Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings

I start here this new thread of a singular name as a prolongation of an exchange that [deleted] and I began in Our Favorite Distros as a simple commentary of how our inner dichotomies lead to our tech choices. But things escalated quickly and our conversation took a steep turn into literature philosophy science … or to parody the Red book of Westmarch, There and back again. (I’ll post the beginning of the conversation below)
And so we thought that a new and off topical thread was a better place to continue our exchange. So here it is I hope some of you will find it interesting and enjoyable.

Fun question. In other posts, I’ve mentioned that I experiment with nearly any distro I can, on a spare laptop (older than the Ancient One!), and in vm’s sometimes. I generally find, as with people, food courts, and life its ownself (that’s ripped off from Dan Jenkins, sports fans), there are things to like about one’s least favourite distros, and things one wishes were better in one’s favourites. Having said that, my list of distros that I favour, and a couple of comments, natch.

My daily driver is, and has been for years, debian stable. Like Kolibri, I build my from the net install iso (non-free firmware, those pesky laptop wifi matters, of course). I always use the expert install, curses or gui, not because I’m an expert (perish forbid, heaven forfend!), but because they do afford some options and choices I prefer to make.

I install, as I’ve said elsewhere here, multiple desktop environments and window managers (but, sorry to the enthusiasts, I have never found a tiling window manager to fit my tastes), but my main WM is WindowMaker, for the looks, I’m a shallow old boy, ain’t I? I readily admit I wish debian stable had more up to date apps, but I prefer the stability on my daily machine (in part because my adored wife of 30 years uses that machine too, and I don’t want her plagued by any issues testing or unstable might bring (so I run those as some of my experiments on the laptop hard drives I keep). Which leads to…

MX linux. A spectacular distro, and an exception to my usual preference for mainstream widely used distros (Yeah, yeah, distro watch, I hear ya, ya big galloots), because it does so much so well.
It is basically debian stable, so that fits my needs. But it updates the kernel and things like firefox to newer versions, fulfilling my wish that debian was a bit more up to date, even in stable (anyone remember the abortive Debian CUT project of several years past?). MX linux also has created some amazingly robust and solid tools, which every distro could look to for inspiration, or with envy, if they are petty, lol. While I still use debian as my daily driver (I’ll explain my philosophy on that below a bit later), I use MX as my go to USB portable/rescue distro. I have it on several USB drives. It boots fast and has the tools I need. And that leads to yet another segue, about rescue distros.

We don’t talk too much about having to rescue or repair systems using specialized rescue software. It might be fun to do a distro challenge comparing various “distros” centered around rescuing. I use gparted (the system, not just the tool), rescatux, and clonezilla (different than a rescue, but it fits in here nicely), I also have Tom’s and the Ultimate Boot Disk and a few others. These also have some nice hacking tools and disk repair and retrieval tools, and so on.

Another distro I like, with qualifications, is Fedora. I used RedHat back in the 4.2 days to learn, and in the 7.2 days as a daily driver, before switching to Mandrake when one build of RedHat just failed me. I think fedora has become far more stable in the last few years, and since they added opensuse’s libsolv to their package manager (DNF), they handle dependencies pretty much as well as apt does in Debian. I can’t explain this, but I always feel at home in Fedora, too, something about it works for me. I didn’t use it for some years because I was, to be honest, kind of put off, even disgusted, by how there were so many conflicting 3rd party repos (which you need in fedora, or rather, which I need, I have no idea what YOU ALL need, lol). But over the past while, rpmfusion has become the predominate and excellent go to repo, so they solved that one to my liking. If I could not used a debian based distro, I think this would be my daily driver. Unless…

…It were to be opensuse, which I used not to like, but have come to enjoy a lot, and deeply respect. I think opensuse (HI, CubicleNate, or is it going to be ObstiNate today, grin) gets too little credit because a lot of their most impressive accomplishments are either under the hood or in the back end, rather than flashy stuff. As I mentioned about, their package manager, zypper, uses libsolv to do dependencies the way in the old days, only apt in debian managed to do them so well. It’s a really solid distro. The things I most mislike (yes, I, the Master of the True Dictionary, tell you “mislike” IS a valid synonym for “dislike”) about opensuse are the default colours (so I change them, duh) and the downstream branding. However, they make it pretty easy to change that or remove that, much easier than Ubuntu.

Which, in yet another segue (I did do radio long ago, lol), leads to distros I won’t use, or don’t like. I wouldn’t mention just to be negative, but they help explain things about my choices above. I do not use anything arch or arch based (and yes, I’ve installed all of them, it’s not an issue of “can’t”, it’s an issue of “won’t”), or ubuntu or ubuntu based.

That’s a LOT of distros. Here’s the thing. Both Arch and Ubuntu make choices both practically and philosophically I do not care for at all. These are disqualifying, since I have so many other choices. I continue to experiment with them, both to keep up with things (and due to my scientific curiosity about all things, as Richard Feynman might put it), and in continual hope that they change what I mislike.

It’s too bad, because there are some aspects of each distro family I don’t like that I do admire, greatly, even. But not enough to tip the balance, as Prof. Alan Lichtman might say. This is a topic about what we like, however, so I’ll save specifics of my dislikes for another time.

What I will conclude with is that promised philosophy, not only of linux, but in things general. I am teased by one of my closest friends about my “mania” (HIS term, lol) for backups, alternatives, redundancies, and spares. All my life, despite being a radical leftist from the hippy generation, my mind has worked like that of a pentagon general or CIA operative, or maybe just a science type guy. I prefer to plan for all contingencies, and have to hand any number of solutions to problems before they arise, rather than to cope with them after they do.

This impinges on my linux choices in making me lean towards distributions that are so broadly spread out that the likelihood of their going away is minimized. Of course I am aware that any corporate run distro could perish at the whims of the market or the board of directors (one of manifold reasons I am not a capitalist). But I more fear the distro that is run by so small a team (or even one individual) that that distro’s lifeline is tenuous. Way way way back when debian was the “scary” distro (yes, before gentoo and arch, it was old reliable debian that blew people’s minds and made beginners wet themselves), a guy made a distro called Libranet, that basically made debian easy (well, easy enough, cough cough) to run for even an idiot newbie like me (not all newbies are idiots, I claim the honour, though). It added a control panel not unlike Mandrake’s old control panel. Doing that for Debian was nothing short of spectacular. But, very sadly the guy who did this distro died. His son never acquiesced to releasing the code (it was proprietary), and so that distro died. I’ve been spooked by smaller distros ever since. For those curious about this distro, I’ll provide a link below, and finish my summary after:



Libranet was an operating system based on Debian GNU/Linux. The last version (as of April 25, 2005) released is Libranet 3.0, which cost about $90 in US dollars for new users, or $65 for existing Libranet users. The previous version, Libranet 2.8.1, became free to download. Development of Libranet has been discontinued.

I do want to say that despite my not liking Ubuntu, I admire the work that guys here like Popey and Wimpy put in, they are great guys, it is the corporation Canonical and some of their decisions that put me off.

And that’s too bad, because I’m most impressed with the offspring of ubuntu, like PopOS, Peppermint, Mint, Zorin, and so forth.

My skittishness about small distros does tell us one final thing. My respect for MX linux and their small team is enormous, since they are a small (relatively) distro, but I use it so much. It’s a great project.

Impressive rant! I particularly like how the schizophrenia between the leftist hippy and the CIA operative part of your brain paved the way for the Debian adoption.

Very interesting and fun read thank you.

Thank you, Magelin. I’ll go a little off topic here, since you addressed the dichotomy (polite word for schizo, ha ha ha ha!) that has always existed in me. I always think the line Bob Dylan wrote “Always on the outside of whatever side there was” describes me well. Or to go classical (wait, Dylan won the Nobel Prize, he’s a classical poet, too!), Whitman said “I am multitudes” and Emerson said “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”, so I take comfort in being crazy the way the great poets were/are. But more seriously…

This dichotomy is not as paradoxical or as contervailing as it seems at first blush. Suppose one has the heart of a leftist hippy, but thinks they are often naive and their methods insufficiently self-preserving. Suppose one has the mind, the precision, and the will of that CIA/pentagon/MI6/CSIS type. But thinks those organisations are too often heartless or misguided. One might conclude that what was needed, to put it in dialectic terms, was a synthesis between the hypothesis of the organisations, and the antithesis of the anarchists. What might come of that is…well, me, lol. But true! But further more…

There is a comic book writer of great talent, Grant Morrison. In his magnum opus “The Invisibles”, he creates just such a team of folks, who employ strong methods and disciplines, but in the name of justice, truth, fair play, kindness, and mercy, rather than autocracy and control and fascism. There were a number of comic books, ground level and underground, which dealt with such themes. The aforementioned Invisibles, and Bryan Talbot’s redoubtable “The Adventures of Luther Arkwright”, outstanding among them.

Grant actually said once that he wanted to do a series in which the people with whom he sympathized adopted the tools of James Bond, and that’s how Invisibles and his protagonist, King Mob, came to be.

Actually, all that kind of blooms from John Lennon saying in an interview, “Well, we tried flower power and it didn’t work, so now we have to try something else.”

Lest anyone find this too fantabulist, it is not too far from the teachings of the Mahayana and Shaolin Zen monks, who characterized themselves as warrior priests. Even the old TV show, Kung Fu, got it pretty right: “Why teach a priest kung fu? The thorn protects the rose, harming no one, save those who would destroy it.”

Parenthetically, I’ve practiced June Fan Jeet Kune Do (that’s Bruce Lee’s kung fu) and various other martial arts for over half a century now (luckily, the monks developed practices for age and infirmities, so I can continue to maintain myself even in my declining years). I used to hang out with some zen monks in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, back in the 80’s. They ran a bookstore I used to frequent, and we became friends. What did we do? We told a lot of lightbulb jokes, no kidding.

I’ll end with one, though I’m not sure it’s as appreciable if you haven’t spent time with monks. “How many zen monks does it take to change a lightbulb?” ANSWER: Fifty four. One to change it; one not to change it; one to both change and not change it; one to neither change nor not change it; and fifty to write the commentaries." Th-th-th-that’s all folks!

As a scholar, a teacher and a scientist, I applaud your willingness to aggregate the best of both worlds.
I tend to believe that the recipe for such an alchemy would require more elemental changes on both sides of the equation. To paraphrase Dr S. Pinker what we see as cyclical flaws in both ideology are most certainly structural and that’s why every society that tried either way plunged into chaos, and why our western secular/capitalist/socialist society has prospered by “floating in the middle”, but always naturally rejecting both.
In a way we have been living “Always on the outside of whatever side there was” for a long time, in a type of Darwinian social evolution responding to self-generated cultural and economic pressure. But “I digress”.

I’m not familiar with the comic books you mention but will lay eyes on them as quickly as I can. But from what you describe the story line seems awesome for a fiction but a bit naive for the real world. Because, as alluring as it sounds giving Guns to Roses (pun intended) won’t end in the expected type of crimson shower.
And maybe the methods are as important as the ideas and are what make fascist and autocrat what they are, “Nothing is evil at its beginning, not even Sauron was.” Everything is an evolutionary process.

As for your Lightbulb joke I found it pretty enjoyable, even if, coming from the Richard Dawkins school of evolutionary thought Monks tends not to enjoy my company very much. :wink:

PS we should start an off topic / philosophy thread, I need more such conversation in my life!

Good afternoon, Maeglin,

I’ve returned to take up our thread, so echoing your disclaimer, this will be off topic, folks. Though one hopes not wholly unentertaining. I usually interlineate my replies in email, so as to effect a simulation of a conversation; but in the interest of saving forum space, I’ll simply make reply here in the more typical manner.

Before I take up our thread, I did look at your self-introduction. I see you teach middle school. My wife Janette also teaches middle school here in Iowa. She had taught English/Language arts for about 30 years, but just this year after obtaining her endorsement in ELL (called ESL in some venues), she’s switched over to teach that. She’s quite excited. She’s replacing her friend in the position, as she retired.

Now, we’ve hit it off well, but I fear it’s time to disappoint you. You are a Tolkien Scholar. I have never felt the pull of those tomes. I read fantasy, science fiction, and other genre materials, so it isn’t that. I hope you agree with me that friends may disagree on matters of taste and still find much in comity–and sometimes much fun and risibility in good disagreements. I see you like a “rough debate”, so I may have come to the right kiosk here. Besides, Rod Serling preached the horrors of a world in which we all had the same tastes well half a century ago and then some, ennit? If we work at it, we can find some literature I like that you mislike, and it’ll all come out in the wash.

Now, how’s that for tangential? I went off topic from our original off topic. One more, and we’re in Groucho Marx territory–which is nice territory, I spent a week there one day.

Though I’ve no doubt your kneeling is tongue-in-cheek, do allow me to suggest that I will kneel (I can scarce kneel with my ancient knees, but it’s easier for me than doing anything humbly, I warrant) in kind, because among peers (or even Peers, as my old pal Dave Sim might put it), we must be reciprocal. Round tables and all that. Feel free to steal any quotations I adduce, we are, after all, in an open source world here. Though I’m not sure Mr. Zimmerman would concur.

I mayn’t be a Tolkien aficionado, but I salute Bilbo’s wisdom there.

Do you teach science, or is that ancillary to your career? I am not a scholar, I am what a homeless person in Ottawa once delightfully called a “cultured ruffian”. I wear it like a veritable badge.

Actually, that’s a sub sub sub genre of fiction I like, in which the protagonist appears to be a ruffian or barbarian, but turns out to have a scholarly or cultured side he or she simply chooses to sublimate. If you were to ask me to give it a scholarly name, that sub sub sub genre would perhaps be the “Natty Bumpo school” Should you prefer the pulps, you might instead use the coinage the “Greystoke school”.

I do not gainsay whatsoever the notion that both sides of the equation need their variables polished to create such alchemy. Please do forgive me if I speak in broadstrokes and allegories, I am well aware that, as my current signature line reads, the words of Loki are harsh after the songs of Baldur (yes you’ve sussed out my filthy secret, I actually have the nerve to edit Shakespeare himself!). There is little doubt in me that to create an actual synthesis of those stances requires a great deal of discipline, hard work, and creativity. Still, I am living proof that the formula can at least have some application.

I am not sure I would concur with you that our western society has prospered so much as simply generated a slower rate of entropy than other models. Perhaps that is prosperity, but I’d like to think the green light at the end of Gatsby’s pier betokened at least a better hope.

Paraphrasing Dr. Pinker is always welcome here. But let me run with your suggestion. Yes, our society, flawed as it may be, manages by avoiding the wretched excesses of both extremes. My issue is that I feel the number line (or matrix or tensor, if you like advanced math) has been rejiggered and is not quite plumb.

I love your Darwinian response to self-generated cultural and economic pressure line. My favourite part is the “self-generated”.

You may be “apologizing” to the BDLL folks in general for digression, but never think you need do so to me. I digress like no one’s business. If I had time here, I’d tell you about a chat I had with a renowned psychiatrist, and his own views on tangential digressions.

Love the Guns to Roses pun. But let me tell you a story that used to make the rounds (er, so I am informed) at Langley. There is a wolf preying on a flock of sheep. The shepherd acquires a sheep dog. Interestingly, at first, the sheep fear the sheep dog equally as they fear the wolf, because, well, you know. Fangs. Sharp howls. That sort of thing. Awfully similar. Yet, over time, the flock notices a significant difference. At the days end, the wolf used to go home smelling of sheep’s blood; the dog goes home smelling of clover and safety. Yes, CIA guys–the good ones–really were a whimsical lot. Don’t let all those horrible folk that got in besmirch everyone with their stench.

Everything may indeed be an evolutionary process, though I’d ask, would that include reverse evolution or devolution, perhaps? And would revolutionary processes interdict or simply catalyze same?

Well, now do not mistake me. To the chagrin of some good folk here, I am quite in the Dawkins school. You may add the Hitchens, Ellison, Pullman (the lack of conjunction is not an error, teacher–it is a tribute to the style of Don DeLillo, nota bene) schools to that.

What you seem to have done is met the “wrong” monks. Among the ones I knew best–and by no means is this all monks, or even the majority, but it is SOME of them–zen was not a theology. It was hardly a cosmology (one day ask me what I wrote to Mortimer Adler about such matters, if you care to do). It was more a philosophy, but in fact, it was most accurately simply a way of life, of living. My monks, so to say, I can assure you, would have delighted in your company, just as I am doing now. We are in comity on such matters, it seems.

Yes, I suppose we ought do start an off topic thread. If we call it philosophy, however, how will I ever be able to quote one of my favourite scientists, Richard Feynman (who agreed with us on the matter just above, by the by, but I bet you knew that)? Let’s not call it epistemology, either. How about “shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings”? (another note to the teacher, the placement of punctuation marks this or that side of quotation marks (or as we used to say, inverted commas) reflects my time in Canada, not my errant ways. Many other things reflect those errant ways, however.

If you really feel you need such conversation in your life, you know where to find me any time. We are well met indeed, I should say.

A brief apology to those who actually do feel this thread got too off topic. Maeglin and I may be indulgent here, but forgive us, or me at least, he may speak for himself, it would be hubris for me to try to do that for him. My excuse is simple. This was a lot of fun for me.

t took a little longer than I expected for me to write this answer, but the day has been quite full and only now, as Selene climbs into the Heavens, find I time to write those lines.

Let’s take care of the mundane maters first. Hope your wife enjoy her middle school teaching gig. I used to teach Medieval Lit and Fantasy + Scy-fi Lit In College but I’ve been teaching middle school ever since I moved to New-Caledonia nearly a decade ago.
As for teaching Science I try to do as much as the curriculum will let me but my passion originated in College where I took a 3-year detour in Theoretical Physics before coming back to Literature and philology.

As for you not liking Tolkien well, sometimes evolution screws-up and there is nothing to do about it lol. More seriously though as much as I welcome the company of a good Tolkienist or the lore of a learned Trekky, I positively relish in the presence of any lit lover who can decently argue his position.
I must confess that nothing light up those little gray cells of mine as a good tough debate, opposition is the mother of all progress and I think it is crucial in intellect to bathe and rejoice in it.
And speaking of debate I was overjoyed to see you mention the late Christopher Hitchkens whom I’ve been lucky enought to meet a few times and even luckier to watch him twice debate a bunch of poor clerics of all orders who at the end of the hour could differentiate their right from their left, and as much as I love Dawkins’ or Pinker’s word craftsmanship or Tyson’s and Olsen’s erudite prose, Hitch’s style speaks to both my higher and lower intellectual instincts, and watching him take the most complex idea, adorn it with all the facts data and quotes as to turn it into the finest jewel of an argument and then with a single word transform his shinning piece into an offspring of Mjolnir and Grond and then casually bludgeon his opponent and the audience with it is one of the most cathartic things I’ve ever experienced in my life. All that to say that Brave New World’s style conversations are not my cup of tea. And so your lack of enthusiasm for Tolkien’s work may indeed not be of any consequence here except maybe to push me to try to have you see the light :wink:

Speaking of trying, your theme of the Cultured Ruffian is explored many times in Tolkien’s Legendarium through characters like Aragorn in TLotR {the Fellowship of the Ring : “Frodo: “I think a servant of the Enemy would look fairer and feel fouler.””} Thorin in the Hobbit or Turin in the Silmarillion. And I may add that I would myself be glad to be described as a Cultured Ruffian for it is always the funniest point of view and the spot that requires the sharpest wits.

Jumping here from Charybdis to Scylla I go here from literature to philosophy, first to argue that our western society does not simply generate a slower rate of entropy but effectively counter it and generates progress order wealth and happiness. Not to say that it is perfect far from it and it must always be analyzed questioned and challenged but from a place that aims at improvement at betterment, not at destruction or replacement for I strongly believe that old Winston was right about democracy.

And to complement here your story of the Sheep dog, I totally agree that good sheep dogs are necessary to protect the flock from the wolves of all sorts, and my previous comments did no seek to criticize the individuals that carry out this risky and often thankless task but I viscerally distrust all big human structure, for to continue the metaphor if the dogs get to numerous and self governed they will forget that they should serve the sheep and obey the Shepherd and start to bite the shepherd’s hand and rule over the sheep. (I’ll just reference here an excellent documentary Nothing to Hide)

It’s originally that sentiment that drove me to the Foss community I like to keep the kennel’s size reasonable. And funnily enough I find myself thinking that nowadays the linux community tend to keep the kennel a bit to small for its own good and that the Linux community in general may profit a great deal by being a little nicer to the Corporate world… Ahh the power of irony.

Well it’s with this deeply paradoxical thought that I will leave you for now, hoping that this quite singular thread will maybe appeal to others and looking forward to seeing it grow.

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Hi friend

I’m right now on a little trip to the sea-side with the whole family and sadly time quiet and a good connection are gonna be rare commodities.
It will then take me a little time to come here back to your last reply that I must say deserves a full and thoughtful answer for as you pointed better to explain too much than too little.


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It would indeed be the proper response be it in another elven tongue.
You spoke Elvanian from Kingdom of the divine Frost Lord and Namarie is Quenya from the Lord of the Rings. Isn’t technology wonderful 2 people, worlds apart, conversing in two different Elven Tongues, what a wonderful world!

Pe’vIl mu’qaDmey
(What better statement to concluded this post than a traditional Klingon farewell!)