Solution for One Trackpad Issue for the XPS 13

My new laptop is the beautiful new Dell XPS 13 running Ubuntu Gnome 15.04.

It is not perfect, but it is getting close. Lightweight, beautiful screen and awesome battery life (nearly 8 hours the way I use it).

One thing that was killing me, though, was that after a certain amount of time (on the order of tens of minutes and not hours), the trackpad/clickpad thingie would start misbehaving under Gnome Shell, registering bogus clicks. There wasn’t an easy way to fix it outside of a) reboot or b) use an external mouse.

It seems that this issue has been addressed in the 4.1 kernel, so I decided to try it. I’m not sure if Ubuntu is going to support the 4 kernel series officially before 15.10 so I didn’t want to wait.

I downloaded the 4.1.1 kernel here (you’ll need three debs: the “all” headers deb and the image and headers debs for your CPU – I used “generic” and “amd64”), installed them with “sudo dpkg -i” and rebooted. The problem seems to be fixed.

But, my Broadcom wireless driver wouldn’t work. I had to download one more deb from here (via my phone – never play with kernels when you are on a long road trip), install it and now wireless is back.

Now if we could just get palm detection fixed …

2015 Community Leadership Summit

I’ve been working full time with open source software for fourteen years, and I can remember a time when we were pretty much making everything up. No one had experience with this market which most of us now take for granted, and there were a lot of questions about dealing with an open source “community” versus paying customers for open source related software and services.

Out of this arose a role, for lack of a better word, called a “Community Manager”. It doesn’t quite fit since “manage” isn’t accurate. It is hard to apply old school management techniques to a group of sometimes anonymous volunteers, many of whom you might only know by a name such as “Zaxxon476”.

One of the first people to document this role was Jono Bacon. He was one of the leaders of the Ubuntu community, one of the larger of such communities in existence. He wrote a book called The Art of Community and he also founded the Community Leadership Summit (CLS) which meets the weekend before OSCON. Due to scheduling I have never been able to be there, but OpenNMS has been a sponsor every year it has been around.

CLS - Sponsors

This year I was finally able to attend, and I wasn’t disappointed. A large, eager group of people showed up, and I really enjoyed the diversity. Not only were women strongly represented (in both attendees and session leaders) there were many people from outside of the United States.

Jono kicked off the conference:

CLS - Jono Bacon, the delicious meat

with help from another amazing fellow, Stephen Walli:

CLS - Stephen Walli, the other white meat

The format was in the “unconference” style, meaning that the attendees set the agenda. After an initial group of planned 15-minute presentations, those people wanting to host a session would write a short description on a card, get up in front of everyone and announce the session, and then go post it on a large schedule “wall” in the main hallway.

I’ve been to a number of such conferences but rarely seen such participation levels. We actually ran out of Saturday spots, but in the true cooperative style a number of people were able to combine sessions so I think it all worked out.

CLS - Schedule

The whole event had a really good vibe. It wasn’t just open source people, either. The “open source way” can be applied to a number of different fields, and it had to be stressed that in any given session you couldn’t make assumptions about the open source knowledge of the people in the room. One woman discussed how she was dealing with mental illness, and an on-line community was key to her becoming healthy. Another woman was discussing how concepts from the formal study of psychology could be applied to make communities stronger. Even proprietary companies such as New Relic were there because the user community has become key to the success of almost any technology endeavor.

I got to make new friends and catch up with old ones, so I have to admit like many conferences I spent more time chatting in the hallway than in actual sessions (as some of those session were in the hallway, I had to be reminded that my voice carries. Ooops and sorry).

For high school I went to the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and I constantly run into alumni in this field. OpenNMS’s own Seth Leger went there, as did Spot Callaway and Gina Likins from Red Hat. I got a cute picture of Gina (pronounced “Jenna”) with Ulf.

CLS - Gina Likins

It looks like the second day might even be stronger than the first, but unfortunately I won’t be able to make it. As OSCON is moving to Austin next year, it will be interesting to see how that changes CLS, and I plan to make every effort to be there.

The EFF Turns 25

In 1990, when the Internet was much smaller and slower than it is today, a bunch of forward-thinking people realized that this new technological wonder would create some unique issues for our society, and they formed the Electronic Frontier Foundation to protect people from its negative effects.

I can’t remember the first time I got involved with the EFF, but for years I’ve followed their efforts and cheered them on. Before I wore it to shreads, my “Protect Bloggers Rights” T-shirt was one of my favorites, and I still carry my passport in an EFF-badged wallet that blocks RFID transmission.

Earlier this year, the animator Chad Essley auctioned off the chance to be added to his video for the MC Frontalot song “Shudders” with all proceeds going to the EFF. The result was that the OpenNMS mascot Ulf gets a few seconds of much deserved fame and I got an invitation to the EFF’s 25th anniversary party.

I wasn’t going to make it (I don’t live in the Bay Area) but when I decided to attend this week’s Community Leadership Summit followed by OSCON up in Portland, it turned out that it wasn’t much more expensive to fly here first before heading up to Oregon. I know several people in the area and I figured I could find something to do before the party, but then the EFF created a half-day “minicon” so I decided to attend that as well.

EFF - DNA Lounge

The minicon consisted of three panel discussions. It was held at a nightclub called the DNA Lounge and when I got there just before noon the line to get in was already stretching down the block. When I did get in, there was a stage set up for the panels (a moderator’s podium and a table with four chairs for the panelists) as well as two banners describing what the EFF does.

EFF Banner

I thought the left one was pretty succinct: Free Speech, Privacy, Innovation, Transparency, Fair Use, International. Yup, that about covers it.

I didn’t take any pictures of the attendees (this group does attract a contingent from the “black helicopters” crowd) so while I probably had the right to take pictures as part of a public gathering it would have been rude. It was nice to see a fairly even split between men and women, and for once I wasn’t the oldest person in the room. It was mainly Caucasian and Asian faces that I saw (hey, that’s pretty much Silicon Valley) and I did see people with colorful hair (bright pink, electric blue, etc.) That part was similar to the open source conferences I attend, but there wasn’t a single utilikilt. The vibe was also different. Whereas FOSS conferences also attract technical people with a strong libertarian bent, this crowd included a lot more people concerned with social activism.

Which brings us to the first panel: Activism.

EFF - Panel 1

Not only does the EFF identify threats to liberty brought on by new technology, one of their pillars is to mobilize people to effect change, so this panel discussed ways to more effectively do just that. Should you call your Congressional Representative or e-mail them? Is publicly tweeting about them better than a private correspondence? One panelist commented on the fact that you can’t A/B test reality so it can be hard to determine the best action. Plus, if a particular effort is successful, such as with SOPA, the bar is set high for the next one, which can cause its own problems.

It was the first time I had been introduced to Annalee Newitz, and I really liked her comments. Yet another person to follow on the Twitters.

They also announced a project by Sina Khanifar called democracy.io which is supposed to make it easier for people to contact those in government.

The second panel focused on Copyright.

EFF - Panel 2

I am not an anti-copyright person. Copyright law is what makes free and open source software possible. However, it is obvious that it is broken. As a process created to mainly protect things like the written word, it doesn’t lend itself well to computer code. Plus, some copyright holders have a track record of abuse. I’ve even experienced it in such things as bogus DMCA takedown notices.

Part of this discussion focused on the concept of “fair use”. If I am given something or I pay for something, does the person from whom I got that something have a right to set limits on what I can do with it? It’s a tricky question. If I use someone’s song in a television commercial, it seems obvious that I should have to pay the owner of that song, especially since it may imply that the creator of the music endorses my product or service. But what if I invite 30 people over for a party and put on some music? Does that count as a “public performance”? It’s tricky.

The EFF is very concerned with transparency, and quite naturally has issues with secret negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). Proponents of keeping trade negotiations secret will claim that they don’t want the discussion to disrupt markets. For example, if the discussion was about whether or not to place tariffs on corn exports, whether or not they would actually come about, this could cause undue fluctuations in the market for corn.

As one of the panelists noted: Copyright is not corn.

The TPP has a focus on intellectual property rights which will have far reaching repercussions for users of technology. Without oversight, the government’s zeal to protect, say, the movie and music industry, may result in actions that are detrimental to end users. People in government don’t tend to have strong technical experience, so it is important that these discussion take place in the open.

Privacy was the topic of the final panel.

EFF - Panel 3

This panel included Bruce Schneier. This was the first time I had seen him speak, and I was not disappointed. One of the questions was to predict privacy challenges due to technology 25 years from now. Bruce pointed out that it was harder to predict the impact of new tech on society than the tech itself. For example, we now have flying robots that kill people. On the one hand this is very frightening, and on the other hand, in a way, it is really, really cool.

He was referring to drones of course, and I couldn’t help but think of the trauma some drone operators are now facing even though they are thousands of miles from actual combat. Tech has also created an “interrupt driven” culture that may be fostering short attention spans. Heck, I’ll be surprised if even one of my three blog readers makes it this far in this long post, and we’ve had to come up with tags like “TL;DR” to deal with things like this. I can’t imagine what changes this will bring about in 25 years.

I was also impressed by panelist Parisa Tabriz. She is the “Security Princess” at Google and a solid public speaker. She pointed out that at Google they sometimes struggle with security versus privacy, in that certain security tech can leave a fingerprint that might weaken anonymity.

It is hard to talk about Google without bringing up Apple, and it was pointed out that Apple fails miserably on the transparency front but does do a good job when it comes to privacy. The argument goes that since Apple makes money on hardware (compared to Google’s model) they have less motivation to look at their users’ data. It would have been nice to have someone from Apple on the panel, but I’m not sure if they were asked. I did ask the EFF via a tweet, but didn’t get a response.

While most panel discussions suck, I enjoyed these, and I’m glad I went. The minicon ended around 4pm and since the party didn’t start until 8pm I decided to head back to the hotel, work on some e-mail and take a nap.

That was a mistake.

When my alarm went off at 7pm, I was so tired I considered blowing off the party entirely. I decided to go because Maggie had managed to find another RFID blocking passport wallet, as my EFF-branded one is pretty tattered, and I need another. It doesn’t have the EFF logo on it, but I hope they make more in the future.

EFF Passport Holder

My passport has had RFID technology embedded in it for years, but in all my travels it has never been legitimately accessed. It is just another example of technology being chosen because it exists without a firm plan on how to use it. I like knowing that I now can chose when to enable it or not (and yes, I know I could nuke it in the microwave but I’m not ready to go that far, yet).

Another thing I wish the EFF would do is advertise more about Amazon Smile. If you shop on Amazon Smile you can choose to have a portion of your purchase benefit a specific organization. It doesn’t cost you anything, and while I can’t find an actual total, since I shop on Amazon a lot I feel that I’ve probably sent a significant amount of money to the EFF. Of course, I can’t imagine that they are happy with things like Amazon Echo, so perhaps there is a conflict of interest, but I still wanted to make people aware of it.

EFF - Party Stage

So, I grabbed an Uber, went to the party, met Maggie and got my new passport holder. I then made a pass around the club but didn’t really feel comfortable. These were my people but then again not my people. It was obvious many knew each other, and while I’ve never been one to have a problem with a room full of strangers (in most situations I make new friends) the environment was pretty loud and not conducive to conversation. I just didn’t have the energy so I left.

This means I missed seeing Wil Wheaton and Cory Doctorow, two more people I’ve never seen in person but would like to one day. From social media it seems like it was a good time, but I just wanted to grab some dinner and sleep.

EFF - Wil Wheaton

Overall, I had a good time with the EFF. It is rare that I agree with everything even people I like do, but I can’t think of something the EFF has done in the last 25 years that bothered me or pissed me off. It is one of the few organizations that I regularly donate to, and I plan to leave them some money in my estate (if there is any left, I also plan to live for another 100 years and die after I’ve spent my last dime). If you haven’t supported them yet, I’d like to suggest that you do so.

Today I’m off to Portland for the CLS and OSCON, and these really are my people. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Uber vs. Taxi

Back in 2012, I first experienced Uber. While I assume everyone knows what Uber is, just in case you don’t, it is a ride service that heavily leverages modern technology to disrupt the livery/taxi industry.

When I first used Uber in 2012, it was limited to “black cars”, vehicles like Town Cars on the higher end of the scale, and the price reflected it. Now they have a number of different options, such as UberX (similar to a taxi), UberPool (more of a ride share version of UberX), UberSushi, UberMusic, etc. (okay, I made the last two up).

I had a rather positive experience with Uber back in 2012, but I rarely had the chance to use it much after that. Later, when I started reading about some “evil” things they were doing, I wasn’t inclined to call on them when I needed a ride, and their Android app seems to need an awful lot of permissions in order to work correctly, so I wouldn’t install it.

I am currently spending a few days in San Francisco, and when I landed at SFO I decided to take a taxi instead of BART. I like BART, but I was running late and also had a fairly large suitcase with me, so I opted for the convenience of a cab.

It was a bad experience.

When I approached the cab stand, I was assigned the next cab in line. This was car 226 from “Veteran’s Cab Company” and it was a very tired Toyota Prius. The driver seemed more interested in listening to music on his phone and texting than getting me to my hotel.

Texting Taxi Driver

He repeatedly ignored my requests that he not text and drive, and as I was watching for the best routes on Google Maps, he also ignored my requests to take me on the faster route. Outside of putting my life in danger, he probably cost me an extra $10 and an extra 15 minutes.

I did survive the trip, and I checked into the hotel, dropped my bags and headed back out because I was meeting a friend and we were going to take BART to the East Bay.

Although her house was only a 10-15 minute walk from BART, she was in heels and decided that we would catch a ride with Uber. This was UberX. The driver was waiting for us in an immaculate Prius and promptly took us to the house. As I ended up staying there past the time that BART stopped running, they called me another UberX ride to take me back to the hotel. This was also in a Prius, clean, and the driver was very friendly and safe.

It is hard to express the stark contrast between the experience of a normal taxi versus Uber.

I was in town for the EFF’s 25th anniversary party. While I walked to the “minicon” they held during the day, I decided to take Uber to the evening party. I dusted off my Uber account, updated the credit card, and called for a ride.

Within three minutes Ye showed up in a nice Toyota Camry. The route to the DNA Lounge was already in his phone, adjusted to avoid traffic, and the trip was quick and pleasant. As everything is paid for via the app, I had nothing to do but enjoy the ride.

I can see why people could get used to this.

For the ride back, I used Uber again. This time Allam picked me up in a Honda CR-V. Again, he arrived within three minutes. I was his first customer for the night and we hit it off to the point where I didn’t want the ride to end (he was originally from the West Bank of Israel and we talked a lot about the Middle East, which I’ve enjoyed visiting).

When I go to the airport tomorrow to head to CLS and OSCON, I plan to take UberX, or I might try UberPool.

While I still have concerns about some of Uber’s policies, and I probably need to check out Lyft (a competing service), we are talking about an experience that is orders of magnitude better than the old status quo. I’ll be hard pressed to take a taxi again.

The OpenNMS Calendar

As I was spending this morning trying to get organized, I thought it would help me to post some of the OpenNMS events coming up over the next few months.

July: OSCON

The O’Reilly Open Source Conference, being held the week of 20 July in Portland, OR, USA, is probably the last great commercial open source conference. I’ll be there on the Expo floor and would love to chat with folks about OpenNMS and open source. We are also sponsoring a free concert with MC Frontalot and the Doubleclicks at Dante’s on Thursday night the 23rd:

August: Training

We are holding our formal week-long OpenNMS training course the week of 10 August at OpenNMS HQ in Pittsboro, NC. This is the best way to get up to speed with OpenNMS, plus you get to meet a lot of the people who make it happen.

September: Users Conference

This year’s users conference is shaping up to be the best yet. It will be held from 28 September to 1 October at the University of Applied Science in Fulda, Germany, which is just outside of Frankfurt.

Sponsored by the independent OpenNMS Foundation, The Call for Papers is still open. Also this year we’ll have the gang from the Bad Voltage podcast doing a live show for your entertainment.

October: All Things Open

From 18-20 October, the All Things Open conference returns to America’s Open City: Raleigh, NC (home of Red Hat). This is a great time and OpenNMS will be a sponsor this year.

Hope to see you at one or all of these events.

2015 Mini Dev-Jam

So, after this year’s Dev-Jam, several people followed us back to Pittsboro. Markus von Rüden, Ronny, Christian and Dustin all came to visit, as did Antonio. It was an extra week to get even more work done and a chance for us to socialize.

On Thursday Ben suggested we visit a really nice Japanese restaurant called Dashi in Durham. While downstairs serves noodles, upstairs is a bar with small plates. We rented the place out for a few hours.

Dinner at Dashi

It was excellent. The food was delicious and unusual, and the drinks were splendid as well.

Since our guests weren’t leaving until July the 5th, it was only appropriate to have everyone over to celebrate July the 4th. I was finally able to make Fish House Punch (there is so much of it you need a large number of people to help drink it) and we did the usual 4th of July things such as cooking out on the grill.

The one thing we couldn’t do was fireworks, as there are pretty strict limits on them in North Carolina. I thought we could substitute a bonfire (I generate a lot of stuff to burn on the farm) but with the large amounts of rain we have been getting it really wouldn’t catch.

Then Jesse asked “Do you have any gasoline?”

Against my better judgment, I got some gas and while it improved things, the fire still wasn’t blazing like a bonfire should. Then someone suggested I get the leaf blower.

Tweet about the 4th party

Now, I have a really nice leaf blower. It’s a four-cycle Makita that makes me feel like Magneto. It did the job.

4th of July Bonfire

Remember, don’t try this at home.

Speaking of home, everyone made it back safely. It was nice seeing them for an extended period of time.

The next chance I get to see old friends will be OSCON coming up in two weeks. Remember that OpenNMS is sponsoring an MC Frontalot concert with the whole band at Dante’s on July 23rd. Hope to see you there.

Linux Mint 17.2 “Rafaela”

Just a quick post as I’ve now upgraded two desktops to the latest Linux Mint, version 17.2, code named “Rafaela”.

The upgrade process was pretty painless. I was on 17.1 “Rebecca” so I made sure all the packages were up to date. Then I launched the “Update Manager” application and chose “Upgrade to 17.2” under the “Edit” menu.

Easy-peasy.

I haven’t seen any new issues and some of the old ones seem to have disappeared. I used to have issues with a) the desktop background going all wonky, b) the screen resolution dropping down to 640×480 that was only fixable via reboot, and c) the screen not being responsive at all, necessitating Ctl-Alt-Fx and then back to Ctl-Alt-F8. No biggies and they were pretty infrequent, so I’m not certain they are fixed (I have an ATI Radeon PRO card in the desktop with the issue) but I haven’t seen them since the upgrade.

Plus, yay!, the screensaver is back. Ubuntu decided a long time ago to basically nix the screensaver and just power off the screen. I like screensavers, but I also like an integration with the desktop environment so I never hacked in xscreensaver. Well, in 17.2, they did. You will have to install the xscreensaver packages to get choices (well, more than the default two) and it is missing a randomizer (sniff) but one step at a time.

I just wish I could get the clickpad to work correctly on my new laptop. I’ve posted my problem to the forum but so far no suggestions.

Anyway, I’d recommend Mint users upgrade when able. So far so good.

Update: Problem a) is still happening. When the system comes back from a suspend the desktop background is distorted into squares of mainly black and white pixels. I have to change the desktop background away from what it is and then back to restore. Doesn’t happen on my NVidia desktop.

2015 Dev-Jam: Day Five

Sorry for the week delay on this post, but this happened.

The last day of Dev-Jam is always bittersweet for me. I’m sad that it is over, but I also get to see all the wonderful “new shiny” people have been working on. Friday we do demos.

This year we made an attempt to record each demo. Just click on the picture to see it on the YooToobz. Videos, yay!

First up was Ben. Ben is the architect of our new mobile app, OpenNMS Compass. Available for both iOS and Android, it may even turn into our next overall user interface. To do that, it needs graphs, so Ben demonstrated how you can now display graphs in Compass. You can even set “favorites” so they show up on your main screen.

Dev-Jam Demos: Ben

Markus von Rüden spent the week working on something fun: digitizing our mascot and kiwi overlord, Ulf. He demonstrated this work in a game. While it wasn’t completely finished, when Ulf died would he split in half to reveal a kiwi (fruit) center. Cute. Unfortunately, no video and no wiki page (yet).

Dev-Jam Demos: MvR

Christian presented a new way to represent issues within OpenNMS, a “heat map“. It works with both alarms and outages.

Dev-Jam Demos: Christian

Jesse presented something that literally gave me goosebumps. Using our new integration with Newts, you can search for similar data within OpenNMS. So if there is say, a spike, you can search through all the other metrics to see if there are other data sources that spike at the same time.

Dev-Jam Demos: Jesse

David S. presented a new northbound interface for sending alarms to other systems via JMS. He used ActiveMQ as a proof of concept.

Dev-Jam Demos: David S.

Ron created a couple of new features. The first was the ability to see polls as events, including how long each poll took (if available). He also added the ability to create a consistent color scheme across performance graphs.

Dev-Jam Demos: Ron

Umberto created another real exciting feature – the ability to export in real time OpenNMS events to Elasticsearch. Since OpenNMS can handle thousands of events a second, sending them to a system built to analyze such data could be very useful. Umberto was sponsored to attend by the OpenNMS Foundation.

Dev-Jam Demos: Umberto

A second OpenNMS Foundation attendee was Marcel. He worked on improving data collection for Fortinet devices.

Dev-Jam Demos: Marcel

Another cool feature was Dustin’s custom data collection script tool. Sometimes OpenNMS gets criticized for not using SSH to collect data and perform montoring. The reason it doesn’t is rather simple: it’s a stupid idea. It usually requires that you set up keys with null passphrases, and often they connect as root. Despite the security issues, it is also a resource hog and can’t scale. We have always recommended using an extensible SNMP agent like Net-SNMP, but it can be some effort to set up.

Dustin’s feature allows you to put collection scripts in a special folder on the server, and OpenNMS will automatically collect the data. All you need to do then is to add a graph definition and you’re done.

Dev-Jam Demos: Dustin

Ronny discussed running OpenNMS in Vagrant and Docker containers. Neato.

Dev-Jam Demos: Ronny

DJ was frustrated in how long it can take to compile OpenNMS if tests are enabled. OpenNMS is heavily instrumented with software tests. These can be broken into “unit” tests and “integration” tests. Maven (the build system used by OpenNMS) can be configured to separate them. Since unit tests should be small and quick, they can be run every time with the integration tests only run for regression.

Dev-Jam Demos: DJ

Finally, Seth presented the work he did this week which was focused on changes needed to support OpenNMS Minion. Minions are little, stand alone processes that can perform basic monitoring and data collection, which is then forwarded up to an OpenNMS Dominion instance.

Dev-Jam Demos: Seth

While the last Dev-Jam always seems to be the best Dev-Jam, I think it was true this year. This work will go along way toward positioning OpenNMS for the coming Internet of Things, and as always it is amazing to see what brilliant people can do when given the opportunity to work together.

We ended the day at Surly Brewing Company. The beer was delicious and the company stimulating. I only got one non-blurry picture, and unfortunately my pants fell down when I stood up to take it.

Dev-Jam: Surly Brewing

Sorry.

I hope to see everyone at the OpenNMS Users Conference in September. I promise to keep my pants on.

Review: Dell XPS 13 (9343) Ubuntu Edition

Okay. When it comes to tech, I want the latest and greatest. To me, the “greatest” must include as much open software as possible. As an ex-Apple user, I want the same experience I used to get with that gear, but with free and open source software.

It can be hard. Rarely is the open source world involved in new hardware decisions by the major vendors, so we learn about new devices after the fact. Thus there is an inevitable delay between when a product is announced and when it properly works with FOSS.

Such was the case with the new XPS 13 laptop from Dell.

Now, I vote with my wallet, so back in 2012 when I needed a laptop I bought the second edition “Sputnik” Dell XPS 13, which shipped with Ubuntu. It served me well for many years and currently runs Linux Mint 17.1 with no problems. When the latest edition XPS 13 was announced, I immediately ordered it, but it didn’t work out so well.

When I discovered that the other option from Dell, the M3800, wasn’t for me, I decided to wait until they officially supported Ubuntu on the new XPS 13. I didn’t have to wait long, and I placed my order the day I learned it was available (I was happy to learn that they had to fix some kernel-level issues and it wasn’t just me).

Why didn’t I wait longer? The XPS 13 is gorgeous. I haven’t felt this strongly about a laptop since my 12-inch Powerbook back in 2013. Others seem to agree, with even Forbes praising this machine.

Anyway, the order process was simple. I got the XPS 13 with the i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 512GB SSD and the HiDPI touchscreen. The laptop arrived about a week before it was scheduled. Go Dell.

Now for the obligatory unboxing pictures. The outer box arrived undamaged:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 1

The laptop itself came in a separate box:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 2

with the accessories shipped in a cardboard “square tube”:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 3

While the small power supply came with a longer power cable with a “mickey mouse” connector, the XPS 13 comes with a small adapter that gets rid of the cable entirely (like the Apple laptop power bricks).

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 4

The laptop pretty much fills up its box:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 5

Like with my original XPS, there is a cool little intro video that plays when you first start it up:

Please note that it only runs on the first start – you will not have to wait 40+ seconds to boot your system (usually less than 10).

The XPS 13 Ubuntu Developer Edition ships with 14.04, but I had some issues with it. First, it didn’t have the option for encrypting the home directory. I’m not sure how or why that got removed. The system also crashed when I attempted to make a backup image to a USB stick. Finally, there are apparently still outstanding issues with 14.04:

Ubuntu 14.04 includes kernel 3.13. The touchpad will run in PS2 mode and the soundcard will run in HDA mode. Currently (4/15) out of the box the HDA microphone will not work, and you will need some packages from the factory shipped image to make it work properly.

While I knew I was going to base the system, I logged in to the stock image to check out the apt repository. There really wasn’t anything outside of the vanilla Ubuntu (the few Dell packages seem to be just for recovery) so I felt fairly safe in reinstalling.

I immediately went to my default distro, Linux Mint 17.1, but found that a lot of things, especially the touchpad, didn’t work as expected. It did handle HiDPI screens just fine (you could actually see the mouse pointer increase in size when logging in). I figured I’d wait until 17.2 comes out and try it again.

On a side note, I don’t know why it is so hard to get a decent touchpad under Linux. We’re getting closer, but still, it tends to be the weakest point of the Linux laptop experience.

In search of a solution, I found Barton’s Blog and read the following:

With BIOS A00 or BIOS A01 the touchpad will run in I2C mode and the sound will not function. Please update to at least BIOS A02 and the touchpad will run in I2C mode and the sound in HDA mode. (4/15) All of the relevant patches have been backported and all functions will work out of the box.

I really liked the “will work out of the box” bit, so I installed Ubuntu 15.04.

It had been awhile since I’d used Unity, and it has really matured. I especially liked the little touches. When I changed my desktop background, the background of the Dock changed color to match it. Neat.

Where Unity still has some way to go is in HiDPI support. There is a scaling factor you can set, but it only applies to a small part of the UI. I still ended up having to customize many of my apps. For example, if you look at the settings page with scaling, a lot of the text under the icons are cropped:

Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu Text Cropped

Not a show stopper, and I used it for over a month without getting too annoyed.

Last week I saw that the release candidate for Mint 17.2 was out, so I dutifully backed up my Ubuntu install, based the system and installed Mint. Things seems to work better (although HiDPI support was not working by default), but I ran into a weird problem with trying to click and drag.

While everyone seems to deal with trackpads differently, the way I click and drag is to use the index finger of my left hand to click and hold the lower left corner of the trackpad, and then I use the index finger of my right hand to move the mouse pointer. This works fine under most desktop environments, but under Cinnamon it seems to interpret it as a right click (which usually causes a menu to drop down). If I just used a single finger to click on the window header and then move it, it worked as expected, but I couldn’t get used to it enough to continue to use it.

Oh well. I’ve posted a question on the Mint forums but no one has been able to help.

Anyhoos, since my system was based I decided to try out some other 15.04-based distros while I had the chance. I had heard great things about the new Plasma interface in KDE, so Kubuntu was next.

I can’t say much about Kubuntu since its HiDPI support is worse than Unity. Everything was so tiny I couldn’t spend much time in the UI. Oh well, what I saw was pretty.

And I should stress that this was a recurring theme in my experiments with desktop environments. Every UI I’ve tried has been beautiful and more than able to compete with, say, OS X.

By this point I decided to punt and just search on “Linux Desktop HiDPI”. Several of the results touted that Ubuntu Gnome was the best desktop to use for HiDPI systems. So, before going back to Unity I decided to give it a shot.

Wow.

I haven’t used Gnome 3 in awhile, but I was encouraged in that even the install process handled the HiDPI screen well. It has become really mature, and so far has provided by far the best experience with the XPS 13. I’ve had to do little to get it to work for me.

Is it flawless? No. There is an issue with the touchpad where it occasionally translates touches into click (kernel patch approved). If you sleep the system, the touchscreen will stop working (but you can reload its module). Sometimes, the system doesn’t sleep when you close the screen, which can cause the laptop to get really, really hot.

But these are minor issues and I expect them to be addressed in the near future. I am confident that I’ve found a great combination of software and hardware, and that it will only get better from here.

I have just a few more notes to share. The battery life is outstanding – I can get 6-7 hours of use without recharging. The “infinity screen” is beautiful and bright, but by having almost no bezel they had to move the camera to the lower left corner, which creates a slightly odd viewing angle.

Dell XPS 13 Camera Angle

In closing, here are a couple of shots comparing the XPS 13 with the M3800.

Dell XPS 13 vs. M3800 Pic 1

Dell XPS 13 vs. M3800 Pic 2

Dell XPS 13 vs. M3800 Pic 3

2015 Dev-Jam: Day Four

Since I sincerely doubt even my loyal readers get to the bottom of my long posts, I figured I’d start this one with the group picture:

Dev-Jam Group Picture

That antenna behind Goldy’s head is part of Jonathan’s project to use OpenNMS to collect and aggregate FunCube data from around the world. Can I get an “Internet of Things“? (grin)

There is this myth that just by making your software open source, thousands of qualified developers will give up their spare time to work on your project. While there are certainly projects with lots of developers, I am humbled by the fact that we have 30-40 hard core people involved with OpenNMS.

Unless you’ve gone through this, it is hard to understand. At one time, OpenNMS was pretty much me in my attic and an IRC channel. Luckily for the project that didn’t last long. My one true talent is getting amazing people to work with me. Then all I have to do is create an environment where they can be awesome.

It’s why I love Dev-Jam.

I also love pizza. Chris at Papa Johns was kind enough to send us some free pie for dinner:

Dev-Jam Pizza

Today we spent time talking about documentation. Documentation tends to be the weak point of a lot of software, and open source software in particular. The Arch Linux people do about the best job I’ve seen, but even then it is hard to keep everything current. For over a year now a group of people has been working very hard to improve the documentation for OpenNMS, and the new documentation site is most excellent.

It does take a little time to understand the navigation. The documentation is included in the source and managed on GitHub, so there is a new version for each release. But just as an example, check out the Administrator’s Guide for 16.0.2.

Written in AsciiDoc, it is now the best place for accurate information on how to use the software. We also want to extend a special thanks to the Atom project for creating the editor used to create it.

One of the things we discussed was how to deal with the wiki and the .org website. It’s not practical to duplicate the AsciiDoc information on the wiki, so the plan is to include the relevant part from the documentation in something like an iframe and use the wiki more for user stories. The “talk” page can then be used for suggestions on improving the documentation, and once those suggestions are merged they can be removed.

I had suggested that we make the wiki page the default landing page for the .org site, but Markus pointed out that we need to do a better job of marketing OpenNMS, and the landing page should be more about “why to use OpenNMS” versus “how”. I had to agree, as we need to do a better job of marketing the software. My friend Waleed pointed out in Twitter this weakness:

Twitter Comment 1 from Waleed

Twitter Comment 2 from Waleed

To better educate folks about why OpenNMS is so amazing, we are considering merging the .com and .org sites and using the .com WordPress instance for the “why you should use OpenNMS” with a very obvious link to the wiki so people can learn how to use OpenNMS. Part of me has always wanted to keep the project and commercial aspects of OpenNMS separate, but it then becomes really hard to maintain both sites.

In case you haven’t guessed, we do spend a lot of time thinking about stuff like this. (grin)

Dev-Jam Thursday

A lot of other cool stuff got done on Thursday. DJ announced that he had separated out the unit tests in OpenNMS (for features) from the integration tests (for regression). OpenNMS has nearly 7,000 junit tests (and growing). It’s the main way we insure that nothing breaks as we work to add new things to the software. But with so many tests it can take a real long time to see if your commit worked or not. This should make things easier for the developers.

It’s hard to believe that Dev-Jam is almost over. Luckily, it sets the stage for the next year’s worth of work. Since our goal is nothing less than making OpenNMS the de facto network management platform of choice, there is a lot of work to be done.