Category Archives: Crux Linux

I must work harder: DSL at 150Mhz, 32Mb

This is not the first time I have used Damn Small Linux on the Mebius. Since June or so, when I bought it, I’ve used DSL as a sort of backup or interloper distro, usually for the purpose of installing others across USB.

But in fairness, I made a point of installing it directly to the hard drive, and the lesson learned is: I must work harder.

Usually any number of well-meaning but late-to-the-party visitors suggest DSL when I talk about distros that will work at 150Mhz, with 32Mb on board. It’s the obvious pick.

Probably in the same way any number of well-meaning but again late-to-the-party visitors will suggest Slitaz or Tiny Core or Puppy Linux or Debian. And I say thank you for the suggestions, but I’ve been down those roads.

There are no surprises with DSL. It’s been around as long, if not longer, than I can remember. I am only half saddened that it’s not actively developed any longer, since it’s just as usable now as it ever has been.

To be fair to DSL and to be fair to some of the other distros I’ve looked at lately, DSL did need a little prodding to get into fully usable condition.

Installation went fine, although I used only one “gigantic” 512Mb partition for both the system and home, and a teeny little 128Mb for swap. And a vast wilderness of about 7Gb beyond, unallocated.

The screen needed a little bit of tweaking, but the script does all the work for you, so there wasn’t anything difficult in getting it to jump to the right size and right dimensions.

In total, the system uses only about 16 of the 29Mb available, which gives lots of space for applications or frills. Programs start snappy, with no swapping or lag, as I have had in the past with other systems.

Network is a little bit of a stumbling point for me; the wireless cards I usually rely on — and which I am sure have worked in the past — don’t seem to respond.

Wired ones however, for example ne2000-based cards, work great. If I string a cable to the router, it’s a champion in the true sense of the word.

Wireless is a bit tricky for some reason, in the 4.4.10 release. For the record, I’ve tried orinoco, rt61 and ath5k-based cards, with no luck. No major loss though; my router is only about a meter from the computer.

No, the real kick in the teeth is sound. Not only does DSL find the ISA sound card in this machine, but it configures it properly, sets the volume, and has it up and running even before the desktop appears. (I can hear a little speaker hiss when it comes online.)

And miracle of miracles: Playback is smooth and clean. No stuttering, no skipping, no lag — I’m using the same audio files that were more or less unplayable at any speed below 200Mhz with Crux, archlinux-i586, Debian. …

So obviously I’m doing something wrong. I have managed to wade through the jungle of setting up featherweight, custom-built desktops, and I can get sound working on a minimum of resources.

But DSL is still miles ahead of me in the grand scale of things. My own versions sound like someone singing through spinning fan blades. DSL sounds like the real deal (disregarding that speaker hiss I mentioned … that’s just a fact of 14-year-old laptop speakers 🙄 ).

So I can’t pat myself on the back just yet. If I can get things working right, in the same way DSL can, I’ll consider myself vaguely successful. But until that day … I will work harder. 😀


Looking forward to Crux 2.7

The world doesn’t need me saying it, but I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Crux 2.7 is out.

Crux is still my favorite distro, with three of the four machines I have — all of them i586’s — running it. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s worth trying at least once.

What I’m really looking forward to this time is the bootable USB image, since it should mean that I don’t need the acrobatics I was performing six months ago, with the traditional ISO.

In any case, as soon as an i586 version is ready, and as soon as I have the few hours it takes to experiment, I’ll give some sort of note on how things go. 😉

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. 😳


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. 🙂

FOX Desktop and some graphical apps

Not everything in the house is console-based, as you might have guessed from some of the screenshots around this site. And I do occasionally tinker with new graphical applications too.

Or even entire desktops, like the little-known ROX desktop from a while back. Before I show you another one like that, here are a few applications that are — and some that aren’t — inter-related.

This is qutim.

qutim looks, for most intents and purposes, to be a straightforward IM client with access to a goodly number of networks. Check the home page for the full list; of course the usefulness of any particular client lies with the networks it can access.

But if you’re after something that doesn’t stain your desktop theme with arbitrary icons and bizarre color schemes, you might like this QT-based one.

I haven’t exactly used it; I don’t IM with my blog address, but as you can see, it hooked up nicely to Jabber with my GMail account. Beyond that though, I haven’t really tested it. Give it a spin and see if it suits you.

Another independent project, and an image viewer this time: Viewnior.

I think I found Viewnior in the latest Slitaz, if I remember right. Considering that’s been out for quite a while, I’ve been sitting on this one for too long without mentioning it.

Nice and light (it wouldn’t be in Slitaz if it wasn’t 😐 ), speedy and clean, not too many flashy parts and a clean focus on image viewing. I sometimes still mispronounce it as if it was a film genre though — view-noir. 🙄

Moving on from that poor attempt at a joke, here’s barpanel.

barpanel reminds me slightly of my early days with fbpanel. I have a feeling it’s about as challenging to manage, since the only config I could find was an XML file.

But if you’re an Openbox fan, or just have no fear of the keyboard, that shouldn’t stop you. I adjusted the one in the photo slightly to fit the desktop better, but didn’t go beyond that.

If you want a lightweight panel to take over from some other, heavier applications, that might do the trick for you.

The next three are interlaced, and form the desktop I hinted at earlier. Take a peek at fxdesktop.

Most people know the Fox toolkit from Xfe, which is a great little file manager and something I use daily in my phony Windows XP Classic setups.

You get a lot more than just that when you install the Fox subsystem though. In that photo alone you can see a panel, a calculator, an editor and a control panel, and that wasn’t all that was available.

(Getting it started might be a tiny bit tricky: Try installing Openbox as well, starting the X environment with exec openbox in your .xinitrc file, then opening a terminal and entering export FOX_DESKTOP_WM="openbox" and then entering fxdesktop. That’s what did it for me.)

To highlight one or two, here’s adie, the editor, running solo as a downloaded binary from the Fox website.

It’s reminiscent of Beaver to me, but it’s obvious that this does quite a bit more and is meant to handle heavier coding chores. Likewise, here’s Shutterbug, a screen capture tool, performing independently of fxdesktop but included when Xfe was installed (I think … 🙄 ).

No, the bug doesn’t show up in your captured images, and actually it’s a nice touch since you can push that around the screen to wherever is convenient, and snap screenshots with a single click.

There’s more there and it all runs very light and relatively speedy. Any one of these things alone might be worthwhile on an underpowered, decade-old machine that doesn’t deserve retirement.

And you don’t have to feel trapped and powerless at the command line to use them. 🙄 As if that were even the case. … 😈

A little progress: Audio on low speed CPUs

I made a little progress today, with the problem of console music players at very low processor speeds. The house favorite, moc, has a tendency to stutter on machines slower than about 200Mhz (that might vary from machine to machine and distro to distro) with standard-quality sound files.

By all means it should be possible to play mp3 or ogg files on machines far slower than 150Mhz, but for whatever reason, the machine slows to a sputtering crawl, CPU use sits solidly at 100 percent, sound quality drops to a hideous level and the entire experience is an unqualified failure.

Today, during a brief break, I rebuilt moc 2.5.0-alpha4 to remove absolutely everything I don’t use — unwanted codecs, unneeded support flags, you name it — and leaving only things I knew I would need for either my own 100-percent ogg collection, or streaming music channels.

I think it made a difference. There is still a measure of stuttering on startup, and when a new file is started (which I assume is lag caused by some kind of caching process).

But that stutter only lasts a half a second or a little more on 44Khz VBR ogg files, which is a vast improvement over the continual chirping I was getting with the default configuration of moc 2.4.4 for Crux.

It’s still not perfect — CPU use is still in the 85-100 percent range, any interaction with the machine causes a skip or two, and outside interference (like the normal power off for the screen) also causes a hiccup.

But it seems to recover much more quickly, I don’t have to drop out of the interface to listen to a song, and it’s relatively usable. And listenable, if that’s a word. 🙂

For the record, this is the Pkgfile I used to do this; if you’re also a Cruxian you could give this a try. Arch users could also adjust this to their liking. Note that this pulls libsndfile and adds flac — those are personal preferences.

# Description: Console audio player.
# URL:
# Maintainer: 
# Packager: 
# Depends on: curl flac libvorbis libid3tag libmad


build() {
	cd $name-$version

	./configure \
	--prefix=/usr \
	--mandir=/usr/man \
	--with-alsa \
	--with-curl \
	--with-flac \
	--with-mp3 \
	--with-ncurses \
	--with-vorbis \
	--without-aac \
	--without-ffmpeg \
	--without-jack \
	--without-modplug \
	--without-musepack \
	--without-ncursesw \
	--without-oss \
	--without-rcc \
	--without-samplerate \
	--without-sidplay2 \
	--without-sndfile \
	--without-speex	\
	--without-timidity \
	--without-wavpack \
	--disable-nls \

	make DESTDIR=$PKG install
	install -D -m 0644 -t $PKG/usr/share/moc/ config.example keymap.example 
	rm -rf $PKG/usr/share/doc

Let me know if you have better luck, or if you can trim back the player itself any further. In the mean time, I’ll be trying to force the BIOS power management to stop interrupting my music when the system is on battery. 🙂

Like I need a hole in my head

With so many computers around the house and not really enough things to do with them, you’d think I would make a point of not bringing home another leftover piece of junk.

Unless it’s something I can use as parts, or to improve upon the machines I already have.

That’s what I thought I was doing when I found a Fujitsu NU/13D, a rather banged-up 133Mhz Pentium machine with 64Mb of memory in it, a CDROM but no hard drive.

Ideally, the plan was to scalp whatever was usable — memory and CDROM — and use it in my own Fujitsu Pentium. Alas, it was not to be … in part.

The machine came out of a junk bin in a recycling shop, and some wag had already scooped the memory out of it, or it never had any additional memory to start with. Bummer.

So the CDROM was the only viable transplant, and I say that not having torn apart the machine yet to see if the remaining 32Mb reported by the BIOS is removable. The last Fujitsu-series Pentium I tore apart had the memory fused to the motherboard.

Interestingly, the CDROM is accessible from the operating system and BIOS, but the option to boot from it doesn’t seem to work. It’s possible that it is not completely compatible; the machine is actually a full year older than the one I type on now.

And oddly, it is not an unattractive computer. It’s rough around the edges and needed a vigorous cleaning, but all the parts appear to work and the screen is in good shape. It’s a tiny bit bigger than the one I have now, too.

But the guts are not appealing to me — it also has a dreaded Trident video card — and since the Mebius has USB ports, this new machine is not likely to take over any time soon.

Ironically, I can boot to something like the final release of Damn Small Linux, get a full screen, full color, full resolution desktop, connect to the wireless network with a leftover orinoco/agere wireless card, and all that without a hard drive … and the battery will last an hour and a half.

Too bad that battery is not compatible with the machine I use now though. It will insert, but it can’t draw power off it, and I see where the “model number” on the battery is different. Probably different connections. Oh well.

I also found a rather quaint Corega WLCB54GL2 PCMCIA wireless card, and it apparently is working … sort of. It’s RT61-driven, and it’s been a really, really long time since I fought with an RT61 card.

I can see where the drivers are available in the kernel, but for some reason my kernels can never find the firmware need to run the things. Technically it works (I can get online and surf in Arch Linux) just not when I try to do it myself.

The last thing I noticed was a creepy looking laptop of some sorts: something called a PCsel L7 Avie, if I remember the name right. The screen was minuscule and the size of the thing was suspicious in its smallness.

So I might have been looking at a true antique — maybe a 386 or even 286. I’m sorry to say I didn’t have enough money to take home both that and the Fujitsu, so I left it there.

Of course if I go back now, it’ll be gone. In the wild, wild world of leftover computer junk, you can’t pause to think things over. You gotta move quick. … 🙄

Lookalike Windows XP Classic

Why in the world anyone would want Linux to look like Windows is beyond me. Particularly Windows Classic — that staid old theme that came bundled with Windows XP and attempted to look like the old Windows 2000 desktop.

And yet, thanks to the backend (credit where credit is due 🙄 ), I can tell you with half shock and half embarrassment that the screenshots that get the most traffic are ones of a Windows Classic theme knockoff I created about a year ago. And still fine-tune now and again.

It’s ugly, it’s boring, it’s dull and it’s hackneyed. But it’s also amazingly fast, light as air and easy to set up, given you have a few configurations and about an hour of your time.

I’ve put this on everything from Pentium Classics to dual core Intel machines and without fail, it runs quick and light and never disappoints. I even had a friend over to my house about a week ago, and I was asked when I had started using Windows again.

So it must be a little convincing, at least. I’ve built this in Arch Linux, Crux Linux, Ubuntu, Debian … and if there are others out there with the same software available, I’m sure it can be done on them too.

Linux is beautiful and clean and fast and creative — just about everything Windows isn’t. So try it if you must — it’s not that great and it’ll probably be disappointing, but so was Windows. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. 😉

P.S.: I do not suggest using this as a trick to push someone into using Linux. Convert through desire, not through subterfuge, friends. … 😀