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Tech Henge


Shriekback - Nemesis

As noted previously we basically just bought our way into a retro-computer collection with the addition of an Atari ST and two further 8-bit systems. This created problems for us, but we decided to solve them with craftsmanship and as a result Natalie built an impressive henge.

Previously my office had a bookshelf that Natalie built while I was out of town for work. It worked great for 10 years or so but the shelves were only 10" deep, and while I was able to cram an impressive amount of stuff on there, it had to change. So we designed one 24" deep with a work surface a couple of inches deeper than that, and then a 20" hutch for the top section. This will allow us to have several layers of display items with storage behind them.
Because as is my motto: "If It's Not Display, It's In The Way"

So we've spent the last week setting everything up and trying to consolidate all the new stuff into bins, test what's working and what needs repair, and cabling up all the systems and network hardware. We put two 12u racks in the bottom, one is full of network hardware, NAS, and webservers and the other has several Atari 8-bit peripherals that are hooked up and then storage for in-progress projects like the Kaypro II. We designed it with the three cubbies to accommodate our printer and scanner, but decided that they were better used with books and stuff, so as a bonus we swapped out the top on a metal cabinet we already had and it really fits in well.

You can already see there's room for 4 computers/keyboards and mice "comfortably", and we could probably have 6 going if we really wanted to add anything more. We'll be spending some time to come trying to find the most effective way to fill this thing, but I think it's off to a good start, and we can nearly eat on our dining room table again, so that's a bonus! I think all we have left to do is unfortunately send the Elvis tapestry on a permanent vacation and replace him with 3 or 4 bookshelves to hold all the software and documentation we got with this haul.

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What Have I Done: Atari Edition


The Ramones - Somebody Put Something in my Drink

Yesterday we went out and collected what was left of the Atari collection we bought, so today we set up pretty much everything in one place. This is why we need to build furniture:

This collection comes to us from a man I was in an Atari computer club with back in the '80s, when I was an Overly-Enthusiastic 'Tween pirate. So while I don't have my personal childhood 8-bit and ST computers anymore, this is actually stuff I remember. I specifically remember the ICD enclosure with the Apple sticker stuck on it for example. The ST actually was lovingly packed in a suitcase with custom foam for the machine, Spectre GCR and external floppy. However when we got it home the foam utterly disintegrated all over our dining room, so that's all being replaced just in case we ever take it anywhere again, but I can definitely remember that case being lugged into meetups back in the day as well.

There are also lots of things I've never seen in person before, like the Atari-branded tablet, light pen or the Indus GT drive. Apparently you can retire quite comfortably off the sale of an Indus GT, at least according to eBay weirdos. I don't know, I just remember they looked real cool in magazine ads.

It should be noted that all those boxes of disks, and the other boxes of stuff not pictured, contain nearly all fully licensed commercial software and manuals. That's why I haven't posted any shots of ST demos and cracked game intros and stuff. There aren't any :-) Everything is legal and has manuals, which is great. One of the big issues I had when I was a kid is that yeah, I had tons of games, but no idea how half of them worked, not a problem for Jumpman, but big problem for SCRAMM or Silent Service or MULE, at least I never knew how to play them. While this definitely wasn't a "Gamers" computer, it's really going to be interesting to stick Natalie in front of Calamus or PageStream and show her the state of the art for 1988 design software. Spectrum 512 has already left us both stumped. I've got some re-learning to do for sure.

Natalie was super excited playing with the drawing tablet and I guess I might have to get a CRT just so we can try the light pen out too. We're also looking forward to projects with the AtariLab temperature and light modules, which just have a really interesting history.

My loose plan is to get a GoTek so as not to have to deal with physical disks as much, and a SCSI to SD that can live in that ICD enclosure (along with probably 15 Raspberry Pis!) so that everything is gainfully employed once its new home is ready. To use the Spectre GCR I'll need high resolution mode, which should be achievable with a VGA converter. Color requires a monitor to support a 15Khz refresh rate (or use of an expensive scan doubler), but monochrome should work just fine. I'm waiting eagerly for to start selling their "ultimate" retro computing monitors to actually solve that problem once and for all.

Once we get the new storage built we'll have much more room to get in and start opening stuff up on the bench and start some repairs.


On the 8-bit side, inventory-wise, we've got:
XE Game System
XEGS Light Gun
1010 Tape Drive
1050 Disk Drive
Indus GT Disk Drive
CX80 Trackball
CX77 Touch Tablet
CX75 Light Pen
AtariLab Light Module
AtariLab Temperature Module

Of that, the XEGS seems to be totally fine, while the 130XE tests bad on a bunch of its RAM, so that will be a project. I don't know whether I'll just replace the 64x1 DIPs that are in there now or go for some over-the-top modern upgrade that might be easier to source. It's also likely got a bad keyboard membrane, but I have a spare to replace that on hand.

On the ST side:
Atari 1040 ST
SC1224 Color monitor
SF-314 Floppy Drive
ICD FA-ST 2x SCSI disk enclosure
Spectre GCR Mac Emulator
There's also an internal PC emulator mod that I've not tested yet
Gravis analog joystick

The external floppy at the very least has a bad power switch, and doesn't seem to do anything. There are a total of 4 SCSI drives spread between two enclosures, but none of them spun up immediately either, so some work to do there. The Atari mouse doesn't work (yet!), so we got a DE9 to USB adapter so we can use modern mice. However that Gravis stick will work as a mouse, and was crucial to getting the machine up and tested.

There's one broken key slider stem that can be seen in the picture, we have the key and got a whole bag of replacement sliders so that's handled.

The external mouse & joystick switch box kind of resolves the problem of those ports being buried under the machine.

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Fall Project Time


REM - The Wrong Child

I recently started bringing in a truly special collection of Atari hardware. I was expecting to pick up an ST and some software, and when we arrived found not only that that ST had loads of peripherals and neat stuff to test out, but lots of 8-bit hardware and an XE Game System as well. I actually had to do this in trips just to make sure I had somewhere rational to store all of it while we inventory it and do any repairs and cleanup needed before we start trying to see what other more serious collectors might want to take in. But honestly how could I pass this up an XEGS for this room?

We really only need to make a stand for the 2600 that will let you see and use both systems. All the power and A/V stuff routes to that shelf so we can just fire them up in place and start playing.

But what this really spawned is a project to start building furniture in the office. Natalie has this habit of doing projects while I'm out of town on business as a surprise for when I get back, so in 2015, before the full house renovation, while I was on a trip to a datacenter for a week Natalie built this bookshelf. At the same time she uncovered the awesome tile floor in the office which had been hidden under the crappiest industrial carpeting for all these years.

However we're reached a tipping point with that thing. The shelves are 12" deep which is great for a bookshelf but not so great for cramming a bunch of computer equipment into. You can see it's way too narrow to comfortably fit that scanner for instance.

The goal is to build something deeper which can comfortably store an ST, Mac Classic, and some other small home computers as well as just bulk storage of Crap in My Office. At the moment all my network hardware, switches, firewalls and storage are buried under my main desk. Tidy and out of the way, but a hassle to get to if I need to plug new stuff in or actually work on anything. I don't want to be 70 years old crawling around on the floor to add a network drop, so we're going to get that stuff out of there. We also need just "Bulk Computer Storage" for larger systems like a Mac Pro, KayPro II. My desk and repair bench has been getting a little crowded lately, so I'm hoping a good amount of that stuff can move as well. Some of the details of what we're doing are going to be a surprise, but it'll be cool, I swear. I've told Natalie my only real goal is to have somewhere to put my laptop bag. All this stacking shit is making me itchy :-)

The ST is currently taking up exactly the surface area of a small storage cabinet, which is a little cramped for purposes of troubleshooting to say the least, though a couple of toys have trickled in since I got it, like an Atari 9-pin to USB adapter for a modern mouse and a supply of replacement key switch sliders/stems.

We'll be building more ST projects to share Real Soon Now, promise. Once we get our bearings from all the work office moves and re-shuffling these shelves. My word is as good as a Tremiel promising us all Falcons By Christmas!

So I wanted to save a quick "Before" of that space before we start tearing into the project:

That Panasonic boombox works and sounds AWESOME, but barely even picks up the FM transmitter from 10 feet away because the boombox's day-job is to hide multiple WiFi routers, a network switch and a 10 port power strip, so there's like 8 WiFi antennas right up against the tuner, not ideal. Be nice to clear that up.

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Mac Classic - First Impression


"Works As Intended" they said....

Unless Craigslist Guy was using a sharpie to play tic-tac-toe on the wavy checkerboard screen, we have different definitions of "intended".

Of course if the intention is that we have a project now, well then Mission Accomplished. Replacement caps are on the way. The board itself looks totally clean aside from the standard nicotine layer gooped everywhere, but no visible corrosion or damage.

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Nixie Clock


Bloodshot Bill - Mary Ann

Natalie got me a cool nixie clock project for Christmas. We've split duties putting it all together and we just finally got it all worked out and on the shelf.

Overall the project was pretty easy, though you can see there's one pretty badly folded in place resistor that wasn't in the directions so we had to cram it in last minute. And we had a couple of issues with certain numbers on certain tubes, but it looks great in the end.

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Sharp Boombox Repair


Tom Petty - Freefallin'

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TV History Time


Mojo Nixon & Jello Biafra - Nostalgia For an Age That Never Existed

So this is super interesting. You know, interesting to me anyway.

I'm compiling another week of vintage TV shows, this time from 1963. It's remarkable how easy it is to get the exact episode of many of these even compared to getting episodes from 1980's shows. I'm making a playlist for each night and mixing in 1963 commercials throughout, should be fun. But first, see if you can spot why this week's playlist may present a particular challenge:

As I started out on Sunday night (TVue is boldly not adhering to the TVGuide dictate that Saturday is the first day of the week), I found that while I could find the episode of whatever show I was looking for, the air date listed in IMDB was for like, several months in the future, in some cases as far as March 1964. What the balls IMDB. So it made it kind of tricky to pin down given episodes.

After the 3rd or so show with this happening, I kind of noticed a pattern. Sunday, November 24, 1963 just doesn't seem to exist. IMDB consistently showed "Nov. 17" and then the next episode aired was 'Dec. 1".

So seriously what the he... Oh. Right. Yikes.

My TVue, from the Boston Advertiser, is listing the TV schedule for the week after the Kennedy assassination. I am building playlists to recreate a week of TV which ... ... never existed.

For the record, this being the 24th, we chose Mister Ed, My Favorite Martian and The Judy Garland Show. I got all the right episodes on those, but I'd have liked to have seen the Ed Sullivan Show, but since that's live I imagine it was just canceled altogether. It was supposed to have a Stiller and Meara sketch, so I just picked one of those sketches from another Ed Sullivan. Growing up with Seinfeld it's just so easy to see "SERENITY NOW!", or "I've got a lot of problems with you people!". Genius.

As in my previous week of vintage TV, if I can't find a thing, I'll go for the nearest I can get. So for instance What's My Line on Sunday, Nov. 24 Instead I opted for the December 1 episode with Colonel Sanders. I don't know what was scheduled for that episode, or indeed if it was ever actually shot.

In addition to the JFK assassination horror, one thing that bums me out about this week is that I don't seem to be able to find any episodes of Grindl with Imogene Coca. I really want to see Aunt Edna, but young ('er, she was still in her '50s).

So here's to building a playlist for a TV Guide week that never happened. Obviously this is going to be oddly similar to 9/11/2001, and ... that's about it really. I can't really think of any other week where the machine of commerce would have simply ground to a halt entirely.

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Lots of RDP


Annie Lennox - Why?

Do you do lots of RDP? Like lots and lots? I do, and even with password management it's annoying. I tend to use generated passwords for all my normal user, Domain Admin user and obviously Administrator accounts. That means lots of workarounds to deal with those passwords while doing bulk RDP sessions.

A typical use case for me is to RDP to 20 machines at a time, run a thing, wait, and log out. I've always scripted this, but not always in strictly the safest way. Plaintext passwords stored in a script, or read off disk. The philosophy is "if someone can read this script, I've already lost the game anyway", but still it's ugly and sick, and so I fixed it. In my defense, the Red Team never did pop my laptop...

I already use gpg-agent to facilitate unpacking of log files. On my syslog servers I roll logs over hourly, gzip them and then gpg encrypt them to my key. Then I can download a bunch of them, run my logunpack script, enter my passphrase once and since gpg-agent caches that credential for a period of time, decrypt all my files in one go.

What I wanted here was basically a way to have keepassxc.cli "hold the door open" and cache the passphrase like gpg-agent does. So what I've done is to use gpg-agent itself for that purpose. I have a GPG encrypted file containing my KeePass-XC passphrase, and I open it using gpg-agent, so it can be reused until gpg-cache-ttl expires.

I've also always had slightly different copies of this script for use cases of "Fullscreen on my laptop" and "fullscreen on larger displays", so I have a switch here for "resolution" as well. "fs" for fullscreen or "fsbm" for "big monitors". Since I'll never go to my office again, that's pretty much never going to get used. The default for the $res value will remain 1280x960. Reasonable enough.

I also added prompts so that it'll ask for host, domain, user and password if you run the script with no prompts from a shell. So /that/ will be super useful to me when I have to do a one-off connection to some remote host but don't need a whole launcher for it. While I'm at it, I put in the -b switch so that you can have it generate a launcher based on that input. That saves me hand editing a template when I add a new RDP host.

I use Linux, but this should work with minimal-if-any changes on Mac and Windows/Cygwin, both of which can run xfreerdp and gpg-agent. I have a good automated ssh-tunneled RDP setup for my Mac, so I might try using that with this so I can use a 4k display for those "busy RDP days".

Being that I do run Linux, here's how I launch this. KDE desktop files like this:

xrayspx@dummyhost:~/rdps$ cat windowsmachine
#!/usr/bin/env xdg-open
[Desktop Entry]
Exec=/home/xrayspx/bin/ -h windowsmachine -d domain -u xrayspx

So anyway, here's the thing: RDPLauncher

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Lindstrom, Minnesota


We're currently on a week-long road trip between Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Before we left, we mentioned our trip to Kari Lindstrom, proprietor of our favorite vintage and antique shop The Melamine Cup in Jaffrey, NH, and she mentioned there was a Lindstrom, Minnesota, so we decided we'd head up and see what's what.

So it was that at the end of a long day of Paisley Park, then the World's Largest Ball of Twine (as built by one man), we made our way for Little Sweden and made up there by around 4:00. Even still, we found a great antique store and got some fantastic handmade raised sugar and raspberry jelly donuts that took me straight back to when I was 4-5 years old getting donuts with my parents from a local bakery.

I did try really hard to get to The Sweet Swede to get something sweet for the sweetest Swede we know, but apparently it's not really a thing anymore. Fudge.

Natalie got some great pictures of this adorable vacation town:

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Stereo Slide Viewer Hack Proof of Concept


Peaches - The Inch

Wherein there's some history, and a major pet project.


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