“What hath God wrought?” : Welcome to Mastodon

What did I do a few Sundays ago? Oh, nothing much. Just stand up the Libranigains Mastodon Server. Well, I cheated a little. I could have done it all from scratch – get a VPS somewhere, setup a server, install the whatzits, etc etc … – but I just used a hosting service – https://masto.host/. Currently, Libranigans is closed to new users. I’ve asked a few of my fellow librarian friends to try it out, but right I’m the only one posting to it.

You’ve probably heard a lot about Mastodon lately W/R/T a replacement for Twitter. And yeah, I guess that’s what it is. But it’s a lot more than that. Really, it’s a different way of thinking about how we organize social media. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the jump from online services like America Online and Compuserve to the World Wide Web. Instead of data sitting in a proprietary jail like Facebook or Twitter, you can choose which Mastodon server your data calls home. Or you can standup your own Mastodon server. I would liken this a bit to the options you have with serving a web site: For the average user, you’d probably use a hosting service that takes care of the heavy lifting for you. For a more advance user or a larger website, you might choose to standup your own server. Same thing with Mastodon. For most users, you’d probably stick to an established server, like Mastodon.social or mstdn.social but maybe you want your data on your server for reasons, or maybe you’re with a large organization or maybe there’s just a group of like-minded people you want to share cat photos with – standup your own server or use a hosting service.

Users can interact and share information between servers. For example, I can “Boost” (the Mastodon term for “retweeting”) someones post from another server, and someone from elsewhere can boost my post on their home server.

For the most part, interaction between servers is open. Users can set limits on how their data is shared and exposed to the greater world. System administrators can set limits on which servers can interact with theirs. For example, if there’s a server that host a lot of spambots, they may ban those servers from interacting with theirs. Servers can vary in their acceptable use. For example, one server might say: absolutely no nude photos on our server. Another server might say: only if it’s art. And yet another might say: there’s no limit. Mastodon itself is part of the larger Fedivrse – a group of interlinked, decentralized, services.

I have honestly forgotten how much I missed having a Twitter-like service. I had quit Twitter long before quitting Twitter was cool. I probably stayed longer that I should because I enjoyed virtually hanging with the likes of Brendan Maclean and Cecil Baldwin. The last few weeks have been exciting finding new people to follow and talk to.

I think there are still a lot of questions to be answered … but I’m excited to be exploring this new space!

Giving Up

I’ve really been struggling with my Fedora/NVIDIA setup. Not to long ago, I swapped over to the KDE Plasma spin of Fedora, and everything has been fine EXCEPT Cities: Skylines absolutely refuses to run on the NVIDIA card. Other games seem to do fine: the Intel UHD GPU will hand off more complex stuff off to the NVIDIA card. But for some reason, it just won’t hand off anything to the NVIDIA GPU. I tried a number of things … among them trying to launch Cities with switcherooctl and using the -adapter flag when launching Cities.

Instead of trying to spend more time figuring out what’s wrong, I decided to just set the primary GPU to the NVIDIA card using the directions here: https://docs.fedoraproject.org/en-US/quick-docs/how-to-set-nvidia-as-primary-gpu-on-optimus-based-laptops/

And it worked! Cities: Skylines is now running on the NVIDIA GPU … because it has too! Still not as beautiful as is looked under Windows, but a lot better than runing on the Intel GPU.

It kinda sucks, because having the NVIDIA card set to the primary GPU drains the battery and heats up the laptop, but since I rarely use my laptop off the AC Adapter, I guess it doesn’t really matter. Since it looks like this only works in an X11, I guess if I need to save power, I can login to a Wayland session. Or maybe manually set the NVIDIA card to a lower state.

Brasero Can’t Burn CDs/DVDs

I still like burning CD. What can I say, I’m an olds šŸ˜

The last few times that I’ve had to install Debian from scratch, and now with Fedora as well, it seems it’s a bit of a rigmarole to get Rhythmbox and Brasero to burn disc. It usually takes about an hour, but eventually I’ll run into this bug report with the following workaround:

sudo chmod +s $(which wodim)

This sets the setuid bit for /urs/bin/wodim.

Thanks Sergey Zolotarev for the workaround. Maybe one day your bug will get fixed.

Fedora, NVIDIA, and Parkitect

It seems like a lot of people have had trouble with Parkitect running in Linux on NVIDIA cards, myself included. For me, even with nearly empty parks I would have tearing of images when using WASD to move about the map and things in motion, like park patrons or attractions, would do a weird stutter, almost like they were vibrating. I was going to try and record some video of this happening, but for some reason I can’t recreate the problem with OBS Studio Recording. Weird.

A lot of people have tried a lot of things that worked for them, but none of that worked for me. Strangely, the thing that did work for me was turning off V-Sync and running in Windowed mode. I’m not exactly sure why this works, but it does. The stuttering and weird tearing is gone! You should be able to run in Vulkan or OpenGL. I haven’t really tested, but I think the graphics may look a little better in OpenGL, but that may be my imagination.

So if you’re having problems with Parkitect in Fedora or another Linux box with an NVIDIA card, try running it in Windowed mode with V-Sync off.

Goodbye Despair^h^h^h^h^h^h^hDebian

After some hemming and hawing, I finally decided to try a different Linux distribution on my main computer. I’ve been using Ubuntu for sometime on it, and while there’s nothing particularly wrong with the distro, there’s nothing particularly right about it either. It’s great for new users, and I have it on two other computers and will probably keep it on them, but it’s not particularly suited for gaming.

Destination Debian

I thought I’d give Debian a shot. In hidensight, this was probably a bad idea: Ubuntu is based on Debian, so a lot of the issues that I had with Ubuntu would probably be there in Debian as well, and I was not dissapointed. Strangely, the most difficult thing that I usually have trouble with – installing the Nvidia drivers – wasn’t that hard. I had a much harder time figuring out what wifi driver I needed. But once done, it was all working.

Steam and Punishment, libc.so.6 and Coconuts

The biggest problem I’ve ever had with Ubuntu was getting Steam installed on it. But I guess I didn’t realize how much of an upstream problem it was. I got Debian set up, Evolution email all set up, Dropbox syncing, and then decided to try and get Steam setup. And as usual, I had trouble getting libc.so.6 installed – a part of a larger library that Steam needs to run. I’m not sure how I got it installed in Ubuntu, but I did. In my struggles to get it installed in Debian, I got a weird message from apt asking me to retype the phrase that “I acknowledge that what I’m about to do could damage the system.” And sure enough, it did! The system would boot into the terminal login, but after logining in it would log you right back out. Oh well.

Trapped by the Fedora Scent

I had wanted to try Fedora before I installed Debian, but I had trouble creating the boot USB. Because I didn’t read direction. But this round I did and it worked. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything with Red Hat / Fedora. Like: a really long time. The last time I ran Red Hat was back in the 90’s off of a CD I got out of a magazine from Walden’s books . Well, it’s all come a long way since then.

After getting the live CD going, I thought I would try installing Steam to it just to see if I could … and it did! I had to look up how to do it in Fedora – I’m not to familiar with their package manager(s?) – but plopping down the code into the terminal downloaded and installed Steam no problem. And then Steam started up with out any problem.

So I went on and installed Fedora on my laptop. I had a little trouble with the boot manager and Dell Bios, but that was about it. After that it seems to start fine.

I was kinda impressed that – on the live cd I had setup the wifi connection so Steam and it’s dependenciesĀ  could download, and they carried over to the install. For the most part, all the drivers seemed to be working. I still had to download the Nvida driver, but it wasn’t near as painful as it had been under Ubuntu.

Do Ultimate CIMs Dream of Clockwork?

Now the big test: how would Steam and Cities Skylines run in Fedora? I installed Steam like I had on the live cd, and it worked fine except for the Steam icon not being displayed in the System Tray. But that was and easy fix. Cities Skylines is probably the game that draws the most resources, so I installed it and opened up one of the scenarios. And it worked pretty well! Still not as good as in Windows, but a lot better than it ever did under Ubuntu. Also: the Paradox loader screen never quite worked right on Ubuntu. As of laste, it would come up as a black square with no text or icons in it. You could move your pointer around and click the buttons if you knew were they were at and get the came to load, but still a pain. But in Fedora, it opened right up and everything worked.

Smile at Fedora in the Name of Ubuntu

After this experience, I probably wouldn’t recommend Debian unless you have some special reason for it. I would still recommend Ubuntu for plain-jane computers: those with just one basic gpu and that you just surf or email on. I have two other computers and I’ll probably continue using Ubuntu on them for the foreseeable future. But if you have a gaming laptop that has aĀ  fancy discrete gpu, or you’ve had a lot of trouble getting Steam to install under Ubuntu or Debian, maybe give Fedora a try?

Installing Linux on an old Mac

I have an MacBook that’s about 8 years old – practically dead in Apple years. I had stop using it regularly about 4 years ago when Apple decided to stop supporting OpenGL which broke a lot of the games I play. I still used it for random things every now and then, but all the constant os updates and now bloated and sluggish macOS made it impossible for day-to-day stuff.

I had been thinking about installing Linux on it for a while now, but avoided it because installing non-Apple operating systems on a Mac is always a bit of a pain. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when I went to use it the other day – it had been a couple weeks – and it absolutely refused to connect to the WiFi.The issue: one of my neighbor’s has a misconfigured wireless device that has it’s Country Code set to Germany. Apparently this is a common problem, and Apple’s advice is to reconfigure or dispatch the offending device. Difficult if it’s not your device. Yet another one of those snotty Apple annoyances.

With the very real prospect of never being able to connect to the WiFi again looming over me, I decided that now might be a good time to try Linux out on a Mac. While the whole process took about 2 days for me due to exploring and whatnot, the streamlined process below should take you about an hour. If you have a newer Mac, you *shouldn’t* have to do this. But I don’t have one to test this out on so I don’t know.

Step 1: Create a USB Boot Disk

I have another Linux laptop and a hand full of USB Thumb Drives, so that wasn’t too much of a problem. You can just follow the instructions at https://ubuntu.com/tutorials/create-a-usb-stick-on-ubuntu#1-overview.

Step 2: Go get rEFInd DEB Package

rEFInd is a boot manager with a lot of neat features, one of them being able to be installed on an HFS+ partition. Even though the Mac hardware should be able to read a EFI Boot Partition in FAT32 and start GRUB, it REALLY wants a HFS+ partition. “No worries,” you think to yourself, “I’ll just format the EFI Boot Partition HFS+.” But the GRUB Installer doesn’t seem to like HFS+. That’s where rEFInd comes it. It can be put on an HFS+ EFI Boot Partition and be started by the Mac hardware just fine. You can get the rEFInd DEB Package at http://www.rodsbooks.com/refind/getting.html. Put that on a separate USB Drive – we’ll use it in a minute.

Step 3: Boot the USB and Install Linux

Power off your Mac, insert the bootable Ubuntu USB, and then power on the Mac while holding down on the left Option (or Alt if your using a PC keyboard) key. You should be able to choose to boot the External USB. Once it gets going, select “Try Ubuntu” to get the desktop environment going. From there, start the Ubuntu install. When you’re done, it’ll drop you back onto the Desktop.

Step 4: Install rEFInd

Remember that DEB file we put on the other USB? Go on and insert that guy and copy the DEB file to the desktop. Don’t try and install it by double-clicking; you’ll need to install from terminal:
sudo dpkg -i refind_0.13.2-1_adm64.deb
This will format the EFI Boot Partition in HFS+, copy rEFInd onto it, “bless” the folder, and some other magic.

Step 5: Profit!

That’s it. You should be able to reboot and you’ll get the rEFInd menu where you can select and load Ubuntu. If you didn’t wipe the drive and still have other OS’s on there, they should show up too.

There’s still other things you’ll have to do, like Enabling Proprietary Drivers, but not too much more.

Is it worth it? Well … I booted into Linux and everything seems to be running smoothly. I forgot how much a nice display can make an OS look … brighter? So hopefully this will help me get a few more years out of this laptop!

Hat Tip to: Rodrick Smith (rEFInd)

The rEFInd boot menu.
A short stopover to show you any commands passed o the kernel.
Login Screen
That bottle of Vodka was full at the beginning of this project