Matt Marshall

July 2018

30 Jul 2018, 08:25

Conversely, Leeds seems totally OK with a dishevelled green man standing at the coach station.

22 Jul 2018, 19:48

Initial thoughts on the new laptop

After years of performing hard labour, my poor laptop finally deteriorated to the point of becoming almost unusable. It had lived with a pretty bad fractured screen, a missing power key and a broken left trackpad button for a little while but that's not what did it in. What did it in was the power connection. Over the last few months, it had developed a wonky connection to the power charger where it wouldn't charge. It started off small, where it wouldn't charge some times. Then that changed to around 50% of the time, and then finally to most of the time. It got to the point where I was having to constantly press the charger into the port, oriented at a specific angle, in order for it to charge. It would then charge very slowly, and heat up to burning temperatures. Since the battery life was pretty diminished (the machine being around 4.5 yrs old), it seemed time to look to replacements.

I'm generally loathe to replace any electronics that have a bit of life left in them, as I think I probably could have repaired the machine if I knew anything about soldering power connectors. I don't, however, and those around me who do were unable to spare the time to teach me or to do it themselves. Such is the life of a PhD in Open Lab. I might actually keep the machine, and attempt to repair it later. As it stands; the machine was basically unusable for any form of work or recreation so I replaced it. The requirements for any laptop purchase for me are:

  • Has an i5 processor
  • Has between 4gb - 8gb of RAM
  • Has at least one USB 3.0 port.
  • Ideally has an SSD of any size, or an accessible drive bay so I can install one
  • Can run at least Ubuntu Linux without me having to hack it too much with drivers.
  • Doesn't take up the better part of a grand. Ideally within the £500 range.

A new factor this time for me was weight. I usually don't mind as my laptop tends to stay at home, but I've been doing a lot more travelling lately and both my home (now dead) laptop and my work laptop (Macbook Pro 2011) are relatively heavy. I looked at some Dell solutions, and even looked at refurbished Macbook Airs but for the specs I was after; they were just too expensive. Finally, I turned back to my old friend PC Specialist who had supplied my previous laptop and a machine for a partner.

After a quick browse the Enigma VIII popped up and I was surprised at how well it seemed to match my requirements. It was touted as an "Ultra thin 14.9mm design" which intrigued me. A very quick search told me that the Macbook Air touts a 17mm thickness, which made this seem very promising. I configured the options which basically consisted of selecting NO OPERATING SYSTEM in lieu of the default Windows 10 and knocking the price down to £558 incl VAT. This seemed reasonable enough, but I hesitated for a while. The reason being that I'd previously purchased the Lafité III for my partner and had a bit of trouble with the Wireless drivers for Ubuntu; they would drop Wireless signal every 10 seconds or so and not automatically reconnect. Anyway when my laptop's performance dropped off a cliff towards un-usablility I took a chance and ordered Enigma VIII, figuring I could just return it if it proved rubbish.

It took around a month to arrive due to a short delay in PCSPECIALIST getting the parts. I wasn't overly annoyed since the staff were incredibly forthcoming and transparent about the expected delivery times via phone call and email, and also offered me several options should I decide I wanted a different machine or to take my business elsewhere. I've had the machine a few days now and my initial thoughts are very good.

Out the box:

Xubuntu works out the box, with wireless working during installation via USB. I disabled the UEFI first thing, and booted from USB. Within 10 minutes I was staring at the XFCE login screen. The screen with full 1080p graphics works beautifully, and the machine is blazing fast (although aren't all new machines?). The size is a lovely middle-ground between the 13" machines that I find too small sometimes, and the 15" machines that I sometimes find unwieldy. The weight feels feather-light compared to my previous machine and my office machine, to the point where I might actually bring this laptop on field visits with me.

The keyboard is lovely to type on, although the spacebar is a little unresponsive at times and doesn't type a space. The trackpad also sticks a little.

One thing I am quite pleased about, is the casing. I was in two minds about the aluminium casing -- I love how modern it looks/feels, and how sleek it is. I have long-term concerns about being able to access components like hard drives for replacement. This is alleviated as the bottom of the machine has clearly accessible screws and a barely-visible seam which means I can remove the bottom of the chassis to facilitate repairs (which I admittedly would need to teach myself to perform first…). My old Fusion T also suffered injuries to its power button (which came clean off and got lost) and the left mousepad button, which also came clean off but I managed to keep it from getting lost. The integrated trackpad/mousepad buttons on the Enigma VIII, and the power key being fully integrated into the keyboard means that this won't be a problem on this machine. Hopefully.

Adjustments made

I had to adjust the trackpad sensitivity inside Xubuntu, making it doubly sensitive to get it to respond the way I like it. I can't remember ever having to do the same on my previous build.


This is more ideological, than practical. During Xubuntu install I made sure that I explicitly didn't choose to install third party software (ie this). After install, I generally fetch vrms from the repos to do a check on my machine. On the Fusion T I would get the message that I had no proprietary software on the machine except when I occasionally installed Skype (dw I purged it after each use). On this machine, however, it seems that there's some non-free packages that have made their way in!

Non-free packages installed on Persephone

amd64-microcode                     Processor microcode firmware for AMD CPUs
fonts-ubuntu                        sans-serif font set from Ubuntu
i965-va-driver                      VAAPI driver for Intel G45 & HD Graphics family
intel-microcode                     Processor microcode firmware for Intel CPUs

Contrib packages installed on Persephone

iucode-tool                         Intel processor microcode tool

4 non-free packages, 0.2% of 1817 installed packages.
1 contrib packages, 0.1% of 1817 installed packages.

I'm unfamiliar with the packages in question, and the processor microcode tools seem quite important (unsure why I have an AMD one, though). This might be a change in Xubuntu and they might be including it. The graphics one seems like a necessary evil. I am surprised at the fonts-ubuntu package, though. I was sure that the Ubuntu fonts were free and open? They might be released under their own license or under a license that vrms doesn't count as free, therefore marking them as nonfree. It still remains disappointing.


I'm feeling pretty good about the machine. GNU/Linux power management has never been amazing, but I'm in the honeymoon period where I can work for around 5-6 hours easily without needing to charge the machine. And when I do, the charger works without me needing to perform blood sacrifice. I'll do a proper performance analysis review some time soon, probably. Maybe. Until then, I'm optimistic I'm going to develop a nice relationship with the Enigma VIII.

work ubuntu xubuntu laptops devices new things shiny things free software pc specialist

22 Jul 2018, 17:29

Hey #indieweb folk, I'm finally going to implement receiving #webmention and wondering about design patterns. Should I create a new Webmention entity or should source urls be stored in Post objects?

indieweb webmention

16 Jul 2018, 23:16

Reflections of a novice cyclist:

Lights and Hi-Vis jackets are useful

Last Modified: 06 Sep 2018, 16:23

weather cycling transport

06 Jul 2018, 19:02

Just been informed that my laptop order will be delayed as the chassis won't be delivered to the manufactrer until ~20th Jul.

Current laptop currently requires blood sacrifices to charge properly. I feel that I'm about to take a break from digital media at home :-P

life laptop tools delays

05 Jul 2018, 10:50

Hit a teeny bit of burnout thanks to an intense week and a shitty sleep cycle. Taking a day off normal service will resume tomorrow.

Metro apologises for any inconvenience

rest phd burnout

05 Jul 2018, 10:02

Now I've exported all my data, the only thing stopping me from deleting my Google Account is the fact I have an app in deployment for my PhD that uses the maps api :-/ I've got a workaround almost ready using OSM but it's not quite ready yet

privacy google open source de googling

04 Jul 2018, 16:03

Trying out a shorter eating window in #intermittentfasting by bumping up second meal to around 16:00, giving a four-hour window. Mostly because I think my active gut is keeping me awake when I eat around 18:00.

Will report on results.

fasting diet health

04 Jul 2018, 08:59

Brief reflections on my relationship with photos

As part of my 'leaving behind Google' process, combined with my minimalism journey, I recently exported and curated an entire archive of photographs I've collected. They're mostly concentrated around 2011 -- 2015, but there are a few even back to 2008 from my days doing stage shows and there's another little concecntration more recently from when I finally upgraded my smartphone.

I learned a few things about what I value from this process. I downloaded all the images, imported them into Shotwell to have it automatically sort them by date where it can, and then traipsed through chronologically to sort the wheat from the chaff. it took around two hours, which was a lot longer than expected. The tl;dr version of this is that "I don't need to keep around 90% of the photos I do take", my thoughts behind this are below.

I take a lot of photographs of landscapes and buildings that I don't actually care about

Whenever I go on an adventure out somewhere like a city, or the cliffs, or an abandoned building, I've almost compulsively took photographs across the day. I say the word compulsively because the impulse to photograph things does not come naturally to me. I was late to the smartphone game and until recently the camera on my phone has been subpar. Since catching up, I've been feeling the need to 'document' my journeys and this has involved taking a lot of photographs of stuff like beautiful landscapes and buildings that I appreciate. Thing is, I don't actually care about these photographs.

Don't get me wrong -- I appreciate a good building or landscape and if you show me photographs you've taken I will absolutely sit and listen and look at the image whole-heartedly. It's just that, once I've sat and appreciated a good view I don't often feel the need to revisit it. I deleted most of my photographs of mountains, sunrises at the beach, and cityscapes. I kept a few, but these were really heavily tied to personal achievements and much more representational of a point in time than anything else.

I care a lot more about people and stories than I do about places and events

Related to above, the photographs I found myself keeping were the ones featuring myself with others. Turns out the people in my life are much more important to me than the fact I've had a day out somewhere, or saw a nice building. Most of my fond memories are tied with visiting friends, or going out on adventures with them. I like spending time alone as well, which is why I deleted a lot of empty landscapes and selfies, but whenever I came across a photograph of myself and a loved one together it was often my favourite photo of that time period.

The same holds true for stories vs events. I don't care so much for a "Visited Niagara Falls" photograph of the falls, I care about a group picture that we took that acts as a prompt for me to tell myself or tell another the story of the creepy food court staffed by probably-ghosts. Sometimes the story is a selfie of me pulling a stupid face atop a mountain. But yeah -- I kept all the photographs of myself and others doing stuff.

I prefer it when others take photographs of me

I'm not a particularly good photographer, although sometimes modern cameras can compensate for that. I've grown accustomed to selfies but I'm still not overly comfortable with them and for that reason I prefer it when others take photographs of me. That way I have documentation of myself from another's perspective. It also makes me feel valued that they'd consider taking a photograph of me.

Also, and this is no small part, it means I get a photograph of a story without having to deal with all the other photographs in another person's collection.

Most of my photos are purely utilitarian

Around 80% of my photographs are taken for a single-use, disposable purpose (is there a comparison with one-use plastics there?). Most of the time that purpose is "Hey look at the thing!". Since I quit Facebook, it's been less about sharing to the masses and more about messaging specific people about a thing I want to show them. Stuff like "My lunch is much better than yours" or "Look at this thing I've just spotted on the street". It's like picture messaging a la snapchat but because I don't actually use snapchat, the image sticks around on my phone and makes its way into my collection when imported.

I can live in the moment a lot more

I mentioned earlier than I take a lot of photographs of beautiful scenery. I've somehow associated appreciating something beautiful with archiving it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but I've just expended energy taking the photo only to never look at it and then expend more energy deleting it later.

What I'm taking from this is that I can take that energy and transfer it into experiencing the moment a lot more. I already do appreciate a good scene-as-it-happens, but if I walk in with the knowledge that I don't need to take a photograph of it, I think I'll be more inclined to appreciate it.

I need a photo mode that allows me to share-and-forget

I need a mode in apps and cameras that allow me to take a photograph to show people a thing, on various platforms/services, and then instantly delete the local copy of the photo so it never makes its way to a collection. If anyone knows an app like this, please let me know.

reflection minimalism data curation photography values