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Archive for June, 2007

KStars on OS 9?

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

So you’ve got an old ethernet or WiFi equipped Mac sitting in the closet taking up space, and you’ve got a shny new G4, G5, or Intel Mac on your desk. You love that old Mac, but you’ve got nothing for it to do. Well here is something you can try.

KStars is an open source astronomy tool similar to Starry Night. It displays a map of the night sky as viewed from anywhere on Earth and provides a plethora of tools and information for anyone with skillsets ranging from the backyard star gazer to the serious astronomer and astro-photographer. The map can be updated in real time, or it can be set to any time you choose. A full review of KStars is probably beyond the skope of this article, but you can read more about KStars here. Don’t download it from there, though. Use Fink or FinkCommander as detailed below instead.

Normally, you wouldn’t be able to run kstars on a Mac at all, never mind on one running OS 8 or 9. However, thanks to the wonderful world of UNIX, Mac OS X, and open source software, you can now set up your old Mac to display KStars for free. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good price (especially considering that Starry Night costs anywhere from $50 to $300)!

What you’ll need:

  • OS X on your new Mac. (If 10.4.x, you’ll also need the Developer tools. 10.3 and earlier don’t need this.)
  • Fink or FinkCommander on your new Mac.
  • A physical TCP/IP network connection between your old Mac and your new Mac.
  • A Secure Shell (SSH) client for your old Mac such as Nifty Telnet SSH.
  • An X Window server application for your old Mac such as MacX or eXodus. (For this article, I used an old copy of eXodus 7 from back in my OS 9 days. I haven’t tested this with MacX.)

If you’ve got all those tools, you should be able to get KStars running from your old Mac.

Here’s what I have:

  • Power Mac G4 (dual 1 GHz) running 10.4.something with ethernet.
  • PowerBook 1400cs/G3 233 running 9.1 with WiFi via an ORiNOCO Silver card and the ORiNOCO 7.2 drivers.
  • Nifty Telnet SSH and eXodus (eXodus is commercial software, so I can’t give you a download link) on the PowerBook.

Surprisingly, the performance of this configuration is pretty good. The 1400 runs eXodus respectably. Display refreshes are fast and smooth, and KStars, which is actually being executed on the dual G4, runs well even in real time mode.

First things first. Set up Fink and FinkCommander on your new Mac. (If you don’t already know, Fink and FinkCommander are excellent software that allow you to download hundreds of open source software titles originally written for Linux that have been ported to Mac OS X.) Follow the directions here to set up Fink, and then follow the directions here to set up FinkCommander. At this point, you could quit, and you would be ahead. You now have access to hundreds of open source software titles at your fingertips.

But we’re not done. You still have to get KStars! If you are running OS X 10.3.9 or ealier, installing KStars is as simple a matter as downloading it from FinkCommander. If you are running OS X 10.4 or higher, KStars is not in the pre-built download list in FinkCommander. If that is the case, you’ll have to build KStars from source. That is actually a lot easier to do than you might think. Just follow the directions here.

Now that you’ve got KStars installed, you can give it a test on your new Mac. Open X11, bring up an xterm, and type the following:

cd /sw/bin

This should start KStars for the first time. Configure it appropriately, and you’ll be ready to run it remotely.

The last thing to do on your new Mac is to make sure that Remote Login is enabled in your Sharing preference pane.

On your old Mac, launch your SSH client. For Nifty Telnet SSH, start a new connection (Command-N), then edit the connection settings. Make the shortcut name anything you like. Type in the IP address of your new Mac in the Host Name field. Set the Protocol to 3DES. Click the “OK” button. Now connect to your new Mac. You’ll be challenged for a user name and password. Once you are logged in, type the following commands to start KStars.

setenv DISPLAY <IP address of your old Mac>:0.0
cd /sw/bin

Kongratulations! You should now have a KStars display on your old Mac.

Why go through all the trouble of running KStars remotely? Why not just run it on the new Mac? I would hope that if you are reading the PPCMLA, you would provide the answers to these questions yourself. Certainly it takes a little extra effort to set up your KStars this way, but it can also be rewarding. Aside from the geek cred you’ll get, imagine this: You could set up four PowerBook based digital picture frames each with a wireless connection to a Mac OS X box each displaying the view to one of the four points of the compass. Then you could hang the picture frames on the associated walls of your office! How cool is that?!

Discuss this article in the forum.

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