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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sat, 23 Aug 2014

Why I don't distro-hop: Because work. And pain.

I still see people installing new Linux distributions, one after the other, on their "production" laptops and desktops. I don't.

Sure, I fire up live images via USB or old-timey CD/DVD fairly regularly.

But I almost never do full, bare-metal installs on hardware I'm actually using. And I got rid of most of my PC boneyard, though I still have a 1999-era Compaq laptop (running Debian Squeeze LTS) and now a recently returned (from my daughter) 2002-era Thinkpad R32 (choking on Lubuntu 14.04 and in need of something new).

As far as "modern," equipment goes, all I have is my "production" laptop, an early-2013 HP Pavilion g6-2210us. And ever since I had the time to set up a Windows-Linux dual-boot, I've been running the same Fedora installation, upgraded via Fedup from F18 through F20.

Given that this is new, cheap AMD hardware, it's been a bit bumpy along the way. But the speed of updates in Fedora means that new kernels and drivers (theoretically) provide the latest drivers that are the lifeblood of any new, not-yet-supported hardware.

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Thu, 21 Aug 2014

Another great experience in Fedora bug reporting: Wine font fix solves my web-browsing problem

Fedora's motto is "Freedom. Friends. Features. First." I'm here to tell you Fedora lives up to that billing. Why do I say this now? I've just had another positive experience with Fedora, this time in finding a bug in my system, adding my information to an existing bug report and now seeing updated packages pushed to the Fedora 20 stable repositories and onto my system, where the problem has been fixed.

This all started a few weeks ago. After an update of the wine software that allows Linux users to run many Windows programs, many of the fonts in both the Firefox and Chrome web browsers started to look horrible. I narrowed it down to anything resembling Arial and Helvetica.

After searching for information, I found a command that would tell me what the system was using when asked to display a certain font:

$ fc-match -v arial | grep file

Now that the problem has been fixed, the output is different, but at the time it clearly showed that a wine-installed Arial font had been installed in my system's decidedly non-wine (aka "normal") font path.

And that font was hideous.

Many web sites, including the Fedora Forum and Gmail, looked like hell with that horrible Arial font. When Gmail looks horrible, you know there's a problem.

I began searching for other Fedora users who might have this same problem and came across this bug report on wine-courier-fonts overriding the system Courier font. In that bug report was this Aug. 9, 2014 comment by Arun Raghavan:

This also seems to apply to the arial font which makes things in Firefox look weird as well.

I saw this on Aug. 13, and immediately got into the thread because I'm a Fedora member and already have a Bugzilla account:

I am seeing this same issue with Arial. The fonts look terrible in both Firefox and Google Chrome. I think this happened during the last Wine update.

Hours later, Peter Oliver confirmed the problem:

Indeed, wine-fonts-arial was first included in 1.7.22-2, pulled in automatically by wine-fonts.

http://pkgs.fedoraproject.org/cgit/wine.git/commit/?h=f20&id=a401ea3e98ebe63b2654e2680e2a166b80aefc9a.

I know there's disagreement about whether Wine fonts should be made available as system fonts, but, irrespective of that, this affects the existing user experience, so ideally shouldn't have been included in a stable update.

The next day Michael Cronenworth wrote that he was pushing an update to wine that would take the fonts out of the system path:

The Font SIG has allowed us to remove Wine fonts from the system path. I'll be pushing a 1.7.24 update shortly to address this.

https://lists.fedoraproject.org/pipermail/fonts/2014-August/001736.html

A few days after that, the update was available in the testing repository. I waited for it to make its way into Fedora 20 Stable, which it did today. In the course of today's Yum (in my case the GUI Yumex) update, new wine packages were installed on my system, and now everything looks great again in Firefox and Chrome.

As asked in the bug report, I did add karma after installing the update.

Things do break in Fedora every once in a while, but not as often as you might think.

Pretty much every time something like happens on my system, even with the kernel, I've been able to either start a new bug report or chime in on an existing one. Soon thereafter, the wonderful developers who build packages for Fedora have addressed my problems and provided fixes that made those problems go away.

Chalk it up as another great experience with Fedora, both the Linux operating system and the community behind it.

Sat, 16 Aug 2014

Font changes on this Ode site

Changing fonts in Ode is as easy as changing the .css file in the theme(s) you are using.

I've been having some trouble in Fedora with the Arial font, which looks like hell. The Wine non-emulator that runs Windows software in Linux brought an Arial font into my system, and it's just plain ugly.

I started looking at Arial and Helvetica not just in Linux but in Windows, too, and I decided that I don't like either one very much.

So I went into my CSS and killed out Helvetica Neue and Arial. Now Verdana and sans-serif, in that order, are the default fonts.

Looks better, I think.

A new Ode site: Surface Markup development blog

There is a new Ode-running site out in the wild. Announced on the existing Surface Markup blog is the Surface Markup development blog, which has one of the nicest themes I've ever seen on an Ode site. It's minimal, beautiful and responsive.

Designer/writer Hans Fast helped me make this site responsive, and I continue to thank him.

Fri, 08 Aug 2014

Jordi Mallach says GNOME should remain the default desktop environment in Debian Jessie -- and why I agree

Jordi Mallach details in a post I found via Google Plus why GNOME should remain the default desktop environment in Debian Jessie despite the usual switch to Xfce prompted by a desire to keep the ISO image at CD size.

There's more. And it's not just image size: Most use Debian's netinstall image, which is always much smaller than a traditional data CD, and I think many if not most have access to a DVD drive or bypass optical media entirely for USB flash drives, so size doesn't matter as much as it might.

The dust-up over GNOME 3's controversial desktop is nothing new. Many will never like it. Cue irony: Windows 8, UI-wise, is as crazy as GNOME 3. They make the current Mac OS X desktop look positively old-school. That's probably drawing more to OS X than it is the other direction (to GNOME and Windows 8).

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Wed, 06 Aug 2014

Installing the AMD Catalyst driver in RHEL or CentOS 7

Hey everybody, it's not just Fedora users who have no RPM-packaged AMD Catalyst (aka fglrx) proprietary video driver.

RHEL/CentOS 7 is also out in the cold.

(Note to all developers who have anything to do with Fedora or Red Hat: Recent AMD-running laptops with all-in-one APU chips (CPU and GPU together) tend to RUN LIKE CRAP without Catalyst.)

So RHEL/CentOS 7 users are stuck with AMD's upstream installer. To that end, here's a guide from the CentOS Forum on how to install Catalyst with AMD's .sh installer.

Tue, 05 Aug 2014

How to get Google Chrome to stop crashing while running the AMD Catalyst driver in Linux

If you're having the same problem I am with Google Chrome crashing while running the proprietary AMD Catalyst video driver in Fedora 20 (or any other version of Linux), I have a fix.

My thought was that I could play with command-line switches to "trick" Google Chrome into running.

(Note before we begin: I think different distributions have different commands to run Google Chrome or Chromium in the first place. In Fedora, calling google-chrome runs the browser.)

I found a huge list of command-line switches for Chrome and Chromium from Peter Beverloo's web site and started looking it over and trying a few.

This one worked:

$ google-chrome --disable-gpu

Peter's page describes --disable-gpu this way (and links to this portion of the content-switches code for Chromium):

Disables GPU hardware acceleration. If software renderer is not in place, then the GPU process won't launch.

This means that I'm back in the Google Chrome-running business. I'll have to add this modified command-with-switch to my Xfce panel so I can run Chrome without the terminal.

And now you can, too.

Sat, 02 Aug 2014

Lubuntu craps out, and I'm now auditioning Debian and Fedora for an ancient Thinkpad

I've been running Lubuntu on my daughter's ancient IBM Thinkpad R32 for as long as I can remember. The upgrade from 12.04 to 14.04 was anything but smooth. I wasn't offered a straight 12.04-14.04 upgrade and instead went through the steps (12.10, 13.04, 13.10 and finally 14.04) when I probably should have just reinstalled with 14.04.

Now there's another problem. Wireless networking doesn't work. I even checked with the Lubuntu 14.04 live CD. And two different USB Wi-Fi adapters.

The system sees the networks, but it won't join them. And none of the "help" I found online was very helpful.

I could go back to the long-unsupported Lubuntu 14.04. Since this laptop has a CD drive only, that limits the live images I can try because many have climbed over CD size.

Lubuntu has not. And as I say above, I have tried it.

Fedora LXDE is also still CD-sized. I'm trying to download a torrent now. I'm doing the same with the Debian 7.6 netinstall image, from which I can whip up an LXDE system. Unfortunately Debian is a bit crapshootish because the Debian Live images are, again, too large for a CD.

I'd rather not go with Fedora, as this is OLD hardware. Debian's extra speed really shows in this situation (namely a Pentium 4 with 768 MB RAM).

I'm fairly confident I can return the Thinkpad to wireless-running usefulness. But I remain disappointed with Lubuntu (and maybe all of Ubuntu) for whatever it's doing to this old laptop's ability to complete a Wi-Fi connection.