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?

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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

Fossil Wrist PDA

The Fossil (also sold as the Abacus) Wrist PDA was actually a full-featured but miniaturised version of older Palm pocket computer. It even has the same screen resolution.

The smallest Palm PDA

This particular Fossil Wrist PDA smartwatch is the model 2.0 from about 2004. I have got this one for a cheap but is is a bit weared and the Back button is damaged (so it is impossible to switch the programs). It was also necessary to replace the battery (compatible bateries are available for modern sporttesters).

It’s passive black-and-white display seemed to be obsolete when it was introduced (the comparable Palm PDA computers – Palm III, V and the m500 lines were from 1998-2000.

Its main problems were (and still are) moderate battery life (1-3 days) and its weight (over 100 grams – a comparable PDA was about 180 grams). They also aren’t water resistant. The 1″ screen is also not optimal for many users (there is a mode with bigger icons – only 4 can be shown – but the rest of probrams has still the same size).

There are other issues – the integrated stylus is very small and it is uneasy to target the UI elements (menus, buttons) with it. Also the calibration procedure requires a lot of precision and patience. But the writing itself is not that hard as one can use whole screen area to enter Graffiti characters (so the actual writing area is not much smaller than on an usual Palm device).

Anyway, it offers to have a complete Palm-compatible PDA on the wrist. It supports Graffiti data input, most of Palm OS applications. The stylus is included, of course (it’s hidden in the belt). Obviously, there are some limitations: unavailability of some standard hardware and software buttons – so one cannot control some programs and cannot even open the program menu – it’s a case of the CSpotRun.

But there are rich (for it’s time) connection options: miniUSB connector (both for charging and data transfer) and infrared port – thus one can exchange data (and even applications!) with other Palm devices (and not obly with them) without any trouble.

In comparison with modern smartwatch stuff it is not so bad: it has better than average battery life and it is actually a full computer with ability to locally store data (calendar items, contacts, passwords,…) and create and edit them. It probably still can be synchronised with computers (at least with Linux ones as it is long unsupported on the Windows platform).

I normally use the Pebble smartwatch which has much better screen, is is lighter and has extreme battery life. But is’s mostly for reading only (it has no easy way to enter/edit data or to store them locally). As I don’t use connection between the Pebble and the smartphone, this old Fossil can be better for me in many cases. But I need to address it’s technical problems first (well, I have to find a way how to repair it’s buttons…).

Fossil Wrist PDA

IRIS Indigo(s)

In recent months I have got two SGI IRIS Indigo machines: an older one with the 32bit MIPS R3000 CPU and a newer one a much more powerful MIPS R4000 processor (the firs 64bit CPU which was available for the SGI computers).

The boxes are both pretty snappy. Of course, when it comes to raw CPU power, they may be a bit slow. But for most normal applications they are more than OK (I have the IRIX 5.x on both). But even the R3000 one is not slow (it has a 33 MHz CPU). For example, I spent last night in debugging of my program for the GNU Octave and it wasn’t slow. There is a problem with 3D stuff – my machine has no Z-buffer card so many IrisGL and OpenGL programs or refuse to start at all (the FSN, for example) or they have some problems (the Andy Johnson’s Battalion). But a lot of things works well. Actually, I haven’t have too much time to play with it 3D graphics here. I will do it in a future, I hope.
I also did installed the MeshTV visualization software but at the moment I have no software which is able to output it’s SILO data format.

It is quite hard to use such machine for WWW browsing (the Gopher is OK, though). Available programs even cannot connect to most sites (the HTTPS support is too much outdated here). Fortunately, there still are some sites which are optimised for older browsers. So I installed the Netscape 3.0.1 for IRIX and started to use it.

The interesting thing is that the box is very quiet. It’s two SCSI drives are noisy at all which is quite unusual. It’s much quieter than my main workstation (the SGI O2).

The Indigo with the R4000 CPU arrived last week and only today I have managed to set it up. There are some damages from shipping (they broke the frontal doors) but it works. It is interesting that the CPU is a PC model (no secondary cache) which is known to be too slow in modern systems (the Indy and the Indigo2). But this system is fast (at least it feels fast). This machine came with the “Entry” graphics which is really basic: no (Iris|Open)GL hardware, just 8bit colors with dithering and only the 1024×768 resolution (and nothing better or worse). But it has a normal VGA connector which is nice (the 13W3 connector is here, too). So it’s more a general-purpose workstation for 2D tasks than a workstation for 3D modelling.

Actually, I’m thinking about making it my main machine for non-internet and non-3D tasks as it is possible to run here the most of things that I need (the LaTeX, the XFig, teh GNU Octave, Gnuplot and most of my own program codes). But I will see…

IRIS Indigo(s)

Remembering Palm Foleo

You might remember that around 2007 there was announcet an interesting palm product – a Foleo mobile companion. Essentially a subnotebook with Linux which has designed as an add-n to the Palm Treo smartphones. The Foleo had a comfortable keyboard, a large screen (at least compared to the Treo’s screen) and worked as an extension of the phone. It has it’s own WWW browser (which most probably wasn’t dependent on the phone) and used e-email, calendar and office applications shared with the phone.

The main idea was that user should be able to works with it’s data, e-mails and documents or on the phone or on a larger but still very portable device. Tehere is a lot of places where laptop-style device can be used: in trains, in airports, hotels and so.

Palm Foleo from Wikipedia/Wikimedia

Well, the things went wrong as in the same time the netbook hype was started (do you remember the Eee stuff from ASUS? – after all, some of their netbooks were very nice – we still have Eee 901 at home and it still has some use). The netbooks has similar size and battery life but they were much more universal than a very specialised and phone-bound Foleo. Thus the Palm decided to kill the product.

Anyway, some of the machines got to the wild. On can find photos at Flickr or even auctions with never used Foleo.

Well, the Foleo is dead (and the Palm itself is dead, too) and it is irreversible. But is there a modern device with similar idea. Well, two of them: these Chromebooks have somevhat similar idea – they are WWW browser-centered devices. They are less bound to a phone, though.
But there is a something called Superbook which is pretty close – it’s a notebook-style device which is actually an extension of an Androuid phone. I’m a bit curious how it will be succesfull.

Remembering Palm Foleo

Geocaching (and other stuff) in 2016

It was not a very active year in the area of geocaching: just few tens of caches. But it includes some T5 caches (well, just relatively easy ones – those available on via ferratas).

View from the Krippenstein

The rest were mostly new caches near the Ostrava, Czech Republic. I don’t say that they were not located in interesting places – some of the places were new to me and some were beautiful.

Just forest

But there was little time for geocaching but also for my all other hobbies, unfortunately. Only a few lines of code were written (and most of them were work-related). The biggest new is that now I have the real SGI IRIS Indigo (even if it’s a rebadget Siemens Nixdorf one) with it’s special keyboard and mouse (but I actually use it with a PS/2 converter). It’s is the early model with the 33 MHz R3000 CPU so it’s limited in OS and software options but it’s nice to play with.

SGI Indigo R3000

There are no big changes in my mobile stuff. Except the fact that I retired the iPhone 3G – I finally (after 2 years!) managed to cut my second SIMM card to the miniSIM size so now I have both my SIMs in a single phone (the bq Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition) which.

Stowaway ThinkOutside Sierra + bq Aquaris E4.5

My wife also found her Sony Clie UX/50 which is a nice clamshell PalmOS device. So we started to use it on a non-regular basis. Possibly, I will try to use it for some development (SmallBASIC runs well here and also the OnboardC works well here – and it’s text editor works perfectly with is’s non-standard screen). But it depends on a free time – at the moment it seems that the things will not improve in a near future…

That’s probably all for the 2016. Happy new year 2017!

Geocaching (and other stuff) in 2016