Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Resolving a clash between Homebrew and Python

22nd November 2022

For reasons that I cannot recall now, I installed the Hugo static website generator on my Linux system and web servers using Homebrew. The only reason that I suggest is that it might have been a way to get the latest version at the time since Linux Mint only does major changes every two years, keeping it in line with long-term support editions of Ubuntu.

When Homebrew was installed, it changed the lookup path for command line executables by adding the following line to my .bashrc file:

eval "$(/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/bin/brew shellenv)"

This executed the following lines:

export HOMEBREW_PREFIX="/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew";
export HOMEBREW_CELLAR="/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/Cellar";
export HOMEBREW_REPOSITORY="/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/Homebrew";
export PATH="/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/bin:/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/sbin${PATH+:$PATH}";
export MANPATH="/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/share/man${MANPATH+:$MANPATH}:";
export INFOPATH="/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/share/info:${INFOPATH:-}";

While the result suits Homebrew, it changed the setup of Python and its packages on my system. Eventually, this had undesirable consequences like messing up how Spyder started so I wanted to change this. There are other things that I have automated using Python and these were not working either.

One way that I have seen suggested is to execute the following command but I cannot vouch for this:

brew unlink python

What I did was to comment out the offending line in .bashrc and replace it with the following:

export PATH="$PATH:/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/bin:/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/sbin"

export HOMEBREW_PREFIX="/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew";
export HOMEBREW_CELLAR="/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/Cellar";
export HOMEBREW_REPOSITORY="/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/Homebrew";

export MANPATH="/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/share/man${MANPATH+:$MANPATH}:";
export INFOPATH="${INFOPATH:-}/home/linuxbrew/.linuxbrew/share/info";

The first of these adds the Homebrew paths to the end of the PATH variable instead of the start of the same as was the case before. This means that system folders get searched for executable files before the Homebrew ones. It also means that Python packages are loaded from my user area and not the Homebrew one as was the case under its own terms. There are other things to remember with Python packages such as not having a version installed at the system level and another at the user one since these will conflict with one another.

So far, the result of the Homebrew changes is not unsatisfactory and I will watch for any rough edges that need addressing. If something comes up, then I will set things up in another way.

Converting QEMU disk images to VirtualBox images on Linux Mint 21

30th October 2022

Recently, VirtualBox gained fuller support for Windows 11 and I successively set up a new Windows 11 virtual machine that I hope will supplant a Windows 10 counterpart in time. The setup itself was streamlined but I ran into such stability issues that I set the new VM aside until a new version of VirtualBox got released. That has happened with the appearance of version 7.0.2 but Windows 11 remains prone to freezing on my Linux Mint machine. Thankfully, that now is much less frequent but the need for added stability remains outstanding.

While I was thinking about trying our Virtualbox 7.0.0, I remembered a QEMU machine that I had running Windows 11. Though QEMU proved more limited than VirtualBox when it came to having easy availability of functionality like moving data in and out of the virtual machine or support for sound, there was no problem with TPM support or system stability. Since it did contain some useful data, I wondered about converting its virtual hard disk to VirtualBox format and it is easy to do. First, you need to install qemu-img and other utilities as follows:

sudo apt-get install qemu-utils

With that in place, executing a command like the following performs the required conversion. Here, the -O switch specifies the required file type of vdi in this case.

qemu-img convert -O vdi [virtual hard disk].qcow2 [virtual hard disk].vdi

While I have yet to mount it on the new Virtualbox Windows 11 virtual machine, it is good to have the old virtual hard disk available for doing so. The thought of using it as a boot drive in VirtualBox did enter my mind but the required change of drivers and other incompatibilities dissuaded me from doing so.

Using inventory files with Ansible

28th October 2022

This is the second post on Ansible following my main system’s upgrade to Linux Mint 21. Then, I manually ran some Ansible playbooks only to spot messages that I had not noticed before. Here, I discuss two messages issued because of an issue with an inventory file, which is where one defines lists of servers against which playbooks are executed. The default is called hosts and is located at /etc/ansible but the system upgrade had renamed the existing one so Ansible could not find it. The solution was to take a copy and put somewhere safer. Then, I needed to add the location of the new file to the affected ansible-playbook commands using the following construct:

ansible-playbook [playbook path] -i [inventory file path]

Before I did this, I was seeing messages including the text “Could not match supplied host pattern” or others with the following text:

[WARNING]: No inventory was parsed, only implicit localhost is available

[WARNING]: provided hosts list is empty, only localhost is available. Note that the implicit localhost does not match 'all'

The cause was the same in each case and attending to the inventory file got rid of the unwanted messages. The new file also should not be affected by system upgrades in the future.

Fixing an Ansible warning about boolean type conversion

27th October 2022

My primary use for Ansible is doing system updates using the inbuilt apt module. Recently, I updated my main system to Linux Mint 21 and a few things like Ansible stopped working. Removing instances that I had added with pip3 sorted the problem but I then ran playbooks manually only for various warning messages to appear that I had not noticed before. What follows below is one of these.

[WARNING]: The value True (type bool) in a string field was converted to u'True' (type string). If this does not look like what you expect, quote the entire value to ensure it does not change.

The message is not so clear in some ways, not least because it had me looking for a boolean value of True when it should have been yes. A search on the web revealed something about the apt module that surprised me.: the value of the upgrade parameter is a string when others like it take boolean values of yes or no. Thus, I had passed a bareword of yes when it should have been declared in quotes as “yes”. To my mind, this is an inconsistency but I have changed things anyway to get rid of the message.

Controlling display of users on the logon screen in Linux Mint 20.3

15th February 2022

Recently, I tried using Commento with a static website that I was developing and this needed PostgreSQL rather than MySQL or MariaDB, which many content management tools use. That meant a learning curve that made me buy a book as well as the creation of a system account for administering PostgreSQL. These are not the kind of things that you want to be too visible so I wanted to hide them.

Since Linux Mint uses AccountsService, you cannot use lightdm to do this (the comments in /etc/lightdm/users.conf suggest as much). Instead, you need to go to /var/lib/AccountsService/users and look for a file called after the user name. If one exists, all that is needed is for you to add the following line under the [User] section:


If there is no file present for the user in question, then you need to create one with the following lines in there:


Once the configuration files are set up as needed, AccountsService needs to be restarted and the following command does that deed:

sudo systemctl restart accounts-daemon.service

Logging out should reveal that the user in question is not listed on the logon screen as required.

Stopping Firefox from launching on the wrong virtual desktop on Linux Mint

12th October 2021

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.

Limiting Google Drive upload & synchronisation speeds using Trickle

9th October 2021

Having had a mishap that lost me some photos in the early days of my dalliance with digital photography, I have been far more careful since then and that now applies to other files as well. Doing regular backups is a must that you find reiterated by many different authors and the current computing climate makes doing that more vital than it ever was.

So, as well as having various local backups, I also have remote ones in the form of OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive. These more correctly are file synchronisation services but disciplined use can make them useful as additional storage facilities in the interests of maintaining added resilience. There also are dedicated backup services that I have seen reviewed in the likes of PC Pro magazine but I have to make use of those.


Part of my process for dealing with new digital photo files is to back them up to Google Drive and I did that with a Windows client in the early days but then moved to Insync running on Linux Mint. One drawback to the approach is that this hogs the upload bandwidth of an internet connection that has yet to move to fibre from copper cabling. Having fibre connections to a local cabinet helps but a 100 KiB/s upload speed is easily overwhelmed and digital photo file sizes keep increasing. It does not help that I insist on using more flexible raw formats like DNG, CR2 or CR3 either.

Making fewer images could help to cut the load but I still come away from an excursion with many files because I get so besotted with my surroundings. This means that upload sessions take numerous hours and can extend across calendar days. Ultimately, this makes my internet connection far less usable so I want to throttle upload speed much like what is possible in the Transmission BitTorrent client or in the Dropbox client. Unfortunately, this is not available in Insync so I have tried using the trickle command instead and an example is below:

trickle -d 2000 -u 50 insync

Here, the upload speed is limited to 50 KiB/s while the download speed is limited to 2000 KiB/s. In my case, the latter of these hardly matters while the former leaves me with acceptable internet usability. Insync does not work smoothly with this, however, so occasional restarts are needed to keep file uploads progressing and CPU load also is higher. As rough as the user experience feels, uploads can continue in parallel with other work.


One other option that I am exploring is the use of the command-line tool gdrive and this appears to work well with trickle. After downloading and installing the tool, getting going is a matter of issuing the following command and following the instructions:

gdrive about

On web servers, I even have the tool backing up things to Google Drive on a scheduled basis. Because of a Google Drive limitation that I have encountered not only with gdrive but also with Insync and Google’s own Windows Google Drive client, synchronisation only can happen with two new folders, one local and the other remote. Handily, gdrive supports the usual bash style commands for working with remote directories so something like the following will create a directory on Google Drive:

gdrive mkdir ttdc [ID for parent folder]

Here, the ID for the parent folder may be omitted but it can be obtained by going to Google Drive online and getting a link location by right-clicking on a folder and choosing the appropriate context menu item. This gets you something like the following and the required identifier is found between the last slash and the first question mark in the address string (so as not to share any real links, I made the address more general below):[remote folder ID]?usp=sharing

Then, synchronisation uses a command like the following:

gdrive sync upload [local folder or file path] [remote folder ID]

There also is the option to do a one-way upload and this is the form of the command used:

gdrive upload [local folder or file path] -p [remote folder ID]

Because every file or folder object has its own ID on Google Drive, it is possible to create two objects on there that appear to have the same name though that is sure to cause confusion even if you know what is happening. It is possible in each of the above to throttle them using trickle as well:

trickle -d 2000 -u 50 gdrive sync upload [local folder or file path] [remote folder ID]
trickle -d 2000 -u 50 gdrive upload [local folder or file path] -p [remote folder ID]

Handily, this works without the added drama seen with Insync and lends itself to scripting as well so it could be something that I will incorporate into my current workflow. One thing that needs to be watched is file upload failures but there may be ways to catch those and retry them so that would another thing that needs doing. This is built into Insync and it would be a learning opportunity if I was to stick with gdrive instead.

When a hard drive is unrecognised by the Linux hddtemp command

15th August 2021

One should not do a new PC build in the middle of a heatwave if you do not want to be concerned about how fast fans are spinning and how hot things are getting. Yet, that is what I did last month after delaying the act for numerous months.

My efforts mean that I have a system built around an AMD Ryzen 9 5950X CPU and a Gigabyte X570 Aorus Pro with 64 GB of memory and things are settling down after the initial upheaval. That also meant some adjustments to the CPU fan profile in the BIOS for quieter running while the the use of Be Quiet! Dark Rock 4 cooler also helps as does a Be Quiet! Silent Wings 3 case fan. All are components from trusted brands though I wonder how much abuse they got during their installation and subsequent running in.

Fan noise is a non-quantitative indicator of heat levels as much as touch so more quantitative means are in order. Aside from using a thermocouple device, there are in-built sensors too. My using Linux Mint means that I have the sensors command from the lm-sensors package for checking on CPU and other temperatures though hddtemp is what you need for checking on the same for hard drives. The latter can be used as follows:

sudo hddtemp /dev/sda /dev/sdb

This has to happen using administrator access and a list of drives needs to be provided because it cannot find them by itself. In my case, I have no mechanical hard drives installed in non-NAS systems and I even got to replacing a 6 TB Western Digital Green disk with an 8 TB SSD but I got the following when I tried checking on things with hddtemp:

WARNING: Drive /dev/sda doesn't seem to have a temperature sensor.
WARNING: This doesn't mean it hasn't got one.
WARNING: If you are sure it has one, please contact me ([email protected]).
WARNING: See --help, --debug and --drivebase options.
/dev/sda: Samsung SSD 870 QVO 8TB: no sensor

The cause of the message for me was that there is no entry for Samsung SSD 870 QVO 8TB in /etc/hddtemp.db so that needed to be added there. Before that could be rectified, I needed to get some additional information using smartmontools and these needed to be installed using the following command:

sudo apt-get install smartmontools

What I needed to do was check the drive’s SMART data output for extra information and that was achieved using the following command:

sudo smartctl /dev/sda -a | grep -i Temp

What this does is to look for the temperature information from smartctl output using the grep command with output from the first being passed to the second through a pipe. This yielded the following:

190 Airflow_Temperature_Cel 0x0032 072 050 000 Old_age Always - 28

The first number in the above (190) is the thermal sensor’s attribute identifier and that was needed in what got added to /etc/hddtemp.db. The following command added the necessary data to the aforementioned file:

echo \"Samsung SSD 870 QVO 8TB\" 190 C \"Samsung SSD 870 QVO 8TB\" | sudo tee -a /etc/hddtemp.db

Here, the output of the echo command was passed to the tee command for adding to the end of the file. In the echo command output, the first part is the name of the drive, the second is the heat sensor identifier, the third is the temperature scale (C for Celsius or F for Fahrenheit) and the last part is the label (it can be anything that you like but I kept it the same as the name). On re-running the hddtemp command, I got output like the following so all was as I needed it to be.

/dev/sda: Samsung SSD 870 QVO 8TB: 28°C

Since then, temperatures may have cooled and the weather become more like what we usually get but I am still keeping an eye on things, especially when the system is put under load using Perl, R, Python or SAS. There may be further modifications such as changing the case or even adding water cooling, not least to have a cooler power supply unit, but nothing is being rushed as I monitor things to my satisfaction.

Changing the UUID of a VirtualBox Virtual Disk Image in Linux

11th July 2021

Recent experimentation centring around getting my hands on a test version of Windows 11 had me duplicating virtual machines and virtual disk images though VirtualBox still is not ready for the next Windows version; it has no TPM capability at the moment. Nevertheless, I was able to get something after a fresh installation that removed whatever files were on the disk image. That meant that I needed to mount the old version to get at those files again.

Renaming partially helped with this but what I really needed to do was change the UUID so VirtualBox would not report a collision between two disk images with the same UUID. To avoid this, the UUID of one of the disk images had to be changed and a command like the following was used to accomplish this:

VBoxManage internalcommands sethduuid [Virtual Disk Image Name].vdi

Because I was doing this on Linux Mint, I could call VBoxManage without need to tell the system where it was as would be the case in Windows. Otherwise, it is the sethduuid portion that changes the UUID as required. Another way around this is to clone the VDI file using the following command but I had not realised that at the time:

VBoxManage clonevdi [old virtual disk image].vdi [new virtual disk image].vdi

It seems that there can be more than way to do things in VirtualBox at times so the second way will remain on reference for the future.

Removing obsolete libraries from Flatpak

1st February 2020

Along with various pieces of software, Flatpak also installs KDE and GNOME libraries needed to support them. However, it does not always remove obsolete versions of those libraries whenever software gets updated. One result is that messages regarding obsolete versions of GNOME may be issued and this has been known to cause confusion because there is the GNOME instance that is part of a Linux distro like Ubuntu and using Flatpak adds another one for its software packages to use. My use of Linux Mint may lesson the chances of misunderstanding.

Thankfully, executing a single command will remove any obsolete Flatpak libraries so the messages no longer appear and there then is no need to touch your actual Linux installation. This then is the command that sorted it for me:

flatpak uninstall --unused && sudo flatpak repair

The first part that removes any unused libraries is run as a normal user so there is no error in the above command. Administrative privileges are needed for the second section that does any repairs that are needed. It might be better if Flatpak did all this for you using the update command but that is not how the thing works. At least, there is a quick way to address this state of affairs and there might be some good reasons for having things work as they do.

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