Category Archives: Computers

Floppinux Fixed for i486 and Up

I got nerdsniped bad.

floppinux, a one-floppy busybox filled initrd based Linux “distribution” that Krzysztof Krystian Jankowski made from modern parts did the rounds the other day, and I was excited to try it on real old hardware.

Yesterday I pulled my ThinkPad 560E out, dd’d a floppinux on to a real floppy, booted it up and… it traps on an invalid opcode as soon as it tries to load init.

A little thinking made me realize that the way they were building their busybox binary was contaminating it with libraries from the system they were building on (which was apparently i686), so despite all their “will work on a 486 or later” option selections, the images they produced only work on i686 or later boxes.

I opened an issue then got obsessed and decided to fix it myself, and … you can read the details in my followup to the issue.

The magic lazy out for this kind of thing now is the pre-built musl based cross toolchains provided by https://musl.cc/

I made a couple other suggestions (about using musl, about configuring the kernel for xz and using it for the initrd, etc.) while I was hacking, because putting together little cross-compiled Linuxes is something I used to know what I was doing with. It did take a couple hours to spin back up, there are always picky cross-environment things to remember, and things have changed, mostly for the easier.

I’ve posted a copy of my generated i486-clean image. (Subsequently swapped out for a rebuild with slightly more useful busybox and kernel options, but only about 450k free)

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Not that I’m a frequent IRC user for the last several years, but since the freenode implosion seems to have settled out as a real thing, I’ve gone ahead and registered myself as pappp on oftc and libera.chat where the … Continue reading

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Toys for my Escape Velocity Itch

Printed and painted Kestrel and Lightning models on a PowerBook 5,4

I had my regularly-scheduled itch to play Escape Velocity or one of its successors and/or clones the other week, and decided to play the real thing this time since I did a lap on Endless Sky not too long ago, and NAEV still doesn’t quite grab me.

I’m now most of the way through a game of EV (under emulation in Basilisk II), and …impulse bought a cheap 2004 15″ Aluminum PowerBook G4 (a 5,4) off the internet after a crash ate a save file. I have good coverage of Apple 1984-1994 in my collection (in the form of bulky desktops with CRTs), and x86 OS X is pretty easy to run in a VM, but I have a hole in the late PPC era. That machine will hopefully eventually also get its own post as I finish fixing it up, it’s not in perfect condition but it auctioned below prevailing when I was looking, and seems to be acceptable.

While I was looking into the player communities (…because it’s become very hard to set up a working install of EV Nova recently, and I can’t find a backup of my registered copy) I discovered that a couple months ago some wonderful person (slurked on thingiverse/quarmus on reddit) made and shared 3D models of the Kestrel and Lightning ships from the original EV.

…So the little Mac-user child of the 90s in me promptly headed down to the basement to print a Kestrel and a pair of Lightnings.

I gave them a quick sand to take the worst print artifacts off and sprayed them down with a couple coats of gray Krylon Fusion, which gave a decent base coat. I needed to do a little (bad) detail painting on the Lightnings, and the acrylics I have around didn’t stick well to the spraypaint, so I dug out my decades-old Testor model enamel set. Eventually they were shaken and stirred enough to get the job done; in another post post, an absurd over-engineered shaker that didn’t really solve the problem.

EV is still one of my favorite games, though I think Endless Sky’s implementation of the formula is actually significantly better for a modern player without the memories, especially now that Ambrosia is defunct and the hacks around registering Nova seem to not be working.

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While giving a student some hints about an ARM assembly assignment I just noticed that google services (eg. gmail) want to auto-complete “R0” to “R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAP”… which, upon inspection, is the base64 encoding of a 1px transparent gif, something spammy over-formatted … Continue reading

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3C589 PCMCIA Network Cards and OpenStep

Google being displayed in OmniWeb 3.1 on OpenStep 4.2.  In 2021.

After my last post about OpenStep 4.2 on my ThinkPad 560E, one of the dangling TODO items was figuring out why the network setup that was made of all known-working parts didn’t work. I’ve now figured it out.

[TL:DR: The OpenStep 4.2 Etherlink III driver does a bad job with PnP and Media Autodetect on 3C589 cards. To make one work you will probably need to use 3Com’s DOS configuration utility to configure the EEPROM in the card.]

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ThinkPad 560E + OpenStep 4.2

Photo of Thinkpad 560E System, running OpenStep 4.2
One Fancy Commercial Unix Portable Battlestation, ca. 1997

I’ve now tried out a few of the things I bought the Thinkpad 506E I posted about a while ago to try, and there are some interesting notes to share before the semester gets underway and I run out of energy again.

I decided amid some resultant discussions (Hi HN!) from my last post on this machine to give myself a conduct of not physically opening the hardware while I play with it, unless the HDD dies or the like. Doing so is making me exercise some long-dormant skills, which has been extremely fun.

So far I’ve amassed a pile of compatible accessories, booted into NetBSD and imaged off the original HDD contents, installed OpenStep 4.2, fixed the drivers, updated to Patch4, and very briefly taken it online before an irritating networking problem arose. I’ve also run into a problem getting RhapsodyDR2 on, which will likely be the next time-sink.

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Router Replacement: Asus RT-ACRH13

RT-ACRH13 being flashed.

I’ve been running a TP-Link Archer C7 flashed with OpenWRT at home since early 2016 (and a TP-Link 1043ND with OpenWRT for years before that), but since I moved into my current place over the summer it has been falling over every couple weeks. It hasn’t been logging anything (I have a flash drive mounted that it persistent logs to) but goes down until hard reset, most likely just because of the load of two heavy stream/video-conference/file-sync users (…and probably not because of my kitten chewing on the antennas. Probably.) Rather than updating/diagnosing I decided that was a good excuse for a new faster router.

TL;DR: The Asus RT-ACRH13 is an excellent current-production OpenWRT host for ~$65 with only minor install challenges, and represents a significant upgrade over the Archer C7.

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EBAZ4205 Surplus ZYNQ Board

EBAZ4205 FPGA board connected to PSU and serial adapter.

A not long ago there was some noise in places I follow about Zynq FPGA boards surplussed from their role as controllers in retired cryptocurrency mining rigs, for way less than the price of even the bare FPGA SoC. I impulse bought one EBAZ4205 from “College Shop Store” on Aliexpress for $19.08 shipped to try them out, since it seems to to be the most common and documented flavor, and it showed up yesterday. Short version: they look awesome for the price.

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Stadia: Why?

I got one of the free-with-YouTube-Premium Stadia Premiere kit + Pro trials just out of curiosity (since I’m waiting to cancel until Play Music actually stops working, and why say no to $100 of free toys), and after playing for it for an evening, while I’m very technically impressed … I’m completely baffled as to why anyone would pay for this thing, or especially “buy” individual games on it.

It is fast and surprisingly responsive, and the (insane) distributed “phone or computer + controller + Chomecast all talk to the internet and also to Bluetooth and manage to stay in sync” wizardry is an amazing technical achievement, as is the low-latency, reasonably low-artifact streaming.

…but the subscription/rental library is tiny, expensive, and non-portable. It sucks a massive amount of bandwidth (it seemed to be holding at about 20-25Mbit/s down during my AAA test). The fact that I need a minimum of three independent devices (since you can’t do most of the configuration or library management with the controller + Chromecast) to play on the TV is awkward, and the layers of account management and device syncing are pretty wonky for a single user, I can’t imagine dealing with it in a multi-user household.

I played a little bit of Celeste (as an input lag test; it was not half bad, though playing it on a controller is not my preference), a little bit of Hitman (To see how heavy duty graphical games would do), and a little The Gardens Between (hadn’t played it, in my Pro trial, looked neat) – and they worked, but nothing about the experience was particularly compelling.

The whole free-kit-for-Premium-subscribers thing feels like a desperate attempt to dump their hardware stock to build enough user base to recoup the back-end costs for another doomed Google product that will die as soon as the current back end ages out and the workforce moves on to career-advancing shiny new things – after Buzz, Reader, Plus, Play Music, the steady churn of ever-worse chat tools, and half a dozen other products that were useful enough to take all the air out of a market before being unceremoniously dumped Google has lost all credibility for paid rentals or ecosystem investment.

All the freebie premiere kits are going to be Goodwill gold in a couple years though – the controllers are decent (Not $70 decent, but decent) and seem to work as normal HID devices, and there are two nice USB power bricks with cables in there.

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I ran into a delightful irony trying to help a student get set up for the embedded systems lab I’m running this semester: Neither Keil MDK ARM (a first-class ARM development environment) nor the Stellaris ICDI Drivers (TI’s programming/debug interface … Continue reading

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