64JPX | JoyPad eXpander for the Commodore 64

I was going down a retro computing rabbit hole and I stumbled upon this fantastic little device that allows you to plug in more modern game pads into the Commodore 64. Specifically, NES, SNES and Sega Genesis, the 64JPX. This is a small interface that plugs into the DB9 ports of the Commodore, Atari and Amiga systems that give you the option to use Nintendo, Sega Genesis or even analog PC style of controllers. How this works? Sounds like magic to me.

One of the issues I have had in playing Commodore 64 games, specifically platformers, today is how I just don’t enjoy the push up to jump as the control. When playing the game from Protovision called “Sam’s Journey” is how it takes away from the enjoyment of the game to have to push up to jump. I should be fine with it, as that is what I grew up doing on games like Mr Robot and Jumpman Jr but some years have passed and Nintendo has “changed the game” as it were.

Sam's Journey by Protovision

With the purchase of the C64 Maxi, a modern rebirth of the Commodore 64 with the common interface conveniences such as HDMI for video and USB ports for controllers and data storage. I can use a USB game pad on the C64 Maxi, although, some lack of customization is a bit unfortunate, but that is another blathering for another time.

If you are playing games on your original hardware or something more closely resembling it like the Ultimate 64, you may want some of these more modern conveniences like a multi-button SNES controller. The 64JPX is the quick and easy solution to make that happen.

Features

https://www.64hdd.com/64jpx/images/64jpx-1.jpg

This will work out of the box with any of the aforementioned systems which means no fussing about. Just plug it in and you are off to the races in some glorious 8-bit fantastic fun. There are on-the-fly, selectable gaming enhancement modes which allow you to change the configuration of the controller while in the game. This also allows you to safely connect the Sega Genesis, Nintendo or PC controllers as to not fry your CIA chips and continue to use the machine to your heart’s content.

The enhancement modes, which are controller dependent, include

  • Fire and auto-fire
  • Racing where buttons or triggers are for acceleration and braking
  • Waddle modes for sports games that use left/right waddling, like the Decathlon or Summer Games. According to the manual different speeds of waddle are accomplished by different combinations of pressing and holding a button while optionally holding right on the direction pad. I say, optionally as it has to do with different speeds of waddle. This would be interesting to play with.
  • Creep mode is for the platformers where you need to get close to the edge without falling off. Personally, this sounds like cheating but I would gladly take that cheat because I have fallen off the edge on “Impossible Mission” more times than I can count.

There are five flavors of this device to from which to choose. Your tastes are likely vary from others so the clever creator of this device, Nicholas Coplin has given you some options.

  • Red – Sega Genesis / MegaDrive controller in either 3 or 6 button varieties
  • Blue – For use with SNES and NES controllers. The Start and Select buttons toggle the different enhancement modes available.
  • Purple – A combination of Red and Blue (cleverly named purple) which auto detects the controller type.
  • Orange – A combination of Red but with added support for the analog PC type controller
  • Black – A budget friendly option for use with the Sega Master system controller that just protects the C64 from shorting out the CIA chip
https://www.64hdd.com/64jpx/images/64jpx-snes.jpg

Depending on the choice, you may need an adapter, specifically, a dongle to adapt the proprietary SNES controller to the DB-9 port on this adapter. There are also some other useful items like the 1351-pass-through port to allow you to leave your mouse connected at the same time as your joypad / joystick. It’s good to save a bit of wear and tear on your ports. Though, I would be concerned about the chain of devices hanging off the side of the computer. Now I am dreaming of a kind of controller hub you plug in… hmm.

Final Thoughts

I am very impressed by the work Nicholas Coplin has invested into the controller business on the systems of my youth. I am incredibly impressed that someone has taken the time to open up the use of more modern controllers on the systems I with which I grew up. The fact the Purple version has the ability to auto detect the controller when plugged in is absolutely brilliant!

64hdd.com has an incredibly neat shop of useful hardware for use on your glorious 8-bit and 16-bit era systems. I am not sure why I haven’t founds this sooner but I am sure glad I did today. There is more fun to be had on the horizon with my fun systems and I can’t wait until I can actually use this. So be watching this space for a follow up.

References

64JPX at 64hdd.com
Ultimate 64 | A New Commodore 64 main board

Dell Latitude D630 Retirement

With the digit changes into the new year, so goes some changes for the layout of the tech in my home. My new HP EliteBook needs a place besides my lap or in a computer bag and my Dell Latitude D630 that has been beside my main machine has been getting less and less use due to the encumberment of the Nvidia GPU. This D630 has served me well since I purchased it new from Dell in 2007.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I purchased my gently used Dell Latitude E6440 and put my Latitude D630 on a standby state. It’s been a good computer that has seen many adventures of my life from my extended time in other countries to playing calm music in the background for the birth of my three children. I have upgraded and fixed this machine more times than most people would consider doing but now, it is time to remove it from its active reserve status to full retired.

Dell Latitude D630 in 2017

I won’t actually get rid of the machine, I’ll keep it going, turn it on periodically to update openSUSE Tumbleweed but it won’t stay on. The computer would be fine if not for the Nvidia GPU as its closed source, proprietary nature, along with being abandoned by Nvidia means I can only use the Nouveau drivers which are,, unfortunately, a bit ropey.

I performed the last update as it sits on a dock station at my stand up desk. One quick sudo zypper dup to get things updated and tested before I shut it down. Thankfully, everything continues to work well, albeit the GPU troubles and it all shut down cleanly. In a way it is a bit sad for me to retire it, but it was time.

After a bit of dusting and wiping the shelf off, I placed the HP EliteBook in its new place. Since the D630 was also a 14″ machine, this fits well though it is a bit smaller, and that is fine.

Just below, on a lower level of the desk, I placed the Dell TB16 Thunderbolt 3 dock station to provide power and an extension of functionality. Since the computer is without an SD Card reader I will eventually purchase one and attach it to the dock station. I will perhaps add a monitor too but that is not really a priority.

Final Thoughts

I know it is silly to anthropomorphize a computer but I can’t help but to have a kind of connection with the technology. It has been a tool to get my work done, entertained, educated and allowed me to explore many aspects of tech for many years. It was also the first business grade laptop I purchased from the manufacturer that I spent countless hours researching. I really believe I would continue to use it if not for the Nvidia GPU as performance wise, it does a great job in many other aspects.

What this has cemented for me is that I will avoid proprietary hardware, like Nvidia from this point forward. I will most certainly steer clear of anything where I am limited by the corporate decisions of a company that cares little about the long term viability of their products.

References

Dell Latitude D630
Dell Latitude E6440
HP EliteBook 840 G7 running openSUSE Tumbleweed

HP EliteBook 840 G7 running openSUSE Tumbleweed

I was given an incredible gift by my former employer as a parting gift, an HP EliteBook 840 G7. I didn’t unpack it right away as I wasn’t sure how I was going to integrate it into my mess of computer equipment. I have been very happy with my Dell Latitude E6440 and decided my next system was going to be a desktop system.

Bottom line up front, I am surprisingly pleased with this system. The HPs I have used in times past have been less than stellar and this machine is not at all anywhere close to the same experience. This machine is pretty great and far better than any HP I have ever used. openSUSE Tumbleweed runs fantastically well on this hardware. Setting it up was trivial and it has been a fantastic experience.

Specifications that Matter

This isn’t a loaded up unit and based on this site from HP, it is on the lower end of the spectrum. Comparing to what I am currently using as my main machine, it has half the RAM and 1/8th the storage space.

CPU

Intel Core i5-10310U Processor – This is not the fastest processor and there are faster options available for this machine. According to HP’s knowledge base on this machine, it can accept as much as a Intel Core i7-10810U. The actual difference between the two, according to CPUbenchmark.net, is about a 20% improvement. This is good news is, I can potentially make this laptop even more useful in the processing department… that is, assuming it isn’t soldered on.

Memory

8 GiB DDR4 with 7.5 GiB available for use. According to HP, this can take up to 64 GiB of RAM. I think that is incredibly spectacular. That definitely means I can grow into this machine over the long term. My reckless use of system resource causes me to chomp through the 7.5 GiB available pretty quickly. It’s a bit light for doing video editing and CAD work but still doable, so long as I don’t have a browser with 20+ tabs open.

Bottom line, this isn’t great now but could be very great for a rather small investment. Just by swapping out one of the SO-DIMMS with a 32 GiB module would make a huge difference.

Display

This laptop comes equipped with an anti-glare, non-touch, 1920×1080 display. I am not sure exactly the characteristics of this specific display as there are a lot of options according to this listing. Whichever version this machine has, I am very pleased with it.

Ports and Interfaces

This computer isn’t what I would consider heavy on interfaces. I might go as far to say it is a bit light but it does have the ports that truly count. I am a bit disappointed it is missing an SD Card reader but lets focus on what it does have, not what it is missing.

The front and back of the computer are void of any interfaces. This works well for the back due to how the screen pivots. I have seen alternative designs for hinges that allow for access to the back but from a usability perspective, accessing ports on the back is an exercise in fiddling around blindly unless you decide to crane your head around the backside of the computer. Ultimately, I don’t care one way or the other on this one.

The left side of the computer has four interfaces interfaces:

(2) USB 3.1 Gen 1 port (1 charging). I have used both of the USB slots though one tends to have a Logitech wireless mouse dongle in it. I have no complaints in this department.

(1) Headphone/microphone combo jack, or sometimes called a “courage port” and although I tend to use Bluetooth for “quiet listening” I do think a headphone jack is necessary on a computer and to not have one is terrible.

SmartCard slot, it is a vital necessity to have a SmartCard reader for a computer. Without one, I would have to plug in a USB external and that is, frankly, a less than ideal situation.

The unnamed opening on the side is for that Kensington Security Slot. That is for the purpose of locking your computer to the desk… which makes it like a desktop.

Left Side

The right side of the computer contains five interfaces:

(2) USB 3.1 Type-C port with Thunderbolt support. I have tested this, running openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma desktop, the ports do recognize and enable dock stations as well as charge from them. I didn’t test the external display capability but that will come in the future.

(1) HDMI 1.4 port. This is standard fare for a laptop purchased in 2020. I am not sure if HDMI is preferred over DisplayPort but it is what I have.

(1) AC power input port. Since I am still quite uncertain as to the reliability of the USB-C port for the long term, I do appreciate having a barrel jack for power. I do think this will likely last longer than the USB-C port.

There is a blocked off SIM card slot on this computer, presumably due to the lack of WWAN. This is a factory install option, according to HP. That is unfortunate as that would have been a nice add on. I’m sure there is a way to hack it together, maybe.

Construction and Aesthetics

The laptop’s chassis is made of aluminum. According to the HP marketing information, it is made of machined-aluminum. I find that a bit hard to believe as I don’t see evidence of any machining marks and that seems incredibly cost prohibitive but I am not the expert here, nor have I seen the manufacturing plant. It very well could be true and this could be an incredibly well designed machine with spectacular manufacturing processes. It does look very nice. It has nice, sharp lines and just feels solid. The test a lot of tech enthusiasts give a machine is holding it by a corner with the screen lid open to see if it creaks or flexes. This computer does not do that.

The keyboard is claimed to be made of 50% recycled DVDs. The other 50% isn’t specified and why only DVDs and not CDs mentioned. They are both made from polycarbonate plastic. Perhaps people are done throwing out CDs? Also, who throws away DVDs? I have so many questions here. I absolutely prefer that all materials are recycled so I love seeing that HP is making it a point to utilize recycle materials in new machines.

The bezel of the computer is very thin, much thinner than I am used to seeing on a laptop. I am sure there are smaller but my biggest concern is, how do I take this apart without cracking it? The screen is visually of great quality and has a kind of indescribable clarity that I really appreciate.

Serviceability

I am incredibly impressed that HP made this computer so easy to access the innards. The bottom is held in place by five screws. There are clips towards the front of the case so it needs to be swung open towards the front of the machine.

Very surprisingly, they used captive screws so you don’t have to set them in a magnetic bowl or end up brushing them off your workbench and spend hours looking on your cluttered floor to find them.

Inside reveals easy access to the memory, SSD or in this case NVME. I didn’t take the CPU fan and heat piping out to see if the CPU was easily replaced like my Latitudes. Another time, perhaps. I think the big take away here is, this thing is easily serviceable and upgraded. With very little effort, I can swap out the storage and add RAM to this thing, truly making this a machine that I can use for many years.

binary comment

I will be interested in seeing how long the battery on this thing lasts. It is only rated at 53Watt/hours but it does appear to be adequate at this time, based on how I have been using it.

Installation of openSUSE Tumbleweed

I gave Windows 10 a try on this machine. I got through the installation procedure, registered the computer with HP, read through the rather frightening EULA and was presented with a fairly standard Windows 10 desktop albeit with a few extra HP sprinklings. This computer had none of the “bloatware” that is common on PCs… at least… has once been common. After about 45 seconds, I decided i was done playing with Windows and it was time for openSUSE.

I have installed openSUSE on a few other new computers and there have been hangups or difficulties to work through, mostly with Nvidia. I was expecting for there to be a bit of a battle but because I have chosen Tumbleweed, I know that I will have the latest available hardware drivers and judging by the mailing list feed. I was glad to know that this Comet Lake Intel architecture is supported.

In order to boot from the USB, I had to change the boot order. For my own personal future reference, here are what the different F-keys do on POST:

F1 – System Information
F2 – System Diagnostics
F3 – 3rd Party Option ROM
F9 – Boot menu
F10 – BIOS Menu
F11 – System Restore
F12 – Network PXE Boot

In this case, you really only have to make the change in the boot menu to boot from USB. Since openSUSE is Secure Boot capable, there are no problems there. If you are like me, you want to dig into the BIOS menu and see what goodies are accessible within. I’ll tell you, it’s pretty standard stuff.

For the installation process itself, I didn’t do anything custom. I just let the installer do what it wanted and it very nicely read my mind to just wipe and install openSUSE with a single BTRFS partition. The only tweaks I made was to activate the SSH Service and open the port in the firewall. The rest was left as is. Thanks openSUSE! The installation process took all of 9 minutes and it was complete. For details on my installation process you can take a trip here.

Upon booting up the system for the first time, the only issue I had was a lack of sound. Going into YaST, I selected the sound module which informed me that the kernel module for snd-sof-pci had not been loaded.

This wasn’t an extra step I wanted to do, but I am grateful that the YaST sound module was able to walk me through correcting the issue. The positive takeaway here is, I haven’t ever actually messed with this before since it hasn’t ever come up, but now that I see how this module works, further play is necessary. Not for this machine but something that I am building.

Just three packages needed to be installed and the sound automatically configured itself properly and hasn’t been an issue since. What I find interesting here is that Plasma now has devices like HDMI left in an inactive state so you have to how the inactive devices when you don’t have something plugged in. This really clears up a lot of the previous irritation with how Plasma / PulseAudio handled the sound devices. The changes here are fantastic.

After using this machine for a few days, I decided that I really loved it. I’m impressed by how solid yet light the chassis feels. That meant, I had to make this computer my own. I, of course, started by using my openSUSE Breeze Dark theme then I replaced the default system notifications with my preferred Star Trek: The Next Generation variety that I have cut up and mixed. It feels better that way.

My only issue that I have not yet worked out is that my brightness control for the screen just seems to trigger the mute toggle. My understanding is that there is a firmware fix from HP on this and this problem is not exclusive to Linux. More on this in the future.

The installation and first run of openSUSE Tumbleweed with Plasma has been simply fantastic. It has been over 10 years since I purchased brand new hardware to run Linux and have since stayed just a bit behind to reduce my frustrations. There are no serious frustrations with this machine, sure, a little issue with the brightness control and I had to take an extra step to get the sound working, but that is it. The battery life on this machine is extraordinary. I don’t have to think about having a power supply handy. I just take this laptop and go places. I can’t say I have ever experience such laptop computing freedom before. Truly, a tremendous openSUSE Tumbleweed laptop experience.

What I Like

The touchpad on this particular computer has a glass surface. I love how it feels and how easy it is to clean. Why is it that in 2020 I first experience this? Why hasn’t this been the standard in touchpads? It isn’t a full mouse replacement as it doesn’t have physical buttons at the bottom of the touchpad but if you press down on it, there is an audible click. By pressing in the standard respective locations, you do have all three mouse buttons.

The keyboard does have a TrackPoint where the G, H and B keys meet. This is something I have grown very accustomed to using my Dell Latitudes. I really don’t like being without but the downside is, with out that third button, I am not able to scroll like I do on my Dell Latitude E6440 so the usability of this component isn’t as useful as I would like. I am quite sure I can figure a workaround on this shortcoming.

Very importantly, the keyboard is of very good quality, I have written this entire post on this EliteBook and I am very happy with how the keyboard feels. This is nothing like the Zbook I have previously used where you had to hammer down on the keys to get the letters to type. These keys require just enough pressure to activate and since the chassis that it sits in is as rigid as it is, there is not a bit of flex in the keyboard.

On the incredibly rare occasion I tax this system, I am impressed by how quite the fan runs. There are two impressive aspects here. One, how little the fan actually runs and when it does run, how quite it is and how short it ends up running as it seemed to spin down when the CPU usage dropped down as well.

This computer has USB-C with Thunderbolt. I have nothing that takes advantage of this capability but now that I do, I just may look at getting something for that purpose. I do appreciate the fact that I can charge my computer from the USB-C port. This opens up a lot of power options for this computer. More on that at another time. It should also be noted that the Thunderbolt module in the Plasma Settings is very informative and I am sure that I will use this as my peripherals start to go towards this Thunderbolt interface.

Something that is incredibly important to me on a laptop is how easy it is to service the thing and what my options are when I open the thing up. The innards are incredibly easy to access so memory and storage upgrades are easy. There isn’t any memory soldered on to the board and since I have the option to stuff 64 GiB of RAM in this thing, that makes this laptop very forward leaning.

Amazingly, this computer has a built in SmartCard reader. This is huge for me as I need one regularly and using a USB device is not convenient. There weren’t any issues getting the device drivers and middleware set up in openSUSE. The wiki on that subject is well written and results are easily repeatable.

What I Don’t Like

The arrow keys on the keyboard are a little crammed. I am sure I’ll get used to it but I would say this is the weak point of the keyboard. I don’t have a suggestion as how to correct this whilst also maintaining the clean aesthetic. I think the layout of the keyboard is more about aesthetics than it is about functionality but it is in balance.

There is a little bit of squirrelly behavior of the Fn key for display brightness controls. After a little research this is not exclusively a Linux issue but is more common in Linux. There is a BIOS update to fix this problem, I just have to take the time to work through that solution with a non-Windows system.

As far as slots and ports go on this machine, there is a sore lacking of and SD Card slot. I do wonder why this feature was omitted from the design, especially over having a SIM Card slot that I can’t use without serious modification to the computer.

There is no Ethernet port on this computer. I guess they took a queue from Apple and omitted this too. This is one of those issues that can be easily fixed with a dongle or dock station. Thinking about it. I rarely use an Ethernet port on a laptop unless I am docked. I just happen to like having an Ethernet port and expect them on computers. I call this a nice to have, not a requirement.

Peculiar position for the Power button and airplane mode. I suspect this is to support the overall design aesthetic of the keyboard, having the nice clean lines and deck around the keyboard. The irritation with the airplane mode is that being on F11, I have triggered the airplane mode more often than I would like to admit. The media function keys utilize the F-row and by default are active. The only media keys I use often are the volume up and down keys so I have to determine if it is more important to have the F-keys, which I use very frequently, or the media keys as the default press.

Final Thoughts

Overall, very happy with this machine. It was a parting gift from my previous employer and about the time I completely forgot they were going to send it, the system arrived and I couldn’t be happier. I see myself using this machine for many years. Regardless of the lacking of SD Card reader, it does have the more important SmartCard reader. The arrow keys are a bit crunched but that seems to be a lot more common these days, which is incredibly unfortunate and the media keys are currently a bit squirrelly but there should be a fix for that in the near future. I really can’t complain at all as this is a fine machine and a very welcome gift.

Going forward, I plan to make this my on-the-go machine and will probably leave my Latitude at home more. This means, I will have to do some upgrades to this machine if I plan to make it my main, mobile machine. The 237 GiB drive is a bit small for all that I do with a computer and the 8 GiB of RAM seems to get filled up very quickly with my poor browser habits.

The HP EliteBook 840 G7 is a fantastic Linux machine. If this were offered with Linux pre-installed, I would consider this to be a prime, flagship, Linux experience. I haven’t tested any other distributions but I imagine they would be much the same. I really appreciate the work HP has done on this machine and the seeming forethought they had with ensuring Linux compatibility.

References

Dell Latitude E6440
HP EliteBook 840 G7 Specifications
HP EliteBook 840 G7 on NewEgg.com
Ubuntu on HP Elitebook 840 G7 Notebook PC

Logitech K400+ Keyboard Water Spill Repair

One of the big life enhancements I have had in the last few years was mounting a computer in the Kitchen above the sink. I realized that there is an inherent hazard in mixing electronics and kitchen activities but I maintain a strong belief that this can also be a very beneficial mix. Having openSUSE available to me, with all its application and reliability goodness has been a life-enhancer for the kitchen.

The Accident

Whilst cleaning dishes in the kitchen one day, I was overcome with excitement about something I had seen on the computer and without thinking transitioned my wet, dishwater-soapy hands right from the sink to the keyboard and thoroughly saturated the K400+. Realizing what I had done I grabbed a towel and to no success, I tried to dry the thing off. I let the keyboard dry for a few days, having it placed in front of a fan for a portion of that and there was still no improvement. I did try it again a few weeks later, same problem of multiple keys being sensed when one key was pressed. This would not do.

Instead of fixing it right away, sort of considering it a lost cause, put it on my pile of broken things to get to it at another time. In the intermediary time, I decided to use this old full sized Apple keyboard. This was from the iMac G5 era of machines, Clear base that acts like a tray to collect all kinds of debris. Really, a terrible design but was cool back in the day, I suppose. The short USB Cable on the keyboard was causing a continual increase in frustration. That combined with the keys are a lot heavier to push than the broken Logitech keyboard was so when typing, I would often not properly press a key completely and have to fix my error.

I continued using this keyboard, though its function had been as an emergency or special project keyboard. They kitchen computer was in no way a special project but I had been using it in an emergency fashion for far too long. I missed the wireless capability a lot and the handy touch pad was also not there for me to quickly scroll and click to something.

After recording an episode of DLN Xtend, I decided it was time to disassemble the thing and see if I could fix it. I have seen many retro computer keyboard repairs on YouTube where the keyboards would have been considered a lost cause by most and they were successful, what is really the difference, outside of them being experts with success and me being one to more often break things then actually fix with success.

Disassembly

Despite my misuse and abuse of this keyboard, id still did (and does) look good and I did miss the feel of that rubber-dome, laptop-style keyboard.

I brought the keyboard to my workbench and gathered my tools. Not much was needed a screwdriver and a triangular plastic case opening tool as this keyboard was likely to have many snaps that are just waiting to be broken.

The screws that hold this together are on the bottom with a total of nine screws that keep this together. Three of the nine screws are hidden. Two under the rubber feet at the backside of the keyboard and one under a sticker with the serial number. There are numerous ways to remove the foot pads, tweezers, flat-head screw driver, fingernails if they are long enough, just be careful not to get the sticky side dirty.

Using the plastic case separator tool, I pried keyboard apart, fully expecting the keys to explode all over the place. Surprisingly, they are nicely retained in the top half of the case. Below the keys sits a silicon like rubber pad. Below the rubber pad is what looks like mylar with a lot of traces or circuits somehow etched, perhaps printed in the surface.

Using isopropyl alcohol cleaned the top of it and I could test the keys by pressing on the circles upon which the keys would normally push down through the rubber domes. I was still getting odd results. Pressing the “J” key would print “je” on the screen and so forth. I cleaned several times, getting slightly more aggressive with no success at each subsequent test.

I could see a reddish-brown discoloration on the mylar and the isopropyl was seemingly not successful in removing it. I was about ready to give up when I made a closer observation of the mylar and noticed there were layers. There were, in fact, three layers which then made it evident as to how this keyboard works.

This answered my question on how this particular keyboard works. When the key presses the top layer of mylar, closes the gap and makes contact with the bottom layer of mylar.

I was also able to easily clean what discoloration remained. I very carefully, with a synthetic towel and isopropyl, cleaned the layers of mylar taking great care in not wrinkling anything or rub too hard. When complete, I held the bits apart to allow the solvent to dry before testing once again.

Still leaving the silicon rubber dome layer off, I tested the key presses with success. Next I set the silicon rubber layer down, and tested the key presses, again with success. At this point, I am feeling pretty excited and took the top half of the keyboard case, pressed it down firmly to allow the snaps to engage and gave the keyboard a full test. Surprisingly, all the keys worked as expected. It was a successful repair!

Final Thoughts

Many of my repairs do not go well. I would say I have about a 40% success rate of first time go with things. That actually might be a bit generous, as sometimes, I have to fix things a few times before it sticks. This is something I should have fixed months ago. My fingers are so relieved to not to have to hammer down on that old Apple keyboard and also to not have to keep it on top of the coffee maker to use. I have freedom to roam about my small kitchen once again. I must, however, be more careful as to not mix dirty, soapy dishwater and the keyboard again. I don’t want to have to perform this fix again.

Reference

Logitech K400+ Keyboard
openSUSE.org Home
Linux in the Kitchen | Life Enhancement Blathering

Raspberry Pi 400 | Blathering

I am not one of those individuals who gets the new fancy hardware because I am an Internet nobody and that is just fine by me (as I sulk, rocking back and forth in the corner). That doesn’t mean I am not without my opinions.

Raspberry Pi 400 Kit

I watched a video early in the morning about the Pi 400 on Retro Recipes from the perspective of using it as a kind of retro machine, like an ultimate emulation machine in a compact size. The marketing on the box says it is a “complete personal computer built into a compact keyboard” which interestingly like the Commodore 64 of years past.

Granted, that is a much larger keyboard in comparison but for the time, it was rather compact when compared to its contemporaries of similar performance. The back of the Pi 400 has all the typical ports exposed on a standard Pi 4 so you have available all that was previously available but in a different form factor.

Specifications

This isn’t, by any stretch, an amazingly high performing computer but it is also no slouch. It features a Broadcom BCM2711 quad-core Cortex-A72 (ARM v8) 64-bit SoC @ 1.8GHz processor, 4GB of DDR4 RAM, wireless networking, dual-display output through 2 micro HDMI ports for 4K video playback, MicroSD Card slot for whatever operating system you plan to run, 2x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 2.0 port USB-C for power a Gigabit Ethernet port and finally a 40-pin GPIO header so all the fun of the Raspberry Pi is exposed.

It is claimed to have an operating temperature from 0°C to +50°C ambient. I am quite sure that going above 50°C would likely cause some kind of thermal throttling.

Essentially, this is a Pi 4 in a different package with the intent to be manufactured until 2026. That is an incredible length of time.

Design

This machine has the footprint of 286 mm × 122 mm × 23 mm. If you are metric shy, that is 11-¼” x 4-⅜” x ⅞” That makes this machine quite small and indeed compact. According to Perifractic Retro Recipes. The design is solid with just a bit of sponginess on the Enter key, “5% from perfect” was the claim

Picture taken from Retro Recipes Pi 400 video

It is quite obvious with the internals, that this is a completely different design than the standard Pi 4.

Picture taken from Retro Recipes Pi 400 video
Picture taken from Retro Recipes Pi 400 video

I am pleasantly surprised to see this elegantly simple designed board on the interior, not just a Pi 4 with connector wires to the back. It does look like reliability was a factor in the design and manufacturing of this equipment.

I am not sure how many times one would plan on getting to the internals of this computer, as everything for which you need access is on the back, I am concerned about cooling. The CPU is heat taped to the metal shield so that should help with thermal dissipation. I know that some early Pi 4s did have serious issues with getting too hot. That makes me a bit concerned and therefore, I would be interested in seeing what some stress testing would yield on this machine.

Possible Uses

If you have any interest in developing things on single board computers, this is absolutely a great way to work on something to rapidly test it out. Since there isn’t the mess of parts and pieces as you would more likely have with a standard Raspberry Pi, here you plug in the power, the monitor, and whatever you are working on to the back of the Pi4. Admittedly, unless you are developing to deploy this on the Pi 4, some of the specifics may not work on early versions of the Pi. I can’t say for sure but I do know that there are different images for different Pis.

I see a strong propensity for this device to become the “Ultimate Retro Arch machine” that you keep in your living room or video game den. With the keyboard, sturdy case and available USB ports on the back, it would be cost effectively simple to play all the games of yester-year on this without putting at risk of damage, the real hardware. Specifically, I am thinking for those times I do play retro-games with my kids, I do worry just a bit for the safety of my machines.

Although I think there is a better argument for an old netbook, I do think that this would be a great choice for a child’s first computer. It would, perhaps be better, to have them sit properly at a desk and do their typing tutor there or a nice little work station to learn and explore, taking advantage of the GPIO on the back, making wonderful electronics creations which leads me to my last point.

As an inspiration education tool for children or adults. Lets be fair here, this is a toy for an adult, just as much as it is for a child. This is a super cool kit that is more than just an educational tool for youngest of populations. This is a great tool for any age to learn and dig into it that has the vulnerable bits protected. This frees up any apprehension of getting all the right pieces and not having some collection of things that looks like a science experiment, dominating a desktop or workbench. The GPIO pins on this device are shielded from an accidental drop or scoot that might short something out. This is a much safer way to conduct reckless mad-scientist like electronics experimentation

What I Like

The kit looks like the way to go. It has a retail of $100 (though I can’t find anyone selling it at this time) which comes with an official power supply, mouse, HDMI cable and perhaps, most importantly, a beautiful manual that is loaded with pages of all kinds of informative educational excitement. This is essentially an educational tool that comes with a real manual like the days of old. For me, the manual is key. Thumbing through the pages documentation, running my fingers down the inner spine of the book encourage it to stay open and explore all that it has to offer. There is something about that smell of a freshly bound book that makes an experience real and memorable (I realize, I am dreaming here).

The build quality looks more than adequate. I would absolutely gauge my expectations around the $100 mark and wouldn’t try to compare this with a modern Dell Latitude in fit, function and performance. That would be completely ridiculous. Based on other reviews, they keyboard looks to be just 5% from perfect which is more than adequate for me and especially more than adequate as an educational tool.

All the connections are on the back, like in good all-in-one Commodore 64 fashion and is nicely shrouded to protect against accidental shorting of pins or parts on the board. It doesn’t protect against everything but would protect against most accidental clumsiness.

Perhaps most important of all, this is spearhead into he inspiration of future generations to develop and create solutions. It is that first computer you can feel good about giving a child that he or she can take the time to learn and create. This is the beginning of something that is far better than having them plunk away on a phone or tablet being entertained like mindless automatons. This can be used to just just consume but to create and give to the world in which we live.

What I Don’t Like

The case uses clips to hold it together as opposed to screws. I am aware that screws do cause significant increases in manufacturing cost, so I understand the decision to forego case screws. That just happens to be my preference.

There are some incompatibilities between the Pi 400 and the Pi 4. Though I believe it has largely been worked out and since it is Linux that is running on top of the hardware, I am quite certain, through the magic of configuration files, kernel modules can be turned on and off based on the underlying hardware platform.

Since this is an ARM based system, anything that is built to run on top of it is likely to be unique for this specific ARM platform. ARM tends to lack standards across the architecture, which I believe is holding back the wide spread adoption of ARM (among other things). It is at least one reason I don’t just run out and by ARM devices.

Worst of all, I can’t seem to find any place that has them for sale. It looks like it’s sold out! So, all I can do at this point is kick my feat up, dream and wonder about all the fun I could be having with this… until my goldfish-like attention span drifts me off to another intellectual curiosity.

Final Thoughts

This is a great little piece of kit that is essentially a STEM course in a box. The design, the look and from what I can tell by other reviews, build quality are top notch, especially at this price point of $100 for the kit and $70 for the computer/keyboard itself.

I don’t have an immediate use for such a device but I can say that I would love to get my hands on one and play with it. Test it out and see what it can do. I do think it would make for a great Retro Arch machine. Even better would be to run openSUSE on this with all the Retro goodness and even for some productivity.

I think the best use of this particular machine is in education. The cost is low enough that you could buy for a whole classroom without breaking the bank and inspire future generations to develop and create wonderful solutions for the next generation of challenges.

Lastly, why 400? Should I have been making parallels to the Atari 400 as opposed to the Commodore 64? The keyboard on the Atari 400 was awful…

References

Retro Recipes Pi 400 Video
https://www.raspberrypi.org/products/raspberry-pi-400/
Raspberry Pi 400 Specifications
http://www.retroarch.com/
https://www.opensuse.org/

Noodlings | Inspiration Is Around You

21st Noodling of jam packed excitement… not really.

This is the 21st hot-pocket-sized podcast that won’t scorch roof of your mouth.

I have a small collection of vintage or near vintage gaming consoles. I lean mostly in the Nintendo party as I think they have a great grasp on what is fun. I don’t always agree with many of their business practices but the entertainment they have provided is multi-generationally successful. In order to lower the wasted time of hooking these systems up to enjoy and better organize their presentation, I built a Gaming Rack that was inspired by watching a YouTube channel called Retro Recipes. Seeing how nicely laid out and easily enjoyed they were set up, I made the decision that I must adapt this idea to my little world.

I’ll address this in greater length in the future but suffice to say, the creation of this Gaming Rack has made coexisting with lots of tech in the common areas of my house so much better. The big win was a place to keep all the tablets, handhelds and mobile devices so that they don’t linger in the kitchen or on the dining room table. They have a place to sit and charge and it is pretty fantastic.

The primary item of note here is, you can find inspiration all around you. The final result of my gaming rack, largely, isn’t anything like what I saw on the Retro Recipes channel but the purpose and intent is very much the same. I appreciate inspiration from wherever it materializes.

Modern Computer in a Commodore 64 Shell

The Commodore 64 was my first computer and there is something about the classic, beige bread-bin shape that brings a kind of retro-excitement. I have many fond childhood memories of flicking the switch on the side of the case where I was greeted with that “Ready” prompt and the blinking cursor on the light gray field… You see, I had a 13 inch, wood grain black and white TV that I mostly used with this fine machine. Only on special occasions did I get to enjoy it full color on the family TV in the living room. When I did though, that blue screen would fill the room with near endless possibilities of electric joy and hours of entertainment. There hasn’t ever really been an experience quite as exhilarating, as a child then when I learned how to input those load commands and hear the 1541 disk drive come to life with the warm sound of heads seeking over the spinning disk. To this day, when I use that disk drive, it takes me back to those bleak winder days where I would cozy up to a mug of hot cocoa and Commodore 64 delight.

WTTR.in | Weather Forecast in the Terminal

I have had an affinity for all things terminal in my old… or middle age. Not that I have ever spent all that much time in the terminal back in the 80s and 90s but as I transitioned into the Linux world, I started to enjoy the terminal and wanted to learn it.

What I am most interested in by this is the quick and efficient retrieval of the weather forecast. Since this is a terminal application, the actual limitations are few of what can access this information. The Commodore 64 with a text only web browser should be able to view this and certainly any other computer that came after it. In effect, this makes nearly any computer built, still quite relevant for modern tasks, or at least, it certainly helps keep computers useful.

Being able to access weather data quickly in the terminal is far preferred over using a web page as this is much quicker and does not gobble up internet bandwidth and cast a net of trackers at you.

I was made aware or rather re-aware of this information by some of the folks over at The Otherside Podcast Network.

Rickroll in the Terminal

When I was watching a YouTube channel “Adrian’s Digital Basement“, I noticed a dancing dude on some kind of small device in the background, on his wall of interesting things.

You know, I am seeing a pattern of me snooping on YouTubers…

I took me a bit of searching to realize that this was the “Rickroll” and out of curiosity, I had to see if it was available as a terminal command. Sure enough, this absolutely is a thing in the terminal and I had to Rickroll myself!

I found the project on Github, ran the commands and got an incredible laugh out of it. In an effort to not lose this again, I made a quick blathering about it on CubicleNate.com

There is nothing of any real value on this at all.

BDLL Followup

Talk on application preferences. What I got out of this was the push to use fish instead of bash for my shell. Fish stands for “Friendly Interactive SHell” So, calling it fish shell is a like ATM Machine.

In short this truly revolutionizes the terminal interface. This takes the terminal from good to awesome. The bottom line of what makes this awesome, and I will create a blathering post about this later, is that it holds your hand in using commands in the shell. It has parsed the man pages so when you start entering a command and press the tab key, it does more than just display what command you may be entering, it gives you the options and descriptions of what it is, continue to press tab and you will cycle through the similar commands. It’s

openSUSE Corner

Introducing the Open Build Service Connector

Open Build Service Connector is built around bookmarks of packages. Individual packages or whole projects can be checked out directly from within Visual Studio Code, similar as to how you would with osc.

This works well with the openSUSE project philosophy of collaboration which is at the heart of all things openSUSE and fundamentally built into the Open Build Service.

Node.js, OpenSSL, Mesa Update in Tumbleweed

Some of the major package updates in the last week of snapshots include newer versions of the Linux Kernel, Node.js, OpenSSL, Mesa, Apparmor, ImageMagick, AutoYaST and many others. Several CVEs and bug fixes have been addressed and the Mesa graphics library updates to support Intel Rocket Lake platform

Tumbleweed Roundup

https://review.tumbleweed.boombatower.com/

Computer History Retrospective

Computer Chronicles – Speech Synthesis (1984)

I think we often take for granted about how well speech-to-text and text-to-speech works these days on rather small hand held devices. I know that I have become unreasonably upset with my mobile when it didn’t translate anything or translated what I said poorly. I have to stop and look back in time at the history of speech synthesis and compare it to the size and limitations of the machines in 1984 at the commencement of commercially available solutions for speech synthesis.

Although not covered in this episode of Computer Chronicles, there was an application called “SAM” which means, Software Automatic Mouth, published in 1982 by “Don’t Ask Software”. I played with it a lot on the Commodore 64 and what I found out more recently was that this really taxed the little 64kib machine which is why it had to blank the screen when speaking.

SAM on the Web

The applications for speech synthesis in 1984 were a bit of a stretch in some ways. I’m not sure if it was the large awkward microphone or the obvious shoehorning of it’s usage for checking your stock portfolio but it did seem a bit clunky. Other uses, like the speak and spell, I thought was good but a camera or my car speaking to me is not really something I would appreciate today.

Could you imagine your camera telling you that you need to use a flash when taking a picture at a wedding?

The Speak and Spell is, in my opinion, is one of the best examples of a fantastically well executed consumer product. Though I don’t enjoy my Speak and Spell much as an adult, it is fun to pull it out from time to time and see how poorly my spelling still is after so many decades on this planet.

If speech synthesis is of any interest to you, I recommend watching this and seeing formative years of computer speech synthesis to gain a bit of appreciation on where we are today. Maybe you totally appreciate it but I know that my attitude falters from time-to-time and it’s good to look back and see how far we have journeyed.

Final Thoughts

Inspiration is all around you, it is just a matter of you taking the time to pause for a moment and look for it. There are truly creative minds out there, freely sharing ideas that you can apply in your life to make things just a bit better. Pause and appreciate the bits of inspiration throughout computing history that have made our tech lives so very interesting and fun. For a nerd, this is truly the best time to be alive.

Noodlings | No Linux for 10 Days

20th Noodling, just like the previous, delivered inconsistently!

The 20th cookie sized podcast, but not one of those oatmeal raisin type of cookies, more like something with chocolate chips.

Chinese food containers are a feat of clever engineering. Most people just toss them in the bin once they are done with them but if you stop to look at how they are folded together from wax coated paper, you have to smile and marvel at the ingenuity of this clever, nesting box.

Element | Matrix Chat Client

The Element client makes using Matrix quite enjoyable. Previously, using Matrix was a bit of a lack-luster, almost a science experiment kind of feel to it. Sure, it worked but it didn’t have the polish and great user experience I have using Telegram. I can say, with much confidence, using Element feels like a real product. It feels just as good as any other messaging client. It is still early days for me so it’s still all new and exciting.

Send and Receive Text Messages SMS with Element

Amiga Fast File System Return to Linux Kernel

A component of the Linux kernel for the Amiga Fast File system had been broken that deals with the basic permission bits, protection bits in Amiga OS. The Linux Kernel would only set bits but never delete them.

Max Staudt is the developer that noted this issue and submitted a fix “for good” such that this won’t be an issue in the Linux Kernel any more. He said, “…Linux a nd classic AmigaOS can coexist in the most peaceful manner.”

Linus Torvalds appears to have agreed and the code made it into rc4 of version 5.9 which is slated to be release this month, October 2020.

This is great news for those of us that are vintage tech enthusiasts.

VisualBoy Advance

I was in a situation where I was away from home for an extended period of time. As a result I was separated from my old tech which means authentic hardware to do the more retro style of gaming that I enjoy. While away, I had a hankering for some GameBoy fun to unwind at the end of the day. The application I found, which I ultimately installed from the Snap Store was VisualBoy Advance. The big take away on why this is a great application for playing GameBoy and GameBoy Advance games is the ease of use and how highly configurable it is.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048 Black Screen Repair

Power outage left me with a computer where the LED on the side would show activity but there wasn’t even a flicker on the screen itself. It was out, completely black, no light whatsoever.

Ultimately the issue came to a faulty power supply which tells me that I need to take the time to put in some sort of UPS to protect it in the future. This isn’t the first time I have had issues with this computer as a result of power fluctuations.

No Linux for 10 Days

In my time away from my normal life, I was in a situation where I was without Linux for almost two weeks. I hear of people that consider time away from tech as being “refreshing”. I wouldn’t consider that the case at all but it was enlightening. Using “analog” methods for recording information is super inefficient but it did force me to work on my hand writing as it is atrocious.

Secondly, having to use Windows 10 to do “digital work” was so frustrating, I will say, the points of frustration were not all the fault of Windows 10 but it did make me greatly despise using tech. It confirmed that if Linux went away and I was forced to use Windows 10, I just wouldn’t.

BDLL Followup

There was a discussion about the perfect distribution that dominated the majority of the the conversation. I can easily say that openSUSE fits as the perfect distribution. There isn’t much I would change about it. The only thing I can think is a little polish in Tumbleweed as such that it becomes real easy to do distribution updates, preferably, using Zypper.

openSUSE Corner

openSUSE + LibreOffice Conference

Going on now is the openSUSE + LibreOffice virtual conference. There is one day left but you have to register before participating as to keep out spammers. There are two virtual rooms where talks are given and a workshop room to hack on LibreOffice. Thinking about this, there is an element missing from the event. There isn’t a virtual hall way to get lost in and have random conversations about of topic subjects. Maybe Next time?

It’s nice to see that virtual conferences are still happening. Just because the world has hit a rather large bump, not all the wheels have fallen of of the wagon.

Join our team and help us improve the openSUSE learning experience!

openSUSE is a project that has many parts to it and with the very lively and thriving community, some things can become untidy. The project has multiple distributions, although Leap and Tumbleweed get more of the mind share, things can become a bit overwhelming for someone new to start poking around the openSUSE spaces.

This is why a group of volunteers have taken up the task of improving the learning experience for users regardless of their experience level. We want to make sure that new users can best identify solutions for their requirements and experienced users have the detailed documentation that is easy to access and update.

Any help is welcome for writing, editing, peer-reviewing, video production and testing.

Tumbleweed Roundup

  • 20201008 moderate 90
    • MozillaFirefox (80.0 -> 81.0.1)
    • inkscape
    • kdeconnect-kde
    • libzypp (17.25.1 -> 17.25.2)

https://review.tumbleweed.boombatower.com/

Computer History Retrospective

Computer Chronicles – Super Computers (1984)

Oldest computing machine is the abacus

Massive Parallel architectures was the key feature of these massive super computers. It is interesting to see that the super computer technology of this time is essentially the architecture that would later be adopted by the average home computer, to include your mobile device.

These computers were rated at over 100 million calculations per second. I wanted to get some kind of a baseline comparison to a modern Threadripper but getting actual “calculations per second” isn’t a thing with modern benchmarks. I would be interested in see how one of the old Cray super computers of the mid-1980s would compare to the average gaming desktop computer of today. It’s worth a wonder.

Parallel processing was a big thing with these super computers but the rate of improvement had slowed down and the discussion boiled down to the next breakthrough coming in changing the way things are done and different algorithms to take advantage of greater speed increases.

It was initially by government grants that breakthroughs in super computers came about and once better understanding and more applications were developed for the super computer did the commercial applications jump on board to better simulate a 3D world for testing such as the automotive and oil industry. Ultimately, making the process of being profitable much quicker.

Barriers at the time is building better algorithms to map on a computer’s architecture while at the same time, modifying the architectures to work with the algorithms. There was such a massive number of changes and experimentation in this time. The US and Japanese manufacturers were competing against each other at the super computer level. Both governments investing in the private sector to help with R&D costs. Really a spectacular time in the history of computing.

Final Thoughts

Take some time to appreciate some of the marvels around you. Even something as ubiquitous as a to-go container has an incredible story behind it. Someone or many someones spent many hours engineering the shape and the design of the thing as well as the many hours or perhaps years it took to perfect the manufacturing process. We often take for granted the wonderful luxuries we have.

Modern Computer in a Commodore 64 Shell

Of sorts.

The Commodore 64 was my first computer and there is something about the classic, beige bread-bin shape that brings a kind of retro-excitement. I have many fond childhood memories of flicking the switch on the side of the case where I was greeted with that “Ready” prompt and the blinking cursor on the light gray field… You see, I had a 13 inch, wood grain black and white TV that I mostly used with this fine machine. Only on special occasions did I get to enjoy it full color on the family TV in the living room. When I did though, that blue screen would fill the room with near endless possibilities of electric joy and hours of entertainment. There hasn’t ever really been an experience quite as exhilarating, as a child then when I learned how to input those load commands and hear the 1541 disk drive come to life with the warm sound of heads seeking over the spinning disk. To this day, when I use that disk drive, it takes me back to those bleak winder days where I would cozy up to hot cocoa and Commodore 64 delight.

Although, today, I do keep a real Commodore 64 running and use it from time to time, often wish there was a modernized version of that bread-bin shell so that I could enjoy a flavor of computer goodness performing “modern” computational work loads. It almost came to pass, some years back as there was a project from Commodore USA where you could buy a computer that ran a modified version of Linux to look and feel a bit like the Commodore 64. I searched far and wide to get one of these cases to build myself a modern computer in the style of the Commodore 64. Why? Mostly… just because of the smiles that the computer brought me and the smiles I would like to continue to have, day in and day out.

As it goes, a few days ago Matt, one of my co-hosts on DLN Xtend send me this link where I was greeted with what what I assumed would remain unobtainable and I nearly fell out of my chair in excitement. It appears that an industrious entrepreneur from the UK managed to acquire the website, molds and some stock from the now defunct CommodoreUSA and is offering the sale of Commodore 64 styled enclosures.

The long term plan for My Retro Computer is to sell complete systems but the short term is to sell cases, presumably to build up some capital and take the next step. The Commodore OS that was developed by CommodoreUSA is available for download. I am not really interested in this as my it is now pretty far out of date and I much prefer to shoe-horn openSUSE on all my computer things.

Key Features

I am not going to make this an exhaustive list of every feature of this retro case. I want to keep this short and not an endless blathering of my excitement. There are three key features of this machine, as I see it:

Number 1

The retro styled case. I can see this as being the natural progression of the original Commodore 64 bread-bin case. The same basic shape but taking into account modern hardware and in this case, taking a mini-ITX motherboard, a slot for optical media on the left side and the right side having a multi-format SD card reader.

Number 2

It comes with the keyboard that is a low noise, USB, mechanical, Cherry Switch keyboard. Just based on the description, this isn’t an inexpensive keyboard. Cherry Switches are well known by the keyboard enthusiasts and although I am not a keyboard snob, I do like a quality, modern keyboard and mechanical switches are known to last longer than many other variants. The fact that they took modern components and arranged them in such a fashion that removes the annoyance of the cursor keys and gives you a full 12 Function keys along the top is very welcoming.

Number 3

Prominently displayed on the key features section on the MyRetroComputer.com site, it boasts Linux compatibility (with other things that are far less cool). Although this goes without saying, since it is nothing more than a case with accommodations for standard components, what it does mean is that this computer is “future proof.” That means, I can build it, and rebuilt it again as the component standards are essentially used in perpetuity. Standards may not be fun on the surface, but they can make for so much fun in other aspects in the sense of unleashing creativity.

What I would Do With It

I have thought a lot about setting up a workstation that would generally stay put in my “SuperCubicle.” separate from my AMD system I recently assembled. This would be a fairly low cost build and I would use the monitor I already have in place. I envision this machine to be more of a production machine that would be set up for recording, graphic design, etc. That would free up my laptop to do more mobile tasks. I would call it my “anchor system” as it were and it would fit my enthusiasm for vintage tech and my almost unhealthy obsession with openSUSE Linux all in the same package.

That Windows machine isn’t there anymore, nothing is there currently, perfect spot for this machine.

Pricing It Out

Obviously, there are cheaper ways to accomplish this that are probably more pragmatic but the joys in life are not all pragmatic at all. For instance, my Linux powered festive lights is not really practical at all from a certain perspective but it brings me a lot of joy, all year. In a similar fashion, this would bring daily fun to my desktop experience. It wouldn’t be the exact childhood experience with all the same warm sounds but it would be some of the feel along with the modern conveniences. I decided to do some digging and estimate what it would cost me to build my ultimate retro-modern computer.

Case

The case is about $250. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a good deal but when put into perspective, it’s not so bad. A Cherry switch keyboard can range from $40 to $200 depending on the grade of switches. This is also a very custom layout with only the switches themselves being off the shelf. The rest of this is very custom. Even if we are going mid-grade here, but taking into account the very custom nature of this layout, lets say this is an $100 keyboard. Maybe it is a little on the low side, I don’t really know for sure. Take that into account that would make the case about $150 and that, to me, is reasonable, considering the niche nature of it.

Motherboard

Doing some searching, and I haven’t actually decided on a board yet. Just some quick searching, there are some gaming mother boards that are not so expensive, even some kits out there but I don’t see how I would be able to add a graphics card to this setup, so I would certainly get an AMD motherboard to take advantage of the power of the Ryzen processors with . between $60 and $80 that would fit the bill quite nicely and give me a lot of use out of it.

CPU

Since I am going with an AMD based system, so long as there is the room for a decent cooler, I am currently interested in a Ryzen 5 3400G with the RX Vega 11 integrated graphics. It should be at least 50% faster than my Dell Latitude E6440 with the i7-4900MQ. Practically speaking even better considering the cooling limitations of the laptop form factor. I am looking at about a $160 price point here.

Memory

I wouldn’t go with, at a minimum 32 GiB of RAM and I am estimating about $120 for two 16 GiB sticks of SDRAM. I would probably just get 2 sticks and leave the other two open to double the memory down the road.

Cooling

I would get a 40mm case fan and some kind which would cost around $6. The CPU cooler would have to be low profile enough to fit in this case and the options I have seen are in the price range of about $50, depending on the design.

Power Supply

Here is where I am uncertain the implementation of the power supply. Looking at the case, it almost appears that the power supply is expected to be external. The cost for internal power supplies are around $50 but here I need to do a little more research.

Operating System

This is kind of a no-brainer as I will of course use openSUSE Tumbleweed running the Plasma Desktop. There really isn’t another choice. I would have access to all my retro system emulators and productivity software so it would just, frankly be perfect for my use case. The reality is, just about any Linux distribution would be great

Final Thoughts

This Commodore 64 retro computer case plus openSUSE Linux with a little mix of DIY is a perfect mixture of Linux and vintage tech enthusiasm with a dash of my almost unhealthy obsession of openSUSE Linux. It just all comes together here.

I have often heard from some people that standards aren’t fun or standards restrict too much. I think this idea is rather absurd as it is the “restriction” of standards that give us the framework to support the freedom to create new and interesting things. Everything from this “Modern” Commodore 64 case to house standard components is cost effective because of the standard interfaces. I think we can see evidence of this everywhere. This can be everything from programming languages to graphical widget toolkits. Not to say that standards need to be static but having a solid foundation from which to build allows for wonderful and interesting creations. The Commodore 64 Retro Case is just one example of it.

References

MyRetroComputer.com Home
Commodore USA OS
https://www.xtremegaminerd.com/ryzen-cpus-with-integrated-graphics/


Noodlings | BIOS Games Serving the NDI™ Plugin

Another prime number… and no the title doesn’t make sense. It’s just a nonsensical way to string everything together.

19th Noodling on a mid-August night

19 Episodes… 19 is another prime number!

Fun facts about chocolate milk can be found here

BIOS Update Dell Latitude E6440 on Linux

My BIOS was 4 years out of date. I thought it was time to update it. I went to the Dell Support page and noticed that they only had *.exe files available. I sighed and was initially frustrated because my initial supposition was that I was going to have to have a working copy of Windows to do the update. 

AntiMicro | Map Keyboard and Mouse Controls to Gamepad on openSUSE

Installed a game called Pokemon Insurgence on Lutris and there was no way to play the game with a gamepad. Rather than try to fight things, set out for an application that would map the keyboard controls to the WiiU Pro Controller that has become my gamepad of choice.

CPU Downgrade

After receiving this message following a BIOS upgrade, I was forced to purchase a lower powered CPU for my AMD Workstation.

OBS NDI™ Plugin on openSUSE

The NDI plugin offers a fairly easy way to send OBS video signal (presumably other applications can take advantage of this too) to another OBS instance on another machine. This can come in handy for numerous reasons such as splitting up workloads between machines by capturing output from one machine, such as gaming computer, to stream with a dedicated unit that interfaces with YouTube.

BDLL Followup

What have you done that would cause you to lose your Linux card

openSUSE Corner

New Prototype Builds Bringing Leap, SLE Closer Will be Available Soon

The release manager for openSUSE Leap, Lubos Kocman, has updated openSUSE’s develop community on efforts to bring the codes of Leap and SUSE Linux Enterprise closer together.

Tumbleweed Roundup

  • 20200805 Stable 99
    • MozillaThunderbird (68.10.0 -> 68.11.0)
      • Several CVEs addressed
    • transactional-update (2.22 -> 2.23)
      • Subpackages: transactional-update-zypp-config
      • Version 2.23
      • Add “run” command to be able to execute a single command in a new snapshot
      • Add “–drop-if-no-change” option to discard snapshots if no changes were performed (BETA, required for Salt integration)
      • Removed previous CaaSP Salt support (gh#openSUSE/transactional-update#33)
      • Avoid “file not found” message on systems without /var subvol
  • 20200810 Score of a moderate 84
    • epiphany (3.36.3 -> 3.36.4)
    • gcc10 (10.2.1+git465 -> 10.2.1+git501)
    • gnome-mines (3.36.0 -> 3.36.1)
    • kernel-source (5.7.11 -> 5.8.0)
    • squid
    • zypper-lifecycle-plugin (0.6.1490613702.a925823 -> 0.6.1596796104.87bdab7)

https://review.tumbleweed.boombatower.com/

Computer History Retrospective

Computer Chronicles – Fifth Generation Computers (1984)

The pioneers in the field talk about 5th generation computers capable of Artificial Intelligence and heuristic learning; giving computers context. In 1984, computers were already being used to make knowledge based decisions.

The Computer Chronicles – Fifth Generation Computers (1984)

Final Thoughts

Take some time to have fun. Good, clean wholesome fun. Go for a walk, enjoy the weather on any day that it is possible. Take some time to cherish each moment, whether it is good or bad, find the positive in the situation and make it a point to say “thank you” as often as possible.

AntiMicro | Map Keyboard and Mouse Controls to Gamepad on openSUSE

Installed a game called Pokemon Insurgence on Lutris and there was no way to play the game with a gamepad. Rather than try to fight things, set out for an application that would map the keyboard controls to the WiiU Pro Controller that has become my gamepad of choice.

I know I heard it was possible on a podcast some time ago and since I was probably doing something else and didn’t have a notebook handy to write down whatever it was, I began my search and found this AntiMicro as a solution.

A quick note, this is not a comprehensive and exhaustive analysis of all of its features. I am covering just a portion of the features.

Installation

AntiMicro is in the official repositories for both Leap and Tumbleweed. To do the graphical click method, navigate here:

https://software.opensuse.org/package/antimicro

Alternatively, you can install it through the more exciting and personally gratifying method of the terminal:

sudo zypper install antimicro

For other distributions, search “antimicro” in your favorite software management system.

The Problem Game

The game I wanted to set up to use a controller is Pokémon Insurgence. I observed my oldest child watching a play through on the YouTube and he spoke of interest in the game. I found the game on the Lutris site with an easy installation process.

The game I wanted to set up to use a controller is Pokémon Insurgence. I observed my oldest child watching a play through on the YouTube and he spoke of interest in the game. I found the game on the Lutris site with an easy installation process.

https://lutris.net/games/pokemon-insurgence/

The issue is, there was no way to have this game use any control pad. Only the keyboard. I thought this annoying and didn’t play the game… until AntiMicro, that is!

Configuration

The configuration of AntiMicro is incredibly straight forward. So much so that this little write-up is almost unnecessary but I thought I would share my experience anyway. When the application starts up and the system is absent any controllers, you will be presented with this screen.

What is pretty fantastic is that when you do activate, or plug in a controller, there isn’t any fiddling required. The application immediately reacts and presents some straight forward options.

I turned on my Wii U Pro Controller, my controller of choice on those periodic cases that I decide to play a game. The application immediately presented options.

At this point, you can push buttons on the controller and identify the buttons and in this process, I did discover that the A and B are swapped as well as the X and Y. I looked at the Controller Mapping configuration and it looks like the physical locations are correct but the labels seem to be incorrect.

I would call this a small papercut issue but it is indeed an issue. So beware of the labels and make sure that the button and the action are correct. It is best to verify.

I took some screen shots of the input configuration portion of Pokémon Insurgence so I could map the keys out.

For the arrow key configuration, you can very easily map it all onto the DPad and the joystick of your choice. I set both to control the movement of the character. There is, kindly, a present drop-down to make this selection.

Each of the other keys can be assigned but do take note that you assign the correct key to the correct button and verify labels. When you select the button, you can then select the corresponding key.

Not relevant for this game but just to make note, you can also map mouse movements which, I see as being valuable if you want to configure a controller to manage mouse movements without using the Steam to do so.

After completing and subsequently tweaking my button selection. I was able to play a solid 10 minutes of Pokémon Insurgence on my Linux machine quite happily. At this rate, I might get through it in the next 6 years or so.

What I Like

The configuration is splendidly simple to set up. It is very intuitive and does as you would expect. I appreciate how easy it is to set up and get going with it.

The on screen information about what you are doing is very appreciated. Rather than digging through help or readme files, the important information presents itself.

Finally, this is a Qt application so it integrates nicely into Plasma and my dark theme looks great. It is as though the interface was tested against Breeze dark as there were not any unreadable bits to the application.

What I Don’t Like

The one little papercut of the reversal of some buttons is unfortunate but not a deal breaker. It’s only important if you actually read the buttons and not go by the action flash.

The mouse controls isn’t exactly as I was hoping. The movement of the cursor didn’t exactly have the variable movements I was expecting but there are so many options, there is, perhaps one that would give a kind of gradient movement. So, this is not really a knock on the application as the default is probably best for most users. I would say, this is a knock on me for not being satisfied with what is likely a sane default.

Final Thoughts

AntiMicro is a fantastic application, especially if you play old DOS games or other emulated games that don’t have adequate controller support. This also has the bonus feature of being able to easily map your controller to act as a mouse which may be a nice addition to a media set-top box for the living room.

I am glad I stumbled on this and I wish I could give attribution to where I recently heard about it but seeing as I don’t recall, I will miss the opportunity to link to that source. If I do find this I will add an edit.

If you have some games that don’t play nice with controllers, try AntiMicro, it just may give that old game a fresh coat of paint.

References

https://software.opensuse.org/package/antimicro
https://github.com/AntiMicro/antimicro