Category Archives: Uncategorized

Not a new idea, not a bad idea

Pop quiz! What’s wrong with this picture?

Answer: There’s nothing wrong with it. Except that there isn’t anything running but htop and a few instances of ssh, plus the screenshot program and Debian’s underlying structure.

So what’s the point? The point is, on another tty I am typing this post. In other words, one of those tty sessions is running my regular system remotely, and this machine is just the intermediary.

That’s right: It’s a dumb terminal now. Welcome to 1978. :roll:

Innovative? No. Awe-inspiring? No. New and improved? No and no.

So what’s the point? Well, having that beat-up Toshiba Dynabook in the house has given me the chance to try a little something I mentioned a very long time ago, but haven’t really done.

There’s nothing that I do on a day-to-day basis that a much faster, much more powerful computer couldn’t do as a side gig while it handles something else.

All that’s needed to mesh the two is a simple network connection and an instance of ssh. So when the Toshiba arrived and proved unaccommodating in all the important areas (like keyboard and screen :roll: ) I decided to give this a try.

Basically, I just mimicked the Debian installation on the Toshiba, then rsync’d the entire home directory from the Pentium to the Celeron.

I set up dropbear and got a wireless connection working, and now I’m done.

So what good is it? Let me start with the bad things, if you don’t mind.

First, I lose any practical access to the framebuffer on the Pentium, just because the system isn’t meant to work that way. So things like fim or fbv or fbi are not going to happen.

That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. I don’t miss it personally, but if you rely on something like the graphical version of links, that might be important.

Second, like the highly touted yet ever farcical cloud computing trend, you do need a functional network to do this. And that means your files aren’t local, unless you take the time to back them up over the network at some point.

In-house, that doesn’t bother me, but otherwise I wouldn’t really dig it.

And yes, I suppose this does increase the power consumption. So all you wannabe greenies out there who scold me on a regular basis via e-mail for not dumping my collection in a landfill can harass me about how I’m actually drawing 100W now, as opposed to 40W regularly. Shame on me.

On the plus side however, there are quite a few points of interest.

First, this places all the workload on the machine with the actual power in it. All the Pentium does is relay what is happening on the other side of the room.

And so I’m effectively taking advantage of their strong points. The 700Mhz Celeron can handle the grunting and grinding of actually saving and loading and writing and accessing.

And the Pentium, which has a lovely keyboard and proper framebuffer support, can show the action in glorious 800×600, with no impediment. Even if it lacks the processor wherewithal, comparatively.

In fact, as you can see in that picture, system demands are at an all-time low. Even Debian, which has a much higher memory profile than ConnochaetOS or my custom Crux systems, needs only 10Mb to keep itself happy.

And that means, to me, that there is the potential here to drop even lower on the scale of usability. Get out your 486: If you can connect it to your network and get a decent screen going, you can probably use it as a dumb terminal for your bigger one.

And I get the luxury of hardware the Pentium just doesn’t have, or can’t do because of this that or the other. I can run moc on the Celeron and control it from the Pentium, much like I did with mplayer here.

And I have USB ports that I can directly access, as well as a CDROM now. True, it’s not quite the same as actually having them on-board, on this machine, but the idea is there.

And although it’s a rarity, I could call this a sort of security measure, as a safer place to store data. Well, that’s what the cloud computer proponents say, anyway.

I don’t think I’ll keep this arrangement for long, but I will keep my eye open for very old, very low-end machines now, that I might use in this same capacity, just for fun.

And if I can get my hands on one of those ancient Librettos, I’ll be a true Internet hero. :D

A new and proper avatar

It’s been years now since I found a rather amusing icon on the backwaters of the Internet somewhere, and decided to adopt it as a symbol of … me.

Fact is though, I don’t have license or permission to use the previous image, and as this site becomes more prominent (I laugh as I write that), I start to wonder if perhaps a freer image is important.

So I approached a semiprofessional artist sometime last year, and “commissioned” an original work to serve as a symbol. This one is fully owned by me, without any strictures or terms from the artist.

And it has replaced the old caricature, in the few places I use it. I am releasing the old image completely and hopefully avoiding any ownership issue that might have come about.

At the same time, I am really like the new image, for capturing the essence of what the old one meant to me, and at the same time adding an accent that the old one lacked.

This might not be much to clamor about, when the image is generally displayed in a 90-pixel square, it’s an important moment in local history. Inasmuch as this site is a “home.” ;)

A comfortable limit

Over the years I’ve had a few offers to move beyond this medium into a venue that’s a bit broader — usually podcasts or something similar. And I am flattered by the offers, but I have to say no.

I am open about my efforts to maintain a severe divide between my online persona and my real life — open about being closed, so to speak. There’s no big secret — I’m not famous or influential at all, in fact it’s quite to the contrary.

However, I really feel there is a danger to giving up too much information to the Internet. You won’t find me on Facebook — K.Mandla or my real-life identity — or any other “social network,” unless the Ubuntu Forums counts.

It’s just too scary, if you ask me. The hottest commodity available in the world today is a secure grasp on an identity, and all the trappings that come with it.

And I don’t trust the Internet, with its flashing lights and shiny buttons, to keep that information secure. I’ve mentioned in the past my distrust of cloud computing, and this aversion is similar.

Something like a podcast — by virtue of tone of voice, accent or even speech patterns — would be giving away more information than I am comfortable with. More than the little I’ve made available already.

So I’ll say publicly, to the few offers I’ve received … thanks, but no thanks. This format, although I detest it in general, is a compromise between expression and privacy. For the time being, this is as far as I’ll go. :)

A couple (or four) free games

I am somewhat short on time today, but I should make note that opening an account at, like I did last week, I got four games for free. Two of them I recognized.


On the left, Beneath a Steel Sky, which is a point-and-click adventure game along the lines of … oh goodness, just about anything that predates 3D acceleration.

On the right, Tyrian, which is a top-down shooter in the vein of Spy Hunter or 1942 or Ikaruga or … there are too many to mention.

I’ve played both of them before, probably because BASS is in the repositories for Ubuntu, and because somewhere along the line I heard about the OpenTyrian project. And the game has been freeware since 2004, I believe.

The funny part is, since one runs via scummvm and the other via dosbox, “installing” the games through the installer means you can run them directly from within Linux, using those tools straightaway. Kind of wacky.

Anyway, there were two other games I didn’t recognize, and when I have time ( :lol: ) I might try them out. It’ll be a while: I have my current re-obsession with Icewind Dale to consider. :D

One does not imply the other

I wouldn’t equate Linux proficiency with command-line proficiency, but it doesn’t surprise me that prevailing wisdom needs the latter to define the former. In other words, this poll from a while ago in the Ubuntu Forums.

To me, those are really two distinct issues — how proficient are you with Linux, and how comfortable are you with the command line — being morphed into one so some sense of objectiveness can be attained.

Because judging your own ability is inherently subjective. Just as an example, I see myself as a beginner and probably always will. People graduate from university on a daily (monthly? quarterly?) basis with computer and Linux proficiency that far outstrips mine.

On the other hand, I have met more than one person — to include Windows “power users,” to be completely unfair and off-topic — who gave me an irritating smirk and the classic line from Brazil, that “Computers are my forte.” And then couldn’t turn the stupid thing on.

But above and beyond all that, I can’t say that I’m too thrilled with another post that somehow splices Linux’s learning curve with the mystique of the command line.

Why? Mostly because it engenders the myth that you need to be some sort of Linux overmind to enjoy or understand using CLI applications and programs.

I’d just as soon get away from that myth, because it doesn’t have to be that way. Truth be told, I do very little in the way of day-to-day operations without some sort of User Interface … it’s just not Graphical.

So in the future, let’s keep a clean separation between Linux expertise and command-line skill. You can be an expert and not use the command line. And you can use the command line and not be an expert. :twisted:

An extremely minor update

Time is extremely short today, so I must ask your forgiveness for an equally short post.

I’ve been keeping a day-to-day chronicle of my adventures here for almost five years now. Don’t applaud; it’s nothing to be proud of. Blogging itself is a vacuous and insipid pastime, and I resent it wholeheartedly.

Regardless, some people pointed out that my About page is a little out-of-date, and didn’t really reflect what this site has evolved into.

And they were right, and so I adjusted it slightly. It’s still a very quick rundown on what happens here, with old hardware being the focus, and with the obligatory GFDL statement as well.

And since I still — years after starting out — get comments asking what the title means … that information is now right up front. ;)

An impending move

I first should apologize for the scarcity of posts over the last week or so. There is a reason for that; unfortunately it’s pinned to some real-life changes that have an impact on the topics of this blog.

I am anticipating a move in the next month or so. After three years at the same job and in the same house, I have about a month before most everything is uprooted and I shift to a new location.

I won’t give too many details, but I can say that I will still be in Japan. I enjoy the culture and people — particularly when compared to my native culture — and so I plan to stay a while longer.

It does mean there is a possible gap in “service” in the coming weeks though. I anticipate, for the mean time, to continue daily updates, but if there is a break, you’ll know why.

The other implication though, is to make me wonder if I shouldn’t prune my collection of antiques a little, and lighten my load before I move.

There are some obvious things that need dispersal — I have about three times as many network cards as computers, for example. And one or two of my machines don’t even need external network cards.

And there is the traditional and unavoidable collection of junk that comes with the hobby. Wire wraps. Empty boxes. Stacks of burned but unused ISOs.

I am sifting through the stuff nowadays, and the excess will make its way to the recycle shop. Which is where a lot of it came from.

The irony lies in knowing that, in my new location, there will probably be a similar shop, with similar junk, and I’ll no doubt bring home the same stuff again. :roll:

Bug No. 602265: A forum bookmark

I have an Ubuntu gripe that needs … griped: To the best of my knowledge, there is no default shortcut to the Ubuntu Forums in a clean installation of Ubuntu.

For me, as a long-time moderator and as someone who relied heavily on the forums in my early Linux experience, that’s a bit of a disappointment.

Regardless of what you think about the distro, and regardless of what you think about the forums, it’s still one of the — if not the — largest Linux-focused forums on the Internet … and I have heard it said that it ranks among of the largest forums, period. (Of course, I don’t have numbers for that. Perhaps you can find some.)

In any case, I think a site of that size and with that much influence — and now with a five-plus-year history of helping people free themselves from Microsoft and Apple — deserves a better representation in the distro itself.

Any number of distros, from the smallest to the largest, make a point of sending users directly to help forums. Ubuntu should do the same … and lumping them all into a “support site” just isn’t the same thing for me. And yes, I know Linux’s traditional reliance on mailing lists. :roll:

There is, actually, a bug report that approaches this issue obliquely: Launchpad bug No. 602265. It’s been around for a while and was actually framed by philinux, another moderator, in the context that the default shortcuts in Firefox needed updating.

And on the whole I can agree with that. If it means a direct link to the forums, then yes, those shortcuts need updating.

Personally though, I am focused on only one of those links. To me it just seems like a good idea, and a worthy nod to a resource that has had such a huge impact on so many lives.

Those ads

Just a note right now, and not anything that is critical or pressing.

If you’re seeing ads while you visit this site, I feel obliged to mention that they are not my doing. forcibly inserts ads, whether the host wants them or not, into the site body.

It’s something that’s completely outside my control, but it’s how they make money. I get none of it. Please don’t e-mail me to say, “I really like your site, but I find the ads annoying.”

Because I will reply with a terse, “I’m glad you like the site, but get an ad blocker.” :twisted:

Look out Ubuntu, look out Arch: Linux Mint Debian

I don’t consider myself a distro reviewer. My own views on software and usability are so far out of line from the everyday desktop Linux user that my opinions can’t help but be twisted and bizarre.

But I do have a long list of distros I’ve looked over, tweaked, punched, kicked and pondered, and even if I’m harsher on some days than others, I try — really, I do try — to be honest and fair. If I like it, I say so. If I don’t, I say so.

This, I really like.


I never was a Linux Mint fan. It won a few points recently in its LXDE rendition by pleasing a neighbor, so in a roundabout way it made me happy too.

And with the release of a Debian-based version, I figured it was time to pause, breathe deeply and take a closer look. So this morning I sloughed off my prejudices (like a snake shedding its skin), installed it and spent the day with it.

I expected no speed differences over the Ubuntu version, and no real super duper changes in the way things worked. I didn’t anticipate any usability issues or frustrations, given its history and reputation for making Ubuntu “even easier.”

In fact, the only expectation I had really, was an Arch Linux-style rolling release structure, and perhaps a few updates to make after installing.* So this was a shock:

A mere 110Mb, plus or minus, after a cold boot is amazing. I haven’t seen a full Gnome setup ride out a startup in under 110Mb since I put together a Gnome skeleton in Arch Linux. And that one was rather sparse.

So a full desktop, with bells and whistles and accoutrements looking at me from about 105Mb out of 3Gb is a bucket of cold water to the face. This is giving Arch a run for its money too.

And really, if anything, this is a complete and absolute vindication for any Debian fan who has ever suggested building a custom system from The Swirl and insisted it would be lighter and/or faster than Ubuntu.

Aye, there’s the rub: Ubuntu in its grotesque corpulence, tipping the scales at more than 300Mb just to show a startup screen, is suddenly in a very, very harsh light. Linux Mint Debian is doing as much with only a fraction of the resources.

Even worse, Mint Debian is matching what Lubuntu and its brethren need to get going. The term “lightweight” is suddenly relative.

For a lot of people, resource demand is immaterial; I acknowledge that. And for me, for this machine, it should be also: A core duo with 3Gb of PC2-5300 and a 7200rpm SATA3G drive is hardly a clunker (I hope :roll: ).

But I don’t do my best work on an L2300. I live at 120Mhz and use the fast machine for dull things like checking for spam and streaming audio. (Sue me for wasting resources. I enjoy the irony. :twisted: )

So if you tell me that you have a distro that includes almost every heavyweight program available in the Linux software spectrum, to include Firefox with Flash, Java, Gnome, Compiz, MPlayer and VLC and codecs, plus the kitchen sink, and then tell me it’ll start up on less than 110Mb … I can’t help but be impressed.

And beyond that, I have no higher compliment. Ubuntu, look out: This one offers more, and eats up less. And Arch, look out, because this one can do much the same, with a lot less time spent setting up.

A gold smilie — no, better yet, a green smilie for the Linux Mint Debian crew: :mrgreen:

*”A few,” by the way, was a drastic underestimate … I had to download about 300Mb in updates and the ISO was released what, 10 days ago? :shock: Be prepared.