Gentoo – First Impressions

I’ve just finished the shutdown of my Raspberry Pi Gentoo installation box.

I did something of a “shortcut” via the directions here:

http://ukginger.net/Gentoo2/

Install Gentoo on Raspberry Pi 2 / 3 + USB Hardrive

This method uses a NOOBS install of Raspbian as the host to install Gentoo onto a USB Hardrive. It is quick & simple, providing a working Gentoo install with the least pain in the shortest time possible.

Please read ALL the instructions before attempting this install

This install method leaves NOOBS and Raspbian on the SD Card as the ultimate Rescue Disc (dual boot).

The install is quick and easy, using the stable Raspberry Pi Foundation Kernel off the SD-Card. No Kernel Compile required.

You’ll also end up with a machine theoretically fractionally faster because it everything will be compiled for ARMv7a_hardFP unlike other distros which are all compiled for the older ARMv6. I also provide an optional Stage-3 compiled for NEON vpf4 to enable all Hardware Acceleration, current-armv7a_neonvfpv4_hardfp.

What follows is How I Did It …. Every instruction has been copy pasted directly from my install. I then re-installed a couple of times following and these instructions to check they are “correct”. If you spot mistakes or can suggest improvements, please contact me.

Over View

The install falls roughly into 3 categories or stages.

Booting Raspbian Desktop to partition & format the USB Hardrive
Download Base Files System, portage Package Stuff
chroot to sort the configs, such as set the keyboard, date, and such like.

Ingredients

Rapsberry Pi 2 / 3
USB Hardrive
8Gb Micro SD card with NOOBS

I did change the mix some. For example, I didn’t need to swap from the strange US keyboard to the UK one ;-)

I also didn’t use their install path of /mnt/genoot as ‘genoot’ is just rude ;-) I just put it in /gentoo and ran with it.

The other thing that I “changed up” was some of the order. They have you make an SD card Raspbian, then use it to format your disk and such. I just used my extant Arch system to launch gparted for the partitioning stuff, then downloaded the Gentoo Tarball into it and unpacked. It really doesn’t matter how the disk partion gets made, or how the bits get onto it…

I used “his” build from here:

http://ukginger.net/Gentoo2/releases/arm/autobuilds/current-armv7a_neonvfpv4_hardfp/

[DIR] Parent Directory –
[TXT] Raspberry-Pi-2.txt 22-Apr-2016 18:53 223
[ ] stage3-armv7a_neonvfpv4_hardfp-20160421.tar.bz2 22-Apr-2016 17:04 218M
[ ] stage3-armv7a_neonvfpv4_hardfp-20160421.tar.bz2.CONTENTS 22-Apr-2016 17:05 4.6M
[ ] stage3-armv7a_neonvfpv4_hardfp-20160421.tar.bz2.DIGESTS 22-Apr-2016 17:05 1.2K
[ ] stage3-raspberry-pi-2.tar.bz2 22-Apr-2016 17:04 218M
[ ] stage3-raspberry-pi-2.tar.bz2.CONTENTS 22-Apr-2016 17:05 4.6M
[ ] stage3-raspberry-pi-2.tar.bz2.DIGESTS 22-Apr-2016 17:05 1.2K

In particular that “neon” tar.bz2 wad. The “neon” processor is a dinky vector unit in the ARM chip that does something like a half dozen SIMD (Single Instruction Multiple Data) parallel math chunks at once. The page goes into reasonable depth about it. The short form is it speeds up sound and video at the expense of not being exactly IEEE spec precision. I’m OK with that on this system. (I’d likely choose the other way if making a Temperature Model Validation system as I’d need to avoid the accusation that I was the source of math drift…)

In general, his directions are “spot on” and you can just cookbook what he says. My only real complaint is that after repeatedly having my fingers type vi commands as soon as I thought to do something, and having “nano” not take well to that, I decided to install vi. On Gentoo that is done via: “emerge vim” (and then waiting several minutes while “stuff happens”…)

Issues

This method of install avoids a kernel build since it reuses the Raspbian Kernel. That’s OK, sort of. Especially just for a ‘first taste’. BUT: It means that I’m running a hybrid system where, as he points out, compiling and installing something like the X-windows system might be a bit off. It also means that the kernel was not complied with all the goodies and flags set for optimal use under Gentoo. I’ll worry about that next week…

So on my “todo list” is “make a Gentoo Kernel using this Gentoo and swap them”. Likely about a day in about a week. Maybe. (Depends on if I actually notice any issues, or not ;-)

At the end of a 1/2 day of adding source packages and building them, I’ve got a command line prompt and a lot of “always there” utilities and stuff that are missing. This is normal. Eventually I’ll make a “build script” for adding all that stuff, too, but just realize the basic install is pretty basic. No X-windows, no browsers, no LibreOffice, etc. etc. That’s why I’m doing this posting from Arch instead.

The build process is not as user hostile as I’d expected, but not something a noobie will love to see the first time. In many ways, it is a like “pacman” or “apt-get” in having a simple command line and easy recipes. OTOH, you get screen after screen of “stuff” that will be meaningless to most folks who don’t regularly compile systems and applications source on Linux / Unix boxes. Yes, you can just ignore it… but then what’s the point of compilation on your box? Might as well just download a binary built for it… (For someone “like me”. the advantage is that I can read that stuff and see what code tosses lots of warnings, that you mostly ignore anyway, and set custom compile flags as I like it. Things like that “neon” and optimizer directives for things like memory vs speed.)

It is longer to add a package. Sometimes significantly. Oddly, most of the added time is in the emerge “setting up to make” steps and not in the actual compile times. The “cc” stages past quickly.

While I’m up ‘relatively quickly’ and that means I can “assess and move on” quickly, I’ve also built in a time deficit of “build and swap kernels” of about 6 to 8 hours for “someday” and potentially can’t get an X-window environment running until I do that. (There is a bit of a ‘here there be dragons’ about compiling X without the kernel swap in the pages, but that might just be ‘reasonable paranoia’ as opposed to real data… so I’m going to try it anyway ;-)

It is afflicted with color. The vi (vim) editor uses “helpful colors” to show you what different lines do, and incidentally make it near impossible for me to read the comments in a file as dark blue on black is, er, a challenge… Your command prompt has colors. The ls has colors… Yeah, I know, I can “fix it”, but just wish it was B/W by default.

The Good Bits

The UK Ginger page specifically shows how to set the compiler flag to use multiple cores. I did, and it did. At times, the usage meter in the upper right corner pegged at 100% for a few minutes. ( I was chroot Gentoo in one window, but inside an Arch X-widow wrapper, so had the meter running ;-)

This is Very Good News. This is the same box that would crash on 100% CPU under Debian. This IMHO shows it is NOT the chip (SOC ARM) that has an issue. It just cranked right on through the big compiles. I intend to do more extended parallel processing tests on Gentoo, as that is a particular interest of mine.

It uses the v7 and Neon bits. Every bit of optimization helps, and starting off by using all your instruction set and all your hardware math coprocessors is a good thing.

It looks like anything you want is available as a source package and is one “emerge foo” away. Just need to make that shopping list and wait while they compile. I now have a ‘someday’ project of finding out how much work it is to duplicate the source archive. In a really paranoid world, you grab a mirror of the source archive using somewhere that is hard to bugger (like a public access point or fresh bought wifi hotspot not tied to your name). Now anyone watching “your pipe” doesn’t know to redirect that ‘fetch’ to their buggered versions. From that point forward, you run builds from your own, private, source mirror and it can’t be intercepted. Not worried about that now, but someday maybe. Yes, you also do all the compares of hashes and validation of keys and all… but it is nice to only do that once, not on each package build.

It seems fast and snappy. Yes, all I had was one terminal open (even after the reboot to live). No testing yet, but just an impression.

I really like that they have you do a “chroot” into it under Raspbian. Indirectly you get instruction in how to be running Raspbian, then swap to Gentoo on the fly… Nice.

I really like they have you install to a USB disk. I used a real USB hard disk, but a stick would work too. Lets you leave the world of “SD card wear and corruption issues” if you like. I also suspect that the whole ‘write to disk’ stuff will be much faster (no more writing a 10kb block to change 1 byte…) There is just something more “right” about having a Linux running from a hard disk with real swap ;-) And likely faster too.

Overall the feel is ‘familiar’. Things like the init system is where it ought to be, and you edit the files I know and love to change settings. “Everything you know is right”, as opposed to what SystemD did to things.

The general impression is that this is a place where some folks with skilz live, and they have kept it tidy.

Going Forward

I likely have a couple of more days before I can launch a browser and post a comment. A long list of things (many unknown to me at the moment) will need to be installed first. This is a “bootstraps up” operation, not a prepackaged Ubuntu Snuggle Bunny. Puppy has me up and working in about a 10 minute install. This is likely to be 2 or 3 days to finally done. BUT, it will be done the way I like it, and with pretty much all hardware optimizations turned on.

For the next few weeks, at least, it will only be an “occasional runner” and most of what I’m doing will be from Arch. Arch is in some ways 1/2 way from Debian to Gentoo. It starts out command line only, like Gentoo, but you are about a 2 minute “pacman -S” away from X and a few more to a browser of your choice. Gentoo is a day or two instead. Raspbian is quick out of the box, but I’ve “had issues” with things like OpenMP being doggy, crashing when I ran all 4 cores to the wall (likely a memory manager issue), and being increasingly SystemD “Experienced Admin Hostile”. I’m just getting tired of “I’ll just add a line to…” turning into a few hours of “WTF, where did they hide THAT config.”

For now, I’d suggest Arch as the “1/2 way to techland” happy medium. Gentoo for the “done systems admin before and I like it” folks. Puppy made a strong showing in the latest build, so somebody was busy fixing it up. The graphics ar less crayon 3rd grade and more colored pencil Junior College Art Class. And Chrome works! It’s the only place on the Pi where I’ve found a working Chrome browser (so far… now that they have it working, the others ought to pick up the fixes quick). It is now my “go-to quick boot to check something” choice. Debian is good for folks wanting to just follow what the most folks are doing. More likely the “advice” you want will be on line somewhere (HOWEVER: there will now be two sets of advice… the pre-SystemD in large measure, and the “SystemD is different” slowly building). Ubuntu? Fedora? Both well made and for folks who like their particular styles. Ubuntu is a cleaned up Debian with Mint desktop added. Fedora is in corporate coat and tie and doesn’t want you messing around changing things from “their way”, yet when I need a tool to ‘just work’ like gparted, that’s the one I booted.

I will tend to use all of them at various times, since this is what I do for a living, and knowing them all is important to me. Also, too, each one has their own flavor, and sometimes you just want one over the other…

Per a Build Base: Right now, the short list is Arch, Gentoo, and LFS. I don’t have a favorite yet. I need to do a LFS build first, so I know what I’m comparing. Next week sometime. Gentoo is clearly in the “Yeah, it works, I can start from here” bucket. Arch is in the “I can probably start from here… where are those sources?”. Arch also may (probably will?) drop support for SysVinit “soon” as they have committed to SystemD (and I’m not); so it is less likely long term. Finally, LFS has sidestepped SystemD saying that it was causing so much change every day it was impossible to keep up (which is sort of my impression). However, I don’t know if ALL source packages are available to build a full service LFS box. Things like LibreOffice and Gimp? Don’t know… So some exploration needed there. For now “Gentoo will do it” and I need to finish a systems build out, then test drive it for a week or two to know keep vs toss.

That’s where I got to. More as more happens ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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18 Responses to Gentoo – First Impressions

  1. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, my first “skim” of how to make a Gentoo R.Pi kernel and how to build a windowing system on it has been about like I expected. Lots of “half there” advice, much of it Pi A or Pi B related and v6, some early devo likely now fixed issues. In short, a bit of a gurp bucket.

    On the Kernel side, there were some ‘issues’ revolving around modules and an initramfs. Since the present Rasbian runs things OK one might think using that kernel would also be OK, but maybe not… All of which is leaning toward hacker hell where you just have to wade into building and if it works, you are done, and if not, you keep exploring the swamp… I think I do a few more look arounds before I start wading in…

    On Xorg, X-windows, fluxbox, lxde, kde, etc. etc. it is, so far, the usual heaping pile of poo. From the beginning the MIT folks who made X-11 made things horridly complicated, sometimes backwards from common sense (like server / client are backward) and “cutesy look at me!” first, “easy to make go” last. The mess has not improved with age and molestation over the years…

    IFF I ever get through it and “script a build”, I’ll post the recipe.

    Maybe I could just leap to Weston… ;-)

    I think I’ll back off from the kernel / X-Windows stuff for a while and play with parallel code on the single terminal window version. Just see of OpenMP is still sucky with FORTRAN of if that is fixed under Gentoo, and maybe test some other “load it up and make it squeal” 100% hammered durability and resiliency stuff. IF it handles parallel well and is both durable and resilient, well, that alone would make the pain of slogging through Xorg land tolerable… I think… In any case, as a distcc build server it would be a great target even if no windows system (just run headless anyway).

    Or maybe I’ll just go to bed… The “dribbles” are backing off and I’m having the “tired” catch up with me. But I always feel worst dead of night 1/2 a sleep when ill… best toward the end of the day… so don’t really want to trade the “sort of OK” now for the “feel bad” then… But sleep…

    I think I’ve reached the end of the road for today. Tomorrow calls… time to go to sleep and “make a new tomorrow” happen…

  2. gallopingcamel says:

    While the Raspberry Pi is on my list of projects it will probably have to wait until next year when I retire for good. In the meantime I will bookmark this as it may be what a software challenged person like me needs to have any hope of success.

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    @G.C.

    By then they ought to have a Pi 4… The 2 is just fast enough, mostly… so the 3 ought to be fine, being even faster. (on my shopping list). A 4 even better, someday…

    FWIW, I’d suggest you start with a simple Ubuntu and Debian dual boot via Berryboot (knowing that you already use Ubuntu). Once familiar with it, then try this.

    BTW, one of the joys of the Pi is that for $9 you can get a new SD card and a new os / system install. It’s easy to play with many flavors and a new system is minutes away. Big change of attitude compared with internal hard disk installs.. I’ve now got a half dozen SD cards, some with 4 to 7 OSs each, and swap often.

  4. As a “me too” but even more power, there’s a Banana Pi M3 with 8 cores at 1.8GHz (cost about twice the Pi 3). http://bananapi.com/index.php/component/content/article?layout=edit&id=85 looks pretty compatible to the RPi, though might not be up to the same quality of support. Maybe that’s the Pi 4 in effect, but I can’t see a “normal” user keeping all those cores occupied. A Beowulf built from these would quickly become mind-bogglingly powerful.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @Simon:

    I’ve thought of trying other brands, but just get stuck on the point that the Raspberry just works and has a lot of good folks working with it (so lots of help pages) while the others have less going on, and often a non-English base, so more “on your own” for things… Thus I’ve not actually bought a Banana Pi, Orange Pi, etc. even though they sometimes have more Umpfh and often more bang / buck.

    I’ll be more inclined once I’m done with the R.Pi Gentoo port, as that is putting me more up close and personal with things like the kernel and device drivers and such; so I’d be better positioned to fix something like a poor sound driver or ‘whatever’…

    Still, I like the sound of “Octo-Core!”… ;-)

    @All:

    Well, most of today was spent doing things like making sure I had kernel sources where they belonged, making a backup copy of various file systems so I have a checkpoint, etc. Then hours spent getting whacked with the clue stick about “ebuilds” and “emerge” and “portage” and “genkernel” and more. All “The Gentoo Way” of doing things, that isn’t like anyone else on that point (since they are source builds, not binary package blobs…)

    In the end, I found 2 “issues” from the shortcut install that were a pain.

    1) Kernel headers are not there. This means that you can’t build things that depend on them (that ‘here there be dragons’ from the UK Ginger link). It also means you can’t inspect them for clues (a minor thing), nor back them up.

    2) Since no kernel was genned, all the “stuff” that Gentoo kernel generation process expects is not there either. In particular, their config file… so their half dozen config generation tools that look at the prior config and put you in a quick way to change it panel, don’t work. Also the “build a new kernel like the old one” doesn’t work as there is no config saved… Yes, I could do the whole config ‘long hand’ using their do-it-all-longhand script / program, but that implies I know what all the settings are supposed to be.

    That’s the Gentooness of it… You can set ANYTHING, since it is for everything… including dozens of architectures I don’t have (but hey, it doesn’t know, maybe I want to do a cross build of a kernel for that old M68000 machine in the closet…).

    In the end, I just decided to build a kernel “the old way” via a generic “make” in the source directory. As per the generic Raspberry Pi Raspbian directions
    https://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/linux/kernel/building.md

    More on that tomorrow…

    So I’ve completed a kernel build, but have no idea yet if it works (thus, the tomorrow test). I’ve done a “make modules_install” after that, and nothing broke or complained…

    The major point to make is just that despite all the dire warnings about how long it takes to compile a kernel native on the Pi, it wasn’t that bad. I suspect a lot of folks got burned on the original Pi taking 12+ hours and by now are set up to cross compile, so only ever say “The Model 2 will be faster” and then proceed to advocate for cross-compiles…

    Well, I timed it, just to have real data. Even if for some reason this kernel is not workable (i.e. I blew some config option or driver source) the time to build data ought to be about right.

    It took a tad over 2:30 to build. (2:33 if I did the recording right). Yup, just 2.5 hours for the giant horrible monstrous don’t-even-think-about-it native kernel build. I’ve had bad youtube movies take longer than that…

    OK, so the biggest problem was figuring out the Gentoo build tools (which impress me as a nicely done bit of kit, but new to me) and then getting a sane “kernel config” (that was eventually solved via that ‘old school’ way of going into the source directory and doing “make bcm2709_defconfig” to get the default Pi Model 2 kernel config file (that for the “old way” is .config in that directory, but for the Gentoo tools is another name elsewhere… based on /proc/config.gz that doesn’t exist in my hybrid system…)

    OK, a bit of scrambled eggs because of the shortcut install. I can live with that. (Eventually all this will be done over “from scratch” in a clean way as a regular Gentoo build and it will get sorted properly. Until then I can play with Gentoo and decide if it really is worth it…) There’s a general rule of thumb in building new things. You will build it three times. Once, to learn what you are doing. A second time to get it built so it works. The third time to become more efficient and repeatable (and prove you can do it reliably and correctly. That last point is where the “build script” comes in. From “learning experience” to “working system” to “regular process”.

    Right now I’m a bit past “learning experience” and part way into “working system”…

    Tomorrow I’ll see if my kernel build has put the needed headers in place to do a windows / kde (or whatever) install. Oh, and test the kernel I built to see if it works.

    All in all, this is proceeding “nicely”, if a bit more complicated than I’d expected. I didn’t do as much “look ahead” at the unique Gentoo build tools as I ought. They are nice, but different, and many of the “how to” pages assume you are well steeped in it… A good starter, that I found well AFTER using emerge and such for a while, is the wiki:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portage_%28software%29

    After that, it is easier to follow what is being said in pages like:
    https://wiki.gentoo.org/wiki/Raspberry_Pi

    So there you have it for today. A kernel built, timed at 2 1/2 hours native, one box only, and a handle on what to do to get a proper build process done. With a distcc onto 2 boxes ( 8 cores) or that Banana Pi, the build ought to shorten to about 1 1/2 hours. (While it is mostly C compiles, there will be some overhead, so it won’t be quite a linear time reduction). That starts to put it in Very Easy land as big builds go.

    Even just on one box, I can handle “type make, then go watch a movie”…

    All of which means that using the Pi Model 2 as a self-build system is very reasonable and not at all hard. Heck, back in the “old days”, when I was build master for a company making a BSD based appliance on old x86 hardware, we would start a build and leave for the night. IIRC, it was about 8 hours. ( That was the genesis of my Beowulf Cluster… I nocked it together out of old White Box PCs and got the build down to about 2 hours in a demo session. Unfortunately, the V.P. of Engineering – my boss- only asked “Is there any chance that might change the success rate, any risk?”. Since the valid answer to that is “Yes, a little”, since order of compilation can sometimes matter; he said “don’t change the build process”. Arghhh…. A “theoretically you can have a build fail on dependency issues that you would then fix and re-start” was an issue for him, where for me “I can do 4 runs in the time of one” means 3 foobars could show up and I’d still be fine (and BTW, no fubar showed up in the test runs… but I digress…)

    With that, I’m going to step away from the computer for a while and remind myself what real people do…

  6. p.g.sharrow says:

    E.M.Smith says:
    15 May 2016 at 8:37 am
    “With that, I’m going to step away from the computer for a while and remind myself what real people do…”

    What real people do is “watch” you work and marvel ! LoL…;-)
    People watch me work with my hands on real stuff and are in awe of the wizard’s results. But in this case I feel as if I am the little kid handing up tools to the grownup, “can i watch?…please?”
    I have a box of RasPi parts that sit in my shop while I watch you work, Too overloaded with hands on things that have to be completed to take part in this adventure. At least I can watch, for now, as you deal with dragons in the swamp.
    It appears we have our Best man working on the problem….pg

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    Woot Woot!!

    Just booted my own kernel!

    It was stuck in the sources directory under arch/arm/boot/zImage

    Mounted the Gentoo chip, moved kernal7.img to OldKernel, copied zImage to kernal7.img, shutdown, swap chips, boot!

    Since it is generic conf, the size is almost identical and “file -s” on both reported them the same odd type.

    OK, now I can break, checkpoint, document, and write a more normal process doc… oh, I still need to install headers and build X… but later.

    IMHO, not bad for my first kernal build in about 30 years and on completely different gear ;-)

    But I wonder what I would want to customize? For most systems it is device drivers, but my Pi has no odd hardware… Maybe some optimization tuning or …

  8. gallopingcamel says:

    @Chiefio,
    “BTW, one of the joys of the Pi is that for $9 you can get a new SD card and a new os / system install. It’s easy to play with many flavors and a new system is minutes away. Big change of attitude compared with internal hard disk installs.. I’ve now got a half dozen SD cards, some with 4 to 7 OSs each, and swap often.”

    Walgreens was selling off SD cards at an 80% discount so I bought a dozen on impulse. I have been using them in cameras and Garmins. I still have several left so I am going to try running my business laptop from an SD. My hope is that the battery will last longer.

    I don’t use Ubuntu any more as the Unity GUI drove me crazy. I now use Mint which is a lot like the pre-Unity Ubuntu. My business only needs 40 GB of data, so after allowing 10 GB for the OS and applications I expect to have some 14 GB to waste on nonsense.

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    @G.C.

    On the Pi, Ubuntu has Mint, IIRC. It isn’t unity.

    FWIW, Iran a Solaris VM from an SD card on my laptop… I also have Knoppix on SD that works well…

    On SD card based systems, read is fast, writes slow, so a RAM disk based OS works best. I tried Centos from a slow chip and it was a horrid dog… It forces a journalling file system and does lots of writes…

    Basically running from SD can be good, or horrid, depending on how write chatty that distro might be.

  10. gallopingcamel says:

    @Chiefio,
    “FWIW, Iran a Solaris VM from an SD card on my laptop… I also have Knoppix on SD that works well…”

    I got nowhere with Red Hat…..I got stuck at the disk partitioning stage of the install. Knoppix was the next Linux distro I tried……no problem partitioning the disk but I could not get the screen to work at better than 640 X 480 so eventually I gave up. A couple of years later I tried Ubuntu which worked flawlessly in spite of my lack of software expertise. It was not that I got any smarter; Linux had somehow become “User Friendly” to the point that ordinary mortals could make it work. I spread the word like a TV evangelist.

    Now I only use the spawn of Bill Gates when my hardware refuses to work with Linux.

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    Well that was fun… almost…

    Today was spent doing “scales”… sort of…

    Rather like a pianist who decides to “run a few scales” to warm up or play a favorite piece like “Fur Elise” after having stumbled on a harder work, I decided that since getting X-Windows to “go” under Gentoo was being a Royal Flaming Pain In the Petoot… I’d do something easier and more familiar…

    So I installed Slackware on a different “chip”… ( I’m using it now to post this comment… so at the end of the day, it worked… after a fashion…)

    Long story short, despite it nagging in comments a half dozen times not to reboot when the script tells you to reboot, I rebooted… so ended up in “recover your corrupted install” land. I don’t know if the fact that this was a ‘recovered fail’ has anything to do with the rest, but…

    Slackware is retro in many ways. It still uses ncurses for the “menus”, for example. (Those old one color character selector quasi-menus made of text from the ’80s… remember?…) Why? Because they work. Without a mouse, too. But I digress.

    After a 2.5 hour source download, and then a 2.5 hour install process, and then a Owfudge moment… and then a couple of hours of think time… and then a couple of more of ‘recovery’, I had a Slackware that booted nicely and even gave me X-Windows and a nice selection of desktops. ( I chose to launch KDE since it specifically said it was a resource hog and on the Pi you would really rather use one of the lightweight ones instead…) Nice, after a loongish KDE launch time… Except…

    There was no networking. And none of the current crop of handholdy GUI control panels… It’s “long hand” time to fix it. Gee, just like in the ’90s when networking never worked without futzing with it a while and doing it all with arcane magic incantations and command line stuff… But some of the command line tools that have popped up lately are also gone. “ifup” to bring up an interface, for example… Long think… oh yeah, “ifconfig eth0 up”… and it didn’t come up.

    I’ll spare the hour+ (or maybe 2) of fooling with it. Eventually figured out eth0 didn’t exist, but eth1 did exist, but it would not come up either… but at least was minus the error message. After a bit more “how to edit which file from the ’90s to set the network parameters”, still no ethernet. Even after a reboot. One Last Time, a different long had config, and, no network. So I told it to shutdown and went to watch TV for an our or two over dinner.

    When I came back, it had rebooted (likely I was unclear as to exactly which shutdown I’d given it…) so I logged in again to shut it down, and discovered the network was working. Oh Yeah, a long long time ago network IP changes needed a restart of the daemons involved… Sigh.

    OK, the good news: It is familiar in a slightly retro way. It has LOADS of stuff in it. Anything and everything is left in. Pushing 8 GB worth… LOTS of applications and features. It seems fairly fast and efficient. This Konqueror browser has none of the lag in typing of the FIrefox one. (Don’t have spell check turned on yet, though). KDE has that old familiar rich environment feel to it (even if navigating the menues is a bit slow). It’s not the Pi that’s the fault of that slow. CPU is at about 1/3 used and memory has no swap use yet. No, the slow menu handling is all KDE bloat, and that isn’t Slackware at fault. In short, it works, and is a Real Linux in character.

    The bad? There’s a half dozen “broken things” I need to fix. Dnsmasq is complaining that something is camped on it’s port, so it can run. ntp doesn’t start at boot so the time is wrong (Gentoo has that problem too, but they listed a fix script to cludge around it). Etc. etc. All the usual “something is in conflict” that you find in tech guy oriented ports from the ’80s and ’90s. Before package managers prevented you from installing conflicting software that would fight over ports and such. So IF I decide to keep this one around and use it, I have a day or two of “clean up post install” to make everything go as desired. (Frankly, the very fast typing with zero lag in this browser could convince me to keep it just for posting… but I digress…)

    So my “run a few familiar scales and a few rounds of Fur Elise” has turned into a day of “practice practice practice… and where IS that sheet music for Fur Elise…. I don’t remember it sounding quite like I played it…”

    OK, no progress on Gentoo and the X-Factor… but I do now have a Slackware to assess as a candidate base… Slackware comes with precomplied binaries for a relatively fast and usable installation, but also gives source packages so you can ‘roll your own’. In some ways the best of both choices…

    What now? It’s late, I’m “less than jovial”, and mostly over my cold but still a bit wrung out easily. I’ll likely “test drive Slack” a bit longer, then ‘bag and tag’ the 1/4 dozen SD chips that have accumulated on my desktop as I swapped systems to use gparted on the Slack chip again and dd it full of the Slack_boot_stuff again, and browse the interent for ideas again… (Turns out Arch does NOT have wget installed, so ‘wgetting’ the Slackware bundle was er, a challenge, and a “Packman -s wget” started out OK then gave a 404 error on the repository… maybe someone forgot to put it in, or … So Debian got to do the wget download…)

    So some more “putty and spackle and clean up”, and then tomorrow I’ll return to the question of “Is it worth it to wrangle X into Gentoo?”… I also need to buy a couple of more SD cards, as I’ve built a couple more variations that I’d originally intended ;-) Maybe I’ll do the “cook book” of Linux From Scratch to clean the brain… it is supposed to be well documented and QAed ; to show docs exactly match what you do… I could use some un-challenging monotony for a day…

    Or maybe I need to just commit to a working desktop for {set of stuff to include climate data R&D} and set the exploration of systems for My Someday Dream Distro aside for a few days while I whack on a few ideas about temperatures.

    Or maybe I just need to go knock weeds down in the garden… That’s usually good as a head clearing experience…. “Oh, yeah, that’s why I do computer stuff, so I don’t have to do this!”
    ;-)

    Well, at least I worried Slackware into submission… I’ll put the details in a posting “sometime”…

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    Wow. I swapped to xvce for windows and desktop instead of KDE and not this thing is just ripping!

    Running the same Konqueror browser, I’m at about 92% idle even while typing. Under KDE it was “one core pegged” at or near 100% for a process that looked like some kind of window driving thing, maybe. Frequently 33% to 50%+ CPU (i.e. 2 cores booked) much of the time.

    This is a bit of a revelation. A Really Fast browsing / typing experience on the same hardware that was doggy and “almost good enough” with other software. Hmmmm….

    OK, Slackware needs a bit more test drive time. THIS experience I’m very happy with. So the question becomes: Which part is it? The OS? The Windows system? The Desktop? The browser? So I need to try xfce / Kongqueror on some other OS base systems and figure out which is a what… Oh, and Kongqueror only does a spell check when asked, and tosses up a box where each sentence with an issue is presente while it asks what you want to do with word options presented… so no “every word you type causes a new spell check of the whole doc” like in Firefox / Seamonkey / IceApe…

    Well, with that, I’s time to go do other things AFK… The rest can wait for tomorrow…

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, as of now, I’ve managed to tame some of the “issues’ with Slackware, so I’m going to make a summary posting about it in the next hours.

    At present, I’m finding myself liking it. It has the old BSD style init (rc.d stuff) and reminded me that I never really liked SysV init in comparision ;-) I was able to fix the “no hardware clock” bogus time issues in about 5 minutes of quick script hacking (all in ASCII, no binary blobs needed like SystemD…) and now it saves time at shutdown and resets to that time at boot, meaning my clock is only ever a few hours to a day+ away from “right” even before the time daemon is running. Or if the network is down.

    I’m also liking the speed of Konqueror as a browser. A lot. In fact, many things are just “snappy”, so I suspect Slackware has avoided more than just browser bloat. At any rate, more on it in a posting in a while…. And after a few postings I’ll likely get back to that whole “Get X running on Gentoo” puzzle…

  14. As an alternate to the Pi systems, I found a cheap TV box at http://www.banggood.com/NEXBOX-MXQ-PRO-Amlogic-S905-Android-5_1-4K-1G8G-XBMC-Miracast-DLNA-Dolby-DTS-TV-Box-Android-Mini-PC-p-1046737.html?utmid=677 that comes with case and power-supply. Given that it’s Android 5.1 as the OS, it must have a working Linux kernel, video driver etc. and if we can find a way to strip the Android overlay out then that would be a fast system – 2GHz, 4 64-bit cores, 1Gb DDR RAM and 8Gb Flash. As an Android box, Google haz all your data, but it should be possible to change that. At that price, I got one to play with and I’ll report later as to how far I get in modifying it. Even as an Android box it will use a lot less power than the desktop box and won’t have the fan noise. From the forums, it may have a problem with inadequate heatsinking at full bore, but it’s pretty amazing value for the money.

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    @Simon:

    $27? Wow… Now just add $35 for shipping to the USA ;-)

    @Regis:

    Interesting…

    First, Linux now supports 13 more ARM systems on chips (SOC). It also has better 64-bit ARM support. Besides more ARM chip support, the new Linux also supports IBM’s work-in-progress Power9 processors.

    Nice… but I wonder how fat the kernel is getting with all that stuff in it now…

  16. EM – free shipping! I do watch out for shipping costs….

  17. beng135 says:

    EM, which new Puppy version are you using — one of these?
    http://puppylinux.org/main/Download%20Latest%20Release.htm

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