Why I Switched to Linux and How Easy It Was

First off, I’m 65 and an acoustic musician who grew up playing classical music and who specializes in music of the 17th and 18th century on copies of instruments from that period. So I’m not some young super geek who’s all about modern technology. In other words – if I could do this, you can, too.

I did get a head start in computing when my mom – out of the blue – bought Commodore 64 computers when they first came out for me and my two brothers. (I only learned years later that she did not buy one for my sister who, to this day, blames that on her inability to do anything on a computer or even a cell phone.) Not long after, teaching at Duke University, I had access to a whole room of early Macintosh computers and I was tasked with keeping the books for and publishing the newsletter for the children’s music program I taught in. I also had access to the beginnings of the Internet which ran between Duke and UNC. Surfing with Lynx! Hyperlinks! It was a really big deal!

Anyway – I acquired my first “PC” from the Duke Surplus Store and the earliest version of Windows I remember was 3.1. I stuck with Windows up through Windows 7 and began to grow frustrated with the either lack of or great expense of or limitations of software that met my needs and the constant upgrade cycle and expenses involved with that. It seemed like more and more limitations were being placed on what I could do with software that I had purchased. Seems like around the same time it was getting harder and harder to repair my own car, too.

That’s when I began to hear about “open source” and someone gave me a disk with a version of Linux on it – Knoppix. You could run it from a removable disk and I played around with it and some of the free software available for it and it peaked my curiosity. Plus, there seemed to be a whole community of people who were tweaking and improving and sharing the software. And that was the main thing – community. It wasn’t some big corporation trying to sell me an upgrade every year and owning and controlling everything I could do. It was folks like me with an interest in making computers work for us – each with our own needs and skills. I was hooked on open source and the sharing and community around it.

In the following years I tried several distributions of Linux and eventually settled on Ubuntu for my desktop computing. I’m currently using Ubuntu Mate which is a desktop distro built on Ubuntu version 16.04. This (and many others) Linux distro is very much like the Windows or Mac systems you are used to – there are only a few small differences to learn for day-to-day use. There is software – much of it free – for everything that you do on Windows or Mac. Often it is the same software ported over to Linux or maybe it even originated on Linux in the first place. Some Microsoft and Apple proprietary software does not run on Linux but there are equal (and in some ways, better) replacements. The Microsoft Office suite of software, for instance, is matched beautifully by the LibreOffice suite on Linux and Word and Excel documents can be easily shared back and forth between the two platforms. Of course, you can always use the Microsoft products online through your browser now if you really want to stick with them.

Stuck I was for a while. I was dependent on Quickbooks for accounting and stuck in their endless cycle of upgrades and it was expensive and the software was not well made. I hated it but it was the only game in town for what I needed it to do. So, I had to buy a new computer to be able to upgrade to Windows 10 and I set it up to dual boot Windows and Ubuntu Linux. Back then it was challenging but now the Ubuntu distribution disks (FREE if you download from the internet and burn to a CD yourself!) set this up for you almost seamlessly. For my day to day computing I booted into Linux and the only time I would boot into Windows was to use Quickbooks. But no more. I finally found a very versatile package call Manager which does everything Quickbooks does and does it much better and (do I really need to say this again?) it’s free.

Free – not like Facebook is “free” where someone is making millions off of your data that you didn’t even know you were providing them or pushing ads at you constantly. No, this is free as in the community of people who see the value and power of having everyone have access to quality productive software. Being part of that community comes with responsibilities, too. I share bugs and issues with developers and try to provide them with useful information whenever I can because we all want things to be better. Sometimes, when I am able, I donate small amounts of money to the organizations or individuals that develop and maintain the software that I find useful in my life. Every little bit helps. If nothing else, showing gratitude and helping others in the community makes life better for everyone.

So here is a summary of what I’m doing and what software I’m using. I have two computers – an old Dell Inspiron desktop and a Chromebook (more about that shortly).

On the desktop:

Ubuntu Mate version 16.04 (still set up to dual boot into Windows 10 but won’t be using that any more).

I use the web, email, compose music, record and edit music and video and photos, manage my accounting, use Skype and other services, create and use documents, spreadsheets, databases, etc. 

Most frequently used software: Chromium web browser, Mozilla Thunderbird email program, LibreOffice suite for word, spreadsheets and databases, Audacity for music recording and editing, Openshot Video Editor, Manager Accounting, Gimp Image Editor (Photoshop replacement), VLC and SMPlayer for audio and video playing, Musescore for writing music scores, and many smaller essentials for note taking, image scanning, etc. All of this software is free and open source. And it’s good!

On the Chromebook:

Did you know you can run anything you run on a desktop on your Chromebook using Linux? It’s great! I did put a larger SSD drive in mine because I wanted to be able to store files and install a bunch of programs and it was VERY easy. Mine is an older one – an Acer C720 – and the instructions are here. And it looks like that little “warranty void if removed” sticker is not legal.

And here are some instructions for installing Linux on your Chromebook (not your only option). Yes – it’s dual boot! It can be either just a regular old Chromebook or you can have a very powerful little Linux laptop and easily switch back and forth between the two. I installed the Gallium Linux on mine and it’s way faster than my clunky old Dell desktop. I have pretty much all the same software on it and store most files in the cloud so I can work from either machine. I use a combination of Dropbox and Google Drive for online storage.

In summary: I personally prefer the Ubuntu variants of Linux and find them very accessible for folks converting from Mac or Windows. You will quickly feel right at home. Power users may prefer other variants. In Ubuntu there are several desktops to choose from. Again, I’m using Mate desktop on my desktop but there are many other choices. Ask around. It’s easy to switch if you don’t like the one you’ve got.

The software has improved so much in recent years that a Linux machine can meet any users demands unless you are totally tied in to some proprietary software that only exists in Windows or Mac land (though you may be able to run it in a virtual machine on Linux).

You can pretty much do anything you want to do with no cost. Operating system and software is free. There is a huge and helpful community to help you and it’s a wonderful experience to be able to help others as you get more comfortable.

Juzek Bass for Sale

1931 John Juzek Bass
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Flat back, gamba corners
3/4 (standard) size – 41 in. string length.
Restored by John Pringle and Robbie Link.
Original finish was over-coated at some point. We removed the back, secured or replaced all bracing and patches and re-lined the center seam of the back. Some decorative purfling on the upper part of the back has been lost or damaged and the neck block is pinned through the button with wooden dowels. The instrument is completely stable and plays well.
Asking $4500 not including case or bow.
Local pickup only – Chapel Hill area, NC.

Contact Robbie Link

Various Music Links

Ocrafolk Festival 2017 – Opening night playing before the auction with Carter Minor and Alison Weiner. “My Foolish Heart” – Video link on Google Photos

A Tribute to Brother Yusuf Salim – Performed at The Station in Carrboro, NC, August 27, 2016 – also the day after my mother passed away. I’m playing bass the first half of the program. Complete program and music on Bandcamp.

In addition to trying out Bandcamp (not doing much there) I am also trying out a similar service called Orfium


Letting Go of Mik (Almost)

Mik’s Way – New Hope Creek

If you were going to pick a place to die, this wouldn’t be so bad.

I followed Mik here today. Mik – the elder kitty, queen of the property, official watch cat, former barn kitty from South Carolina. She’s been my almost daily companion for 14 of her over 16 years. I could tell story after story of Mik’s greatness from amazing physical feats, to how she would happily stay and listen to students who played in tune but would walk out of lessons when the student played out of tune, to her fearlessness and regalness. But, maybe another time. This is about Mik deciding how she wants to die.

She’d been declining over the last couple of months – not eating as much, sleeping more, and not grooming herself as perfectly as usual. We, including Mik, not being the go-to-the-vet for everything kind of family decided to just concentrate on keeping her comfortable. She being the always-wanting-to-be-outside kitty except when it was snowing and there was a fire in the woodstove, keeping her comfortable was a little tricky. I’d try to keep her in on rainy nights but even if I did manage to persuade her to join us on the bed she’d be in my face at 3:30 AM yelling to go out. And, as always, not matter how much rain she always came in for breakfast totally dry. We never figured out where she went but it wasn’t on our porch.

But as she gradually stopped eating altogether (despite changes of food and purchase of various liquid diets for old and ailing cats) and was losing weight quickly she wanted to be out more and more and would much prefer lying in the woods to coming anywhere near the house. I’d take her water and food but she wasn’t interested anymore. 

Last Saturday she could barely move. She would get up and walk a few feet to follow the shadows and stay out of the sun but seemed to welcome attention. I meant to bring her in Saturday night thinking it might be her last night but she disappeared just before dark. I searched everywhere for her but no sign of her. She didn’t show up at all on Sunday and we searched the woods and the neighbors. It seemed simple. She had gone off to die. I had a little cry in the woods but knew that that was her way. Native Americans went off to the woods to die and so do barn kitties. Monday I was pretty sad and Tuesday was the Eno Festival so I got to be with friends and play music. I was pretty much resigned to her being gone. I took up her food bowls and bedding and gave Cat0 Mik’s dining spot at the end of the kitchen counter.

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning I was getting ready to start working on an instrument in the shop and went out to walk back to the house for something and there she was lying on the walkway. I practically screamed and was overjoyed to see her though she was thinner than the already impossibly thin she had been on Saturday. She seemed happy to see me, purred lying in my lap and moved her head around so she could get all the scritches in exactly the right places. She even drank some water. I kept her with me all day – she’d lay in her bed on the floor of the shop for a while but then moved over to right under my feet making it hard to work so I took her back out and we sat on the deck for a long time. I eventually got some more work done but had to check on her and pet her every few minutes I was so happy to have her back. 

We kept her in last night. She seemed OK with that but only wanted to be on the tile floor or the brick behind the woodstove. When I got up this morning I really didn’t expect to find her alive but she greeted me with a loud cry that unmistakably said “let me out!!!” and headed for the door. It took her two tries to get there. She couldn’t go more than 10 feet or so without having to lie down. 

She started on the deck but after a couple of moves she was in the side yard and the sun was starting to hit her so I moved her to a spot on the edge of the woods that I knew she liked and left her there with a bowl of water while I taught my 9:00 student. After the lesson she was gone but I found her a ways down the path to I moved the water bowl down there but as soon as I put it down she got up and moved further down the path. I left her for 15 minutes and when I came back she was another 20 feet down the path and looking up toward the road. I was really afraid that she was thinking kitty suicide on the highway so I decided to keep an eye on her all morning. 

After another 15 minute break up at the house I could not find her anywhere on the path. Checked the road and the bushes near it but no sign there. Then I saw her down at the creek. It’s a very steep climb down there and she was lying on a flat bottom there but no sign of having fallen – her coat was still clean from the brushing I gave her yesterday.  I stayed with her and after each little 10 minute rest she’d move further down stream – that’s the area of the picture above.  There’s a pile up there of logs and branches against the rocks from recent flooding so no going any further that way. It had taken her nearly two hours to make this short journey. 

She was just lying there and I wondered if maybe this was the place she’d chosen and I remembered our commitment to not interfere with whatever choice she made so I was going to leave but couldn’t pull myself away so I climbed back to the top of the hill and sat in the trees there and watched. Eventually she moved toward the water and then after some studying she jumped to a nearby rock in the water. After a rest she got up climbed over a couple of smaller rocks and stood on a larger one overlooking a 4 foot leap to the next rock. I had started videoing her with my phone when she got on the rocks but when I saw what she was contemplating  my heart sank and I did not record any further. Even 6 months ago that leap would not have been any problem for her but today I knew she could not make it. The water was in shadow so I could not see how deep it was. And then she jumped. She made it halfway and fell into the water. Her head barely sticking up and in some current, I wondered if maybe this was the real kitty suicide and she hesitated long enough that I think maybe she thought that, too. I was at the top of the steep hill but still had to totally restrain myself from running down and rescuing her. But, this is what barn kitties do.

After some very long seconds she started for the rock she had missed and tried to claw her way up it and fell into a space between two rocks and lay there half in the water, half out. She stayed there unmoving for a very long time. I thought “Ok, this isn’t so bad. The next big rain her bones will wash down to Jordan Lake.” But she wasn’t done. She pulled herself out and went to the far edge of those rocks. Next stop – a big rock by the shore. Well over 6 feet away. And once again she went in but this time it was shallow enough for her to make her way to some smaller rocks along the shore and pull herself partially out of the water.

I moved down to the side of the creek. She was directly across from me, a drowned looking cat hanging off some rocks, tail and left hind foot still in the water. Her head was resting on a rock turned sideways facing me, eyes open, seemingly looking right at me. I watched her shallow breathing slow and then it stopped. But then it started up again. She still wasn’t through. I had thought “she only wanted to make it to the other side” – such a common metaphor maybe even cats use it. 

After much slipping around she managed to pull herself onto the shore and moved into some bushes behind a tree. I couldn’t see her from where I was so I moved back up the hill but could not see her anywhere. I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink in a long time so I went back the house and ate a little. I came back down with binoculars and scanned the shoreline and woods for any sign of movement and using the binoculars to examine any darkness or shadow. I had no idea if she had moved upstream, down, or up the hill on the other side. After an hour I was getting ready to give up when a squirrel tipped me off. He was making that whining sound they make when the cats are out on the deck and the squirrels want to come down and raid the bird feeders. And sure enough, right at that moment a gray movement in some bushes just 10 feet downstream of where she had come out of the water. It looked like she was just repositioning herself rather than on the move and I only saw her for that moment. 

I’m having  a terrible time tearing myself away from this. It’s clear she wants to be alone. But I just want to know where my kitty is and how she is. Every time I start back for the house I turn around and think “ok, just one more glance from the big pine tree where I watched her go into the water” and then I’m waiting and watching again. I came back thinking I would start writing all this down and maybe that would make me feel better but as soon as I sat in front of the computer I felt nauseous and agitated and found myself going back out and scanning the shoreline and woods for movement. What if she decided to come back across? What if she heads up to a neighbors yard and they find her and decide to take her to an emergency vet? She hates car rides. She hates vets. She hates being poked and prodded. She just wants to die and the vet is just going to say she can’t be saved let’s put her down and dump her in the landfill. Not the death this barn kitty planned. But she doesn’t want me following her around either. That’s the hardest part.

So that was a few hours ago. After going back and searching a couple more times and sitting in the woods remembering my mother’s three and a half years of trying to die and how I had to see her every day knowing she just wanted to die and wishing I could be like my brothers who once they realized she could no longer be a mother to them just decided to skip the whole thing.

OK, barn kitty. I’m letting you go. After I just go down to the creek and look one more time. 


But the computer says…

I’ve often heard complaints from folks in various industries and in the arts about the dismal state of our education system that fails to teach children to think for themselves, to creatively problem solve, and consider solutions outside of the “normal” way of doing things. I’ve seen some of this over the years and I’m not convinced it’s entirely the fault of our education system but more a symptom of our society always looking for a quick fix (and there always being one available for a price). If it breaks, call the repairman. And computers and our reliance on them is a big part of that problem. (Ouch! – My keyboard just gave me a shock!!!)

Long forgotten is the concept of Garbage In, Garbage Out. Nobody considers that anymore. It’s just “the computer says” so….   (cue voice of god)

Today I got to experience that at one of my favorite pick-up-a-quick-healthy-meal venues, Saladelia. I have nothing bad to say about Saladelia – the food, the service, etc., etc., etc. BUT – well – they have their nifty little computer terminals at the checkout counter now that apparently communicate directly to the kitchen which is all of 20 feet away with an open window to the checkout area. People are constantly going back and forth so actual human interaction and communication is good and easy. I placed my to go  order with the nice young man at the counter and perhaps distracted him with some small talk because when I paid he handed me one of those put-this-on-your-table numbers. So I reminded him that this was actually a to go order and he got a worried look on his face and simply said “I’m sorry” and pointed to his computer terminal and that appeared to be the end of it. I was confused and asked him if maybe there was a different price since it was to go and he looked even more worried and pointed to the computer again (I can’t see the screen) so I said “you’ll change it to “to go”, right?” and he looked even more worried and then got that “I just had a brilliant idea” look on his face and said “Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll get you a to go box and when your meal comes you can just put everything in it and you’ll be all set.”

Now everything I ordered is in the salad display area at the checkout counter so it’s not like someone’s already preparing a meal for me back in the kitchen. Someone behind the counter actually has to fill my plate from the display and no one is doing that. There are several people standing around and I can’t imagine that they haven’t heard this exchange. So I go sit at a table with my little number and after about 5 minutes the girl who was standing next to the guy who checked me out fills a plate from the display and brings it to my table. I quickly scrape it all into my to go box and leave.

Perhaps the computer keeps tabs on the number of dishes that need to be washed and the number of to go boxes that are used. No? No. The computer says it’s “dine in” so the minions have to follow what the computer says. No one can say to the person standing next to them “this guy meant to have take out so just put it in a take out box instead of on a plate, ok?” I mean, the computer is always right, right?

Deep Valley Drifters in Chapel Hill on 03/26/17

The Deep Valley Drifters (Ted Ehrhard and Maria Fairchild) present their first house concert of the season. Join us for an exciting afternoon of traditional and original songs and tunes — fiddle, banjo, guitar, and more, with special guest Robbie Link on cello and bass. Location: 741 Pinehurst Dr., Chapel Hill (just south of Ephesus Church Rd, east of US 15-501, opposite Eastgate Shopping Center). Suggested donation $10.

Out on the Eno

Had a nice morning out on the Eno River with my daughter Alicia

Daughter Alicia in my old hat she doesn’t like
Saw the usual great blue herons, the river was higher than I expected. Found these sweet smelling flowers
Found these along the river today – very sweet smelling!









and as usual totally captivated by the reflections in the river. 

I’m obsessed with reflections on the water!


And found some good feathers.







Totally satisfying morning!