Going beyond

This was to be a two part set of blog posts but This Week in Ontario Edublogs got into the middle of things.

If you think back a couple of days ago, I wrote a post titled “Why wouldn’t you use the tools you can?” where I discussed how I had encountered a problem upgrading my instance of Ubuntu.  I had this obscure looking error message

“Can not run the upgrade. This usually is caused by a system where /tmp is mounted noexec. Please remount without noexec and run the upgrade again.“

and basically had to solve it before I could go any further.

Rather than tinkering around, I copied the message exactly as it was displayed and pasted it into a search engine.  I got lots of hits for answers, found the one that made the most sense

sudo mount -o remount,exec /tmp

opened a terminal and ran it.  Problem solved.

As I continued to think about this, I realized that, while I had solved my problem, I hadn’t learned very much.  I had done what we tell students not to do.  How many times do we hear “Just Google it”.  Heck, it was even advice given in the latest presidential debate.

So to complete the learning process, I needed to dig a bit deeper.  

I could make some pretty good guesses about what happened.

SUDO – This is required knowledge when working on a Linux machine.  By default, many of the commands that could destroy your system are not available to the regular user.  Imagine a school computer with no restraints.  There does come a time when you need to do some major surgery and so you elevate the process with this – “SuperUser do”.  My time managing a QNX system paid off.  A complete discussion is available here.  ROOTSUDO

MOUNT – I knew what was happening here too.  Basically, in order to read and/or write to a drive or device, it needs to be mounted.  The key though, and why it applied here, is that you have to have the proper permissions.  In this case, I needed to make the /tmp folder executable.  The mount command includes the ability to add options (-o) to it.  That completed the puzzle.  A complete discussion is available here.  mount – Unix, Linux Command

Therein is my learning for this event.

If it happens again, I’d probably search and copy/paste like I did this time but my background knowledge means that I’ll be a little more confident doing so.  

It was a good time and thing to learn.  Without the actual need to solve a problem though, if I was in a class, I think I would be justified to be taking notes and asking “When will I ever need this?”


Why wouldn’t you use the tools you can?

You can’t know everything and nobody should be criticized for using the best tools to get the answer to your question.  

The tool that many people use is, of course, Google.  And, we know that’s not the only tool at our request – Lycos, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo!, and so many more.  Go to your browser settings to see all that are currently available and how to add more if your favourite isn’t there upon installation.

People’s use of these things can generate answers and, perhaps at times, a smile.

For the smile, check out this story.  “How-To Questions Each State Googles More Frequently Than Any Other State”  It’s fun to take a virtual tour of the US and I feel sorry for those in Michigan.  And, for those in Florida, head north.

As I smirked and toured around, it struck me how we have come to rely on things online to generate answers for us.  Suppose you’re sitting in a train station and a question comes to mind.  Certainly, you can’t turn to the person sitting next to you on a bench for a guaranteed reliable answer.  You have no idea what level of expertise they might have.  They might give you a wrong answer.  Or, they might give an answer based upon a popular misconception.  

Of course, the same problem might exist if you go online but the joy of different searches and multiple results let you validate any answer before proceeding.  Try asking the person at the train station for a second opinion.

What brought all of this to my mind was a problem that I had yesterday.  Actually, two problems!

First, I’d been reading about people using Ubuntu 16.10, their experiences and how Unity 8 was now available for preview.  I found this kind of bizarre because I hadn’t even been notified that the update was available for my system.  It’s not that I wasn’t happy with 16.04 but I like to play around with new things.  What to do?  What to do?  

Certainly, I could go and download a copy, put it on a USB and try it/install it.  But, I shouldn’t have to do that.  One of the powerful things about Ubuntu is being able to upgrade in place.  (Then, go and install a fresh copy later if needed)  Why wasn’t I notified?  As I pondered, my mind was filled with screen shots and I remembered one.

Right at the very bottom is an option of when to be notified of any new versions.  With 16.04, I had explored this and somehow had left it to only notify me of any new long-term supported versions.  A quick change to the new version, run the updater again, and voila.  16.10 was indeed available for me.  I felt pretty darn good for problem solving, and even better that my memory was still intact.

Then, something more difficult happened.  As I ran the installer, I got an error message.  It was kind of cryptic.

Can not run the upgrade. This usually is caused by a system where /tmp is mounted noexec. Please remount without noexec and run the upgrade again.

This, I had no memory or recollection of.  Temporary directories exist on all systems and sometimes even within a directory of an application.  I most certainly would have had no need to go and mount it as noexec.  So, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to how to reverse it.

How would I solve this?

The only other breathing thing in the room was the dog waiting to go for a walk.  I had intended to do the download and installation while we were out and then be ready to go when we got back.  

I knew, from a high level, what needed to be done to solve my current problem.  It’s not major surgery but does require modifying attributes to the directory. 

So, like the folks in Nevada, I needed advice on how to survive this apocalypse.  Hello, my little online helpers.




I was concerned a bit about the last one figuring the answer would be to upgrade to Windows 10.

There were some areas of comfort here.

First, I wasn’t the only person who had ever had this situation.  There were lots of questions about it and the situation wasn’t new to 16.10.  

Secondly, the same results appeared highly (2730 in Bing, 1780 in Google) so the problem/results appeared to be validated.  

Normally, I would be cautious about doing something like giving a directory executable permissions.  But, Ubuntu wanted it and there were lots of articles to support the concept.  I opened a terminal, copy and pasted the text, and ran the upgrade.  

I’m here this morning typing this to let you know that I’m starting to catch on to this computer thing.

With help from the community of course.

So, in response to the questions asked in the original article, “There are no dumb questions”.

Boring? I’ll take it

On Thursday, the latest release of Ubuntu was made available for installation.  I was excited – I always like upgrades and the new features that come along – and was kind of disappointed that I didn’t get the announcement that it was available for me when I loaded the Software Updater.  So, I was going to force the upgrade after looking for and finding this article.  In the meantime, I did look to see just what a Xerus was, as in Xenial Xerus.  (I also had to look up Xenial)

How to Upgrade from Ubuntu 15.10 to Ubuntu 16.04 on Desktop and Server Editions

But doing so would have to wait until after breakfast.  When I returned to my computer, there was indeed an announcement that I could upgrade on the spot.  Thank you Waterloo CS server.


You bet!  I clicked the “Go ahead” button and figured to spend the day watching the download crawl with the really slow internet access that I have here.  Off the dog and I went for our morning walk.  I was pleasantly surprised that the download was complete when we came back.  It was actually raining a bit so we didn’t do our full walk.

Off the installation went; I was doing other things and there were a couple of prompts to answer including a prompt to change grub but the old one worked nicely as a switcher from Ubuntu to Windows 10 so I left it along.  After the installation, a reboot and I was good to go.  I’d been reading about the upgrade features all along.

What’s New in Ubuntu 16.04

Since 16.04 is an LTS release (long term support), the wisdom was that it would be pretty conservative in features.  To be honest, there really wasn’t much to be excited about as an end user.  Some people were excited about the ability to move the Launcher on the screen.  I figured that if I wanted a Mac look, I’d just use a Mac.  I like my screen to display as much information from top to bottom as it can so having it on the side of the screen and hiding continues to work fine for me.

For the most part, I think it’s just business as usual – quick to load – quick to run – and it doesn’t kick the system fan into overdrive like Windows 10 does.  

There was a time where I’d do my best to break the system but I was happy with things before the upgrade and was happy afterwards.  This article put it into perspective.

Has Ubuntu become a boring distribution?

I don’t know.  Maybe it has.  But, if boring means a quick, responsive, and secure system, I’ll take it any day.

And yet, the geeky in me will probably tweak things here and there.   I have Unity Tweak and the Tweak Tool installed for that.  Also bookmarked are a couple of great looking articles.

Things To Do After Installing Ubuntu 16.04

16 Things To Do After Installing Ubuntu 16.04 LTS

That should keep me busy tweaking and testing this weekend.

It’s just a storage drive

Well, actually, my iPad is much more but it turns out that it can be much more than that.  I just hadn’t used it that way.

Here’s my own personal story of discovery.

It started when I was writing the post “What does the fox say?“.  I had taken a screen capture and was about to bring it into the post I was creating.

I had just forgotten about where I was. 

iPad owners know that if you plug your device into a Macintosh or Windows computer, it launches the iTunes or iPhoto applications.  (Which, by my terms of use are the most unintuitive piece of software.  Friends have suggested alternatives!).  The applications are there to let you view your media and play it.  Increasingly, iTunes seems to be an advertising program for further Apple services.  Why can’t the default view be the media on the device instead of something for sale on the store?  Rhetorical, I know.  We know the answer.

I never plug my iPad into this PC.  I did when I first got the computer to transfer media when it ran Windows 7 but it never charged the iPad.  Why?  “Why Doesn’t an iPad Charge When Connected to a Computer?”  It just isn’t an issue; I typically use the USB charger that came with the iPad and everything works well.

Now, I don’t know why but I was writing the post and decided to use the screen capture image.  I’m writing the post using Scribefire in a Firefox tab.  It’s how I write most of the posts.  Out of habit, I plugged the iPad into the computer and was going to transfer the file.  The second I did that, I could have done a face whack.  There’s no iTunes or iPhoto for Linux so how am I going to do this?  Probably like I would any other time – go to the iPad, find the picture and email it to myself.  As I reached for the iPad, I stopped in my tracks.

Two things happened.

First the iPad was displaying the green icon indicating that it was charging.

As I turned back to the computer, I noticed that the Launcher had an icon wiggling.

Son of a gun if it hadn’t mounted the iPad as an external device.  It was sitting right over the Windows 10 icon which is a permanently mounted device.  Does this mean I can just get in and explore? 

I try and … nothing.

But, it’s a good nothing.  I shouldn’t be able to just start exploring.  The iPad was locked.  So, I unlocked it with no idea of what I might find. 

What I found was interesting.  I now had access to a completely visible file structure.

If you’ve ever poked around a hard drive, you’ll recognize or guess what might be in those folders.  Of course, what I’m looking for is in the DCIM folder.  I quickly located the image that I wanted, saved it to my desktop, and brought it into the post.  I feel good.  Maybe this computer stuff is starting to “take”.

But then I started to poke around everwhere to see all kinds of stuff that I guess Apple doesn’t want you seeing when you’re navigating with iTunes. 

Ubuntu was good enough to suggest, as you’ll see in the top right, that I could use Rhythmbox to play the music and Shotwell for the images.  I’ll admit; I was really excited.  It was a whole new world for the geeky me to explore.  I took advantage of it to feed the inner me need to learn.  Oh, and play some music just because I could.

Normally, at this part of any blog post, I’m looking for something interesting to wrap it up.  I’m stumped.  It’s probably no big deal to the majority of blog readers, I’m sure. 

For me, it was a great moment.  By documenting it here, am I doing the visible thinking thing?  Let’s run with that as this post concludes.

Flat it is

We’ve come a long way from design that was meant to look three dimensional and life-like on the computer.

I remember many workshops where we’d try to make buttons for programs and web pages look three dimensional.  It was a great way to show a feature of Photoshop or Hyperstudio.  You’d draw a drop shadow that was black or kind of grey-ish.  You could get fancy with design and not use straight edges but instead make a cloudy type of effect.  Then, you’d design the button with the text like “Click me” and move it over top of the drop shadown – pixel here, pixel there – until you got it perfect.  Then, you’d select both of the objects and lock them together so that they became one and then you just moved it into place.

It was a tedious process, particularly if you had a lot of them.  But, the results were quite impressive and real artists could tweak them here and there to make them look great.

A skill for a lifetime.

Or until the philosophy of design changes.  It just keeps designers busy again.  First (at least as far as I could guess, correct me if I’m wrong), there was Metro and now we’re talking about Flat and Material Design.  Microsoft has embraced the concept in Windows 10 and it looks great.  Then, I read this article this morning that got me really thinking.  “Google rolling out Material Design web-wide“.  This leads to an interesting read from the Google Design blog about Resizer.  As my friend Dave was fond of saying, “Doug, there’s a workshop in there”.

I thought that I probably should do some background reading just to know exactly what the difference between Flat and Material Design is.  A fairly involved description is available here, “Flat Design vs. Material Design: How Are They Different?“.  I’ll be honest; I’ve read the article quite a few times and continue to not be totally comfortable enough to say that I know the difference well enough to hold a conversation with someone that does.  It is good reading and gives the sort of insight that I think is important if you’re going to be designing anything that looks modern.  I shed a tear when the article used the word “retro” to talk about the good ol’ days.

Back to Windows 10 and its flat look.  I like it and, after reading the article, understand more about the principles of rendering for speed.  Certainly, we depart from real world imaging when we’re working from a palette of only 256 colours.

Then, I realized that I’d already taken that step with my instance here of Ubuntu.  While we’re all patiently waiting for the release of 16.04, I wonder if the user experience will embrace the Flat or Material.  Or, as is nice in the world of Ubuntu, you can take control of things.  Out of the box, there are four themes – Adwaita, Ambience, Radiance, and High Contrast.  I typically used Ambience.  I like how the menu icons stand out with the dark background.  However, I had read this article “How to Add a Splash of Color to Ubuntu’s Default Look“.

And I did.

The visual effects are subtle, to be sure.  I tried many of the colours that came as themes.  I thought I would immediately be a green convert.  I guess that I’ve just been used to orange for so long.  l was quickly back to orange.

But, it is nice to change things up every now and again for a different look.

Buttons change from the 3D rounded that are the default to the squared off flat looking.  The whole feel just seems a little more modern.  It doesn’t apply to everything; some developers must have hard coded the 3D effects so that they can’t be changed.

Installation is done with the things that draw the snide comments from those who insist on simply pointing and clicking everything.  It’s not available through the Ubuntu Software Centre so you do have to open a terminal, connect a PPA and then use a tool like the Unity Tweak Tool to apply the settings.  But, if you’re curious enough to change a theme, you’re a master of that already.  I always use moments like this to see what else I can tweak with the tool.  It’s not something I do daily so it’s always fun to give it a try.

I’ve tried a lot of things and discarded a lot of things either because I tire of them or they don’t deliver.  This delivers and I like the effect.

For the moment, this is a keeper for me.