Slugs And Other Vermin


Since braving the rampaging hordes at theater queues for ROTS is a futile exercise (and being in no hurry to close the loop on twenty-eight years of Star Wars), I finally decided to unpack the second NSLU2 I bought a few months back.

I now have some time to upgrade it to a decent Linux build (I chose Unslung 3.18, since 4.x seems a bit flaky still) and start cleaning up my storage act towards my goal of having zero Intel machines running - only low-consumption, special-purpose appliances (and my Mac mini, which will be the last thing I'll set up).

Note: by "zero Intel machines" I mean Pentium-class PCs, obviously. People who are ignorant of the history of ARM CPUs and think that the NSLU2 is "an Intel box" would to well to investigate the history of ARM - née Advanced RISC Machines, established in November 1990 in the UK as a joint venture between Apple Computer (surprise!), Acorn Computer Group (remember them?) and VLSI Technology. I would also recommend buying some stock in them, since Intel licensed their RISC technology because their own wasn't up to snuff in that market segment...

Considering that I've been trying to get this done for years now, that should give you an idea of how little free time I have.

As to the NSLU2, I've already got Python installed and a DAAP server running, and am now watching the thing crawl through the installation of its own self-hosted build environment so that I can take a stab at sslite - a minimalist SliMP3 server that will allow me to axe the Intel box all my music is stored in.

As to the "Slug" moniker... Yep, it's slow. Don't expect any CPU-intensive stuff to run fluidly, and the 32MB RAM means it can only really be used as a small home server.

But it works, and fits my needs - these days I use iTunes for ripping and tagging all my music, so having a dedicated box to do everything makes no sense anymore - what does make sense is intelligent storage able to stream my media to wherever I'm at, and a modified NSLU2 does that just fine.

The packaging system (ipkg) works, but I've found a few bugs and errors here and there. I've been keeping a mailing-list archive for months (finally, good use for Spotlight), so I can easily get around stuff like vi crashing (which should not be allowed to still happen six months after it was initially reported), lots of Wiki documentation inconsistencies, etc.

The README gets you through the installation easily enough, but isn't actually very readable (I found myself skipping sections looking for meaningful headers, and losing one or two important bits of information on the way). There also isn't what I would call an updated porting guide (or the best one isn't clearly pointed out), so it will take some patience ferreting out the details.

A few tips, then:

  • Don't rush it. Everything will work first time if you search the Wiki and the mailing-list archives first.
  • If you want to install anything of consequence (Apache, PHP, stuff to play around with, etc.), do this as soon as you can - otherwise the conf partition will fill to the brim in no time.
  • Keep a book handy. The package site is very slow, and actual package installation only slightly less so.
  • After installing packages, make doubly sure that you read server configuration files and that you place stuff (data, spool, logs) on the data partition whenever possible.

Once I get my media sorted out, I'll drop in Snakelets and see how it goes. It will be a wonderful way to ensure whatever I develop runs fast on any other hardware...