The good the bad and the clicky

I welcome myself back to wordpress after a short stint of bone-idleness, please, hold your applause, the blog post will commence shortly..

I got into the mechanical keyboard club late, they ate all the party rings and most of bread sticks were gone, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

I used to use a really old and grubby Dell keyboard that was way past its used by date, the escape key had fell off and it felt like I was typing on 10 year old omelette.

I promptly threw the crusty turd at the wall and set out trying to find something better that would last more then a year (after recovering said crusty turd and typing amazon.co.uk)

I wanted one of those cool mechanical keyboard that all those YouTubers with their skinny jeans and slick backed hair were banging on about, so I set out to look for one only to find that most looked like this:

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Oh dear god

I searched all over only to find many that were like the above.

I am a simple man of simple pleasures and garish lights that look like a bad LSD trip are not my jam, I don’t care what the teenyboppers are having, I want something that will not give me epilepsy when I plug it in, thank you very much.

So I searched some more and some more and some more.

And eventually I settled on one that would not burn the rainbow into my retinas and I have not looked back since:

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Now that’s what I am talking about

 

The Noppoo Lolita Spyder with Cherry Brown switches was the one I ended up opting for in the end, I have replaced the keycaps on mine to have a more retro aesthetic:

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Sumptuous 

Since I live on an island in the middle of the ocean I have opted for the UK layout, I really like these keycaps, they are slightly textured and the switches are not too clicky so people do not turn up at my door with pitchforks and torches in the middle of the night when I am having a heavy session of Warhammer: Total War.

Either way my adventure through the strange and wonderful world of mechanical keyboards means that I will never not have one again.

I can feel my wallet writing with disdain at the thought.

Tara

The bloke who writes these shite blog posts

 

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Baking a RetroPie

This weekend I dived into emulation again.

Emulation and I have always had an on off relationship, quite a lot like one of my old flames however this is a retro tech blog so I will not be going into that if you want relatioship advice, ask your Dad, I mean, you’re here right?

Anyway I have been wanting to dive into the huge plethora games that I have put off playing saying “Damn that looks good, maybe I should play that” and proceeded to sit with my thumb up my arse and do bugger all about it.

While I was diving into a game of the new Prey on my machine I noticed that my room temprature spiked to around a million degrees, thats just not cricket is it?

So this weekend instead of spending my days cooking eggs on my cpu cooler I decided that enough was enough, I removed said thumb from my arse and proceeded to look through my library of games for some that would not turn my PC into a melting pile of slag.

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This is what it means to be a PC gamer in the Summer.

I looked on my desk and saw a Raspberry Pi just sat there gathering a thick layer of dust, it looked rather sad.

The previous week I bought it a new case that looked like a NES because I like the style and lack a 3D printer, anyway I got it from here and it looked like this.

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The hinge actually flips up to reveal the gubbins inside, delicious.

I bought said Pi as a coding experament thing that never really bore any fruit (puns and stuff) and thus it sat in my room looking sad, like when your dog looks when you pretend to throw the ball then hide it behind your back and it thinks its gone for ever.

Seeing as my PC likes to kick out more heat then an active volcano in the desert, I needed something that did not kick out a lot of heat so I decided the PI was perfect for this seeing as it produces so little heat.

I know this has been done a million times before but for me this was more a solution of desperation then anything else, like the heroine addict needs thier fix as do I need my daily fix off games otherwise I break out in hives and start babbling incomprihensivly.

Anyway I went with RetroPie as the title suggests, it has EmulationStation built in with many good emulators, the basic install was not enough for me I went and installed DOS, PSP and Sega Saturn emulators as well which are all easy to do with the controller and GUI’s that support controller navigation.

Thus I have been reliving my youth this weekend, it has mainly been PS1 games for me this time around, some of the PS1 games ran remarkably well and I was sort of a little tearful at how faithfully the emulators recreated those feelings of frustration when you die for the 25th time playing the Boulders level in Crash Bandicoot.

Anyway it is too hot to think so I will leave you with this meme that sums it all up nicely.

hTqvsrl

Tara

Sam

 

When my Dad had a nostalgia trip.

My Dad bought a Spectrum off of Ebay a few years ago and spent about £12 on it if I recall, the scalping b*stards had not caught wind of the retro resurgence at the time so all was good in the world and everything made sense.

He brought it in to me and I asked what it was, he said “Its what I used to play on when I was a lad.” I was like “You what mate?”.

He plugged it in and it sparked to life, the screen was grey and so bright it made my eyes burn from the inside out I still see “(C) 1982 Sinclair Research Ltd.” burned into my vision, it forever haunts me.

 

 

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It looked a lot worse then this

It worked, so that was a start, next we needed an auxiliary cable and the fabled stereo system that I knicked from my Dad in my emo phase to listen to Bullet for my Valentine on CD because I had no idea what an MP3 was.

My Mum at the time was watching us from the other side of the room, shaking her head, “Thats another f*cking £12 down the toilet, what is it anyway?” she says laughing, my Mum was never into games, she preferred listening to The Pet Shop Boys and doing things that did not involve computers, I can literally think of nothing worse.

Anyway after about an hour we dug it out of my room with an AUX cable and plugged it in, then spent 20 minutes on the internet looking at the manual for the stereo because I apparently “I was doing it wrong”.

I insisted that I was doing it right, my Dad then springs up into the loft to get his box of Spectrum games out so we can do some Farther + Son bonding over some old games.

He ends up pulling his back but soldiers on anyway because hes stupid like that, he then tells me theirs “A f*cking spider the size of a dog up there” I tell him to shut up and start the game.

He types LOAD “” hits enter and presses play on the cassette recorder.

My ears die, the sound that can only be described as a million livid mosquitoes being sucked up a Henry Hoover echoed around the room, my Dad grins, my eyes bulge as the sound is so piercing and grating that my head is blown clean from my shoulders into low earth orbit.

I am kidding, but I did plug my ears.

That sound is the data stream coming off the tape and being rendered audibly, I wish it didn’t.

Either way Jetset Willy ends up after what felt like eons of listening to the beginning and end of the universe all at the same time very quickly and at very high pitch.

With my ears ringing I look at my Dads face and what only can be described as utter satisfaction, I smile and pat him on the back and watch him devolve into a 12 year old kid, playing games, it was glorious.

After about 3 days he ended up putting back in the loft as my Mum was “Sick of seeing that f*cking 21 quid doorstop” lying around.

A damn shame.

Anyway it has now been relegated to the loft with the cutely named Boris, which by the way must eat rats or something because last time I saw a spider that big was on the Discovery Channel, it should not exist, but it does.

Just to wrap up, In wake of Farther’s Day coming up this just popped into my head the moment I think of my Dad which is a lovely thought and one I wish to keep.

So, Happy Preemptive Fathers Day to all you Dads with sprogletts hanging off your ankles.

Maybe one day you can show your kids your old computer and say “This is what I used to play when I was a lad” then they may just take off their holographic visor or what ever they will use and have their ears torn off by data steams coming from cassettes.

Tara

Sam

 

Teaching computing with old tech?

Teaching folk about computers is hard and rightfully so.

Back in the 80’s we had the BBC Micro, it was a overwhelming success in the education sector and sparked children’s and adults imaginations to get into computing and start writing their crap programs and sharing them with each other in the black market playground trade… that was not a thing.

What was a thing however is that most kids in the UK were computer literate back when we were back in the micro era when 2.0 MHz was literally considered the limit of computational power and old fusty people who were about as fun as an angry bee down your trousers were saying we should all just give and go back to writing pictographs on cave walls with our own sh*t.

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I for one will not be doing my homework on the side of limestone cave – Said every 80’s school child ever.

Dart forward 30 years and flying cars are still not a thing and computers the size of a credit car are around 80x more powerful then the lovely Beeb up there.

 

I feel as if teaching people about computers today is more about teaching them how to navigate around an OS and do things in a very high level way, I feel it does not teach computing fundamentals practically, rather it teach’s you with words like Quadric Amplitude Modulation or QAM which make my tiny East Midlands brain literally implode on itself.

We are starting to see a resurgence of small Single Board Computers flood the market and they are making their ways into the education sector and having a large impact, which in my opinion is a good thing, people who can code and make a computer do what they want are much more valuable then people who have no clue what the hell a mouse is.

mouse
Close but no cigar mate.

I think that teachers could use these old pieces of antiquated hardware to showcase lower levels of computing to learners, using peek and pokes in BASIC to interact with hardware directly in an interactive manner could teach people a lot perhaps?

These old doorstops are a lot more simple then your modern behemoth PC and thus showcase this low level demonstration more easily, granted maybe BASIC does not have a place in today’s world full of PI’s and CHIP’s.

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Not that one you utter buffoon!

I mean in a world full of tiny Linux based computers, does old hardware still have its relevance in the teaching sector?

Or have we all just moved on from BASIC and its whimsical ways, maybe its not hip enough, I think it needs more slogans and skinny jeans to be appealing and a Facebook page at the very least and possibly a Netflix show with 35 seasons that makes as much sense as a dress made from bacon.

But coming back to Netflix, I mean the BBC did the Computer Program in 1982 and that made people want to go out and learn about these “bloody massive calculators everyone is raving about”, maybe a Netflix series would grab kids attention and make them interested in the thought of learning about the lower rings of computer hell.

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Needs more cat memes I think.

Either way to wrap up I think that it is entirely possible that teachers could utilise old tech to get people to learn about the computing fundamentals, maybe playing off the nostalgia of the older crowd will draw in the younger one so they can listen and learn from those who lived in that era and grew up with it all.

Anyway thats my post for the day out of the way so I am going to spend the rest of the day drinking ale and wondering what all the fuss at E3 is about, catch you later!

Lets have a chat about Clive Sinclair

Oh Clive, you misunderstood man you, I really like Clive, he is a damn genius and despite the fact that he comes across in the BBC dramatization Micro Men (which if you have not seen and are into learning about how Acorn and Sinclair duked it out I would suggest you watch it.) as bit of crazy arsehole.

So lovable, I know.

Now, before I start this is my opinion of the chap and because it is an opinion and is mine it does not really matter what I say as most of this is anecdotal and is literally me rambling about nothing important for a bit, just putting my 2p worth.

Clive Sinclair, he brought us the ZX 80, a marvel at the time costing under £100 British squids by mail order, which at the time was damn near unheard of in UK, it had a terrible membrane keyboard that felt like you were typing on a chopping board, the screen blanked momentarily every time a key was pressed or a BASIC program was executed because of the processor being busy, this annoyed a lot of folks and possibly induced many a seizure, but hey that’s what you got for a sub £100 computer.

Look at that, it looks like its been pulled straight of Deep Space 9.

Computers at the time were still seen as expensive pieces of kit for the hobbyist, sent out in kit form and required soldering fiddly bits together and turning your fingers into bunt sausages in the process so were generally out of reach of the average Joe and Mary as they required intimate knowledge of how computers worked to assemble.

However the Z80 gave the consumer the option of a fully assembled unit, it was available in kit form for a cheaper price, but the option for the consumer was there.

The Z80 sold around 10,000 units this made Clive crack a smile for once and lead the UK into being an the driving force behind the push for Micro Computers in Europe in the 80’s, well done Clive! A+

It really hurts to do this.

 

 

Sinclair’s marketing tactics at the time were very text heavy articles in magazines boasting about the specifications, the price everything and the kitchen sink Clive liked words, a lot, he liked to use phrases like “excellent value” and “powerful” in his articles to draw in the reader and it worked, quite well in fact, riding on the success of the ZX 80 they went on to design the ZX 81 and the widely popular ZX Spectrum that you can get for  a dime a dozen on Ebay assuming the scalping (pardon my french) b*stards do not try to rip your skinny jeans off and steal your wallet.

He had a go at that dodgy electric car that he was kind of obsessed with, that never really did very well..

Image result for sinclair c5
They see me rollin’ they hatin’

However good on him being forward thinking, the C5 may have been a gigantic wet fart humiliating Sinclair and maybe making him want to crawl into a ball and assume the fetal position forever, to quote the Sunday Times of all things:

“It travelled five yards outdoors when everything when phut and this motorised, plastic, lozenge rolled to a halt with all the stationary decisiveness of a mule”

I cannot help but laugh at that, I am a terrible person though.

However look where we are now, electric cars everywhere, charge points and what not popping up in every major city, he had the right idea, it was just the wrong place and time for that technology, it does not help that it looks like it was made by Fisher Price and has the style of a camp 80’s sci-fi flick with homoerotic connotations (to me anyway), I am not projecting, honest.

Either way, this man went on to bring us the ZX Spectrum, Sinclair QL (that means Quantum Leap), a plethora of other products, and eventually was bought out by Sir Alan Sugar of Amstrad where design literally is an afterthought rather then the center piece.

Credit where credit is due, Clive had a lot of teething problems and everything else problems, but he delivered, we are now starting to see the benefits of electric vehicles, we appreciate that Sinclair put the UK on the map in the micro era and boosted the UK’s computer literacy with his affordable products that were for the “everyman”.

The thing about Sinclair products is that they are timeless and even now you could put one in your house and they would not look out of place, that is excellent design, so I think we should all stand up and give old Clive a pat on the back, for all his failings he had some really innovative ideas and was just kind of in the wrong era for it to be relevant and resonate with the consumer.

Anyway I am signing off this one and condemning it to the archive, I hope you enjoyed this one, give us a wave Clive!

Image result for Clive Sinclair waving
I am off to the shops, I will end up walking back though, that battery only lasts five minutes.

 

 The Commodore 64

Ah the lovely Commodore 64, this one is on my wish list of  “things I really really really want”, In the UK however everything retro seems to cost you both of your kidneys and a sacrifice to Satan in order to come near the scalpers asking price, this has been covered everywhere but I feel it will be a good place to start.

Lets take a look at these juicy specs and drive right in:

  • CPU – MOS 6510/8500 @ 1.023 MHz (NTSC) and @ 0.985 for PAL
  • MEMORY – 64KB RAM, you probebly guessed that form the name & 20KB ROM (This is where BASIC Lives)
  • GRAPHICS – VIC II that shoved out a resolution of 320 x 200 at 16 colors,
  • SOUND – SID 6581, this SID chip is possibly the most well known of the parts used in the C64, it sounded remarkably good for the time.
  • PORTS AND OTHER GUBBINS – 2x CIA 6526 Joystick porsts, Power, ROM Cart edge connector, RF, A/V, Digital Tape, GPIO (Yes you can peek and poke actual hardware in the C64, pretty cool right?), Audio jack for your terribly yellowed tape drive.
  • COST – at launch the bugger costed $595, converted to actual money that is about a million pounds, I am kidding its £446 (for now) which is quite reasonable, in today’s money that’s around  £1,572.38!! Blimey! Its around how much they charge on Ebay so they must have used that same calculator as me.

Ok so mulling over these specs we can see the C64 being a pretty decent machine with quite a lot of bang for the buck back in the days of dinosaurs (the 80’s), we have a crap tone of I/O that can be used here.

If you are into hacking (the good kind not stealing peoples facebook accounts) then I can see the C64 being an ideal retro platform for projects a lot like how the Raspberry PI is used now.

However you cannot fit a Commodore 64 in your back pocket and carry it around with you, it would rip your skinny jeans and you would look a right state, anyway for playing with sensors, interacting with hardware and teaching kids how the kit works through BASIC by peaking and poking the hardware addresses I can totally see this still being used in the classroom still today to teach low level hardware interactions, I don’t think kids think beige is cool these days though, I still dig it though, its all about that aluminum and them RGB mods.

As for me, being a twentysomthing year old I have never owned one however they have a huge library of games available to get stuck into so its definitely still relevant to me diving into retro gaming.

Any to wrap up this post of random smatterings of thoughts about how I see the C64 I will leave you with this:

Off to sell my kidneys and sacrifice a goat to appease the Ebay scalpers, will be back for tea.