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)

BlackBird Saga: 6. First Try

Sooo, I have had the parts so the only remaining thing is put them together. It has been sounding easy, right?

Well, there have been some problems:

  • The mainboard has “SuperMicro-compatible” front panel connector. My computer case has no sort of thing. So lot of LED indicators cannot be connected.
  • The CPU heatsink is special. You need a hex driver to secure it. Fortunately I ho the smaller 2U heatsink so I was able to use my tools which. I use to service my bicycle.
  • The SSD and the SATA: the Raptor does not ship any SATA cables with the mainboard. And nor the case nor the SSD package included one. It might sound strange for an average PC user but I have no single SATA cable at home (well, something should be to be inside my old Sun Ultra 20 but I don’t want to remove anything from a complete system). This I have to buy some.
  • The USB. The case was two separate connectors for the front USB ports: a USB3 one which can be easily connected to the Blackbird and a USB2 one. The USB2 one has internal connector button the mainboard is only a normal external connector. So adapter is needed here.
  • The case fans. There was one 120mm fan already in the case. But it seems to me that it’s not sufficient (the CPU has passive cooling only) and it has only the 3-pin connector so there is no speed regulation. I might use it for now but I definitively have to order at leas a second one with 4-pin connector. If it will work well then I will probably replace also the original fan with such thing.
  • The optical drive. It’s probably not necessary as this will not be a multimedia system. Anyway, I have rather big collection of music CDs and also some computer stuff is still available on CDs so such drive would be useful. There are two positions for drives so I will consider to use the second one for a backup tape drive. It’s an UNIX (err, Linux..) workstation, after all.
  • The RAM. I have found none of the exact models that are listed on the Raptor Wiki so I have got ones with similar part. And if of course the system refuses to start because of some strange DRAM Error. So they are NOT compatible. Well, for now is is a dead end. I have to obtain a compatible one.

Update: I got a new memory stick. A second-hand Hynix which should be 100% compatible. It may be but this particular stick seems to be dead (the system does not recognise it at all).

BlackBird Saga: 6. First Try

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: 5. Waiting for Blackbird

The promised delivery date was “Q1 of 2019”. I have had enough experience with small technology companies so it was obvious for me that the date is too optimistic. So I used the time to obtain the parts necessary to complete the system:

  • a computer case (the Fractal Design Basic one – at least it’s black),
  • two 8GB ECC DRAM sticks from the Kingston,
  • a Seasonic FOCUS PFU,
  • a GPU board (the AMD WX4100),
  • a 512GB SDD drive (an Intel one, for some reason).

As I have expected, the Raptor announced some delays in delivery. The final date of first shipping was May 15. They actually were able to sent the first packages that day but I have wait until June 15 for the shipping notice (my Blackbird’s serial number is 142, by the way).

I have had the works experiences with the USPS but in this case they worked perfectly. Their tracking was able to show more than the usual “on its fay to the next facility” and when it reached the Czech Republic they provide better and more up-to-date tracking informations than the local post service. The package was delivered at June 29 (thus just 2 weeks after it was shipped)! I don’t say that for example the Uzbek State Post Service is worse but I was very positively surprised.

BlackBird Saga: 5. Waiting for Blackbird

BlackBird Saga: 4. BlackBird

There have been probably more people who have wanted to get a modern POWER/PowePC desktop but were not interested to get so big or so expensive system. So the Raptor people designed the Blackbird – a miniATX mainboard with a single CPU socket and two RAM slots. It still has been a workstation-class thing with POWER CPU and ECC RAM but it’s small, with lower power demand. It is also considerably less expensive (first I wanted to use the word “cheaper” but a $999 mainboard is not actually “cheap”, I think). The price for so small dimensions is the ability to use 8-core CPU and just 2 RAM sticks (no more than 256GB of RAM in total) as maximum. And there are only 2 PCIe slots (one 16-lane for a GPU and one 8-lane). Well, it looked like thing designed especially for my needs! Pre-orders were opened in November 2018.

BlackBird Saga: 4. BlackBird

BlackBird Saga: 3. There Are Some Raptors Circling Around

During last years an interesting option emerged – the company called Raptor Engineering promised to made the POWER8 workstation called Talos. They failed to allocate funds for that but they haven’t gave up and they have made the second try – the Talos II with the POWER9 CPU. And they have been successful.

The Talos II is real, available and powerfull (up to two 28-core POWER9 CPUs, some terabytes of RAM and so). It should be natural choice for me. But it is obviously expensive. Not only it costs about $6000 (thus about $8500 with VAT, custom fees and shipping to Europe – which is considerably more than the half-year salary of university teacher here) but it’s also too big for my needs.

BlackBird Saga: 3. There Are Some Raptors Circling Around

BlackBird Saga: 2. Power of PowerPC

A also had some Apples: an iBook G3 (dual USB one – than more modern looking one) which was not bad, a Power Mac G4 Sawtooth (unfortunately if was somewhat faulty and died after some time), the Power Macintosh 6100 (a lovely pizzabox – the first PowerPC Apple ever made) and so. I used to travel by train frequently in 2006-2008 so the iBook was very useful. I got it as a “used” with “old battery” with 2 hour life at maximum but it was actually able to work 4-5 hours on the battery (there was no WiFi in train so if was always off-line). In 2006 I have got the iMac G5. The main reason was its cool look. We have been using it at home as a multimedia computer (to watch DVD movies).

But I always wanted an actual POWER workstation. I’m sorry but “modern” Power Macintoshes (bule-white G3 and newer) with their IDE drives and other PC parts are not workstations…

Initially (about 2004?) I have got an Intel-based IBM Intellistation (it was the Pentium II CPU but it used SCSI drives). I ran the Debian on it and ujsed it for some testing and as a PC for visitors. It wasn’t bad but it still was an imitation. Then I got the Intellistation POWER 265. It was an actual workstation – a POWER4 CPU, an AIX, a lot of strange stuff like “smit”. Actually it was well used and thus very noisy so I used it very infrequently. In 2011 I got another one – the Intellistation 185. It was smaller and cheaper. It wasn’t the real POWER workstation as there is a desktop-class G5 CPU (the same that was used in the last dual-core Power Mac G5 computers – the only difference is that the second core is always disabled and it runs at 2.5 GHz at max – the Apple overclocked them to 2.7 GHz). This was somewhat unhappy choice as I was never able to make it work: it’s the only G5 desktop which is nit Apple and the only IBM workstation which is not POWER. So almost every Linux detect it incorrectly and fails on boot (only the long dead Crux-PPC distro is known to boot on it correctly). Thus I was never able to make it work for me. It was a pity because the system was actually very capable in 2011 – a 2.5 GHz 64bit CPU, 2GB of RAM and so on.

In 2018 I accidentally have got an Intellistation 285 almost for free. It has been almost unused system from home user and it was in maximum possible configuration (ans RAM which was “only” 8 GB). And the system have had both AIX and Linux installed (and hit has been running them very well). So it is my only working POWER workstation to the present
day. I don’t run it very often but sometimes it’s useful to have it available.

The problem of the 285 is that is too big, too hungry and too noise. It’s actually not much noisy than the O2 but the difference is still noticeable and annoying. But the need for replacing of my main workstation is increasing during the time (my SGI O2 was made in 1998 so it was 20 years old in 2018 and I use it on daily basis from mid-2005). So I was rearching for the replacement. Yes, I can buy a madern PC. It could be relatively easy but there is risk tha I will
not be able to run Linux without issues (with these secure boots and so) so I wanted a system which is designed to be used with Linux or BSD.

BlackBird Saga: 2. Power of PowerPC