Notes from the January 2017 Meeting

Our first meeting of the year took place on a hot January evening. We survived the heat well because the meeting room has air conditioning….a blessing on evenings like that.

Nick Vespo’s Linux News opened the evening’s proceedings. First came a verbal report on some of the attention-grabbing items at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)

  • New televisions are coming as very large and very thin.
  • Autonomous cars are the flavour of the month or year, and getting smarter all the time.
    There is a video of a man exiting his self-driving car, with the car heading off into
    the car park, finding a parking spot and parking itself. No human input needed.
  • Security – a very important topic. But many new devices lack adequate security.
  • Amazon’s Alexa is being used by many devices for voice activation.

Nick then proceeded to show a few short videos highlighting other items at CES ..

  • The CGS Matrix Powerwatch. It needs no re-charge because it generates power from the
    warmth of the wearer.
  • Kingston showed a 2TB flash drive. Not much larger than conventional flash drives that
    have less than one-thousandth of its capacity.
  • Hyundai showed an exoskeleton that helps users walk and lift heavy loads. Very useful
    for people who have been injured. The military is also interested in its capabilities.
  • A textile company showed a bedspread with augmented reality abilities. No comment about
    how difficult it might be to get childran to sleep if they have such a bedspread.
  • OLED TV’s are coming to market. Brighter, clearer and thinner that LCD/LED versions.
    Sony’s Bravia range and LG’s W Series were mentioned as OLED TVs.
  • There was a brief examination of Dell’s new XPS 13 two-in-one computer. A big improvement on earlier models.
  • Samsung’s Flex-Wash-And-Dry was shown. Two large machines side-by-side. Looks to have huge capacity.
  • The Kuri robot was briefly demonstrated. It was not clear how advanced the robot is.
  • ASUS’s Zenforce AR smart phone was shown, with its augmented reality function.

Lastly, there was a short video showing devices that are competition for the Raspberry Pi. The first was Pocket Chip, billed as a $9 computer. The second one was the Pine64, a device that runs Android 5.1, and was claimed to be a $16 computer. It has GPIO functions compatible with the Raspberry Pi.

After the deluge of information on new gadgets, we were returned to reality (un-augmented) for some MelbPC administrivia and general discussion.

After the social/refreshment break, David Hatton spoke about the Tiny Core Linux (TCL) distribution.

TCL started as a fork of Damn Small Linux, and has succeeded it as the smallest available Linux
distribution. TCL is not an ordinary Linux distro – it is more a toolkit to build your own custom
Linux. Tiny Core is not a complete desktop system but contains just a minimal X-Windows desktop.
There is an even smaller version which boots to a command line with no GUI available.

David started the TCL system using a VirtualBox installation, and it was very fast to display the desktop. It includes terminal, an editor, a control panel and a file manager out of the box. The task manager equivalent is similar to that for the Mac OS. The higher-level version of TCL – Core Plus, contains more utilities and applications, including community package extensions. The version of Core Plus that David showed included packages installed by him from the TCL repositories.

TCL can be installed/used in several ways: as a Live CD; to a hard disk (frugal install), to a USB hard disk, or to a USB flash drive. If no persistent storage has been set up, TCL will boot with a fresh copy of the system and apps every time – useful for some security sensitive applications.

A limited set of hardware is supported by TCL, for instance, only wired ethernet in TCL’s default form. However, hardware not supported by the base TCL can be brought into service by compiling the required software from standard Linux source code.

TCL is designed to run in memory, and can run on machines with as little as 48MB, which is in stark contrast to Windows 10, which needs at least 1 GB of memory, preferably 2 GB plus for adequate performance. Even a “mainstream” Linux distro needs a minimum of 512MB to run and 1 GB for reasonable performance. TCL running from memory also means that it is very responsive.

There are versions of TCL for intel 32 and 64 bit architecture machines, as well as for Raspberry Pi and ARM-based machines. All-in-all, this is a distribution of interest to people who want to customise a system for a particular purpose that is small and fast.