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New Hardware: Summer 2020

My original plans for 2020 were to write more and complete projects. And you would think that being locked up in a house all spring and summer would allow someone the time to do those things. However, I have kids and a job that increased in demand due to the circumstances, and so my projects were put on hold.

I’ve got a handle on things now and have made two new purchases this summer: a NeXTstation Color Turbo and Commodore 64.

NeXTstation Color Turbo

I was surprised when I won the auction for the NeXTstation Color Turbo for about $140. Normally, I see these go for much, much more. However, in addition to not coming with a hard drive, keyboard or mouse (which I could use from my original NeXTstation), I don’t have the Y-cable, sound box, or a monitor that are needed to actually use the computer.

A NeXT sound box is hard to come by and will probably cost more than I paid for the computer. An actual NeXT color monitor will also be hard to come by but can be side-stepped with a custom VGA Y-cable.

Commodore 64

The Commodore line of 8-bit micros was my first exposure to computers, and I’ve wanted to play some of the games I remember on the actual hardware. Breadbox versions of the C64 are incredibly plentiful and priced well. I got one in pretty good condition with the box. I just need to clean it up, test the power supply, and get a video converter so I can hook it up.

I think the C64 is going to be the most fun of the hardware I have. There is such a vibrant community around it and loads of games, software, peripherals, and retro mods that are easy to find and fun to make.

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Retro Computing Updates

I added some content about my NeXTstation mono and Quadra 700.

I also recently got a copy of Inside NeXT as a gift.

It has some great pictures, company and production information, as well as repair information in it. I plan on using the capacitor list in the book as a guide when I re-cap my MegaPixel Display.

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Notes

My Hardware History: The 1990s

As my collection of vintage computers grows, I wanted to look back on the hardware and operating systems I grew up with.

My first computer was a Commodore Plus/4 in 1993. I went with my grandparents to a garage sale when they were looking for patio furniture. While my grandfather and the seller were talking about the price, the seller offered to throw in the computer if they bought the whole patio set. They bought the patio set, and I got my first computer.

The Plus/4 couldn’t do much out of the box. There was some software included, but it didn’t include a disk or tape drive, so I couldn’t save anything. But still, I copied code out of the manual and a magazine that came with it to make the Plus/4 play music and also made a very simple Tetris clone.

Because I showed interest in it, my grandparents purchased a Commodore SX-64 later that same year from the local classifieds. It was completely kitted out with an external monitor, joystick, printer and some software. I went over to my grandparents every weekend just to play with it.

Over the summer of 1994, my elementary school loaned out an Apple IIe to my family. My sister and I spent a lot of time playing Number Munchers and Oregon Trail on it.

In 1996, When my family was looking to buy a modern computer, I really wanted us to get a Macintosh. We had a computer lab with Macintosh “pizza box” computers at school (LC or LCII), and Macintosh computers were in all my favorite movies.

Quadra 700 in Jurassic Park

However, we got a Packard Bell Multimedia C110. It was the family computer until 2003, though it went through many upgrades. I spent so much of my money from mowing lawns on this system. I put in more RAM, a bigger hard drive, a Sound Blaster 32, and a video card. I had also installed a few different operating systems on it. Windows 98SE was eventually installed on it, and later it dual booted to SuSE Linux 6.4.

Even though we had a Windows machine at home, I tended to prefer the Macintosh experience I had at school. I think it was because I was using a computer at school to get something done, while I spent most of my computer time at home just playing games. Windows was just a game launcher, and every hardware upgrade was in the service of playing more demanding games. Eventually I started to play around with Linux after we got on the Internet.

Right before high school, I got a Fujitsu Lifebook that was strictly my machine (not a shared family computer). I installed SuSE Linux on it and started working on a Star Wars fan site and tinkering around with perl scripts.

For most of the computing world, the 90s was about Microsoft taking over with Windows, but for me, I don’t think any one particular operating system took over my world quite the same way. My time early computer time was all about LOAD "*",8 and later almost equal time between Mac OS, Windows and Linux.

However, as 2000 rolled around, I started saving my money for a Mac of my own. The non-linear video editing capabilities in iMovie blew my mind, and Apple announced the public beta of Mac OS X with a UNIX subsystem. I was about to become a Mac guy.

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Building a Virtual Pinball Machine

I was cleaning out a closet the other day and came across my old PC setup from 2010. I decided I wanted to either do something with it or get rid of it, and I thought it might make a great arcade emulator or a virtual pinball machine.

Despite the computer’s age, I think it will run Pinball FX, and I have a nice collection of tables on Steam (yay Steam sales). The game has a cabinet mode that will change the perspective of the playfield, and it also supports a second screen for a back glass.

The Form Factor

I’m not sure if the enclosure should retain the classic proportions of a real pinball machine or be constrained to the size of the components. I don’t think it will need as much depth or length as a real cabinet.

I’m not a pinball purist, so the final form factor will probably be somewhat compromised. I’ll try to have the classic playfield angle, but allow the rest of the cabinet to be as small as it can be while containing the hardware.

Beginning with the Controls

Of course there is more to it than just putting a computer and some monitors in a box that looks like a pinball machine, and proper controls are essential to this project.

I want to focus on the controls before beginning any cabinet construction, as I believe the controls will greatly determine the success of the project. Also, a controller test rig will take up a much smaller footprint and can be iterated on at my desk.

My first thought for controls was to get an arcade cabinet kit from Amazon which includes a USB encoder and map the controls in-game.

However, I didn’t think I wanted to be limited to a pre-programmed encoder. I’d like to explore adding an accelerometer for nudge support or even a real plunger. That lead me to consider a microcontroller-based setup.

Finally, I came across the Teensy-based PinSim from Jeremy Williams. He built a controller for Pinball FX VR that emulates an Xbox 360 controller.

Since the Xbox 360 controller has analog sticks and force feedback, he was able to add a real plunger and some rumble motors to his box. It also has nudge support via an accelerometer.

I think replicating his VR controller is the perfect place to start for a controls test rig and a great beginning for the project.

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Notes

Tesla Model 3 Wishlist

After a little over three months and 6,000 miles driving a Tesla Model 3, there are a few changes that I wish could be made to it.

Tesla is known for pushing over-the-air updates to improve their vehicles, and I don’t think these are out of the realm of possibility as software changes.

360 Degree Camera View

I believe the 360 degree view could be made from a composite of the cameras that are already on the Model 3.

Access to the Side Cameras

There is already a button to show you the rear camera. However, being able to view the side cameras would be nice to have for checking parking lines if a 360 degree composite view couldn’t be added.

Lead Vehicle Start Alert

My wife’s Subaru Forester will alert her when the vehicle in front of her starts moving again.

This is a great feature for a drive-thru, and I wish it was available as a software update to the Model 3.

Apple Music Support

After adding Spotify in Software v10, Apple Music support seems like it would be possible. I’d also be happy with just going full CarPlay, but that’s likely to never happen.

Customizable Bottom Bar

I access the glove box way more than the defroster. I’d like to customize the bottom bar for quicker access to features I use the most.

Postpone Bluetooth Pairing

The Model 3 starts pairing via bluetooth when any door is opened, even the trunk. If you’re talking to someone on your phone and open the trunk, the call switches to the car audio.

I’d like the pairing to be postpone until the driver seat senses someone sit down.

Emoji Support in the Calendar

I use emojis in calendars for quickly denoting family events as 👩‍⚕️, 🏊‍♀️, 🏀, ✈️, etc. These show up as empty squares in the Model 3 calendar.

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Hello WordPress

Enough with the bike-shedding, I’m just go to ship it.

A goal of mine in 2020 is to write weekly. To give myself the best chance at success, I’m just using WordPress with the default theme.