Saturday, October 26, 2013

Conserving screen space in GNOME

I finally found a tool to accomplish something I have wanted for a long time, namely tuning the size of icons and buttons in Gnome. Gnome applications waste a lot of precious screen space by default, probably the default settings are developed for and by people with six HD monitors at their desks. On a tiny screen such as the 1024x600 screen in my eee-pc, pixels are precious and should not be wasted.

The tool I found is called gnome-color-chooser. Install it with

sudo aptitude install gnome-color-chooser

I should say that I'm using Linux Mint Debian, with the Mate desktop based on Gnome 2. Gnome 3 appears to be configured differently, judging from a quick search.

The color chooser tool allows you to choose the colors of different elements, but it has several settings for button sizes and icon sizes as well. First, let's set all paddings to 0, except the y-padding of widgets which I chose to keep as 1. Check Use shadowless Menubars and Use shadowless Toolbars. On the Icons tab, you can set icon sizes. I set the sizes to 14-12-12-12. I particularly liked the setting Start menu, setting it to 12 pixels made the menu small, nice and manageable.

What the tool actually does is to provide settings in a file included from .gtkrc-2.0.
As the Archlinux Wiki points out, one can also modify the .gtkrc-2.0 file by hand.

Other settings to change for a compact look:
  • System > Preferences > Appearance, Fonts-tab, Details-button. Change Screen resolution from 96 to 80. For some reason, this setting works better than changing the font sizes.
  • System > Preferences > Appearance, Themes-tab. Controls: Clearlooks, Window borders: Mint-X, Icons: Gnome

While at it, fix the file manager preferences:
  • View new folders using: Compact View
  • Compact view defaults, Default zoom level 66%
  • Uncheck All columns have the same width
With the latest update pack for LMDE, many application started to display the following warning when run in a terminal. I frequently launch emacs from a terminal to edit files, then the message clutters up the terminal.

Fontconfig warning: "/etc/fonts/conf.d/53-monospace-lcd-filter.conf", line 10: Having multiple values in <test> isn't supported and may not work as expected

A quick fix to get rid of this annoyance is to comment out line 10 of the offending file:
<!--  <string>Bitstream Vera Sans Mono</string> -->
I figure this might change something, but it looks that the file was broken anyway as it was shipped.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

New disk for an old eee-pc

Our trusty eee-pc 901 was getting slower and slower. The 16G SSD in it was not very fast to begin with, but has definitely become slower over time. To keep the otherwise nice laptop running for a few more years, I decided to upgrade the SSD. The drive I ended up buying a 64G Super Talent FPM64GLSE. RunCore disks have a reputation for being faster, but they were also more expensive and hard to obtain. The eee-pc requires a PCI-E disk. There are also newer mSata disks available. These use a physically similar connector as PCI-E, but are not compatible.

A quick test of the Super Talent with iozone yielded the following results, in KB/s. The same settings were the same as when measuring SD card performance on the raspberry Pi earlier,
./iozone -e -I -a -s 50M -r 4k -r 512k -r 16M -i 0 -i 1 -i 2

                                   random random
reclen write rewrite   read reread   read  write
     4 17258   20110  12626  12623  12528   1457
   512 74590   41339 127710 127909 121887  74354
 16384 40403   75312 129705 129748 130483  40077

As with SD cards, the speeds that the manufacturers specify is the rate of sequential reading or writing of large contiguous blocks (Reading max 150 MB/s, writing max 100 MB/s is what they specify). Randomly writing small blocks of data is a much slower. Still, I am pleased with this result. Also in practice the upgrade had a large effect, the laptop feels much more responsive.

An annoyance with this drive is that it is configured as a slave. When booting the eee, it complains that no master disk is present and demands to press F1. When F1 is pressed, the boot proceeds normally, the unnecessary message just prevents the machine from booting unsupervised.

I installed Linux Mint Debian Edition on the new drive. I had Ubuntu 11.10 before, which started to show its age. I decided not to upgrade it, after experiencing Ubuntu 12.04 on another machine - I felt that the upgrade to 12.04 broke the user interface.

I am happy with Linux Mint. However, I came across a couple of problems during the installation. One that looked serious was that GParted reported errors about a recursive partition on the newly installed disk. I could not get rid of this message but decided to continue the installation anyway, and it turned out fine. To reduce the disk writes and the wear, I added noatime to the mount options for the disk in /etc/fstab.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Airport luggage cones

Found these beauties at the airport. My theory is that they have something to do with luggage transport.
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