Questions about setting up a new computer

John G Heim jheim at
Tue Jul 19 13:56:48 UTC 2016

I just don't know right off hand. I would volunteer to try it on my own 
machine but I am on vacation this week and cannot get to it until next week.

On 07/18/2016 03:07 PM, John J. Boyer wrote:
> Hi John,
> I typed apt-get install gnome-orca. It is ready to go if I type yes.
> However, i have a couple of concerns. Will the desktop come up the next
> time I boot? I want to be sure the boot is in command-line moded. Orca
> was using an old and buggy version of liblouis. It replaced the good
> version that I was using for translation. Something to do with the
> search path for .so files.
> Thanks,
> John
> On Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 01:53:50PM -0500, John G. Heim wrote:
>> I recommended the SSD drive because you seemed so concerned about speed.
>> Everything you say below sounds right to me. You cannot save a significant
>> amount of money buying less than 8Gb of ram or a hard drive smaller than
>> 1Tb. You will be able to switch to a gui some time in the future.
>> If you are going to install debian yourself, basically what you want to do
>> is to unselect the graphical user interface when it gets to the page where
>> you select software to install. And then after you are finished with the
>> install, use apt to install the graphical user interface as a separate step.
>> I've done this many times myself but not for a year or so and my memory is a
>> little fuzzy. I think the gui (or it might be called the desktop) is item 10
>> or 11 and it is selected by default. You have to unselect it and then
>> continue with the install. After it finishes and you reboot, it will be in
>> character mode.  I think you can then install the gui by simply typing
>> "apt-get install gnome-orca". That will install orca, gnome, and all of
>> their dependencies. You can then start the gui by typing "startx".
>> Well, that's from memory. I could try it at home sometime soon but I won't
>> have time to try it until next week.
>> On 07/17/2016 03:53 PM, John J. Boyer wrote:
>>> With the information i have received from the list I would now say that
>>> 8 GB of RAM is more than enough. Since Linux caches files in memory, the
>>> value of an SSD is debatable. I'll probably get a 1 TB hard drive. The
>>> performance with my present hard drive is fast enough, and 1 TB drives
>>> are cheap.
>>> I'll stick with a desktop tower and have bluetooth, an ethernet gigabit
>>> port, USB 2.9 and 3.0 ports, etc.
>>> How would I set up Debian so that it boots in command-line mode but I
>>> can start a desktop when I want it? Which desktop is most like Windows?
>>> Right now I have a new VGA monitor for work with sighted colleagues.
>>> Would this be enough?
>>> Thanks,
>>> John
>>> On Sun, Jul 17, 2016 at 12:16:35PM -0500, John G. Heim wrote:
>>>> I was going to say the same thinga bout getting 32 Gb of ram. The main
>>>> reason most people get as much as 32Gb for their personal workstations is
>>>> for on-line gaming. Or if you are into creating virtual machines you might
>>>> be able to use 32Gb of ram. But here at the Math Department at the UW, the
>>>> only machines we have with 32Gb of ram are used for research like modelling
>>>> cloud formations. None of  our web server, mail server, database server, or
>>>> file server have 32 GB of ram. I think you could combine all 4 of those
>>>> functions onto one server and still get by with less than 32Gb of ram. If it
>>>> was me, I'd spend my money on an SSD drive.
>>>> As for the cpu, at the Math department, we have bought nothing but Intel I5
>>>> machines for the past several years. It used to be that Intel and AMD would
>>>> leapfrog each other with each new cpu release. But that hasn't happened
>>>> lately. I think the money Intel has been abel to spend on research has put
>>>> them ahead for good. I have a brand new PC on my desk at work but I turned
>>>> it off for the weekend. I can't see the cpu model right now but I know it is
>>>> some type of Intel I5. But the last 2 groups of machines we bought had Intel
>>>> I5-4570 and I5-4590 cpus. If you are doing something that actually will use
>>>> 32Gb of ram, you might get an Intel I7 processor to go with that. But again,
>>>> I'd spend my money on an SSD drive.
>>>> On 07/16/2016 05:36 PM, Joel Roth wrote:
>>>>> Hi John,
>>>>> If  you are working in the console, you won't generally need high
>>>>> performance hardware.  If you compile a lot of software, or
>>>>> do disk intensive work, a solid-state disk is nice. I notice
>>>>> powerful processors make a difference in compressing video
>>>>> and any scientific computing.
>>>>> A big issue in new hardware is uefi vs BIOS booting.
>>>>> And in that motherboards shipped with the microsoft
>>>>> signed boot loading restrictions.
>>>>> BIOS has been around a long time, and easy to deal with
>>>>> in a linux environment.
>>>>> Have fun,
>>>>> Joel
>>>>> John J. Boyer wrote:
>>>>>> Thanks for the information. I had forgotten some of the Linux terms,
>>>>>> such as swap file or partition. How do I go about setting up a tmpfs?
>>>>>> The installation will be command-line only Braille only Debian. I might
>>>>>> add a desktop later, but I don't want it to be automatically loaded at
>>>>>> boot time.
>>>>>> What CPU would be appropriae. I would guess something recent, but not
>>>>>> the latest.
>>>>>> Thanks,
>>>>>> John
>>>>>> On Sat, Jul 16, 2016 at 02:06:45PM -0400, Sam Hartman wrote:
>>>>>>>>>>>> "John" == John J Boyer <john.boyer at> writes:
>>>>>>>      John> I've more or less decided to replacer my ten-year-old Linux
>>>>>>>      John> machine. It is giving error messages intermittently. Most of
>>>>>>>      John> them are about sector errors, but others seem to have nothing
>>>>>>>      John> to do with the hard drive. It may be more and more
>>>>>>>      John> troublesome, even if the hard drive is replaced.  Besides, it
>>>>>>>      John> would be nice to get more up-to-date hardware.
>>>>>>>      John> I'm thinking of getting 32 GB of ram. 8 GB will be for normal
>>>>>>>      John> use. The other 24 GB will be in a ramdisk.
>>>>>>> I think you must have a DOS background here.
>>>>>>> An explicit RAM disk is rarely if ever useful on Linux.  I'm tryinfg to
>>>>>>> remember if I even know how to create a block device backed by RAM... O,
>>>>>>> yeah, I can think of a way,  but you probably don't want to do that.
>>>>>>> Instead, you probably do want to create something called a tmpfs.
>>>>>>> That's a filesystem backed by RAM.  When your computer reboots all its
>>>>>>> contents go away.
>>>>>>> There are important differences between a tmpfs and a RAM disk.
>>>>>>> The biggest is that Linux will only use as much RAM as is needed by the
>>>>>>> tmpfs to store what currently lives in it.
>>>>>>> (You can set a maximum size, but with 32g I wouldn't bother)
>>>>>>> So, you can get the best of both worlds, storing your temporary files in
>>>>>>> RAM, but using RAM for RAM if you don't have 24G of temporary files at
>>>>>>> the moment.
>>>>>>>      John> Do I need a paging
>>>>>>>      John> file? 8 GB of available ram should be more than enough. The
>>>>>>>      John> paging file on my present machine always shows 0 usage, even
>>>>>>>      John> with only 4 GB of ram.
>>>>>>> Having a paging file has a couple of affects even if it is not used, but
>>>>>>> no, you probably don't want a swap partition or file (linux names for
>>>>>>> paging)
>>>>>>>      John> How do I avoid setting up a paging file
>>>>>>>      John> during installation? I'm using Debian Jessie.
>>>>>>> In expert mode, avoid creating a swap partition and if asked don't
>>>>>>> create a swap file.
>>>>>>> If you don't want to use expert mode, don't worry about it; having a
>>>>>>> swap partition won't be a problem.
>>>>>>>      John> How do i set up the ramdisk? I want to assign the temp
>>>>>>>      John> directory to it.
>>>>>>> I think the installer will do that by default.
>>>>>>> But in /etc/fstab you want a line like
>>>>>>> none				/tmp			tmpfs				defaults		0	0
>>>>>>>      John> It might be nice if the
>>>>>>>      John> bin, sbin and usr
>>>>>>>      John> directories were loaded onto it at boot-up.
>>>>>>> No need for that.
>>>>>>> Linux is also smart enough to cache files  as they are used, storing
>>>>>>> copies in memory, so no value in moving them to the tmpfs.
>>>>>>> The file will be loaded the first time it is used.
>>>>>>> You could do that at boot for /bin, /sbin and /usr, but you probably
>>>>>>> don't want to.  The reason is that the system is fairly busy at boot,
>>>>>>> and it would probably slow down things like bringing up your desktop and
>>>>>>> starting system services.  The only advantage of pre-caching files on
>>>>>>> boot would be faster performance the first time you accessed a program
>>>>>>> after pre-caching is done.  However you get slower boot times and slower
>>>>>>> performance during the pre-caching.
>>>>>> -- 
>>>>>> John J. Boyer; President,
>>>>>> AbilitiesSoft, Inc.
>>>>>> Email: john.boyer at
>>>>>> Website:
>>>>>> Status: 501(C)(3) Nonprofit
>>>>>> Location: Madison, Wisconsin USA
>>>>>> Mission: To develop softwares and provide STEM services for people with
>>>>>>           disabilities which are available at no cost.
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>> -- 
>> --
>> John G. Heim; jheim at; sip://

John G. Heim; jheim at; sip://

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