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An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for November 2021

Linux: How to Avoid Linus Tech Tips’ Mistakes

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Linux is receiving greater exposure in response to news about Windows 11 updates and possible concerns. Capitalizing on this, the Linus Tech Tips YouTube channel engaged in a 30-day Linux challenge. As someone with ten years of experience working with Linux across several different laptops, I watched with interest to see how they would perform. After all, Linux is getting more attention thanks to the media as an option for people and organizations looking to reuse older hardware. The results of Linus Tech Tips’ challenge were…well, let’s watch for ourselves:

How it All started

Other tech-oriented YouTubers like Chris Titus and Techhut have chimed in with their takes. It’s easy to poke holes in Linus’ video (and at the end, he admits his mistakes), and there are those who either have outdated tech that cannot be upgraded to Windows 11 or wish to make the change to Linux. This is not a simple process but requires some thought and preparation. But unlike Linus Tech Tips, a simple Google search shouldn’t be your only option. Here’s a preliminary list of the first steps towards making the switch to Linux.

Getting Started With Linux

Before transitioning any machine to Linux, you will need to take an inventory and ask yourself some key questions. This can help guide your decision towards Linux adoption:

What Software Do You Need, and Is There An Open Source Equivalent: Looking at how you use your computer can help you determine what software you need and if there is an open-source solution that can run on Linux. If you need an office suite, LibreOffice is a full-featured alternative to Microsoft Office. For image manipulation, GIMP is a great alternative to Adobe Photoshop. It’s less about “can I run a Windows program in Linux” and more about “can I do the same things with Linux that I can with a regular computer?” (Although there are ways to run Windows software on Linux like WINE software or virtual machines). Whether using it for simple office processes or gaming, knowing why you’re using your computer can guide your Linux selection.

Refurbished Thinkpad T530 for Linux
Photo by Gordon Dymowski

A good example is a laptop I’m writing this post on – it’s a Lenovo Thinkpad T530 running Linux Mint 20.2. I use it primarily for writing both the blog and my fiction, so I rely primarily on LibreOffice and the built-in text editor. Since I am exploring the possibility of self-publishing, I also have several software packages that are alternatives to commercial packages or open-source alternatives like Calibre, Sigil, and Scribus. The only money I spent was on the laptop itself and a solid-state drive to replace the hard drive. (Total cost was approximately $200). Everything works well, the battery has a long life (almost four hours on a single charge), and Linux runs very smoothly.

Inventory Your System – One of the first things anyone should do before upgrading their system to Linux is learning their system requirements. On Windows 10, that information can be acquired in the matter of a few keystrokes, and you’ll need to know these key system processes:

  • Processor – This drives the desktop or laptop computer’s activity;
  • RAM – This is where the computer’s processes run (and can be expandable in some units)
  • Storage – How much data can your device hold and should you replace it with an SSD (solid-state drive)?
  • Video Drivers – Although Linux can work with a variety of peripherals, some that require special drivers like NVIDIA can be especially challenging for Linux.

Two Key Decisions – After being used to Windows and its various quirks, the decision to switch to Linux may be daunting. However, there are two very important preferences that you need to examine before making a final decision:

  • Stability vs. Immediacy – if you prefer your software to remain relatively stable with few quirks, you want something that derived from Debian or Ubuntu (like Linux Mint, MX Linux, Linux Lite, Pop OS, and others). If you want to be “bleeding edge” and are willing to dedicate time to precise configuration and tweaks, an Arch Linux-based distro like Manjaro might be your ideal option.
  • Workflow Style – Many people prefer a Windows-style layout and others prefer a Mac-style layout. Many Linux distros offer a variety of desktop environments. These are ways to interface with the main software, and can be preset with various levels of configurability.

Researching Linux Distributions


One key mistake that Linus Tech Tips made was a simple Google search of “best Linux distros” which are geared primarily to tech enthusiasts and those with advanced knowledge. Knowing where to start once you’ve decided to explore Linux can be challenging, but here are some easy first steps.

Toughbook Running Linux Lite
Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Check Out Their Website – Google can lead to a simple reading of a distribution website to learn its strengths and functions. Every distro has some manner of community forums that can allow you to investigate potential problems. (Also, please be warned if anyone seeking advice is being told “RTFM” – that is a huge red flag)

Distrowatch Is Also Good, But With a CatchDistrowatch is a site that focuses on recent updates to Linux distros. However, it does come with a slight warning: you will see a hierarchy of distros along the right side of the page. It’s only a ranking of unique web visits to that distro and not a ranking of the “best distros ever.” But the site provides links to both downloads and reviews to get a clearer sense of distribution features and functions.

Video Is Your Best Research Tool – Searching YouTube and Odysee for videos about Linux distros can be especially helpful as they sometimes provide screen captures of actual use. Besides Techhut and Chris Titus Tech (who has a great 30-day-switching-to-Linux playlist), other good channels include Linux for Everyone and Explaining Computers (more hardware-focused but with the occasional foray into Linux).

Linux & Windows Side-By-Side Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Test-Driving Linux Distros

This is the other major mistake that Linus Tech Tips made in their video: you never do a full switch on your computer without trying the distro first. (Plus, saying “yes” to something you’re not sure you should do is never a good idea). There are some great methods for “test driving” a Linux distro before deciding to perform a full install. This can save your computer, your time, and your patience.

Get a Feel at DistrotestDistrotest is an “online virtual machine” containing many types of Linux distros. Simply select one, wait for it to load, and working with it online can give you a great sense of how a distro “feels” in use. It’s also a great way to get a practice run as you’re deciding whether or not to switch over.

Create a USB Live Key – Running a distro off of a USB drive can be very helpful in getting a feel for Linux on your particular machine. (In fact, that’s how I test-drove several distros before deciding on Linux Mint). Explaining Computers has a great how-to video on installing and running Linux off of a USB drive. (Some distros for lower-spec machines are developed to run solely from USB drives). The other advantage is that most distros have an “install” icon on the desktop, making it easier to switch when ready.

Find/Purchase a Used/Refurbished Machine – If you have an older, less frequently used laptop lying around, that would be a great test run for any Linux distro. This would allow you to get a handle on Linux while maintaining your current operating system on your main desktop or laptop. If you’re looking for a low-cost alternative (or don’t have a spare laptop), consider checking out a digital recycling center or organization like Free Geek Chicago to purchase a low-cost laptop (and in FGC’s case, some units have Linux pre-installed).

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to poke holes in Linus Tech Tips’ attempt to install Linux, since installing and working with any operating system brings specific challenges. However, Linux has many advantages for individuals and organizations (especially community-focused ones): it is available to download free, provides flexibility in computing, and brings out the best in any particular machine. This is the “latest, but not last” word from this blog on Linux, but we are curious to see where the conversation heads next…

Speaking of conversation, we encourage you to join the conversation via the comments section below. You can email me privately via this contact form, or join the conversation on our Facebook group.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

November 15, 2021 at 10:25 am

Caregiving, Empathy, and Storytelling

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Whether I am caregiving for my mother, working as a professional writer and consultant, or as a New Pulp author, one of the statements I frequently hear is some variation of “storytelling is an engine of empathy”. Regardless of my roles as caregiver/ marketing professional/or writer, I find myself dismayed that storytelling (especially digital storytelling) often gets misused as a buzzword. In the spirit of National Family Caregiver Month, I thought I would write about caregiving and storytelling.

Stories matter, both in how we identify with ourselves and each other. As caregivers, we deal with a wide variety of tragedies and triumphs while (hopefully) managing some semblance of stability. Every opportunity to share our experiences with other caregivers to find connection and understanding. However, like many organizations who have adopted “storytelling” as a buzzword, there is one key concept that often gets misunderstood:

Effective storytelling comes from a place of authenticity as well as empathy.

It is easy to use storytelling as a way to foster an ideal image, to suggest that we want to hit “key messages” with the listener or reader. Hiding behind a facade of “everything’s all right” can be easy for someone caregiving for a family member or loved one. Yet there’s something seemingly “off” when someone shares from that facade. Not sharing every negative or painful aspect of experience out of a sense of propriety is one thing; engaging in “happy talk” or expressing caregiver issues through a rose-colored view is another. As human beings, we sense when something is inauthentic, choosing to “tune out” and dismiss the narrative. We know something’s “off” and we find ourselves emotionally distancing from the storyteller. (Or worse, offering inappropriate advice and feedback to a caregiver)

Storytelling from a more authentic place allows the listener/reader to feel greater connections. One of the reasons many caregivers (including myself) avoid sharing our total stories is that reactions can often be unnecessarily dismissive. Despite the number of caregivers increasing in our country, there is still some sense of shame and feeling that something has been “lost.” For many caregivers, finding some room for adequate self-care can be difficult when dealing with extreme situations. Those stories, however, need to be heard. They’re not necessarily pleasant or optimistic, but can be a lifeline for those who need it. Sharing from that space is difficult, but can mean the world when someone feels truly heard as a result.

One example: pre-COVID, I had attended one of AARP Illinois’ caregiver gatherings. Like many other gatherings, there were people new to caregiving and confused about where to start. It was like many other AARP caregiver gatherings: small group conversation followed by sharing and open questions. During the open discussion and sharing, many caregivers discussed how they considered self-care as “pampering”. At one point, a caregiver disclosed that she never had any issues because “she turned her troubles over to God.”

Ironically, no one had bothered to offer the newcomers any advice…until it became my turn to speak. I had limited time (the woman with no caregiving issues dominated a large amount of time), but I simply spoke from the heart. This isn’t an exact transcript, but comes close to it:

“When I started caregiving for Mom, it wasn’t easy. Luckily, we worked with the social worker at her hospital to help her get a home care aide and supportive services. One of the things that helped us was contacting the Departmentsof Aging for Chicago as well as Illinois. But caregiving isn’t easy and can be overwhelming, and nobody expects us to get it perfectly. There’s going to be a lot thrown at you, but the only way to handle it is one at a time. For caregivers, self-care is a strategy and not an indulgence, and taking care of yourself is vital. I’ve learned to find comfort in my friends, but there are other resources like counseling and community groups. It’s not easy, but you will make it.”

Unfortunately, I never made it back to another session before COVID hit. But it was a good reminder for me about the power of storytelling. Professionally, I sometimes have to advise against focusing on selling a positive image to drive that mysterious quality called “engagement”. (Simply put, I avoid selling the sizzle at the expense of the steak). But the only way I have found to do that is through authenticity: seeing oneself for who one actually is and not some internal ideal. For caregivers, this is a challenge given the overwhelming nature of caregiving. It can be done, and sometimes, the reminder is very welcome.

Please comment below with your thoughts, or join the conversation on our Facebook group. If you want to reach out privately, please use this email contact form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

November 10, 2021 at 5:22 am