« November 2006 | Main | January 2007 »

"Parallels" for us PowerPC Folks

Any responsible web developer is runs multiple environments for testing. While it's easy enough to get three boxes and a KVM, I think we'd all rather have them all-in-one. Less boxes. Less cables. Less power consumption.

Since PowerPC and Intel chips use different architectures PowerMac G3, G4, and G5s will never have a true version of parallels -- some translation is going to be mandatory.

One of the best on-the-fly translators for PowerPC that I've used is Virtual PC (previously by Connectix then bought by Microsoft).

Virtual PC runs reasonably well (read: not blazingly fast. think "usable") on dual G5 systems and Windows is easy to install. Linux, on the other hand, is a bit wily. Microsoft's stance is: "Sure, there is no reason that Linux won't run in VPC, but we provide no warranty, instructions, or support for it."

Here is a step-by-step of my journey to running Linux in Virtual PC 7.0.2 for Mac OS X:

FIRST: Choose a flavor of Linux
Of the 4 flavors of Linux I've tried all have installation problems.
- openSUSE/KDE: GUI on installer does not render properly. If you manage to install the system it will begin to booth then crash when attempting to load GUI
- kubuntu: same
- ubuntu: GUI on installer does not render properly. Can be hacked into submission using instructions below. Slow running when installed. Not recommended for that reason
- xubuntu: GUI on installer does not render properly. Can be hacked to work using instructions below. Designed for use on slower/outdated machines, this is an excellent candidate for running on VPC; it's light, it's stable, and it's fast enough to be usable.. Winner: Xubuntu.

- Create a new, blank, unformatted PC
- Download xubuntu .iso. No need to mount on desktop. Instead, "capture" it with your freshly powered on PC
- Restart your PC to read the disk and begin installation process

The following was gathered from a handful of internet sites and has been translated into easier to understand English (I hope) and been confirmed to work:
- Upon reaching the installation screen Select F4 from the list below and select 1024x768 16bit color
(Be sure to select 16 bit color here or this may not work)
- Select "Install Xubuntu". Allow this to load until you notice the screwed up cursor and what appears to be a dialog box.
- Press Ctrl-Alt-F1. This will dump you into a command line that has text something like this: ubuntu@ubuntu:~$
- type this and hit "enter": sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg
You will now be in a ncurses interface which will allow you to make the fix to the graphics settings. Rifle through the menus choosing the defaults by pressing "enter" and stop at the "color depth" setting. Change this to "16". Finish dpkg-reconfigure by following the rest of the prompts, it will save your changes and dump you back to the command line.
- Press Ctrl-Alt-F7 to get into the xubuntu installer GUI
- Press Ctrl-Alt-Backspace to apply changes and carry on
- Fill out the questionaire, let the installer do it's thing, restart and enjoy

Xubuntu Linux and Windows XP running on OS X, PowerPC

SIDEBAR ABOUT VPC VIDEO CARD (bits taken from the VPC blog):
Virtual PC emulates an S3 Trio 64 Video card with 8mb (65,536 kilobites) of video ram (VRAM). There are a few reasons why Microsoft does not increase the amount of VRAM for Virtual PCs:
1. VRAM is a fixed overhead. Each virtual machine that you launch uses 8mb of your computers memory to store our VRAM information. If we increase this - it will increase the amount of memory used for each virtual machine - whether the virtual machine is using this extra memory or not.
2. On video cards with hardware 3D acceleration support VRAM is used for storage of textures, and other performance improving measures. However with a 2D video card VRAM is only used to store a single frame buffer of the contents on screen. This means that with a 2D video card (such as we emulate) adding more VRAM just allows you to support higher resolutions - but it does not provide better performance. At 8mb we are able to display at up to 1600x1200 resolutions.

With Virtual PC running on my Dual 2Ghz PowerMac G5 Windows reported this for CPU and speed:
CPU: 686 Processor
Speed: 532Mhz

In Linux you can type this into a terminal:
cat /proc/cpuinfo
It reported:
CPU: Virtual CPU
Speed: 502.835Mhz
Vendor ID 6 (which looks like an Athalon "Thoroughbred" according to paradicesoftware.com

Posted by Aaron R. Deutsch on December 27, 2006 | Comments (0)

How to Watch Movies on your Treo 700p using OS X

I finally had a chance to take a break from the daily rush and sit down with my PowerBook and Treo 700p and see what other untapped capabilities I could discover. Since I still had over 1GB free on my SD expansion card I decided video would be a likely candidate. As I understand it, your mileage may vary depending on when you bought your phone and who your carrier is (I know Verizon subscribers who didn't get a stereo headset in the box like I did and other Sprint users who can DUN without extra software like I needed...) so these instructions are for Sprint users who bought their phones in the last 6 months.

You will need:
- Mac running OS X
- Palm Treo 700p (tested for Sprint purchased after June 2006, might work on others)
- Mac software: Handbrake (free)
- Palm hardware: high speed SD expansion card
- Palm software: Some form of USB card reader (you might be able to use syncing software -- has not been tested)

STEP ONE: Download, install, and open Handbrake. This is the free software that will compress your video to a variety of formats.

STEP TWO: Tweak compression settings
After selecting the folder with your audio and video TS files you can select a shorter range of chapters from the disk if you like (the default is the entire DVD)

The recent Sprint Treos' built in video player can play mp4 files, so choose this compression setting and the place where you would like to save your new movie

Here's a trick that I picked up from my animation studies: A moving image still appears smooth all the way down to 15 frames per second. Though I found the performance of the Palm video player to be fine at 24 frames per second, you can save a LOT of space by choosing 15 frames per second for the framerate.

Another file size saver is to sample down the sound. I found 64kbps to be more than acceptable, even for music during shows.

Then click on the "Picture Settings" button and choose your screen size. Your palm's screen is 320x320px. Most movies are 16:9 letterbox ratio so choose 320 for your width and the height will end up a little shorter.

STEP THREE: Click RIP and you're off!

My Arrested Development Season Three (disk one) ended up at 97MB using the above settings.

STEP FOUR: Copy to phone.
I use a program called "Card Reader" which mounts the SD card on my desktop like a hard drive. On a whim I navigated into the folder DCIM and made a new folder called "Movies" and copied my new file there.

Upon navigating to "Pics and Videos" on the Palm you can see the folder showed up and the movie is recognized.


Posted by Aaron R. Deutsch on December 26, 2006 | Comments (0)

Update on the Treo 700p

Three months in and despite the increased rumors of this "compelling" new Apple smartphone that is just about to be released I'm not the least bit concerned. The Treo has now become an indespensible part of my life and it won't easily be replaced.

Mostly I'm at my office M-F but whenever I leave the Palm comes with me. Most frequent tasks include:

It is pretty impressive that the Palm can do as much as it can simultaneously considering it only has 64 MB of memory (even less when you add apps). My desktop will eat through as much RAM as it can get no matter how few tasks are running. To that end the Palm does hiccup a bit when doing 4 or so things at a time. Most common skips:

I know a lot of people are really glad that the Treo 680 is going to be sans-antenna stub. Personally I'm ok with the antenna because it is just enough to protrude above the cell phone sleeve of most bags and pockets, helping you to grab it when it's ringing.

Was also conidering some of the complaints I've read about the usefulness of the touch screen (or lack therof due to needing to unsheath the stylus). I could be wrong, but I'd bet that most people who've experienced trouble trim their nails down to the bone. If you leave a little white (guys, this is ok to do) then pinpoint tapping is possible.

I've also decided that documents-to-go really looks like hell. Hope Palm didn't pay too much for that license.

As much as I love the Treo, this version may not be for everyone. Ideal candidates in my mind are:

If the price point comes out right the 680 will include "almost everyone" as it will do some multimedia (music player, video) as well as allow more people to jump on the QWERTY bandwagon for IM, SMS and email.

Until someone else "gets it right" the Palm is still as relevant as it once was. Don't let the whining media tell you otherwise.

Posted by Aaron R. Deutsch on December 8, 2006 | Comments (0)