Greetings, everyone!

Yes, it’s been quite a while since my last post. Lots of personal trials have gotten in the way since I last blogged about anything, but thankfully (big thanks to “The One Above”) those trials were overcome. I’ve also been busy with work and getting things ready for Phase II of our return to in-person instruction.

Now that all of that is done, it’s time to get back to some geeky stuff.

Or better said, “gEeeky stuff!” 🤓

As you’ve read in my previous posts, I’ve revived my venerable and battle-scarred ASUS Eee PC 901 so I can have a really portable laptop to run OpenBSD. Over the summer, it was running as an OpenSSH server as it sat atop the PS4 Pro in the room. However, I decided to buy a new battery for it so that I could take it on the go once again (another blog post is in the works about what took its place 😉).

While the Eee PC 901 has been great since I’ve gone mobile with it, the 901’s internal storage was becoming a problem. My Eee PC 901 configuration has an internal primary 4 GB SSD (more on this later) and an easily accessible but significantly slower secondary 16 GB SSD underneath. I had the 4 GB SSD configured as the root partition and the 16 GB SSD configured as my home partition. With all of the software I installed, I had about 10% or so of available space in the root partition, so while things were tight, I still had some room to play around with.

One day, out of nowhere, I noticed that OpenBSD was complaining that the root partition was out of space after I conducted a sysupgrade to a current snapshot. Once it managed to boot, a quick “df -h” showed something rather odd. All of a sudden, my root partition is only showing 3.6 GB of space and I’m “over capacity” at 103% capacity!

My Eee PC 901’s screen showing only 3.6 GB on what should be a 4 GB partition.

The only explanation for this is that the internal SSD was failing (remember, this is a 10+ year old netbook and most of these components were cheaply made). The only way for me to claim back some space was to uninstall Firefox and a few other packages. I had my space back, but I’ve now lost the whole reason for using my netbook. Sure, I could use lynx/links/etc., but I wanted to access my Mastodon timeline and other “modern” web sites from here. I did install Luakit and used it for a while, but as great as that was, there were some rough edges that didn’t make it useful enough to replace Firefox (Chromium was even bigger so that was out of the question). All of that on top of data loss validated my decision to purchase a new SSD for this netbook.

I already knew that the secondary SSD was attached to a Mini-PCIe slot. I started my search for a replacement and came across a lot of affordable mSATA SSDs and was about ready to make a purchase when I became hesitant of what I was reading. I noticed that many vendors were referring to these as “Mini-PCIe mSATA” SSDs. Something didn’t seem right, so I decided to investigate further before committing to a purchase.

After doing some extensive searching and researching (be sure to skim the comments; very important), I realized that replacing the original drive was not as easy as it seemed. I won’t go into too many details, but the gist of it is that while Mini-PCIe and mSATA connectors look the same physically, they are wired differently. Thus, inserting a mSATA SSD drive into a Mini-PCIe won’t work. Additionally, the Eee PC 901’s Mini-PCIe SSD interface is PATA, not SATA! Thus, I’d need to find an adapter to make this work.

My Amazon order for the mSATA SSD and the mSATA to Mini-PCIe adapter.

I did manage to find an adapter on Amazon that was specifically for using mSATA SSDs on the Eee PC netbooks, so I finally decided to purchase that along with a cheap 120 GB SSD. Granted, the read-write performance on this SSD was paltry compared to the Samsung 860 EVO I purchased for my PS4 Pro, but it was way faster than the 15 Mb/s that the original secondary SSD gave me. So, the order was put in and, in time, the SSD and the adapter arrived.

The SSD and adapter in my grubby hand.

The time came for me to crack open the Eee PC 901 and get to work. I flipped the Eee PC over and removed the bottom cover exposing the RAM, SSD, and other components. The old secondary SSD was removed and the adapter and new SSD was inserted. I closed everything back up, fired up the Eee PC, and hoped for the best.

My left hand holding the new SSD as I begin the replacement process. The bottom of the Eee PC 901 is exposed as I replace the old SSD still attached.

After turning the Eee PC on and going into the BIOS, I checked to see if it detected the new drive. I was pleased to see that the new drive was detected, but noticed that the old primary one was now disabled (not sure what’s happening here, but I imagine it has something to do with the adapter). Not a problem since I wasn’t going to use the 4 GB partition anyway, but I could not find a way to change the boot priority of the new drive. So now, whenever the Eee PC goes through the BIOS checks, it complains that there’s no primary boot drive and prompts me to hit F1 to continue. I guess I can live with this for now since my main concern was whether I could boot from it at all, so I plugged a USB drive with the OpenBSD 6.8-beta snapshot installation and off I went installing onto the new SSD with one large root partition since I had enough space to do so.

The installation went through without a problem, but the moment of truth was still to come: will this SSD boot even though it’s not the primary? After everything was installed, I rebooted and the BIOS warned me again about the lack of a primary drive and to hit F1. After hitting F1, I was happy to see the OpenBSD bootloader at the prompt running from the new SSD! It booted just fine and a LOT faster than the original internal 4 GB drive. I proceeded to bring my files back from the backup I made before starting this process and configure everything the way I had it previously as well.

The Eee PC 901’s BIOS showing only the 120 GB SSD detected as the “primary slave”.

Remember earlier in this blog post when I mentioned the 4 GB internal SSD? I learned that this is actually a removable SSD just like the 16 GB SSD! All this time, I was under the impression that the 4 GB SSD was soldered to the mainboard, and mainly because that’s what I had always read online! I guess some models do have it soldered to the board, but mine was on another Mini-PCIe slot on the inside of the 901. Since I had to open it up to resolve an issue that I thought was related to the internal power cable for the power jack, I figured I’d get in there and see if I could move the new SSD to that primary slot. Unfortunately, the 4 GB SSD is half-height, which means that my full-height SSD with the adapter was not going to fit at all. I did manage to find a Mini-PCIe extender ribbon on Amazon, so I may get that in the future to have it finally work as the primary and bypass the F1 message. For the time being, I can live with that minor nuisance.

I also found out that my power issues were related to the new SSD touching the aluminum foil plating on the inside of the bottom cover (the adapter brings the SSD up off the mainboard so it’s close enough to possibly make contact), and a piece of thin cardboard between the SSD and aluminum foil solved that problem.

To date, I’m completely happy with my upgrade purchase and it’s breathed some real life into this little netbook. I’ve been able to use it for some work-related tasks, but I can’t push it too much due to its lowly CPU and RAM. Still, it performs a lot better than it did with the original drives and it continue to be a great attention grabber when I take it on the go. 😊

Coffee and computing on my upgraded ASUS EeePC 901.
OpenBSD 6.7 artwork by Jonni Phillips

Hello again, everyone! Time for another blog post, this time about a new release of OpenBSD which came out on Tuesday, 2020-05-19. On this date, version 6.7 was unleashed to the world, bringing with it FFS2 as the default filesystem for most architectures, several SMP improvements, new and improved drivers and improved ARM CPU support. You can read more about it here.

And, as is always the case with an OpenBSD release, there’s some new artwork, this time by artist Jonni Phillips, and it’s definitely a sign of the times. It’s called “Coral Fever”.

“Coral Fever” by Jonni Phillips

So, how is OpenBSD 6.7? Great, actually! Though I had been running what would be 6.7-release for a while now since I run the -current snapshots, I had to redo my installation on the Toshiba Portege M400 in order to get the goodness of FFS2. Everything seems to be quite stable as it has always been, so I’m quite happy.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to share this time. If you want to give it a try, be sure to download it from the OpenBSD website and either get it on some hardware or in a virtual machine. Have fun!

On my last post, I talked about how I installed OpenBSD on my old Asus EeePC 901 after receiving the EeePC 900a from my friend and left you wondering about the 900a. Well, wait no longer!

The 900a came with Debian 10 “Buster” installed by my friend and that seemed to run quite well (as most Linux distros do on these devices).  Nevertheless, I decided to go a different route with my newly-acquired 900a and install Haiku. If you’re not familiar with Haiku, it is a free operating system that keeps the spirit of the venerable Be Operating System (aka, BeOS) from the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s while improving its feature set to make it current to today’s needs. BeOS’s history is beyond the scope of this blog post, but you can read about it on Wikipedia. Next to the Amiga, and almost in the same spirit, BeOS was way ahead of its time.  I even got it installed on my old Motorola StarMax 4000 MT (a Power Mac clone from that era) as you can see on this YouTube video below and was quite impressed with it (I had run the x86 version in the early 2000s, but this was the first time I experienced the PowerPC version).

Anyway, back to the 900a! As mentioned, I decided to put Haiku (the open source successor of BeOS) on it.  I downloaded a Haiku nightly image for x86, dd’ed it to a USB flash drive, and proceeded with the install which went through very easily and quickly after I prepared the drive with its Drive Setup utility.

As much as I’d like to say that it was a roaring success on the 900a, the truth is that there were some issues. While it did install successfully, not everything was working as expected, mainly the screen resolution. Also, the trackpad wasn’t working as it should. I mean, the trackpad itself worked, but the buttons didn’t. Seems as though it uses the standard mouse driver, and I can’t seem to find anything to support the Elantech touchpad properly in HaikuDepot (the GUI package manager for Haiku). At least WiFi works, and that’s really what’s most important. I’ll likely keep tweaking what I can to put it in a useful state.

 

Given BeOS’s history in multimedia, maybe I can use this EeePC with Haiku for some MIDI sequencing and composing since my synth setup won’t work on the 901 with OpenBSD. Since the 900a and the 901 have almost the same dimensions, the 900a should sit on my Yamaha S08 just as nicely. If this all works out, I’ll have a reason to replace the damaged LCD display.

You’d think this would be the end of my “Eeexploration”, but not quite! In the near future, I will have my old, grubby hands on a practically-new EeePC 701, the one that started it all. Tune in next time to find out where that adventure will take me!

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ASUS EeePC 701 c/o Red at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0]

Back around 2007 or so, the low-cost netbook debuted on the computing scene. Starting with the ASUS EeePC 701, you could get a very inexpensive laptop that was low-powered and could be used for very light web browsing and e-mail. It was meant to be a secondary device to your desktop or laptop computer. Following the release of the 701, many PC manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and came out with their own, competing netbooks. Unfortunately, due to poor marketing (especially in terms of the OS), Windows XP being shoehorned on them due to demand as a consequence of said poor marketing, and the introduction of Apple’s iPad, the netbook met its demise. The stigma from all those factors still lingers today when it comes to netbooks.

But let’s not dwell on the negative. Many people, especially Linux users at the time, flocked to these cheap devices because Linux ran so well on such meager hardware (4-16 GB SSD hard drive or a slightly larger spinning hard drive, 2 GB RAM maximum). They made great portable systems in spite of their cramped keyboards. I, myself, was one of those Linux users that was (and remains) a big fan of the netbook.

At around 2009, I finally bit the bullet and purchased a black ASUS EeePC 901. I absolutely LOVED this device and it became my main portable machine for home and work. I purchased the 1 GB RAM, 4+16 GB revision with Xandros Linux and, after a small stint with Xandros and becoming frustrated (just like those Windows users), I decided to back up everything, wipe the drives, and install Ubuntu (my distro of choice at the time). I don’t recall if everything worked out of the box, but it worked for the most part, even better than Xandros did. I even ran Slackware on it and it, too, worked very well. A few years later, I would test Fedora 13 on it and that would eventually become my distro of choice on the 901 until I upgraded to my Toshiba Portege M400. The 901 was then relegated to running Lubuntu and playing Pandora via pianobar for when I wanted to play music outside while grilling. Sometime around 2014, I started getting errors on the drive and never bothered to fix it since I was now using my old phone at the time (LG Optimus L9) as a media player. So, the EeePC 901 sat unused since then in storage with the hope of resolving that issue one day.

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The white EeePC 900a sent by my friend, still in the box.

Well, fast-forward to November 2019, and an old friend of mine sends me his old EeePC after I tooted an article on Mastodon regarding the EeePC and how I was hoping to resurrect the old 901. The package came and it was a white EeePC 900a, the predecessor to my 901. Though it arrived with a crack screen (possibly from delivery abuse), it didn’t matter since I planned to use it for parts, especially for it’s power adapter. At this point, I grabbed “ye olde 901” from storage, plugged it in, and fired it up. To my delight, it booted! However, it soon reminded me of why I stopped using it. Apparently, BTRFS (yup) had gotten corrupted and was spitting out errors. I decided to open it up and reseat everything, and that seemed to have resolved the problem (had I known to do that after all those years, but I digress). Happily and quickly, the Eee booted to Lubuntu 14.10, but it was high time to install something new.

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My black EeePC 901 sitting to the left of the white EeePC 900a sent by my friend.

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My EeePC 901 with the previously-installed Lubuntu 14.10.

Since I was already into the BSDs at this point (with OpenBSD being my preferred BSD), I decided to drop OpenBSD on it. Installation went through quite well as it did when I installed it on my Toshiba and on other systems at work. Since I don’t have anything similar to LVM in OpenBSD, I just used the 4 GB internal SSD for the root directory and the 16 GB removable SSD for my /home directory. Although Bluetooth wasn’t working (not supported in OpenBSD), everything else was detected perfectly and was working without issue. After performing the base installation, I managed to grab a list of installed packages from the Toshiba and used that with pkg_add to install everything I needed on the 901: Fluxbox, Firefox, irssi, Chocolate Doom, etc. One “doas sysupgrade -s” later and I was at the cutting edge of -current.

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OpenBSD 6.6 i386 installing on the EeePC 901.

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OpenBSD 6.6 i386 on the EeePC 901 with the FVWM window manager (default) and XTerm.

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OpenBSD on the EeePC 901, now with Fluxbox and my usual apps installed. Sysupgrade is running to upgrade the system to a 6.6-current snapshot.

So how did it perform, you ask? To all the people that have always shat on netbooks for performance, I fart in your general direction! 💨 😀

I was pleasantly surprised at how responsive the EeePC 901 was (relatively speaking, of course)! Granted, it’s not going to take trophies even when put up against my aging Toshiba Portege M400 and definitely not against my HP ProBook 4540s with a 3rd generation Core i3, but it holds its own. It’s a great little machine for SSHing to SDF or elsewhere, IRC, streaming radio, and a few other things, and its portability is unmatched for me. You can see for yourself at the link below.

https://imgur.com/KHJj8lK

Heck, even Firefox ran usably. Yes, Firefox! Of course, I can only run a maximum of two tabs, but even that is more than I expected from this 10-year-old, low-end laptop. So long as I can check my Mastodon timeline and view other web pages in the second tab, I’m happy.

As a final touch (now that it’s running a BSD), I added a RUNBSD sticker on the back of the screen to accompany the other existing stickers on it. I think it looks pretty sweet, especially sitting next to the Toshiba also running OpenBSD and showing off its RUNBSD sticker. 🐡

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The EeePC 901 proudly wearing the RUNBSD sticker (like the Toshiba to the left of it) on the back of the LCD screen along with all the other stickers already on there.

So, what of the 900a that my friend sent me? You’ll have to check back soon to find out! 😉

A Beast of a Week!

July 14, 2019

Hello again everyone! As promised, another blog post is here.

In the past few years, I’ve been dipping my feet into the world of the open source BSD operating systems. I’ve tried out FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and a little bit of DragonFly BSD as well as well as some TrueOS here and there.

Anyway, before I ramble further, last week was all about FreeBSD. At the start of the week, I finally got a nice surprise in the mail: the FreeBSD stickers I requested from the FreeBSD Foundation! I now have more stickers to accompany the RUNBSD stickers I received a while back, one of which has already made its way to my OpenBSD laptop, the Toshiba Portege M400.

Various FreeBSD stickers on top of the envelope they came in.

Various FreeBSD stickers on top of the envelope they came in.

Toshiba Portege M400 running OpenBSD with a RUNBSD sticker on the arm rest.

Toshiba Portege M400 running OpenBSD with a RUNBSD sticker on the arm rest. Window manager is cwm.

The FreeBSD stickers come in two versions. One is a cutout of the FreeBSD logo, and the other is a hexagon shaped sticker of the same logo. I plan to use one of them on a laptop with FreeBSD that I have at work, an old Dell Latitude D620.

A big thanks to the FreeBSD Foundation for sending these to me.

Unfortunately, all was not rainbows and unicorns as the week progressed, as evidenced by my ordeal with upgrading a FreeBSD server from 11.2 to 12.0.

Going against my gut, I decided to go from 11.2 to 12.0 instead of the newly-released 11.3 on this old Dell PowerEdge 2800 so that my servers and desktops were all version-consistent. Since our district is on summer break (only custodial and office staff are working aside from me), I figured this was a good time to perform the upgrade at this site location. As I began the upgrade process with freebsd-update, all seemed to go well.

All until it was time to reboot.

KVM showing output from the FreeBSD virtual console with "freebsd-update -r 12.0-RELEASE upgrade" at the ready.

Ready to begin the upgrade to FreeBSD 12.0 via “freebsd-update”.

KVM monitor showing patches being applied as part of the FreeBSD 12.0 upgrade.

Patches being applied as part of the FreeBSD 12.0 upgrade process.

Once I rebooted after the first stage of updates took place, my fears were realized…

The system would not boot!

The bootloader came up fine with the FreeBSD logo and it was able to begin the boot process when I hit Enter. However, after it loaded the kernel, ZFS modules (zfs.ko and opensolaris.ko), and entropy, the spinning pipe that would then go into the rest of the boot process just froze after a second. No amount of restarting would fix it. Thankfully (and with a huge sigh of relief), I was able to boot with kernel.old (the 11.2 kernel) and get to a login prompt.

Time for damage control. I began scouring the Internet and searching for solutions. I found some answers on updating the bootcode for the ZFS drives to support 12.0, but that didn’t work. After exhausting all options on the World Wide Web, I decided to hit the #freebsd IRC channel on Freenode. I usually idle in there during the week, but I decided to chime up and ask for help. I also requested some help from the FreeBSD folks on Mastodon. Everyone went beyond the call of duty to help me with my problem (a testament to the entire BSD community, not just the FreeBSD folks). Unfortunately, none of the tips helped me get a bootable 12.0 system. Loading the modules manually from the boot loader prompt didn’t help, nor did replacing the loader binary with the latest one from 12.0-STABLE. Still, I learned a lot thanks to them, and I’m eternally grateful for all of their help.

KVM showing output of the first stage of the 11.3 upgrade. Ready to reboot in order to begin the second stage.

Finishing the first stage of the 11.3 upgrade after rolling back from the botched 12.0 upgrade. Ready to reboot for the second stage with fingers crossed.

Down but not out, I made peace with my gut and decided to attempt an upgrade to 11.3 from the bootable 11.2 kernel (kernel.old). This was my last resort before going thermonuclear, something I was hoping to avoid at all costs.

I remembered that “freebsd-update” has a “rollback” command, so I ran “freebsd-update rollback” to undo all the 12.0 changes. Once that finished, I ran “freebsd-update -r 11.3-RELEASE upgrade” and crossed my fingers. Everything went through fine as with the 12.0 upgrade and I was prompted to reboot after the 11.3 kernel updates were installed. I typed “shutdown -r now” and hit Enter, fingers crossed.

The moment of truth.

Up came the FreeBSD bootloader. I hit Enter to load the new 11.3 kernel and ZFS modules…

KVM showing the FreeBSD 11.3 login prompt and the MOTD after logging in as root.

Success!

HUZZAH! The rest of the FreeBSD boot process proceeded successfully! All devices and modules loaded successfully, the ZFS pool was mounted without issue, and Samba shares were accessible! I was finally greeted with the FreeBSD login and proceeded to log in as root to view the MOTD. I continued the rest of the upgrade until all kernel and userspace updates were installed and then upgraded all ports via the pkg utility.

And peace reigned across the land thereafter.

As a result of this whole ordeal, I’ve decided to keep this server at the 11.x branch until it is completely EOLed, which means I have until 2021 before moving it to the 12.x branch. Hopefully, the boot issue will have been resolved and I can safely upgrade to it, but I’ll be smarter on how I go about doing so, especially with ZFS.

I hear that a certain someone has some books on the subject…

A dusty room with furniture in an abandoned house...much like my blog.

A dusty room with furniture in an abandoned house…much like my blog.

Hello again, friend!

Yes, I know it’s been a while…about 6 months or so.  Still, I’ve had my blog on my mind lately, and the fact that the Mastodon instance I’m on (mastodon.xyz) is down due to an expired certificate is good reason enough to dust everything off here and put it back to use.

Screenshot of Firefox showing instances.social which is listing a number of instances, most of which are down for whatever reason. Mastodon.xyz, the instance I'm on, is highlighted.

Screenshot of Firefox showing instances.social which is listing a number of instances, most of which are down for whatever reason. Mastodon.xyz, the instance I’m on, is highlighted.

Since my last post, I’ve been quite busy with a few things at work and home.  As I’ve done at one of my work sites, I’ve now installed a FreeBSD server at my second work site (the first one was set up last summer).  Both have been set up with Samba to replace aging Windows Server 2003 installs which, for certain reasons, need to be put out to pasture. Since then, no one has noticed a difference with shared resources. My next plan is to share printers from these servers, but that task looks to be less trivial than Samba was.

I’ve also spent more time learning and using OpenBSD which I’ve since installed on my old Toshiba Portege M400 at home.  At the moment, I’m running 6.5-current and using it more than I have any other BSD operating system, so much so that even my Fedora laptop is getting jealous. 🙂  I’ve also installed it on a ThinkPad x230 at work on which it runs extremely well.  I’d love to build an AMD system or purchase a decent AMD laptop to run OpenBSD and use it as my daily driver, especially now that amdgpu has initial Vulkan support along with DRM support ported over from the Linux DRM driver for accelerated graphics.

I’ve also purchased a Raspberry Pi Zero W to set up as a Kodi appliance using LibreELEC. This one will go to my dad who has since cut the cord due to exorbitant costs.  Currently, he’s using my Raspberry Pi 2, but that will be replaced with the Pi0w today.  I had bought it some time ago but never got around to putting it all together until today.  It’s a little slower compared to the Pi2, but still quite usable (performance is similar but better than that of my original Pi model B which I still have and use).  Of course, I will be looking to replace the model B and the Pi2 with the new Raspberry Pi 4 in the near future.

And I think that about covers the important stuff.  Oh, wait…..I did get a PS4 Pro for me and the boys and that’s been a lot of fun.  Purchased DOOM 2016 for myself and I plan to get the upcoming DOOM: Eternal once it’s released.  It’s really gotten me back into gaming, especially classic gaming.  I’ve already finished the original DOOM and I’ve begun my path through DOOM II: Hell on Earth.  I’m also going through Quake 1 with the hopes of finishing that and replaying Quake II.  BTW, the classic DOOM and Quake games?  Playing them on OpenBSD. 😉

So, with that, I’ll be sure to put more effort to keeping this blog fresh.  Until the next post!

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Aaahh, memories….

A long time ago, in a decade far, far away, I dabbled with Linux on PowerPC hardware, specifically the PowerPC Macintoshes.  After lots of trial and error, I was able to get Yellow Dog Linux and Mandrake running on a Power Mac 8600 and then on a beige Power Mac G3 at my old job.  I also managed to get Debian installed on a Motorola StarMax 4000 MT which I still have in storage (if you’re not familiar with this model, it was a Power Macintosh clone from back in the mid-1990s).  I even got Ubuntu running on my iMac G5 and boy did that distro run circles around OS X Leopard back in the day!  That was the last Macintosh I would ever own before committing to Linux on the PC.

However, a few months ago, I acquired two Power Macintoshes from someone I know.  One is a Power Macintosh G4 “Sawtooth” which, unfortunately, won’t turn on (probably a bad power supply or a bad PRAM battery….or both).  The other is a Power Macintosh G5.  This particular G5 model is designated “Powermac7,3” which means it’s a dual 1.8 GHz G5 model with a NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 Ultra AGP Pro card and PCI slots.  It came to me with Leopard installed on the hard drive.  Of course, a Linux geek like myself wouldn’t stand for this.  Thus, I replaced the hard drive and attempted to revisit my Linux/ppc days of yore.

Upon searching for a suitable Linux distribution, I quickly learned that support for the PowerPC was not as easy to come by in 2018.  Most distributions stopped supporting PowerPC (ppc) and even PowerPC64 (ppc64) with the exception of little-endian PowerPC chips from IBM (ppc64el).  While I did manage to find a Fedora ISO, it wouldn’t boot no matter what I tried.  I eventually decided to go with tried-and-true Debian and, after a lot of searching, I came across the Debian Ports page which keeps unofficial ports of discontinued platforms.  I downloaded the ISO for “sid” which is based on upcoming “buster” (v10) and burned it to a CD.

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Hello, yaboot!  It’s been a while…

Booting up from that CD on the Power Mac G5 and seeing the Yaboot prompt (Yaboot is a Linux boot loader for “NewWorld” Power Macs) brought back all those memories from my early Linux/ppc days!  I went through the netinstall and, after a few failed attempts to boot and then creating an ext2 /boot partition after realizing that Yaboot doesn’t support ext4, I was finally able to boot the installed system…..until the screen went blank.

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Multiplexing with tmux.

Setting some kernel parameters to prevent this from happening allowed me to get the login prompt after it booted up, and I quickly began installing packages.  I got tmux (a terminal multiplexer, shown above) installed as well as many other packages like Window Maker, Fluxbox, and even the MATE desktop environment which was my ultimate goal.  After configuring my .xinitrc to load Xorg with a window manager / desktop environment, I ran startx and….it failed.  Doing some investigation online led me to news that the NVIDIA card and nouveau on PowerPC were to blame, and that getting it to work might require recompiling the kernel to use 4K page addressing instead of the default 64K.  My heart sunk.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to quit so easily.  After trying various changes to the kernel parameters and configuring device settings in Xorg.conf, my brain finally had an idea that was simple (and crazy) enough to actually work.  See, I had my monitor connected to the G5 using a VGA-to-DVI adapter.  After all of my failed attempts to get Xorg working, I decided to change out the VGA cable and adapter and use a dedicated DVI cable.  I also changed the kernel parameters to use “nvidiafb”.  After doing this, I rebooted the G5 and pessimistically ran “startx”.  A gasp of joy came out of my mouth as I saw Window Maker start in all of its NeXTSTEP-ish glory!  You can imagine the happy dance I did right after!

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Achieved the “NeXT” step! 🙂

I then configured .xinitrc to load MATE and, after managing to disable window compositing which would cause it to lock up the system, I was inside the MATE desktop and life was….OK.

I say OK because I have come across some hiccups (as if you haven’t already noticed with all that I’ve mentioned so far).  Pianobar and VLC crash with an “Illegal Instruction” message.  Firefox ESR won’t last a minute before crashing, and the latest kernel upgrade from 4.16.5 to 4.17.6 caused the fans to run at full blast (something that I remember from my old iMac G5).  Thankfully, after some more searching and comparing the modules loaded with the old kernel and the new kernel, I narrowed it down to the “windfarm” modules not loading on boot with the newer 4.17.6 kernel image.  Running “modprobe windfarm_core” from the terminal tamed the fans once again.  Not as straightforward as it was back in my early Linux/ppc days, but the Debian Ports maintainers for PowerPC do stress that we are running “sid”, aka “unstable”, and it is going to be unstable, so this behavior should be expected.  I’ve tried to send a bug report to inform them of this, but ReportBug freezes the desktop when it tried to report the bug (adding insult to injury), so, for now, I’ve added the windfarm modules myself to /etc/modules as a workaround until they fix it.

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If only the bug squatter didn’t have bugs…

Even with all of these quirks, it was nice to get Linux running on PowerPC hardware again.  And, if you do come across some old Power Macintosh hardware (preferably a G4 or G5) and some time to spare, you can give it a try for yourself.  You’ll find all the information you need on the Debian Ports page and the latest ISO can be found here (select ppc64 for 64-bit Debian to run on G5 Macs or select powerpc for 32-bit Debian to run on any Power Mac including the G5).

Once I have all (or at least most) of the kinks worked out, I hope to use this for some music production so I don’t have to rely so much on my Fedora laptop.  I’ve got Qtractor, QjackCtl, and some DSSI soft synths installed and my Yamaha S08 synth is supported via USB for MIDI input, so I’m ready to rock and roll!

Now, if only I could reduce those xruns some more…

 

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Quite a while since my last post, so I figured I’d quench the thirst for some content.

My last post was about playing old text adventure (aka, “interactive fiction”) games from days gone by on your latest hardware using interpreters like Frotz.  This followup recording on Hacker Public Radio is on an Android application called Son of Hunky Punk.  I discuss the history of SoHP and attempt to get my copy of Zork to work with it…..and I did.

Be sure to check it out here. 🙂

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Following my post on Colossal Cave Adventure, I decided to record an episode based on my blog post for Hacker Public Radio (aka, “HPR”).  If you don’t know what Hacker Public Radio is, click on the link below.

http://hackerpublicradio.org

In case you were wondering, anyone can record an episode for HPR and they are always in need of shows.  While they tout topics that are “of interest to hackers“, anything you have to talk about will be of interest to someone so long as it’s nothing spammy.

As for my episode, you can catch it here.  I also have other episodes I’ve recorded on HPR which you can find by clicking on my name after clicking on the episode link.
Enjoy! 🙂

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I came across the news that “Colossal Cave Adventure” was open-sourced.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click on the link below and come back when you’re done.  If you do, continue reading on…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colossal_Cave_Adventure

According to Raymond (aka “esr”), he was encouraged by Crowther and Woods (the original authors of Adventure) to polish up the code and ship it under an open source license.  Esr gladly took on the task and, thus, Open Adventure was born.  I intend to download the source code and build it to test out.  As esr mentions, this isn’t the same version of Adventure that is provided in the bsdgames package available in basically all Unix-like operating system repositories.  This is the actual code from the very last version of Adventure that Crowther and Woods released in 1995, so it’s quite updated from the bsdgames version.

Nevertheless, I went ahead and installed bsdgames on my Fedora laptop this weekend with the intention of exposing my middle son to text adventure computer games.  Before I go into this, a little bit of history on my personal experience with text adventure games.

I grew up during the burgeoning home computer industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  My introduction to computer-based text adventure games was at a friend’s house on her Commodore VIC-20.  If I recall correctly, I believe it was called “Adventure 2: Pirate Cove”.  Below is a YouTube video of its gameplay.

Having been an Atari 2600 and Coleco-Vision kid (even though I did learn BASIC on a Commodore PET after school), I was quite intrigued by the gameplay.  No graphics whatsoever…the graphics were all in your mind.  Now, I was never one for reading, but this engaged me more than any book could.  I was a big fan of interactive books, but this took the concept to a more dynamic level.  I saw myself imagining what was being described in plain text and felt myself going through a range of emotions as my friend and I entered commands with unexpected results!  Since then, I delved into similar games from Infocom and the like.  I would be awake until the wee hours of the night engrossed in text adventure gameplay from when I had my Mattel Aquarius to when I upgraded to an Apple IIc.  No typical video game could come close to the experience of a really good text adventure computer game.

Time-hop forward to May 29, 2017:  I’ve just installed bsdgames on my Fedora laptop and invited my middle son to have a sit-down and play Adventure with me.  I even hit Alt-F2 to drop down to a console for the full text adventure experience!  At first, he was a bit hesitant.  However, as time passed and as I showed him how to navigate within the game, I could see him slip into the world of the Colossal Cave and text adventures in general just as I did when I was his age!  We both would go on this “adventure” and discover new ways of surpassing obstacles or die trying (a lot)….all the while having a great time together.  After some time, he even took the laptop away from me to input commands and wouldn’t give it back!  There was no doubt about it.  He was hooked!

That night, I had him install bsdgames on his laptop with a temporary Fedora installation and I’ve also installed it on the Fedora desktop at home.  As of this morning when I spoke with him on the way to work, he told me that he couldn’t go to sleep thinking of how to get past some of the obstacles in Adventure and he’s already installed the Android port on his phone.  I told him that I’d see about finding some other text adventure games like the Zork series from Infocom and others from that venerable company.  Frotz is already installed on the laptop, so it’s time to find me some story files and test them out before we embark on our next (text) adventure!

Oh, and I finally killed the Wumpus! 😀