Setting random backgrounds in LXDE.

Jun 28 2018

So, here's the situation:

On Windbringer, I habitually run LXDE as my desktop environment because it's lightweight and does what I need: It manages windows, gives me a menu, and stays out of my way so I can do interesting things.  For years I've been using a utility called GKrellm to implement not only system monitoring on my desktop (because I like to know what's going on), but to set and change my desktop background every 24 hours.  However, GKrellm has gotten somewhat long in the tooth and I've started using something different for realtime monitoring (but that's not the point of this post).  So, the question is, how do I set my background now?  Conky doesn't have that capability.

I tried a few of the old standbys like feh and nitrogen, but they didn't seem to work.  The reason for this appears to be that PCmanFM, which is both the file manager and the desktop... stuff... of LXDE.  By this, I refer to the desktop icons as well as the background image.  As it turns out, nothing I tried to change the background worked, and that is due to the fact that PCmanFM is a jealous desktop module and doesn't let other tools frob the settings it's in charge of.  After some tinkering, here's how I did it:

Short form: pcmanfm -w `ls -d -1 /home/drwho/backgrounds/* | shuf -n 1`

Long form (from inside to outside):

  • ls -d -1 /home/drwho/backgrounds/* - List all of the files in /home/drwho/backgrounds.  Show the full path to each file.  List everything in a single column.
  • | - Feed the output of the last command to the input of the next command.
  • shuf -n 1 - shuf is a little-known GNU Coreutils tool which randomly shuffles whatever things you give it.  It only returns one line of output, a randomly chosen image file.
  • The output of the previous two commands (captured between back-ticks) is passed to...
  • pcmanfm -w - Set the current desktop background to whatever filename is passed on the command line as a free action.

To set an initial background when I log in, I added the following command to my ~/.config/lxsession/LXDE/autostart file: @pcmanfm -w `ls -d -1 /home/drwho/backgrounds/* | shuf -n 1`

This means that the command will run every time my desktop starts up.  The @ symbol tells lxsession to re-run the command if it ever crashes.  However, how do I change my background periodically?

The easiest way to set that up was to set a cron job that runs every day.  Every user gets their own set of cron jobs (called a crontab) so you don't need any particular privileges to do this (unless your machine's really locked down).  If you've never set a cronjob before, the command I used was this: crontab -e

My cronjob looks like this: 00 10 * * * pcmanfm -w `ls -d -1 /home/drwho/backgrounds/* | shuf -n 1`

"At 10:00 hours every day, run the following command..."

And there you have it.  One randomly set desktop background in LXDE.

Incidentally, if you're curious about all the nifty things you can do with cron, I recommend playing around at, it's an online editor for crontab settings.  It's good for experimenting in such a way that you don't have to worry about messing up your system, and it's also handy for figuring out particularly arcane cronjobs.

Neologism: GSCA

Mar 31 2018

GSCA - acronym, verb - Using grep, sed, cut, and awk on a Linux or UNIX box to chop up, mangle, or otherwise process data on the command line prior to doing anything serious with it.  This is not to preclude the use of additional tools (such as sort).

Making offline backups of a Linux machine using Backblaze.

Jan 14 2018

As frequent readers may or may not remember, I rebuilt my primary server last year, and in the process set up a fairly hefty RAID-5 array (24 terabytes) to store data.  As one might reasonably expect, backing all of that stuff up is fairly difficult.  I'd need to buy enough external hard drives to fit a copy of everything on there, plus extra space to store incremental backups for some length of time.  Another problem is that both Leandra and the backup drives would be in the same place at the same time, so if anything happened at the house I'd not only not have access to Leandra anymore, but there's an excellent chance that the backups would be wrecked, leaving me doubly screwed.

Here are the requirements I had for making offsite backups:

  • Backups of Leandra had to be offsite, i.e., not in the same state, ideally not on the same coast.
  • Reasonably low cost.  I ran the numbers on a couple of providers and paying a couple of hundred dollars a month to back up one server was just too expensive.
  • Linux friendly.
  • My data gets encrypted with a key only I know before it gets sent to the backup provider.
  • A number of different backup applications had to support the provider, in case one was no longer supported.
  • Easy to restore data from backup.

After a week or two of research and experimentation, as well as pinging various people to get their informed opinions, I decided to go with Backblaze as my offsite backup provider, and Duplicity as my backup software.  Here's how I went about it, as well as a few gotchas I ran into along the way.

Quick and dirty copies of website with wget.

Jan 14 2018

Let's say there's a website that you want to make a local mirror of.  This means that you can refer to it offline, and you can make offline backups of it for archival.  Let's further state that you have access to some server someplace with enough disk space to hold the copy, and that you can start a task, disconnect, and let it run to completion some time later, with GNU Screen for example.  Let's further state that you want the local copy of the site to not be broken when you load it in a browser; all the links should work, all the images should load, and so forth.  One of the quickest and easiest ways to do this is with the wget utility.

Automating deployment of Let's Encrypt certificates.

Jan 06 2018

A couple of weeks back, somebody I know asked me how I went about deploying SSL certificates from the Let's Encrypt project across all of my stuff.  Without going into too much detail about what SSL and TLS are (but here's a good introduction to them), the Let's Encrypt project will issue SSL certificates to anyone who wants one, provided that they can prove somehow that they control what they're cutting a certificate for.  You can't use Let's Encrypt to generate a certificate for because they'd try to communicate with the server (there isn't any such thing but bear with me) to verify the request, not be able to, and error out.  The actual process is complex and kind of involved (it's crypto so this isn't surprising) but the nice thing is that there are a couple of software packages out there that automate practically everything so all you have to do is run a handful of commands (which you can then copy into a shell script to automate the process) and then turn it into a cron job.  The software I use on my systems is called Acme Tiny, and here's what I did to set everything up...

Scaling up font sizes in Chromium.

Sep 30 2017

Longtime readers have probably seen the odd post about my getting fed up with Firefox and migrating my workflow (and much of my online data archive) to Chromium, which has been significantly faster if nothing else than Firefox lately.  Of course, due to Windbringer's screen resolution I immediately ran into problems with just about every font size being too small, including the text in the URL bar, the menus, and the add-ons that I use.  On a lark I went back to my font sizes in Keybase article and give it a try.  Lo and behold, when I used --force-device-scale-factor=1.5 it worked - I can see everything now.  I could complain about the size of the text in the bookmarks bar, but I'm willing to deal with it because now I can read everything.  For the record, here are the contents of my ~/Desktop/chromium.desktop file, so you can do it yourself:

[Desktop Entry]
GenericName=Web Browser
Exec=chromium --force-device-scale-factor=1.5 %U