My Experience with Linux on the Desktop

The company I work for encouraged me to use a top of the line Linux laptop — one of the latest ThinkPads — as my daily driver. Here’s what I’ve found in the first few days of using it, with Ubuntu 20.04.1:

  • Coming from a MacBook with its butter-smooth trackpad, the touchpad is painful. It’s not smooth at all, even with the default Synaptics drivers. It’s almost impossible to precisely focus your cursor on small areas. It’s really astonishing how bad it is.
  • Don’t expect to have external monitors work right away. I plugged my LG 4K monitor with a USB-C cable that works fine with several MacBooks into the ThinkPad. All I got was a cursor on the external monitor screen. That’s it, a cursor. Changing resolutions and refresh rates hasn’t helped. A colleague spent half a week futzing with settings until he finally got it to work. Another colleague recommended an unstable open source Nvidia driver instead of their proprietary driver, but I haven’t gotten that installed yet.
  • After I haven’t been able to get a single Bluetooth peripheral connected. Not a wireless keyboard, wireless trackpad, or wireless headphones. The Ubuntu Bluetooth settings app either hangs, crashes, or just displays a spinning cursor on the device you try to connect. After updating the ControllerMode to bredr in /etc/bluetooth/main.conf , I was able to get my AirPods to connect. To get the wireless keyboard or trackpad to connect, I had to unpair them from another laptop.
  • You’ll need a couple utilities to get most keyboard shortcuts to behave like a Mac, including spacebar for QuickLook, and Cmd-H to quickly move an app out of the way. I still haven’t figured out how to change the keyboard shortcut for going back in my browser. Alt-Left-Arrow just scrolls to the top of the page. Update: The author of Kinto, the keyboard shortcuts utility, is going to make Alt-Left-Arrow/Alt-Right-Arrow work in browsers in an upcoming release.
  • Scrolling web pages (in any browser) is slow and choppy. Supposedly you can fix this in a config file somewhere, but I haven’t found where yet.
  • 10% of the time, the laptop doesn’t wake from sleep properly, requiring a long press on the power button to power off and reboot.
  • The fan spins up for no good reason when I plug the power cord in. Thankfully, they aren’t too loud.

So what’s good about it?

  • The fingerprint scanner is actually pretty good. It’s not quite as reliable as the MacBook’s, but it’s 80% of the way there. It’s nice to unlock the machine and use sudo with a fingerprint.
  • Gnome’s Activity view (Alt-Space), a hybrid of the Mac’s Spotlight and Expose, is very nice. It’s fast and accurate.
  • The ThinkPad itself is fast and battery life is excellent. The plastic body isn’t as solid feeling as an aluminum MacBook, but it’s better than your average creaky PC laptop.
  • WiFi works without a problem.

The janky touchpad and choppy scrolling are the hardest to deal with. If I figure out how to fix these, I’ll update this post.

How to do a fast file transfer from a VM to your local computer

How to do a fast file transfer from a VM to your local computer, for example, without the hassle of SFTPing to a third server and setting up a username/password/SSH key-access to it:

yum install https://dl.fedoraproject.org/pub/epel/epel-release-latest-7.noarch.rpm
yum install python-pip
curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/justbeamit/beam/master/beam --output beam
pip install requests==2.8.1
pip install requests_toolbelt==0.3.0
pip install progressbar2==2.7.3
sudo cp beam /usr/local/bin
chmod 755 /usr/local/bin/beam
beam /path/to/file

The first 8 commands are JustBeamIt pre-requisites, and assume CentOS/RHEL. The file expires in 10 minutes.

JustBeamIt Description from Github

Comparing Recharge Times: Sony Wireless Headphones vs. AirPods

From experience, it takes 2.5 hours to recharge Sony wireless headphones (MDR-XB70BT) from empty to full. This is also stated in the manual. The Sonys give 9 hours of battery life for listening. At 3 hours per day of usage, that’s 3 days between charges.

It takes 1.25 hours to recharge the Apple AirPods battery case. They give 24 hours of battery life when new. At 3 hours of usage per day, that’s 8 days between charges of the battery case.

Like all battery-driven headphones, you need to charge more often as the battery ages. After ~1 year of usage, I’ve found I need to recharge the AirPods battery case every 4 days, instead of every 8.

As an aside, I got the AirPods with wireless charging case, and don’t really like the wireless aspect of it. It’s too hard to position the AirPods perfectly on most wireless chargers. Next time, I’ll get the non-wireless AirPods.

AirDrop and VPNs

My colleagues and I had trouble AirDropping files from our Macs to our phones. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

I figured out that AirDrop would fail with the Cisco AnyConnect VPN client connected.

Specifically, when your Mac’s sharingd service tries to connect to https://yourphone.local:8770/Ask to ask for permission to accept a file, it times out via the VPN. This happens even if LocalLanAccess is allowed in your VPN settings.

The solution was simply to disconnect the VPN client whenever you need to AirDrop something.

Unread Mail in Apple Mail

I had a problem for months in Apple Mail (both on the Mac and the iPhone) where multiple folders would show up with an Unread mail count, even if all mail in that folder was already read. If you clicked one of the Unread folders, the Unread count would instantly go away. (But it would reappear when re-opening Mail.)

Here’s how I fixed it:

  1. Open Mail on the Mac
  2. Click on the Archive (or All Mail) folder
  3. Select all mail, right-click on the selected mail, and hit Mark as Unread
  4. Repeat step 3, but now hit Mark as Read

Now close and open Mail again and you will no longer see folders with Unread mail in them. If the problem continues to occur, you may need to repeat steps 2-4 on all of your mail folders.

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL Experience

I recently rented a 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL and drove it for a week. It was in the “Intermediate SUV” car class. Here’s what I thought of it:

Pros:

  • Very roomy – enough for 7 passengers + plenty of bags
  • Large infotainment screen
  • SEL model includes Apple CarPlay
  • Blind spot monitoring

Cons:

  • Doors feel chintzy. Way worse than recent Kias (which are quite solid) or even older Ford econoboxes. It’s a bit weird closing the door of such a large vehicle and hearing a tinny sound.
  • No radar adaptive cruise control.
  • Hatch is really poorly designed. Three out of four times, it was impossible to open. It just kept beeping at us. No matter how many times you push the button on the key fob or the trunk lid, the trunk wouldn’t open by itself. So annoying. Eventually we found it was open much of the time, but wouldn’t auto-raise like it was designed to, so we had to manually lift it.
  • Dim rear camera view, especially at night. Turning the brightness up works for maps but has almost no effect on the rear camera. You can barely see out of it.
  • Engine sounds like it’s straining most of the time. Loud. Fuel economy only ~23MPG.

Overall, I’d still rent it again, as it was worth it for the amount of space and Apple CarPlay, but I’d try to find a better competitor (such as a Ford Edge) first. I definitely wouldn’t buy one, given all the trouble with the hatch.

United Explorer Card: 60,000 Free Miles and Free TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

If anyone plans to travel in the next 5 years, this card (my referral link) is quite a deal:

  • Free TSA PreCheck/Global Entry for 5 years
  • 60,000 free miles (at least ~$480 worth of flights)
  • 2 lounge passes
  • Priority boarding – so you can board before all the overhead space is taken
  • 1 free checked bag per flight for both you and a companion
  • Primary car rental insurance
  • No annual fee for the first year (after which it can be cancelled or you can call their cancellation line and they might give you a second free year)

I rarely get new cards, but couldn’t pass this up. My wife and I recently used it to get through the TSA lines in under 5 minutes. We also used the free checked bags benefit.

I don’t know if this has anything to do with the card, but we got to the baggage claim late, and found United’s baggage claim workers actually guarding our bags and car seats for us.

One last nice thing: United’s miles no longer expire, so you don’t have to worry about that either. What a deal!

Eve Room – HomeKit Air Quality / Temperature / Humidity Monitor Experience

I recently received an Eve Room HomeKit Air Quality monitor.  But when I plugged it in, nothing happened.  I let it charge overnight, and it remained stuck on the charging screen. I reset it with a paperclip multiple times.  Tried multiple chargers.  Tried a different micro-USB cable.  All to no effect.  The battery either seemed completely discharged upon arrival, or something was broken inside the unit.

That’s when I emailed Eve Support.  They suggested resetting it again and waiting a few hours.  I did, to no avail.  After I sent them a photo of the non-working unit, they agreed to a quick, free replacement.

And the replacement worked great!

Eve Room (2nd Gen) vs. AcuRite monitor
Eve Room vs. AcuRite monitor (humidity 3% difference, temperature 1 degree difference)

My experience with Volker and Sarah at Eve Support couldn’t have been better.  Polite, prompt, professional, and a free replacement.  I liked their service so much that I went out and bought a second Eve Room for the lower level of my house.  I’m also planning to get one as a gift for a family member.

What does the $85 Eve Room (2nd Gen) get you over a $15 AcuRite?

  • Air quality monitoring via Sensiron metal-oxide based VOC sensor
  • History graphs of your data (see below) – including exporting history to spreadsheets
  • HomeKit support – You can ask Siri to tell you the temperature/humidity/air quality in any given room
  • Automation – In the Home app, you can have an air purifier come on automatically when air quality drops  
  • More automation – In the Eve app, you can add additional automations based on temperature and humidity.  For example, when temp/humidity get above 80F (26.6C), turn on air conditioner.

What are some downsides?

  • Bluetooth-based, which means it takes slightly longer (~1 second) than WiFi-based HomeKit products to display status in the Home app.
  • If you want to access Eve from outside your house, you need a HomeKit hub, such as an Apple TV, HomePod, or iPad.  (In my experience, the Apple TV is the most reliable of the three.)
  • Expensive – $70 more than the bigger AcuRite monitor (though it’s tough to find an air quality monitor with a display for less than $70).
  • Not magnetized like the AcuRite – so you can’t stick it to your refrigerator without adding a magnet.

Charging is easy.  It takes less than 2 hours and only needs to be done once every couple months.  You can also use it with the charger plugged in, though it’s possible this will reduce the battery lifespan a bit.  With the AcuRite, you need to replace the 2x AAA batteries every other year.  (Though my first AcuRite started reporting obviously incorrect temperatures after a few years – I just bought another one since it was so cheap.)

Eve Room Air Quality graphs
Eve Room Air Quality/Temperature graphs in the Eve iPhone app

Are the air quality measurements any good?  The only thing I have to compare it to are the measurements from my Withings scale downstairs.  The Withings reacts pretty fast to cooking in the kitchen.  The Eve Room seems to be a bit more … optimistic on air quality, even when the air seems a bit stale.  (a quick blast of the air conditioner clears this up though)  It doesn’t care much about soiled diapers, but it does react when people are in the room breathing out carbon dioxide for half an hour or so.

Overall, fun little gadget, and I’m looking forward to setting up automations with it!