Tag Archives: Computers

Hack the World

One does not simply hack a Gibson!

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.

Converting PDF files to cbz

This is one of those things I am blogging about simply to have ready instructions for the next time I want to do it, so I do not have to go searching google again. What I want to do here is convert comic books that are in PDF format to the more generic cbz format so it can be read by apps like ComicBook Shelf, iComic and some others. The cbz format is simply each page of the comic being saved as a jpeg file, then it is all compressed into one zip file. It is simple enough that the conversion is pretty easy with just a couple of commands, I did not even have to install any extra software. Its so simple I am not even going to explain it, here is the shell script.

#!/bin/sh
mkdir tmp
pdftoppm -jpeg $1 tmp/page
zip $1.cbz tmp/*.jpg
rm tmp/*.jpg
rmdir tmp

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.

 

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

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.

Max Headroom

Isn’t this on Netflix or something, I should re-watch this.

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.

Server Update

The server has been humming along nicely now for the last two weeks. My clever backup scheme seems to have worked perfectly this last weekend. Carnifex.org seems to be back and running smoothly. I suppose it does take a disaster to get me doing the things I should have been doing in the first place. I mean last year I migrated to new hardware and setup everything in virtual machines just for the type of problems I experienced, but because I failed on the follow through,I almost lost the whole shebang.  So lesson learned

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.

Server is still down

My server system is still in the shop being fixed. I was sort of waiting for it to post anything meaningful, but I think it is going to there a while longer.

I think I missed my calling in life. I should buy broken Commodore 64’s, repair them and then resell them. I think I could make some money on this and I seem to have a knack for it. For the last year I have been restoring and upgrading a C64 I bought on Ebay last August while the wife was away. This week I fixed the final piece, which was the 1541 disk drive. Last year when I got it, the drive worked for about 20 minutes before it stopped. Since then it has been a low priority because I had a SD2IEC device, which allowed me to run programs off an SD card. This week, I decided to try again and I noticed, the drive powered on and even the red drive light lit up like it was trying to read the disk. So I pulled it apart and noticed the drive head looked really grungy from years of reading floppies. So I cleaned the head with some alcohol and a Q-tip. While I was in there, I re-seated the ROM chips, figuring it could not hurt. When I got it back together, it worked magnificently. I am now waiting on a “Y” splitter cable so I can use it and the SD2IEC together. I know the 1541 has a pass through port on the back, but cable lengths and desk positioning make it impossible to use, therefore splitter.  So now the work is done and I have a fully operational C64.

One of the great services I found for the C64 community is CommodoreServer.com, they are an online service that allows you to sign on over the internet and use disks stored there. It is a very cool service provided free, although you can donate and get some premium services. It is a bit weird to get hooked up, but once you have figured it out, its fine.

LOAD “V-1541″,8,1
SYS 49152
NEW
OPEN2,2,2
PRINT#2,”ATDTCOMMODORESERVER.COM:1541”
CLOSE2
LOAD “@USERNAME,XXXX”,2
LOAD “CSMENU”,2
RUN

I know, it looks cryptic, but it works. This does requires some sort of network to serial conversion, I use the WiModem and it works perfectly. for some slightly more detailed instructions, try here.

The C64 stuff has distracted me a bit from my Oculus Rift. Considering it cost me way more the C64 did, I suppose I should pay more attention to it, and I promise I will as I go along. But the big thing that has been weighing on me about it, is just how far along we really are not on virtual reality. In this regard, I think technology has really failed to live up to its potential. When you think about it, we have had all of this technology for at least a decade, but we are now just getting first generation hardware. When I think about this, there really is no particular reason why I should not have had one of these in 2007 and I might even argue it was possible in 1997. Okay, processors and video cards were not what they are today, but look at what people accomplished with the C64’s in their time, I look at those old demos and I am amazed at what they accomplished with 64 KB of RAM. Why was it not possible to produce even crude VR with 500 Mhz processors with 512 MB of RAM or how about 2 Ghz processors with 4 GB of RAM? Yes I acknowledge that small LCD screens we use for Cell phones were not all that developed in 1997, but how about in 2007?

I think the issue here is probably one of low expectations, back in the 80’s technology, computers specifically were going to change the world, and they did, but not as radically as they should have. I have always said, games drive computer technology advancements, but for some reason, in the 90’s we got caught in doing other things with computers, they became communications devices and tools we used to get work done and they stopped being fun, they stopped being life changing, we took our eye off the ball. Back when Doom originally came out, we loved the game, because that is what we wanted our computers to do, we wanted to walk around in virtual worlds and have experiences the real world could never produce, we wanted out computers to provide us with an interface we could interact with, but somewhere along the road someone somewhere decided, no one wanted that. Instead of Operating Systems we could build worlds on, we got databases, spreadsheets, word possessors and web browsers. We have computers today in 2017 that really don’t work much differently than they did in 1997.

VR and Linux

I have been on vacation this last week, tomorrow, I go back to work. I did not really do much, except build a small shelf for tea cups. other than that I spent the week trying to decide what I wanted to do on the computer front. The Alienware X51 I am using is 5 years years old, it has been a great machine, but it is starting to show its age. One of the things I want to do is buy an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive, this machine does not have the horse power to do that and upgrading the video card would really only put off the inevitable for maybe another year. So I decided to buy a new Alienware Auora, I thought about buying one from the little shop PezWitch works at, but there were too many compromises to get to the price point I wanted and the power I needed. Anyone who tells you Alienware systems are “Over priced and under powered” is full of shit. I dropped $1000 or so on the new machine and nothing I could have built myself would have come close to what I got for the price.

As far as VR goes, I have two problems, first the Rift does not have any meaningful Linux support and the Vive has only very recently started beta testing support for Linux. The second problem is both rigs are first generation technology and I prefer not to be an early adopter and considering the price just dropped on the Rift, I expect the second generation hardware to be available by the end of the year. So what I am hoping is in the the next 4-6 months, Linux will have solid usable support for the Vive and either the price will drop on the current model or the the new model will become available and either way waiting will be worth it. My only other option is to finally start using Windows, but we all know I have tried that before.

More Desktop Fun

A while back I wrote some about what I was doing to customize my desktop to make it more useful to me. I am sure most of you remember this.

Vacation Days

Well over this last weekend I got rid of my old monitors and went to a single 28 inch, partly because I wanted more room on my desk and partly because I just did not use two monitors much. I really felt virtual desktops would serve the same purpose and since I was at it, it seemed like a good time to activate Compiz, which is the software used to create 3D desktops effects. Here is the result.

Pretty neat actually, took me all of 3 minutes to get running.

ESP8266 Basic

For a while now I have been working with a couple of ESP8266 wireless modules. These devices are pretty nifty and allow for some interesting projects with both Raspberry Pi and Arduino. The biggest actual hurdle is leaning to program them properly and use AT commands to configure them. I found this a bit odious until I discovered ESP8622 Basic, a firmware update that lets you program them using the Basic programming language and a web page interface. The guy who wrote the firmware is a Windows user and does not really have any instructions for flashing the firmware if you use Linux. Through trial and error I figured it out and want to document it for the ages. I use Ubuntu 16.04, so the instructions will be specifically for that, however adapting them to another distro should not be tough. I am using a NodeMCU ESP8266, I like them because they have a built in USB interface and have GPIO pins to make it easier to attach LED’s and sensors. The first thing to do is to plug it in to your computer, there is no need for drivers, it should be recognized instantly and attached to /dev/ttyUSB0, if you have more than one hooked up, the port may end up being different. But once that is done, open a terminal and move on to the next step.

First we need to get the dependencies:

sudo apt-get install python-serial git

Next we need the flashing tool esptool.py:

git clone https://github.com/themadinventor/esptool.git

cd esptool

Download the ESP8622 Basic firmware:

wget https://github.com/esp8266/Basic/tree/NewWebSockets/Flasher/Build/1M/ESP8266Basic.cpp.bin

Then we flash the new firmware:

sudo python esptool.py –port /dev/ttyUSB0 write_flash 0x00000 ESP8266Basic.cpp.bin

Finally you can connect to the device and start programming it by connecting to the ESP network which should be listed as an available wireless network, then point your web browser to http://192.168.4.1/ and you should be off and running.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/HiLetgo-Version-NodeMCU-Internet-Development/dp/B010O1G1ES

https://www.esp8266basic.com/

http://www.esp8266.com/viewforum.php?f=38

ESP8266 BASIC Sets Up a Web Remote in No Time

Basically, It’s an ESP8266

 

 

Things I have been doing

The last couple of months (November 9th if you must know) I have been working on securing my technology, I am trying to do better in keeping myself safe. Here is the list of things I have accomplished;

  • Encrypted my smartphone and iPad
  • Encrypted the hard drives on both my computers
  • Added two factor authentication to Lastpass, Steam, Dropbox and my Google account
  • Downloaded and installed the TOR Browser

I am not going to lie to you, this has added a new level of “Pain in the ass” to using some of my technology, however, I feel considerably safer now that it is done. The thing I am having the most trouble with is TOR. While it is easy enough to get going, using it is just slow. I don’t mean a little slow, I mean SSSSLLOOOWWW!!! Some days are worse than others, but even the good days still suck really bad. For right now, there is no way I can use TOR for normal day to day stuff. For the foreseeable future TOR has been relegated to the “Just experimenting” bin.