Monday, September 4, 2017

Some Possibly Interesting New Finds (For Me)

  • Several Programming Tools 

    I am not a programmer, even though I play around with code a little bit, from time to time, and some of my main tools involve writing code (gri).  BUT some of the best tools for my money (usually no money at all) have often turned out to be hacker level tools.  This leads to some problems.  But here's the deal: I learned enough computer science to be dangerous to myself, and, of course, to make myself useful TO MYSELF.  I took an electronic engineering course in summer school in 1982: Computer Architechture.  That was an amazing course.  We did some trivial programming in Assembly Language and learned the basics of what a computer it, on the hardware level.  I also took a Math course, for fun: Fortran.  The young Graduate STudent who taught the computer architecture course said this to me: you now understand what computers can do, and can make yourself useful in your work.  This is true. 

    In about 1986 I had been collecting notes on animal names in several dialects in the E. Caroline Islands, Chuuk and nearby.  I desired to develop a digital database of some kind, and even while working on an island with very rudimentary infrastructure and other resources, I was able to get started thank you to my Mother, who knew about this project and funded a Laptop for my work.  I was working for 11,000 to 14,000 a year, in 1987 dollars.  I learned about the Free Software Foundation through Info World.  Don't ask my why: it was free, I guess.  I had a subscription, and read it from cover to cover.  That was in the halcyon days of snail mail, when letters could take weeks from the US. 

    I needed a programmer's editor.  This is the first tool I needed, for two reasons: programmer's editors, unlike word processors, did not insert obscure and hidden codes in the files.  They produced ASCII files, where, in a very primitive sense, What You See is What You Get.   So those proprietary behemoths would not do.  But neither did I have the funds or the inside knowledge of what kind of program I needed.  A Linguist at the University of Hawaii, Robert Hsu, sent a demo disk for an editor, and it worked well.  It was MultiEdit, and it would have cost 300.00 to get a full on copy of the program.  That was more than half of my bi-weekly take home pay!  I needed the facility to enter simple diacritics over vowels.  (Even today, in 2017, it is not trivial to do so in this browser, and I won't try).   As nice as that program seemed, to get the manual to learn how to do this would require the purchase of a license. 

    In InfoWorld on week, about 6 or 8 pages in, was a small article about the Free Software Foundation.  Knowing nothing about their work, seeing the name nevertheless conjured up visions: was it possible that I could get a programmer's editor, of some description, from the FSF?  I wrote a letter. 

    Some time later, I received a small box with, IIRC, 13 disks, those 3-1/2" disks in plastic that were used in that time, with software of various kinds from the Free Software Foundation, developed by the GNU Project.  This insignificant looking little package was life-changing for me.  And, even today, I still am confounded when I realize that the Free Software Foundation gave me for free the tools to do what I needed to do, without so much as a request for a donation.  The "learning curve" was substantial.  But every thing I needed to do was possible with these tools, and the subsequent tools that were available as Free Software. 

    Notice I did not say Open Source Software.  That idea came later.  To be sure, Free Software source code is open.  Right now is not the time to reiterate the details or history of the Free Software Movement: for that, please follow this link for a bit of history about the GNU Computing System.

    The software in that box many programs that were especially compiled for the Windows Operating System.  The most important was Emacs.  I use Emacs to this day.  Also included were a number of utilities for manipulating text files.  I was thrilled!   A superior sort program for sorting my data; the program gptx, grep, find: all of these were crucially useful.  And these are but a few. 

    Over the months and years to come I relied upon this software to generate the data files.  Through the suggestion of Robert Hsu and other linguists from UH, I learned of the Band Format to generate free form data bases.  Over time, I came to use TeX and LaTeX to generate publishable output.  These were and are ALL Free Software: Free as in Liberty, in that I can use them without violating any copyright or patents; and usually Free in terms of money as well.  My work was truly enabled by this gift from the Free Software Foundation.

    From the start, these tools were not easy to use, but unlike almost all proprietary software I have used, I could use the full horsepower, not some limited powers as dumbed down by the developers. 

    I started receiving the GNUS Bull, a periodical newsletter from the FSF.  This was early on.  At some point, perhaps in 1992 or 1993, the GNUS Bull printed an article about free UNIX-like operating systems: FreeBSD and Linux.  Some time after, I travelled to Guam for medical reasons.  While I was there, I made arrangements to download several disks for the Slackware Linux distribution.  This was the beginning of a long dependence upon Free Software.

    Immediately, my computer was faster.  Multitasking was a real process, not a faux multitasking as on Windows 3.0. or 3.1, where multiple tasks could be queued up, but only one at a time could use the CPU.  

    Over the years I have tried to explain my preference and  reliance on Free Software to my friends and associates.   I am saddened looking back, to realize that few if any of my friends took this seriously.   I am saddened that I have not been able to share the tools that changed my life.   Often I have been met with derision, as the butt ofa  joke, for not being more open minded to the expensive software tools that often were provided by the schools I worked for.  Software companies worked very hard to engage schools with their proprietary systems.  It was a matter of prestige for School Districts in Micronesia, where money was scarce, and millions of dollars could have been saved... 

    The tools are much better, from my perspective.  Perhaps I failed in not teaching computer literacy or computer science.  I did engage a numbe rof students, like one on Saipan, who learned to install Linux on some out of date systems we were able to scrounge, or on new computers we built to showcase the concept of saving money through use of Free Software. 

    So my toolkit includes less glamorous programs than those of many of my colleagues and friends.  But as time has progressed, some of the great Free programs have come into greater use. 

    I now want to mention a few more recen ttools that I have found useful.  These tools are not mainstream advance wave programs.  Their utility is great, in many ways exceeding the facility of fancier GUI tools. 


    Purportedly a vim-based file manager, this text based utility is extremely useful.  Potentially: IF I can sort the wheat from the chaff.  Today, I managed to delete many files in one fell swoop by not understanding the usage.  I don't know whether this was my fault.  The good side: I don't even remember what files I lost: good, because I don't have to worry about it.

    Silver Searcher 

    A grep replacement I think that works better than almost anything else I've found to search my extensive org-mode main folder.  


    I think an even better silver searcher than Ag. 

    i3 Tiling Window Manager

    This is the first tiling WM that I have been able to get my head 1/2 way around.  The bad part is I haven't yet understood what it is I cannot do.  


    My goto Window Manager when other experiments lead down rabbitholes or blind alleys.  GNOME 3 is extremely interesting except for that it is, for me, almost unuseable.  That's bizaare.  Issues:

    I need a menu.

    Why the heck do I need to push the mouse to the upper left edge of the display to make the desktop switcher images appear on the right?!  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tide graph experiment: seeking a colorblind friendly palette

This is a first try.  I am working on a graph of height of tide as a function of (x) clock time.

This time, I have used the "Juxtapose" web tool to compare a graph (work in progress) with a simulation in The Gimp of what this image would or might look like to a person who is somewhat  colorblind with Deuteranomaly (apparently weak green vision).  For this simulation I have used the Color Vision Deficiency python plugin for the Gimp.
We can be pretty sure that these figures do not look like this to colorblind people; but I can see that my intense, contrasting color palette does not work to discriminate the different lines for persons with color deficient vision.

The color deficit is Deuteranomaly weak green. Pull the slider to the right to see the original image; slide to the left to see the simulation of what we may think a person with this deficit in color vision might see.
Scroll further down to see another type of colorblindness.
The objective will be to produce colorblind-friendly graphs. I found this on the blog of the website with the slider maker:

  2.  Chroma
  3. Checking: other ways to visualize/simulate your work
                  [Depends on Java 6, not officially supported by Arch]

Monday, May 15, 2017

My most useful applications



Photo Management

 My criteria

  1. Quickly sorting photos
  2. Tagging is quick and flexible
  3. Tags and comments saved to file metadata
  4. Basic cropping and renaming simple and easy
  5. Opens from File manager
  6. Printing (Gthumbs is nominally best so far: prints multiple marked photos on a sheet)
  7. Does not save in a non-standard way, or to some bizaare kind of database; uses file system paradigm; photos are saved as files that are easily copyable; files and storage paradigm are accessible from other photo management, etc., software

Photo Mgmt Packages I am evaluating

  1. XnView: seems at first glance to do most of the above
  2. GThumb lacks some functiionality, but best for printing several photos to one sheet.
  3. nomacs: lots of bells, seems quck, interesting
  4. NOT Apple products
  5. Geeqie:
  6. Ristretto (xfce4) 
  7. Viewnior

File Management

  1. Files:  Standard Gnome FM (was Nautilus)
  2. Caja: Does dual pane; works well with Dropbox; not shown on other menus
  3. PCManFM: has advantages, don't remember what
  4. Thunar: (xfce4) seems mature, cool icon, many tweaks available
  5. Dolphin: Does dual pane
  6. Ranger: quick and interesting, but vim bindings
  7. Emacs dired still is the goto for general wandering
  8. MC

 Photo and Graphics Editing and viewing

  1. The Gimp
  2. Inkscape
  3. Gv for postscript

My Toolbox

Many of these are reason enough to stay with Arch Linux.  It's a bit hairy in Ubuntu---without even getting into thoughts about the philosophy of the distro--to keep all of these up to date
  1. cb2Bib: Bibtex refernce management a la extraordinaire
  2. gri: graphing
  3. Xtide
  4. Xephem
  5. TexLive (This can be installed from Arch AUR; upstream for other distros)
  6. xfce4 Terminal and Konsole both allow random background colors for new windows.  I want more control, but it helps alot. 
  7. dictd and whatever possible dictionaries.  Ubuntu/Debian gives the most complete selection of dictionaries.  

Window Managers etc

  1. Gnome is ok, too much overhead, oversimplified.
  2. KDE is hell, but has many of the best apps (highest overhead).  some apprent incompatibilities, on Gentoo, updates always were mangled when trying to update libraries for KDE that conflicted with other software in various ways.  
  3. XFCE4: simple and fast, works ok
  4. i3: Attractive, and gaps may be even better

Browsers and other Internet tools

  1. Firefox: still too heavy and cumbersome.
  2. Google Earth 
  3. Dropbox
  4. Transmission
  5. Conkeror (nice (emacs key bindings). 


  1. Top
  2. Htop w/ temperature sensor patch
  3. psensors
  4. some applets or indicators
  5. GParted
  6. pavucontrol / alsamixer 
  7. NetworkManager / nm-applet or whatever
  8. Youart rocks!  I also install Packer.  
  9. Orage Calendar
  10. evince 
  11. okular is excellent for many purposes for PDFs, but I've encounted issues, maybe with printing?  In 2017, Evince (Document Viewer) is working fine.
  12. Some random AUR gui tool

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Progress report on The Beast

A short note about the OS. 

I have settled on Arch for this machine.  Ubuntu 17.04 has a partition but the new Arch system's boot setup does not give any dual boot access.  That's fine with me for now, and I suppose later this could be solved in any number of ways. 

Boot management on GNU/Linux systems is an arcane field.  For myself, I only ever cared to know enough about it to get a system running.  I hailed GRUB when it first appeared, as it seemed a human readable/writable form.  But soon the wizards towed it into the wood of obfuscation; it was not longer a pleasure to use.  With UEFI, I, at least, faced just one more unmanageable layer of intractability.  Arch required to fiddle with boot managers, GRUB 2 in particular; for me, the confusion often left me grabbing for Ubuntu or other distros that are easy to set up. 

There is something to be said for easy to set up.  I can have an Ubuntu system up and running in less than 30 minutes, with the new speedy machine I did it in maybe 5.  To install the core of my software needs would take part of a day, and to get it polished often took longer.  The cost of Ubuntu, in my terms, was the need to compile several of the more important programs to support my work flow, and generally to remember them and keep them up to date.  It was and is a pleasure to just go to work.

Arch Linux, once installed, is ideal: almost every program I need is available either as one of the large number of blessed programs on the repositories, or as a PKGBUILD on AUR, the Arch User Repository.  A PKGBUILD is a script to download the upstream source code, build the object, and install it.  It is easily maintained, for example using yaourt.  Maybe I've just been lucky: almost every program I wish to try is on AUR.  At last count I think this was around 44000.  Debian stable may have more in terms of numbers, but it doesn't have some of the packages I need.  PPAs exist for a few, but they easily go out of date.  I can easily edit a PKGBUILD to use newer versions as they become available. 


This time around I resolved to install Arch, and I had a few hours to do it.  In the long run it would save time.  Less fiddling.  I watched a youtube video on installing Arch in 10 minutes, and learned about a new boot manager: bootctl.  Without going into detail, this method pretty much worked for me, to get Arch installed in a very short time.  I'm not going to go into detail.  I did have to work some wrinkles out, but the instructions on the Arch Wiki and perhaps other sites were straightforward.

The Arch Way

I don't know whether anyone will read this, but I want to comment on the arrogance of Arch forum rats about "the Arch Way."  Debian's mailing list used to be the gold standard for trashing noobies.  Gentoo developers were much more helpful and tolerant, and the docs were perfection, and have never been equalled in over 10 years.  Responders on Arch forums and perhaps mailing lists are unforgiving with noobies who want to take shortcuts to install Arch.  It's a big deal.  Arch devs will not produce a liveCD installation.  There are a number of alternate approaches, and I've tried many ---because of my grubophobia, and, truth be told, the problems of UEFI/EFI, and actually some confusion---now, I think, at least partly resolved in the Arch installation tutorials about how to mount the EFI partition. 

In the past I have successfully used Antergos, and converted to pure Arch; the last time I tried, this was no longer useful.  I installed Arch on an iMac using "archanywhere," a script, but it has failed on my laptop.  For me.   Some other approaches did not work.  Once in a while, I was actually able to install Arch using the Arch Way.  More recently, I installed Manjaro i3 edition on my laptop.  It's a beautiful system.  Easy to install.  But it does something almost criminal to capture the system boot process, so that other installs often fail to install their own GRUB, but install through Manjaros.  I was able to convert using a 10 step process (provided by Mr. Google) to Arch.  But the conversion was partly abortive: new kernels never got properly set up, during the frequent installed. 

What I want to say about the Arch Way is this: contrary to the claims of the Arch Way adherents, installing in the Arch Way, using the command line, does not teach much about the inner workings of the system: at least anymore.  Gentoo installs, almost impossible on ordinary hardware in my opinion, do teach a lot.  Linux From Scratch does.  Arch uses faily complex scripts to do most of the heavy lifting.  I was surprized how easy the installation was.  It's getting "better."  I am, in some sense, though, an interloper, and I have never contributed a PKGBUILD.  Perhaps I will do so soon: I wish to install more dictionaries for dictd.  Debian has many more, and I have more or less a recipe for doing this when I have time to sit down an focus on it.

Hardware notes

I'm not going to get into much detail about this.

  1. NVMe storage is not operating at full speed, but it is very fast.  
  2. Scrolling and moving the mouse leave a trace in the audio: speakers exhibit a background buzz/hum, not so bad though.  Ideas I've seen (this is an FAQ online): PSU (Corsair CX650 Bronze) or inteference with the integrated audio.  Logitech wifi mouse.
  3. temperatures are very cool: I see CPU maxes of 59C, and the corse are running at 26/27C as I type.  I feel not heat at any time when I put my hand on the box.  psensor is great for monitoring temps.  Htop has a version on Arch already with patches to display temperature on the front page.
  4. Good choice department: The Ultrastar 6.0Gb/s 64MB Cache 2TB 7200RPM drive is pretty fast for an HDD.  
  5. This case has no provision for an Optical Drive.  Trolls online make comments that they are no longer a thing in the new age, but I disagree.  The brackets for HDD and SSDs are something new, and cables provided wth the MB and PSU do not make it easy to access them.
  6.  The Motherboard seems to operate well with GNU/Linux.  The UEFI BIOS is nice to work with.  It would be great if the utilities were available for GNU/Linux.  [C was developed for cross platform compatibility, but Micro$oft did everything possible to end around standardization.  Apple comes closer with an embrace of the Unix idea, but builds kinks into the little bits, to make them difficult or impossible to use outside the Apple infrastructure.  One shudders to think what has been the cost to the global economy of this proprietary locking of technology.  Apple put some nice pieces on CUPS, developed in the Free World, bought CUPS, and does not give back to the free world upon which their implementation is based. ]
  7. The logitech wifi mouse does not work well even three feet away from the receiver, probably due to interference.  When a USB drive was plugged in, this was expecially noticeable.  Perhaps I need to clean up the wiring, untie some lines to avoid crosstalk?  (what do I know).
  8. I use Dropbox.  It is central to being table to set up a new machine quickly in a familiar way.  Most of my ongoing work is on the Dropbox, so once it's installed, I am right at home.  It doesn't take so long to get a machine or a new linux install going, with Arch.  I need to collect a list of all installed package as I was wont to do with Ubuntu/Debian some years ago.  
  9. KUDOs to Arch devs, who do amazing work.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

New Pure Linux Computer

I am too stoked about the result of this project to spend much time writing about it. This will be brief.

I have assembled a machine that is blazing fast, due to a trifecta of parts:

  1. A super fast CPU: i7-7700K 
  2. A futuristic Storage device: Samsung 960 EVO NVMe 500GB
  3. Moderately fast DDR4 RAM: 16 GB of 3000MHz Corsair Vengeance 
Also included are
  1. a GTX 1050 4GB Graphics Processor
  2. An ASRock Z270 Killer SLI/ac Motherboard
  3. A Refurbished 2TB Hitachi Ultrastar 6.0 SATA with 64MB of cache

The ASRock Motherboard was not going to be my first choice.  It has basic features (believe it or not) compared to some others.  It does have integtrated Intel Wifi and Bluetooth adaptors and an Intel integrated HD Graphics adaptor.
What was nice, the Graphics and the Wifi worked out of the box with Ubuntu GNU/Linux.  That was nice.  There remains a bit of wonderment about flashing red LEDs.  These have much been written about.  Perhaps they are the glitz?


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Recanting about OS X

OS X is pretty slick, but I have (for the most part) returned to the fold of Free Software.  Nobody will remember when one of the political factions in the Philippine Islands scattered metal spike balls around on the streets of Manila along a parade route, to flatten tires.  This was an incident where general harm was done to make a point against a specific faction or perhaps the state of the system. 

OS X.  Apple has scattered little spike balls around to prevent cooperation from taking place, and rewriting hallowed Unix / GNU/Linux tools to disallow cooperation. 

Emacs: of the several versions I have not been able to sort them out. 

I have to say, though, that in OS X's any differences between  shell keybindings and emacs keybindings have been pretty well resolved, far better than in GNU/Linux distros I have used.  I can setup for emacs keybindings in Gnome or XFCE, but some of the bindings (Ctrl-K) do not work.   How emacs works is more important to me than any window manager shortcuts.  I call them emacs keybindings, but I think there is more to it than this.  ARe these actually original bindings from Unix? 

OS X has some brilliance, but I am disappointed in the hardware.  SD cards are a mess, and the slot is inconveniently placed in my 27" iMac.  In fact, their configuration leads the sd card to scrape against the rough aluminum edges.  Several USB flash drives are not working well with OS X.  Linux smoothly allows me to read them and write to them even when not properly unmounted.  This is software though.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Off Topic: Emacs and OS X: Confession of a partial convert

I have crossed to the Dark Side.  I have for work a well-abused MacBook Pro, purchased an iMac, and have traded my Android Phone for an iPhone.   Pangs of Conscience: Yes!  I have them.  There is much that works right, though.

So this is a confession, then, of sourts.  It is also an opportunity to take a somewhat unbiased look at OS X and what it gets right.   When I learn to Code, it would be my wish to implement some of these in GNU/Linux.

[This is incomplete, and is unlikely to be completed.]

Philosophical and Moral Issues

Among those things that Apple gets wrong, or that seem wrong

  1. Emacs keybindings are ubiquitous on the desktop (good and bad!), but keybindings in Emacs are difficult.  Partly because of the odd Command/Option/Ctl/Fn suite of keys, which seems actually to be useful once it is made a little sense of.
  2. It's all about paywalls and keeping the competition out of the garden.  My new iPhone took almost 24 hours to get working, due primarily to the oddball Apple ID system, as well as my password cluelessness.
  3. Starting out from a Unix base, the Directory Structure and permissions area is hard to get one's head around.  Recent changes include changes in root access permissions at some level that seems inconsistent with the Unix Philosophy (as I poorly understand that)
  4. It's all about Consumerism
  5. Let's build a system that uses all kinds of new gadgets and doesn't allow people to use the means and materials they are used to, and charge a Gazillion 
  6. Good and Bad: I can install many tools more or less painlessly from the MacPorts collection and MacBrew.  More below.
  7. Apple's GUI is hard for me to understand.  The filesystem layout is very particular and unique to Apple's implementation of Unix, with lots of hooks to make it harder to get along with. 


Installing "Unofficial" Software.

One of the annoying aspects of Apple's business model is the word "Official" and whatever other synonyms have evolved or been cloned into existence.  Another permutation of the Window$ conceptual construct.  Apple's "App Store" only sanctions certain software officially.  The infrastructure has again, in 2015, been tightened up to make the hegemony even more exclusive.  Several groups have arisen to make it easier to install from source code and binary packages, to note: MacPorts and MacBrew.  

It was certainly not the intention of the two camps (or their predecessors and less dominant brethren) to extend the talon like  grip of Apple even further over the installation of non-compliant software.  Then what has happened to cause the two to produce self-proclaimed incompatible systems?  Let's say the idea of Santa Clause giving gifts to children is so good and great that another group, on the South Pole, decided to implement it in another way that is completely incompatible: They eschew the use of a chimney, and come in only through the basement window.  And they place their gifts under the tree so as to block access to each other's packages.  Each child must declare his allegiance with one of the Winter Superhero groups by placing either Cookies and Milk---for Santa Clause---or a South Pole Official Gift Card loaded with a minimum of 25$, for the South Pole cult.

 This is something like what has happened (but of course, it was Apple itself, the manufacturer of the sleighs, who implemented the gift card system.   How nice.  Now the kids with cell phones have their phones seeded with credit card numbers.  Wow!  

 Back to the two systems.  

This is soooo very  bizarre: These two camps (actually, at least two more exist, including "fink" that seem out-dated in 2015) exist with (so each complains of the other) mutually exclusive systems for installing unofficial software over OS X.  I recognize a plethora of software from my years of using GNU/Linux.  The systems work---especially MacPorts---like Gentoo or Arch Linux, and, in reality, those two draw their inspiration from Unixes Ports system for installing software from Source Code.   

I will use Emacs as an example, and it's a very strange story indeed.


I am a die hard Emacs fan.  Emacs is the Self Extensible text editor, the flagship of the Free Software movement, one of the earlier contributions of the much maligned and much loved Richard Stallman.  Many years ago---in about 1992, the FSF responded to my appeal for help to get "free software" to support my animal names lexicon project in Chuuk, by sending over a dozen disks (if my memory serves correctly) of free software, including Demacs, a port of Emacs to the Windoze Non-Operating System, and a large number of Unix Utilities, in particular text-processing utilities that, I have learned, are some of the most incredible EVER.  

 TMALSS I adopted Emacs, and never looked back.  So when I bought this Apple iMac, my first action was to investigate the installation of Emacs, which I knew was possible, because I have used Emacs on other OS X computers.  This is why:

 Emacs is actually installed on every OS X installation.

 This is why, but not how, and it is not the end of this story.

I am a self stated distro jumper.  In search of the perfect GNU/Linux system I have installed quite a number of Linux Distributions.  Here's a bitter pill to swallow:

Emacs is not found on any of the GNU/Linux distros that I have tried, out of the box.   It is found installed out of the box on OS X computers.  

Some other facts

    1.  Emacs keybindings are found all through OS X.  Believe it or not!
    2. Emacs Keybindings are not found on GNU/Linux distros, except in some cases, on a program by program basis.
    On OS X there are a plethora of Emacs versions and builds available.  I have gotten Emacs to work on two computers, but doe to the obscene incompatibility situation, I have not been able to find a single best package to install.  There are at least three.  The Emacs onboard, while usable, is console only, and it is an older version.  I will not take the time to research and enumerate the various possibilities.

Things OS X gets Right 


    1. Spotlight Search 
    2. The Finder is awesome
    3. Emacs Keybindings are ubiquitous
    4. Emacs is installed by default
    5. Interoperability and smooth integration is good.  The downsides include a bunch of little dot files scattered around the system, and the complexity of installing a program so that OS X identifies it and works with it. 
    6. CUPS (Stolen for money from Free Software/Open Source Community, and cleaned up nicely)
    7. Smart folders.  Persistent searches saved as folders.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

XFCE4 vs E17

All I can offer is some notes on this subject.

Enlightenment 17

Enlightenment 17 is more mature, and, on Fedora, it runs pretty well.   On every distro I have tried so far, it fails the first run, but, for now, seems swell.  Not as pretty as it once was, and I am lazy to install eye-candy.  But a couple of things are nice.

On my laptop, using full speed on the i3 core dual, 2.4GHz, E17 is spiffy.  At the slowest speed of 933 MHZ, not so much.

I notice a sheen of weirdness on a blank background, always have.  Something is different about E17 at the lowest levels of graphics.

I am pleased that the CPU Frequency widget is visually / functionally awesome: it looks nice; cpu frequency is directly configurable without any extra setup.  Nice!!!  

E18 is in the pipeline, I see.


I am using Fedora, and I have Gnome, XFCE4, E17 installed, that I have seriously attemped to use.  Gnome is too slow for this machine, and it's more cumbersome and enmiring to try to set it up the way I like.  I haven't found a CPU frequency monitor that works.  Jupiter is awesome, though, as a secular client for manipulating power/frequency settings.

I use Jupiter for XFCE4, because the xfce4 cpu frequency applet does not do it's job---or I don't understand something about it.  Jupiter is great, though.

XFCE4 is quick and light, and easy to use.  It's very simple to get nice effects, the panels are easy to set up.  Panels are what does it for me.  Unity drove me away from Gnome, and while I have been able to get somewhat used to Unity, XFCE4 has it all working the way I like, with little intervention.   KDE has more and fancier looking features that seem nice, but I cannot get through more than one or two sessions with KDE before turning away---usually for XFCE.

I have to install the orage clock to get a calendar that opens when clicking the clock.  

OpenBox, too is light, quick, and simple

I have almost gone over to OpenBox a couple of times.  With the cairo dock, it is useable, and quick.  



I would like to have more control over the window decorations of XFCE or E17, but they work ok.  I like the big red "X" button that apparently came from the darkness of Redmond.  I need the active window title bar to change color.

The frame in KDE4 that acts as a "desktop" to display a picture or a few icons would be welcome anywhere, on any window manager (or whatever you call them).

Why does every one of these desktop managers have to design their own File manager, and use some off the wall browser, etc.

Why is emacs not installed by default on most GNU/Linux distros?

What do you call the excellent file chooser in Dolphin and other KDE apps that scrolls the list across instead of down in one long list.  With this horizontal scrolling, I can read even the last file in a long list MUCH more quickly than the Nautilus-style (or whatever that is called).  Is there a way to compile in this kind of feature into other software of my own liking?   

My Defaults: My ways of doing stuff

  • File manager :: Dolphin (see above)
  • Editor :: Emacs is the first program I install anywhere.  
  • Music player :: Clementine works well; I'll try using VLC
  • Video player :: VLC is the best video player
  • Terminal  :: Terminator is good, but there are some wraparound issues when using nice prompts.
  • Top is great.  The very first time I started up a GNU/Linux system---slackware, I think---a terminal opened.  I  thought, what should I type?  FOr some odd reason, I typed "top" and magically, all running processes were shown in a cool format.  I still haven't learned all the byways and highways of using Top.  It has to be my totem though.  I will rename my blog after Top, maybe.
  • Independent panel :: The pomological lookalike "Cairo Dock is awesome"
  • Personal Magnet  :: Orgmode over emacs is amazing.  Outliner. miscellaneous agenda, capturing notes on the fly in various categories (I used to use Steno.el, on Emacs).
  • Email :: I just use emacs to write email when I think of it.  Love it.  Gmail on the browser isn't quite there, due to limitations of keybindings.  
  • Addressbook :: BBDB is great, over emacs.   I use a custom file to save the database, on a git-controlled work area that is replicatable from home directory to home directory, for my different experimental users.  Emacs mail picks up and completes addresses in this database.
  • PDF Viewer :: Okular (KDE) prints nicely.  Works find with editable PDFs.  Allows saving notes/annotations.
  • Photo Management :: Shotwell (uploads well) and Digikam (other stuff).  Neither of them is perfect. 
  • Photo Viewer :: gthumbs is the best for printing photos, from my experience.
  • Scanning :: gscan2pdf is good in most cases for generating a pdf directly.  In the "old days," tesseract made for good conversions from a scanned image to text.   Anymore, this program seems to prefer to just convert to text to underlay under a pdf page to enable searchable pdf files.  That's not my work flow.   "simplescan" works ok, not as configurable; fast to use.   Xsane is a great all around scanning tool
  • OCR  :: Tesseract works well, and used to do so with gscan2pdf.
  • Web Browsers: Firefox is the old workhorse; Chrome is great also; Dillo is the lightning fast browser good as a document reader (for XEphem, for example).
  • XEphem is a great ephemeris
  • Xtide works great
  • Plotting :: Gri is the best, nice when used with Emacs Gri-mode. Gnuplot is often useful.  There seem to be many new plotting graphing programs in recent years.
  • Underexploited toys: R
  • TeX :: TeXLive.  Fedora is up to date, as is Archlinux.  Ubuntu lagged behind.
  • LaTeX authoring ::  Auctex on Emacs 24.  For correspondence and a plethora of other documents. 
  • Processing text into a pdf file :: Org-mode and LaTeX
  • References :: cb2Bib; Emacs bibtex-mode; other little utilities.  Not to mention Google Scholar
  • Mixer :: Pulse audio has a good mixer.   Alsamixergui (sometimes under other names).
  • Audio :: Don't ask me.  I go with the flow. 


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fedora for now

Emacs "support" in various distros

How a GNU/Linux distribution handles Emacs is the most important criterion, from my perspective.  This has not always been the case, because ALL GNU/Linux distributions have historically handled Emacs ok.  Some distros stand out, each for its own reasons.  Often I have complied from scratch, especially for Ubuntu, when that was an important distro for me; I liked the "snapshots".  Gentoo worked well, though I cannot remember what I particularly liked about they way it handled Emacs; it did have multiple versions.  Arch Linux has the most up-to-date version all the time.

For a number of months, I have experienced odd crashes in Emacs, and I cannot say why.  In the end, I switched distros.  Sometimes, switching Desktops seemed to make a difference.  The issue was random crashes, with no easily discernable (by me) cause (like a particular keystroke, or mouse gesture.)

In the past year, I have installed Debian, several Ubuntus and Mints, Manjaro, Mageia, Bodhi, Slackware, Korora, Elive...

In the past month I have installed several distros, and tried them in earnest, including  two distros I have not used before, at least much: Fedora (which I had installed and been put off by); and openSUSE (toward which I nurtured a great aversion, as SUSE seemed soft on Micro$oft.)   I have been using ArchLinux for pretty much everything, except a few flirtations with other distros; I've been pretty happy with it.

Many of these excursions have focused on trying to find the best Emacs distro, and more and more, of late, this has been driven by a certain seeming incompatibility with the GUI.  Emacs would crash, as described above.  I needed to find a distro that supported Emacs absolutely well.

Who knows, maybe there is something wrong with my HP g6 Pavilion laptop?  But I have persisted in jumping from distro to distro, looking for the best platform.  I posted on an Emacs mailing list, and got a range of answers.  I have never gotten even close to an understanding of what the problem has been, perhaps because I am not much good at troubleshooting at that level.

Google Earth Compatibility issues on GNU/Linux

Recently, I had been contemplating a move to South Dakota.  I needed to do research.  Google Earth is the authoritative such software, and I've been having problems with Googlearth on most all distros I have tried.  I installed Korora, because it comes with GoogleEarth bundles in the install image.  But something about Korara didn't set right with me, I"m uncertain what.

The bottom line here: I recently posted how much I like Sabayon, because it was the first distro (outside of Korora) that has run GoogleEarth almost flawlessly; yet I am now using Fedora, because of an issue with Emacs. Since I am able to run GoogleEarth, after following instructions to edit the RPM somehow, and Emacs is running well, I am staying with Fedora for now.

I am certain I will not be running Fedora in a year, but this might not be the case.  It seems pretty solid.  I am learning to administer the system ok (yum and rpm).

Why?  While Fedora is far from perfect, it gives me longlasting peace with both GE and Emacs.   (if you consider a few days "long lasting" far, so good)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sabayon Linux: Awesome [MOSTLY: (REVISED)]

[Sabayon has since been abandoned, after a bad experience with EmacsEmacs choked on a file I have to be able to edit, apparently due to an issue of text  coding.  This only became apparent when I booted Fedora 20 to attempt to edit the same file---and a message appeared about the three characters involved.  Since then I have not had this problem.  I have also been able to configure GoogleEarth 7 to run almost 100% reliably on Fedora.  (By hook or by crook.)---December 11, AED]

I woke up on a recent morning with the revelation about my linux distro-hopping: Gentoo has been the best ever since I first tried it---except for a few points.  For one, the constant updating / upgrading cycle.  My laptop---an HP Pavilion g6, 2.4 GHz faux quad core Intel i3, with Intel graphics and a depressing keyboard---has been a pretty much faithful companion for 2-1/2 years.  If not a jackrabbit, it's speed is manageable if I don't try to bog it down with Gnome.  KDE is even almost tolerable.

I've been running Arch Linux,. which I like quite a lot, installed from Antergos.  Like the perfect seasoning, Antergos stays out of the way of the most important flavors---it is an amazing way to install Archlinux, which has been difficult, at least for me.  This may not be so much the case anymore.   Antergos is the (forgive the metaphor) the Knoppix of the Archlinux world.

However, my Archlinux laptop is not able to run Googleearth reliably.  I like Google Earth alot, and I want and need it now, as I explore a possible move to another part of the country.   Therefore, I have spent massive amounts of energy and time distro-hopping.  Every distro I have tried has had some deficiency that caused me to walk away, even if it ran Google Earch ok (Korara ran it fine, for example.  I don't know why I quit Korara).   I kept running back to Archlinux, perfect for me in many respects.

What drove to toward Archlinux is it's roots in Gentoo.

What drove me away from Gentoo was the long compile times of packages.  Probably if I were not installing a dozen desktops, and programs from every desktop manager library (gnome, qt, e17, etc.) I would not have so many recompiles at every update.  Recently Gentoo has been, in one respect, a shadow of its former self: the documentation was the pinnacle of GNU/Linux documentation of a time, about 5-6 years ago.  I am not the only one with this opinion.  Recently Gentoo Linux has suffered from political aspirations of some, as Danial Robbins, who made Gentoo at the beginning, and was the genius that kept it running well, ran away to M$, for unknown reasons.  He's back, with Funtoo, which is pretty stable, and I recently enjoyed running that setup.   But, once again, the long compile times on my measly system, and---as stable as Funtoo was---eventually my tendency to mix libraries seems to have gotten the best of me.  It starts with long compiles of libkde and qt, almost everytime.  And, let's face it, I am not the hacker that many users of Gentoo are, and while I can solve problems by a brute force reasoned approach, I have to cut and paste and google to keep things running.

My Revelation: Wasn't Sabayon a binary version of Gentoo?   Maybe I could run Sabayon Linux, and avoid the long compile times.  And get the goodness at the same time.  Maybe the fine points of Gentoo weren't for me, but it was always the most stable.  Absolutely.  Incontrovertably.  The best.

So, guess what!?  I downloaded the most recent Sabayon 64 bit DVD image, copied it by using dd to my Flash Drive, and booted it.  People talk about the beauty of Sabayon, and it's tru, it's really pretty.  But I am running the XFCE4 desktop, to keep the speed and mass to acceptable levels.

And Googleearth runs fine.  It's included in the repo.  As I type, I am copying over my important files from the home directory of my Arch/Antergos system.  Another positive about using a separate /home partition.  Mine is now almost 200GB, and has home directories for a dozen or 15 different installs.  I think I could use the same /home directory for all the different installs, but back in the early days of Ubuntu, when Goliath walked the Earth oblivious of the damage, I had lost large partitions and home directories due to Ubuntu's sloppy installation mechanism.  To be brief, at times when I tried to use the same user name on a second Ubuntu install, the data of the user, from the previous install, disappeared.

Anymore, that problem hasn't bothered me, because I use a different user name each time I install a new GNU/Linux setup, on the same, somewhat generous, /home partition.  Then, when I am "Joe" on my new system, I set my UserID number as 1010, so I have automatic access to all the home directories I have used this UID on.  Including my old /home/hawkeye directory.  It is short work to either cp or mv files to my new directory, or back again.

While I am at it, I should mention my ~/WORKBENCH subdirectory.  Almost all of my work, ongoing whatever, important files, is located in this directory.  I use git to clone copies of this directory to a flash drive.  If these are up to date, I don't even have to copy this directory to my new /home/Joe/WORKBENCH: I just use git and clone it from the flash drive.  Having the Same Group and User ID of 1010 makes it easy, from the standpoint of git.   It's time to weed out this directory, however, as it's gotten too big to clone.

Things seem to be moving in a good direction. Sabayon is stable enough that the googleearth 7 version from the repo works well (well, except panoramio images don't display, but this is a long standing problem for other distros as well); emacs is up to date and easy to install.

The huge collection of almost all available Free Software applications I need is a huge advantage for me. Most distros pick and choose.  Archlinux is missing some utilities I need.  Fedora likewise.  openSUSE is crazy, and not to my taste---not to mention I have been avoiding it since the Microsoft leaning tendencies of SUSE came to light a few years ago.   Hardly any distros seem to have cb2bib---Sabayon does.

Why don't most mainstream distros ship with Emacs installed?

Just asking.

4 December 2013
Oakland, CA



What was it said "everything has something"?   After a couple of days, I got stuck on Sabayon, and cleaned up the install of Fedora 20, catching it up (I think) with the Beta edition recently released.  I am not a Fedora guy, up to now.  One of the Parents at WIlliam's school has had good success with it.  I'll try it.  (I am also preparing to try gNewSense in the near future).

So here was the problem I couldn't fiture out how to recover from, and a few further notes about the experience with Sabayon.

After a few hours, I had already added various libraries and software, and made some tweaks.  By this time, I had some erratic behavior from GoogleEarth.   Once it is running, it seems to be solid.  But in about 3 out of 10 starts, it fails.   That's no biggie.  The next one *is*.

Emacs.  I started editing my tide graph programs.  Emacs choked on these files.  This has NEVER happened, and I edit these several times a week.  I think I finally have a clue, but I tried a lot of things:

  1. Reinstalled Sabayon.  No change.
  2. Reinstalled emacs twice.  No change.
  3. I tried to edit other files, no problem.  
Then, I tried Fedora.  It's a pretty smooth piece of work.  No problem, with the files in question.  But the file in question elicited a response from emacs in Fedora that was not in evidence in Sabayon: emacs posted a warning of sorts about three different characters in the file that were not recognized.

Now I'm not a font guru.  I do not get it about encoding, but can follow instructions.  I think this is a matter of a character being out of character.  I will check another time,  so maybe Sabayon can be saved.

I also did have to compile a couple of programs by hand.  That's no unusual, but more of them: xtide and gri in particular.   This seems to be evidence of an understandable lack of comprehensive coverage of software by a smaller team.

I also have a sneaky feeling that there is more handwork required in Sabayon, which is ok, if I have time.  

Monday, June 8, 2009

Noteworthy Emacs command: dired-do-async-shell-command

Keybinding: "&".

Just what I needed. I needed to open a *.dvi file from dired, and open the LaTeX source file while looking at the formatted text.


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