Monday, August 27, 2012

The Fossil Project, Part II: Choosing and Installing FreeBSD

I decided to install a variation of Unix on the Fossil (if this means nothing to you, read this post first), and I decided I didn't want it to have a GUI because I wanted to learn Unix commands with nothing to lean on.  I also have this great copy of Unix for Dummies (4th edition! copyright 1998! bizarre and fantastic gift from someone) that assumes no GUI, so it seemed like a good route to take.  After all, why do a project like this if it's not more difficult than necessary?

The book, however, assumes that you've been saddled with Unix by someone at your office and just have to figure out how to use it, so the choosing and installing of the new OS was up to me.  I did what anyone else would do - I took the question to the Unix/Linux node of the StackExchange network.  I put in my requirements and the specs of the machine as far as I knew, and posed my very simple question:

I got quite a lot of answers.  Some were more helpful than others, of course, and somehow the one that got the most upvotes was entirely based on how I really could have a GUI if I wanted.

I've seen more of this than makes sense to me, this thing with people assuming I secretly want a GUI but just don't believe in my machine enough.  I commented on the post pretty quickly that I specifically asked for no GUI, but it still got a bunch of upvotes.

Of course, I get to accept whatever answer I like, and so I started with the one that looked most painless - a suggestion of FreeBSD.  I figured if it didn't work I'd try ArchLinux next, if my machine could handle it, or Gentoo, or whatever else was suggested by the fine and helpful people of the StackExchange (which is a thousand times better than a forum for actually getting questions answered).

I went through the process of downloading the big installation of FreeBSD - dvd1 - which would include all the documentation and a bunch of packages besides the OS itself, as well as a small installation (disc1) with just the OS and docs.  Knowing the Fossil has no network card and being uncertain if I'd ever be able to connect it to the 'net, I wanted to install as much as would fit right off the bat.  I burned dvd1 to a DVD, booted up, and inserted the DVD into the CD drive.

Windows 95 booted.

Well, okay, that makes sense, I just needed to change the boot order.  So I rebooted, went into the BIOS, and put the CD drive first.  And...go!

Windows 95 booted.

Maybe I didn't put the DVD in fast enough.  I rebooted again.

Windows 95 booted.

The CD drive literally only reads CDs, not DVDs.  "It's red lasers!  What's the difference!?" I complained to someone I know, who laughed and said "We're young," clearly indicating that we expect things to work that once did not.

Fine.  Minimal installation from a CD it is.  And this time it worked, and installed fairly painlessly, and has no GUI by default.  I haven't run into any problems yet, except that the only text editor is vi - which sounds a lot worse that it really is.  I don't hate vi.  So I count this as a win.

Thank you, timmmay, for your perfect and simple answer, and to Sardathrion for clarifying which of timmmay's suggestions to take.  Of course, now that I have FreeBSD, what do I DO with the thing?  That shall be answered in near-future posts.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Fossil Project, Part I: First Computer Disassembly/Re-Assembly Experience

Hello, all.  It's been a while.  I've been working on a new pet project to learn some things about computers that I didn't know before, so I'll have plenty of blog posts in the near future relating to that.  This is the first one.

It begins with a machine.  Specifically, this is the computer I used as a kid to play games like Ping & Kooky's Cuckoo Zoo and Richard Scarry's Busytown, and my father used it for whatever mundane things people did with computers that didn't connect to the Internet.  I think it had some kind of extremely basic CAD software and Microsoft Office.  Parts of it are probably fifteen years old (or more), but it's been upgraded over time to have a zippy 133MHz processor, and it ran Windows 95 pretty okay.  I'm past-tensing the software because now it's running FreeBSD, but that's a story for another time.

Anyway, I was a counselor for my church's Youth Camp this year, and I needed to choose a topic for my teach-me group.  Every year there are several little four-day classes that the youth get to attend during the week, and for my first couple of years as counselor I did jewelry making.  This year, for various reasons, all kinds of possibilities were opened up to me.  Comic-book drawing and objected-oriented programming for junior highers were high on my list until I got an email asking me to do the junior high counterpart to the new senior high class on disassembling computers.  I'd never disassembled a computer before, so of course I said yes.

For reasons fairly beyond my control it ended up getting canceled (and I ended up assisting with archery), but this was the beginning of the Fossil's resurrection.  My dad decided he was officially finished with this computer and that I could allow junior highers to pull it apart if I wanted, so a couple of days before leaving for Youth Camp I began the process of learning to disassemble and re-assemble a computer.  Thank God my dad helped me or it would probably still be in pieces on the kitchen table.  Here's the saga as I tracked it with pencil and paper in real-time on 31 May and 1 June, 2012 (with minimal corrections to grammar and the like).  Several bits of information are missing because I forgot to write them down, but you get the idea.

Day 1

20:42 - Il commence!
21:07 - I should have made notes about what ATA cords go where.  I just wanted these stupid ribbons out of the way (this computer is way pre-SATA) but I'm going to be upset by the time reassembly begins.
21:14 - Power supply plugs into the motherboard via two separate plugs that look the same except for the colors of the cables.  I hope I don't fry it on reassembly.
21:25 - Just removed the tape drive.  Tape drive.  Tape.  Drive.
21:32 - The guy who designed the end of the cord that connects the CD drive to the motherboard should be punched in the head.  It's nigh impossible to unplug it from the motherboard because you have to squeeze it from the front and back instead of the sides.  With a pair of needle-nose pliers.
21:43 - The floppy drive...oh, you're laughing.  I'll wait.  Yes, the floppy drive's card is connected to it by a jack that has a tab on the bottom of it.  It must be pushed down with a flathead screwdriver.
22:08 - I let a How I Met Your Mother rerun distract me, but I am now removing expansion cards.  I lack an antistatic wrist strap so I'm touching grounded metal like a superstitious person.
22:19 - There is a dead spider in the case and I think I can remove it using toothpicks as chopsticks.
22:22 - OH DEAR LINUS IT'S ALIVE no, I'm just kidding, it's all dead and crunchy.
22:29 - Onto the RAM.  Two sticks are different from the other two and they don't alternate.  I don't understand.
22:45 - Ohhh the CPU is under the fan.  On a side note, I was expecting to see a chipset with a northbridge and southbridge and basically nothing looks like the layout shown in the PC Builder's Bible from 2008.  My dad was sort of helping - answering questions - but now he's watching King of Queens and I'm flying fairly solo.
23:07 - I'ma just leave the motherboard right where it is.  Commence reassembly!
23:54 - Cards are in properly, I hope.  RAM is in.  Floppy drive is in, but I can't say I'm going to test it.
0:56 - I'm actually guessing where things go at this point.  I should have taken better photos of the ribbons.
2:02 - Giving up for the night.  Somehow 5 drives were connected in here.  I think.  Maybe one wasn't.

Day 2

20:46 - Il commence - deux!
20:58 - Mysteries of unconnected cords - solved!  Between my dad and I we figured it out.  I think.  We'll test it shortly.
21:13 - Moment of truth.
21:15 - Oh eff.
[We turned it on and literally nothing happened. At this point I received a phone call from someone at church.]
21:17 - ahahaha the teach me group is canceled.
21:22 - Oh an idiot, the power supply was plugged in incorrectly (off by a pin).  Now it turns on, but the hard drive won't talk.
21:34 - Drives now spinning (ribbon was backwards in motherboard) but nothing on screen.
21:49 - Got distracted by Santana's no-hitter - first in Mets history!
22:06 - Unplugged all the drives except for one hard drive, and the BIOS finally works properly.  Wish the C drive were labeled.
22:18 - Starting Windows 95!
22:24 - The motherboard is racist.  White is master, black is slave.  I will always remember this.
22:38 - Plugged in the other drives.  No BIOS.  Come on!
22:43 - Unplugged tape and CD drives.  Works.  Next!
22:47 - Tape drive != problem.  Must be CD drive.  But why!?
22:49 - Oh cool, my hands smell like ATA ribbons.
22:52 - Ah yes, plug in CD drive -> BIOS turns into the robot from the Asimov story "Runaround."  Or maybe that's us.  Maybe the CD drive was the issue the entire time.  We will die on Mercury's surface.
22:57 - The CD-ROM drive's ribbon goes in backwards relative to the hard drive ribbon, which is right next to it.  Powell and Donovan.  That's us.  Except less intelligent.  On the plus side, I didn't kill any components!  Mission accomplished.