Wednesday, June 24, 2015

as stable as Stable?

Linux Mint Debian Edition 2 ("Betsy") and Debian Jessie (the current Debian Stable) differ in some important ways besides LMDE 2's quicker and easier installation and set-up. LMDE 2 is based on Jessie, but package updates are not handled the same as in Jessie.

The /etc/apt/sources.list file in LMDE 2 is essentially a blank document. The distro's official repositories are stored in /etc/apt/sources.list.d/official-package-repositories.list, which by default looks like this:

deb betsy main upstream import

deb jessie main contrib non-free
deb jessie-updates main contrib non-free
deb jessie/updates main contrib non-free

deb jessie main non-free

deb betsy main

By contrast, my /etc/apt/sources.list file in Debian Jessie contains only the following lines:

deb jessie main contrib non-free
deb jessie-updates main contrib non-free
deb jessie/updates main contrib non-free

I have no apt-pinning set up in my Jessie installation; the /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ and /etc/apt/preferences.d/ directories are empty. LMDE 2 ships with the following files in /etc/apt/preferences.d/:

# /etc/apt/preferences.d/official-extra-repositories.pref

Package: *
Pin: origin
Pin-Priority: 700

Package: *
Pin: release o=LP-PPA-gwendal-lebihan-dev-cinnamon-nightly
Pin-Priority: 700

Package: *
Pin: origin
Pin-Priority: 700

# /etc/apt/preferences.d/official-package-repositories.pref

Package: *
Pin: release o=linuxmint
Pin-Priority: 700

Package: *
Pin: origin
Pin-Priority: 700

Package: *
Pin: release o=Debian
Pin-Priority: 500

So, there's a lot more going on in LMDE 2 than just Debian Stable. Basically, Mint packages (pin-priority 700) have priority over the same packages from Debian (pin-priority 500). Also, Mint's Update Manager (you're supposed to use that for updating instead of Synaptic) is set to allow only "safe," Linux Mint approved updates, according to Mint's "Levels" system:

This is actually a nice set-up because with all of the special Mint packages included in LMDE 2, you want to feel sure that updates won't break anything. LMDE 2 isn't "straight" Debian Jessie, but the added precautions (which, in the past, I've labeled as "excessive hand-holding") should, in theory at least, make LMDE 2 about as "stable" as Debian Stable.

not quite good enough

The Cinnamon desktop leaves me feeling a bit disappointed. I have it installed in Debian Jessie, and I also have an installation of Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE 2) with Cinnamon.

Cinnamon's set-up includes a more "traditional" panel than GNOME Shell's, but still I can't do everything with it that I'd like to do. It isn't as configurable as Xfce's panel. I can't adjust the width so that the panel doesn't stretch 100% across the screen. Icons on the panel for running apps show icons plus text when I'd prefer icons-only.

I don't see how to show icons for apps running on all workspaces rather than only the active workspace. Because of that, when I've got apps running on multiple workspaces, it's actually easier for me to get around the desktop by bringing up the Expo view (using the upper-left hot corner) than by using the workspace switcher and the icons on the panel.

Expo would be about the same as using GNOME Shell's Activities overview, except the Expo view doesn't give me access to other applications like the Activities overview does.

With Cinnamon, some of the advantages of having a "traditional" panel are therefore lost. Cinnamon's is a better panel than GNOME Shell's, but since it still doesn't give me enough of what I'd want in a panel, I feel like I might as well be running GNOME Shell (which I'm quite comfortable using) instead. At any rate, GNOME Shell's Activities overview eliminates the need for some panel items like an application menu, application launchers, workspace switcher, and panel icons showing running apps -- for me, at least.

What I see in Cinnamon is a panel that isn't as good as several others you'd find in Linux, and an overview (Expo) that isn't as good as GNOME Shell's Activities overview.

I must say that one of the nicest things about Cinnamon is the Nemo file manager, which I like much better than GNOME's Files (aka Nautilus). However, I use SpaceFM almost all the time, anyway, so the default file manager is kinda irrelevant to me. Also, Cinnamon's main menu is pretty nice, although I wish I could access it with a right-click on the desktop.

I've been playing around with LXDE in Lubuntu 14.04. For me, LXDE has the edge over Cinnamon. I can do what I want with the LXDE panel; mine is sized to 85% width, the icons for running apps are icons-only, and the panel shows all icons from all workspaces. I can set-up Openbox's desktop right-click menu -- can't do anything like that with Cinnamon OR with GNOME Shell. The mouse's scroll-wheel, with the cursor on the open desktop, takes me to another workspace; that's another thing that doesn't happen in Cinnamon. And LXDE lets me have different backgrounds on different workspaces. There are no hot spots and no overview so navigating the desktop must be done in the more traditional manner, with panel icons and workspace switching, but that's fine with me as long as everything can be set up to my liking.

Mint fans won't like me saying this, but I feel that my workflow is actually better when I'm using either GNOME Shell or LXDE than when I'm using Cinnamon. However, with each DE/WM I've used, I've always become much more comfortable with it over time, and already I feel the same thing happening with Cinnamon. Anyway, to each her/his own; many people with have far more complaints about GNOME Shell than I have with Cinnamon. Often, the "best" environment is the one you're most used to, and the one that you don't like as much is the one that you're not (yet) quite good enough at using.

Monday, May 25, 2015

two superstars

After Golden State and Cleveland finish cleaning up in their respective conference finals (the Warriors lead Houston 3-0; the Cavs, same thing over Atlanta), we'll have the pleasure of watching (arguably) the NBA's two best players in The Finals.

Golden State's Stephen Curry, playoff per game numbers so far (13 games): 29.9 points, 6.6 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 47.5 FG%, 44.8 3PT%, 82.4 FT%.

Cleveland's LeBron James, playoff per game numbers so far (13 games): 27.9 points, 8.4 assists, 10.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.3 blocks, 42.4 FG%, 16.1 3PT%, 78.1 FT%.

LeBron's shooting hasn't been good. But the team he's about to lead into The Finals is hit hard by injuries, missing both forward Kevin Love and guard Kyrie Irving. Take that same team and replace LeBron with any other player in the game and you won't still be playing come June. Also, he's averaging close to a triple-double (points, assists, rebounds) for the playoffs. Impressive effort.

Steph has been spectacular shooting the ball. The talented son of former NBA star Dell Curry has a chance to add a Finals MVP award to the one he just picked up for the 2014-15 regular season. He's become the most popular basketball player in the country, it seems. And, possibly, the most dangerous.

The Warriors appear to have the better team, and the best shooter in the game. The Cavs... Well, the oft-repeated theme these days is that the Cavs have the best player in the world, which is probably true. My guess: Golden State in six. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

no vote

This week's DistroWatch Weekly includes their "first weekly opinion poll," where readers can vote on their "Favourite Desktop." The choices:

- Cinnamon
- Enlightenment
- GNOME Shell
- Unity
- Xfce
- Other

This list didn't include any "window managers" -- if you prefer only Openbox or Fluxbox or AwesomeWM or Window Maker, etc., your vote gets lumped under "Other."

I'm writing this from Fluxbox in openSUSE, but Fluxbox is only one of several environments I regularly use. I have each of the following DEs/WMs installed somewhere on at least one of my systems: Cinnamon, Fluxbox, GNOME Shell, KDE, Openbox, LXDE, Unity, and Xfce. The laptop that I call my "primary" computer was running Xfce in Debian Wheezy until recently; now it's running KDE in Debian Jessie, with Openbox added.

I don't have a favorite; there are things that I like about each environment, and I'm quite comfortable using any of them. So, I'll pass on casting a vote in this week's poll.

Monday, May 18, 2015

cinnamon added

In my Debian Jessie GNOME installation, I added the Cinnamon desktop by going to Synaptic and installing the cinnamon package (version 2.2.16-5). This brought in the following additional packages:

cinnamon-common (2.2.16-5)
cinnamon-control-center (2.2.11-4)
cinnamon-control-center-data (2.2.11-4)
cinnamon-desktop-data (2.2.3-3)
cinnamon-l10n (2.2.4-1)
cinnamon-screensaver (2.2.4-6)
cinnamon-session (2.2.2-5)
cinnamon-session-common (2.2.2-5)
cinnamon-settings-daemon (2.2.4.repack-7)
cjs (2.2.2-2)
gir1.2-cinnamondesktop-3.0 (2.2.3-3)
gir1.2-cmenu-3.0 (2.2.0-3)
gir1.2-gconf-2.0 (3.2.6-3)
gir1.2-meta-muffin-0.0 (2.2.6-4)
gnome-power-manager (3.14.1-1)
libcinnamon-control-center1 (2.2.11-4)
libcinnamon-desktop4 (2.2.3-3)
libcinnamon-menu-3-0 (2.2.0-3)
libcjs0 (2.2.2-2)
libmozjs185-1.0 (1.8.5-1.0.0+dfsg-4.3)
libmuffin0 (2.2.6-4)
libnemo-extension1 (2.2.4-2)
muffin-common (2.2.6-4)
nemo (2.2.4-2)
nemo-data (2.2.4-2)
nemo-fileroller (1.8.0-1)
python-pam (0.4.2-13.1)
python-pyinotify (0.9.4-1)

I set up Cinnamon with the panel at the top instead of the more traditional (and default) bottom placement. I added, removed, and/or moved some panel items, so the shots below show a somewhat personalized desktop:

Cinnamon's Expo provides a nice workspace overview:

Cinnamon's default file manager is Nemo, which I prefer over Nautilus. I'm very comfortable using GNOME Shell, but many people are not. Cinnamon seems to be very nicely done in Debian Jessie, giving users yet another excellent desktop option. Note: Jessie Cinnamon ISOs (there's a live one, too) are available at, so you don't have to add Cinnamon to an existing installation like I did.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

debian live

The Debian Live project used to be a kinda separate project, and the images would come out some time after the Stable release. Now, for the first time, the live images are made available at debian dot org "as a new alternative to the standard images."  A nice step forward for Debian, in my opinion.

I used the GNOME live image to install Jessie over my Wheezy GNOME installation (that was the last remaining Wheezy installation here). I like to use Unetbootin to get the .iso onto a flash drive, but sometimes that doesn't work out -- I've had problems trying to use it with Jessie images. Better to use dd; in this case, I ran:

#  dd if=/home/steve/Downloads/debian-live-8.0.0-i386-gnome-desktop.iso of=/dev/sdb

The live session looks good, but I couldn't find an "Install" icon or menu entry; looks like you have to reboot and then choose one of the installation options from the boot menu. Then it's just a straight Debian installation.

There's a curious entry in the menu (in the GNOME Shell Activities overview): "Install Debian sid." Interesting.

Also, the live session doesn't ship with GParted. However, it does ship with Synaptic, so GParted could be easily added for the live session, if there's an internet connection. They ship  the GNOME Disk Utility, which shows up in the menu as "Disks":

Looks fine for obtaining the same type of info I'd get from GParted, but I don't know if I'd actually use it for partitioning.

Overall, it's a pretty good live session. Very snappy if run from a flash drive, of course. I'd add an "Install" button and GParted, that's about it. Recently, I've spent some time with the latest MX release's live session and with live sessions from Linux Mint Debian. MX is kinda nice because it can give you root and/or home persistence, but for the most part any one of those distros' live sessions is about as good as the other, so I'd just as soon use the one that comes straight from Debian.

The installed Jessie GNOME (it's GNOME 3.14) looks great; I haven't found a need to add any GNOME Shell extensions. Remember to edit the sources.list file and comment out the line for the CD if you don't need it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

a man, a coach

A book about one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time: Breaking Through: John B. McLendon, Basketball Legend and Civil Rights Pioneer, by Milton S. Katz.

McLendon was mentored by the inventor of the game of basketball, Dr. James Naismith, at the University of Kansas, even though he wasn't even allowed to play for the Jayhawks. This was the 1930s, and there would be no black players on the KU varsity team until 1951.

In 1937, McLendon became an assistant coach at North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University), and was named the head basketball coach there in 1940. He went on to coach at the Hampton Institute, Tennessee A&I University (now Tennessee State University), Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University), and Cleveland State University. His Tennessee A&I teams won three consecutive NAIA championships (1957, 1958, 1959). At Cleveland State, he became the first black coach at a predominantly white college. He later became the first black coach of an integrated professional sports team (the ABL's Cleveland Pipers),

Always conducting himself with class and quiet dignity, battling segregation and discrimination every step of the way, McLendon pioneered a fast-breaking style of basketball; as well, as Katz notes in Breaking Through, when McLendon passed away in 1999:

The first floral arrangements to reach his home came from North Carolina coach Dean Smith, who expressed gratitude to McLendon for teaching him the four-corners offense.

What impressed me most, however, was that McLendon spoke about basketball and athletics as being secondary to the greater goal: "Athletics is a vehicle to assist in scholastic objectives and education... A man should want to go to school and participate in athletics, not just be an athlete."

I like to say that sports should be about having fun and staying in shape. These days, it often seems to be more of an entertainment industry than anything else.