Monday, 27 March 2017

Living with Plasma 5 and Linux

The Plasma 5 on Mint 18.1 KDE experience continues.

Now that the major wrinkles, like the unwanted mouse trails, have been ironed out, the overall Plasma 5 experience is bearable.

The lack of separate wallpapers for workspaces, and the loss of a lot of the fun settings in desktop configuration is sad, but overall it is ok.

There is one exception to the 'Only one wallpaper across all workspaces'.  I can run one instance of a video wallpaper, say and mp4, on a single workspace, while the others are running the usual single image.

 The screen capture above and the one below are from a video running as my desktop wallpaper on one workspace in Plasma 5, while the other three workspaces are showing the wallpaper in the top picture.

At present the most annoying daily problem with Plasma 5 is that it takes almost an entire minute to boot.  I am used to KDE4 which is really quick to boot to the desktop, but with Plasma 5 it is just one black screen after another, with the occasional KDE gear logo or once in a while a mouse cursor.  The rest of the time, it is simply wait, wait and wait for the black screen to go away.

A few programs seem to crash regularly.  KODI is probably the worst offender.  I opened Dolphin the other day to find a while collection of KODI crash .log files.

Overall, once it is running, Plasma 5 is ok.  But it remains to be seen if the Plasma team ever bring it back to the nice polished experience of KDE4.  Here's hoping.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

KDE Plasma 5 - Dolphin Right Click Image Resize and other fixes.

One Step at a time, fixing the problems in Plasma 5.

Step 1.

This time it is resizing or rotating images using the right click context menu in Dolphin file manager.  In previous posts I pointed out that this handy function has been left out of KDE completely, but at least in KDE 4 it was possible by using a little tool called KDE Image Menu (KIM).

There is a simple method to install KIM into Plasma 5 here:
But it didn't work.

So I unpacked KIM into my software folder, opened that folder in Dolphin, and opened the /src folder.  Then I opened a terminal in that folder and did:
sudo cp kim_*.desktop /usr/share/kservices5/ServiceMenus/

Next I opened the /bin folder and opened a Terminal there and did:
sudo cp kim* /usr/bin/

Now I can select some images and right click to get this..

This makes a lot of my graphic work easy as well as being able to really quickly resize anything from a single file to a whole folder of images.  It will also let me convert from jpg to png and many other formats as well as rotating and other operations.

Step 2

Those pesky mouse trails.  In Plasma 5, I would be working on something and move the mouse from one window to another or just move it while something was loading, and the mouse would leave annoying trails of its cursor all over the place.  It seems to be a well known problem with on-board Intel graphics.
Eventually I found that playing with the display settings fixed it.

System Settings > Display and Monitor
The choose Compositor in the left pane.

I changed the settings to look like this.

KDE has had a wonderful screen shot program for a very long time, called Ksnapshot.  For some reason that was not installed in my Mint 18.1 KDE, and I suspect it is because I had already been playing with XFCE and Cinnamon after I discovered all the things I didn't like about Plasma 5.

So I ended up installing ksnapshot using Synaptic.
Ksnapshot lets you choose a name for your screen shot.  The default Gnome screen capture program uses a default name and date format.  With Ksnapshot, firstly, it remembers whether you chose to capture the entire screen or just a region or a window, and the next time it will have that as the default.  Secondly, it remembers the name you gave the last snapshot, and increments it by a number each time.  If there is already a number in the name it uses that.  But the smart thing to do is simply append a two digit number to the image name.
You can also just change the extension from the default .png, to .jpg or .pdf and so on.

I wrote in a previous post that I found how to turn on desktop scrolling through my work spaces.  I still can't have a separate wallpaper for each desktop, but I can now scroll the mouse wheel on an uncovered part of the desktop, or on the workspace switcher in the panel.  To make this easier I add either a short vertical panel to the right edge of the desktop, or something like Docky.  This reserves a strip of desktop that is not covered by full screen windows, and this can be used to scroll the mouse on.

I generally run three or four 'Activities' as well.  These do give me the option for different wallpaper on each activity, so I can tell at a glance which one I am on.  Once you learn what they are and how to use them, Activities are a powerful tool in KDE/Plasma.

It is possible to set an activity up for a special task with particular windows and programs open on different workspaces.  Do you can have a 'Study' Activity which, when you open it, has all the progams and folders you use for study, open and ready for action.

Everything else so far is still being sorted.  There is a bug in Plasma somewhere that kills KODI for example, so for now if I want to run KODI I can either log out and log back in Cinnamon or XFCE,  or reboot into Mint 17.3 KDE.

Overall though, I dislike the style and themes of Plasma 5, while I like some of the other practical aspects.  I will continue exploring Plasma 5 on Mint 18.1 because once Mint 17.3 reaches its end of life I will not have much option.  Cinnamon and XFCE feel horrible after using KDE for so long, and the Mate desktop is just plain awful from my point of view.

KDE - PLASMA has lost the plot - STILL

I have been using Linux in one form or another for many years and in 1998 I changed all our business computers over to Red Hat Linux, except for a few that were maintained as Windows machines so that we could continue our tech support business.

The bulk of our repeat business has always come from Windows.  Various Unix systems we supported including Xenix and Posix, always just worked, so repeat business there was usually a new installation or upgrade of software, or installing and configuring some new hardware.

As we gradually converted our bigger 'ordinary' customers across to Linux for their server and networking needs, we got less work there as well.  But luckily the desktop was still dominated by Windows, so we still had plenty of software work.

Since Injuries and our rather inept governments forced me out of my businesses, I have had quite a few years now to devote to computing as an interest rather than as a job.  And this has allowed me to try many Linux distributions and desktops.  I was lucky enough to be involved int he early work, mostly testing,  of some of the distributions and my name still pops up all over the place on the net.

Which brings me to today's topic.  I Love KDE.  It had some glitches in its early days and it was slow and klunky for a while, but it has so many neat features that are simply not available in the other distributions, that is leaves everything including Windows and Mac, for dead.

But I do not understand the development team.  For example.  I am still using KDE 4.  I also have the new Plasma 5 desktop running on Linux Mint 18.1, but for my daily work I rely on KDE 4.13.12 running on Mint 17.3 with a Linux 4.8 kernel.

I have written before that Plasma 5 was pretty well useless for my day to day work, and I have now found a solution to most of the problems like the mouse leaving 'trails' all over the screen, something that deserves a short post of its own soon.

But the real problems are still there.  Plasma 5 is simply too primitive.  Let's look at a the most idiotic problems with Plasma 5, which either don't exist in Plasma 4, or can be fixed simply.

First, the lack of personalisation for the work spaces (desktops).
There is a good reason why a lot of us use different wallpaper on each desktop.  Apart form being pretty, we can see at a glance, which desktop we are on.  It is not terribly important in some ways, but from a productivity point of view, it can save tie and stress.

In KDE 4, each workspace can have its own wallpaper, and if you particularly want to, that can be extended further by choosing perhaps a slideshow on one, an image on another, a solid colour on the next.  You get the idea.  And it goes even further.  KDE 4 and Plasma 5 have something called 'Activities'.  These can also be configuired individually and each have separate workspaces that each have different wallpapers (including slideshows etc.)

But in Plasma 5, only the Activities can have their individual desktop wallpaper configured differently.  Once a wallpaper (or slideshow etc.) is applied to an Activity, it is locked across all work spaces (Desktops) linked to that particular Activity.
It is annoying and even frustrating.  And the Plasma team has decided it will never be fixed, because it is not a bug, it is a design feature.

And on to the next great failure.  This applies to KDE4 as well as Plasma 5, but in KDE 4, it can be remedied.

In Nautilus file manager in GNOME, there is a function that allows us to right click on an image, or images, and convert them in various ways, or resize them.  But it is not possible in Dolphin file manager!

Now, some bright spark many years ago wrote a little program called 'K Image Manager' that integrates a set of similar functions into the Dolphin context menu.  I saved a copy of it and have installed it ever since.

But, and this amazes me - It was NEVER built into Dolphin.  And even in this latest version of Dolphin that is in Plasma 5, there is no image handling built into the context menu.  Crazy, people.  Or just lazy.  It is almost as if the KDE project was handed to a group of kindergarten kids, along with some big crayons, hammers and scissors.

They have taken KDE 4, which is a perfectly good desktop, and screwed it so badly it might never work properly again.  And the worst thing is that KDE 4 is no longer being maintained.  In about two years time it will probably be dropped from all Linux distributions, and there is NOTHING to take its place..

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Atomic Coffee Maker Adventures Part 2

I mentioned that I considered Andrew and I were lucky to acquire our Atomic coffee makers for $250 plus postage and $178 plus post.  In both cases the postage from Interstate came to $30.  Here is what they are selling for on ebay.

By the time the postage is added even the cheap one is over $400 and the others are just under and just over $600.

Following my initial cleaning of the old Atomic coffee maker, I managed to get some pretty nice looking coffee out of it.  But even after a number of shots it still tasted a bit off.

As a matter of interest, when my son Andrew got his at Christmas, I designed a water level gauge that allows us to consistently fill the Atomic with the right amount of water, so that the stream stops and sputters just as the level reaches an ounce.

We also solved the problem of Atomic coffee tasting burnt by simply placing a glass in the aluminium bowl.  The glass is marked so we can always be sure if we get one or two actual shots.  We can of course vary the amount to taste.

In the last post I wrote about freeing up the filler knob without damaging it, but I still could not get the 'shower screen' loose to clean behind it, so I back flushed.  I was pretty sure there would be a little residual gunk up behind it, because there had been in Andrew's Atomic.  Today I finally managed to get the aluminium screen free, although one of the screws broke in the process.  It isn't a big problem, as the screen is held in place in the head by a silicone gasket.

Above is what it looked like up in the head, behind the screen.  You can just see the broken screw at the top, and the hole at the bottom where one came out ok.  You can also see where I scraped some of the scale and dead coffee grounds off the water pipe.
I spent ages scraping with a screwdriver and then using various Dremel tools in there cleaning it up, but it ended up pretty clean.

And this is what was behind the screen.  No wonder the coffee had a hard time getting through and only came out in drips.  And also probably the reason it tasted really bad.

The filler knob is also the safety pressure valve.  It had been venting too easily, so while I was messing with things I took that apart and cleaned the seat where it seals, cleaned the rust off the shaft of the screw with a Dremel wire wheel, and cleaned the actual hard rubber seal material.  I also gave the spring a clean and cleaned the threads, then put the whole thing back together.  I'm almost sorry I ordered a new one, because it now works perfectly despite the main filler neck seal being hard as a rock.

So where are we now?
For a start, I have it on good authority that the Atomic coffee maker does not produce proper espresso because it operates at too low a pressure.  That's ok.  It makes a delicious short black that tastes very, very close to the real espresso I get if I order one from The Coffee Club or Gloria Jeans.  So I am happy enough with that.  
And that makes a rather nice Atomic Cappuccino!

I also have it on good authority that the Atomic coffee maker cannot make a shot of whatever we call it (if we are not going to call it 'Espresso') with crema.  Now, it is true, you don't get the foamy crema mixed through the shot and settling to the top after the shot is put aside.  But you do get a layer of fine gold a few millimetres thick across the top. 

As for foaming milk.  I like fine microfoam and the Atomic has two holes in the nozzle that point downwards and outwards at an angle.  That makes it almost impossible to get a swirl going in the jug.  It is designed to make froth rather than fine foam and it is excellent at that - if you like a 'meringue peak' on your coffee.
But it isn't all bad and I'm slowly discovering some tricks that make a fairly fine foam.

It will take a while to get a brew that is close to the Krups 871 sweet syrupy and really strong coffee from the same amount of ground beans, and I'll be working on adapting to the milk technique for a while.  But for now, it is working nicely and the coffee is pretty close to what I get in a cafe.  Except I do NOT do Latte Art.

As a matter of interest, here's the bowl with one of the water gauges in place.  We fill the bowl until the water just reaches the flat turned in piece on the aluminium strip  That way we get the same amount of water every time.  
As mentioned earlier, by using a glass in the bowl, the coffee doesn't get burnt.  If I am making a 'long black' style using more water, so I can just have an ordinary black coffee or a coffee with milk, I can skip using the gauge and just have the coffee flow into the bowl. To do that, I just pour a full bowl of water into the Atomic.

Above is the cappuccino from the coffee in the previous photo.  The foam is not perfect, but it is about as fine as I can get out of the Atomic so far, and getting close to the texture I get from the Krups 871, finer than I get out of the Breville pump machines.

The coffee tastes better than either of the Brevilles, but still not as perfect as the Krups, either as an espresso style or as a cappuccino, but that's probably because I mastered the Krups over many years.  

Something else that is handy to know.  Because of the bulk of the Atomic's aluminium body it takes forever to heat that, then heat the water in it.  
Water will boil much more quickly in an ordinary kettle or pot, so to save gas, we usually boil a small amount of water and pour that into the Atomic.  That pre-heats the Atomic and once it is on the stove it takes a fraction of the time it normally would to make a coffee.

Conversely, once the Atomic is hot, pouring in sufficient water for a second coffee takes little time because the Atomic is already hot.

There's a trick to this too.  If you empty residual water in the Atomic into the bowl, you only need to top it up to the level you want in the bowl and pour it back in.  That way you get the exact amount you are after.

BUT !!!!!   

NEVER touch the Atomic body, steam wand or any other parts with your bare hands until it is cold or cool.

If you need to empty it to refill it, use a wet towel to hold it.

You will probably only grab a hot part of an Atomic once.  The lesson is very sudden and very painful...

Friday, 3 March 2017

Coffee O'clock? Atomic Coffee Maker Adventures

I've been posting about Linux stuff for so long that I sometimes forget this blog is also about The Whitsundays and Me!

So here's my first coffee post in probably 2 or 3 years.  :-)

A friend introduced me to the Atomic coffee maker many years ago, and before that I rarely drank coffee because I hate instant coffee.  He and his wife gave me the first coffee maker I ever owned, an electric model that works on the same principle as the Atomic.

You put water in the coffee maker, put ground coffee in a filter basket, put the basket in the holder and put the holder in the top part of the coffee maker.

The water boils, the steam pressure forces some of the water up to the top of the machine where it is forced through the ground coffee under pressure.  Then the residual steam is used to foam milk if you want a cappuccino or latte.

I have had several of these electric boiler/steam machines since then, but never had the urge to spend an exorbitant amount of money for an Atomic.  Second hand 40 to 50 year old ones are going for over $500 and even crappy looking ones with some broken bits are going for $300 plus.

But when my son wanted one to use in Japan, because the electric appliances there are a pain in the neck, we began looking around.  We got what we thought was the buy of the year.  An Atomic in pretty good condition and nice looking for $250.  With delivery it was $280.  A nice deal.  And he has been learning how to drive it since.

But I was interested in a cheap one if it ever came up to take to Isla Verde, where we don't have a reliable source of power for electric appliances.  the resort runs on a couple of small solar panels, some batteries runing a small inverter, and a generator for more or less emergency use.  So when one of us saw one that had been advertised on ebay for some time and had only a few bids, we got interested.  It looked horrible.  There were a few made with an enamel paint over them.  Orange, red and brown seem to be the colours and not all that many were made.

This one had obviously been used in camp fires and was horribly burnt.  Also, the steam wand looked all corroded and so did the screen and screws up inside the top.  The advert said the filler knob was seized too.  So I placed a low bid, knowing they always go crazy in the last half hour.

This one did, and I won it by about a dollar!  And when it arrived it looked just as bad as it had in the description.  But it was ridiculously cheap even if I had to spend the planned $100 or so for a new knob and some seals.  When the filler knob becomes seized in the neck, it is almost always broken by the person trying to free it.  All the advice I found on Google and videos on Youtube had people using various kinds of multi grip pliers on their knob or putting their knob in a vise.

I thought abo tit for a while.  The knob gets seized in the hole because people leave it in the hole after they finish.  The aluminium body of the Atomic gets really, really hot, but the bakelite knob stays cool.  So when the aluminium cools down, the hole is dry and your knob can get stuck in the hole.

I wondered whether anybody had ever tried reversing the process.  So I heated the Atomic in boiling water.  Then I was about to look for some decent multi-grips when I had one of those sideways thoughts I am infamous for.  I wanted to put steady, gentle pressure and grip on a round fragile surface.

So instead fo pliers I grabbed a webbing oil filter wrench and a socket ratchet handle.  And nothing happened.  So I got a half inch breaker bar instead.  And my knob moved.  A little bit more pressure and my knob was free of the evil hole.

The threads were in good condition and the knob was undamaged.  But when I turned the Atomic over some grains of sand textured whitish powder fell out.  I hit it with the palm of my hand and got more, so I went around it with a hammer.  This is part of the result!

There was more, but I had washed it away before I realised I should be documenting the experience.  Once I had loosened and emptied as much as I could I washed the inside out with vinegar over and over, then with soap and boiling water to try to wash out any residual acid (vinegar) because I have no idea what leaving that stuff in there would do to the aluminium.

The screws in the top still can;t be removed, so I reverse flushed that part and got lots more horrible gunk out.

 Then I stuck it on the gas stove with enough water to make a single shot of coffee.

It tasted horrible with the residual taste of WD40 (I forgot to mention trying to loosed those screws) and vinegar and soap, but it was definitely coffee and about the right strength.

So on my $178 Atomic, everything works like new.  Next post I will have put a few lots of coffee and water through the thing so after I get one really good tasting coffee, I'll post the steps for my next brew.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Gigabyte BRiX BACE-3150 OS Choice PLUS Micro SD is working in Mint 17.3 and 18.1

Wow!  it has been an interesting week with the BRiX BACE-3150.

I changed operating systems several times and came to the conclusion that in Mint 18.1,  Plasma 5.x is useless on the BRiX, XFCE is not much better and Cinnamon works well, but without my 'different wallpapers on each workspace'.

The best performer in Mint 18.1 was defintely Cinnamon although once I found and enabled an extension to allow me to change workspaces by scrolling the mousewheel on the desktop, I started to get the off mouse cursor artefact left on the screen for a few bried moments.

Because I always have two root partitions on my drive, I am able to install a new Linux distribution without using VirtualBox and without messing up my original distro.

(Mint 17.3 KDE with kernel 4.8)

That meant it was easy to drop back into Mint 17.3 and look seriously at any advantages I saw in Mint 18.1, and honestly, there was only one.

The BRiX has a built in Micro SD card reader that didn;t work in Mint 17.1 or 17.3, but it was working in Mint 18.1.  So I checked the Kernel.

So just out of curiosity I installed a later kernel in Mint 17.3 using the following commands in Terminal.

cd /tmp; wget; sudo dpkg -i *.deb
sudo update-grub
After a reboot, this is the kernel I now have in Mint 17.3 KDE.
And a quick check of Dolphin shows the Micro SD card mounting, opening and unmounting perfectly
The next task, once it was tested was to use Grub Customizer to rearrange the menu entries.
The last to steps are to Save, and then Write the image to
the Master Boot Record, in my case on /dev/sda
So these few days have achieved something. I know not to waste my time
on Mint 18.1 KDE or indeed any KDE with the New Plasma 5.x.
I found that XFCE has serious screen tearing issues, but only with text.
I found a workable alternative in Mint 18.1 Cinnamon although it still leaves
a lot to be desired.
My overall decision is that the best Linux to run on a Gigabyte BRiX BACE-3150
is Mint 17.3 KDE with the 4.8 kernel, which works great (so far) with the BRiX built in hardware.