Sunday, November 15, 2020

Observations in the Netherworld

An somewhat accurate and interesting thing about the original Quake is that each time one shoots an enemy (especially soldiers), they stop and shudder, which conveniently gives the player time to finish them off.

Not accurate but useful to the player is that if an enemy is on patrol when you're shooting them one by one as they come around a corner, each enemy cheerfully walks into your field of fire even they have to step over their fallen comrade. Their cluelessness would make you think they work for an Evil Overlord or something.

I would also say the initialize reaction time of most enemies needs work; if the player is awake when an enemy appears, one can channel Han Solo and shoot first.

Possibly accurate (ot not) is if the player has a number of enemies (in particular, Ogres) in one spot, and one can get out of the way, they'll attack each other.  (Maybe they just don't get along.) In any case, it saves on both ammo and wear 'n tear on you, especially if the last two manage to kill each other at the same time.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The March of Time

Long ago (1993), I wrote into the UUCICO program for UUPC/extended support for synchronizing the local PC's clock from an atomic clock by calling (via modem) what was the National Bureau of Standard (now NIST). The NIST dial up Automated Computer Time Service (ACTS) service is still supported, but things have really advanced since then.

Everything in the Kitten Farm West which can automatically synchronize its clock (~20+ devices) does. For example, our Apple, Amazon, Google, and Raspberry Pi devices all use the Network Time Protocol, so no action required there.

But every fall and spring I still have to go on an Easter Egg-like hunt of the remaining time keepers . . .

To start, this house has a bastion of unsynchronized clocks called the kitchen. I've reset the time on four appliances and timers, dumped the ice maker reservoir (it's the first of the month), and verified the forced air thermostat time. Katherine will later use a step stool to the get wall clocks in the both the kitchen and my office.

A call to the house from a cell phone fixed the hour on the landline phones, but they are all off by ten minutes (ZiplyFiber needs to get its Caller Id act together); I can't override that (and have it stay fixed).

In the Living Room our TV, Roku, and Raspberry Pi server are fine (obviously using NTP, you're not perfect to the minute for months without an external source), but the Wii U blissfully thought it was 11:07 until I reset it to 9:35.

The oddest time piece in the house the wireless thermometer in my office, it's synchronized but not via the Internet. Rather it uses radio station WWVB (which broadcasts at 60 Khz, find that on your radio dial!), listened to via the temperature sensor in the backyard for better reception.

My office thermometer synchronized via WWVB
(hence the antenna symbol at the top)

Out in the garage, the MINI Cooper S electronics will magically reset using GPS, but the Audi stereo and the Bike bike computers will need chatting with.

I almost forgot the Master Suite. There are two watches hiding in my nightstand, and a Bose Wave Radio. And the master bath has my Glucose meter. . . . and in two months I'll trip over (and update) some odd device with a clock that I completely forgot about. It happens every cycle. p.s. The networked Nest Protect smoke detectors all got tested too. (They are designed to not get their batteries replaced.)

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Raspberry Pi Cases: Round 3

The Raspberry Pi cases I have mentioned previously because of their appearance  and noise have been replaced by one which improves on both annoyances and more.

The new case, the Argon ONE Pi 4 Raspberry Pi Case, solves a number of minor issues:

  • A Raspberry Pi system normally has cables coming out both the back and side, which can make taming the lot of them a bit tricky.
    This case uses a small daughter board inside the case to reroute all the cables out the back.
  • A Raspberry Pi 4 can run a little warm, thus requiring a fan.
    This case is all heat sink, which drops the usual temperature of the unit 15ºC. 
    This case also has a well integrated very quiet fan, but it is rarely needed.
  • A Raspberry Pi has no power switch. The usual work around is a power switch on the cord.
    This case adds a switch to the back of the case.
  • This Raspberry Pi 4 system previously used a metal case which blocked the power LED indicator.
    This case puts the power indicator behind smoked glass.
  • Raspberry Pi 4 system cases are generally square and geeky. 
    This case at least looks like someone thought about the appearance. 
After a system failure of the house server (DHCP/DNS/IPv6 tunneling), the Raspberry Pi 4 which was and is handling my retro computing needs moved downstairs; it took on the duties of the failed house server (and it still loafs).  Here it is on duty:

Wile E. Coyote, this week's server
Wile E. Coyote
This Week's Cool Running House Server
     
Lest one worry that our entertainment center has lost its Hobbit Modern Geek look, have no fear; even after removing a couple of items (network controllers for our thermostats), it still has enough gizmos to fill the highly visible eight-port switch:

Our Hobbit Modern Geek entertainment center

(Not shown are the Eero WiFi access point, the FiOS router, and the Chromecast.)

So the balance of Geek is preserved.  

p.s. Click either image for a larger view.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Peace in Our (Electronic) Time

Somehow this house has acquired 8 Raspberry Pi computers.  (I blame Snuffles P. Bear).

Most of them sit around powered off. A Raspberry Pi 3b+ does act as our network server, and a pair of Raspberry Pi 4s take up space in my office. Actually, one takes up space (powered off). The other is reasonably useful as it handles my retro computing needs, hosting a number of 1970's mainframe IBM Operating System images. It runs, cheaply, 24x7. (I used to use my semi-retired Mac Pro in library for the hosting, but it requires ~ 10 times the power.)

I have thermostatically controlled fans (on 65 ºC, off at 55 ºC) on both of the Raspberry Pi 4s. The unit which stays powered up to tends to kick in the fan a few times an hour. Unfortunately, the fan makes a subtle buzzing noise; this not surprising (it's not well anchored, hanging off GPIO pins) but it is annoying.

I put up with it.

Ah, but today I checked ... the machine is not heavily loaded, and a Raspberry Pi 4 doesn't throttle until above 70ºC. Adjusting the thermostat up 5º causes it to run under normal load at ~ 64-66ºC without the fan cycling. That's even with the room temperature creeping up to 79ºF.

So there is peace in our time.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Would You Like to Play a Nice Game of Chess?

The Internet is 50 years old today.

I showed up ... well not early, but in 1986, well before the Eternal September. By 1990 I had my first domain (which celebrates its 30th anniversary in February), which picked up mail from MIT via dial up UUCP.  But that's getting ahead of the story ...

In 1986, the Internet was a more innocent place, and for that matter the preferred network protocols were still in flex. Clarkson University had IBM 3270 devices, dedicated serial lines, Bisync lines (including to BitNET), a modem pool, an X.25 network, and that year the school added a MILNET link.  (Clarkson got assigned 128.153.0.0/16, which means it got the 25th class B network.)

One day three of us were trying out the new MILNET link when the head of operations (an ex-Marine) walked by. He quipped, "Yesterday you were hacking into the X.25 HVAC sensors. What is it today, the Pentagon?"

The VM systems programmer turned around and said, "As matter of fact, yes!"

(We were, too, thanks to a DoD civilian family member who shall go unnamed.)

The head of operations quietly slipped away with an odd look on his face.

Friday, January 4, 2019

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy

I bought my first modem, a Hayes SmartModem 2400, in the summer of 1985; I was returning for my third and final tour of duty at Clarkson and its dial up lines.

As they say, it's been all downhill since then.

In 1988 in Kingston (NY), I installed a second phone line for the modem. After I moved to Boston, use of the second line grew as I used UUPC/extended and its mail functionality to connect to the internet and my family in the early 1990's. For a short time in mid-1990's we had even three lines: a voice, dial-in modem, and a dedicated dial 56K PPP (Internet) Link.

Alas, UUCP and dialup in general lost the war to the always on Internet. The third line got dropped when we replaced dial up with our first cable modem in 1997 -- Katherine wrote about the glory of always-on high speed (for then) Internet in an early Wired issue.

But as our modem usage dropped, Katherine started working at home; she needed a business line, so need for the second line continued uninterrupted. Thus, though we have not relied on dialing a modem at home or on the road since long before we moved west, we have kept two landlines going on thirty years.

Over 30 years, things do change. Katherine's business communications has been moving from the telephone to mail, the web, and chat for years. The marketing robocalls now far outpace the few legitimate calls that Katherine gets on her business line; she has been talking about dropping it for years. 

Still, the two lines lived on. Until this week, that is.

Now, she is transferring the business telephone number to Google Voice; she'll forward that to her cell phone.

Line 2 now has no dial tone. I told our two-line wireless handset base station to not worry its little brain any more about line 2, and replaced the bulky two-line speakerphone I had on my nightstand with a (single line) Trimline.

But my last modem, a little Mac USB modem which is tucked away in the office closet having never been used for real data, ponders old Electric Light Orchestra:
"Okay, so no one's answering
Well, can't you just let it ring a little longer
Longer, longer oh, I'll just sit tight
Through shadows of the night
Let it ring forever more, oh ..." -- Telephone Line (Jeff Lynne)

Monday, December 31, 2018

Improving the Classics

I looked at some IBM assembler code from ~ 35+ years ago (support for some FORTRAN games ported from MUSIC to IBM VM/CMS). While it worked fine, it truly offended me. In particular, I felt driven to rewrote 32 lines into 9. (The 9 lines doesn't count the pair of simple FORTRAN programs I wrote to test the routines BEFORE I modified them. THAT's something I've learned to do since 1980 ....) Looking at the old code, I'm reminded of Cargo Cult Programming -- the old code did the right things, but it was redundant and did things by hand that macros could do for the past fifty years. It was all as if the coder didn't really grasp what they could do ... I'm sure I've seen and probably touched the code before, but I never wrote code this ugly -- I know, as I've got code samples from the era this was written, and I if nothing else I didn't code stuff by hand that macros existed for. I've also commented my code better since I was a freshman. (My old schoolmates would beg to differ about a help script I wrote for the Clarkson ROSCOE time sharing system. Its funky subroutine #20, which none of us could decipher a few weeks later, wasn't deliberately obfuscated, but it was dense, like an APL one-liner -- write only code. Hey, it worked.)