Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

19
Oct
16

5th Anniversary and general update

Wow a year goes by so very fast! I have managed to get a lot done during this year such as continuing the photography and documentation of my various mother boards, and posts about MS-DOS games. However I’ve not been able to do everything I wanted, such as working on my home brew DOS game or completing the series I started about graphics library bench marking. This is mostly due to not having as much spare time as I used to. I’ve had to take up more domestic duties, especially with the kids going to school. So I’ve not been posting as often as I used to, often because I use the little spare time I have to rest. I’ve still managed roughly one or two posts a month.

As you might have guessed, I am still playing World of Warships and am still enjoying it. I also started playing Minecraft a few months ago after having played the pocket edition with my daughter. It has been a good game to play after all the work is done as it’s generally pretty relaxing to just do some mining, there is some interesting challenge in building automated farms, and it’s a good creative outlet when building what is essentially your home in game. Here’s a bunch of screenshots from around my world and base.

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I’ve dabbled in playing World of Tanks, but I found I just couldn’t really enjoy the game all that much. I don’t really find it too pay-to-win, I just really didn’t enjoy the new player experience. Basically when you start to get into Tier 2 3 and 4 tanks you get totally nuked by people who have already got 100% crews with skills, equipment and game play experience. The grind to just upgrade your crew is insanely long, at the level I played you’d get the next tank in the line before getting 100% let alone any of the skills. I had plenty of games where I didn’t get to shoot anything because I’d get one-shot by someone I couldn’t see (and couldn’t know they spotted me or how). Because I essentially spontaneously exploded, I had no opportunity to learn what I did wrong. I tried playing artillery, but found that annoying, mostly because RNG meant that many of your shots regardless of aim didn’t count. Needless to say I didn’t have any fun, so I did what anyone would do, I stopped playing.

Content wise I’m getting near the end of my collection of mother boards, so I’ll probably fill its place with stuff that’s been on the back burner for a while. I had considered posting about Minecraft and World of Warships as I’ve been playing them when I get a chance and need to relax, but I didn’t feel they’d fit with what I usually do here, and there isn’t much I could really write about those games. I am still planning on doing Window 9x era games at some point, but they simply will take too much time at this point.

Thank you to anyone who reads, whether it is regularly or just once off.  I still enjoy writing, although I have significantly less time to do so.

30
Oct
15

4th Anniversary and site update

Recently (about 10 days ago) my blog turned 4 years old, which is amazing in many ways. Unfortunately many projects have simply stalled, mostly due to lack of time on my part. I’m still interested in them, but with my kids getting older and demands on my time getting larger it has been difficult finding time to do much. Lately it has even been hard maintaining a weekly post, which should fortunately improve now that the university semester is drawing to a close.

So what am I planning? Well not much in the way of changes, but I’ve got many projects that I’ve started and want to make some headway on again. Firstly I’ll be continuing the photography of my main board collection, although these posts take quite some time to research, photograph and write, they’ve been a good way to re-discover what I have sitting in boxes on the shelves. After I run out of main boards I might extend this to other hardware I have, although I don’t think I can write as much about something like an old hard disk.

The benchmark project is almost at the end, just that the final measurement on some 386 hardware has become problematic. See here for what happened. I wonder if it is just the particular machine which is the problem, but not having another functional 386 easily accessible makes this hard to determine. I also need to finish tidying up my workbench so I can work on it and future electronics projects.

The Micro-professor being one electronics project I really want to get into. I have a rough outline of a memory expansion in my mind, but I need to get some parts together and time to design, build and test. I couldn’t get the loading and saving working via the cassette interface and PC sound-card, so I thought I would include in the expansion design a way for an Arduino to take control of the bus and dump/load the memory of the machine.

Software wise I have a pile of projects I’d like to continue, but my home-brew platform game is probably the one I’m most interested in getting some work done. I intend on saving some more disk space by implementing Huffman coding to compress text I have stored on disk, but the bulk of the work required for the game is really designing and building levels and music. I have a nearly finished gwbasic game that needs some polish to complete, and similarly some level design. Making games is perhaps one of my favourite past times, although I don’t think they are of high enough quality to sell, I enjoy the process of coding, play testing, and designing.

Of course I will continue to write about old MS-DOS games, although I’ve covered most of everything I played as a kid. I like how colourful most games from this period are, many are also simple and easy to play in a limited time frame, which makes them appealing to someone with limited time like myself. In the future I’d like to start writing about the more modern games I play/own such as those from the Windows 95-98 era, but these will take a much larger time investment, mostly as the games are significantly larger.

Finally I’d like to thank anyone who has been reading, whether it’s just one page or if you happen to read more. I find it quite enjoyable to write these posts/articles even though I’m not really a great writer. It has also proven to be a good way to connect with other bloggers who have similar interests.

16
Jul
15

Photos from Home

I’m about to leave my parents place to head back home and back to work. I always quite enjoy the trip here to Narrabri and find it a much needed break from the stresses of every day life. Today I thought I’d share some of that with you in the form of photos I’ve taken over the years along with a description of what makes this place special to me.

Continue reading ‘Photos from Home’

23
Jun
15

Still Unpacking and Cleaning

I’m still in the process of unpacking and cleaning my old place, so no detailed post this week either. I don’t have the internet on at home yet so I don’t know how long I’ll be until I’m ready to do much, but things are starting to settle down and I should get a lot done in the coming weekend.

Until then here’s a link to an interesting video by Gemini (Kris Asick) about whether Doom is technically a Raycaster or not. It’s an interesting view, although rendering an 3d image is a difficult process to follow. Gemini has a web-show called Ancient DOS Games which is pretty cool, and develops games. Check out his web-site.

16
Jun
15

Moving House – again

Just a quick heads up that I’m presently moving house. I’ve done much of my packing and moving this weekend just gone, but it will take me a little while before I have my computer lab set back up for photography, gaming and experimentation. I’ll try to make a few DOS game posts if I have time, but I can’t make any promises and my server hosting the download section will be off-line until I’m able to set up a mirror or internet connection.

12
Jun
15

Linux Misinformation

I’ve been using Linux in it’s various forms for quite some time (around 15 years) in one form or another. I quite like some aspects of it, and now with modern distributions it has become a decent contender for a main stream desktop operating system. However there is a lot of misinformation floating around the net about just how good it is, and after stumbling upon a website called www.whylinuxisbetter.net I thought it might be an idea to dispel some of these myths.

It is often claimed that Linux doesn’t get viruses, which is blatantly not true. I’ve personally cleaned viruses and worms from Linux machines owned by clients. Granted many of these were because of poor decisions made by the person responsible for the machine, but this is also frequently true of infections on windows PCs. Also other OS’s such as Mac OSX and the various flavours of BSD use many of the same tools and are roughly at least as secure as Linux, if not arguably more so.

Linux is often said to be more reliable or stable than windows. This is something that was true historically when comparing Linux to say Windows ME or 98. But compared to a machine with Windows XP sp3 or later? Not really. I used to repair many windows machines during the hey-day of windows XP and the main causes of instability were hardware and third-party software, hardly Microsoft’s fault. For the most part Linux has little third party software to speak of, so only hardware could cause faults. Linux is not immune to hardware faults or third-party drivers.

Hardware support in the form of drivers is another bug-bear for many people. Sure you don’t have to install drivers for most of your hardware under Linux, but if your particular hardware isn’t supported you have little recourse but to get different hardware. I found this recently with a Creative sound card not functioning correctly. Sure there was a kernel module for it, but it didn’t work correctly and I didn’t have time to trawl the vast technical documents to fix it. Under windows this would have been a five minute install the correct driver job.

That doesn’t count the fact that you still do need to worry about drivers for you graphics card. Xorg will work with most hardware out of the box, but with little or no acceleration. If you own an Nvidia or AMD graphics card you need to have installed their third-party driver to really get the best out of your card. Some distributions like Ubuntu have packages for these drivers, but because they are non-free many distributions do not install them or make them available by default.

Other hardware that requires third-party drivers also exists but is fairly unusual. When you do need to install these kernel modules it is not as simple as running a driver wizard under windows. You usually have to compile the module from source which requires a certain amount of technical ability. It’s not all that hard if you know how, but the average user would not cope.

If you’re using older hardware, there is generally pretty good support, except for more obscure hardware. Performance wise it all really depends on your definition of old. A machine say less than 5 years old will work fine in most cases, but be a little sluggish. Older machines however struggle unless you’re willing to make compromises to improve performance. So whilst using older hardware is possible, some things will be unavoidably slower. Much of this is down to the software rather than the OS, so for something like Firefox you can expect similar performance as with windows on the same machine.

Getting software is another interesting point. All Linux distributions have a nice package system that allows you to get software that you need fairly easily. The software available is of varying quality however, some being very good like OpenOffice or GIMP, whilst others aren’t anywhere near as good.

Also older software disappears from the packaging systems once development has stopped or development focus has shifted elsewhere. There is much older software available on other Unixes such as FreeBSD that has disappeared from Linux repositories, some of them still being quite useful, or entertaining in the case of older Unix games. If you use Linux for long enough expect some of your favourite software to change dramatically or disappear, even after just updating your machine. This happens because of the focus amongst some distributions on being cutting edge rather than retaining compatibility or useful software.

The main problem with getting software for Linux (or any BSD for that matter) is that if it is not in the package repository/system it is incredibly difficult to get and install most of the time. It’s difficult to distribute binaries out side of the packaging system for simple download and install on Linux systems. It can be done, but most of the time source code is distributed instead. Again this requires technical knowledge most people don’t have, and this doesn’t include the possible dependency hell involved in the process. If you think about downloading software for Windows or Mac OSX, they are much simpler, you download an installer and away you go, and developers provide good installers for both most of the time.

Updating can also be troublesome, I’ve had updates on several distributions severely break my system or software. Updates to the kernel or X can also result in needing to re-install graphic drivers just to get the display to work again. This varies wildly from distribution to distribution depending on how they perform updates and technical information.

I could cover more of the points in the list, but I think I’ve made my point. For each OS whether it be Windows, Linux, Mac OSX, or a BSD there are a number of advantages and trade-offs. I’m not saying Linux is bad by any stretch, but it does have many of the same issues and issues all of it’s own that can and will put off many end users. We have to remember most end users can not do many of the things that could be required of them when running a Linux system.

30
Apr
15

Solar Panel USB Charger

One of the panels

One of the panels

During the mayhem of last weeks storm and aftermath I had one problem that I hadn’t prepared for. Charging my phone and Android tablet. Whilst I was out and about I visited my not-so-local Jaycar to see if I could get something that would help. They had a 5W solar panel made by Powertech that provides both USB charging and charging for 12V batteries. It was expensive compared to other solutions at about $70 AUD, but I wasn’t sure when I’d get my power back on and I wouldn’t have to wait to get it from an Ebay seller. Some people were without power for almost a week, I wanted to be prepared so I bought it.

At first I wasn’t terribly impressed, but there are some nice features to this unit. For a start the charge regulator is separate to the panels, and the wire from the panels is sturdy with a solid connector on the end. This means you can use the panels elsewhere if the regulator were to fail. A similar connector is used for the 12V output which terminates with a cigarette lighter socket. This is hardly useful for me, so I might have to wire up something else so I could trickle charge a SLA battery.

Charge Regulator

Charge Regulator

The regulator has a port for connecting other panels/regulators of the same type. It comes with a cable that allows you to connect three panels together for a total of 15W. There are better ways to get that much power, so I don’t recommend using these panels for this feature.

The unit doesn’t include a Lithium-ion battery bank, which in my view is a positive thing. Although you may disagree, I’d rather not have my panels tied to a battery that will eventually fail. Also I’ve noted that power banks with solar panels generally speaking will not charge very quickly from the sun. This is because they have panels that are too small to produce any meaningful amount of power. With this unit you can always attach an external battery bank for charging if you want, but aren’t stuck with the battery when it wears out.

So, how well does it charge a phone/tablet? There isn’t really a simple answer because it depends on many things. When I first tried it to charge my phone I wasn’t impressed because it didn’t seem to charge it much, but there were a few things I did wrong. I found it best to turn off the phone or at least all wireless and bluetooth to save power. During times the solar panels are not outputting much power, the phone will still think it’s connected to a charger and turn on extra features such as these, sometimes using more power than the panel provides and actually discharging your device instead. So you can get some charge on a cloudy day, but you absolutely must turn off your device or charge something passive like a battery bank.

On a day with much better sun it charges quite well and is more than capable of fully charging my phone from about 50%. I have a fairly small phone which charges very quickly (a Samsung Galaxy Y) but with full sun it will even put some charge into my tablet which consumes quite a bit more energy. Like any other solar panels you get peak charging rates in the middle of the day whilst the sun is at it’s peak, and properly pointing your panels increases the amount of energy they collect.

In my window

In my window

I hung my panels in my window using some suction cups I got from Woolworths, so the positioning of the panels wasn’t really ideal. That window gets the best sun, but gets shade in the late afternoon. This is where I did most of my testing, so you may get better performance by positioning your panels in a brighter locale at the correct angle.

I think for practical use you probably want to also have a power bank or 12V battery to charge. Most people would be carrying their phones about with them during the day, and a battery bank will likely continue to charge under worse light conditions, so may gather more charge. I haven’t tried charging a 12V battery with it yet, but I suspect it will work fine provided the battery isn’t too large.

Now that I’ve had more time to try it out in better conditions and with different devices and circumstances, I’m much happier with this Solar charging kit. It’s capable enough that given an situation without mains power, I’ll be able to charge a device like my phone given enough time and sun.




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