Blatherings

Noodlings | LeoCAD, DeWalt and a UPS

Dusting off for the 14th installment.

14th Noodling of nonsense and clamoring

LeoCAD from Design to Publication

Designing, organizing the timeline and publishing a MOC (My Own Creation) on Rebrickable.com using LeoCAD on openSUSE

DeWalt cordless Power tool platform

A little trip outside the cubicle for my appreciation for a great cordless tool platform that enables me to do more with greater efficiency. My mission to simplify and reduce life complexity

APC UPS Battery Backup Rebuild

Fixing is my preferred option to buying new. Not only is it financially but environmentally more beneficial.

BDLL Followup

Thoughts about Lubuntu and Linux Mint choice to forbid Snaps.

openSUSE Corner

openSUSE + LibreOffice conference will be online. See the news article for details on on the Open Source Event Manager system, the online Summit and submitting for talks for it.

Tumbleweed Updates for snapshots 20200609 and 20200610, both trending stable scores.

Snapshot Reviewer Site

Computer History Retrospective

In the 5th episode of the 1st season of Computer Chronicles in the year 1983 was an episode about Robotics. Lots of interesting speculation about the commercial viability of robotic devices.

Even at this time, robotics in manufacturing, or machines in general were starting to do many of the more dangerous tasks that could easily be replaced by some sort of structured process where robots could excel.

The fear of robots taking away jobs as seen in the early 20th century but the speculation that robots would completely eliminate all jobs doesn’t seem to have come into fruition. I know that today we speculate that automation will replace us in every way. It has in some capacities but I do believe it opens up the world for more skilled occupations. Robots and computers are certainly very disruptive to society, but they also give us new things as well.

Here is the video in it’s video tape recorded glory from 1983.

Final Thoughts

We all have immutable characteristics, things about us we cannot control about us. That will never make you less of a person

LeoCAD 19.07.1 on openSUSE | Building to Publish

I have previously talked about LeoCAD on openSUSE and it is a pretty fantastic experience. There is a lot of fun to be had with designing or documenting your designs using this application. I also find it incredibly enjoyable, just because it runs so well in Linux. In my case, of course, openSUSE. I have been using the AppImage as of late, mostly because of the reduced hassle in dealing with installing the parts library. It seems that some sets I have downloaded from LDraw.org to recolor (that’s another story) didn’t have the correct geometry. Rather than dink around with that, I decided, the AppImage is the way I will go for now.

Installation

I am using AppImageLauncher to manage all the AppImages on openSUSE Tumbleweed with Plasma as my desktop environment. The LeoCAD AppImage can be downloaded from here. The “installation” and menu integration is all handled incredibly nicely by AppImage Launcher, so you can easily forget this is not managed by the system package manager.

I have been running version 19.07.1 of LeoCAD and it matches my system theme perfectly, so my previous reasons for using the native packages really went right out the window.

Making Things

Since this isn’t my first time using LeoCAD, I am quite comfortable with the interface. It is a bit different than PTC Creo that I use for employment or Fusion 360 that I use for designing personal project but I seem to easily be able to move between the applications well enough. I think that the navigation method LeoCAD uses may now be my favorite… I think… ask me again tomorrow, I will have probably changed my mind.

The MOC

Assault-Invader MOC on Rebrickable.com

Since I am perhaps stuck in a bit of a rut, I can’t help but to design and build sets in the vintage (but awesome) Blacktron Space theme from late 1980s. I designed (in collaboration with my kids) a modification to a set called the Blacktron Invader that can carry 6 passengers. The intent of this was like a troop transport but also be like a porcupine and look aggressive to have adventurous battles with my boys or, alternatively, if I am playing Legos with my daughter, to carry all our friends to the shopping mall or equestrian farm. When I started on this design, it was my intention from the beginning to publish another MOC (My Own Creation) on Rebriclable.com.

Creating a little “Story”

Part of the fun of this is to create a little story about your MOC. Using a bit of imagination to explain your MOC. I do with all my MOCs, so far, and some of them get a little feedback, largely because “Blacktron” were the “bad guys” and I have rejected that narrative. I have turned the script a bit to say that they are the good guys.

MOC Name

This is the most difficult part of the publishing. What do you call the thing you created. In this case, I created a variation on a set called the “Invader” and since my design intent was to be an “Assault” module, I called it the Assault Invader. Kind of a silly name, severely lacking in creativity and doesn’t exactly sound like something every kid is going to exclaim to their parents that they want for Christmas but this will do. I can change it if necessary.

Build Instruction Viewer

After uploading the “directions” I noticed (maybe missed it previously) a really awesome build instructions feature in Rebrickable. You can go through, step-by-step the build process in this fantastically executed virtual instruction viewer called the “BI Viewer” (Build Instruction Viewer).

I thought this was so dang cool. Not only can you see each step like modern Lego build instructions with pieces required for each step, it also shows where they go on the model and you can rotate it around and zoom to get a detailed look at it. So incredibly cool. This means, I had to make my uploaded CAD files properly stepped in the timeline tab so that it would be an enjoyable experience to build, should anyone actually do that.

Adjusting the Timeline in LeoCAD

When going through the instructions on the BI Viewer, I noticed that it was a mess. The steps were all kinds of nonsense. You can’t hold pieces in mid-air and build beneath it. So I took the appropriate time to properly order the steps in LeoCAD using the “Timeline” tab.

The process in which I found this worked best was to start with the last step and pick off the top most parts, or take it apart step-by-step to put on a new step at the end of the timeline. This was the most efficient way I found to order the steps quickly.

Uploading CAD file for Inventory

This is an important part of the process so prospective builders can make it for themselves. Here is where I ran into some issues with my models. It appears that LeoCAD has parts that are now considered obsolete; they cannot just remove them from the inventory of parts as it would “break” some designs. That said, Rebrickable lets you know if the parts are not current or correct. Thankfully, they have a way of selecting an alternate part.

Final Thoughts

I don’t generally have a lot of time to “play” with Legos, either real or virtual. When I do, it is mostly with my kids as a fun, family activity. Using LeoCAD is a great way to document the designs or work out ideas without having all the appropriate pieces and also makes for a great education tool to use with children or adults.

I am able to take time, now and again, to explore my limited creativity and to share it with those that have similar interests on the Internet. Sure, my reach is probably only a dozen or so people scattered around the world that are approximately my age but that is just enough. The positive is, it ensures that when I go to Bricklink.com to order the parts I want, they are not in high demand and I can get what I want pretty reasonably.

I can’t thank enough those that are volunteering their time to create LeoCAD and all the tools that make my openSUSE Linux machine possible. Not to mention the various web services and sites that make sharing possible too. It’s a pretty great time in which we live, especially if you are a nerd.

References

CubicleNate MOCs on Rebrickable.com
LeoCAD.org Project Page
Companion Video on YouTube
LeoCAD on openSUSE on CubicleNate.com
Distracted by LeoCAD once again on CubicleNate.com
LDraw Model Repository
Bricklink.com Lego Marketplace
Assault-Invader MOC on Rebrickable.com

APC Smart-UPS 1500 Battery Replacement

I am of the opinion, if you plan to have a desktop computer, and by that I mean a machine without a built in battery, you need to have a UPS or Uninterruptible Power Supply. I am of the belief, go as large as you can reasonably afford. Should you have a power interruption, your computer and equipment will thank you in the best way it knows how, by not turning off unexpectedly and corrupting your data.

I Received this used, APC Smart-UPS 1500 a few years back. They did work when I got them, not for long as the batteries failed. After building my workstation / server / desktop unit that I make do things all the time. I decided, after a power outage, it was time to investigate the failure and fix it. I was 99% sure that the batteries were dead as it was the “Replace Battery” light that was on.

Video montage of repair. It’s not very good…

Disassembly

Like in any repair of mine, I find that disassembling it first is the best way to go about it. I have had countless other projects that have gone wrong because I trusted online documentation and batteries for a UPS are never cheap. The first objective is to open it up. The tools required for this was just a crossed-recess (Phillips) screw driver. I opted for the battery operated driver because I am lazy.

Two screws on the front hold the battery compartment door shut.

After removing the batteries, I was completely certain that they were dead as the multi-meter made that very clear.

Search for Batteries

My initial search for batteries lead me to realize that this was not going to be a cheap repair. My local supplier of batteries had them listed at $54.00 each. Others I found all were comparably as expensive.

Then I stumbled upon a site called BatterySharks.com that had these batteries for sale $48.00… for a pair. For a pair! I double checked the specs from the old batteries to the new batteries and I completed the order.

I can’t guarantee that the prices will stay so low but was certainly a fantastic deal. Shipping wasn’t too bad, another $24.59 which brought the grand total to $72.55. I was thinking, however, I am making a $72 gamble that there isn’t anything else wrong with this UPS.

Installation

It didn’t take long for the batteries to arrive. The rather weighty package landing with a thud on my front porch signaled it had arrived. The actual installation was really quite simple. Just a reversal of disassembly. Installing the terminal connections, reinstalling the protective terminal caps, I used a little double sided sticky tape to hold them together like the originals (and thinking about it, totally unnecessary), and screwed it back together. Extremely basic.

I did clean up the corrosion with white vinegar just to be sure that there wouldn’t be any issues from the old battery acid that leaked.

Testing

After assembling it, it was time to do the initial “smoke test” to make sure that I didn’t mess anything up. Sure enough, I turned it on and an incredibly uneventful yet thrilling beep followed that meant, all was well and ready to be used. I did want to do some testing.

This included using a laptop hooked up to see that when the grid power was removed from the UPS, that it would continue kicking out uninterrupted power. Upon removal of the power, a clunk with a 60 hz hum sound coupled with an alarming “beep” to signal the loss of power and sure enough, just like its name, the power to my computer was uninterrupted.

I let it sit a while so I could watch to see the battery charge meter climb while it remained plugged into the mains. Since it all seemingly worked well so I shut down my server, router/firewall, access point and switch to plug it into the UPS. The load indicator was fluctuating between 1 and 3 bars out of 5 while I was standing there and monitoring it for a while. That was good news as it is well within the limits of this newly repaired but well aged device.

Power Loss

Within a week of installing this newly finished UPS system, the power went out at my house. The server, and network equipment kept chugging along and the battery charge held surprisingly well. Since I was using my laptop, I could still access all things on the server, wirelessly, though I was unsure as to how long it would hold out. After about 40 minutes or so, I thought I should probably start shutting things down nicely. I checked the display and I still had plenty of battery to go so I left it and within 20 minutes of that, the power was restored.

The timing of this repair couldn’t have been better…

Final Thoughts

This was one of those projects that was well worth the time and effort. I do know that I can connect this UPS up to a computer and have it do things but I really am not sure what. I think I need to start playing with the power awareness features so I can figure out how to safely shut down my server and Firewall safely should power levels get low.

Buying a new UPS can be quite expensive. Repairing a used one is much more affordable and also, a better choice for reducing e-waste. Hopefully, this little writeup and crap-tastic video will give someone just enough courage to try it out themselves.

References

https://www.batterysharks.com/APC-RBC7-p/APC-RBC7_ups12-18_x2.htm
APC.com UPS manufacturer website

Rebuilding a Ryobi 18v NiCad Battery

This was one of those unscheduled projects that I really had no intention of doing but when you have a persistent 9 year old that wants to take apart and rebuild a battery for some Ryobi tools, sometimes, you just have to give in.

I did purchase a bunch of NiCad 2200 mAhr C-cell batteries with tabs some years back with the intention of rebuilding my batteries when the time came. In that time, I changed tool platforms and went with Lithium Ion as the capacities are greater and the packs lighter, so the batteries sat along with some dead batteries.

I don’t use Ryobi batteries but have cordless Ryobi tools that I use with DeWalt Batteries. Doing that was easy, I just bought an adapter, popped it into the tool, slid on the DeWalt battery and I was off to the races, or at least, in many cases, off to burning my hand at my lack of attention paid to the hot end.

Sure, it looks a little goofy, but the benefit of having only one battery is quite substancial in keeping life efficient and simplified. By having one battery system, I am always ready with a cordless tool… But that is not what this is about, at all.

What started me down the path of this was that I needed, or rather wanted, a chemical sprayer for my garden to spray fertilizer or insecticide around the house and the like. Since I live in Michigan, bugs are a plenty and I use it to keep away things that will eventually infiltrate the house, like ants. I have a manual sprayer, but that is, well manual, so I bought this Ryobi One+ 18v Chemical Sprayer in an effort to enhance efficiency. My intent was to sell the battery and charger on Ebay but for whatever reason, my oldest took a shining to this system and made a case for why we should keep it. Although I didn’t fully agree, I appreciated the effort and we agreed on his active involvement with certain chores if I keep it. Ultimately worth the $40-ish I would have made from it on Ebay.

That same day, I was at my workbench riffling through the things littered about. It has a lot of my fix-it projects at various states where my kids put things that they break. They seem to expect whatever they place there to magically heal so I have to stay on top of that. I pulled out an old dead Ryobi NiCad battery along with a few other brands of battery packs I have been hording. I also had some 2200mAh cells in some boxes so my boy begged me to rebuild an old Ryobi battery.

This was not anywhere on my plan for the week or month but he insisted, I again struck a deal with him where he obligated to other various tasks if we were to do this. So, the project began. He started taking apart the battery and exposed the innards hidden away in its plastic tomb.

Once figuring out how they were chained together. I was able to replicate it with some “new” NiCad cells.

Building was tedious and since I don’t have the proper equipment, I used a lack-luster soldering iron and the tabs that were already welded in place. The soldering job is absolutely embarrassing so to ensure I never get a job soldering, here it is under construction.

Unfortunately, I misread the pack and thought that minus meant minus so I did have to rewire the connectors after I was finished soldering it. I could have probably handled it better but the battery is together and functional.

My son did help me put together the final bits and he finished screwing it together. Unfortunately, after putting it together, I discovered that I do not have correct Multi-chemistry charger for it so I had do charge it the brute force way. Regardless, it was a success, it holds a charge and seemingly operates as one would expect.

The Glue gun looks almost as silly with this battery as it does the DeWalt battery on an adapter. I don’t know how long this battery will last and if was worth the time it took to make but it was certainly educational. I don’t see myself making any effort to use this but it is amazing how excited a 9 year old can get fixing a 12 year old battery

Final Thoughts

Power tools are another nerd hobby of mine. I am amazed by the amount of power and capability you can get out of a plastic casing hand tools. Tearing them apart and seeing what is inside and fixing them, certainly, gives you a sense of accomplishment. It does make your tool much more yours.

Though I don’t see myself using the fruits of this exercise very much, what I do hope it sparks in my son is the desire to not just use but understand his tools, whether they are power tools, computers or any other electronic or mechanical device. That is ultimately why I did this with him. Strike while the curiosity iron is hot. I have also given my son a sense of ownership. Not only does he suddenly want to care for these tools but also use them properly. I see it as a great step forward in his growth.

References

Ryobi One+ Cordless Chemical Sprayer
Tenergy Batteries

Outside the Cubicle | DeWALT 20v Max Cordless Tool Platform

Outside of the Linux thing and retro tech hobbies of mine, I like to build things and generally improve my domicile so I enjoy tools, especially cordless power tools. Not having that tether to the wall has a kind of freedom to it that makes working with your hands much more enjoyable. I have been using cordless tools in the form of the Porter Cable 18 volt line for about 10 years. It has been a fantastic platform of cordless tools but unfortunately, it was the decision by the company to abandon the 18 volt line and move to this 20 volt Max line without an upgrade path. I stuck with the Porter-Cable tools for quite a while but in the last year or so, the batteries were all giving out. No batteries were available in the stores anymore so I bought some knock off batteries on eBay. I had to repair both of them after using them due to a manufacturing flaw but that was the deciding factor that I could not continue to stay with the Porter-Cable 18v line of tools.

Did a lot of research online, wanted to hear harsh opinions of all of the tools, read or watch anything that told me the good and the bad with every aspect I could fine. I wanted a tool I could afford but one I could rely on with a broad selection of tools and a non-restrictive technology. I wanted to have some level of trust for the intentions and motivations of the company that owns the brand. After all of my searching, studying and evaluating each of the value propositions, I landed on DeWALT.

Value Proposition

How I ended up on this decision. Keep in mind, this is an evaluation of what I value that works best for me. This is not universal to all people, nor should you take this as a recommendation that works best for you. You will have to determine this for yourself using your own value proposition wheel.

Durability

I need tools that will handle my level of abuse. I do try to be careful with them and I do keep them clean but I am not exactly good at preventing me from happening to my things. I am prone to drop, kick, knock off high places and so forth my power tools. I need things that can survive my usage. Based on my contractor friends’ preferences. DeWALT tends to be their preference. Though, my plumber friends tend to go Milwaukee for some of their plumbing specific tools, I don’t have Milwaukee money.

Variety of Tools

The next most important aspect of my choice was to have a large variety of tools to remove complexity in accomplishing tasks in my life. My time is limited and I need to maximize efficiency whenever possible (side note, much of the reason I use Linux and specifically openSUSE but that is another discussion for another time). Suffice to say, I want options, lots of options and DeWALT has the best score here for my preferences. I also want the ability to use easily use batteries with other tool platforms (supported or not). Since DeWALT is a popular platform, there are many hacks out there so that is also a big win.

Battery

It was a absolutely a necessary requirement to have options for large capacity batteries for higher draw tools. I don’t like extension cords. Sure, that is the universal power source but it is also very inconvenient and I tend to mangle my extension cords over time. In this are, DeWALT really fit the bill. Not only do they have their 20 volt Max line with 6 Amp Hour batteries but they also have batteries that will flip to 60 volts (actually 54v nominal) for a chain saw, table saw, and a miter saw. These vast options bolstered my decision to go with the 20 volt Max platform.

As an aside, Makita cordless tools batteries had the high capacities but should I choose to refurbish them with new cells, they would no longer function. This would not work for me. Milwaukee arguably have the best battery in the business and the price reflects it.

Commitment of Long Term Support

My experience with the 18 Volt Porter-Cable line was good, but within 4 years they started their transition to the 20 Volt Max along with their DeWALT and Black & Decker counter parts. Unlike DeWALT, there was no provided upgrade path. Had I bought into DeWALT 18 volt line years ago, I could have upgraded batteries over time and slowly transitioning to the 20 Volt Max line. I wanted to have some kind of corporate commitment or at least the perceived commitment that I would be able to use these tools for many, many years. Based on the rate of expansion of the tool line, there is some sort of engineering and product development commitment and therefore, it is likely to be around for a while.

Based on these three bits of criteria plus the bonus if it being “manufactured in the USA with globally sourced materials” I decided that DeWALT would be my best decision. It hit with the highest marks on all parts.

The First Purchase

I was at Lowe’s to get materials for a project and I saw there was special on DeWALT Tools. What cought my eye was a 10-pc tools set, last one and when I did the math, I would spend less than $60 per tool, factoring the two batteries and charger, it appeared to be a spectacular deal for DeWALT. Buying so many, tools at once meant I could completely change over my cordless platform. I am not going to give a full review on each component, just the highlights and drawbacks.

Drill

This model has brushed motor, feels good in the hand, slightly smaller, faster and more powerful than the 10 year old Porter-Cable 18v cordless drill. A nice feature of it is the work light in the front turns off after approximately 20 seconds after you release the trigger.

The anti-feature of this drill is the speed selector switch is a bit ropey. The one and only feature that is lack luster. This would have been a top-of-the-line drill 10 years ago but today, there are many better options.

Impact Driver

This model has a brushed motor and is much more compact than the Porter-Cable 18v equivalent model. The 3-LED front work light with similar delayed turn off feature makes this fantastic for working in dimly lit areas, which seem to be the work environment I end up more frequently than not.

The anti-feature of this is that although more compact than what I have been used to, not as much as I have seen and a brushless motor would be nice, even if not necessary.

Reciprocating Saw

This is the larger, brushed motor model, feels beefy in the heads and is a bit weightier than the Porter-Cable 18v unit it was replacing. It looks and feels like it will take more of a beating than it is likely to get in my possession.

The anti-feature is that it is longer and heavier than what I would like but it’s really not worth complaining about as this isn’t a tool for which I am likely to put a ton of hours.

Circular Saw

This is the brushed motor model with the 6-½” blade. It is well balance and the over all use and feel of it is quite satisfactory. This has seen many linear foot of wood travel past it’s spinning teeth. Since I have used it quite a lot I can confirm that it does the job very well.

The Anti-Features of this tools is that the chips from cutting wood somehow seem to jump into my face more than my previous Porter-Cable model, it also lacks a laser guide and a 7-¼” blade would have been preferred. This also does not have a laser guide like you would see on some brands as standard.

Angle Grinder

This tool is very similar to the Porter-Cable 18v unit it has replaced. Although I haven’t heavily used this tool, it has chewed through many pipes and nails. I like how the design of the tool has a built in hand guard.

The anti-feature is that it has a slightly slower maximum rotational speed (RPMs) than my previous cordless unit but it seems to perform similarly. No complaints here.

Oscillating Multi-tool, XR model

This is the brushless motor model and at first, I didn’t like the trigger vs switch as compared to the Porter-Cable equivalent. After actually using it, I found that the trigger with the lock was more ergonomic and ultimately easier to use. It also has a very bright work light in the front with a similar delayed shut off.

Anti-feature, the learning curve for this different switch mechanism but I wouldn’t change this.

Blower

I have used this for numerous functions around the house besides blowing sawdust off of my projects. It’s great for clearing the driveway and the front porch. I have also used it to inflate an air mattress or exercise ball more than once. It isn’t loud and painful on the ears like some air pumps.

Anti-features, it could be more powerful and have a longer nozzle attachment but that would likely put it in another class of blower so I will not complain about this either.

Vacuum, DCV517

This could almost be my favorite tool in the pack and it is the one that gets used nearly every day. I have found that this vacuum is not only great for cleaning up your work, the tools after getting them dirty but also great for quick cleanups around the house and in my truck. The detachable hose makes it very useful for cleaning up dust bunnies in corners, or on ceiling fan blades and when paired with round brush attachment makes quick work of cobwebs between the floor joists or cleaning underneath the couch cushions. It should also be noted that this is a wet/dry vacuum, of which I have used it for both.

Anti-feature, it could suck with a bit more force but considering the size of it, I believe it to be adequate.

Bluetooth Speaker

It’s a nice portable speaker that I pair with my computer, usually my Dell Latitude E6440 and listen to podcasts while I work around the house. The KDE Plasma Bluetooth module had no issues pairing and remember this device (the Linux tie-in). I find that this one gets a lot of use too. Also, with the Plasma Media Integration, starting and stopping the podcast or YouTube video playing on Firefox worked perfectly. Additionally, I could use my phone to stop the media playback using KDE Connect. Pretty fantastic.

Anti-feature, it could be louder.

Flashlight

Frequently, this is considered the “throw off” or “sandbag” item, and I can agree to that with some sets but this is a nice flashlight and also gets a lot of use, mostly by my kids. The pivoting head is great for setting it in a particular direction to light up your work.

Anti-feature, it could be brighter or have an adjustable focus.

Summation

These are not DeWALT’s finest tools by a long shot but spending about $60 per tool, I would say that it was quite worth it. Admittedly, the flashlight isn’t worth $60 but as a package deal, very worth it. There really is only one tool for which I am not completely satisfied and that would be the drill. I knew this going into it and I wasn’t about to drop the coin on having a set that consisted of nothing but the top of the line XR tools as I don’t use them enough to warrant that.

Tools that I like most in the set

Impact Driver – The key feature of the impact driver I like most is how compact it is and the three LEDs on the front of it. It feels good in the hand when pared with a 5 cell battery and spectacularly drives screws into stubborn materials.

Vacuum – Although not exactly a tool someone is likely to seek out, this is the tool that gets the most use in my house, day in and day out. It is a wet dry vacuum that really sucks. I have used it more for cleaning dust bunnies, crumbs and floor dirt than anything else but with the hose being an integral part of the tool, makes this fantastic for quickly cleaning up the messes of life. This has done more to simplify and improve efficiency of my life than any of the other tools in the group.

Blower – As odd as it may sound, this cheap tool has been used a lot. Everything from blowing leaves, cleaning grass off the sidewalks to inflating exercise balls (darn thing had a leak).

Tools I Don’t Like as Much

It is not that I am disappointed with anything it is just to give an honest bottom three in this 10 piece tool set ranked from least to most disappointing.

The Reciprocating Saw is fine, very powerful and also quite heavy. It is better than the 18 volt Porter-Cable model I had but also, having held the XR line of more compact Reciprocating Saws by DeWALT makes this one feel a lot more like last decades technology.

The Circular Saw, it’s really quite decent but it as such that I feel like I get hit in the face with wood chips / dust more often because the saw blade and motor are opposite to what I am most accustomed. Also, it is a 6 ½” blade as opposed to the 7 ¼” blade that is standard on typical corded circular saws. This saw feels a lot like the 18 Volt Porter-Cable but a mirrored version of it.

The drill, although not bad and better than the Porter-Cable Drill that I loved so dearly for a decade is probably the least thrilling of the bunch. I only say this because of the XR line of brushless cordless drills available. Those are something special, this is just, meh.

Of these bottom three, the drill needs to be upgraded for me to be happy with the tool set. I could get along fine with this drill but I would rather move this drill into the kitchen as a hand mixer and have a better compact XR drill for making and fixing things.

Amendment to Cordless System

This is just may be me, but the cornerstone tool of any kit is the drill and before I actually left the store, I had already made up my mind that I needed to get a second drill anyway. The drill I ended up purchasing, on eBay, was the DeWALT DCD791, a part of the XR Line with an extremely bright work light light on it, just above the battery. There are three settings to the work light. Dim, Bright and super bright. The “Super Bright” also has 20 minute delay on it so you can pull the trigger. set the drill down and brighten the dim corner you are working for quite a while. This is super, super handy. No regrets on that $80 purchase.

The second tool that I also needed to have the tool set complete enough for my next series of tasks was a hammer drill. I ended up getting this DCD996 Hammer Drill. My mistake that I made was purchasing it without the side handle. The performance of it is to my satisfaction and it too has that very handy three setting light system. In a pinch, you can set these drills up around you to brighten something up.

DeWALT 2, 3, 4 Ah BatteriesAlso purchased two, 4 Amp Hour batteries because the two, 2 Amp Hour batteries were not sufficient. Lowe’s also had a buy one get one deal going so I purchased another charger with a 3 Amp Hour battery.

I found that I was ripping through batteries pretty quickly with only having two, 2 Amp Hour batteries. Having the additional batteries made it possible to always have at least one charged and ready to go and one sitting in the vacuum.

Where to from here

This was the first phase in my goal for simplification for my project tasks. Not just for fixing, building and making but also for general operation to include cleaning and maintaining my domicile. Little things like a vacuum at the ready with batteries in reserve has made my life a lot better. The next steps were to replace my aging 18v Line of Black and Decker outdoor tools as well as replace my mower with a DeWALT cordless variety.

Final Thoughts

There have been many times when I have made purchases that I have regretted shortly after. That is not the case at all with this 10 piece tool set. After selling off my old tools the difference would have been about the coast of new batteries. Surprisingly, 10 year old cordless tools hold their value pretty well.

I am very glad I purchased a few extra batteries as it allows me to rotate through and always have a battery on hand. I have subsequently put in several hours of use on each of the tools I have briefly described here. They have all performed to my satisfaction, even the lack-luster drill has been used pretty heavily. I have made several mean pots of mashed potatoes with it.

I am not sure where I am going to go from here. I have no intention of doing any work to failure videos or tests as there is no way I would get any value out of that. I may focus on more interesting tools at a later date on if it suites me. I can guarantee that some of these above will make cameo appearances on future things as they are very often in supporting roles.

Tools are very much a necessity in many, many aspects. They are force-multipliers in chores and tasks which consequently make life more efficient and help to make my time in this fallen world a bit more enjoyable. A quality tool is never (maybe rarely) a wasted purchase and from what I can tell, I have purchased quality tools that have, so far, held up quite nicely.

References

Lowe’s 10 pc tool set product information
DeWALT Tools
KDE Connect Article on CubicleNate.com

FreeOffice on openSUSE

I am not really much of an “Office Snob” but in recent weeks, I have heard people hammer and clammer about this FreeOffice for both “in favor of” and “against” it. In full disclosure, I mostly use LibreOffice and I still use Microsoft Office 2007 for certain very specific reasons. That said, I am obviously not an open source purest. Back to the reason for this write up, I use office products a lot for the purposes of creating product for home educating my kids as well as for many administrative things that I do as a part of my employment. For the most part, I don’t do anything terribly complex but I do like a certain uniformity and bits of information on things to keep me organized.

Bottom Line Up Front, FreeOffice is a fine, well polished, very complete application. I am only using the “Free version” and I am very impressed with it. The user interface is flexible to your liking, looks clean and modern, most things work fantastically well and I am not sure how they get away with the look of the UIs similarity to Microsoft Office. Although this would likely serve all my needs, I will stick with LibreOffice because it is what I am most accustomed and I don’t gain anything by switching to FreeOffice. At a minimum, I would have to keep LibreOffice Draw for a few specific tasks.

Installation

The installation process for openSUSE is very straight forward. You can read their directions here:

https://www.freeoffice.com/en/tips-and-tricks-linux

They also have other distros there too if you are interested but since I am writing this specifically as a user with an almost unhealthy obsession with the openSUSE project. I will summarize the process here because I need to feel like I am actually doing something.

There are two ways you can go about doing this. First would be to download and install the RPM which will give you the shell script to add the repository. Alternatively, you can hop into the terminal, my favorite place (sometimes), to use the fantastic Zypper command to do all the heavy lifting for you.

For simplicity, I’ll break this down into steps using a terminal. If you don’t like the terminal… you should like the terminal because it is pretty awesome once you understand it.

Import the Public Key

Arguably this is an optional step, you could really just ignore the warning you would get other wise but for the sake of completeness, download the public key here. By default Firefox will put it in your “Downloads” folder, navigate to it and this is how you will import the key, using the terminal:

sudo rpm --import ./linux-repo-public.key

You’ll see some output, read it, then move on to the next step.

Add the repository

sudo zypper ar https://shop.softmaker.com/repo/rpm FreeOffice

Agree to whatever is necessary to move forward to the next step.

Refresh the repositories

The next step is to refresh the repositories. Depending on your inclination to install the public key or not, you may have to select ignore to continue.

sudo zypper refresh

Install the application

The last step will be to install the application. This does seem to take a while. I am note really sure why but the installation process seemed to take an unnecessarily long time.

sudo zypper install softmaker-freeoffice-2018

Once complete, you will have the application links in your menu and the associations with your mime types so opening a document from the file manager into FreeOffice works as expected.

First Run and Impressions

Office productivity applications are not exactly the most exciting activity to dig into but I do find them to be an important staple in the refrigerator that is personal computing. Most people I know have office applications on their systems as a necessity. I do realize that it has also somewhat become in vogue now to use online office productivity suites too so perhaps this not relevant.

In order to really use and evaluate FreeOffice, I decided I would take the time and see how working in FreeOffice would be, instead of using my typical preference, LibreOffice. Therefore, I left the automatic file associations defaulting to this, essentially forcing myself to use it.

When you first start it up FreeOffice, you are given six options to set the user interface to your personal design preference.

The top row are three Ribbon menu and the bottom three are Classic menu toolbars options. I went for the Ribbon Dark Theme. Interestingly, there is a “Touch mode” that has larger icons and menu entries. I didn’t try that as I am not using this on a machine with a touch screen interface.

Next you are going to be greeted with entering your user info and you are off to the races.

My initial impression of FreeOffice is the professional feel about it. Very nicely, there is a convenient side bar welcome to get you started. It just feels like the kind of application for which I would have had to shell out some cash on any operating system.

I tend to use one open document formats so I loaded up one. After all, it is one thing to stare at a blank page, it is another to actually use it so I decided to open up and do some of the “work” with it. In this case I was working on product for my home education board for my kids’ weekly memory work.

Using the application, I find that the layout of of the ribbon menu looks very familiar to another, offering by our friends from Microsoft with one caveat, this has a fantastic dark theme. On Microsoft Office 2007 there is a gray theme but nothing dark so this is also a welcome design choice.

In the weeks I spent using it, I did run into one issue with FreeOffice, it seems that the crop performed on an image using LibreOffice isn’t necessarily respected in FreeOffice. This does seem to be a consistent issue. I am showing one example below but this does appear to be a consistent problem. This was only an issue where I cropped images.

There is one specific feature that not having is a kind of deal breaker. That feature is the ability to “Export to PDF.” In FreeOffice they give you a kind of print dialog which is, in my opinion better than just having the save dialog you are given in LibreOffice.

I haven’t used any of these options, I don’t have a particular need for it but I do appreciate having the options there. It would be important if you have some publishing requirements, I suppose.

The thing that I found that was rather lack luster with FreeOffice was the file picker dialog. It is okay, but not nearly as nice as the Plasma File Picker and certainly better than the default GTK file picker.

I would say this is the most disappointing part of my FreeOffice experience. Though, it is probably not very fair because I have been incredibly spoiled by Plasma and the niceties that come with it. It would be nice if there was some option to select to utilize desktop native file picker.

Just to see a side by side of the different office applications I use, I thought I would throw it here. Not for any particular reason other than just to compare the look of the UI. What is interesting to me is that Microsoft Office 2007 (yes, I know it is old but I prefer the look of it), has more screen real estate for the cell display, by default.

I happen to like LibreOffice the most in looks, but I still prefer to use Microsoft Office in the spreadsheet department. I just happen to find it more usable and I do like the built in Visual Basic for some of the fun things you can do with it.

Looking at the free versus paid versions of FreeOffice, there aren’t too many features I would say I would need. The only features that may be missed would be mail merge, not that I have used it in a long time and perhaps the “Presenter View” for the presentation software. The annual cost of $29.90 for the home use license for up to 5 computers is really not a bad deal and it keeps the project going.

For more information, visit the site here:
https://www.softmaker.com/en/comparison-freeoffice-softmaker-office

What I Like

The interface is familiar to anyone using Microsoft Office. The layout and look of the ribbon is comfortable and logically laid out which is welcoming. Since this seems to be what is normal and expected, I can see very clearly, why many people use this office application suite over some others.

The application appears to be just as responsive as LibreOffice or Microsoft Office. I have no complaints as to performance, whatsoever. It is surprisingly enjoyable to use

The specific feature that I use most and is readily available is the PDF Export. This is important because when I create “product” for my home education board, I want to “freeze” it to make it easier to share. The whole PDFs this is, um well, portable… Not having this would be a deal breaker for me so I am glad this is there.

What I Don’t Like

The file dialog box is irritating to use. It is functional but not at all what I like. I could be spoiled by the Plasma file dialog and since everything else is just not nearly as good, I am much less tolerant of this. I can understand a need to be desktop agnostic so this might be a necessity. I would like to see if it could somehow detect the desktop environment and use that desktop resource, much like LibreOffice and Firefox do. Although, that could be an openSUSE thing.

There seems to be a bit of a compatibility issue with LibreOffice where it will mess with size and ratio of the pictures in the word processing document. I am thinking, if I just use one or the other, it would be fine but this is an area I would like to see properly working.

Outside of that, I think it is pretty great.

Final Thoughts

FreeOffice is a great office solution that is very familiar feeling, nicely laid out with a clean interface. Installation is very straight forward and they support openSUSE so that is a huge plus. I absolutely appreciate they have taken time to support it. This was also much of the reason I decided to give it a try.

If I were to set up a machine today for someone, totally unfamiliar with Linux, used to the Microsoft Office suite, I think I would set up FreeOffice for them. If they have been using LibreOffice, I would still default to that.

In the end, for me, I am going to keep FreeOffice installed. I like it. I have the repository set up, and it isn’t a drain on my resources to have installed. I have adjusted the the file type options to make LibreOffice my default application for office documents. I will periodically check in on it and use FreeOffice to stay familiar with it and to check for any improvements. I am very glad I took the time to try out FreeOffice and evaluate it. If you have any inclination on trying office software, this should be on your list.

References

https://www.freeoffice.com/
https://www.freeoffice.com/en/tips-and-tricks-linux
https://opensuse.org

KDE Plasma 5.18 on openSUSE Tumbleweed | Awesome-Sauce

I can’t help but think how the Plasma team seems to have an incredible sense of momentum behind the project. Every update has been nothing but smiles and happy dances. At the time of writing, I am using 5.18.1 which rolled down recently and although you can read all the cool new features from the horses mouth here, I’m going to tell you all the things that make my experience just a bit better.

GTK Theme Integration

First and foremost, the GTK theme integration is tremendously improved. Really, this is a little thing but many of the GTK applications just look better now. Specifically, Gnome-Recipes and Virtmanager have a nicer look about it. Some applications don’t seem to look quite right, like Audacity and Firefox are only pulling some of the correct colors but over all, it is an improvement. From what I can tell. If the application is GTK3, it looks right. If it is GTK2, not quite as right.

From what I can tell, the color information is being pulled from the Plasma theme. The GTK2 theme doesn’t seem to do the same but I am sure it is a work in progress.

It should also be noted that the shadows underneath GTK applications match the rest of Plasma. It is a very subtle thing, really and not that big of a deal to not have but overall, this does look a lot better.

Gnome recipes is still lacking on the button preferences I would rather have at the top but this is better, overall than it was. Some applications, like Virtmanager look as though they are like any other Qt based application. It should be noted that there are some color issues with Firefox and Audacity. The accent color does not match the rest of my desktop.

Night Color

The Night Color controller, which was given to us in Plasma 5.17, now has an icon that is in the system tray. Version 5.16 and before, I was using Redshift, which was well enough but having something a bit more integrated into the system is preferred. The only issue was that there wasn’t a tray indicator and occasionally, there would be issues with Redshift, nothing horrific, I would just have to toggle it or the “GeoClue” service would runaway and have to be killed. Night Color doesn’t seem to have any bugs but was introduced without a tray icon or indicator. Now there is a nicely sized icon in the tray that allows for quick activation / deactivation and access to the configuration options. Not that you are going to adjust it but a quick click on the icon and it will return the temperature to the cooler default when you disable it. Truthfully, I seem to much prefer the warmer look of the screen these days.

Memory Usage

I have a couple low specification machines and what impresses me is how the memory resources have further been reduced. This is completely colloquial and should not be taken as absolute for all cases as I have read more than once that Plasma will take advantage of extra memory when available. Regardless, Plasma, on my low-spec multimedia machine not hovers at about 370 MiB of RAM but doesn’t go beyond 420 MiB on a machine with 4 GiB (well… 3.8 GiB after being gobbled up by the GPU). It should also be noted that after many hours of use, there was not perceivable memory leak or weirdness. Not that one would expect it today, but I do think it’s worth noting and nice to see that there do not seem to be any issues.

Emoji Picker

A feature that is touted that looks cool in the pictures but not so useful in my setup is the emoji picker. I think my issue is that I am running with a dark theme and the icons being chosen are just as you see but it would be nice if it had the more traditional, multi colored emojis. Truthfully, I don’t use emojis much at all but on those rare instances, I would much prefer to have something more… colorful.

I don’t know if I care enough to even file a bug report or feature request.

Default Audio Device

If you are like me, and I hope not, you have multiple audio devices you connect and disconnect at any time. I have become quite the fan of using Bluetooth devices on Linux as it works very reliably. What is nice is the ability to tell Plasma that when it sees a device, to make that one the default and switch to it when connected.

In my case, I have a Bluetooth headset that when it connects, I want it to be the default device so that when I press the volume up/down keys on my laptop, the headset is what adjusts volume, not some other device. This works 100% of the time, so far.

Final Thoughts

With every release of Plasma, I have been quite pleased and happy to get the latest and greatest that they have to offer. I truly believe that this is how software updates should be. The steady progress of better performance, feature refinements and improved memory usage has made using Plasma a continual joy. I do admit, these are small refinements and tweaks, but that is a welcome method of introducing changes. There is nothing radical or earth shattering in Plasma 5.18, just refinements.

I very much welcome these improvements and look forward to the next round. Personally, I am hoping for further refinements to the GTK integration. Currently, I am quite pleased with the changes that were made for client side decorations. I am also hoping that this course of performance and resource utilization improvements continue. I do realize that it is likely “we” are bumping up against realistic limits but I do recall a time when Plasma 4 could run quite nicely on a machine with 512 MiB of RAM, so… that’s something.

If you haven’t tried Plasma in a while, 5.18 is not likely to disappoint. Running Plasma on openSUSE Tumbleweed is a great experience, not necessarily for the defaults as they closely follow upstream and a dark theme should be default. I haven’t had any of the glitching or strange behavior that Plasma has been known for in the distance past, Plasma runs great on 14 year old hardware as well as modern hardware. Most important to me, none of the changes in 5.18 are irritating. Sure, that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement but for me, there is no greater statement that can be said about a desktop as the changes are not irritating.

References

KDE Plasma 5.18 Release Notes
openSUSE Tumbleweed Download

FerenOS (2020) | Review from an openSUSE User

FerenOS undoubtedly focuses on visual aesthetics, user interface and user experience. The last time I looked at FerenOS, it was built on the Cinnamon Desktop Environment. At the time, the Plasma version was called “Feren Next” and and initially I was disappointed I didn’t use the Plasma version, but now I am very glad I did as I can compare this experience with my last FerenOS experience.

This is my review as an openSUSE User. To say this will be completely objective would essentially be a big giant lie. This will be quite biased as I enjoy openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma desktop, day in and day out on multiple machines, including my daily driver, low end laptops and more powerful workstations and servers. I am happily entrenched but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to look over the fences from time to time to see what other parts of the community are doing. Plus, you can’t go anywhere without bumping in to “FerenOS Dev” on some YouTube chat, Telegram or Discord announcing his enhancements.

Bottom Line Up Front: FerenOS (2020) is simply fantastic. The way you are greeted and guided through your setup is brilliant. I am not keen on every design decision but that matters not as I am never keen on every design decision presented in any other distribution, to include my own. FerenOS is going for a look that is uniquely its own and is not afraid to experiment, cross toolkit boundaries and stray from the normal. I appreciate the design decisions, more than any other “boutique” distribution I have seen in a long while. Do I like all of them? No. Would I choose many of these? Also, No. But I think they do look great make for an enjoyable experience, just not one I would prefer.

Installation

The installation of FerenOS is very straight forward. It uses the Calamares Installer which is known for being straight forward. When you first kick on the installer, you are presented with your language selection.

I have noticed this is common with the Ubuntu flavors but not all of them. When FerenOS boots, it looks classy as they use the “flicker free” booting in just the right way.

When the system settles you are greeted with a fantastic welcome window that immediately detects you are using a VM. Although, neither of the two options fit my situation, it is still a welcome notification.

Another very cool feature is to set your theme and accent color to your desktop. Unless my memory fails me, I think this is the first I have been presented this on start up.

I of course went for a dark with a green accent color because that is my happy place. Interestingly, you are told to log out and in again for the changes to take affect on certain applications. I wonder which applications.

I appreciate how FerenOS tells the heart of its story, it’s reason for being, right on the desktop. “Passion led us here.” That, I believe is the corner value of this entire project. You can see the passion throughout the entire experience. It oozes through every design decision. Since I want to see how FerenOS does, when installed, that was my next step.

The installer is nice and respected, mostly, my dark theme selection. Step one, set your language. Step 2, set your Location. All very straight forward and you really shouldn’t get stumped on those particular questions.

Step 3, set your keyboard preference. In my case, I am going with English (US) and Default as I don’t have anything other than that… although… I am often interested in this Dvorak layout. It was the new big thing in the 80s, nice to see it’s taken off.

Step 4, set your disk partitions. In this case, I am utilizing the entire disk and the default, whatever it is, will be fine for this sort of experience.

Step 5, Set your username and password. This also includes the name of the computer. I really like that this is presented as such. I do not particularly care for having to dig for this option or setting it later. Sure, I will do it and probably won’t complain about it too much but I like for the option to be presented in the regular course of the installation process. No, that is not a dig on any other installer. Step 6, you are presented a summary to review your decisions. If you are okay with this, select Install. You will then be presented a kind of “sanity check” to be sure you are certain on this commitment.

Step 7, Install the system, or rather, let the installer copy all the files and configure your system according to the preferences you set. Step 8, select “Restart now” and click “Done”.

Then you are done. The system is installed and you are ready to stretch your legs in this new-car-smell of a desktop experience.

First Run and Impressions

Upon reboot, this is the only place it feels like Feren hasn’t taken any time to customize is the Grub screen that launches you into the operating system. Visually, this does not reflect the experience you are going to have and it, unfortunately doesn’t say “Feren OS” here. Not that seeing Ubuntu is unwelcome it is just a bit disjointed from the rest of the experience you are about to have.

After you log into the system, for the first time, you are greeted with the theme selection but with expanded options. You are asked if you want to add the 3rd-Party extensions to your system with a reasonable warning. Next you are given selection of desktop paradigms from which to choose. I went with the Feren OS default because I wanted to see the Feren preferred interface.

You will once again set your Theme mode and accent color. The first time was like a dress rehearsal, I suppose. I repeated my dark theme with the green accents.

Another nice touch to this first-run window is that it tells you about KDE Connect and gives you links to get the application for your mobile device. The option to set the feature to reduced eye strain is great. Many people may not even know it exist so well done on presenting this!

Once you get through that, you are done and ready to get going with Feren OS. Like any operating system, that is just a shell for getting your work (or play) done.

Getting back to the Welcome Screen is as easy as easy as a click on a desktop icon. This is real nice because here you can access many of those customization options once again.

Quite importantly is the quick access to install applications to the system. Both Flatpak and Snaps are readily available. No extra hoops to jump through which does seem like a stray from what is common with boutique distributions. It is a very user conscientious being made that is greatly appreciated.

Something else that I thought was kind of neat, was if you started to ignore the Welcome Screen, it will start to get restless and do fun things.

It is another nice touch that makes your desktop feel alive, not in overlord, dominate, closed sort of way but a fun and whimsically enjoyable fashion.

If at some point you decide you don’t like the theme you have selected, that is easy enough to change. You actually get a few other options if you visit the “Global Themes” so if a more traditional or “vanilla” Breeze Dark is your thing. That is an option here too. It is fun to play with the other themes and really, the Ubuntu Unity Layout isn’t a bad re-implementation of the Unity Desktop. It kind of makes you think, really…

The file manager choice of “Nemo” in Feren is one of two “weak spots” in choice, in my opinion. The Plasma default is Dolphin and really, any other file manager pales in comparison to it. It gets the job done fine but I don’t understand why.

Snap Support is just a click (or two) away from getting going with it. Flatpak is also readily available. The integration into the Feren Software center is also nicely done.

The first time you go into the software manager system. You will have to take a little time to configure bits and pieces of it. First the system snapshots then the mirrors.

The snapshots are very easily set up but the BTRFS option is not an actual option unless you have BTRFS as your file system. I didn’t test this but it would be nice if the option wasn’t there as it’s too late to select it at this point. This whole system reminds me of what is available on Linux Mint. I am guessing it is pulled from it with some modifications. I am not sure.

After you select your preferences for the Users Home Directories you are done with the snapshots setup. I chose not to have any snapshots taken for the home directory and I am not completely sure of the utility of it. I would prefer to make offline, incremental backups rather than use this method.

The next task you will have to tackle is the selection of your software sources, finding the closest mirror. I am curious as to why this isn’t automatic but not a big deal. It is easy enough to adjust.

Once all this is out of the way, you are ready to get to performing updates on your system. It is a nice update tool and it is a satisfying watch to see all the bits get installed on your system.

The Default Web Browser Choice is not my preference. Vivaldi is okay but Firefox is my preference with Falkon as my secondary. Whenever I use Vivaldi, it just feels… clunky but maybe that is due to my lack of experience with it.

Adding another web browser. is a trivial process. That can be accomplished with a fantastic little tool that allows you to install the browser of your choice.

Overall, FerenOS makes a great impression. It feels well thought out, well polished and very straight forward to use. Truly, a great, easily customized desktop experience with some great presets from which to build.

What I Like

Immediately, without any question, the welcome screen is the best I have ever seen. I am given the freedom to choose my experience right out of the gate. There is, quite literally, no digging required to tweak things out to the way I prefer but also the option to try out some great presets and tweak them to my liking. The over all look of each preset is crafted in that “Feren way”.

There are lot’s of little helper tools to allow you to make choices in the most painless possible way. Everything from accent colors to browser choices to where you select your mirrors is all easily accomplished. I realize that Feren is pulling from other projects to make this happen and is as such crossing toolkit boundaries but that is completely acceptable because he integrates the look and feel of Qt and GTK apps in such a way that they coexist quite nicely.

Throughout the entire desktop experience, there are these little touches that make Feren fun to use. Everything from the animated logo, the choice in defaults, the detection of using the desktop in a VM and so forth give the impression that it is focused specifically on a tailored desktop experience. I would say, without any hesitation, that Feren OS works towards making your computer a personal computer. I also want to note that no mater the “Global Theme” you use, the visual brand language is undoubtedly very Feren OS. Whether you use the Window, Mac or Unity feel, paradigm, it feels like Feren OS.

What I Don’t Like

The default file manager, Nemo, is not my favorite. One of the great features of Plasma is Dolphin. It is by far the best file manager available on any platform and I am a bit befuddled why the default would be anything but Dolphin. Nemo is not bad but it is much like the car rental experience. You are told you are getting a full sized, luxury sedan but you end up with a 4 year old mid-sized that smells like an ashtray but with low mileage as no one actually wants to drive this. Sure, it’s fine, it’ll get from point “A” to point “B” but you aren’t excited about it.

This is a total nitpick but the Grub boot screen doesn’t say Feren OS, it says Ubuntu. Sure, I know it is build on Ubuntu but shouldn’t it say Feren OS? This is not a big deal at all but it is just something that I think would be an improvement or at least reduce any confusion from someone that may not be as well informed.

Final Thoughts

Feren OS is a great visual experience that has a lot of care taken into making the user feel like they are using a commercial product. I would place Feren OS at the top of my list of Boutique distributions that has some serious legs to it. I don’t know what the long term strategy is for Feren but I hope that what he does trickles out into other distributions, not just Plasma based but all of them. He has an eye for design and user experience that is head and shoulders above anything else that I have seen on any operating system, ever. This is most certainly something to watch and keep an eye on.

Would I switch from openSUSE to FerenOS? No, I would not. As nice as it is, as well crafted as it is, it is not for me. I do happen to prefer the underpinnings that openSUSE provides and I prefer a few things to be just a bit different which lines up closer to my personal taste. So, whether that is on openSUSE Tumbleweed, Kubuntu, Neon or Feren, I am still going to tweak out a lot about the desktop to fit my needs.

I would recommend Feren OS to any new-to-Linux user and if you are even slightly curious about it, give it a try. You will have a smile of enjoyment on your face that is unique to this desktop and the more you dig in and see all the thoughtful care put into it, you won’t have a shred of disappointment.

References

Feren OS Home
BDLL Discourse Forum about Feren OS
BDLL Discussion on YouTube about Feren OS Part 1
BDLL Discussion on YouTube about Feren OS Part 2

Noodlings | Kontact Solaar through a VPN

The luckiest podcast or just a baker’s dozen of noodlings.

13th Noodling of nonsense

Kontact | Akonadi Reference

The killer feature of the Plasma Desktop has been the KDE Personal Information Manager, Kontact. I have been using it since 2004 time frame and although we have had a tenuous relationship over the years, specifically the switch to the Akonadi and the pain that came with it in the early years. I actively use Kontact on multiple machines for the feature richness of it and haven’t found anything in existence that I like better. I also exclusively use Kontact on openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma Desktop Environment.

I have decided to publish my reference concerning the maintenance it requires. I could be an edge case since I have five mail accounts and multiple calendar accounts as well. Historically, I have had issues where losing network connection, regaining it, suspending and resuming my machine over a period of time would cause the thing to have fits. So, here are my fixes, whenever the need arises.

You know those stories of people that have these crazy habit ts that don’t make sense, things they do that don’t really help or solve a problem like making sure the spoons are organized in just the right fashion? Yeah, well that could be what this whole post is and my obsessive-compulsive tenancies are in full expression. So, take all that into account should you choose to use any of these references.

Solaar | Application for Logitech Unifying Receivers

I recently purchased a new Logitech wireless keyboard for my kitchen computer because the Bluetooth keyboard I had previously used was driving me nuts. Mostly for the keyboard layout and sometimes because it didn’t want to connect. That was due possibly due to hardware failure or bad design. It also doesn’t have media keys, like volume control, so I thought it best just to replace it.

I have previously used ltunify with success but I only used it because “L” comes before “S” so that was my first stop. Since I received feedback that I should try Solaar I did so this time. Since there isn’t an official Linux based application available from Logitech, the fine open source community has stepped in to make managing your devices simple and straight forward.

Having Solaar in the system try is quite handy. Though, the reality is, I don’t need it all the time in fact, it isn’t actively running very often but having it to manage your devices is very handy. It’s nice to know that you can manage multiple Unifying receivers with this application. This is easy to use and has a great, well laid out and straight forward interface. I am glad I was recommended to try this application out. It has now been placed high on my list of tools to keep handy.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048 SSD Upgrade

There comes a time in the lifespan of a computer where you decide that the performance becomes a little lacking. That was my case with this computer and the state of the drive was becoming a little dubious as it felt like it was getting slower and having periodic file system errors. Rather than just reinstall openSUSE on the same drive, I decided, I wanted to make an inexpensive upgrade so I purchased a Solid State Drive (SSD) for it.

Since I have taken this unit apart before, I already knew what I was doing with it. The back of computer comes off but does take some time to get all the snaps to release. I would really prefer that this was held together with screws instead of snaps. That is the only real design choice I don’t a care for with this machine. Upon releasing the back cover from the chassis, it exposes the 2.5″ drive which sits in the lower left corner of the machine. The drive is held in a caddy that snaps in to the chassis, no tools required to remove or insert the drive. I think this is actually quite the clever design.

The hardest part about the whole job was hanging the computer on the VESA mount. In fact, as much as I like utilizing VESA mounts, they are often a pain in the fanny to do without an extra set of hands.

The average read rate of this drive is 443.9 MB/s with 100 samples. The access time is pretty great compared to the typical seek time of “spinning rust” hard drive platter which averages around 100 MB/s. Essentially a factor of four increase in performance. The seek time on the SSD is .10 msec as opposed to 18.81 msec which is about 180 times faster.

I resisted for a long time going to SSDs because, that seems to be my M.O. on new technology. I am glad that the SSD technology has come down in price. It has greatly improved the performance of this aging all-in-one and extended the life of this machine. The performance improvements of SSDs over HDDs is not in any way a revelation. The point I want to emphasize here is that by putting in an SSD, the machine is far more useful and the user experience is vastly improved. So, rather than chuck the old computer, swap out the Hard Disk Drive with a Solid State Drive.

Windscribe VPN Service

With all the talk of VPN (Virtual Private Network) services to keep you safe and my general lack of interest in the subject, I was talking to Eric Adams, my co-host on the DLN Xtend podcast about the subject. He was telling me that he was hesitant to recommend any service so he gave me some option to try out. The one I chose, after doing a little reading was Windscribe.

I am new to the VPN game so I want to be careful in saying, I am recommending this as the perfect solution but rather demonstrating how I set it up and how I am using it on my openSUSE Tumbleweed system.

I know that my employer requires me to VPN in to do any real work so even they recognize the value of a good VPN, so maybe I should too. How often do I plan to use it? Not all that often, really. Maybe a few times a month, specifically when I am using an internet access point that I do not trust. I will especially use it if the access point is has “xfinity” in the SSID as I have little to no trust for them.

I appreciate how simple this is to use and should I get to the point where I am pushing my 10 GiB per month limit, I will go all in on an annual subscription. It’s not that expensive to put up one extra line of defense, especially one as convenient as this.

BDLL Followup

FerenOS is the current BDLL Challenge. I find that I really appreciate the work that goes into Feren OS. It is certainly worth a spin for anyone, whether you are a “KDE Fan” or not. I do think that the departure from using Cinnamon as the base has been good for the overall experience, not because I am a huge fan of Plasma, which I am, but that it seems to have opened up a lot more creative flexibility to the project.

My review of Feren is still forthcoming, at the time of recording but I find that the experience is great. It feels like a polished well thought out product that pays attention to the finer details. It’s certainly worth a visit.

Bottom Line Up Front: FerenOS (2020) is simply fantastic. The way you are greeted and guided through your setup is brilliant. I am not keen on every design decision but that matters not as I am never keen on every design decisions, to include my own. FerenOS is going for a look that is uniquely its own and is not afraid to experiment, cross toolkit boundaries and stray from the normal. I appreciate the design decisions, more than any other “boutique” distribution that I have seen in a long while. Do I like all of them? No. Would I choose many of these? Also, No. But I think they do look great, make for an enjoyable experience, just not one I necessarily prefer.

openSUSE Corner

Tumbleweed Snapshots 20200105, 20200106, 20200107, 20200108, 20200109, 20200110, & 20200111

YaST2 (4.2.47 -> 4.2.49) along with 12 modules have been upgraded. Fixed several bugs

smartmontools (7.0 -> 7.1) bug fixes

Plasma-Framework received an update to fix a possible crash with a “broken” locale setup

Shotwell (0.30.7 -> 0.30.8)

Mesa and Mesa Drivers (19.2.6 -> 19.3.1) numerous bug fixes and features including OpenGL 4.6 support for Intel drivers. A number of new Vulkan extensions supported by Intel and Radeon, better AMD Radeon APU performance and many more

libinput (1.14.3 -> 1.15.0)

Plasma5-Thunderbolt (5.17.4 -> 5.17.5) provided some bug fixes.

seahorse (3.34 -> 3.34.1)

fwupd (1.3.1 -> 1.3.6) included plugins for coreboot, updates for Dell hardware and a hold host of fixes and improvements

KDE Plasma packages (19.12.0 -> 19.12.1) basically all of them which introduced many, many bug fixes across the entire suite of applications and tools.

MozillaFirefox (71.0 -> 72.0.1) addressed several CVEs

Tumbleweed Snapshot Reviewer:
20200105 – Stable 94
20200106 – Stable 94
20200107 – Stable 97
20200108 – Stable 96
20200109 – Stable 98
20200110 – Stable 99
20200111 – Stable 95

Nifty Link

If you are interested in open source games that run on openSUSE via the Direct Installation link, visit

https://software.opensuse.org/packages/Games

I have forgotten about this and if I have, maybe you have too. Some of the interesting games I see are”

0 A.D. – A Real-Time Strategy Game of Ancient Warfare

Armagetron – A motorcycle battle game in the theme of Tron

Barbie Seahorse Adventures – A 2d Pixelart platformer that I can admit I tried many years ago and it was rather enjoyable.

Endless Sky – A space exploration and combat game

Extreme Tux Racer – A high speed arctic racing game based on Tux Racer.

There are many more to check out that I truly find enjoyable.

Computer History Retrospective

The 1983 the then “modern” word processor was already adding efficiency to the Newspaper Industry where columnists could write in a remote location, type, edit and transmit content, via modem to the newspaper or where books could be written, stored on disks and transmitted to the publisher when it was completed.

Even in 1983, Correcting Spelling and stylistic devices were already being employed. While some winters had disagreement with the affect on written language by these technologies and that computers will promote dry, bland writing by diluting an individual style. Others claimed that it improves writing ability as the amount of computer intervention is at the writers discretion.

It was even suggested by Paul Schindler that, like a car, you should try a Word Processor before you buy it which was a good idea because of the price.

Wordvision $50-$70 range
Wordstar up to $500

Paul Schindler gives advice about not needing to buy a 32bit “super micro” if all you are going to do is word process. I couldn’t help but relate that to modern computer thoughts. Don’t buy a computer that has more power than you need but at the same time, I would argue that it isn’t always the case

It is interesting to point out that the most powerful tool in word processing and analyzing words was on a Unix System V.

Watching this episode of “The Computer Chronicles” has really made me appreciate the state of word processing today. LibreOffice, AbiWord or any of the other word processing applications out there are available to me without any expectation of monetary exchange. Though, if you would like these applications to continue to exist, it would benefit you to donate to them.

This whole thing was an incredibly interesting retrospective on how differences and similarities of computer or automated technologies employed in the 1980s as compared to today. We are very fortunate that the open source software availability has made day to day computing far less expensive and I would say, far more productive.

Configuring a Cisco switch from a Linux Terminal with Minicom

As much as I like playing in the terminal, the jury is still out as to how much I like working with Cisco. To be as objective as possible, I need to tell myself that: 1, I am not familiar with the command set or how they like to do things so I must be open minded; 2, Relax, the command line is a happy place to be and 3, this is new territory, don’t get frustrated, just write it down and enjoy the learning process. Also, my brother in-law, whose career is in network administration just loves this Cisco business so it turned out to be quite educational. The scope of this article is not how to set up a router, just, this is how I was able to get going with it.

The specific Cisco switch I configured was a Catalyst 3560 series PoE-48. I am sure these direction will work with other similar devices. Since I am an openSUSE user, the directions are tailored as such.

Minicom Installation

My first step was to find a piece of software that would work for me for this and I am sure that there are a ton of solutions but the one that worked the easiest for me was minicom. I am open to other suggestions, of course.

This is in the official repository so you can go into the terminal and type this to install it:

sudo zypper install minicom

I would give the alternative option to do the Direct Installation but since you will be in the terminal anyway, why would you do that?

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

Set User Permissions

Before you run minicom you will need to add your user as a member of the groups: dialout, lock and uucp.

In all fairness, I don’t know if you actually need uucp but since I use it for serial transfers to Arduino type devices, I am just assuming.

To do this in YaST, select the Security and Users section, open the User and Group Management module and make the changes required for the user.

Alternatively, you can do this from the command line, enter the following as root:

usermod -a -G dialout,lock,uucp

The terminal method is way cooler, just saying.

Minicom Configuration

Before you can set up Minicom, you will have to determine where the serial port is that is connected to your computer. In my case, I have ttyS0 but if you have a USB serial port device, you may have something like ttyUSB0 or similar.

Now that you have an idea as to the name of your serial port you can begin the setup process. Some adjustments are needed so that you can successfully communicate with the router. In the terminal type:

minicom -s

This will bring you to a ncurses style menu system. Arrow down to Serial port setup entry.

To change the serial device to what you have, select A and adjust it to your particular serial interface. Then select E to set the Bps/Par/Bits

The baud rate (Speed) should be set to 9600 (C) and the Stopbits to 8-N-1 (Q).

That should do it. I must stress that this did indeed work for me and your results may vary. The speed and Stopbits seem to be key. I have seen some variations in Software and Hardware flow control but those settings didn’t seem to affect my results.

Connect

To make the connection, type minicom in the terminal and you will hopefully be logged into the smart switch.

Although I have screen captured how I configured the Cisco switch, I don’t think it would necessarily apply directly. I also don’t really know what I am doing and had to rely on an expert so I cannot adequately explain the process itself.

Final Thoughts

Setting up a smart switch in the terminal requires some real knowledge. The point of this write-up was to close some of those gaps that may exist if you decide to embark on going down the “fancy switch lane.” I don’t know if this will work for similar type devices or other Cisco switches. It is a starting point and something to build from. I hope it provides some use to someone other than me.

Additionally, I am very open to suggestions on other similar terminal applications for communicating over serial in the terminal.

References

https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/products/collateral/switches/catalyst-3560-series-switches/product_data_sheet09186a00801f3d7d.html

http://www.allaboutlinux.eu/manage-cisco-switch-router-from-linux/

https://appuals.com/install-terminal-emulator-services-access-cisco-console-port-linux/