12 february 2019

Dell Latitude D600 (2003)

I bought this laptop a while back for $20 on ebay. It came with a dead battery, and without an AC adapter. I got a new one (non-Dell) for $7.99, when I got it I realized the barrel plug was the same 5.5mm used on the current Latitude range (I have a Latitude 7480 for work.)

After I got power to the machine I booted into a fresh Windows XP SP2 install. Well the updates didn't stop after SP2, so there were a few issues:

  1. WiFi - this machine was a 1st gen Centrino laptop so it has an internal 802.11g adapter. However WinXP wasn't recognizing any networks with WPA2. Needed an update to support WPA2.
  2. To get one, I plugged in the ethernet to find a desolate landscape laid bare by the TLS apocalypse. Ran into this with my PowerBook G4 of the same vintage. As I recalled, though:
  3. Firefox, hosted on SourceForge, needs TLS 1.2,

So I cheated and used my PC to load up Firefox installer for the last XP supported version. But using this 1.3 gHZ 512MB machine on the graphic internet sucked big time. Plus to get it up to the last XP version required more updates, which of course Windows Update doesn't work anymore. I find out where to get the collected installer binaries, and a little script thingy to install them. Only 65 separate binary installers and 65 reboots to get to a similar place as my Mac OS X Leopard PowerBook G4, with the bonus of a mostly-still-supported ISA and the major drawback of Windows XP.

Faced with this I decided to wipe the 60 GB hard drive and install a fresh, recently released operating system, FreeBSD 12.0. This promised to be just as much or if not more of a pain but at the end of it I'd be running a current operating system and have all the tools needed to actually connect to the internet securely.

First step was getting some install media prepped. Owing to the vintage of the laptop, USB boot was out, optical drive only. Okay, not a problem, for some reason the CVS on the corner still stocks CD-Rs. I go to the repositories for an install CD image and it turns out the x86_32 install .iso clocks in at a healthy 784MB, or around 84MB too big for a regular CD-R. Not to worry, FreeBSD is tracking the issue that the cd image is actually too large for a CD. That does however have me looking at a network install, something I didn't really ever do back in my Linux installing days (2008-2010ish, when a big distro easily fit on a CD).

The network install image successfully burned, and I picked a keyboard layout, selected the default partitioning scheme, only for the network to not find the repos from within the installer. I went into the live CD command line, netstat was connected, the autoconfig of ethernet worked fine. Culprit was my router not letting FTP through. After taking care of that everything worked, easy as Ubuntu. Not the X11 part though, which isn't covered by the basic network install (and why would it be since this build is for servers?). Xfce4 had a nice package ready to go in the ports tree and pretty soon I was looking at a graphical desktop that's period appropriate for the hardware and lightweight enough to feel like a decent computer. (as long as I stayed away from Firefox.) After downloading IBM Plex Mono and a couple of essential color schemes for the Xfce terminal emulator, I've finally got a UNIX system to call my own. It's a nice counterpart to my other 2003 vintage machine.

I might pick up an IBM Thinkpad T40 to round out the collection...

(one thing I forgot to mention that I thought was cool about FreeBSD is that it connects to wifi during boot, and I checked a box to sync the system clock to NTP during boot to compensate for a dead CMOS battery. Try that with Windows XP!)

15 november 2018

My UNIX journey

How did I get here, on my current quest to learn UNIX?

the beginning

It all started in the summer of 2008 when I took an intro to computer science class in the (at the time) sparkling new computer science building at Purdue University.

The course introduced me to baseline concepts such as abstraction layers, the Von Neumann architecture, etcetera. The class was held in a computer lab with pretty decent Sun Solaris workstations running either CDE or Gnome for a window manager. We spent most of our time in CDE and it immediately reminded me of Dennis Nedry's Silicon Graphics workstation in Jurassic Park.

One thing our TA said that stuck with me was his preference for the command line and why it was important that we learn how to use it. He said that using a GUI was like being a baby, pointing things and making indistinct noises to get what we wanted from our computer operating system (mother). Using the command line was learning how to talk, how to ask the computer to do things in a language we shared.

Later that summer as my GeForce 8800 GTS was showing its age, I decided to install Ubuntu on my personal computer, a system I put together out of discrete parts bought on newegg. It was a purpose built gaming rig paid for with funds from a summer job, an AMD Athlon X2 system that was more than enough to compile programs and do my javascript homework on. I kept the Windows Vista partition for gaming but spent most of my time on Hardy Heron torrenting movies, playing music, and browsing the web with Firefox. Most of my experience from my class was just intro to HTML and javascript so I didn't really have the toolkit from school to tinker on my first linux build, but through the package manager and xterm was able to tweak, expand the audio capabilities, and even moved the whole install from GNOME to KDE.

While at home for summer in 2009, my mother upgraded from her PowerBook G4 whose hard drive had given up the ghost and whose battery had a life of about 25 minutes to a shiny new unibody Intel MacBook Pro. I took the G4 on as a project machine and successfully opened it up, replaced the hard drive, and installed a fresh copy of OS X Leopard. However, I never replaced the battery nor did I replace the very janked up power adapter that would only intermittently charge the battery. I brought that laptop to school and left my linux box at home that year. Most of the time I never bothered opening the Terminal app, as at the time a 6 year old PPC Mac was old, but not out of the realm of possibility of being a daily driver. The modern web kept getting slower though, and I returned to my PC, but this time using Windows 7.

Here is where my UNIX journey went into a sort of "sleep mode" for the next 7 years or so.

26 october 2018

tilde sites

I have a brand new tilde account on nand.club. So far it's as empty as all my other tilde sites I joined in the past 2 weeks but I'm glad to be a part of a cool new tilde server. I'm a huge fan of these intentional online communities and have been having a good time on the tildeverse and on SDF.org. I'm hardly on facebook or twitter these days, and I've gotten a ton of inspiration to do new computer projects. for example, I've restored my family's old forgotten PowerBook G4 from back in the day, and got a matching 23" Apple Cinema Display.
The Cinema Display didn't come with a power supply, so I got one on ebay, and it didn't work. Instead of shelling out $70+ for a "guaranteed good" unit, I took the proprietary Apple power connector (which looks a lot like a big USB-C connector), wired a standard barrel plug to one end, and used a $20 power brick from Parts Express to supply the required volts and amps.
It is still going strong and I'm proud that I was able to defeat manufacturer lock-in and proprietary standards. Yay hardware hacking!!!

22 october 2018

hello world! This is my first post on tilde.town. My name is John Schuster, I'm 31 years old, I live in Chicago. I've been online since '95 (shoutout to AOL Keyword Nickelodeon message boards) visit my homepages: jeschust.sdf.org tilde.team/~jeschust/blog