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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Fri, 17 Jan 2014

Buy Debian merchandise from Debian France (and it helps if you can read French)

Debian France now has an online store where they sell Debian-related merchandise: hats, shirts, even umbrellas, pocket knives and those "buff" things that losing "Survivor" contestants throw into the fire on the show's Redemption Island (which probably tells you too much about my recent TV viewing).

The currency is Euros, the language French. May the European force be with you.

Tue, 31 Dec 2013

When life hands you lemons, go back to Debian

Update on Jan. 16, 2014: Since I originally wrote this post, I succeeded in installing Catalyst with AMD's script in Fedora and buying myself a whole lot of time with that distribution. I also tried Debian Wheezy with live media containing nonfree firmware, and that is looking even better than Jessie if I don't want/need an EFI-friendly installer. My original plan was to stick with Fedora until the Debian Jessie freeze and then make the move (sometime late this year). But if Wheezy works out, I'd want to go to it sooner rather than later and avoid Jessie for as long as possible (or until suspend/resume somehow returns to my neglected AMD APU chip.

Update on Feb. 4, 2014: I have suspend/resume working in Fedora 20 with the fglrx/Catalyst driver, and I'm very confident that the same technique I used to get it working there will also work in Debian Jessie, so that means if I do want to run Debian in the near future, I can get working fglrx video, working suspend/resume and EFI booting with Testing/Jessie and don't need to use Wheezy unless I absolutely want to. The only thing that makes me nervous about installing Jessie now is the uncertainty over which init system Debian will end up with -- both in the Jessie and Jessie+1 cycles. But since I have everything but printing to my crappy HP USB printer working in Fedora, it's likely that I'll stick with it for the near (and maybe farther) future.

To keep a short story short, the maintainer of the proprietary AMD Catalyst (aka fglrx) driver for the Fedora-focused RPM Fusion repository doesn't want to do it anymore.

And he made this decision not before the release of Fedora 20 with lots of notice -- and not after with lots of notice BUT PRETTY MUCH DURING THE RELEASE with no notice.

That means my Fedora 19-to-20 upgrade left me without Catalyst. And that means much poorer video performance, higher heat and more fan noise for my newish AMD APU chip -- the Trinity series A4-4300M model with AMD Radeon HD 7420g graphics.

And while the open-source Radeon driver has gotten a whole lot better in the 3.12 Linux kernel, the Catalyst driver is much, much better for this hardware.

I already mentioned the slow video. I can barely run GNOME 3 with the open driver, and THIS LAPTOP ISN'T EVEN A YEAR OLD.

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Wed, 23 Oct 2013

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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Fri, 30 Nov 2012

Steady improvements in Debian Wheezy -- and a smooth transition from Squeeze

Debian is boring. Releases happen every two years, give or take. Developers spend months and months chasing bugs while other Linux distributions crank out release after release.

But Debian gets better as it inches toward release. And if you're running the Stable distribution (Squeeze instead of Wheezy, still in Testing) you can enjoy the goodness for the next two years -- or three if you wish, as Stable gets an extra year of security patches as Old Stable after a new Stable version is released.

Debian isn't quite as boring as it is conservative. Even though Debian's Testing is more stable than many other distributions' actual releases, you can expect some bugs. And if you follow Testing, as I am at the moment, you get to see some of those bugs get fixed.

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Sat, 17 Nov 2012

It looks like more Debian users are turning to Xfce

Going by what I read, Linux and BSD users are abandoning GNOME and Unity for ... Xfce.

They hate GNOME 3/Shell, they don't like what Ubuntu's done with Unity, and they're not crazy about KDE, either.

Enter Xfce. Back in the GNOME 2 days, I found that on a fast machine you really didn't gain much in desktop speed by picking Xfce over GNOME. But on slow, old hardware, Xfce sure could make a difference.

That means on new computers it all boils down to what you like. If Xfce does the job for you, use it.

With GNOME and Unity throwing out the "old" desktop paradigm for a new one that ostensibly helps the tablets and touchscreens none of us are using work better, anybody who wants to keep working in the same way they've been doing for decades is probably looking at Xfce and LXDE as the way going forward.

Some don't want any change, but most want evolution instead of revolution, and they don't want nonexistant tablets to dicate how they use their mouse-and-keyboard computers.

I get that.

Even Windows users are in this. Windows 8 probably won't throw out so much baby with bathwater, but the changes in the Microsoft desktop would ordinarily send geekier users scurrying toward Linux. Unity and GNOME 3 might be too much of a shock.

Enter Xfce.

It has more than enough features. It's fast. It's not undergoing a cataclysmic transformation. It doesn't care about tablets, touchscreens, smartphones or TVs. It's not trying to sell you services or get you to buy shit. It works like a desktop you know. (Like GNOME 2.)

Personally I haven't soured on GNOME 3. I still like it. But I also like having something I know will be there when my hardware isn't so new. A workhorse desktop.

It's here.

Thu, 15 Nov 2012

Updated: Debian Wheezy GNOME 3 panels (and everything else) goes away: Here's how I fixed it

Note: The fix outlined below DOES NOT WORK for more than a day.

This fix is a bit brutal but DOES WORK:

To restore the desktop in my GNOME 3 user account, I ended up deleting the entire .config directory in my home directory.

That enabled me to log into GNOME Shell and have a working desktop. I lost a whole lot of settings in the process, so I recommend renaming .config as, say, config with no "dot," then logging in and eventually restoring the parts of the .config that you need.

Things I lost by killing out .config include my Chromium browser settings, all GNOME settings, gPodder settings, Gigolo settings ... and maybe more that I haven't yet discovered. Sure, I got my main account working with GNOME, but I should've backed up .config instead of killing it entirely.

For reference and disclosure's sake, here is the original post:


I'm having an issue with GNOME 3 in Debian Wheezy that have only cropped up in the past few days. It may be due to one of the upgrades to Wheezy that have flowed earlier this week.

What happens is I log into GNOME 3 Shell, I get wallpaper and that's it. No panels, no nothing.

I can click alt-F4 to log out, and that's about it.

GNOME fallback mode (i.e. 2D) still works fine, as does Xfce. I wasn't locked out of GNOME at all, just the 3D/Shell version.

This Debian Forums post helped, though I don't think it describes my exact problem. I did take its advice and reinstall gnome-session and gnome-panel. It worked for awhile, then stopped working. I did it again, and GNOME 3 is working again. I'll update this post when I'm sure of the long-term viability of this fix.

Here is the command I used in the console:

$ sudo apt-get install --reinstall gnome-session gnome-panel

For now this fix is working. I haven't seen anything on the Debian mailing lists or forums that describes my exact problem, so this could just be something that affects me alone

Tue, 13 Nov 2012

On 13-year-old hardware, Debian Squeeze with Xfce performs better than Wary Puppy 5.3

I periodically check up on my Compaq Armada 7770dmt, the 1999 machine running a Pentium II MMX processor at 233 MHz with 144 MB of RAM and a 3 GB hard drive.

While I'm still partial to Puppy 2.13 -- a very, very, very old release, I wanted to see how this old Compaq performed on a new Puppy. I do have a 20 GB laptop drive floating around, and if I find it, I could either use it entirely for storage with Puppy, or install something like Debian without the constraints of a mere 3 GB of hard drive space.

Today I did an update/upgrade of the Debian Squeeze installation on the Compaq. Then I burned a Wary Puppy 5.3 CD on another machine and proceeded to try it out on the 233 MHz laptop.

In the unlikely event that you have this exact same ancient laptop and want to run a modern Puppy live system, know that when configuring video, Xorg doesn't work. Choose Xvesa instead.

Anyhow, I don't know if it was the nature of modern Linux, a growing "heaviness" for the Seamonkey web browser, or something else. But Wary Puppy 5.3 was slower than Debian Squeeze with Xfce. Using the web browser at all made the rest of the 144 MB system pretty much unusable.

About a half-hour into my Wary Puppy session, no apps at all would start. I could've rebooted and tried again, but I didn't. I know that using a Mozilla-made browser on hardware this old is painful.

In Debian I use Chromium, which is a quite a bit lighter than Firefox/Seamonkey, and that makes this old machine much more pleasant to use.

And Xfce is a very usable desktop on hardware this ancient. It's all about which applications you use. If you avoid heavy browsers like Firefox/Iceweasel, stick to text editors like Mousepad and Geany (OpenOffice/LibreOffice is not something I'd recommend at all) and keep things simple, even a 13-year-old computer can have some utility. This is a great machine for writing (as I'm doing now with Mousepad).

You can't go wrong with Xfce staples like the Thunar file manager, Mousepad text editor, Ristretto image viewer and Xfce Terminal. To that I add selected extras like the gFTP client, mtPaint image editor (thanks to Puppy for introducing me to it), Geany IDE/editor (thanks again to Puppy) and Ted word processor (introduced to me in Damn Small Linux and no longer in Debian but available as a .deb from the developer).

There's a lot you can't do with a 13-year-old computer, but there's a lot you can do, too.

Mon, 05 Nov 2012

Lots of Debian Wheezy updates today

Due to my slower home connection, I didn't update my Debian Wheezy laptop over the weekend, and today I have 103 packages about to flow onto this system.

Aside from a new kernel, new Chromium web browser, new LibreOffice and new Java/OpenJDK/IcedTea, there are plenty of other packages coming along for the ride from GNOME, new ffmpeg and libav, cups and more.

Why so many packages at once? Could it mean the release of Wheezy as Debian's Stable distribution is closer than not? I have no answers yet.

All I do know is if you're running Debian Wheezy right now, be prepared for a whole lot of updates.

steven@lenovo:~$ sudo aptitude upgrade
Resolving dependencies...                
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  linux-headers-3.2.0-4-amd64{a} linux-headers-3.2.0-4-common{a} 
  linux-image-3.2.0-4-amd64{a} 
The following packages will be REMOVED:
  linux-headers-3.2.0-3-amd64{u} linux-headers-3.2.0-3-common{u} 
The following packages will be upgraded:
  chromium chromium-browser-inspector chromium-inspector cups cups-bsd 
  cups-client cups-common cups-ppdc evolution-data-server 
  evolution-data-server-common ffmpeg fonts-opensymbol gdm3 
  gir1.2-panelapplet-4.0 gnome-terminal gnome-terminal-data 
  google-talkplugin icedtea-6-jre-cacao icedtea-6-jre-jamvm kdelibs-bin 
  kdelibs5-data kdelibs5-plugins kdoctools libav-tools libavcodec53 
  libavdevice-extra-53 libavdevice53 libavfilter-extra-2 libavfilter2 
  libavformat-extra-53 libavformat53 libavutil51 libcamel-1.2-33 libcups2 
  libcupscgi1 libcupsdriver1 libcupsimage2 libcupsmime1 libcupsppdc1 
  libebackend-1.2-2 libebook-1.2-13 libecal-1.2-11 libedata-book-1.2-13 
  libedata-cal-1.2-15 libedataserver-1.2-16 libedataserverui-3.0-1 
  libglib2.0-data libgtkhtml-4.0-0 libgtkhtml-4.0-common 
  libgtkhtml-editor-4.0-0 libkcmutils4 libkde3support4 libkdeclarative5 
  libkdecore5 libkdesu5 libkdeui5 libkdewebkit5 libkdnssd4 libkemoticons4 
  libkfile4 libkhtml5 libkidletime4 libkio5 libkjsapi4 libkjsembed4 
  libkmediaplayer4 libknewstuff2-4 libknewstuff3-4 libknotifyconfig4 
  libkntlm4 libkparts4 libkprintutils4 libkpty4 libkrosscore4 libkrossui4 
  libktexteditor4 libkutils4 libmozjs185-1.0 libnepomuk4 libnepomukquery4a 
  libnepomukutils4 libpanel-applet-4-0 libplasma3 libpostproc52 
  libraptor2-0 libreoffice-common libreoffice-filter-mobiledev 
  libreoffice-help-en-us libreoffice-java-common libreoffice-pdfimport 
  libreoffice-report-builder-bin libreoffice-style-galaxy 
  libreoffice-style-tango libsolid4 libswscale2 libthreadweaver4 
  libxenstore3.0 linux-headers-amd64 linux-image-amd64 linux-libc-dev 
  openjdk-6-jre openjdk-6-jre-headless openjdk-6-jre-lib 
103 packages upgraded, 3 newly installed, 2 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 177 MB of archives. After unpacking 112 MB will be used.
Do you want to continue? [Y/n/?]
Tue, 16 Oct 2012

Iceweasel 10.0.09 ESR update for Debian Wheezy

The "fast" pace of Iceweasel/Firefox and Icedove/Thunderbird releases over the past couple of years has really thrown longer-term Linux distributions for a loop.

The Mozilla-coded apps quickly get very old, and it's harder and harder for Debian developers to patch those older versions with the latest security fixes when the upstream code leaves the distro's original version further and further behind.

And enterprises, educational institutions and people who like things to stay the same aren't terribly excited by applications that change versions from month to month, regardless of what actual changes are happening in the code. Never mind that those changes are often significant enough to break things built for a platform that is moving too quickly for many tastes.

Enter the Extended Support Release version of Firefox and Thunderbird. After seeing its Mozilla applications get really old really fast in Squeeze, Debian picked up on the ESR releases of Iceweasel and Icedove for Wheezy. That's what I see in CentOS, Scientific Linux and Stella as well, so it appears that even Red Hat Enterprise Linux has opted for ESR.

Sure there are features in the "consumer" version of Firefox (which Ubuntu follows even for its LTS release) that users of ESR will miss, but between stability in terms of functionality and knowing that these web-connected applications are fully patched, the peace of mind is well worth it.

Iceweasel 10.0.09esr just rolled onto my Debian Wheezy box. I'm glad to see it.

Fri, 28 Sep 2012

Lots of updates today in Debian Wheezy, plus when I think it will go Stable and why I stick with Debian as my distro of choice

Quite a few updates moved for Debian's Wheezy testing branch today. I got a lot of GNOME bits and, for some reason, qemu-kvm.

The Debian Project is pushing Wheezy ever closer to release. The way things are going, counting the number of release-critical bugs and comparing it to roughly the same period before the release of Squeeze (the current Stable release), there are now 243 release-critical bugs remaining to be solved before Wheezy's release can happen. In September 2010, there were 126 RC bugs remaining to be solved.

Squeeze was released in February 2011, and if the RC-bug count is any indication, we won't see Wheezy go Stable this year, even though that was an early goal of the project.

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