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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair

Regular blog here, 'microblog' there

Many of my traditional blog post live on this site, but a great majority of my social-style posts can be found on my much-busier microbloging site at updates.passthejoe.net. It's busier because my BlogPoster "microblogging" script generates short, Twitter-style posts from the Linux or Windows (or anywhere you can run Ruby with too many Gems) command line, uploads them to the web server and send them out on my Twitter and Mastodon feeds.

I used to post to this blog via scripts and Unix/Linux utilities (curl and Unison) that helped me mirror the files locally and on the server. Since this site recently moved hosts, none of that is set up. I'm just using SFTP and SSH to write posts and manage the site.

Disqus comments are not live just yet because I'm not sure about what I'm going to do for the domain on this site. I'll probably restore the old domain at first just to have some continuity, but for now I like using the "free" domain from this site's new host, NearlyFreeSpeech.net.

Thu, 15 Nov 2012

An essential GNOME Shell extension -- Impatience

So I'm testing the Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix and notice that the Shell is more responsive in GNOME 3.6.0 than in the 3.4.2 build in Debian Wheezy, the system I'm using day-to-day.

I write about it and wonder if the performance boost is worth making an entire distro switch.

Later the same day I'm looking at my GNOME Shell Extensions via the extensions.gnome.org website (where you can find, install, configure and manage your GNOME Shell Extensions from either Firefox/Iceweasel or Epiphany/Web) and I come across Impatience.

Here is the description of Impatience:

Speed up the gnome-shell animation speed. By default it's sped up by a factor of 0.75 (i.e 25% faster), but this is configurable if you have gnome-shell 3.4 or later.

I install it, and boom -- hitting the "super" key and typing in the first few letters of an application brings up the icon as quickly as it does in the Ubuntu/GNOME 3.6.0 live environment.

Another problem solved in Debian Wheezy's GNOME 3.4.2. And a GNOME Shell Extension you must try right now.

Updated: Debian Wheezy GNOME 3 panels (and everything else) goes away: Here's how I fixed it

Note: The fix outlined below DOES NOT WORK for more than a day.

This fix is a bit brutal but DOES WORK:

To restore the desktop in my GNOME 3 user account, I ended up deleting the entire .config directory in my home directory.

That enabled me to log into GNOME Shell and have a working desktop. I lost a whole lot of settings in the process, so I recommend renaming .config as, say, config with no "dot," then logging in and eventually restoring the parts of the .config that you need.

Things I lost by killing out .config include my Chromium browser settings, all GNOME settings, gPodder settings, Gigolo settings ... and maybe more that I haven't yet discovered. Sure, I got my main account working with GNOME, but I should've backed up .config instead of killing it entirely.

For reference and disclosure's sake, here is the original post:

I'm having an issue with GNOME 3 in Debian Wheezy that have only cropped up in the past few days. It may be due to one of the upgrades to Wheezy that have flowed earlier this week.

What happens is I log into GNOME 3 Shell, I get wallpaper and that's it. No panels, no nothing.

I can click alt-F4 to log out, and that's about it.

GNOME fallback mode (i.e. 2D) still works fine, as does Xfce. I wasn't locked out of GNOME at all, just the 3D/Shell version.

This Debian Forums post helped, though I don't think it describes my exact problem. I did take its advice and reinstall gnome-session and gnome-panel. It worked for awhile, then stopped working. I did it again, and GNOME 3 is working again. I'll update this post when I'm sure of the long-term viability of this fix.

Here is the command I used in the console:

$ sudo apt-get install --reinstall gnome-session gnome-panel

For now this fix is working. I haven't seen anything on the Debian mailing lists or forums that describes my exact problem, so this could just be something that affects me alone

Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix: Looking at the live environment -- a work in progress

I decided to go in a different direction in my previously intended Linux testing regimen and sample the Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix.

I've been fairly happy with GNOME 3.4.2 in Debian Wheezy but eager to see what GNOME 3.6 has to offer.

I could've gone Fedora, but I'm looking for a smoother transition from Debian Wheezy to whatever I run next.

The new Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix seems perfect in that regard. I keep the Debian base and might even be able to install Ubuntu over Debian and keep the same partition layout.

In my Debian Wheezy GNOME 3.4 desktop, I used the Transmission bittorrent client to download the 64-bit ISO. After a few unsuccessful attempts to create a bootable USB flash drive with the image using dd and cat, I surmised that this wasn't a hybrid ISO image. So I installed unetbootin and used it to create a bootable USB drive with the Ubuntu GNOME remix. I was also able to create persistent storage on the flash drive.

Even though this is the live environment and not a proper installation. There are a few things I can say based on my brief experience with Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix:

  • The "jumping tap-to-click touchpad" problem that I have in Debian Wheezy with Xfce but NOT in Debian Wheezy with GNOME 3 is present in Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix.

That is a problem. And a reason to stick with Debian (or try Fedora). I haven't been able to figure out why Debian with GNOME handles this so well but everything else I've tried does not. This is a quirk peculiar to my hardware, the Lenovo G555 laptop and can be solved by turning off tap-to-click. I'd like to solve it while keeping tap-to-click, but a thorough analysis of the synclient output in Debian's GNOME 3 offers no clues.

  • GNOME 3 Shell seems faster in Ubuntu 12.10's 3.6.0 than it does in Debian Wheezy's 3.4.2.

Everything is just a little bit more responsive. Hitting the "super" key and typing in the first letters of an application are a bit smoother on the screen in Ubuntu 12.10 vs. Debian Wheezy. I don't think it's all that much faster, but it looks better. And it's a little faster. Update: I'm not sure if this is responsible for the "speed-up" in GNOME 3.6, but the GNOME Shell extension called Impatience makes things much faster and smoother on my Debian Wheezy GNOME 3 desktop. It's a great extension and works well in Wheezy's version of GNOME 3.

  • Though everything in the Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix is pretty much GNOME 3.6, the Nautilus file manager remains at version 3.4.2, just like in the stock Unity edition of Ubuntu.

  • A big difference in GNOME 3.6 vs. 3.4 is the presence of an application-grid icon in the application panel on the left side of the screen.

It simplifies the look of the Activities screen that appears when you click the "super" key or mouse into the upper-left corner. This is one of the "big" changes in GNOME 3.6. I like it, but it's more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Roundcube webmail gets new look

Webmail isn't just a Gmail/Yahoo Mail/Hotmail thing. Anybody with a mail server can offer webmail to their users. There are a number of different client applications out there, but my favorite is Roundcube, which I use with my shared-hosting account from Hostgator.

Just today I noticed that Roundcube got a nice new look that coincides with a new release of the platform.

It's nice, to be sure. I love the look and functionality of Roundcube. But what I'd really like in Roundcube is the ability to create and deploy filters. It's on the roadmap. With filters, I really could leave Gmail behind.

I know that Horde offers a filtering option, and I probably should give it a try. But I really like Roundcube ...

Tue, 13 Nov 2012

On 13-year-old hardware, Debian Squeeze with Xfce performs better than Wary Puppy 5.3

I periodically check up on my Compaq Armada 7770dmt, the 1999 machine running a Pentium II MMX processor at 233 MHz with 144 MB of RAM and a 3 GB hard drive.

While I'm still partial to Puppy 2.13 -- a very, very, very old release, I wanted to see how this old Compaq performed on a new Puppy. I do have a 20 GB laptop drive floating around, and if I find it, I could either use it entirely for storage with Puppy, or install something like Debian without the constraints of a mere 3 GB of hard drive space.

Today I did an update/upgrade of the Debian Squeeze installation on the Compaq. Then I burned a Wary Puppy 5.3 CD on another machine and proceeded to try it out on the 233 MHz laptop.

In the unlikely event that you have this exact same ancient laptop and want to run a modern Puppy live system, know that when configuring video, Xorg doesn't work. Choose Xvesa instead.

Anyhow, I don't know if it was the nature of modern Linux, a growing "heaviness" for the Seamonkey web browser, or something else. But Wary Puppy 5.3 was slower than Debian Squeeze with Xfce. Using the web browser at all made the rest of the 144 MB system pretty much unusable.

About a half-hour into my Wary Puppy session, no apps at all would start. I could've rebooted and tried again, but I didn't. I know that using a Mozilla-made browser on hardware this old is painful.

In Debian I use Chromium, which is a quite a bit lighter than Firefox/Seamonkey, and that makes this old machine much more pleasant to use.

And Xfce is a very usable desktop on hardware this ancient. It's all about which applications you use. If you avoid heavy browsers like Firefox/Iceweasel, stick to text editors like Mousepad and Geany (OpenOffice/LibreOffice is not something I'd recommend at all) and keep things simple, even a 13-year-old computer can have some utility. This is a great machine for writing (as I'm doing now with Mousepad).

You can't go wrong with Xfce staples like the Thunar file manager, Mousepad text editor, Ristretto image viewer and Xfce Terminal. To that I add selected extras like the gFTP client, mtPaint image editor (thanks to Puppy for introducing me to it), Geany IDE/editor (thanks again to Puppy) and Ted word processor (introduced to me in Damn Small Linux and no longer in Debian but available as a .deb from the developer).

There's a lot you can't do with a 13-year-old computer, but there's a lot you can do, too.

Linux distributions I plan to test -- Crunchbang 11 (Testing) and Bodhi 2.1.0 -- and why

I don't download nearly as many Linux and BSD ISO images as I used to. Recently I purged my "collection" of ISOs on CD and DVD. I probably dumped 200 discs going all the way back to when I started with free operating systems in 2007.

And these days I don't distro-hop. I pretty much just run Debian, either Stable or Testing, and currently the latter.

I keep my hand in. My recent tests have included a trio of Red Hat Enterprise Linux clones: Scientific Linux, CentOS and CentOS spin Stella.

Two distributions I keep an eye on are Crunchbang and Bodhi. I recently grabbed torrents of both systems -- in Crunchbang's case the Testing image (based on Debian Testing, currently Wheezy) and Bodhi 2.1.0, based on Ubuntu 12.04.

Chances of me installing one of these distributions on my main laptop aren't great but aren't nil either.

What I'd like to do is get a few USB flash drives and install to those instead of burning optical discs. It is the 2010s after all. Once I get some time in the live environments, I very well might go a different direction and install something new.

Other systems that interest me include Fedora (GNOME, Xfce and LXDE) and Ubuntu (the stock Unity, plus GNOME, Xfce and LXDE). I do have a Lubuntu (Ubuntu with LXDE) installation running on another laptop, and it's running quite well.

Key is how I feel about GNOME 3 vs. other desktop environments. If I weren't having touchpad tap-to-click issues in Debian Wheezy with Xfce that disappear in GNOME 3 that I can't seem to clear up in Xfce, I'd be a happy Wheezy Xfce user. I have everything else in Xfce pretty much the way I want it. Except for this touchpad issue. Most of it is lousy hardware. Lenovo really f'd up on this one, I can tell you that.

But if GNOME 3 can take care of it, certainly Xfce can, too. Or another distribution entirely.

So I will be looking around, but there's always GNOME 3. Or turning off tap-to-click.

At this point, taming the touchpad in Debian Wheezy with Xfce is more about not letting the software and hardware get the best of me than anything else. It's also "insurance" against future Linux systems not configuring this touchpad as well as Debian Wheezy with GNOME 3.

Note: The touchpad is an absolute nightmare in Windows 7. About the only thing you can do is turn it completely off. Tap-to-click is the default, and it's a text-deleting nightmare. So in this case Linux is winning big time. But it can always do better. If only Lenovo and Alps didn't release such crappy hardware.

Sun, 11 Nov 2012

Amazon Web Services free for one year

You can use Amazon Web services free for a year, and I'm pretty darned interested in doing I did just that.

I wouldn't say signing up for Amazon Web Services was easy, or that you don't need to possess a certain level of geeky experience, because you do. But if you know a minimum about how a Linux server goes together, you can do it.

One thing to note: Ubuntu is HUGE in the world of AWS. This is an area where it looks like they are either dominating, or well on their way to dominating.

I'm using Ubuntu 12.04 as the distribution for my Amazon EC2 server.

Thu, 08 Nov 2012

The Marketplace radio program has a very nice Drupal web site

I wanted to find a particularly galling story I heard on American Public Media's Marketplace business radio program and was pleased to find a very good-looking and functional web site that just happens to be built on Drupal.

I still like the simplicity of the stories page better than the home page. Marketplace is all about the stories that appear on the air, and quick, simple, "here they are" access is what I want to see (and do).

The beginning of the stories page is on top of this entry. Here's more of the stories page so you can see how each item appears in the rundown. I really like the simplicity and uniformity (click on either image for a full-sized view):

So what was the particularly galling story about? Well, this small-business owner couldn't decide whether to vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, and on her second appearance on Marketplace she wouldn't reveal her vote. What she did want from President Obama in a second term was "compromise" on his pledge to keep taxes the same for those making ,000 and below. She thought he should bend a little and pledge not to raise taxes for those making ,000 and below. Her strong implication was that a family dragging in HALF A MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR is still "middle class."

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal replied, "But that makes you part of the 1 percent ..." He didn't pursue it further. I can't blame him.

But I will spell it out. I don't think ,000/year makes you part of the middle class. If anything, you're "upper middle class." However, if you make ,000 a year, YOU ARE RICH. You are fucking rich, so shut the fuck up.

Mon, 05 Nov 2012

Lots of Debian Wheezy updates today

Due to my slower home connection, I didn't update my Debian Wheezy laptop over the weekend, and today I have 103 packages about to flow onto this system.

Aside from a new kernel, new Chromium web browser, new LibreOffice and new Java/OpenJDK/IcedTea, there are plenty of other packages coming along for the ride from GNOME, new ffmpeg and libav, cups and more.

Why so many packages at once? Could it mean the release of Wheezy as Debian's Stable distribution is closer than not? I have no answers yet.

All I do know is if you're running Debian Wheezy right now, be prepared for a whole lot of updates.

steven@lenovo:~$ sudo aptitude upgrade
Resolving dependencies...                
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  linux-headers-3.2.0-4-amd64{a} linux-headers-3.2.0-4-common{a} 
The following packages will be REMOVED:
  linux-headers-3.2.0-3-amd64{u} linux-headers-3.2.0-3-common{u} 
The following packages will be upgraded:
  chromium chromium-browser-inspector chromium-inspector cups cups-bsd 
  cups-client cups-common cups-ppdc evolution-data-server 
  evolution-data-server-common ffmpeg fonts-opensymbol gdm3 
  gir1.2-panelapplet-4.0 gnome-terminal gnome-terminal-data 
  google-talkplugin icedtea-6-jre-cacao icedtea-6-jre-jamvm kdelibs-bin 
  kdelibs5-data kdelibs5-plugins kdoctools libav-tools libavcodec53 
  libavdevice-extra-53 libavdevice53 libavfilter-extra-2 libavfilter2 
  libavformat-extra-53 libavformat53 libavutil51 libcamel-1.2-33 libcups2 
  libcupscgi1 libcupsdriver1 libcupsimage2 libcupsmime1 libcupsppdc1 
  libebackend-1.2-2 libebook-1.2-13 libecal-1.2-11 libedata-book-1.2-13 
  libedata-cal-1.2-15 libedataserver-1.2-16 libedataserverui-3.0-1 
  libglib2.0-data libgtkhtml-4.0-0 libgtkhtml-4.0-common 
  libgtkhtml-editor-4.0-0 libkcmutils4 libkde3support4 libkdeclarative5 
  libkdecore5 libkdesu5 libkdeui5 libkdewebkit5 libkdnssd4 libkemoticons4 
  libkfile4 libkhtml5 libkidletime4 libkio5 libkjsapi4 libkjsembed4 
  libkmediaplayer4 libknewstuff2-4 libknewstuff3-4 libknotifyconfig4 
  libkntlm4 libkparts4 libkprintutils4 libkpty4 libkrosscore4 libkrossui4 
  libktexteditor4 libkutils4 libmozjs185-1.0 libnepomuk4 libnepomukquery4a 
  libnepomukutils4 libpanel-applet-4-0 libplasma3 libpostproc52 
  libraptor2-0 libreoffice-common libreoffice-filter-mobiledev 
  libreoffice-help-en-us libreoffice-java-common libreoffice-pdfimport 
  libreoffice-report-builder-bin libreoffice-style-galaxy 
  libreoffice-style-tango libsolid4 libswscale2 libthreadweaver4 
  libxenstore3.0 linux-headers-amd64 linux-image-amd64 linux-libc-dev 
  openjdk-6-jre openjdk-6-jre-headless openjdk-6-jre-lib 
103 packages upgraded, 3 newly installed, 2 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 177 MB of archives. After unpacking 112 MB will be used.
Do you want to continue? [Y/n/?]
Sun, 04 Nov 2012

Link: Windows isn't ready for general use