Another Rescue Chromebook

I hate dumping old electronics just because they’ve reached OS end of service, and Chromebooks are notorious in that regard. Google is getting better about extended lifespan, but in the meantime there are countless “worthless” old Chromebooks headed to a landfill. 

But I’ve also come to love Chromebooks themselves for the role they fill: inexpensive, lightweight, quick start up browsing and writing.

With each passing year, my tether to Windows frays. It’s expensive, full of bloatware, resource hogging, and not that portable. And from my experience, Apple is no better. As for Microsoft Office, I seldom use anything but Word and Excel from that suite, and despite 40 years of personal experience with Word in particular, I’m just using it less and less, replaced by Google Docs, which I can access from whatever device is convenient at the moment—desktop, laptop, tablet, or even phone.

What Chromebooks cannot do is run PC games. In my case that’s not a big deal; I was already sliding away from PC gaming, to tablet and phone for those spare moments in a day, and the family’s gift of a Steam Deck virtually swept the desktop off the table as for PC games themselves.

My first Chromebook, that Acer CB3-431 at the bottom of the stack in the photo, was released in June 2016 and reached end of OS support in June 2022. Windows 11 had been released just eight months prior, signalling the writing on the wall for Windows 10’s demise.

As luck would have it, while researching for a new OS for my now “extinct” Chromebook, I stumbled across instructions for installing Windows 11 on out-of-service Chromebooks. It requires flashing a new BIOS on the Chromebook, which requires disabling the Chromebook’s write protect in the hardware, voiding any warranty, so not something you’ll want to do with a new machine.

But it works. Not as quickly or robustly as a PC actually built for Win11, but honestly usable enough for my purposes—and certainly for an introduction to the OS. I set it up to install any new software to a button USB drive, because the 32GB internal drive is nearly filled with the OS itself. Unfortunately, Steam, GOG, and Epic games managers all insist on using the internal drive, so I can’t have all three installed at once, but the machine is great for the family’s library of Big Fish Games. And, of course, for browsing. That big, clear screen is also great for streaming media!

The blue Chromebook in the middle of the stack in the photo is an HP Chromebook x360, meaning that the touchscreen can fold all the way to the back like a big tablet. Its end-of-OS date is June 2029, so I’ll be using it as intended, an “actual” Chromebook device, for another 5 years. It’s big but slim, making it nicely portable on the road.

As for the Acer C710, knowing my inclination to repurpose old devices, someone gifted that to me recently when they upgraded to a new machine. Released November 2012, it has only 2GB of RAM and a 16GB drive. Trying to find an OS to work within the limitations of this 12-year-old device proved a challenge.

I figured pretty obviously some light sort of Linux. The Steam Deck interface itself runs atop SteamOS (a proprietary Linux system), with an easily accessable desktop mode, and I’d been familiarizing myself with that interface to get unsupported PC games to run, specifically Vampire: The Masquerade, Bloodlines with the fan-made War Games WII setting, so I’ve been eager to sink my teeth deeper into a Linux distro without potentially bricking the Steam Deck. The trouble is, nearly every Linux version I could find requires at least 4GB of RAM and 20GB hard drive space, most of them actually a 32GB drive or more. Well, anything I could find that wasn’t beyond my fledgling Linux knowledge.

Gallium OS is a Linux distro developed specifically for Chromebooks, and it worked great on this little old thing. But OS support ended in 2022, leaving me in the same situation as with the machine’s original Chrome OS.

Eventually I settled on the minimalist Bodhi Linux, the desktop you can see in the photo. A basic install requires only 760 MB of RAM and 10 GB of drive space. This Acer C710 runs it smoothly, and there’s enough drive space left for an open-source office suite, not to mention the three USB drives to extend that.

The keyboard is the same comfortable size as on the other two Chromebooks, though that means that instead of the x360’s big speakers either side of its keyboard, the Acer 710 has some pretty tinny ones, even compared to the CB3-431’s. The webcam and mic work perfectly, so there’s a good chance I’ll use the new old machine sometimes for video chat gaming on Messenger, maybe on browser Discord. For headphones, there’s only an earphone jack on this model. No Bluetooth, though 3 USB ports if I want to see about adding a dongle. (Bluetooth mouse with dongle works just fine, so I’m hopeful.)

That’s the saga so far of rescuing another perfectly useable Chromebook. The saga of wading into Bodhi Linux has just begun.

Seems Like Forever Ago

These #charactercreationchallenge memories have been popping up on my Facebook timeline this month. And today I suddenly remembered that posting them was a slow, painful climb back from three months of depression so severe that for the first time in my career I couldn’t write at all.

That seems like forever ago. So much has been published since.

The Character Creation Challenge posts that January three years ago led to a Zine Quest project in February that year for D6xD6 Dungeons, followed since by the Bauner Coast campaign setting, several new D6xD6 6-pagers, an anthology of D13 adventures, and 11 Bookmark No HP RPG titles. Along with some YouTube solo play videos and quite a few in-depth blog posts on social subjects.

Next month’s Zine Quest will be a D6xD6 2e. This month I may yet get a Make 100 KS project for a Battle Bookmark in progress. While I continue to chip away at a 21-card adventure deck for the bookmark product line, promised to last year’s Make 100 backers. There’s also a D6xD6 Dungeons Solo book already written that just needs a developmental pass.

So, three months in the abyss, a painful climb out, and three years of productivity since. Three years filled with fun with other gamers and overall joy.

Clinical anxiety and depression will always dog my heels; that’s just the nature of brain chemistry. But the old dog is learning new tricks of self-awareness ala Thomas Covenant, together with balancing some new meds.

And practicing my craft. Writers write. Game designers design. Those things are my connection to the world, and I’m grateful for every single one of you reading these words. For every person who has encouraged that work in whatever way.

Thank you for three years of hope. I wish you the very same, now and in the future.

Sincerely,

—Les

Some Human Words about AI Arts

Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Every new mass-production technology, from earliest agrarianism to computerized milling machines, has caused a tectonic shift in labor. That’s just a fact, however tragic the results have been to human laborers. (I’ll get back to that in a moment.)

But never before has a mass-production technology been used to replace human creativity. The arts are a creative expression uniquely human. Machine art simply scans those creative works and remixes them, passing them off as something new.

Mass production is all fine and good when it relieves humans of tedious labor and creates uniform products easily repaired or replaced. Neither of those ethically applies to art. Art is neither tedious nor easily replaced.

Businesses who treat it as such take a historical disdain for human suffering and lack of responsibility for the newly poor to a new level. They rob the race not only of its livelihoods (which they could ease by retraining their “Human Resources”), but now of its very soul.

The thievery is especially obvious in AI writing, which includes scans of pirated works posted here and there on the Net. The AI learns from works it never paid for.

In my experience, publishers have always been chintzy in terms of writing and illustration, with the excuse that “There are plenty of other creatives out there who would kill for this work.” With unpaid AI art, they and the AI companies who take their money carry this unethical philistinism to a new low.

AI art as a human tool, fine. Not every artist uses paintbrush or writing pen. But the sources drawn from deserve to be paid in turn. We don’t steal paint and ink, for god’s sake!

As beneficial as the Industrial Age has been to humankind in general, it has also made us callous toward suffering that isn’t right under our noses. The wealthier the nose, the further the distance and greater the callousness.

I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that the soullessness of that distance has bred a soullessness toward the arts as anything more than a commodity.

It does, however, make us a little less human with each passing moment. A little more like unfeeling machines.

“The Prison, Into Which We Doom Ourselves”

“‘What do you wish to see first?’ asked the abbe.” The Count of Monte Cristo

I haven’t posted much about my mental health journey of late. Mainly because for the time being it’s been more about observing and mulling than speaking.

But here’s a nutshell update: (1) a med change from an antidepressant that was also a stimulant (bad for anxiety); and (2) the realization that I’ve depended too much on employer/employee relationship for a gauge of success. The fact is, my work speaks for itself, not a company’s pay scale or willingness to share its profits.

It doesn’t take much of a look at human history to recognize the typically unhealthy relationship between business and its employees, companies and their “human resources,” owners and their hirelings, bosses and their workers. (The very word “boss” leaves a bad taste in our mouths: hence “bossy.”)

My work speaks for itself. I’ve poured heart and soul into it all, never stinting. Why the hell I’ve craved a pat on the head from whoever signed the paycheck is a shame.

In part, this change in perspective was jostled by a citation from Ursula K. Le Guin, herself paraphrasing J.R.R Tolkein, concerning escapism and the “real world.”

To quote Tolkein’s actual words, “I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. … Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

And Le Guin’s continuation, “If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? The moneylenders, the knownothings, the authoritarians have us all in prison; if we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.”

Part of my imprisonment has been an Evangelical upbringing that castigated “America’s sinful preoccupation with fun.” Church and State so often work hand in hand to support one another in this regard. And State itself is, to quote John Dewey, “the shadow cast on society by big business.”

I believe that in the long run, an Internet full of art and achievement will change that. In part, my own escapism has lately been the wealth of art, music, and laughter I find online. The amazing things we “common folk” share with one another. That, and the open source movements that sidestep business profits simply to help one another. I believe that these will outpace and outlast the tyrants and warmongers raining destruction down upon us to maintain the status quo.

In any case, I feel a little freer today than I have before. Here’s wishing the same for you.

[P.S. My misuse of Wordsworth’s words in my title is intentional. I’d say “Nuns fret not” foreshadows his hidebound future as Poet Laureate.]