Computing in 2019: plans

First I have to explain where this site is almost dead. There are some reasons but the main is that I use my Gopher site to publish my thoughts. This happened not only because I like the simplicity and oldschoolness of the gopher:// protocol but also because the WordPress is no longer feasible on my main desktop computer (after 14 years it still is the Silicn Graphics O2 workstation).

Well, at the moment I’m using my laptop which is a bit newer so it can handle the WordPress better.

So what is my home computing just now? The desktop is, of course, the Silicn Graphics O2. I do here almost all off-line work like making of articles and presentations (Vim, Gnuplot, GNU Octave, XFig, LaTeX), programming (Vim, gcc, BWBASIC), music playback (XMMS), agenda (GNU Remind, todo.txt, JPilot) and so. I use the SGI 1600SW widescreen LCD for the O2.

During time I had to introduce the institution of a second desktop which is used to interface USB devices and for “modern” WWW browsing (i.e. for browsing of all pages which are insecure or even unavailable for the SGI O2 and its browsers: the Firefox 2 and the Links 2). At the moment this service is provided by the ODROID XU-3 which is hidden in a Mini Indigo case.

The laptop is now the GPD Pocket. It was out of service for several months because of the faulty battery but finally I managed to get a new one and now I use it. It also means that my Gemini PDA now shares the shelf with the PSION and is no more actively used (it was a handy replacement when the GPD was unavailable but it’s an Android device with some hardware flaws so it cannot compete with a real computer with actual Unix-like OS).

The PDA is the Palm IIIx because mankind developed nothing better, yet. I actually use a IIIx for home use (offline www reading, passwords, unit conversion and other fas calculations and so) and a IIIXe for outdoor uses like shopping, making of field notes, taking pictures with the PalmPix and as backup device for geocaching. With the Metro I can even search for tram connections but all Metro databases for Czech cities are horribly outdated. I have been thinking about making a new one (at least for the Ostrava) but still done nothing in this direction. And as a phone I sue the PUNKT MP01

The last important things my ethernet router. I use an old and cheap TP-Link thing for more than 5 years and sometimes also a Belkin WiFi router for devices which have no Ethernet connector.

I also have several others computers awailable but they are not used too often: the SGI Indy, the SGI Indigo and the the IBM Intellistation 285. And several pocket computers and laptops, too.

Now the plans. There are two big changes planned. The first is to replace both routers (the TP-Link and the Belkin) with the Turris MOX device. If it arrives after all then at first I will try to use it as a Belkin replacement. Then, it if will work, I will try replace the TP-Link device, too. It’s modular and I already have ordered all modules necessary for this role.

The second thing might be less important now but it’s a big one. I plan to change my primery workstation. Of course, I don’t wish to use something compatible with the x86_64 paltform so I opted for the Raptor Engineering’s BlackBird. I will use a stock PC case for it so visually it will not be comparable nor with the O2 nor with the IntelliStation. But it should be faster than both of them. Of course I don’t think that I will be able to replace my O2 (with its heavily customised environment) so easily. Thus it should replace the ODROID at first. When I will be able to use the Blackbird as such then I will start to phase out the O2. The problem is that I’m accustomed to the FVMW but I have no clue how to effectively combine it with requirements of modern desktop services (the IRIX is much simpler and can handle many things easily, today’s Linux, ehm, I mean the systemd, is not).

The rest should remain as is. My phone is new and I’m actually satisfied with it. It noen of my Palm break then I will usem them, too. An I hope that the new battery of my GPD Pocket will be better than the original one (it survived only one year of regular use).

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Computing in 2019: plans

Almost x86-free home

It actually was not planned but I have accomplished something that I has been planning for years. My home setup it almost x86-free.

As most of readers probably know, my main desktop computer since 2005 has been the SGI O2 workstation (it has a MIPS CPU). During the time there arose a need to supplement it by a more modern computer for some tasks (WWW browsing of “modern” and “secure” sites, and for use of USB devices). As my Lenovo X61s refuses to work, I replaced it by first available computer here which was the ODROID XU-4 in the fancy Mini Indigo case. It’s an ARM-based computer. As an off-line WWW and e-book reader (via Plucker/CSpotRun) I use the Palm IIIx (a Motorola m68k-based device). I assume that my Amazon Kindle is also ARM-based and the phone (BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition) is surely, too.

Well, there is still one black sheep: my portable computer is the GPD Pocket (it has an Intel Atom CPU and thus it is x86-compatible). Actually, But a portable computer isn’t a part of “home setup”, is it?

Almost x86-free home

Palm III(s) Update

Recently I have updated some of my Palm handhelds. I also wrote a gopher post about this upgrade.

The smaller change has been done on my “main” Palm, the Palm IIIx. I replaced the non-transparent screen protector with a translucent one. It looks better now and also I can actually see the screen when the protector is used. It looks line unimportant thing but it isn’t. I have hat to turn off Palm’s system sounds (even the “low level” is too noisy at night) so now I have no acoustic information is something is wrong during the syncing with the computer (Palm synchronization takes some time so I usually start it and then switch to other screen to do something useful). But the translucent screen protector allows to control if the synchronization is still under way or if it is stopped on a problem.

2x Palm III

The older Palm Pilot has been updated much more. I first have to select the best working one (a Palm Pilot Personal made in Malaysia) and then complete it with a stylus and the battery doors with other ones. Then I removed the old memory card (512 kB) and replaced it with the Palm-branded “2 MB upgrade” kit. It also includes a flash memory with Palm OS 3.0 and an infrared (IR) port. On the picture above you an see this thing on the left. It means that this old device is now compatible with my “main” Palm (it can run most of the applications that I use and it can communicate with it via infrared protocol).

There are also other improvements: the main one is that the Graffiti recognition is more much more tolerant (I have had problems with text input on the Palm OS 2.0 – my writing style has been always terrible and the number of errors was much higher than it is on devices with Palm OS 3.0).

At the moment I transferred (via IR, of course) some data (ToDos, Memo notes and AddressBook entries) and some applications to the upgraded Palm. So I can say that the CSpotRun, the KeyRing and the DopeWars works well. And I probably don’t need more here 😉

Palm III(s) Update

1600SW, adapter and ODROID

Thanks to care of one good person I now have a working SGI Multilink adapter for my SGI 1600SW displays. It is very useful thing as the 1600SW has a non-standard digital input (it is quite old and when it was designed then there was no DVI at all) so by default it can be only connected to a few SGI workstations (and even these might require a special add-on card).

The 1600SW is relatively nice even today (17.4″ screen with 1600×1024 resolution). It’s colour space is somewhat limited (by today standards) but this is OK for me. I am not a fan of high-resolution displays (at work I have a 12.4″ screen with 1920×1080 resolution and even with a contemporary OS the whole thing is too painful) so I with to use my old LCD screens as long as possible.

Near original SGI Setup ;-).

I still have one non-resolved issue in my home computing: my secondary desktop (that web-browsing one) was the Intel Compute Stick (Ubuntu version) and it died last year. I have replaced it by the Lenovo X61s laptop but I still don’t thing that it is an optimal use of a ultra-portable PC (and it’s even a PC).
Last year I have got a 3D-printed miniature of the Silicon Graphics IRIS Indigo computer from Dodoid. I had no particular use for it, I just wanted to have that toy.

But the device is designed to fit the ODROID-XU4. So I have obtained a second-hand one in order to try to replace the X61s. At least is’s not PC-based.

The first attempt to used it failed as I haven’t been able to make it work with my ViewSonic VP171 LCD or any other LCD with 1280×1024 resolution. It seems to me that there is no easy way to make the Xorg (or the hardware itself) to send a proper signal – the image was something like 1116×1024 instead.

So I decided to try the wide-screen 1600SW with the ODROID. So I prepared the testing setup (pictured above) in a separate room, connected everything together and it simply worked! So now I should re-arrange my working desk to put the new stuff on in (hopefully it will not need further year…).

The pre-installed OS on the ODROID is the Ubuntu 16.04 (MATE Edition) which is actually not too bad. The MATE seems to be quite fast (and it is basically an updated GNOME 2.0 which is probably the last usable desktop environment for the Linux – it’s uncomplicated and configurable enough). So I will probably continue to use it.

1600SW, adapter and ODROID

GPD Pocket

I have got one from the IndieGoGo project. It’s very nice. Of course, it’s the Ubuntu version.

GPD Pocket (Ubuntu version)

But it’s not perfect. The fan is noisy (not in the values in dB but the sound is not nice) and it is spinning quite often. And the Atom CPU is … the Atom CPU. But it’s OK in most cases, except the Firefox rendering modern WWW pages… But even the FreeCAD is running rather smoothly.

The OS support is acceptable – after some updates the most of stuff work well (except the build-in speaker – it’s strange that headphones works but speaker does not). The only – small but stupid – issue is that the device boots in portrait mode and the (proper)landscape mode has to be set in the Ubuntu settings. The BIOS (or what it is) is also in portrait mode.

The keyboard is relatively good. One can write English texts with ease but the keys required for the Czech language are partially located in the tiny upper row and the “ú” and “ů” are located in unusual and remote positions. I often use the device for taking notes at work so it is an issue for me.

At the moment, I use the device for most of my work outside the office, thus replacing both a PDA (the Sharp Zaurus or the Ubuntu phone for PIM functionality – as the phone has to be turned off on most of meetings it makes little sense to carry it) and the laptop (the Lenovo X260). It is small and light (0.5 kg), it’s very solid and it’s battery life is good (it’s surely better than 6 hours but I haven’t an opportunity to use it for a longer time; the producer declares up to 12 hours).

GPD Pocket

Ubuntu Touch after it’s end

As you may know, the Canonical (the company which develops Ubuntu) halted all development of the Ubuntu Touch earlier this year. That is, no new devices (phones, tablets) for the Ubuntu Touch systems, no system updates, no new applications. Some users already reinstalled their devices with the Android. And Canonical also halted development of the Mir display server and their complete Unity desktop (all these things were the base of phone GUI system for the Ubuntu Touch).

But there is a great effort of UbPorts folks – it was initially a group interested in porting of the Ubuntu Touch to other devices.
They not only released updated system images for most of previously supported devices but they also working on further development of the system and it’s applications.

Ubuntu Touch on a big screen

There is also a new App Store – the OpenStore was initially meant for applications that cannot obey security rules defined by Canonical (for example apps that need direct access to some hardware) but now it’s a home for all Ubuntu Touch applications. And there is a good flow of new applications: not only most of the interesting applications from old official App Store has been migrated here but also new ones have been appearing.

Of course, there are no new devices but the old can be still used.

Piel Frama Case + Jorno keyboard

I personally have wo Ubuntu devices: the phone (the bq Aquaris E4.5 – the low-end one) and the tablet (the bq M10HD – the best one available) and both are still useful. The E4.5 is my sole mobile phone and serves me very well. Actually, I haven’t noticed any stability nor other problems in last 12 months. There are some issues with Bluetooth input devices (the GUI may restart after the device is connected) but I haven’t used the keyboard with the phone for a long time (I even lost the keyboard and didn’t noticed that…). The Bluetooth speakers seems to work without such problem. To be honest, I finally have managed to remove all unnecessary stuff from the phone (to save space – it has only 8 GB of storage for everything * including the OS) and not there are only applications that I really use on the phone.

The tablet is an another story – the last update of the Ubuntu (in January 2017, I think) broke the external screen support. So now the X11-based applications work well on an external screen but the native (mostly) fail. So one can use the device in the desktop mode only if the internal (10″) screen is enough for his/her needs. There is also still the issue related to virtual keyboard for X11 applications – only specially prepared ones can use in. So the Firefox and the OpenOffice are OK but applications which are installed by the user can only work with an external hardware keyboard. And it limit’s the device usefulness on the move. This is not ideal, but for light work it may be OK.

So I actually use both devices: the phone on a daily basis and the M10 tablet mainly for testing of new applications and for lighter tasks (for example, it’s still better for WWW browsing than any of my computers except the Lenovo X61). During holidays I even used it as a desktop (on a stand with a keyboard, a mouse attached and speakers attached) without issues. It can use also the USB keyboard and mouse the GUI works without restart if no Bluetooth is involved…) but then it cannot be charged at the same time.

I’m still not brave enough to reflash my M10 tablet with the new system image from UbPort…

So things are not that bad as they may look.

Ubuntu Touch after it’s end