Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology
In recent times, I have been making use of Grammarly for proofreading what I write for online consumption. That has applied as much to what I write in Markdown form as it has for what is authored using content management systems like WordPress and Textpattern.
The free version does nag you to upgrade to a paid subscription, but is not my main irritation. That would be its inflexibility because you cannot turn off rules that you think intrusive, at least in the free version. This comment is particularly applicable to the unofficial plugin that you can install in Visual Studio Code. To me, the add-on for Firefox feels less scrupulous.
There are other options though, and one that I have encountered is LanguageTool. This also offers a Firefox add-on, but there are others not only for other browsers but also Microsoft Word. Recent versions of LibreOffice Writer can connect to a LanguageTool server using in-built functionality, too. There are also dedicated editors for iOS, macOS or Windows.
The one operating that does not get specific add-on support is Linux, but there is another option there. That uses an embedded HTTP server that I installed using Homebrew and set to start automatically using cron. This really helps when using the LanguageTool Linter extension in Visual Studio Code because it can connect to that instead of the public API, which bans your IP address if you overuse it. The extension is also configurable with the ability to add exceptions (both grammatical and spelling), though I appear to have enabled smart formatting only to have it mess up quotes in a Markdown file that then caused Hugo rendering to fail.
Like Grammarly, there is an online editor that offers more if you choose an annual subscription. That is cheaper than the one from Grammarly, so that caused me to go for that instead to get rephrasing suggestions both in the online editor and through a browser add-on. It is better not to get nagged all the time…
The title may surprise you, but I have been using co-ordinating conjunctions without commas for as long as I can remember. Both Grammarly and LanguageTool pick up on these, so I had to do some investigation to find a gap in my education, especially since LanguageTool is so good at finding them. What I also found is how repetitive my writing style can be, which also means that rephrasing has been needed. That, after all, is the point of a proofreading tool, and it can rankle if you have fixed opinions about grammar or enjoy creative writing.
Putting some off-copyright texts from other authors triggers all kinds of messages, but you just have to ignore these. Turning off checks needs care, even if turning them on again is easy to do. There, however, is the danger that artificial intelligence tools could make writing too uniform, since there is only so much that these technologies can do. They should make you look at your text more intently, though, which is never a bad thing because computers still struggle with meaning.
During the summer, I discovered that Firefox was steadfastly opening on the same virtual desktop on Linux Mint (the Cinnamon version) regardless of the one on which it was started. Being a creature of habit who routinely opens Firefox within the same virtual desktop all the time, this was not something that I had noticed until the upheaval of a system rebuild. The supposed cause is setting the browser to reopen tabs from the preceding session. The settings change according to the version of Firefox but it is found in Settings > General in the version in which I am writing these words (Firefox Developer Edition 94.0b4) and the text beside the tick box is Open previous windows and tabs.
While disabling the aforementioned setting could work, there is another less intrusive solution. This needs the opening of a new tab and the entering of the address about:config in the address bar. If you see a warning message about the consequences of proceed further, accept responsibility using the interface as you do just that. In the resulting field marked Search preference name, enter the text widget.disable-workspace-management and toggle the setting from false to true in order to activate it. Then, Firefox should open on the desktop where you want it and not some other default location.
Having moved beyond the slow response and larger memory footprint of Firefox ESR, I am using Firefox Developer Edition in its place even if it means living without a status bar at the bottom of the window. Hopefully, someone will create an equivalent of the old add-on bar extensions that worked before the release of Firefox Quantum.
Firefox Developer Edition may be pre-release software with some extras for web developers like being able to to drill into an HTML element and see its properties but I am finding it stable enough for everyday use. It is speedy too, which helps, and it has its own profile so it can co-exist on the same machine as regular releases of Firefox like its ESR and Quantum variants.
Installation takes a little added effort though and there are various options available. My chosen method involved Ubuntu Make. Installing this involves setting up a new PPA as the first step and the following commands added the software to my system:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-desktop/ubuntu-make
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-make
With the above completed, it was simple to install Firefox Developer edition using the following command:
umake web firefox-dev
Where things got a bit more complicated was getting entries added to the Cinnamon Menu and Docky. The former was sorted using the cinnamon-menu-editor command but the latter needed some tinkering with my firefox-developer.desktop file found in .local/share/applications/ within my user area to get the right icon shown. Discovering this took me into .gconf/apps/docky-2/Docky/Interface/DockPreferences/%gconf.xml where I found the location of the firefox-developer.desktop that needed changing. Once this was completed, there was nothing else to do from the operating system side.
Within Firefox itself, I opted to turn off warnings about password logins on non-https websites by going to about:config using the address bar, then looking for security.insecure_field_warning.contextual.enabled and changing its value from True to False. Some may decry this but there are some local websites on my machine that need attention at times. Otherwise, Firefox is installed with user access so I can update it as if it were a Windows or MacOS application and that is useful given that there are frequent new releases. All is going as I want it so far.
A new feature came with Firefox 44 that only recently started to come to my notice with Yahoo Mail offering to set up browser notifications for every time when a new email arrives there. This is something that I did not need and yet I did not get the option to switch it off permanently for that website so I was being nagged every time I when to check on things for that email address, an unneeded irritation. Other websites offered to set up similar push notifications but you could switch these off permanently so it is a site by site function unless you take another approach.
That is to open a new browser tab and enter about:config in the address bar before hitting the return key. If you have not done this before, a warning message will appear but you can dismiss this permanently. Once beyond that, you are presented with a searchable list of options and the ones that you need are dom.webnotifications.enabled and dom.webnotifications.serviceworker.enabled. By default, the corresponding entries in the Value column will be true. Double-clicking on each one will set it to false and you should not see any more offers of push notifications that allow you get alerts from web services like Yahoo Mail so your web browsing should suffer less of these intrusions.
One thing that I notice with Firefox installations in both Ubuntu and Linux Mint is that a dialogue box appears when closing down the web browser asking whether to save the open session or if you want to have a fresh session the next time that you start it up. Initially, I was always in the latter camp but there are times when I took advantage of that session saving feature for retaining any extra tabs containing websites to which I want to return or editor sessions for any blog posts that I still am writing; sometimes, composing the latter can take a while.
To see where this setting is located, you need to open a new tab and type about:config in the browser’s address bar. This leads to advanced browser settings so you need click OK in answer to a warning message before proceeding. Then, start looking for browser.showQuitWarning using the Search bar; it acts like a dynamic filter on screen entries until you get what you need. On Ubuntu and Linux Mint, the value is set to true but false is the default elsewhere; unlike Opera, Firefox generally does not save sessions by fault unless you tell it to that (at least, that has been my experience anyway). Setting true to false or vice versa will control the appearance or non-appearance of the dialogue box at browser session closure time.
With UNIX being the basis of Linux, I have a soft spot for trying out any UNIX that can be installed on a PC. For a while, I had OpenSolaris on the go and even vaguely recall having a look at one of the BSD’s. However, any recent attempt to install one of the latter, and there are quite a few around now, got stymied by some sort of kernel panic caused by using AMD CPU’s. With the return to the Intel fold arising from the upgrade of my main home PC last year, it perhaps was time to try again.
The recent release of FreeBSD 10.0 was the cue and I downloaded a DVD image for a test installation in a VirtualBox virtual machine with 4 GB of memory and a 32 GB virtual hard drive attached (expanding storage was chosen so not all the allocated space has been taken so far). The variant of FreeBSD chosen was the 64-bit x86 one and I set to installing it in there. Though not as pretty in appearance as those in various Linux distros, the installer was not that user unfriendly to me. Mind you, I have experience of installing Arch Linux so that might have acclimatised me somewhat.
Those installation screens ask about the keyboard mapping that you want and I successfully chose one of the UK options. There was limited opportunity for adding extras though there was a short list of few from which I made some selections. User account set up also was on offer and I would have been better off knowing what groups to assign for my personal user account so as to have to avoid needing to log in as root so often following system start up later. Otherwise, all the default options were sufficient.
When the installation process was complete, it was time to boot into the new system and all that was on offer was a command line log in session. After logging in as root, it was time to press pkg into service in order to get a desktop environment in place. The first step was to install X:
pkg install xorg
Then, it was time to install a desktop environment. While using XFCE or KDE were alternatives, I chose GNOME 2 due to familiarity and more extensive instructions on the corresponding FreeBSD handbook page. Issuing the following command added GNOME and all its helper applications:
pkg install gnome2
So that GNOME starts up at the next reboot, some extra steps are needed. The first of these is to add the following line into /etc/fstab:
proc /proc procfs rw 0 0
Then, two lines were needed in /etc/rc.conf:
The first enables the GNOME display manager and the second activates other GNOME programs that are needed for a desktop session to start. With each of these in place, I got a graphical login screen at the next boot time.
With FreeDSB being a VirtualBox Guest, it was time to consult the relevant FreeBSD manual page. Here, there are sections for a number of virtual machine tools so a search was needed to find the one for VirtualBox. VirtualBox support for FreeBSD is incomplete in that there is no installation media for BSD systems though Linux and Solaris are supported along with Windows. Therefore, it is over to the FreeBSD repositories for the required software:
pkg install virtualbox-ose-additions
Aside from the virtual machine session not capturing and releasing the mouse pointer automatically, that did everything that was needed even if it was the open source edition of the drivers and their proprietary equivalents. To resolve the mouse pointer issue, I needed to temporarily disable the GNOME desktop session in /etc/rc.conf to drop down to a console only session where xorg. conf could be generated using the following commands:
cp xorg.conf.new /etc/xorg.conf
In the new xorg.conf file, the mouse section needs to be as follows:
If it doesn’t look like the above and it wasn’t the case for me then it needs changing. Also, any extra lines from the default set up also need removing or the mouse will not function as it should. The ALT+F1 (for accessing GNOME menus) and ALT+F2 (for running commands) keyboard shortcuts then become crucial when your mouse is not working as it should and could avert a panic too; knowing that adjusting a single configuration file will fix a problem when doing so is less accessible is not a good feeling as I discovered to my own cost. The graphics settings were fine by default but here’s what you should have in case it isn’t for you:
### Available Driver options are:-
### Values: <i>: integer, <f>: float, <bool>: “True”/”False”,
### <string>: “String”, <freq>: “<f> Hz/kHz/MHz”
### [arg]: arg optional
VendorName “InnoTek Systemberatung GmbH”
BoardName “VirtualBox Graphics Adapter”
The next step is to ensure that your HAL settings are as they should. I needed to create a file in /usr/local/etc/hal/fdi/policy called 90-vboxguest.fdi that contains the following:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>
# Sun VirtualBox
# Hal driver description for the vboxmouse driver
# $Id: chapter.xml,v 1.33 2012-03-17 04:53:52 eadler Exp $
Copyright (C) 2008-2009 Sun Microsystems, Inc.
This file is part of VirtualBox Open Source Edition (OSE, as
available from http://www.virtualbox.org. This file is free software;
you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU
General Public License (GPL) as published by the Free Software
Foundation, in version 2 as it comes in the “COPYING” file of the
VirtualBox OSE distribution. VirtualBox OSE is distributed in the
hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY of any kind.
Please contact Sun Microsystems, Inc., 4150 Network Circle, Santa
Clara, CA 95054 USA or visit http://www.sun.com if you need
additional information or have any questions.
<match key=”info.subsystem” string=”pci”>
<match key=”info.product” string=”VirtualBox guest Service”>
<append key=”info.capabilities” type=”strlist”>input</append>
<append key=”info.capabilities” type=”strlist”>input.mouse</append>
<merge key=”input.x11_driver” type=”string”>vboxmouse</merge>
<merge key=”input.device” type=”string”>/dev/vboxguest</merge>
With all that set, it is time to ensure that the custom user account is added to the wheel and operator groups using this command:
pw user mod [user name] -G wheel operator
Executing the above as root means that the custom account can run the su command so that logging in as root at the start of a desktop session no longer is needed. That is what being in the wheel group allows and the anyone in the operator group can shut down or restart the system. Both are facilities readily available in Linux so I fancied having them in FreeBSD too.
Being able to switch to root in a terminal session meant that I could go on to add software like Firefox, Libreoffice, GIMP, EMACS, Geany, Netbeans, Banshee and so on. There may be a line of opinion that FreeBSD is a server operating system but all of these make it more than passable for serving as a desktop one too. There may be no package management GUI as such and the ones that come with GNOME do not work either but anyone familiar with command line working will get around that.
FreeBSD may be conservative but that has its place too and being able to build up a system one item at a time teaches far more than getting everything already sorted in one hit. So far, there is enough documentation to get me going and I hope to see where else things go too. So far, the OS hasn’t been that intimidating and that’s good to see.
Ever since the Songbird project concentrated its efforts to support only Windows and OS X, the Firefox-based music player has been absent from a Linux user’s world. However, the project is open source and a fork called Nightingale now fulfils the same needs. Intriguingly, it too is available for Windows for OS X users so I am left wondering why that overlap has happened. However, Songbird also is available as a web app and as an app on both Android and iOS while Nightingale sticks to being a desktop application.
To add it to Ubuntu, you need to set up a new repository. That can be done using the Software Centre but issuing a command in a terminal can be so much quicker and cleaner so here it is:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:nightingaleteam/nightingale-release
Apart from entering your password, there will be prompt to continue by pressing the carriage return key or cancelling with CTRL + C. For our purposes, it is the first action that’s needed and once that’s done the needful, you can execute the following command:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install nightingale
This is in two parts: the first updates the repositories on your system and second actually installs the software. When that is complete, you are ready run Nightingale and, with the repository, staying up to date is not chore either. In fact, using the above commands brings another advantage and it is that they should in any Ubuntu derivatives such as Linux Mint.
Having a virtual machine with Debian 6 on there, I was interested to hear that Debian 7.0 is out. In another VM, I decided to give it a go. Installing it on there using the Net Install CD image took a little while but proved fairly standard with my choice of the GUI-based option. GNOME was the desktop environment with which I went and all started up without any real fuss after the installation was complete; it even disconnnected the CD image from the VM before rebooting, a common failing in many Linux operating installations that lands into the installation cycle again unless you kill the virtual machine.
Though the GNOME desktop looked familiar, a certain amount of conservatism reigned too since the version was 3.4.2. That was no bad thing since raiding the GNOME Extension site for a set of mature extensions was made all the more easy. In fact, a certain number of these was included in the standard installation anyway and the omission of a power off entry on the user menu was corrected as a matter of course without needing any intervention from this user. Adding to what already was there made for a more friendly desktop experience in a short period of time.
Debian’s variant of Firefox , Iceweasel, is version 10 so a bit of tweaking is needed to get the latest version. LibreOffice is there now too and it’s version 3.5 rather than 4. Shotwell too is the older 0.12 and not the 0.14 that is found in the likes of Ubuntu 13.04. As it happens, GIMP is about the only software with a current version and that is 2.8; a slower release cycle may be the cause of that though. All in all, the general sense is that older versions of current software are being included for the sake of stability and that is sensible too so I am not complaining very much about this at all.
The reason for not complaining is that the very reason for having a virtual machine with Debian 6 on there is to have Zinio and Dropbox available too. Adobe’s curtailment of support for Linux means that any application needing Adobe Air may not work on a more current Linux distribution. That affects Zinio so I’ll be retaining a Debian 6 instance for a while yet unless a bout of testing reveals that a move to the newer version is possible. As for Dropbox, I am sure that I can recall why I moved it onto Debian but it’s working well on there so I am in no hurry to move it over either. There are times when slower software development cycles are better…
Left to its own devices, Debian will leave you with an ever ageing re-branded version of Firefox that was installed at the same time as the rest of the operating system. From what I have found, the main cause of this was that Mozilla’s wanting to retain control of its branding and trademarks in a manner not in keeping with Debian’s Free Software rules. This didn’t affect just Firefox but also Thunderbird, Sunbird and Seamonkey with Debian’s equivalents for these being IceDove, IceOwl and IceApe, respectively.
While you can download a tarball of Firefox from the web and use that, it’d be nice to get a variant that updated through Debian’s normal apt-get channels. In fact, IceWeasel does get updated whenever there is a new release of Firefox even if these updates never find their way into the usual repositories. While I have been know to take advantage of the more frozen state of Debian compared with other Linux distributions, I don’t mind getting IceWeasel updated so it isn’t a security worry.
The first step in so doing is to add the following lines to /etc/apt/sources.list using root access (using sudo, gksu or su to assume root privileges) since the file normally cannot be edited by normal users:
deb http://backports.debian.org/debian-backports squeeze-backports main
deb http://mozilla.debian.net/ squeeze-backports iceweasel-release
With the file updated and saved, the next step is to update the repositories on your machine using the following command:
sudo apt-get update
With the above complete, it is time to overwrite the existing IceWeasel installation with the latest one using an apt-get command that specifies the squeeze-backports repository as its source using the -t switch. While IceWeasel is installed from the iceweasel-release squeeze-backports repository, there dependencies that need to be satisfied and these come from the main squeeze-backports one. The actual command used is below:
sudo apt-get install -t squeeze-backports iceweasel
While that was all that I needed to do to get IceWeasel 18.0.1 in place, some may need the pkg-mozilla-archive-keyring package installed too. For those needing more information that what’s here, there’s always the Debian Mozilla team.
For whatever reason, my installation of Ubuntu GNOME Remix 12.10, didn’t have Quicktime support added to Firefox by default. To make a website work near enough as it was intended, this needed to be remedied. The solution was to issue a command to install the missing software:
sudo apt-get install mplayer gnome-mplayer gecko-mediaplayer
Mplayer is the main component here but running the above command adds all the required supporting packages too so that a Firefox restart was all that needed to get things going.