Saturday, December 10, 2016

Why do you have to go and make things so Complicated

Avril: Complicated

Subtitle:  Reflections upon Complexity

I don't think it is just being particular, but Agata and Marcus come from a Generation and an Engineering background when understanding, well everything, was vitally important.

As a Computer Guy, Marcus would say that if I did not understand how my computer started in detail, or how it's Electronics actually worked, well it would sort of be a travesty.

Thinking back, at the end of a college lecture I had always asked enough questions to fully understand everything before leaving  (sometimes at severe risk from colleagues, eager to leave, who would however be using my course notes later when they had no clue)

But these days complexity really reigns, and I mean most times necessarily.  I am not talking about bad design.  I mean for example that the Xeon processor in my computer contains 7 billion transistors.  You could not build it with 1000.

I'd gripe that today however that people fequently use the Complexity argument as a first pass reason why they /just don't know/ and /don't need to know/.

In times gone by if we did not understand something, we could

- Ask a friend
- Dismantle It
- Attach an Oscilloscope
- Use the Internet or the Forums that came before it
- Read a Book

And we would keep going until we figured it out.  This is what practicioners do until they become rounded experts.  I have expert Car friends who can do the same in their sphere,  and Biologists and Physicists who can reason through their specialities. Why?  Because they have a broad and deep knowledge of their field that further peaks in their particular speciality.

Outside of the realm of Science the most common reason to justify /not to know/ stems from the Religious argument toward ignorance:  This is:  

God said it, I believe it, that settles it

And so if God never said it, this covering all of modern mathematics, and all Computer Science, and all Electronics some religious friends today have honestly told me: well it just can't be important. Hmm.

This past week in my debugging of not EFI booting I've been further learning more about the boot process and how the BIOS parameters in a computer system can influence it.   Just the smallest fraction of the available configuration screens:

Before twiddling

 After twiddling

Still no booting but convincingly faster!

Necessary Specialisation
I'd also comment on the worrying trend of silo specialisation.  I mean expertise but in a very [very]  narrow field.  You might know a lot about Computer BIOS and Compatibility.  But if somebody asked you about Mobile Phone Firmware, or Kernel Programming, or Typical voltage levels, you would not only be clueless, but critically  you would not have the baseline knowledge to ask friends or Uncle Google enough to learn, read and understand enough to get up to speed.

Specialisation should not be an excuse for total ignorance in your wider field.

On the plus side, I have learnt a lot this week.  But I am now at the point on the build of the new Workstation that I simply want things to work please.

How does UEFI booting work

Friday, December 09, 2016

PC Power for the Vintage World

Question: What incredibly useful thing can you do with a PC power supply and just a paperclip?

Answer:  Build an incredibly useful Power Supply for your Vintage S100 Bus Computer.

The Issue
So the S100 Bus computer is going to make use of 5V 12V and 8V and 16V Power rails in the following way:

5V and 12V is DC power supplied to peripherals like Floppy Disks and Hard Drives

8V and 16V is supplied to the S100 Bus card cage

The Overall Plan
Is to repurpose the PC power supply to feed all the diskette and Hard Driver peripherals in the computer.  Meaning 5V and 12V. Particularly troublesome is (say) a 30 year old plus spinning or stuck hard disk.  Don't let this current overloading device bust up your ageing and difficult to replace S100 bus linear power supply.

This solution does not address the 8V and 16V feeds the idea is those still get fed from your old 1980's style PSU.

So get a PC Power supply and look at the Motherboard power connection:

You simply need to ground the PS-ON wire because otherwise your power supply will not turn on.  Most conveniently a ground pin is adjacent.  So with the paperclip I cut into a U shaped wire I short between PS-ON and Ground.

Now cover the whole connector in insulating tape or duct tape so it can't otherwise connect and short out.

PSU Placement

Rather luckily the Case /just/ has enough room for the PC power supply inside the old 1980 case ..

A really tight squeeze

With the Computer off and just the PC Power Supply on the HXC emulator springs to life.  Meaning that it looks like the peripherals are working fine.

Let's Test
A link is made from the RS232 Serial connection via a converter to USB and thence to a Windows computer running the popular Putty terminal emulator.   Use Device Manager as necessary to determine the relevant COM: port to use in the Putty configuration

Now power on

Since the A; command worked we can tell that the floppy drive is working and this is powered from the PC power supply.  

For Cromemco RDOS (or DDOS here) the single semicolon after the A means 8" disk drive  (or in my case emulated 8" disk drive).  Had it been  A;;; with 3 semi colons it would have meant initialise the 5.25" diskette drive instead.

So it must be working.  Let us try booting

Yep, Cromix 172 XXU was read from the single 1.2MB floppy disk and the Operating System started.

All is well!

Now Remember

True System Builders always observe the rule:

Never but the case lid back on until everything is working. :-)

Otherwise you will spook it and things are bound to go wrong.

All in all the system is back up, running all peripherals on PC power.  Good for the next 20 years I reckon.

And Now

Snap: The Power

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Consumer Costs vs Enthusiast Costs

Subject:  We had it tough and we STILL have it tough

My normal Marcus had it tough (and expensive) storyline was the time, some say it was in 1970 something when I bought a 79Kilo Byte Wangco Single Sided and Single Density Diskette drive for  350 pounds.  I am pretty sure that in today's 2016 money that is at least 1000 British pounds.

Today I just want to put a shout out for 2 low cost products and moan about 1 not yet working high cost one.

This is especially relevant as if you are wondering what to give that Computer focused partner or child I can tell you some socks just won't cut it these days.

Raspberry Pi

For less than 60GBP you can get yourself a fully working Raspberry Pi 3 with a memory card and power supply.  Simply add a USB keyboard, download and install the Raspbian (or other) Operating System.

You have to be a complete Computer head in the sand Ostritch to ignore this brilliant low cost computer platform

Asrock AM1B-ITX

I already praised Asrock for its low cost ITX product range  but now I have found an even cheaper computer,  namely the AM1B.  It is an insane 43 CHF  (about 35 GBP) from our local Swiss computer store.  And to it you'd need to add a mini ITX case and power supply, a low power CPU and some DDR3 memory.

For Marcus I have lots of old DDR3 memory kicking around and a cheap ITX case too, so only an AMD AM1 CPU .  Some specs

Supports AMD Socket AM1 Athlon/Sempron APU
Supports DDR3 1600 memory, 2 x DIMM slots, Max. 32GB
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16
Integrated AMD Radeon™ R3 Series Graphics in A-series / E-series APU
Multi Graphics Output Options : D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI
1 x Parallel Port, 1 x COM Port Header
4 x USB 3.0 (2 Front, 2 Rear), 6 x USB 2.0 (4 Front, 2 Rear), 4 x SATA3
Realtek Gigabit LAN
5.1 CH HD Audio (Realtek ALC662 Audio Codec)

Supports ASRock Full Spike Protection, A-Tuning, APP Shop, FAN-Tastic Tuning, UEFI Tech Service, USB Key

Again, this consumer level pricing is to me quite insane!

Initially I prototyped a dedicated Webserver on the Raspberry Pi but it could just not server out data quickly enough.  I think the Asrock with AMD Quad core CPU power and Gigabit Ethernet will do the job.  (Oh and to be clear my Webserver needs to be able to serve over 2,000 Giga Bytes, I mean over 2TBytes per day).  We will see!

Intel Xeon E5-2697 v4

Actually I'm still working with the Motherboard manufacturer to diagnose why our new Workstationcannot boot so it would be unfair to name them just yet.

But let me just say that at over 2500 USD per processor, and this being a 2 CPU system, I am really hoping that they fix the problem.

Sometimes pushing for State of the Art is not what is cracked up to be.  Currently heartache and pissing about with EFI boot loaders, and not actually getting anywhere :-(

Christmas Advice

01 If you do not have a Raspberry Pi in the house and you are at all interested in Computers you really need your head examining.

It is the ideal sensibly priced Christmas present for your Computer obsessed partner or child wanting to really get into Linux and Hardware

02 And for a sensibly priced Appliance computer something based on the Asrock AM1B with a 5370 CPU should fly.  But wait for my build, review and test if you are paranoid

Finally as a perfectionist you may have to wait quite a while later for the new Xeon Workstation build story, because really these are busy times.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Truth

With technological advances in 2016 and beyond; advances in Social Media and Internet proliferation means suddenly the ability to project

Misinformation and a fabric of Lies

is all too easy.  Suddenly 

The Truth is being replaced [ by the Stupid, and the Unthinking]  as merely  my Opinion based on

- well nothing really, it's my Opinion and I'm entitled to my Opinion
- my gut feeling
- my intuition
- something I read on the Internet or Googled

For such individuals, Confirmation Bias, i.e. a willingness to believe in Internet based Press or news articles however wacky, that support their viewpoint,  together with an absolute rejection of other evidence based viewpoints as

- faked
- conspiracy theories

is their business as usual methodology

Private Stupidity - Public Danger
Whilst the Internet has brought his advances in information transfer it now begins to spawn via uniformed citizen journalism a very dangerous side.

But this is not enough, if it was random 'little people' Tweeting misinformation.

Unfortunately the American Election campaign and now Tweets from president elect Trump are more dangerous.

I invite you to follow the links

Are you entitled to your Opinion?
Pizzagate and Fake News
Samantha Bee channel

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Very Very Busy

To have any idea what these pictures relate to you would have had to have been living in England in the 1970's or was it the 1960's or even the 1950's?  I mean it was so long ago Marcus can hardly remember.

The pictures you see were those the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) put up on my then new Television as they prototyped the then new Colour Television transmissions

The relevance is that both Marcus and Agata are currently working flat out towards changes in our lives.  Consequently blog content is suffering :-(

Normal service will be resumed presently.  Until then Please Stand By

Until then my suggested reading for the day

Things that you can do at 20 to make your lives better at 50

Monday, December 05, 2016

Moutard Famille Champagne

Earlier this year Marcus and Agata visited Buxeuil in the Champagne region of France.

We arrived there because Agata very cleverly located a Motorhome resting spot (called an Aire in France) that apparently had free parking and electricity.

And you know what.  It did!

We arrived at night, and despite the bitter cold, well freezing weather we went for a stroll

We have stumbled upon a town of distilleries for Champagne and other alcohol production.  So we hatched a plan for the next morning

So the next morning

- We visited Moutard Famille Champagne
- Their full address is

Rue des Ponts B.P.1
10110 Buxeuil FRANCE

- We spent over 15 minutes on a personalised tour with the owner, who spoke good English.  Good because Agata was asking a lot of questions :-)
- We then had a small Champagne testing
- And bought a few bottles
- We walked away as happy customers, and a good experience.

It is the very least that we can do to publicise all of this, so if you are in the region, you can visit, look, learn, buy and enjoy.

Moutard official Website
Moutard products

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Some reasons why he left

Why he left Islam

The Aside
If you are reading this, then by definition you have Internet Access. I hope your bandwidth is fast enough to look at YouTube and here is why.

Over the last 15 years Marcus has exponentially gravitated away from the paper based documentation sources to a mixture of Online websites and living repositories of information.

We do live in a world of manufactured, mis-represented facts, suppositions or theories, but by cross checking sources, and actually using your Brain to screen out the inconsistent then you are hopefully left with at least a set of plausible propositions.

YouTube now forms a major free online resource that I recommend you take advantage of.  Indeed this above video is a good example

- It puts forward propositions
- With supporting references
- It invites you to check them out
- So that you can verify the arguments put forward are based on agreed texts / statements

So now back to the Video Itself

Not Equal
All religions are not equal.  In fact it is usual for each Religion to have a revealed Truth, supported by one or more Holy Books, that are usually not to be subject to revision or criticism.  

Yet for each Religion that represents a world view even a superficial study will reveal that their differences and contradictions give us reason to believe that at most one is the truth but that zero can be assumed and each religions infallible holy book is true by circular argument

Back to The Plot
Please watch the video,  and consider subscribing to the channel   I hope it encourages you to do your own research.  Maybe you will find this video is so wrong it will actually lead you towards Islam, or maybe not. 

And so much more: Quran and Scientific Miracles