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Hating The Touchpad

Jan 09, 2013 - Tags:

I hate touchpads. I sincerely hate the things. Maybe it's because I have big gorilla hands, but when I am trying to write at the keyboard, the darn things always pick up the slightest brush from my apparently huge, verging on monstrous, hands and translate those inadvertent touches into the most egregious of errors. Words, and sometimes whole sentences, are selected, to be overwritten by the next character I type at the keyboard. If I'm not paying attention, such as when I am looking away from the keyboard as I type, I have to go back several levels of "undo" in order to recapture the lost text, the net effect of which is that I lose the new text. I hate those things. And so I always plug in an external mouse and turn off the touchpad. But I digress . . . 

My old Acer laptop's hard drive crashed over the holidays. This is, remarkably, the first time in some 30 plus years that I've owned computers in which a hard drive actually crashed. In those many years, I've seen many crashed drives, including one belonging to Sally's PC, but never to mine. In my first book on Linux, back in 2001, I wrote that it wasn't a question of if your hard drive would eventually fail, but when. Marcel, meet "when". 

I actually liked my Acer notebook and I've had excellent luck with Acer products over the years, so despite the crashed hard drive, I decided to buy another Acer notebook. This one, the one I am writing on, is an Aspire V3-771 with an Intel i3-2370M processor, a 750 GB hard drive, 6 GB of RAM, and a bright 17 inch LED display. At $499, I simply could not pass it up.

The notebook came with Windows 7 but I erased it when I loaded the latest Linux Mint (based on Ubuntu Quetzal). It worked beautifully except for one thing. The touchpad wasn't being reported by the system as a touchpad. It worked fine in that I could use it to navigate the desktop, right-click here, left click there. Except that since I don't want the thing; remember, I want to use an external mouse. The trouble is that I just couldn't turn the thing off using the standard touchpad control programs. What to do, oh what to do?

We can find out how the X window system sees the various devices it works with by using the xinput command.  I opened a terminal session and typed "xinput list" at the shell prompt.

$ xinput list
⎡ Virtual core pointer                          id=2    [master pointer  (3)]
⎜   ↳ Virtual core XTEST pointer                id=4    [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ Logitech USB Optical Mouse                id=11   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ PS/2 Generic Mouse                        id=13   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎣ Virtual core keyboard                         id=3    [master keyboard (2)]
    ↳ Virtual core XTEST keyboard               id=5    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=6    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Video Bus                                 id=7    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=8    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Sleep Button                              id=9    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ HD Webcam                                 id=10   [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ AT Translated Set 2 keyboard              id=12   [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Acer WMI hotkeys                          id=14   [slave  keyboard (3)]

As you can see, the touchpad is being recognized as a generic PS/2 mouse and not as a touchpad (I've bolded the appropriate line for emphasis). This is all fine and dandy except that I can't use touchpad control software to turn the thing off as I usually do when I load up a new notebook. This is a known issue for this particular chipset, and not just for Acer.  Luckily, the above command told me everything I needed to know in order to write a script that would do the job for me. I called my script, "disable_touchpad".

$ cat disable_touchpad 
echo "Disabling touchpad"
xinput set-prop 13 "Device Enabled" 0

The "0" at the end of the xinput line at the end of the script tells X to disable the device at id #13, which the "xinput list" command told us about. If you rerun the same command but add a 1 at the end of it instead of the 0, you will reactivate the touchpad. Consequently, I have a second script called "enable_touchpad" that does just that.

Now I can happily type away, with my touchpad safely locked away where it won't accidentally destroy all the work I've done. 

KDE Plasma Does Gestures Globally

Sep 24, 2012 - Tags:

This is going to be a surprise to a number of people out there, but not only does the KDE Plasma desktop environment have gestures built in, but it has had them since the 3.2 (roughly) release. Gestures in KDE Plasma aren't just tied to the browser (I covered Firefox mouse gestues here), but pretty much anything in the desktop environment. With a few flicks of the mouse, you can make magic happen across your entire desktop experience. It all sounds new and exciting, but the functionality has been there for years and few people seem to know about this excellent feature. Let me tell you how it works.

To see existing mouse gestures that you can use, or create your own, fire up the KDE System Settings program. To do so, click the Application Launcher (the big K in the lower left, and select it from there; it's usually in the Favorites menu, or you can find it under the Computer section (or you can just type "system settings" in the search field of the launcher). When the System Settings window appears, click "Shortcuts and Gestures" which you'll find under the "Common Appearance and Behavior" section (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 : Mouse gesture configuration is found in KDE's System Settings.

First, make sure you enable gestures by clicking that text box in the top right section, then click apply (see close-up in Figure 2).

Figure 2 : Make sure you have enabled gestures as well. On a two-button wheel mouse, button 2 is the clickable wheel.

The Shortcuts and Gestures window has a sidebar to the left that offers three sets of shortcuts. These are custom shortcuts, standard application specific keyboard shortcuts, and global keyboard shortcuts. It doesn't specifically say "gestures" here because keyboard shortcuts are one type of shortcut while mouse gestures are another. Since the selection defaults to custom, and this is where we want to be, look at the middle section where you'll see "Input Actions settings" for a handful of applications, each label representing a group of applications with one of more shortcut (or gesture) defined below. To see the various predefined gestures, click the small arrow to the left of the label (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 : Every pre-defined gesture can be viewed, or changed.

Click on any action (e.g. Home under Konqueror Gestures) and a three-tabbed pane will appear to the left of the window. The tabs are labeled Comment, Trigger, and Action. The comment is exactly what it sounds like, a description of the shortcut with as little or as much information as you want. The trigger, in this case, is a mouse gesture. Using Home as our example, the gesture trigger is a stylized "h" that starts at the light green end of the line and ends at the dark blue. Click the Action tab and you'll see that it actually translates into the Konqueror "Ctrl+Home" keyboard shortcut which loads the home page.

Has Linux dropped off the face of the Earth?

Nov 14, 2011 - Tags:

Over on my mailing list, the WFTL-LUG, a "whatever happened to" discussion has emerged in part because question traffic has gone down dramatically. Fewer people are coming out to LUG meetings. It's as if Linux is fading away.

"Has Linux dropped off the face of the Earth?" The answer is obviously no. Linux is still around, stronger than ever, but the desktop OS does seem to be disappearing. Of course this is true of Windows and Mac OS, at least from the average user's perspective. Desktop Linux is strong with those who use it; those who have been using it, but the buzz seems to be gone. 

None of this surprises me though. Sure, we may never see the Year of the Linux Desktop, but the nature of the desktop is changing. People are increasingly living their lives online. Yes folks, it's that cloud you keep hearing about and it's really out there. Google+ and Facebook and Twitter and online document management and email and just plain old Web surfing. For most, the network really is the computer and as time goes on, people care less and less what is running on their computers and more about what they can access once they get online.

For a while there, it looked like netbooks were going to be the big thing with Linux getting another shot at the elusive desktop. Now it's tablets and smartphones everywhere you turn. And what's emerging as the de facto operating system of the tablet and smartphone world? Something called Android. Those of us who have been doing this FOSS thing for a long time still see Linux back there somewhere. Android is the evolution of Linux for the mobile world.

And what of the old Linux? It's still out there, and it's bigger than ever before. It's everywhere. It's everything. It runs the infrastructure that makes the mobile world work. Mail servers and media servers and Web servers and application servers and every kind of server you can think of.

Want to know just how good Linux and free software is these days? Get this. Linux has become invisible. Maybe that's how you measure real success.

World domination? Been there. Done that.


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