Category Archives: Arch Linux

Obvious cousins: ethstatus, pppstatus, slurm

I have promised I would never let this blog devolve into a “cli-app-a-day” kind of website, and I really want to stick to my guns on that one.

But putting together that wiki — which is done now, and which I intend to be a sort of memory aid for software I’ve looked at or tried — has underscored one point: It’s not for a lack of material.

There is a hurricane-sized swirl of console-oriented software out there, and the sheer magnitude of it all can be dizzying. One good, popular application might list two or three lesser-known ones as influences.

Or a home page might cite other projects as counter to the developer’s goals — which could mean there are another two or three out there that do the same thing, just a little differently.

And so with every discovery I anticipate finding one, sometimes two new ones. If I’m lucky, I’ve already seen it. If not, I dutifully add it to my list, sigh deeply, and check the calendar for the next day off I have.

I make it sound terrible, but it’s not. It’s fun. And sometimes I am honestly surprised. For example, I’ve known for years about slurm.

slurm is fun to watch and sufficiently useful that I usually keep it installed. It’s not cumbersome, has a sprinkling of options and you can tweak the colors a little. I don’t ask for much more than that.

What I didn’t know until yesterday though, was slurm’s intent to port a little application called pppstatus to FreeBSD.

I learned that while digging through for slurm’s original home page. In turn, a quick glance at pppstatus reveals that it morphed again into something called ethstatus.

And ethstatus — surprise, surprise — bears a resemblance to slurm. It’s a bit droll if you ask me, and slurm does things ethstatus doesn’t, but it’s obvious that they’re cousins.

So there, in a nutshell, is the issue: Look at one, hear about two more. Pick up one, and two more are hiding underneath.

That might suggest to you Pirsig‘s difficulties with hypotheses: More than one exists to explain a phenomenon, and satisfying one only yields more.

Personally though, it reminds me of coat hangers. They’re always tangled up in threes and fours when you pull them out of the closet. :|

Nice browser, but that name …

In case you were wondering, I am still poking around with the homeless but familiar K6-2 that I took home last week. I don’t have much to report in that arena, save a few small discoveries that are worth sharing.

To date, Debian and ConnochaetOS (the i586 rehash of Arch Linux) have been the most promising contenders. That laptop is a true 586, which narrows the field slightly in terms of distros that will work with it.

And of course, running at 450Mhz means the field narrows even further, since the median-ground applications suddenly become sluggish and lethargic.

This is the machine that played back Flash videos from YouTube through Firefox in Crux 2.5 though, so it’s not impossible. Just tricky. :twisted:

But there is more than one way to skin a cat, or surf the web at 450Mhz. ConnochaetOS comes with a couple of unusual alternatives, including a very simple and straightforward graphical browser with a … terrible name.

That’s xxxterm, and before you go all wide-eyed and start thinking this application is intended to appeal to your biological urges, I can assure you it’s very legit. (Unless you tell it to do otherwise.)

It’s exceedingly simple, with only fundamental controls, tabbed browsing and a trusty right-click menu as an option. It has Java support, a download manager, a browsing history, and for all the vi freak-a-deaks out there, vim-like controls.

(I have to be honest here: I use vim on a daily basis, and short of the oddball-but-necessary colon-prefixed commands, I stick with the arrow keys. I know, I’m a heretic.)

Speedwise, xxxterm (which really should think about a contest to find a new name) opens infinitely faster than Firefox on the same machine, renders … at an acceptable pace, and doesn’t take up too much space.

It’s not going to thrill you with extensions and multimedia sockets and triple-buffered AJAX doodads in support of the latest thingamajig on Friendspace or Twitterbook or iTuneface or whatever. It’s just a step above that Python browser script.

But it does a good job of getting around the Web without dragging its feet. And if you’re surfing at 450Mhz, you’re probably content with that. ;)

Edit: Oops, the picture didn’t quite work right. Reuploaded. ;)

Relatively frilly, relatively sparse: tload

Here’s one you might not have known you had: tload.

That’s it lurking in the upper left corner, with the simple display of hyphens and asterisks. Not very fancy, but most of the best tools are clean and simple.

You get a graphical display of the system load, customizable only to a tiny degree, and not much compared to what some other system monitors will give you.

But the nice thing is, it seems to be quite common. I’ve checked both Debian and Arch now, and both of them (apparently) have it by default.

So if you’re like me, and you understand load averages but find them quite dull, tload is a little more interesting to look at. Not much, but a little. :)

Veggies are good for you: beets

I’ve moaned and whined more than enough about the apparent lack of a pretty, frilly music tag editor for the console. I am sure everyone is rightly sick of it.

So I promise not to repeat that bored old tune when I mention beets.

Very nifty, really. Scans your library and checks online resources for proximity to posted albums, then adjusts the titles to match.

Multicolor, handles special characters and seems to have a grasp of what’s in a collection. I’m still exploring it, but it looks like a neat tool. I could get to like this. :)

P.S.: Thanks, aperson. :)

A monospace font beauty pageant

I got a note the other day from Sam Block about the Tamsyn font, which is a beautiful little arrangement in a nice array of small point sizes.

Tamsyn’s only shortcoming, and one that Sam pointed out, is that it lacks a lot of the line drawing characters that make things like mc fun to look at. Without them … it’s interesting, to say the least.

Looking at that brings up a couple of other fonts that should get attention. Here’s erusfont, which only has two sizes in Arch but is remarkably clear, even at the smallest.

Personally, I’m a strict Terminus fan.

That, to me, is perfect. Of course, the hard part about fonts is that these days, most are intended for use on a graphical desktop. So short of converting them (somehow), most are trapped under Xorg.

For example, here’s Dina.

Very clean and upright. Dina is cute, but I can’t seem to find a font file that will open in a pure framebuffer terminal session. Of course, there are ways around that.

Here’s another one: GohuFont.

Also clean and straight. This next one is ugly as sin to me: FixedSys.

I don’t see the appeal there, unless I’m looking for something as homage to first-generation MacIntoshes. Here’s Monte Carlo though, which is quite nice.

I could learn to love that. This last one comes in about a thousand different flavors and arrangements: Proggy.

That’s just one of the several thousand that you get in Arch when you ask for the one. It’s like a free buffet.

There are some other fonts that are interesting, if you’re working in a text-only arrangement. Inconsolata is quite attractive, the downside for me being the fact that it seems to be unworkable in a terminal. And I get some smearing here and there.

But I think I’ll stick with Terminus for now. If Tamsyn picks up line-drawing characters I might jump ship, but for now this is the best for me. ;)

A heaping helping of Linux games

I said once, if you want toast, you buy a toaster. The context was playing Microsoft-published games, which makes the toaster something in the XBox line.

By extension it makes sense to say if you want PC games you get a PC, and if you want Linux games, you get Linux.

It must be my recent addiction to Icewind Dale (ironically, a Windows-based game I was playing in Wine :roll: ) but I had a hankering today to play some Linux-based ones.

Rather than sift through AUR for the umpteenth time, I scouted out the LinuX-Gamers Live DVD. And was quite pleased.

I don’t have any screenshots to show that the home page or DistroWatch or any of a number of third-party sites can show, but I will vouch for a smooth run and clean performance.

It’s Arch-driven, which means its i686-only, but if you’re going to run a DVD of high-end Linux games, you’re probably not going to do it on a Pentium Pro. (I did it on this.)

And the game selection? Full and frothy, in the “big” version. Short of the few games that my pitiable graphics card just couldn’t manage, I got more than my share of action.

Personally, rather than write out a DVD and suffer sluggish stops-and-starts, I wrote the ISO straight to an external drive with dd, and booted from an external enclosure. Performance? Magnificent.

Best of all, I got a taste of a few games I hadn’t seen yet — the demo for Osmos, for one, was particularly innovative, and Widelands I barely remember trying a very long time ago.

Either way, I suggest it for your high end machine, to keep you entertained while you wait for your old one to … to do something. ;) Enjoy.

Note to self: Grub2 at 800×600

I made the jump to Squeeze on this laptop with a minimum of problems. In fact, the only real issue of note was the shift to Grub2, which always confounds me.

So I can figure this out with less effort in the future, Grub2’s configurations in Debian are at /etc/default/grub. Adjusting this line to read


and adding this line


gave me proper screen dimensions all the way through the boot process. Instead of snapping back at the end. :evil: Why would that be necessary? I can only wonder.

Actually enforcing those options will require

grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

Until then, Grub just flaps its lips at you. But once that’s done, it works fine.

Surprising credit line of the day: Thanks to the Arch wiki, which had the information up front and easy to find. Cheers.

Classic RPGs, thanks to gog and wine

I’m happier than a pig in mud today, after getting copies of three of my favorite games off, and finding that they all work flawlessly in Arch Linux and wine.

I’ve mentioned my unnatural affection for Neverwinter Nights, and I have an original boxed copy of the Platinum edition. I even “maintain” (if I can call it that) a quick step-through for a script that installs it.

The Baldur’s Gate series though, is probably the strongest true role-playing game ever written (in my humble and slightly biased opinion), and I’m afraid my experiences with most “modern” RPGs still don’t stand up to that one.

It’s the Icewind Dale pair that I’m really thrilled about now though.’s installer works perfectly in wine, and both of those games run in fullscreen at their best resolution, without a hitch.

Thus far, of course. For me to playtest the entire game would take … a very long time. I am willing to do it though, if the public demands it. :D

Neverwinter Nights in wine seems to be an unnecessary redundancy, but if you want the shortest route to getting it to work, that might be the solution though.

I have tried the aforementioned script in Arch, and got nothing, and I’ve tried the PKGBUILD from AUR and got nothing. In wine it works like a champ.

With a few small shortcomings. For one thing, as you can see, IceWM leaves its taskbar onscreen while the game is running, which makes it look like the root window is the game.

The easy and obvious way to fix that, without any Googling or terrifying text file editing, is just to set TaskBarAutoHide to 1 in .icewm/preferences, and restart IceWM from the program menu.

Not the most graceful fix, but it solves the problem in a jiffy.

Graphics are good, but I get a wicked slowdown during automated cutscenes or while there are heavy graphic effects underway. I expect that though, since it’s effectively translating the graphics between the two systems.

And it would probably disappear if I would use the established Linux client, rather than running the Windows version through wine. Wine is not an emulator, you know.

I have already found a few pages that give hints on how to make that work; if I can reliably get it going properly, I’ll explain how.

But for now I’m a little obsessed with a few of the games I have enjoyed off and on over the past decade or so. Behind on the times? Yes, I am.

But it’s either that or continue to tinker with Pentium laptops. What’s worse, 10-year-old games or 15-year-old computers? :mrgreen:

Lightweight editors: One audio, one video

I still have a few low-profile graphical applications stacked up, found during some of my distro-surfing late last year. Both are audio-video editors, which are only vaguely useful to me.

It’s true I do, on occasion, have use for an audio editor. It’s rare, but probably once a year it comes in handy.

On the other hand, I have needed a video editor … let’s see, let me think about it … okay, I’ve got it: never in my entire life. ;)

So my opinions on these two are relatively uneducated. Take them for what they are worth; my interest in them is that they appear to run lighter than some other options.

Here’s mhwaveedit:


I’ve been through audio editors from as far back as my Windows 98 days, and I really can’t give much more than opinion than the superficial.

This is arranged neatly, it’s fairly easy to figure out, and it seems to have enough options to make it useful. I have most of the common codecs installed on this Arch system, so opening and editing a file was a piece of cake.

I also like the right-side sliders, to control the axis and range of the sound diagram, and the playback speed. It has a few other straightforward tools.

I know there are bigger, heavier suites out there — and not just for Linux. So the audiophiles in the audience may find mhwaveedit less than complete.

On the other hand, if you just need to trim out an audio clip and you don’t want to monopolize a dual core machine for a small task, this will do the trick.

I am a mere interloper with audio editors, but I am a complete neophyte when it comes to video editing. I came across avidemux last month, and it was interesting.


Most of the tools and options available here are completely foreign to me. I had a little trouble finding a file it could open, but that might be an issue of codecs or file compatibility. I don’t know for sure.

Once I got it moving though, it was fun to mess with. Call me childish, but it was fun to skip through the video frame-by-frame. :oops: :roll:

And I should mention that there is a CLI version that handles many of its functions as text flags, to include things like normalizing files. That might be handy.

Whether or not avidemux is full-featured enough for your needs is for you to determine. I mention it because it’s considerably lighter than much of the software usually mentioned for video editing.

Keeping in mind, of course, that both of these will probably require some auxiliary libraries to use, and that might complicate your otherwise lightweight lifestyle. Be careful. … :twisted:

Just for fun: A three-part home media system

It’s a new year, so here’s something fun. I’m going to show you one screenshot, and then another, and then tell you what’s going on. First, this really boring console shot.

Nothing special there. mplayer is running. So is alsaequal; that’s probably unusual enough to note. I keep it on every system I have, just as a way to compensate for the sound qualities of the room.

Next, the Toshiba Satellite J12 bequeathed to me for a song, as I mentioned yesterday. You might recognize it; it’s famous on the Internet. :roll:

What’s worth mentioning is the fact that these are not the same computer — the console image you see there wasn’t taken on the Satellite.

It was taken from a machine that predates it by about 10 years, and is networked into the larger one. mplayer is running on the big one, but it’s being controlled from the small one.

Which means all of the interaction — audio control, position, subtitles, color control … everything — is piped back and forth across the network from the big machine to the little, and vice-versa.

But the video output goes to the Satellite’s screen. :twisted:

And there’s one more thing here that I can’t show you, because there’s nothing really to see. The DVD rip itself — the actual video file — isn’t on the Satellite.

No, it’s being served across the network by still another machine — and this one is almost as old as the control system.

But with an oversize drive and a fast network card, it can serve video data over a wireless connection, which is played on the larger machine, which is controlled by the oldest computer in the house.

(This is the part where I apologize for the post the other day, suggesting that screen and mplayer have a difficult time working together. They did, but the problem appears to have vanished with a fresh installation. My mistake. Sorry about that. :oops: )

More importantly, that means this is another possible use for an out-of-date or ancient computer: as a front-end for a larger one.

And most importantly — to me, anyway — is that the entire circuit, from controller to server to display, runs without the need for Xorg.

You only need framebuffer support on one machine — the display computer, and that one can be as powerful or as not-powerful as you like.

Considering I used to play the same DVD rips on a machine that was running at 550Mhz with only 4Mb of video memory, that’s not saying much. ;)

Here’s a little detail, machine by machine.

Controller: This only needs ssh access to the main machine. I run this with Crux i586 on the second tty of a 120Mhz Pentium, and ssh into the display machine. I also have the Terminus font installed, but that’s neither here nor there.

Networking hardware is an ancient pcnet-driven PCMCIA card, and that’s more than enough since the traffic in and out of this machine is negligible.

Server: A server system can be and do a lot of things, but for my purposes Debian is perfect, and easy to set up too. I put everything in the home directory of a privileged user, and serve that directory as an nfs share.

The network connection is a ralink PCMCIA wireless card, which was rather quirky to arrange, but gets good upload and download speeds, and so is best suited for this situation. Best of all, the power draw is less than a light bulb, it takes up almost no space, and has a battery backup in times of need. ;)

Display: This machine is the winner this time, chosen for its large (to me, anyway) screen, clear display and speedy network access. I using the wired Intel PRO/100 connection because I have a five-meter network cable, and I like the fast access speeds.

This machine needs the most in the way of software, because this is where most of the action happens. To wit:

  • Framebuffer access. If you’re using a modern distro you probably already have this. If you’re using a very old computer, it might be a little tricky to get working.
  • mplayer and codecs, if your conscience allows. I should mention that keeps a codecs package in its repository.
  • ssh daemon. Remember dropbear is considerably lighter than some other ssh suites. And remember Remy’s ssh dialog, if your connections are stacking up.
  • nfs client access. If you prefer samba or another service, you’re on your own. :|
  • alsa or another audio subsystem, of course. Unless you can read lips, I guess. … ;)

I also include screen and a few ancillary programs, like alsaequal, mc, htop and moc. They’re all useful on the odd chance, or for playing music if video isn’t required.

I mentioned networking equipment for all of these, because that’s where your bottleneck is. I am confident my 133Mhz Pentium can actually serve up those files in plenty of time for the Celeron M.

But if I have a slow wireless card in it, or if there is network pressure from other machines, things start to stutter. So be aware: Skipping playback, in my experience, is probably because of network speed.

(Those new Blue Ray DVDs ripped at 1080p or whatever are going to be tricky. Even my core duo has trouble with those, and that’s if they’re on the local drive. :shock: :| )

That’s all for the hardware I’m using. There are a couple of minor points that should probably be addressed, in way of configuration. First of all, it’s useful to know a few of mplayer’s flags, like …

  • -zoom, to expand or contract the output,
  • -fs, to push the size to full screen, which paints the outlying areas black, as opposed to leaving leftover text on the fringes,
  • -x and -y, to manually force the dimensions of the output,
  • -vf scale=x:y, to scale the output instead, or
  • -aspect x:y, to force an aspect, and
  • -vo, to force a video driver, although with nothing else on the machine, mplayer (in the default Arch version) jumps straight to the framebuffer.

In my case, this is what my ~/.mplayer/config file looks like.


The -3 in the vf line throws the y dimension out to a proportionate depth. I think. I can’t find the documentation on it, but I’ve had it around forever and it seems to work. I know, I know: Google is my friend. …

That’s not the last though. This little trick is this coup de grace:

setterm -cursor off -blank 0

Because even with mplayer’s -fs flag, the cursor on a tty screen will blink by itself, in the middle of the screen. Sometimes. But more importantly, -blank sets the default video timeout for the terminal to zero — meaning, never.

Otherwise, after about 20 minutes, your screen will go dark and you’ll have to get up and walk over to the keyboard, and press a key to get the image back. And we can’t have that, now can we? :mrgreen:

That’s all. Let me know if you can get this working with something in the handheld department, because that might be where the fun lies.

I have heard of people connecting to home networks with Sharp Zauruses (Zaurii?) or Toshiba Libretto minicomputers. Something that small … well, it’s practically a remote control. ;)

Just don’t fight over it. :mrgreen:

P.S.: I should mention, if you are more keen on forcing the video into Xorg instead of the framebuffer, to try the xinit command with DISPLAY=0:1 and your mplayer command. And to remember xset s off, which should stop screen blanking. Beyond that though, you’re on your own. … :)