Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The World's Most Expensive Arcade Emulator?

At least one of the three heads of xena, the warrior system now has multiple purposes (for a sufficiently loose definition of purpose).

Last year, I put RetroPie (a wrapper for MAME, the Multi-Arcade Machine Emulator) on a dedicated Raspberry Pi 3B+, and DOSBox (a game oriented MS-DOS emulator) on a spare Raspberry Pi 4B.  (They could not share the same machine because RetroPie needs an older OS version, but the newer faster Raspberry Pi 4B needs a newer OS.) The MAME host was fine, and the DOSBox host worked reasonably well but was running flat out with newer games. 

I love Raspberry Pi units for their low power consumption, which is why I run a use one for our router and two others to run emulated IBM mainframes on them 24x7.  But none of those units clutter my office desk; the two game emulator hosts sit mostly powered off right under my nose.

xena is also on the KVM at my desk, but while she's physically huge she is completely out of the way under the desk.  When running Ubuntu Linux, she supports both RetroPie and DOSBox, and while she is ten years older than the Raspberry Pi units, she was built for top of the line performance, not cheap efficiency. That means that even today she can handle MAME more easily than any Raspberry Pi.

So yesterday both RetroPie and DOSBox got migrated to xena, freeing the two Raspberry Pi units for other nefarious purposes away from my desk. xena has purpose!

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Been There, Broke that


Old (torn) Strap Top, Spare Strap Bottom

I've previously noted that I torque my right leg and thus the right foot strap tends to slip off my exercise bike. It happens enough I usually check (and have reset) it every time I use the bike.  Of course, this increases the wear on the pedal strap, and I discovered it was torn this morning.

This is no big deal because I've got spare straps. I grabbed one, verified it was a right (not left) strap, and went to install it.  that's when I looked at it closely, and realized it was not actually a new strap: it was already torn.

Time to check the rest of the inventory, more carefully, and toss any other dead straps.

(And yes, if you look carefully in the photograph, both straps are torn.)

Update: I had three open sets of straps, and all the right pedal straps were torn; I threw them all out. I had one sealed set, used the right pedal strap from that, and ordered two more sets.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Voodoo Hardware, Unearthed

Thermometer Used in My Previous Offices

OK this is truly strange.

This is the thermometer I used for years when I worked in an office to check the building temperature versus my perception. It's a WYSIWYG device; it shows the current temperature and that's it.

I haven't used it since I left Google, and of course the battery was quite dead. Today, I was curious about the temperature in my office closet and had a spare battery; I threw the battery in.

The thermometer displayed a reasonable temperature about a degree low compared to my office thermometers (one is my office thermostat and the other is a weather station with three remote sensors); that's fine, the two thermometers don't always agree with each other exactly.

But then things got weird.

I've flipped it over to see the back of the case, and when I flipped it back and could see the display again, the LCD suddenly had "Mem" in a corner.

(It has no buttons to turn on a memory function or any other display. It just doesn't.)

I power cycled it (by removing & replacing the battery), and it powered up with "Min" & "Max" also showing.

I power cycled it, and it powered up with a clock display (WFH?).

I power cycled it, and it powered up with a blank display.

I power cycled it, and it powered up flashing.

I power cycled it, and it powered up with just the current temperature.

I quit while I was ahead (or least breaking even). I set it aside, putting the thermometer in my (chilly) office closet, which was in fact the planned original destination.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

… And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

I mentioned to a friend that if he cannot describe his home network setup in under 500 characters, I doubt "home networking setup" is the proper description. 

That may also be true of our own LAN, but it's seriously simpler than his. To wit …

Ziply Fiber gives us residential 1 Gb/s FiOS service with DHCP.

Behind the router (below), the primary network is a flat /18 address space. Multiple physical machines host virtual and/or emulated machines, and internally route packets destined for them.

The primary switch is a ~ 2007 24 port 1 Gb/s Netgear unit; 4 8 port Netgear units help in various rooms. (Collectively, they can be thought of as Dumb & Dumber.)

3 eero 6 units provide both our primary Wifi access and a guest Wifi network. We'd use one of them as the router, but they don't support IPv6 tunneling via 6in4.

The router is a Raspberry Pi 4 CM plugged into a dual Ethernet Seed Studio board using OpenWrt; it runs services for:

  • NAT services & port forwarding
  • An IPv6 tunnel (via 6in4) to Hurricane Electric
  • DHCP server
  • Dynamic DNS to publish our IPv4 address

A Raspberry Pi 3B Plus runs services for:

  • NTP
  • DNS
  • git
  • SMTP relay
All residence devices have fixed IPv4 addresses known to DNS and DHCP.

As for the devices actually on the network, it has (not counting virtual/emulated devices) :

  • 13 streaming devices 
  • 10 computers
  • 10 IoT Devices 
  • 6 tablets
  • 2 watches
  • 2 iPhones
  • an iPod
  • a game console and
  • a printer 

p.s. most importantly about the network — Our network manager of 31 years is Binkley the Ether Bunny.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Spawn of Cerberus

 It's official, I've got a silicon relative of Cerberus under my desk.

The xena, The Warrior System, can now run:
  • MacOS Ventura (or its older sibling, OS X El Capitan)
  • Windows 10 (with it hosting Ubuntu running under WSL v1)
  • Ubuntu 22.04.3
Now I just gotta find a use for at least some of its many talents (beside space heater).

Friday, November 3, 2023

Planned Obsolescence: Avoided!

Performance Report From Our WiFi Access Point

With various system & application installs I've been doing this week, I've copying big payloads between systems and downloading packages from Internet.

The most noticeable thing was that downloading a 4.7 GB file from archive.org took a leisurely 30 minutes. Both our internal links and my FiOS Internet are better than that, so it was probably on their end. But it points up that we have gotten rather used to end-to-end 1 Gb/s performance.

The impressive thing is not actually the network speed, it's that internally we've had this basic infrastructure for 16 years. When we moved to Kenmore 2007 and discovered using WiFi didn't cut it, we installed a Gigabit/second unmanaged Ethernet main switch in the network pantry and ran 16 ports to it. Since then we have run additional six ports, added four small switches in various rooms, upgraded the Wi-Fi access points, and did multiple upgrades of our Internet service. However, we have never upgraded the speed of the main switch, and the wires running from the network pantry to our desktops are the same ones we installed originally.

(And even our oldest computers, my early 2008 Mac Pro & our 2012 MacBook Air, have Gigabit Ethernet ports. A few $35 Raspberry Pi units don't. Ah, well.)

No doubt our infrastructure has slid from bleeding edge to merely slightly above average, but I'm still happy with it.

I guess I've been doing it right.

P. S. In the there is always a faster gun nearby department, I should point out I know we do not have the best network on the Northshore of Lake Washington. That would go to a former coworker one town over who has 10 GB/second Ethernet and VLANs in his house.  To each their own …

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Last of the Mac (Intel) V8 Cheese Graters

xena's configuration before I upgrade the OS

Early in my time at Google (2008), I wanted to switch from a VGA monitor to a larger monitor which supported dual DVI, which my spiffy work Mac laptop already used in the office. This meant I might also upgrade my (as it turned out to be last) Pentium Windows PC; I got seriously carried away and spent too much money to get 42 pounds of a high-end Mac Pro (the ones that look like cheese graters) with:

  • 8 64-bit 3.2 GHz Intel cores
  • 8 GB of memory
  • 500 GB disk (and space for three more)
  • Four Dual DVI ports

The Mac Pro was christened xena, the Warrior System (Second of her Name). Both xena and my on-call Mac laptop talked to a 30" HP monitor,  the same model as I used at work. 

    She later got mid-life upgrades of two SSD disks (160 GB and 512 GB), 2 TB hard drive (for Time Machine backups), and a USB-3 card.

    xena was ahead of her time for a home machine. She was sufficiently ahead of her time that she was always under utilized, and 16 years later, xena's performance specifications are still not horrible. (Her power consumption was and is horrible, but nobody's perfect!)

    After seven years, xena was retired in favor of a 2015 iMac (kendra, fourth of her name); we also replaced my spouse's system with the same model. That wasn't an upgrade for me per se, but kendra did have a slightly higher clock speed, twice the memory (16GB), and used a fraction of the power.

    kendra and her twin lasted seven years as well, and were replaced last year by Mac Studios twins (tamara & minerva) using an Apple M1 Max chip with again twice the memory (32 GB),  and 1 TB SSD.  Again, they may not be upgrades, but the pure SSD makes it far smoother. kendra and her twin both got food chained to family in Syracuse.

    xena is still here; after eight years of retirement I'm still looking for a use for it, but it's such a nice system I can't ship just it off, especially she's sort of The Last of the V8 Interceptors.

    For reasons not completely understood by even me, this summer I acquired three upgrades for xena:

    • A 1 TB SSD drive 
    • Another 8 GB of memory (doubling it)
    • A Metal-enabled Nvidia GTX 780 video card

    The 1 TB SSD was because I didn't want run on platters, and I had stolen the 512 GB SSD (mentioned above) for another system. I want to make it triple boot (MacOS, Linux, and Windows 10), and that wasn't happening on a mere 160 GB SSD.  

    The video card makes at least a some sense for two reasons. First, the old cards would occasionally cause corrupted video for reasons I never figured out. Second, one cannot do (an officially unsupported) upgrade of MacOS beyond a certain point without a Metal-enabled video card.

    The memory was mostly simply I didn't want to even think about memory when I do find a use for the machine.

    I've been sitting on them until Katherine was free to install them (which happened this weekend). And oh, my goodness, they work!  

    Now I just have figure if I will:

    • Do an unsanctioned-by-Apple upgrade, 
    • install Ubuntu,
    • get a dual monitor KVM for kendra, xena, and foghorn-leghorn (a Raspberry Pi 4), and
    • most importantly, determine what actual use I could possibly have for the machine.
    Decisions, decisions …

    Update: I upgraded to MacOS Ventura, and she now also has Windows 10 (w/WSL 1) & Ubuntu 22.04 Desktop on it.  I have a keyboard/mouse switch, I question if I even want a true KVM.