Sunday, April 22, 2007

On Linux and Sparc: Is this goodbye, x86 and PPC?

So, here I am at the keyboard of a newly revamped Sun Ultra 5 (aka "Cinq").
Two weeks ago, I dragged Cinq up from the depths of the lab, and gave him a place of honour on my desk. Vier had just died, and I needed a new machine to piss around with. Solaris 8 was already installed, so I fired Cinq up and headed over to Sunfreeware to grab a few things I knew I'd need.

GTK, Emacs, Lynx, Pine, Python, and all their related dependencies. Man, it took forever!

I spent much of the following weekend installing yet more packages, trying to tweak the look and feel as well as improve Cinq's functionality. By the time Monday rolled around, I wasn't anywhere near done.

"No big deal", I told myself, "I'll bring him up to speed this weekend!"

And I did.

I gave up on Solaris 8 and installed Debian "etch", via the netinstall disk.

And I haven't looked back.

It took me nearly five non-consecutive days to bring Solaris 8 up to my minimum level of functionality. It took less than four hours on a Saturday afternoon to have Debian do nearly everything I want.

As much as I love Solaris (and I DO love it), as far as Cinq is concerned, Debian's the way to go.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Cutting-edge and Decadence part III: Enter the Grimaldis

I'm a happy man.

I'm posting this from my second Mac OS X machine, my 400MHz slot-loading Indigo iMac, aka "Monaco".

About a month ago, I realized how much I missed using Nadia and OS X, and started searching various sites on the net, trying to find a new logic board and CPU for my beloved Powerbook. When I couldn't find anything that was reasonably priced, I was about ready to consign myself to using my old 68K Macs or my Linux PC forever.

Then it hit me... didn't I just buy a "broken" $15 iMac for experimental purposes?

Just for grins, I hit eBay so I could price out iMac upgrades. Suddenly, my $15 eBay special became something more.
So, I shelled out $200 US (or thereabouts) for a gigabyte of RAM, a slot-loading DVDROM drive, an official "puck" mouse, and an adapter for the Airport card I'd bought for Nadia (not knowing it was incompatible with my Powerbook). The resulting transformation was astounding.

He went from a beat-up, "non-working" cast-off from a school district to my new "main machine", hereafter known as "Monaco". Arguably my most powerful home machine and also my first computer to reach a gig of RAM. Not to mention my first wireless machine.

I'm ecstatic that I can run OS X again. I can finally update my iPod, dump the pics from my digital camera, and blog with Ecto again.

Happy Easter, folks!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Cutting-edge and Decadence part II: Whys and Wherefores

Lately, I've been writing a lot about older computers. While originally not within the scope of this blog, they're an important part of my life.

I have three passions in life: computers, writing, and nonconformity (I am an Aquarius, after all!). I enjoy building, upgrading, and using computers, especially uncommon or outlandish ones. I find it to be somewhat of a challenge keeping them useful in this world of constant upgrading and planned obsolesence. I especially love portables, so I can write or take notes wherever I go, and I love watching people do a double-take when I'm sitting at a cafe or lounge working away on some ancient or bizarre laptop.

However, I've come to the conclusion that life is passing me by, technologically speaking. While functional at a basic level, most of my older hardware is simply not capable of delivering the kind of functionality I'm going to need, at least without a whole lot of effort. Effort I'm not so sure I want to expend.

I acquired a taste for blogging-on-the-go when I started using OS X on my Lombard. I quickly discovered Ecto, a great blogging tool, as well as Shrook, a freeware RSS reader, both of which got me hooked on blogs, RSS feeds, and (indirectly) podcasts. Nadia may be dead and gone, but the desire to blog remains. And now, there's something new...

First the Transit Riders Union got me interested in civic planning/transit issues. The New Winnipeg community cemented that interest. Then, I discovered, which really clinched it for me.

I've said I wanted to be more civic-minded, so I've decided to become more involved. I want to write, to be able to contribute in a timely manner, in as few steps as possible. I want to be able to update my blogs or pages wherever I am, whenever I want.

But unfortunately, my older hardware won't cut it. It's time for something new.

On Cutting-edge and Decadence

Someone asked me the other day if I felt as though technology is passing me by, given my predilection for older computer hardware.

I answered him with a story.

Three years ago, I was a paid contributor to an internet-based "magazine" dedicated to older computers. I also had a fairly busy social life, and couldn't be at my desk in my home office at all times, so I bought a Powerbook 160 so I could write on the go. I paid $15 US for the thing, and brought it with me everywhere I went.

One particular lunch hour, one of the outside salespeople at work saw me with my "ancient piece of crap" (as he put it) and decided to show off his new PDA. "I can grab my email, surf the web with Avantgo, view JPEGs, and even play video clips!", and proceeded to show me a grainy b&w video clip downloaded from some porn site. I looked at him, smiled, and said "Well, I can get my email, usenet news, surf the web with iCab, view JPEGs, and even play that same grainy video clip (which I did - it was an old quicktime clip!). And I only paid fifteen bucks. How much did you pay?"

Needless to say, the exchange ended there.

Since then, I've been able find the things I need to make my older hardware somewhat capable of doing "modern" things. I've had my Powerbook 5300 online with a wifi card, I've edited and redesigned my website several times over, and even experienced "Web 2.0" on my older machines. And done it all inexpensively.

But really... is it worth the effort? Instead of all that aggravation, random/unexplained crashes, and incompatibilities, wouldn't I be better off with something newer, more contemporary? Something that works right out of the box?

In the long run, yes. In this respect, I really miss Nadia, my Powerbook G3 "Lombard". I had OS X running like a top, and was blogging, editing my page, and surfing wherever there was an internet connection/hot spot. Despite being a couple of generations out of date (as Macs go), using Nadia felt like I was on the cutting edge. It was hard going back to my older Macs... but I managed.

I'm in the process of upgrading my newly acquired slot-loading iMac (G3/400) so I can run OS X again, but this leaves me without a comparable Powerbook...

While I can use my older Powerbooks quite effectively, sooner rather than later I'm going to need something more. I'll most likely pick up a new(er) Powerbook, but there's a slim chance I may pick up a Sparc-based Tadpole laptop or a Linux-based laptop.

Death in Service 2: Goodbye, old friend.

I've lost another one.

This time around, my beloved Macintosh LC 475 ("Vier") has passed on. The on-board SCSI controller is dead. Throws a bit of a wrench in my Retrochallenge plans.

I'm a tad heartbroken. Vier was my first Mac, bought in 2000 at a garage sale. He started life as a Macintosh LC, but was upgraded with an LC475 logic board, full 68040 w/FPU, and Farallon Dual Ethernet card. I credit Vier with rekindling my waning interest in computers, as well as getting me hooked on Macs, and in a roundabout way, freed me from being shackled to Microsoft Windows (which, I am proud to say, I don't use outside of work).

Vier will be missed.