Sorting out sluggish start-up and shutdown times in Linux Mint 19

The Linux Mint team never pushes anyone into upgrading to the latest version of their distribution but curiosity often is strong enough an impulse to make me do just that. When it brings me across some rough edges, then the wisdom of leaving things alone is evident. Nevertheless, doing so also brings its share of learning and that is what I am sharing in this post. It also also me to collect a number of titbits that may be of use to others.

Again, I went with the in-situ upgrade option though the addition of the Timeshift backup tool means that it is less frowned upon than once would have been the case. It worked well too part from slow start-up and shutdown times so I set about track down the causes on the two machines that I have running Linux Mint. As it happens, the cause was different on each machine.

On one PC, it was networking that holding up things. The cause was my specifying a fixed IP address in /etc/network/interfaces instead of using the Network Settings GUI tool. Resetting the configuration file back to its defaults and using the Cinnamon settings interface took away the delays. It was inspecting /var/log/boot.log that highlighted problem so that is worth checking if I ever encounter slow start times again.

As I mentioned earlier, the second PC had a very different problem though it also involved a configuration file. What had happened was that /etc/initramfs-tools/conf.d/resume contained the wrong UUID for my system’s swap drive so I was seeing messages like the following:

W: initramfs-tools configuration sets RESUME=UUID=<specified UUID for swap partition>
W: but no matching swap device is available.
I: The initramfs will attempt to resume from <specified file system location>
I: (UUID=<specified UUID for swap partition>)
I: Set the RESUME variable to override this.

Correcting the file and executing the following command fixed the issue by updating the affected initramfs image for all installed kernels and speeded up PC start-up times:

sudo update-initramfs -u -k all

Though it was not a cause of system sluggishness, I also sorted another message that I kept seeing during kernel updates and removals on both machines. This has been there for a while and causes warning messages about my system locale not being recognised. The problem has been described elsewhere as follows: /usr/share/initramfs-tools/hooks/root_locale is expecting to see individual locale directories in /usr/lib/locale but locale-gen is configured to generate an archive file by default.  Issuing the following command sorted that:

sudo locale-gen --purge --no-archive

Following these, my new Linux Mint 19 installations have stabilised with more speedy start-up and shutdown times. That allows me to look at what is on Flathub to see what applications and if they get updated to the latest version on an ongoing basis. That may be a topic for another entry on here but the applications that I have tried work well so far.

More thoughts on Windows 10

Now that I have left Windows 8.x behind me and there are a number of my machines running Windows 10, I have decided to revisit my impressions of the operating system. The first Technical Preview was something that I installed in a virtual machine and I have been keeping an eye on things have developed since then and intend to retain a Windows Insider installation to see what might be heading our way as Windows 10 evolves as now expected.

After elaborating on the all important upgrade process earlier, I am now moving onto other topics. The Start Menu is a big item but there are others as you will see below.

Start Menu

Let’s start with an admission: the prototype Start Menu that we got in the initial Windows 10 Technical Preview was more to my liking. Unpinning all the tiles allowed the menu to collapse back to the sort of width that anyone familiar with Windows 7 would have liked. If there was a setting to expunge all tiles at once and produce this state, I would have been well happy.

It was latter that we got to learn that Microsoft was not about consign the Windows 8 Modern interface entirely to history as many would have wanted. Some elements remain with us such as a Start Menu with a mandatory area for tiles and the ability to have it display full screen. Some are live but this can be turned off on a tile by tile basis and unneeded ones can be removed altogether. It is even possible to uninstall most apps by right clicking on a tile or other Start Menu entry and select the required option from the resulting context menu. For others, there is a command line alternative that uses Powershell to do removals. After this pruning, things were left in such a state that I have not been moved to restore Classic Shell so far.

The Start Menu settings used be in the same place as those for the taskbar but they are found in the new Settings tool. Some are in the Personalisation section and it has its own Start subsection for setting full screen mode or highlighting of new apps among other things. The equivalent Colours subsection is where you find other settings like assigning background colours based on those in a desktop background image, which itself is assigned in it own subsection in the Personalisation area.

Virtual Desktops

Initially, I failed to see the point in how Microsoft implemented these and favoured Virtuawin instead. My main complaint was the taskbar showed buttons for all open apps regardless of the screen in which they are opened. However, that was changed so your taskbar shows different buttons for each virtual desktop, just like the way that Linux and UNIX do things. Switching between desktops may not be as smooth of those yet but the default setting is a move in the right direction and you can change it if you want.

Cortana

This was presented to the world as a voice operated personal assistant like Apple’s Siri but I cannot say that I am keen on such things so I decided to work as I usually do instead. Keyboard interaction works fine and I have neutered things to leave off web searches on Bing to use the thing much in the same way as the search box on the Windows 7 Start Menu. It may be able to do more than that but I am more than happy to keep my workflow unchanged for now. Cortana’s settings are available via its pop-up menu. Collapsing the search box to an icon to save space for your pinned and open applications is available from the Search section of the taskbar context menu (right clicking the taskbar produces this).

Settings

In Windows 8.x, the Control Panel was not the only area for settings but remained feature complete but the same is not the case for Windows 10 where the new Settings panel is starting to take over from it. The two co-exist for now but it seems clear that Settings is where everything is headed.

The Personalisation section of the tool has been mentioned in relation to the Start Menu but there are plenty of others. For instance, the Privacy one is one that definitely needs reviewing and I found myself changing a lot of the default settings in there. Naturally, there are some other sections in Settings that need hardly any attention from most of us and these include Ease of access (accessibility), Time & language, Devices and Network & Internet. The System section has a few settings like tablet mode that may need review and the Update & security one has backup and recovery subsections that may be of interest. The latter of these is where you find the tools for refreshing the state of the system following instability or returning to a previous Windows version (7 or 8.x) within thirty days of the upgrade.

Turning off the full height editor option in WordPress 4.0

Though I keep a little eye on WordPress development, it is no way near as rigorous as when I submitted a patch that got me a mention on the contributor list of a main WordPress release. That may explain how the full editor setting, which is turned on by default passed by on me without my taking much in the way of notice of it.

WordPress has become so mature now that I almost do not expect major revisions like the overhauls received by the administration back-end in 2008. The second interface was got so right that it still is with us and there were concerns in my mind at the time as to how usable it would be. Sometimes, those initial suspicions can come to nothing.

However, WordPress 4.0 brought a major change to the editor and I unfortunately am not sure that it is successful. A full height editor sounds a good idea in principle but I found some rough edges to its present implementation that leave me wondering if any UX person got to reviewing it. The first reason is that scrolling becomes odd with the editor’s toolbar becoming fixed when you scroll down far enough on an editor screen. The sidebar scrolling then is out of sync with the editor box, which creates a very odd sensation. Having keyboard shortcuts like CTRL+HOME and CTRL+END not working as they should only convinced me that the new arrangement was not for me and I wanted to turn it off.

A search with Google turned up nothing of note so I took to the WordPress.org forum to see if I could get any joy. That revealed that I should have thought of looking in the screen options dropdown box for an option called “Expand the editor to match the window height” so I could clear that tickbox. Because of the appearance of a Visual Editor control on there, I looked on the user profile screen and found nothing so the logic of how things are set up is sub-optimal.  Maybe, the latter option needs to be a screen option now too. Thankfully, the window height editor option only needs setting once for both posts and pages so you are covered for all eventualities at once.

With a distraction-free editing option, I am not sure why someone went for the full height editor too. If WordPress wanted to stick with this, it does need more refinement so it behaves more conventionally. Personally, I would not build a website with that kind of ill-synchronised scrolling effect so it is something needs work as does the location of the Visual Editor setting. It could be that both settings need to be at the user level and not with one being above that level while another is at it. Until I got the actual solution, I was faced with using distraction-free mode all the time and also installed the WP Editor plugin too. That remains due to its code highlighting even if dropping into code view always triggers the need to create a new revision. Despite that, all is better in the end.

A first look at SAS University Edition

My first introduction to SAS came near the start of my post-university career over a decade ago. It was six weeks of classroom training and hands-on case studies that got me going with SAS 6.12. The included SAS products naturally included the components of Base SAS for data processing (data step, PROC SQL) and reporting as well as SAS/Graph. All of that was enough for a placement with one of my then employer’s clients with the added advantage of becoming one of the client’s own employees at the end of it. During that stay, more SAS versions followed until the launch of 9.1.3. Eventually, I moved onto pastures new and I remain a SAS user with 9.3 being the most recent version that I have met at work while SAS University Edition is bringing me towards 9.4.

SAS Learning Edition

Though it is possible to extend one’s knowledge on the job, that can be harder to manage during the working day when times are busy. Before SAS University Edition, we had SAS Learning Edition and I took delivery of a copy while it was available. It included SAS Enterprise Guide 4.1 together with a limited version of SAS 9 that a few limitations. Firstly it only would process up to 1500 records in any dataset but that was not such a problem for learning. Support from SAS was limited too even if the package had a price that I seem to remember was around £100 but my memory is hazy about this. What you need to remember is that SAS licenses are vastly more expensive than this so you got that for which you have paid. If you did have a Base SAS installation, Learning Edition would co-exist with it and versions like 8.2 and 9.1.3 Service Pack 4 were compatible so long as you had them pre-installed. There was a warning that re-installation of software might be required if either SAS Learning Edition or Base SAS is removed inappropriately.

Speaking of licenses, Learning Edition was time limited with its own version 2.0 (based on Enterprise Guide 2.0 and, if I recall correctly, SAS 8.2) and version 4.1 purchased prior to September 10, 2007 expiring on December 31, 2008. The expiry date for version 4.1 after the aforementioned purchase deadline was December 31, 2011. More conventionally, it was for single PC installation only and that PC had to run either Windows 2000 or Windows XP Professional. The process was one that would be more than familiar to anyone who ever installed software on a machine running Windows. Even with those older operating systems, it needed 1,080 MB of hard disk space. It reminds me of a time when 10 GB of hard drive capacity was generous but that had moved beyond 160 GB around ten years ago. The RAM requirements also fitted the time with 256 MB being the bare minimum and 512 MB being recommended.

Usefully, the whole package came with a copy of The Little SAS Book and, not having it next to me while writing these words, I cannot recall whether whether it was the version for Enterprise Guide or the Primer edition. Though I may not have made as much use of the software as I could have done, it certainly came in useful for trying a few things and I found a way to start up the more traditional SAS DMS interface as well as Enterprise Guide.

SAS University Edition

Apart for being made available free of charge, SAS University Edition is very different from its predecessor, SAS Learning Edition. After all, things have moved along since the last decade and SAS has its SAS Analytics U (for University, I presume) community now and that may explain the name though there is a wider focus on established university teaching too. Even long term SAS users like me can be called learners too so we get allowed in as well.

Firstly, it works in a very different way since you no longer are installing SAS software like you would with Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. To work, it needs you to have one of Oracle VirtualBox (4.3.12 is preferred at the time of writing), VMware Player or VMware Fusion because what you are getting is a virtual machine. For those unfamiliar with such things, SAS has Quick Start guides for each:

VirtualBox

VMware Player

VMware Fusion

The available VM’s are built around Linux in that 64-bit Red Hat Enterprise Linux is installed in there with SAS running as a service on top of it. In fact, the virtual runs solely as a server with just a screen informing you of the IP address that you need to load in your web browser of choice. That reveals another break with the past with SAS Studio being used in place of Enterprise Guide or the SAS DMS. While all the processing happens within the virtual machine, it is possible to store files on your own host operating system’s file system using by setting up a shared folder called myfolders that points to where you want it and that SAS Studio can use.

The use of virtualisation to roll out a local SAS server that makes SAS Studio available is neat and means that you do not need to run Microsoft Windows on a PC as was the case with SAS Learning Edition. Mac OS X and Linux are possibilities and I use the latter at home so this is a very good thing. Furthermore, there are installation guide for each supported operating system:

Linux

OS X

OS X

The version of SAS that you get is 9.4 and it is licensed until the middle of June 2015 with a 45 day grace period taking you as far as the end of July. Along with Base SAS, you also get SAS/STAT, SAS/IML, SAS/Secure 168-bit, SAS/ACCESS Interface to PC Files, SAS/ACCESS Interface to ODBC, SAS/IML Studio, SAS Workspace Server for Local Access, SAS Workspace Server for Enterprise Access and High Performance Suite. SAS/Graph is absent but new statistical graphics procedures like SGPLOT and SGPANEL are there so graph creation possibilities should be covered anyway.

All in all, SAS University Edition looks a snazzy arrangement and I plan to explore what is offered. SAS Studio is a new to me but there are enough recognisable features to help me settle in with it and it would merit an entry of its own on here. In fact, SAS has some video tutorials on their YouTube channel that show off some of its capabilities and the new tool certainly carries over from both Enterprise Guide and the more traditional DMS interface.

Speaking of blogging, SAS has an entry on one of the theirs that it has called Free SAS Software for students!, which is another introduction to SAS University Edition. Other (non-blog) articles include Get Started With SAS® University Edition along with a useful FAQ.

Automatically enabling your network connection at startup on CentOS 7

The release of CentOS 7 stoked my curiosity so I gave it a go in a VirtualBox virtual machine. It uses GNOME Shell in classic mode so the feel is not too far removed from that of GNOME 2. One thing to watch though is that it needs at least version 4.3.14 of VirtualBox or the Guest Additions kernel drivers will not compile at all. That might sound surprising when you learn that the kernel version is 3.10.x and that for GNOME Shell is 3.8.4. Much like Debian production releases, more established versions are chosen for the sake of stability and that fits in with the enterprise nature of the intended user base. Even with that more conservative approach, the results still please the eye though attempting to change the desktop background picture managed to freeze the machine. Other than that, most things work fine.

Even so, there are unexpected things to be encountered and one that I spotted was that network connectivity needed to switched on every time the VM was started. The default installation gives rise to this state of affairs and it is a known situation with CentOS from at least version 6 of the distribution and is not so hard to fix once you know what to do.

What you need to do is look for the relevant configuration file in /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ and update that. Using the ifconfig command, I found that the name of the network interface. Usually, this is something like eth0 but it was enp0s3 in my case so I had to look for a file named ifcfg-enp0s3 and edit that. The text that is sought is ONBOOT=no and that needs to become ONBOOT=yes for network connections to start automatically. To do something similar from the command line, CentOS had suggested the following:

sed -i -e ‘[email protected]^ONBOOT=”[email protected]=”[email protected]’ ifcfg-enp0s3

The above uses sed to do an inline (and case insensitve) edit of the file to change the offending no to a yes, once you have dropped in the /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ directory. My edit was done manually with Gedit so that works too. One thing to add is that any file editing needs superuser privileges so switching to root with the su command and using sudo is in order here.