Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lubuntu 13.04 Raring Ringtail PowerPC Preview

I mentioned earlier I installed Lubuntu 13.04 and MintPPC on a second hard drive in my Sawtooth, so I thought I'd give you a quick look-see on the former to see what it's all about.

On first impression, it's highly polished. The theme is unified across all applications and the fonts are handsome. I'm not personally a fan of the Ubuntu font, but that just means 99% of the rest of the world looooooves it. The LXDE environment is easy to navigate around and very responsive, the same as LXDE on any other distro. It comes with a very minimal set of basic applications, which I appreciate. Just one music player (Audacious), one video player (Gnome Mplayer), one web browser (Firefox 19), etc. PCManFM automatically detected and mounted all partitions on both discs. Overall I was pleasantly surprised, though this being a development release there were some instances of bugginess.

First, I had to use the yaboot parameter "Linux video=radeonfb:1280x1024-32@60" entered at the second yaboot prompt. Otherwise I got distorted colors. Also, by using video=radeonfb:off, I could get 3D acceleration but only briefly. After a few minutes the system always froze, and it was due to radeon errors. I filed a bug report here and it's setting the world on fire as you can see.

Probably the biggest disappointment is with video. With 3D acceleration enabled, video playback is great, but like I said, 3D for me is unreliable. Back in a 2D desktop, videos show about 30% higher CPU usage and I get a slight horizontal shearing effect--slight but noticeable. I've never seen this problem on Debian/MintPPC. Also, when trying VLC it played sound but no video.

The only other bug I found was the Firefox blue tint bug, where some resized images are tinted blue. This is a PowerPC specific bug and has been patched at Mozilla's end, so it's only a matter of time before the fix migrates down to Ubuntu and Debian. In the meantime, Zen at PowerPC Liberation detailed a simple workaround here.

Here are a few screenshots, the third showing the Firefox bug:

Lubuntu 13.04 on powerpc 01

Lubuntu 13.04 on powerpc 02

Lubuntu 13.04 on powerpc 03

Go ahead, give Raring a spin. I recommend installing from the alternate CD instead of the live CD, because it fits on an actual CD and you don't have to worry about messing with yaboot parameters and xorg settings to get the graphical one to work. Actually I've had highly prejudicial experiences with live CDs in the past, so take that for what it's worth.

Some more useful reading here: Lubuntu 13.04 (Raring Ringtail) daily build

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Streaming Music on PowerPC

I have a confession to make. I'm a 120 Minutes orphan. Once upon a time there was a show every Sunday at midnight on MTV where you'd get two hours of videos of everything alternative and cutting edge. It was called 120 Minutes, and with this show you didn't need anything else to tell you what new music was out there. It was all packed into 120 minutes every week. And then it got cancelled.

Turns out I became dependent and was woefully unprepared to face the world without it. Finding new music was like suddenly being lost in an alien landscape of Myspace, Youtube, and low wattage college radio stations. I eventually turned to the humiliating method of typing in a CD I liked on Amazon and then going to the "Customers who purchased this also bought..." section. But even that's shown diminishing returns. Thankfully there's been a bevy of streaming music services to appear in recent years, not just internet radio stations, but services to read your tastes and serve up music you may have more than a 1% chance of not actively hating. So I thought I'd give a rundown of these for PowerPC Macs and see which are still compatible.


First up is Spotify. It's client-based, meaning you download a client to login with and it serves up music with iTunes integration, its own playlists, as well as ads if you're on a free account. Version is the last one to support Tiger and PowerPC and it still works, though there's no guarantee it will in the future. The charms of unsupported software. It can be found on this page.

Spotify also has a beta web client that is only accessible by signing in with your Facebook account. I'm not on Facebook so I didn't bother trying it, but you can here. Another option for paid members is Despotify, a cli-based client that can be installed on Linux, and on Macs with Homebrew.

Spotify has a beta Linux client, but the bastard sharks didn't compile it for PowerPC.

(UPDATE: Thanks to Mike W. for leaving a link in comments to the last PowerPC version of's official OS X client. It's old but it still works. How did I miss this?) plays in your web browser and requires flash. This definitely sucks. I searched around for standalone clients on OS X, but they're all old and no longer work.

Thankfully the picture is brighter on Linux. There's a great open source client called lastfm available in the Debian repositories, and it has all the features of the web player without the flash. There's also the console-based shell-fm, and it may also be possible to compile this on OS X, though it looked...involved.

In addition to standalones, there are many applications that have plugins to scrobble what you're playing back to the death star.


Pandora is similar to in that it basically gives you customized radio stations based on your likes and dislikes. Their web player recently changed to html5, but inexplicably still requires flash. This definitely sucks. They have an official desktop client that requires Adobe Air (scroll waaaaaay down for the last PowerPC version) and is for paid subscribers only.

This is another service where the much better experience is with Linux. Namely Pithos, a standalone GTK client that's tiny and slick. If for some reason you prefer a console-based client, there's Pianobar.

(UPDATE: If you see songs loading as 42 seconds long and playing silently, that's not a problem with your client. It's something Pandora triggers from the server side when you skip too many songs for their liking.)


Last of the big players is Grooveshark. They appear to be exlusively web-based with no standalone clients. Their regular website requires flash, but they also have an html5 site that works in Safari/Webkit/TenFourKit. As of now it won't work in Firefox/TenFourFox because Grooveshark uses a proprietary codec that Mozilla is not supporting. Depending on your ideologies, blame Grooveshark or Mozilla.

In addition to those four services, there are a few others like Slacker Radio, Jango, and Rdio. They all require flash, though Rdio has made an old client for PowerPC Leopard users available here (direct download).

I also tried to get the flash sites working on Linux with Gnash and Lightspark, which was a hopeless exercise in futility. Of all these solutions, my favorite is the Linux client, though it's a qt app. Here's a quick tip. If you have a qt app like SMPlayer or lastfm that has the ugly Windows 95 look and isn't conforming to your GTK theme, install qt4-qtconfig* and use that to get your qt apps to match. And its launch command is qtconfig or also qtconfig-qt4.

With all the above services, there's also an ethical consideration to make. They're fine as a musical discovery tool, but be aware they pay artists very little if anything in royalties, despite all the revenues they take in. So it's kind of a crap move to find something you like and then use the service to play it back on demand. If you like a song, support the artist and buy their stuff!

*You'll also need to install libgnome2-common, see this bug report for the why.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Global Equalizer for OS X

It's pretty late in the game to have discovered this, maybe I read somewhere before that it wasn't possible, but it turns out there's a way to have a global equalizer across all your applications in OS X. Not just in iTune$ or VLC or others with their own equalizers built in, but in everything else like Youtube videos in your browser or games and such.

One reason I want this is because all my CDs are ripped in Ogg Vorbis format, and iTune$'s (okay, I'll stop with the dollar sign) equalizer doesn't play with the Xiph plugin that enables both .ogg and .flac playback. Kind of a bummer since my desktop speakers are a bit small and could benefit from some tweaking. Luckily there's a global solution.

You need two pieces of software: AU Lab and Soundflower. AU Lab is part of the Xcode Developer Tools that came on your install discs. You can also download Developer Tools from Apple's developer website (free registration required). They've recently made AU Lab available as a standalone download so you don't have to install the full GB+ developer package, but I think it's only for Snow Leopard and up. I'm not sure about the licensing of obtaining a standalone AU Lab for Tiger and Leopard (it's free, after all), but you may find it with a bit of googling. Soundflower, more simply, is available here (1.4.3 for PowerPC).

At first I tried following Dctr Watson's directions here, but they were Snow Leopard-centric and I failed miserably. After some searching I finally came across this old post which had AU Lab/Soundflower instructions for Tiger. And they worked!

Now onto setting the right levels. The two pics below are two views of the same levels, the second one displaying the actual numbers.

AU Equalizer view 1.png

AU Equalizer view 2.png

These are what work best for my speakers. They're not overly aggressive with the bass, but they expand the soundscape and make my speakers sound less mono. Makes a much richer sound. If you try these and get distortion, just lower the levels or narrow the curve.

Once you're satisfied, you can save the preset and also save an Au Lab .trak document that you can use as a login item in your Accounts Preferences. That way it's running on startup. If you don't want that, you can just launch the .trak document to activate the equalizer anytime you want.

As far as equalizers go, the CPU hit is slight. AU Lab will use maybe 5% of your processor (and a slight amount of RAM) while running, but the key is to hide the application. There's visual feedback in the application window when audio plays, so if you keep it visible you're gonna take more of a hit.

Now Youtube videos actually sound good.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Multiple Linux Distros on One Hard Drive With Yaboot

So I had this old 13 GB hard drive packed away in a box that I completely forgot about until a few days ago when I thought, "Why aren't I using this?" Then I went back to playing with my balloon.

Several hours later, though, I decided to stick it in my Sawtooth as a second hard drive and use it to test out Linux distros on two partitions. So in an act of impressive daring-do and engineering elan, I opened its door. (My sarcasm is well-earned. I'm a veteran of the 7100 wars [don't ask].) A few screws unscrewed and screwed, a quick jumper setting change, and I had a second hard drive on top of my primary one and I was ready to go. From there, I closed the door and got some install CDs out.

The decision on which two distros to install was a no-brainer. Since I already have Debian on a laptop, I'd install Lubuntu and MintPPC. But how do you instal two Linux distros on the same hard drive? Never did that before. After a bit of googling, I came to one of two conclusions: either it was so complicated that speaking of it was a lot like the first rule of fight club, or it was so easy that nobody even bothered to write up a how-to. After going through it, I can now confirm the latter conclusion was the accurate one. Or was it the former? I always get those mixed up.

Apparently when you install any distro that uses deb-installer, it will automatically recognize any other Linux distros on the drive and append your yaboot configuration accordingly. It also recognizes OS X partions, but in my experience not OS 9 ones. Those I have to manually enter into yaboot.conf. So the procedure is easy.

First I started with MintPPC. In the deb-installer I set up the bootloader, swap, and root partitions and left the space I had planned for Lubuntu as "Free Space." Then I went ahead with the install just like any other. When that was all done, I booted with the Lubuntu 13.04 (Raring Ringtail) alternate CD (graphical installers are a PITA), and in the partitioner I set the remaining free space as Lubuntu's root partition. No need to set different bootloader and swap partitions as the existing ones will be shared. Then I proceeded with the install and rebooted.

Now at the yaboot prompt you enter "l" for Linux just like always, but at the second screen you press tab to display your choice of Linux installs. In my case, "Linux" for Lubuntu and "Debian-Linux" for MintPPC. You can edit those names in yaboot.conf to something shorter. Then type which one you want to boot and it boots!

The only problem I have is sometimes my display says "out of range" when the yaboot screen is supposed to display, so I have to type blind. I'll have to investigate that, but in the meantime I'll just ignore it and hope it goes away.

So now I have MintPPC and Lubuntu to try out. I'll probably write up something more about them later, but for now they haven't destroyed my computer yet so it's all good.

UPDATE: Just don't run ybin on a boot volume where your yaboot.conf only has one Linux install listed. In my case, the yaboot.conf on my Lubuntu install was the one with both Linux volumes since it was installed second, and the deb-installer ran ybin off of that. I made the mistake of running ybin while in MintPPC and temporarily making my Lubuntu volume invisible to yaboot. I got things sorted by running the Lubuntu install CD in rescue mode and re-installing the boot loader. Lesson learned.