SUSE Leap 15 and KDE on a ZenBook

Having moved to Portland, it’s now time to start blogging again! Greetings to all my readers. In the works: a posting on a recent article about conceptual errors common to creationism and conspiracy theories. For now, a brief report on some current technology.

A while back, my 15″ MacBook Pro, from late 2012, stopped working. There is a defect in the graphics card which led to system restarts and shutdowns. At least I was off the hook–I thought those problems were a result of having dropped the machine at the cafe!

I used my work laptop, which ran Windows, but my personal project stagnated, and many of the tools I relied upon to supplement MS Office and other applications were not available on it. Thanks to Cygwin, I was able to get many of those tools back, including Emacs and LaTeX. When I knew I was going to leave my job, however, I needed to get a new laptop. The newer Apple laptops did not seem to me to be good value. They’re expensive! Moreover, the Apple software ecosystem is becoming more and more closed. Time was, one could run applications written for the Mac alongside X applications or other Unix applications ported to the Mac almost seamlessly. This has seemed more difficult to me in recent updates of OS X.

After a little research, I determined that there was a good chance that I could run Linux on an ASUS ZenBook UX330UA. After the retina screen on the Mac, I couldn’t go back to anything less than a QHD+ screen. I lugged the Mac around Europe for many months, or perhaps more notably, all around New York City, and it was an excellent travel companion. Nonetheless, I was ready for something even lighter. An SSD disk was another must-have.

For about half the price of a MacBook Pro with roughly the same components, The ZenBook running SUSE Leap 15 is a good machine for writing, coding, reading PDF’s, and web surfing. After trying out GNOME, I switched to KDE. The system is smooth, reliable, and fast. The primary drawback is the lack of integration with Apple’s calendar and other communication tools, but most of those can be accessed on the web. Printer support for Leap 15 is limited. Watching some videos requires adding some packages from the Packman repository. Another major drawback is that BibDesk is not available. Instead, I use ebib, an Emacs bibliography management package. Other than that, it’s a better experience than the Mac.

“Jack-o’-lanterns, revolutionaries, restless chaps, or clever, unscrupulous fellows”

File under “the past isn’t dead, it’s not even past.” From Galsworthy’s The White Monkey (1924).

It was all of a piece with the modern state of things. Hand to mouth, and the steady men pushed to the wall. The men to whom a pound was a pound, and not a mess of chance and paper. The men who knew that the good of the country was the strict, straight conduct of their own affairs. They were not wanted. One by one, they would get the go-by–as he had got it–in favour of Jack-o’-lanterns, revolutionaries, restless chaps, or clever, unscrupulous fellows…. It was in the air. No amount of eating your cake and wanting to have it could take the place of common honesty.

I have preserved gender anachronisms and maintained British spelling in the interest of faithfulness to the text, though it’s pretty clear that it generalizes, except that women probably don’t even “get the go-by”–since they haven’t had enough opportunities for leadership in government and finance to think of them in terms of a golden age, in which they were trusted and valued, now over.

Qualified support for evolution in New York

The standards for high school biological sciences curricula in New York State are described in The Living Environment Core Curriculum. (“LE Standard,” hereafter) The Living Environment curriculum is Standard 4 in a set of 7 describing the science curriculum in New York State. “Key Idea 3” in the LE Standard describes the central point instructors in Living Environment courses are supposed to make about evolution.

Individual organisms and species change over time.

There are many ways in which this statement and the associated Performance Indicators fail to describe, even in broad outline, what we know about evolution. For one thing, they almost all concern natural selection. For instance, there is no mention of random drift or historical contingency, or the use of evolution in explaining taxonomy and biodiversity. While this deserves further comment, what I would like to call attention to here are two points at which the LE Standard qualifies support for teaching evolution.

Use of “theory”

Key Idea 3 is further elaborated in the LE Standard as follows.

Evolution is the change of species over time. This theory is the central unifying theme of biology.

The problem here is “theory,” which is widely misunderstood, and which does not appear anywhere else in the LE Standard. Teaching evolution is often attacked on the grounds that scientific knowledge about evolution is “just a theory.” This is not how scientists use “theory,” which, in proper scientific parley, indicates a well-confirmed statement or set of statements of general or universal application, such as Newton’s theory of gravitation, or Einstein’s theory of relativity. Although both of these have been modified with time, no one attributes either to Newton or Einstein as conjectures or guesses. They are understood as describing facts about physical objects derived from initial claims made by Newton and Einstein. Glenn Branch, in a recent blog post, explains the cognitive status of evolutionary biology in depth, and provides some useful links.

The LE Standard ought to state that “The central, unifying theme of biological science is that all living things have relationships of descent with one another.” 

Belief vs. acceptance

Key Idea 3 is also explained with:

According to many scientists, biological evolution occurs through natural selection.

This is the only point in the LE Standard at which the level of support among scientists for a scientific claim is mentioned. Indeed, it would be absurd to preface “Organisms from all kingdoms possess a set of instructions (genes) that determines their characteristics,” the explanation of Key Idea 2, about heredity, with “According to many scientists.” Any scientist that denies this would not be deemed worth of the name. The aim of the LE Standard should be to state what the best scientific evidence provides rational warrant for, which is that evolution has occurred and will continue to do so. Formulating the standard in terms of how many scientists would affirm that evolution occurs by natural selection suggests that there is a parallel between religious belief and acceptance of evolution. This is not the case, as explained in a National Academy of Sciences FAQ.