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My Computing History : Part 3

In the last part of this series we were still using our old Twinhead Superset 590 for playing MS-DOS games. It was roughly 1996 when Dad went about replacing the now quite old 386sx with a new machine. The machine we got was a Cyrix 6×86 166PR with 16Mb of RAM and Windows 95b. Even though it wasn’t the fastest machine you could get it was a massive upgrade for us.

Long Shot!

Gaming wise there was quite a bit of catching up to do, the old 386sx hadn’t been up to playing recent games for really quite a long time. So the new machine was our first chance to play games like Doom. The machine had come with a sampler CD which had a number of Demos on it, one of which being the shareware version of Doom. Instead of running in DOS this one had the Doom95 executable which allowed us to play in higher resolutions, although this distorted the aspect ratio of the game.

Doom got me pretty well hooked and I played the hell out of the shareware episode. But it wasn’t the only game that got me hooked, the demo for Mechwarrior 2 also grabbed my attention, even though there were only a few Mech’s and missions to play it was an amazing game to play. Especially coming from DOS games that could run on a 386sx.

We started getting some commercial games for it as well, mostly strategy games such as Command and Conquer, Age of Empires and Civilization II. This happened partly because my older brother had left home and gone to university, so games were more available to him. The Cyrix machine held up pretty well to be honest playing most of them fairly well. The main limiting factor was the small amount of RAM which meant some games caused the hard disk to thrash quite a bit.

With all this new interesting stuff you’d think we would have abandoned the old DOS games and machine. However that didn’t happen at all, we kept playing and using the old 386sx for quite a while until Dad bought us an “upgrade” to it in the form of a Reply Corp. 486 25Mhz. The 386sx was seven years old when it finally got retired, I used laplink software to transfer all our old games and software to the “new” machine in bulk.

Turbo Pascal 6 about Screen
Turbo Pascal 6 about Screen

It was on this old PC that I continued creating software, it was my mathematics teacher that first gave me a copy of Turbo Pascal 6.0 with a couple of sample programs that he had written himself. Being a compiler and having features like pointers (a foreign concept for a basic programmer) I wasn’t really prepared for making anything larger yet.

One of the first projects I made was a rudimentary menu program. The Reply machine came with almost nothing on the hard disk, with basically the bare essentials from a windows 95 DOS boot disk which was almost nothing. The old Dosshell wouldn’t work on the newer DOS and Dad really needed a menu program to make using the machine easier.

So I made a simple text-based menu program. It worked with a pair of batch files which would call each other, one which the menu would modify and the other to restart the menu when the selected program was done. It was a bit convoluted, and in hindsight there was a better solution, but it worked well for us for quite some time.

I also made a couple of text mode games which were ports of earlier basic games, and a simple pong like game with the graph unit mostly just to learn about pascal. However I still made a few significant projects in QBasic.

War game screen
War game screen

Probably the largest project I ever took on in QBasic was simply called War. If you read the last part you’d know that Civilization was particularly popular in our house, but one thing it couldn’t do was any kind of multiplayer.

War was developed as a very simplified strategy game. There was no technologies or anything like that, you simply had cities which could produce units with which to fight the other players. The units were similar to those from the late game in Civilization, and you could play it hotseat style between 3 players.

I made some variations on it, such as one focusing on ocean based warfare with ships and another that you could play against the computer. It really needs some UI polish to make it more playable however.

In my later years if high school I didn’t have as much time for coding, so generally I spent much of my spare time studying in the hopes of getting to University, which is where the next part will begin.


My Computing History: Part 2

In part one of my computing history my family got our first computer, a Twinhead Superset 590. We used it for DOS gaming, and I learned to program on it with GWBasic. In this part I get a bit older, go to high school and continue learning more about computing and programming.

We were still quite into DOS gaming at the time and had expanded the number of games that we played. This was partly due to my older brother starting to buy shareware magazines which came with cover disks. This was really the first exposure we had to the wider world of software and computing. Even though we didn’t get to play many of the games you’d see in the magazines we read them religiously. The cover disks were also a great source of new games to play, even if we could never get the registered version.

The Title Screen

Civilization was particularly popular in our house, with some family members still playing it regularly today! It’s still quite a remarkably addictive game, and it’s simple enough to enjoy, but complex enough to sink your teeth into. Some of the later games in the franchise didn’t quite hit this mark as well as the first, so they haven’t stuck with us as well.

Being a family of chess players, we had to have Battle Chess of course, but also Sargon 4 which Dad always says was one of the better chess programs he’s ever used. He still uses it for practice to this day!

1993 was my first year in high school. They had several proper computer labs with cool machines to play with. One lab had old XT clones which my brother played Simcity on, another had Macintosh classics connected together on a network, and the third had 486 PCs. These computers all had a variety of games on them which were fun to play once done with school work, but finding Qbasic on the 486 computers was eye opening. It was a big change from GWBasic.

QBasic is quite a bit more capable than GWBasic, and has a faster interpreter. However it is mostly compatible and has brilliant online help, so I was able to get coding on it very fast. A few projects I had were moved over to it and gained a number of features. The projects I took on got much bigger with better graphics.

Flight game screen

I had built a few “simulation” programs in GWBasic that were modeled after Microprose games that we played. Some of the first QBasic programs were adaptions of these, one called Flight being a flight simulator and Sea Serpent being a submarine simulation. Neither have particularly good game play, but when I got older and learned trigonometry I updated Flight a bit with my new knowledge. Being able to use it for something useful made it easier to learn the concept.

Puzzle was another project that started life in GWBasic. I moved it over to QBasic as it started to get too big to work on the older interpreter. The idea sort of came from a shareware game called Squarez that we played quite a bit. You placed tiles down individually, some would stick around and others would immediately activate, you don’t need to make a square. It’s not a super compelling game, but it works, and looks much more like games I was playing at the time.

Puzzle did spawn a more original idea in the form of Mazing. I took the same play field, filled it with random tiles, and placed the player at the bottom with the task of getting to the exit at the top of the screen. Tiles would activate when you move into them, some clearing the way whilst others were traps. As you progress there are fewer nice tiles and more traps and blocks. It wasn’t as complete in the sense that it didn’t have the niceties like high scores and help, but it some ways it plays better as a game.

The first level.

Two of my favorite shareware games from the time were Xargon and Hocus Pocus. So I decided that I wanted to make a platform game of my own. It is called Bob’s Fury and was one of my more ambitious projects, it involved a lot of graphics and data. My younger brother helped out with some of the graphics and original levels. It played quite slowly on the Qbasic interpreter, and there were some bugs and design issues I never resolved, but it did function well enough to be playable. We made 40 levels for it, so it was quite an achievement considering I was 14 when I finished making it initially.

This is one of the few projects of mine which has lived on. I reused the engine to make a shorter second game called tomb and later in the story I start making a port of it in Pascal which I’m still working on today. It’s evolved a lot since back then, but I’ll save the details for that part of the story.

Bobs Fury game screen
Bob’s Fury Game play.

These weren’t the only projects I made, but are perhaps the more important ones. Looking back I was quite prolific at creating games for QBasic. This was a product of being a teenager with lots of time and passion for creating. It was quite fun and exceptionally educational, it helped me with high school level mathematics quite a bit.

At this point in the story we were still using the Twinhead 386sx and were for quite a while not able to run the latest software and games. In the next part we get a new computer which was quite a leap ahead in terms of capability and I develop more software projects and begin to learn another programming language.


My Computing History: Part 1

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of reading the computing journey of Retrotech Chris in his book of Nostaligia, which you can find on his site here. It was an interesting read about how he became interested in computing and his journey through to now as a retro computer collector and youtuber.

I’ve been documenting parts of my computing history here on my blog for a long time, but have never really told the story as a whole and have surely missed some parts. So today I begin to tell this story.

For much of my youth we didn’t have much in the way of technology, basically just a TV with two channels, some battery powered toys, and an electric train set. This was partly because of where we lived, which was a farm in rural Australia. It was the 1980’s which had a terrible drought, so my parents were struggling, but as kids things were good. We were free to play outside in the dirt in a way kids don’t do anymore.

There were some instances I got to see computers in action at school. Like many schools we had Apple II/e computers, and at one point we had an Atari 800 computer in our class room. These were usually used to play educational games such as Where in the World is Carmen Sandeigo, but there were also some fun arcade games.

It was very early 1990 when Dad bought a computer for running the farms accounts, it was a Twinhead Superset 590, which is basically a PC clone with a 386sx running at 20Mhz, with VGA and 1Mb of memory. It ran MS-DOS 4.01, which seems to be disliked, but for us it seemed to work well enough. Dad got it with windows 3.0 and a productivity suite called Open Access. It had a 40Mb Seagate hard disk and both a 5.25″ and 3.25″ floppy drive.

We didn’t have much in the way of games at first, I think the first thing we used was vpic, which is basically just an image viewer. As simple as it was, it was pretty amazing, as the most sophisticated thing we had up til that point was a TV. But soon after my older brother brought home Simcity from school, he got it from the schools XT computers so it ran in a monochrome CGA mode.

There wasn’t much of a software market out in the bush, but there were some games we did buy commercially. The first one being Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego and the Combat Action game pack. We also bought some games second hand from one of my older brothers high school friends, the one I remember most fondly being Kings Quest IV.

Gaming obviously is fun, but it isn’t what sparked a life-long love of computing for me. Programming in GWBasic is where it really began, not long after we first got the computer. My Dad gave me a book for learning to program in BASIC called 30hr Basic that helped me learn the ropes, but unfortunately being for the BBC micro computer it couldn’t teach me everything that GWBasic could do. It was enough however to start experimenting and start making the first simple games I made.

Numdrop gameplay

One of the first ones was called Numdrop. Something many learning programmers do is try to clone something pre-existing. We had been playing a Tetris clone called Nyet, and that is what I had wanted to clone, however lacking enough knowledge I couldn’t figure out how to make shapes fall. So I came up with the idea of dropping different numbered pieces. The mechanic for removing blocks is basically larger numbers crush smaller ones. It was simplistic but it worked. My older brother helped me out with the timing mechanism.

Another game I made was a clone of the Windmill software classic Digger. I didn’t manage to get the game mechanics working the same here either, but it did turn out to be a playable game. The very first video I made on my youtube channel is about it, I’ve embedded it below.

My parents used to get a mail out catalog of books that they used to receive on a regular basis. As kids Mum and Dad would let us pick books we were interested in, and luckily for me the official Microsoft GWBasic reference guide turned up in the catalog. My parents ordered it for me, because by then I was quite invested in learning more. It is an extremely useful book, I learned how to finally do proper graphics, which up till that point I had only experimented with.

The first game I made with this new knowledge was Jump. Which is an extremely simple “platform” game. It didn’t run particularly fast, but it did work reasonably well. I’ve also made a video about it here.

These three games were only the tip of the iceberg, I made them and many other small games and programming experiments over the first 3 years of computing. I probably spent more time programming than I did playing games! I’m quite fortunate that I did save most of them as it’s something I can now show my own children. I lost one due to a bad floppy disk unfortunately.

I think this is a good place to leave things for today, next time I’ll cover my early teenage years where I move up to using Qbasic and some more DOS gaming.


9th Anniversary and General Update

Another year has gone by, and whoa what a year it has been! We basically had a double whammy of natural disasters here in Australia. First we had what would have to be one of the worst fire seasons I can remember, with what felt like most of everything burning. Then the Covid19 pandemic came and sent us all into lockdown, which is likely to have consequences for us all economically for the next year or so at least.

I feel exceptionally lucky that I haven’t really been affected all that badly by the events of this year (touch wood). Lockdown was an interesting experience, in some ways good and bad in others. It was nice to be home and be more relaxed, and get more time with the kids. However it made it difficult to socialise and communicate with colleagues and made home feel like work. Where I live things are mostly back to normal, the only real difference being some people wearing masks.

I started making youtube content this year, which has been quite fun. I’ve had mixed results, some of my videos are lucky if they get one view, which is kind of disappointing, while a few of them have had a small number of views.

I’ve been thinking about it and there’s a few possible problems that may be the cause. Firstly, it’s entirely possible that I’m not doing anything terribly wrong, just that it takes some time before people discover what I’m making. I had that experience to a degree in the first few years of writing here.

I’m not sure it’s a simple as that though, as there are quite probably some issues in what and how I’m making my videos that might be putting people off. I have the capture setup mostly sorted, although I think my audio quality could use improvement mainly by getting a better mic.

I think that most of the area I need to improve is mostly in my own “performance”. I’ve managed to make some videos in a more relaxed off script style, and other that are more scripted. I feel like I sound stilted and stiff in much of the audio, particularly the more scripted ones. The only real way I’m going to do better here is by practicing.

The last thing I thought may be a problem is basically the subject matter I’m picking. I think that GWBasic is quite a niche subject. Although my most popular video happens to be the one about Donkey.bas. I’ll continue making these as I feel like it’s something I like to talk about, and there isn’t really much of what I’d like to watch on youtube on this subject.

Old MS-DOS games as a subject are a bit more mainstream, I suspect that I just haven’t generated enough content in this space yet. Also there’s enough good content out there that it’s hard to get noticed.

I know that the main audience of my Minecraft videos is basically just my daughter. Which is kind of a shame because I really enjoyed making them and they took quite a while to make. I feel this is probably mostly because of the sheer number of people making content for Minecraft. I’ll probably still make these, but I might make a separate channel for them.

I haven’t had as much time for writing here, partly due to my youtube activity, but also because I’ve been busy, and feeling tired when not busy. I’m working on making some more time for myself, so I can hopefully spend some more time on my projects.

Speaking of things that have seen less activity it has been a few years since I last made a post about the old Sparcstation, the main reason being it’s taking a long time to rebuild all the packages I intend on trying/using. I’ve been using qemu to emulate a real system and have run into problems with emulation, I may fire up the old system to see if it’s quicker building on it or at least double up how much I’m building at a time.

I’m still sporadically working on Bob’s Fury, but I’m still stuck on the bug that causes it to crash on the microbyte 386 when the PC speaker is enabled. There is of course plenty of other work to do, such as creating the levels and eventually rewriting of the graphics library.

Finally, I’d like to thank anyone who’s been reading or watching my content. Whilst I do this as my hobby and for myself, it’s nice to know that others appreciate my efforts.


Anniversary and some random thoughts

It’s amazing how fast time flies by, but yet another year has flown by! This month marks the 8th year of my blog, which seems like an awfully long time to be writing about anything at all really. I think part of the reason I keep it up is the enjoyment I get out of investigating and later writing about subjects I’m interested in. I have unfortunately been busy with work and kids and had to put some ideas I’ve had on the back burner, after all writing this is just a hobby.

Some thing I’m keeping in mind for the near future is making some content around retro-programming, for gwbasic in particular but also for other programming languages for old machines. I’d like to do this on youtube, but am yet to get required equipment (mainly a mic). I’ve been thinking about making video content for quite a while, but have been reluctant because of the over saturation in some area’s of interest I have, also I don’t like the sound of my own voice. On the other hand there isn’t much content out there about gwbasic other than a few not-so-great tutorials and sample programs.

I hit another road block with my Sparcstation as a desktop series, having trouble getting software to build. I’ve not powered on my machine for a while, but it’s something I intend on getting back to. I also think I’d like to cover some of the other machines I have in more detail, perhaps in a similar manner, but they need introductory posts to show the machines themselves. Good ideas but likely to come out slowly as I manage to find the time to do the work required.

I’m currently working on replacing my server again, not because it’s broken, but in an effort to reduce the energy consumption of the device. At idle it runs at about 60-70 watts, which doesn’t sound like much, but it can end up using between 130 and 151 Kilo Watt hours over a quarter (an electricity bill cycle). Which whilst not expensive compared to many devices is still significant and worth reducing. I’m working with a 10 year old Intel board and Q8430 CPU from a Medion PC that I have handy. I’m trying it to see if I can get much of a reduction as it has much better power management than the current machine. Alternatively I may go with a Raspberry Pi of some kind or a mini PC.

I’ve been keeping an eye out on the technology industry at large, I’m happy to see AMD is making the CPU market a bit more competitive again. For quite a while Intel dominated the space taking the lions share of the market almost everywhere. AMD has managed to not only become competitive in terms of performance, but has managed to make better performing chips (depending on workload) at a better price than Intel has been offering. Because of this they are getting some market share back which is good for everyone, especially consumers. It’s funny the reaction of some commentators and reviewers with click-baity titles such as “is Intel dying?”. Anyone with half a brain would know they aren’t and won’t in much the same way that AMD didn’t.

Rumours of Apple switching from X86 to ARM for its line of laptops are interesting but not unprecedented. They have switched architectures multiple times in the past. Given the potential advantages of ARM it is not surprising to hear of the switch. In the past few years Apple laptops have suffered design issues around the use of Intel chips, primarily the heat disipation and battery longevity of these devices. That’s not to say there’s something wrong with Intel parts, but more that the design priorities Apple has suit the ARM architecture more. I’ll be interested to see if they can manage to keep the laptops performance competitive and if there will be enough software support to make it viable. However at this stage no-one really knows what they have up their sleeve.

Microsoft releasing an Android based mobile device on the other hand was a little surprising but nice to see. Co-operation like this that would have been unimaginable in the past. I’m guessing the reasoning behind making an android device would likely have something to do with the poor market share that windows phone has had in the past and the popularity of the android platform. As far as mobile devices go it sounds intriguing, but it also signals a wider co-operation between Google and Microsoft that will improve both the Android and PC experience as far as interoperability goes.

I’ve noted quite a bit of advertisements around VPN services over the last few years, usually claiming their service is a good way of maintaining privacy It’s true in many cases that a VPN connection will increase privacy and security, especially on an public network/wifi where someone could be listening. It also can prevent your ISP from using information about your internet habits for whatever nefarious purpose they might have.

However they aren’t a perfect solution for privacy, they mostly protect you from your ISP (or others on your local network) observing your activity. With encryption of web traffic being almost ubiquitous traffic interception isn’t really an easy way to gather data about someone. Rather the web sites and services that you use are tracking you through other means such as cookies, user logins, and other information generally given freely. Facebook and Google are known to be able to track your activity even after leaving their websites, partly because many sites are integrating features of their platforms. Using them for authentication is an example. The risk of this happening is not influenced by using a VPN.

So I’d say that even if you’re using a VPN for some reason, it’s still prudent to use software features of your browser/apps to increase privacy where necessary. Just be aware that whilst a VPN is good at increasing your privacy, it’s not perfect by any means.

I could go on, but I’ve realised how long this is starting to get so I’ll wind things up. It’s funny how at first you can be short on ideas but once you get started you can’t stop. I’d like to thank all my readers for putting up with my spelling mistakes and poor grammar all this time, and of course for sticking around and reading and/or commenting.


Old Tech: The AccessGrid

Today I’d like to talk about an old technology that has mostly died off and I used to use rather extensively in my job. The AccessGrid as it was known was an advanced teleconferencing system used world-wide for remote teaching and academic collaboration. Rather than being one single technology such as Skype, it was a collection of open source software that worked together, the main client simply being the glue that co-ordinated the meeting system. The main software was initially created in 1998 by Argonne National Laboratory and maintained by them until it was later made open source and supported by the community.

I was involved in running one of the AccessGrid nodes for my local university, mostly for the purposes of remote teaching. The rooms (also known as nodes) were set up with the ideal that the technology should be as transparent as possible for students and teachers. Most sites had a technician (usually referred to as the operator) that ran the equipment so that participants in a session didn’t have to manage the technology on top of their normal activity. The operator also usually participated with the AG community at large, helping each other with technical issues and testing the software and hardware configuration of nodes. I was the operator for our node, and am still involved in supporting remote teaching today.

A Typical AccessGrid node at University of Newcastle Australia

The room was equipped similarly to a class room, but with extra equipment to capture as much as possible. The front of the room had smart boards for writing notes and displaying lecture slides. For tutorial sessions students both remote and local could present solutions on the smart boards, although the exact technical solution used to provide this varied depending on the participating nodes. We had a number of cameras so all the local participants could be seen, and ceiling and lapel mics so students and teachers could be heard. These would usually be adjusted to some degree to suite each session, although sensible defaults would usually work fairly well.

Audio and Video was sent between clients using RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol) using Multicast UDP packets to transport the data. Because support for Multicast traffic isn’t universal and had been blocked at some institutions Unicast bridges were set up. These bridges allowed people with out Multicast support on their local network to connect to meetings, these bridges were run by nodes which had working Multicast support. Users could manually select which bridge to use to avoid high latency or traffic load.

Rat (robust audio tool) was the program that sent and received audio. It had options for many different bit rates and audio encodings and worked quite well on most platforms and audio equipment. It did have some basic echo canceling capability, but that usually wasn’t used as most nodes opted for hardware based echo canceling with devices such as the ClearOne XAP800 which generally did a better job. A notable feature of the software was the ability to tune the audio volume of each participant individually, which made it much easier to cope with audio issues as it could be adjusted on the fly. This unfortunately seems to be an unusual feature on modern communication software which often doesn’t allow this to be easily done.

Vic (Video conferencing tool) did the video portion of the session, by using multiple instances of this program it was possible for each node to transmit and receive video from multiple sources, usually cameras but also live screen captures from another program. This allowed a Node to send a video of the teacher, any local audience members, and multiple screen captures. Large sessions with many participants could have a large number of video streams, I remember seeing 15-20 streams for the bigger events. Generally it scaled fairly well, but you needed a decent internet connection.

The AccessGrid for Australian universities died rather unceremoniously and suddenly when the server was switched off most of the way through semester 2 in 2014. The person who was maintaining the server had left the institution where it was hosted, so when their server room was renovated it was decommissioned without any plans to reinstate the service. This happened with no announcements or notice, just one day it was suddenly dead. This left the still significant number of people using it for remote teaching scrambling to find alternative solutions as quickly as possible, thankfully most people managed, but it wasn’t fun.

Had the server not died, would the AccessGrid still be in use today? The answer is probably not, but maybe. As a technology it was harder to use and required significant technical knowledge. Modern software has largely taken that complexity and difficulty away, unfortunately taking some of the flexibility away with it. Commercial software often requires a license fee for the server at least, but in some cases also for the client software. This extra cost was off-putting to smaller institutions who don’t have the larger resources others do, so that may have motivated some to stick with it.

So why wax all nostalgic about it? Partly because no-one else has and the foot print the AccessGrid has on the internet is gradually fading. Also it was an interesting and formative technology in the electronic teaching space. It achieved results that at the time were not possible with other technologies enabling students access to courses they otherwise couldn’t reach, and Lecturers access to a wider audience. For me personally it was memorable being a part of the community and making the technology work. Whilst it had its problems it was interesting, functional, and flexible.


6th Anniversary!

Wow time sure catches up on you fast, recently my blog had its 6 year anniversary. It feels like much less than a year, probably because of how busy I’ve been. This year I’ve obviously been doing less writing, mostly because of how busy family commitments are keeping me at the moment. It’s not all bad, as only posting once a month has allowed me to spend more time on each one, and I’ve made a few minor improvements to the layout and writing as a result.

I’ve only got one motherboard left for that series of posts and I’ve finished the graphic library bench marking, so I’m contemplating what new stuff I’ll make. I’ve been considering making a short series revisiting my old BASIC programs one at a time. Not sure how this will work out, or how interesting it would be to readers, but it’s some thing I’d be keen to do. A series for teaching programming to absolute beginners is another idea, which I’m considering producing in a video format on youtube. It would require a bigger time investment, but would probably work better than the written form.

I’ll continue writing about MS-DOS games, largely because there’s plenty of material left, and I quite like writing the posts. I’ve got some shorter term hardware posts in mind as well, such as a few system overviews and revisiting some of my neglected machines that haven’t had a run in a while or are in need of repair. The Sparcstation 20 is one such machine, I have already written the first post, but unfortunately I’ve had difficulty getting packages to build under system emulation with Qemu and NetBSD 7.1 as there are occasional unexplained freezes. I have the X11 server enabled which may contribute to that, so I might try disabling that, a different version of Qemu, or perhaps running the build on the actual hardware instead.

Before I wrap up, just a quick comment on something I’ve seen happening on Ebay. I sometimes peruse the vintage computing sections and couldn’t help but notice that some machines are being parted out (dis-assembled and parts sold individually) to the point where even screws are being sold individually. I’m in two minds on this, I can understand doing this for something that is broken, but still has some usable parts. On the other hand I would be really unimpressed if people did this to otherwise working hardware. It appears this is happening sometimes. Also unimpressive is when sellers label their common as mud machines such as the spectrum and C64 as rare even when they are anything but.

I’ll wrap up here before I launch into a rant about how hard it is to find retro hardware here. Big thanks to any regular readers and commenters.


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.


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.


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’

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