Fix the unusable window resize border in Gnome Flashback Metacity on Ubuntu

On Ubuntu I mostly use Gnome Flashback with Metacity, along with the brilliant Synapse app starter / file finder. I do this in spite of having a beefy NVIDIA GPU in this Core i7 workstation, because the OpenGL compositing on this 2560×1440 display makes video conferencing really slow, and because I do OpenGL development and need to have maximum performance for the app I’m working on.

However, it irritated me to no end that the window borders were so thin that I was not able to grab them for a resize. Adding insult to injury, there were only the four standard themes in Settings | Appearance, namely Adwaita, Ambiance, Radiance and High Contrast, none of which has usable borders.

The solution is to use the Gnome Tweak Tool (package gnome-tweak-tool) to change the Window theme to something with better borders. I used Watercolor (from the metacity-themes package), and set the rest up as follows on the appearance tab:


Once this is done, your window borders should look like this:


Now you can resize your windows again, AND you can enjoy the snappiness of Gnome Flashback with Metacity!

Weekly Head Voices #72: Ménage à trois.

Welcome to this post, the 72nd edition of The Weekly Head Voices, and a momentous one at that. For the first time, I’m writing the WHV using my favourite operating system with editing function, Emacs. To those of you who don’t know Emacs, this might mean that I’ve finally gone around the bend.

I can report that it is a very happy place.


(there will be more Emacs shenanigans in the near future.)

During this past week, I wrote at least three blog posts (as far as I know):

  • Publish to WordPress with Emacs 24 and org2blog – A super-nerdy post on vxlabs explaining how you too can use Emacs, the operating system with editing function, to write and publish your WordPress blog posts.
  • South Africa, why are you not running Linux? – wherein I explain that it would be much better for the South African national economy and technology ecosystem to kick its proprietary software (Microsoft, Apple, etc.) dependency and standardise on open source.
  • Ernestine teaches Charl isiXhosa Lesson 1 – The first in a new series of posts that I’m super excited about, during which I take you along on my (slow) journey learning isiXhosa, one of our national languages, With Clicks(tm).

I also had time to enjoy a large number of these home-made (grandparents’ home that is) goodies:

Naartjes, aka mandarins, home-grown!

as well as some of this:

Dried sausage (droëwors) and meat (biltong), home-made!

… and then I finally got around to upgrading my main development laptop from Ubuntu version 12.04 to verson 14.04, code-named Trusty Tahr.


South Africa, why are you not running Linux?

Ubuntu, my personal favourite Linux distribution, has recently released version 14.04 LTS. LTS stands for Long Term Support: LTS releases are supported for 5 years, meaning that with 14.04 you are covered until 2019.

Trusty Tahr, as 14.04 is known, is beautiful, functional and still free.

Ubuntu means "humanity to others". It also means pretty desktop!
Ubuntu means “humanity to others”. It also means pretty desktop!

This seemed like an opportune moment to get something off my chest. I’m trying to understand why South Africa, my current home, is not running more Linux. In this post, I’m going to summarise the reasons why I think that, especially in SA, we should move away from proprietary solutions such as those offered by Microsoft and Apple, to solutions that are technically at least as good, are completely open and free, and, perhaps most importantly, better empower us to stimulate our local technology ecosystem and the national economy.

Cost to the national economy

Every year, I and a few million other South Africans pay a boat load of income and other taxes. Because in SA not everyone is able to pay tax, it is especially important that this money is used for the common good, for issues such as health-care, education and job creation.

However, instead of using my hard-earned tax to stimulate local industry, the South African government is sending millions of rands, each and every year, to Microsoft, a fantastically rich company in the USA, a fantastically rich country in comparison to South Africa.

The majority of government workstations absolutely don’t need MS Windows, MS Office or Outlook. The majority of government employees would be able to do their job (email, reports, spreadsheets, forms, use of web-apps) better and more securely using Linux.

Furthermore, the use of Linux and open source software encourages the use of open standards for public documentation. In 2007, the SA government officially standardised on the OpenDocument format. However, MS Office use is still rife, and encourages people to use Microsoft’s own XML formats. Although MS standardised these in a bid to stay in the global government game, OpenDocument should be preferred, as it’s better supported by more free and open packages that are available to all citizens, not just those with money for MS Windows and MS Office.

As an added but very important advantage, some of the considerable funds that would have been sent to the USA for MS licensing and support would then be injected into the local Linux support economy, stimulating local skills and creating more high-tech jobs.

Don’t you find it strange that South Africa, a developing country, is sending that much money to the USA when better solutions exist? Don’t you too think that it would be great to have a thriving and more independent Linux-based operating system and application industry right here in SA?

Personal cost

I just checked, it looks like the cost for an OEM license of Windows 8 in SA is R1000. We want as many as possible South Africans to have access to computers and to have access to internet. You can get a cheap PC for R3000 to R4000. It really makes absolutely no sense to spend R1000 on Windows, when Linux would work perfectly well on that same PC hardware.

It gets even more silly when you add in the price of MS Office. For 95% of personal users, packages like OpenOffice or LibreOffice, completely free and even open source, or Google Docs, not open but free, are more than sufficient.

A part of the problem here is simply momentum. Because everyone is still using Microsoft products, everyone thinks that that’s what you need to have. Imagine that the government standardised on Linux, it would not take long before people would then evaluate this as a serious choice when acquiring a new PC.


For the largest part due to Edward Snowden’s actions, and great journalism by The Guardian, it is now widely known (and much has been corroborated), that the NSA and other intelligence agencies around the world have been eavesdropping on everyone and everything.

An important part of this practice, is the working relationships that these intelligence agencies have built up with software vendors around the world. When you run MS Windows or Mac OSX, or any other prioprietary software, you have absolutely no way of knowing, or checking, what your computer is doing with your information. It sounds like something from a spy movie, but the NSA works closely with Microsoft to be able to hack into computers running Windows.

In the case of personal use, this may not be such a problem, but in the case of the South African government and the whole corporate world, it’s slightly crazy that everyone is willing to take the risk that all of their information is being snooped on by cooperating intelligence agencies.

With open source systems one can’t be 100% sure either, but one is able to check and modify and part of the system, at the source code level, that one is working on. Based on this openness, I have personally in the past programmed kernel drivers to support new hardware, and fixed low-level driver bugs. This was possible only because I have access to the source code of everything on my system.


There you have at least three reasons why we here in SA should be running more Linux. Not doing so is costing our national economy money, and it’s costing our people money. More importantly, we’re missing a huge opportunity of technologically and economically empowering South Africans.

A more general point I would like to make, is the following. It turns out that the whole world is actually running Linux already: android telephones, tablets, TVs, zillions of servers, and so on. When you teach people how to use this open and free Linux system instead of the proprietary alternatives, you are in fact teaching them how to control the world.

Nerd-alert: Ubuntu Linux 12.04 on my NVIDIA Optimus Samsung NP300V3A laptop

When I acquired my pre-ultrabook-era but still pretty Samsung NP300V3A laptop some nine months ago, I lamented that I’d probably never be able to put Linux on there due to the NVIDIA Optimus graphics switching thingamagoo.

Well, yesterday I ate my hat.

If you have nerdy tendencies, head on over to VXLabs, my nerd blog, to read all about it.

An Even More Ultimate Boot Disk!

In this short howto, I show you how to combine the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD) with both Knoppix 6.2.1 and Ubuntu 10.04 onto a single USB stick to create An Even More Ultimate Boot Disk (EMUBD)!

UBCD is a bootable CD image that’s fantastic if you’re trying to save grandma’s PC from a certain death, as it contains a number of different bootable utilities for testing memory, testing and low-level repair of hard drives, partition repair, antivirus and so forth. It even contains Parted Magic, a compact linux distribution for fixing partitions, amongst others.

Knoppix is the swiss knife of live linux distributions, and Ubuntu 10.04 is probably the slickest distribution out there at the moment. Both of these can be ran live from your USB disc, so they don’t have to touch your hard drive.  However, both of them are also able to install to your hard disc if you so choose.

To me it seemed logical to combine all three of these elements onto the single USB flash drive that I carry on my keychain, as I know of many grandmas with broken PCs…

Let’s go!

  1. make sure the single FAT32 partition on your USB stick is bootable (use command ‘a’ in linux fdisk) and large enough (you’ll need just a bit less than 2G).
  2. mount your flash drive on a directory, henceforth referred to as FLASH_MNT.
  3. copy all files from the ubcd5 iso into a directory, henceforth referred to as CUSTOM_UBCD5.
  4. mount the ubuntu 10.04 i386 iso on a directory, henceforth referred to as LUCID_MNT
  5. mount the knoppix iso on a directory, henceforth referred to as KNOPPIX_MNT.
  6. copy necessary boot files from the ubuntu ISO to UBCD:
    mkdir CUSTOM_UBCD5/ubcd/custom/lucid
    cp LUCID_MNT/casper/vmlinuz LUCID_MNT/casper/initrd.lz CUSTOM_UBCD5/ubcd/custom/lucid
  7. copy ubuntu-10.04-desktop-i386.iso to your flash disk:
    mkdir /FLASH_MNT/isos
    cp ubuntu-10.04-desktop-386.iso /FLASH_MNT/isos/
  8. Knoppix can’t be booted directly from its iso like Ubuntu, so we have to copy the actual contents of the ISO to your flash:
    cp -r KNOPPIX_MNT/boot/isolinux to FLASH_MNT/KNOPPIX/isolinux
  9. replace FLASH_MNT/KNOPPIX/isolinux/isolinux.cfg with the isolinux.cfg at the bottom of this post. (It’s the same file, except that “KERNEL linux” is replaced with “KERNEL /KNOPPIX/isolinux/linux”, “initrd=minirt.gz” with “initrd=/KNOPPIX/isolinux/minirt.gz”, F1, F2, F3 and DISPLAY paths all fixed, e.g. “F2 f2” becomes “F2 /KNOPPIX/f2” and finally all instances of “quiet” removed)
  10. Now replace CUSTOM_UBCD5/ubcd/custom/custom.cfg with the custom.cfg at the bottom of this post.
  11. copy all files from CUSTOM_UBCD5 to your usb flash disk:
  12. Finally, make the whole thing bootable with the following invocation. It’s really important that you replace /dev/sdX1 with the correct device for your flash disk. To see what this is, type “mount” and see the device associated with your FLASH_MNT.
    cd FLASH_MNT
    sudo ./ubcd/tools/linux/ubcd2usb/syslinux -s -d /boot/syslinux /dev/sdX1

You’re done. You should now be able to boot with your EMUBD! Knoppix and Ubuntu can be found under “User defined”.

Here are those files that you’ll need. First FLASH_MNT/KNOPPIX/isolinux/isolinux.cfg:

DEFAULT knoppix
APPEND ramdisk_size=100000 lang=en vt.default_utf8=0 apm=power-off vga=0x311 initrd=/KNOPPIX/isolinux/minirt.gz nomce loglevel=0 tz=localtime
# KBDMAP german.kbd
F1 /KNOPPIX/isolinux/boot.msg
F2 /KNOPPIX/isolinux/f2
F3 /KNOPPIX/isolinux/f3
DISPLAY /KNOPPIX/isolinux/boot.msg
LABEL adriane
KERNEL /KNOPPIX/isolinux/linux
APPEND ramdisk_size=100000 lang=en vt.default_utf8=0 apm=power-off vga=0x311 initrd=/KNOPPIX/isolinux/minirt.gz nomce loglevel=0 tz=localtime adriane
LABEL knoppix
KERNEL /KNOPPIX/isolinux/linux
APPEND ramdisk_size=100000 lang=en vt.default_utf8=0 apm=power-off vga=791 initrd=/KNOPPIX/isolinux/minirt.gz nomce loglevel=0 tz=localtime
LABEL fb1024x768
KERNEL /KNOPPIX/isolinux/linux
APPEND ramdisk_size=100000 lang=en vt.default_utf8=0 apm=power-off vga=791 xmodule=fbdev initrd=/KNOPPIX/isolinux/minirt.gz nomce loglevel=0 tz=localtime
LABEL fb1280x1024
KERNEL /KNOPPIX/isolinux/linux
APPEND ramdisk_size=100000 lang=en vt.default_utf8=0 apm=power-off vga=794 xmodule=fbdev initrd=/KNOPPIX/isolinux/minirt.gz nomce loglevel=0 tz=localtime
LABEL fb800x600
KERNEL /KNOPPIX/isolinux/linux
APPEND ramdisk_size=100000 lang=en vt.default_utf8=0 apm=power-off vga=788 xmodule=fbdev initrd=/KNOPPIX/isolinux/minirt.gz nomce loglevel=0 tz=localtime
LABEL memtest
KERNEL memtest
KERNEL memdisk
APPEND initrd=balder.img
LABEL failsafe
KERNEL /KNOPPIX/isolinux/linux
APPEND ramdisk_size=100000 lang=en vt.default_utf8=0 vga=normal atapicd nosound noapic nolapic noacpi pnpbios=off acpi=off nofstab noscsi nodma noapm nousb nopcmcia nofirewire noagp nomce nonetwork nodhcp xmodule=vesa initrd=/KNOPPIX/isolinux/minirt.gz

… and then CUSTOM_UBCD5/ubcd/custom/custom.cfg:

MENU INCLUDE /ubcd/menus/syslinux/defaults.cfg
UI /boot/syslinux/menu.c32

# option to be able to go back to the main menu
COM32 /boot/syslinux/menu.c32
APPEND /ubcd/menus/syslinux/main.cfg

# this clause will boot directly from the ubuntu iso
LABEL ubuntulive
MENU LABEL Ubuntu 10.04 i386 Desktop LIVE
LINUX /ubcd/custom/lucid/vmlinuz
INITRD /ubcd/custom/lucid/initrd.lz
APPEND boot=casper iso-scan/filename=/isos/ubuntu-10.04-desktop-i386.iso --

# and this one will chain into the knoppix boot setup
LABEL knoppix
MENU LABEL Knoppix 6.2.1 LIVE
CONFIG /KNOPPIX/isolinux/isolinux.cfg

Post scriptum

  • The instructions in this post are derived from the UBCD linux documentation and various forum posts.  Credits to their authors!
  • If you don’t want Knoppix on your bootable USB and you have a Windows computer, you could also use MultiBootISOS to add multiple ISOs to a USB boot disk.