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.

So you want to run Ubuntu……….

I have a 2.15 gHz machine, which is substantially slower than a gaming machine, but fits my lifestyle perfectly, especially since I run an operating system that does not consistently hog all of my available RAM. I started a company in Portland called Evangelinux dealing with this topic, which gave me the intestinal fortitude to actually help people when they asked for it. I had to get over my shyness when it came to linux, because I realized something very important. If they were a basic desktop user, I knew more than them. Always. It’s only when you get into server administration and networking protocols that I am still watching videos like a fiend. I want to get all I can out of command-line tools, but for people who just want a basic setup that will just flat work, here is my advice.

The install for Ubuntu is fairly explanatory. Since you, presumably, are a total n00b (newbie), just let the installation program allocate your hard drive. I’m going to start with a fresh Ubuntu installation and go from there. These are the things I do to set up a perfect desktop.

Just fyi, sudo means “install as administrator.” When asked for the password, use the Administrator password you created in the setup process.

  • Unity does not place an icon for the terminal in the launcher. Click the Ubuntu button, type “term” and press enter. When the terminal starts, it will be listed in your open programs on the left-hand dock. Right-click the icon and click “Pin to Dock.” Additionally, I prefer my terminal to have greetings. This is easily accomplished by doing two things:
    • Install fortune-mod and cowsay. sudo apt-get install fortune-mod cowsay
    • Edit the file that controls what happens when you open your terminal. The terminal has a built-in text editor called “nano.” If you want to use something else and you know how, please update the command accordingly. nano .bashrc
    • After nano opens the file, scroll with the down arrow until you get to the end of the file and type fortune | cowsay
    • Hit CTRL-X to save the file and the next time you open your terminal, you’ll get a cow with a surprisingly deep thought…. for a cow.
  • In the terminal, type sudo apt-get update to refresh the list of available software/updates you can download.
  • When the catalog finishes loading, type sudo apt-get dist-upgrade to update your software with all the bug fixes, security updates, and newest software since the disc .iso was released.
  • There is a long and complicated explanation why the version of Flash is outdated for Firefox. Download Chrome. Netflix won’t work without it.
  • You will also need to install audio and video codecs that are proprietary (such as MP3) in order to play them. The command is sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras.
  • Once you have these extras downloaded, you need to run this script in order to watch or backup encrypted DVDs:
    • sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh

If you are only going to search the web and play the occasional video, you’re done now. From here on out are some advanced tweaks.

I think that Ubuntu uses swap too much. It slows down the operating system by quite a bit. Here’s the fix. Open a terminal and type sudo bash -c "echo 'vm.swappiness = 10' >> /etc/sysctl.conf". Your machine will run much faster when you reboot because the “swappiness” already set (60) works great on servers… not so much for your average desktop user.

From here on out, it’s all about user preferences. I hate the default desktop that ships with Ubuntu, called Unity. Lots of people prefer Gnome Shell, but I do not. I think it is an even bigger resource hog than Unity, and I would rather have more RAM for my applications than my operating system… However, if you have a boss machine and are not worried about resource allocation, install it by typing sudo apt-get install gnome-shell gnome-shell-extensions.

Once installed, log out and change the icon next to your user name from Ubuntu to Gnome. When you log in, the extensions will not be enabled by default. Put your mouse cursor in the top left-hand corner of your monitor, and type “tweak” into the search bar. Choose Gnome Tweak Tool to customize Gnome by turning on all the extensions. In order to use them, log out and log back in.

My personal preference is Mate, pronounced Mah-te like the tea. Get the latest version by adding their software catalog to your available list of downloads by going to the terminal and typing sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ubuntu-mate-dev/ppa. Again, update the list by typing sudo apt-get update.

Now, install MATE by typing sudo apt-get install mate-desktop-environment.

When it has been installed, log out and change the desktop to MATE on your login screen. When you log in, it will look surprisingly like Windows 98…. clean and minimal, helpful when you’re running games on a slow machine. 🙂

I do change it up a bit from the default, though. Not saying what you should do, just things that I find pretty and/or helpful.

I delete the bottom MATE panel entirely because I don’t think there’s a need for two of them. Just right click on the top panel and click “Add to Panel” in order to add a list of windows to it, because that’s basically all the bottom panel is used for, anyway…. and then click on the bottom panel and click “Delete this panel.”

I also change the top panel to a color (#333333 is my favorite) and set it to 50% transparency because I think it looks prettier.

If you are a Mac person and like that kind of doc, there’s an app for that (see what I did there?).

sudo apt-get install docky

It will be in the Accessories section of your programs once its installed.

The other thing that’s kind of cool is right-clicking on the clock and looking at the preferences. You can change it from military time to AM/PM and get it to show the weather. Since I’m in DC, I use National Airport (never calling it Reagan, not gonna happen).

In closing, I also recommend adding WebUpd8 to your bookmarks bar in either Chrome or Firefox, because there you can get information on cool software. And if anything you’re using on Windows is open source, there’s probably a Linux version of it, too, so the applications will be the same no matter what operating system you use.

Keep in mind that I am operating system agnostic. Mac and Windows are fine. I just like free.

It’s my favorite price ever.

My App for That

People ask me all the time what software I use on my Linux box. Here’s a list.

  • Internet
    • Mozilla Firefox with Addons
      • DownThemAll!
      • NoScript
      • Video Download Helper
      • Ghostery
    • Mozilla Thunderbird with Addons
      • Lighting
      • Google Calendar Provider
    • Pidgin
    • FileZilla
    • Transmission
  • A/V
    • Banshee
    • VLC
    • Popcorn Time
    • Transmission
    • k3b
  • Office
    • LibreOffice (install Java for DB connections)
    • Scribus
  • Graphics
    • Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP)
    • Inkwell
  • Backup
    • Google Drive
    • Dropbox

You can find just about any of these applications for Windows and OS X as well. I hope this is helpful- I’ve been meaning to post it for, oh, three years.