Childhood memories

This video popped up in my subscriptions the other day and I've since watched it a few times and also tweeted about it, because it is very Relevant to my Interests. It is, in fact, how I spent a lot of my tween and teenage years. Yes, specifically installing Slackware from floppies, because even when I got a CD that had Linux (Slackware 3 if memory serves - Linux 1.2.3!), my computer didn't have a drive for it until later. (And it was a glorious one at that - a NEC reader, connected via IDE that was also one of those fancy 4-disc changers that fit in a single 5.25" bay.) And yes, it was indeed a 40MHz 386, though the ones I tended to have were DX models. (DX models were more common in the US, and lest you forget I did grow up in the Los Angeles metro so computer parts and such weren't too hard to come by.)

One thing that stuck out: the software included, in its own disk sets, even. I did a bit of idle Googling to see what became of some of these things, and... yeah. ObjectBuilder? The name now belongs to some Pokemon thing, it seems; I could find pretty much nothing about what Slackware shipped with. XView and InterViews (not related)? IV is still around, sort of, but no idea about XView. And that whole thing about actually paying for an X server? Man, so wild.

I also enjoyed the dire warnings about making sure, no, really, really sure, you were selecting the right options for your monitor. Anyone who complains about Linux being obtuse ought to go back and look at that -you really, honestly, could damage your monitor, which was a big vacuum tube type thing at the time, with the wrong options. You had (almost) full control over the timings of the electron beams that drew the image on your screen. If you got it wrong, it might catch fire! (You could exploit this if you wanted to. The X-Modelines HOWTO was my friend for a while. I did not explode my monitor, but I used to also be better at math.) It was another time.. not one I'd like to go back to but fond memories nonetheless.

Even more computer weirdness

So, because I evidently need a stream of things to play with, I grabbed a little 11" Chromebook (a Lenovo N22) absurdly cheap. Woot had a bunch of models for around $75 and this one was one of 'em, except I got it through Amazon since it would have taken longer otherwise.

Initial impressions: it's a refurb, but it's pretty nicely done. The screen is good enough (1366x768). Case design is chunky and kinda ugly but when it's open the worst parts of it go away. It has a couple neat party tricks, in that the webcam rotates 270 degrees and it has a built-in handle. The keyboard is nice enough, given the size and the slight oddness of the Chromebook layout. It's not fast but it's good enough; I can put YouTube videos at full-screen and it's fine with that. Battery life so far is awesome; it's reporting about 13 hours remaining after an hour or two of unplugged use including installing software and stuff.

Oh, and it's not running Chrome OS anymore. 'Hacking' these things has changed a good deal since the last time I had a Chromebook and you've got the option to install a third-party EFI setup on there that makes it into a regular x86 PC. GalliumOS is what I've got on here; with the base system install, my typical stack for basic web development stuff, and a few other things, I still have 10GB free on the internal 16GB storage.

I tried not to completely wipe Chrome OS off of here, but it ended up being more of a roadblock - Chrome OS has also progressed a great deal in the years since I've used it last, and the Crostini thing has even been more fully baked into the base OS (so you get Debian Stretch more or less running in a hypervisor of sorts), so it has the potential to be useful for more than just basic stuff, but there's too much that doesn't work still. (Some of this stems from the fact that their GPG keys had expired earlier this year. If I'd known a bit more about apt at that point, I might have just kept with it, but decisions were made. And yes, regular X/graphical apps run in Crostini - just for the hell of it, I fired up rxvt and it came up just fine.) You can dual-boot Gallium and Chrome OS, but dual-booting to essentially choose between running Chrome in forked Ubuntu and Chrome in Chrome OS seemed dumb, so I just went ahead and did the full install. Plus, I won't have to worry about Google bricking it when they decide that this thing is too old for Chrome OS updates.

So now I have 4 weird computer projects to ramble on about on here: this Chromebook, the accidental Xubuntu/Windows build (now my gaming PC!), the HP all in one, and the Pentium 133 nostalgia machine. It's going to be fun when I get a Raspberry Pi or two, or maybe start fiddling with one of Ben Eater's bare computer kits...

Sounds Good, Man

One bit of the new PC build I glossed over: I also ordered a set of computer speakers with the new build on a whim. I'm real happy with them! Allow me to provide far more detail than anyone cares about to explain why.

I've completely redone my computing setup over the past year and change, as I got rid of the desk I had in the last move. (It was a solid-core door on some 4x4s that were too tall. I did not spend a lot of time building it, and it showed, and it was time to get rid of it.) That, coupled with my old Klipsch speakers dying and moving to new screens that weren't on VESA mounts this time, meant that I had issues with computer sound. I'd had an old set of harmon/kardon 2.0 speakers that came from Dell a couple decades ago hooked up - they sound pretty good, but somewhat muddy, and they're pretty tall, so they don't really fit under my screens or really next to them due to cable length. Anyway, it was time for them to go too.

Amazingly, I like stereo imaging, so a new set would need to either fit under the screens or, ideally, to the sides. They also needed to be fairly small - new desk isn't terribly large, and if they're gonna be big they'd better also be fancy studio monitors. Ideally, what I'd like is a set of JBL Creature speakers, which are small ones they haven't made since around the time of the first iPhone. (I'd had a set of older ones, from circa 2001, that I liked a whole lot - good sound, small sub, and satellites no bigger than a soda can.)

As luck would have it, NewEgg had a set of Logitech Z313 speakers on cheap as refurbished when I got the parts together for the PC build, and I went ahead and added them in. For under $25 refurb (or slightly more new, evidently), I'm honestly really impressed. Even before listening to them, I was entirely too happy about how the satellites work. They connect to the sub via a standard TRS connector, which splits off into two separate cables about 3" from the plug. The cable is captive, but there's just an absurd amount of cable between the satellite and where it joins together to go into the plug - it's seriously like four feet of cable per channel. That alone would have gotten me to keep 'em. The sub itself is tiny - roughly a 7"x7"x4" box - and has a small down-firing ported woofer, and contains the connector for the satellites, the power cable (also captive), and the input jack, which is actually connected to a pod with a headphone jack, volume knob and power button. The cable situation on that, even, is ridiculous - the input cable on its own is rather long and terminates at the pod, and there's another good length of cable between the pod and the sub. I could about literally have my machine across the room long-ways and still have the speakers hooked in if I wanted. That will make some people cringe, but I really do need a bunch of cable to position these things where they'll make sense and any excess can be handled with zip ties anyway (as it should be).

The icing on the cake? They sound really good. Perhaps a bit bass heavy, surprisingly - I had Apple Music EQed to boost bass a good bit and yeah, that became a bit much, but just due to sheer volume and not distortion - but otherwise clear and pleasant. They are, of course, no match for the Advents I have plugged into the Onkyo receiver but that setup is way too unwieldy for the computer desk, and these really just do sound good on their own merits.

The only things I'd change would be to add some weight to both the pod and the satellites. I may do that; 10-15 cents worth of pennies would be more than adequate. And I might change that I only have one set. The JBLs I liked aren't made anymore and are incredibly hard to come by - truth be told, the Creatures weren't the ones I had, and the model I had I can't even find anymore online - and I'd like to have a backup set for when these eventually die. Of course, one of these days I will set up with a nice set of studio monitors and a real amp and audio interface, but I am more than satisfied for now. If anything, that setup will be pushed back a good bit.

In between the HKs and the Logitechs, I did try a set of the amazonbasics 2.0 pod-type speakers. They're very small and they have very good weight - they're surprisingly heavy, and a bit bigger than a nice hand-held rock - but the sound is not great and the cable situation is terrible. (One side connects to the other, and the other has the USB power and audio in, and all the cables are way too short, and, of course, the input one is on the right channel, which works great since my computer is on my left.) They're a good enough basic speaker for the $16 they cost but the additional $6-$10 or so to get the Logitech set is very, very worth it.

Here's the Logitech speakers, via NewEgg (and, of course, readily available on Amazon as well).

Adventures in New Computing

So, in the interim of remembering what I did and writing down the nuts and bolts of the Pentium 133 build, I decided to (for one) redo it now that it's mostly working and I remember how to work things like Windows 95 and DOS, and, secondly, to utilize some spare parts I had to build a somewhat newer machine. (In a future post, I plan on going over this HP all-in-one I've got, and what I did to upgrade it in a not particularly intelligent sort of way. The gist of it, though, is that I had some spare disks and a spare CPU or two to use.)

Armed with a fairly meager array of spare CPUs and such and a new case acquired by trade, I went off and went through the normal channels to find matching motherboards and such. And.. ended up just building a modern PC. The CPUs I had floating around were both of the AM3-socket Athlon II variety, which meant new motherboards are still being built to support them, which also means that really stupidly inexpensive parts were sort of hard to come by, which then leads to replacing the handful of parts I had with new stuff being not much more expensive.

The parts I ended up getting included an ASUS H310M chipset (such that there are chipsets these days) motherboard, coupled with a Raidmax 500 watt power supply, 8GB of Crucial DDR4 RAM, a really cheap NVMe 256GB M.2 SSD, and a Pentium Gold G5400 CPU running at 3.7GHz, all of which slotted into a Rosewill Raider-M case or somesuch. In essence, this is a cut-down Core i3-based system - the CPU has a crappier version of the GPU that the Core i3 does, and it's got 2 cores with HyperThreading rather than 4 without. There's some evidence that at least some of these are binned CPUs so there may very well be 4 actual cores in there, and it's a 9th-gen Core architecture CPU so easy to swap in a Core i9 when I finally actually do go insane. I went with Xubuntu 19.10 on it - Eoan Ermine - with ZFS roots and whatnot. For the $250ish I paid for the parts, it's really damned quick, though playing games in Linux still sucks a bit.

In terms of the computer itself, I came away with two main things:

  • Even this cheap no-name 256GB NVMe SSD can push a full GB/s, in my totally unscientific and probably pointless GParted benchmarks I ran when I was also installing games in Steam.
  • Parts to first boot - everything just sitting on the desk for sanity/functionality check - took like 10 minutes. No kidding. Another 10-15 to put things in the case, and maybe 20 more to install Ubuntu, and.. like.. a few more to make sure the front-panel USB and audio worked before I closed everything up. Had I actually prepared, this would have been a 30-minute build.

On a whim, I bought a regular SATA SSD with an odd name (Alertseal! Almost as good as Fatty Duck Racing) and then slapped that in there haphazardly for a Windows 10 install. It's also real fast, and now I'm using a disk drive that has a picture of a happy seal on it. And a 5-year Wrrnty. Whatever that is.

I haven't put it through paces with coding and such but VirtualBox.. runs.. on it (admittedly with Windows 10, which isn't the best of ideas given limited resources) and it's certainly snappy enough to play high-def YouTube videos OK. Games are a bit more of a mixed bag; I've only tried GTA:IV and Portal 2 so far. Portal 2 is totally cool at 1920x1200 - hits the 60FPS limiter - on Windows but dips into the 20s on Linux and is happier at 1280x800. GTA:IV on Windows needs a lot of things turned down/off but is playable at 1280x800 or so. (I'm just happy to actually be able to play it finally. I bought that years and years ago and have never really been able to run it - either my computer wasn't good enough for it at all, or it doesn't work well in virtualization, or something. So far, it's.. not really all that great but we'll see.)

Next steps for ridiculous stupidity include trying to get macOS on it, because I obviously need a crap Hackintosh to run along side my real MacBook Pro. And then, I dunno.. maybe more fiddling with Docker/K8s, media serving, Android dev, stuff like that. Or a Core i3 sans video and a real video card for gaming funtimes. (I have a bunch of games I've never played because no Mac versions.) In any case, throwing together a machine was pretty fun, if quick and somewhat anticlimactic.

Adventures in Old Computing

When I moved last, most of the old computing gear I had went by the wayside. Most of it wasn't all that exciting - a lot of mid-2000s Dell Pentium 4 business desktops of questionable use and things of that nature. However, a handful of things survived; an old motherboard here, an LS-120 drive there, some old boxed software I thought had gotten binned. Also in the mix was this old system - a Dell Dimension XPS P133c.

Aenias, for reasons I can't explain.

Aenias, for reasons I can't explain.

As configured, a Pentium 133 (no MMX) over-clocked to 200MHz with 90something MB RAM, a 450MB hard drive, CD and floppy drives, and a S3-based Number9 video card. I got a wild hair one day to see if it still worked, and it amazingly fired right up and began booting.. Rhapsody DR2. (As an aside, weird computers and computer environments are kind of my thing. I've had Sun machines, and an IBM RISC System/6000, have personally owned an NEC Image RISCStation, and for a while ran ETH Oberon Native because why the hell not.)

oh my, OpenStep!

oh my, OpenStep!

Rhapsody DR2 is what became of NeXTStep/OpenStep after Apple bought out NeXT, and they did produce some Intel builds before locking it down to PowerPC for Mac OS X. Unfortunately, this particular install of the OS wasn't really working - it never really got to the desktop in a usable manner and did a fair amount of crashing, so I set out to convert it to a more normal system. (It does have a Windows 95 sticker on it, after all.)

One thing that I learned pretty quickly: the RAM in there was all sorts of weird, which got swapped for 128MB of all EDO RAM I managed to find (it's 72-pin!), and P133s don't really like being clocked 33% higher than they're supposed to be. Had I thought on that a bit more, I might have kept it running Rhapsody for a bit longer, but that's not a very useful operating system so it wouldn't have stuck around.

Anywho, I found some 3.5" disks that amazingly weren't completely broken and a USB 3.5" disk drive and started rebuilding the system.

Updates and such

Because this has the new and shiny, I've now got post permalinks and tag list views. And I've unforgotten how to do basic stuff in Laravel for the umpteenth time. Hooray!

Hello, world

Yep, yet again I have started a personal blog. Welcome! This is iteration like 50 of this, and each one typically has a note about seeing how long it'll last so just pretend I wrote that in this space. I do at least intend on using this as a test bed to fiddle with new features and such (as it's all Canvas and Laravel) and it'd be nice to have a slightly more built up version of the underlying software for reasons.

Anyway, after a handful of pretty major life events and changes that have happened over the past year or so, I've decided it would be a good idea to write stuff every now and again. Twitter by and large - especially with the expanded character limit - takes care of 90+% of that for me, but it'd also be nice to do some longer form type pieces that would not necessarily work in the Twitter format. I've got a few ideas for things that'll end up here. I'd like to do a number of long-form music posts covering a few different topics. One of those topics would be ruminating on found/new music (because not all of it that I stumble across is necessarily new); I had an idea a few years back about doing a Project 365-type thing that would be focused on important or interesting songs and artists, and I'm working on at least watching every full KEXP live set that they post over the next year or so, whether or not I recognize or like the band in question. I've also been trying in fits and starts to get back into playing music again, so that'll be fun to write about occasionally. And, I've been thinking on expanding what I already know from a history perspective and the interconnectedness of genres, bands, and culture. (You can more or less get from reggae in Britian in the 50s and 60s to the Foo Fighters without a whole lot of hand wavy nonsense, for example!)

On the non-music front, there will definitely be stuff about computers (especially old systems as I've discovered a bunch of old stuff in my inventory) and programming. I've got a Pentium 133 project box that'd be fun to rebuild and document, and an Apple IIc that needs some love along side the more modern systems I've pushed into the modern age. There will also surely be a few more personal posts, but nothing too deep necessarily. (This is ultimately an exercise in making the brain bits shut up sometimes but some of that stuff doesn't necessarily belong on the interneds.)

In conclusion, welcome to the new thingy, it at least looks sorta nice this time around. I will now leave you with this ridiculous cat photo, just to make sure that bit of this install works.

We put a cat in space with pizza for meaning or some shit!

We put a cat in space with pizza for meaning or some shit!

Some More Information For Y'all

Hi, I'm James. Some people call me 'murgee'.

I'm a web developer, general computer nerd, and music geek based in Memphis, TN.

This blog is powered by Laravel, Bootstrap, Canvas, and coffee. Hosting by DigitalOcean (referral). Fonts by Google Fonts.

Background image: unsplash-logoTara Evans

Because I have to: unless otherwise noted, © 2019-2020 James Kachel.

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