Category Archives: Ubuntu

No joke: A full Gnome desktop on 105Mb

Careful, this might make you spit out your breakfast cereal.

That’s a fully updated installation of Linux Mint Debian, after a cold boot and with nothing else running. No special tricks or shortcuts. Clean and default.

Amazing. This puts it within striking range of Pentium III machines, in terms of memory. Or at least machines with 128 or maybe 192Mb, like this one did. I almost wish I still had that computer, just so I could try it out.

True, you can get smaller desktops with very sparse installations, in other distros as well. But this comes with all the bells and whistles, from the word go.

If you haven’t played with Mint’s version of Debian yet, you really owe it to yourself to give it at least one short attempt. And if you’ve got a Pentium III lying around with about 128Mb in it, tell me how it works. How, not if. ;)

A retro retro desktop facelift

Now that everything is up and online and business is more or less back to normal, I realized I had gotten a little tired of looking at this …

And instead decided to put this together.


Well that’s a giant leap forward. :roll: Nothing like swirling together a vague tribute to an IceBuntu desktop, which was itself a vague tribute to the old Feisty Fawn desktop. Yeah, I’m really going out on a limb there.

Ah well. I’ve never suggested I was particularly avant-garde. My interest lies with resurrecting the hardware, not designing the desktops. :|

On the other hand, I see now that ConnochaetOS has IceWM and a few other additions in its repository; I may see how this behaves at 150Mhz. Probably not good, but worth checking. Science! :mrgreen:

Xorg or Wayland: Color me disinterested

I laughed uproariously when the news filtered down to me, that Ubuntu was shifting its carcass toward Wayland, as opposed to the ancient monolith Xorg.

The rationale, as I understand it, goes mostly hand-in-hand with the press for Ubuntu to become something less than a desktop, and more of a clicky buttony thingy that hooks into Facebookendsterwitterspace.

That’s fine. It’ll be interesting to watch, but you know what? I think I will sit this one out.

Not for any dislike of Ubuntu, or distrust for the direction it is moving. You might call me old-fashioned, if only because the clicky buttony thingy doesn’t really turn me on. I’ll take a traditional desktop, any day.

Of course, if I had an interest beyond the computers of the last century, I might be willing to just try it out. Might be.

But ay, there’s the rub: Whether Ubuntu uses Xorg or Wayland or a day-old ham sandwich to project its graphical interface is hardly any interest of mine.

I learned a long time ago that I could move closer to my goals by omitting X altogether. When I jettisoned the aging, bloated crowbait, life suddenly turned beautiful.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Stepping away from X made everything better, and I heartily recommend it.

I’ll be honest, I still use it from time to time. I do have machines that predate contemporary framebuffer support, and in those situations, a very sparse version of Xorg is what saves it from giant-size block letters smeared across the LCD. :shock:

But I won’t pretend to care much if Xorg’s 25-year legacy is slowly and painfully extracted from Ubuntu or Fedora or Distro X. And oh yes, it will be painful … for someone, somewhere you can bet it will be painful.

No pain for me though. I will be the one on the sidelines, with the look of zen on my face, wondering what the big deal is. :mrgreen:

Not everything works, every time

Not everything works like I expect it to. Even with top-end, full-featured distros, I sometimes run into difficulties I can’t explain or just didn’t predict.

For example, I used to be enamored with Brasero. On a day-to-day basis I rely on Recorder, which is a much more expedient program, but if I’m in Ubuntu (which was the case the other day), Brasero usually satisfies.

Except this time, with 10.10, every time I tried to copy from audio disc to audio disc using my USB DVDRW, the program halted. No error message, no warning report … just poof, and it was gone.

Which was strange to me, even though I am accustomed to things acting funny on the machines I cobble together. But this was Ubuntu, this was “just works.” I must be doing something wrong, I thought.

I tried starting it from the terminal emulator, in hopes of getting some more information. And that’s when it complained that cdrdao wasn’t installed.

I am a patient and generous person, so I installed cdrdao from the terminal. But Brasero still complained that it wasn’t available.

At that point, I figured there were more options than just Brasero. Long ago, Gnomebaker was Ubuntu’s weapon of choice, and installing that took only a few seconds.

But in this case, Gnomebaker wanted to take an hour to convert an entire CD to digital files, before burning the copy. An hour seemed like a very long time. :(

So as a troubleshooting measure, and because I couldn’t find a speed setting for the conversion process in Gnomebaker, I installed Sound Juicer (also a past Ubuntu golden child), and extracted the tracks to flac format in six minutes.

My adventure wasn’t over though. For some reason, I couldn’t add the audio tracks to Brasero, and when I did manage to force-feed it the flac files, it wouldn’t sort them unless I dragged them one-by-one into place.

There were 55 audio tracks. I don’t think so.

Back to Gnomebaker. Added the files. One-button sort the files. And then … Gnomebaker defaulted to a 21-minute CD (who has those?!) and spat out an error message again.

So finally, after about 15 minutes of backtracking and error trapping, I managed to get the CD burnt. It definitely was a lot more of a harangue than I anticipated, just to duplicate an audio CD.

But experiences like this are the exception for me, not the rule. This isn’t so much a critique of Ubuntu or Linux, as just a note that things don’t always go as planned. And that can happen to anybody, with any operating system. :)

VICE 2.2 on Ubuntu 10.10

This is embarrassing because I’m a full month behind the times on this one. But I managed to scrape together an hour or two today, and test VICE 2.2 on Ubuntu 10.10.

And of course, the ancient how-to works fine.

The creepy error that was happening in 10.04 is still around, but luckily the fix is still very easy. Building the GnomeUI version (which is really just a GTK2 version) went cleanly.

One last thing: If checkinstall gives problems, stick with sudo make install. It works fine.

Old hardware a handicap? Au contraire!

I spat out my metaphorical coffee this morning, when I read this line, in regard to a 1.7Ghz Athlon with 256Mb and a 60Gb hard drive.

A machine that underpowered (mainly the ram size) will be a serious handicap when learning Linux. … All your choices will be driven by the limited ram. Even so, your time will be wasted waiting for even the lightweight applications you chose to do simple things.

Whoa, waitaminute. A 1.7Ghz machine with a healthy 256Mb will be a handicap to learning Linux? A handicap? Even when armed with lightweight applications?

I have to disagree, but before I do that, I have to ask a small question: What is meant by “learning Linux?”

Because if “learning Linux” is navigating through the latest rendition of Gnome, with spinning desktops and fancy eye doodads and a quadraphonic Blaupunkt, then yeah, sure, I almost agree.

Of course, that doesn’t take into account that all the way up to Ubuntu 8.10, I was playtesting Gnome desktops on a 1Ghz machine with a measly 512Mb in it. A 1.7Ghz machine with half of that would still have been at least usable … until 10.04, anyway.

But if you’re talking about learning Linux — I mean really getting down and dirty with it, and not just trying to figure out which Compiz plugin is your favorite — then my money says there’s no better solution than something hopelessly underpowered.

Why? Simply because a low-power, underachiever machine is unforgiving. It is restrained by hardware and time and you will know immediately if you’ve done something wrong on a machine with no real muscle to it.

Make a mistake on a dual-core machine, and yes, you’ll know about it. Leave off a kernel boot flag or misconfigure /etc/inittab, and yes, things will become frazzled.

But you don’t make the same mistake twice on a low-end machine because it’s considerably painful when you do. You learn your lessons the first time, when you scramble your filesystem or misconfigure Grub. Because recovering takes longer and you have time to consider the weight of your actions.

Of course, you’re free to approach the beast from any direction, and if you want to tackle a new operating system with a machine that requires its own zip code and power substation, you are free to do so.

But I can also say that I learned a lot more about Linux from a wildly unpredictable 100Mhz machine, and even more from a rancid little K6-2, than I ever did from a dual core Thinkpad. I enjoy having it, but I don’t count it among my educational treasures.

Old machine a handicap? Quite the opposite, thank you. :twisted:

It works, but it’s not what I use

I have spent a little time with Ubuntu 10.10 over the past few days. I never bother “reviewing” Ubuntu any more, mostly because it’s veered far wide of what I want from a distro.

Nonetheless it’s interesting to see the directions it has taken. I’ve been through the installer a couple of times now and made a point of avoiding certain default options (like ext4), but otherwise all looks the same.

And I’ve poked around the default desktop a bit, making a point of immediately — no, not just immediately but immediately ditching that desktop theme. (Shudder. :shock: )

There will always be little things that irritate, like sand in your mouth. I always thought Add-Remove Programs was superior to the Ubuntu Software Center, if only because you could add more than one thing at a time.

And the long list of social doodads integrated into the desktop only suggests to me that this isn’t so much an operating system as an interface to Facebookendsterwitterspace, which are things I avoid like the plague.

On the other hand, whatever memory issue was tormenting Lucid seems to be curtailed in Maverick: My system no longer requires 300Mb just to get started. It’s coasting along at a comfortable 150Mb, plus or minus.

Overall, I can only describe my reaction as … nonplussed. I feel a little guilty because I can’t rouse any more enthusiasm than that, when even as recently as three years ago, I was more than just a little bit of a fan.

If it works for you and you like it, then by all means please enjoy. I count myself as a supporter of the Ubuntu machine in general, even if the flagship isn’t to my liking.

But like I said, Ubuntu’s directions and my own diverted long ago. I make no demands of it, but make no apologies for it. It works for me, but it’s not what I use … and that’s about it.

Fortunately it does give you enough playing pieces to come up with something much more useful. And I suppose, like I said a long time ago, the beauty of it is in its potential to do something — anything — vastly different. Have fun experimenting. :twisted:

Ubuntu 10.10 Desktop i386 USB image

Good old Ubuntu. Five years on, and still not offering an image that can be written to a USB stick and booted from.

I really thought this time the Ubuntu overlords would have seen that tiny crack in the armor, and done something about it. But looking over the download page, it seems like it’s still something nobody has mentioned.

I guess it’s still a new idea — I mean, 2.7 is the first time Crux has offered it. Arch Linux just got a nifty hybrid version in its last release. Clonezilla will load the whole system into memory from a USB stick, although a little acrobatics might be involved. But the concept has been around for a while.

And yeah, I know, the netbook version supposedly will boot from USB. Netbook users have all the fun, don’t they?

Ah well. I suppose Ubuntu’s oversight is my charity work. Here is a bootable 1Gb image that should work almost exactly like the installation disc, if everything goes right.

Note that this is i386 only. I know I mentioned about a week ago that I’d try to push through a version for AMD64 and I still might. We’ll see how that goes; I want a little time to experiment. And I can’t test it, so we might have to do some sort of “beta” release.

In case you miss the boat on how to use it, basically download the file and use dd to write it to the disk of choice. For example,

dd if=ubuntu-10.10-desktop-i386.img of=/dev/sdXY

Where X and Y are the drive assignment labels you can find with fdisk -l. Cross your fingers, cycle the power, and if the gods are willing and the stars are aligned, it should boot to the installation greeting.

In the mean time, I will be filing a bug report. Or tracking down the half-dozen or so that have probably already suggested it, and adding my +1 to them. Delays, delays. …

A console goodie grab bag

I have a few applications that I have tinkered with, but didn’t make a big enough impression to warrant a full post. Just in the interest of safekeeping the notes I made about them, I’m going to leave a list here, for the future.


I found ecasound a long time ago, when I was troubleshooting sound on one Pentium or another. I had hoped that it would help give me some insight in how to set up the ISA sound card, but it wasn’t until much later that I found the answer to that.

Regardless, ecasound has an interactive interface for sound processing, including playback and mixing and quite a few other goodies. I am not enough of a sound geek to want to experiment much with it; if it appeals to you, give it a try.

P.S.: It was last updated in August, so it’s definitely not stale.


If you are one of those programmer types who is looking for a project, I have a suggestion: An id3 renaming and tagging application for the console.

Technically speaking, I suppose id3lib by itself can do those things, but like most libraries it’s a bit unwieldy for large collections or heavy-duty editing and fine-tuning. Finding and searching and replacing, for example.

It’s not impossible to use this strictly as a command line tool, or even a la the hacky ogg editor I clumped together a while ago. But something with a bit more panache would be nice.


ised is another command-line calculator, but intended to work in a way that resembles sed. It does have an interface of sorts, so it can function in a way similar to bc or wcalc.

I suppose as a background tool to a script or program that needed heavy calculations, ised would be great. I tried it once a while back and while it does what it promises, that’s about all I remember.


look was mentioned as an alternative when I mentioned aspell about six months ago. It relies on the /usr/share/dict/words or /usr/share/dict/web2 files though, and neither of those files appears in any of my systems, even if look does.

It does apparently have uses beyond just checking your spelling, so if it has a use for you that I seem to have skimmed over, let me know.


Similarly, mdocml was offered to me via email as a substitute to the man utility, mostly on the grounds that it’s a faster and lighter tool than man.

If I understand it correctly, man relies on groff, which is rather heavy and at times unreliable. If there’s some sort of man vs. mdocml war going on though, it’s news to me.

I usually keep a machine online to check command options or look for example syntax. I rarely use man and have actually run systems that didn’t use it, but I won’t argue if a lighter, faster document interface is helpful to you.


This one is a bit dusty from sitting in my list for so long. I made a note of it about a year and a half ago, when I was looking for a command-line blogging client, and found charm.

For a few moments I thought nanoblogger was what I was looking for, but it’s actually the opposite, if I understand it right. nanoblogger is the engine, not so much a client.

So if you want something incredibly light to serve as the basis for a web log, something that you host on your own and don’t use an external service for, it might be just right. And it’s actively updated, which is always a good thing.


nn is a newsreader with a long history, if I understand it right. I don’t have much to tell about this one, mostly because I don’t know much about newsreading services. Sorry.

I do know things like alpine and slrn and so forth, and that they too can read news services, but I somehow missed over that intermediary step in life. I have no experience here. :|


orpie is another calculator, and one I would probably like a lot, except for two things: First, it needs not only ocaml to build, but ocaml-gsl, and those two together are rather hefty for most of the machines I own.

The other thing is that it’s a reverse polish notation calculator, which is something slightly alien to me. I was required to use an RPN calculator in high school, but it’s not something I’m terrifically comfortable with. I don’t think I’ve used one since then.

On the other hand, it does have a really slick interface and quite a few advanced options. Don’t miss out on this one.


This is a newer project by the look of it, and basically stores passwords in an encrypted text file. The owner can edit the text file and feel reasonably comfortable that their passwords are secure.

I tried it briefly a few months ago and it did what it promised, but again, beyond that I don’t have much to say. I can see where this might be useful though, for example in combination with ssh.


As a terminal emulator I suppose this has a practical side. I have almost no experience to report with anything that is claims to support though, so I am very much uninitiated on this one.

I would recommend checking it though, since it seems to be receiving updates — some within the last few weeks — so it may be that my ignorance is unknowingly embarrassing. :oops:


rdiffdir is part of the duplicity package, which is in and of itself a rather nifty set of tools. I could show you rdiffdir and post a couple of screenshots, but I wouldn’t be doing a better job that what is already done here.

This is a great tool for someone who needs to synchronize between folders at home and at work, or on non-networked machines. I used it once a long time ago when I was diligent and dedicated and wanted to keep a mirror of my work directory on my home machine. Not so much these days … :(


This I couldn’t find much documentation on, and the few places where it is mentioned (like on Freshmeat, above), it is already a decade out of use and probably not really what I need.

If anyone can vouch for it, please leave a note. I turned up my nose because I doubted it would run on newer software, but that comes with the admission that it’s running on older hardware. ;)

That’s all for now. I can clear some of these off my to-do list. And as always, if you know about something that I don’t, please share. :)

Tale of two Ubuntus

Two of the systems I planned on trying out with the Mebius were Ubuntu versions, one four years older than the other. Results were what I anticipated, although there was a small surprise attached.

The console version of Ubuntu 10.04, as I expected, wouldn’t even start. My experiences earlier this year foretold that a machine with a meager 32Mb of memory wouldn’t get past the grub menu.

And that was the case this time too. Ten-point-oh-four left me with a few nifty error messages (“error: cannot allocate real mode pages,” and “error: you need to load the kernel first” were common) and a feeling of inferiority.

Dropping back four years, just out of curiosity, worked fine. The installed system booted to a console prompt and needed something less than 11Mb to run. The wireless network was up with a little prodding, and all was well with the world.

Adding a graphical environment was a fruitless exercise though: The Trident driver that far back gave nothing but scrambled eggs for video output. TinyFlux had its artifacts, but a minimal X in Ubuntu Dapper was pointless.

Oddly enough though, a full-blown Ubuntu 6.06.1 desktop could handle a graphical environment neatly, with no obvious defects or artifacts, showing the deep brown background from ages gone by.

Unfortunately that’s all it showed. Anybody can tell you that a full Gnome desktop on 32Mb is nothing but a pipe dream. The machine was swapping before it ever snapped out of the console.

Eventually it just spun to a crawl, freezing with the drive light fully on. As expected.

Not much was gained here in this little experiment, and I acknowledge that. It does however reinforce a few experiments from a long time ago, when I started out with minimal systems and built them up.

Next up, a few systems that might actually have a chance of working. :roll: