Category Archives: Technology

The World in VR

Next year Facebook is putting out a new Oculus Rift product, a $199 headset that does not require it to be attached to a computer or a smartphone, the product is called Oculus Connect. Thier stated goal is to get a billion people in the virtual reality. This will probably be the strike price point where VR headsets become cheap enough that nearly everyone can afford a set. My guess is this will be a loss leader for Facebook and they will make their money sell eyeballs to AD companies and sell software through their own software store.

While I am not terribly excited about this product, I suspect it will not be very good and the software will suck, at least in the beginning. My own experience with the Oculus Rift has been less than rewarding. Initially I was very excited and awed by the experience. But as time went on I realized there is very little quality products available for the Rift. Certainly I have watched some really great documentaries and Google Earth is fun, but all of the games seem to have limited re-play options, meaning once you have played through it once, there is no particular reason to do so again, because you now know where everything is at and you know what you need to do, there is no variations to make re-play interesting. The one bright spot here is of course porn, VR porn is really cool.

What I am hoping for, is this new low end entry to the market will drive developers to finally start building interesting virtual worlds that we can explore together with friends. I am waiting for the first VR World of Warcraft to come out, where its not just a single adventure, but a whole world filled with 8 million other people. Killing monsters and stealing their stuff is cool and all, but I also want to be able to visit different cities and have experiences in different cultures. Finally, maybe, just maybe, someone will develop a VR operating system.

I hate Facebook

I quit Instagram because it was basically stupid and shallow. I quit Twitter because it was just a steady stream of people vomiting whatever came to mind and most of it is stupid and shallow. I quit Google + not because it was stupid and shallow, but rather because it was a ghost town, almost no one was on it and the communities were all dead, so it was just a waste of time. This left me with Facebook.

I have always had a tenuous relationship with Facebook. I have never particularly liked it, I don’t like their privacy policy, I don’t like the interface, and I dislike how easy it is to pretend you are doing something important on Facebook when in reality all you are doing is screwing around. Everything about Facebook is designed to be a time sink. The real problem is I cannot give it up, this seems to be the primary communication method of just about everyone I know. There are exceptions of course, but not many. If I want to stay in touch with my family back in Montana, I pretty much need to be on Facebook.

I have kind of come to the point where I really no longer post anything there. I do respond to other peoples posts, but I don’t contribute. If I am going to express myself in some meaningful way on the internet, I do it here. I don’t want people to read my posts because I was in between two other peoples posts as they scanned the news feed. I want people to read what I have to say because they want to find out what I am thinking and went out of their way to do so, otherwise I am just another time sink for Facebook.

The digital age is here

I was reading a forum thread about how disappointed people are that local game stores no longer cater to the role playing game community. Back in the 80’s there were stores dedicated to nothing but role playing games and today game shops tend to be more about Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon card games. The complaint seems to be that game shops are chasing the easy money instead of doing the hard work needed to attract serious RPG customers. This made me laugh.

First off, of course game shops are going to chase the easy money. These guys need to pay the rent, they need to pay their employee’s and hopefully have enough left over at the end of the month to pay themselves something. Collectible card games have regular release cycles, if a game shop stocks the top 4 games, they will likely have a new set on the stand every month that keep the customers coming in. RPG’s are just not like that, the big guy, Wizards of the Coast only releases new product 2-3 times a year, usually an adventure module that only 25% of the potential market (GM’s) is going to buy. The number two guy Paizo, is a bit better, but not by much and all the rest are hit and miss, more often missing.

Second, RPG players simply do not need that much product. I can buy the core book and play for decades without ever investing another penny in the game. I like having adventure modules, but I don’t need them, I like supplemental expansions to the game, but I don’t need them. I could pull out my copies of the Moldvay D&D basic set published in 1981 and I could run a 3 year campaign. Just because an RPG is old, does not mean it is unplayable. Lets face it, we are a notoriously cheap bunch anyway.

Third and finally, the digital age is upon us. We no longer need game stores to be the center of our community. Thanks to the internet we can look at products and read reviews prior to buying. We can discuss our hobby with people all over the world in dozens of different forums covering all aspects of gaming. We can even play online now, we don’t even have to put on pants and go over to someones house or the game store to play anymore. On top of that, DrivethruRPG have more games on their site than any game store could ever hope stock, I have 3,000+ RPG PDF files totaling 24GB, and you know what, I store all of them on my tablet and I can carry them with me everywhere I go. Even on the off chance that I want a printed copy, I can always buy from Amazon and get a 30% discount on it, which totally makes it worth the 2 day wait to get it. Alternately, for under $200 I can buy a laser printer and a binding machine to make my own. Okay, I don’t get a full color glossy paged hard bound book, but honestly, do I really need that for a table copy that is going to be exposed to Mountain Dew and Cheetos? At today’s prices, that setup would pay for itself after 4 or 5 printouts.

As far as I am concerned, this breakup was inevitable. Back in the 80’s games stores needed RPG gamers and vice versa, today, not so much. You know, I don’t think that is a bad thing.

Equifax pretty much sucks

Apparently one of the largest credit reporting companies in the world was the victim of a terrible data breach. They are publicly admitting to a couple of hundred thousand people being affected, but it will probably be more like millions when the dust settles. They managed to keep this a secret for the better part of a month, just enough time for their upper echelon of management to dump their stocks. Once the breach became public, Equifax then promptly showed the world exactly what not to do when faced with a problem of this magnitude and turned a security fiasco into a public relations fiasco as well. I have two things to say about this.

First, go freeze your credit reports. This took me about an hour to do both PezWitch and I, it also cost me a little bit of money, but it was not terrible. What this does is it stops the credit reporting companies from reporting your credit to anyone, including lenders. This means you will not be able to get a new credit card or a car loan until you unfreeze the reporting. This also stops criminals from trying to get credit cards in your name. Its does add a layer of complication to doing some things like opening checking accounts or renting an apartment, but it also provides you with an extra layer of protection. Here is the real problem with this breach. Part of the information that was leaked was Social Security Numbers, these number don’t change, so this information will be valid and usable until the day you are reported to be dead. This is not a short term thing, this is a rest of your life problem. So don’t wait, don’t put it off, just go do it now.

The second thing I have to say about this is it proves beyond doubt that most of these companies spend far too little money on securing your data. Seriously, how does one miss a hacker downloading a database, how does someone miss having terabytes, possibly petabytes of data being transferred to an IP address outside their network, worse this was going on from May through July, how do you miss someone guzzling down data for months? The answer to the question is simple, they really don’t give a shit. These companies need to get serious about this because otherwise it is going to get worse.

 

Crowdfunding and you

There is this thing on the internet these days called crowdfunding. Basically this guy, we will call him Bob, has an idea to sell something, but Bob does not have the $10,000 he needs to manufacture it. So he goes to Kickstarter or similar website, sets up an account and basically begs other people to give him $10,000 so he can bring Bob-O-Matic to the market. Of course the problem is most of these crowdfunded projects fail, the reasons can vary, but generally it is one of two reasons. Either because Bob really only had an idea and had no clue how much time or money it would take to develop the idea and get it to market or second Bob is a con artist who had no intention of bringing his product to market and basically took the money and walked.

Now don’t get me wrong, crowdfunding can be a lot of fun and allow you to get products early and at a discounted rate, but there are a couple of things to remember;

  1. You are not an investor, you are customer who is pre-ordering a product and further, the person is actually under no obligation to deliver the product, just understand that and accept it.
  2. There are two categories of crowdfunded projects;
    1. Established companies with a good track record of delivering product
    2. No names with no track record of doing anything ever
  3. It is okay to contribute a nice chunk of change to a project being run by an established company with solid track record. I have given a couple of hundred dollars to Steve Jackson Games and Foglio Studios, both are good companies that have been in business for decades and they use Kickstarter to fund cool projects that would otherwise never see the light of day.
  4. It is also okay to contribute to a project by a no name with no track record, however you should heavily limit the amount of money you give them, because you are probably never going to get the product.
    1. I measure this in Starbucks Coffee, I ask myself how many Starbucks Coffee’s am I willing to go without if this project never produces anything. Usually the answer to this is somewhere between 0 and 2, or roughly $0 to $10. Honestly you should never be giving more than a few dollars to a project like this, you are essentially playing the lottery and only a total idiot would spend their rent money on it.
    2. The recent Top Secret RPG Kickstarter is an example of this. Small Company, first major project, I love the idea, but there is no way I am giving them $50 to get the printed product of a game I will likely play exactly once or more likely never. So I gave them $10 for the PDF.

I do not want to discourage people from using Kickstarter, I actually think its a great idea. But I am preaching moderation. Don’t get carried away, never contribute more than you can afford and if the product never ships, don’t bother sending hate mail to them, either they are bad at business or just bad people, either way you are not getting your money back, just move on.

I Love RAID 5

Last week one of the hard drives in PezWitch’s computer failed. For those who don’t know, she has 5 drives in her system, one small solid state drive for the operating system, one 1 TB solid state for her games and three 2 TB spindle drives which are configured in a RAID 5, this is where she keeps her data, pictures videos, writing, whatever. Fortunately the drive that failed was in the RAID 5. The RAID 5 worked flawlessly, doing exactly what it was supposed to do. When I installed the new drive the RAID controller detected it and asked if I wanted to add the drive and rebuild the array. It was literally as easy as replacing a failed hard drive, only no data was lost and I did not have to reinstall Windows.

Encryption 101

Not many people know this, but I am a published author. By published author I mean, I have been paid for my writing. I have been published in 2600 magazine, Dragon magazine, Linux Gazette and a little known magazine called DOS Resource Guide. I have never received more than $50 payment and in the case of DOS Resource Guide, they folded before I received any payment at all.

It is really kind of sad too, because that one is probably the article I was most proud of. I wrote a qbasic encryption program that I felt was kind of clever in its implementation. Of course it would never withstand the attention of the NSA, but as I said in the article, it would keep your little sister from reading your files. Most of the qbasic encryption programs of the time simply used the password provided to seed the built in pseudo random number generator and then used the XOR function along with these pseudo random numbers to encrypt the file. I took this a step further and used this process to generate a 128 character string which I then used via my own algorithm to fill an array the size of the original file with a pad, which was then used to encrypt the file. Again, this was not military grade encryption, but I think for a first try it was a novel idea.

This lead to another project which I actually did with a friend. He decided the best way to encrypt a file was to use another file as a key. His idea was to XOR the bits in the file you wanted to encrypt with the bits in the key file. The way we built the program was it required three things to decrypt the file, a user name, a password and the key file. I used more or less the same process I used in the first program, only instead of using my own number to encrypt the file, I would use my numbers to determine the location of the bit to be XOR’d within the key file. As close as I could tell at the time, as long as you never used the same key file twice, it would be basically impossible to crack the encryption. This of course was naive thinking back in 1994, today I suspect this could be broken in a weekend using a $400 laptop.

I wish I still had this code, unfortunately it has suffered digital death as many of my early projects have. I even went looking for a copy of the DOS Resource Guide where my original program was published, but unfortunately I have not been able to find more than a few issues here and there. I guess an old short lived magazine from the early 90’s covering an obsolete operating system holds little interest for anyone these days.

Oculus Rift and Linux

So there is some very tentative support for the Oculus Rift in Linux. Basically at this point, I am looking to just get my desktop extended to the Rift, to me this is a the most basic first step. I am not there yet, but I am close. Here is the step by step instructions for getting started. When I run one of the demos, like Simple or Test.py, it does light up my Rift and I do get an extension of my desktop, the problem is the displays are switched and I have not figured out how to change that yet.

sudo apt-get install -y build-essential libusb-1.0-0-dev libudev-dev autotools-dev autoconf automake libtool libudev-dev libusb-1.0-0-dev libfox-1.6-dev libogre-1.9-dev libois-dev libtinyxml-dev cmake libogre-1.9-dev libois-dev libtinyxml-dev git cython sdl2-dev libglew-dev

mkdir src
cd src

git clone git://github.com/signal11/hidapi.git
cd hidapi
./bootstrap
./configure
make
sudo make install

cd ..
git clone https://github.com/OpenHMD/OpenHMD.git
cd OpenHMD
./autogen.sh
./configure –enable-openglexample
make
sudo make install

sudo -i

echo ‘SUBSYSTEM==”usb”, ATTR{idVendor}==”2833″, MODE=”0666″, GROUP=”plugdev”‘ > /etc/udev/rules.d/83-hmd.rules

echo ‘SUBSYSTEM==”usb”, ATTR{idVendor}==”0bb4″, MODE=”0666″, GROUP=”plugdev”‘ >> /etc/udev/rules.d/83-hmd.rules

echo ‘SUBSYSTEM==”usb”, ATTR{idVendor}==”28de”, MODE=”0666″, GROUP=”plugdev”‘ >> /etc/udev/rules.d/83-hmd.rules

udevadm control –reload-rules

exit

#### Unplug your Rift from the machine at this time and plug it back in.

cd ..
git clone https://github.com/OpenHMD/OpenHMDDemo.git
OpenHMDDemo
cmake .
make
./OpenHMDDemo

cd ..
git clone https://github.com/lubosz/python-rift.git
cd python-rift
sudo ln /usr/local/include/openhmd/openhmd.h /usr/include/openhmd.h
sudo ./setup.py install
./test.py

cd

That is it, at this point you should be able to run the demos. The next time you start Steam, it is going to detect the Rift and install SteamVR, which does not work, but it does cause some errors, so to fix that run this command;

sudo apt install libxtst6:i386 libxrandr2:i386 libglib2.0-0:i386 libgtk2.0-0:i386 libpulse0:i386 libgdk-pixbuf2.0-0:i386

Personal Security Vs Online Identity

Personal security is extremely important on the internet. Everyone needs to take steps to make sure their important personal data is protected. Everyone should be using LastPass or KeyPass to manage website passwords, I would also suggest two factor authentication where ever possible. It is also a good habit to not be too revealing about oneself while online and you need to be careful about who you are friends with or following you on social media. Do not allow strangers to have unnecessary access to details of your life. A good example is this blog, I have no control over who reads this blog, so I do not post things like vacation pictures until I am home and I very carefully manage my Facebook account so only people I personally know can see anything and I dutifully delete old posts.

The other side of this coin is managing your online identity. I have met people who stubbornly refuse to have any social media accounts at all because of the security risks involved. The problem with this, is it makes it easy for people to take control of your online identity. A few years ago as a prank, I opened a Facebook account for my Nephew. I purposefully got several details of his life wrong, like his birthday and his graduation date. I did not send out a single friend request to anyone, nor did I post anything other than setting his profile picture. Within 24 hours about a dozen people, including family had sent friend requests. I made it almost 48 hours before he found out about it and figured out it was me and asked me to close it. Pause and think about that for a little while. I had complete control over his Facebook identity for 48 hours, unopposed and unquestioned. I could have posted anything, or in a more sinister light, I had access to a dozen peoples Facebook feeds, who were happily sharing their lives with me.

The point of this post is to point out that while everyone needs to be security conscience, everyone also needs to have control over their online identities, if for no other reason than to control what is being seen and heard. If you have no online identity and you piss someone off, it is really easy for them to assume your identity and ruin your reputation. If you already have an online identity that you have properly managed, it is easy to say, that is not me, see here is my Facebook account, I don’t know who this person is. If you don’t have a Facebook account, it is very difficult to deny that guy posting “My Little Pony” porn on Facebook is not you. If you already have a Facebook account, you also have full control of the message and the image you are projecting. Make your profile picture a picture of you in nice cloths, a couple of time a week post something that shows you in a good light, keep a tight leash on who you friend and who you allow to see your posts, don’t let anyone tag you in anything you feel uncomfortable with. Even if you were at the bong party, you want to be able to deny it.

Computer Station

Today I bought a new shelf to replace the old orange card table I removed during spring cleaning. My plan here is to build a permanent place for my Commodore 64 and Vic 20 computers. Since they will not get much real usage, comfort should not be an issue, this is really more for display.

 

The very top will probably hold misc stuff like my scale Green Lantern Power Battery or perhaps the Portal Gun. The second shelf, which is empty right now is where a TV set will go. My plan is to head to a pawn shop and see what I can get for under $50, if I can’t find anything reasonably priced, I will head to Walmart and see what they have, I am sure I will find something for under $100.

Edit: I changed the picture to the completed display. The TV would not fit on the 2nd shelf, so I put it on top.

I almost went back to Linux today

So today I was really close to returning to Linux as my primary operating system. I want to reiterate, that I don’t hate Windows, Windows 10 for the most part has been fine. In fact my plan was to setup a dual boot, so I could still use my Oculus Rift. The fact is, I just feel more comfortable with Linux. What stopped me was that the recovery media supplied by Dell failed, it seems to be looking for an image that does not exist, I am not sure why I can’t just do a bare metal reinstall, but it will not let me. I suspect that it will only let you do that if the hard drive is blank, otherwise it would rather do a restore or reset.

So this got me to thinking, why do I need to keep Windows at all, of course the answer is, because i want to use my Oculus Rift. This leads to the next question, why do I need the Oculus Rift, I mean, I am not a gamer and anyway I seem to have a lot of excuses for not playing them. Beyond a few interesting videos, the Rift really has not provided anything in the way of improvement in my computing experience. It does not really give me any new ways to interact with my computer. There is a program that lets me use my desktop with the Rift, but I am still basically using the same old desktop, I am just using the Rift as a monitor and the controllers as a mouse, there is nothing new or interesting about it.

Give me something new, give me something that truly improves how I use my computer. I am not asking for the Oasis from Ready Player One, all I am asking for is new and interesting ways to access my data. If you can create a game that lets me pick up a gun and shoot a mutant, why can’t you design an OS shell that lets me pick up a book and read it? It sounds stupid, but Microsoft actually had the right idea with Microsoft Bob, yes yes I know, it was a horrible piece of software that is now the butt of many jokes, but that does not mean it was not a good idea. Its problem was the Operating System and the hardware at the time was not advanced enough to provide a credible experience. That has now changed, we can now build a virtual house, our data expressed as objects within the house so we can stroll through it and interact with the environment. Please, give me something that makes this $600 worth the investment.

Me and my Vic 20

I got my first upgrade for the Vic 20 I purchased a couple of weeks ago. I got a 32K expansion cartridge, because well 3K is not enough to do anything more than write a couple of dozen lines of Basic code. The Cart cost about $30, it was easy to configure and worked like a charm. I downloaded a game called Pentagorat, which required a 24K expansion and was written in just the last couple of years. I figured this would be the best test possible for how the new memory was working. It amazes me that there are still people out there not just writing code for these things, but building and selling hardware for them as well.

I thought about getting the PENULTIMATE Cartridge for the Vic 20 instead, it not only had the memory expansion but included a bunch of games as well. Unfortunately this thing is made in the UK and would have cost me $150 to get and that seemed too ridiculous for this project.

Netbooks: A look back

I did some spring cleaning recently and one of the things I came across was a couple of old Dell Mini 9’s I bought 8 or so years ago. One of them did not so much as post, the other turned on and booted, but the CMOS battery seems to be dead. I pulled the memory, wifi and 8 GB SSD drive out of the broken one and threw it away. The SSD in the working one is only 4GB, so I be swapping that in and using the other parts if I happen to need them.

What drew me to these netbooks was how small and cheap they were. Of course being small and cheap also meant they were seriously under powered. Sure you could check you email and do some light web browsing, but just about anything else was not going to be a good experience. The netbook while itself died, it did lead to the iPad and eventually the Chromebook. I personally do not even use a laptop outside of work anymore, when I travel I carry an iPad.

I think oddly enough, there is still some utility in a small system like this, if they could sell them for say $50 out of vending machines as disposable systems. I buy one at the airport on my way the the well known hacker haven of Billings Montana, use it while I am traveling, then when I get home, wipe the drive and drop it off at Goodwill. If I am paranoid, wipe the drive while I am on the airplane and “Accidentally” leave it at the coffee shop in the airport before I head home.

 

I miss Linux

I started using Linux around 1992, I started using it full time around 1999. I stopped using it just a few months ago when I bought an Oculus Rift and decided that was more important than the Operating System I was using. Now a couple of months later, I find myself missing Linux, it is nothing major really, just a lot of little things.

  • It is nearly impossible to get things to look the way I want them to. In Linux, I have control over every part of the user interface and it is pretty easy to get everything just right. In Windows, I can change some colors and choose a background, but that is about it.
  • Windows command line still sucks, even PowerShell blows the big one. In Linux I would regularly drop the the command line to do quick and dirty tasks that are just faster and more efficient than a GUI. The regular Windows command line has a very limited command set which makes it very difficult to built decent scripts without adding a ton of 3rd party programs. PowerShell tried to do better, unfortunately all the new commands are terrible and badly structured.
  • Windows 10 is head and shoulders above Windows XP in security. The problem is, while Windows 10 is kind of “Good enough” it is still not as good as it could be. In Linux I didn’t need a virus scanner or an anti-malware program, heck I almost did not even need a firewall. With Windows, a dedicated virus scanner, a dedicated anti-malware program are absolute MUST HAVES. Anytime a popup appears you had better read every word of it before you click on anything and 99% of the time you are better off killing it than clicking on anything.
  • Windows 10 is also head and shoulders above Windows XP in stability, and again we are solidly in the “Good enough” territory. But you know what, I still get weird error messages and yes the very occasional unhappy face that is the new blue screen of death. In Linux when things went wrong, it was usually because I was being stupid, in Windows, errors just happen out of the blue for no apparent reason.
  • In Linux it was easy to cut off all the internet Ad’s, in Windows even with ADblock Plus and an anti Ad host file, the bloody Ad’s still sneak in and Facebook is the worst.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

The importance of backups

My friend Chad over at the Kurulounge, linked to one of my posts about my server being down, specifically the one where I discuss backups.

http://kurulounge.blogspot.com/2017/07/what-im-reading-732017.html

This is something that is important, I agree with Chad, and it is worth repeating, if you have proper backups, it solves so many problems and in this day and age there is really no excuse for not doing it. Carbonite is a great idea, but there are other options as well. I use Dropbox, for the paid accounts, they maintain older versions of your documents for 30 days, longer for business accounts. This means, if you get hit by Ransomware, you simply format and reinstall, then delete all your infected files from Dropbox and download the previous un-encrypted versions. Then instead of sending a bitcoin to the Russian government, send them a message that says “Nice try asshole!”. Don’t think because you are running Malwarebytes that you are safe, remember anti-virus and anti-malware software is only as good as its last update and the bad guys will always be 1 or 2 weeks a head of the good guys.

Backup your files, then test your backup, then backup again!

My new project

I accidentally won an ebay auction for a Vic 20 Computer. I say accidentally, because I have never actually won an ebay auction before. Normally I just hit the buy it now button if I really want something. When I do bid, I set a max bid and adamantly refuse to go over my max bid, this is usually not enough. Well this time $41 was enough and shipping was only $15, so I got a fully functional Vic 20 with a cassette drive for $56. Pretty good price when you consider most people selling them set ridiculous prices on shipping like $60 or $70.

Fortunately my SD2EIC drive is compatible with the Vic 20, so is my 1541 disk drive, so all I have to do really put some programs on the SD card and I am good to go. I spent a year fixing and upgrading my Commodore 64, so I expect I will do the same with this. I think I will do a JiffyDOS upgrade on the motherboard and maybe buy a PENULTIMATE CARTRIDGE which provides a memory upgrade and several ROM games.

I know, it looks a lot like the C64.

Oculus Rift Update

The last several weeks I have not messed with my Oculus Rift much. I really like the device, it is comfortable on my head, the controllers work very well and there is some content that is just amazing. The $600 I spent on it however was probably too much for the overall experience. I read they have lowered the price, so good for everyone who has not yet bought in.

There are some shortcomings though. The first issue is my vision must be just bad enough that it cannot compensate, because while it is not terrible is is also never quite right either. The second problem is, you really do need an area of 6-8 feet around you otherwise you bump into things. Third, there is just not that much good content available. Zero Days VR is excellent, it is well done, visually stimulating and very informative. Job Simulator, Nvidia VR Fun House and Steam Labs are all fun, but limited to a few hours of interesting play. On the other end there is Minecraft, which is completely unplayable in VR for me. While I did have some motion sickness issues early on, I have been able to deal with it in most games, but Minecraft I simply can’t, just being in it makes me sick and dizzy, and moving around is vomit inducing.

I purchased Star Trek Bridge Crew, this is a game that was made for me, and I really should be excited about it. I have two problems, first, it does not review well. The solo play is very limited, but there is a fairly limited interesting game play. The best part of it is getting together virtually and playing with other people. Which leads into my second problem, reviewers all said more or less the same thing. It is hard to find other players who want to immerse themselves in play and are willing to help out new players. This makes me very weary of joining an online game. I have tried playing multiplayer games before and my experience has been rarely good.

Overall, I think the Oculus Rift is a good first generation product, but i think ultimately we are just not there yet. VR is just not widespread enough to allow for a lot of really good quality immersive content. Facebook places is going to be a lot of fun when everyone I know owns a headset, but until then, no so much. I still think this is an area where modern technology really failed to deliver on its promises. If we had started working on this back in 1993 when Doom came out, by now we would have a beautiful VR experience and monitors would be a thing of the past. However, instead of virtual reality, we have Twitter.

Backing up the server

So with all the problems I have had with my server lately, I am finely following the timely advice every tech gives, “Back up you data, then test your backups, then backup again.”. I moved my website to a virtual machine for two reasons, first to make it easier to backup and second if I had hardware problems, I could move the virtual machine to new hardware. Well that did not really work out for me. The fault is all mine, I was not backing up the virtual machine and making those backups easily accessible from other systems.

This morning I sat down and wrote a backup script, I do the vast majority of my server maintenance on Saturday, so I setup a cron job to run every Sunday morning at 5 AM. The script puts the backup in my Dropbox folder, where it is then synced with my desk system.

#!/bin/sh

# Removes the backup from 2 weeks ago
rm /home/chris/Dropbox/server/server1.old

# Renames the backup from last week
mv /home/chris/Dropbox/server/server1.ova home/chris/Dropbox/server/server1.old

# Shuts down the server VM and waits 10 seconds
vboxmanage controlvm server1 acpipowerbutton
sleep 10

# Exports the VM to my Dropbox folder
vboxmanage export server1 -o /home/chris/Dropbox/server/server1.ova

# Restarts the VM
vboxmanage startvm server1 -type headless

The next time my server goes down, I should have a reasonably up to date backup of the VM I can put online. I really don’t update this website enough to make backing up more than weekly worthwhile.

Make sure your porn collection dies with you

The last thing any of us want is to die suddenly and have innocent relatives discover the porn collection stashed on our computer. My solution to this problem is fairly simple, a virtual machine where you can safely download and enjoy porn, without having to worry about clearing you browsing history or storing you videos in misnamed folders. The virtual machine is installed into an encrypted folder or drive where only you can access it. I also suggest taking the additional step of loading the virtual machine with Linux, simply because it is less vulnerable to the malware that tends to inhabit the dark underbelly of the internet. There are many alternatives and combinations of tools, but what I am inclined to use is VeracryptVirtualbox and Ubuntu. You could just as easily use BitLocker, VMWare and Fedora. This is not going to be a tutorial, I am not especially interested in providing a step by step of how to do this, none of these things is terribly difficult to figure out. My intention here is to simply present an idea, a solution to a problem.

RE: C64 in the modern age

Earlier I wrote about what a modern Commodore 64 needed to look like. Well here is my completed setup. The butt ugly green cartridge is the EPYX Fastload, the blue box with the 2 buttons is the SD2IEC SD card reader and beside that is the WiModem.

Pretty much all of these devices work as promised. I cannot surf the web or run World of Warcraft, but it certainly makes the thing way more useful. I can store boatloads of C64 programs on a single SC card rather than maintaining a bookshelf full of decaying old floppy disks. I like the hot keys it provides as well, Commodore Key (C=) + RUN/STOP key saves me the trouble of typing “LOAD”*”,8,1″ and then “RUN” to get programs going. AND of course the best reason of all is, I do not have to wait 8 minutes for a game to load and as you can see;

I can telnet to the odd C64 BBS. The EPIX cart has another nice feature as well, a reset button, I cringed every time I cycled the power on my C64, thinking, this will be the one that ends it all, the reset button does not power down the system, so I feel better about using it. Sadly, since I bought it on ebay, I did not have a choice of colors, I suspect the butt ugly green is not their best seller.

So there you have it, the Alienware of its time, the best selling computer of all time, the computer than influenced a generation of programmers, hackers and nerds.

Homemade WiFi Modem for a C64

I have started the attempt to build my own WiModem, this is my stage 1 prototype, I am not 100% sure about the wiring at this point, and I have not sorted out the firmware yet. So I am not plugging it in until I figured everything out.

The C64 breakout board cost $17, the MCUNode ESP8266 costs $10, you can probably find them cheaper than that.

Making my Commodore 64 useful

This folks is how you get a Commodore 64 (C64) on the internet. What this is, is a WiModem, essentially it is a WiFi card that fools the C64 into thinking it is a Hayes Compatible Modem. It is actually a really clever use of an ESP8266, I am thinking I am going to build one of these myself. Once you have this device setup and connected to your router, you can connect to telnet BBS’s using old terminal programs just like it was 1985. On the surface this probably seems a bit dumb, considering it is not 1985, it is 2017. However, I would like to point out, its Commodore 64, not an Alienware Aurora R6 and if I wanted to connect to the internet like it was 2017, I’d just use my Alienware.

RE: Server is back up

Okay, I gave in and put the old VM back online and imported the posts from the last week. I thought about it over the last few days and just really started to think that there is a lot of stuff here I don’t want to loose and it would be way too much work to figure out how to archive it and keep reasonable access to it, especially the wki part of the site. So I decided to keep it all, warts and all. I even decided to stick with the old theme, frankly I like the soft tones and the easy colors.

C64 in the modern age

There are three things every Commodore 64 (C64) needs in the modern era of computers.

  • SD2IEC, which bring a modern storage solution to the C64 in the form of SD cards.
  • EPYX FASTLOAD RELOADED cartridge, which updates the C64’s terrible disk access routines and speeds up the loading of programs.
  • WiModem, which gives the C64 access to the internet by emulating a Hayes compatible modem.

Now don’t get me wrong, adding these to your C64 is not going to fundamentally change anything about the C64, but what it will do is make life easier for you and make the retro experience less frustrating and more fun. These upgrade will probably cost you $200 when all is said and done, but they are easy to install and none require you to open the system.

There is some argument to be made that a JiffyDOS replacement ROM is a necessary upgrade as well. I disagree, it is a nice to have, but not a need to have. My first problem with the JiffyDOS ROM is it is not much better than adding the EPYX cartridge and the keyboard shortcuts are not all that short. The second problem is, the ROM requires you to de-solder the old ROM chip to install the replacement. This is a process I am unwilling to undertake, while I am competent with a soldering iron, running the risk of destroying my C64 is entirely too high, so for me and I think most people this is a no go.

So now I guess the question is, what do you do with your spiffy super fast internet connected C64 with a ton of storage space?

Server is back up

I got the server back from the repair shop. Oddly the problem was the CPU, I say oddly, because in the last 20 years I have seen less than 5 CPU’s go bad out of the hundreds of computers I have worked on. Fortunately the CPU was still under warranty and the shop replaced the CPU while they RMA the failed one. I imported the quick and dirty VM I built over the weekend and again, here we are. I like the fresh start, so I am going to stick with it. I may or may not put the game wiki back up, I have not decided yet if it was really worth my time or if my players actually used it or not. One of the issues with it was it grew organically over a 10 year period and so there is a lot of clutter, so If I do decide to put the wiki back up, I will start all over again and build it up in a much more organized fashion.