Category Archives: Hardware

Reviving the 190cs and Some History

I’ve written some about my early days of gaming, days dominated first by the Atari 2600 and then the Apple II.  I have also written extensively about the era from EverQuest forward, when I was playing on a Windows machine of one sort or another.

But there is a whole middle-era that I have mostly left out, or only alluded to in passing, that involves me working and playing games on the Apple Macintosh platform.  And it was quite a big part of my evolution as a gamer.  Flashes of that have come through when I wrote about Air Warrior or when I mention things like Marathon or Bolo.  But it isn’t a topic I’ve delved into much, for reasons I will get to.  But first, some history.

Being in Silicon Valley and an Apple II enthusiast meant it was easy to keep an eye on all things Apple, including the coming of the original Macintosh.  But even though 1984 wasn’t like 1984, or so that ad told me, I wasn’t buying a Mac. (This is also why I have no Nintendo nostalgia.  Who needed a NES when you had an Apple II?)

I was still invested in the Apple II though, which had more software, did more things, and was all I needed at the time.  I played Wizardry and Ultima III and Bard’s Tale and Karatka and was happy.   Meanwhile, the original Macintosh was neat and all, but other that drawing pictures in MacPaint, there wasn’t much to it.

Time moved on, and new Mac models came out.  I used my student discount to buy my friend Kip a Mac 512Ke, but stuck with my Apple II.  Then two things happened.  First, somebody swiped a box of mine while I was moving out of the dorm at the end of the semester.  That box contained mostly Apple II disks, which cut the legs out from under my investment in the hardware.  I didn’t lose everything, but a lot of software was gone and I wasn’t going to go buy it all again.  I wasn’t even sure I could buy all of it again.

Second, as part of a group project we did a bunch of work at one person’s office.  They did all their stuff on the Mac and so I did a bunch of the writing for the project on a Mac SE with an Apple Extended Keyboard on Microsoft Word.

The Mac SE was the first model to lose the already dowdy looks of the original Mac, a look that was still present in the Mac Plus.  The new Apple Desktop Bus keyboard and mouse that came with it were a lot better than the original Mac versions.  And Microsoft Word was really good on the Mac.  I really like the WYSIWYG aspect of it.  It was light and ran well.  Add in the ability to print your documents out on one of those new laser printers and I was sold.

In early 1987 I bought a Mac SE through a contact that was able to buy at the Apple developer support prices, which probably saved me $1,500.  Computers were expensive back then.

It was a dual floppy unit, because I came from the Apple II world and having two floppy drives was freaking critical… especially if you wanted to copy disks for friends.  (I remember sitting there with the cover off of both Apple II floppy drives, adjusting the speeds of both to get them sync’d up in order to get past some particularly gnarly copy protection scheme or another.)

But I still needed a hard drive.  You couldn’t get by without that even back then, the sizes of which seem comically small by today’s standards.  A 20MB drive was a pretty common option, but I went out and spent all that money I saved on the Mac SE on a 70MB drive from Jasmine Technologies, a company I would later end up working for.

Anyway, I was committed.  My Mac era had begun, and would continue on for almost exactly a decade.  I ended up working at companies that did Mac products, even working directly with Apple on a few things.  I ran a Mac oriented BBS from 1990 to 1995, which gave me a knowledge of modems at the dawn of the dial up internet which also got me a few jobs.

But Apple was a ship without a rudder in the 90s, wandering thither and yon, unfocused and living on its past reputation.  By 1997 the place looked doomed.  Michael Dell was telling people that the company should shut down and give the stockholders the proceeds.  The startup I was working at folded up shop and I had to take what little Windows knowledge I had gained to try and find a job elsewhere.  Having Macintosh on your resume at the time was only slightly better than having McDonald’s listed.  A lot of people I knew made the transition.

A year later I had a job in enterprise software, secured largely on my rather superficial knowledge of ISDN (I was hired to work on that, then never did, moving immediately into speech technologies), and a Windows NT Desktop machine in front of me.

Since it had always been my habit to have a machine similar to my work machine at home, I swapped over to Windows there was well.  I soon had a Dell Pentium II machine set to dual boot into either Win95 or WinNT.  It wasn’t my first Windows box.  I had a 66MHz 486 a few years back just to tinker with Win95, but it was the first Windows box set to be my main machine.  Somewhere along the line I got a 3Dfx Voodoo I card… I forget now why I bought it… some game needed it I am sure… so when EverQuest came out I was ready to go.

And almost all of that Mac stuff went away.  I kept that Apple Extended Keyboard for a long time.  It just sat on a shelf, gathering dust, but it was such a good keyboard that I hated to just toss it.  I got rid of the PowerMac 8500, the last desktop Mac I owned, and the Windows compatibility cared I had borrowed from a friend at Apple so I could run ZMud when playing TorilMUD.  After using it on that other Windows machine, I had to find a way to keep using it.

Other bits and pieces disappeared over time.  The TI MicroLaser Plus laser printer stayed a bit, but it was a decade old and supplies were getting scarce.  Boxes, diskettes, CDs, and manuals of various historical value got tossed as time went on as my wife and I moved, then moved again.

Now, more than a decade on from our last move there are very few things around the house to suggest I ever had anything other than a Windows box during my career.  There are some Mac World Expo badges hanging off a peg, a couple of really old CD jewel cases with titles like Spaceship Warlock or Pathways into Darkness (early Bungie title!), or my affection for the big ball Kensington Trackball that might give it away, but not much else.  I am in a constant battle between keeping old stuff and not having my office turn into a trash heap of old crap.  So I do my own Marie Kondo thing and sift through stuff and ask myself if it brings me joy or not, which gets me to throw things out now and again.

And I have forgotten much.  I am able to go write about TorilMUD as often as I do not because I played it so much during the 90s, but because it is still there and I can get ZMud to still launch, so I can revisit and refresh old memories.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was once again going through my office and throwing things away (like a Jambalaya MRE a friend brought back from the Gulf War) and in a drawer in a dresser that is stuffed in the closet in my office I found my old Macintosh PowerBook 190cs along with the power supply… and the receipt.  I paid $1,499 for it at ComputerWare back in early 1996.

I remember having this laptop… the only laptop I have ever purchased for myself, since work has always seen fit to issue me one if they think I need one… but I didn’t know I still had it until I dug it up.

It was a curious model, straddling the 500 series and 5300 series of Apple PowerBooks.  It had the then new simpler design aesthetic (the 500 series looked like Batman’s laptop) but was powered by the 68040 processor rather than the PowerPC processors then entering the Macintosh model line.

It was the last 68K series laptop Apple produced, and the last 68K Mac I ever owned, putting it at the end of a long line that included the SE, Plus (to run my BBS at one point), SE/30, IIci, IIsi, Quadra 700, and Quadra 800.

I pulled this antique out of the drawer and set it up on my desk, uncertain if it even still worked more than 20 years after I purchased it.  I had to figure out how to turn it on.  It was part of the ADB era, when Apple put a power button on the keyboard with a symbol I had long since forgotten.  But when I figured it out, the speaker chimed and the unit spun up into life.

MacOS 7.5.2 – And Look at all that RAM!

The motherboard battery had faded years ago, so the time and date came up as midnight on January 1, 1904, the default day zero of the MacOS at that time.  I was a little concerned as to whether or not it would recognize 21st century dates, but it seemed to handle that.

Digging through the drive, I found some old apps.  There was a copy of Eudora, my favorite email app of old, probably full of notes to my girlfriend at the time, now my wife.  I used to write her emails while builds ran.  Now I just text her.

There was a copy of Claris Emailer, which I used to monitor the support account.  At a startup you have to do all the things.

There were all sorts of little utilities.  A copy of Microsoft Word 5.1a, the last good version of Word.  At that point it had achieved a fullness of features yet still fit on a 1.4MB floppy.

And in a folder titled “Games ƒ” I found… some games.  Old games.  Games from 20 years back.

Not a lot of games.  This was my work laptop after all.  But a few goodies in there that I didn’t think I still had around.  So I have something from that era to write about, old games played on era authentic hardware.

But first I want to get the PowerBook on the network so I can get some screen shots moved over.  The 190cs didn’t come with built-in Ethernet, but I had a Global Village PC Card that had both modem and Ethernet support.  However, that needed an external dongle (referred to as Clyde by the team that worked on it for reasons I do not recall) and I could not find the dongle.

But a packrat friend and former co-worker of mine had one and sent it to me. Now I just need to get it configured.  As it turns out, MacTCP from 1995 was pretty primitive.  There is, for example, no support for DHCP.  So far I’ve gotten to the point where the router sees the 190cs and has allocated it the IP address it asked for, but it cannot ping anything and cannot resolve any domain names.  Launching Netscape Navigator 4.04, the only browser installed on the unit, yields no web yet.

At least I have a bunch of network utilities in another folder.  20+ year old network utilities, but maybe they will tell me something.  We shall see.

Also found in the same drawer as the 190cs:

Recorded off the air, circa 1980

Maybe I’ll get to that later.  I do still own a car with a cassette deck.

The Other New Rig in the House

After a practice run by building up my daughter’s new computer it was time to work on my own.

I wish I could say that I spent a lot of time digging into the details of things, but I sort of did that with the first computer, so the second one was a bit more arbitrary.  I went and browsed configs in PC Partpicker to see what looked good then threw everything together and ordered it.

I ended up with this:

Putting it all together went about as expected.  The cats needed to be involved again, and aside from when Rigby decided he needed to stand on the motherboard, they mostly contented themselves by stealing zip ties and other little items from the table.  The worst moment was when I put the video card on top of the new case, then forgot it was there and knocked it off by accident.  It fell all the way to the floor and bounced a few times, which is exactly the sort of thing you want to happen with expensive new electronics.  Fortunately my bare foot broke the initial impact, though I did have to stop to bandage up the bleeding gouge it left.

I went for the “a few dollars more” approach that often grips me when I am purchasing the CPU.  That is the core bit of the build, the part I am never going to change, so I tend to buy beyond my needs.  Six cores, twelve threads, maybe somebody will make a game that will use all of that some day.  Right now it barely wakes up to get WoW or EVE Online moving.

I do want to give a shout out to Cooler Master for their CPU cooler kits.  I’ve built up four machines this decade, two with their kits and two without, and I have to say they are good.  The i7 doesn’t come with a stock cooler, and after fumbling with the Zalman I bought but ended up not using for my daughter’s rig, I was feeling tentative on the whole subject.  But I remembered that Cooler Master install from 2010 and decided to go with them again.

And I am glad I did.  Their install kit isn’t revolutionary or anything, but it has an extra step in it that makes all the difference.  I’m always a bit nervous when working on the CPU and the cooler and the motherboard at the start, getting that back plate mounting lined up and set.  But the Cooler Master kit makes it easy.

Then there is the motherboard.  For no good reason I went with the MSI full ATX model.  Having WiFi and Bluetooth on board seemed like a good idea.  It actually let me stand up the computer out in the family room where I was doing the build before moving it back in my office for the direct hookup to the router.  Did I really need the LED lighting on the motherboard though?

Mystic Light!

Well, you know I have it on and running.  There is even an app that comes with it to control it… which is hardly a surprise because MSI included at least a dozen different applications to control various aspects of the motherboard, all of which use the Windows 10 alert system to tell me when there are updates.  Anyway, I had the app.

Mystic Light Control

Apparently if I had multiple MSI devices that supported the Mystic Light option, I could get them all to pulse various colors like the floor in Saturday Night Fever.  All I would need is a strobe and a fog machine, and we’ll get to the former.

Having gone with a full ATX, I needed a bigger case than the tight little model I bought my daughter.  While I like the Cooler Master cases, I was attracted to some of the Fractal Design models as well, and ended up going with the model linked above.

On the bright side, it looks good, had a spot for my optical drive, space for the new hard drive and a couple of old ones, and good ventilation features, with two very quiet 120mm fans included with the case.

On the downside, the space under the motherboard is tighter than I would have liked.  My daughter’s case was a dream in that regard, while this one was a much tougher fit.  The two fans have white LED lighting that has an unfortunate resemblance to a swastika.

Not exact, but you can see it

And then there is the HDD read/write light on the top of the front panel which is so bright it ought to come with a seizure warning.  Seriously, this thing was in the same league as those survival beacons a friend’s dad, who was a Navy flier, used to have around.  I put a piece of masking tape over it and my office still probably looked like a gun battle was going on from outside.  So I put a piece of duct tape over the masking tape and I can STILL see the light.

It shines through this no problem

But at least I don’t feel like I am in a disco anymore when in my office with the lights out.

I did, however, cop out when it came to the video card.  CPUs are forever, video cards I’ll replace every year or two.  And, while video card prices are coming down, I couldn’t get on board spending $450 or more to get a serious boost over my old card.  So the GeForce 1060 was a compromise.  It is a bit better than my old one, draws less power, and produces less heat, but it isn’t a dramatic change at all.  The dropping value of crypto currency means I might be good to upgrade in a year or so. (The story behind that.)

And then there was the move from Windows 7 to Windows 10.

At this point most of the issues have been worked out of Windows 10.  And while I could have gone with Windows 7 again, it is falling out of support in 2020, which I am reliably informed arrives in less than two years.  Given how long I stayed with Win7, it was probably time to move on.

Still, there was some things to get used to.  While it wasn’t the Window-menu free abomination that was Win8, I do miss the compact, list everything as one-line aspect of Win7.  And the update notifications are a little more in my face than I would like.  Also, why the hell did they take the mixer out of the sound option on the task bar.  I used that ALL THE TIME.  Now it is hidden in the control panel somewhere, so I have to go find it to make Minecraft quieter so I can hear my audio book.

I did also opt to go with Zinstall’s transfer utility to move things to the new machine.  It didn’t matter with my daughter’s machine.  Going from MacOS to Windows meant full reinstalls anyway.  But for all the crap I have, I decided to go for it.  I used it for my wife’s last computer upgrade and that went well.  It isn’t cheap, and it isn’t perfect, but I don’t think there is a better option for getting everything over and in a running and configured state.  I had to go find the product key for my copy of Office 2013, but when I opened up Notepad++ all my documents opened up just like they had before.

Anyway, I am setup and running and on the new machine in under a week, which frankly beyond expectations.  I have a couple more fans on order for the case, just to complete the cooling vision.  I miss the big 210mm case door fan on my old Cooler Master HAF case, but I’ll make do.

The New Rig in the House

We’ve been running on the same hardware around our house for quite a while now. We are working our way towards museum status on the console front, what with a Wii and a PlayStation 3 still hooked up to the TV and multiple samples of the soon-to-be-abandoned Nintendo DS/3DS line scattered about the landscape.

On the PC front my wife has the most recent machines in the house, both a desktop in her office and a laptop which she uses for work being of recent vintage. My daughter and I were both sitting on some aging processing iron for our gaming needs. But the dam broke on that when my daughter headed back into World of Warcraft. The coming of Battle for Azeroth and the finishing of Legion got her invested again. This will be the last expansion before she heads off to college, so we’ve both been talking it up, making plans, and getting ready.

However, WoW was crashing for her pretty regularly on her old machine, a 2012 vintage iMac. At the time I bought it, the unit was a magnificent piece of hardware, a 27″ model with an i7 Intel processor. But time makes a mockery of hardware that stands still. The burden of regular upgrades to MacOS have slowed the machine down. I cannot say for sure that Apple deliberately hamstrings older models, but they got caught doing that on the iPhone.

My own machine is actually older than hers. I initially put it together back in 2010, which I am shocked to learn was eight years ago now. How does this happen? But I had to refresh it in 2013 when a power supply blew and zapped the motherboard. So I at least have a generation 4 Intel i5 in it, along with an updated video card.

But with an iMac there are no upgrades. That beautiful industrial design, that slim package built around a magnificent screen, that all stays frozen in time. It will always be running a 3rd generation i7 and an nVidia mobile chip set from the time. Even some every day tasks, like web rendering, was feeling a bit on the slow side, and WoW would crash regularly and could barely keep up with the current version of Dalaran. So it was about time for a refresh.

This time around my daughter wanted a Windows machine. The iMac, and the one mentioned here is the third one that has been out in the family room for her to use, was chosen by me due to its ease of administration. Like every corporate IT group, if I have to keep things running then I get to pick the configuration. Also, parental controls were available and easy to configure and maintain relative to the Windows alternatives.

But now she is old enough to drive a car, has a job, and is giving serious thought to exactly which university she wants to attend. Also, she is tired of being limited to the MacOS options when it comes to software, so I did not fight the Window option. If anything, I was in favor of it because it would be cheaper.

I set out to build her a modest but capable Windows desktop. I wanted it to be cheap-ish because she also wants a laptop for school at some point, we still have the whole “pay for college” thing looming in the distance, and I also want to refresh my own desktop at some point.

My new favorite tool for configuring and pricing setups is PC Parts Picker. I spent some time there tinkering with configurations. One of my problems is that it is easy for me to fall prey to the “for just a few dollars more…” aspect of pricing. Why get processor X when processor Y is just $80 more… and you know what, processor Z is just another $120 more than that… and soon I have a configuration priced well beyond what I really want to spend. This time I planned to hold the line.

Fortunately there was some inspiration on PC Part Picker. One of their sample builds was based around the Gen 8 Intel i3 processor. I might have eschewed the low end of the line in the past, but at this point the i3 is a pretty hardy specimen. It now comes with four cores and the clock rate is good, while the heat and power draw are modest.

But what really sold me on the sample config was the case, a small Cooler Master model that, frankly, looked nifty. I don’t know why, I just wanted to build up a PC in that case, and since I was keeping the budget small I thought I might as well keep the form factor small as well. So I ended up with the following parts list:

I was still hemming and hawing about it when Prime Day came along at Amazon and the SSD I wanted was actually one of the sale items. So I ordered that, then just went all-in and ordered everything else.

Everything had arrived by Friday last week so I set about putting everything together on Saturday morning.

Getting the case together and the hardware set did not take too long. I was surprised at how small the Mini ITX motherboard was. It is basically a bit wider than the RAM slots, with just enough room hanging on over the end for a PCIe slot.

Motherboard, CPU in place

I ended up not using the Zalman CPU cooler, opting for the stock one simply because the Zalman was too big for me to attach and work around easily. The stock cooler is probably good enough. We don’t plan on tinkering with clocking or anything.

The video card was missing from the initial build. The one on the list is the one that is in my current machine. I plan to move it over to her system once I get around building out my own new setup. There was also 8GB of RAM to install as well.

Then it came time to install the OS. I went to the Microsoft Store down at the mall to pick up a copy of Windows 10 Home. I’d never actually been inside, so just wanted a reason to go in. The place is pretty empty most times I walk by it, at least compared to the mob that is always in the Apple Store right across the way, so I never go in lest I be pounced upon by the staff. This time I wanted something though, so the pounce, which came right away, was appreciated. Good luck getting helped that fast at the Apple Store.

Of course, installing Windows took longer than actually assembling the hardware.

And not just because the cats stepped in to help…

The Windows installer recognized the SSD just fine, but did not like the way it was formatted, or so I gathered once I deciphered the error. MBR and GPT were new acronyms for me, but it has been a while since I installed a fresh OS. Unfortunately, Googling the error sent me off to the BIOS for some settings that had zero impact on the error. I finally realized I just needed to delete the curren partition on the SSD and let the Windows 10 installer format it however it felt it needed to and everything went fine from there.

Then came the really long task… installing World of Warcraft. That was the first thing my daughter wanted on the machine. But installing WoW, which weighs in at 58GB these days, over WiFi was taking a long time. Eventually I turned everything off and dragged the new box to my office where I could hook it up directly to the router. That sped things up. Then I brought it back out to the family room, got it set up with my old monitor and a scrounged keyboard and mouse, and set her off to try it out.

She was impressed with the load time. WoW practically leaps off of the SSD into memory. She was a little less impressed with the way things looked. However, that was more a matter of going from the really nice screen built-in to the iMac to the hand-me-down 20″ monitor she was using, a unit that dates back to about 2003.

New Rig in Operation

The built-in video support was up to the effort and she was able to move up the grapic settings for WoW to 7 on their basic 1 to 10 scale. When the video card is in place at some point in the future she’ll be able to run at max settings.

As it turns out, you can use the iMac as a monitor, and we even have the cable for it. We will experiment with that this week. But for now she is all set up on a handy little system. I am not as happy with the case as I thought I would be… the moveable front panel aspect of it is kind of flimsy… but the airflow through it is really good. The 140mm fan it comes with barely has to turn to keep the whole thing cool. We shall see how the magnetic dust filters on the top and front work out.

Now I need to use this warm up to help me spec out my own new system.  I will probably go with an Intel i5 for my own use.  I am tempted to go with the Mini ITX motherboard and a small, well ventilated case though.  I don’t need a super-deluxe ATX motherboard with SLI support and all that.  I always overbuild on that front.  This time I will try to keep things slimmed down.

Friday Bullet Points Dipped in Nostalgia

It is raining again… which is a good thing in California… and a spate of different things have rolled across my screen, all of which interest me but which don’t quite warrant a full blog post yet, so we’re back to Friday bullet points.

Age of Empires Restrictive Edition

I was keen as mustard when it was announced last June that Microsoft was working on a remaster of the original Age of Empires.  While I was always more of an Age of Empires II – The Age of Kings fan… and I own the remaster of that already… I was still in for the original.

Age of Empires

After a long stretch of silence, there was finally some news about the game.

On the upside of things, the remaster will be available come February 20, 2018, so it will be here soon.

On the down side, the game will ONLY be available through the Microsoft Windows Store.  Leaving aside the whole “I don’t need another goddam Steam clone” and my lack of trust in Microsoft, the store itself tells me it won’t be available until the end of 2018 and that it won’t run on my device.

Also, it may require certain hardware

So I guess that pretty much lets the air out of any Age of Empires nostalgia I had as well as being a bad sign for any possible hope I had in their whole Age of Empires IV plan.

Rift’s Prime Number

From there we head over to Trion Worlds where their 2018 Rift On! producer’s letter.

Not a dye nor a floor wax

Trion looks to be eyeing the green fields of nostalgia as well, taking a card from Daybreak’s deck and promising something called Rift Prime, a subscription only version of the game that will come with a fresh server, reduced cash shop options, progressively unlocked content, and NO lockboxes.

I have said in the past that the one thing that would surely get me to roll on back to Telara was a retro server of some sort, so this sounds like it might be the time.  The instance group in pre-Storm Legion expansion Rift was one of my MMO high points.  Still, there are some mixed messages.

We plan to present RIFT at its roots as much as is possible to do, and look forward to sharing details over the coming weeks. The PRIME server will progress at a faster pace than the original launch and will eventually come to an end in spectacular fashion.

So back to the roots is good, and I expect that the servers will have to progress… by which I assume they mean unlock expansions… more rapidly that than the first time around.  I am curious as to what the spectacular end will be.

But then there is also this to wrestle with.

As a small teaser of what’s to come, dynamically matching characters to their current zone’s level, dungeons dropping loot specific to your character’s true level, caps on the number of professions available to a single character, and participation awards that carry over to your characters on existing servers.

Many upcoming live content changes that apply to existing servers will also apply to the new PRIME server, assuming they’re not restricted by progression locks.

That doesn’t sound very much like Rift at its roots.

Anyway, the current time frame is “spring” for Rift Prime which, as we recall from the Landmark launch, extends out to the first day of summer in the back half of June.  Syp goes on about the Rift Prime server idea at length, but I am waiting for more details before I crank up the thousand word minimum post-o-matic opinion machine.

Legendary Pokemon Return.. Again

It is an even numbered year so Nintendo is having Pokemon events to give away legendary Pokemon.

Didn’t we just get some of these?

Getting people to come to events to make Pokemon a more social game has always been part of the Game Freak/Nintendo plan, but didn’t we just spend 2016 having monthly legendary events?  And isn’t the ability to catch a bunch of these part of the sales pitch for Pokemon UltraSun & UltraMoon?

Oh well, if you missed out and don’t have the wherewithal for end game Pokemon, another series of events are coming for 2018 starting with a Dialga and Palkia event in February at your local GameStop.  In order to participate you must have a copy of Pokemon Sun, Moon, UltraSun, or UltraMoon.

Also coming up in February for Pokemon nostalgia buffs is Pokemon Crystal on the 3DS Virtual Console.

More on the Expense of Video Games

In something of a follow up on the raging discussion back at the end of November about how expensive it is to make video games, Raph Koster has returned with a new presentation and discussion about the cost of making video games.  So more charts and graphs and a list of suggestions await.  If nothing else you can bask in how little we pay per kilobyte of video game software these days I suppose, a measure which makes those old 143KB Apple II floppies seem like something of a gold mine.

Where Have All Our Video Cards Gone?

And finally, we can wistfully recall the glory days when we were able to go down to Best Buy and purchase a goddam video card.  Ars Technica has an article up about how all this Tulip bubble crypto currency boom is soaking up all the high end video cards.  I guess I will be stuck with a GeForce GTX 960 until this whole thing collapses.

Anyway, those were my bullet points for the week.  If you want more there are some over at Endgame Viable, most of which are not duplicates of items on my list.

Where I Started Typing

My Aunt moved earlier this year and, in cleaning out her house, came across any number of items that had been stored away for years.  One of them was a typewriter.

Nothing to do with deviled ham

Probably one of the reasons I have done as well as I have in the computer age, or the information age, or whatever we end up calling this era, is that I learned to type at a fairly young age.  And the first place I started was with this typewriter.

A look under the lid, the ‘N’ key is the one sticking up in the bunch… we’ll get to that…

That is a 1937 Underwood Champion portable typewriter that my grandmother hauled off to college when she was 18.  It was portable by virtue of the fact that it came with a hard carrying case with a handle.

Typewrite and case

The typewriter sat in that case in the hallway closet at my grandmother’s house and when I would come over to visit I would often haul it out to bang away on it just for the feel of putting words on paper.  There was something about that action that made words feel more “real” or “official” to young me.

Later I would take typing in school and get my own typewriter, an Olivetti Lettera 32.  It was also a portable, though considerably smaller and lighter than the old Underwood.

The baby blue Lettera 32

(Picture source)

That was probably a fitting choice of brands as the Underwood company was purchased by Olivetti back in 1959.

I do not know where the Olivetti ended up.  With the coming of my first computer I immediately started shopping for a printer and what passed for a word processor back then.  After some fumbling about I got a copy of AppleWorks for my Apple //e and was off to the races.  At that point the typewriters went back into storage, rarely to be heard from again.

And so it goes.

Now I write a blog on much more sophisticated (or bloated… or both) software and share some of my words not on paper but electronically across the world via the internet, but I still put my fingers on the same keyboard layout I started to tinker with back in the early 70s.

And it was the internet that helped me figure out how old this typewriter was.  There is no date of manufacture stamped on it that I could find.  But I could see a serial number stamped into the frame.

Serial number inside the unit

With that number I was able to use Google to find the Typewriter Database site which includes a page of Underwood Champion serial numbers by year.  That pinned down the year, which lined up with my grandmother graduating from high school and heading off to college.

The typewriter itself still looks to be in prime mechanical condition.  “They don’t make them like that any more” might be cliche, but it has some grounding in reality.  And among the other things you can find on the internet are ribbons compatible with it.  I am sure the ribbon in there hasn’t been replaced since the 1950s at the latest.  There is scant print ability left in the dried out husk that is in it currently.

Some words are just visible

Actually typing on it requires quite a firm touch.  I recall how my grandmother used to brutalize the IBM Selectric in the library where she worked, pounding on those keys that would activate with a much lighter touch.  The mechanical operation requires you to push it, and hitting the shift key lifts up the entire platen unit, so not something you can do without a pinky that has been working out at the gym.

And then there are the quirks of early keyboards.  Each key cost money, so they only included what was necessary.  You will see there is no key for the number one.  The lower case ‘L’ was deemed sufficient for that.  And with no key for the number one, there is also no key for the exclamation point.  To make one you would type a period then backspace and type a single quote over it.  And forget about your angled, square, or curly braces.  Straight up parenthesis is all you better need.

You do, however, get a special key for the fractions 1/2 and 1/4, while some of the other standard punctuation is scattered about the keyboard in places you might not expect to find them.

The keys work… mostly… save for the ‘N’ key, which sticks.  It used to stick occasionally, now it sticks every time you hit it.  The arm of the key is slightly bent so gets stuck as it strikes and you have to reach up and pull the key back every time you used it.  Nobody will be typing the great American novel on this machine… not very quickly anyway.

Also, there is a little bell that rings when you hit the end of a line so you know when to hit the return lever to start on a new line.  I had forgotten about that aspect of manual typewriters.

The case however has seen better days.  The hinges on the back are broken, so you can no longer carry the case by the handle.  You have to carry it like you were carrying a cake in a box lest the typewriter come loose and fall out.

Now I have to figure out what to do with the unit.  This 80 year old typewriter is a minor bit of family history, but not really an heirloom.  My daughter was interested in it momentarily before going back to her iPhone.  I expect I will find some room for it in my office with the rest of the junk I hang onto.

Replacing the G15

In what will probably come as no surprise to any regular reader of the site that I have had my current keyboard for more than a decade.  The keyboard, a Logitech G15, appears in a picture I posted of my desk back in middle of 2007, while Amazon says I purchased it in 2006.

The table is unusually clear in this picture

As noted every time I use this picture, not much has changed.  The headphones have been updated, the iPod dock is gone, a second, even smaller monitor has appeared, and a lot more crap has managed to accumulate.  But the monitor, keyboard, trackball, and speakers are all pretty much as they were ten years back.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The G15 has been a solid keyboard and, while I haven’t taken full advantage of every feature of it, I have grown used to some unique aspects of the keyboard.  Chief among them is the LCD display.

In the picture above you can see the LCD display, nicely back-lit with a blue-ish tint, at the top center of the keyboard.  Not a huge piece of display real estate, but I have grown used to having it there.  As it turns out, quite a few games and applications wrote out to Logitech’s display API.

Not that everybody uses the LCD well.  I posted back in 2007 asking what would be useful to put on the LCD display.  You can’t put anything there that won’t otherwise be available in game, but you ought to put something useful on it.  Games, like WoW, LOTRO, and EQ2 default to putting your character attributes, hit points, and maybe mana/power/whatever on the screen.  But things like hit points are already better represented in the main UI, while your stats like strength and what not aren’t generally something you need to be updated on constantly.

Still, some games, like World of Tanks, use the display well.  And I can always swap the LCD back to the default clock display, which is handy when playing games that do not have real world time somewhere in their UI.  Or it can show me what I have playing in iTunes currently.

EVE Online does not support the display, but Mumble and TeamSpeak do, showing on the display who is currently speaking.  That is probably more useful than any in-game data I might want.  I know many people by the sound of their voice on coms, but there are still a lot of strangers out there, or people who sound very much like other people, so having that name up without having to use the wonky (and, to me, annoying) in-game overlay running is of value.

Basically, I’ve gotten used to having that display.

However, wear and tear has worn down the keyboard.  After more than a decade of heavy use, the back lighting on the LCD has failed, I’ve worn through a couple of the key caps, the back lighting on the right half of the main keyboard flickers and goes out regularly, and I have to hit the space bar at the left end because the senor doesn’t register if I hit it on the right.

So I went to the Logitech site to find a replacement.  I knew the G15 itself was long gone, supplanted by new models and, as I recalled, even a color LCD display.  But I was sure the LCD display would still be a thing, given how many apps support it.

However, the LCD display on keyboards seems to be a thing of the past at Logitech.  Technically it is still supported via their G13 Gameboard accessory, but the keyboard they offer are all LCD free these days.  I suppose the list of titles supporting their game panel LCD is a bit of a clue as to how long gone the display might me.  Some selected historically interesting entries:

  • America’s Army
  • Duke Nukem Forever
  • Everquest II: Extended
  • Hellgate London
  • Neverwinter Nights 2
  • Star Wars Galaxies
  • Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
  • World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

I think you could pin down when that list was written based on when those titles were all viable.

Logitech does have some new technology called Arx Control, which can put up a panel on your smart phone or tablet.  I tinkered with that for an evening, wondering if they would be able to  just pipe things from their older game panel API to it.  I have seen posts saying that this is possible.

However, most of those posts are a couple of years old, so if it was once the case it does not seem to be that way any more.  Arx only appears to work with items specifically built for it, which appear to be few and far between.  World of Warcraft was the only supported title I could find, and I couldn’t get it to do anything that made WoW appear to actually connect and display something via Arx.  All it could do was launch WoW, which isn’t all that useful a feature, especially since it launches it directly and not through Battle.net.

So Arx seems to be a complete bust.

If I want the Logitech game panel support, it looks like I have to go shopping for a vintage Logitech keyboard with an LCD.  However, I distrust used ones and the few new-in-box- models I have seen are priced pretty high.

And if I am willing to let go of the LCD panel, then I have a plethora of keyboard choices to wade through.

For now though, the G15 on my desk continues to soldier on. The back lighting flickers, and I can feel the “a” and “e” keys due to their tops being worn off, but it still does what it needs to do.

 

Dual Monitor

While my last few video cards have been perfectly capable of supporting multiple monitors, I’ve not bothered to hook a second monitor up to any of them.

That is mostly because I don’t have a second monitor lying around to hook up.  My main monitor is still the same 1600×1200 Dell unit I have been using for more than a dozen years now.  It certainly wasn’t very new when I posted a picture of it as part of a post back in 2007.

The table is unusually clear in this picture, but most everything is the same a decade later

A new monitor is on my wish list, but the combination of price for what I would want, uncertainty over what to get, and the fact that my old monitor is still chugging along without issue has kept me from pulling the trigger on a new one.  And, of course, we always have other things to spend money on.

However, a second monitor has become available of late.  At work our office moved annoyingly far from home.  My commute, which was once five miles over surface streets, is now 20 miles over a mountain highway that has to close any time we get a hard rain because the mountain decides to roll onto the road.

To help with that the company gave me a dock for my laptop and a monitor to hook up to it to give me a little more screen area.  It is a crap monitor.  You can tell what your company thinks of you by the equipment they give you.  This is a 1600×900 monitor in an age when full HD 1920×1080 monitors are dirt cheap.  Not exec at our HQ would put up with this for a moment, but somebody not in management in a satellite office a couple thousand miles away gets their choice of leftovers in a closet.  It is basically my old monitor with 25% of the vertical cut off.  But it is still bigger than the laptop monitor, so it is better than nothing, which was the alternative.

When not using it for work I found that I could plug it in to my current nVidia GeForce GTX 960 video card just fine.  Most of what I play at home doesn’t really benefit that much from the second monitor.  I generally play games full screen and the second monitor sitting there tends to be distracting.

But for EVE Online and multi-boxing it is quite the boon.

I have multi-boxed with a single monitor on fleets before, alt-tabbing between clients.  For a travel op or when the enemy doesn’t show up, that works.  But when it is time for combat I tend to forget the client in the background for long stretches, only to find that account is sitting in its pod in a station having been blown up while I was busy elsewhere.

But with the second monitor hooked up and a client running on it I seem to be able to keep track of both and at least keep them alive.

Two clients running… same desk, keyboard, etc.

It can still be a challenge in combat to keep both clients active.  We were in a fight a couple of weeks back and my main was in the DPS ship for the doctrine while my alt was target painting (which improves damage application) and in comparing the kill mails after the fight, there was quite a bit of variation as to which targets got hit.  The alt was on a lot more kill mails as well, due to locking and activating faster (and splitting two painters).

My daughter, walking in while I was playing was taken aback at the sight of two monitors.  She has a 27″ iMac and has all the video real estate she needs for drawing and games, even if it won’t play Overwatch.  She wanted to know how two monitors on one computer would even work.  I had to show her the cursor moving between the monitors and clicking to change focus before she got it.

Anyway, I have that going for me.  I just have to pick the right fleet roles.  Two clients that both have to actively target is a bit of a chore.  But scouting or fleet boosting might be a role complimentary to DPS or logi.