Dinosaur Watching

For some circumstance, for some reason, birds have not been much on my radar this spring, but I did not notice this until I began opening my windows in the face of our pleasant heat wave this May. It was quiet in the morning. Too quiet. And thinking back on it, April and March had been the same. This is the season when many birds sing out on the common themes of sex, real estate, and aint-i-wonderful. It’s a great racket, as any male will tell you if candid.

Now, I’m not a birder, for all that I like birds, albeit some birds more than others, and so I’m not adept at recognizing who’s who, even if one were an owl. But something was obviously missing.

It’s the chimney swifts. For all the years I’ve been living in this apartment, there’s been a perennial colony that populated the courtyard and the parking lot across the alley. They are noisy, quarrelsome birds whose musical twitter masks dominance games, though for insects it probably sounds like the boom of doom, as if painted by a targeting sonar. They are not totally absent (in fact I hear a few as I type) but they do not occupy the space as they did. The local swifts displayed an intimate knowledge of the courtyard and lot. These chimney swifts lately do not; they ain’t from this neighborhood.

Their absence makes me wonder what else is missing. Fewer robins, perhaps? Or starlings? There did seem to be the usual crew of sparrows that hunt for spiders along the corners of brickwork and windows. But the near absence of chimney swifts may be influencing my perceptions.

The good news is that for a second year, the nighthawks are back. For more than a decade, they were largely absent from my little part of Rogers Park. These are probably the common nighthawk, judging by their electric squawks. I’ve always found the sound of them at night to be a comfort, for some reason. They do seem to be starting their hunt for insects a few hours before sunset and continuing on for several hours after sunrise. Is that new? I’m not a birder; don’t ask me.

Oh! And I did see a pair of purple martins in the parking lot a few days ago. They were a childhood favorite. I grew up with a large yearly colony in my back yard.

August, 2018; photo by Roman

There are also a few unknown songs in the neighborhood. Not being a bird nerd, I haven’t the foggiest… One sounds truly tropical… Is it even a bird?

The Shadow Nose…

…it ain’t worth the candle! Begging your pardon.

I do like ambiguous photography, so an affection for puns should be no surprise. Usually I prefer to leave it at that so that others can have the pleasure of wondering, but the candle is fairly plain even if the environment is not.

Photo by Roman.

Ubuntu Upgrade

actually more of a mildly sulpherous vent than review

I’m a semi-willing user of Ubuntu / Linux on my home desktop, though I also have a Mac G4 with OS 10.4x and OS 9.x installed and a Compaq Prolinea 486sx with Windows 95 installed.* The Compaq generally gets used as a DOS box rather than for old Windows programs as I still have a dBase IV application that I still use. I sometimes use the Mac as a CD / DVD player as the iTunes light show is fun. But Ubuntu / Linux on a System 76 mini about the size of a candy box is my main machine.

Semi-willing? Well, I’m willing because first of all, the price for Ubuntu / Linux is so right for a poor boy. Free. And as an interface / operating system, it’s not bad and even deserving of a contribution ($) of some sort from me. As a cheap and penurious geezer, that’s a recommendation. There are also some reasonably adequate home office applications that come with it, as well as others that are about what you might expect for the price (free). Depending upon what task is at hand, that may be all that you need. Or it may be a pain in the ass.

I recall starting out with Ubuntu 14.x. For the past several years, I’ve been using version 16.04 LTS. I’m given to understand that LTS = “Long Term Support” and, just as with commercial operating systems, periodic updates have been available for download. Generally, I’d wait until there were at least 100 megabytes of download pending before updating: once or twice a month, effectively. But version 16 was almost old enough to be considered quaint. Version 20 was the happening thing or, for the experimental DIY types, Version 21. This last April, the “long” in LTS finally came to an end for version 16; it was time to upgrade.**

After looking at the upgrade options, it seemed to me that upgrading to version 20 directly from 16 was going to involve rather more DIY than I was willing to do, but upgrading to 18 looked to be pretty much automated. It was but it took a total of three hours to accomplish, and one did need to be on hand to answer an occasional installer questions. Apart from that, it was only minimally painful.

Version 18, however, is rather different in layout and function than version 16. Some of the changes seem aimed at making the interface more consistent. Generally, most of those changes are annoying but not particularly burdensome. Others speak directly to one of my pet peeves: sure this New and Improved version has useful new features, but suddenly a few important things that were once simple to do have become awkward, at least. This has been so typical of my experience with software for the past several decades, and don’t get me started about the WordPress block editor: another example.

So far my major disappointments about version 18 concern work spaces and file management. Work spaces basically allow you to have separate desktops open, four of them in version 16, giving you the equivalent of a single desktop four times the size of your screen with ease to shift between them. Heck, you could have an open window spanning different work spaces. (Why would you do that? Ease of resizing an oversized window, for one thing.) With version 18, additional work spaces are available as needed, but opening a new work space now requires extra steps. Shifting between them might still be easy with keyboard shortcuts but otherwise that, too, is extra work. I may very well be missing something, but right now it looks like my desktop has effectively shrunk to a single screen.

Like many similar products, Ubuntu includes a dock wherein you can park shortcuts to your favorite software. Obviously the file management software should have a place there; only if you make it so is it there in version 18. My beef is that with version 16, one could right-click the icon and get a list of your top level folders to go to but no longer. Now you need to open the manager first then choose your destination. One is tempted to describe version 18 as being the product of minds unreasonably obsessed with consistency.

Some of the software that gets distributed with Ubuntu also gets updated but it’s far too soon for me to have much of an opinion about it, though I will say: It took far too much noodling around to get Firefox properly configured. Though I’ve had worse experiences with early versions*** of Windows: an endless, fruitless cycling between dialogue boxes that promise yet are never quite what one was looking for. Firefox was nowhere near as bad but still. I am also looking forward to seeing what this new version of LibreOffice can do as the versions included with version 16 were not really ready for prime time (useful enough for home and maybe some microbusiness), and Scribus barely qualified as a useable page layout tool but maybe that’s changed.

Likewise this barely qualifies as a review. Ubuntu 18, after all, is almost as much history as version 16 and I’m not sure how much time is left on its support clock. A further upgrade to version 20 may be on my agenda for later this year. Nor are my software needs so diverse as to give everything a fair workout. But this has been my experience so far.

* There are, I’ve read, Ubuntu / Linux programs to run a virtual DOS box, and given that they seem to be intended for nostalgia gamers, it sounds pretty sophisticated. But I haven’t been inclined to even explore the issue. Aside from whether the dBase IV installation disks are still readable or not (from age), the particular version I have would not have run on a DOS box running faster than 66 MHz. (It wasn’t impossible but it required some lame workarounds.) The problem, IIRC, was a time-saving feature that turned into a bug when run so fast.

** Apparently version 16 is hard to kill. Security updates will continue to be available. This is more than what could be said for Apple’s support for older OS versions.

*** Come to think of it, early versions of Windows is all that I have experience with.

Waitin’ on the 147

Whenever you are ready, driver…

(Yes, it is true that the bus route has a schedule and he’s keepin’ to it, as best he can. Furthermore, it’s no use asking him when that departure will be as if you innocently ask “When are we leaving”, he will hear instead the prelude to a hostile “Why aren’t we leaving right now!” And that plastic barrier is so not assault-proof, what with people so irritable these days. Still, if you gotta go, you gotta go.)

Photo by Roman.