I am not one to just toss something when it is broken. I want to give every piece of equipment a shot at another life whenever possible. Somethings do have to go to the big recycler in the sky but not without some kind of fight at my end.
I couple years back when I thrusted myself into the foray of “modern” gaming, I purchased two of these “Rock Candy” Gamepads from a local retailer. This was for my first Steam Game purchase, River City Ransom: Underground. They worked quite well but having kids with passion bubbles very near the surface, gamepads have a tendency to go flying or falling from time to time.
After some time of play, one had a fall too many and the plastic broke that held the batteries in place on one controller. Within a week, the other decided it would no longer turn on. Both controllers were put away into storage, until yesterday.
My oldest son asked if they could be fixed and I suggested that we could take the board from one and put it in the body of the other. He said he wanted to do it. I supplied some tools, provided just a bit of guidance and my 8 year old took the screw driver to task. I guided him on disassembly and used a magnetic bowl to hold the screws so didn’t roll away.
When he started to put it together, he asked how to do it, to which I gave the proper fatherly advice, “just like taking it apart, but in reverse!” Surprisingly, that was enough. I just made sure that the Left and Right Bumpers PCBs was correctly placed. He knew what screws went where and placed everything just right.
I double checked the screws to ensure that they were all snugged up properly, popped in some batteries and we were off to the races. There is only just a bit of confusion now as the blue controller now goes to the green dongle.
In another proud moment, my boy turned to a SNES emulator and played Super Mario All-Stars. Those old games are still fun to play today, even for the youth, which is a testament to the fun-gineering of yeaster-year
Technology is certainly a fun thing to play with but it is so much more fun to pass on the joy of owning your technology to your kids. The amount of confidence my boy has earned through this exercise is worth far more than the cost of both of the controllers. I am hoping this sparks a flame for a passion for technology, not just in using but in creating and imagining new ways to use technology. I am quite sure that his abilities that will far surpass my own.
There are many flavors of Linux, we call them distributions but in a way, I think “flavor” is a good word for it as some some are a sweet and delightful experience while with others a lingering, foul taste remains. Manjaro has not left a foul taste in any way. In full disclosure, I am not a fan of Arch based Linux distributions. I appreciate the idea of this one-step-removed Gentoo and for those that really like to get into the nitty-gritty bits Arch is good for that. My problem with Arch is the lack of quality assurance. The official repository on Arch Wiki describes the process of how core packages need to be signed off by developers before they are allowed to move from staging into the official repositories. With the rate at which packages come in, it is almost an impossibility that through manual testing software will continue to work well with other software as some dependencies may change. Admittedly, I don’t use it daily, outside of VMs for testing nor do I have a lot of software installed so this is not going to be a problem I am likely to experience.
Manjaro, from my less than professional opinion, is a slightly slower rolling Arch that seems to do more testing and the process, from what I understand, is similar. Developers have to approve the packages before they are moved into the official repositories. I also understand that there isn’t any automated QA to perform any testing so this is all reliant on user or community testing, which, seemingly, Manjaro is doing a good job of it.
This is my review of Manjaro with the Plasma Desktop. Bottom Line Up Front, this is quite possibly the safest and most stable route if you like the Arch model. In the time I ran it, I didn’t have any issues with it. The default Plasma Desktop is quite nice, and the default themes are also top notch. The graphical package manager works fantastically well and you do have Snap support right out of the gate. It’s truly a great experience. Was it good enough to push me from my precious openSUSE? No, but it has made for a contender and something about which to think.
The installation process was as smooth as room temperature butter and felt incredibly refined. The installation media greets with a very nicely themed boot loader to which the default option is to boot Manjaro. Very quickly you are brought into a live session where you can begin to do some exploration.
Since I was doing this in a VM, I did have some VM-isms, that made this look less than stellar, initially. Since I wanted to get to installation, straight away, I went right for that icon on the desktop. Nice to see that the icon was on the desktop, not hidden away giving you a scavenger hunt as your first objective for the installation. This is using the Calamares installer so it is incredibly straight forward and new-user approachable. You are initially asked for your language preference, then to set your location.
Your next objective in this installation is to select your keyboard layout. Then to set your partitions. My preference, for this installation was to Erase the disk and I didn’t add any Swap. Although, I recently learned that doing so is not the best idea for system stability.
You next step in this journey is to tell Majaro, who you are in the Users step. Here you will enter your name, your username, the name of your computer, set your user password and administrator password. Here you can set the system to log in automatically and to use the same password for the administrator account. The next step is a somewhat new entry into this process, as I’m told, but you can now select your Office Suite. The three options are: No Office Suite, LibreOffice, and FreeOffice.
I selected FreeOffice for two reasons, one, there was quite the hullabaloo about Manjaro offering it. I am personally quite happy with LibreOffice and I like my options there so this was the perfect opportunity to get some impressions of it.
Finally, you are presented the Installation Summary with a final Sanity Check before proceeding. I always appreciate the sanity check
Then the installation will commence, you can sit back or leave, whatever you want to do at this point. Alternatively, you can read the Manjaro propaganda and become acquainted with the world into which you are stepping.
Here is where I put the image that tells you to reboot… but… I didn’t take that snapshot.
First run and Impressions
Just like the live media version, the installed version of Plasma looks fantastic. Although, to be fair, it is a chore to make Plasma not look fantastic.
This time, however, I wanted to do some exploration of the Welcome and also leave it set to launch at start so that I can return to it on my next boot. My first stop was at the center column, bottom row, Applications.
This curious application, called Manjaro Application Maintenance was highly structured and very easy to get around and understand what is going on. For those that like the “minimal” installation. They can very easily go here and remove all the bits they don’t want.
Next on my agenda was to perform updates. In this case, they have a graphical tool so the graphical tool, I decided to use. Warnings are never a point of concern, really, as they are just that, warnings, a spot to slow down and read the situation.
Here there were some warnings about packages being installed before the dependency. It’s odd that the package manager wouldn’t just fix that and reorder how the packages are installed but perhaps it is some sort of circular dependency and this is the warning of that. The updates proceeded but with one slight hitch.
I was not able to do as instructed on here as when I did go to the virtual terminal, I was greeted with nothing, no prompt or anything of that nature. Not a big deal, I just waited until there was no activity from the virtual machine and I sent the power off signal to safely power the thing down.
Upon rebooting the VM with Manjaro, I was once again greeted with the splendidly polished Display Manger and a login prompt. I logged in and everything was as I expected it. I do want to say that having Yakuake installed by default is a fine addition to Plasma. A quick F12 presents a terminal drop down that just screams all kinds of nerdy wonderfulness.
I then wanted to see how the process of installing applications would go with Manjaro. Since I didn’t want to install anything that would pull down a lot of packages, I went for something small that I didn’t really need, KPatience, a Soliaire card game. After all, Windows 3.11 had something similar installed by default.
When you select to install an application you are prompted for you password. This is not the administrator password but the user password. Whether or not that is more or less secure than the root password, I don’t know, but I thought that was worth noting. I also appreciate the “Transaction Summary” given. How that is different than an Installation Summary, I am not sure. Maybe this is a better word for it as you can install and remove applications and those actions combined are “transactions.” Something to think about.
I did have to change the Application Launcher to the Application Menu because… I just happen to find the Menu more appealing.
That is very easily done, as in any Plasma desktop, by right-clicking on the menu icon and selecting, Show Alternatives.
Another noteworthy feature of Manjaro is the Kernel Notifications. I don’t completely know what all this means, what is an “unsupported kernel” and to only notify if running an unsupported kernel but I do understand notifying of a new LTS Kernel. If I were going to take my flag in this distribution, I would recommend becoming well acquainted with this too. I imagine this could very much be the difference between a reboot and run and a reboot and flop.
I also want to congratulate the Manjaro team on a job well done with the Dark Breath theme. Although, when I say it, I feel like I’m saying “Breeze” with a lisp, the Dark Breath theme is so nicely done that I could reach out and give an e-high-five on how it looks. Different then the Breeze but equally as nice.
The desktop and Manjaro specific tools all feel well orchestrated. Aside from my upgrade hiccup, which I want to stress is a hiccup, I was able to keep flying along. I do want to note that the only other time I have seen that screen was when updating a system with proprietary Nvidia drivers on a previous main driver. It was almost a welcome back to see that little notice.
Since I had to try FreeOffice out… though, without any office tasks to perform, I wanted to see how it looked and felt. Just on the surface because this is not a review of FreeOffice, just an impression. I was immediately impressed by the ease of picking your theme. Not only did you have the choice in dark or light themes, you also had a choice in the annoying ribbon layout or traditional and much more useful classic menus and toolbars.
The first application to click-around in this office suite was the word-processor called TextMaker. I really liked the presentation of it as it immediately gave me happy feelings. The ribbon layout was what you would expect but the part I didn’t care for was the additional menu bar of new, open, save, undo, redo, etc. I prefer the LibreOffice execution of that as it moves that inline with the File, Home, Insert, Layout etc… tabs. Not a big deal. I didn’t dig into it but I am sure that it is customizable to some degree.
The next application in this sweet suite of office tools is the spreadsheet application called PlanMaker. It has a similar feel as TextMaker and had the basic functions for which I would be using. I did find the ribbon a bit excessive on the screen real-estate but again, this is just an impression. I could very easily go back to the more efficient layout.
The last application in this suite is called simply Presentations and it also is about what I would expect. I didn’t create any presentations with it but the impressions by clicking about did give me the impression that I would be able to bore anybody with an unnecessary slide show.
The only thing I hadn’t checked yet was the file dialog. I must say, I did not like this. It was the only thing I didn’t like about FreeOffice on my tour of impressions. It was very 2002 in appearance and although I’m sure it is quite functional, it is not what I would consider modern. Although, the GTK dialog isn’t any better, so if we are comparing it to that I guess it’s fine. I would have preferred some sort of Plasma integration here so that it used the Plasma File Dialog.
Really, all applications and desktop environments should really use the Plasma file dialog, anything but that is a sore disappointment in user interface.
Overall, FreeOffice is nice, certainly very usable and has a nice polish to it. I don’t think I would replace LibreOffice with it as I do use the Draw and Math functions of that and I haven’t run into a compatibility issue in a long time. I am glad that Manjaro gave me the opportunity to kick the tires on it.
What I Like
I like the fact that Manjaro give the option, right out of the gate, to pick your office suite. I would haven’t ever tried anything other than LibreOffice had I not had the option. Although I have decided to continue to use LibreOffice, I appreciate being presented an alternative.
Pamac-CLI is a kind of shim to make Pacman not ridiculous. It converts all the nonsense commands of pacman into something that is human readable and intuitive. For example, to install a software package:
Breath Dark theme is well done. It give Manjaro Plasma edition a unique feel but just every so subtly. Also, green is a great color to go with if you are going to set a highlight color.
Default software selection is very satisfactory, so much so that I had to find some oddball thing to install just to go through the process. I still prefer to have VLC over other media players and Firefox over other web browsers. I like that they chose to include Konversation for IRC and Steam for games.
A nice surprise was to see that SUSE Imagewriter was included on the Manjaro installation for writing images to Removable media. Interestingly, not even openSUSE includes that by default.
What I Don’t Like
It fundamentally still uses Arch as the base and although pamac-cli is a nice shim to offset the nonsense that is pacman. I do prefer having sensible and intuitive terminal commands. There are too many to remember, I don’t have the patience to faff with the game of scrabble in command options.
The Plasma screen locker crash did bother me a bit as and I’m not sure where the blame is to be had for that. I don’t have an nvidia driver so maybe the issue was with the package resolver (ahem, Pacman) that didn’t order things properly. I don’t know.
Manjaro used Ext4 for the file system. That means, I don’t know how I would roll back a bad update. I think running a rolling distribution without that safeguard is asking for trouble. For this alone, I am much relieved that I have BTRFS on my root file system for snapshots. Should anything go wrong, rolling back is trivial.
Manjaro is a fine distribution but it has the one glaring shortcoming that is, it is Arch based. Since I have had such a bad taste in my mouth for Arch, I just wouldn’t consider using this. Perhaps, if my first experience with Arch was Manjaro, things would be different. Had I not ever messed with Pacman maybe I wouldn’t be so obstinate about it. Although, fundamentally, I am not real confident in the QA process of Manjaro or any Arch based distribution. I would be more inclined to trust it if it was built on something like the Open Build Service with openQA automating the testing process to knock out most of the rough edges along with user testing.
For me, I will stick with my openSUSE Tumbleweed with my snapshot rollback system, should the automated and human testing allow something to slip through that takes my system down or I muck about, I can always undo it and keep sailing.
Just because I am over biased about Arch, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give Manjaro a try. It is certainly well done and the developers have a fantastic passion for the project. That passion alone is almost enough to nullify all my reservations about the project.
My 6th noodling might be my longest noodling yet. It started out a bit light but then after reading I just got a bit too excited. If you want to skip to the end where I do a little self-deprecation and ignore the meat of it, that is very understandable.
I took my kids to the symphony this past Sunday. It was hugely beneficial to have the kids experience a symphonic performance. It made for a pretty decent lesson about the benefits of working together. When the orchestral members were warming up before they begin the performance there is a cacophony of sounds and although individually, the instruments sound nice, together it sounds like a mess. When the performance started and the conductor did his conducting, keeping everyone on pace and on the “same sheet of music” as it were, you could listen and imagine the story of events in the mind’s eye. Everything from serious and intense melodies to whimsical light hearted tones. Although my kids could only manage to sit through an hour of the performance, there were lots of lessons to be extracted about the benefits of working together.
How this can be applied to the Linux community is as such. When we work together, in harmony with one another, we can make for some amazing results. Whether it is the latest Ubuntu MATE, the newest release of Plasma or helping someone through a tech question, by working together in a kind and respectful tone we can achieve great things. I am of the belief that all Linux is good Linux and by making any one aspect better, we make it all better, regardless of the flavor of Linux or desktop you choose.
Let’s make some beautiful music
Dell Latitude E6440 Caddy Drive Bay
My primary machine that I am using I didn’t choose lightly, I wanted a lot of flexibility in a fairly small package. Since I like to test things in VM, I wanted to have the option of a third hard drive. What I discovered is that it doesn’t seem to matter how much storage I have available, I seem to fill it up. I am starting to think that maybe I have a problem.
I do clean out my drives from time to time but I find that the more space I have, the sloppier I am about cleaning up the cruft. I am preparing to build a system with a heck of a lot more storage and after making my hard drive purchases, I realized, I may have purchased too small of drives. If this is the case, I think I have a strategy to compensate for this.
I did create a YouTube video of the ease of using the drive bay for additional storage as I knew it would be a short thing and provide me an opportunity to edit something together. A consequence of the additional drive has resulted in me rarely poping in the optical drive. Perhaps my needs for optical media is fading?
I recently change over all my cordless power tools to the DeWalt 20V max line. I do spend a lot of time outside of the cubicle doing non-cubicle activities and I have recorded much of it and scripted some things out to share my findings and reasoning from the perspective of a Linux Geek. Although power tools are not strictly a nerdy activity, there is a lot of nerdiness to be had. My specific high points of what I find is that the price per tool combined with the watt-hour of use per charge and number of charges per battery made it the best bang for your buck. The other main factor is the variety of tools I have available to me with this one battery platform. In an effort to simplify my life, this is what I have chosen and so far, it has exceeded my expectations.
BDLL Follow up
One of the things I like about BigDaddyLinux Live is the discussion we have on there. Some of it, I don’t have much to contribute as it is either outside my area of expertise or maybe I am still forming my opinions. There were two topics that really engaged me last Saturday. The first being developing on Linux and the second on virtual memory or in Linux called Swap.
On development, there is a lot of negativity towards Electron applications from some in the Linux community. In short, an Electron application is a cross platform thing that allows a developer to make an application for Linux, MacOS and Windows. One of those things is really cool and the other two, not as much. The benefit is, it is an easy way to maintain a single codebase and maximize the number of platforms that can reached.
The draw backs are that Electron is quite inefficient. The storage space it takes up is fairly extensive and the RAM usage is also weighty. With newer computers, this is not an issue. If you have 16 or 32 GiB of RAM this isn’t an issue, if you have 2 or 4 GiB of RAM this can be an issue.
A discussion that start on the Discourse and made its way into the show was about using Swap in Linux when there is so much RAM available in modern systems. The question is to Swap or not to Swap and how much Swap and what kind of Swap. I recommend watching BDLL from 05 October 2019 for the extended discussion or going to the BDLL Discourse for opinions outside of mine.
Swap reminds me a lot of the bank switching that was common on 8-bit computers of old except instead of keeping the data in a switchable bank, this is putting it on a hard drive or SSD. The issue I find with Swap is if you are really taxing your system, you can end up with having a lot of disk thrashing that can really bring your system down to a crawl.
For my primary machine, I have set aside 17 GiB of Swap space, just in case. I have used it on more than one occasion… maybe due to Electron apps and it has come in handy when I haven’t paid attention to memory usage when using Google Chrome. Swap space on the two Acer AspireOne netbooks I set up for my kids gets used pretty regularly. Whenever using the a web browser they do dip into the swap space often.
Since I’ve been using Linux now for quite some time, I have the space to spare and I do take advantage of the hibernate to disk (or SSD) function from time to time, I set my system up with a Swap partition. It is an old fashion and inflexible approach and I am okay with that. The benefits of a swap file are probably greater but since openSUSE makes it very easy set up a Swap partition and I know what I am getting with it. That is what I will stick with, for now.
openSUSE Leap to SLE
An often forgotten bit of openSUSE that makes is rather remarkable is how closely the Leap project is with the SLE project. One of my good E-friends, Mauro, who does the Linux thing as a profession, not a hobby and home-gamer like me was telling me how easy it is to move a client from an unsupported openSUSE Leap system to a SUSE Linux Enterprise support contract without disruption.
I know that this is not possible with CentOS and Red Hat but with Canonical’s Ubuntu it is essentially the same distribution. What I find interesting is the different executions of each of the distributions of integrating community based projects with commercial offerings. My preference here is the [open]SUSE model as it seems like a cleaner approach, though I see the benefits of the Canonical method too.
Many updates included gcc9 version 9.2.1, gcc8 version 8.3.1, gcc7 version 7.4.1, Plasma Framework 5.62.0, Plasma Workspace 5.16.5, Xorg-X11-server 1.20.5, Kernel 5.3.1 and several bug fixes around YaST and PulseAudio and a bug around not being able to duplex print with Okular.
The Tumbleweed Snapshot reviewer gives 20190923 a stable score of a 97; 20190925 a stable score of 98; 20190926 a stable score of 98; and 20190927 a moderate score of 83.
If you want to lock yourself on the latest Stable snapshot from the 26th of September:
tumbleweed switch --install 20190926
Project Name Change Vote
As of today, the polls are open for a name change on the project. I did cast my vote and after reading through the mailing list, there is a little bit if heat concerning the issue. Ultimately, the hope is that it is a clear in favor or not in favor of the name change. If it is closer to a 50-50 split, that can potentially be more problematic. I personally am hoping that we just keep the status quo. Although I do agree that some of the legal constraints with the relationship to SUSE can be problematic for end-user experience, things like codec installation and such. There are some benefits with the brand association, especially in respect to the SLE to Leap for those that are in the space of selling solutions.
The sixth openSUSE Asia Summit just concluded this past weekend. It took place at the Fakultas Teknik of the Universitas Udayana in Bali, Indonesia. There were a number of participants that traveled from 20 different nations around the world to join the students at the university. Students not only made their first contributions to open source technology but also volunteered with running the summit.
The Beta version of Plasma 5.17 was released with new features and improvements such as per-screen fractional scaling on Wayland and a new User Interface for configuring permissions of Thunderbolt devices and network statistics in KSysGuard. Due to increase in user privileges with this feature is being examined by the SUSE security team.
openQA found a few bugs with GIMP, some applications were mixing Kirigami and Qt Widgets that were breaking some keyboard shortcuts that were addressed and will be fixed in the final release of Plasma 5.17.
Leap 15.2 will see some major version upgrades of many components such as a new version of the Linux Kernel, Qt 5.12 LTS, Plasma 5.18 LTS and the latest KDE Frameworks and Applications. A full Wayland session that arrived in Tumbleweed a few weeks ago will be available in Leap 15.2. Testers are welcome to ensure the best user experience possible.
Qt 5.14 branch is still in early stages but the development teams have been busy integrating it into openSUSE builds. Bugs have been identified and most of them fixed so it is possible to build projects against Qt 5.14. One of the most user visible features is the implementation for scaling for HiDPI displays that was mostly rewritten and hardware acceleration for Qt Quick using a new abstraction layer. It can also take advantage of the Vulcan API.
This laptop of mine that I purchased just over two years ago has the ability to have 3 storage devices. I have previously described what I’ve done in it with an mSATA and the 2.5″ SSD. Between the two, I have 995 GiB of storage, 101 GiB for root using the mSATA and 894 GiB on the 2.5″ drive. That was fine and all for normal things, but VMs do require a lot of space and so a lot of space I needed. Although I do often use my optical drive, it’s not as often as I use VMs so I decided to get a caddy and install a third drive in this 14″ chassis laptop.
Here is a short video on how simple the process is… and another reason to play around with Kdenlive. In short, adding a hard drive is as simple as:
Insert the drive into the caddy
Secure the drive using the set-screws but be careful to not over tighten
remove optical drive from the computer and insert hard drive (SSD) caddy into bay
Bob’s your uncle
The main reason is, I need more space for virtual machines. I’m sure for normal people the two drives is more than adequate but I have to play. Most people would probably just clear out the old virtual machines after they were done but I am guilty of data hording and probably need to get that under control. I also don’t have much interest in wiping or possibly interfering with how my laptop is running as openSUSE Tumbleweed works so fantastically well on it.
My process is, I try out the Linux distribution virtually to obtain some general impressions, test out a few things, check the memory usage and so forth. If I find it exceptionally interesting or want to test a use case, I take it to the next level and put it on some hardware. I find it a more efficient use of my time to do my first round of testing virtually before I meddle with the metal.
It also doesn’t help that I am more likely to use Virt Manager with Qemu which uses Qcow2 drive images and they take up more space than VDI images from VirtualBox. Since I tend to get a better feel for the distribution using Virt Manager, especially with Gnome based desktops, I am more likely able to give them a fair shake. Consequently, I need more storage space.
Despite the fact this laptop is older, I can’t seem to find another comparable 14″ machine that has the drive flexibility that the Dell Latitude E6440 has. I do wish it had some kind of refresh to allow for a faster CPU with lower power utilization but that is just not the demands of typical users these days. For now, I will continue to use this laptop as I have intended. If I do another modification to this system, it will likely be to upgrade the CPU to the highest performing 35W TDP processor that is available.
I was able to get my Commodore 64 under its own power to access the IRC chat rooms, specifically the BigDaddyLinuxLive room where I was able to chat with such folks as Bill, Popey, Chris and another Allen. It is very satisfying experience. More on that here:
I recently had jury duty and the courthouse in my small-ish community, Windows 7 which is near end of life. For each bit of evidence, they used CDs and DVDs to store each individual item as evidence.
Building a Computer
I am building a computer for the first time in a very long time. I want to do it on a budget. I received some components at no cost to me, the case and motherboard so that drove the purchasing of the rest of the products.
Motherboard MSI 970A-G43
AMD FX-9590 CPU
Memory, 32 GiB DDR3 1866MHz
Video Card RX570
Storage 6x 2-TiB drives
1000 Watt Power Supply
Rather large case
All for about $350.00
More on this in the future.
Acer AspireOne Netbooks
Recently Set up two AspireOne Notebooks with openSUSE Tumbleweed using the Xfce environment. Initially one had had 1 GiB of RAM but an SSD, the other with 2 GiB of RAM and a slightly faster CPU but with a traditional hard drive.
Told after the fact two points of advice, whip the egg whites before you add the sugar, contrary to the directions and questioning whether or not there was any amount of egg yolk.
BDLL Follow Up
Manjaro is the current Distro Challenge… It’s Arch based so…
Eric Adams talked about how people can get “bug apathy” when they experience a problem on Linux or other open source software. know that I am guilty of that.
Bug reporting is something we Linux or free and open source software users should do. The vast majority of the software I don’t pay for, it’s open source and I believe that I have a social contract with these developers and maintainers to either help with the project or donate to it.
LibreOffice and openSUSE communities are having a joint conference next year in Nuremburg, German. For this special conference, they are having a logo competition. A logo is believed essential for the conference and they want to visualize both communities during this co-conference. LibreOffice will celebrate its 10-year anniversary and openSUSE will celebrate its 15-year anniversary during the conference.
There have been discussions about the “openSUSE Project logo & name change” that started in June 2019 on the openSUSE Project mailing list. The Election Committee received a request from the Board to conduct a vote whereby openSUSE members can indicate whether they are for or against the project name change.
The voting will start on Oct. 10 and end on Oct. 31, which will provide three weeks for members to vote. The result will be announced on Nov. 1.
The Commodore 64 was my first computer and as such, now holds a special place in my heart and probably forever more, or at least until I lose my mind completely. In all the years I had a C64, I never visited a BBS as I didn’t get that bit of tech until I got my Commodore Amiga 600. Due to the wonders of the Internet, and a global effort to keep these old machines relevant from guys like The 8-Bit Guy, Perifractic Retro Recipes, Retro Man Cave, Dan Wood, LGR and so many others, I was inspired to take the time to make my Commodore 64 more than just a stroll down vintage lane for me. I have seen others make use of it for writing and developing new games and such for it but how could I incorporate it into my life was the question. That answer, IRC, it must do IRC.
So, lets use the “scientific method” on this as I make my kids do it, so why not force myself to do the same.
Make use of my beloved Commodore 64, my first computer, in some practical way. I am going to use “practical” fast an loose for this. I have seen many examples of using the Commodore 64 in some sort of networked fashion but I wanted to see if I could have it serve a specific purpose. Chat on IRC, Connected through the Ethernet into my home network using it’s own power and capability.
I think I am able to get the Commodore 64 to access the IRC function on the Internet without having to telnet into another server as a bridge to make it happen. I also think this is going to be a bit of a headache and everything is going to fight me along the way.
Here is my list of “materials” in order to conduct this experiment.
This computer has a whopping 64K of memory to which, in it’s time was an extraordinary amount of memory, generally about 16 times that of its contemporaries at the time. If you know anything about the Commodore 64, nothing I am going to tell you here will be new. If you don’t know much about the commodore 64, this is a great video on YouTube with a great breakdown of the chip design.
Purchased from The Future Was 8-Bit, this is a fantastic device that came included with an 8 GiB SD Card filled with all kinds of goodness. It is a joy to use and makes for reliving the Commodore 64 history so much more enjoyable. Although, you don’t get to enjoy the warm purring the 1541 5¼” Floppy Drive, this is a more practical and sustainable solution. If you purchase newer software for the C64, they usually build it to be compatible with this device. It was a great deal and allowed me to be able to use the .d81 image Contiki OS image that will be described below.
This is a 10Mbit network card from icomp.de that comes form a rather long line of similarly designed devices. This is said to work with Contiki, Codenet and WarpCopy. The nice feature of this card is that it can be used as a stand alone or on a Carrier Card so that you can add this “feature” to another device like the MMC Replay or Chameleon. This will not work with a C128, SX-64 and very old C64 main boards. I don’t have a “very old” main board (just really old), so this works fine with my computer.
Wired Ethernet line
There really isn’t much to report here. I just made a cable and strung it from my router over to the Commodore 64. It is neat to see the flashing activity light when it’s running and doing it’s network activity.
Why a CRT? To be more genuine to the period in which it came from? No, it is because it is what I have and it should also be noted that this is an old SVGA, CAD monitor that I once used for such activities. Now it serves are more noble function as my “retro corner” display. I have a ViewSonic that converts the S-Video and Composite signals to SVGA.
Software package that is accessible from here on GitHub that comes in a few different builds. I used the .d81 image as that would eliminate the need to swap disks, or at least the risk of me screwing up the process of disk swapping should that become necessary.
Assemble the components, plug the computer into a working Ethernet line and attempt to get online to chat in an IRC room. The intent here is to use the Commodore 64 as the client, not to use any other machine as a spring board.
The results are mixed but I am going to break it down a bit so that you can replicate it and adjust the process to fit your situation.
Since I have the SD2IEC, I used the .d81 image and put it on the root directory of my SD Card that is in my SD2IEC. Why the root directory? Just to make it quicker to access it.
With the RR-Net MK3 installed in the cartridge port, the start screen is quite different, displaying information about the card. With the SD2IEC connected and the SD Card inserted, I loaded the drive management software which is a simple interface for navigating the contents of the drive. After all, it is 8 GiB of storage so the traditional methods are a bit cumbersome in this regard.
There are two applications that you have to run before you can begin doing the IRC you have to set up what is the “Ethernet device” and set the IP Addresses.
I am not sure if it is critical to do them in any particular order but I started with ETHCONFIG to set the Ethernet device.
Once it is set, all you can do is power cycle the machine to perform the next step. That means, enjoying the lackadaisical loading times of the Commodore 64. Even with an SD Card… not real fast.
Next was to run IPCONFIG to define the IP addresses of the Contiki OS. To navigate up and down in the fields, use the F5 and F7 keys. ENTER to select Save & Close
After this ready prompt, you will have to power cycle the machine once again to load the IRC application. The first run of this, I went for just IRC as opposed to IRC80 as that 80 means column and I like the C64 font.
When the application completes loading from the SD Card, you are the prompted for the IRC server and nickname. Using F5 and F7 to navigate up and down will take you to each of the fields and RETURN to Connect. I want to note here that you must write your IRC nickname in all lowercase and numbers. If you use any uppercase numbers, the IRC server will not be able to recognize the characters.
It will take just a bit but you will see the typical IRC “chatter” fly past on the screen.
Well… I wouldn’t say “fly past” for this. More like trot steadily through. To join a channel enter
/join #<room name here>
In my case, I decided to join the #bigdaddylinuxlive room because, why not? I know the people there, they are friendly and I knew that someone would get a kick out of it.
I made some observations that whatever you type into the prompt, whatever case it is, will be displayed as all uppercase.
I further compared it against what I see in comparison between the Qt based IRC application Konversation. How would it be displayed to “normal” or I guess, “modern” clients.
I was able to see that the Commodore 64 client could only send all lowercase characters, display it locally as Uppercase characters but be able to receive a mix of characters. I thought it all to be quite interesting.
I did test the 80 column mode of the IRC client. It did indeed work and was readable but but I have had it crash on me a few times. I can’t say as to why so I have decided to stick with the 40 column mode for now.
It should also be noted that the screen scrolling is quite a bit slower in this mode. Not terrible, just quite noticeable. The
The Commodore 64 is very much able to, under it’s own, power, unmodified with the additional components is able to access the Internet and perform communication in IRC chat rooms. It does work better in 40 column mode than it does 80 column but is very usable.
Getting online with the Commodore 64 to hang out in IRC chatrooms is really quite a satisfying experience. The fact that it is a computer from an age before the internet and when BBS systems were in their early stages, having the ability to plug an Ethernet line into it and with a little configuration was able to get onto the World Wide Web… of sorts, at least a part of it.
I am impressed that I am able to do this much with an unmodified Commodore 64. I am quite impressed that with 64 KiB of RAM, it is still a productive and usable tool. It is quite single purpose but absolutely useful.
I want to note that the web browser does work in this Contiki OS but not with HTTPS so that is out. It does make requests as you would expect and I think I just may revisit the rest of this on another blathering at some point in time.
Future plans, I really want to be able to telnet into a Linux machine with the Commodore 64, I have some other hardware and software I want to try out with this machine to see what other greatness can become of it.