Variation on a theme

So, I just cooked up some new colors for my OpenBSD rig. The colors are just low contrast variations of the default X colors. Thought it would look crappy, but I am kinda satisfied with the results.

Now, presenting the screenshot. Click on the images for full view.

Clean Version

Clean Version

Busy Version

Busy Shot

Now, for the colors, just click on the following link.


As for the wallpaper, it’s the famous Minimal 2 version from Alexander at DevArt. Follow the link to the wallpaper. If you are into minimal walls, make sure to check out his profile page. He’s got some excellent wallpapers.

Minimal 2 by Alexander


On a related note, the track Terrific Trio vs Rocketeers from Batman Beyond Album is da bomb! Killer track to run in the background when hacking furiously. Sort of reminds me of the track, Ishikawa surfs the system from one of the Ghost in the Shell Albums.

BSD UNIX – Is it for me?

BSD UNIX – Is it for me?

I have spoken about this earlier as well. You can see the following link for an example.


My Transition

I was recently asked by a blog visitor about why I use BSD UNIX over Linux and what advice can I give a prospective convert. Nothing special, actually. In my case, it was just a matter of choice. I started from the school of UNIX (HP-UX, Sun Solaris, IBM-AIX and some SGI-IRIX) and  then ventured into Linux (Red Hat, Gentoo, Fedora, Ubuntu and its variants, Sorcerer, Lunar Linux, SourceMage, LFS, and back to Sorcerer), before getting to BSD UNIX. Why didn’t I try BSD earlier? Good question. You see, during my Engineering and Physics studies, in addition to the aforementioned Unices, we were forced to use Red Hat or Gentoo. Apart from a HP-UX box at home, I had no other personal computers, so I sort of stayed with Linux. Since, I grew up in India, during those days, computers were really expensive. Then, when I began my Doctorate studies, something happened. BSD UNIX was always on the back of my head. But a chance encounter with another BSD power user over at box-look led me to BSD UNIX finally. And it was also the time I started developing my toolkits for high performance simulations at work. Since,  the C compiler and Perl with many ported libraries from netlib, was all I needed, I realized I could have a lean system without  all the bells and whistles, including X. So I took an older computer at work and installed FreeBSD. So, you see, it was my efffort to start anew that eventually led me to BSD, FreeBSD to be precise. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship that persists even to this day. Apart from one rig that runs Sorcerer, all my boxes are powered by BSD’s

Installation Routines

It would be illogical for me to go into the merits of using BSD versus using Linux. There is plenty of information available on the internets comparing BSD with Linux. So, I will avoid it. All I can talk about is what can one expect out of a standard installation routine on BSD systems, just briefly. One should not be lazy to read the manuals. BSD documentation will knock the socks off of Linux. Trust me, it is not a joke. OpenBSD manuals, in particular are poetry. Detailed installation methods are explained in the manuals. So, its absolutely necessary to read them. Don’t expect details in this post.

In general, every BSD installation follows through stages. First, you install the base system that installs the kernel and important toolchains needed for further builds. Assuming you are doing an installation with a CD/DVD, on FreeBSD there is the time-tested, pretty old sysinstall that can be used to install the base system.  It is pretty intuitive and it must be very easy to follow. Although, I don’t use sysinstall anymore . There are modern methods to install a rock solid base system with ZFS enabled and getting it up to date with security  advisories.  For a beginner, this might be complex, so on your first trial, just use sysinstall. But that doesn’t mean that the highly motivated should not use the modern method. It is up to you.Once the base install is finished, you can install X that would pull in additional dependencies automatically.

OpenBSD’s installation is pretty easy with a CD. Once you set the filesystem up, you can easily install the base system with X. Remember,  Xorg on OpenBSD is called Xenocara, a unique build infrastructure of Xorg. In my opinion, it is more efficient than the standard implementation of Xorg. When you reboot, you can immediately  start using a customized fvwm implementation and can start customizing the system according to your needs.

NetBSD and DragonFly BSD are pretty similar in their installation infrastructure. You setup the base system from a CD or minimal boot iso’s and then you can start adding software, like X, window managers etc.

Speaking about filesystems, on BSD’s you have the opportunity to explore different filesystems on different flavors. ZFS, UFS, Hammer, so much variety. For the initiated, you can learn more about them.

Package Management – Binary or Source?

Package management in BSD UNIX is probably the best in my opinion. You have the option of installing binary packages, but for the functionally paranoid, you can use the source (ports, pkgsrc).

On my boxes, I always start out like this. Install base system. Then, important languages that I need, a shell like zsh, vim editor and then X server. You could install the full X server or even choose to get a lite version installed, depending on the BSD flavor. So, you see you have complete control over what you want.

You can install either binary version of the packages or you could install every package from the ports infrastructure. My choice is ports. The reason is, many packages have build options that make it easy to customize them the way you want. For instance, let’s take the rxvt terminal. If you install the binary package, you will just get the default flavor. But if you build from ports, you could choose to install various encodings, scrollbars, 256 colors, etc. So, you see, it is usually helpful to install from ports. But having said that, the developers have gone through the pains of generating binary packages to facilitate easier, faster installation of packages. Hence, sometimes, it would be better to just choose the binary package. It is the most preferred route for me when I use OpenBSD stable branch. I mostly install the binary packages, except for occasional port builds. On FreeBSD and NetBSD, DragonFly BSD boxes, it is ports and pkgsrc, respectively.


Patience is important when using ports to configure your system. Speaking of patience, if you are a bleeding edge fanatic, you would be better off without BSD. That brings us to the topic of updates. Yes, it is possible to keep your packages updated on BSD boxes, but it is cumbersome if one resorts to doing that almost daily. I do that on unstable branches, and have encountered many breaks and most of the times I had to rollback to get the system back up on its wheels. BSD is a complete operating system, unlike Linux, so if you are only bothered about the relative newness of packages, just use a rolling release Linux distribution, like Gentoo or Arch Linux. But if you are bothered about the stability of the system as a whole with emphasis on code correctness and proper vetting of packages, BSD might just be your savior.

The main updates that I do on all my BSD boxes are security and kernel updates (release to stable). They are the ones that matter the most to me, not whether I am using zsh 4.5.X1 or zsh 4.5.X2. I hope, I have made my point clear. The only time I do port upgrades on my stable machines is when there is a new release of BSD. Generally, a complete system upgrade. I have done system upgrades universally across all my BSD boxes, that it is child’s play these days.

It’s not easy to generalize Linux users, due to the various distributions. But all I can say is this – If you want to use BSD over Linux, your thought process has to change as well. What is more important? Stability or constant tinkering even on the kernel level and upgrades that might rock your system? You be the judge. Honestly, of late the whole bleeding edge concept has become some kinda disease, where using fresh off the stove software is more important than stability. It is a philosophy that has become popular these days, thanks to many rolling release distros. You might ask, when Linux does it, why not BSD? Again, at the danger of sounding like a broken record, I am gonna reiterate the fact that BSD UNIX is an operating system, unlike Linux.

In conclusion, what works for me is being up to date with security updates and full system upgrades when a new release is out on stable machines. Snapshot testing rigs are a different story altogether. OpenBSD is the only BSD that adheres to a strict release philosophy, putting out new releases every six months. FreeBSD is famous for prolonging releases. NetBSD and DragonFly BSD do release cycles pretty well too.

Hardware Issues – Do the research!

It pays to know your hardware inside out, if you wanna have a completely enjoyable experience, be it using BSD UNIX or even Linux, for that matter. You see, hardware can sometimes be a stumbling block in using BSD. Newest hardware, be it graphic cards, sound cards, wireless cards and many more might not function well, just because the drivers may not be available. It is likely that one of the BSD’s might have support for a certain piece of hardware that others don’t. So, it is essential to do some research. In my opinion, research has to precede the buying process. Every release information of BSD’s include details about the cards that are supported and by which driver. Even bugs are listed. Lets say, you have settled on OpenBSD. Now, you wanna buy a laptop. You dig into the release information and find laptops that more or less match the support information in the release document. Then, you will never ever have to complain. This holds true for new hardware. For older systems that you might be getting from work, friends or family, if no information is available about the hardware, you can cycle through all BSD’s to find the optimal distribution for your machine (Refer this post about my NetBSD experience on a laptop that I salvaged earlier). On legacy hardware, for instance, NetBSD is a killer. It flies on some of my very old rigs, without any of the hacks.

It takes a while to reverse engineer a driver even on Linux, but the wait would be longer on BSD. But that doesn’t prevent you from trying to reverse engineer yourself! That’s the beauty of OpenSource isn’t it? Still, on matters like graphic cards, you need to do some research before settling on a BSD of your choice. For instance, if you have an NVIDIA card, and you want to use OpenBSD, do not ever expect to find an official NVIDIA driver on the machine. You will not. Theo is very particular about binary blobs. That is the very essence of OpenBSD. People criticize the OpenBSD project as being very rigid in their philosophy and their emphasis on security. Linus Torvalds, once famously called OpenBSD developers a bunch of masturbating monkeys! It’s nothing but hot air. OpenBSD’s focus is on security and cryptography and not having the source code goes against their security emphasis and why should someone criticize them for that. You don’t like it, don’t use OpenBSD, plain and simple. As of this writing, FreeBSD is the only BSD operating system that has an agreement with NVIDIA to develop and use official NVIDIA drivers. FreeBSD’s focus is different. If you don’t like their agreement with NVIDIA, no one cares. You see, it could go both way.

Support Information

There is plenty of support available on the internets. FreeBSD forums, Daemon forums, mailing lists, etc. In special cases, if anyone needs help, you can always bug me as well. On FreeBSD forums, for example, you should definitely check out the Tips and Tricks section. There is plenty of gold there. Same holds for Daemon Forums. Most users of FreeBSD forums are also active members on Daemon forums. So these two places are great to start with when someone needs help. Otherwise, you always have mailing lists. When you use snapshots and daily builds, it is crucial that you check mailing lists, since anything out of the ordinary will be reported and it might help you in case you run into a bug.

Have fun with BSD UNIX. I promise, you will love it!

VT220 – Nostalgia

I went nuts with trying out different color combinations to mimic a VT 220 setup on my OpenBSD rig. You can see seven different color variations. Brown, Light Yellow, Light Red, Light Cyan, Light Blue, Light Green and a darker shade of Cyan. I prefer to alternate between darker shade of Cyan and Brown. True, brown reminds us of something else, but it works well with the font. So, does darker cyan. Of the lighter variations, green is my favorite. Click on the image for full view.

VT 220 Madness!

Here is another working shot of the rig with the brown variant.

Current Setup

Drop a note if more information is needed.



Going by tradition, how about a mundane screenshot of my EEE at the hospital. I am still using OpenBSD on this machine and ScrotWM is the window manager (SpectreWM, as it is called these days!). I love the Bats family wallpaper. The font is Dina, pixelsize 15. If there is any question, please let me know. Oh, the colors by the way are based on the famous Gentoo default config, both the Xdefaults and vim theme.

Click on the image for full view.

I am the Goddamn Batman!

Now, the wallpaper. Click for full view.

Bats Family

Bell Labs Wallpaper – Part Deux

This is brilliant. Anybody had a look at the latest NY Times Sunday Review? There is a fantastic piece about the culture of innovation at Bell Labs. One of the pictures from the piece is the famous Erwitt photo of Bell Labs NJ, that I spoke in length about a few posts earlier. This picture is in color. It is a must read for anyone interested in anything tech/science related. Click on the image to go to NY Times to read the article. I love it and am currently reading it.

Innovation and the Bell Labs Miracle - NY Times

Many thanks to Don Monroe for leading me to the piece.

On a related note, just couldn’t stop mentioning the Prima Donna of Boneheadedness, that is McKinsey & Company. Can you imagine the cream of consulting business advised Bell that they don’t foresee any future for the mobile phone market?

Dash X11 Font v2.0

It’s time to update one of my fonts, Dash. I will push it to my github tomorrow. But, for the time being, I am uploading it over at omploader. As I had mentioned earlier, the only difference between v2.0 and v1.0 is the letter “l”. It should be evident from my NetBSD screenshot from a few pages earlier and the shot in this post. Just click on the image below to download. As usual, you can push it to /usr/local/lib/X11/fonts/Dir-of-your-choice/, and update your font cache. That’s just about it.

Dash X11 Font - Version 2.0: Direct Download (Thanks Omploader)

Here is another screenshot with dash in action. This is my first Linux shot after a long long time. Was testing some optimizations coupled with few other tests and new grimoires on my Sorcerer box. KDE after a long time as well. Just click on the image for full view.

KDE on Sorcerer OS

If there are any further questions, please feel free to ask by using the Comment feature. I will update my Github with Version 2.0 tomorrow.

Beep X11 Font – Another Mod of Neep

Let us continue with the X11 font series. This font is called Beep. Again, it is a mod of Jim Knoble’s Neep. A few characters modded according to personal taste, like, “a” and “i”. This is a pixelsize 11 font and comes only in medium version. So don’t try to use it in the bold form or another pixelsize. It’s a bit bigger than Dweep and can be used on a relatively higher resolution screen without any issues. As usual, I have uploaded the font to my github. Please click on the image to get to my github.

Beep X11 Font - Mod of Neep

This is a screenshot of the font in action on a 1600×900 screen. Click on the image for full view.

Beep in action FreeBSD 9.0-Release

As it must be evident, most of my fonts are just minor mods here and there. I will release a font that I have made right from scratch next month. I have to think about a kickass name first. If you need any other information, please let me know using the comment feature.

Showcase Wallpaper and More

Now that I am back in a secure, faster network, I can post the wallpaper as promised. As mentioned earlier, the picture was taken at Bell Labs in New Jersey. The year was 1966. It was taken by the photographer Elliott Erwitt. The picture is full of win and awesomeness, if you ask me. Anyway, click on the thumbnail for full view.

Bell Labs - New Jersey - 1966 by Elliott Erwitt

You can go here for more.

On a related note, you guys are probably familiar with Intel Museum. It gives you a fascinating view of life and research at Intel during the early years. If I travel to the States, visiting the museum will be right on top of my priority list. Look at one of the pictures from the archives. How awesome is this? Miniskirts FTW! It’s like Star Trek Yeoman’s, only this time in all white ensemble. Click on the picture to go to gizmodo for an article about Intel fashion scene then.

Miniskirts are the bomb!

I particularly like one comment over there at gizmodo. Grindhouse Murders commented that she is Snooki’s mom! LOL!