Finally! oh, no!

dell xps 13 I have a Macbook Pro 13" early 2011. I upgraded it manually, the memory to 8Gb and the hard disk to a SSD of 128 Gb (and later to other of 256 Gb). Battery is down to about 3 hours and I was planning to buy the revamped Macbook Pro as soon as it would be released. So I was one more of those Macbook Pro fans completely astonished to see what Apple was releasing.

Personally, the touch bar seems a total compromise: missing the touch screen (which I am neither fond of), lacking real useful buttons (wrong, the useful buttons seems to be always on on the touch bar), and looking like the Apple way to say 'Look, we are innovating!'

My macbook is RELIABLE; has come with me to really remote areas in Bangladesh, Philippines, Benin, Eritrea or Mozambique, and it has answered like a pro. The available ethernet connection has saved me more times than I could count. The magsafe connector has very probably avoided a few accidents and when/if it gets even retired, my macbook pro should get its own urn.

What is offering now Apple? Only USB-C (oh, well), no magsafe (sigh!), no ethernet connector (augh!), touch bar (oh, my, my), solded memory and storage ($*&#^$!)? Together with an old CPU (okaysh, but not very okaysh), and the limitation of 16 Gb (yeah, I know, more memory would impact battery time). And then, the butterfly keyboard, which is unpleasant, and seems not that reliable. See that I do not even mention the price; I would not mind paying the Apple tax for a worthy product!

My company provided me with a Dell XPS 13, developer edition, and I was thinking about hackintoshing it. I have 3 hackintoshes -all desktops-, and this was looking like a good way to get a proper Apple laptop without the limitations of the latest Apple models.

But is this the case? The XPS 13 has more connectors, but still lacks the one I consider important (Ethernet), which is just not possible with laptops this thick (but I do not care about their thickness!!). As in the Macbook, the memory is soldered, so you get what you buy, and that is also limited to 16 Gb. In Luxembourg, the only XPS 13 Linux with 16 Gb memory comes with a 512 Gb SDD (256 would have been enough for me, specially when it can be upgraded), and with the touchscreen at great resolution (basic 1920x resolution is enough for me, specially when i t improves battery life,and touchscreen is something that I still need to find useful), it costs, with core i7-7500u processor, 1800 euros, with an ongoing promotion down to 1600 euros. It has approximately the same size as the Macbook Pro, and for me, the same limitations.

Screen-wise, the Dell has higher resolution, and the Apple better brightness -which at this size it means for me a bonus point for the Apple-. The Dell's keyboard is better, and the trackpad works good, but it cannot be compared with the Macbook pro. I like / love linux, but the desktop experience is subpar to MacOS, and the full integration with the hardware means that even when the Macbook battery is smaller, its performance would be normally better that on the Dell.

The Macbook Pro, 13 inches without the silly touch bar costs 1875 euros. This provides a 256 Gb SSD, enough for my taste, but goes up to 2100 euros for the 512 Gb SSD. The core i5 processor (i5-6360U), can be upgraded to (i7-6660U), for 'just' 350 euros, raising the total price to 2445 euros. So, the Dell XPS13 with a newer i7 processor costs 645 euros less, and with the current promotion, 800 euros less, a cool 33% cheaper. I find in fact a better approach opting for the touch bar version, and staying with the core i5 version -the i7 is anyway only dual core-. For 'just' 2165 euros you get 16 Gb memory, 256 Gb SSD and a core i5 a 2.9 GHz, plenty speedier than the non touch-bar one (hint: Apple wants you to get the touch bar)

Personally again, I think that the Apple is all but Pro. I do not think that the Dell is more Pro at all, just cheaper for the same ambitions. If I would go now the Apple way, I think I will try a real 4-core machine, on its 15" envelop. The basic 15 inches gives a 4 core processor, 16 G memory and 256 Gb SSD for 2600 euros, including a discrete graphics card in the mix.

Or, well, I will just give up on these manufacturers, and enjoy my Dell for the time being, perhaps I will hackintosh it for the pleasure of it, and I guess I will still invest some money on Apple stock... and on a new battery for my reliable Macbook 2011 (real) pro.

Ubuntu 16.10 on Dell XPS 13 (9350)

dell xps 13I got a Dell Xps 13 recently, the developer edition that comes with Ubuntu. It is not the latest model (9360), with the Kaby Lake processor, but the previous one (9350) with Skylake. These two versions differ not only on the processor, but also on the Wifi card and the Ubuntu version; while the 9360 model comes with Ubuntu 16.04 installed, Dell does only provide Ubuntu 14.04 for the 9350 model.

Ubuntu 16.04 includes Linux kernel 4.4, with incomplete support for Skylake processors; kernel 4.6 included specific support for Dell XPS 13 systems, and Ubuntu 16.10 comes with kernel 4.8. Installing Ubuntu 16.10 on this laptop is a no-brainer, all works fine directly.

My laptop is the model with touchscreen and high resolution (3200x1800); the fonts appear too little, so it is better to go to settings / displays and choose a 2x scale (or any scale at will).

The other problem that appears with the touchscreen is that Ubuntu installs by default a library implementing braille support. Entering

sudo tcpdump -i lo
shows a lot of traffic on the loopback interface from port 4101. To disable it:
sudo apt-get purge brltty xbrlapi
(which an additional reboot)

Although everything works fine, there are some quirks. For example, the touchscreen works until the machine goes to sleep with the closed lid. To have it working again, it is needed to close-reopen quickly the lid.

TableFilter v5.3.0

table filter iconNew release for this Java library, implementing some requested functionality: the possibility to filter entries that contain some text -initially, the default operator would only display entries starting with a given expression

VirtualBox guest additions on headless

virtualbox Normally, I run virtualbox machines in headless mode, so it is useless installing an OS with full GUI. I favor in this cases a debian installation (minimal, using the netinst CD), and ensuring that PAE/NX is enabled in System/Processor.

It is still helpful to install the virtualbox guest additions to improve the performance, but the usual way -Devices/Install Guest Additions CD Image...- doesn't work. In this case, the best procedure is to download them and perform a manual install. For the current version, 5.0.16:

cd /tmp
mkdir iso
sudo -s
apt-get install -y dkms
mount -o loop VBoxGuestAdditions_5.0.16.iso iso
sh iso/ --nox11
umount iso
rm -Rf iso VBoxGuestAdditions_5.0.16.iso

This will install the extensions, and produce a final warning:

Could not find the X.Org or XFree86 Window System, skipping.

This warning is okay. It is possible to check if the additions are installed by invoking:

lsmod | grep vboxguest


rclone A few years ago, I setup a poor man backup system for a site using rsync and Dropbox. Eventually, the database and associated files required more than 2 Gb, and still following the poor man habits, I had a look at ; unfortunately, Google does not have an official headless linux client.

But there are several unofficial clients. Like gsync, which tries to provide rsync functionality, being still severely limited. I opted better for other client, rclone, which does not only support GDrive, but also Dropbox, Amazon S3, Backblaze, etc. The documentation is very complete, the setup really simple, and its functionality covers all my scenarios.

Installation instructions only cover directly Linux, and for some reason it puts the executable into sbin, which is all but useful -the idea is to be executed, with different credentials, by each user. Finally, I used the following instructions for Linux:

cd /tmp
unzip cd

sudo cp rclone-v1.28-linux-amd64/rclone /usr/local/bin
sudo chown root:root /usr/local/bin/rclone
sudo chmod 755 /usr/local/bin/rclone

#install manpage
sudo mkdir -p /usr/local/share/man/man1
sudo cp rclone-v1.28-linux-amd64/rclone.1 /usr/local/share/man/man1/
sudo mandb
rm -Rf rclone-v1.18-linux-amd64*

And almost the same instructions for OsX:

cd /tmp

sudo cp rclone-v1.28-osx-amd64/rclone /usr/local/bin
sudo chown root:wheel /usr/local/bin/rclone
sudo chmod 755 /usr/local/bin/rclone

#install manpage
sudo mkdir -p /usr/local/share/man/man1
sudo cp rclone-v1.28-osx-amd64/rclone.1 /usr/local/share/man/man1/
rm -Rf rclone-v1.18-osx-amd64*

Two factor authentication with SSH

google authenticator icon This must be the best way to strengthen the security on your ssh connection for those cases where ssh keys are not available.

Tip copied from this arm-blog

Redmine on Debian

redmine icon Added instructions to install Redmine on Debian, using PostgreSQL and Nginx.

The main problem was in fact setting up correctly email support (and then, trying to scape the SPAM folders in Google).