Ubuntu 14.04 on a Toshiba Portégé Z930

In April 2014 I forgot to take my faithful Toshiba Portégé R600 from a plane.  I got it back only months later because the border police doesn't know solar physics including Ellerman features.  In the meantime I had bought a Toshiba Portégé Z930 and installed Ubuntu 14.04, again lured by its LTS (long-term support) promise of five-year-no-muck.  Warning: these notes remain a snapshot anno spring 2014.

Hardware comparison.   The older Toshiba Portégé R600 and the newer Toshiba Portégé Z930 are similar computers.  Of course the newer model runs faster but I haven't really noticed the difference.  The newer model has no DVD drive but I used the one in the R600 only rarely and can live without one.  I like the larger memory (8G versus 3G).  The most important improvement is the absence of fan and disk noise in normal operation.  However, the high-pitched vacuum-cleaner-like noise produced by the fan when you make the laptop work seriously is quickly unbearable.  I also found I need to kill IDL sessions to make the noise stop even after these have completed their job.

The Z930 solid-state disk is noticeably faster than the R600 spinner, especially in close/open = hibernate/resume and when untarring large data sets.  Presumably it is also more reliable.  However, it furnishes significantly less storage (227G versus 286G at my disposal).

I regard the 1366x768 pixel screen an unhappy setback from the former 1280x800 one.  The wide cover strip below the screen screams out it could and should be pixels instead.  Also, the cone of best visibilty became even narrower than it was before, so that one now has to continually adjust one's posture and/or the screen tilt for optimally studying images and movies (my daily work).  Showing such to a colleague requires a second screen, but that brings two major problems.  First, the 1366x768 size is not supported by any monitor that I have seen so far, requiring irritating fall-back to the more ubiquitous 1024x768 VGA size.  Second, after Ubuntu suspend with the external screen still connected it becomes the primary screen even when non-connected: you end up with a black laptop screen.  Arrggghh...

The keyboard now lights up at low light, which is useful in darkened conference rooms but distractive elsewhere.  I find typing on the Z930 less pleasant and more error-prone than on the R600.  The move of the ENTER key away from the righthand side is disastrous.  In the R600 this was large and placed flush-right as usual (even on Macs); now it is not only smaller but shifted one column left so that one instead hits PageUp or PageDown.

The physical form of the Z930 is a setback also beyond being just larger (a bad idea, I pay for laptop smallness and lightness).  The exceedingly sharp corners and front edge of the palmrest areas cut badly into one's hands, so much so that I fear that RSI from continuous irritation lurks as dark threat around them.  The connection sockets are placed less conveniently than before, not along the laptop sides but mostly at its back.  The SD-card reader is now hard to access while it was perfectly placed in the older model.

The sound quality is improved and is now good enough for Skype but remains too poor for music.

Ubuntu installation.   Once again I had major problems.  Pressing F12 during power-up didn't give me a boot choice to the USB stick with the downloaded iso, but instead produced unfathomable error messages and eventually MS Windows.  I ended up installing that and not getting out of it anymore.  My mistakes were that one really has to logout from Windows, not just power-down, and that one should hit F12 repetitively as a machine gun.  Eventually I so got to the Ubuntu installer and could wipe MS Windows off the disk (a satisfying action except for regretting its paid-for cost).  Gnome Classic (no special effects) is now called Gnome-Fallback-Metacity and needs sudo apt-get install gnome-session-flashback.  Some websites suggested that Ubuntu doesn't really want to continue Gnome offering, so I am glad it still did in this LTS release.  I hope to be free from computer setup problems for five years!

Setup and packages.   Most of the setup recipes that I gave above under Ubuntu 12.04 still worked.  Most packages listed there got installed without problem.  Acroread was nasty in requiring 32-bit libraries but a week later Ubuntu furnished those properly (I installed 14.04 an hour after its release, which may have been unwise early). 

Workspace shifting.   Problematic because the Applications menu didn't furnish the former Keyboard > Shortcuts > Navigation anymore.  Luckily the answer how to redefine keys to focus on another workspace came quickly from AskUbuntu:  install sudo apt-get install dconf-tools, then click Applications > System Tools > dconf-editor, click the appropriate little triangles open to descend into org.gnome.desktop.wm.keybindings, and define your choice of hotkeys as, e.g., move-to-workspace-right ['<Control><Alt>Right'].  I again have 12 workspaces selectable with the 12 function keys.  My desktop startup script again puts two terminals in each of them and opens some specific emacs sessions, a browser, and special mail windows for mutt.

Theme selection.   The Applications menu also did not furnish the former Preferences > Advanced Settings anymore.  Google advised to install sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool and then entering gnome-tweak-tool in a terminal retrieves that menu.  I selected Metabox (window), Radiance-Graphite (GTK+; I like this less than my former pale mint but it is acceptably non-loud), Ubuntu-Mon-Light (icons), DMZ-White (cursor).  Once again I hide the panel bars out of sight and have a smooth lightgreen background.

Screen brightness control.   Disfunctional in a Toshiba laptop after suspend.  Repaired followed this recipe.

Touchpad off when mouse present.   This is good to have in order to avoid sudden erratic cursor jumps in your editor window when your hands brush unintentionally over the touchpad.  Activated at minute cadence with a crontab-called script following this recipe.  Hitting the BREAK key gives me momentary touchpad override through setting Applications > System Tools > Preferences > Keyboard > Text Entry (at bottom left) > Keyboard Settings (at bottom right) > Custom Shortcuts and defining "touchpad toggle" as Pause, executing the bonus script given here.

Notifications.  I switched off the pop-up notifications informing me, e.g., that my laptop gets connected or disconnnected because I don't need them while they disturb me and even more my audience during presentations.  I followed the recipe given here.

Emacs.   Again trouble, as always with this fancy program.  This time I got a superfluous GTK error message at every start of an emacs session.  The remedy was to not use a --geometry option in my emacs start-up alias but to define the window size and location within my ~ /.emacs file.  This upsets my habit of defining specific geometries for specific purposes with an alias, but so be it.  The next problem was that emacs didn't recognize compose-key sequences to type umlauts etc.  Solved by starting it as:    env XMODIFIERS="@im=none" emacs.  An old bug remains: emacs still flashes intermediate windows elsewhere on the screen before it opens the requested one, an unnerving and irritating habit.

Latex.   To my dismay, my \citeads macros to turn citations in pdf files into openers of NASA's ADS literature server, a trick recommended by the astronomy journal A&A, didn't work anymore with latex (they still do for pdflatex), stopping latex at non-sensical and non-fatal error messages.  Apparently they came in soon after the ancient 2009 texlive of Ubuntu 12.04 that I used sofar.  This problem remains an open question at stackexchange but since 2019 a trick from Linas Stonys avoids it.