Personal

Stuff about me and what I’m doing with my family and friends.


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Technological Breakdown

So Christmas came and went, and it brought our household some new technological marvels and along with them trials and tribulations. And this is in addition to me migrating to Linux on my own PC, so here are my thoughts on my technological breakdowns this Xmas.

Firstly I’m going to talk about the Apple iPad Air my wife got for Christmas, and please bear in mind that I roll my eyes when anyone mentions an Apple product. So the big day came and my wife opened her secret pressie from the family and was in tears at the sight of the iPad air inside the wrapping. She opened it and turned it on. Set up an Apple I.D. it demanded immediately, so we did. Give us your credit or debit card details it screamed (first of my hate Apple reasons confirmed, greedy corporation which sells everything it can to you) so she did. Having forked over £400 I think that one of the first things Apple should do is give you a working device, not demand your details so it can hold the device to ransom until you give them, but there you have it. 
Having setup an Apple I.D. it was ready for use, except it wasn’t, now Apple demand your username and password before it will do anything just to make doubly sure you’re in their power. Start the app store, username and password, start the browser and it asked again. For my money that was piss taking on an unprecedented scale. Anyway, wife is happy and iPad now works, although anything else you want it to do seems to cost money straight from the first app you want to use, and we haven’t told her yet she can’t hook it to her computer without wiping our daughters Iphone out of the iTunes (including all her backed up music) or letting it set it up to be our daughters iPad. Apple, just great isn’t it?
Second piece of technology was the Kindle for our youngest daughter. A few minutes and it was added to my Amazon account with parental controls on downloading books which need to be paid for. Books were added to the list automatically and a new one bought for my daughter and ready to read in a minute or so. Now that is painless technology and a better out of the box experience than Apples I’d say.
Then I went to start up my PC and Linux Mint refused to work again, so that’s removed from my shortlist of OS’s when my new hard drive arrives. I’m still wondering if Linux really is ready to use yet if you don’t want to spend hours each time you start your PC up just tweaking or writing command line codes which have to be looked up online (when the PC isn’t working how do you find them?).

Review of ColecoVision Game Frenzy

colecovision frenzy Frenzy On The Colecovision

Frenzy looks a little like the well known game Berzerk, and that’s because it’s a sequel to the much loved maze runner come shooter. In Frenzy you have to run around the maze killing and avoiding being killed, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. As soon as you load up the game the action starts, with several enemies swarming towards you, so it’s time to run and gun to save your hide. The enemies home in on you quickly though, so don’t hang around too long deciding which way to run.

The action is what gives this game its name, it keeps you in a frenzy at all times, trying to shoot your way out of tight corners and then make a run for it. All the on screen enemies fire at you and each other constantly, and to add to the frenzy the walls can be of different designs, with some causing bullets to bounce off them which can be used to your advantage with a ricochet shot, and some walls which can be shot through. The trouble is those walls are a double edged sword, you can ricochet a shot, but you need to watch out for ricocheting enemy bullets too. Shoot through a wall to hit an enemy, but that wall also can’t be used to shield you from the mayhem either as the bullets will get through to you.

Running out of one screen to the next also isn’t always good as you might not be able to go back, and the next room can be even more manic than the one before. Clear a room for some bonus points, but watch out for the robot attacks, and smiley face man who isn’t as friendly as his visage would suggest.

Frenzy is a fast paced game on the Colecovision, with some nicely animated big bold graphics. Your man moves smoothly and all the multi coloured enemies (men and octopi) move quickly with no flicker. The sound is excellent, with a nicely themed background tune which matches the frenetic feel of the game.

Frenzy on the Colecovision lives up to the name, fast paced action, but at times just a little too fast as I found myself dying often. It’s not difficult to pick up but is very challenging to stay alive for long.

Score 8/10

OH No OS Decision Time Looms

I’ve been reading about it for a while now, but dismissing it as too far off to be concerned with, until now, Microsoft ends support for Windows XP in 2014 which is now only a few months away. That means it will become more vulnerable to attacks, other vendors will stop supporting it so drivers will not be updated etc. etc. So it’s time to decide which OS (operating System) I should use next, and there are a few choices to consider.

My computer credentials

Before I weigh up the pros and cons of the various choices I have to say that when I’ve talked to others in the know before I have been accused of not wanting to change, or not being able to adapt to change so I feel I should give some history of my computer ownership and adaptation over the years. My first computer was a ZX81 which only booted to a command prompt and had to either load tapes or be programmed in BASIC to do anything. I learnt enough BASIC to write programs to do stuff, and then moved up to the Spectrum and learned enough to write simple games as well. I skip a few years and went on to MS DOS and Win 3.1 and again had to learn command line stuff to get games working with sound and memory fixes through the Autoexec.bat and config.sys files, so I can use command line and learn the commands I need.

Then I was Spoilt with Windows 95 (not so much with 98) then Windows ME and finally Windows XP which I am still using, all of which can be used with a mouse and keyboard and no need for command line stuff. So I’m no luddite but I do like an easy life with something which is supposed to make life easier. Now with that said, I have to weigh up the choices of OS now that XP is getting left behind.

The Choices from Microsoft

From the Microsoft camp first off we have a choice of 2 Windows OS’s, Windows 7 or Windows 8. Windows 7 is good, I use it at work, I used it on my wife’s laptop and everything works just like it did in XP, and it can be setup, once installed, in a few minutes to browse the web and get emails from my own email account. Windows 7 is a definite contender for my future. But it’s not the latest OS from Redmond so it too may be phased out sooner rather than later leaving me with the same problem for the not so distant future.

That brings me to Windows 8. Oh dear, how did it go so wrong. My wife got a Windows 8 laptop, handed it to me to setup her email account and wi-fi and a few other things. Firstly I was greeted by the front screen from someone’s mobile phone, which is called The Metro Interface or something. Unfortunately her screen’s not a touch screen and it just doesn’t work right with a mouse.

After half an hour finding out how to get at anything under the skin to get connected, it was time to setup email. A big button marked Outlook was promising, only Microsoft decided that Outlook was no longer supporting the standard used by most email providers, POP3, so after ages of fiddling we find we need something else to actually use the email accounts we have (Thunderbird from Mozilla). It’s the same every time you want to do something useful though, Windows 8 and the Metro interface gets in the way, photos- where are they? The photos app looks nice but it’s not intuitive like looking through a list of thumbnails and doesn’t let you grab a picture without getting in the way. Windows 8 isn’t even a consideration, it’s convoluted, looks awful and childlike and keeps popping up useless side bars every time you move and seems to be made to get in the way of what you’re doing.

The Open Source Alternative

I’m now considering Linux – again. I have tried Linux in many flavours before and when it works it is great with a lot of options to make it work how you’d like. But that’s when it works, a lot of the time things just don’t work and when they don’t work it is hard work. All the Linux distro’s (see I even know some lingo) I tried can’t do anything under the bonnet without going back to the command line, drivers usually need a command line command to download and install if your hardware is supported at all.

Moving to Linux would also mean finding new programs to do all the stuff I do on my PC, and if past experience is anything to go by that will mean trawling the net to find a program which might work, then using a command line to download and install it (Linux never seems to download something from a link to where you’d think to look for it and installation is never as easy as double clicking it) only to find it doesn’t do what you needed and then how do you get rid of it?

I want to like Linux, I would love to use it, but it always frustrates me when I can’t just get on with doing something and have to look up some obscure script to type in to make it happen.

My Choice Is:-

I’m undecided right now, I’m pretty certain Windows 8 isn’t going to be the one, even with the pseudo start button supposedly added back in the 8.1 update. So that leaves some flavour of Linux or Windows 7 as the only sensible options so I guess I need to install and run a Linux OS for a while and see how it goes, leaving XP as a stand by for when I need to do something and don’t have time for messing around in command line. I guess I’ll also have to consider the age of my PC in all of this as it’s getting a bit long in the tooth for new OS’s too.

Any comments, suggestions or abuse please comment below.

Review of Pitfighter on Sega Master System

Pitfighter by Atari on Sega Master System

pitfighter master system A quick look at the title tells you this is some kind of fighting game, and it involves a pit, or not. OK it is definitely a fighting game like many others, one on one, mano a mano etc. and so on. The setting for the fight is a deserted warehouse (or maybe a pit?) which is a little drab and dreary with a blue shadowy crowd cheering on the fighters. Having picked your fighter from a choice of 3 each from a different discipline (wrestling, martial arts, or kickboxing) you enter this arena against a computer controlled opponent.

The fighter sprites are detailed enough to see a difference in who you pick and who you fight but only just, so the graphics are at best described as adequate. Sound is nothing remarkable but the effects give you a little bit of a feeling of having hurt someone when you hit them. The fighting moves are a little too samey for each combatant though, punch or kick, and a special move which happens so fast you actually see very little, with the wrestlers body slam being my personal favourite over the flying kick of the kick boxer and combo punch of the martial artist though.

Considering how few buttons and moves there are to be had, the battles are very hard to win or maybe because of that, the first is difficult but the second opponent seems to be able to finish you off in a few hits as you carry through only the energy you have left after finishing the first fight if you make it. When you are beaten your sprite goes blue, presumably from lack of oxygen from being dead. Occasionally a power up appears which you hope will make it longer before your combatant is dead, but alas it isn’t much help.

As fighting games go, PitFighter is distinctly below average. Adequate graphics, OK sound but the gameplay is really quite poor and that’s what counts most.

Score 3/10

A review of Defender on Colecovision

defender colecovision Defender is another of those early arcade games which has been copied, ported and borrowed from for most early games systems with widely varying results. In Defender your role is to save the humans from the alien invasion force which is taking them away to do who knows what with them. You have your trusty ship armed with lasers and smart bombs which destroy everything on the screen with one push of the button, You have a finite amount of smart bombs so don’t waste them, only use them when there is no other option that will save your humans. You have a map showing where aliens are and giving you the chance to get the one which is closest to your dependant humans on the ground.

The Colecovision does an excellent job of recreating the arcade experience in your own home. The controls basic as they are with up down and left and right work as they should allowing you to control your ship to save the world. The graphics are exactly as I remember them being in the arcade, basic triangular ships, Space Invader style aliens and an outline of the supposed landscape below. The sounds are also a big part of the arcade experience and again the Coleco console has got it covered.

Playing Defender reminds you of why video gaming became so popular, it starts out fairly easy but ramps up with each level, adding more and more aliens and some extra obstacles to destroy or avoid. One thing I’d forgotten was the inertia of your ship, cleverly done so that if you reverse direction you have to wait until the screen moves back along to the rear of your ship again before you can start moving and this can catch you out as you try to avoid bullets and aliens.

Defender is a great old Arcade classic with a very good gameplay to enjoy. The Colecovision is an excellent port of this classic and well worth trying

Score 9.5/10

More NES PC tinkering

So having spent ages on the NES PC to get a network boot install of XP it loaded, ran the install, restarted then failed with a BSoD. So everything was consigned to the cupboard for a few days. Saturday came and with renewed vigour I started again, network booting was simpler this time having got the other issues out of the way, so it was straight into install. This time I used one of my other Windows Xp discs and copied it to the shared folder. A couple of hours later and the NES PC booted into Windows XP once more. It lives!!

So now for some tinkering, firstly a Google search to see what services can be disabled and stopped to give the computer some head room in the 256 meg of Ram and hopefully run a little smoother. A few sites checked to ensure the right services are left on and the right ones turned off and it seems a little quicker. Time to add some emulators.

First on is Gens the Megadrive (Genesis) emulator, and it works ok considering the 800 MHz and the lack of ram (which is being sorted with an Ebay purchase of 1 gig of ram which is the Mini ITX maximum amount) so next it’s time for the NES emulation. No go, as there is no Directx 9 installed as the windows XP version is SP1. As the NES PC  is not going to be used online or even a network it means I’m not concerned about viruses etc. too much and haven’t installed the latest and updated service packs. Instead I go for the SNES emulation, same again, and a couple of others I try all require updates to be added. As I have more memory and now decided to get a bigger hard drive it’s time to put it to one side again until they arrive and everything can be upgraded at once.

It’s nice to see that the NES PC will work on a tv screen through the AV leads as it can be put to use again as a gaming console once I have finished the tinkering.

NES PC Woes and Wins

I decided I wanted to restore the NES PC to a working usable PC games machine for playing old retro games. Linux proved to be too painful, so I set about re-installing Windows. Straight off the bat I found the CD Rom drive was no longer working. I went onto Freecycle Milton Keynes and posted a wanted for a laptop CD drive, and immediately got a response and offered a DVD r/w rom. Result, so I collected it and opened up the NES PC to fit it. You can see the motherboard on the right at the bottom of the case and the cd rom on the left opens through the NES cartridge flap at the top of the case.

nespc-opened

Things are pretty tight in there and it was originally built by me to never be opened again i.e. the brackets were fitted to the cd rom and then glued in, and the hard drive (luckily) was velcrod to it. This meant accessing the tiny screws was all but impossible with a screwdriver so instead I used pliers to hold and turn the heads. Soon the hard drive and cd rom were out. The DVD rom drive was fitted and after much fiddling screwed in place. The hard drive and cables refitted then the case put back together. I put in the windows install disc and started it up. Nothing. Zip. Nada. The DVD rom also didn’t work (maybe it’s the ide to laptop interface thingy) so next I decided to try a USB boot and install from a pen drive.

The old Mini ITX doesn’t seem to want to boot from a pen drive, I tried many different ways and swore at it a lot but it wouldn’t work. So I set about a network install. The first time ever so I Googled it. I found a pretty simple guide at http://www.lockstockmods.net/2008/05/26/easy-way-to-pxe-boot-windows/3/ which guides you through step by step. I could eventually get the first boot on network screen but no further. This is because one of the downloads on the second page of the guide comes as memdisk.txt and shouldn’t have the .txt extension. Next I got to the point where I could start the network but it had the wrong drivers so took a little fiddling (but it was all in the guide how to change the drivers). One other thing went wrong and that was after the network boot and driver thing, it would lose connection if using DHCP so I had to set a manual IP address in the setup. Finally I had access to the hard drive to fdisk and format it.

Next it was using the Windows share from my PC to install Win XP onto the NES PC. This was going really well until the reboot, then it started booting back into Linux ???? Only it couldn’t boot Linux as it wasn’t on there, then dumbass here realised the MBR was still running a Linux boot loader, so a quick boot from the network into DOS and an “fdisk /mbr” command cured that. So now as I type I am waiting for XP to finish loading up. Shouldn’t be too much longer.

Ode To Teenage Daughters

I can always tell when my girls are there
Doors are slammed and radios blare
The house is filled with all sorts of noise
Chatter and gossip about all their boys
Sound from the tv’s  ipods and laptop
All through the day seemingly non stop
When they go out and the house is all quiet
I wait for the call they’re causing a riot
Then my wife’s phone beeps it’s a text
My heart sinks as I wonder what’s coming next
Can you pick us up from far away
Because the boyfriends upset them today

We have to accept it no doubting that
For what we did to our parents this is payback

By Doug Titchmarsh