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Monday·30·March·2020

How do you type on a keyboard with only 46 or even 28 keys? //at 08:51 //by abe

from the you-can-do-it-if-you-really-want dept.

Some of you might have noticed that I’m into keyboards since a few years ago — into mechanical keyboards to be precise.

Preface

It basically started with the Swiss Mechanical Keyboard Meetup (whose website I started later on) was held in the hackerspace of the CCCZH.

I mostly used TKL keyboards (i.e. keyboards with just the — for me useless — number block missing) and tried to get my hands on more keyboards with Trackpoints (but failed so far).

At some point a year or two ago, I looking into smaller keyboards for having a mechanical keyboard with me when travelling. I first bought a Vortex Core at Candykeys. The size was nice and especially having all layers labelled on the keys was helpful, but nevertheless I soon noticed that the smaller the keyboards get, the more important is, that they’re properly programmable. The Vortex Core is programmable, but not the keys in the bottom right corner — which are exactly the keys I wanted to change to get a cursor block down there. (Later I found out that there are possibilities to get this done, either with an alternative firmware and a hack of it or desoldering all switches and mounting an alternative PCB called Atom47.)

40% Keyboards

So at some point I ordered a MiniVan keyboard from The Van Keyboards (MiniVan keyboards will soon be available again at The Key Dot Company), here shown with GMK Paperwork (also bought from and designed by The Van Keyboards):

The MiniVan PCBs are fully programmable with the free and open source firmware QMK and I started to use that more and more instead of bigger keyboards.

Layers

With the MiniVan I learned the concepts of layers. Layers are similar to what many laptop keyboards do with the “Fn” key and to some extent also what the German standard layout does with the “AltGr” key: Layers are basically alternative key maps you can switch with a special key (often called “Fn”, “Fn1”, “Fn2”, etc., or — especially if there are two additional layers — “Raise” and “Lower”).

There are several concepts how these layers can be reached with these keys:

  • By keeping the Fn key pressed, i.e. the alternative layer is active as long as you hold the Fn key down.
  • One-shot layer switch: After having pressed and released the Fn key, all keys are on the alternative layer for a single key press and then you are back to the default layer.
  • Layer toggle: Pressing the Fn key once switches to the alternative layer and pressing it a second time switches back to the default layer.
  • There are also a lot of variants of the latter variant, e.g. rotating between layers upon every key press of the Fn key. In that case it seems common to have a second special key which always switches back to the default layer, kinda Escape key for layer switching.
My MiniVan Layout

For the MiniVan, two additional layers suffice easily, but since I have a few characters on multiple layers and also have mouse control and media keys crammed in there, I have three additional layers on my MiniVan keyboards:


“TRNS” means transparent, i.e. use the settings from lower layers.

I also use a feature that allows me to mind different actions to a key depending if I just tap the key or if I hold it. Some also call this “tap dance”. This is especially very popular on the usually rather huge spacebar. There, the term “SpaceFn” has been coined, probably after this discussion on Geekhack.

I use this for all my layer switching keys:

  • The left spacebar is space on tap and switches to layer 1 if hold. The right spacebar is a real spacebar, i.e. already triggers a space on key press, not only on key release.

    Layer 1 has numbers on the top row and the special characters of the number row in the second row. It also has Home/End and Page Up/Down on the cursor keys.

  • The key between the Enter key and the cursor-right key (medium grey with a light grey caret in the picture) is actually the Slash and Question Mark key, but if hold, it switches me to layer 2.

    Layer 2 has function keys on the top row and also the special characters of the number row in the second row. On the cursor keys it has volume up and down as well as the media keys “previous” and “next”.

  • The green key in the picture is actually the Backslash and Pipe key, but if hold, it switches me to layer 3.

    On layer 3 I have mouse control.

With this layout I can type English texts as fast as I can type them on a standard or TKL layout.

German umlauts are a bit more difficult because it requires 4 to 6 key presses per umlaut as I use the Compose key functionality (mapped to the Menu key between the spacebars and the cursor block. So to type an Ä on my MiniVan, I have to:

  1. press and release Menu (i.e. Compose); then
  2. press and hold either Shift-Spacebar (i.e. Shift-Fn1) or Slash (i.e. Fn2), then
  3. press N for a double quote (i.e. Shift-Fn1-N or Fn2-N) and then release all keys, and finally
  4. press and release the base character for the umlaut, in this case Shift-A.

And now just use these concepts and reduce the amount of keys to 28:

30% and Sub-30% Keyboards

In late 2019 I stumbled upon a nice little keyboard kit “shop” on Etsy — which I (and probably most other people in the mechanical keyboard scene) didn’t take into account for looking for keyboards — called WorldspawnsKeebs. They offer mostly kits for keyboards of 40% size and below, most of them rather simple and not expensive.

For about 30€ you get a complete sub-30% keyboard kit (without switches and keycaps though, but that very common for keyboard kits as it leaves the choice of switches and key caps to you) named Alpha28 consisting of a minimal Acrylic case and a PCB and electronics set.

This Alpha28 keyboard is btw. fully open source as the source code, (i.e. design files) for the hardware are published under a free license (MIT license) on GitHub.

And here’s how my Alpha28 looks like with GMK Mitolet (part of the GMK Pulse group-buy) key caps:

So we only have character keys, Enter (labelled “Data” as there was no 1u Enter key with that row profile in that key cap set; I’ll also call it “Data” for the rest of this posting) and a small spacebar, not even modifier keys.

The Default Alpha28 Layout

The original key layout by the developer of the Alpha28 used the spacbar as Shift on hold and as space if just tapped, and the Data key switches always to the next layer, i.e. it switches the layer permanently on tap and not just on hold. This way that key rotates through all layers. In all other layers, V switches back to the default layer.

I assume that the modifiers on the second layer are also on tap and apply to the next other normal key. This has the advantage that you don’t have to bend your fingers for some key combos, but you have to remember on which layer you are at the moment. (IIRC QMK allows you to show that via LEDs or similar.) Kinda just like vi.

My Alpha28 Layout

But maybe because I’m more an Emacs person, I dislike remembering states myself and don’t bind bending my fingers. So I decided to develop my own layout using tap-or-hold and only doing layer switches by holding down keys:


A triangle means that the settings from lower layers are used, “N/A” means the key does nothing.

It might not be very obvious, but on the default layer, all keys in the bottom row and most keys on the row ends have tap-or-hold configurations.

Basic ideas
  • Use all keys on tap as labelled by default. (Data = Enter as mentioned above)
  • Use different meanings on hold for the whole bottom row and some edge column keys.
  • Have all classic modifiers (Shift, Control, OS/Sys/Win, Alt/Meta) on the first layer twice (always only on hold), so that any key, even those with a modifier on hold, can be used with any modifier. (Example: Shift is on A hold and L hold so that Shift-A is holding L and then pressing A and Shift-L is holding A and then pressing L.)
Bottom row if hold
  • Z = Control
  • X = OS/Sys/Win
  • C = Alt/Meta
  • V = Layer 3 (aka Fn3)
  • Space = Layer 1 (aka Fn1)
  • B = Alt/Meta
  • N = OS/Sys/Win
  • M = Ctrl
Other rows if hold
  • A = Shift
  • L = Shift
  • Data (Enter) = Layer 2 (aka Fn2)
  • P = Layer 4 (aka Fn4)
How the keys are divided into layers
  • Layer 0 (Default): alphabetic keys, Space, Enter, and (on hold) standard modifiers
  • Layer 1: numbers, special characters (most need Shift, too), and some more common other keys, e.g.
    • Space-Enter = Backspace
    • Space-S = Esc
    • Space-D = Tab
    • Space-F = Menu/Compose
    • Space-K = :
    • Space-L = '
    • Space-B = ,
    • Space-N = .
    • Space-M = /, etc.
  • Layer 2: F-keys and less common other keys, e.g.
    • Enter-K = -
    • Enter-L = =
    • Enter-B = [
    • Enter-N = ]
    • Enter-M = \, etc.)
  • Layer 3: Cursor movement, e.g.
    • scrolling
    • and mouse movement.
    • Cursor cross is on V-IJKL (with V-I for Up)
    • V-U and V-O are Home and End
    • V-P and V-Enter are Page Up/Down.
    • Mouse movement is on V-WASD
    • V-Q
    • V-E and V-X being mouse buttons
    • V-F and V-R is the scroll wheel up down
    • V-Z and V-C left and right.
  • Layer 4: Configuring the RGB bling-bling and the QMK reset key:
    • P-Q (the both top corner keys) are QMK reset to be able to reflash the firmware.
    • The keys on the right half of the keyboard control the modes of the RGB LED strip on the bottom side of the PCB, with the upper two rows usually having keys with some Plus and Minus semantics, e.g. P-I and P-K is brightness up and down.
    • The remaining left half is unused and has no function at all on layer 4.
Using the Alpha28

This layout works surprisingly well for me.

Only for Minus, Equal, Single Quote and Semicolon I still often have to think or try if they’re on Layer 1 or 2 as on my 40%s (MiniVan, Zlant, etc.) I have them all on layer 1 (and in general one layer less over all). And for really seldom used keys like Insert, PrintScreen, ScrollLock or Pause, I might have to consult my own documentation. They’re somewhere in the middle of the keyboard, either on layer 1, 2, or 3. ;-)

And of course, typing umlauts takes even two keys more per umlaut as on the MiniVan since on the one hand Menu is not on the default layer and on the other hand, I don’t have this nice shifted number row and actually have to also press Shift to get a double quote. So to type an Ä on my Alpha, I have to:

  1. press and release Space-F (i.e. Fn1-F) for Menu (i.e. Compose); then
  2. press and hold A-Spacebar-L (i.e. Shift-Fn1-L) for getting a double quote, then
  3. press and release the base character for the umlaut, in this case L-A for Shift-A (because we can’t use A for Shift as I can’t hold a key and then press it again :-).

Conclusion

If the characters on upper layers are not labelled like on the Vortex Core, i.e. especially on all self-made layouts, typing is a bit like playing that old children’s game Memory: as soon as you remember (or your muscle memory knows) where some special characters are, typing gets faster. Otherwise, you start with trial and error or look the documentation. Or give up. ;-)

Nevertheless, typing on a sub-30% keyboard like the Alpha28 is much more difficult and slower than on a 40% keyboard like the MiniVan. So the Alpha28 very likely won’t become my daily driver while the MiniVan defacto is my already my daily driver.

But I like these kind of challenges as others like the game “Memory”. So I ordered three more 30% and sub-30% keyboard kits and WorldspawnsKeebs for soldering on the upcoming weekend during the COVID19 lockdown:

  • A Reviung39 to start a new try on ortholinear layouts.
  • A Jerkin (sold out, waitlist available) to try an Alice-style keyboard layout.
  • A Pain27 (which btw. is also open source under the CC0 license) to try typing with even one key less than the Alpha28 has. ;-)

And if I at some point want to try to type with even fewer keys, I’ll try a Butterstick keyboard with just 20 keys. It’s a chorded keyboard where you have to press multiple keys at the same time to get one charcter: So to get an A from the missing middle row, you have to press Q and Z simultaneously, to get Escape, press Q and W simultaneously, to get Control, press Q, W, Z and X simultaneously, etc.

And if that’s not even enough, I already bought a keyboard kit named Ginny (or Ginni, the developer can’t seem to decide) with just 10 keys from an acquaintance. Couldn’t resist when offered his surplus kits. :-) It uses the ASETNIOP layout which was initially developed for on-screen keyboards on tablets.

Tuesday·16·January·2018

Tex Yoda II Mechanical Keyboard with Trackpoint //at 03:38 //by abe

from the I've-waited-years-for-this dept.

Here’s a short review of the Tex Yoda II Mechanical Keyboard with Trackpoint, a pointer to the next Swiss Mechanical Keyboard Meetup and why I ordered a $300 keyboard with less keys than a normal one.

Short Review of the Tex Yoda II

Pro
  • Trackpoint
  • Cherry MX Switches
  • Compact but heavy alumium case
  • Backlight (optional)
  • USB C connector and USB A to C cable with angled USB C plug
  • All three types of Thinkpad Trackpoint caps included
  • Configurable layout with nice web-based configurator (might be opensourced in the future)
  • Fn+Trackpoint = scrolling (not further configurable, though)
  • Case not clipped, but screwed
  • Backlight brightness and Trackpoint speed configurable via key bindings (usually Fn and some other key)
  • Default Fn keybindings as side printed and backlit labels
  • Nice packaging
Contra
  • It’s only a 60% Keyboard (I prefer TKL) and the two common top rows are merged into one, switched with the Fn key.
  • Cursor keys by default (and labeled) on the right side (mapped to Fn + WASD) — maybe good for games, but not for me.
  • ~ on Fn-Shift-Esc
  • Occassionally backlight flickering (low frequency)
  • Pulsed LED light effect (i.e. high frequency flickering) on all but the lowest brightness level
  • Trackpoint is very sensitive even in the slowest setting — use Fn+Q and Fn+E to adjust the trackpoint speed (“tps”)
  • No manual included or (obviously) downloadable.
  • Only the DIP switches 1-3 and 6 are documented, 4 and 5 are not. (Thanks gismo for the question about them!)
  • No more included USB hub like the Tex Yoda I had or the HHKB Lite 2 (USB 1.1 only) has.
My Modifications So Far
Layout Modifications Via The Web-Based Yoda 2 Configurator
  • Right Control and Menu key are Right and Left cursors keys
  • Fn+Enter and Fn+Shift are Up and Down cursor keys
  • Right Windows key is the Compose key (done in software via xmodmap)
  • Middle mouse button is of course a middle click (not Fn as with the default layout).
Other Modifications
  • Clear dampening o-rings (clear, 50A) under each key cap for a more silent typing experience
  • Braided USB cable

Next Swiss Mechanical Keyboard Meetup

On Sunday, the 18th of February 2018, the 4th Swiss Mechanical Keyboard Meetup will happen, this time at ETH Zurich, building CAB, room H52. I’ll be there with at least my Tex Yoda II and my vintage Cherry G80-2100.

Why I ordered a $300 keyboard

(JFTR: It was actually USD $299 plus shipping from the US to Europe and customs fee in Switzerland. Can’t exactly find out how much of shipping and customs fee were actually for that one keyboard, because I ordered several items at once. It’s complicated…)

I always was and still are a big fan of Trackpoints as common on IBM and Lenovo Thinkapds as well as a few other laptop manufactures.

For a while I just used Thinkpads as my private everyday computer, first a Thinkpad T61, later a Thinkpad X240. At some point I also wanted a keyboard with Trackpoint on my workstation at work. So I ordered a Lenovo Thinkpad USB Keyboard with Trackpoint. Then I decided that I want a permanent workstation at home again and ordered two more such keyboards: One for the workstation at home, one for my Debian GNU/kFreeBSD running ASUS EeeBox (not affected by Meltdown or Spectre, yay! :-) which I often took with me to staff Debian booths at events. There, a compact keyboard with a built-in pointing device was perfect.

Then I met the guys from the Swiss Mechanical Keyboard Meetup at their 3rd meetup (pictures) and knew: I need a mechanical keyboard with Trackpoint.

IBM built one Model M with Trackpoint, the M13, but they’re hard to get. For example, ClickyKeyboards sells them, but doesn’t publish the price tag. :-/ Additionally, back then there were only two mouse buttons usual and I really need the third mouse button for unix-style pasting.

Then there’s the Unicomp Endura Pro, the legit successor of the IBM Model M13, but it’s only available with an IMHO very ugly color combination: light grey key caps in a black case. And they want approximately 50% of the price as shipping costs (to Europe). Additionally it didn’t have some other nice keyboard features I started to love: Narrow bezels are nice and keyboards with backlight (like the Thinkpad X240 ff. has) have their advantages, too. So … no.

Soon I found, what I was looking for: The Tex Yoda, a nice, modern and quite compact mechanical keyboard with Trackpoint. Unfortunately it is sold out since quite some years ago and more then 5000 people on Massdrop were waiting for its reintroduction.

And then the unexpected happened: The Tex Yoda II has been announced. I knew, I had to get one. From then on the main question was when and where will it be available. To my surprise it was not on Massdrop but at a rather normal dealer, at MechanicalKeyboards.com.

At that time a friend heard me talking of mechanical keyboards and of being unsure about which keyboard switches I should order. He offered to lend me his KBTalking ONI TKL (Ten Key Less) keyboard with Cherry MX Brown switches for a while. Which was great, because from theory, MX Brown switches were likely the most fitting ones for me. He also gave me two other non-functional keyboards with other Cherry MX switch colors (variants) for comparision. As a another keyboard to compare I had my programmable Cherry G80-2100 from the early ’90s with vintage Cherry MX Black switches. Another keyboard to compare with is my Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB) Lite 2 (PD-KB200B/U) which I got as a gift a few years ago. While the HHKB once was a status symbol amongst hackers and system administrators, the old models (like this one) only had membrane type keyboard switches. (They nevertheless still seem to get built, but only sold in Japan.)

I noticed that I was quickly able to type faster with the Cherry MX Brown switches and the TKL layout than with the classic Thinkpad layout and its rubber dome switches or with the HHKB. So two things became clear:

  • At least for now I want Cherry MX Brown switches.
  • I want a TKL (ten key less) layout, i.e. one without the number block but with the cursor block. As with the Lenovo Thinkpad USB Keyboards and the HHKB, I really like the cursor keys being in the easy to reach lower right corner. The number pad is just in the way to have that.

Unfortunately the Tex Yoda II was without that cursor block. But since it otherwise fitted perfectly into my wishlist (Trackpoint, Cherry MX Brown switches available, Backlight, narrow bezels, heavy weight), I had to buy one once available.

So in early December 2017, I ordered a Tex Yoda II White Backlit Mechanical Keyboard (Brown Cherry MX) at MechanicalKeyboards.com.

Because I was nevertheless keen on a TKL-sized keyboard I also ordered a Deck Francium Pro White LED Backlit PBT Mechanical Keyboard (Brown Cherry MX) which has an ugly font on the key caps, but was available for a reduced price at that time, and the controller got quite good reviews. And there was that very nice Tai-Hao 104 Key PBT Double Shot Keycap Set - Orange and Black, so the font issue was quickly solved with keycaps in my favourite colour: orange. :-)

The package arrived in early January. The aluminum case of the Tex Yoda II was even nicer than I thought. Unfortunately they’ve sent me a Deck Hassium full-size keyboard instead of the wanted TKL-sized Deck Francium. But the support of MechanicalKeyboards.com was very helpful and I assume I can get the keyboard exchanged at no cost.

Tuesday·12·October·2010

Still happy with the ASUS EeePC 701 //at 16:02 //by abe

from the Good-Hardware dept.

Recently Eric asked on the LUG Vorarlberg mailing list about netbook experience. I wrote a lengthy reply summarizing my experiences with the ASUS EeePC 701. And I thought this is something I probably should share with more people than only one LUG:

I ordered an ASUS EeePC 701 (4G) with US keyboard layout at digitec in Spring 2008, got it approximately one month later and posted a first resumé after one month in my blog.

I’m still very happy with the EeePC 701, despite two commonly mentioned drawbacks (the small screen resolution and the small SSD – which I both don’t see as real problems) and some other minor issues.

What matters

  • Very robust and compact case. And thanks to a small fan being the only moving part inside, the EeePC 701 is also very robust against mobile use.
  • Very pleasing always-in-my-daypack size (despite the 7" screen it’s the typical 9" netbook size) and easily held with one hand.
  • Black. No glossy display. Neither clear varnish nor piano laquer. Short: No bath room tile. Textured surface, small scratches don’t stick out and don’t matter.
  • Debian (previously Lenny, now Sid) runs fine on it, even the webcam works out-of-the-box.
  • Despite all those neat features, it was fscking cheap at that time. And it was available without Windows.

Nice to have

  • There’s power on the USB sockets even if the EeePC is turned off but the power supply is plugged in.
  • The speakers are impressingly good and loud for their size. (But my demands with regards to audio are probably not too high, so audiophiles shouldn’t run to ebay because of this. ;-)
  • It has three external USB sockets.

What doesn’t matter

  • The small 7" 800×480 screen: I like small fonts and do most things inside a terminal anyway. And even with 800×480, those terminals are still much bigger than 80×25 characters. Only some applications and webpages have no heart for small screens.
  • The small disk size: Quite a lot of programs fit on 4 GB of disk space. Additionally I use tmpfs a lot. And music and video files are either on a external 500 GB Western Digital 2.5" “My Passport” disk (which I need quite seldomly) or much more come via sshfs and IPv6 from my home server anyway. :-)
  • The small keyboard: I just don’t have any problems with the size or layout (right shift right of the cursor up key, etc.) of the keyboard. Well, maybe except that any standard sized keyboard feels extremely large after having used the EeePC exclusively for some weeks. ;-)
  • The to 630 MHz underclocked 900 MHz Intel Celeron: It’s enough for most of the things I do with the EeePC. Also the original 512 MB RAM are somehow ok, but for using tmpfs, but no swap space at all, 1 GB or 2 GB are surely the better choice.
  • A battery runtime of 2.5h to 3h is fine for me.

What’s not so nice

  • The “n” key needs to be pressed slighty stronger than other keys, otherwise no “n” appears. So if one of my texts in average misses more “n” than other letters, I typed it on the EeePC. ;-)
  • Home, End, Page-Up, and Page-Down need the Fn key. This means that these keys can only be used with two hands (or one very big hand and I have quite small hands). This is usually no problem and you get used to it. It’s just annoying if you hold the EeePC with one hand and try to type with the other.
  • What looks like a single mouse button is a seesaw and therefore two mouse buttons below one button. This makes it quite hard to press both at the same time, e.g. for emulating a middle mouse button press. It usually works in about half of all cases I tried it. My solution was to bind some key combination to emulate a middle mouse button in my window manager, ratpoison:
    bind y ratclick 2
    And that mouse button bar already fell off two times.
  • The battery reports only in 10% steps, and reporting in percentage instead of mAh is an ACPI standard violation because reporting in percentage is only allowed for non-rechargable batteries. It also doesn’t report any charging and discharging rates. But in the meanwhile nearly all battery meter can cope with these hardware bugs. This was quite a problem in the early days.
  • Now, after approximately 1.5 years, the battery slowly fritzes: When charging there are often only seconds between 10% and 40%. Rigorously using up all power of the battery helped a little bit. Looks like some kind of memory effect althought the battery is labeled Li-Ion and not Ni-MH and Li-Ion batteries are said to have no memory effect.
  • The SD card reader only works fine if you once completed the setup of the original firmware or set the corresponding BIOS switch appropriately. No idea why.

Similar models

Technically, most of this also counts for the EeePC 900SD (not 901) which only differs in screen, resolution and disk size as well as CPU, but not on the the case. So same size, same robustness, same battery, same mainboard, bigger screen, resolution, disk and faster CPU. (The 901 has a different CPU, a different battery, and a different, glossy and partially chromed case.) See Wikipedia for the technical specifications of all EeePC models.

ASUS’ only big FAILure

Stopping to sell most EeePCs with Linux and cowardly teaming up with Microsoft after having shown big courage to come out with a Linux only netbook. Well, you probably already know, but it’s better without Windows

So basically you no more get these really neat netbooks from ASUS anymore and you get nearly no netbooks with Linux from ASUS in the stores anymore. It’s a shame.

Would I buy it again?

Sure.

Well, maybe I would also buy the 900SD, 900AX (replacing the harddisk with an SSD) or 702 (8G) instead of the 701, but basically they’re very similar. See Wikipedia for the differences between these EeePC models. And of course I still prefer the versions without Windows.

But despite the low price, the EeePC 701 is surprisingly robust and still works as on the first day (ok, except battery, the mouse button bar and the “n” key ;-), so I recently bought a second power supply (only white ones were available *grrrr*) and ordered a bigger third party battery plus an adapter to load the battery directly from the (second) power supply without EeePC inbetween.

What desktop do I use on the EeePC?

None.

I use ratpoison as window manager, uxterm, urxvt, and yeahconsole as terminal emulators (running zsh with grml based .zshrc even as root’s login shell :-), wicd-curses as network manager and xmobar (previously dzen2) with i3status as text-only panel. Installed editors are GNU Emacs 23, GNU Zile and nvi. (No vim. :-)

And of course a netbook wouldn’t be a netbook if it wouldn’t have a lot of network applications installed. For me the most important ones are: ssh, scp, autossh, sshfs, miredo, conkeror, git, hg, and rsync.

Monday·02·November·2009

Can’t resist this meme //at 18:24 //by abe

from the easy-guess? dept.

Just stumbled over this meme at Adrian (the meme seems to be started by madduck involuntarily), and since I’m fascinated by how people choose hostnames since my early years at university, I can’t resist to add my two cents to this meme.

To be exact, I have two schemes, one for servers out there somewhere (Hetzner, xencon, etc.) and they’re all wordplays on their domain name noone.org, e.g. symlink.to.noone.org (short name “sym” :-), gateway.to.noone.org (usually an alias for one of the machines below), virtually.noone.org (always a virtual machine, initially UML, soon a Xen DomU), etc. So nothing for a quiz here.

My other scheme is for all my machines at home and my mobile machines. I’ll start this list with the not so obvious hostnames, so the earlier you guess the scheme, the better you are (or the better you know me ;-). One more hint in advance: “(*)” means this attribute or fact made me choose the name for the machine and therefore can be used as hint for the scheme. :-)

azam
My first PC at all, a 386 with 25 MHz and MS-DOS. (Got named retroactively(*). Hadn’t hostnames at that time.)
ak (pronounced as letters)
Got it from my brother after he didn’t need it anymore. It initially was identical to azam, but once was upgraded to a 486. Still have the 386 board, though.
azka
My first self-bought computer, a pure SCSI system with a AMD K5-PR133 and 32 MB RAM. Initially had SuSE 4.4 and Windows 95 on. Still my last machine which had a Windows installed! :-)
m35
Same case and same speed as azka. Used it for experimenting(*) with Sid years ago.
azu
Initially also an AMD K5-PR133, later replaced by a Pentium 90 and used as DSL router.
azl
An HP Vectra 386/25N book size mini desktop I saved from the scrapyard at Y_Plentyn before his (first) move to Munich. The cutest(*) 386 I ever saw.
ayce
A 386 with 387 co-processor(*) and solded 8 MB of RAM.
ayca
A 1992 Toshiba T6400C 486 laptop bought at VCFe 5.0.
bijou
My 1996 ThinkPad 760ED, which is still working and running Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 Lenny (I started with Debian 3.0 Woody on it and always dist-upgraded it! :-)
gsa (pronounced as letters)
My long-time desktop after azka. A Pentium II with 400 MHz and 578 MB of RAM at the end. Bought used at LinuxTag 2003, it worked until end of last year when it started to suddenly switch off more and more often and now refuses to boot at all. Hasn’t been replaced yet though. I mostly use my laptops at home since then.
gsx (pronounced as letters)
An AMD K6 with 500 MHz I got from maol and which was used as Symlink test server more than once. (It was the machine initially named symlink.to.noone.org because of that.)
hy
My 32 bit Sparc, a Hamilton Hamstation.
hz (pronounced as letters)
My 64 bit Sparc, an UltraSparc 5.
tub
An HP Apollo 9000 Series 400, model 400t from 1990.
tpv (pronounced as letters, too ;-)
My Zaurus SL-5500G.
tryane
A Unisys Acquanta CP mini desktop with a passively cooled(*) 200 MHz Pemtium MMX. Used as DSL router for while, but the power supply fan was too noisy.
lna (pronounced as letters)
A 233 MHz Alpha
loadrunner
An IBM ThinkPad A31 running Sid. I use it as beside terminal.
pony
A Compaq LTE5100 laptop with a Pentium 90 running Sid.
dagonet
A Sony Vaio laptop which ran Debian GNU/kFreeBSD until it broke.

Those who know me quite good should already have guessed the scheme, even if they can’t assign all the names. For all others, here’s one name which doesn’t exactly fit into the scheme, but still is related in someway, but you need to knowledge of the theme’s subject to know the relation:

colani
A big tower from the early 90s designed by Colani.

Ok, and now the more obvious hostnames:

rosalie
A very compact Toshiba T1000LE 8086 laptop running ELKS and FreeDOS.
amisuper
Also an old Symlink test server from maol. He named it “dual”. 2x(*) Pentium I with 166 MHz. Unfortunately doesn’t boot anymore.
visa
An IBM NetVista workstation running Debian GNU/kFreeBSD. My current IRC host.
nemo
My ASUS EeePC running Debian 5.0 Lenny.
pluriel
My current WLAN router running FreeWRT.
c1
My MicroClient JrSX, an embedded 486SX compatible machine with 300 Mhz for VESA mountings.
c2
My MicroClient Jr, an embedded Pentium MMX compatible machine with 200 Mhz for VESA mountings.
c-crosser
My Lenovo ThinkPad T61 running Debian 5.0 Lenny.
c-cactus and c-metisse
The KVM based virtual(*) machines on c-crosser running Sid and Debian GNU/kFreeBSD.
jumper
My NAS(*) at home, currently a TheCus N4100. Soon to be replaced by some Mini-ITX box.

Any one who hasn’t guessed the scheme yet? For those understanding German it’s explained at the end of my old hardware page. For all others I suggest either to look at the domain name in my e-mail address (no, it’s usually not noone.org).

Still not clear? Well, feel free to ask me for all the gory details or mark the following white box to see the scheme as well as the explanations for nearly all hostnames hidden in there:

All the machines are named after Citroëns. Old machines after old Citroëns, current hardware after current Citroën models or prototypes.

Those names starting with “A” are 2CV derivatives since the 2CV was Citroëns “A” model. “AZ” was the 2CV, AZU and AK were 2CV vans and everything starting with AY (e.g. AYA, AYA2, AYB – but those don’t sound that nice ;-) is Dyane based, but I currently only use Méhara names (AYCA is the normal Méhari, AYCE the 4x4 version). Interestingly not everything starting with AYC is a Méhari: AYCD was the Acadiane, the Dyane van.

HY and HZ are variants of Citroëns “H van” (HX, HW and H1600 as well, but they don’t sound that nice), TUB was the pre-WWII “H van” prototype and later the nickname of the “H van” in France.

TPV was the name of the pre-WWII 2CV prototype and an abbreviation for Toute Petite Voiture (French for “Very Small Car”), hence the Zaurus, my smallest Linux box, got that name. Rosalie was the nickname of a rear-wheel drive pre-WWII Citroën.

M35 was a Wankel engine prototype of the Ami 8 and the Ami Super was the 4 cylinder version of the Ami 8. Bijou was a 2CV based coupé build by Citroën UK in the late 50s and early 60s.

Visa and LNA were 2CV predecessors which were available with 2CV engines, but were stopped before the 2CV. GSA and GSX are GS late derivatives.

C1, C2, (C3) Pluriel, C-Crosser, Jumper and Nemo are current Citroën models and C-Cactus and C-Métisse are recent Citroën prototypes and show cars.

The 2CV Dagonet was an aerodynamically optimised 2CVs by Jean Dagonet in the 50s. The Tryane is an aerodynamic and fuel efficient, three wheeled car by Friend Wood based on the 2CV and with a body of wood. And Colani once dressed a 2CV so that it broke several efficiency world records.

The Namco Pony was a 2CV based light utility truck (similar to the Méhari, but with steel body) built in Greece under license in many variants.

And Loadrunner is the name of some CX six-wheeler conversions.

Some links about the naming items:

Hope you had fun. I had. ;-)

Now playing: Willi Astor — Gwand Anham Ära

Mini-ITX based Home Server: Planning and Hardware //at 18:24 //by abe

from the availability-and-power-consumption dept.

Ever since my former desktop machine gsa died and I started using only laptops at home, I noticed a need for a home server for storing all my MP3s, holiday pictures, games, and backups of my other machines. And I also want a filtering web proxy at home again.

Current situation

Currently my Norhtec MicroClient Jr. “c2” with it’s 120 GB 2.5" harddisk does some of these jobs (mostly storage and backup), but it neither has the disk space nor the performance to do all the things I want.

For storage I once bought a TheCus N4100, the big brother of the popular and officially Debian supported N2100. Unfortunately there are a few things different than in the N2100 (NIC without MAC) which makes it much more difficult to get Debian on it and the original firmware doesn’t support NFS at all. *grmpf* I had hints from others who managed to get Debian on this NAS, but I didn’t find the time and leisure to really dig into cross-compiling kernels. (Although with the new 1.3.06 firmware, so called modules became possible also for the N4100 and a SSH module has been posted with which a Debian chroot could be installed and the required kernel build on the machine itself.)

I though wasn’t very angry when the N4100+ came out shortly after I bought the N4100, because the N4100+ was no more an ARM based device but had a Celeron processor inside instead. And a NAS which is built on average PC hardware wasn’t as appealing as some device based on some more exotic architecture mainly used in embedded devices. :-)

The Mini-ITX Appeal

This view changed rapidly, when Raffzahn showed me a few Mini-ITX boards and cases. I surfed around on Mini-ITX.com store and stumbled upon the NAS-like ES34069 case from Chenbro featuring four S-ATA hotswap 3.5" slots, a slim-line CD-ROM drive slot, a SD card reader, and enough space for an additional 2.5" hard disk and a low profile Mini-ITX board.

Additionally, the VIA EPIA SN series of Mini-ITX boards sports 4 S-ATA ports and either a passively cooled 1 GHz C7 processor or an actively cooled 1.8 GHz C7 processor. That should be enough power for a small multi-purpose home server while still keep the power consumption low. And I’m not the only one having this idea, Mini-ITX.com suggests this combination and Chenbro officially supports the VIA EPIA SN boards.

Additionally, Debian 5.0 Lenny seems to run fine on the SN series, only lm-sensors seems to have problems with SN18000G and SN10000EG (but not SN18000 and SN10000E).

So when the Chenbro ES34069 case showed up in digitec’s online shop, I ordered one there and a VIA EPIA SN18000G board at Brack. I didn’t order any disks since for data storage I plan to use the four Samsung 400 GB 3.5" S-ATA disks I bought for the N4100, and for the system I plant to use the 2.5" disk I initially bought for my MicroClient JrSX “c1”, but then continued to use it only with the CF card. Not yet sure, if I’ll also equip the slim-line optical drive slot, too.

The case took several weeks to deliver and the mainboard hasn’t arrived yet. Instead I got an e-mail from Brack that VIA products are currently very difficult to get in Switzerland. Reason is said to be that VIA tries to channel the distribution of their products to a single distributor. (Sounds somehow similar to what Apple tried with the iPhone and failed.)

Mini-ITX boards and power consumption

So I now have a nice case without a board. There aren’t that many Mini-ITX boards out there sporting 4 S-ATA ports. One which cleary stood out was the new Intel DG45FC Mini-ITX board with LGA775 socket. (In Switzerland neither available at Brack nor at digitec, but e.g. at PCP.) But reading the specs of this board it was also clear that it wasn’t thought for NAS systems but high-performance HTPCs — the focus seems to be on multimedia performance which a NAS doesn’t need.

Its newer sister, the Intel DQ45EK Mini-ITX board is focussed more on office and business PCs than on multimedia. But Intels remote adminstration is not really a plus for me (don’t need it, I’ve got SSH ;-) and it’s neither cheaper than the DG45FC nor does it have significantly lower power-consuption.

Despite the 120W power-supply there are people who already combined the Chenbro ES34069 with the Intel DG45FC or DQ45EK board, e.g. one of the administrators of the German NAS-Portal forums built such a machine and this German guy who wants to build a Windows Home Server based on such a combination. At least the NAS-Portal administrator found out that the board consumes so much power that together with the 4 S-ATA disks the included 120W power supply doesn’t suffice and the system is not stable in this configuration. Trusted Reviews review of the DG45FC explains why: It’s one of the first Mini-ITX board not following the MoDT idea, has a desktop chipset instead a mobile chipset and therefore hasn’t all of the power-saving features of those mobile chipsets.

But it’s easy to see anyway: Most of the CPUs supported by the DG45FC and DQ45EK boards have a TDP of 65W. Offically the processor cooler delivered with the case supports processors with up to 65W, but 65W is already more than the half of what the power supply delivers and according to the Trusted Reviews review, the board itself consumes another 35W itself. So for the four 3.5" S-ATA disks — which are usually not as economical as notebook disks — about 20W are left. This can’t work! The guy from NAS-Portal.org plans to solve the problem by using a universal 180W notebook power supply instead of the original one.

In comparison to the 100W of the both Intel boards, VIA’s SN18000G consumes only 26W (the fanless SN10000EG even only 22W) and that’s board and processor! That’s about ¼ of what the Intel board consumes. Imagine the difference between having a 100W light bulb (suffices for a whole small room) shining 365 days a year compared to a 25W light bulb (often used in bedside lamps) in a year.

Other Mini-ITX mainboards with 4x S-ATA include the following ones:

Conclusion

For now, I decided to wait a little bit more for my VIA EPIA SN18000G board which still seems to be the best board for the Chenbro ES34069 case although not really cheap. But if I once in a not that distant future decide to have a desktop at home again, I’m quite sure it’ll sport a cute Mini-ITX case (perhaps a nice black-orange HFX micro M1 case by mCubed — unfortunately the M2 is no more available in a color combination including orange ;-) with an Intel DG45FC or Kontron 986LCD-M/mITX and a decent Core 2 Duo processor.

Software Plans

Of course my home server will run Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 Lenny on it, with software RAID-5 and LVM2 over the 1.6 TB of S-ATA disks resulting in 1.2 TB available disk space which will be offered using at least NFS, SMB and SSH (think sshfs). Planned software includes BackupPC (a very fine pulling backup system for machines which are not online 24/7) and Privoxy. I’ll perhaps also install Tor and a caching proxy like Squid or Polipo. Another idea is to run Mediatomb on that machine. :-)

NSLU2 in a Tux Case //at 18:23 //by abe

from the embedded-in-a-tux dept.

It started harmless when Thomas asked on Linux User Group Switzerland mailing list if someone knows a tux-shaped alarm clock. But the topic of that thread quickly moved to two other things in tux shape: the Tux Droid, a device similar to the Nabaztag, but needs a Linux host with USB, and ACME SystemsTux-Server, a ETRAX CRIS based Foxboard inside a tux-shaped case.

We found out that Telion, the Swiss importer for Foxboards, also imports ACME Systems’ Tux Case — although the Tux Case is not mentioned on their website. Even better: They had a few old Tux Cases in stock which don’t fit anymore on current Foxboards since the position of the power socket changed. (So only one hole in the case was missing.) And they wanted to get rid of them quite fast: They offered us the Tux Cases for 10 CHF (6€) each instead of 28 CHF each (17€) if we buy all of them. Of course we couldn’t reject this offer and bought all five remaining cases.

Another part of the thread was about performance. Although ETRAX CRIS is used by its inventor AXIS in many of its products (they’re famous for the Linux based web-cams) many were not sure if the board’s performance would be sufficient for their ideas. Another disadvantage of the ETRAX CRIS architecture is that no mainstream Linux distribution supports it.

Another point was the Foxboard’s price (169€, ca. 268 CHF). Bones just mentioned that an NSLU2 costs only about 100 CHF (60€).

Probably on IRC someone (probably Bones, too) wondered if it’s possible to fit a NSLU2 into such a quite inexpensive Tux Case. We took Wikipedia’s picture of the NSLU2 board, compared the size of the USB ports on that picture, compared them with real-life USB ports and found out the size of the board that way. And when I got my Tux-Case I noticed that the NSLU2 board really could fit into the Tux-Case.

Since I’m already building a bigger NAS-like home server, I have no use for another, much slower NAS. But since I more or less gave up the also ARM-based Thecus N4100, another ARM-based machine in my hardware collection wouldn’t be bad.

So it didn’t took long and the idea was born to build the NSLU2 board into a Tux-Case and let the website tux.ethz.ch run on it. (I inherited its administration from Beat and it’s currently just a virtual host on one of our webservers.) Then it would be a server named Tux, serving Tuxes, looking like a Tux and running Tux’ operating system Linux. :-)

I ordered an NSLU2 at Brack for 117.60 CHF (ca. 70€). Played around with the original firmware for a moment, but it’s horrible from a security point of view: You can’t even change the admin password (default: “admin”) if no USB harddisk is attached. And no, a USB stick doesn’t suffice. So I didn’t wait long and tried to install Debian’s “armel” (ARM, Little Endian) port on it. But the NSLU2 refused the “new firmware” with the error message “Upgrade: no enough free space.”. While this is not in the Debian specific NSLU2 FAQ, it is mentioned in the general troubleshooting FAQ. As described in there, first upgrading to the most recent firmware version and then uploading the Debian installer worked fine.

After I had successfully installed Debian Lenny on a pqi 4 GB USB sticked into the NSLU2 and verified that everything is working fine, I opened the NSLU2 case and checked if it really would fit into a Tux Case.

It does, but very, very close. You’ll have to drill some holes and the ethernet socket will stick out Tux’s shoulder, but everything else should fit perfectly after a few mounting parts inside the Tux Case have been removed. As a proof of concept I laid the NSLU2 board on the Tux Case’s back:

Pictures taken with my Nokia E51

So later the LEDs will be in Tux’ one shoulder while the network socket will be in his other shoulder. And the USB stick will be inside his paunch via a USB hub.

water-proof mice //at 18:23 //by abe

from the *want* dept.

When I blogged about water-proof keyboards a few months ago I did not really expect that there will be water-proof mice (no IP classification though) so soon, too. (Found in an advertisment in the current issue of the German c’t magazine.)

But the idea of water-proof mice in general doesn’t seem to be as new as I initially expected, at least the web design of http://www.waterproofmouse.co.uk/ is very nineties. ;-)

RuggedTech even has washable, wireless, IP66 (protected against powerful water jets) mice with a scroll-wheel and completely silicone sealed IP68 mice (protected against immersion beyond 1m).

Tag Cloud

2CV, aha, Apache, APT, aptitude, ASUS, Automobiles, autossh, Berlin, bijou, Blogging, Blosxom, Blosxom Plugin, Browser, BSD, CDU, Chemnitz, Citroën, CLI, CLT, Conkeror, CSS, CX, deb, Debian, Doofe Parteien, E-Mail, eBay, EeePC, Emacs, Epiphany, Etch, ETH Zürich, Events, Experimental, Firefox, Fläsch, FreeBSD, Freitagstexter, FVWM, Galeon, Gecko, git, GitHub, GNOME, GNU, GNU Coreutils, GNU Screen, Google, GPL, grep, grml, gzip, Hackerfunk, Hacks, Hardware, Heise, HTML, identi.ca, IRC, irssi, Jabber, JavaShit, Kazehakase, Lenny, Liferea, Linux, LinuxTag, LUGS, Lynx, maol, Meme, Microsoft, Mozilla, Music, mutt, Myon, München, nemo, Nokia, nuggets, Open Source, Opera, packaging, Pentium I, Perl, Planet Debian, Planet Symlink, Quiz, Rant, ratpoison, Religion, RIP, Sarcasm, Sarge, Schweiz, screen, Shell, Sid, Spam, Squeeze, SSH, Stoeckchen, Stöckchen, SuSE, Symlink, Symlink-Artikel, Tagging, Talk, taz, Text Mode, ThinkPad, Ubuntu, USA, USB, UUUCO, UUUT, VCFe, Ventilator, Vintage, Wahlen, Wheezy, Wikipedia, Windows, WML, Woody, WTF, X, Xen, zsh, Zürich, ÖPNV

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Hackergotchi of Axel Beckert

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I usually don't buy new hardware. Why should I if I get old hardware I can use thrown after me.


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  • Bastian Sick: Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod (Teile 1-3)
  • Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: Good Omens (borrowed from Ermel)

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  • Douglas R. Hofstadter: Gödel, Escher, Bach
  • Neil Gaiman: Keine Panik (borrowed from Ermel)

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  • Neil Stephenson: Cryptonomicon (borrowed from Ermel)

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