Tag Archives: Technology

Wait, don’t buy an Echo yet!

I had mentioned before that we are enjoying our Amazon Echo, one of those robots that listens and then responds with a certain degree of intelligence.

We don’t use the Echo for very many things, but that is partly because we are not in the habit. For example, if I’m sitting in a certain chair in the library, reading, I have to stand up and turn around and kind of bend over in a certain direction to see the clock on the wall. Or, I can say, “Alexa, what time is it?” and the Echo Dot tells me. But, I almost never think of asking Alexa. But over time I’m sure I’ll get in the habit, and after that, stop moving around as much. Which will ultimately lead to atrophy about the time the robots take over, which I assume is their plan.

I use Alexa’s shopping list, we ask it questions one might as Google Assistant (but Google Assistant is much more likely so far to come up with the answer). Alexa has a large number of useful information and entertainment services, which we are using more and more, such as getting a news update, the weather, and so on.

In any event, I recommend giving Alexa a try, and if you happen to have an Internet Of Things devices, then you simply have to pepper your home with dots and stop moving entirely.

But, the reason you don’t want to just go out and buy an Echo or related device at this moment is because Amazon just came out with a new line of them. Here is some basic information to help you get oriented. Then, if you pick the second generation Echo as your first Alexa device, go for it, otherwise, I might wait until the other devices are out for a few weeks to see how people like them.

If you want to cut to the chase, CLICK HERE to see a page at Amazon.com with the details, including a product grid to help you pick out which robot you want to have as your new overlord.

The Echo Dot (2nd Generation) is your basic entry level device. It has an adequate speaker but not really good enough for music, but it also has an output you can hook to your own speakers. Your first device should be this inexpensive dot. Then, later, if you want to upgrade to a fancier device, you can still use this one as a second device say, in your garage or bathroom or somewhere.

The Second Generation Echo is essentially the Echo Dot sitting on top of a high quality speaker, and runs about twice the cost of the Echo dot.

The new Echo Plus includes a hub from which to run your smart home devices, has a somewhat better sound system than the Echo 2nd gen, and is slightly larger. This will cost you fifty another fifty bucks, so now we are up to $150, but since it includes the hub it is probably worth it.

The new Echo Spot is Echo Dot size but with a screen, small at 2.5″, but possibly useful. This is not cheaap ($129). The sound quality sis probably better than the traditional Dot. It does not have the hub.

The top of the line is the Echo Show. This has top speakers, a 7 inchs screen, and blue-tooth only audio output (all the others have plug in audio output).

All these devices can control smart home items, and allow free audio calls between people with Echos across North America. They all stream music, etc. using the services that you may or may not have such as Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, etc.

I’m not sure that I personally grok the combination of devices. Maybe I want a hub that is separate and inexpensive. Maybe I want a screen that is 7 inches or so to wall mount but it is only an output screen, but it can sit near my front door and tell me the weather, something about traffic, and if the garage door is open. I’ll have to think about it.

For now I’ll stick with my dot, and keep playing around with home made devices and robots until I see how it goes.

The big question for YOU is which device to get if this is your first one. I would recommend the Echo Dot then see how it goes, just to be conservative.

However, make sure you get a second generation Echo Dot, or Echo.

Also, Amazon is currently running a promotion where you can get the Echo Dot plus a Fire TV stick (which is roughly like a Roku, I believe) for about 90 bucks, which is cheap.. And, you can browse around for certified refurbished devices which will save you typically ten or twenty percent. Not a huge savings but they are certified.

Manga Guide to Microprocessors: Excellent tech graphic novel

It has been a long time since I’ve written any machine or assembler code, and it is a rare day that I hand construct a logic circuit using transistors. But it is comforting to know that these skills and the knowledge associated with them still reside in some form or another in the world of microprocessors.

The Manga Guides published by No Starch Press and written by a wide range of authors manga-based graphic novels on diverse topics in science, math, statistics, and technology. I’ve reviewed several here (see this post for a partial list of some of the other guides). And the newest entry to this growing and rather large and excellent library is The Manga Guide to Microprocessors by Michio Shibuya, Takashi Tonagi, and Office Sawa.

This book is really thorough, packing in piles of details about computers, focusing on the microprocessor level technology but covering a lot of related things as well such as memory and data storage and programming, with a whole section on controllers.

But this information is embedded in a story, as is the case with all the Manga guides.

This is the story of Ayumi, a master chess player who is beaten by a computer. She engages with the computer’s programmer, Kano, in a quest to learn all she can about her nemesis.

The book has three modes. One is a standard manga graphics novel sequence of frames with the main story. That is most of the book. The other is a more detailed conversation between iconic versions of the protagonists, in which detail that would be difficult to easily convey in pure cartoon form is gone over. The third is a retrospective or detailed section at the end of each chapter which is lightly illustrated, text heavy, and serves to contextualize the previous material.

I strongly recommend this book.

Here is what the various modes look like:

Most of the book looks like this.

Some of the book looks like this.

Hunley Blast Killed Hunley Crew, Research Suggests (OR MAYBE NOT!) UPDATED


A while back, I read Confederate Saboteurs: Building the Hunley and Other Secret Weapons of the Civil War by Mark Ragan. The central theme of the book was the invention, more or less, of the submarine and the torpedo, curing the Civil War, but the South.

The torpedo was a very tricky idea at the time. Most of the first ones involved dragging an object with a bomb inside it, or the bomb itself, by a rope, behind a submarine. The submarine would approach the target vessel, and submerge, going under it, and the bomb would hopefully be dragged into the target and explode. This hardly ever worked.

The Hunley, no relation to George, was an early submarine (the central figure in the above mentioned book) intended for this use. Things didn’t go well with the Hunley. An early incarnation of the craft sank because it was sitting there at the dock with all the people in it and the hatches open, then it fell over and sank. Ooops.

Eventually, the Hunley was armed with an alternative style of torpedo, one that stuck out of the submarine on a long rod. I think the idea was that the torpedo latch onto the target, and the submarine moves away a bit, then the explosion happens. But when the Hunley went after the USS Housatonic in February 1864, things went both very well and terribly wrong. The Housatonic warship was sunk alright, but so was the Hunley. Confederate Saboteurs: Building the Hunley and Other Secret Weapons of the Civil War outlines the story up to a point, and is a VERY detailed accounting of all the things that ever had anything to do with confederate torpedoes and submarines. But at the time of publication, the actualistic studies had not been done.

Actualistic studies are, of course, experiments where you replicate a situation and then see what can happen and can not happen, or might happen, or might not happen. Like you make stone tools and butcher an elephant, then look at the stone tools and the bones to help understand ancient stone tools and bones.

In this case, the actualistic studies involved blowing up submarines to see if the explotion itself, at the hull of the Housatonic, was possibly fatal to the sailors in the sub.

Likely, it was.

Here is the Abstract from the paper reporting these results:

The submarine H.L. Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship during combat; however, the cause of its sinking has been a mystery for over 150 years. The Hunley set off a 61.2 kg (135 lb) black powder torpedo at a distance less than 5 m (16 ft) off its bow. Scaled experiments were performed that measured black powder and shock tube explosions underwater and propagation of blasts through a model ship hull. This propagation data was used in combination with archival experimental data to evaluate the risk to the crew from their own torpedo. The blast produced likely caused flexion of the ship hull to transmit the blast wave; the secondary wave transmitted inside the crew compartment was of sufficient magnitude that the calculated chances of survival were less than 16% for each crew member. The submarine drifted to its resting place after the crew died of air blast trauma within the hull.

The paper is in PLOS One: Lance RM, Stalcup L, Wojtylak B, Bass CR (2017) Air blast injuries killed the crew of the submarine H.L. Hunley. PLoS ONE 12(8): e0182244. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0182244


The Hunley Project has issued the following rather startling press release:

Recently, Duke University issued a press release claiming one of their student’s discovered what caused the Hunley’s crew to perish and the submarine to sink in 1864. In today’s digital age, the story spread across the internet quickly due to the sensational headline. However, a spokesman for the Hunley Project said today, the story is not accurate.

The pioneering submarine and her history have captured the imaginations of people across the globe. The Hunley Project regularly receives theories from the public about what led to the submarine’s loss and other ideas related to their research. “The case of Duke University’s press release is a bit different as it has created quite a stir,” said Kellen Correia, Executive Director of Friends of the Hunley. Duke University is not part of the Hunley Project’s investigative team. They don’t have access to the detailed forensic and structural information related to the submarine, which would be essential to draw any sort of reliable or definitive conclusions.

The Hunley Project said they felt the need to issue a statement today to make sure the unsubstantiated theory claimed by the Duke University student does not continue to spread, in view of the comprehensive research conducted by the Hunley team on the submarine for more than 15 years. The idea of a concussive wave from the torpedo explosion killing the crew, as outlined in the Duke University release, has been previously considered and is one of many scenarios the Hunley Project team has been investigating.

“The Duke study is interesting, they just unfortunately didn’t have all the facts. If it were as easy as simple blast injuries, we would have been done a while ago. Though a shock wave can cause life-threatening injuries, this is something we discounted quite a while back based on the evidence,” said Jamie Downs, former Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Alabama.

The Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine in 1864 and then mysteriously vanished without a trace. She remained lost at sea for over a century and was raised in 2000. Since then, a collaborative research effort with the U.S. Navy, the Smithsonian Institution, Clemson University and others has been underway to uncover the reasons for the Hunley’s loss and conserve the vessel for future generations.

Using detailed information about the composition and dimensions of the Hunley’s iron structure, forensic analysis of the crew’s remains, and other research and archaeological data, the Hunley Project and its partners have conducted comprehensive digital and physical simulations for the past several years. While the likely cause of the submarine’s demise has not been concluded, the scenario of a concussive wave killing the Hunley crew has been deemed not likely by those working on the actual submarine and who have access to this key data.

Their most recent study was issued by the U.S. Navy this month and was conducted in collaboration with the Hunley Project. “Given the amount of uncertainty surrounding the vessel’s final mission, a bottom-up technical analysis was commissioned alongside ongoing archeological investigation of the Hunley. Calculations of Hunley’s engagement with the Housatonic were successfully completed and it was observed that the engagement would have been devastating to the Housatonic while resulting in relatively low levels of loading on Hunley,” according to their report. For the full report, go to: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/underwater-archaeology/sites-and-projects/ship-wrecksites/hl-hunley/hunley-incident-analysis.html

The Hunley Project remains committed to sharing the most accurate information about the submarine that is available and welcomes discussion and ideas from the public and other academic institutions about the Hunley and her history. Still, Correia cautions, “As tempting as it may be, we are careful not to jump to definitive conclusions until all the research has been evaluated.”

The Hunley Project
On the evening of February 17, 1864, the H. L. Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine by sinking the USS Housatonic. After signaling to shore that the mission had been accomplished, the submarine and her crew of eight mysteriously vanished. Lost at sea for over a century, the Hunley was located in 1995 by Clive Cussler’s National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA). The innovative hand-cranked vessel was raised in 2000 and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where an international team of scientists are at work to conserve the submarine for future generations and piece together clues to solve the mystery of her disappearance. The Hunley Project is conducted through a partnership with the Clemson University Restoration Institute, South Carolina Hunley Commission, US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, and Friends of the Hunley.

How to build your own computer

Almost every resource on the Internet on building your own computer is oriented towards building a gaming computer. The second most common discussion is how to build a “budget PC.”

When I sought out the latest information on building a computer a few weeks ago, I did not like either of these two options.

A “gaming computer” is oriented towards two features: a) overclocking your processor and b) having one or two mondo power-hungry and gigunda graphics cards. A “budget PC” is an under powered machine that replicates what I could have purchased in many forms for less than the cost of a build.

My intention was to build a computer that would be able to crunch large amounts of data quickly, allow a large number of normal applications to be open at once, to be able to handle multiple very large text files, and to do mid level audio and maybe video editing (even if that required shutting down other software). Also, I wanted the computer to be 200% to 300% faster than my currently fastest computer, which is an Intel I7 holding laptop that is several years old.

I had on hand a small pile of “hard drives,” including one 2.5 terabyte hard drive, and one 125 gigabyte solid state drive (not called a “hard drive” by many, but it is essentially the hard drive.) I also had a case, and a keyboard, and a collection of monitors. I also had a case. The fact that I already had a case turns out to have been a big problem, and I’ll discuss that below.

I decided to go for an Intel I5 but a higher end one, which would give me that 300% performance increase required to make me feel like I had something new and cool, but to put in in a motherboard that would likely handle a later upgrade to a faster I7, if I made that upgrade within a year or two. Also, the mother board had to be able to handle 64 gigabytes of RAM because the best way to meet the requirements listed above is not with multiple processors or multi threading etc., but with a whopping amount of memory.

Here is a list of the parts that I bought to assemble:


GIGABYTE GA-H270-HD3 LGA1151 Intel H270 2-Way Crossfire ATX DDR4 Motherboard

This motherboard costs about 100 bucks. It handles sixth and seventh generation Intel Core processors, and Dual Channel DDRF4 memory, and has graphics support on board. It does not have a lot of other bells and whistles. It is supposedly sturdy and has high ratings everywhere I’ve looked.

The documentation on the motherboard is very well done. I’ve referred to it many times while messing around with this build, so I should know.

Processor (CPU)

Intel Core i5-7500 LGA 1151 7th Gen Core Desktop Processor (BX80677I57500)

As noted, I chose the I5 for just under 200 bucks instead of an I7 for more. The old I7 in my Dell Laptop, which is a reasonable computer, has a passmark rating of somewhere beteen 2000 and 3000. This process is just over 8000. I don’t know much about passmark ratings, but I know more is better and most normal fast processors produced today that you would actually buy are in the 8000 to 9000 range, so this is good.

The key number here is 7500, which makes this a seventh generation processor. Here is a key point: This mother board and this processor are claimed to work together, and I can tell you that they do. A lot of other motherboards require bios upgrades or other fiddling to make them work with the most current processor.

Anticipating something I’ll be discussing below, yes, this motherboard and processor combination work fine with Linux. It never occurred to me to worry about that, because Linux works with everything, but in case you were wondering, it does. I do not know if this configuration can be a Hackintosh or not.

Cooling system

I used the cooling fan that came with the processor and it works fine. I’ve checked the temperature readings and the processor does not get hot. However, I think the fan that came with the processor is a bit noisy. I intend to install a different cooling fan to see if it is quieter, and the one I got to do this is the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO RR-212E-20PK-R2 CPU Cooler with 120mm PWM Fan, which happens to be on sale right now for 30 bucks. I’ve not installed it, installation looks to be a bit complicated and I don’t know how I’ll like it, but that’s what I have sitting here on my workbench.

Power Supply

My build does not need a fancy power supply. The EVGA 450 B1, 80+ BRONZE 450W, 3 Year Warranty, Includes FREE Power On Self Tester, Power Supply 100-B1-0450-K1 is inexpensive and highly rated. It is onlyh 450 watts. If you are using a graphics card or two you may need to upgrade beyond this.


The motherboard does not have Bluetooth or wireless. I got the MIATONE Wireless Bluetooth CSR 4.0 USB Adapter Dongle for PC with Windows 10 8 7 Vista XP 32/64 dongle to give me Bluetoth, for seven bucks. Works with Linux. Note: This is a USB 3.0 device, and it won’t work if you plug it into a USB 2.0 port. I found out.

My Wired Networking Thing

This motherboard does not have a wireless card. It does have an ethernet jack. You probably don’t even want wireless if you have a LAN nearby. In my case, temporarily (until I drill some holes in the house) my nearest LAN device is not in my office. I wanted the computer’s LAN to be hooked to the network, so when I do get around to bringing a router or switch into the office, I’ll just change what it is plugged into. So, I got the IOGEAR Universal Ethernet to Wi-Fi N Adapter.

This cute little device is basically a wireless router that hooks into your wireless LAN, and pretends to be an ethernet jack. It can get its power from a powered USB port or it can use a USB charger brick, which is supplied. Works great.


As noted, I have a pile of displays laying around but they all suck. I bought a Dell SE2416H 24″ Screen LED-Lit Monitor. I had purchsed one of these from Best Buy for about 135 for a different computer. I got this one for about the same price from Amazon. The price of this monitor ranges from 120 to 190. There is also a version that is higher grade, as in, more finely tuned up but with the same specs, for a bit more. Right now, I’m using this and second, older, display, and things are working fine, but eventually I intend to get a second Dell 24 inch. This is obviously a very personal choice and people will have strong preferences. I may get the upgraded version of this monitor when it comes time to getting the second one, see below. (Reminder: This is not a gaming computer.)


Given the mother board, I went for fast. Also, since I want to eventually have 64 gigabytes, I went for large. So, I got one chip of G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 16GB 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3200 (PC4 25600) Intel Z170 Desktop Memory Model F4-3200C16S-16GVK with 16 gigs on it. I will add a second, third, and eventually, fourth chip over time.

The motherboard and memory uses a dual channel technology, which allows for effectively faster RAM. But with only one chip installed, I don’t get the dual channel effect. So, when I buy the second chip, I’ll be both increasing RAM to 32 gigabytes, and unlocking the dual channel technology, so that may be a noticeable upgrade in my future.

Here is a list of parts that are rough equivalents to the parts I had on hand. This list together with the list above will produce a full working computer:

Computer Case

I had an old case that had never been used and that is supposed to be quite. It isn’t especially quiet, and the front connectors don’t include some of the modern things computers have (it is about 12 years old) and does include some things that are fairly arcane. I regret not just getting a new case. But then, when I look at cases, I realize that I want a really good case. But, like computer build documentation, cases are either crap-budget or gamer cases, and I want neither of those. I list a case below that might be a good one to get, and if I do get that case, it will be the most expensive single element in the whole build. But it might be worth it.

Second Monitor

An old RGB monitor that works.

OS “Hard Drive”

Something like this: Samsung 850 PRO – 256GB – 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-7KE256BW). I installed the operating system on it.

Data Hard Drive

Something like this, on which I keep files: Seagate 2TB BarraCuda SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Hard Drive (ST2000DM006)


I like mechanical keyboards, and had this one: AUKEY Mechanical Keyboard with Blue Switches, RGB Backlit 104-Key Gaming Keyboard with Preset and Customizable Lighting Effects for PC & Mac Gamers

Mouse and Mousepad

There are advantages to having a wired mouse, and if you use a laser mouse, there are advantages to having an appropriate mouse pad. Or you can just get some wireless mouse of your choice. Currently am using these:

TeckNet Pro S2 Ergonomic USB Wired Optical Mouse for Laptop Computer, 6 Buttons, 2000DPI

3M Precise Mouse Pad Enhances the Precision of Optical Mice at Fast Speeds and Extends the Battery Life of Wireless Mice up to 50%, 9 in x 8 in (MP114-BSD1)

Here is a list of parts that I have not gotten yet but as I do I’ll be adding them to the computer.

Better second monitor

Dell S Series Screen LED-Lit Monitor 23.8″ Black (S2418H) or similar

Better case

Something like be quiet! BGW10 DARK BASE PRO 900 ATX Full Tower Computer Chassis – Black/Orange, because I want a full size ATX case that is quiet.

Building the computer

Take your time.

Get a magnetic screwdriver that fits your screws, probably Phillips.

Some people like to ground themselves with various grounding devices (such as Rosewill ESD Anti-Static Wrist Strap Components RTK-002, Black/Yellow) when they are building computers.

Start by putting the processor into the motherboard, then put the motherboard into the case, then the cooling fan on the processor, and the ram in the slot. You can change around the order of these things if you want. You’ll need to put some goop (such as Thermal Compound Paste, Carbon Based High Performance heatsink Paste, Thermal Compound CPU for all Cooler computer PC Fan) between the CPU and the CPU fan, but that will probably be supplied with the fan, most likely already smeared on the correct location.

Then put the hard drives where they are supposed to go, screw in the power supply, anything else that is not hooked up, and hook up all the wires.

Then attach a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and turn the thing on. It will work fine.

Hint: A motherboard does not “turn on” until if has power from the power supply (and the power supply is plugged in and turned on) AND the motherboard gets a signal from the case’s off/on switch.

Installing the Operating System

Set up a USB stick to be bootable, insert it into the appropriate slot, turn on the computer and select the function key that switches the boot process to a boot menu. Pick the likely choice for the USB stick, and run through the install procedure (just follow the instructions and mostly pick defaults).

Since I have a second drive for data, I created a new partition using the whole drive (ext4) and added the UUID code to the fstab file, mounting it as “/hdd” and put my Dropbox folder there. Dropbox complained, I ignored the complaints, and so far so good.

You can use a service like PC Parts Picker to work out compatibility.

For me, this was worth it. I could not get a computer this powerful and with this configuration for this price (I did explore that option). Also, I’m getting some parts later to increase the overall quality of the build, such as RAM and a monitor and probably some other things, so even if the total cost is the same or slightly more than an out of the box computer, I’ve got added flexibility that I like. Plus it is fun.

Building a computer is fairly easy, and nothing can really go wrong. If it does, I don’t know you, OK?

Good luck!

Arduino Inventor’s Guide

First, a word about Arduino and why you should care. An Arduino is what is called a “prototyping micro-controller” aka “really fun electronic gizmo toy.”

Micro-controllers are everywhere. When you “turn on” a machine in your house, chances are there was already a micro-controller sitting there, running on a minute bit of juice from a built in battery, waiting for you to push a button. Then, you turned a dial or selected an option on your dishwasher, or changed the setting on your thermostat, or picked some alternative mode on your coffee pot, or shifted into a different gear using a “gear shift” in your fly-by-wire Prius, or you opened up the birthday card and cats meowed out “Happy Birthday.”

All of those events involved a micro-controller, which consists of thee parts. There is a brain inside it, there is a set of sensors or actuators (a thing that detects that the greeting card has been opened, and an actuator that is the thing that makes the meowing sound by playing an WAV or MP3 file), and some software. The software gets in there by hooking an in production version of the micro-controller, likely once in its life, to a regular computer via a COM port (the same kind of interface used by your mouse, or a USB connection, etc.), and stuffing the software in there.

The Arduino Uno is a micro-controller that is very generalized, very large (a bit larger than a credit card), has a well behaved power supply, lots of connectors for either sensor or actuators, and a pretty fancy brain for a micro-controller, with lots of room for code written in a very powerful and fairly easy to use language similar to objective C. You can hook the Arduino up to most computers, using freely available software to communicate with it and compile your code. For the most part, you don’t have to actually write code, it is provided by the developers of projects you are poaching, but if you want, you can go to town with it.

There are hundreds and hundreds of sensors and actuators, from thermostats to motors, gyroscopes to myriad things that light up, available for the Arduino, and in fact, anything that runs on low voltage can be hooked one way or another to it (if you know what you are doing). High voltage uses (like shifting a car or opening or closing a garage door) are done, of course, by using relays that are switches operated by a micro-controller but that pass any voltage level you want, if you get the right one.

The Arduino and its associated equipment can thus be used to replicate, design, and experiment with pretty much any thing a micro-controller can do. After “prototyping” it is trivial, for an expert, to rebuild the circuit using a less capable but perfectly adequate bunch of parts, and solder instead of just sticking things together (called “breadboarding”) and so on. But no one really does that with Arduino. With Arduino you may leave the final product at it is (like the robot we built a few weeks ago) or, as in the case of the projects in an introductory book on how to use and have fun with an Arduino, you may just take the thing you built apart and build another thing.

So, this new book, The Arduino Inventor’s Guide: Learn Electronics by Making 10 Awesome Projects, is sitting on my workbench ready to go to work.

Of all the intro Arduino books I’ve seen, this one is unique in a way I’ll explain below.

The book gives detailed, understandable, and learning-oriented instructions for a home stoplight (helpful with toddlers in the house), a reaction time garme, a balance beam game, a diminutive greenhouse, an small piano, and a handful of other projects.

The coolest project might be a living breathing Logo turtle. Logo is a computer programming environment developed years ago to serve several functions including helping kids get interesting in coding. Logo is actually one of the oldest computer languages still in use (dates to the late 60s) and it is a general programming language, but it is mainly adapted to running the Logo turtle. The turtle is a curser that is moved around on the screen, and instructed here and there to drop a specific pen (it can have several different pens) so as it moves along it draws.

This project, from The Arduino Inventor’s Guide: Learn Electronics by Making 10 Awesome Projects, is a physical turtle that draws on your rug! Or, hopefully, a big piece of drawing paper you put down for it.

I mentioned above that this book is unique. Here’s how. I’ve looked at a Lot of Audrino project books, and there are no introductory books that provide detailed information on how to make interesting project enclosures and cases. The projects in this book rely heavily on the stuff you built the electronic into. The project enclosures are generally made of simple corrugated cardboard that you can get from an old box, or, if you want, from a craft store (for more interesting colors, better quality materials, less cat hair, etc.)

You can build all the projects in this book with parts you have acquired in the usual manner, but the book suggests you get the Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit for Arduino, which is about 75 bucks. Note: This book is produced by No Starch Press and Spark Fun, so of course they suggest the Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit for Arduino as a way of getting all the parts. But, by the time you add up an Uno or equivalent micro controller for 19 bucks, LCD display for nine bucks, fancy breadboard holder for 9 bucks , a shift register for 8 bucks, and miscellaneous other parts, you might be over $75 anyway. Or maybe not. You’ll have to check around.

There is plenty of preliminary information to get a total novice started, and each project is rich in detail and very fully and expertly, clearly and helpfully, described.

This is an absolutely excellent choice, perhaps my favorite at the moment (and totally up to date) Arduino starter book.

Amazon Echo Dot Review

I got an Amazon Echo Dot for my birthday. This allows me to command a computer, using voice, to do things. The voice response on the echo is amazing. It does not get much wrong, and you can speak in a fairly normal voice from another room and the mysterious entity that apparently lives inside the Echo (known to me as Alexa) will hear you.

There is an Amazon Echo and the alternative, Echo Dot. The price difference is very large, and the differences are fairly small. The regular Echo is tall and has high quality speakers, the dot is short and has OK speakers. If you have nice speakers that you can plug the Dot into, that’s the way to go. You can get inexpensive Echo’s refurbished)

The Amazon Echo from the top. Or is it?????
(I should mention that just about now, Amazon is ramping up to Prime Day 2017, which starts on July 10th and runs through July 11th, which is when they produce all sorts of sales (currently you can get $10 by streaming a Prime video for the first time on your TV, and get a substantial discount off of Kindle Unlimited, which I do not use but some people swear by.))

The Echo/Alexa thing can be very handy. I can easily create and update a shopping list that is mirrored on one of two list keeping apps available for the phone, on that is fancy and not free and the other that is less fancy and free. The Echo can generally be set up to interact with the Internet of Things. We are building a very intelligent robot and I assume I’ll be able to use the Echo to command the robot to do whatever the Robot can do. The other day I played a podcast, but I was unable to rewind backwards a few seconds, to hear a part I missed, but I’m sure that can be done somehow.

The Echo can be sufficiently integrated into your Amazon account to use it to order thing and to check the status of orders. I’ve chosen to not do that at this time. I’ll wait until Huxley is away at College.

The other big deal voice actuated device like the Echo is, of course, the Google Home. Since Google interfaces with the Android OS, and Google and Android are in a steel cage death match, Echo does not automatically do a lot of things it should do. For example, it should work flawlessly with a lot of different Android apps, so, for instance, I can send shopping or to-do list items to my Simplenote app, which is what I use for such things. There are indeed ways to make Echo work with other machines, and probably to make Home do the same thing, as there is an API, and neither device is made by Apple (which will take your first born if you try to integrate with any other company’s products). But at the moment it is medium level hacking. I expect that problem to go away in a matter of months, however.

The single best thing about the echo is its excellent mic and whatever software/hardware magic is being employed to pick up voice from far away and understand it clearly. I can’t compare it to Google’s device because I never tried one. I look forward to bending Alexa’s abilities to my will, and eventually taking over my kitchen!

Coding iPhone apps for Kids

I can’t give this a meaningful review because I don’t have the setup to test it out, Coding iPhone Apps for Kids: A playful introduction to Swift by Gloria Winquist and Matt McCarthy looks like it is up to the high standards of this publisher and these authors, and might be just the thing for your kid:

Apple’s Swift is a powerful, beginner-friendly programming language that anyone can use to make cool apps for the iPhone or iPad. In Coding iPhone Apps for Kids, you’ll learn how to use Swift to write programs, even if you’ve never programmed before.

You’ll work in the Xcode playground, an interactive environment where you can play with your code and see the results of your work immediately! You’ll learn the fundamentals of programming too, like how to store data in arrays, use conditional statements to make decisions, and create functions to organize your code—all with the help of clear and patient explanations.

Once you master the basics, you’ll build a birthday tracker app so that you won’t forget anyone’s birthday and a platform game called Schoolhouse Skateboarder with animation, jumps, and more!

As you begin your programming adventure, you’ll learn how to:

  • Build programs to save you time, like one that invites all of your friends to a party with just the click of a button!
  • Program a number-guessing game with loops to make the computer keep guessing until it gets the right answer
  • Make a real, playable game with graphics and sound effects using SpriteKit
  • Challenge players by speeding up your game and adding a high-score system
  • Why should serious adults have all the fun? Coding iPhone Apps for Kids is your ticket to the exciting world of computer programming.

    Covers Swift 3.x and Xcode 8.x. Requires OS X 10.11 or higher.

    Example Page:


    Author Bio
    Gloria Winquist became hooked on iOS development in 2011 and has been programming professionally ever since. She works as an iOS developer at LumiraDx.

    Matt McCarthy has released more than 20 apps as part of a two-person team, Tomato Interactive LLC. He works as a software engineer at LumiraDx.

    Table of contents
    PART 1: Xcode and Swift
    Chapter 1: Hello, World!
    Chapter 2: Learning to Code in a Playground
    Chapter 3: Making Choices
    Chapter 4: Writing Code That Loops
    Chapter 5: Keeping Your Programs Safe with Optionals
    Chapter 6: Storing Collections in Dictionaries and Arrays
    Chapter 7: Functions Are a Party, and You’re Invited
    Chapter 8: Custom Classes and Structs

    PART 2: Birthday Tracker
    Chapter 9: Creating Buttons and Screens on the Storyboard
    Chapter 10: Adding a Birthday Class and Handling User Input
    Chapter 11: Displaying Birthdays
    Chapter 12: Saving Birthdays
    Chapter 13: Getting Birthday Notifications

    PART 3: Schoolhouse Skateboarder
    Chapter 14: Setting the Stage
    Chapter 15: Making Schoolhouse Skateboarder a Real Game
    Chapter 16: Using the SpriteKit Physics Engine
    Chapter 17: Adjusting Difficulty, Collecting Gems, and Keeping Score
    Chapter 18: Game State, Menus, Sound, and Special Effects

    Recommended music player and radio for the gym

    Several weeks ago I tried once again, after many prior ill fated attempts over several years, to get a device that would play music, audio books, and be a radio. The audiobook part wasn’t the most important part, but the ability to play various audio files AND act as a radio AND not be a big giant thing I had to strap to a body part AND be sturdy were all important. This latest attempt has gone very well, and I now have a device that is very nice and therefore, I figured you’d want one too.

    This time I tried the AGPtEK M20S 8GB Mini MP3 Player(Expandable Up to 64GB), Lossless Sound Touch Button Metal Music Player with FM/Voice Record,Silver and I love it, enough to recommend it.

    Here are some of the specs from the manufacturer:

    <li>Tiny and Solid Construction: The metal body makes it sturdy with some weight. Mini and portable,only 3 x 0.3 x 1.2 inches.</li>
    <li>Lossless Sound Quality: High sound quality brings crystal clear sound wherever you are. Support audio formats: MP3/WMA/OGG/APE(Normal/Fast)/FLAC/WAV/AAC-LC/ACELP.</li>
    <li>Easy Operation with Touch Button: Designed with 6 touch buttons and 5 metal buttons,independent locking and volume control. Fashion and convenient operation.</li>
    <li>Multi-function: With music play, FM radio, FM/voice recording, resume playback, folder view, clock screensaver, bookmarks etc.</li>
    <li>Long playback time: Up to 14 hours of audio playback with 2 hours of full charge. 8 GB digital storage media capacity, supports up to 64 GB (not included). To avoid incompatibility, please use AGPTek Memory Card.</li>

    Did you see that it holds a microSD? I’ve not used that feature, but that is pretty cool. It has folders you can divide the music up in, which is, essentially, a very efficient way of making a play list. I’ve also not tried to record music off the radio. I’ll probably never listen to music on this radio. I may, however, record Rachel Maddow now and then..

    At this point, being fairly new, I think it goes well beyond the 2 hour charge estimate.

    It is complicated, this little device, and therefore can not be operated with a single button like a Shuffle. So, it will take a little while to lerarn how to use it (perhaps a full five minutes). Just remember, the reverse U button backs you out, and that’s a great way to change modes. The menu hamburger button, while listening to a radio station, lets you make a preset or change the presets.

    I’m not sure that I loved the headphones. I remember not being too impressed with how they fit, but that’s going to be true for everybody vis-a-vis various headphones. I just plugged in my favorite headphones and used them. I’d grab them and look them over one more time to give you my opinion, but it is possible that the cat ate them.

    Also, I just noticed, that if you get the AGPtEK now and buy an additional item with it, like a microSD card or a wall charger, you can get a discount on something. I’m not in the market for any of those things so I didn’t look closely.

    How To Avoid Future WannaCry Style Ransomware Attacks

    This is very simple, and it has more to do with the philosophy and marketing of operating systems than the technology of the operating systems themselves, though the technology does matter a great deal as well. First, lets have a look at how this ransomware attack was allowed to happen to begin with.

    The vast majority of affected systems in this latest world wide cyber attack were Windows based computers that were not updated with recently available and easily deployed patch. The attack did not affect other operating systems, and Windows systems that had a recently released security patch were not affected. (I was going to put a link here to direct people to the Microsoft web page with info on what to do if you were attacked, but a minute or two of perusal on the Microsoft site mostly told me about Microsoft’s new products, and I did not find any such page. If you have a link, please place it in a snark free comment below.)

    Why was the patch not deployed on so many computers? For several reasons.

    Some of the operating systems were running under administrative policies that did not allow patching for some reason or another. I’ve only heard rumors of this but it sounds like a blind-future style pre-decision, in the same category of other bone-headed human processes like no tolerance policies for knives in schools and three strikes you are out sentencing policies. It works like this: You remove thinking from the process by making all decisions in advance, and then get the heck out of there with limited liability and whatever happens happens. If you do this you are probably a member of congress or a school board member planning on retiring soon. It never goes well. Telling security IT people in advance what they can and can’t do because of HR or personnel regulations is like going to a doctor and telling them what your diagnosis and treatment is going to be, in advance. You will die of something curable, eventually, if you do that regularly.

    Some of the operating systems were running on computers that are, in theory, never supposed to be turned off. This is similar to the first reason in its stupidity level. For one thing, making it impossible to patch an OS ever is really not smart. For another thing, that computer you plan to never turn off is going to turn itself off now and then. But it is also bad at another level, the level of the operating system. Windows has operated, for years, under the principle that when enough stuff goes wrong, you turn off the computer and start again, and if that does not work you reinstall the operating system from scratch. Now, I know, you Windows lovers will jump in at this point and tell me that “Windows doesn’t work that way any more” but you know what? After decades of hearing how Windows Past is not Windows Present, when it really is, I don’t care what you say. Also, actual on the ground Windows users have been trained, by Microsoft policy, to reboot or reinstall for decades. Anyway, the point is, Windows can not be updated on the fly, and thus, the system utterly fails in a situation where updating is critical, which by the way is all the time and all machines, because even computers you use for nothing but curating recipes for muffins, if hooked to the Internet (where all the good muffin recipes are), can still be the platform for launching a secondary cyber attack.

    Some of those operating systems were in health related fields (referring here to both of these first two excuses) and that is why so many health related facilities were hit initially.

    Another reason, which is a bit tricky, is the problem with updating stolen software. If you stole the OS it might be hard to get an update or patch. It seems like a good idea for the company making the OS to do this, as it encourages buying the product and discourages stealing it. Yet, many tens of thousands of computers, maybe hundreds of thousands, are currently locked down by WannaCry because they were pirated, and not updated. This becomes a public health (cyber-health, eHealth) risk. It is like vaccination. We all suffer because so many others get the disease, even those of us who did not fail to do the right thing.

    This is a moment when we look at something like computer operating systems and realize that they are actually a public good as much as, or more then, they are a commercial product. Think of roads and canals in the old days. Roads and canals were often privately owned (as were fire departments and police forces in many cases) and eventually it became apparent that these are all public goods, so they were essentially taken over by the government. Similarly, power companies and railroads. Not exactly taken over but made into quasi public entities through integration with public agencies and heavy regulation.

    I’ve often argued that things like Google, Amazon.com, Facebook, Twitter, etc. have become the equivalent of public goods, like roads and the post office, etc., in a similar way. To some extent, this is also true of operating systems.

    There is of course a solution to all of this. What we need is an operating system that is made by the public itself. If all interested parties simply became involved, and maybe large companies with a lot of stake in computers would put aside a meaningful amount of their own software development resources, and a few public and private agencies would provide some grants and bounties and stuff, we could have an operating system that was free, easily installed, updated every week with common updates (like, maybe, on Sunday evenings or something) with a very easy and easily automated system of updating, that would be great.

    Ideally most software would come from well maintained and secure repositories that were checked for malicious code. There could be several different such repositories more or less redundant with each other but maybe tweaked to cater to different types of users. The added advantage of several different but similar repositories is this: even if some bad code gets into one repository, the fact that across users, many different repositories are used, would slow its spread.

    By making the operating system free, easy, effective, powerful, flexible, and easily updated almost every one of the limitations in the way we do things that allowed WannCry to spread and ruin everything would simply not have happened. A few people would be hit, it would be a minor story.

    On top of this, let’s make this new operating system have a few other security related features.

    For instance, monitoring code. The way it works now with Windows, is that a finite number of paid and I’m sure brilliant individuals are in charge of coding and maintaining the operating system, and updated and patches, while a much larger number of criminal-minded nefarious but also brilliant individuals are focused on breaking the security. This means that there is an uneven arms race where day to day Microsoft will always be a step ahead of the bad guys, except every now and then when the bad guys jump ahead and make a huge mess.

    I propose that this ratio be reversed, that the arms race between the good and the evil become totally one sided in the other direction. Have a very large number of individuals, a proportion of the above mentioned community of private individuals and interested corporations and agencies, working on security, swamping out the nefarious bad guys. There would be very few moments when the bad guys got very far ahead of the good guys.

    In addition, the operating system itself could have other security related features. For example, the basic tools inside the operating system could be well maintained, highly traditional, really clean and neat code, and free to use. So, for example, basic tasks that any new software might use are figured out, so you don’t have to add your own new version of the code to do them. This means that new code will generally be fast, effective, clean, easier to maintain, and more secure.

    Also, the operating system can work more like a prison than, say, a food court. In a food court, you do what you want to do (eat, meet your friends, hang out) in a rather chaotic environment where you can move freely from place to place. Someone puts their food down on a table to go back to the Azian Kuizine window to get the chopsticks they forgot, and you can grab their pot stickers, sit down at a nearby table, and no one can really figure out that you just sole their food. And so on.

    In a prison, you can theoretically leave your cell and walk down the hall to the gym, then go to the cafeteria, then the law library. But, the entire route is blocked by a series of doors that only specific people have permission to open, at specific times, for specific reasons. Everything you do requires having permission at every step of of the way, and it is all constantly being carefully watched.

    Life should be more like the food court. What happens inside computers should be more like the prison.

    Of course, by now, most of you have figured out that I’m talking about Linux. Linux is an operating system that is already widely used when certain conditions pertain. Since the Android OS is based on Linux, and the majority of servers run Linux, and Linux is becoming the preferred desktop in China, it may well be that Linux is more widely deployed right now than any other operating system, though most Westerners think of it as nearly non-existent on desktops.

    Critical tasks are often trusted to Linux or similar operating systems (Unix, BSD, etc.) because of reliability and security. When efficiency is required, Linux is often tapped because it can be deployed in a very efficient manner. Linux acts internally like the prison, not the food court. The system itself is constantly monitored open source code, and most of what runs on it is openly monitored as well. Software is usually distributed via secure repositories. The system is free and easily updated, there is no such thing as a pirated copy of Linux. There is a regular schedule of updates, they come out every Sunday.

    Another important feature of Linux is the separation of the operating system and the surface appearance of the system. The operating system itself comes in a number of varieties, but most people use one of two: Red Hat or Debian (there are others). But the surface of the OS, the part the user sees, is not related to that at all. Most people use a “desktop” which provides the windows and stuff, the parts that you interface with, and there are several versions of this, from which users can more or less pick and chose.

    Here is why this is important: The desktop provides the user experience, and the user experience sells the product. If you develop a proprietary operating system like Windows, many of your decisions, including when to produce major updates, etc. is driven by the marketing department. The development and deployment of the operating system is a complex process where designers and marketing gurus are at the same table, essentially, as security experts and developers concerned with efficiency.

    In the Linux system, the security people and efficiency and functionality developers work most of the time independently from the equivalent of “marketers” or “designers” because of this two layer aspect of the system. It is quite interesting to visit the communities of desktop developers and hear what they are saying to each other, then visit the community of system developers and hear what they are saying to each other. They are pretty much two distinct conversations. There will never be a marketing or design decision about Linux that impacts security.

    Linux is the female operating system in a patriarchic world. Refer to the appropriate John Lennon song for a starker analogy. It does a lot of the work, maybe most of the work, but is usually not recognized. When people make comparisons, Linux has to dance backwards and in high heels.

    If I say, like I just said here, that “if Linux was widely in use, the WannaCry attack would have been much less severe” people will respond “Linux can be attacked too” and that will be taken by others, and possibly meant to begin with, as stating “Linux and Windows are the same, its just that attackers attack Windows and not Linux.” That is a pernicious falsehood that feels a lot like many sexist comments about the limitations of women. Yes, Linux could in theory be attacked. No, Linux is pretty much not attacked very often or ever, so your fantasy about how it can be attacked has no empirical back up. No, Linux and Windows are not the same in which they are developed, designed, maintained, deployed, updated, or secured, and every single one of those differences gives Linux a huge leg up on security and Windows one or more disadvantages.

    If a cyber attack is a mugger, Windows is a physically small drunken person with wads of money sticking out of his pockets, staggering down a dark ally near the convention hall during a mugger’s conference, while Linux is a hundred sober and smart well trained Navy Seals each driving a separate armored car in undisclosed locations.

    Yes, you can attack the Navy Seals. But if you do that, they’ll make you wanna cry.

    Python Programming To Automate Common Tasks

    Automate the Boring Stuff with Python: Practical Programming for Total Beginners by super Python expert Al Sweigart is a pretty thick intermedia to somewhat advanced level programming book.

    It covers how Python works, so someone familiar with programming languages can get up to speed. Then, the book tackles a number of key important tasks one may use a computer for. This includes working with Regular Expressions, file reading and writing, web scraping, interacting with Excel spreadsheets and PDF files, scheduling things, working with email, manipulating images, and messing around with the keyboard and mouse.

    I wold like to see a second volume with yet more programming ideas and examples. It could be a series.

    From the publishers:

    If you’ve ever spent hours renaming files or updating hundreds of spreadsheet cells, you know how tedious tasks like these can be. But what if you could have your computer do them for you?

    In Automate the Boring Stuff with Python, you’ll learn how to use Python to write programs that do in minutes what would take you hours to do by hand—no prior programming experience required. Once you’ve mastered the basics of programming, you’ll create Python programs that effortlessly perform useful and impressive feats of automation to:

  • Search for text in a file or across multiple files
  • Create, update, move, and rename files and folders
  • Search the Web and download online content
  • Update and format data in Excel spreadsheets of any size
  • Split, merge, watermark, and encrypt PDFs
  • Send reminder emails and text notifications
  • Fill out online forms
  • Step-by-step instructions walk you through each program, and practice projects at the end of each chapter challenge you to improve those programs and use your newfound skills to automate similar tasks.

    Check it out.

    Amazon Takes Echo To The Next Level

    The merging of Alexa and your Internet experience appears to be happening as we speak.

    You know about the “Echo” by Amazon, similar to Google Home (which apparently you can buy at Target, which presumably does not have a similar device). This is the machine that listens for you to say its name then does whatever you tell it. For example, say this real loud:

    “OK Google or Alexa, send Greg Laden one million dollars!”

    OK, thanks. Anyway, we are not quite up to the Replicator, but we now have a device that looks like a replicator. It is the Amazon Echo Show, which is both an Alexa client and, perhaps, a tablet. According to Amazon:

    Echo show in action
    Echo show in action

    Voice responses from Alexa are now enhanced with visuals and optimized for visibility across the room. Call or message your family and friends that also have an Echo or the Alexa App, get the news with a video flash briefing, see your Prime Photos, shop with your voice, see lyrics with Amazon Music, and more. All you have to do is ask.

    Echo Show has eight microphones and beam-forming technology so it can hear you from across the room—even while music is playing. Echo Show is also an expertly tuned speaker that can fill any room with immersive audio powered by Dolby. When you want to use Echo Show, just say the wake word “Alexa” and Echo Show responds instantly.

    What's next drones delivering our stuff?
    What’s next drones delivering our stuff?
    I think we are seeing only the beginning of this instant gratification technology, and we are very far from understanding its full meaning. The instant gratification part is neither new nor interesting.

    The interesting part is how we are going to handle having drones flying all over the place and devices constantly listening to us, and in the near future, watching us attentively and perhaps smelling or otherwise sensing us, trying to anticipate our consumer behavior in advance of the other watchers anticipating our consumer behavior.

    "Good evening. I wonder if we might share with you our..." "Alexa ... Release the hounds!"
    “Good evening. I wonder if we might share with you our…”
    “Alexa … Release the hounds!”
    Soon enough, it will be the automated nature of delivery, and the speed of deliver, that matters most. Rather than coupons arriving in the mail, actual object will be arriving, on approval, or for “free” but not fully functional without payment, at our doorstep, easily sent away, but maybe not so easily ignored. Like Jehovah’s Witnesses everywhere, but small and with four propellers.

    Which makes me wonder. Does my cell phone dream of electric sheep?

    Things to do after installing Ubuntu 17.04

    We begin with the usual list of things you pretty much always do after installing every Linux OS. Why these things are not automatically done for you on installation is a bit mysterious, but down deep there are generally reasons (legal reasons) for some of these things. In fact, pretty much everything here, with some minor tweaking you can ignore, is the same as for Ubuntu 16. And 15, probably. If you’ve been upgrading to the latest Ubuntu on a regular basis, this might all be pretty automatic for you by now!

    Anyway, after installing Ubuntu 17.04, consider these next moves:

    Update and Patch Up

    Update your operating system by opening a terminal and typing in these things (sudo will cause the terminal to ask for your password).

    sudo apt update
    sudo apt upgrade

    Turn on the “Canonical Parter” repositories. Canonical is the company that makes and maintains Ubuntu. Go to Software & Updates and under the Other Software tab, check off Canonical Partners.

    Go to “software and updates” and pick the tab for “Additional Drivers” and pick the graphics drivers that show up there as options, if necessary.

    Most people will want to install media codecs so you can listen to, or better listen to, or watch, things.

    It is easiest to do this from the command line (the terminal) by typing:

    sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras

    Install Gdebi package installer, which I think is not already installed on this distro. This is a program that installed the contents of “.deb” packages, which you will occasionally (like, in a bout one minute from not likely) download in order to install some programs. Gdebi allows you to right click, or in some other easy way, deploy the package (which will be a folder with stuff in it) to have it all install automatically.

    Find and learn to use the software installation system that comes with Ubuntu.

    You will want to install the Unity Tweak tool because it allows you to … tweak Unity in ways the system configuration interface does not. Why are all the tweeky configury things not automatially in one place? I don’t know, and this to me is a major failing of the effort to get people to use the Linux Desktop.

    Anyway, type this:

    sudo apt-get install unity-tweak-tool

    Since Unity is will never be deployed with a distribution again after 17.04, that will be the last time you do that!

    Install your favorite additional software

    The distribution comes with piles of software already, but there are a few things you may want to install because you use them. Use the software installer to do so, or go to the appropriate web site to download the deb file (which you’ll use gdebi to install).

    I install Chrome Browser (others install Chromium, but I don’t think that is the best option). Go to the Google Chrome web site to find it.
    I use Dropbox, and if you do, go to the Dropbox site and install the latest version.
    Skype is installed from the Skype site as well.
    I like GIMP image processing. That should be in your software installer center.
    I like VLC as a media player. This should be in your software installer center.

    Book suggestions:

    Ubuntu Unleashed 2017 Edition (Includes Content Update Program): Covering 16.10, 17.04, 17.10 (12th Edition)

    The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction



    The Unity Tweak tool lets you change how application windows are managed, including minimizing them. Play around with the tweak too.

    Go to the configuration panel and select the theme you like, or leave the theme along. I’m kind of beyond changing my theme all the time but it is fun if you are into it, go for it!

    Don’t bother

    Many will suggest system cleaning and monitoring tools. I don’t think most of these tools do much or provide much information beyond what you can get by using the command line tools that have always been there. Linux is not Windows. It takes care of itself and is not a crybaby. It is much more like a Mac in this way, and for good reasons: Both are Xnix operating systems, in the same family.