A Define-The-Relationship with Palm

Well, the holiday season is all but passed, and it’s time to get back in the swing of things. The 17″ PowerBook had no takers, so if anyone is in the market and only wants to run Mac OS X on it, let me know.
When I was a kid sitting in history lessons at school, I used to listen to how major innovations in energy like steam and electricity paved the way for so much of what we have today. Being the control freak that I am, I would think to myself, “so, what happens if we lose electricity? Will we go back to chopping wood and wearing flannel more often?” I have had to contemplate a similar issue in regards to my use of Palm handheld products over the past couple of months.
For those who don’t know, Palm has an issue with their Palm Desktop software for Mac. It will not install properly on the latest version of Mac OS X, version 10.3, named Panther. There are some workarounds posted on the Internet, but I have had them fail on me once I tried to put my 3rd party conduits back in place, such as Pocket Quicken, Documents To Go, and a couple of others. As a result, I have not been able to HotSync (a term that I never knew until I bought my first Palm in 2000).
When you cannot HotSync, any changes to the information stored on your Palm device and your computer are no longer synchronized with one another. That is one of the key, if not the key feature of using a Palm device. Palm is notoriously slow with fixing their software, even on PC. I remember messing around with the Windows 2000 USB issue for a year before they cleared that up. Ridiculous.
So, for about five or six weeks I was unable to HotSync. Guess what? I found myself asking, “now that I cannot HotSync, why was I doing it in the first place?” After giving it some thought, I realized that the only thing I really cared about were phone numbers. Using the Calendar and To-Do list was really only because they were there; I never got along well with either of them.
Thus, I decided to have a define-the-relationship (DTR) with the whole Palm mantra. DTR is a term I learned during my older single days, mostly from listening to female friends talk about having a DTR with some guy who seemed to be drifting through a relationship. With a DTR, you meet with the other person, discuss the relationship, and mutually agree upon just what is the relationship between the two of you. Often, these meetings were to keep either person from wasting one another’s time. That’s kind of what happened with me and the Palm…
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Why Linux on a 17″ PowerBook can be a bad idea

Well, I haven’t touched this log for some time now. It’s not that I got tired of it; actually it was a matter of using all of my personal time for computing-related activity elsewhere. I have just ended a two-week journey through the world of the Debian Linux PowerPC port. I have also come to see just how critical hardware choices can be.

I have learned a costly but valuable lesson when it comes to trying to use alternative operating systems on an Apple PowerBook. I can distill it into two bullet points. These two facts can save you hours of fruitless toil:

1.) The nVidia-based 1GHz 17″ PowerBooks from Apple are an open-source OS nightmare.

2.) Any PowerPC-based machine with an nVidia card is not a good idea for running an open-source OS.

The past few weeks have been filled with most of my writing going toward certain mailing lists, trying to figure out why I was having so much trouble getting a decent Debian Linux install on my PowerBook. A couple of posts stirred up quite a bit of activity, particularly on the Debian PowerPC list. I have actually backfilled entries in the weblog that provide a chronology of highlights in my recent open-source odyssey.

“Love the Macintosh, but never trust Steve”…

Someone posted that one-liner during a discussion on a mailing list a few weeks back. I had heard similar phrases, and now I think I have a taste of why.

OK, nobody’s perfect. You get a group together and it amplifies the effect. If anyone follows Apple and particularly the PowerBook innovations, they remember all of the hype about the 1MB L3 cache that was on the 17″ PowerBook. Folks running Virtual PC were very excited to hear that a big boost was to be expected when running a guest OS on this very successful emulator.

Well, as it turns out, Apple must have decided it was not a very good idea. The second version of the 17″ PowerBooks (those with the ATI video card and a 1.33GHz G4 processor) now have the same L2 cache as the 15″ PowerBooks, and all this without much mention of it.

This is significant to me only because it is a key factor in my troubles with getting Debian Linux to run on my 1GHz 17″ PowerBook. It turns out that booting into a benh kernel requires one to pass a parameter to turn off the L3 cache, which in turn creates a separate set of serious issues.

I suppose this is one case where straddling the cutting edge of technology has led to a fairly severe papercut.


Bleak outlook for 17″ PowerBook G4 1GHz and Debian

Well, it looks like something roughly analogous to a define-the-relationship moment for my 17″ PowerBook and Debian Linux. These two are not meant to play together, and any level of functionality is going to be limited. I have confirmed this after days of kernel-compiling and trying various things. When I realized that the 2.4.23 benh kernel I had built was not even being used, it let me know just how improbable this whole use of Linux on my PowerBook would be.

I was really somewhat relieved to discover that it was my hardware that was giving me such grief. At least now I know that I should move on and not continue to try this with my current PowerBook. I had installed Linux and FreeBSD successfully a number of times on x86 (PC) hardware, and the setup of Debian on my former Titanium PowerBook had been so simple and straightforward. When Ben Herrenschmidt tells you that your particular PowerBook has no hope of ever fully working, that is a defining moment:
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Thoughts on open source mailing lists

After the robust thread started by the recent post to the Debian PowerPC mailing list, I received a private message from someone I had indirectly affected in what I wrote. His name is Joe Malik, and he actually does much for that mailing list in terms of participation and helping folks along. I thought about what he wrote to me, and it caused me to reflect on what I had quickly banged out in frustration. Part of my response to him spoke to some general thoughts of mine about open source involvement and mailing lists. I have posted part of it below:
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OK Debian Linux PowerPC mailing list, it’s like this…

Call it frustration, call it justified anger, call it whining, but I finally had enough of the response I and other new list members have been getting on the Debian lists. Being a new list member, you don’t exactly want to alienate everyone, particularly when you need their assistance if you’re ever going to come up to speed.

I reached a point shortly after my previous post where the risk of being alienated was outweighed by the state of things on the list. So, I posted the following:
Continue reading OK Debian Linux PowerPC mailing list, it’s like this…

Word from the oracle, or what the hell is reverting to canoncial form

To put it mildly, trying to make some noteworthy progress with getting Debian Linux to run on the PowerBook is not going well. One thing that makes the already-frustrating experience even more unpleasant is getting answers or advice from those in the know. Participation on open source mailing lists is voluntary; we all know this. People answer as they have time, etc.

However, when you have burned 4-6 hours on something, then you hit a brick wall, and then you articulate a fairly detailed question, you hope for some guidance. I have been getting quite a few one-line, cryptic answers that tend to lead me on another 2-hour quest that ends in my learning that the answer was only half the story. I think my frustration is starting to show, as one of my posts from today’s adventures shows:
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