I’ve made an interesting discovery the other day about one of my render nodes: with identical GPUs, one appears to render faster than the other. I didn’t get it at first. But with a possible explanation in my head, I got the thinking and applied the same principle to my other node, and was able to increase its render speed by 24%!
How exciting is that?
It’s all about retro hardware, and how to make the most out of what you already have. Let me tell you what I discovered, and how I made use of an old AMD/ATI GPU in my setup that I never thought would work.
This morning I got a notification from Amazon that Jerry’s new book had been released. I had pre-ordered it a few weeks ago and was eager to start reading it. Having a long journey across town from Miami Beach to Sunset ahead of me, Jerry’s Book of Sin would be a great accompaniment.
My trusty old Kindle Keyboard 3G was all charged up, I was ready to leave, but the book had not been downloaded. “Hm”, I thought, “this should have happened automatically”. Was I signed into the correct account?
Yes I was, and to my surprise, the book was showing up correctly under Archived Items. But when I tried to download it manually, all I got was an error message stating that “The download was unsuccessful. Please try again later”.
Several tries later, and without any luck, I remembered a solution that did the trick: fully rebooting my Kindle Keyboard. This trick also works on the DX and other models, even on Kindle Fire devices. Let me tell you how to do it.
When I owned a DS console many years ago, I remember playing a game called Hotel Dusk: Room 215. It was more like an interactive book than a classic adventure game. At times a little tedious, it had a super gripping storyline and I couldn’t forget.
In the story, protagonist Kyle Hyde, former NYPD detective, has left the force and is now a door-to-door salesman. He’s still trying to find out what happened to his former partner. When his employer sends him to Hotel Dusk in LA, he finds a host of characters that all tie together into a larger plot, which appears to be connected to the disappearance of Kyle’s former partner.
When I discovered the DesMuME emulator for the DS recently, I thought I’d try running the game on my Surface Pro – and it’s almost exactly like having a super sized DS, complete with stylus.
Since the game has it’s tricky moments, I’ve made list of questions I had while re-playing the mysteries of Hotel Dusk: Room 2015.
I’ve bought another classic retro title from GOG.com the other day: Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb (from 2003 I believe). I greatly enjoyed this game on the original Xbox and I had no idea that it had even been released for other platforms.
Turns out the game does support a (more or less) mappable Gamepad profile, but it was written many years before the Xbox 360 Controller for Windows was even invented, and as such not all buttons can be mapped.
Which means the gaming experience sucks – especially for a game with so many commands.
Luckily I found a very helpful forum post discussing these very issues, and of course someone cleverer than you and me has figured our how to get the Xbox controller to (mostly) work in this game. I did have some success following that post, but to make this thing work 100%, there are a couple of things we need to do.
I thought I’d share them in this article, in case you too would like to help Indy fight against the evil Nazis.
I’ve recently discovered GOG.com, the service that provides “good old games” from yesteryear to retro connoisseurs like myself. Games that used to run well on DOS and other long forgotten platforms are getting a new lease on life by being packaged up to run on today’s technology.
Many games run on Windows, Mac and even Linux – but some are only available for single platforms, mostly Windows. The Might and Magic 6-pack is such an example, available for only $9.99 (a total bargain, considering it’s 7 games).
I remember getting “Isles of Terra” free with a computer magazine in the nineties. I’m not usually into role playing games, but having enjoyed Bard’s Tale III on my C64 many years before, I gave this one a shot and loved it – just like its sequels (Clouds of Xeen and Darkside of Xeen, together making up a whole new game called World of Xeen).
I wanted to find out if I’d still enjoyed this game today, so I tried installing it on my Mac using a Windows 7 VM with Parallels Desktop. However, it didn’t run well and the mouse is interpreted rather weirdly. That’s no surprise really, because it means I’m running an emulator inside another emulator. Of course things will go wrong!
Might and Magic is installed using the DOSbox emulator under Windows, and as soon as you click the launch icon, DOSbox is launched, and within it the actual game. Thing is, DOSbox is also available for Mac, several Linux flavours and some other exotic platforms – so I was wondering if I could somehow just run DOSbox on my Mac and launch the original files from within it.
I have several Amazon accounts: one in the US, one in the UK, and one ein Germany. Every now and again I de-register one of my Kindles from one account and register it with another one. Depends on what content I’d like to read and on which account it’s available.
The other day I switched my Kindle Fire from my German Amazon account back to my US account, my main account, containing all my my english content. To my surprise, the device registered fine, identified itself as “Jay’s Kindle”, but none of my content was showing up. Likewise, the device was not showing as registered on my web interface.
What was going on? Where was all my content? This had worked not too long ago!
I tried installing the Kindle iOS app on my iPhone and registered it too – only to find it behaved exactly the same way: no content, and the device was not showing itself on my Amazon account.
After getting in touch with Customer Service, I can now tell you what happened – and a neat trick of avoiding it, should it happen again. Interested? Read on!
I was playing XIII again the other day. The US GameCube version this time. I remember enjoying XIII on the original Xbox back in the day, as well as on PC.
Even today, there’s nothing quite like playing these old style shooters with blurry textures and blocky unsmoothed 3D objects.
That aside, I had a tough time making the Grappling Hook work, mainly because the controls on the GameCube version must be the most terrible in the history of console gaming. Sadly my copy did not come with an instruction booklet, but at $4.99 with free shipping I’m not complaining. I found no instructions on the internet either, I’m probably a lost cause and too late for the XIII party anyway.
For future generations, and my future self, here’s how the XIII GameCube control work (from what I could figure out).
I’m as excited as a kid in a candy store – because last Monday my new (old) HP Z600 Workstation has arrived! Built and sold to the government in the summer of 2009 for roughly $5000 (give or take a grand), it came to me via an eBay auction for $171 plus postage some seven years later.
Equipped with two Intel Xeon 5560 processors, no hard drive, 4GB of RAM and only a COA sticker for Windows Vista, I had a little bit of work to do to get it all going:
get a USB keyboard
get a power cord
get a graphics card
perhaps grab some more RAM
find a network cable
download a copy of Windows Vista (not easy to find in 2016)
I wanted to use this machine for 3D rendering in both Carrara and DAZ Studio, so for the latter I decided to buy an NVIDIA GTX 970 graphics card. I had to do a few internal modifications to the machine to make it work – but work it does, and it was a lot of fun to get this rig going.
The other day I was looking at Samsung Chromebook laptops. It’s the latest fad in giving laptops something to do in the post-PC era. They’ve largely replaced netbooks for “surfing with something that’s not a tablet”. I’m a fan of open source operating systems, and Parallels Desktop offers to install Chrome OS as VM too. …
My first radio in the late around 1980 was a Palladium Mono Tape recorder with 4 band radio. It had a big dial on the right, a display with a moving stick, and four buttons to select FM, AM, Shortwave and Longwave bands. Even with its many limitations I loved this thing! The FM band …
I finally found out what the difference is between Machine Language, Assembly and Assembler – and how it fits in with Interpreters and Compilers. For those of you game enough, let me explain what these cryptic terms mean – and how they span computers from the early C64 to today’s high-end laptops.
Something that has plagued the early computers was their speed of how they executed things in BASIC – or rather the lack thereof. As nice as BASIC is, sifting through an array of variables can compare them with a known value does take some time.
That’s not BASIC’s fault though – it’s rather the way it is executed. You see, BASIC (on the C64 and his comrades) is an interpreted language. This means that while the computer is working, it’s translating the BASIC statements into something it can actually understand – which is of course not BASIC. All a computer really knows is if something’s ON or OFF. Computers are truly binary machines – no matter how old or how new they are. So if you tell them to PRINT “HELLO” then some translation work needs to happen for HELLO to appear on the screen – and that takes time.
That’s what an interpreter does: translate one language into another on the fly – much like people can listen in Spanish, and speak the same thing in English, for the benefit of an audience (usually not for their own pleasure).
The great thing about interpreted languages is that the source code always remains readable. As you can imagine, ultimately the interpreter will throw some ones and zeros at the computer. There’s no way you could make a change to that as it bears no resemblance to your source code.
One alternative to speeding up the programme in question would be to have the something like the interpreter to go to work BEFORE the programme is executed. Ahead of time, and in its own time. Then we could present the translated result to the computer right away, taking away the “on-the-fly” translation and saving some CPU power. I guess it won’t come as a big surprise that this is done frequently too: it’s called compiling, and a Compiler does such a job.
Back in the eighties, BASIC ruled the home computer world. Most machines came with some BASIC flavour in ROM, ready for you to issue commands to that mysterious machine.
Most BASIC dialects could be traced back to Bill Gates’ very own Microsoft BASIC which he hand-coded together with Paul Allen and Monte Davidoff for the Altair. Subsequently they licensed BASIC to many manufacturers, including Commodore in the mid to late seventies.
Back in those days, home computer owners – the likes of you and I – were equally a “user” of pre-written software, as well as “programmer” to a varying degree. If you as much as wanted to see what was on a floppy disk, you had to know a couple of commands to make it happen. From there it was but a small step to creating short programmes – even insignificant ones that would perhaps repeatedly write the word HELLO on your screen.
It was fun, and something I’ve always enjoyed about BASIC.
As computers grew more advanced, this simple pleasure has been taken out of the equation: by the nineties we’ve all been turned into “software users”, and only extremely intelligent humans would continue to produce software which could be run on our new machines.
The day of the “casual garage coder” was effectively over.
The knowledge one needed to possess, together with the software and hardware tools, was not intended for the faint-hearted BASIC user, nor were they easy to come by. BASIC was out, and the new kids on the block were compiled languages which offered a lot more than a 40 column text screen – and they ran a lot faster on the new hardware.
So BASIC, and the Hobby Hacker along with it, is a thing of the past… or is it?
It’s sad to think that something got perhaps lost with faster and better machines, snazzier software and slicker UI’s where everything is – ultimately – about “how much money can we make out of that?”. It’s like saying “I’m only learning how to speak if you show me some cash”.
Knowing how computers work goes a long way to getting pleasure out of using them. Have you noticed that people who don’t care about such things have a really hard time making computers work for them? They can be your friends you know, they weren’t made to be our enemies.
There’s a garage coder in many of us – perhaps not in every one of us. But if you still like the idea of “casual programming”, but…
you don’t want to run an old computer as an emulator
or even buy an old computer and speak to him in BASIC (like I do)
and if you’re simply missing the pleasures of simple coding
Recently I bid on a very good looking Commodore Plus/4 on eBay. I’ve never had one and have only heard the stories about this little guy: mismanaged marketing, the failed successor of the C64, the computer nobody wanted. A sad story – especially considering that it’s a really good machine that paved the way for the C128.
With almost the same powerful BASIC commands as its successor, the Plus/4 is much smaller than the C128, a little over half its size I’d say. It takes up much less desk space and can use the 1541 floppy drive. Other peripherals were not compatible (joysticks, datasette drive, etc), neither was existing C64 software – which was widespread and popular at the time. The Plus/4 did have more colours but no sprites (which made computer games amazing in those days), and its sound qualities were less sophisticated than those of its predecessor.
The major downfall of the Plus/4 was undoubtedly its marketing and strategic decisions within Commodore: Jack Tramiel wanted a $99 machine that would sell alongside the expensive $500 C64 in 1984/85 and wipe out the fragmented home computer competition. Design of the 264 family began thanks to him – this included the C16/C116 and Plus/4 – even a 364 with speech module (only legends know about, like the CBM Museum).
Before the launch of the new machine however Tramiel left the company in 1984 – and with Commodore’s visionary gone, the rest of the clueless board of directors turned the Plus/4 family into a C64 replacement. Well, it flopped. Badly.
Since it was never meant to be what it became, and because it wasn’t compatible with existing popular software, less than 1 million units were produced worldwide and the Plus/4 was discontinued within a year of its launch.
Nevertheless, learning from their galactic mistakes, Commodore quickly developed the C128 and added everything to it that was missing on the Plus/4.
My Plus/4 Story
I bought mine for $49 including shipping from California, boxed with both manuals and dedicated 1531 Datasette. A complete bargain! Other than being a bit dusty, it was in great condition – some minor ageing issues aside.
One of the tragic things about shipping 30yr old computers several thousand miles, even with the best packaging, is that components can break, old solder joints can snap, and things may not survive the journey. It’s the nature of shipping retrotech.
Then there are those abysmal power supplies Commodore built back in the day: they’re usually potted and can’t be opened and are no repairable. Voltages over time may increase which leads to the death of many a chip in the best working machines. Another tragic story.
I was delighted to see that my new Plus/4 WORKED out of the box! The power supply measured the correct voltages, cursor blinks with a glint in his eye. The packaging was not only adequate, it was fantastic! I was really lucky with this purchase:
The only thing I noticed was that several of the keys did not respond well unless I hammered them or pressed them repeatedly. Time for a thorough examination and a quick fix!
Join me if you will on a journey under the hood of the Commodore Plus/4.
While most iOS Developers around the globe are busy learning Apple’s new programming language Swift or playing with early versions of iOS8 and Yosemite, I’m deeply involved in something much less cutting edge. In fact it’s from over 30 years ago, and it’s courtesy of Microsoft:
I’m having fun getting back into BASIC 2.0 as featured on the legendary Commodore 64 (or C64 or CBM 64).
This was my first computer, and I’ll never forget it. German computer magazine “64er” dubbed it the VC-64, or “Volks Computer” (because Commodore’s previous machine was called the VC-20 or VIC-20). It was huge everywhere, but particularly in Germany it was just THE machine to have.
Sure, there was the Amstrad CPC664 and 464 (which were re-branded as Schneider) or the ZX-81 and Spectrum, but they were somewhere in that 5% category of “other home computers”. We never had the BBC Micro – for obvious reasons, and none of my friends could afford anApple II.
I no longer own the hardware, but some of that early day knowledge is still in me, together with many burning questions that have never been answered. There’s so much I always wanted to know about the C64, and so much I wanted to do with it: write programmes, learn machine language, and generally use it for development. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a Programmer’s Reference or developer tools. Time to get back into it!
Today we have wonderful emulators such as VICE (the Versatile Commodore Emulator) and it’s just like sitting down with my old computer again, on modern day hardware. I’m even doing it on a plastic Windows laptop for a touch of antiqueness (if I don’t get too annoyed with that).
Don’t ask me why this piece of computer history has become such an obsession with me over the last couple of weeks. I feel that for some reason it fits in with all this high-end cutting edge development I’m doing and rekindles me with how all this super technology started: with cheap plastic that was to change all our lives forever.
I remember the questions from members of my family who had not jumped on the computer bandwagon: “So what do you actually DO with a computer?” – and I guess today as much as back then you would answer, “What am I NOT doing with a computer anymore?”
The 8 bit “home computer” revolution started all that, including the stuff we use every day and half-heartedly take for granted – like downloading a PDF on the beach at 100Mbps, while sending videos to loved ones across the globe in half a second.
Before I get too old to remember, let me see if I can piece the story of “Me and The Machine” together (before my brain inevitably turns into that of a retired old gentleman yelling at the neighbour’s dog in a foreign accent).
We have a total of 6 Kindles in our household, that’s between two people. I know this sounds excessive, but believe me every single one of them has their specific purpose.
Recently I added a lightly used Kindle DX to my arsenal, making up the 6th one. I’ve had a few weeks to play with it now so let me tell you what I think of it – and why I think it’s extremely sad that Amazon aren’t making the Kindle DX anymore.
It feels weird to write a review of technology that has just been taken off the market – but looking at several message boards this device has a cult following – myself included. I can understand why people love it so much.