My thoughts on Slackware, life and everything

Tag: modular

December updates and a Christmas goodie for cable geeks

The silent treatment?

Hi there.
I know I have not been posting a lot the past few months. Sorry for that, really.
The last quarter is always a busy time at work and especially so during Corona; my mother fell ill; I sort of crashed when I ran out of energy; and it was a lot of work to clean up shop after my Plasma5 ‘ktown’ first got adopted as Slackware ‘vtown’ in testing and a bit later replaced the old KDE4 in the core distro. Lots of package recompilations and upgrades to work with the newer stuff in Slackware.

I also worked on (finally) migrating the old ‘bear’ server which was hosted in France, to a newer and more powerful server running in an Amsterdam Data Center. The new server ‘martin’ was mostly ready when I thought, let’s reboot ‘bear’ after applying the latest Slackware security fixes. And then it did not come back up… that was not a comfortable moment, since ‘bear’ not only hosts my own package and git repositories, but also The Slack Docs Wiki, the Slack Docs mailing lists, my own personal Wiki and some private family sites. I opened a support ticket and it turned out that the hard drive had crashed and all data on it were irrecoverable.
Luckily I had just finished making a set of backups and right before that fateful reboot, had discovered that my backup scripts omitted part of the server data… which I had also fixed just in time before  that crash.
It took some additional energy to get the services up and running on ‘martin’ again as soon as possible. I had made some new designs for the new server OS configuration and the new configs were un-tested… I hope not too many people noticed the partial down during the second half of November.
The new server runs fine now, has more disk space especially, so I can finally host the full history of Slackware releases and also the DAW and CINNAMON Live ISO images for which there was no room on ‘bear’.
Thanks again to those people who send me money un a regular basis so that I can pay the monthly rent of ‘martin’!

Despite that stress I have been enjoying myself still, just not in the spotlights. The semi-sudden switch in Slackware from KDE4 to Plasma5 and refreshing its XFCE Desktop had some consequences for my liveslak project. It took some time to work out a new optimal package set for the small XFCE image, and in particular the DAW Live image which is based on a bare Plasma5 Desktop needed attention to make it tick again.

So what’s new in Slackware DAW Live?

Remember: DAW = Digital Audio Workstation.
Read my original article documenting the research into a comprehensive collection of musician/producer oriented free and open source software, and a follow-up article on how to transform a Slackware system into a powerful Digital Audio Workstation.

Art work

I asked you in a previous post to come up with ideas for artwork to use in my Slackware Digital Audio Workstation. Thanks for those who contributed graphics and ideas – all of that creativity has been preserved here on the blog.
I decided to use the image to the left of this paragraph – a Slackware ‘S’ with headphones – as the icon to use for the “Slackware Live DAW” submenu. Contributed by Daedra and slightly colored by me.

I needed a second icon as well, to represent the ‘face’ of the Live user account, and for that I picked one of the contributions from Bob Funk: a Slackware ‘S’ with a TRS jack. You’ll see this one when you boot up the ISO and are asked to login at the SDDM graphical session chooser.

More art work was contributed by Sceptical-C, a friend of mine who doubles as a DJ, musician and producer. His black and white photography are the basis for several Plasma5 wallpapers and one of his photographs is also used as the background in the login and lock screens.

DAW_base package

I decided to move the configuration  of the DAW Live OS’ realtime capabilities out of the liveslak scripts and into a new Slackware package. This package called “daw_base” can be installed on any Slackware computer (preferably Slackware-current with PAM). It configures the OS in such a way that a user who is a member of the Slackware “audio” group is allowed to start applications with real-time scheduling priority. You’ll need that if you want to prevent sound drop-outs (also called XRUNs) during performing, recording and mixing. Some more tweaks are being made, they are documented in the package’s README.1st file. This package also contains the Plasma5 wallpapers which are created from the original Sceptical-C black-and-white artwork.
The package creates a new sub-menu in “Applications > Multimedia” called “Slackware DAW” and collects all my DAW related software in there. The submenus in “Multimedia” for the X42 and LSP plugins are moved into the “Slackware DAW” menu to keep it all closely together. This is very similar to what DAW Live also contains. Just the word “Live” is not present in the name of that menu installed by ‘daw_base‘.

The daw_base package also installs a template file for Slackware’s package manager ‘slackpkg‘. The template called “daw” contains a list of all DAW related software in my package repository and it allows for an easy installation and maintenance of that software collection.

New additions to the musician’s toolkit

Several packages needed a recompilation after the recent Slackware upgrades that are related to the new requirements for XFCE and Plasma5. I used that opportunity to upgrade software to their latest versions instead of recompiling – like Ardour, Mixxx, Jamulus, Guitarix for instance. But I also looked into some new stuff, mostly because people asked me about it. Here they are:

An intuitive digital audio workstation all in itself. It’s under heavy development and nearing a 1.0.0 release. It supports LV2 plugins, offers a high level of automation, and looks really good. Perhaps an alternative for those who feel Ardour’s learning curve is too steep.

VCV Rack.
VCV Rack by the VCV project is a software emulation of the Eurorack Modular Synthesizer.
The project’s mission statement contains this line which resonated with me: “… the principle behind modular synthesizers is identical to the UNIX philosophy, where stable, minimal modules working together are preferred to a monolithic platform controlled by a single vendor (like portable synthesizer keyboards)“.

A short intermezzo first. My first experience with modular synths was as part of the audience when attending a concert by Pere Ubu, 1981 in De Effenaar in EIndhoven. Alan Ravenstine handled a huge contraption full of patch wires that produced all sorts of weird and interesting sounds. It’s what gave Pere Ubu their uniquely distinctive sound. I read later that he worked with EML modular synthesizers a lot but at the time I didn’t know. Damn impressive, but I decided that industrial sounds were more to my liking. This was during the early rise of Electronic Body Music, and that got me hooked for a while. If you can find the documentary “I dream of WIres” I recommend you watch it. The web site is dedicated to documenting the history of electronic music. An excerpt of a little more than 20 minutes is freely available, it contains an interview with Pere Ubu synth players Alan Ravenstine and Robert Wheeler.

Anyway – back in May 2019, a blog comment by ‘Hank’ already referenced VCV Rack with a question whether I would perhaps consider it for inclusion to my DAW software collection. At the time, my focus was on other things and a modular synthesizer is not the easiest instrument to work with, so I let that pass. But some recent youtube footage sparked my interest and here is the result – a Christmas present of sorts for you: packages for VCV Rack, and three free and open source plugins that expand the collection of available modules in Rack: vcvrack, vcvrack-audible-instruments, vcvrack-befaco and vcvrack-bogaudio.

Note that my VCV Rack package ‘vcvrack‘ contains the Fundamental plugin already. The software is quite useless without it so I decided to bundle it, just like the dev’s binary distribution. It is the only plugin which is automatically loaded by VCV Rack. If you install any other plugin, you need to execute one manual command to add the plugin to your user-directory: this will create a symbolic link to the ZIP file containing the modules and Rack will then automatically find and unzip this plugin and make it available to you.

$ ln -s /usr/share/vcvrack/ ~/.Rack/plugins-v1/

All ZIP files in the VCV Rack system directory (/usr/share/vcvrack/) are module plugins – this is the format for distributing them.

Here is a Youtube tutorial series that you can use as an introduction to modular synthesis and VCV Rack in particular:

Enjoy! Eric

KDE 4.7.1 packages for Slackware

Right after the announcement of the KDE Software Compilation 4.7.1 – I present you with KDE 4.7.1 packages for Slackware.

It’s my second batch of modularized KDE. Read my previous post about KDE 4.7.0 if you want to know more about the reasons for splitting KDE for Slackware into many more (and smaller) packages.

Whereas my KDE 4.7.0 packages should still be applicable to a Slackware 13.37 system, my strong advice for these new 4.7.1 packages is to install them onto Slackware-current (32-bit or 64-bit). I can not guarantee that they will run without issues on Slackware 13.37 – I did not try myself. If you should decide to give it a go on Slackware 13.37 and it works fine for you, please tell me so that I can update this warning.

Read the accompanying README file for installation and upgrade instructions!

Some of the highlights of these KDE packages:

  • There are several updated dependencies compared to Slackware’s own KDE 4.5.5:  PyQt, QScintilla, akonadi, attica, clucene, ebook-tools, hunspell, libdbusmenu-qt, phonon, polkit-qt-1, qt, raptor2, rascal, redland, shared-desktop-ontologies, sip, soprano, system-config-printer and  virtuoso-ose.
  •  In comparison with my previous 4.7.0 there are several updated dependencies too (this list is a bit smaller): PyQt, akonadi, clucene, libbluedevil, polkit-qt-1, qt, raptor2, rascal, redland, sip and soprano. The upgrade of Qt to 4.7.4 makes this desktop a whole lot more stable, and it deals with the false SSL certificates issued after the CA authority DigiNotar got hacked.
  • KDE dpendencies that are not part of Slackware 13.37 at all (yet): grantlee, herqq, libatasmart, libbluedevil, libssh, phonon-gstreamer, phonon-xine, sg3_utils and udisks. Note that I added phonon-gstreamer and phonon-xine only after I had already released KDE 4.7.0 packages because people reported that they no longer had sound. These two packages solve that issue.
  • You will find three useful new applications, compared to Slackware’s own version of KDE: I already added bluedevil to my 4.6.5 package-set. Bluedevil is the new KDE bluetooth stack with a nice GUI, based on the BlueZ libraries already present in Slackware. And with KDE 4.7.0, I included kplayer, a KDE front-end to MPlayer. This time, I added Quanta Plus, which disappeared from KDE4 because that migrated from Qt3 to Qt4. It is now being worked on again, but no longer as a standalone application – instead it is available as a plugin to the Kdevelop Platform. My previous blog post has more information about my reasons for adding quanta.
  • I also added oxygen-gtk, which is not really an application, but a theme engine. It (optionally) makes GTK applications visually blend in with KDE’s own Oxygen theme. There is a README in its documentation directory which explains how to enable it.

The KDE 4.7.1 packages for Slackware-current are available for download from my “ktown” repository and several mirrors. The Indonesian mirror may need a bit of time to sync up but Willy is usually very fast with that:

Have fun! Eric

Modular KDE 4.7.0 arrives for Slackware

As you most certainly noticed, there was virtually no movement with regard to building Slackware packages after the announcement of the KDE Software Compilation 4.7.0 …but today that changes. Let me point you to a (huge… it’s triple the old number) set of  KDE 4.7.0 packages for Slackware.

The 4.7.0 release comes in the form of many more tarballs than usual. I needed to find time to re-write the KDE.SlackBuild we use to compile all of the KDE-related packages, and the holiday period was the first time I found some time to think and work on the script. I took the modular X.Org script and modeled the new KDE.SlackBuild after that. The advantage with the new script is that new source tarballs can easily be incorporated into the build framework now, and the new package that would be created from that source takes only a few extra lines of configuration to be added. Unfortunately, writing and testing took a while, and you had to wait for a complete set of packages a little longer.

The obvious advantage to you, the end user of the modular KDE in Slackware, is having more control over what you want to install or leave out if your primary interest lies with KDE’s applications, not with the desktop environment as a whole.

I want to stress the point that you have to be running Slackware 13.37 (32bit or 64bit) or (preferably) slackware-current in order to use these packages. The packages themselves were built on slackware-current. Note that between 13.37 and -current, there was an incompatible Perl upgrade which may cause some of the “language bindings” to fail on Slackware 13.37 (causing for instance plasmoids to break if those were programmed in perl).

Please read the accompanying README file for installation and upgrade instructions! Be prepared for some bumps in the transition from KDE 4.6 to 4.7… I had some crashes but they always occur right after login (kwin, kded, nepomuk-stub) but they disappeared after I quit KDE, deleted the KDE related “*username*” directories in /tmp and /var/tmp, and logged on again.

Some of the highlights of these KDE packages:

  • PIM (kdepim and kdepim-runtime) is finally back in sync with the overall KDE development cycle and is now at version 4.7.0 too.
  • There are several updated dependencies since KDE 4.6.5 if you had that installed already. KDE 4.7.0 is a big stride away from 4.6. You’ll have to update akonadi, phonon, shared-desktop-ontologies, soprano.
  • The list of updated dependencies with regard to the stable Slackware 13.37 is a bit bigger: PyQt, QScintilla, akonadi, attica, ebook-tools, hunspell, libdbusmenu-qt, phonon, shared-desktop-ontologies, sip, soprano, system-config-printer, virtuoso-ose.
  • Not part of Slackware 13.37 at all (yet): grantlee, herqq (added for KDE 4.7.0), libatasmart, libbluedevil, libssh, sg3_utils, udisks.
  • You will find two useful new applications as “KDE extragear”, compared to Slackware’s own version of KDE: I already added bluedevil to my 4.6.5 package-set. Bluedevil is the new KDE bluetooth stack with a nice GUI, based on the BlueZ libraries already present in Slackware. I added its package to the “kde” directory. It integrates a lot better into KDE than the GTK application “blueman” which is now primarily meant to be used with the non-KDE desktop environments. And with KDE 4.7.0 I have included kplayer, a KDE front-end to MPlayer. The ugly “gmplayer” GUI of MPlayer has been abandoned by its own developers, so there was a need for a better GUI. Even though I really like the Qt-based UMPlayer front-end, I think kplayer is a better choice for KDE users, since it integrates properly into KDE.

The KDE 4.7.0 packages for Slackware 13.37 & current are available for download from my “ktown” repository and several mirrors. The Indonesian mirror may need a bit of time to sync up but Willy is usually very fast with that:

Have fun! Eric

Progressing with KDE 4.7.0

Quick teaser… I am progrressing well with my modular KDE SlackBuild script as you can see if you examine the screenshot closely.

I am currently rebuilding the 32-bit package-set to verify that everything can be built in one command and without further interaction. I am running the 64-bit version of KDE 4.7.0 on this laptop while I am posting the article, and the package count has gone up to 75… which includes 6 packages of “extragear”, where kplayer is a new package to provide us with a decent KDE front-end to mplayer. All is looking good so far! I hope to get these packages out in time for the Slackers who will be attending the Desktop Summit in Berlin, next weekend.

Cheers, Eric

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