Monday, 25 July 2016

Mouse Right Click context menu delay in browser in Mint 17.3 KDE

Recently I noticed that when I tried to right click on  something and use the pop up  menu some odd things were happening.

1 - The menu would not appear until I moved the mouse cursor into the area where the menu should appear.
2 - Once the menu did appear, some menu items did not show the hover selector as the mouse was moved over them
3 - If I held the Right mouse button and moved the mouse, a coloured line (green) was drawn a couple of inches away from the position of the cursor.

But it did not happen all the time.  There seemed to be a random element to it.

I tried a few Google searches using different combinations of words, but got all sorts of other things that were nothing to do with the problem.  Then I realised it was only happening in my Slimjet and some other Chrome based browsers  but not in Firefox or Cyberfox.

I looked at the settings in my computers and found that on one of them I had a setting configured in two browsers that was not configured in the other computer.

In my Slimjet browser I opened Settings then scrolled almost to the bottom and found System.
There are two 'Checkbox' items there.  The second one is 'Use hardware acceleration when available'.
It was not checked on the computer that was behaving well, but it was checked on the problem computer.
I unchecked it, restarted the browser and everything is now perfect.

I have no idea how or why I had enabled hardware acceleration in a browser - but I am writing it here so when I do something that dumb again I will find it easily using Google  :-)

Chromium was fixed more or less the same way and I suppose this should work for most Chrome based browsers.

It is nice to have a fully working context menu again with no lag.  It is possible turning on Hardware Acceleration on some graphics card setting could cause a similar problem, but this fixed the browser menu problem and the whole browser is responding better.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Synaptic and others - Font Size in KDE

Something I had forgotten about is that opening some non KDE programs in a KDE desktop leaves me with tiny fonts that don't seem to respond to changes in 'Fonts' in the KDE Settings menu.

One of the most used programs where this is annoying is Synaptic Package Manager and there are numerous threads about it, not one of which provided a solution that worked.

The problem is most annoying on a High Resolution display so here's what I did for my own screen.

MENU > System Settings > Application Appearance >
Style > QtCurve  (This was suggested as a fix but didn't work on its own.  There's nothing about Fonts in its Configuration option.

Fonts > Force DPI: 150  (96 is the default)
So now this makes all my KDE stuff too big and I choose 'Adjust All Fonts', > Size > and pick something smaller.

Pick a size and check some KDE programs and see the font sizes, then open Synaptic and LibreOffice and check them.

It comes down to a balancing act because LibreOffice and Synaptic use a slightly different method to display.

So far this has been the ONLY simple way I have found to balance the appearance between KDE and soem Non-KDE Programs.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Slimjet Browser won't run - Segmentation Fault

The two web browsers I use most are FlashPeak-Slimjet  (based on Chromium)
and Cyberfox (based on Mozilla).

I use those because they are much faster and better featured for my purposes than Chrome or Firefox, but once in a while they can do strange things,  Like many things in Linux though, the solution is sometimes very simple.

Today Slimjet refused to boot,  When I tried opening it from a terminal it came back with a 'segmentation fault'.  That usually means a corruption in the configuration, and as it happened, the last thing I did before it died was write some weird changes to the program.  But it can happen sometimes when you just change the wrong thing in settings.

The fix in this case was just to rename the 'slimjet' folder in the hidden '.config' folder in my home directory.  I called it 'slimjet-old'  then I tried starting slimjet again.  It ran, and when it ran, it created a new folder in /.config called 'slimjet'.

I opened the 'slimjet' folder and the 'slimjet-old' folder, then copied the folder called 'Default' from the 'slimjet-old' folder to the new 'slimjet' one.

Doing that restored things like my speed dial and bookmarks.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

System on Chip Computing at home

I'm an oldie.  I'm also lucky that i was exposed to computers in my working life around 45 years ago and began writing some programs for large companies in 1976.  While I was never particularly interested in computers for fun, since I have left the industry i am beginning to actually enjoy the things.  And one of the things I now appreciate is the changes I have seen.

In 1980 I still had a TRS80 computer next to my bed, so that when I woke in the middle of the night with the solution to a programming problem floating around in my dreams I could immediately get it onto disk.

That was then.  Now we have mobile phones with more power than any of the computers I used.  And I had the luxury of returning to a UNIX derivative for my every day computing in 1998, after years of putting up with things like Microsoft systems, which have never really worked.  I'm still waiting for Microsoft to create a multi-tasking operating system.  They had it when they were in a joint venture with IBM working on OS/2, but dumped multi-tasking for some reason and brought out Windows 95.

The thing that has annoyed me a lot though is desktop computing.  I have no need of super powered computers for my work.  My requirements are a large display, another display because I like working with two screens, decent storage and enough power to render videos in a sensible time.  And although I don't play games on the computer I do use it for watching video and playing music.

Quite a while ago I began messing with System on Chip computing, outside of tablets and phones.  Initially I played with the PcDuino, but while it had some great innovations there was no library that allowed direct access to the power of the onboard graphics.

Then my son introduced me to the Raspberry Pi.  The Pi fails against the PcDuino with regard to NAND memory and Flash RAM (the Pi 3 now has 1GB of RAM on board but no NAND and does almost everything from the microSD card).  But what it does have is something called OMXplayer.

OMXplayer directly accesses the hardware decoding on board graphics chip of the Pi and allows beautiful smooth HD video at 720p and 'pseudo' 1080p or better.  Something that is just not possible on these small SOC machines using software decoding.

Within the limits imposed on the Raspberry Pi 3B by the small amount of RAM and running the entire system from a micro SD card, it is rather a powerful little computer.  While rendering a video is not great, it can be done on small videos.  It just takes some time and you need to set up a decent swap file first.

But day to day work like using the web, office programs, processing images in imagemagick, editing pictures using GIMP.  These sorts of things all work well and quickly.

And arguably the best use for the raspberry Pi around the home is plugged into a decent TV and stereo, then used to either play multimedia content from an eternal drive or streaming content from the net.  KODI is perfect for this, especially once you learn how to use KODI plug ins.

Back to the desktop.  There is a new generation of desktop computers appearing based on the System On Chip model.  These are more powerful than things like the raspberry Pi and are built with a different purpose in mind.

One that comes to mind is the Mac Mini, which when I saw one, wasn't quite as mini as I had thought.  It looks about 30mm high and about 200mm each side.  But the idea is right.  My last two desktop computers were about 300mm wide by about 400mm deep and 100mm high.  The mac Mini made them look huge.  I looked at it as a possible replacement for my now ageing Compaq.

But among my requirements a couple of things stand out.  Lots of USB 3.0 ports, and the ability to run two displays.  Also I need to move up from 4GB RAM to 8GB RAM.  I do a lot of graphics and I need to have pluggable storage more than I need large internal storage.  As a former technician I also do a lot of parts replacement.  The Mac doesn;t really allow that.  And the Mac is relatively expensive.  I always have a maximum budget of between $350 and $400 for a replacement computer each three years.  This year I stretched it to over four years and with increased software requirements I'm pushing the limits.

So there I was wondering what to do net when I discovered the Gigabyte BRIX.  For years I used Gigabyte main boards and other components to either build or repair customers' computers.  Now I found a box about the height of the Mac Mini, with similar specs, and only a little more than 100mm by 100mm and about 35mm high.

It not only has outputs for two displays and a 64 bit Celeron quad core processor, but it has 8GB RAM.  And to top it off, there are four USB 3.0 ports.  Something I could not find anywhere on desktop computers under $700.  Plus it has built in Wireleless and Bluetooth and Gigabit Ethernet.  so just about everything I needed in one compact box.

The Celeron processor is only the 1.6GHz model, but it runs up to 2.08GHz when needed.  And it is only $364 including delivery.

Gigabyte Brix BACE-3150 and Mint KDE

I work my computers pretty hard and after about three years I usually find something is dying. If it isn't the hard disk or DVD drive it's generally something else that has finally worn out. My current Compaq 1040 is more than four years old and has been a problem for quite a while. I'm not well off any more and the budget limits me to between $300 - $400 Aussie dollars. I also find having a laptop on the desk and trying to use it with a dual monitor setup is a real pain – so when I could not put the inevitable off any more, I bought a low end Brix.

The first thing I noticed about the Gigabyte Brix BACE-3150 was that it felt heavier than I expected for such a small computer. The second thing was that, well, it is a small computer. At not much more than 100mm by 100mm square and about 50mm high it can be placed just about anywhere on a desk or a shelf.  It also comes with a bracket and screw to allow it to be mounted on the back of most LED television sets.

There are lots of unboxing videos and various reviews about the Brix on Youtube and on Google. They all give details about the number and type of ports and the specs of the processor. But my needs are specific.

I always buy low end processors. I don't play computer games. I browse the web, play music and music videos, write simple programs (usually BASH scripts), and do a lot of photo editing and a little video editing. Much of the last two are either from the command line or using scripts I have customised for my own requirements. And of course there's the usual hack work. I design some web sites for businesses and maintain some blogs and do the usual word processing and spreadsheeting. I also only buy cheap computers.

One of the first things I need in a computer is that it will easily run Linux. Currently for my distribution of choice I've returned to Mint KDE, so I unpacked the Brix, plugged in the power adapter, a HDMI TV and a USB stick with a bootable Mint 17.3 KDE, plus my wireless mouse and keyboard.

I turned it on and a few moments later I had a working copy of Mint KDE on my screen. I entered the password for the on board Wireless to connect to my Internet and everything worked. So I double clicked the install icon and manually partitioned the hard drive the way I like it.

It was about this time I remembered reading somewhere that a reviewer of one model of the Brix had some dramas getting the UEFI stuff in BIOS sorted. Sadly I didn;t have the chance to explore the BIOS and UEFI stuff. The Brix BACE-3150 just accepted Mint KDE and everything worked.

The only drivers I had to install were for my collection of Brother printers. Fortunately Brother has a special section for Linux drivers on their web site which is kept up to date. Mint KDE just found everything else. I had to install a few programs and extras that asre not in the standard installation but for most users even that would not be needed.

The Brix was replacing a Compaq 1040 with an AMD E-350 1.6GHz dual core processor with a 500GB hard drive and 4GB RAM. The Brix BACE 3150 has a quad core Celeron processor that idles at 1.6GHz but automatically runs up to 2.08GHz on demand. Mine was ordered with a 500GB hard drive but I ordered 8GB RAM because I noticed on the AMD 64 bit processor I was very often pushing the system into the top of the available 4GB and flowing over into swap.

With the Brix, the quad core seems to prevent that somehow. I have no idea why, but running the same tasks on the same OS distro and version I haven't even got above the first 4GB RAM.

Something that stands out immediately is video performance however, The AMD system has a far better graphics benchmark score than the Intel system in the Brix. But that is on paper. In reality running the high performance tests on the jellyfish video at various bitrates using both Smplayer and VLC the Brix was still playing smoothly when the AMD started the stop start motion thing.

Streaming HD movies in full screen on a 50 inch TV was perfect on the Brix in KODI and I would recommend KODI and a few add-ons for regular video sessions. Teaming the USB 3 ports on the Brix with USB 3 hard drives and memory sticks worked great too.

Youtube video always depends largely on how heavy the Internet traffic is at that time, but again running the Brix and the Compaq at the same time left the Brix ahead in this area too. I must admit I was using Flashpeak Slimjet as my browser on both computers and a wired connection to the router on the compaq, while the Brix had the advantage of its internal wireless to connect to the router.

In summing up. The Gigabyte Brix was on ebay for $364 including delivery from pclivecomputers in Oakleigh, Vic. They will sell you the basic barebones Brix so you can choose the processor you need and add the bits you want, or you can simply choose an option to suit your budget as I did.
I ordered on a weekend, there was a public holiday on the Monday, and I still got mine up here in Central Queensland on the following Monday. I suspect had I ordered it Monday morning it might have arrived by Friday.

A couple of weeks into living with the BRIX and there was one annoying problem. The thing doesn't shutdown. When choosing to shutdown, everything seems fine, then it simply reboots. It was not happening initially but after a Linux kernel update it started happening. A bit of googling shows it is not only me with this issue, although it is not clear if it is happening with all processor variations. At any rate, with the Brix BACE-3150 it is happening. Fdor now, the only solution is to be sure to hit the main power switch (at the adapter) as soon as everything seems to have shut off. Otherwise, the light on the Brix comes back on and it reboots.

It is not a huge issue, but it is annoying to have to remember. I have no idea if this happens on any Brix with Windows installed. I can live with it though because everything else so far about the Brix has been a positive experience.

!!!!   N O T E   !!!!    After a couple of Linux updates the shutdown problem seems to have taken a holiday.  Now when it is turned off, the Brix stays off.

Something I will mention on closing is that KODI under Linux Mint suffers the same shutdown problem as KODI under Raspbian on the Raspberry Pi.  If you choose exit, instead of dropping back to Linux, it just hangs the system, often at a black screen.  Choosing Exit often does the same.  So I find the best what to get out of KODI is to choose a reboot, then either work in Linux, or shutdown from Linux.

The other option is to go into KODI System > System and choose to run in Windowed mode, then close the KODI window.

Be sure though to swap KODI back into Full Screen mode while you are running video or it will not play smoothly.