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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.

Wed, 16 May 2018

Fedora 28: I'm trying to keep it simple

My Fedora 27 system died a less-than-noble death at the hands of a Fedora 28 upgrade.

Maybe my error was upgrading too early (it was about a week after the release), or maybe it was because my system was too old. I probably started this installation on Fedora 17 or 18. That's a lot of upgrades, and one was bound to go south. This was that one.

So I reinstalled Fedora 28 from the ISO via USB, keeping my same partitions. (Note to Fedora developers: This should be easier to do. I had to bluff my way through it.)

Now that I have a new Fedora, I'm trying to keep it simple.

Instead of a bunch of desktop environments (GNOME, KDE, Xfce, LXDE), I'm sticking with the stock GNOME.

I'm only slowly adding the things that died with F27. I just added the RPM Fusion repositories, and before that I installed the Ruby programming language and all the packages I needed to install the gems I need. I have everything

I don't even have Google Chrome. Don't need it. Firefox has made a lot of progress in the past year, and who doesn't need less spying?

Normally I'm an Xfce user, but I can get around (and get along) with GNOME 3.

Nautilus -- or Files as it's now called -- is appreciably fast, especially compared to the Windows file manager (where the lag is not a deal breaker but is noticeable).

I'm enjoying using gEdit (aka Text Editor). I'm not saying I won't add Geany at some point, but for now this works. I added the gedit-plugins so I could get the built-in-terminal, though Menu - Tools - External Tools - Open Terminal Here is probably more useful.

Fedora pro tip: Install Dropbox from the RPM Fusion repository, not the Dropbbox repo

Since I had to reinstall Fedora 28 (though I got to keep my files), I'm still setting things up.

Among those things I'm still setting up is Dropbox. Since the Dropbox service itself is not free software, you won't find a Dropbox package in the main Fedora repository.

You can get an RPM package directly from Fedora, but I don't recommend it. Why? Because I just installed it, and dnf was having issues with the Dropbox repo.

So I removed that package, removed the repo from /etc/yum.repos.d, and added the RPM Fusion repositories with the links on the configuration page. Make sure you get both the free and nonfree repos.

Then install Dropbox from the command line:

$ sudo dnf install dropbox

Note on RPM Fusion: You can certainly run Fedora without RPM Fusion, but I wouldn't.

Dropbox update: The Nautilus integration with Dropbox -- at least when it comes to those little icons that tell you if a particular folder or file is synced, syncing or not synced -- is broken. I can't tell if it's me, Dropbox, or GNOME Files that is messing up. I tried completely deleting my Dropbox dot files/folders, and that didn't make a difference, except for a long operation to re-sync everything.

Getting your Ruby development environment together in Fedora

The only reason I'm revisiting this topic is that a failed Fedora 27-to-28 upgrade forced me to reinstall Fedora 28, and I just had to get Ruby and a few gems installed and working.

It wasn't easy, and it makes me want to recommend Ubuntu and Debian over Fedora because I strongly suspect that those distros make it easier.

My first recommendation for Linux in general is to use the Ruby that your distro ships with. I know there are ways to get exactly the Ruby you want, and there are developers who need to do that, but I'm not in that particular boat, so I use what the distro ships.

In keeping with the distro-approved Ruby, I also try to use the local Linux package manager to install as many gems as are available. Linux package management makes everything easier and less prone to breakage, so I try to use it wherever possible.

I needed the nokogiri gem, and that was available as a package.

Not so for the twitter gem. I needed to use gem install, and right away I ran into a problem. Before I could install (and build) the gem, I needed to install a few things in Fedora. Luckily I found this web page that told me exactly what to do:

$ sudo dnf install ruby-devel
$ sudo dnf group install "C Development Tools and Libraries"
$ sudo dnf install redhat-rpm-config

Only then could I use gem install to get the twitter gem:

$ gem install twitter

I'm pretty sure that both Debian and Ubuntu package the twitter gem, making all of this unnecessary.

Fri, 11 May 2018

The Fedora 28 upgrade broke my F27 system, and I reinstalled F28 to 'save' it

It's never a good idea to upgrade a Fedora system in the first couple of weeks. Also, my particular Fedora installation is, for lack of a better word, crufty. I can't remember which version of Fedora it started out with, but I've been running Fedora on it since 2012.

That's a lot of Fedoras.

I don't use that laptop very much these days, but I decided to do the upgrade anyway. The F28 upgrade wouldn't proceed due to various conflicts in the packages. I did a sudo dnf autoremove, then I manually removed the rest of the offending packages, none of which looked so critical that they would break the installation.

But break it did. The Fedora partition wouldn't boot. I didn't even get dumped into GRUB. I couldn't get past the MOK screen -- something I've never even seen before. I tried one of the "rescue" ISOs, and that didn't work. The laptop's complaint was about keys being trusted, and the fact that I had Secure Boot turned off didn't seem to matter. I "enrolled" all the keys/hashes I could find. Still nothing.

Like I said, the system was crufty. I had a pretty good backup of the files, so whatever happened wouldn't really hurt my data.

I decided to reinstall but keep the same partition layout and preserve the /home partition/directory.

I didn't mention that I use encrypted LVM (both in Fedora and Debian). Even so I could have pulled the drive, dropped it into a USB plug-in holder and gotten the files off that way. But I wanted to see if I could resurrect the Fedora system.

I put F28 on a USB thumb drive and started the installation using manual partitioning. I kept all of my Fedora partitions, root (aka /), /boot, /home, and /swap. It was fairly easy to do this. The only "stopper" was the root partition. It wouldn't "go into" the "Fedora is going to use this" part of the installer. Eventually I figured out that it was because I had to check the "erase this partition" box. Then it skipped over with the rest of the partitions. I started my Fedora install -- I opted for the standard Fedora Workstation with GNOME -- and soon enough I had a new, mostly cruft-less Fedora system. I had to re-create my user account and set the password, but all of my files and most of my configuration was still there. I'm missing a lot of packages, but I had a thicket of desktop environments, useless (to me) applications, programming languages and other things that I could either do without or easily build back up.

All the files were there.

tl;dr: I would have preferred to perform a successful "rescue" operation on my broken Fedora boot system, but that didn't happen, so I did the next best thing, which was to reinstall Fedora and restore my system to bootable status that way.

Fri, 16 Mar 2018

I finally have Puppy Linux's Xenialpup set up for Ruby

It took me a while to figure it out, but I finally have my Ruby environment set up in Puppy Linux's Xenialpup (based on Ubuntu 16.04) so I can use my BlogPoster app and also work on its code.

I didn't have any trouble installing Ruby and the ruby-nokogiri package from the Puppy Package Manager. But I couldn't get ruby-twitter to install. gem install wouldn't work -- I didn't have the ruby-dev package -- and I didn't see the Ubuntu package that I needed.

I looked at the problem again, and I figured out that I was missing a repository in the Puppy Package Manager. Once I added the "missing" repository (which involved checking a box -- nothing too difficult), I was able to install ruby-twitter and get my script running.

My next problem was the vi in Puppy. I think it really is vi and not Vim. I couldn't get any formatting commands like :set number to work, either in command mode or .vimrc. The fix for this was quick: I installed Vim from the Puppy Package Manager.

Now I can call the "old" vi, or the "newer" Vim as needed, and my BlogPoster script is running great.

I'm having some issues pasting links into the terminal, but that's something I could overcome. Right now it's a lot of awkward "middle" clicking on the mouse, which for practical purposes means clicking both buttons at once. I'm getting better at it, but I could also use Geany instead of Vim as my editor. I tested Geany with my Ruby script, and it does work.

In other development-related news for this Puppy system, I installed the Racket programming environment from the script provided by the project. So far it works pefectly. I started up DrRacket and was coding right away.

Thu, 15 Feb 2018

I am trying to make the Xenialpup version of Puppy Linux work for me

Since I am not anxious to either dual-boot or replace Windows 10 with Linux on my main laptop (HP Envy 15-as133cl 15t), I thought I would go back to the live distribution that introduced me to Linux -- Puppy -- and see if I could make it do all the things I want and need it to do.

My history with Puppy goes WAY back. I remember running version 2.13 on all kinds of hardware -- castoff laptops, converted thin clients. It would run on anything.

Back then I booted Puppy from CDs. Nowadays, with "modern" Puppy I could boot from USB and save either to the laptop's hard drive or another USB drive.

I downloaded the latest Puppy, Xenialpup, and used the Fedora Media Writer in Windows to put it on a 4GB USB flash drive. Xenialpup is UEFI-compatible, and after turning off Secure Boot on the laptop, I was off and running the super-fast JWM desktop that has traditionally anchored the Puppy live system.

Surprisingly, I was able to get a pretty comprehensive Ode blog-posting setup going. I have Unison: I pulled version 2.40 from an old Ubuntu package and used dpkg-deb to extract the binary since I need the old version and not the Ubuntu Xenial version of Unison, which is 2.48. (On a related note, why is it so hard to get a working Unison 2.48 for CentOS?)

I pulled all of my scripts from the Windows Subsystem for Linux, and I've already synced the blog over to this system.

Thankfully, Puppy's unusual running-as-root way of working didn't screw up my file ownership on the server, or in my Windows Subsystem for Linux copy of the filesystem.

There was one old problem from Linux that I haven't had to deal with in a while: While typing, I had the typical "jumping" behavior due to "interference" with the touchpad. Though Puppy doesn't have a "disable the touchpad while typing" setting, I was still able to solve the problem quickly by disabling tap-to-click with the system's straighforward Input Wizard configuration utility.

Where I ran into problems was with my development environment. I got Ruby to work in Puppy after a little effort, but I couldn't get the equivalent of ruby-dev to build things like the Ruby Twitter gem, and the gem itself, which is a package in Ubuntu, is not easily available for Xenialpup.

So I can post to the blog but can't use my "new" social-posting routine that turns URLs into Ode-compatible files and then sends the results to both the blog and Twitter.

I can't run all the gems I want in Ruby. But I am also exploring Clojure, so maybe that would work.

I did manage to install the JDK, though I had to add it to my path, opting to do so in /etc/profile, in order to get it to work.

I downloaded the Leiningen script and installed it. I can create new Leiningen projects, but the REPL errors out in spectacular fashion.

I haven't tried to get Node working yet, but the Ubuntu version is old (4.2.6), and I'm not confident that this installation will play well with the overall npm ecosystem. I could try to download and install direct, but there's potential for a lot of trouble.

The mechanics of Puppy are working great. Despite the unorthodox packaging and software installation, I did manage to get quite a few things working. I have my favorite text editor (Geany), the full LibreOffice suite via SFS package, the Firefox browser with all of my bookmarks synced, and a super-fast desktop packed with a lot of (mostly) home-grown utilities.

But I couldn't get Puppy to go the last mile.

So the "story" for me and Puppy Linux in 2018 is good until the point at which I want to do development work. At that point it's better to stay in Windows (and the WSL) or opt for a traditional Linux installation.

Now if only there was a "full" Debian live environment that allowed for persistence. Maybe there is. I'll be looking.

Sun, 14 Jan 2018

Giving Ubuntu 17.10 a try (don't worry, it's one of the new ISOs)

I'm doing my Linux due diligence by trying out Ubuntu 17.10 now that Canonical has issued new ISOs that won't brick a BIOS. That's a bit of nasty business, to be sure, but it's not enough to put me off of Ubuntu for good.

It's unfortunate that Canonical/Ubuntu made the kind of mistake that would brick a computer, and I can't see Fedora doing this kind of thing, even though the Red Hat-sponsored distro is closer to the bleeding edge.

Not coincidentally I just tried Fedora 27, and I liked it. I don't see much different in Ubuntu 17.10. Both distros use GNOME 3, feature Firefox as their default browser (good because since FF 57/Quantum, it's also my default browser) and offer the LibreOffice suite.

Sure there are major differences in package management (dnf vs. apt) and firewall (firewalld vs ufw), but it's still more similar than different.

The distros both look fairly similar on my 1920x1080 screen, and the fonts seem about the same in both, though Ubuntu features its own font in places where Fedora offers Cantarell. Both are interchangeable, so it's horses for courses, as they say.

The GNOME-ified Ubuntu made its debut in 17.10, so there will be no GNOME-powered Ubuntu LTS until 18.04 (which, now that I look at the calendar, is due in 4/2018, which is only a few months from now).

Until Ubuntu dropped GNOME 2 for Unity back in 11.04, all of the "top" distros shipped GNOME as a default. By that I mean Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, Red Hat/CentOS and Suse. So there was a great deal of uniformity that made the distro "wars" seem kind of stupid since the desktop is such a major part of a user's experience, and every major distro pretty much offered all of the major desktops (GNOME, KDE, Xfce, Cinnamon, Mate, LXDE). It was notable that only Ubuntu shipped (or even offered) Unity (to the best of my not-comprehensive knowledge).

Now that Unity is dead and Ubuntu is back to GNOME, I hope that there will be more emphasis placed on not just tweaking GNOME but actually developing it to have more of what "power" users want (like actual knobs, levers and buttons to tweak to get the behavior we want).

Hey, as I write this in the Ubuntu 17.10 live environment, my screen keeps momentarily turning upside down and blanking for a moment. This is on an HP Envy with an Intel i7 processor. Hmm. Hopefully that's a byproduct of the live session and not something that will persist in a full installation. I hope not. I didn't experience that behavior in Fedora 27 or Debian 9.3.

To sum up, I'd say that Ubuntu 17.10 and Fedora 27 are more similar than different, with six-month upgrade cycles unless you opt for the Ubuntu LTS in a few months' time. Both are much more "polished" than stock Debian, with less setup pain, though probably more maintenance pain, as Debian Stable is exactly what the second word in its name says it is.

It all comes down to how new you want your packages to be. This really only matters (to me) for the purposes of software development. I think you can either run Fedora, or Ubuntu (possibly the latter with PPAs), and have things be acceptably new. If you need a newer stack, you'll probably be managing it outside of distro package management anyway, so it all comes down to personal preference and what works.

Fri, 12 Jan 2018

Fedora 27 on my HD-screen HP Envy laptop

I just booted into a Fedora 27 live system on my HP Envy laptop with an HD screen, and already the fonts in Firefox look better than stock Debian, which is to be expected.

Just like with Debian, I'm astounded that everything works in Linux out of the box. This laptop is about nine months old, and I have been avoiding running Linux for that whole time, choosing to explore Windows 10 (which is not bad at all, in case you were wondering).

I'm very happy that Fedora (which I ran for pretty much the entire "run" of my old HP Pavilion g6 laptop, which is running F27 as we speak) is so good on what, for me is new hardware.

The improvement in font rendering on this HD screen (1920x1080) is enough for me to say that I could definitely make the switch from Windows 10 to Fedora. I'm not ready just yet, but it looks like I am able.

Maybe it's the new laptop talking, but GNOME 3 looks more polished and usable than ever. The first thing I did in the live environment (after pumping up my Firefox magnification to 140%) was installing GNOME Tweak Tool and changing to the Adiwata Dark Theme.

True for both Debian and Fedora: The laptop is running very cool, too.

Next up: A test of the new non-BIOS-bricking Ubuntu 17.10, where I hope the GNOME 3 experience will also be a good one.

Tue, 01 Aug 2017

Upgrade to PHP 7.1 on CentOS

I manage a CentOS 6 server, and I have a request to replace PHP 5 with PHP 7.

Here is a solid and mercifully brief tutorial on how to do it.

Sun, 18 Jun 2017

Debian 9.0 Stretch is the new Stable

I don't keep up with Debian, though my sentimental feelings for the pioneering Linux distribution remain strong. My days with Debian were late Etch into Lenny, Squeeze and early Wheezy. For the release of Squeeze, I used SVG files from the desktop's awesome artwork and made a custom T-shirt that I still wear.

Not to bury the lede too far, the news of the day is that Debian 9.0 Stretch has been released as Stable. For more on Stretch, read the installation manual and release notes.

I still have an old IBM Thinkpad R32 that runs Debian -- I can't remember if it is still on Wheezy, though it probably is.

For my laptops, I started running Fedora when I got a new laptop in 2010 -- a Lenovo G555 with an AMD processor. Since I was using the proprietary Catalyst video driver, I eventually broke the installation and moved to Debian, which I ran on the laptop until it died in 2013. I began again with Fedora on my next laptop, an HP Pavilion g6, and it is still running that version of Linux (and I'm using it right now to write this post). I now have a new HP laptop, an Envy, that is still running the Windows 10 it came with, and I added the Windows Subsystem for Linux/Bash so I can have a fairly functional Linux command line.

So I'm not a current Debian user. Especially on the desktop, I want newer versions of just about everything, and I find it easier to get that in the twice-yearly releases of Fedora instead of Debian Testing or Unstable. Debian Stable, which I've used and loved, is just too "stable."

But if you think about it, I could easily run Debian Stable and add newer versions of Node, Java, Ruby and NetBeans. When a laptop is new, I find Fedora to be the easiest, quickest and best way to get the most hardware working, but after a couple of years, Debian is a very attractive option.

With newer hardware, there's always the Liquorix kernels, which I used to run so I'd always have the latest on my Debian installations.

For my programming needs, Node is certainly part of Debian Stretch, but this part of the release notes is a little worrying:

5.2.2. Lack of security support for the ecosystem around libv8 and Node.js

The Node.js platform is built on top of libv8-3.14, which experiences a high volume of security issues, but there are currently no volunteers within the project or the security team sufficiently interested and willing to spend the large amount of time required to stem those incoming issues.

Unfortunately, this means that libv8-3.14, nodejs, and the associated node-* package ecosystem should not currently be used with untrusted content, such as unsanitized data from the Internet.

In addition, these packages will not receive any security updates during the lifetime of the stretch release.

I checked the v8 package in Fedora, and it appears to be updated about every month, though not at all for the past three months. I'm not sure what to take away from this. I'd have to look at the upstream v8 before making any judgments on how well Fedora is doing with the package, plus I'd need to see how Ubuntu handles it.

Back to Debian. The Debian Project is the code that goes into it and the volunteers that make it happen. Debian is not owned by any corporation, individual or group. It'll pretty much always be there and be free.

Does Debian benefit from work done by corporations like Red Hat? Yes, it does. Free software in general and Linux in particular are coded by individuals all over the world, some of whom are paid by companies to make their contributions.

However it finally goes together, Debian is a special project.

The short version: If you can make Debian Stable work for you, it's a terrific operating system that really is stable and will last you a couple of years without a major upgrade. If you're interested, it's worth a test on your hardware before committing to a Linux distribution. On my computers, the "contenders" are Debian, Ubuntu (mainly the Xubuntu version with Xfce) and Fedora.