My Emacs configuration

I'm by no means an expert in using Emacs, but it has been my favorite editor for some time if I need to write anything more than a short note or a simple one-line script. Unfortunately, I will probably never have time to learn Lisp, which means I'll never be able to write my own functions or modify the existing modes or functions written for the Emacs. Luckily, with some googling one can usually find a ready solution for just about any problem one encounters using Emacs.

The following code contains some of the tweaks I have added to the configuration of Emacs on most of my boxes. Just copy and paste the code (or parts of it) to ~./emacs. If you don't have .emacs file in your home directory, you can create it with any editor you like (you might even like to use vi for the task!). In openSUSE the tweaks can also be included in ~/.gnu-emacs-custom.

Please suggest some more tweaks in the comment box!


;; == disable splash screen & toolbar to save screen space ==
(setq inhibit-splash-screen t)
(tool-bar-mode -1)

;; == disable menu bar as well ==
;; (menu-bar-mode -1)

;; == use text mode as default mode and use longlines-mode with text files ==
(setq default-major-mode 'text-mode)
(add-hook 'text-mode-hook 'longlines-mode)

;;; == use org-mode for .org files ==
(add-to-list 'load-path (expand-file-name "~/git/org-mode/lisp"))
(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.\\(org\\)$" . org-mode))
(require 'org-install)

;; == enable mouse wheel ==
(mouse-wheel-mode t)

;; == save backup files in ~/.emacs-backups
(setq make-backup-files t)
(setq version-control t)
(setq backup-directory-alist (quote ((".*" . "~/.emacs-backups/"))))

;; === pretty colors on blackground ==
(set-background-color "black")
(set-foreground-color "green")
(set-cursor-color "yellow")

;;== count words with Esc x wc
(defun wc ()
(interactive)
(message "Word count: %s" (how-many "\\w+" (point-min) (point-max))))

Free software for economists

As an economics and business student, I somehow googled my way to Alan G. Isaac's Software for Economists. Alan presents a nice collection of free software that can be used by economists and other scholars as well.

Linux Ecology-HOWTO updated

I just noticed that the Linux Ecology HOWTO has been updated in September. If you have never read the HOWTO, you certainly should take a look at it. And don't forget to check the latest updates in the Guides section of the Linux Documentation Project as well.

New releases: openSUSE, TinyMe 2009 alpha, ZevenOS 2.0

During the last weekend, I upgraded my main desktop to the latest and greatest 11.2 release of openSUSE. Finally, KDE4 is fully usable as an everyday desktop and I was able to come back from the GNOME world to the KDE. AMD2800 processor, 1 GB RAM and Geforce 7600 seem to be more than enough for being able to comfortably use this system. I would not, however, suggest anyone to install the distro on an old computer, like these 1 GHz desktop systems I currently use in my second location.

Anyway, there are some new distribution releases even for us who want to keep the old hardware still in productive use. ZevenOS is a distro that I have never actually used but it is certainly worth considering when I decide to have some fun with distrohopping. The distro is based on Ubuntu 9.10.

The minimal hardware requirements for the distro are given as follows:
  • 192 MB RAM
  • 3 GB free space on the hard drive
  • 16 MB graphics board, mouse, keyboard and screen device.
Of course, these requirements are probably too high for some of my readers. If you are one of them, I suggest you to help KDulcimer by testing the latest alpha release of TinyMe. TinyMe is a Unity-based distribution and it is specifically targeted at older computers and people who want a very light desktop environment. Read the release notes for more information about the alpha release!

Play Tetris in Emacs!

One finds every now and then something surprising in any installed Linux system. For several years I have known that with Emacs one can do just about everything one really needs to do with a computer. Well, at least if you don't want to edit video clips or compose music with it.

Today I realized that it is possible to play Tetris using the XEmacs of my Debian box. Just type ESC x tetris and you are ready to forget coding or writing your next article for the top journal of your field!

Uncompress files using CLI

I usually uncompress all kinds of packaged files from the command line. Unfortunately, I rarely remember which command line tool I should use for some specific packaging format. It is even more difficult to remember all the options needed for the appropriate tool.

Now that I found a cool hack in the ArchWiki, I never need to look for more information about how to uncompress a .tbz2, .tgz or .bz2 file -- I just use extract filename.

Add the following snippet of code to your .bashrc and you are ready to extract any file (if your system has the corresponding tool installed).


extract () {
if [ -f $1 ] ; then
case $1 in
*.tar.bz2) tar xvjf $1 ;;
*.tar.gz) tar xvzf $1 ;;
*.tar.xz) tar xvJf $1 ;;
*.bz2) bunzip2 $1 ;;
*.rar) unrar x $1 ;;
*.gz) gunzip $1 ;;
*.tar) tar xvf $1 ;;
*.tbz2) tar xvjf $1 ;;
*.tgz) tar xvzf $1 ;;
*.zip) unzip $1 ;;
*.Z) uncompress $1 ;;
*.7z) 7z x $1 ;;
*.xz) unxz $1 ;;
*.exe) cabextract $1 ;;
*) echo "\`$1': unrecognized file compression" ;;
esac
else
echo "\`$1' is not a valid file"
fi
}

Less time spent hacking means more time for studies!

It's been a while since my last blog posting. During the last two months I've spent most of my hours awake studying economics and finance with little time left for following the open source news or testing distributions and applications.

At the moment I use two desktop systems simultaneously. One of them is an old Pentium box running Debian stable and the other is an eMac with OS X. During the last two months I've become more and more OS agnostic, the OS itself is not as important as the fact that I get things done using whatever system and software I use either because I chose it or because the school policy forces me to use the software.

Unfortunately, I have noticed that using a couple of years old version of Excel for OS X is not a substitute for Excel 2007. But unfortunately for me, I cannot learn to write Visual Basic macros using OpenOffice.

During the last two months, most of my "real" computing was done with GNU Octave. It was really helpful for checking the solutions for some of the trickier problems in linear algebra. I hope I'll have time to learn more Octave during the spring when I'll take an advanced course in finance. Of course, we are expected to use Excel and VB for the coursework, but I think learning to solve the problems using Octave could not do any harm. On the other hand, it was a pleasant surprise to see that R will be used for advanced econometrics. I looking forward to participating in the course!

Using a mixed environment - OS X and Debian

Some time ago, I wrote about my first experiences with an old eMac I got from my parents. I've been pretty happy with the system, even if the OS X 10.3.9 is not as fancy as the latest incarnations of this extremely user friendly OS.

I decided to keep the best of two worlds: I kept the OS X installed (no Debian or NetBSD on this system!). Thus I can still use Excel that is unfortunately absolutely necessary for anyone studying economics and business administration. Of course one can probably calculate everything with OpenOffice Calc, but using OpenOffice at home just does not help me in learning for the spreadsheet exam I have to pass using Excel in the computer lab at the school.

For word processing and some occasional hacking, I decided to install Aquamacs. For typesetting the texts, I installed MacTeX.

As I have too much old boxes in my room in the dorm, I decided not to install more open source apps in the eMac. At the moment I mostly use the Debian box (eVectra 1 GHz, 256 Mb RAM) in the console mode using a ssh connection. The box is not connected to a monitor or to a keyboard, but it does have a pair of loadspeakers for playing my collection of ogg files ripped with ripit. In addition, the Debian box is used for doing some math with GNU Octave.

I am sure, there are many readers who would just "liberate" the eMac but, alas, we are not living in a perfect world where we could freely decide which software to use. The world is a dirty place, just like Ivo Welch writes in Corporate Finance: An Introduction after a discussion of finance in perfect markets:

The real world is definitely dirtier than our perfect one, and you can't just close your eyes and wish you were still in Kansas.

Lubuntu test release

Lubuntu (download) is Ubuntu 9.10 with LXDE desktop environment. FA quote from the LXDE blog:
The lubuntu project is advancing. lynxis just published a lubuntu test iso based on the seeds by David Sugar and additional patches. It is just 381 MB and a second one only 292 MB.


Lubuntu is probably interesting especially for the Ubuntu users who have been looking for a lightweight Ubuntu derivative to use on some old box.

Wordgrinder -- Word Processor for the Linux Console

One of the few things I miss from the years when I used MS-DOS is WordPerfect 5.1. It was a perfect application for writing and few WYSIWYG word processors if any have been as userfriendly as WP was. For the last seven or eight years I've been constantly looking for a perfect word processor. I have used KWord, Abiword, OpenOffice, LyX and even Emacs for writing. Sometimes, I have planned to install a copy of WordPerfect under FreeDOS just to recreate the simple desktop with no distractions like Firefox. But there were, of course, things like Tetris and Civilization that sometimes kept me from writing for days.



Today I decided to test yet another Linux word processor -- WordGrinder is probably the one and only console mode word processor that exists for Linux. It is as simple as it gets, but not too simple. WordGrinder uses a binary format for its files, which makes them unreadable for ordinary text editors. It can, however, export the files to plain text and html. The latest version (0.3) should even export the text to LaTeX and troff for the geekiest users. Unfortunately, my Debian still has the version 0.2 that does not support all of the fancy stuff mentioned in the web site for WordGrinder.

Slackware 13.0 Released!

Slackware is the oldest surviving Linux distribution. Now Patrick Volkerding has released version 13.0 of this distribution that aims to keep things simple.

The biggest news in the release announcement is the addition of the official 64-bit port. Of course, this should not be very exciting for the readers of Lightweight Linux as we are happy to continue using our 32-bit hardware. In addition to the KDE4.2.4, Slackware 13.0 provides the users with XFCE 4.6.1. And of course, you can always choose to install some of the lightweight window managers if you intend to use Slack with an old computer.

WolframAlpha is a Computational Knowledge Engine

Just a short notice today.

WolframAlpha is a computational knowledge engine that seems to be able to compute an answer to many of my problems. For example, it can compare stocks and do all kinds of fancy math.

Frankenstein's Laptop

As you are reading this blog, I believe you have at least one or two spare computers you cannot find any real use at the moment. If you are not interested in following K. Mandla's footsteps and use Crux and Awesome with an ancient laptop of 120 MHz & 16 Mb, you might try this "Frankenstein hack" and build a cool slim desktop out of your old laptop!

Or maybe you could combine the two ideas?

Beginning the Linux Command Line

I finally got my hands on a copy of Sander van Vugt's Beginning the Linux Command Line. It really is a book can warmly recommend to those of my readers who want to learn the basics of administering a Linux system using command line only. This is, of course, a necessary skill for anyone who intends to use Linux with an old computer that cannot comfortably run the modern desktop distributions that provide the users with point-and-click setup tools for almost every imaginable configuration option.

The author Sander van Vugt is a consultant specialized in Linux high availability, storage solutions, and performance problems. This is not his first book, as he has published several books about Linux-related subjects before Beginning the Linux Command Line. In addition to the books about Linux servers, he has written articles for several web sites and magazines such as Linux Journal and Linux Magazine.

According to the author, the book was written for anyone who wants to master Linux using the command line. This includes system administrators, software developers and enthusiastic users who are interested in getting things going from the command line.

The audience of the book is not limited to any specific distro, as the book is distribution agnostic -- everything in the book has been checked against Ubuntu, Red Hat, and SUSE. This means that the book should be useful with most of the main stream distributions. Only users of some of the more exotic distributions like Gentoo, Arch, and to some extent Slackware might be worried about the selection of the three distributions. On the other hand, the users of Gentoo and Arch probably do not need a book written for command line newbies.

In fact, the book could well be read by anyone who is not familiar with the concepts of open source and different Linux distributions as the first chapter of the book begins with the introduction of these concepts before even logging into an installed Linux system. After logging into a running system, the author starts by explaining the structure of commands and their options, piping and redirection and how to get more help with the man command and --help option.

Only after explaining the very basics, the author moves forward to system administration beginning from changing the password, working with virtual consoles and becoming another user. After this, the command line newbie learns about how to obtain information about other users, how to communicate with them and and how to move around the file system. Unlike most of the command line books, this one really does not expect any previous familiarity with the command line!

Reading the next chapters, the command line newbie will learn about administering the file system: mounting the disks, checking file system integrity, creating backups and working with links. Even the more experienced Linux users might learn something new -- for example I have never used a LVM and the fifth chapter gave me an overview of logical volumes.

The sixth chapter is dedicated to managing users and groups. More experienced Linux users might find the discussion of user quotas and authentication methods the most interesting parts of the chapter.

In the seventh chapter, the newbie learns to manage permissions. The eight chapter teaches him/her to manage software, using either .deb or .rpm packages and respective package management tools. The next chapter is about process and system management and the tenth chapter about system logs -- both are interesting reading for anyone willing to learn about basic system administering.

The next chapters are a quick introduction in using Linux as server. The eleventh chapter is about configuring the network and the twelfth chapter teaches us how to configure a file server. And if this is not enough, in the final two chapters you will learn about tuning the kernel and about basic shell scripting.

I can only recommend this book warmly for anyone who has used Linux as desktop but never bothered to look at the command line and the rich possibilities provided by it.

Even a basic knowledge of the command line is essential for those who want to use an old computer with a custom lightweight Linux installation. After reading this book, you are one step closer to being a power user who can install and use the more exotic distributions on old computers. If you belong to the target group of the book, you will certainly learn a lot from it. If you are more experienced Linux user, you might still find the chapters about servers and kernel useful.

Order the book directly from Amazon.

Rip CDs on the command line: ripit

I try to use simple command line tools for many tasks that most readers probably accomplish with the default tools provided by GNOME or KDE. Thus I like to listen to the ogg vorbis music files using ogg123 and I rip my CDs using ripit.

Ripit is a command line tool written in Perl. It is a front-end to several other command line tools and provides them an easy to use interface that is as simple as it can be. It can fetch the CD title and track information from CDDB, rip the CD, tag the songs, create a playlist and edit the CDDB information, if necessary. Usually I just accept the defaults provided by the application.

Simple and effective.

Random Thoughts: Backing Up and More

It is August again, and it seems I have less time for blogging every week. At the moment I have to devote most of my time to studying economics and business administration. Hence I rarely have time to test new applications, not to speak about testing new distributions. I need operating systems, applications and distributions that just work.

Unfortunately, this means that I just cannot spend an evening or a weekend with configuring some of the more interesting distributions I have really tried to use. Crux and Arch are two distros that I most probably would enjoy using, but at the moment I'm going to continue using distributions that I've used since the beginning of my geek years: openSUSE and Debian. SuSE 7.1 or 7.2 was the first Linux I installed to be used as my main desktop in 2001 at the University where I worked as a researcher. Since then, I've tried and used most of the mainstream distros at least for a year or two on desktop either at work or home.

At home, I use openSUSE 11.1 as my main desktop. It is supported by a Debian box that at the moment serves me as a quick & dirty backup for my files. I have not had time to build anything fancy: I did a command line only installation on the box that can be used only over ssh in the LAN.

I back up my desktop simply by first turning the Debian box on, and then I execute a very simple script that basically rsyncs the /home partition on openSUSE with the remote /home/backups/ on the Debian box. So I have not yet built any automated backup system with incremental or differential backups, I just mirror the files of the ordinary users on another computer.

The backups can "easily" be restored by sftp or by mounting the Samba share provided by the Debian box. I decided to use Samba instead of a purely Linux solution, because I wanted to be able to copy the backups even to a XP laptop and my eMac. I would love to have a fully functioning system that can sync the files between several computers in different locations, but at the moment the project has to rest for some time.

Problems with open source on OS X

A couple of weeks ago, I got an old eMac (1 GHz, 640 MB RAM) that is a wonderful addition to my collection of hardware. I've been pretty happy using OS X, and at the moment I don't plan to install Debian on this box. After all, I use Debian already now on an old iBook (600 MHz, 384 MB RAM). Furthermore, using OS X makes it possible for me to edit the Excel and Word documents when necessary for my studies.

I just would love to install more open source applications on this system to make the computing experience even better than it is now. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it is with Linux. It is probably easier even with Windows than with this box.

The problem is caused by the fact that this computer has OS X 10.3.9 installed. Most of the open source projects do not consider it necessary to support a few years old version of OS X - even the Firefox cannot be installed on this old version. Fink project should provide a great selection of open source applications ported to OS X. Unfortunately, Fink has ended the support for 10.3 more than a year ago. MacPorts targets the latest OS X versions, as well.

I am not going to invest in a new version of the OS X just in order to install a few open source applications. It seems that I have to learn to use the OS in the way it is most probably not meant to be used - that is, the hard way.

Building a backup box

A week ago, I wrote about my almost disastrous experience with a LaCie external hard drive. As I realized my data is not at all secured at the moment, I decided to build me a dedicated box for backups.

I've been pretty busy during the last week, and my project has been slow in progress. The hardware chosen for my backup server is almost overkill for this use: it is a box with Asus A7V8X-MX SE motherboard, 1.99 GHz CPU, 256 megabytes RAM and a 500 GB hard disk.

I used this box for years as my main desktop and it would certainly be more than adequate for most of my computing needs even today. Unfortunately the 1 GHz box I own is in another town and the physical distance between these two locations forces me to use this machine for my backups and the HP box as a desktop at least for some time.

Building the backups system is not quite as easy as I thought. My hardware collection keeps growing and the hardware is distributed in three locations in two cities. Furthermore, in addition to the several Linux boxes I use, my wife uses sometimes a laptop with XP. And the latest addition to my hardware is a eMac running OS X 10.3.9. Probably I will only automatize backing up my main desktop.

Unfortunately, the constant growing of my hardware collection means that it becomes more and more difficult to keep all the files in sync between different computers. A dedicated file server would of course be a possible solution, but I don't like the idea of having yet another box running 24/7 even when I'm in another town because of my studies.

In addition, the file server should be accessible over Internet, which I find at least scary as I cannot trust my own abilities in building a system secure enough for my level of paranoia. I don't want my life to be rwx or even r-- for the whole world in case I cannot keep the server secure enough.

dc - A Text Mode Calculator

A few weeks ago, I wrote about bc. It can be used as a simple arbitrary precision calculator text mode and for executing mathematical programs written in bc programming language.

Today I noticed that I have yet another simple text mode calculator installed in my desktop system: dc. It is similar to bc but differs from its cousin as dc uses reverse Polish notation instead of normal mathematical notation.

For example, to add two numbers in dc you first push the numbers into stack, then enter the aritmetic operation which pops the numbers out of stack, adds them and pushes the result in stack. Finally p prints the result:

10 2.2 + p
12.2


More information about dc is provided, as usual, by info dc and man dc.

dc is a real oldie in the GNU - it predates even the C programming language. Learning dc is a way to travel back in time to an era when nobody thought computers and operating systems should be user friendly.

You should at least give dc a try, as you can always jump back to the present and continue using GNOME calculator or OpenOffice.Org calc if you really want to!

Backup - Articles and Applications

In this posting, I collect some of the links about backing up a Linux system or at least the /home directory.

The articles and applications mentioned here might be useful for some of my readers - but I wrote this basically to act as a reminder for my own backup project.

Bacula - is a network based open source backup program. Supports many different operating systems.

FreeNAS - is a network attached storage server based on FreeBSD. Good documentation.

Backups to the Future: Eliminate Tape Backups with FreeNAS and Bacula - how to combine FreeNAS and Bacula.

Easy Automated Snapshot-Style Backups with Linux and Rsync - by Mike Rubel.

Time Machine for every Unix out there.

A simple Linux backup method - Steven J. Rosen in DesktopLinux.com.

Automatic Backups with rsync and Anacron - by Barry O'Donovan.

BackupPC -- a high-performance, enterprise-grade system for backing up Linux, WinXX and MacOSX PCs and laptops to a server's disk. BackupPC is highly configurable and easy to install and maintain.

Linux Complete Backup and Recovery HOWTO
- by Charles Curley

Backing up Linux and other Unix(-like) systems - by Wiebe Cazemier

Geek to Live: Mirror files across systems with rsync - Gina Trapani / Lifehacker

Debian backup configuration tutorials - Debianhelp

Linux Links - Software - Backup. Links to many different backup apps for Linux.

FlyBack - Apple's Time Machine for Linux.

Creating Incremental Snapshot-style Backups With rSync And SSH - Stephan Jau in HowtoForge.

LuckyBackup - LuckyBackup is an application for data back-up and synchronization powered by the rsync tool.

Duplicity - Duplicity backs directories by producing encrypted tar-format volumes and uploading them to a remote or local file server.



This article is updated at random intervals. Please suggest more links in the comment box!

Rescuing LaCie - thinking about backups again

Today in the morning, I turned my computer on and plugged my LaCie external hard drive on. Nothing happened. No icon appeared on the desktop. Soon I noticed that the led was blinking orange and green light and I heard the hard drive slowly click.

Not again! Only last summer I lost one hard disk drive, and now the rather expensive external hard disk was dead. Fortunately, I had mostly backups on the hard disk and only a few hundred photos that I probably did not have elsewhere.

After some googling around I learned how to open the case by using a thin kitchen knife. What I found was a basic Barracuda 7200.10 hard drive. It turned out to be a fully functioning hard disk that was easy to mount as an internal hard disk in my desktop computer.

Now I have something I should probably call an internal external hard disk :-)

Tomorrow I have to buy yet another hard disk for building some kind of automatic backup system using some old box I have under my desk.

Any suggestions?

Fit-PC Slim from Amazon

I just noticed Amazon sells a cool tiny and noiseless PC for USD 199. The computer even comes with Ubuntu 8.04 and Gentoo 2008.0 preinstalled for dual boot use!

The computer uses an AMD Geode LX800 CPU, has 512 MB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive. For the graphics it uses an Integrated Geode LX display controller that is able to show screen resolutions up to 1920x1440 pixels.

Its size is miniature 4.3 x 4 x 1.2 inches and like the popular netbooks it weighs only about two pounds.

This computer looks like the ultimate Linux desktop computer that would satisfy all my computing needs. Does any of my readers have any personal experience with it?

Text Mode Linux Applications

During the first year of blogging for Lightweight Linux, I have written about many useful text mode applications. Some of them might be considered obsolete by modern standards, but they might well be enough to satisfy the needs of a command line junkie.

Here is a short overview of the applications I have written about.


  1. Twyt is a command line Twitter client. It is a lot more sophisticated than my own simple three-line Twitter script that can only update the status.
  2. e3 is a very lightweight text mode editor that can emulate the keyboard shortcuts of several better known editors like Emacs and vi.
  3. wtf deciphers acronyms.
  4. Adventure is an old text mode adventure game - a classic early example of interactive fiction.
  5. Nethack is another golden oldie. It is even installed on some of the proprietary Unix systems at the University where I used to study.
  6. Alpine is a simple and easy to use email client. The article shows also how to configure it to for gmail.
  7. If you are looking for a text mode contact manager, take a look at abook.
  8. Midnight commander, a.k.a. mc is a text mode file manager.
  9. Burn your CDs and DVDs with cdw.
  10. Create postscript calendars on the command line with pcal.
  11. Text mode reminders can be handled by remind .
  12. Catdoc and antiword are useful for reading Microsoft office formats.
  13. What about reading pdf files in text mode? No problem!
  14. Htop is better than top.
  15. I use wget for downloads.
  16. One can even browse the net with some of the text mode web browsers.
  17. And finally, bc is a command line calculator.

Any suggestions for future articles? What are your favourite text mode Linux applications?

Crunchbang 9.04.1 Released

Crunchbang is an Ubuntu derivative distribution that defaults to lightweight alternatives of the pretty heavy GNOME desktop systems and GNOME applications provided by the default Ubuntu install. Crunchbang is not lightweight enough to be installed on very old computers, but it might be just what you need to be able to comfortably use your single core hardware from around ten years ago.

The latest release is 9.04.01, based on the latest stable Ubuntu release. Downloads availble here.

Absolute Linux 13.0 rc1

From the Absolute Linux home page:
Absolute is a x86 Linux distribution based upon Slackware. It concentrates on "desktop" use so that it is ready for internet, multimedia, document and general home use as much as possible. Absolute is lightweight -- meaning 2 things: that it can run on on older hardware and that the OS interface stays out of your way.
It is version-compatible with Slackware so you can use almost any package from the same version of Slack on Absolute. It is what I use all da y, every day, and I am very thankful for Linux and Slackware and I hope others find benefit from my work on Absolute.
About the new RC:
Pre-release that includes fixes for slapt-get and wicd, addition of a control panel, centralizing control and eliminating the sometimes-confusing utilities menus. Big updates to Midori and inkscape on repositories (under /CD2). New theme, new logon, QT4 up and running several new applications along with QT4-based K3B. Overall a more cohesive look and simpler navigation. Wanted a release candidate so that 13.0 will not necessitate updates -- also wanted to have feedback on whether Midori is functional enough to become the default browser. (It uses about 1/3 the memory of Firefox in my tests.)
Download the ISO image.

bc is a command line calculator

Very often I need a simple command line calculator to do some simple math for my accounting or economics classes. Usually I don't need anything more complicated than the simple arbitrary precision calculator bc. The bc is very intuitive to use, after you learn to set the precision used in calculations:

scale=5

This sets the precision to five digits. Unless you define the precision bc will default to integer results which would not provide especially precise results. After setting the precision, bc is very intuitive to use. For example:

mjp@oikos:~$ bc
bc 1.06.94
Copyright 1991-1994, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2006 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY.
For details type `warranty'.
scale=5
10/3
3.33333

A lot more information can be found with man bc, as usual.

twyt for CLI tweets

For a couple of days, I thought I would write some more scripts for using Twitter on command line. After some googling, I discovered there was already a command line twitter client available that would completely satisfy my needs.

Twyt is available as a source package from Andrew Price's home page. Download first the tar.gz package from the download page and unpack it with tar -xvf twyt-0.2.2.tar.gz. Install the package with ./setup.py install.

Twyt is written in Python, so you need to have Python installed, as well. In addition, twyt depends on the python-simplejson. I was able to install it directly from the Ubuntu repositories.

Next, create your Twitter user with:

twyt user -u username -p password

After this, you can tweet with

twyt tweet "#twyt is a nice command line twitter client"

You can read the updates by friends with:

twyt friendstl

More information is provided, of course, by man twyt.

Officially geek

The very simple Twitter script I published yesterday has received more attention than I expected. It was even linked to in the article "10+ super geeky ways to use Twitter" in Downloadsquad!

Twitter updates from Linux CLI

During the last week, I've learned to use Twitter. Of course, there is not a lot to learn as Twitter is a really simple system. Consequently, it can easily be updated from the Linux command line without using any dedicated application or a bloated web browser. You just need to have curl installed on the system to use the following command:

curl -u "username:password" -d "status=here comes the status update" http://www.twitter.com/statuses/update.xml

And to make it even simpler, you can write a simple script to send the updates from the command line:

#!/bin/bash
echo "Twitter update: $1"
curl -u "username:password" -d "status=$1" http://www.twitter.com/statuses/update.xml >/dev/null


After saving the script as tw I made it executable. Now I can send updates with:
tw "This is my update"

If you intend to send a lot of tweets from the command line, you should probably add some sanity checks to the script.

Edit: I added >/dev/null to the end of the third line in the script in order to reduce the amount of text output.

New mini distro releases

During the last days, several new distribution versions have been released. Here are the most interesting lightweight and minimalistic releases.

Tiny Core Linux 2.0 and MicroCore 2.0 have been released. Tiny Core is a very small system with 11 Mb download size. MicroCore is a even geekier new system with no X.

xPUD 0.9 is another small desktop system with 51 Mb download size.

New releases: ZevenOS 1.9 and Puppy 4.2.1

ZevenOS has announced the release of ZevenOS 1.9 that is a beta release for version 2.0. The new release has been updated to Ubuntu Jaunty (9.04) which according to the release notes brings speed improvements and new hardware support. The release version is a not meant for production use, as it is recommned for developers and techgeeks. Newbies should rather install version 1.1

In addition, Puppy Linux 4.2.1 has been released. According to the release notes, this is a bug fix release with few changes in the applications.

e3 is an editor with many faces

A few days ago, I learned about a lighweight console editor I had never used before. E3 is a very small and lightweight editor that can emulate the most important keyboard shortcuts used by VI, Emacs, Pico, Nedit and even Wordstar.

I think I haven't used Wordstar since 1980's and I doubt there are many geeks around who still want to use Wordstar's keyboard combinations. I would rather have an editor that emulates WordPerfect 5.1 but I suppose that running WordPerfect in Dosemu is the only way to get a decent console mode word processor.

In case you are not looking for a console word processor but a simple text editor to quickly edit a few configuration files or maybe a LaTeX source you might find that e3 provides everything you need.

Cheat sheets in one place

Cheat sheets are practical for all of us who cannot remember the keyboard shortcuts of editors, command line arguments of Unix applications or basic rules for Bash scripting. Fortunately for us, there are some nice collections available:

* Cheat-sheets.org provides heat sheets, round-ups, quick reference cards, quick reference guides and quick reference sheets in one page.
* Scott Klarr has released a Linux-Unix cheat sheets - The ultimate collection

These two collections are a valuable aid for us who just cannot remember everything.

NetBSD 5.0 Released!

NetBSD 5.0 has been released. I warmly recommend you to test this simple and clean operating system from the BSD family. If you have been using Linux for some time and are looking for new challenges, NetBSD will provide them!

Linux command line documentation

This time I would like to recommend some great sourcea of information for all my readers who like to use CLI applications on their lightweight Linux installations. As I have pointed out earlier, if you try to use Linux on a very old computer, you have to use some of your own brain power to compensate for the lack of a fast CPU and lots of RAM. Using the command line is one way to achieve this.

The Linux Documentation Project is the central site for all kinds of Linux documentation. In the tldp you'll find Guides, HOW-TO documents, and FAQs. Some of the files might be a bit outdated but even the older files provide the reader with plenty of useful information.

Gareth Anderson has written an useful summary of command line GNU/Linux applications. It is organized thematically, so that you can easily find the most useful tools for e.g. controlling processes and services, manipulating text files or working with the file system.

Michael Stutz's The Linux Cookbook
: Tips and Techniques for Everyday Use is another good source of information with similar topics. It is a bit old (written in 2001), but the CLI tools don't change as fast as KDE and GNOME applications!

Machtelt Garrels has written a Bash Guide for Beginners. Bash is the default command shell of the most popular Linux distributions. This guide helps the newbie to write her first scripts.

After reading the Bash Guide for Beginners, you should continue with Mendel Cooper's Advanced Bash-Scripting Guide. It will probably teach you more than you'll ever need to know unless you plan a career as a Linux system administrator.

If you are willing to pay some money for books, you should seriously consider buying at least one or two books about the Linux command line. One good introduction to the command linux is Sander van Vugt's Beginning the Linux Command Line. In this book, you'll learn about command line basics, piping and redirection, using man to get help, administering the file system, partitions and logical volumes, working with text files, managing the users, groups and permissions and a lot more. This is probably the best book available now for any command line newbie.

New releases

In addition to the 9.04 release of the Ubuntu family, there are some recent and interesting lightweight distribution releases.

Easy Peasy 1.1 is a distribution for the wildly popular netbooks. Easy Peasy is based on Ubuntu which certainly is not known as the most lightweight distribution available. Even Easy Peasy defaults to software like OpenOffice.Org 3.0 and Firefox instead of lighter alternatives.

SliTaz 2.0 has been released, as well. SliTaz is a live system installable to a CD or a USB memory. It packs incredible amount of functionality in an image of 30 MB. See the SliTaz Handbook for more information.

Is my mouse dead?

Finally I've had some time to tweak my NetBSD. I have X running and I have installed Ratpoison and JWM. Unfortunately, I've not been able to get the serial mouse configured. Furthermore, I can't even remember if this mouse functioned when I last used it a couple of years ago. Probably it did, as otherwise I probably would not have saved it. Or...

As the old computer does not have any PS/2 or USB ports it seems I have to learn to live without a mouse.

Latest specialist distribution releases

During the last week or two, several rescue and specialist distributions have released new ISO images.

Clonezilla is a backup and recovery distribution. It currently supports ext2, ext3, reiserfs, xfs, jfs of GNU/Linux, FAT, NTFS of MS Windows, and HFS+ of Mac OS file systems. The latest release of the live cd bears the version number 1.2.1-53(download).

SystemRescueCD is a rescue cd based on Gentoo. The latest release is numbere 1.1.7 (downloads)

XPUD is a Taiwanese mini distribution that consists mainly of a web browser and multimedia functionalities. You can use xPUD, for example, for building an internet kiosk.

I have never tested xpUD myself, but it seems to boot very fast. See the video for a demonstration!



And last but not least, PartedMagic 4.0 has been released. It now supports ext2, ext3, ext4, fat16, fat32, hfs, hfs+, jfs, linux-swap, ntfs, reiserfs, reiser4, and xfs.

Problems to solve on my NetBSD

So far everything has run smoothly with my NetBSD box. Unfortunately, I can't get all those funny characers I need for writing Finnish to sent over a ssh connection between my Debian and NetBSD boxes. Of course, it is not necessary as long as I use the NetBSD box directly with a keyboard and a monitor, but I would like to be able to use it also remotely.

I just don't have the time I would now need for reading all the man pages... I wonder, if the problem really is in the settings of the the terminal application I use in Debian or in the wsconsctl settings of the NetBSD box. Or is there some other configuration file I have not yet thought of?

At the moment I can surf the web with lynx and elinks. Unfortunately, I was not able to log in Blogger with neither. So I'm (again!) writing this article with my Debian box. Maybe I just should configure the X to make my life easier.

Next week, I'm going to bring an old mouse to be used with this old computer. Of course, I could even now use X with Ratpoison. On the other hand, the box functions very well without X. The system boots very fast, and I can connect over ssh to the UNIX system of the University. Even ö, ä, å and Ö, Ä, Å present me no problems in that combination of hardware and operating systems!

VectorLinux 6.0 Light

VectorLinux is a distribution based on Slackware. The project has now released a new 6.0 Light version of the distribution. From the release notes:
Light is aimed at users with some Linux experience. It is biased towards technical simplicity and high performance. Based on VL6.0 Standard, the most resource hungry applications have been removed or replaced with lighter alternatives. Running services are kept to a minimum.

The requirements for the latest release are pretty low:
It is recommended that your system meets these requirements:
Pentium 200 or better compatible processor (i586 and up).
64 MB of memory - but 128 MB will greatly improve performance.
Hard disk space: 2 GB for an install with X-window system, Internet and multimedia applications. 3 GB for "everything". Absolute minimum is 1.1 GB.

Download the ISO.

New Book: Beginning the Linux Command Line


I just noticed that an interesting book will be published soon. Sander van Vugt's Beginning the Linux Command Line is already now available for pre-orders. This might be a good place to start, if you are a command line newbie.

How to install binary applications in NetBSD (day 5)

Today I learned how to configure the NetBSD package management system for installing precompiled binaries. I immediately installed some new console applications to my system.

After reading some good and some excellent NetBSD documentation, I was ready to export some environment variables as I had learned that it would be necessary for the package management to function. After experimenting and correcting some typos in the command line options I decided to add the tweaks to the root's .profile.

I decided to open the file:

vi .profile

It took me three seconds to realize, that I only had to uncomment a line in order to be able to install binaries from the ftp.NetBSD.org. I wonder why I bother to read the fine documentation, if everything I need to know can really be read in the comment lines of the configuration files.

Now new applications can be installed with a simple command:

pkg_add -v screen

Cool, isn't it?

NetBSD, day 4: reinstalling the system

During the weekend, I was not able to use my new NetBSD system as I was back home using my Ubuntu desktop. Now that I returned back to the town where I study economics and business administration, I am right now reinstalling the system.

Actually there was nothing really wrong in the way I had originally installed the NetBSD. I just made the mistake of trying to use the wonderful packages system that installs all the packages by compiling them from the sources. Unfortunately, the packages collection takes a huge amount of my limited disk space.

Furthermore, it takes hours to compile anything at all with this machine. So it seems that I have to use binary packages of the applications in the future. If you intend to use NetBSD on anything built during the last couple of years, you will most probably be quite happy to use the source-based packages. See the pkgsrc guide for extensive documentation of the system!

The unix way of doing the cleanup of the system would probably have been to rm some directories by hand and tweaking some configuration files. As I have nothing special installed on the system - it was just configured to be a basic but usable command line system - I figured a reinstall would be easier and faster than reading some more of the great NetBSD documentation just to make sure I have removed everything unnecessary.

Now I have again a clean system, with just a root and one ordinary user created. I'm back in the beginning - and slowly learning to use the vim.

NetBSD, day 3

Eight years ago, when I first installed Linux it was not unlike everything I had used before. I had used computers with MS-DOS and every day I read my email on an Unix system over ssh. So I was familiar with the basics of Unix and the command line. But I had a lot to learn.

In many ways, moving from Linux to NetBSD is similar to my jump from Windows 98 to SuSE. The system is familiar enough to be somehow understandable but still I don't know everything I should know.

Today I learned to make the keyboard encoding permanent. In case you are not using an English keyboard, you should add a line to /etc/wscons.conf:

encoding sv

The abbreviation sv stands for a Swedish keyboard (it is exactly the same as a Finnish keyboard, but there is no encoding fi available!). At the moment I use a console screen with 80x25 characters. It will probably take a few days before I have the courage to even consider configuring the console for 50 lines.

In NetBSD, only those users who are members of the wheel group are allowed to su into root. Thus, I added myself (as root!) to the group:

usermod -G wheel mikko

Now I can finally use su like in most Linux systems I've used during the last years.

I have not yet decided whether I should continue using vi or should I install something I am more familiar with. For years, I've known that I should learn to use vi but I have always had nano or emacs installed.

I suppose I'm too lazy to be a real geek.

One more note before returning to my books: unlike some modern Linux distributions, NetBSD's default install includes locate. The database for locate had to be created as root with /usr/libexec/locate.updatedb - unlike in Linux where the command is updatedb.

NetBSD on an old computer, day 2: configuring the system

NetBSD is not meant for those who are afraid of the command line. Unlike most of the Linux distributions, it does not install any tools for configuring the system. Well, actually there is one tool for the task: vi.

If vi is not the editor of your choice for your daily editing, you should have a cheat sheet of vi modes and shortcuts available before you install NetBSD. In addition to the cheat sheet, it would not do any harm to have the NetBSD Guide printed as well. I have printed a copy of the book two years ago, and that's what I intend to use as my reference for the configuration. And if I cannot solve some problem with it, it is good to have this debianized iBook for browsing the Internet!

The first thing to do on an just installed system is to add a user without root privileges. This is easily done with:

useradd -m mikko

Then I gave a password for Mikko:

passwd mikko

Next I changed the keyboard layout to the right one:

wsconsctl -k -w encoding=sv

And finally, I wanted to have the network up and running. I added two lines to /etc/rc.conf:

dhclient=yes
sshd=yes

The second line starts ssh daemon on the boot. Next I rebooted the system and tried to open a ssh connection to another box. Nothing happened.

I read all kinds of man pages and the NextBSD guide for about ten minutes to find out if there was yet another text file to tweak before I would have the box connected to the world.

The solution was, however, quite simple. All I had to do was to connect the network cable to the computer.

NetBSD on an old computer, day 1.

Every now and then I see bloggers testing their limits. Some of the bloggers have decided to live for a month in console, with no X installed. Some bloggers try to do their everyday computing with a Pentium 100.

I decided to try something similar. I had once or twice installed NetBSD on a P100 with 40 Mb but I had never really tried to use it for everyday tasks. A few months ago I got an old PC that would make an excellent sandbox for this experiment.

I burned the NetBSD 5.0 RC3 on a CD, put it into the cd drive of an old desktop computer with an Asus P5A-B motherboard, 256 Mb RAM and an AMD K/6 processor that runs on the extremely high speed of 450 MHz. This is more than enough for NetBSD that can be run with as little as 8 MB RAM. Furthermore, as the full installation needs about 200 Mb there was no need for tweaking the package selection.

The installation was a lot easier than I expected. As this is the first time I intend to use NetBSD for real computing I let the installer take care of the partitioning. I was quite happy to dedicate all of the 6 GB for NetBSD. I just pressed the Enter a few times and after a few minutes I had the full system installed on the hard disk drive. I was ready to reboot the system into the installed system.

After the reboot I was greeted by the command line.

The adventure was to begin.

Lightweight Linux bookstore opened

For some time, this blog has been an Amazon Associate. From now on, you can find selected Linux books in the Lightweight Linux Bookstore. If you order books from the Lightweight Linux Bookstore, you order directly from Amazon. There is no direct connection between me and your order, so it is absolutely safe to use the bookstore.

By ordering books and other products from the Lightweight Linux Bookstore you support the writing of this blog. Help me to write new articles for this blog!

Absolute Linux 12.2.2 Released

Absolute Linux is a distribution based on the venerable Slackware. It provides an easy to use desktop that has all the applications most people use in their everyday computing (Firefox, OpenOffice, Pidgin chat, GIMP image editor, WPClipart, Thunderbird mail, K3B CD/DVD burning, Frostwire P2P, Deluge BitTorrent).

From the release notes:
This release updates several major programs due to security issues. This includes Firefox, Thunderbird, Samba, Seamonkey and Pidgin. Pidgin also updated to correctly configure notification/alert sounds. Updates also enable auto-start of PTP cameras (like Canon), updated GIMP and GIMP-help (help on CD2 zip) and updated wicd (for wired and wireless connection management.) Plus a few others...

(Download Absolute Linux ISO images)

New releases

Tiny Core Linux 1.2 has been released. Tiny Core Linux is an extremely small (10 MB) and minimal desktop system that is based on Linux 2.6 kernel, Busybox, Tiny X, Fltk, and Jwm. The system runs entirely in RAM. It is not a complete desktop and only a limited selection of hardware is completely supported. The system provides only the essentials needed to boot into a minimal X desktop using wired internet access.

Zenwalk is a Slackware-based distribution. If you are not interested in configuring Slackware but want to have an easy to install and usable desktop system that does not demand a lot from the hardware you should consider installing Zenwalk. Zenwalk is designed to be lightweight, fast and rational desktop providing only one application for each task. At the same time, it is a complete desktop system with multimedia applications. The latest 6.0 version was released just a few days ago.


Recommended reading and some news

In the last two weeks, I've been too busy to blog because of my studies. The exams took all my time and I simply couldn't find time to test anything new. Fortunately, I can recommend many interesting new articles published elsewhere.

If you don't follow K. Mandla's excellent blog, you should at least read his new series of articles about how he used a P100 with 16 Mb RAM for a week. You might not want to follow his example, but at least you should read about what can be done with any old computer you most probably have somewhere collecting dust.

One week at 100Mhz: I found a desk | One week at 100Mhz: Hardware hopscotch | One week at 100Mhz: Slow is as slow does, Mrs. Blue | One week at 100Mhz: Scary power failures | One week at 100Mhz: Paradigm shifts | One week at 100Mhz: X-less and not a hiccup | One week at 100Mhz: Lessons learned

Next some new distribution releases:
* ZevenOS 1.1 has been released. Download ISO 679 MB.

* SliTaz, the amazing distro under 30 Mb download has released a new test release for version 2.0. Download the ISO image from here (28.6 Mb).

And probably the most surprising news of the last week or two has been the announcement of Desktop NetBSD project. NetBSD has been known as the hard core unix that can be run on any hardware including the toaster. Now some afficionados intend to build a user friendly desktop out of NetBSD, which so far has been known as the choice of command line aficionados.

* Desktop NetBSD

If you have old useless computers that have more exotic CPU than an ordinary Pentium or compatible processors, you most probably can run NetBSD on it. See the official documentation for more information.

Vector Linux 6.0 Released



For a few months in the autumn, I used the previous release of Vector Linux as my main desktop in the town where I study. Now the project has released the new stable 6.0 Standard Edition release of the distribution:
The final release of VectorLinux 6.0 (code name 'Voyager') is now available. This release is a major milestone in the ten year history of Vectorlinux. With the unbridled enthusiasm of a community gone wild, we have forged our very own stable GUI installer and our repository now hosts over a thousand packages. VectorLinux is the fastest Linux desktop in it's class. We have exceeded our original goals of VectorLinux 6.0 and produced a beautiful, full featured stable desktop for a rocket fueled experience.

(From the release notes)

Vector Linux is available for download in several versions.

Arch 2009.02 Released

Arch is a very lightweight distribution for advanced users who are not afraid of the command line. The project has released a new ISO a few days ago. I quote from the release announcement:

2009.02 comes with the following features:
- Kernel 2.6.28
- Ext4 support. Installation can be done on a ext4 root partition.
- Rescue and maintenance capabilities for Ext4 root partitions
- Fallback ISOs with the ISOLINUX bootloader, for those that have
trouble booting Grub-based images
- Several bugfixes in the installer
- Brought the included documentation up-to-date
- Inclusion of AIF (Arch Linux Installation Framework), the next
generation installer, currently under development.


I have never used Arch myself but I according to what I've read it is a very good distribution to be installed an old computers. If you are new to Arch, start with the Beginners' Guide.

Another blog by me

As if trying to write one blog in English was not enough, I decided to start another blog for international audience. In my new Niche blogs with Adsense I write about my experiences with using Adsense on several niche blogs.

To be honest, I am not doing more than a few dollars a day with my blogs. But maybe I will learn something about eBusiness while writing for the other blog. At least I have learned incredibly lot about using Linux on old computers when writing this blog.

But don't worry, I will continue writing this blog also in the future!

Debian 5.0 Released

After 22 months of development, the Debian Project has released the new stable release of the distribution. See the release announcement for more information.

antiX M8 released

AntiX 8 'Intifada' was released yesterday. I quote from the project home page:

On behalf of the antiX-team I am proud to announce that antiX MEPIS 8 'Intifada' - a fast and light complete desktop and livecd based on SimplyMEPIS and Debian Testing, with a little bit of sidux,- is now available in full and base editions. This release defaults to a fully customised icewm desktop (fluxbox is also installed) In addition to the SimplyMEPIS 8.0 foundation with its 2.6.27-15 kernel and Assistants, antiX has an improved antiX-Control Centre, new scripts for screenshots, and phonebook. There are improved and extended themes and artwork for icewm and fluxbox. Localisation is much improved in this version. As well as including usual applications such as iceweasel(3.0.6), pigin(2.4), abiword(2.6.4), gnumeric(1.8-3), rox-filer(2.8) and claws-mail(3.5), antiX-M8 also includes the sidux meta-installer, an updated ceni and wicd for wired/wireless connections, UMTSmon - a simple connect program for users using 3g usb modems, firehol firewall, gnomebaker replaces brasero, urxvt replaces wterm. antiX-M8 has X.org 7.3, auto-login with latest SLiM, smxi, inxi, svmi scripts from h2, and Dillo 2. New apps include: zim (wiki), Gjots (notes), Grsync, parted and luckyBackup.

AntiX is designed to work on computers with as little as 64 MB RAM and Pentium II or equivalent AMD processors, but not K5/K6 processors. 128 MB RAM is recommended minimum.


I have used antiX 8 on one of my desktops (Pentium 1 GHz, 256 Mb RAM)for several weeks and I have been completely happy with it. See my comments on the test release in an earlier blog article
"AntiX 8 test release reviewed". I warmly recommend to install this distro on any old computer that has at least 128 MB RAM.

Lightweight Linux elsewhere

Just a short note today. It seems very few people have noticed that I have moved most of my short notes about cool applications or web sites to Delicious. I recommend you to add me to your network if you use Delicious. And if you don't yet use Delicious, I suggest you to try it. It provides a really practical way for bookmarking web sites.

And don't forget I'm at least sometimes active also in Twitter where I often announce my blog articles!

wtf is wtf?

I happened to install last week - quite accidentally - a cool little command line tool I want to share with you today. As I installed the package bsdgames in my antiX box I got quite a few text mode games installed. In addition to the games, wtf was installed in my system.

I'm not quite sure if wtf really is a game. It is a small tool that searches for acronyms and their explanations in a dictionary file. And in case you don't know what the acronym wtf stands for, you can let the tool explain it's name with the command:

wtf is wtf

Now that I have this tool installed in my system, I don't have to remember and google for AFAICR, AYT, CMIIW, FIGJAM and other completely unintelligible acronyms I encounter while reading discussions on different Internet forums.

Slackfind.net finds packages

Slackware is one of my favorite distributions for old computers. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find packages for a given Slackware version. As the root must take care of dependencies in a Slackware system, I rarely like to install any new applications to a running Slackware. On the other hand, this certainly adds to the stability of the system.

So far I have used Linuxpackages.net for hunting obscure libraries or applications I have sometimes needed to use on my Slackware box or Slackware derivatives. No there is a new web based tool available: Slackfind.net (both in English and Russian). As Slackfind seems to find a lot of packages that are not yet available in Linuxpackages I will certainly bookmark this site to be used on my computers.

Adventure in text mode

My first computer was a Commodore 64, that was one of the most popular home computers in the 1980's. I used the computer mostly for games and learning to code, first in BASIC and later in 6510 assembler. As the screen resolution for multicolored graphics was only 160x200, I often played text mode adventure games. To be honest, the 40x25 text mode screen was not very pleasant, either.

Text mode adventure games were a popular genre in the 1980's but nowadays it seems a dead genre. The young people are more accustomed to playing 3d adventures than trying to guess the right verb to use in a two-word sentence to command the hero to some simple action. The early adventures used only literary descriptions of places and problems encountered had to be solved by giving commands like take bottle, enter building, use key, open door etc.


If you are ready to go back in time to the 1970's and 1980's, you might like to try the adventure. In Ubuntu, it is provided by the package bsdgames.

Tint is a Tetris clone

Do you still remember playing Tetris for hours and hours twenty years ago? Or are you so young that you have never heard of Tetris? In both cases you might like to try Tint - it is a free clone of the classic game from behind the Iron Curtain.

There are numerous versions of Tetris available for any moder Linux system. But Tetris was not a 3d game nor was it played with hexagons, or over Internet or LAN against a human opponent. On the contrary, it was a very simple game with extremelys simple graphics. Just like Tint today. Tint was meant to be a close clone of the original Tetris written by Alexey Pajitnov, Dmitry Pavlovsky, and Vadim Gerasimov.



Tint is a very lightweight game and it does not take a lot of hard disk space. In fact, the size of the deb package is only 14.1 kB (I had of course ncurses preinstalled). Could this be the smallest arcade game available for Linux?

New lightweight blog template

I decided to use a new and very basic design for Lightweight Linux from now on. Furthermore, I decided to remove the animated Amazon widget in order to make this blog load faster an be easier to read even with old computers.

Nethack is the game for geeks

Around 15 years ago I played for the first time Nethack. I should have been working on my MA thesis in medieval ecclesiastical history but I probably spent a lot more time online: reading the newsgroups, chatting in the IRC or in the university's internal bulleting board known as Portacom.

Sometimes I even played games on the Unix system. There were not too many games installed, but there were many online multiuser dungeon games I was able to play over telnet. And the famous Adventure was available and of course the Nethack.

I was never completely hooked on Nethack, but I completely understand those geeks who spent the nights hacking monsters in the darkness of the dungeons. Sometimes I have even tried to play Nethack with my Linux systems. It certainly is not for everyone, but it is one of the few playable games available for the Linux console.



Even if you might not fully understand the magic of Nethack it is certainly worth installing in the Linux system. If you are desperate enough you might even like to start killing the monsters in the deep dungeons!

Lightweight Ubuntu derivatives for old computers

Many Linux newbies are looking for help in installing Linux on some old computer they still have. In many cases, their knowledge of Linux is limited in using Ubuntu. Thus it is only natural that they want to find a lightweight Ubuntu derivative to be used also with the old computer. Another group of users are looking for a distro to be used with a netbook.


There are, in fact, several Ubuntu derivatives that might be useful even with hardware that is limited by modern standards. But unfortunately, these distros are not always as easy to use as Ubuntu is and not necessarily as lightweight as some other distributions. I have not myself tested any Ubuntu derivatives but I decided to collect here some information I have encountered on my neverending web searches.

Here are the possibilities I have found:
  1. U-lite was previously known as Ubuntulite. The web site is not especially uptodate, but earlier versions have according to the information on the site been installed and used with P266 with 192 Mb RAM. At the moment, a processor of Pentium class II, 96 Mb RAM and at least 4 Gb hard drive space are required. More memory would certainly not hurt the system.
  2. Eebuntu is a remix tailored for EeePC. It comes in three flavours: base, netbook and standard.
  3. Ubuntu Mini remix is a 133 Mb remix livecd containing only the minimal set of software to make the system work.
  4. Crunchbang is another lightweight Ubuntu derivative. It is not meant especially for old computers but according to posts in Ubuntu forum many users have been quite satisfied with it even when installed on an old computers.
  5. Ubuntu Minimal CD Image is one more way to install a lightweight Ubuntu system. See Psychocats for more information about how to build a lightweight desktop around this CD. And don't forget K. Mandla's documentation Set up Ubuntu for Speed.
  6. More adventurous users might like to try K. Mandla's GTK1.2 remix.
  7. Fluxbuntu might be active at the moment, at least the web site shows screenshots from the experimental 9.04. The last stable release was based on 7.10 and I was unfortunately not able to install it on my box.
If you are ready to consider some other distribution to be used instead of Ubuntu derivatives, both Debian and antiX might be good solutions for an Ubuntu user. If you are ready to learn a bit more you could try Slackware, Crux or Arch. There are pros and cons for every alternative, but ultimately only you can decide which distro to install and use.

Fortunately, you are free to choose among many free alternatives.

Alpine is a great text mode email application

I have used pine as my main email application since 1993 and I'm not even considering to replace pine with a more modern email application as long as pine is available in the Unix system where I read my email. When I need to read email that has been sent to some of my private email accounts
(like the one I use for this blog) I most often use alpine installed on my Linux box.

Alpine is a rewrite of the original pine. Unlike pine it uses an Apache license that allows redistribution of modified versions of the application which makes it more acceptable for free software enthusiasts.



Alpine uses a simple menu interface for composing and viewing email messges. For writing a mail, it uses the extremely newbie friendly editor pico that can of course be used also as a standalone editor for editing any text files you might like to edit. From the main menu of Alpine one can enter the simple to use setup dialogues, where one can set many options including the signature, printer, non-default address books, rules for automativally filtering the messages in different folders, set the screen colors, and a lot more.

Most probably you receive your email not directly in your box but instead use a mail account provided by your ISP or for example Google. In fact, it is quite simple to configure Alpine to read and send email using a Gmail account like I have done for reading the lwlinux account I use for receiving mail about this blog.

If you want to use Alpine with Gmail, go first to the setup menu. Then select Config. In the next screenshot you will see how the settings for Gmail are done, only a few lines must be configured.



If you have never used a text mode email application you should at least give alpine a chance. It is easy to use and configure and a lot easier to use than most of the graphical email applications. You will soon realize how easy it is to read and write emails when you don't have to move your hand all the time between the keyboard and the mouse.

See also my previous articles about text mode Linux applications:
Burn CDs and DVDs with cdw | Remind is a lightweight tool for reminders | Lightest WWW browsers for Linux | Manage your contacts with abook

Manage your contacts with abook

I'm constantly looking for applications that can comfortably be used even with an old computer. Some days ago, I posted an article about lightweight personal organizer OSMO. Now I have found something even more lightweight!

My new address book manager is abook. It is a simple text mode organizer for storing contact information. It has a simple to use user interface (using ncurses) and does not force the users to remember obscure CTRL sequences or vi-like keyboard shortcuts. On the contrary, the keyboard shortcuts are few and they can be seen on the top of the screen.

Abook utilizes a simple card view for the contacts. The contact information is divided on five tabs where address, phone, other information and custom information have been dedicated a tab. Abook can be used as a standalone application or it can be used as the addressbook for mutt email application.



It is possible to import and export contact information using the command line option --convert. Abook can convert the the contact information from the following formats:
  • ldif
  • mutt
  • pine
  • csv
  • palmcsv

The following output formats are supported:
  • abook
  • ldif
  • mutt
  • html
  • pine
  • gcrd
  • csv
  • palmcsv
  • elm
  • text
  • spruce
  • wl
All the contacts are of course stored in a plain text file (default: ~/.abook/addressbook) that has an easy to understand format.

Manage your files with mc (Midnight Commander)

Once upon a time, there was a operating system called MS-DOS. It was a pretty limited system and awkard to use, but at the same time, it was a lot more useful than the graphical systems built on the DOS. To help the users, many companies created proprietary software that was sold to the end-users.

One of the most popular applications was Norton Commander or simply nc. The first version 1.0 was released as early as in 1986 [1]. This application set the standards for file managers for a long time. In fact, many file managers even today follow the concept of showing files simultaneously in two panels.

In addition to GUI file managers, the command line junkies can use the Midnight Commander, mc. It is available for probably every possible distribution in use. If you like to use Linux on an old computer, you might well try this application that does not steal all the resources of your old computer.



Midnight Commander provides all the usual functionality one expects from a file manager. With it, it is possible to copy, delete, archive, view and edit files or, for example, view man pages, It might not handle everything konqueror handles, but it does well what it is intended to do.

See also: Burn CDs and DVDs with cdw | Remind is a lightweight tool for reminders | Lightest WWW browsers for Linux

Finally on top of the search

After more than six months of blogging, Lightweight Linux is finally the first site in Google search results for "Lightweight Linux".

Champagne for everyone!

Edited: now down to the second place :-(

Burn CDs and DVDs with cdw

There are several useful applications available for burning CDs and DVDs on a Linux system. The geekiest users are probably happy with command line tools while most users are happy with k3b or gnomebaker.

Cdw is a ncurses based alternative to more famous tools. As a ncurses application it can be used on system with no X installed but as it has a menu based user interface it might be easier to use than the command line tools. In fact, cdw is just a frontend for cdrecord/wodim (for blanking CD-RW discs, writing data to single- or multi-session CD disc and single-session DVD discs) and mkisofs/genisoimage (for creating ISO images from selected files).



If you -- like me -- have difficulties in remembering the options of different CLI tools, you might like to try this small application. It is available at least in the repositories of Ubuntu and Debian testing (but not yet in the stable release).

If it is not included in your distribution's repositories, you can always get the source from the Sourceforge.

See also previous articles on text mode applications!

Use xosd for on-screen messages

The package xosd-bin provides Linux hackers a way to show messages on X screen. In itself this might not be very useful but the functionality can easily be included in scripts.

After installing xosd-bin the you can use osd_cat to show text on-screen. This is done by sending text over a pipe to osd_cat.

The simplest way to use osd_cat would be:

echo "Hello World!" | osd_cat

If you try this you might not even notice the small output on the top left corner of your screen. But the following gives an output that can barely stay unnoticed:

echo "Testing xosd using different fonts" | osd_cat -p middle -A center -d 5 -s 3 -c blue -f "-adobe-helvetica-*-*-*-*-34-240-*-*-p-*-*-*"

As you see, osd_cat understands many options. In the example, the output is shown at the middle of the screen centered for a period of five seconds with a shadow of three pixels. The color is blue and the font is defined by the rest of the line (use xfontsel for selecting the font).

Now that I have installed xosd I have to think about some cool use for it! Maybe it could be used in a script that checks my email account or to show on-screen reminders.

Any other ideas?

Still using antiX

I've been too lazy to blog during the last week or maybe just too busy with my studies. Either way, I'm still using antiX as my desktop system and I've been completely happy with this prerelease version.

I have not installed a lot of extra packages as I have mostly been able to get things done with the default installation and some extras like Emacs. As I've used both Debian and Ubuntu earlier, I am very much at home with antiX.

Two weeks ago I thought I would just test antiX and then install something more useful. At the moment I think I'll continue to use this distro installed much longer than I would have imagined. I see no technical reasons for installing yet another distro.

But in order to have something to write about in this blog, I'll tomorrow install DeLi on an even older computer. It will be interesting to see how much the distro has developed with the latest release.

OSMO - a lightweight PIM

There are few good lightweight personal information managers available unless one is willing to use Emacs for everything. For some time I used remind as a console solution for my time management problems but at the moment I mostly use my mobile phones calendar function. Now I have to reconsider using a computer for time management as antiX provides a nice lightweight organizer application OSMO.



OSMO is very simple to use as all the main functions can be found in one window on six tabs. There are tabs for calendar, tasks, contacts, notes, options and information about the application. OSMO is included in the package repository of Ubuntu, so it is only a simple sudo apt-get install away from your desktop if you use Ubuntu!

AntiX 8 test release reviewed

antiX has been around for some time but I have never installed or even used it. The goal of antiX is to provide a light, but fully functional desktop system for both newbies and experienced users of Linux. It does not require much from the hardware and it should run on most computers, ranging from 64MB old PII 266 systems with 128MB RAM to the latest hardware. At least 128MB RAM is recommended for antiX and 1.2GB is required for a hard disk installation.

Having already used several lightweight Linux distributions, I wanted to see how antiX would perform on my secondary desktop. This computer is an old e-Vectra (1 GHz, 256 Mb) that should be a perfectly good computer to be used with antiX. Some years ago, it was a popular corporate desktop and it was used a lot as Internet kiosks and desktops for examples in universities and libraries.



AntiX must be installed using a live CD which makes it cumbersome to be installed in the oldest computers. With my e-Vectra the installation took about 25 minutes. Quite acceptable, but I wonder how the GUI installer would succeed when used on an even older box with less memory.

Edit: I forgot to mention that antiX did not correctly recognize the graphic chip of my computer which means that the screen resolution offered was completely unusable. I copied the xorg.conf from another system.

AntiX uses IceWM as the default window manager which was of course a pleasant surprise for me. Nowadays, more and more lightweight distributions use either JWM or LXDE but IceWM can look just as nice as any other window manager. In fact, AntiX provides the user with a nice selection of installed themes.

The first test I usually do with any distro is to see how it handles the most common web site for multimedia, that is the YouTube. In fact, AntiX has no problems in showing any of the YouTube videos I wanted to see. This is certainly a something a newbie expects even from a lightweight distribution as flash animations, Java games and YouTube videos are an important part of web experience for most users. These of course demand a lot from the hardware and the experience might not be exactly great with the oldest computers, but it was good enough for me.



Second test: what happens when I insert an audio cd in the cd drive? - Nothing.

In fact, that is exactly what I was hoping for. I started xmms and clicked Play directory, then chose the directory /media/cdrom to be played. For a total newbie this might not be the most obvious way to play a music cd but I have no problems with this.

A third test: what happens when I try to use an USB memory stick? - As far as I see, nothing. At least nothing appears in the directory /media.

First I thought I should just mount the pendrive by hand, but I finally found the solution. Start the Control center, select the tab Peripherals, click Mount connected Devices and give the root password. Now the memory is mounted as /media/sda1. But I still don't know how to umount the memory except as root on the command line with umount /media/sda1. Rox filer cannot handle it as the ordinary user is of course not allowed to umount a device that was mounted by the root.

AntiX is based on MEPIS that in turn is based on Debian. This means that the system beneath the desktop is (or should be) familiar to any user of Ubuntu or Debian. This in itself is a strong point in favor of antiX for anyone coming from the Ubuntu land. I can warmly recommend AntiX for anyone who is looking for a lightweight alternative to Ubuntu. AntiX provides a good selection of lightweight applications and an even wider selection of applications is available in the Debian stable repositories. The default installation provides the applications that most people need: a media player, web browsers, a word processor (Abiword), a spreadsheet application (Gnumeric), DVD player and even some games.

AntiX 8 is still a release under development. I have, however, not encountered any problems with the system during these two days I have used antiX. I can recommend antiX to anyone who is looking for a lightweight distribution to be used on an old computer.


Links:
  1. antiX discussion forum
  2. download antiX test release from Mepisimo or Tuxfamily.org