Category Archives: Ubuntu

Well said

I have been spending a lot of time in Debian these days, as might be expected considering this. And without sounding sappy, it was nice to revisit the guidelines for free software and the Debian Social Contract.

I think I read them a long time ago, probably when I was starting out with Ubuntu. And like all newcomers, it sounded good but was quickly forgotten. Finding them again was a pleasant experience.

I like that they’re quick and clean and to the point. I admire concise writing, mostly because I am a blabbermouth at the keyboard.

But I also like that they seem to encapsulate most of what I value in free software. I like programs that don’t attempt to control me, for example, and I would guess that I learned that and a few other principles as a consequence of “growing up” in the wake of Debian.

So for what it’s worth, a quick thanks to Debian for setting up core values to follow. I don’t know if they’ll always be in line with my own philosophies, but I expect they will always come very close.

K.Mandla’s Sandbox 10.07 i486

Hi and welcome. K.Mandla’s Sandbox is an image of a console-only Debian 5.05 i486 system built in late July 2010. It has been customized to a small degree, and offers a portion of the software I like or recommend, provided Debian has it in its repositories for Lenny.

It’s not a precise mirror of my personal system, but it does have most of the same software and a few of the same configurations. If you like it you’re more than welcome to adopt it as your own, or you can rearrange or modify things as you like, and do what you will with it.

The torrent is available at I will upload the image to a file host if I can find one that will accept a 1Gb file, and won’t prove to be too much of a hassle.

The target machine for this was a Japan-market Sharp Mebius MN-340-001. This was a 150Mhz Pentium MMX machine with 32Mb of PC66, USB1.1 ports, a 2Mb Trident video card, a 20X CDROM, an ESS ES1869 sound card and network access through a PCMCIA port.

You can install this to a system by booting to a live environment and writing the image to a drive of at least 1Gb with dd. For more information, please review the readme.txt file included in the bundle.

In general I am not offering support for this; it is intended as an experimental system for anyone who would like to see a day-to-day console-only system firsthand. If you find it doesn’t work as described, or if there is a part of the system that disappoints you in some way, you may contact me about it. However, it is possible that my reply will be to suggest you look for a fuller, better supported software solution elsewhere.

On the other hand, if you like it and want to use it in a project of your own, please feel free to adjust it to your liking.

And in either case … enjoy!


Edit: readme.txt follows.
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Still crawling. …

Just a quick note today, and really only to mention that I’ve been absorbed again by Crawl, in its 0.7.1 rendition.

I know it’s not a game for everyone, even if it is a game for everything (meaning, just about anything with a console should be able to run it). Thieves are gone now, along with Death Knights, and there are a lot of other changes afoot as well. (As I understand it, the rationale for both of those subtractions was that there wasn’t any strong delineation between those classes and other, similar professions.)

Save yourself the trouble of installing it by using telnet to play; your games are saved automatically and you don’t have to worry about software updates. This might be as close as I get to the cloud. … :twisted:

Your lightbox effect still sucks

Why? I’m glad you asked.

Silly me. What was I thinking? That I might be able to read the labels on the diagram? :roll:

It isn’t bad enough that I have to put up with that crap just to upload a picture to this site. Add to that the fact that it’s overdone, cliché and a waste of bandwidth.

It was passé four years ago, and it’s definitely not new or innovative. It slows things down, gets in the way, makes it difficult to maneuver and as you can see, defeats its own purpose if the screen dimensions don’t accomodate it.

Oh, and if you trap a login in that lightbox effect, I will officially never use your site, your service or your product, ever ever again, for as long as I live. :evil:

An interlude: Colossus

A long, long time ago, quite possibly before you were born, there were no computers. Which is to say there were computers, but they were large, lunking things that took up entire rooms, made a lot of noise and demanded specific temperature ranges. It wasn’t something you could go out to your local thrift store and buy. It was something your company or your university or your nation’s military bought and used for serious things, like processing payrolls.

In those days, people didn’t play Mario Kart or World of Warcraft for entertainment. Instead they relied on games made out of paper and cardboard, that came packaged in cardboard boxes, with rules printed — with ink on a press, not a laser printer — in long and boring sheets. You might hear your grandparents talking about those days, and not just in reference to the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I mean games like Air War. And Dune. And Steve Jackson’s Illuminati. And of course, Star Fleet Battles.

And Titan, an Avalon Hill game which was amazingly simple and at the same time delightfully complex, with no clear thematic element aside from oversimplified combat between fantastical creatures. Roll a die, plot a move, stack an army, collect points, and repeat. The artwork was clean-cut but evocative, the game play was simple but efficient, and for the most part, it was a good way to spend a few hours with friends.

Fast forward a few decades, and while it’s still possible to get the paper game, you might find that rather quaint or even silly — or not have enough friends to fill a table. :( All of those things are possible and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but as a possible alternative, you could always check out Colossus.


I’ve been playing this game for quite some time, and I don’t mean in terms of hours, but years: I think I remember using Java for this on Windows machines as far back as 2001 (yes, you’ll need JRE to play). I suppose it’s probably one of the earliest open-source games I ever played, and probably one of my first run-ins with Sourceforge.

So it’s not new, but neither is the original. If you remember this game, you’ll probably be pleased to see that much of the style and feel of the original has been duplicated in this version. Colors, markers and some monsters even keep their appearance, which is important to those of us who remember the game, because the artwork was an important part of it.

If you don’t remember the game it might take a little getting used to, mostly because the movement and recruitment rules are not exactly intuitive just by looking at the screen. And notice that I use a 1024×768 LCD, which means that in its full size, the board gets cut off slightly. There are options to zoom it in the Preferences menu, as well as to dump that awful glossy Java interface.

But the game itself works in much the same way. Split your stacks, start recruiting and pound on your opponent at any and every opportunity. The game is point-driven too, in that increasing your score opens other options later in the game. That’s important.

The fun part of an electronic version in the open like this, is that there are a number of modifications and variants that are available. There never was an “undead” version of Titan (to the best of my knowledge), but you can recruit skeletons, nagas, and even more unusual creatures, depending on the variant.

Even better, there is now a public server client, which means you could conceivably find all your old friends that you used to play Titan with, wherever they are, and challenge them again. See, you don’t even need a table. ;)

I realize this might be a bit of an esoteric game to you, and if you require animated blood splatters, force-feedback controllers, space zombies or 3D glow effects, this is probably about as interesting as a cold bowl of mashed potatoes. If you’d rather exercise the part of your brain that handles strategic thinking instead of just exercising the nerve sequence that controls your index finger, it’s worth learning.

And if you do remember it, it’s worth playing again. :mrgreen:

Five distros for “slow” machines

One or two of the five distros I mentioned yesterday had been labeled as “lightweight” either by their designers or the community around them, and I was probably pushing that definition just a little bit when I gave them the chance to run at 150Mhz on 32Mb of memory.

I knew full well that some of them just couldn’t compete there, but it wasn’t spite or a sense of self-denigration that made me try them all; I genuinely wanted to see if they could at least support — if not handle — a machine as old as 1997. The benefit of the doubt, so to speak.

And if they couldn’t, it wasn’t a reflection on the distro necessarily. I would only be disappointed if a distro advertised itself as a solution for an older machine, but clearly wasn’t. And even then, I take into account that my definition of “old” is very different from some.

Let’s hear the bad news first.

  • You’ll laugh, but I tried an alternate install CD of Ubuntu 10.04, and got as far as the disc menu and was able to start the installer. Shortly afterward I got a lovely kernel panic though and the machine locked. But the computer seemed to be happy for as long as it was hovering at the boot menu. :roll:
  • A little more disappointing was FreeNAS‘s analogy to the Ubuntu stunt: It failed to boot with a message, “cbb2: Cannot allocate I/O; RTC BIOS diagnostic error 20(config_unit)”. I take that to mean it ran out of memory, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
  • Deli Linux also failed to boot; for some reason this time the CD was invisible to the system. I tried it in another machine and there was no problem at all, and I also double-checked my ISO file, but for some reason the Mebius wasn’t booting from the Deli Linux disc. Curiouser and curiouser. …
  • Puppy Linux in its vanilla flavor struggled to boot, finding its way to a graphical desktop once out of three attempts, but only then giving me a plain arrow pointer against a black background, and locking up at that point. Again I suspect this was a low-memory issue, since until then all the prompts and menus worked fine. As soon as it reached the graphical desktop though, everything went pear-shaped.

A couple of others landed somewhere in the middle of the fray, between successful and not so successful.

  • ttylinux, which I want very much to adopt on some older machines, boots fine and behaves much in the way I expect for the i486 version. Unfortunately, it lacks network support for just everything I can use in the Mebius, which means I would have to rebuild the kernel and remaster the ISO and then maybe get it working. To be honest, any time I work with a distro and find myself moving toward kernel-level adjustments, I feel I can do just as well by going back to Crux, which I am more familiar with. But just to be clear, ttylinux worked fine but would have required even more effort to work great.
  • As for Tiny Core and its redheaded stepchild Micro Core, both would boot but Tiny Core still can’t give me a graphical desktop. Both do well with my network card though, so they should both be good starting points for console systems. Of course, Tiny Core without a GUI is really just Micro Core, so maybe I should say it should be a good starting point for a console system. Again, just to be clear, I think the failing is not with Tiny Core, but with the esoteric video card in this computer.
  • Just to be wacky, I tried running (console-only) Slitaz from floppy disks, and it worked great. I reached a command prompt and had a proper network and could install the system to the hard drive. For some reason that system wouldn’t boot though, but that’s probably my fault since I had been tweaking and fiddling with the system before I tried to transfer it to the host disk.

At this point you’re probably thinking anything running slower than 200Mhz is doomed to run pocket floppy-based Linux distros or console-only systems built up from something else. But in fact there was one big winner in this little adventure.

Wouldn’t you know it, when all hope of a full-blown graphical system is lost, Debian comes crashing through to save the day. That’s Lenny installed off the netinst image, and running IceWM and Xfe and so forth, in attempt to make you think it’s a Windows system. I do that sometimes.

The funny thing is, I couldn’t be happier or more surprised at this. An X desktop can run with less than 6Mb of swap space used, but too many things running at once becomes a little stuttery. Network access seems to be fine though, although I strictly avoid any browser at all, and don’t expect I would use it for surfing anyway.

The i486 Debian packages are clean and swift, even if aptitude itself runs slow as molasses at 150Mhz on a 4200rpm hard drive. Everything fits snugly in a single partition on a 2Gb drive, with only about 192Mb set aside for swap.

And while it’s only marginally functional, it definitely functions. I should mention that I did have to tear out the trident driver for X before this would work; the older software that Debian is using here requires hal (blech) and the driver just doesn’t work with this video card.

But there you have it: Debian comes out the winner in this round. I will have to try bumping the machine up to testing, but that might take more time, effort and drive space than I can really afford, just to get a newer version of rtorrent than 0.7.9. :roll:

Some notes for the future: I plan to hunt down a proper lightweight or console-driven Puppy, spend a little more time in Micro Core and see if it is a good idea for a console-based system, and possibly try building images for a few other distros in Qemu before dd‘ing them to the drive via USB. Such a luxury, having a USB port on a Pentium machine. … :mrgreen:

P.S.: ttylinux plus Tiny Core plus Micro Core plus Slitaz plus Debian equals five. :twisted:

cone and tmux: Waiting out the learning curve

My efforts to adopt tmux as a replacement for screen are coming along satisfactorily, but there seem to be a few sticking points for me, and so I don’t know that it will be a full-blown revolution.

Not that I was looking for one, but I do like to try variations on software that do the same, or similar, things. I consider it a necessary step in a Linux user’s evolution. Stagnation is evil.

At the same time, I’m trying to get used to cone as a replacement for alpine — again, not because of any dissatisfaction with alpine, but just in the name of science.

There too I seem to be coming up just short of perfect, where cone seems to almost, just almost, take the place of alpine, except for one or two small, important things.

For example, I managed to compile it (amazingly, at 120Mhz) using only aspell, libxml2, and openssl as dependencies, and it runs fine. I can open and read e-mails, and it has a much lighter, much quicker interface than alpine.

On the other hand, I can’t seem to reply or send e-mails through any of the four GMail accounts I use. While the setup to read and open e-mail accounts is terrifically easy in cone, my best efforts to send are stymied by authentication issues — as in, I never get asked for a password for sending mail.

I see the options for security on reading e-mail, but sending seems to be only through the overarching setup menu, and of course, without giving the smtp server my password, I can’t reply to anything.

Perhaps more dangerously, cone tends to hang if the GMail server doesn’t respond, whereas alpine has a timeout before it kicks back an error. This is unfortunately something that happens on a daily basis, and so it’s a bit of an issue.

I’ll keep looking though, because honestly I like cone very much and I think it might serve better than alpine, which is in my case is rather like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. Alpine does do a lot, I will give it that.

In the case of tmux, it’s an issue of getting a better grip on the difference between panes and windows, and trying to cobble together a tmux.conf file that will open programs and arrange them as I like when it starts. And perhaps most importantly, trying to find the analog for screen’s idle and blanker options, so I have something akin to a screensaver.

Those should be fairly easy to overcome, but they’re things that I am used to doing quite quickly with screen, and I have to relearn tmux’s style. Now I remember how a new Linux user feels, trying to patiently wait out the learning curve, until things return to “normal.” :roll:

8.04 might be your best bet

I got a note from benj1 the other day, about a Phoronix test of an “old” machine running two or three different flavors of Ubuntu, and how the Pentium 4 and Radeon AGP card performed.

I usually rant at this point about how Pentium 4 machines aren’t old, and how they’re plenty fast to handle modern Linux-based software, and how there’s no reason to banish a 2.8Ghz machine to the closet. But people have heard me whine about that for a very, very long time, and whether or not people listen is immaterial any more. I could say you don’t need a new computer because the old one works fine, and I could say that you don’t need a new car because the old one works fine, and there would still be people crawling out of the woodwork to point at any real or imagined faults on either side.

Use whatever machine you like, and if it doesn’t work as well as you would hope, that’s for you to deal with. I type this on a 14-year-old Pentium machine that boots to the login prompt in under 26 seconds — faster than my dual-core can reach the desktop with Ubuntu 10.04 — and I consider that no loss of function or speed. And so long as it keeps running, I intend to keep using it.

The surprising thing about the Phoronix test though, is how poorly Ubuntu has degraded with respect to those “old” machines. I really expected any version to run any core test (not so much graphics tests though) with the same level of performance, instead of holding out such a marked difference.

But they didn’t, and that obvious discrepancy that says two things to me.

  • First, it suggests that Ubuntu, and possibly Linux, is getting chunkier all the time. True, the target machine for the Ubuntu crowd is not a single-core Pentium 4 any more; Ubuntu wants to tackle Microsoft and Apple, and so the systems should probably be written for machines that are contemporaries of those OSes.

    I can accept that as a reason, but not an excuse. Linux is always touted as a lighter, faster option — I do a lot of the touting too — but it’s beginning to appear that as Ubuntu ages, it relies on hardware to compensate for software bloat — and the bloat is considerable. I resent that.

  • Second, and perhaps more importantly, I can’t endorse full-blown, up-to-date software stacks for “old” hardware any more. I usually tell people with “old” machines to use the current version anyway, hinging on the belief that newer Linux-based software isn’t bracketed around a particular generation of hardware.

    I’ve advised people countless times on the forums to use command-line installations of the freshest version of Ubuntu over out-of-date versions, because many people coming from a Windows environment assume that a four-year-old machine needs four-year-old software. And with Microsoft, yes, that is the case.

    And now with Ubuntu (and perhaps even with Linux in general), it also appears to be the case. Dropping back to 8.04, which will be around for a very very long time to come, might just be the best plan for a machine that predates quad-core, 16Gb “family computers.” So long as the software is going to hog space and allow itself to become insufferably obese, then it makes sense to reach back to a time when there wasn’t as much space to work with. It’s either that, or build it yourself.

How much of this is inherited from Debian and other upstream projects is beyond my ability to read. I don’t use Ubuntu on a daily basis, and when I do use it, I consider it a brief stopover to a more enlightened destination.

But the real and final tragedy here is the number of distros, either derivative or offshoot, that are based on the Ubuntu superstructure but targeted on old hardware — and notice here that I didn’t put the word “old” in quotes. I’m talking now about distros that have Pentium III and earlier computers in their list of “appropriate hardware,” because anything built on those newer versions of Ubuntu is going to likewise be genetically predisposed toward weight gain.

I am confident and calm that many of those distros — OSes like Puppy Linux, which I admire greatly but aligned itself with Ubuntu in recent renditions — will either take a crowbar to the beast and whack it down to size, or see an alternative elsewhere and make the appropriate choice. Personally I abandoned Ubuntu quite a while ago and wouldn’t recommend it for anything without at least 512Mb of memory and a Pentium 4 in it, but now I see that I have to add another caveat to that … one that says Ubuntu 8.04.4 is your best bet.

vtclock: One more console clock can’t hurt

Just a short note today, about another possible clock and/or screensaver for your terminal-only system. This is vtclock, running in screen-vs.

The home page insists the only thing needed to make this work is ncurses, and so I am fairly confident that it will build on your system. The source code dates back to 2005 and might show a warning or two when you compile it, but I had no difficulties on my Pentium. Expect it to finish in under a minute, no matter what you run.

This one doesn’t scale itself to a window size, like clockywock, and doesn’t occupy a small enough space to be “portable,” like tty-clock, and doesn’t seem to do color like binclock … but it’s very visible and has four different “fonts” outside from the one you see there. (Commodore junkie alert: No. 4 appears to be very close to the old C64 font pattern. … :shock: )

The real nifty tricks are the -p and -f flags, which allow you to add arbitrary text, either from a file or a command, to the display a line at a time. So you can tack on something like date, as you see in the photo, or even something else like a wifi status or the tail of dmesg. It’s very convenient.

But that’s all there is to say about it really — it’s simple and clean and does what it says. Add it to your array of screensaver gizmos in this fashion, and bask in the phosphorescent glow. …

Steve Jobs, quit stealing my ideas

I got a link the other day from Sean Whitton to an article about Safari 5′s Reader feature, which supposedly tears away the gunk that encrusts most web sites and presents it as straight, mostly-unadorned black text on white background, superimposed on the browser body.

This is what that article looks like, from within elinks.

And yes, they’re right. Stripping away the cluttered layouts, the pointless gizmos and the sloppy page design means better visibility, easier reading and a cleaner, more pleasant browsing experience. Those Apple demigods are so freaking smart, it must hurt. And whatever made them suspect that less is more? that carving away all the crap leaves only the best parts, and is easier to manage and enjoy? that Flash, Java, rollover CSS effects, popup logins, lightbox effects … all of those things are distractions really?

Hey. …

Hey, waitaminute!

That’s my line! I’ve been saying that for years! I’ve been trying to convince people to drop Firefox and pick up a text-based browser for years now. Because that’s what it does: It removes visual clutter and leaves you with the information you were after in the first place! That’s been my mantra since at least 2007, if not before!

Do you know what this means? Do you realize the implications here?

It means Steve Jobs is reading my blog and stealing my ideas!

Curse you, Steve Jobs! :evil: