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Support / Suggestions for inexpensive, Linux-friendly USB wifi dongle
« on: February 16, 2018, 11:33:38 am »
I'm getting sick of having to connect to Ethernet every time I want to try or install a distro on one of my computers with Broadcom wifi cards, so I would now like to buy an inexpensive dongle that plugs into a usb port and gives me wifi. Any suggestions from those of you who have one? Also, should I worry about whether it's USB 2 or 3, and what speed it is? The cheapest I've seen on the internet seem to be 150 mbps.

Distributions / Pop OS
« on: February 13, 2018, 02:18:30 pm »
For those of you not familiar with it, Pop OS is the creation of System 76, makers of Linux computers. It is based on Ubuntu 17.10. It received a positive review in Distrowatch from Joshua Allen Holm (view it here). It comes as a combo live CD/installer, which is easily run from a USB stick. (I used Etcher to get it on the USB.) I am running it from the live USB now.

My impression of it is very positive so far, but as far as I can tell, it is just a customized version of Ubuntu gnome, though it does seem faster. One nice thing about it is that it comes in two versions, one for Nvidia GPUs and the other for Intel/AMD. The former will apparently install the relevant Nvidia driver. The icons and fonts are unique and very nice. These and some of the customized apps (like the software store called "Pop! Shop" draw on the look and feel of Elementary OS. The isn't surprising since Daniel Fore and Cassidy James from Elementary helped design Pop OS. Unfortunately, like Ubuntu, the live USB won't recognize Broadcom wifi cards, but I have an Artheros on my 2011 iMac, which it recognized out of the box.

I think it's worth a look if you're a distrohopper. It apparently runs well on a virtual machine (Harry!). If we need a topic for the next meeting, I would be able to demonstrate it from the live USB and an actual installation.

General Linux/Android Discussions / Linux Journal ceases publication
« on: December 02, 2017, 03:42:26 pm »
I wasn't a subscriber, but it's always sad to a Linux publication go under. (Linux Voice went under about a year ago and I did subscribe to it.) Here is the official announcement. The comments suggested that its supporters are not happy to see it go quietly, and one in particular (Matt Hartley of Linux Action Show fame) wants to work with the publisher to keep it going.

Support / Sound problems in my Late 2015 iMac
« on: November 26, 2017, 05:43:40 pm »
This has become the most vexing problem I have faced since converting to Linux. Those of you following my threads about the problems I've had on this Late 2015 5K iMac have already heard about my problems getting distros to boot. These have been solved now, and I have two distros installed (Mint 18.2, Ubuntu 16.04) that have been booting pretty quickly and working pretty well. Until earlier in the week when I discovered the sound problems I haven't been able to solve. They're the same on Mint and Ubuntu: sound in Firefox works well. So does Skype, but I have no sound in Chromium or in any music or video app (rhythmbox, clementine, VLC, player). I don't think this was always the case, and it may be as a result of something I recently installed but if so, I don't know what. Here is the audio output from inxi when running from Linux Mint:

Audio:  Card-1 Advanced Micro Devices [AMD/ATI] Tonga HDMI Audio [Radeon R9 285/380]
           driver: snd_hda_intel bus-ID: 01:00.1
           Card-2 Intel Sunrise Point-H HD Audio
           driver: snd_hda_intel bus-ID: 00:1f.3
           Sound: Advanced Linux Sound Architecture v: k4.8.0-53-generic

Like with the video card problem, I have an onboard and attached audio card. I don't think that's the problem though, first because I do get sound output and second because I can disable the AMD card and it makes no difference. Intuitively, I think that the problem relates to some kind of interference between pulseaudio and alsa, if only that I remember this being a problem that a lot of folks have had in the past. I have tried various online solutions of reloading on or the other, reinstalling one or both, playing with sound settings in sound settings app on gnome or in pulseaudio sound settings. Every once in awhile I actually get it to work, but it doesn't stay working once the music app is closed and reopened, or after a reboot, and whatever trick I have tried doesn't work if I repeat it. I even thought of removing pulseaudio altogether, but removing it threatens to remove a lot of other stuff including the desktop.

I have searched for a solution and tried various possibilities, all to no avail so far. This could be the one problem that either has me going back to the Mac OS on this otherwise great iMac, or has me selling it. If you have a suggestion, I'm all ears!

Distributions / Unity desktop remix
« on: November 17, 2017, 03:55:46 pm »
It appears that the Unity desktop is more popular than a lot of people thought, even Canonical itself. According to this article, a proposal to create a new community Ubuntu flavour based on Unity 7 is gathering support within the Ubuntu community, and has already won the backing from several Canonical employees, including none other than Martin Wimpress of Ubuntu MATE fame. Discussions are underway and though in early stages, Canonical has given those involved their blessing to use the “Ubuntu” trademark.

This article really made me smile. I'm might be the only one in our small Linux community to think that Unity is a great desktop, but even after working with the default 17.10 gnome which has been made to look like Unity, I can still see some advantages of Unity over gnome, and both over any of the other Windows or Mac-like desktops. I do hope this "Unity Desktop Remix" moves forward, as I haven't, so far, found that the current version of Unity, added to gnome on Ubuntu 17.10 works all that well (at least not on my 2015 iMac).

Distributions / Ubuntu upgrade from 17.04 to 17.10
« on: October 20, 2017, 10:05:55 am »
I tried this today using an installation on an external drive. The upgrade was uneventful for the most part. Because I had been using a combination of Unity and Gnome with a bunch of extensions, I had to play around a bit to get my desktop back to what I had. Actually, with Unity, I couldn't because, although it still worked, the tweaks like changed icons wouldn't work from Unity Tweak Tool. With Gnome, I got more or less my old settings as default, but certain extensions there didn't work either. I had to play around a bit to get the default Gnome desktop of Ubuntu 17.10 working, but it did and it is nice. Fortunately the top icons I needed (dropbox, insync) showed up and worked on the top bar without the topicons plus extension. There is an update to that extension, but installing it and running it on the Ubuntu theme took away the dropbox icon. Turning off topicons plus and rebooting brought it back.

Upgrading to Ubuntu 17.10 stopped insync from working initially. You have to install sni-qt (in the Ubuntu repository) to get it working.

One other easily solvable problem was that the version of SimpleNote I had installed in 17.04 wouldn't work in 17.10. However, the snap version of SimpleNote does work. Good thing; I've come to depend on it.

Support / Forced convert to Linux Mint on a high dpi iMac
« on: October 15, 2017, 09:17:49 am »
I've been doing a lot of buying and selling of my Mac equipment lately in order to get some more recent stuff, and my most recent purchase was a 27" late 2015 iMac, which I got by trading in an older one. This computer is really different though, because of its 5K resolution (5120x2880). I hadn't realized at the time that this might cause problems with Linux distros, but it does. I wanted to run Ubuntu 17.04 on it, but no dice - neither an existing installation or a live installation disk would boot.  I would always end up with a dark purple screen. I searched for solutions and came up with a few posts suggesting a change to the grub boot parameters (adding nointremap or nomodeset or acpi=off) would fix this, but it didn't. I tried Ubuntu 16.04 and got the same result, so I then tried some other distros as well as the Ubuntu 17.10 beta 2. The latest Fedora wouldn't boot at all, nor would Elementary. Clonezilla would boot to the first screen and then freeze. Ubuntu 17.10 beta and OpenSuse Leap would boot, but they would take 5 minutes to do so. I didn't try installing OpenSuse, but I did Ubuntu. It did install, and changing its grub boot parameter would allow it to boot up, but again taking many minutes. When it did boot up, network-manager would not connect to the internet with either ethernet or wifi.

I don't know if it matters, but this iMac is the mid-level one with the 3.3 ghz i5 and a Radeon R9 M395 video card; maybe that particular video card is more problematic than the default. At this point I was ready to tear my hair out, but I tried one more distro: Linux Mint Cinnamon 18.2. Changing the boot parameter to nointremap, it booted right up, installed OK, and the installation booted up normally once I permanently added nointremap to the boot sequence! I haven't been interested in either Linux Mint or the Cinnamon desktop for a long time, but I figured I'd better make this to my liking if it's the only thing that would work properly. I spent a lot of time customizing it to my liking, which basically means changing icons and making the panel look like Ubuntu Unity. Turns out that you can do this by adding a vertical bar on the left side of the monitor and pinning my most used applications to it. I can live with this! My only complaint is the lack of fine-grain magnification adjustment in Cinnamon; the only choices are default or 2x magnification for high dpi. (Ubuntu allows you to magnify to tenths.) But the 2x works for me.

Even though I'm happy with Mint, I'm still bugged about not being able to install Ubuntu. Others have been able to get Ubuntu to boot on a 5k iMac, so why couldn't I (unless it's the specific video card)? Mint 18.2 is a derivative of Ubuntu 16.04, so why should it boot so easily when 16.04 wouldn't boot at all? What is different about 17.10 beta that it can boot (though with a lot of stalling) when the previous version cannot? Also, I don't like the fact that I can't boot a Clonezilla disk on this because I use it a lot. I'm wondering what I can try to get Ubuntu and Clonezilla to boot from a live USB, and install in the case of Ubuntu. Might it work if I simply copied all of the grub boot parameters in Mint and use them with Ubuntu? I might try that next, but any suggestions would be welcome.

Distributions / Ubuntu 17.10
« on: October 11, 2017, 06:45:47 am »
I downloaded and installed the beta 2 on my 2011 iMac. While I could have added back the Unity DE, I wanted to try Ubuntu's modified version of gnome. Been using it a week and I'm quite happy with it. The desktop is almost identical to that of Unity, and all the pieces work well together. My only tweak was to use the Flat Remix icons, which are now my favourites. All of my programs worked out of the box except Simplenote, which would install but not start up. However, there was a snap package for it, which does work. Ubuntu 17.10 actually feels faster than 17.04, but this may be because my 17.04 installations are upgrades on Ubuntu going back at least to 14.04. While still a beta, I haven't had any obvious problems with it so far. Has anyone else tried it yet?

General Linux/Android Discussions / Worse day of my Linux life
« on: October 02, 2017, 07:30:41 am »
That was yesterday. I recently purchased a used 2011 27" iMac (fantastic display), and am planning to set it up as a dual boot with an internal SSD replacing the 1TB HD. (I'm waiting on a thermister kit, which you need to keep the fans from roaring once the original drive is replaced - an Apple "innovation".) Anyway, I'm having two issues: keeping the screen brightness high enough; and getting the system set up on a 480 GB SSD taken from my mac mini. (Can be run on the thunderbolt port until I install it inside the iMac.) Something must be wrong with the drive setup because at the end of the boot sequence I get a black screen and I spent the day unsuccessfully trying to fix it. I also tried cloning partitions to the hard drive, which would work at first and then not when they were reformatted. I wasted the entire day and had nothing to show for it. Today I'm going to try reformatting the SSD (which was giving partition errors in gparted), and clone it from the other drive in my mac mini. I could just install Ubuntu from scratch yet again, but I have a lot of programs and customizations that I want to carry over.

Ironically, before I pulled that SSD, I had a spare 120 Gig SSD, onto which I installed Ubuntu and ran it from the thunderbolt port. Works fantastic; very fast. But I don't want to pull my iMac apart just to install a 120 GB SSD. I tried cloning it to an internal partition and it worked well at first, until I resized the partition and then it wouldn't boot. Ugh.

This is a discovery I made on the LG Gpad III 8.0 tablet I recently bought, based on an energy-saving article I read on the internet. I can't say for sure to what extent it will help with other Android phones or tablets, but the energy saving is substantial on the Gpad. It is also something you would only want to do if your use of cellular on your phone or tablet is infrequent. What prompted me to check into this was the finding that Cell Standby was using 70% of my energy. A lot of this high percentage is undoubtedly because my tablet is inactive mode much more than it is in active mode. (I only use it 1-2 hours per day.) When it is active, the display uses a much higher percentage of the battery than anything else. Incidentally, I didn't discover this Cell Standby until I enabled developer mode on my tablet. Once you do that you get much more information about energy use.

Cell Standby is radio traffic while the phone is idle, including searching for a signal and transmitting data. The strange thing is that I am not using cellular at all. This tablet has the capacity, but it has no SIM in it, yet the operating system doesn't seem to be intelligent enough to realize this and disable the function. The easiest way to turn it off is to enable airplane mode, which disables all communication functions, including wifi and bluetooth. However, once you are in airplane mode, you can re-enable any functions you need. For me, this means turning on wifi and keeping it on all the time, and turning on bluetooth when I need it. Based on my latest battery tests, the overall saving is about 30% on my tablet! You might want to try this yourself if you rarely use cellular; you can always turn airplane mode off when you need cellular.

I thought I would post about this because of all the research and testing I have been doing. My iPad mini 2 was starting to give me minor problems with age, so I decided to replace it. Being a Linux convert from the Mac OS and already having an iPhone, an Apple tablet is no longer as desirable as it once was, though it does integrate with the iPhone in ways that an Android tablet can't. After some internet research on quality, performance and cost, I narrowed down my choices to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8.0, the LG gpad III and the iPad mini 4. I found reasonably good deals for all three locally so that that I could get the Samsung for $400, the LG for $240 and the mini 4 (32 gb version) for $390 with cellular. (All Canadian dollars.) The LG also comes with cellular, locked to Fido or Rogers. I pretty much know what I would be getting with an iPad, so I didn't bother testing it or trying it out. This would be the default if I could not be happy with one of the two Android selections.

The Samsung and LG have octa-core processors, with the Samsung having a faster processor on paper. Pixel density on the Samsung is higher than the LG, but both give good resolution and high pixel densities. The Samsung is an amoled display; the display is the nicest I have ever seen on any tablet. Noticeably lighter and thinner than the LG and even the iPad minii 4, it is a real pleasure to use and the easiest to hold with one handl. In all other ways but one, this is the nicest small tablet I've ever seen or tried. But the one is a big one: battery life. Its battery is small (4,000 mAh); probably to fit it in the ultra thin body. My tests showed that it consumed as much as 15% of its full charge per hour; this doing routine things like reading internet articles and books, and playing youtube videos. A battery app showed that the high rate of depletion was largely due to use by the display, and of course because of the small battery. But it also depleted the battery at a noticeably faster rate than the other two when it was sleeping.  I'm a battery fanatic and I couldn't live with that - watching it drop battery time every few minutes would drive me nuts. l really hated to return it, but I did for this reason.

The LG tablet is very nice too, but not in the same league as the Samsung. It shouldn't be; it costs only 60% as much and it actually comes with cellular capability, which the Tab 2 I bought does not. It's not as thin or light, but it's lighter than my old iPad mini 2 and it has a comfortable, stippled backing, so better for gripping than either the Samsung or the iPad mini. It also has a full sized usb port, which allows you to plug in a usb stick and even run movies from it. One flaw it does have is it will not connect to the 5g signal in many routers when running Nougat. This is a known flaw, and seems to be specific to this tablet and Nougat. It doesn't really affect me because I only have 40 mbps service at home, so download speeds don't seem to be limited on the non-5g signal.

Battery tests showed the LG to be far superior to the Tab 2 in that category, with rates of depletion typically 8-10% per hour for browsing, youtube videos, e-reading. Its battery (4,800 mAh) is 20% larger than the Samsung, and that alone would explain most of the difference.  Since running the battery consumption tests, I don't pay as much attention to the battery percentage on the LG (which still drops faster than the old mini) . While its battery life is also noticeably lower than that of the mini 2 I previously owned, the depletion rate is low enough to suggest that I would have 4 or more days between charges with my normal usage pattern.  I'm sitting with the LG at the moment, and I have another 8 days to decide whether to keep it or not.

The LG comes with Android Nougat (the Samsung had it too), and I like the ability to customize it more than iOS. If I keep it, I have the option of adding a Rogers cellular plan, which costs $5/month for a very small amount of data. The plan adjusts automatically to your usage. If you use more than the lowest tier in a month, you pay more in $5 increments for just that month. I would rarely use any data, only in emergency. If I really needed data on a tablet, I could get the Fido unshared data plan for $15/month, which is for 2 gb data/month. Great deal if you need it, but I don't.

Then there is the iPad mini 4. It would cost $150 more than the LG, but you buy it in 24 monthly installments when you get it with the $5 Rogers tablet plan. In size, the mini has the same 4:3 dimensions as the Samsung, but it isn't quite as thin and it weighs about 10% more. (The gpad III has a 16:10 screen dimension.)  iOS does have some advantages for an iPhone user in that messaging from either device shows up on the other. (Bill and I couldn't get this to work on the gpad III, at least not without cellular working.) The mini 4 is a premium tablet as is the Samsung, and it really holds its value over the years. The gpad III would not, as many people have bought it for the cheap 3 gb shared data plan from Fido; they use the data on their phone and sell the tablet. As a result, I have seen nearly new gpad III's selling for anywhere from $150-200.

That's where I am now, deciding whether to keep the LG or return it for an iPad mini 4. Any thoughts would be appreciated, and I hope this thread helps readers also thinking about which 8" tablet to buy.

Distributions / Qubes OS
« on: July 31, 2017, 12:28:17 pm »
Qubes is apparently being revamped in version 4 (see this article). I thought it worthy of posting because Jason made a presentation on Qubes at the February PLUG meeting.

I recently used clonezilla for cloning one SSD onto a second larger SSD. I was intending on removing the older, smaller SSD, but was unable, so I left them both in my computer. What I hadn't thought about was that a cloned partition has exactly the same UUID # as its source, and since grub typically uses the UUID to specify which drive to load, this sets up a conflict between the source and target partition. In my case, the result was that it was always loading the partition from the smaller SSD and ignoring the new one. Even when I thought I was selecting the new one, I was not. It took about a month before I discovered this.

The solution is to change the UUID # of one of the drives, which one can easily do with gparted, or less easily on the command line. gparted will reassign the UUID with a random number. That would end the conflict and allow both drives to be accessible through your grub menu.

Perhaps the situation is unusual because most people would remove the old source drive once it is cloned onto the new one. But if you were running a desktop computer, there is often space for one or more drives and one might then keep both drives attached. If you do, change make the UUID numbers different if you want to be able to boot up either partition. In my case, I had an additional complication. I am using a Mac mini and because I also want easy access to the Mac OS (although I rarely use it anymore), I installed refind, which uses grub input but changes the boot menu to icons representing the various bootable partitions that it sees. Problem is that it uses a config file that doesn't change the UUID even after you change it yourself and update your grub. It took me awhile to find that file and edit it to put the changed UUID #. Once I did, all worked well and the cloned Linux partition became readily accessible on both the source and cloned drives.

Distributions / Debian 9 "Stretch" released
« on: June 18, 2017, 07:09:31 am »
See announcement here.

Linux Applications & Android apps / Master PDF Editor
« on: June 17, 2017, 02:57:11 pm »
Master PDF Editor, where have you been all my life? This is a free application that runs on Linux as well as Mac, Windows; at least the basic version is free for non-commercial use. It's fast and it's pretty powerful. You can edit test and images, comment and annotate, split and merge, and create and fill out PDF forms. The commercial version does quite a few other things, but nothing that I would need except perhaps to sign a document with a digital signature. Even the commercial version sells for a reasonable $63 Canadian. But I would buy the non-commercial version if I had to, as it's something that I use a lot.

Up until this time I have been using Foxit Reader. It's very good as well, but I couldn't get it to work in Arch (a bug that they will probably fix soon). But this one seems faster and is laid out nicer, and I think it does one or two things that the non-commercial version of Foxit Reader doesn't. Also, there are some fillable forms that don't work with Foxit; I'm curious whether these will work with Master PDF Editor.

If you're interested in trying this, you can get it here.

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