Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Further misadventures

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Warning: The following serves mostly as stress/tension release. With one thing and another, the Nazi series will likely see an interruption until late next week.

After my long period of problems (cf. earlier texts), things were really beginning to look up again, a day here-and-there with construction works notwithstanding. True, I had partially bought this improvement through slacking off, neglecting my writing and reading, letting the mail mount up again, and not, for now, getting to the bottom of a few outrages (notably, the inexcusable behavior of building management and the local chimney sweep, where I have put off very thorough complaints for over a year)*.

*If and when I get around to them, I might also write a few blog entries on the topic. Chances are that you will not believe me, because the situations are so utterly absurd. (And those complaints are on a very different level from the ones in this text.)

Still, things were locking up, I was beginning to get my energy back, writing was beginning to look good again, I was beginning to read heavier material, and I had the new project of researching emigration from Germany (which by now borders on being a Leftist dictatorship).

Then the screen of my newish computer just dies…

(Fortunately, just a few hours after the latest full backup. I have hopes that the issue will be repairable, as it might simply be a loose contact somewhere, but there is no guarantee, notebook repairs are often disproportionately expensive relative the original price, and there is not telling how long this might take.)

This, then, amounts to less than four months of use, while its predecessor might have worked for four years.

The next day, yesterday, I went to the local Mediamarkt to look for replacements*. Again, a bit of good luck among the bad—had this happened a little earlier, Mediamarkt might have been closed or off limits due to Covid restrictions.

*As shown both now and around New Year’s, notebooks are highly troublesome when something goes wrong, as the user has to start almost from scratch and he can be restricted in his work for days. With a desktop, I could usually just buy a new one and spend five minutes switching hard drives, while a mere monitor issue could be solved by just replacing the monitor. (Yes, notebook hard drives can also be replaced, but they are much trickier to access, might differ too much in size to fit in another notebook, and the driver situation can be trickier, which makes for more work post-replacement.)

I walked, as I always do, the few kilometers, but finding myself more tired and lacking in energy than I would have expected from such a distance. Too much time indoors due to a mixture of COVID-restrictions, low temperatures, and (during last summer) prolonged bronchitis have really damaged my fitness. (And then we have the question what this might imply for the future. If I fail to compensate through that much harder work, it might very well be a few years of my life when I am in my eighties.)

I walked around Mediamarkt, looking for suitable specimens, beginning, close at the entry to the second floor, with a set of marked-down-due-to-damage computers. Marked down? Maybe, but, apart from the Chromebooks, they were still more expensive than I cared for, and I had the slight fear that some mixture of stampeding inflation, bottlenecks for various chips and whatnots, and market segmentation* would make the affair far more expensive than intended.**

*E.g. in that only Chromebooks and various Android devices can be had cheaply, while a “grown up” computer goes for massively more. Chromebooks et al, however, are not suitable for my current purposes.

**A few years back, I wrote about an atypical lack of progress or even regression in terms of bang-for-buck when it comes to computers. At that time, the decades long trend towards ever more bang for the buck was temporarily broken. A reason for this might have been the vastly increased demand for smartphone components.

I walked over to where the regular items were found, easy to spot and well displayed—and so expensive that I could not believe my eyes. The cheapest (!) went for 900-something Euro, while the median might have been in excess of 1200.* As a comparison, my first notebook, bought in, maybe, 2000, went for less than 3000 DM or around 1500 Euro. (Yes, this was a low-end specimen and there have been more than twenty years of inflation—but there have also been more than twenty years of technological progress.)

*Reservation: I go by memory and did not take exact mental notes. The general idea holds, even should I have the details wrong.

Then, the day seemed saved: in a much less visible aisle, I found a handful of notebooks at much more moderate prices, of which I picked two (of different models) for a total of less than 900 Euro. These, while low-end, were even of better bang-for-buck than the last time around.*

*Which points to the broken trend having resumed in the interim. Imagine my relief.

Sadly, the year is 2022 and the notebooks still all came with a useless and price-increasing Windows installation. Again: 2022—not 2002. This shit should be long behind us.

I went back home on foot and, having a bad conscience about my fallen endurance, picked a road a little longer and much hillier. (Wuppertal has no end on hills, if one picks the right or, depending on perspective, wrong path.) The result: For the first time in years, even with my building in sight, I had to stop to get my breath back—and the last time around I had a loud both heavier and more awkward to carry.* Halfway up to the third floor, I had to halt again—also for the first time since that heavier-and-more-awkward load. Once in my apartment, I put my notebooks down, kicked off my shoes, dropped my jacket to the floor, too tired to hang it, and then I laid down on the floor, myself, where I spent several minutes. Now, I am not saying that this day would have been an outright pick-nick in the past, but… Two years ago, I would neither have had to stop, nor would I have found myself on the floor afterwards—and I suspect that I would have held a higher average tempo.

*The sum of bag and notebooks might have been around 5 kg, maybe less. (Weight is an area where there really has been progress.) To my very vague recollection, the prior event, involving furniture, might have been at 16 kg, but, in all fairness, over a shorter and flatter course.

After a brief excursion, at snails-pace-by-my-standards, to buy food, I spent most of the remainder of the day feeling really lousy, as I do after an overexertion. The intended high point of the day was a Tex-Mex pizza from the local store (one of my favorite dishes). I put it off until the evening—delayed gratification and all that. Twenty-five minutes in the oven, as I like the pizza crispy and firm, and it should have been good to go. But no. I tried to fish it out onto a teller with a fork, as I always do and which has never failed me in the past. This time, very unfirm dough split around the fork tines and the pizza landed in a heap on the oven lid. I tried to grab the heap with the fork and a hand, and the fork just went through it again, leaving nothing that could reasonably be eaten.*

*I do not know what the problem was. A possibility is that I had not turned one of the knobs far enough, but, if so, I should have noticed it when I turned off the oven—as I always have on the very few prior occasions when a knob has been short of the mark.

Today, I began the installation of Linux (Gentoo). Here things grew tiresome again. For starters, I had, around New Year’s, downloaded the installation manual* to an e-reader—which should be perfect right now. But no. When I opened the document, the font was on the small side, so I picked a larger one. The result: The reader locked up in “hour-glass mode” for so long that it went into power-save** mode before the document had reloaded. Once done, simply going from page 2 to page 3 caused another massive delay, after which the power-save mode was reactivated. After turning the thing on again, I was still on page 2… After several repetitions, I tried to go back in size, as things had worked to begin with. The reader worked for half an eternity, went into power-save mode—and was, surprise, still using the larger font afterwards. Several repetitions brought no improvement.

*Note that Gentoo is a distribution for somewhat more proficient users, and that there is a lot more manual work and own decisions to make than with e.g. Debian.

**Due to the minutes of waiting. The battery, to avoid misunderstandings, was fully loaded.

I gave up and began the installation on the first notebook. Just as I recalled, the installation medium did not contain the installation instructions (a bizarre choice, especially considering how little space would be needed), and the central “man” command for displaying other documentation was equally missing. Fortunately, “cryptsetup” was present and I could mount my (encrypted) backup drive, where I, among other needed things, did have a copy of the installation guide. From here on, things went much smoother than around New Year’s; in part, because I had some experience; in part, because I could forego a number of steps and just populate most of the hard drive from the backup drive. However, there were still quite a few curses, due to the incompatibilities of the defaults in the installation shell and my own ingrained-in-my-fingers preferences. Some obscure errors held me back for a while, because I had forgotten to manually add a “/tmp” directory (which I do not backup), including that tmux refused to start.*

*And why is it so hard to give decent error messages? Pretty much the first rule of writing error messages is to indicate what object caused the problem. It should never be e.g. “File not found!”, but “File XYZ not found!”. Ditto, never “Access denied!” but “Access to XYZ denied!” (unless the object is obvious from the interaction).

Still, apart from some issue with the sound,* I had a working computer and a working Internet much, much faster than last time around—and i decided to carry on with the second, too, today. (Originally, intended for tomorrow.)

*A missing driver, likely. I will look into that later. The device is found by “lspci” but is not in e.g. the “/dev” tree.

But no. While it definitely has a functioning hard drive, as it managed to boot into the pre-installed Windows when I was a little slow with entering the BIOS. However, when I tried the Gentoo installation, this hard drive simply could not be found. There is not even a “/dev” entry. If I have the energy, I will troubleshoot tomorrow, but in a worst case, I might have to replace the boot-image for the installation. Absurd. Again, the year is 2022 and interfaces should be sufficiently standardized that something like that simply cannot happen.

(I also have some misgivings about the keyboard layout. As I noticed during my brief experiments, a few keys had been moved out of position in a manner that could be extremely annoying to the touch typist. Another first rule, and another one all too often violated—if you design keyboards, keep the touch typist in mind, not just the hunt-and-peck typist.)


Written by michaeleriksson

April 23, 2022 at 9:52 pm

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