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Something New, Something Old

I’ve decided to try something new this year. I have some projects that I’ve been working on in the background. A little at a time. Being retired means that money is hard to come by, and having money to set aside on hobbies is in even shorter supply. Social Security won’t kick in until late this new year, and the way things are going in Washington I’m not sure I can count on that anyway.

Over the years I’ve tried to fund my projects on my own. I have never liked ‘an ask’ for money to fund them, believing that when you start asking people to help you pay for something, you’ve automatically given them the power to control what you do. Or you’ve given them the right to expect something in return, a discount or even depending on the amount free return. I’m not saying that is wrong. Far from it, truth be told, it’s what I would expect in their place.

When I then sold these projects on the website, they were priced at cost plus one to two hours of minimum wage labor cost. It’s a sad fact that what I offer is more expensive than it should be, simply because I have very little ability to take advantage of the economics of scale. The Atari 8bit family is not measured in the millions of paying customers.

I had hoped that what little extra I brought in could fund continuing new projects. Sadly the price of supplies has nearly doubled in the last five years. The addition of tariffs (in effect taxation without representation) on many supply items has not helped. Like many other small business people I face the reality of raising prices to cover the costs and then seeing the inevitable decline in business because of it. Or I can look for other revenue streams, however odorous they may be.

Many people have read of the decision to allow advertising on AtariAge. So far I haven’t seen any, but I imagine it is because of a few people being willing to pay a monthly/yearly subscription. Kudos to those people. They deserve a hand for stepping up. Thank you.

A couple of years ago or so Mr Kline graciously stepped in when my then current hosting provider decided to raise their yearly fee by 20%. The hike in price would have meant shutting down as I was barely covering the current hosting and parts cost with my sales. He set aside space on his private server for my website and did not charge me. That was humbling to me, a very gracious move on his part. Thank you.

So I’ve come to a conclusion that I will need to do one of three things to survive.

  1. Sell only current items, no new development. This will inevitably lead to obsolescence and loss of sales too due to saturation. A slow death by a thousand cuts so to speak.
  2. Allow external advertising on my website, something I hate with all my heart and I swore would never happen.
  3. Provide for donation/campaign revenue through Paypal, something I hate only a little less than allowing external advertising.

With that in mind I have decided to go the third option while maintaining in the short term the first. Basically a blend of options 1 and 3. In the next couple of days or so I’ll add to the website three on going projects I am working on and a way of donating to their progress. Whichever one gets the most donations in the next 60 days is the one I will focus on to completion. The highest donator will get the most discount on the final product and the most say in design. It won’t be completely free, but you will see a 50% discount. The second highest donator will see a 25% discount. Final design decisions still rest with me, but only because you can want all you can, but that doesn’t make it realistic, doable, or sell able to other people, which is kind of the point.

Each of the three projects will have varying degrees of completeness ranging from bare board DIY offering to complete assembly. I expect once the 60 day competition is over, that the finished project should be delivered within six months. That’s assuming that I get any donations to speak of. Less than a hundred dollars US of donations isn’t going to take it very far very fast. But let’s see how it turns out.

Let me know your feelings, as it doesn’t help me if most people are opposed to this.

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Year End Musings

I find myself at the end of another year. My feelings this year are mixed, more mixed than I ever remember them being. A lot of anger, a lot of helplessness, a lot of horror and a lot of fear at what has happened in my country over the last three years. I’ve leaned both directions politically over the years, depending on the subject in question. I suppose that’s inevitable in a country that prides itself on the rule of law, democracy and the American dream(Capitalism). At times those three subjects seem at odds with one another, at other times they form the legs of a three legged stool. Cut off one of them and the stool comes crashing down. We come crashing down as a country.

I was too young, not quite 10 years old, to fully understand and appreciate the fear and anger of the summer of 1968. I remember my parents seemed tense, and sometimes lost in thought, when they had time to be. On a long saved for summer vacation to reconnect with Mom’s family in Michigan, Dad uncharacteristically rented a motel room somewhere in Illinois. He made sure that it had a TV and that it would get the national news. We’d been on the road for hours that already hot and humid early June day. Us kids just thought Mom and Dad were tired too. Why else would we be sleeping in a motel room on a real bed, instead of the hard ground under the tent floor at some state/national campground. Heck, it wasn’t even normal stopping time.

The pickup truck radio had been on all afternoon I remember, but I don’t remember anything in particular on it. A lot of static, fragments of songs and the occasional ad that seemed to come through clear as a bell as Mom, then Dad spun the dial to try to tune in a closer station. But apparently they had heard something.

That late afternoon and into the evening all of us gathered around the TV and watched history unfolding. It had happened again, another Kennedy had been shot down. Politics didn’t matter that much right then, what had happened was just wrong. You don’t murder a man because you don’t agree with his politics. Not here. Not in a country that prides itself on the right to freely express a political view. Over and over again Mom and Dad repeated that, almost to themselves. Us kids were too young to fully understand, but it has never left my memory.

Today we find ourselves once again passionately and sometimes violently in political opposition across this country. In only the fourth time in our history we find ourselves in the process of impeaching a president. Every military person and holder of high office in these United States swears too uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. In that document and it’s amendments is the only legal peaceful method to remove a perceived threat to the country who has been elected to the Presidency. It’s not a coup, or deep state threat to be defended against to the death. The process does not kill or physically harm the president. It does not even put handcuffs on or haul he/she off to jail. It does hopefully stop the perceived threat that he/she represents. He/She is simply fired, based on verifiable evidence at the instigation of the House of Representatives and by the consent of the Senate.

Whichever side you come down on, don’t drag murder into the picture. Keep some degree of sanity about yourself. We have to be better than that.

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Closing out the year……

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it’s been slightly over five years ago that BitsofthePast.com went public.

The world has changed.  The Hag and the Princess both ended their reign on this earth, but his music still echos in the Muskogee Civic Center and her regal flickering hologram still springs to life in the presence of a young boy and an old man on that silver screen.  From the blood spilled in a Florida high school a movement started,  changing the ridiculous idea that a right to own a gun for personal protection and hunting guarantees wanton access to weapons designed for the battlefield and maximum offensive carnage to a human body.   Increasingly we have people who use religion to justify taking control over another human being, usually female, ignore the other right to freedom of religion for that same human being and take away choice to control their own existence.  We elected by Russian deception and a slavery compromise holdover process a 79 year old child-man who fights and insults our hallowed institutions and allies, then invites dangerous dictators and despots to walk in the front door of our White House, allowed thousands of our people to die from neglect while patting himself on the back for the A+ way he had handled the island hurricane recovery and now he’s shutdown the government, leaving many of his people without a paycheck or services because the adults won’t give away their money to pay for a useless wall he swore another country would pay for.  More women of color, race and creed than at any other time in our history as a country, roared in an unmistakable voice of unity, love and rejection of hate and divisive words and they were heard and elected to state and federal offices.  Now hopefully we will see some moderation of this soul destroying ultra capitalism we’ve been saddled with for the last 30-40 years.

I’ve changed.  Age and arthritis in my hands forced me to sell the three guitars I had spent months finishing and assembling just a few short years ago.  I could no longer play them well enough to justify keeping them.  And the same arthritis in my knees forced me to take shorter walks and standing time.   Now my eyesight is weaker and darker.   The lighted magnifying glass is always on and positioned over the soldering area.  A lot of the restlessness I’d suffered from most of my life began to settle and I began to move slower and think longer about my actions before I did them.  Some degree of wisdom began to show up occasionally.  Burn out from a high stress telephone support job left me so tired and numb that four years ago I decided to leave the 40+ hour work week and go into semi-retirement.  It was the first real break I’d had in almost 30 years.   Though that has severely lowered my monthly bank balance I do not regret it.  I have paid the man my 30+ year work due.

But some things don’t change, at least not much.  The website still offers Atari 8bit nearly forgotten gems and new imaging of vintage hardware for a reasonable price.  I still explore new ways to connect 80s technology with today’s modern interfaces.  Hopefully this won’t change for a long time.

One thing to close out the current year with:

Release to public domain of my work on the 109oXLR.  I have proved the concept, but once done I chose to allow others to use and develop for it.

and pave the way for next year’s projects and goals.

Modified XF551 board for installation into Atari SF314/354 3.5″ floppy disk cases.  I know pc industry standard 3.5 floppy drives should work.  I’m hoping that the Atari floppy drive will also work.  Testing will begin after the New Year.

I’m working on re imaging not only the ICD P:R, but the Supra/ICD Microstuffer as well.

Additional custom boards for my miniITX case build:

Comm board to allow SIO2WIFI modem communication, and SIO2Serial/SIO2Parallel printer connection.  Beta testing also will occur after the New Year.

Status board for the 1088XEL board and a front facing audio jack.

And finally a 1088XEL version of my XF551 re image project.

 

 

 

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New Subsite 1088XEL.Bitsofthepast.com

I want to introduce you to an extension of the work I’ve done for the 1088XEL mini-ITX Atari.  I hope to have two builds eventually, one in the mini-ITX format and a second more advanced build of the 1088XEL based 1090XLR in a Micro-ATX case.  To that end I decided to start documenting the modification of a mini-ITX case to house the 1088XEL motherboard and accessory boards I sell.  These boards will of necessity be customized versions to better fit the particular APEX MI-008 case I’ll be using, but I hope to keep as much generic as possible.  The first few posts have already gone up on the site.  Come visit.  🙂

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Partkeepr Electronics Parts Inventory DB on PI3

A couple of years ago I got drawn into the mania surrounding the release of the then new PI3 model B.  Such a powerhouse of a computer in such a small package.  True, it couldn’t hold a candle to my main desktop pc in cpu speed, video or memory, but neither did it have a huge footprint, power appetite or  noise level.  Also about that time I graduated from just a couple three or four parts boxes to a full blown whole section of one wall lined with parts cabinets.  I was beginning to order parts for projects that I unknowingly already had in the bins.

The idea came to me that the PI3 could be used as a light weight internal parts inventory web server.  It would have the advantage of being accessible on my home network from any device connected via a browser, be on all the time and not create noise or consume lots  of power like my desktop pcs.   I had dismissed an earlier idea to use one of my NAS units to do the same due to the OS being so tightly proprietary and their cpu and memory were even less than the PI3.

At the time the PI3 was using Debian 8 Jesse as it’s main OS.  Unfortunately that release of Debian was beginning to be long in the tooth as far as what web server apps versions would run on it.  For instance PHP 7.0 had been released, but was not recommended on Jesse and there appeared to be no install package that had been released for that version of Debian.  Finally Ubuntu Mate 16.04 was released for the PI3.  Now there was a more modern version of Linux that would support the newer web server apps.

So then I went looking for an electronics parts inventory DB app.  Finally I happened upon the Partkeepr website. At that time it still hadn’t reached v1.0 yet, but I was impressed at how complete it seemed to be already.  I decided to try and get it up and running on the PI3 with the Ubuntu Mate 16.04 OS.

I began a torturous odyssey to somehow get the Partkeepr app up and running on the PI3.  Sometimes I digressed back to Debian Jesse and the older support apps, sometimes I quit the PI3 altogether and tried running a Linux machine inside VirtualBox on my backroom pc.  I got right upto the final setup screen on the Partkeepr setup app where it was trying to ‘warm up the cache’ and it would fail every time on the PI3.  Once on the virtualbox machine running Ubuntu Mate I was able to finish the setup, but that wasn’t really the way I wanted to access Partkeepr.   I would set the project aside for sometimes months at at time, but it was never completely abandoned.

Over the last year and a half Partkeepr itself has improved and added features.  It is now at version 1.3.  Also apparently I am not the only one wanting to use it on machines like the PI3.  The last time I checked the Partkeepr Wiki website there was a work around for the slow I/O issue with PI machines that caused the cache failure.  So obviously there was enough demand to support the effort to find a workaround.  Also on the Partkeepr Wiki website there is a generic Debian 9 Stretch walk through to setup Partkeepr.  Then recently the Raspberry foundation updated it’s default OS to Debian 9 Stretch.

As the first major project for the new year I decided to take up the project again.  I decided to follow as closely as possible the generic Debian 9 Stretch walk thorough, while incorporating the slow I/O fix for the PI3.  Things went rather smoothly for a change.  There were some bumps in the road, but no major roadblocks as long as I made the necessary changes for the particular setup and app versions I was using.  As I went along I kept a journal of the necessary commands and configuration settings.   If it worked, I intended to memorialize it with the intention of seeing if I could repeat the install and eliminate wasted effort for others.   I believe I was successful in both.

I now have a functioning Partkeepr installation on my PI3 machine.  I have no illusions on the speed of this installation.  After all it’s on a PI3, but since I’m the only user and my parts inventory is somewhat under the 1000 number, it should work just fine.  I wouldn’t advise trying to use the PI3 for other server functions.  The instructions I am providing assume that the Partkeepr host is the only one on the PI3.  If you want to use and add additional virtual hosts on the PI3, I suppose you can, but I have no clue what changes need to be done to the instructions I provide to allow that.  This only gets you to the first login to the Partkeepr server.  You still need to configure parts location and part categories, before you can actually begin to enter your parts.   This web page gives you basic overall info on how to do that, starting on page two of the article.  For other info, remember Google is your friend.

Now I’ve had some experience in Linux from years and years ago, but I’m mainly a Windows person.  More so now that I find I don’t remember things as easily as I did in my youth.  🙂  So I have to warn you that even the simplified instruction I give you assume that you have some experience with Linux/PI3/CLI/Networking and computers in general.   If you don’t feel comfortable with the instructions, get a hold of a friend or someone who owes you that does have that level of experience and can do it for you.  One final caveat, this instruction assumes a US-Central Timezone installation.  You will have to make the necessary changes in the localization section of the PI3 for your country, keyboard and timezone settings.

Post Script Sept 19 2019:

Unfortunately it appears that the author of Partkeepr has decided to discontinue support and work on the software.  I have decided to also pull my instructions on how to install the software on the PI3 due to that.

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Why………?

 

I don’t usually comment on current events.  Usually because it’s all about politics and everyone has an opinion, good bad or indifferent.   But why?

Why Charlottesville? Why New Town? Why London…. Why Paris…… Why Syria?  Why all the other mass killings in the last century?  Why?

Different races, different politics, different political systems, different continents.  The one thing in common is that men and women and children are being killed for no other reason than that they are there and available to be used by their murderers to further their own agenda.  Has life become so cheap now, that it is a disposable commodity?

Why….?

 

 

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Restocked, reloaded and something…… something else…..

Well……  I’ve been restocking pcbs and some parts.  Mostly parts that I have to order on Ebay and get from China.  Those typically take upto three weeks to arrive.  Other parts that I can get state-side within a week I’ll wait until I have an order in.  Still have a couple of boards to come in.  Namely the final board I need for the RD Eprom burner board kit.  Should have that by the end of the week though.

The 1090XLR project is in full swing.  I’ve got a website and forum up for it at this address. 

The one thing I’ve been planning has not happened yet.  I was planning to start the new year with a website redesign.  Hasn’t happened yet as you can tell.  I’m still working on it.  A little at a time.  I might have it done for Jan 1 2018.  🙂

 

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Yesterday, website nuked by mistake…..

It was bound to happen at some point.   No person is perfect.  In fact most people would agree that if they do most things half right most of the time they are satisfied in their perfection.  Well… I guess I am satisfied.  🙂

I was in the process of trying to add additional features for the 1090XLR project to the domain when I veered off course and started doing clean up from past mistakes.  I had some orphaned databases and folders that were left over.  The orphaned databases were easy to deal with.  But then I discovered a scripted uninstall app in the Cpanel of the website domain manager.  It was listing several lingering breadcrumbs to failed or abandoned projects.  So happy that I had an easier way to clean the site up, I started selecting the orphaned breadcrumbs for deletion/uninstalling.  Only the listing was slow in updating and in the process I selected the active app for deletion.   WTF???!!!

Four hours later I finally had a functioning website back.  Fortunately I had done a brute force backup of the website, late last November and so I was able to use it to get back up.   So right after I finish writing this post, I plan to make a backup both on the domain and off-site.  I really did have other things to do yesterday and I don’t want to repeat this.  Especially since there are so many other things to only get half right most of the time.  🙂

 

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2nd Massive Earthquake to hit Oklahoma

I don’t normally post off topic, but Oklahoma just suffered it’s second massive earthquake in less than six years.  ……well massive by Oklahoma standards.  Preliminary 5.6.

I was on my workbench when a minor tremor began.  I thought at first that my cat had headbutted my leg.  He’s prone to do that when I’m ignoring him and I was.   He weights at least 12 pounds, so yes he can make the chair shake when he does that.  But the tremor continued and when I looked up he was in the doorway of the room, coming into the room, no where near my leg.  Then the tremor got rougher and I began to hear things in the kitchen rattling.   My magnifying lamp began to sway in time.  My lcd monitor tipped forward and then back.  Suddenly there was a sharp jolt, a rolling sensation and then a smaller jolt.   My cat jumped,  spun around and dug his claws in for a hasty retreat from the room.  I knew then what it was.

In the rest of the house I could hear things shifting and falling.   The trailer continued to rattle and quiver for a couple of minutes longer, but the main quake was over.

It’s been nearly two hours now.  There seems to have been a couple of minor tremors since, but it maybe just my nerves.  Reports are slowly coming in.  Some damage in Pawnee, but so far no injuries.  It appears that the epicenter was close to the town, just like the first one that hit very close to the city of Prague Ok in 2011.

No damage at my house, my cane fell down in the living room.  Mostly jangled nerves seems to be the only real damage.  Let’s hope it stays that way.

I’m thinking about changing my avatar.  I used to think tornadoes were the norm.  Now it’s getting to be earthquakes.

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Sad Day: The HAG is dead, RIP

I grew up listening to this man. I know it’s not hip anymore, and it was a different era then, but there are days now I turn off the tv and radio and fire up my old record changer and crank the volume up. Ole Possum, Buck and his buckaroos, Whispering Bill, the Man in Black and the rest of them are alive again and in their prime.

So few are left alive now. Fewer now. Something undefinable is being lost and there is nothing we can do to stop it. But at least we still have the music and the memories for awhile yet.