Monday, 8 August 2022

How To Bring Back The "Leave" Option in the KDE Desktop Right Click Menu

 About a month or so ago, a KDE update removed the "Leave" option in the right click menu on the desktop for what I see as no sensible reason. It does not exactly take up much space! I have years of muscle memory of using it and it took me a little time Googling with the right search terms to find a solution, so I thought I would make a little post so more people know how to get it back. 


Right click the desktop... 



Choose "Configure Desktop and Wallpaper Settings"....

Select Mouse Options and click the configure button, 



...then click the Leave checkbox and you're done! I suppose it's simple when you know how, but still, it's just baffling as to why it was removed, anyway thanks to Steve Bolduc's Reddit post for the video of the solution, but some people, including myself, find it easier to follow written instructions with images.






Thursday, 28 July 2022

Old But Gold: Lenovo Thinkpad T430s

I was getting tired of using the battered old Dell Latitude E6500 as my main laptop, and my Thinkpad X201 needs the fan replacing, so that's out of action, so I needed another laptop to use. Thankfully I managed to pick up a very tidy Lenovo Thinkpad T430s for a good price. It's in excellent condition for its age. It has a nice bright screen with no marks on it, an apparently not very old battery, and a replacement power supply, though I do have a Lenovo one that fits from my oldest dead Thinkpad. It has a very durable magnesium alloy and carbon-reinforced plastic construction. The screen bezels might be considered chunky but it helps with the durability. The T430 has a quad core i5-3320M CPU, 8GB RAM, and Intel HD 4000 graphics, 2 USB3 ports, one USB2 port, SD card reader, Mini Displayport, Gigabit Ethernet, a DVD-RW drive and came with a 500GB hard drive with Windows 10 installed, but that was the first thing to be ditched. 


Getting the Thinkpad up and running with Linux was as simple as swapping out the 500GB hard drive for the SSD from my old Thinkpad X201. It's just a case of removing the X201's little caddy and rubber mounts and putting the rubber mounts of the T430s on. The DVD drive can be replaced with an Ultrabay battery or second SSD/hard drive.


Once installed, the outer panel screwed back on, KDE Neon booted up and was ready to use. I then installed all the updates it had missed while being offline. 



The T430 has a nice bright screen and a great keyboard to type on with its island keys. It's also the first laptop I have had with a back-lit keyboard (Fn key + Space to turn it on and off). The textured touchpad takes a little getting used to, though I do tend to prefer a mouse on older laptops. It supports multi-touch gestures like pinch to zoom, in Linux you press Control while pinching. The keyboard layout is a little different to my older Thinkpads, and my Dell Latitude, with a smaller rectangular Return key, which also takes a bit of getting used to. Of course being a Thinkpad has the Track Point, or Nipple Mouse as I like to call it, but I always disable it, I have never got the hang of using them.

Thinkpads are well known for being Linux-friendly (though I am not sure about the latest ones), so it's no surprise that everything works out the box - shortcut keys, graphics etc. The keyboard layout was not set right on the first boot, likely because I had swapped the drive from another machine, but it's easy to change that in KDE settings, to generic US layout. Even the grainy built-in 720P 1.3MP webcam works out the box, I installed kamoso to test it out, which is in the 'buntu repos. Bluetooth also works perfectly out of the box with KDE.

I got just a little over 2 hours battery life with heavy usage - Facebook, lots of YouTube video playing - with the screen at 50% brightness. That's not bad for an old battery, though when new it would have lasted around 5 hours. The only slight oddity is sometimes when the battery is really low, and you plug the charger in, KDE sometimes reports that it is not charging, when it actually is, eventually after a moment or two it shows as charging. The optical bay can be replaced with an Ultrabay battery that apparently adds around 3 hours of usage.

If you find that under heavy usage the temperature go up to 75°C, it may help to place the T430 on a flat hard surface, rather than directly on top of your lap, I find it goes back to around 40 to 50°C depending on usage. It may also be worth cleaning out the fan too. It's got a bit warm a few times with YouTube, not helped by the hot weather at the moment. I already had Thinkfan installed to control fan speeds, and the config is very similar to the X201, there's a how to here to set it up. 

Another slightly annoying thing I have discovered is that there's an admin BIOS password on this T430s, which is always a hazard when buying secondhand laptops, you can get in without entering a password but you won't be able to change certain settings. Without the admin password you cannot change anything in the "Security" section of the BIOS apart from you can add a hard disk password. and you cannot change anything in the "Startup" section apart from Boot Mode (Quick or Diagnostics). If you need to choose a boot device though you can press F12 when starting up and choose what you want. The one thing I want to change at some point is enabling hardware virtualisation (Intel VT). There are a few workarounds as detailed here, but you should be very careful to follow them correctly for fear of bricking the laptop. Right now I really cannot be bothered to go through all that hassle until I absolutely have to.   


Apart from the odd minor niggle, I am pretty happy with this old Thinkpad. It's amazing how compact and fairly lightweight the T430s is (compared to a beast like my Latitude E6500), but still has a decent number of ports and room for a DVD bay too. And I prefer the size of the 14 inch screen on this to the 12.1 inch of the X201, that's a bit too small for my liking. 14 inch is the sweet spot for me. I love how snappy this laptop feels with KDE Neon, compared with my old Latitude E6500 and even my Chromebook. It's very quick to boot and I like how when it dims the screen after I have left it for a bit, it also turns the keyboard back-light off until I start using it again. The trackpad beneath the spill-resistant keyboard could be a bit better, but it's often that way on older laptops, I've been spoilt by the excellent trackpad on my Acer Chromebook 14. The T430s keyboard is superb to type on though. The T430s is a pretty sturdy laptop, and pretty quick considering it was released back in June 2012, 10 years ago at the time of writing, and I hope it will last me a few more years without going wrong, but only time will tell. 




Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Goodbye Endeavour Linux, Hello Manjaro!

Goodbye Endeavour!

After a surprisingly long stint of usage with Endeavour Linux on my Dell Latitude E6500, one night the streaming app, the one I specifically installed Endeavour for, Mkchromecast, stopped working for no obvious reason. It's an old app that hasn't been updated since 2017 so I suppose it's easily broken if something else changes. Also I was getting tired of the distro for a few other things, and felt it getting a little sluggish.  Anyway, I went looking for other Arch-based distros, since mkchromecast only seems to work on them, it doesn't work properly on my favourite Linux flavour, KDE Neon, which is Ubuntu based. I was looking at easy to install and use variants of Arch, since I just wanted to quickly get the next distro installed and use it as quickly as possible. 

Hello Manjaro!

I have tried Manjaro before but it was a long time ago, a long time before KDE 5 came out, so it was an opportunity to see if it has improved since then. Naturally I chose the KDE variant, which is currently on version 5.24.6, though it also comes in Gnome and XFCE official flavours. There are also community flavours including Budgie and Cinnamon desktops. I used Balena Etcher to pop the KDE edition onto a USB stick for installation. The Manjaro installer is pretty neat apart from one thing, it does not have an easy way to make a dual partition setup, with a separate /home partition. I tried to create it manually but when I clicked next it came up with some warning about creating an 8MB blank boot partition for GPT, in the end I gave up and stuck with a single partition. 

Apart from that slight annoyance, the install went smoothly, and I was greeted by a Manjaro-ised KDE desktop with it's green accents and icons, which I am really not keen on. Of course the great thing about KDE is it's so customisable. I switched the theme to Breeze Dark and installed Papirus icons from the handy Pamac graphical package manager that comes with Manjaro. 


It's also nice that my favourite terminal app, Yakuake (a Quake style terminal emulator) was already installed, (all i had to do was add it to Autostart) as was VLC. I then installed all my favourite tools, including GIMP, K3B, Clementine music player, qbittorrent, Soundkonverter, Filezilla and Latte Dock. Manjaro has some neat touches like in the terminal it shows how long a task took to complete on the bottom right-hand side. 


Installing Chrome on Arch-based distros is still a bit of a faff, there are a couple of different ways, both requiring copy and pasting a bunch of commands, I used this howto here. Installing Dropbox also required a little tinkering too, similar to Endeavour, and I used this installation tutorialNext up I installed Mkchromecast (with yay -S mkchromecast) and then eventually realised it will not work without also installing python-pychromecast and now it works a treat, much to my relief.

There is one elephant in the room though, Manjaro's track record for security is not great, and they keep back packages in the distro for two weeks, which can cause issues with the very up to date packages in AUR. So far I haven't had any serious issues, and everything seems to be running fine so far, but we'll see! I am open to suggestions of other distros that Mkchromecast will run on. My Dell Latitude E6500 is basically a dedicated player/server casting to a bunch of Chromecasts, main laptop duties have gone to my newly acquired Lenovo Thinkpad T430s.




  

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Linuxiversary… Two Years With Linux Mint

Today marks two years of me using Linux full time, this time last year I was still getting used to the switch from a life time of using a Mac (over 20 years to be more precise), but a further twelve months on and I am feeling much more at home.

I have settled in to the operating system – Linux Mint 20.3 Cinnamon at present – and while I used a lot of open source and cross platform apps prior to moving to Linux I have really embraced them and any additional ‘non Apple’ alternatives I needed. I even find myself loading up the Terminal and typing in commands without that dreaded fear of messing something up.

Don’t get me wrong I am no Linux genius, but my friend, fellow Linux user and owner of this blog will attest that I have asked far less questions in the last year.

I have upgraded my laptop once again since my last article going from my Lenovo ThinkPad X201 to a Dell Latitude E7250, the jump in specs is superb and a noticeable difference in performance, but you would expect that going from a second gen i5 to a fifth gen i5.

Never have I felt so comfortable using an operating system as I do in Linux Mint. I have dabbled with it over the years either dual booting alongside Mac OS or virtually using VirtualBox, so I wasn’t a complete novice when I ditched the entire Apple world and set off using Linux full time.

Linux has come a long way over the years and it isn’t as scary or different – it is very user friendly and so far I haven’t had any hardware that won’t work on it – which was always a problem in the past. Even most software – except major developers like Adobe – are pushing the Linux platform.

So happy Linuxiversary to me – and here's to many more years of enjoyable computing.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Portable Dreams... YouTube Channel For Older Portable & Handheld Gaming

I have had a YouTube channel for over a decade and it has gone through various topics and changes, but the last 18 months I have revamped it and honed in on my passion for portable and handheld gaming. The biggest change is a recent rename to ‘Portable Dreams’ to give it a bit of branding.


I am a big fan and a collector of Nintendo DS consoles, with the majority of my videos focusing on these wonderful Nintendo portables – which is my main passion – but I do also talk about the Sony PSP, Sony PS Vita and even the NeoGeo Pocket range.

I have always been a fan of handheld games machines. Growing up I immersed myself in my GameBoy – it was just mine and I could shut the world out. That is what I like about portable consoles, there is no sharing. It might sound selfish but it was a way of escaping.

I carried this through into the Nintendo DS era and just loved them. I love older consoles, I’m not really into the latest systems. I wouldn’t class myself as a retro fan either – although I do play a lot of GameBoy and GameBoy Color games - just a fan of older consoles. The Nintendo DS hasn’t reached retro stage just yet.

So my channel covers console reviews, fixes to common issues, mods, tips, emulation, general talk, game reviews and homebrew.


So if you share an interest, are just curious or want to support a growing channel, then check out Portable Dreams.


Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Monday, 9 May 2022

HARDWARE REVIEW: M-Audio M-Track Solo USB Audio Interface

I had a few issues with my old Digidesign Mbox2 FireWire input boxes (I have two) and decided that I needed an upgrade to a modern USB device, and having looked at all the options, an M-Audio M-Track Solo seemed decent bang-per-buck at around £40. There's also the slightly larger Duo for about £10 more. 


Features:

  • 48 kHz audio resolution 
  • Mac, PC or iOS compatible
  • Single Combo Crystal Preamp with phantom power
  • Switchable Line / Instrument input for guitar or microphone. 
  • 2-channel recording - use both line inputs simultaneously  
  • Powered by USB
  • Zero-latency monitoring of the input signal through both the main RCA outputs and 1/8” headphone outputs
  • USB/Direct switch adjusts the balance between the direct inputs and playback from computer software.


Inside the box there's just the box itself, a USB cable and the instruction manual. It's bus powered so there's no need for a power supply, which makes things simple and portable. Although it says on the box it comes with various software, there's no disc in the box, you have to go to the website and download it yourself by registering the device. Sadly I cannot use any of the included apps as I only have Mac OS Lion on my old white Macbook and these require a much more recent version. It's plug 'n' play, so should be no need to install a driver on most modern operating systems.    


When I first tried the M-Track, I had it working in Amplitube (a virtual guitar amp) but then spent ages trying to work out why I wasn't getting input audio in Garageband, despite setting it as the input device in Audio Settings in Mac OS. After much faffing about, I discovered that the issue was that each time Garageband makes a new track, it chooses the first input on the box, which is the mic input, when I almost always want the guitar/line input. Now I just have to remember to select the second input in the advanced section when creating a new track. 


I also tried the M-track on Linux, specifically KDE Neon, and although Plasma desktop automatically switches the audio output to the box, it does not seem to pick the right input, so even when you choose the box as the input source, there's no way to choose between the mic and guitar/line inputs in KDE's Audio settings. I have not tried it in Windows because I don't use it for anything but a few games. It will also work with an Android phone, but I have not tried that yet, as I need to get a USB C OTG cable for my Pixel 4a. Be aware though that, since it's USB powered, it will probably chew up a fair bit of battery power. 


So far then, the M-Track Solo has performed well, there's no lag, unlike the old cheapo USB device I had before and input audio is decent quality, nice and clear, so I am quite pleased with it, it's a good device for the price and compact enough to carry in my bag if I need to.  

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

REVIEW: Stainless Steel Metal Watch Strap Wristband Bracelet For Xiaomi Mi Band 4

Having been through several of the original rubbery Mi Band straps, and a few of the third party straps, the last of which broke in several places, I decided to get a metal watch strap for my gen 4 Mi Band.


There are plenty on eBay end i chose one reasonably priced, at £9.76. It was from a UK seller though i suspect they just order from China anyway, but I digress... I chose a blue metal strap, but there are several colours to choose from, including just plain metal.



Upon arrival, opening the package, which was packed reasonably, it came with a little tool to remove the pins so you can take links out to fit smaller wrists. The tool instantly broke, being made from cheap plastic. Never mind, I went the less hassle but more costly route of going to a shop in town that does it for you, that cost £10 but that includes a bit of after care, you can go back to get it sorted again if needed within about 3 weeks. I had 3 links taken out to fit my wrist. 


The other slight issue is that the watch would not stay in place in the strap, until I used my pliers to gently bend the edge in so it gripped the watch a bit better, but it is still easy to remove to charge the device when needed. 


It's been a few weeks since I had the links taken out and have got used to it being on my wrist, as always it takes a bit of time to get used to, until I get to the stage of my wrist feeling a bit naked without it on. 


  
At first I was not sure if I would recommend this strap but as long as you are prepared to live with a slightly bent edge on one side and the slight fiddly setup, it's decent enough, and it was cheap to buy, even after spending a bit of money getting it fitted, though if you have the right tool you could probably do that yourself anyway.