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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Thu, 31 Oct 2013

I installed the Whisker Menu for Xfce

I just read about the Whisker Menu for Xfce at OMG! Ubuntu and installed it on my system from the Fedora repositories.

While I'm happy with my panel on the left and the traditional Xfce Application Finder, I thought the Whisker Menu would be worth a try.

Once installed, the menu itself can be added as a panel item (that's a step that took me a second or two or 10 to figure out). After you do that, you're ready to go.

Not only does the Whisker Menu provide an alternative to the stock Xfce Applications Menu, you can access your 10 most-recently used applications, create favorites for their own portion of the menu, or easily plop an application launcher onto the desktop or into the panel.

It's a nice little application that Xfce users might very well want to check out.

Wed, 30 Oct 2013

Ubuntu 13.10 review: It's better than billed (and not quite dead, despite rumors to the contrary)

Just to make sure that nothing suits my needs better than what I'm running right now (that being Fedora 19 with Xfce and GNOME), I did an Ubuntu 13.10 installation this week and have spent a bit of time putting the Unity-driven Linux distribution to the test.

The installation was easy. Ubuntu is very good about that. And from the standpoint of actually knowing what's going on during the install, Ubuntu beats Fedora handily.

While the installation process was easy and smooth, I was unable to boot the finished installation with UEFI Secure Boot on my HP Pavilion g6-2210us laptop, which has admittedly "difficult" UEFI. I had to turn off Secure Boot to successfully boot Ubuntu 13.10 in EFI mode. Since I'm now having trouble with Fedora 19 and Secure Boot on this same hardware, I'll chalk that up to an overall Linux kernel problem with secure boot as it stands today. Luckily you can just about always turn off Secure Boot in the computer setup/BIOS, so this shouldn't be a problem.

Ubuntu's Unity desktop environment is snappier than billed. But for me it's just a little bit "broken" compared to and Xfce 4.10 and GNOME 3. For instance, as far as I can tell, in Unity you can't drag windows from one workspace to another. It's also hard to tell when you've minimized a window, though this is also the case in GNOME 3.

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Sat, 26 Oct 2013

I'm sticking with Fedora

Call it a reality check.

After installs of Debian Wheezy, an unsuccessful upgrade to Sid, and more installs -- Ubuntu 12.04 and 13.10 -- plus some Debian Sid-derived live-disc tests (Siduction, Aptosid), I've decided that Fedora is where I should be right now.

Probably due to my hardware being so new and Debian Stable being so relatively old, my idea about returning to Debian didn't work out as well as I could have hoped.

And then I had trouble with X in Siduction and Aptosid.

Onward, upward. Ubuntu 12.04 wouldn't boot after install, probably also due to its age relative to my HP Pavilion g6-2210us.

Ubuntu 13.04 with the proprietary fglrx driver ran well enough that I still have it on the test drive, a separate 320 MB disk that I swapped into the laptop.

But Unity isn't for me, and I don't see much of an advantage at this point in Ubuntu GNOME 13.10 vs. Fedora 19 with GNOME and Xfce, which is what I'm running once again.

I found GNOME 3.4 in Debian Wheezy much more responsive than GNOME 3.8 in Fedora 19, but the other problems with graphics I had in Debian canceled out that speed improvement.

And the way I have it set up, Xfce 4.10 in Fedora is probably the best desktop environment I've ever used. And I do still have GNOME 3.8 to test when I wish.

I continue to use the proprietary AMD Catalyst driver from RPM Fusion, just as I continually hope for the eventual return of working suspend/resume to this laptop.

That's all I'm really missing.

And the pace of Fedora, which makes even Debian Sid look extremely conservative, offers the best chance of getting there as quickly as possible.

And as I've said before, for all of its forward thinking and new kernels, Fedora 18 and 19 have been remarkably trouble free.

For new hardware, especially when using UEFI, extra especially when dual-booting with Windows 8, I recommend Fedora without reservation.

Wed, 23 Oct 2013

Steam coming to Fedora via the RPM Fusion repository

Amid all the talk about the Steam gaming platform coming to Linux, and more specifically Ubuntu, I just learned that Steam is waiting to enter the RPM Fusion repository for Fedora GNU/Linux users.

After six or so months with Fedora, I'm looking for something new

These things happen in predictable patterns. Due to hardware issues I land in Fedora, and after six months it's time for something else.

Not that Fedora 18 and now 19 haven't been great, because they have.

But I'm wary of my AMD APU-based HP laptop's trouble with suspend/resume and 3D acceleration. I had both working for a very short time during the AMD Catalyst 13.6 beta's brief run.

But before that I had neither, and now I have decent 3D with AMD Catalyst but seemingly no hope of working suspend/resume with this AMD A4-4300M APU and its AMD Radeon HD 7420G graphics.

And I'm getting tired of new kernels coming into Fedora, some with Catalyst support, some without. And it's past time that this AMD GPU (I think it's the Trinity family) get better support from the kernel and the free and proprietary drivers.

What I'm saying is that if the hardware support I need is not going to come soon, I'd like something more stable while I'm waiting.

So I started auditioning new Linux distributions yesterday.

And when Debian 7.1 and 7.2 Live DVDs both allowed me to successfully suspend/resume my HP Pavilion g6-2210us laptop, I was firmly pulled back into the Debian camp. To my "home" distro.

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Sun, 20 Oct 2013

I read 10 NYTimes articles today, and it'll cost me 99 cents for the first four weeks to read more, then $15 per month

I don't read NYTimes.com articles that often. But I got a link to one and started clicking around a bit.

There were little "warnings" along the way -- "You've read 5 of 10 ..." -- but I just kept going.

After 10 articles, I got the screen you see at the top of this post.

Now NYTimes.com is probably worth 99 cents for four weeks. But that goes up to .75 a week after that trial period.

That's also known as a 1400 percent increase.

NYTIMES.COM, ARE YOU HIGH?

I'm not a big NYTimes fan. I like the work of David Pogue, don't get me wrong, and NYTimes.com's technology coverage is pretty good. But it's a crowded field, and while I know you get the rest of the great journalism from the NYTimes for that .75 per week, which adds up to per month, the fact is that most media sites charge a lot less.

In fact most are free.

It's hard to charge a month and make a case that your content has that kind of value when most of your competitors are giving it away and hoping to support their operations with advertising.

If you're a big, huge, big (did I say "big" already?) fan and reader of the New York Times and spend hours a day on the site, I can justify you paying the per month.

But when it comes to technology news, there's a lot of competition out there, and the New York Times doesn't really stand out.

And for that reason, per month really doesn't beat free.

Here's my caveat: If this is working for NYTimes.com, and they're making a ton of money from subscriptions, MORE POWER TO THEM. I would like nothing better than for this sort of thing to work. But in today's Web news climate, I just can't see it.

I certainly CAN see niche content aimed at well-heeled business audiences commanding a subscription premium. And I can also see a micropayment-based model working out.

I can see online journalism dying on the proverbial vine without something to fund it.

But a blanket /month? That's for the New York Times faithful only, and that's not me.

Sat, 19 Oct 2013

How to stop GNOME 3 in Fedora 19 from suspending the laptop when the lid is closed

I thought you could take care of turning off suspend when the laptop lid is shut under GNOME 3 by using GNOME Tweak Tool. That doesn't work.

Automatic suspend when the lid is closed doesn't work for me because suspend/resume doesn't function on my HP hardware, and I'd like to close the damn lid every once in awhile without having to do a hard boot afterward.

It's the little things.

So I dug in a bit and found out in the Fedora Forum what you have to do (thanks to forum poster jvroig):

In a terminal:

su -
cd /etc/systemd/
gedit logind.conf

Once you're in logind.conf, uncomment (i.e. remove the #) on this line:

#HandleLidSwitch=suspend

Then change "suspend" to "lock"

It should now read like this:

HandleLidSwitch=lock

Save and close the logind.conf file.

Once you reboot, closing the lid should lock the screen and not suspend the laptop.

Note: Xfce doesn't suffer from the same inability as GNOME 3 to control what happens when you close the laptop lid.

Alternate instructions if you want to use vi and sudo:

Open a terminal and type:

$ sudo vi /etc/systemd/logind.conf

Change this line:

#HandleLidSwitch=suspend

to this (remove #, replace suspend with lock):

HandleLidSwitch=lock

Save and close the file in vi, then reboot.

Thu, 17 Oct 2013

I like what GNOME 3 and Unity are doing, so I'm replicating those things in Xfce

It sounds screwy, but I'm taking some of the elements I like in GNOME 3 and Unity and implementing them in Xfce.

First of all, I really like the idea of having a panel on the left side of the screen for my application launchers. Given that laptops are now widescreen and there is not enough vertical space but plenty of horizontal space, it makes sense to have the application launchers consume as little horizontal real estate as possible.

So in Xfce, I moved the lower panel to the left. That was an easy one.

The other thing I like about both GNOME 3 and Unity is the ability to click the "Windows" or Super key and then type in the first few letters of an application to launch it.

Xfce already has a great application finder that does this. On Fedora with Xfce, it's configured to open with alt-F2 and alt-F3. I went into the Xfce keyboard configuration and set the Windows/Super key to open this same application finder. Now I can click Super/Windows, type in a few letters and have my desired app open without going through the menu. Just like in GNOME and Unity.

Of course my favorite apps are already in my panel on the left. But for those that are not, this is a nice feature to borrow/steal from GNOME 3 and Unity.

That Xfce can replicate this behavior says a lot about what you can do with this lightweight, stable and very configurable desktop environment.

Wed, 16 Oct 2013

Fedora is remarkably trouble-free

As much as I love Debian, I have had less trouble running Fedora 18 and 19 than Debian Wheezy, video issues notwithstanding (as those are affecting me across all platforms).

Part of this, no doubt, may be due to improvements in Xfce 4.10 (the default in Fedora 19) over version 4.8 (in Debian Wheezy).

But overall Fedora's stability is remarkable, especially because it has a reputation for being less so.

File under obvious: Turning off CPU fan makes computer run hot

So I noticed a BIOS option to turn the CPU fan off on my HP Pavilion g6-2210us. I tried it.

After invoking this in the BIOS, the fan didn't run all the time. It ran about half or more of the time. And the bottom of the laptop was appreciably hotter.

So I went back into the BIOS and turned the fan back to "always on."

Now the laptop runs cooler.

Obviously, right?

The fan isn't so loud that it's a problem, and it does have variable speed, so having it cycle off and on is more noticeable than just having it on all the time.