Photographic stuff

* If you don’t know who or what this is, check the Glossary page.

_______________________________________________________________

My agreement with you…

As I said in a previous post, I’ve accepted my role as the observer and chronicler of RoboFrog. You must understand, though, that watching HIM* is like observing a drunkard’s walk…with a difference. A drunkard’s walk is random. RoboFrog is more like chaos: it looks random, but patterns emerge. I’m confident that HE* knows exactly where HE’s going, though perhaps not the path. Since he’s not particularly communicative, I ask your forbearance. If it seems that I’m sometimes confused, the fact is…I am. But, it usually works itself out.

He goes in many seemingly disconnected directions. When you get to the destination, though, looking back…most of it makes sense. Many of HIS side trips, I don’t find very interesting. Being HIS chronicler, though, I have to follow HIM. You may not be interested either, so here’s my promise to you: I’ll give you a head’s-up with the headings so you know what’s coming. If you’re not interested…skip to the next heading. Each section will be self-contained. Not much will be lost by skipping a section.

WordPress Tip

I was getting a little miffed with WordPress because the edit window is small compared to the amount of monitor real estate with which I have to work. I looked all over for a way to increase the size of the edit window. There’s a fullscreen button, but wow! That’s not what I wanted and the only way I could figure to get out of fullscreen was to hit my browser back button. It just didn’t make sense that I couldn’t adjust the size of the edit window. Finally! I found that by moving the mouse pointer to the bottom of the edit window, left of the scroll arrow, I was given a resizing icon. Clicking and dragging, I could adjust the size of the edit window. Much better!

How we did it…

We aren’t photographers or graphic artists at The Robotic Frog, but we want to be able to take a decent photograph for the blog. Last time, we showed this photograph which we took.

Actually, we’re pretty proud of ourselves. We had to find our camera, get it working, figure out how to mount it on a tripod, take the picture, get it onto our computer, edit it, and get it into the blog.

The picture was taken with an Olympus D-620L. It’s a very old camera. The world has moved well beyond it, but at the time we bought it, it was one of the best digital cameras available. And, it still takes pretty good pictures. (We stole this picture from Amazon.com. Since we’re a really good customer, we hope they will forgive us and not throw us in jail.)

***

***

Here’s the picture we started with:

Before continuing, let us be up-front with you. We’re not new to graphics manipulation programs. About ten years ago, we played around with Photoshop®. Incidentally, that’s where the Olympus D-620L came from as well. It was a hobby, and as a result, we were moderately comfortable with Photoshop®. (The camera, even today, probably hasn’t taken 100 pictures. What a waste!) We didn’t use Photoshop®, though, to edit this photo. We used The GIMP (The Gnu Image Manipulation Program).

The GIMP is a free, open-source graphics manipulation program. It has many of the same features as Photoshop®. I’m not suggesting that The GIMP is as good as Photoshop®. I suspect not, but frankly, I don’t know whether it is or not. What I do know is that Photoshop® costs roughly $650 US. (Assuming you’re not a student or educator.) If you’re a professional, you should choose the best tools that you can afford (and, Photoshop® is one of the best). If, like us, you’re a hobbyist or you want to do simple graphics editing for your blog, take a look at The GIMP. The GIMP is very good; even a lot of professionals use it.

What we did with our photo isn’t terribly sophisticated. We cropped the photo, then used the eraser tool with a soft brush to get rid of the stuff we didn’t want. We flattened the image and saved it as a .png file. That’s it. The image was finished. We imported it into WordPress and we were done. (Don’t worry if you don’t understand some of this. We’ll talk more about the details soon.)

There are a couple of points that we want to emphasize. Though we’re not photographers or graphics artists, we were able to take a decent photograph and edit it to create a reasonably good photo for our blog. And finally, we didn’t have to break-the-bank (spend a lot) to make it happen. There are many ways to do the things you want to do without spending a lot of money. We believe that ideas are more powerful than money.

Did you notice the superscript ® on Photoshop®? Wonder how we did that? Next time…

Roles at The Robotic Frog

* If you don’t know who or what these are, check the Glossary page.

________________________________________

While we were melting down (see previous post), Xubuntu on Defiant* was unable to maintain the wireless connection upstairs. This is two floors above the wireless router; about 60 ft (~18 m). The signal strength upstairs has never been good. The whole Xubuntu thing made HIM* decide to try to fix the problem. HE* did some research and decided to try the Diamond Wireless Range Extender (Model WR300N).

[We have no relationship, financial or otherwise, with Diamond.]

HE chose this one because it was the only one HE found where someone specifically mentioned that it worked with Linux.

This thing is amazing. It’s trivial to set up. It comes with a Windows installation CD. Since we don’t have a Windows machine, we don’t know what that’s all about; we didn’t need it. If we were engineers, this is the way we’d want our stuff to work. We plugged the device into a wall outlet, connected it to Defiant with an Ethernet cable (supplied), and turned Defiant on. The instructions said to bring up your web browser. Ours came up automatically. Click on AutoSetup, choose your wireless network, click connect, and enter your security code.  Unplug your range extender from the wall outlet, unplug the Ethernet connection, plug the range extender back into the wall outlet…and forget about it. You’re done. Less than five minutes. Our signal, according to the wireless applet, normally shows 40%-45%. With the range extender it reads 80%-94%. We’re extremely happy with this device. Recommended!

Content creation

We took the picture of the range extender box shown above. This was our first foray into creating photographic content. It’s not going to win any awards, but we had a fun time with it. We’ll tell you about it next time.

him!

We’re coming to a clear separation of roles at The Robotic Frog. I realized yesterday that it’s simply not possible to control HIM. I can influence HIM, but any thought that I’m in control is an illusion. This became clear yesterday when I lost my connection to the file server. I went to the Computing Center (basement) and to my disbelief, there HE was loading Linux Mint 12 KDE onto Chatterbox*.

“I thought we agreed last week that we weren’t going to load any new Linux distributions for awhile,” I said.

“Yeah, but this looks really cool. I thought we’d give it a shot.”

“You’re nuts! You know that, right?”

“Ummm,” he says and I know I’ve lost him.

See what I mean? I realized at that moment that my role at TRF* isn’t to control HIM. That’s not possible. RoboFrog is our creative-techno-geek-free-spirit. HE’s curious about everything. I think HIS favorite question is, “What happens when we do this?” No, my role is that of writer, communicator, chronicler. And you know what? I’m okay with that.

It isn’t easy, though. HE rarely tells me what HE’s doing or where HE’s heading. And forget about notes. HE’s in the zone; doing his thing. HE seldom writes anything down. That’s why I have to watch HIM like a hawk. Otherwise, HE’s six steps into something and I don’t know how HE got there. Let’s get back to Chatterbox.

Last time, I introduced Chatterbox. I’m not going into another long tale about yet another Linux distribution. He loaded Linux Mint 12 KDE onto Chatterbox without any problems. It’s beautiful. We’ve never used KDE at The Robotic Frog, but wow! There’s a lot to like with it. Sadly, the software installer wouldn’t run. It starts to come up and then disappears. As I said in a previous post, that’s a deal-breaker for us. If the software installer doesn’t work, we immediately dump the distro. HE reloaded Ubuntu 11.10 and I can only hope that, at least on Chatterbox, HE’ll leave it alone for awhile.

We said in a previous post that we like Linux Mint a lot at RFCC*. Our opinion has changed concerning Linux Mint. We’ve had problems with Linux Mint Debian, Linux Mint Xfce, and now Linux Mint KDE. In fairness to Linux Mint, there are many people happily using it. We haven’t tried their main Ubuntu-based distribution recently. It may be perfectly fine. Our concern is that with that much going wrong at Linux Mint, we’re no longer comfortable recommending it.

On the other hand, we’ve had an almost flawless performance by Ubuntu 11.10. This would be the distribution we would recommend for anyone new to Linux.

Next time: creating photos for our blog.

Making backup painless

* If you don’t know who or what this is, check the Glossary page.

*** WARNING: This is post pretty geeky. ***

Last time, we talked about how important backup is at The Robotic Frog. Let me show you how we made it painless.

First, let me describe the new computer setup here at RFCC*. We added a machine…Chatterbox*…that is our new file server. We’ll say more about Chatterbox next time, but for now, understand that it’s the machine that we have our backup hard drives connected to. Untouchable*, Whitestar*, and Defiant* talk to Chatterbox to back up their files. Untouchable and Whitestar are desk machines that sit side-by-side in RoboFrog’s office. They are situated so that HE* can turn ninty degrees without moving HIS* desk chair and use either one. Defiant is a laptop that sees service everywhere on the LilyPad. Check out the Glossary page if you’re interested in more detail about the machines.

Yesterday, we showed you our backup script. The script is named rbak. It is stored in the directory /home/bvines/Myfiles and must be executable. It’s also backed up in /home/bvines/Myfiles/Restore. Untouchable, Whitestar, and Defiant get shut down at the end of each day. Before they go down, we want everything that was created that day to be backed up. These machines run Arch Linux. Arch has a file /etc/rc.local.shutdown. If we place the command /home/bvines/Myfiles/rbak in this file then rbak runs each time the machine is shut down.

{

If you’re running Ubuntu: 1) copy rbak to /etc/init.d 2) make a symbolic link to rbak in /etc/rc6.d. The name of the symbolic link is important.

sudo cp /home/bvines/Myfiles/rbak /etc/init.d
cd /etc/rc6.d
sudo ln -s /etc/init.d/rbak A01rbak

}

This assures that these machines are backed up every time we shut them down. It’s automatic. We don’t have to hope that HE will remember to run rbak.

Chatterbox is different. It stays on 24/7. On Linux systems there’s a utility called cron. It runs programs or scripts periodically: hourly, daily, weekly, monthly. We run rbak daily on Chatterbox. To make this happen, copy rbak to /etc/cron.daily. Any program or script saved in this directory gets run once each day by cron. Again, it’s automatic.

This is a simple scheme for keeping up with our backups. It automates the entire process. We had occasion to test this system today. That story next time, but here’s how we restore a system.

*** rsto ***

#!/bin/bash
echo “”
echo “…restore thunderbird from backup…”
rsync -azr –stats /media/Media/Now/Myfiles_chatterbox/Restore/thunderbird/ /home/bvines/.thunderbird
echo “”
echo “…restore Myfiles from backup…”
echo “”
rsync -arz –stats /media/Media/Now/Myfiles_chatterbox/ /home/bvines/Myfiles
echo “”
echo “…restore complete…”
echo “”

##########

This is the restore script for Chatterbox. As I said, we needed to use it this morning and it worked perfectly. We keep a directory in every Myfile folder called Restore. It has information that we use to restore a machine. We keep a copy of rsto there. To restore a machine all we have to do is copy rsto from our backup drive to our main user, directory, /home/bvines in our case, then execute rsto (./rsto). Obviously, rsto must be executable. That’s all there is to it. Painless.

Next time…HE’s loose again!

Protecting content

* If you don’t know who or what this is, check the Glossary page.

Blogging is all about creating content. I’ve seen a few interesting blogs that are text only. The ones that I find most appealing, though, have some kind of graphics or video.

A life preserver, or toroidal throwable person...

They require a broad skill set: writing, photography, graphics manipulation, composition, sound and video editing. Those are big buckets.

Each encompasses many skills. For a one man or woman shop, it’s a steep climb to develop even basic skills in each of these areas. Whether it’s text, photographs, video, or all-of-the-above you end up with a lot of files. It’s important to keep them safe.

CRISIS avoided!

If you follow The Robotic Frog, you know that we recently reloaded the operating systems on our three main machines (Untouchable*, Whitestar*, Defiant*) not once, but three times. Each time, everything on the hard drive was lost. Thankfully, we had already given a lot of thought to backup. While we lost time, we didn’t lose a single file.

Backup hasn’t been very important here on the LilyPad. We’ve used a simplistic approach: Create a directory (folder) on each computer’s hard drive named Myfiles. EVERYTHING! created goes somewhere in that directory. We don’t worry about backing up the operating system or software. In the Linux world, that stuff can always be reloaded. Our concern is for our content. We simply renamed Myfiles to something like Myfiles-untouchable-2012-01-18, drag-and-droped it to a directory (folder) on our external USB drive, and then restored the name to Myfiles. Pretty simple, not very sophisticated…and only mostly effective.

PROTECT YOUR HARD WORK!

The content that we create eventually ends up on our computers in the form of files. Through a bit of alchemy, those files are transformed into our blog posts. Both before and after publication, there is a lot of valuable information that we don’t want to lose. Anyone who’s used a computer for more than about five minutes has been admonished to back up their data. The problem is that most of us either don’t get around to it or we begin with good intentions, but don’t keep it up. That’s where we were at TRF*.

The only time we copied our content folders was when we loaded a new version of Linux. Since that’s a frequent occurrence, our backups were fresher than they might otherwise have been. I can’t tell you, though, how many email addresses, browser favorites, and program files (programs that RoboFrog writes) we’ve lost using our simple backup scheme. You see HE* gets all excited about trying something new. It’s like HIS* brain short circuits and HE forgets about everything except the excitement of the moment. HE has usually blown away everything on a drive before giving any thought to backup. HE’s good at copying Myfiles to an external drive, but HE rarely thinks about email addresses, browser favorites, etc. Many times HE thinks that HE just copied Myfiles yesterday and is good to go. Invariably, something HE forgot about gets lost. We needed a more robust approach.

I searched through the various open-source backup utilities and settled on two: rsync and deja-dup. Rsync is a command-line utility (we like CLI* at TRF); deja-dup has a graphical front end and is surprisingly simple to use. Also, deja-dup (called Backup) came with Ubuntu 11.10 that we loaded onto Chatterbox*.

(You don’t know Chatterbox yet; he’s a new addition that we’ll introduce soon.)

deja-dup

Deja-dup is simple to use. The name of the menu item for this program is Backup (on Ubuntu: Sytem Settings->System->Backup). All you have to do is tell it which directories (folders) you want to back up and tell it where to put them. Click the Back Up Now button and it takes care of the rest. You can also set it to back up daily, weekly, monthly. Here’s a brief tutorial for Deja-dup.

** The following section is pretty geeky, so if you’re not into that feel free to skip it.

[GEEK MODE ON]

rsync

As I said, we like CLI at The Robotic Frog. We believe it’s more flexible and allows greater control over managing things. If you’re not used to CLI, though, it’s more complicated.

We use shell scripts to manage our backups. These are works-in-progress and are evolving. Here’s our backup script:

********************
#!/bin/bash
echo “”
echo “…backup rsto…”
rsync -az /home/bvines/rsto /home/bvines/Myfiles/Restore
echo “…backup rbak…”
rsync -az /home/bvines/Myfiles/rbak /home/bvines/Myfiles/Restore
echo “”
echo “…backup thunderbird…”
rsync -azr –stats /home/bvines/.thunderbird/ /home/bvines/Myfiles/Restore/thunderbird
echo “”
echo “…backup Myfiles…”
echo “…this may take awhile…”
echo “”
rsync -arz –delete –stats /home/bvines/Myfiles/ /mnt/nfs/Media/Now/Myfiles_untouchable 2> /dev/null &
echo “”
echo “…backup complete…”
echo “”
 ********************

This saves all the things that we think we need to restore a machine. We’re using an NSF file server. The main backup drive is called Media. When we started thinking seriously about backup, Media worried us. What if Media failed? It stays on 24/7. We had another unused drive sitting around and decided to put it to work. It was added to the file server and a script written specifically for the server:

********************
#!/bin/bash
echo “”
echo “…backup rsto…”
rsync -az /home/bvines/rsto /home/bvines/Myfiles/Restore
echo “…backup rbak…”
rsync -az /home/bvines/Myfiles/rbak /home/bvines/Myfiles/Restore
echo “…backup thunderbird…”
rsync -azr /home/bvines/.thunderbird/ /home/bvines/Myfiles/Restore/thunderbird
echo “”
echo “…backup Myfiles…”
echo “…this may take awhile…”
echo “”
rsync -arz –delete –stats /home/bvines/Myfiles/ /media/Media/Now/Myfiles_chatterbox
echo “”
echo “…global backup…this may take awhile…”
echo “”
rsync -azvr –delete –stats /media/Media/Now/ /media/Backup
echo “…backup complete…”
echo “”

********************

This is the same as the script above with one line added to back up the content directory from Media. This scheme gives us three copies of our content files: one on the individual machine, all three machines backed up to Media, and Media backed up to Backup. Surely, that’s enough!

[GEEK MODE OFF]

There’s more to this story that I’ll finish next time. For now, though, consider this: Without backup, you’re one hard drive or computer failure away from disaster. Hard drives and computers can be replaced easily. Your content…probably not. Given the time and effort that you put into creating content, give backup some serious consideration. I’ve talked about this from a Linux perspective. Mac and Windows have similar backup utilities.

Next time I’ll show you how I keep HIM from forgetting to keep up with all of this. Backup is too important to leave it at the mercy HIS forgetfulness and procrastination.

Make your blog better

* If you don’t know who or what these are, check the Glossary page.

WordPress and blogging

WordPress

Did you know that in the upper-right of the Edit Post screen there’s a Screen Options drop-down menu that allows you to choose how your screen is laid out? I just found it a few days ago. Untouchable* is my favorite. It gets most of the newest, coolest stuff. It has a widescreen monitor that’s terrific for watching movies and Hulu. With all that horizontal real estate, it’s terrific for the two-column editor layout. Whitestar* and Defiant*, though, have traditional screens. When I’m working on one of them…as I am now…the one-column layout is better.

Make your blog better

If you’re simply reading blogs for entertainment, then read on and enjoy. If, however, your a blogger interested in both the story and the art consider setting a goal of finding one new blog each day (or week) that piques your interest. That’s what we’re doing here at TRF*. It’s surprising how difficult this is. Try it. Here’s a tip. Whenever someone clicks on Like…

(If, like me, you’re very new to blogging: click on the comment link, then scroll up the page. There’s a button with Like on it. Click it if you liked the post.)

…a link to their blog is left behind. At TRF, we follow the link and check out their blog. We’ve had more luck finding interesting new blogs following these links than by random browsing.

Make your visits more productive. PhilosopherMouse (PM) clicked Like for one of my posts. I followed his link to Warning: Granny bites (You really should read it; it’s a hoot.) Today, PM posted Shhhh. Requires Invisibility Cloak which I think is a terrific piece. Perhaps it isn’t your cup-of-tea, though. Don’t stop. Look at the theme PM is using, how he’s used pictures, and arranged text and graphics on the page. There’s so much great stuff here in addition to the story. PM is a gifted story-teller and artist. I’ve only read two of his posts, but already, I’m a fan. He’s given me a few laughs and some terrific ideas for making my blog better. Thanks PhilosopherMouse!

One last thought for bloggers: Think about comments as a gift…both for the author and for ourselves. The desire to share, through our blogs, means that we’re observing, thinking, and forming opinions. The fact that we’re blogging indicates that we want to share our observations and opinions. Consider leaving a comment on at least one blog each day. If a blog post intrigues you, what one thing caused your synapses to fire? Tell the blogger! What was something you liked? What was something you didn’t? What would you like to hear more about? This simple exercise for just one blog a day will improve our ability to think and reason; it will sharpen our focus; and, it will show up in our blogging.

Freemind

FreeMind

FreeMind has become an indispensable, mission-critical tool here on the LilyPad. I have FreeMind automatically start whenever I turn on a computer. Previously, I used Tomboy Notes to catch ideas and thoughts. Now, I use FreeMind.  Give it a try; I think you’ll like it.

I like having a plan. It takes just a minute to put together a mind map. (If you don’t know what mind mapping is, take a look at my post Creativity and content creation.) It helps me judge what and how much to try to fit into my blog for the day. The graphic above is for this post.

The central node is labeled 2012-01-17. There are four primary nodes: working files, chatterbox, backup, comments. Looking at this post, it’s obvious that I can only cover about two primary nodes without my post becoming an epic novel. That’s very useful information for future planning. It also tells me that I’m not going to run out of material anytime soon. The other ideas will keep. That’s enough for today.

Conclusion of the meltdown!

WordPress / Blogging

We’ve been experimenting with themes for The Robotic Frog. I think we’ve tried all that are available at WordPress.  We had a few surprises, though. Here are some things to consider when choosing a theme for your blog.

Comments

We like comments at The Robotic Frog and encourage you to share your thoughts. I was surprised at the number of themes that don’t have a link for comments. I assumed that every theme had a comment link unless you turned it off from the Dashboard. Not so. If you want comments, make sure your theme includes a link.

Consider where the comment link is located. Once I started looking for it, I found that many themes have links at the top of the post, but not at the bottom. The reader finishes reading at the bottom of the post. Doesn’t it seem reasonable that the comment link should be there?

Fonts

I want the text to be as readable as possible. I found many themes that I liked…except the fonts were difficult to read. Make sure your fonts have the look that you want.

Tag Line and Page Links

There are some very nice themes that don’t display your tag line and/or page links. Check for this when choosing a theme. Also, themes display your page links in different orders. If that’s important to you, note how the prospective theme handles page links.

Back to the meltdown…

I decided to start with Whitestar*. “Well you know,” says HE*, “that Fedora probably won’t load from the DVD. We’ve had that problem before.” I know HE’s correct about this, so I have HIM prepare a bootable USB stick with Fedora 16 Xfce…just in case.

HE was right. It wouldn’t load from the DVD. This is a curious problem. The installation begins and then after you’ve made a couple of choices it decides that it can’t find the drive from which it started. I don’t know about you, but that seems really weird. Even more puzzling is that Fedora 14 loaded perfectly from DVD onto Whitestar. The “Honey, I lost the DVD” thing started with Fedora 15. It seems that Fedora 16 perpetuates it. (Fedora isn’t the only Linux distribution that has this problem with Whitestar.) As with Fedora 15, Fedora 16 loaded from the USB stick and all was well.

Fedora 16 Xfce was very attractive. All of our critical software was available in the repositories and most of the odd packages with which we want to experiment were there as well. There was one minor glitch. The Xfce weather applet doesn’t work with Fedora. It worked just fine with Xubuntu (and Arch Linux). That’s annoying, but not a reason to stop using Fedora. We’ve had really good luck with Fedora in the past, so I was hopeful that we were about to end this saga.

On to Defiant*. HE started the installation. Perfect, but what about the Internet connection. Xubuntu had problems maintaining the connection upstairs (see previous post). We ran Defiant from about three o’clock in the afternoon until almost midnight. It didn’t lose the Internet connection a single time. We experienced one minor (to us) problem.

Fedora 16 Xfce clearly recognizes Defiant as a laptop. Trackpad tap and scroll, however, are not enabled. With Xubuntu, the trackpad just worked. As I said, this was a minor problem for us because we know that it’s two lines added to a configuration file for Synaptics (the software that makes the touchpad work). The biggest problem we had was figuring out where Fedora keeps the configuration file. Once that was determined, we added the two lines, rebooted…problem fixed. While this was a minor issue for us, I can see it being a deal-breaker for a new Linux user.

Untouchable* was still running Xubuntu. We use external USB hard drives for our backups and they were connected to Untouchable. We had no problem getting Defiant to talk to Xubuntu. It was drag-n-drop to reload Defiant’s files. All seemed to be working well. We had two machines back up, and so far, no major problems. Time to shutdown and head for bed.

“Huston, we have a problem.”

I got up the next morning and there HE was, staring at Defiant. The shutdown screen was still displayed. Defiant was hung up on something and didn’t turn itself off. We had rebooted Defiant several time last night and didn’t see this problem.

“What was the last last thing YOU did last night?” I always have to keep an eye on HIM.

“Not much. I set up the file sharing.”

Eventually, we determined that this had something to do with disconnecting from the NFS server. We never found a way to correct the problem, but we did find an acceptable way to get Defiant to shut down. It was a bit of a kludge, but it got the job done. Crisis avoided. We’re getting close. Only one more machine to get working.

Out of time and out of gas!

There were no problems loading Fedora onto Untouchable. Not a surprise. Everything loads on Untouchable. Then came the deal-breaker. We moved the backup drives to Whitestar. Backup wasn’t an important issue at RFCC until we started working on this blog and putting a lot of time and effort into creating content. We realized that we were one hard drive crash away from disaster, so we put a lot of thought into figuring out how to do backup as reliably and painlessly as possible. Whitestar is our machine designated for handling backups. That means it must operate as our file server. This is usually a pretty simple thing. We searched for documentation for how to do this with Fedora. The most recent documentation we could find was for Fedora 13. I looked through the online documentation for Fedora 16 and found documentation for Samba (software that can also be used for file sharing), but not NFS (the system we use at RFCC). We tried the instructions from the Fedora 13 manual and they didn’t work (probably our fault). At this point, I looked at HIM and said, “Stop! No more.” I was out of patience, out of time, and out of gas with this entire project. I directed HIM in the strongest terms to get us back to Arch Linux as quickly as possible.

Arch Linux logo

It took a half day to reload Arch Linux, our software, and restore our backups. What a relief after all this to have three systems working perfectly: filemanagers working, weather applets working, file server working, trackpad working, wireless Internet working, and no startup or shutdown issues! Arch Linux with Xfce as our GUI environment continues to be our Linux system of choice.

Conclusion (Finally!)

Let me be clear about how we feel about these Linux distributions. Our preference is Arch Linux, but Arch is not without it’s problems. It’s just that we’ve used it enough that we know where the potholes are and how to steer around them. If Fedora Xfce and Xubuntu were the only choices we had, we would gladly use either of them. The problems we experienced can be overcome or minimized. Linux Mint Xfce is a different story. RoboFrog’s position is that if the installer and updater don’t work, you’re lost before you ever get started. The irony is that if a newcomer asked us for a recommendation for a first Linux system, we would recommend the main Linux Mint distribution (Ubuntu derived). Anthony Venable writes a blog that I follow. He recommends Ubuntu for newcomers and I have no reason to fault that recommendation. It would be The Robotic Frog’s second choice. In fact, we’ve just installed Ubuntu 11.10 on a new machine (Chatterbox) because of Anthony’s recommendations. If you’re a first-timer interested in Linux, check out his blog.

Whew! We’re finished…for now…talking about Linux distributions. Next time, we’re returning to content creation. Thanks for hanging in there!

More meltdown on the LilyPad

* Check the Glossary page if you don’t know what or who these are.

=========================================

Technically, Untouchable* and Whitestar* weren’t broken-broken. Linux Mint Xfce installed and was workable. It just wouldn’t load updates. This brings me to a point of policy here at RFCC*. We try a lot of Linux distributions and only have a few no-go rules:

  • The installer and updater must work properly.
  • We must be able to load the distribution on Untouchable, Whitestar, and Defiant*.
  • It must boot and run properly on all three machines.
  • We must be able to load software with the package manager.

At the point that a distribution fails one of these requirements, it gets dumped. We usually don’t try to fix the problems. This, of course, is a generalization (If you don’t know RoboFrog’s point of view on generalizations, check the Scratchpad page.). But I don’t have a lot of control over…HIM*. Sometimes HE* gets curious and just has to tinker. I think it’s a waste of time, but when HE gets in a mood there’s no stopping HIM.

“Relax. This isn’t a problem,” HE says. HE immediately picks up the Xubuntu Xfce 11.10 installation disk and starts loading Xubuntu onto Untouchable. There’s not much to say at this point. Untouchable is already broken. HE can’t make it much worse.

xubuntu

Xubuntu easily loaded onto Untouchable and presented a very attractive Xfce screen. The update manager signaled and all updates loaded perfectly. I had to give HIM credit. There seemed to be a lot to like here. I turned around and HE was already loading Xubuntu onto Whitestar. I held my breath. As I said, we have more trouble with new installations on Whitestar than any other machine. Surprise! No problems. And of course, HE immediately started loading Xubuntu onto Defiant.

Xubuntu loaded and updated without incident on all three machines. This almost never happens. Whitestar, usually our problem child, had no problems. Defiant, our second most troublesome machine, also loaded without incident…wireless worked immediately, trackpad tap and scrolling worked. I was getting pretty optimistic. Maybe one of the *buntu’s was finally going to be a favorite at RFCC. Then HE loaded all of our software. Still no problems. All of our critical applications were available. HE had the file server running on Whitestar with Untouchable and Defiant talking to it. I was impressed. I told HIM that I would take it from there and get all the backup files on the appropriate machines.

I double-clicked on the filemanager (Thunar)…and nothing happened. Well, maybe it missed the double-click. I double-clicked again. Nothing. I stared at the screen considering the possibilities. About ten seconds later, the filemanager window popped up along with a dialog box describing permission problems and such. Hmmmm. Then another filemanager window along with the same dialog box showed up. So, the system got both double-clicks and just had to think about them for a really long time. What was displayed in the filemanager window was fine; it just took a long time to get there and it brought along the dialog box with its cryptic error message. I closed both filemanager windows, both dialog boxes, and double-clicked again so I could see how long it took for the filemanager to come up. It popped up immediately with no error message. Okay, well that happens sometimes. Maybe the system has worked the problem out. Rebooted and tried again. Nope. Took almost twenty seconds for Thunar to come up and it brought the error message with it. I tried again with the same result. Finally, on the third try, Thunar came up immediately with no error message. We had the same result with all three machines.

I went to the Internet to see if anyone else was having this problem. Yep, but it wasn’t perceived to be a big problem. Since the filemanager is a program that we use a lot, for us, it was a deal-breaker. Time to dump Xubuntu and look for something else. We’re running out of options. Only Fedora Xfce left…And…now you know how Defiant got dragged into this mess. All three machines down at the same time.

One final comment about Xubuntu on Defiant: My wireless modem is in the RFCC (basement). Wireless worked perfectly in the RFCC, but Defiant gets used a lot upstairs (two floors above). Upstairs, Xubuntu wouldn’t hold a lock on the wireless signal. It  connected during boot and everything looked fine. Then, it would hold the signal for about ten minutes…maybe. Once the signal was lost, I couldn’t get it to reconnect. The only way to restore the wireless connection back was to reboot. This is the only time I’ve ever had this problem with Defiant. Other Linux distributions (in fact, every other Linux distribution I’ve tried) will hold the lock all day. This, by itself, was reason enough for a no-go with Xubuntu.

This really isn’t a blog focused on reviewing Linux distributions. We got ourselves into a mess, though, and it put us offline for a week. We’re actually interested in content creation and we’re coming back to that.  This problem, though, underscores the importance of the post we intended before the meltdown (which we’re getting back to, I promise). Before that, though, Fedora Xfce…next time.