Category Archives: Debian

Another gray area: Ascii Sector

Speaking of gray areas, I never know whether I should jump for joy or just raise a minor ruckus when I find a game that runs in textmode under SDL.

Dwarf Fortress is one example, although Dwarf Fortress qualifies as something beyond “game.” The complexity and detail and variety push it to something … something beyond “game,” anyway.

Ascii Sector is probably another, although this one incorporates a striking amount of action — more than I would expect from a textmode game, anyway.

As I understand it, Ascii Sector attempts a faithful rendition of Privateer, which you might remember as an evolution of Elite … which I have now mentioned twice in the space of a month.

I’ll be honest and say I only played Privateer well after its heyday, and at the time didn’t see much that hadn’t been touched on when I was still using a C64.

Ascii Sector amuses me though, mostly because it captures a lot of the space trading genre, without ever needing much in the way of graphics.

And of course, any time you can strip away graphical requirements and still have a speedy game with depth and action, I’m all for it.

Which makes this one a lot like Dwarf Fortress to me: It relies on a measure of graphical power to run — to wit, SDL and therefore Xorg. Your mileage may vary, but I’m thinking something even as slow as a Pentium III can do this.

But there’s another reason Ascii Sector (and Dwarf Fortress, of course) is dangerous: It’s far too engrossing to be left alone with. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. … :twisted:

Debian and Arch

I’ve mentioned two or three times now that I have been spending a lot of time in Arch and Debian these days. I hold both distros in equally high regard for being fast, light and good starting points for outdated machines.

Debian gets points for reaching all the way back to the 486 generation, which means I can use it on my very very old systems. At the same time though, I find myself floating back to Arch more often than not.

On a machine that postdates the Pentium, Arch’s flat configuration is just more to my liking. I appreciate Debian 6 for picking up things like Grub2, but I strongly dislike the need to edit /etc/default/grub, then run an updater, if the configuration files are in a different place completely.

I don’t know the rationale for that, so it might be something inherited from the developers of Grub2. All the same, it’s a little inconvenient, particularly if you only want to change one digit.

If I can continue being honest, I also dislike the update-alternatives system for determining things like a default window manager, or a default terminal emulator in X.

Again, I don’t know how or why that’s in Debian, but it seems like a huge obfuscation. I have tried to learn the system over the years and sometimes it will actually work in my favor, but more often … not.

I think my underlying dislike for it is similar to my complaint about Grub2 — why is there another whole layer of configuration, just to trigger which emulator springs into view when I press Super-L-plus-Enter?

That, to me, is something that should be configured in the window manager’s files, edited directly and not relying on links, names, paths and priorities. And so I usually do just that — configure the window manager and ignore the alternatives system.

But I’m probably not being fair, since Debian has more uses and applications that I can even dream of. No doubt that system works well for someone else who needs Debian for more than just resurrecting an old Pentium I.

If I have to be honest though — and I might as well, since I’ve been dangerously honest up to know — those two things and a few others like them are what keep me from using Debian on my newer, faster machines.

For those, it’s just quicker and easier for me to set up Arch, and tinker directly with the software. To each his own, I guess. :|

Oddly enough, ‘Five gets it right

I just realized something odd: I have a drive that is occasionally reported at the wrong size — it’s a 120Gb drive, one that fell out of the sky on me, years ago.

Sometimes operating systems, to include Linux, report it at only 40Gb. Arch does that, and so does Debian 6.

But not Debian 5. El cinco reports it at its full dimensions, and will partition it normally.

I wonder why that is. :|

And then there was one

I’m going to close out this little three-day foray into the maelstrom of console-based software with one I really like, and have been using quite a bit since I installed it: sc.

Now it’s true that I am a teapot fan — I like teapot for being unconventional and at the same time easy to figure out. sc, however, is like a comfortable old jacket … it just feels nice as soon as you put it on.

It’s about the size of a pin, as easy to run as a pencil and paper and has a history way, way back in days of *nix past. It does exactly what you expect, when you expect it, how you expect it.

And yes, vi fans, it has some similar keystrokes. :roll:

That shallow learning curve, coupled with the onboard help, will probably have you up and calculating in no time. Which is good. If that’s not enough, check out this recent rundown from Linux Journal.

Downsides are that it’s not Excel or Gnumeric or whatever spreadsheet Apple users get, which means about 99 percent of the planet is going to be hesitant.

And it is a little naive when it comes to file formats, although you can export to asc or something like tab-delimited too. I am sure a savvy computer user like you can get your data converted somehow.

And that’s really all I’m going to say about it. I know there is a successor, slsc, but I don’t see it in the Debian repos and so I might need to build it myself. I am not afraid. :twisted:

But for now, sc does almost everything I need in a spreadsheet. Life is good. :)

A mix of six was suffering from some technical glitches over the past few days, so some of the posts I had planned out over three days got glommed together.

That’s a good thing really; I realize there is more than enough material out there to do a “cli-app-a-day” blog for at least a year or two without having to duplicate posts.

So if you’re in the mood to take on such a project, let the world know. People seem to dig it. In the mean time, here’s another mixed half-dozen that might give you reason to pause.

First, here’s yapet.

Password “wallets,” as I am tempted to call them, are not something I usually pursue. I rely on traditional cellulose-based methods … which is to say, a pencil and a piece of paper.

But this might enthuse you as something that can encrypt and retrieve passwords, as well as generate them and protect them from casual view.

I have to mention though, that at very low speeds — like 120Mhz — the screen refresh for yapet was horrific. I am afraid I can’t use this one because just jumping between text boxes caused the screen to flash three or four times over the course of two or three seconds, with each key press.

I don’t know why that is, if it’s a side effect of the way the program was written or if it’s something oddball about Debian’s version, but I’ve never seen that in other text-based applications. :|

Next is pdmenu, which also falls in the useful cyan gadget category:

This I like very much, because in conjunction with Debian’s menu utility, you have arrow-key access to the bulk of the software that’s installed on your machine.

Not that I need help with that; I don’t have many more than about seven or eight discrete programs that I use on a daily basis. I’m not likely to be surprised by anything pdmenu happens to find.

But for anyone else who might be, say, chained to my desk chair and forced to use a Pentium with only text-based software on it … well pdmenu might be what saves them from a short screaming fit. :D

Next up are two file managers, lfm on the left, and vfu on the right.


lfm is strikingly similar to mc and the traditional two-pane file manager genre, being distinct in its relative freshness (last update was May 2010 for the Debian Squeeze version, I believe) and its python underpinnings.

lfm also includes a little something called pyview, which stands as a text or hex file viewer, independent of lfm or cued by it. Two for one, in a manner of speaking.

vfu is strikingly different from lfm or its mc heritage, by being almost completely text, without any sort of graphic adornment save color bands.

In a way I like this one, and you might too. It shows almost all the pertinent information for a file, up front and immediate, and you don’t have to manage panes or trigger info displays.

If you ever wish you could pan through the results of an ls -lha --color=auto command, this might be the application you’re looking for.

And now, sports fans, it’s time for a little action. First is asciijump.

I giggled as I tried it, and while I haven’t figured out all the commands, I can tell you it runs relatively quick on a 120Mhz machine that’s simultaneously accessing and controlling a second computer, and running about eight different applications at the same time.

Which isn’t too shabby. Invariably I crash as I land, but the judges don’t seem to mind, so I’ll stick with this one for a little while.

Last is a aajm, which is half sports, half science.

I didn’t know juggling was such a detailed and mathematical event, but I have now been schooled. I’ll give you a hint — start with aajm -s 453 to get the results you see there, but after that you’ll have to research siteswaps.

That’s good for today. I shall finish this “series” off tomorrow and get back to proper blog materiel. ;)

Seven in a row

I am going to succumb for a few days to the overwhelming list of terminal applications I want to note. Ordinarily I try to space these out by a week or so at a time, but the list is growing faster than I can manage.

So here is day one of what will probably be two or three posts on console applications. Today: Hex editors and text editors.

I can think of exactly one occasion when I actually needed a proper hex editor, and unfortunately it was so long ago that I wasn’t even using Linux at the time.

Just the same, there is always the chance that something like this might come in handy, so here’s tweak, on the left, and beav.


Both work well and do the job as you would expect. beav gets a point for being easy to decipher, with on-screen help prompts and more interaction, but I couldn’t find an option to widen the screen display.

tweak is more or less the opposite, with a few options (like stretching the display over the width of the terminal :roll: ), but fewer on-screen tips and commands are a little more cryptic.

Both tweak and beav are more aligned to the emacs style of doing things — I believe both use CTRL+X CTRL+C to quit, as an example. Here’s one for the vi camp: hexer.

Probably simpler and less functional than the other two, but if you know vi you’ll be quicker at the starting line with this one. hexer, I should mention, feels a little less complete; perhaps it’s still a work in progress.

Enough with hex editors though; let’s move on.

Of course, mentioning a text editor for Linux is like pointing out one particular grain of sand on entire beach. There are just too many, with each of them doing something special in its own right.

All the same, I think I should point out the lighter, more unusual ones I find — that, after all, is my gimmick. I’ve mentioned e3 in the past; here it is again along with mg, joe and jed.





e3 is amazing for fitting a fully functional editor into a 10kb sliver, along with the option to use different command sets that are closer to what you’re familiar with. So that whole emacs-vi thing can go away for once.

mg is likewise a teeny little thing, but this one, as I understand it, is much like zile in its attempt to be a (much) lighter emacs.

I suppose, in that sense, both e3 and mg are useful to people who are accustomed to the way one particular editor works, but want something much, much smaller.

I have a hard time separating jed and joe in my mind (no joke intended there), but you might know joe as one of the editor options in the Arch Linux installation sequence.

joe works well for being obvious and easy to manage. Help commands are listed in a drop-down box, which makes them quick to find while you’re learning it. And it feels like an editor, if that makes sense.

jed, on the other hand, might be the most replete and easy to manage of the editors listed here. jed feels like a graphical application, with drop-down menus, windowed documents, and so forth.

But like I said, these are just four grains of sand on a huge beach of text editors for Linux. I’d be mad to ever mention another text editor again, and probably will be, just for mentioning these four.

There we are though, seven more I can cross off my list. Seven steps forward, ten steps back. … :|

In praise of Debian 5

That’s right: Debian 5. Not 6, 5. I touched on that point briefly in a post early last week, but didn’t get the chance to expound upon it too much. Real life intruded.

But the overarching idea is the fact that Debian 6 requires slightly more memory as a bare minimum. For old-old-old machines that fall below that 43Mb mark by default, they’re going to require upgrades to stay current (technically speaking, of course).

On the other hand though, 32 megabytes, which was a common watermark among late-generation Pentiums, is still very much accessible to Debian 5.

Very much. That photo frame I mentioned a week or two ago has enough processor, video and memory power to handle

  1. Awesome 2, which is for some people, a preferable version anyway;
  2. ssh and nfs, for transferring files and controlling the system remotely;
  3. feh, a very very light image viewer with some amazing features that you won’t find in your ordinary GTK2-reliant image application;
  4. and cmus, which might hold the top spot — or should I say low spot? — among console music players.

And it can do all those things at the same time, which is mind-boggling in a way. Thirty-two megabytes and 133Mhz on a lowly Trident video card. Barely worth keeping.

But what you can make of it is a remote music player with a slideshow visualizer, and probably for less money than it would cost you to feed your belly.

True, it’s old-stable, which means it’s one step off from Debian’s current rendition, but it’s not unusable, it’s solid as a rock and probably won’t fight you in setting up.

And if it keeps another machine out of the landfill … well, that’s just perfect.

One tool, one game, one clock

I still have a long list of console applications that I want to note. Sometimes this is for my benefit, and sometimes it’s in hopes of being someone else’s benefit.

Some of these I discovered via the wiki, which continues to be as much a resource for me as it is a way of discovering new talents for the terminal.

Starting as simply as possible, here’s concalc.

There are plenty of console-based calculators, and superficially it appears that concalc doesn’t do much that a reasonably educated bash user couldn’t do anyway.

It does handle scripting though, which might be of use to you, and it will no doubt streamline some more complex math functions if you need them at the terminal prompt.

And as is always the case with small, soft-spoken applications like this, there is a potential beyond the obvious. Take a closer look and see what you come up with.

Next is a game — pente.

Dating back a decade and still in the Debian repositories, pente is the traditional variant of go usually called five-in-a-row.

This one is easy to use and manage, with any number of console keys that will control the cursor for you, and a simple key press to place a marker.

This will run in either the console or in X supposedly, although it was nice to see that the Debian version didn’t incur any giant dependencies when installing it.

The last one today is a clock, and a rather nifty one at that.


This is tbclock, which I didn’t see in AUR or in Debian Squeeze, and that’s a shame really. It’s a very nice clock with a lot of color and movement to it, and a large improvement over the old binclock package — no matter how you dice it.

It also supports vertical arrangements, as you can see above, plus a digital readout to help us lesser beings understand what time it is, and a built-in game. :shock: This place has everything. …

Personally I’m going to jam this last one into my handy-dandy screensaver script for screen, and watch it do something while I do nothing. :)

That’s all for now. Three down, 400 more to go. …

Take your medicine: typespeed

Is it a game? Is it a training tool? Is it legalized torture?


You can decide. That’s typespeed, which was added to the wiki by one of the volunteers … and which I hadn’t heard of before.

I’m always glad to find a new toy or two, and it would probably behoove me to spend a little more time with this one.

As a point of interest, you can set it to use not only English words, but words from several different languages — and even programming languages.

You haven’t been challenged until #endif and single brackets have floated by and you’re feverishly trying to remember which key faces left and which one faces right.

I joke, but this is another one of those programs that, in my humble opinion, proves that a graphical interface isn’t always necessary. Enjoy. ;)

From 32 to 43

Disappointed? Saddened? Nostalgic? I’m trying to describe my reaction to Debian’s increased memory requirement.

It’s no surprise really, that the text-based installer on the business card CD wants 43Mb of memory to install. Mentally I had always put that number at 32Mb, which I really only inherited from working with Ubuntu for years.

Not so any more. Even as far back as a year ago, machines I upgraded from stable to testing couldn’t boot on 32Mb of memory. And the installer now says 43Mb is the bare minimum, officially.

It may be that there is a way to circumvent that — after all, the installer doesn’t quit, it just tells you that you’re on thin ice.

But I guess what that means is I need to invest in a couple of old sticks of PC66 … and stop whining about the old days. This is progress, take it or leave it. :)