The joy of upgrades

I upgraded my PC at the weekend.

Being a Manjaro user, operating system upgrades are frequent, simple and speedy. Most of the time.

Because I never learn, I keep on buying HP computers.

In general, I like HP devices. They tend to be solidly constructed and nicely reliable. But the company does have a habit of using components — like network cards — that are not as well supported as they could be.

There was quite a lot to upgrade on Sunday, including a new Linux kernel. Upgrades tend to be simple and speedy these days, so I launched the upgrade, twiddled my thumbs for a couple of minutes and rebooted the PC.

No Wi-Fi Adapter Found

Yep. I managed to break my internet connection, much to the amusement of the rest of the family.

This hasn’t happened after an upgrade before but I did remember, from when I first set the thing up, that the problem is the Realtek wireless card. I just need, therefore, to identify the card, hop onto the Arch Wiki to determine which package and I need to install, and install it and the problem will be fixed.

Identifying the card is easy enough, but I will note it here for future reference: $ lspci -k | grep 'Wireless Network'

Getting to the wiki, and installing the package, is more problematic because I need an internet connection for this.

No Wi-Fi Adapter Found

Did I ever mention that the PC I have is a mini-tower with a massive monitor? It’s also in a different room to the modem and, as I discovered, I no longer have (or could find) a cable capable of reaching from one device to the other.

This is why I ended up spending a sizable chunk of my Sunday disassembling the PC, lugging it from one room to the other, and then putting it all back together again. This would have been annoying enough but, since we use Wi-Fi everywhere, the modem is neatly tucked away behind the TV. So I had disconnect all the devices attached to it in order to pull it out of it’s alcove and put it on the floor while not tripping over the cat.

Reinstalling the driver took less than five minutes and, after a quick reboot to confirm that all was okay, it was time to put everything back together.

This is the point at which the real crisis began. My partner realised that I’d managed to unplug (and lose the cable to) the set-top box.

We found it in the end and, for my next task, I need to relocate the stupidly long Ethernet cable that I used to keep around for situations such as this one.

The family IT support is in

One of the pros — or cons, depending on how you look at it — of everyone being at home is that when any of the kids has a computer problem, I am unavoidably available. Today we had problems aplenty.

We got the boys some cheap Dell laptops some time ago, installed Ubuntu on them and set them going. The point has now been reached when, for all three boys, these laptops are being used primarily for school work (or school related activities). So running out of disk space is a serious problem.

Today, one of the laptops ran out of disk space.

My first reaction was to ask how many webcam videos and screen recordings they had been making, but it turns out that the problem was deeper than that — too many old packages clogging up the disk drive. I found the commands necessary to clean up these packages easily enough and set about some vastly overdue laptop maintenance.

This is when the fun began. When I tried to use apt-get autoremove to free up some disk space, it told me that it couldn’t do that because I had some broken dependencies. When I tried to fix these, it told me it couldn’t do that because I didn’t have enough disk space.

And it all started looking a bit painful and the boys quickly learned that IT support largely involves copying and pasting error messages into your search engine of choice and then doing the same back into the terminal.

Everything is now resolved and I have promised to keep a closer eye on the boys’ technology. On the plus side, I now know how to manually remove old kernels in Ubuntu.

It’s Alive!

Many years ago,I found myself in possession of a Nokia N810 internet tablet. With it’s smaller screen and pull-out keyboard, this is what tablets looked like before tablets were a thing, and I spent many a happy (or frustrating) hour trying to connect to a WiFi hotspot long enough to send a email.

Of course, everyone uses Android now and, after Nokia crashed and burned back in 2011, my phone could increasingly do everything the N810 could do, and then some, and I found myself using it less and less. Eventually, the battery started dying on me and the device ended up in a drawer.

More recently, I discovered Battery Champion, a site that sells batteries. Batteries for everything, including the N810, so I thought I would see if I could revive the device.

I now have the tablet up and running and, in many ways, it feels like looking back at a future that never was. Nokia devices have always been well engineered and they were certainly well placed to dominate the emerging smartphone and tablet spaces. It was only through management incompetence that they managed to lose their lead.

The world has moved on, of course, and it is probably inevitable that a device built in 2008 will feel a bit clunky now. The keyboard certainly proved to be a big surprise. It’s a physical keyboard that slides out which sounded like a great idea back in the day, but I found myself really struggling to use it. The keys are too small and painfully unresponsive. In fact I was intending to write this post on the N810 but after two paragraphs, the keyboard got the better of me.

It’s slow, too, compared to modern devices. This, I think, is more a reflection on the way in which websites have become so much more bloated over the years rather than on the device itself. Indeed, watching any page load is a revelation in terms of just how many calls to external sites and services are made.

The battery life, on the other hand, is still impressive. It can go up to ten days between charges which, combined with the fact that it is compact enough to fit into a pocket, gives the N810 a level of portability that the manufacturers of more modern tablets can only dream of.

Of course, all of the software on the tablet is about a decade out of date. And, with this device being no longer supported, many of the repositories are no longer available so upgrading it — if possible at all — will be something of a challenge.

And if I do manage to find some reasonably current software, I will then need to figure out a use for it.

Manjaro: First Impressions

After last week’s minor crisis, I ended up switching from openSUSE to Manjaro on my PC and so far I am really liking it.

The first thing that struck me was just how nice it it makes my desktop to look at. It may sound like a trivial thing, but if you are going to sit in front of a screen for a couple of hours, then having something easy on the eye to look at does make a significant difference. A lot of attention has clearly been paid to the look of this operating system, not just in terms of the artwork but also the theming and the design — so much so that I am using smaller fonts now than I was, which frees up even more space on my desktop.

Manjaro comes in several desktop editions and, being a long-term Gnome user, I stuck with what I know. There are a couple of extensions installed by default and, having become very used to the vanilla Gnome experience, I immediately switched off the Arc menu.

I am a little more ambivalent about the Dash to Dock extension, which moves the dashboard out of the overview screen and displays it as a permanent dock. It’s not annoying me, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s adding any benefit either. I have kept it switched on for now, but may deactivate it later.

And so to the applications and I am reminded, once again, just how easy it is to add email accounts to Evolution. Enter an email address and password, and you’re done. As with everything else, the fonts and icons have been selected for maximum readability, making it almost enjoyable to answer angry emails.

I’m not so impressed with Lollypop, the default music player, as it’s not much fun to navigate. So this has gone to be replaced with Exaile, my music player of choice. As for as this type of application goes, I have not seen anything that comes close to Exaile. It has the slickest user interface I have seen and this comes with the killer feature (for me) of dynamic playlists. I start it, seed it with a couple of songs and it will continue to select similar songs until I press stop.

Exaile isn’t available in the standard Manjaro repositories, but it is available in the AUR because, with Arch Linux (on which Manjaro is based) everything is available in the AUR. Using this repository comes with a warning, but the Pamac package manager makes it frighteningly easy to do so.

Overall, I am very happy with Manjaro and can see myself using it for quite some time to come.

The Grub menu, which caused me all my trouble in the first place, is still a bit of a mess but I’ve learned my lesson and will never touch this again. Well, not until after Christmas, anyway.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

And I have very little knowledge.

At the start of this year, I laid my hands on a new PC and ended up installing openSUSE Tumbleweed on it. As Linux distributions go, it’s a pleasure to use although I haven’t had much time to tinker with it. Until yesterday.

One, incredibly trivial, issue I have had with openSUSE is that the boot menu is really bland — just a list of available operating systems on a plain black background. So I started playing around with GRUB themes, because who doesn’t want a nice picture for the couple of seconds it takes me to hit Enter.

There is a reason why I usually avoid tinkering with stuff like this on weekdays and, inevitably enough, I broke my boot partition. This, in plain English, means that my PC is now unable to start and I have what amounts to a large brick sitting on my desk.

All is not lost, though, as I happened to have been looking at Manjaro over the weekend and, therefore, had a bootable USB stick. With this I was able get into the PC and take a backup of my Home folder. So all of my data is safe. Unless the cat gets at it, of course.

So tonight I shall be mainly trying to get Boot Repair to clean up my mess for me. And if all else fails, I will install Manjaro.

I am tempted to switch to Manjaro anyway. Doing so would let me get at the Arch AUR, which I do find myself missing on occasion. Additionally, Manjaro is really pretty.

Five things #5

“T. K. hates a lot of things, but at the moment, it’s how she becomes the #1 target during dodgeball at gym. Everything changes, however, when she discovers that she has the ace ability to direct spherical objects — and she makes her classmates pay! But her powers are made for more than petty revenge, as she soon discovers while on a family vacation.” How to Move Spheres and Influence People is a short story set in the Wild Cards universe.

In Arctic Siberia, Russian scientists are trying to stave off catastrophic climate change by resurrecting an Ice Age biome complete with lab-grown woolly mammoths. Welcome to Pleistocene Park.

“The space between fiction and reality is where economic bubbles take shape.” Brent Goldfarb and David A Kirsch explore The economics of bubbles.

Going back a few months, Salman Rushdie discusses what Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five tells us now.

And finally, Antergos Linux is dead, long live EndeavourOS. Antergos was my main operating system for several years — I keep meaning to take a look at how well EndeavourOS has picked up the baton of being a newcomer friendly introduction to the occasionally painful world of Arch-based distributions.

Welcome to Tumbleweed

At the start of this year, I treated myself to a new PC. The first thing I do with any new PC is to scrape Windows off it and replace it with some variation of Linux, and this time I ended up going with openSUSE Tumbleweed.

I like openSUSE: it’s an unflashy and very solid distribution that reliably handles whatever demands I make of it. It comes in two flavours, Tumbleweed being the rolling release version and I’ve been hooked on rolling releases ever since I tried Sabayon way back in 2010. With a rolling release, you never need to reinstall or upgrade your operating system because the constant stream of updates keeps you completely up to date.

And so to Monday evening when a whole bunch of updates came down the pipe, including a fair bit of Gnome-related stuff. So I updated everything (which, I should note, is always a reliably quick process) and, to check that everything was still working as expected, I rebooted my PC.

At which point, this popped up on my screen.

Tumbleweed_Welcome_Screen
Welcome to openSUSE

Obviously, this is not my first time using openSUSE but the welcome screen is a nice touch. It’s a very friendly way of pointing you towards the documentation you are likely to need as well as where to find help if you need it. It’s also very consistent with my experience of openSUSE to date: friendly, helpful and (if I uncheck that ‘show on next startup’ option) completely unintrusive.

And I love the pirate gecko.

Farewell to Antergos

The developers behind the Antergos Linux distribution announced yesterday that, after seven years, they are bringing the project to an end.

As many of you probably noticed over the past several months, we no longer have enough free time to properly maintain Antergos. We came to this decision because we believe that continuing to neglect the project would be a huge disservice to the community. Taking this action now, while the project’s code still works, provides an opportunity for interested developers to take what they find useful and start their own projects.

Although I fully understand their reasoning, it will be a shame to see Antergos go. It’s a distribution that I used for five years — from August 2013 until switching to OpenSuse in December of last year — and I always found it to be a lovely operating system and a great way of getting at the power and flexibility of Arch Linux without having to actually install Arch.

Arch provides a very flexible and very powerful operating system but it does have something of a reputation for expecting its users to know what they’re doing. This is great for systems administrators but can prove a bit time consuming for someone, like me, who just wants the latest and shiniest software.

Antergos comes with a very nice graphical installer which leaves you with a very solid base from which to explore everything Arch has to offer. This also means that if you really mess things up (as I have done a few times) reinstalling is quick, painless and can get you back to where you started before the end of the evening.

And it was lovely to look at. The development team put a lot of effort into the theming of the distribution which contributed no end to its being slick, effective and a pleasure to use.

Over the past couple of months, I have been hesitating over whether or not to return to Antergos. Realistically speaking, this decision has now been made for me but I will be interested to see what, if anything, emerges from the Antergos project.

Gnome, Evolution, Nextcloud and the joy of integration

Way back in the mists of 2007, when I started using Ubuntu, the default email client was Evolution. The thing about Evolution is that it is much more than just and email client and, like Microsoft Outlook, seeks to be a full fat personal information manager with a calendar and task list built in. Back then, I was using it just for email and it always felt a bit cluttered for my needs.

Time wore on and I eventually abandoned Evolution in favour of web based email clients — namely Gmail.

A few years ago, I started to worry about just how much of my online activities were being managed by Google and started stepping away from and reducing my dependence on a single company. I started using NextCloud for my task list and calendar and moved back to a desktop email client.

I did think about going back to Evolution but, remembering how cluttered it had felt over a decade ago, started using Geary instead. And Geary is a very nice, very simple client — if you have several email accounts and want to keep track of them with a minimum of fuss then Geary really is worth a look.

At the start of this year, I replaced my laptop with a decent workstation and a much larger monitor and, on the operating system front, switched from Antergos to OpenSUSE Tumbleweed. Since Evolution is included by default, I thought I’d give it another look.

It’s Superb.

With my NextCloud account set up in Gnome, my contacts and calendars are automatically imported and setting up my email accounts is a breeze. And this means that I very quickly have everything in one place and working together very nicely indeed.

I still wouldn’t want to use it on a laptop because while Evolution is a very powerful piece of software, it does need a decent sized screen to avoid feeling cluttered.

NVIDIA

A quick update to my previous post. The excessive CPU issue returned and, after some poking around the problem proved to be the NVIDIA graphics driver, which doesn’t play nice with Wayland.

Fortunately, the resolution is simple: You simply need to edit /etc/gdm/custom.conf and uncomment the line that says WaylandEnable=false.

And now, everything appears to be working as expected.