Katadyn Pocket Water Filter Capacity — Update II

In 2016, I wrote about my estimate of my Katadyn Pocket Filter’s real life capacity.

I had reached an estimated 1,500 litres of filtered water over four winter seasons of using the filter at the cottage during the off-season when our water system is turned off. I had further guessed — hoped, really — that I might get as much as another 1,500 litres, spread over two to four more seasons, and as such it might take as long as until the year 2020 to know when the filter cartridge would need to be replaced.

I was overly hopeful. In January of 2017, I was up at the cottage for a week, doing a lot of cooking and needing a good amount of filtered water.  I tested the filter unit against the gauge supplied with the filter, and since the gauge passed over the filter unit, “it was time” to change it.

The winning total (as of January, 2017):  1650 litres. Or, about 3.3% of the oft-touted capacity of 50,000 litres.

As of September, 2017, I have not replaced the filter yet, and am at approximately 1750 litres, or about 3.5%.

This makes me wonder, yet again, what Katadyn knows about the “in the wild” capacity of its filters.  As in, how come I have only gotten 3.5% of the rated capacity of the filter before it has worn out.

And it makes me wonder why, in my perhaps modest efforts to find out how much water people actually filter with their units, just about everyone (including myself, admittedly, shortly after I bought the unit) talks about 50,000 litres, but few talk about “well I only filtered this much before I had to replace it”, or the like.

There are reviews I found on the mec.ca website there from people whose posts are meant to imply that they’ve gotten a lot of use out of their filter.  I saw one that said that over 25 years, the person was on their third replacement, and claimed to have filtered over 250,000 litres! (or over 62,500 litres per filter!)

A comment I came across said “I bought mine in 1988 and I have yet to change the filter”.  I can imagine that over 29 years one might have used it quite a number of times; but what, every weekend for groups varying from two to five people? Once or twice a year when they take their children hiking one afternoon around the cottage or campsite that they rented for a few days during the summer holidays, and the rest of the time they’re on a water system? Or “I’m an avid hiker who goes out hiking every weekend I can, and I bring my Scout Troop hiking all the time and they are constantly asking me to filter water for them”?

Yes, I have seen some reviews that are “a bit more detailed” than that, such as “well after 15 years I replaced it, having filtered thousands of litres of water” … which still begs the question: Thousands of litres of water … that sounds vaguely less than 50,000; 7,000 litres is “thousands of litres”, as are 4,500 litres, and 25,000 litres. So did you keep a log of roughly how much you filtered? Trip diaries such that you could guestimate or have a basis on which to assume that each trip you used it, you typically filtered a given amount a day and you were gone a given number of days, and at least have a ballpark idea of how much water was filtered?

And here’s one that I found mildly useful:  “I used it travelling for 18 months through India, and used it instead of buying bottled water all the time” … but that doesn’t really tell me how much water they filtered.  But, it allows for some hypothetical arithmetic.  Let’s say there were two people producing let’s say three litres per day per person for 18 months — 548 days, give or take — that’s 3,288 litres, or almost 6.6% of the rated capacity of 50,000 litres.  At four litres per person per day, that’s 4,384 litres, or almost 8.8%.  At five litres per person per day, that’s 5,480 litres, or almost 11.0%.  Now that’s a lot of drinking water, both per person, and just a lot of water to filter in a given day while travelling.  After that, I have to ask what they were using the water for!  Were they filtering enough water to wash their clothing and showering or bathing?  If so, given how much time it takes in reality to filter a few hundred litres a day with the unit, were they spending *all* of their time filtering water and not actually taking advantage of their trip in India?!?  And, of course, it should be noted that they *didn’t* mention that they bought the unit expressly for this trip, or never used it again before or after.

I am obviously getting worked up: Were I to have filtered 25,000 litres (50% capacity) or more, over a decade or two, I might not be as upset, and would likely chalk it up to the expected variation in the field due to “real world circumstances”. However, losing more than 96% of the rated capacity is frustrating to the point of unacceptable, to say the least.

The only consolation?

In January, 2017, after having passed the plastic gauge over the filter unit and having learned that it was at the end of its designed lifespan, I went to a Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) to buy a new filter unit, not really sure whether I wanted to go through with the expensive purchase; the replacement filter units cost $235, compared to $435 for a new complete unit.

The last unit on the rack — which is the unit I therefore bought — looked like a returned unit. (Later when I got home, I was able to open it and learn that everything was there: A new filter unit, a new spigot hose, new o-rings, a new scrubby pad or two, a new bag for the spigot hose, a new tube of lubricant, and whatever else was supposed to be there.)

The list price: $235.00

The price that rang up at the till: $63.00

Discount: 73.2%

I did a double take, and without thinking I said, “That isn’t the correct price.” I of course should have kept my mouth shut, but no matter:  Québec’s consumer protection laws were on my side. Were the price at the register to be higher than the advertised price, the customer would pay the advertised price, less a $10 indemnity (with a few exceptions as well as a few other pricing rules applying as per the case); if the price at the register were to be lower than the advertised price, then the customer would pay the lower price, regardless of the difference between the two prices.

Nonetheless, we went through the motions of verifying the price on the MEC website, and indeed confirmed that the list price was $235.  However, either the clerks were savvy and well trained, knowing the law in this case, or they were naïvely trusting of the price scanner / computer / register, and insisted that the $63 price that rang up on the machine was the price to be paid.

You can be sure that the next day, I made a point of going back to the same MEC to see if they’d restocked the shelf with that item, in order to hopefully take advantage of another massive discount. Sadly, they had not. And, I expect that the store knew that the item I bought was the last unit in the store, and that (I presume that) it was a returned and restocked item, hence (presumably) the discounted price. Perhaps this doesn’t explain just how deep the discount was, but it nonetheless explains some of it. A few months later, I was at another location of the MEC and I looked at the section with water filters; they had replacement cartridges, in factory sealed boxes of course, and the price at the rack was $235, as expected. I did not dare ask for a price check. 🙂

So the experience was not a complete loss, to the point of it almost having a mildly pleasant dénouement, but the deep discount on the replacement unit still does not make up for the remaining 23.5%-ish of capacity I had expected but did not receive, and continue to not expect to receive, out of the original filter. Which, incidentally, as of September 2017, nine months later, has not yet been replaced; like one of the pub patrons in the following joke, I want to squeeze as much capacity as I can out of the filter before I finally replace it.

The promised joke:

Three people are in a pub, each ordering a drink of their preference. Unfortunately, each drink comes with a fly in the glass.

One returns the drink and requests a replacement, without a fly of course.

Another removes the fly from his drink, and proceeds to drink it.

The third grabs the fly from the drink and calls out “Spit out every last drop, you little scoundrel!”

Katadyn water filter capacity — update

This is an update to my post from 2013 on the Katadyn Pocket Water Filter.

In 2012, I bought a Katadyn Pocket water filter principally for use at the cottage during the off-season when our water system is turned off, plus a small handful of personal interest reasons like being a trained water techie, having been involved in Scouting, camping and hiking a long time ago (but no longer), having been involved in geocaching which can involve some hiking in the woods, filtering water from snow or ice for my homebrewing (mostly just to be able to have a story to tell about the “specialness” of the water), and generally to use for my amusement while hiking around at the cottage during my holidays and other times.

About two thirds of the way down the above post, I asked “So, does the filter work? And do I get the runs any more?” to which I answered with an obvious tone, “Of course, and of course not.” Those answers are as true today as they were back in 2013.

I use the filter principally up at the cottage during the off-season, about mid-October to mid-May (during the winter, when the water at the cottage is turned off due to freezing weather), for my water needs for drinking, cooking, hand washing, and dish washing (normally, just the rinsing part at the end.) Obviously, as long as the water isn’t grungy, a lot of water doesn’t need to be filtered to begin with, like for soaking dishes before cleaning them, or as long as it’s fairly clear, for washing my hair and taking a sponge bath.

Every year, I keep a register of the amount of water I filter, as a function of the five litre plastic jug to receive the filtered water, which I always fill up to the brim. I’ve checked the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 registers (I can’t seem to locate the previous two), and I respectively had filled the container 67 and 72 times. That adds up to roughly 695 litres of water. There is going to be some variance in this number, since I when I fill up my container for brewing water, I skip using my 5 litre container and fill the brewing water container directly.

Assuming that during the previous two winters (2012-2013 and 2013-2014), I’d used it similarly, let’s say that I’ve filtered about 1,400 litres. Add to that the very occasional use during the intervening summers, let’s say a good 100 litres, and I’m up to about 1,500 litres.

Here’s the clincher, though: The ceramic filter is visibly wearing down after four seasons of use, and I’m certain I won’t get 50,000 litres out of it.

Normally when I use the filter to filter melted snow or lake water, I have to clean the filter typically after about 12 or 13 litres, because it’s becoming too difficult to filter water at that point due to the ceramic filter clogging up. On general principle, barring the exact number of litres, this is normal and has always been to be expected.

However, recently I noticed something I find curious: During my most recent usage, I was filtering water from the artesian well, which is a good 60 feet deep. I was filtering this water since while the water system had been turned on, I hadn’t yet bleached the well after the winter to clean out the well as well as the house’s pipes. The curious part: I was able to get to 20 litres and beyond without any increase in difficulty in operating the filter, and were I not to have been too curious and opened up the filter for a preventative cleaning, I would have been able to filter an ample amount more.

The well, being a good 60 feet deep, is therefore supplying water that has been very nicely filtered by typically 60 vertical feet of gravel and sand. Further, since I’m assuming that the aquifer is at least somewhat dynamic, I assume that one day the water I’ve drawn from the well could have been rain water or lake water from a few days previous that trickled through the 60 feet of gravel and sand on my property, while another day the water may be runoff having traveled through I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of lateral feet of sand and gravel from the hills behind my cottage. As such, the water is presumably — and I assure you, actually is — sparkling clear.

This is as compared to when I filter lake water or melted snow, the latter of which, may I remind you, is not quite so pristine as you may think, even when excluding the yellow variety; it is relatively chock full of dust particles that fell with the snow or became nuclei as part of the condensing and / or crystallization process. At this point I assume that at least some of the dust particles may be coming from the various chimneys at the cottages surrounding mine, including the chimney from my own cottage.

Which leads to the notion of this post regarding the filter’s capacity.

The filter is rated as having a capacity of “up to 50,000 litres”. When I bought the unit, I did recognize this to be codespeak for “Depending on the source water quality, the capacity may and will be reduced in real life.” Unfortunately, as it seems in my experience so far, possibly by a very significant margin.

However, I am wondering exactly when I’ll be needing to replace the filter. Yes, I have the little gauge to measure the filter thickness, and I use it occasionally. The question *is*not* “How will I know when to change the filter?” The question is “*When* will the ‘when’ be.” Let me explain.

I’d guess I’ve worn down at least half of the working thickness of the filter in the past four years of use over roughly 1,500 litres, especially if my vague memories of where the gauge the unit comes with was at when the filter was new are correct as compared to where it is now, and just visually guestimating the wear against where it obviously used to be when it was new.

And here’s the conspiracy theory:

I bet that the 50,000 litre estimate that they give is based on using either laboratory grade distilled water, or perhaps treated tap water intended to be potable.

I know that everyone’s source water will be different, and generally using it while traveling to areas where the tap water is clear but not quite potable is as legitimate a use for the water filter as filtering swamp water while out hiking.

(As a side opinion: Regarding dubious water systems while traveling, depending on where you go, unfortunately outside of the westernized world — and even within it in some cases — the tap water may not be quite potable at least from a microbiological point of view as one might expect or hope it to be. The water system can be dubious at best due to antiquated pipes, or the production plant is old and breaking down, or the employees are severely underpaid, or there aren’t enough of them to do the work well. And that’s just the areas which have a distribution system, and that isn’t delivering water that’s smelly or cloudy or outright foul.)

But I’m wondering just how long my filter unit will actually last. For the moment, I’m betting on another two to four cottage seasons, or “up to” another 1500 litres, the way I’m using it. That’s still far beyond other filters where the unit has a nominal capacity of a few hundred litres, and the filter unit itself is disposable and needs to be replaced the way a razor blade in a razor has to be, or ink cartridges in a “wow this printer isn’t expensive at all!”. Ultimately *a* *part* of what makes the other filters, razors with disposable blades, or ink jet printers so deceptively inexpensive is that the manufacturers make their money in selling you spare parts and refills.

I know that the kind of water I filter and of course its quality are far beyond Katadyn’s control. I know that if I’m filtering snow where a good amount of the particles to remove are composed of fine mineral dusts, there will be a sandpaper effect when I’m cleaning the filter, versus filtering stream water where the solids to be removed are more likely to be decaying organic matter in the form of fish poop and dead leaves, which will be easier to clean off the filter when the time comes. I know that the filter is designed such that when it is being cleaned, the process is meant to be ablative. But I’m wondering how much of my perceptions are, well, perceptions and not real life, how much of my use represents an edge case, how much my of cleaning is a bit too vigorous, and so on.

And I wonder just how much Katadyn knows that the 50,000 litre mark is about as close to an imaginary number as it can get. (Or conversely just how delusional I am. 🙂 ) I’d love to see their internal graphs on the real life capacity of their filters. I’d love to see the range that their customers get out of their filters.

So Katadyn: Here’s my estimate, for my filter — about 3,000 litres, given the kinds of water sources I’m using (cottage country snow, some lake water, and a small sundry other sources like streams when I’m hiking, etc..) At the rate I’m going, I expect that it may take as long as until 2020 to find out, though. 🙂

Any and all Katadyn Pocket Filter users are invited to leave your estimate — I hope at least somewhat evidence based — here, or send me an email malak at the site malak dot ca

Fedora Linux spotted on 60 Minutes

Just watching 60 Minutes on CBS this evening, and the piece is on “hackers and cell phones”, air date 17 April 2016.

At one point, the reporter is calling, from Berlin, a person to whom she’d sent a cell phone. You see them switch to the hackers being interviewed for the piece, and their computer screen. On it, a command line shell with a bunch of code and output were displayed, and, whaddya know, in the upper left hand corner, there was a Fedora Linux logo. Offhand, because of the positioning of the logo, I’m guessing that they use XFCE.


ADTE Colloque 2016

Today I attended the ADTE Colloque 2016: The annual conference in Montreal (home for me) for a Quebec association with goals to promote free software in education.

Overall, the conference and its logistics were reasonably well organized; as far as the implementation of the event went, it seemed to go hitch free. Rooms that were appropriately sized were available, enough chairs were in place, there were no problems with the sign in, the microphones worked, the lunches arrived, and so on.

My interest was to see Richard Stallman, who was the keynote speaker.

Before he started his speech, I got to see his laptop almost closeup: He has a GNU sticker on it, an FSF sticker on it, and a small Trisquel sticker on it. I managed to ask him what the model was; an IBM Thinkpad X60, reconditioned, slightly upgraded, and marketed by a company called Gluglug.

Given that the conference was in French, Mr. Stallman presented what was no doubt his standard speech on free software, in French. (Let’s clear this up now: I’m a native English speaker, but Montreal is a predominantly French-speaking city; as such, since I live in Montreal, *of*course* I speak and understand French fluently.) Although I knew in advance that his French was competent enough to make his presentation in French, I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed that technically it was better than moderate in calibre, and that he could maintain it for over two hours with barely two or three requests to provide the French equivalent of a word or expression. And despite a fairly thick non-native speaker accent, it was almost surprisingly easy to follow.

His speech, although it appeared to be one of his standard speeches, went on too long in my view; 2.5 hours had been allotted for the presentation and questions, and I thought he could have accomplished the same thing in about 100 minutes, including questions.

I found that there were three downsides to his presentation:

– The “Church of Emacs” routine was off-topic or at least beyond the scope of the conference. Given what amounted to be a public audience, it was out of place. A cute parlour routine or pub talk in its own right, but out of place there.
– His comments about not having children were completely out of place, however legitimate they may be in their own right, and at best were poorly presented.
– Mr. Stallman apparently is losing his hearing, and asks people to speak a little more slowly, and clearly enunciate all their words. This is understandable, especially when those asking questions are not speaking his mother tongue; further, Quebec French and accents can be difficult even for native French speakers not accustomed to them. At one point, someone who forgot to speak extra clear and a bit more slowly elicited his ire as he either lost his temper, or whined like a child, repeating admittedly for the umpteenth time for the person to speak clearly and more slowly.

As for the rest of the conference:

The overall conference had a few quirks. The iPads at the registration desks were funny and out of place, given the topic of the conference. The glaring and blatant use of a Microsoft Windows computer on the overhead projector was a weird oversight to the point of being shocking, regardless of the fact that for all intents and purposes it ended up only being used to display the wifi network and password, and one minor demonstration during a roundtable discussion. This was addressed in the first question period by an irate participant who venomously commented on it and expressed his feeling of being insulted, to the applause of roughly at least a third if not half the participants.

For me, the first round table, before Mr. Stallman’s speech, left something to be desired. I thought that they could have been better organized instead of being just “I’m Tom Smith and this is what I do. Oh, and this is what I know about free software.”

The second round table, after Mr. Stallman’s presentation, was a bit meatier and not quite as disappointing as the first. There was an IT person who was trying to slowly provide Free Software by placing it in their pool of software available to staff at his institution, alongside other software. Another panelist provided a good and enlightening response to a question, to the order of “Try explaining *that* to a powerful teachers’ union!”

My brother said the comments then as well as elsewhere in the day felt like we were still in 2006 instead of 2016 given their nature, such as:
– “Well GNU/Linux is hard to install” (I found it easy to install in 2008, and installing other software and fixing settings is something one does on any platform);
– “LibreOffice isn’t fully compatible with MS Word” (that’s a very nuanced conversation that strictly speaking is technically correct, but mostly trivially, IMO);
– “I’m accustomed to program X”;
– “I didn’t know that you could do that using free software”.

The lunch included in the admission fee was fine albeit a bit too frou-frou for my tastes, and totally inedible for my brother’s admittedly very narrow tastes. I would have hoped that there might have been more than three or four tables in the trade show part of the conference, which was held in the large lunch room area, but that’s neither here nor there.

The two afternoon sessions I attended were on the subject of “Accessing the Moodle Community”, and the ProjectLibre software.

The first presentation on the Moodle Community seemed a bit off and probably confusing to most of the participants, being a bit obscure and technical. However, once I re-read the title in the day’s schedule, I realized that it *was* on topic (both for the conference, and, on topic for his presentation.) Disappointingly, the presenter was delayed by a good fifteen minutes, for technical reasons: He could not use his computer for his presentation, given that for some reason he was unable to plug it into the projector. He then tried to present his slides prepared in LibreOffice with a computer using MS Powerpoint, which did not like his slides. He finally had to install LibreOffice on the supplied computer which was effectively permanently connected to the projector, or the setup otherwise effectively precluded the use of his own computer. He should have been prepared with the slides saved in PDF format, but to his credit he had placed the presentation online so that he could access it easily, in addition to having brought it on his computer.

The second presentation was a bit better as it at least was a demo of free software that can be used by educators / schools / etc. to either to manage their projects, what kind of software can be taught in schools, etc.

However, I thought that the two individual presenters I saw had two failings beyond what I mentioned earlier about the Moodle presenter:

– They only had about half an hour each; they could have done with at least another 15 minutes each. Each went over their allotted time; in any case, they should have timed things better in their presentations given that they knew of their time limitations, or should have known, given the announcements online and in the printed schedules liberally distributed during the conference.
– They should have been coached in advance with “ok, present what you want the way you want, *BUT*, please spend the first up to five minutes answering these five questions, such as a brief description of what the software / project / topic is, what its use could mean to the participants, etc. etc. etc.” In addition, I thought that each unfortunately were unprepared for people asking questions and making comments during the presentations, which could have been handled with “Could you wait until I finish my presentation, at which point I’d love to take your questions and feedback.”

Overall, however, I did love participating in the conference.

Update 27 April 2016:

Here is the link to the ADTE’s conference recap page (in French) (and here’s my archive)

In it are links to YouTube videos of Mr. Stallman’s presentation as well as a number of links to speakers’ quick resumé of what they spoke about to even sometimes slides of their presentations, again normally in French.

I’ve finally got a convert, sort of, to whom I’m giving a linux desktop!

In 2011 a new hire at work was assigned to join me on a few field jobs in order to expose them to the kinds of things we do at the office.

At the time, I enthusiastically told him about my use of linux. Suffice it to say his reaction was “What is this communist stuff anyway?!?!” Harrrummmpphh. “Red Hat is in line to have $1 billion with a big fat capital B in revenues this year alone. Doesn’t sound very communist to me at all.”

Back in mid-December of 2015 — after countless times of telling him about linux in the meantime, hopefully a bit more toned down — he sent me a message: “Here’s a modest budget; set me up, I’d be interested in trying it out.” I was practically beside myself in my pleasure.

I came back from the Christmas holidays and announced that I’d tracked down a used computer for free, and just needed to get it into my hot little hands. I explained that I wanted to give him a relatively risk free introduction. In the meantime, the computer in question, I’m told, proved to be dead and not usable. I’m promised another computer, and this week, when it looks like I’ll indeed be getting it in time for an install day this weekend, I further explained to my colleague: “The computer is probably about four or five years old but it’s supposed to be a dual core with 4 gigs of memory. It won’t be the best performing computer in the world, and some things it just won’t be able to do, at least not spectacularly, not because of linux, but because of the computer itself; however, it should still be good enough for videos, games, and day to day stuff, and you’ll be able to explore all the software available for it and see what can be done with linux, and you can add a few things like a bluetooth dongle if you like.”

He cautiously tells me all along that I’m building up anticipation; the caution suggests to me that he is mildly tongue-in-cheek meaning “of the disappointing variety”.

I then start asking him very specific questions, like what he wants as the computer name (I give him examples of current and past computer names I’ve used, and advise him to choose carefully since using the name of a pet or relative could backfire in case something goes wrong, and in the process of relating the experience to family or friends they may be confused or even become upset), the user name and password to use, the root password he wants, and things like which email client he uses at home. Pleased that he’ll be able to use a GMail interface, he begins to apparently genuinely say “Oh now you’re *really* building anticipation!” instead of the cautious insinuations from before.

Therefore in anticipation of the build this coming weekend, I put together this list of the main things I’ll need to install on his computer, especially since I’ll be helping my brother-in-the-know again with another desktop install, and try to get in some of his under the hood expertise at getting my server to be a bit more useful than a rarely used ftp server, a backup server for my data which depends on my remembering to back up my data on it, and consuming electricity.

So enjoy my list of things to do to loading a Fedora desktop very similar to how I use mine. And yes I know that there are plenty of things I *don’t* say, like “take this icon and place it third or fifth or last in the dock on the left on the activities screen” or, how to do “that”. 🙂

Installing Fedora 21 (Part II), 32 bits at a time

In Part I, I talked about installing Fedora 21 on a new Dell desktop, and promised a Part II, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But wait folks, I was serious. 🙂

I have an Acer Aspire One which I received new out of the factory sealed box as a birthday present in 2009, and immediately converted it to linux after receiving it – Fedora 11, to be exact. It has used, as I recall, Fedora 11, 12, 14, 15, possibly 16, 17, and 19, all without any trouble. Well, ok, none that can’t be attributed to “whaddya expect out of a notebook vs. a full horsepower machine” and errors stemming from somewhere between the keyboard and the chair. ?

However, time is starting to march on with this machine, and while it was great under roughly 18 months of Fedora 19, it was clearly starting to slow down a bit, but … well, Fedora keeps releasing new versions, and, well, while CentOS 7, which is based on Fedora 19 and which I’d be happy to install on my netbook, unfortunately is only available under 64bit while my netbook is only 32bit. So my options were to either keep Fedora 19 unpatched, upgrade to Fedora 21 workstation, which I wanted to do, upgrade to Fedora 21 with XFCE, which would probably make it peppier, or explore other distros, which I don’t wish to do.

When Fedora 21 Workstation came out in December 2014, I downloaded the 32 bit version, and the fun began. Within a couple of minutes of booting up the live DVD and before the desktop loaded up, the machine went into hibernation. This didn’t feel right, but I hit a key and things came back to life. Then, within about a minute, the machine went into hibernation again. I hit a key again, got a minute of performance, and it hibernated again, ad nauseum, and ad infinitum, literally.

Despite this, I decided to continue with the F21 Workstation installation anyway, and I ended up babysitting the install, hitting a key to wake up the system every minute or so during the installation. On a single core atom processor running at 1.5 GHz, this took a good long while and a lot of keyboard wakeups. Finally, the system was installed, but it kept on hibernating after roughly a minute.

As a reference, I proceeded to install Fedora 21 XFCE Spin, and, except for hibernating once during the initial booting up of the liveDVD, it worked like a charm.

One solution I tried was to do a “yum install fedora-release-workstation” or somesuch from an installed XFCE spin, hoping to then do a “yum groupremove XFCE” and repeat “yum install fedora-release-workstation” just to reinstall any packages which may have gotten removed, but it bricked the install and I had to reinstall XFCE yet again.

For a variety of reasons which are now lost in the winds but which probably included having gone through the following suggestions from ask.fedoraproject.org, I managed to install and re-install the XFCE spin several times again after probably having reinstalled the Workstation a few times in between.

I went to ask.fedoraproject.org to ask for help (here’s my archive), and I got a few interesting responses.

The first response I got was:

“You can do tests and get logs without interference with systemd-inhibit – ie sudo systemd-inhibit bash. The system won’t suspend or hibernate until you end the process invoked with systemd-inhibit.” This didn’t work; hibernation continued as before.

The next response was “I’m just guessing, but it feels like the system thinks that the battery is almost empty and because of that does the right thing in that situation. I’m not sure which software component is handling this situation but anyway, there seems to be a bug that happens to manifest on your particular environment.” This could have been ruled out immediately – mostly – because at the time the battery was physically out of the machine when I tested, and I was running on mains electricity out of the wall. Nonetheless, I did check, with a fully charged battery in, to be sure I wasn’t being a fool; no such luck, under both cases, the machine kept on hibernating every minute or so.

All through this, I learned that at least one user with a Toshiba Satellite Pro without a CD player had this same problem, and worked just fine up till Fedora 20.

My “brother in the know” helped me with some research, and we found something: In the Arch Linux forums, the problem is described, and the user “Scimmia” comes up with the following workaround (here’s my archive):

“Try setting ‘HandleSuspendKey’ and ‘HandleLidSwitch’ to ignore in /etc/systemd/logind.conf” “Scimmia” further claims that this problem appears to be caused by systemd/logind. This all means that somewhere, signals are being sent out, rightly or wrongly or otherwise, that are being interpreted as “the clamshell lid is being closed, so it’s time to hibernate.”

To wit, my brother and I, after I’d installed Fedora 21 Workstation for the probably at least third time, then boot up an XFCE liveDVD (but do not install it), and through some of my brother’s linux kung-foo, he mounts the hard drive, using Thunar in the XFCE spin as a facilitator, and we edited the appropriate file.

… And Bingo was his name-OH. (Translation: Yup, that worked and the machine now works.)

Here are the instructions to correct the problem, at least for an Acer Aspire One, and which are also findable through ask.fedoraproject.org:

1) install F21 32bit workstation, by babysitting the system throughout the whole install to keep waking it up every minute or so (literally!)
2) reboot using a live-dvd that works on the system, such as the F21 XFCE live-DVD
3) mount the hard drive (not really sure specifically how my brother did it but using Thunar seemed to help out a lot)
4)open a terminal session and make sure the hard drive is mounted
5) edit the file /etc/systemd/logind.conf (such as using nano)
6) uncomment the settings for “HandleSuspendKey” and “HandleLidSwitch”
7) set the “HandleSuspendKey” and “HandleLidSwitch” options to “ignore”
8) save the file
9) reboot
10) enjoy

… and, it seems, my instructions, posted on ask.fedoraproject.org, helped at least one other user with an Acer Aspire one. I’m pleased. ?

Now, as for what I think of it … well I like F21 Workstation. On my laptop, it’s a slightly sluggish, but still working well.

More on hotel passwords

Back in 2009, I was ranting about hotel passwords and the lack of any serious consideration most gave to their wifi access,
Hotel internet access passwords — Here’s a case for Captain Obvious
and Well Hallelujah! Big Brother has finally acted!

Well here I am in 2015 writing again on the subject. As you can guess, I’ve used plenty of motels and hotels in the intervening almost six years. As you can guess again, I’ve pretty much given up on my rant since then. And, as you can guess yet again, I’m currently sitting in a motel, using their WiFi.

And can you guess what comes next?

Well, when I checked in, they asked me “Would you like WiFi access?” which tipped me off to ask about whether or not the passwords are auto-generated each time someone checks in. Of course the poor lady was bewildered by the question, to which I responded, “Don’t worry, I’ll have the answer to my question when you hand me that ticket.” And whaddya know, it had a wifi access code that was obviously created on the spot after she’d clicked once or twice on her keyboard and looked at the screen before writing on the ticket. Not too too strong at only five alphanumeric characters, but it wasn’t a dictionary word. The sign in page said that the code was case-insensitive. My untrained eyes would guess it would only come up in a brute force attack, if someone were willing to try all 60,466,176 possible combinations, assuming it’s just the 26 letters in the alphabet and the 10 digits, with no special characters, and they only give out codes five alphanumeric units in length. Of course this ignores the fact that only the “currently active” codes are, well, active, that the system probably has some kind of maximum tries per period of time per mac address, and the like.

Of course, it would probably be cheaper and easier to rent a room, but then I don’t really know how easy or difficult

Of course this story’s postcript is that when I entered the code, it didn’t work — so I called to the front desk to report this and ask for a new one. Whaddya know, Big Brother not only has finally acted, he keeps records — the nice lady asked “Is it such and such?” I answered “not quite, here’s what’s written.” Turns out, the handwritten part of the code that said “U1” sure looked like a “W”.

Hallelujah, indeed.

Having to find multiple levels of internet access — oh, fun!

Disclaimer: I am musing on the challenges I faced while trying to secure reliable internet I required during a recent set of business trips, and the process of developing various solutions to these challenges. These challenges are, in a general fashion, typical of the routine logistical challenges I face when in-the-field, and no doubt of other field technicians. In no way am I trying to reflect negatively on my employer, who for the purposes of this entry shall remain nameless.

I was recently on a couple of business trips, depending on an iPad as a critical part of the execution of the contract. This trip was to a small city of 25,656 (according to Wikipedia), big enough to have plenty of internet access points, cell phones, and cell phone data. As far as I was concerned, in fact, I was in a mini-mini version of Montreal, home for me, to those who haven’t figured it out yet.

The way the iPad is set up, wifi internet access is required to transfer building plans needed to do the work to the iPad, and transfer back files and data collected from my field work. I have made no bones mentioning to some key people heading the overall project that this is a potential Achilles’ Heel to the execution of the project, since, at least in the overall project’s fringe locations sufficiently beyond population centres, internet access would be a spotty luxury at best. My trips were at least symbolically close enough to the edges, underlining the potential problem.

One of the first challenges I found was that the iPad didn’t seem to play well with the internet supplied in the motel (DataValet); although I did manage to get it to work once, it proved a bit too frustrating to get working reliably. A colleague confirmed that he’d had similar problems getting Apple products to connect to DataValet. I had no trouble getting my personal computer running Fedora 21 Workstation to work with DataValet: In fact, besides not recalling having trouble over the years connecting to wifi that wasn’t specific to Linux or Fedora, I would actually say that the experience was even easier than in the past, since the daily leases seemed to automatically renew, although it seemed to insinuate itself by an “convenient” automatic popup window. In parallel, my work Windows-based machine also worked flawlessly throughout with DataValet, although if I remember correctly, I may have had to occasionally open up a browser in order to renew the leases.

Add to this challenge, my employer’s local office didn’t seem to have wifi, or at least, assuming that it *was* there as a hidden network, my work computer didn’t automatically connect to the corporate wifi when not plugged in to the corporate network, which it normally does at my home office.

My first solution was to fulfill a purpose of my having asked for a company smart phone in 2014: Create a hot spot using the data plan on my work phone to do data transfers when not in a wifi zone that works well for the iPad. However, it seemed, between the picture-heavy data and the fact that the iPad seems to do automatic background backups when hooked up to internet — a feature to which I initially had a (negative) knee-jerk reaction that nonetheless actually was useful at one point and since — my phone appeared to run out of my data plan for the month, as evidenced by the sudden stop of internet connection through the phone while still operating just fine as a phone. Having quickly checked the phone’s data usage logs and determining that I’d certainly gotten to the neighbourhood of the limit I believed I had (2 gigs), I assumed that the phone’s contract had a limit set by my employer to turn off the data plans until the month rolls over in order to avoid overage charges. I later learned, upon my return home and standing in front of the IT tech responsible for the corporate cell phones, that the problem was presumed to be an unusual set of settings probably set by some esoteric app (of which I have have very few, esoteric or otherwise, on my work phone), or possibly a SIM card problem, which turned on off the phone’s data capabilities, and that in any case the company has no such policy to ask the cell service provider to turn off a phone’s data access when it reaches the limit of “included data” in the plan, until the rollover date. The lack of internet on the phone is “solved” by resetting the phone to factory settings; I should get instructions on how to do it in the future should I be faced with the problem again. 🙂

This led to a second solution: I used my personal phone to create a hotspot and consumed a bit of my personal data plan, which didn’t bother me too much, at least until it were to involve overage charges. Not that I checked, but based on the little amount of time I used it, I’m sure I never got into that area.

The next solution also created another challenge due to a flub on my part: My client finally gave wifi access to the iPad at her various locations; however, I should have requested that she also enable my work computer, since I had a secondary need for internet given that I developed a need to produce or modify extra plans several times once arriving at some sites, and as such a need to transfer the plans off the computer and onto the iPad.

Finally, I realized that when I have wired access, I had yet another solution available to me: I could set up my linux laptop to create a wifi hotspot. This was rather easy, at least under the current gnome version in Fedora 21 and I believe has been for quite a while under the gnome 3.0 series, and probably before too. Unfortunately, this was wasn’t a solution at the motel since it only had wifi and no wired access, and I didn’t have an external wifi receiver with a cord to provide the wired internet and free up the wifi card.

Here are some screenshots of how easy it is to setup a wifi hotspot under Gnome 3:

step 1

step 2

step 3

step 4

step 5

Feeling a bit curious along the lines of “shouldn’t this be relatively easy under Windows, too?”, I checked on my work computer, and while it seemed possible, and indeed my brother once did it for me with his Windows computer, it was not obvious at all; in fact, I gave up after about four or five click-throughs with little end in sight.

Hence, at the local office and having set up my laptop to create a local wifi hotspot, I’d created a mildly-amusing-to-me setup on my temporary desk, plugging in my personal laptop to the corporate network, running a hotspot using its wifi card, and using my work computer normally over wifi as well as doing data transfers from the iPad.

Back at home and at my home office, I mention my difficulties in getting internet access to my supervisor (who isn’t a computer techie type), who thought that creating a hotspot under Windows couldn’t be done, or at least he didn’t realize it could be.

Further discussing this with him, I explained the situation saying “I don’t mind trying to find other solutions — that *is* my job — but after not having two A Plans (the motel internet not working for the iPad, nor having wifi at the office), then suddenly not having a plan B (the company cell phone internet not working), having to depend on my personal phone’s data plan, then having to depend on the client’s internet access but not having enough access for all devices, and finally coming up with a part-time solution to replace one of the A-plans — using a second of my personal resources in the form of my personal laptop — there’s a problem here,” to which he agreed.

Jovially, he did however suggest that “in the next leg of your travels, I happen to know that if you can go to the local library, they have free wifi”. This made me realize that if necessary and if possible, I could also try the free wifi at the local Tim Hortons (a popular Canadian chain of coffee and doughnut shops), assuming that there is one in the remote town where I’ll be visiting next.

Which has me really thinking about the problem:

– not all the field techs in the company have smart phones with data plans, and as such not able to create a needed hotspot in order to enable the execution of a project;
– not all the field techs have personal smart phones with a data plan, nor should field techs in general be required to use their personal data plans, let alone go into overage charges, in order to enable the execution of a project;
– at least at first glance, it doesn’t seem to be a quick and easy thing to turn a windows machine into a hotspot in order to enable such work — and I don’t want to hear from the peanut gallery on this one, since I *know* that it *can* be done; my point is that at first glance, even a moderately savvy user such as myself shouldn’t have to say “It’s easy under Gnome 3, why isn’t it about as easy under Windows? Boy it’s a good thing that I had my personal laptop with me!” (On a side note, usually the stereotype is that “Windows is easy, and Mac easier, but isn’t Linux hard?” 🙂 )
– and, only a limited number of computer users are using Gnome 3, where it is easy to set up a hotspot if you either have a wired connection to the internet, or two wifi cards on your computer. (I’ll have to check with my brother, who uses XFCE on one of his laptops, which is on a technical level identical to mine, to see how easy it is under that desktop; obviously, it’s technically possible; I imagine it’s just a question of how easily different desktops enable the functionality.)

Which leads me back to the above-mentioned problem of “what do you do in remote, small villages where you don’t have a corporate office with wifi, motel / B&B internet access is spotty at best, there’s no cell phone coverage, and there are few if any public wifi spots like a restaurant or a public library?”

I just hope that the library’s free wifi isn’t provided by DataValet. 🙂

I’d say that Fedora has arrived!

Almost five years ago in March 2010, I stated “Ubuntu and Fedora LiveCDs — Ubuntu a clear winner!”

I’d burned two live CD’s — one of the current Fedora of the day, and one of the current Ubuntu of the day. I had wanted a group I belonged to to use one to reformat a virus-infected computer to use it again. Incidentally, they declined the honour, however that’s beyond my point: I didn’t want to give them (or anyone) the Fedora CD, while I thought that the Ubuntu CD was great out of the box, specifically including OpenOffice.org (now LibreOffice) and a cute little directory including a short video, a sample mortgage calculator, and two or three other little gems which really put the CD over the top for its immediate usefulness.

Well, I haven’t really used Live CD’s much since I’m not all that worried about having linux on the run, but at this point Fedora 21 seems to only be available by Live CD’s. But to wit, the experience with Fedora 21 seems to be quite the improvement in experience, according to at least two of my somewhere between the stated and implicit standards of comparison: The inclusion of (now) LibreOffice, what I considered a killer omission, and the ability to quickly and easily install many “productive” pieces of software through the new software installer. To be fair, at the time Fedora limited itself to CD’s and in its efforts to include as wide a base as possible for supposed widest mass appeal, Fedora was unable to include OpenOffice.org (or, as possible, any usable subset thereof) due to space restrictions, although it was able to include AbiWord.

Now, Fedora Workstation includes LibreOffice, and by typing into the seach box in the “Activities Overview” (click on “Activities” on the upper left hand corner of the screen, or invoke it using the “hot corner” by bringing your cursor up there), the installed software that may help you, as well as a number of other pieces of software in the repositories which may help you, as indicated by a little shopping bag to the left of the proposed piece of software.

screenshot of proposed software

Well, I guess now I just need to find someone who needs to have their computer saved from viruses and spyware. 🙂

Installing Fedora 21 — Part I

Well, well, Fedora 21 Workstation came out in early December, 2014 to (at least my) great anticipation. It works great, and it’s a nice evolution in the Fedora desktop.

Initially, one of the biggest things that had me confused about it was wrapping my head around the hoopla: What’s the improvement? What’s the big deal? What has really come about to fill up the time between the release of Fedora 20 in December, 2013, and the release of Fedora 21 in December, 2014? Ok, tell me. “Uhhhh …” And so on.

Eventually I understood, or at least presumed, rightly or wrongly, that the biggest improvements for me would be under the hood and I wouldn’t really notice much, although I’d see the better and more intuitive software installation manager on the gui, and the polish, which I have. Apparently — for (one of) the main (now) Products, the Workstation — improvements would show up in the clearing of many bugs, general issues, and polish issues, and as well as choosing “best of breed” components (and in some cases, working with or even creating some upstream projects expressly to make desired components into the “best of their breed”, at least toward Fedora’s new vision). This would be instead of Fedora giving the impression (again, rightly or wrongly) of just “throwing together a bunch of packages and compiling them into a distribution” (admittedly, that worked rather well, and by working with upstream projects directly to fix bugs and contribute desired new functionality.) And finally, the dimensions of the windows have been changed such that in many places, the gray space and borders are smaller and thinner.

So after downloading and burning the 64-bit ISO (and concurrently, the 32-bit iso, the subject of Part II), and doing a full backup of my /home directory (including the hidden directories), I dived into the installation.

I had no trouble at all installing F21 on my NEW NEW NEW Dell Inspiron Dell i3847-5387BK PC (Intel Core i5-4460 / 1TB HDD / 8GB RAM / Intel HD Graphics / Windows 8.1). Firstly, nuking the Windows install was a great pleasure after having been pestered into first installing the Windows 8.1 which came with the computer. And that’s not including all the really annoying and really invasive questions the install asks, like full names, areas, and connecting to your (or signing up for) Windows Live or whatever account (which of course I don’t have).

The install was fairly easy (I suppose I’m not saying much given the several, several dozen linux installs I’ve done over the past eight plus years). In fact, the liveDVD — only because Fedora gave up on the size restrictions of CD’s for the live versions a few years ago, the image size was the order of 1.4 gigs (ok almost twice the size of a regular CD) — booted up rather quickly (faster than I’m accustomed to with the usually low-powered P4 single cores), and the first thing I saw was an option to either try out F21 Workstation or go directly to installation, all on top of Gnome Shell. I of course hotly jumped onto the install option, egged on by the annoying Windows install I’d just done (which, BTW, went flawlessly beyond the nuisances mentioned above, and fairly quickly.)

The biggest thing that was a bit confusing was discerning in Anaconda the checkbox that allowed me to free up all space on the hard drive, given that it seemed to be slightly below the screen and I needed to scroll down to it.

In the part of Anaconda that asks for location in order to set the time zone (and possibly / probably) set other regional default settings, Montreal — where I live — isn’t available. To me this is “a (minor) thing” since Montreal *used* to be available in the Anaconda locations list. The main cities in my time zone and “nearby” were Toronto and New York. I suppose that setting “New York” is generic enough, but in the presence of a long list of city names around the world spanning multiple time zones and with multiple redundancies per time zone, requiring someone from Montreal to indicate that their location is Toronto is downright near insulting — no Maple Laughs here! 🙂 Heck, I couldn’t even choose Ottawa had I wanted to, or choose to be equally insulted to indicate Quebec City — Go Habs Go! 🙂

Once the basic information was input, the installation was great and quick; so quick, in fact, I neglected to enter a computer name — easily fixed with a “hostname (addnamehere)” and “nano /etc/sysconfig/network” as root and editing things appropriately.

Interestingly, UEFI was not even a non-issue (ok so I do think that tin-foil hats are a legitimate fashion statement. 🙂 ) A quick check afterwards of the pre-boot menu options listed the following:

Boot Mode is to: UEFI
Secure Boot: ON
UEFI Boot: Fedora UEFI OS

How pleasing to see that Windows *isn’t* listed.

Now, beyond assuming that most linux distros pay the UEFI tax, err, registration fee, I wonder if Oracle pays it for Solaris, IBM for z/OS — I assume as much based on a cursory search for “IBM zos uefi” — or just about any other os developer working on intel architecture.

After that, the computer ran (and of course still runs) great. I even described it as “frighteningly fast”. The new software installer in F21 is quite helpful in suggesting software I want if it’s not already installed, and installs it quickly. The best part is that it’s seamlessly integrated with the activities screen where I can enter software I want to use in the search line, and most of the uninstalled software that I’d want is listed.

A few other command line installs were necessary though, to install (what my brother calls “your linux kung-fu”) some things like DenyHosts, some codecs, and so on.

However a there was one little problem with the settings. For one of the settings surrounding locations, I entered the likes of GB or UK for Great Britain / United Kingdom, so as to get settings with British spellings (again, Canadian English settings weren’t available). This had the result of setting the calendar applet at the top center of the screen to start weeks on Mondays. Now, I know that around the world this is gaining a certain traction for a variety of reasons, including ISO reasons, but this is incredibly confusing to one who is accustomed to calendars using Sundays as the first day of the week. (Yes, I know that this same argument, appropriately centred on Mondays, applies to those who use Mondays as the first day of the week.) This was finally fixed by setting the locales setting in /etc/default/locale to:


Well this solution didn’t seem to be persistent, even if the file is. I ended up going into the “settings” / “region and language” option of the gui and setting both the language and region to, surprise, surprise, Canada.

Well this system is up and running, and works just like Fedora, surprise, surprise. My /home directory was restored with no trouble at all. And, while I was happy to have used Fedora 19 for a year and a half (as far as I’m concerned, Fedora heaven for me, getting an extra six months of system stability) I’m also glad to have updated to Fedora 21.

Upcoming: Part II — Installing Fedora 21, 32-bits at a time