Archive for the 'Linux' Category

Welcoming the new encumbrance

The bulk of my daily “work” is done on a 12-year-old Pentium 4 machine. I’ll save the gory details for later; suffice to say that it is a bit of a classic, and one I enjoy using immensely.

I have noticed though, that in spite of running svelte and light, as you would expect me to do, that there are some significant slowdowns.

Originally the machine came equipped with Windows XP, a meager 1.6Ghz processor and a lowly 1Gb of memory. Nothing to write home about.

I upped that to 2.6Ghz and 2Gb with Arch Linux, not so much because it needed it, but because it’s cheap now, and the machine itself is easy to upgrade.

And it handles most everything I need it for — surfing, online transactions, browser-based word processing or data analysis, and perhaps running VICE for a distraction or two. ;)

In fact, short of intrinsic hardware improvements — like more processor cores or finer screen resolutions or solid state drives — there’s not a whole lot that has really changed between this and most “modern” laptops. Sure, mine is a little slower by necessity, but all the same core parts are there: motherboard, drive, video adapter, display, and so forth. Twelve years have been rather patient with this machine.

But there are specific times when it’s definitely moving slower than, for example, the weatherbeaten Dell D830 I keep on the desk nearby. Not on the start, and not in file management or music playback or even 3D animation. Heck, I get something like 2000fps in glxgears. And that’s with a mid-market video card that was obsolete in 2004.

But there’s a lurch or a drag now that, to be honest, I don’t remember seeing even five or six years ago on a lowly 1Ghz Pentium III.

And the culprit is … the Internet. :shock:

Navigating the web is hands-down the biggest, densest chore, and at its worst, it’s almost spine-chilling. Long page redraws, fans at full tilt while rendering an image. Not just on this machine, but on others too.

And that’s where the cold sense of impending doom creeps in, because there’s not much remedy for it. It’s outside our control.

Six years ago I insisted those slap-happy lightbox effects were a drudge. More than once, in fact.

But six years ago I would have chalked up a slurred effect to the operating system — blame Windows, that was obviously the problem. If you couldn’t get tip-top performance out of a machine as powerful as a Pentium 4, then your bloated operating system was at fault.

And the core of that issue was easy to read: Microsoft makes no money unless you re-buy their product. It’s defective by design. It’s programmed obsolescence. Create a product that self-destructs over the course of two or three years, and you have a chance to glean a little more revenue, periodically. Just like light bulbs, or televisions. This is nothing new.

Only now I’m not sure that’s the source of the problem. Yes, Microsoft and Apple are still sticking it to the uneducated consumer. And yes, John Q. Public still thinks computers are like brake pads that have to be bought over and over again, over time.

But this new limiting factor — bogging down the web with clutter and flair — that’s the wave of the future.

It doesn’t matter any more what operating system you run, if it has two cores or four, if it has this much memory or more. If the new Web-based culture is the least bit impeded by Firefox’s degrading ability to show pictures of cats. … Well, then: Time for a new computer.

To me, this makes a lot of sense. The PC market is dying, a generation of smartphone users are reaching the age of majority, and the contract-and-renewal system embraced by the cell phone industry is far more appealing than the traditional slap-and-dash shiny-new-desktop re-buying gimmick.

So long as the content is dragged to a crawl by lightbox effects and worthless glitter, then declining performance in online applications and cloud-based computing become the new delimiter. Can’t get to your Facebook status quite so fast any more? Maybe it’s time for a new gizmo.

Personally, I welcome this new encumbrance with the same aplomb as I have in the past, when 800Mhz machines were called old, or hyper-threading P4s were castoffs. Your loss is my gain. I have bought Vista-era dual cores in perfect condition for less than $50, and received outstanding performance at the cost of no more effort than clicking a few buttons in Linux Mint. Albeit there was that same dragging effect, when rendering pictures of cats. :???:

It’s a little disconcerting that this new trend places the burden beyond the reach of the computer user, in a place where there’s not much they can do about it. But it’s a big world and we have a lot of time stretching out in front of us. I’m sure someone will come up with a solution. In the mean time, you can send your leftover core duo machines to me. :twisted:

Any colour you like

I’m going to break radio silence a little bit, and drop a post here for the first time in years.

I’ll say up front that if these screenshots offend you, I won’t apologize.

2014-04-06-l3-b7175-luna-simple 2014-04-06-l3-b7175-luna-complex

Nor will I apologize if you find these somehow irritating.

2014-03-26-lv-r1fz6-r 2014-03-18-lv-r1fz6-pure-ftpd

In fact, if you don’t like them, I really don’t care at all. Simply because what I use on my computer is not your business.

Horrified at the thought that someone might still use an interface that was designed before you were born? Deal with it. Can’t believe someone wouldn’t find the Luna-esque Windows XP themes oily and kitsch? Tough. Think I’m a troll if I claim Windows 2000 was the last good Microsoft operating system? Suffer.

The thing is, I still use desktops like that from time to time, maybe just to irritate readers like you, but maybe because it’s what I like.

I got a lot of traffic over the weekend to an old page I drew up a few years ago, about massaging IceWM to follow the look of the old Windows XP Classic theme. The referring site linked to my page, and to another that wasn’t mine, that offered some themes intended to XP-Luna-ify Lubuntu. That’s what you see in the top photos.

I knew it would happen. Unless I’m mistaken, Tuesday was the death knell for Windows XP. Some well-meaning Linux enthusiasts are pushing the OS of their choice, with an XP makeover, as an alternative to buying the newest slop out of Redmond.

And surprisingly (to me, anyway), the majority of the feedback on that referring site was negative. Don’t lull a Windows user into using Linux. You’re doing them a disservice. Tell them to adapt or perish, now as ever, as is nature’s inexorable imperative.

Take a step back for a second. Try to think like you’re not the geek that we both are. ;)

There are a lot of people — a lot — for whom a computer is not a hobby, not a passion, and not the locus of their waking hours. For them, computers are just tools, probably in the same way cars are for other people. Or microwave ovens for others, or bookkeeping for others … or you name it for whoever.

A computer to them is just an object. It’s a thing. It doesn’t hold any great curiosity, it’s not interesting to pull apart, and it doesn’t enthuse them beyond what they need to get a job done. A car gets you from point A to point B, and a computer gets you from point C to point D.

I can sympathize. I have a lot of dis-interests like that. You could talk to me all day about laptops and free software, and you’d lose me the second you changed the subject to real estate or the stock market. It just doesn’t grab me.

So for those folks who need something that behaves how they expect, and does what they need, and looks the way they know … I fail to see the harm in setting up a desktop that is arranged the way they want it.

And if that doesn’t squelch your quasi-insurgent anti-establishment justifications for Ludovico techniques, consider the possibility that Lubuntu rearranged to look like the original Windows XP startup screen might just be what they like.

About five years ago I put fingers to keys and pounded out a list of four hideous reasons to adopt Linux, the last of which was “duress.” Actually, looking over it now is a good reminder of how things were, and what they’ve become.

I won’t retract that last item though. I still think being “forced” to use Linux, either through deceit or the expiration of a 13-year-old operating system, is a bad idea.

But I can’t see the harm in giving someone a newer, or even a different operating system at their request, and then rearranging it to resemble what they know and expect. Or just plain like.

And now, one more, to see if I can trigger a gag reflex in that last tiny segment of the audience who actually read this far:

2014-04-06-g60-125nr-mate-xp-classic

Linux Mint Petra, MATE edition, done over to look like XP. Why? Because I like it that way. :twisted:

My Green Fedora

It’s a tiny bit ironic that a day after I harass high-end distros for possibly lowering the bar too much, I show a screenshot of Fedora 15.

I can’t explain why, but I was actually a little bit excited by the prospect of looking at this.

I’m not a Fedora user at all. I grew up (so to speak) in the Ubuntu camp, and while I’ve never really embraced the Red Hat sphere, it certainly never lost points for me.

What can I tell you that you can’t see in the picture, or by booting up the live ISO? It’s blue. It’s clean. The fonts are SO SHARP THEY CUT MY EYES! :shock:

I haven’t run into many problems yet, aside from some glitches with keyboard layout settings that were easily overcome after a moment at the command line.

Not bad though. I might install it for a while on the guinea pig, and give it an equal shake to what Ubuntu got.

The big question is, is this desktop much different than Unity? Not in my estimation. Lots of shiny buttons and flipping composite windows. Glossy and glittery, as is the trend.

I don’t dislike it, at least not any more than Ubuntu’s desktop. But if I have more to say, I’ll be sure to post it in the vein of this. ;)

A self-explanatory conversation

I suppose I should be embarrassed that I actually took up this position in a conversation.

27.05.11 06:50 I’m starting to think that young kids on the Internet are all idiots.
27.05.11 06:58 I have suspected for a long time that everyone on the Internet is an idiot.
27.05.11 06:58 The Internet is like cars and TVs.
27.05.11 06:59 Only idiots on it?
27.05.11 06:59 They have to be reduced to the most inane terms to make them usable by everyone — especially the absolute moron — so that companies can make money.
27.05.11 06:59 So cars are just boxes with wheels, that we turn and go places.
27.05.11 06:59 TVs are just boxes with buttons that show pictures.
27.05.11 06:59 Internet is similar.
27.05.11 07:00 The less complicated, the more people use it, the better a chance to make money.
27.05.11 07:00 And at the same time, the collective census of people using it has an average intelligence level that is slowly floating downward.
27.05.11 07:01 Software is doing the same thing.
27.05.11 07:01 You really should write a book.
27.05.11 07:03 Or start a blog.

There’s really no way to defend that without coming across like an elitist prig. Social grace demands that I withhold some ugly concepts in order to be polite.

I could tell you that all of humanity rolls across a bell curve for computer aptitude, and people near the left-hand tail should probably stick with pens and paper.

But that would imply that some people simply don’t have a practical ability level, and that would sound mean-spirited, and therefore taboo.

I could insist that pushing Linux to embrace more of the central arc of that bell curve means that another resulting curve — the average ability level of Linux users — likewise shifts downward.

But that would imply that pulling in day-to-day users results in less impressive statistics, or that the regular user is getting stupider.

That would likewise be ugly and therefore can’t be repeated.

So I will mention none of those things, and refrain from suggesting that crafting Linux to appeal to less adept computer users is resulting in a mass stupidification of the user base.

I admit I had suggested some similar points, but it was an extract from a conversation on many different topics at once. And I feel slightly guilty now, just as a sign of penitence.

After that, if you inferred anything else, you’re on your own. :evil:

Still with ConnochaetOS

In case you were wondering, or even if you weren’t, I should mention that the 150Mhz Mebius is still the brains behind this operation.

And although I sometimes flip-flop between distros for it, the chief contender at this juncture is still ConnochaetOS.

During my Extremely Busy Time a week or so ago, I briefly returned to the Crux installation I had in place as recently as March.

But that unfortunately relies on Xorg to do most of the dirty work, and on a machine this slow, I have no faith in X and company.

ConnochaetOS inherits a lot of Arch Linux’s demeanor, and using only the framebuffer (which it can automatically configure to 800×600 on this confounded Trident video card, even when I can’t do it myself :evil: ) makes this machine a very impressive performer.

By default ConnochaetOS installs a graphical environment, and that means you’ll have to strip out a lot of the stuff that comes in the 0.8.9 beta 2 ISO.

It’s worth the effort though, because the resulting system, spared of the trappings and dead weight of Xorg, takes up much less space on the hard drive and much less space in memory.

It’s not perfect of course. Sound is sometimes sketchy, but it’s sketchy in my custom systems too. Sometimes the bell rings when someone sends a message in centerim, and sometimes it doesn’t. :roll:

But it admits a little more flexibility, hardware-wise, than the custom systems I have built. And there’s the benefit of being lazy, and letting someone else handle the hard work of updating core software. ;)

That’s nice, even I have to build and maintain the other 90 percent of the software I use, because it’s not in the conventional repos.

Luckily Arch, and by extension ConnochaetOS, has some remarkable tools just for that. Hello, PKGBUILDs.

All things considered, I like using this a lot more than some of the other systems I’ve tried at this speed. Debian won’t boot, Crux is more high-maintenance than I want right now … this one is just right.

If you’re also trapped in the i586 bracket, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Even as I did six months ago. … :)

Less than successful: mc as a daemon

Sometimes I try things that sound good while they’re bouncing around in my brain, but after they’re done, I wonder why I bothered.

A long time ago, someone posted a method for trapping rtorrent in screen session and running it as a daemon. Attaching to the screen session gave normal users a way of controlling it.

Detaching from screen meant it continued to run in the background, so long as it wasn’t told outright to quit. And since it started as a system service, just turning on the machine put it into action.

At the same time, I banged around with mc about nine months ago, trying to force it into tty1 instead of getty.

The goal there was similar — to start up an application with the system, devote a single virtual console to it, and allow the user to bounce back and forth to that tty as a means of running it.

Last week during my forced hiatus, I tried a hybrid of those two, and more or less managed to run mc as a daemon, also within screen and with it triggered at bootup.

It wasn’t quite successful though (you probably guessed that, didn’t you?). In the time that has elapsed since the original post about rtorrent-plus-screen, things seem to have changed in the way those things work.

To summarize, I couldn’t get the ownership issues sorted out. The autostarting instance of screen was for some reason invisible to a normal user, which of course defeated the purpose.

Trying to shift the burden to tty1 only confused things. screen balked, and my configurations were somehow inaccessible.

Without a .screenrc that I could cue, tty1 opened up as a vanilla screen session, and then refused to budge beyond the welcome message.

Of course, after all was said and done, I began to wonder why I was bothering with the idea at all. Midnight Commander is a tiny little program that runs fine on every machine in the house.

And I couldn’t even use the excuse that it was somehow easier to invoke that way, since you can start mc with three keystrokes. :roll:

Short of assigning a custom keypress to the mc command, it doesn’t get much simpler than m-c-Enter.

Still, science demanded an answer. Unfortunately, this time my answer was gibberish. :|

Quick note: goosh.org

Time is short today, but I feel like I should leave an equally short note by mentioning goosh.org.

 

It’s hard for me to frame exactly what goosh.org is, except maybe to point out that “goosh” breaks apart into “Google shell.”

So if you can imagine a text-based interface to Google … well, you might have the right idea.

No, this is not really a substitute for surfraw, so much as an oddball way to communicate with Google.

I’ll let you explore the site and see how much of it appeals to you. It has a few noteworthy fillips, scattered here and there.

I should point out a small measure of irony though, in that goosh.org doesn’t work for me in a text-based browser. elinks just refers itself back to the original page again.

But that’s okay. It’s still worth taking a look at. You can show it to your friends, or trap it in a borderless panel in your tiling window manager, and win points from your geek friends. Enjoy. :)

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:

A gray area: darkstat

I tampered with a few console programs during my hiatus, with one of the more interesting being darkstat.

 

I don’t know if I should really call darkstat a console program or not. For what I saw, there was very little that it did at the console, with most of the attention going to its web-style output.

That’s very convenient if you just want to find out — graphically — how things are going, network-wise. Most of its configuration is at the prompt though, which you adjust when you start it.

But it runs light, as you can see, and I had no problem checking the traffic on the loopback address. I didn’t try it across the network, but I have a feeling it would probably be equally easy … so long as you’re properly configured, of course.

Believe it or not, that’s about all I have to say about it. I am debating internally whether I should add this to the wiki, since it seems to fall into a … gray area. Ha! That was almost a pun! :shock: :roll:

Revisiting the tabbed desktop

One of the things I had time to try, but didn’t have time to write about, was a revisit to someone else’s idea. I do that quite often, now that I think about it.

This time it was urukrama’s tabbed desktop from a couple of years ago. Things like that tend to roll around in my mind, and then bubble up after a while.

I caught myself thinking the other day that screen’s status bar, while it doesn’t seem to like to be pushed to the top of the display, could do some reverse-text codes, and make it look like tabs.

You might have to use your imagination here, but if the active “window” is set to the same color as the terminal background, then if you squint really hard and hold your breath, it looks like a tab. See? See? :P

Playing with that for a few minutes sent me back to urukrama’s desktop, which did a better job with tint2 and Openbox than I was doing with screen alone.

  

That’s rather rudimentary, and not really much of an improvement over the grace and style of urukrama’s original work.

And most of it was slapped together with tint2′s onboard wizard (the aptly named tintwizard.py), which makes things much, much easier. I’d like to find something along those same lines for Openbox itself.

But I haven’t saved the configuration files here because it wasn’t much of an accomplishment, and because it only took a few minutes to arrange what you see.

And really, if I’m going to rely on a tab-like interface to a long string of terminal programs, then there are better ways to arrange it. Probably. :)


Welcome!



Visit the Wiki!

Some recent desktops


May 6, 2011
Musca 0.9.24 on Crux Linux
150Mhz Pentium 96Mb 8Gb CF
 


May 14, 2011
IceWM 1.2.37 and Arch Linux
L2300 core duo 3Gb 320Gb

Some recent games


Apr. 21, 2011
Oolite on Xubuntu 11.04
L2300 core duo 3Gb 320Gb

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