Things to Know About Traveling to Argentina in 2016

I’m on my second day here in Buenos Aires, Argentina and am slowly figuring out how life works here.  Here are a few of the things I didn’t know about that others may find useful.

  • How to get from the airport (EZE) to Buenos Aires:
    • When you arrive at the airport in Buenos Aires (EZE), there isn’t really a way to get to Buenos Aires via train.  I’m sure there is a bus, but most people take taxis.  You have a number of options, but most of the taxis take cash only.  However, there are a few that will take a credit card. You pay in advance and they’ll drop you off at your destination.  I used WorldCar, but there is also TiendaLeon, which is highly recommended.  These are called “Remis.”  You can get one of these just after you clear customs (which is after immigration) but before you walk out into the area where non-ticketed passengers are.
  • Getting money out of an ATM:
    • I was planning on using my debit card to get cash at an ATM when I got to the airport since I arrived after the government had gotten rid of the “blue rate” for exchanging currency and everything was a standard exchange rate.  I don’t use the money changers (e.g., Travelex) as they screw you over big time (your credit/debit card company will give you a good or the best rate).  Turns out, every single ATM in the airport was out of cash.  So, that sucked.  That’s why I was glad to find the Remis (see point above) that took a credit card.  I’ve since tried three other ATMs in various locations around Buenos Aires and my debit card doesn’t work in any of them.  I needed some cash to pay for a few things and started getting desperate.  Eventually I found out about Xoom. If you’ve got a checking/savings account in the US, this is a great, cheap way to send yourself some money.  They have a lot of places where you can pick up the cash (the primary locations are “]More[: Money Transfers” or “Giros” with a fair number of locations).  This worked really well for me.
  • Buying groceries
    • Now that people actually want to use credit/debit cards because there aren’t multiple rates for everything, any time you want to use a credit/debit card, you’ll need ID.  If you’re a foreigner, that means a passport.  I went to buy some groceries my first day here without knowing that and they almost didn’t let me purchase them.  I gave them my driver’s license, since I had it with me, and they let me buy the groceries, but be prepared to show your passport whenever you use your credit card.
  • SIM cards and cellphones
    • I brought my LG G3 from Sprint (I use as my carrier).  It has dual modes, so it will work on LTE or GSM.  I used it last year in Ireland, but it takes some configuring to get it working on GSM networks.  The day I got here, I bought a SIM card from Movistar for about $3.00 US, but for some reason you can’t actually pay Movistar for service.  You have to use a Pago Facil location to pay your bill.  The closest one to me has a line that takes forever (nearly an hour).  Also, they only take cash.  So, be prepared for this.  (FYI, the latest iterations of the Android OS for the LG G3 removed the option to adjust the APN; I had to download an app to let me do this after setting the network to GSM.  Once I did that and got the settings from Muvistar’s website, I finally get internet access on my phone.)
  • Cars and Traffic
    • I’ve already almost been hit by cars multiple times.  Cars don’t yield to pedestrians.  Be very cautious!
  • Uber
    • Going to try Uber tomorrow.  I’ll post here how it goes.

Linux: LibreOffice Print Dialog Orientation “greyed out”

I really like LibreOffice, but occasionally have to deal with bugs that cause silly regressions, like this one.  For years, I have printed my LibreOffice Impress (i.e., powerpoint) slides for my students to a PDF file. The options have made this pretty simple.  Click on “Print.”

fixing greyed out print dialogue option in LibreOffice

When the Print Dialog window comes up, click on the “Options” tab.

printdialogue2On that tab, choose “Print to file.”

printdialogue3Then, back on the “General” tab, click on the drop down menu next to “Document” and choose “Handouts,” since I want the students to have room to take notes.  Then, on “Slides per page” on the “General” tab, select “3” so they have 3 slides per page.

printdialogue4Finally, how it used to work is that I would next, on the “General” tab, click “Properties” and in the drop-down menu next to “Orientation,” choose “Portrait.”  It takes a few clicks, but it gets me exactly what I want: a PDF with three slides per page and lines for notes next to it.  As of LibreOffice 5.0.3, there is a bug that adds another step to this.  The last item in the process above, clicking on the “Properties” tab and changing the orientation no longer worked.  The orientation drop down menu was greyed out, like this:

printdialogue5I tried upgrading to the latest version of LibreOffice, 5.0.4, but that didn’t fix it.  After a little googling, I finally found a solution.  In the Print Dialogue window, click on “Options.”  On that screen, choose, “Use only paper size from printer preferences.”

printdialogue6Now, go back to the “General” tab and click on “Properties.”  In the window that comes up, it’s now possible to change the orientation of the page.

printdialogue7printdialogue8As this screenshot shows, the orientation is now portrait instead of landscape:

printdialogue9This is clearly a regression in the software.  Not sure what happened, but it’s stupid and needs to be fixed.

Linux: Securely erasing a hard drive

I recently did some upgrading to my main desktop computer and my Network Attached Storage.  As a result, I ended up moving around some hard drives and have several hard drives that are no longer in machines.  I’m holding on to most of the hard drives, but some I plan on selling or giving away.  Most haven’t had particularly sensitive information on them.  Even so, there isn’t a good reason to not wipe the hard drives completely before giving them away.  Built into the basic Linux operating system (through the “coreutils” package) is a program that will securely erase hard drives.  Securely erasing hard drives means deleting all the files, then randomly writing 1s and 0s over the entire drive multiple times to make sure that it is very difficult to recover the information that was on the drive (there are still some ways to retrieve data, but only by using very expensive equipment; if you want to insure that data cannot be retrieved, you have to physically destroy the hard drive).  This is good practice if you ever plan on giving a hard drive away that you’ve used, particularly if the hard drive contained sensitive information (e.g., passwords, nude photos of a significant other, etc.).

The Linux utility is “shred.”  Here’s how you’d go about securely erasing a hard drive.  (Based on this website, though this one is very clear as well.)

(1) Connect your hard drive to your system. You could set it up as an internal hard drive, or connect it with an external connector.  Either way, it needs to be connected to your system.  (NOTE: If you’re connecting a hard drive to your system through USB, make sure the hardware you are using to connect the drive to your system can handle the size of your hard drive.  Not all USB hard drive connection hardware is suitable for large (>1 TB) drives.)  You’ll want to make sure that the hard drive is connected, but not mounted.

(2) You need to find out which drive it is (i.e., the drive letter designation).  There are a number of utilities to do this.  You could use a GUI, like KDE Partition Manger, Disks, or GParted.  You can also do this from a terminal using a command like:

fdisk -l

That will list all of your connected drives.  Your drive should have a designation like: /dev/sdx.  The “x” will likely be “a,” “b,” “c,” etc.

(3) Once you’ve got your drive connected to your system and you know what the designation is, now it’s time to shred the disk.  The basic command is:

sudo shred /dev/sdx

That will write random 1s and 0s over the entire disk three times.

(4) However, the shred utility has a number of modifiers that you may find useful.  For instance, if you tack on “-v” it will show you the progress.  This is particularly helpful if you have a very large drive, since this process can take days to complete.  You can also add “-f”, which will force permission changes to allow writing if necessary.  Adding “-u” will erase any files that are overwritten.  And you can add “-z” to add a final overwrite with zeros to hide the shredding that you did.  Thus, the command would look like this:

sudo shred -vfuz /dev/sdx

(5) Finally, if you want to be extra cautious, you can specify the number of overwrites by adding “-n X” with X being the number of times you want to overwrite random data on the drive.  This command:

sudo shred -vfuz -n 10 /dev/sdx

would overwrite random data ten (10) times, then finish with a write of all zeros (the “-z”), so it would overwrite the entire drive 11 times.  Depending on the size of your drive, that could take a very, very long time (several days or a week).  One wipe is likely sufficient; three is more than sufficient for most people.  If you’re really worried about people accessing your data, shred the drive three times, then physically destroy the drive with a hammer.

Linux: Digikam Editor not showing images

I ran into a really weird problem with Digikam that took me a couple of days to figure out.  Since it took me so long to figure it out, I figured I should note this problem here for anyone else who runs into it.

What was happening is that I would open Digikam and when I would try to open an image into the Image Editor, the Editor wouldn’t show anything, like this:

File opened in the Image Editor in digiKam, but nothing shows up.
File opened in the Image Editor in digiKam, but nothing shows up.

I tried lots of other solutions for this problem, from installing older versions of Digikam to newer versions, but it turns out the problem was really just that digikam databases for my photo collection had either been (1) corrupted because of the size of my collection or (2) had run into problems because I use the same database across two computers.  Either way, the solution is pretty simple: delete the digikam databases.  These databases can be found in the folder where you collection is stored, like these:

Digikam databases.
Digikam databases.

Delete these databases, then restart DigiKam.  It will have to recreate the databases, but now when you open images in the Image Editor, they should show up and you should be able to edit them.

Linux: Auto Mount EXT4 partition

Several years ago I read a post in a Linux forum talking about splitting up one’s hard drive into multiple partitions so that when the inevitable reformat came along, there was no need to transfer one’s files during the process.  Instead, if your files are on one partition while the operating system is on another partition, all you’d need to do is reformat the partition with the operating system.  Once you’ve reformatted your operating system partition and booted back into Linux, then getting your files back is as easy as remounting the partition with your files on it.

Over time, my folder with my files, which I sync with Dropbox, has gotten large (too large; I need to clean it out).  This means that when I reformat my computer (typically as an upgrade, but sometimes because I mess the OS up), my computer would take days to re-sync with Dropbox, and that just didn’t seem worth it.

So, I decided to try the multiple partition approach to see if that worked any better.  I set up the partitions during my reformat.  One partition is hosting the operating system (Kubuntu 15.10); another partition is hosting my dropbox files; and a third partition is hosting a different operating system I use (I dual-boot on my computer).  I thought I had everything figured out.

However, I ran into a problem with the dropbox partition once I booted into Kubuntu 15.10: I couldn’t get the partition to auto mount before Dropbox started.  Since Dropbox was syncing to a partition other than the partition I was using for the operating system, if the partition didn’t auto-mount at startup before Dropbox launched, I’d get an error on startup from Dropbox saying that it couldn’t find the Dropbox folder and that I’d either have to “relink” my account to the folder or start syncing all over again.

I tried creating a line in the “/etc/fstab” file to automount the partition, but I screwed up on my first attempt.  The next time I restarted, the computer tried to boot off of that partition instead of off the OS partition, which caused the whole system to hang.  I was able to comment out the line I added to fstab and boot back into the OS.  I’ve played a lot with the fstab file in order to automount NAS partitions on my computer (see here), but I couldn’t figure out what I needed to add to my “fstab” file in order to get the partition to auto mount correctly.

I eventually found a nice tool that made this process very easy (from this site).  It’s a piece of software called “Disks” (package is: “gnome-disk-utility”) that provides a GUI for deciding which partitions you want to mount.  Here’s what you need to do:

Step 1) Install “gnome-disk-utility” from Synaptic or the command line.

$ sudo apt-get install gnome-disk-utility

install from synaptic
Install from Synaptic.

Step 2) Once “Disks” is installed, open the program.  You’ll get a nice GUI window that shows all the disks and partitions on your computer, like this:

GUI window for Disks.
The primary hard drive in my computer.



Step 3) Click on the partition you’re trying to auto mount.  You’ll then see a set of gears below it.

Disks GUI icon highlighted.
Click on the “gears” icon.

Step 4) Click on the gears and you’ll get a drop down menu. The item you want is: “Edit Mount Options”:

Choose "Edit Mount Options"
Choose “Edit Mount Options”

Step 5) That will open a new window:

Mount Options window
Mount Options window

Step 6) In that new window, click on “Mount at startup” (already selected in the screenshot above).  You’ll also need to decide on your “Mount Point.”  I opted to mount my drive in “/media/ryan,” but you can mount it wherever works best for you.  Once you’ve done that, hit “OK” and try restarting your computer.  Your partition should now mount automatically on startup, before Dropbox starts.

NOTE: All the GUI does is adds a line to “/etc/fstab,” but it makes sure the line is correct (which is where I got this wrong).  The line it added for my partition is:

/dev/disk/by-uuid/8e4f1d7c-d80e-4946-ba22-cb88259d494b /media/ryan auto nosuid,nodev,nofail,x-gvfs-show 0 0

Now that I know what the line has to be in order to automount that partition in the future, I could probably skip using Disks and just add this line, but this did solve my problem.  Plus, Disks has lots of options, which makes it a handy piece of software to know about.