Doesn't Not Compute

My log of experiences with GNU/Linux and computers in general.

Resurrection is Hard Work

Even when it’s just software, and not living beings! 😆

For the past month, I’ve been working on a long list of Ice Window Manager themes. Organizing, labeling, judging free-or-not-free (as in freedom, not beer). Determining whether they should be reorganized, and which need files renamed to fit the original authors’ plans.

This doesn’t seem like a hard job, does it? It isn’t. Just very, very tedious. Especially considering I examined and organized those themes by “Look” — the theme file option that decides how some things are drawn — by hand. All 184 of them. And then went back and input information on each one into a spreadsheet. 😯

For each one, I viewed the default.theme file, as well as any documentation provided about the theme (few had any) for the author name, email address, description, and various flags on whether each theme had a paticular option. For example, the gtk-look theme “Helix” does not have its own image for the menu button on the taskbar, no specified license :mad:, no trademarked images to the best of my non-lawyer research, is properly organized other than lacking a README file, does not have custom “ledclock” images for a fancy-looking clock, has one “desktop background” image (in PNG format, so you’ll have to compile in imlib support to use it), and no custom or recommended font, icons, or mouse cursors.

Note the “no specified license” part. If a theme does not have a specified license, it basically has no license. I haven’t perused *all* of the ancient IceWM mailiing lists yet, but I’ve found no explanation of what license the themes must be under. Under my (again, non-lawyer) understanding of United States law, that means the copyright/license is limited to the original author. Including the legal right to redistribute. *sigh*

Considering that some of the provided email addresses are now defunct, and other themes don’t even have an email address provided, there is no way to contact these authors for permission to redistribute them. Since they were provided to the old IceWM project, which is under the LGPLv2 license, I *could* risk assuming that the themes were intended to be under the same license as well, but this seems possibly unethical. There are very few that I have risked marking as redistributable, and only because they are based on the example themes that are provided in the source code repository — meaning that, as derivative works, they too have to be under the same license. See the benefit of specifying your work’s copyright license? 😀

I’m more-or-less sure about what themes are currently able to be redistributed at this point, and I plan to create a repository (not on Sourceforge) to share them as soon as possible. In the meantime, you can enjoy the spreadsheet — in both a single, multi-sheet ODS file or in a gzipped-compressed tar file of multiple, single-sheet CSV (comma-separated values) files, however you prefer.

Well, the files really are an ODS file and a .tar.gz file, but I had to rename them for WordPress to let me host them. I don’t like Javascript-heavy websites like Rapidshare, Megaupload, the perpetually broke Omploader, et cetera. Particularly because of the closed, nonfree nature of the system, but they’re just annoying regardless. 😐

Rename these as instructed in the parentheticals.

“Why didn’t you just provide REAL PDFs?” Because the spreadsheet looks AWFUL as a printout and in PDF form. 😉 Much too wide.

Who Says IceWM is Ugly?!

Okay, I’ll grant that the themes that come with the Ice Window Manager from its source repository are quite unattractive to many. Drab, flat gray or annoyingly contrasting colors scream “mid-1990’s”. Thick solid-color borders not only waste space, but are unattractive to boot.
An example? here: The Motif theme -- very gray, very 1980's.
That’s the Motif theme. If you don’t know what the Motif toolkit is, Wikipedia should be able to help somewhat. The toolkit was designed back in the 1980’s, so the look is a bit dated. There is a yellow version as well, which is much less drab, see it after the “More” break: Read more of this post

Double Double, Toil and Trouble

During the time I’ve written in this blog, there have been only two bits of non-Packard-Bell technology that have given me trouble: my Acer Aspire One AO751h-1279 netbook, and my iPod Nano2G. The first, because of the “Poulsbo” chipset that Intel coupled with the processor and then couldn’t provide decent, stable, up-to-date drivers for, and the second because for a very long time Rockbox didn’t support it.

Acer Aspire One 751h

The netbook I’ve spent a lot of time on, trying to hack together a useful and enjoyable set of software on and wrestling with the PSB driver on. I’ve written a series of articles on improving the experience o it, which is listed on the “How-tos” page under “Acer Aspire AO751h”. During my attempts to get the PSB driver working correctly on Arch Linux — a longtime project — I also wrote a simple script for setting the backlight brightness from the command line, requiring much less typing than manually changing the brightness level and not requring Xorg.This made it useful for console work, as the xbacklight tools of course requires a running Xserver.

This morning I tried to turn it on and, although the power button LED lit up and the keyboard LEDs flashed, and the hard drive powered up, nothing else happened. No output to the LCD, no output to an external monitor. It does not attempt to boot from the hard drive. It’s almost as if there was no memory in it, but I don’t have another “stick” of RAM for it and I’m *not* spending US$50 or more just to find out if it’s the problem or not.

It doesn’t bother me much, though. The battery still has 80.05% of it’s design total capacity, and works perfectly, so I should be able to get some decent money for it. The hard drive is SATA-based, so I don’t need an adapter to connect it into my desktop, which in turn means that I don’t have to worry about how to get my data off of it. 😀 And frankly, as much as I like helping others with problems, and as much as I needed this netbook to do that — I was waiting for this horrid thing to die. My Dell Latitude C600 plays hi-def video better than it did (with equivalent power usage, according to Powertop), I had to run an outdated Xserver on it, and even then I couldn’t get OpenGL graphics to work, since that required a much older version of Mesa than Arch Linux ships with and builds against.

I’m more disappointed by the failure of my 2nd generation iPod Nano. It only held 2 gigabytes or so of music, but with Rockbox’s ability to play OGG Vorbis files (thus I could get the same quality at a much smaller file size) this wasn’t an issue until very recently. It seems its demise is the result of a very, very odd flash chip failure. For those who know, it was the storage flash chip. We (myself and the *very* helpful TheSeven in FreeNode’s #freemyipod and #rockbox channels) are still puzzling over it, and waiting for “the hardware guru’s” ideas. Well, it has mainly been TheSeven doing the puzzling while I type in commands, but you get the idea. :mrgreen:

This failure basically leaves me with an ARM platform with 1MB of working flash, an LCD screen, and a control wheel with five buttons and touch-sensitivity. Perhaps I can learn some coding with it. 🙂 Some hardware hacking-in of SD card support, a driver. 😯

Unfortunately, it leaves me bereft of a device to help test Rockbox patches with. At least I was able to help help test the patches preventing Stkov nand, and the next day verify that the change making the working patch unnecessary worked. And tested the “lamp” application improvements and the lcd_backlight_sleep patches, of course. 😐 I just wish I could’ve helped more there.

Perhaps I’ll get a new Nano2G sometime, since they’re about US$50 on eBay, or perhaps a refurbished iPod Mini. But what I would really like is a music “jukebox” device that *only* plays OGG Vorbis, FLAC, and Speex audio files. I know that plenty of players support these. I know that there are chips dedicated to decoding Vorbis, and possible some for FLAC. I would be very happy if someone were to build a digital audio player that *only* plays these formats, made them as free-as-in-freedom as Richard Stallman’s laptop (a Leemote Yeelong of some type, if I recall correctly), and provided software for it. 🙂 Seems like it would be cheaper, since licensing wouldn’t be needing from the owners of patent-encumbered formats.

So what do these two failures mean for my blog? Well, I have no idea. I’ll have different projects to be posting about, certainly, and probably won’t be paying as much attention to the state of “Poulsbo” support in GNU/Linux systems. And Rockbox may or may not be discussed as often, since I have nothing to test it on.

There are other projects I’ve been keeping on the back burner, however; there will still be plenty for me to work on, and enough to post about. So, join my Twitter feed or subscribe to the RSS feed that WordPress so kindly generates automatically. 🙂

Rockbox: Bugfix and Feature For Nano2G

Just a quick note to myself, and to other users of Rockbox on the iPod Nano 2nd generation. I highly recommend using BOTH these patches, as the bugfix prevents a LOT of frustration and the feature saves some power.

Recently — for me, since I tried r27995 and updated the install procedure — the Nano2G has been plagued with odd, seemingly random panics when writing to “disk”.

Stkov nand

Apparently this has to do with a stack overflow (I guess that’s what Stkov means :mrgreen:). The fix that actually works (even if the author thinks it’s a “kludge”) is a patch hosted at Note: the “underlying problem” was fixed and committed in r28011, this patch is not needed if you update to the current build. 😀

As for the feature, with another patch the actual screen will now shut off, not just the backlight! 😀 This is something I’ve been waiting for since I first started using Rockbox on the Nano2G. Here’s the patch:, enjoy! Not really sure how much power it saves yet, but it works perfectly. About 4-5 seconds after the backlight shuts off, so will the screen itself. When you press a button (assuming the “hold” switch isn’t on, of course) both the backlight and the screen immediately come back on.

At the moment, these are not in the SVN yet, so they are not in the daily build. You’ll have to install Subversion and the packages needed to build the Rockbox toolchain, check out Rockbox’s svn repository, build the toolchain, download the patch into the root of the directory the repo was downloaded to, patch, and then configure and build Rockbox.

Don’t worry, if you aren’t familiar with the process the Rockbox wiki describes the process quite simply, and the process of building the toolchain is completely automatic. 🙂 Not a user of a GNU/Linux distro? Sorry to here that — the sections on developing with Cygwin (the recommended method if you have to use Window$) are here, for installing the toolchain, and here, for the build process.

Happy Rockboxing! 🙂

iPod Nano 2G Fun: Rockbox r27995 Update

I’ve been poking around at the current build (r27995-1000903 at the time of this writing) of Rockbox today, and other than the occasional random panic (oh joy) that locks up the iPod and requires a reset — harmless but annoying — it’s even better than the previous version I was using (r24509-100204).

For example, I previously had to use iLoader to load Rockbox, as for some odd reason attempting to transfer ANYTHING after the initial Rockbox installation resulted in a White Screen of Death (WSoD) upon the next startup/reboot with the Rockbox bootloader. Now there is a revamped version of iLoader, designed around the new emBIOS, and I have had NO luck getting Rockbox to load at all. iLoader just freezes/stalls at “Booting Rockbox”. I’ve talked with a few of the folks working on that project, and so far only myself and one other person have reported it. Something about my Nano 2G have a revision 7 board, while a developer has a revision 9 that doesn’t have the problem? 😐 EDIT: Issue fixed in r188 of iLoader, released as iLoader v0.2.1. Kudos to TheSeven!

Meanwhile, the Rockbox bootloader works perfectly and I have no WSoD issues at all, even after transferring several hundred megabytes of OGG files. (And one MP3 . . . 😮 )

So I think it’s time to replace my how-tos on Rockbox.

Although I prefer to restore the iPod to it’s stock state before installing a new bootloader, this is only necessary if you used an older, pre-emBIOS version of iLoader. It is NOT necessary if you used the Rockbox loader. Feel free to skip to the “Installing Rockbox Software” section if you didn’t use a pre-emBIOS iLoader. (Or if this is your first time “jailbreaking” your Nano)

Also, this is NOT about updating the iLoader version after you’ve installed it. That’s it’s own procedure, one I’m still learning about and isn’t covered in the Wiki yet. You can learn about that on the iLoader webpage.

Restoring to Stock, Apple-firmware State

First, (with permission) borrow someone’s Windows-laden machine and uses iTunes to restore the iPod Nano 2G to stock firmware, if you’ve installed an older version of Rockbox on it before. Allow the restore process to finish — the progress bar beneath the Apple logo will fill completely and the iPod will reboot. Assuming all went well, the iPod will load the stock firmware and a “Do Not Disconnect” message will appear.

Installing the Rockbox Software

Reset the device (Menu+Select) (Select is that button in the center of the scrollwheel) and when the Apple logo appears immediately press Select+Play to enter disk mode. The timing can be a bit tricky, so you might need to do it a few times for it to work.

At this point, you need to extract the Rockbox zipfile directly to the iPod. For example, if your iPod Nano is mounted to /media/IPOD, this command (from the directory you downloaded the zipfile to) will do the job:

unzip -d /media/IPOD

Or if you prefer a GUI, use your GUI’s archive program to extract all of the contents of the zipfile directly to the iPod Nano’s storage partition (which is the folder newly-mounted under /media in distros that mount drives automatically, like Ubuntu).

Installing the Rockbox Bootloader

Now we install the bootloader. We’ll need the ipodpatcher program (32-bit version, 64-bit version) here. Again, change to the directory you downloaded the files from before running this commands.

chmod +x ./ipodpatcher
sudo ./ipodpatcher

Put in your password if necessary, then press “i” and then ENTER to install the bootloader.

If all goes well, something like this will be spouted out at you:

[INFO] Creating OSBK backup image of original firmware
[INFO] Using internal bootloader – 54336 bytes
[INFO] Padding input file from 0x0000d440 to 0x0000d800 bytes
[INFO] Wrote 55296 bytes to firmware partition
[INFO] Bootloader installed successfully.
Press ENTER to exit ipodpatcher :

Safely remove the device (sudo eject /media/IPOD should work well, where IPOD is the folder your iPod Nano 2G was mounted to.)

Now your iPod Nano 2G will reset and quickly load your new firmware. Have fun! I’ll have a couple more posts about this in the next day or two.

10 Years On . . . On What??

I’m not a fan of blogging for the sake of blogging. It’s just “a tale told by an idiot . . . signifying nothing,” and is at best just a waste of time and bandwidth to post for the sake of posting. Which is why occasionally there are stretches of a week or more without me posting anything. 😉

I’ve gotten tired of wrestling with the “Poulsbo” hardware in my netbook, and the project I’m working on isn’t quite ready for me to talk about yet. So, I haven’t really had anything to talk about. But today, I came across an article on Free Software Magazine that I think deserves some attention.

The title, “10 Years On: Free Software Wins, But You Have Nowhere To Install It” is a decent summary of the article. Tom Mobily, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Free Software Magazine, discusses how the future — and even the present — of mobile-device-based free software is very disturbing; although the software itself is free, open-source software, the devices don’t allow you to CHANGE the software installed and require you to HACK the device just so YOU can control the device that YOU PAID FOR.

Short URL:

I’d give an excerpt, but ironically the copyright license the article uses only explicitly permits “Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article” (emphasis mine). 😦

So, my thoughts on this problem? Well, not to sound like a younger version of Richard Stallman with a shorter beard, but “This is why the GPL v3 has a new section to prohibit this behavior.” Or, more succinctly, “JUST USE GPL V3 AND WE WOULDN’T HAVE THIS PROBLEM YOU IDIOTS!” :mrgreen: He might seem a little crazy, but he usually proves to be right.