tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
For reasons, I find myself using a Linux machine -- specifically one running Ubuntu Trusty (for all intents and purposes) -- and for other reasons, I wanted my screensaver to display random photos from a folder (specifically a folder of images from posts I liked on Tumblr, but that part is separate).

My computer was set up to use the Cinnamon desktop manager and I didn't want to change that especially (something that I learned when I unintentionally uninstalled it while trying to change the screensaver). In Cinnamon you change the screensaver by going to the system settings and then selecting the Screensaver icon, which presents you with a list of possible screensavers, most of which are from xscreensaver. One option is the GLSlideshow program, which did exactly what I wanted: displays photos from a folder you select.

Only problem is, the System Settings GUI lets you choose GLSlideshow as your screensaver but doesn't have any configuration options that are screensaver-specific. So there's no way in the GUI to select the folder of pictures you want to use.

An easy way to address this problem would be to set Cinnamon's internal screensaver to never trigger and to install xscreensaver. But I wanted to run my screensaver when I clicked on the Lock Screen menu option. I couldn't figure out a way to reconfigure Cinnamon's menu options, so I resolved to find a solution that didn't require me to do that or to disable or circumvent Cinnamon's screensaver.

After some digging, I discovered that you can configure the folder GLSlideshow uses by creating a ~/.xscreensaver file -- this post answers that part of the question.

After I added that dotfile -- oh, and also deleted my ~/.cache directory, which took another 15 or so minutes to figure out (an alternative I tried first, which worked just as well, I think, is to rename the directory with your photos in it, and edit the .xscreensaver file to reflect the new name) -- I had a screensaver that showed random photos from my chosen directory when I locked my screen, but the photo that it chose would stay the same for a long time; I wanted the photos to alternate faster.

edited to add, 2016-05-13: You may also have to delete your ~/.xscreensaver-getimage.cache file, and/or ~/tmp/.xscreensaver-getimage.cache.

After another 15-20 minutes of digging, I found that GLSlideshow has two command-line options, -pan and -duration, that control how long it displays a single photo for. I still don't quite understand the semantics of these flags, but it suffices to set the pan and duration values to the same integer (5 seconds seems reasonable) to get the behavior I want. This is explained in this post.

Okay, but how do I actually pass those flags? GLSlideshow gets invoked by some widget that's part of Cinnamon that I can't change, and which doesn't expose that configuration in the UI? There is a solution that you get when you search for this problem, and it's wrong, or at least, doesn't work with Cinnamon on Trusty.

The solution is a hack: a single command

gsettings set org.cinnamon.desktop.screensaver xscreensaver-hack "glslideshow -pan 5 -duration 5"

to replace the specific xscreensaver module that the Cinnamon screensaver runs (the "xscreensaver hack") with that same module, suffixed by the flags that you want to pass to it. This works, although perhaps it shouldn't. Now I have a screensaver that displays a random photo from my photos folder and changes the photo every 5 seconds! Yay!

But in the meantime -- false starts, accidentally uninstalling Cinnamon (turns out if you use apt to uninstall the Cinnamon screensaver, it helpfully removes all of Cinnamon), and all -- I spent about 2 hours doing something that would take about 3 minutes on a Mac.

How's 2016, the year of the Linux desktop, treating you?

tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (computers)
I thought I would write down what I do to back up my computer (a laptop running Mac OS X), since it took a surprising amount of time to figure out.

I have a private Github repository containing most of the text files I create that I want backed-up and versioned. This costs me $7/month, which is well worth it to me.

Camera phone pictures, and any documents I want to be able to share and/or access easily from my phone and from computers other than my own, go on Google Drive. I pay $2/month for 100 GB of storage, most of which I'm not using.

I back up most of the files in my home directory on my laptop with rsync to rsync.net. This costs me $5/month for 50 GB of storage. I followed their instructions to do nightly backups (which I schedule for 3 AM when my laptop is usually plugged in and on a network, but I'm not using it) using launchd. Doing the initial backup took me over a month, because of somewhat unreliable Internet access and because of the time it took to sift through and figure out what files I could delete and which ones I didn't need a cloud backup of in order to stay under quota. (Part of that time was the time it took for me to consolidate about 5 different external hard drives containing the past 18 years of backups onto my laptop hard disk.) Since I only have 50 GB, I don't back up my music library onto rsync, figuring that a TimeMachine backup is enough and that in the worst case, I can replace almost all of it from the Internet or CDs.

Once a week I plug in my TimeMachine disk and let it do its work, so I always have a full backup that's no more than a week old in addition to the partial cloud backups that I get from git, Google Drive, and rsync.net. Of course, this doesn't help if my house burns down, but does help if my laptop gets lost or stolen when I'm not at home since I keep the backup disk at home.

Writing this, I'm not sure why I'm paying for both rsync and Google Drive, since I have more storage on Google Drive and am paying less. I wanted something that was easy to automate using the command line, but I haven't actually looked into options for doing automatic backups to Google Drive. On the other hand, it took me so much time to get regularly scheduled rsync backups working that I'm reluctant to put more time into it.

I haven't yet figured out how to back up my phone (Android); there doesn't seem to be a good way to back up everything (including text messages) without rooting my phone. I've been reluctant to put in the time required to root my phone, but it looks like I will have to. Suggestions welcome!
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
If Condoleezza Rice being on the board of directors wasn't enough for you, if their employees literally bullying children in San Francisco wasn't enough for you, hear me out here. I'm currently permanently locked out of my Dropbox account containing years' worth of photos because a phone repair place destroyed my phone and I had 2-factor authentication enabled. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess!

Other services, such as pobox.com, will reset 2FA if you send them a notarized letter proving your identity. Not Dropbox, though! Here's the response I received from their support team when I asked the following:
I'm surprised by this response, since pobox.com was able to reset my 2FA when I sent them a notarized letter confirming my identity. Is there a reason that Dropbox wouldn't be able to accept such a letter from me as proof of my identity?

And here's the response I received:

Hello Tim,

Thanks for getting back to me! Apologies for the delay in my response- I had passed along your request to several of my teammates to look into as well. Unfortunately, we have no method to verify your identity and disable two-step verification if you do not have any of the following:

1. a linked computer or mobile device
2. your 16-digit emergency backup code
3. a backup phone number on file that can receive text messages

As noted, for security purposes, if you can't enter the six-digit code from your phone, and you didn't store the 16-digit emergency backup code, we have no way to help you regain access to your Dropbox account. We can't turn off two-step verification for you because email alone is no longer sufficient to prove your identity. The best we can do is help you make a new account and transfer any paid credit and bonus space you've earned. But we can't transfer any files.

If you create a new account, please reply with that account's email address so that I can help you further.

Dropbox doesn't care about your data. They will deny access to your data because they're too lazy to open a letter from a paying customer. If you don't think that's okay, don't use Dropbox. (By the way, can anyone recommend a cloud backup service that cares about customer data?)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I pose my sempiternal question: how do people back up their computers these days? Now that I have a Mac, I just let Time Machine do its thing. But what if my office catches on fire while my laptop and the backup drive are both in it? Should I have bigger priorities in that case?

Do you use network backups? If so, where do you get your 80 GB of online storage?

Helpful suggestions always appreciated.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I was copying files hither and yon in conjunction with having a new computer. While watching filenames scroll by, I realized that my source disk contained a backup of the computer I used between 1995-1999; I hadn't been sure where that backup had been hiding.

The metadata on those old files was still intact, stunningly enough, and all the custom icons I had painstakingly attached to my folders when I was a 15-year-old Mac user with too much free time were still there. And if I can figure out how to open Microsoft Word 5.1 documents (strange to think of a time when I didn't know LaTeX), I can read my college application essays. I have no idea when I am ever going to re-read those transcripts of Unix Talk sessions from days long past, but I wouldn't dream of deleting them.

Some advice: don't re-read emails from the dead after midnight. It might make you want to cry.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

April 2017

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