Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Changing the Ansible Vault editor from Vi to Nano

15th August 2022

Recently, I got to experimenting with Ansible after reading about the orchestration tool in a copy of Admin magazine. It came in handy for updating a few web servers that I have as well as updating my main Linux workstation. For the former, automated entry of SSH passwords sufficed but the same did not apply for sudo usage on my local machine. This meant that I needed to use Ansible Vault to store the administrator password and doing so opened up a file in the Vi editor. since I am not familiar with Vi and wanted to get things sorted quickly, I fancied using something more user-friendly like Nano.

Doing this meant adding the following line to .bashrc:

export EDITOR=nano

Saving and closing the file followed by reloading the session set me up for what was needed.

Upgrading from OpenMediaVault 5.x to OpenMediaVault 6.x

8th June 2022

Having an older PC to upgrade, I decided to install OpenMediaVault on there a few years ago after adding in 6 TB and 4 TB hard drives for storage, a Gigabit network card to speed up backups and a new BeQuiet! power supply to make it quieter. It has been working smoothly since then and the release of OpenMediaVault 6.x had me wondering how to move to it.

Usefully, I enabled an SSH service for remote logins and set up an account for anything that I needed to do. This includes upgrades, taking backups of what is on my NAS drives and even shutting down the machine when I am done with what I need to do with it.

Using an SSH session, the first step was to switch to the administrator account and issue the following command to ensure that my OpenMediaVault 5.x installation was as up to date as it could be:

omv-update

Once that had completed what it needed to do, the next step was to do the upgrade itself with the following command:

omv-release-upgrade

With that complete, it was time to reboot the system and I fired up the web administration interface and spotted a kernel update that I applied. Again the system was restarted and further updates were noticed and these were applied, again through the web interface. The whole thing is based on Debian 11.x but I am not complaining since it quietly does exactly what I need of it.

Lightening of desktop background images on Linux Mint Debian Edition running in Virtualbox

22nd October 2018

After a recent upgrade to Linux Mint Debian Edition 3 in a VirtualBox virtual machine that I had running its predecessor, I began to notice that background images were being loaded with more washed out of faded colours. This happened at startup so selecting another background image worked as intended until the same thing happened to that after a system restart.

This problem is not new and has affected the Cinnamon desktop in the main Linux Mint variant (the one that is based on Ubuntu) and issuing the following command in a terminal session is a suggested solution:

gsettings set org.cinnamon.muffin background-transition fade-in

In my case, that solved the problem and desktop background image display is as it should be since I executed the above. All it took was a change to a system setting.

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

9th August 2018

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.

Upgrading avahi-dnsconfd on Ubuntu

18th April 2018

This is how I got around problem that occurred when I was updating a virtualised Ubuntu 16.04 instance that I have. My usual way to do this is using apt-get or apt from the command line and the process halted because a pre-removal script for the upgrade of avahi-dnsconf failed. The cause was its not disabling the avahi daemon beforehand so I need to execute the following command before repeating the operation:

sudo systemctl disable avahi-daemon

Once the upgrade had completed, then it was time to re-enable the service using the following command:

sudo systemctl enable avahi-daemon

Ideally, this would completed without such manual intervention and there is a bug report for the unexpected behaviour. Hopefully, it will be sorted soon but these steps will fix things for now.

Carrying out a hard reset of a home KVM switch

20th March 2017

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

19th March 2017

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.

Forcing an upgrade to Windows 10 Anniversary Update

6th September 2016

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.

More thoughts on Windows 10

11th August 2015

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.

Migrating to Windows 10

10th August 2015

While I have had preview builds of Windows 10 in various virtual machines for the most of twelve months, actually upgrading physical and virtual devices that you use for more critical work is a very different matter. Also, Windows 10 is set to be a rolling release with enhancements coming on an occasional basis so I would like to see what comes before it hits the actual machines that I need to use. That means that a VirtualBox instance of the preview build is being retained to see what happens to that over time.

Some might call it incautious but I have taken the plunge and completely moved from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. The first machine that I upgrade was more expendable and success with that encouraged me to move onto others before even including a Windows 7 machine to see how that went. The 30-day restoration period allows an added degree of comfort when doing all this. The list of machines that I upgraded were a VMware VM with 32-bit Windows 8.1 Pro (itself part of a 32-bit upgrade cascade involving Windows 7 Home and Windows 8 Pro), a VirtualBox VM with 64-bit Windows 8.1, a physical PC that dual booted Linux Mint 17.2 and 64-bit Windows 8.1 and a HP Pavilion dm4 laptop (Intel Core i3 with 8GB RAM and a 1 TB SSHD) with Windows 7.

The main issue that I uncovered with the virtual machines is that the Windows 10 update tool that is downloaded onto Windows 7 and 8.x does not accept the graphics capability on there. This is a bug because the functionality works fine on the Windows Insider builds. The solution was to download the appropriate Windows 10 ISO image for use in the ensuing upgrade. There are 32-bit and 64-bit disk images with Windows 10 and Windows 10 Pro installation files on each. My own actions used both disk images.

During the virtual machine upgrades,most of the applications that considered important were carried over from Windows 8.1 to Windows without a bother. Anyone would expect Microsoft’s own software like Word, Excel and others to make the transition but others like Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom made it too as did Mozilla’s Firefox, albeit requiring a trip to Settings in order to set it as the default option for opening web pages. Less well known desktop applications like Zinio (digital magazines) or Mapyx Quo (maps for cycling, walking and the like) were the same. Classic Shell was an exception but the Windows 10 Start Menu suffices for now anyway. Also, there was a need to reinstate Bitdefender Antivirus Plus using its new Windows 10 compatible installation file. Still, the experience was a big change from the way things used to be in the days when you used have to reinstall nearly all your software following a Windows upgrade.

The Windows 10 update tool worked well for the Windows 8.1 PC so no installation disks were needed. Neither was the boot loader overwritten so the Windows option needed selecting from GRUB every time there was a system reboot as part of the installation process, a temporary nuisance that was tolerated since booting into Linux Mint was preserved. Again, no critical software was lost in the process apart from Kaspersky Internet Security, which needed the Windows 10 compatible version installed, much like Bitdefender, or Epson scanning software that I found was easy to reinstall anyway. Usefully, Anquet’s Outdoor Map Navigator (again used for working with walking and cycling maps) continue to function properly after the changeover.

For the Windows 7 laptop, it was much the same story albeit with the upgrade being delivered  using Windows Update. Then, the main Windows account could be connected to my Outlook account to get everything tied up with the other machines for the first time. Before the obligatory change of background picture, the browns in the one that I was using were causing interface items to appear in red, not exactly my favourite colour for application menus and the like. Now they are in blue and all the upheaval surrounding the operating system upgrade had no effect on the Dropbox or Kaspersky installations that I had in place before it all started. If there is any irritation, it is that unpinning of application tiles from the Start Menu or turning off of live tiles is not always as instantaneous as I would have liked and that is all done now anyway.

While writing the above, I could not help thinking that more observations on Windows 10 may follow but these will do for now. Microsoft had to get this upgrade process right and it does appear that they have so credit is due to them for that. So far, I have Windows 10 to be stable and will be seeing how things develop from here, especially when those new features arrive from time to time as is the promise that has been made to us users. Hopefully, that will be as painless as it needs to be to ensure trust is retained.

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