If you’ve gone further into the Linux world than the standard desktop distributions like Ubuntu or Fedora, you have undoubtedly come across some more purpose-built distributions. Some examples are Kali for security testing, DragonOS for software-defined radio, or Hannah Montana Linux for certain music fans. Anyone can roll their own Linux distribution with the right tools, including [Shadly], who recently created one which only loads enough software to launch the 1993 classic DOOM.
The distribution is as simple as possible and loads no bloat other than what’s needed to launch the game. It loads the Linux kernel and the standard utilities via BusyBox, then runs fbDOOM, which is a port of the game specifically designed to run on the Linux framebuffer with minimal dependencies. After most of that, the only thing left is to use GRUB to boot the distribution, and in just a moment, Doomguy can start slaying demons. The entire distribution is placed into a bootable ISO file that can be placed on any bootable drive.
As far as DOOM hacks go, we’re used to seeing the game running on hardware it was never intended for like the NES or on an office phone. This one, on the other hand, gives us a little more insight into just how little is needed for a full-fledged Linux distribution, as long as what you need to do is relatively straightforward.
Continue reading “A Linux Distribution For DOOM“
The handheld computing market might seem dominated by smartphones today, but before their mass adoption there were other offerings for those who needed some computing power on-the-go. If a 90s laptop was too bulky, there was always the IBM PalmTop which packed punch for its size-to-weight ratio, and for the era it was created in. [Mingcong Bai] still has one of these antiques and decided to see if it was still usable by loading a customized Linux distribution on it.
The PalmTop sported modest hardware even for its time with an Intel 486SL running at 33 MHz with 20 MiB of RAM. This one also makes use of a 1 GB CompactFlash card for storage and while [Mingcong Bai] notes that it is possible to run Windows 95 on it, it’s not a particularly great user experience. A Linux distribution customized for antique hardware, AOSC/Retro, helps solve some of these usability issues. With this it’s possible to boot into a command line and even do some limited text-based web browsing as long as the Ethernet adapter is included.
While the computer is running at its maximum capacity just to boot and perform basic system functions, it’s admirable that an antique computer such as this still works, especially given its small size and limited hardware functionality. If you’re curious about more PalmTop-style computers, take a look at the first one ever produced: the HP-200LX.
Continue reading “IBM PalmTop Running Modern (Modified) Linux”
Who would have thought that software packaging software would cause such a hubbub? But such is the case with snap. Developed by Canonical as a faster and easier way to get the latest versions of software installed on Ubuntu systems, the software has ended up starting a fiery debate in the larger Linux community. For the more casual user, snap is just a way to get the software they want as quickly as possible. But for users concerned with the ideology of free and open source software, it’s seen a dangerous step towards the types of proprietary “walled gardens” that may have drove them to Linux in the first place.
Perhaps the most vocal opponent of snap, and certainly the one that’s got the most media attention, is Linux Mint. In a June 1st post on the distribution’s official blog, Mint founder Clement Lefebvre made it very clear that the Ubuntu spin-off does not approve of the new package format and wouldn’t include it on base installs. Further, he announced that Mint 20 would actively block users from installing the snap framework through the package manager. It can still be installed manually, but this move is seen as a way to prevent it from being added to the system without the user’s explicit consent.
The short version of Clement’s complaint is that the snap packager installs from a proprietary Canonical-specific source. If you want to distribute snaps, you have to set up an account with Canonical and host it there. While the underlying software is still open source, the snap packager breaks with long tradition of having the distribution of the software also being open and free. This undoubtedly makes the install simple for naive users, and easier to maintain for Canonical maintainers, but it also takes away freedom of choice and diversity of package sources.
Continue reading “What’s The Deal With Snap Packages?”
No matter what field you’re in, it’s interesting and instructive to find out how others practice it. That’s especially true with electrical distribution systems, where standards and practices differ from country to country and even between regions. This tour of a typical British residential electrical panel is a great example of the different ways that the same engineering problems can be solved, and the compromises that always attend any design.
We’re used to seeing [Big Clive] tearing interesting devices to bits, but rest assured that this electrical panel remains largely intact as it gives up its secrets. Compared to the distribution panels and circuit breakers common in North American residential construction, the British consumer unit is a marvel of neatness and simplicity. True, the unit on display hasn’t been put into service yet, and things will no doubt change once an electrician is through with it, but the fact that everything is DIN rail mounted is pretty cool. [Clive] explains a few of the quirks of the panel, such as the fact that what looks like a main breaker is in fact just an isolation switch, and that there are a pair of residual current devices (RCDs), which we call ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in North America, that also don’t act as circuit breakers, despite appearances. A stout bus bar is provided to link the RCDs to adjacent circuit breakers, forming two groups that are separately protected from ground faults.
[Clive] notes with dismay that the lugs of the bus bar can actually be inserted behind the rising clamp terminal on the breaker, resulting in poor connections and overheating. Still, we wouldn’t mind some of these concepts brought to panels in North America, which we covered a bit in a discussion on circuit protection a while back.
Continue reading “A Peek Inside A Typical British Residential Power Panel”
Today we take the concept of a centralized software repository for granted. Whether it’s
apt or the App Store, pretty much every device we use today has a way to pull applications in without the user manually having to search for them on the wilds of the Internet. Not only is this more convenient for the end user, but at least in theory, more secure since you won’t be pulling binaries off of some random website.
But centralized software distribution doesn’t just benefit the user, it can help developers as well. As platforms like Steam have shown, once you lower the bar to the point that all you need to get your software on the marketplace is a good idea, smaller developers get a chance to shine. You don’t need to find a publisher or pay out of pocket to have a bunch of discs pressed, just put your game or program out there and see what happens. Markus “Notch” Persson saw his hobby project Minecraft turn into one of the biggest entertainment franchises in decades, but one has to wonder if it would have ever gotten released commercially if he first had to convince a publisher that somebody would want to play a game about digging holes.
In the days before digital distribution was practical, things were even worse. If you wanted to sell your game or program, it needed to be advertised somewhere, needed to be put on physical media, and it needed to get shipped out to the customer. All this took capital that would easily be beyond many independent developers, to say nothing of single individuals.
But at the recent Vintage Computer Festival East, [Allan Bushman] showed off relics from a little known chapter of early home computing: the Atari Program Exchange (APX). In a wholly unique approach to software distribution at the time, individuals were given a platform by which their software would be advertised and sold to owners of 8-bit machines such as the Atari 400/800 and later XL series computers. In the early days, when the line between computer user and computer programmer was especially blurry, the APX let anyone with the skill turn their ideas into profit. Continue reading “VCF East: The Mail Order App Store”
After two massive hurricanes impacted Puerto Rico three months ago, the island was left with extensive damage to its electrical infrastructure. Part of the problem was that the infrastructure was woefully inadequate to withstand a hurricane impact at all. It is possible to harden buildings and infrastructure against extreme weather, and a new plan to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid will address many of these changes that, frankly, should have been made long ago.
Among the upgrades to the power distribution system are improvements to SCADA systems. SCADA allows for remote monitoring and control of substations, switchgear, and other equipment which minimizes the need for crews to investigate problems and improves reliability. SCADA can also be used for automation on a large scale, in addition to the installation of other autonomous equipment meant to isolate faults and restore power quickly. The grid will get physical upgrades as well, including equipment like poles, wire, and substations that are designed and installed to a more rigorous standard in order to make them more wind- and flood-tolerant. Additional infrastructure will be placed underground as well, and a more aggressive tree trimming program will be put in place.
The plan also calls for some 21st-century improvements as well, including the implementation of “micro grids”. These micro grids reduce the power system’s reliance on centralized power plants by placing small generation facilities (generators, rooftop solar, etc) in critical areas, like at hospitals. Micro grids can also be used in remote areas to improve reliability where it is often impractical or uneconomical to service.
While hurricanes are inevitable in certain parts of the world, the damage that they cause is often exacerbated by poor design and bad planning. Especially in the mysterious world of power generation and distribution, a robust infrastructure is extremely important for the health, safety, and well-being of the people who rely on it. Hopefully these steps will improve Puerto Rico’s situation, especially since this won’t be the last time a major storm impacts the island.