It’s The End Of The XP World As We Know It (And I Feel Fucking Brilliant)

For anyone who, like me, is still using Windows XP (because my PC is pretty old and XP works great on it), support from Microsoft will end on April 8th next year. From that point on, there will be NO more security updates issued. Your system will be open to any hacker who decides to take an interest. Software developers are also less likely to keep developing / updating XP versions of their programs.

For many people, the new Microsoft ‘alternative’, Windows 8, is no alternative at all. If you’ve got an older machine, you’ve got little to no chance of getting it to run. It also looks like crap as far as I’m concerned.

But there is another alternative which you’ve probably heard of if you’ve hung around geeky anarcho types, which is also free and open source (FOSS). It’s called Linux.

In the past, Linux would’ve been a tricky proposition for the average computer user. Not any more. The latest versions (a.k.a. distros) include several (fairly) user-friendly alternatives. If you’ve ever installed / upgraded Windows, you should have no problem with them. These distros allow you to create what’s known as a live DVD. Simply burn the .iso file you’ve downloaded on to DVD, restart your PC with the disc in the tray and then try it out. You’ll also be able to make sure that things like your wifi and printers work OK (and, if they don’t, Googling the problem may well get you an answer).

If you like the version, simpy follow the instructions to install it from the disc, usually nothing harder than double-clicking a desktop icon and filling in a bit of info. And if, after installing it, you later decide you don’t like it, uninstalling is about as easy as inserting a new live DVD and repeating the above process (although you may want to learn about formatting and partitioning your hard drive – it’s not as scary as it sounds and ultimately worth getting to grips with anyway).

I’ve been trying a few Linux distros over the last week, to see what works best for me and my machine. I was pretty impressed with Linux Mint,and it’s definitely worth giving a go. The main version of Mint is based on a Linux operating system called Ubuntu. Ubuntu is stable and, like Mint, has a well-established development team. The main ‘drawback’ for beginners is that, when an update is released, the update process can appear a little daunting. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it looks, and there is a very good guide on the Mint site.

The Mint team have also produced a version that is based on the Debian operating system (which also has a well-established development base). Mint Debian offers a simpler updating method – stable updates are released around every 6 months then installed automatically using the Update Manager program included. But I get the impression the Mint developer community is much smaller for this version, although still pretty good.

Mint has been around for a while and it seems likely that it will continue that way, making it a good choice if you want a long-term option for your operating system.

However, if you’re a bit adventurous (and you’re a punk, so that’s a given), I’d also suggest giving SolydX or SolydK a go (the ‘X’ and ‘K’ refers to the two desktop environment options, Xcfe and KDE, available – see note below). Solyd is based on Debian, but the Solyd developer team release monthly updates that have been tested by them for stability and security. After running Solyd for a few days I’ve fallen in love with it, so much so that I’ve removed Windows XP completely from my PC.

Solyd is the new(ish) kid on the block and there’s always a chance it could falter before it really gets going. However, the people involved have a good pedigree, having previously worked on the Mint team, and I’m hoping that it comes to more people’s attention so that the developer / user base grows because I’m selfish like that.

Of course, for the price of a DVD and a bit of time, you can try out as many Linux flavours as you fancy. It’s even pretty simple to install several different distros on your hard drive (e.g. you could have a simple version for everyday PC tasks, and a specialist multi-media one (like KXStudio or AVLinux) if you’re a musical / arty type, so you can go with whatever mood takes you).

Old punks learning new tricks. Take that, society!

Note: the different desktop environments offered as downloads (Cinnamon, MATE, KDE, Xfce etc.) mainly affect the default software packages that are installed, how heavy they are on your hardware and the look and feel of the desktop. Some (e.g. Cinnamon) work best on newer machines, while others (e.g. LXDE) will breathe new life into an old desktop.

Flipping To FLAC

I’ve been mulling over this for a while now, but I’ve decided to take the plunge and start encoding my rips as FLACs rather than MP3s. It’s the best way of ensuring as flawless a copy as possible of the original source (within the restrictions of the kit I use). With a FLAC file you’re getting the full package, without the audio compression you get from MP3s. FLAC files can be converted back to WAV files (for burning CDs) to give you a perfect copy of the original audio. What’s more, you can compress FLACs to MP3s if you want smaller files for your pocket player, just as you would a normal CD.

The big drawback with FLAC files is their size – although they’re about 30% smaller than WAV files, they’re also around 4 times as big as MP3s. It’s worth the ‘trade-off’ when you play the music back on anything half-decent.

And not all audio players can handle FLAC files. Audacious and similar will do the job on Linux, while Foobar2000 is perfect for Windows users (and much better than pretty much any other audio player for that OS).

If you can’t work it out, let me know and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Open House

If anyone’s interested, Punk Torrents is currently open for registration (although probably not for long). So hurry up and sign up if you want the chance to grab and share some fine rare punk and punk-related audio, video and literature. There’s also general info, discussions, intelligent debate and occasional stupidity to entertain you while you’re waiting for your downloads to finish (except in the ‘Ninjas In Pink Leather Pants’ forum, which is pretty much wall-to-wall stupidity).

If anyone needs advice and guidance on how to use torrent software, there’s a very handy help section and wiki that should get you up and running. Alternatively, ask me and I’ll try and point you in the right direction.

Hot Off The Presses

Just a quickie…Punk Torrents will be open for registration from sometime around teatime today until Sunday eve. It’s free, it’s friendly and it’s full of moist musical morsels.

And thanks to Burke for this email:

I just wanted to say thanks for posting this Culture Shock LP. I havent heard this in probably 12 years but has always been a record that I’ve been very fond of, although I unfortunately never owned it nor did I ever find it to buy.

Anyway, just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that you made my week by posting this.


Brooklyn, NY

My pleasure mate. Look out for more in the near future.

A Friendly Request

A couple of the Blogger bloggers in my side bar don’t allow comments from non-Blogger bloggers. I’ve grabbed a few things from their excellent uploads but I can’t leave a thanks without signing up for a Blogger account. I can barely remember my own name sometimes, so there’s just no chance of remembering user names and logins for every social networking site out there (note the use of hip and modern terminology). So, if any of you ever find this post, ‘Cheers’ for the noise. And can I ask you ever-so-nicely to liberalise your comment regimes so I can leave a more personal response in future? Ta.

Re-open For Business

Punk Torrents has opened up registration again. I don’t know how long this will last for (in recent times it’s been 24 hours), so you may want to register quick if you want to jump on the BitTorrent bandwagon. If you use Windows I’d suggest using uTorrent as your client (I’ve not bothered or needed to update it since the 1.6.1. build 483 beta version), although I’m hoping that one of the open source options will soon match its specs.

You may also want to have a read of an older post I wrote that explains the whole kaboodle in a bit more detail.

Torrent-tastic, Punk-pickers!

Getting to grips with file-sharing technology

Note: since writing this, Punktorrents has closed its registration. However, registration is often re-opened for a day or two (usually on the weekend) so I’ll post up the details if that happens.

Despite the fact that I ventured into the world of the hairless head many moons ago (more recently by nature rather than design), I still try and keep the grey matter inside up to date and modern. So I decided to try and fathom out a bit more about torrents and trackers or, more precisely, what they are and how I, an Old Punk, can use them. For all the other Old Punks out there, here’s what I discovered.

Before I get into the details, a word of warning: the sharing of copyrighted material using torrent sotware is technically illegal (the software itself is not). But, if what you are sharing is long-deleted or as rare as hen’s teeth and not from a label or group affiliated to the music industry’s police force (check out the RIAA Radar for starters), then you really shouldn’t be afraid of using the software to share music. Remember, too, that there are some bands and labels who actively encourage the sharing of their music, or who at least recognise the advantages of exposure that file-sharing brings and don’t prosecute those who are sharing what they create. Be smart and you should be safe.

On with the show…

BitTorrent is a type of peer-to-peer (P2P) network (Napster was a famous P2P network, although it worked in a slightly different way to BitTorrent). P2P networks allow people to share files with each other over the internet. To be able to use the BitTorrent network, you first need to install torrent client software on your computer.

A torrent client is the program you use to upload and download files. It does two things: it chops the file(s) you want to share up into lots of little pieces, creating an additional torrent file in the process, and makes them available for sharing; and, if there are files you want to download, it connects to all the other computers containing pieces of those files (providing they’ve all used the same torrent file) that it can find via the tracker and re-assembles them in one place on your computer.

A torrent file is a small ‘signature’ file that contains some basic information about the file (or, more usually, a set of files in a folder) that you want to share, most commonly mp3 files (although you can also share other content, such as video files, using torrents).

A tracker is in effect an online database of files that people like you want to share with each other. But rather than upload megabytes and megabytes of audio (or whatever) files to the tracker, the small torrent file is uploaded instead. The tracker makes the torrent file available for download to other users, which then enables them to download the main file(s) directly from your computer. The tracker also uses the torrent file to keep track of who has downloaded all or part of the files that are being shared.

A seeder is someone who makes a file or files available for sharing and uploads the relevant torrent file to a tracker.

A leecher is someone who uses the torrent file on the tracker to link to other peoples computers so that they can download the files being shared.

PT banner

This is the clever bit that differentiates BitTorrent networks from other P2P networks: firstly, more than one person can be downloading the same file from you at the same time, as they each download different bits of your file; secondly, because the tracker know which computers have which bits of the file, it allows the leechers’ computers to immediately seed the bits of files they’ve just downloaded to others who still need them, and vice versa. It’s like a big simultaneous file swap shop that continues until all users have downloaded all of the bits they need from everyone else until everyone has a complete set.

So, that’s the basics explained (any questions, just raise your hand). On to the practicals.

Before you do anything, you need to install a client. I’ve used two torrent clients, Azureus and uTorrent, and found both easy to install, set up and use thanks to a couple of great walkthroughs at Punk Torrents. Azureus has a bigger install footprint and is more complex (if you want it to be), but is open source, very configurable and (apparently) Mac-friendly (Mac users could also try Transmission, although it may need a simple fix to work properly). uTorrent is much smaller after installation and the configuration options less scary looking, but it is closed source, PC-only and now owned by a commercial company, so future versions may not be free of spyware or other things the owners may also wish to install on your machine without your knowledge.

Once you’ve got the client installed, you’ll need to find a tracker where you can upload and download torrents. There are some big trackers out there, with hundreds of thousands of users and files and requiring no registration (with all the security risks that entails), but for virtually all of my torrent needs I head straight to Punk Torrents. You’ll need to sign up to be able to share files but it’s free and quick to do this. Since joining I’ve managed to track down some great old albums from my past, ones that have either gone walkabouts or have suffered as a result of my rather hectic lifestyle in years gone by, as well as check out some cool new stuff that I’ve not heard before. I’ve also had the chance to share a lot of my old collection with those keen to add to or fill the gaps in theirs, and share tracks from bands who I think are worth listening to. Personally, I don’t share whole albums from bands or labels that are genuinely independent and could do with the cash (although some on PT do), as I personally prefer to spend a few of my hard-earned readies supporting these people directly. It sits well with my conscience.

There is much debate about file-sharing at the moment but, with common sense, I can’t see any problem with it. Unless, of course, you happen to be a capitalist whore who sees music as just one more product to be milked for every last drop of profit. In which case – A BIG PUNK ROCK ‘FUCK YOU!’