Eee 701 Planetoid

2012/01/26

My Eee Desktop – January 2012

Filed under: Desktops — Tags: , , , — Tim @ 21:56

I wasn’t sure whether I would post a screenshot for this month, as I thought it most likely that I’d be using a setup more or less unchanged from my second screenshot in October last year (“TheGrid” theme). However, it didn’t quite turn out that way…

Screenshot of my netbook's desktop

My Eee Desktop - January 2012

If you’ve read the last post I wrote on this blog, you will be aware that I am eagerly awaiting the launch of the Raspberry Pi (an ultra-low-cost computer on a circuit board the size of a credit card, running on an ARM processor). To cut a long story short, I’m already thinking of software I could run under Linux on the machine, and the Fluxbox window manager (which I use on my Eee 701) is one possibility I have been considering.

With the above in mind, I thought I would try creating a Fluxbox “style” (theme) based on the Raspberry Pi logo and its colours. Not only would the theme aim to reflect this identity, but I wanted a Fluxbox style which would be clear, minimalist and uncluttered, and be usable and readable at a wide selection of screen resolutions (up to and including full HD (1920×1280), which the “RasPi” is apparently more than capable of).

This month’s “My Eee Desktop” shows where I have reached with the Raspberry Pi style. I created the wallpaper image in Inkscape—the RasPi logo has been made available as an SVG vector image, so I took this and placed it over a gradient-filled circle (to give the “halo” effect) on a black background.

The wallpaper image is set at 800×480 resolution (that of the Eee 701), but if a higher resolution is used, the image is centred on the screen and the background around it is also black, so the style is very adaptable. As I would envisage connecting a RasPi to an HD TV, I chose black as the most suitable background colour for looking at over a lengthy period (just in case!). The menu and window fonts are set a little larger than normal for my Fluxbox styles, to make them more readable at high resolutions, whilst still not taking up too much space on an 800×480 display.

The only other point to note (particularly for longer-term readers here), is the addition of a GKrellM plugin to add an analogue clock. This takes up slightly less vertical space than a WindowMaker dockapp (as do most of GKrellM’s “monitors”), which on a screen with only 480 vertical rows of pixels, makes plenty of difference!

That’s all for this month—see you in February with another desktop 🙂

2011/12/01

My Eee Desktop – December 2011

Filed under: Desktops — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 17:39

With the festive season bearing down on us like Santa and his reindeer in a round-the-world race, and Christmas is ho-ho-hoving into view [that’s enough awful metaphors and puns, Tim – Ed.], it’s time to wheel out my suitably seasonal Eee desktop screenshot for December 2011:

Desktop screenshot with Christmas theme

My Eee Desktop - December 2011

Actually, I’m already thinking about revamping this setup, at least with regard to the wallpaper, which I feel is a bit “busy” (especially as Conky is being displayed on top of it). Otherwise, I think it captures the mood of this time of year pretty well…

You may have noticed that Cairo Composite Manager is still running—I was wondering recently if it was possible to run Conky, xsnow and Cairo at the same time, but I haven’t found a way at time of writing, so I’ve decided to leave xsnow on the sidelines for the moment.

Not much else to report here, except to explain the white square in the “slit” on the right-hand side: it’s supposed to be the XMMS spectrum analyser dockapp, but for some reason it didn’t show up in this screenshot.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this month’s My Eee Desktop, and if that’s not enough festive fun for you, try checking out  the December 2009 and December 2010 entries 🙂

2011/11/02

Adding visual effects to Fluxbox with Cairo Composite Manager

Filed under: Desktops, Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 17:30

(or “My Eee Desktop – November 2011” 🙂 )

The other day, I was skimming through the Wikipedia article on the Fluxbox window manager (which I use on my Eee), and a sentence which I hadn’t spotted before, caught my eye:

Effects managers such as xcompmgr, cairo-compmgr and transset-df (deprecated) can add true transparency to desktop elements and windows.

In (relatively) plain English, it seemed to be saying: if you use Fluxbox, you can now add desktop “eye candy” such as translucent windows, fades, slides, etc. to your slimline desktop.

This came as a surprise to me. I’d always believed that you couldn’t add “compositing” effects to Fluxbox, because the leading compositing effects managers like Compiz used their own window manager—in other words, if you want the whizz-bang visuals, it was “bye-bye Fluxbox”.

In fact, there is a composite manager which works with the window manager of your choice (including Fluxbox): Cairo Composite Manager.

The article on Cairo in the Arch Linux Wiki tells you how simple it is to install from the Arch community package repository (sudo pacman -S cairo-compmgr), and from there you can test it by running cairo-compmgr & from the terminal. If you like what you see, and want the manager to start with your X session, you just add cairo-compmgr & to your .xinitrc file.

Image of Fluxbox desktop with Cairo Composite Manager

Fluxbox desktop with cairo-compmgr (note the transparent terminal window)

For me, it really was as simple as that, and here is the obligatory screenshot to prove it 🙂 The main indicator that cairo-compmgr is running, is the truly-translucent XFCE Terminal window in the middle—I could’ve experimented a bit more with the translucency effects, but at present I haven’t had time to do much more than use the default settings. I’d like to see if the Fluxbox “slit” (dock) can exhibit true transparency/translucency, and I’ll probably try that out when I put together the December (Christmas) instalment of “My Eee Desktop”. (Yes, that time is coming around again…)

I would’ve liked to add a video as well, to show off some of the animated desktop effects, but am not sure that the screen-capture solutions available would display them to best effect. I’d probably end up pointing a camcorder at the Eee’s screen!

Oh, and in case anyone wondered: the only different addition to the desktop since last month aside from Cairo, is the XMMS Spectrum analyzer dockapp I found in the AUR. It installs as an XMMS plugin, and I thought it might make a change to add this to the slit this time around.

One small tweak I had to make as a result of Cairo’s arrival, was to my Conky setup file (.conkyrc). When I activated Cairo, my Conky display disappeared—a quick Google revealed that this was basically Cairo and Conky disagreeing about which program could draw to the root window. This is similar to how Conky works with the GNOME desktop (Nautilus grabs the root desktop for itself), so the solution is to add some lines like this to your .conkyrc:

own_window yes
own_window_type desktop
own_window_transparent yes

As ever, you may have to experiment if you try this for yourself, but it fixed the Conky issue for me.

I haven’t noticed Cairo making the Eee work much harder, although clearly there will be an impact on the system (even if it is a small one). Until (if?) I notice anything untoward, I’m content to keep this app running, simply because it adds some polish to an already lean and functional desktop—I’ll be sure to come back here and update you, should this change.

In the meantime, if you’re running a lightweight desktop or window manager, but still crave some of that composited eye-candy goodness, you may find Cairo Composite Manager fits the bill nicely.

2011/10/12

Automounting removable drives with devmon

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , , , — Tim @ 18:46

One of the early issues I grappled with when I installed Arch Linux on my Eee, was that removable drives were not mounted automatically when connected—i.e. it was not a case of “plug and play”.

This isn’t a case of “oh, Linux can’t do that”—distributions like Ubuntu come ready to automount removable drives “out of the box”. This behaviour is standard with desktop environments such as GNOME or KDE (which usually take care of it themselves), but as you’ll know if you’ve been reading here for a bit, my Eee 701 isn’t running a DE, but “simply” the Fluxbox window manager (mostly for the sake of speed).

Also, the “keep it simple” philosophy of Arch Linux, doesn’t tend to add features “by default” because not all users will want or need them. If you want your Arch system to include a given feature, most likely the maintainers and community have provided the means (applications and guidance) to add it, but it’s down to the user to do the “donkey work” from there.

I certainly wanted to have automounting enabled on my Eee, so after some Googling and Arch wiki/forum-ing I found a udev rule which looked as if it would fit the bill. And so it did… within limitations. The rule would create a mountpoint directory within /media/, and mount the drive contents there; however, it wouldn’t “clean up” after itself, leaving the mountpoint directory within /media/ once the drive was umounted. Also, the rule usually failed to mount some drive volumes, and most annoyingly, wouldn’t mount the disc inside my USB CD/DVD drive.

This last is what led me to the Arch wiki page on udev, which suggested using a “udev wrapper script” (these have their own wiki page) for handling optical drives. The wrapper page in turn put forward a few candidates, of which devmon came at the top of the list. It’s in the AUR rather than the main Arch repositories, but no matter—I built the package and installed devmon as per the instructions on its home page. I also moved the “old” udev rule to another location where it couldn’t be accessed by udev itself, just in case it might disagree with the newcomer.

In short: how I wish I’d found devmon earlier.

So far, it has handled the mounting of almost every device I have “thrown” at it, including my optical drive. I have assigned a Fluxbox key combination (Ctrl-Alt-J) to devmon‘s command for umounting and ejecting an optical disc, though I’d prefer to find out how to have devmon eject the disc on receiving an umount from elsewhere (e.g. the wmvolman dockapp, which doesn’t even display the mounted optical disc). The script also removes the device’s mountpoint upon umounting, which I definitely appreciate.

The only “drive” that devmon has yet to work with, is the “mass memory” on my Nokia N8, which the old udev rule couldn’t handle either. I suspect this is something to do with the device number that shows up when the phone is connected to the Eee in “mass storage” mode (/dev/sdX rather than /dev/sdX1), but this is something I have to look into further when I can be bothered 🙂 It’s not the fault of devmon, as far as I can see, as the udev rule also exhibited the same issue. (Update (2011/10/17): I have a lead on this—see the update below…)

In summary: if you’re assembling a Linux system without GNOME or KDE (and certainly if you want to use a “light” window manager like Fluxbox or Openbox), but you would still like the system to automount removable drives, you owe it to yourself at least to give devmon a try.

Update (2011/10/17):

I received an email from the developer of devmon, who judging by the script’s home page, is often on hand to help users who run into issues. Between us, we confirmed my suspicions that devmon isn’t the source of the N8 mounting problem—it looks to be a bug in udisks, which devmon interacts with.

Just like to point out I haven’t had any other issues with the script, and am grateful to “IgnorantGuru” for helping to clear that up 🙂

2011/10/03

My Eee Desktop – October 2011

Filed under: Desktops, Software — Tags: , , — Tim @ 12:20

For this month’s “My Eee Desktop”, I’ve a special treat for you: not one, but two screenshots, both taken within the last two weeks…

Screenshot of desktop

My Eee Desktop - October 2011 (modified WinSpace)

Here is the first, and let’s start with the “theme”: it’s a modified version of the Windows 95-influenced “WinSpace”, one of a set of themes created for Fluxbox’s predecessor Blackbox. I needed to make a few adjustments, mainly to the fonts (to adapt to the Eee’s 800×480 screen), but also to make the window borders match the background colour for the main feature…

The apps in the “slit” on the right-hand side here, have changed quite a bit even since the last desktop shot from a few weeks ago. Two apps have remained (wmdrawer at the top, with the Arch Linux logo, and wmvolman (the one with the disk icon)), but the other dockapps have “gone on holiday”, to be replaced by two others.

In the bottom-right is wmbinclock, a binary clock display (check out the app’s home page to find out how to tell the time from it). This app is not even in the Arch User Repository (AUR), so I had to compile it from the source code—still, it scores me a few points on the “geek scale”…

Sandwiched inbetween the dockapps, is another old fave: the venerable GKrellM system monitor, here using the “Hardware” “skin”. The slit has “pseudo-transparency” switched on, mainly to show off the GKrellM design.

Call the above the cartoon before the main feature…

Screenshot image of "TheGrid" Fluxbox theme

My Eee Desktop - October 2011 (TheGrid)

Here is my current desktop setup, which I can see myself sticking with for a while. I have to say I’m quite pleased with my latest Fluxbox theme here, which I modified heavily from an earlier one of mine. I was going for a “TRON”-influenced look—all cyan-neon text and lines—and call this theme “TheGrid”. The background isn’t an image, but a gradient-fill defined in the theme file—the computer world in the original “TRON” always seemed to have that “just before dawn” look, which inspired my choice of background.

The “slit” has been reworked again, and I’ve added a couple of new monitors to the GKrellM stack (still experimenting on that front; since this shot was taken, I’ve replaced the CPU graph with a “photo frame” plugin). The GKrellM “skin” is called “CoplandOS”, and I think it blends quite well with the rest of the theme. Note the XMMS plugin in the GKrellM stack—that’s quite handy, and can almost replace the main XMMS interface (but for me, not quite).

Only two dockapps remain: wmdrawer at the top (with a new Arch Linux logo image for the “button”—I have also activated the drawer in this shot), and wmvolman at the bottom (I haven’t yet found a GKrellM plugin which does the same job with automounted volumes).

I may not present a desktop post next month, but if not, I’ll treat you to something suitably festive for December 🙂

2011/09/06

My Eee Desktop – September 2011

Filed under: Desktops, Software — Tags: , , , — Tim @ 19:23

I’m back from my late summer break, and as autumn hoves into view, it feels like time to share my current Eee desktop:

Desktop screenshot image

My Eee Desktop - September 2011

You can see from the screenshot, that I have a new Fluxbox theme which I have knocked together: I call it “Pugin“, after the Victorian “Gothic Revival” designer perhaps best known for the interiors of the Houses of Parliament in London. I created the tiled wallpaper at BgPatterns, using the wine-red and deep gold colours which are often associated with Pugin’s designs, and also applied these to the various Fluxbox window decorations (apologies for forgetting to include the Fluxbox menu in this shot).
(A word of caution about BgPatterns: it’s highly addictive, especially if you have a penchant for tiled desktop patterns, so I wouldn’t visit if you don’t have time to kill 😉 )

The main apps visible are “top” (running in XFCE Terminal), XMMS and xfontsel. For the “dockapps” down the right-hand side, you can refer to the last desktop article to find out the purpose of most of them—Conky is also running on the root desktop, but it is mostly obscured here by the other application windows.

Until next month…

2011/08/09

Snippets (early August 2011)

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , , — Tim @ 19:33
  • First up: I was vaguely aware from the blogosphere, that Linus Torvalds had announced the “arrival” of the 3.x-series Linux kernel, but was surprised earlier this week (whilst carrying out a package update on the Eee) that Arch Linux had fed the new kernel straight into their “core” system! Thus, my modest netbook holds the distinction of being the first Linux machine in my “orbit”, to be running a 3.x kernel. Perhaps I should give it a certificate or something…
  • When my 701 was running Eeebuntu v3 (and how long ago that feels now 😉 ), I sometimes made use of Guake—a “pull-down” terminal app inspired by the command console in Quake. I wondered if there was a “lighter” program which did much the same sort of thing, and soon found Tilda, which is apparently based on the GTK+ toolkit. I’ve got it set up so that a press of the F10 key brings down the terminal—slightly less effort than the Ctrl-Alt-T I configured to start the XFCE terminal app…
  • Another Eeebuntu application I sometimes wheeled out, was the Internet phone (VoIP) program Ekiga, for making calls via Sipgate. In keeping with my trying to avoid GNOME- or KDE-orientated apps where possible, I came across Linphone, which supports both audio and video SIP calls. Linphone, like Ekiga also offers a free Linphone SIP service account, which could come in handy for testing SIP-to-SIP calling.
  • Finally, I’ve started tinkering with XChat, the venerable Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client—partly for curiosity, but also because the #archlinux channel on Freenode seems to be the best way to get quick Arch Linux support 🙂

2011/07/29

My Eee Desktop – July 2011

Filed under: Desktops, Linux — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 17:39

If you’re new to this blog, you may not have seen “My Eee Desktop”—basically, a monthly “feature” where I post a screenshot of how my 701SD’s desktop looks at that point in time. My last entry was in December 2010, but now I have started putting together a new OS setup on my Eee (based around Arch Linux), I reckoned it was time to resurrect the series 🙂

Screenshot of computer desktop

My Eee Desktop - July 2011

And here we are, with My Eee Desktop for July 2011 (just in time!). If you compare this view with the screenshot I posted about this time last week, you will probably spot quite a few differences as I’ve done a fair amount of customisation work in seven days.

The Fluxbox theme is based on “Operation” (I think), and I’m still working on my own version, which I’m calling “DeepSea”. I used this wallpaper with the old Eeebuntu setup on my 701, and always rather liked it, so resurrected it for this theme. (The wallpaper came from this forum post, as did quite a few others that I have adapted and used on my Eee.)

The dockapps on the right are the same as last week’s view, with one new addition:

  • wmdrawer—this sends out a “fly-out” menu (shown) with fourteen quick-launch icons for commonly-used apps (I added the Arch logo on the front, from this icon set by “gabriela2400”)
  • bubblemon—an animated water/bubbles/rubber duck display, which shows CPU, memory and system stats
  • wmnd—a network interface monitor
  • wmvolman (new)—displays mounted storage volumes (e.g. USB mass storage devices like flash and hard drives), and allows you to umount them
  • wmix—a volume and sound mixer control
  • wmsystemtray—acts like the system tray in GNOME/KDE; here showing wicd, Jupiter, Blueman and Dropbox (note: “wmsystemtray” is not to be confused with “wmsystray”, which kept crashing and (IMHO) didn’t “blend in” as well)
  • wmcalclock—nice time/date display

I’m currently looking at a script which should give me a system tray icon for managing removable storage (and free up an extra space in the Fluxbox “slit”, currently taken by wmvolman), so that’s one to watch for next month (or the one after that).

Anything else? Well, there’s Conky (the system stats display) on the desktop as ever—note the weather and “now playing in XMMS” sections—and a new arrival, the virtual desktop display IPager (note the orange blocks in the bottom-left).

I expect that the next instalment will show some progression from this—hope you enjoyed this month’s Desktop, and that you’ll join me for the next one 🙂

2011/07/28

The search for a lightweight music player

Filed under: Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , , — Tim @ 17:46

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Coleridge’s famous couplet from The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, sums up surprisingly well how I feel, after spending a fair amount of the last week trying to choose a lightweight alternative music player to Rhythmbox

I admit the link between a 200-year-old poem and early-21st-century software may not be immediately obvious, so let me explain 🙂 Basically, there is far from being a shortage of music player/manager apps for Linux—in fact, there are rather more than I can name off the top of my head—but some are too “weighty” for my needs, and many of the “lighter” players seem to lack features I would like to see.

Truth be told, I am moving away somewhat reluctantly from Rhythmbox on my Eee—it’s probably my favourite music-management app on any platform, and I’ll continue to use it on other Linux machines if they have the power. However, it doesn’t really suit the Arch system I’m putting together for the 701—it’s based on GNOME (which I’m trying to avoid where I can), and takes 15-20 seconds to load—so I’d ideally like to find a music player app with a bit less “lard”!

I won’t bore you with the details, but I tried a few “lightweight” apps, and the nearest I came to finding something “in the ballpark”, was the not-especially-well-known (and intriguingly-named) Pragha. A fork of another now-abandoned music player/manager project, Consonance, Pragha is in Arch’s “community” package repository (i.e. you can install it straight from pacman without needing to build your own package).

Pragha offers some of the look/feel of music managers like Rhythmbox, and I could get on with the program if I really wanted to. However, whilst reasonably stable, Pragha feels like an early beta, with quite a few features absent that I really miss from Rhythmbox—a particular bugbear, is that Pragha’s “sort by artist and album” view seems to ignore the “track number” in the ID3 information of a music file, meaning that tracks aren’t listed in correct order in albums.

Screenshot of XMMS

XMMS (with Conky stats display behind)

I like Pragha—as much for its potential as its current state—so I’ll be keeping the app on the system for future reference. For the moment, though, I am falling back on an “old friend”: XMMS, the veteran music-player app which quite a few people probably think of as “WinAmp for X”.

Yes, XMMS has been around for “donkeys’ years”, and I don’t think it is being developed very actively these days, but XMMS “just works”; it’s lean and not especially demanding on system resources; I rather like its “retro” looks; and there are plenty of plugins, “hacks” and scripts people have put together to extend it. (You may notice in the screenshot, there’s a “now playing in XMMS” section of my Conky stats display—you won’t believe how much hacking of other people’s scripts and add-ons that took, but it’s a good story for another day 🙂 )

Screenshot of wmxmms

wmxmms

There’s even a “remote control” dockapp, “wmxmms”, which fits into the Fluxbox “slit” (dock)—it’s so old that I couldn’t find it in the Arch Linux AUR, so had to compile it myself from source—but it works, as long as you can find a mouse sensitive enough to point over the tiny controls! (I wonder if there’s an XMMS GKrellM plugin…)

Given that playing and managing my music collection is one of the more frequent tasks I put my Eee to, I doubt this is the last I’ll be writing on the subject. Whilst XMMS “does the job” and doesn’t make a fuss while it’s at it, I’d like to try a few more music player/managers—Quod Libet looks interesting, for one—and of course, if you have any suggestions for suitable apps (preferably not GNOME- or KDE-based, but I don’t mind earlier versions of GTK), please comment here!

2009/12/21

My Eee Desktop – December 2009

Filed under: Desktops — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 21:54

The weeks have rolled around, and it’s time to show you my 701’s desktop for December 2009, which appropriately enough has a distinctly ‘Christmassy’ theme:

Screenshot of 'Festive' Fluxbox theme

A Christmassy style for Fluxbox: 'Festive'

This is a Fluxbox ‘style’—the FB terminology for a ‘theme’—which I created myself, called “Festive”. I can’t remember where I picked up the wallpaper, but I have a vague recollection it may have hailed from Jeffrey Zeldman’s Daily Report blog (I’ll update this entry if I find out). The typeface used for the menus, toolbars, etc. is Century Schoolbook, which I rather like for this particular desktop style—stylish and a little “olde wurlde”, whilst still remaining legible.

As with last month’s desktop, the system stats on the desktop (top-left) are provided by Conky, and the “dockapps” haven’t changed much, with the exception of wmfishtime being replaced by wmcalclock (just for a change).

Next month’s “My Eee Desktop” might look a bit different, as I hope by then that I may have found a replacement Linux distribution for the Asus-tweaked Xandros-based Linux which came with my 701. I think it’s likely to be Eeebuntu, but I’m hoping that whatever I install, I will be able to use Fluxbox as the window manager, as I really like its ‘minimalist’ look and feel, and think it works very well on the 701’s modest hardware.

But that is for another week, as Christmas will be here in a few days. I may drop by here once or twice before the end of the year, but whether I manage it or not: have a very happy Christmas (or however else you might celebrate this time of the year), and I hope you enjoy whatever Santa happens to bring in that unfeasibly large sack in his flying sleigh 😉

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