openSUSE Tumbleweed on Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-00-Title

For quite some time, I have been noodling around an idea about adding a “new” Linux machine to my home with a specific purpose and requirements in mind. The primary purpose of this machine would be to enhance my organization and reduce wasted time. I also had a very specific form factor requirement for my use case, an all-in-one computer with a touch screen interface and VESA mount capability. I needed it to be new enough but it didn’t have to be too new. I did months of searching and watching and finally ended up with the Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop.

Why?

I have a smaller kitchen and I spend a lot of time in it. I had a laptop or Chromebook taking up valuable counter space which had at times become problematic. Generally, that laptop or Chromebook would be tied into my CoolVox, a refrigerator sound system. I stopped using the Chromebook for this because it would do crazy things with the audio such as play at maximum volume and not allow me to adjust it. The openSUSE Linux machines were far more reliable with Bluetooth audio. The kitchen machine would be used for entertainment purposes, music, podcasts, YouTube videos or Netflix while I am doing what needs to be done.

I have been using the KDE Personal Information Manager, Kontact, for keeping my life organized for quite some time. I have several calendars some Google, some iCal and they are used for different purposes. As much as I like Kontact and Akonadi for managing this data, they can get a bit resource intense from time to time so one of my 2 GB machines would not be adequate. I tried the paper calendar trick but it just wasn’t as sustainable if I changed something, I wouldn’t always put it back in the digital calendar or I would forget to print a new one… it was too clumsy.

e6440-01-smI was not satisfied with any of my current solutions as they made the kitchen feel cluttered and taking my Dell Latitude E6440 in the potential harms way of kitchen messes just wasn’t a good idea. Getting an All-In-One that I could mount to the wall would clean up my kitchen and be a focal point to keep better organized.

Interestingly, this machine came preinstalled with Windows 10. I wanted to see how well it worked on this machine before blowing it away and installing openSUSE Tumbleweed. Unfortunately, it didn’t even successfully boot.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-02-Windows Fail

The Hardware

I didn’t want to spend a lot but I didn’t want to go too cheap. I also didn’t want a big project fixing anything. This used, Dell Inspiron 20 3048 was close enough to meet my requirements. I think the screen is just a bit small at 19.5 inches diagonal and the resolution is only 1600×900 but it is adequate. What it does have is a VESA wall mount which many of the newer Dell all-in-one machines do not seem to have.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-01-Back.jpg

Specs that matter

  • CPU Pentium G3240T 2.7 GHz
  • Upgraded to 8 GB RAM
  • 1 TB HDD
  • Touchscreen LED 19.5″ at 1600×900
  • Built in speakers
  • SD Card reader
  • 6 USB ports
  • 3.5mm Line out
  • 3.5mm Headphone / mic jack
  • Atheros AR9565 Wifi b/g/n + Bluetooth

Upgrades

The machine came with 4 GB Upgraded the memory to 8GB. I used the two 4 GB  DDR3 SODIMMS from my E6440 when I upgraded its memory. Accessing the memory on this machine is a bit of a headache. The back panel is held on by snaps. I used a plastic separator tool to pop the snaps and remove the back cover. The memory is behind another panel on the right, viewing from the back.

Installation of openSUSE

openSUSE Tumbleweed has been so rock solid and reliable on everything so far, I decided that I was going to use that instead of Leap. I will have regular, daily interaction with this machine and running sudo zypper dup in terminal once a week or so is hardly a hassle. The installation went as one would expect, flawlessly. I set up the partitions as such:

  • /boot/efi: 250 MiB
  • Swap: 8 GiB
  • / (Root): 40 GiB – BTRFS
  • /home: 883 GiB – XFS

Added Applications

In order to fully utilize this machine, I need a series of applications added to this machine. Here is my short list:

Telegram – Because most of my communication happens here.

Franz – I have been using this quite happily since I first installed it on my other machines, it only made sense to use it to stay properly connected to work functions.

Falkon – I am liking this web browser right now

Syncthing – It should be noted I amusing Qsyncthingtray on this machine

Insync – I am still using Google Drive pretty heavily and this is the best Google Drive Sync application I have used to date

kvkbd – This is the best on screen keyboard I have seen in Linux to date. It does need to be switched to the dark theme to look right. I used this keyboard previously on a Panasonic CF-19 Toughbook with much success.

Teamviewer 13 – Just in case I need to get into this machine remotely

Setup and Tweaks

KDE Plasma looks best, in my opinion, with a openSUSE dark theme and I added the Oxygen5 Window Decorations because it just looks right to me.

In order to play media, I added the needed codecs and VLC using my own little guide I set up. The terminal instructions are way better.

I set up KOrganizer with the appropriate calendars and two of my email accounts. I don’t foresee myself using this much for emails but I do have a need to be able to stay on top of some higher priority accounts.

The default notification sound in KDE Plasma are not to my liking. I have a bunch of Star Trek The Next Generation sound effects that I prefer use instead.

I opened up a few ports in the firewall for KDE Connect, Syncthing and SSH.

I have made this machine a nearly complete mirror of my primary machine using Syncthing. It took a few hours to synchronize about 200 GB of data but it was much quicker than pulling down my files on Google Drive.

Hardware issues

The only issue I had was with the SD Card reader. It seems to read some cards fine but not all. I don’t know if it is an issue with the device, the drivers or the SD Card itself. I rarely use SD Cards so this is not an issue right now.

How it is currently working out

So far, it’s been working out well. Using Kontact to display my calendar has been beneficial to not only in keeping me on task but also in keeping the kids involved in activities and time frames. Using this machine tied in with my CoolVox to play music or entertain myself has also been fantastic. I also use it with the kids education for displaying relevant educational materials or playing songs to help with memorization of facts. The wall mount is almost perfect for positioning the screen as I like and I also appreciate it being a bit higher than normal. Forces me to stand straighter…

The only real issue I have with this system is it feels quite a bit slower than I would like. Upgrading the CPU is an option and I just may do it in the future. It’s really fine for now, it just hiccups a bit when I make it do too much.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am very happy with this purchase. I like how it has made my kitchen more functional, improved efficiency and organization of day to day activities. This machine will obviously not do much when it comes to gaming and probably not too much when it comes to generating data. It will, however be used a lot to display information and consume content. Kontact works fantastically well on and is very touch screen friendly. As I have been interacting with it, I have found little “paper cut” issues with the machine using the touch screen. I will be filing bug reports on the little issues I discover to hopefully further improve user experience on KDE Plasma.

This computer was a great purchase and I have a few other tasks in the works for it but that will be for another blathering.

Further Reading

C|Net Review Dell Inspiron 3048 all-in-one

Whirlpool CoolVox

openSUSE Tumbleweed

Crazy Awesome KDE Plasma Desktop Bluetooth Audio on openSUSE

CPU Pentium G3240T 2.7 GHz Benchmark

Telegram on Mobile and openSUSE

Franz | Chat Messaging Unification Application on openSUSE

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

Syncthing on openSUSE

Insync, the Google Drive client for Linux

Panasonic CF-19 Toughbook | Touch Panel Calibration

TeamViewer 13 on openSUSE

Multimedia Codecs and VLC Player

Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop

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Enso OS | Review from an openSUSE User

In participating in with a virtual LUG, BDLL, I decided to give Enso OS a try, on Virtual Machine, of course. In recognizing that there can be Virtual Machine-isms, I am going to ignore any issues I had with that and just relay the overall usability of this distribution. I am evaluating Enso OS from the bias of a long time openSUSE user that prefers the Rolling Release model of distribution and uses KDE Plasma Desktop on machines as old as 11 years. I have rather high expectations for an operating system environment. I expect a certain level of reliability and convenience, computers are to serve me, I do not wish to serve the computer. The more it does for me, the better and it is imperative that I can trust the computer, which is why I use openSUSE.

Even though I am very committed to the openSUSE community, I do like to see what others are doing, just because someone isn’t using openSUSE, doesn’t mean they don’t have great ideas too. It is also fascinating to see how other engineers, developers and designers solve the same problems but in their own unique ways.

Installation

I have yet to have a Linux distribution fail to install on VirtualBox. I am using the VirtualBox from the openSUSE Tumbleweed repositories, which, over the years has been basically problem free.

The Enso OS ISO I used was downloaded from here. It is the latest version (at the time of writing) 0.3, built on the latest LTS release of Ubuntu, version 18.04.

Much like trying out other Distros, I set the RAM to 4GB and allocated a 120GB Dynamically Allocated Storage drive. Immediately, I was pleased to see that I was given an option if I wanted to try Enso OS or immediately install it.

EnsoOS-01-Installation Options

Since I don’t see a point in trying Enso in a “Live Media” mode on a virtual machine, there was only once clear choice here. Install Enso.

Each of the screens are straight forward. Select your keyboard, test it out then determine if you want to pull down the updates during the installation as well as install third party software. I think this is a nice feature, especially for a new user. This is something openSUSE does not do through their installer, good bad or otherwise. They have their reasons, which is why I put together this to make it quick to install the necessary packages on any current openSUSE system.

The rest of the installation is pretty straight forward, when you commit to “erasing the disk” it warns you but then you go onto setting your location and user name.

I didn’t notice any synchronization with NTP (Network Time Protocol) servers. Not that it is necessary but it is a feature I activate on all my openSUSE systems so that time is always synchronized between them… to the second…

Two things I appreciated about the actual installation process. One, there is an option to watch and see what is happening during the installation. I could not only see the “commercial” provided by the installer but also what was happening through the installation. Secondly, I like the colorful rainbow fading affect. It reminded me the happy colorful times in the 90s of games overusing color gradients in the background…. really quite fantastic.

First Run

Enso OS has a similar feel to it as Pop!_OS, not exact but something of a similar thread where there is an emphasis on making your desktop experience bright and cheerful. Frankly, this is isn’t exactly how I want my desktop to look but I am not opposed to this styling. I think, for most people, this is probably a more attractive look than what I desire.

After the installation was complete, there were updated required, which I didn’t really understand as I did select to install updates immediately. Not a big deal, really. I did appreciate how the update dialog was verbose so I could see what it was doing. The software center in Enso OS was a similar experience to what you would see on Pop!_OS or others with a “Software Center”. The applications are curated in a clearly understandable and friendly manner.

The file manager is pretty typical and very usable. I was, however, disappointed in the default menu, called “Launchy.” Although you can make it sort by category, the default is a kind of messy. A similar mess you you get on a smart phone. It is what I would consider an unsorted mess of applications. If you don’t have many applications, it isn’t a big deal but the more you have, the more of a mess it will become. Thankfully there is a search function that pretty much nullifies this shortcoming.

The settings window is nicely laid out and made quick work of finding where I could tweak the theme to my liking.

I do want to note that the dark theme is Adwaita-Dark, not a dark version of the Enso OS theme. Perhaps in the future there will be an Enso OS dark theme. The default Enso OS has a more Mac like window button arrangement vs the more traditional icons you’d see on pretty much anything else.

Software Installation

Everyone has their base necessary set of applications to get going and knowing that this is based on Ubuntu I was already familiar with the command line methods of software installation. What I wanted to see was their graphical interface called the “AppHive”, so, I installed a few applications. I appreciate how each application has the developers listed below the title. It is a fine way to present the application prior to your choosing weather or not to install it.

EnsoOS-21-Software Installation

I installed a few key applications and gave them a run around the block to see how it ran. Everything is as you would expect in my rather short run, the applications all worked fine. I was was also pleased to see that the Software Center included Snap applications and they installed just as any other applications would. The Discord Application is a Snap and if I hadn’t paid attention during install, I would not have ever noticed. Keeping this transparent to the user is a nice touch.

EnsoOS-22-Dark Snap Packages

A quick check in the terminal and I could see that Discord was installed as a Snap. Installation of the Smart Card system works as well as it does on any of the other Ubuntu based distributions so for my most important work I do in Linux, I could accomplish without any issue.

What I like

Enso OS is by far the finest looking XFCE Desktop I have used. I do admit that I haven’t tried any XFCE Desktop in quite some time but this is not anything like I remember. Enso OS has made XFCE feel as “modern” and pleasant as any other desktop environment. I would say that this is a more positive experience than what I had using a Gnome. XFCE is easily customized and has a more familiar workflow than Gnome.

Installing applications with the Software Manager, AppHive, provides a seamless experience when installing Snaps or Deb packages. From a newer or less comfortable user’s perspective, this certainly would make for a better experience.

What I don’t Like

EnsoOS-18-MenuThe only issue I have with Enso OS is the menu, Launchy. It’s not a big issue as it does have a search feature but the menu just isn’t neatly organized by default. Since I am a KDE Plasma user, I felt like XFCE was lacking some of the features I prefer and use regularly. I am sure I could have gotten KDE Connect to work with XFCE but the lack of integration makes it a less enjoyable desktop experience. XFCE is not bad, by any stretch but it’s just not as much for me and what I want out of a desktop.

Final Thoughts

I have been enjoying looking at other distributions to see how other developers, engineers and designers express their desires and solve their problems in a Linux Desktop Environment. I must say that I am quite impressed the work put into Enso OS. Outside of some theme changes, I am not exactly sure what the unique selling point is over Xubuntu but it doesn’t detract from the quality of the end product. This is a finely produced, very complete, well polished Linux distribution.

As nice as Enso OS is and the convenience it provides with installing multimedia codecs, I am perfectly happy with where I am using openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. Even though openSUSE doesn’t include multimedia codecs by default, there are enough guides out there to fix that small issue. I also want it to be clear that trying out Enso OS was not in any way a waste of my time and I am glad I took it for a spin.

Further Reading

Enso OS Main Site

BigDaddyLinux.com

VirtualBox.org Site

Xubuntu.org Site

openSUSE.org Site

Multimedia Codecs and VLC Player for openSUSE

Konqueror is Still Awesome

Konqueror logo.png

My first file manager on Linux was Konqueror. Compared to anything I at that time it was by far the best thing I’ve ever used. So many options, so many customization features and so many ways to find out information about your files. Looking at it today, I still think it is still by far the best file manager (plus) out there.

The basic openSUSE Tumbleweed installation does not include Konqueror by default but it is available in the main repository. To install enter this in the terminal:

sudo zypper install konqueror konqueror-plugins

Be sure to install the “konqueror-plugins”. Without the plugins, Konqueror doesn’t have that particularly special functionality so I recommend the plugins package.

When you start Konqueror, you are greeted with a pleasant little introduction which tells you a little bit about what Konqueror can do. The more you learn how this software works, the more you discover what you can accomplish with it. Click through the introduction to get acquainted with the product then get to work.

Konqueror Welcome Screen

Konqueror has all the fine functions of a file manager, web browser and can be used as a universal document viewer. More on that last part later. I want to initially focus on the file management capabilities of Konqueror.

Konqueror File Manager.png

This isn’t anything that Dolphin, the default KDE Plasma file manger can’t do. In fact, in comparison, there are things Dolphin will do that Konqueror does not by default. To compare the two, Dolphin has side panels for quick links to places, recently saved work and details about whatever file has been selected. Konqueror does not have this.

Dolphin Home Folder.png

Most basic file management will work just fine in Dolphin. Where the difference really comes in is with the plugins and some additional or more advanced built in features. The feature that stands out most is the File Size Viewer, a graphical breakdown of files, larger to smaller and the size they take up relative to the overall whole of the directory in question. It sorts the directories by size so at a glance you can see what is taking up your disk space.

Konqueror File Size View

I have yet to see this particular feature in any other file management tool. From what I can tell, this feature stands alone and it is absolutely fantastic. It is not a daily feature but it often comes to play when I am analyzing the contents of a disk or when I have to periodically go through and clear out information from my Google Drive so that I don’t go over on my piddly 100GB allotment. I also use this to periodically look at what is taking up the most space. In my case, I have a bunch of VMs on my drive cluttering things up.

The next rather fantastic feature of Konqueror is the ability to make your time managing files productively enjoyable. It has the ability to split up the window into panes where each pane can be where ever you want it to be and view them how you want them to be viewed. You can even open up a Terminal Emulator. I have used this to monitor Rsync operations. If you do file transfers with webdav, ftp, sftp and so forth, this will give you a great way to manage files.

Konqueror Panes Terminal Emulator

But wait, there’s more!

Konqueror Panes Terminal Emulator 2.png

Each of those panes can be changed to show file locations as you see fit. I can have a File Size View, Detailed View or even just open up another terminal emulator. To the untrained eye, I can give the illusion that I am way smarter and more productive than I actually am.

Konqueror also has a real decent web browser. It is a very capable browser and can be another tab in the same window. It uses either the default KHTML rendering engine or optionally Webkit. I don’t use it as a browser so much lately as Falkon has largely taken that role away but when I want to look at a page with an alternate browser, Konqueror is the tool I use.

Konqueror Web Browser

The last bit I am going to cover is the ability to embed other applications within Konqueror. Applications like Okular, the document viewer, can open up a PDF or picture as a tab within Konqueror. Any application that supports KParts can be used within Konqueror. Combine that capability with the ability to split the Window into panes and your desktop really becomes like clay, a piece of digital organization art and productivity to dazzle the masses.

Final Thoughts

Konquoror doesn’t get talked about much and that is unfortunate. It is an awesome application with great capabilities. It is almost like what Chrome / ChromeOS is trying to be but just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Chrome’s version of a file browser is dismal at best. Konqueror does everything in these nice neat, little, flexible containers but with fewer system resources than what you would see on Chrome. With multiple tabs open of file management, web pages and an embedded document viewer, It is still using less than 300 MB of RAM.

Admittedly, I tend to use Dolphin and Falkon more frequently than Konqueror. Dolphin for the side pane functionality and Falkon tends to to a better job of rendering pages than Konqueror. When it comes to serious file management, where I really need to dig in and do some heavy [file management] lifting, Konqueror still reigns supreme.

Further Reading

Konqueror Home

Okular Document Viewer

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

USB or Removable Media Formatting in Linux

USB Drive-02.jpg

I am working on another project and whilst doing so, I was reintroduced to a kind of irritating problem with Desktop Linux. Nothing huge, just annoying enough. Formatting Removable or USB media. This is one area where I agree with the statement that Linux is not as easy to use as Windows. The Linux solutions work but it seems to lack some elegance.

Method #1: The Terminal

Before you start issuing any Format commands, be sure you know what the device name is. The way I prefer is by inserting the drive into the computer and and run in terminal:

dmesg

You’ll see a lot of text and toward the end look for something that reads like:

[109951.128820] sd 6:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg3 type 0
[109951.128995] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] No Caching mode page found
[109951.128997] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] Assuming drive cache: write through
[109951.135052]  sdc:
[109951.136745] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] Attached SCSI removable disk

That tells me that the device name is sdc and I know that it is mounted under /dev. So this USB drive is /dev/sdc

to verify run:

df -h

If your computer mounted the drive you can take a look at the listing. Somewhere you should see the last drive you plugged in along with the Size of the drive, How much is Used, How much Available, Use of drive as a percentage and where if anyplace it is mounted. In my case:

Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sdc        7.5G  946M  6.6G  13% /run/media/cubiclenate/XFER

For the following examples, replace the “X” with your particular drive letter.

Next you need to ask yourself, do you wish to share the contents of this drive with non-Linux machines. If the answer is “yes” than you will need to format in FAT or NTFS.

Format with FAT or in this case VFAT

sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdX

Format with NTFS (New Technology File System), more common since Windows XP

sudo mkfs.ntfs /dev/sdX

If this drive is just for you and your Linux buddies, go with a Linux file system. They are “better” in many ways.

Format with EXT4 File System

sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdX

Or, if you are feeling it, go with XFS

sudo mkfs.xfs /dev/sdX

This process isn’t hard just not as straight forward to a new user and if you don’t spend your life in the terminal, these commands can easily be forgotten.

Method #2: Quick USB Formatter

A more graphical, KDE Plasma, friendly feeling option is this USB Format application. This is not in the Official openSUSE repositories.

https://software.opensuse.org/package/quick-usb-formatter

What is nice about this application is that it is very straight forward. After installation, just typing USB will bring this up in the menu / quick launcher as “USB Format”. The executable is located here:

/usr/bin/quickusbformatter

USB Format-01

The interface is very straight forward, you select the device, in this case /dev/sdc and it will NOT allow you to select your system drives so there is no shot at making a mistake here. You can select the file system but XFS is not an option. There is a field to type in a label if you so choose as well.

Downside to this interface is that you can’t manage the partitions should you want to delete or add partitions on this drive. Also note, I am not able to format anything in the build in SD Card reader. If these are not a concern then this may be a fine solution for you.

Method #3: Gparted

Perhaps my preferred method for managing storage medium is Gparted. This is the Gnome Partition Editor and is one of the finest pieces of software I have ever used. It just does everything I need to do in a nice, intuitive, easy to use and extremely powerful tool for managing disks. It is described as an “industrial-strength” application for for creating, destroying, resizing, moving, checking and copying partitions, and the filesystems on them.

Gparted is available for both Tumbleweed and Leap, to install:

sudo zypper in gparted

This “do everything tool” for your disks will require root privileges and rightfully so. You can create space on disk for new operating systems, or even copy the file systems.Gparted-01-sdc

This has access to all the drives on the system, mounted or not. Also note that modification to SD Cards, as expected, is also not an issue.

Gparted-05-SD Card.png

This application is fantastic in how you an resize and move partitions around on a drive. The designers have taken great care in paying attention to the finer details of disk interaction.

After you are satisfied with the disk modifications, you commit to the changes by a check box labeled “Apply All Operations”.

Gparted also removes all ambiguity in what is supported with each file system. There is a great report you can review under View > File System Support.

Gparted-02-File System Support

Final Thoughts

Managing USB or Removable media isn’t exactly the most straight forward if you are new to Linux. This might not be true for all distributions or desktop interfaces but my experience on KDE Plasma over many years has been as such. Maybe it shouldn’t be a straight forward process as a user should know what they are doing before they start making any changes to any pieces of hardware and maybe it is also a non-issue as most removable media is already formatted and ready to go.

If you have any other thoughts on interacting with removable media. Please share, I am interested in knowing if there are other or better options out there.

Further Reading

https://software.opensuse.org/package/quick-usb-formatter

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

Pine A64 Set Up and First Run

Some time ago, a coworker convinced me to get in on a Kickstarter for the Pine64. It’s the only Kicksarter I have ever backed which makes 100% of my Kickstarter experiences successful. Not many can say that.

IMG_20181121_210911

When I first recieved the machine, I couldn’t get the thing to boot. Not a single image I tried would work. After a few weeks, on and off of working it, I was frustrated Early images for it. I couldn’t get anything to work. I tried several SD Cards and it even lead me to this F3 application (solid state media checker) to make sure my flash media was functioning properly. It all was, I got busy with another project, so I put it away.

Recently, I heard about the Pine Phone a budget Linux phone that is said to run KDE Plasma that  and did a little research. I am pretty excited about a KDE Plasma focused phone showing up on the market. The best part is, it is a budget phone which is how I like to do mobile. On principle, I won’t spend much more than $100 on a phone. They are disposable and trivial devices that I almost wish I could do without. After reading this on It’s FOSS. I remembered, that I had a Pine64… someplace…

I find the prospect of a budget Linux based phone pretty exciting, especially since it is going to be based on Plasma Mobile. Also, since I have had some recent fun with Plasma Mobile on the Nexus 5X, this grabbed a hold of my interest as hard as a panicked window washer grabs the safety harness, 78 stories high on the John Handcock Center during a mid-October gust of wind. Consequently, I looked for and set up my 2GB Pine A64-LTS so that I could become “Pine Smart” and pretend like I know a thing or three about the thing. You know… should it come up in conversation around the water cooler.

Installation Medium

My previously wasted attempts at getting this to work lead me to use the official tool this time around. I downloaded the AppImgae of the Pine64 Installation Tool. It is essentially Etcher with a menu that allows you to select what version of Pine64 you have and the corresponding compatible images. In my case, I have a Pine A64+ with 2GB.

Pine64-01-Installer Etcher Fork

The first choice on the list is Xenial MATE. I was not interested in any of the Android versions and as much as I wanted to use the openSUSE image, it required some work to get fully functional. There were several others but I ended up going with the Xenial MATE which is Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.

Pine64-03-Installer Flash.png

I loaded it onto a 32 GB Card, When I popped it in the Pine64, it booted and I was beside myself in excitement. Finally, after years of sitting, it is alive and functional.

Pine64 Setup

I order to get this thing going, I scraped together the needed bits to get it going. I didn’t buy a Pine64 power supply so I ended up using the Power Supply from my HP Touchpad, because it is big and beefy and not at any risk of under supply, used a Wireless Keyboard with touchpad and since I don’t have a monitor that supports HDMI in my SuperCubicle I used a little HDMI to VGA adapter. Take note, the documentation says that the Pine64 “works best” on a 1080p screen. It should actually read. “Only Works” on a 1080p screen. If you use something else, it will not automatically adapt the output accordingly. You can see the screen but not all of it.

Lenovo ideapad-02-screen size

Now what?

I now have this ARM based computer and I am not sure where to start, what to do first. There are a lot of great project ideas out there and since this has 2GB of RAM there are a lot of possibilities. For starters, just as a basic desktop computer, this will do just fine for many tasks. Looking at this particular board (snapshot from the pine64.org site), it is loaded with geeky accessibility.

Pine64_board

There is an active community around the Pine64 and seeing it has the Pi 2 Bus along with an expansion and Euler Bus (bunch of cool additions in addition to the Pi 2) there are more things you can do with this than what I really know what to do. I have a couple fun ideas that will take some time to flesh out.

Really, I am happy I was able to properly image an SD Card and get it up and running after having it sit in a box at the bottom of a drawer for about three years.

Final [for now] Thoughts

This appears to be a fairly decent piece of kit. I have to decide what I am going to do with it. I have Ethernet and the Wifi card on it along with the case when I contributed to the Kickstarter Campaign. It runs Ubuntu MATE extremely well but because it is an ARM based system, I am going to shy way from doing any real regular desktop use. It does a fine console based openSUSE and as much as I like the command line, it’s not really where I like to live 100% of the time. It seems like when you go ARM, officially supported kernels are always lagging by years and although it may be fine, I would prefer such machines not be too heavily relied upon or have a limited scope of access to things. I like for my kernels to slip comfortably into a piece of hardware like my foot does in a new pair of fuzzy house-slippers. ARM seems to require some kind of break in period, which consequently, makes ARM devices just not relied upon for anything critical… yes… that’s all of them. They are fun toys.

Regardless of the ARM shortcomings, I like competing CPU platforms and tinkering around with them. I am going to continue to explore this fine contraption and hopefully come up with something that will adequately utilize it.

Further Reading

Pine64.org Main Site

Pine64 Installation Tool

KDE Plasma Desktop

Etcher

NeptuneOS | Review from an openSUSE User

I am not a “distro hopper” but it is good to experience some of the other Linux distributions out there. It gives you a good understanding of what you like and what you like less and keeps things colorful. This time it is NeptuneOS, a Debian based distro. Most of my Debian experience as of late has been with the Ubuntu and its variants. As far as I am concerned. Linux really is Linux and they are all, for the most part, good.

Installation

I am doing all my evaluations in a Virtual Machine. I am using my current favorite, for such things, VirtualBox. When I downloaded the ISO, I took quick attention to the system requirements for how very specific they are. I wanted to try them at their minimum.

1 Ghz Intel/AMD 64Bit CPU, 1.6 GB RAM, 8 GB HDD

I didn’t scale the CPU but I did set the RAM to down to 1.8 GB because I do have a machine like that and the HDD just a bit bigger to be realistic to what I would get form an older netbook or current, cheap, laptop in a dual boot scenario.

For starters, I must say, I am a bit confused as to why there isn’t a direct install option, that you have to use it as a “Live CD” to start. I am not sure why Live CDs are really a thing anymore. If I am going to try a Linux Distribution, you can’t get the full benefit out of it in a kind of Read Only environment, would rather just install directly.

When the Live CD version boots up, you are greeted with a fine looking desktop. Very pleasant and simple. A great way to start.

I am not going to be too critical of the choice for a Live CD being the only option but it does seem like a bit of a waste of time to have to go that route, just to install.

Installation

The installation process was straight forward. With only six steps required to get the install going, seven if you count the confirmation to perform the install and eight if you count rebooting as part of the install.

The first two steps are pretty easy… what language do you speak and about where do you live. If only most questions life were this simple…

The keyboard selector is the best I have ever seen. Although I do not have a Dvorak keyboard, nor have I ever seen one in the wild, it was great to not only see this as an option but to see that the keyboard layout is what you are expecting. Very nice!

This really inspires me to want to get a Dvorak keyboard. The practicality is still in question as I don’t need one and it would likely just be a novelty.

I left the default partitioning scheme in place. This is not going to be a regular machine else I would have set a separate /home partition. I like for those home things to be separate should I have a desire to “nuke and pave” my system (clean install). The user set up was also nice and clean although, I like to be able to specify my own user ID.

My only criticism to the installation process is that it is just a series of commercials, I suppose that is fine but I like to watch and see what is actually happening, such as packages being installed and the like.

Step Eight, reboot. Interesting that it would be a check mark option.

First Run

Upon reboot, I happen to like this Grub screen; Big Chunky Red Bar to boot Neptune OS. It boot rather quickly, especially since this is happening in a VM. Time to boot is not something I would score real heavy on unless it is painfully slow like pre-systemD era Linux.

There is something about a fresh smelling, clean, un-customized desktop in KDE Plasma. It is like a sand box waiting for your own personal creation to take form.

I am going to give NeptuneOS points on their default menu selection. It is not my personal preference but for a new user, this is a great, comfortable menu that is clear and gives you some great starting points. Well done!

Personally, I prefer the “Application Menu” Alternative but that is the simply awesome thing about KDE Plasma, if you don’t like the default or have a different preference, there is an option for you.

For a light theme, I think the default desktop theme is pretty great. It looks clean and simple and I do like the shadowing effect. The NeptuneOS dark theme is also very nicely done. So theming wise, this is a great distro out of the box. No reason to hunt for a new theme.

Discover is basically what you would expect on a KDE Plasma Desktop. I must say, I am not used to the light theme for this application and I maybe like it better than the dark theme.

I am not really sure why you have to enter your password for updates but again, not a big deal. Maybe you don’t want an unprivileged user to be able to perform updates.

Plasma Vault

I may have been living under a rock but I haven’t seen this application before. I haven’t taken the time to research it at all but wanted to see how intuitive it would be to use knowing nothing about it.

The one thing I don’t really understand is why they would include Encfs as an encryption system by default if it is knowingly less secure and easily compromised. I can see having it available for legacy reason but installed by default seems just a bit silly.

After choosing your encryption system, you are prompted for your password to which it tells you how “secure” it is, a location for the vault, the mount point, and finally the type of cipher you wish to use. I chose the “default”.

Another nice feature was the option to limit the vault to specific activities. Plasma will close that vault if you goo to an activity to which it is not permitted.

To try it out, I created a text file in the vault to experience the process of interacting with mounting and un-mounting vaults.

When mounted, the vault acts like any other directory on the file tree. When you un-mount the vault, the contents of that vault disappears in much the same way you would expect from un-mounting a drive.

When mounting the drive, you are prompted for your password and the vault auto-magically becomes available once again.

On a side note I liked this so much, and to shoe-horn in my preferred distribution in this review, I installed it in openSUSE to play with it some more.

sudo zypper install plasma-vault plasma-vault-backend-cryfs plasma-vault-lang

What I Like

The general feel of NeptuneOS is great, from the Installation process to the menu selection and default theme selections, it was all quite fantastic. If I had to use NeptuneOS as a daily driver, I would be quite comfortable here. NeptuneOS is based on Debian 9.0 (Stretch), I could probably add a PPA or download the tarball or some other deb package of Telegram to get going with it. The same goes for Discord or any other application I regularly use. I am already familiar with the Debian way of doing things so living in the terminal here is not much different elsewhere.

NeptuneOS-31-Smart Card InstallationI used my directions for installing the Smart Card system for Ubuntu and derivatives and it all worked just as expected. I was a bit surprised that they worked. I did have to set it up for Chromium, which worked just fine. This tells me I need to make some adjustments to my page to spell out what I have tested. Something to think about…

The system requirements specified on the Download page are accurate. They are not just theoretical. For everything I tested, it all just worked.

What I Don’t Like

Telegram, Discord and Firefox was not available in the repository. Iceweasel was available, which I know is a re-branded Firefox but to a new-ish user that doesn’t know what Iceweasel is, that could be confusing. I am sure I could find Telegram and Discord but I wasn’t particularly inspired to do so.

I haven’t tested memory usage between Chromium and Firefox but based on my Chrome experiences, it seems like Firefox might be a better solution to meet that low system memory requirement or better yet, have Falkon available even though that is not a full featured browser.

It doesn’t have Zypper, the openSUSE package manager… but I wasn’t expecting that. I just happen to prefer it over Apt*.

Final Thoughts

NeptuneOS is a very clean KDE Plasma distribution. It looks good out of the box and since it is based on Debian 9.0, it has potential to have quite the extensive software library available to it. The experience is clean and well thought out with sensible defaults. Not all the defaults are my preference but that can be fairly easily adjusted to suit my needs. There are some applications that are not available by default which can be a bit frustrating but there are not many distributions that have everything you want upon install.

Over all, NeptuneOS is a winner, from an openSUSE user’s perspective.

Further Reading

NeptuneOS Home Page

VirtualBox.org

DoD CAC Reader | Ubuntu, Derivatives and Linux Mint

3 Ways to Install Telegram Messenger on Debian 9 Stretch

Other Distributions

 

 

 

 

Pop!_OS | Review from an openSUSE User

PopOS Logo

As part of a kind of challenge, I have decided to kick the tires on Pop!_OS Since I don’t have the extra hardware to install it on “bare metal” so I have chosen to put it in a Virtual Machine. Pop!_OS can be downloaded from here. I chose the 2GB sized Intel/AMD version for this test. The Requirements are on par with nearly every other 64-bit distribution out there. It requires 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage.

Installation

The installation process Pop!_OS is a fantastic experience. The instructions are clear and  the presentation is uncluttered with a clear course of action. Very good for a new user to Linux.

After the installation and reboot of the machine, you are prompted to set up your user. It’s all pleasantly straight forward and easy to understand.  It is at this point you can choose to encrypt or not encrypt your home directory.

First Run

After you log in, you are greeted with this friendly, multilingual, interactive welcome dialog. Like the installation experience, clean and simple.

PopOS-09-Welcome

Your First task is to set your privacy settings

PopOS-12-Privacy

Nothing confusing, simple wording and asks you questions very simply; Do you want to allow applications to know your location. No techno babble, no long winded explanations. Plain, simple and clear language.

Next your asked if you want to set up any online accounts. I was not particularly interested in this feature so I did not test it.

PopOS-13-Online Accounts

Should you skip this step, it is easy to get set up accounts later. This is in the settings menu. Searching “Online Accounts” in the menu will bring it up.

That is all that will be needed to get started.

PopOS-14-Ready

And you are ready to get Pop!_OS-ing

PopOS-05-Splash Screen

Adding Software

The cleverly named Pop!_Shop which is a re-skinned ElementaryOS App Center, not the Gnome Software Center, which I originally thought.

PopOS-06-Pop Shop

I searched for and installed Telegram with the expected outcome. I searched for specific libraries to install what is needed for the Smart Card but nothing would show up. When the GUI doesn’t do as asked, there is still terminal to bail you out. Using my instructions here to make the installation.

PopOS-07-Set Up CAC.png

The process of going back and forth became a bit irritating but more on that later. Installing and testing out the Smart Card system was successful. It worked just as my instructions specified for Ubuntu and its derivatives.

What I Like

PopOS-16-Lock ScreenFor starters, this is an Ubuntu derivative, so I know I have access to… basically everything. Also, knowing this is built on a well tested base, plus the extra polish from System76, I would have no distrust of any system running this.

The installation interface is beautiful and friendly. It has fun artwork, straight forward installer. The look and the artwork in Pop!_OS is absolutely stellar. It has a fun, clean and modern looking interface. The contrast is perfect and give the Environment the same kind of welcoming, pleasant, here is a hot cup of coco, go sit by the fire and warm up, after shoveling the snow off of the sidewalks.

The Pop!_Shop is not only cleverly named but looks great. The care and attention to detail made by the designers make this application fit into their finely crafted desktop environment is noticed and appreciated.

The base set of applications chosen by the designers is a nice fit. It has all the basics you need without having to install anything. You can get by just fine with what’s available and not be burdened by the confusion of excessive application selection.

What I don’t like

I want to make it clear that I have a pretty huge bias as I am entrenched in a particular workflow and I happen to like, how openSUSE structures itself. I also want to make perfectly clear that I think this is a very fine piece of art and technology for which I have great admiration in all those involved.

PopOS-17-Extra ClicksFor starters, I do not like having to click on “Activities” on the top of the screen to do pretty much everything. It is my opinion that this exercise is nothing more than unnecessary wear and tear on my mouse button and a general waste of time. This particular design choice is clunky and inefficient. The lack of buttons on the window and the lack of any way to add them, at least one that is not obvious. It would be a fantastic feature to minimize the screen at the click of a button or maybe keep windows above others with a single-click of a button. Much like the additional unnecessary clicks to do anything through the “Activity” button, I have to add a right-click than select what I want to do with the window.

There is no Task Bar no way of knowing what is going on at a glance, to look at all your windows open, extra clicking is required by going back to that “Activities” button. Alternatively, the Alt+Tab will allow you to switch windows, which works fine if you only have a few applications running. If you have a lot going on, switching between applications is going to be a mess.

Not a big deal, but I don’t particularly care for the way you have to use authentication to do updates from the GUI. I say this with my openSUSE bias as doing an upgrade through the update tool requires no authentication when using openSUSE Leap. This is a small potatoes thing… really…

Last thing… and this too falls back on my bias… Due to the lack of package selection from the Pop!_Shop, I needed another package manager since as much as I like GUIs, so I installed Synergy to see how it compared to openSUSE YaST Software Manager.

sudo apt-get install synaptic

Synaptic is pretty decent. It has a lot of the great features of which I am accustomed to with openSUSE but there was one glaring missing feature I was not able to find.

PopOS-08-Synaptic

There isn’t any way to select a repository to switch system packages into. Perhaps this is not a necessary feature in Ubuntu based systems but for openSUSE, this is a nice feature. There is value in switching system repositories to a more bleeding edge KDE or Gnome and switching them back, if wanted.

Final Thoughts

Would I use Pop_OS! for a daily driver? As nice as it is, the spectacular polish, the beautiful art, sensible selection of default applications and so much more, I still would not. There are too many user interface issues with it that make it too slow and clunky. The lack of minimize and task bar in the desktop plus the required extra-clicks to get to the menu, although it is not a serious productivity loss, it just feels slower. I am aware that there is a work around for that using Gnome-Tweaks and Keyboard Shortcuts but I just don’t find it an acceptable out-of-box answer.

I am certain that Pop!_OS is a fantastic interface for many and for those in which it works well, they should continue to use it. It looks fantastic and feels incredibly well polished and I have no doubt whatsoever that it is stable and works reliably for the long haul. It just doesn’t fit my needs. Part of the beauty of Linux and the open source is the ability to choose what is best suited for your particular needs, desires and unique flair. Use the best tool for the job and I have no doubt that Pop!_OS is a fine tool for many jobs.

Further Reading

Pop_OS! Download

DoD CAC Reader | Ubuntu, Derivatives and Linux Mint

ElementaryOS App Center

CrossOver Linux Use and Review on openSUSE

CrossOver Logo

CrossOver Linux recently released version 18.0.0 (2018) which was another fine release with no regressions. I have been using CrossOver Linux (at the time CrossOver Office) since 2005. At the time, I imagined that within a few years would Linux be as ubiquitous on the desktop as Windows or Mac. After all, I bought a boxed copy of Mandrake Linux in the store which sat right next to SUSE Linux. There seemed to be a lot of momentum behind it. Now, in 2018, Linux has seemingly infiltrated every other use case, servers, phones, Internet of Things but doesn’t seem to be have as much traction on the Desktop.

This may come as a surprise but there are still 3rd party applications of which I require that I cannot run in Linux. Although, I think there are fewer now than there used to be, I still find I need a Windows compatibility layer. I can do much of in with Wine, but CodeWeavers makes it so much easier to manage.

Installation

There isn’t a repository that you can add (as far as I know), so you will have to download the RPM directly from CodeWeavers. That can be done here:

https://www.codeweavers.com/products/crossover-linux/download

I like to neatly tuck them into an rpms subfolder in my Downloads directory.

sudo zypper install ~/Downloads/rpms/crossover-18.0.0-1.rpm

Your version may vary, of course as updates and improvements are ongoing.

The fantastic feature of Crossover is that every application can be installed in it’s own bottle, the first exposure to “containers” I have ever had on Linux or any system for that matter. It is a great way to test applications without the risk of interfering with other installed applications.

CrossOver Linux-01-Main Window.png

The process to Install Windows Software is easy, intuitive and requires little explanation. If the application is supported by CodeWeavers or a Advocate, it is no more difficult than searching for the application. Selecting the name of it and Continue.

CrossOver Linux-02-StarTrek_Starfleet_Academy

If the application is not supported by CodeWeavers or an Advocate, it’s still not difficult to install; as long as you have a decent knowledge of your Windows application. Keep in mind, it may or may not work at that point.

CrossOver Linux Usage

I use CrossOver almost daily, which is in contrast to using it daily some few years ago. I tend to use LibreOffice more now than Microsoft Office but I also don’t really use office products as much as it once had. The application I use most is Rosetta Stone. I have been using it on and off for several years, now I am using it to help with home educating my kids. It’s easy for any of us to use and somehow enjoyable enough to keep us consistently using it.

I tend to use Microsoft Office, mostly for Excel. As much as I like the LibreOffice Equivalent, there are just some usability features that I appreciate more in the proprietary product. I also keep it around for when I am forced to use SharePoint. As far as versions go, I much prefer Microsoft Office 2007 over 2013. The look and interface changes on 2013 feels counterintuitive, specifically when dealing with files. I’m sure it makes perfect sense for someone but just not for me.

Screenshot_20181109_081742

Games

The games I have played using CrossOver Linux, at least semi-frequently has been Descent 3 and Warcraft II Tides of Darkness. Warcraft II takes some tweaking to use as it requires the CD-ROM or at least a mounted ISO for it to load as a form of copy protection but works quite nicely. The game that I am probably most excited about is Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

StarTrek_Starfleet_Academy-01

It runs so incredibly smooth; far better than how I remember it running on that Pentium in the late 90s. And no… I don’t play it in windowed mode pictured above. When playing it again for the first time, it brought a smile to my face when the cut scenes played and provided a kind of choose-your-own-adventure element. Since it has been so long since I have played this, plus other things, it is almost like I am playing it again for the first time!

The next game I am excited to be able to play is Freespace 2. I didn’t purchase it when it came out in 1999 as I kind of fell off the video game train at that time. I did enjoy the previous incarnation, Descent: Freespace. They mostly got me because of “Descent” in the title. Well played, Interplay, well played.

CrossOver Linux-03-Freespace2

I only just started playing this game and I already feel like I am all thumbs trying to remember all the keyboard commands. Regardless, it is as much fun as I remember the first being and I look forward to the time I will be able to unwind playing this.

Overall Reliability

Since the beginning of my time using CrossOver Linux, it has been a fantastic tool for giving me the freedom to run the applications I want on the operating system I want. It hasn’t been without its bumps but the tools they provide help very much to dig in and find out what is missing to get applications working. The supported applications seem to work as well or better than described. Interestingly, when Office 2007 was the current office suite offering from Microsoft. I found that ran better through CrossOver on Linux than it did naively in Windows. Granted, I was and still am a bit biased.

These days, it seems like most of the bumps have been ironed out for many of the applications. At least, the applications I want to run. The only application that seems to provide some difficulty is Microsoft Office 2013, the last version I purchased or ever plan to purchase. It seems to either be a little slow at times or the updater gets stuck. Since I don’t like how it looks or works, I tend to just use the 2007 version instead.

The only application just out of reach each year, forcing me to fire up a VM, is TurboTax. I try it again come tax season. It didn’t work last year or the year before… close but not quite. Maybe this year will be different.

My Involvement in the Project

In 2010 or so, my need for Windows applications increased for job reasons. Initially, I was back and forth between Wine and CrossOver Linux as my solution. It quickly became imperative, for the sake of my productivity that I needed to get and keep specific Windows applications running with high reliability. I became more and more familiar with how CrossOver handled Windows Libraries so I started to learn what was needed and kept notes on the additional software requirements needed by some applications. By 2013, I was all in, now learning how to make CrossTies for applications that were important to me and submitting them for the benefit of other users, rating applications and starting to do Beta reports on newer versions. I learned how to do Beta testing, rate applications and so forth. It is just good fun, really.

What is fun, is that you do enough for them and they give you things and make a big deal out of it.

Final Thoughts

CrossOver Linux is a tool I use regularly. I don’t use it as much as I once did so the original goal set out by the company to be a stopgap has been incredibly successful, from my point of view. I don’t see me stopping my usage of CrossOver anytime soon. If nothing else, for the gaming. It just works better than standard Wine. I am glad I have invested into this company and I am glad they continue to contribute towards Linux and the open source.

If you have any interest in this, I do highly recommend you check it out. CodeWeavers does a fantastic job and has great customer support. It is a finely polished product that makes easy work out of installing Windows applications in Linux (as well as Mac and ChromeOS). It’s certainly worth kicking the tires with a free 14 day trial. At the very worst, you won’t use it but are likely have a good experience in trying it.

External References

CodeWeaver’s Blog Version 18 Release

CodeWeavers.com Compatibility Rosetta Stone 2

CrossOver Linux Download

GoG.com Freespace 2

GoG.com Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

LeoCAD | Free Lego® CAD Software on openSUSE Linux

LeoCAD-00-Title.png

CAD is not only what I do for my profession, I also do it for fun. For personal projects, I have been having a great time with using FreeCAD, a very capable and feature-full parametric modeler. With a recent resurgence of Legos in my house and falling into some web-searching rabbit holes, I stumbled upon this Lego CAD software called LeoCAD. I am currently using the AppImage on openSUSE that works fantastically well. I’m sure it will work on any modern Linux Distribution. It is also available for those “other” platforms. It can be downloaded from here:

https://www.leocad.org/download.html

The nice thing about AppImages is that there is nothing to do to install it. I created a folder where I keep all my AppImage files. Using Dolphin, I made the .AppImage executable so that you can just double-click to execute the file and run LeoCAD.

LeoCAD-01-Permissions.png

Um… Why?

Beyond the cool factor of creating Legos in virtual space or loading up those childhood models and modifying them in ways that you didn’t have the parts for as a child, there are lessons you can teach kids with this software.

LeoCAD-02-Invader.png

LeoCAD is not only an extremely enjoyable toy but it is a great tool for teaching my kids the principles of Assembly, Sub-Assembly and Master Assemblies and the some understandings of spacial relations. At the very basic level, using LeoCAD to create, you are putting pieces together to create a very basic “assembly” or model.

LeoCAD-03-Invader Cockpit Partial.png

To put together a model you create it, much like in real life, piece by piece. There is an extensive library of parts from which to choose. You can search through by category or use the part numbers to more rapidly locate what it is that you need. Those parts can be colored from what you see in the pallet which are, from my understanding, actual Lego colors. Here is a fun fact. On Legos that are made in the 1990s-ish or newer, will have a part number molded into each part on a “non visual” surface. If your eyes are older… you might need a magnifying glass.

Another very cool feature of LeoCAD is the ability to order steps on a model. If you have a desire to create your very own instruction booklet, that can be done with LeoCAD.

LeoCAD-04-Invader Cockpit.png

Once you have created a Sub-Assembly, or as LeoCAD calls them, “Submodel” you can bring each Assembly / model in together in a “Master Assembly”.

LeoCAD-05-Invader Ship.png

Any assemblies or Submodels can be treated like any other Lego part. Objects are objects whether they are individual pieces or Submodels.

For whatever Submodel Tab you have selected, you can view the parts used by selecting: Submodel > Properties… then select the “Parts Used” tab. This gives you a complete list of all the individual pieces you have used in your model. If you so choose, you can take this list and purchase the necessary pieces to build your creation.

LeoCAD-07-Parts List.png

Unfortunately, I was unable to find a way to export this list into a spreadsheet, so that does complicate matters somewhat.

If you want to download some Lego Sets to spin around LeoCAD, check out the Ldraw site. You will need to know the set number to look up to get the CAD files. If you would like to look at this the previously pictured Blacktron Invader, from 1987, see here.

Lego Project

After some playing with LeoCAD, my boy and I began talking about what we should build. We are both fans of Star Wars and he liked all these old 1980s themed Lego space sets so we decided to put two of them together and made a “Blacktron AT-ST”. It was a good way to go head-first in really learning and understanding this software and it’s quirks.

LeoCAD-10-Blackktron AT-ST.png

Just building the model in LeoCAD took about a week of work. That was a few hours here and there. Much of the time spent was learning how to effectively navigate the software and fine the proper parts in the library. The actual assembly process of the pieces is pretty intuitive. You do have to play with the snap points when doing less common assembly angles but it is in no way difficult. This was probably a bit too ambitious for a first project but it was completed. There are a total of 428 parts divided into 24 submodels one of which is the Master Assembly (submodel) that all the individual models assemble into.

We took the parts list and went through the Legos we had to determine what was on hand, then we put the rest into a “wishlist” on Bricklink.com where we were then able to order the parts necessary to build it. My boy used this an entry for a craft project for the local county fair. It was fun for the both of us. Maybe me more so than him but this application along with the resources through the Internet is essentially a childhood fantasy come reality.

Blacktron AT-ST-01
Blacktron AT-ST

I want to note that this is not in any way an original design. This is heavily based on an actual licensed model and essentially recolored to look like it could fit with the rest of the Blacktron theme. Now, it is just another Lego model toy on our Lego table.

What I like

Assembling Legos in the virtual space, although not as satisfying as the snap of the genuine article, is fun and can really allow you to flesh out some ideas somewhat rapidly. The benefit is, you can take that virtual model and turn it into a real model.

Another thing I like to do with LeoCAD is documenting changes I make to a design. If I come up with an idea, I like it, I can make it in the LeoCAD and date stamp it. This way, I have the freedom to make the changes to the real model and I have a point I can go back to as a reference.

LeoCAD is very fast and snappy using only the Intel GPU. I have run it on my AMD GPU as well as and I am sure it is performing better but not so much that I can tell the difference.

LeoCAD-11-ColorsIt is easy to change the colors of parts of the Legos and if you are doing a virtual prototype, it is much easier to swap out the colors of parts on LeoCAD than it it is with Actual Legos.

There are all kinds of 3D models to download, look at and modify to your hearts content from Ldraw.org. If you need to look up set numbers, use this resource: brickset.com.

What I don’t Like

There isn’t much to not like about this software. There are only two issues that I have with it. There is no way to export the Bill of Material / Parts list to any kind of file. Even a way to export to CSV would be fantastic. As it stands today, you can copy only one cell at a time. Hopefully there will be an export feature in the future.

There is no collision detection between parts and pieces. So, it is possible to bury parts within parts. Some kind of “align” and “orient” option would be great too when assembling components.

Lastly, and really, least important, the UI is too light. I would prefer a dark theme. Not a big deal but it would be nice.

Final Thoughts

LeoCAD is not only a great tool for teaching the concepts of Computer Aided Design but it is an incredibly fun toy with which to play. I didn’t realize what kind of fun-spiral I could fall into. LeoCAD is an incredibly useful tool to teach CAD and many CAD concepts.

If you have a passing interest in Legos or CAD or both, this is worth checking out. Opening up Lego models from your childhood, spinning them around and modifying them like you would have done so many years ago is a great way to spend a weekend where the weather isn’t cooperative. Being able to create, modify and document your ideas is fantastic but the best part about LeoCAD is, at no time will playing with these Legos pose any risk to your feet.

Further Reading

LeoCAD Site

LDraw.org, open standard for LEGO® CAD programs

LeoCAD on GitHub

BrickLink.com Lego® Marketplace

Brickset.com, Lego® Set Guide

The End of Google Plus — Just Another Blathering

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

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

What I like About Google Plus

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

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

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

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

The Problem with Google Plus

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

Google Plus 3 columns.png

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Related Links

Diaspora Foundation

Mastodon Federated Social Network

Commodore Amiga Revitalized with New Retro Hardware

Going Linux Podcast Google Plus Community Page

Linux in the Hamshack

WordPress Mastodon Share Plugin

Commodore 64 Paper craft

Solus Project

Amiga Google Plus Community Page

Commodore 64 Google Plus Community Page