Spacechart and Starplot


Spacechart is an indispensible tool for geeks and geekgrrls who like to write science fiction. It’s a map of all the nearby stars in a format that allows you to rotate it in every direction with your mouse like one of those molecular models. You can zoom way out there, 190 light years to the Hyades Cluster in Taurus, but if you do all the labels start to jam together and make a big mess. But you can center the map on any coordinate you want which lets you look at our neighborhood in pieces. Or you can set it to Goldilocks Mode and only show stars which are not too bright and not too dim. And you can set the program to connect the dots when they are a minimum distance apart from each other. If you play around with the settings, pretty soon you get little groups of stars hooked together by their own “trade routes” and those become the empires and kingdoms of your Great American Space Opera.

This site is a great way to browse around in our galaxy and see what’s out there, but try not to get lost:


Starplot is another free UNIX/Linux toy for science fiction writers that shows the nearby stellar neighborhood in a display you can rotate in any direction. Click on a sun and the chart re-centers itself on it. Click on buttons to hide or show dimmer stars based on a threshold magnitude. Find the distance between any two systems. Print the results to a .PNG file.

Whereas I can get spacechart to install under Debian, I can’t get it to work under Hacky Linux even after resolving a chain of seventeen dependencies in a tedious process that took about two hours. So starplot is the only program of this type running in my Puppy Linux puplet.

There are two databases available, one is the Gliese catalog that has 3803 stars within 25 parsecs of Earth. The other is the Yale catalog that has 9096 stars brighter than magnitude 6.5. All of this data was obtained by earthbound observations. There is also the Hipparcos data, obtained automatically by a satellite. It has about 300,000 stars brighter than magnitude 8.0 but it was some work getting it converted to a format that starplot could read.

First I had to get the raw data from an FTP site, stored in 23 .gz files, and gunzip them. Then I renamed them one by one to 1.dat, 2.dat, etc. Then I concatenated them into a single catalog.dat file by using cat *.dat >>catalog.dat and put them in the sky2000-4-0.95 folder with the spec file. Then I typed starpkg sky2000-4-0.95 and it converted the data to a .stars file that starplot could read. The website hosting the data above warned it was so moby it would really slow down starplot but Hacky Linux seems to eat it for lunch.

DOS Navigator


I was using Necromancer’s DOS Navigator for file management in DOS, but there were a few annoying bugs that made it clumsy to use. First of all, the mouse cursor kept getting disabled, requiring me to hit the ALT key, sometimes several times, and jiggle the mouse, and mess around until I saw it again. Second, there was no way to get a DOS command line available at all times, I had to go to a pull-down menu to get to the command line, and there wasn’t even a shortcut available. Third, there was no auto-refresh of a floppy’s file contents when I clicked on the “A” drive, I had to use a key shortcut combination to refresh it.

So I installed the original plain vanilla “Dos Navigator” that Necromancer used as a baseline for his version. Now the mouse cursor is available all the time. The command line is available all the time, just like on Norton Commander and Midnight Commander. The panel automatically scans the “A” drive when I click on it. So with an Orthodox File Manager I can actually use, I set it to automatically PKUNZIP the readme files inside zip files so I can see if the program is worth unzipping. I got more shareware and freeware zipped up ready to install than I have time in the rest of my life to do it. And one of the first things I found was a great 3-D nearby star display program called “3STARS” that is better than anything I found using Linux. I mean this thing is awesome! And things like this makes me happy that I’m digging around in DOS world again.




Computers are tools, and the idea is to get your tools to do the hard work for you. So I want to grab my entire timeline on Twitter, every day. I do this with a crontab. I get to crontab with a GUI front end called gnome-schedule. Every minute, crontab issues “twidge lsrecent -su” and appends the results to a file on my desktop called timeline.txt. Once a day I rename timeline.txt to a new text file called, for example, timeline2-5-17.txt. Then crontab starts a brand new timeline.txt while I process what I have.

First I replace every instance of a comma in the text file with a semicolon. Then I replace every < and > with a comma, and I get rid of all the spurious line feeds and blank space. Then I import the text file into my spreadsheet program called gnumeric. Then I sort on user name, grab everything written by “LinuxGal” and save it to another file. Then I inspect for spam, and go block the users who are spamming me. There are thousands of lines. I delete every line that begins with a RT (retweet) and look for original content that interests me, and retweet that. Next day: lather, rinse, repeat.

DOS Shell


With MS-DOS 4.01 in 1988, Microsoft began to move towards making DOS a little more user friendly. So they created DOS Shell as a more visual interface for people who did not or could not learn how to use the command line. Now folks could click on files and drag them between directories, or select file options from a drop-down menu. It could be configured as a two-pane file manager, with one pane over the other, but there is something about having identical left and right panels that is far more intuitive. No one ever learned to fly over the keys like a virtuoso pianist using DOS Shell like they could using its main competitor at the time, Norton Commander 2.0. DOS Shell also had a menu that could be configured to launch anything. Also, there’s an option to view all the files on a disk, great for finding duplicates.

Starting with DOS 5.0 it contained a task swapper that could switch between multiple programs by swapping the contents of RAM to disk, but this was not true multi-tasking. When a program was swapped out it was frozen. Still, it was far more efficient than closing the program and starting it again.

DOS Shell looks and acts exactly like the file manager in Windows 3.0 under standard mode. So it was quite a little jewel if you didn’t have a PC ready to run Windows, like my 8086 Amstrad with 640K of RAM. It was nice to have something approaching a decent graphical interface for DOS.

By the time MS-DOS 6.21 rolled out the MS-DOS Shell was no longer a core part of the distribution, you had to ask Microsoft for a free supplemental disk to get it (which I did, and they mailed a 5 1/4 inch floppy floppy). Eventually it evolved into the Windows Explorer in Windows-95 onward, and development of the DOS Shell was dropped.

My laptops have enough RAM that I use three virtual RAM disks of 16 megabytes each, and DOS Shell uses one of these to swap programs. So system RAM is swapped to more RAM instead of a hard drive. That makes it blindingly fast. I have my budget spreadsheet and word processor and file manager and some games all active, and it’s almost as easy as having multiple windows open under Windows. Also, this primary color “Superman” scheme is exactly how I like it.



A myth persists in the mind of non-Linux people that the WWW and the Internet are the same thing, to the point that if they accidentally delete their Internet Explorer icon, they will call the Help Desk and say, “I don’t have Internet anymore.” And for most users, the WWW only works one way, they can download pictures and articles, but they can’t upload them. This has resulted in the development of services such as Picasa and Blogger, which allow people to manage files in a public web space without leaving the comfort and safety of the Web. But how do the hackers and do-it-yourself hobbyists of the Linux set upload files? With the venerable FTP, or File Transfer Protocol. And if they want to use a GUI instead of Midnight Commander, they can use Filezilla, Kbear, Konqueror, or gFtp.

Assuming one has arranged access to web space, one simply enters a host name (in my case and a user name (rubyred) and enter the password (n00bs). After that you can navigate in your web space as if it were your hard drive, and drag and drop files from one panel to the other. If you upload an HTML file named home.htm people’s browsers will automatically assume that is your front page. HTML itself is quite easy for anyone to learn, if you don’t get fancy with cascading style sheets and whatnot. It only takes a few minutes to create a simple HTML file from scratch in a text editor that will render properly, even with tables. It might take a little more work that using someone else’s blogger site or photo-sharing site, but you have total control over every aspect of your site, and the sense of accomplishment you get is priceless.

Puppy Linux


This is Puppy Linux.  I’ve used it since version 1.0.4 in 2005, but now it’s up to 6.0.  It’s a complete operating system, but it is only about 100 megabytes in size, so it can fit on one of those little 8 cm mini CDs.    Why do I like it?  Puppy runs entirely in RAM.   So after you boot it from a live CD, you can pull the disk out of the tray, put a DVD in there, and start watching movies.  Can’t do that with Knoppix or any other live Linux distro.

The fact that it runs in RAM makes the OS as spry as, well, a puppy.

This particular version sits on an old-school 2 gig USB stick.   The computer I’m using doesn’t even have a hard drive at all.  I jump-start Puppy with a floppy disk.   Sometimes I take the stick out and back it up on another computer.   It doesn’t matter which computer I use to run Puppy on, it looks just like this, all I have to do is slide in the USB stick and the boot floppy and go.

I’ve installed WINE on Puppy (a Windows emulator), and then I installed Office 97 which I use for most of my content creation.  I listen to internet radio and rip the songs to MP3s, then burn the tracks to CD.  I use gFTP to maintain my website and run an instance of Windows 3.11 inside Puppy under DOSbox just for fun.   So basically, life for me is really good.  People whining about Windows 8 and I’m like, whatever.  The joy of being a Linuxgal.

SUSE 9.3

Everyone starts out a Linux dummy...

Everyone starts out a Linux dummy…

After playing with Lindows 4.5 for about a year with much frustration, the Spring of 2005 rolled around. The local stores sold copies of Windows XP, but they were upgrades, and required a preexisting installation of Win98 before they would work. I still hadn’t learned to burn my own Linux install disks from ISO’s at that point. So I got on Amazon and ordered a copy of SuSE Linux direct from Novell for $30 just to get something worth using.

The installation went without a hitch, and I quickly learned to use YAST (Yet Another Setup Tool) to add more software from the SuSE CD. The only problem was I had to hand massage the OS to get it to recognize my Ethernet connection, but when that was straightened out I was able to go online and grab software above and beyond what existed on my installation disk. By and large I was happy with it, and it taught me that not only could I install my own operating system to any computer, I could install hundreds of different programs downloaded for free from the Internet.

The cool thing about SuSE was that I could install the OS on as many computers as I liked from now until doomsday (not realizing at the time that the product would start to date like cheese). There was no product activation scheme or some other way to separate me from my money. After Novell got my initial $30 they were happy. But that was the last time I would ever shell out any money for Linux.


My love affair with Puppy Linux goes all the way back to version 1.04 released in 2005. Now it’s up to version 5.7.1 Puppy is a lightweight distro developed independently by Barry Kauler from Australia, with help from a lively community of fans. It’s just packed with goodies yet small enough to run on an old Windows 98 computer with only 128 Puppy525megabytes of RAM. You don’t actually install Puppy, you simply put the CD in your tray and boot. The only thing it will do to your existing setup is leave a persistent save file on your hard drive (or a stick, if you choose), with a size you pick, to store all your settings and bookmarks and the files you download or create. So no matter what you have, Ubuntu, Windows, whatever, you also have Puppy.

There are other Linux distros that run from a Live CD, like Knoppix, but you can’t pull the CD out of the tray because the ‘stro needs to access the disk every time you launch something. But Puppy runs entirely in RAM, which means as soon as it boots you can pop the CD out of your tray and put a music CD in, or a DVD, and you can start watching movies immediately because the libdvdcss codec is already included. And it also means you can use Puppy to resize the partitions on your hard drive, maybe shrink your Windows partition to make room for a Linux one. Often I will squeeze an XP partition by 4 gigabytes to make room for MS-DOS and Windows 3.1. And because Puppy does run entirely from RAM it’s snappy as all get out. You’ll grow spoiled by how fast applications start.

Puppy Linux allows you to take your existing setup, which is all the applications on the original boot CD plus the ones you’ve installed to your save file, and remaster a new boot CD that includes all the stuff in your save file. So you end up with your very own flavor of Puppy. I call mine Hacky Linux, and after repeated remasters with hundreds of applications ported over from Debian it’s too big to fit on a CD now. I need to boot it from a mini-DVD and it only works on computers with 2 GB of RAM. But it includes Wine and Open Office, and it’s more capable than the full-on distros that come on DVDs in the Linux magazines.



Shown here is gparted, the Gnome Partition Editor, which is one of the most useful programs I have. It’s so useful, in fact, that I also have it on a stand-alone disk in my Gpartedtoolkit that boots a minimal Linux plus gparted. It’s a GUI based disk partition manager, just like the $63 Partition Magic for Windows, but of course it’s absolutely free. What I’m doing here is formatting a 250 GB external HD to a Linux ext3 filesystem rather than the Windows-compatible one it came with out of the box. The ext3 filesystem uses journaling which logs intended changes before committing them to disk. That way if the system crashes (from a power interruption for example), it can recover by simply reading the journal.

Linux can read any file system, even Windows ones. But Windows refuses to even look. It covers its ears and goes, “La la la, I don’t know what that is!” and even third party Windows software will, at best, let you see what’s there but not write out any files or delete them.

On my Windows desktops and laptops I used gparted to shrink the NTFS filesystem and make room for a Linux main partition and a swap partition so I could run a dual or triple-boot setup. On some of my computers I also use it to carve out a couple spare Linux partitions for installing this or that new distro to see if I like them, or to make a few gigabytes of spare room to install a DOS partition for Windows 3.1 or Windows 98, with one caveat: MS-DOS doesn’t recognize any partition created by gparted, even if you create an alleged FAT16 or FAT32 partition. All I can do from gparted is make the room, and then use FDISK.EXE from DOS natively to do the rest.


Word processors and spreadsheets are one thing, but let’s face it, the most efficient way to waste time at work is with MS Windows Solitaire. But Micro$loth programs don’t run 800px-Wineon Linux unless you help them along with a program called WINE. It officially stands for “WINE Is Not an Emulator” and I guess that’s true, it’s a “compatibility layer”. Whatever. I’m a practical person. For me, WINE is an acronym that stands for WINdows Emulator.

WINE is not perfect. I can’t get it to run any of my software from Magix except the one I use for authoring DVDs. I can install my beloved Cakewalk Kinetic but I can’t get it to see my sound card (yet). I can run a classic DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) called Acid 2.0. I can run ReBirth, which emulates the TB-303 bassline synthesizer. I can run Audacity, plus my map software from National Geographic, CDEX for ripping CD’s, and Terragen for making virtual landscapes. It runs MS Office. And I have zillions of other Windows apps left over from the old days that work under Wine too. Like Hacky Linux itself, WINE is a work in progress. Over time, all the issues will be worked out and it will simply work, with everything.

Wine is also mankind’s ancient and sacred beverage, made from fermented grapes.

There are countries, for example those bordering the Mediterranean Sea which have a sacramental world-view, which says that an infinite God comes to meet finite man using the things of creation: water, oil, bread, wine, the touch of a hand. People of those countries believe that all creation is good. They tend to be connected with the earth, with hard work, with simple pleasures. They appreciate sex as a gift of God not only for procreation but for physical and emotional joy. In those countries, wine is just another gift of the Creator to be accepted in moderation and with thanksgiving.

Then there are other countries, for example those to the north of Europe, which have almost a gnostic world-view, which says that all flesh and matter is weak and sinful, and only intellectual things are pure and godly. They hold that God meets man only in the mental realm, and approach the bible as a set of doctrines which need to be properly decoded. They say man is saved by knowledge and assent to key doctrines. People in those countries tend to believe that creation is fallen. They tend to be connected to business, to the power of investment capital, and they hold a man’s financial success as a sign of his election. They accept sex as a necessary evil for the procreation of more tithe-paying foot soldiers for God. In those countries, wine is evil, based on their dictum that “if it feels good don’t do it.



  • Make an image of a CD on your hard drive and mount it as a filesystem:

dd if=/dev/sr0 of=image.iso

mount -o loop image.iso /mnt/temp

  • Make a new .iso image in /mnt/burn from the contents in /mnt/hold:

mkisofs -o /mnt/burn/image.iso /mnt/hold

  • Burn that image to another CD:

cdrecord dev=/dev/sr0 /mnt/burn/image.iso

  • Convert RPM package to DEB package:

alien file.rpm

  • Copy a file


  • Add a CD-ROM to your list of repositories.

apt-cdrom -m add

  • List only non-blank lines in a file:

awk ‘NF >0’ file.txt

  • Create a custom command to list files:

alias l = ‘ls -l –color=auto’

  • Add line numbers to a file:

cat -n file.txt

  • Find text in a file:

awk ‘chevy’ cars.txt

  • Backup Master Boot Record:

dd if=/dev/sda of=MBR.img bs=446 count=1

  • Make a file lowercase:

cat FILE1.TXT | tr ‘[A-Z]’ ‘[a-z]’ > FILE2.TXT

  • Change the owner of a directory and all its contents:

chown -R teresita DIRECTORY

  • Grab a copy of a website:

wget -w9 -r –random-wait -l3 -np -E URL

  • Display time since boot:


  • Get the sizes of all subdirectories under a directory

du -sh MYDIR

  • Display unique lines in a sorted file:

uniq <FILE1 >FILE2

  • Use CUPS printer management system:

localhost:631 (in a browser address bar)

  • MP3 to WAV conversion:

madplay –output=wave:OCEANLAB.WAV OCEANLAB.MP3

  • Convert to OGG:

oggenc *

  • Create a link:

ln -s /initrd/mnt/dev_ro2 HOME

  • Extract tarball:

tar -xvf /dev/hda/FILE

  • Make archive:

tar -c DIRECTORY | bzip2 > DIR.TAR.BZ2

  • Make a file executable for all users:

chmod u+x FILE

  • Turn a directory into a SquashFS file:

mksquashfs /tmp/merge PUP_412.SFS

  • Mount your SquashFS file:

mount -o loop -t squashfs PUP_412.SFS /mnt/pup

  • Upload a file to your webspace:


  • Convert a MIDI file to a .WAV file:

timidity -Ow -oRUBY.WAV RUBY.MID

  • Replace spaces in a filename with hyphens:

find . -name “* *mp3” -exec rename ‘s/\ /-/g’ {} \;

  • Print the current month in Julian dates:

cal -j

  • Make a new file of the individual words in another file:

tr ‘ ‘ ’12’ <INFILE >OUTFILE


for WORD in `cat FILE`


echo $WORD


  • Strip carriage returns from a DOS file:

tr -d ’15’ <INFILE >OUTFILE

  • Downshift all file names:

for F in *


mv $F `echo $F | tr ‘[A-Z]’ ‘[a-z]’


  • Rename in bulk:



for F in $OLD*


SUFFIX=`expr $F : ‘$OLD\(.*\)’`



  • Install from tarball

tar -zxvf ARCHIVE.TAR.GZ


  • Format floppy disk:

fdformat’ /dev/sde

  • List directories:

find . -type d -print

  • Convert avi to mpeg:

mencoder MOVIE.AVI -of mpeg -mpegopts format=mpeg1:tsaf:muxrate=2000 -o MOVIE.MPG -oac lavc -lavcopts acodec=mp2:abitrate=224 -ovc lavc -lavcopts vcodec=mpeg1video:vbitrate=1152:keyint=15:mbd=2:aspect=4/3

  • Factorial function implemented by recursion.

define fact(n)


if (n <= 1) return (n);

return (n * fact(n-1));


  • Perform a ROT 13 conversion:
echo "$1" | tr '[A-Za-z]' '[N-ZA-Mn-za-m]'

  • Download streaming videos and convert them to MP3s

sudo curl -o /usr/local/bin/youtube-dl

sudo chmod a+x /usr/local/bin/youtube-dl

youtube-dl –title –extract-audio –audio-format mp3 [LINK]

ffmpeg -i yourvideo.mp4 -f mp3 -ab 192000 -vn yourvideo.mp3


My introduction to Linux was in February 2004 with Lindows 4.5. which came with a cheap $179 Chinese-made computer I got at Frys. Lindows was a Debian based distro running KDE, except that apt was missing, so you couldn’t install new software yourself, and gcc was missing so you couldn’t even compile apt from a source tarball and bypass it.

Instead. what you were expected to do was pay an annual $50 fee for a service called “Click ‘N’ Run” which let you Lindowsaccess exactly the same software which comes totally free in the Debian repository, as everyone knows, NOW.

As an added incentive to get you to sign up, Lindows came with fewer installed packages than a mini-Distro like Slax or Damn Small Linux even. You could surf the web, you could create a web page (but not upload it), you could edit a file in Kate, you could view PDF’s (but not create them in Open Office)…there was just enough to get you hooked in the showroom and buy the computer, but not enough to do any real work.

Microsoft, of course, hated the name Lindows and sued them, and lost. Microsoft then did what they always do when they lose a lawsuit, they threw millions of dollars at Lindows and got what they wanted anyway. Lindows became “LinSpire”. The company then spent some of the money on the Wine project, hoping to get it out of beta status, but that didn’t pan out. Eventually the whole thing was bought up by Xandros and killed. Good riddance to a distro that was crippled at birth.

But it was my first one, and the very fact that it was crippled, and my efforts to get around that fact, was a sort of baptism in blood. Perhaps my approach to Linux would be far less passionate if I had jumped ship in these Ubuntu days and everything was just handed to me on a silver platter. Or perhaps I would have never adopted Linux at all, since we now have that wonderful source of cracked Windows versions known as Pirate Bay. Arrrrrg.


One of my hobbies is vintage computing.  I greatly enjoy using Windows 3.1 despite the CAPTUR01fact that it is over twenty years old.  All the creativity that goes into making Android apps today was used to make 16 bit Windows software back in the early 90’s and there’s nothing wrong with any of it.  I’ve got Windows 3.1 cookbooks and Windows 3.1 Middle-earth elvish fonts.

The crowd may have passed all this stuff by in the eternal rush for the next thing, the newer thing, but it’s my essential nature to turn back and take a close look at what’s being overlooked.   You can probably count the number of people still using Windows 3.1 on the fingers of one hand.  I don’t care.  This is my thing.

From 1990 to 1994 the default front end for Windows was the Program Manager, which was a pinboard of icons that could be double-clicked to launch programs, but when Windows 95 hit the street in August of that year, it introduced a User eXperience (UX) so intuitive that it’s used even today, with everything from Linux to Apple to Windows 7, and any attempt to change it (Gnome Unity, Windows 8) meets fierce resistance.  When I install Linux on hardware I generally go with Ubuntu 10.04, since that was the last Ubuntu to stick with the Windows 95 look and feel.

Calmira is a free program that backports the Windows 95 desktop paradigm to Windows 3.1, and it is almost 100% successful.  Squint your eyes and it’s Windows 95.  The only major difference (other than the fact that you still can’t run most 32 bit software) is that the desktop is still not, in itself, a folder.

You might be wondering why I don’t just bite the bullet and install the actual Windows 95 rather than something that simulates it.  And that’s a curious thing.  On a system with 512 megabytes of memory, Windows 3.1 chooses to believe I only have 64 megabytes, and it’s happy as a clam.  But Windows 95 sees that whole 512 megabytes (which really isn’t all that much by today’s standard), goes into future shock and refuses to boot.



This is where I do most of my work.  It is a Dell laptop running Windows XP which somebody kicked to the curb and I picked up from RePC in Tukwila for only $120.  I attached a television from Best Buy ($89), and a Microsoft wireless keyboard /  mouse combination, which makes it work just like a desktop.  The rabbit ears sticking out of the top are to improve the wi-fi situation.  Both the television and the laptop use less power than a traditional desktop setup, which is good because there’s a space heater on the same circuit that has been known to pop the breaker.  Microsoft no longer upgrades the OS but they continue to send out virus definitions and will do so for the foreseeable future. Despite my nom de plume, Linuxgal, I am not political and I will run any operating system that is worth a damn.  XP happens to be one of my favorites, perhaps the pinnacle of the Microsoft line, because it is compatible with absolutely everything.

2 Responses to Tech

  1. Arkenaten says:

    Yeah, I quite like XP, even though I know diddly squat about computers. It seems easy enough to work with.

  2. Linuxgal says:

    Microsoft is trying to kill it dead so they can sell people new operating systems, but XP is a zombie or Freddy Kruger or something, and 25% of computers still run it.

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