My Favorite Finnish Export

If you have ever mentioned to me that you have any interest in technology, you probably know that I am a Linux nerd. My Finnish fever started in 1997, when my friends Luke and Joe asked if I wanted them to host my web site on a Linux server they’d set up (somewhat sneakily, I might add) where Joe worked. I was given shell access, and it was love… mostly because I found that typing at the command line was so much quicker than using a mouse.

When I first started using computers, I was a fan of IRC (Internet Relay Chat), but I couldn’t type very well. By the time I finished responding to someone, other people had added over a page of dialogue. I made it my mission in life to learn to type as fast as I speak. Now, I can type as fast as I think. Therefore, using a mouse to scroll through menus instead of just typing one word into the terminal seems terribly inefficient.

Depending on my mood, sometimes I’ll dual boot my computer, sometimes I won’t. It depends on two things. The first is whether I want to play Fallout 3 on my desktop. The second is whether I feel like rebooting a lot. Having a dual boot computer is like having a two story house. Everything you need, you left on the other floor.

Because Windows and OS X are so prevalent, and because I change my mind all the time about how I want to set up my computer, I thought I’d write a blog entry on the tools I use. I will include terminal commands in case you want to install them as well. Otherwise, I look forward to your comments on how what you use is better.

When I first set up my Linux box, I make the desktop pretty and useful. No matter what Linux distribution I’m using, I install MATE as my desktop (pronounced Mah-tay, like the green tea). It is the least graphics-intensive and therefore all of my processing power can go to things that matter. It’s kind of retro, actually. It will remind you of Windows 95, uncluttered and easy to navigate.

My favorite theme and icon set is Numix. I particularly like the Numix Square icons.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:numix/ppa
sudo apt update
sudo apt install numix-gtk-theme numix-icon-theme numix-icon-theme-square

For desktop wallpaper, I use a program called Variety. The images are top notch, grabbed from all over the interwebs, and there is an option to add random quotes as well. The other extremely useful feature is that you can tell it whether you prefer dark or light images. I much prefer a dark background so that my icons show up more clearly.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:peterlevi/ppa
sudo apt update
sudo apt install variety

Because I use my computer so much, I am fanatical about fonts. It’s amazing how choosing the right family can reduce eye strain. My favorite is Droid, which for some ungodly reason has been taken out of Ubuntu’s main software repositories. I just download it and install it myself. Since I’m the only user on my computer, I find the easiest way to do this is creating a folder called .fonts in my user directory and copying them over. My entire desktop is Droid Sans, except for the font on the quotes in Variety, which is Droid Serif. In the terminal and in coding HTML, I use Droid Mono.

In terms of making my desktop useful, I watch my system resources in real time with a program called “conky.” However, it is not particularly user-friendly, so I also install Conky Manager to configure it. While Conky Manager has been taken out of the Ubuntu repositories, it’s still available. There’s all sorts of cool stuff you can do with it, but I use it to watch how much CPU and memory my top processes are using and my upload/download speed.

wget --no-check-certificate https://github.com/teejee2008/conky-manager/releases/download/v2.4/conky-manager-v2.4-amd64.run
chmod +x conky-manager-v2.4-amd64.run
sudo ./conky-manager-v2.4-amd64.run

I like using Facebook Messenger without having to stay logged into Facebook. I have an application that sits in my system tray that is only for messaging, and doesn’t do desktop notifications unless someone is writing specifically to me. It’s handy that my desktop isn’t blowing up all day (like my phone) and I don’t have to type on a touch screen or open a browser to respond. It’s called Caprine, and it has basically replaced text messaging for me because unlike SMS, I can use Facebook Messenger on any of my devices (I use encrypted e-mail for anything that should stay private). For instance, I don’t like it when people use SMS to send me web links, because then I have to retype the URL in my browser if I want to look at it on anything bigger than my phone’s screen.

For screenshots, there’s an amazing tool called Shutter. It will take a picture of anything, from an area you select to the entire desktop. It also has a built-in editor for quick jobs like cropping when you don’t get the aspect ratio right.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:linuxuprising/shutter
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt install shutter

For big photo editing jobs, I use the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, known by its unfortunate acronym. It can do everything that Adobe PhotoShop can and it’s free. For things like logos, I also install all the fonts in the Ubuntu software repository by Ray Larabie of Typodermic Fonts. Note that if you are using Linux Mint, GIMP comes standard, but not the latest version. The last version is also available in the Ubuntu repository, but I prefer the next iteration.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:otto-kesselgulasch/gimp
sudo apt update
sudo apt install gimp larabie*

Because most of my work is on the web, I generally don’t need word processors, spreadsheets, etc…. and I am not sure I’ve ever made a presentation. People do send me documents and such, though, so I enjoy LibreOffice. Again, it comes standard on most Ubuntu versions and derivatives, but you’ll need the Launchpad repository to get the most up-to-date version.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:libreoffice/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt install libreoffice

Occasionally, people will send me complicated Microsoft Word documents in terms of formatting, and for that, I use Wine to be able to install Windows applications. Wine doesn’t work with every Windows program available, but it does work very well for the three I use the most, which are Office 2010, Picasa, and Notepad++. If you’re not sure whether an application you need will run in Wine, check the Application Compatibility Database.

sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386
wget -nc https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/winehq.key
sudo apt-key add winehq.key
sudo apt-add-repository 'deb https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/ubuntu/ bionic main'
sudo apt update
sudo apt install --install-recommends winehq-stable

If you’re not using Bionic, you can change out the name in the above command. All releases are supported.

I am incredibly ADHD, and I find that it helps me work to block out all outside noises. Though I could use a browser plugin, I prefer a native application called ANoise. With community extensions installed, there are TONS of choices, from ponds to a raging fire to a dump truck idle to an oscillating fan. Right now I’m listening to what sounds like TV snow, but in the application is called “Pink.” Only one piece of advice from me to you…. if you have to pee at all, don’t listen to the thunderstorms or rivers. Kidding aside, this thing boosts my productivity to an insane degree.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:costales/anoise
sudo apt update
sudo apt install anoise

Lastly, I am a rabid Kodi fan. It’s a media center (originally an XBOX hack) and has plugins for DVD cover art, surfing YouTube, recording live television, organizing and playing your music library, telling you the weather, etc. It’s just incredible. It’s available for all devices except iPhone and iPad (well, you can install it with Tweakbox, but I don’t recommend it– TB is basically a soft jailbreak), including Raspberry Pi. This is useful information if you’re looking for a cheap computer that stays attached to your TV at all times. If you want to use it to record TV shows/movies, you’ll have to buy the TV card to do it, but those are relatively cheap at places like Amazon, Best Buy, Fry’s, etc.

sudo apt install software-properties-common
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:team-xbmc/ppa
sudo apt update
sudo apt install kodi

Keep in mind that these are the tools I use in Linux that aren’t standard knowledge (with the possible exception of Kodi). Most things are operating system agnostic, like Google Chrome, Firefox, etc. I’m pretty sure I could find a way to do everything between those two browsers, but like all geeks, I have my creature comforts. Let me know in the comments if you need help because a command doesn’t work or you’re stuck. I mean, I can’t help you, but I still want to know (kidding).

If you’ve never worked with Linux before, all it takes is some sisu- the Finnish idea of grit and perseverance while climbing a mountain or talking to a stranger. The hardest part is taking the first plunge, because it seems intimidating right up until you use it. Then you’ll see what all desktop support people see…. every OS sucks.