Category Archives: Arch Linux Forums

Lowarch and archlinux-i586

Don’t look now, but if you have an i586 machine (particularly an old one), you might be able to make a little progress in returning your machine to the fray. proc on the Arch forums has taken the initiative to recast the Lowarch project, and described some success in creating current packages tuned to that architecture.

If we’re lucky (because I too am in the same boat), that could mean a proper revision of Arch for i586s, for the first time since around late 2006. And considering that some of these old machines are becoming hard to find, it might be an opportunity to put your antique back on the front line again.

Of course first, you’ll have to scrape that centimeter of dust off the case. :twisted:

The rebirth of the uncool

The simple fact is this: All too often, in today’s world, mediocrity masquerades as quality.

Let me rephrase that: We allow ourselves to sacrifice quality based on popular representation. Things that look cool — or sound exciting, or are marketed well — take the place of things that are truly well done, or well made, or well created.

I’m not sure what it is about human behavior that allows us to make that mistake. But I am unable to count the number of people I know who are motivated to buy something, or use something, or play something — and not because it’s high quality, but because the allure of the item or the marketing around it entices them.

Case to the contrary: This screenshot.

That is probably the least-sexy screenshot since … oh, I don’t know. Probably since 1988 or so. I know 8-bit computer games that had more graphic flair and visual appeal than that picture right there. Heck, come to think of it, the weak-sauce games I wrote for high school computer class (a long time ago, thank you … and I always got high marks in computer class) had more shazam than that. That’s just plain … dull.

But I can tell you this: I have not seen, played, or even heard of a game with more intricacy, complexity, control or gratification than Dwarf Fortress in decades.

I’m not a hard-core gamer; I’ve mentioned that repeatedly here. I don’t spend much time playing games, usually because I’m engrossed with resurrecting old hardware and getting it out the door again. I don’t play WoW, I don’t follow the gaming industry. Most of the hardware I own can’t even handle Neverball. I do play games, from time to time, but they rank low on my list … somewhere near watching TV or online chat.

But Dwarf Fortress is posing a serious challenge in the battle for my free time. I was almost late putting together that desktop machine I gave away yesterday, because I was too busy orchestrating the innermost structure of my dwarven expedition — designing the underground halls and defenses, directing the construction, managing the workforce and labor teams, providing workshops and recreation areas, rationing for the coming winter seasons, converting raw materials into marketable goods. … Everything.

Sexy it is not. Beautiful it is not. Graphically appealing it is not. It will run on slow, slow machines and that’s actually a bad thing, because it means you don’t have the excuse of claiming your hardware can’t do it.* It’s blocky, chunky, stodgy — even primitive in some ways. And I guarantee that if you break the seal on this one you will not put it down for a week or more. After ten minutes, you won’t care what it looks like.

In a world where all too many games, all too many movies, all too much technology and all too much music is exceptionally poor quality, but sold with a thick veneer of quasi-cool on it, Dwarf Fortress is a complete antithesis. It’s uncool, but I can guarantee that taking even just a moment to try it will hook you.

So make sure that moment isn’t the night before a job interview, or your wedding, or a meeting with your boss. Try it out, but give yourself lots of free time. Transoceanic flight? Good time for Dwarf Fortress. Twenty minutes before picking up the kids from school? Bad time for Dwarf Fortress.

I have no better way of explaining it except to say that high-end, flashy professional games make are … dwarfed by this one. (LOL, a pun. :D ) This one has detail, control, plot, challenge, complexity, strategy — it’s just an all-around good game. For once, quality is obvious, and appearances be damned.

They say you either got it or you don’t. This one definitely does.

P.S.: Thanks — or maybe “thanks a lot, pal” — to Bionic Apple for mentioning it on the Arch forums.

*Disclaimer: It actually requires some 3D acceleration so you might not be able to run it on a 100Mhz laptop. However, I’m using an 8-year-old Pentium III with an Nvidia card in it, and it’s running fine.

Dark days

It figures that the day after a week-long winter holiday, I end up with mysterious network failures on my Thinkpad. It’s running Arch right now, and about two minutes after the first startup, the wireless network dropped, and there’s no sign of the outside world.

I have two other machines that run wireless and I’m sure it’s not the network that’s at fault. That is the only one running Arch though, and the fact that it is failing is all the more disappointing. In general, that’s the one I use to manage my daily tasks, manage my e-mail, hold my music collection, watch movies, track my desktop wiki … and yes, it’s only a 550Mhz Celeron.

My fear is that it might be something hardware-related. I didn’t update any core software in the past few days. Looking at /var/log/pacman.log I can see that I synced with the repositories yesterday, but didn’t upgrade. Technically, nothing has changed.

But I’ve tried two different PCMCIA wireless cards — a Buffalo WLI-PCM-L11 that uses the prism module, and a Linksys WPC11 v3 that uses orinoco-cs — and both of them behave erratically.

The Linksys is worse, but that’s the one that was working fine up until this morning. When that one is inserted, I get wacky keyboard behavior like sticking keypresses, one- and two-second-long lags on typing. dmesg is littered with “CMDMODE_ACCESS failed” messages. It’s almost like working with Windows.

I booted to the 2008-06 core CD and tried there, and things were better, but not perfect. No keyboard misbehavior and the Buffalo card would insert and work properly, but the Linksys card is still tetchy. Neither one will associate with my network. I don’t manage my modules or rearrange any boot scripts, mostly because I want Arch to do it all by itself on this machine. So I am fairly certain that my mismanagement hasn’t fouled this up.

The strange thing is (and perhaps this is just my memory that’s failing) I know that this has happened to me in the past — both times running Arch on a wireless machine. I’ll have to scrape this site and see if I can find the reason, but I could swear that this machine and my OLPC were both knocked offline about six months ago, and I never resolved it.

But on the whole this is rather problematic. If it were a software issue, I’d think I’d be able to access the network from the live CD. If it were a card problem, I’d think one of them would work. But what’s scaring me now is the thought that the PCMCIA socket hardware in this machine, which I love dearly, might be at fault. :(

Edit, 2009-01-07: Well, now it appears to be okay. Whatever difficulty I was having has disappeared, and I haven’t the slightest clue why. Maybe something was interfering with the system. Like gremlins. I’m keeping an eye on this one though. I haven’t quit chasing it yet.

Banquo’s ghost: Lowarch 0.1.1 ISO and torrent

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and since the Lowarch web site has gone offline (presumably the account expired), I’ve taken it upon myself to post my remaining copy of the 0.1.1 ISO online, both as a direct download and as a torrent on LinuxTracker.

Lowarch, in case you don’t know what that is, was an i586 recompile of Arch Linux, and did amazing things for pre-i686 machines. Short of compiling it all yourself, it’s hard to find a faster, more impressive tool for recovering K6-series or similar hardware.

Unfortunately, the “developer” behind Lowarch abandoned the project, the web site fell unattended, and around the last day of 2008, the home page began to show an account closure message. That’s how it goes, when a distro finally dies.

But Banquo’s ghost is still hanging around, since I still have an ISO for it, and I’m sure there are others out there. And given that it’s possible to use third-party repositories to bring a Lowarch system up to date, it’s not worth throwing the whole business away.

This is the first time I’ve ever made a torrent, so I’m not sure how well it will work. LinuxTracker seems happy though, and with any luck it should be fine. As a guide I used this ancient “how-to” on, although I used mktorrent out of the Crux repositories, rather than CreateTorrent or MakeTorrent. The ideas are the same, and it appears to have succeeded.

If you have a little bandwidth, and you don’t mind keeping Lowarch alive for a little while longer, download the torrent and let’s see if it works as expected. Who knows, maybe we’ll be helping out someone with an old Pentium system. … :roll:

Lowering the bar

I don’t know what it is about my character that enjoys making things more difficult for myself, but I’m presently rebuilding Xorg off the Crux 2.5 rc1 CD, again. But this time it’s for the ancient laptop, with the added dilemma of using the old, original 810Mb hard drive.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t worry about the size of the drive, but it became rather obvious very early on that this was going to be an interesting complication.

First of all, if I partition the drive with the 64Mb slice I usually devote to /boot, plus a 256Mb swap partition, then I’m left with only 490Mb of free space — and that’s not really enough to hold the system files.

Part of that problem is because Crux drops in the uncompiled 2.6.27-series kernel, uncompressing it in a giant tree that, along with the fresh packages, takes up a considerable amount of space. Technically the Crux installer ends with errors when I try that stunt, because there’s not not enough space for everything.

So I trimmed down the swap space to 128Mb and reallocated the /boot partition to the main root, which should, in a manner of speaking, give back that space to the main directory. So I have a whopping 682Mb available for fun and profit (provided of course, that I also reduce the root-reserved space to zero percent when I format the drive — mkfs.ext2 -m 0 /dev/hdc1).

Well, that’s still not enough, so I’ve been getting creative.

I’m piggybacking the modular drive into the Inspiron, but only after removing the cushioning pads from the drive tray, because as I mentioned before, the drive is slightly taller than a standard laptop hard drive. No real inconvenience, although now the drive heads smack against the frame from time to time, reverberating through the drive case into the plastic shell, which means the left palmrest of my Inspiron occasionally makes an echoing CLACK-CLACK-CLACK sound. Rather amusing really, once I got used to it. :lol:

I also managed to circumvent my drive-password issues by entering the BIOS and acknowledging the settings that were there already before proceeding with a boot. It seems to be okay; I’m no longer harassed about a boot password for that drive, and that’s good.

(Rather than mirror the drive to a file I decided to just blank it and move on — I have little use for a Japanese installation of Windows 95 that has no network access. If I want that, I’ll just install IceWM and dummy up the environment to look like Win95. And yank the network card, just to complete the picture. :roll: )

I started the installation process and let the kernel decompression crap out, then chrooted into the system and mounted the system drive I already had in there to the /usr/src directory. Then I downloaded the current kernel from, then moved it to /usr/src and decompressed it. Then, as an added inconvenience, I downloaded the 2.4 ISO and mounted that too — since gcc won’t work for me off the 2.5 CD — and compiled the kernel.

Whew! But it’s not over.

Everything went fine, because it’s doing all it’s compiling and compressing and whatnot through to the main system drive. But the next problem is that all of the software has to be recompiled for i586 (or --march=pentium, technically) or most of it won’t run, so I issued a papal bull with prt-get listinst | xargs prt-get update --margs="-f" and let it run overnight.

But the problem this morning, of course, is that larger compilations — like glibc, perl and python — don’t have enough space either.

Boy oh boy, if it’s not one thing, it’s another isn’t it?

All right: Problem, we solve it. I copied out the .config I made for the kernel, since that’s the most crucial part, and dismounted the /usr/src directory. Technically I was done with that.

Then I moved the entire updated ports tree from /usr/ports to a thumb drive so I would have a backup copy, and emptied the /usr/ports directory. Then I remounted the system drive to /usr/ports and replaced everything there.

Is any of this making any sense?

Anyway, it is working again, with the larger packages compiling properly — and probably more quickly, although only by a fraction since the drive can read and write faster than the old, old one. Once they’re built, they install automatically back to the 810Mb drive since the path and tree are still within the chrooted environment.

And with any luck, in about eight hours, I’ll have a working desktop for my FMV-5100 again.

Or at least, that’s the plan. And no doubt there’s something I’ve overlooked or misconfigured, which will hamstring the entire system and force me to start over from scratch.

And that, of course, will be because the entire time, I’ve been typing with my fingers crossed. Superstitious? Yes … how did you know? :mrgreen:

Arch repositories for i586

I’m not sure exactly how or when I’ll get a chance to try this, but I found this repository this morning on the Arch forums and I desperately want to see how well it works.

I’ve been hunting for a way to put Arch on an i586 that doesn’t involve a full system recompilation and that might just be the ticket. My plan right now is to shuffle between the old Lowarch ISO from two years ago, which is still downloadable from here, add that repository and see what happens.

If the test machine doesn’t erupt in a pillar of fire, I’ll call it a success. If you get a chance before me, let me know how it goes.

Gather round, gather round

The biannual discussion of stable releases for Arch Linux has begun again.

Yup, every now and again, Arch users come together from all over the planet to have a little love-fest and decide whether everybody’s favorite speed-freak-centric rolling-release distro should have stable snapshots.

There’s a lot of foofoorah, a lot of chest-pounding, some people threaten to leave Arch, some people threaten to fork Arch, some people offer to help do it, and then a major holiday appears and the whole thing evaporates. At least, that’s what usually happens.

Oh wait, you mean that was a zombie thread? A necromancing poster? Argh! :|

Oh well, at least the timing is right. Halloween is right around the corner.

So I tell myself, just don’t update

I’m not any closer to tracking down the network issue that hamstrung my Thinkpad the other day, and since I needed it to run Crux for work this week, it made little difference either way.

Now that I can return it to its normal duties, I had hoped whatever bug had bit me would have been squashed, but it didn’t work out that way. The newest kernel and the newest dhcpcd, freshly installed via FTP, just didn’t want to give me any love. I tried the SACK and DSACK tricks on the Arch Linux forums, but still no luck.

So I decided rather than continue to flop around without a network connection, like fish without water, I’d just install from the core CD and not update.

It’s working fine, of course. I’m running the 2.6.25 kernel that was installed off the Overlord core ISO and the 3-something version of dhcpcd, and while I synced with the repositories with pacman -Sy, I haven’t added the -u flag to that to trigger a systemwide update. I could, I suppose, tell pacman to ignore both the kernel and dhcpcd and do that systemwide update anyway, but I’m still not confident where the issue lies, and so I’m not keen on smashing a system by installing the mystery package that eludes me. Call me shy

So anyway, until I can be sure where the problem lies, and how to fix it, I can run without a full upgrade. No ground lost, everything is still Arch-fast and working fine.

Openbox, the one-way window manager

This thread mostly speaks for itself — Has anyone ever been able to leave Openbox for good?

I can concur with the poster’s thoughts. No matter what window manager I use, I always end up rearranging it to make it closer to my Openbox setups. XFCE? Needs to be less pudgy around the corners, and needs an easier right-click menu. IceWM? Looks better without the taskbar, and IceWM-lite is just about right. Fluxbox? Too … Fluxboxy.

And really, how do you resist screenshots like these?

On the other hand, there are a few people who claim to have left OB for tiling window managers. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of them, but it’s hard to be sure some times. The screenshot arena sometimes tempts me. … :|

That rollercoaster sensation

My first obstacle I ever faced in Linux was, like many people, a hamstrung wireless connection. And so even now, when my wireless connections falter — like they did this morning, after an update on my Thinkpad running Arch Linux — I get this stomach-dropping sensation, kind of like riding in the last car on a rollercoaster, as it makes the crest into a downhill sweep.

This time the culprit may or not have been dhcpcd, which jumped from 3-point-something to 4-point-something, and seems to be triggering errors when I ask for an address. What’s also curious though, is that I also have some module errors that appear on boot — firmware_class is kicked back with a fatal error message. Boot continues, but that’s not something that was happening a few days ago, and there was a kernel update too.

For now my troubleshooting sequence will be to install a clean and pure Arch system across FTP and see if those packages are just plain not happy, or if it was something I mismanaged in my old installation. From there I’ll try to track down similar cases on the forums, and maybe file a bug report. If experience is any indicator though, the problem is something I’ve done to my own system.

Edit: A clean installation with all-around default values erases the module error, but doesn’t help me get an IP address with dhcpcd. I’ve taken a look at this thread and some others like it, but so far, no luck.

Edit No. 2: Downgrading to 3-point-something doesn’t seem to solve it either. Perhaps this is something in the kernel, instead of in dhcpcd … ?