Noodlings 23 | Not Fading Yet

Click here for the 23rd personal pan pizza sized podcast

I am doing my best to not fade out, but for more of my thought and opinions, subscribe to DLN Xtend, a podcast with the Destination Linux Network where I have a chat about Linuxy things with my co-hosts Matt and Wendy.

Gaming Rack Design and Construction

I have collected a number of gaming systems throughout my life and there is little point in having them if they sit in a box or using them takes an annoying level of set-up time, making it fun prohibitive. I was then inspired by Perifractic Retro Recipes video where the computer museum has everything so nicely laid out. I looked at my mess and decided that I had to do something about it because my arrangement just isn’t presentable.

openSUSE Breeze Dark Plasma Style

About two years ago, I started using Kdenlive to do video editing. The dark theme I had been using, a modified version of the “openSUSE dark alternate” theme, was not getting along with Kdenlive and I had to use the “Breeze Dark” theme to be able to properly distinguish the widgets and such on the application. Shortly there after, I set out to modify the Breeze Dark theme to give me that openSUSE feel I have been enjoying for years. I have made it available on this page of my site but I decided to push it to the “KDE Store” which I previously thought was “look and feel” but is now called Pling but store.kde.org is essentially the same thing. I’m still confused but less now than when I started the publishing journey.

Bpytop on openSUSE | Terminal

As I was finishing my article about how great Bashtop is on openSUSE, I was told about Bpytop and realized it was the successor to Bashtop as well. After publishing that article on Bpytop, I was told that there are yet cooler terminal system monitoring tools. I am not sure how far behind the curve I am but I am sure I will get more feedback on either my missing the party on the new hotness out there. None the less, I still like and use Bpytop.

Logitech K400+ Keyboard Water Spill Repair

One of the big life enhancements I have had in the last few years was mounting a computer in the Kitchen above the sink. I realized that there is an inherent hazard in mixing electronics and kitchen activities but I maintain a strong belief that this can also be a very beneficial mix. Having openSUSE available to me, with all its application and reliability goodness has been a life-enhancer for the kitchen. I went through a series of keyboards only to find that I was best served in buying a quality keyboard. That was all find and good until I was a giant numpty and dribbled my sopping wet hands on the keyboard, rendering it useless. I threw it in my pile of broken things to get back to and I did. Not a bad repair.

HP EliteBook 840 G7 running openSUSE Tumbleweed

I was given an incredible gift by my former employer as a parting gift, an HP EliteBook 840 G7. I didn’t unpack it right away as I wasn’t sure how I was going to integrate it into my mess of computer equipment. I have been very happy with my Dell Latitude E6440 and decided my next system was going to be a desktop system. I have since upgraded it and it currently has 40GiB of RAM and a 1 TiB NVME SSD. I will eventually follow up on this.

Dell Latitude D630 Retirement

With the digit changes into the new year, so goes some changes for the layout of the tech in my home. My new HP EliteBook needs a place besides my lap or in a computer bag and my Dell Latitude D630 that has been beside my main machine has been getting less and less use due to the encumberment of the Nvidia GPU. This D630 has served me well since I purchased it new from Dell in 2007 and I am not going to just get rid of it. I will bring it out from time to time to keep Tumbleweed rolling on it.

openSUSE Corner

Tumbleweed Gets Newest KDE Frameworks for Plasma

All openSUSE Services in Provo database center now support IPv6

New openSUSE Step Project Looks to Build SUSE Linux Enterprise on More Architectures

Reducing the scope of software.opensuse.org

Tumbleweed Roundup

  • 20210212 moderate 84
    • This is a full rebuild based on glibc 2.33. For me I had some issues with this snapshot that required filing a bug report and some intervention on my part. It appeared that my issue wasn’t all that common.

https://review.tumbleweed.boombatower.com/

Computer History Retrospective

This is my segment where I like to look back in time and see how the world of technology has advanced and how things have stayed the same. I find we often forget how far we have come and how good we have it while not always remember how we got here. Having some historical perspective on computers and technology can help to drive some appreciation for what we have today.

Computer Chronicles on Artificial Intelligence (1984)

The point of Artificial Intelligence is to duplicate not just human intelligence but to duplicate the end results. A then current application of AI was in the form of “Expert Systems”. These expert systems of the time would respond to user input much like the queries we give modern day search engines. At the time, these expert systems would require enormous computational power to dissect and process user input. Today, we can enjoy, without any cost or really much effort on our parts, the fruits of these efforts.

The early “Expert Systems” for “Microcomputers” were really quite rudimentary in respect that they would lead you to solutions. In its most simplistic form, this is essentially making accessible the knowledge to a wider audience.

As an aside, at the end of this video (27:00) from Computer Chronicles, there is a portion called “Random Access” and this software review is rather enjoyable about an game or application to help you make better bets with Black Jack.

What is particularly amusing to me is how the graphics are described as being “crisp, the table is green the cards realistic and the sound is good too”. I know, for the time, this is the case but that description just doesn’t hold up today. This is just food for thought, should you describe a bit of software or hardware.

Ken Huston's Professional Black Jack screen shot.

I must say, I love the early time of computer graphics, the innocence and the optimism. We were so happy with color and sound. I wish we would be so gracious today with open source applications. Perhaps being a little bit more grateful will lead to more smiles on a daily basis.

Dell Latitude D630 Retirement

With the digit changes into the new year, so goes some changes for the layout of the tech in my home. My new HP EliteBook needs a place besides my lap or in a computer bag and my Dell Latitude D630 that has been beside my main machine has been getting less and less use due to the encumberment of the Nvidia GPU. This D630 has served me well since I purchased it new from Dell in 2007.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I purchased my gently used Dell Latitude E6440 and put my Latitude D630 on a standby state. It’s been a good computer that has seen many adventures of my life from my extended time in other countries to playing calm music in the background for the birth of my three children. I have upgraded and fixed this machine more times than most people would consider doing but now, it is time to remove it from its active reserve status to full retired.

Dell Latitude D630 in 2017

I won’t actually get rid of the machine, I’ll keep it going, turn it on periodically to update openSUSE Tumbleweed but it won’t stay on. The computer would be fine if not for the Nvidia GPU as its closed source, proprietary nature, along with being abandoned by Nvidia means I can only use the Nouveau drivers which are,, unfortunately, a bit ropey.

I performed the last update as it sits on a dock station at my stand up desk. One quick sudo zypper dup to get things updated and tested before I shut it down. Thankfully, everything continues to work well, albeit the GPU troubles and it all shut down cleanly. In a way it is a bit sad for me to retire it, but it was time.

After a bit of dusting and wiping the shelf off, I placed the HP EliteBook in its new place. Since the D630 was also a 14″ machine, this fits well though it is a bit smaller, and that is fine.

Just below, on a lower level of the desk, I placed the Dell TB16 Thunderbolt 3 dock station to provide power and an extension of functionality. Since the computer is without an SD Card reader I will eventually purchase one and attach it to the dock station. I will perhaps add a monitor too but that is not really a priority.

Final Thoughts

I know it is silly to anthropomorphize a computer but I can’t help but to have a kind of connection with the technology. It has been a tool to get my work done, entertained, educated and allowed me to explore many aspects of tech for many years. It was also the first business grade laptop I purchased from the manufacturer that I spent countless hours researching. I really believe I would continue to use it if not for the Nvidia GPU as performance wise, it does a great job in many other aspects.

What this has cemented for me is that I will avoid proprietary hardware, like Nvidia from this point forward. I will most certainly steer clear of anything where I am limited by the corporate decisions of a company that cares little about the long term viability of their products.

References

Dell Latitude D630
Dell Latitude E6440
HP EliteBook 840 G7 running openSUSE Tumbleweed

Noodlings | No Linux for 10 Days

20th Noodling, just like the previous, delivered inconsistently!

The 20th cookie sized podcast, but not one of those oatmeal raisin type of cookies, more like something with chocolate chips.

Chinese food containers are a feat of clever engineering. Most people just toss them in the bin once they are done with them but if you stop to look at how they are folded together from wax coated paper, you have to smile and marvel at the ingenuity of this clever, nesting box.

Element | Matrix Chat Client

The Element client makes using Matrix quite enjoyable. Previously, using Matrix was a bit of a lack-luster, almost a science experiment kind of feel to it. Sure, it worked but it didn’t have the polish and great user experience I have using Telegram. I can say, with much confidence, using Element feels like a real product. It feels just as good as any other messaging client. It is still early days for me so it’s still all new and exciting.

Send and Receive Text Messages SMS with Element

Amiga Fast File System Return to Linux Kernel

A component of the Linux kernel for the Amiga Fast File system had been broken that deals with the basic permission bits, protection bits in Amiga OS. The Linux Kernel would only set bits but never delete them.

Max Staudt is the developer that noted this issue and submitted a fix “for good” such that this won’t be an issue in the Linux Kernel any more. He said, “…Linux a nd classic AmigaOS can coexist in the most peaceful manner.”

Linus Torvalds appears to have agreed and the code made it into rc4 of version 5.9 which is slated to be release this month, October 2020.

This is great news for those of us that are vintage tech enthusiasts.

VisualBoy Advance

I was in a situation where I was away from home for an extended period of time. As a result I was separated from my old tech which means authentic hardware to do the more retro style of gaming that I enjoy. While away, I had a hankering for some GameBoy fun to unwind at the end of the day. The application I found, which I ultimately installed from the Snap Store was VisualBoy Advance. The big take away on why this is a great application for playing GameBoy and GameBoy Advance games is the ease of use and how highly configurable it is.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048 Black Screen Repair

Power outage left me with a computer where the LED on the side would show activity but there wasn’t even a flicker on the screen itself. It was out, completely black, no light whatsoever.

Ultimately the issue came to a faulty power supply which tells me that I need to take the time to put in some sort of UPS to protect it in the future. This isn’t the first time I have had issues with this computer as a result of power fluctuations.

No Linux for 10 Days

In my time away from my normal life, I was in a situation where I was without Linux for almost two weeks. I hear of people that consider time away from tech as being “refreshing”. I wouldn’t consider that the case at all but it was enlightening. Using “analog” methods for recording information is super inefficient but it did force me to work on my hand writing as it is atrocious.

Secondly, having to use Windows 10 to do “digital work” was so frustrating, I will say, the points of frustration were not all the fault of Windows 10 but it did make me greatly despise using tech. It confirmed that if Linux went away and I was forced to use Windows 10, I just wouldn’t.

BDLL Followup

There was a discussion about the perfect distribution that dominated the majority of the the conversation. I can easily say that openSUSE fits as the perfect distribution. There isn’t much I would change about it. The only thing I can think is a little polish in Tumbleweed as such that it becomes real easy to do distribution updates, preferably, using Zypper.

openSUSE Corner

openSUSE + LibreOffice Conference

Going on now is the openSUSE + LibreOffice virtual conference. There is one day left but you have to register before participating as to keep out spammers. There are two virtual rooms where talks are given and a workshop room to hack on LibreOffice. Thinking about this, there is an element missing from the event. There isn’t a virtual hall way to get lost in and have random conversations about of topic subjects. Maybe Next time?

It’s nice to see that virtual conferences are still happening. Just because the world has hit a rather large bump, not all the wheels have fallen of of the wagon.

Join our team and help us improve the openSUSE learning experience!

openSUSE is a project that has many parts to it and with the very lively and thriving community, some things can become untidy. The project has multiple distributions, although Leap and Tumbleweed get more of the mind share, things can become a bit overwhelming for someone new to start poking around the openSUSE spaces.

This is why a group of volunteers have taken up the task of improving the learning experience for users regardless of their experience level. We want to make sure that new users can best identify solutions for their requirements and experienced users have the detailed documentation that is easy to access and update.

Any help is welcome for writing, editing, peer-reviewing, video production and testing.

Tumbleweed Roundup

  • 20201008 moderate 90
    • MozillaFirefox (80.0 -> 81.0.1)
    • inkscape
    • kdeconnect-kde
    • libzypp (17.25.1 -> 17.25.2)

https://review.tumbleweed.boombatower.com/

Computer History Retrospective

Computer Chronicles – Super Computers (1984)

Oldest computing machine is the abacus

Massive Parallel architectures was the key feature of these massive super computers. It is interesting to see that the super computer technology of this time is essentially the architecture that would later be adopted by the average home computer, to include your mobile device.

These computers were rated at over 100 million calculations per second. I wanted to get some kind of a baseline comparison to a modern Threadripper but getting actual “calculations per second” isn’t a thing with modern benchmarks. I would be interested in see how one of the old Cray super computers of the mid-1980s would compare to the average gaming desktop computer of today. It’s worth a wonder.

Parallel processing was a big thing with these super computers but the rate of improvement had slowed down and the discussion boiled down to the next breakthrough coming in changing the way things are done and different algorithms to take advantage of greater speed increases.

It was initially by government grants that breakthroughs in super computers came about and once better understanding and more applications were developed for the super computer did the commercial applications jump on board to better simulate a 3D world for testing such as the automotive and oil industry. Ultimately, making the process of being profitable much quicker.

Barriers at the time is building better algorithms to map on a computer’s architecture while at the same time, modifying the architectures to work with the algorithms. There was such a massive number of changes and experimentation in this time. The US and Japanese manufacturers were competing against each other at the super computer level. Both governments investing in the private sector to help with R&D costs. Really a spectacular time in the history of computing.

Final Thoughts

Take some time to appreciate some of the marvels around you. Even something as ubiquitous as a to-go container has an incredible story behind it. Someone or many someones spent many hours engineering the shape and the design of the thing as well as the many hours or perhaps years it took to perfect the manufacturing process. We often take for granted the wonderful luxuries we have.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048 Black Screen

System failures are not always what you think they might be and had I known what the failure was, I would have saved a lot of time of fiddling around. This is a memo to future me and perhaps a cautionary tale for your future technology adventures. In short, I could have saved a lot of time had I known that my black screen failure was caused by a faulty power supply.

The Rest of the Story

Computer problems are rather rare for me these days. Sure, things go out like Hard Drives but I use monitoring tools catch that before it happens. I am not a fan of reactive fixes. Waking up one morning observing clocks reset and a computer not turning on, I thought this was going to be a tedious process where I ultimately will end up replacing the whole computer because that is how it generally goes.

Doing some research online informed me that possible causes were bad RAM, Corrupted BIOS where the fix would be removal of CMOS battery and a failed hard drive. That meant, it was time to take the computer off of the VESA mount, which is always a chore because it should be a two person job and there isn’t another person in my house to help me with such things. Using my trusty DeWalt drill driver and supporting the bottom of the computer with my shoulder, I removed the four screws, managing to not drop any down the drain.

I placed the computer, screen down, on a towel and carefully pried the back panel off, which is held on with several clips. Once the back cover was removed removed the metal door that hid away the memory and one of the modules. Historically, computer failures have been as a result of bad RAM so this is typically an easy, albeit a bit on the expensive side, fix.

I removed the first SODIMM module and since I was too lazy to climb up and retrieve the power supply, I used one of my 120 Watt power supplies that isn’t often used, generally on some kind of reserve duty. Upon plugging it in, to my surprise, the computer came to life. Screen and everything. I was given a warning about the change in RAM so I shut it down, and thought I would try replacing the module. Sure enough, it came right back to life.

As it turned out, it looks like the power supply was the culprit of the black screen. I find it somewhat puzzling as the indicator and fans spun up with the bad power supply, just no monitor. It was a serendipitous accident that I discovered the power supply to be at fault. There is probably a lesson in there someplace.

I put everything back together and performed the necessary acrobatics to get the computer back on the VESA mount. I am grateful, in my moment of triumph, that I didn’t drop the computer in the sink fastening the mount to the back of the computer. It is unfortunate that VESA capable All-in-one computers are not very common. I see a lot of utility in such things but perhaps that application is less common and therefore the current designs reflect that fact.

After about an or so of dorking around with this machine. I was able to enjoy my openSUSE creature comfort in my kitchen once again. Linux belongs in the kitchen and openSUSE makes Linux a great experience.

Final Thoughts

Something that I often don’t think about and I don’t know the reason why, is that power supplies fail. The results of their failures can manifest in different ways. I have had laptop power supplies start whining but still work for a period of time, some power supplies stop reporting to the computer how much power can be drawn and the computer will stop using it (annoying). This time, the computer turned partially on, omitting the activation of the screen. I now wonder if this failure is the typical failure these types of power supplies have as this All-In-One uses the same power supply as many Dell Laptops to include my E6440. I now want to investigate this failure mode…

It is quite possible that there was just enough of a power surge in the power outage that killed an already compromised power supply. There is no way to know for sure. Ultimately, it would be nice to have a UPS or perhaps a battery back up on that circuit. Neither options are inexpensive. One step further, I do see utility, more and more, in whole home power backup solutions.

References

Dell Community Forum concerning black screen
Linux in the Kitchen | Life Enhancement Blathering
Outside the Cubicle | DeWALT 20v Max Cordless Tool Platform

Noodlings | BIOS Games Serving the NDI™ Plugin

Another prime number… and no the title doesn’t make sense. It’s just a nonsensical way to string everything together.

19th Noodling on a mid-August night

19 Episodes… 19 is another prime number!

Fun facts about chocolate milk can be found here

BIOS Update Dell Latitude E6440 on Linux

My BIOS was 4 years out of date. I thought it was time to update it. I went to the Dell Support page and noticed that they only had *.exe files available. I sighed and was initially frustrated because my initial supposition was that I was going to have to have a working copy of Windows to do the update. 

AntiMicro | Map Keyboard and Mouse Controls to Gamepad on openSUSE

Installed a game called Pokemon Insurgence on Lutris and there was no way to play the game with a gamepad. Rather than try to fight things, set out for an application that would map the keyboard controls to the WiiU Pro Controller that has become my gamepad of choice.

CPU Downgrade

After receiving this message following a BIOS upgrade, I was forced to purchase a lower powered CPU for my AMD Workstation.

OBS NDI™ Plugin on openSUSE

The NDI plugin offers a fairly easy way to send OBS video signal (presumably other applications can take advantage of this too) to another OBS instance on another machine. This can come in handy for numerous reasons such as splitting up workloads between machines by capturing output from one machine, such as gaming computer, to stream with a dedicated unit that interfaces with YouTube.

BDLL Followup

What have you done that would cause you to lose your Linux card

openSUSE Corner

New Prototype Builds Bringing Leap, SLE Closer Will be Available Soon

The release manager for openSUSE Leap, Lubos Kocman, has updated openSUSE’s develop community on efforts to bring the codes of Leap and SUSE Linux Enterprise closer together.

Tumbleweed Roundup

  • 20200805 Stable 99
    • MozillaThunderbird (68.10.0 -> 68.11.0)
      • Several CVEs addressed
    • transactional-update (2.22 -> 2.23)
      • Subpackages: transactional-update-zypp-config
      • Version 2.23
      • Add “run” command to be able to execute a single command in a new snapshot
      • Add “–drop-if-no-change” option to discard snapshots if no changes were performed (BETA, required for Salt integration)
      • Removed previous CaaSP Salt support (gh#openSUSE/transactional-update#33)
      • Avoid “file not found” message on systems without /var subvol
  • 20200810 Score of a moderate 84
    • epiphany (3.36.3 -> 3.36.4)
    • gcc10 (10.2.1+git465 -> 10.2.1+git501)
    • gnome-mines (3.36.0 -> 3.36.1)
    • kernel-source (5.7.11 -> 5.8.0)
    • squid
    • zypper-lifecycle-plugin (0.6.1490613702.a925823 -> 0.6.1596796104.87bdab7)

https://review.tumbleweed.boombatower.com/

Computer History Retrospective

Computer Chronicles – Fifth Generation Computers (1984)

The pioneers in the field talk about 5th generation computers capable of Artificial Intelligence and heuristic learning; giving computers context. In 1984, computers were already being used to make knowledge based decisions.

The Computer Chronicles – Fifth Generation Computers (1984)

Final Thoughts

Take some time to have fun. Good, clean wholesome fun. Go for a walk, enjoy the weather on any day that it is possible. Take some time to cherish each moment, whether it is good or bad, find the positive in the situation and make it a point to say “thank you” as often as possible.

BIOS Update Dell Latitude E6440 on Linux

…Sort of. It didn’t require using Windows

My BIOS was 4 years out of date. I thought it was time to update it. I went to the Dell Support page and noticed that they only had *.exe files available. I sighed and was initially frustrated because my initial supposition was that I was going to have to have a working copy of Windows to do the update. My last Dell Latitude, a D630, the BIOS updates required a lot of fiddling on my part. At the time, I would burn a special FreeDOS CD with the BIOS update EXE on it. I figured I would have to do the same with this computer. The good news is, that is not the case and it could be I am the last person to know this bit of information.

I am not sure how well known this process is, but the good news is, you don’t need Windows to do the BIOS update. Where I went to get the BIOS is here:

https://www.dell.com/support/home/en-us/product-support/product/latitude-e6440-laptop/drivers

I searched for “BIOS”

After a bit of searching, I found this page at Dell.com that explains how to update the BIOS on Linux or Ubuntu systems.

https://www.dell.com/support/article/en-us/sln171755/update-the-dell-bios-in-a-linux-or-ubuntu-environment

In short, the way to do this is to take the downloaded BIOS update .EXE and put it onto a FAT32 formatted USB Drive. It is quite important that you use FAT32.

An easy way to check is to use Gnome Disks, Gparted or KDE Partition Manager to verify.

Once verified that you are indeed using FAT32, copy the BIOS update .EXE to the USB Drive.

Reboot the computer and one the Vendor image appears, press F12 for the One-time boot menu.

Then select BIOS Flash Update.

The flash update tool is a simple GUI. Select the button to the top right with an ellipsis.

Next, you will be presented with a file dialog GUI where you can navigate to the USB drive. Ensure you select the correct file and follow the prompts. If you do not see the file, select the drop-down tool adjacent File System:

Select the appropriate BIOS .EXE then OK

Next select Begin Flash Update.

The big warning is to keep your computer plugged into the “mains” and do not interrupt the process as it could possibly “brick” your system. The process takes a few minutes to complete and the computer will automatically reboot.

Assuming it all goes well, you really shouldn’t notice a difference as the issues being fixed are under the surface.

Just to check, that the BIOS is indeed now updated. I ran this in terminal:

> sudo dmidecode --type 0

Then you will get the resulting output.

# dmidecode 3.2
Getting SMBIOS data from sysfs.
SMBIOS 2.7 present.

Handle 0x0000, DMI type 0, 24 bytes
BIOS Information
       Vendor: Dell Inc.
       Version: A24
       Release Date: 06/13/2019
       Address: 0xF0000
       Runtime Size: 64 kB
       ROM Size: 12288 kB
       Characteristics:
               PCI is supported
               PNP is supported
               BIOS is upgradeable
               BIOS shadowing is allowed
               Boot from CD is supported
               Selectable boot is supported
               EDD is supported
               5.25"/1.2 MB floppy services are supported (int 13h)
               3.5"/720 kB floppy services are supported (int 13h)
               3.5"/2.88 MB floppy services are supported (int 13h)
               Print screen service is supported (int 5h)
               8042 keyboard services are supported (int 9h)
               Serial services are supported (int 14h)
               Printer services are supported (int 17h)
               ACPI is supported
               USB legacy is supported
               Smart battery is supported
               BIOS boot specification is supported
               Function key-initiated network boot is supported
               Targeted content distribution is supported
               UEFI is supported
       BIOS Revision: 65.24

I was just glad to see that 5.25″ floppy service is still supported. Just in case it comes up, I can still utilize it.

Final Thoughts

Due to my laziness and inhibition to use Windows caused me to avoid pursuing updating my BIOS. Dell, on newer systems (~2015 and later), have built in a service to perform these updates outside of the operating system and has removed or eliminated your excuses for keeping your system up to date and more secure.

I am glad I took the time today to figure this out and do the proper thing in keeping my system updated.

References

https://www.dell.com/support/article/en-us/sln171755/update-the-dell-bios-in-a-linux-or-ubuntu-environment
https://www.dell.com/support/home/en-us/product-support/product/latitude-e6440-laptop/drivers
Playing in the terminal | dmidecode

Three Drives on my Dell Latitude E6440 | Cuz Two Isn’t Enough

This laptop of mine that I purchased just over two years ago has the ability to have 3 storage devices. I have previously described what I’ve done in it with an mSATA and the 2.5″ SSD. Between the two, I have 995 GiB of storage, 101 GiB for root using the mSATA and 894 GiB on the 2.5″ drive. That was fine and all for normal things, but VMs do require a lot of space and so a lot of space I needed. Although I do often use my optical drive, it’s not as often as I use VMs so I decided to get a caddy and install a third drive in this 14″ chassis laptop.

Here is a short video on how simple the process is… and another reason to play around with Kdenlive. In short, adding a hard drive is as simple as:

  • Insert the drive into the caddy
  • Secure the drive using the set-screws but be careful to not over tighten
  • remove optical drive from the computer and insert hard drive (SSD) caddy into bay
  • Bob’s your uncle

Really… why?

The main reason is, I need more space for virtual machines. I’m sure for normal people the two drives is more than adequate but I have to play. Most people would probably just clear out the old virtual machines after they were done but I am guilty of data hording and probably need to get that under control. I also don’t have much interest in wiping or possibly interfering with how my laptop is running as openSUSE Tumbleweed works so fantastically well on it.

My process is, I try out the Linux distribution virtually to obtain some general impressions, test out a few things, check the memory usage and so forth. If I find it exceptionally interesting or want to test a use case, I take it to the next level and put it on some hardware. I find it a more efficient use of my time to do my first round of testing virtually before I meddle with the metal.

It also doesn’t help that I am more likely to use Virt Manager with Qemu which uses Qcow2 drive images and they take up more space than VDI images from VirtualBox. Since I tend to get a better feel for the distribution using Virt Manager, especially with Gnome based desktops, I am more likely able to give them a fair shake. Consequently, I need more storage space.

The drives are all still too full which might mean no matter the amount of storage, I will use it up.

Final Thoughts

Despite the fact this laptop is older, I can’t seem to find another comparable 14″ machine that has the drive flexibility that the Dell Latitude E6440 has. I do wish it had some kind of refresh to allow for a faster CPU with lower power utilization but that is just not the demands of typical users these days. For now, I will continue to use this laptop as I have intended. If I do another modification to this system, it will likely be to upgrade the CPU to the highest performing 35W TDP processor that is available.

References

Hardware Thing Video on YouTube
Dell Latitude E6440 Running openSUSE Tumblewee

pfSense Box Setup for Home or Small Office

A piece of hardware that is often overlooked in many homes and businesses is the the “edge device” or often just called a router. Many Internet providers will supply their own edge device. This is the first line of defense from those that would do you harm from the Internet to your home or business. I look at it as your first line of security to protect yet give you access to the machines or devices on your network.

I have two reasons for setting up a pfSense box. Since I have heard great things about it, I wanted to try it for myself on my own network to give me confidence to set it up for use in a small office setting. Nothing too large, just a moderate size.

Hardware

I had to start with an adequate piece of hardware to run pfSense. Since it requires a 64 bit system, I am using one of my newly inherited Dell Optiplex 745 machines. As far as specifications go, it is at the bottom end of the recommended specifications to run pfSense but the plan for this isn’t anything real intense.

Specs That Matter

  • CPU Intel Core 2 Duo 6300 @ 1.86Ghz
  • 2.0 GB of DDR2 SDRAM
  • 160 GiB HDD

 

Since this machine only comes equipped with a single Ethernet port, I had to purchase a half-height Gigabit Ethernet adapter to put in the one available PCI slot in this machine. The slot will only accept a PCI or PCI-X card which was actually more difficult to find than I originally anticipated. Full height, easy, half height, not so much.

ethernet card 1 gb

This particular unit came with two plate options. Changing out the plate consisted of removing two screw, separating the plate from the card and replacing it with the other plate. There wasn’t a bit of complexity to it.

 

The machine has one PCI slot in it but there was a card with a COM port and PS/2 port on a card attached via ribbon cable to the main board that had to be removed first. I inserted the card, started it up and jumped in the BIOS to make sure it was recognized.

ethernet registered in pci slot

Since it was recognized, I was ready to move on to the software portion of this little tech adventure.

There really wasn’t much to do in configuring the hardware. The only major change I made to the configuration, outside of adding the second Ethernet card was to ensure that the machine would boot upon being powered. This is assuming that should the machine loses power due to power failure, it will boot upon power being restored.

Downloading the Software

From the pfSense download page I chose the AMD64 memstick version to put on a Dell Optiplex 745. It should be noted that the memstick version cannot be written using SUSE Studio Imagewriter. For more information on writing images:

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/hardware/writing-disk-images.html

Conduct Checksum on the Downloaded Image

Since the the time of installation, the version I downloaded to install was: pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz. The key point here is it is the amd64 version to correspond with my hardware.

Next I downloaded the corresponding sha256 file from here so that I could do the appropriate checksum action and ensure that it is a good download. I have noticed on most sites, it seems as though that is just an expected understanding without much explanation, outside of the openSUSE download page, that is.

I Put the downloads in the same folder and ran this:

sha246sum -c  pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz.sha256

The response was:

pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz: OK

Which means that it was good to go. I haven’t seen anything other than OK so I couldn’t tell you what it’s like to not have an OK. Then either your image or the sha256 is not right and need to be downloaded again.

Writing to USB Drive

The instructions recommended erasing the disk partition table before writing. I haven’t done this step before writing to a flash drive but who am I to argue with the developers?

sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdX bs=1M count=1

In my case, the drive is sdd, be very, VERY careful to not wipe out any of your other drives so pay close attention to what you are doing. To find out what the device name is of your USB drive, insert the drive into a USB port and run in terminal

dmesg

Look for the latest entry corresponding to the USB device you just plugged in. It should read /dev/sdb or something of that nature. If you are unsure, ask somebody. There are plenty of helpful folks out there. Feel free to contact me directly and I’ll do my best to help you out.

The next thing to do is to install the image onto the USB drive.

sudo gzip -dc ./pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz | sudo dd of=/dev/sdX bs=1M

Replace /dev/sdX with the appropriate drive identification. Also note the version of pfSense is a moving target, so an exact copy from above is probably not going to be valid for long.

Installation

The installation is very straight forward on pfSense. Just like any Linux distribution, once you have it on the USB media, and the machine boots from the drive, follow the directions. In this case, I am getting a warning about my system battery voltage which I will address later. Once it boots into a nice ASCII art menu, select 1 to Boot Multi User, which is default.

On a kind of funny note, the legal notice, pfSense is a federally registered trademark of Electric Sheep Fencing LLC.” I’d like the background story on that LLC name. After you accept you are given 3 options. Install being the key option here.

Next you will set the keymap and you will be asked how you would like to partition your disk. I chose to use the Guided Disk Setup because it’s my first time and this is a reasonable course of action.

Since I have no reason to use the disk for anything but pfSense, it was reasonable to select to use the entire disk. Graciously, you are warned that this will erase the disk and wants a confirmation to proceed.

Next you are asked for the partition scheme of which I chose MBR as this is “Bootable on most x86 systems. You are then given another opportunity to review the disk setup and make any modificaitons. Since I have no experience with pfSense and altering any preferences. I left the defaults be.

Once you select Finish you are given one final warning to Commit with a clear warning of your actions.

The installation will proceed, first, “fetching” the distribution files than extracting them.

After the installation is complete you are asked if you want to make any further changes, the selection defaulted to No so I just proceeded from there and rebooted.

I was again reminded about my low voltage system battery before the boot screen to which the default works perfectly.

The boot process is much like what I am used to seeing in Linux so it was interesting to watch and see the slightly different syntax.

On the initial boot, you are given a series of questions to define the interfaces. One which faces the scary internet (WAN), and the other that faces the internal network (LAN). The first question is to set up VLANs, I have no need for such a thing so I entered, N.

Next I selected the interface I wanted to be the WAN. Since I know the hardware I installed, I selected the appropriate NIC. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter on this setup. If I had more than one NIC for the LAN, that would change things.

Next, I set up the LAN and confirmed the configuration.

When that is complete, it will write the configuration to disk.

When the configuration was completed, I decided I wanted to change the LAN side IP address. This can be done by selecting 2. You are then asked which interface you want to configure, in my case, the LAN is option 2.

I set the IP address then the subnet mask per my network preference.

I didn’t set an IPv6 address because… why? Then the DHCP Range. In my case 192.168.10.51 to 192.168.10.200. 150 DHCP addresses is more than enough for my purposes… for now.

pfSense will ask if you want to reroute the webConfigurator protocol, which YES to that seems like the most reasonable answer. Then you will be dumped back into the main menu.

I reset the Admin password for the webConfigurator, mostly because I didn’t remember setting it to begin with and wanted to get into it.

pfSense-37-Reset webConfigurator Password

My first order of business when logging in to the web configuration utility was to change the theme to a dark theme. I just don’t care for how light the default theme is. Of course, this is just my personal preference.

pfSense-41-Dark Theme

That’s it, you now have a functional pfSense box, but there was one more bit if business in order to be satisfied with the system. Local DNS name resolution.

Configuring DNS

A feature that is absolutely required for me is the ability to have local hostname resolution within my network. All my machines are named something I can remember so I can easily access them ussing SSH for remote access or file transfer. It is not quite as straight forward to do in pfSense as it is with DD-WRT but here are the resources I used to figure it out:

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/dns/dns-forwarder.html

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/dns/unbound-dns-resolver.html

There was some fiddling to get it to go but here are the take aways:

pfSense-40-Disable DNS Forwarder

On the General Setup page, you have to Uncheck Disable DNS Forwarder. Save your changes. Then navigate to Services > DNS Forwarder.

pfSense-39-DNS Forwarder

There you need to Enable DNS forwarder and Register DHCP leases in DNS Forwarder. Be sure to save the changes. If not you will have to repeat your steps.

I was able to test that the local DNS name resolution worked as I would expect and was thrilled that something I touched actually worked and without banging my head against the wall.

pfSense-38-Testing Network

Adding a Wireless Access Point

A working edge device is great but who wires anything up these days? I had to put in a wireless access point. I took the previous edge device my Linksys E2000 and set the device to DHCP Forward to the IP address of the pfSense box. I plugged the ethernet port from the switch into one of the LAN (not the WAN) port of the E2000 and it worked as expected. You can turn the WAN port to be on the same VLAN within the Linksys E2000 but that is a discussion for another blathering or you can search that one out yourself.

Final Thoughts

pfSense is a really quite easy to set up and use. I will say,the hardest part of the project is writing the installation media. I have power cycled and added other users as administrators and it all works fantastically well. This truly is a fine BSD based operating system distribution.

If you have home or office networking requirements that a consumer grade edge device cannot handle, this is a low cost way of implementing one. I didn’t end up using this device for my house. After using it, I saw a greater need for this to be at my church and I ended up using IPFire for home, which is also quite good but I think in many ways, pfSense is a more polished and professional product and possibly better suited for a larger environment. I am not a network professional so take that opinion for what it’s worth.

This project has spurred on a few other future projects for the network in which it sits. More to come on that.

Further Reading

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/hardware/writing-disk-images.html

https://files.pfsense.org/hashes/

https://www.pfsense.org/download/

Flashing Linksys E2000 Router with DD-WRT

IPFire | Open Source, Linux based, Firewall, Install and Configuration

KDE Plasma 5.15.0 on openSUSE Tumbleweed

There has been quite a lot of buzz in the news about the first stable release of Plasma in 2019, version 5.15.0, released on 12 February 2019. It came to openSUSE Tumbleweed a few days later and a few days after that, I started updating my various systems running Tumbleweed. I am not going to cover all the changes and improvements, there is plenty of that available to read. Instead, this is my experience with the upgrade process on the first three Tumbleweed machines.

My primary machine isn’t generally first to get the latest updates, because I am using it nearly all the time so I will begin the updates on other machines, incidentally, all of which are Dell. The first machine that I performed the updates is a Dell Latitude E6440. There isn’t a whole lot of software on this one as it’s primary focus is for educational related activities. There aren’t any community repositories on this machine so the update required no intervention at all. The next machine, a Dell Inspiron 20 3048, does do a lot for me but doesn’t have too many community maintained repositories. It too went without incident. Lastly, my primary machine, also a Dell Latitude E6440 but with more memory, storage and a dedicated AMD GPU.

This machine has quite a bit of software on it. I do try things out but I don’t always remove the applications or community maintained repositories. It took it as an opportunity to start trimming out some additional repositories, thankfully, zypper makes that process easy. My primary machine was trimmed down to 36 repositories. Then I performed the update.

sudo zypper dup

Zypper ran through, did its thing, asked me about a couple python packages an one package I installed that I already knew was “broken” by not having a dependency. After Zypper calculated everything out and I agreed to the update. Just as every other Tumbleweed update goes, this one proceeded without incident.

All three machines had but only one small issue. They didn’t want to leave Plasma to reboot, specifically, selecting “reboot” or “halt” and even “logout” did not actually perform those actions, Instead, I ran in terminal:

sudo systemctl reboot

There may be a better way of doing a reboot, if you are aware of such, please let me know. A few moments later, the machine started up without incident and what I may be most excited about is that, everything still, just works.

KDE Plasma Upgrade 5.15.0 KInfoCenter

I did receive one pleasant surprise, my Bluetooth keyboard, for the first time communicated that it was low on power instead of just going unresponsive. I was able to see a “10% Warning” pop up notification. I thought that was pretty slick. I have been enjoying the status and warnings with wireless Logitech devices for years but this was the first for Bluetooth. Very well done.

Final Thoughts

Nothing is ever perfect but my experience with using openSUSE Tumbleweed has been pretty fantastic for the last two years. I don’t have to worry about an update breaking my system or crossing my fingers when the operating system base iterates to a new version. Not a single piece of software has broken or had any regressions. The two applications I check for issues, Kdenlive and the Open Broadcaster Studio, continue to work just the same. I experienced zero appreciable downtime with this update which is another tribute to all those involved with openSUSE, KDE Plasma and ever other application so many graciously pour their energy into and permitting me the use of this finely engineered, fantastic distribution of Linux.

Further Reading

KDE Plasma 5.15.0 Announcement

Tumbleweed Snapshots News Announcement for 21 February 2019

PeppermintOS | Review from an openSUSE User

peppermintos review title

PeppermintOS is a bit of a different distribution that I have become aware of in recent months. Peppermint is built with the LXDE interface that is very nicely customized. It can be downloaded from here in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The latest version, Peppermint 9 Respin can be downloaded in both to see how they would perform on both old hardware and in a virtual machine.

So it is understood from the very beginning, I am a huge openSUSE fan and a member of the project. I am fantastically satisfied with the distribution, nothing is perfect, but this distribution and its culture fits me well. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other fantastic projects that work fantastically well for other users. I also primarily use KDE Plasma as my desktop. There are many other fantastic desktop environments out there but Plasma just happens to work best for me by catering to my preference. With my biases clearly stated, I will now get into my experience with PeppermintOS, as an openSUSE user.

Installation

Using the SUSE Studio Imagewriter, I burned a 32 bit image onto a USB flashdrive and installed it into a Dell Inspiron 10 with 1 GB of RAM. It was stated that Peppermint will work with older hardware, so that is exactly what I used. I also installed this on a Virtualbox Virtual Machine so that I could capture some better images.

For starters, I really appreciate that I am able to install Peppermint right from the boot menu. This is one of those features that is important to me when I install a Linux distribution. I am glad that they give the option to try it live but that particular feature is not as important to me.

peppermintos-01-installer boot menu

The next two steps are basic but necessary questions of your language and keyboard layout. It’s good to knock this out immediately.

Next you are asked to specify the installation type. In this case of this Dell Inspiron Netbook, I chose to erase the entire disk and let the the defaults reign. Next you asked if you would like additional software such as downloading and installing updates immediately and to install third-party software for graphics, wifi hardware and such. I did notice a minimal installation option, I did not try this out but from my experience, distributions often offer a ‘minimal’ set of applications. I wanted to see what I was specifically given with Peppermint.

After you confirm the updates and other software, you are given a warning about how the partition tables are going to be written. Maybe this is better than what I am used to with openSUSE but I do prefer stepping through and setting all my options before I am given the final warning. Peppermint warns you in the middle of the install. After the whipping of the drive, you are asked to identify your location. I am puzzled by the sequence of steps here a bit.

After you enter your user information and set your log in preference, the installation begins.

I have to give much credit for the Peppermint team in their theme and graphics with the installer. I do believe that this is the first distribution of Linux I have ever installed that I didn’t have to fuss around at all with the theme. The installer just looks great and the logo fits right into the color selection. Fantastic!

peppermintos-10-installation complete

Once you get the happy message that the installation is complete, the computer will restart when you give it the push.

First Run

Right from the very beginning, Peppermint looks pepper-minty fresh. It has the kind of dark theme I can work on that doesn’t cause me undue stress on my eyes. The coloring the soft lines, just looks great.

peppermintos-11-login screen

Immediately upon starting Peppermint, I had to look at some of its included tools. One particular tool that I found particularly useful was sakura. It gave me a very thorough listing of system information about the installation, the machine, state of the battery, hardware information and package repos. It can be run it on a machine to get a detailed snapshot of a system configuration. I also was glad to see neofetch was included by default with the option of turning it’s output on and off from the Peppermint Settings Panel upon opening the terminal. This tool not only gives you another detailed snapshot of the system but gives you some fantastic ascii art of the distribution logo.

Ice Web App Integrator

A fine feature included with Peppermint that may also be somewhat of a hindrance to its adoption is a tool called Ice. If you are unaware of this, it is a web application integration kit that allows you to easily integrate web applications into the menu as though they were native applications. I have been doing this with Chrome but as of late, with the Chrome bloat, just haven’t been using those menus I have previously created. This is a fantastic way to use some of those “web apps” like native apps without being tied to Chrome.

I was so enamored with this, I had to try it out. I decided I would see if I could create a “Netflix App”. As I could see this very handy in possibly using this as a media set-top box distribution. After all, the theme is already fantastic looking. It has that “theater ready” look about it.

What is nice about Ice is that you can specify, right from the dialog, where you want the application to live on the menu tree. In my case, Netflix is a multimedia app… maybe it should be in the Internet section… In any case you can put it where you want

peppermintos-17-star trek on netflix

Default Applications

I wanted to see what kind of applications are installed by default. Upon doing some clicking around, I thought it to be rather lean but that is really a non-issue as far as I am concerned. I actually would prefer that for several use cases.

What I found particularly interesting was the choice for office applications. This is a first, as far as I have ever seen, Microsoft Office 365 is your default office suite. I would never have thought I’d ever see Microsoft Office products by default in any Linux distribution.

peppermintos-18-office suite

It’s a different world we live in these days…

PeppermintOS-21-Microsoft Word.png

The updater tool on Peppermint is everything I want in an updater tool. Nice and verbose. Although, I do seem to prefer doing it all the the terminal these days, this gives me a find blend of the friendly approach of a GUI with the verbose readout of the terminal.

It should also be noted that doing updates does require a password. I have come to the conclusion that this is the norm for Linux distributions.

Logout

Lastly, after you have had all your fun and want to put your PeppermintOS machine to sleep, you have some options when you go to log out. It’s nice to see it laid out so incredibly clear. A well branded dialog with the Peppermint logo, typeface and reminder of what version of Peppermint you are running.

peppermintos-14-shutdown.png

All-in-all, in my short time on Peppermint, I truly enjoyed it.

What I like

Right from the very beginning, Peppermint OS has the best theme and installer graphics for those, like me, that are not happy about light themed interfaces and bright lights. The tone this distribution sets with me is that it understands my struggles and knows they are real when it comes to bright lights. It gets me.

The menu in Peppermint is laid out very well. and is snappy, even on old hardware. It looks good, works well and thankfully has a “recent applications” and and “Favorites” section.

The Peppermint Settings Panel is a great tool that has just about everything I would need as a desktop user. The System Information Tool, sakura gives me more than what I need but will happily accept. Interestingly, one of the tools is a system wide Ad Blocker that you can set. Sure, that’s not so good for cubiclenate.com but since there are so many websites out there that, in my opinion, misbehave in their advertisement exposure, this is good to reduce a lot of that unwanted traffic and distractions.

Ice could possibly be my favorite PeppermintOS feature that I wish I had on openSUSE. Everything else is basically there but I haven’t come across a “Web Apps” integration outside of using Chrome. I wanted to not emphasis this but I really can’t help it.

Lastly, I was able to install from the boot menu. That is a huge win for me. I do appreciate this as an option.

There are a lot of great features of PeppermintOS, like many distributions, this is put together very well and I can see many use cases for it. In an effort to not turn this into a novel, I will leave it here as my top likes.

What I don’t like

I prefer to to have the final commit button at the end of the installation, just as openSUSE does it. From my estimation, once you commit to the writing of the disk partitions, you have already committed and there is no turning back. I could go through the entire process on openSUSE and still back out at the very end after I am given a rollup of all the changes and such. Truly, this is not a criticism of the Peppermint team in choice of installations steps, this is purely a preference. In the end, this really doesn’t matter much.

I am not sure how to think about having Microsoft Office 365 as the default office suite but this can be easily changed. I shouldn’t put this under “What I don’t like” as it is something I just don’t know what to think about.

Final Thoughts

Peppermint OS is certainly with giving a try. I need to take some more time on it and I am putting this distribution of Linux as one of my top, smile-producing Linux distributions. It is certainly worth the time to try out, especially on older hardware. Was fascinated by the inclusion of Office 365 as the office suite. This could almost be the antithesis of a Chromebook, which is nice to see.

For more on what other Linux enthusiasts think of PeppermintOS, check out this meeting of the minds from the BigDaddyLinux community.

I thank the team that has created Peppermint for the effort they have put into this, there has been a lot of time taken on the look and feel of Peppermint and it shows.

Further Reading

https://peppermintos.com/

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

neofetch | Command-Line System Information Tool

VirtualBox.org

BigDaddyLinux Community Chatter

BigDaddyLinux.com