Category Archives: Desktop

Freedom to tinker

Talking about the way in which his embrace of Free Software has changed his attitude to computers, Bruce Byfield reaches a conclusion that rings very true for me.

All unknowing, I had wandered into the world of do-it-yourself. Originating in small groups of hobbyists who had few resources except themselves, free software naturally required more independence of its users. Far from discouraging users from tinkering, free software actually encouraged it with text configuration files and scripting so simple that it could be learned without taking classes. Because there were so many choices, it encouraged me to explore so I could make informed decisions. Just as importantly, because free software was a minority preference, the necessary compatibility with proprietary operating system sometimes required considerable ingenuity.

As a result of these expectations, I gradually lost my learned helplessness. I can’t say exactly when I shed the last of my conditioning, but after a couple of years, I realized that a major shift in my thinking had occurred. I still didn’t — and still don’t know everything about free software, but I no longer panic when a problem strikes.

Although I was using a number of open source applications before, I didn’t really start to delve into GNU/Linux until early 2007 when I installed Ubuntu on my PC alongside Windows XP. And, over the past ten years I have gone from being excessively cautious to (probably) a bit too casual.

There was never a sudden shift but, the more I have poked around the more I have found — all documented and backed by a helpful community. I have moved from really not wanting to do anything that might cause any sort of problem at all to being willing to break my install, safe in the knowledge that if the worst comes to the worst, I can just reinstall the operating system without even risking my data.

I am far from being able to claim any expertise but the openness and availability of information surrounding Free Software means that for any problem I am generally able to understand what the issue is and find or figure out how to fix it.

And that’s freedom.

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Learning Genie with Project Euler

I searched for Gnome Genie and was attacked by a Gnome Ninja.

I’ve recently started playing around with the Genie programming language. This is a variation of Vala but with a more Pythonesque syntax. And I do like Python.

Genie is a compiled language that uses the Vala compiler to produce C code which then compiles to an executable binary. This means that it has less overhead than programs written in Python and should run faster. This is not always a consideration but it can certainly be useful.

The inevitable Hello World program looks pretty simple:

[indent=4]
init
    print "Hello World"

The only problem I’ve found so far is that there appears to be a dearth of “Teach Yourself Genie” resources, either online or off. This is not helped by some of the results that come up when you search for “Genie” or even “Genie Gnome”.

So I’ve decided to have another crack at Project Euler. I have already solved a fair few of these problems in Python, if I can re-implement the same solutions in Genie I will count myself as having made some progress.

One down, 592 to go.

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Unplugging

Yesterday was Data Protection Day, which seeks to raise awareness and promote privacy and data protection best practices. Data protection and online privacy are issues that I have tended to think about in the abstract. While I am aware that my online data is exposed, I have a hard time motivating myself to do anything serious about it.

However, with the current global direction of travel, I started to think about how much of my data is going through US servers and the obvious first point of concern is Google, particularly Gmail.

Although I have a few email accounts, for the past few years I have been using Gmail as my primary email — and as my email client. The Accounts and Import page make it very easy to set up Gmail to send and receive from all of my email accounts, allowing me to easily synchronise everything across everything. It’s damnably convenient, but a complete disaster from a privacy point of view.

So today I have unplugged every other email account from Gmail. I have also installed and configured Geary on my desktop and started playing around with the default email client on my phone.

It’s not as convenient as letting Google do all the synchronisation for me, but the effort is minimal and it does mean that all of my email is no longer being pushed through the same server.

I haven’t decided whether to keep my Gmail account. It’s handy to have, but not irreplaceable. I shall watch how my email traffic changes over time and decide later. I shall also have to look into calendaring services.

But first, I shall see about scraping the Google Apps off my phone. This should be reasonably straightforward — if all else fails I just need to do a factory reset. But I must remember to take a backup first.

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Quote of the Day: Not All Change is Progress

There’s nothing wrong with helpful new features, but too often those helpful new features come with a price. They require relearning how to do things that you did reliably the day before. And even the most helpful features cease to be helpful if they require me to completely change my existing workflow.

Scott Gilbertson on the Joy of Vim.

With apologies to the Linux Luddites.

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Portable Vim in Powershell

Because I have finally been able to replace my work laptop.

Because I’m allowed to install software on a server, but not on the laptop in front of me.

Because corporate security policies are insane.

Because I need a decent text editor.

Because PortableApps is a lifesaver.

I have talked about getting Vim to work in Powershell in the past, but this time around I need to get the portable version of Vim working in Powershell.

The first step, of course, is to download the PortableApps platform and install gVim. Handily, this brings the Vim binary along with it so you just need to point your Vim alias to this.

This is done by editing your $profile so that the following line is included:

set-alias vim "Path\To\PortableApps\gVimPortable\App\vim\vim80\vim.exe"

Everything else appears to be working as expected, so I can actually get some work done now.

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Switching from LightDM to GDM

Yesterday, when I updated my Antergos box, it pulled down lots of shiny new Gnome stuff. Today, when I booted up my laptop, I discovered that the greeter wasn’t working any more and I couldn’t sign in or get at any of that shiny new Gnome stuff.

I have encountered this issue before and it was caused by the Antergos LightDM greeter theme. The easiest solution, therefore, is to switch to GDM so that I am using all Gnome all of the time.

It’s a painless enough process, but I am recording the steps here so I can easily look up the steps when I need them again.

So…

CTRL-ALT-F2 to get into TTY2

Log in and switch to root. Then…

systemctl stop lightdm
systemctl disable lightdm
pacman -S gdm
systemctl enable gdm
systemctl start gdm

And you’re done.

Update

And I notice today (Friday 14th) that I now have an updated lightdm-webkit2-greeter which probably solves yesterday’s issue. That said, I will stick with GDM for now just to see how things go.

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Prettify XML with Vim

File under quick and dirty, but works for me.

The issue is that I have an utterly unreadable XML file in front of me. Not only is there no indentation, I don’t even have any line breaks.

To format it for readability, first insert line breaks

:%s/></>\r</g

Then load and apply the XML indent file

:set filetype=xml
:filetype indent on

And apply it

gg=G

There are probably better ways of achieving the same end, but as a quick fix, this works for me.

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Managing network drives in Powershell

It used to be, in Windows, that the way to map network drives was with the net use command, but with Powershell this has become a bit easier. I haven’t, however, been able to find a simple overview of the commands and their usage so hopefully this will be of use to someone other than me.

There are three commands (cmdlets in Powershell speak) that you need to know about.

Get-PSDrive

This lists the currently mapped drives and a bit of information about them, most usefully the network path that the drive is mapped to. You can also enter the drive letter as a parameter so that

Get-PSDrive C

Tells you that drive C is mapped to the Windows C: drive. Obvious, really, but more useful if you want to know about other mapped drives.

New-PSDrive

This is the cmdlet that maps drives to to shared folders. If I want, for example, to map my Y drive to folder \sharedfiles on server Server the command would look like this:

New-PSDrive –Name “Y” –PSProvider FileSystem –Root “\\Server\sharedfiles” –Persist

The PSProvider switch tells Powershell what sort of data this drive is accessing. Filesystem, obviously, is the filesystem but you can also map to environment variables and other oddities.

The Root switch is needed so that Powershell understands the path name.

The Persist switch tells Powershell that this mapping is persistent so the mapped drive is available every time you reboot. This switch also causes Powershell to create a mapped network drive in Windows which can be accessed via all the standard Windows tools such as Windows Explorer.

Remove-PSDrive

When you no longer need the mapped drive, you can remove the mapping with this command.

Remove-PSDrive Y

Does exactly what you would expect.

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