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Category Archives: Technopocalypse

The Nostalgia Is A Lie OR What Was I Thinking???

I’ve been into retro computing for quite a while. I’m not hardcore, like some folks, but I have a few machines I’ve collected over the years.

The first computer I bought with my own money (after having worked an entire summer to save up enough) was a 286 desktop clone. So when I got into the retro habit, I started with the familiar x86 line: a 286 luggable. But that got old fast (pun only partially intended) and I felt the need to upgrade from 16 bits to 32. That lead to a 386 luggable. Of course, both of those had monochrome displays and I had a sudden hankering for low resolution color graphics, so naturally that led to a Compaq Pentium laptop.

Actually, in the cases of the 286 and Pentium, I bought two machines each, one to use and one for parts.

As a result of (and/or perhaps feeding) this interest, I’ve been enjoying some of the retro computing channels on YouTube – LGR, RMC, and the 8-Bit Guy to name three of the big ones I regularly watch.

But like with all drugs, eventually the initial hit isn’t enough and to get that high, I found I had to not get more of the same, but go further back.

All the way back, it turns out, to my very first computer. A Timex Sinclair 1000, which my parents bought me for Xmas one year.

The Sinclair range was built to be inexpensive and boy did they ever manage to do that. The computer was slow, unstable, and lacking in just about everything (color and sound and memory and a proper keyboard being just a few of the major shortcomings).

But there were peripherals you could get to improve them, along with games, and that’s what I started getting for Xmas( and birthdays. Well, one peripheral, the 16K RAM pack, and a lot of games on tape.

No, not IBM mainframe computer tape. Cassette tapes. The older among you know what I’m talking about.

The games took forever to load and often required more than one (or two or three) attempts before you got them running.

Good times!

One year I got two text adventure and one graphics game as gifts from my parents. The text adventures were Shark’s Treasure and Space Commando. The graphics game was Mazogs.

8-bit adventuring: just as violent as 16-. 32-, and 64-bit adventuring!

The monster is on the right. Or is it? After all, who’s the real monster here?

Mazogs was awesome. By Timex Sinclair standards, anyway. You ran around a maze, searching for treasure and trying to avoid the spider-like monsters. Past adventurers, imprisoned during their failed attempt, could be called upon to help you.

I really liked that game. And so did my kids, when I set it up on an emulator for them.

But I have a distinct memory of complaining to my parents about how crummy the two text adventure games were in comparison.

I think my expectations for computer games in those days were colored by the computers my friends had – Commodore VIC 20s and Commodore 64s, primarily, and the graphics-heavy games those came with. Text adventure just didn’t qualify as a game in my mind.

When my retro itch pushed me further back, I remembered those games and complaining to my parents and, well, I felt guilty. Guilty for dissing a gift from my parents.

So I got it into my head that I would unbox the old TS1000 from storage, hook it up, and finally, properly play those games.

This is where the Retro Computer Industrial Complex rears its ugly head.

First was the games. I went looking for Shark’s Treasure and found it on eBay, sealed in the original packaging, for $150.

WTF?

Turns out that retro games, especially in their original format, is part of a collectables racket and the Retro Computer Industrial Complex is there to cash in!

Now I wanted to play the game, but not part-with-$150-to-do-it wanted to play the game.

Paradoxically, seeing it on sale for $150 only made me want to play it more.

Fortunately, more searching found another seller with the game in a sealed package asking only $20. While still steep, all things considered, it seemed like a bargain compared to $150.

The past is prologue! The future is...a lot better and easier to use than the past, to be brutally honest.

I don’t remember so much cursing when I originally used this, but I’m pretty sure that’s just poor memory.

So I ordered it and turned my attention to the computer itself.

Funny thing about really old computers from the 70s and 80s that hooked up to your TV: they don’t work with modern monitors.

Not to worry! Big Retro is right there to cash in.

I bought an RCA-to-VGA adapter, $20, only to discover the TS1000 has an RF output, not RCA (despite the plugs being similar).

Returned that and ordered an RF-to-VGA adapter, $65. It arrived with the menu system defaulting to Chinese, the ‘manual’ a mish-mash of unrelated, oft-mispelled English words smooshed up against pictures of menu screen shots, and a steeper than expected learning curve.

It took me 5 minutes to figure out how to turn it on, and another hour of randomly changing configuration settings before I was able to get my TS1000 to display on the monitor.

At last, success! Time to load a game!

It's mint in box! At least, until I opened it...

My own personal ‘Rosebud’

Well, my Shark’s Treasure hadn’t arrived yet, but I had a big fat manila envelope containing a number of games I’d gotten as a kid. So I popped it open, dumped out the contents, and there, at the top of the pile?

Shark’s Treasure.

Oops. But it was just the tape and not the packaging or the picture card with instructions that came with it, so I’m still gonna come out ahead.

Right?

Ha! Because when I popped the tape into my Marantz PMD-430 portable tape recorder and hit play, I made another discovery.

The tape recorder didn’t work any more.

So that went off to the specialty repair shop ($85 for an assessment and, oh yeah, a 6-8 week wait time due to other vintage recording devices ahead of mine in the queue!).

I’m telling you, if there was a single stock I could buy to invest in Big Retro, I’d go all in, bet the family life savings.

At this point, I’m getting desperate. My hands are shaking, I’ve got a flop sweat that won’t quit, and I really, really need to play that game. Or any text adventure game for the TS1000.

They have emulators. I’ve used one before (to show my kids Mazogs). But that’s not running on actual hardware, it’s not the same thing.

But I needed my fix so bad I swallowed my pride and downloaded an emulator.

Of course, without a functioning tape player, I couldn’t translate the tapes I had into .wav files that I could ‘play’ into the virtual TS1000.

But no worries. People have already converted a lot of these tapes to a file format that can be loaded by emulators.

Huzzah! I’m saved.

Except no one bothered to do this with Shark’s Treasure.

I looked.

I really, really looked.

Let’s just say that the problem is so bad that once this blog goes live, if someone types “sinclair shark’s treasure” into Google, my site will most likely make the first page.

(Leave out the “sinclair” and you’ll get a bunch of hits about some B movie.)

Think this is hard to read? This is from the emulator, which allows you to turn OFF the RF distortions.

Even the opening screen has a bug in it!

I did, however, find Space Commando. Since I have that tape too, I didn’t feel too guilty downloading a copy of a nearly 40 year old tape-based game published by a long defunct game company.

And I played it.

And that’s how I discovered that the nostalgia is a lie.

The big, fat, back-stabbing mother of all lies.

Now I still enjoy the YouTube channels and playing on my other, slightly more modern vintage computers (because unlike the TS1000, you can actually do things on them).

But the Timex Sinclair 1000 experience? It’s terrible.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew that going in. I remembered how horrible the membrane keyboard was, and the constant crashes when you bumped the computer and the 16K RAM pack slipped, and hunting for the right volume on the tape player when trying to load a game (which took ~5 minutes each try).

I remembered that.

But it seems nostalgia and time take the edge off all bad memories, and I had forgotten just how terrible the experience of using the computer was.

Even when I set the emulator to run at 32x the speed of an actual TS1000, it was glacially slow. The whole screen flashes with each key press, and the computer cannot handle a typing speed greater than about 20 characters per minute.

(This typing speed limitation isn’t quite as apparent when using the original membrane keyboard because three quarters of the time it wouldn’t register the key press.)

But worst of all? The game sucked.

All that guilt about complaining to my parents decades ago?

Totally justified. The game was unplayable. No proper instructions. Horrible text parser. Glaringly obvious bugs. Minimal description…IN A TEXT ADVENTURE GAME! Not to mention the very linear game play: given a choice of two directions in each room, the wrong choice always leads to immediate death. When you could figure out the correct command, you couldn’t help but feel shepherded.

And, in retrospect, all of these shortcomings were entirely predictable. This machine was cheap, so it’s functionality was severely limited. The real miracle is that there were games available at all.

Which doesn’t explain why I still kinda sorta wish I could play Shark’s Treasure…

So I’m over the Timex Sinclair ‘reboot’ though not, sadly, before I ordered a replacement ‘cheapo’ vintage tape recorder while waiting for my original unit to be repaired. And now I’m stuck with an RF-to-VGA converter that I’ll probably never use.

But that’s OK. I’ve been reminiscing about the first printer I ever used, a dot matrix machine that made a lovely grinding sound as it printed, and I’m watching a couple of them on eBay.

The nostalgia may be a lie, but it is extremely addictive.

 
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Posted by on 27 September 2021 in Angst, Life, Retro Computing, Technopocalypse

 

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Treading Carefully: Social media is more mine than field lately

This bellows, like the internet, is filled with a lot of hot air. Rancid, putrid, toxic hot air.

I wouldn’t put my lips on that mouth either

Like political party affiliations, social media isn’t all evil.

However, what evil does exist is hardcore and overwhelming. The amount of good I’ve encountered online has been dwarfed by the deluge of anger, hatred, sanctimony, vigilantism, arrogance, and presumption, to name but a few.

Along with irony. Such as the irony that some will interpret my above view about people on social media as itself being angry, sanctimonious, arrogant, and presumptive. And probably bigoted too.

Most of these people will also be the source of my problem with social media. Eff ’em.

You can no longer have an opinion online unless it’s the ‘right’ opinion. And one person’s ‘right’ opinion is sure as shootin’ another person’s ‘wrong’ opinion.

Where once disagreement was tolerated and maybe even vigorously (but respectfully) debated, now the vast majority of disagreements are treated as proof you’re evil by many who disagree (the “How dare you!” crowd).

Say the ‘wrong’ thing and you can lose friends. If a large enough audience sees it (or is made aware of it via screen cap), you’re barraged with distributed messages of hate. You can end up run off social media (with many smugly saying, “Good riddance”) or, in what are becoming less and less extreme cases, threatened with rape or murder and being doxxed or even swatted.

When did people’s closely held, ‘undeniably true’ beliefs become so fragile they couldn’t withstand frank discussion?

When did a difference of opinion become a hate crime? When did the words “I disagree and here’s why” become hate speech?

When did civility become verböten?

When did “You’re wrong!” literally become equated with “You deserve to die!”?

No matter what I say, I know that speaking my mind will upset someone.

So for a long time now I’ve been keeping my head down and my mouth shut about certain topics because I have no idea who might be offended or how they’ll react.

But lurking on social media doesn’t protect you from seeing what’s happening to others.

People piled onto. Bullied. Threatened. Even driven to suicide.

Angry mobs jumping onto the latest outrage bandwagon without knowing all the facts because the perceived transgression is so antithetical to their belief system that even checking the facts is considered giving too much ground to that damned dirty other side.

It is shockingly easy to think this is OK at first, when your beliefs and the mob’s are aligned.

Until the mob moves into territory you think is hallowed ground, or at least neutral territory.

Then you begin to perceive the danger to yourself. Or possibly experience it directly.

It’s exhausting and disturbing to witness, even when I don’t support the attacked belief or statement.

So I’m stepping back from social media. Have already, in fact. I’ve gone cold turkey for a week now, and so far, my hands are steady and I don’t miss it.

The lunatics are running the asylum. They can have it.

 

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I Have No Life, and I Must Scream

Thanks to the power of image editing, I not only have all my teeth, but they're shiny white too!
The Missus, kiddos, and neighbors 
don’t like it when I scream. 

I burn for something.

Crave it.

Got a fever for it.

But no, not for more cowbell.

It would be easier if I knew exactly what it is I need. But I don’t.

Instead I’ve read at least twelve books in the last month, with another currently in progress.

Binge-watched multiple shows on various streaming services.

Logged into work on off hours and days.

Taken the family on long hikes through the Redwoods.

And done other…more shameful…things to fill the void within me.

(Like stoop to writing…gasp…a radio play, to name but one.)

I think the pandemic has finally gotten to me.

Spending more time at home, enclosed within the same encroaching walls, dealing with exactly the same pets and identical family members day in and day out, I’ve struggled to feel …productive.

Whole.

Relevant.

I started with the streaming services, the gateway vice into maddness. Looking back, I can’t even tell you everything I watched. Despite being within the last thirty days, it’s all faded into a blur.

I mean, yeah, it’s a pandemic month and therefore technically longer than that, but still.

I do remember some Classic Doctor Who, snippets of Marvel movies and shows, and the first season of True Detective (good, but I really wish that was one of the programs I can no longer remember!). There was more, I just know it, but my memories of them remain hidden behind a facemask of inordinate size and opacity.

And I can count off twelve of the books I read (the last four Murderbot books, a Jasper Fforde fantasy series, some on-offs not worth mentioning), but I’m pretty sure there was more than twelve and I just can’t remember the earliest ones.

Like the radio play, the hiking, and working during my time off, they have all been ways to fill the void. Maybe escapism?

Though if the world of True Detective, Season 1, is an escape, how bad must reality be?

Turns out, pretty bad.

I’ve watched as people around me sank lower and lower as the pandemic stretched on and on.

I was doing OK until recently, or so I thought. I chalked up my resilience to being an introvert. Assumed I was handling things so well because I didn’t need or miss the social interaction suddenly yanked from all of us.

And the people I yelled at at home and work? They deserved it. Or so I told myself.

But I was wrong.

I have a problem. I crave input. Stories with, if not happy, at least satisfying endings.

Hello, my name is Ian and I’m a content addict.

A baleen whale trawls for krill and zooplankton by opening its mouth, swimming forward, and hoping. I think I’m doing the same thing, only my mouth is open to scream and my version of moving forward is taking advantage of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and thriftbooks.com.

My biggest problem, of course, is that unlike this pandemic, books, TV shows, movies, and even hikes all come to an end. And while my vices soothe me in the moment, I’m painfully hollow after they conclude.

Leaving me dangerously vulnerable and looking for the next hit. And in that moment, during that profound, bottomless low, I’ll take anything to fill the void and feel whole again.

Cat memes.

Opinion pieces.

Reddit threads.

Anti-vaxxer websites.

Even…[shudder]…fan fic.

So I’m ready to get vaccinated. Ready for herd immunity and parties and writing in coffee shops again. Ready for things to return to some semblance of normal.

Ready to have more in my life than just books.

Read that last sentence again.

One more time, slowly. Really let those words sink in.

Ready to have more in my life than just books.

The fact that I just wrote that sentence speaks volumes (no pun intended) as to the condition of not just my mental state, but our entire world right now.

We need help. All of us.

Though I suppose all of this could be down to flat panel displays. No, really, I read a thread online about this. WFH and binge-watching has resulted in me spending a lot more time in front of screens and the unnatural amount of blue light they expose us to. Maybe the 450-490nm wavelength emissions are what’s leaving me empty inside.

Perhaps the solution to all my woes isn’t a vaccine and hanging with people and coffee shops. Maybe it’s as simple as taping a sheet of transparent red plastic to my monitor and filing a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of said displays.

If nothing else, a lawsuit gives me something to do.

Hmm…

OK, maybe I need just a little bit more help than the rest of you.

 

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And So, As A Last Resort, We Threw A Farewell Dance Party

2020 has been, to put it mildly, a somewhat sub-optimal year.

A lot of bad things have happened this year, but the worst, as astute readers of my blog would have noticed in my last posting, is that rats have moved into the crawl spaces of my house.

Speaking of bad things – Trigger Warning: Flashing Lights ahead

I tried all the usual remedies:

  • Stomping on the floors, thumping on the ceilings
  • Calmly sitting outside one of the crawlspace vents, patiently and rationally explaining to the rats why they need to let go of their Rodentia Fragilitatem and inclinatum implicita habitant and just vacate the premises, please
  • Installing a high frequency noise generator
  • Yelling obscenities in the hopes of offending their sensibilities (it worked, but just on my kids)
  • Crawling under the house with a fistful of rubber bands and shooting at the little bastards (might have worked, but my aim needs improving (I blame the constrained space))
  • Drenching the crawlspaces with peppermint oil rodent repellent (this did result in a a frenzy of movement the first night, but mostly on the part of the Missus, kiddos, and dogs)

But no matter what I did, they either wouldn’t leave or kept coming back.

So I did what any rational, red-blooded Europhile would do:

The neighbors keep muttering under their breath about what sorcery is afoot at the Dudley abode and whining how it's causing all the nearby house values to depreciate.

The System. Is Down.

I threw a rave.

A 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, silent rave.

I achieved this by installing strobe lights in my crawlspaces. And testing them before installation gave me, the Missus, and the kiddos immediate nausea and stabbing headaches.

The rats don’t stand a chance.

And I have to admit, the nightly noises the rats make now are markedly more frenetic and, dare I say it, irritated, than before. I can’t help but beam with glee (pun absolutely, utterly intended) and derive incalculable pleasure and satisfaction from the skittering sounds that I wholeheartedly choose to interpret as anguished.

It’s the only thing keeping me sane right now.

 

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Working from home is the bee’s knees

An angry bee, full of ennui due to arthritis in the knee

He’s most upset by the fact he’s missing the rest of his legs.

I don’t know the provenance of the phrase The bee’s knees, and I’m too lazy to use an online search engine to find out, but if my work from home experience is any indication, it obviously is some sort of super villain origin story.

That is, to say I’ve been stung by WfH would be an understatement.

Sure, on paper there’s lots to love:

  • You don’t have to roll out of bed until just before your first meeting
  • You don’t have to shower or get dressed…ever
  • No dealing with traffic
  • Reduced mileage / insurance costs on your commuter vehicle
  • No more being ambushed by colleagues at your desk / in the hall when you’re trying to get actual, real work done
  • Reduced risk of catching/spreading a potentially fatal disease

But like the iPhone, looks aside, you actually have to use it. And like the iPhone, it turns out working from home has significant, painful drawbacks:

  • Your recent lack of good hygiene has left you…less attractive…to your significant other
  • Your commuter vehicle, having sat idle for months, has become home to a colony of wire- and hose-chewing rats that, to be honest, scare the bejeezus out of you what with their sharp needle-like teeth and glowing red eyes and tiny, skittering claws and that glare of intelligent hatred they seem to be directing at you
  • When sleeping at night, you discover that the above-mentioned colony of rats likes to take field trips after dark where they march up and down the crawlspaces directly above and below the room you sleep in
  • When moving to another room in order to escape the sounds of the rats, you discover the field trip isn’t limited to the spaces above and below your bedroom
  • Your kiddos, no matter how far along in brain development, simply don’t understand that you’re working and they aren’t supposed to even look at the door leading to your home office, let alone barge in and start expounding on the virtues of their most recent Minecraft mod, speaking at a volume and speed that prevents you from getting a word in edgewise and leads the leader of your Zoom meeting to mute you
  • Your dogs, no matter how far along in obedience training, simply don’t understand that you’re working and they aren’t supposed to even look at the door leading to your home office, let alone start scratching at the door while barking vociferously just because a fly (or maybe… a bee!?) landed on the tip of the radio aerial on the (idle) commuter vehicle in the driveway, leading the leader of your Zoom meeting to curse the day you were born before muting you
  • No matter how fast and ‘premium’ your internet service is, it isn’t fast or premium enough. Not. Even. Close
  • You are invariably home and have to directly deal with a pipe breaking, a child getting injured, a spouse discovering something bad you did, a fever-impaired driver crashing their car into your home office (warning: that fever-impaired driver just might be you) instead of having a phone and physical distance to serve as a bit of a protective buffer from the tr/drama
  • All the stuff your spouse complains about the house (bad pipes, terrible temperature control, leaky roof, rotting floors, rampant crime in the immediate neighborhood, feverish drivers crashing into things, etc.) that you used to just shrug off and say, “I don’t think it’s as bad as all that” turns out, now that you are directly experiencing it, to oh yes, be all that bad
  • You discover that the people you live with and used to love unconditionally have become around-the-clock irritants who just need to leave you the eff alone for a few hours a day, dammit!
  • The barrier between work time / hours and home time / hours is GONE; you’ve gone from working 40 hours per week to 168 hours per week
  • And by far the worst aspect, you now have plenty of time to follow, in excruciating detail, just how disastrously the election is unfolding

Scientists keep telling me that we need to save the bees. Well, I say, “Screw the bees and the knees they came in on!” Perhaps the dog’s bollocks would be a more accurate descriptor, but this is a family blog…

Though I hear tell traffic isn’t nearly as bad these days as it was in the pre-pandemic days

 

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Cover Reveal!

So my most recent Marlowe and the Spacewoman entry, the short story Malware, is coming out on October 30th, giving you just enough time to get a copy before the US election. If you’re looking for something to read to pass the time while you wait for the results / shelter in place to avoid the angry mobs protesting the outcome, might I suggest you consider including Malware in your library?

Here’s the cover, drawn by Chris Harrington. I asked him to give me an angry door, the angrier the better, and I think you’ll agree he delivered!

You can't see it from this perspective, but Marlowe has just dropped a flaming bag of dog poop and is looking for the doorbell

WARNING: Objects in mirror (particularly doors) are larger than they appear

If you want to check out more of Chris’ work, follow this link: https://shorturl.at/htxST (Warning: it only works if you’re logged into Facebook).

In the meantime, I’ll be posting updates as the publication date gets closer.

 

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I got distracted trying to find a distraction-free writing tool

Sure the battery life is great and the keyboard has arrow keys. But will it blend?

Writing a haiku? Fine, it might work. But a novel?

So it’s the middle of November and many of you are no doubt participating in Nanowrimo.

I am not.

I should be writing. I should be wrapping up the short story that is almost, unbelievably close to done.

I should be wrapping up the third Marlowe and the Spacewoman novel, the first draft of which is two thirds done.

But I’m not.

Instead, I got lost down the rabbit hole of process.

Not the thought process of writing, but the mechanical process of writing.

As is clear by the sizeable passage of time since I’ve generated any prose, I am prone to distractions. So as I sat down for one writing session, I thought, “Hey, I should Bing* search ‘distraction free writing’ to see what options I have.”

Because obviously I should spend the precious free moments I have for writing doing anything but writing.

Why distraction-free writing? Because I wanted yet another excuse for why I don’t write I wanted something that would force me to write without opening another tab in my browser to look up something inconsequential to getting the story done, such as which font I need to download in order to properly spell “procrastinate” in some weird language like Old or Middle Latin.

(Those are totally languages, so don’t leave any angry comments below!)

And boy, did that search give me some cool results.

First I encountered a lot of apps / programs that, really, are just bare-bones text editors. But not only could I just use Notepad instead for that, but my laptop is 10+ years old and takes forever to boot. So long that I switched from Winblows to Linux, which also, it turns out, takes forever to boot.

Just slightly less forever than Winblows 7 with 10+ years of programs installed on it.

So I realized that apps were out. No, I needed a distraction-free hardware solution that didn’t take until the next ice age to boot.

The Alphasmart gets lots of play during Nanowrimo, but it has a teeny tiny LCD display that is just too small for me.

Enter the Freewrite, which claims you will double your hourly word count.

And exit the Freewrite, when I see that it costs $549, only does one thing (allowing you to type documents), and has no arrow keys because going back to edit is for losers.

But wait, in a shocking surprise substitution, enter the Freewrite Traveler, which also claims you will double your hourly word count.

And exit the Freewrite Traveler, when I see it costs $369 (on sale, normally $599!), has all the same issues as the Freewrite, and, oh yeah, isn’t out yet.

I was starting to lose faith and therefore was forced to redouble my searching efforts.

Which is how I stumbled across the Pomera DM30, a compact, instant-on device with a folding keyboard and E-Ink display.

That can be had now for (as low as) $208, uses a Japanese keyboard layout, has be be imported from Japan, and is also distraction-free since it can’t do anything else.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I sometimes am forced to use a Japanese layout keyboard at the day job, and let me tell you, nothing is more distracting than trying to hit the space bar or figure out where the friggin’ ‘:’ and ‘;’ keys actually are, inaccurate labeling on the keys notwithstanding.

WTF, Japan? WTF?

But these devices (the Freewriti, as the plural for Freewrite is written in Old Latin, and the Pomera) were instant on, and that really appealed to me. There was no way I’d pay $250+ for (yet another) computer/word processor, so I was reluctantly leaning towards the Pomera, even though I knew the keyboard would drive me crazy and the $208 price still felt a bit steep.

That’s when I discovered HPCs.

HPCs are, for those of you who are young or who are old but not nerds, Handheld PCs. Small computers either running proprietary OSes (such as the Psion 7 running Symbian) or Windows CE.Some are tiny and literally fit in the palm of your hand (such as the HP 100LX which runs DOS), and others are slightly larger with nearly full-size keyboards (such as the NEC MobilePro 900C or Psion Netbook Pro).

They also haven’t been made in at least 15 years.

But I found a new old stock (so still in the box, woo-hoo!) Psion Netbook Pro on eBay for ~$130 and, after weeks of searching and researching and viewing YouTube videos of it (and the Pomera and the FreeWriters and the HP 100 and 200 LXes and the older Psion 7 that goes for $450+ on eBay), I ordered it.

It came with Windows CE (duh), Wordpad and a bunch of outdated Microsoft Office viewers.

And nothing else.

Which I found a little…lacking.

So I spent another week or so doing more research, discovered someone selling a CD with a bunch of licensed programs for Win CE, including a more full-featured word processor than Wordpad that could save documents as Microsoft .doc files.

So for another $48 (including shipping), I ordered that.

And waited 18 days for it to show up. The first 13 of which were spent in the originating post office. For some reason.

Some incredibly frustrating, but unknown to me reason.

Side note: the USPS package tracking sucks. That is the scientific term to describe it – I’m too polite to use the informal term that immediately comes to mind.

Now did I use my shiny new (old stock) distraction-free writing computer during all this?

Hell, no! It only has Wordpad! Yeech! I’m no masochist!

(Well, OK, maybe I am, but not when it comes to my writing.)

So if you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the whole distraction-free writing world, I have one word of advice for you:

Don’t.

* I didn’t use Bing. No one does. I used a different, functional search engine. That doesn’t spy on me.

 

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Rabbit holes, unlike their makers, are not cute…or to be trifled with

I have friends who are always going on about getting lost down a rabbit hole on the internet.

This post is for them, assuming you stumble across it in your online queries.

Be careful about rabbit holes. They are dangerous.

Just as an example of the type of peril you may face, take my recent foray into the topic of “rabbit holes” on Wikipedia.

Reading about the warren of twisty little passages, all alike, soon reminded me about Watership Down.

Watership Down is a book (and a subsequent animated movie) about rabbits. Well, it’s about people and society and government, but dressed up in cute fuzzy cotton tail bodies. I saw the movie first, probably around the age of eight or nine.

My parents, with a desperate gleam in their eyes, said, “We need a break from you, even for just an hour and a half. There’s a movie about rabbits on the telly. That’ll be fun, yes?” Which seemed like a good idea all round until the fate of the first warren is revealed.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t. The stuff of nightmares. For young children and, shortly thereafter, the parents who have to deal with those children.

I read the book a few years later, 7th or 8th grade. And loved it. Amazing book. So good I tore through it at a considerably faster pace than the teacher expected us to. Which meant I was so far past the point she would quiz us on every Friday (to prove we’d been reading it) that I failed each and every test.

This of course leads me to the movie Se7en.

Like the book Watership Down, it’s a great movie, amazing. Fincher is one of my favorite directors. Right up there with Wes Anderson.

Like the movie Watership Down, I will never watch it again. Grueling. Soul-crushing. The non-rabbit stuff of nightmares.

Fincher also directed Alien 3, which was maligned at the time by the Alien fans, but which I think is actually the best movie of the bunch. Yes, it had problems: budget overruns, studio interference, and (surprising in a Fincher movie) really bad CGI. But the story is the kind of dark-humored, grisly horror that doesn’t involve a stomach-churning ending with a box that I can get behind.

Speaking of unexpected deliveries, Amazon shipped us an Amazon Fire TV stick with a tablet we bought. We didn’t order it, didn’t really want it, but assumed it was some sort of promotion. Fast forward a couple of years. We decide to use it. Except after considerable effort to set it up, we discover we can’t log in.

Contact Amazon tech support.

What’s the serial number on the box it came in?” Um, don’t have the box any more.

What’s the order number from when you bought it?” Um, we didn’t. You sent it to us for free, with a tablet. Here’s that order #.

Amazon never has, and never will ship Amazon Fire TV sticks for free.” And then, the implication that we’re thieves so thick we can detect it in the chat text, “What is the serial number or order number?

The conversation ended with “You might as well just throw it away.

But aren’t our landfills full enough already? Especially with e-waste? How is that being a responsible steward of the economy, Amazon? China’s not taking that crap any more, so it’s just gonna start piling up and at some point, if we aren’t careful, it’s gonna crush a rabbit warren and wipe out a whole community of cute little bunnies.

So you see what I mean? Rabbit holes aren’t just dangerous…they are downright deadly!

 
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Posted by on 2 September 2019 in Angst, Life, Reading, Technopocalypse, Writing

 

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I’m not getting older, dammit! The world is just getting darker!

So I have a problem. One that requires more than a little blue pill to resolve.

Oh, if only a pill could solve this problem!

Or, for that matter, even a suppository.

I am deeply saddened to report that when it gets dark, and I mean very, very dark, I can’t see.

This is particularly disturbing because I do my best work at night. When it’s, you know, dark.

Yes, when my body most desperately needs to rest and rejuvenate itself, my brain is all, “Hold my beer.”

But in a good, non-alcoholic, non-electoral sort of way.

As you might be starting to suspect, I wrote this entry during the day. But I had no choice, given I can’t see at night.

You see, since everyone else in my household have brains that listen to their bodies, they’re all asleep at night.

Or should be. Get back to bed right now, Kiddo!

Sorry about that. Because of this (nearly) mass slumber, I can’t just flip on all the lights, crank up the volume on my .mod files, and take care of business.

Oh no. Everyone else in my household gets cranky when I turn the productivity up to 11 past, well, eleven. Suddenly the Missus and the one kiddo who actually does sleep at night are making snide remarks about needing rest and don’t I have work in the morning and look you’re making the dogs bark and oh my gawd what is that racket you are listening to it should be illegal to distribute it!

(My hearing is fine. Spider by They Might Be Giants is meant to be listened to loud.)

In order to appease the Missus, I turn everything off, go to bed, and when dawn’s surly light finally returns, make yet another medical appointment.

My doctor always sort of wilts and sighs when he walks into the exam room and sees me, like a blow-up punching bag suddenly deflating after one punch too many, then mutters “Oh no, not again.”

While most people would see this reaction and think, “Uh oh, I must be really sick!” I’m not worried. I’ve been here before. Seen the doc about this many times. And after the poorly hidden but inevitable eye roll, he always tells me the same thing:

“Still not getting more exercise? I really think you should focus more on that. Not being able to see in the dark? That’s nothing to worry about. You’re just getting old. Try turning on the lights.”

I am not getting old!

And turn on the lights?? Did he not read the above paragraph about other people in the house wanting it dark so they can sleep?

Since modern medical science has cast me aside despite my numerous co-pays, I was forced to do my own research.

My own experiments.

And I figured it out.

(So start writing up those Nobel Prize nominations, in case they won’t accept my self-nomination.)

I’m not getting older. Nope.

The world…is getting darker.

Hear me out. Once you see the evidence you will drop your jaws in amazement.

(Or disbelief. But if you stay silent, I can still imagine it’s amazement. So hush.)

Here’s a modern-day keyboard. Notice anything about it, aside from the dirt?

Peek-a-boo, I can't see you, goddammit!

Who uses this? Members of the band Disaster Area?

That’s right. It’s super dark.

Here’s what it looks like at night with all the lights in the house in the mandated OFF position:

I see London, I see France, I do not see this freakin' keyboard

The real reason schools started mandating touch typing classes…

Now you can see my problem (or more specifically, can’t).

And don’t tell me to get a back-lit keyboard! I’ve tried that! They require you to press a key combo to turn on the back-lighting.

Can you see any of the keys in the dark on the above keyboard? Can you? Then how the hell am I supposed to see them, hmm?

Think about it. Their design solution when you can’t see the keyboard is to require you to hit specific keys on the keyboard so you can see the keys. On the keyboard! It’s Kafkaesque!

They’ll be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes, let me tell you!

But, I perceive you mumbling as you nervously edge away, what do keyboards have to do with my supposition that the world is getting darker?

Well, aside from black reflecting back less light into the environment (ergo, making the surrounding environment darker), we once had, long ago, better keyboards.

And by better I don’t mean clickier (though that was better too). I mean beige:

Seriously, does it get any better than an IBM mechanical keyboard?

If my sunglasses were handy, I’d put them on before using this keyboard

See what this pinnacle of keyboard engineering looks like in normal lighting? Compare that to yet another modern keyboard (this time grey):

The Great Computer Compromise of 1995 between IBM and Apple solved nothing and only punted down the road the final, disastrous decision to switch to black for computers and accessories that future generations would lament for all time.

“We think beige is too bright. Waa waa. If black is too dark, how about we meet in the middle and try gray?” No. Just no.

But check it out what happened when I photographed my, if the Keyboard Industrial Complex PR hacks are to be believed, “old, tired, and passé” vintage keyboard in the dark.

WTFtl;dr! It actually got brighter:

OK, even I agree that white is too bright. Turn it up to beige AND THEN STOP!

CAPS LOCK on because DAMN IT, YES, I’M EXCITED ABOUT THIS KEYBOARD! AND NO COLLUSION! TOTALLY NO COLLUSION! COVFEFE!

Beige is a color I can type on in the dark. Because with beige, the cold encroachment of darkness is stopped in its sneaky, disabling tracks. I can look down and see the damn keys I need to press and then press them.

Presto! No back-light, front-light, or side-light required.

And it’s not just the keyboard. Tell me, how am I going to find that black CD eject button, cleverly placed, of course, right next to the black power button, on this particular, recently manufactured computer?

Stephen King's got nothin' on this scary beast

Hell, in this photo I have a spotlight on the chassis and I’m using a flash, and you still can’t see anything (except the dust bunny residue)!

But take away the above modern, fancy-pants, 1080p, USB 3.0, multi-core and multi-threaded (guess the color of the thread – hint: it’s BLACK) super computer and replace it with a late-80s, early-90s computer, and what do you get?

You get this, a right proper computing machine:

This. This I can effin' see.

The IBM “Just Try And Make The Room This Is In Dark” PS/2 P70. They don’t build ’em like this any more. Can’t afford to. Too much lead needed for the chassis.

That’s right. I closed the curtains, turned off the lights, and then tented the entire house (due to termites) before taking this picture, and it still looks like I’m standing outside on a bright summer day.

That’s how much frickin’ light beige computers give off!

Now it might be the termiticide talking, but I think I’d be able to use my computer at night just fine…if it were made out of beige. But sadly, as amazing as the above computer is, it does lack one feature deemed unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s:

WiFi.


Do you have tales of horror trying to use an albedo-challenged computer in the wee hours? Share them in the comments so we can commiserate together and maybe put together a kickstarter to make a modern beige computer!

(Please comment. The Missus thinks I’m nuts and I need you to help me prove her wrong.)
 

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For Whom Does the Doorbell Toll? It Tolls For Thee, Fool Using a Vintage Word Processor

My next sign will read

This is the nice warning sign. Before the cops made me take it down, I had a rig that dumped concentrated skunk venom on you. It wasn’t the dumping on salespeople the cops objected to, it was the unavoidably omnipresent smell.

“Hello, my name is Ian and I’m a vintage-aholic. My last purchase of vintage electronics was three days ago. But on the positive side, it was an old Brother word processor with a working built-in CRT and printer!”

Now if you’re anything like my wife, you’re rolling your eyes and snickering about my tendency to lust after (and occasionally buy) electronics from the 80s and 90s. But when the apocalypse comes and the only thing that will save you is a 1987 Compaq Portable III connected via null modem to a 1989 IBM PS/2 P70 running an old DOS program that controls a weather satellite, well, we’ll see who’s laughing then.

(And enjoying the blistering hot sun, jerk. You won’t be getting rain any time soon once I control the weather!)

It also comes with a built-in printer, only adding 10 pounds to the weight!

All right, you primitive screwheads, listen up. See this? This is my WORDSTICK! It’s a 5″ x 9″ amber CRT with a built-in spelling and grammar checker, Brother’s top-of-the-line.

But until such time, I have to prove to myself (and, to a (much) larger extent, the Missus) that the cash outlay for said type of machines is worth it. Which means, in the case of my Brother WP-95 word processor, I need to use it.

At least once.

My sponsor has asked for photographic evidence of its use. I think this is because she wants proof it works before she steals it from me. (Yes, vintage-aholic sponsors are quite cutthroat when they fall off the wagon. If it wasn’t for eBay, the streets would be awash in blood. Awash!)

So sure, modern computers can do a lot more than a single-function device like this word processor.

And yes, modern displays are brighter, crisper, and larger.

To be sure, a modern laptop weighs only a fraction of the 22 pounds this thing weighs. And can run on a battery. And can save files, do fancy formatting, get you on the internet, and allow you to email yourself a backup of your file.

But where’s the fun in that? When you lug a 22 pound dedicated word processor like this to a coffee shop, plug the electric cord into an extension cord so you can reach the wall outlet, and then write something, you feel a sense of accomplishment!

When’s the last time you felt a sense of accomplishment writing something on a mamby-pamby modern computer using software that practically writes the story for you?

(I’m looking at you, Scrivener users!)

Trenchcoats are surprisingly comfortable when worn en masse

What kind of fashion statement is this?

But not only do you get a cardio workout along with that satisfaction, you also get the added bonus of irritating all those bloody hipsters sipping espressos when you hit the PRINT button. Because when this thing prints out, you are magically transported back to a news room with a teletype in a time that predates decibel-levels-in-the-workplace regulations.

Fireworks freak out your dog? Nothing compared to this printer.

So I recommend getting your butt to the coffee shop, plugging this thing in, and if the line for coffee is too long, fire off a page to the printer. Those beatniks in line will flee in terror, convinced North Korea has finally made good on its threats, and you won’t have to wait in line for coffee.

It’s a win-win.

(If you need a vintage word processor, the Missus informs me that I would be happy to sell you mine…)

Here’s my justification for spending $40. Was it worth it? Let me know in the comments.

This was going to be an actual episode of Murder: She Wrote, but then the producers served me with a cease and desist letter regarding unsolicited manuscripts.

If you think this is tt;dr (too tiny, didn’t read), you should know I modified the word processor to print for microfiche.

 
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Posted by on 20 August 2017 in Art!, Life, Technopocalypse, Writing

 

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