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Saturday, 2024-06-22

Portable Raspberry Pi Desktop Computer

I wanted to have a small ``portable'' computer that is suitable for word processing and lightweight web browsing (e.g. online banking). I don't like laptops which are non-modular and increasingly non-repairable, so I built a prototype using Raspberry Pi and some spare and recycled items I had around. The inspiration was taken from Commodore 64 executive model that was the first luggable color computer with a small 5" monitor.

(Click the heading to read more...)

Thursday, 2024-04-25

The Anarchist's Guide To The BBS

A book by KEITH WADE published in 1990 (Loompanics Unlimited, paperback, 90 pages).

What could be more interesting than reading about computer BBSing? This guide was published on the heyday, and reading it today is a pretty good nostalgia trip. By 1990 I had been personally BBSing already for some years, and running my own systems, networked in the FidoNet. For me it was an escape route from school bullying and boring heavy metal kids, and defined my future ``career'' working in the field of computer programming, telecommunications and open source.

The guide starts by explaining that it is not a technical manual. Perhaps because of this, it's not dated that badly. Still a technology section follows, explaining some of the terms, which are mostly unknown or irrelevant today. Also all the explanations how to use BBSes further in the book are of course still pretty technical and dated. BBSes were command-line oriented. The guide even goes to into some details of RBBS-PC and PCBoard, like ``turbo keys''. Nice trivia. I got flashbacks with all the menus and messages scrolling in my mind.

Anyway, the best part of the book covers how to utilize BBSes from the so-called anarchist point of view, and how they are a great tool for ``subversive speech'', ``dangerous business'', to find cohorts or even participate in crimal activity. Or to just find some friends if you are a misfit. There's also a good point how cheaper technology gives more power to the people. The author talks about ``The Five Hundred Dollar Anarchy Machine''.

Surprisingly, when the BBS-era peaked (and soon collapsed) this was all forgotten. It quickly became money and business driven. Not to enable people, but corporations. This book was apparently even specifically ridiculed (according to EFFector Online, Issue 3.3, 1992-08-24) as ``stupid niche'' at the first ONE BBSCON where ``mainstream businesses'' were promoted. Downfall of USENET and mailing lists soon followed. There was some promise in the early web's ``home page'' era when people were able to express themselves and create content easily. Facebook, twitter etc. killed all this and everything was productized.

I see some potential in Fediverse. And today some kids want to be self-hosting, like we were in the BBS days. This book reminded me why such is important and exciting.

Saturday, 2024-02-03

I'm The Slime

A song by FRANK ZAPPA released on Over-Nite Sensation.

While part of ZAPPA's one of the most easiest and accessible albums, he's never without social commentary. The spoken word lyrics are almost like an lecture, powerful and still relevant as ever. One of the earliest rock critique about TV predating PINK FLOYD's ``15 channels of shit'' by 6 years and BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's ``57 Channels'' by 19 years.

Backing vocals are by TINA TURNER and THE IKETTES. The legend tells that when IKE TURNER heard some of the material during the sessions, his comment was ``What is this shit?'' and wanted the band not to be credited on the album.

Werewolves Of London

A song by WARREN ZEVON.

A typical song for Zevon as at first impression it's just pretty simple however catchy tune. Then you start to find more levels and connections.

Inspired by an 1935 movie it also refers to modern London. Most notably the restaurant Lee Ho Fook's (apparently now gone). The last time I visited the city I actually went there to eat, around 2005. It was a typical tourist place, a bit pricey, but for a foreigner still something different than home. They also knew about the Zevon song, they featured it in their showcase window along the menu. They had a small picture of him and one of the album covers. I appreciated that.

GRATEFUL DEAD have covered the song in their Halloween concerts.

Monday, 2023-12-25

Bitwoods RBBS-PC

A vintage BBS system running RBBS-PC on MS-DOS. Reachable via telnet or ssh at bitwoods.duckdns.org.

The system is powered by Intel 8086 emulator called tinyxt which is a custom fork of 8086tiny. Compared to e.g. QEMU the emulator provides an order of magnitude faster emulation while using minimal system resources. The memory requirements are very close to that of an original 8086 PC. Part of the emulation is implemented as BIOS code running on the 8086 side.

Also tinyxt provides an accurate UART emulation with carrier detection etc. making it possible to run vintage BBS software smoothly over IP. Experiments have been made using an original 8086 hardware with 16550 UART and 1980s telecommunications software. Xmodem transfer works reliably close to a line rate from Bitwoods over cellular internet.

Thursday, 2023-12-14

Stable Diffusion on a budget home PC

Thanks to all the hype in the news and at workplace etc. I got interested in AI and tried out Stable Diffusion. It seemed interesting enough to install it locally (I prefer to be self-hosting in about everything), but the problem was I mostly run old legacy recycled hardware, so modern software is not always running that smoothly...

To run it I installed InvokeAI using their instructions which were pretty straightforward. They support a CPU-only mode so basically you can run it on any old hardware. This is good because you can try it out first to see if it's anything you would like to ever use, before splashing money on a GPU.

I was impressed, and a after a few days of experimenting I was confident enough to invest in some new hardware.

(Click the heading to read more...)

Friday, 2023-12-01

Raspberry Pi Power Usage

Given that we have seen the price of electricity sometimes jumping up to near 1 e per kWh here Finland, I have started to pay more attention to the power usage of my computers.

I have many headless Raspberry Pi units running all the time, so I first decided to investigate if there are any simple tricks on them to save power.

Many of the instructions I found were either obsolete (syntax changed etc.) or did not work. I have documented those settings and changes that I was able to measure or observe to have any effect. In the end, this was pretty futile effort. Pi does not consume much to start with, and any savings are even more marginal. But it's fun to tinker.

(Click the heading to read more...)

Wednesday, 2023-11-15

Who's Better, Who's Best

A compilation album by THE WHO released in 1988.

My first proper introduction to THE WHO was this compilation album some time in the late 1980s or early 1990s. I was listening mostly to PINK FLOYD and LED ZEPPELIN, and wanted to check out some other legendary 1970s bands as well. I absolutely fell in love with the band's songs and sound, and kept playing this album over and over for weeks.

Some time after I was an aspiring record collector and a musical highbrow who thought that all compilations are crap and one should listen to the full original albums only. Which I did. And I after getting all their proper albums, I sold away this compilation...

While THE WHO made a couple pretty damn strong albums (notably Tommy, Quadrophenia and "Who's Next"), you still have to admit that they were a ``singles band'' as well (I wanted to say ``mostly'', but I don't want to upset PETE TOWNSHEND unnecessarily). And for such bands ``greatest hits'' compilations such as this are justified. Which is why I rebought this album couple decades after, and now listen it to probably more than any other THE WHO record. Not a single bad or filler song in there. And you have to respect the production, editing and mastering work on this compilation as well - it sounds a real solid piece of work and you won't even notice the recordings date from three different decades.

This is the very best of THE WHO.

Saturday, 2023-11-11

Neverwhere

A book by NEIL GAIMAN published in 1996.

One of the best travel books ever written! During late 1990s and early 2000s I made few trips to London, and always raved about the city and my encounterings to my colleagues and friends. One well-read colleague of mine suggested I should read this book. So, then on my next trip I bought this book on 2004-05-04 from a bookstore somewhere near Oxford Street or Charing Cross Road, I don't remember exactly anymore, I have only written the date on the cover page. During my two-week stay, I travelled a lot on the underground, and read the book during the trip. I still have the London Underground travel card between the pages that I used as a bookmark. They probably still use good old cardboard tickets over there, unlike here where everything is digital forgettable crap.

The book has been described as ``urban fantasy'' and it takes place in ``London Below''. I'm not going into the plot itself, but if you are a fan of the underground and places in London, you are going to love this book. The story is good with interesting characters. One of the highlights of the book is that the names of places in London are given almost a literal meaning, e.g. Blackfriars. As a tourist and non-native speaker you always wonder about those, and this book simply exploded my imagination. Also I learned about abandoned and disused underground stations, notably British Museum, so fascinating stuff.

Later I learned the book was actually a companion to the BBC produced Neverwhere (TV series). I've seen that too, but I still prefer the book.

Tuesday, 2023-11-07

'71 Dead

A compilation album by GRATEFUL DEAD released in 2017.

This is a box set with roughly 22 hours of music on 21 CDs, seven shows recorded in 1971:

This seems to be an ``unofficial'' release. I didn't realize that until after buying the box (apparently it's still a legal release within EU), although I was quite suprised of the low price given the volume of music. It was surely a bargain.

All shows are radio recordings. The sound and mix quality is (mostly) excellent throughout. Cannot always say if shows have been recorded from air (FM broadcasts) or from the original source tapes used when broadcasting. But on some shows you can hear the annoucer speaking over.

Discs 1 - 3 have The Fillmore East show from 2nd July. Sound is nice and good old vintage DEAD. On stage we have the relaxed 1971 band. Having only BILL KREUTZMANN on drums their sound developed into a more jazzier direction (the second drummer MICKEY HART took a break from the band during this era). With also a PIGPEN number or two in there, we get also some bluesy stuff and crowd ``party'' favourites such as Hard To Handle and Good Lovin'. On the ballad side Sing Me Back Home is always welcome. It was usual for them to end shows with some epic jamming medleys, and this time we get Not Fade Away -> Goin' Down The Road -> Not Fade Away.

With discs 4 - 6, we go to Minnesota. It's already October and PIGPEN is sick and away. But we have KEITH GODCHAUX on piano, making sound even more jazzier. The first part is full of gems. They start the show with easy going Bertha and Me And My Uncle; then a lovely Sugaree, and the magic of DEAD playing finally starts to manifest... Country/folkish Cumberland Blues is always a highlight. Tennessee Jed is surprislingly fast in tempo. Black Peter fades in and resets back to mellow mood. Jack Straw is excellent; Brown-Eyed Women likewise. Comes A Time completes the first disc nicely. Also the second disc has strong emphasis on the ballad/songwriting side, with Ramble On Rose, Me And Bobby McGee and Brokedown Palace being the highlights. The third disc is heavy on jammin' side focusing around The Other One. Still, we get also a nice ballad too, Wharf Rat, as well as couple of other ``normal''songs before the usual Not Fade Away -> Goin' Down The Road ending.

Next stop is Cincinnati, late October, discs 7 - 9. Yes, the sleeve says Cleveland but this is where bootlegs usually fail: small details and proper research. According to ``official'' sources Taft Auditorium show took place in Cincinnati. Anyway, this is a minor flaw. The music is still good. The set list is pretty predictable given the two previous shows. El Paso is the only ``new'' song we get. On the disc 7 recording is not exactly a perfect one as you can hear clitches and pops every now and then. Jack Straw is however again highly excellent...

Discs 10 - 12 have a show from San Francisco. So the band is now close to their home neighbourhood, and based on the chatter and banter they seem to be pretty relaxed and having fun. They also suffer from some technical issues so there is plenty of dead air at the beginning. Some minor tape cuts again as well. But once they start playing it's all good. The set list continues to be pretty predictable, but there's also a some kind of rarity in there as well: a FREDDIE KING instrumental Hideaway. Later in the set we get Dark Star, previously unheard on this box set. Also a bit unusual (and great!) is to hear Me And My Uncle in middle of the The Other One...

And in December PIGPEN is back! Discs 13 - 15 have a show from New York. Again the basic set keeps featuring pretty much the same stuff. But also we get rarities like when JERRY GARCIA sings I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water on the first disc (probably for the first and last time forever?). And PIGPEN gets to prove his vital signs with Big Boss Man, Mr. Charlie, Next Time You See Me, and It Hurts Me Too at least. Damn they were such a good band in those days with so many different talents and musical styles. When listening to this box set I came to find many ``new'' songs which I have been somewhat ignoring in the past. Comes A Time is such an example. Somehow I like the version from this show, although the arrangement is quite simple and almost awkwardly slow.

December continues in St. Louis with discs 16 - 18. Good times and good playing as usual but not much new to report, except a PIGPEN rarity Christmas song Run Rudolph Run. He does good job also on Good Lovin' etc. Respect!

The final show (discs 19 - 21) is the New Year's Eve show from Winterland Again the band is on semi-fire, already on the starter, Dancin' In The Street. Is that PIGPEN going wild in the middle? In any case next he's delivering a perfect Mr. Charlie next. A nice first set continues, and in the second we get Playin' In The Band and other regular stuff ("Truckin'" gets already almost boring, but we get a rockin' "Big River") to conclude with. And in the final moments we get again a ``new'' song for these shows, a nice blues number The Same Thing.

While this release is an ``unofficial'' one, it's still very nicely put together, with some nice art work and liner notes too. It's definitely not a rip off and people behind this obviously had love for the music. So nothing prevents me from recommending this to anyone liking THE DEAD. I already look forward to listen to this box set and these shows again and again...

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Send e-mail to Aaro Koskinen <aaro.koskinen@iki.fi> or leave a note at Bitwoods RBBS-PC.

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Last updated: 2024-06-22 16:43 (EEST)