Monday, April 23, 2018

Retro and Modern Gaming Setup

I've been working on my gaming setup for a while, and finally have it at a place I'm really pleased with things.   I thought I would take a bit of time to document it for those who may want to try their own hand at this.

My basic premise was to try and get the best signal I could out of the systems, and have things set to just work when turned on.   Originally I thought I would do everything on the one main TV in the bar, but I was inspired by the guys at My Life in Gaming that I didn't need everything on one system, particularly because I couldn't come up with a physical layout to fit everything.   With that idea, I decided to break it into two parts, with the older retro systems in my office.

Additionally, I decided to focus on two standards for the video signals to try and make things easier.  For modern systems, the familiar HDMI cable would do.   For retro systems, I would focus on RGB, which is supported by many, but not all, of the older systems.  For those that didn't support it, I would  get the systems modified to support it.  

With that, I couldn't decide about doing a CRT or HD, and so decided to do both.  My idea there is that the CRT is the "original" image, the way the system was designed. That's a full RGB video signal, but thus also standard def.   Next to it is the HD TV, showing the upscaled image -- converting the SD signal into a HD one. The SD signal is the way the consoles were designed, so if you are a purist that's the signal of choice, as well as being a reference for the HD one next to it when I compare. The SD signal has "scan lines", which are an SD artifact. The HD signal does not.

The CRT is a Sony PVM-20M2U.  It has RGB inputs.  I've connected that to a gscartsw_lite, via a SCART to RGB cable.   (Running off that is the audio signal which goes to the speakers).   Each console in the rack is hooked up to that switcher.

For the HD signal, the gscartsw uses one of it's two outputs, to send a signal via SCART cable to the Open Source Scan Converter.  The OSSC does the work of taking that RGB signal and making a nice HD signal out of it.



That gives me side-by-side SD and HD signals, both for playing and for reference.  Here you can see Super Street Fighter II coming from the SNES displayed in real time on both.    I split the HD signal, and run a cable through the wall to the main system, going into input two on the back of the TV.  Thus, a simple input change in the main bar lets me get that full signal, and I can play what's coming from the HD upscaled signal on the 47" panel.  As I have wireless controllers too for a lot of systems, retro gaming can be done on most of the TVs.

In the retro section, I have a RGB modded NES,  a stock SNES (as it supports RGB), a RGB modded Nintendo 64, a Nintendo Wii (connected to the gscartsw via a GARO component to SCART converter), and a PS2.  Below that is an original Xbox (again, supports RGB) and a Sega Genesis (RGB!), and a RGB modded Atari 2600.    All run to the gscartsw_lite.

Moving from my office to the bar, there is the second setup.   This focuses on the HD systems.

The TV is an LG, which has connected to it's HDMI port a DVDO Duo, which handles the switching of HD systems.   Connected are an Xbox 360, an Xbox One, the original PS3 (which handles PS2 and PS1 backwards compatibility), and a PS4.   The PS3, PS4 as well as a Nintendo Switch are all connected to a single HDMI port with another, 3 port auto switcher, because there just aren't enough ports.



Also connected are a Retron5 (doing HD for NES, SNES, Genesis, Mega Drive, Famicom, Super Famicom, Gameboy, Gameboy Color, GameBoy Advance), a RetroPi, and for good measure, an Apple TV.   Finally, going into the two analog ports and upscaled are a Nintendo GameCube and a Nintendo 64.    (I have on order the parts to upgrade that N64 to full HDMI).

Back in my office, I have a shelf dedicated to the portable systems.
 


That's a Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance (with the upgraded display), a PSP, a GameBoy Color, and a original Game Boy (also with upgraded display).  

Just below that and to the left, I have the NES/SNES/N64 collection of games.



I have another shelf above the door in my office for Genesis, PSP, DS and 3DS games.   There's a shelf in the bar that handles the Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS1, PS2, PS3, PS4, GameCube, Wii and Wii U games.  Everything has a case.  The NES, SNES, N64 and Genesis games all are in Universal Game Cases, and I replaced the CD cases for the PS1 with DVD style cases.  Covers come from The Cover Project, and the UPS store has been nice enough to print everything.




I've gotten wireless controllers for the NES and SNES which also have charging stations.    The Atari, Genesis, N64, and original Xbox controllers are in bins below all the retro systems.    The PS2 controllers are wireless now as well.  In the main room are stations for XB360, Wii, Wii U, XB1, PS3 and PS4 controllers all under the MAME cabinet, which Sharon has very deftly hidden.



Essentially, everything is ready to turn on and play.    A labor of love to get everything working and setup.   I have most of the "core" games for systems, and own SD card carts for everything that makes one, so you can load ROMs if needed.    I own most of the games from my childhood, and am working on completing collections of "every" Castlevania, Star Wars, and Star Trek game, and am missing just a handful of Street Fighter games.    (For those interested, my game list is here, although that's only the physical games.   Everything for Switch I've bought as digital download, and have a number now for XB360, XB1, PS3 and PS4 that are digital downloads too)

The point is to play the games, of course.   We've been hosting "retro gaming days" periodically, and have the systems on and fired up for play.   Let me know if you want to try something out -- or I'm missing a game you want to play.





Friday, March 31, 2017

Too many messaging services, not enough time.

I remember AOL Instant Messenger really fondly.   All of my friends used it, and there were a lot of conversations every day among people I knew.   AOL IM let you know who was on, and who wasn't, and there were a lot of great conversations going on.   Sure, this was 15 years ago, but the memories are really good... and singular.   AOL IM was it.  It was the thing.

Today, how many channels are there?   I have an entirely category of communications tools on my phone.   Hangouts, Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Signal, Duo, Also, plus on the work side Skype for Business and Yammer, much less using Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook for communications.

A lot of these I have to be logged into, too.  WhatsApp is particularly annoying, in that I feel like I haver to remember to check it, and since it's mostly used with colleagues and friends in Europe, it's not central to my workflow.

With all the communications tools, I actually feel less in touch with people on an individual level.   That could be due to being older and busier too, but focusing on the tech side for a moment, does having more channels make this harder?

Am I alone in this?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why I'm totally obsessed with Amazon Alexa

I'm totally obsessed with Amazon Alexa.

I admit it.   My wife Sharon has been along for this ride, and she really should be sympathized with, because she's been quite patient.  I think she's coming around on it over time, as she now asks Alexa for the weather, sets her wake up alarms by Alexa, and seems to find most of the corny jokes to her liking.

I have two reasons for this obsession.

First has to date back to my childhood.  As a Star Trek fan, the idea of speaking to your computer and getting an answer back is the ultimate geek fantasy.    It even made it to the joke stage.


Who doesn't want to just talk to their computer and get answers back?   And it's already been shown to be cool.

But secondly and more importantly, Alexa is the interface to devices that need control, and makes system control approachable.    As a die-hard gadget guy, I've embraced the "Internet of Things" to have tons of devices in our home to make the true smart home.   Sonos, everywhere.   Lighting control, everywhere.  Temperature control.  Water sensors.   Security system.  Everything is connected, and everything can be linked.

But the building of systems is the key -- having systems come together to create experiences.    An example.

In the evening, the house now "knows" to change the LED lights in the light switches upstairs to red. Red is the best color to create a nightlight style glow but not disturb sleep.   At 11:30, the bedroom starts playing some soft music, as that's our normal "getting ready for bed" time, and it automatically cuts off at 12:15.   At 12:15, another system kicks in to create white noise, which is proving to help Sharon sleep through my snoring.    A simple voice command or single button on the nightstand will activate "goodnight", which turns off any lights we forgot, locks the front door, and arms the security system.  

It's the system that matters -- each individual gadget is "nice", but when linked together, they create a total experience.  

I love Alexa because it's the easiest interface possible -- say it, and it happens.  That's the user experience we're looking for.    Thinking in that way is a different mindset, but one that makes all the difference.   By being able to set into motion anything with a simple command, it takes the experience to a whole new level.  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

No, I won't just "Get Over It."

My Facebook contribution has gotten political.   I know my own tone has switched from just fun, light hearted stuff and business related things to much more opposition to political change.      In that time, I’ve noted at least two occasions where someone has posted a “Get over it” note (and then deleted it — yes, I saw it), and now, I’ve had another leave that comment online.

To paraphrase: “Dave, get over it.   Trump won.  You just need to move on.

What specifically does “get over it” mean?   What level of problem should I ignore?  Should I ignore hate crimes?  Should I ignore policy decisions?  Should I ignore fiscal policy?   Should I ignore deportations, if or when they start happening?   Should I wait for things I consider immoral to happen, even while they are being discussed openly?    What does “get over it” mean — specifically?   Should I acquiesce to decisions I don’t think are moral, simply because the President says them?

What is “moving on”?  Allowing the government to do what they want?   To be unopposed?  

Would you prefer to just ignore the facts of what is happening?  

One of the recognized problems with recent information online is that “fake news” has taken too much of our conversation and mindshare.    I’ve always considered that I am very careful about the news and information that I curate. I select sources that I consider strong, accurate media sources, typically the  New York Times or the Washington Post (which I subscribe to).   If you do not like my curations, that is your choice — but the goal is to stay informed and not allow actions that I do not consider “normal” to go by unchecked.  

Prior to this election, I believed that my vote was enough to influence the discussion, and that ultimately, that what I viewed as sensible, educated minds would prevail.  

This is my space to voice my opinion.   If you don’t like it — that’s absolutely your right, and you aren’t compelled to agree with me.  My ask has always been that you consider the opinion, as I will consider yours.   Do you believe I curate and try and deliver value?   Is it possible there is something to consider in the information you are seeing?    Do you believe I have some level of intelligence and have questioned the source before sharing the information?    However, “just get over it” is dangerous in a free society, and no, I won’t do that.  

I won’t stand by as we consider taking away rights from fellow Americans.
I won’t stand by as hate crimes rise.
I won’t stand by as some attack journalism.
I won’t stand by as we make the world LESS safe by lack of consideration that words matter.
I won’t stand by and let false information dominate and influence the world.  Facts matter.

I’m taking action too — this isn’t just a series of Facebook rants.   So far, I’ve joined the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center, with monthly contributions (not just one time contributions).   I’m looking at ProPublica now, which focuses on non-profit journalism.    I’m in conversations with similarly minded Generation X’ers about specific actions we can take — more to come on that.     I'm not content to just sit by and let the world happen to me.

So for me, no, I won’t “Get over it.”  I’m getting to work on fighting back — actually taking actions that result in outcome.   I won’t be passive and allow a minority opinion — both less than a majority of Americans overall voted for Trump AND less than a majority of the vote of those who voted — change society in a way that I feel is destructive.    Don't think that the electoral college result is in any way a mandate -- it's not.  

Martin Niemöller famously wrote:

In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.

It may seem cliche to compare to Nazism — you may think this is overblown.   You may think I’m wrong — and here is hoping I am wrong.   Being wrong would be a wonderful outcome — being wrong means that the fight isn’t necessary, and that a President Trump will result in a stronger, safer world.   May you be right.  

However, the evidence I see doesn’t line up with that — from a lack of any consideration of what diplomacy means to assembling a team of “rich people” with no evidence of understanding of the subject matter to advise him to what looks like intense conflicts of interest from a moral (if not legal) perspective, President Trump does NOT look like a leader who the insight and leadership to guide us.    And if I don't speak up, because it's "not me"... then shame on me.

Thus, “getting over it” means allowing things to happen that I believe will damage us as a society.    “Getting over it” means looking the other way at what I perceive as corruption and immoral choices for our society.  

Is that really what you want?  Do you really want people that allow things to happen to them?  Leadership is about taking action — speaking out and doing something.  I’m doing something.   I’m not only talking about it, I’m taking actions.  

He's President.  That's not being argued.  But to imply that one has to go along with everything he does -- that's missing the point entirely.  (And, if you are strongly Republican, that is hypocrisy to the extreme.  I direct you to Mitch McConnell whose policy was to block everything without consideration.  It was fine in 2008 but we should "get over it" now?  That argument has no legs.)  

If you don’t like what you see, you can make your own decisions.  I will respect you for that, and will continue to engage with people I don’t agree with.   I will happily have a drink with you or break bread or share a laugh — that’s what good people do.  I will strive to be a good person and continue to be a well rounded person in life, engaging in multiple interests, not limited to one single topic.  

If you don’t believe I deliver value or insight, you are welcome to select “Hide this kind of post” if you want to start trying to curate your feed.  You’re also welcome to “unfollow” me entirely if you think I don’t deliver any value.      My LinkedIn feed will be only business related, and my Twitter feed will include more shared articles, but none of them will be political.    If you want my opinions on things personal, both political and lifestyle, they will be on Facebook.    There will be all kinds of things on my Facebook feed, as it's mine to share the things I think are important.  

If you don’t agree with me, fine.    You don’t have to.  Post your own materials.    Or Hide my posts.  Or pick another feed.  

But if “get over it” is that you’re not comfortable with another opinion or are reading them and feeling uncomfortable with what you’re reading … well, that’s on you, not on me.  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

WiFi signal problem that's well beyond the norm.

I’m completely stuck on a wireless problem.   


What at first glance appears like slow wifi is actually much more insidious — while at times I can get full bandwidth, it will then drop dramatically, going from a solid set of speeds between 60-90 Mbps download to levels that are measured instead in Kbps, from 20 to 50 Kpbs.   At first, I noticed this only on my Macbook.  However, intensive testing revealed that I could see the same problem on other machines -- my Windows laptop and my iPhone.  

My wireless network is provided by a set of three Apple Airport units of various ages.  Coverage is fantastic, and the units generally load balance across the three level house.    I can replicate this problem regardless of which AirPort / Access Point the endpoint is connected to.    From Airport Utility:


I have two primary production wireless networks, evolvetech_extreme and evolvetech_extreme 5Ghz.     Using iStumbler to show the list of networks:


Note there is a set of "_uk" networks that are not at all linked to the same network, living outside the firewall.  I can replicate the problem on BOTH the 2.4 Ghz and the 5Ghz networks.     This seems to tell me that I don't have significant channel overlap nor signal problems.   I've also done some testing with Android's WiFi Analyzer and I can't find a problem.

These speed tests were taken within 5 minutes of each other:

From a Macbook:


From an iPhone:


From a Windows laptop:




In this example, I'm seeing the problem on the Windows machine but not the other two.  

During this, network probes on the firewall show me that the overall bandwidth (which is 75/75 Mbps), is running without significant load:



So far, I can tell that:

- The endpoint doesn't seem to matter.  This happens "sometimes" on the iPhone, or on the Macbook, or on the Windows machine.  Sometimes all at the same time, other times just one one.

- I've tested the lists of which access point the endpoint is connected to, and as far as I can tell it doesn't matter.

- The wired network is fine.   

- Rebooting all the access points seems to clear the problem for a while.   

I'm totally at a loss. Looking for some help!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Car bought! The decision, the why, the rundown...

Pleased to report that I'm now the proud owner of a BMW 228i.  


For those interested in specs, here we go:

  • 228i, RWD
  • Midnight Blue exterior
  • Terra Dakota interior
  • Technology Package
  • Premium Package
  • Lighting Package

The car is a blast to drive.    The engine just goes, and having an 8 speed transmission, even better.   It has a couple of weird things I wish you could fix -- I like the "Sport" driving setting a lot better, but you can't set the car to default that way.  It always starts in comfort.  It has a couple of quirks about working with Apple Music on iOS8, but only Tesla really seems to have that software side right with the over the air updates to keep pace.   I still can't get Google Maps to send a location to the car, and I find that ConnectedDrive isn't quite as responsive as I might like when querying from the app (and this might be related to response time), but those are minor details.     Still need to get my vanity plates swapped with the Acura.     

So how did we get here?

Let's break down the cars I drove, comparing now.  I'll start with the Lexus RC 350.   A very powerful engine, a feel like a jet fighter, it's a nice car.   I had a feeling Sharon wouldn't like the way it sat as a passenger, but more importantly, it felt like my "price range" excluded a few things.  Premium audio only comes in the Sport model, jumping the price up a lot, and while a minor detail, the fact you can't enter a GPS address while driving is a massive source of annoyance.   So a car where I would KNOW the audio could have been better that has something that would annoy me every time I used it... yeah, sorry, Lexus, you got nixed.

Onto Audi.  AJ at Audi of Tyson's corner is a fantastic sales person -- I can't say enough nice things about him.     Just the right balance of pushing and being easy going,  I really wanted to give him (personally) the business.   The cars are where it failed.    While the 228 I bought and the A3 actually compare, the A3 didn't blow me away.   The A5 was a "sedan", and didn't have that fun factor.  Trying the S models, the S3 had some roughness to it -- whether it was my driving or the car I don't know, but it stuck with me.  The S4 was nice -- but by the time we're at that car, we're in a whole other price point.     Was the S4 I liked worth THAT much more than the 228 which I also liked?  No, it wasn't.  

I had originally planned to see the Mustang and drive the Mercedes C-class.   Here's why I didn't.

While the idea of a Mustang intrigued, the more I played with configurations, the more I realized this wasn't going to be a good driving around car.   It's a hell of a lot of fun, but this wasn't going to be my "drive us around in comfort" car.   

As for Mercedes, while interesting, I couldn't get a configuration that seemed right in a car with the price balance I wanted.   Because I had a car I liked -- the 228 -- it was baselining against it saying "would this car be better", and I didn't see one that was jumping out to me.

Now, the dealership.

After my visit to BMW of Sterling and the post that went online, I heard back from the Sales Manager the next day via a phone call.   He was quite emphatic about wanting to win my business.   The call started out a bit odd -- he was very focused on letting me know they had handled the sales rep -- but after some discussion, and my very clear statement that this wasn't about punishment, this was about education, we turned a very good corner.   I won't name names anymore -- I'm going to only dole out praise that way!   

He was very diligent about tracking things down -- and very willing to handle my million questions about scenarios for pricing.   I appreciated the patience there.   We found a car in their stock which was nearly what I had dreamed up in my head.    I was initially looking at the M style and some track options, but decided against them due to availability and some thoughtful comments from Scott Lepre.   (He warned about RWD on a car -- when it snows around here, I don't really drive much, and it should be good in most other weather).  

So kudos to BMW of Sterling for the catch and recover.   Their finance department rep, Jim, was absolutely fantastic, and there's even someone dedicated to helping you understand the Tech.    Once in the system, it's a great owners experience.  They do car washes on Saturday mornings too.   

I'll rant a bit about the way cars are bought.   Dealerships just seem so very much aligned with the way sales were done in the 70's and 80's.   In a world where I can custom order anything online exactly the way I want it and have it delivered to me right away, car dealerships have this massive pile of cars where they guess the popular configurations and try and keep some in stock.   Ordering a car is more expensive and the system isn't designed to flex to that -- I give some specs, and the dealerships work to try and find something in stock near by (or that they have) that is close enough, so you compromise some of what you want 

Yes, cars take longer to build.   But the system doesn't encourage you to customize - it actually encourages you to compromise, because the financials behind it point you that way.   The sales system is designed to push you to that, selling existing stock and not encouraging orders.  It's a shame, and different from the rest of the way sales are done these days.   

One other piece of praise.   The internet team at BMW of Alexandria was stellar.   While I was discussing with Sterling, they were also searching for cars that met my specs.    The team there was just outstanding, looking for exactly the car I wanted. I never even went in there, but they made an impression.  They didn't win the business, but not because of anything other than a choice about what stock was available.  

New car, acquired!   The Acura will get appraised at CarMax, and either sold that way to end the lease, or returned early.   The ILX isn't a bad car, but it's a suped-up Civic, and that's not the kind of car a luxury brand should be.  To be fair, the ILX never broke down, never caused an issue, was totally reliable, was cheap to operate... it just wasn't fun.  The first TL was fun, the TSX was good, but the ILX wasn't.  And I missed the fun of driving... which I seem to have back now.



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BMW, round two... new dealership. Will anyone sell to me?


Since I was already out in Chantilly, it seemed natural to take a run out to BMW of Sterling to actually drive the 228i and the 235i.    Since in Fairfax I only had the chance to drive the 428, I wanted to be sure about how the 228 compared.   While the salesman at Fairfax said "it's the same engine" and should feel the same, I'm admittedly a touch distrustful.  Acura said the ILX was the same too -- and it's clearly not.

I called out to the dealership, and Mo, who I think was the sales manager, answered.  He said they had some on the lot, and would be happy to have me take a test drive.

When I arrived, I was introduced to Zouhair (Zu) Ghars, who would be my advisor on this run.   I let him know what I wanted to see -- a 228, then a 235.  I wanted to start with the smaller engine, so I wouldn't be spoiled by the feel of the 235 being more powerful.

The 228 was a xDrive model, so AWD.   It was well loaded, with the tech package and premium audio system.   It felt tight, and particularly in sport mode, was great in the corners.   The test drive loop was pretty good, including high speed on Route 28, some back roads, and a couple of exit ramps that were fun to take fast.    While it may have a 4-cylinder engine, I couldn't tell. 

I then took out a 235.  Also xDrive, it wasn't loaded on equipment, but since it's the same chassis, I get a clear sense of the car.  The bigger engine is notable -- but not so much that I really cared.   Yes, it's a touch faster, and yes, a touch louder, but gunning it from the line on the 228 was just as much fun as the 235, and since i live in Virginia, where if you go over 79 you're looking at possible jail time, how much engine do you need?  If it's fast to accelerate, and fun in the corners, isn't that good enough?  

Back to the dealership.  Now here's where things get interesting for me.  I didn't call this out in Fairfax, but the sales process there was just too laid back.   Frankly, I didn't feel they wanted my business. I was hoping for a better experience in Sterling.    

Alas, not to be the case.  I laid out my parameters, giving some guidance on what I was looking for price wise.  While I suspected the deal couldn't be done (and think the car I want isn't on their lot anyway, so I wouldn't be driving home with it), I was actually rather hoping he might try and close me.   I was rather tempted to go home with a 228 that day -- or put money down and start the order.

Nope.   

He showed me the MSRP from the website, and their calculator for the lease.  We all know NOBODY pays that.  He then showed me the straight special from the BMW USA website.  Again, that's the starting point.

I felt like I actually opened the door for him to try and close me, with the "Well, what would happen if I wanted to proceed today?", but he didn't give me anything.   A "well, you would put $1K down, and we would then agree on price."  Yeah, that was my lead question to try and close me, buddy.  

So the lead BMW is the 228.   I've been told on Facebook I should buy the 235, but frankly, I'd rather load up a 228 and enjoy that for the price difference.  The 235 is nice, but the 228 has an awesome little engine and was a blast to drive.   I'm not seeing what the 235 gets me.

Ideally, the car is the M Sport package, Estoril Blue Metallic, Black interior.

Features, as best I can tell (because you have to assemble the thing yourself, it seems):

- Enhanced USB and Bluetooth plus smartphone integration
- Heated front seats
- Premium Sound
- Anti-theft
- Xenon lights
- Driver Assist
- Premium Package
- Tech Package

I'm currently inclined to go with the RWD option to save money and go with the M Sport, as I don't need AWD.  When it snows, I just stay home.  If I'm crazy, someone speak up. 

Of course, the 228 needs to pass the Sharon test -- and we have to get pricing right.  But it's stuck with me so far in terms of the one I was interested enough to see if I'd get sold.  

Still two other brands to look at, and it seems more BMW dealerships to talk to as well.  BMW of Alexandria isn't that far, and BMW of Silver Spring isn't out of the question.  Hell, I'll drive to Richmond if they want my business -- I can have it serviced locally.     I've never actually had a dealer -- and in this case two -- be so casual they don't make me feel like they actually want to sell me a car.    That's off putting on it's own!   Wondering if I should just send them this post -- maybe someone will court me.  Hey, BMW!  Are you listening?  I like your car!  Maybe you could consider trying to sell me one!   


Retro and Modern Gaming Setup

I've been working on my gaming setup for a while, and finally have it at a place I'm really pleased with things.   I thought I would...