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Updated: 8 hours 11 min ago

Massimo Pascale and his Lemur Pro Explore Dark Matter Substructure with the Sunburst Arc

Thursday 9th of September 2021 03:03:10 PM

Unleash Your Potential Program winner Massimo Pascale is a graduate student studying astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley. Using his Lemur Pro, he’s studying early galaxies and dark matter in the sunburst arc, a distant galaxy magnified through a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Read the whole interview for more details on the project and his experience with the Lemur Pro!

Give readers a rundown on what your project entails.

A galaxy cluster is a conglomeration of many galaxies that ends up weighing 10^14 solar masses. It’s incomprehensibly massive. Mass is not only able to gravitationally attract objects, but it’s also able to deflect the path of light, and the more massive it is the more it can deflect that light. This is what’s called gravitational lensing. When you have a massive galaxy cluster, and somewhere behind that galaxy cluster is another galaxy, the light from that galaxy can get deflected due to the mass of that galaxy cluster. Gravity causes the light to get stretched, sheared, and even magnified because of the way that it retains surface brightness, so these objects end up being a lot brighter than they would ever be if we didn’t have this galaxy cluster in front of it.

We’re using an arc of light called the sunburst arc. If we take our telescope and look at that galaxy cluster, we actually see that background galaxy all stretched out, and it appears as if it’s in the foreground. So truly we’re using this galaxy cluster as a natural telescope in the sky. And there’s many, many scientific impacts that we get from that.

If you want to see some of the earliest galaxies in the universe—we can say the most distant galaxies are the earliest galaxies because it takes time for that light to travel to us—this might be a good opportunity because you have this natural telescope of this massive galaxy cluster.

When we look at these beautiful arcs of light, these beautiful stretched out background galaxies in the galaxy cluster, we can actually use that as evidence to reverse engineer the mass distribution of the galaxy cluster itself. You can think of it as looking at a footprint in the sand and reconstructing what the shape and weight of that foot must’ve been to make that footprint.

Something I’m personally very interested in is how we can probe dark matter in this galaxy cluster. Visible matter interacts with light, and that’s why we can see it. The light bounces off and goes to our eyes, and that tells our eyes, “okay, there’s an object there.” Dark matter doesn’t interact with light in that way. It still does gravitationally, still deflects that light. But we can’t see what that dark matter is, and that makes it one of the most mysterious things in the universe to us.

So I’m very interested in exploring that dark matter, and specifically the substructure of that dark matter. We’re using the evidence of the sunburst arc to try and discover not only what the mass distribution of the overall galaxy cluster is, but also to get a greater insight into the dark matter itself that makes up that galaxy cluster, and dark matter as a whole.

Where did the idea to do this come from?

I’ll have to admit that it’s not my original idea entirely. I work with an advisor here at UC Berkeley where I’m attending as a graduate student, Professor Liang Dai, who previously was looking at the effects of microlensing in this galaxy cluster. He’s an expert when it comes to doing a lot of these microlensing statistics. And I had previously had work on doing cluster scale modeling on a number of previous clusters as part of my undergraduate work. So it was a really nice pairing when we had found this common interest, and that we can both use our expertise to solve the problems in this cluster, specifically the sunburst arc.

What kind of information are you drawing from?

Very generally, in astronomy we are lucky to be funded usually through various governments as well as various philanthropists to build these great telescopes. If you have a cluster or any object in the sky that you’re very interested in, there’s usually some formal channel that you can write a proposal, and you will propose your project. Luckily for us, these objects had already been observed before by Hubble Space Telescope. The big benefit with Hubble is that it doesn’t have to worry about the atmosphere messing up the observations.

Because a lot of these telescopes are publicly funded, we want to make sure this information gets to the public. Usually when you observe you get a few months where that’s only your data—that way no one else can steal your project—but then after that it goes up into an archive. So all of this data that we’re using is publicly available, and we’re able to reference other astronomers that studied it in their previous works, and see what information we’re able to glean from the data and build off of that. What’s so great about astronomy is you’re always building off of the shoulders of others, and that’s how we come to such great discoveries.

That sounds very similar to our mission here.

Yeah exactly. I see a lot of parallels between System76 and the open source community as a whole, and how we operate here in astronomy and the rest of the sciences as well.

How do you determine the age of origin based on this information?

We can estimate the general age of the object based off the object’s light profile. We do something called spectroscopy and we look at the spectrum of the object through a slit. Have you ever taken a prism and held it outside, and seen the rainbow that’s shown on the ground through the light of the sun? We do that, but with this very distant object.

Based off of the light profile, we can figure out how far away it is, because the universe is ever-expanding and things that are further away from us are expanding away faster. The object effectively gets red-shifted by the Doppler effect, so the light gets made more red. By looking at how reddened it’s become, we can figure out the distance of the object. We usually refer to it by its red-shift. You can do this with any object, really.

Based off of the distance from the lensed object, which we find through spectroscopy, and the objects in the cluster, which we also find through spectroscopy, we can then figure out what the mass distribution of the cluster must be. Those are two important variables for us to know in order to do our science.

How do you divide the work between the Lemur Pro and the department’s supercomputer?

A lot of what I do is MCMC, or Markov-chain monte carlo work, so usually I’m trying to explore some sort of parameter space. The models that I make might have anywhere from six to two dozen parameters that I’m trying to fit for at once that all represent different parts of this galaxy cluster. The parameters can be something like the orientation of a specific galaxy, things like that. This can end up being a lot of parameters, so I do a lot of shorter runs first on the Lemur Pro, which Lemur Pro is a great workhorse for, and then I ssh into a supercomputer and I use what I got from those shorter runs to do one really long run to get an accurate estimate.

We’re basically throwing darts at a massive board that represents the different combinations of parameters, where every dart lands on a specific set of parameters, and we’re testing how those parameters work via a formula which determines what the likelihood of their accuracy is. It can be up to 10-plus runs just to test out a single idea or a single new constraint. so it’s easier to do short runs where I test out different ranges. After that, I move to the supercomputer. If I’ve done my job well, it’s just one really long run where I throw lots of darts, but in a very concentrated area. It doesn’t always end up that way since sometimes I have to go back to the drawing board and repeat them.

What software are you using for this project?

Almost all of what I do is in Python, and I am using an MCMC package called Emcee that’s written by another astronomer. It’s seen great success even outside of the field of astronomy, but it’s a really great program and it’s completely open source and available to the public. Most of the other stuff is code that I’ve written myself. Every once in a while I’ll dabble in using C if I need something to be faster, but for the most part I’m programming in Python, and I’m using packages made by other astronomers.

How has your experience been with the Lemur Pro overall?

It’s been really fantastic. I knew going in that it was going to be a decently powerful machine, but I’m surprised by how powerful it is. The ability to get the job done is the highest priority, and it knocked it out of the park with that.

Mobility is really important to me. It’s so light and so small, I can really take it wherever I need to go. It’s just really easy to put in my bag until I get to the department. And being a graduate student, I’m constantly working from home, or working from the office, or sometimes I like to go work at the coffee shop, and I might have to go to a conference. These are all things you can expect that the average astronomer will be doing, especially one that’s a graduate student like me.

I’ve had to travel on a plane twice since I’ve had it, and it was actually a delight to be able to do. Usually I hate working on planes because it’s so bulky, and you open the laptop and it starts to hit the seat in front of you, you don’t know if you can really put it on the tray table, maybe your elbows start pushing up against the person next to you because the computer’s so big, but this was the most comfortable experience I’ve had working on a plane.

What will findings on dark matter and early galaxies tell us about our universe?

First let’s think about the galaxy that’s getting magnified. This is a background galaxy behind the cluster, and the mass from the cluster is stretching out its light and magnifying it so that it appears as an arc to us. Through my MCMC I figure out what the mass distribution of the galaxy cluster is. And using that, I can reconstruct the arc into what it really looked like before it was stretched and sheared out, because I know now how it was stretched and sheared.

A lot of people are interested in looking at the first galaxies. How did the first galaxies form? What were the first galaxies like? Looking at these galaxies gives us insight into the early parts of the universe, because the more distant a galaxy is, the earlier in the universe it’s from. We’re seeing back in time, effectively.

Secondarily, we don’t know much about dark matter. By getting an idea of dark matter substructure by looking at these arcs, we can get insight and test different theories of dark matter. and what its makeup might be. If you learned that 80 percent of all mass in your universe was something that you couldn’t see, and you understood nothing about, I’m sure you would want to figure out something about it too, right? It’s one of the greatest mysteries not just of our generation, but of any generation. I think it will continue to be one of the greatest mysteries of all time.

The third prong of this project is that we can also figure out more about the galaxy cluster itself. The idea of how galaxy clusters form. We can get the mass distribution of this cluster, and by comparing it to things like the brightness of the galaxies in the cluster or their speed, we can get an idea for where the cluster is in its evolution. Clusters weren’t always clusters, it’s the mass that caused them to merge together in these violent collisions to become clusters. If you know the mass distribution which we get by this gravitational lensing, as well as a couple of other things about the galaxies, you can figure out how far along the cluster is in this process.

There’s a big impact morally on humanity by doing this sort of thing, because everybody can get behind it. When everybody looks up and they see that we came up with the first image of a black hole, I think that brings everybody together, and that’s something that everybody can be very interested and want to explore.

Stay tuned for further updates from Massimo Pascale’s exploration of dark matter and the sunburst arc, as well as cool projects from our other UYPP winners!

Behind the Scenes: Production Team

Thursday 5th of August 2021 04:38:58 PM

The Production Team is responsible for making our physical products a reality. In this week’s Spotlight, we talk with our Production Manager and 4th-generation machinist Chris Fielder. Have a look!

Win a $10,000 Thelio Major Workstation!The computer and operating system are the most powerful tools...

Tuesday 3rd of August 2021 07:49:26 PM
Win a $10,000 Thelio Major Workstation!

The computer and operating system are the most powerful tools in existence. The Launch into Learning season encourages STEM and creative professionals like you to hone their craft, learn a new skill, or make something they’re proud to share.

This year, we’re empowering one lucky user with a $10,000 Thelio Major workstation. The complete package includes a Launch keyboard, an MX Master 3 wireless mouse, a 27” 1440p IPS display, and a decked-out Thelio Major.

To enter the giveaway, retweet our contest tweet and read our terms and conditions.

The Launch Keyboard

The Launch configurable keyboard is fully customizable and engineered for comfort and efficiency. Remap your layout in the Keyboard Configurator, swap keycaps and accent colors, use up to four layers, and transfer data at high speeds through the USB hub. By personalizing your workflow, Launch propels users forward at max velocity. That’s max for Maximillion, a measurement equal to one million maximums.

Thelio Major

Thelio Major is a high-end desktop (HEDT) that’s thermally engineered to ensure components perform to their fullest potential. For the Launch into Learning giveaway, one randomly selected winner will receive a system with an AMD Threadripper 3970X processor, 64GB of RAM, 2TB of fast PCIe 4.0 storage, and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 GPU. Thelio Major does not skimp on power. Or beauty.

Retweet this post before September 30th, 2021 to enter System76’s Launch into Learning Twitter giveaway. Good luck!

Jon McDonald: How System76 paves the way for Linux hardware adoption

Friday 23rd of July 2021 06:36:08 PM

System76 has found its footing in an industry largely geared towards Windows users. Jon McDonald, Contributing Editor for web hosting company HostingAdvice, took to the company’s blog to share a deep dive on System76’s success in the world of Linux hardware. He’s joined by Sam Mondlick, VP of Sales at System76.

Check out the article in full for an informative read that offers an industry-focused perspective on the products and strategy that’s led to our success so far.

UYPP: Cameron Nagle’s Starting Small Podcast

Thursday 22nd of July 2021 02:49:58 PM

The System76 Unleash Your Potential Program selected six winners this year to receive a System76 computer to help them pursue their next project. This week we spoke with UYPP winner Cameron Nagle about the Starting Small Podcast, in which he hosts, records, and edits interviews with CEOs from all walks of life.

Tell us about the Starting Small Podcast.

I started Starting Small pre-COVID. When we launched in 2020, my plan was to tell stories of entrepreneurs and their upbringing, education, and the story of their overall brand. I had my first guest Chuck Surack out of Indiana, the CEO of Sweetwater Sound, a music retailer. That set my guests at a pretty high caliber from the start, because Sweetwater Sound is the largest music retailer in the world.

Once COVID struck, I had to figure out a way to interview remotely, and that’s what allowed me to really branch off and connect with these amazing entrepreneurs from across the globe like Reebok, North Face, Cards Against Humanity, and more. And ever since then, the podcast has been going great. My audience—and myself at the same time as a business student—has been able to learn so much from these entrepreneurs. My own personal network has grown exponentially, and I’m connecting with people I normally wouldn’t have been able to connect with without this podcast.

There’s a lot of people here who would be interested in hearing that Cards Against Humanity interview.

Max Tempkin was an amazing guest, a very early guest of mine. He has a really cool story.

Are you looking to move to in-person interviews?

My initial thought was to interview locally because I didn’t really know much about Zoom when I first started the podcast. Originally I was going to keep my interviews to a two-hour radius from my home, but my plan now after having some success interviewing remotely is to continue doing it remotely, as long as I’m still connecting to these executives and they’re open to it. There are some circumstances where I might drive or fly to a guest if the opportunity arises, but remotely it’s been going great and it’s super efficient for both myself and the guest.

What’s your process like for recording and editing the podcast?

For recording, I use my System76 Oryx Pro laptop. I have the guest log in to Zoom on their end and I log in on my end, and I record both sides of the audio. Once that’s recorded, we post-edit the episode and make sure the guest is okay with what they stated and the sound and everything, and then we bring it into our podcast host, which distributes everything to all the platforms. We use Podbean to distribute all of our episodes. We upload the audio and then all the copy that we want the descriptions to say, and then from there we can track all analytics and progress, and how many listens and downloads we’re getting.

What software do you use?

We record in Zoom. For editing we are currently using Pro Tools. Because I’m new to the Oryx Pro I’m still trying to figure out the editing software. After the interview I’ll take the audio and go into Pro Tools, edit, and go back in for distribution.

Is there someone who works on the podcast with you?

We have two other team members on our team. Gabby manages our social media accounts, and Kylie does PR. It’s been an amazing ride so far, and a ton of fun.

Why did you choose the Oryx Pro for this project, and how do you like it so far?

One of my friends actually owned an Oryx Pro, so I’ve used it in the past. What I recall is my own personal laptop that I had was so laggy and not up to speed when I had multiple documents open and different files open.

When I received the Oryx Pro, I was able to do multiple tasks at once, such as having multiple documents open to read for our show notes, having one of our host platforms open, having Zoom open, etc. That allows me to have much more bandwidth on this one laptop than any other laptop that I’ve ever used in the past.

How was the setup process for you?

The setup process was fairly easy. When I powered it on, the instruction walkthrough was pretty self-explanatory. I went into the settings to add a couple custom shortcuts, but other than that the setup of the laptop is very much how it would be if you were to just turn on an Oryx Pro. For someone who just buys their laptop, it’s pretty much ready for them out of the box.

How much experience do you have with Linux?

I don’t have too much experience myself recently before I received the Oryx Pro, but my family did have a mixed desktop growing up. I recall using my brother’s computer, I would play some games on their Linux system back in the day. I am fairly familiar with the software and how Linux runs, but it has been a while. I switched to Apple a few years ago and then switched back.

What’s next for the Starting Small Podcast?

We are working on transforming our podcast from audio-only to incorporating video, in order to hopefully draw in a larger audience that prefers video content. So that is definitely the next step for us. Following from there, we would be very interested in joining a network such as an NPR or other podcast network that acquires shows and be part of that network.

Where can people go to follow the podcast online?

On Instagram we’re @StartingSmallPod, and the same thing for Facebook. For listening to the episodes you can go to almost any streaming platform that hosts podcasts, such as Spotify, Apple podcasts, Pandora, and more.

And where can folks listen to your interview with System76’s own Carl Richell?

Right here!

Carl’s certainly happy with his new Starting Small Podcast notebook!

Stay tuned for further updates from Cameron Nagle’s Starting Small Podcast and cool projects from our other UYPP winners!

System76 Spotlight with Crystal Cooper

Thursday 15th of July 2021 09:20:19 PM

In the previous System76 Spotlight, we interviewed Adam Balla (aka chzbacon), about his journey with Linux and becoming System76’s new Content Producer. Then, we put his content producing to the test, ensuring he could withstand the elements of a noisy factory. A slight drop in decibel detection later, he’s put together the second System76 Spotlight—this one for CNC Machinist Crystal Cooper!

Check out the sparkling footage of the interview! It’s got info. It’s got banter. It’s got…fish? So if you’re fishing for answers, get that popcorn ready and have yourself a view!

Pop!_OS 21.04: A Release of COSMIC Proportions

Tuesday 29th of June 2021 11:23:11 PM

Pop!_OS is developed to help you unleash your potential by providing you efficient tools that streamline your workflow. Pop!_OS 21.04 continues this ethos with COSMIC, a set of catered customizations geared towards accommodating a variety of use cases. Continue below for details on these new features!

COSMIC Workflow

Pop!_OS COSMIC (Computer Operating System Main Interface Components) gives you the freedom to navigate your workflow via your mouse, keyboard, and/or trackpad. Each navigation comes with a variety of shiny new features for you to enjoy:

During initial setup, you’ll be prompted to personalize your defaults by configuring COSMIC customizations to your liking. Each screen of the initial setup offers a preview of what your experience will look like. You can always make adjustments in Settings later on.

Mouse: To Dock or Not To Dock

That is one of many questions. The COSMIC desktop introduces a highly flexible dock to Pop!_OS that you can customize to your heart’s content, including:

  • Expanding full-screen or condensing to a central island
  • Arranging on the bottom, left, or right side of the screen
  • Adjusting size to small, medium, large, or a custom setting
  • Removing new icons for Workspaces, Applications, or the Launcher
  • Hiding the dock, or intelligently hiding the dock when windows approach the bottom of the screen
  • Going dockless, if having icons on-tap doesn’t fit your workflow

Mouse: Take it from the Top…Bar
The most notable change in the top bar is that the Activities Overview has been split into two views: Workspaces and Applications. This focused approach serves to reduce confusion while you navigate your desktop.

Tinker with the top bar to align your desktop with your mental habits. Whether you need a more minimalist setup or want to realign buttons, this update has you covered. New options for the top bar include:

  • Remove the Workspaces and/or Applications button
  • Move Date/Time & Notifications to the top-left or top-right corner
  • Toggle a hot corner to open the Workspaces view by flicking your mouse to the top-left corner of your screen

Keyboard: Super Key to the Rescue!

By default, the Super key opens the launcher in Pop!_OS 21.04. With the launcher, you can:

  • Launch applications
  • Open specific menus in Settings
  • Perform searches on specific websites (ex. google system76)
  • Perform calculations using the prefix: = (ex. =5+7+6)
  • Search recent files using the prefix: d: (ex. d:FileName)
  • Open file folders using one of two prefixes: / or ~/ (ex. ~/FolderName)
  • Run a command using one of three prefixes: t: or : or run (ex. run top)
  • Show launcher features by typing a question mark

It’s now possible to launch a search option in the launcher using Ctrl + Number, close a selected window (Ctrl + Q), and launch an application on dedicated graphics by right-clicking on the application.

If the launcher isn’t an efficient fit for your personal workflow, the Super key can also be configured to open either the Workspaces or Applications view!

Trackpad: Gestures!

A prequel to the tangible holograms of the future, trackpad gestures give your hand full command over your workspace. Here are some swift motions to keep you navigating smoothly:

  • Swipe four fingers right on the trackpad to open the Applications view
  • Swipe four fingers left to open the Workspaces view
  • Swipe four fingers up or down to switch to another workspace
  • Swipe with three fingers to switch between open windows

Additional Features

  • Optional minimize and maximize buttons for windows have been added! Minimize is enabled by default, and maximize can be enabled in Settings.
  • Tile windows with your mouse! Just click and drag tiled windows to rearrange them to your liking. A hint will appear to show you where it will be arranged on drop.
  • The recovery partition can now be upgraded through the OS Upgrade & Recovery menu in Settings!
  • The launcher’s search algorithm has been updated to prioritize relevant applications for a smoother experience.
  • A plugin system was added to the launcher so that you can create your own plugins to search with.

How to upgrade before version 20.10 reaches End of Life in July

Once 20.10 goes EOL next month, you will no longer receive new security updates until your operating system is upgraded to the newest version, 21.04. Though upgrading errors are unlikely, they do happen, so we recommend backing up your files before upgrading as seen in this article.


Before diving into the upgrade, open up Pop!_Shop to the Installed view and perform any outstanding updates. This will ensure a faster and more reliable upgrade.

Open the Settings application to the OS Upgrade & Recovery menu. If you have an update available for your recovery partition, perform this first. Then, click the Download button at the top to download the upgrade. To apply the upgrade, click Upgrade once the download is complete. Once your computer restarts in your sparkling Pop!_OS 21.04 desktop, follow the prompts on-screen to set your preferences with the new COSMIC features. (You can always change these later in Settings.)


Open Terminal from your desktop or with Super + T. To make sure you’re fully updated before upgrading, use the commands below one at a time, pressing Enter after each.

sudo apt update

sudo apt full-upgrade

You’ll be prompted to enter your password, which will be cloaked in invisible ink as you type. This is normal. Once the process is finished, run the following command:

pop-upgrade release upgrade

As your system upgrades, you may be prompted to answer a few yes or no questions. Press Y and then Enter to continue. After about 15 minutes, bam! Upgrade complete.


Back up your files. Then, head to this web page. Click the Download button at the top, then select Download 21.04. If you have or plan to have an NVIDIA GPU in your system, select the NVIDIA download instead. Once Pop!_OS is installed, you’ll encounter a series of prompts for setting up your operating system. Check out this article if you need guidance.

You’ve done it! Play around with all the new features Pop!_OS 21.04 and COSMIC have to offer, and see which configuration works best for you.

Pop!_Chat: The official chat for everything Pop!_OS!

Hosted on Mattermost, the Pop!_Chat is our one-stop shop for everything Pop! Talk with community members and Pop!_OS engineers, discuss ideas, and seek help with software projects. Create an account and join the Pop!_Chat here!

How we Arrived at the Pop!_OS COSMIC Design

Tuesday 29th of June 2021 11:23:03 PM

Pop!_OS 21.04 introduces the COSMIC desktop, which changes the workflow that users have become accustomed to since Pop!_OS first released. With such a considerable alteration, we’d like to walk you through the design decisions that led to the new COSMIC experience, and why we think it improves computing for users and customers.

Guiding Principles

Deliver advanced computing features in easily consumable ways. Auto-tiling in Pop!_OS 20.04 was the first major realization of this principle. Auto-tiling manages the window layout for users rather than users managing all those floating windows themselves. In COSMIC, we eschew a traditional “Start” menu for the launcher. The launcher is a fast and modern way to launch and switch between applications and access operating system features.

Simple and straightforward. We prefer literal design, in that there should be little to no guessing what a button or UI component does; it should say what it is and do what it says. The interface should be easy to describe, and no single component should do too much. Keep components focused on the user’s intended action.

Meaningful customization doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Some people prefer a minimalist setup and navigate their desktop with the keyboard. Some navigate primarily by the mouse, opening applications from a dock or application picker and clicking the system menu to suspend or shutdown. Others love gestures to glide around the interface. These preferences can exist simultaneously without complicating settings to the point of being overwhelming. Careful, considerate design can accommodate them all.

Launching Apps

In previous versions of Pop!_OS, you opened applications by opening the Activities Overview then clicking the app’s icon in the Dash or typing the app’s name and pressing enter. Each time a user opened Activities, all windows zoomed out, and the dash and workspace picker appeared.

Opening three applications involved:

Windows zoom out, open application, windows zoom in. Windows zoom out, open application, windows zoom in. Windows zoom out, open application, windows zoom in.

That’s a lot of zooming out and in. These transitions are heavy for the simple task of opening applications. And give the feeling that the interface is slow, taking the user out of context. In Pop!_OS 21.04, press Super, type the beginning of the app name and press enter, or click the app icon in the dock. No heavy transitions, animations, or context switching. Simple and straightforward.

Switching Between Apps

Switching between applications with Alt+tab is messy. Everyone has experienced the over-tab. Alt+tab tab tab. Dang, I missed it. Tab tab, oh I have two Firefox windows open. It’s painful. In Pop!_OS 21.04, press super and arrow down to switch to the app you want. Pop!_OS will highlight the window so you know you’re in the right place. Or, press Super then type the first few characters of the app you want and press enter. You can jump from your first monitor to your third or to an app three workspaces down. It’s fast and simple.

Oh, but there’s more. Have newer laptop hardware with a nice, large touchpad? Swipe three fingers in the direction of the app you want. You’ll be transported immediately to your intended destination.


We’re pretty skeptical of universal search in operating systems. User testing revealed it’s uncommon to search for files or contacts in the Pop!_OS Activities Overview. We have some hunches as to why.

Mixing apps, files, settings, contacts, and web results in one place clutters the interface and is never quite universal enough to be the starting point for all desktop activities. You might be able to send an email to a contact in a search result, but you can’t start a conversation with them in Slack or Discord. Users end up using the app where the content or person resides. They search the web in a browser, a contact where you want to talk to them, or files in the file browser. The search results are better simply because an app’s results are inherently limited to what the user anticipates finding in the app.

For those reasons we keep default launcher results limited and focused on what the operating system provides: applications to launch or switch to and system features such as suspend, shutdown, logout, settings, and switching graphics modes on supported hardware (type “Switch” to try it).

And while we don’t think showing results from all sources for all queries is a good idea, we can make opening search sources faster. Open the Launcher and type “google system76” and the browser will open with Google’s search results, or type “?” into the Launcher to see more features. We’ll be adding carefully curated tools and improving them over time.


Browsing installed applications is a necessary component of any operating system, especially for new users. As new users become accustomed to the Pop!_OS workflow and the applications they have installed, they may migrate to the more efficient launcher or simply prefer to use the Applications view.

With that in mind, two improvements will arrive after release: One, windows on secondary monitors won’t spread, and two the Application picker will open on whichever monitor has focus. Because the vast majority of our customers use multiple monitors, we’re slowly moving away from the primary/additional monitor concept and toward treating all monitors equally.

We are also discussing ways to make the Applications view more useful, but more research and experimentation is necessary to flesh out possible improvements.


Of all the surprises that show up in user testing, how few people use workspaces was at the top of the list. Many used multiple monitors so spreading out windows to different workspaces wasn’t valuable. For others, their task focus didn’t take them beyond what fit well enough on a single workspace.

Then on the flip side, there were some folks who couldn’t live without workspaces. It’s how they organize their work and thought process. They generally maximized windows and separated them on different workspaces on smaller laptop displays.

We don’t think the fact that fewer people than anticipated use workspaces is a flaw in the concept or implementation of workspaces. Rather, we think it’s simply a need or preference to use them or not. Armed with the evidence, we decided not to put workspaces front and center. They’re easy to access and the buttons to access them can be disabled if they’re not part of the user’s workflow.

In a post-release update, we will add the workspace picker to all monitors when “Workspace Span Displays” is enabled. This is once more an extension of our effort to treat all monitors equally for our multi-monitor loving customers.

More to Come
  • An option to add the Top Bar to all monitors
  • An option to auto-hide the Top Bar
  • Dock and Top Bar transparency
  • Gesture controls in Settings
  • Tiling options in Settings
  • Additional Hot Corner options
  • Horizontal Workspace Picker position options

Developing Games on Linux: An Interview with Little Red Dog Games

Thursday 24th of June 2021 03:02:12 PM

Little Red Dog Games is an indie game developer that primarily uses Godot to create games such as Deep Sixed, Precipice, and their latest game, Rogue State Revolution. To learn more about their experience developing games in Linux, we sat down for an interview with CEO Ryan Hewer and Lead Programmer, Denis Comtesse.

Tell us a little about Little Red Dog Games. How did you come into being as a company?

Ryan: We’ve been around for the better part of a decade now—I’d say maybe 8 years. We’re based out of northern New York, and Denis resides in Germany. We started off as a hobby business making point-and-click adventure games and playing around with various tools that are out there. With every product we said, alright, well what if we take it a little bit further? What if we push ourselves a little bit more? Then we started taking on increasingly ambitious games.

Now we’ve come to the point where we’re not really a hobby business anymore, we’re all full-time developers. We’ve got a studio that has put out four commercial games—and a smattering of other things we won’t admit to. I think we’re one of the larger companies out there that uses the Godot open source software, and we’re definitely one of the larger Linux-focused companies out there.

How long have you been using Linux to develop games?

Ryan: Denis is our lead programmer, and he works within the Linux environment, so it’s kind of a requirement for anything that we do. We have to play nicely with Linux.

Denis: It’s all my fault. Originally the first game was made with Adventure Game Studio, which I believe was still Windows-based, but from 2016 onward we started to use Godot. Since I’ve been a Linux user since about 2008, I just used the tools that I’d always used, and we just went with it.

Linux, and by extension Godot, are not usually the go-to game development platforms. Why did you choose to design your games in this software?

Ryan: We’re not exclusively Linux developers, and working within the Godot system doesn’t come at the expense of other platforms. So for us, because we use Godot for a lot of our products, adapting from Windows to Linux is quite literally like flipping a switch, changing a few parameters here and there; but I would say it’s less than a half-hour’s work to be able to support Linux consumers out there. Linux users represent about 7 percent of our market right now as game developers, which is more than enough to justify the minimal steps needed to be able to make the game compatible for Linux PCs.

Denis: For my case, I’ve always been using Linux. It’s just my favorite operating system. I’m doing all my work in it. I’m also a musician and I’m recording all my music in Linux, and so for me it was just obvious since most game engines support Linux.

On the other hand, I didn’t pick Godot because it has good Linux support—that’s a welcome bonus—but because I really like the workflow of it. I tested a couple of engines, and this was the one I preferred. And since I had already worked with Godot, it was obvious that we would continue using this engine for similar projects.

What do you find are the benefits of Linux game development over more traditional avenues? Why is it your preference?

Denis: I usually encourage everyone to use the tools they like. Of course in a game development team we have to agree on certain things like which game engine we use. But other than that, some people use Linux, and some people use Windows on our team. Everyone just uses what they like to use within the limitations of the project. We’re not forcing anyone to work in an operating system they don’t like.

What additional challenges are present when designing in Linux?

Denis: Most of the work is translatable unless you need certain tools that aren’t available on Linux. Sometimes you have to use workarounds, but with compatibility layouts like WINE and all the possibilities that allow you to run Windows software on Linux quite easily now, I haven’t run into any problems. As a Linux user for many years, I know how to approach these things. I’ve mostly used open source software even before I switched to Linux, so the switch wasn’t difficult for me.

What do you think the future of Linux gaming looks like?

Ryan: Right now there exists very little pressure or incentive pushing game developers, practically speaking, into developing for Linux. It’s more of a spillover benefit of trying to work with new and diverse tools. Godot’s market share is slowly growing within the realm of non-traditional engines. And it’s inevitable that with that, with an increasing number of developers that are adopting Godot as an engine, you’re going to see more Linux games coming out into the market. There’s no reason not to. It would be a huge oversight for any developer to not be putting out packages for that 7 percent demographic, and it’s painless within Godot to do that. I think just for that reason you’re going to see more content.

We will say that our Linux users are often very grateful for all of our products that come out in the Linux environment, and they can be some of your biggest cheerleaders. I would encourage developers to pay attention to these overlooked markets, just because that kind of publicity can go a very long way.

Denis: The only thing that any developer has to be aware of is that as soon as you release something for Linux, you have to do support for Linux. For us it’s easy. If the lead programmer is already working in Linux, then it’s no problem. Every build is tested in Linux by default because I’m using it every day, but for other developers it’s definitely something to consider because you need someone who knows Linux and knows how it works to be able to provide support. Godot was very easy to work with in that regard, and I don’t think we had any Linux-specific bug reports, have we?

Ryan: No. Actually it’s the opposite. Historically when it comes to development we always get issues in Windows, and then the response back is, well we’re not seeing that on the Linux build at all. And that’s nice—unless you’re us, in which case that’s just frustrating and awful. But I would say that usually the Linux builds have fewer stability issues. I would encourage developers to generally use a mix of OSes in their pipeline really early on in development, because you can catch some real weird behavior that way before it’s too late. We’ve definitely caught some issues when it comes to file naming for the Linux environment, for example, and that sometimes things that would be acceptable in Windows are not acceptable in Linux and vice versa.

Do you game on Linux? If so, any favorites?

Denis: I game almost exclusively on Linux because it’s getting easier. A couple of years ago, I occasionally had to use WINE to run Linux games when I had to run Windows games on Linux, which is getting more and more reliable. It works surprisingly well, and now with Steam Play it’s getting even easier. Most of the time the game just runs out of the box. It surprises me, I usually don’t even check to see if a game has Linux support when I buy it, just because even if it doesn’t, I can usually get it to run.

As for favorite games, I’m not playing enough, to be honest. I play strategy games and adventure games, and the most recent title that had native Linux support that I played was Beyond a Steel Sky. I like that one.

How does that experience compare to gaming on Windows for you?

Denis: I rarely play on Windows. Only in the very rare case where a game just won’t run, and that hasn’t happened in a while. Most stores come with their own launchers, and installing a game is just a couple of mouse clicks, so for me it’s not any different.

What’s next for Little Red Dog Games?

Ryan: Oh, man. The things I could tell you. We’ve started work on what is our largest and most ambitious project ever, and I don’t like saying the word magnum opus because I say it too much, but this really does qualify. This is a big one. Our team has grown rapidly over the past year or so, and we’re going to be experiencing growth for the next year or so after that. The next game will be stunningly gorgeous.

Denis: No pressure.

UYPP: Ben Ruel’s Garage Garden

Thursday 10th of June 2021 01:57:08 PM

Back in March, we announced the winners for our Unleash Your Potential Program, in which six participants got to configure their own System76 computer to use for their awesome projects. This first awesome project is the Garage Garden, helmed by awesome project-er, engineer, and mighty green thumb Ben Ruel. We sat down with Ben to see how his project has been growing on the Meerkat.

Can you tell us about the Garage Garden project? What’s it all about?

I spent a career with the Coast Guard and came up here—my final tour with the Coast Guard was in Juneau. Being in southeast Alaska, we’re constrained with what they call off-the-road systems, and the only way in or out of town is by boat or by plane. So all of our food comes up here by barge for a small nominal fee, or by aircraft for an incredibly large fee.

When I came up to Juneau with my wife and kids 11 years ago, we noticed that by the time our produce gets up here, it’s lived on a barge a week, two weeks out of Seattle, and you have no shelf life left on them. We started trying to grow food within the first year of getting here, and we came to the conclusion pretty quickly that with 300 days plus of rain every year, outdoor growing wasn’t really a viable option. That’s when we started a hobby farm in a garage growing some stuff in soil under fluorescent lights, as odd as that sounds.

Since then, we’ve progressed into hydroponics, but we’ve done it very manually. We go out every other day and take readings by hand, so I’ve been doing some research about building IOT devices that will talk back and automate some of the readings. My dream would be using it to actually control the concentration of nutrient solutions that we use. The overall goal is we’re going to build the hydroponic monitoring network of IOT devices, and use the Meerkat as a control center for the devices and a repository for all the data. We’ve also been doing some investigating behind the scenes into whether or not it could grow enough legs to become a business.

Is there a specific type of produce that you’re starting with?

We’ve been all over the road. Right now we’ve got lettuce. We’ve always got some kind of green leafy vegetables whether it’s any variety of lettuce that will grow hydro, some bok choy and tatsoi, and we’re growing kale like it’s going out of style. We’ve grown cucumbers to the point where I think I’ve harvested 65 pounds of cucumbers off of 4 plants over the last couple of months, but we’re really constrained by our size.

I live in a relatively small 3-bedroom house, and we’re just using a one-and-a-half car garage as our grow area. Right now I’ve got two tents. As funny as it sounds, cannabis is legal in Alaska and has been forever—my wife and I don’t touch the stuff, but because it’s been legalized, the infrastructure and the supplies that we need are freely available. We’re growing tomatoes in a tent that’s designed for marijuana growth. It works really well. It helps to maintain efficient temperature control; you can maintain temperature and humidity, block out extraneous light if you don’t want it, and cycle the lights on and off.

Depending on whether it’s too hot in the summer we’ll run the lights at night, and in the wintertime we’re looking for extra warmth, we can shift the cycle and run the lights during the day. Our big benefit up here is that, because Juneau’s all on hydroelectric power, electricity is really cheap.

What variables are being monitored?

With hydroponics, there’s a good number of parameters that you’ve got to try and keep track of. You’re basically diluting nutrients in a solution of as pure water as you can get. You want to keep track of things—your pH can’t be too acidic or too alkaline, for example.

The other big parameter is the electrical conductivity, or total dissolved solids. You want to make sure you’ve got the right concentration of nutrients, and that your nutrient solution isn’t salting up. As you’re adjusting pH back and forth, it’ll start demineralizing salt, so tracking that data gives you a good indication for when it’s time to dump the reservoir and start over.

We’re doing it manually now. I go out every couple of days and we take samples, and sit down and log it into a spreadsheet. The Meerkat acts as a control center for programming devices, keeping a repository of the programming for the IOT devices that we’re using (Arduinos with the esp8266 chips) as well as running different database programs as Docker containers, so that they can be spun up and knocked down fast enough as we try and figure out what the best way to move forward is. We’ve got a couple of database servers that I’ve been playing around with, trying to break from traditional SQL and looking at NoSQL type of databases.

I’m not an IT guy by trade. I’m more of an electronics guy, so I’m kind of doing it as a study-by-night type of project.

What has your experience been like with the Meerkat so far?

I’m actually completely blown away by the Meerkat’s performance. It’s astounding what that small form factor and footprint is able to do. I’ve used Linux for a number of years, and basically everybody’s heard of System76. I’ve seen Pop!_OS before and never really played with it all that much, but I’ve actually grown to love it. The feel, the ergonomics, the interface, and even down to the color schemes that come bone-stock right out of the box. They just make more sense to me. I’m looking forward to the COSMIC update after researching that to see how the differences in the workflow will affect things.

What software are you using for this project?

Right now we’re writing in Docker containers and running the Tick Stack from Influx. We’re also running Telegraf, Protograph, Capacitor, playing around with the Time Series Database, I’ve got a container running MongoDB I run with SQLite, and there’s a couple different IDEs I’ve got loaded on there as well for programming Arduinos or esp8266 chip flashing.

How was the setup process for the machine?

It was up and running within 10–15 minutes of pulling it out of the box. I actually took it to work, too. We do a lot of work with government agencies, and I’ve been doing a lot of microwave radio repair. I’ve got a pretty small workbench at our shop here in Juneau, so using the Meerkat to drive all of our test equipment to control the radio while logging data coming out of the radio, it was perfect. It had enough horsepower to remotely control the test equipment. I wasn’t pushing it all that hard, but setting it up and going back and forth between having it at home or at work, it was negligible to get it up and running.

Stay tuned for further updates from Ben Ruel’s Garage Garden and cool projects from our other UYPP winners!

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