User Agents And The Art Of Online Camouflage

The user agent is a digital calling card presented by a web browser when it visits a website, identifying it and telling the website what content is best served to that particular web browser - the simplest example being the web browser on a mobile device will receive content more proportionally formatted for a smaller, portrait screen whereas when viewed from a laptop or desktop, the web browser will deliver the fully featured site.
This user agent can also inform the web site what features it should deploy - an old browser will perhaps be incapable of rendering certain content, so that content can be effectively cut out.

This all becomes relevant, especially to us PowerPC users, when it's possible to present an alternative user agent from the one your web browser natively employs - preferably to lessen CPU load and rendering times.

This has been a feature for a while with standard browser options or add-ons that facilitate selecting different user agents but what I shall discuss in this post is site specific user agents ie user agents that present themselves on a site by site basis automatically as you browse.

This legacy feature is present in the PPC spins of ArcticFox and IceWeasel but wasn't present in TenFourFox (which I'll utilise here) until I asked the developer to reintroduce it which he very generously did.

In the TenFourFox preferences, I leave the user agent at it's default setting and add site specific user agents with TextWrangler editing the TenFourFox prefs.js file that resides in

~/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles/go96ey5b.default

the last part of that location string may look different on your machine but will always terminate with .default.

This is an example string added to prefs.js:

user_pref("", "NokiaN90-1/3.0545.5.1 Series60/2.8 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1");

In this instance, browsing to any address will invoke the Nokia N90 user agent automatically - presenting a less busy page, free of Youtube's normal CPU hungry "features" and allowing access to the video in 3gp format (more of this in a future post.)

This process is repeated for all the sites you wish to include - a laborious task admittedly but one you'll only have to do once.

User agents can be copied from online sources or you can even use those included within TenFourFox as standard - select one in preferences, then navigate to whatsmyua and copy/paste the string.

Another method for adding site specific user agents is from within the browser itself - navigate to about:config and right click to add a new string. As per the example above, is added as the preference name, then NokiaN90-1/3.0545.5.1 Series60/2.8 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1 is added as the string value.

Generally, I will use either the oldest browser I can reasonably get away with or a Nokia mobile user agent for sites where I don't need all the CPU sapping bells and whistles - not only does this show mercy to your ageing PPC Mac but also loads pages quicker and in some cases is refreshingly distraction free.

Some example screens of TenFourFox pretending to be otherwise....

Drones beware!

 After a two year hiatus, myself and fiftysixk are returning the blog to an active state.  And we hope the other authors will join us.  

 To help liven things up a bit around here, we have brought in the Dronecatcher himself from the MacRumors PowerPC forum.  That's right...  the guy who can make web video play on a toaster has joined the PowerPC Liberation fold, and I for one am thrilled to have him!  Welcome, Wayne!

I've been thinking of a few different ideas for new content, as I just tricked out my G4 mini.  Stay tuned for something to do with that in the near future.

 If any readers have any ideas for new content, then please share them in the comments.

A hopeful real return

It has been quite a while, over two years to more precise. I hope every one is well and healthy, especially during these trying times.

I have moved into a development position at my employer. My on the job focus revolves around, C# and querying Microsoft SQL databases. This has been a wonderful opportunity to learn and self teach. I now have enough experience and theory to branch out to other languages. My goal is to pursue Python, Swift, Objective-C and C++. I have a "27inch iMac" and a 2015 MacBook Air for pursuing Swift. I have set up a 17 inch PowerBook G4 for Python, Objective-C and C++ development. I have no idea what software I would like to build yet. I have time to figure that out, there is plenty of learning to do first. I still have several PowerPC Macs besides the 17 inch PowerBook G4 mentioned earlier.

I will share the journey here. I have documented my current process I go through when setting up a Tiger or Leopard install. You can find them at my git repository. Any software I create will also be hosted there.

I know it has been a while. It is good to be back with all of you. Take care!

Debian PPC Status Update

Earlier this month, the migration of the Debian PPC port from Debian's main archive to the Debian ports archive was completed. The DSAs' shut down of the powerpc buildds on the main archive was a result of the PPC port no longer being a release architecture. With this change, also comes the need to update one's sources.list file. Also keep in mind that if you want to continue running Debian on your PPC hardware and have the latest updates and security fixes, you'll need to be running unstable (a.k.a Sid) on your systems. As frightening as that sounds, running unstable has actually been pretty stable for me since I made the move around 7 months ago.

However, before making the switch, you'll want to install the Debian Ports archive keyring package first, otherwise you'll receive errors about missing public keys for the Debian Ports mirrors (such as when attempting to run apt update. In a small and condensed nutshell, this package provides the public keys needed to verify the signatures on the packages available from the Debian ports mirrors that are digitally signed with the corresponding private keys. See here for a bit more information on Debian's keyrings. To install, run the following:
apt install debian-ports-archive-keyring

Here is what I currently have in my /etc/apt/sources.list file. Feel free to use this as a solid starting point and adapt from there to best fit your needs. Also bear in mind that changes to this file requires sudo privileges.

# Binary Default
deb unstable main 
deb unreleased main 

# Package Source deb-src unstable main

# Non-free firmware deb [arch=all] unstable main contrib non-free

The first two lines provide access to the PPC or PPC64 Debian package binaries (with what few PPC64 binaries exist) for both unstable and unreleased. The package source section allows me to still download a package's source so I could tweak, build and/or install from scratch. Lastly, the non-free firmware entry allows me to still search and download packages from Debian's main archives that are compatible with all architectures (for example: linux-firmware-nonfree). This is especially useful for downloading Nvidia and AMD/Radeon firmware for your graphics card.

For more possible sources.list configurations for your PPC machines, see this mailing list post from John Paul Glaubitz who is basically spearheading a large part of this effort by himself. You have more options to choose from than what I've chosen to include in my own sources.list.

Again, thankfully him and others are willing to keep the port alive for the Debian distribution via the Debian Ports project. Although the chances of PPC ever being re-introduced as a first class release architecture are slim to none, I'm encouraged by the fact that we can still run the latest and greatest with a majority of the packages that are available for Debian.

Of course, there are an infinite numbers of ways you can help contribute to the Debian Ports project including:

  • Simply installing and running Debian on your PPC and PPC64 machines
  • Submitting bug reports
  • Being active on the Debian PPC as well as other Debian ports mailing lists
  • Submitting patches for any PPC and PPC64 bugs
  • Hosting another mirror for the Debian Ports project

One of the major projects for the PPC and PPC64 ports is migrating the architectures away from the no longer maintained Yaboot (last updated in 2011!) bootloader over to Grub. Any help you can provide in this regard would be much appreciated. If you need the latest installer ISO for PPC or PPC64, you can find those here.

Are you still using Debian on your PPC or PPC64 machines? It's not too late to continue doing so or get started. While you're at it, load up Debian on machines running other architectures such as m68k, hppa, etc. Let's keep this port and others alive for the foreseeable future. I'm sure we're to learn a thing or two along the way.

Back with a surprise

Hello everyone. I hope you have all been well. My apologies for falling off of the face of the earth. It is wild how time flies by. Enough about that though, it is time for the surprise.

There will be more details and plans shortly. It has already been quirky but hey, it is a G5 after all.

It is good to be back.

Why I finally ride the SSD train

For the longest time...  I was always against using SSD's, as reliability had been an issue for the first several years they were on the market.  Now however, I have discovered the Samsung 850 EVO series of 2.5" SSD's, and damn are they amazing.  I have one in my Sawtooth, and one in my late 2009 Mac mini.  The performance and reliability is amazing all-round.

As my Sawtooth relies on a PCI-M slot powered SATA 1 controller, I am limited to around 80MB/sec read and write, but the latency is incredibly good.  On my Intel mini, with SATA 2, I get sustained speeds of 270MB/sec read and 210MB/sec write.  It's also the most reliable boot drive I have ever used.  More on all this later.

I know this place has seemed dead in the last year or so, but I can assure you it's not.  There is still plenty of hits every day here, and I am starting to use my PowerPC systems more lately.  Also, I recently picked up a 1.5GHz 12" PowerBook G4 for next to nothing.  What a great machine.

I still have five PowerPC computers, so new content will come, and hopefully me posting will inspire the other authors.  *wink wink*  *nudge nudge*