Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Blog split time

I spent most of yesterday evening splitting the blog into four separate blogs. There was too much dilution to provide a consistent reading experience. The new blogs are broken up as follows:

Day to day blogging - this blog : Retro Gadget Guy
Short stories blog url: Pointless Stories

This blog will be used for blogging about retro gadgets and day to day events.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Time to reorganize the main blog

I'm splitting the tech part of my blog off from my main blog to reduce crosstalk between the different subjects I blog about. Anything tech related will be posted to this blog.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Retro LD technology

Time for one of my rants about why I like one of the older technologies, LaserDisc or LD. For most people, it's a dead technology not worthy of anything other than being relegated to a yard sale or sent to the scrap heap. Especially considering LD production ceased a number of years ago. With the advent of technologies like BluRay that have excellent quality graphics and audio, LD is at a severe disadvantage to boot.

Yet, it still has several appealing qualities for me. For one, when stacked up against the mainstream DVD, it does win a round in the fact it doesn't experience macro blocking. But probably the biggest advantage is for me is the fact that I like Japanese cinema and anime. There are some really interesting titles that simply can't be found on DVD. One of the titles I've been hunting for on LD is an anime called "Antique Heart", a mostly unknown title that from my understanding is currently only available on VHS or LD. I found a bootleg VHS tape at one time but it is missing an unknown amount of footage from the start of the film. One of these days, I need to see if any of my friends have connections in Japan and can track down a copy for me in some place like Akihabara.

I must admit, there's also something cool about loading a large shiny disc into a LD player and having the occasional person ask you what the hell that is. Way cool for that wow factor, sort of like having a Vectrex sitting on the coffee table.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Old Radio Shack computers

There appears to be a nice Radio Shack Model II on ebay. Were I in the position where I had more money I might have looked into bidding on the system. If it were a Model 16 or Model 6000, I would have had to do some hard thinking to see if I could afford to re-allocate money for bidding. With a temporarily non-existent cash flow, I'll have to be a bystander and watch to see how much it auctions for. Although with ebay, price trends are tricky as sometimes the same object will go for wildly varying amounts. Obviously there are a number of factors involved that one can't foresee. What I have noticed on the auctions I've watched previously is that if there is more than one or two bids initially, then the price seems inflate dramatically. That is probably varies too depending upon other conditions. Anyway, I'll just watch and see what happens.

Update: A second Model II has appeared on Ebay. It appears to have some technical issues as the seller indicated the video starts malfunctioning after a few minutes. I'll be curious to see how much a faulty machine sells for. The initial Model II is already up to $122 in the biddings.

Return of the kitchen sink

Today is one of those days where I feel dead tired before I even got out of bed this morning. Having worked on the kitchen sink all yesterday kind of wore me out. The biggest contributor to my lack of energy is that I never really ate much food yesterday. Between working on installing the sink and not having a sink to wash dishes in made it pretty inconvenient to cook. I ended up eating a couple snacks here and there but that was about it. Good if I wanted to lose some weight but I'm pretty darn thin and could actually stand to pack on a pound or two. I vow to do better today.

On the plus side, the sink is installed. I was able to find an acceptable solution that did not require moving the drain pipe in the wall. Armed with a hacksaw and a bit of creative thinking, I was able to find ways to hook up the pipes in an acceptable manner.

One of the funnier scenes from yesterday was when I was installing the sealant around the rim of the sink. I had initially set the sink in place to trial fit everything. Keep in mind that the sink is cast iron so it's really heavy. Lifting out the sink again was something I didn't want to do mainly because the disc in my lower back probably wouldn't tolerate another round of heavy lifting. It struck me that I had a screw jack in my truck for changing flat tires. So I scurried out to the truck, grabbed the jack, and placed the it beneath the large bowl in the sink. I then wedged the plank between the jack and the sink bowl to help distribute the pressure. After shifting the jack around a few times to find a balance point, it was possible to lift the sink so I could run a bead of sealant around the edge.

Now all that remains is to track down one extremely slow leak that remains before I clean everything up in the kitchen. I let the sink stand with water overnight and found a couple drips. Hopefully, tightening the all again resolved the issue. I'll check it again in a few hours to see if everything is dry.

I'd swear it looks like a bomb went off inside my house as there are tools everywhere. Going into the kitchen is like walking through a mine field. Funny thing is that two other rooms in the house are no different. The living room is an equal disaster with tools and parts everywhere since the pellet stove is undergoing major repairs. The washroom is no different as the washing machine still needs a few adjustments to the balance for the spin cycle before I can fasten it back up. Ah, the never ending battle with entropy will always keep me busy in some manner.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Washing dishes when you don't have a kitchen sink.

Well, I managed to slog my way through the remainder of Suzuka and the last few episodes remained consistent, lackluster to the very end. No surprises, no redeeming episodes, only 26 episodes worth of wasted time. While it's not the worst anime I've watched, it certainly fell short of any potential it had to offer. Suzuka is one of those watch and forget series, no repeat watch will ever be warranted.

On a different front, my kitchen is an absolute disaster. I spent all of yesterday afternoon removing the old sink in preparation for installing the cast iron Kohler replacement. As is common, it won't be a simple task. The main drain pipe is too high for the trap and as such will require major rework of the existing plumbing.

Unfortunately, I've put in enough effort at this point that I don't want return to using the old sink. That means I'll have to cut open the wall, chop out and replace a section of the existing 2 inch copper drain/vent pipe and try to figure out how to plumb the trap appropriately. Looks to be a bigger job than I initially anticipated so the sink may be out of operation for a few days while I figure out an approach that will meet building code requirements. Normally, I'd just hack something together but in this case, we're talking about issues with potentially dangerous gases that can flow back from the main sewer line. Better safe than sorry.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

When watching anime through to the end becomes an exercise in pain

Sometimes being stubborn by nature is a drag. In a number of cases, I tend to see things through even if it is less than enjoyable. Case in point, I'm currently watching an anime called Suzuka. I can only think of one word to describe it, painful.

After suffering through 21 of the 26 episodes, I've yet to find a likable character. Hell, even the ubiquitous anime pet cat is boring. In ways, this reminds me of two other anime that I've watched, Boys Be and Alien 9. One can probably see where I might find similarities with Boys Be since it centers on sports and relationships. What's more, I'd swear the "Yeti" girl appears in both anime, albeit with a different personality. Alien 9 on the other hand might leave a few people scratching their noggins wondering about the tie in.

Seems to me that both this and Alien 9 strive to target a certain personality type and attempt to agitate to no end. But that's where the similarities end. Alien 9 successfully used a bizarre style to target the selected audience. What's more it did it quickly, perhaps a bit too much so as I had do a bit of additional reading to understand half of what the hell was going on in the four short episodes. Having not read the manga put me at a disadvantage but nothing a bit of reading couldn't resolve.

Suzuka on the other hand, lacks in both style and substance. Where Alien 9 drove me to research the manga, Suzuka did quite the opposite. Even knowing there is a manga, I have no inclination or drive to even peek at it. To add insult to injury, Suzuka drags out for what seems like an eternity weighing in at 26 mind numbing episodes. For me, watching each episode is more painful than say, watching something like Trouble Chocolate. At least Trouble Chocolate redeemed itself to a minor extent with segments from the final episode. Sadly, I fear Suzuka can't pull that same rabbit out of hat.

The biggest problem here is that not one single character is likable. As a viewer, most of the characters feel like a 2D sprites in a 3D environment. I find myself wishing the damn thing would turn itself sideways and disappear. Paper Mario this is not!

Let's take a look at some of the characters in Suzuka shall we? We have the primary love triangle between the male, Yamato, and the girls, Suzuka and Honoka. Yamato is simply a rat bastard out only for his own good. Okay, so that's not much different than most of us males. But then again, I don't watch anime to be reminded of the fact that I might be a self centered selfish bastard. Suzuka plays off as a bitch, but I guess that's a necessity for one leg of a love triangle. Honoka, the third part of the triangle, puts up with putz boy for far too long. Her character at least did something reasonable when she confronted putzy for the break up.

Moving off to the secondary characters, we end up having Yamato's pervert friend and the Yeti girl transplant from Boys Be. These two are the closest to being even slightly interesting. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, possibly with atomic bombs too but I digress again. Add to the mix, two alcoholic ticking time bombs, Yuka and Megumi. Their sole purpose seems to be to use Rat Bastards room as place to drink and torment the the pesky one. What strikes me as out of character is the fact the Yamato doesn't seem to eyeball either one of these girls. Something feels off considering how flighty his character is with spur of the moment "aint she so kawaii" stuff, ala Honoka. Especially since Megumi tends to hang onto him when she's drunk. I don't know about anyone else, but as a male lion, when I'm drinking, things become dangerous. Beer googles are pretty easy to sport after a few drinks. If a girl starts hanging off me and we're both plastered, hmmm, it's highly unlikely I'd be abiding by any high moral standards. Mind you, speaking for myself, I'm talking about mutual stupid drunk behavior, not one sided advantage taking crap. Oops, I've taken a left turn again haven't I? Just remember kiddies, those with extremely high moral standards tend to have few if any friends. Okay, back on track we go.

The plot in itself is unremarkable as the characters. Nothing to see here folks, just move along now, move along. Typical harem style stuff here. Boy meets multiple girls. Must choose, oh the decisions. Boy is flighty like a butterfly moving from flower to flower, oh the quandary. And so on. Can you say daytime soap opera? Nah, even soap operas have some interesting baddies which is less than I can say about this series.

While I'm sure there must be a few fans of the series, it's most likely only those that read the manga, and I'm sure as hell not one of them. I really need to find something good to watch to clear my palate of the horrible after taste left by watching Suzuka. Gack!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dating gone bad (aka 30 seconds over Tokyo)

Funny but true:

You know you're in trouble if you ask a girl out, she accepts, and when you drive over to her house you're told that she's gone out for the evening... on a date with someone else.

You know you're in trouble when the girl you're trying to talk with says "Rule number one, I never look a dork in the eyes" while shes looking away from you.

You know you're in trouble if you ask a girl out and she angrily responds "Okay, who's the jack ass that put you up to this joke?"

You know you're in trouble when you attempt to ask a girl out and afterwards she sends one of her friends, not to talk to you, but to talk with one of your buddies, and tells "him" to tell "you" to stay the hell away from "her". Now that's what I call true double buffering!

You know you're in trouble when your date is non-talkative and you say, "You seem to be the quiet type." and she responds, "Oh no, I actually talk a lot... with people I like."

What's the lesson learned? Have a good sense of humor and place an order for a flameproof self image to protect yourself from all the flak you'll take during that 30 seconds over Tokyo.

Ghost in the retro machine

Funny thing about being middle aged, I find myself frequently pondering about things I did or wanted to do when I was younger. Maybe it's just trying to escape the reality that the pretty young girls look right through me like I'm a ghost who's not even there. Or possibly it's the sound of my ankle joints loudly cracking each morning when I wake and stretch for that first time that remind me that this oxygen burning engine has used up half it's fuel. Nostalgia is a funny thing in that manner.

Take a look around my house and you'll find first hand examples of my waxing nostalgic feelings everywhere. One can hardly find a nook or cranny where there isn't some form of tech or retro device tucked away. Even the garage has a toy or two such as the old Compaq PC stashed under a work bench used to pipe music into an old Sansui amp and a cheap Sony subwoofer. My work room is probably the scariest place of them all.

Once upon a time, the work room was carefully organized with quality overhead lighting and shelves for each workbench. Now, there are old computers stacked on the floor because there isn't enough surface space to dedicate to them. Many are incomplete like the old Amiga 500 that needs software. Or that aging 1702 monitor from the C64 system would work great for playing Defender on the TI 99/4A if only I could just find one of those pesky composite cable.

With all these systems and devices sitting around, you'd think I'd be satisfied. But no, that's not the case. I'm always looking for another holy grail from computing and gaming world. My current obsession is with finding a TRS-80 Model 16 or Model 6000. Why? It has my two favorite processors all rolled up in one package, the Zilog Z80 and the Motorola 68000. You see, I've had a mild obsession with programming something for one of these grittier heterogeneous platforms for quite some time. The initial bait that hooked me was the Sega Saturn which has a myriad of processors, including both the Z80 and 68000. A Saturn isn't the easiest platform to program for though since it's a game console. A computer on the other hand, is obviously tailored for such tasks.

Initially, I had looked at tinkering with an older Mac, Amiga, or an Atari ST because they had the 68000 processor. Sadly, for the Mac computers I had, it turned out to be more effort than it was worth. I had managed to acquire two old Mac Classics, but ended up spending way too much time trying to get an assembler up and running. After spending numerous hours of hacking away at the problem, I decided to try a different angle.

This time around, I went for the Amiga. I had been scouring Craigs List for a quite a while but everything kept turning up down in Tacoma or Auburn. I really didn't want to drive that far with my finely aged truck so I went the Ebay route. It's pretty evident that Ebay is not the best place for collectibles like retro computer systems. Much to my dismay, I jumped the gun after a number of failed bids and won a bid on an incomplete system. It was an Amiga 500 keyboard unit only, no monitor, no video cable, and no software. Of course, the 500 has a monochrome composite output so I could scrape by using the Commodore 1702 monitor but the lack of software stopped me dead in my tracks. Software can be found for this little fella but I just don't feel like shopping it out on the Internet right now. So the Amiga has moved to the back of the stack for now.

That leads to the next chain of thought. When I was just a young lad of 18 years, my folks bought me this totally kickass Christmas present, a Radio Shack Model I computer. I used that old machine so much I completely wore the paint off the front of the keyboard where my hands rested below the space bar. I kept the TRS-80 for over 13 years before giving it away. I was moving to a new city and hauling stuff was just too expensive so I did the nomadic thing and ditched almost everything I owned, including my computer. The TRS-80 went to a good owner, my old buddy Napper who still provides care for it to this day.

The fact that the TRS-80 was my first computer provides a bit of incentive to once again tinker with stuff from days gone by. Couple that with my interest to hack away at console like hardware, and the TRS-80 Model 16 comes out as a really good match. Finding one could prove to be a serious challenge. Finding one at the same time I have income will prove to be even more of a challenge. I'll cross bridge when necessary though.

I did make an interesting observation about the Model 16 and Model 6000. I really couldn't find much information about either of these systems. Everywhere I looked, there was a plethora of information about Model I, II, III, or IV systems, but not much about the Model 12, and even less about the Model 16 and Model 6000. It seems like there might be a possibility of actually contributing some useful information about a legacy platform on my website after all. Of course, that hinges on finding a unit. Looks like it's time for a one of my typical games of playing cat and mouse to find the appropriate hardware and software.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Playing exercise oriented games on the game console.

Late last night, I was experiencing a bit of the job loss blues so I decided to indulge myself with a little console gaming entertainment. Mind you, I have lots of game consoles strewn throughout the house to allow easy access whenever the playful mood strikes me. Hidden among the many consoles that litter my household landscape, there were a pair of non-functioning Xbox systems. The initial intent for these little beasties was to supply streaming media in different rooms without the need to place a dedicated PC. Of course, with both systems having hardware issues that prevented operation, they ended up simply occupying space.

Of the two non-function systems, one had been acquired from a Goodwill store after the previous owner apparently decided to exercise a bit of surgery on the poor little beast. It seems the CD tray was failing to open so the owner decided to provide some friendly persuasion, most likely in the form of a screwdriver blade. The plastic bezel for the front of the CD tray had been snapped off as the result of an unwelcome attack from the instrument of destruction. At some point thereafter, the Xbox became an orphan and eventually found its way into the trading chain for used electro-mechanical nightmares. Considering the fact that I just can't help myself when it comes to game consoles, I fell for the bait and bought the poor little fella.

Both non-function consoles were soon stripped down on my work benches and underwent the old switch-and-swap procedure. After a few failed attempts that yielded the dreaded flashing red ring of death, one of the systems finally came up with a solid green ring. Time for the acid test. I pulled the blinds, threw a dance mat controller on the floor, and popped in a Dance Dance Revolution 4 disc. Time for a bit of dancing like a disjointed fiend.

Now, I've never really played DDR before so I was in for a bit more fun than I expected. From a user interface developer perspective, the game is absolutely amazing. The blend of graphics and action in DDR 4 nail the fun factor dead on. Having the teen girl "agent" was quite helpful in syncing my dance steps to the arrows and is a prime example of well executed metaphor. The game occupied my concentration so much that I didn't realize I had been playing long enough for my coordination to start dropping off exponentially as a result of physical fatigue. I ended up playing over an hour and half non stop before I started to run out of steam. That my friends, is a well designed game.

I'm starting to wish I had other versions of the DDR games, but at least I have DDR 4 and DDR Ultramix. Perhaps when I find another job, I should look into rounding up a few more of the DDR games. On the plus side, as a terminally rhythm impaired guy, this is probably the closest I'll get to dancing with a girl and not being laughed off the floor. All the classic signs are there. Watches anime? Check! Lives in solitude? Check! Hasn't had a girlfriend for ages? Double check! God help me... it looks like I've turned into a half assed otaku.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Time to take a break after spending more than half the day unsuccessfully looking around for jobs. To say the least, I consider job hunting about as enjoyable as having my teeth filed down to the bare nerve endings. While I'm sure there are some people who enjoy the process of finding a job, I'm not one of them.

There are a few postings for jobs, although not as many as I had hoped for. None of the listings looked like a promising match for my experience base. I may check into the possibility of branching into programmer/writer jobs as it might open up more opportunities.

I must admit that I found at least one of the job ads quite humorous though. It was a well written job listing from Big Fish where the requirements were written up using C#. At the other end of the spectrum, I found several listings that were poorly written as they appeared to be misleading. One such job listing posted as "entry level" had requirements that I would estimate as requiring at least 5 or more years experience to obtain. Really, that seems more like mid level but maybe that's just me.

On other fronts, I learned something yesterday about a flaw in my design for my garden pond recirculation system. More or less, I neglected to add a simple mechanism for back flushing the pipes in case of a blockage. This fact was discovered while I was cleaning a debris filter out that had a few more pine needles in it than I expected.

It was early evening and the sun light was starting to fail as I headed over to check the skimmer for any smaller fish that might be trapped inside. I did find one fish but it had already expired so I pulled the leaf basket out to discard the poor little fella. After cleaning out the leaf basket, I decided to do a quick rinse of the mesh filters. The temperature was a bit cool so I was in a hurry and did not shut the circulation pump off while cleaning. In the past, this hadn't been a problem as the filters never seemed to accumulated any trash in front of the filters. Being that it was a low light situation, I didn't see the surplus of pine needles below the water surface until I had lifted the filter out. By that time it was too late and a flurry of needles were immediately sucked into the pump. The flow of water exiting the return pipe choked down to a mere trickle.

I was able to get the water flow back to somewhere around half the original rate to prevent fish loss due to oxygen starvation. To do this, I took a short section of 12 gauge electrical wire and used it to sort of brush out the intake tube feeding the pump. After doing this a number of times, the water flow increased enough to supply water turn over for the fish.

To properly back flush the system, I'll need to rig up a hose barb to the outflow pipe that feeds the return flow into the pond. Fortunately, there are several valves near the waterwheel feed line that I can use to block the return line water flow. With the city water supply having around 70 pounds of pressure, it should be enough to force water back through into the skimmer to clean the pump out. I'll need to find some pipe fittings that will work first before I try this. Let me tell you, sticking your arm down in ice cold water is not a pleasant task. Live and learn I guess.