Yet Another Fruit-ful Computing Modality

Followers of the computing side of the Unix Curmudgeon blog will note that our 20-year dalliance with Linux has expanded from the server, workstation, and laptop incarnations to the appliance, namely Raspberry Pi, a tiny single-board card that runs Linux and uses an HDMI TV as a monitor. Of course, we’re familiar with the other fruity moniker, the Apple, and have even used Macs from time to time, since the advent of OS/X, the BSD-based operating environment introduced around the turn of the century:   use generally confined to command-line scripts in terminal windows, as opposed to the graphical desktop made popular with the original MacIntosh.


This summer, Judy–the Nice Person complement to the Unix Curmudgeon–who has patiently put up with the Linux-only network at Chaos Central until now–bought herself an iPad to replace the severely outclassed and underpowered Netbook road machine, which hadn’t fared well in the progressive upgrades over the years from Ubuntu 10.04 to Mint 17 (based on Ubuntu 14.04). Naturally, she has fallen in love with the tablet, the latest successor to “the computer for the rest of us.”

Meanwhile, the Curmudgeon has been making do between the Android phone and the Netbook during his limited-duty recovery from surgery earlier, akin to typing with boxing gloves while blindfolded.  So, the Nice Person, being a sentimental soul, designated a second iPad as a belated birthday present for the septuagenarian Curmudgeon.  OK, iOS, like Android, might have deep Unix roots, but, as “locked” appliances, aren’t multiuser and don’t have a command shell or root.  They also have “apps,” which aren’t “open,” though many of them are free (as in beer), and which, then aren’t customizable and it is less easy to roll your own custom apps.

So, the annoyances abound.  One of the first things of note is the way Apple deals with technologies they don’t like: they simply don’t support them.  Thus, none of the five dozen or so videos we’ve produced in the last couple of years will play on the iPad, with audio and/or video missing: we used the LAME MP3 coding for the audio track, and IOS only supports the newer Advanced Audio Coding format (OK, it’s been around for 17 years, but MP3 is still more common).  This in itself isn’t a huge problem, but it does mean re-generating all of the videos from project files, for which some of the source components have been moved, requiring hand-editing the text-based project files and searching for the missing component files.  Now, we do have some conversion utilities, but they inconveniently do not include the requisite audio coding.  The other issue is that we normally render videos at 25fps, even though the camera runs at 30, and Apple likes 30fps, period.  Fortunately, the video coding remains at H.264.  The real problem in all this was ferreting out the real cause of the problem, wading through the often less-than-helpful online help forums. The good news is that most other video software will accept the Apple set of protocols.

And so it goes: we have managed to find SSH apps that let us interact with the other *nix machines, with the exception of our bastion server, which requires host identification that we can’t generate or set on a rootless machine.  However, we can go through a third machine that is external to the network and registered with our server.

Some of the apps are just plain annoying or obtuse, with few clues as to how to get them to behave the way you expect ( no doubt some of the problem is unfamiliarity with the iOS gesture vocabulary that 4-year-olds seem to find intuitive).  As with all rapidly-changing technology today, the helpful hints found online only worked with the previous version of the system you just upgraded to.  But, yes, the slim tablet is much more portable, faster, brighter, and higher resolution than the old netbook, and the on-scene keyboard is much better than the tiny one on the phone… The apps put out by many of the sites we visit most make better use of the display than do the web browsers. I’d like to see some of the apps more generally available for Linux as well as the tablet OSes.

Oh, by the way, this post was composed, graphics and all, entirely on the iPad.  Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?