names three gifts.  So we know that there was more than one king, but exactly three gifts.”  Still, tradition gives us names for three of the (possibly many) magi, which influenced the carol.

Enjoy, and happy Epiphany.

Honor Among Felines

A few weeks ago, Lavash caught a mouse.  We had heard it off and on for a few weeks, scurrying around, but never actually succeeded in finding it.  I still don’t know where it came in, but given the amount of rain we’ve been having, I’m not actually surprised that it came inside in spite of the two cats.

In any case, I came inside and heard what sounded like one of the cats eating.  I assumed that one (or both) had stolen a slice of bread, or maybe a broccoli floret, or something similar.  The odd thing was that Benson was sitting a little bit away from Lavash.  It looked almost like he was standing guard, but also like he was waiting.  Benson is not known for being a patient cat–he will hop up on the counter when I’m putting food in the cat dishes, or when we’re chopping kale, or really any time he thinks he needs to eat (which is almost always).

When I got closer, I realized what had happened.  Lavash must have hunted the mouse, and caught it, while Benson was taking his extended midday nap.  Since she was the one who did the work, Benson was waiting to see if he would get a chance at the remains.  While he is not a patient cat, he isn’t stupid enough to try and take on Lavash when she’s in huntress mode.

Lavash very graciously let me trade the now-dead mouse for a cat treat, which she happily ate.  Benson got one, too, for being such a patient, honorable cat.

Advent: A Time of Wonder

In the fourth week of Advent, the immensity and wonder of the coming celebration really hits home.  We’re just past the winter solstice, and the day slowly, slowly starts to get longer.  In many places, plants are in full-on winter mode, giving the skyline a stark beauty against the crystal-cold skies.  In some places, snow glitters on the ground.  At least this year, the full cold moon is sharpening nighttime details, doing its best to compensate for the relative lack of sunlight.

Against this backdrop, when the world seems to be holding its breath and waiting for the new beginning of springtime, God fulfilled His promise to the Israelites to send the Redeemer, the One who could pay the ultimate price for our sins and bring us back to eternal life.  In this quiet, wonderous time, we remember that Jesus was born, and, wonder of wonders, took on our humanity to save us.  In this quiet, wonderous time, we look forward to that next awe-filled day, when angels herald not His birth, but His appearance in glory as the perfectly just Judge of all.

It is time to get ready to greet our Lord, with expectation, preparation, joy, and wonder.  He will be here soon.



Advent: A Time of Joy

[Not to go all Thomistic, but the following seemed like at least an amusing way to discuss the joy of Advent.  Many apologies to St. Thomas Aquinas.]

Article:  Whether Advent is a time of joy, as well as a time of preparation.

Objection 1:  It would seem that Advent, being a time of preparation, should not be a time of joy.  The joy comes with Christ (either at Christmas, when we celebrate His birth, or at His second coming), so to rejoice while preparing is inappropriate.

Objection 2:  Advent, to the extent that it is a preparation for the second coming, ought to be a time of penitence.  Joy is misplaced during penitential seasons, which is why the liturgy omits the Gloria.

On the contrary, it is written (Philippians 4: 4), “Rejoice in the Lord always:  again, I say rejoice.”  Since the Apostle gives us the order to always rejoice, joy is appropriate at all times, including during preparations and penitential times.

I answer that preparation can be joyful because the anticipation of the event fills us with joy, although not the same quality or degree as that experienced at the event.

Reply to Objection 1:   Just as Elizabeth (and John the Baptist) rejoiced prior to Christ’s birth because they knew that the Messiah was at hand, we know that Jesus will come again, and we should be filled with joy at the thought, even while we keep our lamps trimmed and ready.

Reply to Objection 2:  Our penitance should be filled with joy because we want to meet Jesus with hearts as pure as we can make them.  Rather than a duty we undertake with dour mein, penance and preparation, as difficult as it may be, should fill us with joy because of what comes once we are fully prepared:  life eternal with God.


Advent: A Time of Preparation

I went back and forth several times between the adjectives patient and prayerful to describe the preparation, but couldn’t settle on either.  Really, because the preparation of Advent, regardless of whether it’s external (decorations, cookies) or internal (more prayers, confession, adoration) should be both patient and prayerful.

I use the word “patient” to describe the preparations of Advent because preparing for the King ought not to be rushed.  Just as the ancient Jewish people, we do not know when He will be coming.  On the one hand, this gives us time to prepare thoroughly, and keep ourselves prepared–we have the time.  On the other hand, it is imperative (as we are told many, many times in the Bible) that we get ready and stay that way.  Sustained preparedness is not possible without patience.  Not only is there patience in waiting, there is also patience in learning how to prepare, and practicing it.  This applies either externally or internally.  For example, you shouldn’t rush putting up lights because you’ll either fall off the ladder, or they’ll look really terrible.  Internal preparation requires some patience with yourself–recognizing that we are subject to the effects of sin, and that we will fail in our efforts to get and stay ready for Jesus’ second coming.

Internal prayerful preparation is pretty obvious–that’s where the hard work needs to be done with prayer.  I suggest, however, that even external preparations ought to be a work of prayer.  Think about it this way–the reason you put up decorations, or bake cookies (or other holiday foods), or whatever you do to get ready for Christmas at least starts to put you in the mindset and to think about the coming of Christ.  At that moment, the thought of Christ’s birth and second coming, becomes an act of prayer.

For us, at least, we keep the external preparations during Advent to a bare minimum.  Part of it is that growing up, my brothers and I were not allowed to talk about Christmas until after my Dad’s early-December birthday.  We might get a tree before then (if there happened to be a convenient weekend prior to December 8), or put up the outside lights, but the tree would not go up, nor would we turn on the lights, until after his birthday.  I’ve carried that over to my family, maybe amped up a little bit, too, to where I’ve done the tree decorating after Christmas eve (or midnight) mass (usually by design, even).  We don’t sing Christmas carols in advent, mainly because there are so many Advent hymns to enjoy.  I find that then, when I do start some of these preparations (like baking cookies, potica, or thinking about decorations), my thoughts are turned to enjoying them during the Christmas season, and the coming of Christ.

So, however you prepare during Advent, may it be patient and prayerful, so that you can celebrate Christ’s first coming in due season.

Advent: A Time of Quiet Expectation

As is probably already well documented, I think we miss something when we don’t celebrate the seasons in their proper time.  Especially when we skip over Advent and go straight into Christmas.

The season of Advent is the four Sundays prior to Christmas.  Rather than a sprint to Christmas, it is a time of quiet expectation, where we’re on the journey with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.  Things shouldn’t be rushed, they should actually slow down.  It’s as if the world is holding its breath while awaiting the promised Savior, who, like all children, will be born in His own good time.  In contrast the almost martial preparation of Lent and the emotional roller coaster of Holy Week and the Easter Triduum, Advent is the final preparation for the new child, which needs to be done slowly, carefully, and joyfully so that when He’s finally here, you can just bask in His presence.

Christmas will come.  There’s no reason to skip Advent to go straight into that celebration.  That only serves to numb us to the astounding joy of Christmas when its time does come.  Instead, it is time to pause, breathe deep, and join the world in silence to wait for hope to sing of triumph, and for sadness to flee away.


Slushy Bike Ride: Metaphor for Prudence

Most people I work with (and this is across multiple offices and countries, now) think I am a less-than-prudent bicycle commuter.  It must have something to do with being willing to ride in tropical downpours, along streets studded with potholes, and through puddles ponds with water over the top of my chain.  Or the fact that I’ll bike when there are 40 mph wind gusts, sub-freezing temperatures, or heat indices well over 100.  Really, though, those situations just require powering through the obstacle and paying close attention.  Where prudence (that is, discerning what the golden mean is between two courses of action) comes into play is bicycling on slush and snow.

The week before Thanksgiving, we got hit with our first taste of winter.  Weather forecasts indicated that things might get slushy, but didn’t know where the line between rain and snow would fall until, well, snow started falling.  As of 0530, there was nothing, and no forecast changes.  At 0620 when I looked out the window, we had measurable snow/slush on the ground.  Still, it hadn’t gotten too terribly cold, and things looked slushy, rather than icy, so I decided to go ahead and bike in.

The secret, really to biking in slushy snow is to go exactly the right speed.  Not so fast that you lose traction, but not so slow that the slush builds up on your wheels.  Also, you want to make sure you move quickly enough to build up some heat to stay warm, but not so quickly that you generate too much wind.  Really, you do need to be prudent and find the exact balance between speed and caution to be successful.

So, did I strike the mean?  Well…not exactly.  For about half the trip, I was going a little on the slow side.  I did, in fact, accumulate slush on my wheels, which interfered with braking.  Because I wasn’t going fast enough, I didn’t really generate body heat to counteract the cold air temperature.  On the plus side, though, I didn’t slip or slide, and had picked out the right gear to stay mostly dry and not too cold (if not entirely comfortably warm).  Once I got more accustomed to the slush and temperature, I was able to speed up a little, which helped knock the slush off my wheels, and I did warm up a little more once the blood got moving.  All in all, though, I did make it to work safely, in reasonable time, and without any mishaps.  Overall, a success.

Now, if next time I can just figure out the right speed a little sooner, I’ll be set, and a more prudent bicyclist.

Essential Bicycling Equipment: A Bungee Cord

I’ve come to the realization that every bicycle commuter really ought to carry at least one bungee cord.  It took me a long time, but I finally remembered to pick one up last year after I had biked to the hardware store to buy a few things.  The bungee was a last-minute, “oh, yeah, I can use that to strap this on my rear rack without needing too rig some way to attach the bag.”  I’ve kept the cord in the frame bag with my lock and multi-tool ever sense.

Not only is the bungee cord handy for making purchases, I’ve found what may be an even more important use for it:  keeping my bike upright on the bike racks at work.  Now that I’m in the main building, rather than an annex, bicycle parking space is at a premium.  A part of the problem is there are about a dozen seemingly-abandoned bicycles on the racks (or at least, ones that have been in exactly the same place when I get there and when I leave each day since this summer), which cuts down on available space.  Another part of the problem is that the racks aren’t all that well thought out in terms of their location and other impediments to parking.  Finally, people just don’t know how to park a bike, and will wedge their bike in however they can, or, just leave it parked in the middle of everything, and not locked to a rack.

Since most cables, chains, or cords for locks are rather long (to facilitate parking in odd places, or locking to say, a telephone pole), they do not keep your bike upright if someone happens to knock it over trying to get their rig in or out of the cramped quarters.  I’ve actually seen bikes go down like dominoes, and the person responsible just went on like nothing had happened (it was the end of the day and this person probably didn’t notice, but still).  After finding my bike on its side a couple of times (not that I’m worried about dings or damage,  but it does take up additional parking space),  I’ve taken to wrapping the bungee cord around the bike rack and the lower tube of my frame.  This keeps my bike nicely upright and out of the way, no matter how many other bikes bump into it or try to knock it over.

I just wish more of the bike commuters would do likewise.  Or learn how to use a bike rack.