I Installed Linux 842 Times So You Don’t Have To

I have an addiction: installing Linux. I’ve done it so many times I can set up any distribution on any desktop, laptop, or server with my eyes closed.

I use, administer, and develop for Linux every day. I first was introduced to it in 1997 and have used it professionally since. It’s a great system full of advantages over Windows and I highly recommend it in the server space.

But the desktop landscape is an entirely different beast–one which all distributions of Linux have failed to capture any significant market share. When Microsoft Windows and Apple have taken their tumbles, such as the failed rollout of Windows Vista, the botched Windows 8 interface, the sunset of Windows XP support, and the poorly received and performing Apple keyboard and touch bar design. All of these incidents increased interest in Linux, encouraging power users to seek viable alternatives.

But nothing stuck. Yes, there have been some converts to Linux, but not in any significant numbers. In fact, PC market share has been declining, largely in favor of phones and tablets. The numbers do not suggest those still using computers are flocking to Linux.

Privacy advocates have long advocated using Linux, and for good reason. Windows 10 is a surveillance nightmare and Linux provides real choice to users seeking to keep their information private. I think privacy is the number one reason to use Linux, and open source / free software in general. But even despite widespread knowledge of mass surveillance, it hasn’t been enough to make Linux a staple on the desktop.

There are lots of reasons for this, but I think the biggest is the lack of ecosystem surrounding Linux. Granted, that’s one of it’s most appealing factors. Rather than having corporate choices shoved down your throat, you pick and choose the parts you want to make up your computing environment. But this software ecosystem, and the features that are misused by corporations and governments alike, are they very things that make our lives convenient.

Siri, Cortana, and Google use the details in your email, your location, along with your previously collected preferences and interests to tailor convenient solutions for you. It’s not just marketing fluff. These ecosystems work to try to figure out what you want before you even know you want it.

I wish these ecosystems used this tremendous power for good and not evil. Granted, most of the “evil” we see in this software really is aimed at making a better product, but we can’t know the full extent of data collected and it’s use, and misuse, because the ecosystems are closed source. We can’t peek into Google’s algorithms or Microsoft’s telemetry to see what is being collected by us. We can only hope for a glimpse at what they want us to see.

For all its evils, it’s this ecosystem, even if partially fragmented between Microsoft, Google, and Apple (with an unhealthy splash of Amazon), that keeps me coming back to Windows. It lets me get my work done, both technical and writing, watch any streaming service I like, play my games, run my Adobe products, and run any piece of software I could ever imagine. It’s comfortable, familiar, and easy.

Of course, there’s a really good argument against giving into that kind of corporate surveillance. But as humans we are called upon to navigate a host of uncomfortable and difficult choices, sometimes where there are no good options. I feel like computing has become one of these situations. As a good friend of mine says–we must embrace the suck.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Companies could change, and computing could once again be more private. But the genie is out of the bottle and consumers have demanded more features and integration at the cost of privacy. The battle is over, and Linux keeps fighting it. I admire that. I think all of us in technology do.

But that war is over. The most we can hope for now is to mitigate the damage caused by overreaching surveillance. We are indeed in a brave new world, and big brother is watching. I use both references because both Huxley and Orwell were right.

We can fight back and change this digital dystopia, but I’m not sure we’re going to do it with Linux. Decentralization and blockchain technology might be the cure for this disease. But for now, the matrix is far too convenient. I like my grocery pickup, personal cloud-based assistant, and streaming entertainment services.

It seems they have won me over with bread and circuses.

New Year, New Covers

Happy New Year!

I hope you and your loved ones are doing well and staying safe.

I’m grateful to have received warm emails from readers who have enjoyed diving into the Jeweled Woods and the mystical tale in my Dragonfly novel during these trying times.

I’m sure most of us resolved to make 2021 a better year. Despite our rough start, I feel the wind at our backs. This year I will be dedicating even more energy to writing. I plan to release at least two books by the end of the year.

I have a new novel completed, save a few finishing touches. It should be available soon. After that launches, I have a new fantasy title planned. It may become a series, but I’ll wait to make the final decision on that when these new characters share their story.

I’ve decided to give my Sign of Alchemy fantasy novel series new covers. While I loved the original covers, some didn’t convey the series’s mystical high fantasy aspect.

My graphic artist, Amber Stricklin, did an excellent job integrating her beautifully crafted Jeweled Woods background with some new artwork and series branding.

The new covers will be active for both print and Kindle within 48 hours. Haven’t read Niv’leana yet? Check it out on Amazon!

Niv'leana - Sign of Alchemy Book 1
Niv'leana - Sign of Alchemy Book 1 - Print Cover

An (Accidental) Trip to the Druid’s Gove

A dear friend of mine’s daughter is starting what will surely be an excellent career in art. When the new artist, Selphie Brown, started accepting commissions, I decided to get a new perspective on the Jeweled Woods’ beauty.

Selphie and I explored various illustrations, and after a few quick sketches, I decided to have her draw the Jeweled Woods. If it’s been a while since you’ve read Niv’leana, the novel where the beautiful forest is first introduced, here’s the description.

The afternoon sun shimmered through the tall canopy of the Jeweled Woods, scattering multicolored light onto the forest floor. Squirrels scampered across limbs gathering nuts from the vibrantly colored trees, and birds chirped as they enjoyed the bounty of late summer. Green, blue, orange, red, and purple leaves sheltered the grove, creating a mystical haven for its inhabitants. The scent of lush vegetation filled the air, accentuated by notes of pine and the fragrant orange flowers that lined the floor.

from Chapter 1, Niv’leana – the first Sign of Alchemy novel

The Jeweled Woods is unique, and I’ve worked with various artists over the years to capture its wonder. Amber Strickland’s Jeweled Woods graphic is certainly what I consider the authoritative version of the mystical forest.

Nevertheless, Selphie set out to illustrate the woods, Niv’leana’s childhood home. Interestingly enough, what she had drawn was not quite what I had expected. In this case, that’s a good thing!

Inadvertently, she painted, with near-perfect precision in a misty, watercolored aesthetic, the Druid’s Grove from the second book, Olivia. This sheltered, mysterious grove exists in a place just outside of time and features an endless twilight sky over a dense green canopy. Various wildlife, insects, and fireflies bring life to the grove, while a pond of pristine water nourishes its inhabitants.

Niv stood in the grove and soaked in the delectable sights that now materialized around her. Large, thick trees towered to the canopy. Tree houses, nestled in the trunks, dotted the landscape. The quiet forest now came alive with activity—squirrels scurried on the ground, birds sang in the trees, and in the distance, a rabbit gnawed on some greens.

from Chapter 27, Olivia – the second Sign of Alchemy novel

I wasn’t sure exactly what I want going into the art project, but I’m beyond delighted with a new illustration of a never-before-seen aspect from the Sign of Alchemy universe. It is often said, “ask, and you shall receive,” but in this case, the creative vision filled an unmet task in the ongoing growth of this expansive world of magic.

I am grateful to Selphie for her hard work and creative mind and look forward to seeing more from this up and coming artist in the years to come.

The Sign of Alchemy Series - Druid's Grove

Living on the Edge

I can’t believe I’m going to write an article defending Microsoft. But there’s a first time for everything.

The Verge article, With Edge, Microsoft Forced Windows Updates Just Sank to a New Low, is about the recent move by Microsoft to strongly encourage users to install the Chromium-based Edge on Windows 10.

But it’s mostly a pile of click-bait garbage.

I’m no fan of forced updates, though I do believe they are necessary to protect non-technical user’s security. And I don’t like software installed without my permission. But let’s be honest–this happens all the time with nearly every other system.

  • Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android recently pushed an update that paved the way for COVID-19 tracking.
  • Android didn’t originally come with Google Chrome, but Chrome was installed via an update to most phones. It is now a critical part of Android.
  • iOS doesn’t allow other browser technologies, so software developers have to put a shell around Safari to release browsers on that platform.
  • iOS users cannot change their default browser from Safari.
  • iOS users cannot change their default email client.
  • Google Chromebooks come with Chrome and this browser cannot be replaced.
  • Many Android phones come pre-installed with applications you cannot delete. Unless you disable them, they will continue to receive updates without your permission.

Microsoft Edge is actually pretty decent. I haven’t been using it for long, but it does use less battery on my laptop than Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

I’m aware that Edge, like Google Chrome, probably sends some data back to its mother ship, but unless you’re running Linux, this is happening without your consent anyway. I’m certainly against that, but, in recent months, have come to accept this fact. As a society, we probably shouldn’t accept it, but we do.

At the end of the day, I’ve got books to write, work to finish, and cat memes to post. I can’t let technological purism get in the way of life.

The Mask of Freedom

Moreso now than any other time in recent memory, we are being asked to weigh the risks and benefits of every action we take. Of course, life is always like this, but the pandemic has certainly brought this daily challenge to the forefront of our minds.

And like any modern challenge, many have retreated to their comfortable fortresses of ideology. If you favor reopening, you are a monster who wants to kill everyone. If you favor continuation of self-isolation, you are a fear-mongering Karen intent on reporting everyone having fun or trying to make a living during these dark times.

The masses will convince you there is no inbetween. You can’t possibly consider the virus a serious threat and value your personal freedom.

They are wrong.

Throughout this pandemic, I’ve been fairly consistent. This is a serious virus that needs serious attention by everyone. Those at higher risk should be even more vigilant. But I have not called for any government action, no police raids on kids’ basketball game, and no laws dictating what people can and cannot do.

And yet, if you show just the slightest bit of deference in the position of one of these two impenetrable castles, you are immediately scolded by the opposite side.

I shouldn’t be surprised. This kind of binary thinking and political brinkmanship was in place long before the virus.

At my core, I believe in freedom. Positions favoring the individual should be the default, but we do require others to live in our modern society. We cannot forget that.

Freedom is a double-edged sword. It gives us tremendous liberty at the cost of tremendous responsibility. Some of this responsibility is to be good protectors and stewards of our land, our friends and loved ones, and our greater community. We show the love of our neighbor not through draconian laws but through compassion and empathy.

Wearing a mask and staying six feet apart from others is not just to protect yourself. It’s to protect others. If you don’t feel the need to protect yourself, you still shouldn’t bring harm to others.

I get it. Masks are uncomfortable. But what is the alternative? Wilfully harming your friends and neighbors?

You see, freedom is a tricky thing. Freedom doesn’t mean you will be free from sacrifice. It doesn’t mean you will always be right. It doesn’t mean you should do something just because you can.

It means you take responsibility for being better, for growing as a person, and striving to minimize the inevitable harm you do to others as you live.

Freedom is a powerful tool to respect and use with wisdom. If you hold it as a bauble to justify your actions, even if they potentially harm others, you aren’t ready for it.

Maeva Dedication

I dedicate each of my books to an individual. Sometimes I know from the start who will be named, and other times I don’t know until the day before publishing. I had dedicated Olivia but had not set one for Maeva. As I sit here in relative comfort during these trying times, it only makes sense to name those who are doing so much for us at great personal risk.

Dedicated to all the healthcare workers
first responders, and the people who keep us fed, clothed,
and fully stocked with essentials during these trying times.

Olivia and Maeva Cover Reveals

It’s been a hectic couple of days, but the launch of Olivia and Maeva is still set for April 5th. Lots of preparations are taking place behind the scenes, but I wanted to share a sneak peak of both covers.

Olivia and Maeva Covers

I’m grateful to have the help of Amber Stricklin, an amazing graphic artist, to help bring these covers to life.

Stay tuned for more updates, stay safe, and stay home.

Final Two Novels of Sign of Alchemy Series Launching April 5th

After over a year of blood, sweat, and proverbial tears, the final two novels of the Sign of Alchemy series will be launching on April 5th, 2020. For all you binge readers out there, you’ll be able to dive into two full-length novels spanning a total of almost 700 pages.

The first novel, Olivia, will follow the events immediately after the conclusion of Niv’leana. The second title, pending final name, will conclude the series.

I just wrote The End to the last book yesterday, and it was a bittersweet moment. I’m excited to release the conclusion of this epic saga, but also sad to see it come to an end.

I’ll be revealing the title and cover of the final book by the end of the month, and announcing Goodreads drawings for your chance to win a free copy!

Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, and don’t forget to sprinkle in a bit of magic in your everyday life whenever you can.

Shifting Perception

Would you still be as conservative, liberal, “woke”, “red-pilled”, or some crazy combination of those if you had been born ten, twenty, fifty, or perhaps one-hundred years ago?

What if you had been born in another state? Another country?

This is an interesting and worthwhile thought experiment because it demonstrates the malleability of our cultural perceptions.

We are undoubtedly unique individuals with perception filters crafted over our lifetime of experience. But with rare few exceptions, we don’t invent an entirely new lens. Our friends, family, hardships, successes, and the very culture we live in shape this lens.

We call it ours, and rightfully so. We earned it. But adjust just a few settings in our lives and our views may dramatically change.

By demonstrating just how flexible our perception filters are, we see how it is silly to hate someone with a slightly different lens. They may be wrong, and we certainly may think they’re ignorant, but ignoring their path–the very path that helped shape their mindset–is a dangerous fault that leads to prejudice, zealotry, partisanship, and our own mental stagnation.

So, try the experiment for yourself. Play “what-if” with your cultural attunement control panel and see what could have been. The results could be interesting.

Home of Author Robert W. Oliver II