Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

The end of the end

I suppose the secret is out; a desktop image was leaked a week or two ago into the Unix screenshot area of reddit.

That can mean only one thing: Yes, I’ve been answering e-mails and concocting some low-end systems again, for better or for worse.

So yes, I suppose I am … you could say, if you want, maybe, it’s possible, kinda-sorta … back in the game. :shock:

But there’s been a definite sea change. After a year and a half of inactivity, I can’t just suddenly pick up and run.

The best way to handle a transition of this magnitude is to acknowledge the closure, and start again fresh.

So without any further ado, here’s a new page for you to visit: inconsolation.wordpress.com.

That’s meant to be a double- or triple-entendre there. I want the focus to be on software for text-based systems, the kind of software that was a joy to write about here, again and again, for so many years.

Therefore, in the console. (Cheesy, I know, but with the layered meaning that I know geeks will appreciate. :) )

Fewer personal rants, fewer esoteric system settings, and more applications that are useful for embedded, text-only, or very low-end hardware. More of the goodies.

And good grief, I know I still have enough software to skim through. :shock: My hands were full when I shut down this site, and are still full now.

Either way, this is the end of the end — things are starting up again, albeit in a new location. If you can take the time, please stop by and see what new toy I discovered. And tell me about your favourite. I do love a good text-based gizmo. … ;)

The elephant in the room: A coda

Before I even get started, before I deliver the unhappy news, I should say first and foremost “thank you,” to everyone who left notes or sent e-mails over the past four months.

There were a lot more than I anticipated, and I apologize if I didn’t get the time to reply to all of them. Regardless, you were all too kind. I am humbled.

It has been four months though, and I have to acknowledge the ugly truth now — I’m very, very unlikely to be able to pick up the schedule I had even six months ago.

Priorities change, life rearranges, and there’s nothing anyone can do except shrug and soldier on.

If it’s any consolation, my “life changes” were good ones — no one went to jail, no one is missing or suddenly responsible for newly arrived little humans. ;)

This was simply a reshuffling of job-related tasks, a few new projects that came to the forefront, and as a result less time for the projects I held dear.

I had hoped that I would be able to adjudicate my resources and keep something fresh on the menu here. But I looked around the other day and realized my collection was actually dusty, which I would never have tolerated a year ago.

And with that realization, I gave it ten minutes’ thought, and decided to cull the herd one last time.

And so it’s all gone.

Everything down to the last spare hard drive, quirky PCMCIA wireless card or giveaway floppy disk. All. Gone.

Gone to the local secondhand shop, gone to friends who could use a second computer, gone to the aluminum recyclers, as a last resort.

I’m left with the X60s, a few USB flash drives, and an odd cable or two.

I kept some rarities — all the CF cards and adapters are still mine, as well as a scarce-as-hen’s-teeth 64Mb stick of PC66. I’m not dumb.

But I look around now, and you’d never guess this was a bastion of Linux zealotry. From here, the battle was fought?

The experience has left its mark though, and the mark is indelible. I flip-flop these days between an Arch Linux installation cut to look like Windows XP (it’s a personal joke, really) and Linux Mint Debian. One or the other can usually get the job done.

Windows will never be back. The real stain of experimenting with Linux for nigh-on-six years is that you realize how things ought to be, and realize you just can’t get everything you want — or need — from Bill & Co.

And even in parts of my life that ordinarily are unrelated to computers, I find the same mindset slipping in.

My latest project — which I won’t link to, out of embarrassment ;) — is licensed under the GFDL, because I want that same spirit of sharing to be repeated there.

And really, that’s what I take away from six years at the keyboard: That the same principles most of us were taught as children — to share, and not to exclude others — are still the best ones we have today.

The world would be a much better place if we all followed the same rules we were taught decades ago, in the sandbox.

If you want to know numbers, I can tell you that, by far and large, the most popular post in this site’s six-year history was the rtorrent tutorial. A close second was the list of things you can do with an old computer.

The busiest day was February 9, 2011, when more than 56,000 people wandered past that same page, to see what the big deal was.

And believe it or not, after four months with zero activity, I still get upward of 1,500 visitors a day — sometimes peaking at 2,000. Who’d’ve thunk it.

I’m not one for long and tearful goodbyes, and I’ve really blabbered on long enough. So let’s call it a wrap.

Thanks for everyone who left comments or offered help in my adventures. Your insight and contributions were instrumental every step of the way.

Thanks in particular to the staff of the Ubuntu Forums and the Ubuntu community in a larger sense. Say what you like about Ubuntu (I did, all too often), but it’s the collective helpfulness and camaraderie of the people who use it that got me out of the starting gate, and where I am now.

And finally, thanks for reading this far.

さようなら, tsamaya ka khotso, and cheers. Be kind to one another. We’re all we’ve got. :)

Hiatus

As I have mentioned in the past, my real-life responsibilities include some middle-management tasks. Quite glamorous.

Unfortunately, as they did last month, those responsibilities became more time-consuming last week, and don’t seem to offer any foreseeable break in the future.

I must put this site into hibernation for a while, and if I can recover the free time it takes to maintain it, I’ll reopen it again.

I apologize if that is disappointing or an inconvenience for you; it is also a little disappointing to me. But unfortunately there are only so many hours in a day, and right now they’re just not enough.

I will probably disable commenting after a few days, but please keep in touch via the e-mail form on the About page. I may get a chance to answer you, but I can’t promise anything.

Keep your fingers crossed. Cheers, and be kind to one another. ;)

Hey, Ridley, ya got any bmon?

Time for another quick look at the wonderful world of console applications.

This is bmon, and it would be easy to dismiss this as yet another network monitor for the console. But actually, I like it a lot.

Most monitors require you to declare an interface at startup, and most of those are tied to that interface until you close the application down, or start a new instance.

bmon is nifty in that it gives you a look at just about everything that’s running, on every interface available. And includes mega-cool svelte animated graphs showing traffic, as it happens.

This would be very useful indeed to anyone using more than one network port on a machine, or perhaps a machine dedicated to relaying network traffic.

For me it’s a little overkill. But the nice thing about console programs is, even when they’re overkill, they’re hardly a drag on your system. Enjoy. :)

P.S.: Thanks to nico for pointing it out. ;)

An apology, and a eulogy

Well, first up is an apology, for disappearing without a trace for the past two weeks, and leaving no note. To the people who wrote and inquired after my condition, thank you. All is well.

Truth is, I mentioned briefly that real life had intruded in my last post, and a day or two later it went beyond “intrusion” and more into the realm of “invasion.” Work simply had to be handled in free time. As will happen.

But more or less, everything is fine, even if the state of affairs is still too dense for comfort. If I am lucky, in another day or two it will all be just an unpleasant memory.

The past two weeks have not been without incident either. Most notable was the Greg Louganis imitation that the once-genius weather clock performed, while I was not at home one day.

I came back to a splintered screen and a puddle of leftover decade-old parts. About the only good thing that happened in that event was, apparently, that the power cord disconnected in the fall.

So at least it didn’t lie there in an injured heap, sucking energy all day. :|

In any case, it was a good end to an only mediocre machine. I scavenged the few parts that were worth keeping (network card, memory chip), dd‘d an image of the drive, and sent the rest out with the recycling. RIP, little laptop that could.

I would like to do that again, given the proper parts and equipment. The few eccentrities this machine had were easily overcome, and more than I like to admit, I grew quickly to rely on that clock.

But I’d also like to repeat the photo frame experiment too, mostly because I think I could get that working in a way that would be useful in the office.

Not like I need to be spending more time focused on work though. … :shock:

Same place, slightly different way

I have been slack in updating this page in the past couple of days, for a couple of reasons. Mostly because real life commitments pounced on me on Friday, but also because I have been lately thinking about something a tiny bit distressing.

It started when I heard about elementary OS, the sort of new-kid-on-the-block Ubuntu knockoff. Dutifully, I gave it a try.

Nice startup screen. Has a clean look about it. Keeps to “lighter” software, although it might as well tuck in to things like Firefox and OpenOffice, so long as it’s going to ride at around 185Mb for a live environment.

Nothing distressing there, really. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to ask myself: What’s so different about this that sets it apart from, say, Xubuntu, or Lubuntu, or Peppermint OS, or even something I put together myself?

Not that there’s anything wrong with elementary OS itself, although I find the home page uncomfortably lacking in fundamental information — what the goal is, what machines it’s intended for, what sets it apart from other distros.

And I’m not sure why I would want to “order” it, unless that means I get a pressed CD for my efforts.

What is bothering me here — and one of the reasons I haven’t distro-hopped much lately — is that unless the core elements are changed, there’s not much that’s different between any two distros.

The same software, the same arrangement, the same “claims” in most cases (lighter! faster! revives old hardware!), and short of using one package manager or another, not much tangibly distinct.

Honestly, you or I could probably put together a pixel-perfect rendition of elementary OS, or any other distro, using any other distro, in about an hour.

That’s the distressing part, and I’ll thank you in advance for suggesting distro X in reply, and I hope in advance that it really did astonish you and convert you to The Happy Land of Linus.

And my point here is not that there should be less distros, only that there isn’t much difference between Fedora or Ubuntu or Fuduntu, until you scrape through all the frills and doodads and get down to the core software that manages it.

I suppose, in a brief way, that’s a good thing though. Despite all those frills and doodads, everyone is more or less on the same page.

We all get to the same place, we just get there is slightly different ways. No harm in that. :|

A short break

All is well here in this particular part of Japan. Thanks for the positive notes.

For obvious reasons I’m going to take a hiatus for a few days. I’ll see if I can resume my daily schedule next week, and perhaps have something to add.

If you need information in English about events here, I would first suggest the BBC’s live World Service stream, which lately has been focused on Japan. A pls file with the address of the Vermont Public Radio rebroadcast is here.

Beyond that I would suggest Google’s crisis response effort as a focus for more information. Cheers and see you in a few days.

Linux does C64 does Unix

There is so much simulation at work in this screenshot, I don’t even know where to start. Just looking at it should leave a saccharine aftertaste in your mouth.

Setting aside the fact that the entire desktop is an overdone mimic of the old Windows XP Classic theme, and setting aside the fact that some of what you see there is running in an interpretation layer, it’s amazing that it comes together at all.

What I wanted to show was LUnix, an eensy weensy version of Unix that — believe it or not — was written to run on the Commodore 64.

Once you’ve stepped past that minor brain-bender, you can add to it the fact that it’s running in VICE 2.2, which itself is running in Arch Linux.

But the version I downloaded — an early one, I think — offered its core and application files as .c64 files, not as .d64 files.

The .c64 ones were intended to be exported directly to a working Commodore, as I understand it, either via cable or 5 1/4-inch floppy.

That meant I was a little stuck, since I would have to implant those files into a disk image (a .d64 file) before I could get them into VICE.

Enter D64 Editor, which is a very nifty program for … well, for editing .d64 files, to include importing stuff into one. The only problem being … it’s for Windows.

And that’s where wine comes in, which has no difficulty at all running the editor, being the superstar that it is. No inconsistencies whatsoever.

So if you’re keeping score at home, that means you should …

  1. download the files,
  2. download the editor,
  3. install wine,
  4. install VICE,
  5. install the editor in wine,
  6. run the editor in wine,
  7. import the .c64 files into a new disk image,
  8. save the image,
  9. run VICE,
  10. attach that new disk image in VICE,
  11. load the self-decompressing files (the .c64 files),
  12. run those files, and finally
  13. load and run the “loader” program.

And the results will probably, maybe, hopefully, be similar to what you see above. Yes, I know. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through just to watch a Linux machine pretend to be a C64 pretending to be a Unix machine.

But hey: This is SCIENCE! :D

P.S.: Yes, I know there’s apparently a newer version that is available as a .d64 file, but for some reason it wouldn’t work for me. Such is life, no?

P.P.S.: If all this seems like too much to suffer through, consider the opposite: Transforming your PC into a C64. ;)

A companion wiki

In between everything else, I’ve been working on transferring a rather large personal wiki to an online host. You can take a look at it here; it’s not quite done yet.

Before you complain about the host, please look at the pages. It should be painfully obvious that my wiki needs were very thin, and so this works just as well for me as any other.

I am doing this mostly to alleviate the burden of keeping track of console-based software that I’ve looked at, over the life of this blog.

Oddly enough, I’m in the same position today as I was five years ago, when I started the site you’re reading now: I had a lot of notes and reminders that I wanted to keep in an organized fashion, in a place I could access remotely.

Only this time I need something more like a reference, instead of a diary. Just a link to the home page and a quick blurb about the program is all I usually need.

So it’s not necessarily comprehensive, and I doubt it ever would be. I’m debating if I want to open it up to everyone, or keep it as a personal resource.

I’m also working on a similar project with a few other people, so this one might remain in this form, as a personal version of that larger effort.

If you skim the site you’ll see that I’ve only worked up through the letter C in my list, so it’s still a work in progress.

I don’t plan to add much more than a link and a blurb; if the home page is one click away, it should have all the information I need.

I might add a screenshot or two if the home page lacks one, but that sounds like a bit of effort. Wouldn’t want that, you know. :roll:

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


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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