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How has Linux changed my life?

Tux_MonoI recently saw a YouTube live stream video with the theme of “How has Linux changed my life?” and it got me thinking about it. However, before I get into how Linux changed my life, I want to briefly go over my history with Linux.

My relationship with Linux started in the early nineties using Unix and VAX systems for my Computer Science coursework in college. Some time in the late nineties I downloaded Slackware Linux and put it on a bunch of floppy disks.. I installed it on a computer to see what it was like but didn’t really use it. At some point I found a DOS program that sort of emulated the Linux command line by substituting Linux equivalents for DOS commands.

In early 2006, I built myself a Web server out of spare parts which I appropriately named FrankenWeb. I installed Debian 3.1 rt on that and with the help of my son, got it up and running. About a year and a half later, the hardware started getting flaky so I built another server, FrankenWeb Jr., and loaded it with Ubuntu 7.10 Server. That served me well until mid-2010 at which time I moved all of my web content to hosted server. Around that time I was messing around with setting up Linux DNS and NTP servers on my home network.

In the later part of 2009, I bought a refurbished Gateway laptop which I dual booted with Windows XP and Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. In 2014 I wiped the drive and installed Linux Mint 15 Cinnamon on it. Just this year, I pulled it out of mothballs and installed MX Linux 17 on it.

At some point in 2010, I put Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on a desktop machine and have been using Linux on the desktop ever since. In November 2011 I installed 11.04 but didn’t like it so I went back to 10.04. That was probably when they introduced the Unity desktop. About a year later I upgraded to 12.04 and changed from the Unity desktop to Gnome. I’m not sure exactly when I changed over Linux Mint, probably around 2014 and it’s been my go-to distribution ever since. I’ve looked at others but I keep going back to Mint.

How has Linux changed my life? It’s tempting to answer that with a multitude of reasons why I use Linux but that doesn’t answer the question. It has definitely reduced my dependence on Windows and Microsoft software, especially since I haven’t like the direction Microsoft has been taking with Windows 8, 8.1 and 10. I have to deal with Windows 10 in my part-time job and I find myself growing increasingly intolerant of its peculiarities and annoyances.

The further I move away from Windows, I find I’m less stressed out by technology. As Douglas Adams once said, “We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.” Linux works. It does what I tell it to do, not what it thinks I want it to do or what it wants me to do.

Linux and open source fit well in to my life philosophy. I value cooperation, collaboration and adaptability over competitiveness, rigidness, and unquestioning conformity. Well, that’s a reason for using Linux, not how it’s changed my life. But it’s made me a happier computer user.

Using Linux has made me a more discriminating and conscientious computer user. It has reinforced my natural tendency to not follow the crowd and accept whatever is handed to me. It has made me more independent and given me more freedom and greater choices, at least within the technological realm.

As a Linux user, I’ve become a more knowledgeable computer user and I have a greater understanding of what’s going on under the hood. I’m less frustrated by the technology I use when I have greater degree of control over it.


Rsync on Windows

tux-rsync-winFor the last couple of days I’ve been messing with Cygwin and rsync to provide me with a means of creating backups of the data on my Windows systems. I seem to have it working now on my Windows 7 PC so I’m getting ready to set it up on my wife’s computer. The plan is to create periodic backups on USB hard drives then keep one back up of each off site.

Once I got the basic syntax worked out my first backup seemed to be successful but when I tried to access folders and files on the backup, I was met with messages saying that I did not have permission. After some searching through forums I found a work around to do a chmod on the backed up files giving me the proper permissions. I reformatted the backup drive and tried again, with success. I had a little over 120GB of data to be backed up so it took a while.

After successfully testing to be sure I could access the data, I did some file clean up of my hard drive – moving files and folders around and deleted some unneeded stuff – then ran it again. This time it was much quicker because it only need to back up what had changed.

I like the idea of using rsync to do backups but the Cgywin implementation of Linux in Windows takes little getting used to and has an added level of complexity in bridging between Windows and Linux. I’m only using rsync to back up to an external drive rather than over a network. I may take a look at doing it over SSH in the future but, for now, this solves the immediate problem.

C:\cygwin64\bin\rsync -avhP –no-p –chmod=ugo=rwX –delete “/cygdrive/C/Users/Rick/” “/cygdrive/E/Backup/”

Windows 7 install

Probook6570bFor a little change of pace, I installed Windows 7 on a HP ProBook 6570b. I did this for someone else and after installing Linux for so long, it was a bit of an adventure that made me appreciate Linux even more. (Installing Windows 10 at work really makes me appreciate Linux!)

The base installation of Windows 7 went fairly quickly and then the fun began with installing Service Pack 1, all the device drivers, countless updates, and the software. Being Windows, there were numerous reboots and the whole process took two or three hours. Overall, as Windows 7 installations go, it went very well.

Later on I decided to install web cam software on my laptops and discovered that two of them had a built-in camera. That got me to thinking, in Linux everything is a file so I should be able to use the command line or a script to check if the device existed. I came up with two ways to check it in a script and they both worked. I took the simpler test and added it to my installation script to install guvcview if /dev/video0 or /dev/video1 existed. Out of curiosity, I plugged my Logitech web cam into my desktop PC, checked its existence and installed the software.

Trying MATE

This morning, I updated the kernel on my Dell Latitude E6500 and when I tried to reboot I got the following error:


I did a search on it and found lots of suggestions, like removing old kernels, turning off autologon (which I don’t use), and removing the gnome-keyring-daemon. There only only a few old kernels on the system since I reloaded it just a few months ago but removing them didn’t help. I ran Timeshift and reverted back to yesterday’s snapshot when the system was working correctly but to no avail. I recall that I had some issues with that (or something similar a couple of years ago when I had Mint 17.3 on it and I was using autologon. At that time I turned autologon off and the problem went away.

Well, I’d been thinking about reloading it and changing the partition scheme anyway so I decided I’d install Mint 18.3 MATE on it. The installation went well and I restored my home directory. We all should know that there is no such thing as a simple upgrade and this was no exception although the problems were relatively minor.

After the install, I connected it to an external monitor and the display settings wouldn’t see it and it didn’t properly recognize the laptop display either. The fix was to install the open source driver for the NVIDIA graphics adapter which the install had selected by default anyway. I had changed it to the “recommended” proprietary driver. Once I had the right driver, everything was right with the display.

The other problem was that my Conky script would disappear from the desktop whenever I opened something or clicked on the desktop. I fixed that by editing the script and changing the “own_window_type” from desktop to dock.

Now, everything seems to be working okay and I just need to mess around with the MATE environment and get used to it. I’ve been using Cinnamon for long time but,I’ll adjust. MATE is based on GNOME2 and I used GNOME on Ubuntu until they went to Unity as their desktop. Then I switched to Mint and Cinnamon. It’s good to try something new.

My Mint-installs script worked pretty well and installed all my software.


Conky & Broadcom WiFi


Not too long ago, I came across an HP EliteBook 2560p and thought it would be a nice little laptop to carry around because it was small and lightweight. It’s a bit bigger than the HP 110-Mini Netbook and more powerful with a second generation i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive.

Naturally, I installed Linux Mint 18.3 with the Cinnamon desktop environment. It runs quite well. I had to install a driver for the Broadcom wireless adapter and I took the one that Mint recommended, it works just fine. The only problem I noticed was that my Conky script wasn’t displaying the wireless signal strength. I checked the script to make sure I had the interface name correct and it was. Tonight I searched Google for the problem and learned that sometimes Broadcom wireless adapters block Conky’s requests to get the information from the adapter.

The fix is to run the following command to give Conky the needed permissions:

sudo setcap cap_net_raw,cap_net_admin=eip /usr/bin/conky

To see what permissions Conky has:

getcap /usr/bin/conky

And to remove the permissions:

setcap -r /usr/bin/conky

Restart Conky, log out and log back in, or restart the computer and you should see the WiFi signal strength.

Transferring data to a new laptop

Probook6570bYesterday afternoon I decided to move my data from one HP Probook 6570 to a different one. I used Joe Collins‘ XBT backup script to back up my home directory to an external drive. After installing Linux Mint 18.3 on the “new” laptop, I used rsync to copy my home directory to the new installation. Then I did some post-installation tweaks and ran a script to install software and do a few other system tweaks. That done, it was time for me to go to work so I shut the system down.

This morning I fired it up and logged in. To my delight my conky script ran and Firefox popped up to the Dropbox site, asking me to sign in to my account. Then I connected to my main PC via SSH and was glad to see that my SSH key and other settings had carried over. I then installed the Chromium browser and the installation was complete.

The script to install the software I like to have on my Mint installations worked rather well, but I saw the need to add additional checks to see if certain packages had been installed or if certain directories already been created. I also added Chromium to the install script.

Encouraged by the success of that install and data transfer, I’m looking forward to reinstalling Linux on my Dell E6500. I’m changing my partitioning on that laptop so the process may be a little different or maybe not.

These installs are practice for when I reinstall Mint on my Lenovo M91p. I plan to change the partitioning and get rid of the unused 500GB Windows 10 partition since I no longer have any intention to dual boot this PC. Working daily with Windows 10 at work has convinced me that I really want no part of it on my own network.

Tweaking scripts

Linux-works-for-youI fiddled around with a couple of my scripts yesterday. I made a couple of minor tweaks to my Getinfo script. I changed the variable that holds the filename that the information gets written too so that the file gets written to the logged in user’s home directory. Originally it was written to the current working directory. Rather than build the path and the filename using the += operator, I assigned it all to the variable at one go: infofile=”/home/$USER/$HOSTNAME.info”.

I also tried to write a more elegant version of my randpic.sh script which randomly selects a sub-directory in my Pictures directory and then picks a random file from that directory. I do have a few image files (wallpapers) in the root of the Pictures directory so now and then one of them will get selected as a directory and when the next part of the script tries to grab a file from this “directory” I get an “invalid file” message and the script runs through the loop and tries again. It really doesn’t bother me since these particular files are wallpaper images that can be disregarded for my purposes.

I thought about ways to test whether or not the selected directory was, indeed, a directory and if it wasn’t, to either process the file or to disregard the selection and try again. I tried nesting either a while or an until loop but I either ended up with an infinite loop or it kept selecting files from the same directory. In the second case, I saw that with each iteration of the outer while loop, it would add another “/” between the path and the filename when it displayed the selected file. I don’t think it actually affected the actual operations on the file, only how it displayed in the terminal.

I finally gave up on the idea although I would like to eventually figure it out. But I did make a couple of tweaks to the original script. In the case statement, I added a choice to quit the script and break out of the loop. Now “Y/y” accepts the selected file and breaks out of the loop while “Q/q” rejects the file and breaks out of the loop. Any other key rejects the file and continues the loop to select another directory and file.


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