Friday, August 9, 2013

Android 'mount as mtp media' libmtp

So you have an Android tablet and want to connect it to your Linux desktop:

apt-get install gmtp libmtp-runtime

Now you should be able to start Gmtp and see a screen like the following:

Now in order to get the file listing you have to 'Connect', so use the icon / menus to do that.

But my mtp device cannot connect?

 Here are a list of possible issues and a suggestion for each
  1. Your device is not connected - check the cable
  2. Your Android usb setting is set to PTP rather than MTP
    ( Settings -> Storage -> Connect as -> MTP )
  3. Your Android device is not recognised (unlikely but possible)
    See (4) below. Usually this is for low volume devices / devices that are newly launched.
    Request it be added at this link
  4. Your version of libmtp is not recent enough.
    If running Debian 6 then upgrade to Debian 7 (wheezy)
    If you are running Ubuntu 12.04 then find a backport / ppa
    OR for the adventurous compile libmtp yourself.
And lastly (5) "You have libmtp installed but not libmtp-runtime"

libmtp-runtime is essential, but is only listed as a 'Recommends' when installing Gmtp

Solution: apt-get install libmtp-runtime

How would I know that libmtp-runtime is missing?

Your package manager can tell you certainly, but one symptom is an entry in the system log that says:
failed to execute '/lib/udev/mtp-probe'

For those interested in dependency details, a screenshot next (see last line in screenshot)

Screenshot shows that libmtp-runtime is only a 'Recommends' of libmtp

Notes and Further Reading:

If you use Ubuntu then you should prefix the apt-get commands shown above with 'sudo'

Which are the best tablets/phones for vanilla mtp support?

The bigger the company, the more tempted the internal engineers are to tinker and extend the mtp protocol.

You probably already bought your device, so this may be a moot point, but given the choice and with Linux connectivity a priority ...

Avoid Samsung and Sony and go for an alternative midrange  / generic option.

If Linux connectivity is not a priority or you intend to install and use the connectivity software supplied with the device, then this is a non-issue.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Welcome back Gnome 3 - maybe

Linux users have a choice of desktop environment. This is a good thing.

Is Gnome dead? I don't think so.

There are 5 or so major desktop environment I could name, some of which will improve, some will take a wrong turn, some will see a resurgence.

Windows 8 was a mistake? This debate is still raging. One argument is that major change in user interaction produces a period of 18 months of rage, followed by reluctant acceptance.
Personally I don't like Windows, but for those folks who feel that they have not got a choice, it will probably be tweaked, then eventually accepted.

Gnome 3 was a mistake? Well it led to Ubuntu ditching it as their default desktop, but hey maybe Ubuntu might have done that if they had hooked into KDE or Xfce, and those desktops then introduced major changes.
Result: Unity is now another alternative in the desktop stakes. Love it or hate it, another desktop choice may be a good thing folks.

Xfce - The Challenges:

Xfce 4.8 is a great desktop. In fact, both Xfce 4.6 and Xfce 4.8 have been (and currently are) my desktop of choice.

However being a preferred desktop one year, does not guarantee that you will be a given users favourite next year.

Some of this churn is natural, folks use your desktop, then a year or two later, they hanker after something else. Maybe they read a great blog article and wanted to try that desktop shown.

Some things are down to the choices the project makes also.

Gnome 3 bad choice - showing a leaning towards including Mono based apps and widgets in the wider Gnome desktop ecosystem. Was this an attempt to poison Gnome instigated from outside or by some misguided developers - who knows.

Gnome 3 major change - The 'everything is a widget' thinking had already been tried by KDE.

Here are my thoughts:
  • Gnome despite benefiting (during Gnome 2) from the resistance that KDE 'everything is a widget' changes created, appear to have believed that their own planned changes would meet with less resistance.
  • Gnome failed to appreciate the scale of the task in moving to this new model, and did not put enough focus on implementation tasks, such as easing migration, and some aspects of what the user considers 'core functionality' - settings, controls, whatever.
Will Xfce 5 be any different?

Probably not. Despite the very visible lessons in the past 10 years provided by KDE and now by Gnome, it seems that many desktop environments just cannot help losing their way.

And this is why I will probably switch back to Gnome once Gnome 3.8 is available in Debian Stable.
If Xfce does not disappear up its own backside, then it might not be a clear cut decision, but those are my thoughts today.

Xfce and new developers - good and bad:

Xfce needs to grow beyond the two or three core developers who, I suspect, currently do the majority of the work.

However this is a double edged sword.

Gnome and the Mono debacle was probably the results of new developers coming onboard, and a lack of clarity around 'free software' ethos.

( The free software battle has moved beyond individual software programs, and now consideration must be given to ecosystems, services, and add ons also. Does making a C sharp based add on to a free desktop make it more free or less free - you decide. )

  • Will Xfce have its own Mono moment? Maybe
  • Will Xfce disappear up its own backside regarding fonts, at the expense of flexibility in window manager settings and the basics - Probably.
  • Will proprietary software exponents attempt to influence the choices of the Xfce project against a free software ethos. If Xfce becomes big enough, almost certainly.
But it is not all doom, these are just some of the challenges.
Xfce might come through them all unscathed.

A good start for the Xfce project might be to think about the dogfood principle.
Are the new developers on the project using Xfce themselves actively on their own daily desktop?

If not why not - do they not think it is good enough? or are they just on your project as a temporary CV enhancing placement? Do they have motives which you should take the time to understand more clearly - what gives?

Have developers ever joined a project with the express intention of changing its direction or worse to severely weaken it? Almost certainly.

( The free software ecosystem has and continues to be seen as a potential threat to multi-billion dollar corporates. There are, I am sure, a small number of developers for hire, who might just be willing to act as agents in damaging free software )

Do the new developers want to help the project, but also help keep the code free to modify, for anybody except patent aggressors?

Gnome 3.8 and why it will probably be my choice in Debian 8 Jessie:

Bending the Nietzsche phrase a lot...

"What does not kill you, might visit your neighbour or competitor next"

Gnome 3 has had a difficult birth, but my feeling is, that it has now overcome two major challenges, and it will gain traction.
( especially in 2015 when 3.8 is in Debian stable. )

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Android - OpenGL capable - part 4

Tablet pricing has shifted incredibly in just 12 months.

Recapping article series part 3 - here is how it was left

Specs - a new set going forward :
  • 3D Graphics support (OpenGL ES)
  • Dual Core processor
  • 768MB ram
  • SD card slot (or microSD at a push)
  • USB slot (or standard micro/mini okay)
  • Android 4.0 or later
  • Support for Google Play / Official Android Market
  • Resolution 1024x768 for 8" or 9" tablet, 1280x800* for 10" screen
( *Sub £200 tablets are not (by design) aimed at replacing your school projector, If you really feel you need to use the playback from a tablet to drive an external screen, then this series of reviews is probably not written with your needs in mind. )

Goclever are headquartered in Poznan, Poland and produce a range of tablets: 7 inches through 10 inches.

Chipset: RK3066 1.6GHz (Cortex A9 Dual Core, GPU Mali400MP4) by RockChip

The Goclever 9 inch with the above Chipset will set you back £150

How does that compare to the original spec?

  • 3D Graphics support (OpenGL ES) - Oh yes - ARM Mali Quad
  • Dual Core processor - Oh yes - Cortex A9 which is superfast
  • 768MB ram - yes 1GB - and not just any Ram - DDR3
  • SD card slot (or microSD at a push) - yes
  • USB slot (or standard micro/mini okay) - yes
  • Android 4.0 or later - yes comes with 4.1 preloaded
  • Support for Google Play / Official Market - yes
  • Resolution 1024x768 for 8" or 9" tablet - yes - 1024x768

Revisiting the specs - a new set going forward?


The pace of change in sub £200 tablets has been absolutely breathtaking in just 2 years.

I could 'up the bar' further, and boost some of those specs, however I will not. Feels a little churlish to raise the bar much further, so instead I'll just tweak things a little

  • 3D Graphics support (OpenGL ES)
  • Dual Core processor
  • 1GB ram (DDR3 preferred)
  • SD card slot (or microSD at a push)
  • USB slot (or standard micro/mini okay)
  • Android 4.1 or later
  • Support for Google Play / Official Android Market
  • Resolution 1024x768 for 8" or 9" tablet, 1280x800* for 10" screen
  • Charges via micro usb
Here are some personal thoughts about charging connectors

  • All tablets should ideally support charging via micro usb*
  • An optional external DC charger with own connector is a plus, but should not be the only method of charging.
*Europe has put a great deal of effort into reducing the future 'dead charger' pile, by mandating micro usb charging as the way forward.
Please support this effort.

What about HDMI? Well HDMI or mini HDMI is great, but as stated in my previous article, this is not usually a priority feature for sub £200 tablets.

Links and more:

Both Android 4.1 and Android 4.2 fall under the term 'Jelly Bean'
 ( Android 4.2 having some additional features. )

Here is an extract from that PC Advisor review regarding Android 4.1/ 4.2

"Jelly Bean is the point at which Android stopped being a geek's platform and became suitable for normal consumers. It is slick to look at and snappy to use, intuitive and comfortable"
Do read reviews such as PC Advisor if you have a couple of tablets in mind, and want help deciding.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Advocate become Polemicist to eat

Hoping that a Linux advocate does not have to become a Linux polemicist in order to eat.

Probably have to hang up that 'advocate' hat, as that person would driven by new primary goals.

Ubuntu regularly takes pot shots at this n that elements of current GNU/Linux ecosystem, do you want to mimic Ubuntu approach in your articles?

Now I'll add some arguments against my original take:
( Some of these tire me just writing them as they are buzzphrases )
  • Criticism is essential to development*
  • Choice is bad, criticize to weed out all but the one true choice
  • Point out the weaknesses in your competition, through heavy criticism and sell more.
  • Make unpopular choices on behalf of your users, after all you are the software company, and they merely use your software.
  • To get to know a truth properly, one must polemicize it. 
*Perhaps some truth in here, however if this were as simple as stated here, then the most criticised software companies would make the best software.

Noting the paradox here.

Making good software terrible in a new release (Vista) increases criticism.

I'll leave you to untangle that, and hopefully realise, that it is a more complex idea, than can be properly framed in one sentence.

Perhaps these phrases might help give some balance:
  • Criticism because you ignored what the customer wants is rarely good.
  • Not all criticism is good criticism

Polemicist point of view: All criticism (of system) is good criticism, as it increases my article audience, and sells ad space.

The '...know a truth properly...' quote is I think from 'The Viking book of aphorisms' by W. H. Auden

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Muesli - eating it wrong and minerals

Is it possible to eat Muesli in a wrong way? YES

Before explaining why (see last paragraph) it is worth providing a bit of background.

Above is the ingredients for a supermarket muesli / granola

Most supermarkets do an own brand version and all will contain oats.

Now to get to the point: GRAINS NEED SOAKING

Mineral absorption and grain misuse:

This could turn into a comedy article about 'grain abusers', but there is a serious side it :)

Vegetarians learn through chatting to others, and reading vegetarian eating guides, that not all plant derived food is good for immediate consumption.

Some require careful preparation or SOAKING.

How long should I soak Muesli for before eating?
Choose ten / twenty / thirty minutes depending on your hurry.

Even soaking in milk for ten minutes, will have given the fibre rich grains a chance to start breaking down.

Morning routine for ideal 30 minutes soaking:

  • Up and into kitchen
  • Whilst putting the kettle / toaster on, put your muesli in the bowl and add milk
  • Shower / wash / prepare as usual
  • Eat your Muesli before leaving for the commute.

What happens if I don't soak grains:

Eating unsoaked grains regularly, may have a small effect on your ability to absorb minerals - specifically calcium, copper, iron, and zinc.

Is it better to eat wholegrain or rolled grains?

If you are really worried about phytic acid, or an adverse affect on your mineral consumption, then I would suggest making your own muesli with rolled oats and some wholegrains.

Also try and soak for the full 30 minutes rather than the 'busy person' 10 minutes suggested above.

By using rolled oats but including some additional wholegrains, you are making the breaking down process a bit easier, but still keeping some of the wholegrain goodness.

Scare stories, 'the breakfast industry', and taking things to far:

The breakfast industry - think expensive sugary cereals, will jump on scientific articles that hint at natural products having some adverse effect. Do your own objective reading.

Taking things too far. As with all things in life apply common sense to what you read.

I could soak my Muesli at 5pm the night before, or set up a grain soaking facility in my shed. Neither of these things will I do, as my choice is to make some effort, but weigh up how Muesli can fit sensibly into my lifestyle.

In the true spirit of critical thinking I include a few links to articles by others, who may have different opinions / suggestions, or advocate even more rigor in preparation:

The 'own brand' Muesli (Sainsbury) - additional notes:

That ingredients breakdown at the start of the article is for Sainsbury's own.

Adding together to get the often quoted figure we do 38+37+11 gives the advertising headline "86% wholegrain" for that Sainsbury's muesli.

Where is the missing 8%? So we have 86% + 5% + 1% which gives 92%. I'm guessing that whey makes up a good portion of the missing 8%.

Does seem an oversight to bother mentioning Hazelnuts at 1% but to forget to itemise, some of the larger quantities in the mystery 8%.

Nutritional breakdown:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Abandon ship - free software is not shiny enough

Hey I am writing this to on Debian Wheezy, but I am truly staggered to read people saying 'Ubuntu -> Chromebook' is anything to do with software freedom.

If you want to 'go google' and your argument is that you already use gmail, google calendar, etc then fine. But bashing on Ubuntu for being non-free whilst hauling ass over to a set of proprietary web services is not really about 'free software'.

Hell I might find myself doing it one day who knows ones own future in the corporate workplace, but wrapping it up in XXX is not free, or YYY makes something shinier is not how I hope I would do it.

Sometimes people use something for a couple of years, and then want to try something different.
Hey it happens, but try not to bash your past on the way out.

Future and Postscript:

I have no idea what the technology landscape will be like in 5 years time, so I leave a space here to add my own comments then. These comments above might serve as a personal reminder as to how to incorporate change in ones own future and how to try and be dignified in it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

~/Templates (XDG) - Xfce and Thunar

Thunar is the default file manager in Xfce

One feature which some Linux users find useful, is support of Templates, so that right click 'New Document' has some useful options.

Whilst this is not a core feature of a file manager, it is supported and here is how:

apt-get install xdg-user-dirs

which brings in a binary named xdg-user-dirs-update - used to autogenerate the file .config/user-dirs.dirs

And now easy to check that the correct Templates entry appears:

Firefox Downloads, other downloads and XDG:

If you find that your Downloads are not being saved to the correct place, then the described solution of generating the file .config/user-dirs.dirs may solve this download problem also.

If you want browser downloads saved somewhere else in Xfce, then you might try editing the line XDG_DOWNLOAD_DIR shown in the screenshot above.

Notes and Further Reading:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

sync off - over and out android

Having listened to the mantra of "Always on", some folks with smartphones are beginning to suggest organised time outs.

Sony Android phones come with a 'Timed Saver' feature which will switch off all data between midnight and 7am, when enabled.

This application is not in the main android system setting, but rather appears as an Application icon, on Xperia android phones (as shown below)

Break away from "Always On" - 3 options:

  • Airplane mode
  • Disable Sync
  • Some sort of power save app
The most obvious way of taking time out from a smartphone is just to flick into 'Airplane mode'

Stating the obvious for clarity - 'Airplane mode' is designed to disable all data traffic. Some might consider this a bit drastic, but if it is important, then communication can usually find another way.

The second option is to disable sync. When you disable sync for an account on your Android phone, it prevents background fetching, and you then manually press 'refresh' to fetch.

The third option is a power saving app, which is more applicable for folks who can say yes to any of these symptoms:
  • My phone pings during night, and I wonder what email that is
  • I was restless at 2am and so I gave up and browsed google play for the latest games.
  • The server configuration changes I made must have gone okay, but at 3am and 5am I couldn't help but check Nagios from my phone.

Power saving apps - know what you are doing:

There are some folks out there who did not know that they have a power saving app (advanced search required) or do not understand how to switch it on and off.

Do take the time to understand your power saving app, and read the help:

Some suggestion / links if your phone did not come preinstalled with a power saver app:

...there are many more if you want to shop around.

If you have a HTC Evo, then you probably already have a power saving app preinstalled, but getting to the options is far from straightforward. (See link above)