Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Leaving the main grid for a while

Posted by Trixter on July 31, 2016

This is my 32nd year online.  I used CompuServe and DDials in 1984, sent and received email on BBSes for the next 8 years, and switched to an internet-connected unix shell account in 1992.  I’ve seen the birth of the web, the rise and fall of Usenet, the widespread adoption of online commerce, and the rise of social media.

I’m overwhelmed.  Global communication has been one of the most transformative technologies ever created, giving voices to those who have none, and bringing people together.  It has also become the new Eternal September.  When everyone has a voice, the end result is cacophony.  Social injustice, political blathering, personal melodrama — I’ve had enough.  I can’t selectively filter any more.  I can’t “just ignore” what’s in my feeds because 90% of it just makes me feel bad about the world, myself, or both.  (Even from well-intentioned people who are just trying to post good news about their family or achievements; it’s not their fault, but their good news reminds me of what I haven’t accomplished.)

In an act of self-preservation, I’m going off the grid for a while.  My online communication will be limited to email for the forseeable future.  I’m uninstalling facebook, twitter, youtube, instant messaging, and newsfeeds from my phone, and likely won’t reinstall them before the end of the year.  Some of my most proudest accomplishments were achieved before all of this noise existed; I’m hoping reducing the noise will increase the signal.

If you need to reach me, contact me.  Email, phone, or texting is all fine.  (I also highly encourage you to come see me in person at this year’s Vintage Computer Festival Midwest, September 9-11th.)  Just don’t expect me to be scanning the entire world listening for your voice; it’s a drop in the ocean, and I’m drowning.

 

 

Posted in Lifehacks | 2 Comments »

Milestones

Posted by Trixter on July 21, 2016

2016 holds some interesting anniversaries for me, of events that have defined my hobbies, my persona, or both.  Some fun and notable ones:

  • 45th anniversary of me being on this planet.
  • 35th anniversary of the IBM PC, MTV, and the Space Shuttle.
  • 30th anniversary of my adoption of the online handle “Trixter”, which I initially used for illicit activities but now use For The Greater Good(tm).
  • 20th anniversary of the Abandonware movement, something I’m not totally thrilled about how it turned out, but is notable regardless.  My involvement in the birth of Abandonware eventually led to the birth of MobyGames, so there’s a happy ending.  I should probably write about my involvement someday.
  • 15th anniversary of the MindCandy series, which was a fun experiment in the days where creating an indie DVD or Blu-ray was uncharted waters.  I’m proud of each of them for different reasons.

Much less notable: 10th anniversary of starting this blog.

I got the idea for Trixter looking at some subway graffiti.  That graffiti is long gone, but thanks to qkumba and a another demoscene friend (whose name escapes me, sorry!), we have some lifelike simulations:

trixter_grafittitrixter_grafitti_second_small

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

We’ll take it

Posted by Trixter on July 10, 2016

I am the father of an autistic son, Sam.  One of the challenges of helping an autistic person get through life is the unknown:  How functional will they be?  Will they be able to communicate?  Will they be able to socialize?  Will they be able to live independently once my wife and I are gone?  A few times in our lives, we’ve gotten some answers to these questions.  Even if the answer has been negative, it still feels like a great weight has been lifted — not knowing is always worse than bad news, so we’ll take bad news over no news.

Every 5 years or so, we get some good news.  I’d like to share some examples with you.

When Sam was 20 months old, he started talking.  Two months later, he started losing his words, until he spoke “cat” on his 2nd birthday and then stopped talking completely.  By age 4, he started performing echolalia.  (This is something all children do when learning a language, but for an autistic child, it is usually the harbinger of bad news, a sign that the child is going to be low-functioning and unable to communicate effectively — think “Rain Man” repeating the station call ID.)  Six months later, Sam was repeating dialog on a Spot program playing in the basement:  “Where’s Spot?  Where’s Spot?  Where’s Spot?”.  My wife Melissa was in the kitchen when she heard, “Where’s Spot?  Where’s… Mom?”  Then again, urgently:  “Where’s Mom?”  Melissa flew downstairs and found Sam looking directly at her, and motioned for her to do something.  That one-word change signaled the beginning of Sam learning functional communication.

When Sam was nearly 9, he and his little brother Max were riding in the back seat while we ran some errands.  For a treat, we decided to run through a Dunkin Donuts drive-through to get some donuts, and we made a mistake while ordering and got a dozen instead of half a dozen.  When Sam saw the large box come into the car, he turned to his brother and said, “Max, we’re rich!  RICH IN DONUTS!”

Sam is currently 19 years old.  Tonight, my wife and I were watching a show in the basement when Sam called down the stairs to ask if we had gotten him some cream soda, something he mentioned to me before I went shopping.  I’d forgotten to get some, but as I apologized, I had the idea to turn this into a life skills exercise:  I told him that maybe we could walk down to Casey’s together, a local grocery store located about a 15-minute walk away with some other stores, like a drugstore, barber shop, Trader Joe’s, etc.  We could practice navigating there, going through a store, making choices, and paying for our order.  I told him we could practice that two days from now, my next opportunity to get home from work early and go over everything with him.  He agreed, and left us to our show.  45 minutes later, as our show was ending, he called down the stairs again:  “Casey’s was closed, so I went to Trader Joe’s instead.”

Being impulsive, he bought only snacks.  But we’ll take it.

Posted in Family, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

I hear it!

Posted by Trixter on April 7, 2016

 

The full category where we were nominated is below, although I recommend you watch the entire ceremony to get a feel for the demoscene itself:

Posted in Demoscene, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

It was an honor just to be nominated

Posted by Trixter on March 27, 2016

It was even better to win.  I’m happy to announce that 8088 MPH, the winning demo from Revision’s 2015 oldskool compo, won the Meteorik 2016 award in the category of “That’s not possible on this platform!”.  A big thanks to reenigne, Scali, VileR, Phoenix, Puppeh, coda, and virt for making this happen.  If that was my last year in the demoscene, what a way to go out!

We were also nominated for Best Low-End Demo, but lost to We Were @ by Oxygene.

Posted in Demoscene | Leave a Comment »

Beyond Economic Recovery

Posted by Trixter on January 11, 2016

The phrase “Beyond Economic Recovery” is one of my favorite phrases because it succinctly describes how to determine if you can safely share an old program, manual, game, etc. online.  Please note that safe != legal.  It is always illegal to share things you don’t own and you are responsible for any repercussions if you break your country’s laws.  This post isn’t about whether it is legal.  This post is about whether or not you should be overly worried that you will be pursued by some IP holder’s legal department and sued into the ground.

This would be a good time to mention that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

Unless you are a large-scale pirating operation already under government investigation, what usually happens when infringement is discovered is that the infringing party is notified through a cease and desist letter.  Quick compliance with the terms of the letter is almost always enough to avoid further action.  But what if you are on a Quixote-like mission to share this rare vintage content with the world and really, REALLY want it to stay publicly available?  That’s when you apply The Phrase.

“Beyond Economic Recovery” isn’t my phrase; it was uttered to me in more than one interview I’ve had with lawyers on this specific subject.  Here’s how to use it:  Let’s say you want to share a 30-year-old game on the web for others to grab.  If you’re worried about legal repercussions, perform some due diligence and research if the company is actively using the work (the code, its trademarks, its intellectual property, etc.) to earn money, or has immediate or announced plans to do so. If so, such as in the case of Super Mario Brothers, don’t share it. But if not, as in the case of something like Space Strike, you have almost nothing to worry about.  When a company is made aware of infringement (usually discovered via automated google searches and machine learning), they perform a quick check of whether or not they would lose money sending the infringing party a cease and desist letter.  The average cost of a C&D letter, accounting for all time and services rendered, is roughly $4000.  If the company has an internal legal department or prepares communication in batches (or both), that number can be a little less, but it’s still thousands of dollars. So the mental check is essentially “Can we make more than $4000 on the asset or intellectual property this person is threatening to dilute by giving it away for free?” If the answer is “no”, they don’t bother sending a C&D letter.

The Internet Archive enjoys both non-profit status and various DMCA exemptions, which allows them to make various historically-relevant software works available online — but a DMCA exemption doesn’t prevent companies from sending them C&D letters to protect their trademarks or intellectual property.  (It also doesn’t succinctly define what is covered under the exemption, as it uses words like “obsolete” without defining what time period “obsolete” refers to.)  Some works that used to be public on the IA have since been hidden at the request of the IP holder.  For everything else that is still public there, The Phrase is the principle that “protects” those software portions of The Internet Archive; they are simply Beyond Economic Recovery.

Posted in Gaming, Software Piracy, Vintage Computing | 1 Comment »

Jack of all trades, master of one

Posted by Trixter on December 31, 2015

I’m sure there’s a famous quote that, paraphrased, reads “I’d rather be an expert in one thing than dabble in many things.”

2016 is the year I put that into practice with the start of a year-long experiment.  I’ll post more details in January, but the short answer is that I’m going to focus on mostly one thing in 2016 and see what happens.  It will involve audio production, light video production, and seeing if I’m still relevant in one of my preferred hobbies.  I also plan on taking monthly metrics for what I’m doing and will make those metrics available at the end of 2016.

Posted in Uncategorized, Vintage Computing | Leave a Comment »

An experiment: Should I put on a show?

Posted by Trixter on October 11, 2015

I’m trying to gauge whether it would be worthwhile to produce a podcast dedicated to the IBM PC and other compatibles of the 1980s. (The actual date range may slip slightly later than 1989 on rare occasions for special topics.) Rather than go into a long diatribe of what I’m looking for and what would be covered, I’ve created a short survey you can take instead. The data collection is anonymous (no logins/accounts or personally-identifiable information is required), and you also get to see the aggregated results after you complete the survey. For anyone who knows me and my work who is interested in both vintage IBM PCs and podcasts or YouTube channels/videos, it would help me out if you took a minute to give me your opinion via the survey.

The survey link is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RK6Q25S

If you’d rather just give me your thoughts in the comments below, that’s fine too, although it may help to glance at the survey text first to see what I’m going on about.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Solving an IBM PS/2 Model 25-286 Chicken and Egg CMOS problem

Posted by Trixter on September 4, 2015

I solved something recently and thought others (read: vintage computer nerds) might be interested in the write-up. I recently acquired an IBM PS/2 Model 25-286 and wanted to read data off of the hard drive.  The 25-286 relies on configuration data stored in CMOS, however the battery-backed CMOS is dead, leading to the error codes 161 and 163 on boot-up. The system miraculously boots from the hard drive just fine in this condition (documentation suggests the hard drive table is fixed to a single entry). But, you can’t transfer data off of a system in this condition because 1. The floppy drive table is wrong and thinks the 1.44MB drive is a DSDD drive and can’t read/write a 1.44MB diskette, and 2. There are no entries in the BIOS table for the built-in serial and parallel ports, so they don’t show up, can’t use MODE COM1, etc. Short of physically moving the hard drive into another system, there’s no way to get data in/out of it.

The obvious fix is to write the 8525-286 diag and setup diskette somewhere and boot it to set proper CMOS values, but the diag/setup diskette image is a 1.44MB image, and the system can’t read it because the scrambled-CMOS configuration only reads/writes DSDD disks. So this is where the chicken-and-egg problem lies: To fix the system, you need to boot a diskette — but the diskette isn’t bootable until the system is fixed. (There’s another issue: Since the battery is dead, the setup disk will set proper values, perform a warm reboot — and then the values are gone again since the battery is dead.)

Armed with the knowledge that that the system can read 720KB diskette media just fine if formatted in another computer, I was able to follow this procedure to temporarily force a functional system:

  1. Use tweener system to write out the 8525-286 diag/setup diskette from diskette image
  2. Copy resulting setup/diag files onto a 720KB DSDD diskette (NOT a 1.44MB diskette formatted as 720KB).
  3. Boot Model 25-286 from internal hard drive
  4. Run the “SC.EXE” program from the setup/diag disk
  5. Using SC.EXE, force correct values, then save them.
  6. Hit <ESC> to back out to DOS (do NOT hit enter to reboot the system)
  7. Perform an immediate, non-cold, non-warm reboot by issuing INT 19H (instructions below) — do not have bootable diskette in the drive, and for safety have an empty config.sys and autoexec.bat

Doing this will leave the system in a correct state until you perform a warm (ctrl-alt-del) or cold (power) reboot. DOS will reload and parse the new temporary CMOS values.  The floppy drive reads/writes 1.44MB in this state, and the serial and parallel ports are recognizable and function. While I wrote this, I was archiving the entire hard drive to another system using FastLynx and a parallel-port cable.

According to my friends at Fort Collins PC Repair company, the proper fix, of course, is a Dallas 12887+ replacement battery/clock chip. Three are already on their way to me from China (hope they aren’t pulls!).

To issue INT 19H, you can use DEBUG.COM. Start DEBUG, then type:


a &lt;enter&gt;
int 19 &lt;enter&gt;
&lt;enter&gt;
g &lt;enter&gt;

Posted in Vintage Computing | Tagged: | 7 Comments »

Converting a newer CGA card to an older one

Posted by Trixter on August 28, 2015

I don’t normally just reblog stuff, but Great Hierophant’s blog entry on how to convert a “new-style” CGA card to an “old-style” card is worth taking a look at.

Why would you want to do this?  Slightly brighter output is a plus, and to run the most earliest games that support composite color output as their authors intended.

Posted in Vintage Computing | Leave a Comment »