My Computing Journey – Part 3 – The x86 Era

This actually get a bit hazy here for actual computer models, and I spent a bit of time browsing through Vintage Packard Bell machines to see if I could figure out which machines cover this era of my computing. This would have been somewhere between 1991 and 1995, give or take a bit, after we moved across town when I was 11-12-ish and before we moved to Indiana for a bit when I was 14-15ish. I am not positive if there were one or two PCs in this era, there was either one 286 (for sure, for reasons I’ll touch on) and possibly later a 486. For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to refer to this as one PC, that was a 286. If for some reason you’re keeping score, and notice something that doesn’t match for a 286, then well, assume there was a 486 in there.

I am pretty sure it was this PC though (not my picture, and that PC is filthy.).

Why am I so confident there was a 286?

That’s simple, Doom. At one point during this time frame, and for some weird reason, I have a lot of strong memories of this whole night and event, a bunch of my friends and I spent the night over at one of their homes. I know we played a lot of Jurassic Park on the SEGA Genesis because it was way cool that you could play as a Raptor and go around killing dudes. I remember we played a lot of Hero’s Quest, because we were super into Hero’s Quest at this time. I remember that they all got stoned, though I did not because I wasn’t really into that, though it’s likely I ended up “secondhand stoned” if that’s even a thing. Whatever the case, I remember that at one point someone got a bit upset at me because they were using a Bob Dylan CD I had brought for “rosin” which I still don’t know what that is, but I noticed my CD was dirty so I cleaned it off.

And the next day, we all went to the mall for a few hours, because that’s what you did when malls were still popular. After some careful thought and consideration, I decided to spend some of my allowance money on this cool looking game, Doom, or at least, the shareware Doom. It was basically like Wolfenstein 3D, except better, and I loved playing Wolfenstein. Then later, when I went to play it, I discovered the concept of “minimum computer requirements”. Because Doom needed a 386 PC. In the store I had decided that “Eh, it’ll work anyway.” Then it did not. Maybe if I were more computer savvy at the time I could have managed to make it work somehow, but in the end I think I just gave it to a friend who did have a better computer, or at least, let him install and use it.

Speaking of buying computer games. Though I had played plenty of computer games, it was around this time (possibly before actually) that I bought, with my own money, my first computer game. I had bought some console and handheld games, but this would be my first personal purchase of a PC game, with a game called War Eagles. War Eagles was a World War 1 plane dogfight simulator. No take-offs or landings, just fly in a biplane around shooting machine guns at biplanes.

This time period was also my first experience with Windows and a computer with a Hard Drive. I am pretty sure it was 20 or 40mb. That’s MEGA with an M, not GIGA with a G. Just enough to install a few games, so they didn’t need to be run off of floppy drives. I don’t know the details, but I remember my dad installed some program called Stacker that would increase the drive space. But I still had to go through hoops occasionally of installing and uninstalling games. I believe the largest single game I had around this time was one of the Interplay Star Trek games, which had several install disks.

Windows would have been 3.0 and maybe later 3.11 for Workgroups. It was neat but you still had to dump back out to DOS to run a lot of games. The main thing I remember about Windows was playing around in Paint drawing things.

I also got my first experience with computer hardware and upgrades around this time frame. I can’t imagine why, I must have asked for it at the time, because at least one of my friends had a better computer, but for Christmas one year I got a SoundBlaster soundcard. So everything would sound cool with actual speakers. It also came with this super neat (for the time) talking parrot program.

This time period also had some exposure to Apple computers and the Apple IIe (which was quite data at the time). We started having computer classes in Middle School, which had these in the classroom. Most of this time was spent playing educational games, like Number Munchers and Word Munchers. We also had a typing speed program and I remember finding a bug in it where you could basically hold a key, I forget which, maybe like + or = or something, and it would count the letter as correct, so you could just, hold in that key and get something ridiculous like 200 words per minute.

Eventually, after we moved to Indiana sometime, when my parents upgraded the home PC to a Pentium (spoilers for next week), this machine became my first “in my room personal pc”. It also at some point gained an external dial-up modem. I’ll get more into all that next week though, because dialing in on this computer would be secondary to using the other PC.

Hard Drive Woes Part 2

This post is a follow up to my previous Dead Hard Drive post.

I used to hassle with PC hardware a LOT more than I currently do. I’ve kind of worked my way out of that gig honestly. I am at a point where I can afford shit for starters, mostly, so I’m not trying to cobble together workable machines from random parts. I also got tired of doing tech support for people, so I basically just, sort of hide that I can, because when people find out you can “fix computers”, now you’re vacuuming out 50 years of dust from a Pentium 1 in your backyard for a neighbor who refuses to just buy literally any cheapest machine at Wal-Mart for an infinite performance boost.

“Back in my day!” (fist shaking), you could pretty much just slap any drive with an Operating system in any machine and it would boot. Sometimes it would boot into an ugly driverless environment because it was ripped from another machine, but that was fixable. Things seem more complicated these days. I’m not blaming UEFI, and all that more secure BIOS stuff, but it’s a likely culprit. I think that better security is good, it just, is also part of why I can’t more conveniently fix my damn PC.

I say Conveniently, because that’s the core issue. I can still EASILY do it. It’s just… not convenient.

Shortly after messing with Linux a bit for troubleshooting, I did a bit of set up to use it as the main driver but, decided to just go back to Windows. I downloaded a fresh recovery image, sliced the Linux partition down to 500GB and reinstalled Windows.

I like Linux. I use Linux, almost daily, if not daily. It’s great for automation tasks and running server software and all that. It, kind of really sucks as a desktop OS. Don’t get me wrong, it’s usable, especially for simpler needs (literally anything not Gaming or Video/Photo Editing). I have run Linux as the sole OS on many machines, mostly laptops, and lots of Pis and Servers. I’ve used Linux off and on for over 20 years now. The problem here is, the main use case for my “Kick ass gaming rig” is well, gaming. Half the games I had slated “to play” from Steam are not available in Linux. I set up Hero Launcher for GOG and Epic, but like, my cloud saves didn’t work, and Fortnite doesn’t work and the whole thing felt a little off. Graphics also felt a little off, even though I did switch to using the official proprietary NVidia drivers.

Anyway, I went back to Windows. I spent an eternity downloading drivers and doftware and getting things set up properly. Unfortunately, the secondary drive I was now using as my primary, is just too slow to handle the needs of a lot of games as well. I had to roll Fortnite back to DirectX 11 for example, because it would take like 10 minutes to drop into a match because it would load shaders or some shit. For anyone not aware of how Fortnite works, it’s online, in an arena of players. If you drop in 10 minutes late, your character will have already landed in the map and probably be dead or dying.

So I bit the bullet and bought a new NVME drive. I planned to eventually, I just, did it sooner.

I went and downloaded Clonezilla to just mirror the Hard Drive to the NVME drive, which worked, but things would not boot.

There are plenty of possible solutions online, with recovery mode. I tried a few of them. But in the end, I have opted to just, reinstall Windows, again.

Which means redownloading drivers and shit… again….

I might be able to pull the Steam Downloads over before wiping the secondary drive, but I am not sure Epic will let me do that. Unfortunately, the larger games are from Epic, with Fortnite, Death Stranding and Final Fantasy 7R in that list.

It’s all, very easy.

It’s just all, very inconvenient.

Also, just because, and maybe for future reference, the install needs:

  • Network Driver – For some reason it doesn’t work on the generic.
  • TUF Gaming Amoury Crate – The motherboard seems to load this, and it find and installs all the drivers, which is nice, despite the cheesy name.
  • Windows Update
  • Color Scheme to Dark, no transparency
  • Firefox – Browser of choice, then log into sync and let it pull all my stuff in.
  • Steam
  • Epic
  • Visual Studio Code
  • Change One Drive settings to not sync everything but only some things.
  • Log into the Microsoft Account so One Drive and Office work, since no network driver means local account log in only at first
  • Share X – For Screenshots to folders
  • Display Fusion – For rotating desktop wallpaper
  • Synergy KVM – So I can connect to my other PC\
  • EVGA Flow Control – For the cooler
  • Remove all the cruft from the start menu, remove the apps list and recent files
  • Add a dozen network drives to File Exporer
  • Discord
  • Firestorm Viewer

Back in my Day…

I’ve been using computers and technology for a long time.  The vast majority of my life in fact.  I have early memories of playing games on our Commodore 64, back when I was like 4 or 5 years old.  Eventually we had a DOS based system, though it didn’t have a hard drive in it.  In fact it needed a floppy disk to even boot up.

I came across some of my old disk boxes while visiting my parent’s house not too long ago.  I have no idea if these disks are even any good anymore, I may have a 5.25 disk drive floating around somewhere but I’m not sure it’s even compatible with any modern computer, at least not without some sort of cable conversion system.  Not to mention most of this stuff can be found on abandon ware websites online, that gray area of legality for software that’s no longer particularly useful or in demand.  Each of these disks contains around 500kb of data.  Half of a megabyte.  This image of these floppy disks, likely couldn’t fit on one of these floppy disks.

There’s a lot of fun classics in here.  I always really loved the games where you could create your own content.  Earl Weaver baseball, let you make your own teams, I made many based on other video games, though the Mega Man Team with it’s perfect stats (because robots) always ended up winning.  Ancient Art of War was an early RTS sort of game where you could create custom campaigns.  The old Gold Box Dragon Lance games were classic RPG titles where you would make custom parties and characters.  My friends and I figured out a bug where you could duplicate characters and weapons so we would create unstoppable characters all equipped with the best gear.

Another favorite was NewsMaster.  A simple program designed for making newsletters and fliers.  I found some old files from Newsmaster on my portable drive recently.  Here’s a fun chain, my 500GB portable drive is full of files I’ve been sorting out over time, many of these files came from old archive DVDs, which in turn are a collection of old archival CD-rs.  one of these CDs had a collection of files pulled from sole 3.5 diskettes, one of which was an archive of files originally on these 5.25 disks.

And now, bring it around, I found an abandon ware copy of Newsmaster to open the files with.

These files are an eclectic collection of fake news papers, random graphics, journal entries (which were no longer than Tweets) and very short stories from my childhood.  I’m sure that writing a paragraph back then felt like a monumental achievement, these days I feel like most blog posts contain more typed words than the entirety of my first ten years of life.

One particularly fun set of files was the NEWS News/Times.  This was a video game news letter written by myself and my best friend at the time.  Each “issue” had top ten lists and codes and brief notes on some game we’d been playing.  The reality is it was probably a crib notes version of the most recent Nintendo Power.  It’s only really notable because I often consider it the precursor to my modern blogging.  The above issue was created in 1991.  roughly seven years later, I’d create The Chaos Xone on Geocities, which would evolve into  It’s kind of funny how my interests really have not changed a whole ton in the past 30 years.

Self Driving Cars

Robot Car
Robot Car

Every so often, I’ve seen the “ethical dilemma” of Self Driving cars come up for debate.  Specifically, the scenario goes something like this:

A self driving car is approaching a crowd of children, it can veer off a cliff and kill the occupants, saving the children, what choice does it make?  Who is responsible for the deaths?”

Its a dilemma to be sure, but it’s also completely absurd and effectively a non issue, which is an angle no one seems to really look at or realize.  This specific scenario is completely absurd because, why are a bunch of children blocking a road on the side of a cliff to begin with?  It can be toned down to be a bit more realistic of course, what if it’s a blind corner, maybe the children are just on a street and it’s just a crowd of people and not children.  The children are just there to appeal to your emotional “Think of the children!!” need anyway.  Maybe the alternative is to smash into a building at 60 mph after turning this blind corner into the crowd of people.

No wait, why was the car screwing around any corner where people may be at 60mph?  That’s highway speeds, there’s a reason we have different speed limits after all, open view open areas like highways are faster because we can see farther down the road and we have more room to swerve into other lanes or the shoulder and not into buildings or random crowds of people.

Exceeding the speed limit like that is a human problem, not a robot problem.

So, maybe the car is obeying the speed limit, maybe the brakes have suddenly, inexplicably, failed, and the car simply can’t stop…

No wait, that doesn’t work either.  Brakes generally don’t just “fail”.  A robot car will be loaded with sensors, it will know the instant the brakes display even a little bit of an issue and probably drive off to have itself serviced.  Or at the very least it will alert the driver of the problem and when it reaches a critical stage, simply refuse to start or operate until fixed.  Should have taken it into the shop, that on demand last minute fix service call will probably cost you three times as much while you are late to work.

Looks like ignoring warning signs of trouble is also a human problem, not a robot problem.

So what if there simply isn’t time to react properly because it’s a “blind corner”?  Maybe some idiot is hiding behind a mailbox or tree waiting to jump out in front of your self driving car.  Except this is still more of a human problem than a robot problem.

All of these self driving robot cars, are all going to talk to each other.  You car will know about every crowd of people in a twenty mile radius because all of the other cars will be talking to it and saying things like “Yo dawg, main street’s closed, there’s a parade of nuns and children there,” and the car will simply plan a different route.

They will even tell each other about that suicidal fool hiding behind the tree.

Maybe your car is alone, in the dark in a deserted area.  First, it’s a robot, it doesn’t care about the darkness, if there isn’t some infrared scanner attached telling it there is someone hiding somewhere, it’s going to still see the obstruction.  It will be able to know “How fast could a dog or a person jump out from behind that thing, how wide should I swing around it, how slow should I pass by it.”

It knows, because this is all it does.

Speaking of dogs, or possums, or deers, this also becomes a non issue.  The car will be able to see everything around it, in the dark, because it can “see” better than any human.  It also constantly sees everything in a 360 degree view.  The self driving robot car will never get distracted rubber necking at an accident, it will never be distracted by that “hot chick” walking along the side of the street, it will never road range because some other robot car cut it off (which won’t happen anyway).

It just drives.

And it will do it exceptionally well.

And even if our crazy scenario comes true, even if a self driving car has a freak accident and kills a buss full fo children every year or really every month, it will still kill fewer people than humans kill while driving.

So feel free to waste time debating which deserves to die, the driver or the pack of people, or debate who is responsible, you may as well ask who will be responsible for cleaning up all the poop cars make when they replace the horse and buggy.

Google’s Nexus 7

So, I’ve mentioned in passing here and all over everywhere else that I have been using my new Nexus 7 tablet.  It’s been one of my standard "long build up choices".  I’ve known for a while I wanted a tablet and planned to get one for some time.  Things finally culminated in the Nexus 7.

I actually went back and forth a bit between the Nexus and Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD for a bit.  The Nook HD has superior hardware as well as a potentially useful HDMI port.  It lacks a camera of any kind and comes with a locked down B&N version of Android.  It would have to be rooted.  I figured the Nexus was the way to go ultimately.  The HDMI port would be less useful than it sounds and quite frankly, as much as I want to support B&N as an underdog, it’s getting really hard to continue to support them.  I am sure that content deals are part of the hold up but they really seem to treat their digital customers as second class persons.  At some point though a company needs to just tell these distributors to take it or leave it.

That’s a complaint I’ve made before elsewhere.  I’m here to discuss the Nexus.

It’s a pretty spectacular product, and I’ve certainly been getting my money’s worth from it.  I’m actually using it for more or less what I expected to use it for, consuming information of various types.  It’s great for Facebook and Google+, it’s great for ebooks and digital comics, it’s great for reading news.

I’ve been working on decking it out a bit to make it more of a production device though.  I ordered a case with included keyboard, though unfortunately it needed an adaptor I didn’t have and since the adaptor is shipping from China I’m waiting for a slow boat to send it my way… eventually.  I also have a MOGA controller that I’ve been using some to play games on the device.

What’s most surprising, and something I had been hoping for, I actually use my phone less now that I have the tablet.  It’s a good size for most activities and has much more storage for storing apps and such on it than my phone.  Which leads me to a side note, the larger version really seems like the way to go space wise.  I have already installed several of the more advanced games I have and each takes up like 2-3 GB each.  It actually kind of blows my mind that a mobile game would be so huge but the graphics and performance result is pretty amazing. 

I actually have one complaint so far, and it’s kind of a minor one.  It lacks a rear facing camera.  Yeah yeah, I will tell you how stupid it is to hold up a tablet and use it as a camera pretty much anywhere, but I have gotten into a habit of snapping quick photos with my phone and uploading them to Twitter or Google+.  I managed to figure out how to activate the front camera for photos but it’s a pain target and snap without being able to actually see the interface.

Like I said, minor issue.

Anyway, I am sure I’ll discus this device some more in the future, but for now, the verdict is, it’s great.