Carrying out a hard reset of a home KVM switch

During a recent upgrade from Linux Mint 18 to Linux Mint 18.1 on a secondary machine, I ran into bother with my Startech KVM (keyboard, video, mouse and audio sharing) switch. The PC failed to recognise the attachment of my keyboard and mouse so an internet search began.

Nothing promising came from it apart from resetting the KVM switch. In other words, the solution was to turn it off and back on again. That was something that I did try without success. What I had overlooked was that there USB connections to PC’s that fed the device with a certain amount of power and that was enough to keep it on.

Unplugging those USB cables as well as the power cable was needed to completely switch off the device. That provided the reset that I needed and all was well again. Otherwise, I would have been baffled enough to resort to buying a replacement KVM switch so the extra information avoided a purchase that could have cost in the region of £100. In other words, a little research had saved me money.

Trying out a new way to upgrade Linux Mint in situ while going from 17.3 to 18.1

There was a time when the only recommended way to upgrade Linux Mint from one version to another was to do a fresh installation with back-ups of data and a list of the installed applications created from a special tool.

Even so, it never stopped me doing my own style of in situ upgrade though some might see that as a risky option. More often than not, that actually worked without causing major problems in a time when Linux Mint releases were more tightly tied to Ubuntu’s own six-monthly cycle.

In recent years, Linux Mint’s releases have kept in line with Ubuntu’s Long Term Support (LTS) editions instead. That means that any major change comes only every two years with minor releases in between those. The latter are delivered through Linux Mint’s Update Manager so the process is a simple one to implement. Still, upgrades are not forced on you so it is left to your discretion as to when you need to upgrade since all main and interim versions get the same extended level of support. In fact, the recommendation is not to upgrade at all unless something is broken on your own installation.

For a number of reasons, I stuck with that advice by sticking on my main machine with Linux Mint 17.3 instead of upgrading to Linux Mint 18. The fact that I broke things on another machine using an older method of upgrading provided even more encouragement.

However, I subsequently discovered another means of upgrading between major versions of Linux Mint that had some endorsement from the project. There still are warnings about testing a live DVD version of Linux Mint on your PC first and backing up your data beforehand. Another task is ensuring that you are upgraded from a fully up to data Linux Mint 17.3 installation.

When you are ready, you can install mintupgrade using the following command:

sudo apt-get install mintupgrade

When that is installed, there is a sequence of tasks that you need to do. The first of these is to simulate an upgrade to test for the appearance of untoward messages and resolve them. Repeating any checking until all is well gets a recommendation. The command is as follows:

mintupgrade check

Once you are happy that the system is ready, the next step is to download the updated packages so they are on your machine ahead of their installation. Only then should you begin the upgrade process. The two commands that you need to execute are below:

mintupgrade download
mintupgrade upgrade

Once these have completed, you can restart your system. In my case the whole process worked well with only my PHP installation needing attention. A clash between different versions of the scripting interpretor was addressed by removing the older one since PHP 7 is best kept for sake of testing. Beyond that, a reinstallation of VMware Player and the move from version 18 to version 18.1, there hardly was anything more to do and there was next to no real disruption. That is just as well since I depend heavily on my main PC these days. The backup option of a full installation would have left me clearing up things for a few days afterwards since I use a bespoke selection of software.

Pondering travel device consolidation using an Apple iPad Pro 12.9″

It was a change of job in 2010 that got me interested in using devices with internet connectivity on the go. Until then, the attraction of smartphones had not been strong but I got myself a Blackberry on a pay as you go contract but the entry device was painfully slow and the connectivity was 2G. It was a very sluggish start.

It was supplemented by an Asus eeePC that I connected to the internet using broadband dongles and a WiFi hub. This cumbersome arrangement did not work well on short journeys and the variability of mobile network reception even meant that longer journeys were not all that successful either. Usage in hotels and guesthouses though went better and that has meant that the miniature laptop came with me on many a journey.

In time, I moved away from broadband dongles to using smartphones as WiFi hubs and that largely is how I work with laptops and tablets away from home unless there is hotel WiFi available. Even trips overseas have seen me operate in much the same manner.

One feature is that we seem to carry quite a number of different gadgets with us at a time and that can cause inconvenience when going through airport security since they want to screen each device separately. When you are carrying a laptop, a tablet, a phone and a camera, it does take time to organise yourself and you can meet impatient staff as I found recently when returning from Oslo. Checking in whatever you can as hold luggage helps to get around at least some of the nuisance and it might be time for the use of better machinery to cut down on having to screen everything separately.

When you come away after an embarrassing episode as I once did, the attractions of consolidating devices start to become plain. In fact, most probably could get with having just their phone. It is when you take activities like photography more seriously that the gadget count increases. After all, the main reason a laptop comes on trips beyond Britain and Ireland at all is to back up photos from my camera in case an SD card fails.

Apple iPad Pro 12.9″

Parking that thought for a while, let’s go back to March this year when temptation overcame what should have been a period of personal restraint. The result was that a 32 GB 12.9″ Apple iPad Pro came into my possession along with an Apple Pencil and a Logitech CREATE Backlit Keyboard Case. It should have done so but the size of the screen did not strike me until I got it home from the Apple store and that was one of the main attractions because maps can be shown with a greater field of view in a variety of apps, a big selling point for a hiker with a liking for maps who wants more than anything from Apple, Google or even Bing. The precision of the Pencil is another boon that makes surfing the website so much easier and the solid connection between the case and the iPad means that keyboard usage is less fiddly than it would if it used Bluetooth. Having tried them with the BBC iPlayer app, I can confirm that the sound from the speakers is better than any other mobile device that I have used.

Already, it has come with me on trips around England and Scotland. These weekend trips saw me leave the Asus eeePC stay at home when it normally might have come with me and taking just a single device along with a camera or two had its uses too. The screen is large for reading on a train but I find that it works just as well so long as you have enough space. Otherwise, combining use of a suite of apps with recourse to the web does much of the information seeking needed while on a trip away and I was not found wanting. Battery life is good too, which helps.

Those trips allowed for a little light hotel room blog post editing too and the iPad Pro did what was needed though the ergonomics of reaching for the screen with the Pencil meant that meant that my arm was held aloft more than was ideal. Another thing that raised questions in my mind is the appearance of word suggestions at the bottom of the screen as if this were a mobile phone since I wondered if these were more of a hindrance than a help given that I just fancied typing and not pointing at the screen to complete words. Copying and pasting works too but I have found the screen-based version a little clunky so I must see if the keyboard one works just as well though the keyboard set up is typical of a Mac so that affects word selection. You need to use the OPTION key in the keyboard shortcut that you use for this and not COMMAND or CONTROL as you might do on a PC.

Transcend JetDrive Go 300

Even with these eccentricities, I was left wondering if it had any utility when it came to backing up photos from digital cameras and there is an SD card adapter that makes this possible. A failure of foresight on my part meant that the 32 GB capacity now is an obvious limitation but I think I might have hit on a possible solution that does not need upload to an iCloud account. It involves clearing off the photos onto a 128 GB Transcend JetDrive Go 300 so they do not clog up the iPad Pro’s storage. That the device has both Lightning and USB connectivity means that you can plug it into a laptop or desktop PC afterwards too. If that were to work as I would hope, then the laptop/tablet combination that I have been using for all overseas trips could be replaced  to allow a weight reduction as well as cutting the hassle at airport security.

Trips to Ireland still may see my sticking with a tried and tested combination though because I often have needed to do some printing while over there. While I have been able to print a test document from an iPad Mini on my home network-connected printer, not every model supports this and that for NFC or AirPrint is not universal either. If this were not an obstacle, apps like Pages, Numbers and Keynote could have their uses for business-related work and there are web-based offerings from Google, Microsoft and others too.

In conclusion, I have found the my iPad Pro does so much of what I need on a trip away that retiring the laptop/tablet combination for most of these is not as outrageous as it once would have seemed. In some ways, iOS has a way to go yet before it could take over from MacOS but it remains in development so it will be interesting see what happens next. All the while, hybrid devices running Windows 10 are becoming more pervasive and that might provide Apple with the encouragement that it needs.

Using PowerShell to reinstall Windows Apps

Recently, I managed to use 10AppsManager to remove most of the in-built apps from a Windows 10 virtual machine that I have for testing development versions in case anything ugly were to appear in a production update. Curiosity is my excuse for letting the tool do what it did and some could do with restoration. Out of the lot, Windows Store is the main one that I have sorted so far.

The first step of the process was to start up PowerShell in administrator mode. On my system, this is as simple as clicking on the relevant item in the menu popped up by right clicking on the Start Menu button and clicking on the Yes button in the dialogue box that appears afterwards. In your case, it might be a case of right clicking on the appropriate Start Menu programs entry, selecting the administrator option and going from there.

With this PowerShell session open, the first command to issue is the following:

Get-Appxpackage -Allusers > c:\temp\appxpackage.txt

This creates a listing of Windows app information and pops it into a text file in your choice of directory. Opening the text file in Notepad allows you to search it more easily and there is an entry for Windows Store:

Name                   : Microsoft.WindowsStore
Publisher              : CN=Microsoft Corporation, O=Microsoft Corporation, L=Redmond, S=Washington, C=US
Architecture           : X64
ResourceId             :
Version                : 11607.1001.32.0
PackageFullName        : Microsoft.WindowsStore_11607.1001.32.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
InstallLocation        : C:\Program Files\WindowsApps\Microsoft.WindowsStore_11607.1001.32.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
IsFramework            : False
PackageFamilyName      : Microsoft.WindowsStore_8wekyb3d8bbwe
PublisherId            : 8wekyb3d8bbwe
PackageUserInformation : {S-1-5-21-3224249330-198124288-2558179248-1001
IsResourcePackage      : False
IsBundle               : False
IsDevelopmentMode      : False
Dependencies           : {Microsoft.VCLibs.140.00_14.0.24123.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe,
Microsoft.NET.Native.Framework.1.3_1.3.24201.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe,
Microsoft.NET.Native.Runtime.1.3_1.3.23901.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe,
Microsoft.WindowsStore_11607.1001.32.0_neutral_split.scale-100_8wekyb3d8bbwe}

Using the information from the InstallLocation field, the following command can be built and executed (here, it has gone over several lines so you need to get your version onto a single one):

Add-AppxPackage -register “C:\Program Files\WindowsApps\Microsoft.WindowsStore_11607.1001.32.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe\AppxManifest.xml” -DisableDevelopmentMode

Once the above has completed, the app was installed and ready to use again. As the mood took me, I installed other apps from the Windows Store as I saw fit.

Forcing an upgrade to Windows 10 Anniversary Update

There remain people who advise those on Windows 7 or 8.x to hold fire on upgrading to Windows 10. Now that the free upgrade no longer is available, that advice may hold more weight than it did. Even so, there are those among us who jumped ship who do not mind having the latest versions of things at no monetary cost to see what is available and I must admit to being one of those.

After all, I do have a virtual machine with a pre-release version of the next update to Windows 10 installed on there to see what might be coming our way and to get a sense of what changes that may bring so that I am ready for those. Otherwise, I usually am happy to wait but I noticed that the Windows 10 Anniversary Update only came to my HP Pavilion dm4 laptop and not other machines with Windows 10 installed so I started to wonder why there was a lag when it came to automatic upgrades.

So that these things do not arrive when it is least convenient, I took advantage of a manual method in order to choose my timing. This did not involve installation from a disk image but was in-situ. The first part of the process is standard enough in that the Settings app was started and the Update & security item chosen. That dropped me onto the Windows Update and I first clicked on the Check for updates button to see what would happen. When nothing came of that, the Learn more link was clicked to bring me onto part of the Microsoft support website where I found that the Windows 10 Anniversary Update installer could be downloaded so I duly did just that.

Running it produced a screen asking whether or not I wanted to proceed. Since I wanted to go ahead, the appropriate button was clicked and the machine left alone until the process complete. Because the installer purely is a facilitator, the first stage is to download the rest of the files needed and that will take a while on any connection. Once downloading was completed, the actual process of installation commenced with several restarts before a log-in screen was again on offer. On logging in to the machine, the last part of the process started.

The process took quite a while but seemingly worked without a hitch. If there was anything that I needed to do, it was the re-installation of VirtualBox Guest Additions to restore access to shared folders as well as dealing with a self-inflicted irritation. Otherwise, I have found that previously installed software worked as expected and no file has been missed. Waiting a while may have had its advantages too because initial issues with the Anniversary Update will have been addressed but it is best not to leave it too long or you could have the feeling of being forgotten. A happy balance needs striking.