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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
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.

Fri, 24 Feb 2017

'Big Bang Theory's' Stuart wears Ubuntu T-shirt

Am I the only person to notice that comic book shop-owning Stuart (Kevin Sussman) on the "The Big Bang Theory" is wearing an Ubuntu T-shirt on the episode airing Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017? (It's Season 10, Episode 17, if that information helps you.)

The T-shirt appearance isn't as overt as Sheldon's mention of the Ubuntu Linux operating system way back in Season 3 (Episode 22, according to one YouTube video title), but it's an unusual return for Ubuntu to the world of "Big Bang."

What does it mean that the show's most loserly character is a Ubuntu fan?

Mon, 20 Feb 2017

Fixing Fedora 25 upgrade issue with iptables

Are you having the same problem I've been having with Fedora 25 updates and something having to do with iptables?

I found the answer in the Fedora Forums:

You need to get rid of this old package first, then do the software upgrade:

$ sudo dnf remove system-config-firewall-base

Then do your usual upgrade, either in your favorite GUI (Whatever GNOME is using or yumex-dnf) or dnf in the terminal:

$ sudo dnf upgrade

This is very likely only an issue if you've been upgrading the same system since Fedora 21 (and I have).

Wed, 11 Jan 2017

Preloaded Linux laptops are probably not encrypted

Even though preloaded Linux laptops like Dell's new Precision 3520 are a great thing -- and can save you $100 in this case, I'd probably have to reinstall because a factory image of the operating system most likely doesn't take into account one thing I want in any desktop Linux system: full disk encryption.

From the days when I ran Debian, through today's Fedora 24, I opt for full disk encryption in the installer. It's the right thing to do. If your laptop falls into the "wrong" hands, your data is encrypted and away from the prying eyes of whoever gets your gear.

Windows users can take advantage of disk encryption ... in some cases. While the Home edition of Windows 10 doesn't offer it, the Pro/Enterprise edition does have an option to encrypt your data.

It's nice that the installers of many major Linux distributions, including Debian, Fedora, CentOS/RHEL and Ubuntu (and its many flavors) offer full disk encryption (not just user files, though Ubuntu does offer a user-files encryption option) -- and any user can take advantage of that protection for the low price of $0.

Thu, 01 Dec 2016

I tried to tweak my Fedora settings in KDE Plasma, and it screwed up everything in GNOME and Xfce

The morale of this story is that the KDE Plasma settings can screw up your Xfce and GNOME settings. So if you're using multiple desktop environments on a single system -- like my Fedora 25 laptop, or any other Linux system -- you could be in for some pain.

What I was trying to do is configure a dark theme for KDE Plasma (easy) and also use dark themes when running GTK3 and GTK2 apps on the Plasma desktop.

It looked pretty good in KDE Plasma, but things went pear-shaped in GNOME 3 and Xfce. My fonts were screwed up, Menus were gray type on a gray background, and icons were messed up -- with KDE icons bleeding into Xfce.

And then I had trouble logging in with Plasma at all. Blame the Fedora 25 upgrade (and KDE Plasma in general) for that one.

I first tried using the many Xfce configuration utilities to make it right. That didn't do much. I finally was able to log into Plasma (only after a reboot) and attempt to undo the damage. I was partially successful.

In GNOME 3, I had a lot of success with the GNOME Tweak Tool (which should be preinstalled on every GNOME system). I was able to use the Xfce Adiwata Dark theme to make even my GTK2/GTK+ apps look better in GNOME. The whole dark-themed GNOME experience is pretty much better than ever. So that's a win.

And I finally got Xfce looking right. I'm still having display font issues, but everything is more than good enough, and figuring out how to make dark-themed GNOME look better than ever is a bonus.

Thu, 24 Nov 2016

I did the Fedora 25 upgrade

I upgraded from Fedora 24 to 25 today. So far, so good.

Update: I've had periodic Google Chrome freezes. I've had to kill it and start again a few times. I just had one while writing this post with Ode's EditEdit plugin. Not sure if this is a Google Chrome thing or a Fedora thing. I do have Fedora's version of Chromium to test.

Another update, a day later: No Google Chrome freezes today. I just had my first Google Chrome freeze of the day. Before that I replaced RPM Fusion's Audacity 2.1.2 with Fedora's own Audacity 2.1.3, and my GTK3 rendering issues are now gone. And for some reason I can still output an MP3 even though this isn't the "freeworld" version.

Trying Chromium: I am trying the Fedora-packaged version of Chromium to see if I experience the same freezes that I have been getting in Google's version of the application.

Chromium update: You know what's not crashing? The Fedora-packaged Chromium browser.

So far today, I have replaced the Chrome browser hosted on Google's server and Audacity from RPM Fusion with versions of both from Fedora's own repository. I always like using as many packages as possible from a distribution's own repo (generally a point in Debian and Ubuntu's favor), and it's nice to get closer to that ideal in Fedora.

I have been meaning to write about the coming of Chromium to Fedora for a long time but never got around to it. It installed on my computer automatically as the dependency of another app, the name of which escapes me at the moment.

I also should write about MP3 support (decoding, not encoding) coming to native Fedora (i.e. without RPM Fusion). While I do have RPM Fusion repos active on my Fedora desktop installation (I'm sure there are people who don't ...), I'm not sure if that's the reason my now-Fedora-supplied (and non-"freeworld") Audacity is able to output an MP3 file. All I know is that I'm happy to have my Audacity rendering issues (which have been problematic for a couple of months) and Chrome freezing issues (only a problem since the Fedora 25 upgrade) both solved in very short order.

More info on Fedora's Chromium package: https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Chromium

Possible clue on why Google Chrome is freezing in Fedora 25: From a Fedora mailing list exchange

GNOME 3.22: As dozens of entries on this site will tell you, I periodically try GNOME 3 and usually abandon it because I get more work done in Xfce. In Fedora 25 -- for the first time -- Wayland is the default display technology for GNOME. When I try to run that on this 3-year-old AMD-running laptop (HP Pavilion g6-2210us), it freezes. The Xorg version, still available in the GDM choices, does work.

Chrome in GNOME: It seemed to be working fine. Once again, time for a GNOME test.

A ton of updates means Wayland is now working: All the video drivers updated just now in Fedora 25, and I can now run GNOME in Wayland. That was a quick fix.

Sat, 05 Nov 2016

This Fedora install still kicking after SIX upgrades

I started this laptop on Fedora 18 before a fairly quick upgrade to F19. I've kept it going all the way through Fedora 24.

So far that's six "major" upgrades. And it still works fine. Not that it shouldn't, but I don't remember things ever going this smoothly for this long.

Mon, 22 Aug 2016

Keep Fedora's dnf from upgrading certain packages

Since the OpenShot video editor is pretty much broken in version 2.0.x, and I'm using a Fedora 22 package of version 1.4.3 so I can keep editing video while I contemplate learning KDEnlive.

I installed the OpenShot 1.4.3 package, and in my next run of the yumex-dnf package manager, it cheerfully offered to upgrade to 2.0.7.

No.

So how do you keep yumex-dnf and regular ol' dnf from bugging you about this every time?

Read the rest of this post

Thu, 18 Aug 2016

Do broken apps in Fedora mean I should turn to Ubuntu?

I hadn't edited a video in a long time, and when I opened the OpenShot video editor in Fedora 24 yesterday, I found a completely updated user interface in version 2.0.7 that made the app harder to use. I could barely see the tracks at the bottom, and there appeared to be no way to make that window big enough to remedy the problem.

I could no longer change the "properties" of an item and modify the time it occupied on the video.

It wasn't recognizing linefeeds on my Inkscape-generated titles.

And then it crashed all the time.

In short, a decent, workhorse app has become totally useless.

I then tried to edit some audio. Again, I haven't done it in awhile. Audacity is very stable, so how could there be a problem?

There was. The play/pause buttons kept disappearing, as did the icons for switching modes. I was able to do a quick audio edit, but it was neither easy nor pleasant.

I think the OpenShot issues are systematic to the project and its one-man-band development situation. (I know -- I really should figure out KDEnlive and be done with it.)

Audacity's problem lies elsewhere in the system, as this Fedora bug report details.

I have a test Ubuntu 16.04 system on another drive. I loaded it up and installed Audacity (same version, 2.1.2). It worked perfectly.

I installed OpenShot, which RPM Fusion distributes for Fedora users in version 2.0.7). Ubuntu provides version 1.4.3. Which is old. But it works.

So I'm wondering if I should just make the leap and dump Fedora 24 for Ubuntu 16.04. It would do wonders for my video- and audio-editing productivity, for one thing.

And I thought that Ubuntu's HUD (heads-up display) was roughly equal to what GNOME 3 offers in its "hot corner" search. Nope. In GNOME, you can search for applications but not files. Ubuntu's HUD allows you to find applications and files. This is no deal-breaker because you can search for files in the Nautilus/Files file manager in both Ubuntu's Unity and any system running GNOME. Still, the HUD (love or hate what it CAN search for) is better than anything else out there for Linux.

So will I do it? I hate replacing systems and moving my files over. But I'm thinking.

Fri, 22 Jul 2016

I'm doing the Fedora 23 to 24 upgrade

I'm finally getting to the Fedora 23-to-24 upgrade on my laptop, which has been running Fedora on the same installation since the F18 release. (That means the upgrade has never failed.)

The upgrade process is getting smoother and smoother. This time the upgrade uses dnf instead of fedup.

I think that there will be a graphical upgrade for Fedora Workstation (i.e. GNOME) systems in this current release. But since I'm in Xfce right now, it's still a command-line process.

I used this guide from the Fedora Magazine site, and all is going great so far. Dnf has 4,033 items to download and 7,870 tasks to perform in the course of the upgrade, so it'll take a while to finish.

Update: As expected, the upgrade is taking a long time. That's normal. I managed to start early, and I have a whole day ahead of me. Plus I have use of another computer, so I'm able to continue working while the laptop is unavailable.

No 'n': When I finally resolve the issue, I'll recount my tale of the broken 'n' key on the HP Pavilion g6-2210us. With a barely working 'n' key, it's a great time to do an upgrade since typing words with the letter 'n' is not my favorite activity (though at home I have an external keyboard to get around the problem).

After the upgrade: I don't use GNOME very often, but I can confirm that the default Catarell font does display better (as promised). A better-looking display definitely makes me want to use GNOME more.

GNOME Shell itself seems more responsive. But again, I don't use it enough to know for sure.

I just found out that I'll soon be able to leave Citrix Receiver behind, and that will mean that I can use just about any desktop environment. For the past year and then some, only Xfce has played well with the Citrix apps that I use, which stretch across multiple screens and pose problems when it comes to switching from one screen to another.