David is retired and living in the rural North West of England with his wife; both are in their 70’s. His computing needs are quite simple, including some on-line work to keep up to date with various social/community groups and flight bookings, some emails to support this, and the odd letter to friends and family. His HP notebook is circa 2010 and runs on a basic single core Celeron processor. For the most of 2016 he has been getting nagged to update his operating system to Windows 10. On advice from one of his son’s he has studiously avoided doing this, despite the annoying pop-ups every time he used his machine . Whilst visiting earlier in the year I demonstrated how Linux Mint 18 could run on his laptop via a Live USB I had with me, and explained how this would resolve all these issues. Despite some confusion over his Norton anti-virus account he agreed to move over to Linus when we had some free time to do the backup and install work. This we achieved just before Christmas when David left his laptop with me for a couple of days. with very little data to backup/restore the whole process only took a hour to complete. Having demonstrated how to link up the WiFi using my own network when he came to collect, David has since been able to hook up his home system, read emails via the Wmail application I installed and also produce a simple letter via LibreOffice. So far, his only call for help had been resolved by him during the day, before I even picked up his voice-mail! Another satisfied convert to Linux Mint for home computing.


As an ex-pat living in France, Derek keeps in touch with many of his overseas friends via email, watches a few on-line TV shows and buys spares for various motorcycle projects on-line. All this on an old HP Pavillion 6000 series laptop! Whilst visiting last year he mentioned the issues he was having with an unsupported operating system, unresponsive computer and his wife insisting he dumped the old machine; Derek’s favorite. So, on my return visit this year I demonstrated how Mint 17 could run on his HP laptop and over a cold bier watched it install. It actually took longer to copy his few files off the old XP system than it did to install Mint and restore everything to full working order. Derek now has his favorite machine back, running far faster and with most of the disc space freed up too.



I’ve known Alan for over 20 years and he was one of my early converts! Alan bought himself a new Samsung laptop, complete with MS Windows 8.0, which lasted all of a few weeks before one wrong click on a hyperlink in an IE web browser session left him with an infected mess.

Rather than throw some more money at the local IT swindler, Alan asked if I could install “that other thing that you use”, because he couldn’t find his way around in Windows 8.0 anyway! So, without too much hassle, as he only has a small music collection, a spreadsheet and some family photos to back up, Linux Mint 17 was duly installed, his files restored and some basic settings applied.

Now, for a retired chap in his 70’s, you would imagine I had taken on a never ending helpline service, but not so! He has not called me once to sort out any further virus problems courtesy of Firefox, and has had no problem adapting to XFCE. Whilst I could offer him an upgrade to Mint 18, I’m not going to, as everything works just fine and there are still a couple of years of support left for Mint 17.3



I’m running 13″ PCSpecialist Lafite II with an i3-6100U, 2Gb RAM and 120Gb SDD. It’s become my main machine for some light Office work, email handling and web browsing. There is some light relief via Gradio and Audacious, but this is my first Linux Mint 18 installation, utilizing the Cinnamon desktop to get the very best out of the latest hardware on this certified Ultrabook. I’ve dropped the screen resolution down to 1600×900 but otherwise LM18 runs straight out of the box and looks superb with the Mint-Y theme.

I’ll introduce some of my other installations in my next blog posts…Mark

Systems. An opportunity done wrong?

Yes. Pardon my grammar but there may be an angle on systemd that is being overlooked. At present all the focus is on what systemd is taking away from the Linux users, in the form of choice (namely that of desktop environment).
However, there could be a flip side to this. If systemd were to become the glue which makes everything between the Kernel and the user’s application become both transparent yet decoupled from the user land applications (which appears not to be the current approach) then the application development community could focus all their efforts onto the pure app development and forget about the Gubbins under the hood. Potentially this could deliver greatly enhanced user applications in terms of quality and functionality.
Unfortunately these potential benefits appear to be ebbing away from us as the systemd development team take an alternative route toward another goal.
I genuinely believe that once the early life cycle bugs are worked out of the basic systemd implementation many system administrators will reap the benefits of this new approach. Many reports already contain details of the significant technical merits of systemd which should not be overlooked.
Given some tempering of the systemd ambitions there really could be a positive outcome for the humble users here.

Backup the right way.

Since my last post I have acquired a new box. Yes, quite literally a tiny Gigabyte Brix box for just £90. It needed a 4Gb RAM card and I opted to put a 1Tb WD hard drive into the slot available. This has Linux Mint 17 XFCE installed and is connected directly to the back of the home Sky Hub. Its basically the household Black box data recorder.
Each laptop in the house (wife’s, son’s, daughter’s and my own) has Deja Dup installed and configured to automatically log into the Black box via SSH every week and save a compressed, encrypted backup of all the data under the user’s Home directory. The login is itself automated by keeping the Blackbox’s IP and user account details in the Password manager application on each laptop (which all run Linux Mint 17).
No one now has to remember to ever backup; it just happens in the background every seven days.


Toshiba L450D

After a break for the summer holidays and an operation on my knee, I’ve started a couple of hardware projects. First up is a Toshiba Satellite (AMD Athelon X2 era), which is in need of some love. It arrived with a blocked fan and borked keyboard but without a battery.
The gunge from the fan and keyboard was removed (see photo) in order to get past  immediate overheat failure and into the BIOS. This revealed further work needed to re-flash the out of date firmware up to v1.3.


With some super glue to fix a broken track pad button we the had a basic working machine, albeit weighed down with Windows 7 and Toshiba’s bloat ware.
Next up was an install of Linux Mint 17 XFCE which fits better with this low end CPU to provide a much snappier experience for the user.
All we need now is a replacement keyboard and this laptop will be ready to give it’s owner a few more good years of service.


MAN-LUG (Manchester Linux User Group)

My second geeky session in Manchester today was to attend the monthly LUG meeting at MadLab on Edge Street…after some rehydrating refreshment at the cafe opposite (Common).

The MAN_LUG team are planning to host a demonstration event for potential new users of Linux (XP/Vista/Windows 8 refugees), probably in October this year; firstly to avoid the holiday season, and secondly to get 120,000 new students settled in to the various undergraduate establishments across the city.

The group discussed various approaches to take, using Linux Mint as a basis to demonstrate what Linux desktop can (and can’t) do. This benefited from having both current Mint users, non Mint Linux users and non Linux users around that table to flush out the various use cases, potential questions and expectations from the intended audience.

Dan Botting did an excellent job of hosting the session and despite the extreme heat on the top floor of MadLab (Advanced Mouse Taxidermy had the main workshop ?!?!?!). Hopefully, with some good PR from the attendees over the next couple of months the MAN-LUG event will draw in a few new users for this great open source OS.

Hopefully, I’ll report on progress in September…

Manchester MOSI Mini Makers

I spent today in Manchester in order to get myself along to two Geeky events happening in the city.

The first was the Mini Maker fair being held at Manchester MOSI in their 1830 Warehouse; which as a listed building has no air-con and not much in the way of ventilation either on this the hottest day of the year!

I started on the top floor which transported me back a few years looking at train sets and massive, powered, Meccano structures to rival anything Lego have produced. Between these and the many, MANY, 3D printers churning out plastic toys, it could have been Santa’s Grotto.

Middle floor was taken over by the various Hacker/Maker groups which had come from all over the country to show off their Pi/Beagle/Arduino/x86 powered gadgets, which included a MAME cabinet, various Space exploration ideas, a household environmental controller and an Open Source hydroponic / fish-farm controller.

At this point I bumped into 3 shifty looking types with peculiar accents; Les Pounder, Simon Walters and Chris Dell who had also ventured over the border into Greater Manchester to take a look at what was going on. We had a goodly chat with Amy Mather whilst Si played on a rather frustrating 64×64 multi coloured light box game. As the boys were on their way up, and I down, we parted company with Les in search of interviewees and articles (the work of a freelance journo is never done!)…as well as a long cold drink.

Bottom floor was a plethora of crafty stalls showing off everything from crochet to balsa wood walking robots; cue more Arduino/Pi/Beagle discussions and the merits of specific programming languages for specific tasks, versus ‘just do everything in C++’. I retreated to safer ground before soldering irons could be used in anger 🙂


Nostalgia and Skills Gaps

At yesterdays Linux User Group (Blackpool), Mike and I discussed a number of topics which all stemmed from our common entry point into the IT scene back in the 1980’s. We were both brought up on an 8-bit microcomputer made by Acorn called the Atom. It was a precursor to the ubiquitous BBC Micro and shared many of the same features. We built the machine from a kit of parts and a circuit diagram supplied by Acorn and then programmed it in 6502 assembler utilising the operating system calls detailed in the user guide in order to communicate with the screen and keyboard etc.

Due primarily to the simplistic nature of the Atom we understood how the CPU, RAM, ROM and driver circuits all worked; and the peripheral add-ons for printer drivers and expansion buses!

I went on to study Computing Technology at college and then Computer Engineering at University, before spending a little time with IBM, writing BIOS code for the old PS/2 machines.

We noted the current lack of equivalent IT skills in the 1990’s and 2000’s generation of school kids and the knock on effect this has had on College intake for IT technicians, University intake for Computer Scientists and indeed IT Teachers.

We both concluded that there is now a huge skills gap looming in our economy and wondered if the current generation of Raspberry Pi hackers will be enough to keep the country competitive, or if Mike and I will be brought back out of retirement in 2030?