Category Archives: Technology

KDE Window Behavior

I usually do nothing fancy with my windows. I open them. Later, I close them. In between, I may maximize them or unmaximize them. I move them around the screen.

The two fancy things I do are: 1) “Maximize” a window onto a portion of a screen using drag magic of some kind (most Linux desktop environments have this) or b) tell a window to move itself to a different workspace.

Most, nay, all, desktop environments have a larger set of fancy window behavior control than this. The whole idea of controlling, or even having, windows in which software runs, is fundamental to the *Nix environment, and Linux is the modern and most widely used version of *Nix. But I think it is possible that KDE has the mostest and bestest of these abilities.

For example. You can right click on the top bar on the window and pick “more actions” from the context menu. This gives you “move,” “resize” and such, which you have access to in other ways. GBut it also gives you check boxes to “keep above others” or “keep below others” which is very hand when your multiple monitors start to fill up with stuff because your workflow has gone fractal.

Burrow deeper and you can get to “special window settings.” This allows you to control behavior of a particular window in very detailed and even scary ways. You should probably not do any of this, but you should have a look.

In between these two cantos of configuration, you can find “Windows Manager Settings” in the window title bar context menu. This allows you to mess with windows decorations, screen edges, desktop effects, etc. You can get to all this via other configuration tools, but this is a handy way to make adjustments on the fly while you are actually using software.

One thing you may want to adjust here is when and how windows become translucent. I never used that feature before, and having the windows become semi-translucent when being moved is the default in KDE. I think people like this because it is a quick and dirty way to see what is behind the window. I find it a bit disconcerting because I sometimes am still reading what it is a window while I’m moving it. I wonder if there is a way to make a window go translucent optionally. Probably. OK just checked, there is.

A key feature you will want to adjust is active screen edges and corners. Here you can turn on or off features that maximize, either to a full screen or a “tile,” the window you drag to an edge. This allows for quarter tiling. Right now I have the ability to mazimize a window by dragging the title area of the title bar to the top middle of a screen, to tile over the left or right half by dragging it to the appropriate side edge, or quarter-tiling the window by dragging it to a corner. It is a bit funky when I drag towards the second monitor … can get confused as to which monitor to tile the window on.

Windows. Not just for Windows any more. Never were, really.

Linux KDE Menu and Launcher Options: The Best

Buddy Hackett once said, “As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it, or leave it.”

On your computer desktop, you often have multiple choices ON your menu, choices of recent documents to open, applications to open, system features to configure, or an option to shut down your machine or log out. Gnome, Mate, and many other desktops have a default menu built in. You can change the menu by installing alternative software. In the case of Mate and some other Gnome alternatives, the desktop comes with the “new and improved” sometimes called “advanced” menu that isn’t the default, and isn’t really an option … you have to fiddle to find out about it, mess around to make it install, then when you run it, you may run into trouble if it crashes. The version Mate supplies, in my experience over several years, crashes regularly.

The KDE Linux Desktop is a step above Buddy Hackett’s home life. Out of the box, you get three distinct options for what kind of menu you like. One of the main reasons people chose different desktops is how the desktop offers the user access to applications, documents, etc. In the old days, a multi-level menu was common. Then, the fancier menus were invented, sometimes called launchers, that would typically open with a list of favorites, or commonly used, software, and possibly recent documents, and a search function to find your things. Eventually, the full fledged dashboard, or “hud,” was invented. This is where the entire screen (or one monitor’s screen if you have multiple monitors), opens up with a bunch of icons and stuff. And, as noted, which of these approaches a given desktop environment was designed around often determined which desktop people liked to use.

Do not mistake this evolutionary scenario for an ordered list of betterness. All three methods have their benefits, and different people will prefer different methods.

You can have any of these three paradigms with pretty much any standard Linux desktop environment, but you will probably have to install, tweak, and mess with software that may not be reliable.

Or, you can use KDE and have all three paradigms as easily accessible, built in, well optimized, maintained options.

The KDE Application Menu looks like this:

KDE Application Menu

You click on the dotty-looking thing on the lower left, and out pops the usual top level menu. There can be three levels in total. You get quick access to power-off or log out, recent applications or documents, and you can alternatively add recent contacts. Note that there is a search window.

The KDE Application Launcher looks like this:

Sorry, this may be a bit hard to see, but in real life it is totally readable. (Also, I think you can configure the transparency option of the various transparent things in KDE). This shows favorite software, which is configurable. Note that I’ve not configured mine, were I to do so it would have a very different list. Just start typing when this launcher is visible, and you are now searching for software. See those partly visible icons along the bottom? They are normally totally visible (my screen shot is imperfect). They are “favorite,” “application,” which is basically the multi-layered menu but a bit different, “Computer,” which is places, “history” and “Often used,” (not currently configured) as well as the non-removable button to shut down the computer. You can pick among these choices, have all, none, or a subset.

If you chose as your “menu” option the “Application Dashboard,” you get this:

This takes up the whole screen, and gives you this giant icon-rich borwsing for stuff experience. Note the menu-ish list on the right. and, you can search by just typing. This is a bit like the Ubuntu Unity dashboard.

Each of these items is very configurable. This is an example of the configuration menu for the Application Menu:

You chose which menu-launcher-thingie method you want to use by right clicking on the menu doohickie in the lower left and chosing “Alternatives.” Then you pick one and chose “switch.” Easy. Looks like this:

This is what is built in. You can do all sorts of other things to enhance your menu-application experience. I suggest you don’t. Stop fiddling with your computer and get to work. But the nice thing about KDE is that you have three highly configurable approaches to finding your applications and recent files, which are built in, maintained, and not broken. This separates KDE from most or possibly all of the other possible Linux desktops.

There are two other ways to get to your applications. One is to hit alt-F2 or the hot key or Krunner, which is a simple one line window that pops up. You can run apps from this, and do a lot of other things as well. The other is to put an icon for your commonly used software on the panel (menu bar, whatever you want to call it) which is probably along the bottom of your screen.

Me? I put the icons for the five or six most commonly used apps on the panel. I’m not sure if I want the application launcher or the multi-level menu to be the default, but I’ll only rarely use it. That makes me think I’ll go for the multi-level menu. When I use the menu to find an app, I’ll appreciate the organized traditional hierarchy to help me find it.

KDE Icon Magic (Linux)

In some Linux desktops, what you get is what you get when it comes to desktop icons.

You can usually specify if you want network locations or storage devices shown as icons, or maybe a trash can, shown, but not much else. This is where Linux looks stupid compared to at least some earlier versions of Windows and the Mac, where you can do more with icons.

But in KDE, icons are very very configurable.

(See this post for a short diatribe on why you should try KDE even if you haven’t considered it lately … I myself am a recent convert to this particular desktop.)

In KDE, you can right click on the desktop, then chose “icons” on the context menu.

You can then arrange the icons horizontally or vertically on the screen.

You can align them to the left or right of the screen.

You can sort them by the usual sorting criteria.

You can specify sizes, ranging from “tiny” to “huge.”

And you can lock them. When unlocked, you can move them around.

The images shown here are exemplars of some of these options, in various combinations.

Using KDE

I’m pretty sure the very first Linux desktop I ever used was KDE. I didn’t realize that it was actually a bit painful until I later discovered Gnome. I switched to Gnome because it worked better for me, and seemed to use fewer resources.

I never left Gnome, but Gnome left me. I won’t go into the details here, but as most Linux users know, Gnome 2.x was the high point of that particular world of Linux desktops (see THIS POST for definition of term “desktop”). With the demise of Good Gnome, mainly caused by Ubuntu (a distribution I otherwise have a great deal of respect for), I poked around among the various Gnome 2.0 desktop alternatives. Among them eventually emerged Mate, which at first, I thought was great. I used it as my main desktop for several years, until just recently.

But Mate had two major flaws. The first flaw was an attempt to simply everything. Mate never made an application to be part of its own desktop environment, but rather, it took old Gnome applications, then broke them slightly or failed to maintain them (but the Mate project developers did rename them all, to take credit for them, and add confusion). The second flaw was not fully maintaining the parts of the desktop environment it was responsible for, or fixing basic problems. For example, it has always been true that most people have a hard time grabbing window boundaries with their mouse in Mate. To fix this you have to go down into configuration files and manually change numbers. That is a bug that should have been fixed three years ago. I can only assume that the maintainers of Mate don’t have that problem on their particular desktops.

Among the main functions of a maintained desktop environment is keeping basic system configuration tools clean and neat and functional, but Mate messed that up from the beginning. I vaguely remember that an early version of Mate left off the screen saver software, so in order to have or use a screen saver, you had to install the old Gnome screensaver. The configuration and settings capacities of the Mate desktop are distributed across three or four different applications, at least one of which you have to find out about, find, install, and learn to use yourself, just to carry out simple functions. Basic categories of settings or configurations are distributed among these applications in a haphazard way. To do basic things like change the desktop appearance or mess with screen savers, etc, you have to be a power user.

But I thought Mate was still better than KDE partly because KDE was so strange. For one thing, single clicking in KDE was like double clicking everywhere else in the universe. Yes, you could reconfigure that, but it is still strange. The nature of the desktop, of panels, or widgets, of all of it, was just a little odd for me. Everything felt a little funny.

But over time, KDE did two things that Mate did not do. First, KDE continued to maintain, develop, improve, debug, make more efficient and powerful, all of its software. Instead of key software components going brain dead or not being maintained, or losing functionality like in Mate, KDE software got more powerful and more useful. At the same time, the software, and the overall desktop environment, got slicker, cleaner, more like the old Gnome 2.0 in many ways, and leaner, and less strange (single clicking is no longer a default!).

In the old days, it was probably true that Gnome used fewer of your computer’s resources than KDE. But the most current versions of Gnome and gnome like alternatives such as Mate probably use about 25% more resources than KDE out of the box. And, KDE out of the box is more configurable and overall more cool than Mate and many other desktops.

Here’s the key thing. When I first started using Linux, the feature I fell in love with was the workspace switcher, allowing one to maintain a number of virtual desktops, each with various things open on them. This is how I organize my work. It isn’t all that systematic, but in a given day, I’ll organically end up with all my stuff related to one project on one virtual desktop, and another project on a different virtual desktop. Gnome and gnome variants actually moved away from this standard. You can still have virtual desktops in current Gnome, but they are not there by default. Mate still has them by default, but I don’t trust Mate maintaners to maintain that.

But it is easily done in KDE, and with extra (mostly unnecessary) perks. In the KDE desktop environment, I can have the desktop background be different on my different virtual desktops on my desktop computer. Which sits on my desk. I can have other things be different on the different desktops. For me, this doesn’t do much because, as noted, my virtual workspaces evolve organically over time frames of hours or days. But someday, I may want a special desktop configured all special for some special purpose.

A couple of months ago, I had some problems with Mate. I uncovered an important and easily fixed bug. I told the maintainers about it. They told me to screw off. So I told them to screw off, and I started to explore other desktop environments. After realizing that they had been too rude to me, the Mate maintainers, to their credit, did fix the bug and tried to make nice. But I had already moved on. It did not take me long to get KDE up and running and configured as I like. And, I’ve hardly explored all the cool stuff it can do.

But I am exploring it now, and I’ll keep you posted.

See: KDE Icon Magic

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Things to do after installing Ubuntu Mate 18.04

1) Uninstall it. It is flawed in key ways. It will be difficult to get your Dropbox working, if you use that, installing software form .deb files is not automatic and requires hacking. There are some other problems too.

2) Check back here in a few months, see if I’ve updated with good news. Meanwhile, get back to whatever you were doing, because you don’t want to be doing this.

Added:

I tried to get info from Mate about the problems I encountered. They really provide no way to do that, so I tweeted about it referring to their handle, so they would see.

The tweeted back two responses. The first one said a combination of “nothing is broken” and “tough luck.” The second twee is shown in this screen grab:

That is a moving GIF with the boy’s eyes blinking. It is intended to mean, “tough shit, sucker!” or words to that effect.

(I provide a screen shot because I assume cooler heads will prevail, maybe, at Mate HQ, and the immature dickhead who tweeted that will be countermanded. Or maybe not. We don’t ever hear anything good about their development community. Only bad things.)

So, don’t look for an Ubuntu Mate explainer on this blog.

Preparing to install Xubuntu right now!

After you install Ubuntu 18.04 Bionic Beaver

Installing Bionic Beaver

I’m not going to tell you how to install the latest stable release of Ubuntu’s Linux desktop. For that, just go to Ubuntu and follow the appropriate instructions. I recommend using a bootable USB stick, and how you manage that depends on exactly what computer you are going to make it on. All three major operating systems have their own way of doing it. A quick google search will find simple instructions. The general pattern is to download the “DVD image” onto your hard drive, put a large enough USB stick that contains nothing of value into the slot, open the correct program, and tell it to put the DVD image on that stick in bootable form.

I do have this advice. If you ultimately want a certain desktop (such as XFCE or Mate or KDE or whatever), use the Ubuntu “flavor” for that desktop, things will go more smoothly. For this particular iteration, I decided to install the main Ubuntu desktop, and I’m going to try Gnome 3 for a while and see if I end up liking it.

Ubuntu 18.04 walks away from 32 bit support, and ditches Unity. The default desktop is Gnome, but this is the modern Gnome that is not that different from Unity. I generally prefer a Gnome 2.0 style desktop, so I usually use Mate (pronounced Matt ay).

Post Installation

Most of these suggestions are pretty standard for any install of any Linux system. Also, you can ignore much of this. Continue reading After you install Ubuntu 18.04 Bionic Beaver

I knew it, I saw this coming! (Microsoft-Linux)

Some time ago it dawned on me that a future Microsoft operating system, a version of Windows, would be based on Linux. It only makes sense. There is no better operating system to base a desktop, server, or other specialized OS on, for normal hardware. Eventually, this would dawn on Microsoft. I thought it might have a few years ago when Microsoft went from being openly aggressive against Linux and OpenSource, to being neutral, to being nice, and eventually contributing.

And now… Continue reading I knew it, I saw this coming! (Microsoft-Linux)

Girls With Dreams and Women With Cards

Natasha Ravinand is the founder of “She Dreams in Code,” a nonprofit focused on increasing opportunities for middle school girls to engage in coding. She is also the author of Girls With Dreams: Inspiring Girls to Code and Create in the New Generation. In this book, Ntasha interviews several women in engineering and technology in order to assemble a compendium of inspiration for others like her, who want to engage in technology without the usual and common obstacles.

Natasha Ravinand is a Junior at Northwood High School (Irvine, CA). She is considered to be one of the top high schoolers in the coding world. Hello world. @natasharavinand
Here’s two facts you need to know. 1) Only 25% of the adults engaged in science and technology (STEM) are women. 2) This is a HUGE percentage compared to what it was only a few years ago. So, we are in a bad place, but also, we are moving quickly out of that place. Continue reading Girls With Dreams and Women With Cards

A New Robot For Littler Kids

The typical robot these days (such as the Makeblock DIY mBot and the Tomo) hooks up to an android or iOS device, via blue tooth, and allows for programming using a scratch-like programming language.

The smaller of the two kits, normally about $60 but under $50 last time I looked.
For somewhat younger kids, and for kids who do not happen to have a tablet they are allowed to use because they drool on it and stuff, there is an alternative that is on one hand a little harder to code but on the other hand more intuitive and very creative. I speak of the Botley Coding Robot, which comes in two styles: 1) Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot Activity Set, 77 Pieces and Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot, 45 Pieces. (I tested the latter, but they are the same in the parts that matter). Continue reading A New Robot For Littler Kids