Realtime On-Desk Monitoring Goodness.

My occasional quest or project to get my desktop Mac working with Linux continues when appropriate. One of my issues with the Mac has been that it has been so slow, especially when you consider the ‘power under the hood’. As this was the case I thought it was important to monitor the system load in normal usage. The best way to do that on Linux is http://conky.sourceforge.net/.

Conky is almost infinitely customisable, but it isn’t always trivial to get the look and feel that you are after. I wanted a transparent set of functions in the right hand side of my desktop, indicating such useful information as the load on each processor (as a graph and a constantly updating figure), the top ‘top’ processes and available disc space.

This is what I have at the moment:

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It fulfills my requirements and looks pretty good to boot.

When I was creating the configuration file I took much of the inspiration from the version that I have on my laptop. But initially it left me with a non-transparent window (black background, or, alternatively, it was transparent but all of the icons from the rest of the desktop disappeared.

The solution in my case was to enable the built-in compositing for the xfwm4 window manager. I don’t appear to be able to use full blown Compiz compositing (it won’t play with my graphics card), but the compositing in xfwm4 is able to support a bit of transparency for windows and multiple desktops, and makes both the icons on the desktop and Conky visible at the some time.

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Cool Tree, and Lizzie Too.

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Lizzie is at Summer Camp this week. One of the reasons that we chose this particular holiday activity is that the location is just a little walk off of the bus route I use to get to work which meant that with a bit of planning I could take Lizzie each day, dropping her off before walking into work, and then picking her up on the way home. This has worked out well, though the walk is a little further than little legs are really happy with, and takes a lot longer than I had expected! But in the evening we take what I call a short cut, but isn’t really. The Botanical Gardens lie between the summer camp and the bus stop. Normally there is a charge to go to the gardens, but as I work, in part, for the Plant Sciences department, I don’t have to pay. And the walk is a nice one, away from the roads. Lizzie particularly likes the tree pictured, so last night I took a picture. If you look closely you can even see Lizzie standing at the foot of it…

With A Roar.

Well the behaviour of Linux on my Mac seems to be fast, but at times confusing. After some googling there was some indication that the problem with a lack of sound might be headphone specific. Sure enough, unplugging the headphones meant that I got sound (when this first happened it was a YouTube video at full blast). There doesn’t seem to be much logic to the thing, clicking mute and unmute on the various sound devices seems to lead to the sound working.

Unfortunately this isn’t really of much use to me. I share an office with others, and I don’t think they would appreciate either music or YouTube videos while we work. The effort continues.

How To Make a 27″ Mac Faster.

One of my work desktop machines is a 27″ Mac running Lion. The display is wonderful, with a huge resolution. But despite having a four core i5 processor and 4Gb of memory the machine has often been irritatingly slow. I put this down largely to the way the memory management appears to work in Macs. Basically the memory seems to be doled out to all and sundry until the machine suddenly realises that it is about to run out. At this point it scrabbles around furiously to find what memory it can free up. At this point the machine will often slow to a crawl. After a pause (which can be excruciatingly long) the machine will have found some spare memory and all will be right again. All of this even though the machine has a good chunk of RAM (which would be suitable for Windows 7!).
I have considered purchasing more memory, but never got round to it. On those days where the machine seemed to be most badly behaved I would fire up the PC by its side, boot into Linux and use that instead.
Then the other day I paid a visit to a colleague. Peter works in a large research laboratory on the edge of Cambridge and runs their IT. His laptop is a MacBook Air and his desktop is a 27″ Mac.  But both of them run Windows 7 pretty much full time. And that got me thinking!

I began to read around. I wasn’t interested in running Windows 7 on the Mac. Why replace one dystopian system with another? But there were lots of guides on how to get Linux running on your Mac.
It wasn’t completely smooth sailing. Partitioning the drive to make space was easy, but having run the installation it wasn’t obvious where I should install the Grub boot handler, and it took a few reboots to get it working, but i now have Linux Mint XFCE running on the Mac. Most of the tools I need are here, with the possible exception of Microsoft Office.

There are some things I would like to add or modify. A Linux installation is always a little bit of a work in progress. But I already have the browsers installed and set up, email configured and Emacs well on its way. The projects are:

  • Configure Emacs using initialisation files stored in my Dropbox folder. Then I will be able to use common settings across platforms.
  • Configure the Conky system to display the system statistics on the desktop

And the important thing? Its fast! It really is. As I haven’t run Conky for extended periods I haven’t kept an eye on memory usage, but I haven’t experienced any slow down.

The Mac as it was meant to be… with Linux!