Category Archives: Debian

In praise of Debian 5

That’s right: Debian 5. Not 6, 5. I touched on that point briefly in a post early last week, but didn’t get the chance to expound upon it too much. Real life intruded.

But the overarching idea is the fact that Debian 6 requires slightly more memory as a bare minimum. For old-old-old machines that fall below that 43Mb mark by default, they’re going to require upgrades to stay current (technically speaking, of course).

On the other hand though, 32 megabytes, which was a common watermark among late-generation Pentiums, is still very much accessible to Debian 5.

Very much. That photo frame I mentioned a week or two ago has enough processor, video and memory power to handle

  1. Awesome 2, which is for some people, a preferable version anyway;
  2. ssh and nfs, for transferring files and controlling the system remotely;
  3. feh, a very very light image viewer with some amazing features that you won’t find in your ordinary GTK2-reliant image application;
  4. and cmus, which might hold the top spot — or should I say low spot? — among console music players.

And it can do all those things at the same time, which is mind-boggling in a way. Thirty-two megabytes and 133Mhz on a lowly Trident video card. Barely worth keeping.

But what you can make of it is a remote music player with a slideshow visualizer, and probably for less money than it would cost you to feed your belly.

True, it’s old-stable, which means it’s one step off from Debian’s current rendition, but it’s not unusable, it’s solid as a rock and probably won’t fight you in setting up.

And if it keeps another machine out of the landfill … well, that’s just perfect.

One tool, one game, one clock

I still have a long list of console applications that I want to note. Sometimes this is for my benefit, and sometimes it’s in hopes of being someone else’s benefit.

Some of these I discovered via the wiki, which continues to be as much a resource for me as it is a way of discovering new talents for the terminal.

Starting as simply as possible, here’s concalc.

There are plenty of console-based calculators, and superficially it appears that concalc doesn’t do much that a reasonably educated bash user couldn’t do anyway.

It does handle scripting though, which might be of use to you, and it will no doubt streamline some more complex math functions if you need them at the terminal prompt.

And as is always the case with small, soft-spoken applications like this, there is a potential beyond the obvious. Take a closer look and see what you come up with.

Next is a game — pente.

Dating back a decade and still in the Debian repositories, pente is the traditional variant of go usually called five-in-a-row.

This one is easy to use and manage, with any number of console keys that will control the cursor for you, and a simple key press to place a marker.

This will run in either the console or in X supposedly, although it was nice to see that the Debian version didn’t incur any giant dependencies when installing it.

The last one today is a clock, and a rather nifty one at that.


This is tbclock, which I didn’t see in AUR or in Debian Squeeze, and that’s a shame really. It’s a very nice clock with a lot of color and movement to it, and a large improvement over the old binclock package — no matter how you dice it.

It also supports vertical arrangements, as you can see above, plus a digital readout to help us lesser beings understand what time it is, and a built-in game. 😯 This place has everything. …

Personally I’m going to jam this last one into my handy-dandy screensaver script for screen, and watch it do something while I do nothing. 🙂

That’s all for now. Three down, 400 more to go. …

Take your medicine: typespeed

Is it a game? Is it a training tool? Is it legalized torture?


You can decide. That’s typespeed, which was added to the wiki by one of the volunteers … and which I hadn’t heard of before.

I’m always glad to find a new toy or two, and it would probably behoove me to spend a little more time with this one.

As a point of interest, you can set it to use not only English words, but words from several different languages — and even programming languages.

You haven’t been challenged until #endif and single brackets have floated by and you’re feverishly trying to remember which key faces left and which one faces right.

I joke, but this is another one of those programs that, in my humble opinion, proves that a graphical interface isn’t always necessary. Enjoy. 😉

From 32 to 43

Disappointed? Saddened? Nostalgic? I’m trying to describe my reaction to Debian’s increased memory requirement.

It’s no surprise really, that the text-based installer on the business card CD wants 43Mb of memory to install. Mentally I had always put that number at 32Mb, which I really only inherited from working with Ubuntu for years.

Not so any more. Even as far back as a year ago, machines I upgraded from stable to testing couldn’t boot on 32Mb of memory. And the installer now says 43Mb is the bare minimum, officially.

It may be that there is a way to circumvent that — after all, the installer doesn’t quit, it just tells you that you’re on thin ice.

But I guess what that means is I need to invest in a couple of old sticks of PC66 … and stop whining about the old days. This is progress, take it or leave it. 🙂

More vaguely unattached ideas

Once again I seem to have collected a few small notes and links that would do better lumped together, rather than alone.

  • In the way of updates, I should mention that the Tamsyn font I learned about a month ago has been updated to include line drawing symbols, which makes it much more attractive in text-based user interfaces.

    That’s 7×14 and very clean. Even 6×11 is very readable, and the way that looks, I might have to feed it into my Debian systems. I could use a little vacation from Terminus. 😉

  • Also from the font department: I regularly use a Japanese keyboard but rarely go through the hoops to set up multilingual characters or international fonts beyond what is default in Xorg. To that end, there’s a very good series of posts at Chip’s Tips on getting urxvt to show CJK and other letter sets. And if that’s not enough, the Gentoo archives wiki page on UTF-8 is very helpful.
  • The Mebius has been updated to Crux 2.7, which is only important because I had held off for so long on making the jump. Directly updating from the Crux 2.7-i586 ISO was easy, but still needed two or three packages recompiled — most notably imlib2 and anything that required openssl (think: elinks beta, alpine, etc.). In any case, I put that off for far too long.
  • I got a note from Brandon about an HP Pavilion laptop with a Trident-brand graphics card in it, that has some horrific wrapping effects when using the framebuffer.

    I have seen this on my Trident-based machines that can work with the framebuffer module, but I usually only lost one pixel — not entire rows of characters. If anyone knows how to tweak the framebuffer module to push those things back around to their proper side, both Brandon and I would be thankful.

  • Similarly, Jose Catre-Vandis sent along a link about setting up jinamp to play music for a party — shuffled playback only, with no intervention required. I was a little surprised, since my own run-in with jinamp a long time ago was very superficial and not much to my interest. A tool for every job though, and this time it sounds like jinamp was exactly what was needed. And one small +1 for the wiki.
  • Lastly, I mention this not as a console game, but as a game that will make you feel like you’re at the console.

    That’s asciiportal, which definitely isn’t The Orange Box, but will remind you of it, if you know it. It’ll take a little more in the way of resources to run asciiportal than, for example, robot finds kitten, but that’s not a good reason not to try it out. For a little while at least. 😉

I think that’s about it for now. 🙂

Bend the universe to your will: Gearhead

It’s a fair bet that if I haven’t updated this page in a day, that something new has absorbed my attention. This time it’s Gearhead.

Before I start out, I should mention that yes, I found this the same way I’ve been finding a lot of new console programs lately, via Debian’s package search pages.

And yes, I mention this quick on the tail of freesweep, which I don’t actively dislike. I just prefer something with a little more … depth. Gearhead definitely comes through on that point.

Comes through in spades, really. Gearhead reminds me of my years of tabletop gaming, with cardboard tiles and hex maps, firing arcs and reload times and overheating weapons.

If you remember (or still play) things like BattleTech or Star Fleet Battles, Gearhead will be a natural transition for you. Many of the principles are the same.

But there’s a role-playing element at work here too — you’re not just ticking off ammunition and waiting to incur enough damage to knock over a robot.

I haven’t had the chance to dig very deeply into that aspect — I’ve only been playing for a day or so — but luckily there’s a wiki that will show you how to get started. Pilot attributes must count for something.

Personally I didn’t need much coaching to get started. Not that I’m some kind of genius or something, just that the game is menu-driven on almost every point, and most of the indicators and commands are fairly self-explanatory.

But with this much to absorb me, this is definitely going into my book as a keeper for the console — right alongside Crawl — as a game I can really sink my teeth into.

Some side notes: First, I know there is a Gearhead2, which I tried on my Pentium machine running Debian, but it was terrifically laggy and sometimes took 20-30 seconds to move between menu options.

I see on the wiki that Gearhead2 is described as “in the making,” so it might be that it’s sluggish because it’s not quite done. Or it might just be too heavy for 120Mhz.

Both are possible. But either way, I definitely have my hands full with Gearhead. I can wait a little bit for the sequel. 😉

Second, if you prefer a graphical version, I see that there are tile-based oblique-view animated versions that have developed around Gearhead{1,2}, much like the renditions that accompany Nethack, etc.

If you get one of those running, please send a screenshot. 🙂

Bend to the will of the universe: freesweep

There are powerful forces at work in nature. There are things about life I just don’t understand or comprehend, and one of them is the appeal of Minesweeper.

I might be the last remaining person on the planet over whom this game holds absolutely no sway. I find it dull, uninteresting and terrifically mind-numbing.

But I can’t ignore its history or influence, even if I have probably spent the entire sum of eight minutes of my life actually playing the game. Part of those eight minutes includes this:

I consider it my responsibility to inform you of analogues between popular parts of graphical computing, and life at the console.

So for those of you who wouldn’t consider jumping to a text-only lifestyle because you can’t live without Minesweeper, well, you don’t have an excuse any more.

In fact, freesweep might be an even greater challenge, considering that the game will scale itself to whatever dimension you want. It’s clever enough to scroll over borders, meaning your minefield can stretch far beyond the limits of your screen.

And it has color. And it’s easy to configure. And it’s hardly a drag on system resources; what you see there was quite speedy at 120Mhz, running under Debian.

So for those of you who were desperately clutching at a graphical environment because the indomitable ebb and flow of the universe demand that you play Minesweeper … you can still achieve inner peace. :mrgreen:

A finished product: The weather clock project

I have to say up front that this wasn’t originally what I envisaged, but I do like the way this has turned out.

There it is, ladies and gentlemen: the finished combination weather map and wall clock, or as close to finished as I anticipate getting.

I wouldn’t want to be boring or mundane 🙄 , so I’ll jump straight in and explain the details of how and why.

First, I have to say that everything seems to be working as I intended, with a minimum of compromise. The machine synchronizes itself against the Internet on a regular basis, downloads a weather map whenever possible, updates the rotation of the earth to show sunsets and sunrises, and powers off the backlight during night hours.

So I don’t have much to add to my previous post, when I gave all the nitty-gritty of setting it up. I will add one thing though: My mysterious lockups seemed to be happening when I performed a dist-upgrade, and so while it will update itself against the repositories automatically, I leave the actual upgrading to be done manually.

A proper, working CR1220-model wristwatch battery turned the entire system from near garbage to a dream come true. No more clutching the keyboard to adjust the BIOS after every boot, no more manually adjusting the network to pick up the wireless signal, I can yank the extender arm and the whole thing is working just dandy.

What a difference a battery can make.

Now to be honest, the original image I had in my head three weeks ago was of an actual frame around the screen, with the guts suspended underneath, in some sort of casing to hide their ickyness.

However, I had difficulty finding a frame that would fit that size. This screen is 29cm x 21cm, with the actual LCD measuring 27.25cm x 20.5cm.

I did find a couple of frames that would fit those dimensions, but one was going to leave a gap of about 2cm top-to-bottom, and I doubted the width of the panel would have fit into the other.

Price was also an issue here. I got the CMOS battery for a meager 168 yen with free shipping (thanks, so paying upwards of US$12 for a frame, plus an additional amount for some sort of case … well, that seemed extravagant.

At the same time, the motherboard and remaining guts are a good five centimeters wider when the PCMCIA card is included, which means if the bottom part would need to be affixed to the wall independently, or the weight would pull it cockeyed.

The last consideration was heat. The processor runs warmer than I anticipated, and I feared trapping the motherboard in some sort of box would cause heat problems.

I found this wire frame at a 100 yen store and realized that this would solve 90 percent of my problems — it would hang straight, there was a means to suspend the screen and motherboard independently, the frame keeps it away from the wall, there is no heat issue. …

And it looks pretty cool, in a geeky kind of way. It’s like one of those visible human projects or see-through phones: Yeah, it’s not intended to be in plain sight, but it’s interesting once it’s up there.

The screen and motherboard hang from the wire rack by means of steel hooks backed with heavy-duty adhesive.

I gave these a test-run before actually putting it up on the wall, and although the motherboard is slightly heavy (I blame the hard drive), it hasn’t slipped and seems to be holding firm. With any luck, it will continue to do so.

I did try to use a CF card and adapter on this machine, but ran into difficulty because the computer uses an L-shaped adapter to connect from the IDE pin array to the motherboard.

The depth of the adapter was lifting the connector away from its contacts, and the system couldn’t sense the drive. A minor inconvenience, since the old drive I have on here works fine.

And so once or twice an hour, it will spin up, check for a weather map, then spin down again. Otherwise for probably 58 minutes out of every hour, it’s silent.

The LCD inverter board, which hangs horizontally between the panel and the motherboard, needed its wires massaged before it would hang level; in the pictures it’s laying sideways like a drunk sailor. I just needed to stretch out the cords a little.

And for once, the screwball behavior of the ath5k driver in recent kernels is actually a blessing — the power and link lights on the card blink at roughly a one-second pace. How convenient: a bug that keeps time.

The only real unforeseen difficulty, and one I really chide myself for not noticing, was that the power cord between the connector and the AC adapter box is rather short — about 1m, which means it hangs off the floor by a good 45cm or so.

That’s not good, but not anything that can be helped, either. For now I have a stool with a couple of boxes on it, supporting the adapter. Later I’ll actually affix the adapter to the wall.

The only other tight spot was the cable between the motherboard and the screen, which you can see is drawn rather tight. The cable coils into a metal tube, and then exits out the other side.

I don’t know if there’s any slack inside there, but if the spacing on the wire rack were a little narrower, it wouldn’t be a problem. As it is, it’s just a little taut.

One small note about system resources: Running the clock constantly and supporting Xorg puts RAM usage at around 24 percent of 128Mb, with CPU strain at under 10 percent when idle. Naturally, rendering the map and cloud pattern pushes it upward, at regular intervals.

So for a 450Mhz machine with a lowly 128Mb in it, that’s almost nothing. It would be feasible to halve the system resources and get away with the same setup … provided your disk space is still around 2Gb.

But there it is, folks. I’m going to call this a success, mostly because I find myself rather addicted to it. It’s quite clear and easy to read, even from an angle, and as a result I already have a tendency to look up at it, rather than check the clock on the computer in front of my face.

And so: for as long as it lasts, I think this machine has finally come to a good end. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to think that a computer I beat up for so many years glides smoothly into retirement, and is still fulfilling a purpose.

Like I said above, it’s not exactly what I had in mind when I started — but I’m glad it went the direction it did. I hope it’s a small inspiration in your own projects.

Cheers and good luck. 🙂

P.S.: Bonus points if you do this on your own, and make it (a) tick through the internal speaker, and/or (b) chime on the hour. Let’s see you out-geek me. … 😈

The results of rigorous testing and research

I have a list a mile long of console applications that deserve attention, I have a shortlist of graphical applications that probably should be noted as well, I have a series of links to pages and lists of applications, I have a wiki I try to maintain myself … and these days my methodology for finding interesting new programs is probably pretty dumb.

Here it is:

See that list on the lower right side? That’s how I found empire, while looking at another game — greed — that I already noted a long time ago. And after empire came zivot, and after zivot, this one.

nettoe, a game so simple and obvious that it’s probably a CS homework assignment. Sure, it’ll play networked games too, which is a plus.

But that’s the way I’m finding new stuff these days — I let Debian packages pluck them out of the sky for me. Pretty lame, huh?

Sometimes they’re winners and sometimes they’re way off track, but I wouldn’t want you to think the stuff you read here wasn’t the result of rigorous testing and research. 🙄

Looking for ‘Life: zivot

I haven’t got much time today, so I can only jot a note as a signpost in a search for something else.

For a while I have been wondering why I couldn’t find a version of Conway’s Game of Life for the console, outside of the demo version packed in teapot or a few semi-eponymous “life” packages intended for graphical worlds.

I did find zivot the other day, but … it’s a little less than I anticipated.

This is more of a frame-by-frame snapshot of each stage, and not so much a full animated version. It seems odd to me that I can’t find something ncurses-based that animates the sequences more gracefully. I must be overlooking it.

I guess I’ll just have to stick with worms. 😀