Changing Modalities of Work Is The New Work; or, Linux Mint Talked Me Down Off A Ledge

“It became work just to refresh and relearn my tools enough to work.”

Amarok 1.4

This is Amarok 1.4, a music application that turns me into Archie Bunker.

Huh, it’s been a while since I marked this bloggy territory. Oh well.

Anywho, those who have seen my computer desktops, or even had the misfortune to inquire about them, have been treated to an earful about how “they’re gonna have to pry Natty Narwhal out of my cold, dead hands!”

(Translation: “I run a particular version of a Linux desktop that was released in two-thousand-freakin’-eleven and refuse to give it up for you kids and your fancy tablet-style touchy-feely huge icon crap, dagnabbit!”)

Listen, I know I’m quickly becoming a greybeard, but now that I’m old and cynical, I can at least explain how it happens.

But first, the TL;DR, which is that I finally dumped Linux Mint onto a laptop. You know what? I’m not miserable. I’m not even annoyed. So for those of you who pine for the days of Pine and, erm, nom(?) for the days of pre-Unity Gnome, I’m here to tell you that the Cinnamon window manager, out of the box, feels just fine. Give it a spin.

And now, on to the long-form rant.

There was a time, oh those halcyon days, when Target sold womens’ pants with dignified and usable pockets, and I had tweaked my Gnome desktop to perfection. In my younger years, I had hours to lavish on deeply-buried config files and 2-character flags. Computing-wise, I grew up with Gnome. Heck, I grew up with Linux. I come from a time when you had to install Red Hat from a stack of floppies and the whole operation was an act of faith and bravado. In the words of Grandpa Simpson, “I used to be with it, but then they changed what *it* was. Now what I’m with isn’t *it*, and what’s *it* seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you.” So Gnome was fancy like a freakin’ geodesic dome! So many things to right-click! So many files to delve into! So many annoyances to banish and productivity enhancements to enjoy.

Those days are gone. I’ve become the owner/operator of a toddler and a couple of houses. Right now, as I write this, I’m trading, like, a shower for the time required to type. What really harshed my mellow is that whenever I updated a tool–not just a desktop computer, but a phone app, or the phone itself, or even my stupid refrigerator which nannies me such that I can’t dispense water if I open the door–I was forced also to update the way I worked with the tool. It become work just to refresh and relearn my tools enough to work.

Folks, this doesn’t happen with hammers. Nor paper books, 12″ vinyl. Nor circular saws, drill presses, vintage sewing machines. Even new sewing machines mostly work like the old ones, they just give you the option to press buttons for fancy stuff. Is it any wonder I retreated into the world of handcraft and the analog side of life for the better part of year?

(Oh right, I forgot to mention, I kind of went on sabbatical for a year. I made furniture and clothes and even a bare-bones Etsy store whose listings are expiring. It was cool.)

As well as being a grumpy Unity-hating greybeard, I’m also an Amarok 1.4 apologist, meaning I LOVE LOVE LOVE an ancient version of a music-playback application. This GUI was just perfect. Compact, intuitive, powerful. Then they wrecked it by making it chunky and clever. And you know what, developers? I get it. You want to make your programs run beautifully, and you want a new version to make a visual impact so that users will at least notice the shiny GUI even if they don’t notice that you busted your backside to overhaul the database design and improve performance in subtle but significant ways. But listen, from now on, can you skip the whole tablet-style graphical makeover that makes me feel like my computer is a toy, and instead, like, make the whole thing purple or something?

Natty Narwhal was the last version of Ubuntu that easily allowed me to run both a Gnome desktop the way I liked it, and Amarok 1.4. So I clung to it. Flash updates came and went. I tried to keep up and eventually just abandoned videos on that machine. Slowly, it became difficult or impossible to get and use tools that I needed. Finally, when I recently started some contract work, I was unable to install a current version of some critical tool. So I decided it was time to give up.

This time, I got lucky. Enough people share my work habits that the open source community enabled the release of Linux Mint, and this has loosened my death grip on the unicorn of the sea. It’s supposed to be another one of these easy-peasy desktops, and it is, but it’s also completely not annoying to a grumpy curmudgeon like me. I did opt to use Cinnamon, but it was so painless and unobtrusive, that I can’t even remember how I set it and what I did to make it work the way I like.

My needs are not exotic. Specifically, I like two app panels, one at the top and one at the bottom, I like to dock a bunch of app icons in the top panel for easy access, I like to maximize them from the bottom panel, and I like to have 4 workspaces. So now I have modern software repos, my Flash video works again (when I allow it), and I’m annoyed with the state of pockets in womens’ fast fashion, but not the placement of icons on my desktop.

Now the Amarok 1.4 issue? That might take some more work…

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