Picking up hacking at a later age

I have been inspired, here is my thanks to USA network: Thank you for taking a chance on “Mr. Robot” for it is a super cool, well written, wickedly acted series that is also living exclusively on Amazon.

So after watching two seasons of Elliot mentally melting down, and taking the people round him down as well. I am in love with everyone who is involved in telling this story.

It does have elements of fight club, but with cool subtleties… which because of spoilers I will not be revealing specifics.

So, I have been rooting around for a hobby that I could dive head first into. And if you know me at all, it involves computers, computing devices, and general hacking. I even ordered a lock picking kit for fun. In reading about lock picking it is as a concept actually easy, and these days there are groups that have turned lock picking into a sport.  Yay!

I have also made a couple of tech purchases.  I bought a Lenovo Yoga Pad 3, and a hp Chromebook 11 g4.  The yoga pad is great at converting hand written communication into digital text (much much better than the Newton and I didn’t have to train it!)…  I planned on installing ubuntu 16.04 on the Chromebook, running parallel to the chrome os, which is fundamentally Linux.

Also on the roadmap is installing Kali Linux on a raspberry pi rig.  I haven’t been this insipired about something in a long time (aside from my wife).

Excitement doesn’t end there, recently a new Raspberry Pi Zero was released; the Raspberry Pi Zero W. The price did jump from $5 per board to $10 for the W version. W means wireless, network, and low powered blue tooth. AWESOME!

More hack thoughts later…

Pssst… have you ever heard of a BBS?

Well, I would be surprised if anyone had not heard of a BBS… Bulliten Board Systems were the internet before there really was a public internet.  And had a relatively long life span (Over 20 years). And in the very late 80’s and early 90’s I operated my own three line Chat BBS system, running on BBS software from Oracomm.  Great software, totally flexible and inexpensive. The BBS I ran, had two phone lines, and a console line, where I could get onto the BBS and do my system operator work, we were called SysOps, and there were ASysOps as well, Assistant System Operators.  Pretty much all done for free, and the BBS operator usually covered the phone line costs. Unless the people on the BBS were kind enough to donate to the cause.

The name of my BBS was “BorderTown” BBS (ORA182), located in Sunny San Diego, just next to the border of the USA and Mexico.  But I really named my BBS after a book series that I liked – BorderTown

After a while it got to be too much hassle to operate, We had over 2000 people who had signed up for an account, and I was paying it out of my rather meager salary at the time. I felt unappreciated… what I got tired of was people demanding stuff for free beyond what I was providing. Plus for me it was a hobby, not some money making venture. So I pulled the modems from the wall, and turned the system off. It had become no fun.

I have found a documentary about BBSes and the pre-internet hobbyists. Who wound up influencing the internet we now have.

It’s in 8 parts, I’m watching the first as I write this blog.

Part 1 of 8: BAUD

Part 2 of 8: SysOps and Users

Part 3 of 8: Make it Pay

Part 4 of 8: FidoNet (not a dog network)

Part 5 of 8: Artscene

Part 6 of 8: HPAC

Part 7 of 8: No Carrier

Part 8 of 8: Compression

I think the history of computing is important to understand where we may be going with computing in the future.

Geek On!

When art feels more like life…

I have a show that I feel is beyond a simple funny comedy. If you had to guess, would it be “Silicon Valley” on HBO? If that was your thought, you would be 100% correct.

I love the near 100% reality that the show expresses. I find that to be really refreshing, rather than the half understood computer crap that most other shows/movies express. Realism is very cool. And something that draws me to watch.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that I have been thinking about starting my own middle out compression company, no, not really.  But I have a couple of ideas. And I’ve got the time at the moment.

I loved the most recent episode that had Ehrlich wearing a unicorn outfit. Just brain candy… no worries…

Geek On!

Linux, is it the siren song of the Windows world?

I thought about that today, mainly because I’ve moved 98% of my computing off of Microsoft’s products.

I’m not talking about Office or any of Microsoft’s bloated software, outside of the bloat that is Windows, even Windows IoT would be a bad choice in my opinion.

I left Widows for Mac, yep, I jumped off of the ship that I had been riding for years… and before that DOS, funny, I did miss DOS after windows effectively killed it

But am so much happier now that I’ve gone much further down the “rabbit hole” into Linux.  If I were to purchase a desktop computer again, I would be installing CentOS, or at the very least Ubuntu… because I have grown apart from windows. I want control, and flexibility. If it means that I need to learn more coding, or a different platform, I will intend to do so.

Actually recently I have played with setting up a cluster of computers to serve a web site, and am deciding if I want my servers to be Raspberry Pis, with one weird Pine64 machine. And I’m not even sure I will use the Pine64… Still up in the air.

The benefits I have found with Linux over Windows is that I don’t have to pay a few hundred dollars for an Operating system that is riddled with bugs and other issues that attract Virus writers. It’s Free; Linux is, and secure as long as you set it up correctly.

Recently I set up a URL shortening service and I left it open, meaning that anyone could create a short URL against my web site.  I’ve fixed that issue so I won’t bore you with any more of it.  Let’s just say it was a good learning opportunity.

Geek on!

Early impressions of the Pine64

Hello dear readers,

I promised some kind of review for the pine64, since it finally arrive at my doorstep from a long trip starting in the silicon delta in china.

I received the board and it came with an sd card that had the android operating system on it.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to run android on a computer, no, more like using it on a tablet device such as the kindle fire, which I have a handful of. So I am not interested in using a tablet focused operating system on a 64bit supercomputer that goes for $15.00!

No I don’t want that and so far this SOC based on the Allwinner A64 is a disappointment; Why? Well because there is very little GOOD documentation for it, and the linux distributions for it are scarce, and not guaranteed to boot or work. I had finally found a distro that works, unfortunately it’s not CentOS, but rather a 64 bit version of Ubuntu 16.04 for the , I think it’s really Xubuntu — based on some articles I have read on the web.

So, right now, I’m just setting it up to be a web server, let’s see how it can handle some traffic.

I’m not surprised that I was disappointed by Pine64, Raspberry Pi has a matured user base, many distros to choose from, and it’s still a bargain at $35.00. $15 for a board that has little flexibility is just like throwing $90 at the board for the kickstart campaign (yeah that’s what I did… oh well). It is a bit painful. But a lesson well learned, and I will keep it in case the company finally comes out with some decent images to burn to an sd drive to boot on the Pine64. Or when BerryBoot is ported to the platform.

Also it seems like the crew at Pine64 was way out of their depth, and had some serious management issues. Managing the backer’s expectations. They could have done better with that.

Geek on!

My early computing memories part 1

I have just been thinking back on my technologically full life, back to my times at the beginning of home computing.  Real home computing. 🙂

My first experience with a computer of any kind was in the fourth grade at Weinberger Elementary School – the San Diego Unified School district had purchased a few HP2000A, or one of it’s various iterations. I know why they purchased those computers, they were at the end of their sales life. They got them for cheap, and I for one am glad of it. I got to see this computer, well not exactly that computer, but the terminal with a paper tape punch/reader, with an acoustic coupler modem that was most likely 100 baud half duplex.  So what that meant is the computer would communicate across the phone line to the computer on Normal Street at the maximum rate of 10 characters per second, one way at a time. It was SLOW, so very slow, and what made it slower was the teletype that was the primary human interface.

I can see it; almost like it was yesterday, they set the terminal up and then loaded a football game program from a paper tape roll, through the reader, and sent the program to the computer on Normal Street, and then executed.  It was fun, we could choose the plays, be the digital quarterback, put in the plays and run them against the computer. It was a lot of teletype sound and just people standing around imagining this ‘game’ that we couldn’t really see or truly play.

It fascinated me that there was this cool machine that existed; and if I work it right someday I could use this fascinating machine called a computer.

I had such a fascination with computer that my family would always encourage me to call the radio station we listened to when they had the radio “computer” choose a winner in a contest. They wanted me to ask if it were a real computer, and was it hard to get one to talk on the radio?  I don’t remember much of what the kind DJ told me on the phone, but I remember him sounding like he was having a great time talking to a kid who was crazy about computers and wanted badly to believe that it was a computer really talking on the radio, not just sound effects and a funny sounding voice.

The next time I saw a computer, a full blown computer console, was not much longer after I saw the one in elementary school. I had been taken by my mother and Aunt to their hair appointment in El Cajon, no one was around to babysit me, so they dragged me along.  I was told to sit in a chair and read some stupid kids magazine. I had asked if I could go look in that strange store just a couple of doors down, that sold computers.

I remember what the place looked like, and what the computer kind of looked like: sfws_2

I remember the guy at the store getting irritated with me and a few other kids my age that were hanging around.  So, shortly after looking at it and playing a game called Colossal Cave (Adventure) I made my way back to the chair and kiddie magazines.  But again, I was fascinated.  Before I left the store I was feeling like I had been using a computer like this:


The next big computer, or mainframe in a datacenter that I got to see and wander around in a little bit (with supervision) was when I was in the 8th grade.  I got to go with my scout troop to visit General Dynamics in Kearny Mesa to get a presentation on the new thing that NASA was up to; the Shuttle.  I got to see the cool space stuff, then go look at a large format plotter (which had lots of different color pens) something you don’t really see much of then, or now. So expensive. And I got to see the inner workings of a datacenter, the air-conditioning, the raised tile floor and some tiles were askew so I could see some of the cabling.. And again, fascination hit me. Pretty hard in fact.

When I got back to school the next day I knew there was a computer terminal in our school – Pershing Junior High, not middle school. (I still don’t get that change of designation.) It was in the career center.

So I signed up to be a student helper in the Career Center. Back then, we had to fill out questionnaires, enter that information into the GIS system to see what our best fit for a career was, they had some other information we could use to help us decide what we wanted to do. I found what I wanted to do, be involved with computers. I didn’t need to ask a program to figure it out for me, I wanted to be the one writing the program that tells others what they would be great at. And now you can visit this site to see what schools are offering students these days. A big improvement!

Then I got the bug for programming.  I saved up 12 weeks of allowance (I got $2 per week) to purchase my own copy of the HP 2000A conversational Basic Language manual. I was way ahead of my friends who wanted to work on and learn computers. I was teaching myself basic from the HP documentation.

My first program was a menu program, all of the options were hardcoded, the logic looked great, but after I gave it another review I found that my program did not have an input, no way for the user to make a choice. I found the error in my code, that I was writing on lined paper in a composition book. Later I would type it in to the terminal, line by line.

Another installment later..

Well, about a year ago, I backed a kickstarter project…

Today I received a padded envelope from The Silicon Delta in China.  I was a twitter with excitement!

You see, I backed a project for the Pine-64, which at the time was going to be the first single board 64 bit ‘supercomputer’. A short while after I sent my funds for my level of backer ($90), the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ was released, a 64 bit SOC, kind of taking the wind out of Pine computer’s sails.  It’s first claim to fame was it was the first $15 SOC 64 bit computer, and it’s still that.  It’s just not a Raspberry Pi.

Since it’s sitting on my desk, I don’t have enough experience with it to give you a full review, but hang tight, I’ll post the review soon.

As you can see it looks a bit different from the Raspberry Pi 3 B+.

For now, Geek On!  Catch you later.

Well all of the design work and stuff is gone from here.

So as you may know this web site suffered a massive data loss, all of it, from my earliest posts, to all of the photos sI had collected.

What do you do after such a loss?  Why start all over again, enjoy the minimalist layout of this current theme for the site, and I will continue to tweak it as I go along.

I’m also thinking about what I plan on writing about.  I say it’s time for an official relaunch!

Geek On!

Technology is great, but it is also a great pain in the a$$

Hello dear readers,

I have just finished up re-installing my word press instance that computersarestupid.com runs off of.  In the process I have lost pretty much all of my posts, rants, and rambles.

But in a different light, it could be a good thing, time to start fresh and mark a new course. “Second star to the right and straight on until morning”… engage.

Most of the time spent wrestling with technologies that don’t quite work yet is just not worth it for end users, however much fun it is for nerds.
~ DOUGLAS ADAMS, The Salmon of Doubt