XTerm does graphics! (sort of)

As everyone know, the XTerm is a terminal emulator. It emulates (among others) the ancient DEC VT102 text-only terminal. But that’s not all. It can also do some graphics because it can also emulate the Tektronix 4014 terminal. And these Tektronix ones were actualy able not only to do text but also some points and lines! The main limitation is that Tektronix emulation is “black and white” only (it recognises just two XTerm colors: the foreground one and the background one).

This emulation is a bit limited but it’s fully functional. To enable the Tektronix emulation mode it is only needed to use the -t command line parameter:


xterm -t

Then is is useful to set the TERM variable to something like “tek”,
“4014” or “tek4014” (the “tek” one worked for me very well):


export TERM=tek

By the way, this stuff also worked for remote connection. So you can set the Tektronix mode for your local XTerm and generate graphics at the opposite end of your connection. For example you can run the Gnuplot on the SDF and see the graphs on your local XTerm.

The Gnuplot can produce results in Tektronix-compatible format. Just
set the proper terminal:


export TERM=xterm

There are also other Gnuplot terminals (“vttek”, “tek40xx” and so) but the “xterm” one is the best suited for the XTerm – it actually opens two XTerm windows. The first is the Tektronix emulation one for graphics and the second is a VT102-compatible one for the Gnuplot command interface. So you can work in the same way as if you are using the default X11 output window. The main difference is that thus way is more resources-friendly and work wonderfully also for slow remote connections (and there is no need for the remote server to have anything realted to the X11/Xorg. The SSH/telnet connection is just enough).

Gnuplot in Tektronix emulation of tXTerm

There are other programs which can save in Tektronix-compatible format. Their output can be plotted with help of the “plot” program from the GNU Plotutils (the old UNIX “plot” or “tplot” program should work, too):


cat yourfile.out | plot -Ttek

The Plotutils also include modern versions of other classical UNIX tools. There is a “graph” program, for example. But you can find more in this great
old tutorial
from the Oregon State University. The whole “Coping with Unix, a Survival Guide” tutorial is great reading, by the way.

I have to thank to the Mastodon user niconiconi who tooted about this long-forgotten ability of the XTerm. I was aware of that but never tried it before.

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XTerm does graphics! (sort of)

WordPress on PowerBook

This is just a test how the contemporary WordPress behaves in the TenFourFox on a G4 PowerBook (it’s the fastest model of the PB, that 1.67GHz with DDR2 memory, and with the OS 10.5).

Wordpress on PowerPC in 2019 screenshot

Well, it starts with a big warning about old and unsecured FireFox browser. Then it worked rather normally (except the notice that I should switch to a new block editor – which I don’t want to do for obvious reasons). This “old” interface even does not requre the CPU to run at full speed for the most of time but only when one uses functions like the “Save Draft” or the “Preview”. Well, it’s a bit better than I have hoped and it behaves definitely better than on it behaves on my ODROID/Ubuntu desktop (which is a 32-bit 8-core ARM computer). But it probably does not mean that 14 years old PowerPC laptop is better than a semi-modern ARM one. It means that Cameron has been doing excellent work in making the TenFourFox and in optimizing it for these old PowerPC machines..

WordPress on PowerBook

Palm Pilot Computing in 2019

Warning


This post was written in early 2019 but I forgot to finish and to publish it. So I’m publishing it just now and without any edits.

Introduction

The classical Palm (Palm Pilot) platform is dead since 2006. The Palm handheld computers with the Motorola DragonBall CPU are dead even longer. So why use them now? They are probably uninteresting for most of contemporary computer/smartphone users but they still have some advantages. The firs one is that they are designed to be actually used for some tasks – the software is simple, straightforward, fast and in most cases also consistent. The hardware is limited but it is in most cases well designed – the devices are easy to hold, most of them have easily reachable hardware buttons and so on.

Of course there are limitation. When the original PILOT 1000/5000 were introduced then there was no commonly used wireless data approach. So theyir only way to synchronize data was via the serial cable to a desktop computer. Later a snam-on modem was introduced (so device was able to be connected to wired telephone network) and before the end of 1990 a InfraRed connection was added (starting from the Palm III). Much later deviced added Bluetooth and even WiFi (there were things like Palm VII which used some now dead wireless network which was availabla in the USA only). So the only real way to synchronization is often a cable to computer

Old Palms have back and white screen (some newer ones can use shades of gray). This doesn’t sound promising but it is very good on direct sunlight (readability in low light conditions, like in morning, is not so great, though). And storage capacity (0.5-8 MB depending on the model) and CPU power (a Motorola m68k CPU called DragonBall, 16-24 MHz) were limited even when they were new.

But one does not need too much memory and CPU power to manage a calendar, todo lists, personal databases or to write or sketch short notes. In fact the Palm feels like much faster devices than more advanced PDA (usually with the mobile Windows and with ARM CPUs over 200 Mhz) and even today it allows users to manage and find informations more easily and faster than how it can be done on a modern smartphone. Also the developers of applications for Palm were able to benefit from the fact that the device is controlled by a stylus. So they were able to use smaller GUI items and thus to show more useful information on a screen.

Of course, moderate power usually means moderate battery usage. So Palm III or PalmPilot can run 2+ weeks on two AAA batteries (it depends on intensity of use and on how often it is synchronised as the cable connection draw a lot of power). With modern batteries one can usually got 2+ month of battery life if the device is used just for PIM tasks.

Well, portability. It’s twickier than usual smarphones but other dimensions are smaller. So it fits better in most pockets.

Computer Connection

No problems on Linux as both pilot-link and jPilot are still included in most of major Linux distributions. More importantly, drivers for serial port and for common USB-serial adapters are still included in the Linux kernel.

Apple – I can only speak about PowerPC Mac OS X (10.5 or older). One can use the Palm Desktop. I had only problems with the USB drivers. The original Palm-branded USB-serial adapter works out-of-the-box, the other require some third-party driver which is not so easy to find (I have original Palm adapter). The Palm Desktop itself is ugly and does not support some things which are standard in Linux word (like text encoding conversion between Mac and Palm – I unfortunately speak language which requies this functionality).

For modern Windows it is similar – I didn’t find a working USB-serial driver fo the Windows 10. The Palm desktop is equally ugly today.

Applications

There are several build-in programs: a calendar (DateBook), a To Do list, a text editor (Memos), a simple calculator, an Expenses application (to track one’s expenses) and few more. Actually, they cover most of my needs. A more edvanced scientific calculators are available like the EasyCalc. To store passwordd one can use the Keyring.

Palms were among the first devices which were used to read electronic books. There was no common format for such books and Palms by design have not use normal text files (they use binary formats to save precious memory). So several different ebok formats were developed like the Aportis DOC/ PalmDOC (that one which is produced by the txt2pdbdoc tool) or the MOBI format. Another format (more complex with better text formating thus resulting inlarger files) is the one used by the Plucker reader. This format was once used as one of Project Gutenber formats but is wal a long time ago. The Plucker was designed to be used for off-line www reading. So it includes a Palm program (the Plucker Reader) and so-called Plucker Distiller which is s desktop program (seberal have been available for different operating systems). There is even a Gtk+-based reader for Linux and Unix systems (a very basic one, the reader for Palm has much more features). By the way, if you need to convert contemporary EPUB files to Palm DOC then you can use the open source Kalibre tool.

Geocaching and camera

There is no build-in GPS nor camera. For geocaching a commercial tool CacheMate is still available, it still can accept GPX files (conversion on desktop is required, an open-source tool is available) and if you are lucky enough (I’m not) and have a compatible serial GPS then you use some navigation software at least to show you direction to the cache (don’t expect that there if working map-based software for m68k Palms!). I use the CacheMate in situations when I don’t have my Garmin with me or when the cache description is so clear so I cand search for it without the GPS (I already have fund several geocaches this way).

The camera: I’m only aware about the Kodak Palmpix add-on module. It can be connected to te bottom of the Palm and uses its connector for communication. The camera is 640×480 at max, the colors are far from great and it is unusable in bad light conditions (it’s 2001 product so don’t expect miracles). Any modern phone can produce better photos. But it is great fun for me to take picture with the camera because the only aid to aim the camera is the black and white screen of the Palm itself. The Palmpix uses two AAAs and can take 400+ mages before batteries became flat. The pictures are stored in Palm main memory (about 50 full-size pictures for 8 MB but if no other application are installed).
The images have to be converted on a desktop to BMP files ( pilot-xfer -f ArchImage && palmpix -l -i ArchImage.pdb ). The “pilot-read-palmpix” tool from the “pilot-link” package does not work, one have to download and compile the older stand-alone “palmpix” program (note that it does not work on big-endian platform, but it’s a minor issue these days).

Resume

So why one may use the Palm PDA (preferably the AAA-powered, back and white one) these days:

  • Easy to use PIM applications
  • Stylus, no need to tap on screen with fingers
  • Battery life (and AAAs are still available elsewhere if necessary)
  • No distraction by the internet services
  • Linux compatibility (Unix, too, the tool are available for the IRIX, Solaris,…)
  • All data are available off-line

Well, and there are some nice games available. From clones of the Invaders, the Mines, the Solitaire to the SpaceTrader and the DopeWars.

Palm Pilot Computing in 2019

BlackBird Saga: 1. Introduction

1. Introduction

To understand the story it’s necessary to start in the past. In 1990s there were several companies who made their own workstations and servers with different CPUs. You know, there were also personal computers made by the Apple and IBM-compatible ones (with Intel or Intel-compatible CPUs). The Apple ones were rather unusual in Central and Eastern Europe because of their price the IBM-compatible stuff was the most common.

Of course, the REAL workstations used to be much more powerful (and much expensive, too) than personal computers. I first saw a SGI workstation (on a wall poster) somewhere around 1995. At the time we had a no-name
PC with the 386DX CPU (at 33 MHz, I think) and I thought that it is very fast. And then I found that there is something even faster and something that can do 3D graphics! If I’m mot mistaken there was some Indigo on that poster (with the 100 MHz 64-bit CPU!).

SGI Indy

The first real UNIX workstation which I used was the SGI Indy in 2001. I have started to work at the Technical University of Ostrava and there still were two rooms of SGI Indys (I one of O2s but I newer saw them). In that time I had some Linux experience so I found the easy to use. In 2002 I have bought my first non-PC desktop – a low-end SGI
Indy (with the “cheap” MIPS R4600PC CPU). It wasn’t fast, partially because of small RAM size (it have had 32 MB or of RAM with another 16 MB added but thee later were erratic so I had to remove them). But it was my first UNIX desktop! I started to use it (and invested lots of money to make it better). First I upgraded the RAM (to 128 MB and
then to the 265 MB which is maximum for the Indy). Then I bought second HDD (0.5GB) so I had total 2.5 GB. Later I was able to get bigger and quieter HDDs so to the present day this Indy has the 18GB drive (a Fujitsu one, I think). I also replaced the R4600PC CPU (it was slow – the “PC” means “Primary Cache” so the CPU has no secondary one…) with much more powerful R4400SC (a 175 MHz one). This CPU has 1 MB of secondary cache and (probably more importantly) has powerful floating point unit. I started to use the Indy as my main (and for some time the only) home desktop in 2003 (when I finished my Ph.D. so I had no longer need for insane amount s of computing power). It actually replaced my AMD Athlon-based PC (an ugly and noisy but relatively powerful thing). In 2005 I have got the SGI O2. It was an
upgrade from teh Indy: a much faster machine with better 3D capabilities (older SGIs like the Indy had no hardware acceleration for textures, for example). It’s my main home desktop from that time.

SGI O2

After that I was able to get and try other workstations. I had a DEC Alpha ones for a short time (only one of them was actually able to boot), a HP ones (the same problems), the Sun Ultra 5 (a cheap and slow thing – it has CPU which should run in circles around my Indy but actual performance of the machine is terrible), the Sun Blade (well, it’s a bit faster but that’s all).

BlackBird Saga: 1. Introduction

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). But a portable computer is not a part of the “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