Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Years!

In the closing hours of 2019 and the decade that is the 2010's, Happy New Years to everyone who bothers to visit my site and read my weird meanderings. 2020 is a bit more than 6 hours away as I write this and I am honestly looking forward to a better year for the first time in awhile. At the end of 2018 I said, "2019 is going to be a tough year for many many reasons, but I think I am much better equipped to face 2019 than I was to facing 2018." and I was wrong on one count, 2019 was not nearly as rough as I thought it was going to be, but I was definitely better equipped for 2019 than i was for 2018. This was a good year all and all and I am glad for it, I needed a good year and I got it.

I did not get to go back to Montana for Christmas as I had planned, I was disappointed, but I was not sad about it. I spent the night of the 24th with my wife and her little dog driving around town looking at lights and drinking hot chocolate. I was in fact where I needed to be.

I read 37 books this year, a bit fewer than I normally do, but a really good spread regardless. A couple of friends suggested some really books, which were the ones I enjoyed the most. Book suggestions from friends are the best, because it is a shared experience and when people live a long way away, sometimes those are the only experiences you can share. I think in 2020 I am going to ask each of my long distance friends for a suggestion and see where it takes me. I have asked each of my friends on FaceBook for a suggestion, I am hoping this leads to some interesting reading in 2020.

In the last couple of weeks I have been playing with FreeBSD. It is not as polished as Linux is and it really only installed cleanly on one of my test systems. However, I did enjoy tinkering with it to get things working properly. I also enjoyed working though learning a new window manager. Normally I use MATE, which is fairly straight forward and is not too unlike Windows. With FreeBSD I opted to try DWM (Dynamic Window Manager), which is brilliant in its simplicity. Rather than letting your windows float around freely, it tiles them on your desktop, which is both freeing and frustrating, but for a command line junkie like myself, it seems to produce a nice workflow. I may just try this out on Linux and see what happens.

Otherwise, be safe out there folks, have fun and have a great 2020!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Terminal Linux

As Christmas Eve comes to close, I thought I would post a picture of my no GUI Linux box.


Slackware vs Ubuntu

I spent a chunk of the day getting my command line only Linux system going. I started with Slackware mostly because it is a distribution well known for its preference for the command line. However, this afternoon I gave up on it and went with Ubuntu. In a discussion about it online, I was asked why I decided to flip like that. The obvious answer is, I am just more comfortable with Ubuntu, but the reality, is Ubuntu is easier to maintain and administrate.

Slackware really only allows you to do a full install, even when you try to pair down the install, you still end up with a 7GB install and a whole ton of stuff you did not want. Even after I stripped stuff out, I was still over 5GB. Then trying to install things that were not part of the main installation quickly became a serious pain in the ass. Slackware's package management is terrible and lacks any kind of dependency control. Absolutely none of the programs I downloaded and tried to install worked, even after I spent time screwing around with them.

Ubuntu on the other hand, was extremely easy to get what I wanted. I downloaded the 32 bit server install and when it came time run task select, I chose only ssh-server, once done, the install was just over 2GB. Then virtually every package I needed was in the commonly used repositories; Wordgrinder, sc, tpp, mc, Tmux, Cmus. MPlayer, Finch, were all readily available and easy to install. Ubuntu also seemed to boot faster, and recognized my ad-hoc system to system network I was using and set it up properly with no intervention on my part. When I was finished, I was still under 3GB.

Couple of things on my brain today

Well, I was going back to Montana this week to visit friends and family. Unfortunately Dallas got fogged in and my flight was delayed. This meant I missed my connecting fight and unfortunately all the other flights to Billings were booked solid until the 26th. I am bummed out about it, I was looking forward to going home for a bit and breathing the stench that is Billings air in the winter. Oh well, maybe next year.

I have two projects I am going to work on today. First is fixing the Infinite Christmas Music Player. At some point it stopped working while Shannon was using it. I suspect the SD card reader is not as 5V tolerant as it is supposed to be. So I will add another capacitor to the build.

I am also working on getting Slackware Linux installed on my Wyse Cx0. Once I got the one installed with FreeDOS and got everything working more or less, it did not take me long to remember that DOS is barely an operating system (I think I have said this before). Linux, even without a GUI on the other hand is still very usable, though not terribly pretty to look at. Web browsing and email are pretty easy, Lynx and Pine work just fine for basic tasks. MP123 plays music just fine and MPlayer, once configured properly plays most video formats. Tmux makes it easy to multitask by dividing the screen into multiple terminals, so I can have email, web, mp3's playing and working on a document without the overhead of a GUI. Obviously there are some limitations, but being able take advantage of all the actual memory and large disk partitions makes it worth it. I can even run most of those DOS programs through DosBox.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Wyse Thin Clients Part 4

I think I have both of these Cx0 configured they way I want them. I decided to forgo installing Lubuntu on either of them. Frankly I was getting nearly the same performance when I was booting it off the network, boot time aside. Instead I went with install DOS on both, figuring if I wanted Linux, I would just boot off the network work.

Once I installed the SD2IDE converter, I found FreeDOS installed without a problem. Whatever problem it had with the original 128MB storage cards, was solved by using an SD card instead. FreeDOS was my preferred DOS anyway, because it adds a lot of useful extensions, like support for partitions larger than 2GB and better memory management. Now that I have them both setup, my plan is to give on to the wife, there are plenty of old DOS games she enjoyed playing; Civilization, Monkey Island and Lemmings to name a few.

The other one, I am obviously keeping for myself, where it will take its place among my retro battle stations. The C64 and such are pretty cool, but honestly DOS is where I really started and working on this project has really reminded me of my roots. I have some really great memories of spending evening with Ric (Army buddy) editing config.sys and autoexec.bat files looking for every upper memory block we could find to open up spots for TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) programs and writing QBasic programs. Almost the first thing I did was use FreeBasic to compile my D&D Character generator from a few weeks ago.

Of course being a modern user of computers, going without a GUI, while not a show stopper, it does constrain me. I tried all the ones that come with FreeDOS, they either did not work properly with the modernish hardware or were just garbage. However, I did come across MCShell, which I used a little back in the day. It is basically a Macintosh System 7 work alike that functions pretty well, so that problem is solved.

Honestly, DOS in any of its forms is barely an operating system, but really, with a little scrounging around, it does become somewhat usable.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Wyse Thin Clients Part 3

So this part of the project took the better part of a week and a half to figure out. Basically I had to setup a Linux Terminal Server that my Cx0 could boot off of. Really, this was the easy part, LTSP is pretty easy to get going even if you have a minimal amount of experience dealing with Linux, the install steps are about as easy as it gets.I setup the server in a Virtual Machine using Virtualbox. The reason I did this is so I could basically turn it into an appliance I could run anywhere, I just backup the image and I can use it on any system that runs Virtualbox. This also keeps me from having screw up my main machine.

The first thing to consider is you hot operating system, in my case the Cx0's are 32 bit machines, so the guest OS has to be 32 bit. You can use a 64 bit OS as host, but it is irritating in oh so many ways, and I found this out through trial and error.

 There are three ways to host OS's, first you can simply use your host OS for both, 2nd you can build a Virtual machine and use that image or you can use whats called a Chroot environment. The problem with both the VM and Chroot is you have to maintain two OS's, which usually entails some other more complex tools. Building a VM is not tough, but getting it to work right is. Building a Chroot is extremely painful in oh so many ways. Again I found this out through trial and error. For the record TinyCore Linux, Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux all make terrible thin client operating systems.

 The easiest method is to simply use your host OS as your guest OS. So for me 32 bit turned out to be the best option. My guest OS also needed to run on 2GB of RAM or less and a minimal amount of video memory, so I settled on Lubuntu as both my host and client OS. The client does take several minutes to boot up, but once it does, it seems to work ok. I have to stress that it is "Just Okay", it is not great. If you worked on computers in the 90's, this will probably not be too bad, but if you are use to nearly instant on web browsers, this will be frustratingly slow for you.

As a learning experience and an experiment, this was a lot of fun, but if you intend to actually do this in some sort of production environment, you are going to want better thin clients and better servers.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Wyse Thin Clients Part 2

Once I started receiving the hardware, I had to decide where to start. The easiest part of the project was really going to be setting up DOS. or at least I thought so. By today's standards DOS is an incredibly simplistic and uncomplicated operating system, but that does not mean it is easy to setup, configure and use.

The first thing I tried was FreeDOS, this was kind of a mistake in retrospect. FreeDOS did not like the 128MB flash drive at all and nothing I could do would fix that. When I tried to use expanded memory, the system would crash before it even finished booting, although extended memory seems to work just fine. I gave up on this and hoped I would have better luck with MS DOS.

The tricky part of MS DOS was the floppy install. Mind you I do have a USB floppy drive and a few disks laying around, but the idea of sitting there for half an hour swapping disks did not appeal to me. So just to get started, I booted to a disk I made from AllBookdisk.com and copied the few files that were there into the c:\dos folder. This gave me a limited set of utilities that was really not very useful. The it dawned on me that I had a full install on a virtual disk, so after a quick run back to my main system, I mounted the virtual machines image and copied all the files and folders from the virtual disk to a USB drive. The problem I had with this was MS DOS did not recognize my USB drive as formatted, even though I formatted it as FAT32. I ran fdisk on the USB drive and then formatted it again. I went back to my system and repeated what I did before and tried again, this time the process worked perfectly. I now had a fully functional install of MS DOS.

The next problem was networking, DOS networking was never good, at best it was barely usable. I spent the next 2 hours scouring the internet for drivers, specifically, I needed DOS Packet Drivers. I did find what I was looking for on a pretty sketchy website that hosted old driver packages. Fortunately this particular network chipset was used on a couple of old motherboards. Next I needed sound, so I repeated my driver quest and came with nothing, the oldest Operating System I could find for the sound was Windows XP. So, no sound. I could not even find Windows 3.1 drivers for either the sound or the video.

Next was to find some programs to run. I of course easily found my two favorite text editors of the time Boxer and Freemacs. But I also wanted something a bit closer to a real word processor. MS Word for DOS is available free from Microsoft, you can download it here is you really want it. I also installed DOOM and some other fun things. I also downloaded Arachne, a DOS based web browser. This worked well enough, but I would not suggest it for anything other than very basic browsing.

That was pretty much that. I might try spending a whole day using nothing but this machine, just for the fun of it. My next project is to take the other Thin Client and try to get it to boot Linux off my network.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Wyse Thin Clients

I just discovered that old Wyse Thin Clients are dirt cheap. I am not talking about a couple of hundred dollars cheap, I am talking $12 cheap. Seriously, you can buy an old Wyse Cx0 for $12 on ebay. Mind you these are not old but reasonably powerful computers. They generally have very limited RAM and extremely anemic storage. When I saw some available at this price, tested and working, with power supply, I decided okay, this is something I can use, so I bought 2 of them.

The systems I bought come with 512MB of RAM and 128 MB (yes MB) of flash storage. Before I bought them, I did a bit of research and found I could upgrade the memory to 2GB. The system uses DDR2 SODIMM's, which cost $10 these days. I also found out the systems use a standard laptop IDE interface for the flash storage. Thankfully, there are these little devices called SD2IDE which allows you to mount an SD card on the IDE channel and use it as storage, these devices even allow booting off the SD card. Again, these cost $10 a piece. I already have a small pile of SD cards ranging from 512MB to 32GB laying around not being used. After all was said and done, I am in less than $80 for both machines.

Now of course the question becomes, what do I do with these thin clients. The first thing that popped into my head was install DOS on it and use it to play old DOS games like Doom, Civilization and such. My second thought is to use one as an actual thin client so I can use the resources of my desktop computer in another room of the house. I could also just install Linux on it and make a small unobtrusive, quiet little computer for the bedroom or whatever. Who know what I will ultimately do, but there are at least a few interesting possibilities.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Post No Shave November

So I shaved this morning. It was much easier this year than it was last year. I used electric hair cutter to take off 3 weeks of growth first, then used a regular razor to take the rest off. This worked really well and my face does not feel raw like I washed my face with sand paper like last year.

As I looked at myself in the mirror afterwards, I was thinking to myself that I do not understand why almost everyone I know thinks I look better clean shaven. Admittedly, they gray beard probably made me look older than I really am, but I am 56, does it really matter if I look 60?

I am not a particularly vain person, I do not worry much about how I look or what others think about how I dress or groom myself.Although, being a polite person and a good husband, I try to take my wife's opinion into consideration, which is the primary reason I do shave a couple of times a week. However, I personally think I look better with a beard.