Blatherings

The End of Google Plus — Just Another Blathering

Google Plus Grave StoneIt never gained as much popularity as some other social media platforms but I liked Google Plus. It was (is) a social media platform whose users seemed to focus on positive things, projects and so forth. It lacked the kind of cruft that keeps me from spending much time on other social media platforms.

My primary reason for liking Google Plus was that it seemed as though it was used for productive conversation and collaboration. I have enjoyed the positive sharing and discussions on interesting topics from different Google community Groups. I wonder where a few of these Google Communities will find another home such as the “Going Linux Podcast” and some retro tech Communities for the Amiga and Commodore 64.

What I like About Google Plus

I really enjoy the tech content on Google Plus. Two of which being the Going Linux Podcast and Linux in the Hamshack. I am a regular listener to the podcasts and like to participate from time to time. I read pretty much everything posted there. It is active enough to keep me interested but not so active that I can’t keep up.

I like to keep up on the Solus Project from their Google Plus Community Page, though admittedly, it hasn’t been as active as it once was but this has been my preferred method for keeping up to date on how that project has been rolling along.

Commodore-64-Computer-sm.pngGoogle Plus has become a kind of bastion of a lot of the Retro Tech communities too. I follow Commodore and Amiga groups where I have seen some fascinating projects. I have recently learned about some other new hardware initiatives for the Amiga 1200 and 4000 or something rather fun was this Commodore 64 Paper craft that I found on one of the community pages.

Despite the somewhat clunky interface, my main reason for liking Google Plus is that it doesn’t seem to have any of the cruft you see on some other social media sites. It’s just a nice place to visit that just doesn’t have the propensity for polarizing or aggravating conversations. It is a nice place where people happily share their hobbies.

The Problem with Google Plus

I will not pretend like Google Plus was all peaches and cream. The fact is, the layout of Google Plus got a little weird and never recovered. I liked how it looked much better some 4 years ago and I never utilized the circles. I think I understand what the designers were going for but I just didn’t want to invest the time and effort in meta-tagging people and things. I knew where people belonged. I didn’t particularly care for the three column layout, although, not a horrible thing, it was just a bit more challenging to figure out what was new. It took some time to scan through to find specific posts as they would shift around.

Google Plus 3 columns.png

The interface for Google Plus was a bit cumbersome. It took a few extra clicks to get to where I wanted to go but once you got used to this quirkiness, it wasn’t so bad. I would say, it felt like Google kind of gave up on Google Plus about two years ago. They didn’t really continue to invest in it, which I think is unfortunate as it resulted in it became a bit of a social media joke.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have a replacement for Google Plus at this time. I have heard about and just started looking into Diaspora but I don’t have the mental space to figure it out. I also like Mastodon but I don’t have the WordPress auto share tie to use it.

I have enjoyed the pleasant Google Plus communities for years and they will be missed. I hope that they will find another place to land to continue to exist. Knowing that Google Plus only has about 10 months of life left, I am not going to abandon it. I will continue to use it until the bitter end.

Related Links

Diaspora Foundation

Mastodon Federated Social Network

Commodore Amiga Revitalized with New Retro Hardware

Going Linux Podcast Google Plus Community Page

Linux in the Hamshack

WordPress Mastodon Share Plugin

Commodore 64 Paper craft

Solus Project

Amiga Google Plus Community Page

Commodore 64 Google Plus Community Page

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Docks and Bays, Accessorizing the Dell Latitude E6440

e6440-01-smI have been using the Dell Latitude E6440 since March of 2017. Since day one, it has been running openSUSE Tumbleweed. Initial production of this laptop was in 2014 and the model was discontinued sometime in 2016. I don’t buy things brand new because I have no need to stay on the “cutting edge” of technology and running Linux substantially extends the life of hardware. Even though it is an older machine, I have to say that the Dell Latitude E6440 is quite possibly the best laptop I have ever used. It really isn’t the best in any one metric of a machine I have used but the cross-section of capabilities and expandability of it makes me appreciate it the most. I will be hard pressed to find something comparable.

It took me 9 years before I replaced my Dell Latitude D630 as my primary machine. I still use the D630 regularly, but it just stays home now in its dock station. From the time I decided that it was time to replace the machine to the moment I committed the cash for a new machine, took me about 18 months. I am slow to make a decision on buying new hardware. I have to really process it out, make sure it is what I want because I am committing to this piece of hardware for a significant period of time.

Serviceability

Inside bottom e6440-02.png

Whatever machine I buy, it has to be serviceable. That means, I need to see screws and the design intent of the manufacturer was that it is mean to be in service for an extended period of time. Since I have been using Dell for quite some time and they tend to be slow to change basic components, like the power supplies, I intended on sticking with the Dell brand and specifically with their Latitude line which is generally certified on some distribution of Linux.

The whole bottom panel of the E6440 removes with only a few screws and leaves everything accessible on the underside of it. Once the panel is off, you have access to the memory and one of the mini-ePCI, one more panel in easily freed up reveals the last two mini-ePCI slots. I am very pleased by how easy it is to work on this machine. I am not sure what I will do with the WWAN labeled slot, maybe nothing, but it’s there.

Inside bottom e6440-02-sm

Dock Station

I like a good computer with a hardy dock station. I realize that this is quickly becoming a thing of the past but a good dock station that I can drop my computer onto that has all the ports on the back that works reliably is a must for me. I like having the dock supply power, access to two other monitors and peripherals all available to me in one simple, quick action. This dock station has worked flawlessly for multiple dock and undock cycles in a single day. The monitors always appear just as they are supposed to and I don’t know if it is a Dell thing or an openSUSE / KDE Plasma thing but this process just works and has worked 100% of the time. I have seen some Thunderbolt docks on Windows 10 work very poorly but it was also not on a Dell.

Dock Station.jpg

My dock station has USB 3, this is not available on all E-Series docks.

Battery

Two options that I know of, a 9-Cell battery and using the dock system, I can add a second 9-cell battery called a “battery slice” which also gives the computer a nice comfortable tilt. The downside, it does make it a bit heavy, especially if you are packing more than one laptop in your bag. Regardless of the added weight, having this capability gives me a very welcome 9 to 10 hours of battery life under low loads. If I am encoding video, that changes things

e6440 Batteries.jpg

Legacy

I do a number of things with older hardware. Just because something has been considered “end of life” by the masses, doesn’t mean that it is obsolete. The most important legacy port, for me, is the serial port, and secondly, the parallel port. PS2 is not as big of a deal but nice to have for testing old hardware. I have a few uses and since I do keep around a lot of old tech, it is handy to have a trusted device for testing the hardware.

Legacy Extender.jpg

3 Drive bays

Can I call them drive bays? Maybe slots? There is an mSATA SSD slot, 2.5″ SSD and I can swap out the optical drive for another 2.5″ mass storage drive. This is very convenient and keeps me from having anything hanging off of the computer when I go mobile. I use the 3rd drive in the caddy for storing my virtual machines. I still use my optical drive because I still buy DVDs. I realize that that this a less common activity for people but I am more than happy to do entertainment this way.

e6440 3rd Drive.jpg

Final Thoughts

There are more powerful, more capable machines that are lighter and newer but this one hits all the reasons I want to drive this one into the ground of uselessness or at least a few more years yet. Heck, maybe longer as the rate of speed increase hasn’t been as dramatic as it has been in the past. Looking at CPUbenchmark.net in the top 10 CPUs available on this site, it is still in the middle of the pack.

This machine really only really lacks one thing and that is a Thunderbolt port. If I could have all these features, plus a thunderbolt port, this computer would be everything I need. Sure, the CPU is a few generations behind and the AMD GPU is not top of the line but for my purposes, it does a fine job. I realize that the traditional dock port is becoming less popular since USB-C / Thunderbolt became a thing. I think it is unfortunate but I largely understand why. For now, I will enjoy my newer yet aging tech and appreciate the capabilities of the E-Series dock system running openSUSE Tumbleweeed nice and reliably.

Related Links

Dell Latitude E6440

Dell Latitude E6440 all on SSDs

Dell Latitude E6440 mSATA Upgrade

openSUSE Tumbleweed on Dell Latitude E6440

Dell Latitude Dock Station

Dell Battery Slice

Dell Legacy Extender

CPUbenchmark.net Intel Core i7-4610M

Franz | Chat Messaging Unification Application on openSUSE

Franz on openSUSE.pngDuring one of my web-searching, rabbit-hole voyages, I stumbled upon this Franz application. I was immediately thrilled with the idea as I have a number of chat services I use on regular basis. It has almost grown out of control and my current solution for these services was less than stellar. I have a mixture of Electron applications and tabs open in a browser to keep connected to all these different circles of people and organizations. I consider it a rather untidy and disjointed solution of maintaining Facebook Messenger, Hangouts, Telegram, Discord and a few others. Most recently I added Slack to the mix and I thought for a moment, this is far from the good ‘ol days when I just used IRC and AOL instant messenger to talk to everybody.

Bottom Line Up Front, I like Franz. I do indeed recommend it as a solution to try to consolidate your chat services and remove the burden from the Web Browser or the spattering of Applications.

Installation

My first course of action is to see if the application is in the openSUSE Software center. I have more trust in ensuring an application is properly updated from that source than others (with some exceptions). Franz is available from here:

https://software.opensuse.org/package/franz

I am using a community maintained version so there is a risk that it might not continue to be maintained should the maintainer discontinue using it.

The other option is to use the AppImage. Also a fine choice for this application:

Franz AppImage Download

A word of caution, it may be up to you to ensure that you have the latest version of this application on your system. I only have one AppImage I use that does warn me of updates. The others do not.

Setup

I was just a bit surprised that the usage of this application requires a login. I completely understand having this for the paid, supported version but I am not sure exactly as to why the free version would require it.

Franz-01-Start Screen

I am undecided as to whether or not I am content with this requirement. I do understand the reasoning from the perspective of the developers to know how many users there are but I just don’t know about it.

Franz-02-Create Account.png

This is certainly not a deal breaker by any means, I just have to realize that there is some control that I am resigning by using it. Ultimately, no more than most of the other chat services running in a Browser Tab but I don’t have to log into the Falkon Browser to use GroupMe or Facebook Messenger… just a thought.

Memory Usage

I was interested in comparing using this new Franz application alone to using Falkon with just the tabs for each client combined with the native applications. It seemed like a reasonably fair method of comparison. First, I tested the existing method:

The existing method of Telegram, Discord and Skype using the stand-alone installed applications, one session of Chrome for the Hangouts, plus Falkon with only tabs of the rest of my messaging services used 2.6 GiB of RAM. Truly a shocking amount of resources for sending text messages and pictures.

The Franz alone method, running the same 11 Chat services for approximately the same amount of time consumed 1.8 GiB of RAM. This still seems just a bit on the high side just for sending messages but clearly better. When using the AppImage, I didn’t notice any signification memory usage differences.

Whether using the existing method or the Franz method, I did notice some memory usage creep from the beginning of each timed test to the end of the test. I didn’t let it play out for days to see if it became increasingly worse. I also didn’t have the tools or patience to determine the cause in either case but it seems reasonable to assume that there would be messages and pictures cached over time.

Application Usage Experience

I tested both the distribution managed RPM and AppImage versions of Franz and it is good to know that they both used the same configuration files which I have discovered to be here:

~/.config/Franz/

Franz-06-Operation.png

I was very appreciative of the System notifications for new messages on the different services. There were some that didn’t have any new messages over the testing period. When running these services in Firefox or Chrome, you can turn on notifications. In Falkon, my currently preferred browser, you cannot and do not get notifications. Clicking on a notification will bring up the Franz window and switch to the conversation to which that dialog belongs. This is very handy as that is not always the case when using the Hangouts or Telegram applications.

When using this, I have noticed that some of the services can fail and require being reloaded. This has happened when I have Suspended to RAM and moved locations. The solutions is easy. Either reload the failed service or all of Franz.

Franz-07-Reload Menu sm

What I don’t like

The application is themed with light colors. I frankly do not like anything with a light background. I make exceptions, such as working on a document that I know will be printed onto white paper. White paper makes sense to work with as that will be my intended final product but anything outside of that needs to be light text on a black background.

This program is essentially just wrapping the web content in a more native-feeling application. From what I can tell, it doesn’t actually use the APIs of any of the services for its own built in application. I can’t really put a finger on why I don’t like this as much as a native application so I will call this a nitpick dislike and perhaps rather unfair.

What I Wish It Would Do

Some sort of style sheet overrides to allow for a dark theme applied to everything. I use an addon with Firefox to force this and for the right sites it works very well. I do wish Franz somehow wrapped in the Linux client of Telegram. I do not like the web UI as compared to the native application almost enough that I might just not use the Telegram service in Franz.

Final Thoughts

I am now considering removing the native applications from my system but at the same time, I do like the idea of having them because I find the idea of native stand-alone applications pretty great as well. It brings a smile to my face to see that Telegram, Discord and even Skype have a specific Linux installation and I want to support that, even if they might just be Electron apps wrapping the Web content.

The amount of memory that browsers and even this Franz solution takes does seem a bit absurd. Under the best case, running these chat services still take up too much memory, in my opinion. Using Franz for all 11 services used 1.8 GiB which breaks down to 163 MiB per chat service. I can’t help but wonder, what is really going there?

Although this issue doesn’t apply to me, there is one immediate drawback to Franz, It appears as though you have to use the paid version in order to use self-hosted services like Mattermost. If you don’t mind paying, not a problem, but if that is not in the budget. You may have to find another solution.

Overall. I am quite pleased with Franz and I will continue to use it until I find something to challenge its “seat” as my multi-chat client of choice. I do like freeing up my Browser from chat services and the notification feature works just as you would expect. This is a great piece of software and worth checking out.

Related Links

Franz Main Site

Ubuntu Pit article on Franz

Franz from openSUSE Software

Telegram on Mobile and openSUSE

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

HP Touchpad with Plasma Mobile and openSUSE — Fall Time Blathering

HP_TouchPad_Title-2.png

After working with Plasma Mobile on the Nexus 5X and although it is not quite ready for prime time, it is nearly there. It is so close, I can taste it and I am very ready to see Plasma Mobile as all I see on my mobile. I am also continually seeing interest on the aging HP Touchpad. It too is a fine piece of hardware that is still very capable and now, I can’t help but wonder how much work it would be to port Plasma Mobile to that hardware. I see that there has already been work with the Halium Project for the HP Touchpad. Unfortunately, my understanding at what goes on at the base hardware level is EXTREMELY limited.

Plasma Mobile Experience

Nexus 5X-PlasmaMoble-01The look and feel of Plasma Mobile is pretty great. Like all things Plasma, it is highly customizable. What that means to me, I can make my Mobile experience exactly the way I want, not something dictated by a corporation as to how they intend for me to use my technology.

So then I thought, I know Plasma Mobile is still in early stages, many things are still being taken from Plasma Desktop but that really should only require some adjustments. Over time, Plasma Mobile, much like the Desktop Counterpart could very well end up being the nicest, cleanest and yet most customiziable interface ever.

The HP Touchpad

HP_TouchPad-12-LineageOS.pngThe Touchpad, by today’s standards is not spectacular, but it isn’t terrible either. Its CPU is a dual core Scorpion clocked at 1200 MHz. It has 1 GiB of RAM and either 16 or 32 GiB of storage. It is certainly adequate for many tasks. I can’t help but think how fantastic this Touchpad would be with proper Linux, access to the breadth of open source software.

HaliumThe good news is, the possibility of having a working Plasma Mobile interface on the HP Touchpad may be closer to reality than not. According to the Halium Project on GitHub, three have already been tests completed successfully. This is, unfortunately far outside my skill sets so there isn’t much I can offer here but I am watching the project with great interest.

How Useful Could It Be?

kontactI know multimedia is the thing… streaming Netflix, watching YouTube and GPU intensive games is the common usage for tablets but that is not what I am interested in doing with it. There are far more interesting and productive activities. Using the Touchpad as my window into my digital recipe collection, reference technical documents, access to Kontact, the KDE Personal Information Manager, or at least parts of it for time and task management.

HP Touchpad with Plasma Mobile and openSUSE

opensuse-logo2Then I did some more thinking. I have only begun dabbling in the fantastic Open Build Service, but what if that system could be used to build an openSUSE Tumbleweed distribution specific to the HP Touchpad, tested by the openSUSE openQA and released in a similar rolling snapshot to the regular openSUSE Tumbleweed. Even with a fraction of the stability, reliability of upgrades and the breadth of software, this would be a fantastic improvement as compared to what is available today. It would be a gigantic library of goodness with many the most useful tools readily available.

Now What?

Even though the HP Touchpad is far past its end of life, I continue to use it on a daily basis. I am very interested in seeing the HP Touchpad get a more genuine Linux upgrade and would like to toy with it now but I have to personally determine, do I want to take my HP Touchpad out of service? Would I even have the time test and experiment on it or do I continue to use it as it is? It is very usable today and works mostly well but a project like this might give it enough life for perhaps several more years and be more useful than it is now. For now, I will keep tabs on it but maybe in the very near future I will be able tip my toes in this arena.

Further Reading

Halium for HP Touchpad Project on GitHub

HP Touchpad Specifications

Open Build Service

Halium Project

open QA

openSUSE Tumbleweed Home

HP Touchpad in 2018

Plasma Mobile installation on Nexus 5X

KDE Kontact Personal Information Manager

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

Falkon on openSUSE.pngA web browser is a tool that is pretty much indispensable for day to day work and annoyingly, over the last few years they have become more and more memory hungry. My browser habits are as such that I am mostly using the web browser for research, gathering information and expanding my knowledge so very often, w3m is good enough for me most of the time but some sites just don’t read as well. My solution that has been working out for a few months now is the Falkon Web Browser, formerly known as QupZilla, it is a low memory and resource browser that is peppy and renders pages as expected. It uses the QtWebEngine which is based on Chromium but with any binary files and any auxiliary services that talk to Google platforms stripped out.

For the most part, I could exclusively use this browser but there are just a few things keeping Firefox open as my secondary browser.

Installation

Falkon, like anything else, is easy to install from the openSUSE repositories. I checked this time to be sure and it is available for both Leap and Tumbleweed… sure enough, it is in the official release repositories of both.

For the one-click method of install visit the openSUSE Software Site or alternatively, you can do it the fun and exciting terminal method

sudo zypper install falkon

If by some chance you don’t run openSUSE, check with your distribution’s software center or download it direct from Falkon here. They offer Windows binaries and an AppImage.

What It Does Well

If you read nothing else, read this: The biggest and most important thing this browser does is general web browsing, many, many tabs with almost no appreciable hit to memory. Even after having multiple tabs open for days, the memory doesn’t creep either. Somehow, Falkon is managing each tab as such that it doesn’t go all crazy over time. Sure, if you are running a big, beefy rig with 32 GiB of RAM, this isn’t an issue but running lowered powered hardware, this is an issue.

Falkon Browser-01-Start Page

Falkon is very fast and renders pages without any noticeable artifacts. Much less an issue with today’s browsers but some time ago, this has been an issue with lesser known browsers. Also, when using Falkon to post comments or create blathering pages (like this one), it doesn’t bog down over time.

Falkon Browser-04-openSUSE

Falkon comes with a built in ad blocker that can be turned off for sites as you wish with a click of the mouse. I leave the ad blocker on but turn it off for sites I use that depend on advertising dollars. I would consider this the best ad blocker but it filters out much of the cruft.

Falkon Browser-02-Preferences 11.png

Falkon looks great with a KDE Dark Theme. It fits in well with my desktop theme and has a pleasantly minimal look about it with few buttons and just feels clean. Visually, this is exactly how I want my desktop and browser to be which is fantastic. There are some other options in the preferences if you want to make it look less good, if that is what you are most accustomed.

Falkon Browser-02-Preferences 2.png

Browser history and bookmark manager are also what you would expect from any modern browser. I particularly like the interface but it is nothing that Chrome or Firefox are lacking.

Falkon Browser-06-Library

What It Doesn’t Do Well

It doesn’t do Flash but that isn’t such a big deal today. That means I use Firefox or Chrome to watch Homestarrunner.com videos. Most of the flash media on the web has seemingly disappeared. I’m still a fan of Flash… I might be the only one…

I can’t watch Netflix with Falkon as it doesn’t have the DRM Extension capability and there isn’t an extension that you can load to add the functionality. This is another “entertainment” activity, of which I am not generally using Falkon for anyway.

KDE Plasma Browser Integration is not an option but maybe will be in the future. I did some searching and couldn’t find any discussion on it but admittedly, I didn’t search very hard. This would be a nice function to add and would basically make Falkon almost “feature complete”.

I can’t do one-click install from the openSUSE Software Site and Telegram invite links will also not work in Falkon. These are actually the largest of issues for me with Falkon. My work around is just to use Firefox but it would be pretty great if Falkon could do this.

There are a limited number of extensions but truthfully, that is not a big deal for me as I generally don’t run any extensions… unless it’s Chrome but that is another story.

Why I Use It

I have found on numerous occasions that Chrome and to a lesser extent Firefox will start to memory creep over time. Using Chrome for a full workday with 6 or 8 tabs open will take up about 6 GiB of RAM and that is only having Gmail, Drive, Calendar and a few Google Documents open. On my machine with 16 GiB of RAM, this isn’t so much of an issue but on a 4 GiB laptop that I often use as a kind of side kick machine, this is an issue. This is so bothersome on the 4 GiB machine, I don’t bother with Chrome at all. It isn’t even usable but Falkon will do all the GSuite activities with a fraction of the memory resources without the memory creep. I can run that all day and not have a second thought about system resources.

Falkon Browser-07-Gsuite.png

Falkon doesn’t have any of the Google binary blobs doing unknown things. My primary reason for this is, I want my computer working for me, not working for someone else. I don’t need my computer cycles and electricity working to service a company unnecessarily and without my consent and I have no proof of this but I am starting to think that all this memory creep that happens in Chrome is largely due to those binary blobs.

Ultimately, I miss the days of using Konqueror as my daily web browser and this feels like a return to those good ol days some 12 years ago. Clean, simple and basic web browser that I feel like I can trust.

What I Wish It Would Do

Flash is on it’s way out so I don’t see the development team adding support for that at anytime. The next thing on my list would be the KDE Plasma Browser Integration. I do listen to some podcasts from some sites and I am able to start and stop the music using my Bluetooth headphones when using Firefox but not so with Falkon. That lack of functionality is unfortunate.

Another lacking point is having Smart Card Security Device integration. Just as I can set up Firefox and Chrome / Chromium with the Smart Card system, it would be nice to do so in Falkon.

Falkon isn’t able to open the appropriate software management program when using the One-Click install from the openSUSE Software site nor is it able to access web link invites for Telegram. If there was some way to shim it with an easy, user-level script, that would be great. I haven’t yet discovered (though, I haven’t looked) a way to do that but I am hoping it will in time.

Final Thoughts

Falkon is not what I would consider a “feature incomplete” browser but it is almost exactly as I want it. Simple and feature reduced. I don’t want my browser doing very much. I want its tasks to be limited to basic browsing and not gobble up memory resources.

This is a fantastic productivity browser. I use it for keeping tabs on different sites and bits of information handy as I go down my rabbit holes. Having multiple tabs open is also not an issue as Falkon does a good job of memory management and doesn’t start memory creeping when left open. It is rock solid and has yet to crash on me.

I highly recommend giving Falkon a spin. See if it will work for you. You just might be glad you did.

References

Download Falkon Browser

Falkon Browser Project Page on GitHub

Plasma Browser Integration

W3M Browser

More about the QtWebEngine

Falkon from openSUSE Repositories

Smart Card Security Device Integration Instructions

FreeCAD 0.18 Pre Release

FreeCAD-Pre.18-09-Title Mod.png

In my continued excitement to use FreeCAD at home, I downloaded the latest Pre Release of FreeCAD to test it out. For starters, I like the new look of the start page. It has a nice clean and even more welcoming feel to it. It shows little previews of recent CAD documents too which is a fantastic touch.

I had some real work to do with it in modifying a design and it worked very nicely. It is extremely easy to update a design with FreeCAD. I have a few criticisms but they might be based on what I am used to using as opposed to a problem with FreeCAD. What is important is that I was able to update the design and print the parts and put them to work.

Downloading and Running

To download the pre-release, visit their GitHub page, at the time of writing it was, FreeCAD_0.18.14796.glibc2.17-x86_64.AppImage.

I created a folder where I keep all my AppImage files. Using Dolphin, I made the .AppImage executable so that you can just double-click to execute the file and run FreeCAD.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-02-Executable

No special work is needed to run this AppImage, no installation or anything of that nature. It’s kind of nice but it also has its drawbacks. I generally prefer the openSUSE software management system to automatically take care of my software but I’ll make an exception in this case.

First Run

The new Start Page looks great. I really appreciate the tabs and how they have separated out the information into sections. The first tab shows you your recent documents and some example parts.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-05-Start Page.png

The Help Section is more than just a help getting started but gives you a great snapshot about your current FreeCAD Setup: General documentation, Workbench documentation, getting help from the community and available addons for FreeCAD.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-07-Help.png

You can click on the different available addons and read more about them and install them. It will even indicate what addons are installed from this screen.

The third tab shows the “Activity” of this FreeCAD project. I appreciate how much work is going into FreeCAD, to make it a better product.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-06-Activity.png

Modifying an Existing Part

I have a Home Education Command Center where I created some parts to hold the Geography Maps in place. After some time of using my first revision of parts, it became apparent that they were not meeting expectations. I took the previously design parts, modified the necessary dimensions based on the usability failures I experienced with the first design

FreeCAD-Pre.18-03-Reworking part

I had to not only make the whole part taller and wider with more overlap for the holder to map interface. When increasing the size of the base part, the child features adjusted as expected which is a great sign for the quality of the parametric modeling “intelligence” of this software. I have only one criticism with the sketch mode. I often have to redo lines because I am unable to make coincident constraints stick to where I want them to stick. It’s not bad but just mildly irritating at times.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-04-Reworking part.png

The resulting update was complete in short time and I was happy with how it looked. The rounds and chamfers calculated to look exactly as I expected.

Exporting for Printing

Since the whole purpose of creating this part was to print it and a mirrored version of it off, I needed to export the model as an STL.

As a note, when exporting the part to STL, you must select the last feature on the model tree then go to File > Export…

There is a drop down where STL file type is an option.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-01-Exporting

If you do not select the last feature, it will export up to the feature you select in the tree when it makes the calculations.

Assembly Module

I thought I’d give the Assembly module another shot as I was not able to get it to work under the official release. This time, the module loaded in without any issues. I became very excited at this point. Here is what I did to install it, instructions adapted from the Assembly2 Module GitHub page:

On other Linux distros you may try to install manually via Bash and git but I use openSUSE Tumbleweed as my daily driver and this is how I installed it:

In order for the Assembly Module to work, there are some more python software packages that are required. To install them, oen up a terminal and enter:

sudo zypper install git python-pyside python2-numpy

Next was to install the Assembly Module from GitHub. This is installed within the User home directory.

First will be to create the necessary directory for the modules. If the directory doesn’t already exist.

mkdir ~/.FreeCAD/Mod

Change to that directory

cd ~/.FreeCAD/Mod

Then perform the cloning operation from GitHub

git clone https://github.com/hamish2014/FreeCAD_assembly2.git

That’s all there is to it. Run FreeCAD and you should see the assembly module.

You may want to periodically update the Assembly Module. Since you have already performed the cloning, you will need to pull for updates to get the latest version:

cd ~/.FreeCAD/Mod/FreeCAD_assembly2
git pull
rm *.pyc

It’ll give you a nice little output of the updates and your done.

I will cover the Assembly Module at a later date as I need to learn how to use it properly. I am still working on an assembly and will subsequently work on the assembly drawings for another project.

What I like

There are MANY things that I like but most notably as a comparison of Official v.17 to Pre-.18 are the incremental improvements happening within FreeCAD. Even though this is a Pre-Release, there are already many improvements over the official .17 release. Most notably, the start page and the reintroduction of the Navigation Cube.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-08-Navigation CubeThe navigation Cube is a fantastic way to see what your orientation is around the part. I know that there are other CAD packages that use a similar tool but my regular proprietary package I use professionally does NOT have this feature.

The part design module seems to have become more intuitive and it’s ability to automatically adjust dependent features seems to have improved dramatically.

What I wish it would do

Thankfully, FreeCAD is under active development so it is only a matter of time that these little paper-cut issues will all be resolved. One issue I have, from a usability standpoint, the select to recompute function doesn’t always recompute recursively through the tree. I might also suggest that selecting the base node to have it all recomputed or have the recompute option default to top level if nothing specific is selected.

Some of the geometric constraints don’t seem to work as expected so I do have to delete and redraw some of the lines in order to complete the sketch. When doing this, it often makes child features, like fillets and rounds fail and it can be a challenge to figure out which one has failed.

Final Thoughts

As I continue to use FreeCAD, I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of the project. They are really doing a fantastic job of making a professional level parametric modeler, among other CAD functions, that can really enable the regular folk to do some real CAD work. I will continue to follow this project and use it whenever possible to perform the various problem solving activities I do. I can only hope that there will be continued momentum behind this such as other large open source projects.

Links

FreeCAD Project Home

FreeCAD Pre Release .18 Download

FreeCAD Assembly Module GitHub Page

openSUSE Tumbleweed

Plasma Mobile installation on Nexus 5X

PlasmaMobile-00

I have been watching Plasma Mobile for a little while and have tested it in a virtual machine but haven’t made it a priority to get some real hardware to test it on until now. I recently broke my Samsung Galaxy 5S… again… but in many ways it was falling apart. I could not unlock the bootloader and every consecutive update from Samsung made the phone less usable. It would get hot and chew through the battery quickly but be incredibly slow. Looking at the battery usage it was always the Android System that was on top of the list. The last time it was used was when navigating to a destination, the phone became unresponsive, the screen went black and was incredibly hot.

Recently, it was announced that KDE Connect is available for Plasma Mobile which was the tipping point for me to say, it is time to test Plasma Mobile on something other than a virtual machine. So, I purchased Nexus 5X on ebay for $80, I figured, why not.

Nexus 5X-Android

Using this guide, Unlock for Beginners, as my base, I put this together as a distilled version of the guide that can be used on openSUSE but probably any other distribution of Linux as well.

Going through this, it took me a bit to really understand and take a course of action so to make this easier for someone of similar goals. I am running this on openSUSE Tumbleweed but the instructions for Leap should be the same. It really was a rather painless process so this doesn’t write-up doesn’t have much for trouble shooting.

Download the Tools

After some extensive reading and poking around, I chose the minimal method to perform this task. Instead of the full Android SDK, just the ADB Tools.

First step was to download the ADB/Fastboot (platform-tools)

I put it in my Projects folder.

~/Projects/adb/

In that folder, extracted the downloaded zip file, which is easy to do with KDE Plasma’s file manager, Dolphin. If you would like to do it in the terminal (your version may vary):

unzip platform-tools_r28.0.1-linux.zip -d platform-tools

Next, navigate to the folder, platform-tools and executed:

./adb version

which gave the output

Android Debug Bridge version 1.0.40
Version 4986621
Installed as /home/cubiclenate/Projects/adb/platform-tools/adb

Activate Developer Mode on the Nexus 5X

Navigate to: Settings > System > About phone

Scroll to the bottom of the list and tap Build Number 7 times. It will give you a countdown of how many more times you need to tap it after a few taps

Enable adb/USB Debugging

Navigate to: Settings > System > Developer options

There should be three toggles that are on:

A toggle at the top of the screen that should be On

Toggle OEM unlocking to On

Nexus 5X-Developer Options

Scroll down to the Debugging section and ensure that USB debugging is toggled On.

Prepare Desktop Linux

On my openSUSE machine, check to see if you have a plugdev group.

cut -d: -f1 /etc/group | sort | grep plugdev

If you don’t see plugdev returned, add it.

sudo groupadd plugdev

Then add your username to the plugdev group

sudo usermod -aG plugdev $LOGNAME

Logout and log back in for the group changes to take affect

Flash the Phone

Send the command to reboot into the Fastboot Mode

./adb reboot bootloader

The phone will reboot into this screen:

Nexus 5X-Fastboot

Note the PRODUCT NAME is bullhead. More on that later.

Just to verify, I checked that I could do the fastboot thing

./fastboot devices

And it gave me the output

00493e6b7693cba7        fastboot

I have no idea if I should leaving that number is a security risk or not but in this case, I’m not terrible worried.

Next step was to perform the oem unlock and make this phone do some complaining

./fastboot oem unlock

Nexus 5X-Unlock Bootloader

Select YES to Unlock the bootloader on the Mobile.

It should give you very encouraging output similar to this:

OKAY [301.881s]
Finished. Total time: 301.881s

Point of No Return

This process will erase the complete memory of the Nexus 5X. If that matters to you, be sure to back up everything that matters to you.

./fastboot format cache

Output should be similar to this:

Couldn’t parse erase-block-size ‘0x’.
Couldn’t parse logical-block-size ‘0x’.
Creating filesystem with parameters:
Size: 100663296
Block size: 4096
Blocks per group: 32768
Inodes per group: 6144
Inode size: 256
Journal blocks: 1024
Label:
Blocks: 24576
Block groups: 1
Reserved block group size: 7
Created filesystem with 11/6144 inodes and 1422/24576 blocks
target reported max download size of 536870912 bytes
erasing ‘cache’…
OKAY [  0.081s]
sending ‘cache’ (5688 KB)…
OKAY [  0.214s]
writing ‘cache’…
OKAY [  0.063s]
finished. total time: 0.357s

Then format the User Data:

./fastboot format userdata

With the output similar to this:

mke2fs 1.44.3 (10-July-2018)
Creating filesystem with 6661115 4k blocks and 1667904 inodes
Filesystem UUID: fea22557-b249-45e8-aca6-3230969b647b
Superblock backups stored on blocks:
32768, 98304, 163840, 229376, 294912, 819200, 884736, 1605632, 2654208,
4096000

Allocating group tables: done
Writing inode tables: done
Creating journal (32768 blocks): done
Writing superblocks and filesystem accounting information: done

Sending ‘userdata’ (4272 KB)                       OKAY [  0.181s]
Writing ‘userdata’                                 OKAY [  0.064s]
Finished. Total time: 0.388s

Now your phone is ready to flash Plasma Mobile. Though, it can also be noted that if you want to install custom firmware, that could be done as well.

Flashing Plasma Mobile

For this initial foray into Plasma Mobile, I used the the Neon Architecture reference.

In my ~/Projects folder I created a subdirectory PlasmaMobile

mkdir PlasmaMobile

Then pulled the latest Plasma Mobile flashing tool from GitHub

git clone https://github.com/plasma-phone-packaging/pm-flashtool.git

Changed directory to the location of flashtool

cd pm-flashtool

While still in fastboot mode, in terminal, Executed pm-flash

./pm-flash

This required a bit of interaction. It is important that you do not install the wrong image on the phone, something about bricking the device… which is bad.

+ CACHEDIR=cache
+ echo ‘Waiting for device to be in the fastboot mode’
Waiting for device to be in the fastboot mode
+ fastboot getvar product
product: bullhead
finished. total time: 0.020s
++ fastboot getvar product
++ head -1
++ awk ‘-F: ‘ ‘{print $2}’
+ DEVICE_NAME=bullhead
+ confirm ‘Connected device is bullhead, is that correct? [y/N]’
+ read -r -p ‘Connected device is bullhead, is that correct? [y/N] ‘ response
Connected device is bullhead, is that correct? [y/N]

I input y then hit enter as this is a bullhead device which is verified on the Fastboot Mode.

Unfortunately, due to my lack of prep work, I ended up on a Google Splash screen. Thanks to the fine folks on the Plasma Mobile Telegram group I was instructed to run the Flash-Vendor application to put the correct driver blob that would be compatible with Plasma Mobile

./flash-vendor

As soon as it completed, the phone rebooted and very shortly thereafter, I was greeted with a snazzy looking Plasma Mobile desktop. My initial impressions are very positive. I like the look and feel. The application menu is a different take from what you would see on Android but perfectly functional.

Nexus 5X-PlasmaMoble-01.jpg

The settings tool is similar to what you would see on the Plasma Desktop with real customization options. The kind of options that bring an ear-to-ear smile to your face.

Instead of Google Play, the application manager is Discover. This manages your updates as well of which I was told I had 309 updates waiting for me…. but I learned that updating in this manner is not yet supported, so don’t do that.

The authentication dialog feels like it isn’t really meant for mobile but I can overlook that small bit.

The network manager is by far the best network manager I have ever seen on a Mobile. I will admit, I am quite biased about this bit as I think the Plasma Desktop Network Manager is the best I’ve seen yet.

PlasmaMobile-Network Manager.jpg

I have only one issue, at the time of this writing, that prevents me from using this full time. I cannot actually place any calls with it. I am sure that the fix is forthcoming or maybe the problem is entirely with me. Once I have that hammered out, I will update this accordingly.

Final Thoughts

I am just now exploring the fine offerings of Plasma Mobile what it can do and what it can not do. The scope of this blathering is just the installation of Plasma Mobile on the Nexus 5X. I will continue to noodle around with it in hopes of making it my full-time daily driver mobile device in the very near future.

If you have a compatible device and some time to experiment, I recommend this as a fine afternoon activity. Perhaps you can even help out with the project and further the cause of having a truly free and open platform on your mobile.

References

Plasma-Mobile Project Site

XRA Developers Forum, Nexus-5X How To For Beginners Guide

platform-tools-latest-linux.zip

Neon Architecture Reference

Nexus 5X specifications on GSM Arena

neofetch | Command-Line System Information Tool

My favorite system information tool is the KDE Plasma Information Center or kinfocenter. It tells me all the fun little bits about the computer. My second favorite tool is called neofetch. Neofetch is a command-line system information tool that displays an aesthetically pleasing output of information about your operating system, software and hardware. It shows the basic information about a system in Bash.

For information on the project, visit their GitHub Page.

Installation

Tumbleweed

This is available in the main openSUSE repository for Tumbleweed so installation is easy:

sudo zypper in neofetch

Leap 15 Install

sudo zypper ar http://download.opensuse.org/repositories/utilities/openSUSE_Leap_15.0/ Utilities

sudo zypper in neofetch

It takes very little time to install with three other dependencies required.

The application is pretty straight forward, just run it:

neofetch

It’ll give you your system information.

neofetch-01.png

The information, by default, is displays alongside the operating system’s logo in ASCII art. It can be configured differently, if you wish. I don’t know exactly how neofetch is fetching the this information but it is pretty cool display of information in the terminal. I particularly appreciate the ASCII Tumbleweed symbol.

It was a welcome surprise to see how many packages, rpm and snap, are installed in the system as well as the uptime. These are fun numbers and it would be fun to dig into the source code on this application.

There are some additional options you can play with, take a look at the man page:

man neofetch

Final Thoughts

That’s it, just a quick, fun system info tool to use in the terminal. It is practical and easy to use. If you are managing multiple machines and want to get a quick account of information remotely in the terminal, this would be a good choice. How often will you use it? Not sure, but it is still nice to have.

Resources

Neofetch on GitHub

More Fun Terminal Applications

Windows 7 Registry Cleanup

ICanFixIt

I don’t often do any tech support on Windows computers. In fact, I do my best to avoid it as much as possible but there are these seemingly unavoidable moments when I have to work on a Windows machine. In many ways, I think it’s good for me as it keeps me appreciative of the Linux technology of which I have become accustomed. It also helps me realize that those little nitnoid annoyances in Linux are nowhere near the annoyances of using Windows.

In my opinion, since its inception, the registry on a Windows computer has seemingly been the Achilles Heel or weak point, often prone to corruption. Since my days on Windows 98, I would have issues with the registry and I became a pro with using Norton tools to maintain my Windows system. It would also get me increasingly annoyed with the system which eventually brought me to using Linux.

Back to my Windows problem… When trying to install some software for testing on a particular Windows machine, it would just refuse to install. Not only would it refuse to install but it would also delete the installer file, so I wasn’t able to try it again until I transferred this rather large file back to the computer. I found this very bizarre. The “expert” I consulted was no help, there was no error report, at least, nothing that would be helpful. I could not find a way to get some sort of verbose output on the failed installation. My lack of expert help and impatience to do research coupled with my “fond memories” about my past experiences with Norton lead me to first try a registry cleanup.

Boy-howdy is there a lot of shady looking “fix-your-computer” free software out there. It seems like you are out swinging in the breeze, navigating through a sea of unknown to find something good and not make things worse from the myriad of utterly dangerous-to-install software. After some searching, I found a piece of software that didn’t look shady but rather really quite legit, called CCleaner

https://www.ccleaner.com/

ccleaner-logo.pngIt was like a bastion of hope in a sea of dodgy, advertisement-riddled promises of making your computer 500% faster. CCleaner was very clear about what it did and how they made money. I didn’t need their premium product, just something to patch this system well enough to conduct the software tests.

Not a very big download, thankfully, and it installed without any issue and no enticement for anything other than its own offerings. Upon launching CCleaner, the controls are very straight forward, I just had to “Scan for Issues” than “Fix selected Issues…” It even gave me the option to save a backup registry, in case the whole thing blew up, but the reality was, this was my last ditch effort before wiping the whole system.

CCleaner-00-Registry

The cleaning process was MUCH quicker than I expected and once it was done, I thought I would give the machine a quick reboot, of which was successful. I once again transferred this software that I still needed to test and tried the installation once again.

Success!

I was able to test the software, take my notes and make the recommendations. Unfortunately, not long after the test, the Windows machine started acting up again and I had to wipe it and have Windows reinstalled anyway but CCleaner gave me the few extra days necessary to complete this necessary task.

Final Thoughts

Wow, am I glad I don’t pay for Windows! I am truly amazed people are okay with using it. I guess if you are okay with shelling out cash for software to maintain the machine or “experts” to administer it, it is fine but that is not acceptable arrangement for me. This experience reinforces why I really believe in owning your technology and your technology not keeping secrets and telling you what it is doing. This further bolsters my reasons for using Linux. I appreciate how it tells you what it is doing and makes it easy to get into the nuts and bolts of it when necessary.

After this experience, I am even more grateful for openSUSE Linux. If I could only install openSUSE on that rather beefy hardware… one can dream.

Resources

ccleaner.com

openSUSE.org

River City Ransom: Underground on openSUSE Linux

RCRU-Title Screen

Sometime in the early 1990s, when it was still a thing to rent Nintendo Entertainment System cartridges from a video store, a friend and I came upon this game, “River City Ransom” which, to our understanding was supposed to be similar to “Double Dragon II”. It was but FAR better. “River City Ransom” is referred to as an “RPG Beat ’em up”. The roll playing bit of it is to power up your character with new abilities and upgrade stats by making purchases using the money you “earn” from the antagonists you beat up.

NES River City Ransom Cartridge.pngI started to reassemble all of my vintage tech about a year ago and in that time, I introduced my oldest boy to the colorful, fun-packed wonders of the Nintendo Entertainment System and one of those games was “River City Ransom.” We both had loads of fun. In my idol searching around for information about “River City Ransom”, I learned of the sequels that weren’t released in the US and more importantly, the Sequel to this game on Steam by a Canadian company, Conatus Creative.

Steam

I was very excited to see there was a Linux version of this game on Steam and when I saw this promotional video of it, I jumping out of my seat in excitement.

If you notice, toward the end, you will see that delightfully, semi-pompous-looking penguin toward the end that made my heart skip a little with excitement. Up to this moment, there haven’t been any new games ported to Linux of which I was interested.

Installing Steam

opensuse-logo2I now had a real, true and burning reason to install Steam on openSUSE. I had to play this game, so it was time to get on the “Steam Wagon”. Installing it is as straightforward as most anything else on openSUSE. Either do the direct one-click install here:

https://software.opensuse.org/package/steam

Or install it through the terminal as it is available in the main repository:

sudo zypper in steam

Steam Logo.pngI think Steam has a very decent interface. There is no need to dig into any help sections to understand how to use it. I did the search, found the game and went through the purchase process.

After purchasing and downloading the game, I realized, I didn’t know anything about Steam gaming in Linux, or any form of gaming that didn’t use the keyboard or analog joystick. I didn’t know anything about “modern” controllers to use in Linux and so forth. That forced me into a mode of doing some research quite rapidly on what controllers would be compatible with Linux and I was impatient, unwilling to order and wait for their arrival. I decided to reduce my options and I went to a local store and looked up each model of controller and the challenges of using them on Linux. There is SO MUCH conflicting information out there… I settled on two wireless, PS3 Rock Candy controllers at about $15 each.

After plugging the wireless dongles in, they weren’t immediately usable and I couldn’t figure out why. They were recognized properly as an input. I could check that all the buttons and joysticks were working from the KDE Plasma System Setting for input devices window. They didn’t have any odd behavior so I went digging through the forums and the settings in hopes of finding the problem.

What it boiled down to was ensuring there was generic controller support in the Steam Settings.

Steam > Settings > Controller

Steam Controller Settings

Select, GENERAL CONTROLLER SETTINGS

Steam General Controller Settings.png

Just make sure that Generic Gamepad Configuration Support is selected.

After that, everything should work tip-top.

Wii U Pro ControllerIf you look above, you will see that Wii U – Generic Gamepad is the detected controller. After trying a few controllers, I ended up liking the and preferring the Wii U Pro Controller for gaming. It it quite literally the best feeling gamepad controller I have used to date. My fingers comfortably wrap around the controller and it fills my hands quite nicely. Also note, there are several controllers I haven’t yet tried.

Playing on Linux

Had this game not been released for Linux, I probably would not have purchased it but for some fantastic reason the fine developers at Conatus Creative chose to release it on Linux and for that, I am quite grateful.

Some tips on playing this game on Linux. I use KDE Plasma Desktop and I have noticed one little, teeny, tiny issue. If you use Xrender as the Rendering backend, even if you disable it for gameplay, does cause some frame-rate issues.  If I use OpenGL for the rendering backend, I have a better, smoother experience. Your results may vary.

Controls

I blame the fact that my gaming has basically stagnated and I don’t do much of it that I became unfamiliar with control schemes and much of what I had to do was dig around and piece information together and just become familiar with these newer controllers.

This is a reference for me, mostly as I will likely forget again.

River City Ransom: Underground Default Control Scheme

I had some issues really understanding, while playing, what all these buttons did so I  laid it out visually like this.

River City Ransom Underground Controller_defined-01

I would have died a lot less in the beginning had I done this from day one. Once you get used to it, as it is far different to the original Nintendo’s “River City Ransom”, it can become quite natural, even for those raised in the 1980s and 1990s era of gaming.

Game Play

The premise is simple and could almost be ancient in the ideas of video gaming since, arguably, 1987 when “Double Dragon” was introduced in the arcades and the following year on the Nintendo Entertainment System. You walk around and beat up the bad guys, pick up weapons and use them. In case this style of game play is completely foreign to you, no need to fret, as “River City Ransom Underground” starts off with a kind of tutorial. The Game starts off near the end of the original “River City Ransom”, right before entering River City High School.

RCRU-01-Tutorial

Once you complete this portion where you become acquainted with the updated game play, you will jump ahead some years with the option to select your character of choice. Each character has a different fighting style.

RCRU-03-Character Selection.jpg

What is also quite fun is that you can have four players at once. Admittedly, it can get a little crazy with so many characters on the screen at once, it is also incredibly fun and makes the cartoony violence very, very funny.

Throughout the game, you meet new friends of which you can change to those new found characters. It adds to the many layers of fun in this game.

RCRU-04-More friends

You also meet up with Alex and Ryan, the characters from the original game but 20 years or so older.

RCRU-05-Alex and Ryan.jpg

Game Progression

As you progress through the game, your character becomes more capable through eXperience Points (XP), gained from beating up the enemy and powering up by using the money you earn from your fallen opponents for purchases.

RCRU-06-Shopping

The map also helps with navigating and guiding you to your next “mission” in the game. Outside of a few confusing points in the game, perhaps intentionally, the map is a welcome addition over its progenitor.

RCRU-08-Map

This is much like an open world type game where you are free to explore as you wish. You can go to an objective to progress the story or work on building up your characters capabilities through XP, purchases from vendors in the malls and gaining new fighting abilities by visiting the dojos.

RCRU-09-Dojo.jpg In order to learn new moves, you have to have sufficient XP to be able to acquire it. Unlike the first “River City Ransom”, there are built in controls to limit how quick you can power up your character.

RCRU-10-Stats.png

The limits of your “max” on these stats is driven by your characters XP level. You can buy all the consumables to power up your character but you will hit those limits based on your characters XP level. This will force many hours of beating up rival gangs but it is really quite fun and not tedious at all.

In short, here are what the Stats mean:

ATK – Attack, How much damage you deal with special attacks, not the standard punch and kick but what is considered “special”.

WPN – Weapon, damage inflicted by a strike from a weapon.

THR – Throw, damage from throwing a weapon and presumably throwing an opponent.

AGI – Agility, Effects your character’s stun time (when knocked down, frozen by nerd grenades, etc). Also effects jump attack damage.

DEF – Defense, How much damage you can withstand blocking.

STR – Strength, How much damage you deal hand to hand, punching and kicking.

WLP – Willpower, this can be thought of as a stamina reserve, once you exhaust your stamina, you get a bit of a boost from willpower. This is a good stat to keep full.

STA – Stamina, like many other games, this is your life. Run out of this and you are “dead” which means you lose half of your money and return to the last visited hangout or story element end point.

ENG – Energy, this is not as clear as the other stats but this has to do with how much you can defend yourself before you are no longer able.

SPC – Special, this is another form of energy you have for doing special moves. Special moves are of a greater violence of action and generally do more damage than regular strikes. It is best to use Special moves in conjunction with standard attacks for maximum effectiveness

Visit this Steam Community site for a guide on all the shop items and their stat boosts and meanings of the stats.

What I like

RCRU-Glen-00This game is fun and quite funny. I spent several hours laughing at the absurdity of the 8-bit-like cartoony violence. The variety of characters from which to play is also a fine element that adds another depth of enjoyment. At first I wasn’t keen on the idea because, I didn’t have such variety in 1989 so why do I need it now? This game really does the original “River City Ransom” justice with nods to it all throughout the game. It pokes fun at itself and at the charming ridiculousness of the original. “River City Ransom Underground” is everything that the original game was with so many added elements.

I appreciate how this game starts out at near the end of the original game as a kind of tutorial and walks you through how to use the controls. They kind of rewrite the end of the story a bit to feed into this new adventure. As you start out with the game, there are on screen dialog boxes that will stop the game to give you hints about stamina, willpower and so forth. Many of the screen backdrops are similar enough to the original game that it has a very welcoming familiarity to it but yet adds some additional flare for enjoyment as well as showing neglect. The backdrops are also more interactive than the original. There are things you can break, cars driving, wrecking balls swinging… and much more. The over-world map and subway system is a welcome addition over the original too. I am very much a fan of the “level up” system and how to earn new abilities through the dojos.

The music in the game is also really great. It is similar enough to the sounds of gaming past yet different enough from the original with additional musical elements to not get tiresome to hear for long periods of time.

What I don’t like

Not much, there is not much I don’t like about this game but there are a few nitnoids. The number one is, if the wireless controllers fall asleep because you take a break they can be reassigned to different characters. Not really a big deal if you are playing by yourself but if you have a kid that is VERY particular about using HIS controller. This is enough cause to save and exit the game, come back and re-add players in the desired order. It would be nice if there was a way to associate controllers to player numbers, much like how the Wii U does it.

This game gets Nintendo Hard at times. This isn’t all bad and wouldn’t be as much of an issue if my hand-eye coordination hadn’t degraded over time coupled with the need to learn this new controller scheme. Certainly not the fault of the game.

When you couple the increasing difficulty of the game with some of the story elements that are a bit confusing, I had some frustrating moments. Thankfully there was the Steam forums where that could guide me through these roadblocks.

Final Thoughts

I am a huge fan of the original “River City Ransom” game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Although I was excited to see this new game based on the original, I was a bit hesitant to buy a re-imagined sequel as I hold the original in such high esteem. I also have been out of “modern gaming” for some time.

I enjoy the new characters with their unique fighting styles, the more interactive environment as well as the “shopping” aspect of the game for powering up. The city map that shows your location as well as the location of your objectives and hideouts is extremely valuable. The subway and car traffic is also a great game play addition. The fact that there is a DeLorean driving by, really made my day too.

RCRU-11-DeLorean

I am very glad that Conatus Creative built this game to run in Linux. I run Steam within openSUSE Tumbleweed and I don’t have a real high end gaming machine but this game doesn’t tax my system at all. It will easily run using on an 4th generation Intel Graphics chipset proving that you don’t have to have amazing, high-end graphics to have fun with Video Games. My thanks to the developers for time and care of making this run so efficiently.

“River City Ransom Underground” is a great game that pays great respect to the original. The 8-bit-like graphics and music gives that vintage feel and bits of humor scattered about makes this a fun game for the whole family. The outlandish fighting leaves me belly laughing and just doesn’t get old. This is a GREAT game. I have no buyers remorse, whatsoever. I highly, highly recommend it.

I do hope that this game was lucrative enough that there will be either a sequel or an expansion pack for the game. I would imagine that the hard work is done, most of the elements are there, it’s just a matter of wrapping it around another story, some additional game elements and further refinements.

One can hope.

External Links

River City Ransom on Steam

Steam Install for openSUSE

Conatus Creative

All Shop Items and their Stat Boosts

River City Ransom on the NES