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.
I grew up with the Atari, Intellivision and Commdore 64, I still have them and they still get some play time. Anytime I see some sort of related retro tech, I am immediately interested in knowing more. Recently, I stumbled upon a new Commodore 64 main board, now I have stumbled up on this, a new console from Intellivision. It is scheduled to launch on 10 October 2020 at the price of US $149 – $179.
I am very intrigued in this as for me personally, the game I enjoyed the most was “B-17 Bomber” with the voice synthesis module and secondarily, “Burger Time.” I have many, many logged hours on this console.
Interesting Facts About the Intellivision
This sparked me to do some reading about the original system. Until recently, I was unaware of several things. It was the first 16-bit console. The CPU was a General Instrument CP1600 clocking in at about 2 Mhz. It had a 3-channel sound chip with a noise generator which was essentially “borrowed” from arcade machines of the time.
The Intellivision was the very first game console to offer “downlodable content” through their PlayCable service. The adapter connected into the Intellivision cartridge port which added the capability of downloading games through a cable TV subscription.
The Intellivision also kicked off the first “Console War” against its rival, the Atari. I think they are all friends now. Not sure if there is still a war going on between the modern consoles or if they all get along. I’m a bit disconnected there and I don’t care to research it.
In a sense, the Intellivision started us down a path that makes me generally dislike so much about the industry, downloadable content… console wars… irritating commercials… But I still have much admiration and a warm place in my heart for the Intellivision.
New Console Specifications That Caught my Eye
Not surprisingly, All games are targeted and rated for E as in Everyone. They are going to resurrect the PlayCable of sorts as games are downloadable at the price of $2.99 to $7.00. Instead of a cartridge, they are including WiFi and Ethernet Connectivity. The launch will include several build-in reimagined Intellivision classics and at least 20 more games through the Intellivision Online Store.
It comes with 2 Bluetooth controllers with wireless onboard charging but the system is capable of up to 8 players. Each controller has a 3.5 in, 2:3 aspect ratio, color touchscreen, speaker and microphone. There will be a free downloadable application which will enable mobile phone usage as additional controllers.
This system will have an “Expansion Interface” and the ability to purchase additional software, presumably to include 3rd party. Although, not explicitly written the authors of the additional software, I am sure there will be an SDK released at some point. There isn’t any mention of the specifications of the Expansion Interface but I do hope it is something that is industry standard.
Why I am interested
My initial interest stems from the fact that it is a nod to the technology I grew up with. The creators of this machine are not only taking cues from the original but are taking modern technology and concepts that are interesting. On one side, the controllers for the Intellivision were great because of the matrix of buttons and interactions with games, on the other side, they were also kind of clunky and you had to look down at them a lot, even after you got used to them because you couldn’t feel were specific buttons were unless you didn’t have the game-specific overlay on the controller. This touch screen enabled controller, although wireless, might be just as great and useless and regardless, I think it will be fun to play. Including your mobile device as additional controllers could make for some very interesting game play too. I am very interested in how they accomplish this.
Since there is software that can be downloaded, what I am really hoping, although have no reason to believe it to be available, is a video streaming box as well. Currently, I still use my Wii to watch Netflix until the end of the month and will have to replace it at some point.
The Nintendo Wii was, in my estimation, the best gaming console ever produced with the Wii U being a very close second. Perhaps a slightly different execution of the Gamepad could have made the Wii U brilliant. This new Intellivision could potentially have something like 8 Gamepads with none of them being the required primary controller. This could be the direction the Wii should have gone.
I really want this to be a media streaming device with some kind if similar interaction I have between my Android phone with KDE Connect to the Plasma Desktop. The specific feature is using the mobile phone as an input device to the computer. Something like that would be pretty fantastic and handy. This would also make the Intellivision the most compelling new gaming console I have yet seen.
I am a fan of pretty much any kind of retro tech. The particular systems that interest me most are those that were influential in my youth. The Intellivision was not as influential as the Commodore 64 but it is a system that brings a giant smile to my face.
I am going to be watching this project with great interest. I am hoping that it will develop into the product with the feature sets I desire enough to spring that $149 – $179 for the machine. I am very interested in seeing how they can make it old and new in the same stroke. So far, they are saying what I want to hear and I am excited.
I am a Commodore 64 enthusiast. It is still my favorite computer system ever made. My childhood initiation into the computer world was through this machine. I dreamed of making an “Ultimate” Commodore 64 with sketches and specs with all kinds of nonsense. Today, my Commodore 64 sits beside me in my SuperCubicle with an SD2IEC drive from TheFutureWas8bit.com and an Ethernet adapter from Individual Computers. There is a back-burner project that has been on going with my C64. I hope to be able to get all that to a point that it is worth talking about.
Recently, I stumbled upon this very interesting bit of hardware. It is a replacement main board for the Commodore 64. It’s called the Ultimate 64. According to the site, it is a hardware implementation using FPGA of the entire C64 and it includes the Ultimate-II+ solution so a kind of all-in-one machine with the latest “enhancements” as it were.
No more is there an RF modulated output. The original component remains but now there is an HDMI output. There is even a mode to emulate the CRT feel on a modern screen. That probably won’t be how I’d use it but most certainly the HDMI output will be used.
An upgraded yet compatible audio system is built in. It has an 8 voice SID implementation as well as 7 voices of sampled audio in 8 or 16-bit samples of up to 48 kHz sample rate. There are open slots to put in original SID chips if you so choose.
It still accepts cartridges and you can set the machine to have the RAM Expansion Unit (REU) of up to 16 MB. How they get that to work is a mystery to me since the 6510 can only address 64KB of RAM. Some sort of bank switching… I guess… according to this. How they do that sounds like some magic to me.
A bunch of C64 cartridge emulations to include the Epyx Fastloader, Retro Replay and many others.
Flexible Freezer menu that allows you to select, mount and create D64 (the native Commodore 64 disk images).
Most importantly, are the little upgrades that make me smile, 3 USB ports, Ethernet and even Wifi. I am interested in seeing what fantastic software creations will come of these little upgrades, especially those that would make use of Commodore 64 networking.
It can still make use of the original disk drives, if you so choose. Also note, there is no userport on this board. There are headers, however so that you can either create a cable to userport or eventually one will be released.
Commodore 64 Unix
Although it hasn’t been updated since 2004, there is a project on Sourceforge called LUnix, meaning, Little Unix. It is a preemptive multitasking operating system for the Commodore 64 and Commodore 128 with dynamic memory management. It supports TCP/IP networking has a terminal with basic support for shell scripts and quite a lot more. It gives me pause to think, there is much, much more than my C64 can do, especially if you were to run it on a modernized implementation like the Ultimate 64.
I did try running the latest version, v0.21 but I got a kernel panic. Due to a lack of time, this is something I will revisit at another time.
I am really excited to see this rather fantastic bit of innovation for the Commodore 64. This certainly keeps the platform alive much longer and maybe even see it morphed into something that is even more capable without losing the charm of the original machine. I will be interested in seeing what new and wonderful creations will come of this enhanced breed of Commodore 64s. Today, I have two disabled machines due to hardware failures I cannot diagnose. I am thinking the Ultimate 64 might be my course of action to get one of those machines operational once again. Every house needs at least two functional Commodore 64s, right?
Churches generally have no budget for technology and frankly, I don’t think that a church should really avoid spending on technology as much as possible. I’m sure this isn’t a view many people share but it is my view. I believe it using whatever is available whenever possible and only making upgrades or purchasing new hardware when it is absolutely necessary.
There are several pieces of equipment in varying states of age and functionality. I haven’t sorted out everything, yet, and it is also not completely on my shoulders, as another tech and audio enthusiast in the church, Phil, has taken care of the audio equipment. It is all a work in progress.
My focus, for now, is to restore multimedia capabilities of the computer, Dell Inspiron 3646 and even improve it somewhat. Upon my initial assessment, I knew what my first steps were.
The machine originally came equipped with Windows 10 which would annoyingly upgrade at the the most inopportune time and using it on under powered hardware is often problematic. The few times I spent any amount of time on the machine, it didn’t perform very well but it was working and I wasn’t really interested in thrusting the greatness of Linux on those not ready for it.
At some point in time, the system fell into disarray and I was recently asked to see what I could do to make the computer functional. Phil had already made the sound system functional enough to be used so it was my turn to make the computer functional.
Like it or not, sometimes your volunteers have things come up and just don’t make it in one day leaving the available workers short handed. Back in my days of childhood, multimedia meant slide show or overhead projector, but it’s hard to convinced a 20 something pastor that the right investment with no budget is a slide projector…
A budget of zero, or rather, whatever I am willing to dig up to make improvements. Since I had already been informed there is no budget for any upgrades or equipment, I was only going to do what was necessary to make the computer system as functional as possible. I already knew, with the power and capabilities of Linux, I could make substantial improvements very easily.
Here is the hardware I have to work with:
Dell Inspiron 3646
Intel Celeron CPU J1800 @ 2.41 GHz
Single Head Video Output
A bunch of other audio equipment with which to integrate
In order to access the BIOS, when the machine is going through the POST process and you are greeted with the Dell Logo, press F2. Since openSUSE is capable of handling secure boot without issue, I didn’t have to change anything. I just wanted to be sure that the BIOS was picking up the USB drive and I wanted to see the main screen so I could record the main bits of the hardware.
I set this machine up with KDE Plasma because, is there really another choice? I mean, yes, of course there is but I didn’t want to have to fiddle with anything to get the features I wanted so my only real choice was of course going to be Plasma.
Since I like what I like when setting up the partitions, I did it manually to my preferences. I prefer the swap partition over the swap file and I am using BTRFS on root with snapshots enabled. BTRFS has been a rock solid performer in this capacity. I use XFS on /home. I was going to use Ext4 but the only reason for that would be for Dropbox compatibility and frankly, I just stopped using Dropbox due to their technical shortcomings.
After boot up, the system was all set. It required a few more software packages, firstly, the Plasma Browser Integration. In terminal:
sudo zypper install plasma-browser-integration
It actually may not be necessary to have to explicitly install this software package as the desktop it is supposed to automatically ask you if you want it installed.
The last bit to configure was KDE Connect. Initially just with my Android phone, mostly for demonstration purposes. I also was presented with an opportunity to do a “live test” as well.
After some tests, it all worked just as expected and the machine performed much better than it did previously… exceptionally better… Not to belabor the point but before the machine was rather sluggish and I didn’t expect anything fantastic but this machine really does perform fantastically well.
Changes and Upgrades
This machine has only one VGA output and it was previously set up with a splitter cable that when plugged into both the monitor and the projector, the output would shut down. I don’t know if that is how it has been used or not but I determined it needed a proper splitter. I picked one up, hooked it up and I now have a unified output between the screen and projector.
I actually thought that this machine was going to require more memory to function well enough but it isn’t necessary at this time. This machine isn’t being taxed at all. KDE Plasma, even with all the fun I was running did not tax the machine at all.
How it’s working now
I am sure that there are a few more “bugs” to be worked out, mostly with the human to machine interaction. Mostly, I need to properly document the process of turning it on and off the system properly as well as how to pair Android phones or tablets to allow other workers to use the KDE Connect features. I have helped two people completely unfamiliar with KDE Connect, use it and it be impressed with it.
The feature that stood out the most was the ability to share a YouTube URL from the phone directly to the computer to have it open immediately and play. A feature I have enjoy for quite some time and have become quite accustomed was new and exciting to the unfamiliar. The multimedia controls, also quite handy and when I demonstrated the ability to use the phone to switch slides on LibreOffice Impress using only the volume keys, all well received
I still need to create some documentation to allow anyone to be able to use it without my direct intervention. For now, I am going to make myself available to help people become accustomed to this “new” system.
Since some of the volunteers do Add a dedicated “burner” tablet so that volunteers don’t need to install KDE Connect on their phones. After I was reviewing some of my photographs, I noticed that there is an HDMI port on this computer. I am going to see about adapting that port to VGA and for multi head capability. The next upgrade would be a memory upgrade. 4 GiB of RAM, although good enough for now it would be nice to to have just a bit more. I haven’t opened the machine up but I am guessing there are at least 2 slots and one of them filled and the other is open. Of course, I need to check for certain before I start buying hardware.
Not directly related to this computer, there is a need to make further refinements to the attached sound system and determine what the issue is with the lighting control system.
The Dell Inspiron 3646 is a fine machine that, in my estimation has many years of service ahead of it. I have to say, once again, how amazing it is how much more efficient Linux is than Windows on less capable machine. The computer’s functionality would greatly improved with a second display.
The sound system to which it is connected and the lighting controller are going to need a bit more attention. I am not sure exactly where to start or if I should even be the one to touch it. There is an annoying 60 Hz hum that needs to be eliminated. Then there is the matter with the lighting controller. Currently, it does nothing, no lights work. I am not sure yet where the breakdown is but I will figure it out eventually.
This is only the first in many steps to slowly making the information system situation in the church better. This is not the “main effort” in the church which is perfect for me. No budget, no attention and no one else that interest in finding solutions.
I recently became increasingly annoyed using the Touchpad portion of this wireless keyboard. Touchpads just are not as efficient as a real mouse. The touchpad is fine for very simple navigation but for doing anything that requires much traversing around the screen combined with much left and right-mouse button clicking is almost unusable. Maybe if this keyboard had real left and right mouse buttons, this wouldn’t be so bad.
I happened to have an orphaned Logitech receiver doing nothing in one of my many drawers of horded electronics. All I needed was a mouse to pair up with it. Since this one is one of those Logitech Unifying Receivers, all I needed was a Logitech mouse that was compatible with it. I went to my favorite place to buy used electronics, eBay, to get the cheapest thing I could find. I came upon a Logitech M185 Wireless Mouse which I ended up winning for $3.00, so a great deal.
Next, I had to pair this newly acquired mouse with my Unifying Receiver. To do so, I needed to install the Ltunify application.
Like nearly everything on openSUSE, installing software through the official, experimental or community repositories is easy to do. The easiest method is using the one-click installation from here:
Once the application is installed, I just typed ltunify -h in the terminal to see the help and gain some understanding on how to use this.
# ltunify -h
Usage: ltunify [options] cmd [cmd options]
Logitech Unifying tool version
Copyright (C) 2013 Peter Wu <firstname.lastname@example.org>
-d, –device path Bypass detection, specify custom hidraw device.
-D Print debugging information
-h, –help Show this help message
list – show all paired devices
pair [timeout] – Try to pair within “timeout” seconds (1 to 255,
default 0 which is an alias for 30s)
unpair idx – Unpair device
info idx – Show more detailed information for a device
receiver-info – Show information about the receiver
In the above lines, “idx” refers to the device number shown in the
first column of the list command (between 1 and 6). Alternatively, you
can use the following names (case-insensitive):
Keyboard Mouse Numpad Presenter Trackball Touchpad
From here I could see that this was going to be super simple. As root, I ran this
Then turned the mouse on immediately. As soon as the mouse paired the terminal returned to the command prompt. To verify the mouse was paired, I ran the command
To which I was happy to see that the new mouse was now paired along with the broken mouse I once had.
To remove that device no longer being used, that is just as easy as pairing
ltunify unpair 1
Now my receiver is happily paired exclusively with the new mouse for my Kitchen Command Center Computer and I am no longer encumbered by a buttonless touchpad, navigating around a spreadsheet, document or anything of that nature.
Logitech is pretty awesome for having this Unifying Receiver device. It makes losing a dongle to a Logitech mouse or keyboard not such a big deal. It even frees up ports as you can have one receiver paired with 6 devices. That, in my opinion, makes Logitech devices more valuable than others and so long as they keep up with this convenient-for-the-user focus. They will keep my business.
For quite some time, I have been noodling around an idea about adding a “new” Linux machine to my home with a specific purpose and requirements in mind. The primary purpose of this machine would be to enhance my organization and reduce wasted time. I also had a very specific form factor requirement for my use case, an all-in-one computer with a touch screen interface and VESA mount capability. I needed it to be new enough but it didn’t have to be too new. I did months of searching and watching and finally ended up with the Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop.
I have a smaller kitchen and I spend a lot of time in it. I had a laptop or Chromebook taking up valuable counter space which had at times become problematic. Generally, that laptop or Chromebook would be tied into my CoolVox, a refrigerator sound system. I stopped using the Chromebook for this because it would do crazy things with the audio such as play at maximum volume and not allow me to adjust it. The openSUSE Linux machines were far more reliable with Bluetooth audio. The kitchen machine would be used for entertainment purposes, music, podcasts, YouTube videos or Netflix while I am doing what needs to be done.
I have been using the KDE Personal Information Manager, Kontact, for keeping my life organized for quite some time. I have several calendars some Google, some iCal and they are used for different purposes. As much as I like Kontact and Akonadi for managing this data, they can get a bit resource intense from time to time so one of my 2 GB machines would not be adequate. I tried the paper calendar trick but it just wasn’t as sustainable if I changed something, I wouldn’t always put it back in the digital calendar or I would forget to print a new one… it was too clumsy.
I was not satisfied with any of my current solutions as they made the kitchen feel cluttered and taking my Dell Latitude E6440 in the potential harms way of kitchen messes just wasn’t a good idea. Getting an All-In-One that I could mount to the wall would clean up my kitchen and be a focal point to keep better organized.
Interestingly, this machine came preinstalled with Windows 10. I wanted to see how well it worked on this machine before blowing it away and installing openSUSE Tumbleweed. Unfortunately, it didn’t even successfully boot.
I didn’t want to spend a lot but I didn’t want to go too cheap. I also didn’t want a big project fixing anything. This used, Dell Inspiron 20 3048 was close enough to meet my requirements. I think the screen is just a bit small at 19.5 inches diagonal and the resolution is only 1600×900 but it is adequate. What it does have is a VESA wall mount which many of the newer Dell all-in-one machines do not seem to have.
The machine came with 4 GB Upgraded the memory to 8GB. I used the two 4 GB DDR3 SODIMMS from my E6440 when I upgraded its memory. Accessing the memory on this machine is a bit of a headache. The back panel is held on by snaps. I used a plastic separator tool to pop the snaps and remove the back cover. The memory is behind another panel on the right, viewing from the back.
Installation of openSUSE
openSUSE Tumbleweed has been so rock solid and reliable on everything so far, I decided that I was going to use that instead of Leap. I will have regular, daily interaction with this machine and running sudo zypper dup in terminal once a week or so is hardly a hassle. The installation went as one would expect, flawlessly. I set up the partitions as such:
/boot/efi: 250 MiB
Swap: 8 GiB
/ (Root): 40 GiB – BTRFS
/home: 883 GiB – XFS
In order to fully utilize this machine, I need a series of applications added to this machine. Here is my short list:
Telegram – Because most of my communication happens here.
Franz – I have been using this quite happily since I first installed it on my other machines, it only made sense to use it to stay properly connected to work functions.
Syncthing – It should be noted I amusing Qsyncthingtray on this machine
Insync – I am still using Google Drive pretty heavily and this is the best Google Drive Sync application I have used to date
kvkbd – This is the best on screen keyboard I have seen in Linux to date. It does need to be switched to the dark theme to look right. I used this keyboard previously on a Panasonic CF-19 Toughbook with much success.
Teamviewer 13 – Just in case I need to get into this machine remotely
Setup and Tweaks
KDE Plasma looks best, in my opinion, with a openSUSE dark theme and I added the Oxygen5 Window Decorations because it just looks right to me.
I set up KOrganizer with the appropriate calendars and two of my email accounts. I don’t foresee myself using this much for emails but I do have a need to be able to stay on top of some higher priority accounts.
The default notification sound in KDE Plasma are not to my liking. I have a bunch of Star Trek The Next Generation sound effects that I prefer use instead.
I opened up a few ports in the firewall for KDE Connect, Syncthing and SSH.
I have made this machine a nearly complete mirror of my primary machine using Syncthing. It took a few hours to synchronize about 200 GB of data but it was much quicker than pulling down my files on Google Drive.
The only issue I had was with the SD Card reader. It seems to read some cards fine but not all. I don’t know if it is an issue with the device, the drivers or the SD Card itself. I rarely use SD Cards so this is not an issue right now.
How it is currently working out
So far, it’s been working out well. Using Kontact to display my calendar has been beneficial to not only in keeping me on task but also in keeping the kids involved in activities and time frames. Using this machine tied in with my CoolVox to play music or entertain myself has also been fantastic. I also use it with the kids education for displaying relevant educational materials or playing songs to help with memorization of facts. The wall mount is almost perfect for positioning the screen as I like and I also appreciate it being a bit higher than normal. Forces me to stand straighter…
The only real issue I have with this system is it feels quite a bit slower than I would like. Upgrading the CPU is an option and I just may do it in the future. It’s really fine for now, it just hiccups a bit when I make it do too much.
Overall, I am very happy with this purchase. I like how it has made my kitchen more functional, improved efficiency and organization of day to day activities. This machine will obviously not do much when it comes to gaming and probably not too much when it comes to generating data. It will, however be used a lot to display information and consume content. Kontact works fantastically well on and is very touch screen friendly. As I have been interacting with it, I have found little “paper cut” issues with the machine using the touch screen. I will be filing bug reports on the little issues I discover to hopefully further improve user experience on KDE Plasma.
This computer was a great purchase and I have a few other tasks in the works for it but that will be for another blathering.
I am working on another project and whilst doing so, I was reintroduced to a kind of irritating problem with Desktop Linux. Nothing huge, just annoying enough. Formatting Removable or USB media. This is one area where I agree with the statement that Linux is not as easy to use as Windows. The Linux solutions work but it seems to lack some elegance.
Method #1: The Terminal
Before you start issuing any Format commands, be sure you know what the device name is. The way I prefer is by inserting the drive into the computer and and run in terminal:
You’ll see a lot of text and toward the end look for something that reads like:
[109951.128820] sd 6:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg3 type 0
[109951.128995] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] No Caching mode page found
[109951.128997] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] Assuming drive cache: write through
[109951.136745] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] Attached SCSI removable disk
That tells me that the device name is sdc and I know that it is mounted under /dev. So this USB drive is /dev/sdc
to verify run:
If your computer mounted the drive you can take a look at the listing. Somewhere you should see the last drive you plugged in along with the Size of the drive, How much is Used, How much Available, Use of drive as a percentage and where if anyplace it is mounted. In my case:
Filesystem Size Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sdc 7.5G 946M 6.6G 13% /run/media/cubiclenate/XFER
For the following examples, replace the “X” with your particular drive letter.
Next you need to ask yourself, do you wish to share the contents of this drive with non-Linux machines. If the answer is “yes” than you will need to format in FAT or NTFS.
Format with FAT or in this case VFAT
sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdX
Format with NTFS (New Technology File System), more common since Windows XP
sudo mkfs.ntfs /dev/sdX
If this drive is just for you and your Linux buddies, go with a Linux file system. They are “better” in many ways.
Format with EXT4 File System
sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdX
Or, if you are feeling it, go with XFS
sudo mkfs.xfs /dev/sdX
This process isn’t hard just not as straight forward to a new user and if you don’t spend your life in the terminal, these commands can easily be forgotten.
Method #2: Quick USB Formatter
A more graphical, KDE Plasma, friendly feeling option is this USB Format application. This is not in the Official openSUSE repositories.
What is nice about this application is that it is very straight forward. After installation, just typing USB will bring this up in the menu / quick launcher as “USB Format”. The executable is located here:
The interface is very straight forward, you select the device, in this case /dev/sdc and it will NOT allow you to select your system drives so there is no shot at making a mistake here. You can select the file system but XFS is not an option. There is a field to type in a label if you so choose as well.
Downside to this interface is that you can’t manage the partitions should you want to delete or add partitions on this drive. Also note, I am not able to format anything in the build in SD Card reader. If these are not a concern then this may be a fine solution for you.
Method #3: Gparted
Perhaps my preferred method for managing storage medium is Gparted. This is the Gnome Partition Editor and is one of the finest pieces of software I have ever used. It just does everything I need to do in a nice, intuitive, easy to use and extremely powerful tool for managing disks. It is described as an “industrial-strength” application for for creating, destroying, resizing, moving, checking and copying partitions, and the filesystems on them.
Gparted is available for both Tumbleweed and Leap, to install:
sudo zypper in gparted
This “do everything tool” for your disks will require root privileges and rightfully so. You can create space on disk for new operating systems, or even copy the file systems.
This has access to all the drives on the system, mounted or not. Also note that modification to SD Cards, as expected, is also not an issue.
This application is fantastic in how you an resize and move partitions around on a drive. The designers have taken great care in paying attention to the finer details of disk interaction.
After you are satisfied with the disk modifications, you commit to the changes by a check box labeled “Apply All Operations”.
Gparted also removes all ambiguity in what is supported with each file system. There is a great report you can review under View > File System Support.
Managing USB or Removable media isn’t exactly the most straight forward if you are new to Linux. This might not be true for all distributions or desktop interfaces but my experience on KDE Plasma over many years has been as such. Maybe it shouldn’t be a straight forward process as a user should know what they are doing before they start making any changes to any pieces of hardware and maybe it is also a non-issue as most removable media is already formatted and ready to go.
If you have any other thoughts on interacting with removable media. Please share, I am interested in knowing if there are other or better options out there.
When it comes to home networking, I have lost some “Geek Points” in the last few years. In general, I don’t find all the bits that go into networking all that interesting, I know the basics, have had my network doing what I want it to do and have basically neglected it for some time. If I need real help I will lean on my brother in-law to help me sort out the netmasks or routing tables or whatever else by which I am less excited. To the level I have come to understand I have gotten what I needed working so why think about it… That was until my router, already running DD-WRT, started to give me some problems.
Using Speedtest.net I was only getting 12 Mbps on the Wireless and around 70 Mbps on the wired Ethernet. This was becoming increasingly annoying as most of my work requires reliable internet connection so I started running CAT5 to each computer in my SuperCubicle plus one extra for a future project.
Productivity had been restored, so long as I was wired. Then one morning the wireless just stopped altogether. The wired Ethernet was still routing but the traffic on the wireless just stopped routing traffic all together.
Not a very complex network and would have been something great 8 years ago for a home network but today, the idiom “long in the tooth” would be an understatement. I have a DOCSIS 3 Modem, which is new and trouble free that is connected to a Linksys E2000 router running DD-WRT. Attached to that is a Linksys 16-port EZXS16W switch. From that switch there are about 10 ports used up.
In order to bring the wirless back up, I tried to adjust some of the settings and nothing seemed to save. It was like it was working and not working in the same stroke. Rebooting the router didn’t change anything, it was still in a kind of undead state. I was unsuccessful with everything I tried. I saw only one option, factory reset the router and upgrade the firmware.
Firmware Flashing Complications
Using the DD-WRT Router Database I searched for the Linksys E2000 and downloaded the latest “Mega” firmware. Based on my understanding and referencing the wiki page, I just needed to update the firmware with the latest “Mega”. I did the initial attempt at flashing the firmware with the Falkon browser, it didn’t take. I got the “Flash Failed” error. I did it again but disabling the Ad Blocker thinking that might have been the problem but it still didn’t work. I tried Firefox and the Konqueror browser. All failed.
I downloaded the “Big” version and tried it again but with no success. What finally worked was upgrading with the DD-WRT: Factory Flash dd-wrt.v24-37305_NEWD-2_K2.6_mini-e2000.bin (at the time of writing, November 2018).
This flash was successful a since I didn’t need any of those extended features, the Mini was plenty good for what I need to do with it, at least for the short term.
Features I use
I don’t have a whole lot of requirements for my router at this time. What is important to me are the following features less common in typical consumer wireless router / switch / firewall / gateways:
DNSmasq is a local DNS server. It will resolve all host names known to the router from dhcp (dynamic and static) as well as forwarding and caching DNS entries from remote DNS servers. Local DNS enables DHCP clients on the LAN to resolve static and dynamic DHCP hostnames. This is especially important when communicating with computers through the terminal or doing SFTP transfers. Rather than typing out the IP address, I can just type the computer’s hostname.
DHCP Static Lease
I have a few devices on my network that it is important that the IP address doesn’t change, specifically my HP OfficeJet All-In-One printer and my server.
DHCP LAN Domain
I like to set a LAN domain, not really a necessity but I like to have one for fun and fashion.
My home network hardware is aging and needs several upgrades. I think I am going to start with a pfSense Box probably use some sort of older x86 machine with a couple NICs, use the current router as a Wireless Access Point then look at changing out my 16-port switch to some sort of Gigabit Switch with about the same number of ports. Judging by my cursory review of the setup and features, I will have to make a significant time investment.
It is remarkable how quickly one’s morning priorities can change when the network becomes largely inoperable. It is also remarkable how quickly it seems like your network components age when you are not thinking about it.
This little “breakdown” has inspired me to begin making the changes to my network. Future blatherings to come from this as I make the upgrades and figure out what works best for my home network.
I have been using the Dell Latitude E6440 since March of 2017. Since day one, it has been running openSUSE Tumbleweed. Initial production of this laptop was in 2014 and the model was discontinued sometime in 2016. I don’t buy things brand new because I have no need to stay on the “cutting edge” of technology and running Linux substantially extends the life of hardware. Even though it is an older machine, I have to say that the Dell Latitude E6440 is quite possibly the best laptop I have ever used. It really isn’t the best in any one metric of a machine I have used but the cross-section of capabilities and expandability of it makes me appreciate it the most. I will be hard pressed to find something comparable.
It took me 9 years before I replaced my Dell Latitude D630 as my primary machine. I still use the D630 regularly, but it just stays home now in its dock station. From the time I decided that it was time to replace the machine to the moment I committed the cash for a new machine, took me about 18 months. I am slow to make a decision on buying new hardware. I have to really process it out, make sure it is what I want because I am committing to this piece of hardware for a significant period of time.
Whatever machine I buy, it has to be serviceable. That means, I need to see screws and the design intent of the manufacturer was that it is mean to be in service for an extended period of time. Since I have been using Dell for quite some time and they tend to be slow to change basic components, like the power supplies, I intended on sticking with the Dell brand and specifically with their Latitude line which is generally certified on some distribution of Linux.
The whole bottom panel of the E6440 removes with only a few screws and leaves everything accessible on the underside of it. Once the panel is off, you have access to the memory and one of the mini-ePCI, one more panel in easily freed up reveals the last two mini-ePCI slots. I am very pleased by how easy it is to work on this machine. I am not sure what I will do with the WWAN labeled slot, maybe nothing, but it’s there.
I like a good computer with a hardy dock station. I realize that this is quickly becoming a thing of the past but a good dock station that I can drop my computer onto that has all the ports on the back that works reliably is a must for me. I like having the dock supply power, access to two other monitors and peripherals all available to me in one simple, quick action. This dock station has worked flawlessly for multiple dock and undock cycles in a single day. The monitors always appear just as they are supposed to and I don’t know if it is a Dell thing or an openSUSE / KDE Plasma thing but this process just works and has worked 100% of the time. I have seen some Thunderbolt docks on Windows 10 work very poorly but it was also not on a Dell.
My dock station has USB 3, this is not available on all E-Series docks.
Two options that I know of, a 9-Cell battery and using the dock system, I can add a second 9-cell battery called a “battery slice” which also gives the computer a nice comfortable tilt. The downside, it does make it a bit heavy, especially if you are packing more than one laptop in your bag. Regardless of the added weight, having this capability gives me a very welcome 9 to 10 hours of battery life under low loads. If I am encoding video, that changes things
I do a number of things with older hardware. Just because something has been considered “end of life” by the masses, doesn’t mean that it is obsolete. The most important legacy port, for me, is the serial port, and secondly, the parallel port. PS2 is not as big of a deal but nice to have for testing old hardware. I have a few uses and since I do keep around a lot of old tech, it is handy to have a trusted device for testing the hardware.
3 Drive bays
Can I call them drive bays? Maybe slots? There is an mSATA SSD slot, 2.5″ SSD and I can swap out the optical drive for another 2.5″ mass storage drive. This is very convenient and keeps me from having anything hanging off of the computer when I go mobile. I use the 3rd drive in the caddy for storing my virtual machines. I still use my optical drive because I still buy DVDs. I realize that that this a less common activity for people but I am more than happy to do entertainment this way.
There are more powerful, more capable machines that are lighter and newer but this one hits all the reasons I want to drive this one into the ground of uselessness or at least a few more years yet. Heck, maybe longer as the rate of speed increase hasn’t been as dramatic as it has been in the past. Looking at CPUbenchmark.net in the top 10 CPUs available on this site, it is still in the middle of the pack.
This machine really only really lacks one thing and that is a Thunderbolt port. If I could have all these features, plus a thunderbolt port, this computer would be everything I need. Sure, the CPU is a few generations behind and the AMD GPU is not top of the line but for my purposes, it does a fine job. I realize that the traditional dock port is becoming less popular since USB-C / Thunderbolt became a thing. I think it is unfortunate but I largely understand why. For now, I will enjoy my newer yet aging tech and appreciate the capabilities of the E-Series dock system running openSUSE Tumbleweeed nice and reliably.