Why I now prefer Arch Linux

Yesterday I installed Linux onto a fresh laptop and there was no debate in my mind what Linux distribution I would use – Arch. A year ago that would not have been the case, I might even have considered installing RHEL instead. So why Arch?

When I was younger – and still today – I noticed that most people I spoke to in the IT profession who had reached their fourth or fifth decade of life had given up on new ideas or new technologies and had settled into what they knew best. Although I respected this, I didn’t enjoy the thought that maybe one day I’d become the same way, even though I felt that my openness to new ideas and technologies was one of my strengths, and something I deeply enjoyed.

Well, I’m in my third decade of life now, and I have definitely begun to notice how easy it can be to settle down for what is comfortable and stick with it. Thankfully I haven’t lost my passion for new ideas and trying new things. Last year at Southampton we hired an intern, this in of itself is a tribute to my manager for changing the norm and doing something new because nobody had ever done that before. It was an eye opening experience, not just because it was enjoyable to teach, but because the internship taught us far more than we realised it would. It challenged us. It made us think differently. The whole team improved. What I didn’t expect was to change my preferred desktop operating system – but, it did. He (the intern) had an established like for Arch linux, advocated it when asked why, and left it at that. He didn’t push me to try it – but it made me want to try it. And so I did.

For a typical end user, Arch Linux is next to impossible to install. It doesn’t have an installer at all. The bootable image you download starts Linux running and then drops you at a zsh prompt. From there its entirely up to you on what you do next. The installation documentation is clear, concise, but not detailed – you need to know what you’re doing to get anywhere – but this, for me, is perfect. It gets out of the way, gives me the tools to install, and then lets me get on with it. I loved it.

The initial experience made me feel like a young teenager installing Linux for the first time. It literally made me feel young again. I felt like I was learning Linux again. Although I had used all these tools before, I had become used to an installer doing it all for me, and I enjoyed learning things I didn’t know about tools I’d used for years.

Arch Linux is minimalist, it is simple. It gets out of your way. You have total control over what your system looks like. It doesn’t hide details from you so you learn why things are done the way they are. At each stage the documentation lets you decide how you want to build your system and gives you information on why you might want to pick any particular solution.

It is easy to build a desktop linux installation. If you want GNOME, on Wayland, with all the bells and whistles, its easy. If you want Xorg and fluxbox, this is very easy too. If you want to use GRUB as your bootloader, you can, but if you want to use systemd-boot (as I do), you can do that too! Each option is easy to achieve, and isn’t hidden away. On Debian I wanted to switch to systemd-boot, but it was far more difficult than expected, and I gave up and just left it with GRUB. On Arch there is support for many different options, and they’re all very easy. You don’t have to accept what the distribution wants you to use.

The other fantastic feature of Arch Linux though is that it seems to solve the classic divide of Linux distributions: new software vs stable software. If I were to pick RHEL as my distribution it would be stable, sure, but the software is old, and most modern apps can’t be easily installed. Just getting flatpak on RHEL is next to impossible. I could alternatively pick Fedora, but then I have to go through a huge upgrade every six months and often things break.

Arch is a hybrid of these approaches, in that it is a rolling release distribution. I have access to all the latest stable versions of all the software I want, but there is no ‘big bang’ forced upgrade every six months. I update when I want to, and Arch updates individual packages as they reach a stable point based on the application itself, rather than an arbitrary time deadline. With RHEL software is considered stable just because it is of a certain age – with Arch, software is considered stable when the developers have declared it to be so based on their thorough understanding of their own releases. You might think that Arch would be somewhat like Debian unstable – frequent bugs and breakages from updates – but in fact Arch seems to hit the sweet spot of stability and modernity.

Pretty much my only criticism of Arch is the lack of a standard AUR installation tool in the base platform. AUR refers to ‘arch user repository’ – add-on software packages that aren’t maintained by the core team. It is heavily used by end users though, and there are many front end tools to make it easy to install AUR packages. Without one of these tools users have to clone a git repository and build packages themselves. With a frontend, such as pacaur (which is what I used), its as simple as using the standard package manager.

So, if you like Linux, and use it on the desktop, and want a better experience: go give Arch a try. You might just like it 🙂

Don’t be so dramatic! Part 1

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So Britain voted to leave the European Union. The leave campaign largely based its campaign on two pillars of “there won’t be an economic impact!” and “immigration must be controlled!”. Essentially the older and less educated people voted Leave after being lied to by the leave campaign. In order to provide evidence to leave voters who even now refuse to admit their mistake I will document on this blog every so often the reality of Brexit.

We’ve had enough of experts

  • On credit ratings: The UK’s credit rating has been changed to ‘Negative’ by Moodys (one of the ‘big three’ credit agencies). “Moody’s said the referendum result would have “negative implications for the country’s medium-term growth outlook”, and it lowered the UK’s long term issuer and debt ratings to “negative” from “stable”.” Source
    Standard and Poor’s has also warned Britain’s top “AAA” credit rating is now at risk. Source
  • On the value of our currency: “Sterling also plunged, falling more than 8% against the dollar and 6% against the euro.” Source
  • On the UK stock market: FTSE100 down 3.12%. “In London the FTSE 250, which mostly comprises companies that trade in the UK, shed 7.2% to close at 16,088 points.” This was the worst slide in history. “That was the biggest daily slide for the index, and equated to £25bn being wiped off the value of its companies, according to the LSE.” Source, Source
  • On the topic of why the FTSE recovered: “”A significant number of FTSE 100 stocks ended the day in positive territory, predominantly those companies with lots of overseas earnings, which stand to benefit from a weaker pound” Source
  • On the lack of housing: “House builders were also the three biggest fallers on the FTSE 100, with Taylor Wimpey suffering a 29% slide.” Source
  • On British banks: “Major UK banks were also badly hit. Lloyds fell 21%, while Barclays and RBS both slid 18%. HSBC, which has a large Asian business, fell just 1.4%.” Source
  • On the European stock market: “European markets have been well and truly spanked, however, with the Dax in Frankfurt down 6.8% – its worst day since the financial crisis in 2008, the Cac in Paris shed 8%, Madrid fell 12%, while Milan takes the wooden spoon with a 12.5% plunge.” Source
  • On the US stock market: “Wall Street wobbled further in the last hour of trading in New York, with the Dow Jones ending more than 600 points, or 3.4%, lower at 17,400 points – the biggest one-day fall in almost five years. The S&P 500 fell 3.6% – the biggest daily slide in 10 months – while the Nasdaq slumped 4.1%. That was the tech-focused index’s worst day since 2011.” Source
  • On the price of fuek: Prices are likely to rise: ‘Retailers and the AA motoring organisation warned that petrol prices were likely to rise by 2p-3p a litre because of the pound’s fall against the dollar.’ Source
  • On growth: “BBC business correspondent Joe Lynam tells a special edition of Business Live that UBS is predicting UK economic growth will swiftly fall to zero this year. The Swiss bank forecasts that GDP will remain at zero for much of 2017, raising the strong likelihood of a recession, he says. It won’t take much – economic growth slowed to 0.4% in the first quarter of the year.” Source
  • On jobs: “Sources within Morgan Stanley have told the BBC that the bank is stepping up a process that could see up to 2,000 of its London-based investment banking staff being relocated to Dublin or Frankfurt.”  Source Airbus, which employs thousands in the UK, said: “Britain will suffer” and “Of course we will review our UK investment strategy, like everybody else will.”  Source

Its alright though, because: “Andrea Leadsom, a Leave MP, says there “just is not the evidence” of a financial meltdown hitting the UK in the wake of the vote, as predicted by some Remain campaigners.”

Lies, damn lies, and leave campaign lies

  • On spending money on the NHS instead of the EU: Farage admits that the idea of spending the ‘£350 million a week’ figure which we ‘send to the EU’ (which was proven to be a lie before the vote) will not be spent on the NHS. Source.
  • On immigration and the free movement of people: “Meanwhile, Conservative MEP and Leave campaigner Daniel Hannan told BBC Newsnight he could envisage a situation where the UK had “free movement of labour” and “From earlier on the Big Decision, Conservative MEP and Leave campaigner Dan Hannan said there was no promise to reduce immigration by leaving the European Union.” Source
  • On France moving Calais border checks back to the UK: During the campaign it was suggested by France that they would no longer honour a 2003 deal in Calais. The leave campaign said this was ‘fear mongering’. Not surprisingly within 24 hours of the Brexit vote France said they would indeed end the deal.”The British must take the consequences of their choice,” she said on Friday. Source
  • On stable government: David Cameron claimed he would stay on as Prime Minister even if he lost the referendum, and we were told by Leave campaigners that he should stay on whatever the outcome. The reality: he resigned. Source
  • On the ‘United’ Kingdom: The leave campaign assured us that there would be no second Scottish independence referendum. After Scotland voted to remain overwhelmingly the Scottish government has begun work to hold one. Source
  • On trade deals with the rest of the world: “A White House spokesman said Mr Obama “stands by what he said” about the UK going to “the back of the queue” when it comes to trade deals with the US.” Source

This of course was just the first 24 hours. Uncertainty is the order of the day.

Life is not fair

I loathe the phrase. As a statement of fact it doesn’t really make that much sense. Life can’t be fair or unfair. Its just what it is. People rarely utter this phrase to support somebody and is not supportive anyway. More often people use this phrase as justification.  “Well, life isn’t fair”. Its a common phrase for parents to utter to their children. “Life is awful so don’t complain” seems to be the implication.

If you were to disagree with my assertion above, then logically we use the phrase “life isn’t fair” to explain that the world is not a fair place and thus logically we must expect in our lives to be treated unfairly, to be treated badly, to expect misfortune, bad luck, and for other people to not treat us justly.

Are we really saying that though? We also get told we must follow the rule of law, we must do what our teachers say, we must do what our managers say, we should treat others as we expect to be treated, we should be fair to others. Aren’t these two statements in conflict with each other? The phrase “life isn’t fair” as a justification only works if we thus teach or ‘allow’ people to be unfair to others.

I don’t believe in a “just world”. I don’t believe karma is real or that a divine entity will make adjustments to make life fair. I do believe that actions have consequences but not to a grand plan of fairness, actions and reactions are just what they are, and just happen, in many cases randomly.

Despite all of this I go about each day with a genuine, deeply felt sense that I have been treated badly, undeservedly. I do not deserve to be treated as I am. Given how much time I spend caring about everybody else, given how much effort I put into things that benefit others, its not fair, right?

Well, I believe this because I was taught that we must all be kind to each other, we must honour each other, be nice, and not be selfish. Quite frankly this is utter bullshit. I have nothing but anger and contempt for the actions of people who taught me this tripe. Its not true. The world isn’t a fair place, as they blindly would tell me when I was mistreated, but would enforce their moral views on me anyway. I’m required to care about others, not be selfish, but when others do the same to me, all that is left is an empty statement of agreement and a useless retort – life isn’t fair.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt through counselling is that our life is ours alone and we should not let others control us, instead, we must seek to achieve what we want and in most cases put our needs before others. All of this is in super stark contrast to what most of us are told when children, when we’re taught that we should put others first.

Life isn’t fair, so why should I act fairly all the time? Why exactly must I accept that life is shit, and yet, feel guilty if I do what I want rather than what others want? Why exactly am I expected to not do things others don’t like, or act the way others want me to act, when nobody ever does that for me?

What really bothers me is that in life other people act unfairly, and I have to accept this, because life isn’t fair, and I’m not allowed to act unfairly myself, but on top of this, I’m not even allowed to express my frustration about other peoples actions. No. I must not do this. I must be quiet, not cause a problem, and censor myself, because, after all, life isn’t fair.

In researching this blog post I read a lot of articles about fairness and the reality of the world, one of my favourites was your broken idea of fairness. I don’t agree with all of it, and I don’t have a broken idea of fairness because, as you have just read, I know the world isn’t fair. What I think is important is his Rule number one. Life is a competition. It isn’t meant to be fair, and if you believed all that crap growing up about sharing, fairness, etc, then you were gullible. Life is about getting what you want over others.

I think the most important part of the article is talking about how other peoples morality is forced onto us as children:

People like to invent moral authority. It’s why we have referees in sports games and judges in courtrooms: we have an innate sense of right and wrong, and we expect the world to comply. Our parents tell us this. Our teachers teach us this. Be a good boy, and have some candy.

But reality is indifferent. You studied hard, but you failed the exam. You worked hard, but you didn’t get promoted. You love her, but she won’t return your calls.

Life isn’t fair. But don’t let others tell you to act fairly when simultaneously justifying the world by saying it isn’t fair. Do what you want. Be you. Say it like it is, and realise that others are competing with you. Its very unlikely they will place you before them, so don’t place them before you.

Filestore Web Access – or how I fell in love with programming again

When I was 16 I wrote a little ‘CMS’ or website content management system called IonPanel. It was pretty awful – it was written in PHP and MySQL, was probably terribly insecure and I mostly programmed it on Windows using IIS. It was however terribly exciting to write, and rather popular for a little while. Searching for the right string on google would find hundreds upon hundreds of websites running the software, and it was open source! Lots of people contributed to it. Several of my friends wrote little CMS packages, but none were as popular as IonPanel, and none as fast and feature packed. I was very proud of it. Sadly it died of the second-system effect when I attempted to re-write it for version ‘2.0’. A beta was launched, but then I went to University, I started realising how terrible PHP was, and I gave up. IonPanel slowly died. As time passed I longed for that time again – when I was writing code daily on an open source project that lots of people were using.

Since then I’ve written lots of code for lots of people but nothing has captivated me like IonPanel did – until now – twelve years later. A year or so ago I got the idea of writing a web interface to the University’s file storage platform. I’d recently got into Python and wanted to find a CIFS/SMB library I could use from Python. I found one – albeit badly documented and barely used – and wrote an application around it. Today that application has grown into something I’m extremely proud of. Enter ‘Filestore Web Access’.

Filestore Web Access allows all university students and staff to access their personal and shared files from a modern web browser anywhere in the world. Until I created FWA getting access to files away from the University’s standard desktops was quite difficult, unless you knew how to use SSH!

At the time of writing, it’s looking really rather good, here it is in two different themes:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 19.30.55           fwa-flatly

The responsive design (thanks to Twitter Bootstrap, and a lot of extra code) causes it to work great on mobile:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 19.36.28 fwa-mobile-1

And the new login screen with changing backgrounds I’m especially proud of:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 19.33.35 Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 19.33.59 Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 19.33.47

 

I intend to write more about FWA in the next few days and weeks. Until then you can look take a look at even more screenshots!

You can also view the project page on GitHub: https://divad.github.io/bargate/