Touchpad problems … SOLVED! :)

I am thrilled! I am excited! I am happy! For the past few days I had been suffering a real bad case of “touchpad problems.” Let me explain.

So, a couple of days ago I switched on an old laptop and updated it to the latest Xubuntu 13.10. Till then I had been using a much smaller laptop with a very tiny, 11.6 inch screen. But, about a few weeks back I realized that I was done with those tiny-screens and really needed to get back to a larger screen on which to work. You see those tiny 10, 11 and 12 inch screen laptops have puny little bodies to go with those tiny little screens. So, the keyboards and the touchpads are smaller on those tiny laptops. And since my 11.6 incher was a Thinkpad, I had disabled the touchpad as I was only using the nipple.

Things were working ok for the first few days after switching to the 14″ behemoth. Or maybe I wasn’t noticing that things weren’t working out ok because I was too enamored with the larger screen. But, when you suddenly move to a 14″ behemoth, after years of using those tiny 11.6″ laptops everything changes. Let me explain some more …

You see on these large 14″ laptops the keyboard keys are well spaced out but you also have to move your hands a lot. But, an even bigger problem is that the touchpads are large on these larger laptops. And the biggest problem with those large touchpads is that they are placed right where your, err … my left palm would rest. Would that be a problem? It was a HUGE problem … at least for me. Because say I am in the middle of typing some code and suddenly the cursor would jump to a completely different location. Why? Because my left palm would “unknowingly” rest upon, i.e. touch, the large touchpad on the behemoth laptop.

This whole cursor jumping problem was getting so frustrating that:

  • I figured I would just throw this older, larger notebook after banging it on the wall a few times. (Yes, I do find computers, tablets and phones VERY frustrating and often contemplate whether I should just go about banging all of my computers, tablets and phones on walls. That was meant as a joke, all though I am sure my future employer will use that against me sometime.)
  • I figured I would go back to those tiny screen laptops/netbooks. But, no matter how much I zoom, i find it hard to work with those tiny screens and their smaller real estate. I mean, you zoom and you suddenly have only 50% of your code visible on the screen.
  • I figured I would get myself a trackball since that is what I was using till about a year ago. But, then, I looked around and realized that because of India’s crazily depreciating rupee and high taxes, trackballs cost a fortune in India! I mean, a China-made trackball sold by an Indian company … obviously without any warranty … costs close to about USD 60!!! That’s freaking crazy, but that’s what it is.

So, as I was about to give up on this older, larger computer and get back to my tiny, puny laptop it suddenly hit me! All I had to do was:

  • disable touchpad taps
  • switch from two finger touchpad scrolling to single finger edge scrolling.

So, I jumped into Mouse and Touchpad settings in Xubuntu System Settings and changed those two things! And voila! (I really need to find the meaning of that word voila, but, I am going to use it right now because I am really excited!) Now, the touchpad on my older, larger laptop behaves just as I want it to behave: no cursor jumping around and no typing in unknown locations. I am THRILLED! I am EXCITED! I am HAPPY!

Here’s how my mouse/touchpad settings were before I made the change … and I am going to assume those are the default settings for Xubuntu, after install:

Touchpad settings "before" I made the change. Notice that "tap touchpad to click" and "two finger scrolling" are enabled ... I guess during Xubuntu installation.

The default settings for touchpad on Xubuntu 13.10. Notice that “tap touchpad to click” and “two finger scrolling” are enabled here … and these setting were causing all the problems for me.

Here’s how my mouse/touchpad settings look after those two changes:

Touchpad settings "after" I made the change. Notice that "tap touchpad to click" is now disabled. Also, I have switched to "edge scrolling".

The new settings for touchpad on my Xubuntu 13.10 laptop. Notice that “tap touchpad to click” is now disabled. Also, I have switched to “edge scrolling”.

So, if your laptop mouse/touchpad is troubling you by making the cursor jump all over the place, change those two settings and you will be Happy, thrilled and excited like me. (I know that’s getting cheesy, but, you would realize my excitement if your cursor suddenly stopped jumping around and let you type your code in a sane environment.)

Show date and time in Xubuntu (as well as other Linux distros)

Microsoft Windows 8.1 has a very neat little feature I use a lot: you can hit “win+c” to bring up the “charm” which shows the clock along with a few other things. For me that ability to see the current date and time makes this “charm” useful. On a side note, I really do not know what that word “charm” means in the Microsoft world but let’s not digress

The fact is that I use my Xubuntu machines more often than my Windows machine. So, I wanted that “show the clock” ability on my Xubuntu 13.10. I basically wanted to hit “win+c”, like in Windows 8.1, and have the current date and time shown in a pop-up-window on my desktop.

I figured I could easily do this with a shell script. Ages ago, I had very briefly played with a command called Zenity. Zenity is a command line program from the GNOME world that lets you show various graphical dialogs. Basically, Zenity lets you add GUI to your shell script.

Knowing all that, I fired up a terminal and read through the man page for Zenity. After a few minutes of playing around with Zenity, I managed to put together a simple script that does what I want: to show the current date and time in a pop-up window on my desktop.

The second part was to associate this script with “win+c” keyboard shortcut. But, before setting up the keyboard shortcut, I put the script into /usr/local/bin on my system and made the script executable. Then, using the “application shortcuts” tab in “keyboard” settings of the Xubuntu “settings manager” I created the “win+c” keyboard shortcut to launch the script.

The end result of all that activity is that now when i hit “windows+c” i get a quick, big date and time window on my desktop. As currently implemented this date and time window disappears after 10 seconds, but, you could hit escape anytime before that to close the window.

NOTE: This is the output from version 1 of the script. Check the update below for newer version.

This is how my script pops up a window showing current date and time

My (first version) script pops up a window showing current date and time

UPDATE Feb 14, 2014: I updated the script to improve the pop-up window display. Specifically, I changed from Zenity’s “info” to “progress bar” dialog option. I changed a few colors and added text that indicates the window can be closed by hitting Escape key. Here is how the new pop-up window looks:

This is how my script pops up a window showing current date and time

My (second version) script pops up a window showing current date and time along with helpful text hinting how to close the window and a progress bar at the bottom indicating when the window will close by itself.

This script is especially useful to me because:

  • I hate multiple panels on my desktop
  • I “auto-hide” the top panel on my Xubuntu desktop
  • I love keyboard shortcuts!

Even if you do show the top panel on your desktop, this script may be useful because of its big date and time display. Try it to see if it is useful to you. And if you find it useful please leave a good/encouraging comment below … as that would be much appreciated. Please note that all comments are moderated, so some comments may not appear on this blog.

You can download the script from my GitHub Gists. The script carries a GPL license.

Note that the script uses Zenity supported Pango Markup to get the display to look “beautiful” with colors and bold formatting … although, as some Chinese or Western philosopher had said “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so you may want to change the formatting to suit your needs.


Google Chrome and password keyrings on Xubuntu

Google’s Chrome is a great web browser. Its tight integration with Google’s services makes it indispensable.

Although I installed Google Chrome on my Xubuntu system I never got to starting it on my Xubuntu systems because I had been spending more time using my Windows 8.1 machine. Today I started Chrome on my Xubuntu system and got that sinking feeling when an ugly window popped up asking for keyring password.

image of Xubuntu asking for keyring password.

Xubuntu asking for keyring password.

Flash back to 2009-10: back in the old days all my computers were exclusively on Ubuntu. That was because Vista was the most annoying OS I had ever bought+used and Windows XP was getting fatter and slower every day.

So, continuing with our flashback … back in the old days, I installed Chrome on my Ubuntu system and started it only to find a “please enter password to unlock keyring” message/input window pop out of no where. Those were the early days of confusion, so people had a lot of weird solutions floating around: “install seahorse and ride it to magical lands” said a few, or, “be a gui ninja and click here, click there, and then click through a few menus and then through a few buttons to magically end these atrocities“, or “be a terminal ninja and change /etc files” said a few others. None of those “solutions” worked for me. So, I did what came logically: I hunted down those “*keyring*” files and deleted them! The next time I started Chrome, a new window popped up. That window asked me to setup the keyring by entering a password. I chose an empty password for which I got a warning that said something to the effect “your passwords will be stored with no security” … to which I replied “yeah! whatever!” and hit ok. From that time on the keyring manager never bothered me with “enter password before I let you browse” stupidity.

Today, I had to repeat that entire procedure on my current Xubuntu systems. So …

So! Bottom line: if you are on Xubuntu 13.x AND if you have installed Google Chrome AND if you have setup your Google account in your Google Chrome AND if you start Google Chrome AND if a window has popped up asking for keyring password AND if you don’t recollect setting up a keyring password, here’s is what you do:

  • close that window asking for keyring password
  • close Google Chrome
  • open a terminal
  • go to “.local/share/keyrings” (cd; cd .local/share/keyrings)
  • create a directory called ORIG (mkdir ORIG)
  • move the existing files into ORIG (mv *.* ORIG)
  • reboot because that is always the best thing to do! (sudo reboot)

Now, start your Google Chrome. A new window will pop up like this:

image of Xubuntu requesting you to setup a new password for the keyring

Xubuntu requesting me to setup a new password for the keyring.

Just hit enter … implying you don’t want to set up any keyring passwords. You will be WARNED! Ignore the warning, as most warnings are meant to be ignored (just kidding! never ignore warnings, but, you must ignore this warning).

image of Xubuntu warning me that all my passwords will be stored unencrypted

Xubuntu warning me that all my passwords will be stored unencrypted. Sure! Whatever!

And now you are all setup! Starting Google Chrome will not bring up a stupid “enter password for keyring” window … ever again … that is till you goof around with the default, empty password, keyring setup.

Enjoy, as always!

Xubuntu 13.10 … first impressions

So, I downloaded Xubuntu 13.10 within a few hours, if not minutes actually, of the release going live. Xubuntu 13.10 was released on Oct 17, 2013.

I decided to install it on my brand new Fujitsu Lifebook AH-532. This is a 15″ notebook with Core i3, 8G (upgraded from factory installed 4G) RAM and 500G hdd. The notebook seemed fairly priced for its configuration, especially when compared to other notebooks from popular brands like HP and Dell. Just a side NOTE: I am typing this blog post on an “almost” similar notebook that came with Windows 8 installed. 🙂

Anyway, the reason to talk so much about the hardware is that the Lifebook comes with Fastboot “disabled”, CSM “disabled” and SecureBoot “disabled” in its BIOS, but, … and that’s a big but … Xubuntu 13.10 consistently wanted me to install in EFI mode. That wouldn’t have been a problem if the installer didn’t fail every time I tried it. What essentially happened was this: I would let the Xubuntu installer go ahead with its default partition scheme and then, it would happily say partitions created … copying files … installing … and then BOOM! The installer would say something along these lines “grub2 failed to install grub-efi to /target/ … blah, blah, blah”. After the first installation failure, I tried playing around with the BIOS settings. I enabled CSM in one try, enabled and then immediately disabled Secureboot on another try and so forth. But, the Xubuntu 13.10 installer wasn’t happy with all of my goofing around. I figured while I was at it, I would also try out my usual partitioning scheme with 8G of swap and the rest of the HDD put into an ext4 partition mounted at /, but, that partitioning scheme was a complete no-no. The installer didn’t like that partitioning scheme and it repeatedly warned me that an EFI partitioning scheme was necessary on this notebook.

So, I was almost ready to give up … when I cursed the Gods … and then I decided to try one last thing. So, I went through the following steps:

  • I reset the BIOS through “Load Setup Defaults”
  • I made sure Fastboot and SecureBoot were disabled
  • I enabled CSM in the BIOS. The Compatibility Support Module (CSM) provides backward compatibility for OS that need it
  • I saved the BIOS and boot from my USB pen drive that had the Xubuntu 13.10 installer
  • I configured and enabled my home wireless network on the notebook so it was connected to the global net
  • During the installation, I chose to create 3 partitions: (1) EFI partition of 100MB instead of the ~500MB partition the installer was creating by default (2) Swap of ~10G (3) rest of the HDD formatted as ext4 and mounted at /

With those changes the installer ran like a happy puppy and completed its work! No complaints this time through!!! Since it was connected to the Internet, the installer (probably) downloaded a few updates during installation, but, I am not sure of that.

(UPDATE 2014/03/28 – Today I did the following with the Fujitsu laptop that came with Windows 8.1:

  • I removed the Windows 8.1 hard drive from the notebook.
  • I installed a new 500GB hard drive into the notebook.
  • I did NOT change any of the UEFI BIOS settings. This was important, because if and when I decide to or need to go back to Windows 8.1, I do NOT wish to worry about what the BIOS settings were. I just want to pop-in the Windows 8.1 hdd and reboot the laptop.
  • I started installation of Xubuntu 13.10 on the new 500GB hdd.
  • On first attempt the installation failed with the same grub installation failure notice.
  • On the second attempt I connected the laptop to my home Wifi network and chose to update the system.

With update enabled, the installation succeeded! So, at this point in time I am fairly certain that at least for the original Xubuntu 13.10 install image, you MUST enable “update the system” at installation time to ensure that Xubuntu 13.10 installs on your UEFI BIOS based system. No BIOS changes should be necessary.

Old post continues …)

So, after about 3 hours and multiple attempts I finally got Xubuntu 13.10 installed and running on my new laptop. A quick look around Xubuntu 13.10 tells me that there are no major changes. Sure there’s Gimp installed by default, but, I like Gimp, so that doesn’t bother me. There’s also Abiword and Gnumeric installed, but, again, I don’t care.

At this point in time the major question I have in my mind is if I really want to upgrade the rest of my notebooks from Xubuntu 12.10 to Xubuntu 13.10. And I don’t have a firm answer for that. Sure, Xubuntu 13.10 comes with a newer kernel and with an updated Xfce. There’s a newer version of Thunar, the Xfce file manager, that supports multiple tabs. But, frankly most of those are minor improvements from my perspective. A lot of the complaints I had in 12.10 are still unresolved in 13.10. But, even more importantly, I have made so many modifications to /etc files on my 12.10 systems that it’s not going to be easy to start all over again. And this is the fundamental reason I really hope, wish and pray that Ubuntu and all of its derivatives like Xubuntu would move to a rolling release model. The 6-months release cycle and having to start all over again every few months is just plain painful. But, all that is only applicable to people like me who already have a few machines running older versions of Xubuntu and are happy with that installation.

So, if you are coming from a different world and now need to use Linux in some form, should you try Xubuntu? My short answer: ABSOLUTELY. Among all the Ubuntu variations out there, I feel that Xubuntu is probably the best. Let me qualify that statement.

I was introduced to Ubuntu sometime back in 2005. Since then all the way through Q3-2012 I always had some or other machine, and more typically all of my machines, running Ubuntu. But, I always hated the Ubuntu experience. The problem, for me, was very simple: Ubuntu was installing way too many packages that I really didn’t want and/or care about. Also, it was trying to be a hipster OS by adding all those “cute social features” in which you could add your Facebook and Twitter and other accounts and get instant updates notifications, etc. I mean seriously dude, if you need those features go get yourself a Mac Book or some Windows notebook. Now, all those packages and all those “cute” features wouldn’t have been a problem if Ubuntu’s package dependency tree wasn’t so messed up. Although it has been some time, if I remember it correctly, trying to uninstall something as useless and as trivial as Tomboy mandated that I uninstall the entire Ubuntu. Or a significantly worse package: GNOME Evolution, the mail reader. Jesus! That’s one messed up piece of code with messed up dependencies and messed up naming. And having lost my entire mail through Evolution, I never ever wanted it ever on any of my systems. But, Ubuntu, in trying to be cute and all that, wouldn’t let me uninstall Evolution completely. Also, Ubuntu’s kernels and drivers were always behind the curve so there was some or the other device in my laptops that would not be supported. Finally, there was Unity. With Unity it became obvious that Ubuntu was trying to compete with Mac OSX and unfortunately, Ubuntu was miserably failing at that attempt.

Please realize that none of this is to say that Ubuntu is a bad distro. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you that if you have never used Linux before, then Ubuntu is one of the better Linux distros out there. It is fairly easy to install on most standard Wintel hardware, and if you can live with the cruft that it installs and updates regularly, you would never have to worry about paying a single dollar, euro or baht for any piece of useful software. And best of all, Ubuntu has a HUGE community of people always willing to help out others.

So, anyways … with all the frustrations I had with Ubuntu … starting in early 2012, I decided to try other distros. I decided to go back the Redhat way by downloading and installing Fedora. That let me try the new GNOME 3.x and although I liked GNOME 3.x, I have never been a fan of Fedora because it comes with SELinux enabled.

So, after trying a few other popular Linux distros and not being happy with any of them, I figured it was time for me to give up on computers altogether! (Not kidding.) But, then I decided to give one more distro a try … and that was Xubuntu. The rest is history! Within moments of installation I realized that Xubuntu 12.10 was the distro I had been looking for all my life. (Please don’t mess it up Xubuntu guys and gals.) There was no GNOME, there was no Evolution, there was no Tomboy and there were no fancy social notifications. The misery that is Open/Libre-Office suite was pleasantly absent from the default installation. Xubuntu felt like a plain simple Linux kernel with a basic, but functional UI slapped on top of it … just the way I wanted it. Within hours after the first install, Xubuntu 12.10 found its way onto all of my other computers, except one. And I have been happily using it as my primary OS for the past year or so. Sure, I had to make a few modifications and almost all of those modifications had to be done through the command line, but, I can assure you that most average users don’t need those modifications.

So, with that background, I don’t see a significant change in Xubuntu 13.10. And to me, that’s a good thing. The only thing that would really make Xubuntu better would be to transform it into a rolling release, but, that is probably asking for too much from a derivative distro.

So, in some ways I am happy with the new Xubuntu 13.10, but, I am just not convinced, yet, that I want to switch all of my other machines running Xubuntu 12.10 to the new release just yet. But, I guess its gotta happen … sooner than later.

I like Xubuntu 13.10. It continues to be the clean, good, simple and functional OS that most of us really want and desire. Try it, you will like it.