An unorthodox method to keep Dropbox from autostarting

Whether you like them or not, cloud storage solutions are a useful thing. Despite having a self-hosted ownCloud, I also still use Dropbox for various reasons.

Now on my desktop computer the Dropbox client is running all the time, so the default setting for an automatic startup is perfectly fine with me. On my notebook however I don’t want anything data-hungry to start automatically when I log in, because I don’t always have a good wireless connection – sometimes I need to tether using my phone, or I might just have a poor connection to some public network.

No problem you’d think, just disable the automated startup in the client settings and you’re fine. In the past this worked for me too, but on my current installation (running Linux Mint Cinnamon 18.2 at the moment) it didn’t. No matter how I configured it, the client would always start at login. Even when I deleted the autostart file, which is located in ~/.config/autostart, it was simply rewritten every time I manually started the client.

I figured that it might just look whether the autostart file exists, not check its contents, so instead of the command starting the Dropbox client I entered something that wouldn’t do anything meaningful at all (a blank file might work as well, but I didn’t try that). I used echo, but something like pwd or ping -c 1 would be just as fine. However, the client still overwrote that file every time, so I decided to get brutal to set the access rights to 444, making it read only for everybody. That finally worked!

I have no clue why the setting doesn’t work as it should and, to be honest, didn’t bother debugging it. My solution (or rather: workaround) works well enough for me.

One way to fix the „panel not clickable“-issue in Cinnamon.

When it comes to operating systems, my preferred choice is the popular Linux Mint with either MATE or Cinnamon as the desktop environment. Recently, Mint 18 has been released, so I already upgraded two of my machines running Mint. Everything went fine with the first one (using MATE) – something I was not used to when I still ran stock Ubuntu, which seemed to always break something with an upgrade.

However, the second machine (using Cinnamon) had one small but very nasty bug after the upgrade: The panel wasn’t clickable anymore. It seemed to work just fine (as in „not crashing“), but didn’t respond to any mouse clicks. A quick search around the web showed that this bug apparently has ocurred in the past already – and should long be fixed. I suppose that there are several possible errors which lead to this behaviour. Since I could neither find any current posts about this topic nor a fix like mine, here’s what I did:

First I tried to log in with a different user (with an empty home directory) – the panel worked just fine, so it was clear that *something* in the config files in my home directory must have been messed up. After trying a lot of different things I could isolate the error to ~/.config/dconf. This directory contains (at least in my case) one binary file, which is roughly similar to the registry on MS Windows. At this point, I can’t restrain myself from asking why the f*** someone would want to take one of the biggest flaws from one operating system and implement it into another. Argh!

Anyway, to edit that binary file you need to install the package dconf-editor. I assume you know how to do that. Since you need to at least launch a terminal although your panel is dysfunctional, I should add that – at least in my case – the applications menu still worked when opened using the Super key (the one that usually has a Windows logo on it). If that doesn’t work for you, using ssh -X might be an option. Or you could somehow create a launcher on your desktop.

In the dconf-editor, you need to find the value On my computer, it was set to 2 – setting it to 0 immediately solved the problem. There is probably also a fancy command-line only way to do this.

I must admit that I do not completely understand what went wrong in the first place, yet the fact that it seems – in my case – to be related to IBus explains why there aren’t more people with the same issue right now, which could be expected on a popular Linux distribution with a popular desktop environment: As far as I know, IBus isn’t installed by default. The reason I have it installed is probably related to the input method for Japanese. (Don’t ask…)

Figuring this out took me some time, so I wanted to share my solution, hoping I can save other people some time. 🙂

Why Hellschreiber is cool.

So I just joined the Feld Hell Club, hoping to become a little more active in one of my favourite modes again. And I thought that this would be a nice opportunity to blog about why I like it.

When I started to be interested in amateur radio, years before I acquired my first license, I was fascinated with SSTV and spent quite some hours monitoring 14,230 MHz. It was clear to me that some day, I wanted to do this myself! Although now I could, I never transmitted SSTV so far. I still think it’s a nice mode, but it also has some disadvantages: Not only does it take up as much bandwidth as an SSB phone transmission, it also has a near 100% duty cycle and transmission times can be quite long. And even if you use templates, SSTV just isn’t the right mode for common two-way QSOs, in my opinion.

Now usually I’m active in PSK and occasionally RTTY or other modern digital modes (I’m not really using phone outside of contests, for a number of reasons), but I also like Hellschreiber (Feldhell) a lot. Here’s why:

  • The duty cycle is very low, therefore perfect for portable operations where you want your batteries to last as long as possible (think FT-817 with no external power source).
  • The bandwidth is also reasonably low, so there is almost no limit as to where in the bands you can use it.
  • It is usually text-only (at least I haven’t seen any graphical content implemented, although that’d be easily possible – and cool), but as the text is encoded in a matrix rather than bytes, encoding problems cannot occur. Also, as everybody can set up the font being used by his or her own likings, it feels just a little more personal than one of the usual text modes like PSK. I mean, voices are individual too, right?
  • There is no decoding algorithm between you and the band. With PSK and similar modes, you hear a beeping sound and either get somewhat readable text or not. When using Hellschreiber, you literally see what you hear and the actual decoding process is done in your head.
  • Tuning isn’t very critical. This might be useful when using homebrew transceivers. Also, it enables you to tune with your rig’s VFO instead of within the software, so the audio frequency remains constant all the time and you don’t need to re-adjust levels.
  • At least theoretically, you could use this mode with no computer of any kind at all – just like it was done when it was invented.
  • It’s just cool. Period! 🙂 (and I probably forgot some points as well)

All in all I think it’s just cool that some communication protocol that old can still be of so much use today. Dr. Rudolf Hell was a true visionary, more than he could know back in the day! I’m always happy to meet other Hellschreiber enthusiasts on the band and I hope more hams will learn to appreciate this mode.

Some practical advice in the end: As Hellschreiber uses short pulses, please be extra careful about splattering. If possible, adjust the audio input to your transmitter using a 0dB sine tone of the same audio frequency you are going to use for your actual transmission. Fldigi, which I am using, has a very handy „TUNE“ button which does exactly that. On a common 100W transceiver, I’d always set it to no more than 50W HF output. This leaves a lot of dynamic range before distortion should occur. On QRP rigs like the FT-817 mentioned before, you’ll probably want to use the available power to the fullest, but at least watch the ALC meter (it shouldn’t show anything). In doubt, it is never a bad idea to monitor your own signal or ask a friend to do it. And please remember that there is nothing polite about giving a fake 599 report.