Posts Tagged linux

On to Vala and Gnome!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Mostly due to this time sucking thing called life oddly. Regardless I wanted to start talking about something that has really lit a fire under me to start doing some hobby programming. It’s called Vala and coming from a long background of Java it’s been really easy to pick up.

I use the Diodon clipboard manager extensively and it’s missing some features I would really like. As with any industrious programmer I though “how hard can it be to add that feature myself?” So I started digging through the source code of Diodon and found it uses the great libpeas plugin system. So I immediately begin hacking together my first plugin. Without too much cursing I was able to get the basics of a plugin together. I will post it to the site once I have it in a more useable state.

I am planning on putting my travels to learn Vala as a series of articles. I am finding examples of vala code hard to come by so I’ll add my wandering to the mix in the hope it will help someone out.

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Support Wasteland 2 and gaming on Linux

Bryan Fargo and inXile Entertainment have just released Wasteland 2 the successor to the highly addicting Wasteland. I burned a large portion of my youth playing.. and re-playing Wasteland a looong time ago. Head over to http://wasteland.inxile-entertainment.com/store and buy yourself a copy. You will not only get a great turn-based game, but you’ll be supporting gaming on Linux. InXile was gracious enough to do the extra work to port their game to Linux as well. This deserves your support, don’t crack this game, buy it and show that there is life in Linux gaming.

While you’re at it, get a copy of Shadowrun Returns as well, another great turn-based game that was ported to Linux from the beginning. I’ve played through it as well. Not as solid as Wasteland 2, but still better than most games.

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Buy Roccat peripherals

When I built my current rig I actually had the hardest time trying to determine what to get for a keyboard and mouse. I wanted hardware that would be better than average but I didn’t want to pay the premium for the hardcore gaming keyboards and mice. I went to Bestbuy and tried everything they had, although most of it was either Microsoft or Logitech. The Logitech keyboards were nice but I really don’t like wireless peripherals since it annoys me to have to buy batteries every couple months. I am not a huge fan of mechanical keyboards because of the clackety-clack sound they make while I am typing, membrane keyboards are just fine for me.

When I started to investigate Linux support it because very clear that none of the manufacturers had given even a thought to supporting it. These top of the line keyboards with configurable hot keys and special bindings just flat-out wouldn’t work under Linux. There were some hobby projects that gave partial support to some of the hardware, but it either wasn’t hardware I was interested in or it was for hardware that was out of my price range. (I set a limit of $125 for both a keyboard and mouse) I was quickly running out of options until I ran across ROCCAT (sounds like row-cat, NOT rocket…I think) They had Linux support and their hardware was both above average and within my price range.

I ended up going with a ROCCAT Kova[+] mouse and ISKU keyboard. After 6 months of usage I have to say I have no complaints. The drivers are even updated periodically with bug fixes and new features. So there you go, next time you are looking for good peripherals, go with ROCCAT

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Ubuntu dumbed down, no, really??

I just read this article that is claiming that Ubuntu is starting to be dumbed down. http://www.linuxinsider.com/rsstory/77894.html So the new 13.04 release is getting ‘meh’ reviews since it locks the user out of much of the configurability of the operating system. Really?? They are just coming to this conclusion, Ubuntu has been in the wild for more than a couple years here and it’s managed to do something NONE of the other distros has, getting main stream (Read, Steam) gaming to come to the platform. Granted 13.04 does seem like a pretty minimal release, without many new features, but you are going to get that with a static release schedule. Sometimes stuff just isn’t ready to be released. Better to release a small update than a broken one.

For wide acceptance Linux HAS to be dumbed down a bit. There’s nothing worse than introducing someone to Linux (who is used to Windows) and I have to drop to the command line to get something configured properly. I’ve said this before, if you want Linux to be more than a geek toy you must remove the need for someone to use the command line to configure their system. If simply must configure your system and monkey with the guts..Debian hasn’t been discontinued, and you can really get into the guts there. Or better, yet Gentoo, or even better yet Linux From Scratch!!

Really, Ubuntu has done a ton for getting Linux into the mainstream. The mainstream desktop that is, RedHat still reigns supreme in the Linux server market and they contribute more code back into the baseline kernel than Ubuntu. This is despite the fact that I really dislike RHEL or CentOS for that matter, you can read my rant about CentOS here. This is just personal preference too, many other admins like RHEL (poor bastards)

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And now a Mac

I’ve been complaining that I can’t run Linux at work since they moved to the new VPN. I’ve tried time and again to get it to work but it is a proprietary system that only has a client for OSX and Winders. I’ve been using Win7, which all in all isn’t too bad, for about the last year. I was talking with one of the newer guys that got a shiny new MacBook Pro when he started about building our project. I told him that when I kick off a build I generally have about 17 minutes of browsing the web time since the build process basically renders the computer almost unusable. He was dumbfounded that it too me 17 minutes to build our project because it only took him around 3 minutes for a full clean and build. Surely he was misinterpreting what I was doing, there is no way the build times could be that different, hey, it’s all just Java.. Sure enough, he showed me and the project built faster than I had ever seen.

He started up IntelliJ in less than 20 seconds and I got pissed. Usually when I get in in the morning the first thing I do is start up IntelliJ, then I go get coffee, go to the bathroom then commando crawl back to my desk just in time for IntelliJ to have started up and begun indexing my project. I immediately put in a request for a Mac.

I got my shiny new MacBook Pro a couple weeks later and eagerly started setting up my development environment on it. I gleefully flipped the bird at my old PC every time I ran the native command line or built one of my projects. So far everything has been going swimmingly, I have completely transferred all my work to the Mac and I’ve been working off it exclusively for the past couple of weeks. There are only a couple of things that make me raise and eyebrow about how the Mac works

1) What the hell did Apple do to the Unix file system?? What is this /Library and /System and other odd folders doing in my root? Best just to delete them since they look erroneous (joking.. don’t really do this, it really messes with your system)

2) Task switching, I know it’s a little nit picky, but I seriously can’t Cmd+tab to a minimized program? Why show it in the list if selecting it isn’t going to do anything.

3) Does everything seriously cost money on a Mac? I guess the notion of Free as in beer hasn’t made it’s way here yet. Yes, I’m a bit on the cheap side, but hey, I use a free operating system I’m not going to pay $5.99 for a better task switcher for my work Mac.

4) The command and control keys need to be put into a ring and only one of them gets out alive. Seriously Apple, which one is it going to be? It seems Apple wanted to replace the control key at a system level with command but all the application developers disagreed and continued to use the control key for all their shortcut commands. This is an area of endless frustration for me, it usually takes me 3 tried to copy anything then another 2 to paste it.

Thats it for now, I’ll be sure to post some more annoyances in the future. So far I like the Mac better than my PC, but it isn’t as perfect as the Mac fan-boys would lead you to believe.

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Mintty to the rescue

I am stuck on a Win7 machine at work. I used to run Linux on it but then the company changed their VPN to this Windows and sorta-Mac supported only solution. I had to dump the penguin so I could have access outside the office, kinda important that. So yeah, other than my world passing me by at half the normal pace there is little difference, oh wait no, that’s completely inaccurate. The thing I miss above all else is the command line. I tried to replace it with the Windows Powershell but I seriously didn’t feel like learning everything from scratch, I did give it a concerted try though.

Just for comparison, take all the nifty bash/zsh commands you love and enjoy on a daily basis, now rename all of them, and don’t get cute by naming them something easy to remember. No, use something long, and make sure there are plenty of hyphens. Now take all the options you were used to passing to those commands and rename them too, almost there hang with me. Now close your eyes and just mash your head against the keyboard to get a rough idea of what it feels like to replace the Linux command line with Powershell.

Well I did what any self respecting Linux lover would do when relegated to Win-land, I installed Cygwin. Yes, that bastardization of *nix on a Windows shell. Or something, I couldn’t come up with anything snarky there. Regardless, running Cygwin offers a glimpse of home without actually letting you get there. It’s slow sure, but it offers enough familiarity that I actually enjoy using it over the endless point and click of a standard Windows user experience. The standard cygwin command line is terrible, running RXVT native makes it manageable. However, I just found Mintty! It’s sort of like Putty (based on some Putty code I gather) and with the proper amount of tweaking can actually result in a likeable experience. Couple that with screen and I hardly miss Linux…who am I kidding, I still go home at night and just poke around my laptop (running Xubuntu) just to feel better about myself.

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XFCE for an old laptop

On one of my previous posts I talk about how I was enjoying Gnome 3, and while it was a much better experience than previously, it still ran a bit slow on my aging Dell D810. I decided to try XFCE, it was always a bit too minimal for my likes. The XFCE team certainly hasn’t been idle since I tried it last…3 years ago. First off, it runs great on my laptop. The old embedded ATI X600 GPU isn’t supported by either Xorg or ATI so I hardware acceleration was out of the question. However, XFCE does do compositing but it’s so minimal that I didn’t notice any sort of performance degradation when I switched it on. So while I did enjoy Gnome Shell I had to uninstall it because I am really liking XFCE.

Orage, the default calendar application is a little odd, its mostly useful, but not terribly helpful overall. It’s almost like it was created as an afterthought, but then started to grow into something slightly more useful, but has never gotten the attention it really needed to become a full fledged effort. Almost like it was a series of minor efforts to add tiny pieces of slightly connected functionality. Anyway, there are some redeeming aspects to it, like it can import .ics files and display daily events and appointments from Google Calendar (Found this useful: http://mwallace.info/2009/08/read-google-calendars-from-orage/)

Battery management is more intelligent as well. If you upgrade to the beta 0.6 version of XFCE terminal it supports dropping down ala Guake terminal, which I find indispensible in everyday usage. One last thing to note, is the keyboard editor is great. It is minimal but makes it super easy to define define keyboard shortcuts for running what-ever you want. The main problem with this is that a lot of XFCE only programs don’t come with a default set of keybindings, you have to read the documentation to find out what you want it to do then go into the keyboard editor and define your keyboard shortcut to run it. Not a deal breaker, but a little odd the first time you encounter it.

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Gnome 3 and new shows

I’ve been pretty much absent for a while. This is in no small part to me being in the final year of my graduate degree. I am now counting down the day by saying what activity this year will be my last whilst enrolled in school (ie. last Christmas, last January 9th, etc.) We got a one of those shiny new iMac’s for Christmas for my wife. That left the old family laptop available to be re-purposed (read:liberated) to be my own personal playground. You know what that means, I started installing Linux on it.

I tried Mint, it didn’t live up to the hype, then I tried Debian, still too rough around the edges for my liking. Then finally I installed Ubuntu, again. While it’s a very polished distro, it ran like crap on my old laptop. I tried shutting down as many desktop effects as I could but it still lagged pretty bad. I liked XFCE but I decided to give Gnome 3 another shot, or Gnome shell or what ever people call it. I remember when I first tried it out when the 3.0 version came out I couldn’t figure out how to make it work, so I quietly uninstalled it and went on my merry way. Now, version 3.8 is out and let me say I am nothing short of impressed. It does present a paradigm shift in how you interact with your desktop, but it took me about 5 minutes to get used to it and now I am zipping around faster than I ever could on Windows/Unity/Gnome2/etc. Most impressive thing for me is that I can interact with the desktop without needing to use my mouse. That’s huge for me, the less I need to use the mouse the faster I go. Rooting through menu’s and sub-menu’s and sub-sub-menu’s takes time and is really annoying. I tend to interact with the same 5-10 programs in any given day so typing their name is faster than rooting through a hierarchical menu system.

It’s snappy too. My laptop is pushing 8 years old with only 2 GB ram and an aging processor, but the whole experience feels fast and I have never experienced desktop lag. Forget what everyone said when this DE first came out, the Gnome devs have been working to make this a quality product and its showing. I installed a few extensions and now I feel right at home.

Oh, and one a side note. The whole time I was messing with this, I was watching past episodes of the CW’s new show Arrow. I didn’t start watching it since most major networks have a tendency to really screw up super hero shows. After it got a ton of really good reviews from places that I would have expected to eviscerate it, I decided to give it a shot. Long story short, this series wrocks. Finally a gritty super hero series that isn’t Melrose Place with capes. I had to pay Amazon on-demand to watch the first couple of episodes (well worth it) but then I was able to pick up the last couple episodes on Hulu. Highly recommended if you want super hero action that doesn’t suck.

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unRAID Home Server complete

In my last post I was talking about building a home server to replace my dying Linksys NAS200, which was dying from day 1 unfortunately. I priced out and built a home server for under $226 by mixing and matching retailers ( http://pcpartpicker.com/p/loRC ). This price didn’t include the existing two 1 TB drives I already had from my existing NAS device however. I put it together and it worked great, the little Sempron processor easily overclocked to 3.6GHz and has been stable since I turned it on.

First I tried FreeNAS and quickly remembered why I hate BSD. As a Linux user, the slight command differences on the terminal quickly drove me to remove it. I played around with OpenFilr with little success and ended up settling on unRAID (http://lime-technology.com/). It’s based off of Slackware so it felt more like home than the others. The initial install WebGUI is pretty minimal and ugly, so I quickly replaced that with a plugin called SimpleFeatures, muuuuch better. The whole distro runs off of a USB key so I don’t have to use any of my array for the OS, a VERY nice feature. I got a Sandisk Cruzer micro 16GB and its working great.

unRAID limits you to only three drives on an unregistered version of the software. So with my three 1TB drives I have around 1.9TB of storage space. More than enough for my current needs. The best part is I have two paths for upgrading. 1) Upgrade each drive with a larger drive 1 by 1; 2) Purchase a license and add more drives to the array. Believe it or now #2 is actually the cheaper option. The license is $69 and a good 1TB drive is less than $100. Just adding 1 more drive gives me 2.8TB of space, and I can add 1 more if wanted. Any more than 5 drives and I would have to upgrade to the next license level, but its still cheaper than buying all new drives.

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Lapdock 500

Ever since Motorola came out with the Atrix and the original lapdock I have been enamored with the idea of a ‘pocket computer.’ Not so much the idea of having computer in my pocket, I was doing that with my old Texas Instruments calculator 15 years ago. More the idea of having the computer I could do daily computeree stuff with, check my email, play a game, create an office document..you know the drill. My first foray into the lapdock was a disaster, it was slow, clunky, and didn’t do more than run Firefox..poorly. My RAZR was upgraded to ICS over the weekend and with it came the upgrade to Webtop 3, and let me say it is a whole new experience.

Gone is the old mini-Linux disto that would have to boot up and hog all the memory only to run a single Webtop application. Now Android switched to tablet mode and most of the zip of the phone is still there. Applications now stretch to fill the screen and the particularly smart applications switch to a tablet mode to take advantage of the expanded screen size. There are still some bugs with the system, for example the touchpad doesn’t disable when I am typing so every couple of words the cursor jumps around and I am suddenly typing someplace else. The system can become a little slow at times, but it’s nothing you wouldn’t encounter with a netbook.

I have been customizing my new Webtop and playing with it to determine its capabilities and I am continually impressed with how far it has come since 2.0. If Motorola keeps this up I see the Webtop becoming a huge selling point for Motorola phones. At least…it will be for me 🙂 Oh, and this post was done on the lapdock with the WordPress for Android app.

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