Blackbird Saga: 11. Sound of Silence

My new 3U CPU heatsink arrived today. This is the big one with a fan. I ordered it the early August, the Raptor needed its usual two week to process the order (well, they still are a tiny company so they are not as fast as big ones), the USPS was fast this time but our Post Service was even slower than usually.

Anyway, the thing arrived. So I removed the older 2U heatsink and installed this new one. Of course I didn’t re-seated the PCU so the system refused to start. So I re-seated all things once more (including the RAM as it is placed close to the CPU socket) and it started to work!

Well, temperatures. My previous situation was 61-63oC in idle or light use (with CPU governor “powersave”) and up to 85-87oC in full use (with “ondemand”).
Now I have 51-52oC in normal use (with teh “ondemand” governor). By “normal use” I mean also running of a current, un-optimised Firefox with Javascript-burden WWW pages. I saw temperatures over 70oC in full use.

For your information, current temperatures (when I’m writing this post) are (as obtained from “sensors” command):

Chip 0 Core 0: +52.0°C (lowest = +25.0°C, highest = +67.0°C)
Chip 0 Core 4: +52.0°C (lowest = +26.0°C, highest = +68.0°C)
Chip 0 Core 8: +51.0°C (lowest = +25.0°C, highest = +66.0°C)
Chip 0 Core 12: +51.0°C (lowest = +27.0°C, highest = +69.0°C)
Chip 0 DIMM 12 : +52.0°C (lowest = +29.0°C, highest = +54.0°C)
Chip 0 Nest: +51.0°C (lowest = +27.0°C, highest = +60.0°C)
Chip 0 VRM VDD: +55.0°C (lowest = +31.0°C, highest = +61.0°C)

Please don’t ask me why the only RAM module is called "DIMM 12". I don’t know.

But the noise is different. The new CPU fan is very powerfull and noisy – it runs at full speed during start and increase of noise is noticeable (it’s much louder) than it was just with three case fans. But after that the system is quiet. Fans are running on slow speeds and they are even not noticeable. At least I cannot hear them. Previously the fans ran on pretty high speed so the system was near as noisy as my SGI O2 is (an its 10-years old and dirty fan is not really not quiet!). Now it is the quietest system in house. Even our GPD Pocket laptops are much more noisy (not speakting about the ORDOID or about the iMac G5).

So this piece of cra.., err, aluminium with the attached fan might be expensive but it worth its price!

Resume: If you are going to buy the Raptor Blackbird then you should buy the 3U heatsink and not the cheaper 2U one!

Blackbird Saga: 11. Sound of Silence

BlackBird Saga: 10. From O2 to Blackbird

I have been started the transition from my SGI O2 (with the IRIX 6.5) to my brand new BlackBird (with the Fedora Linux, now in version 30). As I expected it is not (and will) not be smooth nor easy. At the moment I use the O2 for most of time and the BlackBird only when I need more computing power (and yes, also when I need to add a WordPress post). I ahve been trying to find good substitutes for various pieces of software which I have been using for years. Below is a short summary of things which are already done.

It is good to remember that the BlackBird is a POWER9 computer (ppc64le) not an Intel/AMD-based PC (i386 or x68_64) nor my favorite MIPS (misp/mipsel). It has its (big) advantages but it also can make it less compatible with some codes.

Mate Terminal with the IRIX-like colors

  • My own uFEM software (so Gtk+-2.0 + OpenGL 1.1 + libgtkglext) – done. Surprisingly, there were no issues as all of the necessary libraries are still supported. It might change in near future, though.
  • My own MicroDef software (so Gtk+-2.0 + libGD). The Gtk+ is the same as in the uFEM case but the GD was not in the Fedora for some reason. But it compiles without issues here. Done.
  • Web browsing: There is a Firefox (66 at the moment) which is not fully optimized, so some ugly, JavaScript-burden pages are not as fast as one might expect. But this is a minor problem of some porly made pages (one of the biggest Czech e-shops is a typical example). I don’t use services like Facebook or Twitter so I don’t know how responsible they are. The second problem is that I have to use the Chromium/Chrome browser to upload stuff to my calculator. There is no such browser for Fedora on ppc64le, yet (but I can use my GPD Pocket for this task). So partially done.
  • LaTeX/csLaTeX/Beamer and so: I have had to finally abandon the old csLaTeX here and use the Babel package which all normal human beings have using for ages. So I have to update all my files to that. Fortunately, it’s a change of 2 \usepackage{} statements and it also works on my older TeXlive instalation on the O2. Done.
  • Image viewer: I used to use the GQview port on IRIX. There is an actively developed fork called Geeqie for the Linux. Done.
  • Vim/gVim -> Vim/gVim. Done.
  • Gnuplot -> Gnuplot. Done.
  • GNU Octave -> GNU Octave. Done.
  • XFig -> XFig. Done.
  • Terminal Emulator. XTerm -> XTerm (even the Tektronics mode still work!). SGI Winterm -> Mate Terminal. I only adjusted the colors and change the font. But I’m not happy from any available font and I’m still have been searching for a better one. Work in progress.

More on this topic later…

BTW, an archive of this blog can be also found at That archive is much more friendly to old computers and browsers. Also a WWW version of my Gopher Phlog can be found at that place. Many thanks to Logout for them!

BlackBird Saga: 10. From O2 to Blackbird

BlackBird Saga: 9. Temperature

Temperature outside is not normal for Central Europe summer(31 degrees of Celsius) but I meat temperature on the BlackBird chips. The system is meant to be small (miniATX) and the default heat sink is passive, without the fan. My computer case is the Fractal Design CORE 1100 with one 120mm fan. I added a second 120mm one (it can be mounted on the side of the case – it’s located over Blackbird’s PCIe slots not over the CPU) and the results were not satisfying as usual CPU temperature was over 80 degrees of Celsius. It seems to be normal but I am not sure if it isn’t too much. And I am not sure what maz happen if the system will be under continuous load.

The case manual suggests that I can add a 80mm or 92mm fan to the back of the case. The 120mm one does not fit here. But the manual also says that I have to use or two 120mm fans (in the front and on the side) or two 92mm ones (onth the front and at the back of the case) and do not mix them. At the moment I the default 120mm one (front fan) and the new 92mm (at teh back) ad waiting for the second 92mm one.

The temperatures are about 75 degrees in idle and over 85~87 degrees under load (I use Fedora 30 with the MATE and CPU governor is “ondemand”). Most time I use a WWW browser, the Vim, some office tools and so. I’m running the LaTeX or the GCC randomly but not so often. So (except the Firefox) the system is not so much loaded (just now).

So I tried to play with the system a bit (help for tah is here). I changed the governor to “powersave”

# cpupower frequency-set -g powersave

And do I need all 16 threads? No, 4 should be enough for now. So I allowed just one thread per CPU core:

# ppc64_cpu --smt=off

Well, and do I really need all FOUR cores? Two should be enough:

# ppc64_cpu --cores-on=2

And now the temperature is 70~73 degrees for all time. And the system is still fast enough. And when I will have to to something bigger the I will set the “ondemand” or “performance” governor and make all 16 threads available.

But I’m going to test the new fans setup first…

BlackBird Saga: 9. Temperature

BlackBird Saga: 8. Desktop

So the Blackbird is installed and configured (at least partially). Thus I have re-organised my desk – I put my ODROID desktop to the storage and displaced the SGI O2.

Blackbird Desktop Screenshot

The O2 is still my main computer but I wish to use the Blackbird for computationally intensive tasks. I also have to ad some hardware – there is no internal speaker so I must find suitable external ones. Also the Radeon WX4100 is still not installed. It is not necessary for browsing the web or for computations but 3D card will be essential for data visualizations.

In the future it may replace my O2 completely but at the moment I don’t think that it is possible. I first have to find some equivalent to tools that I have been using on my O2 (even for open source ones because some of them don’t compile on modern Linux systems).

I have been using the Fedora Linux. As a long-time Ubuntu/Debian user I am bit surprised by many things. I don’t say that it does not work (because it does very well – the “dnf” tool is easy to use for example) but I miss some software packages. So I have had to compile myself these things:

All of them even in the ubuntu. With some others I have had no luck, for example with the “x2x” which is essential for me. I also have to try the SPRNG library. And things like the csLaTeX work with issues (well, it says that it’s obsolete and it should not be used for new documents, but it also fails on my old documents).

So I still have to do a lot of things here…

Update: The x2x actually compiles without issues. The necessary dependencies are listed in the file here. And SPRNG5 compiles well, too. But I will have to update my code to this version (I have been using the version 2).

BlackBird Saga: 8. Desktop

BlackBird Saga: 7. New DRAM

Yesterday I finally installed a RAM stick that seems to be working (a 16GB Hynix of the type listed at the Raptor Wiki). It seems that it works in the A slot instead of the B which is recommended in the manual. For my great surprise the system finally started up to Petitboot. So I connected a USB stick with the Fedora 30 and tried to boot. It worked but installed just a base server system where the only configured package repository was that USB stick. I have not used RedHat/Fedora from the RedHat Linux 6.2 so I was a bit helpless here. Thus I tried to boot a Void Linux CD. It booted and it seems to be OK (well, I should read the manual first as it claims to be very different from mainstream Linux distros).

At the moment I decided to use the Fedora (which seems to be well supported here until I will sure that the whole computer works well. So I reinstalled the Fedora once more and this time with online package repository configured. I have not selected the Fedora Workstation but a system with simple window managers and I also have added some desktop environments (the MATE and the GNOME).

The installation required some time and then it ended in a working system with X11. The MATE is fast and the GNOME is fast, too (on the X11 – I still have not installed the discrete graphics so I don't want to try the Wayland).

There are no screenshots so far, sorry. I still dind’t modified the xorg.conf so my screen is still just 1024×768 so it does not look promising.

BlackBird Saga: 7. New DRAM

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.

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


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.


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.


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).


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