Encryption on the go

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VeraCrypt has replaced TrueCrypt as the all-around, essential encryption software everyone should be using.

For instance, any password info for your computer, financial info (account and social security numbers), personal/private encryption keys, and pics of essential documents can be kept in an encrypted volume on a USB stick that you take with you at a moment’s notice but which no one — we all hope — can unlock.

Dedoimedo has a quick run-down on how to use VeraCrypt. The official documentation has more detail than you probably want to know.

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Review: Galago Pro from System 76 and Xubuntu 18.04 — Bionic Beaver

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Unix systems have been around for more than half a century. But, with Linux and Mac OS X, Unix systems have now achieved wide-spread success. Mac OS X is extremely well designed, but Apple does not play well when you attempt to step outside its ecosystem. Even an older iPhone or computer can be left behind and unsupported by Apple (until recently, Apple still supported Windows XP for various products such as iPhone syncing, but Apple offered no similar support for many of its own prior operating systems, such as 10.6, even though that operating system was not nearly as old as Windows XP).

Linux has been around longer than Mac OS X, but Linux failed to gain much popularity until Mark Shuttleworth started Canonical) and its Ubuntu project) of creating a desktop for the masses that would be updated twice annually on a regular schedule (each April and October, hence the naming conventions for Ubuntu versions featuring the year and month of the release along with an alliterative name — 14.04 aka Trusty Tahr, for instance).

NOTE: I understand that Linux’s popularity is relative. Though US readers should note that Linux and various derivatives receive much more attention and desktop use outside of the United States.

As with all things Linux, various flavors of Ubuntu have emerged over the years (Ubuntu itself is based on Debian). The main distinction between these flavors of Ubuntu has been the desktop environment on which they are based: Gnome or Unity for Ubuntu, KDE for Kubuntu, Gnome 2-something for MATE, and xfce for Xubuntu. Except for Ubuntu proper, most of these other flavors are volunteer-supported projects.

NOTE: On the problem of Linux fragmentation, see this post.

In 2009 and after trying Ubuntu out, I opted for Xubuntu because my computer at the time was limited in both memory and horsepower. Xubuntu also presented the opportunity for a great deal of customization — customization that I have honed over the years and thoroughly enjoy even when I had in 2011 a powerful MacBook Pro to use.

Now in 2018, the MacBook Pro has been replaced with Galago Pro from System76. Here is a review of that new laptop along with the 18.04 version of Xubuntu — Bionic Beaver.

The new laptop

As noted on the official setup page, I use two computers for my work: a desktop (originally a Dell GX620 Pentium 4 at 3.2 Ghz with 2 GB of RAM replaced with a Lenovo thinkcentre m58 at 3.0 MHz and 4 GB of RAM) and a laptop. Originally, the laptop was a 2011 13″ MacBook Pro running a Core i7 at 2.7 MHz with 8 GB of RAM. That laptop has now been replaced with a Galago Pro 14″ from System76 that is running a Quad core Intel Core i5-8250U at 3.4 MHz max, 8 GB of RAM, and a very fast 500 GB SSD along with a 1,000 GB second drive that has a flash cache.

Here are the order details:

  • Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (64-bit)
  • 13″ 3200×1800 HiDPI Display
  • Intel® UHD Graphics 620
  • 3.4 GHz i5-8250U (up to 3.40 GHz – 6MB Cache — 4 Cores — 8 Threads)
  • 8 GB DDR4 at 2400 MHz (1 x 8 GB)
  • 500 GB NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD $265.00
  • 1 TB 2.5″ Solid State Hybrid Drive
  • United States Keyboard
  • WiFi up to 433 Mbps + Bluetooth
  • 1 Year Limited Parts and Labor Warranty
  • Normal Assembly Service

As noted in this list, the Galago Pro originally came with Ubuntu 18.04 as the default operating system. I immediately ran sudo apt-get install xubuntu to get the 18.04 version of Xubuntu, my preferred Ubuntu install. This switch to Xubuntu also required a switch in the initial X display manager that handles the initial boot and login from GDM (Gnome Display Manager) to LightDM.

Basic hardware information is available via the inxi command.

$ inxi 
CPU~Quad core Intel Core i5-8250U (-MT-MCP-) speed/max~800/3400 MHz Kernel~4.15.0-29-generic x86_64 Up~1 day Mem~3588.8/7854.8MB HDD~1500.3GB(5.2% used) Procs~270 Client~Shell inxi~2.3.56

NOTE: inxi is amazingly useful. See inxi -h for all the options. For example:

$ inxi -C
CPU: Quad core Intel Core i5-8250U (-MT-MCP-) cache: 6144 KB clock speeds: max: 3400 MHz 1: 800 MHz 2: 800 MHz 3: 800 MHz 4: 800 MHz 5: 800 MHz 6: 800 MHz 7: 800 MHz 8: 800 MHz

$ inxi -B
Battery BAT0: charge: 35.7 Wh 100.0% condition: 35.7/36.5 Wh (98%)

$ inxi -G
Graphics: Card: Intel UHD Graphics 620 Display Server: x11 (X.Org 1.19.6 ) drivers: modesetting (unloaded: fbdev,vesa) Resolution: 1600×900@59.99hz OpenGL: renderer: Mesa DRI Intel UHD Graphics 620 (Kabylake GT2) version: 4.5 Mesa 18.0.5

For comparison, here are some pics of the Galago Pro, the Dell XPS 13, and my original 13″ MacBook Pro.

`Dell XPS 13, Galago Pro, and 2011 MacBook Pro 13

Side view of Dell XPS 13, Galago Pro, and 2011 MacBook Pro 13

Galago Pro and Dell XPS 13

Galago Pro and MacBook Pro 13

Finally, note that Apple released a MacBook Pro with this 8th generation of CPU in July 2018. The CPU on this new MacBook Pro is slightly faster, and the Intel Iris Graphics are also faster on the MacBook Pro — Iris Pro 655 vs. 620 on the Galago Pro.

Memory

The big advantage of Xubuntu is having a modern and sleek operating system running on modest hardware. As noted above, my original desktop was a Pentium 4 from 2006 with only two gigabytes of memory (the maximum available for this computer).

On that original desktop, a host of native apps were running at boot, including several cloud computing apps below — such as AeroFS, DropBox, and InSync at various times and combinations with each other — along with the file search app Recoll. None of these apps were running on the guest systems in Parallels or Virtual Box on the MacBook Pro. But, both guest systems also end up with slightly less memory that initially allotted to the system. Here is the memory usage for each after boot when all three were running 14.04:

  • Desktop: 925 MB out of 2012 MB
  • Parallels: 641 MB out of 1998 MB
  • Virtual Box: 632 MB out of 2001 MB

Anyone on Mac OS will probably be amazed by these numbers. Indeed, later versions of Mac OS fill up 4 MB all too quickly, and 8 MB seems to be the minimal now needed.

As with all “progress,” memory usage on Xubuntu has climbed slightly since the days of 14.04. Under 18.04, here are the numbers for my current desktop (with the 4 MB of RAM) and the Galago Pro that has 8 MB:

  • Desktop: 1680 MB out of 3627 MB
  • Galago Pro: 1032 MB out of 7855 MB

The desktop number is high because I am also running the anti-virus daemon clamd:

apps running on desktop

Both computers are running insync, DropBox, and recoll when started (more on these apps below).

Keep in mind that the work being done is focused on e-mail, word processing, and web searching of numerous kinds. So, 8 MB is probably all I will ever need. If I needed more memory, however, I already have an empty slot available for more. The Galago Pro does NOT have soldered memory, and the 8 MB that is installed is on one stick/one slot.

$ sudo inxi -m
Memory:    Used/Total: 1031.9/7854.8MB
       Array-1 capacity: 32 GB devices: 2 EC: None
       Device-1: ChannelA-DIMM0 size: 8 GB speed: 2400 MT/s type: DDR4
       Device-2: ChannelB-DIMM0 size: No Module Installed type: N/A

So, the second slot is vacant and ready for an addition at my convenience. Kudos to System76 for this kind of memory install.

Display

I have a 13″ Hi-Def 3200×1800 display, what Apple calls a retina display. Xubuntu’s support for these kind of displays is limited, especially when additional themes are used.

System76’s new OS — Pop OS — is an effort, in part, to address these kind of problems. See, for instance, this blog post about System76’s efforts with its own HiDPI daemon.

And, there are solutions with Ubuntu as well that allow for picking traditional desktop resolutions and setting the magnification of the Hi-Res display via a slider scale.

Xubuntu lacks those options. Instead, you simply pick an available resolution.

Display options

You will have selected a “proper” display option (one that doubles the pixel density) when the refresh rate for that resolution is 120 Hz.

Hi-Def screens have received much hype since Apple’s introduction of its retina screens. For the most part, it seemed that there was not much substance to this hype. Now, with such a screen before me, I have gone from a 1440×810 display to a 1600×900 display. Even with my older eyes, I find no problems with smaller text on this screen.

No doubt, this clear text owes something to how Xubuntu and xfce handle fonts from out of the box. Apple has been way ahead on this front for decades, and even Microsoft has made substantial gains the past decade or so. See Fonts, don’t come easy to me (15 Sept. 2015), Make Fedora Fonts Better (28 Jan. 2017), and Fedora fonts: The Font Strikes Back (8 July 2017) for details about Linux’s ongoing problems with fonts and possible fixes. Here are the default Settings Manager | Appearance | Fonts settings in Xubuntu.

Font appearance

The only issue I have seen at all with fonts is that Liberation Serif no longer displays well in LibreOffice when single-spaced.

Liberation Serif, single-spaced, in LibreOffice 6

The line-spacing is off — a little less leading is being used for some unknown reason. My guess is that the problem is connected to LibreOffice 6.0, but I have not had the time to track it down.

My only other complaint is that light-locker — the Xubuntu default for handling display power use and shutting the display off — does not get along with gnome screen saver that come with Ubuntu. My solution: remove both and install XScreenSaver. XScreenSaver includes gl-matrix — a matrix-movie style display. I have it set to start the screensaver after three minutes and under the advanced settings to dim the display after 15 minutes.

XScreenSaver advanced options

Settings Manager | Screensaver | Advanced

With these screen saver settings, the Settings Manager | Power Manager | Display tab is switched off.

My only problem so far has been an occasional hang when waking the computer from sleep. When the lid is open when the laptop has fallen asleep (i.e., suspend state), holding the power button wakes the computer but not the display. I need to press the power button again to get the XScreenSaver unlock dialog, but the keyboard and mouse do not function whatsoever. The only way out of this problem is a hard reset by holding down the power button for five seconds and shutting down the computer.

I am also quite pleased with the matte finish of the display. The glossy finish of the MacBook Pro display always seemed to capture to many reflections. The matte finish of the Galago Pro, on the other hand, makes this laptop that much easier to use in bright settings, include sunny, outside settings.

Disk drives

Here are some quick charts regarding the read and access speed of the SSD main drive, the traditional disk second drive (which has a flash cache), and a traditional drive connected via USB 2 to a USB 3.1 port.

Main SSD drive

Second traditional drive with cache

Traditional drive connected in USB2 enclosure

As you can see, the SSD is blazing fast.

Keyboard

The Galago Pro keyboard does not quite have the quickness and ease of the 2011 keyboard. The keys are stiff and seem to require more of a push. Still, the keyboard is pretty close to the 2011 MacBook Pro keyboard, which is probably now considered one of the best laptop keyboards ever made. Moreover, the Galago Pro keyboard is miles ahead of the current laptop keyboards Apple is putting out. There is still a physical esc key and fn keys along with a Del and set of Home, PgUp, PgDn, and End keys (though the right side of the keyboard is somewhat crowded and takes some getting used to for those new to the placement of those keys on the right side of the keyboard).

The keyboard is missing an indicator for the CapsLock, however. It has not been a problem yet for me, but I can imagine many getting frustrated by a lack of indicator.

Another problem is that keyboard lighting is uneven. As this pic shows, the four keys in the upper-right corner bleed additional light from underneath.

Keyboard lighting

Track-pad

Apple’s track-pads are the best available. I kept my 2011 MacBook Pro as long as I did in large part because of its track-pad and the fact that performance was on par with current laptop offerings for my purposes. Everything about the Apple track-pad was well nigh perfect: cursor movement, two-finger scrolling, clicking, and even the occasional fancy gesture (like a swipe up or down to trigger some special feature or shortcut).

So, it is not surprising that the Galago Pro track-pad does not measure up to what Apple’s laptops offer. The small size of the track-pad means there is limited real estate in which to move around compared to what I had before.

Galago Pro and MacBook Pro 13

The physical button or click-bar at the bottom of the track-pad has been especially difficult to get used to. In place of a simple click anywhere for a left-button click and hold down the Ctrl key when clicking for a right-button click, I now have to click on one-half of the click-bar for a left-button click and stretch to the other half of the click-bar for a right-button click.

And, I still have not figured out an easier way to get a middle-button click (which Parallels provided to me on my Mac via a Ctrl-Shift-Click shortcut). Pressing both left and right buttons emulates a middle-button click, but a successful middle-click via this technique requires stopping my work, intentionally placing both hands on the track-pad buttons, and then pressing both simultaneously — not a simple task to do all that often (luckily, middle-clicks are not needed all that often — in my usage, mostly for spelling corrections in emacs).

Here is how I have set my track-pad so far:

Trackpad Settings

NOTE: You can see all the track-pad’s details with this terminal command: synclient -l. The following command, sudo synclient EmulateMidButtonTime=100 drastically improved the responsiveness of the left-right click emulation process for me (the default setting was 75).

Still, the Galago Pro track-pad is pretty easy to use, and is getting easier as my hands gain familiarity with it. Unlike many track-pads on windows machines that are basically unusable out of the box and never become usable because of jumpiness, this track-pad is more than functional and is getting to be quite normal for me after a couple of months of use. So, while this track-pad is not at the level of Apple’s track-pads, it is certainly in the same room as them and is much improved from what typically accompanies most mainstream laptops. I would even rank it slightly better than the track-pad that accompanies Dell’s XPS 13 laptops.

Ports, connectivity, and repair

The Galago Pro comes with ports on both sides of the laptop. On the left, there is a power port (4 X 1.7 mm), a type-A USB port, the on/off switch, and separate microphone and headphone ports. On the right, there is a lock, an Ethernet jack, a port for an SD card, an HDMI port and mini-Displayport, another type-A USB port, and a combination USB type-C/Thunderbolt 3 port.

NOTE: The type-A USB ports are full speed 3.1 USB ports with traditional type-A connectors. So, they are the same speed as the USB-C port: 10 Gbit/s (1250 MB/s).

The Thunderbolt 3 port does not charge the laptop. But, this port does connect to my Thunderbolt 2 dock via an Apple Thunderbolt 3<->2 adapter without any hitches. Hard drives mount (including FireWire drives).

NOTE: The Thunderbolt 2 dock has been hit and miss so far. One attempt at display connections did not work, and a recent plugin of the dock produced no connection whatsoever. More investigation of this port and the dock is needed.

The mini-Displayport works with my Apple mini-Displayport adapters.

There are four lights for indicating various status or activities.

Galago Pro lights

The left-most indicates power (on) or sleep (blinking). The second is for the battery (green when fully charged, orange when charging, off when unplugged), the third is for airport mode (WiFi and Bluetooth off by pressing Fn-F11), and the fourth blinks when there is hard drive activity).

Finally, this laptop is fully repairable (ifixit should do a tear down as a comparison to offerings from other manufacturers), as seen in this video. Memory, hard drives, and battery can be easily replaced or upgraded (and the keyboard CAN remain in place for those repairs as well). And, all of this access is available in an ultra-thin and ultra-light computer. Well done.

Battery

Hints and techniques for fine-tuning of the battery are available from System76.

The charger is unique — 19 volts, 2.1 Amps, and 40 watts — and has a 4×1.7 mm barrel plug. I certainly miss the simplicity and, yes, sheer beauty of Apple’s chargers and mag-safe connectors.

As I need the laptop for work, I have yet to set it aside in order to run some specific battery tests on it. But, I am generally losing 5% of the charge in around 40 minutes. With those numbers, I should have about 3 hours and 20 minutes of use, and my experience so far is that actual battery usage should probably last around four hours or more (I have already used the laptop three plus hours without charging and still had 10-20% of the battery remaining).

System76 has deliberately chosen a smaller battery for the sake of repairs and expansion. For me, four hours of battery is more than enough.

Customizing the desktop

Xubuntu and xfce allow for a great deal of customization. The windows on my computers, for instance, are modified from the default. The close, minimize, and maximize buttons are moved to the left corner of the window title bar via Settings Manager | Window Manager | Style as shown:

Window Manager Style on laptop

I have been with Macs for several decades, and so my muscle memory is deeply ingrained with moving to the left corner of windows for these buttons. The great thing about Xubuntu and xfce is that these kinds of changes are allowed.

You should also see that I have a different theme from the default GreyBird. In Xubuntu, themes and icons are set in two places: Settings Manager | Appearance and Settings Manager | Window Manager. In the former — Appearance — I have GreyBird selected as my Style and xfce elementary darker as my icon set. In the latter — Window Manager — I have “Ambiance-Flat-Pink” selected as the style from the Ambiance & Radiance FLAT theme available from RAVEfinity. Directions for adding the PPA for this theme are available here as well as direct links for the DEB packages (more on software updating and installing below).

For those looking for identical buttons to what Mac OS X offers, try the macbird theme for displaying the red, yellow, and green dots for these buttons. Here are the settings from my Settings Manager | Window Manager | Style from my desktop in 2015:

window layout

I have also gone to one panel (the xfce version of Windows Start Bar or the Mac OS X dock) on all my systems.

Single panel on display

Previously, I had two panels: one across the top where windows, indicators, and notifications along with basic info such as the clock and action — aka logout — buttons were. I now have all this information in one panel. Here are the Settings Manager | Panel windows for obtaining this single panel.

Panel Display

Panel Appearance

Panel Items

Additional information about customizing your desktop is available from Xubuntu.

Updating and installing apps

Software is always being updated on Ubuntu systems. In general, these updates occur automatically, as seen in these settings.

Software update settings

When there is software to update, you will see a dialog box similar to the following:

Software to be updated

New software There is a Software app for finding new apps to use.

Software App

Personally, I prefer Synaptic.

Synaptic

With Synaptic, you can right-click on a package to see the recommended and dependent software that will be installed along with the selected application.

The easiest way to get Synaptic is the following terminal command: sudo apt-get install synaptic. There will be many additional apps and recommended apps to install.

Another GUI way to install software is with the gdebi app.

gdebi

Gdebi is especially useful when downloading standalone apps, like Master PDF (discussed below).

You can use Synpatic to install gdebi or this terminal command: sudo apt-get install debi.

Finally, Ubuntu has introduced a new format for apps — snap — that houses all the dependencies of that application in one installation bundle. Snap is still mostly focused on the command line. Here are the snaps currently installed on my system.

$ snap list
Name                  Version             Rev   Tracking  Developer  Notes
canonical-livepatch   8.0.2               41    stable    canonical  -
core                  16-2.33.1           4917  stable    canonical  core
gnome-3-26-1604       3.26.0              70    stable/…  canonical  -
gnome-calculator      3.28.2              180   stable/…  canonical  -
gnome-characters      3.28.2              103   stable/…  canonical  -
gnome-logs            3.28.2              37    stable/…  canonical  -
gnome-system-monitor  3.28.2              51    stable/…  canonical  -
gtk-common-themes     0.1                 319   stable    canonical  -
vlc                   3.0.3-1-3-gf09fd0d  365   stable    videolan   -

These snaps are connected to the regular software update process, and so are updated accordingly. Information about how to use snaps are available with either the snap --help or man snap terminal commands.

Apps: what there is to like

Firefox, Thunderbird, and LibreOffice are part of the standard Xubuntu package.

With FireFox, I have a title bar and a menu bar enabled, and my add-ons are minimal.

FireFox

With Thunderbird, I originally used gContactSync to sync contacts in Thunderbird and a gmail account. I now use CardBook.

I have customized toolbars and menus in LibreOffice, created specific paragraph styles and templates, and connected various macros to specific keystrokes. As a lawyer, for instance, I often need to use ¶ or § characters. Here is one such macro:

sub ParagraphMarkInsert
rem ----------------------------------------------------------------------
rem define variables
dim document   as object
dim dispatcher as object
rem ----------------------------------------------------------------------
rem get access to the document
document   = ThisComponent.CurrentController.Frame
dispatcher = createUnoService("com.sun.star.frame.DispatchHelper")

rem ----------------------------------------------------------------------
dim args1(1) as new com.sun.star.beans.PropertyValue
args1(0).Name = "Symbols"
args1(0).Value = "¶"

dispatcher.executeDispatch(document, ".uno:InsertSymbol","", 0,args1())

end sub

NOTE: It is easy to get a macro like the above through the Tools | Macros | Record macro menu command, which records keystrokes and menu selections to create a macro.

Through Tools | Customize | Keyboard, selecting the key combination Alt-7, and then selecting the ParagraphMarkInsert macro for LibreOffice Macros | My Macros | Standard | Module1, this macro can then be connected to the specific keystroke.

I have used Synaptic to add Emacs, org-mode/elpa-org, ispell, emacs-goodies-el, and elpa-markdown-mode along with markdown itself. As a long-time user of Emacs, I find it immensely useful and easy to get the Emacs additions I need through Synaptic.

I have also added Recoll to allow me to search the content of my files for phrases. Recoll is set to index my files on the fly. It occasionally crashes, but it works for finding specific content across thousands of files.

Recoll results

Catfish is another file-search tool — a GUI for the terminal find and locate commands. If I know a file name or a part of a file name, catfish provides an incredibly fast way to find a file, and I probably use it now as much as I use recoll, if not more so.

Printing

Just plain works. Xubuntu has excellent documentation on this issue.

The only problem you might have is with the drivers needed for your printer, as Linux systems are still step children for most printer manufacturers. I use a Brother all-in-one printer/scanner, so the installation required downloading and installing multiple files (both CUPS and LPR drivers are needed, and LPR drivers should be installed first).

Scanning

XSane, another app I have added to supplement Simple Scan that comes with Xubuntu, is fantastic. Make sure to adjust settings as needed, such as paper size — Window | Show Advanced Options. The scan dialog pops up and is ready to go once I select the number of pages to scan.

xsane

pdftk is a command-line app that I find immensely useful. It not only combines and splits up pdf documents, but it also provides a way to add a Bates stamp (i.e., page numbering).

pdftk INPUTDOC multistamp PAGENUMBER_DOC output OUTPUTDOC

In this example, the pagenumber_doc is a 200 pp. pdf file that only has page numbers in a pre-set location and style.

NOTE: pdftk is no longer included with 18.04, but as noted here there are several ways of getting it installed despite this problem.

Master PDF Editor lets me edit pdf docs and now includes redacting tools. The OCR is excellent, and an immensely useful tool is its ability to reduce the size of pdf files via its File | Save optimized as . . . command (clients too often send me B&W pages as scanned full-color images).

One thing I wish would happen is that settings would remain set when a new version is installed after an upgrade.

Networking

Wifi works without a hitch.

Wifi

Samba and ssh are available options via thunar.

Thunar network connections

As demonstrated here, thunar presents a traditional file management interface. Shortcuts are available on the right. Menu commands provide numerous options, and the contextual (right-click) menu provides options for opening a terminal window or a catfish search window at the specific location. I much prefer this display and the menu options from what comes with nautilus and the standard Ubuntu install.

Nautilus

Cloud computing

As noted in other posts on this blog, I use both insync and DropBox. See these posts for details.

iPhone connectivity

For connecting an iPhone to Linux, start with Dedoimedo’s most recent how-to. Keep in mind that the key to iPhone connectivity is usbmuxd.

Getting usbmuxd to run automatically via a sudo systemctl command produced errors on my desktop. So, another option is to simply manually run sudo usbmuxd after every reboot (as once run, this daemon continues to run in the background until a reboot or log off).

And so . . .

The Galago Pro is getting better and better the more I use it. After a couple of months now, my fingers are moving along the keyboard and the track-pad just like they used to with my MacBook Pro.

And, Xubuntu 18.04 on this device has been stellar. Many of the problems that had cropped up in prior versions have now been fixed. The system is also still lean and quick. I may not have the cutting edge of OS design, but I am avoiding the gimmicks that seem to pop up with those new designs and the resulting problems and kludges that come with those changes.

GalagoPro-Desktop

UPDATE (23 July 2018): Set featured image — desktop screen grab — for post.

Using InSync for google drive files

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Google provides inexpensive cloud storage — google drive — but does not provide a native Linux client for mirroring those cloud files on the local computer.

Into this gap strolls insync, a Mac, Wintel, and Linux client for connecting a local computer to google drive storage.

This product is NOT free, but for any business user, it makes sense, especially when compared to the annual cost for a DropBox account — $99 for the least expensive option — which has much more storage than I could ever need.

NOTE: The pricing for insync has increased from when I first purchased it, but here is a link for a $5 discount (and a $5 credit to myself — not sure what I can use it for, however).

Like DropBox, insync runs a GUI daemon for managing and tracking file syncing in the cloud.

InSync files window

When version of 1.3.17 arrived, the GUI daemon started crashing on startup. Tech support, unfortunately, never tracked down the problem. My last communication with tech support in early 2018 was to run insync without the daemon to record the errors in real time:

$ insync start --no-daemon
Segmentation fault (core dumped)

Luckily, I had an easy workaround: to run insync in headless mode, via the terminal command insync-headless start. Everything that can be checked or done via the GUI interface can also be done in headless mode. Type insync-headless --help or man insync-headless for the details and options that are available.

And, with the 18.04 version of Xubuntu — Bionic Beaver — and version 1.4 of insync, the GUI problem with insync has disappeared (just like the similar problems with the DropBox GUI). That is, the insync GUI is back in all of its glory. Unlike with the DropBox fix, however, insync’s GUI is still part of the Notification Area panel plugin. So, keep that plugin in place.

Certainly, while insync in headless mode works fine, the GUI-version has the added benefit of integrating with Thunar.

InSync-Thunar integration

So, it is good to have the full benefits of insync back.

DropBox and Xubuntu

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Missing icon problem

DropBox has always had a Linux client since 2008 or so when I started using Xubuntu. As always, this software has been changing and has not always worked so well.

In 2016, folks started reporting problems with the notification icon in the panel not properly appearing.

DropBox Image Problem

Various solutions popped up, but I was not having much luck with those solutions myself.

With 18.04, Bionic Beaver, however, the icon problem finally has been resolved.

DropBox Icon and menu

The trick is to make sure to use the new status notifier plugin for the panel. As the 18.04 release notes indicate:

Status Notifier Plugin

This new plugin replaces the Application Indicator with a more configurable and better supported option. It supports indicators provided by indicator-application as well as the FreeDesktop.org StatusNotifierItem specification. Configuration options include:

  • Configurable icon size
  • Square icons — all items will be at least as wide as they are tall
  • Symbolic icons — Application indicators will be displayed with a symbolic icon if it is available
  • Hide or show individual application indicators

When installing Xubuntu from scratch, you get this new plugin automatically. When upgrading from a prior installation of Xubuntu, however, your previous panel settings will be brought over to 18.04. So, once the upgrade is complete, make sure to edit your panel via the following menu commands: Settings Manager | Panel. Then click on the Items tab, then the plus button. Type in ‘status’ to see the new plugin you need.

Status Notifier Plugin

Click on Status Notifier Plugin and then the Add button. The new plugin will probably appear at the bottom of the panel. So, select this new addition and then use the up (↑) arrow to position this plugin where you want it.

Panel with Status Notifier added

Click Close, and you now have the newest notification plugin for your DropBox icon.

Integration with Thunar

With older versions of Xubuntu, integrating DropBox with Thunar could get complicated. See, e.g., How To Install Dropbox In Xubuntu And Get Thunar Integration.

With this latest version of Xubuntu, the solution is now simple. After quitting DropBox, remove the standard version of DropBox with this terminal command:

sudo apt-get remove dropbox

Then install the version of DropBox that includes the needed Nautilus extensions as part of DropBox itself along with a plugin for Thunar:

sudo apt-get install nautilus-dropbox thunar-dropbox-plugin

Then, restart DropBox from a menu or via this terminal command:

dropbox start

The result is full use of DropBox sharing commands from within Thunar:

DropBox Menu in Thunar

Xubuntu 18.04 (Bionic Beaver) released

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A new long-term support release of Xubuntu is out, and I have upgraded to it on my desktop. Make sure to check out the Xubuntu release notes as well as the general Ubuntu release notes before upgrading yourself.

The new version was the smoothest upgrade I have ever had — taking less than an hour to do all of its work. There is a new document viewer — Atril — which has been great so far. And, the display bug I previously had with System Load Monitor (see my setup notes) has been fixed. With the old indicator and notifier plugins, the Dropbox display bug and a similar InSync display bug that started with version 1.3.20 of InSync and Xubuntu 17.10 remain.

Desktop-18.04-2018-05-04

After switching to the new PulseAudio, Status Notifier, and Notification plugins, the DropBox display bug is now eliminated.

DesktopB-18.04-2018-05-04

As this pic indicates, however, the Status Notifier and PulseAudio plugins should have re-sizable icons. Right now, they are too large for the panel.

The major problem so far with Bionic Beaver is the loss of pdftk, a command-line program for combining, separating, and bates-stamping PDF files. There is a bug report about pdftk being removed from 18.04. At the moment, possible solutions include: downloading the older binaries and running dpkg to install them, installing a java-ized version or linking to a 16.04 docker-version (see this Q&A) or re-activating sources connected to the prior version of Xubuntu/Ubuntu to get access to pdftk from there.

There are new (to me) PDF command line tools — pdfseparate and pdfunite — for separating and combining PDF docs. But, pdftk does much more and is quite elegant in handling its tasks. I very much want pdftk back. For now, I downloaded the older binaries and ran dpkg to install them. So, I have pdftk back on a temporary basis at least.

Xubuntu 17.10 (Artful Aardvark) released

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The upgrade for the desktop went extremely well: not a hitch.

For details on the Xubuntu/Ubuntu upgrade process, see this post from the always reliable Ubuntu Handbook, the always important release announcement, or the Xubuntu release page. As the notes indicate, this version fixes several bugs and improves on the experience all the way around.

And, look for a review from Dedoimedo.

PDF editing on Linux

A quick shout out to a new-to-me Linux PDF editing program I have started using: Master PDF. While free on Linux, spring $50 for a purchase and get optical character recognition (OCR) and Bates Stamping (aka page numbering). I still use Xsane Scanning, pdftk (the convenience of the command line), and OCRFeeder (see this previous post as well).

But, Master PDF has let me edit PDF files and start consolidating tasks and files that I have been putting off because of all the intricate steps involved. So far, wonderful.

More on kernels and /boot problems

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WebUP8 has great advice on the problem of too many old kernels (via Dustin Kirkland) filling up the /boot volume that I discussed previously. Here is that advice:

There are various commands out there for mass removing old Linux kernels, but they complicated (and hard to remember), and not all are safe. So what’s the safest way of mass purging old Linux kernels in Ubuntu? Well, according to Dustin Kirkland, it’s the “purge-old-kernels” command.

The purge-old-kernels man page mentions that the command will never remove the currently running kernel. Also, by default, it will keep at least the latest 2 kernels, but you can override this using the “–keep” parameter (for instance “–keep 1” to only keep 1 Linux kernel).

In Ubuntu 16.04 and newer, the purge-old-kernels command is part of the byobu package. For older Ubuntu versions, it’s available with the bikeshed package. To install these packages, use the following command:

– for Ubuntu 16.04 and newer, Linux Mint 18 and derivatives:

sudo apt install byobu

– for Ubuntu versions older than 16.04, Linux Mint 17.x and derivatives:

sudo apt install bikeshed
Once installed, you can remove old Linux kernels on Ubuntu (or Linux Mint) desktops or servers, using the following command:
sudo purge-old-kernels

Setting up a personal cloud

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My reliable cloud service — AeroFS — is switching from a hybrid system (what was available when I first signed up) in which relay servers are run by Aero to a system in which each company/user has to run its own server. While setup is pretty straightforward and is usually done via a virtual appliance run in VirtualBox, the hardware requirements are too steep for this guest/host system without my purchase of a relatively new computer. I want something to run on an older computer and preferably on an Raspberry Pi to cut down on energy usage.

Around two years ago, I tried re-purposing an old 933 Mhz Pentium III with 512 MB of RAM into a NAS4FREE RAID device (two drives mirrored so backups would be unnecessary) and an OwnCloud server. Everything started fine, but the OwnCloud server kept running out of memory and crashing. Back to the drawing board.

Two years later, I tried setting up an OwnCloud server on my Raspberry Pi B+. I first tried installing OwnCloud from the Raspbian repositories. The version listed on the Rasperian repositories was at 4 — akin to something out of the Middle Ages — and was dead on arrival.

After removing the OwnCloud installed from the repositories, I tried a script for automating the setup — OwnCloudPie — which seemed to get things going. But, the server it was setting up was version 8.0.1, still pretty old in computer lifespans, and I could not get any clients for this older server version apparently. Plus, it used SQLite rather than MySQL. Given that I wanted the Pi to sync ~80 GB of files with itself and two other computers, I’m not sure that SQLite would have sufficed.

Luckily, manual instructions are available from techjawab. I downloaded the latest version of OwnCloud server — 8.2.1 — copied it over to the pi via sftp, and then did all the setup via ssh. That worked fine for getting the server up and running, though I did have to correct a php5-fpm path error by un-commenting the env[PATH] setting in http://www.conf inside /etc/php5/fpm/pool.d per these instructions for correcting this path error.

But, I then had problems on getting a current OwnCloud client set up. No Mac clients were apparently available to me since I’m still running 10.6/Snow Leopard on my Mac laptop. On the desktop running Xubuntu 15.10, I installed the client and files synced with the Pi. But, there was no GUI for the client in the Notification area on the desktop. On my 14.04 virtual machines, I could only get an older client installed, and it apparently would not connect to the server running on the Pi — the error being returned was that status.php was not available.

NOTE: Per my setup, it’s ridiculous that I can run cutting edge software on a desktop from 2006 under Xubuntu but not a 2010 Mac OS X 10.6 computer that can run circles around the desktop.

So, without running clients or clients without a gui, the OwnCloud server was not doing me much good.

My next option was BitTorrent Sync — a client to client file sync service. As with OwnCloud, there is no Mac client for 10.6/Snow Leopard (see note above). But, Linux clients are available (including Raspbian on the Pi) and easy to install. There is no official GUI for linux computers, but the web-interface should work for my purposes. Plus, there are directions specific for the Pi for installing btsync. So, I installed btsync on my desktop, the Pi, and the VirtualBox 14.04 guest on my laptop and files are now syncing across all three computers along with my iPhone.

Viva la France

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The tragedy and trauma of Paris is difficult to grasp. Two articles from the New Yorker shed some light on this darkness and the difficult times ahead. George Packer, The Other France, describes how racial and religious tensions in France are longstanding and hardening of late. Philip Gourevitch, Aftermath and Prelude, describes how this kind of an attack arises from a battle between feudal and modernist notions of society.

A few verses from the Sunday lessons, however, give hope.

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:23-5.

I know legislators today are exclaiming how all Syrian refugees should be banned from various states. This discrimination based on national origin — probably not actionable because the states passing these resolutions have no actual authority to institute such bans — smacks of the kind of fear that we should be turning our backs on.